Monday, December 28, 2009

5 Things Customers Should Know

If I could somehow share my knowledge and embed it into the heads of our regular customers, here's what I would want them to know:

  • You Need Each Other. Every game "department" is needed for the survival of our store and for us to continue to offer services such as play space. As much as groups like to throw scorn on each other, all of them are needed for us to do what we do. What we would like to see is a little more mutual respect, even if it's grudging respect. Myself and my staff need a little more of this too.
  • The Customer is Always Right. Our goal is superior, exquisite customer satisfaction. If you think we've slipped, let us know. Sometimes we screw up or let standards slide if we're stressed or extremely busy. It happens. Call us on it. Remind us we're not being exquisite. Sometimes we have to say no for various reasons, but it should be a consistent no, rather than an "I'm busy, buzz off" kind of no.
  • The Caveat (No Customer is Indispensable). The caveat to the customer is always right is that no customer is indispensable. Rarely, we'll need to "fire" a customer when they become overly demanding out of a sense of self-importance. This is extremely rare, but it happens. Our number one customer bought a little less than 1% of our total sales this year, a tremendous number, but by no means critical for our survival.  At the same time, it means we can generally treat customers with an equal level of respect.
  • No Game is Indispensable. I suppose that's something for manufacturers to understand.  Although there are a couple companies that we would be foolish to cut off, there is not a single game that can make or break us. That's something to remember if we don't seem to be providing the full support you think we should. Sometimes it doesn't make sense for us. If you're a store owner with a make or break product line, I'll tell you now I think it's a weakness.
  • Nobody is Getting Rich. Well, that's not entirely true. The shareholders of UPS and our property owner are probably getting rich off us, but we're certainly not. At the end of the day, we do this out of an irrational love of the hobby. Anybody successful in the game trade is fully capable of generating great wealth doing something else.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How Sales Are Different

Holiday sales have been strong for us this year, with a 15% increase from last December to date. Similar stories have been reported across the country, with talk of holiday sales returning to normal. I think that's an incomplete analysis, however. Sales for us are higher, but the shopping patterns are far different than in the past. What we see are more shoppers spending money with us, but they're far more discerning than in previous years. Remember that "flight to quality" discussion when it came to role-playing games? It went mainstream.

The best example of this is with board game sales. In the past, customers tended to buy several games, usually what I would call a "first tier" game, and maybe another that's off the beaten path. We had this interesting pattern of top tier games selling "X" quantities, second tier games selling half of X and tertiary games selling half of that number. It was a waterfall of sorts and we ordered stock this year accordingly.

Since the October banking collapse last year, however, customers have learned recessionary shopping and changed their habits. But why not last year? Although we were still in a recession last December, the habits hadn't been developed. People either stopped shopping entirely, or shopped normally.

So the new shopping pattern finds more customers buying board games, since they've become more popular (they're excellent values), but buying only "top tier" games. We have a huge spike in the sales of these games, while secondary and tertiary games don't sell at all. Not even a little. Huh. We've been thinking about this from various angles as well. Perhaps we're influencing the experiment?

We've got much better staffing this season, with a dedicated person always available during busy periods to hand sell games, especially board games. This extra attention is of great benefit to the customer because we can direct them to appropriate games based on their criteria. Most people want to engage these games, but don't know where to start.

We've wondered if informing the customer actually spikes sales. Well, I know they do, but the question is how much of a spike. The alternative is a customer freed up to buy what looks good based on the box description, or most likely, without assistance, nothing at all. We certainly don't think that's the best method, nor do we want to be dishonest and sell based on stock levels.

Finally, I compared notes with other game retailers and several found similar patterns of "flight to quality." So I'm thinking it wasn't just us, but a fundamental change in mainstream retail that we're just experiencing now. Of course, mainstream stores have been suffering through it and gauging customers for a year now. In the long run, Despite very strong board game sales, I think what we'll be seeing is less selection at the store as our large board game inventory is pruned based on this "flight to quality." Some games can still rely on informed hobbyists with diverse tastes, but many others will need to go as that hobby market is saturated. It's just the new normal.

Finca's our best selling board game this season. It was a Spiel des Jahres runner up and featured game in the San Francisco Chronicle (we don't find SdJ winner Dominion "muggle' appropriate). It made many "geek" lists this year and is touted as one of this years best "gateway" or "bridge" games for new players.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Three Stages of Christmas Shopping

We're just now leaving the first stage of Christmas shopping, the most enjoyable time of the year when it comes to dealing with the general public (aka "muggles"). Here are the three stages:

Grateful. This first stage finds us dealing with happy customers, grateful for our existence. They've got plenty of time and have chosen to support a local store with their purchase. They've done some research, but want to verify their newfound knowledge by talking with helpful staff. We often chat for long periods about the various merits of board games or how to start a Warhammer 40K army. It's how I wish the store operated all the time.

Resentful. This is the stage in which customers are getting a bit desperate. They've missed the cheap or free shipping from online sources. They've either started shopping late, or have come down to the bottom of their list. The bottom is where they put us, and they would rather not talk to us at all, unless their frustration has lead them to a dead end. Often they want games that are long out of print, hot games that sold out in November, or crazy products that you can only find online or from custom websites. They didn't procrastinate as much as shopped for crazy uncle Joey, who pushes cardboard or paints lead, last. They generally want quick explanations, or perhaps quick picks from written lists. It's a bit stressful for staff.

Desperate. Resentfulness turns to desperation as customers will not only treat staff poorly, but will tell us the saga they've gone through over the past week or so to get their product from some other source, not us. During the resentful stage, I begin hearing sob stories about Amazon screwing people over, or being out of stock on one of our best selling items. During the desperate phase, it becomes our fault, as if there's a brick and mortar conspiracy to make them pay full price by sucking up all the online inventory. They're unhappy we're not in a proper shopping place, like a mall. The desperate customers shut down product explanations quickly and don't want a lot of chit chat. Often they'll take a recommendation without an explanation, the only time of year this happens. It's probably good we don't have a lot of interaction, because their true colors tend to rub staff the wrong way.

Now that's the reality of the situation. But how can you move people back up the through the stages? How do you make a desperate customer only a bit resentful, or a resentful one grateful? How do you get a grateful customer to rave to all their friends?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Optimal Game Store Size (Math Hard)

This is the month that game store owners have delusions of grandeur. December is a month of feast for most, while we worry about famine the rest of the time. Holiday sales are a pleasant drug with exhausting after effects. Strong sales have me thinking about the future. What do I want to do next? New fixtures? Maybe. Renovate my landlords bathrooms? Uh, no. One obvious expansion for my business is more inventory.*

I have a theory. It goes something like this: There is a certain inventory level of games after which point you have diminishing returns. There are only so many games in circulation, desired by a local community. After this point, you begin to see a decline in inventory movement, as the less desirable inventory sells less often, dragging down your average.

Diminishing returns assumes there's a performance baseline, and for the sake of argument, we'll say it's a modest three turns of inventory. My magic number for when you have diminishing returns is about $200,000 of inventory (retail), which should develop about $600,000/year in sales, using those three turns as a guideline. This is the optimal store size, provided you have a large enough community to support it. Any bigger than this and your inventory is under performing. Any lower than this and you have room for expansion.

If you have less than that amount of inventory, and most game stores do (probably less than half that), you can aspire to get more inventory and be comfortable knowing you have a future of strong sales. However, if you buy more than this magical point in space, you're bringing in under-performing inventory, and accepting that you'll have lower turns with a modest increase in sales. This concept is important because it sets an upper limit of efficiency on a game store. I'm not there yet, for sure, but it says that if you want to go beyond that magic number, you will be less efficient. The alternative is to buck the trend and turbo charge your turns, but that's another story.

This efficiency formula puts an upper limit on game store performance, which is how one might go about considering a second store, or some other form of expansion. Every retail niche probably has this magical formula, the "good" inventory value based on the accepted average turns. To be fair, most stores don't have the population base to support these level of sales, and my guess is most open a second store because they tap out their population base, rather than their inventory dollars.

*When my delusions wear off, I'll be using holiday funds to pay off expansion debt.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Board Game Market (last piece of pie)

The world of board games is exciting and dynamic, without a clear market leader. But is that really true? Read on. This chart accounts for the 800 titles in our store, but I think you can do some extrapolation to the game trade. I find this is the most interesting chart yet. We're not dealing with game systems here, we're dealing with individual games, judged on their own merits. Refreshing.

A company like Z-Man Games can come out of nowhere and start pumping out big hits. Individual games like Blokus or Apples to Apples, can be a force to be reckoned with (most of the sales for Mattel). A company can survive on a single game or game franchise. Niche players can succeed, unlike with most other game segments.

You might be tempted to divide the market thinner, in hopes of seeing a clear leader. It's what I suggested when I found that Nike had 11% of the shoe market, but 46% of the athletic shoe niche. Perhaps a Euro game and American style game chart would be more helpful. I know if I ran a board game company, I would attempt such division to get a grasp of my role in the marketplace. What can you see in the chart (besides tasty pie)?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Google of Games (More Pie)

The "unassailable position" I talked about with Google, the iPod, and Microsoft Windows belongs to Magic: The Gathering in the game world.  There is nothing quite like it, except for maybe Chessex dice. At least that's what I see with our own statistics. It's painful, and damn expensive for me, to watch company after company throw themselves against the CCG wall in vain. In the store, we have an entire sub-culture of CCG wall throwers who hope in vain to find the Next Game.  I tried to add more data to see if I could show Magic as a leader, and not an unassailable winner, but nothing changed except the names at the bottom of the heap. Magic wins.

This is why I was (eventually) happy to see the Living Card Game model from Fantasy Flight Games. Stop banging your head against the CCG wall, the Magic wall, and create good games, sensibly distributed. You don't get to swing for the fence in the LCG model, but that means you don't necessarily strike out when you lose. Road kill from a year ago for us includes: Chaotic, Dinosaur Kings, and the last six card games listed here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More Pie for You (Miniatures)

Miniature game sales for us are down about 4% from a year ago. Again, we have a mature market with Warhammer 40K the clear leader. I would like to say there's a renaissance of new miniature games, but these are mostly curious games that play at the margins. Malifaux is sure to be a big hit (on the margins) in the next year, but for us it will probably just replace Infinity or another game. We'll also be dropping Lord of the Rings, which saw a short lived rally when the War of the Ring book was released. Firestorm Armada will likely pick up steam, only to dislodge Uncharted Seas. I don't want to play down these great games as games, they're just not terribly relevant from a sales perspective. What we need here, are new miniature players, which seem hard to come by.

New miniature players will be our focus for early 2010, as we implement a "little generals" league for kids. We'll be introducing them to the miniature gaming hobby through Warhammer 40K, and hopefully creating a time slot for them to play regularly. One of our failings as a game store is in the development of new gamers. The philosophy of "If you build it, they will come," is pretty good for a new store, but I think store owners needs to quickly find ways to engage the community.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Living Role Playing Game

The RPG market place is changing, transitioning from a print based model and trying to survive with a dwindling customer base. Print books are easy to steal, with the perception that role-playing book piracy is rampant. Selling print books is also hit and miss because of the nature of traditional role-playing games. With three to five players for every game master, player books, on the surface, sell three to five times better, making game master books less profitable. What actually happens is more complex, as there's often one guy who buys most of the books while the group borrows them. That guy is often the game master, the person with the most invested in the game. Trying to appeal to both markets in one supplemental book just makes for a bad book, so what to do?

The Living Role-Playing Game
Fantasy Flight Games has taken good games with broken distribution models and made them successful. They created the "living card game" or LCG, for The Game of Thrones, Call of Cthulhu and, created from the ground up to be an LCG, Warhammer Invasion. The CCG model only serves a few market leaders, while other companies attempt to eek out a living and not lose their shirt. The RPG industry, some would say, is broken. It serves a handful of top tier publishers, while everyone else has to keep their day job. It struggles with relevancy, competition from a compelling online RPG experience, theft of intellectual property and the inability to attract their target audience.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition, I think, is an attempt at a living role-playing game (LRPG). Gone are the book purchases that appeal to a segment of a tiny segment. Instead we have card packs, tokens and even special dice that aren't easily replicated, yet are very easy to expand the rules of the game. Much of the content of the cards in WFRP could have been placed in a rulebook instead, but that wasn't the intention. Easy expansion means easy rules changes and, most likely, more favorable sales. Want more spells or powers, forget books, sell a small pack of cards that every group will buy.

The premise, I think, is that there is always going to be that one guy who buys the stuff. The enigma of the starter box supports this. It's a box that has limited value for a player, but the players need it to play. At $100, it's unlikely more than one person in a group will buy it. It's aimed at that one guy. This is like the trade-off with the LCG model. In the LCG model, your sales will be far lower than a CCG model, but the publishing risks are far less and the efficiency in the system is much higher for retailers and distributors. FFG is accepting that the one guy will drive the sales of this game, and everyone else is not their target audience, except in driving that one guy to make the purchase.

The other method of creating a living role-playing game is the Wizards of the Coast way. You create quality online tools that are essential to play, that may even come very close to replacing the book model entirely. It's a fine line, as game publishers desire a print channel, so you don't want to eliminate brick and mortar (or even online) sales entirely, at least until electronic commerce is at parity with brick and mortar. The online model also seems to capture a lot of players, but again, there seems to be a lot of groups with one guy using the online service for the group.

The goal here in both models is to have a steady stream of income, with less volatile sales patterns. Cash flow is king, and the living role-playing game should provide steady cash. The down side is that only big companies can play this game. It takes a lot of resources to print cards and card stock efficiently, which is why we have a more mature market in board games rather than the free for all, kitchen table publishers in the RPG trade. The same is true with online tools, which require infrastructure and expertise that are out of reach of even the second tier RPG publishers.

The New Dog Fears the Long Tail
For another day, the methods and reasons for publishers to kill off what has gone before. Why do they need to destroy, contractually limit or otherwise impede previous versions of their game? Is the player base that small? The almost irrational fear of piracy seems to indicate that. Is there no way for these games to live together? Can you force a customer to move on to a new version of an entertainment product? Not shown on my RPG chart of last week were sales of 2nd and 3rd edition used RPG products in our store. Each of these easily outsells second tier publishers.

WFRP 3rd Edition

D&D Compendium. Search online for just about anything in print. 
One of several solid online tools

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Slow and Steady

November sales were shockingly good for us, 34% higher than last year. This was lead by collectible card games, board games and role-playing games. Those are the kinds of numbers you expect in year two of a store, not year six. Talking with other retailers, they also saw a big increase. The reason is clear if you experienced the economic free fall of 2008.

Last year, the nation had just witnessed the collapse of our financial system. Everyone was holding their breath in November, staying home under the covers. A 34% increase from near Armageddon level sales isn't a lot to crow about. Still, we're up about 12% from 2008, showing that perhaps game stores are counter-cyclical after all. Just don't expect to reap the rewards during boom times. I'll replace my "think inside the box" slogan with "slow and steady wins the race."

If the recession is over, small business survivors have hopefully learned some lessons from it. I've learned when to expand my business and when to hunker down. I've learned how to tighten my belt, while still investing in what's important, like staff. I've learned the value of money, and the danger of relying on banks and creditors, who don't understand the ebbs and flows of my business. Cash is king, as cheap credit will be hard to come by for some time. That bodes ill for an economy that's powered by small business.

I'm not sure how small businesses will grow in the future. Like cholesterol, there's good debt and bad debt. Bad debt is an oppressive drag created out of desperation, like financing your groceries. Good debt is an investment in the future, like a home purchase or student loans. Our business has cheap debt from our move and expansion that we're paying off, but any new debt, necessary for expansion, is far too expensive or non-existent.

That means our business and many others, will need cash to expand, which is not how it's supposed to work. That will require a much longer period before we can grow; both the pay down (which is normal) and the saving up (which is not).  This lack of credit is why you're hearing all the talk about a very slow economic recovery.  Slow and steady will have to win the race, at least until there's money to fuel the economic engine.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

RPG Market Share

Dungeons & Dragons still dominates role-playing sales in our store, but there has been a mini revival over the last year, with renewed interest in older games and some great new games, such as Rogue Trader, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and Hero 6. Pathfinder has found its legs too. This has dropped D&D from its startling 75% market share in our store to its less alarming 3.5 levels of around 55%. You lose Mayan calendar!

If this chart looks familiar, it's probably because it's similar to many business charts for mature marketplaces. Mature markets eventually have a leader that takes the kind of unassailable position we see with Dungeons & Dragons. You'll find products like the iPhone, Hewlett Packard printers, Internet Explorer, and Coca Cola with similar positions. They're household names like Dungeons & Dragons. It's a kind of economic natural selection. Celebrate diversity, but accept reality.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What Publishers Should Know

Since someone asked me this and I spent too much time responding in an email, I'll share my thoughts here:

What publishers should know about retailing:

The product. They should know how their product is likely to be displayed. This includes things like artwork and facing. How will it look on a magazine rack? Can you see the title or is it too low on the cover? How about on a bookshelf with the spine out? Does it have a spine or does it disappear? They should know how their product holds up on the shelf. How long before the cover begins to warp and bend? If it's less than 6 months, you're sunk. Is there room for a price tag? Did you print your MSRP on the book? Did you reduce the retailer margin AND print the MSRP on the book? Prices are set by retailers; that's our job.

  • Very bad example: Traveler books
  • Very good examples: The new Hero system books. 

Direct vs. In Store. Do you see the retailer as an impediment or a partner?  Selling direct to the consumer is fine, but do you play favorites? Do you sell your product early online? Do you sell it early at conventions? Do you discount online or hold sales leaving out the retailer? Is Amazon deep discounting your product? Do you openly encourage customers to buy directly from you instead of the retailer? Do you have a subscription service that does not include the retailer? Is the retailer given a margin that's less than the full 50%?

  • Very bad examples: Paizo, Hero, White Wolf.  
  • Very good example: Goodman Games, WOTC.

Marketing. What have you done to let the retailer know about your product? Do you encourage the end customer to interact with the retailer? Do you pay for any marketing to the retail tier? Do you show up at trade shows (not just conventions)? What do you do to encourage the retailer to stock all of your products and avoid the dreaded "periodical model?" What sort of organized play or volunteer program do you use? Consider quickstart rules. The goal is to get the retailer to buy the product, and more importantly, consider that product "evergreen" to keep it in stock.

  • Very bad example: Mongoose (churn, churn churn)
  • Very good example: Wizards of the Coast, Paizo. 

Some basic concepts:

Inventory is a zero-sum game. In order for me to stock your product, I must drop another product. When a new product is released, you will have to have a compelling argument for me to re-order your product. How will you compete against the new and shiny?

Retailers don't market games. We can briefly explain your product. We can make a general suggestion to a customer. You should not expect that we've played your game or will ever have time to do more than browse the back cover. That was never our jobs. Product knowledge is about 20% of what we do. Caveat: if you DO get retailers to play your game, you've got a powerful evangelist. Consider how you can make that happen. Consider demo copies for staff or potential evangelist customers.

Customers only buy what they'll play. It used to be customers would buy interesting books from systems they don't plan to play, just  to read for fun or to find new ideas. Recession purchasing found customers abandoning this practice. Books are bought for direct play. Books that will not be used in this manner, will not be bought. This was a big eye opener. If you've found your sales have dried up, consider whether you were in this category.

Know your pipeline. You tell customers your book "is out." What does that mean? Does it mean you shipped it to distributors? Does it mean you have a street date and that date is today? Know where your product is in the pipeline. Know when it will hit the street. Communicate information about the street. Nobody cares that you put it in a brown box and shipped it to a warehouse. Strongly consider street dates for your products to level the playing field. Nobody likes to hear the store across town or across the country already has their copy.

Manage your information. This is hard, but make sure it's clear to everyone that your product is a) available, b) temporarily out of stock, or c) discontinued. Use your website, the game industry network, and your social networking tools to keep everyone up to date. Relying on distributors will cause you sorrow. Consider planned obsolescence, limited editions, or a pre-determined number of source books.

Please add your own thoughts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole

I got the news on Friday that I had a week before the San Francisco Chronicle's annual board game article would hit the web (this upcoming Sunday for the print edition). The news resulted in a flurry of activity, ranging from the creation of pretty pink flyers to a massive ordering binge. We've got a metric butt load of games arriving this week from five warehouses in four states, along with a car load of games from my Hasbro supplier (a sale at Wal-Mart). I also have some cramming to do, since I've spent the year playing 40K in lieu of board game night.

This is one of those love-hate moments in the life of Bay Area game store owners. The article brings in a huge number of new customers, ranging from potential new hobbyists (my favorite) to those who will buy whatever the Chronicle recommends (most trying). We all see this as an opportunity to develop a potential interest into a fulfilling social hobby, provided the customer shows a spark of interest.

If the spark is present, we always provide our own opinion on what they should start with, and it's usually off list. Games like Carcassonne, Wasabi, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride and the occasional Arkham Horror trump the List Du Jour. If they're buying multiple games, I'll often throw in one of my favorites, like Power Grid or (the dreaded) Tikal.

This year we'll also be recommending some new games, like Tobago and Endeavor. I just don't like Settlers of Catan personally, but mention it's the best selling game year round, and many will snap it up. What I like shouldn't matter, it should be about what the customer needs, but many can spot that spark in my eye, and appreciate the honesty and enthusiasm.

About half the customers last year were receptive to my suggestions (pleas?). The other half wanted the opinionated clerk to ring up their Chronicle games. I'm not going to "dis" the list, it's too easy and it's the proverbial hand that feeds. Honestly, there are some overlooked gems on this list each year, but the stellar performers are often missing or mis-classified (I would never sell Dominion as a gateway game). Still, it's a fantastic starting point for potential new board gamers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Female Horse Stuffed With Wax (蝌蝌啃蜡)*

If there's one thing our customers can agree on, it's their love for Coke, especially Mexican Coke. With over 4,000 cans and bottles sold in the last year, Coke is always in our top ten list. Coca Cola products outsell major game manufacturers, like Days of Wonder and Z-Man Games. It does better than Munchkin. I can't imagine running a game store without Munchkin or Coke. 

Costco is our supplier for the snacks and drinks, so it was with sadness and a bit of panic that I learned they're no longer carrying Coca Cola products while they attempt to negotiate pricing. Costco will lose, they're just not big enough to take on Coca Cola, but hopefully along the way they'll bargain for something that will make them happy. Until then, I stock piled as much Mexican Coke (other Coke was already gone) as I could get my hands. 22 cases was all they had left in their distribution center and they'll be arriving tomorrow, along with a bunch of Dr. Pepper, another popular Coca Cola product.

I'm trying to avoid the old days of shopping for drinks myself, which is what I'll be doing for regular Coke, Diet Coke, and Coke Zero this week. The alternative for Mexican Coke in the Bay Area, is Smart & Final, although it's a bit more expensive and with no delivery service. I would consider going to Coca Cola directly, but they don't approve of the importing of Mexican Coke and won't offer it (plus they have horrible service).

Here's our Top 10 List by Volume (over the last year):

  1. Magic Singles
  2. Mexican Coca Cola
  3. Individual Dice
  4. 9 Pocket Pages 
  5. Water, Bottle
  6. Yu-Gi-Oh Singles
  7. MTG Shards of Alara Booster Pack
  8. MTG 2010 Booster Pack
  9. Coca Cola (can)
  10. MTG Conflux Booster Pack

* Things Go Better with Coke was initially translated as , to  "Bite the wax tadpole" or "Female horse stuffed with wax" See Yellow Bridge.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pimping Role Playing Games

When a customer comes into the store looking for a new role-playing game, a rare occurrence, I see it a bit like shopping for a new computer. The RPG is the operating system. Dungeons & Dragons is your classic Windows (WOTC really does resemble a mini-Microsoft). White Wolf most resembles Apple. The Indy Press world is certainly the various flavors of Linux. I've always considered Spirit of the Century your Red Hat Linux, a comfortable gateway to open source. Of course, there are many more operating systems in this example than in the computer world, which is a gigantic part of the problem with the industry; more options than consumers. It's spread far too thin. So the most obvious question if you were to buy a computer is what do you want to do with it? What applications do you want to run?

Applications, in my example, are not supplements. That would be the obvious answer, but supplements don't allow you to use this kind of operating system. The applications are players. Your requirements for a role-playing game are entirely dependent on who you'll be playing it with. If you have a group of die-hard D&D players, your choice of something other than D&D is likely to be incompatible. Sure, there are some likely choices based on similarities to D&D or a desire to take a break from it, but your core application of this game system are your existing players. This is also why D&D has an enormous market share in our store, at 75%.

If you walk into the store and desire to play a role-playing game, there is one game with a guaranteed spot, one company that offers a good organized play system for their role-playing game. That's Wizards of the Coast with D&D 4. If you have no applications for your new operating system, there are some "built in" apps that are bundled and available for your use, every Thursday night at our store. We have other games on the calendar, but access is a little harder to obtain, as they're semi-private games. So when a customer walks in looking for a role-playing game, question one is who are you going to play with?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay Follow-up

Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play Pre-Release Event

We held the pre-release event for Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, the new version by Fantasy Flight. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. I blogged about how unnecessary I thought it was with such an award winning version from Green Ronin only a few years old. I was pleasantly surprised to find the game not only good, but innovative.

Thoughts on the Game:

JoeOnce you get used to the way the dice work, and remember to use the card info at the right times, it is a pretty standard RPG experience. Some good things that we noticed were the ways that our abilities and even die rolls (initiative for example) could be used for the party, or for other party members. We all seemed to be involved in each encounter - while each character was able to take the lead in different types of encounters, nobody felt like they were just sitting on the sidelines until their "encounter type" occurred.

Me:  Did character creation and an encounter with a "social" character. The social guys are relevant in combat, as they distract and feint opponents. The game seems true to the WFRP world, with some really unique mechanics. The dice pools are innovative and the cards (powers) encourage role-play. 

From Dan Foster on rpg.geekdo.comThe mechanisms of the game (i.e. the Dice Pool) lend themselves to great bits of narrative story telling. This is the first time in a long time where I was getting excited to run a full out RPG campaign (I am normally a boardgamer)! 

From NezziR on the Fantasy Flight forum: This game is fun, playable, and has a strength of design capable of long term play value. Moving forward, I will be using this system for WFRP campaigns at my table. If this system enjoys the support of the fans, and in particular, the publisher, it could develop into something very special. 

Of course, it wasn't perfect, and occasionally the rules were buried in hard to find places or a power is mentioned in the rulebook that has a different name on the card. Making characters (not part of the demo) was really confusing. It doesn't have the concise level of rules as, say D&D 4 (D&D guys are really spoiled compared to other games), but it does have a richness in the role-playing side that will allow most people to overlook its technical flaws. If you want statistical number crunching and power builds, look elsewhere. If you want a rich role-playing experience with a system that works to serve that purpose, I think the new WFRP might be the right fit. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay (Sat 12pm)

If you fancy yourself a well rounded role-player, you owe it to yourself to check out the pre-release event for Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay at the store on Saturday. The game tries to keep true to its roots, but it also deviates wildly from anything I've seen before in role-playing with a clever and creative dice pool system. Modifiers and bonuses add dice to the pool, rather than static numbers, which can lead to a huge number of outcomes, many of which are role-playing opportunities.

I tried it out this evening by creating an Agent character. In a test encounter, this smooth talker had his nefarious plans interrupted by a town guard.  He used a social based power called "I Thought We Were Friends?" and succeeded. I decided he was being more aggressive today, so although I was successful, it added a bit of stress. The guard was sweet talked, but he really needed to be eliminated, so using the distraction, he attacked the guard. It ended badly, but we did get to see the combat rules in action. In a regular game, I would have been backed up by more combat oriented characters. Still, it was fun, once we figured out how everything worked.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tilting at Windmills

A customer came in today who had bought his D&D 4 gift set online. He needed some dice. I thought, great, another Amazon customer throwing me some crumbs. I should be grateful, right? I can't get too mad, it's not like the Internet is some newfangled invention that came out after I started my business. I knew the waters were dangerous before I jumped in.

Then I started thinking about whether Amazon actually made any money on their deep discount. Perhaps I was making more money on this dice purchase than Amazon was making on that much bigger gift set purchase.

I looked at the math:

Amazon: $104.95 retail. $66.12 their retail price. Cost of 52.48. Gross Profit: 13.64. (Estimated) Shipping: $7. 
Total profit;  $6.64

Game Store: $12.95 retail (D&D Premium Dice), $6.48 cost. 
Total Profit: $6.47.

Assuming Amazon isn't getting better terms than me and my shipping estimates are right on, they're making seventeen cents more than me on their much larger purchase. It's just astounding.

But they have a brilliant business model, right? Over the last 15 years, Amazon managed to lose over a billion dollars.  They may see return on investment in another seven years (22 years in). With business logic like that, I'm surprised they don't run a chain of game stores! 

Meanwhile, they've managed to gut the book trade. Sure, they're cheap. Sure, consumers love them for their impossibly low prices. But at what cost? Amazon could learn a lot from Google's "Do No Evil" philosophy.  Then again, maybe Amazon is doing good. An organization that spends a billion dollars to send books to people has got to be the biggest literacy project in the history of the world! 

Seventeen cents. Morons.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Christmas Stocking

I did my Christmas stocking early this year. Part of this was fear that my suppliers would keep inventories low, which is turning out to be unfounded. I was also concerned customers would start shopping earlier, which seems to be happening this season. There is a fear that stores will run out of stock, which is likely in many places, but the game trade seems mostly healthy. I have faith that we'll do well this season and I wanted the shopping out of the way.  So now I have that feeling of indigestion as my inventory budget is completely blown and holiday sales are still about a month away.

I mostly stocked up on board games. Other departments see sales increases of around 50% during the holidays, while we'll often sell three times as many board games as a normal month. Those departments are already stocked well and can take advantage of our just-in-time ordering. We're not one of those stores that does half their business during the holiday season, it's more like a nice jump of around 50%. Still, it's where most of the profit for the year is derived, and sins forgiven.

Next year I'll likely have a more hard nosed approach to purchasing. I listened to a great GAMA trade show podcast on purchasing the other night and realized I should hold myself to my own purchasing standards. I often ignore my budget in favor of making customers happy. This is a common owner pitfall, where the owner bypasses all those great policies and procedures he makes the employees follow. Just ask my guys. However, in the case of purchasing, I'm realizing this desire to please is at the expense of the
bottom line, and I've identified it as the main enemy of profitability. I would probably fire myself if I were me. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cracking the Silo

At the beginning of the year, I decided I wasn't going to budget a trip to a trade show. Most store owners don't go to shows every year, but I felt it was a great way to stay informed about the game industry. I can usually point to something I learned at a show that justified the expense in the long run, but this year I decided to focus on the bottom line, short term survival. The problem with the hobby game industry is that everyone is in their tiered silos.

Good information is hard to acquire, despite the emails, blogs, and forums. What you end up getting are press releases or the same people talking, many of whom you've heard quite enough of. The publishers have a relationship with the distributors, but not the stores. The stores relate to the distributors, but not the publishers. The distributors closely guard their own information against their crafty competitors. The same people say the same things, year after year, without much diversity or new ideas. You often end up with harsh words between the producers and sellers, with both thinking the other isn't properly doing their job, both thinking the other doesn't understand the complexities of their position. Getting insight into each others world is not only good for business, it might be necessary for industry survival.

What's needed are candid discussions. I don't need the official line, I need to know what someone would tell me if we went out for a beer. The hobby game industry is very small. You would think you could predict how it would act, but it's remarkably difficult. While publicly traded companies are legally obligated to maximize their shareholder value, usually with predictable outcomes, the hobby game industry is by nature irrational. Sure, everyone wants to make money, but they could all do it easier elsewhere. A divorce, money problems, animosity towards a competitor or the belief that "it's how it's done" can make rational people make seemingly irrational decisions. Understanding what is happening so we can make good decisions in our silos can be next to impossible unless you've got a few beer buddies in the industry. The more socially adept spend hours on the phone each week just getting an industry pulse. It's exhausting.

The good news then, is that it's becoming easier to share information, and without the expense of a trade show or hours on the phone. Social networking has been the key for me, both Twitter and Facebook. It's admittedly a lot of work, but after you decide who you want to grok information from, you can let the bits wash over you until you've got a pattern of information that answers your questions and informs your view. The technology is obviously in its infancy, and I'm guessing will be different shortly, but the benefits are undeniable for me. There's a level of information sharing, and value gleaned from those who don't even know their projecting it, that would have required many six packs to acquire. Grok is the perfect term for this too:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

The key, of course, is knowing who you want to follow, friend, or otherwise grok. Hopefully they project more than the usual press releases. Most of us have personal accounts and business accounts, meaning we can market to others with one account while "being ourselves" with the other. Both are tremendously useful, I find. All of this probably sounds terribly obvious right now, but it's amazing how it has developed in such a short time. With Google Wave in development (I just set up my account!), I'm sure we'll be seeing more of this, and in increasingly usable formats.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

4 Months with the Wii Fit

The Wii Fit is as close as I get to video games. I don't want them in my life and want to avoid "plugging in" my son. I see too many video game zombies in my store every day to wish that fate on my family. I don't dislike video games. My problem with video games is like how a friend describes his fear of heights. It's not that he's afraid he'll fall, he's afraid he'll jump. I spent a good part of my adult life slogging through electronic dungeons and creating virtual cities. I just want more from my time. So when my wife brought home the Wii with the Fit balance board, I was excited to try, but hoped I could keep focused enough to use it without jumping off a building.

I knew from a lifetime of working out that the secret was consistency. I've joined a gym perhaps five times in my life, inevitably quitting after realizing I wasn't going to keep it up. I hated that walk of shame, going to the gym in your street clothes to cancel your membership, to tell the pretty girl at the front desk or the buff trainer that you're a quitter. The Fit would work if I could avoid this cycle, and it's low impact, low intensity workouts seemed promising. I started with the yoga for about a month and then began alternating with cardio. My stated goal was to lose weight, but I was mostly just doing what I thought was most fun, to build that consistency. I was about 30 pounds overweight.

The first month I didn't lose any weight. I accepted that as the usual build-up of muscle from all that yoga. I felt great, better than I had in decades, and that was what mattered, but still, where was all that shedding of pounds I read about on the Internet? My more active friends were encouraging, but noticeably skeptical. 

Three months into the Wii Fit, I was still working out every day (taking Mondays off for 40K night), but began doing what a lot of people seemed to do, alternating with walking on a treadmill. The cardio portion of the Fit is it's weakness, with the workouts repetitive and dull. Running in place is depressing, although the rhythm boxing kept me entertained for a few weeks. At the three month mark, I was feeling great and had lost a modest five pounds. Nothing to write home about, I thought, but not too bad a start, especially combined with vastly more energy. Suddenly the evenings felt like activity time, rather than time to crash and relax. I was getting a part of my life back.

Then I got sick with a cold. I was dreading this. That is usually where my resolve breaks as the habitual pattern of working out is broken while I'm resting. I figured I was going to gain all that weight back, but when I went back to the Wii, I was an additional five pounds lighter. Why? My problem wasn't just lack of exercise, it was eating way too much. Being sick was an appetite suppressant. While sick, my metabolism was in a higher gear and was able to continue burning calories through my normal work day. Afterwards, I  reset my eating habits and now I'm much more aware of the intake of calories, rather than focusing on output. 

Soon after, the Wii Fit Plus came out, which solved my problem of boring cardio exercises. I've been using it for a month now, and especially enjoy the bicycle workouts. Thirty minutes or an hour can fly by quickly. There's also an ingenious bird game, where you flap your wings, lean back and forth and fly to various platforms. It's a superb game. The Fit Plus will tell you how many calories you're burning, which is a big help. Do you really want to use up that twenty minute bicycle ride drinking a Coke when you can have a glass of water? 

Four months into the Wii Fit and I've lost 10 pounds. I've learned to adjust my eating habits and watch my calories. My goal is to lose an additional 20 pounds with the Wii Fit combined with diet, and then possibly explore a more robust workout program. I have friends doing the P90X program, which sounds intriguing. Lets work on those 20 pounds first. Also, four months is a good start, but I think I'll need a full year to really develop the habit. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The New and Exciting!

The auction is Sunday, with a ton of stuff and (my guess) sparse attendance. Many of the games have no damage, usually case quantities in which the top few games were dented and the whole thing was written off. We also still have a bunch of Agricola copies with box creases for $39.99. This is a $70 game that's currently #1 on boardgamegeek.

Here's what's new this week:

Board Games

  • Ticket to Ride Europe, 1912 Expansion. New warehouses, depots and 55 destinations.
  • Dungeon Twister: Prison: This Dungeon Twister variant has lots of cool miniatures and includes a solo version.
  • Mr. Jack in New York. Stand alone variant. one player takes the role of Mr. Jack, the other takes a role of a Detective. But there are new possibilities - gaslights and manholes are represented by pawns which can be moved.
  • Chromino. A fun dominoes variant. If you like Blokus, give this one a try.
  • Wings of War: Dawn of War - Legends/Air Squad Pack  (Friday)

Miniature Games
  • Magazines: White Dwarf 358 (Skaven), No Quarter #27 (featuring a MKII look), Minature Wargames (Air War Over Africa), Wargames Soldiers & Strategy (Spanish Civil War), and Wargames Illustrated 265 (Friday).
  • Warmachine: Scryah: Ravyn, Eternal Light, Adeptus Rahn, Dawnguard Scyir, House Shyeel Battle Mages, Mage Hunter Strike Force.
  • Hordes: Trollblood Trollkin Runeshapers
  • Warhammer Fantasy (Friday): Skaven Army Book, Skaven Clanrat Regiment, Skaven Stormvermin (20), Skaven Doomwheel, Warlord Queek Headtaker, Deathmaster Snikch, Packmaster Skweel.
  • Flames of War (includes last weeks releases): Fallshirmjägerkompanie, Fallshirmjägerkompanie MG's, Fallshirmjägerkompanie Gaming Set, Airborne Anti-Tank Platoon, Airborne Bazooka Teams. 
  • Malifaux. We're hoping to get a few starter sets in Friday after our Monday order disappeared.
  • Heroscape Wave 10 Booster (Friday)

Collectible Card Games

  • Yu-Gi-Oh 2009 Collectible Tin #2. 2 Stardust Overdrive packs, 1 Ancient Prophecy pack, 1 Raging Battle pack, 1 Crimson Crisis pack, a secret rare, deck partitions and sleeves. 
  • Pokemon Platinum Arceus: Boosters, Theme Decks and Poster Boxes.
  • Magic: As usual, we have plenty of Zendikar and M10 in stock.

Role-Playing Games
  • Shard RPG: Basic Compendium: A unique game world unlike any you've seen before. Players play various animal races, rather than your standard fantasy humanoids. 
  • Outdoor Mapping Sheets: 8.5x11" hex sheets from Troll Lord Games
  • Castles & Crusades: Of Gods & Monsters. 15 different pantheons fully explored.
  • Starsiege: Another Fine Mess. A lucrative courier job may finally get the crew out of trouble.
  • Reaper Miniatures (Friday): Halmar, Young Wizard, Norgol, Irongrave Knight, Culk, Young Rake, Native American Chieftain, Chupacabra, Moxy, Space Adventuress, Zombie German Officer, Zitler, Zombie Leader 
  • Hero 6 (Friday): Hero System: 6th Edition Combat and Adventuring, Hero System: 6th Edition Basic Rules Set, Hero System: 6th Edition Advanced Rules Set. Limited quantities due to distributor shipping damages.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Games and Spirituality

“There is no virtue in isolating ourselves from the world. This will not safeguard our spirituality. But it will certainly condemn us to irrelevance. There is also no virtue in being culturally ‘trendy’ and accepting blindly the latest offering in the round of personal and social ‘cures.’ At the same time, there is not merit in being out of touch with the critical issues of our time...." Charles Ringma

Over the last five years, I've thought a lot about games and spirituality and I've encountered different ways spiritual people engage their pastime, dealing with or side stepping problematic issues while respecting their own boundaries. As for myself, I'm a practicing Buddhist with a master's degree in Buddhist studies. Or if you ask my mother, a Catholic who will soon come back to the church. Most people have no spiritual issues with games, while others are troubled by various elements within games.The three areas I want to discuss are evil, conflict and collectibles.

Let me first say I dislike the word spiritual. Like the term "energy," it generally has no meaning when discussing religion. Someone who considers themselves spiritual and engages with our hobby (or hobbies) generally has a set of religious or ethical beliefs that act as mental armor in the world, allowing them to go forth and do good while protecting them from more sinister elements. Where they draw the line is their personal business, and where this gets interesting. As my quote above states, lay practitioners of most traditions wish to be in the world, but not of the world. They draw boundaries to set themselves apart for their own protection. They wish to engage the world, but not allow themselves to be consumed by both the good and the bad that they encounter. But what is bad?

Evil is the usual suspect. Back in the '80's, our now venerable favorite, Dungeons & Dragons was vilified as being a gateway to Hell. There were some misunderstandings, some of which were clearly intentional to vilify the game. Players don't cavort with dark powers. The magic is make believe. Suicide of players is not statistically higher than others in their age group. In other words, by itself there is nothing wrong with the game. After describing the Player's Handbook to one woman, she asked me, "They cast real spells?" I told her, "If people could cast real spells from this book, I would be making a lot more money at this." There's spirituality and commerce in a nutshell.

As a spiritual practitioner, however, there are some real life issues within the game dealing with evil. There are indeed, devils and demons that can be dealt with in your imagination, and spells your make believe character can cast, which for many Christians is problematic. You can also explore the nature of evil quite thoroughly in the game, which can bother some. I ran an "evil" campaign a few years ago where it was interesting to see what players considered "true" evil. How far did they want their evil game to go in this exploration? For some, children and torture where out of bounds. For others, the sky was the limit. Did they want to be sinister evil, or misunderstood master planners who viewed themselves as good? Everyone knows good when they see it, but evil? Evil is nebulous. Perhaps that's why some people have such a problem with the game.

For many spiritual people, delving into this topic is not a wholesome pastime and one they're encouraged to avoid. I drew the line at the evil campaign and I simply found it exhausting and demoralizing to run it. It was like a weekly dose of pollution injected into my brain. It ran at the same time and in the same world as my "good" campaign. The "good" characters in another gaming group ran around and cleaned up the messes of the evil folks. It turns out that it's vastly easier to do evil than undo it. Sometimes you forget that conflict in role-playing game is meant to be resolved. So for me, I think exploring the nature of evil is important and relevant, but it's probably better left at a brief exploration.

Other customers have lines they avoid crossing. One plays Warhammer 40K, but avoids chaos, associating it with the Christian underworld. Another is a serial role-player, playing every role-playing game we sell, but carefully tip toeing around Dungeons & Dragons. He's heard too much about it and wants to avoid the entire controversy. Everyone has their own boundaries and engages at the level in which they're comfortable. Games open up your imagination to the entire realm of possibilities. Some possibilities we would rather limit.

Conflict is a necessary element of games, I believe. There are really only a couple types of games, when you distill them down: the race and the battle. Without conflict, games are boring and tedious, often downright educational! Again, conflict is fine for most, the best example of lightweight conflict being Euro board games. These games are almost always non-violent, with themes of exploration or racing to complete a task. I know several ministers who whole heartedly engage in Euro gaming as a wholesome, relatively conflict-free pastime. One of the photos in the store (until recently) was of a couple of nuns enjoying a good game of Ticket to Ride.

On the other hand, war games make no bones about their goals. Crush your opponent, engaging in clever strategy and tactics. You can argue that playing war games is an important lesson in conflict resolution and learning the limitations of war. It teaches critical thinking, often involves craft work, occasionally delves into history, and provides a social atmosphere for playing. It certainly has more positive elements to it than your average first person shooter video game. Yet, if you're a spiritual person, war gaming can be problematic as you regularly fill your head with violence and carnage.

I suppose it's about moderation and context, but it can be difficult to justify sometimes. Do you become desensitized or are you better able to grasp the horrors of war? I've had few conversation about Dungeons & Dragons and evil over the past five years, but I regularly have to explain my position on war games to anxious mothers. How many times is the word "war" shown on the walls of the store? Flames of War, Warhammer, Warmachine.... I fully accept the grayness of this area.

Collectible games bother me as a business model. This is where you buy blind packs of products in hopes of getting a random item of goodness. Someone will have to explain to me how this is not gambling and why most of these games are marketed to children. My problem with collectible games are not the games themselves, which are often fantastic, it's how they're sold. The result, I've found, is a lot of bad behavior surrounding these games. Theft is rampant and arguments and fighting a constant as card players, much like drug addicts, trade and negotiate to get the item they need so desperately. You might argue that it's the age of the players, but not the game. However, I think it's the acquisition model that's to blame. You don't see this with other games kids play.

I find the model dishonest and regularly think of ways to disengage. What if I were to only sell singles of all product and not sell packs? Would they buy the packs somewhere else or buy just what they wanted from the singles? What would my business model look like if I turned my back on all collectibles and focused on miniatures and role playing games? At this point, my business is too enmeshed with the collectible model to give it up cold turkey, but my disdain for collectibles is strong. This is the issue I feel most strongly about, but I generally don't see it discussed.

So there you have it, my three big issues superficially discussed in a blog post. Fee free to engage and expand.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Credit Crunch Update (Tradecraft)

A couple years ago, I expanded my business using my home equity line of credit along with a long term, low interest credit card offer. I'm one of the lucky ones, as that's still my method of finance, although I can no longer tap either one of those sources. Credit card interest rates have tripled from that promotional offer and my HELOC is a distant memory, a mere debt to be paid off with nothing to tap. This CNN Money article explains the scenario for small businesses nowadays. Companies that have needed expansion capital in the last couple years are likely in a holding pattern at best.

There have been attempts to thaw the credit market for small businesses. The SBA ARC loan program, part of the recovery plan, was a dismal failure. I've followed this one closely, pursuing banks and finally getting an application from one. The problem was that most banks couldn't be bothered with the complex application process and the questionable government guarantees for a mere $30,000 loan. 

Like a hostile health insurance company, the government had a tendency of denying loan default claims by combing through applications for any potential discrepancy. The banks were responsible for my "pre-existing" financial conditions. The bottom line was that it wasn't worth their time. Worse, the requirements for such a loan were so stringent, that to qualify, you probably didn't need it! My interpretation of the application was that we were simultaneously doing both too well and too poorly to qualify, if that makes any sense.

Last week the government rolled out the Small Business Financing and Investment Act, version 2.0 of the Obama administrations attempt at providing loans to small businesses. It has the provision for allowing the SBA to loan directly to businesses if the banks won't cooperate. This might sound like a great idea, but having followed the SBA for the last six months, I can't say I have any confidence in their abilities to make their own loans (or tie their own shoes). At the macro level, I have no problem sending a check each month to the Department of Education for my student loans, but those loans were vetted and administered by banks for years before the government had them (although it was Citibank, which is practically the same thing).  

In their defense, the new program is supposed to be streamlined to make it easier for the banks to provide these loans. That was the major complaint, after all, so it looks to me like the government is taking advice and attacking the problem on multiple fronts. Here, we've made it easier, and if you don't give them out, we'll bypass you and do it ourselves.  The pre-existing condition problem is eliminated by providing a 100% loan guarantee, up from 90%. It doesn't absolve the banks from their due diligence. However, it might be a bigger  incentive. Like every government program, we'll have to see how this is executed. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Toys for Tots and other Stuff

We're now accepting Toys for Tots donations at the store. This was very successful for us last year as we filled two bins with new, unwrapped (but still packaged) toys. We, of course, sell toys, but you're welcome to bring in toys you've acquired from other stores. 

Toy Dumping. In other toy news, we're trashing a bunch of toys due to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Most of our toys are from a handful of large, well known companies that have shown compliance to the act, but there are a bunch of generic Chinese (junk) toys that it's time to part with. I think they're safe, but like many stores around the country, if you're not sure, you need to get rid of them. If you've been in the store recently, it's the little stuff by the front door. Logic might bring you to the conclusion that I should dump them in the Toys for Tots bins, but that sounds like trouble.

Malifaux. I'm busting my purchasing budget by bringing in the new Malifaux miniature game from Wyrd. This is turning out to be a very popular game that has been on the periphery of my radar since Gencon (I'm a bit behind the curve on this one). It's a diceless skirmish miniature game with an interesting mechanic. The theme is Gothic steampunk fantasy, You use a fate (aka poker) deck along with stat cards for each miniature to resolve actions in the game. The models are gorgeous (we already carry Wyrd miniatures). 

Since it's a skirmish game, you can make a small investment without the huge commitment of a new army game. About $80 will get you a starter box and a rulebook. We're bringing in a few army boxes on Monday and we've got rulebooks backordered (currently out at Wyrd). Check this game out and see if it catches your interest. 

Ding & Dent Auction. It's on Sunday the 8th. If you're new to this, we buy up damages and clearance items from publishers, distributors and stores and sell them at a quarterly auction. We could make more money with some sort of online scheme, but we like the community aspect of the auctions (and I'm lazy). 

A very large part of the auction is customer items. In fact, it's beginning to eclipse the stuff we bring in, which is fine by me. Please begin bringing in your auction items now. You can choose a "buy it now" price, meaning we just sell it on a table, or you can choose a live auction for your premium gaming gear. You get store credit for your goods which can be redeemed for other auction items the same day, or used for new games at the store at your convenience.

The latest shipment of ding & dent exceeded our storage capacity, so we put a bunch of stuff out on the sales floor to make room. Lots of scary Halloween games are there along with a bunch of Agricola copies at $39.99. Agricola is the #1 game online and normally goes for $69.99.