My ranking, so my rules. I was hoping for a top ten, but the best I could manage was a top nine, a couple of dis-recommendations, and a pair of “looking forward to checking out” stores…

I’ve ranked them with my own classifications:

Good Selection and How is the Physical Space? A game store needs to have a good selection, but often this can mean that the games are shoved into tiny spaces due to store sizes/rent by square footage size equations. Spacing makes the store attractive to the point of not feeling like you are in a coffin surrounded by cardboard boxes.

Sales or Coupons? A local game store has a hard time competing with the on-line world. And I want to support local businesses, but they gotta give us a LITTLE somethin’. I’m often not looking for an on-line price at a local game store, but I do want to get it for less than MSRP and feel like I got my money’s worth. Hence, I search the local facebook and twitter feeds of game stores and pounce when I get wind of a sale.

Where is it? The closer, the better!

Service? Most of the time, I don’t need too much help, but in the certain cases with specific games, trying to get what you want can be a bit more challeging. So having friendly folks that know a few things (and if they don’t, they should at least be willing to assist you!) helps in a pinch.

So… here’s my list after a couple of years of board game madness:

1.  Dr. Comics and Mister Games

Good Selection and How is the Physical Space?

Yes, there’s a decent amount of board games, and they have a decent mix of card, board, German and Ameritrash games. Spacing in the store could be a LITTLE better, but it’s not TOO cramped.

Sales or Coupons?

Once per quarter, these folks have a 25% off sale for a few days and then usually that Saturday of the sale, they have a 40% off sale of board games. The good news is that 40% off, even with sales tax, often beats on-line prices… the only bad news is that some folks plunder the good stuff EARLY.

Where is it? Out in the Piedmont district of Oakland

Service?

Probably TOO good. They ask you what you are looking for, what you like, and have an understanding of games that are similar in theme or mechanics to recommend.

2. Games of Berkeley

Good Selection and How is the Physical Space?

Probably the best selection of the bunch, with Endgame close behind. Space in the store is well managed and they even have a searchable database for their inventory!

Sales or Coupons?Not that I’m aware of. If they did, it would easily take the #1 spot!

Where is it? Out on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley

Service?

Excellent service! I had a specific order for something that was very hard to find anywhere else– including on-line! – and had little time to waste – and was in/out of the place in about 2-3 minutes, tops.

3. Gator Games

Good Selection?

Pretty decent. I’d put it #3 in selection; ahead of Dr Comics and Mister Games in the board games I’m interested in, but behind Games of Berkeley and Endgame. They also have an on-line store, and it features games at “on-line price discount levels”. I picked up a few Alhambra expansionsthis way.

Sales or Coupons?

Yes! You can usually find them on a link to their twitter feed, which is also on the left side of their main webpage. I’ve seen up to 33% off a single item coupon and taken advantage of them, this means that if I’m being stingy, want a particular game, and I’m willing to wait for a sale, this is usually where I’d head.

Where is it? In San Mateo. If it was closer to Casa Steelaraza, it’d probably take the #2 spot.

Service? 

Pretty good when there are not that many folks in the store. When it’s overloaded with MTG folks, though – it can be a long and smelly wait, as the front of the store does not have that much room to move around.

4.  Endgame

Good Selection?

#2 in terms of selection, and the other great thing about it is that it has a lot of space and is well lit. When other gamers are around, this minimizes the distinct smell of gamers and makes it a more attractive place to visit.

Sales or Coupons? 

Not that I’ve seen. And if it had sales, this would likely be #1 or #2. UPDATE: Endgame just announced a game auction– which I think is a fantastic idea, especially by getting rid of games for store credit… So I will have to reconsider this list post-auction.

Where is it? Probably the closest recommended store to Casa Steelaraza out in downtown Oakland.

Service?  

Really good! I resolved an issue with matching an odd card size (i.e. the hobbit cards in the original Ticket to Ride game) to the correct size of card sleeves at this place.

5.  Game-A-Lot

Good Selection?  

Their selection is about right for the list – better than the ones below it and not as voluminous as the ones above it. But back in my Santa Cruz heyday, THIS WAS THE PLACE for gaming stuff. When it was out on Mission Blvd. it was right across the street from my dentist, so it made going for a teeth cleaning an EVENT, because it meant I could score the latest role playing game book afterward. So it’s status on this list is more a function of my nostalgia more than anything else.

Sales or Coupons?

Not that I’m aware of, but I suspect (or faintly recall) that there was a “frequent flyer” discount at the store depending on how much you purchased.

Where is it? Downtown Santa Cruz

Service?

Okay. Not invasive or rude, but didn’t have the information I was asking for. That said, they were nice enough in trying to get the answer for me.

6.  Black Diamond Games

Good Selection?

Yes – slightly smaller than others but designed for enough room and well lit.

Sales or Coupons?

Yes, but infrequent enough that it’s hard for me to time my watch to them.

Where is it? Out in Concord. I rarely BOUGHT anything at the store (pre-dated my resurgent board game craze), but it gave me something to do on my lunch break when I was working out in Concord.

Service? Good enough! And I do enjoy reading blog entries about the owner’s experience with running a game store, it’s an eye-opener about the other side of the table, to be sure.

7.  Illusive Comics and Games

Good Selection? 

Small for games (more a comic store than a game store), but I understand that they are expanding the game section of the store and I’m looking forward to visiting them again soon!

Sales or Coupons?

Infrequent and meager (10%), but much better than not at all!

Where is it? In Santa Clara near El Camino and Brokaw. Oh wait, that was when it was Brian’s Books and Cards – now it’s around the corner of the same building complex.

Service?

Again, good enough. I remember “Steve” behind the counter from the Brian’s Books days, but I couldn’t say what their particular gaming knowledge levels were.

8.  It’s Your Move Games

Good Selection? 

Relatively small, but again, spacing in the store is decent enough. I often went to this store when I was more into Munchkin and couldn’t locate the expansions at EndGame because they had sold out. I think of it as the “backup when others have failed” store to check.

Sales or Coupons? Haven’t seen any recently.

Where is it? Near 51st and Telegraph.

Service? 

Good enough.

9.  Legends

Good Selection? Seemed to the last time I was there about a year ago after a company function at the bowling alley.

Sales or Coupons?  Not that I can spot.

Where is it? Out in the South Bay in the Vallco Mall. I think it’s Cupertino?

Service? Seemed okay. At the time I went in I was trying to hunt for the 1910 Ticket to Ride expansion. They had it, but it was full MSRP. I mulled it over and thought I could do better at another store.

Not Recommended

D&J Hobby

Why?

D&J was the “other store” I immediately thought of while I was in the South Bay looking for the 1910 TTR expansion at Legends. I found it at D&J, but it was actually marked ABOVE MSRP by $7! I asked the counter guy if the pricing was correct and he said yes (claiming it was out of print – not true – and therefore they could ask higher prices), and would not budge an inch. Stores with attitudes like this won’t be stores for much longer!

This is sad, as D&J was an old haunt for my early D&D 3.0 days… they also had a voluminous amount of old 80s stuff that I should’ve purchased out of sheer nostalgic value, namely, the Steve Jackson “In The Labyrinth” series of games which are considered pre-GURPS historical treasures and was the basic game for my Sundays during my formative years.

Now… not so much.

D20 Alameda

Why?

Great name for a game store – and it’s in the hometown, but it’s really a teen hangout for Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and networked computer games. Which, a few years back, would’ve been fine for me during my MTG years, but little space in the store is devoted to board games and every time I’ve been in there it has been pretty cramped… so they do get business, I’m not their breed of customer anymore.

Still to Check Out – haven’t been there yet but want to visit some day:

House of Games in Fremont

Why?

They do have sales (check their facebook page) and Fremont isn’t THAT far away.

Game Kastle

Why? I keep hearing about this place, but I’ve never been there! It’s out in the Santa Clara area near the airport… I get the impression their knowledge and selection is good but probably no active sales.

Are there any stores I missed that other folks recommend? If so, comment away!!! 🙂

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