In a normal year, starting a business is a scary and daunting venture.
During a pandemic, it’s downright crazy, but Tara Thomas and partner Hutton Baird have found their new game store in downtown Seymour has become a refuge for people needing something to do and somewhere to go.
In three and a half months since opening at 210 W. Second St., The Castle Games has developed a strong following of children and adults who share an interest in playing games, from strategic card games to role-playing games to traditional board games.
“It has kind of been a whirlwind,” Thomas said. “We’ve experienced a lot of growth in such a short time. Every month, we’ve seen a steady increase and new people come in every single day.”
Business has been so good, Thomas and Baird had to hire their first employee to help run the store.
Castle Games attracts customers and players not just from Seymour and Jackson County, but from neighboring communities including Columbus, North Vernon and Scottsburg, and even as far away as Franklin.
“It has been so fulfilling,” Thomas said. “We have so many people tell us, ‘This store means so much to me, and it has changed my life.’ The community needed this.”
Compared to other game stores, Thomas said The Castle Games is a lot different because of its aesthetic appeal.
Instead of cramming everything into a small space, the store has a large retail area offering an impressive inventory of Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon cards for purchase along with other games and accessories, a separate game room and a Dungeons and Dragons room that can be rented out for parties or private events.
“The D and D room has been a huge hit,” she said. “We already have reservations and a store-hosted event that happens bimonthly. Everybody loves it.”
On any given evening during the week and weekends, players pack the tables in the back game room. Drafts and tournaments are held regularly, along with casual play and special events. All COVID-19 safety precautions, including face masks and social distancing, are being observed to protect players, Baird said.
On Oct. 31, the store is hosting Halloween at the Castle with a costume contest, all-day trick-or-treating, Pokemon from noon to 3 p.m., a Halloween draft at 4 p.m. and Ultimate Werewolf from 7 p.m. to close.
They also are putting together a Vampire campaign, which is another role-playing game.
“There’s so much more to The Castle than just selling games,” Thomas said. “People spend time here. They aren’t just in and out. They are here socializing. It’s a community. It has been really cool to see that and to see people enjoy what we offer.”
Most popular of the games is Magic.
Each game of Magic represents a battle between wizards who cast spells, use artifacts and summon creatures as depicted on individual cards to defeat their opponents. Players strategically build a deck of cards to use when playing.
Zach and Courtney Henderson of Seymour are regulars and agree the atmosphere is fun, relaxed and welcoming.
“The owners are great people who have become great friends,” Zach said. “The environment they have curated is warm and extremely welcoming and positive. It seems to have filled a void downtown that most didn’t even realize was there.”
Jason White of Seymour used to play Magic in high school and decided to get back into it after recently giving up bowling. He and his young son, Declan, now visit the store a couple of times a week to buy cards or play.
“It provides a friendly place to play all sorts of games, a good environment for kids and adults alike,” White said. “Tara and Hutton are friendly and very helpful. It’s nice to have a place to go and play Magic again with my buddies and make new friends.”
Knowing not everyone is an experienced gamer, The Castle Games offers opportunities for beginners to come in and learn how to play, including free-to-play games. They recently held such an event for the game Warhammer, which was a success, Baird said.
“We will help them from the ground up and introduce them to others in the community and get them into events,” Thomas said.
She also will educate herself about games people are wanting to play, which she is doing with the game Digimon, and will special order cards and games for customers.
“I’m all about encouraging the community to engage with these games,” she said.
Other popular board games available to purchase at The Castle Games include Ticket to Ride, Munchkin, Catan and Dice Forge and Mysterium.
“We probably offer more than 100 games right now,” Thomas said.
She hopes to have an indie game section at the store sometime in the near future.
Although playing games is fun, it can also be a way for people to build skills in communication, speaking and critical thinking while being creative.
Gaming is the perfect escape from reality, especially in today’s world, Thomas added.
“It gives you the ability to be somebody that you don’t necessarily have the confidence for in real life,” she said.
If you go
What: Halloween at The Castle
Where: The Castle Games, 210 W. Second St., downtown Seymour
When: Oct. 31, all day
Costume contest, all-day trick-or-treating, Pokemon from noon to 3 p.m., a Halloween draft at 4 p.m. and Ultimate Werewolf from 7 p.m. to close.