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Luck of the draw: How trading card games found a home in Portola


Right now, in such a divided country, how we connect with others is on many people’s minds. Maybe you go to church every Sunday, maybe you’re in a book club, or a hiking group, or have a favorite yoga class. Or maybe you spend your weekends dueling friends at a small shop in San Francisco’s Portola district.

It’s Sunday, 12 noon, and I’m standing in the middle of a battlefield. Surrounding me are a kindergarten teacher, a photo tech, an aspiring music producer and a handful of students from City College and nearby high schools. Today though, they are all warriors ready to challenge one another in their favorite trading card games.

Trading Card Games burst onto the gaming scene in the early 1990s; today’s epic adventure is happening at Wynners Books and Gifts, a trading card game shop in San Francisco’s Portola district.

The games combine the collectability of sports cards, the gamesmanship of poker, and the strategy of chess, making them appealing to a wide audience from different backgrounds. Here at Wynners, they sell trading card games based off of different Japanese anime television series.

Wynners wasn’t always a trading card game shop. When it first opened in 2007, it was a bookstore. Around the same time, Shelia Liu noticed how much her young son Hector and his friends enjoyed playing trading card games, and she made the decision to sell them at her shop.

“After school we’d always have a small crowd of students from all around just coming over and playing games,” recalls her son, Hector, who now runs the shop. “They actually sat on the floor or on the bookshelves and I think that’s when my mom realized that it’s a good way to not only expand business but also appeal to everyone around here.”

So, his mom brought in tables and started hosting weekly tournaments, where players could compete and share their knowledge.

Today Wynners is a fully-fledged trading card game shop and hosts three tournaments every weekend. It’s created a community of gamers where new and old players can come, socialize and improve their game.

“I met new people and made new friends,” says longtime player Eric Cura. “Between the inclusiveness of this community and how it feels like a weird family in here...that’s why I keep coming back.”

And that’s the real magic. The community that these games create. Through weekly competition and casual dueling, friendships are formed, a community thrives, and the patrons of Wynners keep coming back.