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Game table for The Dragons Concord (via The Dragons Concord/Facebook)

Shrouded within the mists of Fairfax Centre, a new world is being born.

Tables with exciting new technology are being set into place. Permits are being sought within the labyrinth of Fairfax County’s bureaucracy. A games store unlike any other in the region is being forged.

There are already a couple of tabletop game stores around the area — though fewer of late — but The Dragon’s Concord at 11215 Lee Highway is something of a bold new experiment in gaming. The store is in the Fair Oaks area, just outside the Fairfax City boundaries.

Rather than focusing on merchandise, Michael Gruver and his wife Amanda aim to create a game store where the storytelling and play space are the central selling points. While the store will have books, miniatures, dice and more, the real draw is its various Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), Warhammer or other tabletop campaigns.

Michael says the store came out of common complaints he heard while working at The Guild in Fair Oaks Mall.

“One of the common things we kept hearing was: it’s great they come in and can get the books, but there wasn’t really anywhere to play,” Michael said. “You end up with that forever GM problem.”

The “forever GM” — Game Master, or sometimes “DM” for dungeon master in D&D — is a player who’s always expected to run campaigns and never gets to play in them. The Dragon’s Concord is designed around fixing that issue.

“We took a look at that and realized: that’s been a problem for the entire history of gaming,” Michael said. “You have online resources and some stores have a little register to [look for a group] and maybe someone will call you six or seven months down the line, but nobody had put a business or a gaming center together — at least not in this area — to host games.”

Michael hopes construction will start by the end of the month — depending on how quickly Fairfax County can process the store’s permits. The initial permits have been paid already.

“We’re expecting three weeks to a month for building, with doors opening sometime mid-to-late March,” Michael said.

Many game shops host campaigns, but The Dragon’s Concord aims to be a place where anyone can visit and find a campaign.

“The hope is that we can have an on-staff GM during all normal business hours for multiple systems, things like D&D or Pathfinder,” Michael said.

Players will be able to pre-schedule sessions in private rooms at the store, either bringing their own GM or book one on staff. The GM system is designed to be friendly to new players, while also providing a new experience for veterans of the field.

“We’ve built a two-session new player startup orientation sort of game,” Michael said. “For D&D, we use Dragons of Storrmwreck Isle so players can get accustomed to mechanics. If they have a custom campaign, if they have Curse of Strahd or Princes of the Apocalypse or something, they go ahead and just put that in the schedule.” Read More

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McLean High School physics/astronomy teacher Jeff Brocketti on “Wheel of Fortune” (courtesy Eric McCandless/Wheel of Fortune®/© 2022 Califon Productions, Inc. ARR)

McLean High School teacher Jeffrey Brocketti can’t wait to tell everyone what he discussed with host Pat Sajak during a “Wheel of Fortune” commercial break.

He will soon be allowed to share that story and more after his episode — the 10th of the game show’s 40th season — airs at 7 p.m. Monday (Sept. 26) on ABC.

When it comes to solving the hangman-style word puzzles, though, even Brocketti may draw a blank when he turns on the TV next week — a common phenomenon, based on conversations with fellow contestants.

“They don’t remember all the puzzles from their show, which sounds ridiculous,” Brocketti told FFXnow. “You’d think this would just be burned into your brain, but it’s not. So, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing the episode, just seeing how it went and does it match my memory of it.”

Brocketti, who has taught physics and astronomy at McLean High for over a decade, describes the experience of filming a show he watched as a child as “surreal.”

He applied to become a contestant “on a whim” in April 2021 at the suggestion of his wife and one of his kids. Initially, he dismissed the idea, but while “sitting around” a few weeks later, he decided it couldn’t hurt, especially since the pandemic had pushed the entire tryout process online.

After submitting the form and a 30-second video pitch, Brocketti admits he forgot about the whole enterprise until this past January, when an unexpected email appeared in his inbox: he’d been selected to participate in a virtual audition.

“The first thing I did was check the email address to make sure it wasn’t some sort of phishing email,” he said. “I thought it was a scam, and once I figured out it was legit, then I realized, oh, this might actually happen.”

Told in February that he made the cut, Brocketti set his DVR to record “Wheel” and watched each night with his family, pretending to compete against the contestants on screen with a pen as a mock buzzer.

He fell out of the routine around mid-April, though, so a backlog of over 70 episodes had accumulated by the time he was told that his episode would film at the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California on July 28.

“I watched over three months’ worth of episodes in two weeks,” Brocketti recalled with a laugh. “So, that was my preparation. Just watch the show and play against the people on TV and try and get better at it.”

In some ways, competing in person was easier than at home, Brocketti says. Unlike on TV, contestants can always see the boards displaying each puzzle and the used letters, and after going through two dress rehearsals, his nervousness evaporated once the real game started.

However, the “flood of information that you have in your brain” made it hard to focus and fully digest the experience, he added.

Brocketti isn’t the first person to represent Fairfax County on “Wheel,” following in the footsteps of a former Chantilly Little League coach who won nearly $123,000. He encourages anyone interested in competing on the show to give it a shot.

“Just try it out, and see what happens,” he said.

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Mike Halpern appears on “Wheel of Fortune” (courtesy Carol Kaelson/Wheel of Fortune, Califon Productions)

A former Chantilly little league coach has another title: “Wheel of Fortune” winner.

Mike Halpern won $122,903 in cash and prizes during his appearance on the TV game show yesterday (Monday), an outcome that he mostly kept secret even from his family and friends.

“I wanted them to be surprised,” he said. “They had a little bit of a hint of the fact that I didn’t completely bomb.”

With over half the letters missing in the final puzzle, Halpern guessed a two-word phrase that won him $100,000, leading him to make a snow angel in the prize confetti that rained down around him.

Talking with host Pat Sajak at the beginning of the episode, Halpern said he was a baseball coach with Chantilly Youth Association Little League for 14 seasons. He coached both of his sons there, too.

“I loved being on the field, and it was great to watch them grow up,” Halpern said on the show.

Halpern filmed his appearance in Culver City, California, near the Los Angeles Airport on March 23. He arranged a watch party at Mustang Sally Brewery in Chantilly, which found a way to open on a closed day for them.

Early in the game, both of his competitors lost their prize earnings with a spin and mystery wedge that led to bankruptcies. One contender lost her earnings twice.

Halpern also won a $9,003 trip to Aruba, which he’s never visited before.

A regular viewer of the show since he was a kid, Halpern and his wife decided to share the news of his appearance on the show with their two teenage sons by creating a “Wheel of Fortune” puzzle on a piece of paper. The boys took turns guessing until they revealed the answer: “I got picked to spin the wheel.”

The family also helped him prepare.

“We would pause every night’s episode before the bonus round,” Halpern said. “They would watch it. I would…leave the room.”

To complete the simulated experience, one of their sons set a 10-second countdown with a timer on his iPhone.

At the brewery watch party, Halpern’s friends also released confetti cannons to help recreate the experience.

“I knew what happened, but like, no one else in the entire place had any clue,” Halpern said.

When Sajak opened the envelope with the prize, the Chantilly watch party lost its mind.

“It felt like a dream,” he said. “It was just awesome.”

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Fairfax High School students play video games in a classroom (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools is preparing to level up its esports offerings, expanding an activity that started last year with a handful of rogue student clubs into a full-blown program.

The esports club at Fairfax High School started as a general-interest group while students were learning virtually in 2020. It was run from students’ homes and through an online messaging and voice website, Discord.

Students have still kept their academic priorities, but with in-person learning expanding to five days a week this fall, in-person events became more prevalent: a tournament organized last week involving Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers drew dozens of students.

“It’s the largest club in our school,” said Fairfax High School English teacher David Greene, the club’s advisor, noting that the group has over 200 active members. “A lot of the students who came into the room were not even part of the room yet and were asking how to sign up.”

FCPS plans to make esports available this spring for all 25 high schools and has spent the past few months recruiting coaches.

The expansion will require some adjustments for students in the existing clubs, which include one at Centreville High School.

Where Fairfax High School offered a variety of video games for students to play, FCPS has said its esports program will be limited to the soccer-like car-driving online game Rocket League. The Virginia High School League, which is exploring whether to make esports an officially sanctioned activity, has three titles for its pilot year that started this fall.

Greene says he has advocated for FCPS to consider incorporating two games that his students have been playing, either through the club or on their own: Super Smash Brothers and the multiplayer online battle arena fantasy game League of Legends.

FCPS also intends to have students participate at school facilities rather than remotely, and the introduction of a countywide program will make esports more like other extracurricular activities with coaches, teams, and formal competitions.

Greene says Fairfax High’s esports club gave students a social outlet during the pandemic, as participants talked incessantly on Discord. The games remind him of people watching sports on TV, where people understand the rules and know who they’re rooting for.

“Most students are going to be going home and playing these games anyway,” Greene said. “It’s something that they’re passionate about.”

Though research suggests gaming can improve mental health, extensive screen time remains a concern for many parents and doctors. In China, youth are now restricted to three hours of gaming per week.

Greene says overall screen usage can be a health concern, especially after online schooling launched screen time to new levels, but parents shouldn’t dismiss the intellectual and developmental benefits that activities like video games can provide.

“When I was growing up, parents very much thought of video games as a negative, a dead-end thing, something that you didn’t develop skills by playing,” he said. “And I think that parents should realize that you’re actually developing critical thinking skills when you’re playing these games. I have not seen a student who’s playing these games who doesn’t eventually develop skills to understand, to communicate, [and improve] their fine motor skills.”

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