Monday, September 11, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ 9/11, Battle Lore and cheap boards.

Sorry I missed you people last week. Blogspot can sometimes be difficult and whether it was my end of things or theirs, I could not access this fine (free) site for nearly 36 hours. My habit is to write my contribution either Sunday evening or Monday morning and since I didn't have anything available for the other Gone Gaming crew to post for me, last Monday was empty. My bad.

So today will just be a few random items and thoughts.

It's the 5th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on The United States of America. While that has nothing to do with games, at least until the strange crew in the UK publish their Terrorist game next month, it was an event that has created an effect on pretty much everyone on the planet. In the past I haven't had a lot to say about 9/11 and I still don't have a huge amount to say, especially on a blog about board games. But I do have some very fond memories of the World Trade Center and they are somewhat connected to gaming.

In the 1980's I worked for a company that had a contract with Dean-Witter to train their stock brokers. Myself and a guy from LA traveled to New York every month for 3 days to train the newest batch of stock broker wannabes on how to use the telephone to conduct business. It was a great gig. Dean-Witter had their world headquarters on the 72nd floor of one of the Twin Towers and they lodged us at what was then called The Vista... the hotel connected to the WTC. Not only was the pay for me well above average, the lodgings were very high class and the people were fun to work with.

My habit was to call a great guy by the name of Eric Goldberg and have dinner with him at least once when I was in New York. Eric and a guy I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Greg Costikyan, worked for West End Games. While most of my trivial experiences of those days have faded, which is what trivial memories do best, I remember one night when I met Eric and Greg at an excellent Mexican restaurant in the Village. During dinner Eric suggested that I should move to New York and take the job of VP Sales & Marketing for West End Games. They were prepared to offer me $60,000 a year.

That would have been a dream job... for a single man. But, I had a wife, two small children, a game store and a miniature business here in Idaho. Oh yeah, and a blind dog that I figured to be the best dog on earth. For $60K in 1980's dollars I think I could have struggled by... even in New York. The offer was similar to being flirted with by a very attractive and sexy woman and knowing there was nothing you would do about it because your wife was also very attractive and sexy... and very unforgiving if you stepped out of line.

It's still sweet to think about what fun it would have been to live in the best city in the world and work for a game company.

Game Boards

I dedicated almost 20 minutes earlier this week to a BGG search for complaints about board warpage that didn't involve Railroad Tycoon. Here's what I discovered - lots of boards and board-like components warp. Some from German publishers, some from French publishers and a fair amount from Rio Grande Games... wherever they print their stuff. So companies that use Chinese factories are not the only ones who have had problems. Eagle just drew the most heat. And to my way of thinking it was because they were an American publisher that produced games that were decidely NOT Euro games. And Railroad Tycoon drew heat because it is an Americanized version of a popular Euro.

What brings me back to boards? Why, Winner's Circle does. The fabulous new reprint of Royal Turf.

So there we were... Shaun, Lyle and Bode... having just finished playing Railroad Tycoon, a game where the board lays as flat as any board I have ever played on, I pulled out my spiffy new copy of Rio Grande's Winners Circle. The board looked like the Sawtooth Mountains. And I'm not talking some pititful little warpage here either. I am talking a game board that lifted off the table nearly an inch in the center.

Lyle started putting the cute little horsies out and they merrily slipped and slid right off the board. Sort of like the downhill racing scene in The Man From Snowy River... horses crashing down the side of a steep mountain and all. Well, I decided a gentle back-bending would work. After all, this is a Rio Grande product and Rio Grande is pretty much universally fawned over on BGG. So, in front of witnesses I gently bent back the offending board and it snapped one quarter section right off... with near surgical precision. They all silently looked at me, waiting to see if I would get angry or start ranting. I didn't. I looked closely at the board and the paper that "holds" the sections together. It's as cheap and weak as a piece of printer paper.

Oddly enough, I didn't see anything on BGG about Rio Grande making cheap boards. I suspect there is an unwritten "hands off" policy among many on BGG regarding Rio Grande Games. The owner, a guy named Jay Tummelson, seems to be fawned over and butt-kissed as much as anyone in the board game industry. I don't know the guy and while I'm certain he's a great person, I will attest that his company, in this case, has made a product that equals or exceeds the shoddy and inept nature of even the most reviled of American board game publishers. I didn't expect to find any negatives about Rio Grande's products anyway. That's because a few weeks ago someone started a thread about his BGG user profile wherein he rated several of his games very high (which is okay) yet rated several of Steve Jackson's and Days of Wonder's games very low indeed. The thread lasted only a day or so and BGG's admins locked it.

You tell me why? I think I know.

Battle Lore

So now everybody knows what Days of Wonder's BIGFOOT game will be. Personally, I am excited about this game. I have all the Command & Colors system games and I'm still convinced that Richard Borg has created the absolute best mechanics ever for light to medium board gaming goodness. The card-driven mechanics are so wonderfully teachable and just random enough to monkey with one's plans in any of the games. Intelligent planning and judicious use of units will usually reward the better player, yet the system has just enough chance in it to keep inexperienced players alive and give them much needed victories.

Again, going back to BGG, I noticed a thread complaining about Days of Wonder deciding to make a promo miniature for Battle Lore available only through game stores or their website. Apparently the deal is that online discounters won't get this particular model, which I think is Bigfoot, an Ogre or Giant or something.

Is this a good or bad thing?

Depends on how whiny and petty you are I guess. If you're a whiny little game puke who is unhappy unless you get something for nothing and also get your boots licked every time you spend $100 on games... then it's bad. That means you'll either pay up on eBay for the model, buy your game at a store or you'll go without the promo minature.

From my way of looking at it DoW is exibiting smart marketing. They certainly understand that online discounters tend to service a market that is different than the market retail stores service. When you buy online your bonus is saving a few bucks. If you buy BattleLore from a game store your bonus will be the promo miniature. If, like me, you buy from a store that also has a discount program then you get it all... a savings and the promo.

What is really cracking me up about BattleLore though is this... there are a lot of people bitching about the fact that the game is desgined to be "expandable". Apparently DoW will be releasing additional units and other accessories to the system starting in the Spring of 2007. So I've been reading some detractor's comments that DoW is going to do a Games Workshop or attempting to equal the HeroScape success. And these detractors are saying this as if it's a bad thing.


Why is duplicating a successful marketing strategy bad? Some of the negatives are from BGG members who I know own all the "expansions" published for Age of Steam. That totals way over $100 for a crappy little railroad game. And these same gamers will probably buy any future expansion as well.

Expansions have been with us for decades now. It's not as if gamers don't want the games they love to expand... to access different themes, eras, units or settings... all while still remaining the same game they loved to begin with. That's why Games Workshop sells a couple of hundred million bucks worth of 40K and Warhammer products a year. Gamers want their games to be expanded. I know I do.

I own A Game of Thrones and the expansions. I own Age of Steam and two expansions. I own Command & Colors: Ancients and have pre-ordered the expansions. I have all the Memoir '44 expansions. I made an ungodly profit on eBay for Talisman and all the expansions. Selling off my huge collections of 40K and, Warhammer and Man O' War miniatures on eBay has been wonderful for me. In fact... I believe that expansions is what makes gaming profitable for publishers and, for most of us, fun.

If you like something then you want more of that something. When I fire up my Harley and go riding I always tend to think about what expansions I'd like to add to it. Life is like that. When something is good, then more of that something is potentially better.

Unless you're one of those people who believes there is such a thing as too much fun.

Have a great week folks... try not and have too much of anything good... your head might explode.


Anonymous said...

Not that it makes that much difference, but Winner's Circle is published by Face 2 Face Games, not RGG.. However, the box sucks big time as it is made of some really thin cardboard.

Anonymous said...

As mentioned above, Winner's Circle is not published by Rio Grande. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure that they didn't even print the original Alea version.

And I don't think Rio Grande is as immune to criticism as you say. Just take a look at the threads regarding the recent reprints of El Grande and Goa.

Kevin W.

DWTripp said...

Not that it makes that much difference, but Winner's Circle is published by Face 2 Face Games, not RGG.. However, the box sucks big time as it is made of some really thin cardboard.

You're right! I think it does make a difference. Well, except that my copy of Puerto Rico had player boards that were all curved and had to be bent to lay flat.

I just went and looked at why I thought Winner's Circle was an RGG product... well (shamefully) I had it stacked with Thurn And Taxis and apprently assumed they were from the same publisher. Thurn and Taxis, by the way, came with a nice, very flat-laying, board.

Anonymous said...

Well since it has already been stated that winners circle is done by Face2Face games. I guess we can go back to the theory that American game publishers have a "sucky" track record of game warpage aye DW? Since your example fell through... ;)

DWTripp said...

Actually Michael... as I have said often on BGG, most board game publishers have had board warpage problems. Not just American ones.

What struck me about the whole warped board issue was the amount of criticism RRT drew.

It seemed to me that while many games have component problems only certain ones are singled out in the niche crowd. Some of my RGG products have poor components and some of my Avalon-Hill games do as well. I think it's part-and-parcel to the whole industry and no publisher is perfect.

I did see the threads about the El Grande reprint and checked my copy. Sure enough, there are a few small errors. Eventually I will get around to RGG's website and see about replacements. Overall, it didn't register with me as a huge problem.

The one publisher that I have bought a number of games from that seems flawless (at least to me) is Warfrog. No warpage. No print errors, thick cardboard pieces and overall high quality.

ekted said...

F2F Games has shitty quality production in my experience. I'd certainly wait for lots of feedback before buying their stuff again.

Anonymous said...

Warfrog is some good stuff, no doubt!

Pawnstar said...

DW:- "The one publisher that I have bought a number of games from that seems flawless (at least to me) is Warfrog. No warpage. No print errors, thick cardboard pieces and overall high quality.

Caught you! There was a printing error in the first edition of Age of Steam (your favourite target); and as I recall Princes of the Renaissance also suffered an error on one of the cards. I'm sure there are other errors, and Warfrog are famous for their rules ambiguities.

Of course, all this bothers me about as much as board warping in RRT - not a lot.

Shannon Appelcline said...

RRT had a 2-part board that you fit together. As a result warpage is going to be more of a problem if it occurs, because the halves of your board don't go together right.

RRT is the only game I can think of where I ever had to do something about board warpage during the game. (I used big binder clips to hold the halves together.)

Shannon Appelcline said...

And yes, Warfrog is actually a terrible example for good components. I was unwilling to buy the first edition of Age of Steam because their misprints were so notable, and one of the early expansions had similar problems. Struggle of Empires is another game where every copy I've seen is marked up due to production misprints.

DWTripp said...

I'm suprised that two people I think highly of didn't have good results with Warfrog.

I have a 2nd edition (or is it 2nd print?) of Age of Steam and found the components good and the rules clear. Same with the expansions I have... #1 and #2. Struggle of Empires was good too, as well as my copy of Way Out West.

Princes of the Renaissance was only played once or twice and we never had an issue, so perhaps we missed a printing error?

It appears that no publisher has yet been able to consistently produce games that don't have flaws, faults and errors. I guess owning board games is sort of like owning British motorcycles... you know you need to change the oil because it stopped leaking.

Shannon Appelcline said...

Warfrog makes misprints rather than having low-quality components, but they're generally more damaging (and would have been easier to prevent if anyone was paying attention).

The original Age of Steam misnumbered one of the cities, I believe. Expansion #2(?) miscolored a whole bunch of them. Struggle of Empires has issues with defining the sea zones, which has resulted in tape on a couple of boards I've seen.

Paul Kidd said...

I'm not going to comment on the board warpage or BattleLore but respond to the first subject.

I remember going to the top of the World Trade Center twice, once with my parents in 1978 and again with my wife in 1997. I found on the second time that I was just as awe-inspired as when I was nine years old. It seemed remarkable to me that I could be perched on such a titanic object and then think that people had built it!

In a way, even though I live on the other side of the world, it was as though those two visits were markers to my life and I felt something like a connection to them.

When the planes struck it was the middle of the night in Australia, and I remember sitting up watching the news with my dad who was staying with us. I can still feel the shiver that ran down my spine when I realized that the first tower had collapsed. I suppose I had seen plane crashes and fires and death and destruction before, but my brain just found it difficult to accept that something that seemed so solid and enduring could be toppled so ignominiously.

Sometime the next day I remembered a brief chat my wife and I had with the women working in the souvenir shop at the top and I wondered whether they still worked there and whether or not they made it out.

iguanaDitty said...

PotR had a misprint on a couple of the treachery tiles - the name didn't correspond with the description. It wouldn't have come up if you didn't happen to draw one of those tiles.

Anonymous said...

I played Tempus for the first time about two weeks ago and the first comment I had was "Why is this board so badly warped?" Tempus is a Pro Ludo game, which I believe is a German company.

I also pre-ordered BattleLore, and promised my FLGS that I would run demos for the game. I will get a discount and the free miniature, plus I get to help the gaming community grow.

GROGnads said...

Hey! did anyone happen to 'mention'(until now) that "Richard Borg" *pop'd* IN to the BGG "Chat", this ONE time...and NOT from at "Band Camp" either? Well he DID, "dag yo...

manowarplayer said...

Selling off my huge collections of 40K and, Warhammer and Man O' War miniatures on eBay has been wonderful for me.

From across the vastness of the internet, this statement called out and haunted my subconcious until I found out where it had originated... Say it aint so DW!!!

Did you sell EVERTHING??