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Asmodee in Negotiations to Acquire F2Z Entertainment

W. Eric Martin
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Following Asmodee's acquisitions of Days of Wonder (BGG News story) and Fantasy Flight Games (story) in 2014 and the worldwide English rights to Catan (story) in 2016, many people have wondered which domino in the hobby game industry would fall next.

The answer turns out to be F2Z Entertainment, the Canadian publisher/distributor that owns the Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions, Pretzel Games, and Plaid Hat Games studios. Asmodee and F2Z Entertainment aren't strangers, having worked with one another over the years, with Asmodee distributing F2Z titles in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, while F2Z has distributed Asmodee titles in Canada. (This is the basis for the "partnership" referred to in the quotes from the press release below.)

Asmodee has issued the following press release about the deal, and Asmodee North America VP of Marketing Aaron Elliott told me that it can give no other comment at this time since the discussions are still under way. (The "exclusiveness" referred to in the first line of the press release means only that no one else is competing with Asmodee to acquire this company.) Here's what has been made public to date:

Quote:
The Asmodee Group has announced today that it has entered into exclusive discussions to acquire F2Z Entertainment Inc.

In line with the acquisitions of the worldwide rights to Dobble/Spot-It!, Days of Wonder, and Fantasy Flight Games publishers, and more recently the set-up of Catan Studio, these exclusive discussions with F2Z Entertainment Inc. emphasize Asmodee's strategy to strengthen its intellectual property portfolio and international presence. Closing of this acquisition is expected to take place in the coming months.

Created in Canada in 2002 by Sophie Gravel, F2Z Entertainment Inc. has become, over the years, one of the most worldwide renowned publisher & distributor of modern board games, with key owned brands such as Pandemic (over 1 million units sold), Dead of Winter, and also publishing rights for evergreen games (Carcassonne for French and English version, Catan for French version).

Stéphane Carville, CEO of Asmodee Group said: "I am delighted to enter into these exclusive discussions with F2Z Entertainment, which is, for us, the natural next step of a strong and long-lasting partnership built over the years with Sophie Gravel and her teams. Through this acquisition, we will continue expanding our IP portfolio with fantastic games and incredibly innovative studios such as Z-Man Games, Plaid Hat Games and Filosofia. This will also enable us to increase our presence on the global game market."

Sophie Gravel, CEO of F2Z Entertainment added: "As we are close to celebrating 15 years of success with F2Z, we are proud to announce these exclusive discussions with Asmodee Group, a key partner since the beginning of our adventure. This deal is in the direct continuation of our close business partnership and will provide the best environment for our iconic games to reach their full potential and help our studios to continue publishing amazing games."
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Fri Jul 22, 2016 8:00 am
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Codenames Wins the 2016 Spiel des Jahres; Isle of Skye Claims Kennerspiel

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Codenames from designer Vlaada Chvátil and publisher Czech Games Edition has won the 2016 Spiel des Jahres, Germany's game of the year award, which is intended to highlight an outstanding design that would be ideal for German families — and if you happen to belong to a family of some other nationality, there's a good chance that you'll enjoy the game as well.




The 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres — an award aimed at game enthusiasts who are ready for something more challenging or involved — goes to Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King from designers Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister and publishers Lookout Games and Mayfair Games.




Congratulations to both winners!
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Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:17 am
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Links: Leacock in Time, Awards in Passing, and Women Not in View

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• Designer Matt Leacock was featured in a June 30, 2016 write-up in TIME in the magazine's "American Genius" section. The article gets a few details wrong — Leacock self-funded the publication of his 2000 title Lunatix Loop, not Pandemic — but it's a nice summary of Leacock's career arc to date.

The really strange thing is that the article doesn't include a picture of either Leacock or Pandemic. What's up with that?! We'll just have to settle for the old-school game references in the article title...

• In May 2016, Nicolas Ricketts — curator of The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York — highlighted the breadth of Sid Sackson's works, unpublished prototypes, and correspondence held by the museum.

• On The Cardboard Republic, Erin Ryan surveyed the cover art of new releases in the top one hundred games on BGG from 2009 to 2016 and concluded that "You are more likely to see a sheep on the cover of a board game box than you are to see a group of women". An excerpt:

Quote:
On average, only 5.1% of games released within a year of making it onto the BGG Top 100 featured women alone. No games featured a group of characters made up primarily of women. Groups of predominantly men or men alone (i.e. without women) made up 74.4% of the sample. Groups containing an equal number of men and women came in at 20.5%.

But okay, like above, that’s an average. A more telling (and, thankfully, more hopeful) picture shows how representation has changed from 2009 to 2016.


• The 14th annual Japan Boardgame Prizes have been announced, with the seven-member jury selecting Alex Randolph's Mahé — a modern edition of his Die heisse Schlacht am kalten Buffet — for the U-more Award aimed at beginning and family gamers.

In the Voters' Selection category, Libellud's edition of Mysterium took first place, edging out The Voyages of Marco Polo, Karesansui, Deep Sea Adventure, and Patchwork in close voting.

• In older award news, the nominees for the 2016 GRAF LUDO were announced in early June 2016. This award is intended to highlight aesthetically pleasing design in games, and the nominees for 2016 in the family category are The Bloody Inn, Celestia, Game of Trains, Gum Gum Machine, Mysterium, and Die Wände haben Ohren, with the last title being a complete mystery to me and something lacking from the BGG database.

GRAF LUDO nominees in the children's category for 2016 are BauBoom, Die Drachenzähne, Die Helden von Kaskaria, Insekten Hotel, My First Stone Age, and Spookies.
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Thu Jul 14, 2016 1:00 pm
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Indie Boards and Cards Acquires Action Phase Games

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Travises unite! Oakland-based Indie Boards and Cards — which started in 2009 with a one hundred-copy release of owner Travis Worthington's Triumvirate and has now sold more than one million copies of its titles — has announced a merger with Indianapolis-based Action Phase Games, which debuted in 2014 with Heroes Wanted from owners Travis R. Chance and Nick Little.

After the merger, the combined company will retain the Indie Boards and Cards name, with the Action Phase Games brand being used as an imprint for the Heroes Wanted line and, to quote the press release, "other select projects". No changes will occur with retailer terms since both companies use PSI (Publisher Services International) for distribution beyond the reach of their multitude of Kickstarter-funded projects.

Excerpts from the press release announcing this deal:

Quote:
"Having experienced tremendous growth over the past seven years, Indie Boards and Cards was at a critical point," said Travis Worthington, CEO of Indie Boards and Cards. "I just couldn’t keep up with our existing business and continue to grow the company without bringing on a very talented group of game designers and developers. Travis R. Chance and Nick Little are excellent additions, with a proven track record of making great games and providing great convention coverage and customer support. Together we are going to be unstoppable!"

"I am very excited to be working within Indie Boards and Cards," said Travis R. Chance, Director of Product Development & Marketing at Indie Boards and Cards. "We now have access to financial resources and market reach that we never had before and are looking to expand the number and quality of games we release each year. Ever since the news of merger discussions started to spread, we've been seeing a lot more game designs from both established and first-time game designers."

"There are a lot of games and design concepts that have been sitting on the back burner at both Indie Boards and Cards and Action Phase Games that we'll be able to work on now that I am able to focus on board game development full time," said Nick Little, Director of Product Development & Manufacturing at Indie Boards and Cards. "I also look forward to working the convention circuit with Travis & Travis to find the gaming world's next big blockbuster hit."

Due to the merger, Indie Boards and Cards will now have a presence at the 2016 Origins Game Fair (since Action Phase Games already had a stand there) as well as at Gen Con and Spiel later in 2016.
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Mon Jun 13, 2016 1:00 pm
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Links: DaVinci's BANG! Lawsuit Shot Down, Gender in Munchkin & Mark Rosewater on Twenty Years of Magic

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• In 2014, DaVinci Editrice — which publishes games as dV Giochi — filed suit against Yoka Games and ZiKo Games. DaVinci, which has published Emiliano Sciarra's BANG! (along with many expansions and spinoffs) since 2002, alleged copyright infringement based on the publication of 三国杀 (San Guo Sha) in English as Legends of the Three Kingdoms (LOTK) in 2012 by ZiKo Games, with Yoka Games having been the publisher of that game in Chinese since 2007.

As noted by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas in 2014, "The parties agree that Bang! and LOTK have nearly identical rules for playing the game." What differs is that BANG! is set in the U.S. wild west of the 1800s and features characters and artwork typical for that locale, while LOTK has artwork and characters based on the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which dates to the 14th century. The court denied Davinci's request for preliminary injunction, which would have prevented ZiKo Games from further distribution of Legends of the Three Kingdoms, but it allowed DaVinci to pursue its claim that ZiKo and Yoka "improperly copied protected features" of BANG!

In late April 2016, the court ruled against DaVinci, noting in its summary that "Bang!'s characters, roles, and interactions are not substantially similar to those in LOTK. The aspects of the roles, characters, and interactions that are similar are not expressive, and aspects that are expressive are not substantially similar. ZiKo and Yoka are entitled to summary judgment of noninfringement."

The ruling makes for fascinating reading, and you can download a PDF of the ruling here. Some excerpts:

Quote:
Unlike a book or movie plot, the rules and procedures, including the winning conditions, that make up a card-game system of play do not themselves produce the artistic or literary content that is the hallmark of protectable expression. See Boyden, 18 GEO. MASON L. REV. at 466. Instead, the game rules, procedures, and winning conditions create the environment for expression. Id.; see also Nat'l Basketball Ass'n, 105 F.3d at 846 ("Unlike movies, plays, television programs, or operas, athletic events are competitive and have no underlying script.").

This general rule is consistent with the decision in Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (1879), in which the Supreme Court ruled that a particular bookkeeping system was not copyrightable. The language and illustrations that the plaintiff had used to explain his system were copyrightable, but they did not protect the system itself from use by other parties. The Copyright Office has applied the rule that copyright does not protect a system's operation method to games. The December 2011 fact sheet for Copyright Registration of Games states:
Quote:
Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author's expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

Quote:
In Bang!, the Sheriff and Deputies are pitted against the Outlaws and the Renegade. Other than these alignments, the events in a Bang! game are not predetermined because the interactions between the roles have no underlying script or detail and are not fixed. Making certain roles aligned and others opposed is part of the game's winning conditions, but these determine little about how players will progress through the game. See Boyden, 18 GEO. MASON L. REV. at 466 (copyright does not protect systems that set the stage for expression to occur). Like basketball, Bang! has created a number of roles, defined their alignment with and opposition to other roles, and created rules for their interaction, but has not created a scripted or detailed performance for each game. Using Spry Fox's example of Gone with the Wind, Bang! identifies characters analogous to Scarlett O'Hara's two romantic interests, Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler, giving them names and appearances consistent with their setting. Unlike Gone with the Wind, however, Bang! has no specific plot or detailed information about the characters that tells us what these characters will do or how they will interact with other characters.

Quote:
The character content found protectable in Capcom is distinguishable from the character content in Bang! The Bang! characters' abilities are largely drawn from stock-character abilities. Like a punch or kick in a karate game, Bang! characters' abilities are common in games in which the object is to kill the other players, such as enhanced attack ranges and strength. These abilities are neither original to DaVinci nor as imaginative as the moves found protectable in Capcom. The other similar characteristic between Bang! and LOTK is the characters' life points. The court in Capcom specifically held measures of player viability to be commonplace and not protectable, and this court agrees.

Even if the Bang! characters' abilities were not stock, they are still not expressive because they are essentially rules of game play. The character of Rose Doolan, for example, has the ability to strike opponents from a longer distance than other characters. (Docket Entry No. 61, Ex. 6 at 110:6-10). This ability is no more expressive than the ability of a rook in a chess game to take an opposing piece from all the way across the board, as opposed to a pawn that may attack only from the next square. The rook's ability affects other characters or roles in the game because the attack range increases the queen's and king's exposure. But this special ability is neither literary nor artistic. It is an aspect of game play, a subset of the rules that make up the game system.

Quote:
DaVinci argues that because each Bang! player is assigned a character and a role, the alignment of the roles combines with the expressive elements of the characters to create protectable expressive content. This argument fails because any character can be assigned to any role. In one game, Rose Doolan could be the Sheriff who works with one of the Deputies, Slab the Killer, to kill the Outlaws and Renegade. In the next game, Rose Doolan may be the Outlaw who must kill Slab the Killer, who is the Sheriff in that game. The characters' interactions change from game to game. See Nat'l Basketball Ass'n, 105 F.3d at 846 (basketball is not protected because the action is not "scripted"); Boyden,18 GEO. MASON L. REV. at 466 (copyright does not protect systems that set the stage for expression to occur). The combination of roles and characters also adds little to the overall expressive content of the game, given that the content of the game itself is not fixed. It is the equivalent of casting actors to roles in a movie that has no detailed script, no specific plot, and no detailed information about the characters.

• In May 2016, Steve Jackson Games surveyed Munchkin fans about their personal background and experience with the game line. Now SJG's Andrew Hackard has posted findings from the survey on Medium, including an overview of why the survey asked about users' genders in the way that it did:

Quote:
Gender is a specific mechanic in most Munchkin games. Some treasures are better or worse (or completely unusable) depending on your gender, and some monsters get bonuses or penalties when fighting a character of a specific gender. The Munchkin rules say that gender is dual; a character is either male or female, no other options (with a very few cards that cause exceptions, often by removing a character's gender altogether). Starting in the very first Munchkin game in 2001, changing gender resulted in a one-time combat penalty "due to distraction." This idea comes from early fantasy roleplaying games, many of which had effects that would involuntarily and permanently change a character's gender. Munchkin was originally designed as a parody of D&D and similar games, and this was one of the tropes that was brought over for the sake of that parody.

It's not 2001 anymore, and we now have thousands of people who play Munchkin and have never seen games such as D&D, much less explored the history of those games. We occasionally get social media comments, emails, and even physical letters taking us to task for belittling transgender players. Some of them are heartbreaking.

Speaking on behalf of the entire Munchkin team, it is not and never has been our intent to poke fun at the struggles faced by people who don't match society's gender norms. It has always been our view that the penalty for changing gender in Munchkin derived from its involuntary nature, not the gender change itself, and we have encouraged people to remove the penalty  —  or the entire effect  —  if their group found it problematic.

Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater appeared at the Game Developers Conference in March 2016 and gave an hour-long talk titled "Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons Learned" that provides a ton of material for designers of all types of games to consider. (For those who don't like video, Rosewater has started to post the material from his talk in his weeky column on the M:TG website.)

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Sun Jun 5, 2016 1:00 pm
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Mayfair Games Acquires Twilight Creations

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In January 2016, Asmodee announced that it had acquired the worldwide English-language rights to Catan from U.S. publisher Mayfair Games, leaving some to speculate that Mayfair would die off soon without its cash cow.

If Mayfair has died, however, it's at least chosen a suitably undead partner for the future. Five months after the Catan deal, Mayfair Games has announced that it's purchased "a controlling interest" in Kentucky-based Twilight Creations, best known for its endlessly-shambling game series Zombies!!! and other horror-themed games.

Twilight Creations was founded in 2002 by Kerry and Todd Breitenstein, the latter of whom died in 2013; Kerry Breitenstein has continued to lead the company since that time, and she will "remain an integral part of Twilight Creations, overseeing the creative side of the company as the Vice President of Design and Production", according to a press release accompanying the announcement. Mayfair Games's Loren Roznai will serve as President of Twilight Creations and run the company's day-to-day operations.

A further excerpt from the press release:

Quote:
All logistical operations for Twilight Creations are being moved to Mayfair Games in Skokie [Illinois]. All sales and distribution inquires will be handled by our Sales team in Plant City, FL. All distributors will remain the same.

Twilight Creations wasn't scheduled to have a presence at the 2016 Origins Game Fair, which opens June 15, but thanks to this acquisition Mayfair Games will now feature the Zombies!!! line at that show. Mayfair and Twilight Creations will each have their own booths as scheduled at Gen Con 2016 (since those spaces were already paid for), with them sharing a combined space at conventions in 2017.

The press release ends as follows: "We are both excited about the possibilities ahead of us and we hope you'll join us in this Zombie adventure. Stay tuned for BIG Zombies!!! announcements in the coming months!" In April 2016, I posted about the forthcoming Zombies!!! Ultimate Collector Set, Zombies!!! Ultimate Upgrade Kit, and Zombies!!! soundtrack being created by Midnight Syndicate; Twilight Creations had posted about those items solely on Facebook as far as I can tell, so I don't know whether those items are what's hinted at or perhaps other things. Either way, no word yet on when Agrizombies!!! might be released...
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Fri Jun 3, 2016 2:00 pm
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Spiel des Jahres Nominations for 2016: Codenames, Imhotep and Karuba

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In Germany, the Spiel des Jahres and Kinderspiel des Jahres juries have announced their nominations for the largest awards in gaming in terms of publicity and generated sales, and as usual the Spiel des Jahres nominations are a combination of the expected and "Really? That one?" The nominees for Spiel des Jahres, Germany's "game of the year" award, are

Codenames, by Vlaada Chvátil and Czech Games Edition (overview video with the designer on BGG)
Imhotep, by Phil Walker-Harding and KOSMOS (overview video)
Karuba, by Rüdiger Dorn and HABA (overview video)

Codenames was on every list of SdJ nominations that I saw, and given the way that this game has taken the hobby by storm — especially how players have created their own variations for the design using Dixit cards, Cards Against Humanity cards, other game boxes, and so forth — I have a hard time imagining how it won't win. Just yesterday during a game session, a single fellow and a couple told me how they had each introduced Codenames to new people within the past week, with those converts wanting to play again and again and again. The gameplay is as easy or as involved as the players make it; the design invites creativity from the players; and people can join (or drop out) of the game as needed, making it something that goes on the table while you're waiting for guests, only to absorb those guests into the game when they arrive. That said, who knows what will happen as "surefire" winners have failed to take home the red poppel in previous years...

The SdJ jury has also issued a recommended list of five titles, with those titles being:

Agent Undercover (a.k.a. Spyfall)
Animals on Board
Die fiesen 7
Krazy WORDZ
Qwinto



Nominations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres — the enthusiast's game of the year — have likewise been announced by the SdJ jury:

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, by Andreas Pelikan, Alexander Pfister and Lookout Games
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, by Matt Leacock, Rob Daviau and Z-Man Games
T.I.M.E Stories, by Manuel Rozoy and Space Cowboys

Pandemic Legacy has to be the odds-on favorite to win given how the game has dominated the mindspace of those who play it. The game is a story created by you and your fellow players, a world that you both travel through and affect with your actions, leaving you in the end with an incredibly personal experience that feels more like an event than a game. I've been a huge fan of T.I.M.E Stories since 2012 when I first played the prototype, and that game took years to come together — both in terms of assembling scenarios and figuring out how to package the experience into something that players could do easily at home — only to find itself overshadowed by Pandemic Legacy once it finally hit the market.

The recommended list for the KedJ is a bit shorter, but it contains probably the three most expected titles by the BGG audience:

7 Wonders: Duel
Blood Rage
Mombasa



Finally, the separate Kinderspiel des Jahres jury has its own list of nominations for the children's game of the year, and those are:

Leo muss zum Friseur (Leo Goes to the Barber), by Leo Colovini and ABACUSSPIELE
Mmm!, by Reiner Knizia and Pegasus Spiele
Stone Age Junior, by Marco Teubner and Hans im Glück

Hans im Glück with a Kinderspiel nom and HABA with the SdJ nom — things have flipped on their head in Germany! I've played both Leo and Mmm! a fair amount, so it's time to get to work on overview videos for those games. Mmm! already won the Spiel der Spiele in Austria in 2015, and I thought that its absence from the Kinderspiel nominations in 2015 was surprising given how well the game introduces kids to the concept of pressing their luck in games (not that they have any aversion to pressing their luck in real life, mind you), but perhaps it absence was merely a fluke of the calendar, with it being released too late for consideration.

The recommendation list for KidJ consists of the following:

Burg Flatterstein (a.k.a. Flutterstone Castle)
Burg Schlummerschatz (a.k.a. Sleepy Castle)
Die geheimnisvolle Drachenhöhle (a.k.a. The Mysterious Dragon Cave)
Dschungelbande
Harry Hopper
Mein Schatz
Sag's mir! Junior (a.k.a. Time's Up! Kids)



The Kinderspiel des Jahres winner will be announced on June 20, 2016, while the SdJ and KedJ winners will be revealed on July 18, 2016. Should you be at BGG.CON Spring on Memorial Day weekend (May 27-30, 2016), four members of the SdJ jury will be on hand with all of the nominees so that you can try them out. How this will work for Pandemic Legacy will be interesting to discover!
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Mon May 23, 2016 10:34 am
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"Full Distributor Support" for Privateer Press' "Free Rider Policy"

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At the end of March 2016, Privateer Press announced a new sales policy aimed at eliminating "free riders", the company's term for deep discount online retailers. From an ICv2 article on the announcement:

Quote:
"Over the last eleven years...online retailers with nearly no overhead and very little meaningful contact with our audience have been undermining the stability of the market by selling product at discounts well below retail value, depending solely on the efforts of our brick and mortar partners who offer services that nurture our audience and grow the market to move their product," [Privateer Press President Sherry Yeary] wrote. "This model of business is widely recognized by experts and the justice system as 'free riding.' While this can be a viable business model for many mainstream products, it is common knowledge that in our industry it's crippling and anticompetitive."

Privateer plans to create a list of retailers that it views as "free riders," which it defines as "retailers...offering Privateer Press products at an unsustainable deep discount and offer[ing] very little or nothing in the way of services" and will impose sanctions on distributors that sell to those retailers. The list will be updated by adding or deleting retailers as needed. Distributors that sell to retailers on Privateer's "free rider" list will have their shipments of Privateer product, including new releases, delayed. The new policy goes into effect on April 4 [2016].

"We do not condone the free riders' parasitic business model and elect to both continue and enhance our partnerships with those distributors that share our point of view and actively work in the best interests of the brick-and-mortar retailers," Yeary continued. "While we cannot and would not dictate to our distributor partners who they can or cannot sell to, we believe free riders are eroding the foundation of our industry and hurting our business; only with the cooperation of our distribution partners can we prevent that."

Now Privateer Press has followed up that announcement to champion "full distributor support" for this sales policy change. Here's the text of its May 11, 2016 press release:

Quote:
Privateer Press Announces Full Distributor Support for Free Rider Policy

Privateer Press is pleased to announce that all of its North American distribution partners have signed Privateer's new distribution contract and agreed to support the company's new free rider policy, which seeks to discourage high-volume online retailers that do not offer meaningful services from undermining the growth and sustainability of the industry.

Privateer's free rider policy discourages the sale of products to a category of online retailers recognized as harmful to the industry. Thanks to the universal support of Privateer's North American distribution partners, the policy will help ensure that honest, hard-working retailers — including online retailers that are not in violation of the policy — will be able to compete fairly and without the predations of crippling and anticompetitive practices. In doing so, the policy also safeguards the brick-and-mortar retailers' role in providing players with access to the worldwide community of players who enjoy the friendly competition, hobby experiences, and casual and competitive organized play for which Privateer Press is a recognized industry leader.

Privateer's North American Distributors consist of ACD, Aladdin, Alliance, E-Figures, Gamus (GTS), Golden, Lion Rampant, Peachstate Hobby (PHD), Southern Hobby, and Universal.

"We greatly appreciate the support and commitment to the health of brick-and-mortar retailers shown by our North American distribution partners," said Sherry Yeary, president of Privateer Press. "Change won't happen overnight, and eliminating free rider practices will be an ongoing issue that will take time and a united effort between publishers and distributors to overcome, but we have already seen the positive effect of instituting this policy, and we remain committed to its success, no matter what it takes."

Since Privateer announced its new free rider policy, over 200 brick-and-mortar stores who do not currently stock WARMACHINE and HORDES have committed to carrying the new editions of the games because of the policy. All launch kits for the new editions of WARMACHINE and HORDES are sold out at the manufacturer level through presales to distributors.

This sales policy change works along the same lines as that of Asmodee North America — something I've described in detail on BGG News: Reduce the ability of online sellers to move product at prices nearly equal to the distributors' costs so that brick-and-mortar stores will more readily champion and promote that publisher's games. Why? Because these publishers believe that over the long term they will benefit more from the promotion of their games to new audiences through B&M outlets than through immediate sales to existing buyers through online outlets.
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Thu May 12, 2016 4:00 pm
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Links: Wizards of the Coast Gets Sued, Refugees Get Games, and Carcassonne Gets Tabled

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• Four judges of Magic: The Gathering tournaments have sued Magic publisher Wizards of the Coast in United States District Court as they claim that they have been employed as judges by WotC but not fairly compensated for their work. From the lawsuit (PDF):

Quote:
Plaintiffs and the putative class hereby seek compensation for unpaid minimum and overtime wages, missed meal and rest breaks, failure to timely pay wages, failure to furnish timely and accurate wage statements, failure to maintain accurate payroll records, unreimbursed business expenses, for interest and penalties thereon, and for reasonable attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938...

Wizards of the Coast has responded by stating that "These lawsuits are meritless." More fully:

Quote:
With the exception of the Pro Tour, the World Magic Cup, and the Magic World Championship, Magic events are run by tournament organizers and local game stores who directly engage judges. But these lawsuits claim that Wizards runs all events and that the people judging those events are Wizards employees. Anyone who has played at their local store knows this simply is not true.

Magic: The Gathering is fortunate to have the greatest community in gaming. Fans choose to become judges out of a sincere love of the game and as a way to enjoy their favorite hobby. They ensure events are fair and fun, and we appreciate everything they do.

On the "Legal Solutions" blog run by Thomson Reuters, Jeremy Byellin writes that "It's difficult to envision a scenario wherein a federal judge...somehow determines that these judges aren't employees of Wizards of the Coast" given a 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc. (BFI) ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Writes Byellin:

Quote:
Wizards undoubtedly controls the terms and conditions of the employment of these judges – even through the intermediaries of local tournament organizers – such that it would be considered an employer of Magic judges under BFI. Trying to redirect employment responsibilities onto local gaming stores simply won't work in court...

The problem for Wizards is that there is no way that judges would ever be legally considered "volunteers." There is a lot of regulatory guidance on this matter. Volunteers are those "who perform[] hours of service for a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered." Neither Wizards nor its local tournament organizers are public or non-profit organizations. And judges usually expect some kind of compensation for judging at events (although it's usually in the form of Magic products).

Kniziathons have been a thing for a while now, including a big one in 2015 for Reiner Knizia's 30th anniversary as a published game designer, and now Ward Batty has decided to do something similar for designer Wolfgang Kramer, with the first Kramerthon! taking place at Batty's Game-o-Rama event in Atlanta, Georgia on May 26-30, 2016. Lots of Kramer designs will be on hand for attendees, and prizes await both the person who plays the most different Kramer titles and the person who wins the most different games.

• Voting is open for the 2016 Deutscher Spiele Preis and all gamers are welcome to submit their votes here. You can vote for five games in the adult game category (with your #1 game receiving 5 points, your #2 game 4 points, etc.) and one game in the children's category. Whichever game receives the most points wins, with the winner being announced during Spiel 2016 in October. Voters can receive prizes based on being correct or through random draw.

• Germany has accepted more than a million refugees from Syria since 2014, and while the political fallout from this immigration is still ongoing (and beyond the scope of this blog), I can mention two game-related developments. First, designer/publisher Steffen Mühlhäuser of Steffen-Spiele has successfully crowdfunded a games project titled FIVE! (or Give Me FIVE!) to the tune of €38,000, with this being a collection of five games that can be played with the two sets of included tokens, with rules in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Tigrinya (in addition to German and English). The crowdfunded games will be given away to refugees and refugee centers — not sent to backers — and the sale of a copy through the Steffen-Spiele website funds the giving of another copy.

• For its part, AMIGO Spiel says that in response to a growing number of requests, it has created rulesheets in Arabic for a number of its games — such as Halli Galli, Klack!, and Ring L Ding.

• In late April 2015, German publisher Hans im Glück celebrated a world record game of Carcassonne in which three gamers from Sweden laid out 10,007 tiles in 25 hours. Here's a shot of the full layout, followed by a pan-and-scan video for those who prefer the eroticism of a slow reveal:


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Links: Making a Fortune While Going Broke, Crowdfunding as Art, and the 2016 Dice Tower Award Nominees

W. Eric Martin
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• The old joke goes: How do you make a small fortune in the game industry? Start with a large fortune, then try to publish a game. Note that this same joke is told about the wine industry, real estate, book publishing, football clubs, and any number of other businesses in which people can burn through piles of money with little to show for it, which includes every business ever — but despite the joke's chestnutty woodiness, it still contains a nugget of truth, especially when you sabotage yourself on your way to that large fortune.

On Geek & Sundry, Ben Riggs catalogs the fortunes of Chaosium Inc., which collected more than a half-million dollars on a Kickstarter project for the seventh edition of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game — only to discover after the fact that the very success of that KS would lead to a disastrous outcome for the company. After all, when you lose money on each customer, runaway success only heightens those losses.

The problems started with an earlier KS for a new edition of the Call of Cthulhu campaign Horror on the Orient Express, which brought in ten times the $20k goal that Chaosium had established, but without covering the costs required to fulfill what was promised to backers. From the article: "The previous management only charged international backers $20 to ship a ten pound game. The actual cost of shipping was vastly higher, sometimes as much as $150 for backers in Japan. [Current Chaosium president Rick] Meints said that this Kickstarter alone likely lost Chaosium $170,000." What's more:

Quote:
The Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter compounded these problems...

The magnitude of the error can be seen in a simple glance at the shipping. At the "Nictitating Nyarlathotep" level of pledge, backers would end up having eight books shipped to them. International backers had to pay a total of $355 for all their rewards plus shipping, which sounds like a lot, until you consider that's only $15 more than customers in the continental US were paying. The idea that shipping eight books to Japan would cost a mere $15 more is a madness not even Lovecraft could have conceived.

As described in the article, in June 2015 Chaosium founder Greg Stafford and Call of Cthulhu creator Sandy Petersen took over from the former owners and preceded to shell out a bunch of their own money in order to make things right.

Bottom line: If you plan to run a crowdfunding campaign, do your homework, figure out what shipping will cost you, and account for that cost in what you charge. Don't promise the moon and a ham sandwich when you've budgeted solely for the sandwich.

• For another perspective on crowdfunding, Byron Collins of Collins Epic Wargames invites you to consider "4 Reasons Why Every Kickstarter Project Is a Work of Art". To do this, Collins applies four statements about art to the crowdfunding projects themselves — that is, the presentation of the project, not the product itself. The statements in question:

—Art ignites emotion.
—"Good" art is well thought out.
—Any piece of art has a limited time to make an impression.
—Every piece of art invites judgment.

Quote:
I've visited a lot of big name galleries — most recently The Met and The Guggenheim in NYC — and seen countless works of art by artists across many centuries in many different styles. But, I can honestly say I probably spent no more than 1 minute on each piece of art, if that... Some of these artists spent years creating whatever you're looking at for 1 minute.

The same is true with any Kickstarter project. Someone who clicks a link to your project page has no idea how much time went into that presentation, that work of art, but, they know within 30 seconds if they are interested enough to read more or watch your video.

• The Dice Tower has announced the nominees for its eponymous Dice Tower Gaming Awards in fourteen categories, including best game from a new designer, best artwork, best game reprint, best game theming, and best small publisher. Each category has five nominees, as chosen by a jury of Dice Tower staff and prominent bloggers and reviewers, except for the "game of the year" category, which features these ten nominees: 7 Wonders: Duel, Blood Rage, Codenames, Elysium, The Gallerist, Mysterium, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, Roll for the Galaxy, T.I.M.E Stories, and The Voyages of Marco Polo. The winners will be announced at the Dice Tower Convention in July 2016.

• In The New Yorker, Siobhan Roberts profiles "The Dice You Never Knew You Needed", i.e., the d120, which was created by Robert Fathauer and Henry Segerman of The Dice Lab and which debuted at the 2016 Gathering for Gardner. An excerpt: "The d120 is a polyhedron, more specifically a disdyakis triacontahedron, a geometric creature first described by the French-Belgian mathematician Eugène Catalan in 1865..." Ignoring the technical name, the d120 looks like a dodecahedron that has had each face replaced with an object created by ten skinny triangles that meet at a single point. A longer excerpt from The New Yorker article:

Quote:
The die's most winning property lies in its being numerically balanced: the face numbers are spread out evenly, such that any two opposing sides sum to a hundred and twenty-one. Each of the die's sixty-two corners boasts equanimity, too. (A vertex at which ten triangles meet, for instance, sums to six hundred and five, which is ten times the average of all the numbers on the die.) All this fine-tuning was courtesy of Robert Bosch, a professor at Oberlin College who uses mathematical optimization techniques to create art. Bosch spent nearly two months running various accelerated brute-force computations (a process called integer programming), trying to get everything in sync. He almost abandoned two especially tricky vertices, which couldn't be made to coöperate, but past his deadline he made one last-ditch effort. He coded a script, let the program run, and came back a few hours later to discover that his computer had stopped. "It had either crashed or found a perfect solution," Bosch said. Lucky day, it was the latter. "It was a great feeling. And it was kind of ridiculous how good a feeling it was, because it's not practical. It's just a cool object, a beautiful object. I really love it, but it's not Earth-changing."


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