Friday, February 27, 2009


The good news is we have successfully found a niche with toys that works for us. The bad news is that it's small and we have a ton of junk that is hopelessly unsellable. Notice the dead polar bear carcass on top of the pallet above and you'll get the idea. What does work are craft supplies, puzzles and learning tools. Forget everything else.

I could go into a long rant about how the return policy of this particular toy company has made me insane, but I think the photo tells the story. I also have to apologize to the war gamers, whose aisle I've blocked by this monstrosity of dead bears and dollhouses. If they felt ghettoized before, how about turning their aisle into a loading dock? The pallet is supposed to be gone by now. We timed it near perfectly, but the freight company had problems yesterday and re-scheduled for sometime today, Friday, our busiest day. Lets just hope they show.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Today was about further expansion of the miniatures department into the toy section. It started with getting a pallet of toys ready for return to the the manufacturer. They've got a return policy that allows us to ship back anything that doesn't sell, with the caveat it needs to be shipped via a freight company, an expensive and complicated endeavor. 400 pounds of toys comes to about $2,000 in product and cleared up enough space to remove an aisle from the toy department.

The miniature department gobbled up that space, allowing us to expand the walls of minis. Flames of War got another blister rack and we added two racks for Lord of the Rings miniatures. I'm convinced that War of the Ring, the mass battles game for LOTR, will be at least semi-successful. Even if our local crowd digs in their heels and resists, I'm sure the local GW store will do a lot of promotion for us. We'll be adding a good amount of Lord of the Rings miniatures between now and the April 4th release.

I've read through the book briefly and I'm no expert, but I like what I see. It reminds me a bit of AT-43 meets Warhammer Fantasy. It's got an I go-you go system of play. I go in my move phase, then you get your move phase, etc. The game seems like it would be fast, and includes both a movement and a charge phase. There should be a lot of flanking and maneuvering, and with sequence of play seems more engaging than other GW games. I'm thinking of a Harad army.

As for the toys, the pallet will be transformed into toy credit. We'll likely bank some of that for restock of popular toys, but I'm also thinking we'll expand our jigsaw puzzle section. We've had a steady stream of customers for puzzles since the holidays.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What's In Your Wallet?

I was hoping to switch my business credit card spending over to Capital One, because of their cash back rewards. The problem was I have two Capital One business cards, one for $20,000 and another for $10,000. I called them to attempt to combine these cards, as sometimes I can spend $25-28k in a busy month. Not only did they deny my request, they instantly changed the terms of my account. A pamphlet was sent out the same day notifying me that my rate would go up drastically in April. There's another card for the shredder and another bank I'll never do business with again.

Purchasing Manifesto

Across the game store world, purchasing is feared but not understood, and thus we, who do well with purchasing, should make our views understood.

That's adapting the Communist Manifesto's opening language to my post, but you get the picture. I was going to post something like this after my 5,000th purchase order, but I'm a little early. What have I learned from nearly 5,000 purchase orders?

The history of all hitherto existing game stores is the history of product availability.
The struggle for game store owners is having the items customers want while maintaining their finances. Therefore:

  • Budget Purchasing Separately. Most stores buy product with available cash. They pay rent, payroll, utilities, and, oh yeah, some games. Budget purchasing separately, so that stock is never reliant on your bills. This requires having a buffer of cash on hand for the ups and downs of any given month.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed ... all want their games now.
  • Customer Centric. You can't stock everything, but you do want your customers to spend all their gaming money with you, so focus on special orders. One of your catch phrases should be next day delivery, or two day delivery, or however long it could possibly take to get that customers game in their hands. Customer pre-orders are important, as are back-orders, so you can lock in those sales and teach them that you are a reliable source for their gaming needs. This promise means you'll actually place that order, even if it costs more, even if it means seeking it out across the country, or from another retailer. It should be your policy to bend over backwards to acquire that item, even at a loss at times, if it maintains your customer centric policy. It pays off in the long run.
Let the UPS driver tremble at a purchasing revolution.

  • Order Often. It's much better to make many small orders than large orders, provided it's cost effective, such as hitting free freight minimums. This reduces your labor costs if you need help receiving, and it also plays into the customer centric model. If you order daily or near daily, it's not a hassle to throw on one more item. Ordering also works to your advantage in getting new releases. You don't have to plan nearly as much if you've got a constant stream of new orders. You should get new releases on the new release date, every time.
  • Pre-Order, Pre-Order, Pre-Order. I pre-order everything and I'm almost never caught out in the cold. Distributors are running with thin inventories and you take your chances by not pre-ordering in sufficient quantities. I try to pre-order a 30 day supply of obvious evergreen product like D&D, Warhammer and Magic. While on the topic of pre-orders, back-order as well. Some distributors can't handle back-orders; find one that does and make sure you have a loose enough budget to buy this stuff when it arrives. Track this stuff somehow.
The store owners have nothing to lose but their wallets.
  • Avoid Fees. COD fees, shipping charges, freight upcharges, credit card surcharges should all be avoided as much as possible. Credit cards might seem like an excellent idea for purchasing, with their bonus points and benefits, but it takes iron discipline to pay them off in full every month, and inevitably you become a cycle behind. Fees are the enemy and should only be incurred at the risk of customer service.
  • Cheapest Supplier. Planning ahead and buying from the correct supplier is important. It might seem to make sense to throw on a box of Magic cards to round out a free freight order because it's got a special order item, but doing this regularly is a waste of money. Plan ahead and use the cheapest supplier. This will mean keeping deeper stock of some items, so nothing is free. This is my biggest pitfall.
  • Many Suppliers. It costs nothing to open multiple distributor accounts and it provides you many sources for product. It's also a hedge on information. Sales reps are a source of information, but not always a good source. Open up more accounts and more lines of communication to the industry.
overthrow existing inventory conditions
  • Know What to Buy. Know how you expect your inventory to perform. If you want strict inventory performance, ruthlessly prune out games or departments that under-perform. Use performance metrics, like turn rates and costs per square foot. You may let some stock slide because the game is growing or it completes a section, but do it deliberately and not because you like the game or think your store should have it. Game stores should have what sells, not what you think should sell. Throw out the vision of what you think a game store looks like.
  • Know Who You're Buying For. Try picturing the face of the customer who is going to buy that Dog Fart Monopoly game. Have you asked him about DFM? Did he pre-order DFM? Have you made a DFM announcement and sign up sheet? Are there DFM events planned for the store or are customers kind of tired of the whole DFM line? Ordering a game because you think the dog fart crowd might enjoy it is not good enough.
  • Budget Cutting Edge. If you are going to try cutting edge product, budget it carefully. Giving yourself some cutting edge budget means you're also giving yourself permission to be that much more ruthless with regular inventory.
You have a world to win.
  • Purchasing is the Business. The game is won or lost in the purchasing. It's forecasting sales, knowing who exactly will buy your stock before you order it, and knowing the industry so you know what to buy. It's having in depth operational knowledge of the business and it's more important than anything else. It's the last thing to be handed off to an employee and the first thing to be mastered by a new owner.

Profits can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing bad processes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

4E Action Tokens (D&D)

Occasionally I'll find some useful accessories that enhance my D&D game. The current one, that I'll be trying out tonight, is the 4E Action Token Set by Litko Aerosystems. Most of the token sets for 4E don't seem very useful, or include far too many tokens in a set. Let's take a look at this one.

Among the 24 tokens, the 4E Action Token Set contains four "Bloodied" counters, more than enough. Litko also sells a 10-pack of bloodied tokens, also sold at the store, but the quantity in this set should be fine. Four is good, five would have been ideal, as most monster encounters include a lot of minions that never get bloodied and between 1-5 larger monsters.

The second token in this set is the "1 Action Point Token," which should be useful for those who use pen and paper character sheets, but they're unnecessary if you're using power cards, either the upcoming version from WOTC, the various free ones online, or the printed cards from the DDI Character Builder. Again, the number four is somewhat arbitrary, with the iconic 4E game now consisting of five players.

The third is a "+2 Combat Advantage" token, which at first seemed irrelevant. You're flanking, why do you need a token to tell you about combat advantage? Then I remembered the various other things that could grant the advantage, such as blindness, being stunned or prone. Four of these tokens is plenty. I like.

The fourth is a bright red "Ongoing Damage" token, which is nice for helping to remember who has ongoing damage. In our 4E games, ongoing damage very rarely goes more than a couple rounds, so just a couple of these would be fine; we get four. Four is good, five might be the magic number for most of these.

The fifth token is "+2 Total Defense," a good token to place out there after a healing surge. I tend to forget the +2 bonus, since it doesn't last very long. Four of these tokens is fine, but the iconic five would be ideal so everyone could have their personal token, rather than pooling them.

The sixth token is "Healing Surge." This might have been a good idea, but with four tokens, it's more of a sample of a full pack of the tokens. Even low level characters get many surges a day, and a pack of 12 or 20 would have made more sense. Four tokens? No.

For $11.99, is it worth the money? That's $.50 a token, which seems reasonable, if you use them. The big disappointment for me is not enough of certain types of tokens, with only the action point token being somewhat useless, but only because we have other accessories that satisfy that need. I find the pack useful and would likely buy a pack of healing surge tokens, if they were available separately (they're not). The text on the tokens are a little light and I wouldn't mind a bit more contrast. In the store we're selling this set along with the bloodied tokens and a couple of skull token sets from Litko. I noticed on their website that the action tokens are no longer sold in this configuration, so maybe Litko has moved on.

New Media

What's been interesting since I last posted about this is how I obtain most of my media, especially "television." I put television in quotes because I've abandoned my actual TV and watch everything on the laptop now. This is done primarily through Hulu, a free online service that provides streaming TV. In exchange, you watch commercials, but far fewer than regular TV and usually of better quality. I must be more mainstream than I thought, because about 90% of my favorite shows are on Hulu, the rest mostly being British television (Doctor Who and No Heroics).

Hulu also queues up the shows on your wish list, sending an email when they're ready to be watched. So what's in my queue?

  • Fringe
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Heroes
  • The Dollhouse
Then there's stuff that I watch because it's there and I'm slumming like House (which my nurse wife finds infuriating), The Daily Show and Futurama.

Meanwhile, my Netflix DVD's are gathering dust. My son occasionally watches a kids show on their Watch Instantly service, usually Scooby Doo or Pink Panther, but the DVD medium suddenly feels outdated.


Not having "real" televising has improved my reading life and I'm in the middle of a bunch of books right now.

  • Forgotten Realm's Player's Guide: I traded in my D&D 3.5 books and I've got several 4E books I'm going through. The Forgotten Realm's Player's Guide seems like a train wreck, the kind of campaign where I would sigh and call a do-over. Nevertheless, it has some good ideas and it's entertaining. If you found the PHB to be vanilla, the FRPG is full of flavor, some taste a bit bitter and confused though. Also in the queue: Open Grave, the Forgotten Realm's Campaign Setting, and the second half of the Manual of the Planes.
  • Before They Are Hanged. This is the second book of The First Law series, by Joe Abercrombie. This fantasy series features deeply flawed and interesting characters without the stereotypes of fantasy. There is no absolute good or evil, just various degrees of human frailty and dealing with the hand of cards the world gave you. If there are any characters that are stereotypical, it's the greedy merchants, and inept nobles, but even they get a chance at redemption. It took me two months to get through the first book, but I read about half of the second book after buying it yesterday. It's even tighter and more entertaining than the first.
  • Outliers. This book by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, analyzes business success stories, something business owners are always happy to read in hopes of gleaning insight and new information. The most curious concept in this book is the 10,000 Hour Rule, which basically says it takes that amount of time in your field to become an expert. I figure I've worked about 13,000 hours, including 60,000 sales, 5,000 purchase orders and two stores. I can't wait to get to that chapter.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thoughts on the Blog

I believe:

  • I provide the vision and direction for the store, but others can be helpful in providing ideas on how to execute that vision. There is a community element to the store and this is an excellent way for the community to participate.
  • As long as I remain true to my vision, ethical, honest and legal, only good can come from our discussions. Unfortunately, at times I can still be a dick, but that falls under "honest."
  • Honest communication is the best kind and a blog that's a mouthpiece or marketing effort of an organization will fail. Therefore, I will occasionally say things that ruffle feathers. I blog nearly daily, so you'll probably find something offensive eventually.
  • Sharing information, including the nuts and bolts numbers, can only be useful in helping other stores and educating customers about how the store operates. It is impossible to use that information to set up shop across the street. It just doesn't work that way. If you want a game store so bad, buy mine! I'm business first, because the concept of a game store is already on the edge.
  • I am open to change from ideas expressed on the blog, and being a small business owner, I can execute change very quickly. What an amazing resource! Thanks!
  • I am not revealing anything special, like the magician's secrets, nor am I attempting to marginalize my customers. A marginalized gamer is redundant anyway. Understanding of how things work and the wonders of our little community can be interesting and useful.
  • Running a game store is a labor of love, as it's generally a bad investment and anyone capable of running one is capable of doing quite a bit else making quite a bit more money. With great competence comes quirkiness; thus the unusual blog.
  • The blog is the most effective form of store communication, as it's dynamic and only those most interested in the store participate. It's not how other stores do it, but I don't run my business to be like other stores.
  • The larger and more successful we become (in relative game store terms); the more critics and potential competitors emerge. The blog keeps me grounded. Bring it on!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Boardgame Clearance Sale

Below is a list of boardgames at 40% off.

Also check out this article about the problems discovered with Yelp; stuff I was writing about some weeks ago. There's definitely something rotten going on here.

  • 1960: Making of a President
  • Age of Mythology boardgame
  • Aggravation
  • Amyitis
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Augsburg 1520
  • Bendomino
  • Buzzword
  • Candy Land DVD
  • Charades
  • Cheeky Monkey
  • Clue Jr. Game
  • Connect Four Game Folio Ed
  • Conquest of the Fallen Lands
  • Counter Strike Warplan Crimson
  • Deluxe Boggle Folio Edition
  • Destination TrĂ©sor
  • Doom: the Boardgame Expansion
  • Dragon Parade
  • Dragons Of Kir Board Game
  • Fiji
  • Froggy Boogie
  • Gheos
  • Gobblet Jr.
  • Hare & Tortoise
  • In The Year Of The Dragon
  • India Rails
  • Iron Dragon
  • Key Harvest
  • Louis XIV
  • Mentalogy
  • Oshi: The Game Of Influence
  • Othello
  • Penguin
  • Perplexcity Board Game
  • Pirateology
  • Primordial Soup
  • Primordial Soup Freshly Spiced
  • RB Class Deck: Battlemage
  • RB Class Deck: Blade Dancer
  • RB Class Deck: Shadow Walker
  • RB Class Deck: Wildlander
  • Runebound: Avatars of Kelsnov
  • Runebound: Isle of Dread
  • Runebound: Sands of Al-Kalim
  • Runebound: Scepter of Kyros
  • Santiago
  • Soccer Tactics World Edition
  • Sorry
  • Space Dealer
  • Speedy Eddy
  • The Construction Game
  • The Farming Game
  • The Simpsons Monopoly
  • Traders of Genoa
  • Treehouse: Xeno Pyramids
  • Twister Moves
  • Wizardology

California Budget

I was unhappy to see the California budget balanced on the backs of California retailers. The 1% sales tax increase is another slam against brick and mortar retailers and the customers that frequent them. You would think if you wanted consumers to start spending again, you would avoid disincentives that push them online to buy from other states (evading taxes), or forces them to stay home.

What the state governments would really like to do is get hold of those evaded taxes, or "use tax" that people avoid paying with many Internet sales. Most people don't know this, but every purchase from a retailer online is subject to California state sales tax, even when they don't charge you. You're supposed to report this on your taxes, but it's ignored by just about everyone (it's apparently a red flag for retailers in some states, resulting in a near automatic audit).

The other annoying tax is the VLF, or Vehicle License Fee, which gets doubled under the new budget. This is a regressive tax of the worst kind, one that imposes a greater burden on the poor than the rich. I, being closer to the poor category, find it especially vexing. I pay little state tax because of my income and business, but the VLF fee would be the equivalent of doubling my state income tax. State income taxes are going up a quarter of a percent as well. Until the state does a comprehensive overhaul on how it generates and spends our money, we'll always have these kinds of problems in hard times. There's talk of reform already.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Back of the Napkin

I was waiting around for Michael to get back from Costco yesterday while the card players were filing in. There was a week long debate about requiring CCG players to buy a booster pack or some sort of gift certificate to play in the back. As it turns out, we are over capacity for the game center, meaning we would like to expand certain events but we're out room. This got me looking at events that weren't doing anything, events that took up half the game center and are virtually invisible. When I say virtually, it's because I login from home the next morning and according to the books, nothing happened. Nobody was there. Yet I'm told it was packed. Huh.

So while I was waiting, I grabbed a piece of paper and a calculator and started crunching numbers. Rent, divided by the square footage of the game area, using only the hours of peak operation (6-10pm), and then divided by our capacity, around 50 seats. There we had it: $3.50, roughly the cost of a booster pack for a card game. This morning when I added in electricity, it got us to around $4.00, which is the cost of a booster pack.

As I see it, it is up to me to fill those 50 seats. That's my job. It's up to the customer to decide if they think it's worth $4.00. $4.00 is a starting point of course, but it at least justifies the basic expenses of the space. If I considered the game space as a percentage of our overall operations, I would be expecting an $18 commitment from each player, which isn't realistic. That happens but three times a year, and we call it Magic.

With the game center frequently filled to capacity, we risk the Yogi Berra saying: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." Increasingly, we have little room available for free play. This mostly happens during our peak hours with scheduled events. I think it means players need to consider getting on board our schedule. In stores without free play, you show up on the scheduled night to play your game, or you don't play there, ever. We may become one of those stores, if only because of space limitations. Sure, come play Warhammer 40K anytime you like, but the only guaranteed spot is Mondays and league days. This was never my intention, but I also don't consider it an especially bad thing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Strange Requests

A list of strange requests over the years:

  • Player's Handbook (SC). A woman once called about buying a softcover D&D Player's Handbook. Her brother was in prison and they don't allow hardcover books. The next year WOTC came out with the Player's Kit, which had a softcover version of the book. I still refer to it as the "prison edition."
  • The Frog Guy. A very nice customer who probably kept me afloat in the early days would buy cases of rubber water frogs. He gave them out with his business cards at large social events, like rotary clubs. This resulted in some amusing conversations with my sales rep, who made me promise NOT to tell him what I was doing with all those frogs. Unfortunately, I can't get the frogs any longer.
  • Adult Games. I've had some interesting conversations with people looking for "adult," X-rated games to play with their spouses ... or in groups. As a general rule of thumb, I avoid those types of games, although I caved on Dirty Minds, which is a best selling board game for us.
  • Real Magic (good!). I've had people coming to the store looking for books on how to cast real spells on people. I would carefully explain that the books are for games, and will not allow you to cast authentic thaumaturgy, including the book called Authentic Thaumaturgy.
  • Real Magic (Bad!). I've spoken with people (very few actually) who think D&D books or Magic cards are real and that we're involved in some form of devil worship. As I told one woman commenting on the D&D Spell Compendium, "Ma'am, if this book had real spells, I would be making a heck of a lot more money at this."
  • Floor Wax. The painting formula for "magic wash" calls for Future Floor Finish. A bottle of this stuff is about $10, but we ocassionally re-package Future in small dropper bottles and re-sell them. It was someone else's suggestion, but it has worked out well for us.

Dundracon Sales

Our final tally is in and we were down about 10%. Although we don't have hard numbers on con attendance it appeared to be down. The blame went to Valentine's Day falling on a Saturday and stormy weather, but of course the bad economy is always in the background. Sales patterns were much changed, with our used and ding and dent stuff making up the majority of sales and profits. Although sales were down, profits were up, due to the higher margins on that stuff.

This is changed from years past. People were looking for bargains and we had them. We also did unusually well with "books in play" that we brought. We took a couple of every book in print of RPG's played at the con. We did this through a consignment arrangement, so there wasn't a risk to us. Most books sold, which is not usually the case. That I attribute to the "flight to quality," the desire for a known entity, something actually tried at the con. Some of those games will be given a shot at the store this week as we re-order books that we don't normally carry. One of the nice things about cons is it clears out dead inventory, which allows us to take chances on new stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SKU Creep (Privateer)

Privateer Press is revamping the rules for Warmachine and Hordes. This should be a minor disruption for players, easily resolved with a new rulebook and a deck of cards for their models. Privateer promises to increase the viability of certain models, but what they aren't doing is retiring models. Every month they come out with several new models, yet nothing is ever retired. Inventory grows continuously, with no end in sight. This is a problem for me.

Unlimited inventory growth assumes I have an unlimited number of Warmachine customers. The new edition promises to make older models more useful, but there are just far too many models overall. Where I could once stock all their models, I'm now more careful, dropping many models that haven't sold in a long time. Unfortunately, there are some "bread and butter" models that only sell once a year. The line is just too wide and the customer base too shallow to justify what Privateer Press is doing. There is no easy way for me to "cull the herd," like with many other games.

What Privateer Press needs to do is learn from Games Workshop. Retire models that are slow sellers, possibly making them a direct order item that stores can bring in or customers can buy direct. I hate to say that, but in the GW model, customers accept that obscure models are special order and they will wait for the model to arrive. In exchange, the company charges me more for the model, with the trade-off being I don't have to stock it.

Privateer Press should also create a tiered system for retail stores, taking another page from Games Workshop's playbook. Battlefront recently started doing this as well. Let stores know which units are core and which units are supplemental, and thus should only be stocked by certain, high volume stores. I asked for this a couple years ago when I got to talk with the president of Privateer at the GTS show, and I think it needs to be revisited. If the answer is that all units are core, there is a fundamental problem with how the game is being marketed.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

D&D 4E Character Planner (D&D)

I made a character planner sheet from 1st-30th level after wanting one and noticing nobody created one for 4E. 4E is designed to avoid the need for such rigid planning, but it might be fun anyway. The ZIP file contains a XLS spreadsheet and a PDF, for those without Excel. I'm declaring it public domain. Do what you will with it, especially if it involves making it prettier.

Eladrin Character (D&D)

The latest in my series of "If I can do it, so can you," I present to you the mini for my new D&D character.

This was done using the Citadel system of foundation paints, base colors and washes. It's Reaper #3358, Eldolan, Elf Fighter, by my favorite mini sculptor, Werner Klocke.

I've been looking closer at D&D 4 multi-classing. It's not as limited as I first thought. This new character is multi-classed into Wizard, since our party lacks a controller. Just a couple of spells to take out or slow down a horde of minions is all he needs to be vastly more helpful to the party. If we didn't have another leader who could heal, I could have gone multi-class cleric. Without a fighter he could have been a more combat oriented warlord or even multiclassed into fighter or ranger. The advice I heard over and over again is you can't really build your character in a vacuum anymore, and multiclassing especially so. You give up a feat to be more versatile; not more powerful, more versatile. It's vital to cherry pick the right powers to avoid a deficit.

====== Created Using Wizards of the Coast D&DI Character Builder ======
Kelderon of Astrazalian, level 3
Eladrin, Warlord
Build: Tactical Warlord
Commanding Presence: Tactical Presence

Str 17, Con 13, Dex 10, Int 17, Wis 10, Cha 10.

AC: 18 Fort: 16 Reflex: 15 Will: 14
HP: 35 Surges: 8 Surge Value: 8

Perception, Diplomacy, Heal, History, Athletics, Arcana.

1: Eladrin Soldier
2: Arcane Initiate

1, At-Will: Opening Shove
1, At-Will: Commander's Strike
1, Encounter: Nimble Footwork
1, Daily: Lead the Attack
2, Encounter: Cloud of Daggers
2, Utility: Repositioning Command
3, Encounter: Steel Monsoon

Adventurer's Kit, Dagger, Longsword, Javelin (3), Headband of Perception (heroic tier), Veteran's Hide Armor +1, Cloak of Distortion +1, Skewering Greatspear +1, Belt of Resilience (heroic tier)

Auction Photos

Dundracon and The Game Industry

Alternate Title: The Blind Men and the Elephant

I spent Saturday afternoon at Dundracon, taking advantage of my dealer's badge and willing board gamers. As much as I enjoy working conventions, I've delegated that to staff. Sales were fairly close to previous years, with the perception that there were fewer attendees overall. That's all I wanted to know, so I headed over to the board game room.

I played a game of Tikal on my own copy, the first time I've played my own copy of a game in several years (my three year old seems to have absconded with a treasure token). I had the most fun in a game of Dominion. Dominion is a great game, theoretically. I say theoretically because the rules are complicated enough that we're still trying to interpret them correctly. We've had fun along the way, however. The nice thing about the game is it's got a lot of different ways to play (using the rules), making it not only fun, but a great value.

The other reason I went to Dundracon was to attend the "state of the industry" seminar. I enjoy hearing industry people talk. There is no reliable data in the game industry, so it feels like the parable about the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man steps up to the elephant and describes it based on the body part they initially touch. Get enough blind men in one room, however, and you get a better impression of the beast. The panel was comprised primarily of role-playing industry people: Aldo Ghiozzi from Impressions (a consolidator who represents smaller RPG publishers to distributors), Steve Chenault from Troll Lord Games, Joe Goodman from Goodman Games, and Darren Watts of Hero Games. Some highlights:

Overall Healthiness: The industry is healthy overall, with various segments doing better or worse than others. It's very hard to generalize about specifics, since real data is scarce and personal experience tends to be regional or dependent on ones own business. That said, there are some problems.

Distributors are a Bottleneck: Most agreed that the distribution system remains the sticking point in the game industry. They're not taking enough risks and don't order enough from manufacturers, resulting in games being out of stock for long periods. They don't provide enough of a service, especially marketing of games, for what they charge. The term "carrier pigeons" was how one RPG publisher, not present, described the distribution tier. I also heard the old complaint that they remain a bad source of information for retailers, regarding status of products. Is it out of print, temporarily out of stock, or what?

My personal experience is distributors have listened to these complaints and have gotten a lot better over the last couple of years. I've had fewer out-of-stocks, and when I do, I'm always told why. My ACD sales rep makes a point of telling me why something is not available every time, almost to the point of annoyance. Alliance's online system is far more accurate now than a couple years ago, with proper notations on why something is unavailable. Competition is fierce and nobody wants to give the impression they have a poor fill rate. Still, there are plenty of complaints on the front end with publishers, which leads to the next big trend.

Sales are Trending away from distributors (and thus game stores). Where once these RPG publishers sold 70-80% of their role-playing books through distribution to game stores, now it's only about 50%. The other 50% is sold direct to customers (especially Hero, which asked it's customers to do so, which pissed off distributors and retailers), through the book industry, or to Amazon. Troll Lord and Hero have stopped focusing their attention on distribution (and thus brick & mortar stores), as they've put their energy into these growing revenue streams.

I would also note that the monolithic distributor isn't always the case anymore. Many of us retailers are increasingly using smaller, specialized distributors to get around the bottleneck, such as Indie Press Revolution (small press RPGs), and Warpath and eFigs (small press minis). Going direct is also an option, but with retailers not willing to take a big risk, some companies are supplementing their direct to store sales with traditional distribution. Soon we'll have Lock & Load publishing and Minuteman Press available through our primary distributor. Distributors are also dipping into the indie mini trend. Alkemy, for example, was just picked up by ACD.

My big question to the panel: Does that mean brick and mortar game stores are less relevant? They emphatically agreed that no, brick and mortar stores still play a vital role in promoting their games. So why the shift? The problem is two-fold, I think. The distribution system has become a bottleneck for these small publishers, as they've mentioned. Second, although we don't have hard data and the panel doesn't fully agree, there are far fewer brick and mortar game stores in the country. My guess is we lost between 30-40% since I started four years ago. If your local game store goes out of business, you need to find a different source. Those game stores that have survived are stronger and probably haven't seen a major shift with role-playing games. That tier of the industry just has fewer overall sales. Should this worry me as a retailer?

Yes and no. Locally, if my sales remain strong, why do I care what the overall percentage of the pie looks like? On the other hand, if the balance continues to shift towards other sales channels, there may eventually be some fallout. I would argue that these publishers might provide us less support for their products, but there really isn't much support to begin with. The panelists range from companies who tell their customers to stop buying from brick and mortar and buy direct (Hero) to companies that offer brick and mortar promotions (Goodman). Most role-playing publishers have zero contact with brick and mortar stores, other than industry events. They don't dislike us, they just have no money for marketing, and when they do have money, it's best spent avoiding the distrubtion bottleneck and going direct to the end user.

Where I'm most concerned is if the gatekeepers of the industry, the distributors, become such a problem that new publishers skip them entirely. Imagine if the shift is 80% other and 20% game distribution and you're a new publisher. How many hoops would you jump through before you gave up on game distributors? You certainly wouldn't consider them your first option. At that stage you probably would attempt to get into distribution after, you've exhausted all other avenues. One of the audience members was interested in selling his RPG product, and the advice was to try to go it alone first, self-printing, PDF publishing, or whatever, but know that the distribution tier is finicky and difficult to work with.

How about retail game stores? Diversification and running your business like a business were key points, which were not surprising. The general feel I have is that if you've weathered the industry over the last few years, meaning you haven't been dragged down by the collapse of the collectible markets or the softness in role-playing games, then you're probably running a quality operation. There are still "bad" game stores out there: dirty, unlit, cluttered, but the panelists noted that often these stores are often packed with customers. Not every game store needs to attract the general public and for some store owners, they don't want to. That's a sentiment I can appreciate, although my mortgage keeps those feelings in check.

D&D 4. This was the first topic of conversation. How can you not talk about the new release of Dungeons & Dragons, the 500 pound gorilla, with a panel of role playing publishers? The consensus was that it surely wasn't as big a hit as D&D 3 on it's release. D&D 3 is believe to be the biggest sales spike in RPG history, so it's not surprising. The panelists believe it's doing as well as can reasonably be expected. Some brick & mortar stores, like ours, do very well with the game. Other stores can't sell any of it.

This led to a discussion about the failure of Wizards of the Coast to properly market the game to new, younger players. This is something they promised initially, after focusing on their core audience. However, if there was a marketing campaign for new players, as was promised for late last year, nobody seems to recall it.

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

"The Blind Men and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Glimmers of Hope

The news of the rise in national retail sales for January was quickly pounded down yesterday. By this morning you had to search for the articles. The sales numbers marked the end of six months of a retail slide. You would think this would be a glimmer of hope, but it doesn't resonate with most reporters take on what's happening, so it was quickly dismissed by the end of the day. It's not that I don't believe the national economy is in trouble, it's just that so much of our problems are based on psychology. I think it's something like 90%. I've learned that economics equal psychology, while I used to think psychology had some influence.

It's the belief that we're heading into a deep recession that has companies laying off hundreds of thousands of people. Economists agreed last year that large companies were running lean and mean, having learned the pain of layoffs from the last recession. Nevertheless, the market practically demanded or at least expected big companies to lay people off, and that's what they did. They were laid off mostly because of the expectation of problems, not because of problems. It reminds me of a scene from my favorite movie, Fifth Element, where the evil Zorg, played by a lovable Gary Oldman, is told that the economy is heating up and his aid suggests firing half a million workers from Zorg Industries. "One million." Zorg tells him out of hand.

As a business owner, economic news has me almost paralyzed. It's not that I can't run my business, it's that common wisdom says that it would be downright criminally irresponsible to take chances right now. Hire an employee? Expand my business? My sales numbers say yes, but all external sources say I must be out of my mind. Pay down debt; hunker down. The real goal of the stimulus package is to get small business owners like me, who account for half the business activity in this country, to start acting normally. It's 90% psychology.

So what do the national retail sales numbers tell me? They somewhat vindicate my experience that things aren't as bad as believed. I think most consumers have quickly adapted to our current scenario. I call it "baseline fucked." Or "How I stopped worrying about the economy and started living my life again." It's been my experience that once you give up hope, you feel a lot better. Congratulations American media for stomping out hope.

Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg

Thursday, February 12, 2009

RPG Sales Update

After the Dundracon chart, I figured a reality check might be in order (for me at least). These are sales of RPGs over the last year. It excludes games that sold less than $100. You probably wouldn't have heard of them anyway. Note that I broke out the White Wolf genres, rather than lumping them together. It occured to me that the factious nature of White Wolf genres impedes it's success. Want to play White Wolf games? Good luck on agreeing on a genre, or agreeing to mix genres. It reminds me of D&D 2nd Edition with an endless number of campaign settings.

D&D is obviously the 500 pound gorilla. The thing to note is you've got four months of very slow 3.5 sales and several months of very high 4E release sales, followed by much higher than average sales overall. D&D 4 is far more popular than 3.5 if you judge it by sales. Overall, D&D has increased market share in my store by about 20% from a year ago. Not listed here are used games, which might account for another 20% or so of RPG sales. D&D 3.5 is very strong in the used department.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Con Games

I was recently going through the RPG events at Dundracon so I could decide what to bring to sell. I was so intrigued with the variety, especially the D&D debate, that I woke up this morning and started plotting them. What are people planning to play?

Whenever I look at con games I get this immediate sense that I'm disconnected from reality. I would say that most role-playing games played at a con are not sold in my store, which had me asking the question: How relevant is my store to role playing gamers? Are these games played exclusively at cons, or is there an entire community of role-players of obscure and out-of-print games? How representative is this?

There is some Dundracon skewing to be sure. For example, the RPGA didn't get the space they wanted at the con, so they're holding a minicon at Game Kastle in San Jose. I want to call it a "protest" con, but that implies I know their intent and the full story, which I don't. The mini-con is drawing a large number of D&D 4 players from the region, the game that now dominates our RPG sales. I'm also told the Indie RPG crowd gets short shrift at the con, so they're only modestly represented. They aren't treated badly, but they could use a little more TLC. There are maybe half a dozen Indie sessions that I counted. Now that is representative of my sales. There are also local publishers at Dundracon that skew the numbers. Call of Cthulhu, Hero and Battlestations seem over-represented compared to what I know.

My initial reason for wanting to see the numbers was to check the D&D 3.x vs. D&D 4 split. Those who watched closely when D&D 3 came out predicted that we would see a 50/50 split the first year, followed by an almost 90% conversion to the new edition the second. So far those numbers appear to be holding true at Dundracon. You can find 20 D&D 4 games and 18 D&D 3.x games. There are even 8 AD&D games (1st/2nd) out there for the true grognard, and one original D&D game.

That big blue area on the left is "other." Games were thrown in "other" if they were played less than 3 times, my arbitrary method to keep the data straight. I figured it's probably one guy running his home brew or preferred system if it's less than three. The interesting thing about other is the wide variety of RPGs being played, over 50! If you're looking for an RPG buffet, Dundracon is certainly a good place for it. Getting into everything you want is another story.

Game Total
D&D 4 20
Hero 20
D&D 3.x 18
Call of Cthulhu 12
Star Wars Saga 5
Dark Heresey 5
Battlestations 4
AD&D 2nd Ed 4
AD&D 1st Ed 4
Paranoia 4
Mutants & Masterminds 3
Twilight 2013 3
Savage Worlds 3
Shadowrun 3
Misc 73

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Auction Followup

Thanks everyone for coming to the auction and especially Silas for helping out. You can read an interesting customer account of the great finds on this boardgamegeek discussion thread.

We're continuing to work on the auction process. I wasn't there, which is an internal debate itself, but I think we were a bit understaffed. We'll fix that next time. We're also fine tuning auction formats, and from the feedback so far, we need to streamline and speed things up. We're listening to feedback on this, so let me know if you have thoughts.

Prices were a bit higher this time. I think this reflects a few factors: First, we're getting better at ascertaining "true" values of games. Second, we had the staff time to do this research and spend many hours preparing the auction items. The biggest factor is we're at the beginning of the convention season, so we're not in such a hurry to "dump" items as say, an auction in October. Whatever doesn't sell will go to conventions over the following months. Honestly, when I hear customers say they bought a game, but grudgingly because the price was just good enough, that's mission accomplished for me. Failure is a store room full of unsold games and that's certainly not the case.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Personal Downsizing

Like many small business owners, I had to make changes when I started my business. Downsizing my personal spending was the hardest part, as my take home pay dropped by two-thirds. You learn a lot about the value of money when you're forced to cut to the bare essentials and there's no other source of income to tap. The biggest change is how I valued my time.

Nobody is going to pay you an hourly wage based on your efforts, so there's none of the usual mental comparisons. You can no longer say, "Well, a $20 car wash is worth it, because I make $50/hour and it will take me at least an hour to wash my car." There's nobody willing to pay you $50/hour to do anything, or even a dollar an hour. Wash your car yourself or you're out twenty bucks. When you realize you need to sell $250 in games to cover that car wash, you'll start looking for the bucket.

As you start cutting your expenses down to the bone, you place a much higher value on your money and especially your discretionary income, such as entertainment dollars. I mention this because cutting my expenses by two-thirds allowed me to see what I truly valued and what was fluff in my life. The result was promising.

Trading down on cars, was a big one, followed by entertainment expenses that seemed a bad value, like going to the movies or dining out. Gym memberships that didn't get used, subscriptions to magazines I didn't read; that stuff was easy money. Eventually I dropped my Tivo and satellite TV, changed my broadband service to something reasonable, and relied on fixed cost entertainment services like Netflix. I mention all this because one thing I didn't cut: spending on games.

It's true that I was more wary about my spending on games, more concerned with value for my dollar, but the amount I spend didn't change much. In the last few years I've bought armies for Flames of War, Warhammer Fantasy and 40K, and have kept up with my D&D habit. Granted, I get things at cost, but it just meant I got more for my dollar, not that I spent less. Games are a tremendous value, even when incomes are low. I believe this based on my own experience, and I believe we'll continue to see that with hobbyists that visit us. I'm confident that hobby games can stand up to any entertainment medium as a strong value. The only thing that has changed is the value proposition, the desire for better value for the money that will put a fork in many less useful products.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Race in D&D

I've been making D&D 4 characters all week with the DDI software, mostly because it's a fun exercise, but also because our group is changing campaigns and needs a few solid builds. The big difference between 3.5 comes down to race. Race is more important than it seems on first glance. The change comes from the removal of the complex 3.5 bonus system that required expertise in algebra to navigate. Armor class is the best example, as you can't bump it with magic items carefully selected for the many slots available. This makes the game easier and more enjoyable, less of a math lesson, but it puts too much emphasis on character attributes.

Armor class in 4th edition is based on your actual armor, perhaps with a small magic bonus, your modifiers from dex or int if you're wearing light armor, and a progressive bump based on half your level. There are no rings of protection, or even magic shields that provide bonuses, just the basics. The modifiers for armor are carefully balanced to avoid power builds. This means there's a much greater focus on the one area you can boost, min-maxing character attributes, and the best way to do that is to choose a complementary race.

The int or dex bonus in 4th edition is probably four or five times as important as 3rd, because there are fewer options. In fact, after making a dozen or so 3rd level characters, most had the same AC (around 18), while combat builds had something slightly higher (20-22). Armor types initially seemed to have variety, but everyone ended up with the same armor: hide if they could use it and had a high attribute modifier, chain if they didn't, and a feat to gain something better, like plate, if they had a combat build. The same lack of external modifiers and emphasis on min-maxing takes place with combat modifiers like strength or dex, so it's not just AC.

As much as I don't like reading Internet threads about builds, there does seem to be a consensus on the right builds for each class and build, based on the racial modifiers. When new races emerge, the first thing people look at are the attribute modifiers. The new genasi has a +2 int/+2 str, making it the new de-facto warlord build over the eladrin. Some races have duplicate attribute bumps, which means they get a better power, like eladrin (+2 dex/+2 int but with feystep).

This right build issue is troublesome to me. Although I like to power game like the next guy, I've always enjoyed the variety of various class/race combos, something in which 3.5 did a good job. I was happy to come up with a workable build with any race or class thrown in the pot. Racial bonuses were nice, but not critical at mid to high level. I really like the role of race in 4th, that it's not tacked on, that it has a role to play throughout the life of the character. What I don't like is how deterministic it feels. Choosing a non-standard race or build is quirky in 3.5, but seems a detriment in 4th.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ding & Dent List

Here's the board game list of Ding & Dent items for the auction on Sunday:

1960:Making Of A President
A House Divided
A&A War At Sea
Age Of Napoleon
Apples To Apples
Arkham Horror:Kingsport Horror
Army Of Frogs
Battle Of The Pyrmids.
Before The Wind
Bucket Brigade
Cap'tn Clever
Chang Cheng
Cold War
Cosmic Encounter (Mayfair)
D&D (Miniatures) Basic Game
David & Goliath
Descent: Journey In The Dark
Descent: Road To Legend
Die Macher
Diplomacy (Games Research)
Dragon Dice: Firewalkers
Dragon Dice: Magestorm
Dragon Lairds
Felix: The Cat In The Sack
Galaxy Trucker
Gobblet Jr
Hey! That's My Fish
Hoity Toity
Innsmouth Escape
Journey To The Center Of The Earth
Jurassic Jumble
Kids Of Catan
Killer Bunnies: Green
Kingdom Hearts Starter Decks
L5r: Words And Deeds Boosters
L5r: Words And Deeds Starter Decks
Leonardo Da Vinci
Mille Bornes Collecters Ed.
Monty Python Fluxx
Mr. Jack
Numbers League
Owners Choice
Pillars Of The Earth
Pizza Box Baseball
Primordial Soup
Puerto Rico
Race For The Galaxy
Red Dragon Inn 2
Reef Encounter
Risk: Transformers
Runebound:Isle Of Dread
Scepter Of Za Van
Scotland Yard
Seafarers Of Catan
Settlers Of Catan
Settlers Of Catan 5-6 Player Expansion
Settlers Of Catan Card Game
Settlers Of Catan: Traders & Barbarians
Settlers: Cities & Knights Of Catan 5/6 Player Expansion
Settlers: Cities & Knights Of Catan
Shadow Hunters
Shadows Over Camelot
Shear Panic
Smugglers Of The Galaxy
St: Petersburg
Star Wars Miniatures
Starfarers Of Catan
Starship Catan
Stratomatic Basketball
Struggle For Rome
Super Munchkin
Techno Witches
The 70s Game
Thurn & Taxis
Ticket To Ride
Ticket To Ride Card Game
Tigris & Euphrates
Traders Of Carthage
Travel Carcassonne
Who Stole Ed's Pants
Wine Tour
Witch's Brew
World Of Warcraft: Shadow Of War
World Of Warcraft: The Board Games
Wow: The Adventure Game
Zombie Fluxx
Zombie Town
Zombies 2nd Ed.

Victory Points

I've been having problems with my new life insurance company. Getting my account set up has been difficult because their customer service is lacking. One guy signs me up, another does the lab work and verifies paperwork, and a third, fourth and endless stream of others attempt to close the deal, often with no authority or ability to answer questions. They often ask the same questions repeatedly, which feels like I'm getting the run around. I realized today that they don't appropriately value me as a customer.

Under this new policy, I pay $15/month for my life insurance. The problem with the insurance company is that they treat me like a $15 customer. There are not a lot of $15 customers in this world. Every customer can be valued by their lifetime purchases, and it's hard to imagine examples of a one time $15 transaction. To be a $15 customer, you have to never associate with that business again, like a customer buying a couple of magazines at an airport gift shop that they'll never come to again. You can give shabby service, if that's what you want to do, because the customer will likely never come back and will just chalk up the experience to the vagaries of flying.

However, I am not a $15 customer. If they were to do the math, they would realize I am a $2,700 customer, which is how much I'll spend over the length of my 10 year policy. The insurance company doesn't understand that. Once you ascertain the true value of a customer, you're much more likely to give better service. I know the monetary value of my customers (about $500), and I'll go way out of my way to maintain that. It's also the right thing to do, but lets leave that out.

In the book Alpha Dogs I was of a bike store owner who would repair bikes he sold for free. Eventually he would repair any bike for free that you brought to him, no matter where you bought it, with the assumption that once you see the difference between his quality bikes and that $100 piece of junk you bought at Sears, you'll eventually become one of his customers and always think of him when you think of bikes. For the business owner, it was a kind of marketing expense.

It occurred to me that the goal of small business is not to make money. Yes, you need to make money, and you need to operate profitably, but small business owners could make a lot more money working for someone else. They have the skills, the drive and the work ethic. I don't know of anyone who is only qualified to run a small business. Money, it dawned on me, is not like Monopoly money, it's like money in a Euro board game. You can't win by making the most money; money buys victory points. What's a victory point? That's for the business owner to decide, but it's going to be tied to their pride and drive in running their small business. Perhaps it's to be the best game store in town, or the world, or have the best selection of indie role playing games. Money buys resources that translate to victory points. To the victor go the spoils, but in Euro style, spoils are just a perk of coming out ahead.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Power Gaming 4E

I'm not sure what all the belly aching is about, but I've been building 4E characters for the past three days and there are plenty of power gaming options. Want to build a tactical warlord? Check out the Genasi race in Manual of the Planes with the +2 Strength and Int. Want the ultimate spear for your Eladrin soldier? Check out the Greatspear in Adventurer's Vault. Want something completely different? Try the various builds in Martial Power or wait for PHB II, which is just around the corner in March. The DDI Character Builder makes integrating all these resources effortless, and my list is just scratching the surface. I've turned off the Forgotten Realms and Dragon/Dungeon content. The options grow daily. Power builds also rely on tie in magic items, so don't forget those.

Let me tell you about my character. Famous last words before coma ensues. One game store owner recently commented that when customers telling him about their characters, time moves like dog years, slowing to one seventh normal speed. I admit, I used to be more attentive in the store, but my mind instantly starts wandering. I think it's a defense mechanism. I made my saving throw. The dryads lure has been broken.

Not having actually played before, my preferred build is a little closer to home (the PHB). I went with an Eladrin warlord with the tactical build (third level). He features a couple interesting feats, like the Eladrin Soldier which gives him a +2 bonus on damage with spears. I chose a greatspear from Adventurer's Vault, adding the Myrdoons Shard magic item to give him a 3 square reach when he needs it. Focusing on his background, I also gave him the Soldier of the Faith feat, making him a multi-classed paladin. I actually like that I only have to blow a feat to gain a little paladin goodness, rather than all the bonuses of a level.

The paladin multiclass has to do with his background. I initially dismissed Manual of the Planes as a rather dry, mechanics only book aimed at DMs. However, after reading the tightly written and creative Feywild chapter, I have a new appreciation for the book. Faerie stuff has been an interest of mine anyway, since getting into the Dresden Files books. I was especially intrigued by the Feywild city of Astrazalian, which appears six months as a peaceful island in the regular world, but also spends six months of winter in mortal combat, fighting desperately to survive, in the Feywild. With an Eladrin soldier in mind, this struck me as the perfect starting point.

Astrazalian reminded me of an article I read in The Economist recently about the British army. The British armed forces are stretched to the limit and some of the government policies have made their job even harder (apparently this is British tradition). One such bad policy is their six month, on again, off again, rotation in Iraq. It breaks morale and prevents the men from building roots in the communities they serve (or live in). It sounds like a hellish situation. My character is one of these soldiers, with Astrazalian being his Iraq. Now I get to go read more about British soldiers in Iraq. Current Events FTW!

Because I always like to build psychologically flawed characters, I added an element of conflict with the paladin class. There was a religious conversion with this soldier that alienated him from his men. The god in which he converted to is TBD, but it will be one that is somewhat anethema to Eladrin, related to the battles of Astrazalian. I'm thinking he converts to The Raven Queen, a goddess of winter and the dead. Eladrin in the Feywild are ruled from the Summer Court, so maybe The Raven Queen is a bit like Feywild declaring you're a socialist in the 50's; a little too close to the Red Menace.

Perhaps his men are perpetually raised from the dead to fight once again in this endless battle, at least until their minds break. The Raven Queen represents a final rest, regardless of the demands of mortal powers, possibly a treasonous idea in a time of war. Perhaps choosing death is a form of desertion, stigma against your honor and a blow to the status of your family. Rather than a pro-life agenda, imagine a religious movement that's radically pro-death.

I think I'm enjoying this game again.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Day in the Life

I get up around 7am, while the family is still sleeping. This gives me about an hour to myself, during which time I check my e-mail and Facebook, write my blog, and login into the POS machine at the store. Since I work the day shift, I'm curious about the evening sales. I check every item that sold, determining whether to order it again. Then I work with the sales numbers, the key ones being the gross sales and cost of goods, which get plotted on my "open to buy" worksheet. Next I look at the money collected: a cash worksheet and a credit card report allow me to track cash on a daily basis. This tells me how well we're doing and if I have money to buy new games.

Now that I know how much money I have to spend and how much I have going in to the bank, I'll often create automated purchase orders based on re-order information. These are estimated "wish lists" that will get heavily modified after the sales reps explains the reality of what's actually available, as well as stuff I pre-ordered that rolled in, often unannounced. I place orders almost daily, while most stores do it once or twice a week. I do this because we're understaffed, in my opinion, and it's much easier to process a smaller order every day with one person than a gargantuan order a couple times a week. Daily orders also allow me to keep my promise of "next day delivery" on customer special orders. Doing all this from home saves me about a half an hour of time, so I can leave a half hour later to get to the store if I want.

I usually get to the store around nine to nine-thirty, giving me at least 30 minutes to set up. Running a retail store has elements of performance to it, so after the basics of turning off the alarm, turning on the light and preparing the register, I need to turn on the DVD player, the satellite radio, and spend about 15 minutes touring the store to make sure the shelves are in order before show time. The higher the evening sales, the more it seems the shelves are in disarray, as the single staff person had less time.

If I had a store log book, I would be looking at it to see what strangeness occurred in my absence. Instead we use e-mail. If you haven't been facing the general public, it might be hard to understand what kind of shenanigans can occur. Every conceivable person allowed to leave a building on their own can walk into your store, so anything that can go wonky eventually will. Throw in criminals, the certifiable (I'm not talking accountants), and the average knucklehead and they'll make a mess of your plans in some way. Hopefully my staff hasn't been ripped off, scammed or terribly confused in my absence.

Most of my day consists of helping customers, doing some light cleaning, paying bills, and trying to ascertain what's new with game products. A lot of the "what's new," including industry rumors, I learn from my sales reps, but I also check the Game Industry Forum (GIN), a depressing, array of debates, but often a good source of raw data. I check several industry news sites, like ICV2, and Purple Pawn. If I really want to waste a lot of time or try to gain some "primary" knowledge, I'll visit various fan sites like Dakka Dakka, Bell of Lost Souls and There are only a couple blogs that I read, such as Chris Pramas' Ex Teenage Rebel. If I were seriously intent on staying informed, I would probably listen to more gaming podcasts, like Michael, my manager, does. Lately the signal to noise ratio on gaming podcasts is a lot like reading discussion boards, so although I've been downloading them, I tend not to listen too often.

I'm skipping stuff, like eating my sandwich alone at the counter, and fielding calls from manufacturers and vendors. Really though, if you focus on your customers, keep the store clean and organized, and stay informed, you've covered all your bases for operations. With store management covered, business owner work comes into play.

How will I spend my advertising dollars? Am I minimizing my expenses? Is my current strategy mapping to my business plan? Have I communicated with my investors lately? Are they happy with me? For most I've gone from their worst investment to their best, since I pay dividends and they haven't lost any money with me. Is my event calendar full of meaningful, profit making events? If not, do they at least fill an important customer niche? Am I prepared for conventions and trade shows? Each year this stuff gets a little bit easier, but you can also get into a complacent rut. In business you either grow or you die, and it gets harder each year to bring in more customers or come up with more money making plans. You just have to keep plugging along and asking if what you're doing is working. Usually you have to ask, because it's hard to tell.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

DM Burnout

Just the suggestion that I might be burned out on running my D&D game was met with the affirmative from Michael this week. I've been running games for many years, and burnout creeps up on me slowly. There's this constant fear that I've outgrown the game, that adult responsibilities have finally caught up with me. Role-players in their forties (and older!) are trailblazers of sorts and we don't have many role models that have gone before. The RPG community is certainly aging, and sometimes we just need a sign that everything is alright.

Another one of my group members will be taking over my DM responsibilities for a while. That means I get to play again. I get to make a character! I get to finally play D&D 4, a game I've followed closely, ran a campaign up to 4th level, yet I've never been on the other side of the screen. I pulled out all my books and fired up the DDI character maker beta and started the research for a third level character.

The books suddenly had a new life to them. As a DM, most of the new books are not terribly interesting. It's like a catalog of what other people can do to you, rather than a toolbox or interesting reference. Boring! As a player, however, the various options were shiny and interesting, and I started making various combinations that I had set aside as a DM for later. Three characters emerged: A dragonborn warlord, halfling bard, and eladrin ranger with a blink dog animal companion (call the dog what you want, all "wolf" stats are the same).

Recovering from DM burnout, I wanted more of a supporting role. I wanted a character that could fill in the various holes that I saw in our group, that emerge every time. The ranger seemed the least interesting, his animal companion seemed kludgy and held back. It was as if the designers started from a position of the combination being overpowered and gradually pulled back until the animal companion was appropriately neutered. I saw it as interesting, but nothing special. The bard build suffered from limited information in DDI, since the PHB II hasn't been released yet. It was more of a preview class, and I deemed it not quite ready. The warlord, however, was just right.

I went with an inspiring warlord with the bravura presence from Martial Power. The concept was a feral dragonborn who rushed into combat with spectacular results, when he survived. The problem with the build is it requires high strength and charisma, meaning his dexterity and constitution are lacking. Those lacking qualities are what you need if you want to rush into combat, unfortunately. I gave him a Cloak of the Walking Wounded to help him cope with this. I really like the chess board feel of the warlord, the ability to push and pull others around and manipulate combat. Knowing how I operate, I'll probably change character concepts several more times before we begin play.


Megrash, level 3
Dragonborn, Warlord
Build: Inspiring Warlord
Commanding Presence: Bravura Presence

Str 20, Con 10, Dex 10, Int 11, Wis 8, Cha 16.

AC: 19 Fort: 18 Reflex: 13 Will: 16
HP: 32 Surges: 7 Surge Value: 8

Diplomacy, History, Intimidate, Athletics.

1: Improved Bravura
2: Bravura Spirit

1, At-Will: Furious Smash
1, At-Will: Brash Assault
1, Encounter: Luring Focus
1, Daily: Fearless Rescue
2, Utility: Reckless Opportunity
3, Encounter: Flattening Charge

Light Shield, Adventurer's Kit, Acidic Khopesh +1, Horse, Warhorse, Crossbow, Crossbow Bolts (20), Cloak of the Walking Wounded +1, Magic Chainmail +1