Monday, March 30, 2009

Competitor Bitch Slap

One of our Magic organizers was discovered handing out flyers during Friday Night Magic, advertising his new store. It strikes me as rude, and somewhat hostile, and I'll have none of it, especially after offering to be civil and helpful. So he's banned, which I'm sure is only a minor nuisance for him, at least until his store fails in 9 months and he has to recruit players to draft at the local Taco Bell. I suggest a flyer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Speaking of Net

We're having our first profitable March. Yes, it's year five and March has just become a month I no longer dread. That leaves January and April as low points that need filling in. April may always be a bloodbath, thanks to taxes. The concept that you can have periods where you lose money is tough to accept when you get into retail. You become a busy squirrel, saving away during good times because bad times are just around the corner. For example, I envision December and January as one period, since December is a time of plenty and January is dismal. You just hope at the end there's money left over.

Lord of the Rings. Sales of the miniatures in March are neck and neck with Warhammer Fantasy and the War of the Ring book isn't out until Friday. Here's the thing about this game: It's going to get panned by most 40K and fantasy players. I've accepted that now. They have their game; the LOTR game has two strikes against it for them. What surprised me are the number of new people, especially kids, who have expressed interest and bought new models. The multi-genre gamers, those always curious about a new thing, are all over this one. My guess is that these "alpha" gamers will bring more people into the fold when it's seen on the table.

Indie Miniatures. Since there has been interest in the numbers on this, let me say that sales are very good, especially for the first quarter of this year. Like my RPG's, it requires a lot of careful rotation of the stock. About half of what I sell in this category doesn't get re-ordered, but I make a point of trying to figure out what new to buy with that money. We've had some hits too, like cowboys from Artizan and Fenryl multi-stage fanasy models. If I add in games I buy that I consider indie, like Infinity and Uncharted Seas, we're wildly successful. Also, although I don't include them in this category, the Reaper Chronoscope models also sell extremely well. These modern, pulp, and other non fantasy genre miniatures.

Friday, March 27, 2009


With the base finished, I'm declaring this model done. There are probably several things I could do to add more detail, but I'm calling it a day. I took a middle way on the base. I used Vallejo basing paste to cover over some of the details, including burying a couple of the bodies. They made nice grassy knolls. The areas where riders fell were based with a brown sand, while the surrounding area was based with static grass. Some bushes broke up the open spaces.

My next project is the mumak crew of 13, but I've also got my first box of Morgul Knights to work on. Chaos Black and Gunmetal Grey sound like a nice break from detail and color.

I've revised my list a bit:

  • Wringraith: Dark Marshal (125 points)
  • Morgul Knight Regiments - 12 companies (570 points)
  • Haradrim Raider Warband - 10 companies (420 points)
  • Khandish Charioteer - 2 (200 points)
  • War Mumak of Harad (250 points)
The base move for this army, excluding the mumak, is 10. So imagine an army of 45 horsemen, 2 chariots and an angry elephant with a crew raining down arrows. I envision the mumak taking the lead and charging forward, disrupting the enemy. Meanwhile, the horsemen in the back make a concerted effort to hunt down broken or split enemy formations. It's a theory anyway.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thinking Net

I had dinner with an old friend and business partner last night and we discussed our businesses. We both own our own businesses, and we've both been smacked around pretty good by the faltering economy. As we got talking, we had similar stories about how we recently changed our thinking about our businesses. We both have growing businesses, but that's kind of a misnomer. I think that most successful businesses see themselves as growing, because the alternative is running a dying business. That's how we've been taught to think. It's a grow or die mentality, but that's changing.

We both came to the conclusion that our growth spurts are over. There is no longer easy money from our modern financing sources, home equity and credit cards. I was not surprised to learn recently that 50% of small businesses (500 employee or less) rely heavily on credit cards for financing. The banks, which used to provide business financing in the past through lines of credit, SBA loans and the like, are atrophied from disuse. Why fill out a metric buttload of paperwork for an SBA loan when in the end it's secured by your house? Just get a home equity loan. Why get a line of credit from a bank when credit card rates are half the cost? Just fill out the short form online or one of the dozens send to you each month. Credit in the future will be harder to get and more expensive and the credit we have now is on shaky ground.

The days of easy credit are over and eventually we'll see a shift towards traditional small business financing, but until that happens, there is little money for small business investing, and what lines of credit we have are drying up or are at risk. The advice I'm reading from the credit blog I read is to avoid talking to your credit card company at all cost. My goal for this year is to pay off debt as quickly as possible and preserve my lines of credit. I also want to do more community banking, starting with a credit card from my local, responsible, business oriented bank (Mechanics Bank).

The bad economy has also spurred us to save money and has challenged traditional ideas about expenses. For example, I've always advertised based on a rule of thumb, about 2-3% of gross sales. I read it in a book and other retailers have nodded their approval, so that's how I've done it, and for the most part it has worked ... I think. While focusing on the bottom line, advertising seems like a big discretionary expense. The new question: What if I don't do this? What if I don't spend this money? What's the worst that can happen?

It's always been a balancing act between rent and advertising. If you pay low rent for an obscure location, offset it with advertising. What's low rent? There's no such thing in California. I've slashed my advertising budget and my new thinking is that I'm more willing to be reactive to slowing sales by advertising than pro-active by throwing money at questionable marketing. All advertising is questionable, by the way. Advertising rarely gives you the feedback that it works, so it seems ripe for the cutting.

Even the way we talk about our businesses is different. I've always reported sales numbers and increases using gross sales. I no longer care about gross. I care about net. A net profit of one dollar is far better than gross sales of $60,000. The gross is smoke, while the net is fire. I'm finding tools I've created for reporting are too gross focused, with net rarely playing a role other than to calculate cost of goods, the only nod that the net is in there somewhere. Large activities like game conventions suddenly become folly when you actively focus on net. The days of saying "It's a marketing expense" or "It's a merchandising expense" to justify unprofitable activities that seem vaguely relevant are over. That thinking is so 2007.

Now I know what you're thinking: Yes, but are you being penny wise, pound foolish? Are you throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Are you losing some quality wheat with your chaff? First, sometimes you need to lose a little wheat when you're learning how to identify chaff. Second, there are areas that we are spending more money on. For example, although we're both cutting expenses, we both just hired a new employee.

When you start cutting expenses, you're looking closely at your core operation and noticing shortcomings. I think if you're being honest with yourself, and not being a knee jerk employer, like large companies we all know, you end up seeing there are needs going unfilled. Needs that would improve your bottom line. For us it was about things like cleaning, organizing and fill in hours. Our labor schedule was too brittle and too dependent on down time to get things done. Our fill in guy was under trained and improperly compensated. It's like planning to fail. When will these core activities get accomplished? How can you maintain a quality business when you essentially have an untrained person working your store on a random basis? It's Russian roulette. When you think that you're growing, these problems are growing pains. When you're focused on the bottom line, they become unacceptable inefficiencies.

Advertising isn't getting entirely dumped either. We're both focusing on advertising opportunities. For example, my friend just took advantage of a free print ad, while I just booked a years worth of cheap TV spots. At $1 per spot (one showing of our commercial), it's hard to turn down. In comparison, one spot on Battlestar Galactica is $8. The $1 spots are fairly random, and at 150 spots a month it's a shotgun approach, but shotguns have a reputation for a reason.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Other Stuff

I placed our first Mattel order today. Before you blast me for more toys, note that Mattel has been gobbling up hot hobby store hits over the last couple of years. Games like Blokus and Apples to Apples are now Mattel products, along with classics like Balderdash and Uno. About half of the order is toys, however, especially the cars from the movie Cars, which have already proven to sell well (plus there's another movie on the horizon). We also picked up Cars jigsaw puzzles, and a bunch of Hot Wheels stuff.

I've noticed that ordering in game stores tends to evolve over time. Most stores start out with one supplier, a main game distributor. Many will also open a Games Workshop account or perhaps a Wizards of the Coast account if they're event driven. I don't open either until a couple of years in, but most stores will try to get them early on. Many stores stop there, while a good percentage will open a secondary account with a distributor, just in case. Over the years, successful stores will source product from a variety of suppliers.

The key is to listen to customers and not accept a product is unavailable when a distributor says no. For example, after lots of searching, I found bingo sets from Schylling, mostly known for their toys for young children. ACD and Alliance have both given up on bingo and the classic game distributors are always out. I'm finding there's a certain base inventory that always seems to be game distributor centric. Sales in that base rise as we build the business, but where I see most of my growth is with "everything else," the other stuff. Most stuff classified as "other" rarely makes a top ten list, but it quietly accounts for a growing percentage of our sales.

What is other? It might be stuff you already see, but sourced from a better source at an improved margin. It might be just one game that's hot but independent. It includes novelty items like our pirate band aids, indie miniatures from small suppliers, jigsaw puzzles from Germany and Spain, classic games from specialty suppliers, one off orphan games that distributors have dropped, hobby supplies, toys, and educational products.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Various Stuffola

Holding Pattern. I've been in this strange holding pattern since opening the store. My house, which financed most of the store, has a mortgage that resets in October. A lot of energy has been spent attempting to make enough money for both the store to survive and for the larger mortgage payment. The housing market crash has had a huge effect on this. The value of the house has tanked, but the economy has actually dropped down to my game store owner level. That's really bad. I ran the numbers this evening, and interest rates are now actually affordable for me, without a significant income jump. It's a sad feeling when you realize that success required a near economic collapse. It's not exactly time to pop the cork on a new bottle of champagne, since I'm screwed on the decreased value, but it means I'll avoid some hard decisions this Fall. Deal breaking economic crisis avoided.

Painting by the Sea. Next week I'll be going on one of my painting weekends. The family is out of town, so I'll be checking into a nice hotel in Santa Cruz to do some War of the Rings painting. I love Santa Cruz downtown, the .... scenery ... is so ... stimulating. Ok, it's the hot college girls. I can look, right? No, sadly it's the great bookstores. One of the fringe benefits of the store is oodles of frequent flyer miles, which pay for more rooms and trips than I could possibly take in a year. I would love to translate that into cash, but I blogged about what happened when I contacted Capital One, my points for cash credit card company. If you can avoid talking to a bank right now, you're far better off.

D&D Followup. I found running my D&D adventure (mostly a Dungeon Delve adventure) highly enjoyable. I'm pretty sure that next time I run a campaign, I'll be making my own adventures, although I'm told later WOTC 4E adventures are far more interesting than earlier ones. The down side was I didn't give the group enough follow-up time to complete what needed doing. I should have just narrated it, something like "You destroy the magic viewing chair and instruct the villagers to seal up the temple, thereby destroying any trace evidence of the magic portal. You safely return to your plane and have a nice apricot ale." Instead, with about ten minutes left, I gave them all the data and looked at them, as if they would somehow come up with the magic formula that would make it alright. Stupid.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Not So Great (rant)

Conquest Sac was a bust for us. Michael went. Vendors were scarce and the dealer's room got ghettoized; wished into the corn field. That will be our last one of those. The convention itself sounded like it was hopping, but I don't think Sacramento can support a dealer's room. It's a Sac thing. It sure won't be my thing again.

Surprise Bill. Because I love to talk about how much money I'm saving, let me share my utter disgust with my property management company that sprung a giant maintenance bill costing thousands of dollars. Along with it came a big rent increase, all due immediately, all given without any notice. This is not the annual rent increase that happens later in the year.

Property managers have a great deal of discretion according to most leases. They can charge fees for themselves, for maintenance of any sort they feel is necessary (using a company they own in my case) and for general repairs. Unfortunately, 100% of their expenses are passed through to the tenant, so while the stores that rent from them are cutting expenses, the property managers have no incentive to do so. We're contractually obligated to pay, so why cut costs?

I shouldn't act too surprised. I did my research into this company and I knew they acted this way. Expenses practically doubled each year during the first half of the decade and have only recently slowed to "exorbitant." The offset is in rent, which is fairly low. To me this means they're doing the actual owner of the property a disservice, taking too much for themselves and short changing their client. Shameful, pathetic and a slap in the face every time of their lackey's walks by with a paint brush to "touch up" the building or sweep the sidewalk.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mumak Update 2

I'm feeling that I'm about done with this model. I would definitely paint the individual parts before putting it together next time. About next time: I think one of these is about enough, mostly because it was a pain to put together and paint but also because I've seen the game in play, and more than one is pushing it at a medium point value.

One thing I'm torn on is the base. There is a stupid level of detail on the base. Several horses, a few fallen riders, and a bunch of weapons. As you can see here, I've done a simple dry brush of all this stuff. It brings it out without taking away from the main model. It's also vastly easier to paint than going over all that stuff properly and then flocking the base. For now I'll go with this cheat, but I may paint and flock it later.

Store News

Here's what's happening with events and new product:

New Stuff
  • Ravensburger. We finally received our large puzzle order. It adds a wide range of jigsaw puzzles and brings our puzzle section to the largest its ever been. Come take a look.
  • Lord of the Rings. We've completed bringing in the range of LOTR models we plan to support for the War of the Ring game. We'll likely add depth to our range, but you should be able to build your army with what we've got. Sales began two weeks ago as we brought it in and they already rival some of our better selling games. The rulebook releases on April 4th. If you plan on buying one, please let us know so we can order accordingly. A pre-order will guarantee you a copy. The demand for this one is a big unknown. You can still view the preview rulebook at the store or see the quickstart rules online. I'll warn you that the rules are a little incomplete, but they should give you a feel for the game.
  • Craft Toys. We've got some orders coming over the next couple of months for more craft toys, like erector sets, science kits, and some cool Star Wars sciency toys. The big hit at this years Toy Fair was the Force Trainer, which uses your brain waves to move things. No joke.
  • Warhammer 40K. Our 40K campaign began on Wednesday, starting out with 9 people in attendance. You can join in at any time, so just show up Wednesdays a little before 6pm. The campaign is run by a staff member, Michael Parker, using a modified rules system from Mighty Empires, the campaign system for Warhammer Fantasy. It looks fantastic.
  • War of the Rings Kickoff. April 4th is the release of War of the Rings and the launch of our new league. Come check out the game and learn to play. If you've played other GW games, the system is similar in feel, but the mechanics are a bit different (much improved, if you ask me). Followup events are on the 18th and 25th.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Tournament. April 11th is our much anticipated fantasy tournament. Warhammer Fantasy has seen a resurgence of late, and this is the time to rally around your game, meet new people, and potentially put a regular event on the weekly calendar.
  • Magic: Alara Reborn Pre-Release. The next Magic re-release is April 25th, with a follow-up "release" tournament on May 2nd.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Competitor

I've got a new competitor opening up soon. I have to admit that I'm a little concerned. My main issue is not that they'll steal away business, although my first response was to wish it wasn't true, just to avoid the headache. The theory about competition is that stores create their own customer base. They add value by making new customers. In other words, it's not a zero sum game, in which a finite sized pie is divided among stores. When a store dies, competitors take only a small number of their customers. Most float away and leave the hobby or start shopping online. When a new store opens, a similarly small number migrate away. It's actually very hard to woo away another stores customers unless they're doing them a disservice. Everyone has to make it on their own steam, and it's hard earned.

A bad store, however, can drag down other stores around them while they fail. For example, the economics of a discounter will eventually lead them to failure, including those horrid liquidation specials, but they might do great harm to other stores on their way down. They may "own" the market because of their pricing, but when they fail, the market evaporates and everyone is worse off. It's not like the dislocated customers suddenly have an epiphany to go to the other game store. Most are oblivious to other stores; they had their place.

You really only have three options to differentiate yourself: price, selection and service, so I'm hoping this new owner knows which one they're concentrating on. Although it may seem odd, I'm actually open to helping them, if only to make sure they don't make the kind of mistakes that will hurt the community overall. I've learned that an established store needs to stick a hand out and at least open up a line for communication. Otherwise there tends to be misunderstandings, rumors and animosity. So if you're reading this, give me a call and I'll do my best to be a good neighbor.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writing an Adventure

I wanted to share some new resources I found for adventure writing. If you're in my gaming group, you shouldn't read this until next week, since I'm running this adventure on Sunday.

I've been consistently running D&D games since the mid 90's. It's what eventually led me to owning a game store. With 4th edition, I found that the pre-published adventures were not inspiring. Part of the problem, which is also their strengths, is that everything is done for you. There's very little time investment needed to run one. In fact, after the initial reading, there's almost zero prep time. I spent a lot of time on world development and then when it came time to run an adventure, it fell flat. I had no investment in it and it wasn't fun. The solution was to write my own.

When I say "write my own," I don't need a scratch built adventure. I need something I can put my stamp on, something at the very least I'm psychologically invested in. For some people it's as little as changing the main monster from hobgoblins to orcs. For me it's coming up with an idea and finding whatever resources are at hand to create or adapt it. Luckily there are enough tools now for 4th Edition D&D to make this happen. Just a few months ago it seemed rather hopeless.

For this first adventure, I'm a guest DM, so I'm borrowing someone else's world. This means I can't stomp on it too hard, burn it down, or change too much. That's a good restriction. The second restriction, which helped tremendously in the scope of my little project, was time. I have one evening to complete the adventure and get the party back in order roughly where they started.

Any more than three encounters and it will run over, which is a fail. While writing it, I constantly had to pull myself back from adding new elements, which I think is a very good design method. I tend to let my mind go a little wild, and this requirement reels it back in. For example, I spent an hour researching arrow fletching rather than just banging out an encounter. I needed a touch point for a tribe of marauders.

My first step was to find a set of encounters to modify. This came in the excellent book, Dungeon Delve. It gave me a couple of options, a 5th level encounter with a necromancer or a 4th level encounter in a desert with some gnolls. The party includes 6 players of 4th level, so it could go either way. The gnolls were more appealing (and I have a ton of gnoll miniatures), so I went with them. Dungeon Delve tells you which tile set to buy, so there is no mapping required for this adventure, something that might take me as long as the writing. The Dungeon Delve set of three encounters provided the backbone for my adventure. The Dire Tombs tile set provided the maps.

Next was to figure out where to put this. It's a desert adventure in the middle of a lush, green land. I decided to go planar. It gets me where I want to go and it avoids stepping on the world. A portal opens to an alternate world during an eclipse, in this case the Shadowfell. Manual of the Planes kept me consistent with D&D cosmology. I dumped my standing stones idea, since it seemed like a better portal to the Feywild, and went with the entrance to a burial caern as the gateway. The party would find a village in distress, almost the same as the one they started from, except it's in the middle of a desert and the people are shadar-kai. Manual of the Planes provided ready elements, such as the lake of necromantic seepage, the Zamar-Sha desert raiders that act as a foil against both their enemies and the party, and a general discussion of how the Shadowfell works as a parallel world.

Modifying the adventure was next. The villagers were being enslaved by these gnolls, their young virgins taken for ritual sacrifices, or so they're told. It's a rescue mission, almost identical to Allen's (our DM's) initial mission when we first arrived in the "real" village. The pyramid where the bad guys are located is in the same position as the ruined tower that we explored in his adventure. It seemed fun to parallel his world for this one shot. So now I've added elements to the Dungeon Delve adventure to make it more my own. Next I needed to modify the encounters.

DDI membership provides a Monster Builder tool. It's not perfect, but it's useful. I wanted a gnoll shaman to be behind the gnoll invasion plan. Their secret plan is to use the portal to invade the material plane after finding an artifact in the pyramid that allowed them to view the plane. They're using slave labor to dig out the artifact they need, but until then, they need the use of the viewing chamber and have come to an alliance with a grell that nests there, feeding them the flesh of the hostages. I found the shaman using the Compendium search tool. It was from a Dungeon Magazine article, but it was 11th level. The Monster Builder allowed me to "reverse engineer" it down to the 8th level monster I needed. It took a little time, but it was exactly what I wanted.

The next step was to scale up the encounters. We have six players, and I've learned that encounters are far, far too easy with six compared to five. Using the Encounter Builder tool, I checked out what the current adventure called for, a standard, standard, hard encounter arrangement, and made sure I added monsters that kept the adventure in that range. The easiest thing was to add one more of the more basic gnolls to each encounter, but I could have added a demon or hyenas, monsters that the Monster Manual recommends goes well with gnolls. Adventurer's Vault provided the one cool magic item for this adventure, a Jar of Steam, which the shaman would use to escape, if cornered. Maybe if I'm guest DM again, she'll find her way to the material plane to call on the adventurers.

I'm the kind of person that has to write out everything for the adventure, like an old school module. You can download it here along with more adventure details. You just need Dungeon Delve with the associated tiles to run it. My point of this post is the tools are what made this adventure possible. The work on my end is what was needed to make it mine.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recurring Conversation

I keep having this recurring conversation with customers over the last few days. It goes something like this: My D&D group has just about had it with Dungeons & Dragons 4, and Player's Handbook 2 is the book that will decide if we commit to the game. These are very good customers, sophisticated gamers that I've known for years, but haven't seen much lately. They know their stuff. Although they've gotten beyond the rule system, more or less, they feel their options are far too limiting.

If what they're looking for are more options, such as classes and races, I think they're in for a very pleasant surprise. My own group has been running classes from PHB 2, the bard, druid and sorcerer, for weeks now. We've been very happy, although the bard seems to fall down a lot. I've made fantastic barbarians, shifter wardens, and gnome minstrels that have made me giggle with excitement. Options are certainly there, if that's what's keeping people from committing. However, if this was my position, that the game felt incomplete, there's only one option that I know that would fix that.

It's a DDI Subscription. For $5 month, you get access to all the content of the books, previews of content, such as the PHB 2 classes I've been playing for weeks, and it's all integrated into useful digital tools. The Character Builder is superb, and I only get that feeling of vast options when I use this program. You gain access to all the books, magazines, and preview content. $5 a month is nothing, unless you're living in a dirt floor shack in Zimbabwe. I'm assuming D&D players just don't know about this amazing resource, as opposed to balking at the insignificant price tag. Some are unwilling to a commit to a monthly subscription since they're still on the fence. My advice is to hop off and see if DDI provides what they're looking for.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Broken Street Date

Our local Borders at Sun Valley Mall broke the street date on the Player's Handbook 2. I called over there and the cheerful sales clerk put aside one of the last two copies for me. She was in a good mood as the book was selling well since they put it out for sale on Friday. The street date is Tuesday, today. A call to Wizards of the Coast merchant relations went to voice mail, so when the books finally arrived yesterday, they went directly to the shelf.

One problem however: about a third of the shipment arrived damaged. Since a third was already accounted for by pre-orders, this left a grand total of 3 books unsold by the end of the day. More won't arrive until tomorrow, so I'm bringing my own book back and offering up the damaged copies with the promise of a swap on Wednesday. If I had been Borders and received damaged copies on Friday, I could have had replacement books by today. It seems one of the truths in this trade is that whenever something big comes along, there's a big box store waiting to steal your thunder.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Top Games (Year to Date)

I did something similar about a year ago. Here are our top 20 games for 2009. The number next to it is the change in position from 2008. One very important fact not reflected in this data is that there is no new game in the top 20. That's the first time I've seen this lack of new blood since being in business.

Each one of the big jumps and drops have a story behind them. A game might have received better in store play support (Pokemon), the company may have had some big hits (Z-Man), or in the case of Wood Expressions, they changed their packaging to be more retail friendly and we jumped on board.

Edit: What I see from this is the top games hold steady, moving around a bit, while a bunch of newcomers have entered the second tier, pushing weaker established games downward. One caveat: Since this is only three months of data, it's more susceptible to small shifts, such as new releases for each game.

Magic: The Gathering

Warhammer 40K
Warhammer Fantasy
Dungeons & Dragons
Fantasy Flight Games
Rio Grande

Flames of War
Mayfair Board Games
Wood Expressions (classic games)

Z-Man Games
Days of Wonder
Dark Heresy
Star Wars CMG

World of Warcraft CCG

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mumak Update

I still have 4-5 more hours on this guy, then another 5-6 for his 13 man crew. I can say now that I will not be doing the 3 mumak squad, at least not at first. After watching a game on Saturday, I expect I'll have a LOT more troops, likely additional cavalry. Two mumak are 500 points, so that's a good number of extra models to have on the table. One model that inspired me on Saturday were the trolls. They're very hard to kill, and although they don't do a lot of damage, they inspire some fear because of their size.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Minis Baseline

We're restructuring some of our miniature game events, starting today at 12:15 with a staff run War of the Rings kickoff. We're also creating staff run events for Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy. I'm not a big fan of staff events, unless you're overhead is ridiculously low, like many stores in the Midwest. Most stores in high cost areas rely on volunteers or unpaid owners who love their game and want to promote it. I admire their dedication, but for a single owner store, I think it's a time sink. Instead, I want to try something different and run our top games with staff to see what we can accomplish. Maybe I'm wrong about this. The worst case scenario is I prove myself right. How bad can that be?

Whenever you make a big systems change, it's good to first perform a baseline analysis. This is a snapshot of how things are now so you can measure the change in the future. I'm attaching a pie chart. It's a poor baseline graph because it doesn't show growth, only proportion. We want the pie to get bigger, rather than shift around, but proportion tells us things too. What we can't factor out is the biggest growth factor, new releases during this time.

Also, since I haven't done this in a while, below is the breakout by army for Flames of War. It used to be far more even, but now the Germans have taken over.

Friday, March 13, 2009

2000 Feet

It's the simple things in life. This commercial dispenser holds 2000 feet of toilet paper, which is something like 38 conventional rolls. Our dispensers have been broken for a while, so rather than adjusting the rolls several times a day, this should allow us to ignore this hassle for a couple of months. We have two bathrooms, so two dispensers.

Crime Report

After jumping through hoops, I've at least got a crime report for my check fraudster. I'm told nothing really happens from here unless the DA finds some sort of motivation to go after her. The report is for a Lisa Holmberg, formerly of Walnut Creek (for the sake of Google searches). If you've been victimized by her, let me and the district attorneys office know.

The scam worked like this: She bought a bunch of toys, supposedly for her son's birthday. She was loopy enough for me to comment later that I had my concerns, but everything checked out. Her ID matched her appearance and the address on her checks. In fact, when I called the police when the check was returned, they were able to confirm over the phone my description with the photo on her drivers license, since it's electronically on file. My certified letter to that address (required by law to file the report) was returned. Then she came back a day later and returned one item for cash. If I were to have a proper checks acceptance policy, the solution would have been to send her a check for that return after the initial check cleared, but I didn't. Wham, out more money.

The next day, a guy comes in with the receipt. He wants to return everything and he actually seems angry with me for her buying the stuff. In other words, he initially tries to put me on the back foot so I'll be more apt to do what he wants. I now begin to realize I've been had, and start to get a little belligerent back. I basically tell him something seems a little fishy, but if he wants, I can exchange the items. He tells me he's going to go to the stores upper management, but when I explain I'm the owner, and he notices that I keep glancing at the CCTV cameras that he's standing under, he quickly ends his tirade and scurries out, with nothing to show for it.

The end solution, as you know, is just not to accept checks. I used to lease a check verification system for about $35/month. After four and a half years, this is the first bad check I've received, albeit a deliberate attempt at fraud. The system would have cost me nearly $2000 to have avoided a $90 charge back. Bottom line: no checks accepted. Hopefully the pin pad will fill this role.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Player's Handbook 2

The excitement surrounding the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Player's Handbook 2 hasn't been this intense since, well, Player's Handbook 1. The book is released on Tuesday and contains a bunch of new classes and races. Many have been available to DDI subscribers for weeks now. My own game has a bard (recently deceased), sorcerer and a druid. I think there's a sense that the game was missing content and that PHB 2 completes it, as opposed to adding interesting options as with the 3.5 version of the book. The gnome is also back, as is the half-orc.

Pre-orders for the book have exceeded total sales for any of the other books released since the June launch. It just seems like a no brainer if you're an active player. What I'm more unsure of are the power cards, which release at the same time. Initially I thought they might have been made redundant by the excellent DDI software, which prints power cards as part of character sheets. Then I noticed that few people at our RPGA game seemed to be using the software. Perhaps they're more useful after all.

PHB 2 Contains:
  • Avenger
  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Druid
  • Invoker
  • Shaman
  • Sorcerer
  • Warden
  • Deva
  • Gnome
  • Goliath
  • Half Orc
  • Shifter

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Consider "No"

There is a lot of talk about small businesses expanding their portfolio, offering new product or services in this time of recession to make up for dwindling sales. I'm more of a proponent of digging down on the positive and analyzing what works best, and doing more of that, as opposed to taking potential risks on new product or continuing to support marginal product. Anything that bolsters your business identity and helps with sales of existing customers is key. Market to the base. Sell to the base. When it comes to expansion or chasing new markets, "consider no."

For this reason, I've finally said no to poker. Poker has been a thorn in my side since I've had a store. In 2004, 50 count rolls of clay poker chips were going for $30 each. By the end of 2005, the retail price was $5 each. Great, right? Not if you have a shelf full of poker chips for which you paid $15 each. Poker chips have always been a symbol of speculation and loss for me. Poker accessories were just as troublesome, including folding table tops. We had a series of customer buy them during the week and bring them back on Monday, a little worse for wear. The Black Diamond Games rental plan.

Over the last couple of years, chip sets would be sold and later returned at a rate of something like 40-50%. This is the kind of business that rarely gets a return, so it's highly annoying knowing in advance that the sale is probably not going to work out. We are clearly not hitting the mark in that situation. I started developing a return policy just for classic games, much stricter than our lenient store policy. The goal is customer satisfaction, but store satisfaction was certainly lacking. I decided recently to turn my back on poker, along with the monumental headaches and the troublesome sales pattens. I'll sell cards and card shufflers (shufflers have a return rate of something like 25%), but enough already with the chips and table tops.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ATM Cards

I wanted to let everyone know that our ATM pinpad was installed today. We're still working on configuring it, so it should be ready for use within the next couple of days. I learned from the blog that having one of these was important to customers. It also saves us about $100/month in fees, so it pays for itself in about three months.


I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. I intended to buy this book in the mental category of "business." I read his book Tipping Point and it was helpful in my business thought processes, so I figured Outliers would be the same way.

The book refutes the common notion that with a lot of hard work, you can do anything. Most of us know that's not true, it's going to take more, but the book takes this a step further and tells you how success is achieved, and it's pretty convincing. A lot of hard work, roughly 10,000 hours of practice according to the research, is what's needed to become great at something, whether it be the piano, computer programming, or what have you. Almost nobody achieves greatness without this initial factor. Two other factors play a roll too, however, as hard work without these factors is often a waste of time, or more likely, the opportunity to do that work won't exist without them.

Opportunity is one factor. Without the right opportunities, people, generally children, aren't given the chance to even do the hard work. For this, Gladwell looks at our selection process in children. Sports and schools use birthdates to initially filter children. If you happen to be very young at the cutoff dates, you are likely to be at the weak end of the curve. Unfortunately, the systems then select for the best early on, meaning that disadvantage in maturity is compounded. The bigger kids get into the better sports leagues; the smarter kids who are more mature by up to a year over their peers get into "gifted" programs early. Those in better leagues get more practice time while those who are "gifted" get superior instruction and are surrounded by more mature peers. By the time they are mature, there's an obvious similarity amongst the standout children; they've been clearly filtered by birthdate, that initial selection criteria and that data reflects that. Hard work from there will generally lead to success, provided the timing is right and the circumstances are ideal.

Circumstances often means coming from a family that is well educated and engaged with the child. The evidence showed that even gifted children in gifted programs are far more likely to fail if their family is poor and not engaged with them. This was the big revelation for me in this book, the fact that my thoughts on child raising were a bit off. My ideas were too traditional, too old school, a bit lower class, a bit less engaged. It turns out those kids who are constantly engaged, shuttled from one activity to another, and coached with their schoolwork, are far more successful than children of equal ability who are left to their own devices. The concern that children are coddled and brittle is far less of a threat than lack of engagement. The common phrase "Why can't kids just be kids anymore?" turns out to be a recipe for failure, or at least an impediment to success. Kids who are left to be kids can't relate to authority, ask for what they need, or work to control their social situations.

For true greatness to emerge, there are often external circumstances that offer unique opportunities. If you were born around 1955 and had access to technology early on, you would be uniquely placed to be a future tech leader, provided you put your time in and were supported at home. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and many others were in these unique situations. Titans of industry in the 1850's were similarly lucky, as were Jewish laywers in the 1920's. Behind every success story is hard work, but also unique opportunities and a superior upbringing. When you dig down into success stories, you'll often find these critera for success. If you were wondering what a "boostrap" was, it turns out to be an engaged family who works to get you superior opportunities as a child, so you can then do the 10,000 hours of "pulling up."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Miniature Games Bonanza

Some things we're working on:

Weekly 40K Events. Starting in mid April, we'll have staff run 40K events that closely follow the Games Workshop events. Fill in events will take place when the GW calendar is empty. The goal is to have consistent events, the same day every week, with the marketing efforts of Games Workshop behind it. Like our RPGA event, there will be a $5 fee that gets you a $5 gift certificate, $16 if you pay a month in advance. Games Workshop will provide prize support.

Flames of War Sale. Don't we have one of these like every other month? We're dropping about a third of our box sets. They're at 40% off and feature a lot of German and British, with smaller amounts of American and Russian. Box sets are redundant in Flames of War, from a store owners perspective, and we need the wall space. If you want to play Flames of War in the store, we've got a couple people consistently showing up Monday nights. Join them!

Lord of the Rings. Guess where the Flames of War money is going? We're building up our LotR stock for the release of War of the Ring on April 4th. We've got a couple dozen sets in now with more product arriving every Friday.

War of the Ring Pre-Release Event (3/14, this Saturday). Come in and learn to play the new "War of the Ring" miniatures game. We will also be starting a preview league to get started with the game. Just to be clear: The models are the same as the skirmish game, but the ruleset is in no way the same. It's a robust strategic miniature ruleset that should play fast and appears to be me to be more engaging than ... gasp ... 40K or Warhammer Fantasy. At the very least, it's worth checking out.

Learn to Play War of the Ring (4/4): Noon to 2pm. League play follows.
The cadence of iron-shod footfalls echoes on the horizon, heralding the approach of the next great war of our time. The races of Middle-earth grow restless in anticipation and are gathering the greatest heroes, beasts and war machines they can muster for the inevitable battle to come. Don't be left wanting when the war horns sound! April marks an entire month of escalating conflict and activity for War of the Ring players. Join us as we set out on an exciting journey with an entirely new game! Come in on the 4th to meet other members of the War of the Ring community, proclaim your allegiance to the Forces of Light or Darkness, and prepare for a month's worth of activities and army building!

Follow-up Lord of the Rings events are scheduled for subsequent Saturday. Check the forum calendar.

Kobayashi Maru

I think game stores are in the scenario known to Star Trek geeks as Kobayashi Maru. In this scenario, you're given options, none of which lead to success, as a means to test the character of the individual. You will fail, but it gives everyone a glimpse of your thought processes (how I feel about this blog sometimes!).

Game store owners find themselves with an ever decreasing margin, exemplified this week by Wizard of the Coast's decision to reduce the margin of Magic by 1%, in the name of marketing. This little tidbit was at the bottom of an email that mostly talked about how restrictions for selling Magic online were being loosened. Margins are usually reduced, as they were in this case, in the name of additional marketing budgets. It's for our own good. However, the programs eventually fade and the margin remains low, the original intent long forgotten. Margins have been reduced significantly over the last few years. It's the weaselly way manufacturers raise prices, without offending customers; they just offend retailers. I've found that for us, margins have gone down an average of 1% overall each year we've been in business, once I make adjustments. Meanwhile, other costs rise at around 3-4% a year adding to the burden.

"I don't believe in the no-win scenario."
James T. Kirk

So how do you win at Kobyashi Maru? How do you beat the system designed to test your reactions as you fail? You change the programming, as Kirk revealed in Wrath of Khan. There's two ways to do this, either cut your expenses or boost your sales. Cutting expenses is very hard. You've got a bunch of fixed costs like rent, and the variable costs are hard to modify. Will you cut your store hours? Will you adjust the thermostat? Can you reduce your garbage bill or credit card processing fees? These are drops in the bucket compared to fixed costs like margin on product. That's unsatisfactory, as Spock might say.

Better is to increase sales. Duh. Everyone wants to do that, but that's a slow slog unless you turn to the black arts (the Internet). Almost all successful stores sell online or at least dabble with eBay liquidations. There are limits to this, however, and the margin on online sales is often half that of in-store sales, when you make any money at all. I learned I can sell about $6,000 on eBay in a given month, which sounds like a lot until you realized the margin is razor thin and you don't have enough supply to continue. Where do you go? How can you short circuit the programming so you can win? You attack margin.

Increasing margin means you need a supplier that will give you better costs. The obvious thing to do is buy from the cheapest supplier, but even better is to expand the store into used product. Used hobby games is definitely a good way to boost overall store margin, provided it's done efficiently. You generally sell used product for 3-4 times what you paid for it, as opposed to twice your costs from distributors. In exchange, you accept it may sit there for a long time, and you'll eventually have used game "sludge" that will need to be discarded. The store owner is doing the work of finding the buyer for the game, and thus the margin is bigger. Bigger risks, bigger rewards. Still, used product is only about 3% of our sales, and we work hard at obtaining a good supply of the stuff. Even so, it's a small boost at best.

Some stores go a step further with what they call "the entertainment model." We dabbled with this a bit. You buy and sell used entertainment products, like video games, CD's, DVD's, etc., dealing more with the general public than hobbyists. Some see this is a revolutionary way of making money, while I see it as changing my business model to Sanford & Sons. It's a very profitable model in areas of the country where it works, but it's the way towards madness. It's crashing the Enterprise into the Klingon battle cruisers. Game stores usually cease to be game stores both in focus and in the minds of customers. It's great if you love selling games but would be equally happy selling womens' shoes, but if you're in this for the love of the hobby, it's a pyrrhic victory. Yeah, I'm the king of the junk heap!

The final option is to cut out focus on all comoditized games. For example, many game stores have stopped focusing on collectible card games. Sure, they'll sell them, but the game space is for the miniature players or board game players, because that's where their margin is strongest. Ceding CCG's is a good choice if you've got a lot of local competition, but it means taking the reigns as the leader in your replacement games. We make money on Magic and we have a huge turnout for FNM, but if I suddenly found a large crowd of miniature gamers who wanted to run similar events, I would be a fool not to give them the slot. Magic margins are always low.

More than likely, a successful store will try a variety of these strategies to see what works best. They may even diversify into other product lines that are less comoditized, although I can't recommend the dismal toy industry as an option. The idea of a game store that just sells stuff has been dead for years, as is the card shop model. The only question I have is what the future will look like as game store owners try to beat the system that is currently evolved into a failed model.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Magnet Equation

I'm starting to think our little shopping center is a magnet for trouble. When your anchor store is a Hostess outlet and the big draw of your shopping center is "cheap bread," you're just asking for trouble. Add in a thrift store and a discount dentist (great guy, but he advertises on price) and your walk in clientele tends not to be the highest echelon of society, and quite often, petty criminals.

Since we opened, we've had two criminal "events" in the store and possibly a third as of this morning. This isn't run of the mill shoplifting, of which we have had a large enough increase to necessitate cameras. These are professional criminals targeting local businesses. Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's the location. Whatever it is, I've lost a bit of faith in humanity and my profiling skills for deadbeats and nut jobs are becoming finely honed. You can sense the tweaking, the veneer of interest in not one thing, but everything, the general sense that you do not belong. It's not about race, gender or any other factor (ok, maybe class), because I've been ripped off by them all equally, it's just their sense of wrongness in the situation. You just know there's going to be trouble now or later.

Just to be clear, these are not my customers or even potential customers. I believe I am extremely patient with customers, even those who rarely buy anything. At the very least, they belong. They are part of my herd. The rare times I do lose my patience with regular customers, it usually comes from a place of familiarity. If you ever wonder why some game stores tend to be dungeons that only attract gamers, it might be because the general public kind of sucks and the owners, if at all possible, would like to avoid them. Bad for business, possibly better for mental health (the next post will probably be my refuting charges of elitism).

The other half of the magnet equation, and far less sinister, are the bargain hunters. They are visiting the shopping center to buy bread and snack foods at a deep discount, to buy clothes and furnishings at a deep discount, and they walk into my store wondering what's for sale and why Mexican Train Game costs more than Wal-Mart. They'll actually walk in without looking at anything and ask what's for sale, as opposed to asking about what we have. They have no interest in games, they just want bargains. Any bargain. I'll point them to the bin of unloved colors (discount paint) and Reaper miniatures on-sale, but they just get confused. That's not a game! It's hard not to lose patience with these folks. If there's anything that can burn you out and grind you down about retail it's these people (oh yeah, and the government). I may rail about shrinking margins (Wizards just dropped the Magic discount by 1%) or low pay, but what will likely do me in at the end are the outsiders.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Return of the Mumak (extended edition)

It took the length of the extended edition of Return of the King to get the Mumak built. In fact, the credits are still rolling and will likely follow me into retirement. I wonder if they had someone whose job it was to keep track of everyone?

You open the box and think, ha! This is for children! The elephant is a red herring. It's the funky howdah platform system that's tricky. It's a combination of pieces not quite molded properly and of a funky design (or both). For example, there are platform legs that just kind of get glued on somewhere, somehow. That's how I experienced it anyway.

The elephant torso is built before the big battle even starts. I might even finish this thing before the disc change.

These howdah assemblies got a little tricky. You know, the kind of assembly that requires three hands? But nothing too difficult. Poor Frodo.

These side platforms (I hate sponsons) were probably the trickiest part of the build. You needed to build the smaller assembly first, then attach it to the side of the mumak, but you couldn't tell if it would fit until you attached it. I broke off the inserts on both sides before I finally got it glued. This was my first time using Zip Kicker (glue accelerator) on a plastic model, but it ended up becoming increasingly handy as the build progressed.

The scene before Aragorn chops the head off The Mouth of Sauron. Sort of like my annoyance when I realized these support pillars just kind of glued in some place in some sort of angle. The front projecting platform similarly was meant to defy gravity and logic. The zip kicker was used liberally on this part of the assembly, and the support pieces were re-installed several times, including trimming columns that were too long. One will need a little putty to reach the platform.

By the time Aragorn was crowned, the model was mostly done.

There was much weeping and goodbyes, at least in the movie. I was glad to be finished. The extended version's goodbye scene even allowed me a cup of coffee and some crackers while I waited for the glue to dry. Total run time for this project: 251 minutes. That's before painting, of course. Oh yeah, and don't forget the 13 man crew.


I played in my first RPGA game last night. A few things struck me about it. The role-playing element still seemed to be part of the game. Sure, it's kind of tacked on and it seems to be more spoon fed, but most players took it seriously and rose to the occasion. Some of the characters had in depth backgrounds that they tried to use in various situations. It's all a thin veneer of role-playing, but for those who find it important, it exists. Part of this is you don't die permanently in RPGA, which I think encourages backgrounds and flavor.

This was my first high level game and what struck me were the various combo moves. At times it felt like a game of Magic, one of the original criticisms of the system. Interrupts and various daily power combos seemed to dominate our last combat. Granted, it was the boss monster and it only happened a couple of times, but as a low level DM and player, it was a little bewildering. I suppose it's just different. Rather than some massive, one shot, do or die Meteor Storm like spell, you get a series of devastating abilities. Like any version of D&D, players took pride in their character-fu, with knowledge of the rule system and the various synergies prized highly.

What has struck me about RPGA players though, is they seem to know most of the major powers for all character classes. Perhaps they've played them all, or maybe they just need to know how each character works quickly, to work with that character in each new game. In fact, that was one of my problems playing a warlord. The warlord is a leader character that assists the other, and it took me a while to grasp the group dynamics. Instead, the players would often cue me on opportunities, which showed their depth of knowledge and experience with a game that's only seven months old.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Penny Wise

I've got plane tickets, I've paid for the hotel (miles rewards), and the show fees, but I'm leaning heavily towards skipping the Gama Trade Show in April this year. Trade shows are neat because they help you focus on what's coming up. They teach you about new products and provide seminars on improving your business. Unfortunately, I've never been more certain on what I'm doing for the next year or two and it's more about business fundamentals than anything exciting like new product lines or expansion.

The main reason for wanting to pass on this show is the lackluster list of companies in attendance. It's not that the ones attending are boring, the list just seems much smaller than before. If I think about what I would want to talk to them about, nothing comes to mind. I either know them very well or don't want to know them. The seminars are likewise not that thrilling, with a lot of good retreads, some I've seen just last year. Those that interest me are on topics like accounting and business process, which I've got handled fairly well.

I hate feeling like I'm saving a little money now at the expense of the future, but that's what these times seem to call for. I would much rather have the wages for my replacement and my food budget at the show go towards paying off debt or a new game. I'll give it another week before I decide for sure.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Free Market Hagiography

I speculated last year that many Free Market fundamentalists were having their world view shattered by the economic meltdown. The “invisible hand,” the idea of “pulling oneself up by ones bootstraps”, and the entire premise of our class system, which nobody with money wants to talk about, is predicated on a nearly religious observance of the Free Market. It’s strongly ingrained in conservative ideology and permeates our culture. So what happens when Free Market fundamentalists see their belief system collapse?

They certainly don’t blame the clergy. Money managers, traders, financiers and other elites of the world of finance are the high priests of the free market. They’ve received a free pass for the most part. What’s ironic, however, is if you really talk to the priesthood, they will tell you the market is not as free as we muggles believe. There are constant checks and balances, including government regulations that keep the markets running smoothly. Yes, high men of the faith admit this! The “invisible hand” is a complex web of laws and regulations that provides incentives and disincentives based on our collective will. It's subjective and it's not invisible.

The Free Market fundamentalists, much like with the Catholicism of my youth, are presented with just enough information to keep them behaving in the desired fashion, without causing them too much confusion. As an aside, I was shocked to learn in graduate school, that the Catholic Church has some amazing resources, such as contemplative traditions to rival Buddhism, yet these teachings, for the most part, are reserved for the clergy. No need to confuse the fuzzy wuzzies. The same holds true with economics.

So rather than blame the priesthood of finance, the free market fundamentalists act like superstitious people whose faith has been shattered in a crisis; they blame other parishioners for not doing their part. It was those who worshipped improperly at the altar of the free market, those poor people who bought homes they could not afford. They were lacking in understanding of the tenants of the faith. Forget that they were being guided by the financial priesthood, it is their own bootstraps that they failed to pull up. It's always about the bootstraps, whatever those are. They started all this! And while we’re at it, there were some heretic priests in the mix too that ministered to these poor bastards. We call them Democrats.

So on to hagiography. Hagiography is a kind of biographical re-write in which we take really good people we deem holy and make them even holier. Animals now flock to them. They have pithy quotes while being boiled in oil. They fly through the air or turn into a rainbow upon their deaths. You take a perfectly good historical record, a guide map for the simple folk on how to be a great person, and you turn it into a freakin’ comic book that meshes with your religious views. Perfection was never in your grasp anyway, common silly person; only God can have that, so just try to do the best you can. That's not your job, that's our job.

Now we see a kind of free market hagiography. An economic re-write that defies logic, the actual events, and all reporting on what actually happened. There’s a story the free market fundamentalists tell themselves now that’s a kind of hagiography. A bullshitification of the fact that the free market system was never free or fair, and was in fact broken by the high priests who ran the show. The religious studies term I like is "re-mythologizing." It accepts that the facts before were myths, but we're now pounding out new myths, re-cast in the light of a new interpretation.

Free market fundamentalists bristle as the new administration has a free hand in discussing issues of class and fairness as they sweep up the mess. Such blasphemy! Instead the fundamentalists work constantly to divert blame and most importantly, protect the faith. Rail against the poor, minority home owners. Blame Democrats for pouring billions into banks and subverting the whole system of pulleys and bootstraps. Balk at stimulus money. They’ll be damned if someone offers to pull them up by their bootstraps. The most important thing is to come up with some sort of story that keeps their conservative, free market faith intact. The government does nothing right and is to blame for this, after all.

Meanwhile, as a small business owner, I’ve got my own free market fundamentalism to deal with. I may be a Buddhist, but I was raised Catholic and I still don’t deny the existence of a God, you know, just in case. The same is true with economics. Which side is up? Is supply and demand still functioning? Are economic principles still at play? Listening to my Wall Street Journal small business podcasts, the rules seem to change each monthly. Do I discount now? Do I expand? Do I sit still? Warren Buffet has thrown up his hands in disgust. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater (or Buddha out with the bathwater, as we used to say), but how do you know what to believe anymore? And that is exactly why we’re in a crisis.

Building a War of the Ring Army

I was going to write this big thing called "Free Market Hagiography" in which I talk in religious studies terms about how free market fundamentalists have lost their faith, are re-mythologizing capitalism (should it be a big "C"?), and rather than blame the priesthood, blame worshipers who lack faith and doctrinal understanding (poor people who bought homes). But that's not why people read my blog, so lets talk about how I came up with my War of the Ring army list.

War of the Ring is the new miniature battle game that comes out April 4th. It uses the exiting line of Lord of the Rings minis, which to date, has been attached to a skirmish rule set that nobody plays, but everybody seems to have tried. The first step in creating an army list is figuring out point values. GW is rather coy about this. They don't want to scare people off, so they suggest starting with a small skirmish force, maybe 500 points or so, but you could play epic battles too, up to 9000+ points. After getting a consensus online, it seems like point value for a starting army are around whatever your group play now for existing GW games. I've decided on a point value of 1500 points.

Do I want good guys or bad guys? Some people are immediately captured by the models or movie scenes from one side or another. Talking to people at the store, the elven archers at Helm's Deep are inspiring, or perhaps the dwarves that get overlooked in the movies. For me, there was nothing more stunning than the mumaks (giant elephants), which made the horse lords nearly pee themselves. So I would play evil, and it would start with giant elephants. Sweet!

The Decree of Rarity
says I can't have more rare units or formations than common. A formation is all the same units bunched together. I went with 3 mumaks, which meant I had to pick three common formations. Originally I was thinking of doing Mahud raiders, those half naked guys on camels. I was foiled in my desire to use camels as rough riders in my 40K Tallarn army, so this is where I would get my revenge. Alas, they're not only rare units, but they're metal. Metal is the gotcha in War of the Ring, as the models are hugely expensive and tend to sneak up on you in price. I was careful building this army and only about 20% of my cost comes from blisters.

Rather than go with camel riders, I went with riders that matched my mumak crew, Haradrim raiders on horseback. Here's where I made another decision about my army; it would be entirely mounted. Mounted units in War of the Ring smoke everybody, plus there are fewer models to paint, another strategy with this army. A unit of Haradrim footmen is 25 points, the same as horsemen, but footmen companies are 8 men, while horsemen are 2. The second principle of this army is that all my front line troops would have bows, so I gave the raiders those as my main option.

With 3 rare formations and 1 common formation, I decided to pick a leader before going further. It was only after reading the website that I realized Suladan was supposed to lead the Haradrim, but by then I had found a little sidebar called "The Shadows of the Nazgul." I could have a Nazgul lead my army! The Dark Marshall was an obvious choice, because he was not only an awesome leader, but would allow me more horsemen as common choices, Morgul knights. He can also be mounted. Best of all, another theme developed, Terror! The mumaks caused terror, as do the Morgul knights and the Nazgul. This would be an elite terror army.

Finally, for the last formation, I went with Khandish mercenary raiders. Expert horsemen who can shoot while moving. I originally went with some Kataphrakt knights, but it didn't fit the theme as well. These are my filler troops, so rather than using my max company strategy, I went with only four companies.

Key Army Elements:

  • Everyone is mounted. The mumaks have a rather random movement rate, so the army will likely pace themselves at their speed. I mostly do this because I want an "elite" army (less painting). There are 25 horsemen, 3 mumak and 39 mumak crewmen.
  • Everyone (almost) can shoot. Everyone except the Nazgul and Morgul knight bodyguards can shoot.
  • Terror is the theme. The horsemen in the middle don't cause terror, but they're fluff wise motivated by those in front (mumak) and those in back (nazgul and knights). For fluff purposes it felt a bit like a commissar driven army.
In case you're wondering, this comes out to about $500 retail before I start min-maxing boxes and blisters for the exact unit sizes. Another good method is to use what you already have. At home I've got a formation of beautifully painted Gondor riders, but I don't want to base my army around them.

QTY Type Name Points Total
1 Epic Hero Ringwraith: The Dark Marshall 125 125

1 Common Morgul Knight Regiment Cmd
35 35
Morgul Knight Commander 50 50
Banner Bearer 35 35

3 Common Morgul Knight Regiment 35 105

1 Common Haradrim Raider Warband Cmd 25 25
Haradrim Chieftain 50 50
Banner Bearer 35 35
Bows 5 5
3 Common Haradrim Raider Warband 25 75
Bows 5 15

1 Common Khandish Merc Raiders Cmd
25 25
Khandish Chieftain 50 50
Banner Bearer 35 35
3 Common Khandish Mercenary Raiders 25 75

3 Rare War Mumak of Harad 250 750
13 Mumak Crew each

Total Points