CINCINNATI -- A local businessman is rolling the dice on a rebounding community and is on a quest to bring modern gaming to Cincinnati’s city core.
James Williams opened Arkham House Games at 1609 Madison Road on Sept. 1 in the busy DeSales Corner area of East Walnut Hills.
The store features a variety of gaming styles like role-playing, strategy board games, card games, miniature-based games and more.
Williams was working as a general manager of a restaurant before opening the store.
“I just got to a point where I thought, ‘You know, I’d really like to work for myself,’” he said.
Fortunately, Williams had been saving up money to open up his own bar when he learned of some fortuitous news. Another Cincinnati gaming shop -- YottaQuest -- was closing up shop after being a community fixture for years.
He had never thought to open his own store before that because of competition between stores in a mid-size market, but YottaQuest’s end opened the path to pursuing gaming instead of hassling with a bar.
“I just kind of shifted gears and went to the game store path because this is always what I had wanted to do, but it had never been feasible until now,” Williams said.
He already had an established customers base from his own time as a gamer, but many of YottaQuest’s customers have become regulars as well.
The nascent entrepreneur was drawn to East Walnut Hills for a variety of reasons, but prime among them was the location.
“If you look at a map of Cincinnati, all the gaming stores are spread out around the outside of town -- there’s nothing centrally located,” Williams said. “It would take you 20 or more minutes to get to any store in the city.”
His hope is that by being so close to the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, he’ll be able to draw from a larger pool of customers who may not be able to make it out to the other shops.
“I’ve already had people come in and say, ‘This is so awesome. I live five minutes from campus and I can just take the bus to get here, so this is awesome for me,’” Williams said.
Williams said there are several shops that have opened in the DeSales Corner area over the past year that will tie in nicely with his shop. That includes The Growler House, Mardi Gras on Madison and O-Pie-O, as well as Myrtle’s Punch House.
Arkham House is also just across the street from Suzie Wong’s on Madison, Kitchen 452 and Café DeSales. Next year the neighborhood will be home to The Woodburn Brewery, too.
Williams hopes that all that foot traffic and synergy between businesses will work out to his favor. Patrons are also encouraged to order delivery or bring in their own food.
“We just thought it would be a really good place to get in on the ground floor,” Williams said.
The adult gamers can do more than just bring in their own food. Customers 21 years or older are welcome to bring in their own growlers or beer to drink, and Williams encourages people to check out The Growler House down the road.
He just asks that people be respectful and go elsewhere if they want to do more than just share a couple craft beers while gaming. The only days drinking is prohibited are Wednesday and Friday nights due to tournament restrictions.
“We’re much more of a coffee shop or ‘hanging out with my friends’ type shop than a bar. But I absolutely encourage you to grab a growler and your friends and come play some games,” Williams said.
Arkham House may only be a few months old, but Williams is already planning for an expansion. In addition to adding more to his gaming library, he plans on adding miniature-based games like Warhammer. He said his customers will be the driving force behind any future expansions.
“Right now we have a lot of board games, card games and role-playing games. We don’t have a lot of miniature war gaming, and that’s what customers are asking about,” Williams said. “Eventually we’ll bring in terrain and more tables for those games.”
Currently, Arkham House can fit about 52 people at tables for tournaments and events.
In addition to the games that can be bought at the store, the shop has a library of free games that patrons can come in and play. Williams encourages people to buy some soda or candy if they play the free games or bring in their own; but he has no plans to institute a cover charge.
“We have a board game library because I just need a place to put all my games,” he said with a laugh. “Eventually all my friends started adding their games too.”
Williams said his goal is to be community-oriented, and he welcomes people to bring in their own games and just have a great place to host gaming sessions. He does host some pay-to-play tournaments such as Magic: The Gathering tournaments, but those are affiliated with official companies and cost money to take part in.
In addition to hosting tournaments, Arkham House will also host several demo days and expositions from game makers. The plan is to have events every weekend.
“I get a lot of people who come in and are new to gaming,” Williams said. “So I want to have people on hand at all times to demo board games and welcome people to the community.”
Williams encourages families to try games like King of Tokyo or Settlers of Catan to get started. As families or players get more into gaming, they can level up to harder games such as Pandemic or Lords of Waterdeep -- games that require more strategy and thought.
“We’ve probably sold 20 copies of King of Tokyo since we’ve opened. It’s just a really awesome family game,” Williams said.
Games can also be a great way to get fans of Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars to get more into the mythology of their favorite stories.
“One of my go-to games for families or people new to game is Love Letter. It takes about five minutes to learn, and there are, like, 20 different versions,” Williams said. “The game mechanics are all the same, but they have Batman Love Letter, Adventure Time Love Letter, The Hobbit Love Letter -- whatever your thing is, they’ll probably have it.”
Beyond families and gamers, Arkham House has found itself an unusual niche since opening -- couples on dates.
Williams said that in the past couple months, several couples have come in for date nights. He said they usually get food from Firehouse Pizza nearby, grab a growler or six-pack at The Growler House, pick out a couple games and play all night.
The store is open Monday-Thursday 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.; from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday; noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.