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Punch Out Games debuts in Easton looking to bring inclusive space

The lounge and store front of Punch Out Games
Olivia Richardson
Punch Out Games located at 161 Northampton St in Easton is opening on Dec 14, 2022. Inside the shop, patrons can buy board games, sit and chat with other gaming enthusiasts and order food and drinks in the cafe's kitchen while playing games.

EASTON, Pa. – A board game and dice paradise can be found at Punch Out Games - a new cafe in downtown Easton.

  • Punch Out Games, a new board game shop and venue is coming to Easton with a grand opening on Wednesday, Dec. 14
  • The store owners Mikus “Mik” Matiss and Barbara “Babs” Vásconez wanted to create a safe place for people to play and learn new games, socialize and meet new people whether long-time gamers or brand new
  • The board game café will serve snacks and drinks. It is BYOB

After a bit of delay getting the shop ready on Northampton Street, the grand opening is Wednesday.
Mikus “Mik” Matiss and Barbara “Babs” Vásconez are owners. They have a roughly 5,000-square-foot shop that has a wall of board games to play and a seating area where people can socialize while grabbing snacks and gaming gear.

“Being in Easton for as long as I have, I’ve noticed that there’s nothing for teenagers to do,” Matiss said. He has lived in Easton for over 10 years and originally comes from New Jersey.

“Nothing against the bar scene and restaurant scene, but it’s all expensive and scary. We wanted to make something that’s affordable and a safe space. I think the biggest thing to do that for is the community."

When first walking into the shop there are bright blue, green and red walls with two couches, a side chair, and a small TV with DVDs and VHS tapes hanging on a shelf above and a plush multi-colored rug that invites patrons to sit down and chat.

Punch Out Games - Mik and Babs by donated board game wall.jpg
Olivia Richardson
Mikus “Mik” Matiss (left) and Barbara “Babs” Vásconez (right) stand in front of a mural of board game covers. All of the box covers and their subsequent games were donated to Punch Out Games. The board games still feature the names of the kids who once played these games with their families.

The store also has a café that Matiss and Vásconez said will host snack food, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and that is reminiscent of what someone may find from their time hanging out with friends or family playing a game of Settlers of Catan or Splendor.

They’ll also serve coffee and if attendees are old enough, they can bring their own beer to the store, though there is no liquor allowed on site.

In addition to the gaming room floor space, guests can sit at the bar that has built-in board games like the original Donkey Kong.

Matiss said the name “Punch Out Games” comes from the act of opening up a new board game, when people have to punch out tokens, board pieces and objects that come in the package.

He said it’s also a homage to Larry Holmes, a former pro boxer from Easton. And the logo of Punch Out Games also features an image of the Mattel toys Rock'em Sock'em Robots

Rolling for initiative

Before opening a brick and mortar Matiss and Vásconez began testing out their idea of opening a board game store by hosting pop-up board game nights.

“We went to other board game cafes and asked them how they got started and they said do pop-up events. So a year ago we started doing that. They were hitting off,” Matiss said.

The board game pop-ups started happening in December of 2021. Most recently they hosted a The Settlers of Catan tournament that was part of a pre-qualifier for the franchise's national championship. Matiss said although there weren’t many players he thinks people were enthusiastic.

Punch Out Games - game selection.jpg
Olivia Richardson
The gaming selection that Punch Out Games offers. Monopoly is not included but games like Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, and Wingspan are on the shelf.

Matiss and Vásconez said they wanted to open a brick-and-mortar store to offer Easton something that’s not just another bar and restaurant and create a safe space for people of all ages and genders to feel comfortable.

“There are parts of this hobby that we know that can be toxic. There's a lot of gatekeepers in this," Matiss said.

"We're trying to stray away from that. We were trying to show people it's not as scary and mean as they might think.”

Vásconez said people worried the store would just be reminiscent of their least favorite moments playing long, tedious, even argument-causing games like Monopoly. They also had people who were interested in learning how to play games like Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) and Magic the Gathering.

She says they will sell starter packs of Magic the Gathering cards, but a heavily-versed fan of the card game may need to bring their own.

Matiss said they plan on hosting “no-pressure tournaments'' and help teach people who want to get into games. Vásconez said they've also hosted game events in Bethlehem with Black and Latino communities who she said were thrilled to get out and play.

Growing up Vásconez said she wasn't included in gaming groups and was made to feel like she couldn't play with other groups because she didn't know English very well.

“It was really beautiful to see Matiss teaching kids these complex games and the kids knowing exactly what they’re doing. It was really special. I’m excited to have a space to continue doing that.”
Barbara Vásconez

“It was really beautiful to see Matiss teaching kids these complex games and the kids knowing exactly what they’re doing. It was really special. I’m excited to have a space to continue doing that,” Vásconez said.

Punch Out Games - Tragos and Sippy Cups.jpg
Olivia Richardson
"Tragos" is a new party game celebrating Latino culture that Punch Out Games offers so guests can try out newly released and lesser known games. Owners Vásconez and Matiss also recommend people play "Sippy Cups."

Vásconez is new to playing board games herself. She said she became interested after she met Matiss at a zombie movie night at the Mahoning Drive-in Theater during the pandemic and they quickly became friends.

Vásconez said Matiss has taught her a lot of the games that are up on the shelf at the store but she said she still has a way to go in learning their entire selection. Vásconez said she can beat Matiss at Splendor, a game in which players are Renaissance merchants buying gem mines, transportation and shops to win.

Vásconez worked in the TV and film industry before migrating over to board games. Her family moved to the United States from Ecuador where her parents managed a Hollywood video store. She said they’d learn English by watching movies. Vásconez said she loves Return of the Living Dead which drew her to the drive-thru movie night where she met Matiss.

Matiss said when he was a kid he and his friends used to go to a local pizza shop and play Magic the Gathering.

Punch Out Games - Kitchen area.jpg
Olivia Richardson
The kitchen area will serve different types of snack food. The bar has game boards embedded that those on dates, and with their friends can play while enjoying food.

He said he always wanted to open up a shop like the one he and Vásconez have created.

“I had quit my career because it wasn’t working out. Barb was helping me look for work and trying to pick who was going to be my next boss was a nightmare to me. One day we were playing Mario Party and I mentioned the idea of a board game cafe and Barb was like ‘We can do that,’” Matiss said.

There's no community like the party you roll with

Plans for Punch Out Games include continuing the community involvement that Matiss and Vásconez have found in hosting the board game pop-up nights.

Matiss hosted game show nights at Lafayette Bar and wants to do the same at the Punch Out store. Vásconez said they plan to hold events like Lotería nights. Lotería is a Mexican game that has been described as similar to Bingo.

“We’ve gamified everything. We’ve even thought about gamifying karaoke,” Vásconez said.

She said the chance for others to host their own game show nights is in the works as well as other events for the community.

“As much as we want to be a board game café. We also want to be a board game venue. We have a drag queen that wants to do a drag game show,” Matiss said.

Punch Out Games opens Wednesday, December 14th at 161 Northampton Street. Anyone can walk in and pay $5 for two hours of board game play or just chat with Matiss and Vásconez as they teach newcomers.