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Gen Con 2017 Preview Now Live

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The 2017 Origins Game Fair is over, so it's time to look ahead to Gen Con 2017, which takes place August 17-20 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

I'd say more about one or both of these shows, or the rate at which titles will be added to the Gen Con 2017 Preview over the next two months (which starts at 146 titles while the previous two years had about 550 on them), but I got sick at the end of Origins — bad sandwich, I think — and can barely think straight, so just have at it!
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Mon Jun 19, 2017 6:54 pm
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Links: Diana Jones Award Announces Nominees, Go Machine Goes, and HABA Asks for Submissions

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• The nominees for the 2017 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming have been announced, and as usual they cover an interesting cross-segment of the gaming community. The nominees are:

Gloomhaven, with which users of this site are probably familiar
Terraforming Mars, ditto
Gen Con, the largest game convention in the U.S., which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2017
End of the Line, a LARP by Bjarke Pedersen, Juhana Pettersson and Martin Elricsson that DJA describes as "the most interesting thing to happen in Vampire for a long while [combining] two decades long traditions of LARP, American Masquerade and Nordic style LARPing."
The Romance Trilogy, a set of role-playing games from Emily Care Boss and Black and Green Games
The Beast, a card game from Aleksandra Sontowska and Kamil Węgrzynowicz published by Naked Female Giant (and available at DriveThruCards); here's a description of this creation from DJA, which falls far outside BGG's definition of a game, but which sounds enticing all the same:

Quote:
The Beast is an unsettling, erotic journaling game for one player. Each day for twenty-one days you turn up a card with a prompt on it and write a response in your journal. The game takes you deep into imagining a disturbing, secret sexual relationship you have with a beast. If there's one thing you don't see much of in hobby games, it's meaningful interior narratives, but The Beast's weird, unique brew of dark transgressions, playing as a fictional version of yourself and journaling the results, somehow surfaces real untold truths in us about how the world works, and how relationships work, and what's important in life. The Beast is memorable, transgressive, and procedurally and thematically unlike anything else you may have played.

• AlphaGo, an AI developed by DeepMind (a company purchased by Google in 2014), defeated the world's top-ranked Go player, Ke Jie, in a series of matches in China in late May 2017, and now having bested the best the program will play Go no more. In a blog following the 3-0 victory by AlphaGo, DeepMind CEO and co-founder Demis Hassabis wrote:

Quote:
The research team behind AlphaGo will now throw their energy into the next set of grand challenges, developing advanced general algorithms that could one day help scientists as they tackle some of our most complex problems, such as finding new cures for diseases, dramatically reducing energy consumption, or inventing revolutionary new materials. If AI systems prove they are able to unearth significant new knowledge and strategies in these domains too, the breakthroughs could be truly remarkable. We can’t wait to see what comes next.

As a parting gift for Go players, DeepMind offered the following:

Quote:
Since our match with Lee Sedol, [a world champion that AlphaGo defeated 4-1 in 2016], AlphaGo has become its own teacher, playing millions of high level training games against itself to continually improve. We're now publishing a special set of 50 AlphaGo vs AlphaGo games, played at full length time controls, which we believe contain many new and interesting ideas and strategies.

We took the opportunity at the Summit to show some of these games to a handful of top professionals. Shi Yue, 9 Dan Professional and World Champion said the games were "Like nothing I've ever seen before — they're how I imagine games from far in the future." Gu Li, 9 Dan Professional and World Champion, said that "AlphaGo's self play games are incredible — we can learn many things from them." We hope that all Go players will now enjoy trying out some of the moves in the set.

Those quotes will resonate with anyone familiar with Hikaru no Go and the main character's quest for the "divine move"...

• The U.S. division of HABA is running a game design contest that's open until July 31, 2017. To participate, you need to purchase a $3 design kit from HABA that includes random bits from various HABA titles, then create something for 2-5 players that plays in 15-45 minutes using at least three of the elements in the kit. If HABA doesn't sell its two hundred design kits prior to mid-June, it will bring copies of the kit to the 2017 Origins Game Fair. Sounds like a late-night challenge for fairgoers!

• The city of Nürnberg, Germany contains seven municipal museums as well as various historic sights and collections, including the German Games Archive, which contains more than 30,000 parlor games. How did I not know about this before?! Apparently I need to stay in Nürnberg a day or two after Spielwarenmesse ends in 2018 so that I can check this out.

Aside from that archive, games show up in other places as well, with Ken Fisher's card game Wizard being featured as the "showpiece of the month" for June 2017. BGG admin Emile de Maat was visiting the city in late May 2017, and at the Stadtmuseum im Fembo-Haus he ran across a "games with antiquity" exhibit (depicted below) that features modern games about olden times. On June 13, 2017, the Stadtmuseum im Fembo-Haus will feature a presentation by Reiner Knizia titled "The World of Games". Lots to check out in that city!

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Wed Jun 7, 2017 6:07 pm
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Asmodee North America to Go Exclusive with Alliance Game Distributors

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In December 2015, Asmodee North America announced a plan to reduce the number of distributors that it deals with for the hobby game market to five: ACD Distribution, Alliance Game Distributors, GTS Distribution, PHD Games, and Southern Hobby Supply. As of August 1, 2017, that number will be reduced to one, with Alliance Game Distributors signing a multi-year agreement with ANA that's "aimed at broadly increasing support for U.S. hobby games retailers", to quote from the press release. Here's the rest of it:

Quote:
This includes the creation of a large, dedicated Asmodee Specialist Team at Alliance, significant updates to Asmodee's sales policies, and a number of upcoming retailer initiatives designed to support and grow the market.

More information on updated Asmodee sales policies and details about upcoming retailer initiatives will be made available in late June.

"This is an amazing and transformational deal," said Christian T. Petersen, CEO of Asmodee North America. "We at Asmodee have long enjoyed a terrific and productive relationship with the great people at Alliance. This deal joins the combined experience of both organizations to craft a communications and distribution infrastructure that we believe will positively affect both retailers and consumers in the hobby games market."

"We are truly honored to be part of this historic agreement," said Daniel Hirsch, president of Alliance Game Distributors. "Alliance has enjoyed a very close relationship with the companies that make up Asmodee North America for over 20 years. We are both proud and grateful that Asmodee has placed its trust in us for the stewardship of its brands."

Asmodee has declined to participate in interviews about this deal until late June 2017 when it announces the new sales policies. It has noted that new releases and restocks will be available from the five currently authorized distributors until August 1, 2017, after which Alliance will be the only source for such items in the hobby game market.

In some ways this is a return to old habits for parts of ANA as design studio Days of Wonder was exclusive with Alliance for many years and remained exclusive for a period after being purchased by Asmodee in mid-2014. Z-Man Games was exclusive with Alliance until January 2016 when it opened distribution to four other companies, namely the four non-Alliance companies listed above. (Asmodee subsequently announced negotiations to purchase Z-Man owner F2Z Entertainment in July 2016, completing the deal in October 2016.)

So what now? The four non-Alliance distributors will lose some percentage of their business, and whether they survive or not will depend on what that percentage is and what they do in response to this loss of revenue. Hobby retailers who previously dealt with a non-Alliance distributor for titles that originate or are distributed by Asmodee North America must now deal with Alliance — unless they purchase directly from ANA, of course, which might be where this path leads to in the end. After all, ANA has gone from a dozen distributors to five to one in a couple of years. Why stop there?

At the same time as the December 2015 announcement about its distribution, ANA made changes to how it interacted with online retailers, both prohibiting general retailers from selling ANA titles online and lowering the discount at which online retailers could purchase games, thereby effectively raising prices of games sold through those outlets. This change to a single distributor will give ANA still tighter control over its inventory, better allowing them to know who sells what and for what price.

As for what happens with other publishers in response to this, specifically CMON Limited, which is positioning itself as the Avis of the hobby game industry, we'll have to wait and see...
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Thu Jun 1, 2017 6:00 pm
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IELLO Adopts Minimum Advertised Pricing Policy, While CMON Limited Updates Theirs

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On Wednesday, May 24, 2017, CMON Limited announced a new unilateral Minimum Advertised Pricing Policy (MAPP), and here's the announcement in full:

Quote:
Today, May 24, CMON, Inc. announced it has adopted a unilateral Minimum Advertised Pricing Policy (MAPP) that will go into effect on June 1, 2017. Along with the new policy, CMON has restructured its existing hobby distribution network in the U.S. effective immediately. By unilaterally imposing restrictions on minimum prices advertised by CMON's new distribution network and retail partners, CMON products' perceived value in the customers' eyes will be enhanced, which is in the best interest of consumers and CMON's partners.

With the adoption of the unilateral MAPP, CMON has restructured their U.S. hobby distribution network to ensure efficient and effective distribution of their products to consumers in accordance with the new policy. As of May 24, 2017, the current hobby distributors CMON is working with include Alliance Game Distributors, ACD Distribution, and Peachstate Hobby Distribution (PHD).

The CMON MAPP will only apply to CMON branded products within the U.S., and products with a Minimum Advertised Price will appear on the current MAPP price list hosted on CMON.com. Adherence to the MAPP is non-negotiable for CMON product resellers, and will be strictly enforced by CMON to ensure the CMON brand maintains a high value in the consumer mindshare.

A copy of the CMON MAPP will be available at CMON.com/mapp and the CMON MAPP price list will be available at CMON.com/mapp-prices.

Those latter two URLs don't lead anywhere at this time.

Note that this isn't the first MAPP from CMON, which in mid-2014 introduced an agreement that retailers had to sign in which they agreed that their minimum advertised price "for all CMON Box Games shall be no less than 80% of the MSRP provided by CMON", with that policy applying to "all CMON Box Games released during the preceding 12 months", which at that time included Zombicide: Prison Outbreak, Zombicide: Toxic City Mall, Rivet Wars, Kaosball, Dogs of War, Xenoshyft and Arcadia Quest.





IELLO — or at least the U.S. branch of IELLO — introduced its own MAPP in May 2017, with that policy going into effect on May 15, 2017. An excerpt from that policy:

Quote:
IELLO acknowledges and understands that its current and continued success is directly related to the success of its network of authorized dealers (including without limitation all IELLO distributor, wholesale, and retail customers that resell IELLO products to consumers, known herein as "Vendors"). IELLO also recognizes and understands that its Vendors take great pains to deliver a first class experience to their customers, and IELLO desires to support its Vendors in furtherance of achieving their goals by protecting its image and reputation, promoting its brand and providing excellent resources that are key to maintaining the hobby culture for game enthusiasts. Therefore, it is in the interest of both IELLO and its Vendors to protect the Vendors’ ability to continue to provide an outstanding experience and exemplary service to their customers. In furtherance of the aforementioned dual interest, IELLO believes that it is also in the best interest of both IELLO and its Vendors to discourage advertising practices that would be detrimental to the service and support efforts of our Vendors. As a result, IELLO has developed and put into force this Minimum Advertised Price Policy ("MAPP") on a UNILATERAL BASIS. This MAPP shall in no way be considered or construed to be an agreement (or to create any contract) with or between any Vendor or other person or entity, and shall only apply to advertised pricing. It is in no way meant to regulate actual sales prices whatsoever.

Both IELLO and CMON Limited adopted "unilateral" policies, which means that the companies introduced their policies without prior and explicit agreement with those who retail their products, and while retailers are free to ignore these policies, they do so at the risk of not being able to carry these titles in their retail outlets in the future. From the IELLO policy:

Quote:
The decision to comply with this MAPP is left up to each individual Vendor, and if they choose to comply, all such Vendors are solely responsible for maintaining compliance with IELLO's MAPP. IELLO reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to suspend or discontinue selling Products (and otherwise discontinue doing business with) any Vendor that: (i) advertises any Products covered by this MAPP at a price in contravention of this MAPP; or (ii) takes any other action whatsoever in contravention of this MAPP.

The MAP for IELLO titles, by the way, is 80% of the title's MSRP, which matches CMON's earlier stated MAP and which is the same as Mayfair Games' MAP when it was introduced in 2007. (That MAP was later changed to 90% of a game's MSRP. I've written a lot about MAPs, both in 2007 when the policy was introduced and in 2016 when Asmodee changed its distribution structure to charge higher prices to online retailers.)
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Fri May 26, 2017 4:17 pm
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Kingdomino, Magic Maze, and Wettlauf nach El Dorado Nominated for the 2017 Spiel des Jahres

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The nominees for the 2017 Spiel des Jahres — Germany's "game of the year" award, which typically boosts sales of the winner by several hundred thousand copies — have been announced, and they are:

Kingdomino, by Bruno Cathala and Pegasus Spiele, with Blue Orange Games being the publisher of origin
Magic Maze, by Kasper Lapp and Pegasus Spiele (originally Sit Down!)
Wettlauf nach El Dorado, by Reiner Knizia and Ravensburger




Seven additional titles were recommended by the jury of journalists and game reviewers that oversees the Spiel des Jahres, an annual award meant to honor a game that would be a great choice for play by German families (and by extension families everywhere). These titles are DEJA-VU, Dodelino, Fabled Fruit, KLASK, Shiftago, Tempel des Schreckens, and Word Slam.

The jury announced nominees for two additional awards as well. Titles up for the Kinderspiel des Jahres, Germany's game of the year for children, are:

Captain Silver, by Wolfgang Dirscherl, Manfred Reindl, and Queen Games
Ice Cool, by Brian Gomez and AMIGO Spiele (originally Brain Games)
Der Mysteriöse Wald (a.k.a. The Mysterious Forest), by Carlo A. Rossi and IELLO




The games nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres — an award aimed at enthusiasts who already have some familiarity with modern games — are:

EXIT: Das Spiel, a series of three escape room games from Inka Brand, Markus Brand, and KOSMOS
Räuber der Nordsee (a.k.a. Raiders of the North Sea), by Shem Phillips and Schwerkraft-Verlag (originally Phillips' own Garphill Games)
Terraforming Mars, by Jacob Fryxelius and Schwerkraft-Verlag (originally from FryxGames and Stronghold Games)




Four additional Kennerspiel-level titles were recommended by the jury: The Big Book of Madness, Captain Sonar, Great Western Trail, and The Grizzled.

The winner of the 2017 Kinderspiel des Jahres will be announced Monday, June 19 in Hamburg, while the 2017 Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres winners will be revealed on Monday, July 17 in Berlin.

Congratulations to all the nominees!
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Mon May 22, 2017 10:00 am
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Links: Mensa Winners, Co-op Games for Newbies, and Black-and-White Squares Forever

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It's been a while since my previous link round-up, so some of these links might be less timely than is ideal. Still, onward!

• Voting for the Deutscher Spielepreis 2017 is underway, with gamers being asked to vote for their five favorite games from the second half of 2016 and the first half-ish of 2017. Votes can be placed through July 31, 2017, and the winners will be revealed at SPIEL 2017 in October.

• Speaking of awards, American Mensa announced the latest winners of their annual Mind Games competition in late April 2017:


That's a handful of traditional Eurogames right there, with Renegade Game Studios picking up its three straight win for Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure, following Lanterns: The Harvest Festival in 2015 and World's Fair 1893 in 2016. (Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension won a Mensa Select award in 2014 when it was published by Cryptozoic Entertainment, with Renegade taking over as that game's publisher in late 2014.)

Around the World in 80 Days is a new version of Hare & Tortoise (the first Spiel des Jahres winner), while Amalgam is a U.S. version of Glastonbury, which is itself a new version of Kupferkessel Co. (which was a Spiel des Jahres-recommended title in 2002). Imagine and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle rounded out the Mensa Select awards for 2017.

• Before I started writing about games full-time, I was a freelance magazine writer, following in my wife's footsteps. She's still carrying on in this career, with 2017 marking the end of her second decade in this field, and she recently wrote about "7 board games for kids who hate to lose", with this essentially being an introduction to co-op games for Canadian publication Today's Parent.

• I posted a Hasbro-centric links round-up in late April 2017, noting the company's 41% net earnings increase in Q1 2017 compared to Q1 2016. What I didn't note is that this quarter marks the first time in seventeen years that Hasbro has beaten Mattel in revenue, a detail highlighted in an Associated Press article that credits Toilet Trouble for this wondrous event. From the article:

Quote:
"I never thought I would actually get to talk about this on an earnings call but, you know, Toilet Trouble is off to a very good start," CEO Brian Goldner told analysts Monday after putting up very strong first-quarter numbers.

Now Hasbro is flush with cash!

Popular Mechanics is a relic of the past, at least in my mind, because I associate it with my father, who had huge stacks of both that magazine and Popular Science in his basement workshop. I loved reading "Wordless Workshop" even though most of the ideas seemed gimmicky and impractical, on par with solutions to all the Encyclopedia Brown stories I read in my youth. I'm not even sure what Popular Mechanics now covers or how it still exists, but I do know that it recently featured "The 50 Best New Board Games", a pictorially jam-packed, Amazon-affiliate-laden overview of fifty new board games that you may or may not agree are "best". 'Twas ever thus...

• This video in PBS' "Infinite Series" explores concepts related to infinite chess — that is, chess played on an infinitely large chessboard — including how many moves it might take to determine when a game might end.

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Thu May 18, 2017 2:37 pm
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Hasbro Links Round-up: Q1 Revenue, Quarterly Gaming Crate, and Corporate Citizen Status

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Hasbro has issued a revenue report for Q1 2017, noting that revenues are up 2% — $849.7 million vs. $831.2 million — compared to Q1 2016. Net earnings compared to Q1 2016 are up 41%: $68.6 million vs. $48.8 million. These increases follow Hasbro's record-setting 2016, the first year that it topped $5 billion in net revenues. From the press release:

Quote:
"Our first quarter results are in line with our previously communicated expectations and we are well positioned to execute against 2017's rich content slate and diverse new initiatives," said Brian Goldner, Hasbro's chairman and chief executive officer. "Revenue grew in the quarter and we drove strong consumer takeaway at retail, both compared to a robust first quarter last year and with a shift of Easter into this year's second quarter. Over the coming quarters, we are supporting significant new initiatives including major theatrical films for both Franchise and Partner Brands."

Quote:
Hasbro Gaming posted 43% revenue growth to $142.9 million driven by Hasbro's diverse gaming portfolio. The strong revenue increase was led by several new games, including SPEAK OUT, TOILET TROUBLE and FANTASTIC GYMNASTICS, digital gaming, and several other gaming brands, including DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, BOP-IT and PIE-FACE. Hasbro's total gaming category grew 10% to $253.3 million.

Hasbro divides its products into four brands — Franchise Brands, Partner Brands, Hasbro Gaming, and Emerging Brands — and some of its game sales hide in the Franchise Brands category, as noted elsewhere in the press release: "Hasbro's total gaming category, including all gaming revenue, most notably MAGIC: THE GATHERING and MONOPOLY, which are included in Franchise Brands in the table above, totaled $253.3 million for the first quarter 2017, up 10%, versus $231.1 million in the first quarter 2016. Hasbro believes its gaming portfolio is a competitive differentiator and views it in its entirety."

• To take advantage of its "competitive differentiator", in mid-2017 Hasbro will debut the Hasbro Gaming Crate. Four times a year, Hasbro will ship subscribers who pay the $50 fee either a party or family-themed game crate that contains three games. An excerpt from a Fortune article:

Quote:
"We've seen the subscription trend and how strong it has become outside of our industry and we thought 'Gamers are into their games and they want to try new games all the time,' said Jonathan Berkowitz, senior vice president of marketing for Hasbro Gaming, in an interview with Fortune. "It is a perfect marriage for the gaming category." ...

Berkowitz explained that the party themed boxes will incorporate more "edgy" games that are ideal for adults, while the family crate is for all different ages and more inclusive. Hasbro built a new separate team within the broader Hasbro Gaming segment that will focus exclusively on the Hasbro Gaming Crate service. The idea is that all the games that will be shipped will be new — so consumers that order the crate won't be getting boxes of Candy Land and Jenga shipped to their homes.

The service is also a way for Hasbro to innovate at a faster pace than is typical for the industry.

In an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer, Hasbro Chairman and CEO Brian Goldner referred to the Hasbro Gaming Crate as "profitable experimentation" since those who buy the Crates are encouraged to give feedback on the titles, which might then make it into general distribution depending on the results.

What might you find in these new games? Nothing has been announced, but the Fortune article includes this paragraph about how Hasbro turned around its games division after initially trying — and failing — to incorporate "tablet functionality" into its existing game brands:

Quote:
One critical source of inspiration has been viral videos. Hasbro saw the web-driven buzz around the Pie Face game and bought the rights to manufacture and distribute the game after it became a viral hit. Other games that have been inspired by viral videos have included Egged On (based on a gag utilized by late-night host Jimmy Fallon), Flip Challenge (inspired by the bottle flipping trend on YouTube), and Speak Out (also inspired by viral web videos).

CR Magazine has ranked Hasbro first in its annual list of the "100 Best Corporate Citizens", with the companies being ranked in these seven categories: environment, climate change, employee relations, human rights, corporate governance, financial performance, and philanthropy and community support. The "CR" in the magazine's title stands for "corporate responsibility". (ranking PDF)

• By chance, I recently ran across a 2016 article in The Times, a UK-based newspaper, that detailed how "women housed by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Waterford packaged board games for the global toy franchise Hasbro in return for 'pocket money' as recently as 2012". Excerpts from the article:

Quote:
"In the 1980s, Hasbro entered into an agreement with the Good Shepherd Sisters in Waterford to provide materials for packaging by our residents," said the Good Shepherd Sisters in a statement. "The residents who participated in this activity were regularly given what was then known as their 'Hasbro money envelope'."

The Good Shepherd Sisters said that the order "in no way profited from this commercial relationship with Hasbro, which ended in 2012".

A former factory employee from Hasbro Ireland said her mother had been housed by the Good Shepherd Sisters and had also packaged Hasbro toys, but for "pocket money rather than wages".

The former employee, who asked not to be named, also claimed that the women who worked on the site of the Good Shepherd convent in Waterford worked longer hours than employees in Hasbro’s Waterford factory

Quote:
When asked about its business relationship over three decades with the Good Shepherd Sisters in Waterford, [Hasbro] said that it had no direct commercial involvement with the order. Instead, the company said, it had a business relationship with Rehab, a charity that aims to help those with a disability in the workforce.

Julie Duffy, a spokeswoman for Hasbro Inc, said: "Rehab in Waterford, many years ago, approached Hasbro to provide small work tasks for the clients they serve. Hasbro viewed this as a community service."

Duffy said that, between 1999 and 2008, Hasbro paid Rehab approximately €25,000 a year.
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Tue Apr 25, 2017 4:00 pm
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Links: Sales Figures from Asmodee and Steve Jackson Games, and an Unrivaled Opportunity to Play to Win

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• In mid-March 2017, French investment company Eurazeo posted a report (PDF) of its 2016 fiscal year, and that's of interest to gamers given that Eurazeo owns game publisher Asmodee, which itself consists of Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Z-Man Games, and several other publishing brands. Here's the Asmodee section of its report:

Quote:
ASMODEE (fully consolidated)

Continued robust organic growth and an ongoing international acquisitions policy

In 2016, Asmodee posted revenue of €377.2 million, up +39.5% on a reported basis compared to the previous year, and solid organic growth of +18.5% at constant scope and exchange rates.

This growth was spurred by all product lines and regions: international activities now represent 75% of Group revenue, particularly in the US and the UK. The year was marked by a particularly robust performance in the cards segment, driven by Pokémon which benefited from favorable trends in all the Group’s European countries.

The Group's EBITDA totaled €65.2 million, resulting in a 17.3% margin. EBITDA increased by +57.5% on a reported basis and +23.7% at constant scope and exchange rates.

Asmodee is also pursuing its strategic initiatives: enhancement of its editorial contents in all regions and on all media, ramp-up in new regions, primarily the US, and creation of its digital platform offering.

Pro forma of the external growth transactions carried out at the end of 2016 (F2Z, Heidelberger, Millenium and Edge), revenue in 2016 totaled €402 million and EBITDA amounted to €78.1 million, i.e. a +19.4% margin.

Net financial debt totaled €223.6 million following the June 2016 refinancing and the acquisitions at the end of 2016, i.e. a leverage now lower than 3.0x EBITDA.

Eurazeo is a shareholder in 34 companies. (HT: Sebastian Wenzel)

• To follow up on this April 2017 post about Catan Days 2017, Asmodee North America has announced that "due to an unforeseen circumstance" Catan Days has been postponed, with a new date still to be announced at a later date.

• Phil Reed has posted Steve Jackson Games' annual stakeholder report for 2016, which always provides fascinating insight into one of the longest-lived U.S. game publishers still active on today's market. An excerpt:

Quote:
2016 was a challenging time for many of us in the office. It was our second year in decline, with gross income just over $6 million. Additionally, this was the first year in over a decade that we showed a loss. Our insistence on perfection resulted in our two biggest planned releases — the Munchkin Collectible Card Game and Car Wars Sixth Edition — being pushed back (keep reading for more information on both of these games). That meant our time invested in both games did not benefit the bottom line in 2016, and that led to lower than expected revenue. Fortunately, our management team saw early enough in the year that these games would miss 2016 that we kept our cash flow stable and avoided potential cash crunches. Our cash flow report — first mentioned by Steve in the 2010 report — continues to protect us from unexpected harm.

• On March 31, 2017, Identity Games managing director Erik Spindler transferred his shares of the company to new owners. To quote from the press release: "With a number of global titles like Escape Room: The Game, Poopyhead and the original Mouthguard Challenge, this is a good time for Spindler to take on a new challenge. Founder and managing partner Albert Meuter and managing director USA Emile Kalis, as well the new shareholders" — Jeroen Nugteren (General Manager International) and Jan-Maurits Duparc (Chief Creation) — "are now the new management. Jelle Marcus is the new manager for tailor made games."

• Want to watch players compete in tabletop games for money? Oomba hopes so, Oomba being "a specialized social media company that is creating an interactive social network for tournaments, leagues and teams".

The specific event that Oomba has created is the Unrivaled Tournament Series, which features six games — Munchkin, Ascension, King of Tokyo, Nevermore, Villagers & Villains, and Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Rumble at Castle Tentakill — for which 284 retail stores will hold satellite tournaments through June 2017, ahead of regional tournaments from July through September and the finals in October 2017 in Las Vegas. Oomba promises $250,000 in cash and prizes for those who make the grand final, with sanctioned satellite venues receiving payouts matching those of their players, thereby giving them an incentive to host in the first place (beyond, of course, simply encouraging people to come to their store).

An excerpt from a Forbes article about Oomba and the Unrivaled tournament series:

Quote:
"Unrivaled is a celebration of social aspects of tabletop gaming," says [Oomba CEO Michael] Williams. The company and its partners are betting that the excitement generated by the tournament gets more people into the world of tabletop games, and generates greater outside attention to the marketing, sponsorship and engagement opportunities for organized play. If their strategy pays off, it may open a whole new field of play for the esports model and a new point of engagement for the fan economy that has taken over popular culture.

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Links: Play Catan, Play with CMON, and Don't Play More Games Than You Ever Thought Possible

W. Eric Martin
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Let me lead off by stating that I hate April Fools' Day, so I have nothing tricky posted below. Everything is a legit link unless someone has uploaded new pages on me after the fact. I loathe that I even have to give such warnings, but there it is.

With that anti-caveat in mind, let's get to some industry happenings, starting with the announcement of CMON Play, an exclusive promotional program for brick and mortar game stores in the U.S. and Canada from CMON Limited. An excerpt from the press release:

Quote:
This new program is designed to help promote the growth of retail stores by offering exclusive access to Game Night Kits, Pre-Release Kits, Demo Copies, and Kickstarter Retail Pledges from CMON's wide library of titles.

The board game industry and culture is here because of brick and mortar stores, and CMON wants to ensure our retailers have the tools they need to keep their businesses and communities thriving. Ruby Nikolopoulou, CMON's Marketing Director, explains, "Throughout the creation of the CMON Play program, retailers, their stores, and their customers have been front-and-center in our minds. They are the cornerstone to our industry, and CMON Play give us a chance to connect with them and support them in exciting, new ways."

Game Night Kits allow stores to run events for popular CMON games, such as Zombicide: Black Plague, Blood Rage, Potion Explosion, and Bloodborne: The Card Game. Kits will be available every two months, beginning with Black Plague in June [2017], and will offer game content that has never been available before. Running these Game Night Kits as events also allows stores to earn points that can be spent through CMON directly.

Continuing the retail-first philosophy of CMON Play are the Pre-Release Kits. For specific, high-profile games, CMON is offering retailers the ability to sell the title two weeks before any non-CMON Play store and online retailers, beginning with the highly-anticipated The Godfather: Corleone's Empire from designer Eric M. Lang.

Asmodee North America plans to host Catan Days 2017 on April 21-23 at the Fantasy Flight Games Center in Roseville, Minnesota. The event opens with a preview of upcoming titles from Catan Studio on April 21, followed by a two-day Catan tournament with up to 96 players that serves as a qualifier for the Catan National Championship to be held at the 2017 Origins Game Fair in June. Saturday, April 22 will also see a "Catan Big Game" tournament in which up to eighty players compete in the same game simultaneously. You can preregister for the event on the Catan Studio website.

Plan B Games, which will debut at Origins 2017 with Century: Spice Road (game preview and designer interview here), has been rolling out names of future design collaborators without any mention yet of what those games might be. Those collaborators include Pandemic's Matt Leacock (as announced here), Ubongo's Grzegorz Rejchtman (announcement), and Anita Landgraf from White Castle Games Agency in Austria (announcement).

Daniel Solis has designed a number of games, including Kodama: The Tree Spirits and Belle of the Ball, but he might be better known in the industry for his layout and graphic design work. He oversees a lot of different artists on these projects, and to help himself and them work toward inclusive art direction, he's compiled a number of tips, such as these two:

Quote:
Question the "default."

You know how Earth is moving around the sun and the sun is moving through the galaxy, but we don't recognize it because we are born into it? That's sort of like the "Default." My beliefs, body, culture, class, or anything else is not the "default." The "default" is just the motion we're born into and assume is the standard forever. In truth, the "default" is the inertia of history, family, and culture. If I stop putting in effort, just trying to remain "neutral," I turn into debris floating along with that inertia, harming people in my path who can't go along with that inertia. It takes ongoing effort just to keep myself standing still, holding what little progress I've made in improving myself. It takes even more effort to actually move against that inertia, to change what is considered "default."

Accept responsibility.

Sometimes I see questionable art direction justified by "It's what the market wants" or "It's historically accurate." Even granting that, which I do NOT necessarily, it is still an art director and creator's choices that rule the day. A fictional character doesn't have an ethnicity, gender, body, or pose by accident. It's a creator's choice to present a character a certain way. Even in video games with character customization, the creators set the options available. If an option is available, that's a choice. If it isn't available, that's a choice, too. Deferring and defaulting is a choice; one that I'm trying not to make whenever possible.




• Travis Severance, owner of Millennium Games in Rochester, NY, invited folks from various parts of the game industry to address this topic — "The Deluge of Board Games" — and he published their essays on his blog throughout March 2017. Here's a sampling from each writer:

Designer perspective from Travis R. Chance of Indie Boards and Games:

Quote:
As a small publisher, it can be extremely tough to land games from more established designers. This often means approaching newcomers to design. This potential compounded lack of experience is very likely to produce an altogether forgettable game, one that ends up on a crowdfunding platform, funds in defiance of all logic, and in turn inspires someone else to do the very same. It is an unending process of facsimile wherein people are in such a hurry to "create" that they never stop to question if their game NEEDS to exist. Any more, this is true across most creative mediums. If you have a camera on your phone, you are a photographer. If you have a simple audio recording/editing program on your laptop, you are a music producer. People are no longer good at one thing, they are mediocre at many — but I digress!

Publisher perspective from Jeff Tidball of Atlas Games:

Quote:
[T]here's truly a game for everyone, and everybody's game is for somebody. I've seen lots of games published by all kinds of people. And I'm not shy about thinking a whole lot of them are awful. But I've seen so many people who're honestly in love with games that I think are just garbage that I'm completely convinced that every game is for somebody. Even if you push the argument to the most ridiculous extreme, consider the designer's mom. Everybody's game is for somebody.

Specifics are valuable, so here's an example: I made a game called Band or Album last year. I made it because I think the premise is hilarious, and because I wanted it to exist in the world. It's not for everybody. In fact, it's hardly for anybody. But the people who it is for think it's great. One of the ways I can tell is that since it came out, it's been featured in a short film and been directly referenced in at least two other games whose designers have approached me to make sure it's cool to do that...

I made Band or Album because I think the premise is funny and because I wanted it to be out there for others to enjoy. Markedly absent: The desire to make a buck. So to put food on the table, I work with other people to publish games other than Band or Album, which have the potential to make better money.

Quote:
I've been working on a miniatures game called Gravstrike for years. My partner and I are getting close to the point where it'll be time to release it. It'll be the first release for a new company we created specifically to publish it, and the idea that it'll come out in a marketplace that might bury it for no easily discernible reason is not pleasant.

But that same marketplace has already made Gravstrike immeasurably better than it ever would have been in a less competitive world. We've gotten great feedback from friends and colleagues, and tested the game with dozens if not hundreds of actual gamers — not to mention store owners and journalists. We've found new factories who're working hard to provide components and materials that were unheard of in tabletop games ten years ago.

If we had pushed Gravstrike out even two years ago, it would be a remarkably worse game. Flat out, full stop. So I'll realize that competition in the marketplace is making me stronger, and I'll keep in touch with actual fans, and pretty soon we'll pull the trigger.

Distributor perspective from Mike Paschal of Peachstate Hobby Distribution:

Quote:
Everything is being ramped up. More games, designers, publishers…you name it, they are joining the ranks of this industry. How does the little guy stand a chance of being noticed? Should they be noticed? Harsh reality but a fair amount of products just shouldn't have made it to market, just to be found in liquidation bins next quarter. This is something I am very cognizant of when vetting new publishers/games. Sometimes I pass on a publisher's first game as to not tarnish their company name with our customers for their second game that will be a much better product. Retailers are quick to notice dust on a product; best to not have anything to collect said dust.

Quote:
Ultimately, we are kind of hand-tied and dependent on publishers marketing correctly — not just for their 3-4 new games that month but also properly marketing their back catalog of products. We have gone from a spike in initial sales, followed by a slow decline, to now just a spike in the first few days, followed by a flat line. In the cult of the new we are in, it's hard to justify spending marketing bandwidth on last month's games when you have an abundance of new releases coming out every other week. This has been our discussion in the office as of late. How do we keep sales up for last month's games? Just like when dealing with the up-and-coming KS folks, do we? If the publisher is no longer pushing it, why should we? Do we sell out of these few cases and not reorder? At some point we are going to go from trying to market for "last month's games", to "last week's games", to "yesterday’s games."

Quote:
With so many new products releasing now, I have been a little tighter on ordering titles in the middle or lower tier of the "hype train". I am ordering less from the start and immediately adding those items to the order I have due for NEXT week's new releases. This is opposed to ordering enough to last for the lines until it's time for a normal restock. Any given month we have 200+ board games (related) and selectively we do not carry everything on the market. We have to sell 80-85% of what we purchase, just to break even. If we pay freight coming in and going out, which happens most times, it's even more we have to sell. Back when we had 20 new items a month, we could afford to take deeper stances on new releases, as they would have a longer "new release" period. The number of new evergreens coming to market remains the same for the most part, annually. The number of products that have a higher chance of not hitting that 80-85% sell through is what is increasing. The biggest risk for us in taking this safer approach is under-produced products and thus not getting enough for our demand.

Marketing perspective from Ruby Nikolopoulou of CMON Limited (her again!)

Quote:
Deciding where to invest your time

From the first time we play them, some games just strike us as total winners. We know we have something quite exciting on our hands. Every now and then we fall in love with a title, and we feel that magic will work on others. We cannot guarantee it will sell for years, but we know it will probably make the finish line of highly successful releases (however we define that). Let's assume this represents 10% of all games we see. Am I too pessimistic? Okay, let's give this category a generous 15%.

Then, one could argue, other games deserve to see the light of day, yet we are almost certain they will not be with us for long. We hope they prove us wrong, but the hunch is quite strong. Can we assume these represent 20% of the games we see?

That brings me to the third category, which includes games that may speak to us but are not compelling enough for us to jump into certainty. Maybe the game mechanics are just all right, or the theme reminds us of previous ones we've played, or they play very well but what about that cover or the price point? In brief, the proposal does not come across as a certainty. We know it could do well, but have no clear indication it actually will. If my above assumptions are correct, this category accounts for 65% of games released. In reality, even if this percentage is off a little, we are talking about thousands of games and expansions per year. It's this 65% that has us all running in circles. Is it necessarily a bad thing? Depends on how you deal with it. Some of these games will become solid contenders if they are treated right.

The real question is: "Where should we devote our time as a marketing person?" The obvious answer is that we should focus on the best games. If only it were that easy! Looking at the other 65% with a critical eye to select the ones you think should be promoted is the real challenge. A choice needs to be made because marketing budgets are not infinite, neither are marketing teams or time. When finding an optimal solution is not possible, a heuristic method of decision making — call it at an educated guess or an intuitive judgment — is the approach to take. So we will invest marketing time and effort in that "absolutely sure this will kill it" category and then, with the help of our team (sales, development, marketing) we choose some titles from the "hold on, there might be something here" category. The choices from both categories become our short list of games. And we pour all our energy and creativity into this list. Of course, we then keep an eye out for any signs that validate or discredit our choices and adjust if necessary. After all, as Talleyrand would say: Only fools never change their minds!

Consumer perspective from Al Autovino:

Quote:
Is this the "Golden Age" of gaming or is it the demise of gaming as I once knew it? The answer is YES!

What do I regret about the deluge? Most games are "strangers" to me. I own over 400 games but most games have less than 10 plays. Back in the 1980s, we played Cosmic Encounter numerous times (probably numbering over hundreds of plays). We knew the game so well that we created a "Law Book" to document the decisions that we made when it came to rule ambiguities. When I played competitively at the local game convention (SimCon in Rochester NY), I would have to inquire about the differences between our group's "Law Book" and the game master's interpretation of the rules. CE was no "stranger" to me. Other games in the 1980s and 90s that were played extensively include Risk, Diplomacy, Civilization, Acquire, Conquest of the Empire, Fast Food Franchise, Kingmaker, Kremlin, Settlers, Airlines, and the early 18xx games.

In recent times, it is a rare game that gets over 10 plays. Some small and quick card game like Love Letter or Fuji Flush will get over 10 plays, but I want to focus on the board games. The most recent board game that I have gotten over 20 plays is Scythe. I love the game and think I know it well, but I still have a lot to learn. However, the honeymoon is over, and it is getting table time less and less as new games emerge to take its place. I own a copy of Scythe and its expansion, but most of the plays have been on somebody else's copy. It makes me wonder whether I needed to purchase my own copy. Being a game collector and a player made that question easy…of course I needed to own a copy of Scythe! Other recent board games that have gotten over 10 plays include Terra Mystica and Concordia. I'm sure that other games in my collection have gotten numerous plays but those plays come in spurts. Then the game may sit on my shelf for a number of months or years before the game is played again. The games become "strangers" to me once again because I have to reread the rules to be able to play the game again.

Brick-and-mortar retailer perspective from Travis Severance:

Quote:
Small publishers: You've got a lot of work to do. You can't hit a single or a double and hope to catch my eye. It needs to be a grand slam. I know that if your game is good and you make it into distribution your stock numbers are going to be wrong. You may not have the capital for a reprint. You may decide that short term gain is better than long term growth and make the decision to crowd fund the reprint. Why do I want to risk bringing in your game? There's lots to choose from.

How are you spending your marketing dollars? Oh, you don't really have marketing dollars because you didn't understand logistics and the shipping for your project is killing any profit that you would have made. That's okay. Sell me a case and I can treat this product the same way you are likely going to end up treating it, as a one and done. There's a number of smaller publishers that aren't in distribution that I buy direct from. It's pretty simple. I contact them when stock is low and they ship me a case of product. I really enjoy this relationship.

Quote:
Publishing owes me nothing. They produce games and I sell games. They are doing their best to make as much as they can. I am doing my best to help shape them in a manner where I can sell as much as I can. I don't like the direction all of them take. That's okay. They need to eat, too. They don't ever come into my store and tell me how to retail. Supply is a very real issue. They ultimately decide who gets what when it comes to product allocation. Some put their heads in the sand when it comes to this. Others are much more active and do a much better job of making sure the health of the industry as a whole is being looked after when it comes to their brand and titles. Many could be more proactive when it comes to this.

Quote:
The current issue, as I see it, is two-fold with distribution. They are buying far too wide instead of buying deep. Some distributors are putting in orders with that are far more than they have pre-orders for and when the game gets allocated and it's a flop, back-dooring that game through online vendors at an unhealthy rate before it even hits retail shelves to try to get out from under a bad purchase decision. The game hits, it sits on distribution shelves, it sits on retail shelves and we all chalk it up as a loss.

In the meantime, the publisher has no idea what hit them. They sold out, they pressed the re-order button when they did, now they are buried in cardboard. If I was a publisher and I wasn't sure who was playing this game, instead of giving a blanket percentage allocation to all distributors based on pre-orders, maybe take the time to adjust the dial per distributor a bit and see what happens.

Quote:
Consumers, when it comes to board games, go through this very unique evolution. Many times we are the first to introduce them to a game that isn't simply "You are the player, represented by this piece. Here is the method to get around this board. If you do so successfully, faster than everyone else, you are the victor. Decisions, you will make none." Introducing people to the world of board games now is an amazing experience. Being able to show them different products each time they come in is not only fun but rewarding.

It's odd though in that most cases, the better we do introducing them to the category, the more apt we are to lose them as consumers. Their purchase patterns increase and then they disappear. We see them when we have a promo. We see them when we have a game that's more expensive online. They wander over to our sale table and browse for games that they could possibly get a better trade for. They utilize our buying program for used games. We are no longer their hub for front end purchasing. It's sad when the retailer/consumer relationship gets to that point. We did our best to introduce them to this new world and they supported us during their growth. Now that they are purchasing more, our role to them changes. I understand. The volume has increased to the point where price is their primary drive. They can find it cheaper for sure. They are pledging for crowdfunding because they want that new "it" game. I don't blame them. I would likely do the same. If I could survive on smaller margins and still being you the shopping experience I do, I would.

There's nothing in the world I hate more than having to say "it's out of stock/we don't carry that". If ordered every new game that comes out, I would go out of business in about a month. It's just not sustainable. I understand your desire to not want to backorder. If you wanted to wait two days, you could probably find it elsewhere. Please understand though I am trying my best to curate stock that I think will provide you with the most compelling tabletop experience you can find. If you wanna know what I find most compelling, look at my demo tables. The rent for the space of those tables is pretty significant. If the games on those table weren't good, they wouldn't be on them.

Thank you for your continued support. Without it, I wouldn't be able to keep doing what I love to do in this industry.
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Sat Apr 1, 2017 1:05 pm
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Links: Gamer Fatigue, Exploring Badness, and Undercover Design at the CIA

W. Eric Martin
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• CNN has a short article on how the CIA uses board games to train staffers, based on a presentation at the 2017 South by Southwest festival, with quotes from both senior collection analyst David Clopper and intelligence educator (and freelance game designer) Volko Ruhnke. An excerpt:

Quote:
In "Collection," Clopper's first CIA game, teams of analysts work together to solve international crises against a ticking clock. His second title, "Collection Deck," is a Pokémon-like card game in which where each card represents either an intelligence collection strategy or a hurdle like red tape or bureaucracy.

For instance, a player could lay out a card to collect intelligence via satellite photos, but an opponent could block them by playing a "ground station failure" card. It's meant to mimic situations analysts might run into in their actual work.

• In La Lettura, Michela Lazzaroni attempts to summarize and visualize board game data in a new way:

Quote:
Each game is arranged from left to right by the score, and from bottom to top by year of production. The height of the pieces specifies the maximum number of players allowed, the black triangles identifies the games that can be played solo, whereas the color shows the game’s setting (Ancient History, Middle Ages, Modern History, Industrial Revolution, Contemporary Period, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Abstract).


• Designer Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games writes about "gamer fatigue" and how it might impact the long-term health of the game industry. An excerpt:

Quote:
When people first enter the hobby, they buy games aggressively. If they like something, they'll purchase it right away.

This "honeymoon" period lasts for about 1-3 years. But at some point, a gamer realizes that they can't sustain that pace. They run out of space to store their collection. They realize, via a life event or other need for frugality, that they can't spend so much money on games. They realize that half their collection is still unplayed. Many times, they even start to find new games bland. They pine for a time when games were "better," which tends to align with the exact moment they entered the hobby...

[In] terms of pure buying power, it's the people new to the hobby who are driving the industry's growth. As long as we have more people entering this "honeymoon" period than leaving it, we will see industry revenue grow.

If, for some reason, the flow of new gamers slows, we'll see it in the bottom line. We'll see convention attendance level out and revenue flatten out. It could be for a number of reasons, like the global economy suddenly tanking. Or the hobby hitting a point where board games get so mainstream that the only people discovering it are teenagers who are getting their first disposable income. Or the number of new games per year growing so huge that discovery becomes impossible for all but the biggest game companies and brands.

I get what Gil is saying here, but I'm not sure the numbers would work out that way because it depends on the size of the gamer base that already exists. If that base is large enough, then even if those people buy only a few games annually, collectively that translates into a huge number of games sold. Heck, that's probably what already happens given that most people buy only a couple of games each year, yet mainstream companies stay in business and sell tens or hundreds of thousands of games.

And I don't think that "discovery becomes impossible for all but the biggest game companies and brands" rings true either given the number of folks who search the spaces away from the spotlight for the many, many creations that would never make it to market from the biggest game companies. Heck, almost the entirety of the hobby game industry qualifies as being not by produced by "the biggest game companies and brands"!

• Matt at Creaking Shelves attempts to answer the question "Can games be bad?" by first detailing various qualities that make a game good, then finding quantifiable measures that go against these qualities. An excerpt:

Quote:
To my mind the most important factor is the presence of Quality Decisions, which as noted above draws in a lot of other factors. How do you spot a Quality Decision? I would describe it as one where you sit and think about it, are unsure of the correct choice, and are tempted by multiple (2+) options. These decisions should matter and have some affect on the outcome of the game. Note you don’t have to be thinking about it on your turn, and the best games let you do your thinking during the time between turns.

If a game offered you zero decisions then it would be a bad game. Hell, it would be a film or a book, not a game. But how many decisions are enough? How many decisions are too much? That will depend on the player, and on what sort of game you are playing. In an hour long game, you would want more than one quality decision. That suggests the idea of a “quality decision density”: the number of quality decisions per unit time.

So a bad game would be one where the quality decision density is “too low”. That’s still a little vague, so I would say a game needs at least 1 quality decision per player turn, on average. That ensures you always have something to think about. I’ll allow some flexibility here but it’s a solid starting point. In addition to this, those decisions should vary over the course of the game (if the game is long enough for this to matter).

• On Polygon, Adam Saltsman gives a nice overview of games that have succeeded with his four- and six-year-old children, highlighting one of the key differences to keep in mind when choosing games for this type of audience:

Quote:
The three- and four-year-old players, in our experience, can play tactically but cannot play strategically. What I mean by this is, there is a difference between taking your turn correctly and planning out a series of turns to accomplish a goal. We’re finding our four year-old can engage in a surprisingly complex single turn, but just doesn’t plan over multiple turns. Which is totally fine! But it means that games where opportunistic local play can keep up with long-term strategic play have a broader age range where we can all really play together.

River Dragons, Machi Koro, and Tokaido all get nice shout-outs, and I learned of a new game myself in Latice!

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Sat Mar 25, 2017 1:05 pm
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