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Designer Diary: Game ON! Travel Coins, or How to Make a Game Accessory the Hardest Way Possible

John Butitta

Neenah
Wisconsin
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I blame this whole long, somewhat dreary tale on Power Grid, one of my gaming group's favorite games, but a design with one of the worst coin/money sets of any game. We complained about it regularly. Then one of my game group, Kurt, found a small plastic coin set online to try for Power Grid, so we used it. Then we used it again. And then we started using it for other games.


Power Grid plastic coins vs Game On! Travel Coins


This impressed the rest of us enough to want our own sets. However, they simply weren't available. Being a persistent sort — you can insert "thickheaded" or "obsessive compulsive" here, too — I spent way too much money and effort trying other options. They were all too big, too heavy, or too limited. None of them were suitable. I kept saying, "Why doesn't someone make a nice portable, quality set that works for most games and that also looks good and feels right in my hand? Why doesn't someone make...?" Then that little voice in the back of my head that whispers "Why not you? Why not you?" got very insistent. I ended up making my own.

Unfortunately, you can't make one set; you make lots of sets.

So I am now in the game accessory business, selling Game ON! Travel Coin sets. The story of how this all came about is detailed below. And I also found out why no one else made a coin set like this. If you just want the answer to that question, skip to the last paragraph.

Why Bother?

I have read many posts and reviews in which people write almost reverentially about the quality of game components. This is generally true for boards, rules, and meeples. I love them, too. I agree that quality components enhance the enjoyment of playing a game.

Having seen or played many of these highly praised games, I am always surprised about how people will accept without comment any cardboard chunk or annoying paper offered as a marker or money. After using this simple plastic coin set, I realized that it enhanced my gaming enjoyment as much as the finely crafted, artistic bits that people love. I was radicalized.

Decisions, Decisions, and Compromises

Anything is possible if you set your mind to it, right? Look at Edison and the lightbulb. Taking a firm "Can DO" attitude, I set out to make my coin set.

I started by asking "What is my ideal coin set?" First and foremost, I wanted the coins to be smaller and lighter than poker chips to make the set easy to carry. Why? One of my first attempts to find my ideal set was a beautiful set of poker chips. It currently sits in my basement game room gathering dust. Even hauling out the poker chip set was annoying. It was like lugging around a jumbo bowling ball. Plus the poker chips were too big. Poker chip sets were useful for only a few games and, as we jokingly say, for a doorstop.

Then my wife tried to pick up the poker chip case by the handle, which promptly snapped. The case fell, almost breaking her toe, the latches popped, and we had poker chips flying everywhere. Okay, so there were two criteria out of that incident: lighter chips and no latches.

What about metal coins? I love nickel way more than plastic or ceramic poker chips. Nickel coins feel "weighty" and solid when I hold them. I like the clink they make when the coins tap each other. There are some nice nickel coin sets available right now. However, nickel is an expensive material, and nickel coins don't really save any weight over poker chips in equal numbers and denominations.

This stymied me for quite a while. I looked at making an injection-molded plastic set. I actually bought a closeout set from a token vendor. When I asked why these were closeouts, they said that the quality was poor and indeed it was. Those coins were small and light, but they looked and felt cheap. They were mostly white with color stripes. The color bleeding caused irregular borders, and the coins had no case.

I also tried a set of playing card money. The cards were light, but too big and too inconvenient aside from just not feeling right. The playing cards and closeout tokens are gathering dust in the basement near the poker chips. At this point my "Can DO" attitude fizzled, shipping me back to the "Can't DO" doldrums.

Then I happened to run across Mardi Gras coins. These are large, brightly colored aluminum coins that revelers throw from the Mardi Gras floats to the bystanders.


Mardi Gras coins compared to the Game On! coins


I learned that these coins are made by stamping aluminum using a mold, then anodizing them to add the color. Anodizing is an electrochemical process that causes the color to uniformly adhere to an oxide on the surface of aluminum. This solved another big worry. Nickel coins are enameled to add color. This works great if the coin is used solely for display, such as a souvenir medal. In regular use as coins, though, the enamel would likely chip. That is why you rarely see any colors on nickel coins unless they are minted in brass or shiny shade.

Nickel coins need to be different sizes to make them distinguishable, whereas the anodized aluminum coins were light and uniformly colorful, while having a tough surface that still felt like metal when I held them. Ah, I thought, could this actually work? The "Can DO" attitude was back.


Unanodized Game ON! aluminum coins


One Set to Rule Them All...

Now I faced the key question — What should the ideal coin be? — which invoked many other questions: What size coin? What thickness? What colors? What art? How many in a set? and so on. Before checking with mints, I needed more details on what exactly to ask for. My Mardi Gras sample coin was about 1.5" in diameter, slightly smaller than a poker chip, but still too big. The original plastic set I wanted to buy had 7/8" coins, which were too small. How do you experiment with coin sizes?

Well, U.S. coins have no rational basis for size — the nickel is bigger than the penny, which is bigger than the dime — but they're great for experimenting with coin size. I started walking around with a pocket full of U.S. coins to get opinions on size. The U.S. quarter was the size everyone liked the most. It is ~1" (25mm) and fits nicely in hand. The interesting feedback, though, was that the quarter is too thin. The requests I kept hearing were that the coins needed to be thicker so that they're easy to pick up. Two quarters stacked on top of one another seemed to be the right width. Plus they feel "weightier" and more solid than the thinner Mardi Gras coin. In the end, I settled on a target coin that was 5mm (3/32") thick with a 25mm (~1") diameter.


Size comparison


A harder design decision involved what kind of art to use. Since this coin set was meant to be usable for any game, I wanted the art to be simple. Each coin would be one bright color to make it easily recognizable. I also wanted the coins to be two-sided. I decided to use simple art: a diamond pattern and the denomination on one side of the the coin, with only the denomination on the reverse side.

Deciding how many coins and of which denominations to put in a set was another tough decision. I am an 18xx/Acquire player, so I wanted the higher denominations: 500, 1000, and 5000 coins. On the other hand, most Eurogames need at most a 25 or 50 denomination coin.

The even harder issue was how many 1 denomination coins to include in the set. With thirty 1 coins, the set would support up to a six-player game with each person having five 1 coins before trading them in for a 5 coin. I hate when a coin set is so inadequate that players have to trade in coins to fill out the a shortage in the bank. This was a real head scratcher for a while until someone suggested the obvious: add a 2 coin. This eliminates the issue of adding enough 1 coins and made making change at the lower denominations infinitely easier. I finally settled on an "Elite" set of 240 coins: 30 1 coins, 30 2 coins, 30 5 coins, 25 10 coins, 25 25 coins, 20 50 coins, 20 100 coins, 20 500 coins, 20 1000 coins and 20 5000 coins.


The Elite 240 coin set with storage options at right;
extra foam cutouts are shown as an illustration


I wanted this "Elite" set for myself and brazenly assumed every other gamer in the world would want the same set. One set to rule them all...

A Digression: Never Discuss Politics, Religion, or Metal Coins with a Gamer

Making the ten types of coins in ten colors but the same size with simple art so that they could be used for any game seemed like a good compromise. For feedback on this idea, I read many blogs and articles in which gamers commented on metal coins. I posted my ideas on some of them and got torched immediately. Some respondents were passionate about having different coin sizes. Some demanded elaborate designs as with the Scythe coin set. One person looked at the prototypes and pronounced the set "so 1970s". Others commented that they wouldn't consider anything other than nickel, and they wanted a unique set for each game — at a $1 coin, no less!

One pair of game company execs to whom I showed the prototypes treated me to a thirty-minute tag team full volume, non-stop lecture about why these coins sets were worthless. They pulled out their own multi-sized nickel coins with the fancy artwork to show me what the coins should look like, even though they mentioned having lots of coins available because they weren't selling. One even pulled out their iPhone and showed me eight websites with similar coins and said that this is what I needed to do. I felt like the Russians in June 1941; the Germans had attacked, and it was an overrun.

And all the time I was thinking: "If everyone is making the same type of coins, which are barely selling, why not try something different?" (heavy sigh)

Like every other aspiring designer in the game world, I wasn't going to give in to a bunch of negativity. I ultimately went back to the inspiration for this project. Kurt's original coin set came in a nice, easy-to-carry injection-molded plastic case with all the coins the same size.

Having coins of different sizes would create havoc with the case design as it would have to be tall enough and wide enough to accommodate the largest coins, but the smaller coins would constantly spill out every time the case was moved. Plus, I now had ten different coin denominations; my head ached thinking about designing a case for ten different coin sizes. The case size would be huge, killing the portability principle.

So I went with the 25mm diameter for all the coins. I kept the simple artwork so that it could be used with almost any card, board, or mini game. The denominations on the coins were easy to read without the fancy artwork. With ten different colors, you could easily tell the coins apart by glancing at them. For color-blind people, each coin had a denomination on both sides.

Decisions, Decisions, and Compromises (Continued)

The final decision/compromise was picking the coin colors. I had no real basis for choosing colors other than to appeal to as many gamers as possible. In my simplistic reasoning, I asked "What very large gamer group would care about coin colors?" Why, Magic players, of course!

I had already decided to make the coins two-sided (tapped/untapped in Magic speak), so why not make the first five coin denominations the five Magic colors? The 1 coins would be white, the 2 coins blue, the 5 coins green, the 10 coins red, and the 25 coins black. What other group might be interested in colors? Well, role-players like silver and gold, so I made the 50 coins silver and the 100 coins gold. As for the 500, 1000 and 5000 coins, I just decided to see which other colors were available. I didn't hear the disheartening words "standard poker chip colors" and "In D&D the golds are 100 but the silvers are 10" until much later after the sets had already been produced.


A side view to show the final colors


I was blissfully happy, and all I needed now was a name. After some discussion, I settled on the name: Game ON! Travel Coin set. I christened myself and the company as "Der Coinmeister". It sounded cool, and after arm-wrestling the German language for many years, I figured this was a small payoff for all that study.

The design decisions finally were done. Now all I had to do was contact mints to get the coins made, and I would be on the way to coin mastery.

An Arabian Nights Hero Rescues Me

I wanted to make the coins in the U.S., so I contacted mints that made Mardi Gras coins to ask them for a quote for making the coins. They were all glad to take my order, but two issues arose:

• They would make them in only two sizes — 1.5 or 1.25 inches in diameter and 1.25 mm thick, and/or
• They were so outrageously priced that I would be offering coins at the same price as more expensive nickel coins

My plans abruptly crashed and burned. To get my set, I needed to make lots of sets and sell the extras to like-minded gamers. The set I wanted to make was either unmintable, unsellable, or both. All my talk/testing/planning was now just smoke — another out-of-the-box idea that amounted to nothing but a long, fruitless exercise.

The coin project lay moldering, dead but unburied, for seven months. Then I was laid up at home for almost a month without enough to do, which is always a dangerous situation for me. I began to sniff around the corpse of the coin project again. I've written reviews of Origins and Gen Con for Counter magazine for over ten years. During that time, I had the opportunity to talk with lots of game designers, big and small. They often talked about how hard it was to produce a game in the U.S., so they worked with printers in China. I kept reading about this Alibaba website and wondered whether this would work for minting coins. Well, what can I lose, I thought?

I went to the Alibaba website, typed in "aluminum coins", and got 135 hits. What's more, all of these sites would make any size that I wanted, and the prices were reasonable. I sent out a bunch of requests and got lots of replies. I eventually narrowed my choices down to three manufacturers who would make test coins if I paid the very reasonable cost of making a mold. I also realized that I had seen Mardi Gras coins in only five colors, so I had to struggle with the mints to get them to anodize in five additional colors.

Two of the three mints sent me sample coins. I even made some test sets from the cheaper of the two. I showed these to people at Origins in 2017 to get feedback, which was mostly along the lines of "Okay but sort of cheap-looking".


The final coin set


Then the set arrived from the third mint, the most expensive one. It was so superior in color and quality that there was no question which way to go. These had bright, true colors, such as white, blue, gold and yellow, not the shiny pastels of the Mardi Gras coins. They had a tough finish coat that wouldn't scratch or chip. They looked and felt good! The price point would be painful, but everyone who saw this set loved the coins. I loved them. These were coins I would be proud to own and proud to sell. Alibaba saved me.

A Case Study...

With the coin minting on track, I wanted to get some kind of box to hold them. Kurt's set came in a nice little injection-molded plastic case. In a rapid series of flashbacks, I started with U.S. manufacturers who made injection-molded cases. Again, the cases were too expensive, and the manufacturers weren't willing to customize a case.

This time I queried Alibaba promptly to discover a stunning profusion of case makers. As I was looking, one particular case caught my eye. It was injection-molded but had a tough fabric cover, zippers (I learned my lesson about latches with the poker chip box incident noted above), a handle, and foam inserts that were cut so that there were five or six removable inserts per row. I loved the case.


The case's outer appearance; note the zippers and handle


I contacted the manufacturer, who graciously worked with me over multiple samples to get both the case size and the row width correct so that the coins would be held firmly in place at a depth from which they could easily be pulled up. On top of that, the case had a nice zipper compartment in the top for more storage. It turned out way better than expected, and it was affordable. The final case had an 11"x9" external diameter, a handle, two zippers, and seven rows of five foam cutouts inside that could be removed or adjusted depending on which coins or other accessories (dice, figures etc) the gamer chose to put in the case. The case could hold up to 400 coins, although I was expecting to use space for only 240, with the rest of the volume being available for storage.

With 240 coins inside, the whole set weighed 2.5 lbs. The rub: the minimum order quantity was five hundred cases. That was many more than I needed for the coins that I had ordered, but I thought there might be a second minting. It was better to have a few (!!) extra cases. This was not a project for the fearful, so full speed ahead with five hundred cases on order.

"Patience You Must Have, My Young Padawan"

Okay, I thought, you can actually make these coins in time for the big Kahuna: Gen Con. I pushed the manufacturers to get the coins and cases done so that I could show the 240 coin sets there. The manufacturers grumblingly complied with my short time frame. I made up business cards that promised a Kickstarter in October because...well, that's what a seller does, right? Run a Kickstarter? A completely naïve decision on my part. More on that below.

Soon I received 18 boxes containing 70,000 coins and had an irritated spouse. Then, to my horror, I opened the first box to find...each coin was individually packaged in a cellophane bag that had to be cut open. We spent months cutting them out of the cellophane.


Imagine having 17 more cases like this, each with 2500+ individually wrapped coins


I got enough open to make up some sets using the sample cases I had on hand. The actual cases were in Chinese customs weeks before Gen Con. They cleared customs agonizingly slowly, but were finally on the way to the U.S. They arrived at LAX four days before Gen Con at the same time as a massive shipment of cherries that had to be transported immediately. The cases were waiting for me when I arrived home from Gen Con.

All was not lost at Gen Con, other than some valuable gaming time. I did get a chance to talk to game journalists in the press room and show them the coins. That is something I should have paid more attention to. Talking to game journalists is obvious, but where to meet them was the key lesson that went over my head.

Kicked by Kickstarter

Kickstarter has been a real boost for game designers and for gaming in general. It seemed like the natural place to debut the coin sets. As a Kickstarter newbie, I asked people how to go about running a Kickstarter campaign. There is also a lot of good posted information about this on Kickstarter itself and blogs such a Jamey Stegmaier's on the Stonemaier Games website.

My Kickstarter did a massive bellyflop, mostly because despite all of the great information available, I failed to comprehend a few critical fundamental concepts:

1. Kickstarter is not an advertising platform. As many places advise, build up the interest BEFORE the Kickstarter campaign (duh).

2. Kickstarter is not very flexible. I wanted to sell customizable sets and individual sets of coins, but that is not possible, so I created an overcomplicated group of sets for sale.

3. Everyone loves to jump on the bandwagon of a funded campaign. I put down a goal of selling 250 sets, which is what I had available to sell. That was dumb. Since the sets were already made, I could have chosen five sets as the goal, or even one set to have a successful Kickstarter, then push out one of those "Funded in 24 hours" boasts.

4. Timing is everything. A Kickstarter in October is bad timing. There is lots of advertising for SPIEL releases around that time. I advertised on BGG but never asked the key question: How often would my ad show up? It turned out it was about 1 in 100, which essentially was not seen. My ads were swallowed up in all the other SPIEL advertising.

5. Several game company people mentioned using Facebook to advertise, so I did. What they didn't spell out or I was too thick to understand was that you also needed to create a following on Facebook ahead of the Kickstarter. I paid to boost my Facebook post, supposedly reaching several hundred thousand people without one hit on my page. I don't advise trusting Facebook's numbers.

6. I did wind up selling twenty sets to people who were quite happy to get them.

"There's a Big Difference Between Mostly Dead and All Dead. Now, Mostly Dead Is Slightly Alive."

That was all a totally frustrating experience. After some painful self-review, I decided to start again, this time exhibiting at tabletop conventions. I began at a small one in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, then went on to a larger one, Geekway to the West, in St. Louis, then finally went to Origins 2019. Along the way, I got much more information about what gamers want, how to show the coins, how gamers like to purchase coin sets, and what they are looking for. The gaming press turns out for the larger events and are always interested in writing about something new.

One total surprise coming out of all this was that the case was a hit. As I was demonstrating the coin sets, people kept asking about buying the case separately. It seems that it is the perfect size (with the adjustable inserts) for RPG gamers to transport figures and dice with space for pens/pencils/character sheets/etc. in the zipper storage. What started out as an afterthought turned out to be a "product line".


RPGers like this storage concept to transport figs and dice


"Good Judgement Comes from Experience, and Experience Comes from Bad Judgement" (Rita Mae Brown)

I did accomplish several goals. I now have a good high quality, universal, portable set of metal coins for myself and my gaming group. I learned a lot about the mechanisms of marketing. I have a website and Facebook page, take credit cards, and have a tax ID and a seller's permit in three states. I have gotten Game ON! Travel Coin sets into the hands of a lot of like-minded gamers who were are looking for an alternative to poker chips and had the same issues I did with cardboard for markers or coins. They were quite excited to see these sets. I stumbled into a business that means that I can write off trips to conventions where I exhibit as a business expense.


Better organized booth at Origins with specific sets and individual coins to sell


I learned that exhibiting at conventions is work and not fun. At Origins and Geekway, there were thousands of gamers enjoying gaming nearby, and I was stuck in a booth. (All game company owners and employees are now laughing snarkily and evilly after reading that last sentence.)

I also found out why no one would make another set like this. The profit margin is too slim for a company to sell profitably. In coin sets there are two options: cheap/low quality/profitable, or high quality/high cost/slim margin. Since the Game ON! Travel Coin set is a personal project, I could afford to create it as I have no overhead and and am not relying on this to support my family or my retirement. When I was writing the Gen Con and Origin reviews for Counter, I talked to an endless stream of hopeful game designers, but met very few who could ever make enough money to even consider giving up their day job. The gaming business is a harsh one. It is a real tribute to the great large and small companies that bring out the profusion of fine games to which we have become accustomed and stay in business.

But in the final analysis:

• I own my ideal coin set.
• I won't ever need to buy another chip/card/plastic set.
• I am not alone; there are other gamers who are looking for this type of set.
• I carry my set with me whenever and wherever I game.
• I leave the cardboard chunks of markers and irritating paper in the box.
• My set enhances my enjoyment of every game in which I use them.

I learned a lot, but one important overall lesson is that I love gaming as a hobby, not as a business.

And finally: Game ON!

John Butitta, a.k.a., Der Coinmeister


Next stop for Der Coinmeister: SPIEL '19
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Sat Sep 14, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Climb Blocks and Mountains, and Avoid Falling Through Space

W. Eric Martin
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• Yes, I'm still catching up on games announced during Gen Con 2019. Publishers, please share info with me in advance and slap an embargo date on that press release! Then I can prepare posts in advance and not be doing this six weeks later.

In any case, during Gen Con 2019 Deep Water Games announced that it had picked up 7 Summits from designers Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews, a title that had originally been announced from Mayday Games. An overview of the setting and gameplay:

Quote:
In 7 Summits, players take on the roles of a team of world class mountain climbers. By the effective management and use of drafted dice, players upgrade their equipment, advance in skill, and ascend the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.

At the beginning of each round, the first player rolls the dice, then each player selects dice to use to either climb a mountain or improve their equipment, i.e., unlock abilities to aid your way up the mountains. Mountain climbing can be dangerous, so try to make it to plateaus before bad weather hits! Each round, a new weather card is drawn, with the weather affecting one mountain — or possibly all of them!

Once the final weather card has been drawn, the game ends and whoever has the most points wins.
Love the Kwanchai Moriya cover that amps up the vertigo and heightens the feeling of hypoxia. Blarg!

• Somewhat along the same lines, at least thematically, is The Climbers: Family Edition from Holger Lanz and Simply Complex, with this version of The Climbers coming with fewer components for a faster playing time and a $40 MSRP, which is important since this item will be exclusive to the U.S. retail chain Barnes & Noble. Publisher Clay Ross notes that this edition of the game includes a special two-player variant.

• I've already posted about Tony Boydell's Lux Aeterna — a 6- to 12-minute real-time solitaire game of not falling into a black hole that will debut at SPIEL '19 from co-publishers Surprised Stare Games and Frosted Games — but the cover image wasn't complete at that time, so I'm showing it off now. You can find a soundtrack for the game here.

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The Business of Board Games: The Superstar Effect

Pandasaurus Games
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(This article by Nathan McNair, co-owner of Pandasaurus Games, first appeared on the company's blog on Sept. 4, 2019 in a somewhat different form. —WEM)

I want to talk about an issue called "The Superstar Effect" and the chaos that it creates in markets, focusing on the board game industry and why games are often out of print.

The Cabbage Patch Effect

There is a long-standing "common knowledge" theory that companies like to intentionally constrain supply in order to create a false sense of demand in the market, thereby making a thing hard to get, with that scarcity then making people want the thing that they can't have, even if it's not a thing that they would have otherwise wanted. This all falls under the blanket term "artificial scarcity".

This has absolutely happened in collectible markets for sports cards, Magic cards, Beanie Babies — any consumer product whose value is derived from the act of collecting itself or from speculation in secondary market prices. Rares have to be...well...rare. I was an avid collector of basketball cards as a kid, and I loved grabbing my Beckett and valuing my cards. If the rare cards had been more abundant and you could easily get them from a blind pack, then there would have been little point in collecting them as you could cheaply and easily get whatever collectibles you wanted.

Oddly enough, the most famous examples of artificial scarcity (Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Ocarina of Time, Popeyes chicken sandwiches) were likely not artificially scarce. They were unexpected hits — or at least bigger hits than expected — that wound up outstripping the producers' capacity to make them. There is a famous story about the factory that made Etch-a-Sketch working around the clock on Christmas Eve to produce more to sell on Christmas morning.

The initial shortfall of supply for most of these products is a matter of guessing wrong about how badly people would want the item. After that, they couldn't catch up to the demand, at least not until months after Christmas.

Cabbage Patch Kids were all unique dolls. No two were ever going to be the same — I see you, KeyForge — and that caused massive issues at Coleco trying to keep up with the production demand of creating millions of unique dolls for Christmas. They just couldn't, which led to mass chaos and angry parents fighting each other in malls.

The vast majority of things that are supply constrained are not artificially constrained. They are actually constrained in the supply chain by how quickly they can be produced in quantity to meet demand.

The board game industry is not supply constrained, at least not in the hobby board game market. If our company wanted 100,000 units of a game, I could likely have them produced in 3-4 months. (I'll note that 100,000 units is a massive success in the hobby game space.) There is, of course, some upward theoretical limit of board game production capacity and at certain times of the year we come close to hitting it, but in reality the board game industry does not have a production capacity issue.

So if that's the case, why is it that board games sell out all the time?

The Superstar Effect

The superstar effect isn't a new idea. The basic theory is this: If something is perceived to be of a higher quality, it will get a disproportionate number of dollars.

I'll put this into board game terms. Let's say that Root is 10% better than some similar game that came out in the same year. We'll call the other game Little Root. He has the heart of a champion; he's just not as good as Root. For this example, we'll assume Little Root is mechanically, artistically, thematically, and cost-wise similar to Root, but a little worse.

Logically speaking, Little Root is 10% worse, so you would expect sales to be about 10% worse if demand were linear.

And in a world in which consumer information was low, you would expect Little Root to do pretty well. After all, a game that is 10% worse than Root is still a good game. Why wouldn't it do well?

The problem for Little Root is that Root exists. More than that, though, Reddit exists, BGG exists, Facebook groups exist — and consumers talk. They talk about how good Root is. They talk about how Root is better than Little Root. They may even say things like "Little Root is actually pretty good, but it's not as good as Root." Consensus starts to form around how good Root is. People are playing Root, so then other people want to see why everyone is making cute woodland creatures go to war against one another, so they buy Root.

As a result, Little Root is not going to sell 10% worse than Root. It's going to sell a lot worse. Labor economist Sherwin Rosen's formula for the superstar effect is complicated, but the net result is this: Root is going to get almost all of the sales, and Little Root is probably not going to fare well.

It's simple. If there is a limited amount of money to go around for consumers, and Root is better, why buy Little Root at all? Just buy Root.

Of course, the board game world has hits out there other than Root, but they tend to fill a different niche, either mechanically, in game weight, or thematically. As a result, Scythe and Dinosaur Island and Wingspan and Root and Spirit Island can all coexist with one another. Santorini, Azul, Sagrada, and Machi Koro can all sell well. They all scratch a different itch from one another and will find an audience.

Peas in a pod?
When you ask someone "What's the better game, Root or Azul?" the answers will probably be along the lines of "Uh, those are super different games so that's a weird question. They're both good." But if you asked the differences between Azul and a hundred other gateway level games from 2018 — well, you may find Azul coming out on top.

The hits are HITS. The non-hits are...well, going to do poorly.

What About the Sell-Outs?

You might be saying to yourself, "I thought this was about why games are sold out all the time."

I'm getting there, I swear. The reason games are sold out all the time is because of the superstar effect. Not every game can be a hit. For every Root, there are probably a hundred or more Little Roots that don't sell well.

And here is the big twist: Before consumers vote with their dollars, it is very hard to tell the difference between Root and Little Root. After all, it's not like Little Root is bad. It's a really good game, 90% as good as Root! And it's not as though the publisher of Little Root was aware that Root was coming out. If so, that publisher would have done something different.

Now for the second twist: Root didn't know it was the superstar either.

Leder Games has talented people top to bottom, and Root is a fantastic game — but Root could have been Little Someothergame. I think most talented publishers and designers set out to make the best game they can, but there is always the chance that another game will be better or be perceived as better.

We're not
mindreaders...
See, no matter how hard we try and no matter what we put into a game, publishers do not decide who the superstars are. Consumers do. It can be a combination of gameplay and art, or price and right-place-at-the-right-time, or a perfectly timed review or reviews.

Good publishers tend to have more than one hit title, so there are some things that we can do — release fewer games, be choosier about the games we release, put the games through longer development cycles, spend more on art and components, etc. — to try to give our games a chance at becoming a superstar...but we don't actually get to decide what is or is not a superstar.

This means we have to be cautious, so let's MATH!

Risk–Publisher

I'm going to keep the math brief.

If we run a 30% profit margin on a game (made up numbers, but close enough to average, I would say), that means we need to sell 70% of our print-run to break even. We're going to ignore fixed costs in this calculation, so understand that the real numbers are likely worse than what I'm describing here.

• If I print 1,000 copies at a 30% margin, I need to sell 700 copies to break even.
• If I print 5,000 copies at a 30% margin, I need to sell 3,500 to break even.
• If I print 10,000 copies at a 30% margin, I need to sell 7,000 to break even.

Now let's reverse this.

• If I sell 3,500 games and I've printed 5,000, I have broken even.
• If I sell 3,500 games and I've printed 10,000, I have lost money — a lot of money.

If we assume this is a $50 game and the publisher sells the game into distribution at 40% of SRP, we're talking numbers like this:

• Revenue from selling 3,500 units: $70,000
• Cost of printing 5,000 units: $70,000
• Cost of printing 10,000 units: $140,000

So the swing is from breaking even to losing $70,000 by overprinting. Overprinting is a huge risk for publishers.

If I am Root, printing 10,000 copies is probably safe. Hell, printing 100,000 copies is probably safe. But if I am Little Root, printing 10,000 copies is bad, like "my company could be out of business" bad.

Now if Little Root doesn't know it's not Root, and Root doesn't know it's not Little Someothergame, then what does a publisher do? The answer is simple: We go to store owners and distributors and ask them, "Hey, how many of this thing do you want?"

Perfect, So You Solved It!

As it turns out, distribution and store owners, well, they also don't know what is going to be a big hit. They have more information than publishers do, generally knowing far more about the games that are coming out across the world.

Superstar?
We all learned a few weeks ago that Stonemaier Games was putting out Tapestry, whereas distributors have likely known about it for, say, five months. If I had gone to one of our distributors and excitedly showed them a civilization-building game, they would probably not take very many because they would likely feel that Tapestry is going to be the bigger hit.

Yes, sometimes distributors have enough information to have a good sense that given all the games they know are coming out, Game X is likely to be a success — but they aren't always right. There are games that surprise them. They certainly have under-purchased games from us in the past — and they have over-purchased games from us in the past as well. I mean, a quick perusal of games that are regularly on sale for 80% off SRP is a good guess as to where someone bet wrong.

Distributors Are More Risk-Averse Than Publishers

It turns out that distribution also has to worry about risk.

Distribution generally buys board games at about 40% of SRP and tends to sell them somewhere in the range of 50% of SRP to retailers. It's more complicated than that, with minimum order quantities and free freight shipping and discounting so that number can range from a little less to a bit more than 50%, but I don't want to overcomplicate stuff here.

In general, if distribution buys a $50 game for $20 a copy, they are going to sell that game for $25 a copy. Distribution's profit margin per $50 game (not accounting for fixed costs, shipping, marketing, employees, running a warehouse, etc.) is $5 for every game sold.

Again, let's run some math. Let's say a single distributor buys 1,000 copies of a $50 game.

• Cost to distribution: $20,000
• Revenue from selling 500 copies: $12,500
• Revenue from selling 1,000 copies: $25,000

These numbers can help you see part of the problem: Distribution's margin is thinner, and their risk on overbuying a title is higher than it is for even the publisher.

Distribution has some advantages over a publisher, namely (not accounting for exclusives) that they are more likely to be able to spread around the risk of games that underperform. For publishers, Little Leder Games and Little Root are in a world of hurt, while Leder Games and Root are doing great. The distributor, on the other hand, may have taken too much Little Root, but they'll also get to sell Root to offset some of those losses.

To sum up, the risk per title is worse for distribution and their overhead costs are far worse, so even though they can spread the "superstar" risk across more titles than a publisher can, they still can't make a habit of buying 5,000 copies of everything in the hope that they are all Root.

Retailers have similar limitations with risk, so they don't generally run around buying cases of games. They buy one or two copies and take a wait-and-see approach to most games for the same reason that we don't run around printing 20,000 units of every single title.

Where Does That Leave Us?

It leaves us in a pickle without a good way out. The reality is that for the vast majority of games, no one knows how big of a hit it's going to be until the game has come out and consumers have played it. Given that I don't want to go out of business, we have to print most titles as though they are Little Root.

If we have a breakout hit, then we'll print more and run with it. It may take us 6-9 months to find the right balance between demand and production, which means gamers are likely to be annoyed when they can't get games. We also run the risk of losing shelf space on store owners' shelves and losing mind-share in the marketplace while the game is unavailable.

We also don't actually know how many people want the game. Selling out of 5,000 copies doesn't mean we should go print 100,000. Demand for the game may top out at 6,000 copies, or perhaps 10,000 — or maybe over the next year or two that demand will continue to grow as more people play it. We just don't know.

We also risk another game coming along in the interim and firing us. It happens, and it happens not infrequently. You sell out of your first print run of a game and enthusiastically print more only to have some other new game come along, and the next thing you know you're Little Root.

Basically, everyone is cautious, and since everyone is cautious, it means hit games will be hard to get ahold of for the first 6-9 months of release.

What is Pandasaurus Games Doing About It?

We would be a pretty poor company if our solution to the whole "how to gauge demand" issue was to throw our hands up and say there is nothing to be done. Here's what we're doing instead:

Make fewer games that are better.

There is a business model out there that says print 3,000 copies of loads of games. Sell the first 3,000, then move on. There are companies that certainly follow that model.

It's a bad model.

If consumers figure out that a company can't be relied upon to make consistently good games, they will take a "wait and see" approach to your games. If stores get stiffed and have loads of your old games collecting dust or being put into sidewalk discount sales, they will remember. If distribution has loads of your games in a warehouse not moving, they will take less of your next game.

Our goal is for all of our games to sell 10,000 copies in their first twelve months. We are getting close to that being the case, and we've done that by releasing fewer games and making sure that every single one of them is special.

Our goal is that most of our games get a third and fourth printing and that one or two titles every year become evergreens — games that continue to sell for the next ten years and beyond. So far, we've had a lot of luck with several games that continue to sell extremely well year after year.

Fun fact: Machi Koro has sold more in 2019 than in 2018. It's five years old.

The way that we are getting our average sale per game up is by making sure every single game is good and by putting money into art budget, marketing, and store outreach. It takes years to earn gamers' trust that our games will be high quality and of an expected sort of game. This usually means family-friendly games in a gateway to midweight category. (Dinosaur Island is probably the upper limit of difficulty that we will release.)

It means Molly and I have a lot of frequent flyer miles. We are on the road all the time, both looking for new games and meeting with store owners and distributors globally to make sure they know about our games.

Jonathan Gilmour has been to four conventions in the last six weeks looking for new games for 2021. (2020 is already fully set in stone.) It’s a ton of work. Jonathan looks at up to a hundred games at larger shows, with a lot of them being repeat designs as he may see a game at Unpub and give feedback, then see changes at Origins or Gen Con. For our 6-8 releases in a year, we are likely looking at 400 designs to find that small number.

Now, we don't just put out the best eight games we find every year. Sometimes a game is fantastic, but it's a weird fit for our brand, so we'll send those designers to friends in the industry who would be a better fit for the title.

We then send those games through a 6-12 month internal and blind playtesting network. Games go through the wringer and come out substantially better for it. Wayfinders is probably about 90% the same as the game that we originally signed, but those small tweaks that Thomas and Jon made took the game from a very high-quality gateway-plus game to something incredibly special, and it took a lot of hard work and time.

After development we go through graphic design, art and production, something for Molly and Stevo to cover in a blog post at some point, but I think our artwork is top-notch, and our production quality tends to be on the higher side of the industry.

Wait, Why Don't You Just Make Root?

Well, for one thing I don't think Patrick will give it to us, but for another, it's because of everything I said. We don't get to decide which games are going to be superstars. We just put out high-quality game after high-quality game and figure if we play the odds enough, we'll get one occasionally. All we can do is make the best games we possibly can and hope that what made a game resonate with us also resonates with all of y'all. And we have to be cautious about the numbers that we print. Most of our games have print runs of 5,000 copies, although Machi Koro Legacy was several times that amount.

All that we can do as a company is try to make our non-superstar games more successful. If we can't do anything to make Root, we can do something to make sure our Little Roots find a bit more success in the market as a baseline and give them every chance we can for them to become superstars.

It also means something crazy has happened, and this entire blog post was very prescient on my mind because we have a "good" problem: All of our new releases for mid-2019 are completely sold out at the publisher level. Now, this doesn't mean that all of them are going to be the next Root, but it does mean you should probably snag any of our new games you want quickly. We're reprinting all of them, but it'll be December 2019 before they are back in stock...
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Thu Sep 12, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Digging Up More Root, and Expanding The Big Book of Madness

W. Eric Martin
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• In its April 2019 Kickstarter campaign for Root: The Underworld Expansion (KS link), which adds two new factions to the Root base game, publisher Leder Games offered an add-on item titled "new automated factions". Those factions have now been upgraded to a complete product — Root: The Clockwork Expansion from Benjamin Schmauss and Cole Wehrle — which bears a Q4 2019 release date and this description:

Quote:
Root: The Clockwork Expansion allows players to square off against four fiendishly automated factions. Insert a faction to round out a low-player count game or team up for co-operative play! Compete against the:

—Mechanical Marquise 2.0 - Dodge her marauding patrols as you try to stop her from completing her building tracks.
—Electric Eyrie: Shore up the Woodland's defenses against this fearsome invader. If they go unchallenged, the Woodland will soon be flooded with their forces.
—Automated Alliance - Police these radicals and raze their bases before a little uprising turns into a massive rebellion.
—Vagabot - Hunt the dastardly Vagabot across the many clearings of the game or attempt to court him with items.

• Another expansion sort of along the same lines is One Night Ultimate: Bonus Roles, which collects all of the extra characters created for the various One Night Ultimate titles from Bézier Games and puts them in a single box that will debut at SPIEL '19 in October.

IELLO has announced that The Big Book of Madness: The Vth Element, the long awaited expansion for Maxime Rambourg's 2015 release The Big Book of Madness, will debut in February 2020. This expansion includes two modules that can be used independently or combined, with "phobia cards" being madness cards that include a permanent constraint on the holder while the "Dark Matter" module adds the "Vth Element" along with the Dark Book, Dark Curses, Dark Monsters, and new magicians.


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Wed Sep 11, 2019 1:00 pm
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Ticket to Ride Heads to Japan and Italy in New Map Collection

W. Eric Martin
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For the fifteenth anniversary of Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride, publisher Days of Wonder has already released Ticket to Ride: 15th Anniversary Special Edition (a new edition of the base game with translucent trains) and Ticket to Ride: London, and now it's announced Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy. Here's an overview of this new expansion:

Quote:
Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy includes a double-sided game board — the longest yet in the Map Collection series — that features Japan on one side and Italy on the other.

In the Japan half of the expansion, some routes are reserved for the Bullet Train network, and once such a route is claimed, it can be used by all players to complete destination tickets. To claim such a route, discard a number of cards equal to the length of the route with all the card being the same color, then mark the route with a single Bullet Train miniature; instead of scoring points for such a route, advance your marker on the separate Bullet Train track as many spaces as the length of this route. At the end of the game, whoever has contributed the most to this shared project receives the largest bonus, with the player who contributes least being penalized.

This game board also has a small inlay for the Tokyo subway system, so players are effectively working on two networks at once. You might have a ticket that lists a city outside Tokyo and a station with Tokyo, and you need to complete a route from that other city to Tokyo, then from the central Tokyo station to that particular subway station.




Quote:
In Italy, the game board is divided into regions, and players score bonus points based on how many regions they connect in their network, with three regions — Sardegna, Sicilia, and Puglia — counting as two regions in your tally. If you have separate networks, then you score each one separately.

The board also introduces a new type of ferry route. On this game board, all gray routes are ferry routes, with these routes having 1-4 spaces marked with a wave symbol. To cover a wave symbol, you must play a locomotive or a ferry card from your hand (in addition to the other cards needed to claim this route); a ferry card is a special type of card that can be drafted on its own on your turn, and it contains two wave symbols, so it can be used on its own to cover two symbols on a route.

The player trains and game cards from Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe are needed to play this expansion.



Rules for both game boards are live on the Days of Wonder website. In a press release announcing this expansion, Moon says, "With this expansion, players will discover two very big maps. However, while Italy does really play big, Japan feels very fast and small because of the Bullet train variation. I hope that means it has something for everyone!"

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy will debut at SPIEL '19 in October ahead of a retail release in Europe in November 2019 and in the North America in January 2020. This expansion retails for US$40/€40, and the Italian market will have a special edition of the game in which the countries highlighted on the box are flipped. Smart idea!


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Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:33 pm
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Designer Diary: Terramara

Virginio Gigli
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In the late 2000s after the success of our first game, Leonardo Da Vinci, the four of us who make up the design group AcchittoccaFlaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Stefano Luperto, and Antonio Tinto — started thinking about a card game version of that design.

The main idea was a worker placement game with the added twist of being able to place workers in stronger spaces that would become available on a later turn, thereby giving a player the choice of placing a worker on a weaker space that will resolve at the end of the current round or placing it on a stronger action that won't be resolved until the end of a future round.

In this first version, as in Leonardo da Vinci, every round players placed all of their workers first, then all currently active spaces were resolved in a fixed order.


The first version of the game; note the same resources as in Leonardo on the resource tiles


We soon realized that the new game was too complex to be produced as a card game, so we abandoned the idea of linking it to Leonardo da Vinci, changing the theme so that players are now chiefs of gnome clans (game title: "Gnomeland") who are sending their villagers to gather resources to erect the most beautiful buildings.


Virginio and Flaminia during a playtest with Piero Cioni


"Gnomeland" had five kinds of territories and buildings that provided only victory points, and these buildings were later been changed to artefacts with all sorts of functions.

We thought the base mechanism — placing in stronger areas that would be resolved in the future — was interesting and feedback from playtesting was positive. However, people playing the game were confused by the resolution timing and found that trying to time their actions across several turns was too complicated, and since the base mechanism was so challenging, we couldn't build a richer and more complicated game around it. Thus, the game was difficult to play, but at the same time not deep and variable enough. The game remained in our prototype drawer for many years, for that reason and because the Acchittocca invention team was dissolved.


The five types of buildings in "Gnomeland"


In 2017, we started working on it again by introducing one key change: Worker placements are resolved immediately, not at the end of the current or future rounds — but the retrieval of workers placed on action spaces in future rounds (which are thus stronger) would be delayed. At the end of each round, players therefore retrieve all workers placed in areas active in the current round, while workers placed in future stronger areas will be retrieved only at the end of the round when those areas become active.

This change greatly simplified a player's thoughts process and made the placement in future areas more interesting because one would receive the benefits of a current action immediately, making it easier to compare the action now vs. the action later. Having simplified the basic mechanism, finally we were able to enrich the game with other elements that would fit in a new theme we decided to use:

• The first new element we added was caravan travel to give players an alternative to resource gathering. To make it more interesting and original, we then linked it to the end-of-game scoring and allowed travel to unlock special areas where one could place workers.

• We then developed the culture track (the river), which grants the strategic advantage of picking artefacts before the other players and some immediate tactical advantages, the most important being an additional explorer.

• We finally added military strength to allow more freedom when placing an explorer, with a rebalancing mechanism when players use it. We also introduced the raid mechanism that allowed us to remove the static warehouse of resources, which originally existed in "Gnomeland".


Our final prototype of Terramara; beautiful, isn't it?


Terramara — the final name of the design — has reached its definitive form after working with the Quined Games development team. We're very happy working together with them and their choice for game illustrator: Michael Menzel; we're big fans of his, and we've been hoping for a long time to have one of our games illustrated by him.

After working for such a long time on this game, we cannot wait to have the final box in our hands and play it in its final version, which we think will be absolutely gorgeous! We are proud of the end result and hope players will like the game as much as we love it.


Close to the same game board layout other than variation tiles, but now with final art — much more beautiful...
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Tue Sep 10, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Dim Sum Jam, or Fast Food

W. Eric Martin
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SPIEL has always been my favorite game convention because of the vast range of titles available. Convention organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag notes that SPIEL '19 will have more than 1,200 exhibitors from 53 countries, and while other conventions I attend — particularly Gen Con — have been expanding their international presence, none of them come close to SPIEL.

The benefit of this variety is that you find things that you might not ever see on retail shelves at game stores, with one example of this being Dim Sum Jam, from designer Liu Xiao and Hong Kong publisher Broadway Toys. I met with Broadway's Michael Lau at Gen Con 2019, and he gave me quick overviews of this title and the company's version of Guess Club, both of which will be for sale at SPIEL '19 along with their new versions of 10 Days in the USA and 10 Days in Europe.

At Gen Con 2019, Lau met with publishers to see whether anyone would be interested in licensing these games, but he worried that Dim Sum Jam might be too culturally specific. For me, though, the look and setting of the game is part of the appeal. Part of the reason I play games is to experience new things, things that are not part of my existing life, so I appreciate Dim Sum Jam for being something aimed at an audience that's not me, while simultaneously being a design that I can enjoy no matter where I grew up.




In terms of gameplay, Dim Sum Jam is a real-time co-operative game in which players try to deliver food dishes to customers with the overarching goal of feeding the VIPs since they could destroy your reputation should they badmouth you online. Every other customer you serve is secondary, although you'd never state that in public.

Your restaurant serves seven dishes, and you have seven tables, with each dish having tokens numbered 1-7. Each table starts with regular customers who want four dishes. The starting player places a dish on any order card, but the number on the dish token that they play determines the table where the next player must play, with that player's token then determining where the subsequent player must play, and so on. You're racing against time, with you being able to flip the sand timer only after supplying all four desired dishes to a table. Instead of flipping the timer, you could acquire a tea token, which serves as a joker item that can get you out of a jam if someone directs you to a table where you don't have a matching dish.

Once the VIP card comes out, your goal is to finish serving them before you run out of "regular" order cards — because the VIPs quail at the thought of being served after everyone else, I guess — and before you receive three complaint tokens for either running out of time or not having a desired dish for a specific table.

I've played Dim Sum Jam six times on a review copy from Broadway Toys, and I have more to say about the game in the video below:


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Mon Sep 9, 2019 10:18 pm
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New Game Round-up: Stock Goods in Adventure Mart, and Explore a Qwixx Remix

W. Eric Martin
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• BGG's SPIEL '19 Preview is nearing nine hundred titles, and we still have six more weeks of announcements ahead of us. Many of these new games are spinoffs of existing titles or game lines, as with Jumbo's Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story, which I previewed recently, and the "new" "board game" Qwixx On Board from Steffen Benndorf, Reinhard Staupe, and German publisher NSV.

I credit Qwixx with being the title that kicked off the roll-and-write trend, and this game for 2-4 players seems to retain that element of play, although details are sketchy for now:

Quote:
Qwixx On Board features rules identical to Qwixx, with the addition of a game board in which players want to move their pawn forward, occupy spaces, tactically cross out numbers, avoid misrolls, and bring about the end of the game, point by point.

• Publisher Palm Court ran a Kickstarter (link) for Wavelength — a mind-reading-ish party game from Alex Hague, Justin Vickers, and Wolfgang Warsch that features the coolest cover artwork ever — in early 2019, and now Asmodee North America has picked up the game for distribution in the U.S. in Q4 2019. For details on the gameplay, check out my preview from PAX Unplugged 2018.

IELLO has set a December 2019 release date for Heroes of Stalingrad, a design by Yann and Clem of Devil Pig Games that was funded on Kickstarter (link) in April 2018 and finally making its way to market.

• In other IELLO news, the company has a game in the works titled Flying Goblins about which I can do no more than point to this cover image from Tomek Larek in January 2019:




• While at UK Games Expo at the start of June 2019, Rory O'Connor and Michael Fox from Hub Games checked out a prototype of Adventure Mart, which designer/publisher DigiSprite had just launched on Kickstarter (KS link). O'Connor was so smitten with the game that he signed it for release directly from Hub Games, with the title to debut at UK Games Expo 2020 in June. Here's an overview of the game, which Hub plans to demo at Gen Con 2019 and SPIEL '19:

Quote:
Adventure Mart is a deck-building store management game set in a modern, high fantasy world in which 2-4 players compete to create the wealthiest store, selling powerful and exotic stock to a host of strange and diverse customers and hiring unique and talented employees to help out!

In more detail, each player takes on the role of an Adventure Mart manager, setting up shop in a new town near the latest dungeon to be uncovered and competing for the business of adventurers from the local guilds. The game takes place over the course of five days (turns). Each day, players can purchase new stock to improve their store and deck, hire employees to help secure sales and interact with other players, and initiate sales with customers.

Adventure Marts never stay open for long, though! They pop up where they're needed, make as much money as they can, then move on to a new location. This means that after a week of competition with the other players, your stores will be liquidated, then the player with the most accumulated wealth wins.

Demo at the UK Games Expo 2019 (image from van00uber)
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Mon Sep 9, 2019 1:00 pm
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New (Old) Game Round-up: Explore Reefs in Malaysia, Cruise in the Mediterranean, and Ditch Work in Argentina

W. Eric Martin
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• At the start of each year, I bring my inbox to zero — well, zero-ish — but as the year progresses and the needs of convention preparation and coverage overtake everything else, my inbox fills up with all sorts of random game-related items, such as this June 2019 announcement of Reef Stakes, an independently released card game that few on this site will ever see in real life. Here's an overview of what's going on in the game:

Quote:
Reef Stakes is the first marine-themed, role-playing card game in Malaysia. Designed by young professionals in the conservation workspace, the game is designed to mimic real-life stakeholder relationships, introduce some of Malaysia's most iconic marine species, and highlight threats to coral reefs. The game goes along two tracks: nature and development.

To begin, each player chooses one of six roles (conservationist, developer, natural resource manager, tourism operator, politician and fisherman) at random. Each role is assigned three specific missions to achieve in the game which corresponds to priorities in real life. For example, all three of the conservationist's priorities are related to nature while the tourism operator is interested in both nature and development.

Seven cards are distributed to each player. The building up of the game revolves around a "rock" card where players build in either the nature track or the development track (level 1 to level 4). To win the game, players have to play all three specific mission cards (level 5) on the board. However, since some priorities overlap, players have to communicate, work together, or even sabotage to place their best cards on the table. Sabotage comes in the form of scenario cards that thwart the advancement of a track.
• Another item that I've had open in a browser tab for months, confident that I'll write about it some time, is Bienvenue à bord, a design by the "Tokyo Boys" team of Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, and Théo Rivière that was released by "publisher" Capitaine Meeple — and I put publisher in quotes because Capitaine Meeple's primary business is cruise organization, with its initial cruise taking place in March 2019 around the Mediterranean Sea. Cruise attendees received a copy of this two-player game as part of the cruise package. Here's an overview of play:

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As cruise organizers in Bienvenue à bord, the two players must manage the reception of travelers in the cabins of their boat.

Each round, one player is the dealer, drawing three cards face up, then splitting them into two groups. The other player chooses one group for themself, while the dealer receives the remaining group. Cards are of three main types:

—Cabin cards allow you to "open" one or more cabins on your boat, with cabins existing in three levels; once you've opened a cabin, it's now ready to receive passengers.
—Passenger cards must immediately be placed into open cabins. Each placed passenger gives a certain number of positive or negative victory points (VPs) or a specific symbol; additionally, each passenger wants a certain level of cabin, and the bonuses vary depending on whether this requirement is fulfilled.
—Objective cards give endgame points based on various criteria.

After each of the five rounds, one of four "stopover" cards is revealed and resolved. Whoever has the most of a certain element — passengers, open cabins, etc. — receives 6 VPs. When the game ends, players receive additional points based on symbols they've collected and objectives they've met.
The next Capitaine Meeple tour takes place Oct. 18-25, 2020, so if you aren't attending SPIEL '20, yet are still in the vicinity, you can go on a cruise instead.

Lunes is a solitaire game that was released in late 2018 from designers Aibel Nassif and Julián Tunni and Argentinian publisher Super Noob Games, and in concept it seems like the bookend to Friedemann Friese's solitaire game Finished!

In Finished!, you're at work laying out all your projects (cards) on the table bit by bit, trying to get everything in the right order before you run out of coffee. In Lunes, Spanish for "Monday", you're trying to avoid getting caught by your boss so that you can cut out of the office once you finish the essentials for the day. In more detail:

Quote:
In each round, you move your peg through the corridors of the office (which is a modular board), and your boss will perform movements through an AI comprised of action cards and automated movement. Before you can leave the building, you have to reach the printers and get reports to deliver to your colleagues, who will then cover your escape and reward you with useful objects to achieve your goal.

You may play on predetermined office maps with specific difficulty levels, or you can let chance be the architect of your next office.

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Sun Sep 8, 2019 1:00 pm
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Links: Fluxx Featured, Knight Moves Marketed, and Plastic Pushed Out of Packaging

W. Eric Martin
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• In August 2019, Elliott Williams at Washingtonian profiled Andy and Kristin Looney of Looney Labs. An excerpt:

Quote:
As aerospace engineers at NASA, Kristin and Andy Looney spent years working on VLSI computer chips, telemetry processing systems, and other high-tech tasks. But if you’re more into hobby shops than you are the Hubble telescope, you might know the couple for a different contribution: the card game Fluxx, which has sold more than 3 million copies since they debuted it in 1997.
• In August 2019, the Boston branch of NBC News profiled Knight Move Games, a café located in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts. An excerpt:

Quote:
When it opened in 2013, Knight Moves was the first board game cafe in New England and one of just a few in the entire country. Today, there are at least five other board game cafes in Boston alone.

The cafe welcomes a steady stream of regulars, board game enthusiasts and curious visitors every day.

"In 2013, board games really hadn't hit yet, but they've gained so much momentum," says Knight Moves owner Devon Trevelyan. "The industry is just booming right now."
If you run a café yourself — or you publish, design, or develop games — approach your local news networks and publications to see whether they'd be interested in profiling you. Don't ask directly, mind you; approach them by sending newsworthy press releases to their local news division, with "newsworthy" sometimes being something as straightforward as "Game publisher exists in town X". Many media outlets devote time to quirky local interest stories, and one of those stories could feature you if they know that you exist.

• In September 2019, The New York Times posted an article that seems to have been found behind a couch a year or two after it was originally written, with designers Jason Lautenschleger and Barry McLaughlin being the lead-in to discuss that success of tabletop games on Kickstarter, board game cafés across the U.S., and the continued growth of the game sector of the toy industry. An excerpt:

Quote:
When they started a business together, Barry & Jason Games and Entertainment, their first product was Game Night in a Can, a play-at-home version of their club act. Like other entrepreneurs, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Lautenschleger turned to crowdfunding to raise money...

Game Night in a Can had a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $21,000. It is now sold in more than 100 mom-and-pop stores and by major companies like Urban Outfitters.

And another:

Quote:
Sales of games and puzzles jumped 39 percent in the United States from 2013 to 2018, outpacing the 16 percent average for the traditional toy industry, according to data from Euromonitor, a market research company.

Hasbro had a 30 percent share of the games and puzzles market in the United States in 2018, thanks to its Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, followed by Mattel at almost 9 percent, according to Euromonitor.

And another, which should be of interest to game designers and developers, who are looking for opportunities outside the actual publication of games:

Quote:
Mr. McLaughlin has a background in advertising, and Mr. Lautenschleger works in TV development. The combination of their skills makes it easier for them to pitch ideas to other companies and to perform live events, like a recent game-themed brainstorm session for Marriott executives, which can bring in revenue and inspire game ideas.
• Speaking of Hasbro, on August 20, 2019, the U.S. company announced that starting in 2020, "it plans to begin phasing out plastic from new product packaging, including plastic elements like polybags, elastic bands, shrink wrap, window sheets and blister packs. The company's ambition is to eliminate virtually all plastic in packaging for new products by the end of 2022."

We've already been seeing this trend in mainstream game releases, with many new titles at Target, for example, using stickers to keep the box lid sealed instead of shrinkwrap that covers the entire box. Sometimes those stickers comes off easily and leave only tiny sticky patches that you can remove by patting them with the sticker itself, and sometimes those stickers leave a gooey mess. I guess they're still working out the details to ensure a consistently clean removal. Here's the remainder of that press release:

Quote:
"Removing plastic from our packaging is the latest advancement in our more than decade-long journey to create a more sustainable future for our business and our world," said Brian Goldner, Chairman and CEO, Hasbro. "We have an experienced, cross-functional team in place to manage the complexity of this undertaking and will look to actively engage employees, customers, and partners as we continue to innovate and drive progress as a leader in sustainability."

Hasbro has a long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability, from eliminating wire ties in 2010 and adding How2Recycle® labeling in 2016, to the use of plant-based bioPET in 2018, and most recently, launching an industry-leading toy recycling program with TerraCycle®. Hasbro's Sustainability Center of Excellence is charged with driving the integration of sustainability across the business, including driving sustainable packaging design principles.

"Reimagining and redesigning packaging across our brand portfolio is a complex undertaking, but we believe it's important and our teams are up for the challenge," said John Frascotti, President and Chief Operating Officer, Hasbro. "We know consumers share our commitment to protecting the environment, and we want families to feel good knowing that our packaging will be virtually plastic-free, and our products can be easily recycled through our Toy Recycling Program with TerraCycle*."

Hasbro's Toy Recycling Program enables consumers to send well-loved Hasbro toys and games to TerraCycle, a global leader in product recycling, who will recycle them into materials to be used in the construction of play spaces, flowerpots, park benches, and other innovative uses. Hasbro recently announced the expansion of the program to France, Germany and Brazil, and plans to expand the program to additional markets with the goal of ensuring all Hasbro toys and games are recyclable in the major markets where it does business.
But what happens to Hasbro toys and games that aren't so well loved?
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Sat Sep 7, 2019 1:00 pm
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