Wednesday, November 5, 2014

(Review) Emerald Vale Games - Six Months Later

Six months ago, I entered a brand new local game store in Wilkes-Barre with little stock, but a friendly demeanor for a new customer and a microwave burrito for the Magic players.  Too much was in flux early on to give them a true review, but after six months, is Emerald Vale Games getting better, or is it even there at all?

Location:   Still there and going strong.  I can't complain about a location where I can get out of the parking garage at work, stop in for a conversation with the guys, and get home only twenty minutes later than normal.  It's convenient, but not too close to turn it into a "corner bar."  It is like hitting the bar after work for a quick drink except I talk shop and pay more than I would for an Old Milwaukee (if would ever buy an Old Milwaukee to begin with)

The sign took over a month, and two contractors to install, but it's there.  The font of the logo and the size of the name don't make it as eye catching as it might, but let's not change it to "GAME AT JOE'S" in Arial Black quite yet.

They're also on their second expansion, having taken over the adjacent storefront and creating a Games Workshop zone a few months back.  Now they're taking over the former tattoo shop on the other side.  The wargaming section and a special role-playing room are planned for the tattoo shop, and an expansion of the store proper and CCG table for the main store and the current wargame room.
Edit: 01/21/2015 - Emerald Vale Games has moved right down the street to 109 West End Rd Wilkes-Barre, PA, next to Colarusso's Pizza, a mere two blocks or so away from the original location.

Clientele:  So far, the crew that shows up to play seem like a good bunch.  I haven't encountered anyone with massive hygiene problems, save the dude who reeked of cigarettes.   There will always be the Will Ferrell "Hot Pocket / Meat Loaf" Magic guy.  I believe they are created for balance in the universe.

They are a friendly bunch.  When I spent a few moments admiring someone's Space Marine army that was on display, it's owner came over and tried to talk a little 40k mixed with a lot of "here, let me show you some cool stuff I did to the figures, like painting techniques and installing LEDs."  I believe he could be a good ambassador for the store, and a solid pitchman to some kid's parents wondering why they should drop so much for a sci-fi model/unit/army.

As I said before, Magic has their prerequisite db's who once you get to know them, most are probably ok, but like a neutral narrator on a Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom show, on appearance alone some are acting like jerks.

The "f-bomb incident" occurred and I blogged about it.  Was it really an incident?  No, and when I played in my first booster draft in October, there were a few grown men talking like punk ass kids, but there was no sign go young kids or GW moms for miles.  Perhaps they had already scared them off.  Some of these guys aspire to be professional players, but are amatuerish in their social skills.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I have seen entire families come in and hang out for the day, playing cards and boardgames. 

I also caught wind of a charity booster draft to help out a fellow gamer's family, but details have been scant ever since.  Would be nice to see some community outreach, which is a fault of almost all gaming stores.

In-house game of Shadowrun and Pathfinder Society are running, as well as a board game night, Heroclix tournament, booster drafts, and regular tournaments for Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh!  Haven't seen anything for GW yet, but guys are still assembling armies.

Cleanliness:  There was a time that the constant projects and table building kept every at an "Excuse Our Dust" level, but things were quickly cleaned up.  I would have liked to see one big clean-up/painting attack before the Christmas season, but they're pretty busy and I'm not volunteering my services.

The one area that does detract from the store at large is the wargaming area.  The lighting is rarely on, terrain is left scattered on the table, and while there are shelves available for people to leave their armies in the making, things are disorganized and a perfect opportunity for sticky fingers to snag a few overpriced GW models.  Hopefully the new gaming room changes that.

Ammenities:  The card tables the Brad (and Joe) built are still there and standing up well to the gamer onslaught.  There are four wargaming tables, two with pegboard table bases to help secure terrain.  Snacks and drinks are always kept in good supply and the bathrooms (2 of them!) are acceptable

Board Games:  I'm not quite following the evolution of the board game section, but it continues to grow.  Bang!  Frag, Munchkin, various card games, and even a few old standards like Battleship and Trouble.

RPG:  Pathfinder, 5th Edition D&D, GURPS, Pathfinder, Shadowrun

Minis:  They did get a GW account and done very well playing it conservative, yet easily making their minimum orders.  Of course, their first 40K restock was right before 7th got released, but things have continually sold. They did also expand to Heroclix (Marvel/DC), and a few Yu-Gi-Oh! clix for fun.

CCGs:  Magic and some Yu-Gi-Oh!   Thought it was bad sorting out your Ice Age or Mirage sets years back?  Now imagine TWENTY years of Magic singles to sort out and binder up.  Uncommons and Rares have been haphazardly organized at best.

Now, any business worth it's salt should say they're constantly re-imagining themselves to stay ahead.  Brad and Joe are constantly thinking eight steps ahead with what they would like to do, all the while working towards making the next logical step a reality.  That being said, considering what the store has done thus far, but also reviewing what things are planned, I'm going to give Emerald Vale a solid three and a half gnome rating.

The Half-a-Gnome is hiding behind the bush
There's still room for improvement (literally.  They're knocking out walls to prove it).  And as my FLGS, I'm required to be hard on them.

The one thing that I gauge stores on (and have a horrible record with) has always been their ability to process special orders.  After order seven items from them, five have arrived with no problems.  One was not available through normal distribution channels, and the last item should be arriving this week.  The only person to treat my special orders better was... well... me as a store manager.

The other similar thing that gives me great hope for success is what Joe told me as he scoured the distributors for the last copy of Tales of the Sleepless City in existence. " I can order a Magic cards all the time, it's the other stuff like special orders that gets me excited."  

Emerald Vale Games is located at 838 Sans Souci Parkway, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18706.  Check them out on Facebook as well (like the website, it's a work in progress, but they're trying).

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