Wanderer’s Haul: Games & Connections for the Whole Community

Wanderer’s Haul will introduce their Frequent Reader program during Free Comic Book Day on May 4. (Photo by Janos Venczak)

Wanderer’s Haul, Fairfield’s popular gaming store at 115 E. Burlington Ave., has something exciting planned for Free Comic Book Day on May 4. During this annual event, in which the North American comic book industry offers a free title from 48 new releases at participating retailers, Wanderer’s Haul will also be kicking off their Frequent Reader program in partnership with the Fairfield Public Library.

The Frequent Reader Card will be available at Wanderer’s Haul and the Fairfield Public Library. Participants get stamps for each comic they read. After reading four comics, they can bring the card to the store, once a day, to redeem their stamps for one comic from the under-$2 section, or receive $2 credit towards the purchase of a new comic. The program was spearheaded by local comic enthusiast Dan Alvin, who curates the comic selection at Wanderer’s Haul.

The comic book wall at Wanderer’s Haul, with selections by Dan Alvin.

Store owners Patrick and Kate Hetland are very excited about this tie-in to Free Comic Day. “I think it’s going to do really well,” Patrick says, adding that he hopes it will “get more kids into the library and more kids into reading.” Kate adds, “I think comics are a really great way to get into reading, with the little blurbs and all the action.”

Patrick and Kate are also looking forward to hosting Free RPG Day on June 22, 2024. Sponsored by the tabletop gaming industry, this annual event takes place at local game stores all over the world, and involves giveaways of tabletop RPG (role-playing game) products. Patrick says it’s “always a big hit around here.”

Kate says there “will be special free content, like small adventures that give a taste of the game, promotional booklets about upcoming releases, special dice sets, and special minis [miniature figures] that are only released for free RPG day.” At the store, all participants are entered into a raffle to win the limited-edition minis and books. “We’ll just draw for however many prizes we have,” Patrick explains. “The first person that gets drawn gets first pick, and it just goes down the line.” He says they also usually get volunteers to run some of the small modules being released for free RPG day to see what they’re like to play.

Kate and Patrick started their popular gaming store in December 2020 at 115 E. Burlington Ave. Despite starting their business in the midst of the pandemic, things have gone really well. The center of a thriving gaming community, Wanderer’s Haul offers deck-building games such as the perennial favorite, Magic: The Gathering, plus board games, role-playing games, accessories, game and fantasy-themed decor, and comic books, as well as table space for game playing. They also host weekly board-game nights, Magic drafts and tourneys, and other gaming events, most of which are free. Many of their accessories and decor are produced by local artists, including hand-carved wooden wands and fantasy art prints.

They are committed to creating a welcoming community space. Kate says their customers range from 12-year-olds trying out Dungeons & Dragons for the first time, to college students exploring new board games and RPGs, to older gamers with decades of experience. Patrick says their customer base started out predominantly in the 25-35 age range, but has broadened over the years.

A wall of games and goodies at Wanderer’s Haul

Patrick loves how games encourage interpersonal interaction and community building. “Who wants to play a game alone? It’s good to get some face-to-face time and interact with people instead of a screen.” He adds that board games are a “really fun way to meet new people. It can be a little bit less intimidating, because there’s structure to it. It’s not just awkward introductions and weird silence.” And because most games require cooperation, everyone learns to work together. He says “the community is really what makes it work.”

Gamers at Wanderer’s Haul (photo courtesy of VisitFairfieldIowa.com)

Wanderer’s Haul always has open tablespace, and there’s no cover charge to come in to sit down and play. A variety of board games are available for anyone to play. Their weekly free events include weekly Board Game Day, and days dedicated to playing Commander and War Machine. Kate adds that if someone wants to try a Commander or War Machine, “there’s almost always someone here willing to loan you stuff so you can try it out. We have such a cool community here. Everyone that comes in is pretty chill and accepting. Our customers are obviously the best.”

Kate says being certified through Wizards of the Coast has been a big draw. Wizards of the Coast is the Pacific Northwest-based game company responsible for Magic: The Gathering, and certification means that they are recognized as official Magic: The Gathering card sellers and event hosts.

Long-time gamers who met at Fairfield’s Kobold’s Corner while they were in school, Kate and Patrick had fantasized about starting a game store after the town lost Kobold’s Corner and Finnywicks. But they didn’t consider it seriously, until Kate, who works at Andrew and Maya Busscher’s Bountiful Bakery, had a conversation about game stores with Andrew. A gamer himself, Andrew really wanted another game store in Fairfield. As owner of the building Wanderer’s Haul now occupies, Andrew was willing to give them a deal on rent.

Kate and Patrick decided to take the plunge. They gratefully received help, advice, and even merchandise donations from former game shop owners Matt Hardin, who ran Kobald’s Corner, and Jon and Therese Gilrain, who owned Finnywick’s. “They were all really cool and supportive, which was awesome,” Patrick says. “It was really nice to have the blessings of the other game stores of Fairfield’s past.”

Some of the goods at Wanderer’s Haul

Kate feels Wanderer’s Haul is providing an important “third space,” where people “can just come hang out with friends or meet new friends. There have been a lot of really cool friendships that have blossomed here.” She adds that gaming “brings out the really fun parts of people, the very animated parts,” and she’s happy to be able to provide a space where people feel safe to be themselves.

For more information about hours, events, etc, check out Wanderer’sHaul.com.