May 27 2009 12:00 AM

The elaborate world of Lansing gamers


A platoon of Space Marines walks in formation down the street of a demolished city weaving through crushed buildings and over barbed wire, but Space Marine Sgt. Dan Howard knows something is wrong. And indeed, a Chaos Daemon Soul Grinder and an army of Bloodletters spring from the ruins with blades to hack the souls from their enemies, forcing the Marines to retreat to their BaneSword tank.

Later on, after the battle, Howard will retreat to his other gig as owner of Fortress Comic and Games in East Lansing. And those bombedout buildings and the Bloodletters? Those are props in an elaborate tabletop Styrofoam set in the store that are part of “Warhammer 40K,” one of several interactive games offered at Fortress.

Strategy games like “Warhammer” are part of the popular hobby of roleplaying, board and tabletop games sweeping Lansings comic book stores and coffee shops.

The games are so popular that stores such as Fortress, Clems Collectibles and 21st Century Comics are having their best seasons ever.

"It’s honestly something that is as accessible to an average family as it is to college students with plenty of time and lots of science fiction logged in the back of their brains," Tom Flammer, manager at Clems Collectibles, said.

Flammer has been at Clem's for eight years and has seen a recent rise in role-playing, board and tabletop gaming at the store, which he attributes the games’ inexpensiveness and fun.

Andrew Morrow, owner of 21st Century Comics, said that gamers come from all over Lansing because the game is usually only sold in small comic shops.

Morrow said these particular games are one of many that have become popular in the recession. He said games usually cost $50 to $80, which players pay once.

"Ultimately you are spending way less on entertainment for way more entertainment," Morrow said.

The store holds tournaments and game nights once a month. Recently, 21st Century hosted “Dungeons and Dragons” Day II, which happens twice each year.

But role-playing isn't just happening in comic book shops.

Jae Walker, president of the Capital Area Role Players, takes her group to role play at the Gone Wired Caf on Lansing’s east side every other weekend.

She said her group mostly plays the fantasy classic, “Dungeons and Dragons,” which she calls “make believe with rules.”

For Walker, battling strange creatures through the game gives her the ability to share a secret side of her.

"It gives me a way to indulge in socially unacceptable impulses in a socially acceptable way," Walker said.

Fortress, which offers the most “Warhammer” play space in the Lansing area, hosts scheduled onsite gaming every Friday, but players are allowed to come in and face off any time at no charge.

Ultimately, he said, the inexpensive cost is just another appeal to the gaming craze.

"There are people who go out and spend $100 on Friday at the bar," he said. "But they come in here every Friday and (to buy a one-time “Warhammer” army) is like $400. That actually ends up saving them money. Plus you dont have to be pulled over for drunk driving."