Monday, August 31, 2009

Golden Ticket

This week marks the beginning of our Valpak direct mail advertising campaign. These are those blue envelopes stuffed with coupons for things like carpet cleaning and pizza shops. Several people have already brought in our new coupon, which offers 40% off a purchase in the store (as much as you can carry). It's aimed at Valpak regions, as opposed to zip codes, but if you live nearby, you should keep checking your mail. The immediate area will get one each month, along with one region around the store, so keep a lookout.

The intent is simple: Everyone in our neighborhood should know of our existence. By offering such a rich coupon, anyone with even a remote interest in games and toys should at least take a look. One of our assets is having a family friendly store, both in atmosphere and offerings. A lot of non-gamers who buy games for holidays or birthdays are still driving through a tunnel to get their games, only because they don't know of our existence. We want those people to shop locally with us.

From a strategic point of view, Valpak marks my abandoning of other media, especially television, but also the Yellow Pages. It's only temporary though. Shotgun marketing has its place, but eventually we'll need to find something in common with our very diverse customer base. I think this will mean a lot of experimentation in the future.

Draft version of coupon (not valid)
Some changes were made, including swapping some of the product photos (before I start getting emails)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Auction Photos

We had (are still having) a very good auction this quarter! It was our largest collection of games with the largest attendance (around 50). We still had an awful lot of good stuff that didn't sell, much of which will go to Pacificon with us next weekend. Here are some photo highlights:

Thanks to David Pearson for many of the photos....

Saturday, August 29, 2009

September Events at Black Diamond Games

For those who don't subscribe to our email list (you can do it on the right side panel), you can view the events for September at the store here. It's a packed month, with great events for Magic, Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer 40K and A Game of Thrones. You can also see our weekly schedule and of course, a special coupon at the end.

Also, not on the calendar is Pacificon next weekend. We'll be there, of course. Stop by the booth and say hi to Michael. Those who miss a phenomenal auction tomorrow might get a second chance when we bring what's left to Pacificon.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Auction Update

If you're not on the mailing list, you may have missed the giant list of auction items here. This is one of the biggest auctions we've had, with about $30,000 worth of games. There's more than what's listed, but these are the highlights.

This auction is unique in that it includes the largest number of vintage games we've seen, including some high value, 1st edition games that regularly sell for hundreds of dollars. Please tell your friends and let people know of this great opportunity. This is a fantastic local event, that we would like to continue to grow locally.

The auction is Sunday at 11:30am.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thoughts on Job Hunting

We just hired someone for a "filler" position yesterday, covering a small number of hours each week for other employees, including conventions and upcoming holidays. Since I've gotten so many applications in the last year, and so many hurt looks from people I didn't hire, let me share some of my thoughts on getting a job with us:

  • Resume. We ask for resumes. It's a bit more professional and it tells me a lot about you, as compared to the legal document known as a job application. Requiring resumes weeds out a lot of people. Keep a resume handy, even if you're young, still in school and have only worked a few jobs. If experience is light, I look for other things that might indicate character. Eagle Scouts get moved to the top of the list.
  • Do I Know You? It might sound unfair, but if I have no idea who you are, you're not likely to get hired. This is mostly because I now require that people have extensive game experience, and we're the only "real" game store in the area. There are enough candidates, that I could require a college degree and experience managing a retail store and I would still have a pile of good resumes. The exception is if you make an impression on me. The best way to do that is to follow up. So few people follow up (in person!) that it gets my attention when it happens.
  • Appearance. I'm going to envision you working for me. If you're not dressed at least as neatly as I am (I wear jeans and a button down shirt), I'll have a hard time envisioning this. If you're dirty, unkempt, can't speak English or otherwise a hard sell, it's a problem for me. I don't care about things like tattoos, piercings, or hair style (within reason). I want neat and clean.
  • Are you Hiring? I'm always hiring, at least always on the look out for people to file away in the back of my mind. Before a position becomes available, I try to have some mental ideas about who I would like to hire.
  • What am I Looking For? I look for four things: The ability to clean my stuff. The ability to protect my stuff. The ability to sell my stuff. I've let people go because they refuse to clean. Preventing shoplifting is a key ability that I'm not even sure can be entirely trained. Sales can be trained, but people have to be willing and product knowledge is very helpful here. So what is that fourth thing?
  • Self Starter. This is code for being a better employee than I am a manager. It's seeing that something needs a doin', and getting it done. It's making things right for the customer, even if we don't have an explicit policy. It's doing things before being asked. Not everyone can be this person, but it's what I look for now. I used to think every place of business had their star employee, the steadies, and the goof-offs and that's just the mix of things. I now know that my job is to only hire star employees. The lazy hiring managers at other businesses can get everyone else.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fine Corinthian Leather

This is my fan opinion. As a store owner, I should root for anything in print that I can sell, right?

So I read Pathfinder RPG, with hopes of playing a Planescape campaign. It bored me to death, honestly. It's awfully pretty though. It has Monte Cook writing a forward giving it momentum into the future and links to the past. In the end it seemed like someone was selling me a used Camaro with new seats. Hey, check out the seats! They're now power and leather. Sit down and feel how comfortable they feel, like old shoes. Ignore that smell of gas fumes, bad mileage and the lack of crumple zones and air bags. You never wanted crumple zones at the time, right? That's fine Corinthian leather, my friend! Big, emphatic, meh from me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it's a great extension of 3.5. But why? I liked 3.5 and if I'm going to dig my feet into the sand, do I really want to extend my game to something so similar? I might try Conan instead. Or Iron Heroes. It also defies one of the best arguments for not switching to 3.5. Look at all these books? Sure, they're mostly compatible with Pathfinder, but mostly doesn't cut it for most D&D players. There's a near crunch science that requires a list of approved and banned sources. A website perhaps, of house rules and holy texts.

Ah hah! He's a 4E loyalist; no surprise from a store owner. Not entirely true. In my group, our 4E games have fallen flat. I've played three campaigns (ran two) in the last year and they've all failed due to terminal lack of enthusiasm for 4E. We're looking at running a Planescape campaign, and leaning towards 2E actually. That's my group. My choices are to find a game they like, or find another group.

At the store, we have a gigantic 4E crowd for RPGA and a huge number of people who buy the 4E books. It's loved by story gamers, preferred by those who hated 3.x and generally sells well, if you've made that jump. Sales of 4E are down about 25% from 3.5. Then again, RPG sales in general are down by quite a lot, and D&D has sucked up a lot of market share (about 75%, compared to 50% with 3.5). That's all local though (all RPGs are local).

So the community is divided. My group is not on the 4E side, where I wish them to be. However, in my opinion, there are currently no new solutions to my problem. I just want to play.

A Little Somethin' Somethin'

We started selling card singles this month. I hired an employee for the task, but it didn't take long before we had a simple and profitable strategy of buying cards that all employees could follow. The key to singles, like all product, is in the buying. They're selling very well so far, as customers learn we have them (after swearing we never would again). They've made up around 1% of our stratospheric CCG sales this month. Before you scoff, 1% of our CCG sales is like all the classic game sales or all the dice we sold in August. What store wouldn't want that?

Singles are another draw to the store, something that makes us (or any store) unique from its competitors. It differentiates us. Used role-playing books also played that role this month, with huge sales of mostly older, collectible versions of Dungeons & Dragons (non D&D sales are in the tank). Again, like CCG singles, used books aren't a giant money maker, but they make up another slice of our diversified pie and draw people from afar.

Other stuff that fits this category? Games Workshop has been reducing their SKU count in stores, trying to push items to direct order. I've been bringing some of this stuff back in, direct ordering a variety of items that sell as well, or better, than high turn 40K items. Meltaguns and Plasma guns, Imperial Guard Kasrkins, the new IG advisers, old school Tallarns and Valhallans, and even the various upgrade sprue packs as they come out. GW has decided to drop a lot of bits, but the stuff they've decided to continue selling direct, often sells just fine for us in the store.

They key, however, is having critical mass in whatever category you're trying to support in this way. We honestly couldn't spend another dollar on role-playing games. We have everything people will buy from us, so we can go used, or, like the order I placed this evening, indie. We carry every 40K item, but we can differentiate our store from a GW store with direct only items. I probably shouldn't take so many chances on miniatures, based on flagging sales, but I'm a sucker for a good sculpt, and I could rationalize that we've got a crowd of specialty miniatures customers that tend to be a lot of other product while perusing our lead.

What would I buy if I had a larger purchasing budget? Honestly, nothing. I would rather use it to upgrade more store terrain, replace one of our creaky terrain tables, buy a new display cabinet, or best of all, pay off debt.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Auction Next Sunday

The auction and Ding & Dent sale is next Sunday. If you have items you would like to auction, please start bringing them to the store. It's best to bring them ahead of time, starting today and running through this week until the auction next Sunday at noon. The sooner you bring them, the sooner we can start promoting them (the more you'll get for them!).

Health Insurance Debate

I don't normally like to jump into these debates on my blog, but health insurance reform is one of those issues that will eventually determine the survival of small business. We don't offer health insurance, as a business, because it's far too expensive. In fact, getting insurance on the open market is one of the key factors that makes a lot of businesses close, the owners seeking jobs with employer paid health insurance.

In my case, my insurance has risen dramatically based on nothing but my age, while my wife is uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions. My son was even denied coverage when we first took him home after he was born, because he's adopted. It's against the law to deny him coverage, but Blue Cross did it anyway, and we had to threaten legal action until they relented. If I were to get seriously sick now, my finances would stretch to the breaking point on the high deductible alone. Don't even get me started on how this is a disincentive to get preventative care; nobody wants a pre-existing condition on their record. It's the medical equivalent of a bankruptcy and a felony on your record. It's understandable how emergency rooms have become the primary case centers.

I think most people, two-thirds of those covered, don't understand the costs of health insurance. Their employers provide it and the employer is subsidized by the government with a whopping tax deduction. I'm a big fan of the idea of killing the tax deduction for employer health insurance and allowing employees to control their health insurance, giving them a tax credit that encourages them to save. Nobody indulges in health insurance, like fancy luxury cars, but they would certainly scrimp a little more if they knew the true costs and if they had an incentive to save. It's the only way for most people to take control of their insurance and understand true costs. The tax credit distorts pricing, disincentives savings, and masks the true problem of skyrocketing costs, the problem people like me face.

The debate is complicated and change will happen. It's sad to hear the Republicans (it's not the health care industry this time) deride ideas that work so very well in other industrialized countries, including the lie that it doesn't work in those countries. The party of "no" is spreading FUD as quickly as possible, and the fringe appear to be listening. From the rhetoric and the gun toting retards at town hall meetings, you have to think that these people truly believe we're headed towards some sort of socialist dictatorship (a contradiction in terms). As if Germany and Britain don't already provide an example of a public and private insurance system getting along admirably. Of course, the Democrats can't get their story straight either, which gives me more pause about a public insurance option than any of the actual proposals.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Terrain Building Class

We had our terrain building class today at the store. Our activities were in three categories:

  1. Refurbishment. This is most of what I did, touching up or patching damaged terrain items.
  2. Kit Builds. We built and painted several kits, including the Temple of Skulls, Battle for Macrage terrain, Blastscape, Moonscape, and a couple of Imperium buildings.
  3. Free Form Terrain. Joe headed this project up, painting table tops, cutting and painting foam terrain and helping everyone else.
We had a fun time, learned some new terrain techniques and ate way too much pizza (at least I did). Those who helped out will get access to the special terrain in the cabinets. We'll be rotating out cabinet terrain as our collection of premium terrain is built up.

Desert boards. These were painted on unpainted sides of existing terrain boards.

Newly primed moonscapes.

Snow boards. Our existing snow board is a 4x6, which is too big for league play. These two boards make up a 4x4 and with the refurbished snow terrain, I expect to play playing some arctic battles soon.

Some custom desert boards that I'll be very happy to use with my Tallarn.

The new cabinets. We'll eventually get a third cabinet. We'll also transition out some of these models as better ones are built.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Stuff at the Store

It has been an insanely busy week at the store, and August sales, like July, are looking to set new records. Busy, busy, busy. Board games, collectible card games and used games (mostly used RPG books) have been our best sellers.

The two terrain cabinets are now built in the back. This is where we'll keep premium terrain for club members who help us maintain the game center. This Saturday is our terrain building class, which should be a lot of fun. There is still room, in case you want to sign up (we do have a good number of people).

Here are the new things this week:

Board Games
  • Revolution! Secretly bid against your opponents to gain the support of the people, win territory . . . and gather more Gold, Blackmail, and Force for the next round of bidding! Will you try to control the tavern or the fortress? The harbor or the plantation? Knowing where to push for support – and where to back away and let your opponents fight – is the key to victory. It's a game of bluff, counter-bluff, and surprise.
  • Arimaa: Designed to use the same board and pieces provided in a standard Chess set, Arimaa is intended to be difficult for computers to play. The number of possible moves at each turn in Arimaa is about 500 times that of Chess.There is a reward of $10,000 for the first person or company who can build a computer program that can defeat a selected human Arimaa player prior to 2020. Rated at 7.97 on Boardgamegeek.
  • Heroes of the World: Players choose historical "Heroes" such as Julius Cesar, Nebuchadnezzar, Lao-Tse, Shakespeare or Mozart and use their special abilities.
  • Zombie Mosh Card Game
  • Risk: Halo Wars
  • Clue: The Office
  • Band of Heroes, 2nd Edition
  • Huge War Game Collection! Just a note that we'll have an enormous war game collection at the auction on the 30th. These are games dating back 40 years, many of which are rare and out-of-print. Most are in mint condition. Stay tuned on the blog for updates.


  • Infinity: Zouaves (Sapper - Sniper), PanOceania: Armbots Bulleteer (Spitfire, Heavy Shotgun), Nomads: Alguaciles (Sniper), Combined Army: The Charontids (HMG).
  • Hasslefree Miniatures: Civilians - Wolsey, scruffy layabout/handyman (Shaggy!), Dionne, werewolf hunter.
  • Maow Miniatures: Valkyrie, Monster Dice Set, Thorn, Doubleface, Pemaowpee F., Jerry Khan, Gilbert Peidfroy, La Pelle de 'Tulu, Uelcher Lodbrog
  • Magazines: Miniature Wargames #316, Wargames Soldiers-Strategy 45, Wargames Soldiers-Strategy 46, Strategy & Tactics #258
  • Flames of War: Mid War Monsters: TOG 2 Heavy Tank (x3), M27 Medium Tank (x5),
    Tiger (P) Heavy Tank (x2), 8.8cm Flak18 SFL Tank-hunter, IS-85 Heavy Tank (x5).
  • Hordes: LE Blighted Nyss Sorceress, Troll Whelps
  • Warmachine/Hordes Sale: About a third of our Warmachine and Hordes models are on clearance for 40% off. Right now we're just "right-sizing" our inventory.

Role-Playing Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons: Adventurer's Vault 2:

    This supplement for the D&D game presents hundreds of magic items, including legendary weapons and artifacts. Whether you're a player looking for a new piece of equipment or a Dungeon Master building a dungeon hoard, this book has exactly what you need.

  • Dragon Magazine Annual 2009: Due in Saturday. This book collects the best Dragon magazine content from the past year into one easy-to-reference source. The articles contained herein provide exciting character options for players as well as inspiration and campaign-building support for Dungeon Masters. All of this material is 100% official and suitable for any D&D game.

  • Geist: The Sin-eaters: Sin-Eaters, also known as the Bound, are mortals who have died, but made deals with strange, alien spirits called Geists to return to life. This does not come without a price; they must share their body, mind, and desires with the Geist, and often spend as much time confronting the death around them as well as appeasing their new "friend" as they try to continue their own life.
  • Supernatural RPG: The Devil’s Gate opened and, quite literally, all hell broke loose. Sam died. Dean sold his soul to bring him back but is it the real Sam? Dean’s year is running out and, with an apocalyptic war brewing, can Sam save the world and his brother? If not, who will he choose?
  • Traveller RPG: Tripwire, Golden Age Starships
  • Savage Worlds: Skinwalker
  • Peril at King's Landing: An Adventure for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying

Collectible Card Games
  • Yu-Gi-Oh Tins 2009, Set 1
  • PKM: Supreme Victors Theme Decks and Boosters

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Little Story

So I get home from breakfast with my son Rocco, put the key in the front door and clink, the lock breaks. I ring the door bell and my wife answers, but she can't get the door open. The lock has broken, and like locks do when they break, the lock has broken so the mechanism is preventing the door from opening. A more foolish me would force the door open and cause $1,200 in damages (I've done this), but a more rational me knows to relax and go around.

Going around is a little perplexing because we only have one accessible door into the house. The back door opens to a balcony and the door in the kitchen opens to our garage, which has decades of time capsules that my wife files away like an Indiana Jones warehouse. She opens the large garage door for us, as it's the only way in, and I begin the excavation.

The key here is to keep the four-year old in good spirits. This is not a setback or a crisis, we are intrepid explorers, trying to cut our way through the dangerous jungle, so we can rescue mommy. Mommy needs our help; we are the ones safely outside. He is buying this story as I lift heavy boxes out of my way, stacking them a little too precariously next to us. The small child has always been cautious and knows not to knock them over. Still, my wife criticizes my stacking skills as I make my way through. Sometimes we dig through the jungle, only to find an impassible object in our way. In the jungle it might be a giant boulder. In my garage it was a seventy pound box of CD's, a box that would have been better suited for bedding or clothes.

So we finally make our way through the jungle and I'm sweating heavily, glad I've been working out on the Wii Fit, if for no other reason than the confidence that I'm somehow a wee bit fitter. We get into the house and I examine the lock. Now here is where the last year of modeling comes into play. After assembling 20+ models, several without instructions, my mechanically incompetent self makes a simple decision. If it is at all possible for human beings to replace a lock, I can do it. If I can build a Baneblade, which had wrong instructions, a Hellhound and a Demolisher, which had no instructions, I should not be deterred by a lock kit at the hardware store.

But you were in IT, you say. Surely you must be mechanically competent. In fact, no. Most of the really good IT guys I know are mechanically competent, the kind of people who as children drove their parents mad by taking apart small kitchen appliances to see how they worked. I was not this child. I am more the liberal arts kind of of guy who made his way into IT because it was stupidly easy and the timing was perfect. With a little study, anyone can become technical, but it takes a lot of curiosity and drive to become mechanical.

I once called my wife from a BMW dealership, and as a joke, told her I was about to buy a car and couldn't decide between jet black or metallic black. She shockingly told me to get whatever I wanted. In contrast, when I called her from the hardware store, about to buy a chain saw, it was the only time she informed me I was gravely in error. Limbs would be lost and therefore this purchase would not happen and I was to return immediately. I am not handy, by any means. So what changed?

I have to give a lot of credit to the various Games Workshop kits I've assembled over the last year in moving me further towards mechanical competency. I credit a lot of Dungeons & Dragons for improving my reading and writing skills as a kid. I can likewise credit Warhammer 40K for improving my mechanical ability as an adult. So parents, one of the great things about hobbies is they develop life skills useful later. Just ignore the fact that this 40 year old guy is still doing them.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Product Shortages

In my mind, this Summer is characterized by product shortages and companies hedging on releases. This can sometimes be great for us, such as when we plan ahead and corner the market on product. Product shortages always favor the big store that can leverage their cash flow to bring in more product. Most often, shortages hurt stores, and that's definitely where we're at on some key products. There are various reasons why this is happening, and there are various ways in which manufacturers intentionally or unintentionally facilitate it. Lets look at a few:

Games Workshop. Of all game companies, GW has the best "fill rate," or product availability in the industry. They hedge in another way, through one-shot product releases and direct only items. Lately their direct only items haven't made a lot of sense. For example, one of the interesting new features of the Imperial Guard codex is advisers. The adviser blister is direct only, which makes little sense. We brought them in anyway and it's a best seller. Blastscapes for Planetstrike also seem somewhat important for that game, but it was a limited run as was the very popular Imperial Strongpoint. Space Hulk was announced this morning as a limited run as well. We sold out of strongpoints as the Fedex guy delivered them, handing them to a customer right out of the box. It was never seen again. This shows a lot of caution on their part, but being over cautious, as any store owner will tell you, will eat into your sales.

Wizards of the Coast. I've had good sources tell me that the Magic shortage was not intentional. This was a major goof on the part of WOTC and they would like nothing more than to have Magic 2010 back in stock. Ebay sellers are offering 2010 for the third wave release on September 11th; that's how limited this item has been. Ironically, being well stocked on Magic has helped us weather other product outages.

Bandai. This is a company that makes two types of product: wildly successful and horribly disappointing. For us, Naruto has been wildly successful and Battle Spirits is gaining some early traction. Unfortunately, Bandai hedges on Naruto, printing to order and keeping inventory so tight that the product is sold out on release day. Again, not a great move if you want to maximize sales, but wonderful if you want to book limited profits with no risk.

Paizo. This is the one that has me the most confused. Pathfinder was released only with enough copies to fill pre-orders at distribution, resulting in a sell-out announcement before the release date. Of course, I know where a lot of those books went last week. A large amount went to Gencon, as well as being used for their website sales. A publisher makes over twice as much money on a book if they can avoid the middle man (like me).

Pathfinder (sold out) on the floor of Gencon

I think this is also a sign of an improving economy. If companies are being cautious and we're seeing a number of sell-outs, perhaps gamers are spending more. It might also mean publishers aren't reading the market properly. There are winners and losers in a rough economy. Those that create top tier products continue getting the sale, while marginal products are strongly avoided; it's that flight to quality term I used a while back. Unfortunately, these top tier companies are the ones we notice when product runs dry.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New 40K Campaign

New Warhammer 40K
Our new campaign begins Monday (tomorrow). This is a permanent change from our Wednesday schedule. I'll be playing in this one. Below are the resources needed for the campaign; rules and map. The rules are the same as previous campaigns, although this version has been edited for clarity. You also now have the option to play a Planetstrike game, if your opponent agrees.

The campaign rules are actually quite solid and have been play-tested extensively through several campaign sessions. They're based on Mighty Empires, heavily modified by Michael.



Sci Fi Terrain Building Class

Saturday at noon is our first sci-fi terrain building class. You'll learn to build, paint and repair sci-fi terrain. One of our primary objectives is to have students help us repair some of our beat up terrain pieces, as well as make new ones. Those who attend the class will get special, terrain club priveleges, including access to premium terrain stored in new, locking glass cabinets. I just picked them up at Idea this afternoon (below). We'll have quarterly classes, so those who can't attend this one can gain access. You can also gain access by donating a premium terrain piece of your own. See you there!

More Details:
Share your terrain building skills or learn to make terrain...


Come join us for a terrain building and terrain rehab day. This is a great way to make sure that there is great terrain for your favorite miniatures game and to learn how to make terrain for yourself.

This terrain day will focus on building and restoring terrain for the BDG gaming center. Future terrain days will focus on sharing knowledge and skills to build terrain for yourself.

You are invited to participate whether or not you have prior experience in building terrain!

Please RSVP for this event, and let us know when you will be able to be here.

* There is no fee for this terrain day.
* Noon to six, although some may stay later to finish up. Please plan on spending at least an hour helping with the project to earn a raffle ticket.
* Materials and tools will be provided. If you want to bring your own things in, please coordinate with Joe in advance.
* Terrain will be a mix of scratch built and kit built items. Creativity is encouraged.
* You may design, assemble, paint, or otherwise assist in building and restoring terrain pieces.
* Participating terrain builders will have lunch (pizza) provided.
* Participating terrain builders will have the chance to win a GW Skyshield Landing Pad (earn raffle tickets by helping out during the terrain day).
* Participating terrain builders will be able to purchase/order terrain items at a 30% discount.
* Participating terrain builders may have the opportunity to take home extra terrain pieces - if we end up with extras.

In the future, terrain builders will have access to all the store terrain when playing games (others will have access to a limited range of store terrain items).

New terrain cabinets

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Butts in Chairs

Movie theater tickets seem to be pretty expensive. Then I analyzed how much it costs per evening, per seat to cover the costs of our game center. The calculations include all of our overhead, divided by our game space, spread out over our average capacity. The average capacity is the number I'm not sharing. However, I can tell you that we need $11.50 in sales for every butt in a chair. It breaks down like this:

Do you make it? That's the most obvious question. Do we cover those costs? The answer is: kinda. The model for game centers that most stores adopt is a kind of pray to play. I pray that when you play in the back, you will somehow be inspired to spend $11.50 with us. Some events have fees, but never as high as $11.50. People would simply stop coming, which begs the question: "Is it worth it?"

Well no, it's not, from a strictly financial perspective, but we do it anyway. The way it ends up working is we have "halo" customers that spend money in excess of $11.50 and pay for those who don't pay. Those who don't pay, or "under pay," but play, contribute "meat space" to the game center, inadvertently providing paying customers with a value add in the form of opponents. Sometimes paying customers spend a lot one week, and nothing for a while, but eventually it all seems to work out to be a somewhat workable business model. You wouldn't want to invest in it, if you didn't love it, but it's sustainable.

There are also customers who buy from us because we have game space, kind of like supporting your local charity. ARF, the thrift store a couple doors down, does great business because they support a cause that people care about. Overall, adding game space increased our sales by 60%. Then again, the expenses of the larger location amounted to around 60%.

This model reminds me a lot of health care and auto manufacturing. Medicare pays hospitals 7% less than the real cost of services, but hospitals make it up by charging insurance companies more. Some would say over-charging. American auto manufacturers spent the last decade making SUV's and charging inflated prices for them, while they mostly lost money on their small cars. In other words, one group of people is subsidizing the behavior of another group of people. How's that working for us?


As a bunch of mostly white guys gather in a mostly white state to celebrate their creaky hobby, wondering its eventual fate and celebrating the past as their adherents grow grayer and rounder, we at the store were noticing something different. We've been tapping into the enormous demand for Yu-Gi-Oh, and other, mostly Japanese card games. The revelation of the week, as the game center filled up, is that a large proportion of the kids who attend, and it's mostly kids, are Asian-American and Hispanic. It's pretty surprising, considering that most of our games tend to have a pretty monochromatic crowd, mostly white guys getting grayer and rounder (me included).

Well, duh, say many store owners. Where have you been the last decade? For us this was a new revelation. It was mostly me, kicking myself, for not seeing it earlier. Due to some rowdy teenage behavior, we nipped our Yu-Gi-Oh crowd in the bud last year. Their mayhem led to rampant theft, dangerous behavior, and most importantly: they were pissing off our Magic crowd. Yu-Gi-Oh was gone. With the Magic crowd smaller, and with fantastic Yu-Gi-Oh organizers (Matt and Anna), the game is finally being managed properly, and this Summer has seen fantastic growth, while Magic has stayed fairly constant (although sales are huge because we have product).

Matt was a little panicky when our numbers hit twenty people for Yu-Gi-Oh. Then last week it hit twenty-seven. He took it in stride. As I was leaving yesterday, we were at thirty-one and counting and he was calmly entering names into the laptop. Today we have a Yu-Gi-Oh sneak peak, a pre-release for the new set. We're the only store in the county holding one, mostly because we're the only store with enough game space. Based on the endless phone calls this week, more than I've ever received (probably because it's parents), I'm expecting a big turnout today.

I don't want to be too crass, but the next question is how can we sell other stuff to this crowd? We've considered a lot of these anime based games to be on the fringe of the game world, whereas for our newly realized demographic, perhaps they play a more prominent role. I also can't help wonder how I can transition these gamers into the other games we sell. Is there an anime based role-playing game that would appeal? Is there a miniature game that would grab their imagination? Are they open to those hobby game experiences, or are cards a fast paced diversion from more popular entertainment options, like video games and movies? I think it's the latter.

Part of the equation, besides race, is also youth. These are our youngest customers. How many young kids have we introduced to Dungeons & Dragons over the last year? Maybe half a dozen. How many new 40K players have been kids? An equally small number (GW claims to do a better job with their stores). What's the average age for Friday Night Magic or D&D RPGA attendees? My guess is around 21. Board game night probably averages around 35. When the various advertisers come in and try to spot analyze the business, they immediately claim, "Oh, you sell kids games." I wish it were true, but our customer base is much older, and that should worry the game trade.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some Blog Meta

You know I love the numbers. I blog because I want to, and compared to other blogs of similar traffic, my viewership is well below average. In other words, I'm a prolific writer without the readership to justify the time. Still, readership has been growing. Every six months or so I check the stats.

I average about 150 visitors a day now, roughly 2,200 visitors a month. We've had 16,000 visitors total. Half those people are regular readers (having viewed the site 9 or more times). 78% of visitors are from the US, followed by the UK, Canada, Germany, and Australia. Nobody ever visits from Mongolia or Central Africa. They don't call, they don't write, what can you do?

Here are my top posts, mostly gaming content (no businesy stuff):

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play

So you take Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a game with a venerable heritage, and give it to an expert RPG design company. Green Ronin re-designs it, making changes while retaining the soul of the original game. They succeed, including being true to Games Workshop's rich fantasy world.

Green Ronin's WFRP wins Game of the Year at Enworld in 2005. Their Old World Bestiary goes on to win best monster product. In 2007, Lure of The Liche Lord wins best adventure. Children of the Horned Rat, a hugely innovative RPG product, narrowly misses the first place award that same year for best writing (it gets a silver award). Innovative products continue, such as Renegade Crowns, a brilliant, system neutral world design book (every DM should have one on their shelf). Granted, there were a lot of hit or miss products for this game, but the hits were golden.

In 2008, Black Industries, a division of Games Workshop that makes products with the license, is shut down by GW and the future of WFRP is uncertain. So what do we get in 2009? Four years into an award winning game system, it's a do over. It's a do over in the format of a giant, boondoggle box set from Fantasy Flight Games, with the lead designer known for writing D&D adventures (no offense to him).

It looks like a hybrid RPG-board game, with hundreds of "power" cards and lots of counters. I try to be a cheerleader for the game industry, but can we have a collective "WTF?" I want to remain open minded, but sometimes it's hard. It will be unveiled at Gencon this week, so hopefully my apprehension is misplaced. It's just sad to see something so solid, discarded so easily.

New Stuff at the Store

It's going to get insanely busy later in the week (I predict), so here's the schedule of releases for this week. Gencon begins today, so it's mostly about the early role-playing game releases.

Board Games
  • Sector 41. A "nice puzzle game."

    The board is a grid of 81 randomly placed tiles that are revealed as the Explorers search for the Glynium. Explorers can intercept each other and the Mother Ships can Fold Space to alter the configuration of the board.

  • Martian Rails. A crayon style train game.
Martian Rails is a railroad building game set on a fictional planet Mars. Simultaneously, the game allows a world of canals and noble savages, a cold high altitude desert globe, a nearly airless planet, terraforming, nanotech cyberpunk and everything in between from 100+ years of science fiction stories set on Mars.

Collectible Card Games
  • Magic 2010 Restock. Two cases will be arriving today, which should hold us over. There will be continued shortages as Wizards of the Coast is allocating the next wave of booster boxes and already taking orders on the third wave. It's a sad state of affairs, but I think our troubles with this are over. Also, Fat Packs are gone forever but intro packs are still plentiful.
  • Naruto Emerging Alliance. This set completely sold out over the weekend and is no longer available. However, we have 3 boxes coming from a couple of retailers who are helping us out. They will likely arrive early next week. You can put some of the blame on this with Bandai, who has decided to underprint their sets.
  • Infinity restock due today
  • Hasslefree Miniatures: Kat, adventuress, Kitty, female adventurer with backpack & twin pistols, Oko, female Ninjitsu adept, Harem Girl, Villagers - Minstrel.
  • Games Workshop (Friday): 40K Planetary Empires, Citadel Water Pot, Citadel Palette, Battlescape.
  • Flames of War (Friday): Mid War Monsters: T-14 Assault Tank (x3), Panzer I F Light Tank (x4), Semovente 75/34 Self-propelled, T-43 Medium Tank (x5).

Role-Playing Games
  • Knights of the Dinner Table #153: It's on like Donkey Kong.
  • Battletech: Strategic Operations
  • Battletech: Jihad Hot Spots: 3076
  • Shadowrun: Dusk Dawn of the Artifacts (in today, was delayed)
  • Traveller: Book 6: Scoundrels
  • Pathfinder RPG (Due Thursday, limited quantities due to Paizo under-printing, so be sure to pre-order)
  • Western City RPG (Sold out, due back in Thursday)
  • RIFTS Fleets of the Three Galaxies (MIA)
  • D&D is due next Tuesday (Adventurer's Vault 2, Revenge of the Giants, PHB 2 Power Cards)
  • Shadowrun: 20th Anniversary Edition. Full color, re-presented and fully compatible with 4th edition. This will be the new core rulebook for 4E:
To make this the ultimate core rulebook resource for the entire Shadowrun game line, a 22 page Master Index has been generated and included, covering the 20th Anniversary Edition, as well as the following core rules expansions: Arsenal, Augmentation, Runner’s Companion, Street Magic, and Unwired.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Battlefoam PACK 1520 vs. the Sabol Division

As your army grows beyond a few thousand points or you decide to consolidate multiple armies in one case, storage options become rather limited. There are two products on the market that can solve this problem, the Battlfoam Pack 1520 and the Sabol Armytransport Division. I happen to own both now, as my 40K Imperial Guard army now requires multiple cases.

I started my army with a Sabol Army Transport and quickly outgrew it. It later went on to carry D&D miniatures, as I upgraded to this Division case (above). The Division case excels in one important area: pockets! There are four, large pockets on one side, perfect for dice, counters, tape measure, and templates.

One side of the Division case has mesh, suitable for odds and ends or even a full size book.

Inside the Division we have two more large pockets, perfect for small books, like a codex and maybe your army lists and notes.

The Division case features a telescoping handle and wheels, making the case a roller bag. However, the design is poor, with the wheels too close together. You'll need to pull it slowly or risk the whole thing spiraling out of control. The Battlefoam 1520 avoids this scenario by including integrated backpack straps, albeit ones that can't be adjusted well or configured to hold the bag on the hips, as you might expect with such heavy gear.

What holds the Sabol system back and where Battlefoam excels are the foam trays, especially for individual miniatures. There are no pre-cut trays, so instead we have an inefficient system using pluck foam. The custom Battlfoam trays are far more efficient as pre-cuts. With Battlefoam, I was able to carry twice as many troops in the same amount of space.

If you've got a troop heavy army, and when I mean troop heavy, quantities of models over a couple hundred , then the Battlefoam system is a clear winner, increasing your capacity by 50%. The model number, 1520, refers to how many individual models it could carry.

Where the two systems compare well is with vehicle foam. Battlefoam makes pre-cut vehicle trays, but I decided to go with pluck foam, based on the unusual characteristics of a lot of my vehicles. I've got tanks with trench rails, Forge World kits, and I prefer my turrets to be separate from the models. Battlefoam also lacks 4" trays, meaning my rough riders and sentinels would have to be fitted sideways, as would my basilisks (above) with fixed turrets (dumb mistake on my part). Also, you can see above that Sabol sells a "double wide" foam tray for larger models or a more efficient configuration.

The Battlefoam 1520 comes in two parts, a top half that loads from above and a bottom part that loads from the side. These two pieces are zipped together, with the bottom case containing the backpack straps. It's a high quality design that looks like it should last a good while.

The top case has a single compartment for a thin book, while the lower case has no such compartment.

What these cases do have, their "killer application," are hard plastic inserts that protect models from various mishaps. These are ideal for travel, although you're not likely to check in a 1520 at the airport (maybe their smaller bags though). The usual mishap involves cargo shifting in your trunk, or knuckleheads using your miniature bag as a foot rest.

My big disappointment with the 1520 is with pockets, of which there are too few and not configured as I wish to use them. There are no small pockets for various gamer items, although there are larger ones for books. My half inch binder doesn't really fit in this case, unlike with the Sabol Division case. When I envision pockets, I tend to think about how well this case would perform being carried across a rainy parking lot. Alas, I would be sad as my stuff got wet. So A+ on protecting the models, but a C- on my books. Yes, I know mini gamers don't care about books, but I've got that role-playing background.

The Battlefoam pluck foam was somewhat disappointing as well. Although it's made of a higher quality, denser foam, and thus I felt I was able to better "sculpt" my trays for vehicles, the backing panel of most trays tended to come loose when the foam was plucked. This happened pretty consistently with foam that came with the case and individual trays I bought separately. This was not a problem with pre-cut trays. This was easily solved with PVA glue, but it was annoying on what I considered a premium product. Moving my models over to the 1520 was a weekend long experience, with a lot of hours devoted to allowing PVA glue to dry. Eventually I learned to carefully pinch the edges of the trays while plucking, which avoided future problems for the most part.

Vehicle tray construction was indeed more efficient than the Sabol system, but not by much. I estimate the Battlefoam system was about 25% more efficient with my vehicle heavy army. Price wise, both cases run around $200 (the Sabol going for a little more), which made the Battlefoam case a winner. Still, I miss the pockets of the Division case and I'm not a big fan of the backpack straps on the Battlefoam 1520.

I think there's a place for both of these products in the marketplace, but clearly the Battlefoam product is a next generation case compared to the Division, albeit in a "1.0" format. If you've got a Division case, no need to run out and get a 1520 (although I did). However, if you're starting from scratch, you would have to be a real lover of pockets to pass up the Battlefoam 1520.


No, it's not likely you'll find a date at the store, but we have begun selling singles of cards. We started last week with Yu-Gi-Oh (YGO). Matt is our YGO organizer and he's also working part time at the store as our card coordinator. Why the change? Since kicking out our YGO group a year ago for rampant mayhem and theft, we've regrown the group to where it is today. Last Friday we had a record 27 people show up for YGO. This Saturday we have a YGO Sneak Peak event, the equivalent of a Magic pre-release.

The next step is Magic singles, but we're waiting to "seed" our initial collection with Magic 2010 cards. They're currently in short supply, although we hope to remedy that soon. We've got a shipment arriving Wednesday and another coming late in the week (hopefully). Then we'll begin building our collection.

Matt is exclusively doing our buying of cards until we develop a simple system that all employees can use. Generally, we'll want current cards, no more than a couple sets old. Rares are bought at a third of the retail price and commons and uncommons are bought in bulk. The key to having a specialized buyer is he can determine what's desirable and undesirable, what's a rare, and what was mass reprinted in the latest theme deck. Hopefully he can minimize our errors while the system is put in place.

Singles are an experiment of sorts. What would it take to make them profitable? Many stores sell them, but is it truly profitable for them when they factor in employee time? A few would emphatically say yes, while others would disagree. I intend to find out. Like anything in small business, the first step is developing a solid system.