Monday, October 30, 2006

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Hill Giants and GMT's plan for World Domination

Los Angeles was great. Well, actually it was Burbank I went to and it was really nice. Good weather, great food and possibly the worst training I've ever sat in on. But I'll get to that in another blog entry. Today I want to talk about two things: Hill Giants and War Games.


Lots of discussion over on BGG about what GMT ought to do to satisfy some people's need for upgraded components. I'll drop in my response to the thread:

GMT does make nice looking games. On top of which, they make games that play well.

In fact, they make games that range from complex and engrossing to quick and light.

GMT has world class "Euro" designers in their line-up like Knizia. They have Ameritrash greats like Moon. They have war gaming legends like Berg. They have brought us an iteration of Borg's C&C system that no one else would.I can pull out a copy of Battle Line and burn a few brain cells. I can grab a bunch of non-gamer family types and get them laughing with Formula Motor Racing. If I want to relive my past and touch base with my inner grognard I can play a few scenarios of Men Of Iron solitaire. I can take Ticket To Ride junkies and introduce them to the next, more serious, designer game-drug, Santa Fe Rails. Memoir 44' getting stale? Haul out C&C:Ancients... and now the expansion, which will arrive shortly. Axis & Allies just too shallow? Want a bit more depth without having seizures? Set up Europe Engulfed. Awesome to look at, digestable by the average 12 year old who has actually held a book and knows what it was meant for, and frankly, it scratches the WWII itch so much more deeply than A&A.

I like games. I own tons of games with lots of gooey plastic and eye-popping color on the box and in the guts. They're great. A fantasy genre game damned well better have top quality, vibrant color and huge fangs dripping with blood... that's the way their target market's mind is tuned. The T2R series by DoW has almost perfect art once you realize that their target is not only fans of board games, but the general public.

For my money GMT is above average in their quality and components when you consider they are basically a war game publisher that understands that not all gamers are war gamers and that not all war gamers are strictly war gamers.

GMT reminds me of Porsche in the late 60's and early 70's. When they introduced the 911 it was basically a "designer" car. For the money you got a smallish motor that looked like a VW engine with 2 extra cylinders. You got a Teutonic interior, functional and spare. You got a clean form, devoid of "stuff" hanging off it or drawing the eye away from the line of the car to some chromed-out geegaw. I could go on but basically, the early 911's were driver's cars. Made for the autophile equivalent of a Game Geek.

One girlfriend in 1975 stated to me, when her friend mentioned she liked my Porsche, that she thought it looked like an ugly VW.

So much for satisfying everybody eh? At least I got laid.

But now look at GMT. They are constantly upgrading. They are reaching to embrace the Euro Gamer, the Grognard, the middle-of-the-road gamer. They seem to have collected a group of designers and team members who just want to make cool games and do as good a job as money allows.

They are my favorite game company by a huge margin.

Over thirty years after I bought my first Porsche I can no longer afford anything close to a new one. In fact, used ones are too much money. Porsche has built itself into a car company that people drool over. They even have the autophile equivalent of a Euro Game in their Cayenne SUV (?). They sell like crazy for really stupid amounts of money.

Since I think GMT is a game industry simile of Porsche I think they are on the same route to success. And if they end up failing, people like me are going to make bank on eBay.

I have to agree that were GMT able to upgrade their components and still hit an acceptable price point they might end up ruling the world. Maybe that will happen someday. Maybe not. In the meantime I heartily recommend everybody get to their web site and try a few of their titles.

Hill Giants

Mary and I had an email exchange about the upcoming BattleLore game. She said, in effect, "DW, sell me this game. I already have C&C:Ancients."

My responses:

Mary ~

I think it'll be a blast to play. I understand what you mean about the Loremasters, but to me it means you'll have one more aspect that will give you some semblance of control that isn't offered in Memoir or CC:A. It appears to bring in the resource management that the other iterations of the system don't exploit. I like the idea of managing something other than just the cards I'm dealt.

I already pre-ordered this at the nearby FLGS. One other thing, this is apparently the game Borg has wanted to publish for many years and it's hard for me to imagine that it hasn't been thoroughly play tested to work out any broken mechanics or uber powers, cards or races.

I'm also pre-ordered for FFG's Tide of Iron. From what I can tell it also has a CDG element. Not to mention, I've just been charged for GMT's Combat Commander which looks like it will take squad level CDG-driven play to new heights without adding the annoying levels of complexity that most "true" war games suffer from. Tide of Iron is a 2-4 player game with expandable, modular boards and that alone makes it at least as appealing as any of the Borg games.

But then, I'm a fan of expensive games, especially when they have gooey plastic pieces or hundreds of wood blocks and stickers.




I'd say it's six of one, half dozen of the other on the Hill Giant. I believe DoW will eventually make it widely available. or, you could trade for it or perhaps buy it on eBay. As for me, being an FLGS supporter, I would have zero problems paying the full price in order to get the special figure.

From what I can tell reading the blog, the special powers have a cost that levels the playing field. If the rules are well play tested then even a power or play that seems to be excessive will probably hamper the player in resources or abilities elsewhere. All that tells me that unlike Memoir, a player can devise an actual strategy and build a force based on the strategy... then use his/her talents to adapt to fluid game situations and surprises.

In Memoir there is no real strategy other than perhaps saving a powerful card or two for a killing blow when you have enough medals to make the attempt. Hopefully BattleLore goes well beyond that.




Okay... now for closing the sale (maybe Eric will make me VP Sales at DoW)... the final thing that clinches the deal for me is the "build" aspect of the game. This is something that isn't present in the 3 previous C&C games. By generating a system where players can plan a force in order to apply a strategy, or vice versa, the C&C system now fully involves the players. What this simple feature does is immerses the opponents. By allowing a gamer to imagine a situation - and BattleLore seems to have the flexibility in both terrain and other components to generate endless "situations" - and then construct a force that he/she decides is most likely to win, you end up with a hugely replayable game.

I think this is why Games Workshop has ruled in the miniature gaming arena for so long. They offer huge amounts of control to the players. Whether fantasy or 40K it's rare for two armies to meet that look the same. And even if you play the same army the terrain and enemy force is different, or perhaps the objectives.

When you really understand the scope that DoW is planning for this system it seems to me that if the game is successful it will broaden it's appeal and possibly even eat into Warhammer sales. Why not? If you took the same marketing, the same genre, the same flexibility, put it into a box instead of a huge amount of blister packs, allowed people to open it and play, attached near endless expandability... well then why shouldn't DoW end up attracting miniature gamers into board games.

if I was a betting man... I'd bet on this one to be a huge success and to be a major factor in how board games are viewed in coming years.


I know I tend to use automobiles and motorcycles as analogies for the board gaming business. That's because almost every gamer has one or both and, to me, the decision-making process of buying them is similar to games. People buy what they initially percieve to be a good value for the money. Like games, people often buy a car or bike because of what they are "sold" about the product. Focusing on box quality, promo items, plastic or wood pieces, quality of paper, mounted maps versus paper, whether the dice are cheap trash or high quality... and other parts of the product that aren't actually related to the game itself just tells me that a sizable percentage of Game Geeks are buying games because of how they look as opposed to how good the game is.

It's like going down to K-Mart's auto department and buying a $29.99 set of those dumbass looking spinner rim things and slapping them on your $800 Pontiac so you can "look like you're cool". Game collections often have so much dross and crapola in them that "looks good" but plays like a nightmare that I wonder how on earth really good games ever get above the noise.

Going back to my Porsche analogy - I owned a 1968 911 and it was nothing really to look at if you were looking for flash. But when I sold the car in 1998 I got more money than I paid for it six years earlier and the car had not only retained it's original appeal to people like me, but had attracted a growing number of fans who might have originally considered it to be bland and unappealing.

Lots of the best games are similar. They have the beauty of competent and sometimes brilliant design in them and no matter the initial packaging or component quality, the heart of the product is strong enough to attract a fan base that increases over time... and part of the increase is from people who bought the flashy crap, had a taste of what "could be" and then sought out the real quality.

If I let anyone down today by not doing my House, MD imitation of a Game Geek, I apologize. Maybe next week I'll be back into cynical and biting sarcasm mode. I just got some World Of Warcraft CCG cards so that ought to put me into the proper negative frame of mind.


Anonymous said...

WoW:CCG? So, you fell into the trap of limited release. I hope you feel better now. Knowing you just dropped cash on a game you had no intention of playing, but felt compelled to buy anyway. Just cause it's rare, doesn't mean you need to buy it.


Should be a damned shamed of your self. ;)

DWTripp said...

Knowing you just dropped cash on a game you had no intention of playing

Not quite true. Jumbo and I discussed it at length and we are going to give the game a whirl. I'm not holding out any real hope that a modern CCG will give the same experience MTG did in the early 90's... but if it does, then it'll be worth it.

Otherwise? There's eBay to try and cover the loss.

Anonymous said...

I read all the promotional materials for Battlelore, and damn, it looks good. Next time im in Boise, ill be giving you a call!