[CARD.BOARD.BOX] #13 – TIS THE SEASON…FOR TOO MANY DAMN GAMES

“Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction…”  -Plato.

gen-con-logoWith Gen Con 2012 behind us, and Spiel looming on the horizon there’s probably one thing that that many of you may have noticed.  You may not have consciously realized it, but your wallet may have.  It’s the simple fact that there’s a lot of really cool stuff coming out right now. Like, a LOT a lot.

As a hobby game retailer, and a hobby gamer myself, it’s given me cause for much thought lately.  Allow me to shed some perspective on the situation. Firing up the WayBackMachinetm in 3.. 2.. 1..

Many years ago, I worked at a record store.  Remember those?  Now this was in the early- to mid- 90’s, before mp3s and iTunes dominated.  Compact Discs were still king.  These were the days when people would line up in the mall at dawn to await the new Pearl Jam album, much like you kids do today for the new MAGIC: THE GATHERING “From The Vault” release.

At any rate, as time progressed, I saw a peculiar thing happen.  The big record companies, realizing that a hit record that was released in summertime would be an even bigger hit record if released around the holidays, started holding back all their big guns for release in the fourth quarter of the year.  Which is to say that if they had a new release from a big artist (in those days, Nirvana, Mariah Carey or U2 for example) they would not release it until October or even later.  That way, sales would be increased by holiday gift-giving purchases, or all those gift certificate redemptions on December 26th.  Yes, gift certificates, this was still the 90’s remember?  Anyway, the problem was, they started doing it for mid-tier, or even promising new artists too, and next thing you knew, just about everything worth listening to was being released in a ten week time span.  Sound familiar?

It should.  With increasing regularity, just about any game publisher of worth now holds back most of their releases for Gen Con (or in the case of many European board game publishers, the Spiel show in Essen, Germany).  Hell, Fantasy Flight Games alone typically unleashes eight or ten titles over the course of the four days of Gen Con.  And the vast majority of all this stuff is hitting stores about … NOW.  All of it, packed into an eight week window or so. They’re all hoping for a giant smash hit, landing on store shelves just early enough to build buzz in time for Holiday purchases.

Don’t believe me?  In the past four weeks alone we’ve seen the releases of such eagerly anticipated new titles as: the X-WING miniatures game; IRON KINGDOMS RPG; WARHAMMER 40,000 Dark Vengeance; the re-tooled NETRUNNER; DOMINION Dark Ages; 7 WONDERS Cities; D&D 3.5 Premium Reprints; most of FLYING FROG’s releases for the year (LAST NIGHT ON EARTH, etc.); and the PATHFINDER Ultimate Equipment Guide.  Mind you, this is just what I could come up with off the top of my head.  My point is, it’s a lot of stuff, clearly.  And if you’re wallet is starting to feel the crunch, then so is your local friendly game store.  Games and Stuff, thankfully, has been experiencing the kind of success that allows us to bring all these releases in in volume, without too much strain, but we notice that’s for sure.

So what’s the point, Butler?  Well, in case it wasn’t obvious, I don’t think that any of this is good for the hobby.  It puts a financial strain on our smallest retailers, for one.  In order to stay competitive, they’re gonna need multiple copies of the hottest releases, and when they all happen right on top of one another (with the biggest MAGIC set of the year on the horizon to boot) then things can get a bit tricky.

Furthermore, there are tons of interesting, yet not-quite-so-huge releases coming out that may very well be lost in the shuffle.  Hell, even something like SEASONS, released a few weeks ago, and a hit for Asmodee by most accounts, has probably gone unnoticed by the rank and file, even among boxed card game enthusiasts.  Here’s a few more forthcoming titles that may have flown under your radar:

kemet-box1KEMET. It’s a big box wargame coming from the publishers of CYCLADES.  Warring tribes in Ancient Egypt, summoning mythological monsters to aid them.  You know how pretty CYCLADES is?  This one’s prettier.

ARCTIC SCAVENGERS, anyone?  In actuality this was the first deck-builder to follow DOMINION, but only now getting a big publisher and a wide release.  Post-apocalyptic neo-Ice Age survival?  What doesn’t sound cool about that?

What about AZTLAN from Ares Games?  I’m a sucker for anything involving my favorite pair of feuding sibling Aztec deities.  Or Stronghold’s ARTICLE 27, more of a pure negotiation game than even DIPLOMACY?  Speaking of Stronghold, I’m hoping they pick up VOLUSPA from White Goblin Games, it’s the beloved KACHINA from a few years back, re-themed and better than ever!  The KURO RPG from Cubicle 7 has peaked my interest: survival horror (not zombies) in near-future Japan.  And most of my friends know that I’m a nature nerd, so how could I not love the idea of MYRMES?  A big board game in which players control ant colonies?!?  And yeah, if you haven’t heard about the 13th AGE RPG, do yourself a favor and look it up.  Seems to me like there’s a lot of meat in that system that can be lifted and applied to any RPG.

But I think my most-anticipated game may be CLASH OF CULTURES from Z-Man.  This one’s from the designer of MERCHANTS & MARAUDERS and from what I’ve read, has the best chance yet of hitting that “holy grail” of board game design: a truly great civilization building game that plays in under four hours.  And yet, there’s not a whole lot of buzz around it yet.

Anyway, I guess my point here is this:

Hey publishers! (Especially the smaller ones) Stop it!  Spread the love a little thinner.  We don’t need it all at once.  Give your product some room to breathe.  I know you want to make a splash at Gen Con and Essen, I do.  But there’s plenty of smaller shows throughout the year that can serve as buzz-builders.  I’ll give you one example: the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio.  I go every year.  While talking to publishers at this year’s show, most of them complained about lackluster sales.  But you know what?  Most of you didn’t have anything new with you!  If a gamer is die-hard enough to go to a con, and he or she is a fan of your product, they’re already got everything they want from you!  Give them some new hotness to chew on and let the word of mouth spread from there.  I did talk to one mid-tier publisher at Origins who was reporting excellent sales numbers.  And ya know what?  They had piles of new stuff with them.  Duh.

-Paul Alexander Butler is the store manager of Games and Stuff, where he’s most recently drafted himself to anchor Wednesday Night X-Wing play, though his heart still beats the strongest for Tuesday Night Board Gaming.  [Card.Board.Box.] is his monthly gaming column for GamesAndStuffOnline.com.  He is currently busy perfecting his elephant-riding skills in order to bring the pachyderm pain to his opponents in Clash of Cultures.

 

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