First-time visitors to The Guild House in Bellflower are greeted by an almost rustic expanse of old-school-style wooden floor paneling. The tabletop gaming store’s products are accommodated by shelves and displays that could almost be mistaken for homemade. Yet, this homey enclosure is betrayed by ornate and fresh-off-the-assembly-line game pieces and models. It lends the store a uniquely fantastical aura befitting its stock.
Formerly an exercise studio, the ceiling line features slogans that seems more fitting to its current use than a pound shaving storefront including: “Enter the innermost cave,” and “Result/reward.”
Maps and character sheets envelop tables as gamers prepare for hour-long excursions of “Dune: Imperium,” while in the corner, two homegrown artisans haggle over trading stipulations for their custom figurines. An air of experienced knowledge pervades the store, as overheard conversational snippets betray a sense of expertise only attainable through years of play.
In its ninth year of operation, The Guild House has acquired many table veterans. These practiced hands, like Matthew Smith, can seem almost mythical in their comprehension, yet they all exude a simple contentment that proves to be the primary reason they keep coming back.
“There’s options to play games online, but it’s much funner to play a game around the table, you get the socialization,” Smith said. “As far as why we come here, it’s a convenient place to play the game. We’re surrounded by other gamers, we got some nice tables, the cost isn’t too high. It’s a good place to get together.”
The world of tabletop gaming can seem insurmountable to a newcomer, but those who take even the smallest of steps towards role-playing board games will find themselves greeted by an eminently welcoming community.
Originally located in Artesia for its first two years, the establishment would weather a change to its current location in 2016, managing to carry most of its customer base with it.
The store, presided over by Charles Mendez, proves to be a veritable treasure trove of gaming memorabilia. At every corner, there is some new item that is likely to leave rookies in the gaming scene baffled over how to proceed.
Luckily for them, Mendez has taken steps to ensure that no potential customer gets lost in the weeds of Pathfinder and Parcheesi, with signs clearly denoting the skill level and time commitment required for each game.
While his time employed by the tabletop gaming giant Games Workshop instilled professional values that he strives to maintain in the store he’s owned since 2014, he has also allowed himself to implement some more human touches that have proved to pay dividends for his business.
“It’s one of the reasons we have cats, we have one, but there are two more who are getting adjusted,” Mendez said. “A lot of the time people come along solely to pet the cats.”
Despite the gatekeeping aura of the tabletop gaming community, Mendez and his store go to show that meeting a monthly rent and a love for the game creates a far more welcoming approach to potential customers.
“You have the boyfriend who comes in to buy Warhammer, but the girlfriend can get a knitted flower keychain,” Mendez said. “We try to cater to everyone in the niche.”
That is not to say that the more hardcore proponents of the gaming scene are ignored. The Guild House rents multiple gaming tables that have facilitated hours of Dungeons and Dragons and other gameplay.
Though Mendez is largely content to merely keep the lights on and service local gamers, some of his future ambitions do include expanding the in-person play aspect of the store.
“We’re trying to do an inter-store league over the summer, track game hours played,” Mendez said. “A little bit of friendly competition between stores.”
Miniature game pieces have their own space on the store shelves, being one of the more impenetrable aspects of the hobby. Almost a separate hobby in itself, the designing and painting of miniature game pieces has scared away many newcomers.
“It is a different aspect that can take people aback if you’re new,” Mendez said. “But if you get your feet wet, paint a mini or two, and understand how easy it can be, it’s not too bad.”
While those who lack the inclination to indulge in that facet of the hobby are perfectly able to play with unpainted figures, a cottage industry of professional designers has also sprung up.
“Some people, if you have the money, you can actually commission someone else to paint for you,” Mendez said. “My brother has a good job that takes up a lot of his time, so he’s gotten some beautiful minis commissioned.”
Despite their seemingly inexplicable nature, miniatures are still able to draw newcomers. Freshly minted Guild House regular Derrick Herrera initially passed through the establishment’s hollowed doors with nary a care for painted plastic, and now can not seem to pull himself away.
“I was never too into the models. [When I first] came here, I was more of a Magic player,” Herrera said. “My brother got [me] a starter kit to see what I would do with it. Right after that, it was a plastic addiction.”
Mendez’s willingness to share his expertise with customers and knack for unconventional draws has served him well in the near decade of his store and should they persist, Bellflower’s gaming hub might just become a local staple.
Whether you are a veteran of tabletop games or someone unable to tell Magic from Monopoly, The Guild House has something for you. Stop by 16631 Bellflower Boulevard in Bellflower to pet some cats, rediscover an old family favorite, or unearth a new hobby.