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Husband and wife duo Joey Wyatt, right, and Anne Higley own and manage Goblin Games in West Loop Shopping Center. They started their business in 2015 after a 10-minute conversation initiated by Wyatt, upon seeing an underserved gaming market in Manhattan and an available store space. Gaming company Wizards of the Coast recently awarded the store with the title of “Premium,” a top distinction among the global Wizards network.

Anne Higley and Joey Wyatt want to keep the world of gaming open and accessible to everyone.

Higley, 30, and her husband, Joey Wyatt, 31, own Goblin Games, at 1304 Westloop Place. The couple opened the store in January 2015, and it grew quickly.

“We started small,” Higley said. “We only had 800 square feet and most of that space was just tables that people could come and play at because our focus is on the activity itself and the community it builds, having people there.”

The 2018 Labor Day flood destroyed its old space at the Plaza West Shopping Center, causing a temporary stint at Manhattan Town Center before moving into its current home last year.

The couple’s central focus is providing a fun and inviting atmosphere to everyone, not just the expert gamer.

Higley enjoys gaming as an escape and also a way to combat anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

“The creative story element is very important and people can immerse themselves in and connect to as kind of an escape from whatever they’re having to deal with,” Higley said. “It’s fun to be something different or be someone else for a moment and to practice social skills.”

Games with a rule set are helpful for kids who have autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Higley said. This teaches them social skills.

Wyatt likes gaming because of his competitive nature, he said. He used to play in big tournaments before opening Goblin Games. He said he enjoys problem-solving.

“I enjoy the resource management of even Magic, like where it’s like, ‘I have all these cards, what do I do with them?’” he said.

In a non-pandemic time, the store held events every night of the week. It’s very social, Wyatt said. Anyone can come, he said. It’s similar to a mixer when people can make friends and get to know one another, Wyatt said.

“Under normal circumstances, there’s like something going on or two or three things most nights, where people can buy in or play a tournament,” he said.

Gamers are introverts and “weirdos,” Higley said.

“That’s a good thing, but you can come to a store and have a shared language that’s safe,” she said.

Higley said she thinks the store does a good job of marrying both avid gamers and the broader public looking to get started. They love to teach new people to play as well.

“We really do care about our central community, but everyone else too,” Higley said. “There’s something there for everyone. And we don’t want to be the kind of business that people don’t understand. We want to be approachable.”

With the pandemic going on, the store mostly does retail sales. Goblin Games sells items like board games and puzzles. The store does not host events with the ongoing virus outbreak for safety reasons.

“It’s not the same,” Higley said.

The couple started dating in 2010, but have known each other since middle school. Higley moved to Manhattan from Lenexa in the early 2000s. They both have played games their entire adolescence into adulthood. The couples considers themselves townies. They adopted a cat just before Thanksgiving and look forward to starting a family soon.

The couple’s passion for gaming led to a recent distinction for the store.

Gaming company Wizards of the Coast awarded Goblin Games the title of “Premium,” which means owners hold the store to the highest of standards with keeping it “clean, inviting and fun.”

“The effort we make being open to the community and facilitating those (game) tournaments is valuable I think for the game, and the parent company,” Higley said. “So they decided we’re worth it.”

Of the 6,000 stores in the Wizards network, only about 220 have received this Premium title, which puts Goblin Games in the top 5% in the world, which is “really exciting,” Higley said. Stores must apply for this distinction.

“They’re selecting stores that are actually realizing and working hard to make a comfortable space for the traditional and new clientele,” Higley said.

Wizards of the Coast manufactures popular games like “Magic: The Gathering” and “Dungeons & Dragons,” commonly known as D&D. D&D is a fantasy tabletop game that follows a storyline. Each player gets to create their own character before going on their quest. Magic is a collectible card game that features players as “wizards,” battling with spells through individual game cards.

Higley said these games are rising in popularity and not just among gamers.

“You see D&D everywhere now,” she said. “You see Magic a lot more often then used to it. It used to be this kind of dingy, basement thing. It was weird. It’s not anymore. It’s clean, it’s popular.”

With the Premium status, Higley said she hopes that title will attract visitors to Goblin Games for tournaments and other events when the pandemic subsides. Higley said this is really exciting for Manhattan because people could spend their dollars at local restaurants and visit the town.

“We do things other than football,” she added.

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