Do Something

Wanna play?

Want to bond with your friends, live out some fantasies, and have a good night out (or at home!)? Then check out some of Philly’s independent game shops for games and events. Is there a shop you’ve heard of not listed here? email [email protected]. Support local businesses!

Brave New Worlds (Comic books, collectibles, and games) 55 N. 2nd Street

Dark Depths Games 732 S. 4th Street

King Video Games (no analog snobs here) 1128 S. 9th Street

Queen & Rook 607 S. 2nd Street. New location at 123 South Street opening soon!

Redcap’s Corner  3850 Lancaster Avenue

The Philly Game Shop 521-525 S. 5th Street


Want more of The Citizen?

Sign up for our newsletter

For a weekly dose of ideas, solutions and practical action steps, sign up for our newsletter:

* indicates required


( mm / dd )

(function($) {window.fnames = new Array(); window.ftypes = new Array();fnames[0]=’EMAIL’;ftypes[0]=’email’;fnames[1]=’FNAME’;ftypes[1]=’text’;fnames[2]=’LNAME’;ftypes[2]=’text’;fnames[3]=’ADDRESS’;ftypes[3]=’address’;fnames[4]=’PHONE’;ftypes[4]=’phone’;fnames[5]=’BIRTHDAY’;ftypes[5]=’birthday’;}(jQuery));var $mcj = jQuery.noConflict(true);
And follow us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Be a Better Philadelphia Citizen

Here's how

One of the founding tenets of The Philadelphia Citizen is to get people the resources they need to become better, more engaged citizens of their city.

We hope to do that in our Good Citizenship Toolkit, which includes a host of ways to get involved in Philadelphia — whether you want to contact your City Councilmember about supporting our small and growing businesses, get those experiencing homelessness the goods they need, or simply go out to dinner somewhere where you know your money is going toward a greater good.

Find an issue that’s important to you in the list below, and get started on your journey of A-plus citizenship.

Vote and strengthen democracy

Stand up for marginalized communities

Create a cleaner, greener Philadelphia

Help our local youth and schools succeed

Support local businesses


To this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the enhanced audio edition of Christina’s story

And go here for more interviews, events and audio articles from CitizenCast

Gaming for Good

Philly is at the forefront of a rapidly growing, remarkably diverse community of gaming enthusiasts. It’s welcoming to all — and deeply, wonderfully weird.

Gaming for Good

Philly is at the forefront of a rapidly growing, remarkably diverse community of gaming enthusiasts. It’s welcoming to all — and deeply, wonderfully weird.

Marlee Aversa and her husband, Jerry, were not gamers. Born and raised in Northeast Philly, Marlee was a professional marketer, who, while working from home one day in 2020, was distracted by her husband and children laughing and cackling.

“I’m like, shhh. I’m trying to work,” she remembers.

Creeping upstairs to see what they were up to, she saw that Jerry had laid out a maze of paper sheets on the floor with actions and arrows written on them. “They were clucking like a chicken. They were farting. Of course, that was the most hysterical thing they could do,” Marlee says. “And they were playing for a good couple hours. It was a my husband and my two kids not fighting over which person is going to be the dog in Monopoly kind of thing.”

And then she thought, Maybe we’ve got something here.

Aversa embarked on a mission of playtesting and development. From Jerry’s initial 40 tiles, they produced a complete set of turn-based activities, which she brought to friends and family for an honest assessment. The report back was, this was kind of fun. She hired a designer to help with the creative end of developing the game. She mapped out with stick figures what she wanted the tiles to look like, and he created the art. M& J Games’ first release, What’s Next? A Life-Size Boardgame, was born.

What’s Next? A Life-Size Boardgame

Getting the physical materials together from China for the tiles and the giant dice that players roll to move, and then getting the finished product into the hands of consumers was a major investment in time and money. This was in the midst of the pandemic. Supply shortages and travel restrictions complicated the process. Aversa wanted the game pieces to be durable for indoor and outdoor play and washable. Subsequent versions and expansions have improved on the formula, but what M&J produces today is a line of games where you, the player, are the game piece. Iterations of What’s Next have sold thousands of copies, including a drinking-game edition, because, as the saying goes, “anything can be a drinking game if you put your mind to it.”

“Philly has some of the weirdest and most creative gamers I’ve ever met. We managed to pull off being socially acceptable, but also deeply weird. And that’s what I love about this.” — Benn Roe

In the renaissance of tabletop gaming, M&J Games is the latest success story from the Philadelphia hub of gaming culture. From prolific gaming shops, Facebook, and Discord groups and meetups to huge industry events like the PAX Unplugged convention — born in Philly in 2017 and drawing over 30,000 fans in 2023 — Philly is at the forefront of a rapidly growing, increasingly inclusive and diverse community of gaming enthusiasts.

Tabletop gaming — board games, role-playing games (RPGs), card games, party games, basically anything not a video game — have come a long way since family night with Yahtzee and The Game of Life. Classic fantasy board games like Risk and Heroquest have a whole new fandom. Dungeons & Dragons, the world’s most famous RPG — these are games where you roll dice to create a character and then run that character through story and combat scenarios where the dice determine your success or failure at every turn — has long moved on from Satanic Panic. For those who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the variety of gameplay mechanics, storytelling, worldbuilding, and art in today’s titles has allowed a lifelong love of gaming to transcend generations and bring together people of all ages and walks of life.

The PAX Unplugged Expo hall, 2023. Photo by Christina Griffith

Games as more than just play

Aversa hadn’t planned on producing more than this one game. But the feedback she received at a holiday event at the Cherry Hill Mall proved inspiring. Parents noted that the interactivity, simplicity, and physicality were great for people with autism, with the exception of a few activities that could be uncomfortable for some on the neurodivergent spectrum.

Realizing the potential, she sought out experts to help develop the next iteration of What’s Next? She contacted James Paoletti, co-founder of Spectrum Sports, which offers fitness and athletic training for people with special needs. Together, they developed an expansion set that is more comfortable for people of all abilities to play together, resulting in the What’s Next? Special Needs Set. Eventually, she brought her own neurotypical children to play with the neurodivergent individuals they were designing for. “I wanted to make sure that we can bring those two communities together,” she says. The strategy worked. Everyone had a blast.

Marlee Aversa, her husband Jerry, and their children.

Next, Aversa reached out to Christopher J. Manente, Ph.D., the Founding Executive Director of the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services (RCAAS) and an Assistant Professor at Rutgers. He was intrigued by the game and collaborated with her to develop a version for autistic adolescents. Manente was looking for a way to help them navigate social interactions, discuss their future goals, and make difficult decisions without fear and perhaps even while having fun. The result was What’s Next? A Life-Size Transition Game, which is customizable based on players’ abilities and experience and includes a facilitator’s guide.

Toys and games designed for those with autism aren’t new, but they have improved effectiveness through decades of research and development. It also isn’t new to employ games, especially RPGs, in mental health therapy. The ability to create a character and run scenarios applying strengths and weaknesses naturally lends itself to understanding social interactions, expressing emotion, working through trauma, and probing identity. The practice of “geek therapy” has grown to the point that companies like Geek Therapeutics provide training for providers and are designing new games with therapy in mind.

Leveling up

The ability to explore questions about identity is both the root of and a byproduct of the diversity in today’s golden age of analog gaming. The table is no longer filled by white males aged 8-30. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ gamers have been a growing and essential part of the gaming community. Recent additions to the RPG canon are far more diverse in representation, including 2021’s Coyote and Crow, an Indigenous American-inspired alternate future where colonization never happened, Evil Hat Productions’s Thirsty Sword Lesbians (2021), and the 2023 Tabletop Awards winner for best RPG, Women are Werewolves, a card-based storytelling game, from Philadelphia’s own 9th Level Games.

9th Level Games CEO Heather O’Neill, who hails from Montgomery County, had casually played traditional board games growing up. But her husband Chris, a Temple alum from Norristown, and his friends were more avid gamers. They had released an RPG independently back in 1999, Kobolds Ate My Baby, promoting it at conventions and eventually getting picked up by a publisher after a few years. It wasn’t something Heather ever thought she would get involved in, until 2013, when crowdfunding platform Kickstarter became a force for change in the gaming industry.

 “We started with Kobolds Ate My Baby, and that’s definitely silly monsters eating babies, and somehow we branch out by 2022 to have Women are Werewolves, a very serious cathartic nonbinary storytelling game.” — Heather O’Neill

At Kickstarter’s birth in 2009, board games were just beginning a resurgence. Still, it was difficult for creators to get the attention of larger publishers, and self-publishing was expensive. “With crowdfunding taking off the way it did, it became a perfect path for tabletop creators to get their work out in the world without needing to go through a publisher,” explains Philly native Nicole Amato, Games Outreach Lead at Kickstarter, avid gamer, and game designer in their own right. “With crowdfunding, people are also able to maintain creative control over their games — something they might not be able to do if they signed with a publisher.”

Kickstarter has also recognized the role it can play in diversifying voices in gaming. In addition to highlighting diverse creators on their platform, they have also collaborated with the Skoll Foundation and Mellon Foundation to support Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latino creators in the U.S.

The O’Neills decided the time was right to relaunch Kobolds Ate My Baby to unexpected success, raising over $65,000 and selling thousands of copies since. “I was like, I guess people still care. I guess we should do this,” O’Neill says. “And that kind of chose our path for us. What we’re gonna do is become publishers, and grow this business for real, not just, you know, for fun on the side.”

By 2015, the O’Neills, along with a new business partner, were working on a game called Schrödinger’s Cats, a card game loaded with cat puns also funded through Kickstarter. More than 1800 backers raised over $45,000, and from there, O’Neill was all in. In 2019, 9th Level released The Excellents, an RPG with a unique system and a diverse world featuring characters that spanned the LGBTQ spectrum. The game was a huge critical hit and a game-changer for representation, being one of the first few RPGs that included pronouns on the character sheet.

9th Level Games hits The Excellents and Women are Werewolves

“There is a huge LGBT community in games in general, right?” O’Neill says. “What’s been kinda cool is we started with Kobolds Ate My Baby, and that’s definitely silly monsters eating babies, and somehow we branch out by 2022 to have Women are Werewolves, a very serious cathartic nonbinary storytelling game.”

Patrick Watson, who co-wrote 9th Level’s Business Wizards with Nat Mesnard, puts it simply: “RPGs give people language to talk about gender that they never had before.”

Today, 9th Level Games includes O’Neill’s husband and Chief Creative Officer Chris O’Neill, COO Adriel Lee Wilson, and Dan Hansen-Landis. “Going from one thing in 1999, or even 2013, to like 25 things now or whatever we have in our whole catalog — it’s a big jump,” she says. “It’s exciting, but it’s a different story than normal.”

Gathering Spaces

Gaming communities revolve around places to play together. Online spaces like Roll20 and Discord surged during the pandemic, and brick-and-mortar game shops that have historically hosted game nights are also utilizing them to expand their reach.

Taylor Jenkins of The Philly Game Shop grew up in Downingtown, is a Temple alum, and was a political science professor. Attending PAX in 2018, she was impressed by the size of the convention, but realizing there was just one tabletop game shop in the city located in West Philly, was inspired to bring her love of games to South Philly. “It was kind of like a bummer time to be teaching political science,” she explains about the drastic career change.

The Philly Game Shop

Opening just six months before the pandemic, Taylor conceptualized a game shop that was different from the boys’ clubhouse atmosphere many of us grew up with through the 80s and 90s. The strictest rule at Philly Game Shop is to be kind to one another. While made in good conscience, that model is also a business strategy, as gaming shops that have adapted to the growing diversity of the community are more successful.

“I think for a long time, the category of Fantasy was very cis white, and I’ve seen a lot of pop culture moving away from that with shows like The Dragon Prince, and recent D&D offerings have really been much more inclusive of queer characters and characters of color,” Taylor says. “And that I think makes people feel seen and feel like, this is fantasy for me too. I’m reflected in this. I can feel like I can be myself when I play this game. You don’t want to be a part of a community that doesn’t see you, right?”

That once-lone West Philly game shop, by the way, is Redcap’s Corner, which celebrated its 15th anniversary on February 6. Benn Roe, who was born in England and raised in Kentucky, grew up playing board games with his mom, creating D&D characters in elementary school, and playing Magic: The Gathering. He arrived in Philadelphia in 2005. Redcap’s opened in a small storefront at 41st and Locust in the midst of the Great Recession and just before the beginning of the modern board game Renaissance. “It was arguably not a smart thing to be doing,” Roe says, “but it actually worked out really well for us because it turns out board games are really cheap entertainment compared to going to the movies or drinking or many other things young adults tend to do.”

Redcap’s Corner on Lancaster Avenue

The shop relocated twice as it grew and now commands two stories on Lancaster Avenue. Roe credits decisions both principled and business-minded with the success of Redcap’s Corner. “You’re kicking yourself as hard as you possibly can by catering only to a very small segment of the population,” he says. “Gaming culture does have a not-undeserved reputation for being very white, very male, very gate-kept. And Philly is nothing like that at all. We have this incredibly diverse customer base, incredibly diverse player base, that’s surprisingly clued into issues of equity and inclusion.”

You absolutely can’t miss their commercial.

During the pandemic, as many shops moved to website sales and online platforms for events, The Philly Game Shop was delivering games door to door where they could. Queen and Rook Cafe, which opened in 2019 in the same neighborhood, was allowed to remain open as it also operates as a restaurant. They helped The Philly Game Shop stay in business by putting their games in their shop on consignment. That’s the kind of community that gaming enthusiasts hope to be a part of.

Many of Philly’s game shop proprietors believe that the future of analog gaming probably isn’t the total eradication of toxicity, but the sequestering and removal of that from the larger sphere.

“Philly has some of the weirdest and most creative gamers I’ve ever met,” declares Roe. “We managed to pull off being socially acceptable, but also deeply weird. And that’s what I love about this.”


The 9th Level Games team. Courtesy 9th Level Games

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.