Survey Results (2) : the One’s that Didn’t Make the Cut

When we conducted our survey for Starlit Citadel, there were a few comments that we found rather interesting, which we thought would make interesting discussions.  I’d like to post them here for your comments, especially if you see a comment or point that you’d definitely like to see us look into.

Community Involvement

We currently host gaming tables at VCon, Cos & Effect (the new Cosplay convention that’s replaced Anime Evolution) and GottaCon.  We are probably going to host a table at BottosCon as well and regularly donate games to both Can’t Stop the Serenity and the Diabetes for Gaming events.   We have also provided games to 1 Elementary School and 1 Camp at reduced prices to help promote gaming.

That being said, I’m not sure what else we could do to help promote gaming.  We don’t have a physical storefront to host regular gaming nights, nor do we have the human resources to regularly host one even if we did rent a place.  I am looking into developing a forums for the site to allow customers to interact and find one another, but outside of that, I’m tapped for suggestions.

German Imports

This is a tough one.  There’s 2 problems here – firstly, the last time we tried this, we found the cost of importing these games to be prohibitively high and the actual demand low.  Secondly, because I don’t speak German; it’s really hard to set-up and read the regular e-mail newsletters here.  However, I’m willing to give this another go if there is a high enough demand for this option.  Is there?

Product Comparison

A request was made to do side-by-side product comparisons (like what you’d see on most computer store sites).  We actually have the functionality on the site, currently turned off.  Turning it on would (a) clutter the website further and (b) slow-down page load time.  Is there interest for this functionality to be turned on?

 

Survey Results : Answering the Comments

As many of you know, we recently ran a survey and on the last page of the survey, we had a section that was an open comments section.  Many of the requests actually fell into the same subsets, so I thought I’d answer those as best as I could in this blog-post with the changes we’ve already undertaken / will undertake at Starlit Citadel or why not.  Don’t worry if your comments aren’t listed here or were positive, we saw them and will try to meet them if it’s feasible this blog post is to answer the majority comments as best we can :

Site Navigation & Design

Generally, comments on the site fell into the following categories:

  • Improve Search
  • More Product Information (release dates, recommended number of players & BGG ratings)
  • More varied Reward Points
  • More and better customer reviews

Changes:

  • A pair of new search modules that allows searches on information pages and autofills product information
  • Adding a new reward point option for creating tags

Forthcoming:

  • Adding a new ‘Expected release date’ page to the site
  • BGG ratings & rankings (might take a while, this requires coding!)
  • More product pictures.  This project is the next one slated after we finish building out shelves (about 2 weeks or so at current rate of progress)
  • Adding new promotional items for reward points and varied discounts. I’ll be field-testing some with regard to shipping to see if the code holds up.

Limitations

  • Well, sadly we can’t make customers review games, we can only incentivize them to do so.  It certainly seems we have been getting more reviews lately as we grow our customer base, so here’s hoping it continues to do so.
  • We also have an extremely large database of games currently, so updating any single information source (e.g. recommended number of players) takes a lot of time.  About 2-3 weeks of constant work.
  • Any work that requires coding is limited by the expense of working with our developers to create the custom code, so changes like that often occur in batches.

Local Pickups & A Storefront

There were a few areas that were requested with regard to local pickups:

  • easier scheduling
  • extended pickup hours
  • purchasing at the warehouse
  • a physical storefront / better location

Changes:

  • We set up the Google Appointment calendar so customers can schedule their own pick-ups.

Forthcoming:

  • We will undertake a trial run of some extended pick-up hours later this year during the Christmas season. Depending on the response, this might be extended to an on-going basis.

Limitations:

  • Cost.  The location we have is the best trade-off we could find between a convenient location (near the Cambie line & Skytrain) while keeping our costs low.  Sadly, we do have to give up a few things (like a proper entrance) for this trade-off.
  • Our current software is just too slow for order placement at the warehouse itself.  In addition, issues like cash handling and stock management come into play if we allowed this to happen on a regular basis; never-mind the fact that often we have orders that have to be packed before Canada Post / FedEx arrives.

Pricing & Shipping

Not surprisingly, the comments in this area boiled down to:

  • Lower Prices
  • Lower Shipping (or Free Shipping Thresholds)

Forthcoming:

  • In a few weeks, I’ll begin testing out the possibility of using Reward Points to discount shipping (or to reduce the Free Shipping Threshold).
  • We’ll be adding a regular sales special to the site as soon as we figure out how to automate some of the work of running the sales.

Limitations:

  • Capital investment.  Balancing how much of our profits go back into reinvesting and increasing our stock and how much to pay our on-going bills is a constant battle.  We currently have one of the largest selections of games in Canada, and are constantly increasing this selection.  We could lower our investment, and thus lower our prices but our selection would suffer.

Last Thoughts

We had a lot of fun reading all the comments, and while the survey could have been designed better (sorry about that !), we did glean a lot of valuable information.  We will probably be sharing extracts of that later on as well.

In addition, look out for a second post about individual comments that didn’t make the cut here, but that we found interesting.  We’d love to get your feedback on both the comments in this post and there as well.

Best Practices: Keep Learning (11)

The world is changing, new technology and new business processes, new competitors and new legislation make it a constant process of learning for us all.  Unfortunately, as the business owner, it often falls on to you to keep up to date.  When everything is your responsibility, it’s difficult to focus on the things that really matter.

Here’s my short-list of areas I attempt to keep up to date on all the time:

Competitors

Rather obvious, but I check-out Starlit Citadel’s competitors on a regular basis.  What are they doing that I’m not? What do they stock that I don’t? Am I missing a trick there?

It’s worth looking at indirect competitors here too – Amazon & Chapters are mainly indirect competition to me.  Yes, they stock board games, but that’s not their focus.  Yet.  On the other hand, they have a lot more marketing muscle than I do, so watching what they do can often great best practices to emulate.

Marketing

Both a personal interest and a competitive need, I keep up to date on the latest technologies and trends.  I add technology here because things like Smartphones and iPads have started to change the way our site is being used.  It’s high on our list of things to do – getting a mobile version of Starlit up.

Legislation / Bureaucracy

Not something I want to keep up to date on, but changes in EI / CPP / taxes all impact our business, never mind licensing and other factors.  Thankfully, changes are rare here and the government is pretty good on sending out information pamphlets when things do change.

Products

With all this learning, reading and research, sometimes it’s easy to forget that you need to actually learn about the products you sell.  It’s a common complaint on my side – I rarely play the games I like more than a few times because I am always looking to play new games to increase my product knowledge.

Business Books

On top of these areas, I try to pick up a business book a month and read through them.  Well, I average one a month.  These books can be on anything from warehouse management to purchasing to accounting to a beginners book on corporations.  The goal is to add or refresh that knowledge base.

Ongoing Site Modifications

There have been some improvements to the site, both on a usability perspective as well as additional options for use.  I thought I’d list them out here if you missed them:

Local Pickup Appointment Calender

We now have an appointment calender powered by Google.  If you have a Google Account, you can just log-in to the calender and book your appointment directly if you have a shipment confirmation.  This seems to be working quite well, with less calls to us and customers able to manage the appointments themselves.

Reward Points for Tagging

As a new way to get points, if you log into your account and tag products, for each approved tag, we will give you 5 reward points.  Hopefully, this will make navigating easier for customers.

Survey

Don’t forget we still have our survey running.  It’s a great way to get a 5% off coupon code and your comments and answers gives us a direction for improvements on the site.

Product Quantities

You might also have noticed that we’ve decided to make product quantities in the warehouse live.  We hadn’t done it before due to competitive fears, but have decided that customer convenience trumps our fears.

Search for Pages

We’ve added new functionality on the site to allow searches on our article / FAQ / etc. pages.  This should make it easier for customers to find information about things like what to do with our Reward Points or our Local Pickup policies.

In addition, we’ve added a new module for Search that should make searches better.  If you type the first three letters of your search, a list of related items will appear immediately to auto-complete your search.

Frequently Bought Together / Customers Who Bought This Also Bought

We’ve also finally gotten the automated code installed on the site that provides upsell / cross-sell information direct from our database of actual sales, so hopefully this information is now more useful for customers.

 

Arkham Horror : A Game Review

Arkham Horror is the classic horror board game printed by Fantasy Flight.  A pure co-operative board game, players play against the board in an attempt to stop the Ancient One’s from rising and taking over the world.  Arkham Horror is a classic for a reason – it’s chock full of theme, it’s mechanics are generally well balanced and the game has a ton of replay value in it.  There are issues, but it’s definitely a game to be tried out by any serious Ameritrash gamer.

 

 

Appearance: Arkham Horror is a well designed, large game.  Even though it comes in a standard board game box of 12″ * 12″ * 6″, the game is quite heavy as there are a ton of cards, boards, monster chits and pieces.  As you can see in the picture to the left, there’s a lot going-on.

However, the game is overall quite well designed, with easy to read cards, a well laid out  map and cool character arts.

However, let’s discuss the minuses – there’s a lot of cards.  If you are looking at sleeving the cards (and yes, they will start looking worn) it’s going to cost quite a bit.   In addition, there are a ton of tiny pieces from your skill markers on your sheets, the clue markers, the monster chits, etc. so get a series of ziplock bags ready.

Rules / Ease of Learning: I won’t lie to you here, Arkham Horror is a relatively complex game.  There is a lot of rules to learn, with the main part broken up into two parts – the rules for dealing with your character & his actions and the board rules (monsters, their movements and how they appear).   If you are learning the game the first time, it’s easiest to learn with another player teaching you just the character rules.  If you are teaching, just teaching the rules for the character will make starting the game and finishing it easier – though it does mean you’ll be handling all the rules yourself.

As a player, in Arkham Horror, you are provided a character in the beginning.  Each character has a set of 3 linked stats that they may adjust at the beginning of each turn based on their ‘focus’ ability (i.e. amount that each stat can be adjusted).  These stats dictate the ease a character may complete a task, with some characters more suited for certain tasks.  In addition, each character receives a special ability.

During their turn, characters may move around the board in an attempt to locate more clues and initiate encounters, they may use special abilities on the board or even enter gates so as to eventually close them. To aid them in this, characters will be able to purchase or find items, gain retainers, take out loans or even gain specific professions throughout the game.

At the end of a player’s turn, a mythos card is drawn and the card dictates movement of monsters, the opening of gates and the release of even more monsters and the movement of the terror track.  If too many monsters appear, the citizens flee Arkham and locations close.  If too many gates open or the players run out of time, the Ancient One appears and players may have one last chance to ‘punch Cthulhu in the face’ to win.

This is the extremely short version of the rules, there are additional rules on how many clues are placed, when they are placed, which cards to use, how movement in outer gates occur, but all can be found in the rulebook.

Gameplay: Alright, so we’ve discussed the rules, but how does Arkham Horror play?  As a ball of highly thematic fun.  Arkham Horror is chock full of theme, from the descriptions in the card to the way characters go insane to how hard the overall game is.   It’s also quite a long game, with a game taking at a minimum two hours with experienced players, but more likely three to five hours for most games.

Each turn, there’s a lot of agonising decisions and the use of a die roll for many of the results keeps things tense.  It often feels like you won’t succeed at winning, and it’s quite possible you won’t; but that’s in line with the entire Lovecraftian mythos anyway.  The fact is, the journey is what makes the game fun and Arkham Horror provides that in spades.  The fact that at a certain point, players will have to decide to focus on shutting down the gates or potentially fighting the Ancient One in combat adds another layer of complexity to the game.

So what are the bad parts? Set-up time is high.  Actual game length is high.  It’s not an easy game to teach (though not the hardest); but there are a lot of moving parts.  There is the possibility of one player coming to dominate the game and the other players action (though the complexity of the game itself helps reduce this potential) like most co-operatives.

Lastly, there are balance issues – one game could have gate after gate appearing, shutting the entire game down in only a few rounds.  Another balance issue deals with the characters – some characters are just much more powerful than others.  For some players, being stuck with a lousy character can make the game quite unfulfilling.

Conclusion:  Overall, Arkham Horror is definitely a fun co-operative.  It is still a classic co-operative game and stands up well even after the release of so many more co-ops recently.  It continues to provide hours of fun for game groups around the world and is a game that players need to try at the very least.

 

Best Practices : Jack-of-All-Trades (10)

You know the saying, Jack-of-All-Trades, master of none? Well, as a business owner especially at the onset for a small enterprise like this, you’re much better off being a Jack-of-All-Trades.  There are a ton of basic skills / knowledge areas that it’s worthwhile getting a familiarity with; if not mastery.  Here’s a list of a few:

Carpentry / Plumbing / Painting / etc. DIY

If you’re running a retail store, I bet it’s even more important, but understanding the basics of all the above could save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.  Here’s just a few things we’ve had to deal with already : unstopping a sink, dealing with leaking tap and our own shelves.

Bookkeeping / Accounting

Understanding the basics of these and how it relates to your business will save you a ton of trouble in the future.  In fact, learning to do basic bookkeeping is quite useful – no one else will understand your business as well as you do, and that is often the difference between inputting the right information into your accounts.  Whether you outsource this or not, make sure to have someone professional at least set-up your accounts in the beginning and walk you through it if you don’t understand the various capital / inventory / expense / revenue lines in your P&L and Balance Sheet.

Btw – I don’t suggest doing your taxes yourself.  At least in Canada, the corporate tax filing system is quite thick and complex.

Marketing

Yeah, marketing is important.  Simply defined, marketing is anything you do to get & keep a customer. It’s an art and science and unless you specialize in it, you won’t be as good.  Still, understanding the basics of marketing in your area is important – if nothing more than to ensure you aren’t taken for a ride when you do hire someone. So, pick up an introductory textbook to understand at least the basic strategies and if you’re in retail, ‘Why We Buy’ is a must-read.  So’s Guerilla Marketing, though realise it’s written for a US audience.

Legal

I don’t expect you to know the intricacies of the law, but understanding the differences in business types (private vs public companies, limited or self-owned businesses and partnerships) as well as the various intricacies of owning a corporation like shareholder agreements, articles of incorporation, the various shares in your company will hold you in good stead.  In addition, it also means you’ll be able to file the routine paperwork necessary.

Purchasing / Logistics

Purchasing is the mainstay of any retail business.  Get this one wrong and you’ll destroy your own business.  Get it right and you have a chance of surviving.  Here’s a few things you might need to learn : What are turn rates? How many copies of a game should you get? What are the delivery times between distributors and costs? What is an acceptable stock-out rate for your business? And how do you pack a box properly – the sizing requirements, the amount of fill and packing tape among others.

Human Resources

Human resources covers both the soft skills of managing employees and the hard skills of the legal requirements.  There are a ton of legal work in hiring, some of them in BC include WorkSafe BC, EI, CPP, Taxes, payment remittance and the T4 forms.  It can also include looking into things like company wide benefits and hiring.

Sales & Customer Service

Do I even have to explain why? Sales does require practice, so if you can do it on someone else’s dime, that’s always good.   Learning the basic skills in querying customers, upsell’s & conflict management goes a long way in keeping your bottom line healthy.  My general go-to when selling in-person is to ask what the customer what they are looking for, then check off questions on theme, game group size, complexity and length of time.  Any previous games they have played and enjoyed are another great resource for narrowing down choices.

Information Technology

These days, a minimum business requirement is a website.  You can of course get someone to design & code and update your website for you, and if you don’t have the basic skills here it might make sense.  Still, knowing at least how to update your site for current news like events, new games & important announcements will make the site much more effective.

However, basic IT skills also includes things like setting up your Internet connection, wireless router & payment center.  Being able to trouble-shoot the basic problems with your internet access & printer will save you a ton of trouble.

Conclusion

Those are all the main skills I can think off right now, I’m sure others will chime-in.  While money fixes a lot of problems, if you’re a small business, money is always tight.  I’ll discuss cashflow & the P&L sheet later on to help you understand why.

Product Quantites & More Points

Played with the site design a bit more today, fixed a few bugs so you should be able to see if a product is out of stock immediately and if something is a pre-order and the number of pre-orders made on a product.

In addition, product quantities are now live.  They should be mostly correct (barring stocking errors) so there should be less overall confusion.

Lastly, we have now added  points for tagging products on the site.  Log into the site via your account, tag a product.  If it’s a tag we have already approved, it’ll automatically be added.  If it’s not, we’ll have to review the tag and approve it before you get your points.  You will get 5 points per tag approved.

Stone Age Board Game Review

Stone AgeStone Age isa light worker placement Euro game that uses dice to add an element of randomness to the game.  This is a great introductory board game for new players and plays in an hour to an hour and a half.

Appearance: Stone Age comes in a typical 12″ * 9 ” * 4″box with slots in the box for everything.  Fortunately it seems quite well designed and everything fits in nicely.  The game board is quite cute (watch the huts especially) and well designed with thick cardboard counters for the huts and player boards as well as good card stock for the cards available.  Of course, the most fun part is the leather dice cup that comes with the game for rolling.

Rules / Ease of Learning: A beginner Euro game, Stone Age is pretty easy to learn / teach.  Players start with 5 tribe members and take turns sending them to tasks each round.  Each task can fit a specific number of tribe members (ranging from 1 to 7 normally); so players have a lot of options available in the beginning.  There are 3 ‘special’ tasks (agriculture, tool making & the birthing huts which must have 2 tribe members sent) that provide in-game bonuses.  In addition, tribe members can be sent to gather food or resources or to build huts (cards for points with resources) or gather civilisation cards (resources and end-game points).

While gathering resources, players roll a die for each tribe member sent.  The resulting total is divided by the difficulty of the resource e.g. 2 for food, 3 for wood, etc.) and rounded down.  That is the amount of resources the player will get.  t the end of each round, players will need to feed their tribe members, so players will have to balance resource gathering for points and food gathering throughout the game.

The game ends when either the civilisation cards or a hut stack runs out.

Gameplay: Stone Age is quite a fast game to play with simple mechanics to teach.  The first round or two in a new beginners game will be slower, but after that most games pick-up.  There are a few distinct strategies that crop-up (buying civilisation cards, dominating the wood or agriculture developments) but part of the fun of the game is developing in areas that other players are not focusing on.

The addition of the dice helps make the games more interesting, adding a level of randomization and unpredictability to Stone Age.  In addition, with two differing methods for gaining points and only a small number of workers; players have to manage both the development of their tribe members, their feeding and resource collection while heading off potential problems (e.g. another player attempting to end the game early).

Conclusion: Overall, Stone Age is a fun beginner’s Euro game. It’s easy to teach, there’s a lot of replay value in the game itself and it plays fast so that it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.  It isn’t a very ‘deep’ game and more serious Eurogamers would likely find the game boring after a while, but it’s certainly one of  my favorite beginner board games.

Bestselling Board Games & Pre-Orders : July 2011

Alright, the June 2011 most desired pre-orders & bestsellers are now on the site.

As always, here’s a record of the May 2011 bestsellers & pre-orders.

Bestsellers

7 Wonders
7 Wonders

1. 7 Wonders

2. Lord of the Rings LCG Core Set

3. Twilight Imperium : Shards of the Throne

4. A Game of Thrones Core Set

5. Dixit

6. Dominion

7. Dominion : Big Box Edition

8. Settlers of Catan 4th Edition

9. Survive : Escape from Atlantis

10. Troyes
Pre-Orders
Dominion : Cornucopia

1. Dominion : Cornucopia

2. Pandemic

3. Twilight Struggle : Deluxe Edition

4. Catacombs

5. Dixit : Odyssey

6. Carcassonne 10th Anniversary Edition

7. Rails of New England

8. 1830s : Railways & Robber Barons

9. None But Heroes

10. Gosu : Kamakor