LEWISTON — While players battled — building rows of weapons, champions and monsters — Peter Ceprano watched.

The 29-year-old father was one of them once.

Among The Games Arena’s two rows of tables, teenagers, twenty-somethings and a few graying elders paired up, shuffled and dealt. They played for points and an end-of-tournament prize.

Meanwhile, they forged real conversations and built real friendships.

It began soon after Ceprano and three friends opened the Main Street arena in January.

“It was scary at first, when the door was open and no one was coming through,” Ceprano said. “Nowadays, we sometimes have people waiting in the parking lot when we open the door.”

Often, the people who line up are just looking for a hangout. Ceprano and his partners — Jeff and Mike Emmert and Adam Stickney — charge nothing to drop by and play a board game. Their income comes from selling their niche games such as Magic the Gathering cards and accessories and the board game, Spartacus. They also sell candy, soda and microwaveable snacks. And they charge a fee for the use of their Wii video game system.

“We’re not getting rich on this,” Ceprano said. “It won’t cement my retirement.”

After all, it’s only a side business. By day, he works in the information technology department for TD Bank in Lewiston. He never planned to be a game master.

He was just a gamer.

He started when he was a kid, trying to find something to do after his family moved to Maine from Rhode Island.

“We went from living in the inner city of Providence to Minot, Maine,” Ceprano said. “One year for Christmas I got some Magic the Gathering cards. I didn’t really know why they were given to me, honestly.”

He went to a card shop for information on his cards and was quickly hooked. He made friends, and he liked the game’s math and strategy.

It stuck.

By 2012, he was married with a young daughter and still gaming.

“There was a point when Magic had a stigma attached to it as a nerdy thing to do,” he said. “But now, there’s a pro-tour circuit. It’s highly publicized.”

Some tournaments award as much as $50,000 in cash prizes.

“People travel all over the world just to play this game,” he said.

However, he was growing tired of traveling to Topsham or Standish to go to one of the card rooms where he felt comfortable.

“A lot of us left the game because we had nowhere to play,” he said.

Then, he and his friends decided to open their own shop. They could create the kind of place where they always wanted to play.

Here, folks can hang out, munch on a fresh-from-the-microwave Hot Pocket for a dollar, comb through the plastic bin full of one-cent Magic cards (dubbed “The Penny Bucket”) or play a game.

It’s serious work for some of the customers, who show up with hundreds of Magic cards and special table mats on which to play.

And though Ceprano remains a gamer, working at The Games Arena two or three nights per week, he’s no longer free to spend his time playing.

“While I still love the games, I just don’t have the time,” he said. “And when I have the time, there are other things I want to do.”

Instead, he feels good that he’s making a place for people to play and make friends.

“Friendships are growing. People have been able to connect with other people here,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling.”

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