Indie Game Developer Button Shy Opens Gaming Cafe, Play-Test Shop in Haddon Township


Jason Tagmire brings the business he launched from his home nearly a decade ago to Haddon Avenue.

By Matt Skoufalos | July 6, 2023

The Backyard at Button Shy includes a game library and space to play. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Since he was a child in Haddon Township, Jason Tagmire dreamed about opening his own business on Haddon Avenue.

After his business outgrew several prior locations, he’s finally fulfilling his wish.

Tagmire established Button Shy Games, an independent publisher of pocket-sized wallet games, from his Haddon Township home in 2015.

His formula — 18 cards, hand-packaged, in a screen-printed wallet — spans games of any conceivable theme, from city-building to flowers to space battles, for single players, couples, and groups.

Production is typically crowd-funded, which keeps costs low, and Button Shy cranks them out at the ambitious pace of one per month, which generates repeat business and intense interest.

“The size of the game is not defined by the size of the product,” Tagmire said. “The game can be quick, or the game can be long. The game can be emotional, or the game can be snappy.

“We’ve just made this product model and we’re fitting all these things into it.”

Tagmire has operated Button Shy from a handful of locations in the area, but its customer interactions have been mostly virtual. For the past year or so, he’s been hunting down a space that could support back-of-house production and customer-facing gameplay in a single facility.

When Top Deck gaming moved out of its storefront at 55 Haddon Avenue in Haddon Township, Tagmire pounced on the opportunity. He began outfitting the shop in February, and spent another five months refurbishing the building, front to back. This week, the Button Shy Company Store opened its doors to the public.

Tagmire described it as a gaming and events space intended not only to unite fans of independent gaming in a social setting, but also to improve the quality of the games Button Shy produces with player feedback.

“If you’re designing in a vacuum, getting no opinions, your game’s not getting any better,” Tagmire said.

“You want to get the gamers’ hands on it where they’re going to criticize everything,” he said. “That’s the hardest part in making a game, is finding the fun.”

Jason Tagmire at the Button Shy cafe. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

The company store interior space is part café, part retail shop, and part play area, conceived as the outdoors brought indoors, with pergolas, pendant lighting, and synthetic grass flooring.

Tagmire calls it “the Board Game Backyard.”

Customers are welcome to bring their own favorite games, try one from the store library, or purchase a Button Shy game.

“It’s the game night in your house — without the kids and the pets and the responsibilities,” Tagmire said.

For those reasons, Tagmire also views it as a destination for out-of-towners interested in independent gaming and game development.

“If you’re a fan of our stuff, this is the place for it,” Tagmire said. “If you’re a fan of our kind of stuff, it’s a good place for it.

“There are people making the trek,” he said. “They’re going to come out.”

On Wednesday, when Button Shy hosted its first play-test night, attendees poured in from throughout the region.

Nicole Miller and Prashant Rushi of Germantown are self-confessed Button Shy superfans; Miller is the hardcore gamer who got Rushi hooked. The couple have substituted game nights for going out, and said they host friends more frequently for doing so.

Miller was drawn to Button Shy at the PAX Expo, which comes to Philadelphia once a year, because its games are fun and affordable, at around $10 apiece.

“These games get really expensive, and Button Shy has really protected the price point,” she said.

From left: Nicole Miller, Michelle Doherty, and Prashant Rushi play at Button Shy. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Miller said she owns a copy of every game the company has released, and gets a new one in the mail every month through its Patreon subscription program.

She’s frequently on the Button Shy Discord chat, which brings together some 4,800 members to ask rules questions, tweak gameplay, and establish challenges.

“It gives extra playability to games over time,” Miller said.

Rushi appreciates the mechanics of Button Shy games as much as their artwork and replay factor.

“We bring a bag of games with us everywhere we go,” he said. “They’re usually very beautiful.

“They’re interesting to have and own, because look at the complexity that was made for this small package. We can take this anywhere.”

Michelle Doherty of Lawrenceville said she grew up learning card games from parents and grandparents who were “avid and competitive” players.

“Where I grew up, the power used to out all the time,” she said. “We’d light the camping lantern and play board games. So it’s always been that.”

Doherty is Executive Director of the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton. In her spare time, she and her daughter run “Second Star to the Left,” a YouTube channel for independent gamers. Like Miller and Doshi, she traveled to Haddon Township specifically for the Button Shy play-test night.

Miller and Doherty both spoke at length about how much they appreciate the inclusivity of products at Button Shy, which they said sets the company apart in the male-dominated gaming industry. Many publishers cater to a certain set of assumptions that are only starting to be challenged, they said.

Doherty told a story about attending a gaming convention where she was steered away from a planned purchase by a salesperson who told her the game would be too complicated for her. She noticed that he didn’t give the same admonition to her uncle.

The Button Shy wall at the Button Shy Company Store. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Miller talked about her experiences trying to find a female-friendly gaming café in the area where she didn’t feel highly visible to the mostly male clientele.

“After the summer of 2021, all these women erupted on the internet saying, ‘No I’m the gamer [in the household],” she said.

“I just want to be a whole human when I walk into a space.”

Button Shy takes a different approach to cultivating its following, publishing non-gendered games, featuring products from female game developers, and being thoughtful in what makes an inclusive playing experience, Miller and Doherty said.

For that, it’s made customers for life from fans like them.

“We love to watch them succeed,” Doshi said. “Every time I hear them doing something new and awesome, it makes me feel so much better.”

The Button Shy Company Store is located at 55 Haddon Avenue in Haddon Township. The shop is open to guests from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with varying weekend and evening hours. Check the business website for its schedule of events.

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