ABOVE: Funagain employee Kristen Brown fills orders Tuesday in the crowded backroom at Funagain Games in Ashland. FRONT: Funagain Games owner Merry Vediner, left, teaches Shori and John Kalb how to play.



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As the holiday shopping season ramps up to high gear, the owners of local board game shop Funagain Games expect to see an increase in their surprisingly common customer confusion &

Ashlanders ordering online without realizing they're buying local.

"We call them and say, 'Do you know we're right down the street?'" store owner Merry Vediner said.

Funagain Games does most of its business online all over the world. But locals can take advantage of the company's selection of more than 4,000 games, all available at the tiny storefront in the Ashland Shopping Center.

"This is one of our favorite places," said Renee Leonis who was visiting with her three children. She has lived in Ashland since 1993, but only recently discovered the store.

"We thought this was a video game store so we never came in," she said. "Now we come once or twice a week."

On this visit, she brought her nephew, Cody Griffith, 12.

"It's really fun," Griffith said without looking up from the tiling game he was testing. "There's lots of demo games you can play with, and that's cool."

Funagain has nearly 100 "demo" games lining one wall that customers can try out for a few minutes or a few hours. Teenagers often spend their Saturdays in the store playing new games, and a group of women from Prospect used to come in once a week to play their favorite game called "Puerto Rico," said Nick Medinger, the store's general manager.

Not just for kids

Although most of the store's sales originate online, Medinger said the best way to experience the games is to come in and play. It's also the best way to fight the image that adults don't play board games, he said.

"In the U.S. board games still to this day are considered kid's activities, which is true, but there are also lots of great games for adults," Medinger said. "When you get people in the store, it's really easy to show them it's not for kids."

The board game industry has move far beyond the old stand-bys of "Monopoly," "Life" and chess, he said, and most games in the store come from Germany, whose designers consistently win game-of-the-year awards for their fast-paced popular games.

"We're on a mission," Vediner said. "We want people to know there's a world beyond 'Monopoly, games that when it's not your turn, you don't get up and leave the table."

Medinger takes annual trips to Germany each October to bring back the newest games just in time for the holidays. About one-third of the store's stock is imported from Germany. They have also started importing games from the budding Asian market.

Although most repeat customers know they can find the most innovative games at Funagain, they still have to fight the image of a used game store. Before the first trip to Germany, owners planned to sell used games and replacement parts salvaged from thrift stores.

"We have such a presence now that we wouldn't be wise to change our name," Vediner said. "I have people say to me, 'How are you still in business?' I can barely stand up I'm working so fast."

With holidays approaching, they will only get busier, as people buy games for gifts and family get-togethers.

Ready for holiday parties

"I come right before Thanksgiving every year," said Debbie Jones who visited the store last week. "We have four girls in their twenties and they love games, so we try get a new game every year."

This year she settled on "Wits and Wagers," a group betting game, after much browsing.

"There's so many you really kind of need someone to tell you about it," she said.

Contrary to said telling customers like Jones all about their favorite games are what make the job fun, and some even compared it to working at the North Pole.

"The best thing about working here is that the things you're selling people are things they're going to like and will make them happy," Medinger said. "What you're selling to people is fun in a box."

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