HOLTON — Chris Abernathy’s face lit up when a visitor to Asgards Gate recognized a faded box behind the board game store’s counter.
Milton Bradley’s Fireball Island sat on its own shelf in a lightly worn package. The 1986 strategy game led players across a winding three-dimensional island filled with perils as they journeyed to capture a mountaintop jewel and return to the safety of a dock. The game has been out of print for many years, but Abernathy has two copies.
“I played that a lot when I was a kid and hadn’t seen it in a real long time,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’ve been doing. I’ll buy an old game because of the fond memories, keep and play it for a while, and then I might sell it.”
The nostalgic game is one of dozens for sale at Asgards Gate, 104 W. 5th. Abernathy’s shop, on the north side of Holton’s downtown square, opened Wednesday and, despite the light rain, saw a steady stream of traffic its first day.
Popular strategy tabletop games such as Settlers of Catan, Dungeons and Dragons, and Star Wars X-Wing line the shelves, along with themed games like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer mystery game and a Ghostbusters brand game. Chris and his wife, Raquel, also have versions of classic games like Clue and Monopoly. The Abernathys’ hope is the store, which features an escape room in the back, will provide a family friendly outlet for Holton and northeast Kansas residents looking for a unique activity.
“There are games for everyone,” Chris said. “We don’t like to hear ‘there’s nothing to do here.’”
Board games are in the midst of a “staggering exposition” in popularity, said Phill Kilgore, owner of Overland Park’s TableTop game shop. Since opening in 1994, Kilgore has seen waves of growth and decline in the game industry, but the current resurgence seems more sustainable, he said. A search on crowdfunding website Kickstarter returned nearly 300 new board game concepts looking for funding and the industry grew from $9.3 billion dollars in 2013 to $9.6 billion in 2016, according to Global Toy News, a website that tracks toy industry trends.
Family and friend groups looking for “analog” interaction have spurred most of that growth, he said.
“Every media wants to put a computer screen between you and the activity, and make it a non-human interaction,” he said. “I think humans still fundamentally want face-to-face interaction.”
Kilgore cautioned that the board game industry is a niche market that can be tough to break into.
“If you can foster a real community around your store, that’s where the success is,” he said. “You’re never going to make a fortune, but you’re also never going to hate your job.”
Chris Abernathy expects the store will draw crowds from communities across northeast Kansas. When the store opened for a few hours Sept. 29 for the debut of new Magic the Gathering cards, customers came from Atchison, Topeka and Onaga, he said. The couple hopes to build a community around gaming and will host weekly game demos that give new gamers the opportunity to learn how to play.
Topekan Adam Schultz was in Holton for business when he spotted Asgards Gate’s sign. He noticed Fireball Island and struck up an excited conversation about another vintage Milton Bradley game, Battlemaster, which required a 4 feet by 4 feet landscape mat.
Schultz, who plays board games frequently in Topeka, said tabletop games offer more socialization than video games.
“You get people together and you talk to each other in a positive way,” he said. “There’s more of a connection.”
Raquel agreed. Before meeting Chris, she said she had little interest in board games. Now they provide a fun way to bond with the couple’s children.
“It’s something for all of us to sit down and do together where we’re actually interacting,” she said.
Contact reporter Luke Ranker at (785) 295-1270 or @lrankerNEWS on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/lukeranker.