Gunks Gaming Guild & Café brings board games, role-playing games for all to Ulster County

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Amanda McDonald and Rob Gamble will soon be opening Gunks Gaming Guild & Cafe at 17 Church Street in New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

We all know the stereotype of a “gamer”: Such a person is expected to be knowledgeable about all things nerdy — to the point of making non-nerds’ eyes glaze over — but disengaged from real-world concerns and current events, outside the calendar of new movie and TV releases. So where does one go, when ready to peek out into the daylight?

The answer, dear gamer geeks, is a place where people — perhaps even a diversity of people — may gather to play games of the non-athletic sort. It might be a bookstore or comic book shop. In the best of all possible worlds, it could be a dedicated gaming café. Those tend to be rarer than mithril, especially in small towns; but residents of New Paltz and vicinity have reason to rejoice, because there’s one coming soon to a downtown near you.

The Gunks Gaming Guild & Café is currently being readied for customers at 17 Church Street, right next door to the entrance to Huckleberry. The soft opening is projected for sometime between September 19 and 23, with a splashier Grand Opening in October or November. The hours of operation will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Previously home to Café 17, and before that an antique store and an artist’s workspace, this building is one of the oldest in the Village of New Paltz that isn’t a Huguenot stone house. Consequently, it doesn’t fit the aesthetic image of the typical gamer hangout. Comic shops often strive for a futuristic Star Wars/Trek vibe, or a Pop Art sensibility with lots of primary colors, or a dark Gothic or steampunk look featuring skulls or tentacles. This is a space built in the 17th century, most recently renovated with plenty of warm woodwork. The old plank floors are so wonkily uneven that the new proprietors had to order self-leveling bases for their gaming tables.

So, how what sort of décor do you add to make such a space appealing to F/SF fans? Simple and obvious answer: You make it look even more like a hobbit-hole than it already does. You use repurposed barn wood and cutting boards to build counters and shelving. You have a handy relative custom-build a hexagonal gaming table for Dungeons & Dragons, with built-in cupholders and a lip to keep the 20-sided dice from rolling onto the floor. You paint the walls in autumnal colors and hang tapestry banners sporting the café logo by way of heraldry. You add a cozy couch and a couple of rocking chairs. You turn the literal cupboard under the stairs into a Harry Potter-themed nook for kids.

And then, on one wall at the end of the longest space — the Hobbiton Room — you let loose your barista who also happens to be an artist, Emily Pickering, with instructions to paint an appropriate mural. “I wanted the Ridge, and I wanted trees,” says Gunks Gaming Guild co-owner Amanda McDonald. What the artist delivers is a panorama of Sky Top, but with Barad-dûr, the Dark Fortress of Sauron, replacing of the familiar Smiley Memorial Tower. Off to the sides, frolicking amongst the trees, are a scattering of Kodama, the cute little forest spirits from the classic Studio Ghibli animated film Princess Mononoke. Have you fallen in love with the place yet?

McDonald and her fiancé/business partner Robert Gamble hardly fit any stereotype you might have in your head for gamer geeks. They’re an attractive, bright, outgoing, articulate young couple who have both worked with special-needs kids, Amanda as a teacher and Rob as a personal trainer. A native of Monroe, where they both now live, she just finished her Master’s in Early Childhood Education at SUNY New Paltz. He was a track star and avid snowboarder in high school, although he says, “I grew up in a nerdy household.” The pair got engaged in January in Colorado, where a happy visit to a board game café persuaded them to start a similar business back East, instead of investing their energies into planning a wedding right away.

Gamble is also a self-taught barista whose “passion for coffee” fuels the other half of what this café will offer: a fancy coffee bar laden with pastries and bags of beans from artisan roasters with geeky names like Valkyrie and Brandywine, to be processed by high-end equipment imported from Italy, including a La Marzocco espresso machine. Six taps will dispense craft beers, cider and mead. There’s even a shiny gadget called a pitcher rinser that spews water upward, like a bidet. The shop also has a full kitchen, so the food menu will begin with “small bites” and pastries and progress to more elaborate offerings as they get established.

Getting all this gear in place during a time of supply-chain issues took them nine months, Rob says, but in the meantime, they’ve been getting acclimated to the New Paltz community, which they’ve found welcoming and well-aligned with their personal worldview. Their dream is to make the new business appealing to a diverse crowd and not just hardcore gamers. “It’s an amazing world that we’re hoping to bring everyone into,” says Amanda. Emphasizing inclusion, both are adamantly opposed to the gatekeeping attitude that has caused rifts in the gaming community and made it difficult in the past for women and girls and people of color to feel welcome. “It’s a fear thing,” Rob says. “We’re hoping to deconstruct that here,” Amanda agrees.

To lure customers, besides offering great coffee and tasty snacks, they’ve got a library of more than 200 board games already on the shelves, rentable for $10 on weekends, $5 on weekdays (or for kids and students anytime). Roleplaying game nights, including D&D and Magic the Gathering, will be regularly scheduled, along with introductory lessons for newbies and character creation sessions. Trivia nights, murder mystery nights and Renaissance Faire-themed events are also envisioned.

The “Guild” piece of the business name refers to the place being the home base for a “drop-in, drop-out” ongoing Dungeons & Dragons campaign, with multiple layers based on the players’ level of experience. Players will be able to find groups at a comparable level via a Discord calendar. The hope is that even older folks who missed out on RPGs when they first became popular will not feel intimidated about giving them a try. “You’re just telling stories with your friends and rolling dice in between,” says Rob.

To find out more about the Gunks Gaming Guild and Café, call 845-633-8494, e-mail or visit, Gunks Gaming Guild on Facebook or @gunksgamingguild on Instagram.

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