Columbus Shopping Guide: A Thriving Community Grows Around Board Game Store the Guardtower

This hotspot for unplugged gamers will open its newest store on the Far West Side in late spring or early summer.

Dave Ghose
Columbus Monthly
Paul Hinderman, left, and Mark Cottrell play a game of Warhammer Age of Sigmar during a game night at the Guardtower East location.

The intricate figurines didn’t jump out the most, nor did the handcrafted dice, Pokémon cards or any of the Guardtower’s other signature products. Instead, it was the furniture. When I walked into the West Side store for the first time, I was surprised to see employees sitting behind the counter in comfy, high-backed chairs—the kind of furniture you’re more likely to see in a high-end office or Frasier Crane’s living room.

Even though the chairs gave employees a regal presence, it soon became clear to me that these were benevolent rulers. They oversaw their domain—Central Ohio’s premier board game store—with eagerness, generosity and deep expertise. Many, if not all, Guardtower employees begin as customers, origins that seem to help them connect with those just beginning to get into Dungeons & Dragons, Settlers of Catan, Magic: The Gathering and other specialized games.

A handpainted figurine used in a Warhammer game at Guardtower East location

Founded in 1987, the Guardtower wasn’t the first board game shop in town. But it became the biggest (with locations on the West and East sides and more than $4 million in sales last year) thanks to a strong community that has grown around it. It’s not just a place to buy unique fare; it’s also a place where devotees gather to play, learn, kibbitz and connect. “It is community that keeps us going,” says co-owner Lynn Bartels.

That community is also evolving, inspiring the Guardtower to change with it. In the late spring or early summer, the Guardtower will open a new location on the Far West Side of Columbus, closing its original store on Trabue Road. The new shop will be significantly bigger, with amenities such as a private game room, a 3D printer for creating figurines, lockers for storing gaming supplies, and a studio for recording podcasts, livestreaming and other digital activities. What’s more, the new store will stay open longer than the current locations, closing at midnight every evening.

Earrings and keychains made from gaming dice at the Guardtower East location

Which means more time for mega D&D campaigns (and community-building). “Can you believe we’ve been playing for five hours?” a young dungeon master asks his party at the East Side store on a recent evening. “Five hours feels like five minutes when you’re playing D&D.”

What to Buy

If you’re getting into role-playing games, you’ll need a set of dice. A fun option: $15 models from DnD Dice, with small figures (such as ducks, squirrels, bugs and dogs) floating inside each die.

Things to Do

The Guardtower East store, which has its own “paint bar,” hosts a free miniature painting club from 6–9 p.m. every Thursday. The store provides some supplies, but guests are encouraged to bring their own paints and models.

Find It

The Guardtower East

5939 E. Main St., East Side, 614-604-6996

(The new Guardtower West, 5518 Nike Drive, will open in late spring or early summer.)

This story is from the Where to Shop Now package in the May 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.