Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Faithful

Polyfabulum: (from Greek πολυ [poly, meaning many or several] and Latin fabulum [game]) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of playing more than one hobby game at a time. It can refer to the nature of a gaming relationship at a given time, or be used as a description of a philosophy of gaming, rather than a person's actual gaming status at a given moment.


The faithful filed into the grand temple, inspirational music playing as if from angels above. Artifacts of The Faith decorated the walls and brought comfort. The temple was clean and bright, made as inviting as possible. Without a trace of cynicism, the priest knew that theater was a large part of this production. There was a necessary sense of comfort and inclusion. Several young acolytes also watched on. He noticed a hint of a sneer from one of them.

"What is wrong my son?" the priest asked.

"Friday worshippers." the young acolyte responded, as if that said it all.

"And?" said the priest.

"They're not true worshipers. How many have delved into the Books of Gygax or experienced the inspirational art of McVey? How many have puzzled out the Formulas of Knizia? Sure, we need their donations to keep the doors open, but they're not, well, of the faith. They come here once a week and do their rituals and think not of us at other times. They are monofabulum."

The old priest stiffened at the pejorative academic term. He thought back on his own past. His devotion to a single aspect of The Faith was what brought him here. Most of the trappings the acolyte spoke of were relatively new to the old man. When he was a boy, they hadn't existed yet. At first he was content with his simple, strong faith, but eventually the priest wanted a deeper experience, partly to connect with his flock. Back then, it was acolytes like these that inspired him to go further, to become a priest of the temple. His faith had been strong despite his sparse academic training.

"My son, they all participate at their level of comfort. They are all equal in The Faith. I am sure even The Great Gygax would have agreed." the priest explained. "Maybe there is an ancient table or chart we can consult."

"Perhaps." said the acolyte. "And there's always hope for change, as you say."

"No, my son. They are fine as they are."

Off the Wagon (Magic)

I arrived at my store yesterday to buy some Magic cards. My staff was astonished and confused, as if a recovering addict asked to borrow twenty bucks for  a crack pipe. I persisted after explaining the project and listening to them try to talk me out of it. I picked up a box of 2010 and eyed a box of the new Worldwake. The street date isn't until Friday, so there was a gray area involved with me taking it home. They informed me that my combination was probably a bad one, as Worldwake would only work well in combination with Zendikar, since it was the second release of the set. I eventually settled on a box of Zendikar and 2010, for the sake of simplicity.

We talked strategy for a moment. They handed me a black intro pack from Worldwake, since they were available during our pre-release. Fangs of the Bloodchief is a brutal vampire deck. "Don't I want to see what I get in these boxes and then decide what's best?" I asked. I was told yes, and then I would see that vampires are clearly the best and go with that, so I might as well pick up the vampire deck. They were right.

Since all these cards would go back to the store, I personally paid for the intro pack, since its cards were of little value after the experiment. Everything else was a donation. The total for this project so far would have been around $330.

I went home and began sorting. The ink fumes from the cards brought back a lot of memories, although I had never bought a full box before. I didn't know a box count until opening my store. Towards the end of opening endless booster packs, nostalgia gave way to a headache from the smell. Perhaps I was too old for this project after all!

I picked up a couple of card storage boxes too, realizing that our stock levels were too low of key boxes and understanding box capacities for the first time. I lamented that the new card dividers from Ultra Pro, although very pretty, didn't fit card storage boxes. I had first learned this with my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay project.

I sorted out my cards by color and type, which took about an hour and began strategizing deck construction, starting with my black intro pack as a base. It was fairly easy, as black is the 40K equivalent of Space Marines. Not a lot of bad decisions that can be made and fairly straightforward and brutal. It's a beat deck, without a lot of interaction between the cards. I'm guessing I kept about two thirds of the 40 card deck and ramped it up to 60 cards using the two boxes I bought. Checking some card lists online, it seems there are a lot of options and most people max out cards they like, including four of each in their decks. My selection was a little more limited, and I immediately realized the value of singles.

Next I created a white deck. The first thing I realized is that without an intro pack, I was short on land. White was more my play style, with less powerful monsters backed up by clever instants and enchantments to power them up. Besides that, I simply like the artwork better. Black was always a bit of a downer for me.

I noticed with the online deck lists that mono color decks are hot right now. Back in the day, they tended to be brittle and easy to defeat. Also, the cards are all very straightforward. Special abilities I hadn't heard of were explained right on the card. I know the rules have been tweaked quite a bit from when I last played, but at no time did I stare at a card perplexed as to what it did. Why I would want to do something was another matter, the meat of the game really. Obvious sucky cards were obviously sucky to everyone else online. Not too much clever with the black. I was liking this.

Here's my preliminary deck list, based on what I had available at the time. I'll need to supplement this with singles.

Vampire Deck (2010, Zendikar, Worldwake)

Land (22)
Swamps (20)
Piranha Marsh (2)

Creatures (20)
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet (1)
Butcher of Malakir (1)
Anowwon, the Ruin Sage (1)
Vampire Nocturnus (1)
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen (1) Not a vampire, but cool. (likely to get swapped out)
Vampire Nighthawk (2)
Vampire Aristocrat (2)
Vampire Lacerator (4)
Gatekeeper of Malakir (2)
Child of Night (2)
Blood Seeker (3)

Spells (18)
Disfigure (4)
Duress (3)
Quest of the Gravelord (1)
Feast of Blood (3)
Doom Blade (4)
Urge to Feed (1)
Mind Sludge (2)

Let me know if you've got suggestions. Are the ratios right? Do I want to emphasize some of these cards? Are there cards I don't have that would greatly help?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Auction Next Sunday

The auction and Ding & Dent sale is Sunday the 7th at 11am. If you have items you would like to auction, please start bringing them to the store now. The sooner you bring them, the sooner we can start promoting them (the more you'll get for them!). To speed things along, please download and fill out the auction form at home and bring it in with your auction items. You can choose to sell them at a set price (buy it now) or via the live auction. We recommend a set price in most cases.

Items sold at auction are paid out in store credit the same day. This is important because it means that if you know you've sold stuff, you can use your credit to bid on other people's items. This helps tremendously in getting the best value out of the experience. You don't need to be at the auction to sell your stuff.

Magic Project

I'm considering a project to re-familiarize myself with Magic: The Gathering. I haven't played since 1995. Like many people, I trace my Magic history back to my last set, which for me was Ice Age. Back then I played with my friends (before there were tournaments) and I would like to think I was pretty good. Since then, competition and online resources have fine tuned players into competitive machines, but I want to get a current snapshot.

The plan would be to play in our constructed event to at least get one win locally as a competency baseline. How would I go about going from zero to win as quickly as possible? I'm willing to lay down some cash for cards, the idea being that I would donate them back to the store at the end of the project. Ideally, I would pilfer from my own stock. Would I buy booster boxes? Should I start with intro packs? Would I build deck lists from the web using singles? Is there one way that's more fun than another? Educate me Magic players.

Friday, January 29, 2010

2009 Sales

January is usually the time for navel gazing, a slow period of reflection as we head into the dark first quarter. It's the after party month. It would be the plane of Pelion if we were playing Planescape. Obscure reference aside, I'm happy to report that I've done little gazing at my navel this January, except to lament the holiday pounds I've put on while working long hours in December. We're having a profitable January, the first ever. We're up almost 25%. I'm astonished, really. People are simply spending more money, across the board.

So with January coming to a happy end, I decided to take a look at 2009 compared to 2008. We were up about 12% in 2009, a decent number but not too surprising since it was our second year in a new location. We needed to be up that amount to be here in 2010, so it was expected and planned for. Grudgingly, I had hoped it would be higher and I blame the recession for that, with hopes that 2010 would make up the difference. The chart below goes over the winners and losers of 2009 compared to 2008.

2009 = Blue   2008 = Red

The clear winner for 2009 was CCG's, especially Magic. Yes, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon did very well for us too, but Wizards of the Coast made Magic and CCGs number one in 2009. They did this by reducing the supply, either intentionally or unintentionally (I don't care anymore). Reducing the supply created a price floor for Magic, which is often sold online at $5 over cost on a $145 box. Many Magic customers learned the retail price for their game in 2009, and lamented that it had suddenly gotten expensive.

This kept Magic players buying in the store rather than online from box flippers (the bottom feeders of the gaming world). We actively competed against the online world, pegging our box prices to online retailers, since we were all making an acceptable amount of money on Magic for a change. Our Magic organized play continued to grow too, thanks to the best volunteers in the area. Finally, local competition drove us to try selling Magic singles, which has become a very profitable sideline.

The other clear winner for 2009 were used games. Used game sales reflect the huge importance of our auctions (the next is February 7th). Not only do we buy and sell used games for the auction, but our customers have found it a quick and easy way to convert their old games to new games. Used games are now as important as any of our more popular game departments. This category also got a boost from the version hate created by D&D 4 and role-playing in general, as well as a troubled economy. When you look at the decline of new role-playing games for us, remember that used role-playing games skyrocketed in 2009, our own contribution to the long tail theory.

The 2009 losers can be summed up in yesterdays announcement by Wizards of the Coast that they won't renew the Star Wars license when it expires this year. WOTC makes the Star Wars collectible miniature game and the Star Wars role-playing game. Although I'm told collectible miniatures still do well in pockets of the country, 2009 was the year we put a fork in them. This month we dumped on Ebay our World of Warcraft miniatures and our Monsterpocalypse. Dumped is the only word for product that goes for ten cents on the dollar. Nobody wants this crap. Star Wars miniatures was the final holdout. We've gone from 30-40 cases of this game in its heyday to two cases, usually a special order case for one person and a case for the shelf. Star Wars is the last collectible miniature game we carry and the last we'll ever carry if I can help it.

Role-playing games seemed to go on vacation in 2009. I addressed that in a previous post, but I'm guessing that publishers let D&D 4th edition have its day in the sun. It proved not all that bright after all, as D&D sales slid quite a bit for the venerable brand. I am excited for role-playing games in 2010, however. I'm really enjoying and selling a lot of the new Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (the dice packs come out today). My own WFRP campaign will see its second session on Sunday. I'm looking forward to Dragon Age RPG, by Green Ronin, due out February 8th. It will begin with an old fashioned, all inclusive box set like many of us started with. The Player's Handbook 3 will release in March for D&D 4, although I'm beginning to have my doubts about the long term viability of D&D in stores. Most importantly, the biggest release of the year will be the Dresden Files RPG, finally released in June. I'm thinking 2010 will be the year of the RPG revival, at least for us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Rules of Stuff

All of these concepts defy rational inventory analysis, especially if you're hooked on stats like turn rates and sales per square foot.

Critical Mass. The number that ye shall have is seven. Seven shall be the number. Alright, it's arbitrary and more likely retail folk wisdom, but this old woman in a walking hut taught me that you need a certain number of items of a particular type to have a kind of "mind share" with the customer. Any fewer than this number, and the product is overlooked. This has proven true and when I order a new product line, I always try to obtain that critical mass. If I can't get that critical mass, I don't order it (unless it's really new and that's all there is).

Less is More. You can have too much of a good thing.  By getting rid of the mediocre product, you can boost visibility of the good. Turn rate analysis will tell us that more inventory equals more sales. Less is more defies that. Too much inventory of too little quality will actually bring sales down. This is true regardless of how product is displayed. Even solid product "faced" or otherwise displayed well, will be brought low by  interlaced mediocrity.

Variety is the Spice of Life. Say you've got 100 pretty items. 30 of those pretty items sell really, really well. 70 of those pretty items sell only so-so. Your analysis will tell you to drop the 70 so-so sellers (as would Less is More). That would be a mistake as people want to see a big selection of pretty things, even if they all eventually buy the same ones. This is especially true with inexpensive items like dice. We have about 100 sets of dice, with only about 30  selling really well. If you were to cut out the 70 slow selling items, sales of the other 30 would plummet. This is only important with large varieties of low cost (or even free) items. You want to dump those bottom 70 expensive board games, and if you go shopping for a Mercedes Benz, you'll likely be offered a small selection of silvery blue colors..

More is More. The "power display" is the retail equivalent of dropping your pants and saying "Look at me world! I defy you to question my size!" Power displays are large stacks, towers, pyramids, or other visual displays of products. People psychologically associate a power display with good. Why else would we have all those things?  It also grabs attention, something that's phenomenally hard to do in retail.

Muggles Hate Loners. My own mother is hesitant to pick a game off the shelf if there's only one. Gamers understand that one is normal in a boutique-like game store, but muggles assume that there's something wrong with the one. Why is it there? Is it discontinued? Is it damaged? Does nobody like it? Call me when you get more in. It's exasperating, but muggles will hesitate if you only have one of an item. I'm not saying never stock individual items (550 of our 625 board games are individuals). Stock up for muggles accordingly during the holidays.

The Completist. Sometimes you want to be able to say yes, we have it, before the customer specifies exactly what it is they're looking for. Perhaps you want every Dungeons & Dragons book (we do) or every Warhammer 40K model (we do). Think of it as a vertical power display, spanning the breadth of a product line. Again, this defies analysis. There will be slow sellers in that lot. Chalk it up to marketing and budget accordingly. In the mind of your customer, you want that "top of mind" exposure. Wherever will I find that D&D book? Black Diamond Games will absolutely always have it. The key is to not be a completist with either a) everything, b) only stuff you like, or c) mediocre performers. I have failed at all of these at one time.

Now go out and sell some stuff.  ;)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sense of Wonder

Lately I've noticed a lot of older gamers who seem to have lost their sense of wonder, perhaps jaded by decades of recycling of the things they love. Unfortunately, this is the peril when art becomes commerce. For example, the original Star Wars trilogy was always a bit cheesy, but we were young and it was a technical marvel of its time. It's hard to stomach that the latest trilogy was equally full of cheese and aimed at a similarly young audience, who, by the way, adore their trilogy. That audience isn't us and we feel betrayed, especially combined with the fact that we never did grow up to be Han Solo, but more likely have become an imperial officer or one of those doomed sub-contractors on the Death Star. Han Solo probably aged poorly anyway. This sense of betrayal holds true for our games as well.

How many versions of a role playing game is necessary?  Sure, you can play D&D or Lord of the Rings RPG out of a box from the '80's, but those games are also commercial products and need new life, new versions. It doesn't mean you need to buy these new editions. In fact, you (and me in my 40's) are likely not the target market. This sense of betrayal, the necessity of commerce, leads to classic grognard behavior or version hate, the gamer equivalent of yelling at those kids to get off your lawn. Don't be that guy.

My suggestion is to re-discover that sense of wonder. Open and play that dusty box set from the '80's. Perhaps your modern sensibilities will show it to be somewhat silly compared to better games of today. Perhaps that old version is exactly what you need, with its minimalist approach and light rules. Many indie games attempt to re-discover that minimalist kernel of perfection. Try one of those. Perhaps write an adventure for your original version and run it. As we get older, we "re-mythologize" our experiences, giving them more meaning, depth and here's the big one, "quality" than they may have had.

Embrace it and hold it up to the light. Expose its flaws and glory. More than likely, the wonder of those times were discoveries shared with friends and family, rather than the merits of THAC0 or the vagaries of racial level advancement. Crack that box and argue about the inflexibility of the paladin's lawful good code with a whole new generation of gamers. I think it's the intimacy of those shared experiences that we truly miss. I know I do.

Or perhaps just take a break from it all. There is no template for how gaming should evolve as you get older. We can't ask our fathers how much role-playing they played in their 40's and 50's, when we are the first generation to do so. It is possible that you simply leave it behind, a nostalgic memory of your youth. Perhaps you hold onto it, your books tucked away on the top shelf, until your own children or nephews or neighborhood kids ruining your Kentucky bluegrass are ready for the torch to be passed. But please, fellow grumpy old men, get some perspective.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

RPG Sales Patterns

I was standing in our role-playing department yesterday when I realized about 40% of our space was devoted to used games. Where were all the new games? It didn't square in my head with the analysis I made earlier, so I crunched some numbers.

Two important numbers: RPG sales were down 20% last year from the year before. The big reason for this is the D&D 4 release in the first year. The second important number is market share. D&D 4 is now down to its usual 50% market share in our store. That was partially due to a spike in sales, but it was also a result of a lack of new non-D&D product. Even though other games are making a comeback, it will take a while for them to begin filling up the shelves again. Until then, we'll be featuring an awful lot of used product.

I think what we saw was a pause in the RPG industry as publishers caught their breath. Perhaps they wanted to let D&D 4 have its year and save their new releases for later. Maybe the economy spooked them. The chart below supports that theory. At the tail end of the chart, D&D began to stabilize, while other role-playing games were coming back.

As an aside, other game stores experiencing this empty shelf phenomenon have talked about paring down their RPG sections, possibly re-distributing that space to other departments. I considered it myself, but decided it would be a mistake (and a heck of a lot of work!).

To give this some context, we do around six figures a year in RPG sales, which I think gives the chart some added weight. All RPG sales are highly localized. A store across town might have very different numbers, but I think D&D as dominant RPG is somewhat universal in large samplings. Also, as other stores report, D&D 4 sales are disappointing compared to 3.5. Sales are quite a bit lower, and I know a lot of that has to do with the online tools. Many of our RPGA players, for example, have stopped buying books, instead relying on their DDI subscriptions for new content. If that trend continues, you'll definitely see some re-aligning of retail space in game stores.

This is a stacked area chart, showing total RPG sales.  
Blue is D&D. Red is everything else. That big spike is the D&D 4 release.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Crime and Profiling

Theft in retail is not just a theoretical concept that happens to other people. In the "outside" world, you can go years or even a lifetime without crime effecting you, if you're lucky. In retail, it's just a matter of time before you'll get ripped off, usually days or hours. Retail "cost of goods" even includes a category for the inevitable crime. That's not to say it's accepted, in fact it's brutally difficult to survive in retail partly because of crime. It's enough to turn a non-violent liberal thinker into a baseball bat wielding store manager who stocks plastic sheeting, just in case.

Shoplifting is a category in itself, and unfortunately, it seems to be perpetrated by all sorts of people. Before I installed security cameras, a security analyst explained it like this: 80% of the population will steal from you, if given an easy opportunity, if the temptation is too great (Islamic law puts partial blame on a careless victim of theft). 10% of people will always attempt to steal, regardless of security measures or opportunity. 10% will never, under any circumstances, steal. The goal of security systems is to discourage all but the most criminal 10%.  Shoplifting is the highest costs related to crime, but what I want to discuss is the professional criminal.

There are people who will visit my store for the sole purpose of perpetrating a crime. We had someone sneak into our office and steal a laptop. We've had people intentionally float bad checks, including counterfeit travelers checks. We have also had shoplifters, either professional or mentally deranged, who steal for the sake of stealing, obviously with no idea of the value of what they're taking. These are not our customers. So what's the commonality amongst these professional thieves?  How do you spot them?

I've had people come in after the fact and suggest they're of a certain race. It's kind of offensive, but they feel backed up by statistics or personal experience. The reality, I've found, is that the demographic of a real thief in my area, not just a shoplifter, has nothing to do with race, or even gender. They were from across the racial spectrum and included an equal number of men and women.

Call it class, or education level, but if you walk into my store and use the word "ain't" in a sentence, alarm bells go off and I'll be paying really close attention to you. This isn't entirely true, as I've got a few customers that fit the profile, but they are rare. Most gamers aren't rich, but they're fairly intelligent and consider themselves well educated. Our games come with instructions. If you're not capable of reading instructions, you are not the caliber of individual that belongs in a hobby store.

Appearance tells a story too. Bad teeth or physique might tell me about drug addiction. Quite a few are a bit "tweaky." If drugs drive people to crime, looking out for signs of people on drugs is a pretty good profiling technique. The eyes give a lot away.

Behavior is the biggest tell. Most ask strange questions or pick up random items that clearly have nothing to do with each other. Fondle a Hot Wheels pack, a 40K box set and a deck of playing cards in a five minute period and I'll be watching closely. This is not a typical "muggle" shopping pattern. I had a couple that came in yesterday that examined and touched such an array of "muggle" only items that I thought I should rename muggles "dust dispersers." Muggles have patterns distinct from thieves.

"That ain't  fair!" you might say. The reality is that store managers need to quickly assess threats, either to property or to staff and customers, like the wild eyes woman who walked into our old store with a can of gasoline. It's simply irresponsible and negligent not to do this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Strong January

Look back to my January 2008 posts and they pretty much sum up January 2009, including the post holiday illness that now seems like a tradition for me. The creeping crud doesn't want to go away. The one exception to last year is this years strong post holiday sales.

I think I'll be looking back on January 2010 as the turn around month, when the recession was truly over, even though the economy was only improving in fits and starts. I am finding that the store tracks national economic trends pretty well, but I generally only see it in hindsight.  There's now a palpable sense of "normal," with customers willing to spend their money once again. There are also strong releases this month, especially for 40K and Warmachine, but also in board games and collectible card games. We need new product to sell stuff, but the real shift for us is the super charging of our events. The credit belongs to our volunteer event organizers.

Yu-Gi-Oh has taken off, after my prediction of doom when it was moved to Sunday nights. Our Magic crowd continues to grow, as other local stores see their turnout decrease. Psst, the secret is fun. We were selected for the Magic Oakland Grand Prix, which will be held at the store this Saturday; that certainly won't hurt. Our 40K crowd is strong, with both a casual league as well as our new Young Generals program we just started for kids on Friday nights.

We run the biggest D&D RPGA group in the Bay Area, again, focusing on casual, fun play rather than ego trips and convoluted hierarchies. Pokemon finally has company support, so that may become viable, and there are even hints that we may get a Warhammer Fantasy league started. Our board game night has not only critical mass, but now includes a level of board gaming expertise that's unmatched. Between Joe, Kevin and Miguel, you would be hard pressed to find a major board game release in 2009 they haven't played. Their passion for board games is extraordinary. Even better, they don't all agree on "what's good," so you'll get a lot of different opinions. I just provide the venue. It's the fantastic volunteers who deserve the credit, and my staff for successfully channeling it.

This distributed model of knowledge is the wave of the future. There's the concept of a shift index, where companies shift from the old style of hording and extracting internal knowledge to creating knowledge and participating in "knowledge flows." There are far more smart people outside our business than inside. Our staff should be knowledgeable, but where you really find an unmatched resource is the entire gaming community. Our goal then is to facilitate and tap into that flow and hopefully use it to our advantage (and yours). Our game center then becomes the heart of our organization, instead of the cash wrap.

Top 10 For January (to date)

Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG: Twilight Edition
Warmachine Prime Mk II
40K: Tyranid Codex 2010
Magic - Alara Block Premium Booster
Magic - Zendikar - Booster
40K: Assault On Black Reach
Magic - Magic 2010 - Booster
At the Gates of Loyang
Heroscape D&D: Battle for the Underdark
Descent: Journeys In the Dark

Monday, January 18, 2010

Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play First Game

We played our first game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay last night. The group made characters first. Character creation is certainly the most difficult aspect of this game, but with a lot of collaboration, it finished well ahead of a comparable evening of D&D character crafting. We're playing with four players, thanks to the Adventurer's Toolkit, which supplies additional cards and materials for a fourth person. Two other players owned the complete box set, so we would have been fine in any case. The party consists of a rat catcher with his small, but vicious dog (from the toolkit), a roadwarden who has an ex-cop feel to him, a pacifist priest of Ranald, the god of thievery, and an upstanding priest of Sigmar, who wishes to preach the good word to the fuzzy wuzzies.

They were all drawn to Deadgate, a ramshackle town at the edge of existence that promised them riches in the form of an ancient, underground dwarven city. Unfortunately, the place exists to extract them of their money and prevent them from even beginning their underground delving. The priest of Sigmar is content to restore an old shrine in town and preach to the masses, but the others are seeking their fortunes. The role-playing began immediately and party cohesion was instant.

Deadgate is from the 2nd Edition book, Karak Azgal. One of the nice features I've discovered with 3rd edition is the ease of including a lot of older material. Most NPCs can be fudged. In combat, there are a few basic NPC's in the 3E book to use. For social skills, you can look at the percentage stats and adjust up or down with one or more difficulty dice, rather than an opposed check. Converting adventures with monsters is far harder.

The premise of the campaign is that the party is stuck in this frontier town and must choose between becoming one of the short-lived delvers or one of the opportunists who live up top, extracting cash from adventurers and each other.Think of the TV series Deadwood. There are mixed opinions about which way the party should go, but since they lack the required five gold pieces each to begin their delve, they're stuck doing the bidding of the Deadgate bossses.

The first mini-adventure was a modified version of A Day Late, A Shilling Short, a promo adventure from Fantasy Flight Games. Their potential new boss, Dmitri, is irritated that his "package" is late. His Kislivite mercenaries have failed to find the coach that was delivering it, and since the party has been running his errands of late, he sends them out with a promise of some gold. He also gives them his pitch for working for him, instead of choosing a short life adventuring underground. In either case, the party agrees to the gold offer and begins their search for the coach, their roadwarden especially well suited to the task.

On the road, the party comes upon a pack of beastmen who have ambushed and overturned the coach. This was a good beginning for us, as we learned gauging distances and the fundamentals of combat. The small but vicious dog drew first blood, a critical hit against the beastman leader, his rib cracking as the dog rammed headlong into him. The beastmen mobbed the priest of Sigmar before the group could bring them all down. As the beastmen were defeated, a horn blew in the distance, a clear signal that more beastmen were on the way. In a brilliant move, the party picked up the dead leaders warhorn, made a very difficult Folklore check, and blew the horn in response. They didn't know it at the time, but this confused the beastmen, delaying the second wave from descending upon them and giving them enough time to abscond with the contents of the coach.

The coach contained two young ladies and a nobleman. The two young ladies, clearly uneducated girls with little opportunity, were answering a newspaper ad for "floor performers" that Dmitri had placed.  They were unaware of the miserable life of prostitution ahead of them. Yes, lots of jokes about the kind of performances that would be happening on the floor. The focus then turned to the nobleman and his package. At first he refused to budge from the carriage, the beastmen fast approaching, insisting that if they just stay long enough, "proper" rescuers would arrive shortly. Various intimidation and guile checks finally got him to move along, along with a punch to the jaw and a small but vicious dog hanging from the package in his hands.

The party escaped the second wave of beastmen and headed back towards town. Through more negotiations with the noble, they were allowed to examine the package while he relieved himself in the forest. The package contained a journal written by Andreas von Bruner.  The journal showed various experiments dabbling with chaos. There were also letters in the package, including two signed confessions obtained by a witch hunter, showing that Andreas was involved in some sort of chaos cult. Another letter indicates that a powerful Marienburger diplomat was attempting to blackmail the Von Bruner family with the enclosed information. The party theorized on what this meant. Is Dmitri black mailing the Von Bruner family? Another knowledge check revealed the family had an estate in the region.

Still on the road, their next step may be to return the package for their reward, or possibly contact the Von Bruners for a much bigger reward, but at a higher risk of being perceived as black mailers themselves. Perhaps they'll use the information to black mail the family as they believe Dmitri is doing. Dmitri is surely a nefarious figure, but the party is not a bunch of heroic types, except perhaps for the Sigmarite (think Shepherd Book on Firefly). Will our Defiant Scoundrels do the right thing or the profitable thing? That's where we ended the game after four hours of character creation and play.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Early Store Photos

Empty store awaiting fixtures.

Newly arrived fixtures, awaiting stock.

One table with a permanent display (before we had events).

 An early promotion based on the Marvel CCG.

This demographic map (now several years old) shows our customer mapped by zip code. It lead to our re-location to Concord.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

There to Here: Getting Started

To survive your first year in business, you either need a lot of experience or a lot of money (to cover your on the job training). I had the latter, thanks to an investor and home equity, along with a business plan that projected I wouldn't be profitable until at least the second year. Because I had a business plan, it was clear I would require what many new stores lack, a budget for startup losses. This is the money you'll need to survive while you're losing money. Most stores that fail early tend to run out of money while they're working towards profitability, or they've spent so much money on their build out, they have nothing left for marketing or even their own salaries.

Salary for me was important. The first thing I learned when doing my research was always pay yourself first. Many store owners will claim profitability without including a salary for themselves. Is their labor free? Could someone else step in and do it without pay? Hardly. I was already established in life, with a wife, mortgage and student loans. Running this business presumed I could draw a salary at all times to cover my expenses. The business plan was designed to cover my needs first. It was reverse engineered from this point. If I need to make X amount of money to cover expenses and my salary, what would my sales need to be? If my sales need to be Y, how much inventory would I need based on average turns? My fascination with inventory management came from a very practical question. How can I continue to pay my mortgage?

My competitors would regularly visit me to express how impossibly hard it is to run a game store. One employee of Games Unlimited (now out of business) told me his prediction of my demise within a year. Some customers do the same if they sense blood in the water. The Internet will gobble you up, they would say, and your only hope is to offer similar discounts to us. If I hadn't been educating myself through the Game Industry Network and trade show seminars, I might have believed them. Also countering all this negativity were supportive customers that encouraged me to run events in the store and actually bought the games they recommended. They're still around, as friends, store supporters and even investors. 

Within 18 months of starting, we hit profitability. That was later than I had hoped. I'm brilliant at projecting income, by the way, although the expense side was a real eye opener. During this time, my wife went on medical disability and the long awaited adoption of our son went through. This game store thing was starting to feel "real," although as long as my house was appreciating at the rate of my annual salary, I still felt like a gentleman farmer. This attitude of a hobby store as a hobby, really didn't  begin to change until the housing market began to falter. It was endless expansion as long as my house value was doing the same. I didn't know it at the time, but this was my second career propelled by an economic bubble.

Grand Opening

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There to Here: Decision to Start

The idea to start my own game store occurred in 2003, when I was talking to a friend at work about the possibility. Carl had coffee shop experience and I had an interest in games. We talked about a combination business that I still think would have been a good idea. After scouting unsuccessfully for properties in the Woodland area, where Carl lived, we eventually dropped the idea. Carl ended up leaving State Fund, where we contracted, but the idea continued to burn slowly in my consciousness.

I left the company a few months later and took an unusual vacation between jobs. I love cars, and the car that I was lusting after at the time was the newly released Dodge Magnum RT. This is the big wagon with the Hemi engine. Nobody in California would give me a deal on it, so I ordered one in Cleveland. My family was having a reunion in nearby Pennsylvania, so my wife and I flew out to Cleveland, picked up the car and went to the reunion. A cross country road trip back home sounded fun.

I talked with my family about the game store idea with mixed reactions, but the idea was growing in my head. On the way back home we visited a variety of game stores, especially in Wisconsin, which seems to have a fantastic variety of stores with different business models. Every mile I drove strengthened my resolve to open a store. By the time we hit Colorado, it was a done deal, and I raced back to consider all the possibilities.

My new job at Kaiser was a mess, with a giant team of people hired for a giant project without much regard to who would be doing what. It was a miserable situation. I was sent for software training back in Wisconsin for a package I would never use. I spent an entire week there working on my business plan in the evenings, brainstorming during class. A good friend of mine was interested in my idea, but he insisted I do the appropriate research. Research was most of what I did in IT, so a business plan seemed a natural first step.

The business plan was the most depressing, emotional roller coaster of the entire experience. It started with a feasibility study based on some potential locations. This provided income and expense projections and a general idea of what I was getting into. I studied my competition. I learned to run the numbers by reverse engineering other business plans. I ran projections, researched every potential angle, and came to the conclusion it couldn't be done. Then I would find some important piece of information that proved it could be done.  I ran it by my partner who pointed out why it wouldn't work. This back and forth went on for weeks until I finally had that eureka moment where I was confident I could make a go of it. 

With a plan came financing, both from my partner, who knew I had a grasp of what I was doing (just a general grasp), but also from easy home equity. Since then, I've added several additional partners who have likewise shown some confidence in my abilities, thankfully. The first store was built over six weeks. I managed the construction during my lunch hour. Back at work, my employer failed to find something useful for me to do and I failed to engage the project enough to make myself useful. It was mutual neglect and not my finest moment. I still feel bad about it, but at a certain point I decided my job was to build out my store and ramp up for opening day. Being interrupted with real work became annoying. Moving on quickly was best for everyone, after all.

I had a meeting where my fate was to be discussed (I gave notice), and a few days later I was at my first trade show, back in Wisconsin again. I signed papers for financing in the hotel lobby. I bought my initial stock at that show. It was already rolling across country before I got on the plane back to California. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I had a decent business plan. That's what saved me. From concept to finished store took about a year, but there were many lucky breaks, lots of hard work and the support of friends and family to make it possible. "Trust in the plan" was the mantra for the first year, and it worked.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Magic Grand Prix Oakland Trials (1/23)

This is a late breaking event:

Grand Prix Oakland Trials

Saturday, January 23rd.
Registration Opens at 10:30 AM

Registration Closes at 11:45 AM
Tournament Starts at 12:30 PM

Format: Extended Constructed
Entry Fee: $20 per player
Prizes support: 

 First place gets 3rd round bye in the Grand Prix Oakland tournament. 
Top 4 (or 8 based on attendance) get Product Vouchers to Black Diamond Games. 

The Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix tournament series is a great reason to get out of the house, catch up with old friends, meet some new ones, and play Magic. Grand Prix tournaments are world-wide open events that allow all Magic players to participate and experience the thrill of a large-scale competition. In addition to $30,000 in cash prizes, Pro Tour invitations for the top 16 finishers, and exclusive foil promo cards for participants, Grand Prix feature a host of other activities, including public events and artist signings.

New Stuff at the Store

Here's what's new this week:

Miniature Games

Games Workshop (Friday): Warhammer 40K: Tyranid Codex, Tyranid Ravener Brood, Tyranid Gargoyle Brood, Tyranid Trygon / Mawloc, Tyranid Pyrovore, Tyranid Venomthrope, Tyranid Hive Guard.

Privateer Press: Warmachine Prime MKII Rulebook (HC & SC), Hordes and Warmachine Templates (WM sold out), No Quarter #28.

Flames of War: Eastern Front Rulebook (1942-43), Soviet Heavy Mortor Company, 76mm obr 1927 gun, 45mm obr 1943 gun.

Malifaux: Restock. Another restock is due next week.

Tyranid Pyrovore

Board Games

At the Gates of Loyang: Summed up as "Agricola Light." No at all a bad thing.

Thunderstone: Fantasy deck-building game. Build up your character as you play with over 500 cards.

Infinite City: Stand-alone tile game where players become the leaders of corporations building an ever-sprawling city, maneuvering to control the largest districts while holding on to the most valuable buildings.

Planet Steam: From a fan review: "economic game with a supply-and-demand resource market, like the Power Grid market vaguely.... It involves producing four different types of resources in order to buy and sell them in a market where the prices fluctuate based on the supply and demand of your fellow players. Make the most money and you win. It was a couple hours long, but really engaging and I hope to play again."

Bushido: The Way of the Warrior: From a fan review: "Bushido has some resource management, some wargame but a lot of negotiation, overt and covert. Honour is the key, and given our 6 player game where some players never made a single attack (due to enthusiastic geisha) it is still playable without actually capturing anywhere!"

50% Off Sale: We still have copies of Sherwood Forest, Livingstone, Sutter's Mill and one copy left of Pack & Stack.

Role Playing Games

The Dungeon Alphabet
Designing dungeons is as easy as A, B, C! The Dungeon Alphabet compiles twenty-six classic dungeon design elements in one place to assist the game master in creating subterranean challenges.

A is for Altar, B is for Books, and C is for Caves: the Dungeon Alphabet has advice, hints, and randomized tables that bring new life to your adventures.

Suitable for any rules system, the entries are accompanied by outstanding art from Erol Otus, Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Jim Roslof, and other classic fantasy illustrators, with a foreword by noted game designer Zeb Cook.

A 48 page hardcover – for the great price of only $9.99!

Next Tuesday:

Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonborn
New options and character hooks for dragonborn characters. If you want to play the ultimate dragonborn hero, this book is for you! 32 page "splat" book for $9.95.

Dungeons & Dragons: Underdark
This vast subterranean domain holds thousands of adventure possibilities and myriad threats, including drow, mind flayers, dragons, and worse! Entire campaigns can unfold in its depths, and its rewards are boundless. Underdark™ contains everything a Dungeon Master needs to run adventures or campaigns set in the vast underworld of his or her D&D campaign, including new monsters and hazards, ready-to-play encounters, monster lairs, and detailed information on various dark-dwelling “movers and shakers.”

Star Wars: Galaxy of Intrigue

Collectible Card Games

Magic 15-Card Premium Foil Booster Pack: Includes foil cards from the Shards block in a standard booster distribution.

Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG: Twilight Edition Box: Re-stock due in today! These are out of print, so don't wait.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Turbo Packs: These should arrive by weeks end for use in our Sunday night YGO events.

KMC: Restock on Yu-Gi-Oh size sleeves.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Vac Saga

Part of owning a game store is apparently developing expertise in vacuum cleaners. We bought our fifth one in a little over five years this week, after the last one, a heavy duty, rugged Royal vacuum, structurally failed. Yes, it wasn't the motor or the rollers, things that can be fixed, but the plastic body cracked under the strain. I had such high hopes for the Royal, especially after throwing out that dandy of a vacuum, the Electrolux. I knew the Electrolux wouldn't be with us long term when I noticed the woman vacuuming in high heals on the cover of the owners manual. I got suckered in by the old school name, that had commercial vacuum connotations. Apparently there was some vacuum cleaner industry consolidation and Electrolux had bought up some of its competitors, resulting in some badge engineering of their vacs. 

A true commercial vacuum is obviously the solution now, after trying a bunch of near commercial vacs over the years. They need to be constructed of metal, not plastic, and need to be extremely simple. All the bells and whistles of a home vac are just things to break on a commercial vacuum. When you talk vacuums, everyone has a favorite they'll recommend, but they don't understand. They recommend fancy models with flashy plastic. These aren't going to cut it with the 1.2 million square feet of vacuuming we need performed each year. A truly commercial vacuum needs simple ruggedness. If it were a car, it would be a Hummer: ugly, rugged, and a large price tag to match. Simple is good. They will all break and will all need servicing over time. I've developed a relationship with my local vacuum cleaner repair shop. They can fix anything except for structural failure.

So did I buy a commercial vacuum this week? Kinda. I just can't bring myself to buy a $500 shiny aluminum bruiser that looks like it should be rolling through a Holiday Inn. When does a game store ever have $500 to throw around? Instead I got a "commercial" vacuum that seemed to fit my requirements. Quotes implies that it's listed as commercial, but seemed a little too inexpensive to be the true deal. It's listed as commercial but the literature talks about what a great job it will do in your home. Kind of like a Hummer H1.

It does have my requirements though: It's constructed of aluminum, not plastic. It takes bags, not a weakling bagless version with lmited sucking power. It has a freakin' 40' cord, although I know my repair shop can retrofit a longer cord. It's ugly; a very good sign. It's heavy and it's unlikely a high heeled woman will be pushing this bruiser around; she'll need to change into her combat boots. It's quiet and has a HEPA filter. Quiet is a bonus, although these two frivolous options make me nervous. It's upright, a requirement my staff has thrown in there, although I'm told the truly commercial, bulletproof vacs are of the canister variety. Amazon home reviewers complain: There's no headlight, no adjustments for carpet height, and it's like pushing a Buick around the house. Perfect.

Now that you've read to the end of this, don't you wish I had reviewed a new board game or perhaps the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign I begin next Sunday? Would you be surprised to learn I've blogged about vacuum cleaners two previous times? Perhaps this post is more a warning for avid gamers who are considering starting a game store. Welcome to your new area of interest, sucking dirt off the floor.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn (tradecraft)

As we concluded our fifth year, I finally hit my long time goal, the metric that I had been pursuing since opening my store: the legendary four turns of inventory. This is retail mumbo jumbo describing the efficiency of inventory. For those who don't know this term, it refers to how many times you sell through, or turn over, your inventory in a year. Four is a really hard number to obtain in the game trade. Our first year we did two turns, and trying my best, meaning strong inventory management, I was able to increase the turn rate about half a turn a year. Four seemed elusive.

Turns are about efficiency, rather than profits, but most stores that don't manage their inventory properly are rarely profitable. Check on this link for basic turn rate concepts, but needless to say, it starts with a purchasing budget, called an "open-to-buy." Most stores don't use one, their budget being what's left over after paying the bills, but I highly recommend a basic spreadsheet for keeping inventory in check. I have to credit a seminar given by Jim Crocker at the Gama Trade Show for teaching me about this. I've never heard it mentioned in the game trade since. While I'm giving credit, the concept of "firing your inventory" for not performing came out of GTS from another industry veteran, Dave Wallace. Have I mentioned how the Gama Trade Show helped my business survive? Every store owner should go at least once (it's this March).

As soon as I realized we hit four turns, my first feeling was of dread. Now what? Would I need more investment to increase sales? Would I go for a higher turn rate, resulting in inventory shortages and unhappy customers? After delving into the numbers, I realized that the turn rate was only one metric. To obtain that rate, I had a lot of clearance items on constant rotation. My numbers were real, but the there was room for improvement.

My analysis was my turns were good, but immature. There was still plenty of room for growth. On top of that, sales included a bunch of clearance items purchased from manufacturers and distributors, along with customer auction items. This bumped sales without requiring long-term inventory, a fantastic plan if you can enact it, but it skews numbers on the sales side. So the goal for 2010 is now 4.5 turns, a number unique to my situation. What's your magic number?

Check out my ACD Games Day notes for more on turn rate analysis.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I've got this idea that communities get the game store they deserve.* It's a kind of free market belief that basically says that a local store is based on the needs and support of that community and the ability for a small business person to recognize and tap into that need in the form of their business. That store will take the form of what that community needs (what they buy) and the scale of their support. Multiple stores mean better support. Stores that specialize indicate a broad base with varied interests.

There are caveats, mostly on the supply side. This assumes that small business people who open a game store are rational. It assumes they have a clear view of the risks and rewards and they have suitable capital to actualize a well thought out plan. Ok, stop laughing. Sure, that's pretty rare in the game retail trade, but that's build into the whole "survival of the fittest" free market ideology. Just as people get the store they deserve, heartless free market ideology says that stores that fail, deserved to fail. Ouch, but it's all we've got to go on. It's what small business owners come to grips with in short order.

Figuring out the demand side of this equation is devilishly complex. Besides basics, like population density, it gets into things like demographics. What makes a good gaming community that deserves a good store? It's not exactly clear, but here are some ideas. First, it's not about income as much as education. High income areas, in my opinion, rarely support game stores. Those people are too busy chasing trends or working too hard. That's my suburban Bay Area experience, where our nearby high income areas appear as empty farm land in my customer maps. That said, education has a lot to do with it, as most gamers, although they appear to be less financially mobile, are damn smart. Finally, it's a sub-culture that appeals primarily to Caucasians and Asians. But wait, there's one more factor.

Communities that support game stores need to value small business and what it has to offer. It needs to understand that a unique experience is often better than a bland, franchise experience. It has to be willing to pay a small premium to support local businesses, even though they can buy similar products cheaper online. Communities that support game stores value their small businesses as part of their culture, and tend to be less open to McBusiness (good small businesses likewise tie themselves back into the community). That's why I think the San Francisco Bay Area and similar "bohemian" regions of the country are ideal spots, and why other areas that seem to have all the demographics requirements can't cut it.

So the deepest compliment I can pay to a struggling store owner is that they don't deserve you. Your people don't appreciate what's right in front of them.  There are many stores like that. I want them to do well, but they've chosen a bad location, usually because of the community support issue. Capitalist ideology is cruel in its analysis, but I can't help but wish them luck and that they find a model that their community will support. To survive in retail is to adapt to that community, whether it means charging for use of game space, selling more toys than games, or accepting that customers want a game that you may not even like. That's what a rational business person needs to accept.

*The rebuttal argument is that "deserve's got nothin' to do with it."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Advertising is Dead

Along the line of a New Year's resolution, I've come to accept the demise of advertising for my business. It's not that advertising is dead for everyone, it's just that advertising has stopped working for us. Media, in general, is far too scattered to be an effective, well, medium. I can target TV, but who watches TV anymore? Do you watch cable or satellite? Comcast or Astound? Dish or DirectTV? Hulu or Netflix? Do you skip commercials with Tivo?

Only the decrepit use the Yellow Pages anymore, and only in December. I'm out of bridge score pads and bargain jigsaw puzzles anyway. Google has become the Yellow Pages, and that's free. I still can't bring myself to stop advertising in the Yellow Pages completely. In the back of my mind, it's still the standard for legitimate businesses. I have cut it way back for this year, however.

Direct mail was an interesting experiment, albeit a hugely expensive one. It brought in about 100 new customers from the 40,000 Valpak coupons that went out over four months. At $20 per customer, it may even make mathematical sense when you crunch the numbers and determine the lifetime purchases of a customer, but like all 20th century advertising, it's full of wild assumptions. Valpak is a scumbag company, by the way, with deceptive business practices. Who would have thought direct mail would be unsavory (sarcasm intended)?

So if I had one regret about 2009, it was the money I spent on these 20th century forms of money wasting. I want my money back. 2010 will be about web 2.0 marketing. Facebook, Twitter, Constant Contact for direct mail, the blog, and maybe even some YouTube with the new video camera. I will no longer outsource my marketing (AKA advertising). Also, don't forget our customer loyalty program, The Paladin Club. You may not think of it as advertising, but it's quite a chunk of cash if you think about what we give away to our customers as rebates. The only way to justify that is marketing.

True, all of this is marketing to my base, and yes, I'm relying on my base to push word of mouth, but the sheer, overwhelming cost of old school advertising has led me to this. I think if I gain no new customers in 2010 (which means a net loss of customers), I will still be financially ahead with the savings from advertising. This continues a theme I started in 2009, focusing on net instead of gross. Gross is for suckers.

Finally, there's this concept that you should spend money on either rent for a good location or solid advertising to drive people to your destination.  There are no cheap rents in California, so everyone has an expensive location that still requires advertising to direct customers. If web 2.0 marketing can drastically cut costs for stores like ours, it may fix this problem.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Fan Page

Yesterday I created a new Facebook Fan Page for Black Diamond Games. It was on my list of digital things to do in January (far easier than moving my domain). Fan pages, it turns out, are far more useful than groups for most organizations. We had a group and it wasn't suiting our needs. It's much easier to provide regular updates to fans via their Facebook "streams" as well as link with the BDG Twitter account. We can also provide more content to users in the stream, such as coupons or video (I just bought the store a video camera for this purpose). Here's a good article on Facebook pages, if it's something that interests you.

If you use Facebook, please join the fan page for regular updates of our special events and activities. I've been surprised at how quickly membership has grown in just a day, with membership hitting 110. It took a year to get 132 members for the Black Diamond Games group. If Twitter is more to your liking, follow our tweets here. You'll get mostly the same content. Finally, to get the super inside scoop, you can join our email list. Then, of course, there's this blog. I put a lot of work into the blog, so I'll occasional throw an Easter egg into the mix to test if anyone is reading. Social networking continues to evolve and we'll continue to use it as best we can to keep you informed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Basilisks Don't Talk

There is this tension as a game store owner between the fun of gaming and the necessity of running a business. Some run a game store as a venue for their gaming, while others, like me, actually enjoy the business side. Running a business in itself can be a game. There's a score you're trying to attain for every day, week, month and year. There are strategies and methods to obtain this score.

Retail is more art than science, so there's constant experimentation in marketing, merchandising and sales technique to hit your number. It's not just sales either, it's about building community, a noble effort in itself, but one that has a direct effect on the bottom line. It's a fantastically fun "game," with higher stakes the farther along you go. Still, it wouldn't be a worthwhile personal goal if I didn't also enjoy games. Owning a game store is a wickedly complex, economic low bar for anyone without a personal interest. That personal interest bloomed for me in 2009.

2009 was the year I became a full, cross genre gamer. In the past I was a role-player who dabbled in other areas; a necessary evil for running a game store. 2009 was different. How do I know this? I've got gamer dissatisfaction. This is when you've got a baseline unhappiness because you simply don't have time to play everything you want to play. I give myself an evening a week for gaming. The first half of the year was spent playing D&D, the second half was Warhammer 40K, with the end of the year spent cramming for board game season. I want to play them all, all the time, but time is limited with both a family and a business.

This is the first year I can say that. 40K started as a desire to understand a top game, but before I knew it, I was researching camo schemes and salivating over Forge World catalogs. I would brag about my 4,000+ points of fully painted Imperial Guard, but a more veteran gamer would just point out it's only my first army.

My lust for Dungeons and Dragons has since given way to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, as player dissatisfaction with fourth edition has grounded my campaign. I'll be running a campaign for WFRP in a couple weeks, with lots of studying left to do.

Board games started as "career development," a necessity for selling the 900 games we stock. It's probably still my weakest link. My friend Jay's observation that a bad D&D session is better than a great board gaming session probably holds true for me, but man, could I go for a game of Steam or Finca about now. This gamer lust almost feels like a betrayal of my long term mistress, Dungeons & Dragons. I feel like I'm on shifting ground here when it comes to my hobby.

A second part of gamer dissatisfaction is a comparative matrix that you judge games against where they often come up short. Games usually come up short because they lack the external stimulus that made a game memorable, like the first time a game tickled your brain the right way (Tikal), or memories of good times with friends (D&D and even Risk). Then there are the stories, like when Dave the Thief was turned to stone by a talking basilisk as it emerged from the fog. Famous last words: "Basilisks don't ta---." You just can't seem to get those feelings back in newer games.

The best you can do is create new experiences that you'll recall in the future, like playing Cookin Cookies with my four year old, Rocco, on our kitchen floor. I still fondly recall the games of Metro we played at the old store, while running back and forth to the counter as I ran the store simultaneously. I hope to create a bunch of new gaming memories with friends and family in 2010, time permitting.

"Basilisks don't ta--."