Friday, February 29, 2008

Temple of Deep Chaos II

Monte asked me to post some photos of the party in action.

Our unusual party consists of:

Emrick. A new noble from the nouveau rich adventuring class. The nobles in Iron Crown are divided between the old nobles, Yan-ki (someday to be githyanki) ruling class and the new nobles, anyone who has enough money to afford nobility. The new nobles act like the emerging merchant class in ancient Japan, with the yan-ki like ancient samurai families.
-->Pennfold. Part of Emrick's entourage of hanger's on. A halfling assistant. What he does I'm not sure.
Vivia. Chaos corrupted faerie, cleric of Zheenkeef*, god/dess of wine and song. After too much exposure to a Pit of Insanity, Vivia developed some strange mutations, including her frog like whip tongue.
Tyranosis. Dabbler in magic, Tyranosis is both an accomplished priest of Tinel*, god of knowledge and a pretty good wizard.
Udorin. Warlock who often frightens as well as helps. His powers are strange and terrifying and come from a realm not of this world. He doesn't just defeat opponents, he tears at their souls and incinerates their bodies.
Ogden. Captain Ogden to you, is a dwarf watch captain appalled at the deaths in the apartment house above. He's here to lend his axe (NPC).

* gods from Book of the Righteous, by Green Ronin

The first courtyard chamber (not shown) found them fighting summoned rats, one or two at a time. They met the aranea and the dwarf cultist casting from his ceiling murder hole, but both got away. At one point they had three combats going on at the same time. Later, Viva flew up and confronted the dwarf, flying through the hole in his ceiling lair. After a short battle, she was ambushed when the arenea joined her. She flew away and was lucky to survive!

In the second courtyard the party was ambushed by two chaos bomb wielding venon thralls from the second floor (not shown). A sniper from the bottom floor window peppered them with deadly arrows. The part took a while to clear out of range, but eventually they stormed the house. The door was locked and without a rogue they were stuck. After getting peppered in the courtyard for a while, the wizard-cleric Tyranosis did some gymnastics with the help of his magic and jumped through the open window, fifteen feet above! It was an incredible act of gymnastics for a man known to be somewhat feeble and prone to uncontrollable trembling. Something is up with Tyranosis.

Once inside the party found two nasty ratlords who weren't giving up without a fight, but they also weren't going to open the door and risk their lives for their human employer. The ratlords argued about whether to open the door or not, while the haughty cultist cleric, Theral Egourd, encouraged them to do their jobs with mild insults about their race and low social status. Theral survived the attack from the upper level by fleeing after a successful parlay. Gavele the tiefling was the one peppering the party with arrows. They were able to strike her with magic through the window to good effect. Once inside, the party watched Theral heal Gavele, but only with a successful touch attack - she didn't trust him! The party had heard Theral killing his own companions in the level above, so perhaps he wasn't the most trustworthy fellow.

The party eventually kills Theral, as the party's warlock, Udorin, sets him on fire in a violent display of pyrotechnics. Theral is shocked and appalled at his own death: "No! This can't be!" he says, as his body is fully incinerated in an instant, after spending the entire battle untouched. Gavele uses her tiefling darkness ability and escapes the house through an open window. She does an end run around the party and prepares the rat brutes (above) to ambush the party as they enter the waterfall chamber.

Udorin is grappled by a ratbrute as he enters the waterfall chamber and is thrown 80 feet down into the watery pit. This was apparently part of his plan, as he was wearing a ring of feather fall. The rest of the party is farther back, looking on in horror.

Leading from the rear, Tyranosis provides much needed monster identification and occasional healing.

Top Seller for February

These were the top items:
  1. Magic the Gathering - Morningtide (lets just lump all Morningtide products here)
  2. Magic the Gathering - Lorwyn - tournament deck
  3. 40K RPG: Dark Heresy
  4. Warhammer Fantasy: Vampire Counts Spearhead
  5. Mana Energy Potion
  6. Citadel Mega Paint Set
  7. Maple Story CCG Booster set 2
  8. Mexican Coca Cola
  9. MTG - Lorwyn - theme deck
  10. MTG - 10th Edition - booster

This shows you why charts can be misleading. A single item, like a Magic release, might top the top item chart, while trading card games only rank third on the top department chart. It gets even more complicated when you look at turn rates. You might have twenty thousand dollars in inventory that only sells through once a year, a poor showing, but might make your top game list.

Since I already did top games earlier, here are the top departments:

  1. Used Games
  2. Tactical Miniature Games
  3. Trading Card Games
  4. Role Playing
  5. Board Games
  6. Paint
  7. Event
  8. Snacks
  9. Toys
  10. Dice
Used games reflect our Dundracon sales. Everything else is pretty standard.

Fantasy Flight FAQ

Fantasy Flight Games published an FAQ that gives some answers on their acquisition of Games Workshop properties. It's worth checking out.

Website Updated

I finally got the website updated. It still had the top game list for August and it hadn't been touched in months. The online store was broken as well. The distributor that managed it sold his business to someone else who then let him go, or something like that. Hooray for the game industry!

Fixing the website was on my list of things to do when my laptop was stolen. I went to install web authoring software on the new laptop, but I couldn't find the media. It's in my garage somewhere, packed away from when we moved the store, which means it's in a giant time capsule until I can get around to finding it. When I asked an IT friend for a copy of Microsoft Frontpage, he gave me a funny look. Apparently I'm a Luddite now as they haven't had a version of Frontpage for five years. In typical Microsoft fashion, they have some new web authoring software with a different name and ten times the complexity. That kind of shenanigans used to keep me employed, now it just annoys me.

A lot has changed with the Internet since I started the business. Back then the website served many functions, but right now it's a glorified pointer to more useful services. It's flat, Internet one-point-oh technology. The forum site has our calendar and discussions and the blog has all the store trivia you could ever want. I've scaled back the website content until I can decide how I'm going to better use it. I used to put a lot of time into a new release section, but I honestly can't afford the time and energy right now, or at least have other things of higher priority. Oh to have a website minion to task with such things.

D&D Experience. Wizards started their D&D experience event this week, featuring 4th edition. Check out Enworld for a plethora of new 4E reports and resources. After reading a bunch of them I've decided I can stop now. If you've been reading Enworld and you've read the two preview books and looked at the rogue post, I think you know enough and you just need to have the rules in your hands. We need crunch.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Fighting Italians

Wizards of the Coast announced a new Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition which adds the Italians as an axis power. I figured Fulminata would want to know. The game also features a larger board, 600 pieces, and cruisers for your naval forces. It's out in October. We'll also see releases for the miniature game, both War at Sea and the standard A&A. Diplomacy and Acquire will also be back this year.

Retailer Jitters. Speaking of the Italians, retailers seem like they're in retreat lately. There are a lot of retailer jitters out there and mainstream retail is contracting (unless you're Wal-Mart). The game store forum is full of economic uncertainty, usually citing macro economic issues. If you run a cookie cutter franchise, you may be in trouble, but specialty retail seems pretty healthy. Distributors report that game store "traffic" is up substantially this week with lots of stores reporting good end of month sales. Black Diamond is having it's second best month to date (after December), with very strong sales, despite somewhat boring new releases. A lot of mainstream retail will disappear because they've got flawed business models, and I expect some specialty retailers on shaky ground will find their new purpose in life.

My business partner, a finance guy, points out that the press makes a living on writing about bad news, and there's no lack of bad economic news. The positive stuff gets ignored by the press and balances out the bad news. We're technically not in a recession, which has very clear technical parameters, and the Fed thinks we'll avoid one:

"...the Fed is still predicting that the economy will narrowly escape a recession, policy makers have sharply cut their forecasts for growth in 2008 to less than 2 percent and expect almost no expansion during the first six months of this year."

The economy is technically not in retreat, although it's looking a little shaky (it's staggered at zero hit points for you D&D 3.5 players). Everyone will get some stimulus in May as their big ass checks arrive form the government. The housing market has a couple more sub-prime mortgage resets that will end by Summer (March and May). We're expecting a record year at the store.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Less Demons, More Sales

Enworld reports that the "official" D&D 4 Player's Handbook cover is on the WOTC website. What made this interesting was that distributors shared their concern with WOTC about their original, demon-heavy cover artwork and WOTC changed it to the new one. Maybe it's just me, but I prefer the sexy cover.

New Cover

Original Cover

Overstock Sale

Terrain and Trains (Thomas) are 40% off through March 4th. On-sale terrain includes Behemoth, War Torn Worlds and Miniature Building Authority.

Ebay is where you'll find a bunch of overstock starting at around 50% off. This includes Warmachine/Hordes, AT-43, Confrontation, and a few nifty items, like the Blood Bowl box set. If you win on eBay, you can pick up the items at the store and avoid shipping. Keep checking back, as there will be a lot more in the coming week.

Mongoosed No More

Mongoose Publishing has dropped their in-house printing scheme, citing poor production quality. They'll be outsourcing their printing from now on, with many books being converted to soft cover. The only book I've got pre-ordered from them is the new Traveller and I'm wondering if this will be printed in house or if it's done outside of Mongoose. I've asked in their Traveller forum.

For the past ten months, Mongoose Publishing has been developing its own printing facility in order to take advantage of digital printing systems. Unfortunately, various problems in the system have resulted in too many books that were of below acceptable quality. While it was an ambitious endeavour, it has regrettably proved unworkable.

As of last week, Mongoose Publishing has switched production of all books to established printers based in the United States. This means that all books now ordered from Mongoose Publishing will be of the highest quality possible. We wish to apologise to all of our customers for any inconvenience caused over the past few months, and wish to assure you that our previous levels of quality should be expected at all times. Our guarantee to freely replace any faulty book remains in place.

Many of our original hardback titles have been converted to softback titles, with a corresponding drop in the cover price. The first of these titles is Magic of the Young Kingdoms, of which we have just taken delivery. It is in stock in both the UK and US right now, and is a good example of the new printing.

Other titles, such as the Bestiary of the Hyborian Age, currently being printed and expected for release in March, will remain as hardbacks.

Once again, our apologies for the disruption of the past few months, but both our printing and distribution systems have returned to their previous efficient states.


Speaking of inflation, I noticed that every single car in the parking lot for the weight watchers meeting next store is an SUV. These folks would not be considered medium sized creatures in my D&D game, so I understand the need for their giant land mobiles. So I'm just thinking, the cost of gas AND the cost of food must be an excellent marketing opportunity for companies like Weight Watchers to encourage people to thin down. "Is your giant car and your giant food bill driving you to bankruptcy? Boy do we have a giant dealfor you." This is why companies put me in operations and encourage me not to mingle. ;)

Vallejo paint pricing is now in flux. The importer sent me an email this morning saying their increased costs weren't going to be as bad as they thought. This means the distributor and myself will need to re-adjust prices (them first). Much swearing like sailors all around. I just spend an hour doing this yesterday.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Price of Paint

Price Increases: Several publishers and manufacturers have announced price increases lately, but none has me more concerned than Vallejo. My main distributor uses an importer that gets Vallejo products from the company in Spain. The dollar de-valuation has made anything from Europe much more expensive. Vallejo paints are no exception, and it looks like they'll be going up to $4/bottle from $3.29. They may be good, but they're not that good. Vallejo paints are already slow in the store, with Citadel paints dominating sales. I probably sell five times more Citadel than Vallejo and being 25% more expensive won't help Vallejo catch up.

I may need to drop some Vallejo lines, especially Game Color, which was designed to emulate Citadel colors. Right now I'm letting my Vallejo stock dwindle down to a bottle of each color (Citadel is never allowed below 3!). I'll be talking with my Game Color customers and asking their opinions.


February has turned into a monster month for us, with sales only second to December (our best month ever). It just about fixed problems from a disappointing January. Retail is like this and there's often very little "cause and effect" that's noticeable. You do a lot of good things, some big and some small and eventually the effort comes back to you. Maybe they don't come back to you right away, but eventually they do. People will come in and say they saw you on a TV station you haven't advertised on for over a year. Perhaps they found a flyer you sent out six months ago. There's the untraceable word of mouth that can raise or sink a small business. Good things are hard to quantify and they take a lot of faith and excellent planning.

Bad things are immediate and devastating. Bad word of mouth travels very fast, as do store odors, news of rude employees or chronic stock shortages. I think the bar for retail stores is set at the level of "very good." If you dip below "very good," you suffer almost immediately, as opposed to the pre-Internet days where you could get away with a lot of bad behavior because you were the only show in town, like the comic book guy from The Simpsons. So at our store I strive for "excellent", and often have to be satisfied with very good. Meanwhile we work on ways to improve processes, especially consistency.

This weekend I noticed that I stopped taking my toddler to my favorite restaurants. My favorites tend to be local mom and pop restaurants. The food is often fantastic and the employees seem to enjoy their jobs. I stopped going there because my son is a big exception in their processes. A two year old needs a high chair and some special treatment. The problem with independent restaurants (and small business in general) is they often can't offer consistency in their service. Consistency means that you never drop a 200 degree plate of food in front of a toddler. You don't avoid doing this most of the time or ninety percent of the time, you never do it because you have training and a process. The same can be true with things like high chair availability or silverware. I love my local mom and pop restaurant but I've seen them put a knife in front of my kid, or big glasses of water that are likely to be knocked over. Now I understand why my parents always took us to Denny's. The food might be bad but the service is consistent. Even consistently average is better than good most of the time.

Our big issue with consistency are the toddler like issues, the exception to the process. Special orders, for example, are an exception. We have a process but we don't always follow them. The biggest violator of the process is me, actually, as I'm used to being there all the time, while now I'm working only some of the time. My employees rightfully scold me. With multiple employees, even small things can get messed up without a process. Not having an in-box can get mail lost or leave invoices unpaid. Any of my wheeling and dealing can get me into trouble if I don't tell every employee individualized special offers. When a store lacks consistency of service, people will go elsewhere, just to feel good about their shopping experience.

I read a business book recently in which the author talked about his experience with a barber. He went to this barber and the barber offered him a cup of coffee. He was happy to get a cup of coffee and his haircut was excellent. The next time he went he was offered a glass of wine. He didn't want a glass of wine, but his haircut was excellent. The third time he went for a haircut, he wasn't offered anything, and the haircut was excellent. After that he stopped going to the barber. The haircut was always great, but the inconsistency of service was maddening. That's a major issue for small businesses. That's also my biggest fear - that I could offer exceptional service as my core competency but be lacking in something I'm unaware of.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

D&D 4 Rogue Preview

This is the first bit of "crunch" we've seen for D&D4. It was posted in the online version of Dragon by WOTC designer Bill Slavicsek. There's a more extensive writeup in (on?) Dragon.

"You look surprised to see me. If you’d been paying attention, you might still be alive."

Role: Striker. You dart in to attack, do massive damage, and then retreat to safety. You do best when teamed with a defender to flank enemies.
Power Source: Martial. Your talents depend on extensive training and constant practice, innate skill, and natural coordination.
Key Abilities: Dexterity, Strength, Charisma

Armor Training: Leather
Weapon Proficiencies: Dagger, hand crossbow, shuriken, sling, short sword
Bonus to Defense: +2 Reflex

Hit Points at 1st Level: 12 + Constitution score
Hit Points per Level Gained: 5
Healing Surges: 6 + Constitution modifier

Trained Skills: Stealth and Thievery plus four others. From the class skills list below, choose four more trained skills at 1st level.
Class Skills: Acrobatics (Dexterity), Athletics (Str), Bluff (Cha), Dungeoneering (Wis), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Perception (Wis), Stealth (Dexterity), Streetwise (Cha), Thievery (Dexterity)

Build Options: Brawny rogue, trickster rogue
Class Features: First Strike, Rogue Tactics, Rogue Weapon Talent, Sneak Attack

This says a lot. The first thing that struck me were the hit points. First level characters are clearly built to be more resilient, which should help low level play. I decided in 3E that 1st level character play is no fun and all my future games would start higher. 4E appears to solve that. There's also a set hit point progression per level rather than rolling a die. This is better for organized play and it also takes out one of the stupider dice rolls in the game. Yes, rolling for your hit points is tradition, but it's a bad tradition, the RPG equivalent of female circumcision. I already allow my group to choose the average hit points rounded up rather than potentially nerfing their character with a poor hit point roll.

Weapon and armor proficiencies are greatly reduced, down from entire categories of available gear. It reminds me of previous editions. We'll see some additional proficiencies based on race and possibly some defaults. I think their goal is to create more iconic characters by limiting choice. We'll no longer see a rogue doing a sneak attack with his trusty quarterstaff (sorry Anders).

Skills reflect a lot of consolidation. Acrobatics includes the infamous tumble, along with often ignored balance and related skills. Stealth does the same. The key here is you no longer have to micromanage whether you want to choose between such things as Hide and Move Silently. You also don't have to choose between such iconic skill packages, all rogues get Acrobatics and Stealth, with the options mostly being in the flavor skills.

This adds flavor without nerfing the rogue. In the past, if you wanted a charismatic rogue, you often had to do without a core function, like Stealth or Acrobatics. "I'm sorry I can't scout ahead for you," says the social rogue, "I'm not that kind of rogue." The new skill method seems to establish a baseline character, rather than the open toolbox of previous editions. Some people will like it, others will feel "railroaded" in their choices. DM's can breath a sigh of relief, knowing that all rogues will be able to handle certain challenges.

This also goes back to the 4.0 design philosophy that no longer gives rogues a buttload of skill points in exchange for combat prowess. They get combat prowess equal to everyone elses (in their own way) and a normal selection of skills.

Here's the Enworld discussion link for this.

My answer to players who want a more diverse rogue: multiclass.

The Puppet and the Ball

Normally my family is off limits in my blog, but lately I've been fascinated watching my son develop. He's almost three now and last week he went from a happy-go-lucky, internally focused toddler to a child of imagination. Overnight, it seems, he began pretending. It's not that amazing, just pretending to be a cat mostly. With pretend came an overnight fear of things scary. Scary movies are now a concern, where before he would happily watch all the junk I watched, much to my wifes annoyance. Now he tells me something is a bad movie when the action kicks in. He's probably right too. His desire to understand pretend things has also intensified, along with a fascination with numbers, which hold power in his mind, especially time and money.

With imagination came defiance. Telling him "no" was no longer the end of an argument. It was now followed by pouting, crying, or something that I stopped cold when I saw it today, throwing things at people. This started at the same time as the imagination kick, and it was quite a shock to have to think about discipline after three years of obedience. I thought I was off the hook with this kid! I'm no child psychologist, but I think opening up imagination allowed him to envision other outcomes and how he can change them, albeit with few social skills to pull it off (thus frustration). I can't help thinking about the word innocence. I child pre-imagination is certainly in an innocent period. He does what he's told and is fairly self-focused, away from the cares of the world. He has no ambitions, no desire to be what he isn't.

The next stage I'm guessing is something I saw recently on the PBS series Evolution. Empathy is something children don't have until around the age of four. It's best described as being able to understand what others are thinking or feeling. Most animals don't have this and it makes humans special, which was the point of having it in an evolution series. The example given was an experiment involving a puppet and a ball. The psychologist shows the child the hand puppet with the ball as the puppet puts the ball under a little cloth. Then the psychologist, with the child watching, moves the ball from under the cloth into a nearby box. The psychologist then asks the child, when the puppet returns, where will the puppet look for the ball? All children under four say the puppet will look for the ball in the box, where the psychologist just moved it, as they have no way to relate to what the puppet is thinking or feeling. Children older have no problem with this little creative exercise, imagining themselves in the place of the puppet. The five year old in the show seemed to have a little light bulb go off in his head. He had a knowing look that said, "Ah! You want me to use that part of my brain now."

As someone who enjoys fantasy and the imagination, it was really interesting to be able to point to a child and say, "There! That's when it began for him." Of course, part of this train of development is deceit and the loss of innocence, so for every development there's some sadness in losing the child that was there before. Also, like evolution, there's a lot of developmental stuff going on "under the hood" that makes it look like I'm seeing a quick breakthrough, whereas it's really an external sign of a long term development.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Inventory Control

Some people are curious about the inner workings of retail. I know I am. The big picture strategy for Black Diamond Games 2.0 was about game space and diversification. Game space was a given, and I talked about that early on. Our game center model was primarily a store like Great Escape Games in Sacramento, with its open gaming and long hours. When it came to retail, the goal was diversification, primarily toys and comics. The concept (which I now don't agree with) was that the game industry was too fragile and seasonal to put all our eggs in one basket. That was before the toy industry tanked.

We tried comics during the summer of 2007 as a new store experiment. We learned early that it is a brutal, monopolistic, insider business that is not friendly to dabblers. You either know exactly what you're doing or you're dead in the water. We backed away from our promise of comics almost as soon as we announced our intent. It was that obvious. What has worked, to our surprise, was a focus on a set number of top trade paperbacks, about 125 books. Trade paperbacks are comic book compilations. If you're a comics customer, you won't be satisfied with this, because you'll never see anything new. For less serious customers, we steadily sell these "best of" comics products with regular re-stocks.

Unfortunately, we're stuck getting beyond this point because of our lack of comics expertise. Also, the margins in comics are actually punitive if you don't ramp up quickly, and we didn't. They give you a great promotional margin to begin and if you don't start placing serious orders the discount shrinks. A good number of comics have margins as low as 30% when you count shipping; totally unacceptable if it wasn't for the others with a 55% margin that make up for them. Comics are in a holding pattern of sorts, too good to drop, not good enough to expand. That's an uncomfortable place to be, honestly, when you're trying to be the best at something, and that's the problem in a nutshell with diversification.

Toys are a mixed bag. About 80% of the Melissa & Doug stuff works well for us, while we're trying hard to swap out the other 20%. Thomas has been a disaster, with many toy recalls and a poor toy season over the holidays. Our toy department is funny. It has worked like a store within a store. Unfortunately, it works like a first year store and not a fourth year store, like the game departments. It's a quarter of the store with 10% of sales. This means we'll have to put in our dues until we build up a toy clientèle. We're willing to do that, but with a lot of toy debt, we're quickly liquidating a lot of it, preferably to other retail stores, but right now focused on eBay. We're reducing store inventory by about 10%. Some of that will be games, in the usual ebb and flow of sales, but we're actively trying to blow out toys for the most part.

I just hit a certain point where I decided we weren't going further into debt, and that meant selling off inventory assets. It was initially a scary and painful decision. It felt like death, like the infamous inventory death spiral where you sell off too much and can't bring up your sales to cover expenses, so you sell off more to pay your bills, the cycle continuing until you're standing in an empty store with no money. However, with lots of control and a plan, it has turned out to be a very useful tool, one which I'll likely employ on a seasonal basis. It has worked out because after a lot of thought I realized we had just too much inventory. How did this happen? Game space is new to us, and we were unclear on how exactly it supercharged sales, but it did. So our existing inventory is performing much better than ever before and a lot of the additional inventory, especially the diversification, just wasn't necessary.

If you're a regular customer, what you'll notice is a lot of the depth of product has disappeared. There's not a lot of extra copies of things, which is actually normal for the season. Normally I would allow the overstock to sell itself down slowly over the next six months or so. In this case we've liquidated it at conventions and our auction. Games Workshop is the exception. It's a game we're actively building up because of it's tremendous growth and popularity. The brunt of our inventory reduction is toys, especially Thomas. By the dust gathering in the toy department, my guess is that most customers won't notice the reduction. One of the big problems with toys is that we're often required to buy in depth, so if I liquidate five boxes of a Thomas item and leave number six on the shelf, have I really changed much in the shopping experience?

Other embarrassing topics I could write posts about:
  • What Isn't Nailed Down. How running a 1,000 square foot store left me completely unprepared to handle security and loss control in a 3,300 square foot store.
  • Cash Flow. The numbers are huge compared to the last store. It can be baffling how I can have $30,000 sitting in the bank account but not have enough to pay the bills. Stores that don't give me favorable terms aren't even getting my business anymore. Cash flow is king, as my business partner once told me.
  • Impersonal. How I need to find a way to connect with my customers again. People walking into a 3,300 square foot store don't feel the need to acknowledge your existence, let alone have a conversation with you. It's a mini Target rather than a mom & pop. It has an effect on things like security and hand selling. If you can't hand sell some games, they almost never get bought, despite being great games. That requires re-thinking how you sell things.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Top Games (30 Days)

I haven't posted one of these for a while:
  1. Warhammer 40K
  2. Magic: The Gathering
  3. Warhammer 40K RPG
  4. Dungeons & Dragons (WOTC)
  5. Warmachine
  6. Rio Grande (board games)
  7. Mayfair Games (board games)
  8. AT-43
  9. Warhammer Fantasy Battles
  10. Naruto
Magic outsells 40K in gross sales, but 40K is more profitable. Blame it on discount boxes. The Warhammer 40K RPG is Dark Heresy, which is currently sold out. Warmachine continues to languish, while AT-43 becomes more popular. Naruto would be climbing the chart if there was enough supply of product.

Dark Heresy Has a Home!

This just in. Fantasy Flight Games will take over the Black Industries game properties. Snarky comments about Fantasy Flight to follow.

FFG will take over the production of Talisman, and plan to produce a new printing and expansions for the 4th edition of this ever-popular classic board game. Further, FFG will continue production and new-product support for the Universal Fighting System CCG, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay RPG, and the new smash-hit Dark Heresy RPG. More details on FFG’s publication plans for these titles will be provided in the weeks to come.

! In other news, the Point-of-Sale software crashed today. It's registry related, so file replacements have failed, both with my server backup and Carbonite. The newly installed Ghost software with external drive would be happy to restore the system, provided I had a CD drive instead of a useless floppy drive. Re-installation, ala consultant, is what will happen today, which is probably safer than testing Ghost, although much more expensive. This software tends to eat itself about once a year, so it's not entirely unexpected. We're in "convention mode" until it's back up, writing paper tickets and using the credit card knuckle buster.

Creaky Distributors

I thought it was the time of year at first. My various smaller distributors were out of core product. Then the problems persisted, for weeks. Entire product lines were out-of-stock and still are. From what I've heard, many game distributors are on the ropes, especially East Coast ones, due to the economy in the northeast and poor weather. The national distributors are more diversified and aren't feeling as much pain, but there is pain. This is not the national economy effecting the game industry, or a possible recession. I still think this industry is somewhat immune to that, provided people still have jobs. I'm told the problems are caused by creaky regional, rust-belt economies pulling down regional suppliers. We should expect distributor closures and more consolidation soon, I'm told.

Everything should work out fine as long as the manufacturers don't get spooked and stop pumping product into the system. The "doomsday scenario" is a collapse of the distribution system, but even that wouldn't be the end of the world. The most likely scenario would be a a comic industry like centralization of power between one or two major distributors. We even know their names. Many publishers and manufacturers have been working to set up direct accounts with retailers for several years now, and savvy retailers have learned to take advantage of this. It's inconvenient right now, but if problems persist, it may be the only way to get product.

Politics (reality check)

A good editorial in the Washington Post about what people would say about Obama if he just lost 11 straight contests in a row with no end in sight. My favorite quote:

And while we're on the subject of message, what genius decided it was a great idea to demonize hope?
Besides Bill Clinton intervening, this tactic sickened me the most. You can attack the messenger, a poor, fallacious strategy at best, but railing against truth is cynical and unseemly. The Clinton campaign seemed lazy, convinced of their inevitability.

The article is meant to be a wake up call, since the press seems convinced Clinton can pull off a victory. It's over for her unless they find a corpse in Obama's closet or something.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More Price Increases

It's almost as if the government acknowledgment of inflation has let loose the flood gates. Days of Wonder just raised prices on many of their games, some by 20%. I think this will finish some of these titles, as they're just not good enough for such high price points. They write:

While we have resisted raising prices over the past few years, fast-rising fuel and raw material costs, combined with a weakening dollar, have led to significant increases in our production and shipment costs for games. These issues have finally reached a point where we can no longer ignore them. We have made the decision to offset these costs by increasing the MSRP on a number of Days of Wonder titles. Below are the products that are changing, along with their new MSRP.

Mystery of the Abbey

Pirate's Cove

Shadows over Camelot



Ticket to Ride (almost forgot this one)

I'm also getting news that Vallejo paint prices are going up by about 10%, based entirely on currency adjustments. Paint bottles have risen from $3 to $3.29 to probably $3.59 soon, all over the past three years. Vallejo is from Spain, while Citadel standard paints are made in the UK, with foundation paints made in China (Shanghai).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Star Wars Stamps

Mmm, so pretty. The post office had Yoda stamps for a while, and those were cool, but the new Star Wars collectors stamps are awesome. Not only do they have a variety of characters, but the stamp sizes are often unusual. The C3PO stamp is nearly three inches tall. What's also cool is that the print on them is a subtle gold, which you can barely see. They don't look like stamps and that is cool too. I'm not a collector, I just use them for office mail.

Each envelope gets a stamp based on the receiver. My evil credit card companies get all the empire figures, while those I feel help me in my business get the rebels, especially Jedi. C3PO goes to the most annoying receiver in the batch, despite being such a big (and thus cool) stamp. Boba Fett is the hard one. He's a bad guy technically, but he's a cool bad guy. I'm not about to waste him on the phone company. Maybe Games Workshop?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Temple of Deep Chaos

SPOILER WARNING: My players shouldn't read this, nor should you read this if you're planning to play in Monte Cook's Ptolus.

By this time, the party is 6th level, right at the cusp of 7th. They're exploring a temple of chaos, run by what appears to be a group of various chaos cultists who work together, but often kill each other in the process. They are chaos cultists after all. It's this internal treachery that often gives the party the edge they need. The cultists have killed or enslaved an entire apartment complex of folks, and have now escaped below the sewers into their lair. Worse, there's big evil afoot, with the cultists attempting to bring about The Night of Dissolution, your usual doomsday scenario. If that's not enough, an army of barbarians is on their way to sack the city. Their leader (a past player character) is missing. Could she be one of the many cultist kidnap victims?

I bought Dwarven Forge before I owned the store. It was a pretty big investment, probably a few thousand dollars, but D&D was my only hobby. Even now there are sets of Dwarven Forge I lust after, but alas, they're too expensive and they no longer sell through stores, so no special discount. I also have enough Miniature Building Authority for a couple urban blocks, or a full 4x9 table. The amount and ratio of Dwarven Forge I purchased was based on the biggest map in Monte Cook's Banewarrens, still the best adventure I've ever ran. This initial setup was just about enough to complete the entire Temple of Deep Chaos, all but one room. As the adventure will take at least three sessions, I'll be able to take apart the entrance room and use the pieces for this final room.

Table One: The big feature are sunken city buildings from an ancient past. They meld into the dungeon landscape, lairs for the cultists and more sinister creatures.

The party begins by coming down these stairs. Before them is an ancient courtyard with dried up fountains and a stone tower, rising up into the stone ceiling. A dead cultist lies in front of the fountain, a victim of infighting.

This second courtyard will likely be a large, set-piece battle.

Ratbrutes lair in this waterfall room, likely to throw pesky adventurers down into the water while they handle their squishy companions.

Another excavated building inhabited by cultists

The second story of that same building opens onto a higher dungeon level

Chaos Temple with statue of doom. Who would be foolish enough to touch it and unleash the chaos? We've got a new player this week

Table 2, with my assistant. Rocco knows not to mess up the room structure, but he enjoys opening and closing doors, moving furniture and statues around and placing torches in sconces. When my wife pulled him away from this the other night, he protested, "No! I'm making!"

Sacrifice Chamber. Punish your enemies by sacrificing your valuables. Unfortunately the instructions aren't included, so mostly it's about your valuables going away.

"Broken!" The giant chasm in this chamber is the lair of two demons

Secret Door. This isn't connected to where it really goes, otherwise the players metagame and assume there's a secret door, even if their characters can't find it. Better to separate the two pieces.

I could spend a day just building out this chamber. Imagine a crystal cavern of reflective surfaces with a floating platform in the middle with a naked woman who appears to be on fire. Below her are chained sacrificial captives, hanging from the platform, along with a giant bell. We'll settle for black construction paper for now. If I was rich, I would hire someone to build this chamber for me.

What you don't see:
  • Towels. All of this will be covered with many towels, one towel per room. This allows me to remove a towel without revealing too much.
  • Furnishings. I haven't put in the various furniture and accessories. I might not, but I do have a big collection of beds, chests, and the like.
  • Characters and Monsters. The miniatures get damaged if I put them in ahead of time. It's best to put them in when the time comes.

Review: GM Gems

GM Gems is from Goodman Games. It contains 64 pages of adventure hooks, random charts, and miscellaneous stuff designed to stimulate the game master's imagination for $15.99. It claims to be system neutral, but it's clearly aimed at Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, complete with challenge ratings and other stats.

In some ways GM Gems is similar to the much larger book "Toolbox" by AEG. Where GM Gems excels is in its format of a readable description of a place or event followed by details and adventure hooks. It's exactly the kind of stuff that I look for when thumbing through books for ideas. How can I steal this hook?

One adventure hook example was a local legend about a little boy who drowned and now when it rains the pond in which he died bleeds red. It turns out to be an angry nixie with the blood coming from soil deposits. These are the kinds of quick hooks that an experienced game master can parley into a night of adventure. Good stuff.

The book does have it's share of meaningless charts, such as the not so great "Memorable Inns" naming system, but it makes up for it with many more interesting charts, like the "Memorable NPC Frills." Using our address as a random number generator: 1950 gets us:

19: Flesh eating beatles crawl beneath her skin. She calls them her "pets" and orders ales for them at inns.

50: Long braided hair woven with golden thread and gilded leaves

That's just fun stuff! As quirky as it may be, players appreciate interesting hooks and people.

The table of contents includes:
  • Alchemical Mishaps
  • Empty Rooms Worth Describing
  • Extraordinary Campsites
  • Familiar Creatures with Unfamiliar Faces
  • Short Encounters for Short Attention Spans
  • Unique Taverns and Inns
  • Unusual Holidays
  • 100 Unique Treasures
There's a free preview here.

Retail Groundhog Day

Each February the store experiences fantastic sales over Presidents Day weekend, both at Dundracon and at the store. Christmas wasn't that far away, and I need to remind myself that it's retail Groundhog Day. Customers come out to buy stuff, but they inevitably return home, most not to return for a couple more months. Good sales; long shadow.

I'll have some photos tonight of my Dwarven Forge set up. It's from the Night of Dissolution adventure by Monte Cook, one of the Ptolus accessories. It takes up both tables at home and all my DF corner and floor pieces. I'm one room short of pieces, but it should take my group several weeks to complete the adventure, giving me time to steal pieces from completed sections as we go.

Oh yeah, and I got a credit card company to waive their stupid fees today, so yeah for me! I used one of their low interest checks which incurred a fee, which went over my limit, which resulted in another fee, and me bitching and moaning to get it reversed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Selling Short

The latest CCG trend is to under-print cards, which I'm guessing is an attempt to create the illusion of incredible demand. Upper Deck just did this with their latest Yu-Gi-Oh release, with big announcements of how their set sold out. But wait! There's a special edition set of the same cards coming out soon. The World of Warcraft CCG, also an Upper Deck product has done the same, under-printed cards creating artificial demand, often with an increased price point. Bandai has been doing this for two years now, with their last two sets of Naruto sold out, the last set not even fulfilling distributor pre-orders.

I understand that there could be some hype and excitement, as well as high perceived value in the "secondary market" for under printed singles, but what these publishers don't understand is their games hang on by a thread. That thread is organized play and in-store tournaments. How exactly do they expect me to host an event for their game without any cards? They key now is to educate our customers as to the nature of the shortage, but inevitably, someone online has a stockpile they're willing to sell them. Unfortunately, these games aren't popular enough for us to stockpile, and in the case of Bandai with Naruto, they under-delivered anyway. For now we're stuck with a big tournament turnout with no card sales.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I stopped by Dundracon for an hour or two today, mostly to see what was up and pick up receipts from our dealer tables. I'm taking a break from conventions and trade shows this year, sending employees in my place. Everything seemed much like it was last year, with attendance high and the sales nearly identical. The last several conventions I've gone to have seen RPG sales down to nothing so it was nice to see role playing games still have value to Dundracon attendees.

I heard that many of the large game companies are reigning themselves in this year, skipping regional conventions like KublaCon. Some have fallen by the wayside since last year, like Tablestar Games in Berkeley. Mongoose was on-fire last year at Kublacon with their Battlefield Evolution game, which has been canceled since, along with the Babylon 5 miniature game that was canceled last month. May is also the eve of D&D 4th edition, so many RPG companies won't be attending as well. If we were playing Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, 2008 would be your "dead level" if you were an RPG publisher. Soldier on until you get your cool feat in 2009.

We're also waiting to hear a big Hero Games announcement, likely to be a Hero Online MMORPG and something else, like a 6th edition. Hero Games is just about dead in our store, with a copy or two of each new book sold before we stop re-ordering (like RIFTS). I'm not sure a new edition will breath life into it for us, but it can't hurt.

Our next convention is Conquest Sacramento, March 28-30th. I'll be sending Michael to that one too.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gencon Bankrupty

Gencon filed for bankruptcy yesterday, reporting that:

This action became necessary as a result of significant unforeseen expenses associated with attempts to expand its core business to encompass externally licensed events.

This came after Tuesdays announcement that they were being sued by Lucasfilm.

Last month Lucasfilm Ltd. filed suit against Gen Con LLC in the U.S. District Court for Northern California alleging that Gen Con failed to uphold its legal obligations in terms of financial reporting, accounting and payments to Lucasfilm stemming from the Lucasfilm sanctioned Star Wars IV Celebration event, which was held in Los Angeles in May of 2007.
It's not supposed to effect the GenCon Indy event this year:

Gen Con Indy, remains a vibrant, profitable event. Gen Con Indy will take place as scheduled August 14–17, 2008, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Warmachine 40K

Us game store owners compare notes sometimes. If it's in an online forum, it usually devolves into posturing and flaming, while the best venue seems to be in a bar. If you ever want to learn about what really happens in this industry, forget a comprehensive business plan (well, do that too), just find out who to drink with at the Gama Trade Show. Money well spent.

Anyway, in a spasm of productive comparisons, we we're looking at why there was so much enthusiasm for Warmachine while Warhammer 40K sales were so tremendously better. There were various factors that each of us had that didn't correlate with the others, such as my observation that the 40K player base was much wider, comprising a lot of kids with constant allowances. Some people were getting lots of kids into Warmachine, so that didn't correlate. What we agreed on as the common factor was that Games Workshop encourages customers to expand their army and engage in a hobby, while Privateer Press encourages customers to improve their army and play a game.

Take my Warhammer Fantasy Ogre Kingdoms army, for example. In other games, there might be an optimal way to play your selected warband. Perhaps lots of big ogres charging is the best way. In Warhammer Fantasy, there are many good army builds. There's an army build that's good against undead, one that's good against flyers or shooters, and any of these builds can be yours, for the low, low, price of yet another box or two of plastic figures. In my case, I have a completely painted ogre army, yet I still drool over the various options I have yet to explore. I wonder if the scraplauncher really as as difficult as they say to put together. I wonder if I could find someone to paint a horde of pesky gnoblars for me for store credit.

Warmachine, on the other hand, has more set army lists. They come out with improved version of characters, epics, and the like, rather than lots of add ons and options. You're often not expanding your army as much as you are replacing and upgrading your army. This tends to really piss off those who cut their teeth on Warhammer. Why did I bother painting (let alone purchase) Sorscha when there's now an epic left-handed Sorscha? Warmachine also portrays itself more as a game than a hobby. All stores report silverfish, unpainted models, at Warmachine events. There is no incentive in game terms to paint, while Games Workshop official tournaments award prizes and points for painting. You'll see many partially painted armies at GW in-store events, but it's often practice for the real events, and you'll see those armies painted over time as the event draws near. So with Warmachine, you essentially have a game that might as well be a pre-painted plastic game, rather than paintable miniatures.


Rio Grande Games just increased their prices on around 40 games. Other than the Games Workshop annual 4th of July "Screw America" price increase, I haven't seen a manufacturer do this before. As I mention all the time, they tend to lower retailer magins instead. As strange as it sounds, I applaud a manufacturer that looks at its costs and decided the end price has to increase, rather than squeezing their sales channels.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

D&D 4 Pre-Order Sweepstakes

I'm working on a pre-order program for the D&D 4.0 core rules gift set. The program has been designed by another store owner, but basically you put down a non-refundable deposit for the gift set and you get the chance to win the remaining D&D 4 books for the rest of 2008. Normally I wouldn't do this, but there are people coming in looking for the books now, four months early, so I know customers will want to plant their flag with a pre-order somewhere. Better with me than some online store.

The list of free books would include:
  • DM's Screen
  • Magic Item Compendium I
  • Adventure H3: Pyramid of Shadows
  • Adventure P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens
  • Martial Power: D&D Rules Expansion
That's through October, and I don't think we know the schedule beyond that, thus the need to work out the details.

Classless D&D:
A quote from Mike Mearles about running D&D without classes, something possible because of how the classes and powers are balanced:

Since many of the elements of character progression are unified, you could run classless D&D by allowing players to select maneuvers and spells from any class they want, mingling the two together, or start everyone with access to all heroic abilities and grant access to divine and arcane via feats.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I hate to be greedy about the government stimulus plan. From what I know about economics, it won't do much at the "macro," big picture level other than deepen the deficit. In a best case scenario, consumers get a check, with money borrowed from the Chinese, to buy products made in China. Whose economy are we stimulating again? Yet, as a store owner, and a merchant of plenty of Chinese made products, there's something about knowing the government is handing out $600 checks to my customers (they fit the demographic) that makes me stand up and wonder how I can get some of that. I'm sure other businesses are thinking the same thing, it would be borderline negligent not to.

I have my doubts about how it will be spent. Personally, if you handed me a check for $600-900, the amount I'll probably be getting, I would pay off debts. That's what's best for me and my family and that's everyone's first responsibility. Although the money is intended to stimulate the economy, if it's in the form of a check, I see it as a bank shore-up plan.

I actually find myself agreeing with Glenn Beck, who believes the best way to stimulate the economy in this fashion. if you have to do it, although you shouldn't, is not to send a check, but to send debit cards. Hurricane Katrina victims got debit cards and although they were mostly used for food and shelter, many bought jewelry and more luxurious items, like breast implants. It was embarrassing to the government as a disaster relief plan, but it was an excellent proof of concept for economic stimulus. You want high margin sales, like, uh, games, yeah.

I was walking through the game center over the weekend while customers were talking about the plan and just threw out the idea, "Yeah, and 10% off if you write your check over directly to the store." It was just an idea, and although there were some shocked looks, there were cheers as well.

As a business person but also a thoughtful human being, my ideal situation is that all my customers have good jobs, maxed out 401K plans, and that they have a healthy entertainment budget, most of which is spent at my store. I want to compete for as much of that slice of entertainment budget pie as I can get. It's this vision that allows me to sleep at night and not feel like I'm taking advantage of people. The reality is that many are living on credit, don't budget, are semi-employed at best, and .... those are my best customers. So if I had to send them a message, it would be do what's best for you, but consider your friendly local game store if you've got some extra money.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Information Technocracy

Windows Vista was the only option for my new laptop. Just an update to let you know that it's a Jekyll and Hyde experience. It runs beautifully most of the time. It automatically discovers and connects to available wireless networks without as much as a dialog box. I love that! It never shuts down, it just hibernates between locations. However, every once in a while, it misbehaves in a heart stopping fashion. Last week it suddenly decided that it didn't know what a spreadsheet was and when I tried to open Microsoft Excel directly, it agreed that installing Excel was a good idea if I would just insert the disc. Yikes! A reboot (to the head) made that problem go away.

Third party programs work fine, but updates often fail, usually with fruitless attempts to find the software that it's trying to update. The updaters know the software is there, just not exactly where. This has been a problem with Adobe and Apple products. It also has a tendency to have self-induced cascading problems that self heal themselves while I'm gone. In other words, the system does something idiotic on it's own, gets screwed up, fixes itself, and lets me know how proud it is that it's such a good problem solver. So when Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo last week, the host of my email and website, I was doing the mental calculations of what was involved in moving my site and email to Google.

The POS machine had trouble today as well. The network cable went bad. Yes, you heard correctly, a bad cable! In ten years of working in IT, I think I've encountered this maybe once before, and it may have involved an animal. I've got all the parts I need to get the external backup drive working, but the new USB2 card isn't working. That's my project for tomorrow morning. Once everything is working, I should have a push button "Ghost" system for backups.

So to refresh what people stopped asking me after a couple years in business: No, I don't miss the IT work, but yes, I do miss the money.

Boxed In

eBay. I've been scrambling for days now trying to come up with enough boxes for my eBay sales. We're actually sending more stuff out than we're taking in. It's silly, but I'm placing orders more frequently, just hitting the free freight limit, just to get extra boxes.

My D&D group met last night after a six month break while I opened the new store. It was nice getting the old group back together. I was worried that running 3.5 would be troublesome after getting excited about 4.0. It turned out fine, although I did notice how incredibly complex running 3.5 NPC's was, compared to the streamlining 4.0 will supposedly have. Then again, I haven't actually seen the 4.0 format, so maybe it's not much better. We're about three quarters of the way through Night of Dissolution, part of the Ptolus campaign. One thing for certain, everyone is tired of ratmen.

The big news in games is the announcement of the World of Warcraft miniature game coming in the fall. It's collectible (sigh). It's 40mm (sigh). It has enough excitement to require that I carry it (big sigh). The biggest sigh of all is it's being done by Upper Deck. Be prepared for intentional shortages and price increases. Yeah for UD! Mike McVey, miniatures guru extraordinare, is backing it, so it's going to be of good quality. However, most agree that the photos don't look so great. The problem with the scale is that, except for larger monsters, it can't be used for role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons. This means the game lives and dies on its player base, without much crossover. It's like Dreamblade, only with a hot license.

Politics. Obama would be ahead if you ignored the super-delegates. Grrr.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Vacation II

I booked a room for three nights in March at the Marina Dunes Resort in Marina, about 10 miles from Monterey. It's a suite with an ocean view. This place is nice but not as centrally located. It's about half as much money as an ocean view room on Cannery Row (my preferred location), but it allows me to take two trips instead of one. It's all paid for with frequent flyer miles.

I figure I'll get a lot of reading done, which actually seems more productive with an ocean view for some reason, as if you're actively relaxing. They also have free wireless Internet, because I know within a few hours of brain shutdown I'll have ideas that need exploring online.

El Interceptor Aerodinámico (politica)

I was reading an article in the Economist this morning about the Democratic primary in California. What struck me was that:

"...the racial divide seems to have trumped the age divide: Mr Obama won 62% of whites aged 18-29 but Mrs Clinton won 67% of Latinos in the same age group."

Then I recalled that George W. Bush won his elections by winning over Latino voters. So really, for me, the Latino vote is the spoiler vote (thus the literal translation of the title). It was responsible for George W. Bush and if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, it will be responsible for her too. Take it one step further and I think Clinton will lose against McCain, making the Latino vote responsible for three Republican presidential victories in a row. Yes, it's a stretch, but the logic follows.

So no, it's not about whether whites will vote for a black man, because they clearly will, especially the young and well educated (latte liberals as the Clinton campaign calls them), it's whether Hispanics will vote for a black candidate.

Oh yeah, and as an independent, if super-delegates select Clinton over Obama with Obama getting the popular vote for delegates, I'm supporting McCain. I'll even dip into my latte budget to send a check.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming....

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Auction Today

We had our "Ding & Dent" auction today, combined with a clearance sale. Turnout was less than last time, with 18 participants, but I think it went even better than last time. The auction ran smoother and there were some great bargains available on some top games. What didn't sell was packed up again for next weekend's Dundracon convention.

The Best of Third Edition (D&D)

Enworld has an interesting poll. They've been distilling down all third edition products to those the fans pick as the best through various polls. Here are their top 5 so far. The voting is ongoing:

  1. Eberron Campaign Setting (WotC). Even if you don't like Eberron, and clearly many don't, this book contains a full campaign setting, with prestige classes, core feats, and even an adventure. I recall a sense of wonder reading through it, enjoying the "Magic as Technology" setting and its cleverness. Unfortunately, most of the follow-up projects were a let down, including the fuzzy adventures. It was a take on a D&D world, but it had a very particular flavor that didn't work for everyone.
  2. Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords (Paizo). I've been thumbing through this adventure series, but I've hesitated to read it only because I hoped someone would run it for me some day. One review from reported: "If the print version of Dungeon had to end so that we could have Pathfinder, then I’d say it’s a good trade." I can tell you it hasn't been much of a success in the store, with only three customers buying each installment. Still, it makes me drool when I look at the maps and funky artwork. I think it gets extra votes from mobilized Paizo fans.
  3. Ptolus (Malhavoc Press). The giant, limited editon, original urban 3.0 playtest adventure by D&D 3 designer Monte Cook. What can I say, I'm a fan boy and I'm running Ptolus (my campaign starts up again tomorrow). The reason not to vote for it? One poster wrote: "It's because it's a big brick that I never read it, and its cost has deterred everyone I play with from buying a copy, which means there's been no opportunity to play it." At $120, it didn't get as much play as it would have as four $30 books. It's also out of print now, planned in advance as a single print run.
  4. Unearthed Arcana (WotC). For shear usefulness, this is the D&D 3.5 toolkit, with many alternative options for game play that many, many people have included in their games. For example, racial levels, paragon classes, dragonblooded characters, and much more. As a campaign supplement book, aimed at DM's, this one is probably the best.
  5. Player's Handbook II (WotC). Where Unearthed Arcana is a DM's toolkit on tweaking the game, The PHBII is a player based resource with over 100 new feats, new classes and campaign rules for things like reconstructing mid-level characters. It would get my vote as best accessory book, aimed at players, if it was broken down in that way.

Other books getting lots of votes: Spell Compendium, Magic Item Compendium, Draconomicon, and Midnight from Fantasy Flight. The Spell Compendium is the only one of those that I own and it's also, by far, the best selling book in this roundup.

As for usefulness for me, in order: Ptolus, Unearthed Arcana, Player's Handbook II, Book of the Righteous (Green Ronin), and Complete Book of Eldritch Might (Malhavoc).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Store Projects

After declaring my desire to walk away for a while, I woke up with a renewed sense of, well, that I had work to do. My first little project was brought to my attention by an annoyed customer who couldn't find his Reaper mini on the wall. We used to carry every Reaper mini, over a thousand of them. Then, after getting my head examined, we cut back substantially. Back then we could put them in numerical order and you could use the catalog to find them. It was cumbersome back then, but now that we don't have all of them, it's just kind of annoying and not terribly useful. We'll be doing what every other store does now, putting them in categories, like "wizards" and "monsters."

My second project was one that's been languishing for a while. It's an IT project I started this summer to "ghost" the POS machine. I came from IT and when I'm not making a large amount of money doing it, I tend to avoid technology projects. They're inherently expensive and frustrating. I was posting online my current disaster recovery strategy, which after reading it to myself, seemed rather shabby. I'm using Carbonite for data backups, but a system implosion or theft would result in many hours of down time AND expense when consultants are needed to re-install the system. The new Ghost 12 is supposed to have a one-touch backup with the external hard drive I purchased last Summer.

Finally, it's more a task than a full fledged project, but I need to get my Dundracon RPG order together for my main distributor. This is where I pull out my crystal ball, run a bunch of reports on the POS machine, and predict the demand for all things role-playing. My obvious pick would be a metric buttload of Dark Heresy books. Unfortunately, I'll get none, as distributors are sold out, possibly forever. We've got four left in the store, with one last copy arriving today.

Oh yeah, and I'm debating on whether to a) buy a carpet cleaner and have an employee clean the carpets, b) rent a carpet cleaner and have an employee clean the carpets or c) hire someone to clean the carpets. The thread in these, obviously, is I ain't cleaning carpets. The cost is an issue, since it looks like we're going to be carpet cleaning once a quarter instead of once a year like the last store. If anyone is on salary and bored at work, perhaps you can do the cost-benefit analysis for me.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Today I realized I need a break. I was putting on a sweater to go out and get a cup of coffee when I looked down and realized ... I had just finished a big cup of coffee. Yes, it's that lethargic feeling you get when you haven't had time off for a while. I'm so burned I even want to delegate my delegating. Rather than going the extra mile, customers seem like a nuisance. That's when you know you need a break, when your customer service skills begin to suffer. Or maybe it was my friend Carl stopping by to tell me he's taking a six-month sabbatical backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. Sigh. I'll have three weeks in March when my wife and son are gone, so I was thinking of taking a trip. I've got enough frequent flyer miles to get to the moon (via coach). Where to go? I figure 4-5 days max.


Wow! This is exciting! No, really.

Romney dropped out, for the good of the country. According to him, if he didn't drop out, the terrorists would win.

“And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.”

What a douche bag. Talk about dodging a bullet.

What was really interesting this morning was a CNN article called Campaigns Up Against Powerful Movements. Clinton and McCain are both running counter to powerful movements within their parties. The talk radio people rail against McCain and his "betrayal" of conservative values, while Clinton fights against the young, well-educated "post-partisan" movement headed by Obama. After nearly eight years of Bush, I would never have imagined this.

Sometimes the photos can say a lot too....

Discounts and Support

One of the Fantasy Flight Games guys was comparing their company, with a reduced discount to retailers, to Games Workshop, which has a similar reduced discount. The industry argument is this: You can reduce your discount to retailers, if you provide additional support that gives the appearance that retailers are paying extra for this added value. However, Fantasy Flight is no Games Workshop, let me tell you. You can say a lot of bad things about Games Workshop, but their support is unparalleled and probably is worth the extra lost margin:

Availability: Over the last year, I've had two items from GW unavailable, and only for a week or so, whereas FFG products are gone for very long stretches, months at a time. I can't do turn rate analysis on MANY Fantasy Flight products, because as my distributor points out, I haven't SEEN that game in months. Now when they come back in stock, I seriously question whether anyone missed it or not before re-ordering.

Discount vs. Product Support: Those who reduce their discount to offer special support tend to eliminate that support over time. It's a suspect argument. GW, however, does offer free samples, a phenomenal damaged item or parts replacement policy, a monthly magazine to support their games, and generally stellar support.

Stock Swap: I can swap out dead GW inventory, whereas I have to put dead FFG games, which are NOT all evergreen, on clearance.

Internet Sales: There is some holding the line on Internet sales of new GW product, whereas FFG sells directly from their website, often times with distributors appearing to be shorted new product so it can be held back for this purpose. The same argument holds for convention sales.

Price Increases: When was the last time the GW discount changed? Yes, they raise prices annually, but I don't lose sleep over shrinking margins. If FFG is that solid and integral to the game industry, they can afford to raise prices rather than reduce discounts.

Street Dates: Hey, where are the street dates FFG? Like clockwork, GW customers come in to buy a new item on the street date. I can put up colorful flyers that GW supplies me, with dates printed on them. They don't always keep their street dates, but they try. My hardcore FFG customers are educated that they'll get their game whenever FFG feels like shipping them. Where is the Mutant Chronicles game?

My Promotion: Unless I get a FFG demo for free, and I rarely do, I have more incentive to promote a game from another board game company because of the discount. Why promote a game with a slimmer margin, especially an American style game that takes hours to play?

Rackham: I'm sure you don't want me to rant about them in this thread, but they tied their wagon to your horses. The discount on Rackham is either unworkable or unsustainable, depending on which distributor you're using.

Disclaimer: I sell a LOT of FFG games, and it's a top 3 board game company for me. Kingdom Hearts is picking up. I love Citadels. I sell a ton of big box $80 games. Market share in this industry doesn't mean a lot to me: A tiny percent of tiny, equals tiny.