When you walk into It’s Your Move Games on 49th Street and Telegraph Ave, you feel like you’ve been transported to a fantasy world.
On the right side of the store are shelves filled with every type of board game you can imagine, from classics like “Settlers of Catan” and “Risk” to obscure out-of-print titles like 1980’s “Stalin’s Tanks.” War games. On the left side of the store is a shelf dedicated to roleplaying game books, along with an assortment of fantasy card games like “Magic: The Gathering” and “Pokemon.”
The role-playing division is a personal favorite of co-owner William Kreber-Mapp, who fell in love with the cult classic RPG “Dungeons & Dragons” as a child growing up on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
“There was no such place. There were no game stores where we could go in and crack open and explain to the store owner how it worked,” Kreber-Mapp said. “Whether you are at school, at work or at home, there is stress; Everyone wants third place [It’s Your Move Games] Where you can de-stress.
Kreber-Mapp and his ex-wife Rue Mapp founded the store in 2003 with the goal of creating a relaxed gaming environment. His girlfriend Sally Amesbury ran the store for six years before William returned with co-owner Chris Specker in 2010. In addition to selling and renting games, the store also hosts weekly community game nights and special events. Currently, It’s Your Move hosts a youth summer camp program, where children learn how to play card games and role-play games. The programs have helped keep stores open during the pandemic.
“Most of our business comes from events and community members running the events,” Specker said. Some programs, like Scrabble Club, are labors of love, while others, like Dungeons and Dragons, are pay-to-play.
As a lifelong RPG enthusiast, Kreber-Mapp said he thinks kids can learn valuable life skills from intense fantasy missions that simulate life-or-death situations. “It’s getting people to look each other in the face, talk, joke and deal with real life moments together. In our society where everyone’s face is constantly pressed to their phone, we are losing it [community building skill].”
Volunteers run most of the gaming events, and some, like Aaron Waters, have turned in part-time employees.
“When they first opened, they ran ads on the science fiction channel and Comedy Central because they thought that would cover most of their audience,” laughs Waters.
Once visited, Waters never left. The East Bay native grew up playing board games but often moved to San Francisco because there weren’t many tabletop game stores in the area. “Here we’re always running gaming events and we try and get people involved so they’re not just watching other people,” Waters said. “We try to be inclusive.”
While they sell games in stores and through their online service, the store’s business model can feel more like a community center than an actual business. Sometimes this requires taking care of customers beyond gaming. For example, when Specker was talking to The Oaklandside, a kid enrolled in a D&D summer camp approached her and asked if she had any gauze; The child’s baby teeth had just come out.
“80% of the time it’s amazing,” Specker laughs. “It’s a chaotic, happy, just chill environment.”
The store also serves as a UPS delivery site, and they offered the service in the early days of the pandemic to bring in some extra revenue. Most of the people who get deliveries there live in Temescal, and it’s a way for new residents to find a neighborhood staple.
Gaming was always a lifelong passion for both Specker and Kreber-Mapp, but it was never expected to help pay the bills. Kreber-Mapp worked several jobs in Alaska, San Francisco and Oakland before the idea of opening a game store came to fruition. He was a cannery worker, a commercial fisherman, a deck hand on a boat, a domestic helper, and even a chef and a line cook.
“I wanted to experience as many things as possible,” Kreber-Mapp said. “I had an industrial accident in 2003 and had to do something because I couldn’t hold a regular job. Ru and I talked about it, put some money aside and got this place and opened it up as It’s Your Move Games.”
As the years went by, it became increasingly clear to Kreber-Mapp and Specker that they had to double down on the community aspect of the store. Specker started by increasing the size of their gaming library and including more games from local developers.
“You can get all this stuff online now, and we’re not going to compete with Caton or Amazon with a monopoly,” Specker said.
The increased game library also gave them a large inventory for rental and in-store gaming.
Before joining Specker as co-owner, she worked as a real estate agent and was a member of the Green Party.
Specker was already an avid customer of It’s Your Move Games and got involved because she didn’t find most gaming spaces in the Bay Area welcoming or diverse. “I went to a few game stores and there were no good stores for women who wanted to play role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. They were all men,” Specker said. Prevailing sexism and racism in the tabletop gaming industry is nothing new.
“Women game designers have faced a lot of discrimination, and people of color have faced a lot of issues in the gaming world,” Specker said. “I think because of my experience in finding some of those welcoming spaces, it’s really important that our spaces are welcoming.”
Bill Huang, an Oakland native who has been volunteering at the store for the past year, became involved with the store’s gaming community because of Specker’s welcoming attitude. “When I was growing up in Oakland Chinatown, this was a place where I used to hang out with my friends and play video games but it’s been closed for a long time,” Hong said.
Specker said it’s important to her and Kreber-Mapp that the store is not just for North Oakland locals, but for anyone living in Oakland who loves to play the game. Most of their outreach is through local schools and they also advertise their business in the Pink Pages, an LGBTQ business directory. “It’s really important to welcome this space and try to bring all these communities together,” Specker said.
Huang makes daylight as a software designer, but it’s clear that his true passion is working at the store and helping strengthen the community that Specker, Kreber-Map, and the previous owners worked so hard to build. “I’m just here to play my part,” Huang said.