The Rapidian

Blue Bridge Games brings tabletop gaming to Uptown neighborhood

Ken and Margaret Kleist opened Blue Bridge Games in early February. Located on Fulton street in the Uptown neighborhood, the store welcomes players of all ages and skill levels to experience the joy of tabletop gaming.

/Nathan Slauer

Tabletop games are having a moment. The board game industry surges with record sales as players from around the world use tabletop games as a fun and interactive alternative to digital entertainment.


Tapping into this growing interest are first-time entrepreneurs and experienced gamers, Margaret and Ken Kleist. The couple decided to turn their favorite pastime into a business with products for all ages and skill levels and a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere.


Located at 954 Fulton St East in Uptown, Blue Bridge Games opened its doors in early February. The store welcomes newcomers and diehard gaming enthusiasts alike to play together as part of the tabletop gaming community.


“A local game store is a not a new idea, but it was new to the Uptown neighborhood in Grand Rapids,” said co-founder Margaret Kleist. “A big part of the appeal of Blue Bridge Games was trying to create a space where we can curate an environment for other hobbyists.”


The spacious interior of Blue Bridge Games features an expansive inventory. Displays of new titles fill the front of the store, a playspace with long tables stretches out in the back, and shelves packed with games line the walls.


Blue Bridge Games offers classic games like Clue and Candyland alongside recent Euro-style, card, and roleplaying games.


The Kleists have fond memories of afternoons spent playing countless rounds of Monopoly as kids. But they also appreciate how complex games have become since their childhood, and they encourage new gamers to expand their horizons. 


“I remember slogging through games like Life,” said co-founder Ken Kleist. “Nothing happens when it’s not my turn. It’s often clear who’s going to win from the first few minutes.”


Ken Kleist vividly recalls discovering one of his all-time favorite games, Settlers of Catan, as a student at Michigan State University. 


“In Settlers, everybody stays in the game until the end,” Ken Kleist said. “When it’s not your turn, you’re trading with people and collecting resources. There’s something to keep you engaged even when it’s not your turn.”


“It was the first game where I was like ‘wow! This is really, really good.’ From that point on, it was a gateway to new games.”


Recent gaming trends radically alter the standard dynamic of two to four players competing against one another on a simple board. Legacy games use boards that permanently change during each play session. Cooperative games involve players teaming up against the board itself to prevent the spread of contagious diseases or defeat cosmic monsters. 


For those looking to check out a new type of game without a commitment, Blue Bridge Games offers a game rental library. For a small fee, visitors can rent one of over 100 titles and try it out in the playspace.


Store memberships permit overnight rentals, so players can borrow games to play at home, parties, or happy hours.


Store events include walkthroughs of complicated games and a party game night City Built Brewing Company.


The Kleists hope that Blue Bridge Games will lower the barrier to entry for new gamers. They said that game stores often develop cliquey cultures with players acting as gatekeepers and intentionally playing games with steep learning curves.


“We want to create a welcoming environment, where everybody can ask questions about games without fear of being judged for how cool or nerdy that game is,” Margaret Kleist said.


The effort to launch Blue Bridge Games began in January 2018. Original plans went up in smoke when the first building caught fire, delaying a scheduled grand opening during the holiday season.


Setbacks did not discourage the Kleists, who felt eager to secure a venue in a thriving business district. Their dream of starting an exciting new board game store was beginning.


“It’s been a labor of love,” Margaret Kleist said. 

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