Changes to Local Pickup Hours

One of the biggest benefits of having recently hired another full-time employee is that we can now have staff at the office on a regular basis. As a result, we’ve finally managed to do away with the appointment system for Local Pickups and extend our hours.

From now on, customers wanting to pick up games in person instead of paying shipping costs will be able to do so any time from 12pm – 6pm, Monday to Friday. No appointment is required; simply wait until you’ve received a confirmation email informing you that your order is ready for pickup, and come visit us during those hours to get your games.

Our office is located at 311 Rear W Cordova, in the alleyway between Cordova and Water St.

We’re hoping that these new hours will make it easier for customers who live farther away from Downtown or work irregular hours to make use of the Local Pickup option. Let us know what you think!

Guest Review : Tales of the Arabian Nights

Tales of the Arabian Nights CoverHow many board games provide an experience entirely unlike any other?

Very few, it must be said. Many new board games have clear ancestors, and an experienced hobbyist is able to describe most new games by describing their mechanisms and where they’ve been seen before. “It is a worker-placement game like Caylus,” he might say of one new title, “but with area-majority competition like in El Grande and a card-drafting mechanism similar to that of Notre Dame.”

This is difficult to do with Tales of the Arabian Nights. It is mostly in its own genre, a competitive experience game with a strong storytelling aspect and a challenge resolution system similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books. And while the game has a long list of issues one can objectively raise, the experience it provides for players of the right mindset can more than make up for its shortcomings.

In Tales of the Arabian Nights, each player assumes the role of a famous protagonist of Arabian legend — Ali Baba, Sindbad, Scheherazade, Aladdin, Zumurrud or Ma’aruf — and will travel the lands beyond Arabia seeking adventure. The winner is the player who can first fulfill his Destiny and Story point requirements, chosen secretly at the start, and be the first to return to the starting point of Baghdad.

To begin, each player selects a character, receives a random quest, and chooses three starting traits that define their aptitudes (such as Storytelling, Luck, and Piety). They receive a player aid and a cardboard stand-up pawn which starts on the board in Baghdad. On a player’s turn, he will move a number of spaces (determined by his current wealth level) in any direction he chooses, usually in a direction that helps him complete his quest. The space he ends movement on will have a value between zero and six, which represents how exotic the location is — the value is highest for remote locations far from Arabia.

Then the player draws the top card from the encounter deck. These could be locations, or people, or monsters, or mini-quests to visit a certain city, but all will have a number on the bottom which corresponds to a look-up table. The player rolls a die and adds to this the value of the current location, and a neighbour finds the exact nature of the encounter in the look-up table. For example, the card may show a wizard, and the roll determines the trait of the wizard — angry, tricky, insane, etc.

At this point, the player makes a decision on what action to take. The player aid gives a list of several possible reactions, such as Converse, Attack, Steal, Hide or others. The player simply chooses one, then another look-up table will give yet another number, which corresponds to one of over 2000 paragraphs in the massive Book of Tales. One final die roll may add or subtract one from this number, so making the same choice multiple times in the same situation does not guarantee the same result. Finally, another player reads out the paragraph, describing the results of the player’s actions and any rewards or penalties they receive. Having a particular trait will often change the result, usually (but not always) for the better; however, the traits often do not correspond to the action chosen. For example, choosing the Rob action does not mean that the Stealth & Stealing trait will help you.

Besides the brief story told, the encounter will also change the player’s state. This will almost always result in receiving Destiny and Story points, bringing the player closer to his goal, but can also include a change in wealth (affecting movement), the acquisition of new or more effective traits, treasures so rare that you touch the treasure deck maybe one game out of six, and statuses that both help and hinder… usually the latter.

You can go insane, become mind-controlled, enslaved, pursued by someone who wants you dead, envious, lovesick, crippled, lost, even sex-changed. Over the course of the game, you could have all of these happen to you. While there is humour in terrible luck, it can be hard to keep track of how all these conditions affect your turn and how one can be rid of them, and a player who gets many of these will have difficulty achieving victory. I prefer using a variant included in the rulebook that limits each player to one status each — gaining a new status replaces an existing. This makes it easy to lose conditions that cripple your chances of winning.

The game is playable from two to six players, but note that there is a great deal of downtime — individual turns are long, and the randomness makes useless any attempts to strategize between turns. With game length typically at 40 minutes per player, a game with the full player count of six will seem interminable. I recommend four players at the most, with two or three being ideal. The game’s length and downtime are major drawbacks, to be sure, but if the player count is kept small and players take an interest in each other’s encounters, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The fun in the game comes in having random experiences and having a shared laugh at the results. Like other experience games, enjoyment depends largely on the group one plays with. The goal is to experience the world and have a story to tell at the end, and a bad story can be more memorable than a good one. You’ll want to play with people who can laugh at their misfortune and not get hung up on
winning or losing.

This is an absolute must, since it is not possible to play the game “better” than someone else. The encounters and their results are completely random, and choosing the perceived “best” action for one’s traits (such as choosing Attack when one has Swordsmanship) does not seem to increase your odds of having a successful result. The winner will be the one with the most good fortune during the course of the game, so do not play this game with very competitive players or sore losers.

There are many “flaws” one can objectively raise, and they are even qualities that I cannot stand in some other games, such as long playtime, excessive downtime, inability to plan ahead, and the complete randomness of the results of one’s choices. And yet, to me, this is one of the most engaging games in my collection. The encounters in the game have unexpected, even unbelievable, results, and my game group is quick to share in laughing with, or at, a player’s (mis)fortune.

The artwork in the game is remarkable, some of the best in my collection, and is incredibly evocative of the theme. The theme itself is very approachable, as well, and I’ve found even players who turn their noses up at typical “swords and sorcery” settings will get into the experience of exploring this accessible fantasy world. People who have read the original stories will get an extra level of enjoyment out of the game, but even if you haven’t, the presentation and writing quality makes it easy to picture yourself in the story. And what a story! While there isn’t an arc that builds over the game, and is instead a random series of unrelated events, the writing is of such quality, and the topics themselves so fascinating, that you feel as one imagines the characters would feel, as if swept away to an unexplored, magical land where anything can happen.

I play Tales of the Arabian Nights only occasionally, and am quick to turn it down in many situations — such as at a table with five or more players, or with people I don’t feel are of the right mindset — but if the conditions are just right, this is one of my favourite games to pull out. Though I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I heartily recommend it for those seeking out a unique, approachable and memorable fantasy story experience. In this genre, as small as it is, it is the very best.

Say, did I ever tell you of the time I encountered a mystical efreet? It is a fascinating tale, and it begins with a bargain I struck with a lovesick enchantress…

Pre-Orders & Capital

Our Pre-Order Shelf
Our Pre-Order Shelf at os October 16, 2011. No laughing at the sloppy build job.

That’s our current pre-order shelf as of Tuesday, October 16, 2011. All the pre-orders that we have that had games on the order outside of the pre-order itself. That’s obviously doesn’t include single game pre-orders.

As you can guess, that’s a lot of product and a good 70% of those haven’t been charged. We generally don’t charge products unless a customer uses PayPal, at which point we don’t have a choice.

It’s an interesting phenomenon created by our Free Shipping offer – customers buy in bulk so they don’t have to pay shipping.  They don’t have to ‘pay’ to reserve the games, so it creates a good incentive for them.

Figure there’s about 30 orders, 3 products an order, a cost of $20 per product – that’s $1,800 in capital or $1260 not charged approximately. That’s nearly 3% of our inventory capital that’s not being used. We can’t turn it over and worst, all those products have to be ‘bought’ again so that other customers have to purchase it. That means, we’re looking at doubling the capital investment.

However, it becomes a major problem only when a game gets delayed numerous times (e.g. Catacombs and Twilight Struggle this year); leaving us with a slew of games sitting our shelves.  Then we end up with:

  • Insufficient space – notice the additional white shelves we had to create to hold our pre-orders
  • Need for more capital (remember, we have to continually purchase these pre-ordered games) over and above any budgeted amount
  • Customers cancelling orders, leaving us with ‘extra’ stock.  Especially bad when it’s a slow-selling game.

In fact, pre-orders like this end up being a dual-subsidy – for customers and publishers who ‘pre-sell’ these games. The fact that some of the major US online game stores don’t have such a lenient games policy says a lot about whether customers ‘care’ whether they get charged immediately or not.  On the other hand, charging customers immediately leads to its own problems(the customer service hours dealing with the few unhappy customers can add fast; not to mention the potential repercussions on our reputation).

When looking at our policies, it all comes down to capital really.  Would that $2,500 or so be better spent somewhere else? Would charging the customers immediately allow us to improve the site, generating even more revenue?  We could buy more new, hot games or pay for  more upgrades to the site? Perhaps we could do more advertising or sponsorship to get new customers?

When running a business, these type of questions always crop-up.  There aren’t any ‘right’ answers – just a lot of guess-work.   The best you can hope for is watch what other peoples do and

Hiring & Business

It’s amazing the sheer amount of work that goes into hiring someone. Never having had to run the entire process from start to finish, I never really realised how tiring it is and why it becomes so important to reduce your hire rates if at all possible.

I thought I’d list out the individual steps we have to deal with here.

  • Defining the Job
  • Defining chain of commands and management
  • The Job Post
  • Short-listing candidates
  • The Interview Process
  • The Offer Letter
  • Calculating Salary & Withholding’s
  • CRA & the WCB
  • Training (and prior to that, documenting processes for training)
  • Internal Evaluations
  • Job Confirmation

Once that’s all done, you’ve got an employee.  Now it’s the everyday day-to-day management.


Guest Review : Glory to Rome

Glory to Rome - CoverIn Glory to Rome, you play the role of a Roman aristocrat overseeing the rebuilding of Rome after it is destroyed in the Great Fire. You will do so by directing the reconstruction, gaining influence by completing buildings – or by unscrupulously selling building materials on the side, like any successful businessman. You may notice a warning on the package that classifies Glory to Rome as a “seriously strategic card game.” This caveat is best taken seriously, as someone looking for a quick, light card game would be completely swamped by the complexity of this fairly unique game.

Glory to Rome is a seriously strategic game for 2-5 players that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to play, depending on the number of players and the distribution of cards.

Appearance: At first glance, Glory to Rome seems to be a silly card game with childish art and strange packaging. The game’s appearance is a subject of some debate in the board game community – some bemoan the art and colour palette, while others are willing to overlook it.  The card art is somewhat childish, using mostly primary colours and a cartoony drawing style. Possibly in response to the criticism of the art, the designer of Glory to Rome is releasing a “Black Box” edition that completely revamps the card design to make it more aesthetically-pleasing. This new edition will also replace the plastic clamshell packaging with a proper box.

However, one should not let the garish colours of the original Glory to Rome get in the way. The player board, while it is perhaps a bit too big, is very helpful as a reference card. The appearance of the cards themselves is well-designed in terms of mechanics and playability, which is what really matters. The cards are multi-purpose, which each card serving as a role, a building, and a resource. The cards will often be tucked under different sides of the board as they are played, revealing only the pertinent side.

Glory to Rome - Full game setupRules/Ease of Learning: The rules of Glory to Rome are not very complex in and of themselves. If you read each individual role card and read the building abilities, you’ll understand most of them pretty quickly. The card interactions – and trying to keep track of everything that you have done, are doing, and want to do – are another matter entirely. The rulebook contains instructions for a “Beginner’s Game” that excludes buildings from the game entirely, in case new players need a practice game to get the hang of the turn order.

The order of play is as follows. Players are dealt a hand of five cards which will serve as “role” cards for the initial phase of each round. The starting player chooses a role to play (or “lead”), which dictates what actions may be taken that round. Other players may play a matching role card or wild card to “follow” that action. Alternately, any player may “think” when required to lead or follow, which allows them to draw up to their hand limit, draw one card if they are already at their limit, or to take a wild card.

All gameplay in Glory to Rome stems from this first round, which is simply a modified role-selection mechanic. In a nutshell, you potentially have six roles to choose from which allow you to gather resources, begin the construction of new buildings or add materials to existing construction projects, attack your opponents to steal their cards, sell building materials for end-game points, or attract clients to work for you. One must be careful, though – wherever you lead, others may follow.

As the game progresses, players will require buildings, which do a wide variety of things that may modify the execution of roles. When you decide to start construction on a building, you play the card from your hand during an Architect or Craftsman role. However, there must also be an available building site. If there are no available on-site locations, you must use an off-site location (which costs two actions instead of one). Buildings also give you influence, which governs how many clients you can hire and how many pilfered goods you can hide in your vault.

This is where the real chaos and complexity of the game comes in. In addition to keeping track of your own buildings’ abilities, you must also keep an eye on the buildings your opponents have completed, as they may have a huge impact on the round. Noticing that playing a certain role might allow your opponent to gather every resource on the board or steal one of your clients might change your mind about playing that role.

The game ends when all of the on-site building sites have been used, or when the deck runs out. In either of those cases, the player with the most influence wins. There are also two cards that can trigger an early end to the game – one allows players to score as normal, while the other grants victory to the player who satisfies a certain condition.

Glory to Rome - Mid-game player board 2Gameplay: At the beginning of the game, things seem fairly simple. You play roles, get some small benefits, move on. Then you start to think about combinations of card powers and the order in which you’ll have to play your roles, and things get tricky. Then you mix in several other players who are all competing for the same resources and building sites while trying to steal cards from your hand, and things get chaotic.

I’ll be completely honest with you – your first few games of Glory to Rome will probably be frustrating. Mine certainly were. The game requires a level of multitasking and attention to detail that is rarely seen in most European-style board or card games, primarily due to the high level of player interaction. During your first few games, you probably won’t pay any attention to other players’ playing areas. Don’t worry about this. It’s absolutely normal. Assuming they are also beginners, they’ll be too busy with their own play areas to worry about what your buildings do. After a few games, you get a better idea of what the buildings do, which will make the game more complicated – because you’re always going to agonize over the added benefits your opponents receive when they follow your roles – and less surprising – because you won’t wonder why your opponents are suddenly drawing up to nine cards per turn, or why they stole your clients and turned them into resources.

I would strongly recommend that your Glory to Rome learning experience be a two-player game. The two-player game is much less complex than any other number, and allows players to really get to know the way the cards work. Once you have a handle on the mechanics and gameplay, try it with three or four players.

While I do appreciate a chaotic game, I personally feel that Glory to Rome is best played with three players, though I do recommend it as a two-player game as well, even for veteran players. Popular opinion, on the other hand, seems to point to four as the optimal number. Five is much too chaotic , even for my tastes.

Conclusion: All in all, Glory to Rome is an enjoyable and surprisingly strategic card game. If you enjoy heavily strategic card games such as Race for the Galaxy, you might enjoy Glory to Rome and its interesting take on a classic role-selection mechanic. As I said at the beginning of the review, though – don’t let the appearance fool you. Heed the warning on the cover. This is truly a “seriously strategic” card game.

Video Teasers

As those of you who follow us on twitter might know, we’re in the process of creating a series of video reviews. We’ve seen the first drafts and are in the process of having them done up; but we thought we might tease you guys a bit:

Here’s the Intro as done by Rob from Phasefirefilms (our video director and producer).

This is a short video bio from Kaja; our employee:

And one from Joanna from Standard Action; a fantasy-comedy web series for geeks.

As a partial backgrounder; we met Rob & Joanna during Cos & Effect and started talking video reviews.  Once we realised they were (a) real geeks and (b) had a video production company; we decided to continue the conversation to see if we could get together to put together our often-stalled video reviews.   Lots of scrambling between doing VCon, the scripts and general day-to-day operations and we’re nearly ready to release the videos.

On Categorising Games

I’ve recently been playing with the backend of the site in preparation for a review of our sales / margins / turn rates and a redesign of the website.  Among other things, I’ve been trying to categorise our income streams a bit further from ‘Accessories’, ‘Games’  & ‘Shipping’.  In that process, I’m also trying to figure out what is usable for us as a backend category and what customers use when searching for games (other than just a pure search function of course).

We start running into an interesting problem of categorising when you realise that many games can fall into a strange in-between category.  Here’s a few examples:

Dominion / Thunderstone / Ascension

All driven by cards, so technically a card game.  However, our distributors often have them listed as ‘Board Games’ when we search / hunt for them to repurchase.   And in many ways, they seem to be creating their own ‘category’ of games – deck-building games.

Dust Tactics & Tannhauser

Dust Tactics is a miniature game, and that seems to be the general consensus – it’s very similar to other major miniature games (Warhammer 40k, Blood Bowl, etc) in that you can purchase individual squads and ‘build’ your army for each mission / event.

What do you call Tannhauser though or Okko? Miniatures or board games? The base set is packaged as a board game; but each expansion is an individual unit.

Living Card Games & CCGs

Theoretically, these are two different categories with slightly different models.  However, from a distance they all seem the same – card based games that have regular releases that can be added to the base game and/or other expansions to create new decks.


Now here’s another interesting category.  What’s a ‘wargame’.  If we accept that Okko is a board game and not a miniature game, should it then be a ‘wargame’ or another category entirely? An ‘adventure game’ maybe? If so, what do you consider an adventure game?

Realistically, many of these categories only matter to us internally but some thought would be useful.  After all, if I start looking at the ‘wargames’ section and seeing the turn rates are low; it might just be because Tannhauser and it’s associated items are selling poorly and not the rest of our ‘wargames’.