The week before UConn goes back into session and the local schools start again is a great time to take your gamer for a little getaway to Friendly Fire in Mansfield. This no-frills gaming center is an inviting spot for the focused hobbyist, with multiple computer setups, flat screens and well-versed gaming co-owners Jacob Buck and Dan Keener.
This is a place where the shy guys can meet their own and feel at home but not alone.
“I could eat your food right now,” one player teases Buck, who is drawn to handle some business at the front counter.
“Don't eat my food,” Buck pretends to be threatened. And then they get into a chat about the best wings.
There's room here for female gamers and families, who often try out the Rock Band and Wii games, sometimes while Mom or Dad takes a seat in the back of the store to give some generous space to the up-and-comer they're raising.
“It's just a fact that there's more guy gamers than girl gamers,” Buck says. But Friendly Fire welcomes all.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a table of three Magic players made their moves in the popular game that's been around for about two decades. They brought their own stuff, but the store sells Magic: the Gathering cards and doesn't mind if people park there to play. After all, they'll buy snacks and be part of the scene.
The owners, gamers themselves, are their own draw. They know the ropes, the lingo, the right atmosphere. “Customers want to play specifically with us,” Buck says. Sometimes they'll turn a customer on to a new game and his skills will take off. “I've introduced people to new games they never thought existed, and then they're better than us,” he says.
The store is open all week, noon to 11 p.m., and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, sometimes later. They have 16 high-performance computer stations, seven console stations with HDTVs that include Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii games. They often host Nostalgia Nights, featuring early video games such as the Mario series, and run Nickelodean cartoons – from the cool era, Buck says.
They charge $5 per hour of play, $12 for three hours, $20 for all day and less for gold members and for full-day weekday passes. But they'll never shut you off in the middle of a race or game. “We go by the motto: By Gamers, For Gamers,” Buck says. “I've been there.”
On Labor Day weekend, they will do another Lock-In; from 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, to noon Saturday, Sept. 3, gamers have unlimited play for $20 ($15 for gold members). If you can't survive the full time, they'll let you out. But many fans of the Lock In will bring a tent or just stay up and play the whole time. Pizza at night and doughnuts in the morning are on the house.
“We have one guy who insists on sleeping under the table and gets up to play in the morning,” Buck says.
So, what about those shy guys? Do they come alive here?
“Oh, yeah. We open 'em up,” Buck smiles.
Friendly Fire Game Center is in the Grand Union plaza at 591 Middle Turnpike in Mansfield. For a list of games, events and tournaments, visit their Web site, friendlyfiregamecenter.com or their page on Facebook. UConn students can catch a free bus to the shopping plaza. For more information, call 860-429-0011.