This post is marked Tradecraft because I wanted to go over how we did our holiday board game pick, as if you were a beginner at this. Ha! Did I mention we're beginners at this? For many years, we relied on the board game recommendations from the San Francisco Chronicle. They went from pretty good, to just ok, to OMG and other acronyms to describe some really bad picks.
We would have these games on display, often ordered in deep quantities, because Chronicle readers would insist on just these games. It went from selling all the games on the list, to selling just the top two in each category, then just the top family game and finally ... meh. We would stand by for conversation, so that if there was any sort of hesitation whatsoever, we could swoop in with our own recommendation, usually a tried and true classic. I often bristled at the insistence of how this newspaper game was superior to what we were selling, you know, the other 364 days of the year.
We were informed this year there would no longer be a SF Chronicle list, information met with some rejoicing and a bit of dread, as this was a part (once a large part) of our holiday sales. Rather than sulking, we made our own list. It was last minute, but we had data, resources, and staff to make it happen. How did we do that?
First, we worked on selection. The game needed to be published in 2016, or at least late 2015, if we really wanted it on the list. We looked at sales patterns going back about six months, which excluded last years boondoggles and holiday hits. We looked at games that were solid sellers with good reviews. It had to have normal margins and normal sourcing. Basically games we could stand behind. If nothing else, the list is of games people in our area found good enough to buy from us.
I then bounced these games off our Black Diamond Games Board Game Facebook group. These kind folks helped add a game or two, but mostly worked to move games around in their categories. Family and Strategy have some interchangeability. They have far more board gaming experience than me, for sure, so throwing myself at their feet and begging for mercy was my strategy.
Second, I looked at availability. Some top games were no longer in print or were temporarily out of stock. This year has been terrible for stock outages, so several games immediately got canned from the list. If I couldn't order the games I wanted immediately, since I only had a month before Christmas, that game was off the list. I can't sell what I don't have.
Third, we looked at games we could demo or at least explain easily. An abstract game or two was dropped. If we had planned this ahead of time, rather than last minute, the staff would have started learning these games around September. Instead, we're still cramming to get knowledge.
I'll mention staff are teaching each other full versions of this game, but that's not really necessary for a taste, and in fact, doesn't include how to demo the game as a skill. Personally, I like a full play through to get familiar. Ideally we would demo these games. Having a demo has been shown to increase sales upwards of 400%. We are not demoing games this season. Demo the game.
When it comes to sales staff, this is the only time of the year where I say these are the games you're selling; learn these games. Most other times employees have their go-to games, and by all means, go to them if you're not satisfying customer needs with our selection. But I was insistent they learn these games regardless. The criteria was good, the stock was there, and the opportunity was about to present itself. This is not high pressure sales, just helpful recommendations from a stock of over 1,000 board and card games.
Next year we'll plan ahead of time and prepare, but for this year, below is our list of what we (backed by our community) recommend:
(Also, thanks to my manager Charlotte for laying out the list and obtaining the blurbs and info).
Dastardly Dirigibles - 2 to 5 Players
Professor Phineas Edmund Hornswoggle, famed airship builder, is retiring and you are an engineer competing to inherit the Hornswoggle factory! Build your airship from different parts of nine beautiful suits, while also using special cards to your advantage or to thwart your opponents. The round ends when the first airship is complete — but you score only the suit used most in your airship. The player with the highest score after three rounds wins!
Karuba - 2 to 4 Players
Many moons have come and gone since your boats departed on the journey to Karuba. Once you arrive on the island, each player will lead an expedition team of four adventurers. Now you just have to navigate your way through the dense jungle to make it to the temples.
This is a tile-laying race game with players starting with boards that are identical, and one player drawing tiles that they all will use. They race to get their explorers to temples first and earn points. Along the way they can collect additional points by collecting items off the paths they create.
In Adventure Land, King Agamis rules from his castle. Rich cities, vast forests and rugged mountain ranges dominate the country. The large river is known to be lined with gold and the forests filled with medicinal herbs, but dangers lurk beneath the fog! Only the bravest adventurers dare to face the challenges. When you move your adventurers tactically and bravely fight the fog creatures, you'll win the favor of the king. Each time you play will be a completely different adventure!
World’s Fair 1893 - 2 to 4 Players
The World's Fair of 1893 in Chicago was a spectacular international exhibition that showcased many great achievements in science, technology, culture, and entertainment. Acting as organizers of the fair, players work diligently to increase their influence throughout the fair and obtain the grand exhibits that will be put on display. The organizer who has earned the best reputation when the fair begins will emerge the victor! On each turn of World's Fair 1893, the active player sends a supporter to one of the five areas and gather all of the cards by it. New cards are then added to some of the areas, and the next player takes a turn. The five areas represent sections of exhibits, like Fine Arts and Electricity. Some cards represent exhibit proposals in one of those five areas, others represent influential people who give you bonus supporters, and other cards represent tickets for attractions and concessions along the Midway.
Fuji Flush - 3 to 8 Players
Be the first player to get rid of all of your cards!
Fuji Flush is a card game, which consists of cards numbered 2 through 20, with higher numbers being rarer. Each player holds six cards at the beginning. In clockwise order, players play one card each. If it is higher than another card currently on the table, the lower card or cards are discarded and the players who had played the lower cards must draw a new card. However, if two or more players play the same number, the card values are added together. When it is a player's turn and their card is still in front of them, they can discard it without redrawing. First player to get rid of their cards wins!
Codenames & Codenames Pictures - 2 to 8 Players
The winner of over 5 international board game awards, Codenames features two rival spymasters that know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES.
In Codenames, two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.
Codenames: Pictures differs from the original Codenames in that the agents are no longer represented by a single word, but by an image that contains multiple elements.
Both games are a blast at parties. Guessing what your spymaster is trying to convey can be tricky, but taking a spin in the spymaster’s seat provides its own fun challenges.
Codenames: Win or lose, it's fun to figure out the clues.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf - 3 to 10 Players
No moderator, no elimination, ten-minute games.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a fast game for 3-10 players in which everyone gets a role: One of the dastardly Werewolves, the tricky Troublemaker, the helpful Seer, or one of a dozen different characters, each with a special ability. In the course of a single morning, your village will decide who is a werewolf...because all it takes is lynching one werewolf to win!
Because One Night Ultimate Werewolf is so fast, fun, and engaging, you'll want to play it again and again, and no two games are ever the same.
Bang! The Dice Game - 3 to 8 Players
At the start of this old western-themed game, players each take a role card that secretly places them on a team: the Sheriff and deputies, outlaws, and renegades. The Sheriff and deputies need to kill the outlaws, the outlaws win by killing the Sheriff, and the renegades want to be the last players alive in the game.
Each player also receives a character card which grants him a special power in the game. The Sheriff reveals his role card and takes the first turn of the game. On a turn, a player can roll the five dice up to three times, using the results of the dice to shoot neighboring players, increase the range of his shots, heal his (or anyone else's) life points, or put him in range of the Indians, which are represented by nine tokens in the center of the table. Each time a player rolls an arrow, he takes one of these tokens; when the final token is taken, each player loses one life point for each token he holds, then the tokens are returned to the center of the table. Play continues until one team meets its winning condition – and death won't necessarily keep you from winning as long as your teammates pull through!
7 Wonders Duel - 2 Players
In many ways 7 Wonders Duel resembles its parent game 7 Wonders as over three ages players acquire cards that provide resources or advance their military or scientific development in order to develop a civilization and complete wonders.
What's different about 7 Wonders Duel is that, as the title suggests, the game is solely for two players, with the players not drafting card simultaneously from hands of cards, but from a display of face-down and face-up cards arranged at the start of a round. A player can take a card only if it's not covered by any others, so timing comes into play as well as bonus moves that allow you to take a second card immediately. As in the original game, each card that you acquire can be built, discarded for coins, or used to construct a wonder.
Firefly Fluxx - 2 to 6 Players
Join Mal, Wash, Zoë, Inara, Kaylee, Jayne, Simon, River, Book, and more as Fluxx enters the 'Verse at full speed. With the rules constantly changing, Firefly Fluxx is just as unpredictable as misbehaving in space!
Fluxx is a card game in which the cards themselves determine the current rules of the game. By playing cards, you change numerous aspects of the game: how to draw cards, how to play cards, and even how to win.
Mystic Vale - 2 to 4 Players
A curse has been placed on the Valley of Life. Hearing the spirits of nature cry out for aid, clans of druids have arrived, determined to use their blessings to heal the land and rescue the spirits. It will require courage and also caution, as the curse can overwhelm the careless who wield too much power.
In Mystic Vale, 2 to 4 players take on the role of druidic clans trying to cleanse the curse upon the land. Each turn, you play cards into your field to gain powerful advancements and useful vale cards. Use your power wisely, or decay will end your turn prematurely. Score the most victory points to win the game!
Mystic Vale uses the innovative "Card Crafting System", which lets you not only build your deck, but build the individual cards in your deck, customizing each card's abilities to exactly the strategy you want to follow.
Welcome Back to the Dungeon - 2 to 4 Players
The sun is shining in the Abysmal Woods where you’re strolling without a care in the world, your weapon at your belt, dreams of adventure in your head. On your path, you stop before a damaged dungeon door. It seems that great battles took place here, a sure sign of coveted treasure inside.
You recognize this dungeon from the ballads sung in your village! However, you’re not the only one who wants to enter, despite the warnings left around the entrance by the previous adventurers. Will you muster your courage to break open the door or will you let your opponents brave the monsters found inside? Let the adventure begin!
Welcome Back to the Dungeon is a simple and subtle push-your-luck game in which you’ll need to adopt a show of bravado or outwit your opponents!
T.I.M.E. Stories - 2 to 4 Players
The T.I.M.E Agency protects humanity by preventing temporal faults and paradoxes from threatening the fabric of our universe. As temporal agents, you and your team will be sent into the bodies of beings from different worlds or realities to successfully complete the missions given to you. Failure is impossible, as you will be able to go back in time as many times as required.
T.I.M.E Stories is a narrative game, a game of "decksploration". Each player is free to give their character as deep a "role" as they want, in order to live through a story, as much in the game as around the table. But it's also a board game with rules which allow for reflection and optimization.
In the box, an insert allows players to "save" the game at any point, to play over multiple sessions, just like in a video game. This way, it's possible to pause your ongoing game by preserving the state of the receptacles, the remaining TU, the discovered clues, etc.
T.I.M.E Stories is a decksploring game in which each deck makes anything possible!
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu - 2 to 4 Players
In Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, you'll experience the classic Pandemic gameplay with an horrific twist that'll have you face twelve Old Ones, each threatening the world with their unique powers. As players take on the roles of investigators attempting to seal a series of portals before monsters of unspeakable horror pour into our world there is, of course, a high risk of the investigators losing their own minds.
Instead of curing diseases like in the original Pandemic, players seal portals and shut down cults in the classic New England fictional towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport. Can you and your fellow investigators manage to find and seal every portal in time? Hurry before you lose yourself to insanity and the evil that lurks beneath your feet...
Imhotep - 2 to 4 Players
In Imhotep, the players become builders in Egypt who want to emulate the first and best-known architect there, namely Imhotep.
Over six rounds, they move wooden stones by boat to create five seminal monuments, and on a turn, a player chooses one of four actions: Procure new stones, load stones on a boat, bring a boat to a monument, or play an action card. While this sounds easy, naturally the other players constantly thwart your building plans by carrying out plans of their own. Only those with the best timing — and the stones to back up their plans — will prove to be Egypt's best builder.
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game & Dead of Winter: The Long Night - 2 to 5 Players
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, puts 2-5 players in a small, weakened colony of survivors in a world where most of humanity is either dead or diseased, flesh-craving monsters. Each player leads a faction of survivors with dozens of different characters in the game.
Dead of Winter is a meta-cooperative psychological survival game. This means players are working together toward one common victory condition — but for each individual player to achieve victory, he must also complete his personal secret objective. This secret objective could relate to a psychological tick that's fairly harmless to most others in the colony, a dangerous obsession that could put the main objective at risk, a desire for sabotage of the main mission, or (worst of all) vengeance against the colony! Certain games could end with all players winning, some winning and some losing, or all players losing. Work toward the group's goal, but don't get walked all over by a loudmouth who's looking out only for his own interests!
Dead of Winter has players making frequent, difficult, heavily- thematic, wildly-varying decisions that often have them deciding between what is best for the colony and what is best for themselves.
Dead of Winter: The Long Night is a standalone expansion for Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game that introduces the Raxxon location where horrible experiments will spill out into the town unless players can contain them.
The game has players at a new colony location trying to survive with new survivors against brand new challenges. Can you handle being raided by members of other colonies? Will you explore more and unravel the mysteries of the Raxxon pharmaceutical location to find powerful items but release stronger enemies? Or will you upgrade your colony to help it better withstand the undead horde? These are all choices you will get to make in this new set, and if you want, you can mix in the survivors and cards from the original set to increase the variety even more.
Quadropolis - 2 to 4 Players
Each player builds their own metropolis in Quadropolis (first announced as City Mania), but they're competing with one another for the shops, parks, public services and other structures to be placed in them.
The game lasts four rounds, and in each round players first lay out tiles for the appropriate round at random on a 5x5 grid. Each player has four architects numbered 1-4 and on a turn, a player places an architect next to a row or column in the grid, claims the tile that's as far in as the number of the architect placed (e.g., the fourth tile in for architect #4), places that tile in the appropriately numbered row or column on the player's 4x4 city board, then claims any resources associated with the tile (inhabitants or energy).
Some buildings are worth victory points (VPs) on their own, and once players sum these values with what they've scored for each type of building in their city, whoever has the highest score wins.