ST ALBANS — Tucked away on a shaded part of a one-way street downtown, there be dragons, sorcerers, mechanized dinosaurs, but most importantly, a lack of screens and an abundance of community.
Rocket Punch Games, an all-inclusive tabletop/card gaming space located at 13 Center St., is owned and operated by husband and wife, Erik and Jes Stumpf, of St. Albans.
Game players of all ages come to immerse themselves in a variety of daring games, with names like Dungeons and Dragons, Fluxx, and most importantly, Magic: the Gathering. Those brave enough to set out on these adventures will find a welcoming and caring community with which to quest.
“My husband is a gamer, and I’m very dedicated to children in our community and having a youth center,” said Jes. She says Rocket Punch is the beginning of that.
With the majority of its customers coming from the student population, Rocket Punch has researched and catered operations to school schedules, even extending hours during Bellows Free Academy exam week.
“Our goal was to have our location within walking distance from the schools,” said Jes . “We wanted to ensure that kids coming out of school have a local option of somewhere to be after school.”
The games aren’t all wizards and swords. For the younger crowd, games such as Hi Ho Cherry-O, Connect-Four and Chutes and Ladders adorn the shelves, just waiting to be played, and for the classical gamer, varying versions of Monopoly, Trouble, Clue and Battleship.
“It is not your mother’s Monopoly, all the time,” said Jes, “But that’s definitely an option here.”
Though Rocket Punch Games has an ever-widening variety of games at its space, without a doubt, the trading card game known as Magic: the Gathering is by far the most played.
“It’s our lifeblood,” said Jes. “It’s what keeps this place running.”
Published in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast, Magic was the first trading card game and it continues to thrive, with approximately 20 million players as of 2015. Magic can be played by two or more players in various formats, the most common of which uses a deck of 60-plus cards, either in person or using through the Internet-based Magic: The Gathering Online, on a smartphone or tablet, or other programs.
An organized tournament system and a community of professional players has developed, as has a secondary market for the cards, in which Rocket Punch participates. These cards can be valuable due to their rarity and utility in gameplay. Often the prices of a single card can be anywhere from a few cents to a few hundred dollars, and in some instances thousands of dollars.
Last weekend, the store held a pre-release Oath of the Gatewatch tournament.
The room was packed with players of all ages and skill levels, battling with new cards unfamiliar to them, with names like Kozilek, the Great Distortion and Reality Smasher. With a $25 entry fee, players received a kit of 60 cards, which, with the assistance of their teammates, quickly whittled down into a roster of 40 usable, tournament-grade minions and allies.
After four hours, the tournament ended, with all participants getting a prize: More cards to collect and trade. They will take those cards and use them in other games and tournaments, such as the Commander League on Mondays, the drafts on Tuesdays, or the rotating format series on Thursdays.
Rocket Punch’s other main sanctioned event is a role-playing game that, if you haven’t played it, you’ve surely heard of it: Dungeons and Dragons.
D&D is an RPG originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and first published in 1974. D&D ’s publication is commonly recognized as the beginning of modern role-playing games and the role-playing game industry. At Rocket Punch, Wednesdays and Sundays are set aside for all things D&D.
The first time visitor to Rocket Punch Games might be slightly overwhelmed at the amount of things going on, especially on one of the event days. Jes says the local gaming community understands the fact that things might look complicated at first, and they are willing to help out new players.
“This is not a space only for super serious gamers, but for anyone who just wants a place to go to with a friend or to make new friends and have a good time, learning a new game or playing one they already know,” said Jes. “It’s just a place to be when you want to go out and just don’t know what to do.”
Jes has always had an interest in the well being of teens, and offering them and others a community space to congregate and share in a fun experience. Rocket Punch contrasts sharply with the world of online and video gaming. The tenets of compassion, mutual respect, and understanding are taught here through example, and the results of one’s behavior are experienced instantly, as opposed to the virtual space, said the Stumpfs.
Jes gives an example: “When you’re playing Magic at the store and you’re not pleased with your opponents play or deck, you can’t just toss the table or throw down your cards and throw a tantrum. When you’re at home playing a video game online, it’s typical play to curse and sweat, threaten other players, throw a controller, etc. It’s what people see in videos and think that is appropriate social behavior.
“At Rock Punch, we remind them that what you see on TV or online is not how face to face communication should be. It’s easy to swear at the person you’re playing online because you don’t know them, but the other kid at the table is a completely different scenario. Respect is fundamental here.”
That philosophy appears to be working. Asked for his impression of the place, Ben Tetreault, 12, a St. Albans Town Educational Center student, says ‘It’s been fun every time I’ve come here.’
Erik and Jes say they are willing and prepared to welcome new people and ideas within their space. At the moment, Rocket Punch is a haven for Magic players, but the couple also envisions a site where traditional games, such as chess, are played alongside games many may never have heard of.
“If people have ideas for us, we’re totally open to them,” said Erik. “We’re volunteer-run, so if people want to volunteer for something, like they have an idea for an event, a game, or something they really are passionate about, we’ve got a player base that we can supply. We’ve got people who are ready to play anything, they don’t care what it is.”
In the future, Rocket Punch has plans to get the casual gaming populace involved in their little corner of the city.
“I want to get more of the community involved, and I want to see things like a Scrabble tournament, or something like that that’s kind of mainstream, and as a result, see some new, interesting people come through the door,” said Erik.
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Rocket Punch Games is open seven days a week, usually 3 to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursdays, 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and 5 to 9 p.m. on Sundays. The schedule can change with the school year. The Facebook page (facebook.com/rocketpunchgames) provides updates, or call 393-5696.