Tag Archives: Monopoly

Game Plan: Rediscovering Boardgames at the V & A Museum of Childhood

Inspired by the recent articles on Saturday Live and the Today Programme, on Easter Sunday, Pink and Blue decided to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood to see their “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition.  Catching a train from Oxford Parkway and negotiating the London Underground, they arrived in Bethnal Green.  With its vaulted ceiling and exposed metal work, the Museum building looks for all the world like a re-purposed Victorian Civil building, a train station, swimming pool or maybe some sort of pumping station.  Much to their disappointment, however, after extensive discussion and investigation, it turned out that the building was designed for the purpose, albeit after relocation of parts from “Albertopolis” on Exhibition Road.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The exhibition itself was well presented and occupied a sizeable portion of the overall floor space.  Although it was located in one of the upstairs galleries, the exhibition was well advertised and, from entering the main hall, games were brought to the visitors’ attention with table space and signs offering the loan of games should people want to play.  It wasn’t an idle promise either, as there were several family groups making full use of the opportunity, albeit playing what might be called classic games rather than more modern, Euro games.

Senet
– Image by boardGOATS

A quick look at the model train cabinet and brief spell side-tracked by one or two other exciting toys preceded entry to the exhibition which was shrouded by an eye-catching red screen.  The first exhibit was a copy of Senet, arguably one of the oldest games in the world – so old in fact that we’ve lost the rules and nobody knows how to play it.  This was followed by some traditional games including a beautiful wooden Backgammon set made in Germany in 1685 and decorated with sea monsters and a lot of fascinating Chess sets, old and new.  Next, there were some ancient copies of Pachisi (which evolved into Ludo) and Snakes and Ladders, both games that originated in India and were originally played seriously by adults.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Further round there were many other curious games, for example, The Noble Game of Swan from 1821, which was an educational game for children, itself developed from the much older, Game of the Goose.  Education was a bit of theme and there were a lot of games from the nineteenth and early twentieth century designed to teach geography in some form or another.  These included Round the Town, a game where players had to try to cross London via Charing Cross, and Coronation Scot, a game based on travelling from Glasgow to London inspired by the eponymous 1937 express train made to mark the coronation of George VI.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Education didn’t stop there either:  for those that had been members of RoSPA‘s “Tufty Club“, there was a game promoting road safety featuring Tufty the Squirrel and his mates Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel.  However, when designing this roll-and-move game, they clearly ran out of imaginative “adventures” with a road safety message, as they had to resort to “Picking and eating strange berries – Go back three spaces…”

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Progressing through the late twentieth century, there were the inevitable copies of the childhood classic games, including Game of Life, Risk, Cluedo, Mouse Trap, Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Scrabble and the inevitable Monopoly, all of which risked bringing a tear to the eye as visitors remembered playing them as children.  The exhibition eventually brought us up to date with modern Euro-style games, presenting copies of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

Pandemic
– Image by boardGOATS

More interestingly, there was also an original prototype of Pandemic supplied by the designer, Matt Leacock, complete with his scribbles and bits of paper stuck over infection routes he decided to remove as the game developed.  One of the final display showed how the influence boardgames have had on the computer gaming industry is sometimes strangely reciprocated, with a copy of the Pac-Man game, including the title figure wrought in sunshine yellow plastic.

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaving the exhibition, there was just one last game – “What’s Your Gameface?“.  This cute flow chart entertained Blue and Pink for far longer than is should have as they tested it out with all their friends, relatives and fellow gamers (nobody came out as “Cheater”).

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

With the exhibition done, there was still time for a wander round the rest of the museum and a quick cuppa in the cafe.  Reflecting on the exhibition, perhaps one of the best aspects had actually been the quotations that adorned the walls.  It seems luminaries from Plato to Roald Dahl have all had something to say on the subject of games.  Perhaps George Bernard Shaw supplied the most thought provoking comment though, when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  With this in mind, we did what gamers do when they travel, so tea and cake was accompanied by two rounds of Mijnlieff, the super-cool noughts and crosses game.  With the museum closing, it was time to head home, but there was still time for a game or two of 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel! on the train back to Oxford…

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The Exhibition is only open till 23rd April 2017, so there isn’t much time left and it is well worth a visit.

Boardgames in the News: KickStarting a Boardgame Café with Radio 4

Over the last few years, boardgaming has become increasingly acceptable amongst the general public and one consequence of this has been the continuing rise of the boardgame café.  Boardgame cafés have come a long way since Thirsty Meeples opened in Oxford just three and a half years ago.  In fact, one online map has the number in the UK now totalling over forty.  There have been several articles commenting on their spread too, including an interesting recent article on Radio 4‘s consumer affairs programme, You & Yours covering crowd funding, boardgames and modern café culture.

Some of the boardgameing reports in the media have been quite poor, but this is one of the better articles.  The reporter, Bob Walker visits the two boardgame cafés in Nottingham, Ludorati and The Dice Cup, interviewing both staff and customers who are clearly having a good time playing a range of games including Munchkin Zombies and while Risk as well as the inevitable Monopoly get a mention.  More interesting is an interview with Peter Blenkharn from Inside the Box , a small company who are producing Sub Terra which has just raised £368,256 via KickStarter.  There are a number of other interesting statistics quoted, for example, it is apparently estimated that the board and card game market in US is worth $1.2 billion.  Bob Walker also talks to Matt Jarvis, editor of Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which was originally quarterly, but is now bimonthly due to increasing popularity.  Matt cites a recent Tabletop Gaming Magazine report which claims that tabletop games made over $100 million last year on KickStarter, more than four times what computer games achieved in the same period.  Much of this was raised by miniature games so the recent reprint of Kingdom Death: Monster alone raised over $12 million – the sort of figure that producers of Euro, or family games, would never dare to dream of – even the infamous Exploding Kittens only raised $8.7 million.  Nevertheless, it is clear boardgaming continues to go from strength to strength.

You & Yours
– Image from a2milk.co.uk

Boardgames in the News: What’s all this about a Hasbro-Mattel Merger?

In what is the latest of a long line of merger and acquisitions stories, it seems that the really big boys are now getting in on the act:  according to a report by Bloomberg, late last year, Hasbro initiated talks with Mattel for what would become the worlds largest toy company. This is not the first time a merger has been proposed; twenty years ago, Mattel attempted to buy Hasbro for $5.2 billion, but Hasbro resisted the deal with what Mattel described as a “scorched earth” campaign.  In the end, Mattel withdrew the offer citing an “intolerable climate” created by its competitor’s use of the media and politicians to fight the proposed takeover. Since then, there has been a lot of water under the bridge and representatives for Hasbro and Mattel have declined to comment, so we are left to speculate as to why the subject of a possible merger has arisen once more.

Hasbro & Mattel
– Image by boardGOATS with components from wikipedia.org

Both Hasbro and Mattel are currently valued at approximately $10 billion with an annual revenue in the region of $5 billion.  Hasbro owns brands as divers as Furby, My Little Pony, Playdoh and Nerf, but is perhaps best known amongst gamers for titles like Monopoly, Cluedo, Connect 4, Cranium, Battleship and Jenga.  Mattel brands perhaps tend to be aimed slightly more at the toy market with Barbie, Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Fisher-Price some of their biggest sellers.  There are also a number of games under the Mattel umbrella though, including UNO, Othello, Scene It?, Apples to Apples and Scrabble.  Clearly, both companies have a very similar portfolio, and are essentially direct competitors.  This has been very clearly demonstrated with Hasbro recently taking the licensing rights to Disney’s lucrative Frozen and Princess brands from Mattel, a change that will undoubtedly make a dent in their bottom line.  While changes are often a sign of a robust market, such seismic shifts are seldom good for the companies involved at least in the short term, often leading to restructuring and job losses – we have seen something similar with Mayfair Games and the recent loss of the distribution rights to the Catan Brand.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

It seems there are two other key driving forces however.  Firstly, it would make them much stronger competition for the Danish company, Lego, which has been growing much faster than its U.S. rivals.  Secondly, both Hasbro and Mattel are looking to expand their presence in the digital market, with movie and computer game tie-ins similar to those seen with Hasbro’s Transformers franchise, and, according to Bloomberg, a merger would facilitate this.  The real question though is, regardless of whether or not Hasbro and Mattel can agree a deal, would the regulators let it happen?  In the last year alone, the U.S. Department of Justice has prevented Electrolux’s purchase of GE’s appliance business as well as stopping mergers between Office Depot and Staples, and Sysco and U.S. Foods, all due to concerns about industry concentration and the potential for higher prices resulting from the deals.  So it seems quite likely that a deal between Hasbro and Mattel would go the same way.  If they do merge, however, the giant Hasbro-Mattel would make Asmodee look like very small minnows indeed, right up until they get gobbled up too.

Lego
– Image from 3dprint.com

Boardgames in the News: Regular Boardgame Coverage on the BBC

The popularity of modern boardgames is spreading, and with it, there is an increase in the media profile.  There have always been occasional mainstream games articles (like those covering the legal case surrounding whether Bridge is a sport and the latest playing piece in Monopoly) and games have occasionally featured in TV programs too.  These are relatively frivolous, but The Guardian has a regular, thriving games column which frequently includes items on boardgames, and even our local Round and About has had feature articles.  Now, the BBC is getting in on the act.

videoGaiden
– Image from bbc.co.uk

VideoGaiden was a BBC Scotland production covering computer games, that began in 2005.  The program began as a series of ten minute shorts, growing to full half-hour episodes before it was moth-balled in 2007.  Nearly ten years later, it is now being brought back for six online episodes and one televised special.  Rumour is that it will also include a boardgame section.

21st Movember 2015 @ “The Mix”

Our second drop in gaming session at The Mix in Wantage was once again, a great success.   As last time, it started very quietly, this time with Green fighting to blow up balloons and Pink and Blue struggling to get the ends to meet when building a nice PitchCar track.  Before long, “Grandma” had arrived with her young grandson in tow and they began with a game of the very intimidating Boom Boom Balloon.  They then moved onto Toc Toc Woodman (aka Click Clack Lumberjack), while another couple began a rather intense game of Carcassone: Winter Edition.

Toc Toc Woodman
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner
and bgpov.com

Meanwhile, PitchCar was attracting the eye of visitors as usual, and other people got engaged in games of Dobble, Roar-a-Saurus, Billy Biber (aka Log Jam) and Maxi Bamboleo.  Before long, lunch beckoned and people began to drift off.  The couple playing Carcassonne asked about other, similar games and so out came Ticket to Ride: Europe and Nordic Countries which they liked the look of.  By this time, Grandma and Grandson had moved onto Escape: The Curse of the Temple, with Green (who had never played it before) and Pink making up the foursome.  After losing the first few games, Pink took a break and was replaced by Blue who had played it a lot and suggested they worked in two pairs.  Despite her experience, it was Blue who was last to the exit and seemed completely incapable of rolling the two keys necessary.  As the stress levels rose, she eventually succeeded with a few seconds to spare.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor rassilonsghost

The session finished with Grandma and Grandson playing a final quick game of PitchCar before going swimming.  As it had quietened down, Blue, Green and Pink persuaded the last of the helpers to participate in a quick game of Splendor, which Green won, but with a very creditable second place for the shyly reluctant new player.  Then it was time to tidy up and go home.  As Green headed off in the car, he happened to catch JACKtivities on the radio, advertising a “Beyond Monopoly session at The Mix in Wantage, with boardGOATS“. “Sounds good,” he thought, “Maybe I should go along…”

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor TrashcanCity

Boardgames in the News: Are Games a Good Investment?

It might seem strange for a courier company to comment on the value of boardgames, however, David Jinks, the Head of Publications at ParcelHero (a UK courier comparison site), has been has been reported to have strong opinions on the subject.  He explains how traditional games can be worth many thousands if the edition is right; they even have a page on their website discussing collectible games.  So why are ParcelHero so interested?  Well, it turns out that buying and selling vintage copies of Monopoly is big business, most of which is done on the internet using sites like eBay (who have several buyers’ guide pages on the subject).  Thus, ParcelHero’s involvement is in shipping these items (though in truth it is probably mostly about publicity as there are a lot of other things that they can deliver too).

Container
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Zoroastro

Now, there will always be a market for vintage copies of traditional family games, but what about the more modern classics?  Sadly, that early copy of The Settlers of Catan is not worth a lot yet, though of course it might be when the game has been around as long as Monopoly of course.  There are modern games that sell for a small fortune however.  These tend to be games where there is some combination of high demand, small print-run, popular designer and unlikely reprint.  There are a number of games that fall into this category and some are not all that old.  Container was released in 2007 by Valley Games Inc., and is an unusual production and shipping game – those who have played it claim there is nothing similar.  The recent law suit that ensnared the reprint of Up Front means a reprint is unlikely, so copies cannot be easily be obtained for less than £100.

Key Market
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duartec

Another example, is Key Market, which was designed by David Brain and released at Essen in 2010, however, only nine hundred copies were made and it sold out very quickly.  R&D Games are a small company and have moved on to other things (including one of our favourite games, Keyflower), so it looks unlikely that Key Market will be reprinted in the near future.  This is not the only high value game from the Key Series: a set of the earlier titles Keywood, Keydom and Keytown recently went for £1,800!

Keywood, Keydom & Keytown on eBay
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s not just games from small companies that become rare and demand high prices.  Colosseum was a Days of Wonder game with a wide release, but following an alleged dispute between the designer and publisher, it seems unlikely it will be reprinted.  Witch’s Brew is in a similar boat, though it is the implementation of its central mechanism in the Spiel des Jahres winning Broom Service which is likely to prevent a reprint.  The irony is that Witch’s Brew and Broom Service are quite different even though though the publisher and designer have been saying otherwise, so demand is not likely to drop, quite the opposite.

Witch's Brew
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

So clearly there is money to be made from boardgames, or at least, from some boardgames.  However, for every game that increases in value there are many that end up nearly worthless.  Worse, timing is everything; there is nothing like the announcement of a reprint to have a sudden impact on the market of a desired game.  So, before a reprint is announced the price climbs steadily as the desired item becomes increasingly rare and people continue to pay the inflated prices as “they are only going to go up”.

Mission: Red Planet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

When a new release is announced, everyone has to take a gamble.  Many potential buyers will wait for the new edition hoping that the price will be lower and the quality will have improved in line with modern expectations.  So, demand suddenly drops and sellers are left with a tricky choice:  reduce the price and hope someone who hasn’t heard the news will bite, or sit tight and wait.  Notably, the recent Fantasy Flight Games announcement of a third edition of Fury of Dracula has led to a sudden flood of copies on the secondary market caused by people hoping to get a sale before the price drops.  Similarly, the secondary market price for Mission: Red Planet plummeted when a second edition was announced. On the other hand, waiting can turn out to be a better option in the event that the new edition is deemed inferior to the original.  This is not as uncommon as one might imagine, as artwork often changes and there are frequently also “improvements” to the rules as well and changes to some components.

Fury of Dracula - Secondary Market
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor tumorous

Sometimes changes are for the better, but it is not uncommon for buyers to prefer the original.  For example, for the second edition of one of our favourite games, Snowdonia, the wooden workers were upgraded to plastic figurines, however, our group find the first edition tokens more tactile.  Sometimes, the publicity surrounding a release of a second edition has the additional effect of reviving a market that had become stagnant due to the lack of availability.  In such cases, the reprint can actually increase the price of an already expensive edition when the new version is thought of as inferior.  Mostly, however, a reprint will cause the price to fall as the difference between editions is something only a connoisseur will really appreciate.

Snowdonia
– Image by boardGOATS

So, where does this leave us?  There are a number of facts that are undoubtedly true.  Firstly, with the exception of the most popular games, almost all modern boardgames are perpetually “between print runs”, with sufficient stock available to supply demand.  For this reason, games can suddenly become unavailable and to some degree the buyer should take the opportunity when they see it, as it may not be there for long.  That said, the best games generally remain in demand and are almost always re-released in some form or another.  The recent announcement by Rio Grande demonstrates that even long out of print classics like the 1992 game Elfenroads, do sometimes eventually get a re-print, albeit in a very different form.

Elfenroads
– Images from the manufacturers

The fact that boardgames are currently a niche market means that mature games are inevitably more likely to go out of print with a corresponding increase in demand.  So, good games ideally with high production values will rarely depreciate by more than 50% if bought for a good price and sold in the right place.  Thus, a gamer with a mature high quality collection who looks their games well, will rarely lose a lot of money if they keep them for long enough, especially if they can chose their time to sell.  Of course, spotting good games at the right price is the challenge, but very occasionally, if they have the correct edition, a gamer might make a killing.

Catan - 3D Collector's Edition
– Image by BGG contributor theotherside

Boardgames in the News: So, What Are Euro-Games?

A couple of months ago at our game night, one of the gamers commented that there were a lot of good games from Europe.  This prompted a discussion about “traditional games”, “Euro-games”, “American games” and their relative merits.  Most people know all about traditional games even if they don’t know what gamers mean when they use the term:  traditional games are the games we all used to play as a child including Scrabble, Cluedo and love it or loath it, the dreaded Monopoly.  Some people also include in this list games like Chess, Go and Backgammon as well as traditional card games like Whist, Hearts and Rummy.

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

But the front page of the boardGOATS website says, “We generally prefer to play “Euro” style games,” so, what do gamers mean by “Euro-games” or “Euro style games”?  Well, most of the traditional games we used to play as children were produced by publishers in the United States of America, companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  Incidentally, both these companies are now part of Hasbro, but the aggregation of smaller companies to form a larger one is a topic that’s been covered elsewhere.  While the “English” market was dominated by big players that concentrated on producing a few top sellers, in Germany there was no such dominance.  The effect this had was that the market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

This coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon. It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, highlighted a range of games from Rummikub in 1980, Torres in 2000 and Camel Up last year.  Over the years, the red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has become a mark of boardgaming quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Therefore, the qualities espoused by these awards heavily influence the concept of the “Euro-game”.

Rummykub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

But what are these qualities that make a game “European”?  Well, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, describes them as characterised by “simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components”.   It goes on to say, “Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”  On the whole this is not a bad summary, except that it is not very specific:  how simple are “simple rules” and how long are “short to medium playing times”?  Clearly these features are more about contrast, and although there are lots of different types of games including party games and war games, this comparison is usually between European style ames and American-style Games, aka “Ameri-Trash”.

Last Night on Earth
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bilben04

Although common, use of the term Ameri-Trash (or Ameritrash) is controversial as some see it as unnecessarily negative, however, although other terms have been suggested none have proved as popular or as persistent.  The term itself is over fifteen years old and was probably originally used disparagingly and applied to genuinely bad American games as a comparison with the much higher professional standards of games in Germany at the time.  Since then, the scope has been expanded and many fans of those American games have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Merchant of Venus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

American-style games tend to be long, usually over two hours, and classically involve a lot of luck and often feature dice rolling.  They are often considered to be a lot less “cerebral” or “puzzle-like” and, as a result, are sometimes described as “more fun”.  The reference to “trash” may in part reflect the style of the pieces which tend to include a lot of plastic pieces to go with the dice.  There is also often a lot of direct conflict in American-style games, where European games tend to be much more family friendly with indirect player interaction.  Classic Ameri-Trash games include:  Arkham Horror, Merchant of Venus, Cosmic Encounter and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Sometimes there is also a book or film tie-in leading to games like Battlestar Galactica and Dune.  Even just comparing the titles with those of classic Euro-games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Tikal and Agricola, the difference can clearly be felt.

Arkham Horror
– Image by BGG contributor igorigorevich

The most essential part of American-style games is the theme, however, which is often integral to the game mechanisms.  This encourages people fantasize they are part of the action when playing the game.  The miniatures, the long playing times, the complex interwoven rule-set and the interaction (often culminating in players being eliminated) all combine to draw players into the drama of the game.  In contrast, for Euro-games, the mechanisms are the focus, and the games can often be re-themed without much effort.  The theme is therefore used more as an introduction to the more abstract European strategy games, making them more accessible, rather than being an essential part of the emotional investment.

Relic Runners
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

But things are not as simple as that.  The nature of modern boardgaming encourages cross-fertilisation.  There are more highly-themed, strategy-games available now and more long, strategic games with miniatures – these are sometimes referred to as “hybrid games”.  For example, games produced by the Days of Wonder (based in the USA), like Ticket to Ride and Relic Runners have a lot of plastic pieces, though the games themselves are quite strategic and generally run for no more than an hour.  Similarly, games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Space Alert use real-time and a sound-track to draw the players in, yet they are both short (Escape takes just ten minutes to play) and have no player elimination.  Vlaada Chvátil’s Dungeon Lords series of games, also have a lot of theme, but are also playable in a manageable time-frame, have a lot of strategy and a reasonably streamlined set of rules.

Dungeon Lords
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor PaulGrogan

Confusingly however, “hybrid” has more recently also come to mean games that include some sort of mobile device application (and thus require a smart phone, tablet or similar).  Now, lots of games have Apps that help them a long a little (e.g. One Night Ultimate Werewolf), but games like Alchemists and XCOM: The Board Game don’t really function properly without them.  The question is, are these still boardgames?  In truth, they are a sort of hybrid computer-boardgame, but the point is, however appropriate the name, it is all about the game and the other people playing:  the bottom line is, if you enjoy playing it, it doesn’t matter what it is called.

Alchemists
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer