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W. Eric Martin
In early December 2016, I asked what people wanted to see in this space in 2017. Many of the answers were "more of the same" or "focus on new game releases", with lots of support for "more written posts instead of videos" and some support for "more videos", "more general articles" and "come to UK Games Expo" among other, more varied responses. (Many commenters wrote about things that are not my responsibility, such as the remainder of the redesign, so I have nothing to say along those lines.) I'm still trying to work out a weekly publication plan, but I do hope to satisfy most of the desires expressed.
I have started convention plans for Spielwarenmesse, NY Toy Fair, Festival International des Jeux (a.k.a. Cannes), GAMA Trade Show and PAX East, with more to come down the line. Still need to find hotels and by tickets in some cases, but progress is happening. UK Games Expo is probably still a miss this year as I'm already adding a couple of shows and my wife doesn't hate me so much that she wants me away from home all the time.
The convention preview for those first three shows will debut Monday, January 2, 2017 — with another post later the same day sure to produce more immediate excitement and feedback — and I thank Chad Roberts for help with additions to the BGG database to help prepare this preview. I've started a Slack group in which I share raw information early so that others can add game listings to the BGG database, similar to what I have done in this Geeklist; by doing this, I hope to get games into circulation on BGG and in convention previews more quickly. If you want to join the Slack group and help submit game listings to the BGG database, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. With a dozen or so people in the group, each person would have to take charge of only one or two publishers in order to knock everything out far more quickly than I could on my own.
As for publishing all of the videos and images that I took during 2016 before the end of the year, well, I made progress, but that plan took a tumble when a full glass of ice water tumbled across my laptop in the final days of December. It's hard to work with a blank screen and a non-responsive keyboard! I'm now back in business and hope to finish everything off in the next week or two.
Aldie, Lincoln, Stephanie and I will livestream a chat about gaming in 2016 on Thursday, January 5 at 9:00 p.m. EST (GMT -5). Not sure what channel we'll be on, but I'll tweet a link once we're close to going live.
I did achieve one solid goal: Inbox Zero. I often get behind on responses and news and other things due to messages piling up during conventions and just through my non-responsiveness while I do other things. Now I've cleared the docket and intend to keep it clear, with Chad Krizan acting as my patron saint of inbox cleanliness.
Aside from that, my 2017 patron badge is now in place. AdBlock is active for another year, and it's time to move on to other tasks — or perhaps even play a game...
W. Eric Martin
In November 2016, designer Mark Goadrich announced that a new edition of his card game Gene Pool was available through The Game Crafter, with new artwork by Ariel Seoane. Goadrich first released Gene Pool in a 200-copy edition in 2006 through his own Goadrich Games, followed by two hundred more copies in a second printing in 2009.
When I saw this announcement, Alec Guinness' voice immediately popped to mind: "Now, that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time." You see, before I started writing for BoardGameGeek in January 2011, I ran my own site — BoardgameNews.com — for four years, starting in November 2006 when BGN founder Rick Thornquist decided he wanted to move on to other things. At that time, I had contributed a handful of articles to BGN, these being company profiles combined with game reviews, with one of those articles profiling Goadrich and Gene Pool.
To celebrate this new edition, I thought I'd reprint that profile, first published on BGN on Nov. 1, 2006. It's fascinating to see how much work I put into this profile, which mirrors the many articles that I wrote for trade publications throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. I haven't done something like this in a long time...
Company profile—Goadrich Games / Review—Gene Pool
If you wanted to create an encyclopedia of the types of game players, you're unlikely to find a better example of the "new Eurogame fan to game designer" archetype than Mark Goadrich.
Goadrich grew up playing chess, cribbage, euchre, and the standard assortment of abstract and party games with his family. "It wasn't until graduate school when a friend showed me Ricochet Robots, quickly followed by Settlers, that I was hooked on the Euro game craze," he says.
Like most newcomers to the world of designer games, Goadrich started with the classic gateway games, then moved on to more involved titles. Gateway games are sometimes derided as being "dumbed down" for stupid people, but Goadrich — who received his Ph.D. in computer science in 2006 — has a hard time buying that argument. "By working up from light to heavy games," he says, "I'm trying to follow the way most fields of education are hierarchically organized, starting with the fundamentals and then building to the more complex advanced material."
"Games like No Thanks, Bohnanza, For Sale, and King Me! are great introductory games," he explains. "They deal with one major mechanic per game and are very quick and elegant, like a powerful short story. It's helpful to have some experience with these one-shot mechanics before mixing them together and jumping into Power Grid, Reef Encounter, or Scepter of Zavandor — great novel-length epics, but very intimidating if you have little gaming context. Of course, you can stop anywhere you like. I love the simple and elegant 30-minute fillers, but I'm also learning there's a lot to offer with a well-designed two-hour game that I never would have had the patience for had I not played the earlier fillers and Spiel des Jahres winners."
After playing Carcassonne in 2003, Goadrich awoke the following morning with a new game erupting from his head like Athena, and game design has been his hobby ever since. "I took a risk and went to Protospiel 2004 with a friend and a few prototypes in hand, not knowing what to expect," he says. "I've been back ever since because of the people I've met and the amount of knowledge about game design you can gain just by playing other prototypes."
Given his educational background, hearing Goadrich talk about game design won't come as a surprise. "In my mind, designing games is a lot like computer programming," he says. "There's iteration, game states, inputs and outputs, although compilation time is much longer... Seeing a game come to life is fascinating for me, where playtesting is an evolutionary process full of punctuated equilibrium, and the driving force of the game evolution are the elusive goals of fun and game balance. None of my games have stayed the same once they jumped out of my head and into a prototype form, and that's a good thing."
"The goal for Goadrich Games is to put out high-quality, small print-runs for my game designs while staying on a small budget; any game I publish in this format will probably have no more than 200 copies total," he says.
Gene Pool, his first published title, sold out its 200-copy print run in October 2006, and Goadrich is now hoping to find a publisher to pick up the game and deliver it to a broader audience. "While taking a game from idea to actually assembling 200 copies made me very proud, I find the game design side much more intriguing," he says.
As for future plans, Goadrich says, "I do have a few other prototypes nearing completion: one about elections on a small island (which some playtesters have called "Die Macher in half-an-hour"), and a set-collecting resource-management game about the black market antiquity trade (which used to be about collecting African violets). I hope to have both wrapped up by 2007 and either make the rounds with publishers or have them come out in another small edition from Goadrich Games; both prototypes have around 100 cards, a few plastic cubes and a scoreboard, making them very suitable for a small print-run."
Mark Goadrich's first self-published game, Gene Pool, is a simple and clever two-player card game in which you try to manipulate a sequence of genes to match combinations on your scoring cards.
"Gene Pool isn't the first game I've designed, but it is the first one which felt ready to be published," says Goadrich. "The idea for Gene Pool came on an afternoon drive from Minneapolis to Madison from my wife's suggestion to design a game about viruses. While thinking about a larger virus game with CDC, biohazards, etc, what struck me was the way that viruses can take over cells and rewrite your DNA while your body tries to fight back. This was the inspiration for having two players both modify a common sequence of DNA, which turned out to be a great little puzzle on its own and became Gene Pool."
The DNA sequence in Gene Pool mimics the one in the human body. The game includes two types of Base Pair cards: one with Adenine/Thymine and the other with Guanine/Cytosine. The cards have giant letters (A or T, G or C) in opposite corners. You start the game by shuffling and inverting three of each type of Base Pair, then laying them out in a row. Reading the row from left to right creates a gene sequence, say, GCAGTT; reading the row upside-down inverts that sequence: AACTGC.
During the game, players take actions to alter this gene sequence. You can insert a Base Pair card from your hand into the middle of the sequence and snip a gene off either end; you can add a Base Pair to either end and delete from the middle; you can mutate one Base Pair card into another by playing one from your hand; or you can invert a section of the sequence, rotating one to five cards around an axis. "The insertion, deletion, mutation and inversion actions are taken directly from how DNA really changes and mutates in our cells over time," says Goadrich.
Ready to begin play (2006 edition)
Each player starts with one of each Base Pair in hand, along with a Gene Research card worth one year. Gene Research cards have a sequence of four or five genes associated with a particular disease; cards with four genes are worth one year, cards with five genes worth two years. If at the end of your turn, part of the gene sequence in either direction matches a Gene Research card you hold, you can claim that claim; whoever claims nine years' worth of cards first wins the game.
Two other actions available to players are drawing a Base Pair card, which allows you to prepare for future turns, and drawing a Gene Research card, which seems like a desperation move because you automatically draw one if you have none in hand at the end of your turn.
Gene Pool is easy to learn and play; the listed playing time is 30 minutes, but my games rarely took more than 10. Luck of the draw can be a factor, especially when you're playing for the first time and don't know the Gene Research deck. Once you've played a few times, you can sometimes guess what your opponent is trying to create and thwart him while simultaneously working toward your own goals. You can try to hoard one type of Base Pairs, but this tactic usually doesn't frustrate an opponent for long.
Aside from the appealing game play, Gene Pool also raises the bar for what buyers can expect from a self-published game. While the tuckbox is clearly a cut-and-glue job, the cards and rules are full-color and extremely attractive. "Gene Pool is all hand-assembled by myself and my wife, without whom this game could never have been made," says Goadrich. "We decided that if we were going to make some copies, we'd make them as professional-looking as possible but at the same time not go into debt doing so, thus the appeal of the postcard printing and die-press punching option."
Goadrich has detailed his game production experience on the Board Games Designer's Forum, and his posts are recommended for anyone interested in self-publication. [Editor's note: These posts don't seem to be available any longer.] "It's much more work that I thought it would be when I started getting serious about self-publishing, and I've made mistakes and learned lessons from this that will make the next attempt much easier, such as to never use the die-press machine again," he says. "Over the 200 games, we'll have made over 2,600 punches. Next time it's off to a card-finishing place that will cut out the cards for us."
Ideally, another publisher will pick up Gene Pool and republish it for a wider audience. The game has a built-in educational appeal, but unlike many games designed for didactic purposes, Gene Pool is actually fun. Who knew such a thing was possible?
Designer Mark Goadrich with copy #1/200 in 2006
W. Eric Martin
I had originally intended to publish my SPIEL 2016 unpacking pictorial today, but I forgot to move its publication date when I queued the recent links round-up, so instead I double-posted on Saturday and have nothing for today. Helaas, pindakaas.
Rather than leave this calendar slot empty, however, let's make something out of nothing, specifically by looking ahead to 2017. December has no gaming events (as far as BGG coverage is concerned), so I'm using this month to clear out still-unpublished pictures and videos from the 2016 conventions I attended (assuming these items are still relevant), stockpile new game overview videos (while trying to improve my presentation and editing skills), plan for convention coverage in 2017, and figure out how to cover what needs to be covered without going loopy.
These latter two items are the hardest since the number of games keeps escalating each year. Chad Krizan and I have been pondering since at least 2014 when the bubble will break, but that's a conversation for another time — and even if the number of new titles were cut in half, I still couldn't cover all of the games that I'd want to feature. We live in an age of rich gaming choices, with more to play than we can get to the table, and while that's good for us as players, I can't just work faster to cover more games in the same amount of time. Instead I need to determine what deserves the most attention from me, while trying to enlist help to make sure that the database entries and convention previews are still taken care of.
We're already planning our usual trip to Spielwarenmesse at the start of February in order to film 80-100 game preview videos. Two weeks after that I'll hit NY Toy Fair for 1.5 days to fly through the Javits Center and pick out titles from the mainstream offerings. One week after that, I plan to visit Festival International des Jeux in Cannes, France to see what that show is like. We've never been to Cannes, so I have no idea what to expect, making this a scouting expedition to discover what's there and see whether we should bring more BGG bodies in the future. Two weeks after that is the GAMA Trade Show, and by that point we'll be starting to think about Origins, Gen Con, and SPIEL in more detail.
With that in mind, what do you want to see more of in this space? What can you do without? What would you want to see from our convention coverage that we don't do now? What can you tell me about Cannes? What do you want to see from me?
I already have a long list of suggestions for the convention preview format, both from users and from my own experience in creating the previews, so I don't need much to think about along those lines. That said, if anyone is interested in helping to assemble convention previews or submit material for this space, please let me know — preferably via email at the address in the BGG News header. Otherwise comment below and help to shape the future!
W. Eric Martin
After SPIEL 2015, I posted a video that showed how I had nested boxes inside one another to save space when shipping them back to the U.S. I had shipped games home that year since I was traveling in Europe after the convention, but following SPIEL 2016 I brought (almost) everything home with me, which meant that I needed to nest and nest again in order to make them fit. I did ship a few games to Dallas for pick-up at BGG.CON 2016 as I still couldn't fit everything into two suitcases and one backpack, but I did a decent job of it, so I thought I'd share a few pics in case you want advice for your future convention trips.
To start, here's the initial stack of games that I took out of my suitcases and backpack:
Some publishers make it easy for you to pack because they're also making it easy for themselves. What I mean by that is that larger publishers typically use standard box sizes for their game titles: all card games come in this box, all €10 games come in this box, all €20 games in this box, and so on. They standardize their packaging for multiple reasons, such as making it easier for retailers to display certain games together.
One benefit of this, as shown here, is that the small rectangular Pegasus Spiele box fills exactly half the space of a medium rectangular Pegasus Spiele box. Once I punched the components of Chariot Race — thereby lightening that game's weight — I had plenty of space to fit those two smaller Pegasus games inside.
Dicetree Games' new version of Winner's Circle features a perfectly organized insert (as shown at right) that holds every item in a separate space to keep stuff locked into place during shipping and later travel.
Naturally I threw it out. When I can either pay €100 to ship an extra bag home or throw out an insert, the insert is finding a new home in the plastic-recycling bins that are ever-present in Germany. I'll manage just fine with baggies later, thank you very much.
You have a few basic tenets when Tetrising games following a convention:
• Punch out and baggie all components. You might not save much weight with each individual game, but when you have several dozen games, you'll reduce the weight by a non-negligible amount — and should you be bringing home something like A Feast for Odin, you might knock a kilogram out of your bag via that box alone!
Aside from the weight, you also regain volume; four punchboards might be reduced to a couple of bags that will fit on the side of other games in the available space, as seen here with the bits from Pecunia non olet nestled up against at least three other games.
• Large square boxes, a.k.a. your typical KOSMOS box, can be a bane or blessing. Zoch Verlag's Kilt Castle requires a large box due to the game board, components, and retail price, but once you punch the tokens and ditch the insert you have a lot of space in which to nest other games. The only problem is that sometimes you'll find yourself with a half-dozen large square boxes, and you can't do anything about fitting them inside one another.
• Organize your games by size, then start with the smallest games: punch bits, pitch catalogs, throw out rules in languages that you don't need. Yes, that might make it more difficult to resell your games in 2021 to that Finnish guy who's desperately seeking an out-of-print and quite pricey Honshu, but so be it. I'm not thinking of resale value when I bring games home; I'm thinking of how they'll play, not to mention not spending more money now to get those games home!
Once you've prepared the smallest games, start with the next smallest ones, tucking the small ones inside where possible. As you fill these medium-ish boxes, set them aside in a "full" pile; place any other medium-ish boxes in an "empty" pile. Maybe you'll pick up a tiny filler tomorrow that will fit perfectly inside that Justice League: Hero Dice – Flash box.
Keep working from small to large until each box is as dense as possible. In my experience, volume is typically more of a problem than weight (although you do want to be mindful of weight at the same time), so maximizing the density of a game will allow you to pack more games in the same space.
Oh, hey, here's another larger square box. What's inside this time?
A Korean game, another Japanese game, and the ship/bowl goodie for The Oracle of Delphi. (Are those bowls even useful? I've played Delphi twice, and I'm not sure why I would need them or how I would use them. I typically just pile stuff on the table and don't worry about sorting everything out. At right, for example, is how the contents of Delphi currently look in my box.)
But wait — there's more!
Yes, another Justice League: Hero Dice game awaits inside Animal Auction, with MathTornado inside that. Gameception!
And once everything was unboxed, I had twice the volume of the earlier stacks. Yes, you can rail against publishers being wasteful and using boxes that are too big, and I won't fault you for doing so, but most publishers do so for specific reasons and aren't likely to change in the future. At best, you can rebox games in your own containers or stack expansions inside the base game or cut down boxes to the size that works for you or, you know, get fewer games.
Thanks to all of these weight- and space-saving efforts, I had plenty of room to bring home from Germany the most important things available there...
W. Eric Martin
April 1, 2016 is almost here, with that date being the start of Asmodee North America's new sales policies for U.S. hobby game retailers, whether brick-or-mortar retailer, online retailer, or both, so I thought I'd reflect on what's changing and why. These statements are my own (except when I quote someone) and are based on my experience in the industry and multiple interviews on and off the record; they do not reflect the opinion of my employer, BoardGameGeek LLC. With that in mind, let's go...
In its March 2016 issue, Inc. profiled Pharmapacks, a $70 million retail business in the U.S. that sells a somewhat random assortment of items through the online marketplaces on eBay, Walmart.com, Overstock, and (most importantly) Amazon.com, from which Pharmapacks earns 40% of its revenue. Here's an excerpt from Burt Helm's article:
[T]hey discovered that selling on a platform like Amazon was totally different from running their drugstore or even a standalone website... They could sell whatever they wanted, at whatever price, for whatever period of time. A marketplace vendor doesn't worry about stocking a full line of shampoos, or whether certain soaps are always on sale. If they want to sell lotion one week and hairspray the next, they can do that.
Early on, the guys decided that it would be easiest to offer whatever their suppliers had in stock. They built each online listing, and had a developer code a script that scraped the suppliers' databases to enter each product's information. When a customer ordered something, they in turn would order it from the supplier, pick it up, and then pack and ship it. That's still the model, more or less, though nowadays they order in bulk using sales projections and need three trucks and a van to pick everything up. Inventory often stays in their warehouse only for a few hours before going right back out the door. The business is less like traditional merchandising than it is like a commodities trader from a bygone era, buying and selling well-known goods and turning a profit on each transaction.
The article notes that Pharmapacks averages a 3-6% net profit margin per item that it sells, while making 570,000 shipments each month on an inventory of 25,000 different products.
What does this have to do with games? Well, let's turn the clock back to December 2015 when the newly-formed Asmodee North America announced that as of the start of 2016 it would allow only five distributors in the U.S. — ACD Distribution, Alliance Game Distributors, GTS Distribution, PHD Games, and Southern Hobby Supply — to distribute its products to retailers within the country and that ANA "will be very selective as to which online merchants will be authorized to sell our products". While Pharmapacks doesn't retail games (as far as I can tell), it's an example of the type of company that ANA doesn't want handling its products — a business interested in short-term sales numbers with no consideration for long-term growth of the gaming hobby. To excerpt once again from the Inc. article:
The next time you buy some humdrum product on Amazon, pause for a moment and check the Other Sellers listed on the right side of the page. That lip balm? Thirteen vendors offer it. Those vitamins? Twenty. As you click and shop, a battle rages in that little box, fought every day by entrepreneurs like [Pharmapacks'] Vagenas and Tramunti on practically every one of Amazon's 410 million product pages.
This is the Amazon Marketplace, where anybody can sell just about anything right alongside Amazon's own wares. Unlike eBay, where each vendor maintains a separate listings page, Amazon tidily groups its Marketplace sellers by item, hiding away the inferior offers, to showcase the best deals up front. (In seller parlance, landing the number-one spot is called "getting the buy box.") What looks so clean on your screen obscures the messy and massive jungle of the Marketplace: There are now more than two million sellers on Amazon. While the Seattle-based giant still sells the most popular items on the site itself, Marketplace sellers now ship nearly half of the products — about two billion items each year, all told — and those sales are growing twice as fast as Amazon's, according to the consultancy ChannelAdvisor. The Marketplace started in 2000 selling used books. In 2016, it's a retail phenomenon as significant as any in the past 50 years — together these sellers ring up what ChannelAdvisor estimates to be $132 billion in sales each year. That's more than Walmart sold in 1997. Yet we know so little about who they are.
For the most part, buyers are comfortable not knowing who is selling them these products. They want Product X at the cheapest price possible — or (alternatively) a cheap price convinces them that Product X will be a fine replacement for Product Y or Z — and they know that if something goes wrong, Amazon will reimburse them for the purchase price.
Manufacturers, on the other hand, may not be comfortable having their goods sold for bargain basement prices. As ANA CEO Christian T. Petersen stated in an interview with ICv2 in Dec. 2015: "When we, or one of our publishing partners, start development of a game product, we do so with a conviction that the product will have a certain value to the gamer, the consumer. On the basis of this expected value, we invest in design, creative inputs, safety testing, manufacturing, marketing, licensing, and the many other aspects of successfully getting a game to market." Having games sold a few percentage points over cost diminishes the perceived value of the item, especially when a retailer (or a distributor acting as a retailer, which has happened in the past) dumps overstock, thereby tanking the market for that game, which necessitates dumping by all the other distributors as well in order not to get stuck with dead goods.
Part of "successfully getting a game to market" involves that final step of getting the game into the hands of players. While Fantasy Flight Games (which Asmodee acquired in Nov. 2014) and Days of Wonder (bought by Asmodee in August 2014) sell games directly through their websites, for the most part these brands and parent company Asmodee North America sell product either directly to mass-market vendors (Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble) or indirectly to retailers through distributors, and once those vendors or distributors get hold of the games, there's no telling where they'll end up for sale or for how much — and that's part of what ANA intends to change through the imposition of its new sales policies. (Note that all of these changes affect the U.S. only, despite the "North America" in the company's name.)
By cutting the number of distributors it works with — and more importantly by requiring each brick-and-mortar retailer to agree to the terms of its Asmodee North America Specialty Retail Policy (PDF) and become an "Asmodee Specialty Retailer" — ANA has an easier time tracking who's buying what. By requiring online hobby retailers to purchase items directly from ANA, the publisher will have similar knowledge on that section of the marketplace.
(During a 45-minute off-camera interview at GAMA Trade Show in March 2016, Petersen noted to me that some online retailers would effectively by buying from ANA via proxy, as with, say, CoolStuffInc, which is almost adjacent to a warehouse owned by GTS Distribution. In cases like those, Petersen said it made sense to take advantage of the proximity of the distributor to serve that customer more directly. Petersen also acknowledged that online retail outlets with an established brick-and-mortar presence, such as CSI, could continue both operations under the new ANA policies as long as the businesses are legally separated and the inventory for each business kept distinct. ANA CMO Steve Horvath and ANA VP of Marketing Aaron Elliott also participated in this interview.)
What's more, ANA is changing the discounts at which games are available to its B&M and online clients, with B&M purchasing games at roughly a 45% discount off MSRP (based on their purchase volume with the distributor) and with online receiving a substantially lower (albeit unpublicized) discount off MSRP. At GTS 2016 as part of the ANA Keynote Address, Petersen spent fifteen minutes laying out his explanation for why ANA is changing its discount policy, reaching back to the 1980s to identify how stores used to be the hub for how people discovered and learned more about games. Petersen said that game publishers adopted a discount policy at that time similar to the comic industry due to games often being sold through those same distributors, and despite all the changes that have taken place over the last thirty years, that discount policy has never been revisited, even though (in Petersen's view) online sellers provide little service to buyers beyond the mere availability to games. (Detractors view this change in discount as something designed to "prop up" B&M stores; Petersen would counter that the online retailers are the ones who have been propped up by a discount that outweighs their service to buyers and this change will balance discount for services provided.)
Brick-and-mortar stores, on the other hand, enable the long-term success of ANA based on the availability of games, the introduction of games to people not already in the hobby, the introduction of new games to those already in the hobby, and the development of a gaming community based on shared playing spaces and events. Fantasy Flight Games, for example, has supported organized play events for years for multiple games. In 2015 alone, FFG sold more than 33,000 event kits to B&M retailers, with Elliott estimating that "between two and three times as many kit-less events occur, putting the total number of global events easily above 100,000 for 2015". Asmodee started its own organized play program titled AsmoPlay in 2015, and it's expanding that program in 2016. Organized play programs are designed to encourage B&M retailers to promote these titles to new and existing players, and if ANA has a better idea of which stores are selling which games (which it will), it can in the future tailor event programs to match those sales records or reach out to stores to encourage more participation in such events.
In our interview, Petersen stated that ANA doesn't have hard numbers for the breakdown of sales via B&M and sales via online outlets (something they hope to change once these policies go into effect), but I believe — and multiple talks with people at various levels of the hobby have confirmed — that the vast majority of game sales are made through B&M outlets. Why change discount policies if this is true? For the same reason that Mayfair Games instituted similar changes in 2007, and to cover that history lesson, I present this lengthy column that I published on BoardgameNews.com on October 30, 2007:
Mayfair Games has announced a discount cap for its line of board and card games. What's relevant from the end user's point of view is that retailers must now offer no more than a 20% discount on Mayfair products or else risk losing the ability to carry Mayfair titles in the future. For reference, here's the announcement as it appeared on game industry forums:
Dear Trade Customers,
Greetings from Mayfair Games! Our team wishes you all well. After all, we wouldn't be looking forward to our 27th year of publishing fine games without your strong, enduring support.
We're writing to you to outline our retail pricing policy. Our manufacturer's suggested retail prices ("MSRPs") reflect our firm belief in a healthy balance between "free trade" and "fair trade." Mayfair Games embraces and supports healthy competition. We feel that in order for our market — and thus our company — to prosper now and over the long term all our partners in the distribution chain need to respect this balance.
Whenever a firm threatens healthy competition among our trade customers, and thus endangers this balance, we must act in a vigorous, even-handed fashion to police the distribution and sale of our fine products. Mayfair Games doesn't intend to specifically dictate how its customers do business...but we will act in cases of predatory, irrational, or patently detrimental trade activity...
So, it's important that all of our trade customers know where we stand on pricing and discounting...
• Distributors should sell Mayfair Games products at no less than a 25% margin or no more than a 50% discount off MSRP.
• Retailers should sell Mayfair Games products at no more than a 20% discount off MSRP, or the appropriate ratio given exchange rates.
Trade customers that violate these guidelines shall be subject to sanctions. If necessary, we will cut them off.
We're well aware of the fact that our individual customers operate under individual circumstances. Some are more profitable than others. Some seek to establish themselves or need to acquire some critical market share. Mayfair Games understands, and sympathizes with, this reality.
At the same time, we've been in business long enough to know that that it's far better for us to encourage healthy competition rather than cutthroat discounting. Ours is not a mass-market business, nor is it a business based on inter-changeable widgets. Our wares are special, unique, premium games. Savage discounting is unnecessary and counter-productive for everyone in the mid-to-long term. While some individual consumers might benefit in the short-run, rabid discounting only acts to erode the profits and incentives necessary to keep our market healthy.
As it is, consumers receive great entertainment value for full MSRP. It's unnecessary — and even a bit insane — to subsidize folks who already enjoy a good deal. It is far healthier for us, our distributors, and our retailers to derive a healthy profit from the sale of our games than it is for us to see them dumped into the marketplace. Every viable firm in our distribution chain should collect its fair profit and have an incentive to further promote, buy, and sell our games.
Our trade customers should endeavor to increase their profit margins, not their discounts. They can thus improve service, which — along with the high quality of our games — should be the principal means of growing our market.
Mayfair Games asks all its trade customers to understand that we are partners in growing a healthy games market. Again, we want free and fair trade. It's healthy...for all of us. It's in our best interest...and in the best interest of the entire social game industry.
That's all for now. Take care.
For Mayfair Games,
(CEO, Mayfair Games, Inc.)
The targets of this policy change — deep-discount online retailers — are clear (although anonymous), and the terms used to describe them and their practices are damning: "predatory, irrational, or patently detrimental"; "savage"; "rabid"; "a bit insane".
Response to the Mayfair announcement has been all over the place. BoardsandBits.com and Thoughthammer.com have announced that they'll abide by the new discount policy, while Boulder Games has vowed to stop carrying Mayfair titles. Retailers on one industry forum I frequent have applauded Mayfair and said that they'll demo the company's titles — such as the Catan line that relaunches in early November 2007 — more heavily over the holidays and beyond. Hardcore gamers on BoardGameGeek have run the gamut from personal boycotts to shoulder-shrugging. Casual gamers have no response because they don't even know about the policy change.
What's fascinated me the most are the predictions that gamers have posted on BoardGameGeek, most of which, quite frankly, are from people talking through their non-existent hats. Gamers with no retail business experience have posted ludicrous scenarios of how the Mayfair policy change will play out in the years ahead: Mayfair's sales will plummet, Mayfair will raise prices to make up for lower sales, Mayfair will have trouble signing designers due to lower sales, Mayfair will publish worse games in the future because other publishers won't want to license games to it due to its (say it with me now) lower sale volume.
How do I know these people have no retail business experience? Because they start their arguments with claims that contradict reality, and the surest way to reach faulty conclusions is to start with nonsense.
Chad Ellis of Your Move Games posted a long note on BGG detailing how retail works within the game industry, which I'll summarize for your education: Publishers typically sell product to distributors at 40% of the MSRP; distributors typically sell product to retailers at 50-60% of MSRP (with the discount dependent on the volume of business from the retailer and the goods purchased); retailers sell the product at 65%-100% of MSRP to customers.
Deep-discount online retailers are at the 65% end of the scale, offering customers 35% off the MSRP because they have relatively low fixed costs and want to encourage frequent, large, low-margin purchases. They make money on volume, so they want to move goods out the door as quickly as possible. Brick-and-mortar retailers fall on the 100% end of the scale, charging MSRP because they need the high margin on sales to cover their relatively high fixed costs. They make money on service, giving customers side benefits beyond the game itself to encourage repeat business.
Admittedly not all retail stores provide side benefits. Some of them feature no gaming space, no bulletin boards to find local gamers, no tournaments or open game days, employees or owners who don't know the games, poor return policies, no food or drinks for sale, no loyalty program, no preorder or special order program, and prices over MSRP. Some people have no game store at all within driving distance. Many people do have such stores nearby, however, and for these stores providing these types of services — along with electricity, garbage service, retail association fees, and so on — is part of the cost of doing business, a cost that must be covered by the margin on the products they sale.
Mayfair Games' open support for retail stores isn't new. In a May 2007 essay on ICv2, former CEO Will Niebling noted:
The game market needs a healthy balance of core market and broad market retailers. The former serve as our consistent retail foundation, the latter as a means of occasionally reaching out to a broader audience. Titles that appeal to the latter still sell in the core market; however, it's not a two-way street. This means that in order to sell the games that generate much if not most of the profit that keeps the industry alive and healthy, manufacturers rely on shops both within and without the core game trade.
Online game discounters cater to a subset of the core hobby gamer. These individuals know which games are new, what the BGG ratings on these games are, and what BGG even is. They tend to be very price-conscious and view anything that will cost them more money as a personal affront. (Such as, oh, I don't know, convention previews that take hundreds of hours of work...) Their view of this announcement is that Mayfair is gouging them, that Mayfair is adding a premium to the cost of its games, that Mayfair is putting itself at a competitive disadvantage, that Mayfair is engaging in price-fixing and short-sighted business practices.
Hogwash, says I.
Starting with the last claim and working backwards, "price-fixing" refers to sellers who collectively decide to charge a set price for an item, a practice that typically happens with a highly desirable item in short supply. A hypothetical example: When Zooloretto won Spiel des Jahres, for example, and retailers became aware that the game was in short supply from Rio Grande, if they had talked amongst one another and decided to sell the few copies still in stock at $60, that would be an example of price-fixing.
Every company that provides product to retailers, either directly or indirectly, sells the product under certain conditions, some of which are spelled out in business contracts and some of which are implied. Retailers can't, for example, add a label to a product that promises something not included within the packaging.
One thing that companies can do in their business contracts is specify pricing terms for the products to be sold. Why are Apple computers and iPods the same price no matter where they're sold? Look to the contracts that Apple signs with distributors and retailers. Yes, a retailer still has the ability to sell a product at whatever price it chooses, but if it's violating the terms of the business contract it signed to get that product, it shouldn't expect to get more stock in the future. The retailer knows the terms going in, and if it disagrees with the terms, it shouldn't carry the product.
Why do companies set pricing terms? For multiple reasons, but two are important for this discussion. First, they want give their products a certain image. An article on the Starbucks coffee chain that I read recently noted that you'll never see sales or discounts for its drinks. A quote from the article: "[Starbucks chairman Howard] Schultz wants you to view his product as the epitome of opulence."
Take this line from the Mayfair press release: "Our wares are special, unique, premium games." You might disagree with this assessment, but that's the image Mayfair wants to present. Mayfair can't compete on price with Hasbro because it doesn't produce games in the millions; what's more, it doesn't even want to pretend to compete on price. It has a specialty item unavailable elsewhere (in English) and it wants buyers to think of its products in those terms.
Mayfair isn't alone in this regard. The typical Spiel des Jahres winner is heavily discounted during the holidays and available in hundreds of non-game stores across Germany. When Ticket to Ride won SdJ in 2004, Days of Wonder refused to adopt a deep discount policy and offered the game to retailers only on its standard terms. Many retailers balked, and the game appeared in fewer locations than most SdJ winners. Days of Wonder doesn't want to sell discount games to looky-loos on the hunt for a bargain; it wants to sell beautiful games to customers again and again.
Besides, what would customers think when Ticket to Ride: Europe debuted at €40 after they saw Ticket to Ride advertised for, say, €25 all over the place? They'd probably feel like they were being taken advantage of, a feeling that gamers have today when thinking about being charged (gasp!) only 20% off the MSRP of Mayfair products.
As for the impact of this reduced retailer discount, how does it actually play out in practical terms? For a game with a $50 retail, a 20% discount equals $40 while a 35% discount brings the price down to $32.50 — a difference of $7.50. That's what all the fuss is about?! I don't know about the rest of you, but my wife and I spend far more than that when we go out for dinner — or even just for ice cream after dinner. Skip a $5 appetizer at some family restaurant and after tax and tip are worked in, you'll have saved the $7.50 needed to pay the exorbitant price now charged for a Mayfair big box game (not to mention saving yourself and your family the negative health effects of a deep-fried Texas Tonion). Alternatively, don't take a flyer on some cheap card game (just because it's cheap), and you'll be able to get the game you really want.
If you bought three Mayfair games per year, you'd spend maybe $20 more — or the equivalent of one game, for those who automatically equate money with games. (I'll admit to doing so.) Mayfair is gambling that people have enough room in their budget to spend an extra $20 annually, a safe bet I feel sure.
As for the second reason that companies set pricing terms, they want to develop and perpetuate a certain business environment for the sale and continued growth of their games. Mayfair Games believes that brick-and-mortar stores provide a better environment for the introduction of its games to new players, so it's adopting policies to put that belief into action — or rather it's continuing such policies. Mayfair has already had a demo game program in which stores that order a certain small number of games can receive a free copy to be used for demonstration purposes.
Many gamers can give examples of people who they personally introduced to hobby games, and some present themselves as individuals who discovered hobby games through an online retailer. Great, wonderful — but you are not representative of game buyers en masse. Most people will not find hobby games through a random Internet search, and even those who are taught their first hobby game by a friend will benefit from the services of a real world game store. As Chad Ellis wrote in his BGG post, "My sales to people who already know about Battleground is probably only helped by discounters...but my ability to grow the market of Battleground players is hurt whenever a FLGS decides not to carry it."
In general, brick-and-mortar stores do a wonderful job of "gamer education", converting interested passers-by into gamers. Educating customers takes employee time, which equals money, and a retailer hopes that investment pays off so that customers learn how to navigate a store on their own, leaving employees free to assist and educate new customers. If customers head to deep-discount online retailers as they become more educated, the stores lose out on that investment and will be less willing or able to offer it in the future.
Mayfair undoubtedly has a better handle on the game industry and what it needs to do to ensure its future than any handful of people whose experience consists solely of purchasing and playing games. Its policy change has already engendered notices of support from multiple retailers who have said they'll demo Mayfair games more because they'll be less likely in the future to lose customers solely on the basis of price.
Sure, Mayfair might lose a few customers in the short term, but those who make purchasing decisions solely or primarily on the basis of price are the worst kind of customer that a business can have. These customers want low-cost goods, but they complain if the goods look or feel low-cost; they have no loyalty and make each decision on a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately basis; they value a great deal over a great product; their cheapness is matched only by their volume when complaining about how they were done wrong by some predatory company.
Businesses can't make decisions based on the whims of this unreliable group. From Mayfair's point of view, these people make up a small percentage of BGG visitors, who are themselves a speck among the number of people who play games worldwide. When you're hunting for elephants, you can't let yourself be bothered by the swarming of gnats...
P.S.: Marcus King, owner of Titan Games & Music, posted the following story in an industry forum that devotes a lot of resources and advice to game retailers. I reprint the story (lightly edited) with his permission:
On a not completely unrelated topic, last evening, after posting the earlier thanks to Mayfair, I had a couple come into my store and ask the sales clerk on duty: "Uh, we are looking for a settlers of Cat-On."
Since my sales clerk is not as knowledgable on games as I am, I stepped out and had a good conversation with the couple, in their late 40s, who wanted to find the Cat-On Game.
I showed them the game, discussed its playability, and asked how they heard of it. It was for their son, returning from a tour in Iraq, and he wanted it. They then expressed absolute sticker shock when I showed them it was $38.00.
The father was a bit surprised that a "game" could cost $38.00. Why they had just bought a nephew a set of Monopoly
for $14.99 at a TRU in Kalamazoo!! How could this (smaller) game be worth more money!?!?
I asked them how often they played their favorite game. They were a bit surprised by the question, so I asked them whether they played cards, bowled, bingo, paintball or volleyball. This confused them more. I explained that all of these were examples of "playing a game" — though the games were far different, they were all games.
I went on to explain that Monopoly
and Settlers of Catan
were not competing products. That Settlers of Catan
was a game product that competed for their time with a video rental, or maybe playing Euchre
with friends. I also said, "I am not sure I really like this game, I haven't decided yet. I have played it only about 500 times." They laughed, then I explained that I was not exaggerating — I had played Settlers
about two or three times a week for about four years.
They asked why I wasn't bored with the game, so I went into the replayability factor of having a randomly generated board with the tiles, and how starting positions were taken, etc. I further went on to say that if they played Catan
only ten times, it would have cost them less than $2 per player, per game. I also mentioned that most people who played and enjoyed the Catan
series of games played it more than ten times.
Then I closed with my best pitch: "If you buy this game and play it — and decide you don't like it — I will take a return on it, opened and played, for a full refund."
They bought two copies, one for their son and one for them. They are coming to our next game night to play Pillars of the Earth
Okay, that was a long diversion — yet it wasn't a diversion at all as everything that I stated in that column is still true. Far from going out of business due to people boycotting its titles, Mayfair Games increased sales of Catan year after year after year. In 2013, Mayfair Games decreased retailers' maximum advertised discount to 10%, and in January 2016 it [thread=49680]sold the English-language publishing rights to Catan to ANA[/thread]. (The purchase price has not been announced; one figure I've heard — $20 million — would equal roughly $1 per Catan item sold since its debut in 1995 as Catan GmbH reports sales of more than 23 million copies Catan items, including expansions. Fenton, by the way, now heads Catan Studio, a publishing studio within ANA that oversees all things Catan.)
Asmodee North America will likely be similarly affected after lowering the discount at which online retailers can purchase ANA titles — and by "similarly affected", I mean "barely affected at all". ANA has stated that it will not "institute or impose official price floors or 'minimum advertised price' policies" on its authorized retailers, but the effect of lowering discounts works roughly the same way as a MAP, lowering the discount at which an online retailer will offer games to buyers.
Petersen understands that some people will buy fewer ANA titles as a result of these changes. At GTS 2016, ANA Executive Projects Manager Anton Torres got in hot water when he stated on livestream broadcasts from both The Dice Tower and BGG that ANA would prefer that people buy two games under the new policy than ten under the old. While I understand the point he was trying to make — better a small number of enthusiastic fans than a mass of indifferent volume buyers — Petersen refuted Torres' statement, noting that Torres is not part of the business-side of ANA and stating that he is fine with people buying however many games they want, whether they treat them as doorstops or actually play the games.
At the same time, Petersen says that ANA isn't looking solely at sales volume when trying to determine what's best for its long-term health. More specifically, he said, "If all we cared about was moving units, we could sell games direct to buyers for 50% off MSRP and move far more than we do now." That's not ideal for long-term growth, though, because all you're doing with an operation like that is selling to an existing customer base instead of working with retailers to introduce your games to new people. To quote Petersen again from the ICv2 article:
The most significant obstacle in the growth and perceived value of the gaming business is the need for players to find other players, and for new players to enter the hobby. I estimate that the hobby loses between 10-20% of its players every year, so the creation of new players into the hobby is vital for every participant to have a thriving marketplace and have exciting new products developed.
Petersen understands that some will boycott ANA based on these new policies, but he doesn't care. Okay, he probably wouldn't say that directly, instead stating that this is a business decision that reflects long-term goals, yada yada yada, but this would be my interpretation of his statement: "You do whatever you feel is necessary when determining which games to purchase, just as you've always done in the past with everything else you've purchased, whether game, soap, cereal, or slacks. For our part, we need to do whatever we feel is necessary when determining how much to charge for the games that we produce so that we can be in a position to continue to produce games far into the future. Ideally you'll still buy our games, and we'll do our best to produce games that merit your attention, but if not, I hope you can at least understand what we're trying to do."
As I stated in the Mayfair Games post, people who announce such boycotts and stick to them "make up a small percentage of BGG visitors, who are themselves a speck among the number of people who play games worldwide". Yes, BoardGameGeek is the largest game site in the world, with more than 3.5 million users in any thirty day period, with a plugged-in userbase that often knows more about what's coming out when from which designers than those who own the game stores in their town — but these BGG users are not representative of the larger world of game buyers because most games are bought by people who have never heard of BGG.
In a March 2016 BGG News post, for example, I quoted designer Fréderic Moyersoen saying that sales in the Saboteur line have reached a total of 1,400,000 copies, and a BGG user subsequently noted that BGGers list ownership of only 27,121 of those copies, roughly 2% of the total. Similarly, at Spielwarenmesse 2016 Mayfair Games noted to me that Moyersoen's Nuns on the Run — a game rarely talked about or logged as played on BGG — is on its sixth printing and such a consistent seller that the publisher is considering an expansion for the future. Catan, as mentioned earlier, has sales of more than 23 million items across the line, whereas BGG ownership for all of Catan is roughly 300,000 items — just over 1%. Heck, as I noted in the initial ANA announcement about its sales policy changes, Days of Wonder claims to have sold more than three million Ticket to Ride games, while no more than 175,000 TtR items of any type are listed as owned by BGG users.
No, not all BGGers record their collection online, but if you double these figures, the larger point remains: The pool of existing gamers is vast, far beyond what we see on our ever-busy site, and the pool of potential gamers-to-be dwarfs this number multiple times over. That larger pool of gamers and potential gamers is who ANA is shooting to serve years down the road by instituting these policies, and however much some people might complain or wish otherwise, the problems of some percentage of these three million little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that...
W. Eric Martin
Let's take a breather from the game demonstration videos that BGG recorded at Spiel 2015 — dozens more still to come! — to present that convention from another angle, namely the one in which you find yourself surrounded by games and unsure of how to fit them all in your suitcase(s) in order to get them home.
Spiel 2015 was my tenth trip to Essen, and the tenth time that I had to finagle with dozens of boxes in order to violate the laws of nature and fit more than was thought possible into each and every box. This year was a bit different from years past as my wife, son and I traveled through Europe a bit post-Spiel, so I shipped most games home to travel lighter on the road. Even so, the principles of packing that I present in the video still apply.
Perhaps in the future, whether at Spiel, Gen Con or another gaming event, I can create a highlight video of the initial packing process, one in which every game is punched, bagged, and stuffed, one that shows a stack of inserts to be left behind for the hotel employee, one that depicts the teetering pile of inserts, cards, catalogs, and rulebooks destined for the recycling bin at Spiel.
I hope that this video proves helpful for you in the future!
My name is Oobydoob Scooby-dooby Banooby. I have the silliest name in the galaxy
The term "dead air" was originally used to describe the silence caused by an unintended interruption in a radio broadcast, but I'd like to re-define it and use it to describe the empty space so generously provided by many manufacturers in their game boxes. I consider it a particularly fitting term because whenever I break the shrinkwrap on a new game and open the box, there's often a moment of silence (and an unspoken "What the...") when I see how little space is taken up by the components!
Now, I've been playing Euro-style board games for over 25 years, but it was only a few years ago that I decided to start addressing the Dead Air issue in my game boxes and take some action. What precipitated said action was that well-known gamer's dilemma affectionately known as "lack of shelf space".
Of course, Dead Air is included deliberately in some games in order to accommodate future expansions for the game — which is perfectly acceptable, even desirable! For example, I have the original Thunderstone game and all its expansions tucked neatly into just one of the Thunderstone boxes.
Thunderstone insert with expansions
There are other games, however, that ought to leave room for expansions and don't...
...while on the other end of the spectrum we have companies that don't even provide enough space to put the components back in the box once you've punched all the pieces! [Cough! Thank you, Fantasy Flight.]
Anyway, I came up with the idea of shrinking some games to reduce the Dead Air and free up shelf space, but before I went any further with my plans another issue had to be addressed first, and that was the issue of a game's permanence in my collection. In an attempt to keep my game collection to a reasonable size (reasonable by my reckoning, not my wife's) I continually prune out games that I'm not playing or haven't played in years, and replace them with new ones that seem arrive on my doorstep on a regular basis. I now have 622 "previously owned" games, which is more than twice as many games as I currently have in my collection (284, with neither number including expansions).
So as I began going through my collection and assessing which games I might be able to shrink, I had to ensure they were games I was convinced I was never going to part with, games that had stood the test of time, games that I still wanted to play, games I was, in fact, still playing! It's unusual, therefore, for me to shrink newer games, although it does occasionally happen. The most recent game I've shrunk is Machi Koro, which I loved when I first played the Japanese version over a year ago, and I knew immediately it would find a permanent place in my collection as an easy game to pull out as a filler or to play with non-gamers. Once the outlandishly-huge English box version arrived, I shrunk it down within a week, leaving space for the (at the time upcoming) Harbor expansion as well!
Machi Koro: original and shrunk version
Since I don't plan on purchasing any other expansions for this game, the size of the box works fine. I even managed to squeeze in eight dice so that each player would have their own! But Machi Koro is the exception rather than the rule because most of the games I've shrunk have been part of my collection for many years.
Once I'd considered the "permanence" issue, I browsed through my games looking for potential candidates for the shrinking process. I decided right away that I would not attempt to simply cut down the existing game box, or try to construct boxes of my own, but instead I would use a tried-and-tested box size that would be relatively cheap and easy to get my hands on: namely, the KOSMOS two-player game boxes and the Fantasy Flight small box games. They fit the bill exactly. The KOSMOS boxes are even available in two different depths, which was an added bonus. What's more, they stack beautifully on the shelf!
Consequently, as I opened games and considered whether they could be shrunk, the first thing I did was to see whether the game components fit into one of the chosen box sizes. If they did, and the only item that didn't fit was the board, then I knew I would just have to shrink the board as well, which is a relatively easy fix. Since some of the KOSMOS and FFG games I purchased for the job come with boards, the task of shrinking a game board was made that much easier. Das Amulett is a prime example of this. I include New England in the picture to show you the size of the original box (which I no longer have) compared with the shrunken version...and the shrunken game board with it.
The simple but fun race game Favoriten came in a box as big as the Ravensburger game in the picture, but once I'd shrunk the board it fit easily into an FFG-sized box
Initially, I did try cutting down a regular board from some other game I'd cannibalized — a Monopoly board or something — to fit into the KOSMOS box, but I quickly discovered that regular game boards were much thicker than the ones that come in the two-player boxes, and they took up so much space that the components no longer fit! Thus, that approach was quickly abandoned.
Details of the Shrinking Process
Having chosen a game to shrink and checked to see whether the components fit in the box, the first thing to do is scan the box (and perhaps the board) that needs shrinking. I do this on a photocopier, scanning the front, back, and all four sides. (If all the sides are the same, then you need to scan only one of them of course.) Some boxes are large enough to require two scans of the front and back to ensure the whole image is captured. If the board needs shrinking too, it always takes at least two scans to capture the whole thing.
Another option for the box cover is to copy the image from its entry on BGG and use that instead of a scan. These images often come with a higher resolution than the one you can get from a scan, so they work really well. If this is an option, I always use it.
Anyway, having sent the scanned images to your computer, they then need to be copied and pasted into a Word document — no, I don't have Photoshop I'm afraid — where they have to be cropped to remove all unwanted margin material around the edges before being re-sized.
Scanned and cropped image
For those of you proficient in Photoshop, the following steps will probably seem clumsy, but Word is what I get to work in, so for those of you who don't have Photoshop it is possible to do everything you need without it.
Once you have all the images cropped and ready to go, then it's time to create the templates to fit them in. I use "text boxes" for this. I measure the box and determine the size I need for front, back and side, then create a text box for each image. Microsoft Word has helpful rulers which tell you the size of the text box, but I've learned they're not to be trusted. Always print out the text box template you create and check it against the game box to make sure it's the size you need.
Text box template
If I'm shrinking a game to a Fantasy Flight small box, then I can create a template with top and sides on the same sheet, but I can't do that for the KOSMOS boxes so the templates have to be slightly smaller than the box measurements to leave room for the rounded corners.
Partial templates for KOSMOS boxes
Once you have the template size all figured out, it would be nice if you could just copy and paste your cropped images into them and be done — but it's not that simple. The image sits inside the text box and leaves a white border all the way around. To make the image fit the text box exactly you have to create another text box, paste in the image, then send it behind the template so you can adjust the image to fit the template.
Putting the image behind the text box
It sounds more complicated than it really is, but that's the only way I know to do this in Microsoft Word. Having followed the above steps for each of the images you wish to use, you are then ready to print them off.
Box covers printed off and ready to be cut out
Cutting out the separate pieces for a box is easy — but if the box is all in one piece, then it needs a little more attention. First, it needs to be folded around the box lid, then it needs to be cut so that the corners will overlap and make it look nice and neat.
Before pasting them on, however, you need to prep the game box. I use a Sharpie to blacken all the corners of the KOSMOS boxes so that they're ready to receive the paste-on images.
Box edges blackened
Also, one other tip before you do any gluing: Run a Sharpie along each of the edges of the cut paper. This eliminates the white edge paper-line that will be visible otherwise. It's a small thing, but it makes the final product look that much cleaner.
I use an artist spray glue to attach the images to the boxes because it gives a nice even coating. (Make sure you spray it outside, or you'll stink the house up and your wife will yell at you!) It is critical, however, to use glue that allows you to re-position the paper because, trust me, you're going to need to do that on a regular basis.
The end product should look something like this:
Image of completed box
The box is now one step away from being complete. In order to stop the newly attached images from getting caught on something and peeling away from the box, I cover the boxes in clear sticky-backed plastic (a book covering) that you can pick up at any art store. This can be a little tricky, but it's a necessary step. (I do not cover the small boxes in plastic as the paper is all in one piece and is in no danger of peeling up.) First, place the box lid on the rolled out covering so that you can cut it to the right size. You need to leave enough room all round to be able to fold it up the sides, then wrap it under the lid.
Paper being cut
Then you need to remove the plastic from the protective backing paper and lay it on a table.
Plastic, ready to go
Press your box lid onto the middle of it, then slide it on top of a cutting board so that you can custom cut the edges. You can see how they need to be cut from the following image:
Custom cutting the corners
Note: You need to leave tabs on two edges that can be folded over the corners. I should also mention that I never cover the back of the box, and I've never had any problem with the attached image coming off.
Once the plastic is attached, I run the side of my thumbnail over every inch of the box lid to ensure it sticks properly. This has the added benefit of making the image come through the plastic much clearer. Any unwanted air bubbles (which occasionally occur) you simply pop with a pin or the tip of your utility knife before rubbing them with your thumbnail to squeeze out the air. And voilà, you have a shrunken game!
Here are most of the games from which I've removed the dead air. Since I don't keep the old game boxes, I can't show you the contrast between the original and the shrunken edition — but the shelf space saved is significant.
My name is Oobydoob Scooby-dooby Banooby. I have the silliest name in the galaxy
(Editor's note: This article first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on Dec. 29, 2008. My apologies for the watermarks on the images, but these are the only versions that I still have. Thanks to Paul Jefferies for helping to publish this article once again! —WEM)
I've been playing "German games" since 1988, and almost since my first introduction to them I've tinkered with the components. Perhaps it's because I'm British, or because I have an artistic bent, I'm not really sure, but I know that when I play a game with great components it enhances my whole gaming experience. Obviously a zillion games out there with fantastic components are about as fun as having your teeth drilled, so it's not just about which pieces are in the box. I'm interested in tinkering only with games that I consider to be "good" – and we all have our own definition for that, don't we?
For me, a good game is one that I think will find a permanent place on my limited shelf space. For many years now, my collection has hovered around the 250-300 mark, and as new games come in, I weed out the games that have lost their charm (or just aren't getting played any more) and sell them on. I've not done an inventory of how many games I've upgraded with different components, but I would guess it's somewhere around 50-60.
I should interject at this point that I have collected game pieces since I first began playing, for no other reason than I initially funded my hobby by buying games at rummage sales and selling them to real games collectors in the USA and Germany. (I know one who has over 14,000 games!) Purchasing games at rummage sales means you inevitably buy some that are incomplete. Consequently, for the last twenty years I've been keeping game pieces, cards, boards and money from incomplete games (while throwing the rest away), which has provided me with a wealth of bits to draw from when it comes to enhancing a new game. With that said, I'll stop waffling and move on to some of the games I've tinkered with. I'll start with minor enhancements and move progressively on to complete re-makes.
• Notre Dame – My first thought on reading the rules was, "Okay, we have a black cube for a rat. That'll have to change!" So I tracked down small plastic mice on eBay (cost about $2.00) and when they arrived, I discovered they had a hole underneath which fit perfectly onto some playing pieces from another game that matched the player's colors! Goodbye black cubes, hello rats! The only other piece I changed was the turn marker, which I thought was rather lame. I rummaged around in my game parts until I found the guy in the picture who, once painted, I thought made a pretty good Quasimodo!
Note the individual boxes for each player's bits
• Cleopatra and the Society of Architects – This game comes with outstanding components so I didn't think I'd need to do anything to it, but once the game arrived I thought it a crying shame that you could barely see the wonderful detail on all the building pieces! I experimented with various paints and markers to try to make them stand out, and in the end what worked best was a brown colored-pencil which I rubbed into all the detail, then erased from the flat surface. I was particularly pleased with the results.
• Rum and Pirates – The start player token was hopeless, so a dip into my kid's LEGO solved that. Then all I did was add real money – gold pennies from Portugal – for the plastic coins and we were set to go! I also gave every player his own die, so we didn't have to pass the same one around the whole time.
• Il Principe – I replaced the money tokens with something more substantial and used cannon pieces from old Risk sets as territory markers instead of the cardboard discs that came with the game. It was a small thing, but I was pleased with how it looked as a result.
• The Awful Green Things from Outer Space – I fell in love with this zany Tom Wham space game the very first time I played it. However, the cardboard counters were so thin I had great difficulty picking them up, so I mounted them onto thicker card. The game also came with a paper "board" that didn't lay flat and moved easily during play, disturbing all the counters, so I mounted it onto a puzzle-board which I'd picked up somewhere along the line. Problem solved!
• Acquire – This was one of the first non-children's games I ever played...and it was also the first game I ever upgraded! Using flat black tiles to represent hotel chains didn't feel right; I wanted them to look like hotels. As I said, I was just starting out so the only game I knew with hotels in it was Monopoly. I wrote to Waddington's Games and asked whether I could buy ten sets of hotels. A delightful lady sent me a letter back saying, "No, I couldn't buy them" – but whoever she was, she very kindly included with her response ten sets of hotels! It was a very kind gesture and one I've seen repeated over the years. Most game companies, I've found, prove to be very helpful when it comes to getting hold of extra pieces.
Now that I had the hotels I had to figure out how to put the grid references on them. I tried writing it in permanent marker, but the results looked horrible! I did some investigating and discovered that Letraset (what we all used before desktop publishing came along) made adhesive lettering in different sizes. I ordered some through the local art store and it worked a treat. I ended up with the rather pleasing hotels that you see in the pictures. Of course, this was before any 3-D reprint of the game by Avalon Hill or Schmidt Spiele.
My final tweak to the game was to draw tiny pictures of the various hotel corporations and stick them on the corporation tiles. As the picture reveals, I also had to cut a "V" in the bottom of the tiles so they would sit on top the hotels. The 1999 Avalon Hill remake of Acquire was outstanding, but I still prefer my original upgraded set. [Note: To keep the tiles secret from other players, they simply need to be turned on their side.]
• Airlines – I picked this game up when it first came out, and I've really enjoyed playing it over the years. It always cried out (to me) for little airplane tokens instead of the wooden disks it came with, but I never found any small enough. Then, lo and behold, some years later, Avalon Hill came out with its game Air Baron which had the exact right-sized pieces I was looking for. I wrote to Avalon Hill and the company allowed me to purchase several sets of the plastic planes. Many of the colors matched the colors of the airlines tokens, so all I had to do was trade them in for each other. The missing colors were only a lick of paint away, and now I have a very visually pleasing game of Airlines. It still hits the table about once a year or so.
• Alexander the Great – In a similar vein to Acquire (but needing a lot less work) this game came with wooden cubes to represent temples and cities. It was a relatively simple task to replace the temples with houses I had in stock, and the cities with some of the cities from Sid Meier's Civilization. (I bought them off the website.) I also used some of the standard-bearers that came with the cities as claim markers. These are placed on the board in places where you hope to build a temple or city. They worked out great.
• Circus Imperium – I was tempted to put this one in the "extreme makeover" category because it was such an enormous amount of work, but in the end I left it here because I didn't make the game over from scratch – I only upgraded it.
The game comes in a shallow bookcase size box and everything in it is either paper or cardboard. Three thin cardboard buildings (Skyboxes) can be constructed and placed on the board during play, and while they don't add anything to the actual play of the game, they certainly add a lot in terms of atmosphere and aesthetics. Constructing these buildings takes forever! The instructions are negligible, and there's a ton of pieces. Every one of them has to be painstakingly cut out by hand, carefully scored (difficult on thin card) and even more carefully folded and fit together. Gluing the pieces doesn't work, so Scotch tape is your only other option. With that said, they are worth the Herculean effort they require because the end product looks fantastic.
Imperium also comes with a very large paper board – isn't that a contradiction in terms! – and like all paper boards it refused to sit flat, so I bought some art-board and mounted it in such a way that it folded up small enough to fit back in the box. (The Skyboxes, of course, have to be kept somewhere else entirely.) The playing pieces were also thin card and I mounted all of them as well, so they were easier to pick up during play.
With those three things done I played and enjoyed the game for well over a decade...always looking to see whether Ral Partha would come out with some 3-D miniatures to go with it. It never did, so two years ago I decided I had waited long enough and would make my own "anti-gravity chariots" and "dangerous beasties". I had nothing in my bits collection to help me here, so I knew from the outset that I would be spending some money to make this happen, but the game had proved its "stick-ability" so I was prepared to make the investment at this point. The anti-gravity chariots I made out of some Star Wars miniatures (I don't remember the name of the ships) which looked somewhat similar once I had cut a piece off the top of each of them. The chariot boxes that sit on top of the base I made out of toothpick holders I found at Walmart (three for $2). They were the right shape (oval) and simply needed to be carefully cut down to leave a lip on one side.
Pleased with the results so far, I started searching for creatures to represent the beasts pulling the chariots. This proved to be the most difficult task of all. In the end I found some Lord of the Rings miniatures – Warg Riders – that had creatures that I thought would do the trick. Once they arrived I was a little disappointed to find them slightly smaller than I would have liked, but they were the best I could find, so I made do. I couldn't attach the Wargs to the base of the chariot because during the game it is possible to cut them free and ride on their backs (if your chariot is toast!), so I came up with the design you see here, enabling me to move both chariot and beasts together or to separate them as needed.
Finally, I bought some gladiator figures to go with the game – but once I'd done that I realized I could have anyone driving the chariot, so I have collected a whole host of "drivers" ranging from Darth Vader to SpongeBob SquarePants. There are pictures on BoardGameGeek showing some of the different types of characters we used in one of the games. In the end I had to make a whole new box to house the 3-D pieces, and I stabilized them with foam to keep them from rattling around.
• The Scepter of Zavandor – A game which involves gem collecting...but with cardboard gems! This was a no-brainer. I used a set of gems put out for Ystari's game Ys and added a few extra colors that were missing using some half marbles I purchased from a pet store that were designed for a fish tank.
The player tokens were the standard wooden cubes, but I thought they deserved to be upgraded, too. I had picked up several of the Harry Potter games at thrift stores for 50 cents each for the magician hat playing pieces. I had figured they'd be useful one day – well, the day came earlier than I expected. I kept my eyes peeled for several weeks for the extra couple of sets I needed, so I had enough hats of each color. Since Scepter is about enchanting gem stones, I thought the wizard hats fit the theme perfectly. Oh, and I also made a box insert.
• Evo – Three guesses what I did to this game! The picture speaks for itself, although I must say it was more difficult than I thought finding five different small dinosaurs, especially ones that weren't soft rubber! The only other issue with the game – as anyone who has played it will tell you – is the ridiculously small scoring track. To solve this I created a new scoring track, made of dino-prints, on the computer and mounted it on an old game board. Of course I had to get the size right so it fit around the old one, but that was all it needed.
• Pirate's Cove – I had fun with this upgrade mainly because pirates are such a fun theme to mess with. I gradually replaced virtually all the parts with nicer pieces. The dice I replaced with gold dice from the game Midas. I put a call in to Front Porch Classics and purchased some of the ships from their game Dread Pirate. A touch of paint on the base of the ship was all they required.
The pirate ship started out as a pencil sharpener – there is still a hole in the back – but with some cannons on deck, a skull on the front and crossbones on the sails...well, now we had a Dread Pirate Roberts! The money I traded in for gold coins that I had in stock, and for $3 on eBay I picked up a nice metal treasure chest to keep them in. The cardboard treasure chest tokens I replaced with tiny treasure chests from a 1970's game called Pirates' Gold – the game that had ships with magnets in the base that sucked up the treasure chests (which also had magnets in them) as they sailed along. I won several sets on eBay and asked whether they would send only the chests for reduced shipping, which they were happy to do. All that remained was to take the magnets out of the chests to stop them from all sticking together and to sail to treasure island to bury them! I was delighted with the finished product.
This last category has two types of games: games that are generally unavailable, and games that could have had wonderful components if the manufacturer had unlimited resources to pour into them. For those of you who are reading this thinking you would much rather spend all the time I spend upgrading games just playing them...well, so would I! But for many years I got to play games only one evening every two weeks, which was far too infrequent for my liking. Fiddling with the game components became something I could do here and there in-between game nights, and it didn't require a whole evening at once. Having a project on the go gave me something I could look forward to while juggling responsibilities with work, home, and young children! Just thought you might like to know.
• Tahuantinsuyu – A superb game from Alan Ernstein that I decided was well worthy of transformation. The box was the first thing to go as I knew it would not be big enough to handle a host of new pieces. Wherever possible I try to keep a game to a bookcase box so that's what I went with. (I found the cover picture on the web.)
The gameboard was printed on thin card, so I mounted it on an old gameboard I had, then had it coated so that you could draw on it in wax crayon. I wanted to be able to use dry-erase markers and Alan told me they would stain the board, so I put clear book covering over the map so the markers would be usable.
As for the pieces in the game, glass squares were used to represent cities (red), garrison camps (yellow), and terraces (green), while clear half marbles were used to represent labor, and small wooden cubes stood for temples. As you may or may not be able to see in the pictures, I used the glass squares as the base for the new terraces I made – they were really fiddly and a lot of work but the end result was worth it – and also for the garrison camps. (More bits from Civilization.) The cities I replaced with cities from Warrior Knights; they are a bit big, but they work fine. I painted the top of them obviously. The temples I remade to look like ziggurats by gluing wooden squares together. Drilling a tiny hole in the bottom meant the temples fit on top the cities, which I was pleased about.
I also replaced the glass score markers with the ones shown, the glass labor tokens with Incan gold (from Dread Pirate), and lastly the tiddly-winks used to determine the end of the game with some larger cardboard discs. I got to play my new upgraded version for the first time with the designer at the Gathering of Friends in 2008. I'm glad to report he gave it the thumbs up.
• Ars Mysteriorum – This is another great game from Alan that I also gave the works. I did the same thing with the box as I did with Tahuantinsuyu.
I didn't change any of the game pieces in this game; I just made the five game boards 3-D by finding a paper-cutting CD on eBay for the buildings. Sadly they had only four types of buildings on the disc, so I had to repeat one of them. (I chose the castle since that was the coolest.) Having cut the buildings out, I then mounted them onto black card so they would visibly stand out and be stable enough to stand up. I initially looked for mini artists easels to put the recipe cards on, but I couldn't find any, and if I had, I worried about how I'd fit them in the box. Then I saw these mini-books in a dollar store, and they did the trick nicely. Making an insert for the book was simply a small computer project.
The black bases for each building area were cut out of old game boards and covered with sticky-backed felt. Another computer project produced the pictures and names for each magician's tent, and I then mounted them onto wooden discs which I found at a craft shop and painted black. The different types of pots, on which to place the recipe tokens, were really fun to come up with. Another trip to the craft store gave me the different varieties, then all that had to be done was to fill the ones that were hollow, paint them and mount them onto six-inch rulers I'd also painted black. Put together, the "boards" really brought the game to life. Oh, and the 3-D figures I bought from Alan. He had some made to go with the game, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a set.
Power Grid: Atolla Modulus – I love this game, so when I saw the Atolla version on the Geek I didn't think twice before starting to make a set. All I really made was the box, the value tokens to go between the islands, and the boards. I tried to buy a set of game pieces from Rio Grande, but it doesn't sell pieces separate from its games (shame that), so I had to buy a secondhand copy of the original game to get all the parts I needed.
Getting the size of the board squares right took several attempts, but eventually I managed it and printed them all onto high resolution paper. To make sure the card I mounted them on was solid, but not too thick, I used the puzzle boards from the game The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which seemed to show up regularly at the local thrift store for a dollar. I needed several copies to have enough tiles, but they worked perfectly once they were cut down. I then covered them all with clear sticky-backed book covering. Coming up with the box art just meant fiddling with various images and putting them all together. I also covered some smaller boxes with graphics from the game and used them to house all the pieces.
• Ursuppe – I picked up this classic from Doris and Frank in Essen the year it was released, and it still gets table time every year. From the outset it was obvious that the game needed something more engaging for amoebas...but it wasn't obvious what! I toyed with different ideas for a couple of years until I came across a children's game at a thrift store called Wiggly Worms. As soon as I saw them, I knew I'd found what I was looking for. It took a couple of sets to have enough to upgrade all the pieces (including the 5-6 player expansion), but it was well worth it. I pulled out the central peg and cut it in half, drilled two new holes in the base and glued them in. Then I glued the wiggly worms onto the original hole. It was only last year that I decided to replace the damage markers with skull beads. They didn't quite fit over the pegs so they had to be drilled out as well. The score markers just needed a hole and a cut-down worm to make them look nice, too.
• Atta Ants – This was a fun little game that desperately needed a box (as it came in a 100-count CCG card holder) and a few upgraded pieces. I couldn't replace the wooden discs with ants because they have to carry items during the game, normally a green glass bead (leaf). However, the spiders that attack the ants don't carry anything, so those wooden discs were replaced right away. The two mini-expansions that came out meant I could also add fake rocks and some wonderful beetles I found, once again, at the thrift store. All the beetles needed was a touch of yellow paint, and they were ready to go on the rampage. As for the box, I replaced the plastic card holder with a spare box from the original German (KOSMOS) version of the Settlers of Catan Card Game. The image of leaf-cutter ants on the lid I found on the web.
• Energy Poker – I have no idea how available this game is these days, but fifteen years ago when I made my own set it was as rare as hen's teeth. Back then I played games several times a year at the home of Mike Siggins, and he owned a copy of Energy Poker which he let me borrow to make my own set. It meant color photocopying (which was the really easy part) the board, the cards and the players' "bidding boards", then constructing them back into a game. The board I cut apart, separating the individual playing tracks, for ease and comfort during play. The center section and the player tracks were all mounted on old gameboards and covered with sticky-back plastic. The players' "bidding boards" were pretty fiddly since they needed a pocket in which to place money and multipliers; making them sturdy but thin was more of a challenge than I had anticipated. The cards all had to be mounted, covered and cut out, which was time-consuming but not difficult.
All that remained was to replace the game pieces. The original game comes with colored plastic tiddly-winks to represent the different types of energy and regular metal washers to show the current availability of the different energies on the central board. The washers were replaced with pawns from Scotland Yard, which are clear so the numbers on the board can be seen through them. The various energies were replaced with yellow cones (solar power), brown barrels (oil), black plastic chunks cut out of plastic rods (coal), green Monopoly houses (gas), and blue Risk pieces (nuclear). The box was an old Ravensburger game, and the picture on the lid was a poster I picked up from a book store. This game has proved to hold its own despite game development coming a long way since it was first produced in 1980. For my money this could do with a full-scale overhaul and reprint.
• Discretion – This entire game had to be made from scratch based on a summary of the pieces and the rules that Stuart Dagger put in a copy of Counter magazine years ago (or maybe it was Sumo back then). I made everything myself and the only pieces I pinched from other games were the wooden cubes – used for loans – and the plastic "buildings" – which came from multiple sets of Advance to Boardwalk, and the money. I really got into the fuzzy sticky-back-felt on this game, using it for the board, the box cover and even on some of the cards! It gives the game a nice feel.
Well, I've gone on far longer than I ever intended and it's time I stopped. Besides, I'm not yet finished replacing all the pieces in Agricola, so I've got work to do! I hope you've enjoyed this romp into the zany world of upgrading games, and if you've worked on any upgrades of your own, I'd love to hear from you and love to see them. Let me add a footnote before I go: If anyone out there needs someone to come up with ideas for game components for any kind of game they're designing, I can't think of anything more fun to do – other than actually playing games of course! Now, where's my spray paint and glue...
W. Eric Martin
My apologies for the radio silence this past week. My wife got back surgery this past Tuesday, and my son has gone through two illnesses sandwiching that operation, which led to much time out of school and in our hair, when I was supposed to be tending to ol' whatshername. During all of that chaos, I was also forced to endure four games of Pandemic Legacy with co-designer Rob Daviau at my side. Okay, that doesn't sound so bad, I'll admit.
With all of this mostly out of the way, I'll kick off Monday with a new game round-up that highlights the return of an out-of-print classic and a madly anticipated expansion, then follow that later in the day with a non-spoilery overview of Pandemic Legacy. I plan to finally film an overview of Hot Tin Roof after far too long, and I'll see what else awaits in my overgrown mailbox.
If nothing else, some of the other admins and I have processed hundreds of corrections to games in the database the past few days — it's a great task to do when you can barely focus on anything and might need to stop working at any second — so that's something done. Next up, doing more!
W. Eric Martin
So I wrote this today, not really planning to write this much, but then doing so:
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