The success of Love Letter led to AEG creating its "Big in Japan" line, then a "5 Minute Fun" line, while also shining a spotlight on Japanese designs in general, with the subsequent release of Machi Koro at SPIEL 2013 turning Game Market into the place for publishers from the U.S. and elsewhere to scout for new designs. I just completed my fifth trip to the Game Market in Tokyo, for example, and I doubt that I would have made those trips without the spark of Love Letter back in 2012.
Since late 2012, AEG has released multiple versions of Love Letter — a version in a drawstring bag, a boxed version, a version with the original art by Noboru Sugiura, a Christmas-themed version, a version to give to people getting married, and crossover versions that merged the original gameplay with characters and settings from Munchkin, Batman comics, Archer, Adventure Time, Lord of the Rings, Legend of the Five Rings, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
And now all of that is gone.
Well, not gone completely, but gone from AEG. If you visit the Love Letter page on the AEG website, you see only this note: "As of May 1, 2018, ownership of Love Letter and Lovecraft Letter has passed to Asmodee." More specifically, those two games will join the Z-Man Games brand owned by The Asmodee Group, with Z-Man announcing that it will distribute AEG's remaining inventory for these two games, along with Love Letter Premium, before reprinting them with the Z-Man logo. Quotes from that announcement:
"We are thrilled to have Love Letter join Z-Man's diverse catalog," says Steve Kimball, Head of Studio at Z-Man Games. "This gem of a card game packs a lot of fun in a tiny box (or velvet bag) and fits perfectly with the many other acclaimed card games that have been a hallmark of the Z-Man brand. I'm excited to work closely with Seiji Kanai to help Love Letter reach new audiences and realize its full potential."
"Love Letter and Lovecraft Letter have been a pure joy to develop and share with our customers," says John Zinser, CEO of Alderac Entertainment Group. "We would like to thank Seiji Kanai and our partners at Japon Brand for entrusting us with the smallest but most valuable of treasures. Our friends at Asmodee have the capability to take Love Letter and Lovecraft Letter to even greater heights and we are excited to watch the games make this transition. We are sure that everyone who has sought the favor of the Princess will be delighted with Asmodee's stewardship of these great games."
On Facebook, AEG director Ryan Scott Dancey wrote, "Our strategy to withstand the coming storm is to become laser focused on the kinds of games we think we can achieve 'AAA' levels of fun and quality with, and keep our powder dry. This deal creates more dry powder and improves our focus." This comment led to a comparison of the tabletop game and video game markets, and Dancey added this:
At least in videogames only the largest companies can compete at the AAA level and even they can only make a couple of games a year, and almost always as line extensions to enormous franchises.
In tabletop publishing a mid-sized company like AEG can make a game that is as technically challenging as anything the largest companies can make, easily 5-10 times a year, and there are at least 20 mid-sized companies. Worse, a small 1-5 person company can make a range of games that are as technically challenging as anything AEG and its near-peers can make too.
So there are newly released "AAA" games(*) in many categories that are literally 100 games deep before you get to the first AA game.
Fantastic for gamers, challenging for retailers, existential problem for publishers.
(*) In 2016 this was "scores 7 or higher on BGG". Now I think this is "scores 8 or higher on BGG".
From my perspective, while AEG has placed some of its titles in mainstream outlets, at heart the company seems focused on hobby games and the hobby game market. Having now saturated that market with multiple versions of Love Letter, AEG is happy to take a final payout for all the work that it put into the game while letting someone else worry about how to transform Love Letter into an evergreen title that you will see on peg hooks in every U.S. retail outlet that carries $10 games. If nothing else, I would now expect to see a version of Love Letter: Star Wars in English instead of only in Russian...
After a week's hiatus due to travel that interrupted the filming schedule, the newest episode of The BoardGameGeek Show is now live, with Scott Alden, Lincoln Damerst, and I talking about the games we've played and discussing Kickstarter's continued impact on the hobby, but the lead-off announcement is one you might have already seen, that being the news that Rodney Smith of Watch It Played! will be working with BGG to create new video content for the site, while continuing to create his playthrough videos.
Scott and Lincoln recorded a segment with Rodney about this announcement at a convention we all attended, and that announcement is included at the start of this show:
This week's line-up:
00:31 News about BGG 00:40 Rodney Smith joins forces with BGG 00:50 BGG + Watch It Played Announcement Video 05:40 BGG.Spring tickets close to selling out 06:53 Upcoming coverage of Tokyo Game Market 09:30 Penny Papers Adventures - Henri Kermarrec - Sit Down 10:56 Fox in the Forest - Joshua Buergel - Foxtrot Games/Renegade Games Studio 11:50 Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War - Andrew Wolf - USAopoly 13:09 Lord of the Rings - Reiner Knizia - Fantasy Flight Games 14:51 Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game - Przemysław Rymer, Ignacy Trzewiczek, Jakub Łapot - Portal Games 16:33 Keyflow - Richard Breese - R&D Games 18:16 The Mind - Wolfgang Warsch - Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag 18:48 Reef - Emerson Matsuuchi - Next Move Games 20:23 Facecards - Leo Colovini - Ravensburger Spieleverlag GmbH 21:10 Manga Kai - Reiner Knizia - Oya 22:55 Ganz schön clever - Wolfgang Warsch - Schmidt Spiele 24:42 Illusion - Wolfgang Warsch - Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag 26:13 Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg - Wolfgang Warsch - Schmidt Spiele 27:23 Are super-successful Kickstarter games hurting smaller games? 28:37 Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar's Kickstarter success 29:08 The Bark Side's Kickstarter struggles 29:32 Zombicide: Invader's Kickstarter success 29:48 Confrontation returns on Kickstarter 33:15 Immortal Eight Kickstarter cancelled but French production continues 33:38 Monumuental Kickstarter cancelled 34:17 Hellboy Game Kickstarter launches 34:25 Court of the Dead Game Kickstarter launches 34:59 Alhambra Designer's Edition Kickstarter launches 36:16 Homesteaders 10th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter launches
BGG owner Scott Alden, Director of Media Lincoln Damerst, and I are back with a new episode of The BoardGameGeek Show, one that arrives during a brief lull in convention activity, with all of us at home and somewhat reasonably rested.
One big revelation for me from recording these videos is that I need to start recording videos on my own again. Some games need to be shown to really get across how they work and why they appeal (or not) to potential players. Menara, a new release from Zoch Verlag that I talk about during the show, is one such example, and Cocktail Games' Pikto would be another. A project for this coming week before my next trip...
00:44 Kreus - Julien Prothière - Sweet Games, CMON Limited 03:58 Welcome to Your Perfect Home - Benoit Turpin - Blue Cocker Games, Deep Water Games 07:28 Pikto - Chikasuzu (ちかすず) - Cocktail Games 10:01 Innovation Deluxe - Carl Chudyk - Asmati Games 10:39 Menara - Oliver Richtberg - Zoch Verlag 13:25 The City of Kings - Frank West - The City of Games 16:41 Mayfair founder donates RPG and game collection to The Strong National Museum of Play 17:57 Asmodee launches Asmodee Entertainment 20:27 CIA board game Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo revealed by Freedom of Information Act 22:16 Playstation: The Board Game as an April Fool's Joke 23:25 Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar Kickstarter 25:40 Pacific Rim: Extinction Kickstarter 28:19 BoardGameGeekCon Spring almost sold out 29:11 BGG con coverage - Tokyo Game Market in May 2018
The private equity firm Eurazeo, which owns The Asmodee Group, a.k.a. Asmodee, posted its 2017 annual results on March 9, 2018 (PDF), and since we focus on games in this space, let's excerpt what's relevant to the status of Asmodee:
Of the nine unlisted portfolio companies (Asmodee, Fintrax, Iberchem, Sommet Education, Novacap, Desigual, Trader Interactive, LPCR and Neovia), six posted double-digit revenue growth in 2017: 1) Asmodee (acquired in 2016) recorded revenue growth of +17% driven by sustained organic growth (games in Europe and Pokemon collector cards). 2017 was a year of transition in the U.S.: management was reinforced to improve procurement and remodel the distribution network, enabling a return to growth in Q4
What's next for Asmodee? After its recent acquisitions of Lookout Games, Mayfair Games, and Rebel, where does it go from here? Perhaps this press release from March 21, 2018 tells us what we need to know:
The Asmodee Group (Asmodee), a global leader in board game publishing and distribution, today announced the launch of Asmodee Entertainment, a new division which will leverage the company's intellectual property to develop new content types such as feature films, TV series, comics and graphic novels. Asmodee will primarily develop this content through strategic partnerships and licensing.
The launch of Asmodee Entertainment will unlock new narrative experiences for the Group's fans and communities across a variety of platforms, wider storytelling possibilities for its creative talent and fresh revenue sources for its business. The move formalizes Asmodee's efforts to maximize its existing IP in close cooperation with its publishing studios, a key element of the company's growth strategy.
"Asmodee's success has been built on telling amazing stories through the great games we develop," said Stéphane Carville, CEO of Asmodee Group. "With the launch of Asmodee Entertainment, we will be telling these beloved stories through brand new channels like feature films and graphic novels, while also introducing new fans to our portfolio."
Andy Jones, a games industry expert with 30 years' experience, has been appointed to head of Asmodee Entertainment. Jones is the former head of global new business development at Games Workshop. In his new role, he will spearhead this pillar of Asmodee's growth strategy: helping the company expand its content production.
"I am honored to lead this new strategic initiative to bring our fantastic IPs to many different forms of media. The success of our previous ventures into books and graphic novels, set in Asmodee worlds, demonstrated our fans' desire to engage with their favorite stories in formats beyond the board games they love," said Jones. "Through these new forms of content, our vibrant characters and engaging narratives can also reach new audiences around the world."
Darren Kyman has also been appointed to the role of senior vice president of business development for Asmodee Entertainment and will be based in Los Angeles. Kyman has spent the past 20 years monetizing TV, theatrical and gaming properties for Sony Pictures Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Rovio Entertainment. Kyman will be working with Jones to develop consumer products, location-based entertainment and media licensing opportunities for Asmodee Games' renowned portfolio.
So, Summoner Wars: The Movie? It couldn't be worse than the Battleship movie, could it?
• On March 6, 2018, in an article titled "Flat Prod est mort, Vive Flat Prod", Monsieur Phal (a.k.a. Philippe Maurin) announced (in his usual stream-of-consciousness style) that Plan B Games has purchased French gaming site Tric Trac, the site he founded in 2000 (the same year that BoardGameGeek started) and continues to run today. Phal will continue to operate as the site's publishing director until February 2020, with François Décamp taking over as general manager.
Why the reference to "Flat Prod" in the article's title? Flat Prod is the official owner of Tric Trac, with Maurin previously owning 51% of that company while Plume Finance, a company owned by Asmodee co-founder Marc Nunes, owned the other 49%, an arrangement entered into in 2009, according to JeuxZoom.
• After more than twenty years of covering games on a quarterly basis, Counter magazine released its final issue in January 2018. Issue #78, as well as other recent digital-only issues, are available in the BGG Store.
• Designers Nuno Sentieiro and Paulo Soledade have joined the staff of publisher What's Your Game? as full-time designers and developers, doubling the number of people at WYG, which intends to release more titles in 2018 than in previous years. Says Sentieiro, "We will design games exclusively for WYG, as well as work in the development of other designer projects." As part of this development, the publisher has moved from Berlin, Germany to Leiria, Portugal.
• Along similar lines, in February 2018 Stronghold Gamestripled its staff, adding Bill Bricker as director of art and marketing and Pauline Milano as director of administration. The publisher also moved from New Jersey to Florida and introduced a new logo.
• On February 6, 2018, North Star Games announced two changes to its sales policies — the adoption of a unilateral minimum advertised pricing policy and a restriction of sales on Amazon.com — with these policies being detailed on the NSG website. To excerpt from the press release:
Effective today, North Star Games is adopting a unilateral Minimum Advertised Pricing Policy (MAPP). This MAPP will enhance the value of the North Star Games brand and provide long-term benefits to everyone who purchases its products, including both trade partners and consumers. Adherence to the MAPP is non-negotiable for all North Star Games' resellers and will be strictly enforced to ensure the continued value of its brand.
North Star Games is also issuing a Channel Restriction Notice (CRN) to all its resellers, announcing that it has designated Amazon.com as a restricted sales channel. Effective today, North Star Games will limit its Amazon distribution to two authorized sellers on the Amazon Third-Party Marketplace. The CRN states that resellers who don't participate in the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program have until February 13th, 2018 to deactivate their listings. Resellers who do participate in the FBA program should sell through any existing inventory by March 9th, 2018 and then stop restocking their FBA listings. North Star Games will work together with its authorized Amazon partners to monitor product listings and remove any unauthorized sellers.
"These two policies will allow our authorized retailers to remain competitive in an ever-changing and dynamic marketplace. We highly value our retail partners and their commitment to providing valuable instore experiences that create memorable moments for their customers and grow the gaming community", states North Star Games Co-President Satish Pillalamarri. "We look forward to helping our partners grow their businesses by providing enhanced services such as game demos and organized tournaments. These partnerships will allow us to develop an even greater number of the exciting and engaging games that our customers love."
• In the category of "news I missed months ago", German publisher Ravensburgerpurchased U.S. game and logic puzzle publisher ThinkFun in September 2017. An excerpt from the press release: "The move broadens the company's portfolio of brands, while strengthening its position in the games category of the U.S. toy and game market." And another:
As a subsidiary of Ravensburger North America, ThinkFun will continue to operate as an independent brand from its Alexandria, Virginia headquarters. [Bill] Ritchie, whose leadership and insight has been instrumental in building ThinkFun's quality product line, will stay on as the company's chief creative officer. ThinkFun will also retain company directors and staff.
• To follow up on my December 2017 post about how Kerry Breitenstein came to own Twilight Creations once again, with her regaining ownership in September 2017 after Mayfair Games had purchased TC from her in June 2016, in response to my questions about the deal she said that Mayfair initially brought up the idea of a buyback in February 2017: "I got Twilight back for less than they purchased it. This is a very unusual circumstance and very unfortunate."
• In news not quite as old, in January 2018 The Creativity Hub changed its name to Hub Games, with a new logo to match, to reflect the company's change in focus. In May 2017, The Creativity Hub had sold the Rory's Story Cubes line to Asmodee — you knew that company had to appear at least once in a round-up like this, right? — after which the company shifted its focus "exclusively to the world of tabletop gaming", launching both Blank and Untold: Adventures Await (which makes use of Story Cubes in its gameplay). An excerpt from the press release announcing the change:
Hub Games aims to publish games that foster discussion between players at the table and beyond; games with heart. By encouraging self-expression through play and having gamers reflect on the choices they make, Hub Games looks to push past the idea of games being simple entertainment. "There is a space in the tabletop world for games that give us more," said Michael Fox, Hub Games' Community Manager. "We still aim to create incredible games, but if players want to scratch the surface and look a bit deeper, they'll find reasoning behind every decision in what we produce. We want players to think about what they're playing, and for those choices they make in game to stay with them long after they leave the table."
The current market is more a periodicals business than one that encourages growing and nurturing single games, leading to our evergreen titles — Munchkin and Zombie Dice — dropping in sales. Gross income was roughly $5.5 million, down about $500,000 from the previous year. Fortunately, the year was break-even, perhaps even slightly profitable; we'll have final numbers once our business office closes the books (and we will update this report at that time).
Reed adds this thought later in the report: "The flood of games continues to overwhelm distributors, retailers, and shelves, leading to an accelerated release schedule for many publishers as games get less time as a 'new release' and get dumped online as fast as they leave the 'hot and new' category." FFG's Christian Petersen mirrored this observation in an ICv2 post in December 2017: "Distributors no longer really had any time to talk about new product, talk about how those products could grow and make those stores more successful, and how they could gain new audiences... Cycle in, cycle out. The long tail-end game started really dramatically changing. They would come in, stock out, and then because that shelf space needed to be replaced so fast, it has affected the tail end of some games that should have been classics and evergreens."
I managed a comic book store from 1987 to 1990, and I hadn't considered the game industry as a periodicals business previously, but this point of view encapsulates much of what's happening on the market, from the regular release of expansion packs for games (whether FFG's Living Card Games or Star Wars: Destiny or SJG's own Munchkin Collectible Card Game, which launched in stores on February 21, 2018) to the accelerated release pattern of new editions of games (with five-year anniversary editions instead of ten or revised versions of a Kickstarted title within a year or two). BGG attended three conventions in February, and we recorded more than a hundred game overview videos in Nürnberg, recorded dozens more in Cannes, and shot dozens of pics of still more in New York. Hundreds more games are being announced each month aside from all of these we covered, and at a certain point you as a player become immune to it all, being content to reach into the waterfall to grab a few drops while everything else drains away in the river of clearance sales.
Some publishers still resist being part of that waterfall; they're content to publish only a few titles annually and push those titles over many months, while other publishers drop one or two titles a month into the stream, absorbing what sales they can for each before hopping to the next stone in the river.
• In late February 2018, Kotaku published an article on the 1909 board game Suffragetto, a game that sets "Suffragettes — women seeking the right to vote — against London police, with players basically orchestrating running street battles between the groups". From the article:
There was an element of territorial control to it, however; the suffragettes had to hold onto Royal Albert Hall (a key landmark of their struggle) while trying to seize the House of Commons, while the police had to protect parliament while attempting to seize Albert Hall.
If a suffragette is taken, they’re moved to a prison space on the board. And touching on the street fighting theme of the game, if a police piece was taken, they’d be sent to hospital to recover from their wounds. Should both sides lose six or more pieces, then a prisoner swap could be arranged between the two players.
The article also states that "The game was lost and forgotten for decades until being recently rediscovered in 2016...", but that's not accurate given that Suffragetto has been listed in the BGG database since 2012 courtesy of user herace who devotes a fair amount of time to researching historical games.
• Funagain Games has announced that it will cease its online retail activity "in the coming months", and it will also stop serving as a fulfillment house for Kickstarter projects, although it's promised to fulfill all existing contracts through June 1, 2018 based on comments I've seen from KS project creators. I contacted the company to see whether it wanted to say something more than "all things inevitably change", but they declined to add to that public statement. Funagain was my online store of choice because it had a long history of offering a wider range of games than other online game retailers, and I appreciated them making that effort, although it was hardly altruistic on their part since they just wanted me to buy those wacky, obscure games.
Funagain will maintain brick-and-mortar stores in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, but since those stores can't carry thousands of titles, the company is holding a clearance sale to liquidate most of its inventory.
• Designer Grant Rodiek has an interesting post on his Hyperbole! blog titled "Why I think Rising Sun really matters", and while he's approaching the game from the point of view of a designer and what designers might learn from Rising Sun, what stood out for me the most was this line: "The number one barrier to tabletop are rules. Full stop."
Okay, yes, that line stood out for me because I've been saying that for years. When you see what you perceive as truth in someone else's work, you like it more automatically. Rodiek's point is that Rising Sun does asymmetry the right way: "Every player gets one, clear, special item." You don't have a half-dozen things to remember about what you can do, not to mention the half-dozen things that each opponent can do and how all of those things interact and how one of them might spoil your plans, but you're not sure, yet you don't want to ask about it as that will reveal said plans, so you start consulting the rulebook instead or skimming BGG during the game and everyone's like, "C'mon, man, take your turn!"
I can greatly appreciate that push toward more streamlined asymmetry because I'm terrible at remembering exceptions. More generally, though, I think constantly about how the need to learn rules are probably what keeps games from being more widely accepted by the public at large. I encounter those fears whenever I host a casual game day and people have to learn something new, even when they're learning from someone who knows the game and has explained it numerous times. This process is better than someone reading from a rulebook while everyone else at the table tries to figure out what's being said in this strange otherworldly language of games, but it's hard to reproduce that experience of hands-on learning in a retail box.
The winners on stage following the final announcement
Our livestream game demonstrations from the show on BGG's Twitch channel resume at 10:30 local time (GMT+1), which is 4:30 a.m. EST. Here is the current broadcast schedule, with more publishers being added as they stop by our booth or I catch them in the hallway.
The news that some gamers have been anticipating — and possibly dreading — has arrived: Asmodee has acquired German publisher Lookout Games.
This news shouldn't be a surprise. In November 2017, Mayfair Games — which had purchased a controlling interest in Lookout Games in 2013 — parted ways with employees Alex Yeager, Julie Yeager, Chuck Rice and Dan Decker, all of whom worked on marketing, public relations, and distribution. As I noted on Dec. 1, 2017, this left most of the Mayfair development team — which was essentially the Lookout Games development team — intact, which suggested that games were still being signed and developed, with the distribution of those games to be left in the hands of someone else.
While Lookout Games was doing its thing, owner Mayfair Games apparently wasn't. Lookout's SPIEL '17 releases — including Nusfjord, Riverboat, Isle of Skye: Journeyman, and the Agricola: Artifex Deck — were sold at that show in English and German editions, but only the German copies made it into widespread distribution, but the English-language games didn't make it to retail outlets in North America. (At BGG.CON 2017 in November, Alex Yeager had told me that English-language versions of these games wouldn't be shipped to North America until January 2018 — a date that has now passed, in case you hadn't noticed.)
Asked about this, Girke says, "Well, the games should have been on the ship to the U.S. pre-Essen. For reasons out of my reach, it didn't happen, so most of the games slated for the U.S. have now been sold to the UK and other EN-language buying European markets. But we managed to schedule early reprints to be ready to ship games as soon as this deal was done."
As for that deal, here's the first part of the press release issued today by Asmodee:
Lookout GmbH, Publisher of Cult Classic Agricola, to Join the Asmodee Group
Asmodee Group, a leading international games publisher and distributor, is pleased to announce today the acquisition of German based board and card game publisher Lookout GmbH.
Founded in 2000 by Hanno Girke, Lookout GmbH are well known for series such as the cult classic Agricola, a Euro style board game created by the celebrated designer Uwe Rosenberg, which launched in 2007 and Caverna, an update and new take on the former, that went on to garner critical acclaim.
Most recently, Lookout GmbH published 'Isle of Skye', a tile laying game that won numerous awards throughout 2015 and 2016, including the coveted 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres.
Lookout GmbH will remain an independent studio within Asmodee and ASS Altenburger GmbH will continue to handle German language distribution. In North America, distribution duties will now be handled by Asmodee North America following on from the great platform that Mayfair Games helped establish. European distribution for English language products will be handled by Asmodee European distribution business units whilst the remaining territories will fall under the responsibility of Asmodee Group situated in Paris.
An Asmodee North America (ANA) spokesperson confirms that many of the Lookout titles from SPIEL '17, as well as out-of-stock items like Bärenpark, are on their way to the U.S. "Details about North American release dates will be made public shortly."
You might notice something missing from that headline and the first few paragraphs of the press release, namely the fate of Mayfair Games itself. All of the fanfare in this announcement is for Lookout Games, and that's understandable given that (1) Asmodee had already acquired the English-language rights to Catan from Mayfair in early 2016, with Catan being the biggest part of Mayfair's business at that time and (2) since its sale of Catan, Mayfair had largely transformed itself into a publisher of games from Lookout. If you look over the list of games that Mayfair released in 2017—
—all but three of those titles originated at Lookout, with the three exceptions being a revamped edition of Iron Dragon (first released by Mayfair in 1994), as well as two titles licensed from German publisher AMIGO: Portal of Heroes and Saboteur: The Duel. (Side note: In December 2017, AMIGO established a U.S. division in Austin, Texas for the release of its own games in English. AMIGO plans to debut these titles at the NY Toy Fair in mid-February 2018, and I'll have details on its initial U.S. line-up in the near future.) In 2016, Mayfair's only new non-Lookout title was Steam: Expansion #5, which was designed by Morgan Dontanville, who had left Mayfair in 2016 to join the newly formed Catan Studio.
So what's happening with Mayfair?
Mayfair Games Inc., a long-standing game publisher based out of Skokie, Illinois, is withdrawing from games publishing and have entered into an agreement with Asmodee to assume all their current IP. "Mayfair Games has a 36-year history for publishing great games," said Larry Roznai, President of Mayfair Games. "In Asmodee we have found a partner who will provide a platform for the continuation of our best games."
Will the Mayfair Games brand continue to exist? "That, sir, is up to them," Roznai told me, adding that "[t]hey will own all of our trademarks and copyrights, and what they choose to do with it is still undetermined. I am retiring." Girke confirms that all English-language releases of Lookout designs will now bear the Lookout Games logo.
The ANA spokesperson says, "We have yet to make any decisions about how we manage the Mayfair brand in the future, but Asmodee is proud to be able to bring Mayfair's games into our portfolio. We recognize the heritage behind some of the best known titles (such as the 18xx series) and we are looking at the best way to develop these IPs in the future." ANA is also talking with Gen Con about floor plans for 2018 since Mayfair Games had a long history at that convention, and whether that highly-prized floor space comes with the purchase of Mayfair itself is unclear.
Why didn't Asmodee just purchase all of Mayfair in early 2016 instead of solely the rights to Catan? In December 2017, I speculated as follows: "Lookout Games' releases in 2016 and 2017 have been hit after hit after hit, so perhaps Asmodee has decided that it acted hastily at the end of 2015 when it acquired only the English-language rights to Catan from Mayfair and left the rest of the company alone. I'd wager we'll find out what's happening once the calendar flips over to 2018 just one month from now..."
I put that question to the parties involved, with the ANA spokesperson saying, "It wasn't for sale then", and Girke confirming this: "Back in 2016, there were no talks about an acquisition of Lookout." Roznai paints a slightly different picture, saying, "That is because they didn't want the rest at that time."
As for how this deal came about now, Girke says, "Asmodee offered an opportunity to grow, especially on the U.S. market. Talks started last fall, and we've been in great discussions since... I'm not at all involved in the Mayfair-Asmodee deal. All I can confirm is that Asmodee took over the 74% of Lookout that Mayfair held, as well as the 26% that were still in my possession." The ANA spokesperson confirms this arrangement, stating that "Asmodee has paid separately for both Mayfair's shares in Lookout & Mayfair's inventory and IP assets. Our understanding is that Mayfair have cleared all their debts themselves."
To finish the press release:
"It's an exciting task to run Lookout as a studio, and I'm grateful to have been selected for it. It is good to be back." said Hanno Girke, Lookout GmbH. "I'm also proud to announce that Lookout bolsters their ranks by adding Ralph Bienert (who was running Games' Up) and Atelier 198's Andrea Kattnig to their crew."
"We're thrilled to welcome Lookout GmbH to the Asmodee Group," said Stephane Carville, President of Asmodee. "With a great pedigree of Euro games in their portfolio, their spectacular range of Euro classics are sure to enchant generations of players to come."
For context to the statement above, after Mayfair had acquired a controlling interest in Lookout, Girke had stepped aside from the company, focusing on his primary job as a teacher with his wife Doris Girke-Meßmer acting as managing director of Lookout. That has changed with the company's acquisition by Asmodee. "I quit my teacher's job to take over as the Head of Studio, focusing on the creative side. Doris is still with the company, helping me with the non-creative side of the job."
As for what's coming from Lookout, Girke relates this about the line-up shown above: "We had some great releases in the last years, so one of our main foci will be to give them time to grow, supporting them with expansions, promos, and other fancy things. Still, we're proud that we found another set of great gems that we'll publish along with them. Expect Lookout to do what Lookout does best. Yes, I'm also more than excited about the new Patchwork versions. Klemens is working on a set of new fabrics at the moment, to give him a break from all the Agricola cards he still has on his list. There'll be a bunch of new promos…2018 will be an exciting year. And I can promise you a very special, Lookout-like Easter Egg. Oh wait, it's just six weeks until Easter…"
Asked for a final status, Roznai says, "Lookout sold, Mayfair Europe closed, Mayfair USA closed, Twilight [Creations] back with Kerry" — with this latter development having been covered by BGG News here. At the GAMA Trade Show, which he regularly attended, he said he would be "Doing a seminar, maybe a few panels, helping GAMA with hall monitor service. And I will be going to Gen Con for the fun..."
Have you been betting with other gamers which company Asmodee would purchase next? If so, whoever had their money on Polish publisher Rebel can soon collect as the Asmodee Group — the official name of Asmodee — has announced that it's entered into "exclusive discussions to acquire REBEL SP. Z O.O." — the official name of Rebel. (You might recognize the phrase "exclusive discussions" from the mid-2016 announcement that Asmodee was going to acquire F2Z Entertainment, owner of Z-Man Games. That phrase means only that no one else is competing with Asmodee to acquire this company.)
Here's the press release about the deal issued by Asmodee North America:
Founded in 2003 by Piotr Katnik, Rebel distributes boardgames and hobby products and has been a long-standing distributor of the Asmodee Group studios and partners.
The synergy between Asmodee's catalogue and Rebel's operations in Poland is a great opportunity to bring new games, from the Asmodee Group studios and from all Asmodee partners to this market.
Thanks to this operation, Asmodee will have a direct access to the fastest growing game market in Europe of a size of 95M€.
"We are delighted to establish a deeper partnership with Rebel and strengthen our position in Poland. Rebel and Asmodee have been partners for more than 10 years and this next step will allow us to bring our boardgames and those of our publishing partners to a new level in Poland." said Stéphane Carville CEO of Asmodee Group.
"We are proud to join the Asmodee Group, with which we share the same philosophy: a focus on great games. The Polish market is very demanding and wants top quality products and service. As a part of the Asmodee Group we will be able to strengthen and diversify our boardgame and cardgame ranges enabling us to bring the very best games from the hobby market to the largest possible audience in Poland." said Piotr Katnik, CEO of Rebel.
One note about that "fastest growing game market in Europe" line: While creating listings for the Small World: Power Pack expansions in January 2018, I was curious about the different versions of the games being released: English, German, French, and...Polish. I have no way to judge the size of the markets from where I sit except through details such as these. After all, if you want to make more money as a publisher, one way to do that is to release games in the languages that you think will lead to the greatest return.
A second note comes courtesy of the Polish version of the announcement on the Rebel website, which begins: "Established in 2003 by Piotr Kątnik and Paweł Piechota, Rebel is a distributor of board games and accessories, including products from the Asmodee Group and its partners for many years." I don't know why Paweł Piechota would be listed in one announcement and not the other, but I wanted to point out the disparity.
My inbox is a deep well, one that I drain at the end of each year in preparation for fresh waters to come. Along the way, I've uncovered more mergers, purchases, distribution deals, and other behind-the-scenes interactions between publishers and on the staff of publishing companies. Before we get to those, however, let's start with fresh news:
• Turns out that sometimes speculation takes you far afield from what's happening behind the scenes. In October and November 2017, Mayfair Games released a few employees, specifically those who worked on marketing, public relations, and distribution. All signs pointed to a buyout, but on Dec. 21, 2017 ICv2 posted that Mayfair Games has merely "expanded its relationship with Alliance Game Distributors", with Alliance now handling all shipping to trade channels and individual buyers as well as assuming "an expanded sales role for non-hobby channels".
• In 2017, Game Salute launched Flying Meeple as a separate brand for light games aimed at children and families, and to start 2018 the company has created two other imprints: Sparkworks, which will release "family-friendly" games of all types, and Starling Games, which will focus on strategy games, Euro-style games, and "generally heavier" games. Starling is launching with James A. Wilson's Everdell, a tableau-building and worker placement game that's on Kickstarter through January 23, 2018.
• U.S. publisher Compass Games has hired Uli Blennemann, owner of Spielworxx and developer with ADC Blackfire Entertainment GmbH, as "Brand Manager of Board Games", leading a new "Eurogame division" within the company while Compass will continue to release military simulations as they've done since their founding in 2004. In a press release announcing the hiring, Blennemann said, "Compass is already a major force in historical gaming; we intend to make it a 'player' in Euro type gaming as well in the next few years." Compass plans to release its first "Euro-type" games in 2018, but no word yet on what they might be.
• In August 2017, UK distributor Coiledspring Games announced an exclusive distribution deal with IELLO for distribution of its titles in the UK. In a press release, Coiledspring managing director Roger Martin said, "We are investing in an extensive marketing programme, which includes in-store demos, game-changing bonus cards, and exclusive giveaways."