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W. Eric Martin
In November 2016, designer Reiner Knizia tweeted this:
Few people noticed the tweet, including me (despite the BGG Twitter account following him), but Knizia überfan László Molnár did notice and asked: "Why the rename?"
Rename indeed for if you visit online gaming site Triqqy, you will discover a listing for AXIO Hexagonal, the rules of which will be familiar to anyone who's played Knizia's award-winning game Ingenious, which debuted to great acclaim in 2004 from German publisher KOSMOS under the name Einfach Genial and which in all likelihood would have taken home the Spiel des Jahres award that year if Ticket to Ride hadn't hit the market in the same timeframe.
So why the rename? Because of this trademark filing in September 2016 by Sophisticated Games:
Yes, while we might think of KOSMOS as the originating publisher of Ingenious, the actual publisher of origin (contractually speaking) is Sophisticated Games as Knizia had signed a license with them for the game design, and Sophisticated Games subsequently licensed the game to KOSMOS and other publishers. The trademark on its own was not the problem, though. As Knizia told me via Skype, "I had a very good relationship with Sophisticated Games for a long time. Then came a demand that if I wanted to use the name 'Ingenious' for my game, I should pay Sophisticated Games a royalty. Sometimes trademarks are registered by the publisher and sometimes by the designer, but to have this used in an internal relationship is outrageous. To register the trademark without my knowledge is not very nice."
I asked Robert Hyde, managing director at Sophisticated Games, about this claim for royalty payments, and he answered: "I cannot discuss any confidential matters between Sophisticated Games and Dr. Knizia with a third party. I am sure you will understand that." (Editor's note: I've added a follow-up note from Hyde at the bottom of this post that he sent after publication. —WEM)
As for the filing of the trademark itself, Hyde explained that "Sophisticated Games has long held the UK trademark on Ingenious and the filing of a US mark in addition is just an extension of that process concurrent with our moving to a different distribution partner in the USA as from January 1st this year." Fantasy Flight Games was the most recent publisher of Ingenious in the U.S., with an edition released in 2012, but Thames & Kosmos — the North American branch of KOSMOS — has announced a new edition of the game due out in the U.S. in 2017 with a new graphic design and a new plastic game board.
Hyde added, "NB: Sophisticated Games owns the exclusive publishing rights to the Ingenious family of games in all countries and languages, regardless of trademarks, and has done so since first publication in 2004. The game was first published under the name of Mensa back then, but we subsequently changed it to Ingenious."
Knizia confirms that the game was originally named Mensa following its design — and an edition was released under that name (or Mensa Connections, depending on whether you view that secondary word as part of the title) in 2004 by Sophisticated Games. KOSMOS didn't think the Mensa organization had enough of a following in Germany to merit using that name, so the publisher brainstormed new names and ended up with "Einfach Genial", with that name coming courtesy of a television program with the same name that has run on television network MDR since 1996. It's from "Einfach Genial" that most of the other names (Ingenious, Genial, Genius, Helt genialt!, Просто гениально, インジーニアス, etc.) under which this design has been published originate.
How did Sophisticated Games end up with the ability to trademark Ingenious? Knizia explained to me that while his contracts normally detail the use of a name, his first contract with SG was for Lord of the Rings, his ground-breaking cooperative game based on the fantasy series from J. R. R. Tolkien, and since that design was for a licensed title with a well-known name, Knizia had no say over the game title in that contract. When he later signed with SG for Mensa, apparently they used a similar contract, so once again the issue of the name was left out of his hands.
However the name originated, Knizia says that the idea of paying a royalty to use it "is immoral and damaging for the business", the reverse of the normal relationship between publisher and author. "I'm not going to promote a situation in which I lose ownership," he says, "so as far as I can, I'll rename the games. Electronically I've already done that, with Triqqy and with other outlets." (United Soft Media still lists Ingenious as being available for Windows, iOS, and Android devices.)
While Hyde claims exclusive board game publishing rights to the Ingenious family of games, Knizia says that he has "the rights back for some of the games in the family", and he plans to get them to market under the new AXIO brand when possible. Why the name "AXIO"? "It was important to find a name that isn't an insult in any language," Knizia jokes. "More importantly, we want something which can stand globally that isn't too complicated as well as something that represents the spirit of the family." While he can't vouch for the insult-free nature of "AXIO", Knizia makes a case for it letter by letter, with each of them being fundamentally simple and akin to the symbols in the game: a triangle, a cross, a line, and a circle. What's more, he could file a trademark on it himself. "It's not going to go step on anyone else's toes."
As best as he could, Knizia says that he's tried to put a positive spin on this development. "This family of games is published under seventeen different names. In our global world, that's not always the best approach to promote a brand. Now that we're moving to one name, and the only name I'll promote, it will become easier to promote the brand. I'll develop the brand and add new games to the family." Knizia has already debuted AXIO Octagonal on Triqqy, with gameplay being nearly identical to Ingenious/AXIO Hexagonal except that the game board is octagonal, the domino-shaped tiles feature one or two of eight symbols (instead of six), and the maximum score for a symbol is 13, with players receiving a bonus turn when a symbol reaches that level.
"The point is you can be angry about it or disappointed about it, but that doesn't help," says Knizia. "It's a great family of games. In the long run, the game will be there and merge to this [new] name. To take this opportunity to grow the brand, I have developed a new flagship title for AXIO and that will be shown by Pegasus Spiele" at the Spielwarenmesse game fair in Nürnberg, Germany in February 2017. Knizia explains that AXIO plays similarly to the original design, but is "more modern and more accessible", with a 3D element to the gameplay. "I see Pegasus as my lead partner for AXIO. They will carry it not only in Germany but worldwide, and as new games are added to the brand, they will be added by Pegasus."
Knizia stresses that he has no grievance with KOSMOS or any other publisher of Ingenious: "This was not done at KOSMOS' initiative. They are good partners." As for Sophisticated Games, Knizia says, "My intention is not to wash their laundry in the public. My main purpose is to explain what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I will accept [this situation], but I will not promote it."
He adds, "The wonderful thing about our industry is that we do cooperate on games and share ideas. Sometimes it's a tough business, but it's an honest, fair business, and because everyone knows one another, the black sheep are identified quickly..."
Update, Monday, Jan. 30: Christian Beiersdorf, managing director of Spiele-Autoren-Zunft (the German game designer association commonly abbreviated SAZ), has issued the following statement on this topic:
World renowned game designer Dr. Reiner Knizia, a member of the Game Designers Association, informed us that he will continue the family of games known by titles such as EINFACH GENIAL or INGENIOUS under the new brand name AXIO. This is motivated by a legal dispute with Sophisticated Games in England, the licensor of some of his publishing rights, who have registered the former title for themselves and from whom Kosmos, and its software publisher USM, have sublicensed the German language rights.
The dispute mainly arises from Sophisticated Games' demands towards the designer to pay licence fees if he wanted to use the former title in publishing forms which are not covered by their licence agreement. Dr. Reiner Knizia perceives this demand as an "immoral and business damaging reversal of the usual Licensor-Licensee relationship". He strictly rejects any licence payments to his publisher in relation to the use of his own game.
The Game Designers Association (SAZ) equally condemns such demands. Such examples highlight the importance for authors to include respective clauses in their licence agreements. The title of a game — irrespective of whether it originates from the designer or from the publisher — should always be, and remain, an integral part of the game, as long as the title is not based on third-party rights (e.g. movie, book or character licences) or part of a series title of the publisher. This is particularly important if the publisher only licences partial publishing rights — restricted by territory or publishing form.
The change of the brand name will be accompanied by the addition of a new game to the family. The new flagship game of the AXIO series will be published by Pegasus Spiele and will be exhibited for the first time on the Nuremberg Toy Fair.
Update, Tuesday, Jan. 31: After the publication of this article, Robert Hyde, managing director at Sophisticated Games, sent me the following statement regarding this situation:
When BGG asked us last Friday to comment on some statements made by Reiner Knizia in a skype interview they had conducted with him, we said that that we did not comment on confidential contractual matters between us and our authors. We believe this to be a sound business principle as well as a legal obligation. So we were surprised to read the contents of this interview which you published yesterday.
The actual facts of the matter (but we will not disclose any contractual matters) are these:
1. The dispute regarding our asking Mr Knizia for a royalty concerns an app not a board game.
2. The app is Ingenious, which USM in Munich and ourselves in partnership have developed over the last seven years involving a considerable investment.
3. Last autumn we decided to withdraw from being a partner in the app because we judged that this was not our core business and that three royalty mouths to feed (Sophisticated Games, USM and Reiner Knizia) was probably one too many given the need for future investment in the app.
4. Therefore we decided to gift our share in this venture to Reiner. Not sell, even though we had invested a great deal of money in the app….gift. In good faith. The sole condition we attached was that he would only use the name Ingenious under license from us and pay us a nominal royalty. I think we all understand the meaning of “nominal”. We were not looking for any financial reward, but we were looking to safeguard our investment in the brand Ingenious.
5. What BGG readers were not told by RK was that the original board game was commissioned by Sophisticated Games from Reiner Knizia, the parameters of which were prescribed by us to be an abstract game to go with the brand of Mensa which we had previously acquired for use in boardgames. NB: The majority of games that we create are commissions. Lord of the Rings, Beowulf, The Hobbit and Ingenious. All of these are games that we commissioned from Reiner Knizia.
6. We invented the name Ingenious (after we had had little success with selling the game as Mensa) and we have vigorously promoted the game and the name- and its variants- throughout the world for over 12 years and made it the success that it now is.
7. We registered the trademark in the UK 6 years ago to protect the game from being copied by others. Trademarks are not infallible ways of protecting authors and publishers from copiers …..but they do help. Our filing of a US copyright in September was a part of the same process. We were asked by our new distributors whether we had protected the name Ingenious in the USA. It turned out that our last partner had not filed this protection, so we went ahead and filed. Following this filing and at the time that Mr Knizia was clearly objecting to our claims that we owned the brand for the app, we had eminent IP law firms on both sides of the Atlantic investigate our claim that we own the brand. They both agreed 100% with our own opinion in this matter. Mr Knizia has previously been shown the relevant parts of this written opinion.
I am sorry if the above will disappoint those parties wishing to see some kind of anti-author conspiracy, but as Mr Knizia knows, as he has been kind enough to point this out to us on many occasions over the years, we are a very transparent and pro author company and we have always, always, acted in good faith with him, and with the many other high profile games designers and leading board game publishers with whom we have worked over the last 19 years.
I had asked United Soft Media whether the "Ingenious" name would remain in use for its programs, and Michaela Schultheis with USM responded as follows: "Due to ongoing discussions and negotiations about the topic, at the moment we cannot publicly comment any further than Robert Hyde has already done this morning. However we'd like to stress the fact that we've successfully been working with all parties involved for years now and hope that the current situation can be resolved for the benefit of all parties."
W. Eric Martin
With a new year comes the announcement of new mergers in the game industry, with Asmodee acquiring German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag, Spanish/French company EDGE Entertainment, and Spanish distributor Millennium.
Here's a translated press release on the "fusionieren" of Asmodee and Heidelberger Spieleverlag, which was leaked on Dec. 31, 2016 when a letter from Asmodee Deutschland was accidentally sent out ahead of the official announcement (and which seemed like a possible prank until confirmed today):
Asmodee and Heidelberger Spieleverlag are proud to announce their merger. Since both publishers have worked closely together in logistics since August 2015, this merger is the ideal step to further expand the joint success.
Through the merger, the respective strengths of both companies in marketing, events, sales, service and logistics can be excellently combined and further improved. The range of products from both companies also complement each other perfectly, allowing customers to offer an even wider range of games. Dixit, Codenames, Zombicide, X-Wing, and new hits like Star Wars: Destiny, Final Fantasy Trading Card Game, and Runewars are now coming from a single house.
"I am very pleased that Heidelberger Spieleverlag is now part of the Asmodee family," says Carol Rapp, Managing Director of Asmodee Deutschland. "As a result of the merger, Asmodee not only gets fantastic new games but also great new colleagues. Both of these factors will help us to exceed the success of the last few years. "
"We are starting together in a future that is profitable for all," says Petra Hofstetter, Managing Director of Heidelberger Spieleverlag. "Not only both publishers, including our employees, but also our partners and especially our customers will benefit from the great experience and strengths of both sides."
Heidelberger Spieleverlag will remain at the Walldürn location, and as Studio Heidelberger will develop outstanding games under the renowned logo of the bear and continue the localization of the FFG games. The logistics and the warehouse will continue as before and offer the usual fast service. The combined company will be managed as Asmodee GmbH, and Carol Rapp will continue to function as managing director of the company.
And now a separate English-language press release covering the other companies being absorbed, along with more history on Heidelberger:
The Asmodee Group announced today its acquisition of Heidelberger Spieleverlag, EDGE Entertainment and Millennium, German, French and Spanish board game distributors and publishers.
Founded in 1991, Heidelberger Spieleverlag publishes and distributes board games with a unique link to the German hobby shops and has been a long-standing partner and distributor of the Asmodee Group studios Fantasy Flight Games and Plaid Hat Games.
The Asmodee Group is present in Germany since 2008 with a local distribution business unit. The synergy between Asmodee's expertise in the broad market and Heidelberger's historic link with the hobby shops will make of this new entity one of the leading actors of the German board game across all channels. This acquisition is the natural next step of a partnership initiated in 2015 when Asmodee and Heidelberger started distributing each other's catalogue in their respective sales channels.
Founded in 1999, EDGE Entertainment is a board game publisher with presence in Sevilla (SP) and Toulouse (FR). Amongst other games, EDGE holds the rights to the Citadels game in French and Spanish and has been a long-standing partner of the Asmodee Group studio Fantasy Flight Games. EDGE will continue developing new games. Gilles Garnier, co-founder of EDGE Entertainment, is appointed head of EDGE.
Millennium is a Spanish board game distributor specialized in hobby games and retail channels. The Asmodee Group is present in Spain since 2008 with a local distribution business unit. The synergy between Asmodee's expertise in the broad market and Millennium's historic link with the hobby shops will make of this new entity one of the leading actors of the Spanish board game distribution across all channels. Jose Manuel Rey CEO of Millennium and co-founder of EDGE Entertainment is appointed head of Asmodee Iberica.
"We are delighted to integrate three great board game companies with the acquisition of Heidelberger, EDGE and Millennium. Throughout the past years they have demonstrated high skills in terms of game publishing and distribution that will now strengthen our position in France, Germany and Spain, that are key local markets." said Stéphane Carville CEO of Asmodee Group.
"Joining forces with Asmodee, we are building a strong catalogue, an efficient offer of service and support for the broadest audience. We are very happy and are looking forward to the exchange of expertise and knowledge from both sides," said Petra Hofstetter, manager of Heidelberg Spieleverlag.
"In Spain, Asmodee and Millennium are complementary both in terms of catalogue and access to retail channels. I am very proud to have the opportunity to lead this combined entity," said José Manuel Rey, CEO of Millennium.
"EDGE is a studio that has a natural place in the Asmodee Group. We have been long-time business partners of Asmodee studios like Fantasy Flight Games and will continue developing new games within the Group," said Gilles Garnier, co-founder of EDGE Entertainment.
I'll note the following from my November 2014 post following Asmodee's acquisition of Fantasy Flight Games:
But what about FFG's products in other languages? Right now Fantasy Flight Games licenses titles to Edge Entertainment for release in French and Spanish; to Heidelberger Entertainment for release in German; and to Wargames Club, Game Harbor and Swan Panasia for release in Chinese. The Asmodee Group has multiple subsidiaries around the world — Asmodee GmbH in Germany, Asmodee France, Asmodee China, Asmodee Ibérica in Spain, Asmodee US, etc. — with those subsidiaries releasing titles in those very languages, so what's the future of those existing relationships? Petersen says that Heidelberger and Edge Entertainment "will continue to localize and represent FFG" for those markets and "will work with the respective Asmodee divisions to increase marketing and organized play support for those countries". Heidelberger, for example, will "work hand-in-hand with Asmodee to increase FFG's marketing presence in Germany, such as greatly expanding FFG's visibility at shows like Spiel in Essen"...
Petersen added this note about these publishing companies: "The questions regarding partners like Edge and Heidelberger are actually very pertinent. FFG could not have been the company we are today without the work, support, collaboration, and friendship of people like Harald, Heiko, Gilles, and Jose. It was vital to me that those partners find a positive place and future in the context of this merger. I believe we've achieved this." (My translation: Don't be surprised should Asmodee acquire Edge and Heidelberger in the near future. Again, speculation, but I will point to this line in a January 2014 Reuters article
about Eurazeo's acquisition of Asmodee at that time: "The acquisition debt was provided by European Capital and Tikehau, which have also made a dedicated debt facility available to the company to finance its external growth." That said, I put the question to Asmodee and company rep Kevin Brown reported the following answer: "For the foreseeable future, it is anticipated that current and upcoming FFG products will continue to be localized and sold by FFG's existing international partners. Asmodee intends to work with those same distributors to broaden product availability, marketing presence, and organized play support where possible.")
So now Asmodee has followed through with the acquisition of those publishing and distribution partners, which makes sense given their long-standing relationships. Why continue the dance externally when you can marry your partners and bring them even closer?
I imagine the next question for many people is not what Asmodee will acquire next, but whether the company is now large enough to attract the attention of Hasbro or Mattel. Maybe so, but I'll wager that being acquired is the goal of neither the Asmodee Group nor Eurazeo. Yes, Eurazeo is an investment company that wants a return on its investment, but it's already getting that return in spades, noting on its website that Asmodee's revenues in 2015 rose 55% over the previous year, with its EBITDA rising 92%. That figure will only continue to rise in the coming years, not simply due to the acquisitions that put more money directly under its belt, but due to the continued growth of the hobby game industry as a whole and the increased presence of hobby games in the mainstream market.
BoardGameGeek has seen similar growth on its own end, with 9.5 million unique visitors in Q4 2016 compared to 8.6 million in Q4 2015. In 2016, we registered 250,000 new users — 17% of our entire userbase — and accordingly when we look at the statistics of which games were added to user collections in 2016, seven of the eight titles at the top of the list are owned by the Asmodee Group (Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1), licensed by them in English and possibly other languages (Carcassonne, Catan), distributed by them worldwide (7 Wonders Duel, 7 Wonders), or distributed by them in Germany (Codenames). Go down to the thirtieth spot, and you'll add Splendor, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, Ticket to Ride, Small World, Mysterium, Star Wars: Rebellion, T.I.M.E Stories, Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Takenoko to the list. (Editor's note: I've fixed this section twice while trying to accurately represent Asmodee's involvement or ownership of these titles. Sorry! —WEM)
I'm not saying that a quarter-million people started playing hobby games this year and all joined BGG; rather I'm noting the growth of those who care enough about categorizing themselves as gamers to join a site like BGG. Hundreds of thousands more people who play games still don't know about BGG or about modern hobby games in general. That market of gamers is what the Asmodee Group is aiming for, and with the studios and licenses under their belts, you'll likely see Ticket to Tatooine and Carcassonne: Game of Thrones and other such titles come to market in the near future to continue to push their expansion into mainstream markets such as Target and Walmart. Hobby games are already normalized this way in Germany, appearing in many department stores, but the room for growth is still huge in the U.S. and elsewhere and the Asmodee Group thinks it can capitalize on that growth for many years to come.
W. Eric Martin
Wow, I haven't done one of these in a long time! Too many games swirling around us, each pecking our eyes for attention and keeping us from looking at other things — until now, that is...
• As of December 2, 2016, CMON Limited is now trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange's Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) with stock code “08278” on Dec. 2, 2016. From the press release announcing this development:
Current employees, decision making, and management at the company remains unchanged. The controlling shareholders of CMON also remain the same and are steadfastly committed to the company. Chern Ann Ng, CEO of CMON Limited, explains, "We began laying the groundwork for this to happen in 2014, and this monumental achievement would not have been possible without the herculean efforts of the CMON family and outstanding support from the tabletop gaming community at large."
CMON remains dedicated to giving fans the highest-quality gaming experiences through its retail and distribution partners, as well as Kickstarter. The increased capital from the Public Listing will allow CMON to grow an already amazing team, expand into new geographic markets, and acquire new titles, licenses, and properties that fit into CMON’s growing catalogue.
• Former Asmodee North America employee Cynthia Hornbeck's essay about the Conan board game and the election of Donald Trump — "Grab 'Em by the Board Game" — made waves on Kotaku in an article titled "Former Conan Rep Calls Out Hit Board Game's Depiction Of Women", in which author Cecilia D'Anastasio interviewed Hornbeck and representatives from publisher Monolith. From Hornbeck's essay:
This cover, I believe, represents a scene from one of the game's scenarios, in which Conan and his friends must rescue a princess who is about to be sacrificed by the Picts. In that scenario, the princess token/figure is treated exactly as if she were an object. She has no abilities. You can even toss her across the board.
But there's a playable female character in the Conan core set, you say. There’s Belit! Well, her mechanical function is to make the men better. That's literally all she does is follow Conan around and boost his abilities. Because that's what women are good for in this world: being fucked by men and making those men feel good. That's the world that you're choosing to have fun in.
• In an article about overfishing in The National Interest, author Claude Berube uses Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback's Fleet from Eagle-Gryphon Games in his lede:
The game ends when there are either no more fishing licenses to distribute or no more tokens of fish to extract from the ocean. Whomever has the most points from licenses, ships and fish, wins. The lost message in the end game is that, contrary to the adage, there are not plenty of fish in the sea. Fleet demonstrates the issue global overfishing, the potential for conflict over diminishing resources, and how non-state navies may have the answer to this security issue.
Minus points, though, for the use of "whomever" and the comma before "wins".
• Gavan Brown and Roxley Games are featured in city lifestyle magazine Avenue Calgary:
Together with a small team of like-minded board game enthusiasts, Brown and Roxley Games have so far created three high-quality, engaging games, spawning a loyal fan base that put their money where their "meeples" (pieces that represent the player in-game) are. Through Kickstarter, Roxley's second game, Steampunk Rally
, raised $237,215 on a $42,000 goal, and their latest, Santorini
, raised more than $700,000 on an $85,000 goal...Santorini
, a strategy game where gods compete to get their followers first atop their temple, is set to launch in early 2017, and has already caught the eye of major retailers. Roxley's Steampunk Rally
, a machine-building tile and dice game, is now sold in more than 600 Barnes and Nobles stores in the U.S.
• What happens when you apply 90,000 pounds of pressure to a deck of cards? You cut the deck — into tiny, tiny pieces.
W. Eric Martin
In July 2016, the Asmodee Group — which is owned by French investment company Eurazeo — announced that it had entered into exclusive discussions to acquire F2Z Entertainment Inc., the Canadian publisher/distributor that owns the Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions, Pretzel Games, and Plaid Hat Games studios. The announcement didn't give a timeline for when this acquisition might take place or why an announcement of the discussions had to be made public.
I had heard from an informed source at SPIEL 2016 that a resolution to this issue would be announced the week of Monday, October 24. While nothing official has yet been made public, two business partners of F2Z Entertainment have shared a document that they received today from the company, the text of which reads:
Par la présente, nous vous avisons que notre nom commercial a changé ainsi que notre compte bancaire. Notre adresse, notre numéro de téléphone ainsi que nos adresses courriels restent les mêmes.
À compter de ce jour, notre dénomination sociale est :
Which translated into English reads as follows:
Hereby we inform you that our trade name has changed as well as our bank account. Our address, our phone number, and our email addresses remain the same.
As of today, our company name is:
Again, my understanding is that more details of this acquisition will be made public in the near future.
W. Eric Martin
In June 2016, Zev Shlasinger and Paul Gerardi filed suit against Dan Yarrington and Myriad Games, Yarrington's game retail operation in New Hampshire, alleging that Yarrington committed "Fraud and Breach of Contract". On September 10, 2016, I posted the amended complaint filed by Shlasinger and Gerardi in U.S. District Court as well as Yarrington's brief public response to the lawsuit. (Shlasinger and Gerardi both formerly worked for Z-Man Games, with Shlasinger having founded Z-Man Games before selling it to Filosofia's Sophie Gravel in 2011; Shlasinger is currently employed by WizKids, and Yarrington owns Game Salute, but none of the game publishers listed here are involved with this lawsuit.)
On October 21, 2016 Yarrington filed an answer to this complaint, and I've reproduced this document below, followed by a separate disclosure statement from Yarrington's attorney Robert S. Carey. You need to compare the original complaint to the statements below to understand what is being admitted and denied in this answer.
A pretrial conference is scheduled on November 22, 2016 in the U.S. District Court in Concord, New Hampshire.
[Disclosure addendum to the previous post: I saw Yarrington multiple times at SPIEL 2016, but did not discuss this lawsuit with him. At dinner one evening, while seated at the far end of a long table, Yarrington asked me to pass the olives, and without thinking I picked up an olive and threw it at/to him. I saw Shlasinger only once at SPIEL 2016, but he was talking with someone else, so I didn't say (or throw) anything to him. —WEM]
W. Eric Martin
• Time to catch up on industry news both recent and aged, some of which has been sitting in the inbox for months waiting for me to put aside SPIEL-related info — which makes it somewhat ironic that I'll start this post with a SPIEL 2016 recap from convention organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag:
It was by far the largest and most successful SPIEL in the 34-year history of the event. 174,000 games fans and buyers (previous year 162,000) from all over the world came to see 1,021 exhibitor booths (previous year 911) from 50 different countries (previous year 41) and to negotiate license deals, as well as to view more than 1,200 of this year's new releases...
On all four days of the event the doors had to be opened before the actual start time in order to cope with the crowds of visitors. Early every morning there was exuberant expectation at the gates amongst those waiting in queues to discover the treasures inside the exhibition halls.
SPIEL'16 was more international than ever before: More than half of the 1,021 exhibitors this year were from outside Germany (60 percent). Exhibitors from countries such as Colombia, Azerbaijan and Macedonia joined traditionally well-represented nations like the United States, France and Poland.
Morning crowd outside Hall 3; image provided by Merz Verlag
• In September 2016, Alderac Entertainment Group published a description of its "channel relationships", from which I've excerpted the following:
Alderac Entertainment Group sells its products through a variety of sales channels. Our primary channel is the 3-tiered distribution system for tabletop hobby game products used in North America and Europe. In this channel, AEG sells to an authorized Distributor, who in turn sells to approved Retailers, who sell to consumers.
AEG reserves the right to determine to whom our approved distributors may sell our products. AEG provides our distribution partners with a House Accounts List and requires that they not do business with House Accounts unless authorized in writing beforehand by AEG.
AEG has set up the following Brand Protection Policy Guidelines so retailers who wish to carry AEG products know the expectations we have of a retailer who is representing our brands when offering to them to end consumers. AEG will make every effort to inform retailers who are not following the guidelines and allow them the opportunity to make changes.
Retailers AEG feels are not adhering to the policies or are somehow representing our brands in a way we do not feel is positive will be placed on our House Accounts List and permission for our authorized distributors to sell to those partners may be limited or revoked until AEG feels the problems have been resolved.
We know that many brick & mortar stores now offer on-line ordering as a convenience to their customers and AEG supports those efforts.
Retailers that generate a substantial portion of their revenue from on-line sales will automatically be on the House Account list, and individual agreements will be made with authorized distributors to service those accounts.
The determination of how much business comprises a “substantial portion” will be made by AEG on a case by case basis.
Minimum Advertised Price Policies
AEG has established Minimum Advertised Prices for all its games.
The Minimum Advertised Price is the lowest amount a retailer can display to consumers for AEG products while purchasing those products from an authorized distributor. If a retailer consistently displays a price below the Minimum Advertised Price policy, that retailer will become a House Account.
AEG will also make retailers who participate in group ordering programs and similar promotions whereby AEG products are offered to consumers at deep discounts from the Suggested Retail Price House Accounts.
The Minimum Advertised Price policy exists to ensure that AEG can protect the integrity and value of its brands. This policy applies to advertised prices. Retailers can offer any price they wish at the point of sale.
AEG has posted a spreadsheet of available titles here, with the minimum advertised prices being 15% lower than the MSRP of those titles.
• In August 2016, Looney Labs announced that Pyramid Arcade — the publication of which it funded via Kickstarter in May 2016, with the pledge for the complete game being $77 — would be available for purchase online solely through its own website and Marbles: The Brain Store. Looney Labs explains the decision to do this as follows:
At Looney Labs we create innovative, attractive, and above all, really fun tabletop card games and board games that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. We are a small business, and thus rely on the revenue we earn from sales of our games to enable us develop wonderful new products such as Pyramid Arcade. We are excited to work with our retailers for years to come to promote and sell Pyramid Arcade as an evergreen product in our small line of games.
To protect brand equity and help build consumer demand for Pyramid Arcade, we have unilaterally decided to focus our sales efforts (for this single SKU: LOO-074) through physical retail locations (including conventions), and thus only offer Pyramid Arcade ONLINE through a small set of Chosen Online Retailers.
W. Eric Martin
On June 29, 2016, Zev Shlasinger and Paul Gerardi filed suit against Dan Yarrington and Myriad Games, Yarrington's game retail operation in New Hampshire, alleging that Yarrington committed "Fraud and Breach of Contract". (Shlasinger and Gerardi both formerly worked for Z-Man Games, with Shlasinger having founded Z-Man Games before selling it to Filosofia's Sophie Gravel in 2011; Shlasinger is currently employed by WizKids, and Yarrington owns Game Salute, but none of the game publishers listed here are involved with this lawsuit.) Here is Shlasinger's summary of the case:
ZaP’D Games LLC was formed by Zev Shlasinger, Paul Gerardi, and Dan Yarrington/Myriad Games LLC in order to open a retail game store on Staten Island, NY. The store opened in January 2013, but closed 15 months later.
ZaP’D Games, LLC alleges that the store closed due to its partner, Dan Yarrington, committing Fraud and Breach of Contract.
Yarrington is being sued in US District Court in the District of New Hampshire.
Here are two news articles from January 2013 about the opening of the game store in Staten Island — one from DNAinfo and the other from SILive, with both referring to the store as "Myriad Games", as does the Yelp listing.
Here is the amended complaint filed in US District Court on July 8, 2016. (The initial complaint listed only Shlasinger and Gerardi as plaintiffs and Yarrington as defendant, but the complaint was amended to include ZaP'D Games as plaintiff and Myriad Games as defendant.)
Dan Yarrington has issued the following response to Shlasinger's publicizing of the lawsuit, noting: "We are unable to comment further at this time as this is ongoing litigation."
[Disclosure: I know all parties involved and have emailed Shlasinger and Yarrington multiple times to request information about games and publishing. I used to shop at Myriad Games when I lived in New Hampshire, and Yarrington approached me with an employment opportunity in 2010 after BoardgameNews.com, the site I formerly edited, imploded. Game Salute, Z-Man Games, and WizKids all have business relationships with BoardGameGeek, but I'm not involved with those relationships in any way and try to know as little about such activities as possible. —WEM]
W. Eric Martin
In early September 2016, PDF files for titles like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay disappeared from DriveThruRPG, leading some to speculate that Fantasy Flight Games had lost the license to material from Games Workshop. (In June 2016, game news site Bell of Lost Souls reported that Games Workshop had attended the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas and was looking for licensees for video games, entertainment, apparel, collectables, publishing, and toys for such brands as Talisman, Space Hulk, Blood Bowl, Warhammer 40,000, and Warhammer Fantasy Battle.)
Today, Fantasy Flight Games has stated that no new Games Workshop-related titles will be announced and that all GW-related titles that it has published will disappear from its catalog on February 28, 2017. Here's the press release announcing this separation:
In 2008, Fantasy Flight Games first began publishing great games set in the amazing Games Workshop universes. From the earliest days of the partnership, Games Workshop played a key role in the Fantasy Flight Games library, helping us further develop roleplaying games like Dark Heresy and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, while creating and establishing new board games like Chaos in the Old World and Forbidden Stars, and Living Card Games such as Warhammer 40,000: Conquest and Warhammer: Invasion.
Games Workshop has been a fantastic partner for the past eight years, and we're thrilled that we had the opportunity to work together and bring so many new and exciting games into the world. As much as we have enjoyed creating these games, our current licensing term is coming to an end.
Beginning February 28th, 2017, Fantasy Flight Games will no longer offer for sale any games in conjunction with Games Workshop, including Talisman and all games taking place in the Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 universes.
We're extremely grateful to our friends at Games Workshop for giving us the opportunity to play in the worlds that they created, and we wish them nothing but the best in their future endeavors.
Fantasy Flight Games included the following FAQ in its press release that details exactly which games and game lines are leaving its catalog:
What is the timeframe for the conclusion of the business relationship?
All upcoming products for Games Workshop-licensed games have already been announced and will be released in upcoming months. All Games Workshop-licensed product lines will leave the Fantasy Flight Games catalog on February 28th, 2017.
What does this mean for Fantasy Flight Games products created from Games Workshop properties?
As stated above, after February 28th, 2017, product lines dealing with Games Workshop properties will end and will no longer be offered for sale by Fantasy Flight Games.
All upcoming products for these product lines have already been announced — there will be no new announcements of additional Games Workshop-licensed products. All announced, currently unreleased products will be released before the conclusion of the business relationship between Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop.
The full list of product lines leaving the Fantasy Flight Games catalog is:
• Black Crusade
• Blood Bowl: Team Manager
• Chaos in the Old World
• Chaos Marauders
• Dark Heresy
• Dark Heresy Second Edition
• Forbidden Stars
• Fury of Dracula
• Only War
• Rogue Trader
• Space Hulk: Death Angel
• Warhammer: Diskwars
• Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
• Warhammer: Invasion The Card Game
• Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game
• Warhammer 40,000: Conquest
• All Fantasy Flight Supply products showing imagery licensed to Games Workshop
What does this mean for Warhammer 40,000: Conquest Organized Play?
Organized Play support for Warhammer 40,000: Conquest will conclude this year at the Fantasy Flight Games World Championships. After the 2016 World Championships, there will be no Organized Play support for Warhammer 40,000: Conquest.
Retailers: All pre-orders for Warhammer 40,000: Conquest Store Championship Kits and Quarter 1 Tournament Kits have been canceled. These kits have been discontinued and will not be released. Retailers will not be charged for these kits.
W. Eric Martin
• A lot of announcements (and other things) piled up in the inbox during Gen Con, and I'm only now clearing them out, such as the news that Cool Mini Or Not (technically CMON Limited) "acquired all branding and intellectual property rights for the successful Zombicide franchise from Guillotine Games". David Preti, Director of Guillotine Games, has become Creative Director of CMON Limited, and Guillotine Games will continue to work exclusively with CMON.
• CMON also signed a deal with Good Games Publishing to "co-brand, market and distribute the new Australian publisher's board games in all French and English territories outside of Australia and New Zealand", with GGP's Monstrous due out in Q3 2016 and Unfair planned for release in Q4 2016.
• Similarly, CMON announced that it would co-publish John Hawkins and Michelle Menard's Gateway: Uprising with FishWizard Press, which had developed the game and run an unsuccessful Kickstarter for it in 2015. Here's an overview of the game, now due out in Q1 2017:
Players of the deck-building card game Gateway: Uprising take on the roles of insurgent wizards determined to reclaim the Great City of Gateway.
Each player begins with the game with the same starter resources of basic insurgent wizards, merchants, and a magical Runestone — but from there the similarities end. Players will draft new wizards, heroes, and magical creatures into their ranks, building up an army to defeat and defend the different districts of Gateway.
After successfully liberating a district, the player gains access to its unusual power, such as cheaper resources, additional defenses, or even the ability to magically damage foes from afar. Be warned: Not only will other rebel insurgents attempt to steal your districts away from you, but you'll also have to battle against the forces of Chancellor Gideon and an invading onslaught of terrible monsters called the Drueggar.
To aid you in this are Runestones: powerful one-time-use spells that can turn the tide of battle instantly or provide the player with a temporary boost to his coffers. However, once used, Runestones become empty shells and are discarded for the remainder of the game.
To win the game, players must collect victory points by defeating the city guard and Drueggar Horde, controlling important districts, or through special insurgent abilities they draft into their ranks. Don't delay and play the waiting game; if the Drueggar manage to take all the city districts, it’s game over for both the insurgents and the innocent citizens of Gateway!
Perhaps Cool Mini Or Not needs a new tagline to go with its hew logo: "We Try Harder".
• Ultra PRO announced a deal in which it will "acquire the rights to Stone Blade Entertainment's tabletop games portfolio", which primarily consists of the Ascension deck-building games. To quote from the press release:
Under the completion of the transition, Ultra PRO will handle tabletop publishing, marketing and promotion, engaging its extensive presence in the gaming market to bring Stone Blade Entertainment games to new audiences, while allowing Stone Blade Entertainment to focus on designing new quality games.
I asked Stone Blade for clarification about this statement and was told that "SBE will still exist as a separate company, and Justin Gary will still design future Ascension releases that will be handled by Ultra PRO."
• In May 2016, GTS Distribution announced that it had agreed to purchase New York-based distributor Global Enterprises, with all existing staff of Global Enterprises coming to work for GTS Distribution.
• Portal Games has opened a new division in Germany — Portal Games Deutschland — that will debut in October 2016 at SPIEL 2016. This division is being run by Benjamin Schönheiter, who used to work for Pegasus Spiele on the localization of games such as Portal's own Robinson Crusoe. At SPIEL 2016, Portal Games plans to debut the new version of 51st State, the third edition of Neuroshima Hex!, and an as yet unannounced new army for that game. Cry Havoc will debut in Germany shortly afterwards.
• Finally, in a bit of news not about acquisition or expansion, the Korean-based Hanjin Shipping Co. has filed for bankruptcy. From an article in The Wall Street Journal:
Hanjin, one of the world’s largest shipping lines, stopped taking new shipments in the wake of the filing, according to a customer advisory sent to freight brokers in Asia. The carrier faced the possible detention of its ships under threats of seizure by creditors.
The filing with the Seoul Central District Court came just a day after the company’s creditors cut off a lifeline, as financial assistance of more than 1 trillion won ($896 million) failed to keep it afloat. It is the latest domino to fall as shipping companies world-wide grapple with overcapacity amid a slump in global trade.
The news sent freight brokers and shippers scrambling to find space with other carriers as Hanjin was immobilized in the midst of the busiest season for exports out of Asia. Asia-based freight brokers estimate Hanjin’s daily capacity at 25,000 shipping containers.
The article notes that Hanjin vessels are being denied entry into ports since it's not clear whether they can pay the necessary fees. An additional worry is that ships in port might have legal claims filed against them, which would prohibit them from moving, thereby tying up the space and not allowing it to be used by others.
While this news isn't related to games directly, if publishers are moving games out of China, there's a good chance that their shipping plans will be disrupted due to this development, whether directly or indirectly.
W. Eric Martin
Following Asmodee's acquisitions of Days of Wonder (BGG News story) and Fantasy Flight Games (story) in 2014 and the worldwide English rights to Catan (story) in 2016, many people have wondered which domino in the hobby game industry would fall next.
The answer turns out to be F2Z Entertainment, the Canadian publisher/distributor that owns the Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions, Pretzel Games, and Plaid Hat Games studios. Asmodee and F2Z Entertainment aren't strangers, having worked with one another over the years, with Asmodee distributing F2Z titles in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, while F2Z has distributed Asmodee titles in Canada. (This is the basis for the "partnership" referred to in the quotes from the press release below.)
Asmodee has issued the following press release about the deal, and Asmodee North America VP of Marketing Aaron Elliott told me that it can give no other comment at this time since the discussions are still under way. (The "exclusiveness" referred to in the first line of the press release means only that no one else is competing with Asmodee to acquire this company.) Here's what has been made public to date:
The Asmodee Group has announced today that it has entered into exclusive discussions to acquire F2Z Entertainment Inc.
In line with the acquisitions of the worldwide rights to Dobble
, Days of Wonder, and Fantasy Flight Games publishers, and more recently the set-up of Catan Studio
, these exclusive discussions with F2Z Entertainment Inc. emphasize Asmodee's strategy to strengthen its intellectual property portfolio and international presence. Closing of this acquisition is expected to take place in the coming months.
Created in Canada in 2002 by Sophie Gravel, F2Z Entertainment Inc. has become, over the years, one of the most worldwide renowned publisher & distributor of modern board games, with key owned brands such as Pandemic
(over 1 million units sold), Dead of Winter
, and also publishing rights for evergreen games (Carcassonne
for French and English version, Catan
for French version).
Stéphane Carville, CEO of Asmodee Group said: "I am delighted to enter into these exclusive discussions with F2Z Entertainment, which is, for us, the natural next step of a strong and long-lasting partnership built over the years with Sophie Gravel and her teams. Through this acquisition, we will continue expanding our IP portfolio with fantastic games and incredibly innovative studios such as Z-Man Games, Plaid Hat Games and Filosofia. This will also enable us to increase our presence on the global game market."
Sophie Gravel, CEO of F2Z Entertainment added: "As we are close to celebrating 15 years of success with F2Z, we are proud to announce these exclusive discussions with Asmodee Group, a key partner since the beginning of our adventure. This deal is in the direct continuation of our close business partnership and will provide the best environment for our iconic games to reach their full potential and help our studios to continue publishing amazing games."
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