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Oakland tabletop game store Endgame to close its doors

on January 31, 2019

On the Saturday before its final closing on February 1, Endgame customers picked through the rule books and what little else was left on sale at the 17-year-old tabletop game store on Washington Street.

No matter that all of the games had been sold—long-time customers dropped by throughout the day to show support and reminisce about the many years they had played games and found friends at the two-level store.

“It was a great place,” said 57-year-old David Greenwood, who discovered Endgame when he was going through a divorce. He said he’s long appreciated the store’s age mix, which he described as “anyone who was from 16 or even a father with his kids, up to guys who were in their seventies. And it didn’t matter.”

Unlike online gaming, Endgame’s focus was on in-person, so-called “tabletop” games that include everything from classic board game series like Monopoly to the popular modern card game Magic the Gathering.

Although tabletop games have increased in popularity, Endgame became another casualty of rent prices in the East Bay, according to a farewell letter posted November 9 on the site’s webpage. “So why are we closing? Fatigue, and reality. We are all pretty exhausted,” the Endgame staff wrote. “That is focused on the reality that is knowing that when our lease extension comes around early next year, we won’t be able to afford it.”

The neighborhood includes the budding Swan’s Market, which houses a number of hip, upscale restaurants. The nonprofit East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) owns the Swan’s Market property that Endgame leases. Carol Johnson, the group’s Director of Commercial Real Estate, said she is sad to see them go as “they have been an important part of our Swan’s Market Family for nearly two decades.”

Endgame’s owner and other staff members declined to be interviewed or to give a figure for the shop’s rent. Johnson said that EBALDC had not yet raised rent prices; Endgame’s ownership appears to have made their decision in anticipation of a future increase at the end of the shop’s current lease.

According to Johnson, EBALDC is committed to making their commercial spaces affordable and offers a discount for market rate to nonprofits and locally-owned emerging businesses. Even when the lease is raised due to an increase in operation expenses, Johnson says, “We keep the rate as low as those expenses allow and offer technical assistance and support wherever possible.”

EBALDC is currently working with Endgame staffers and community members to find a sub-tenant for the shop’s space for the remainder of their lease, as well as find a new business or non-profit that fits well into the neighborhood.

Endgame is exiting Swan’s Market at a time when the city is actively molding itself into a national tourist destination. Steve Snider, Executive Director of the Downtown Oakland Association, says that 2 decades ago Swan’s Market was struggling and rent was most likely significantly cheaper. The Old Oakland district where the marketplace is located “is now a very hot commodity in terms of retail space,” Snider said.

Downtown Oakland is also experiencing economic revitalization thanks to its location. As Snider puts it, “It’s right in the geographical epicenter. There’s no reason Downtown Oakland wouldn’t be a [go-to] shopping center. Because of the beauty and location of Oakland, there’s no reason business owners wouldn’t want to open shop.”

And even though Endgame is closing up shop, the tabletop gaming industry is experiencing unprecedented growth. Approximately $200 million was raised in 2018 to fund numerous tabletop projects via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, gaming news site Polygon reported.

Over the years, the store attracted a loyal fan base that came from all over the Bay Area to shop and socialize. For his part, Greenwood said he commuted the 27 miles from Martinez to attend Endgame events. Some tabletop games like the iconic Dungeons & Dragons series can be played online via simulator software such as Roll20, but for Greenwood the shop’s main allure has been human interaction.

Greenwood said he has been a gamer since he was 12 years old, but had mainly done what he referred to as solitary gaming. “I went through most of my life without people to play with,” Greenwood said. It was during his tough period after his divorce that Greenwood decided he wanted to play with others and visited Endgame. There, he noticed, most customers liked to play Warhammer Fantasy, a miniatures tabletop game with a fantasy theme that simulates battles between armies. Greenwood didn’t particularly enjoy Warhammer, but “this place opened up my life to having people to play with,” he said.

South Bay resident Gerald Thomas, age 72, was also a regular at Endgame. He said he was first introduced to tabletop games in the 1960’s, a time when the industry was young and small and not yet competing with electronic games.

All of the Endgame’s inventory has been sold, and only furniture remains.

“There weren’t a lot of games out there, so there was only one or two. A couple of my friends happened to stumble into a store and said, ‘Oh, let’s see what this is,’” Thomas recalled nostalgically. “The first game we ever played was a game called Gettysburg, and it was about the battle of Gettysburg—pretty simplistic. Now, of course, things are a bit more sophisticated. But it was fun. It was enjoyable.”

Thomas finds this form of gaming entertaining because the joy stems from face-to-face interaction just as much as it comes from winning. The experience was heightened for him by Endgame’s spacious upstairs gaming area, where tabletop miniatures events happened every night. Miniatures function as board pieces, and players paint and sculpt them to their liking. Attendees set up elaborate playing boards resembling war-torn battlefields with miniatures of fantastical creatures and warriors strategically scattered across the battlefields.

“There were large tables where they set up for miniatures gaming and that’s nice, because that’s always an issue of having space,” Thomas said. “That was one of the fun things about it—you could come and play.”

Thomas said he will continue to play these games with some friends at his local church, where they all chip in to rent a room. Nevertheless, he said, he cherishes the time he spent at Endgame, and can’t help thinking about the broader implications of high rent prices. “Memories—I think that’s a treasure we all have. But at the same time, it’s an almost essential social commentary about this [situation]. There is an essential greediness to property owners in this area,” he said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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