The GROGNARD Files

Table-top RPGs from back in the day and today.

“There were no RuneQuest articles or scenarios in the first issues of White Dwarf I bought. That however didn’t stop me from buying the Chaosium second edition boxset; I saw it nestled on the shelves of my friendly local games store F.C. Parker in Cardiff,” thus begins the very first contribution of @dailydwarf to the GROGNARD files Episode 1. The mention of F.C. Parker was a trigger word for dozens of listeners of the podcast. The toy shop had a very special place in the memories of grognards in the area.

Since it was mentioned, the team at The Armchair Adventurers have been trying to track down more details about the store. Last year, the South Wales division of the GROGSQUAD, led by Wayne Peters, conducted an interview with David Miles who grew up in Cardiff and worked at FC Parker and Encounter Games. He now lives in Kent, but enjoyed reflected on the days in the old store:

For those who are not native South Walians, and not filled with wistful nostalgia, can you describe what FC Parker and Encounter games as you remember them?

The Encounter Games Catalogue by Mark Gibbons

FC Parker and, particularly, Encounter Games were THE place to be if you were into Role playing or wargaming, either historical, fantasy or sci-fi. I like to think that amongst a handful of other similar stores, FC Parker and Encounter Games drove gaming to new heights.

The Royal Arcade incarnation of FC Parker was about traditional board games – I recall hundreds of different types of chess-pieces, backgammon sets, Go!, mahjong and at the end a few RPGs and a square cabinet in which miniatures were stored.

And lots of Prince August moulding kits, they were a big part of the business at that time.

I worked there twice – once I was a Saturday lad in FC Parker on the corner of Royal Arcade and, then full-time for FC Parker, which became Encounter Games in the High St Arcade. I was just cheeky, walked in and asked for a Saturday job at first, but I cannot recall how I came to work there the second time came about, but I am both glad and sad it did.

I have only a very fleeting memory of Roger the proprietor, what do you remember about him? Was he a gamer himself?

Roger was Roger Harris – a giant of a man – with a massive heart and with the deepest voice I have ever known. Sadly he had health issues, which were aggravated in later years of the business and wouldn’t have helped him at all. He was interested in all the traditional games – chess and the like – but not the RPG side of things – he was a keen business man to boot though – he knew when something was going to be big! He was very generous and someone to look up to – to aspire to be like in fact.

Dave The Paladin with Roger, the owner.

Were you, yourself a keen gamer back then, how did you get involved in the hobby and what did you play?

I was … D&D, Runequest and Traveller, then I moved to Warhammer – the first box I can still remember vividly; Rogue Trader came soon after, that was the forerunner to Warhammer 40k. I loved and still love Space Hulk, plus some Call of Cthulhu, Mechwarrior and Shadowrun were always in the mix. And a part of my youthful heart will always belong to Vampire: The Masquerade.

Are you still a gamer? If so, what do you play now?

Gaming – hell yes – consoles but still tabletop in a big way, in my active gaming cupboard at the moment, The Awful Orphanage, KillTeam, the Batman Miniatures game and X-Wing – plus I really fancy Journeys in Middle-Earth to be honest – so can see that being added

What were the shop’s big sellers?

Well Traveller, D&D and Runequest were always immense – the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game was massive, Vampire: The Masquerade was extremely popular as was Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mechwarrior was really big and RoboTech was pretty popular too. But then a heavy move towards GW products saw the real growth of the shop – anyone who recalls it, will remember rack upon rack of miniatures hanging on the wall and a gigantic stand in the centre – which held more stock inside and opened up. Roger made that stand himself, it was so heavy, packed with so much great stock too. It was like a record store display, but full of every RPG book and supplement known to man!

Why did FC Parker move to the High Street Arcade and why did the name change to Encounter Games?

Space constraints drove the move, a desire to expand and become THE goto place for gamers in Wales – I think the move was proven to be the correct one. The name change was part of the rebranding alongside becoming the first Games Workshop Specialist Stockist, a change months in planning and execution – in conjunction with John Stallard, now of Warlord Games.

What was your relationship like with the competition (Bud Morgans, Beatties, Virgin and GW)?

Bud Morgans were great, they were in a different sphere to us and although we overlapped no bad words – Beatties were the same, VIrgin we didnt have a real relationship with, Games Workshop, well, less said the better I think, we all know how events transpired and what happened.

Even before the change to Encounter Games, was there a sense that interest in RPGs was waning, with miniatures war games becoming more popular?

Yes – the acceleration was obvious – but other games came to the fore, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was immense for us, possibly because it was a bloody good product and partly because there was a great little group who were into it and enthusiastic about it. But other games were massive too, Shadowrun was enormous and had a range of miniatures, even if people only bought one as their character avatar, it was all good. 

We also saw how big the hobby was getting when we launched the Encounter Games mail order service and catalogue – this was before eCommerce and we were shipping out enormous amounts per week, worldwide – that was the point when the juggernaut was appreciably massive – it got bigger and bigger from there onwards – it helped having staff who were gamers and loved the hobby, that buzz and enthusiasm came through. That is something I have carried forward in life, I do what I do because I love it, not because it’s a job, whatever you do, enthuse and be genuine about it, it will make the difference.

FC Parker were involved in organising Welsh Games Day – any memories / stories from those?

At that point Games Workshop were being really supportive of Encounter Games, so they really did help out a lot. We also wanted to make it inclusive of other manufacturers and other games; those two conflicts were an interesting conundrum to resolve.

Did you ever have any celebrity customers?

I think the only celebrity would be a certain artist, who was also a gamer, Mark Gibbons, who I was friends with then and still am – it was at the start of his career – which is how we got him to illustrate the Encounter Games catalogue for us, with a caricature of both Roger and myself. He was a figure painter, a gamer, a budding artist and in a rock band. I was lucky enough to often see what he was working on and some of the artwork blew my mind at the time. He produced some of the iconic pieces of artwork; of course, he is too modest and always pushes praise on others, notably John Blanche and Jes Goodwin – but he was one hell of an artist – and still is. His work was never art for arts sake, it was a glimpse into his head, how he saw the miniatures in their settings, which is why much of it stands up to modern scrutiny and it remains inspirational! It took GW 30 years to resculpt the Blood Angel Mephiston, but when they did, it was Mark’s artwork that was the foundation – of course, he thanks Jes Goodwin for the original inspiration! He’s very modest and genuine as a person.

Anything else that you’d like to say that isn’t already covered by these questions?

I wouldn’t change the years spent at FC Parker and Encounter Games. I met some great people over 30 years ago, some of whom I am still in contact with, I met Mark who I remain in contact with and friends with, and my best mate after all these years is Mike, if anyone remembers a ginger guy who worked Saturdays for me in the shop, that was Mike. We’ve grown up, been each other’s best men, seen kids – in Mike’s case – come into the world, watched them grow. We’ve gone to many, many rock gigs together and spent many a night drinking beer and being stupid – so from a games shop, a great friendship came – that’s worth its weight in gold!

Thank you to David for the interview and to Wayne for organising the interview. If you have any more information about the store, then please let us know, particularly if you have a photograph.

The site of the store today, it’s just not the same (photo by The Daily Dwarf)

8 thoughts on “FC Parker/Encounter Games, Cardiff

  1. Kevin Mantle says:

    The original store was close to Spillers, the oldest record shop in the world, so you always visited both. The store was very narrow,so you had to stare across the counter at the boxed sets. I had the (top) catalogue, and would constantly flick through it – usually being startled at the price of RQ products.

  2. Christian Lindke says:

    It’s very interesting to learn about the gaming scene on the other side of the “pond.” It’s such a vital part of the hobby, but so many Americans know so little about it. I’ve only begun to really dig into the Wargaming scene (Featherstone etc.) the past couple of years and it’s been eye opening.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Daily Dwarf says:

    Many thanks to Wayne for organising the interview, David for being so generous with his time and excellent answers, and to Dirk for publishing. I’m bathing in a warm bath of fond nostalgia – what a shop it was.

  4. Adeo says:

    I moved to Wales in 2003, and by then it was Cardiff Games flying the flag. When did Encounter Games close?

    1. Wayne Peters says:

      Mid 90’s I think.

  5. Wayne Peters says:

    This was a real pleasure to produce even though I’ve never interviewed anyone before and had no idea what I was doing so I’m grateful for the input I got from everyone.
    I tried on and off for a year or two to locate the owner, Roger but to no avail. The closest I got was someone who used to know him, peripherally, thinks he may have died a few years back which was quite sad.

    My memories of the FC Parker shop are very vague. I recall a dark brown, quite dingy shop like a tobacconists with barely enough space in front of the counter for maybe three customers and then magazine racks full of books and modules, shelves full of boxed games and under the counter wooden trays of loose metal minis. It was an Aladin’s cave for 14-year old me.
    One of the strongest memories was one day asking (whom I now know was David) if there was a published setting for Traveller but both he and Roger looked baffled. I was (I realised much later) talking about the Spinward Marches but assumed there would be a source book of some kind. I didn’t realise it was an implied part of every publication.

    My main memory of Encounter games, betond the fact that it was larger and much brighter, is going in one day with a Virgin bag and being asked by Roger why it was we went to Virgin (they had a sizeable RPG section in the late 80’s). Not in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, I think he was trying to figure out the competition. I think I sheepishly replied, ‘I dunno.’ and there my memory ends.

    The shop that was Encounter games in High Street Arcade is, these days, a memorabilia and toy collector’s shop which seems rather fitting – The Google Earth image is quite old and shows it as a Joke and fancy dress Shop. It appears to still have the white slotted pegboard cladding on the walls that I remember from Encounter – assuming my memory is not faulty.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hi, my name is Mark, I was the Saturday Boy at FC Parker’s from 1981, and moved to Encounter Games, working there until 1988. My Mother, Carole, also worked for Roger, which is how I landed the Saturday job. He was a great bloke, he used to puck me up in the morning, he’d then drive to Minnie Street, where he had a Warehouse, and we’d load his Volvo estate with all manner of toys and games that had sold during the previous days in the week.

      FC Parker’s was primarily a toy shop, although Roger also sold optical goods, bits of Hornby/Scalextric and the early hand held computer games. All the stock had to be carefully taken down a narrow, slippery staircase, which was nothing more than a ladder in reality, and put away on the shelves in the cellar. The cellar was longer than the shop, stretching right out, under the pavement in the Hayes. There used to be some Avalon Hill games kept downstairs, and at the far end, some of the early Citadel miniature box sets too.

      Roger was very careful about over-ordering, the AH games in particular were seen as being very costly and while he tried to stock a comprehensive range of them, there were always a few that just seemed to hang around. He also used to sell the Citadel, Ral Partha miniatures loose. He made a big cabinet that had a glass door on the front, with the various miniature codes – and drawers at the back with dividers, so we would pull out a drawer if a customer wanted to see which ones we had it could be quite a time-consuming sale that might end with 2 or 3 miniatures being sold to someone for about £1 – £2 and taking 30 -40 minutes (there were a lot of very selective role players those days)!

      The move from Royal Arcade to High St was precipitated for several reasons. Firstly, Toys R Us opened at the end of the Hayes and had a huge impact on our toy sales. Secondly, Roger wanted to develop the Role playing and Wargaming aspect, but thirdly, he and his wife were keen to start a new business venture in the old FC Parker premises – Charisma Chocolates.

      The move to High St required more counters, which he purchased from a Toy Shop that was closing in Newport. He took me and another lad (Paul) to help him pick them up and treated us to lunch in one of the old pubs on the A48 between St Mellons and Cardiff. However, he was reluctant to close for too long, and continued to allow customers to enter the High St arcade store while we still moving the counters around and trying to put the stock away.

      He organised TWO Games Days, both held in the Student Union building in Cardiff. My mother worked at the first one, and introduced me to Maj Pat Reid, who was promoting the re-release of his Escape from Colditz game. He sat me down and taught me how to play it (he played the Germans). Afterwards, I bought a copy, which Roger discounted as my mum worked for him, and Pat Reid autographed the rules booklet. I worked at the second games day, which essentially was like being a security guard and ensuring no-one tried to pinch anything from Rogers stand.

      Roger was incredibly generous and kind, 25% discount was usually given on all purchases made by staff. He paid me very well considering I was only a Saturday boy. I ended up with far too many war games. They were great times and I look back with fondness at my time working for him. Games Workshop opening in Cardiff was pretty much the death knell for Encounter Games, we sold so much GW stock that it was hard to find anything else to replace it. He also had a few health scares, and so with much sadness decided to call it a day. He studied for an MSc in Computing Science after closure and sadly passed away after a sudden heart attack.

      1. Wayne Peters says:

        Thanks for those memories, Mark. They were fascinating to read. I honestly don’t remember toys in the shop at all which says a lot about how focused I was on the RPG and minis stuff!
        Very sad to hear about Roger’s passing but I’d heard rumours that that might be the case. I shall raise a glass to him next time I have one handy. I don’t know if he ever realised it but he and his shop are the stuff of legends amongst a great many old Grognards! 🙂

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