Category Archives: News

Boardgames in the News: Gaming at a Distance

With so many people tucked up at home there has been some debate as to whether this will encourage people to play games more.  Among gamers, there has been a lot of discussion about solo games where players compete against the game, but this loses the social aspect.  Online gaming is also an option; this can enable playing with real people, but loses the tactile element of gaming that so many people love.  In most cases though, people are not “home alone”, they are with family, so perhaps this is an opportunity to play games with them?

Cities of Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

The occasional board game column in The Guardian has published a list of twenty family games including some modern family classics like, Ticket to Ride: London, Splendor, Kingdomino, Dobble and (inevitably) Pandemic.  It also includes a few, more recent games, like Wingspan, and Just One, as well as some less well known games like Patchwork Express, Legacy of Dragonholt and Blue Lagoon.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

There has some suggestion that there has been a flurry of buying games to play with their families, but is there any real evidence of this?  Anecdotally, there have been comments that prices of games have increased on Amazon.co.uk which could indicate an increase in sales.  The website camelcamelcamel.co.uk tracks prices on Amazon, and it seems to indicate that prices for many popular light games have increased in the last week.

Ticket to Ride: Europe on camelcamelcamel.co.uk (23/03/20)
– Image by boardGOATS from camelcamelcamel.co.uk

There is another possible reason though: Amazon has suspended warehouse services (storage and shipping) of non-medical supplies and “high-demand” products for third party sellers.  This would have the effect of pushing prices up.  A lot of Friendly Local Games Shops sell online though, and many of these have sales on at the moment, so why not support one of the small businesses that are struggling at the moment, and leave Amazon to deal with toilet rolls and hand sanitiser?

Boardgames in the News: Goats Climbing the Walls?

At times of stress, we all need a little light relief, and what better to provide it than a pair of  naughty goats.  Goats are well known for their climbing ability, and are often seen in argan trees in some areas of Morocco.  It is quite unusual to see them climbing roofs in Wales though.

Goats on Roof
– Image taken from msn.com video

Mable and the well-named Trouble, escaped from their garden in Blaencwm, Rhondda, and climbed twenty feet onto a neighbour’s roof. Fay Wilson-Yeates, filmed her efforts to get them down to show her husband, and the video is now being shared by everyone else too.  She is reported to have said, “I think it’s just what the world needs right now – my goats can bring a smile to people’s faces.”

– Image from msn.com

Boardgames in the News: Covid-19, UK Games Expo and Other Stories

In all probability, the Covid-19 Pandemic will be a crisis the like of which this country hasn’t seen for eighty years.  It is estimated that Covid-19 is fatal in around 1-3% of cases;  if 50% of the world population get the disease, around 1% of the seven billion people on this planet will die.  That’s a lot of people, seventy million in fact—roughly the population of the UK.  To put it in perspective, around twenty million people died as a result of  the First World War, that’s approximately 1% of the world population at the start of the conflict (around two billion).  The death toll in World War I occurred over four years, but it is likely the impact of Covid-19 will take place over a period of months.

Covid-19
– Image from bioworld.com

So, Covid-19 is likely to be devastating, but not necessarily in ways people expect.  Yes, loved ones will die and every loss is a tragedy to those affected.  It may be the society changes that are longer lasting though.  For example, more and more people are working from home, this is better for the environment, but not necessarily good for mental health unless managed properly.  The recent Government advice to “Avoid pubs … and other such social venues” has emptied local pubs and coffee shops, and decimated the takings in businesses that already run on tight margins.  Board game cafés like The Ludoquist and Thirsty Meeples have closed and The Dice Cup, while still open, is clearly struggling.

Closed Sign
– Image from squaremeal.co.uk

All over the UK Games Clubs have been suspended or and conventions have been postponed, including Ellesmere Port and Chester Centurions, the Epsom Games Day, SpringCON, Salute 2020, Hemel Games Club, STAG, TringCon, Oxford Meeples and boardGOATS, while others like Variable Mages are considering their options.  Z-man Games have also announced the cancellation of their Carcassonne and (ironically) Pandemic tournaments.  All these use local amenities, pubs, halls and cafés that rely on the support of regular custom.  If these close, it is unlikely they will reopen, and, as Joni Mitchell once said, we won’t know what we’ve lost ’til it’s gone.

UK Games Expo Logo
– Image from ukgamesexpo.co.uk

If people work together though, we will get through this.  A shining example is that of the UK Games Expo which was originally scheduled for the last weekend in May.  The organisers have just announced that it has been rescheduled for Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd August.  Sadly, this clashes with Tabletop Scotland, but they have very graciously agreed to postpone the Perth event to allow the UKGE to take place.  It is with such understanding, cooperation and consideration that we will beat this thing.  And beat it we will, as long as we work together.

– From RetroTop10 on youtube.com

 

Boardgames in the News: The Great Escape?

Over the last decade, Asmodee has swallowed most of the big names in modern family board games, including the likes of Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Agricola, and Pandemic amongst others.  This has been through the relentless acquisition of the companies that produce these titles, in particular, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele, and Repos Production.  This monopolising of the market cannot be a good thing for gamers, indeed the effects are already being felt with the introduction of Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) and now the loss of customer servicing for all Asmodee products.

HeidelBÄR Games Logo
– Image from twitter.com

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope, however.  Three years ago, the German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag was acquired by Asmodee, with the publishing part splitting off to form the Asmodee Studio, HeidelBÄR Games.  Last year, however, ownership and with it the nucleus of the HeidelBÄR team, was transferred back to the previous manager, Heiko Eller-Bilz.  The resulting enterprise is much smaller than it was, but the most important asset, the people, are in a position to develop new titles.

Plaid Hat Games Logo
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

More recently, Plaid Hat Games have made a similar, slightly slower, journey.  Around five years ago, Plaid Hat Games was bought out by Canadian company F2Z Entertainment, then the parent company of Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions and Pretzel Games (now known as Asmodée Canada).  However, earlier this year it was announced that Plaid Hat Games had been reacquired by Colby Dauch, the original founder, albeit without the rights to some of their biggest products, including Dead of Winter, Aftermath, and Mice and Mystics, which remain with the Asmodee Group.  Plaid Hat Games retained the rights to Summoner Wars though, and are currently developing a new product, Forgotten Waters, which will be the first game released by Plaid Hat after their Great Escape.

Forgotten Waters
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

Boardgames in the News: Is Rapid Market Growth a Good Thing?

The way boardgames are published and sold has changed massively over the last few years.  The development of Asmodee is one of the main stories of the last decade:  it has grown from a small company (primarily known for clever little kids games like Dobble), into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele and most recently, Repos Production.  There have been other significant shifts too however. Changes in the way “hobby gamers” learn about and acquire games has been hugely influenced by the internet and with it, the rise of crowdfunding, in particular, KickStarter.

KickStarter Logo
– Image from
kickstarter.com

To give an idea of the impact KickStarter has had:  last Easter, they announced that more than one billion US dollars had been pledged by over three million backers, funding nearly seventeen thousand games projects since the platform started a decade earlier.  This growth occurred in tandem with a huge expansion in the hobby which has seen modern boardgaming move from the shadows of a dingy corner of geekdom towards the sunny uplands of the mainstream.  For the last five years, there have been more games released than any year previously.  Despite this growth, the dominance of Asmodee and KickStarter, have increased the squeeze on the smaller players in a relatively niche market.

Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) Logo
– Image from alderac.com

These smaller players also flourished as the market grew, but maybe a corner is now being turned.  Last year, Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), producers of games including Smash Up, Love Letter, Cat Lady, Dice City, Thunderstone, and more recently, Ecos: First Continent, announced that after twenty-seven years in the industry, they will be making fewer games.  From their press release:

“There is a reason why there are so many games coming. It is a great time to be making games, maybe the best ever. That does not mean it is easy. In fact, it is also the most challenging time to be making games that I can remember. The bar to get noticed and have any kind of staying power is higher than it has ever been.”

AEG are not the only company affected.  US Publishers, Winsome Games (producers of train games like TransAmerica, Chicago Express, Age of Steam, Railways of the World and the 18xx family of games) have announced they will no longer be presenting new games at Essen.  Part of this is due to owner and developer John Bohrer “aging (dis)gracefully”, but changes in the market have also no doubt taken their toll.

Steve Jackson Games Logo
– Image from sjgames.com

Other companies also seem to be feeling the pinch; last year, Steve Jackson Games (perhaps best known for games like Munchkin, Ogre and Cthulhu Dice) reported that gross income for 2018 was slightly down, the fourth year in a row.  In their 2017 report, they stated that “the current market is more a periodicals business than one that encourages growing and nurturing single games”.  In the 2018 report they observe that “things only got worse … as fewer and fewer copies of new titles were sold into distribution” and as a result, they “were forced to let some talented and hardworking staff go”.  As a company, they have expanded their use of KickStarter, observing that “over the last few years, our core hobby market has changed dramatically”.

Fantasy Flight Games Logo
– Image from
fantasyflightgames.com

Even the massive behemoth that is Asmodee is not unaffected.  About eighteen months ago, Asmodee was bought from Eurazeo by PAI Partners, a European private equity company, and  it seems they are now consolidating and streamlining their assets.  Earlier this month, Timothy Gerritsen, Head of Studio announced the closure of Fantasy Flight Interactive (FFI).  FFI was an independent subsidiary within Asmodee Digital with the remit of adapting tabletop games and creating new digital experiences based on Fantasy Flight Games’s best loved brands.  One of the highest profile of these was the Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game, but unfortunately it was not as successful as the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game it was based on.

Asmodee USA Logo
– Image from asmodeena.com

The cuts at Asmodee were wider reaching though, with the initial closure of the Fantasy Flight Customer Service department followed by reports of redundancies elsewhere in the company.  This has been more recently followed by a withdrawal of Customer Services for products all products from Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Catan, Plaid Hat Games and Z-Man.  This change in policy is apparently due to “the number of quality titles in Asmodee USA’s growing library” which is making “maintaining an independent stock of elements of each game … more difficult”.  This may, or may not be true, but it is clear that as the market is growing, things are changing for everyone:  gamers and publishers, both big and small.

Next Meeting – 3rd March 2020

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 3rd March, at the Horse and Jockey pub in Stanford-in-the-Vale. As usual, we will be playing shorter games from 7.30pm as people arrive, until 8pm when we will start something a little longer.

This week, the “Feature Game” will be the Hellas map from the Hellas & Elysium expansion to Terraforming Mars. In Terraforming Mars, each person takes the role of a giant corporation, sponsored by the World Government on Earth to initiate projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment on Mars is habitable.  The Hellas map presents a new areas of Mars to explore: the Mars’ south pole and the enormous seven-hex Hellas crater that just begs to become a giant lake. Building around the pole gives placement bonuses in the form of heat and possibly even water.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

And speaking of Mars…

Jeff got off the space ship to start the first day of his holiday on the red planet.  Looking around he decided he could really do with a drink, so headed for the nearest bar.

Waiting in the queue to be served, he picked up a bar towel and started chewing the corner. The barman looked a bit concerned, so asked, “Are you all right sir?  Maybe I could get you a beer instead…?”

“Oh,” replied Jeff, “That’d be great”.  And he ordered a pint, found a table, and sat down to enjoy his beer.

After a bit he started gnawing on the back of one of the chairs. Eventually, the barman came to the conclusion he had to do something; after all, Jeff was beginning to worry the other customers. He approached Jeff and asks what on earth (or perhaps Mars) he thought he was doing?

Jeff looked bemused.  “I’m really sorry,” he said, “I thought this was a Mars Bar…”

Boardgames in the News: Withdrawal of Customer Service by Asmodee

One of the characteristics of modern boardgames is the number of pieces in the box:  generally the more complex the game, the more pieces there are, and the more it costs.  For many, part of the fun of acquiring a new game is checking, sorting and otherwise caressing these, often bespoke, pieces.  It is very easy to lose or break a piece and an estimated 1-2% of new purchases arrive damaged or with something missing.  One of the truly special things about the boardgame industry has been the general understanding of the sadness caused by a missing piece, and the support the manufacturers give when a game has become incomplete, even if it is not the manufacturers fault.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, just over a year ago, one of the boardGOATS dropped a counter for No Thanks!.  After an extended session of “Hunt the Game Piece”, we eventually found it nestling in a cushion of dust, just out of reach, exactly where it fell, having cleanly dropped through the gap between the pub floorboards.  The game is inexpensive and readily available, but our copy is much played and much loved, and replacing it for the sake of one token seemed wasteful.  Of course the missing token could be substituted with something else, a penny say, but that would have made us sad every time we played it.  So, a quick email to AMIGO Spiele offering to purchase a couple of spares, and one week later a small handful of red counters arrived in the post—exceptional Customer Service from a superb company.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The remarkable thing is that this is not the only example:  similar service has been received from Zoch Verlag (Auf Teufel komm raus), NSKN Games (Snowdonia: Deluxe Master Set), Queen Games (Kingdom Builder), Ferti Games (PitchCar), Tactic (Nollkoll), Z-man (Le Havre), Rio Grande Games (Torres) & Splotter (The Great Zimbabwe), to name but a few, sometimes their fixing a problem of their making, sometimes just helping out.  This superb service (sometimes with a fee, but often without charge) builds a good relationship with the customer and encourages more sales—so not so much “No Thanks”, as “Yes Please”!

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Last week, however, Asmodee USA closed its Customer Services Department to the public, and announced that all games with missing pieces should be returned to the vendor (as yet there is no comment on who should pay for returns of online purchases, or what happens with gifts that arrive with a piece missing).  Worse, the FAQ adds that when buying a second-hand copy, they “encourage you to make sure that all components of a game are present and intact before purchasing” as they “cannot offer replacements for products that were not purchased directly from our USA retail partners or webstores”.  Their justification for this is:

“With the number of quality titles in Asmodee USA’s growing library, maintaining an independent stock of elements of each game becomes more difficult. We believe offering the customer service through the store they have purchased the game from will be a better experience.”

It was initially thought that this would only affect USA customers, however, it seems that is not the case.  Asmodee UK have passed the buck:  according to their website, for replacement pieces for Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Catan, Plaid Hat Games or Z-Man Games, “please visit http://parts.asmodeena.com/”, which in turn simply says:

“As of February 18, 2020, if a game is purchased in the US that has damaged or missing components, please return to where you originally bought the game for assistance.”

This change in policy may or may not make business sense in the short term, but for the gamer it is a very sad loss of what always felt like friendly support, and something that made boardgaming special.

UKGE 2018
– Image by boardGOATS