What Sells a Game?

Lately, I’ve been playing a few new games (Ora & Labora, Forgotten Planet & Leviathan to be exact) and it struck me how different each of these games are in terms of prices, themes and contents.  Combined with my own research recently into what games sell,I thought I’d write a little article about what drives the sales of a game, especially on a first impression basis.

Disclaimer – the following is completely my own opinion, barely backed up with any numbers.

a) Cover Art

Cover art is important.  Art in general is important (prettier / nicer it is; the better generally) but good cover art makes people pick-up a game.  When we are at conventions, it makes a huge difference of which games we’ll display and which games a customer will pick-up, look over and consider.  Without good cover art, you never even make it to the ‘this looks interesting’ phase.

b) Pretty pieces

Leviathan does pretty pieces so well.  Yes it’s more expensive; but there are certain segments of the gaming population who’d buy a game just for the pieces.  Same with Dust Tactics or many other FFG games.

c) Box Information

One of the most frustrating things I run into all the time.  Box covers that provide no information on the game.  Minimum information required is:

  • No. of players
  • Age range
  • Game Duration
  • Photo of game-play & pieces

d) Box size / Price / Weight Ratio

We instinctively expect more pieces, more weight when a game is more expensive.  If you have few pieces, but are in a large box, we almost feel cheated especially if the price is high.  I had that with Forgotten Planet. It doesn’t matter how good the game is, I expected more considering the cover price.  On the other hand, Ora & Labora has a nice heft to it.  You ‘know’ that you’re getting a good deal, even before you play the game.

No it’s not logical, but it it does seem to play out quite a bit.

e) Themes

Themes seem to have a strange relationship to sales.  Some customers buy into products / categories based on theme – they’ll specifically ask for ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Science Fiction’ games.  On the other hand, a lot of our bestsellers are more real world or generic in themes – e.g. Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Pandemic.

I think it’s a matter of tapping into bases.  With a highly themed SciFi / Fantasy game, you get those interested in that genre but might miss out on everyone else as the theme is restrictive.  On the other hand, more ‘generic’ themes might not restrict your base but you then have to compete with a lot more games too.

f) Play Time

Looking at our sales stats, I have to say; the vast majority of our bestsellers play within 2 hours.   In fact, a good portion of them (7 Wonders, Forbidden Island, Dixit) play in less than an hour.


Video Review: Summoner Wars

Today, we’re reviewing the highly popular and expandable card-based skirmish game Summoner Wars. With its short set-up time and streamlined rules, it’s very fast to learn and play, and the large range of expansions make it both replayable and customizable.

If you’ve been enjoying our video reviews and want to help us make more in 2013, please head over to our IndieGoGo fundraiser page to make a donation (and get perks!) before November 24th, 2012.

Belfort Game Review

Belfort CoverBelfort is a worker placement / area control strategy game from Tasty Minstrel Games.  It’s a Euro game that seems to try to do too much and none of it particularly well.  Belfort ends up dragging and never being as fun as it should be, especially for the amount of time we spent playing the game.

Appearance:  Belfort uses a cartoony theme with fantasy dwarves, elves and gnome’s and a robust colour palette.  Unfortunately, some of the colour palette options aren’t very good (example – the violet pieces fade right into the Keep); while the board itself doesn’t have a lot of contrast to make it easy to find items.  In addition, the game comes with all its pieces unstickered so you’ll find yourself spending a good 10 minutes before playing placing stickers on your pieces.  Also, the pieces used are all plastic instead of the normal wood which makes the pieces slippery and annoying to play with.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Belfort plays in two parts – the worker placement first portion and the second area control / actions portion.  In the worker placement stage, players may place their elf or dwarf workers in the resource areas, guilds, recruitment center or flags for position. After that, they collect their various resources; with players with a majority in the resource centers gaining an extra resource.  During the area control phase, players must acquire property cards to play them to gain control of these properties.  By gaining control of these properties, players can score points during the scoring phase of the game.

Overall, there aren’t a large number of rules to learn and none of the rules are particularly complex.   You could probably teach the game in about 10 minutes to a group of experienced gamers.

Gameplay: Outside of the actual appearance of the game, this is the other location Belfort falls short.  By being both a worker placement and area control game and by splitting each portion up significantly; the game has a tendency to drag.  The entire game is played sequentially instead of in parallel and players have to evaluate their decisions constantly based on the actions of the other players.  In addition, as the game progresses each turn takes longer and longer as the number of decisions / placements players can make grows exponentially.

In the start, players only have 6 workers and can only likely build one building a turn.  By the end game, it’s easy to have 10 – 12 workers to place (with only 1 figure placeable a turn) and be building 2 – 3 buildings.  Each building must be carefully reviewed for placement to gain the most points, while ensuring it gives you the necessary income for scoring.

In the end, the game just drags; since each turn takes a while and players are left waiting.  Perhaps the game would have been better with the worker placement / area control portions better integrated.

Conclusion: By now, you can guess I’m not a fan.  I find Belfort to be a below average Euro.  If I want a worker placement game, I’ll play Stone Age.  For an area control game, Revolution just does it better.  And if I want a heavy Euro; Ora & Labora is faster and much more fun.

In sickness and in health

Actually, let’s just call it in health.  As might know, in Canada (British Columbia in particular); there’s no legal requirement to provide your employees sick days.  Many companies do as a matter of course, though they often limit the sick days to a set number – 5 being the most common that I’ve come across.  Otherwise, if you fall ill you either suck it up and go into the office or take a vacation day and heal.

At Starlit Citadel, our salaried employees have an unlimited number of sick days.   Sounds generous doesn’t it?  It’s actually not – it’s purely a matter of hope and practicality.


The hope is that by allowing employees to take the time off that they need to recover; they do not become plague monkeys and take out the entire office.  I say hope since as last week showed, it doesn’t always play out that way and we can still all fall ill.


There are numerous studies out there that show that providing employees sick days (unlimited in particular); you improve office morale and actually increase productivity.  It’s better to have an employee working at 100% all the time with a few days off rather than 60 – 70% for 2 to 3 weeks because they are struggling with the flu.

In addition, never forget to discount the plague monkey effect.  An employee who is sick who comes in can easily pass on that bug to others in the office, increasing the number of sick days / lack of productivity all across the board.  Again, taking last week as an example – we had to shut the entire office down on Thursday as we were all sick.  That’s a huge loss in productivity and most of us are still under the weather too.


One of the greatest concerns when you offer an open-ended policy like this one to employees is the concern of abuse.  It’s a valid concern, but one that can be somewhat misleading.  My view is simple – if you aren’t hiring people who are passionate / dedicated about their work, then you run a danger of abuse. So don’t hire them.

I know, it’s easier said than done.  For us we have the advantage of being in a fun industry; so finding passionate individuals is less difficult than say, a fast food chain.

Of course, there’s also the opposite side of the equation.  If they are too dedicated, like Troy, sometimes they’ll still come in when they shouldn’t and then all your good policies get put to waste.  That then is a failure on the management’s part for not enforcing the spirit of the policy.

Video Review: The Resistance

This week, we’re reviewing The Resistance. It’s a great party game that makes use of the same traitor mechanics used in popular titles such as Battlestar Galactica and Werewolf, and boils them down to their gritty essence.

Do you find our videos useful? Entertaining? Help us keep making them in 2013 by supporting our IndieGoGo Fundraiser! It’s running until November 24th, and we’re on the way to our $7000 goal, but need your help to get there.

Revolution Game Review

Revolution is an area control board game by Steve Jackson Games that uses a blind-bidding element to let players gain control.  It’s a fast game to learn to play and a fast game to play, which makes it a great game for more casual board gaming groups or as a filler.

Revolution!Appearance: Revolution! comes in big, bright red and black colours and a cartoony design.  There’s really not much in terms of artwork here, and the design is mostly minimalistic and does the job it’s meant to.  Card, map and chit stock are all good so there’s nothing to complain about here at all.  It’s just not outstanding either.  I do like the fact that all the game rules are printed on either the player blind or the player boards as a handy reminder.

Rules / Ease of Learning: In Revolution, each player starts their turn with 3 Gold, a Blackmail and a Force. They then must place their bids on a maximum of 6 different characters on their own player boards.

Players then simultaneously reveal their bids with bids resolved in order from the top left right and down.  In Revolution, Force trumps Blackamil and Gold while Blackmail trumps Gold.  Multiple tokens may be used on a single character, with the player with the highest bid winning the character and his influence for that turn.  In the event of a tie for the highest bid, no one wins the character that turn.

Characters in Revolution! can influence the game in a number of ways from providing additional tokens (Force, Blackmail or Gold), influence in a location, points or other more devious options like removing influence tokens from the board or swapping them around.

Once all the character’s have been resolved, players who have less than 5 tokens collect the remainder in Gold; such that each player starts with a minimum of 5 tokens (all Gold if necessary!) and a new turn begins.  The game ends whenever the game board is completely filled.

Gameplay: Revolution! plays fast as there are only a limited number of options and generally only a limited number of tokens to bid with.  As such, each turn moves quickly.  The game is also easy to teach; with the majority of the strategy one of deducing what each other player’s strategy is for that turn.

The player who manages to pick (by luck or strategy) the most number of characters to influence unopposed generally wins.  The game format isn’t particularly difficult, with the democratizing effects of trying to guess everyone’s choices each turn sometimes destroying even the smartest players.  Unless you’re a professional poker player or psychologist, reading 3 – 4 players and deducing where they are going to place each of their tokens is going to be impossible.  As such, quite often you’ll just be guessing and going with the best possible option.

Conclusion: Revolution! is very much a filler or party game.  There’s just enough strategy to make it a good warm-up but not really enough for a serious gaming group for a long session.  On the other hand, it’s good to pull out with non-gaming friends and its simple ‘rock-paper’stone’ mechanics are easy to teach to anyone.

The lie of the infinite shelf space

It’s that time of year again, when stock from GenCon & Spiel starts arriving in droves and we end up wondering where we are going to keep all these games till Christmas. Right now, we’ve got a ton of games just sitting on the floor waiting to be sold; stocked up for the holiday season because we know we won’t get anymore.

It’s not just shelf-space of course, it’s also inventory capital that gets limited. We scramble to find sufficient capital to stock up for Christmas, knowing that we’ll sell through most of these in a few months and probably reduce our stock significantly afterwards.

And that’s the lie of omission right there. Not every game will hit the shelf..

Oh, everyone knows this on one level or another. However, it’s not something that’s ever said to publishers, and it’s certainly not something B&M Stores trumpet. After all, one of their major arguments is that they provide a space for customers to physically see and sometimes demo games. However, if a game doesn’t hit the shelf (i.e. is never bought); it will never be demo’ed. And B&M stores are much more limited than online stores in their ability to purchase and stock a wide variety of games.

Why? It’s actually quite simple.

Firstly, most online stores end up specialising (CCGs, Board Games, Miniatures); allowing them to go in-depth into one category. We are mostly a board games store; with a slowly expanding RPG & Miniatures section. On any given day, we have over 2,000+ board games in-stock.

Secondly, our shelf space is cheaper. Our online shelf space (a product page) is negligible in cost; while the physical space is physically cheaper to rent. So we don’t have to optimise revenue per foot as tightly as a B&M.

Thirdly, we have a wider audience base. We often end-up with the customers who no longer can find the games they want from their local B&M store. Those with exotic or disparate taste. So we can afford to take chances on less well known games, bringing in 1 or 2 copies on the off-chance that they’d sell.

Video Review: Eclipse

With the 3rd printing of this extremely popular game and the release its first expansion just around the corner, excitement is once again building for Eclipse. Here’s our review of this excellent addition to the space-exploration/4x genre.

There’s still lots of time left on our IndieGoGo Fundraiser, so please do check it out and make a donation if you’d like to see these videos continue — and grow — in 2013.

Video Reviews – Season 2 Fundraiser

As our first year of producing Starlit Citadel Reviews videos draws to a close, we’ve been hard at work crunching the numbers and planning for 2013. After a year of self-funding weekly, high-quality review videos, we’re trying something a bit different, and are reaching out to our viewers for help in making another season of Starlit Citadel reviews happen, while continuing to make our own substantial contribution to the project.

By the end of 2012, we will have released a total of 58 videos, or about 1 a week since we started last October (with a hiatus in December – January because of the busy shipping season). The frequency of the videos has been great, allowing us to provide quality new content for the site and engage with our customers — and a broader audience — in a much more personal fashion than is usually possible for an online business. We’d love to continue with that pace of production, but the costs have become a little too steep, especially when you factor in the cashflow needs of a growing business that’s been increasing its staffing and looking at physical expansion (my god, do we need a bigger warehouse!) to better serve customers.

As a result, we’ve committed to funding 26 new episodes for our second season, or a release rate of 1 video every 2 weeks. While this will allow the videos to continue and provide a good amount of content, it does little to address the requests for “More!” that we’ve been getting so often. To that end, we’ve launched an IndieGoGo fundraiser to help bridge the gap between what we can fund, and what our viewers want to see.

Our base funding goal is $7,000, which would fully cover the production costs for another 16 videos: 12 regular episodes, and 4 themed and holiday specials.

The intent of this campaign is to put together as many new videos as we can manage, and to get our viewers more involved in the process by providing new fan-centred content such as the special episodes, giving out perks to all of our contributors, and reaching out to viewers who aren’t Starlit Citadel customers (a sizable chunk, since 78% of our viewers live outside Canada).

We’ll be posting regular updates directly on the fundraiser page, and will be adding new promo videos to the YouTube channel in addition to our regular releases. Let us know if there are perks or stretch goals that you’d like to see us add to the campaign, and please don’t hesitate to spread the word to your friends, family and gaming group if you want to see even more of our videos. Thanks for your support!

On Revenue Growth

When I’m thinking about how to grow the business, and specifically how to grow revenue I often find it useful to break down Revenue to it’s components parts.  The basic formula for revenue in an online environment for a specific period is:

Revenue = Number of Sales * Avg. Sales Value

Break it down further, it becomes:

Revenue = (Number of Visits * Conversion Rate) * Avg. Sales Value

That equation can further be broken down into:

Revenue = (Number of Unique Visitors * Avg. No. of Visits) * Conversion Rate * Avg. Sales Value

Aiieeee!!! Maths

Not really.  You certainly can work out any business’s revenue if you had all these component parts, but as a business owner you think of them more as levers.  You push on them to increase Revenue, which is generally a nice thing. We’ll get into when it isn’t a good thing soon…

So let’s talk about each of those components in more detail.

Visits: Visits are simple – it’s the count of every single warm body (or eyeball in our case) that visits the site.

No. of Unique Visitors – instead of counting each warm body that comes into the door, you’re counting each individual. So if a customer likes to visit you twice a week, and your period is a week, he’d only be counted as 1 Unique Visitor. Simple no?

Avg. No. of Visits –  Let’s say you have 10 customers, each who visit you twice a week.  And 10 customers who visit you once a week.  Your avg. number of visits would be 1.5 per unique visitor.

Conversion Rate – This is the number of customers who actually buy compared to those who actually just visited

Avg. Sales Value – Relatively self explanatory.

Pushing the Levers

So, how do we push the levers? Well, let’s see:

No. of Unique Visitors – this is the simplest and the one most people think about.  It’s worth remembering that you have both new visitors and return visitors.  New visitors can be increased by Advertising, Public Relations, Social Media, etc.

Return Visitors are a bit more difficult.  These are generally your existing customers – so good customer service, regular e-mails,rewards programs, etc work well in keeping the customers we have.

Avg. No. of Visits –  Here, your goal is to increase the number of times someone visits your site.  The general idea of course is that the more time someone spends in your store / website; the more likely they are to buy.  How do you do that? For an online store, it’s by hosting good content.  The blog, the videos, reviews, etc all contribute to this.

Conversion Rate – This is a huge topic; but at its simplest you are looking at removing any obstacles your customer might have before and during the purchase process.  So, helpful video reviews or customer reviews, trust signs like PayPal, a good Privacy Policy all contribute to making the purchasing process less painful.

Avg. Sales Value – Upsell, upsell, upsell.  This is obviously easier in-person than online, but there are things we can do.  Offering sleeves if you’re buying Dominion, expansions for Arkham Horror, related products are all ways to increase your average cart and thus increase revenues.

Manipulative? No…

All kidding aside, the goal of any good retailer is to make you spend more money in their store.  Sometimes, it’s for the good (e.g. pushing sleeves for Star Trek : Fleet Captains because we know the sleeves are thin), other times we’re just enablers.  The trick of course is to make sure we never get too pushy and put our customers off.