Looking for tips on FLGS & Gaming in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I'm in the process of moving to Milwaukee and would be interested in hearing from some Milwaukeeans on where to find good in-person TTRPG gaming. I'll be living in the Juneau Town neighborhood. Looks like there are not any FLGSs in walking distance, but quite a few within a 10-20 minute drive. Looking for game stores with lively in-store play facilities shows how spoiled I've been living in the Twin Cities. There are some good FLGS for shopping in Milwaukee, but not seem to have great play spaces and those that have decent-sized play spaces seem to be heavily focused on MTG and other CCGs. As I settle into the city and new job, I'll probably just continue to focus on the on-line campaign that I'm running for my long-term group. But, as a forever DM, it would be nice to find some games to play in.

The following is the list of FLGS I've found that are under a 30-minute drive away:
  • Battle Brothers Miniature Wargaming. Mostly warhammer and wargaming supplies (duh) and the obligatory MTG stuff. Doesn't seem like there is much in the way of TTRPGs.
  • Board Game Barrister. Looks like a good replacement for my beloved Gamezenter in the Twin Cities in terms of shopping for board games, but doesn't seem to have any play space. Looks like more of a mall shop than what I typically look for in FLGS.
  • Evolution Gaming. Seems mostly focused on card games (MTG, Pokemon, etc.). Does have a decent amount of space for playing, albeit with crappy chairs and tables (if the photos are up to date).
  • Mana Vault MKE. Seems solely focuses on CCGs like MTG. Decent amount of play space and the tables and chairs look decent. But doesn't seem geared for TTRPGs.
  • Pink Bunny Games. Small CCG-focused shop.
  • Warpstone Games & Lounge. Okay this place seems to be more of what I'm looking for. Not a lot, but good tables and seating. A small bar for non-alcoholic drinks and snakes. TTRPGs and board games. I'll definitely check this place out.
  • Warhammer. Would be fun to visit once and browse. But I'm not interested in wargaming these days.
  • Game Universe. Looks promising. Looks great for shopping but play space seems small from the photos.
  • Gamers Realm. Seems focuses on wargaming. Very little play space.
  • TK Games. Seems worth a visit, but play space looks small.
  • Beyond the Board is a bit further away than the other listed, but is the most promissing for what I'm looking for. Open gaming nights for TTRPGs. In-store kitchen with decent food and drink menu. Reservable tables. Looks small but the cover charge and table reservations can avoid driving out there and finding all the tables taken.
In terms of Meetups on Meetups.com, I'm not finding a lot of in-person TTRPG meetups. Some board games meetups, more CCG meetups, on-line TTRPGs, but not many in-person TTRPG events.
  • Milwaukee Game Night Meetup. Over 1,000 members. Most game nights held close by where I'll be living. Focus is on board games. Don't see any TTRPG nights.
  • Beyond the Board open game nights are something I'll definitely check out. They are set up to help people meet and find groups to play with.
In terms of find-gamer sites:
Anyway, if there are any "persons of the good land" here in EN World, please share your favorite FLGSs and forums for finding in-person TTRPG games.
 

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Welcome to the area! Barrister (different stores have different space available) and Game Universe are good places to start. Oddwillow's is a newer store focused on building community; they are a ways out from downtown, but you might want to check with them as well. If you're looking for a comics/pop culture shop that also carries games (a mix of CCG, board, and TTRPGs), try Lost World of Wonders; they don't do organized play or currently provide play space at the moment, though.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Welcome to the area! Barrister (different stores have different space available) and Game Universe are good places to start. Oddwillow's is a newer store focused on building community; they are a ways out from downtown, but you might want to check with them as well. If you're looking for a comics/pop culture shop that also carries games (a mix of CCG, board, and TTRPGs), try Lost World of Wonders; they don't do organized play or currently provide play space at the moment, though.
Thank you. I'm certainly looking forward to checking out a bunch of new FLGS. I'm happily surprised to find so many in an under-30 minute drive. Now if only we could bring Gen Con back to Milwaukee. I'm bummed the have missed the opportunity to buy a badge for Gary Con and its celebration of D&D's 50th anniversary. But I'm definitely going to try to make Game Hole Con in Madison in the fall.
 

Thank you. I'm certainly looking forward to checking out a bunch of new FLGS. I'm happily surprised to find so many in an under-30 minute drive. Now if only we could bring Gen Con back to Milwaukee. I'm bummed the have missed the opportunity to buy a badge for Gary Con and its celebration of D&D's 50th anniversary. But I'm definitely going to try to make Game Hole Con in Madison in the fall.

Gary Con is a lot of fun. Gamehole in the last few years reminds me of Gen Con in the late 80s. You should have a great time there.
 

Birmy

Adventurer
Local here (didn't know Jim Lowder still lived in the area--cool!). Welcome to Milwaukee. It's got its problems like a city of any decent size does, but there's lots of good people and things to enjoy here.

FLGS: I'm honestly not very impressed with most of our local game stores (which seems like a crime, given the city's prominence in the history of the hobby), but I do patronize a number of them, and most have some kind of rewards program.

Board Game Barrister has several locations; they closed at least one during the pandemic and opened another relatively recently. Last I checked, their Bayshore store was the biggest and probably has the most play space of their stores, though you may want to visit around to confirm (their Greenfield store had what looked like a good amount of space to me). Good variety of indie RPGs. Staff tends to be friendly and knowledgeable, but I notice they charge slightly over SRP on a lot/most/all of their product, which I haven't had the guts to ask an employee about.

TK Games would be a bit of a schlep from your location to Menomonee Falls. It's run by a husband and wife team who are always friendly with me. I don't get in there much anymore since 1.) they recently moved into a MUCH smaller space in the same strip mall and it... really doesn't work for a game store ; 2.) They've progressively gotten more "all-in" on Magic and 99% of the limited shelf space is taken up by board games, so the RPGs are in one sad case near the door; and 3.) They often don't get in new RPG stuff right away, and even big-ticket D&D books arrive late or not at all. I try to give them business because I like them, but these things have made it hard.

Gamers Realm I haven't been to since they switched locations some years ago (back when they were "Realm of the Dragon"). I liked them well enough, though that space and layout were terrible for that kind of use, so I imagine the current location is an improvement.

Pink Bunny, as far as I know, is just a storefront selling CCGs, so I think your instinct is right on that one.

Game Universe (three locations) is the one I tend to try first, though I have some issues with them, too. If you're looking for play space, their flagship store in Franklin has the most (I haven't been to the new store in Mequon, so I can't vouch for it). Good variety of stuff. I've dealt with some truly horrendous staff there over the years, but the last couple of years they seem to have stabilized. It doesn't hurt that one of the current store managers is a friendly acquaintance from our early AL days (tell Darlene I said Hi... wait, you don't know my name, never mind). RPGs are, of course, third place after Magic and board games, but they do maintain a good selection. If you go to Franklin, try the Chinese buffet at the other end of the strip mall.

The Warhammer store (I assume the one in Greenfield is the only one) struck me as kind of sparse with bad hours, but the owner/operator was clearly a smart dude passionate about his hobby/business, so it should suit your needs if you're really into that corner of the hobby. It's a stone's throw from one of the Board Game Barrister locations, too, so you could check out both at the same time. Grab a cheeseburger with the works at Kopp's while you're over there.

Their gaming presence is minimal, but, as Mr. Lowder suggests, if you want comic books and anime, Lost World of Wonders is indeed a nice space with a lot of variety of stock (I was a longtime employee of one of their competitors, so I won't heap too much praise on them, but it's a generally well-run store).

I'm not familiar with the others you mention in your post, but if you're willing to drive, I've heard good things about The Sanctum (in Racine). It would be a field trip for you, but Noble Knight in Madison is WELL worth visiting; I've gotten in the habit of placing a big online order and picking it up while I'm in town for Gamehole Con. They are also my go-to for Free RPG Day, since the Milwaukee stores tend to to be EXTREMELY blase about it, if they even participate at all.

CONVENTIONS: Midwinter Gaming Convention happens every January. They recently switched venues from downtown to the 'burbs (closer to where I live). It's very LARP heavy (which was its original purpose), but does have some board and roleplaying games. I haven't attended since pre-pandemic, so I don't know what it's like or what the attendance is these days.

If you're on Facebook (I am not), you might want to look up Cold Iron Conventions. They run very bare-bones conventions (i.e. 99% D&D Adventurers League games in hotel basement ballrooms), but they've been going for decades now and are fine if you want some no-frills convention gaming. They run several each year in SE Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

I don't know if Nexus Game Fair is still going, but I found it to be not very well organized and stopped attending when I noticed it declining year to year. (Actually, looking it up now, they appear to have let the domain name lapse and the Facebook page hasn't been updated since 2022).

My two favorite cons are Gamehole Con (Madison) and Gary Con (Lake Geneva). Both easily driveable from Milwaukee and mid-sized cons with very different flavors and their own pros and cons (no pun intended). I do a lot of AL (probably with or within a few feet of @darjr and @billd91) and find these are both good cons with enthusiastic people. Gary Con is coming up in March and Gamehole (bad name, good convention) is in October. Again, unfortunately because of the city's history with the hobby, it's a shame Milwaukee proper doesn't have anything comparable to these.

If you check out tabletop.events and warhorn.net, there are any number of smaller cons around, though I'm still not sure what these are like post-pandemic. There's a small charity con in Illinois called the d8 Summit that I've liked (tell Connor I said Hi... no, wait, you still don't know my name, never mind).

LFG: There is a Discord for Milwaukee TTRPG players, but I unfortunately haven't been on it in years, so I can't send you an invite. You might want to see which stores are doing Adventurers League and make friends that way; that's how I met most of my current group. (That and conventions--you eventually see the same faces over and over again, but in Minnesota you probably had that, too.)

I stopped using Meetup when they wanted to charge us to use it, so I can't help you there, but I did get in some games that way (again, pre-pandemic).

OTHER: At one point there were at least 3-4 different gaming bars in the city, though now I think that number's dwindled. 42 Lounge (downtown) has closed and one that really should have worked, the gaming bar run by the Board Game Barrister on Milwaukee's bustling East Side, was another pandemic casualty. Binary, now "Nicky Migz," in West Allis, has switched ownership several times and is just about done phasing out the gaming angle; the last time I played there, they had moved all the board games to the basement and funneled the gamers down there to play. The last one standing might be Faklandia Brewing in St. Francis, which has a dedicated gaming space (frequently taken by esports), though we've played plenty of times in the restaurant itself. Decent food, average microbrews. I like it, though it's well out of my way. You mention a few more that I haven't heard of and should probably check out. There's no reason a city with as many gamers as Milwaukee couldn't sustain at least a couple of gaming bars.

That... turned out longer than I expected, but hopefully that gives you something to chew on. I encourage you to take my opinions for what they're worth and check out all these places on your own to see what feels right.
 
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Great write up. I am indeed still in the area, which has a weird relationship with its tabletop gaming heritage. More places are coming around, though, and some of the local media have been very supportive over the years. I've been doing an annual holiday Games to Gift segment about new tabletop games for Milwaukee Public Radio for quite a while. I coordinate that segment with some of the local retailers.

One of the other really cool local things of likely interest would be the Tolkien collection at Marquette University. They have a staggering cache of original manuscripts in the archives and a growing collection of related material, including some Tolkien-related RPGs, boardgames, and CCGs. The archives and the university run special programming pretty regularly to show off the collection. (Several former TSR designers, authors, and editors are Marquette alum, including internationally renowned Tolkien scholar John Rateliff, Sue Weinlein, and Carrie Bebris. I am, as well. That's how I ended up out here from Massachusetts; it also put me in the right place to land a gig at TSR.)

See you around town and at the shows!

Cheers,
Jim
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Thank you for the great write up! My impression so far is that there are a lot of great places to shop for games, but not a lot of FLGS with good play spaces, and most that do seem to have large play spaces seem to be focused on MTG and other CCGs. So far Beyond the Board is the one I'm most interested in and will sign up for one of their game nights. But it will still be fun to check out the different stores for board games.

Still bummed that I won't be able to get into Gary Con this march. But seems like the badges all sold out before I even knew I would be moving to Milwaukee. I'm definitely going to try to get to Gamehole Con. It'll be the first big convention I've attended since Gen Con was in Milwaukee. I've been going to Con of the North in Plymouth, MN, but that's a pretty small convention.

I didn't realize that Noble Knight was based in Wisconsin. I've been buying hard to find board games from them from years through their online store. It'll be cool to see the actual store. I'll definitely make the drive out there to check it out.

Thanks for the heads up about gaming bars, looks like there may only be one or two left standing in Milwaukee post pandemic, but I'll check out Faklandia and maybe Nicky Migz.

Lastly, thanks for mentioning Discord. I'm of an age where I keep forgetting to check out Discord, which is probably a better place to start looking for communities than Meetup.com these days.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Great write up. I am indeed still in the area, which has a weird relationship with its tabletop gaming heritage. More places are coming around, though, and some of the local media have been very supportive over the years. I've been doing an annual holiday Games to Gift segment about new tabletop games for Milwaukee Public Radio for quite a while. I coordinate that segment with some of the local retailers.
Cool. Found recordings of prior episodes on the WUWM 89.7 website. Looking forward to listening to them.
One of the other really cool local things of likely interest would be the Tolkien collection at Marquette University. They have a staggering cache of original manuscripts in the archives and a growing collection of related material, including some Tolkien-related RPGs, boardgames, and CCGs. The archives and the university run special programming pretty regularly to show off the collection. (Several former TSR designers, authors, and editors are Marquette alum, including internationally renowned Tolkien scholar John Rateliff, Sue Weinlein, and Carrie Bebris. I am, as well. That's how I ended up out here from Massachusetts; it also put me in the right place to land a gig at TSR.)
Ah, I forgot about this. I had read about this in the past. Crazy that one of the best Tolkien archives in the world is at Marquette. Thank the late William B. Ready, director of libraries from 1956 to 1963, for his foresight. Oxford got the Silmarillion and Leaf by Niggle, but Marquette got The Hobbit and the Lord of the Ring manuscripts. Crazy. It's only an 8 minute drive from where I'll be living. I'll definitely check it out.
 

andyvanhout

Explorer
Long time member, usual lurker, that sort of stuff.

I moved to West Allis a year and a half ago. I run an every-other-week online 5E game for a group of friends, but the past couple of months I've done some light poking around in local groups and shops to see if there were any organized groups or active communities to maybe do something in-person again and my own impression was that the TTRPG scene just wasn't as popular or open as the wargaming or CCG scene.

This thread has been really helpful though and gives me a few more places to poke around at! Thanks for everyone who contributed!
 

SteveC

Doing the best imitation of myself
But I'm definitely going to try to make Game Hole Con in Madison in the fall.
I think you'll have a great time. As someone who only missed the first Game Hole Con, I'll be level 10 this year. Definitely say hi if you're going to be there. Feel free to talk to me if you have questions about it too. (Actually, that goes for anyone going to the Con. Love to grab a beverage with any of ya'!)
 

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