Fun for Five Dollars
Slow Your Roll is Hilo’s New(ish) Nerd Hangout
By Lichen Forster
Nestled in the heart of downtown Hilo, the Slow Your Roll “board-gaming lounge” sits above Japanese eatery ‘Moms’ across from the Axe Lounge. Its interior boasts a wall of board games, shelves of trading cards, and tables on which to play them. For a few dollars above the $5 day pass, loungers can make their way to a specialized Dungeons and Dragons room ready to roleplay their hearts out.
“It was just something that Hilo needed when I came about coming up with a business idea,” Anthony Vizzone, founder of Slow Your Roll, said. Vizzone started the lounge in October 2019, a few years after getting a bachelor’s degree in computer science from UH Hilo. “Hilo needed a place in town for people to come, hang out, and just play games, but not necessarily like a bar or a restaurant,” he finished.
Of course, two years ago Hilo, like much of the world, had succumbed to COVID-19, and goings were rough for a business model based on bringing groups together to touch the same surfaces for hours at a time. Vizzone turned to selling trading cards, and he partially credits the rise of Pokémon in the last few years for Slow Your Roll making it through the pandemic. He and his team were able to send out cards from the lounge while maintaining a safe distance from the community. They reopened in June, after a three-month hiatus.
When Ke Kalahea visited in April, Magic the Gathering, one of the trading card games that kept Slow Your Roll afloat during the pandemic, was being eagerly played by young Ben Minter, accompanied by his father Ron. The Minters moved to the Big Island in 2020. That night, Ron worked on business proceedings for Pali Nānā Farms, their start-up chocolate business on the Hāmākua Coast, while Ben played with other Slow Your Roll regulars.
“I’m so busy making the farm that I don’t want to have a past time like this,” Ron said. Next to him, Ben continued to discuss the intricacies of the game with his fellow players.
During Slow Your Roll’s pause from public life, Vizzone focused on renovating their space; slapping up teal and baby blue paint and papering the back wall of the main room with their board game collection. Vizzone started that collection when he first opened the lounge, bringing in a hundred games from his personal stockpile. Almost three years into the business and that hoard has grown to a staggering figure of almost 400 games. When visitors walk into the lounge, Vizzone guides them to easy classics from the right of the room and unfamiliar mind melders from the left.
“It took me like four hours to get that one Descent: Legends of the Dark out, just to get it set up,” said Tori Perkins as she and her friend Kristen Subica worked their way through one of the lounge’s games. Perkins is an administrative aid while Kristen usually drops in on Friday nights.
“We try to play a new game every Friday,” Perkins said. “It’s hard though…sometimes I play a new game and then I don’t want to play anything else!”
Despite the trepidation a game like Descent or the comfort old standards like Monopoly might bring, Vizzone encourages first-timers to try something new.
“Stop playing Monopoly and play better board games!” Vizzone said, standing in front of a column of party games. Turning around, he began pulling down game after game, describing each one in turn. Florida Man: fill in the blank headlines, Cards Against Humanity style. Trial by Trolley: debate which of your friends you’ll sacrifice to this textbook moral dilemma. Cat Lady: accumulate as many cats as you can care for to maintain your spinster status. Besides board games, the main room also houses coolers full of snacks, a display of trading cards, and several tables at which to play. If you bypass that and progress around a corner filled with merch, you’ll find a room marked ‘PRIVATE.’ Inside is a D&Der’s paradise. It gravitates on a table that could easily seat a 6-player party, with cup-holders gripping its edges. The bottom half of the room is wrapped in brick wallpaper, adding to the illusion that you’re sitting in a mystic tavern.
Behind the head of the table there are shelves home to hundreds of dollars worth of playing guides, both familiar and rare, as well as playing sets. Jars of dice make themselves homey around a TV that players use to set the mood for their game—whether that’s atmospheric fantasy music or, according to Vizzone, K-pop.
“Hey, you do you,” Vizzone said. “If you want to listen to K-pop during your D&D sessions, more power to you.” For those whose understanding of Dungeons & Dragons is limited to the early episodes of Stranger Things, D&D is a role-playing game where you choose your own character and the Dungeon Master (DM) chooses your group’s adventure. The world of D&D lore is vast and determines the types of characters available to you, ranging from elves to gnomes and druids to monks, as well as the parameters of the many worlds you can play within. From there, the DM can run your game (also known as a “campaign”) from an official/unofficial D&D book, or “homebrew” a campaign, fusing elements of classic D&D with the desires of the group playing.
One of the joys of “DMing” a game lies in surprising your players, especially when they come across a new setting in the adventure. Skilled DMs can lead their players to specific settings while still giving them autonomy in the collective storytelling experience. That’s why the D&D table at Slow Your Roll opens to a second level lined with red felt, where DMs can set up scenery befitting their game. The sneakiest might set up before their players arrive and unveil the set once the game has progressed for a time.
Ethan Paguirigan, Vulcan Video Production’s new advisor, moonlights at Slow Your Roll as the Friday night Dungeon Master. Beginners to D&D can drop in from 7-10pm every week when Ethan operates “drop-in, drop-out” games. He provides ready-made characters and shows you the ropes while leading you through an apocalyptic adventure.
“It allows for players who want to have monstrous characters,” Paguirigan said. “If a goblin wanders into town, and he's part of the party the players at the table, you're like “Oh my god, there's a goblin, kill it quick!” This avoids that awkward kind of narrative dissonance, where the player wants to be a bugbear or a lizard person.” Advanced D&D players can show up at any other time of the week and play a game led by one of the Slow Your Roll employees (at $15/session/player) or play their own game (at $10/hour/group.)
As Hilo opens up, Vizzone is eager to return many of Slow Your Roll’s pre-pandemic staples, including College Night. In that spirit, Slow Your Roll is offering student readers of Ke Kalahea free day passes for a limited time every week. Read the coupon on this page for more details.
For greater fanatics, Slow Your Roll offers a $25 monthly membership. The lounge is open 11am to 11pm daily, and is located at 190 Keawe Street.