Originally created 11/05/06

Shop owner offers traditional gamers time, place to play



When Michael Morkve tried to get a loan to start his business, he kept getting the same question.

"So, you're a video game store?"

Not quite. The games at his store don't require batteries, a TV screen or the Internet.

"People just didn't understand what I'm about," said Mr. Morkve, the owner of KingMaker Games, which specializes in traditional board games.

"Gaming," in this day and age, is synonymous with video games, as seen by the half-dozen speciality video game retailers in the area.

The U.S. spent $10.5 billion in 2005 on game consoles and accessories, according to retail researcher NPD Group. Players devote hours to high-stakes rounds of Grand Theft Auto, Halo and, more recently, the controversial school-fighting game Bully.

By comparison, data compiled by NPD show that sales for games and puzzles dropped 8 percent to $2.4 billion in 2005.

While many people consider the boob tube a hobby, Mr. Morkve's shop offers something a little different - a haven for those who see board games as a way to be creative and engage with others.

"I love video games, but people are spending too much time with them and not with each other," said the 35-year-old South Dakota native and longtime gamer.

Open just a month, KingMaker offers everything from the traditional - Sorry and Scrabble - to games tailored more to the connoisseur, such as Axis & Allies or The Lord of the Rings. The store, decorated in neon green, even carries sports games.

He said he opened the shop because he wanted to fill a niche with a clean, well-lit environment that even kids could enjoy.

Although the specialty games can be found at other stores in the area, such as comic book shops, Mr. Morkve said his store focuses only on board games and provides a place where game fans can play any time, free of charge.

That's exactly what Jon Beatty, 35, was there for on Monday morning. Playing a round of the futuristic battle game Warhammer, the Grovetown resident and systems engineer at Fort Gordon said jokingly that he visits the store "as much as my wife will let me."

Mr. Morkve worked various odd jobs since being discharged from the Army as an Arabic linguist at Fort Gordon in 2000.

He decided to open the shop after he looked at his rsum and decided he wasn't thrilled with what he saw.

"Most of my life, I've never really done what I wanted to do," Mr. Morkve said. He considers himself more of a hobbyist than a businessman.

Unable to convince banks that his shop was a good investment, Mr. Morkve put up $20,000 of his own money to get his West Town shopping center store ready, not including the inventory and remodeling costs.

He hopes his shoestring operation will evolve into an established business with help from avid gamers and local chess organizations and churches interested in family-friendly games.

Though banks might not see the value, customers say the shop is a rare find.

"He took a big challenge doing it," Mr. Beatty said.

Waiting his turn to play Monday morning, Matt Simpson, a 25-year-old contractor for Bridgestone/Firestone, said that gaming was a great way to make friends as he moved from city to city as part of a military family.

He said Mr. Morkve is a friendly, welcoming guy - unlike the pretentious, greasy proprietor of the comic book store on television's The Simpsons.

"Hobby shops get a stereotypical image of being rundown, with sleazy guys," Mr. Simpson said. "It couldn't be further from the truth."

As Mr. Morkve continues to learn the ins and outs of running a small shop, he said, he plans to eventually hold tournaments and teach classes on painting the pieces.

"I think everyone needs a hobby other than watching TV," he said. "And I love video games. I'm trying to say that there are other alternatives."

Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or laura.youngs@augustachronicle.com.

KINGMAKER GAMES

--3830 Washington Road

--Suite No. 8

--Martinez, Ga.

--(706) 447-1113 or go to kingmakergames.net

AT KINGMAKER


- Big Sunday Football: $39.99

- Settlers of Catan: $37.99

- Monopoly, U.S. Marines edition: $32.99

- Quelf: $29.99

- Slamwich: $13.99

- Are You a Werewolf?: $3.99

WHAT'S IN A NAME?


KingMaker's name is a nod to Oliver Cromwell, who was at the front of the 17th century English civil war, pushing King Charles I out of power. Refusing the title of "king," he led England as lord protector from 1653 until his death in 1658.


Michael Morkve said the idea is to let all the winners of games and tournaments at his shop feel like kings - so he puts their pictures on his Web site and hands out prizes.