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

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
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!
I think it true nearly everywhere that CCGs are what is keeping the lights on at most FLGS. As for wargamming, I'm not sure. In the Twin Cities at least, I don't see a lot of FLGS being set up well for wargamming (Gamezenter, previously Fantasy Flight Games, is one stand out exception). In my experience it is CCGs, board games, TTRPGs, and then wargamming. But I do tend to go to same same couple of FLGS, which I go to because they are good for board games and TTRPGs. But even at the FLGS with great board game and TTRPG scenes and selections, CCGs get a lot of focus.
 

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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
So far, I've been able to visit three game stores in the area:

Battle Brothers. This store focuses on miniature war games - primarily Warhammer. I really like the store and the staff. What I look for in any FLGS is what they offer beyond selling product and Battle Brothers offers anything new or experienced players would want in support of a Warhammer hobby. Want to learn to paint miniatures? Besides selling paints, brushes, miniatures, etc. They have tables and areas for painting and events for teaching you how to paint. They have events teaching you how to play and the staff will set up bespoke sessions to help you get started and will help match you with other players. The staff are knowledgeable about the product, enthusiastic about the hobby, and helpful without being pushy. It is not a particularly large shop but there is a surprising amount of play space and it had a good number of groups playing at the various tables on the weekday evening I visited. I walked away with the Warhammer 40k Core Book. I really don't have the time, storage space, and money to go all into Warhammer, but I'm thinking of buying, painting up, and playing a Combat Patrol set.

Beyond the Board. Great FLGS for board games. Their business model is focused on renting out tables and serving food. They have a large, well-curated library of board games you can choose from to play. Great for trying out a game before buying it or just enjoying playing different board games even with no intention of buying them. You can schedule time with the staff to have them teach you and your group how to play a game. They also have open game nights twice a week. The food is quite good. It is a great place to go out to dinner with friends and combine that with a game night. No TTRPGs however. I'm sure I'll be going to the occasional open game night. TTRPGs are what I'm really hankering for, however, so I'm not sure I'll be a regular.

Boardgame Barrister (Bayshore). I visited one of the three Boardgame Barrister shops in the Milwaukee area. Its in a large shopping plaza and is really just a store. There really isn't any play space. They have one gaming table, mainly used for scheduled events. It reminds me of a Kaybee Toy Store but just for board games. They don't carry any TTRPGs. I didn't stay long and spend more time looking at the TTRPG shelves in the Borders Books a couple shops down. One their website, however, they do have the occasional D&D game that you can sign up for, but it just seems like it would be a weird venue to try to enjoy playing a TTRPG. I don't expect I'll be going back here. @JLowder posted above that different Boardgame Barrister stores have different play areas, so I might check out the other two stores to see if they are more TTRPG friendly.

Coming from Minneapolis, I have to admit to being underwhelmed with the TTRPG scene in Milwaukee. If I were to set up a public game myself, I'd probably reserve a table at Beyond the Board. It is a great venue for playing TTRPGs, even though they don't sell any TTRPG material.

I'm planning to make a pilgrimage to Noble Knight Games in Madison. I've bought a few out-of-print and hard-to-find games from them online in the past and it'll be nice to see a huge store with a large gaming hall. I don't see much TTRPG stuff on their event calendar. They do have Adventures League, but they are all on weekday evening. There is no way I would be able to get off work and drive the hour and half to make the 6pm start times.

On my list to visit this weekend are Warpstone Games & Lounge and TK Games. I'm cautiously optimistic about Warpstone Games. They have a TTRPG area open on Sundays--but not Saturdays :-(. I don't see any scheduled TTRPGs on their event calendar, but they do organize a living world D&D (Living Leagues). I can't commit myself to an ongoing campaign though. I check it out on Sunday, see if they have a community bulletin board. Maybe I'll post for players for a few one-shots of let common systems.

I'll check out TK Games, but I'm not optimistic. Their event calendar is empty and the Store News page hasn't been updated since 2016.

Lastly, I did find a new place, Oddwillows Game Haven. It is the only FLGS in a somewhat reasonable driving distance that has TTRPG one-shots on its events calendar (and they are not all D&D!). Its a 30-40 minute drive, but for a 4-8 hour game, I'm willing to make the drive.
 

SteveC

Doing the best imitation of myself
I'm planning to make a pilgrimage to Noble Knight Games in Madison. I've bought a few out-of-print and hard-to-find games from them online in the past and it'll be nice to see a huge store with a large gaming hall. I don't see much TTRPG stuff on their event calendar. They do have Adventures League, but they are all on weekday evening. There is no way I would be able to get off work and drive the hour and half to make the 6pm start times.
Madison has a really lively gaming scene. Noble Knight is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we sort of roll up the sidewalks early, so it would be tough to play a session.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
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.
I agree in terms of the TTRPG scene. For board games and CCGs, however, lots of good options.
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.
Yeah, I guess I'll give them another shot at another location, The Bayshore store wasn't worth the drive there. No TTRPGs at all. A single table, surrounded by shelves with shoppers squeezing between those playing and the shelves. Would be very awkward to play there. I'll check out the Greenfield store.
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.
I was thinking of checking them out this weekend, but will likely skip. There website is not updated and from what little I can discern from the website, they don't have much focus on TTRPGs.
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.
It is only a 20 minute drive, so I'll probably visit it eventually. Was turned off by their lack of a website. They have a Facebook page, which is annoying to view without a Facebook account and they don't post any photos of the play space. No event list.
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.
I'll check out the Franklin location. They have Pathfinder on the event calendar, so that's a good sign.
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.
I'll check out the Warhammer store, but I really liked Battle Brothers. If I do decide to get back into Warhammer 4k, I think Battle Brothers is where I'll engage in the hobby, but I'll check out the Warhammer store to compare.
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).
Not really into comics and anime (other than a few shows on Netflix now and then). Their website doesn't inspire confidence as a TTRPG play spot.
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).
I'm willing to drive 30-40 minutes for a good TTRPG scene. Not sure how this one slipped off my list. Just looked at the website. Looks very promising. I just signed up for a Mork Borg game this Saturday.
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.
I certainly plan to. But not practical to play there, at least not regularly.
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.
Found a web site (Cold Iron Conventions), but looks like nothing has been scheduled since 2019. Looks like they ran some games at Polar Con, but no posts on their Facebook page since January. I don't have a Facebook account through, so maybe there are discussions or content I am not seeing.
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.
Have my room for Gamehole Con. Was unable to get into Gary Con this year. All sold out. Will do Gamehole Con this year and Gary Con next year.
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).
Thanks for reminding me about Warhorn. Looks like that is what the Milwaukee Lodge of the Pathfinder and Starfinder Society uses to organize their games. Looks like they run their in-person games at Game Universe. Not really into Pathfinder or Starfinder, but if they have some new player one shots, I'd be interested. I'll keep an eye out for their events.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Madison has a really lively gaming scene. Noble Knight is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we sort of roll up the sidewalks early, so it would be tough to play a session.
Yeah, but that's an issue in most mid-west cities. In Minneapolis, Gamezenter keeps somewhat late hours during weekdays (11pm close, Monday through friday), but they close at 7pm now on Saturdays and Sundays (!!!). Some of the staff at The Source run after hours games, which I did for a while, which was great.

It would be a lot easier if I could commit to a campaign. I'm sure I'd be able to find an join a game with someone running from home. For one shots, online is generally the easiest way to go. But I'm slowly finding some gems amongst the FLGS in the area. I'm stoked that I was able to find a Mork Borg one shot at The Sanctum in Racine this Saturday.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
So I drove out to The Sanctum Tabletop Gaming Emporium in Racine to play a one-shot of Mork Borg this evening. What a treasure of a FLGS! It's an over half-hour drive from where I live in Milwaukee, but it is worth the drive for an evening of playing a TTRPG. It is not a huge space but they use the space very well. It is the best laid out and decorated FLGS I've ever been to. There are so many thoughtful touches from the aisle signage to the wall decor. They don't have anywhere near the number of tables that my go-to FLGS in the Twin Cities (Gamezenter) has, but they do a decent number and they are divided up into a small maze of rooms in a way that you don't have the loud con-like levels of noise that larger spaces suffer from. They have a number of single table rooms as well.

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The private game rooms have cool decorations. The one I played in was decorated based on call of Cthulhu with tentacled base reliefs along the wall, a wall with a large old-school link chat taking up most of a wall connecting newspaper clippings, photos, etc. Even the furniture had an old early 1900s vibe, from the nice wood table, a wooden china cabinet displaying some near-east looking urn, etc. I wanted to check out the other private game rooms but people were playing in them. The chairs were comfortable.

They follow the rent-a-table model. For reserved or open play, you pay $5 for a day pass. But the $5 you pay can also be used as in-store credit. You need a minimum of two people to reserve a table. They give you a custom Sanctum metal coin, which is a cool touch. I gave mine to the DM that ran the game I played at, but I want to go back sometime and get a coin just to keep. I know that the rent-a-table model can be controversial. My FLGS in the Twin Cities, Gamezenter, experimented with this model, but ended it in under a year. But I don't know how creating great play spaces for TTRPGs works otherwise. Stores that get away with not doing this tend to rely on Magic and other CCG events. CCG optimized spaces make for less than ideal TTRPG spaces and TTRPGs tend to get sidelined at stores focused on CCGs.

The Sanctum is a great example of how to make this work and feel worth it. The money you pay can be used as store credit. You get an great place to play and it gives you access to their game rental library. They also have free wifi.

They sell a small selection of sodas and snacks, but do not have a kitchen. They do allow you to bring outside food and beverages. Personally, unless the FLGS sells really good food, I prefer this model. There are plenty of fast food and take out places nearby.

Another thing that stands out with The Sanctum is their great website. Very clear and easy to reserve tables and find upcoming games and events. Most FLGS websites are awful. Also, it was a pleasant surprise to see games other than D&D and Pathfinder.

They even have a page on their website listing other FLGS in the area, which I thought was pretty classy.

They also have consignment shelves for selling used games.

In short, I'm happy to have found a great FLGS for TTRPGs in reasonable driving distance. The Sanctum will likely be my go to for TTRPGs and Beyond the Board will be my much closer FLGS for board games.
 
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_Michael_

Explorer
No idea what FLGS is--I just saw someone whose actually close to me (I live in Kenosha, an hour to the south) and got so excited I had to sign up with this forum to reply. lol Tbh, I wasn't really impressed with RPG dot net as it seems to be sort of dead. Welcome to the area. Don't discount us to the south--there's Friends' Hobby Shop run by Bob Bigelow (more geared towards models, trains, and massive quantities of D&D and other RPG stuff, including rare first edition books like WEG Star Wars stuff. The place is a bit of a dungeon (I've been volunteering the last few days to help get it cleaned up and cleaned out of clutter, but there's a lot to go), but he has some of the best selection of 3.5e stuff I've ever seen. Plus, he used to hang out with Jim Ward and Gary Gygax, so he has a lot of stories, and used to host a booth at GenCon all the time.

Marblehead Comics on 22nd and 63rd in Kenosha might be more up your alley with its broader selection of CCGs. My buddy comes down from Madison once or twice a month and we always go visit the shops to see what other goodies we can find. I picked up a two-volume reprint of the original WEG Star Wars sourcebooks from Marbleheads the other week, and there's also a Games Workshop store down here for straight Warhammer glory--I don't play, but I was considering using some of the set pieces for D&D because they're so elaborately detailed.

Friends' Hobby Store could always use volunteers--he was robbed a few months back on multiple occasions, and the filthy miscreants not only stole first editions and other rare books (implying they knew exactly what they were looking for), they trashed a bunch of model railroad layouts. Tbh, the gentleman is a bit of a pack rat, but there's so much there that you could spend hours looking through his books and models--bring a towel to mop up the drool. Only store I've heard of that's close to his quantity and quality is Noble Knight. Once we get the shelves built out in back and the area cleaned up a bit, there'll be multiple tables you'll be able to use for gaming and miniatures, and there's plenty of comfortable seating and books you can peruse while playing. Jim is a pretty cool guy overall, and you can definitely wheel and deal with him (a nice touch since most box stores you can't negotiate on prices) for stuff if you're buying more than one or two things. I'm only one man, but I'm trying to get it cleaned up as fast as possible as I've only just recently discovered this store and I've been here my whole life.

Kenosha is in desperate need of some gamer enclaves. Marbleheads is small, and Rockheads is no longer in business. Games Workshop requires you to use only Warhammer stuff (but they will teach you how to paint miniatures for free if you're painting their brand).

I was sitting on the fence about joining the community here until I saw your post, so kudos! Just earned the forum another member. No idea where the Juneau neighborhood is--I had an aunt who taught drama at Shorewood for decades (they named an auditorium after her) who lived in Whitefish Bay on Newberry, but my knowledge of Milwaukee's layout is limited. So glad I saw your post, though! Welcome to the area!
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
No idea what FLGS is--I just saw someone whose actually close to me (I live in Kenosha, an hour to the south) and got so excited I had to sign up with this forum to reply. lol Tbh, I wasn't really impressed with RPG dot net as it seems to be sort of dead. Welcome to the area. Don't discount us to the south--there's Friends' Hobby Shop run by Bob Bigelow (more geared towards models, trains, and massive quantities of D&D and other RPG stuff, including rare first edition books like WEG Star Wars stuff. The place is a bit of a dungeon (I've been volunteering the last few days to help get it cleaned up and cleaned out of clutter, but there's a lot to go), but he has some of the best selection of 3.5e stuff I've ever seen. Plus, he used to hang out with Jim Ward and Gary Gygax, so he has a lot of stories, and used to host a booth at GenCon all the time.

Marblehead Comics on 22nd and 63rd in Kenosha might be more up your alley with its broader selection of CCGs. My buddy comes down from Madison once or twice a month and we always go visit the shops to see what other goodies we can find. I picked up a two-volume reprint of the original WEG Star Wars sourcebooks from Marbleheads the other week, and there's also a Games Workshop store down here for straight Warhammer glory--I don't play, but I was considering using some of the set pieces for D&D because they're so elaborately detailed.

Friends' Hobby Store could always use volunteers--he was robbed a few months back on multiple occasions, and the filthy miscreants not only stole first editions and other rare books (implying they knew exactly what they were looking for), they trashed a bunch of model railroad layouts. Tbh, the gentleman is a bit of a pack rat, but there's so much there that you could spend hours looking through his books and models--bring a towel to mop up the drool. Only store I've heard of that's close to his quantity and quality is Noble Knight. Once we get the shelves built out in back and the area cleaned up a bit, there'll be multiple tables you'll be able to use for gaming and miniatures, and there's plenty of comfortable seating and books you can peruse while playing. Jim is a pretty cool guy overall, and you can definitely wheel and deal with him (a nice touch since most box stores you can't negotiate on prices) for stuff if you're buying more than one or two things. I'm only one man, but I'm trying to get it cleaned up as fast as possible as I've only just recently discovered this store and I've been here my whole life.

Kenosha is in desperate need of some gamer enclaves. Marbleheads is small, and Rockheads is no longer in business. Games Workshop requires you to use only Warhammer stuff (but they will teach you how to paint miniatures for free if you're painting their brand).

I was sitting on the fence about joining the community here until I saw your post, so kudos! Just earned the forum another member. No idea where the Juneau neighborhood is--I had an aunt who taught drama at Shorewood for decades (they named an auditorium after her) who lived in Whitefish Bay on Newberry, but my knowledge of Milwaukee's layout is limited. So glad I saw your post, though! Welcome to the area!
Welcome to EN World. Some threads have the same geeky flame fights you'll see in other RPG discussion boards, but I find this one of the better moderated spaces to discuss the hobby.

FLGS = Friendly Local Gaming Store.

Kenosha is a bit of a drive, but the places you mention sound worth a weekend excursion.

Juneau Neighborhood is just downtown Milwaukee. I live in the area near the courthouse.

Thanks for the recommendations, I'll check them out! If you know of anyone running one-shots, PM me!
 

_Michael_

Explorer
Welcome to EN World. Some threads have the same geeky flame fights you'll see in other RPG discussion boards, but I find this one of the better moderated spaces to discuss the hobby.

FLGS = Friendly Local Gaming Store.

Kenosha is a bit of a drive, but the places you mention sound worth a weekend excursion.

Juneau Neighborhood is just downtown Milwaukee. I live in the area near the courthouse.

Thanks for the recommendations, I'll check them out! If you know of anyone running one-shots, PM me!
For sure! I'm putting together a campaign setting myself based on a fantasy world I'm designing (low-magic with a small bit of added technology, sort of like Shannara), and my buddy Gnome in Madison is talking about running a 3.5e campaign (picture Ulfberth War-Bear in Skyrim...lmao), and I'm hoping we can get it started this summer. We'd be glad to have some players. Milwaukee is only about 45 minutes or so from me, if I go the speed limit on I-94 and there's little to no construction. lmao Unfortunately, Wisconsin has only two season. Winter, and construction.

Now, since you seem to be a more veteran user than I, are there subthreads on this forum for seeking critiques and/or sharing your stuff just to share it with others? I don't mind my stuff being used. I was trying to find such a thread because I need help on chapter layout and design. I'm going kingdom by kingdom and making extensive notes for each city (no RPS, yet, but I'm working on a mashup between 3.5e and Friday Night Firefight/Interlok for that extra granular goodness), including personalities and various local traditions. The one city I've got done, I came up with my own version of the Iditarod. lol

I will definitely keep you in mind if I hear any one-shots being run. The gaming scene ain't what it used to be. Downtown Milwaukee? How far are you from the Collectiva coffee shop down by the lake in the old pump house? I sort of know the area you're talking about as I used to paint for Dublin Contractors, but it's been a few years. I really need to get up to Milwaukee one of these days and check out some of their shops.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
For sure! I'm putting together a campaign setting myself based on a fantasy world I'm designing (low-magic with a small bit of added technology, sort of like Shannara), and my buddy Gnome in Madison is talking about running a 3.5e campaign (picture Ulfberth War-Bear in Skyrim...lmao), and I'm hoping we can get it started this summer. We'd be glad to have some players. Milwaukee is only about 45 minutes or so from me, if I go the speed limit on I-94 and there's little to no construction. lmao Unfortunately, Wisconsin has only two season. Winter, and construction.

Now, since you seem to be a more veteran user than I, are there subthreads on this forum for seeking critiques and/or sharing your stuff just to share it with others? I don't mind my stuff being used. I was trying to find such a thread because I need help on chapter layout and design. I'm going kingdom by kingdom and making extensive notes for each city (no RPS, yet, but I'm working on a mashup between 3.5e and Friday Night Firefight/Interlok for that extra granular goodness), including personalities and various local traditions. The one city I've got done, I came up with my own version of the Iditarod. lol
If specific to 3.5 post the thread in "D&D Older Editions". If not edition-specific, post to "*Dungeons and Dragons", if not D&D specific, post to "*TTRPGs General". If you want to limit it to more positive, constructive feed back, add "[+]" to the end of the thread title to make it a "plus" thread. But for this kind of topic, I doubt it is needed.
I will definitely keep you in mind if I hear any one-shots being run.
Thanks
The gaming scene ain't what it used to be. Downtown Milwaukee? How far are you from the Collectiva coffee shop down by the lake in the old pump house?
About a 5 minute drive / half-hour walk away.
I sort of know the area you're talking about as I used to paint for Dublin Contractors, but it's been a few years. I really need to get up to Milwaukee one of these days and check out some of their shops.
I haven't been here long enough to see much of the city. I saw Dune at the Oriental Theater a couple weeks ago on the East Side, which seems like a pretty neat area. Caught a show at Shank Hall, which is close to me, and is a pretty cool small venue.
 

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