It didn't take long for Marana Dice and Decks to turn the Cartel Coffee Lab at 2516 N. Campbell Ave. into a staging ground for fire rescues, zombie uprisings and a mass pandemic on a recent Saturday night.
The board game group's 20-plus members made themselves at home at tables around the shop, breaking out eclectic titles such as Lords of Waterdeep, 7 Wonders and Tobago for an evening of hardcore gaming, caffeinated coffee and ice-cold beer.
At 6-foot-1, Eric Martin spent the first part of the night hunched over Ticket to Ride, a railroad-themed board game that he was playing with his wife, Rhonda, and a couple of other eager Dice and Decks players.
Martin, an aircraft mechanic, drove all the way from Picture Rocks to take on the role of a wealthy rail baron, looking to expand his empire by connecting as many cities as possible via locomotive.
"It's addictive," said Martin, 34, who has attended Dice and Decks functions for the last couple of months. "My wife came the first time with me and just watched. She has played every time since."
In a gaming world dominated by computers and consoles, members of Marana Dice and Decks are taking things old school.
The group gathers about once a month for game nights at the Cartel Coffee Lab.
It also holds regular events for children and adults at Marana's Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr. Library, 7800 N. Schisler Drive.
Continental Ranch resident Daniel Bishop started the group in April.
Bishop, 34, enjoyed games as a kid, playing run-of-the-mill favorites such as Monopoly and Sorry with friends and family in the evenings and on weekends.
The IT professional said he played collectible card games in college, and replaced those with LAN computer game parties in his 20s.
But he only recently developed a love for "Euro Games," a style of tabletop game born in Germany with shorter playing times and less direct player interaction.
In January Bishop declared it "the year of the board game" in his household as a way to get his kids, Abby, 6, and Joey, 8, involved.
"We went out and bought title after title," Bishop said.
Eventually, the family was knee-deep in games, more than they could ever play together in one sitting.
The lack of gaming clubs in the area for Bishop to join with his new bounty led him to create Marana Dice and Decks.
Fewer than 10 people showed up to the first gaming night, and most of them were personal friends of Bishop.
More recent gatherings have seen between 20 and 30 local players. Many have appeared in response to announcements posted on the gaming group's Twitter and Facebook feeds.
"It has really taken off," Bishop said.
Bishop enlists the help of his brother-in-law, Ian Douglas, to keep things going.
Douglas and Bishop provide most of the games, though participants are invited to bring their own.
Douglas, 24, said that some of the more hardcore members enjoy the games "where it takes an hour to explain the rules, then three hours to play, then half an hour to figure out who won."
But a lot of the players who attend Marana Dice and Decks events are more into faster games that are easier to pick up and don't last more than an hour.
Douglas loved the idea of a gaming club when Bishop pitched it to him.
"I was excited," he said. "It is so hard to get people to make time for board games, especially multiple board games in one night.
He was tickled to play with random people who didn't run in the same circles as he did.
"Two hours of board games creates a bigger bond than any other two-hour games you can play," he said.
Bishop said while the Coffee Cartel Lab is a great environment for gaming, the original intent was to hold more games in the northwest area of Pima County.
Gaming at Wheeler Taft is fine, he says, but "their room reservation policy prevents us from using it very often."
The hunt is on for more locales in Marana and Oro Valley.
In the meantime, the Lab serves as a central location, bringing in gamers from all over the city.
Penny Firestone travels from Tucson's far east side with her husband, Kevin Coleson, to attend Marana Dice and Decks game nights.
Firestone, 42, works at the same accounting firm as Bishop.
Her previous experience with gaming prior to Marana Dice and Decks was playing Clue and other standard games with her family as a kid.
Firestone enjoys the experience and the easygoing attitude of most of the participants, some of whom have been playing games for years.
"It is nice having someone who already knows the game a little bit," she said. "They can give you an overview if you ever have a question, if you ever need to know whether you're supposed to roll two dice or three."
Bishop said he hopes to make Marana Dice and Decks gaming nights a more frequent affair.
"We'll try to pull it off when we can," he said.
The next Marana Dice and Decks night will be at Cartel Coffee Lab, 2516 N. Campbell Ave., from 6 to 11 p.m. Aug. 25.
Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8430.