Role of the die
Reno’s new tabletop bar opens in Midtown
My best friend is a cleric named Ander. My husband happens to be a high elf sorcerer named Alinar. Together, along with our dwarf, monk and gnome comrades, we attempt to navigate a dangerous world, lighting enemies on fire and searching for mystical relics. A mysterious talking tree gives us cryptic instructions along the way.
In reality, we’re a motley crew of techies and geeks who have formed a bond through Dungeons & Dragons—colloquially known as D&D since its creation in the 1970s. For the uninitiated, D&D is a role-playing game in which events and actions are determined by rolling a 20-sided die. D&D’s popularity soared in the 1980s. (Some may remember the controversy around it as fearful suburbanites called it “Satan’s game.”) Die-hard fans continued to play well into the early aughts, but thanks largely to internet-based communities, the culture that surrounds role-playing and tabletop games, such as Settlers of Catan, is in the midst of a renaissance. These communities are reviving these analog activities as a break from the pervasive digital technology that is intertwined with geek culture. A testament to this resurgence is the Glass Die, a new bar dedicated to board games, which opened in April.
Jeff Carter is the owner of the Glass Die. The bar’s name is a reference to the iconic die used in role-playing. Prior to opening the bar, he spent nine years working in forestry, conservation and wildfire, serving on the Truckee Hotshots crew. The work was taking a toll on his body, so he decided it was as good a time as ever to put his energy toward his passions: beer and tabletop gaming.
“I’ve had the idea for a couple years,” said Carter. “I’d seen other ones, and took a trip to Seattle, and visited Guardian Games in Portland.” He cited these popular establishments, along with Sacramento’s tabletop game culture, as examples of what could be done in Reno.
Carter took over the bottom floor of the building on the corner of Holcomb Avenue and Sinclair Street in Midtown—the metal facade is hard to miss from the street. The building, vacant for several years, was formerly home to City of Reno administrative offices and the marketing agency Twelve Horses. Carter hopes the location in Midtown will draw curious people from off the street.
The Glass Die isn’t Reno’s first tabletop gaming bar, but Carter thinks he got started at the right time, as demand for a board gamer-friendly hangout increased.
“It’s definitely not a new concept,” he said. “Reno is always in this weird state—we’re both a little ahead of the times, and a little behind the times. There’s a mix of weird progressiveness in this city.”
Similar establishments haven’t fared well. Reno Pub and Games, located on Kietzke Avenue, closed last year. But Carter thinks it was more of an issue with location, rather than enthusiasm.
“I don’t think it was because there wasn’t a community to support it,” he said.
Carter held a Kickstarter in March to raise money to increase the current collection of board games. He contributed 100 games from his personal collection. The Kickstarter reached its initial goal of $2,000 almost immediately and raised close to $5,000 in three weeks. Even gaming enthusiasts from out of state contributed to the crowdfunding—donors from Salt Lake City made a visit to Reno once the Glass Die opened.
If this seems surprising, tabletop culture is full of passionate fans who dedicate a substantial amount of money and time to the activity. My own D&D group’s enthusiasm is proof of this. A painting of us commissioned from local artist Daniel Martin is hung on the wall at the Glass Die, my bow-wielding half-elf rogue in the center, next to a portrait featuring another local crew who also wanted to see their characters immortalized through art. (Full disclosure: I did not contribute to the Glass Die’s Kickstarter, but friends of mine did. I have no personal connection to the business.) Since its soft opening on April 1, the bar already has regulars who show up weekly to play games or role play with their friends.Roll for initiative
Thanks in part to the Kickstarter funding, the Glass Die now has more than 170 games in its collection.
“Our goal, by June, is to get in the range of 300 games,” said Carter. Some games are expensive, costing anywhere from $300 to $600. He manages the game library by himself. There are some house rules—put back what you take out, and try not to lose anything.
“If people can manage to put them back without pieces missing, that’s huge,” he said.
Carter organizes the games by difficulty. There are plenty of casual games like Cards Against Humanity and Connect 4. There are sets of classic games, like chess. And there are the harder games that take hours to learn and play, such as Star Wars: Rebellion and Game of Thrones: The Board Game.
Carter hopes the bar will also serve as a learning experience for new gamers who may be intimidated by these more complex games. The shelf system is organized in such a way that a person can work their way from the bottom to the top, from easy to difficult. Carter loves any opportunity to share his expertise about tabletop games and make recommendations to patrons. Carter himself prefers board games to role-playing games like D&D and Pathfinder.
“I’d rather play a really complex game for four hours and wrack my brain,” he said. His favorite type of game is a Eurogame, sometimes referred to as a “Euro worker,” which refers to a type of strategy game that often includes an element of resource gathering, trade and economics, and area control.
Carter said Settlers of Catan continues to be a popular choice with patrons, but regular visitors are taking chances on the more complicated games, such as Scythe, a strategy game centered on factions and resource collecting. If you needed more evidence of how serious the tabletop game community is, the creator of Scythe raised nearly $2 million in a 2015 Kickstarter campaign to get the game made and distributed.
Every game is free to play at the Glass Die. All that’s for sale are beverages—most notably, beer, but also cider, wine, tea and local cold brew coffee from Magpie Coffee Roasters. Carter said the bar is just as much about beer as it is about board games.
“I try to focus on the beer,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of thought into the beer menu.”
At least half of all beers on tap are local, and he switches them out regularly, so visitors can always try something new. Patrons can roll a 20-sided die to help aid their choice of drink—whichever number they get corresponds to a beer on the menu.
In the near future, Carter hopes to have a small shop within the bar that sells new games created by independent artists. However, he steers people toward existing game shops, such as Comic Kingdom and Games Galore, if they’re looking for a place to purchase their own games.
“There are other shops that focus on retail,” he said. “I want people to try new things, come here and hang out with their friends, have local beer. I just want to do something different. I really like beer, and I really like board games.”