Customer Rewards Program

So, we’ve been considering putting together a customer rewards program lately.  The way the program would work is very similar to Chapters – customer would need to pay a membership fee to join the program, but would then gain all its advantages.

Some of the advantages we could see adding to such a program would be:

  • lower free shipping threshold
  • additional price discounts (3, 5 or 10%)
  • special sale days and offers to members

Here’s the question I have for you:

– would such a program be of interest?

– how much would you be willing to pay for it? what would you expect from such a program?

– which of the above three benefits is most important to you? least?

– is there any other benefit that you would want to see added?

A concrete example of the program could be a 5% additional discount with free shipping at $150 for $25.

Ecommerce software – your virtual storefront

Your choice of ecommerce software is probably one of the most important decisions you make when creating an online store, whether it’s a board game store or any other.  The ecommerce software can be seen as the equivalent of a stores physical layout.  It doesn’t matter how well designed your store is – if the layout consists of multiple different levels in a tiny space, cracks in the ceiling and horrible plumbing, you’ll be spending more time fixing your store than selling.
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Cashflow – a pair of perspectives

Jack over at Reiver Games just wrote an interesting post about cashflow issues when publishing a board game.  It’s an interesting post, like his blog, providing customers a behind-the-scenes view of games publishing.  One of the few blogs out there I regularly read.

It’s a nice counterpoint to my own revenue / product purchase cashflow post and an aspect of business that most people who don’t deal with it would not think about.  Certainly the entire merchant account / bank processing issue is entirely an online business problem.
Just to  add another piece of the puzzle – most merchant accounts hold a ‘reserve’ amount that they can use to settle refunds / chargebacks/etc.  It’s basically to safeguard themselves from merchants closing business and the merchan account provider not having the funds to pay Visa/Mastercard back.  That amount can range from 5-10% depending on your chargeback rates/etc.

It’s also why pre-orders are such a hassle for us.  Having to set aside board games that have not been paid for can seriously impact your cashflow.

Small Publisher Contest : SmartAss Games Ltd.

Well, the first month for the small publisher contest just finished.  It’s now time for month 2 and we’re highlighting SmartAss Games Ltd. who were kind enough to run a tournament for us at our Anniversary Party.

Please post your submissions here for the contest (helping Peter name his new expansion).  The winner will be announced in the July newsletter.

Look forward to reading some great submissions.

Carcassonne board game review

Carcassonne , like it’s biggest rival Settlers of Catan, is an award winning ‘Euro-game’ that has many adherents and a large number of expansions. The basic game is very simple to learn but takes an innovative approach to the creation of the board, thus altering the ensuing game-play.

In Carcassonne , players turn over a new randomly chosen tile at the beginning of each turn. The player must then decide where to place the newly revealed tile on the growing board, each tile having to fit to the existing features of adjoining tiles (roads to roads, fields to fields, cities to cities). This both limits how a tile can be placed as well as dictating a structure to Carcassonne . After placement, players may then choose to claim the tile with one of eight followers or to leave it empty to save their followers for more useful locations.

An interesting addition to the rules is that any connected feature already claimed by another player may not be claimed again. The only method to gain control of a new feature is to first, claim an unconnected feature of the same type (e.g. a new road) and then connect both features together through placement of a new tile.

Scoring is simple – each time a specific feature has been fully developed – roads that meet, cities and monasteries that are completely enclosed – the player with the most number of followers claiming that feature scores all the points. At that time, followers return to the players hands except in the case of farmers who are only scored at the end of the game.

This feature provides the additional strategic element to Carcassonne – place too many followers down on unfinished features or as farmers and you’ll not be able to compete against other players. Don’t play them at all as farmers or concentrate on too few farming locations and you’ll lose as players claim highly prized fields.

Carcassonne is a very simple, easy to learn game that has good replay value and quite a bit of fun included. It’s biggest disadvantage (for some) is the lack of player interaction – competition of features must be through multiple placements and as such, you rarely need to interact with players. Also, some players do complain about the ‘luck’ element of drawing tiles; though in our opinion, this can be managed through proper use of the followers.

Small World board game review

Small World is meant to be a reworking of Vinci, but not having played the game before, I won’t comment on that aspect.  In Small World by Days of Wonder, the players control a variety of fantasy civilisations, growing them and gaining with their victories before finally abandoning them for a stronger, newer, more vital civilisation.  It’s a ton of fun, with some great production values that offers immense replay value.

Appearance: Small World is one of the most lavishly produced games that I  have seen.  With 16 different civilisations, each requiring their own set of counters and 2 double-sided game boards, Small World comes chock full of counters, items and fun.  An interesting (and useful) addition is the removable counter tray for the civilisation counters and the pre-set locations for the inserts.   The rulebook even has a recommended set-up for the civilisations and counter pieces, which makes things easy to set-up and pull from during the game and makes this one of the few board games whose insert actually made sense.  Both counter card stock and artwork is of the highest quality (so long as you enjoy that type of art) and leaves nothing to complain about.  Even the player aids are both useful and well designed.

My biggest complaint lies in the removable counter tray.  During gameplay, as civilisations grew and fell, counters would occasionally drop; lying flat in the bottom of the tray.  Once that happened, it became a problem actually getting the counter pieces out again because they were designed to keep the counter relatively snugly.   Admittedly, I’m not sure how else they could have designed the tray (well, without involving springs) but it is an annoying feature.

Rules / Ease of Learning:  The rules in Small World are quite easy to learn.  Players begin the game choosing from one civilisation.  Since each civilisation has its racial ability and a special power (randomised through a series of special tiles); each game is going to be different.  Once chosen, players will receive a specific number of population tokens (a number that is dictated by the race and special power) to begin the game with.  They then begin conquering locations on the board.

Conquering is a very simple matter – each new space costs 2 tokens plus any modifiers on the space plus any population tokens.  Generally speaking, it ends up costing 3 tokens normally to take over a new location, though careful placement can pump up this number to 5.

Once that is complete, player score and gameplay moves onto the next turn.  An interesting point of the game is that the first player does not change at all during the game – there doesn’t seem to be a need for this.

While the general rules are pretty easy to learn, because the game has a ton of special powers and racial abilities, it might take a little while for a new player to get comfortable.  The extremely useful player aid is a great help here, as well as the fact that each game finishes quite fast.

Gameplay: So what’s the gameplay really like?  The special power and racial combinations will definitely draw a chuckle at times (Berserk Dwarves and Pillaging Halflings come to mind) in Small World and gameplay balance is very good as well.  Certain combinations (e.g. Sorcerers and Flying) that seem to be particularly powerful at first can be quickly countered by other players which ensures that no single race/power combination is over-powering.  In addition, combinations that seem to be underpowered can often be exploited to great potential (Underworld Skeletons were a great hit!).

Strategic and tactical decisions occur quite regularly – from developing a single, powerful starting race and ‘turtling’ them to gain a constant stream of points even after retirement to which location to enter the board from.  Even the choices of the races and when to retire your race is very important, with players often caught on the horns of when to cut their losses and run.  This is particularly important towards the last few rounds when not retiring a race can leave a player severely outnumbered and out powered as new races surge onto the board in the final round.  However, if you’re gaining a good slew of victory points, it might be worth holding on ‘just a little longer’.

Small World is not a game where you can play alone; and there might be some problems for game groups that dislike high levels of direct interaction.  It’s a Small World out there and sooner or later, players will be forced to attack competing civilisations and harm other players.

Gameplay on each of the four game boards provided varies widely.  A three player board feels extremely crowded, even in the beginning rounds, while the five player game board becomes more strategic as players can avoid interaction for a while due to the sheer size and number of provinces to take over.

That is perhaps the most important part of Small World – the huge replay value.  With racial and special power combinations that vary each turn, and with forced interaction (but good mechanical balance), the game is definitely going to have a high replay value.  Add the cartoonish design and easy rules, and you could introduce this to most beginners and guarantee a good time.

Conclusion: Small World is a definite winner from Days of Wonder.  If you’re looking for a board game that is easy to learn, has a lot of replay value and just looks good, you won’t be disappointed.  Just make sure that those you introduce it to understand that this is an aggressive game of conquests, and be ready to play a second round so that players have a better ‘feel’ for the game.

European Distributor

Well, I’ve put in an initial pro-forma order in to both European Board Game Distributors to get an idea of shipping cost.  The estimated shipping cost so far is staggering – it’s 30% of the actual cost of the games.  And that’s without adding any brokerage charges in on this.

This is probably the largest risk we’ve taken in a while.  While it’s not likely to break us, it won’t make us happy if it doesn’t go well.   Obviously, some games we’re having to source from the German distributor (who we are finishing up the details of the order now).

Our initial order from the UK distributor is:

Ars Mysteriorum
Big Manitou
City and Guilds
Fagin’s Gang
Indonesia (2nd ed)
League of Six: Loyal
Opus-Dei: Existence After Religoin
Origins: The Age of Reason
Retinue (expansion)
Scepter of Zavandor

What do you think?

Bestseller list updated

We just updated our bestsellers list for April 2009.  As a matter of interest, here’s what the list looked like for March 2009.

1. Settlers of Catan

2. Stone Age

3. Dominion

4. Ticket to Ride Europe

5. Tannhauser Operation Novogord

6. Agricola

7. Pandemic

8. Power Grid

9. Battle Line

10. Memoir ’44

Interesting how some games that did well the month before have fallen completely off the list.   You can see why it makes stocking an eventful period for us – you just never know what’s going to sell or not.