New & Restocked Board Games : September 30, 2010

New Board Games:
Age of Industry
Down In Flames – Guns Blazing
Dragonheart
Hotel Samoa
Invasion From Outer Space: The
Warhammer: LCG March of the Damned Deluxe Expansion
Zombie Ninja Pirates

Restocked Board Games:
BattleLore! Horrific Horde Goblin
BattleStar Galactic Pegasus Expansion
Blokus Travel
Dixit
Gold Mine
Hex Hex XL
Hotel Samoa
Munchkin Quest
Munchkin Quest 2 : Looking for Trouble
Run for your Life, Candyman!
St. Petersburg
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Tien Zi Que
Tobago
Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow New Moon

New & Restocked Board Games : September 24, 2010

New Board Games
Adios Amigos
Don Quixote
A Game of Thrones : Kings of the Storm Deluxe Expansion
Gold Mine
Heartland
Hex Hex XL
Killer Bunnies Odyssey Combo Pack Animals, Crops & Land Starter
Killer Bunnies Odyssey Combo Pack Elementals, Energy & Technology Starter
Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey Animals Starter
Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey Crops Starter
Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey Elementals Starter
Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey Energy Starter
Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey Land Starter
Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey Technology Starter
Lords of Vegas: Dust, Dice & Dollars
Mad Zeppelin
Munchkin Cthulhu 4 : Crazed Caverns
Munchkin : Marked For Death
Summoner Wars: Fallen Kingdom
Summoner Wars: Vanguards

Restocked Board Games:
10 Days in Africa
Age of Conan The Boardgame
Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery
Agricola: Farmers of the Moor
Battlestar Galactica
Claustrophobia
Command & Colors Ancients (3rd Printing)
Cloud 9
Conflict of Heroes : Storms of Steel
Conflict of Heroes : The Marsh Expansion
Conquest of the Empire
Constantinopolis
Container 2 : Second Shipment
Diplomacy
El Grande Decennial
Field Commander – Rommel
Genoa
Last Night on Earth, The Zombie Game
Malta
Munchkin Booty
Munchkin Booty 2 Jump of the Shark
Munchkin Cthulhu
Munchkin Cthulhu 3 Unspeakable Vaults
Munchkin Quest 2 Looking for Trouble
Risk: 2210 A.D.
Settlers of Catan
Shadow Hunters
Tannhauser Boardgame
Tannhauser Revised Rulebook
Tannhauser Operation Novgorod Exp
Treehouse Rainbow Pyramids
Treehouse Xeno Pyramids
Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
Wasabi
Yspahan

New & Restocked Accessories:
Deluxe Wooden Farmer Set (25 pieces
Fantasy Flight Games: Black Sleeves
Fantasy Flight Games: Blue Sleeves
Fantasy Flight Games: Green Sleeves
Fantasy Flight Games: White Sleeves
Fantasy Flight Games : Red Sleeves
Gaming Stones Tube Light Blue
Gaming Stones Tube Red
Gaming Stones Violet
Munchkin Boxes of Holding
Summoner Wars : Premium Board

Marketing Trends & Small Businesses

I went to a networking function yesterday where a speaker was promoting his latest marketing book.  Boiled down, these were his main points from memory:

  • creating difference; not benchmarking
  • execution of strategy
  • delivering value
  • micro-targeting
  • epidemics
  • empowerment
  • relationship management

If you read marketing books & information in general, you might notice a number of terms that you’re familiar with.  There’s a reason why Sun Tzu’s Art of War is still being read to this day – there’s nothing new in strategy.  It’s just a different way of saying the same thing.

Not to say that there isn’t value in reassessing & reviewing things like this – it often triggers new ideas or reinforces old concepts that have fallen by the wayside.  Yet, one factor that frustrates me about so many marketing talks is the complete lack of focus for small businesses (especially existing small businesses).

The Difference of Small Business

More importantly – lack of capital, resources and economies of scale.  It’s fine and dandy to say split your customer base into a dozen segments, but if your customer base is only a thousand to begin with, you’re talking about market segments of less than a hundred.  Sounds good? After all, you can really meet each of their individual needs then.

Let’s say it takes me 2 hours to put together each monthly e-mail.   With a dozen segments, I’m looking at 24 hours just to write & code each e-mail.  That’s not even counting the time it takes to figure out (and make work) each individual promotion or value proposition for each of those segments.  Figure it takes 5 hours each total for that & the e-mail. That’s 60 hours a month, just dedicated to writing & coding an e-mail newsletter. If you figure about 176 hours a month available (8 hours a day * 22 days), that’s 35% of your time dealing with 1 aspect of your entire marketing plan taking up your time.  Not to mention the necessary resources in terms of software, segmentation & research required to just get those dozen segments.

If your micro-target here is 100 people, and your new newsletters convinces 10 people instead of 2 to purchase, you’re still only making an additional $800 in revenue per newsletter. That’s $9,600 in revenue for a dozen newsletters – or about $288 total profit (3% net margin).

Ascension : Chronicles of the God King Review

Ascension : Chronicles of the God King is a deck-building board game that has strong flavors of Magic the Gathering and Dominion in it.   It’s a fast gateway deck builder game that takes less than 5 minutes to explain and less than an hour to play.  Ascension is a good game that I believe has carved out it’s own niche in this fast growing sector of the market.

Appearance:  Ascension : Chronicles of the God King comes in a rectangular box that is about three times as big as it needs to be – except for the inclusion of the board.  The game itself consists of 200 cards, 50 tokens and the game board so there’s really no reason for the large box size except to ensure the board fits.  On a different note – the game artwork is actually pretty good.  There’s nothing exceptional here; but it’s nice and quite thematic and the use of ‘flavor text’ on the cards can be quite funny (e.g. the Burrower Mark III whose text is ‘Can You Dig It’).  Card stock is good which means that the game is likely to hold up to quite a few plays.

Rules / Ease of Learning:  Ascension is the easiest deck builder to learn – I’d say even easier than Dominion.  It took me less than 5 minutes to teach and set-up the game for our first gameplay.   The board is set-up with the Heavy Infantry, Mystic & Cultist on one side and the draw / discard deck the other with the six (6) cards that are the cards available to purchase in the centre.  Each time a card is bought / killed; players refill the centre row with cards from the draw deck.  The number of Honor (victory) Points available varies depending on the number of players in the game, with Heroes & Constructs having honor points at the end game as well.

Each turn, players draw 5 cards from their deck and then play them out, using the Runes (for purchasing Heroes & Constructs) or Power (for killing monsters) provided for their turn.  As a balancing factor, the Cultist is always available to beat upon for 2 Power and the Mystics & Heavy Infantry cards for Rune purchases.

One complaint is that in an effort to keep the rulebook simple, the designers seem to have left out a few important points.  E.g. The Cultist never dies; when (exactly) the centre row is refilled and what order rewards are fulfilled.  It’d be nice if they included an FAQ or rules clarification on these points.

Gameplay: Ascension : Chronicles of the God King is much more tactical a deck builder than other deck builders as players must learn to use the specific cards available on the board and in their hand to win.  While you can start the game with a general ‘strategy’ (e.g. deciding to buy Mechana Constructs, focusing on Heavy Infantry / heroes, focusing on a draw deck); the randomness of the centre row will dictate your actual gameplay.

The game is also quite fast – since chain of actions are unlikely (i.e. multiple draws); it’s unlikely that players will be waiting for any single player to draw through and play his entire deck like Dominion.

We had a ton of fun when playing, with the game very well balanced.  Even with a bad draw, thanks to the Cultist, Mystics & Heavy Infantry; there’s always something that a player can do to better his deck.   The Cultist in particular caused lots of grins as players would send their army to ‘beat on the Cultist for Honor‘.

However, there’s a few areas to note with Ascension.  You need to play (or perhaps just sit down and read through the cards) a few times to get an idea of potential combinations through the game. That does give more experienced players an advantage.

The randomness of both card draws and the centre row can give an unfair advantage to a player – but that’s true of most games with an element of luck.   It’s just that with Ascension, since there’s almost no ‘interactive’ cards, you can’t stop a player that you know is pulling ahead.

Lastly, the amount of ‘randomness’ in the game increases as the number of players increase as the centre row churns through at a faster rate.  That often means that players have to take a ‘wait and see’ attitude in larger groups as the cards in the centre row will have churned over most likely by the time it reaches them.

Conclusion:  Overall, I like Ascension : Chronicles of the Godslayer.  It’s a light deck building game that is easy to set-up, simple to teach and fast to play.  There’s certainly depth to the game here already and a good expansion should add more to this game.  It’s not going to replace Thunderstone as a meatier, themed game for me but I must admit, I do prefer it over Dominion.

Best Practices : Plan, Plan, Plan (3)

When it comes to running a business, you’ll find that many business consultants / teacher recommend putting together a business plan.  There’s a very good reason for this – it enforces a structured methodology for reviewing threats & weaknesses in the business model.   Here’s a few major things that a business plan allows you to do:

1. Get a Loan and/or Grants

Any institution that will provide you a loan will want you to have a business plan. There’s no guarantee they’ll give you one if you have one, but you won’t even be able to apply without having one.  A few of these institutions might even require you to go through their particular program when creating the business plan before they’ll loan to you.

2. Best and Worst Case Scenarios

When I plan for a year, and specifically when I budget; I normally do three scenarios.  A best case, worst case and ‘realistic’ case budget on my side.  As an example, I estimated a 50%, 10% and 25% growth rate this year for each of those scenarios, with concurrent changes in the variable costs of the business.  This gave me an idea if I could eat Ramen or Sushi through the year, depending on where we actually landed.

Personally, I hope for the best scenario but plan my expenses (i.e. my salary) around the worst option.

3. Forecasting capitilisation & cash-flow

Assuming you do a three year business plan, you can work you how much money you will need to keep the business ticking over even in the worst case scenario.  This is rather important since a large number of businesses fail in year one to two because of lack of capitilisation.  Sales are never as high as you expect and expenses always higher.

There’s another reason planning is important – cash flow for this business is very seasonal. November & December of 2009 was 33% of our entire total revenue for the year. Since the vast majority of our expenses are fixed (rent, advertising, legal & accounting, salary), this means that a large number of our expenses are going to be accrued through the year while the profits to pay for it is towards the end of the year.

4. Marketing, Logistics & Personnel Plans

So here you are, with a nicely forecast financial spreadsheet with an idea of where the business is supposed to go.  It’s time to derive the rest of your business plans – everything from marketing to logistics to personnel will be dictated not only by your budget but your goals.

Let’s say you notice that you get a huge bump in sales November / December but not much else going on throughout the year.  Maybe then it’s time to look at methods of increasing your sales (i.e marketing).   Perhaps you could have a sale in March / April – a ‘Spring is here’ event.  Perhaps during the summer months, you could target a variety of conventions; drumming up additional sales that way.  Perhaps there are a few league tournaments you could run in Fall that would help.

Personnel needs from flow this to.  More staffing during XMas obviously, but perhaps you need to get specific ‘convention only’ staff? Or maybe because of the longer hours in Summer, you could open the store later – meaning more staff too.

In any case, it’s the plan that should be letting you forecast these potential issues before they arrive.

Caveat

Don’t get caught up in planning forever.  There comes a point when it’s time to call it a day and start putting the plan into action. When? Sometimes it’s hard to tell – so that’s why you need friends.  See next Best Practice.

New & Restocked Board Games : September 16, 2010

New Board Games
Call of Cthulhu LCG Wailer Below
Folio Series: Aachen
Folio Series: Stones River
Guardians of Graxia
Sneaks & Snitches
Space Hulk: Death Angel Card Game
Steam Over Holland
Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries
The Dresden Files RPG V2 Our World
Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead

Restocked Board Games
Agricola: Farmers of the Moor
Amun Re
Back to the Future: Card Game
Bang! The Bullet
Burrows
Call of Cthulhu : LCG Core Set
Carcassonne Kids of Carcassonne (SA)
Cash ‘n Guns

Colosseum
Dice Tower, Wood Finish
Family Business (’08 Ed)
For Sale
Formula De (’08)
Halo Wars Risk
Hornet
Junta
Killer Bunnies Blue Starter
Le Havre
Masters Gallery
Memoir ’44 Winter/ Desert Board Map
Monty Python Fluxx Deck
Munchkin Fu
Musketeers
Mystery Express
Mystery Rummy 1 Jack the Ripper
Once Upon A time
Pandemic
Pompeii
Power Grid – Factory Manager
Puerto Rico
Ra BOARD GAME
Risk: Godstorm
Runebound 2E Avatars of Kelsnov Adventure Pack
Runebound 2E Champions of Kellos Adventure Pack
Runebound 2E Cult of the Rune Adventure Pack
Runebound 2E Shadow of Margath Adventure Pack
Runebound 2E Sands of Al-Kalim Expansion
Runebound 2nd Edition
Runebound Beasts & Bandits Adventure Pack
Runebound Traps & Terrors Adventure Pack
Runebound: Relics Expansion Adventure Pack
Shogun
Through The Ages
Tobago
Washington’s War
Wealth of Nations War Clouds
World of Warcraft Burning Crusade

Musings on board game sales & awards

You would think that Spiel des Jahres winners or games nominated for it would consistently sell well. However, that is not always true with games like Fresco and Magic Labyrinth continuing to be quite slow sellers, especially compared to other big sellers like Dominion & Pandemic.

Overall, just because a game is an award winner, it’s not guaranteed to sell.  It’s a mistake I’ve made a few times, which has caused us trouble too by purchasing too much stock.  I sometimes wonder why this is so, but thinking about it; I believe it depends on the full complexity and depth of strategy of the game.

Dominion & Pandemic are easy to play but have a lot of replay value and depth of strategy, while something like Magic Labyrinth seems much simpler and aimed at children.  My guess is that the market in North America (or maybe just my customers!) like more complex games.  Certainly, we sell a lot more of those quite often than the simpler, Children’s games.

What’s in a Name

Starlit Citadel‘s very much a compromise name.  When we were attempting to find a name for the company, we wanted something that didn’t just denote board games / role-playing games / card games; so we ran through a variety of generic ‘Game’ related terms like Game Center or Game Castle.  Heck, we even played with terms like ‘Dice & Dolls’ and the like; though obviously without much luck.

In the end, I was getting quite impatient to get the company going – I wanted / needed the backend set-up (along with various other bureaucratic issues dealt with like application to distributors, city council, etc.) so when Alison came up with Starlit Citadel, I just agreed to it.  It wasn’t horrendous, it wasn’t great but it worked.  Of course, I really should have known better.

Nearly 3 1/2 years later, some of my major concerns are coming back about the name.  It’s not easy to say (all too often I hear people go ‘Starlight Citad…what?’, it’s not easy to spell and it’s too easy to confuse.  So we get dozens of spellings, lots of people going ‘what…?’ and there’s no direct relation to our company name.

There’s an argument that changing it to something that’s easier to spell & say.  Still, there’s a lot of ‘brand’ built into the name already; and any change is going to confuse our old customers or people who have ‘met’ us before.  Then there’s the practical aspects – changing business cards, banners, logo’s, etc.  It’s probably not worth it right now, which is why I’m not going to do it.

Still, a word of warning to anyone looking to starting a business – take more time to work on your name and think about how badly it could be mangled over a bad phone line.

New & Restocked Board Games : September 9, 2010

New Board Games
A Game of Thrones: Rituals of R’hllor Expansion
Armorica
Burrows
Constantinopolis
Heroes of Graxia
Hornet
Lord of the Rings (Silver Line Edition)
Malta
Prolix
Serpents of the Seas
Ten Days in the Americas

Restocked Board Games
Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery
Bang! The Bullet
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Dwarves of Runegard Reinforcements
Battleground Fantasy Warfare: Men of Hawksfold Army Reinforcements
Bohnanza
Cardcassonne
Claustrophobia

Command & Colors Ancients (3rd Printing)
DungeonQuest
EuroRails 4th Edition
Family Business (’08 Ed)
Formula D: Expansion 1
Formula D: Expansion 2
Formula De (’08)
Masters Gallery
Medici
Munchkin Booty
Munchkin Booty 2 Jump of the Shark
Phantom Leader
Power Grid
Premium Wooden Train Token Set
Runebound Drakes & Dragonspawn Pack
Runebound Exp Weapons of Legend
Staying Alive Mystery Party
Steam: Rails to Riches
Tales of the Arabian Nights
The End of the Triumvirate
Twilight Struggle (’09)
War on Terror, the Boardgame
Wasabi
Wealth of Nations War Clouds
World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft Shadow of War

New & Restocked Board Games : September 2, 2010

New Board Games
Ascension : Chronicles of the Godslayer
Buzz It!
Back to the Future: Card Game
Battles of Westeros : Wardens of the West Reinforcement Set
Dresden Files : Your Story
Digging
Formula D Dice Set
Ingenious: Challenges
Modern Art the Card Game
Parade
Playbook Football
Scarab Lords
Showbiz Shuffle
The Sun Never Sets
Warhammer : Invasion LCG Silent Forge
Zombie Dice

Restocked Board Games
A Game of Thrones : Sacred Bonds Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones: A Time of Trials Chapter Pack
A Game of Thrones: the Tower of the Hand Chapter Pack
BattleLore! Horrific Horde Goblines
Battlestar Galactica
Camelot Legends Card Game
Carson City
Cartagena
Cash ‘n Guns
Catan Histories : Struggle For Rome
Caylus
Chrononauts The Gore Years
Cold War: CIA vs KGB
Dice Town
Drakon 3rd Edition
El Presidente – Cuba Expansion
Finca
Forbidden Island
Frontline D-Day
Ghost Stories
Guillotine Card Game
Iliad
Leaping Lemmings
Ligretto – Blue Set
Macao
Memoir ’44 Breakthrough Expansion
Memoir ’44 Eastern Front Expansion
Memoir ’44 Terrain Pack Expansion
Memoir ’44 Winter/Desert Board Map
Middle Earth Quest
Modern Art Revised Edition
Modern Society
Nostra City
Nuns on the Run
Onirim
Ra the Dice Game
Revolution!
Risk: 2210 A.D.
Roll Through the Ages
Saboteur
Say Anything
Shadows Over Camelot
StarCraft: The Boardgame
Summoner Wars: Dwarves vs Goblins
Summoner Wars: Elves vs Orcs
Tannhauser Boardgame
Thunderstone
Tichu
Tide of Iron
Titan
Treehouse Pink Pyramids
Treehouse Rainbow Pyramids
Treehouse Xeno Pyramids
Tsuro: The Game of the Path
Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition : Shattered Empires
Wasabi
World Without End
Zombies!!! 2nd Edition
ZOMBIES!!! 6 : SIX FEET UNDER
Zooloretto