By Emily Steele Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.
Defeat was inevitable.
Krystle Callarman could only watch as her opponent laid out a combination of cards on the table that dropped her life points to zero.
But after a quick laugh, they shuffled their Magic the Gathering cards, redrew and got back to strategizing rapid-fire attacks.
"There's still so many things I learn," she said.
That's the atmosphere owners Kevin Callarman and his wife, Krystle, hope to cultivate at their Warrensburg game shop Board Knight, open since June.
With geek pop culture seeing a resurgence through TV shows such as "Big Bang Theory" or "King of the Nerds" or social media Star Trek veteran George Takei the time has never been better to embrace your inner dweeb.
A naturally competitive person, Brea Morris has been playing board games since she was a child, and in the past few years she and her husband have latched onto strategic games such as Magic and her favorite, Settlers of Catan.
"It became addicting really quickly," Morris said, pointing to their 2,000 Magic cards as proof.
On most Friday Night Magic games, she is outnumbered by male players four to one.
For any novice player, that intense atmosphere can be overwhelming.
That's why Krystle Callarman hosts a Lady Planeswalkers Society every Monday, where women and new players can learn to play the game in a more relaxed environment.
"It' a fun no pressure kind of night where it was just us ladies getting to play," Morris said.
That's not to say the shop and its customers are unwilling to explain the rules or welcome beginners.
The shop has demo games free to play and the Callarmans spend time talking to everyone and exposing them to new games.
"We definitely spend a lot of time getting to know everyone who comes in," Krystle Callarman said.
She pointed out that many store owners are more focused on playing than spending enough time on upkeep, and Kevin Callarman said many don't think of women as customers to target.
"If we have a place that's clean, that's nice, that's inviting, that's comfortable, that's not in someone's basement, we can bring out women, and that's really something that a lot of game stores don't achieve," Kevin Callarman said.
The high level of testosterone doesn't bother Morris, though. In fact, she jumps at the opportunity.
"I always get a little bit more satisfaction when I'm playing my male counterparts and I win," she said.
And when Morris plays her husband?
"Oh yeah, it's game on."
Morris is a regular at Decatur Gamers meet-ups.
Lacking another space, group members would play at member homes, including the Callarmans.
"We would always talk about how we really needed a game store," Morris said.
Before the Callaramans opened their shop, players would travel to Bloomington, Champaign or Tayorville for game nights and not get back until 2 a.m.
"We want people to stay here," Krystle Callarman said.
The table talk became persuasive enough for Kevin Callarman to sit down and make business plans. Once he proved to his wife, who has a degree in music business, that a board game shop could make money, they traveled to stores in Illinois, Wisconsin and as far as Washington to learn the ropes.
The shops they toured ranged from giant immaculate stores with cafes to small setups in someone's basement.
Kevin Callarman's ideal shop is somewhere in between, as a meeting place for young professionals to go to relax and have fun after work.
"I would love to have craft beer, you could have a board game and a beer or a glass of wine," he said.
The Callarman's both have full-time jobs outside Board Knight, he at Sherwin Williams and she at Richland Community College. But after their four cats, Board Knight is their baby.
The walls of the small shop are lined with traditional board games, children's games such as "Spot It," to the more recent selections of "Pandemic" or the popular adult rated game "Cards Against Humanity."
Fridays the small shop are crowded with up to 30 players, each paying $5 for a night of 50-minute rounds of play where the winner is best of three Magic the Gathering games. The players spill over into the connecting antique shop Perfect Pair Antique & Salon, the owners of which welcome the eclectic group and their selection of candy.
Board Knight regularly holds midnight releases, such as Friday at the Salvation Army, when a new booster pack of cards was released and players could stay until 4 a.m.
"Game stores are the only way you can get the pre-release," Krystle Callarman said.
Morris compared Magic nights at Board Knight to other shops she's been to, saying their turnout is triple.
"This is something that Decatur has needed for a long time," Morris said.