Boardgames in the News: The Past, Present and Future of Z-man Games

The summer is now here which means conferences and take-overs.  Last summer, Asmodée acquired Days of Wonder and then followed it with Fantasy Flight Games, Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games. Last week, Canadian company F2Z Entertainment announced the purchase of the U.S. company Plaid Hat Games (who are responsible for Dead of Winter and Summoner Wars).  Most people in the UK will have no idea who F2Z Entertainment are, however, they are the parent company of Pretzel Games, but perhaps more significantly, they also own Filosofia Éditions who in turn bought Z-Man Games four years ago.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image by BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Z-Man Games was created in 1999 by New Yorker, Zev Shlasinger, for the sole purpose of reviving Shadowfist, the multiplayer Collectable Card Game.  From then on, the company produced a number of other American style games, including Grave Robbers from Outer Space and Ideology: The War of Ideas.  The company had a much more significant impact on Euro-games, however, by introducing many German games to the United States.  Z-man was one of the first companies to do this by actively engaging with the original European manufacturer and providing English translations.  The first game to receive this treatment was Ursuppe (a.k.a. Primordial Soup) designed and produced by Doris & Frank.   At the time, this was a very highly regarded game and the success of this reproduction quickly led to English editions of games like Santiago, Saboteur and No Thanks!.

Ursuppe (a.k.a. Primordial Soup)
– Image used with permission from BGG contributor samoan_jo

In 2007, Agricola was released in Germany to great acclaim, but as the cards are very text-heavy, it was essentially unplayable by non-native speakers.  The problem with this game was the huge number of wooden pieces adding to the expense of producing a new edition.  At the time, heavy Euro-games were perceived as a niche market and nobody was prepared to risk the capital outlay for such an expensive game.  Z-Man were only a small company and were already engaged on their own projects including the production of what was to become another hit, Pandemic, and could not take the risk either.  In the end, amid much controversy, Zev Shlasinger decided to gauge the interest of the community with one of the first boardgame pre-orders and the rest, as they say, is history.  So the impact of Z-Man on the history of modern boardgames highly significant, and arguably, they were the forerunner of the current KickStarter Craze.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor Simulacrum

In 2011, Z-Man Games was taken over by the French-Canadian distributor, Filosofia Éditions.  With the take-over of Plaid Hat Games last week, the company now has the “cradle to grave” of the boardgame market:  creation, publishing and distribution.  So in that sense, the deal is clearly a sensible one.  However, Z-Man Games used to be a by-word for exceptional customer service and following the take-over by Filosofia, this reputation was tarnished.  Although it seems to be picking up again, this demonstrates one of the downsides of this streamlining of the market.  More serious however, is the potential loss of innovation that comes from  agglomeration, particularly on a large scale.  That said, so far at least, all the “studios” that are part of the Asmodée group have kept their identity – the boardgamer in the pub would have no idea that Fantasy Flight Games and Days of Wonder are part of the same company.  Only time will tell whether we have seen the pinnacle of the golden age of boardgames or whether there is even better still to come.

Z-man Games
– Image by marshallgames.co.uk

2 thoughts on “Boardgames in the News: The Past, Present and Future of Z-man Games

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