- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Sean Romero works as a clothing store manager, raises two kids and still finds time to operate The Realm of Possibilities, a shop dedicated to games.

Romero, 42, who grew up in Santa Fe, found himself playing the card game Magic: The Gathering when he was a student at New Mexico State University. Now, he runs a shop that customers flock to for Magic cards and other games.

He and his friends had been driving to Albuquerque weekly to play Magic, and when the store there closed, they knew a similar venture could thrive in Santa Fe. So, Romero and some partners opened The Realm in 2011 at 1700 St. Michael’s Drive, in a strip mall that’s also home to one of the city’s last movie rental stores and a nail salon. Now, when Romero’s not working as a manager at the Ross Dress for Less store on Zafarano Drive — or sleeping — he’s at The Realm.

The store isn’t making Romero or his partners rich, he said, but that was never their goal. Instead, the shop is a place where young people and gamers can gather in an environment created just for them.

The shop wouldn’t exist without its dedicated base of 50 or so customers, he said, who come in at least twice a week. Some stop by four or more days.

“There wasn’t anything for the kids of Santa Fe,” he said. “Now we funnel all our money back into the shop. It’s really a community store.”

Most weeknights, you can find kids there lost in mental battles — a prolonged tournament of Magic or a video game.

Romero loves gaming. His 16-year-old son, Richie, volunteers at the shop as a game runner on Dungeons and Dragons nights. Romero said the two bonded through gaming. They would play EverQuest, a popular role-playing video game. His daughter, Megan, runs the counter and sometimes plays tabletop games. He and his fiancée, Jackie Handlesmen, both love Magic.

Romero has lined the shop’s walls with Magic promos — posters featuring figures clad in spiky armor, casting a fiery spells or wielding weapons. Collectible and holographic cards line glass cases.

Another glass case is full of tiny figurines, parts for a tabletop game called Warhammer. Some are aliens with blood-covered claws and teeth. Others resemble Marines, holding rifles akin to cannons. The bottom shelf features figures that are nearly a foot tall. One is a crimson tank-like robot equipped with a canon that wouldn’t look out of a place on an aircraft carrier.

Romero sees similarities between Magic and Warhammer, the store’s main draws. Both are games of strategy. Magic, Romero said, teaches kids math. Warhammer takes place on a game board that can help children with spatial thinking.

“It’s like playing chess,” he said. “You have to out-think your opponent.”

Magic players, he said, spend dozens of hours collecting cards, and more time prowling on the Internet for the best way to build their decks.

Warhammer players build their own game pieces.

Warhammer figures look like the sort you might find in a toy store, but they don’t start that way, Romero said. Hobbyists begin with dull, gray plastic parts and then assemble and paint the figures — much like assembling model cars. The game play, Romero said, is intriguing, but he finds the painting cathartic.

Romero said his Realm shop covers the realm of gaming culture. Video games? Check. Board games like Monopoly? Check. Pokemon cards? Check. The culture is nebulous, and it can be intimidating for those just getting started. But Romero does his best to introduce newcomers to the store.

“It really isn’t as complicated as people think it is,” he said. “If you have creativity in you, we can match you some place.”

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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