Thursday, November 1, 2007

Award Season

No, not the academy awards or emmies, it's the season when various magazines and newspapers announce their top specialty game picks for the year, just in time for the holidays. For the most part, these writers haven't looked at a boardgame since last holiday season. What ends up happening is that the muggles take these sources as the end-all be-all of what's hot in this peculiar world.

Around Thanksgiving time, these annual customers call endlessly looking for games that I've never heard of, often games that can only be bought online from a single-product company unable to be picked up by the trade. Worse, the games recommended, if I've heard of them, are usually inferior to the ones I've got. We're not just talking about mass market schlock like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit (is that even a game?), but obscure specialty titles that inexplicably make it on their list. Maybe they were sent free copies? Lately, pirate games especially tend to be bought for their pretty pieces, with no thought to their game play.

I've got a gift guide handout in the store from a newspaper from 2004 (you should read this). People will often comment how it's a bit out of date, but it's not like Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan have suddenly gone out of style. I work in specialty games because things move a bit slower, although not as slow as some think.

I've found that many of these annual customers are simply shopping off these special magazine lists because they feel safe. They won't take my word for it. Who am I? Some guy who works at a game store? What could I possibly know about games? I'm probably trying to sell them my overstock, right? Then again, I've got customers who send their relatives down with instructions of "Ask Gary, he knows what I like." Somewhere in the middle there should be a solid list of good games.

Some good game gift guides to hand relatives and friends:

And finally, as your game store guy, for the love of god, if you shop at a game store throughout the year, please, please, tell your family and friends to buy your gifts at your game store. This minor point tends to elude some of my younger customers. We offer shopping lists towards the holidays with our address (and a map) so they can hand them directly to their gift giving loved one. We also offer club points for gifts bought in their name.


  1. Perhaps you could publish your own top games list (through some other group.) Then it would reflect the stuff you have in stock.

    If you can get the local papers to pick it up, you might be able to use it to drive biz to your door.

  2. That's not a bad idea at all. Fluff pieces, which is what Christmas shopping lists are, usually start from submitted stuff rather than original reporting.

    Smaller local papers will probably take a list made by you. Larger, more "respectable" ones might only take a list issued by an organization of retailers.

    In either case, your guess that items make a list because the reviewer was given the item is probably pretty accurate. If an article is "original" reporting rather than based on submitted material, then chances are it started with an editor saying "we need a Christmas shopping guide, here's a bunch of junk people have sent us, go through it and pick out the top 10 to list."

    The final way that these lists get generated in this age of Murdoch Media is that an article will get written at one paper and then copied by the rest in the chain. So, a locally produced game only available in the Australian outback ends up getting recommended to shoppers in Wyoming.

  3. Heh, it's a good thing you give them the Morning News list from 2004. The first game on the 2006 list? "Vegas Showdown." At least they say that it's out of print, but why even list an out of print game in a buying guide to begin with?

    Also, the reporting sucks in saying it's "inexplicably" out of print. Basic research would show it's part of the general pullback of Hasbro from the "euro" board game market.

    It does include Thurn & Taxis and Hey, That's My Fish! though, so it's not all bad.

  4. One of my game store gurus also suggested I write review articles. I've been putting it off because I'm so busy, but it's an excellent idea.

    I'll have to make some goals to start going to our board game nights with this in mind, just as soon as I have time....

  5. Or even better, all of you game store owners in the bay area should get together and create one list and submit it to the papers. This way it would be perceived as less of a marketing piece, and more of a trade recommendation. And regardless of the media that picks it up, it would benefit all of you. Split up the effort of writing the reviews and it becomes much easier to have a top 10 list.

  6. All the game store owners in the Bay Area couldn't organize a trip to the bathroom, let alone a writing project.