Friday, August 31, 2007

Carpet

They're starting to lay carpet today. You can see the carpet pad below.

Forum is Live

We've transitioned all the users to the new forum, or at least sent an email saying the old forum is now defunct and to use the new one.

We're having some very good experiences from a technical perspective. The forum is running on a virtual server and is about four times faster than the previous SOOP forum we were using privately.

Forum permissions are a little tricky, but only because they're so configurable. We've created some private game forums for ongoing campaigns, but for now they're public until we can figure out a streamlined way to do user permissions.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Photo Update

That pesky extra door is now gone.



The electrical work proceeds, slow but steady.


Painting is done, or pretty close to it. Carpet is due to be installed Friday and Saturday

Speaker wire has been pulled to the East side

In other news, I lost my sign guy today. He lacks the required contractor's license needed to get the building permit from city. In Concord you need a building permit to do anything. Install a ceiling fan? Permit. New toilet? Permit. Install a sign? You bet, a permit.

I was thinking in the car on the way home today:

Does the City of Concord have onerous regulations and permit laws because the city looks dumpy, or does Concord look dumpy because the city has onerous regulations and permit laws?

My impression is that the city is over-regulated and that nobody follows those regulations. I figured the place was weakly regulated based on all the infractions you can see, just driving around. It's either because they've made the business climate so negative that everyone bypasses the city, or it's in reaction to everyone doing whatever the hell they want. In either case, if I knew what I know now, I would have put extra effort into finding a place in Pleasant Hill.

WhizKids Steps Up

The game store folks were embroiled in a minor controversy regarding the whole case flipping thing I got into earlier. WhizKids went exclusive on their game distribution with the premise that they would stop online sales by limiting sales to those who violate their flipping policy. Then someone learned that Amazon.com and Wal-Mart online were selling cases of clix at a discount. The only thing worse than bonehead game stores flipping cases is ceding the market to mass!

WhizKids explained that yes, they went exclusively with Alliance for the game trade, but they use half a dozen different distributors outside the trade to get their product to various sources, including the mass market. That was yesterday.

What surprised me is their very good decision to step up and fix the problem. This is from Joe Hauck, their EVP of Sales:
The problem is not Amazon per se, they are merely the enabler. The problem lies with Ingram and B&T. We made the decision yesterday that until such time that we can determine a legal method where we can have an agreement in place with these two book distributors to not have our products placed on internet only sites, we won't sell them any WizKids products.
Yeah for them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Brown


I arrived at the store this morning and was greeted by my friendly UPS guy. He was in a good mood, despite having 60 boxes in two trucks that needed delivering. It was news to both of us! This was a shipment I had been trying to get shipped for a week now from a vendor and it finally arrived ... in force. Several of my neighbors stopped by to say goodbye. With all the boxes stacked out front, they thought we were moving out today.

Forum is Up

You can view it here: http://forum.blackdiamondgames.com/

We're still tweaking some of the settings related to attachments and image postings, but it's operational. You're welcome to check it out and register. If you've got suggestions, please let me know. I'm planning to transition from the Meetup site once we're more comfortable with the system and the events are populated.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Paint!

The painting has begun. The painters tell me they expect to be there through Thursday. Carpet is installed starting on Friday. The property management company is handling all this, so I'm just an annoying bystander with a camera (the look I got from the painters).

Looking out from the game room. The French doors open all the day into the game room and can sit flush against the wall. The walls are eight feet high and don't touch the ceiling. This allows customers to hear the games going on without having to step over people. It also allows for air to flow, light to shine and the fire sprinklers to do their job.


Nice contrast from the pink walls. There used to be a doorway here to the other suite.


The back of the game room. The door in the right is still scheduled for removal. There used to be a small room in the corner. You can see the outline by looking at the tile.


Door from the sales floor to the office (hallway). The repair work on the wall is where the hair washing stations used to be.


Game room corner

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Update

THIS WEEK (week of 8/26):
Monday:
Exterior sign approved by landlord. Parts ordered by sign guy. Need city sign permit.
Monday-Tuesday: Painters are painting.
Tuesday Night: Electrical and wiring work starts.
Friday: Fixtures ship. Should arrive mid-week next week.
Friday-Saturday: Carpet installed.

NEXT WEEK (week of 9/2):
Friday-Monday: I'll be at Conquest San Francisco, spreading the word about the move and hopefully making a little money.
Tuesday: Telephone lines installed. ADT out for alarm system move estimate.
Wednesday-Friday: Fixtures begin arriving. Time to begin setting up!

WEEK 3(week of 9/9):
New game and toys begin shipping on the 10th along with a Games Workshop expansion.
Exterior sign will probably be installed this week.
Alarm system probably installed around this time.

WEEK 4 (week of 9/16):
Processing of new inventory should take approximately 45-50 hours
New air conditioning units installed

WEEK 5
(week of 9/23):
Sunday:
Closed for move
Tuesday: Open for business. Ogre Kingdoms destroy opponents in evening battle of new campaign.

New Forum

We've outgrown our Meetup site. Meetup is really designed for one particular group and their various activities. We've managed to shoehorn in every store event into our Meetup site, with the disadvantage that every member is notified automatically of every event. This usually means people leave the group after a short time. We've held steady at around 100 members, a feat in itself, but growth stopped a while ago.

The alternative will be our own forum with calendar. It should be up within the next several days. We'll link it off our website, but it will also be available by going to forum.blackdiamondgames.com.

We're using the leading software package in the industry called vBulletin. This is something I've installed for past employers and it's robust, secure and one of the top three standard forum packages (people argue endlessly which is best). What sold me on it was the calendar features, which should work much better than the Meetup calendar. As a forum user, you can set up reminders to just the events you want, instead of getting pelted with reminders for every event. If you're really geeky, you can learn more about the features on Theadminzone. The one thing vBulletin lacks is event sign-up. This will need to be done through another method, possibly manually.

With the store open 50% more hours and the game space 500% larger, events should be plentiful. We'll have primary events, which get priority for table space. Then we'll often have secondary events at the same time, which have priority over open play (tertiary events). You're welcome to play any time the store is open, provided space is available.

With the addition of the new forum and scheduling, we'll be bringing on an event manager. This person will coordinate and schedule events for the store. We'll announce their secret identity once the forum is up. If you come to events now, you probably already know them.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back Away From the Comics

Toy companies have been easy to deal with. They have their strange idiosyncrasies, like how you better be fully stocked before December or your hosed, or their bewildering pricing and billing methods, different for every company, but they've been genuinely nice people who are easy to deal with. Melissa & Doug offered free shipping and extended terms. RC2 with Thomas Wooden Railway gave us a very cool free rack with our order. Without a centralized toy distributor, people are pleasant to deal with and local sales reps work hard for you and personally visit your store to show off catalogs of wondrous items. Toys are fun!

Comics have been a problem. When I say comics, you know I mean Diamond Comics Distribution, the company that owns the comics distribution market. They've got an exclusive with Marvel, which is half the comics market. If you're in the game trade, imagine all the slightly annoying things about Alliance, such as how impersonal it is (overworked order takers), the sometimes funky online ordering system (much better now), the predatory exclusive deals and inventory grabs, the paranoid billing and credit department (I still have 7 day terms). Now imagine what they would be like without competition to keep them in line. That's Diamond.

Starting a diamond account is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of experience. On the one hand, comics are all about being in the know, so there are sub-cultural things you need to understand about the industry. These include their archaic "ice cart Tuesday" delivery schedule, the ordering of comics months in advance, including ordering issue two of something before issue one has even appeared, and a bewildering chart of discounts based on individual publishers, your time with Diamond, volume, and the color of your socks. Ordering is based on sifting through a phone book size catalog of everything new and preferably entering it into the suspect online ordering system.

This sort of complexity would be fine if there was someone to hold your hand through it, but the Hyde part of the equation is that Diamond is a giant, automated corporate entity that dwarfs their little Alliance game division. There will be a deluge of information from your initial handler who will then walk away, giving you to someone else to deal with. No relationship there. You're essentially on your own from day one. With a lot of effort, I was able to encourage my handler to help me with the initial order, but then he was gone. I was handed off to another rep, who apparently isn't in sales. Her requests for someone to help me with comic books has gone unanswered. Add to it all that the online ordering system is confusing and will tend to back-order books without letting you know (maybe it's in the fine print). The invoices arrive with no billing address. You're in the comics industry now, you should have that address tattooed to your wrist, right? The shipping is billed separately, although I haven't received any invoices. I'll wait for accounting to call and yell at me.

The bottom line for us is that we're done with comics almost before we started. We ordered in about 125 of the top trade paperbacks and then tried to do some re-ordering and back-fill with mixed results. We may try to cultivate the trades like so many bookstores and other comics opportunists attempt to do, but we'll be passing on anything deeper, such as monthly issues. If you're in the game industry, just remember what would happen if some game Armageddon wiped out all the various small distributors. Their mere existence is a hedge against monopoly behavior.

My hope is that if the game industry does implode, it takes everyone with it and we're left with a toy model, not a comics model.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mass

Customers sometimes ask if game stores are getting squashed by the mass market. I started messing with a spreadsheet today, my mental equivalent of doodling, and came up with some interesting numbers that verified what I've heard from the game industry: specialty game stores are far too varied and complex for mass market to mess with.

My sales spread looks like some sort of world wealth graph. Half of my sales come from 154 different game companies who comprise no more than 1%, and often far less than that. Each of these games require product knowledge and hand-selling to customers. I have 12,300 individual items (SKU's) in my store. Costco has 4,500. Sam's Club has 4,900. There's no way for big box stores to manage what we do.

The other 50% of sales comes from my top ten companies' and all but three are less than 3% of my sales. It makes me wonder why I put so much energy into discussing company's like Battlefront and Games Workshop when they're each only 3% of my sales. But then it occurred to me that it's what I do. Game stores eek out a living by focusing on little diamonds in the rough. One or two companies may produce steady sellers, but our strength is in our diversity, and the time it takes to cultivate that diversity is our protection against the uninformed mass market that might wish to swoop in and compete.

Even more important is that we build our individual game markets. Game store sales are about what the staff in that store teach and promote. If Target or even another game store took my sales data and opened a store, it wouldn't work. They would lack the knowledge of the product and customer base to make it work. That's why game stores don't mind sharing data. It has no practical value for anyone else.


Four Point Oh

Enworld is doing an excellent job of collating bits of information from designers of Dungeons & Dragons 4.0. If you're interested in the details, you've got to check this out. This quote from Rodney Thompson summed it up for me:
...I think of 3rd Edition kind of like a first generation console video game in that sometimes it isn't programmed very efficiently. Ever played a first-gen game and seen the "slowdown" effect, where the system can't keep up with the graphics or the number of bad guys on screen? That's how I feel about 3E these days. I like what it's trying to accomplish, but it just doesn't happen very efficiently and things slow to a crawl. 4E on the other hand is like a late-gen game; the programmers have learned better ways to do things on the console, and as such you have even better games that don't experience as many slowdowns.

Basic design things that caught my attention:
  • You are not your loot. There's no longer this equipment = power value. In 3.x, the game required that you have a specific value in magic items or you were under or over powered. That's gone.
  • Encounter design. There's no longer the boring encounter ratio regarding using your resources. This should play a lot like urban campaigning where you're always challenged with every encounter, since you can instantly go get healing at the local temple.
  • Vancian Magic Gored. Yes! Say goodbye to memorize and forget. Both Wizards and Sorcerers will still be included.
  • Social Encounters. They have mechanics for social interaction rather than a flat Diplomacy check. I'll reserve judgement on this one, but I really hope it's good.
  • No Feat Chains. But we still have prestige classes. There's a conscious effort to remove the "character planning" requirement in which you need to know where your character will be at 20th level when you first roll them up.
  • Clunky Combat. It sounds like they're doing away with such favorites as Attacks of Opportunity, along with the infamous Grapple rules and other mechanics that are too complex or too clunky.
  • Action Characters. Every character will have actions they can perform at will, per encounter or per day. If you've ever played a sidelined character because they used their one special ability and can't do it again for a good long time (the paladin smiting evil was an example given), you know what I mean.
  • D20 and OGL. It's still open source.

If all this pans out, 4.0 should address a lot of the issues that have driven people away from Dungeons & Dragons.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Houses of Cards

I got confirmation today that the two local card shops are closing this month: Blondie's Comics & Cards (open since 1975) and Clayton Sports Cards (probably open as long). Both store owners are retiring. I learned all this from the Yu-Gi-Oh community. They're looking for a place to host their 40-50 person weekly tournaments. Hmm... yeah, we can do that.

With all the game stores closing, sometimes I want to look over my shoulder to make sure I haven't run off the cliff like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons.

Concord Shakedown

I got a letter from the City of Concord today about my business license. I was notified that my license application was incomplete. One of the hidden things they do is require a Zoning Compliance Fact Sheet for all new businesses in the downtown area. Nobody mentions this and it's not part of their website, but they zap you with this when you apply for the license.

Apparently there's zero investigation into the suitability of a business when a license is filed, everyone is approved, I'm told by planning, so planning has taken it upon themselves to tack on this additional "fact sheet." With an application fee of $570! My wife is an attorney and she points out the questionable legality of requiring an "application" fee for what's called a "fact sheet." It's essentially a dual-permit.

What irks me most, despite the fact that they have to have another city division do work that should be done by the permit people (why did I send them $350?) is that this came as a surprise. It's a bait and switch operation that businesses won't know about until they actually apply for their license.

Some updates

New ICV2 Talk Back commenting on Wizard of the Coast's Internet related response: "What they don't do is control who they sell their product to or how they release it. Go on the Internet, search for booster boxes of Magic and you'll find lots of them available for for $79-80. "

The comments also suggested WOTC give the game trade new releases before mass market. I would be happy if they would work on getting them to us at the same time. When the D&D 4.0 Player's Handbook is released in May, I plan to hedge my bets by getting a good supply from my book distributor. I don't trust WOTC not to screw it up again.

Met with My Sign Guy. He had a beautiful sign presentation prepared for my landlord. Unfortunately his graphic showed the sign superimposed on a photo of the wrong store front! It was also the wrong sign design. He cut the price of doing a straight channel letter sign, so we'll likely go with that now. However, he failed to call me yesterday with revisions when he said he would. It's probably time to find a new sign guy.

Electrical. Including wiring for networking, telecom, satellite radio, and various small projects begins Tuesday.

Paint and Carpeting. I'm assured it will be done by next Saturday at the latest. The landlord is paying for this and coordinating the work. The project manager sounds very professional, but I haven't seen him in action yet.

Other Stuff. The telephone lines are installed 9/4, the same day as an alarm system estimate. The fixtures begin arriving this same week. Let's hope the carpet is down.

Ogres. At a minimum I need 7 ogres painted for 500 points (6 bulls, one bruiser general). Army painting is tiring, so I've gone to painting one ogre at a time. I can bang out one a day if I work a couple of hours. It's also more satisfying.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

ICV2 Top Lists

ICV2 had their latest "top" list so I thought I would see how we compared. This is probably the closest we've come to any list yet. Unfortunately there's no information on their methodology for collecting the information or a date period. I just used year-to-date.

ICv2 Top 5 CCGsBlack Diamond Games
Pokemon Magic: The Gathering
Yu-Gi-Oh!World of Warcraft
Magic: The GatheringYu-Gi-Oh!
NarutoWarlord
World of WarcraftNaruto


Top 5 CMGsBlack Diamond Games
Star Wars CMGStar Wars CMG
Dungeons and Dragons MiniDungeons and Dragons Mini
HeroClixPirates
HorrorClixHeroClix
PiratesHorrorClix


Top 5 Non-Coll MinisBlack Diamond Games
Warhammer 40,000WarMachine
WarMachineFlames of War
AT-43Hordes
HordesWarhammer 40,000
Dark Heavens LegendsAT-43




Top 5 Board/Card
Black Diamond Games
Settlers of CatanSettlers of Catan
Tide of IronBlokus
Ticket to RideTicket to Ride
CarcassonneMunchkin
World of WarcraftCarcassonne


Top 5 RPGsBlack Diamond Games
Dungeons & DragonsDungeons & Dragons
Star Wars RPGStar Wars RPG
Warhammer FantasyIndy Press Revolution
World of DarknessWarhammer Fantasy
ScionRunequest

Flippers: WhizKids vs. Wizards


I thought it was interesting to see both of their responses to an ICV2 interview about Internet discounting.

WhizKids is fighting for it's life and they're about as pro-active as it gets, despite being down to something like 8 employees in some cubicles at the back of Topps. Wizards, despite it's huge power in the industry, backing by Hasbro and sophisticated tracking of every box of Magic (distributors who couldn't support their technology were cut off), does little.

For those unfamiliar with the big issue, we've got many Internet retailers, including those who own brick N Mortar stores, selling or "flipping" cases or boxes of product for a few dollars over cost, just to make some money on the volume. For example, a box of Magic boosters retails for $144, has a cost of $72, and is sold online for around $80.

It works like this: Game stores promotes the game through events and tournaments that bring in new players and support existing ones. The Internet retailers sell at a very deep discount and remove the profit for selling Magic for brick & mortar stores. The brick & mortar stores now have no incentive to promote the game because it's no longer profitable. New players aren't introduced to the game through game stores and existing players have no venue to play. Both groups stop playing and move on to something else. Only when sales dip for the "flipped" products do manufacturers care, since they get their $72 either way. I think the depth of caring about this issue is directly proportional to how badly sales dip.

WhizKids (Joe Hauck, EVP Sales)
If you could reduce the discounted sales of your products on the Internet, would you do so?
At WizKids we already have. We have not contracted any distributor to have the rights to sell to the Internet-only channel of distribution. Due to the recent change in our core hobby distribution model we have a tremendous increase in visibility and as a result the largest Internet-only retail game site is currently not advertising Marvel HeroClix: Avengers boosters or DC HeroClix Legion of SuperHeroes Starter sets for sale. These were the first major HeroClix products to be distributed solely through Diamond and Alliance. A complete reduction of sales to an outlet qualifies as a reduction of discounted sales on the Internet.

Wizards of the Coast (Loren Greenwood, President of Wizards)
If you could reduce the discounted sales of your products on the Internet, would you do so?

Our products are very high involvement and require a depth of support that typically is best served by the brick-and-mortar stores, specifically the hobby channel. Given this requirement, the services and support that come from the stores is essential to keep our business healthy.

You can click on the links to both interviews to get a better sense of where they stand, but I think this sums it up.

Another issue discussed on the GIN right now is that of Magic pre-release tournaments and the Premier Tournament Organizer (PTO) program. A select store in each market, about 5% of stores who run release events, is allowed to run tournaments before product is on the market. They also get the best prize support for the event. These events generate massive interest in the game and make that store metric buttloads of money, unfortunately at the expense of every other store as they suck all the Magic dollars out of their markets. This happens before the set is even released! I did a little math and 50% of my Magic sales occur in the first month. The other 50% is sold over the lifetime of that set, usually a couple years. Any delay or early advantage is a big hit in sales.

What brought up this old issue again? Game stores like us who participated in Magic Game Day for the 10th Edition had packed houses and made huge amounts of money! Why? No PTO release events. We moved shelving around to accommodate 16 players and still turned at least half a dozen away (the new store should have Magic seating for 48). We saw customers we had never seen before. We sold Magic at full price. It was awe inspiring and must have been what it was like back in the day. Now that we've had a taste, we would rather not go back to the old system that rewards the PTO 5%. Here's a good editorial on this.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New Store Layout

The first layout I posted was pre-construction. Luckily, there weren't a lot of changes:

Game Center


Overview

Upper Deck

Topps dragged their feet so Upper Deck took their marbles and went home today:
Upper Deck charged that Topps had taken actions "to frustrate UD's ability to move forward," including refusing to provide due diligence information such as Topps' league and player association licensing agreements, pricing matrices, P&L by product line, and the "Whiz Kids (sic) Distribution Agreement."

I can't blame Topps if it's true, but I would have liked to have seen that WK distribution agreement.

Upper Deck squeezed everyone on the new World of Warcraft CCG release this week. Box prices were a couple dollars higher with no commensurate sales price increase (not that one ever existed). This is about the time when I slowly let my supply of WoW dwindle and disappear.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Restaurant: Korea House

We had an excellent dinner tonight at Korea House in the Park N Shop. The atmosphere was great. The owner hovered around us offering more food and encouraging us to eat the side dishes getting less attention. The barbecued beef dish was very well done and for $15 could feed 3-4 people. So yeah for Korea House, especially after last night's disappointing dinner.

I still cringe when the reviews mention the Park N' Shop:
  • A gem located in a spooky, decrepit Concord strip mall.
  • Then some of my teammates dragged my tasteless ass to what appeared to be the scariest strip center this side of...well...Concord.
  • The problem I have is that Park n Shop is the cities Ghetto Mall.

I think we'll have some customers that will venture into the heart of Park N Shop and find wonderful finds like Korea House. Others can just skirt the outskirts of the mall on the quieter side, where Black Diamond will be located.

My business partners are encouraging me more towards that security camera system....

Before dinner we re-measured the store now that construction is complete. This will let me revise the floor plan, which I'll probably post tomorrow. I think we may have lost at least one game table due to a structural pole. That will be our new storage area or possibly a painting station.

GW Update

I was off on the GW flyer issue. The flyers they were using were left overs from the Metreon store closing, which explains why the stores listed were so far away. New flyers are in development and should include the current and new store.

Fridge & Chairs

I went to East Bay Restaurant Supply this morning and ordered a drink merchandiser, otherwise known as a beverage cooler. It cost a bit more than online, but the online places have sketchy reviews. It's also about $400 more than a used one, but again, without worrying about it. It's got a one-year warranty and a four-year warranty on the compressor.

It's a Beverage Air MT27-B-55. Delivery will hopefully be before we open. It's a special order item that will take 3-4 weeks to get to the store and another week for delivery. We can live without it for a week, if necessary.

In case you care:
  • 1 swing glass door with 120 degree stay-open feature
  • Heavy coated steel exterior in black with white coated steel interior
  • 4 adjustable white epoxy coated steel wire shelves
  • Environmentally friendly (R134a) refrigeration - holds 35 to 38 degrees F
  • Positive seal self-closing doors with magnetic gaskets
  • Triple pane thermal glass
  • Self-contained system - needs no plumbing
  • Safety shielded fluorescent interior lighting
  • Lighted top sign panel
  • Bottom mount compressor - allows for top storage, easy compressor access for service and is more energy efficient
  • 30"W x 31 3/4"D x 78"H
  • 115V, 8.5A, 1/3Hp
  • UL, NSF certified
The next issue is chairs. I can buy the Lifetime white folding chairs from Costco for about $20. They've got a lifetime warranty and are adequate. For $28 I can buy some stacking restaurant chairs with steel frames and thick padding. I can get them with free shipping with the merchandiser. It's an extra $320 total over folding chairs, but they seem to be much higher quality. They stock these regularly in case I need more.

The chair is model DHC111.
This stack chair features a 1 1/2" vinyl, high density foam padded seat. The Black frame is made from 18 gauge 13/16" tubular steel. These chairs also feature a baked-on powder coat frame finish.

Rackham & FFG

ICV2 reports the new Rackham Confrontation minis will get the AT-43 treatment.

This is good and bad. The packaging is pretty good. The rules are pretty good. The existing metal models are supported, so that's smart. I really like their ingenious terrain idea, packaging various sets with terrain for the game. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some cross-over just to get some of those fantasy pieces.

The bad is the profit margin and the their new partner. We used to sell a lot of Confrontation when it was hotter (never really hot), and it was at a healthy 50% margin. AT-43 and the new Confrontation are at 40%, which is not an acceptable margin nowadays. Games Workshop bumped their discount up to 45% a couple years ago and Battlefront just jumped to a flat 45% last month. 40% doesn't rank shelf space.

That low margin means I have no incentive to push this game. Why should I sell you Confrontation when I make more money on every other game in the store? Maybe if I cover my ears and close my eyes, Confrontation will just go away (I'm trying that with Battlefield Evolution). At least BE has a healthy margin. If Rackham just wasn't so pretty, I'm sure they would be out of business by now.

Along the lines of you gotta be freakin kidding me:
Rackham and Fantasy Flight Games also announced that FFG will distribute Rackham products throughout the English-speaking world. In addition to distribution, FFG will oversee organized play.

If I had to list companies with key out-of-stock product, the two poster boys would be Rackham and FFG. As pointed out elsewhere, FFG is selling games direct on their website that are listed as out-of-stock at the manufacturer for the game trade. For example, Arkham Horror is out of print again and everyone wonders if they'll miss another Halloween.

I wonder if Rackham intends to do a distribution bypass by having FFG sell their items direct? This would solve their inability to deal with American distribution properly, although my guess is FFG will discover their excuses and lies soon enough.

The one small pinprick of hope is the organized play. FFG provides us the tiniest of organized play support for the Game of Thrones CCG, but it seems to be enough to make the player base happy. It's more than Rackham offers now, so it might invigorate the new game.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Clean-Up

Dealing with the insurance company was surprisingly painless so far. Break-ins turn out to be on the upswing, or at least everyone tells me, from the cop to the insurance people.

The Stikfas finally arrived, at least box one of two. They're as cool as they look. I thought I hadn't ordered them yet, until the UPS tracking email arrived. Whoops!

This week is looking up sales-wise. I know only a few customers who went to Gencon, but it seems like the entire collective US gaming community holds their breath during Gencon week. It was very quiet, which wasn't too bad since we got a lot of construction work done (well, not me exactly).

I got to push a broom this morning as I helped to clean up the new space. We had twice the junk as we had planned after the area around the bathrooms was torn down. The hauling company had to come this morning for a second trip.


I'm working on a handout for the store and for Conquest San Francisco. Besides this handout we also have a full page ad in the program book, advertising the move. As the board game sponsor, we're bringing out Richard Borg. I can tell you from last year that I can't quantify how this type of community support results in higher sales, but it does. Finally, we'll be featured on the back of the Conquest convention t-shirt. Whoo hoo!

I'm planning to do some gaming at Conquest this time, since I'm trapped there for the weekend with the Bay Bridge out. My preference would be for some Spirit of the Century or D&D, something where my brain doesn't have to work too hard.
For the Board Game Mini Convention we'll have Blue-Orange Games and Days of Wonder. We're working on a Battlelore tournament.

We're working on an interesting event for our Grand Opening. The local SCA chapter wants to host some combat in the parking lot. I don't know; I think that's kind of cool. Getting my landlord to go along might be difficult. The SCA folks hold their own insurance for events, but it raises a lot of red flags.

Finally, I'm working on formalizing an agreement to enlist an events coordinator for the store. This is someone who can help me manage various events, schedule and plan tournaments, and generally promote the game space of the store. It's an exasperating job when it's done in addition to running a store, so I welcome the help.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nearby Restaurants

I drove through Park N Shop today on my way to Fry's and counted 18 "restaurants," defined as any place to get something to eat. I was going to create this elaborate restaurant map, but Yelp does it for me, although it's not up to date: http://tinyurl.com/2n5afv

My brother and his contracting crew ate most of their meals last week at Namiya, the sushi restaurant two doors down. The owner is an ex Benihana chef. They thought the food was great. I ate there Thursday with them and thought it was fine (they're from Southern California, so have lower restaurant standards).

I'll mention there's a Starbucks. I don't care for them, but some people can't live without them. There's a nearby furniture store going out of business and we originally planned to take that spot. This was before the property owner had delusions of grandeur due to Starbuck's agreeing to a stupidly expensive lease a few doors down. They wanted twice what we're paying for the new space.

Of the 18 eating establishments, these seem to stand out:

Shan Shan Low has very good reviews and a generous lunch special. The reviews of this Chinese restaurant are all glowing. They mention how out-of-place it is with the other hack eating establishments in the mall. One of my customers, Max G., gave it a great review on Yelp (I trust his judgment).
Taqueria Los Altos is supposed to be excellent, authentic Mexican food that's not too pricey. It's sandwiched between Subway and Round Table Pizza.


Mimi's Cafe is very good, according to Eileen and 13 reviews on Yelp. It's a chain restaurant, but a pretty good one.

If you've eaten at any of these places or know of a nearby place, please let me know. I'm planning to brown bag my lunch a lot more often.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Straw Stores

The local Games Workshop store closes in less than a month and we noticed that they didn't include us on their flyer for other local stores. All of the local stores listed on the flyer were at least 20-30 minutes away, so we figured this was a simple oversight. I personally brought them flyers with our information on it, including a map to the new location, since we're opening up a big store with a game center shortly after they close.

Today I learned the district manager tossed the flyers. Not the employees or the manager, but the district guy. This was after my GW sales rep said he would pass my info on to him so they could add me to their listing.

The most logical reason I can think of is that they plan to re-open nearby sometime in the future (true) and that they don't want to advertise their future competition. Instead they advertise "straw stores" so far away that they know they'll be able to drag back the faithful. Of course, Games Workshop insists that local stores aren't competitors, that they work hand-in-hand with locals.

Fixins


Just so there's balance in the universe.


The Cleaner

A Parting Gift



We were broken into this morning.

5:50am: Alarm sounds (motion detector).
5:53am: I'm called at home and I have ADT dispatch the police.
5:54am: Police dispatched
5:59am: Police arrive

You can get away with a lot in 9 minutes.

The front door glass was broken in. It's safety glass so it shattered into thousands of pieces.

The thieves went right for the cash drawer and literally ripped it from the point-of-sale system. The machine is still on.

Luckily I just changed insurance companies the day before to a first rate group that normally wouldn't return my calls. My agent is a great guy and one of my customers.

This will be financially painful, but my guess is half the cost will be covered under insurance. I probably wouldn't have hit my deductible with the old insurance company.

The rest of my morning will be coordinating the clean-up, new glass, new cash drawer and the insurance claim. We'll be open by 11am, our normal time.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ennie Awards Announced

Green Ronin surprised me. This says go get yourself a copy of Mutants & Masterminds Ultimate Power, which won four awards (tied with Ptolus if you include product of the year).

Also, Green Ronin had a gold or silver winner in all but five categories if you include WFRP as part of their efforts. They came in second place as best publisher to Wizards of the Coast ... which won no awards.

These awards are highly suspect at best anyway, so take them with a massive sodium dose.

My picks in red (partial list):

Best Fan Site
Silver: Planewalker
Gold: Dragonlance Nexus

Best PodCast
Silver: Yog Radio
Gold: Have Games, Will Travel

Best Cover Art
Silver: Hollow Earth Expedition, by Exile Games Studio
Gold: Five Fingers, Port of Deceit, by Privateer Press

Best Interior Art
Silver: Qin, by 7th Circle
Gold: Mutants and Masterminds, Ultimate Power by Green Ronin Publishing

Best Cartography
Silver: WFRP GM Toolkit, by Black Industries
Gold: Ptolus, City by the Spire, by Malhavoc Press

Best Production Values
Silver: Mutants and Masterminds, Ultimate Power, by Green Ronin Publishing
Gold: Ptolus, City by the Spire, by Malhavoc Press

Best Writing
Silver: WFRP Children of the Horned Rat, by Black Industries
Gold: Five Fingers, Port of Deceit, by Privateer Press

Best Rules
Silver: Spirit of the Century, by Evil Hat
Gold: Mutants and Masterminds, Ultimate Power, by Green Ronin

Best Adventure
Silver: Mutants and Masterminds, Time of Vengeance, by Green Ronin Publishing
Gold: WFRP: Lure of the Liche Lord, by Black Industries

Best Setting
Silver: Five Fingers, Port of Deceit, by Privateer Press
Gold: Ptolus, City by the Spire, by Malhavoc Press

Best Supplement
Silver: Mutants and Masterminds, Ultimate Power, by Green Ronin Publishing
Gold: WFRP Companion, by Black Industries

Best Aid or Accessory
Silver: GameMastery Combat Pad, by Open Mind Games/Paizo Publishing
Gold: Deck of Many Things, by Green Ronin Publishing

D&D 4 Gencon Presentation on YouTube

It's amusing, especially when they rip on the ridiculously complex 3x grapple rules:

I love you man!

One thing that struck me was the jump from 2nd Edition to 3rd Edition had us going to 2003 (3.5), instead of 2000 (3.0). This is probably just a marketing department omission, but it makes you wonder if it was intentional and if so, what that was meant to say. Perhaps a little white washing over that whole mid-release update (money grab).

Let me just say that I'm really happy Mike Mearls headed the design team. It's what a lot of us fans wanted, but we were told he was too junior a designer for that to happen. He did great work for Malhavoc Press and he was mostly responsible for Book of Nine Swords, which brought a lot to D&D 4.

I found their Insider online subscription service to be very intriguing. You'll be able to enter codes into your account for every book you purchase which then populates your database for use with various tools. This is similar to what eTools did when you paid for your upgrade, minus the time lag (hopefully) and possibly more cost effective. Will regular players subscribe? I'm thinking it's probably something that appeals to more dedicated gamers, probably the same numbers that subscribe to Dungeon & Dragon.

What struck me is the massive bonus for using a legal electronic version of a book with Insider. Anything that reduces piracy helps everyone involved. You can still scan a PDF of a new D&D book but it won't be anywhere near as useful as a free electronic version with an Insider account. In other words, this is a very useful electronic tool that reinforces traditional book sales, which makes me, the seller of said books, happy. As a player I'll have to subscribe too, as a successor to eTools.

Construction Complete

The construction is complete. We've got electrical and wiring to do still. We also need to cut and cap the sprinkler pipe near the bathroom. While we do wiring another crew will be doing more drywall work. The landlord is responsible for the drywall repair, paint and carpet. We had too much debris for the hauler, so he'll be back 9am Monday morning. The ceiling tiles around the support columns are being left off so they can be painted.




Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fixed Corner

Fixing this one corner took one guy quite a few hours today.


I also had my first battle with my ogres. It was 500 points, which included two groups of three bulls and a Bruiser general. It turns out this is one of the only legal combination for ogres, since it requires a general who isn't a lord (Bruiser) and two core units. Leadbelchers are special units. I didn't have a bruiser built so I proxied my Tyrant. We were fighting empire troops.

In the first round, a shot from an empire canon killed one bull. The bulls and the bruiser charged.

In the second round, the first unit of bulls scared a unit out of a house, chased them down and killed them. The ogre bruiser charged in and killed all three canon units. The second ogre bull unit moved up to the bruiser and scared the cavalry into doing nothing.

In the third round, the cavalry commander challenged the bruiser as he rushed the cavalry unit. The bruiser killed him with two blows from his great club. The second bull unit, with only two ogres, killed all but one cavalryman, who fled off the field. The last empire unit gave up. There is no Bruiser unit sold separately, so I need to come up with a special model.

Door Moldings

Walls Primed

Drywall & Texture

The drywall is up and it's been textured to match the existing walls. In fact, the wall almost looks too good. At the last minute they decided to put a molding on the top of the walls to make it more finished.

The second photo is the work left to do. There's patch work where walls have been torn down. The sprinkler pipes above and to the right of the bathroom need to be put and capped. There's an electrical line that needs to be cut and capped as well.

There was some discussion about the quality of the contracting work to close off the doorways between the suites. Our contractor and the painting guys both questioned the job. I'm assured that a second group will be coming in to texture and clean up before painting begins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

D&D 4.0 Countdown?

Some folks have spotted what looks like the D&D 4.0 countdown. It's scheduled for a 6:30pm EST Thursday announcement, I'm assuming at Gencon:
http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/welcome

Here's the EnWorld thread that seems to have started it all today around noon:
http://www.enworld.org/showthread.php?t=204095

Someone also sent me this from one of the forums before it was yanked:

Hello All.

The announcement of 4th Edition is a pretty big event for all RPG fans. It's a huge event for all of us at Wizards of the Coast, including WotC staff and our WizO support team. We understand that this is something many of you are going to feel very passionate about in a number of ways.

We've created this forum for few reasons. We want everyone to have a single discussion forum where they can get answers and information directly from the D&D staff. We also want to prevent the other forums from being overwhelmed with 4E posts to the point that it drowns out any of the natural discussion in those areas. Additionally, I want to have a single forum where our community can post their hopes, fears, concerns, and dreams about 4E. This will make it easier for the D&D staff to read community feedback, and to (hopefully) provide a lot of answers to your questions.

The WizOs will be moderating this forum and others. They are acting on the direction of Wizards of the Coast, so if you're upset with their moderation, please don't take it out on the WizOs. Their goals will be clear: Keep 4th Edition discussion in the 4E forum. This might mean locking threads and/or moving posts.

If you have concerns, questions, or issues about the forum moderation taking place after the 4th Edition announcement, I've created a thread here where you may discuss your concerns.


Finally, please try to be respectful in your posts and comments. Be nice to other posters, the WizOs, and WotC staff. The WizOs will be enforcing all Code of Conduct rules on all forums as usual.

If you have any suggestions or ideas on how I can do a better job of helping to facilitate communication between the D&D Staff and the Community, I've created a thread here.

Thanks!

-Mike
__________________
Mike Lescault
Online Communities Manager
Wizards of the Coast
Host of Gamer Radio Zero

630-55-3248

It's like the social security number for pain.

M
6
WS 3
BS 0
S 5
T 5
W 3
I 2
A 4
Ld 8

I got my ogre gorger put together and primed. It's embarrassing to say, but I used a pin vice for the first time today. It was as easy as I thought it would be, with about the same level of hassle I expected. In the case of the gorger, there was just too much weight on his upper torso to mount without pinning.

This exceeds the initial 500 points for our armies, but he's the first thing I add when I have the cash. He appears on a table edge of my choice, randomly sometime during the second and fifth round. He can't attack the first round, but he can certainly throw enemy troops into disarray.

Gencon Week

Welcome to GenCon Indy week for those of you not going.

If you're a regular inhabitant of game stores, you may have noticed the hum of the track lights, the cleanliness of the carpet, and worst of all, the lack of product on the shelves, both new and old. There's nobody in the store and there's a struggle to find anything new to bring in.

It's odd that in a season of new releases and hot gaming goodness that there's this game industry vacation smack dab in the middle of August. During this time, existing games go out of stock because, a) there's nobody at the manufacturer to ship them, or worse, b) they brought the stock to the show. This will have rippling effects for the next few weeks, so be patient.

New products are in holding patterns or aren't ready and won't be released until after the show. This means it's a bit slow now because the release train has stopped. It also means there will be a deluge of products that you and I will have to sort through post Gencon. In the middle of January, a very dry month for releases, the Complete Left Handed Half-Orc Paladin source book is looking pretty good. I might buy a couple just because I'm tired of looking at my Christmas stock. However, in a sea of RPG books post-Gencon, it probably wouldn't get ordered.

For some stores in the MidWest, their sales plummet during this week as their customers go to the convention. That's when I would go on vacation (or the con). Only our most hardcore alpha gamers make the trip from California. They usually arrive back home with that Complete Left Handed Half-Orc Paladin under one arm, talking about the great releases coming up they now own. If the game is marginal, word spreads quickly among their friends and the Internet and many customers will know it sucks before it hits my shelves. If it's good, unfortunately they often don't let me know, so it sells out fast when it arrives. If you're waiting for something, a good game store manager will want to know about it. Tell me.

For most games this has little effect on how we stock things, but if a game is marginal, and I was only planning to buy one or two of each, I'll now buy few or none. My customer base, defined as the 30% of gamers who buy from me within 10 minutes of my store (according to Ryan Dancey), will have little idea it exists. It's the marginal games that get shorted by selling at the con, but the publishers think it's offset by word of mouth by the alpha gamer.

Like the Internet and children with sticky fingers, I just have to take it all in stride.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Done for the Day

Doors in Place

The office is on the left through the single door. The game center is through the double French doors. The doorway in the back is scheduled to be demoed after the sprinkler head there is capped.

La Porte Fran├žais

After some discussion we decided the patio sliding glass door was going to be less than great. We went with these French doors. The problem with the slider was access, which was limited to half of what we get with the French doors. The French doors will open into the game room. Oh yeah, and the French doors were $375 cheaper, which just about covers that Motel 6 bill.

In the second photo you can see the framing for the area separating the office (against the wall) and the game center.

I am told today there will be more framing and tomorrow the drywall is put up.


Monday, August 13, 2007

2007 Satelite Photo

Microsoft MapPoint has some up-to-date, high resolution satellite photos. You can even read the signs on the buildings.

Framing

The demolition is mostly done. Here are photos of the framing (from a cell phone). Drywall is tomorrow.

The area on the left is the office and storeroom. The wall across the space divides the retail space from the game center.



AT-43 Availability

Rackham continues to deny any problems and blames distribution in this email:

I know that all the distributors got their books, in the numbers they ordered. I also know I have no restock order from them on these products. I finally know they don't stock our products, but prefer to order the amounts they got in preorder.

We'd like to be able to give you a better answer, but sadly, the distribution system in the US doesn't give us any control on what the distributors want to order. I have heard many times of one or two of them who voluntarily order lesser quantities than they need on our products, because they don't want to spend too much money at the same time. Then, they split the quantities they have between the customers, and blame it all on us. Sadly, we cannot do anything against that.

Distribution has some choice words for Rackham, but lets say they feel Rackham is being less than truthful.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

XM

I bought the XM Satellite receiver today. It was an Audiovox XMCK-10A. I'm meeting with my electrical contractor tomorrow and I wanted a clearer understanding of what he had to do with this thing to get it working. Apparently not much.


I decided not to get a car kit, realizing that I would never be able to actually take the receiver home because of the new store hours. However, I discovered that they now sell all receivers as car kits. It's the home kit that's the option. So now I've got a car kit I'll probably never use.


Installation was very easy and straightforward. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't have to be too exact in antenna placement. With satellite TV, even an inch or two can make a big difference with dish placement. With the radio antenna, you could be five feet away from a window with the receiver behind a piece of furniture and it works fine. That should make store installation easy.
I also bought my wife a portable DVD player. She'll be spending a lot of time in the hospital over the next couple of months and this should help pass the time. I got a Toshiba SD-P1900SN. It's pretty impressive. The nine inch screen is clear without any jitter like I expect from running DVD's on my laptop. It's got adequate sound, although I bought her some noise cancelling head phones as well. This particular model has two headphone jacks, so we can watch and listen to movies together on trips. At 4-5 hours, the battery life is also impressive.





So how were the electronics stores? If I wasn't concerned about the project timeline, I would have ordered online in disgust. The sales people were MIA at Circuit City and it took two visits to finally figure out what I needed (three if you count the failed attempt at Best Buy). This is the kind of store where there are two guys who know what they're doing and a bunch of young kids running around in confusion, hoping to find those two guys when a customer has a question.

Best Buy had helpful sales people, but a messed up sales floor. They had one of those portable staircases parked in front of the DVD players. I had to climb inside the metal frame of this thing to get to the DVD players. I ended up buying one there anyway, again because I had a deadline of sorts. Another disincentive to buy brick-and-mortar was a $6 California recycling fee because of the flat panel display on the DVD player. That and sales tax and it's hard to justify not buying online. If I believed that $6 was going to recycling efforts, I wouldn't mind.

I could have a whole post about game store owners who lament that their customers buy games online while being the first one to post an Internet link for cheaper sources. I think there's some responsibility for local stores to shop locally. I try to give my store related business to customers if I can. My insurance agent, real-estate broker, bathroom supply guy and electrical contractor are regular customers. I also do a lot of business using referrals from my business partner or other helpful folks. My bank manager turned me on to my payroll people (my business partner turned me on to the bank). I think it's so cool that I know my bank manager. It feels respectable.