Who needs digital?

Hobby board game scene booms

By Josher Lumpkin

When I say “board games,” it’s likely you cringe in horror, flashing back to an eight hour game of Monopoly that ended in tears when your big brother bankrupted you. Or maybe you have fond memories of playing endless games of Scrabble with Grandma, or chess with Dad. Either way, if you’re like most people you probably don’t realize there is an expansive world of fun and games out there, vastly more exciting and satisfying than Risk and Sorry!

Hobby gaming is an activity that has been growing in popularity in recent years, and is widely enjoyed throughout the Miami Valley. In Dayton and surrounding areas, we are fortunate to have many outlets to purchase and participate in this satisfying and addictive —though sometimes trivial—pursuit. Basically every night of the week, at least one of these shops holds an event that allows people to pop in for a game or two.

One such location—Epic Loot Games & Comics—has been this writer’s preferred purveyor of all things game-related since they opened their original location in Centerville in 2011.

“We think of ourselves as sort of half a community center and half a retail store,” says Scott Cozzolino, co-owner of Epic Loot.

Cozzolino illustrates his take on the growth in popularity of the traditionally niche activity of board gaming.

“It’s definitely grown over the years. Now you have families coming into the store, and people that probably 10 years ago, the only exposure they would have had to hobby gaming was maybe they’d heard of Dungeons and Dragons. But now they’re actively seeking out hobby stores, and coming in looking for some of these games that have really broken into the mainstream,” he says.

According to Cozzolino, the increase in popularity for board games in the US is due to European-style board games, or Eurogames. Eurogames, which range in complexity from extremely simple to mind-bogglingly complicated, usually involve strategy over luck, with the management of resources being a recurrent mechanic. In lieu of dice, often these games include marking progress with wooden cubes or tokens, and use person-shaped wooden figures known lovingly as “meeples.”

“The interest in Eurogames started picking up about 15 years ago,” Cozzolino says. “I think that picked up interest in board gaming in general. And over probably the last five years it’s definitely been roped into the mainstream. You’ve got games like Cards Against Humanity breaking into the mainstream. It’s not a hard core strategy game, [it’s a] fun party game, but it’s increasing the public awareness of gaming in general and it’s bringing people into hobby stores like ours.”

This growing popularity has brought growth to the Epic Loot brand, as well.

“When we first opened the Centerville store, with 5,800 square feet, we thought, ‘Wow that’s so much space!’ Like, bigger than almost any other game store,” Cozzolino says. “So, we couldn’t even imagine that we would fill that space on a regular basis, and as we’ve grown we’re finding that we are. That store gets packed a lot.”

In October, Cozzolino and the other owners opened another Epic Loot location. Cozzolino says the owners were looking to open a shop that wasn’t too close to their original location, with more space to play, and more parking for gamers.

“We started looking around, and we thought Springfield would be the perfect place,” he says. “We found the Upper Valley Mall, which had some vacancies in it. So we ended up leasing a space out there.”

I asked Cozzolino, a skilled gamer with a lifetime of experience under his belt, what he thought would be a good entry-level board game for people who are interested in the hobby, but don’t know quite where they should dive in. He recommended an old favorite.

“Settlers of Catan has always been a great one to start with,” Cozzolino says. “It’s a nice kind of bridge game between old school, mainstream games that people may be familiar with like Monopoly, and the more Euro strategy-type games that are popular with hobby gamers. Most people are used to the ‘roll and move’ mechanic, where you roll the dice and move your piece that many spaces, then you do whatever the space that you land on says to do,” Cozzolino continues. “Settlers of Catan is a slightly more evolved mechanic. You do roll dice every turn, but you’re not using those dice to move figures around. There’s some luck involved and there’s some skill involved, so it’s a nice bridge game to get people used to games that have a larger skill component, and then from there maybe moving on to ones that have even larger skill components.”

Thursday nights at the Centerville Epic Loot location are a great time to make some new friends and play some games.

“It’s a very open, inviting group. We have a big games library, so people will take games out of our games library to play, but also people bring in their own games. Usually you know people will grab a game and say, ‘who wants to play this one with me here?’ So it’s very open and inviting kind of situation,” says Cozzolino.

Game-Day, the group that puts on the Thursday night board gaming event at Epic Loot, has been organizing such functions around the Miami Valley since their inception in 2005. Patrick Hillier, longtime member of Game-Day, says he, too, has noticed a surge in attendance at the group’s board game nights.

“I’d say Wil Wheaton’s show, TableTop, which shows TV stars playing games and lead to a deal with Target carrying the games he shows, really opened up the Big Box retailers to the hobby game market to the masses,” observes Hillier. “This has branched out to even Walmart and Meijer carrying [popular hobby games] Dominion or Ticket to Ride. Barnes and Noble has become a significant source for hobby games.”

Wil Wheaton, who was made famous by his childhood role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, has been the de facto spokesperson for all things “geek” in recent years. His web series—TableTop—has more than 1.3 million subscribers.

Hillier postulates that TableTop, along with things like the popularization of comic book movies, are bringing into the mainstream things that were once considered too dorky to discuss.

“I think the nerd chic movement helped, and it was okay to do things like play board games,” Hillier says. “The characters on Big Bang Theory are playing real board games [most of the time. The card game is obviously a play on Magic the Gathering, but uses cards with funnier names for humor] on their table and we have fun while watching, figuring out what it is.”

In the end, Hillier says Game-Day works because board gaming is a breath of fresh analogue air in a rapidly digitized society.

“For me it is all about the social interaction and the experience I take away from a game,” he tells me. “I really prefer larger groups, in stores with a variety of people. We love to sit around and harass each other. ‘Oh man, you took the spot I was going to!’ or tell stories of past conquest: ‘Remember that time when we played [blank] and that exciting thing happened?’”

Boardgamers of Dayton (BOD) is another local group that loves to hit the table to roll dice and push tokens. Their biweekly board game night takes place at Bell, Book and Comic on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.

BOD formed in 2003 as a group on MeetUp.com, a website where people with similar interests can find others of their ilk. The founder of the group, Renee, passed away earlier this year. Current Administrator Kay Osborn found herself unwittingly thrust into a leadership position.

“I just got on the site one day and somebody had made me a co-organizer,” Osborn explains. “I’m kind of good at organizing and running things so I was probably a good option from that point of view. When I do something, I take it seriously, and I spent a lot of time trying to learn the MeetUp site and going through all the help files, and going through all the membership, and getting in contact with the other organizers trying to figure out how we’re going to keep going. So I’m the kind of person that I would spend the time doing that and learning it and trying to take control of that.”

Osborn speaks highly of Boardgamers of Dayton’s departed founder.

“She was involved in so many things, everybody knew who she was,” Osborn remembers. “It wasn’t just gaming, she did everything with her life that she could. She just tried to do everything with every night of the week that she possibly could. Filled it in with as much as she could, and just tried to have as much life as she could while she was here.”

Osborn says BOD has definitely experienced an increase of attendance at the group’s meetups since Renee’s passing.

“To be honest, I’m not sure where some of these people are coming out of the woodwork,” she says. “There’s a few of us who were regulars, about three or four other people that have been coming for a while. We never got up to 16, like recently, but there were nights that we would have 12 or 13, and it would last for a short time and people would disappear again.”

Osborn believes that the group inspires smaller subgroups to form, carrying the love of board games into new territories.

“I think a lot of times it would be because people found some other people that they like playing with and then started just kind of playing at somebody’s house,” she says. “It was more a place for them to meet-up, and then kind of find each other and then they would disappear from the group and go do their own thing.”

A childhood love of gaming sparked Osborn’s interest in the hobby. She quickly got addicted once she finally found her people.

“I’ve always loved card games and board games, ever since I was a kid,” Osborn says. “It’s just that there was nobody to play with so I had this huge chunk of time where I was playing junk on the computer. I was playing computer games and I didn’t even know some of those games existed, and there was nobody to play with and I, too, just got up on MeetUp. I wasn’t looking specifically for games necessarily, so I just got on MeetUp and kind of went through some of the subjects and stuff and said, ‘Oh games, I like games,’ so that’s how this popped up. […] If I’d had people to play with I’m sure I would have been playing them that whole time.”

Epic Loot Centerville is located at 9130 Dayton Lebanon Pike. Epic Loot Springfield is located in Upper Valley Mall, 1475 Upper Valley Pike, suite 654. For more information on Epic Loot, including their events calendar, please visit EpicLootGames.com. To learn about gaming events going on all over the Miami Valley, visit Game-Day.org. To meet with Boardgamers of Dayton, visit MeetUp.com/dayton-boardgames.

Board Gaming Events in the Miami Valley

2nd & 4th Tuesdays every month – Meetup.com Boardgamers of Dayton board game meetup at Bell, Book & Comic, 7 p.m.-10 p.m.

Wednesday – Board Game Night at The Game Haven, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

Thursday – Game Day at Epic Loot Centerville, 6 p.m.-12 a.m.

Board Game Night at Gem City Games, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

Friday – Game Day at Bell, Book, and Comic, 6 p.m.-12 a.m.

3rd Friday of every month – Tabletop Games Night, Dayton Liederkranz-Turner, 6:30 p.m.-11 p.m.

Saturday – Game Day at Epic Loot Springfield, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

Gem City Games

6342-B Far Hills Ave.

Dayton, OH 45459


The Game Haven

Page Manor Shopping Center

5570 Airway Rd.

Riverside, OH 45431


Epic Loot Games
& Comics


9130 Dayton Lebanon Pike,

Centerville, OH 45458



1475 Upper Valley Pike #654

Springfield, OH 45504


Bell, Book & Comic

458 Patterson Rd.

Dayton, OH 45419


Bookery Gaming

15 W. Main St.

Fairborn, OH 45324


Maverick’s Cards and Comics

Woodlane Plaza

2312 E. Dorothy Ln.

Kettering, OH 45420



1400 E. Fifth St.

Dayton, OH 45402


Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Josher Lumpkin
Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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