Thursday, July 30, 2009

Recession Modeling

If you're short on cash or saving up for that big purchase, you might appreciate my project this week. I've been going over the 80 or so figures I painted a year ago and touching them up. I would say at least a third were chipped, despite a good coat of varnish. If you haven't varnished your models, spraying them down after a touch up is a good idea.

There are new rules in the Imperial Guard codex that implies heavy weapons teams need to be based together. A strict interpretation of the rules states that they must be on the bases they came with. If they came without bases, you get a free pass, although nobody will deny you the option of putting them on bases, especially large ones. After messing around with bases and magnets, I'm passing on this project, as there's no benefit to me and I'm technically not required. Basing or re-basing models is another good, inexpensive project.

Weathering vehicles is the next phase of my rehab project this week. Dry brushing and adding dirt will be most of that. That's the stuff I clearly did correctly with my new tanks. I'm also going over models to make them more uniform, after deciding in the beginning it would be more funky to make them all different. Now it just looks sloppy to my eye. This is another low cost way to improve your army without spending money. I'm also fixing mistakes I made early on, like gluing down turrets. I knew better at the time, having played Flames of War. It's nothing a screw driver and some touching up won't fix.

Finally, once you get your army tuned up, you may decide you do, in fact, want to spend some money. I know I do! I've been carefully eying the Battlefoam Pack 1520 case. I did all the calculations last night. It's got room for 22" of foam, and make sure you account for the quarter inch bottom of each tray. I'm about 3 inches short of fitting my entire army into one of these, albeit with room for a couple extra tanks and another Baneblade.

It turns out these cases hold a ridiculous number of men, but you don't save all that much space with vehicles. I probably save 5-8 inches of storage with my tank heavy collection. Still, if you have no storage, the Battlefoam system is a no brainer. I think I'll end up with two bags, my current Sabol Division case for less used models, including the Baneblade and Basilisks, and the Pack 1520 for my "active" army; stuff likely to hit the table. For those on a serious budget, I've got some new cases pre-ordered comprised of foam in cardboard boxes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vehicle Weathering (40K)

I spent the weekend painting three Forge World Leman Russ Demolishers. They use the treads from a standard Leman Russ, a Forge World four part resin body kit, and Kreig Demolisher turrets. I added some extra bits, such as track guards, trench rails, and the Tallarn tank commander. What's different with this project is I decided to weather the models.

Weathering is something I've avoided. You take a perfectly good vehicle that you've spent many hours painting, and you somehow make it look better by making it look worse. I used to be an auto detailing freak. I could talk your ear off about the various merits of microfiber towels. Companies use to send me samples in hopes I would talk about them. If you think I don't have a life now, you should have seen me then!

In any case, weathering seems like counter-intuitive black magic. The impetus to take on weathering was the general dislike I had for these vehicles once they were painted. The Forge World stuff screams to be weathered. It's big, simple, and less detailed than plastic kits. I was already unhappy with the paint job, what did I have to lose?

It turns out basic weathering is really simple. With the tanks below I performed four steps:

Step one was my usual washing of metallic bits. I used Badab Black wash to knock down the shiny metallic paint (also using a coat of Devlan Mud can give it a more rusty look). I also use the wash on tracks, after an undercoat of Tin Bitz and a dry brush of boltgun metal. That formula is mentioned in the old Imperial Guard codex. Some people recommend washing the entire tank. Although it might have been an interesting experiment, I didn't want these vehicles to look too different from my ten others.

Step two was to lightly drybrush the entire tank with bleached bone. If you do nothing else, do a quick drybrush. This made every rivet and panel pop. The Forge World parts suddenly came to life.

Step 3 was to create a little battle damage. There are many ways to do this, and I hope to learn more of them soon (the Citadel tank painting book comes out this week). The tutorial I used was online from The Painting Corps. The article discusses how to make simple battle damage using chaos black and boltgun metal. Just draw a mark in black and after it dries, fill it in with gunmetal, leaving a black outline. I envision the horizontal lines as being laser scorches, while I think of the circles as gunfire, like from an autocannon.

Step 4 involved some black magic. A few years ago a customer brought me a little box of weathering compound. It sat in the bottom of my paint box until I discovered it a few weeks ago and noticed that it had an excellent brick colored medium, perfect for my red desert Tallarn. The stuff is called Weather System by Bragdon Enterprises and I'm now a fan. We don't sell it at the store, so you'll need to order it direct.

It's unclear exactly what this stuff is; some kind of finely ground minerals. It's what you get when an art major dabbles in geology, Bragdon's background. It is not chalk, so you don't get the problems you may have heard about with weathering compounds, such as being prone to fingerprints or rubbing off. It has some sort of self-adhesive system that works great. You brush it on in layers, like a wash, and what adheres, stays put. What doesn't adhere falls off onto your work surface and is easily re-used. What it does not like is spray varnish, which tends to break it down. Anyway, as you can see here, it provided me excellent weathering effects on the tracks and sides.

Where would I go from here? I would like to learn the best way to add rust effects. I want to make more battle damage and crash damage. Next time I may use a pin vice or dremel to make bullet holes before painting to create interesting effects.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Any monkey with a computer could do turn rate analysis for their store. You figure out how many times an item or category has sold in a year, you cut what doesn't perform to your liking. It's a no brainer (although few do it). What's really hard, and what I've just now, after five years, started managing, is what I call everbrown product.

Evergreen product is the stuff that will absolutely, no matter what, always sell. Black spray primer, the D&D Player's Handbook, Warhammer 40K starter set, Settlers of Catan. If you need a few bucks to push an order into free freight territory (minimum order for free shipping), these are your palls. Having an extra one on the shelf is not a hardship. Besides evergreen product, there's regular stuff that's either new, or has a proven track record. This makes up the vast majority of an order. Everbrown, as I call it, does not perform to expectations, but will always sell, eventually. Many, many classic hobby games fit into this category, and when someone complains about a good game store gone bad, it's usually when they lack the customers favorite everbrown.

I numbers guy like myself might dump everbrown. It doesn't perform, right? It hasn't hit its numbers. Yet, it's kind of like an older employee who might have slowed down a bit, but is a font of knowledge. He's a resource, a touchstone for older clients. He knows things. He adds gravitas to the organization. Games that are everbrown are classic hobby games that deserve to stick around a bit longer because they offer this kind of completeness to the picture. My everbrowns include a lot of Avalon Hill titles, games like Poison by Knizia, and an awful lot of Fantasy Flight Games. In the role-playing world it might include core books for marginal games.

The key to these games, I've been told, is to rotate them. Rotation is a horrible, wretched concept for a numbers guy. Rotation is somewhat subjective. Rotation means I let something sit out for six months or so, and then I bring it back in. I prefer to lock in a product; it's either good or bad. A really clever point of sale machine would have rotation as an option, but it doesn't. Instead, the purchaser needs to decide when to throw some money at the grey haired product, perhaps forming a pool of money for old codgers that deserve another chance. It's like social security for hobby games. Rotation is hard. Rotation also means when someone calls to ask if we carry a game, we have to check. Rotation is uncertainty, which can drive someone like me a bit mad.

I don't want to call it art, versus the science of product analysis. It's more what they call tradecraft, the information and processes you learn in your trade. Now if I could just find a system to transform that craft into science.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ye Olde Demolisher (40K)

After putting together a couple of the new Demolisher Leman Russ', playing with the current Russ kit and building three Forge World Ryza Russ' with Krieg Demolisher turrets, I have to say I like the new Demolisher kit the best. The old kit is creaky and lacks the detail of the new kit. The Forge World stuff is nice, but the proportions seem kind of off, a little too chunky and cartoony. The new Demolisher kit seems just right: Sleek, classy, and a lot more detail that gives it a good composition. Putting together the Forge World kits made me miss the black box Demolishers from last weekend.

All need to be seen in person to be fully appreciate. Many who have expressed their dislike of the new Demolisher online have reversed their opinion when they've seen one in person, usually at their local store. The Leman Russ does not photograph well, I think.

Here's the progress of the Forge World Demolishers I've been building:

Various bags of expensive Forge World parts. I had many false starts on this project, including a couple of Forge World orders where I later changed my mind. Those items have been selling well at the store!

The project started with three boxes of Standard Leman Russ tanks. Each were installed with magnets for modular sponsons. The turrets are Forge World, so there's no need to make those modular.

Sometimes it's hard to get the paint to adhere to Forge World resin, even after washing in soap and water. I decided to soak the parts in Simple Green overnight.

"Distrust any enterprise that requires new tools." --Bob the Builder

Ready for a bath after lots of filing and trimming.

The suspiciously pleasant smell of Simple Green.

Clean and ready for assembly

My cluttered workspace (the dining room table)

Basic assembly

Forge World instructions. They go like this: Hey! You have four parts! See? Put them together already! Use glue!

Here they are. The command tank has a Tallarn commander and Forge World track guards. The tank in the back right has Forge World trench rails. All three have had their resin, fixed heavy bolters replaced by a plastic lascannon from the Leman Russ tank sprue. Each tank probably retails for about $100 each when you consider the parts.

The 30 psi spray gun compressor I bought this week at Harbor Freight.

The Badger 250 spray gun I got at Michael's. Next step is painting!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's New At The Store

  • White Dwarf #355: Tank Shock! Imperial Guard tactica and tank painting guide
  • Miniature Wargames magazine #315
  • New Reaper miniatures
  • Flames of War: Boarhound I Armoured Car (x3), M6 Heavy Tank (x3), P40 Heavy Tank (x4) (all due in Friday)

Board Games

  • Wings of War: Fire from the Sky
  • Formula D: HockenheimRing (Expansion 2)
  • Ligretto (Blue, Red and Green). This is like a Dutch version of Uno - super popular in Europe.
  • Dixit: 2009 Golden Ace Game of the Year (France)

Each player at his turn plays the storyteller. He is given a single picture, while the other players get a hand of six pictures. The storyteller says a sentence or a word connected to his picture, then each player chooses one of his pictures to bet upon. All pictures are showed face up, and every player have to bet upon what picture was the storyteller's. If nobody or everybody finds the correct picture, the storyteller scores 0, and each of the other players scores 2. Otherwise the storyteller and whoever found the correct answer scores 3. Players scores 1 point for every vote gotten by their own pic. The game ends when the deck is empty. The greatest total wins the game.

Collectible Card Games

  • A Game of Thrones: Kings of the Sea Expansion

Role-Playing Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons: Divine Power
  • D&D: Eberron Campaign Guide
  • D&D: Seeker of the Ashen Crown (adventure for 2-5th level)
  • D&D: Player's Handbook Series 2 miniatures
  • Star Wars: Rebellion Era Campaign Guide (the one everyone is waiting for)
  • The Rifter #47
  • Gamescience: "Precision Gaming Dice"
  • Flip-Mat: City Market (due in Friday)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Store You Want vs. The Store You Have

The big tension lately has been accepting the kind of store I have, versus the kind of store I want. There are certain product lines that I lust after that I wish I could sell, because I personally like them. A wider selection of role-playing games and miniatures comes to mind. Problems of personal lust I can deal with. The real trouble begins when your vision of your store doesn't match up with your clientele. You think your store should be one way, but it is ultimately another. For me this is exemplified in two extremes: the young and the old.

I would like to have a store that has an excellent selection of children's games, including games from fun, independent game manufacturers; stuff by Gamewright and solid educational products. Unfortunately, that doesn't match my customer base. You can stock these things, maybe advertise a little, entice the mom crowd, but if you aren't in the right location or perhaps have too many contrasting products (count the number of signs that have the word "war" in our store), that dog will not hunt. Trying to build the store I want, means I buy these things anyway, end up with lackluster sales, and outages of what does work because I'm always cutting back on what doesn't from certain manufacturers. What I want also becomes a resource hog, taking away from what I have. Every kids game that sits on the shelf for a year without selling is worth four sales of a popular Warhammer model or D&D book.

The same is true with war games. I recently dumped the majority of our GMT games. They're in the clearance section. They haven't sold at all at the new location, for the most part. I can pretend I sell war games, wish I had enough war game customers to sell them sucessfully and chase the new, popular titles, but eventually I have to accept the store I have. It doesn't mean you close that door forever, but being stubborn and accepting under performing inventory aimed at non-existent customers is folly. I'm also trying hard to carry a reasonable selection of classic games, including bridge, but there doesn't seem to be a critical mass for a lot of these.

The poor economy is actually a training tool of sorts. If you pay attention, there are plenty of lessons about how large stores are better managing their inventory. There's a sense that only the clever, those who develop good processes, will survive the recession, which I expect will continue through 2010. Those who may have started their store as a light, easy, hobby of a job, a lifestyle choice, are frantically trying to ramp up their learning curve for survival. No day job or unemployment benefits await a failed store owner.

What I'm Up To

Weee! The wife bought a Nintendo Wii and a Fit a couple weeks ago and I've been working every day to get in shape. I've been focusing on the yoga, which I know has resulted in increasing my strength (and tweaking my shoulder), but I have yet to lose any weight. I think I'll start alternating with cardio. I've imported a bunch of Mii characters, so today I went on a run led by Sammy Davis Jr. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama make regular appearances, along with Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Modeling/Painting. As you know, I just finished the new Demolisher kits, built as Executioners. I've got a couple more projects coming up. I've got the new Hellhound kit, which I'll build as a Devil Dog. My Forge World parts are in for my custom Demolishers. I've got Ryza pattern hulls and Kreig Demolisher cannons. It's more resin than plastic. Step one will be a thorough washing. This is for the army list I'm playing now, so it gets priority over the Devil Dog.

Spray Gun. I gave up on my Games Workshop spray gun. I think it's great for most people who want to do light painting and base coating, but with six vehicles lined up for painting and the retaining clip flying into the weeds, I decided it was time to upgrade. I went to Harbor Freight and bought a 30psi compressor and then went to Michael's and bought a Badger 250 single action spray gun. Total cost was about $125. I'm really, really happy with this setup, especially the little Badger. With constant pressure, it works far better than the propellant system.

D&D: My D&D campaign finally started. I've been running pick up games for months, but the campaign began. I wrote my own adventures this time, which has strengths and weaknesses. I certainly have to think on the fly a lot more, but it's far more satisfying.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Accessorizing (40K)

I really enjoyed putting these models together. Even without instructions, assembly was straightforward and intuitive. Also, as much as I hate to admit it, with my stupidly expensive Forge World Leman Russ hulls sitting on the dining room table, I kinda like the look of the Russ now. It didn't take long to grow on me.

This was also my first attempt at magnetizing turrets using the Army Painter magnet set and it met with limited success. Both are magnetized. One works great. The other seems permanently attached. Hmmm. Well see if I can get some more practice with my next project.

The big news with the new Demolisher kit (and Hellhound) is the gradual realization that the vehicle accessory sprue will not be included. It has been confirmed by a Bell of Lost Souls reader who manually counted the sprue contents and compared it to the product description. In the future, accessory sprues are likely to be available only as a direct order item. Of course, I would be foolish not to stock these in the store!

As a more veteran gamer, or at least veteran purchaser, I've got a lifetime supply of accessory sprues contents. Still, you never know when you'll suddenly want a bit for whatever reason. Meltaguns, for example, are in short supply worldwide. Go figure. Maybe rough terrain modifications will be free in an upcoming codex and everyone will want dozer blades.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Demolisher Kit (40K)

Built as Executioners with magnetized turrets.
Each took two hours to assemble, including turret magnets.

The new Warhammer 40,000 Demolisher kit comes out in two weeks, but Games Workshop partner stores that got one of the legendary "black box" kits received a preview this weekend. The box contains two Demolisher kits, which also includes parts to make either an Executioner or a Punisher.

I'm in the middle of building three Demolishers using Forge World parts and the old Leman Russ kit, so I opted for the Executioner build. The black box also contained a kit for the new Hellhound, but I haven't put that together yet (I'll be making a Devil Dog). There's also an Ork roller accessory sprue and a Planetary Empires terrain hex.

Some details about the new Demolisher kit:

  • No vehicle accessory sprue. It didn't come in the box. I'm not sure if it will be included in future kits. The antennas in this photo are from Leman Russ sprues.
  • No tread wheels. You know, the ones that take extra time to assemble but nobody can see? They've been replaced by four posts. Hardcore modelers lament. The rest of us thank GW for the reduced assembly time. Thought question: How simplified can a model kit become before it's a toy? Tread assembly is also idiot proof now, with grooves for perfect tread placement. I put three current style Leman Russ tread assemblies together this weekend and the instructions weren't even right, let alone foolproof.
  • No side panels. The side panel is sculpted into the tread assembly. Sponsons are added over this. If you want to magnetize your sponsons, be sure to add the interior magnet before you glue your treads on. On the other hand, without the wheels getting in the way, it's not a critical fail if you forget (which I did). Just hold your magnet on the outside of the tread assembly and drop in a magnet with some glue on it. It will jump to the right place.
  • Turrets not interchangeable. The Leman Russ turret (and Forge World variants) do not fit on the Demolisher. Sure, you can shave off the bottom of the turret and glue on metal washers, but that's a hassle. For some reason, Games Workshop wants to make it very clear that this kit is not compatible with the current or future Leman Russ kits. I personally think they should have included another sprue of cannons and eliminated the stand-alone Russ kit.
  • Plastic. Everything is plastic and tightly packed on several sprues.


The project I was hoping to do this weekend was building three Forge World Leman Russ Demolishers. Unfortunately, the Demolisher body kits still haven't arrived. The order my Forge World orders have arrived after being placed has been: 4, 3, 2, 1, with my 1st order still not arriving after a month. Still, there was work to be done.

These are some of the tread assemblies. The red circle is a magnet. Within the tread assembly (accessible through the side door) is a magnet on the opposite side of the red magnet. It has been glued into place and when it dries the red magnet will be removed and glued to the accessory door. Later, I'll assemble sponsons and install a magnet on them as well.

Using magnets has been a challenge today. Your usual metal tools are useless. I've been using paint brushes like chopsticks to move them around. In fact, a good pair of plastic or wood chopsticks might make a good magnet tool (or aluminum tweezers). You also have to be careful where you lay down your parts to dry if you've got a lot of magnets around. At one point everything went ricocheting around my desk as various magnetic forces collided. I had to re-glue a few things. Also consider painting one surface of each magnet so you can remember which side to glue.

Finally, if you're really clever, you can use magnetic forces to assist you. You can't lose a dropped magnet in an assembly, for example. Just use it's twin to fish it out. Magnetic forces aren't terribly picky on exact placement either, which can be a nice change from precise joints. Also, you can't break a magnet, so making mistakes is usually just time consuming.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Stuff at the Store

Board Games
  • Wings of War WWII Planes
  • Rommel's Nightmare 1940
  • Fighting the Taliban
  • Martians!!!
  • Attack Deluxe Expansion

  • Tales of the Arabian Nights (due in Friday):
From the BGG review:
So what is my final verdict? I LOVE THIS GAME. This is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. This is one game where winning isn’t the point. Win or Lose you will still have a great time. This is NOT a strategy game. The game is VERY random. People who have to control every aspect of a game WILL NOT ENJOY THIS GAME!!! This is an adventure game that is second to none.

Collectible Card Games

  • Magic 2010 Release (Friday): Boosters, Intro Packs and Fat Packs. There are also new card sleeves, boxes and portfolios for 2010 from Ultra Pro.
Miniature Games
  • Ziterdes Terrain: Awesome pre-painted miniature terrain from Germany includes trenches, wrecked buildings, pipe systems, and various ruins and terrain bits. This is a high quality, premium product ready to be dropped into your 40K game.
  • Battlefoam Cases and Trays. The 1520, 432 and over 20 trays. For a limited time, we'll allow you to swap pluck trays from your Battlefoam case for pre-cut army trays we have on hand. You just pay the small difference (if there is one). It's a great way to build out your carrying case.
  • Uncharted Seas. Shroud Mages starter fleet.
  • Warhammer 40K: (Friday) SM Land Speeder Storm, SM Ironclad Dreadnought, Shrine of the Aquila, Blastscapes
  • Citadel: (Friday) New brushes, including a stippling brush and a wash brush, all at a lower price.

Role-Playing Games
  • Traveller Supplement 4: Central Supply Catalog
  • Sword & Sorcery Creature Collection (4E)
  • The Quintessential Rogue (4E)
  • Starblazer Adventures
  • Palladium: Nightbane Survival Guide
  • Counter Collection 4E (Paragon Tier)

Classic Games
  • New backgammon, cribbage, go, and bingo sets.
  • Labyrinth Mini game from Schylling
  • Erector sets: "Builds 1 Model" with 6 different sets and a 5-model special set.
  • Green Army Men (GAMs)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Battlefoam In

The Battlefoam cases arrived. These are the highest quality foam cases you can buy. They've got two main features:
  1. Density. Because of the density of the foam walls, trays can hold an extraordinary amount of models per inch. I can currently hold 18 Imperial Guard troops in a Sabol tray. With the Battlefoam IG tray, roughly twice the width of a Sabol tray, I can hold 60 models. This also means making a direct comparison to Sabol is tricky, so keep this in mind.
  2. Protection. Rather than a softback case, every Battlefoam case has a hard plastic liner. This liner provides superior protection. You can sit on the case, bring the smaller case on a plane as a carry on (it was designed to fit carry on dimensions), and generally know your models are protected.
These cases aren't for everyone, however. Although they make trays for the Sabol system, the Battlefoam system is not compatible with Sabol. The price can be a shock at first, but you have to remember you'll only need half as many trays as Sabol. The cost works out to at least the same or slightly better, but in a smaller footprint, making this a win.

Right now we have the Pack 432 case (3", 2" and 1" trays) for $130 ($85/empty) and the Pack 1520, which actually has two modular bags that zip together ($215 full/$160 empty). The part numbers represent how many troops you could carry in each bag: 432 troops for the Pack 432, etc. At first you might think the 1520 compares well to the Sabol Division, but it holds far more than a Division bag. In fact, you would probably only by a 1520 if you wanted one case for multiple armies.

We're also carrying about 20 different troop trays for various armies and games, along with foam "pluck" trays in 1", 2" and 3". Distributors don't have vehicle trays yet, so the option is to either put your vehicles in pluck trays or order vehicle trays direct from Battlefoam.

If you're using a Sabol system now, you'll probably pass on Battlefoam unless you travel a lot with your army. However, if you need a new case, especially one that won't take up much room, or like me, your army takes up more Sabol cases than you can physically carry, Battlefoam is the way to go.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stuff I'm a Doin'

Games Workshop is sending me one of their excellent "black boxes" this week. This one will include the new Leman Russ Demolisher, officially due out the first week of August. They do this to promote new product; our bastion and Aegis defense line both came from the black box.

I've also been promised by Forge World (a rare customer service communication) that my Russ parts should arrive this week after a month of waiting. I'll be trying out the Army Painter hobby magnet set, to see if I can install temporary sponsons. If I'm lucky, and The Emperor wills it, I should have a 3 Russ project over the weekend.

I'll be in Santa Cruz this weekend, at one of my uninterrupted personal geek sessions in a fancy hotel, paid for with copious frequent flyer miles thanks to the store. I do this when the family takes off on one of their trips. If you don't own a house or have a family, it's hard to understand why you would want to go somewhere, anywhere, that's just not home to do something fairly mundane.

For me it seems the ultimate luxury not to have your life staring you in the face for a few days, regardless of how very good a life it is. Modeling, painting, watching tee-vee, reading books, and never making the bed or worrying about dishes. My wife would argue that I already do this at home, but that's not the point. :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Aegis Defense Line (40K)

This has been the most popular Planetstrike terrain set in the store. For $20 you get a bunch of blast shields and a quad-gun. It's the easiest item to drop into a standard game, plus it has special rules making it better than regular cover in a Planetstrike game.

The big cannon is something I made from spare parts. It can represent the Turreted Stronghold defense stratgem.

Fun with Planetstrike (40K)

With a bastion, skyshield and a soon to be painted Aegis defense line, we've got enough specialized terrain in the store to play Planetstrike. It's recommended that each of the special terrain pieces be considered an objective, so 3 objectives is reasonable, along with a bunch of extra terrain that serves its regular purpose. So why should you care? What's wrong with regular 40K? What's the big deal? What am I getting?

Variety. Apocalypse is cool because you can play all your models, but who has all day to do that? I'll probably never get a chance to play with my Baneblade. I've accepted that. Planestrike lets you tailor your army list and play a variety of models based on a much more mailable force organization chart (FOC) with reasonable point limits (whatever you decide). You don't need an epic game to play with six heavy support or six fast attack slots, just the Planetstrike book.

I went ahead and made some quick army lists based on the Planetstrike FOC. I've been fine tuning my mechanized guard list over the last month, so this gave me a chance to try something different, based mostly on the extra models I had gathering dust.

Company Command Squad: 2 snipers, lascannon, and a Master of Ordinance in a chimera
Platoon Command Squad: 4 heavy flamers, plasma pistol in a chimera
Troop 1: 3 squads with plasma pistol in a chimera
Fast Attack 1-3: Scout sentinel with lascannon
Fast Attack 4-6: Devil dog
Heavy Support 1-3: Basilisk
1500 points

Strategy: The CCS in their chimera stays in the back, unmoving with the basilisks, who pound the AV14 buildings with ordinance. The snipers, lascannon and master of ordinance can't do anything if they move and since the defender is likely stuck in his defensive position, he's likely too busy to come out and attack the delicate basilisks and the CCS chimera. Meanwhile, the mechanized infantry follow in the suicidal devil dogs and scout sentinels, designed to take out armor and those stubborn buildings. With the Planetstrike rules, any attacking unit can contest and thereby win an objective, so there's no great reason to bring men other than their versatility. Under the rules, the attacker doesn't have to have any troop choices.

Company Command Squad: 2 snipers, lascannon, and Astropath
Platoon Command Squad: 4 heavy flamers, plasma pistol
Troop 1: 3 squads of guardsmen with plasma gun and lascannon
PCS 2: Al-Raheim, 4 meltaguns, in a heavy flamer chimera
Troop 2: 2 squads of guardsmen with plasma guns in a chimera
Heavy Support 1-3: Demolisher with lascannon
Heavy Support 4: Basilisk
1500 points

Strategy: This is a line guard army with the twist of adding Al-Raheim as mechanized infantry. The goal here is to rely on the defensive terrain for survivability while Al-Raheim's squad does his outflanking maneuver, turning the tide in our favor. Will dividing up the force be disastrous with the objective rules in the attackers favor? Perhaps. If I were to do a more "pure" strategy, I would duplicate the first troop choice and add another basilisk. That's probably a wiser choice, but I want to try this first.

The point is Planetstrike lets me shake things up and try something different without a big commitment. I could play both of these lists in the same day, and even a game with my regular mech infantry list, if I like. This is before we start using strategems and missions, which adds an even richer dimension to the game.

It's also a big incentive to sell you a bunch of heavy support and fast attack choices, along with some really pretty terrain. However, if you're into the hobby, you're always looking for a good excuse.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Recession Store Planning

There are a few things I've picked up from the larger stores as strategies to survive the recession. As unemployment rises in Contra Costa County (supposedly a lagging indicator of economic health), our sales also have begun to flag across the board. Here are few strategies the bigger stores use that we're starting to employ:

Reduced Variety. We carry six lines of paint brushes and four types of primer. None sell bad enough to drop using my usual metrics, but too much breadth ties up inventory dollars when they're scarce. There's also a concept called bounded rationality, in which too many choices actually impedes sales. At the same time, someone wants those items and you have to be careful not to annoy customers enough to shop elsewhere. For example, we have five lines of paint and dropping any one of them would highly annoy those customers who buy them. Sometimes you can't put the djini back in the bottle.

Fewer Chances. It goes without saying that we take fewer chances on "fringe" or marginal products now. We'll try a hopeful new game, but we won't buy things based on the "cool factor" or wishful thinking. Now more than ever, there needs to be some data to back up purchasing decisions. A game company that's ready for success in this kind of economy, according to an ICV2 article I read this week, has entrenched themselves with solid releases for exisitng popular games. It's not a time for experimentation or big chances.

Quicker Clearance Threshhold. Items that once sat on the shelf for six months or got a free pass for up to a year before they sold are now getting dumped much faster to improve cash flow. You see this at many stores now, and clearance tables are often moved from the back of the store up to the front. Our buckets are full. It used to be a mark of shame, while now it's smart business and an opportunity. It's a dangerous practice because it encourages people to wait and see, but it's now too dangerous to let a product grow stale if there's even a tiny bit of interest in it. You can no longer find people willing to buy dead product, just because it's cheap. At the same time, we've got a new breed of scavenger customer that only shop the sale. They follow the blog and regularly check the clearance shelves and buckets. For some, it's all they buy from us. I hold no animosity towards these customers, as in nature, they provide an important retail function in removing our carrion.

Less Depth. Just-in-Time inventory used to be how we had less depth in the past, but we now have restrictions on this due to increased freight costs. Still, I would rather pay more for a product if it means I can stock lighter. Again, the key here is to avoid annoying customers with product outages. Hopefully they''ll understand the times we're in, at least a bit. Pre-orders are now more important than ever for stores like ours. If we can determine product demand and guarantee product for our solid customers, everyone wins.

Marketing Re-Alignment. Advertising is this nebulous thing that has little proven return. Everyone does it. What if you didn't? Anything that targets the general public, a group that has stopped buying, is now out of our equation. Anything that targets our known base gets priority. Yellow Pages is now dead to us, while Constant Contact to inform our known customers is a top priority. Our TV ads have been scaled back 50% from the first half of the year; 75% from a year ago. The advertisers pleaded with us early in various news stories not to make cuts; that way leads madness they cautioned. However, it's one of the few discretionary budgets left before touching employee hours and more draconian decisions.

Margin and Mass

I started with a simple question: Why are Heroscape miniatures of such a higher quality than Dungeons & Dragons miniatures? They're the same price and they're both made by Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast. The answer was supplied on Facebook by a game industry person who used to work for Wizards: It's margin.

The profit margin for Hasbro on a mass market item like Heroscape is 70%. Wal-Mart or Target takes 30%, while Hasbro gets that fat 70% back. This is compared to the game industry, where I get around 50%, the distributor gets 10% and Hasbro would get 40%. If you make twice as much money on a product, you can potentially sell a higher quality item.

The down side to selling to mass for a company like Hasbro is that the mass market only wants product that will allow them to survive with that 30% margin (Wal-Mart regularly hovers around 24%). If I need a 50% margin to survive in my game store with items that must "turn" (sell) 4 times a year, Wal-Mart must turn twice as many items to make up for their diminished margin. If Black Diamond Games could only stock items that sold 8 times a year, it would be a very different store.

You would first kill all the miniature games. You might keep some mini starters, but why push a game that you can't support further? Then you would dump all role-playing games except D&D and the core books for half a dozen games. The board game selection would be viciously pruned, dropping our 500 games to about 50. Collectible cards would include Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon with the occasional one-off, like Naruto. Anything that sold would be stocked in depth, as 8 turns a year, on average, means even the slowest selling item would likely be stocked in 2's and 3's. Don't even get me started on the schlock we would have to sell to attract the general public.

In other words, look at Target, Wal-Mart and the RPG section of Borders and that's what we would have to become. We have a different business model, one that the big boys can't replicate without bringing along all of our specialty store problems. Try selling a specialty board game without having product knowledge. Do I need the 5-6 player Settlers of Catan Cities and Knights expansion if I already have the regular 5-6 player Settlers expansion? Can you explain the differences between Hero and Mutants & Masterminds? How do you read a force organization chart in a 40K codex? When is your next D&D event? Good luck with that Wal-Mart.

There are upsides to mass market though. My understanding is that the manufacturers give "rebates" to mass market stores for advertising their products. You might make a few more "points" on your margin through this strategy. Also, there's some level of returnability on mass market products. In many cases, the manufacturer is just borrowing space from the retailer. The retailer gets an opportunity to make their 30% and what doesn't sell is sent back! This is also true with a certain percentage of books from larger book distributors, so Barnes & Noble can take a bigger chance on the latest D&D book. What doesn't sell gets returned. Every once in a while the game industry asks the question: How much margin would you give up for returnability? It always depends on the strings attached.

The flip side of this whole argument is that for years I thought Hasbro and others were "screwing" us with their prices. I figured they were giving a much better discount to mass market, but it turns out they weren't. True, we don't have advertising incentives or returnability, but the bad margin we get is the bad margin Target gets, as far as I can tell. Still, Clue and Scrabble don't sell twice as well as Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, so we can't absorb that poor margin. Some stores consider them a "merchandising" expense, and sell them for a few bucks over cost. Other stores, like us, see them as a "convenience" item, and mark them up accordingly, risking alienating a familiar touchstone with new customers.

Although I wouldn't mind the volume of traffic in a store like Wal-Mart, I definitely appreciate being able to sell the more interesting, slower selling product. Clearly though, the mass market has found a more profitable model to work with, just not as fulfilling.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Stuff at the Store


Flames of War
  • Mid-War Monsters book
  • KV-3 Heavy Tank
  • Sturer Emil Tank hunter
Privateer Press
  • No Quarter #25
  • WM: Mercenary Warcaster Magnus the Traitor
  • Hordes: Trollblood Warlock Calandra Truthslayer
  • Hordes: Minion Wrong Eye & Snapjaw
  • Hordes: Skorne Warlock Void Seer Mordikaar (out)
  • Monsterpocalypse: All Your Base Monster Booster (out)
  • Monsterpocalypse: All Your Base Unit Booster
Wargames Illustrated #261

Battlefoam Miniature Cases: Due early next week (Tuesday)

Board Games
  • Eurorails 4th Edition
  • Neuroshima Hex Babel 13 Expansion
  • Bridge Troll
  • Are You The Traitor?
  • Race For The Galaxy: Rebel Vs Imperium Expansion (limited availability!)
  • Dominion: Intrigue Expansion
Collectible Card Games
  • Yu-Gi-Oh: Yugi Duelist Pack
  • Magic: The Gathering M10. On sale next Friday, but you can get 6 boosters to play at the pre-release on Saturday, along with theme decks during the event.
  • Clearance Sale: Bakugan starters and boosters, Warball
Role-Playing Games
  • Traveller Book 5: Agent
  • Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies (indie)
  • A Penny for My Thoughts (indie)
  • The Kobold Guide to Game Design (indie)

Skyshield Project Completed (40K)

Iyanden Darksun base, Bleached Bone drybrush and highlights and a Gryphonne Sepia wash. The imperial eagles are Dheneb Stone and the grubby floor is multiple coats of Badab Black and Gryphonne Sepia washes. There are no transfers in this set, so those were all borrowed from extra vehicle transfer sheets.

One of the hinges finally gave out after the final varnishing. The tolerances on that one hinge were very tight. I'm trying to shore it up but I may have to glue the walls in place. It's the only disappointment in what I consider to be an extremely cool model.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Skyshield Project (40K)

I took home one of the new Planetstrike Skyshield Landing Pads this week to paint up for the store. It seemed to need a little pimping as we haven't sold any, despite how cool they look. The bastions appeared to be the best bang for the buck, at around $30 (GW's idiotic $29.75 price tag) compared to the skyshields $40 price tag ($39.50; stupid bean counters). The problem, I think, is the photos on the boxes. The skyshield is simply a much larger model (or the bastion is smaller), and when you see the price tags on boxes of the same size, this isn't conveyed. My first impression of the bastion put together was that I thought it would be bigger. Once you see a skyshield up close, it's pretty impressive. The photo below shows their relative size.

Painted by the GW experts

Assembly took a few hours. There are multiples of only two sprues. You basically have the four platform pieces, the outer wall pieces, a hinge piece for each wall piece since they go up and down, and the legs. This YouTube video shows you what's in the box. It's a very simple kit, and almost foolproof. Almost.

My advice is to go slowly on this one. Heck, built two at a time. It's not complicated, but it's important that the glue dry at each step before moving forward. The hinged walls are prone to get a bit wonky if you rush it, and the fix is difficult. It took an extra hour to get a couple walls fixed because of this. I think I could build the second one in two hours total (probably over 3-4 hours while doing something else).

The first thing you realize when it's together is it would make an excellent terrain piece in any 40K game. Yes, the skyshield has awesome rules in Planetstrike, but it would make a cool centerpiece objective in a standard game. What you don't see from photos are the four trapdoors on the landing pad. On the insides of each leg is a ladder leading up to each door. I can imagine ruling that it takes a full turn to get up a ladder (it's about 6"), while enemies above rain down death. But try to defend four entry points!

Next is painting. Michael painted a bastion for the store in yellow, so I'll be painting up the skyshield to match. I'm thinking of white dry-brushing and highlights unless someone has some better color advice. I've also got some bastion walls to paint, which look super easy. All of these terrain pieces are textured with various details, like bullet holes. They just scream "dry brush me!" As for painting, I'm just happy to shoot something out of my spray gun other than red and grey.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Would You Like To See?

Is there a product or product category you would like to see in the store? Is there a selection of product you would like to see expanded? What would you buy today if I had it in stock?

Mostly I want to test the new comment system, but I'll be paying attention to the comments....

Monday, July 6, 2009


Some things have surprised me:

Bathrooms. In the last two years, we've rebuilt a toilet, replaced toilet seats, replaced all the toilet paper holders as they broke (they were installed new), and as of this week we will have replaced all the paper towel dispensers. The sink is broken but usable. I'm a bit surprised at how the bathrooms have been beaten down.

Document Scanner. It turns out I'm in the "heavy" category of scanner use. I went paperless a year ago, so all incoming invoices and bills get scanned and shredded. My Xerox DocuMate has not held up as well as I would like and just barely works.

On the other hand, there are some things that have held up surprisingly well:

Terrain Tables. Griffin did a great job in putting these together. They require regular maintenance, usually crawling underneath with a wrench to tighten down the bolts, but they've worked out admirably and many have commented on how they like the height.

Race Deck. I was skeptical about this product, especially considering the heavy wear in the game center, but the purple and black tile has worked flawlessly and shows zero wear. We bought this from Paizo Publishing when they decided to change up their trade show format.

Keeping this place running requires a lot of maintenance, some done by staff but a lot done by customers who help us out. I want to thank them for their service: Joe rebuilt our toilet, Griffin built the gaming tables, John regularly replaces our lights and ballasts, and Michael does a lot of the day-to-day fixes.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chimera Spam (40K)

I finished my sixth and seventh chimeras for my 40K army. It's really eight and nine if you include the two I sold off because the paint schemes didn't match. Playing against space marines, I've realized that mobility is key, men out in the open die quickly, and artillery pieces without support are blown up in a heartbeat. This will put all my squads in chimeras. Next is armor.

I've come up with a few ideas to help me focus with the armor. There are so many variants that it can become bewildering. Do you build your army around your armor? Does armor support infantry or vice versa? Do you go with the German doctrine of armor kills infantry and infantry kills armor? Do you go with mobility or do you load up your tank as a stationary gun platform? Do you somehow find a way to make that awesome Vanquisher work?

First, I've gone with mobility, since the rest of my army is mechanized. This means sponsons are bad, as they impede mobility of tanks. They don't physically stop them from moving, but they discourage movement because of the firing rules. You can't move and fire all of them. You end up wasting those points if you move. As for which tanks, I'm probably going to mix it up. They're like fine scalpels. I like the Demolisher as a strong, short range, versatile anti-tank weapon. The Exterminator is a vicious anti-infantry tank. The Leman Russ Battle Tank, the vanilla version, is an all around good weapon, good at anything. I'll put lascannons on all of them and see what happens. I have a feeling I'll eventually have many variants. I still haven't figured out what my main army is lacking. More games should give me a better idea.

Here's another good article from Bell of Lost Souls called Which Russ Type?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The 500 Pound Gorilla and the Elephant in the Room

I have no problem discussing how I think things should be done in a game store. Small business owners do their own thing because they don't like working for others and want things done their way. They have very strong opinions generally. As for discussing individual stores, I rarely do this unless I want to contrast something valid they're doing with something I'm doing. There are a lot of great game stores in the SF Bay Area, more than most states or regions of the country could ever possibly match. There are plenty of failures as well, and they have nothing to teach us but cautionary tales. Their stories are so similar in their failings that we don't need to name them.

I also won't talk about those stores because there is no sense in bad blood. Despite what some think (including what other competitors have told me), stores gain customers on their own steam. Customers are not generally stolen or acquired through trickery or guile. If you've got something legitimately special, there is a certain cross-over, but it's not a high percentage. So there is no point in bad-mouthing someone elses livelihood. In the end, it brings everyone down. Bad mouthing one business for the sake of another is not guerrilla marketing, it's just being a dipshit. It helps nobody and makes you look foolish.

I'm also not strategically in a position to slam the smaller guys, for those of you who like games. The mouse can pick on the elephant to it's hearts content, because when the elephant stomps it, it looks like bullying. The guerrilla marketing principle is you can always bash your bigger competitor for fun and profit (says Guy Kawasaki). Be a thorn in the tigers paw. I can trash Wal-Mart for loss leading board games, or Amazon for eroding the value of role-playing books, but if I attack someone smaller, I'm the bad guy. America loves the underdog and hates a bully. I know this because I've been the small guy for years, and for most of the world, I still am.

The other reason to keep things cool is because businesses fail. They fail because of many reasons: they run out of money, they lose their lease, partners begin to despise each other, the owner retires or their business practices are just plain crap. When these businesses fail, a small percentage of customers will migrate to the new store. I know it's small because I've seen this happen to five local competitors in the last five years. It's a small gain, not a tidal wave.

I also know this firsthand because a lot of the annoying customers who we're dealing with online now (exemplified by anonymous), migrated from other failed stores to ours, and they'll do it again when their current store fails or decides to change policies to discourage them from their various asshattery. They'll migrate with a shrug and five minutes later that previous store and the owner that devoted their life to it will be a vague, distant memory. They'll be bitching about the music, the decor or the price of a Coke. In any case, it makes no sense to irritate them further. They could be a future customer at best. At worst a thorn in my paw.

Likewise, it makes no sense to irritate supporters of my store, because if I run out of money, lose my lease, am found lynched by my partners, begin to run a crap store or decide to retire, it's likely going to prevent many of my good customers from migrating to this troublesome competitor. In other words, there's no need for this animosity and it only drives people away. It is a destructive force, not a creative one. We saw this in Vacaville a few years ago between two stores. Both are gone now.

Good, true competition rises all boats. It builds communities of local gamers who involve their friends and families in their exciting hobby. This concept of store loyalty applies to a very small percentage of people. The vast majority shop at one store until that store disappears and they're forced to do something else. They just have no desire to hunt for more of the same once they've found what they're looking for. We're still getting new customers from Games Unlimited, over a year after they closed! Advertising is maddeningly difficult and if it was as easy as making a flyer or running a TV commercial, everyone would already know about us.

Besides this vast base of regulars, a smaller percentage of very active customers will shop everywhere, and a small percentage will be "loyal" to one shop, regardless. I would guess the ratio is something like 90-5-5. When there is a strong local community of stores, without animosity, both stores are stronger. There can be cross-pollination between that 5% of promiscuous customers, usually important "influencers", that can grow the gaming community for everyone. This is a positive and inevitable result of good relations. Bad relations only puts up barriers and hurts everyone.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

4th of July

Just a reminder that we'll be open the 4th of July from 10am-6pm. We'll have a Warhammer 40K tournament, but there is also likely to be some available table space for casual play. It would be a great time to introduce the store to your friends and family.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vote for Your Favorite Game Store

Voting is now open for your favorite game store. Please take a moment and cast your vote, preferably for Black Diamond Games, of course.