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W. Eric Martin
BGG's Origins Game Fair 2017 Preview is now live for your viewing pleasure, and while these convention previews normally start small and grow immensely in the weeks leading up to a convention, in this case the 2017 preview already contains 95 titles on it and the Origins 2016 Preview topped out at 110 titles.
What does this mean? Did I somehow hunt down a greater percentage of the titles showing up at Origins 2017 than in previous years? What's more likely to be the case is that a larger number of games than in 2016 will be on hand when Origins opens on June 14 in the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The number of titles being released each year seems to be ever-increasing, and since Gen Con and SPIEL are already packed to the gills, I'm guessing (but open to being wrong) that publishers will spread out their new releases to Origins as well so that everything doesn't get buried in the rush.
If you're a designer or publisher who plans to have new titles on hand at Origins 2017 — whether new releases or prototypes of games to be released in the near future — and your titles aren't on this preview, please email me at the address in the BGG News header and I'll add your titles to this list.
BoardGameGeek will be at Origins 2017 for all five days, and we will livestream game demonstrations and designer interviews from the show for far too many hours each day. We will set up demo times based on what's listed on this preview (and information about other future releases), and I'll publish the interview schedule on Friday, June 9, which is the last day I'll update the Origins 2017 Preview. Only six weeks until we're live in Columbus — yikes!
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
What does Alfons X. of Castile, Galicia, and León (1221-1284) have to do with gaming? Well, he commissioned the "Book of Games" (Libro de los juegos), which contained game rules, chess problems, and other things and which is considered one of the most important medieval books on the subject of games. Some 730 years later, Laura and Ezequiel Wittner decided to create a game award and called it Premio Alfonso X. In 2017, it will be awarded for the second time. The submission deadline was on January 10, 2017, and the jury has started its work.
What's special about this prize, you may ask? Aren't there game awards in countless countries? Every once in a while we hear that one famous game or another is now also game of the year in Finland, Portugal, or San Marino. These awards usually aim at recommending the best games to gamers who aren't spending all their free time on BGG anyway. It is rare that a game wins a national award which the community hasn't heard about before.
But when I tell you the titles competing for the Premio Alfonso X in 2017, I will assume that hardly any of you has heard of even a single one of these games. Here we go:
• Ciudadano Ilustre
• Código Enigma
• Conejos en el Huerto
• Cultivos Mutantes
• La Macarena
There is a simple reason for this: The Premio Alfonso X will be awarded only to Argentinian designers (or those who have lived in Argentina for at least two years). The point is therefore not to introduce the best of the international gaming scene to an Argentinian audience, but to promote local design and publication efforts so that Argentinian games can compete with those from the outside world. Before now, domestic games often went entirely unnoticed, partly because the production quality and artwork were decidedly mediocre. One geek wrote that if I saw the component quality of the Argentinian edition of Catan, I would cry. For those who want to have a look themselves, here is an unboxing video. You can admire the sturdy box at about 7:45 and later the precision of the tile cutting. This needs to improve, so there is a special award for overall production value as well.
Lastly, games are admitted only if they state the names of the designers and artists — which is somewhat reminiscent of the situation in Germany thirty years ago (but the Spiel des Jahres jury didn't mention the designers in the first years, either).
So if there is a prize aimed at promoting domestic games, it doesn't seem like some nationalistic nonsense, but like an honest effort to make gaming more popular in Argentina. If I weren't from Germany, a country with a strong gaming scene, I might be grateful for something like that over here.
You might get an idea of the size of the Argentinian gaming scene when you hear that the nine titles competing for this year's prize aren't the finalists or anything, but the entire field of contestants. (Well, apart from four submissions in a separate category — games with a circulation of fewer than fifty copies — which are essentially prototypes.) In other words, that list more or less comprises what was published in Argentina by local designers in 2016. I assume many of you have purchased more than nine games in 2017 already...
There's probably still a long way to go until the vision of one Argentinian publisher comes true and gaming becomes as popular as football, but you have to start somewhere. All of these contestants have their own BGG entries, so let me give you a quick introduction:
Chernobyl is a cooperative game in which you try to rescue survivors from the destroyed reactor. To win the game, you have to bring them to the helipad. There is a competitive mode as well. Chernobyl was designed by Gonzalo Emanuel Aguetti and published by Yamat.
Ciudadano Ilustre ("Famous Citizen") was crowdfunded, easily breaking its modest target of $737. It's a trivia game with geography questions mostly about Argentina, but apparently also about some other places. The designers are Vera Mignaqui and Eugenia Pérez, with the latter doing the artwork, too.
Código Enigma ("Enigma Code") is set in WWII and of course it's about deciphering German codes. To do that, the players collect card sets and try to prevent others from doing the same. Apparently the Germans are also interfering at times. Designers are Joel Pellegrino Hotham and Silvina Fontenla, who also did the artwork. It was published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
In Conejos en el Huerto ("Rabbits in the Orchard"), the players move their two rabbits through the variably set-up garden and try to collect valuable vegetables. Their position determines which type of vegetable they can reach. A watchdog is doing its best to stop them. This game was designed by Luis Fernando Marcantoni, with artwork by Celeste Barone. It was published by Ruibal Hermanos S.A.
Mutant Crops ("Cultivos Mutantes") is a short worker placement game by Sebastian Koziner that's illustrated by Rocio Ogñenovich. You use your actions to plant and harvest mutant crops and collect points. It was published as a cooperation between El Dragón Azul and OK Ediciones. An English version has been announced by Atheris Games.
Dinosaurus is a microgame with just 36 cards. Dinosaurs from different eras run around on a fantasy island and fight for food. Their favorite snacks are plants, mammals, and each other. It was designed and illustrated by Amelia Pereyra and Matías Esandi and published by Rewe Juegos.
La Macarena is a witch or magician looking for a new apprentice. The players collect cards with four elements, and whoever has the most of one kind can eventually exchange them for amulets with which they can gain La Macarena's favor. The game was designed and published by five people under the group name Maldón, with illustrations by Alberto Montt. Two of the designers were at the Spielwarenmesse 2017 toy fair in Nürnberg, Germany, so this is the only candidate game that I have played myself.
With Venecitas, Joel Pellegrino Hotham has a second game in the race (and he did the illustrations together with Silvina Fontenla as well). I couldn't really figure out what exactly Venecitas means, but the goal is to collect colors. You roll a color die, may turn it by one edge, and then everyone gets the color facing them, while the active player also gets the color on top. Certain color combos can be exchanged against victory points. Venecitas was also published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
ZUC! is a party game designed and self-published by Agustin Carpaneto in which you try not to draw a bomb card (because if you do, you lose). When it's your turn, you can play cards to shield you from an explosion, force others to draw additional cards, or avoid drawing any yourself. Illustrations are by Mariana Ponte.
Those who would like to know more about the small print run category can check out the respective BGG entries for Arte de Batalla, Cerrojo, Kallat and Star Warships.
Who Will Win?
There are several votes taken into consideration to determine the winners. A jury of eight people has the biggest weight in the decision, and it includes a few well-known BGG users like lolcese, Mos Blues, and Pastor_Mora as well as last year's winner Bruss Brussco (whose "take that" game KINMO has become a family favorite in our house). Thirteen Argentinian gaming clubs also cast their votes (ensuring that the games get played by many people in the first place), and there will be some kind of public Facebook vote as well.
The award ceremony will take place at the Geek Out Festival in Buenos Aires on May 6, 2017, where more than 1,500 people are expected.
If you read Spanish, you can learn a lot about the Argentinian gaming scene on the Geek Out website. I find this initiative very impressive and commendable.
Note: If you have anything to share about new games from Latin America, please contact me. I will try to write about these games once in a while.
Aldie's Full of Love!
This is part 3 of my retrospective on The Board Room - an internet based video show that ran from 1999-2001. Check out my initial post for more info about the show.
As we are going into convention season I am reminded of the first time I heard about the NY Toy Fair on The Board Room. I didn't realize that it existed, and was excited to hear this report that comes in from Rob Placer of the Gamer's Realm. This episode originally ran in February 2000, and it was interesting to hear about the new titles from Mayfair Games - Including Quo Vadis? (from Reiner Knizia). The NY Toy Fair tends to run very mainstream, so it's a little challenging for hardcore gamers to find things they are interested it, but Rob mentions that "took home more product than he should have." Bob and Drew are on hand to conduct the interview with Rob - and ask a lot of interesting questions about the industry.
The episode titled "German Games" ran in October, 2000 and featured and interview with Keith Ammann who had recently authored a FAQ on German Games. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.games.board/eNAx...
Keith goes into a summary of German Games versus mainstream market games, he also talks about the impact of Catan, Torres & RoboRally (which is not a German Game, but features elements of the "German Game" aesthetic).
Thu Feb 16, 2017 12:31 am
Aldie's Full of Love!
This is part 2 of my retrospective on The Board Room - an internet based video show that ran from 1999-2001. Check out my initial post for more info about the show.
I'd like to feature two games that had quite an impact on my life. Once I found the joy of modern board gaming, I also found the Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in Germany. In 1999 & 2000,Tikal and Torres by the design team of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling won the prestigious award respectively. In the early days of gaming, we looked to see what this mysterious jury of journalists from Germany would award the honor to each year (I still do!).
I found Tikal in a Dallas game store and was blown away by its use of action points, a mechanism that I'd never seen presented this way before. You get a menu of actions & point costs and you can pretty much do anything you want within those limits. I think the open nature of the action point system is a little hard for new players to grasp - usually you want to perform many more actions than just 10 points allow.
Both of these game episodes featured Drew Kail, a co-host that appeared regularly with Bob Schwartz. Drew offered up a soft-spoken, friendly voice that Bob could bounce thoughts off. One thing I liked about the show was that both Bob and Drew were in the same game group and it sounded like they had recently played the games. They offered up some interesting commentary on their recent game that was fresh in their memory.
In the episode featuring Torres - they invited Greg Schloesser on a call-in to provide quite a detailed amount of strategy talk about the game. I know that Torres is one of Greg's favorite games of all time.
I wish to provide legendary service to the RPG community to help grow our hobby and enrich the lives of gamers everywhere.
In this 2-part episode featuring Tikal, Bob and Drew invite call-in guest Dave Bernazzani to discuss an overview of the game and some strategy tips in part 2. Bob & Drew also offer up their "volcano house rule" to avoid getting blocked in. I also agree with their sentiments on playing "vanilla" Tikal without the auction to speed up the game and enforce the theme a bit more.
Aldie's Full of Love!
I'm starting a new article series here in the BGG News blog that is more of a retrospective than "news", but a lot of people will have not seen this before, so it will be new to them.
When I got into the world of board games, and started working on creating BoardGameGeek in 1999-2000 there was very little information online about them. (I've recently reminisced about this with Rich Sommer on Cardboard if you want to hear more.) Along with The Game Cabinet, Brett & Board and Steffan O'Sullivan's Blog was The Board Room.
The Board Room was posted on a semi-regular basis on the website USALive.com. Starting in December of 1999, the show was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first (if not the first) online video show that exclusively covered board games. It ran 85 episodes up until February 25th, 2001.
I remember excitedly watching every new episode using RealPlayer to stream them (YouTube was but a glimmer in Chad Hurley & Steve Chen's eyes). The show was hosted by Bob Schwartz, and occasionally co-hosted by Drew Kail and sometimes a call in guest - many of whom are still very active in the board gaming world.
I recently spoke with the host Bob about the show and how much it impacted my life, and he provided me with the episodes to share with everyone here. Thank you to Jerry Dzuiba for the conversion of the video source files.
I decided to start with posting a monster 6 part episode that features Bob along with Reiner Knizia(!) via phone going into an incredible amount of depth on my favorite game of all time - Tigris & Euphrates. So I think this is a fitting way to start. They finish with a quick preview of Lord of the Rings (another of my faves). So here they are!
Part 1 - Bob and Reiner give a high level overview of the game.
Part 2 - Reiner gives his thoughts on the scoring mechanism in the game and compares it to Chess, Through the Desert and Samurai followed by a discussion on leader placement and formation of a monument.
Part 3 - Reiner describes internal leader conflict, and the tactical reasons to do so.
Part 4 - Reiner describes external leader conflict and treasure tiles.
Part 5 - Reiner discusses the origins of the design of the game which started in earnest in 1995. He also talks about some ideas that he eventually rejected. Reiner also comments on the "tile-laying trilogy" label that some people had placed on Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert and Samurai.
Part 6 - Reiner discusses his upcoming game designs including Lord of the Rings.
I look forward to sharing my love of The Board Room with you in the future.
Sat Jan 28, 2017 10:32 am
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 sold the English-language publishing rights to Catan to ANA. (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...
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