The frontage of Gameshack in Grand Harbour may be unassuming, but step inside and it’s a shop full of energy and creativity.
There are several tabletops decorated with three-dimensional mini-landscapes, castles, futuristic post-apocalyptic cityscapes and small armies of carefully hand-painted figures.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see people, dice in hand, engrossed in manipulating those small figures, battling out scenarios against each other to see which army will prevail.
Welcome to the world of tabletop strategy gaming, a worldwide hobby that has captured the imagination of gamers for decades.
Steve Wilkins runs the shop with a lot of help from his young Caymanian assistant and he explained that the games are very different from fantasy computer games, for example.
“I personally prefer this because I prefer to play against real people and each game is entirely different. Computer games lock you into the programming so if you get to a certain level then start again you’d get back there quite quickly because you know the ropes.
“With this every game is different and you just don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
Tabletop strategy games are played with rulers, dice and characters, which are hand-painted by the youngsters who play, explains Steve.
“We run hobby camps most school vacations. We get them modelling, painting and gaming, sometimes with little fun games to keep the enthusiasm going, like Arena of Death. And we sometimes give them certificates and cool badges if they complete a certain number of activities.”
With a palette of paint colours that includes Blood Red, Bestial Brown, Skull White, Graveyard Earth, Snakebite Leather and the delightful Vomit Brown, the tongue-in-cheek fantasy aspect of gaming presents itself in vivid hue.
There are three main gaming systems on show, made by Games Workshop, Flames of War and the famous Warhammer. Each has an initially-bewildering cast of characters including superhumans, space marines, aliens, eldars, monsters, goblins, orcs, dwarves, wizards, all with their own game character and different attributes of strength, magic and other abilities.
Currently a painting competition is taking place with the prize being a fully-assembled display quality painter High Elf Lord on a dragon. To enter, Steve says, all you need to do is purchase a small model and paint it. There’s also a competition to win painted high elf army models.
There are game books full of different scenarios that can be followed during a gaming session that outline different tasks to complete during a game, which can take anything from two hours to literally days depending on the amount of characters involved, says Steve.
“The bigger the army, the bigger the table needed to battle on. The 8×4 table allows you to play an apocalypse army which is one step up from the basic game and uses a lot of models– at the apocalypse level it could take a couple of days.
“Then there’s Bloodbowl, which is basically a board game of American football and there are all sorts of leagues and tournaments out there too,” he explains.
And whilst it’s fundamentally a lot of fun, the act of moving your army into positions where you can attack the opponent, hold designated ground or engage the opposition actually involves complex cerebral processing, says Steve.
“It’s strategic thinking, it helps with maths and a lot of companies now are taking it to the next level and using it in marketing.
We’re looking to get corporate guys down here to do fun days with their guys where teams could play against each other. Can the managers defeat other strategic thinkers? Let’s have a challenge and find out!”
Gameshack’s other popular lines include card games like Yu Gi Oh and Pokemon plus Magic: The Gathering which Steve says is designed more for the older player. As a sanctioned supplier, Gameshack is entitled to host tournaments, with registered players gaining points, entered as central data toward their total and ultimately their world ranking.
International tournaments even take place to find out the best players on the planet.
Seems that the only limits are indeed dependent on imagination; not quite what you anticipate when you stroll toward a humble shop doorway at Grand Harbour now is it?
For further information on clubs, competitions and masterclasses go to: www.gameshack.ky