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W. Eric Martin
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!
Mon May 22, 2017 10:00 am
W. Eric Martin
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:
"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.
W. Eric Martin
• 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:
"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."
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
. 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:
"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
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:
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:
"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
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.
W. Eric Martin
• 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:
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:
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:
"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.
W. Eric Martin
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:
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 , 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:
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."
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:
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:
[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.
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:
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.
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."
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!)
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
W. Eric Martin
• 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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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!
W. Eric Martin
At the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, CMON Limited has made several announcements of note, starting with the news that designer Eric M. Lang has been hired as Director of Game Design. Lang will both continue to design new titles for CMON Limited and lead the publisher's development team. To quote from the press release:
CMON's Creative Director, David Preti, has worked with Eric on several projects and explains, "Having Eric as part of the team is huge. Not only is he a friend, but I have worked with him, side-by-side, on projects like Rising Sun, Blood Rage, and The Others and seen the craft and dedication he brings to his work. As CMON's Director of Game Design, I know he will help take the company and its library of games to a new level, and I can't wait for fans to see what's coming up."
CMON Limited has also brought artist Adrian Smith (Blood Rage, The Others, Rising Sun) on staff as Lead Artist.
In addition to expanding their staff, CMON Limited has announced a new game series based on novels by George R. R. Martin. Which novels? Well, the press release doesn't say exactly, but the game series is titled A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game, and it bears this description:
A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game lets players take control of their favorite Houses from the novels — represented by trays of high-quality, pre-assembled miniatures — and lead them into battle against their opponents. Players can recreate their favorite moments from the series or create their own stories. What if the Red Wedding never happened, and Robb Stark assaulted King's Landing? Now fans can find out!
Battles can range from large-scale wars with hundreds of miniatures to simple skirmishes between a few units without complicating the elegantly designed rules. The game features several unique systems, including alternating activations that keep the players engaged; a Rank System that changes a unit's capabilities as the battle rages on; a Tactics System that provides strategic powers fueled by a finite resource each round; and, most importantly, the iconic Heroes, such as Robb Stark and Jaime Lannister, that can change the course of war both on and off the battlefield.
Pretty sneaky there not mentioning Ame-gay of Ones-thray.
CMON Limited plans to launch this series with the Stark vs Lannister Starter Set, which will hit Kickstarter in Q3 2017 ahead of a 2018 release date.
BoardGameGeek is at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, and CMON Limited is scheduled to be on camera Wednesday, March 15 at 2:00 p.m. Las Vegas time (PDT, GMT -7) should you care to check out this title and others coming from the publisher.
W. Eric Martin
In November 2016, designer Reiner Knizia tweeted this:
Few people noticed the tweet, including me (despite the BGG Twitter account following him), but Knizia überfan László Molnár did notice and asked: "Why the rename?"
Rename indeed for if you visit online gaming site Triqqy, you will discover a listing for AXIO Hexagonal, the rules of which will be familiar to anyone who's played Knizia's award-winning game Ingenious, which debuted to great acclaim in 2004 from German publisher KOSMOS under the name Einfach Genial and which in all likelihood would have taken home the Spiel des Jahres award that year if Ticket to Ride hadn't hit the market in the same timeframe.
So why the rename? Because of this trademark filing in September 2016 by Sophisticated Games:
Yes, while we might think of KOSMOS as the originating publisher of Ingenious, the actual publisher of origin (contractually speaking) is Sophisticated Games as Knizia had signed a license with them for the game design, and Sophisticated Games subsequently licensed the game to KOSMOS and other publishers. The trademark on its own was not the problem, though. As Knizia told me via Skype, "I had a very good relationship with Sophisticated Games for a long time. Then came a demand that if I wanted to use the name 'Ingenious' for my game, I should pay Sophisticated Games a royalty. Sometimes trademarks are registered by the publisher and sometimes by the designer, but to have this used in an internal relationship is outrageous. To register the trademark without my knowledge is not very nice."
I asked Robert Hyde, managing director at Sophisticated Games, about this claim for royalty payments, and he answered: "I cannot discuss any confidential matters between Sophisticated Games and Dr. Knizia with a third party. I am sure you will understand that." (Editor's note: I've added a follow-up note from Hyde at the bottom of this post that he sent after publication. —WEM)
As for the filing of the trademark itself, Hyde explained that "Sophisticated Games has long held the UK trademark on Ingenious and the filing of a US mark in addition is just an extension of that process concurrent with our moving to a different distribution partner in the USA as from January 1st this year." Fantasy Flight Games was the most recent publisher of Ingenious in the U.S., with an edition released in 2012, but Thames & Kosmos — the North American branch of KOSMOS — has announced a new edition of the game due out in the U.S. in 2017 with a new graphic design and a new plastic game board.
Hyde added, "NB: Sophisticated Games owns the exclusive publishing rights to the Ingenious family of games in all countries and languages, regardless of trademarks, and has done so since first publication in 2004. The game was first published under the name of Mensa back then, but we subsequently changed it to Ingenious."
Knizia confirms that the game was originally named Mensa following its design — and an edition was released under that name (or Mensa Connections, depending on whether you view that secondary word as part of the title) in 2004 by Sophisticated Games. KOSMOS didn't think the Mensa organization had enough of a following in Germany to merit using that name, so the publisher brainstormed new names and ended up with "Einfach Genial", with that name coming courtesy of a television program with the same name that has run on television network MDR since 1996. It's from "Einfach Genial" that most of the other names (Ingenious, Genial, Genius, Helt genialt!, Просто гениально, インジーニアス, etc.) under which this design has been published originate.
How did Sophisticated Games end up with the ability to trademark Ingenious? Knizia explained to me that while his contracts normally detail the use of a name, his first contract with SG was for Lord of the Rings, his ground-breaking cooperative game based on the fantasy series from J. R. R. Tolkien, and since that design was for a licensed title with a well-known name, Knizia had no say over the game title in that contract. When he later signed with SG for Mensa, apparently they used a similar contract, so once again the issue of the name was left out of his hands.
However the name originated, Knizia says that the idea of paying a royalty to use it "is immoral and damaging for the business", the reverse of the normal relationship between publisher and author. "I'm not going to promote a situation in which I lose ownership," he says, "so as far as I can, I'll rename the games. Electronically I've already done that, with Triqqy and with other outlets." (United Soft Media still lists Ingenious as being available for Windows, iOS, and Android devices.)
While Hyde claims exclusive board game publishing rights to the Ingenious family of games, Knizia says that he has "the rights back for some of the games in the family", and he plans to get them to market under the new AXIO brand when possible. Why the name "AXIO"? "It was important to find a name that isn't an insult in any language," Knizia jokes. "More importantly, we want something which can stand globally that isn't too complicated as well as something that represents the spirit of the family." While he can't vouch for the insult-free nature of "AXIO", Knizia makes a case for it letter by letter, with each of them being fundamentally simple and akin to the symbols in the game: a triangle, a cross, a line, and a circle. What's more, he could file a trademark on it himself. "It's not going to go step on anyone else's toes."
As best as he could, Knizia says that he's tried to put a positive spin on this development. "This family of games is published under seventeen different names. In our global world, that's not always the best approach to promote a brand. Now that we're moving to one name, and the only name I'll promote, it will become easier to promote the brand. I'll develop the brand and add new games to the family." Knizia has already debuted AXIO Octagonal on Triqqy, with gameplay being nearly identical to Ingenious/AXIO Hexagonal except that the game board is octagonal, the domino-shaped tiles feature one or two of eight symbols (instead of six), and the maximum score for a symbol is 13, with players receiving a bonus turn when a symbol reaches that level.
"The point is you can be angry about it or disappointed about it, but that doesn't help," says Knizia. "It's a great family of games. In the long run, the game will be there and merge to this [new] name. To take this opportunity to grow the brand, I have developed a new flagship title for AXIO and that will be shown by Pegasus Spiele" at the Spielwarenmesse game fair in Nürnberg, Germany in February 2017. Knizia explains that AXIO plays similarly to the original design, but is "more modern and more accessible", with a 3D element to the gameplay. "I see Pegasus as my lead partner for AXIO. They will carry it not only in Germany but worldwide, and as new games are added to the brand, they will be added by Pegasus."
Knizia stresses that he has no grievance with KOSMOS or any other publisher of Ingenious: "This was not done at KOSMOS' initiative. They are good partners." As for Sophisticated Games, Knizia says, "My intention is not to wash their laundry in the public. My main purpose is to explain what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I will accept [this situation], but I will not promote it."
He adds, "The wonderful thing about our industry is that we do cooperate on games and share ideas. Sometimes it's a tough business, but it's an honest, fair business, and because everyone knows one another, the black sheep are identified quickly..."
Update, Monday, Jan. 30: Christian Beiersdorf, managing director of Spiele-Autoren-Zunft (the German game designer association commonly abbreviated SAZ), has issued the following statement on this topic:
World renowned game designer Dr. Reiner Knizia, a member of the Game Designers Association, informed us that he will continue the family of games known by titles such as EINFACH GENIAL or INGENIOUS under the new brand name AXIO. This is motivated by a legal dispute with Sophisticated Games in England, the licensor of some of his publishing rights, who have registered the former title for themselves and from whom Kosmos, and its software publisher USM, have sublicensed the German language rights.
The dispute mainly arises from Sophisticated Games' demands towards the designer to pay licence fees if he wanted to use the former title in publishing forms which are not covered by their licence agreement. Dr. Reiner Knizia perceives this demand as an "immoral and business damaging reversal of the usual Licensor-Licensee relationship". He strictly rejects any licence payments to his publisher in relation to the use of his own game.
The Game Designers Association (SAZ) equally condemns such demands. Such examples highlight the importance for authors to include respective clauses in their licence agreements. The title of a game — irrespective of whether it originates from the designer or from the publisher — should always be, and remain, an integral part of the game, as long as the title is not based on third-party rights (e.g. movie, book or character licences) or part of a series title of the publisher. This is particularly important if the publisher only licences partial publishing rights — restricted by territory or publishing form.
The change of the brand name will be accompanied by the addition of a new game to the family. The new flagship game of the AXIO series will be published by Pegasus Spiele and will be exhibited for the first time on the Nuremberg Toy Fair.
Update, Tuesday, Jan. 31: After the publication of this article, Robert Hyde, managing director at Sophisticated Games, sent me the following statement regarding this situation:
When BGG asked us last Friday to comment on some statements made by Reiner Knizia in a skype interview they had conducted with him, we said that that we did not comment on confidential contractual matters between us and our authors. We believe this to be a sound business principle as well as a legal obligation. So we were surprised to read the contents of this interview which you published yesterday.
The actual facts of the matter (but we will not disclose any contractual matters) are these:
1. The dispute regarding our asking Mr Knizia for a royalty concerns an app not a board game.
2. The app is Ingenious, which USM in Munich and ourselves in partnership have developed over the last seven years involving a considerable investment.
3. Last autumn we decided to withdraw from being a partner in the app because we judged that this was not our core business and that three royalty mouths to feed (Sophisticated Games, USM and Reiner Knizia) was probably one too many given the need for future investment in the app.
4. Therefore we decided to gift our share in this venture to Reiner. Not sell, even though we had invested a great deal of money in the app….gift. In good faith. The sole condition we attached was that he would only use the name Ingenious under license from us and pay us a nominal royalty. I think we all understand the meaning of “nominal”. We were not looking for any financial reward, but we were looking to safeguard our investment in the brand Ingenious.
5. What BGG readers were not told by RK was that the original board game was commissioned by Sophisticated Games from Reiner Knizia, the parameters of which were prescribed by us to be an abstract game to go with the brand of Mensa which we had previously acquired for use in boardgames. NB: The majority of games that we create are commissions. Lord of the Rings, Beowulf, The Hobbit and Ingenious. All of these are games that we commissioned from Reiner Knizia.
6. We invented the name Ingenious (after we had had little success with selling the game as Mensa) and we have vigorously promoted the game and the name- and its variants- throughout the world for over 12 years and made it the success that it now is.
7. We registered the trademark in the UK 6 years ago to protect the game from being copied by others. Trademarks are not infallible ways of protecting authors and publishers from copiers …..but they do help. Our filing of a US copyright in September was a part of the same process. We were asked by our new distributors whether we had protected the name Ingenious in the USA. It turned out that our last partner had not filed this protection, so we went ahead and filed. Following this filing and at the time that Mr Knizia was clearly objecting to our claims that we owned the brand for the app, we had eminent IP law firms on both sides of the Atlantic investigate our claim that we own the brand. They both agreed 100% with our own opinion in this matter. Mr Knizia has previously been shown the relevant parts of this written opinion.
I am sorry if the above will disappoint those parties wishing to see some kind of anti-author conspiracy, but as Mr Knizia knows, as he has been kind enough to point this out to us on many occasions over the years, we are a very transparent and pro author company and we have always, always, acted in good faith with him, and with the many other high profile games designers and leading board game publishers with whom we have worked over the last 19 years.
I had asked United Soft Media whether the "Ingenious" name would remain in use for its programs, and Michaela Schultheis with USM responded as follows: "Due to ongoing discussions and negotiations about the topic, at the moment we cannot publicly comment any further than Robert Hyde has already done this morning. However we'd like to stress the fact that we've successfully been working with all parties involved for years now and hope that the current situation can be resolved for the benefit of all parties."
W. Eric Martin
With a new year comes the announcement of new mergers in the game industry, with Asmodee acquiring German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag, Spanish/French company EDGE Entertainment, and Spanish distributor Millennium.
Here's a translated press release on the "fusionieren" of Asmodee and Heidelberger Spieleverlag, which was leaked on Dec. 31, 2016 when a letter from Asmodee Deutschland was accidentally sent out ahead of the official announcement (and which seemed like a possible prank until confirmed today):
Asmodee and Heidelberger Spieleverlag are proud to announce their merger. Since both publishers have worked closely together in logistics since August 2015, this merger is the ideal step to further expand the joint success.
Through the merger, the respective strengths of both companies in marketing, events, sales, service and logistics can be excellently combined and further improved. The range of products from both companies also complement each other perfectly, allowing customers to offer an even wider range of games. Dixit, Codenames, Zombicide, X-Wing, and new hits like Star Wars: Destiny, Final Fantasy Trading Card Game, and Runewars are now coming from a single house.
"I am very pleased that Heidelberger Spieleverlag is now part of the Asmodee family," says Carol Rapp, Managing Director of Asmodee Deutschland. "As a result of the merger, Asmodee not only gets fantastic new games but also great new colleagues. Both of these factors will help us to exceed the success of the last few years. "
"We are starting together in a future that is profitable for all," says Petra Hofstetter, Managing Director of Heidelberger Spieleverlag. "Not only both publishers, including our employees, but also our partners and especially our customers will benefit from the great experience and strengths of both sides."
Heidelberger Spieleverlag will remain at the Walldürn location, and as Studio Heidelberger will develop outstanding games under the renowned logo of the bear and continue the localization of the FFG games. The logistics and the warehouse will continue as before and offer the usual fast service. The combined company will be managed as Asmodee GmbH, and Carol Rapp will continue to function as managing director of the company.
And now a separate English-language press release covering the other companies being absorbed, along with more history on Heidelberger:
The Asmodee Group announced today its acquisition of Heidelberger Spieleverlag, EDGE Entertainment and Millennium, German, French and Spanish board game distributors and publishers.
Founded in 1991, Heidelberger Spieleverlag publishes and distributes board games with a unique link to the German hobby shops and has been a long-standing partner and distributor of the Asmodee Group studios Fantasy Flight Games and Plaid Hat Games.
The Asmodee Group is present in Germany since 2008 with a local distribution business unit. The synergy between Asmodee's expertise in the broad market and Heidelberger's historic link with the hobby shops will make of this new entity one of the leading actors of the German board game across all channels. This acquisition is the natural next step of a partnership initiated in 2015 when Asmodee and Heidelberger started distributing each other's catalogue in their respective sales channels.
Founded in 1999, EDGE Entertainment is a board game publisher with presence in Sevilla (SP) and Toulouse (FR). Amongst other games, EDGE holds the rights to the Citadels game in French and Spanish and has been a long-standing partner of the Asmodee Group studio Fantasy Flight Games. EDGE will continue developing new games. Gilles Garnier, co-founder of EDGE Entertainment, is appointed head of EDGE.
Millennium is a Spanish board game distributor specialized in hobby games and retail channels. The Asmodee Group is present in Spain since 2008 with a local distribution business unit. The synergy between Asmodee's expertise in the broad market and Millennium's historic link with the hobby shops will make of this new entity one of the leading actors of the Spanish board game distribution across all channels. Jose Manuel Rey CEO of Millennium and co-founder of EDGE Entertainment is appointed head of Asmodee Iberica.
"We are delighted to integrate three great board game companies with the acquisition of Heidelberger, EDGE and Millennium. Throughout the past years they have demonstrated high skills in terms of game publishing and distribution that will now strengthen our position in France, Germany and Spain, that are key local markets." said Stéphane Carville CEO of Asmodee Group.
"Joining forces with Asmodee, we are building a strong catalogue, an efficient offer of service and support for the broadest audience. We are very happy and are looking forward to the exchange of expertise and knowledge from both sides," said Petra Hofstetter, manager of Heidelberg Spieleverlag.
"In Spain, Asmodee and Millennium are complementary both in terms of catalogue and access to retail channels. I am very proud to have the opportunity to lead this combined entity," said José Manuel Rey, CEO of Millennium.
"EDGE is a studio that has a natural place in the Asmodee Group. We have been long-time business partners of Asmodee studios like Fantasy Flight Games and will continue developing new games within the Group," said Gilles Garnier, co-founder of EDGE Entertainment.
I'll note the following from my November 2014 post following Asmodee's acquisition of Fantasy Flight Games:
But what about FFG's products in other languages? Right now Fantasy Flight Games licenses titles to Edge Entertainment for release in French and Spanish; to Heidelberger Entertainment for release in German; and to Wargames Club, Game Harbor and Swan Panasia for release in Chinese. The Asmodee Group has multiple subsidiaries around the world — Asmodee GmbH in Germany, Asmodee France, Asmodee China, Asmodee Ibérica in Spain, Asmodee US, etc. — with those subsidiaries releasing titles in those very languages, so what's the future of those existing relationships? Petersen says that Heidelberger and Edge Entertainment "will continue to localize and represent FFG" for those markets and "will work with the respective Asmodee divisions to increase marketing and organized play support for those countries". Heidelberger, for example, will "work hand-in-hand with Asmodee to increase FFG's marketing presence in Germany, such as greatly expanding FFG's visibility at shows like Spiel in Essen"...
Petersen added this note about these publishing companies: "The questions regarding partners like Edge and Heidelberger are actually very pertinent. FFG could not have been the company we are today without the work, support, collaboration, and friendship of people like Harald, Heiko, Gilles, and Jose. It was vital to me that those partners find a positive place and future in the context of this merger. I believe we've achieved this." (My translation: Don't be surprised should Asmodee acquire Edge and Heidelberger in the near future. Again, speculation, but I will point to this line in a January 2014 Reuters article
about Eurazeo's acquisition of Asmodee at that time: "The acquisition debt was provided by European Capital and Tikehau, which have also made a dedicated debt facility available to the company to finance its external growth." That said, I put the question to Asmodee and company rep Kevin Brown reported the following answer: "For the foreseeable future, it is anticipated that current and upcoming FFG products will continue to be localized and sold by FFG's existing international partners. Asmodee intends to work with those same distributors to broaden product availability, marketing presence, and organized play support where possible.")
So now Asmodee has followed through with the acquisition of those publishing and distribution partners, which makes sense given their long-standing relationships. Why continue the dance externally when you can marry your partners and bring them even closer?
I imagine the next question for many people is not what Asmodee will acquire next, but whether the company is now large enough to attract the attention of Hasbro or Mattel. Maybe so, but I'll wager that being acquired is the goal of neither the Asmodee Group nor Eurazeo. Yes, Eurazeo is an investment company that wants a return on its investment, but it's already getting that return in spades, noting on its website that Asmodee's revenues in 2015 rose 55% over the previous year, with its EBITDA rising 92%. That figure will only continue to rise in the coming years, not simply due to the acquisitions that put more money directly under its belt, but due to the continued growth of the hobby game industry as a whole and the increased presence of hobby games in the mainstream market.
BoardGameGeek has seen similar growth on its own end, with 9.5 million unique visitors in Q4 2016 compared to 8.6 million in Q4 2015. In 2016, we registered 250,000 new users — 17% of our entire userbase — and accordingly when we look at the statistics of which games were added to user collections in 2016, seven of the eight titles at the top of the list are owned by the Asmodee Group (Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1), licensed by them in English and possibly other languages (Carcassonne, Catan), distributed by them worldwide (7 Wonders Duel, 7 Wonders), or distributed by them in Germany (Codenames). Go down to the thirtieth spot, and you'll add Splendor, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, Ticket to Ride, Small World, Mysterium, Star Wars: Rebellion, T.I.M.E Stories, Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Takenoko to the list. (Editor's note: I've fixed this section twice while trying to accurately represent Asmodee's involvement or ownership of these titles. Sorry! —WEM)
I'm not saying that a quarter-million people started playing hobby games this year and all joined BGG; rather I'm noting the growth of those who care enough about categorizing themselves as gamers to join a site like BGG. Hundreds of thousands more people who play games still don't know about BGG or about modern hobby games in general. That market of gamers is what the Asmodee Group is aiming for, and with the studios and licenses under their belts, you'll likely see Ticket to Tatooine and Carcassonne: Game of Thrones and other such titles come to market in the near future to continue to push their expansion into mainstream markets such as Target and Walmart. Hobby games are already normalized this way in Germany, appearing in many department stores, but the room for growth is still huge in the U.S. and elsewhere and the Asmodee Group thinks it can capitalize on that growth for many years to come.
W. Eric Martin
Wow, I haven't done one of these in a long time! Too many games swirling around us, each pecking our eyes for attention and keeping us from looking at other things — until now, that is...
• As of December 2, 2016, CMON Limited is now trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange's Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) with stock code “08278” on Dec. 2, 2016. From the press release announcing this development:
Current employees, decision making, and management at the company remains unchanged. The controlling shareholders of CMON also remain the same and are steadfastly committed to the company. Chern Ann Ng, CEO of CMON Limited, explains, "We began laying the groundwork for this to happen in 2014, and this monumental achievement would not have been possible without the herculean efforts of the CMON family and outstanding support from the tabletop gaming community at large."
CMON remains dedicated to giving fans the highest-quality gaming experiences through its retail and distribution partners, as well as Kickstarter. The increased capital from the Public Listing will allow CMON to grow an already amazing team, expand into new geographic markets, and acquire new titles, licenses, and properties that fit into CMON’s growing catalogue.
• Former Asmodee North America employee Cynthia Hornbeck's essay about the Conan board game and the election of Donald Trump — "Grab 'Em by the Board Game" — made waves on Kotaku in an article titled "Former Conan Rep Calls Out Hit Board Game's Depiction Of Women", in which author Cecilia D'Anastasio interviewed Hornbeck and representatives from publisher Monolith. From Hornbeck's essay:
This cover, I believe, represents a scene from one of the game's scenarios, in which Conan and his friends must rescue a princess who is about to be sacrificed by the Picts. In that scenario, the princess token/figure is treated exactly as if she were an object. She has no abilities. You can even toss her across the board.
But there's a playable female character in the Conan core set, you say. There’s Belit! Well, her mechanical function is to make the men better. That's literally all she does is follow Conan around and boost his abilities. Because that's what women are good for in this world: being fucked by men and making those men feel good. That's the world that you're choosing to have fun in.
• In an article about overfishing in The National Interest, author Claude Berube uses Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback's Fleet from Eagle-Gryphon Games in his lede:
The game ends when there are either no more fishing licenses to distribute or no more tokens of fish to extract from the ocean. Whomever has the most points from licenses, ships and fish, wins. The lost message in the end game is that, contrary to the adage, there are not plenty of fish in the sea. Fleet demonstrates the issue global overfishing, the potential for conflict over diminishing resources, and how non-state navies may have the answer to this security issue.
Minus points, though, for the use of "whomever" and the comma before "wins".
• Gavan Brown and Roxley Games are featured in city lifestyle magazine Avenue Calgary:
Together with a small team of like-minded board game enthusiasts, Brown and Roxley Games have so far created three high-quality, engaging games, spawning a loyal fan base that put their money where their "meeples" (pieces that represent the player in-game) are. Through Kickstarter, Roxley's second game, Steampunk Rally
, raised $237,215 on a $42,000 goal, and their latest, Santorini
, raised more than $700,000 on an $85,000 goal...Santorini
, a strategy game where gods compete to get their followers first atop their temple, is set to launch in early 2017, and has already caught the eye of major retailers. Roxley's Steampunk Rally
, a machine-building tile and dice game, is now sold in more than 600 Barnes and Nobles stores in the U.S.
• What happens when you apply 90,000 pounds of pressure to a deck of cards? You cut the deck — into tiny, tiny pieces.
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