Saturday, May 30, 2009

The New IG Codex (40K)

I played my eighth 40K game on Wednesday, a 1500 point epic battle between my IG Tallarn Raiders and Michael's IG Penal Legion. I'm still learning the game, and combined with two "horde" armies, the game took four hours. In the end, the desert raiders got lucky and pulled off a victory. In reality, they were in an unwinnable position, a last squad holding an objective while the penal legion's Leman Russ Punisher blasted them repeatedly with Gatling and plasma cannons.

Playing that game and reading an excellent guard review on Dakka Dakka had my mind whirling about all the possibilities (If you want a formal review, read the article). The most shocking revelation was that the command squads were no longer tied up with their bubble of leadership. This is the Dungeons & Dragons equivalent of telling the cleric player that he's no longer a medic (a 4th Edition feature). So what do the Company Command Squad and Platoon Command Squads do? Besides orders, which I think are overrated, whatever they want! (you have to use lots of explanation points now, when discussing the guard)

One of the best uses of these squads are as special weapons platform. For example, an excellent CCS option is to give them a chimera and melta guns and set them loose as an anti-tank squad. This is what I would have liked the sentinels to be, a quick, lightly armored anti-tank unit, similar to the M18 Hellcat of WWII. I'm once again falling back on my Flames of War Army Rangers ideas, but hey, they won a war, right? Unfortunately, I think the sentinels are too fragile, too under-gunned and too expensive. The Platoon Command Squad will likely want to stay a bit closer to the troops as support, but they're ideally suited for short range special weapons, such as four flamers, or again, four melta guns to fight off tanks.

What's the significance of this? It means men, as in static line squads, are not essential. You can still have them, and the las-plas classic combo is still a valid option, but you can have fewer men, and what they do is far more dynamic than before. It also means the weapons combos aren't as critical, or even necessary, and they have new usefulness as well. Every squad no longer needs to have a heavy weapon. The choice of weapon is important, but not a game breaker. The primary value of men is to hold objectives. Add in special characters, and sometimes platoon differences can be extremely diverse.

That diversity is enabled by a wider array of vehicles that better perform the job of men. The new Manticore is a tank killer. The Hydra's twin-linked autocannon should chew up infantry pretty well. The template placement of the Hellhound allows them to flame infantry at a farther distance away, making them more survivable. Like the Travelocity commercial, men are now free to roam about the battlefield.

The possibilities are near endless, something that I found lacking in the previous codex. That feeling of infinite possibilities is what keeps me enthused about a game. It also doesn't hurt sales. I drove out to the store last night to pick up one more chimera, now a cheap choice as a mobile gun platform. The Valkyrie is undeniably a winner as well: powerful, cheap, and versatile, although I can't get my head around it's enormous size and it's mainstream flavor. I say that now, but whose to say I don't drive out to the store tonight and buy one? Or three?

M18 Hellcat

Also check out the new Hellhound, announced today:

Friday, May 29, 2009

New Stuff at the Store

Woodland Scenics: In the category of "things Gary buys at other game stores," Woodland Scenics flocking is a high quality, low cost flocking product designed mostly for the model railroad folks. We just got in the more popular grasses in coarse and fine. I'm trying to get in some of the others, such as the sand and gravel ground cover. My 40K army is based in Woodland Scenics Iron Ore (a mix of medium and fine).

Armorcast. I love this stuff, even though it's terrain and sells like molasses. Does molasses sell? Dunno. Anyway, we got in the trench system last week, and this week we got the steam boiler, dumpsters with trash, sarcophagi and alters. These were our best sellers when we sold Armorcast at the old store.

White Dwarf #353. I'll get it for the Valkyrie article, but it's mostly devoted to the new Empire releases.

Arkham Horror: Innsmouth Horror Expansion. New investigators, character backgrounds as story mechanic, ancient ones, and a town that's hostile to the investigators. Keep those gates closed.

Game of Thrones: City of Secrets Chapter Pack. That's for you, Joe.

Snow Tails. A new game from Asmodee about dog sled racing. It looks similar to other racing games, except the board is modular (as opposed to having pre-set tracks). Ask for the bonus tile when you bring it to the counter. There's also a new Cash & Guns expansion, Cash & Guns Live, if you're a fan of that Asmodee game.

Flames of War: New today: Komissar M A Dedov, Kaptain V I Nevsky and the Konigstiger Platoon box. Thank the gods for cut and paste. Also, as much as Battlefront hates it when I announce this, we've refreshed the clearance bucket.

Games Workshop Price Increase! This weekend is your last chance to buy GW at the old pricing. Prices go up Monday and we're (really Andrey) working late Sunday night to make the changeover.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Gaming Life

I started my gaming with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. My particular version was the magenta box, received from Santa for Christmas. Soon it was supplemented by the early half-sized D&D books, including the one with the nude on the cover which my mother made me return to the store. It turns out the significance of the book in question, Eldritch Wizardry, was not sex, but the introduction of demons to the game. Those of us who played D&D in the 80's kept it on the down low, as it had a (quite attractive) aura of unwholesomeness. Thankfully those busybodies have moved on to harass video gamers. Good luck with that.

Eventually Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books made it onto my radar, along with the various modules (adventures) and other D&D paraphernalia. For the most part these were bought at the local cookware store. I would ride my bike to this store, back when children were allowed outside unaccompanied by adults. Cookware stores have a unique aroma, a coffee-like smell that to this day reminds me of my early gaming days. The modules also had a unique, printer ink smell, that I haven't smelled since. It was heaven. There was a tiny nook in the cookware store with one bookshelf containing my entire gaming universe. Eventually I would make it to the full game store (whose name escapes me) at South Coast Plaza in Orange County. It had a larger variety of games, but they were mostly war games and little chit and counter baggies from Steve Jackson Games and similar companies. Car Wars captured my imagination for about three days. Sorry.

D&D was my first love and most of my friends from junior high school and college were from playing the game. I lost friends too, such as when I intentionally played a character based around Damien, from The Omen, to annoy a Christian gamer friend. As a bit of trivia, he later became the bass player for No Doubt. I still keep in touch with most of those friends, along with my new friends, who not surprisingly, I either met through gaming as an adult or who were sucked into my gaming orbit for a time.

Besides D&D, we had other games we played in high school. Traveller was one that especially captured my imagination, but seemed nearly impossible to manage as a game master. There was the complexity, plus all the many books to buy. Still, I never had more fun playing a character, especially my lizard alien baron who had such an extreme metabolism that it required him to employ a servant to follow the party around with a shopping cart full of tuna cans. We tried Boot Hill, Gamma World and Star Frontiers, but they were diversions, and eventually it was back to D&D.

The one exception was Top Secret. A couple friends had world class adventures with NPCs to die for (literally). Our nemesis Taskmaster was always one step ahead of us in his tricked out Porsche 911. Our handler, Foster, with his state of the art jet and tasty popsicles, could arrive at any moment to whisk us around the world to stop some sort of villainy. The GM for that game eventually got a Top Secret article published in Dragon as well as an excellent article on character backgrounds. Remember, we were still in high school! Mostly I remember the tag lines, although the events that led up to them are only vaguely remembered. "Secret service, stay in your rooms!" Many of our characters were based on real-world spies or super-cops, while others were our desperate alter-egos.

These were some great role-playing sessions, but eventually it came back to Dungeons & Dragons. After we all went off to college, we tried to keep the old D&D group going, but it was a losing battle. I started my own gaming sessions in college. At this time it was the late 80's, and I was an Asian Studies major at San Diego State. I ran an AD&D Oriental Adventures campaign in a version of ancient Japan. Asian Studies was my passion at the time and a good adventure might involve a haiku competition or a major historical event. I recall some very moving haiku from the group, several of whom went to the library to research the form (this was before the web). These are the kinds of adventures that you could only pull off in the perfect environment of curiosity and learning.

After college, I took a break from gaming for a while while in grad school. It didn't last long and eventually I reconnected with my old high school friends to try out this new game called Magic: The Gathering. D&D was too involved and time consuming, but a few games of Magic only took a couple hours. This was around 1993, before we knew the addictive nature of the game. I went nuts buying packs, showing up each week with cooler cards to beat my friends. An arms race was developing among us, but we had a great time anyway. Eventually the job that allowed me to travel to visit my friends dried up and my gaming went dormant for a while longer, with only occasional Magic games with those I could corrupt into playing.

After grad school, a friend got me started with D&D again. It was the mid-90's, but we went back to our roots with 1st Edition. That lasted a couple years, resurrecting my interest in gaming and distracting me from a job I didn't care for. Eventually that group dissolved, and in my spare time I started looking for what was new in D&D. I discovered Planescape and was enthralled. The philosophy in Planescape never quite worked as it was supposed to, but I was willing to twist it into shape. I bought every supplement, read every book, created a website dedicated to the bariaur and eventually created a campaign with the IT department at Brightware, where I worked. This was a few months before the dot-com implosion and we happily explored the multiverse in the board room of the company.

That group eventually migrated to my house after the company died and the department went their separate ways. I maintained a 2nd Edition campaign until 2000, when I swore we would never move to 3rd Edition D&D. I was the first to insist on the migration as the Player's Handbook was looking pretty amazing. Four years later, I decided my passion for games, really this one game, was enough to allow me to open a game store. I was woefully ignorant and my gaming background was actually quite light, at least compared to people I know now (still, my friends might think of me as a fanatical gamer).

Since opening the store, I've learned a couple hundred board games, built full armies for Flames of War, Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K, and played in half a dozen more role-playing games, including Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay, D20 Modern, Mongoose Traveller, Mutants and Masterminds, and Spirit of the Century. Mostly I've delved deeper into my first gaming love, Dungeons & Dragons. My priority is my family, especially my son, but I believe you need to carve out a niche of time for yourself if you want to preserve other important things in your life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

40K Boot Camp Finalized

For those who wish to attend the class, please call or drop by the store to submit a $100 non-refundable deposit. The remaining balance is due the first day of camp. If you know the army you want to play, please let us know as soon as possible so we can have the necessary stock on hand.

We're fairly flexible on the materials composition. We're providing a battleforce box ($90-95 value), codex ($25-30 value), paint set ($30 value) and a tool set ($35 value). This is a great starting point for a completely new player. For players that may already have some of these materials, we're happy to substitute additional models, paints, storage cases or the rulebook. The only materials requirement is that they have new models to assemble and paint during the class.


I've been pursuing the elusive SBA ARC loan that I mentioned in a previous post. This is the economic stimulus package loan that offers small businesses a relatively small loan at great terms. It's got a 0% interest rate, a full year before payments are due, and it's secured by the government. Unfortunately, there's so little incentive for banks, and communication has been so poor between the SBA and financial institutions, that my efforts haven't gotten me anywhere.

My own bank hadn't heard of it when I called, even though the ARC loan goes into effect in three weeks. The branch I called was on the short list of SBA banks who specialize in SBA loans. The branch manager spent a good amount of time on the phone with me trying to piece together exactly what the thing is. When she got back to me later, her version of the loan didn't match the SBA version, telling me there's still poor communication or banks are free to use this as a starting point.

Still, as the manager pointed out, there's no way they would be involved in a 0% loan. In fact, because of the SBA heavy paper load, they would want to get reimbursed at least 4% or more to make it worthwhile. Step one for anyone wanting an ARC loan seems to be finding a bank that's at least willing to participate. That will probably involve waiting until the plan is better communicated by the SBA. What's likely to happen is that the ARC loan will share the fate with the housing rescue plan, the one that was supposed to help hundreds of thousands but had half a dozen applicants due to the strict restrictions and complexity of applying.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tallarn On Parade (40K)

I laid out my army today to make sure I was finished before showing up to play. It turns out I'm three men short, unless I want to substitute models. Although I had six squads using the old codex, the removal of so many las cannons and plasma gunners has put me short of the correct models.

Laying out everything also makes you think differently about your army. Things can seem out of place. For example, the two las cannons seem wrong in a troop selection designed to stop infantry.

You also notice painting inconsistencies. My Forge World snipers were added to the army, so I should probably paint their bases to match. One sergeant used to be a veteran (black head scarf) but is now a standard guy (white). A bunch of gun barrels need to have their muzzles painted.



Troop 1

Troop 2

Fast Attack and Heavy Support

More Photos

Captain Al-Raheim



Startup Pattern

As an addendum to my post yesterday, there's also this interesting idea about how small businesses start in a recession. People get laid off. Many decide that after a decade or two of experience, they're qualified to run their own business. They pull their savings and start their company. Many owners, for whatever reason, fold up these businesses a year or two later. At that point the economy has recovered and they go get a job. The survivors, at the very least, fill an economic niche or in the best case scenario, found an innovative company.

The problem I see with this model is the startup money issue. Usually this money comes from sources like home equity, investments, and credit cards. All of these sources have become unreliable, so I'm not sure where that startup money will come from. I know there's a lot of "sideline" money from the stock market, but if you're not willing to risk your money in the market in these turbulent times, I'm not sure you're going to take a chance on a startup business.

SBA loans are becoming a likely source of financing once again. A new bridge loan program comes on line in June. It appears aimed at existing businesses and offers a 100% government guarantee of the bank loan for amounts up to $35,000. It has a 0% interest rate and a repayment plan up to 5 years. There was something for small business in the stimulus package after all. I wonder what the banks get out of this?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Holiday Hours

Memorial Day: Normal Hours
4th of July: 10am-6pm
Thanksgiving: Closed
Christmas Eve: 10am-6pm
Christmas: Closed
New Years Day: Normal Hours

The Old Fashioned Way

Suddenly it has become fashionable to work for a living. The reality that many of our largest companies have been gambling for their profits has put a focus on the little guy, the small businesses that are now responsible for most employment and growth in this country. Investing in the market has hurt a lot of people too, again pointing out that there is more to business than giant companies. We don't have a lobby in Washington, and we don't solicit investment, putting us out of the public eye and money stream, but it's becoming obvious to many that small business is the economic driver, not the rich, not the mega corps. Over half of the non-government jobs in this country are from small businesses, many of which are resilient and immune to knee jerk corporate decision making, like pre-emptive layoffs.

Hopefully this awareness will have an effect on public policy. It's not likely, of course. Washington runs on money and public opinion, so it's only when small business is noticed that it gets any respect. We get no benefits whatsoever from the giant stimulus package, for example. Congress is considering restrictions on merchant credit card fees, but it's mostly working off the populist momentum of reigning in consumer credit card abuses. They're not thinking of us, they're most likely getting pressure from the Mega-Low-Marts of the world who see the banks in a weak position. They have lobbyists.

Still, I think the public in general is looking around and realizing that a lot of our economy is smoke and mirrors. We don't produce much. We increasingly outsource our services, and when our monstrous level of consumption begins to falter, we start looking around the place to see what else we've got, and that's how small business got noticed. It's also where innovation and the seeds for recovery and future growth will likely emerge. You don't have to be a Yahoo or Google, you just need to be willing to eek out a living, making something from nothing. In exchange you gain your freedom.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Store News

World D&D Day. It's tomorrow, Saturday, and if you're looking for something fun to do, come play D&D with us at noon. Just show up; everything is provided. I'll be working the store that day due to some last minute staff adjustments. Speaking of which, we've hired Alex Baker as our new employee.

6 Tables at RPGA Night! The twisted D&D brains of Thursday night figured out we could comfortably shoehorn in another table (really two tables) into the game center by creatively moving our miniature tables. After we spent a small fortune at Costco for more tables and chairs, we had our sixth table. It was promptly filled last night, with six concurrent RPGA D&D games going on at the same time. The incredible success of this event is due entirely to our organizers, especially John Jones. From what I'm told, we've got the largest and best run RPGA night in the Bay Area.

40K Camp Announcement Soon. We'll have a finalized version of our 40K camp for kids up soon. The information will be spread far and wide and we can only seat six kids, so if you know of an 11-16 year old who wants to get into the hobby or master some hobby skills, let us know.

Invasion of Mothra Clearance Sale! All Monsterpocalypse boosters and accessories are now 40% off through the rest of May (doesn't include starters). The store has been invaded by giant moths this week and we've been working to rid ourselves of this plague. Is this a sign of some sort?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

GW Price Hike

I like Games Workshop products. We also have a great relationship with the company. We're a partner store, which means Games Workshop actively works with us to promote the hobby. Actively, is the key word, as they're the only company that will sit on the phone with me and brainstorm about how to better sell their product and promote the hobby. They provide us prize support, free copies of pre-release books, pre-release models at cost, promotional materials, and order fulfillment second to none. Got two left tracks for a tank? Show me and you get a new tank; keep the incomplete one for parts or terrain. No other game company of note comes remotely close to this kind of support. They're so good that I have to resist being a GW apologist. It's easy to forgive foibles when they do so much right by you.

The price increase announced for June 1st is a reminder that the company can be a bit schizophrenic. Their last annual report promised no price increases, followed a few months later by a price increase. This was due, we're told, to the increased price of commodities, raw materials used in their products. Since then, oil and tin, the main ingredients of their models, have plummeted. This commodities based increase was supposed to be an exception to the five year plan, in which all models are gradually raised in price over a five year period. With the June increase, the five year plan has been abandoned completely, just a few years into it and nine months since the commodities increase. We're told the price increase is about trying to acquire some sort of parity or alignment with national prices around the world. With the Internet, it's easy to see that some countries are getting things cheaper than others, and it creates problems for them.

How do you explain this to a customer in a way that doesn't make you look like an idiot or a liar? It's one of those areas of discussion in which we have to shake our heads and move on. Unfortunately, a lot of customers are moving to other products or activities. Spray primer is a good example of this. It was once one of the best selling items in the store. For some heavy GW stores, GW black spray primer was the most popular product; their best seller. Increasing the price to $15 scared away all but the most die hard hobbyists. Now we sell a stupid amount of Board to Pieces primer with Army Painter primer slowly beginning to gain traction. A $14 bottle of Army Painter primer doesn't seem so expensive anymore.

Other customers are moving on to different games. The time of protest games, like Warmachine, are behind us (Warmachine players are curiously protesting new rules by playing Infinity). These are not gamers with money in their pocket looking to make a statement. These are gamers who have become very cautious with their money, switching to board games or Magic out of necessity. Others just hold off their purchases for some future time. It's a little strange when customers openly long for models they cannot afford. Pulling back from a culture of instant gratification can be a little clumsy sometimes. Poor is the new black, so complaining about your finances is acceptable now.

The truth is a lot of customers are being priced out of the market in these hard economic times. I think there's a permanent shift in US spending, especially in what's considered luxury or premium brands. Games Workshop increasingly backs itself into the premium corner with their price increases. Yes, we love their products, truly, but we're seeing hard limits on the way in which people are willing to spend their money.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Prep Work

Little boxes of happiness

With your treasure of shiny tin

covered in powder, poking me with flash

Bathing in soapy water

Drying on old hand towels so the mistress will not curse your shininess

Preparing for battle
Although less than half of you will fight

The others sent into service on the Bay of Eee


A few times a year, I sigh with relief as we pass through a rough period towards better times. Besides the lead-up to the holidays, the second half of May marks the end of the awful first part of the year, with few releases, the highest annual "gotcha" expenses like taxes and landlord "adjustments", along with a smaller customer base primarily composed of regular hobbyists. From this point forward, game companies are bringing out their Summer releases and customers are finishing up school or gearing up for Summer projects. Better times are ahead.

When I'm in a good mood, this time of plenty is what I like to think of as "normal," but good months are only half the year, so I can swing either way. I let my pessimism show itself yesterday on the game industry forum in a thread about game store survival in this current economic environment. Part of it is that I follow the economy a bit too closely and I think we've got another year of hard times, at least. The other part sees how much work running a game store can be, and how running one well nowadays doesn't seem to be enough for success. It requires a variety of "tricks" like auctions, convention sales, online sales, or extremely well managed events. At least that's what I think. There's a very good chance I'm wrong.

It's hard to tell what's really required to run a game store, mostly because they're all different. If your store isn't working, the nebulous subjective choices get analyzed first. Perhaps the culprit might be you. Perhaps you're no good at it or don't understand what you're doing well enough. Next are a variety of business decisions cut in stone, primarily location, both in demographics, cost and visibility. You can be a brilliant businessman but pick a doomed location. Nothing will fix that, not even selling your business.

Finally, you've got your business model. Too much game space? Not enough? Free or membership? Diversification or straight games? Longer hours or close early? Focusing too much on these kinds of subjective choices is a trap. Besides the self-doubt that eats away at you, it's not like you can do much about these decisions. They either work or they don't. That they're immutable is probably why our brains jump to them first.

The only real choice is to analyze the business itself, the day to day operation and expenses. In other words, doing the job. After that, it's about creativity. I think "doing the job" will get you to survival mode. You won't be able to save for expansion or new inventory. You'll just get it done. Creativity is required to thrive. Innovation and the obvious hard work pushes a store into profitability. I mentioned some of those creative ideas above.

I once complained to one of my Buddhist teachers that my job, with lots of travel each week, left me feeling disoriented. His answer: Don't get oriented. Perhaps a lot of the complaining and talk of exceptional measures is because we haven't accepted that this is now normal for running a game store. Many retail stores are required to have that something else. Why do bookstores have coffee shops? Why do hardware and craft stores teach classes? Those who entered retail because they thought it would be a relaxing way to make a living from behind the counter are sorely mistaken. Those times are long gone. I have to admit I was one of those people, working hard trying to get oriented.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Auction Success

Our Ding & Dent Auction and Sale went extremely well today. We had many volunteers along with staff working the auction. The surprise for us was the huge amount of customer auctions this time around. There were hundreds of items from customers, enough to make the sales for this auction around the same as the last auction, and with only half as much ding & dent materials provided by the store! Even better, only a handful of customer items didn't sell. Some of those will definitely go next time with a few tweaks.

May is a rough retail month, especially coming off the slow first four months of the year. I want to thank everyone who helped make this possible and the customers who bought these great bargains. It's events like these that get us through the hard times.

Bubba's Boom Booms

I'm really happy with the airbrush and camo patterns. The masking process can be troublesome with paint brush painting, due to the layers being too thick. When you remove your masking, you can get ugly ridge lines. That problem is nearly eliminated with the air brush. Oh yeah, and then there are the hours of brush painting that I can forgo. I can't believe I waited so long.

The first thing you notice are the differences between the two I just painted (center) and the two on the sides with dozer blades. The two side chimeras were painted a year ago and were the first vehicles I painted (other than Flames of War, which doesn't count). The middle ones, painted over the last week, are the ninth and tenth vehicles in my 40K army, fourteenth and fifteenth if you count sentinels. My technique has gotten a lot better, the processes much improved and I've refined the look. The differences are almost too overwhelming. I sense a lurking dissatisfaction with the older models.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Little Meta: Dog Food

The underlying premise of many of my projects is that I'm eating my own dog food. If you click on the link, Wikipedia gives the example of a company developing their own email system and forcing the employees to use the less than fully functional in-house system. I found that amusing because I worked as an IT manager for a dot-com company called Bluetrain that was developing an early web based email system. All the employees were using Outlook, because it worked. The in-house system could be down for days at a time, and few dot-com employees, overworked and underpaid, could afford to be without something as crucual as email. In the classic example of eating our own dog food, the CEO made me remove all the employes Outlook, forcing them to use their horribly buggy in-house software. I thought he was a mad man, but I see his point now.

Generally, if there's a product that I sell, that meets my needs, I'll tend to use it, even if another one might be slightly more "optimized" for my use. This gives me experience with my own products and exposes my customers to them at the same time. If a product truly stinks, I won't use it and I'll try my best to get that a better product in the store. That's how Testors arrived. I go way out of my way to bring it in, because I really like Dullcoat varnish. Likewise, I'll use a slightly less optimized product, like the GW spray gun, versus a more sophisticated compressor setup. Based on my volume of painting, a compressor probably makes sense, but the GW gun does a fine job and I sell that. I don't sell compressors.

This is also the premise that drives me forward with new games, why I'm an early adopter of many games and why I have an almost religious disdain for electronic games. It's not that I don't like them, or I haven't played them (I played Warcraft when it was called Warcraft), it's that I view them as a dangerous distraction and nothing to do with my daily life or business. In general, I regret my time with video games, but I can't recall a model I've painted or a D&D session that was truly useless. D&D in my book is like pizza; when it's good, it's great. When it's bad, it's still pretty good.

More with the 40,000

Stripes! After 9 vehicles, I've found that the best looking camo patterns, in my opinon, are organic stripes. Attempts to break up the pattern by applying splotchy bits looks bad.

What was the secret to using regular Citadel paints with the spray gun? Nothing really, although having a clean spray gun is a start. My nozzle was clogged, which caused some delay as I searched for a magic formula, but after a good cleaning, the standard formula shown on the bottle worked fine. I did notice that a single coat is not as bright as my brush painted vehicles. I tried one vehicle with a coat of foundation Mechrite Red, then a coat of Scab Red, but it didn't make it any brighter. I'll need at least another coat of scab.

He's a bit out of focus (stupid iPhone), but this sergeant has been promoted to Master of Ordinance. He's got a vox caster on his back, a plastic Cadian bit. He's also been modified with a Cadian arm from a Basilisk sprue. This model has the stock sword blade, but my other Tallarn sergeants have different blades borrowed from various sources. It provides each one a signature weapon; very fluffy.

Next it's back to the store for more spray propellant and scab red paint.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thanks to the Readers

One of my favorite blogs is closing down and it got me thinking about those who have helped me with this one. It's not a special holiday or anything, and I don't plan to stop writing, but I want to thank a bunch of people who've been reading my blog.

Manufacturers and sales reps have been reading it and occasionally call up to help me, or yell at me, depending on what I've said (usually the former). If communication that leads to good things is special treatment, I've gotten some of that. I've also been treated less well on occasion. Game store owners are "siloed" for the most part, isolated from the rest of the industry. The blog has opened doors, offered educational opportunities (mostly me getting schooled) and in some cases, cleared the air. I'm finding that most companies are looking for opportunities to help retailers. They're wracking their brains to find ways to connect with us, and ultimately make us both more successful.

Other retailers (and former retailers) have been very helpful in sharing information. Most have given me good ideas, compared notes (usually offline), or chastised me for my alleged indiscretions. I am of the industry, but I do not represent the industry. That's my disclaimer that some would like me to stress more often. I'm not a particularly social person, but the blog has opened me up to a lot of interesting retailers who I wouldn't have met otherwise. The cool thing about small business is you can do everything your way, and the variety is endless. It's fun to watch.

Customers have been surprisingly interested in the blog, and I thank them for both reading and remaining my customers. Some people have become customers because of the blog, reading the blog first and then seeking out the store. I hope they weren't disappointed; it's just a store at the end of the day. Many mention they read the blog, with an even split between those who enjoy learning about the day-to-day business of running a game store and those who read it for the stuff about my projects or info on various games. I purposely try to cater to both crowds, in case you were wondering why (at least) half my entries are utter crap. Most importantly, what I've discovered, at great peril, is that customers appreciate the honesty. I do listen, and I regularly change direction if I'm convinced I'm going down the wrong path.

My Wife. Who reads it occasionally and logs in to fix my spelling or grammar errors. I usually try to write entries while she and Rocco are sleeping, but there have been plenty of times when she's patiently allowed me to let meals get cold or shirk my parental responsibilities.



And now for you other 50%:

The GW spray gun did it's job with a nice base coat of Adeptus Battlegray. The next step is camo masking with HandiTak. I like it better than BlueTac because it's less elastic. You can buy it at Michael's, in case you thought I was pimping the tack. After the masking, I'll need to figure out the right formula for using a standard Citadel paint in the spray gun. I've done this before with the Baneblade, but I didn't take notes because I thought my army was done. Foolish Gary, you are never done. I know GW wants to pimp the foundation paints with the spray gun, but an article on using standard paints wouldn't hurt either.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ding & Dent Arrival

We received and cataloged over 20 boxes of games yesterday, stuff that ranged in quality from pristine to forklift fodder. We also started taking in auction items from customers, with some real gems, especially out-of-print and hard to find board games like Monsters Menace America. It's shaping up to be a smaller, but very, very high quality auction.

Some highlights: Copies of 40K Apocalypse in perfect condition. A large assortment of AT-43, usually with one model in a box broken. A bunch of good quality copies of Stone Age. Pristine "coffin games" from Fantasy Flight like Tide of Iron, Starcraft and Descent. The new Age of Conan is well represented. The list is available to subscribers and on the email archives (to the right of this page).

Edit: A customer dropped off Magic cards for the auction for the first time today. Five neatly sorted bundles that each include at least 72 rares. The buy it now price is $40 each.

Sale Stuff: It's been a strange quarter when it comes to gauging product demand so we'll be using the auction as an overstock sale as well. Overstock D&D will be sold at half off, or in some cases, buy one, get one free. We're already selling Ork battleforce boxes for $55 while they last. These are products that are considered "evergreen" and never go on sale. Take advantage of the situation.

D&D 3.5 Update. I'm about ready to put the brakes on our buy-back program, but every new arrival brings in a few more gems. We're probably better stocked now than when the game was in print!

Modeling Update: The debate on priming yesterday was whether to go with a standard black primer or to use one of the new Army Painter primers, either gray or red. Andrey at the store swore that the Army Painter red primer was an exact match for the scab red of my vehicles. I wasn't so certain, so I chickened out and went with black. I'm planning to use the Games Workshop spray gun, so it's not like an extra step will cost me a lot of time.

Priming turned out to be difficult last night, with the paint too runny. I'm not sure why, it was around 74 degrees and fairly dry and I was using a fresh bottle of Testors (after an almost finished GW primer nozzle clogged). I was planning to try the new army painter black primer, which I brought home, but I discovered the little black Testors bottle hiding. I'm actually getting to the point where bottle priming isn't suiting my needs any more, since they're so unpredictable. I wonder if using chaos black in the spray gun would give more consistent results. Is it even suitable as a primer?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Store News

Auction. The auction is this Sunday and the list of items was sent to our mailing list. You can view it in the email archives (link on the right). Additional "surprise" items from the showroom will also be on sale Sunday.

Warmachine League. Starts this Sunday, after the auction (4ish). It's not the best time to start a new league, following the auction, but it's the slot we've got. We'll be open late on Sunday, which leads is to....

Sunday Hours. We're experimenting again with staying open late on Sundays. Consider this a seasonal adjustment until we figure out if we want to make this a permanent change. The current plan is to have flexible hours on Sunday night, closing at 10pm if it's busy, or earlier, around 8ish, if it's not. Use it or lose it.

D&D 3.5 is Back Several customers have taken us up on our D&D buyback offer and we're well stocked now on 3.5. We're still looking for more, but if you want to fill out your collection, come see what we have. Prices for these are now at the "collectible" level. Some books are as little as $12, while others go as high as $40.

I did this for a few reasons: I no longer feel it's necessary to "bang the drum" for 4E. It's real, it's here, it's what most people play. Also, I think the recession may be holding people back from upgrading to 4E. How do I want to respond to that? I'm a merchant after all. The "long tail" will have people playing 3.5 for many years to come. Used D&D second edition stuff still outsells many of our current role-playing games. Why turn my back on such a popular game?

D&D RPGA Expansion. We're adding an additional "pod" for our Thursday night RPGA group, meaning we'll be able to run one additional game. RPGA at our store has been ridiculously successful, thanks mostly to the work of John Jones and our RPGA volunteers. It has been crowded enough to require a reservation via Warhorn. Hopefully this will ease the pressure. If you've been wanting to try out the new D&D, bring a 1st level character on Thursdays at 6pm. Also, we'll have another D&D special sale this Thursday. Show up to find out what it is.

40K League Night. There's still room for more players in our 40K campaign. It's a staff run event on Wednesday nights starting at 6pm. Imperial Guard is the army to beat.

And then there were two.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Summer Camp

We're looking at doing two Summer camps this year. If you're interested, please let us know. Here's a draft of what we're looking at doing:

Dungeons & Dragons Camp. The D&D camp is designed for kids aged 11-16 who have never played or who have an introductory experience with the game. Players will create characters, learn to paint miniatures, and adventure as a team. The event has a dedicated staff member and would run for a week, Monday through Friday, for four hours a day. Cost: $150 plus $50 materials fee.

Warhammer 40K Camp. The 40K camp is for kids 11-16 who want to learn the 40K hobby. No experience is necessary. Players will buy the codex and battleforce box for their army and will assemble and paint models in class. They'll learn the basics of the game in a campaign setting against other kids their age. The event has a dedicated staff member and would run for a week, Monday through Friday, for four hours a day. Cost: $150 plus $125 materials fee. Paints and modeling supplies will be provided.

The dates for these camps haven't been decided yet, but will likely be sometime mid to late June. We need at least 4 kids for each camp, so please let us know if you're interested.

Good Riddance Advanta

On the business side, remember when the credit crisis first emerged and I reported Advanta jacked my interest rate from 8% to 30% because of "economic conditions?" We'll they're finished in the credit card business. Good riddance. Read here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Trouble with Tallarns

Command Chimera

Having 3,000 points of Imperial Guard didn't mean I could get away with not buying anything with the IG codex release. It started today with two shiny new chimeras for use as command vehicles for my officers. That sounds much more exciting than the three hours I spent with gray plastic and glue fumes. There's still a sense of excitement and accomplishment, even though it was the ninth chimera chasis I've assembled. Can you believe I got the tracks to fit perfectly on an assembly? What are the odds? Apparently it's 1 in 18.

I found it odd that the cool new options in the codex, the astropath, officer of the fleet and master of ordinance would be relegated to direct services (special order) for this weeks release. They're new. They're exciting. So why not release them through regular channels? We'll be getting a couple packs for the store, but there's no guarantee of a delivery time. Worse, all three come together in one blister pack. It's unlikely you would pick all three for your army. I personally need two of the three, and that's probably one more than most players will need.

I've got similar problems with the metal Tallarn models I ordered. I needed one officer (it comes in a two pack) and I needed three meltagunners (they come in a two pack with a grenade launcher -- a model that now flows freely from my various orifices). Grenade launcher models are like tribbles if you're a Tallarn player who doesn't use them. It's like they reproduce while I'm sleeping.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fun with the new IG Codex

I waited before going over the codex. I could have read the preview copy, but I resisted. I could have bought it the week it was out, but we were low on stock and I let others get theirs first. Really, I was kind of afraid to see what Games Workshop did to the army. The last codex was impenetrable. It took me a long time and a lot of help to make any sense of it. It was like reading early Dungeons & Dragons, with lots of ambiguity and agreed upon rulings. What people would tell me is that GW is a company about the models, and that books are a necessary evil, and that Americans overstress themselves about rules since these games were designed to be played with buddies with a beer and pretzels. So I was relieved and surprised when I finally got a chance to read the new Imperial Guard codex.

The awful doctrine system went away. Phew! Instead, for flavor, we have special characters. There are not a lot of special characters, but there is probably one that will give your army the flavor you're looking for. Mine was Captain Al-Raheim of the Tallarns. I always kind of had an Al-Raheim character, and I used doctrines to make the army feel more like desert raiders. Still, it wasn't as fluffy as I had liked. This new character gives me the feel I was always looking for, and new advisers, especially the Astropath, help to boost his sneakiness. Goodbye doctrines, may you always be a distant memory.

Equipment, like doctrines always seemed to have dogs that nobody wanted, making armies more generic with obvious choices. This has changed quite a bit too. A lot of junk equipment is now included in the cost of units, like smoke launchers, grenades, and searchlights. This stuff had its specific uses, but they were rarely worth the points in a random mission game. For example, my Al-Raheim comes equipped with a plasma pistol, something I normally wouldn't have purchased, but comes with the model. Some equipment is also cheaper, such as the chimeras, which were useful before but overpriced.

The best thing about the new codex is the flexibility. I've got my Al-Raheim with his Desert Raider and Stalk the Enemy ability that allows me to sneak up behind my enemy and fry their armor with meltaguns. I've also got another, more traditional force, platoon mounted entirely in four chimeras. They can rush across the board to take objectives or they can stay put as mobile pill boxes (although the special and heavy weapons are less useful that way).

Adding more flavor to my basilisks is a new character, the Master of Ordinance. This command squad character can call in artillery barrages, albeit with poor accuracy, but he's also a cheap model (3o points). This guy brings my army back how I originally envisioned it last year, as a kind of WWII US Army Rangers. In my Flames of War army, I used Colonel Darby as the commander. He was ex-artillery and could act as an artillery spotter. This one model adds more excitement to my army than most of the rest of the book. Go figure.

I'm going shopping! Of course I am. The Valkyrie doesn't fit the flavor of my army, although I'm seeing a lot of lists with them on Dakka Dakka. I want one, but I can't use it right now. What I'm mostly buying is bread and butter stuff. First, there are now platoon command squads (junior officers) for each platoon and there are no cheats, like armored fists. This means I need a new officer model. I'll also need four additional melta gunners for Captain Al-Raheim's group. An Astropath will keep him on target as he sneaks up. The armored cav platoon will need a fourth chimera. The Company Command Group will need my artillery spotter (Master of Ordinance). In all, probably about $100 retail in new models. I think my War of the Rings project may be on hold for a litle while.

Here's my new list, and as always, I'm interested in feedback about it:

Company Command Squad (165 Points)
Company Commander
4 Veterans
-- 1 upgraded to Plasma Gun
Advistor: Astropath
Advisor: Master of Ordinance
Transport: Chimera

TROOP 1 (Desert Raiders) (290 Points)
Platoon Command Squad
Platoon Commander: Captain Al-Raheim
4 Guardsmen
Upgrade: Meltaguns (4)

3 Squads
1 Sergeant
9 guardsmen
Upgrade: Meltaguns

TROOP 2 (Armored Cav) (385 points)
Platoon Command Squad
Platoon Commander
4 Guardsmen
Upgrade: Flamer (4)

2 Squads
1 Sergeant
9 guardsmen
Upgrade: Plasma Gun
Upgrade: Lascannon

Fast Attack 1 Hellhound Squadron (1) (130 Points)

Fast Attack 2 Hellhound Squadron (1) (130 Points)

Fast Attack 3 Hellhound Squadron (1) (130 Points)

Heavy Support 1 Ordinance Battery: Basilisk (125 Points)

Heavy Support 2 Ordinance Battery: Basilisk (125 Points)

Total Points: 1495

Saturday, May 9, 2009

D&D 3 Buy Back

For the rest of the month, we're doubling our buyback price for D&D 3 books. These have been in demand lately, and we would like to create a healthy "back stock." Here are the prices for store credit:

Softcover books: $4
Hardcover books: $8

The only books we don't want are D&D 3.0 splat books, like Sword & Fist and 3.0 core books (Monster Manual, PHB, DMG). We'll still buy them, but at the regular price.

Cash prices are half these amounts.

Ding & Dent is Next Sunday

Ding & Dent Sale and Customer Auction
May 17th, 11:30 Sign Up
Cost: Free!
Bring in items you want to sell starting the week before the auction (now is good). Include a minimum bid or a "buy it now" price.

This event features hundreds of slightly damaged board games, miniatures and role-playing books at stupidly low prices. We're also having an ongoing Warmachine overstock sale, with stuff selling for 20% off.

Also, if you sign up for our newsletter (on the right side of this page), you'll receive a coupon for 10% off board and card games the day of the event.

What are We Getting?
We'll compile a list when the final shipment arrives. However, if past auctions are any indication (and they are), we'll be getting dozens of boxes of slightly damaged board games, collectible miniatures, and some gems from customers. We'll even get the occasional shipment of role playing games and Warhammer.

Changes from Last Auction
We're better staffed this time, so things should go smoothly. We're also planning to move the auction along a lot faster, with less time for describing items and fewer breaks in between. We're always listening to your comments and trying to improve these events.

So What Is This Really?
We make arrangements with various manufacturers and distributors to buy up all their overstock and damages at a small fraction of the retail price. We then sell it to you at an amazing discount. On top of that, you get to sell stuff you don't want. Although you'll never get as much money at a store auction as an online auction, it allows you to create credit to buy our great bargains, while providing great homes to older games.

Also, if you're a manufacturer or distributor, contact me about finding homes for your ding & dent. If you're a retail store, you're welcome to attend as a customer and buy as much as you like. Some of these things are barely damaged.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Top Sellers for April

Here's our top 25 list for April:
  1. MTG - Alara Reborn Booster Display
  2. D&D - Arcane Power
  3. MTG - Duel Decks: Divine vs Demonic
  4. MTG - Alara Reborn Intro Pack
  5. War of the Ring Rulebook
  6. Settlers of Catan Rev.
  7. D&D - Player's Handbook 2
  8. PKM: Platinum Booster
  9. 40k: Assault On Black Reach
  10. Descent: Journeys In the Dark
  11. MTG: Conflux Booster Display
  12. MTG - Alara Reborn - Fat Pack
  13. MTG - Shards of Alara - Intro Pack
  14. MTG - Conflux - Booster Box
  15. MTG - Conflux - Fat Pack
  16. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: Crimson Crisis
  17. MTG - Shards of Alara Booster
  18. 40K: IG Shadowsword / Stormlord
  19. 40K: Tyranid Battleforce
  20. WFB: Bretonnian Battalion
  21. Yu Gi Oh Spellcaster's Command SD
  22. White Dwarf # 352
  23. SWM Imperial Entanglements BP
  24. Fields of Fire 9th US Infantry
  25. DDM: Against the Giants

Notice anything? About half the list is Wizards of the Coast. A quarter is Games Workshop. What new games are in that other quarter? One GMT game. It's actually normal for the season, although there are usually a few more "indie" hits.

These top 25 items comprise 25% of our sales. The other 75% consists of over 1,200 items. Anyone can stock the top 25%, the best sellers. That's where you'll see the big box stores picking the low hanging fruit. The real work, the business of a game store, is managing the bottom 75% of sales, the stuff that comprises 98% of your sales by item. The energy, innovation and excitement is usually in that bottom 75%.

Here are the top 25 games, which I think shows a bit more excitement. A few of the up and comers are highlighted:

  1. Magic
  2. Warhammer 40K
  3. Dungeons & Dragons
  4. Warhammer Fantasy
  5. Warmachine
  6. War of the Rings
  7. Fantasy Flight Games
  8. Hordes
  9. Flames of War
  10. Mayfair Games
  11. Rio Grande
  12. Yu-Gi-Oh
  13. Steve Jackson Games
  14. Infinity
  15. Pokemon
  16. Star Wars Miniatures
  17. Uncharted Seas
  18. Days of Wonder
  19. Z-Man Games
  20. Playroom Entertainment
  21. Dark Heresy
  22. Naruto
  23. Asmodee
  24. World of Warcraft CCG
  25. GMT

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Baseline Impossible

Sales patterns have been wonky since the economic troubles of last year, with the most obvious symptom being a lack of a stable product sale baseline. Baselines are a line in the sand, drawn so you can determine if things are trending up or down. It can be done by game, by game category, by department and the ever popular, how is my store doing report. While a baseline was easy to establish in the past, current patterns are well, not really fitting a pattern. The usual suspects, like D&D, 40K and Magic are fairly stable, but everything else is up in the air.

So what does that mean for the store? First, it makes ordering a headache. I've had a kind of shotgun approach lately, trying to test the waters, to see if well established games are indeed dead or alive. We've got quite a few games, especially RPG and miniature games, that might be "zombies." I'm not talking about actual games with zombies (those always sell well), these are games that appear to have gone dormant. These games may be victim to a certain type of customer, the dabbler. These are the games people buy because they're cool. This is a shrinking category as customers move more towards games that will actually get played. Thus the bread and butter games are doing well and games that nobody really played anyway are not getting sold.

I shouldn't really complain. As I've mentioned before, this is how I make my money. It's this added work and "value add" that keeps Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble from eating my lunch. Game store owners walk this fine line of low turning stuff, sales levels that wouldn't interest a big box store. Still, it used to be that I could use past data to predict future results, and that's just not true anymore. The big question: Am I establishing a new baseline now? Or will this be a time of uncertainty for some time to come? Again, from a macro perspective, we're doing well and sales are up. It's that day-to-day store micro-economics that has my scratching my head. I think in the future there will be entire game segments that cease to exist or are paired down substantially. Collectibles come to mind.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Warmachine Sale

We're having an in-store clearance sale on some of our Warmachine and Hordes at 20% off. There are about 100 Warmachine models and a couple dozen Hordes (Hordes is currently very popular). These are relatively good models in game that require combinations to play well (they aren't obvious choices). Some come in the starter boxes, making them somewhat redundant. This is stuff that would have been on clearance months ago, if not for the announcement of the MKII rules. We're still supporting these games, but we're no longer in "wait and see" mode.

Have I mentioned how Infinity has taken off lately?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Infinity Poster Promo

Our resident artist, Matt Mendoza, created an amazing poster for the Infinity game. It's a limited run (5 copies), and was created as part of one of his art classes. He's offering them for free when customers at Black Diamond Games buy a box set or two blisters of Infinity (each poster cost $20 to make!). It's his way of helping us promote the game. The Warmachine group on Sundays has been playing Infinity as their "break" game and sales have taken off.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Economic Observation

The Economist reports this week that consumer spending was up, but "was offset by a sickening plunge in business investment, which fell at a 38% annual rate, the steepest on record."

Small business is now at the highest percentage of the economy in US history, at over 50% of private sector employment. How do small businesses invest in themselves? Cash would be nice, but it's accepted practice to borrow money. The means for small business loans has been home equity (gone) and credit cards.

Credit cards interest rates are trending higher at an alarming rate, both business and personal cards, despite the fact that interest rates are at a historic low. For a small business, using credit cards is now dangerous for anything but the shortest term debt. It also means that if you already have credit card debt, you're working harder to make payments, rather than looking forward with your business.

My business is relatively unaffected by rate changes, as we generally pay off credit card balances each month, but if you want to know why the economy is likely to stall out, look no further. There is no money for the future. It's the banks, the ones who sucked up all of that bailout money who are responsible for this. Sure, they're using risk analysis for a lot of this, but the effect is a general rate increase for everyone, regardless of credit history.

More D&D 4 Observations

The word that best defines new D&D 4 products is purpose. D&D 3.x can be seen as a test of sorts by Wizards of the Coast. They learned what worked and what didn't and most importantly, learned how customers used their products. Gone is the cynical design strategy of throwing in just enough content to make both groups, players and DMs, compelled to reluctantly buy every product. I think this new strategy has the added benefit of lessening piracy, despite recent claims by WOTC. Talking to customers, they had a tendency to feel less likely to buy a product and more likely to pirate it, if the usable content for them was minuscule. Make a solid product overall and people will want to possess it.

The new strategy has every product designed for maximum use, for the group it was designed for, backed up by online content and tools. For example, dungeon tiles were a rather worthless product in D&D 3.5. You had these random 1-inch square tiles that didn't relate to anything. The new Dungeon Delve book uses these tiles as the maps for the encounters, with all of the monsters integrated into the online tools. Suddenly the tiles are in high demand and I'm stocking them wider and deeper, and lamenting their limited production runs. I'm personally hording them for future use on my own bookshelf, in quantities of at least two. Books designed around a topic, like dragons or undead, have new monsters, new encounters, and suggestions on how to run campaigns with these new additions. Online content appears in the database a few weeks after the book release.

As for the books themselves, there's a clear distinction between player books and DM books, rather than creating hybrid books that only marginally satisfied each group. This means that a DM book is tightly designed for use, with practical examples, pre-made encounters, and usable content rather than flowery "fluff". In fact, if I had a complaint about these books, it's that there is rarely enough fluff. These are not books you read for pleasure (a sizable chunk of RPG purchases), they are tools. Even information on monsters is displayed in a "knowledge check" format. Useful, practical, but it feels a bit sterile sometimes. Books focus on crunch, but DMs books still have chapters with practical design ideas. This practicality has sold me and where I would only occasionally buy a DMs book in 3.x, I've found myself very pleasantly surprised with all the 4e DM books.

For example, I've got a campaign about to start in which I've liberally used Draconomicon, including one of the encounters and a new dragon (heavily modified using the online Monster Builder tool). I've dropped in one of the Dungeon Delve adventures as a side plot. Open Grave provided many of the higher level monsters along with design ideas for cultists. Also don't forget digital content. A 20th level stand-alone Dungeon magazine adventure (in PDF) provided the framework for a 7th level adventure of my own design. You can't beat a good map and all the maps and graphics are available online.

You can't discuss DM content without mentioning the new digital content. The tools are clunky, but useful. My new method for making an encounter is to reference the DMs guide Encounter Templates section. I'll then choose the type of template that I want, such as Battlefield Control, or Dragon's Den models. I have a tendency to use a lot of solos and elites, a holdover from previous editions, so I need to learn to add more monsters and different encounter types.

Once I know the type of encounter I want, I'll wade through the Monster Manual, Open Grave, Draconomicon and Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting for things that catch my eye. If I have no idea, I can open the DDI Compendium tool and search by level, role, race or any monster criteria. Then I can use the Encounter Builder tool to whip up an appropriate challenge. The content of these electronic tools are then dumped into Microsoft Word and easily converted to a table for in-game reference. Artwork and maps are likewise dumped into Word, facilitated by WOTC being far more digital friendly in 4E.

So what does this mean for the store? First, book sales are clearly delineated between players and DMs. While 3.x books sold a mish-mash of books to both groups, many of whom grumbled about usable content, 4e players happily skip DM books and are far more likely to buy player books. Player books are a store bonanza, selling 2-3 times as many as a 3.x book. DM books sell far fewer copies than before, but to much happier customers. Sales are also far spikier, like what we find with Games Workshop products. What does this mean? People come in and buy their books on or close to the release date in droves. It's harder to regulate inventory, but it's rewarding when you get it right.

Spiky sales means good company communication. Customers know of a release and its date because Wizards of the Coast has successfully transmitted that information. I think this is also a by-product of the D&D Insider service, which tells you on the sidebar of current and upcoming products. That's not new, but how many people hung out on the WOTC site before 4e? I'll also point out that the usefulness of the digital tools in no way precludes the need for print products. It's a fine line, for sure, and I use a lot of digital content for products I don't care about (RPGA adventures have fantastic scaled monsters). However, I'm very happy to have the print product to reference when I make a digital selection.

So what don't I like? The Dungeon Master's Guide errors are so astronomically bad as to necessitate some sort of special re-print. This is the book I originally hinted at as being irrelevant, yet I now use it extensively as a template for traps and skill challenges. The DCs are all off and the errata only goes half way. In general, anything with a DC in the DMG can't be trusted. Traps and Skill Challenges should be in the Compendium tool. That would go a long way towards fixing the DMG problems. It's the only content that I need that is not available in digital format.

There are few dog products in D&D 4, the truly bad ones are the special editions. These are the core books at $75 with gilded edges and with the first generation of errata. Someone forgot to pleather bound them. Big mistake. The digital tools are still clunky, but getting better. I don't know if I'm a normative user, meaning my method of using them are typical, but I would like to see the tools better formatted and integrated into how I use them. For example, my copy and paste routine should be less work. An actual encounter design tool that does what I do in Word would be ideal. That would be a full solution rather than a suite of tools. A link to a graphic of the monster would be helpful too and perhaps a real link to the RPGA adventure when that has been referenced, rather than the RPGA home page. Overall it's a great start. Remember, 4e has been out less than a year.