Tag Archives: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Asmodee going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

– Image from twitter.com

Boardgames in the News: Another Year, Another Take-Over

For many, Asmodée is the boardgame equivalent of the Borg, so it should be no surprise that the New Year brings yet another Asmodée take-over story.  This time the targets are the German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag, the French/Spanish company Edge Entertainment, and the Spanish distributor Millennium.  Heidelberger are the German production partner for many companies that are better known in the UK including Fantasy Flight Games, Czech Games Edition, Iello, Indie Boards & Cards and Ferti; they specialise in fantasy, science fiction and horror Games as well as being the distributor for Alea Spiele in Germany.  Edge performs a similar function within the French and Spanish games markets while Millennium is primarily a distributor, but has also produced French versions Citadels and Sutter’s Mill.  The connection between them is that they were all foreign language partners for Fantasy Flight Games who were bought by Asmodée two and a half years ago.  So, these acquisitions give Asmodée complete control of brands like Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, Android: Netrunner, Cosmic Encounter and Arkham Horror.

Asmodee Partners
– Image from asmodee.de

The list of Asmodée’s “partners” is extensive, so the question is, who will be next?

Boardgames in the News: What Britain Buys

The Channel 4 series “What Britain Buys” has turned its attention towards our hobby with a ten minute piece by Mary Portas.  Episode two includes interviews with Ben Drummond and Dean Tempest, founders of Big Potato (which produced John Lewis‘ top selling game last year, Linkee), as well as a visit to Oxford’s own boardgame café, Thirsty Meeples.  There they speak to some of the customers and “Games Sommeliers” as well as the owner, John Morgan.  There are lots of shots of gaming goodness including people playing Settlers of Catan, Riff Raff, Star Wars X-Wing, Takenoko and much more besides.  The program is available to watch on demand from channel4.com and the interesting bit starts 37:15 mins in.

Mary Portas
– Image from channel4.com

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee Update – Taking Over Catan and Other Stories

A year ago, following their acquisition of Esdevium GamesLibellud, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games, Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games we discussed the sudden expansion of the hitherto small French games company, Asmodée.  More recently, following a new contract with Queen Games for exclusive distribution rights in the USA and the ensuing restructuring of its three main US operations, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games and Asmodee Editions to form a single entity, Asmodee North America, we wondered whether this growing monopoly would lead to price rises.  This concern arose, in particular, as from January 2016, distribution would be restricted to “speciality retailers” that have agreed to Asmodee North America’s “Speciality Retail Policy” including the prohibition of online sales.

Asmodee North America
– Image from Asmodee North America Press Release

Asmodee followed the initial press release with a second press release clarifying their position, in the form of a series of questions with answers. This did not completely allay many of the concerns, however, to the specific question, “…will you institute or impose official price floors or “minimum advertised price” policies”, they responded, “No”.  There has been a considerable speculation, but it seems clear from this “clarification” that although they intend to restrict “speciality retailers” to face-to-face transactions, this will not affect mass market outlets, such a Amazon, Target, or Barnes and Noble.  Another way of looking at it is that the medium-sized online vendors including, CoolStuffInc and Miniature Market (who are popular with US Geeks thanks to generous discounts), will no longer be able to sell Asmodee North America products, however, players like Amazon etc. are too big to be susceptible to their bully-boy tactics.  We will see what happens in the long run, but for the time being, so much for the end of 2015 press releases.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With the new year, there are new take-overs, and unsurprisingly, Asmodee are at the centre once again, this time announcing that they are taking over the production of the English language edition of Catan (formerly known as “The Settlers of Catan”)Celebrating its twentieth anniversary last year, The Settlers of Catan has been translated into thirty-five languages and is reported to have sold over twenty-three million copies worldwide.  As such is it one of the biggest names in the world of modern boardgames.  With this acquisition from Mayfair Games, Asmodee have also announced that they will launch a subsidiary, “Catan Studio”, dedicated to the creation of content for different media for the “Catan Universe”.  Catan Studio will be headed by Peter Fenlon, former CEO of Mayfair who will work with Catan GmbH and its partners on this development.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

With this acquisition, it brings Catan, Ticket to Ride and Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game as well as the very popular card game, Dobble, all under the same roof.  So, what next?  Surely bringing together such a large slice of the modern gaming market makes Asmodee themselves a potential take over target.  In fact, perhaps the only question is whether the likes of Hasbro will make a move before or after Asmodee make their next acquisition.  Any bets on the future of Filosofia/Z-man Games with Pandemic and Carcassonne…?

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

Boardgames in the News: Will the Latest Consolidation Lead to Price Rises?

In February, following their acquisition of Esdevium GamesLibellud, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games, Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games we asked the question, “Are Asmodee Taking Over the World?”  As if to answer in the affirmative, in April, Asmodee announced the start of a new contract with Queen Games for exclusive distribution rights in the USA.  Since Asmodee has been the distributor for Queen Games in Germany, this made logistical sense.  However, other consequences of these consolidations are now becoming apparent.

– Image from forbes.com

This week, Asmodee issued a press release stating that from the 1st January 2016, games made available by its three main US operations, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games and Asmodee Editions will be sourced from a single entity, Asmodee North America.  Furthermore, in the New Year, Asmodee North America will be adjusting its sales terms and reducing the number of its primary customers in the USA to just five authorised distributors.  From 1st April 2016, these authorised distributors will be restricted to selling Asmodee North America’s products to “speciality retailers” that have agreed to Asmodee North America’s “Speciality Retail Policy”.

Asmodee North America
– Image from Asmodee North America Press Release

This Speciality Retail Policy states that a “retailer must not sell or transfer … other than through face-to-face commercial resale exchange with end-users in retailer’s physical retail location(s) or at a physical extension of the retailer’s location at a consumer show/convention”.  Thus, all future sales will be restricted to bricks and mortar stores, effectively preventing the selling of Asmodee North America‘s products online.  This is not an end to online sales, however, as the press release goes on to say that “Asmodee North America will allow select merchants to service the online sales channel under a separate sales policy. Such select online merchants will either be supplied directly by Asmodee North America, or by appointed distributors acting under Asmodee North America’s related policy.”

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Online speculation is rife that these measures have been put in place to prevent the deep discounting seen in the USA, and that the contracts the retailers will have to sign will include a commitment to sell at the list price, thus effectively price fixing by other means.  This has been carried out in the past by both Mayfair Games (the Catan brand) and Games Workshop (Warhammer etc.) who both have strict Speciality Retail Policies that restrict distribution, maintaining high prices.  This is all highly significant with the growth of modern boardgaming as Asmodee North America produce some of the most popular gateway games, in particular Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Dixit, and Dobble as well as the newly reawakened Star Wars license.  It is not yet clear whether this will also have any effect on the distribution of Queen Games products in the USA.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

Asmodee North America has claimed these changes are because they are “committed to brick-and-mortar hobby market speciality retailers”.  On the other hand, in the FAQ that accompanied the statement, Asmodee North America state that even physical stores with an online presence are “limited to the channel of sale involving physical retail stores only”, which appears to belie this, since online sales are often what keeps “Bricks and Mortar” stores afloat.  The FAQ also states that “These policies currently affect our business in the US. Our Canadian operations will continue unaffected until notified otherwise.”  There is no mention of the EU, but it is likely that Esdevium, who already have something of a strangle-hold on the distribution of games in the UK, will continue to assert pressure on the market as they did at the start of this year.

– Image from wpn.wizards.com

Boardgames in the News: Are Asmodée Taking Over the World?

Asmodée is the French translation for Asmodeus, and according to Binsfeld’s classification of demons, Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires.  In the boardgame world though, Asmodée (originally known as Siroz) are a small French game publishing and distribution company, specialising in the family market. For example, they are well known for Dobble, Dixit, Time’s Up! and Ca$h ‘n Guns, but they also publish some more challenging games including Snow Tails, Mr. Jack, Formula D, Takenoko and 7 Wonders.

Jungle Speed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Asmodée was started in 1995 by Marc Nunès, a self-trained entrepreneur developing role-playing games, but quickly became France’s foremost games publisher and distributor.  One of the big early successes was Jungle Speed, launched in 1998, which has since gone on to be one of the top-selling titles in France, rivalling Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Pay Day.  The real turning point came in 2003, however, when Asmodée obtained the French licence to distribute Pokémon collector cards, which opened up the mass retail sector.  This development led to an 18% investment from Naxicap in 2005.  Naxicap’s stake was bought out two years later by Montefiore who acquired 60% of the company as part of a deal with management worth €40-50 million.  Montefiore invested €120 million to finance Asmodée’s international growth, funding the acquisition of the Belgian game distributor Hodin in 2008, the Spanish games developer Cromola and the German Proludo in 2009, followed by the purchase of a 60% stake in the UK-based distributor, Esdevium Games in 2010.  Asmodée also strengthened it’s portfolio with the acquisition of Abalone and partnership with Libellud (leading to the distribution rights for Dixit) in 2010.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

In 2012, Asmodée branched out further, setting up a subsidiary in Shanghai, China,  with the intention of expanding “into a new market taking advantage of Asmodee’s extensive line-up of games and the existing relationships with partners, thus promoting the brand in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan”.  This ambition brought Asmodée to the attention of the Eurazeo, a European investment company and a deal was announced in November 2013 that valued Asmodée at €143 million.   In January, 2014, almost exactly a year ago now, Eurazeo bought 83.5% of Asmodée through an equity investment of €98 million while Asmodée’s management team and original founders reinvested €14 million of their own money.

Ticket to Ride
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

With the backing Eurazeo provided, Asmodée then went big:  in August last year it was announced that Days of Wonder would be “merging into the Asmodée Group of game companies”.   Days of Wonder are one of the biggest names in modern boardgaming, and are often credited with the growth of the modern boardgame industry, thanks largely to their flagship Ticket to Ride games, which have sold well over two million copies to date.  This is not the only “big game” in their catalogue either, they are also responsible for Memoir ’44 and Small World, both of which are popular games, demonstrated by the number of expansions they support and which take Days of Wonder’s total number of games sold to over five million since their founding in 2002.

Small World
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor crosenkrantz

According to Forbes, Days of Wonder generates between $10 million and $20 million in revenue annually, not bad in such a niche market.  From Eurazeo/Asmodée’s point of view, such an acquisition makes sound financial sense, not just because of the commercial value, but because they already provided a lot of the distribution for Days of Wonder games.  This wasn’t enough for Asmodée however, and three months later, they acquired the U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

This was a bit of a change of direction for Asmodée:  hitherto, all the acquisitions had been firmly in the family boardgame and distribution markets.  Fantasy Flight games are a very different animal and their headline games, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror are much less family friendly.   Even their X-Wing Miniatures Game which is very popular with fathers and sons, is a long way outside the normal scope of Asmodée, since it is essentially a two-player war game with a Star Wars theme.  However, there are considerable benefits for both parties, since the merger will enable Fantasy Flight to improve its distribution in Europe, while simultaneously giving the growing Asmodée Group access to Fantasy Flight’s North American sales and marketing teams.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission BGG contributor Toynan

Asmodée weren’t stopping there, however, with Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games also becoming “part of the Asmodée family” late last year.  The link with Ystari Games almost certainly comes from their mutual interest in Space Cowboys.  Space Cowboys is a game creation studio created in 2013 by Marc Nunès (who started Asmodée way back in 1995, remember?), Philippe Mouret and Croc (both of Asmodée), Cyril Demaegd (Ystari) and Sébastien Pauchon (GameWorks).  Space Cowboys is a very small outfit, but already has one Spiel des Jahres nomination under its belt in Splendor and looks to be trying for a second with Black Fleet, the gorgeous pirate game released at Essen last year.

– Image from eurazeo.com

So, what are Asmodée up to?  The concern is that gamers generally like the current diversity in the market and fear that this succession of mergers and partnerships will mean a homogenisation of the games available.  The November 2014 Eurazeo “Investor Day” report spelled out the current state of Asmodée in detail and the good news is that this does not seem to be Eurazeo/Asmodée’s intention.  The report states, “Each studio has its own DNA,” and goes on to say, “Repeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating.”  So it seems the diversity is valued, however, by acquiring mid-sized publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight, Asmodée is positioning itself to compete more effectively with multinational toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel, who publish top board game brands including Monopoly and Scrabble.

– Image from eurazeo.com

So, is it a good thing that Asmodée are setting themselves up to rival the big boys?  Well, Asmodée is not the only company to engage in mergers:  in 2011 Filosofia purchased the U.S. publisher Z-Man Games, and U.S. publisher FRED Distribution (which releases games under the Eagle Games and Gryphon Games brands), acquired U.S. publisher Face2Face Games.  More recently, in late 2013, Mayfair Games (the U.S. partner for Catan) bought a controlling interest in Lookout Games (the company who first brought Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre and Ora et Labora to the market).

– Image from forbes.com

Clearly a large stable company provides security for designers, as well as providing support for the individual studios who know that one poor decision is no-longer likely to bring about the end of the company, both of which have to be A Good Thing.  However, companies like Eurazeo invest for only one reason:  financial return.  With an effective monopoly, Asmodée are now in a position to squeeze the market, indeed we may already be seeing the evidence of this in the price rises announced at the start of the year.  With this in mind, it will become clear in due course whether Asmodée is good for boargaming in the UK or whether it is genuinely the demon of lust responsible for twisting our gaming desires…