Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

Nerd Tour of Toronto: Part 2

Being a gigantic geek, one of my first priorities while exploring the city was to find the best nerd sanctuaries. Video game boutiques, comic book shops and traditional PnP/board game stores were all within my purview. Through my years of exploring I have found a wide variety locations; ranging from well known locales to hole-in-the-wall, diamonds in the rough.

For the benefit of all my fellow Canadian dweebs out there, I have compiled my list of the top hot-spots in Toronto.  Last week I started off with four great places found in The Annex region of the city.

This week I’ll focus in on three gaming locales found scattered around the downtown core.

The Hairy Tarantula

The Hairy Tarantula has multiple locations across Toronto, but the most accessible is the one found tucked away just north of Yonge-Dundas Square. You may have a bit of trouble finding the place; the main entry point is an unassuming stairwell wedged between a sports apparel store and a tattoo/piercing joint. It isn’t until you ascend to the second floor that the store is truly revealed to you.

Out of all the gaming stores in Toronto, Hairy T seems to have the most “indie credibility”. Old movie posters plaster the walls, and bins full of outdated books (Rifts or AD&D anyone?) fill up entire rooms. The whole store seems like an obsessive collector’s basement, complete with wandering cats and a shaggy-maned owner with odd mannerisms.

The selection is great, although the prices are just medicore and the layout of the store can be confounding. It’s definitely worth a look, especially for those of a certain vintage. I haven’t found many stores in Toronto that sell used gaming books, and none that offer the selection that Hairy T’s does.

Dueling Grounds

Way down west on Bloor, by Dufferin subway station, one can find The Dueling Grounds. The DG is almost the exact opposite of Hairy Tarantulas, with a pronounced storefront and a much cleaner, almost boutique feel about it. While not boasting as eclectic a mix of merchandise as Hairy T’s, the shop features a wide selection sci-fi and fantasy standards, board games, CCGs, and much more. Prices are a little steep, but you’re paying for great customer service and a well organized and well stocked retail space.

The real selling point of the locale, however,  is the absolutely pristine gaming area located in the basement. Larger than the main shop floor itself, the room hosts everything from Pathfinder Society play to Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments. Clean bathrooms and large playing surfaces are often overlooked in gaming areas, but the Dueling Grounds has them in spades. This is my personal favourite gaming venue in Toronto, and in my opinion, the best in the city.

401 Games

401 Games is a bit like a hybrid between the two aforementioned gaming stores. It isn’t quite as clean and tidy as the Dueling Grounds, and doesn’t have the diverse selection of Hairy T’s, but manages to strike a good balance between the two while offering fair prices on nearly everything in stock. The central location is also a great boon – located right at Yonge Street and Gerrard.

A gaming space does exist on the second floor of the store, but it is in somewhat poor shape and often overrun with card gamers (the natural enemy of the PnP’er). The owner of the store is very accommodating and pleasant to deal with though; a trait that carries over to the rest of the customer service reps as well.

Located close to the Ryerson campus, and nestled between two major subway stops, 401 sees a lot of foot traffic from the younger folks in the gaming community. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re in the area.


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  • Hit two of the three during my venture into town yesterday.

    Tried like heck to find Harry T’s but to no avail. Someone mentioned they keep a placard on the street but I never saw one (though based on your description I now think I know where it was).

    401 games disappointed me as I stood at the counter for a few minutes but was overlooked in favour of some Magic folk. To that salesperson it literally felt like I wasn’t there. I even tried getting his attention when he wasn’t doing anything with said customers, but no luck.

    Dueling Grounds was awesome. As you said, some things are a bit pricier, but there’s some deals to be found so long as you know your stuff. The fellow in your picture was a really nice guy as well. Would’ve loved to see the basement but I was on a bit of a schedule.

    I concluded my visit on the way out of town (Dixie/Steeles area of Brampton) and came across the Comic Warehouse. I accidentally walked into an after hours game session, but they still allowed me to make a quick purchase. I’ll have to head back during their regular hours when I’m in the city again.

    • The entrance to Hairy T’s is notoriously difficult to find. I miss it all the time and I’ve been there on MULTIPLE occasions. My best advice would be to approach from the north, and keep an eye open for a badly weathered wall painting of a spider.

    • Hah! I actually JUST discovered Meeplemart a couple of weeks ago. It will definitely be mentioned when I get around to writing Part 4 of the Nerd Tour, which will focus on east end shops.

By Michael
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer