On a wintry Friday in the Haymarket, families escape the cold and gather around tables inside the historic Creamery building with coffees and hot chocolates in hand. Each group leans over a different board game, teasing, cheering and laughing — all the emotions involved in a lively family game night.
Behind them sits a labyrinth of bookshelves filled with games for the taking. Their choices range from dominoes to trivia. There are games about cats, cryptids and Jane Austen.
Mana Games, a café that opened at 701 P St. earlier this month, boasts a collection of more than 800 games and counting.
Its owners, Sam Volkmer and Alma Cerretta, might’ve only recently opened the café to the public, but Mana Games has been astir since 2018, when they began hosting game nights at Cosmic Eye Brewing. The friends of 15 years began to build a faithful following in Lincoln through their weekly events. Eventually they felt ready to move into a permanent space.
In September, the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring their dreams into reality. By offering memberships, merchandise and even a chance to be part of a mural inside the shop, the campaign raised more than $21,000.
The store’s grand opening on Jan. 8 felt like victory.
“We had a lot of people here that day,” Cerretta said. “It was really great.”
The café moved into the former Indigo Bridge Bookstore space, just across the hall from Ivanna Cone. Cerretta said the location is perfect because it catches downtown shoppers who might not ordinarily seek out a gaming café.
Cerretta and Volkmer said there’s something at Mana for everyone.
“I’m just hoping that people will come and use this place as a resource to hang out,” Volkmer said.
Volkmer said Mana Games has large tabletops specially designed for role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. But casual players can also enjoy popular games they’ve likely played before, like Codenames and Bananagrams.
The shop is also home to rare games, and even ones that are no longer in print. Mana Games is a proud owner of Ecologies, an independently published card game that Volkmer said isn’t carried in any other store. The café also has games made by local companies, such as Mint Games from Lincoln and Discount Salmon from Omaha.
But Cerretta said she wants customers to know that they are just as focused on the café aspect as they are the games. After nearly 10 years of managing coffee shops, Cerretta brings a passion for food and drink to the business that makes the store a destination for those on the go.
“I want to be a stop for your morning coffee or your lunch as well as a gaming space,” Cerretta said. “We’ve done a really good job at curating a menu that is tasty and quick.”
The menu is filled with espresso drinks supplied by Lincoln’s The Coffee Roaster, teas from the Tea Smith in Omaha, a variety of in-house food options and more. Gamers can munch on pretzel sticks, sandwiches and pizzas to share.
It’s this combination of coffee and games that make Mana special, Cerretta said. Their name even reflects this joining of two passions.
According to Cerretta, “mana” is a phrase commonly used in gaming to describe magic energy gained from potions and elixirs.
“It’s coffee, and it’s games,” Cerretta said. “I just thought it was the perfect descriptor of what we’re doing here.”
With a full calendar of events and an entire library of games, they hope Lincoln residents will see the store as a fun, family-friendly stop in the heart of the Haymarket.
“We’ve always sold this as something in the Haymarket to do … that’s not just eating or drinking,” Volkmer said.
More than anything, Mana Games is run in the name of fun. For the owners, work and play must go hand-in-hand, and Volkmer said he’s enjoyed every minute spent in his storefront.
“We want to have a business where we just want to come and be,” Volkmer said. “If we weren’t running this place, we would want to be here all the time.”
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