I Bought Everquest for $1.50

Posted: August 10, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, Gaming Sites, Out of Character

Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.  

-Oscar Levant

I bought Everquest for $1.50 last night.

The box is still sealed and in great shape.  It’s one of those old PC boxes, so big you can’t figure out where to put it.  On the front, it has the “989 Studios” nameplate in the bottom left corner.

It was one of the most bittersweet purchases of my life.

I picked this box up, along with an original Ruins of Kunark and Shadows of Luclin box, at Phoenix Games in Minneapolis.  Situated right on the corner of Bryant and Lake right in the middle of the Uptown/Lynlake neighborhood, Phoenix games has been there as long as I can remember.

At the end of August, Phoenix is closing up shop.  Owner Neil Cauley has been at the helm for 20 years, and prior to that worked at the Little Tin Soldier shop which was on the same spot for 14 years itself.  Though rumor has it that John Redman (one of Phoenix’s employees) will likely open a new store a few miles south at 48th and Nicollet, it doesn’t change that fact that for the first time since the 70’s, there won’t be a gaming store on the 900 block of Lake Street in Minneapolis.

I heard the news a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t able to stop in to the store till last night.  I sat down with Neil for about an hour, talking with him about the gaming industry, the eBay-ification of gaming miniatures, the reasons for having to close down the store, and his hopes for the future (he’s intending to open a small storefront near his home in Minnetonka, to go with www.phoenixgamesonline.com – his online operation).

Neil’s optimistic.  He never stops smiling.  I explained about the FanFaire I just returned from, and he points out the Everquest boxes – half price from the $3.00 tags he has on the box, just south of the original $44.99 Electronics Boutique sticker still visible.  He explains how he bought someone’s video games collection just a couple years earlier, and how these boxes were mixed in with the various Xbox and Playstation games. 

I told Neil I’d like to run a podcast on Phoenix sometime and he asked if that was sort of like YouTube.  I smiled and explained to one of the most recognized gamers in the Twin Cities – an institution unto himself – exactly what a podcast was.  He smiled and listened carefully.  He always smiles.  It’s part of what has made him one of the best known shopkeepers to the geeks of Minneapolis for 20 years.  

I spend time going over the old shelves.  I remember the first time I walked into this store in 1992.  I remember playing my first Battletech games in his old Burnsville location.  I remember playing Magic: The Gathering here.  I bought my first Games Workshop Space Marines here.  Honestly, I’d practically grown up here.

I put the Everquest boxes on the counter.  I picked out a few files and X-acto blades from the hobby tools section of the store.  I milled over some Warhammer miniatures, and looked at the dice bin.  I looked at the stack I’d managed to pile up.  Neil rang it all up on the same register he’d been using for years.  It came out to just under $12 for everything.  I felt horrible spending so little on what I was buying and I said as much to Neil.  I told him I felt like a vulture circling a dying horse in the desert.  Neil smiled.  He counted out my change.  He bagged everything up for me and told me not to worry about it. 

Gaming stores like Phoenix are a dying breed.  So many of our nightly adventures have shifted from the dinner table to the desktop.  Instead of spending $20 a month on new miniatures or source books, we pick up monthly subscriptions and new expansions.  We complain about bugs.  We complain about patches.  We complain about class balance.  We complain about customer service.

For men like Neil Cauley, customer service always starts and ends with a smile.  If you’ve got a few minutes, he’ll debate the newest ruleset for Axis and Allies with you, or go over the nuances of the downfall of Mechwarrior.  He loves discussing tabletop tactics with his customers, and though he’s never been great with names (Neil is the first guy to admit this), he never forgets a face.  He may not remember what to call you, but he usually remembers what games you play and he’ll happily set aside difficult to find books or bits for you if you ask him to do so. 

With companies like Blizzard and SOE and Funcom and EA talking about successful business models, subscription churn, and community influencers, it’s the “little guys” like Neil Cauley who stick out in my head as the true giants in the industry.  He never made his fortune with Phoenix Games.  He doesn’t drive a Jaguar or Porsche, and he probably couldn’t tell the Barrens from the Commonlands, but ask him about Palladium books and buy him a Diet Coke and he’ll talk to you all day about the history of the company. 

With discussions on “success” these days revolving around millions subscribers per month, Neil Cauley would probably use terms too “small” for the industry.  He’d talk about making a difference, or Saturday afternoons, or helping out employees. 

I said my goodbyes to Neil and promised to come back before he finally locked the doors for the final time.  I drove home more slowly than usual and then put that monstrous old box of Everquest on the top of my bookshelf in my office.  It now sits next to the latest and greatest Everquest 2 branded gear SOE’s sent me over the past year.  It’s a symbol to me now – a reminder of a simpler time when MMO’s were still coming of age, and stores like Phoenix Games were still the hub of our gaming social circles. 

I’m going to miss Phoenix Games.  More than that, I’m going to miss what it came to represent in my life.  More than shelves and boxes and tables set up for gameplay, it was a place of acceptance for guys like me who didn’t necessarily enjoy the same hobbies as everyone else.  It was a place to go to meet friends, set up new campaigns, and perhaps consume a bit too much Taco Bell and Mountain Dew. 

And of course, it was where you’d find Neil.  And of course, he’d be smiling.


  1. Cuppycake says:

    Ah what a bummer!!!!! I didn’t know Phoenix Games was closing =( That’s one of my favorite stores in the Twin Cities. Gah. Get him on a podcast, I’d listen.

    Grats on the original EQ box too btw =)

  2. Awesome article. Small gaming and comic shops are an endangered species in the world of chain stores and the internet, and it’s really sad to see another one go, even if I’ve never been there.

  3. Loralor says:

    All the little game stores around my area are closing down, one by one. No more Magic:The Gathering players to meet up. All thoses times getting whipped by players with overly powerful decks, yet having fun times doing so.

    I am as guilty as the next one, having abandonned them over 10 years ago in favor of console gaming, then later computer games, before settling in MMOs.

    Times change. Maybe someday, the “hardcopies” will come back around.

  4. kendricke says:

    Thanks, everyone.

    It was actually a pretty difficult article to write. The words themselves don’t do justice to a man who helped influence many of the decisions I made throughout my early 20’s. Like a bartender at the corner pub, Neil Cauley was always there to listen to your problems and offer up some free advice.

    There’s not many guys like Neil left in the world, so when I heard Phoenix was finally closing down, it knocked the wind right out of me. This place is an institution.

    Long before SOE was picking up news for their in-game wedding, I witnessed the nuptials of two friends at a Battletch TCG tournament in the back corner of Phoenix. The Wizards of the Coast rep was an ordained minister, and so Shawn and Didi rushed out, picked up a marriage certificate, and said their vows right there in the back of the store. For wedding presents, we awarded the happy couple rares from our decks.

    When I invited my guild members to join me at my home for a Gathering 4 years ago, we spent an afternoon at Phoenix Games looking over sourcebooks and discussing raid tactics and macros.

    I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years at Neil’s little red store (it used to be blue – but only us oldtimers remember that). I know this because every purchase was painstakingly logged onto a handwritten index card file for our in-store discounts.

    Many of the friends I’ve known over the years were first introduced to me over the tables at Phoenix Games. Though I don’t keep in touch with everyone like I used to, the fact remains that long before MMO’s dominated my free time, Phoenix Games provided some of the first player matching services I had access to.

    It’s not just a store that’s closing this month. It’s a chapter in the life of tens of thousands of Twin Cities gaming enthusiasts. Years before Halo and World of Warcraft brought gaming to the mainstream, Phoenix was much more than a store – it was a place where gamers were truly welcomed to just be themselves.

  5. wilhelm2451 says:

    Very sad. To quote a president, I feel your pain. But at least you got one last look and a chance at a farewell.

    My company moved its office last year. I was happy because it was going to put me very close to a similar institution for me , a beacon of my youth, a place where I spent hours and hours pouring over role playing games, war games, models, and such. A place where I also must have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours over the course of more than 30 years.

    Just before we moved, I went to scope out our new building and then take a side trip to the shop, only to find that it had closed six months before.


  6. Raylorn says:

    Little game stores and real gamers are what attracted me so many years ago. Games of Magic the Gathering, Warhammer 40k, and even Wahammer are fine memories of a good time in my life. I remember cutting out pictures of cards and pasting them on land so I would not have to play with the cards I had lovingly sleeved in a binder to show off to friends on lazy Saturdays. I started collecting when the Beta cards came out… hmm I am dating myself.

    Waxing nastalgic, I found my old Space Marines in the garage. I could field a 3,000 point atmy right now. All hand painted ( terribly ) and almost intact. A few Terminator weapons had fell off and a jetpack off of a scout is missing. Nothing a little crazy glue can not fix.

    Thanks Ken. I am going to see if I can find a warhammer 40k game to get into this weekend.

  7. AverageJoe says:

    I am not familar with him Kendricke, but sounds like a great guy. Leo Laporte’s depiction on how paper is sometimes better than the PC came to mind while reading this. I sincerely miss the days of pen and paper and rolling the dice.

  8. Valarious says:

    Great write up Kendricke. There are not many of those stores around Atlanta either. Time marches on. I wonder what the next generation of gamers will be blogging about in 15-20 years.

  9. KevinC says:

    Absolutely great article Kendricke. I hate to see brick and mortar stores close in any town. They are truly a dying breed. Next week I head to GenCon and will get my gaming fix there, but I have so many good memories over the years of going to various game shops in my hometown, and in the hometowns of relatives I would visit.

    To someone who’s never visited a gaming/comic shop on a regular basis, you just can’t describe the vibe, especially when you’ve got an owner/manager as outstanding as Neil sounds.

    When I think of (traditional) gaming on a Saturday afternoon….that’s still one of the best memory/feelings I get, even today.

  10. […] an absolutely great article by Kendricke on this subject.  He wrote it so well that I need merely link  you to it.  Read about days gone by…days that may never come […]

  11. damianov says:

    Phoenix Games was a fixture of my high school and college years. We made pilgrimages from Faribault, then Saint Peter, 50 miles plus, just to spend a couple hours browsing the shelves and salivating over games. I still stop in (past tense now, I guess) every 6 months or so to see what’s new, and drop a hundred or so…

    Humbug. This is sad news.

  12. […] has a great post reflecting on the imminent closing of a Twin Cities gaming icon, Phoenix Games.  I was making […]

  13. You wrote a wonderful article, Ken. Although I had only been a customer at Phoenix Games for the past year or so (D&D Minis), I am still sad to see it go. Phoenix was always more geek friendly than similar stores in the Metro area (who I will, in good taste, leave un-named). Does that mean the only gaming store left in Minneapolis (after this summer) will be Monster’s Den?

  14. Eve says:

    never fear! Neil has a great new store. i copied and pasted the below info from his website. check it out:

    After twenty years on the corner of Lake and Bryant in south Minneapolis, Phoenix Games has moved to Deephaven. We are now open at our new location: 18285-D Minnetonka Blvd, Wayzata, MN 55391. (We are in Deephaven but have a Wayzata mailing address.) Our phone number has changed to 952-473-1253, but calls to our old number will be reach us too.
    We have 8 gaming tables at the new location, and have brought out a lot of the cool boards Eric and Corey made for us in Minneapolis.
    Because we are now smaller and more efficient, we will be able to pass the savings on to you. Phoenix Games will be retailing everything at either 20 or 30 percent off every day.

    Please stop out and see us, I think you’ll like the new location.

    Our new hours will be:

    Monday Thru Friday 11:00-7:00 PM
    Saturday 10:00-5:00 PM
    Sunday 12:00-5:00 PM

    STORE PHONE NUMBER: (952) 473-1253

    Games Workshop will be 20% off all the time. Please come on in and check out our new store.

  15. Kendricke says:

    Fantastic! I’ll have to make a trip out that way soon. Thanks for the update.

  16. John says:

    Hi, Would you be willing to sell that original Everquest game ? Contact me at Elryn@optonline.net Paying handsomely

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