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W. Eric Martin
April 1, 2016 is almost here, with that date being the start of Asmodee North America's new sales policies for U.S. hobby game retailers, whether brick-or-mortar retailer, online retailer, or both, so I thought I'd reflect on what's changing and why. These statements are my own (except when I quote someone) and are based on my experience in the industry and multiple interviews on and off the record; they do not reflect the opinion of my employer, BoardGameGeek LLC. With that in mind, let's go...
In its March 2016 issue, Inc. profiled Pharmapacks, a $70 million retail business in the U.S. that sells a somewhat random assortment of items through the online marketplaces on eBay, Walmart.com, Overstock, and (most importantly) Amazon.com, from which Pharmapacks earns 40% of its revenue. Here's an excerpt from Burt Helm's article:
[T]hey discovered that selling on a platform like Amazon was totally different from running their drugstore or even a standalone website... They could sell whatever they wanted, at whatever price, for whatever period of time. A marketplace vendor doesn't worry about stocking a full line of shampoos, or whether certain soaps are always on sale. If they want to sell lotion one week and hairspray the next, they can do that.
Early on, the guys decided that it would be easiest to offer whatever their suppliers had in stock. They built each online listing, and had a developer code a script that scraped the suppliers' databases to enter each product's information. When a customer ordered something, they in turn would order it from the supplier, pick it up, and then pack and ship it. That's still the model, more or less, though nowadays they order in bulk using sales projections and need three trucks and a van to pick everything up. Inventory often stays in their warehouse only for a few hours before going right back out the door. The business is less like traditional merchandising than it is like a commodities trader from a bygone era, buying and selling well-known goods and turning a profit on each transaction.
The article notes that Pharmapacks averages a 3-6% net profit margin per item that it sells, while making 570,000 shipments each month on an inventory of 25,000 different products.
What does this have to do with games? Well, let's turn the clock back to December 2015 when the newly-formed Asmodee North America announced that as of the start of 2016 it would allow only five distributors in the U.S. — ACD Distribution, Alliance Game Distributors, GTS Distribution, PHD Games, and Southern Hobby Supply — to distribute its products to retailers within the country and that ANA "will be very selective as to which online merchants will be authorized to sell our products". While Pharmapacks doesn't retail games (as far as I can tell), it's an example of the type of company that ANA doesn't want handling its products — a business interested in short-term sales numbers with no consideration for long-term growth of the gaming hobby. To excerpt once again from the Inc. article:
The next time you buy some humdrum product on Amazon, pause for a moment and check the Other Sellers listed on the right side of the page. That lip balm? Thirteen vendors offer it. Those vitamins? Twenty. As you click and shop, a battle rages in that little box, fought every day by entrepreneurs like [Pharmapacks'] Vagenas and Tramunti on practically every one of Amazon's 410 million product pages.
This is the Amazon Marketplace, where anybody can sell just about anything right alongside Amazon's own wares. Unlike eBay, where each vendor maintains a separate listings page, Amazon tidily groups its Marketplace sellers by item, hiding away the inferior offers, to showcase the best deals up front. (In seller parlance, landing the number-one spot is called "getting the buy box.") What looks so clean on your screen obscures the messy and massive jungle of the Marketplace: There are now more than two million sellers on Amazon. While the Seattle-based giant still sells the most popular items on the site itself, Marketplace sellers now ship nearly half of the products — about two billion items each year, all told — and those sales are growing twice as fast as Amazon's, according to the consultancy ChannelAdvisor. The Marketplace started in 2000 selling used books. In 2016, it's a retail phenomenon as significant as any in the past 50 years — together these sellers ring up what ChannelAdvisor estimates to be $132 billion in sales each year. That's more than Walmart sold in 1997. Yet we know so little about who they are.
For the most part, buyers are comfortable not knowing who is selling them these products. They want Product X at the cheapest price possible — or (alternatively) a cheap price convinces them that Product X will be a fine replacement for Product Y or Z — and they know that if something goes wrong, Amazon will reimburse them for the purchase price.
Manufacturers, on the other hand, may not be comfortable having their goods sold for bargain basement prices. As ANA CEO Christian T. Petersen stated in an interview with ICv2 in Dec. 2015: "When we, or one of our publishing partners, start development of a game product, we do so with a conviction that the product will have a certain value to the gamer, the consumer. On the basis of this expected value, we invest in design, creative inputs, safety testing, manufacturing, marketing, licensing, and the many other aspects of successfully getting a game to market." Having games sold a few percentage points over cost diminishes the perceived value of the item, especially when a retailer (or a distributor acting as a retailer, which has happened in the past) dumps overstock, thereby tanking the market for that game, which necessitates dumping by all the other distributors as well in order not to get stuck with dead goods.
Part of "successfully getting a game to market" involves that final step of getting the game into the hands of players. While Fantasy Flight Games (which Asmodee acquired in Nov. 2014) and Days of Wonder (bought by Asmodee in August 2014) sell games directly through their websites, for the most part these brands and parent company Asmodee North America sell product either directly to mass-market vendors (Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble) or indirectly to retailers through distributors, and once those vendors or distributors get hold of the games, there's no telling where they'll end up for sale or for how much — and that's part of what ANA intends to change through the imposition of its new sales policies. (Note that all of these changes affect the U.S. only, despite the "North America" in the company's name.)
By cutting the number of distributors it works with — and more importantly by requiring each brick-and-mortar retailer to agree to the terms of its Asmodee North America Specialty Retail Policy (PDF) and become an "Asmodee Specialty Retailer" — ANA has an easier time tracking who's buying what. By requiring online hobby retailers to purchase items directly from ANA, the publisher will have similar knowledge on that section of the marketplace.
(During a 45-minute off-camera interview at GAMA Trade Show in March 2016, Petersen noted to me that some online retailers would effectively by buying from ANA via proxy, as with, say, CoolStuffInc, which is almost adjacent to a warehouse owned by GTS Distribution. In cases like those, Petersen said it made sense to take advantage of the proximity of the distributor to serve that customer more directly. Petersen also acknowledged that online retail outlets with an established brick-and-mortar presence, such as CSI, could continue both operations under the new ANA policies as long as the businesses are legally separated and the inventory for each business kept distinct. ANA CMO Steve Horvath and ANA VP of Marketing Aaron Elliott also participated in this interview.)
What's more, ANA is changing the discounts at which games are available to its B&M and online clients, with B&M purchasing games at roughly a 45% discount off MSRP (based on their purchase volume with the distributor) and with online receiving a substantially lower (albeit unpublicized) discount off MSRP. At GTS 2016 as part of the ANA Keynote Address, Petersen spent fifteen minutes laying out his explanation for why ANA is changing its discount policy, reaching back to the 1980s to identify how stores used to be the hub for how people discovered and learned more about games. Petersen said that game publishers adopted a discount policy at that time similar to the comic industry due to games often being sold through those same distributors, and despite all the changes that have taken place over the last thirty years, that discount policy has never been revisited, even though (in Petersen's view) online sellers provide little service to buyers beyond the mere availability to games. (Detractors view this change in discount as something designed to "prop up" B&M stores; Petersen would counter that the online retailers are the ones who have been propped up by a discount that outweighs their service to buyers and this change will balance discount for services provided.)
Brick-and-mortar stores, on the other hand, enable the long-term success of ANA based on the availability of games, the introduction of games to people not already in the hobby, the introduction of new games to those already in the hobby, and the development of a gaming community based on shared playing spaces and events. Fantasy Flight Games, for example, has supported organized play events for years for multiple games. In 2015 alone, FFG sold more than 33,000 event kits to B&M retailers, with Elliott estimating that "between two and three times as many kit-less events occur, putting the total number of global events easily above 100,000 for 2015". Asmodee started its own organized play program titled AsmoPlay in 2015, and it's expanding that program in 2016. Organized play programs are designed to encourage B&M retailers to promote these titles to new and existing players, and if ANA has a better idea of which stores are selling which games (which it will), it can in the future tailor event programs to match those sales records or reach out to stores to encourage more participation in such events.
In our interview, Petersen stated that ANA doesn't have hard numbers for the breakdown of sales via B&M and sales via online outlets (something they hope to change once these policies go into effect), but I believe — and multiple talks with people at various levels of the hobby have confirmed — that the vast majority of game sales are made through B&M outlets. Why change discount policies if this is true? For the same reason that Mayfair Games instituted similar changes in 2007, and to cover that history lesson, I present this lengthy column that I published on BoardgameNews.com on October 30, 2007:
Mayfair Games has announced a discount cap for its line of board and card games. What's relevant from the end user's point of view is that retailers must now offer no more than a 20% discount on Mayfair products or else risk losing the ability to carry Mayfair titles in the future. For reference, here's the announcement as it appeared on game industry forums:
Dear Trade Customers,
Greetings from Mayfair Games! Our team wishes you all well. After all, we wouldn't be looking forward to our 27th year of publishing fine games without your strong, enduring support.
We're writing to you to outline our retail pricing policy. Our manufacturer's suggested retail prices ("MSRPs") reflect our firm belief in a healthy balance between "free trade" and "fair trade." Mayfair Games embraces and supports healthy competition. We feel that in order for our market — and thus our company — to prosper now and over the long term all our partners in the distribution chain need to respect this balance.
Whenever a firm threatens healthy competition among our trade customers, and thus endangers this balance, we must act in a vigorous, even-handed fashion to police the distribution and sale of our fine products. Mayfair Games doesn't intend to specifically dictate how its customers do business...but we will act in cases of predatory, irrational, or patently detrimental trade activity...
So, it's important that all of our trade customers know where we stand on pricing and discounting...
• Distributors should sell Mayfair Games products at no less than a 25% margin or no more than a 50% discount off MSRP.
• Retailers should sell Mayfair Games products at no more than a 20% discount off MSRP, or the appropriate ratio given exchange rates.
Trade customers that violate these guidelines shall be subject to sanctions. If necessary, we will cut them off.
We're well aware of the fact that our individual customers operate under individual circumstances. Some are more profitable than others. Some seek to establish themselves or need to acquire some critical market share. Mayfair Games understands, and sympathizes with, this reality.
At the same time, we've been in business long enough to know that that it's far better for us to encourage healthy competition rather than cutthroat discounting. Ours is not a mass-market business, nor is it a business based on inter-changeable widgets. Our wares are special, unique, premium games. Savage discounting is unnecessary and counter-productive for everyone in the mid-to-long term. While some individual consumers might benefit in the short-run, rabid discounting only acts to erode the profits and incentives necessary to keep our market healthy.
As it is, consumers receive great entertainment value for full MSRP. It's unnecessary — and even a bit insane — to subsidize folks who already enjoy a good deal. It is far healthier for us, our distributors, and our retailers to derive a healthy profit from the sale of our games than it is for us to see them dumped into the marketplace. Every viable firm in our distribution chain should collect its fair profit and have an incentive to further promote, buy, and sell our games.
Our trade customers should endeavor to increase their profit margins, not their discounts. They can thus improve service, which — along with the high quality of our games — should be the principal means of growing our market.
Mayfair Games asks all its trade customers to understand that we are partners in growing a healthy games market. Again, we want free and fair trade. It's healthy...for all of us. It's in our best interest...and in the best interest of the entire social game industry.
That's all for now. Take care.
For Mayfair Games,
(CEO, Mayfair Games, Inc.)
The targets of this policy change — deep-discount online retailers — are clear (although anonymous), and the terms used to describe them and their practices are damning: "predatory, irrational, or patently detrimental"; "savage"; "rabid"; "a bit insane".
Response to the Mayfair announcement has been all over the place. BoardsandBits.com and Thoughthammer.com have announced that they'll abide by the new discount policy, while Boulder Games has vowed to stop carrying Mayfair titles. Retailers on one industry forum I frequent have applauded Mayfair and said that they'll demo the company's titles — such as the Catan line that relaunches in early November 2007 — more heavily over the holidays and beyond. Hardcore gamers on BoardGameGeek have run the gamut from personal boycotts to shoulder-shrugging. Casual gamers have no response because they don't even know about the policy change.
What's fascinated me the most are the predictions that gamers have posted on BoardGameGeek, most of which, quite frankly, are from people talking through their non-existent hats. Gamers with no retail business experience have posted ludicrous scenarios of how the Mayfair policy change will play out in the years ahead: Mayfair's sales will plummet, Mayfair will raise prices to make up for lower sales, Mayfair will have trouble signing designers due to lower sales, Mayfair will publish worse games in the future because other publishers won't want to license games to it due to its (say it with me now) lower sale volume.
How do I know these people have no retail business experience? Because they start their arguments with claims that contradict reality, and the surest way to reach faulty conclusions is to start with nonsense.
Chad Ellis of Your Move Games posted a long note on BGG detailing how retail works within the game industry, which I'll summarize for your education: Publishers typically sell product to distributors at 40% of the MSRP; distributors typically sell product to retailers at 50-60% of MSRP (with the discount dependent on the volume of business from the retailer and the goods purchased); retailers sell the product at 65%-100% of MSRP to customers.
Deep-discount online retailers are at the 65% end of the scale, offering customers 35% off the MSRP because they have relatively low fixed costs and want to encourage frequent, large, low-margin purchases. They make money on volume, so they want to move goods out the door as quickly as possible. Brick-and-mortar retailers fall on the 100% end of the scale, charging MSRP because they need the high margin on sales to cover their relatively high fixed costs. They make money on service, giving customers side benefits beyond the game itself to encourage repeat business.
Admittedly not all retail stores provide side benefits. Some of them feature no gaming space, no bulletin boards to find local gamers, no tournaments or open game days, employees or owners who don't know the games, poor return policies, no food or drinks for sale, no loyalty program, no preorder or special order program, and prices over MSRP. Some people have no game store at all within driving distance. Many people do have such stores nearby, however, and for these stores providing these types of services — along with electricity, garbage service, retail association fees, and so on — is part of the cost of doing business, a cost that must be covered by the margin on the products they sale.
Mayfair Games' open support for retail stores isn't new. In a May 2007 essay on ICv2, former CEO Will Niebling noted:
The game market needs a healthy balance of core market and broad market retailers. The former serve as our consistent retail foundation, the latter as a means of occasionally reaching out to a broader audience. Titles that appeal to the latter still sell in the core market; however, it's not a two-way street. This means that in order to sell the games that generate much if not most of the profit that keeps the industry alive and healthy, manufacturers rely on shops both within and without the core game trade.
Online game discounters cater to a subset of the core hobby gamer. These individuals know which games are new, what the BGG ratings on these games are, and what BGG even is. They tend to be very price-conscious and view anything that will cost them more money as a personal affront. (Such as, oh, I don't know, convention previews that take hundreds of hours of work...) Their view of this announcement is that Mayfair is gouging them, that Mayfair is adding a premium to the cost of its games, that Mayfair is putting itself at a competitive disadvantage, that Mayfair is engaging in price-fixing and short-sighted business practices.
Hogwash, says I.
Starting with the last claim and working backwards, "price-fixing" refers to sellers who collectively decide to charge a set price for an item, a practice that typically happens with a highly desirable item in short supply. A hypothetical example: When Zooloretto won Spiel des Jahres, for example, and retailers became aware that the game was in short supply from Rio Grande, if they had talked amongst one another and decided to sell the few copies still in stock at $60, that would be an example of price-fixing.
Every company that provides product to retailers, either directly or indirectly, sells the product under certain conditions, some of which are spelled out in business contracts and some of which are implied. Retailers can't, for example, add a label to a product that promises something not included within the packaging.
One thing that companies can do in their business contracts is specify pricing terms for the products to be sold. Why are Apple computers and iPods the same price no matter where they're sold? Look to the contracts that Apple signs with distributors and retailers. Yes, a retailer still has the ability to sell a product at whatever price it chooses, but if it's violating the terms of the business contract it signed to get that product, it shouldn't expect to get more stock in the future. The retailer knows the terms going in, and if it disagrees with the terms, it shouldn't carry the product.
Why do companies set pricing terms? For multiple reasons, but two are important for this discussion. First, they want give their products a certain image. An article on the Starbucks coffee chain that I read recently noted that you'll never see sales or discounts for its drinks. A quote from the article: "[Starbucks chairman Howard] Schultz wants you to view his product as the epitome of opulence."
Take this line from the Mayfair press release: "Our wares are special, unique, premium games." You might disagree with this assessment, but that's the image Mayfair wants to present. Mayfair can't compete on price with Hasbro because it doesn't produce games in the millions; what's more, it doesn't even want to pretend to compete on price. It has a specialty item unavailable elsewhere (in English) and it wants buyers to think of its products in those terms.
Mayfair isn't alone in this regard. The typical Spiel des Jahres winner is heavily discounted during the holidays and available in hundreds of non-game stores across Germany. When Ticket to Ride won SdJ in 2004, Days of Wonder refused to adopt a deep discount policy and offered the game to retailers only on its standard terms. Many retailers balked, and the game appeared in fewer locations than most SdJ winners. Days of Wonder doesn't want to sell discount games to looky-loos on the hunt for a bargain; it wants to sell beautiful games to customers again and again.
Besides, what would customers think when Ticket to Ride: Europe debuted at €40 after they saw Ticket to Ride advertised for, say, €25 all over the place? They'd probably feel like they were being taken advantage of, a feeling that gamers have today when thinking about being charged (gasp!) only 20% off the MSRP of Mayfair products.
As for the impact of this reduced retailer discount, how does it actually play out in practical terms? For a game with a $50 retail, a 20% discount equals $40 while a 35% discount brings the price down to $32.50 — a difference of $7.50. That's what all the fuss is about?! I don't know about the rest of you, but my wife and I spend far more than that when we go out for dinner — or even just for ice cream after dinner. Skip a $5 appetizer at some family restaurant and after tax and tip are worked in, you'll have saved the $7.50 needed to pay the exorbitant price now charged for a Mayfair big box game (not to mention saving yourself and your family the negative health effects of a deep-fried Texas Tonion). Alternatively, don't take a flyer on some cheap card game (just because it's cheap), and you'll be able to get the game you really want.
If you bought three Mayfair games per year, you'd spend maybe $20 more — or the equivalent of one game, for those who automatically equate money with games. (I'll admit to doing so.) Mayfair is gambling that people have enough room in their budget to spend an extra $20 annually, a safe bet I feel sure.
As for the second reason that companies set pricing terms, they want to develop and perpetuate a certain business environment for the sale and continued growth of their games. Mayfair Games believes that brick-and-mortar stores provide a better environment for the introduction of its games to new players, so it's adopting policies to put that belief into action — or rather it's continuing such policies. Mayfair has already had a demo game program in which stores that order a certain small number of games can receive a free copy to be used for demonstration purposes.
Many gamers can give examples of people who they personally introduced to hobby games, and some present themselves as individuals who discovered hobby games through an online retailer. Great, wonderful — but you are not representative of game buyers en masse. Most people will not find hobby games through a random Internet search, and even those who are taught their first hobby game by a friend will benefit from the services of a real world game store. As Chad Ellis wrote in his BGG post, "My sales to people who already know about Battleground is probably only helped by discounters...but my ability to grow the market of Battleground players is hurt whenever a FLGS decides not to carry it."
In general, brick-and-mortar stores do a wonderful job of "gamer education", converting interested passers-by into gamers. Educating customers takes employee time, which equals money, and a retailer hopes that investment pays off so that customers learn how to navigate a store on their own, leaving employees free to assist and educate new customers. If customers head to deep-discount online retailers as they become more educated, the stores lose out on that investment and will be less willing or able to offer it in the future.
Mayfair undoubtedly has a better handle on the game industry and what it needs to do to ensure its future than any handful of people whose experience consists solely of purchasing and playing games. Its policy change has already engendered notices of support from multiple retailers who have said they'll demo Mayfair games more because they'll be less likely in the future to lose customers solely on the basis of price.
Sure, Mayfair might lose a few customers in the short term, but those who make purchasing decisions solely or primarily on the basis of price are the worst kind of customer that a business can have. These customers want low-cost goods, but they complain if the goods look or feel low-cost; they have no loyalty and make each decision on a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately basis; they value a great deal over a great product; their cheapness is matched only by their volume when complaining about how they were done wrong by some predatory company.
Businesses can't make decisions based on the whims of this unreliable group. From Mayfair's point of view, these people make up a small percentage of BGG visitors, who are themselves a speck among the number of people who play games worldwide. When you're hunting for elephants, you can't let yourself be bothered by the swarming of gnats...
P.S.: Marcus King, owner of Titan Games & Music, posted the following story in an industry forum that devotes a lot of resources and advice to game retailers. I reprint the story (lightly edited) with his permission:
On a not completely unrelated topic, last evening, after posting the earlier thanks to Mayfair, I had a couple come into my store and ask the sales clerk on duty: "Uh, we are looking for a settlers of Cat-On."
Since my sales clerk is not as knowledgable on games as I am, I stepped out and had a good conversation with the couple, in their late 40s, who wanted to find the Cat-On Game.
I showed them the game, discussed its playability, and asked how they heard of it. It was for their son, returning from a tour in Iraq, and he wanted it. They then expressed absolute sticker shock when I showed them it was $38.00.
The father was a bit surprised that a "game" could cost $38.00. Why they had just bought a nephew a set of Monopoly
for $14.99 at a TRU in Kalamazoo!! How could this (smaller) game be worth more money!?!?
I asked them how often they played their favorite game. They were a bit surprised by the question, so I asked them whether they played cards, bowled, bingo, paintball or volleyball. This confused them more. I explained that all of these were examples of "playing a game" — though the games were far different, they were all games.
I went on to explain that Monopoly
and Settlers of Catan
were not competing products. That Settlers of Catan
was a game product that competed for their time with a video rental, or maybe playing Euchre
with friends. I also said, "I am not sure I really like this game, I haven't decided yet. I have played it only about 500 times." They laughed, then I explained that I was not exaggerating — I had played Settlers
about two or three times a week for about four years.
They asked why I wasn't bored with the game, so I went into the replayability factor of having a randomly generated board with the tiles, and how starting positions were taken, etc. I further went on to say that if they played Catan
only ten times, it would have cost them less than $2 per player, per game. I also mentioned that most people who played and enjoyed the Catan
series of games played it more than ten times.
Then I closed with my best pitch: "If you buy this game and play it — and decide you don't like it — I will take a return on it, opened and played, for a full refund."
They bought two copies, one for their son and one for them. They are coming to our next game night to play Pillars of the Earth
Okay, that was a long diversion — yet it wasn't a diversion at all as everything that I stated in that column is still true. Far from going out of business due to people boycotting its titles, Mayfair Games increased sales of Catan year after year after year. In 2013, Mayfair Games decreased retailers' maximum advertised discount to 10%, and in January 2016 it [thread=49680]sold the English-language publishing rights to Catan to ANA[/thread]. (The purchase price has not been announced; one figure I've heard — $20 million — would equal roughly $1 per Catan item sold since its debut in 1995 as Catan GmbH reports sales of more than 23 million copies Catan items, including expansions. Fenton, by the way, now heads Catan Studio, a publishing studio within ANA that oversees all things Catan.)
Asmodee North America will likely be similarly affected after lowering the discount at which online retailers can purchase ANA titles — and by "similarly affected", I mean "barely affected at all". ANA has stated that it will not "institute or impose official price floors or 'minimum advertised price' policies" on its authorized retailers, but the effect of lowering discounts works roughly the same way as a MAP, lowering the discount at which an online retailer will offer games to buyers.
Petersen understands that some people will buy fewer ANA titles as a result of these changes. At GTS 2016, ANA Executive Projects Manager Anton Torres got in hot water when he stated on livestream broadcasts from both The Dice Tower and BGG that ANA would prefer that people buy two games under the new policy than ten under the old. While I understand the point he was trying to make — better a small number of enthusiastic fans than a mass of indifferent volume buyers — Petersen refuted Torres' statement, noting that Torres is not part of the business-side of ANA and stating that he is fine with people buying however many games they want, whether they treat them as doorstops or actually play the games.
At the same time, Petersen says that ANA isn't looking solely at sales volume when trying to determine what's best for its long-term health. More specifically, he said, "If all we cared about was moving units, we could sell games direct to buyers for 50% off MSRP and move far more than we do now." That's not ideal for long-term growth, though, because all you're doing with an operation like that is selling to an existing customer base instead of working with retailers to introduce your games to new people. To quote Petersen again from the ICv2 article:
The most significant obstacle in the growth and perceived value of the gaming business is the need for players to find other players, and for new players to enter the hobby. I estimate that the hobby loses between 10-20% of its players every year, so the creation of new players into the hobby is vital for every participant to have a thriving marketplace and have exciting new products developed.
Petersen understands that some will boycott ANA based on these new policies, but he doesn't care. Okay, he probably wouldn't say that directly, instead stating that this is a business decision that reflects long-term goals, yada yada yada, but this would be my interpretation of his statement: "You do whatever you feel is necessary when determining which games to purchase, just as you've always done in the past with everything else you've purchased, whether game, soap, cereal, or slacks. For our part, we need to do whatever we feel is necessary when determining how much to charge for the games that we produce so that we can be in a position to continue to produce games far into the future. Ideally you'll still buy our games, and we'll do our best to produce games that merit your attention, but if not, I hope you can at least understand what we're trying to do."
As I stated in the Mayfair Games post, people who announce such boycotts and stick to them "make up a small percentage of BGG visitors, who are themselves a speck among the number of people who play games worldwide". Yes, BoardGameGeek is the largest game site in the world, with more than 3.5 million users in any thirty day period, with a plugged-in userbase that often knows more about what's coming out when from which designers than those who own the game stores in their town — but these BGG users are not representative of the larger world of game buyers because most games are bought by people who have never heard of BGG.
In a March 2016 BGG News post, for example, I quoted designer Fréderic Moyersoen saying that sales in the Saboteur line have reached a total of 1,400,000 copies, and a BGG user subsequently noted that BGGers list ownership of only 27,121 of those copies, roughly 2% of the total. Similarly, at Spielwarenmesse 2016 Mayfair Games noted to me that Moyersoen's Nuns on the Run — a game rarely talked about or logged as played on BGG — is on its sixth printing and such a consistent seller that the publisher is considering an expansion for the future. Catan, as mentioned earlier, has sales of more than 23 million items across the line, whereas BGG ownership for all of Catan is roughly 300,000 items — just over 1%. Heck, as I noted in the initial ANA announcement about its sales policy changes, Days of Wonder claims to have sold more than three million Ticket to Ride games, while no more than 175,000 TtR items of any type are listed as owned by BGG users.
No, not all BGGers record their collection online, but if you double these figures, the larger point remains: The pool of existing gamers is vast, far beyond what we see on our ever-busy site, and the pool of potential gamers-to-be dwarfs this number multiple times over. That larger pool of gamers and potential gamers is who ANA is shooting to serve years down the road by instituting these policies, and however much some people might complain or wish otherwise, the problems of some percentage of these three million little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that...
W. Eric Martin
Let's take a breather from the game demonstration videos that BGG recorded at Spiel 2015 — dozens more still to come! — to present that convention from another angle, namely the one in which you find yourself surrounded by games and unsure of how to fit them all in your suitcase(s) in order to get them home.
Spiel 2015 was my tenth trip to Essen, and the tenth time that I had to finagle with dozens of boxes in order to violate the laws of nature and fit more than was thought possible into each and every box. This year was a bit different from years past as my wife, son and I traveled through Europe a bit post-Spiel, so I shipped most games home to travel lighter on the road. Even so, the principles of packing that I present in the video still apply.
Perhaps in the future, whether at Spiel, Gen Con or another gaming event, I can create a highlight video of the initial packing process, one in which every game is punched, bagged, and stuffed, one that shows a stack of inserts to be left behind for the hotel employee, one that depicts the teetering pile of inserts, cards, catalogs, and rulebooks destined for the recycling bin at Spiel.
I hope that this video proves helpful for you in the future!
My name is Oobydoob Scooby-dooby Banooby. I have the silliest name in the galaxy
The term "dead air" was originally used to describe the silence caused by an unintended interruption in a radio broadcast, but I'd like to re-define it and use it to describe the empty space so generously provided by many manufacturers in their game boxes. I consider it a particularly fitting term because whenever I break the shrinkwrap on a new game and open the box, there's often a moment of silence (and an unspoken "What the...") when I see how little space is taken up by the components!
Now, I've been playing Euro-style board games for over 25 years, but it was only a few years ago that I decided to start addressing the Dead Air issue in my game boxes and take some action. What precipitated said action was that well-known gamer's dilemma affectionately known as "lack of shelf space".
Of course, Dead Air is included deliberately in some games in order to accommodate future expansions for the game — which is perfectly acceptable, even desirable! For example, I have the original Thunderstone game and all its expansions tucked neatly into just one of the Thunderstone boxes.
Thunderstone insert with expansions
There are other games, however, that ought to leave room for expansions and don't...
...while on the other end of the spectrum we have companies that don't even provide enough space to put the components back in the box once you've punched all the pieces! [Cough! Thank you, Fantasy Flight.]
Anyway, I came up with the idea of shrinking some games to reduce the Dead Air and free up shelf space, but before I went any further with my plans another issue had to be addressed first, and that was the issue of a game's permanence in my collection. In an attempt to keep my game collection to a reasonable size (reasonable by my reckoning, not my wife's) I continually prune out games that I'm not playing or haven't played in years, and replace them with new ones that seem arrive on my doorstep on a regular basis. I now have 622 "previously owned" games, which is more than twice as many games as I currently have in my collection (284, with neither number including expansions).
So as I began going through my collection and assessing which games I might be able to shrink, I had to ensure they were games I was convinced I was never going to part with, games that had stood the test of time, games that I still wanted to play, games I was, in fact, still playing! It's unusual, therefore, for me to shrink newer games, although it does occasionally happen. The most recent game I've shrunk is Machi Koro, which I loved when I first played the Japanese version over a year ago, and I knew immediately it would find a permanent place in my collection as an easy game to pull out as a filler or to play with non-gamers. Once the outlandishly-huge English box version arrived, I shrunk it down within a week, leaving space for the (at the time upcoming) Harbor expansion as well!
Machi Koro: original and shrunk version
Since I don't plan on purchasing any other expansions for this game, the size of the box works fine. I even managed to squeeze in eight dice so that each player would have their own! But Machi Koro is the exception rather than the rule because most of the games I've shrunk have been part of my collection for many years.
Once I'd considered the "permanence" issue, I browsed through my games looking for potential candidates for the shrinking process. I decided right away that I would not attempt to simply cut down the existing game box, or try to construct boxes of my own, but instead I would use a tried-and-tested box size that would be relatively cheap and easy to get my hands on: namely, the KOSMOS two-player game boxes and the Fantasy Flight small box games. They fit the bill exactly. The KOSMOS boxes are even available in two different depths, which was an added bonus. What's more, they stack beautifully on the shelf!
Consequently, as I opened games and considered whether they could be shrunk, the first thing I did was to see whether the game components fit into one of the chosen box sizes. If they did, and the only item that didn't fit was the board, then I knew I would just have to shrink the board as well, which is a relatively easy fix. Since some of the KOSMOS and FFG games I purchased for the job come with boards, the task of shrinking a game board was made that much easier. Das Amulett is a prime example of this. I include New England in the picture to show you the size of the original box (which I no longer have) compared with the shrunken version...and the shrunken game board with it.
The simple but fun race game Favoriten came in a box as big as the Ravensburger game in the picture, but once I'd shrunk the board it fit easily into an FFG-sized box
Initially, I did try cutting down a regular board from some other game I'd cannibalized — a Monopoly board or something — to fit into the KOSMOS box, but I quickly discovered that regular game boards were much thicker than the ones that come in the two-player boxes, and they took up so much space that the components no longer fit! Thus, that approach was quickly abandoned.
Details of the Shrinking Process
Having chosen a game to shrink and checked to see whether the components fit in the box, the first thing to do is scan the box (and perhaps the board) that needs shrinking. I do this on a photocopier, scanning the front, back, and all four sides. (If all the sides are the same, then you need to scan only one of them of course.) Some boxes are large enough to require two scans of the front and back to ensure the whole image is captured. If the board needs shrinking too, it always takes at least two scans to capture the whole thing.
Another option for the box cover is to copy the image from its entry on BGG and use that instead of a scan. These images often come with a higher resolution than the one you can get from a scan, so they work really well. If this is an option, I always use it.
Anyway, having sent the scanned images to your computer, they then need to be copied and pasted into a Word document — no, I don't have Photoshop I'm afraid — where they have to be cropped to remove all unwanted margin material around the edges before being re-sized.
Scanned and cropped image
For those of you proficient in Photoshop, the following steps will probably seem clumsy, but Word is what I get to work in, so for those of you who don't have Photoshop it is possible to do everything you need without it.
Once you have all the images cropped and ready to go, then it's time to create the templates to fit them in. I use "text boxes" for this. I measure the box and determine the size I need for front, back and side, then create a text box for each image. Microsoft Word has helpful rulers which tell you the size of the text box, but I've learned they're not to be trusted. Always print out the text box template you create and check it against the game box to make sure it's the size you need.
Text box template
If I'm shrinking a game to a Fantasy Flight small box, then I can create a template with top and sides on the same sheet, but I can't do that for the KOSMOS boxes so the templates have to be slightly smaller than the box measurements to leave room for the rounded corners.
Partial templates for KOSMOS boxes
Once you have the template size all figured out, it would be nice if you could just copy and paste your cropped images into them and be done — but it's not that simple. The image sits inside the text box and leaves a white border all the way around. To make the image fit the text box exactly you have to create another text box, paste in the image, then send it behind the template so you can adjust the image to fit the template.
Putting the image behind the text box
It sounds more complicated than it really is, but that's the only way I know to do this in Microsoft Word. Having followed the above steps for each of the images you wish to use, you are then ready to print them off.
Box covers printed off and ready to be cut out
Cutting out the separate pieces for a box is easy — but if the box is all in one piece, then it needs a little more attention. First, it needs to be folded around the box lid, then it needs to be cut so that the corners will overlap and make it look nice and neat.
Before pasting them on, however, you need to prep the game box. I use a Sharpie to blacken all the corners of the KOSMOS boxes so that they're ready to receive the paste-on images.
Box edges blackened
Also, one other tip before you do any gluing: Run a Sharpie along each of the edges of the cut paper. This eliminates the white edge paper-line that will be visible otherwise. It's a small thing, but it makes the final product look that much cleaner.
I use an artist spray glue to attach the images to the boxes because it gives a nice even coating. (Make sure you spray it outside, or you'll stink the house up and your wife will yell at you!) It is critical, however, to use glue that allows you to re-position the paper because, trust me, you're going to need to do that on a regular basis.
The end product should look something like this:
Image of completed box
The box is now one step away from being complete. In order to stop the newly attached images from getting caught on something and peeling away from the box, I cover the boxes in clear sticky-backed plastic (a book covering) that you can pick up at any art store. This can be a little tricky, but it's a necessary step. (I do not cover the small boxes in plastic as the paper is all in one piece and is in no danger of peeling up.) First, place the box lid on the rolled out covering so that you can cut it to the right size. You need to leave enough room all round to be able to fold it up the sides, then wrap it under the lid.
Paper being cut
Then you need to remove the plastic from the protective backing paper and lay it on a table.
Plastic, ready to go
Press your box lid onto the middle of it, then slide it on top of a cutting board so that you can custom cut the edges. You can see how they need to be cut from the following image:
Custom cutting the corners
Note: You need to leave tabs on two edges that can be folded over the corners. I should also mention that I never cover the back of the box, and I've never had any problem with the attached image coming off.
Once the plastic is attached, I run the side of my thumbnail over every inch of the box lid to ensure it sticks properly. This has the added benefit of making the image come through the plastic much clearer. Any unwanted air bubbles (which occasionally occur) you simply pop with a pin or the tip of your utility knife before rubbing them with your thumbnail to squeeze out the air. And voilà, you have a shrunken game!
Here are most of the games from which I've removed the dead air. Since I don't keep the old game boxes, I can't show you the contrast between the original and the shrunken edition — but the shelf space saved is significant.
My name is Oobydoob Scooby-dooby Banooby. I have the silliest name in the galaxy
(Editor's note: This article first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on Dec. 29, 2008. My apologies for the watermarks on the images, but these are the only versions that I still have. Thanks to Paul Jefferies for helping to publish this article once again! —WEM)
I've been playing "German games" since 1988, and almost since my first introduction to them I've tinkered with the components. Perhaps it's because I'm British, or because I have an artistic bent, I'm not really sure, but I know that when I play a game with great components it enhances my whole gaming experience. Obviously a zillion games out there with fantastic components are about as fun as having your teeth drilled, so it's not just about which pieces are in the box. I'm interested in tinkering only with games that I consider to be "good" – and we all have our own definition for that, don't we?
For me, a good game is one that I think will find a permanent place on my limited shelf space. For many years now, my collection has hovered around the 250-300 mark, and as new games come in, I weed out the games that have lost their charm (or just aren't getting played any more) and sell them on. I've not done an inventory of how many games I've upgraded with different components, but I would guess it's somewhere around 50-60.
I should interject at this point that I have collected game pieces since I first began playing, for no other reason than I initially funded my hobby by buying games at rummage sales and selling them to real games collectors in the USA and Germany. (I know one who has over 14,000 games!) Purchasing games at rummage sales means you inevitably buy some that are incomplete. Consequently, for the last twenty years I've been keeping game pieces, cards, boards and money from incomplete games (while throwing the rest away), which has provided me with a wealth of bits to draw from when it comes to enhancing a new game. With that said, I'll stop waffling and move on to some of the games I've tinkered with. I'll start with minor enhancements and move progressively on to complete re-makes.
• Notre Dame – My first thought on reading the rules was, "Okay, we have a black cube for a rat. That'll have to change!" So I tracked down small plastic mice on eBay (cost about $2.00) and when they arrived, I discovered they had a hole underneath which fit perfectly onto some playing pieces from another game that matched the player's colors! Goodbye black cubes, hello rats! The only other piece I changed was the turn marker, which I thought was rather lame. I rummaged around in my game parts until I found the guy in the picture who, once painted, I thought made a pretty good Quasimodo!
Note the individual boxes for each player's bits
• Cleopatra and the Society of Architects – This game comes with outstanding components so I didn't think I'd need to do anything to it, but once the game arrived I thought it a crying shame that you could barely see the wonderful detail on all the building pieces! I experimented with various paints and markers to try to make them stand out, and in the end what worked best was a brown colored-pencil which I rubbed into all the detail, then erased from the flat surface. I was particularly pleased with the results.
• Rum and Pirates – The start player token was hopeless, so a dip into my kid's LEGO solved that. Then all I did was add real money – gold pennies from Portugal – for the plastic coins and we were set to go! I also gave every player his own die, so we didn't have to pass the same one around the whole time.
• Il Principe – I replaced the money tokens with something more substantial and used cannon pieces from old Risk sets as territory markers instead of the cardboard discs that came with the game. It was a small thing, but I was pleased with how it looked as a result.
• The Awful Green Things from Outer Space – I fell in love with this zany Tom Wham space game the very first time I played it. However, the cardboard counters were so thin I had great difficulty picking them up, so I mounted them onto thicker card. The game also came with a paper "board" that didn't lay flat and moved easily during play, disturbing all the counters, so I mounted it onto a puzzle-board which I'd picked up somewhere along the line. Problem solved!
• Acquire – This was one of the first non-children's games I ever played...and it was also the first game I ever upgraded! Using flat black tiles to represent hotel chains didn't feel right; I wanted them to look like hotels. As I said, I was just starting out so the only game I knew with hotels in it was Monopoly. I wrote to Waddington's Games and asked whether I could buy ten sets of hotels. A delightful lady sent me a letter back saying, "No, I couldn't buy them" – but whoever she was, she very kindly included with her response ten sets of hotels! It was a very kind gesture and one I've seen repeated over the years. Most game companies, I've found, prove to be very helpful when it comes to getting hold of extra pieces.
Now that I had the hotels I had to figure out how to put the grid references on them. I tried writing it in permanent marker, but the results looked horrible! I did some investigating and discovered that Letraset (what we all used before desktop publishing came along) made adhesive lettering in different sizes. I ordered some through the local art store and it worked a treat. I ended up with the rather pleasing hotels that you see in the pictures. Of course, this was before any 3-D reprint of the game by Avalon Hill or Schmidt Spiele.
My final tweak to the game was to draw tiny pictures of the various hotel corporations and stick them on the corporation tiles. As the picture reveals, I also had to cut a "V" in the bottom of the tiles so they would sit on top the hotels. The 1999 Avalon Hill remake of Acquire was outstanding, but I still prefer my original upgraded set. [Note: To keep the tiles secret from other players, they simply need to be turned on their side.]
• Airlines – I picked this game up when it first came out, and I've really enjoyed playing it over the years. It always cried out (to me) for little airplane tokens instead of the wooden disks it came with, but I never found any small enough. Then, lo and behold, some years later, Avalon Hill came out with its game Air Baron which had the exact right-sized pieces I was looking for. I wrote to Avalon Hill and the company allowed me to purchase several sets of the plastic planes. Many of the colors matched the colors of the airlines tokens, so all I had to do was trade them in for each other. The missing colors were only a lick of paint away, and now I have a very visually pleasing game of Airlines. It still hits the table about once a year or so.
• Alexander the Great – In a similar vein to Acquire (but needing a lot less work) this game came with wooden cubes to represent temples and cities. It was a relatively simple task to replace the temples with houses I had in stock, and the cities with some of the cities from Sid Meier's Civilization. (I bought them off the website.) I also used some of the standard-bearers that came with the cities as claim markers. These are placed on the board in places where you hope to build a temple or city. They worked out great.
• Circus Imperium – I was tempted to put this one in the "extreme makeover" category because it was such an enormous amount of work, but in the end I left it here because I didn't make the game over from scratch – I only upgraded it.
The game comes in a shallow bookcase size box and everything in it is either paper or cardboard. Three thin cardboard buildings (Skyboxes) can be constructed and placed on the board during play, and while they don't add anything to the actual play of the game, they certainly add a lot in terms of atmosphere and aesthetics. Constructing these buildings takes forever! The instructions are negligible, and there's a ton of pieces. Every one of them has to be painstakingly cut out by hand, carefully scored (difficult on thin card) and even more carefully folded and fit together. Gluing the pieces doesn't work, so Scotch tape is your only other option. With that said, they are worth the Herculean effort they require because the end product looks fantastic.
Imperium also comes with a very large paper board – isn't that a contradiction in terms! – and like all paper boards it refused to sit flat, so I bought some art-board and mounted it in such a way that it folded up small enough to fit back in the box. (The Skyboxes, of course, have to be kept somewhere else entirely.) The playing pieces were also thin card and I mounted all of them as well, so they were easier to pick up during play.
With those three things done I played and enjoyed the game for well over a decade...always looking to see whether Ral Partha would come out with some 3-D miniatures to go with it. It never did, so two years ago I decided I had waited long enough and would make my own "anti-gravity chariots" and "dangerous beasties". I had nothing in my bits collection to help me here, so I knew from the outset that I would be spending some money to make this happen, but the game had proved its "stick-ability" so I was prepared to make the investment at this point. The anti-gravity chariots I made out of some Star Wars miniatures (I don't remember the name of the ships) which looked somewhat similar once I had cut a piece off the top of each of them. The chariot boxes that sit on top of the base I made out of toothpick holders I found at Walmart (three for $2). They were the right shape (oval) and simply needed to be carefully cut down to leave a lip on one side.
Pleased with the results so far, I started searching for creatures to represent the beasts pulling the chariots. This proved to be the most difficult task of all. In the end I found some Lord of the Rings miniatures – Warg Riders – that had creatures that I thought would do the trick. Once they arrived I was a little disappointed to find them slightly smaller than I would have liked, but they were the best I could find, so I made do. I couldn't attach the Wargs to the base of the chariot because during the game it is possible to cut them free and ride on their backs (if your chariot is toast!), so I came up with the design you see here, enabling me to move both chariot and beasts together or to separate them as needed.
Finally, I bought some gladiator figures to go with the game – but once I'd done that I realized I could have anyone driving the chariot, so I have collected a whole host of "drivers" ranging from Darth Vader to SpongeBob SquarePants. There are pictures on BoardGameGeek showing some of the different types of characters we used in one of the games. In the end I had to make a whole new box to house the 3-D pieces, and I stabilized them with foam to keep them from rattling around.
• The Scepter of Zavandor – A game which involves gem collecting...but with cardboard gems! This was a no-brainer. I used a set of gems put out for Ystari's game Ys and added a few extra colors that were missing using some half marbles I purchased from a pet store that were designed for a fish tank.
The player tokens were the standard wooden cubes, but I thought they deserved to be upgraded, too. I had picked up several of the Harry Potter games at thrift stores for 50 cents each for the magician hat playing pieces. I had figured they'd be useful one day – well, the day came earlier than I expected. I kept my eyes peeled for several weeks for the extra couple of sets I needed, so I had enough hats of each color. Since Scepter is about enchanting gem stones, I thought the wizard hats fit the theme perfectly. Oh, and I also made a box insert.
• Evo – Three guesses what I did to this game! The picture speaks for itself, although I must say it was more difficult than I thought finding five different small dinosaurs, especially ones that weren't soft rubber! The only other issue with the game – as anyone who has played it will tell you – is the ridiculously small scoring track. To solve this I created a new scoring track, made of dino-prints, on the computer and mounted it on an old game board. Of course I had to get the size right so it fit around the old one, but that was all it needed.
• Pirate's Cove – I had fun with this upgrade mainly because pirates are such a fun theme to mess with. I gradually replaced virtually all the parts with nicer pieces. The dice I replaced with gold dice from the game Midas. I put a call in to Front Porch Classics and purchased some of the ships from their game Dread Pirate. A touch of paint on the base of the ship was all they required.
The pirate ship started out as a pencil sharpener – there is still a hole in the back – but with some cannons on deck, a skull on the front and crossbones on the sails...well, now we had a Dread Pirate Roberts! The money I traded in for gold coins that I had in stock, and for $3 on eBay I picked up a nice metal treasure chest to keep them in. The cardboard treasure chest tokens I replaced with tiny treasure chests from a 1970's game called Pirates' Gold – the game that had ships with magnets in the base that sucked up the treasure chests (which also had magnets in them) as they sailed along. I won several sets on eBay and asked whether they would send only the chests for reduced shipping, which they were happy to do. All that remained was to take the magnets out of the chests to stop them from all sticking together and to sail to treasure island to bury them! I was delighted with the finished product.
This last category has two types of games: games that are generally unavailable, and games that could have had wonderful components if the manufacturer had unlimited resources to pour into them. For those of you who are reading this thinking you would much rather spend all the time I spend upgrading games just playing them...well, so would I! But for many years I got to play games only one evening every two weeks, which was far too infrequent for my liking. Fiddling with the game components became something I could do here and there in-between game nights, and it didn't require a whole evening at once. Having a project on the go gave me something I could look forward to while juggling responsibilities with work, home, and young children! Just thought you might like to know.
• Tahuantinsuyu – A superb game from Alan Ernstein that I decided was well worthy of transformation. The box was the first thing to go as I knew it would not be big enough to handle a host of new pieces. Wherever possible I try to keep a game to a bookcase box so that's what I went with. (I found the cover picture on the web.)
The gameboard was printed on thin card, so I mounted it on an old gameboard I had, then had it coated so that you could draw on it in wax crayon. I wanted to be able to use dry-erase markers and Alan told me they would stain the board, so I put clear book covering over the map so the markers would be usable.
As for the pieces in the game, glass squares were used to represent cities (red), garrison camps (yellow), and terraces (green), while clear half marbles were used to represent labor, and small wooden cubes stood for temples. As you may or may not be able to see in the pictures, I used the glass squares as the base for the new terraces I made – they were really fiddly and a lot of work but the end result was worth it – and also for the garrison camps. (More bits from Civilization.) The cities I replaced with cities from Warrior Knights; they are a bit big, but they work fine. I painted the top of them obviously. The temples I remade to look like ziggurats by gluing wooden squares together. Drilling a tiny hole in the bottom meant the temples fit on top the cities, which I was pleased about.
I also replaced the glass score markers with the ones shown, the glass labor tokens with Incan gold (from Dread Pirate), and lastly the tiddly-winks used to determine the end of the game with some larger cardboard discs. I got to play my new upgraded version for the first time with the designer at the Gathering of Friends in 2008. I'm glad to report he gave it the thumbs up.
• Ars Mysteriorum – This is another great game from Alan that I also gave the works. I did the same thing with the box as I did with Tahuantinsuyu.
I didn't change any of the game pieces in this game; I just made the five game boards 3-D by finding a paper-cutting CD on eBay for the buildings. Sadly they had only four types of buildings on the disc, so I had to repeat one of them. (I chose the castle since that was the coolest.) Having cut the buildings out, I then mounted them onto black card so they would visibly stand out and be stable enough to stand up. I initially looked for mini artists easels to put the recipe cards on, but I couldn't find any, and if I had, I worried about how I'd fit them in the box. Then I saw these mini-books in a dollar store, and they did the trick nicely. Making an insert for the book was simply a small computer project.
The black bases for each building area were cut out of old game boards and covered with sticky-backed felt. Another computer project produced the pictures and names for each magician's tent, and I then mounted them onto wooden discs which I found at a craft shop and painted black. The different types of pots, on which to place the recipe tokens, were really fun to come up with. Another trip to the craft store gave me the different varieties, then all that had to be done was to fill the ones that were hollow, paint them and mount them onto six-inch rulers I'd also painted black. Put together, the "boards" really brought the game to life. Oh, and the 3-D figures I bought from Alan. He had some made to go with the game, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a set.
Power Grid: Atolla Modulus – I love this game, so when I saw the Atolla version on the Geek I didn't think twice before starting to make a set. All I really made was the box, the value tokens to go between the islands, and the boards. I tried to buy a set of game pieces from Rio Grande, but it doesn't sell pieces separate from its games (shame that), so I had to buy a secondhand copy of the original game to get all the parts I needed.
Getting the size of the board squares right took several attempts, but eventually I managed it and printed them all onto high resolution paper. To make sure the card I mounted them on was solid, but not too thick, I used the puzzle boards from the game The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which seemed to show up regularly at the local thrift store for a dollar. I needed several copies to have enough tiles, but they worked perfectly once they were cut down. I then covered them all with clear sticky-backed book covering. Coming up with the box art just meant fiddling with various images and putting them all together. I also covered some smaller boxes with graphics from the game and used them to house all the pieces.
• Ursuppe – I picked up this classic from Doris and Frank in Essen the year it was released, and it still gets table time every year. From the outset it was obvious that the game needed something more engaging for amoebas...but it wasn't obvious what! I toyed with different ideas for a couple of years until I came across a children's game at a thrift store called Wiggly Worms. As soon as I saw them, I knew I'd found what I was looking for. It took a couple of sets to have enough to upgrade all the pieces (including the 5-6 player expansion), but it was well worth it. I pulled out the central peg and cut it in half, drilled two new holes in the base and glued them in. Then I glued the wiggly worms onto the original hole. It was only last year that I decided to replace the damage markers with skull beads. They didn't quite fit over the pegs so they had to be drilled out as well. The score markers just needed a hole and a cut-down worm to make them look nice, too.
• Atta Ants – This was a fun little game that desperately needed a box (as it came in a 100-count CCG card holder) and a few upgraded pieces. I couldn't replace the wooden discs with ants because they have to carry items during the game, normally a green glass bead (leaf). However, the spiders that attack the ants don't carry anything, so those wooden discs were replaced right away. The two mini-expansions that came out meant I could also add fake rocks and some wonderful beetles I found, once again, at the thrift store. All the beetles needed was a touch of yellow paint, and they were ready to go on the rampage. As for the box, I replaced the plastic card holder with a spare box from the original German (KOSMOS) version of the Settlers of Catan Card Game. The image of leaf-cutter ants on the lid I found on the web.
• Energy Poker – I have no idea how available this game is these days, but fifteen years ago when I made my own set it was as rare as hen's teeth. Back then I played games several times a year at the home of Mike Siggins, and he owned a copy of Energy Poker which he let me borrow to make my own set. It meant color photocopying (which was the really easy part) the board, the cards and the players' "bidding boards", then constructing them back into a game. The board I cut apart, separating the individual playing tracks, for ease and comfort during play. The center section and the player tracks were all mounted on old gameboards and covered with sticky-back plastic. The players' "bidding boards" were pretty fiddly since they needed a pocket in which to place money and multipliers; making them sturdy but thin was more of a challenge than I had anticipated. The cards all had to be mounted, covered and cut out, which was time-consuming but not difficult.
All that remained was to replace the game pieces. The original game comes with colored plastic tiddly-winks to represent the different types of energy and regular metal washers to show the current availability of the different energies on the central board. The washers were replaced with pawns from Scotland Yard, which are clear so the numbers on the board can be seen through them. The various energies were replaced with yellow cones (solar power), brown barrels (oil), black plastic chunks cut out of plastic rods (coal), green Monopoly houses (gas), and blue Risk pieces (nuclear). The box was an old Ravensburger game, and the picture on the lid was a poster I picked up from a book store. This game has proved to hold its own despite game development coming a long way since it was first produced in 1980. For my money this could do with a full-scale overhaul and reprint.
• Discretion – This entire game had to be made from scratch based on a summary of the pieces and the rules that Stuart Dagger put in a copy of Counter magazine years ago (or maybe it was Sumo back then). I made everything myself and the only pieces I pinched from other games were the wooden cubes – used for loans – and the plastic "buildings" – which came from multiple sets of Advance to Boardwalk, and the money. I really got into the fuzzy sticky-back-felt on this game, using it for the board, the box cover and even on some of the cards! It gives the game a nice feel.
Well, I've gone on far longer than I ever intended and it's time I stopped. Besides, I'm not yet finished replacing all the pieces in Agricola, so I've got work to do! I hope you've enjoyed this romp into the zany world of upgrading games, and if you've worked on any upgrades of your own, I'd love to hear from you and love to see them. Let me add a footnote before I go: If anyone out there needs someone to come up with ideas for game components for any kind of game they're designing, I can't think of anything more fun to do – other than actually playing games of course! Now, where's my spray paint and glue...
W. Eric Martin
My apologies for the radio silence this past week. My wife got back surgery this past Tuesday, and my son has gone through two illnesses sandwiching that operation, which led to much time out of school and in our hair, when I was supposed to be tending to ol' whatshername. During all of that chaos, I was also forced to endure four games of Pandemic Legacy with co-designer Rob Daviau at my side. Okay, that doesn't sound so bad, I'll admit.
With all of this mostly out of the way, I'll kick off Monday with a new game round-up that highlights the return of an out-of-print classic and a madly anticipated expansion, then follow that later in the day with a non-spoilery overview of Pandemic Legacy. I plan to finally film an overview of Hot Tin Roof after far too long, and I'll see what else awaits in my overgrown mailbox.
If nothing else, some of the other admins and I have processed hundreds of corrections to games in the database the past few days — it's a great task to do when you can barely focus on anything and might need to stop working at any second — so that's something done. Next up, doing more!
W. Eric Martin
So I wrote this today, not really planning to write this much, but then doing so:
W. Eric Martin
This post features news about BGG, not game news on BGG, so feel free to skip it should such a post not interest you. I'm including the news here, though, because I'm one of the admins who handles corrections to game listings in the BGG database, and these changes came about due to the multitude of corrections — or perhaps more appropriately "corrections" — that I've seen there over the years.
Most corrections to game listings submitted by users fall into various categories — name changes, artist additions, family additions, category and mechanism additions or deletions, even more category and mechanism additions or deletions — and two of the most common categories were changes to the listed playing time for a game and the classification of a game as an expansion for something else.
Problem was, though, that we couldn't make these changes. In regard to playing times, when BGG was started lo these many years ago playing time was represented by a single field. Thus, you could enter only one number for the playing time no matter what was listed on the box. For the games that I've added to the database — 1,427 at last count — I'd split the difference when a publisher listed a range of values for a game's playing time: If a game said it played in 60-90 minutes, I'd write 75; if it said 45-60 minutes, I'd (probably) write 50; if it said 15-20, I'd put either 15 or 20 based on a gut feeling after reading the game's description. It was an inaccurate science, yes, but that method seemed best to me.
Well, sort of. When confronted by something like Caverna, with its listed playing time of "30 minutes per player" and a player count of 1-7, I was left to enter 120 minutes for the playing time despite that number being far from either extreme.
No one was happy with that split baby or with many of the other incomplete playing time figures in the database. Thus we'd get lots of corrections stating that the time on a game should be 60 minutes instead of 75, or 90 minutes, or 60-90 minutes, or (worst of all) "60-90 minutes" with the word included in the correction field. These corrections made sense because the game listing didn't match what was on the box, but any correction made would be re-corrected by someone else because no matter what we did, we couldn't match what was on the box.
Until, of course, we could by changing the database to add a second field. Seems a simple enough suggestion perhaps, but I'm not a programmer and Daniel Karp is. He made the changes required to the game listing page itself and the correction page and the submission page and the advanced search function and probably many other places that I don't know about, and as he reported on Jan. 19, 2015, this functionality is now present in the database, with Caverna sporting a 30-210 minutes playing time as God and Uwe Rosenberg intended. (Wait, is that redundant?)
Now, please don't all rush to the queue to submit playing time corrections for every game in your collection. I imagine those will all come in good time, and with 600+ corrections already sitting in the queue at the moment, it's not like we'd be able to fly through those corrections anyway. For now, Dan simply took whatever number was present in the playing time field and plopped it into both the minimum and maximum playing time fields. That's how we've functioned for years, so it'll do for the time being, and I'm happy to see those corrections spread out over many months.
What's more, if a game listing does have a range of playing times and it doesn't exactly match yours, consider that another publisher's version of the game might have slightly different values and maybe just let it be. I've wondered multiple times whether we should attach the player count, suggested age, and playing time to game versions instead of the main game listing — especially when something as popular as Puerto Rico carries a 2-5 player count on some versions and a 3-5 player count on others, thereby leading to ping-pong corrections one way or t'other — then I realize that's madness and drop the subject.
The other database change relates to games like Ascension and Smash Up, game families that included multiple standalone games that could also serve as expansions for other members in the family.
Over and over again, people would submit "corrections" that would make, say, Smash Up: Monster Smash an expansion for Smash Up and while that's sort of technically correct, this process would remove Monster Smash's status as a standalone game, meaning it would no longer be ranked in the BGG database. What's more, Smash Up should technically be listed as an expansion for Monster Smash, which would leave no base games in the system at all and nothing from the family being ranked.
We wanted to record these possible interactions between standalone games somehow, though, so we'd leave notes in the game description boxes stating that this item integrates with games X, Y and Z, with those game names being linked. It was an ugly set-up, and with each standalone Ascension game released — that is, with every Ascension game — you'd have to go back and edit the description box of every other Ascension game if you wanted to keep the lists accurate. What a pain!
Now, though, Karp has embedded this data in the main info box of the game listing with a field titled (naturally enough) "Integrates with":
This link works in both directions, so when I link Ascension: Dawn of Champions to Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, a reciprocal link is created automatically in the other direction, which is also how reimplements, contains and expansion work, but we do get corrections from users adding both links in separate corrections — now you know not to do this!
I've already taken care of many families that fall into this category, including Ascension, Smash Up, Dixit, Lost Legacy, Nightfall, Sentinel Tactics, Timeline and Dominion. If you know of other such families — and remember this is only for standalone expansions, that is, games that are both standalone items and expansions for other standalone items — feel free to submit corrections on the game listings to help the database move just a smidge closer to accurately representing the relationship between the games included in it.
W. Eric Martin
Some of the articles in this series will be relevant to designers and publishers whether or not they're active on BGG, such as the introductory article on how to write a press release; other articles, however, will pertain solely to the ins-and-outs of BGG, but a side benefit of such omphaloskepsic posts is that they should also be useful to BGG users at large, such as today's article about how to submit items to the BGG database.
I've heard from more than one user that they found the submission process confusing. I can't argue with that. As with many parts of BGG, the submission process has changed over time, with bits being added or removed as the needs of the site and requests of the users change over time. If this submission process changes greatly in the future, I'll write another article to address those changes; for now, though, this should cover what you need to know. If it doesn't, ask questions in the comments section and I'll answer them and update this article.
Before we get to the how, let's start with the what?
What's the mission of BoardGameGeek? And what is this database I'm referencing?
The short answer: "BoardGameGeek is a database and social community that's centered around board games, and its mission is to be the definitive resource on every board game ever created."
When you look at the BGG front page, you see tons of posts and reviews and questions about this-or-that game, and by clicking around you'll find yourself on some part of the database: a game listing, a video highlighting how to play a game, etc.
To get a sense of the entire database, you need to scroll over "Browse" (circled in the image below) in the upper menu bar, then click on one of the items listed under "Database"; doing so brings up a list of the 74,000+ games in the database (organized by rank with Twilight Struggle at #1 and Tic-Tac-Toe at #10453, followed by more than six hundred pages of unranked games; a game needs at least thirty ratings in order to become ranked), or the 20,000+ designers (organized alphabetically), or the 14,000+ publishers (ditto).
Definitive resource? We're not 100% there since new games are being published every day and thousands of older games remain uncatalogued, but with sites like Luding.org listing 25k games and TricTrac.net listing 16k, BGG has a better claim to that title than anyone else.
To keep that database growing and to try to reach the unobtainable 100% completeness bar, we input some game information ourselves — primarily through me adding titles in advance of game conventions like Spielwarenmesse, Gen Con, and Spiel — while getting most of that information via user submissions, which leads us to the following question and our true starting point:
How does one submit items to the BGG database?
To start, you need to scroll over another term in the upper menu bar: "Misc", which encompasses a whole mess of topics and information as you might expect a term like miscellaneous to do. Scrolling over "Misc" shows you the following:
I've boxed the important stuff for this topic: the links for how to submit games, publishers, and people (i.e., designers and artists) to the database. I'll skip how to submit accessories, podcasts and families (with a family being a group of games related in some manner) to focus on these other things. Clicking on "Board Game" brings up this crazy-long form:
Whoa. Lots to absorb there, but thankfully we can start with something simpler, namely how to add people and publishers to the database. What's more, if a designer or artist or publisher isn't already in the database, we suggest that you submit listings for them first. In practice, you can submit games first and the other stuff later or vice versa, but by submitting people and publishers first, you should ideally then be able to submit a more complete game listing — and since game listings are the raison d'être of the database, better to have them be as polished as possible.
Before you submit anything, though, I'll point out the following pages that you might find of interest:
• Pending game submissions
• Pending people submissions
• Pending publisher submissions
These pages show the pending submissions that BGG users have already submitted. If you search these lists and find the game, person or publisher that you had planned to submit, you can relax as someone else has already done the job for you. If, however, you are the publisher or designer in question, feel free to continue with this process and point out in the "Note to Admin" section on each page that you are the publisher or designer in question, or you are responsible for the game in question.
With that out of the way, we'll now jump to...
How to submit a publisher listing
Click on "Publisher" under "Misc / Add to Database", and you'll see the following screen (but without the red numbers in place):
You didn't realize it was that easy to create a publisher, did you? Fill out this form, and *poof* you've got yourself a publisher! Well, okay, to be technical you have created a submission for a publisher listing in the approval queue, but it's something.
To complete this form, add the following information:
1. Primary Name: Type the publisher's name as it appears on the publisher's website, perhaps in the "Contact us" or "About us" sections as those should give you the precise way that the name is spelled. Why is that important? Because you can't always grasp a publisher's name from its logo. Look at the publisher's logo at right for example. Is the name "Fun Forge", "FunForge", "Funforge", "FUNFORGE" or something else entirely? A quick look at the publisher's "About us" page reveals that the name is "Funforge", which is how we list it in our database.
In some cases, as with Chinese, Japanese and Korean publishers, a publisher has more than one name, say a name in its original language ("カナイ製作所") and a translated name in English ("Kanai Factory"). I suggest using the English name as the primary name since that is easier for the majority of BGG users to search for and to type on their keyboards; in the "Note to Admin" section, write something like "Alternate name: カナイ製作所" and whichever admin approves the submission will ideally add this alternate name to the publisher listing.
2. Description: Feel free in this section to quote from the publisher's "About us" — preferably first writing "Description from the publisher:" — but if you know something about the publisher firsthand, write the description in your own words. If you know nothing else about the publisher, simply write "Japanese publisher" or something similar and cross your fingers that someone else will fill in the details later.
3. Board Game Credits: Given that the publisher is not listed in the database — and it's not listed, is it? you did search for it first before heading to this form? — the name of any games published by this entity will likely not be listed in the database either.
Or will they? New publishers sometimes come into being in order to release a new version of an out-of-print game or a game published only in some other part of the world. Stronghold Games is one such example, with its first release being a new version of Robert Abbott's Confusion, which had appeared only in a tiny edition from German publisher franjos in 1992. Thus, when you're submitting the publisher listing, click "Add Board Game Credits", enter the game's name, and see whether a game listing for this title is already in the database; if it is, click on the game name. When this publisher listing is approved, the publisher's name will then appear on the game listing and the publisher listing will show a credit for this game.
If the game's name doesn't come up (or a matching name is for a different game), leave this section blank as you'll submit the game listing later.
4. Note to Admin: Use this section to include information about alternate names, to list the URL of the publisher's website or its Facebook page (to provide proof of its existence), or to tell us whatever else seems relevant to this submission.
5. Click the "Save" button.
Okay, that was relatively easy, so let's move on to...
How to submit a designer or artist listing
Click on "Person" under "Misc / Add to Database", and you'll see the following screen (but without the red numbers in place):
Create Person?! My, what promises from such an inviting header! This form allows you to submit the name of either a designer or artist to the database, and it works much like the publisher submission form:
1. Name: As with the publisher listing, you want to submit a name that represents how that designer or artist wants it to appear in print. "Eric M. Lang", for example, is how that designer's name appears on games, so that's how it should be listed in the BGG database.
Also as with publisher listings, please use the English transliteration of a person's name as the primary name ("Seiji Kanai") while adding in the "Note to Admin" box something like "Alternate name: カナイセイジ". Please submit names in the order of (given name) (family name) to ensure consistency across the database. With Kanai's name, for example, his Japanese name is in the order used by that country — (family name) (given name) — but for his primary name we use (given name) (family name), which is also how it appears on most game boxes.
2. Description: As with publisher listings, you might be able to pull a biography of the person from a personal website, but you might be limited to "Japanese designer", "French artist", or something similarly lame. So be it.
3. Board Game Designer (Artist) Credits: As with publisher listings, the game which this person has created (or illustrated) may or may not already be in the BGG database. Sometimes a person finds out about a game without knowing the creator or artist and submits it. Thus, you can search for the game name and click it if the game is already in the system; if not, don't click anything and move on.
4. Note to Admin: Feel free to include alternate names, links to personal websites, and other details that help prove your case that the person in the submission is the correct person. Proof is always better than your say-so, but often your say-so is good enough for us until proven otherwise.
5. Click the "Save" button.
That was also simple, yes? Once you've submitted the designer, artist and publisher listings, feel free to get yourself a fresh cup of coffee in order for the BGG cache to record your submissions. From experience, I'd guess this takes one to several minutes, after which you'll be able to choose this designer or publisher when submitting a game listing — even though these earlier submissions have not yet been approved.
Okay, now it's time to move to the big challenge:
How to submit a game listing
Click on "Board Game" under "Misc / Add to Database", and you'll see the following screen (but without the red numbers in place):
Note that I've broken the game submission page into three pieces in order to provide interludes and cover stuff in related groups. With that said, let's get started, examining each of the numbered sections in turn:
0. Guide to Game Submissions: Note that BGG already has a "Guide to Game Submissions" in its wiki, and to some degree I'm duplicating that effort through this post. Perhaps I should have merely updated and expanded that page, but it's been there forever and is somewhat invisible, whereas people can comment on this post, ask questions, and perhaps better figure out all of the details to this process. Perhaps in the future, I can transfer this material to that wiki. Duplication of effort — it's the American way!
1. Primary Name: This is the title of the game, with the ideal format being "Title: Subtitle – Additional Subtitle", with a colon separating the title from subtitle and an en dash separating the subtitle from additional subtitle. (We have a program that automatically compiles titles not in this format so that we can standardize them, but if you want to do that up front, we'd love you just a little bit more.)
Once again, as with publisher and person submissions, we prefer to have a title in English for games released with non-Arabic letter titles. If the title is in, say, German, then leave it in German and don't use an English title because we can type "Die enorme Fuß und die winzigen Toe" without much trouble. Typing "ラブレター", on the other hand, is more challenging, so rather than require almost everyone to cut and paste, we allow an English title even if an English-language version of the game doesn't exist. As before, use the "Note to Admin" section to write "Alternate title: ラブレター".
2. Description: Ideally in this section you can submit a 1-4 paragraph description of the game written in a neutral voice that covers the game's setting, goal and gameplay. I have a lot more to write about game descriptions and will cover the topic in a future article.
In general, though, your goal is to describe the game in enough detail that the description wouldn't fit another game while not going into so much detail that you're describing the entirety of the game. By covering the setting, you tell us our role in the game world; by explaining the goal, you tell us what we're trying to do in this world; by describing the gameplay, you tell us how to move toward achieving that goal. That sounds abstract and clinical, but your description doesn't have to come across that way. Feel free to include personality in the description, but keep away from marketing talk — "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master", "fun for the whole family" — and other nonsense like that.
If nothing else is handy, go ahead and use the description from the publisher, but please include a "''Game description from the publisher:''" header (with the double apostrophes creating italic text in the wiki) and remove fluff sentences that relate more to selling the game than describing it.
3. Year published: In which year was the game first available for purchase through retail outlets? That year counts as the game's debut, so that's what we want to list.
4. Minimum and maximum players: In general, these fields are easy to complete because you can look at the box or publisher's website or retailer listing and see this information.
That said, the question isn't always clear because sometimes that information changes from one version to another, or from one publisher to another. When Uberplay released its version of For Sale, it added more components so that up to six people could play whereas the original edition maxed out at five players. Some versions of Puerto Rico include rules for playing with two, whereas the earliest editions allowed for only 3-5 players. What to do, what to do? We tend to allow for the widest range of players possible because even if your particular copy of PR doesn't have two-player rules, you can probably find rules to make it happen. Perhaps we should list a player count for each version of the game, but that way lies madness.
5. Minimum age: Again, this field seems easy, but different publishers have different standards. Many publishers in the U.S., for example, adopt a minimum age of 13+ so that they don't have to undergo expensive CPSIA tests required for children's products when of course a game labeled for ages 10+ is by no means a children's product! In these cases, we again tend to go for whatever the widest range is, working under the assumption that kids in Europe and Asia aren't that much smarter than kids in the U.S.
6. Playing time: When BGG was set up, someone decided to make this field accept only a single numeral instead of a range of numerals, so when confronted with a playing time of 30-60 minutes, we tend to split the difference and list the playing time as 45 minutes. Ideally we could split this into two fields so that games at the extreme such as Caverna (for 1-7 players and playing in 30-210 minutes) would be more accurately represented, but I'm not a tech guy and have been warned that it would be hard to do this now, especially since such a change could invite 70,000 game corrections, with different versions of games having different playing times in addition to different suggested ages. Fun!
7. Category and mechanism: For these two areas, you click on the link and choose whatever is appropriate on the lists presented to you. I understand the arguments that BGG blurs categories and mechanisms in these lists and not everything is represented, but righting these "wrongs" is outside my area of expertise.
8. Family: I mentioned families above when I talked about submission types that I won't cover. For many games you can search for reasonable sounding families and often find ones that already exist in the database: families related to countries and cities, families related to animals and professions, families related to media properties and authors, and on and on and on.
9. Expands: Use this field if the item you're submitting is an expansion for an existing game and not itself a standalone game. This last bit is important because when something is categorized as an expansion, then it cannot be ranked in the BGG system, no matter how many ratings it has. (We removed expansions from the rankings some years ago because expansions are nearly always rated higher than the base games. After all, if you hate the base game or are even indifferent to it, you'll likely avoid the expansion, which means that it's played mostly by those who are more prone to like it.)
Thus, for items like the next Ascension set (which is both a standalone item and an expansion for all other Ascension sets) or a Smash Up set that functions in the same way, please don't use the "expands" link because the item can also function as a standalone game and we want to classify it in that manner. For now we use an "Integrates with:" list to get around this pothole, as can be seen in the description of this Ascension game, but I'd like to see a dedicated "Integrates with:" two-way linking system added to a game's main info box in the future. I've lobbied for this, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm not the tech guy, so I ask for all sorts of things without having any idea of how complicated they'd be to implement.
10. Contains: This field is relatively new, and we added it for items like Puerto Rico: Limited Anniversary Edition, which differs from the Puerto Rico base game in that it includes some of the existing expansions and tons of juicy components and would likely be bought and rated by folks who already love the base game, thus skewing it higher in the rankings and giving PR two spots in the BGG ranking list even though at heart it's the same thing. If you're submitting something like a twentieth anniversary edition of Bohnanza (coming in 2017!) that includes multiple expansions, then you'd use this field to link to all of the items already listed in the database that it contains.
This set-up isn't perfect, as with the 2014 release Lords of Xidit, which is packaged with two bonus cards for Seasons, a separate game set in the same world. Technically Lords of Xidit contains these expansion cards for Seasons, but if we use that "contains" link, then Xidit won't be ranked, even though it should be. We know about the problem, but lack a solution for now. It's such a corner case that we'll probably see something like this at most a half-dozen times a year, yet you still want a way to list this cleanly. Well, at least I do anyway...
11. Reimplements: Is the game that you're submitting a new version of a previously released game and (this is the important part) the designer or publisher has stated this directly? The 2014 release Rattlebones plays very much like a Dominion with dice, and Rattlebones designer Stephen Glenn has stated that he was inspired by Dominion for this design, but in no way would we list Rattlebones as a reimplementation of Dominion.
12. Designer/Artist: Click on the links in these fields, find the appropriate people, then click on those names to add them to this game listing. You did add them to the BGG database earlier, yes?
13. Publisher: As with the above section, search for the publisher or publishers responsible for this game and click on them.
14. Version Information: Versions were added to the BGG database in 2009, and the goal behind listing them was to allow people to track exactly which version of a game they own, to indicate which version you're selling in the marketplace (although doing so is optional), and to compare the images for this or that version that's been released over the years.
What's the difference between a version and a new game? It's a fine line, and something that's tough to define, although some BGG admins have tried to do so in lengthy detail. As I mentioned earlier, Uberplay's For Sale that allows up to six players is listed as a new version of the original Ravensburger For Sale, even though the component counts differ, but Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue is listed as a separate game than Penguin even though they're arguably more similar than the two For Sales. I'll accept that we're inconsistent — and will stay that way, as I noted in a February 2014 BGGN post — but I also apologize for the confusion. We do what we can.
That said, sometimes multiple versions of a game are announced at the same time, say, a German version from Hans im Glück and an English one from Z-Man Games. That's where the "Clone This" link comes in. You can first add whatever information is the same for both versions of the game (box size, year of release, artist, etc.), then click "Clone This" to create a second version listing with all the info that you've already entered, then you can finish off the version listings with the unique information for each version (publisher, language, release date, etc.) "Add Another" works similarly, but copies none of the information that you've entered.
15. Version nickname: We have guidelines for how to name versions (and do many other things), but nicknames tend to be all over the place.
In general, we prefer a format of "(language) first edition" or "(language)/(second language) first edition" or "Multilingual first edition" when more than two languages are involved, but that still leaves many questions unanswered. What happens if you're submitting a version with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish rules as well as one with French, German and Italian rules? Do you have two "Multilingual first editions"? Do you summarize an edition with "FR/DE/IT first edition"? What about Libellud's Mysterium, which will be a new version of Tajemnicze Domostwo? Will this be the English first edition, even though it's really more of a second edition since the art will differ? How many editions of Love Letter and is this the same as the number of versions we list?
In some ways, I'd love to do away with the version nickname as the information is typically included elsewhere in the listing — the languages are listed, the years of publication are (probably) listed — or it's material to start an argument. What does the nickname add? I'm not sure, but we're using it for now, so I try to be as consistent as I can be.
16. & 17. Version publisher and Version artist: Search for and click on the appropriate names for these fields based on whatever version you are currently entering.
18. Year published: Again, this is meant to be the year in which this version of the game can be acquired, whether from the publisher directly, a print-and-play copy through the designer's website (in which case this is a "Print-and-play edition"), or through a retail outlet.
19. Product code: Most publishers use a code — a series of numbers or letters or combination of both — to designate each title they release. They do this because manufacturers, distributors and retailers want to use standardized codes to prefer to product instead of names that sometimes have to be parsed to determine exactly what one is talking about. Do you mean Risk: The Lord of the Rings or Risk: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition? Which Chapter Pack for A Game of Thrones: The Card Game did a customer order: A Time of Trials or A Time for Wolves?
20. Dimensions: Some people like to know this information, especially if they plan to ship the game or have someone else ship it to them. How much will will USPS soak me for? We have a few preset sizes that are commonly used by publishers, but if you have the exact dimensions feel free to enter them, with the largest dimension as the length, the next largest as the width, and the smallest dimension being the depth. Yes, one box might have a portrait view and another a landscape view, but (1) you can see how the art looks from the box cover image and (2) if you consistently list dimensions from large to small, you can more easily imagine how one box size compares to another.
21. Weight: Not sure what to say here. Some folks want to know this stat so that they can build their bookshelves accordingly or plan mailing costs to the dime.
22. Languages: Click on the languages to match the rules to be included in the game. Don't see the language you need? Include a note to the admin with your suggestion. In the past couple of years, we've added Bulgarian, Vietnamese and Esperanto to the database to accommodate game submissions.
23. Release date: The idea behind the release date is that we want to list the date when this game was or will be first available to the public at large and not available to a select few who show up at a convention months before the game is available to everyone else. Yes, Five Tribes debuted at Gen Con 2014, but does the availability of two hundred copies count as a release? Not in our eyes, which is why we list the release date as September 2014.
For the release date, if you have only the year, use the pulldown menu to put in the proper year; if you know the month as well, use that pulldown menu; if you know the precise day, add that detail, too. If instead you know only a range of months — say, "Jul/Aug 2015" — or the quarter — e.g., "Q3 2015" — that a game is due out, then use the "custom override" box and put that date information in place.
One thing you shouldn't do — and I'm surprised that publishers still do this — is use a season in the release date, such as "Spring 2015". For me, that term means sometime between late March and late June 2015; for someone in the southern hemisphere, however, that term means late September to late December 2015 — which is probably not what the publisher had in mind. If I've learned one thing in the eight years that I've been doing this, it's that if a gamer knows of a game that sounds interesting, that gamer will often make an effort to acquire, no matter where that game originates. Thus, publishers should make clear to all of their potential customers — that is, everyone on Earth — when their games will be available, and that means avoiding release dates based on seasons.
24. Release comment: Use this section to note extra details about a game's release, such as "Debuting at Gen Con 2015" or "Releasing in Europe in Aug 2015 & in North America in Oct 2015", to help other users know when they might be able to play the game in question or get their hands on it.
25. Release status: Is a game available to the public at large? If so, it's "released"; if not, it's "unreleased".
26. Pre-order type: Typically this section is for publishers who are taking pre-orders through their own websites prior to a game's release or for a publisher who is running a crowdfunding campaign. If someone completes this field and the next three pre-order fields, then a pre-order link will show in the information box at the top of the game page; if one of the fields is left incomplete, then no such link will appear.
27. Pre-order URL: This would be the URL of the crowdfunding project or the publisher's website where pre-orders are being taken. (And in case you haven't already noticed, we treat crowdfunding projects the same as pre-orders because from our point of view they function the same way: You pay money in advance of the game being available with the expectation of receiving the game at a later date.)
28. Pre-order start date and Pre-order end date: As I just mentioned, both of these fields need to be completed — all six pulldown menus — in order for the pre-order link to appear on the game page itself.
29. Note to admin: So much stuff could go in this space: URLs to an announcement on a publisher's website or a designer's Twitter feed or a retailer's game page, alternate names in different languages since you can submit only one name for the game, additional details about the release date, notes that you've submitted the designer or publisher details separately, and so on.
30. Click the "Save" button. Yes, we're finally there. Click that button already.
So are we done yet? Well, you're done — or at least you might be done. Once you submit something, the name of that submission will appear in one of the pending queues that I linked to earlier. At some point a BGG admin will review the submission, then ask questions of you to clarify information that's unclear; approve the submission as is; skip over the submission because he has only a few minutes between other tasks and isn't clear whether he can approve this or not; add information based on what he's seen somewhere; or some combination of these.
In most cases, the game listing is approved first, then the designer/artist/publisher listings are approved later by a separate admin who has handled these things for a while and has kind of adopted these sections of the site. Once a game listing is approved, users can then submit images, files, web links, forum posts, and so on. That listing joins 74,000 others, and in most cases it's barely seen again, at least by the majority of the people who use the site. For some, though, they carefully monitor the page, subscribe to it even so that they can answer rules questions or see what reviewers have to say. Every game is somebody's baby...
W. Eric Martin
The year 2014 is nearly over, and before too long I'll be on the convention circuit once again: Spielwarenmesse in Nürnberg in January, NY Toy Fair in Manhattan in February, and so on until we close with the monstrous Spiel in Essen and the post-convention aperitif of BGG.CON.
Before that happens, though, I wanted to hit pause on the game announcements in order to (1) publish all of the pending videos from Spiel 2014 and other conventions on BGG's YouTube channel (subscribe!), (2) finish a few other outstanding projects, (3) organize my work process for the coming twelve months, and (4) follow through on a series of articles that I've been meaning to write for years, starting with this one.
In my position as news editor of BoardGameGeek (and prior to that editor of Boardgame News), I receive many questions from designers and publishers, and while I have canned answers for some questions in TextExpander, I'd be better off posting articles to answer these questions in detail. After all, I've learned a lot since I started writing full-time in 1999 and full-time about games in 2006. Sharing that info will ideally help people in need, while also giving me links to use in the future when I receive such questions once again.
With that in mind, let's get started...
How to Write a Press Release
Designers and publishers often ask what's the best way to get information to me for coverage on BGG News. Other than sending me their game in advance of its release with twenties stuffed around it to serve as insulation, I suggest that they email me a press release — but not everyone knows what I have in mind when I suggest a press release, so let's look at an example from one of the masters of the form: Days of Wonder.
DoW posted this press release on its website on June 19, 2014, but I received it in my inbox on June 18, one day ahead of that time with this announcement plastered at the top of the email:
This information is embargoed until Thursday, June 19 at 8am Eastern/5am Pacific time. Please do not post or mention online until that time.
An embargo date allows a publisher to send out information in advance of when it wants to make something public. In an ideal world, that advance warning gives a news outlet time to write something, ask questions of the publisher, download and prep images, etc. in order to have an article ready to publish at the end of that embargo period, as with this BGGN post.
Most publishers don't send out press releases, and while that's baffling on its own, even the ones who do rarely use embargo dates. As a publisher, the goal behind using a press release is to get your game covered so that as many people as possible find out about it, and an embargo date can help make that happen. Yes, if you send out a non-embargoed press release, BGG News might cover it on one day and ICv2 on another day and Dice Tower News some other day, but ideally you want everyone to cover it all at once; you want a blizzard of coverage all on the same day so that no matter which site (or sites) someone visits, that person will learn about your game. You want people to be talking and tweeting about your game, and the more that you can get people talking about it at the same time, the greater your chances of having that signal echo into fresh ears.
The other reason to use an embargo date is for what I mentioned above: Giving writers time to write something about your game. When I receive press releases without embargo dates, which is most of the time, I may or may not rush to include the mentioned game in a BGGN post depending on what else I have scheduled that day and in the near future, how big the news is, what size hole I have to fill in a pending post, and so on. If the press release has an embargo date, on the other hand, I know that I have a little breathing room in order to prep something about the game and be among the first to write about it and I appreciate having that advance warning, that combined red-green signal light that tells you it's almost time to go. (Those who have driven in Germany will know what I'm talking about!)
Enough about the embargo date. Let's see what else you should put in your press release:
1. Identify your company. This might not seem needed since you'll be emailing your press release and will include your company identity in your sig line (right?), but since your press release might be forwarded or become detached from your email, include that information anyway.
After all, you shouldn't limit your press releases to game-only media sources. You should also contact local newspapers and television stations to report on what a company in the community is doing, on how you're contributing to the well-being and economic vitality of your region. If the designer of your game is located elsewhere, you should also contact media in his or her vicinity, possibly rewriting the press release to emphasize that local connection.
2. Include contact information. To reiterate, you want whoever is holding that press release, however that person obtained it, to be able to contact you with questions or orders or requests for more information.
3. Write a clear, informative headline, while saving your hook for the subhed. Don't assume that the person reading your press release understands gaming jargon. That release might end up in front of the editor of the entertainment section of your local newspaper, and references to "worker placement" will mean doodlysquat to that person. If that person can't decipher the headline, she might never make it to the next line. Assuming that she does, though, entice her to read further by giving her a reason to do so: "Yes, I understand that you're publishing a game, but why should I care? Oh, I'll have a chance to win a giraffe? Tell me more..." More importantly, try to give her a reason that her readers will care.
4. Include a dateline. One of the worst sins that I see when reading press releases or online news articles is the lack of a date. (Yes, it's a sin. Writers care that much about such things.) Is this article recent? Is it covering something that's already been written about elsewhere? By attaching a date to your press release, you're telling the reader that the information included is new and relevant (assuming, of course, that you're not writing about something that happened last year). By including the location of your company, you're again giving local news outlets a reason to care about the information in front of them.
5. Write your press release in reverse pyramid style in clear, declarative statements. What I mean by "reverse pyramid style" is that you should include the most important information first, followed by the secondmost important information, then the thirdmost, etc.
Newspapers and syndicated news outlets regularly use this format because the point of a news story is to relay information to readers. I can read the first paragraph of a newspaper story and understand the importance of what I'm reading, why this event is newsworthy. If I'm curious, I can read the next couple of paragraphs to learn more: the impact of the event, suggestions of what might happen next, etc. The more that I read, the more detail that I learn, but the less important that detail is.
A press release is a sales tool, not a literary form. Don't use a mysterious opening to try to entice people to read further; use informative sentences that get the information across as clearly as you can. Give the reader a reason to care about what you're saying by stating facts and not being obscure.
Include quotes from yourself or the designer or both to bring a personal touch to the information, to add life to the factual data included elsewhere.
If your press release is well-written, some news outlets will publish your release with little to no editing. If they do, the amount of your release that they'll publish will depend on the space available. By writing in reverse pyramid style, you give them the option of publishing only the first paragraph or the first two or three or four or the whole thing. Read the Days of Wonder release above; it's five paragraphs long, and the final sentence in each paragraph after the first sounds like an appropriate ending point. (You might think about writing a narrative that makes it difficult to print only the first few paragraphs; that's a narrative begging to be ignored completely.)
6. Talk about your company. If the reader already knows about your company, he'll likely ignore this section; if not, this section might provide something that convinces him that your company is one to be covered in his media outlet: "Wow, I can't believe this is the first game company run by someone with two left legs!"
Okay, you have a press release. Now you need to send it out to...somebody. Possibly me since I'm kind of prodding you to do so through this article, but ideally you have more than just me in mind. Ideally you have a press list for such announcements, and you can send them the press release (either within the email or as an attachment) with an embargo date and with images that can be used in the announcement. If you don't send images directly, you should include a link to an image source or press section on your website so that people can get images themselves. (Days of Wonder, for example, has a dedicated image page for the press that includes images in all sizes and languages and formats. I'll write more about images in a future post.) You might think that people would ask for such things, and sometimes they will, but they might also just ignore your release in favor of someone else who does supply everything.
Even if you do all of the above — provide a well-written description of your brilliant publication complete with images and an embargo date — don't expect everyone to write about your game, whether on the embargo date itself or at any other time. My inbox is a firehose, and I'm sure the same is true for many other people. At convention time in particular, I'll receive 50-100 messages a day, and they pile up like compost, with new news becoming old far too quickly. I hate to admit that, but it's true. With hundreds of games released each year, I hold no hope of writing about all of them on BGG News. I write about what I think BGG users will want to read and about what I want to write about, and there's never enough time to cover everything — but if I don't see your announcement in the first place, the chance of me writing about your game is even smaller. You need to do your part, and I'll endeavor to do mine...
Fri Dec 19, 2014 12:21 am
W. Eric Martin
I wrote several articles and short pieces for GAMES Magazine (R.I.P.) in the late 1990s and early 2000s with topics covering international game shows, chess boxing, the Spiel game convention, the Annual North American Wife Carrying Championship, and more.
One of those articles explained the origins and nature of the piecepack, a game system created by James Kyle in 2000. That article ran in the July 2004 issue of GAMES, and sometime after that I got the semi-bright idea to pitch a Klutz-style collection of piecepack games — with the piecepack to be included with a book of rules — to a few book publishers. No one ever bit, so that query joined dozens of others in the file of unsold ideas. Such is the life of a freelancer.
Funny thing — in late 2013 someone from Workman Publishing contacted James Kyle about publishing a Klutz-style collection of piecepack games, and James passed that person's request to me, and (umpty-dumpty-um as seven months pass) I'm now working on that collection of piecepack games with a planned release date of late 2015. Woo! Working the long game here; yep, that's just what I intended when I first wrote that proposal so, so long ago.
Given that news, I thought that I'd take a moment to reprint that GAMES article and invite anyone who's designed a piecepack game to contact me via email (through the address in the BGG News header) for consideration of their game in this book. Note that Workman publishes titles for a mainstream audience — as with its Kids' Book of Chess and Chess Set (now entering its third decade) and The Book of Cards for Kids — so I'm looking for rules-light games that can fit on a two-page spread at a decent font size while still leaving room for game diagrams and an illustration. If you have something (or several somethings) that fits the bill, please drop me a line and we'll take things from there. Thanks!
"You Want a Piece of This?"
(from GAMES, July 2004)
Whenever you play with a standard deck of cards, you're playing with more than a mere game — you actually have your hands on an entire game system. After all, the cards themselves aren't the game; they're only tools.
But combine the tools with a set of rules, and suddenly you have a game, be it Spades, Bridge, Go Fish, Piquet, or any of the hundreds of other card games created over the past millennium.
Another familiar game system, whether you've thought about it as such or not, is an 8x8 game board and a set of tokens. If you label 12 tokens as one color and 12 tokens as another, you can now play checkers; label them king, queen, knight and so forth, and a chess set magically appears; label one side black and the other white, and you have Reversi (Othello). The number of games you can play is limited only by your imagination and willingness to try something new.
James Kyle, creator of HellRail (published by Mayfair Games) and owner of Glastyn Games, liked the idea of generic game systems but couldn't find one that matched his ideal. "I wanted something that was like a deck of cards, but designed for family-oriented board games," he says. "The Icehouse set [Looney Labs' square pyramids that come in three sizes and multiple colors] is a great system and has a number of games written for it, but I think if I were to take it to my grandmother's house, it wouldn't immediately say, 'I'm a family game system.'"
Generating the Generic
What's a game designer to do when he doesn't find what he's looking for? Go off and create his own naturally. Thus was born the piecepack, a set of tiles, coins, pawns, and dice in four suits. (See "Make Your Own Piecepack" at the bottom of this page for a detailed description of the components.)
"I modeled the piecepack on a deck of cards, and a lot of it is fairly obvious," says Kyle. "Suits came from there, and then extrapolating from games on the shelf, you find basic components like pawns and dice. If anyone else had tried to do the same thing, you'd probably get the same result."
Modesty aside, Kyle experimented with numerous suits and values to determine what combinations offered the most possibilities while remaining within the family-friendly model he desired. He thought about using the binary values 2, 4, 8, 16 and so on, but considering how baffling the doubling cube is for casual backgammon players, Kyle wisely opted for more familiar values: null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
"The big challenge was the board," says Kyle. "In order to make the system compact enough to carry around, it couldn't have a set board, which is how I ended up with tiles, making it more flexible." He considered different shapes for the tiles, such as hexagons, but stuck with squares to make it both easier for those who wanted to build their own and less expensive for those who wanted to manufacture piecepacks.
That last part was especially important because Kyle didn't plan to produce the piecepack himself. Instead, in late 2000, he released the design into the public domain, inviting anyone to create games, produce sets, add elements, and explore.
"The grand hope is for ubiquity," says Kyle, "and although I don't expect it, that's the only thing to shoot for. Every house in the world has a deck of cards, and the only way to potentially match that with the piecepack is through a distribution model similar to that of a deck of cards. If one company manfactured it and didn't make money, that would have been the end of it."
Now, says Kyle, "I don't have to worry whether I'm making money on it or coming up with cash for the next print run. I get to watch people who are inspired create games just for fun without the commercial overtones."
Designing Games, New and Old
"The piecepack is portable, fitting into a VHS cassette box, and there is a variety of games available, but I was mainly drawn to it as a game design tool," says Phillip Lerche, designer of six piecepack games, including Black Pawn Trucking, Sarcophagus, and Kingdoms of the Middle Sea. "The challenge for me is to try to create good games within the confines of the components, or to use the piecepack along with other generic playing pieces, such as money."
More than one hundred piecepack games are currently available on piecepack.org, a support site maintained by piecepack publisher Mesomorph Games, and the creativity of the games is astounding. In addition to translations of existing games such as Reversi and Mancala, designers have created games about building skyscrapers, racing worms through a maze, delivering food to picky customers, escaping from prison, and exploring a funhouse. Games exist combining the piecepack with Icehouse pyramids, dominoes, a candle(!), a Go set, and — as might be expected — a deck of cards.
Kyle, for one, isn't surprised by the breadth of game topics or melding of materials. "The piecepack is great to experiment with because you can release a rules set without worrying about whether the game is commercially viable. When you're trying for commercial success, you can reach only so far or else people won't buy it."
No single term can sum up the multitude of piecepack games. Some have puzzle-solving aspects, while others require memory, deduction, or strategical tile placement. Dexterity games also have a presence, such as Mark A. Biggar's Ppolf, a version of Frisbee Golf, and Kyle's soccer simulation in which the tiles form the boundaries of the field and players flick coins that represent their kickers.
Bryan Kornele lacks any published games to date, but he's found the piecepack easy and fun to fiddle with. "Consisting of just a few bits and tiles, this compact system allows me to use any small table as a playing surface," he says. "I very much enjoy playing some of the games with my seven year old, and some of my game ideas come from him. I'm well on my way to becoming a piecepack evangelist."
A driving force behind piecepack game design have been regular contests initiated by Kyle and organized by Mesomorph Games. Each contest involves a different focus — solitaire games, historical themes, boards that change shape during play, the use of other generic game bits — and the winner of each contest sets the rules for and judges the next. "People who design games often wait for something to strike and inspire them, and the contests have been great from that standpoint," says Kyle.
"The latest contest, Solitary Confinement, was one of the more productive," says Karol Boyle, co-owner of Mesomorph Games. "There were only a handful of solitaire games before, and now there are more than twenty."
"Our first set in 2001 came out with seven games," says Boyle. "Within three years, there are more than one hundred, and a few years from now there will likely be hundreds more."
Picking Up the Pieces
While game design is a fun option, many piecepack users simply enjoy the large number and style of games. "At first what seduced me was the elegance of the concept," says Michel Fortin. "The game designing aspect was attractive, too, but I soon found that creating a new game was not as easy as I originally thought. However, what makes me rate the game so highly is the quality of the available games, including the originality, the game mechanism, the rules clarity, and the humor. I firmly believe that some piecepack games could easily be produced as successful commercial games."
"One of the main aspects I consider when judging a game's worth is what it asks of me. A game like Ricochet Robot requires a good understanding of spatial relationships, quick thinking, and careful planning, while a game like Fluxx requires merely a tolerance for change and a sense of humor," says Paul Blake. "Piecepack rates highly with me largely because it allows for and encourages any and all levels of thinking. To me, it's a game with lots more games inside it, a tiny package with immense possibilities."
Wei-Hwa Huang, who regularly finishes near the top of the standings in the annual World Puzzle Championship, rates games solely on his estimate of how long, as he puts it, "I'm going to enjoy playing the game until I get bored of it and feel that it is a waste of space. Since a piecepack set has enough components for lots of possible games, it gets a high rating."
Although he's found a fair share of klunkers among the gems, Iain Cheyne says, "I like the piecepack most of all because of its flexibility and portability. No matter where I am or who I'm with — even if I'm alone — I always have a suitable game."
Feedback from both designers and players has led to expansions and changes, such as Mesomorph's 4 Seasons, which adds four more suits and colors, and its Playing Cards Expansion, which adds the familiar suits hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Says Kyle, "I didn't have any specific mechanics in mind when I created the piecepack, and I take a hands-off approach to it at this point. I expect it to evolve as people try things out and like the changes enough to make them standard."
That long-term approach to evolution is essential to Kyle's quest for piecepack ubiquity. "Most of the card games we know and play were transmitted to us orally, not by Hoyle's," he says. "It may not happen in my lifetime, but I'm interested to see in the future whether more families pick up the piecepack and play with it so we get designs that can be passed on."
Make Your Own Piecepack
For those with the skills, tools or moxie who want to create a piecepack from scratch, here's all you need to know:
The four suits of a standard piecepack are Suns (red), Moons (black), Crowns (green or yellow), and Arms (blue, and typically represented by a Fleur de Lis).
There are 24 square tiles, with 6 tiles in each suit, and the values null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5 included once in each suit. The face of the 2-5 tiles has the numeral in the center and a small suit symbol in the upper-left corner, both in the color of the suit; the face of each ace has only a large suit symbol in the center, while null tiles have only the small symbol in the corner. The back of the tiles are divided by a cross into four equal squares.
To match the tiles, there are 24 round coins, again with 6 coins per suit, and the values null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in each suit. The coin faces are marked in black with the numeral (for 2-5), with a spiral (for the ace), or with nothing (for the ace); the backs have the suit in the appropriate color. Both front and back should have a hash mark near the edge to indicate direction. Coins should fit within a small square on the back of a tile.
Finally, there are four six-sided dice, one for each suit with the values null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on the sides in the appropriate colors and four pawns with bases no bigger than the coins, again in the appropriate colors.
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