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No more bored gamers in Gisborne

Tabletop gaming community 'positive, enthusiastic and inclusive'.

The rise and rise of tabletop gaming has reached Tairāwhiti. Jack Marshall rolled the dice and found out what makes the community.

Bars have long been a watering hole for people to get out of home and connect with friends. But what if you don’t drink, don’t like to socialise in big groups with strangers or enjoy alcohol-fuelled house parties?

For some self-proclaimed nerds and gamers, the answer is tabletop and board games (there is a difference).

“A lot of people probably think of that as a family pastime that you do at home when you’re younger but it’s definitely not like that,” said Kelly Blackwell, a frequent gamer.

The website Geek Gear Galore defines the two as: “A tabletop game is a game that is played on the top of a table. A board game is a game that is played with pieces or objects that are moved around a pre-marked surface (the board).”

Kelly grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) video games so jumped at the chance to play the original tabletop game when she got older.

“It’s still the game for me, it’s so unique,” said Kelly.

Each game of D&D is customisable to fit the players involved. A lot of the gameplay is improvised with a “dungeon master” guiding the game. Imagine improv theatre mixed with your favourite board game and you get something of an idea.

“It’s like an open-world sandbox in that you can bring your own player into different worlds and have a real impact on them.

“It’s collaborative storytelling — there’s nothing like it,” said Kelly.

For many in the scene, tabletop and board games have become the social event of the week.

“I’m 10 years sober, I don’t go to house parties, but I want to go out and play board games until 1am,” said Kelly.

“I still want to stay out, still want to hang out with my friends, but it’s just a better, more fun scene, personally.”

The players are made up of all kinds of people.

“There are so many different perspectives at the same table. In the same game, I could play with someone twice my age and half my age.

Gamers excited to share knowledge

"There’s such a diverse community in terms of backgrounds and occupations. We’ve got lots of LGBTQIA+ family there as well. It’s great.”

But D&D is only one game. There are hundreds if not thousands of board and tabletop games to choose from.

Alia Overend, a co-owner of the gaming shop Artemis Games, fell for tabletop games at the age of 14 when she befriended an exchange student who played Magic: the Gathering.

“We played heaps with him and his roommate until he went home. But it was all as we call it ‘kitchen table magic’ between small groups of friends, with no real adherence to set legality.”

Once Alia had the bug, she was hooked. She moved to Wellington in 2005. She was 16, and started playing more at Wellington High.

“After that, I got started on board games, Dominion was probably my earliest favourite, a modern classic deck-building card game we still sell today.

“By the time I was in my early 20s, I started meeting up with friends at more regular board game nights. We played one a month in the downstairs room at S&Ms (a bar) in Wellington, and that was always great fun.”

When Alia moved back to Gisborne in late 2018 she found a gaming community led by people like Phill Gloistein, Mike Hollis and Dusty Dowsing, but there was no central focal point.

“Magic was being run out of the back of a small shop, OnDevice, run by another local Magic player. It was a squeeze, and we had to set up and pack down every time. Other events were crowded into houses, or Dusty’s very cool garage space set up as a board gaming and D&D haven.”

Dusty was born and bred in Gisborne and left for the big smoke at 18.

“I found myself in Auckland where gaming and geek culture was thriving. I had found my people,” said Dusty.

“I got into gaming in the mid-’80s starting with fighting fantasy books, “pick a path adventures” that were often borrowed from the library. Eventually, I started with D&D, moved into board games, and tabletop miniature games.”

Games like Warhammer involved buying and painting small figurines and going to battle with them.

Dusty says gaming is the glue that brings people together.

“As our world increasingly feels more and more lonely, gaming provides a way to bring people with common interests together. Artemis Games provides a focal point and a safe space for our community.”

And people like Dusty keep coming out of the woodwork.

“Gisborne’s community has exploded over the past three years,” said Dusty.

“There was a tipping point. D&D was on the rise and there was increased interest. Artemis opened and Alia has been an amazing frontperson to build the community. The community is really positive, enthusiastic and inclusive.”

Dusty is joining a charity online stream this Saturday at 2pm for anyone interested in watching. Search yesandcharitystream on the website Twitch.

Alia says the local gamers are kind and “the most fantastic bunch of nerds you will meet”.

“Young, old, male, female, enby (nonbinary), introverts, extroverts, all bond together over their love of games. The tabletop community has exploded over the past five years or so, and it’s great to see all sorts getting into it and enjoying playing face-to-face together. It’s a great break from the screens.”

Alia says it is the people who make her job so enjoyable.

“We’ve had our ups and downs over the past couple of years. Opening a business right before a global pandemic will do that, but the community has been there to support us every step of the way.

“We wouldn’t be here without them, and quite frankly I wouldn’t want to. Seeing that spark as people learn new things, and make new friends makes all the hard work worth it.”

Kelly says anyone who wants to get involved just needs to come down to the shop and learn.

“I’d be surprised if at this point people don’t know someone who goes (to Artemis Games), so they should just tag along.

“I’m always there on Fridays and I love teaching new people, not just Dungeons and Dragons, but the board games in general. There’s heaps to learn and there’s a game style for everyone.

“Everyone starts out not knowing. There’s no way to just start and be a complete pro. Just the sooner you get started the better. And there are so many of us who are excited to share.”

PLENTY OF CHOICE: There’s a style of game for every gamer in the tabletop and board game world. From left, Artemis Games co-owners Colin Duffy, Alan Gaynor and Alia Overend. Picture by Paul Rickard
GAME ON: Gamers get down and dirty with the dice at a Saturday night Dungeons and Dragons session. Picture by Jack Marshall
Minis: Artemis Games co-owner Alia Overend with Warhammer figurines painted and ready for battle. Picture by Paul Rickard