A Veteran-Owned Board Game Shop in Phoenix Celebrates 3 Years of Niche Fun

By Robert Gundran

August 3, 2023

Mark Gorden, owner and operator, got his start in board gaming after retiring from the US Army.

Specialty shops are easy to pass by. If you aren’t a dedicated hobbyist, you might walk by stores for specific interests without a second thought. In north Phoenix, just off the I-17 on Happy Valley Road, Meeples & Beyond is working to get more Arizonans into the world of board gaming.

Board gaming today is more about decision making and immersing yourself in different worlds, similar to video games. “Monopoly” and “Risk,” pioneers of their respective genres, can be likened to games like “Pong” or “Pac-Man.” It’s where everything started, but they’re a far cry from showing off what the medium is capable of.

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From outside, Meeples & Beyond—which sits right between a flower shop and a Crumbl Cookies in The Shops at Norterra—may not look like anything special. But one step inside will change your mind: The walls are covered from floor to ceiling in board games for every theme or subject you can imagine.

A Veteran-Owned Board Game Shop in Phoenix Celebrates 3 Years of Niche Fun

Interior of Meeples & Beyond (Photo by Robert Gundran)

Mark Gorden, owner and operator, said he got his start in board gaming after retiring from the US Army. Gorden runs the shop with his wife, Paola.

“One day I fell in love with Dungeons and Dragons,” Gorden said. “That led into Warhammer and miniatures games and then board games. This is what I wanted to do.”

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Gorden said he had back pay from his Army retirement in savings and knew he wanted to start a business. In August 2020, “The Gaming Goat” opened its doors.

Meeples & Beyond started as a branch of “The Gaming Goat,” a Las Vegas-based board gaming company. They partner with people who want to open a board game shop and allow them to use their branding and partnerships with distributors. Gordon worked with “The Gaming Goat” for a year until he was able to go independent and start his own brand.

One of the struggles of local specialty shops is they aren’t able to purchase at the scale of online retailers like Amazon or big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart. Meeples & Beyond makes up for this by offering a local and personalized experience.

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“We’re trying to hit both price and customer service,” Gorden said. “We discount a lot. Especially board games. We’re trying to get that value for the price. We aren’t going to get to the same price as Amazon, but you will get better value per dollar.”

You can’t go into Wal-Mart or Target and test out a game before you buy it, but you can at Meeples & Beyond. You also have access to local folks’ insight into game play and recommendations.

Meeples & Beyond offers an intimate and communal experience, with multiple tables for locals to reserve and play games for however long they’d like.

“I like the customers in this business,” Gordon said. “I was in health care for quite awhile and you meet people constantly when they’re at their lowest, or in survival mode. All that sort of triggering stuff.

A Veteran-Owned Board Game Shop in Phoenix Celebrates 3 Years of Niche Fun

Mark Gorden (right) speaks to an employee at Meeples & Beyond. (Photo by Robert Gundran)

“It’s been a pleasure here. I’ve had maybe one customer where things didn’t go smoothly. But across the board customers are pleasant. We’ve also been getting a lot of new board gamers due to our location. Those customers have been a pleasure to deal with,” he said.

In early July, gamer feedback led Gorden to move Meeples & Beyond to its current location.

“Customers were asking for space to play in the shop, so it made sense to bring in more tables and expand,” he said. “With more space we also get access to more pre-release [game] events.”

Starting a new business from scratch is difficult, but Gorden said he had assistance from the US Department of Veteran Affairs. He said the VA offered mentors to help vets looking to start a business.

A Veteran-Owned Board Game Shop in Phoenix Celebrates 3 Years of Niche Fun

Mark (left) and Paola Gorden (right) at Meeples & Beyond. (Photo by Robert Gundran)

“The first year it felt like things were going into bankruptcy,” he said. “I didn’t know what else to do besides keep plugging away. Before we got into the negative things turned around and sales went up.

“That second year, our numbers were like, ‘yeah, okay, we made it’ numbers, and we were able to take the next step.”

Meeples & Beyond will celebrate their three-year anniversary in August.

“That first year, every sale was so hard-fought and it felt like every dollar was so well earned. It was a fight to get customers,” Gorden said. “I feel really blessed now where we’re at.”

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  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

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