The holiday season is approaching folks, are you ready? We are, well, we hope we are. One thing we do have right is our participation in the Little Boxes Black Friday and Small Business Saturday event. This will be our third year participating, and we love it. The team at Little Boxes works hard to make it worth your while to shop locally this season, and visit lots of local shops. Basically, when you make a purchase at one Little Boxes shop, you get discounts at all other shops for both days. Also, every purchase earns you raffle entries, and the raffle prizes are no joke, including a sweet travel package. For more information, stop by the shop, or check out this totally Portland instructional video. We have only one complaint about the whole thing, we are always too busy to go shopping ourselves, so we may just have to give one of you a list.
Now I recently celebrated my birthday with some great friends and an all day civilization gaming extravaganza. I love civ games above all other genre, and like many of you, I got hooked on them by playing Sid Meier’s epic computer game. Well, my birthday extravaganza gave me the opportunity to try out two new expansions for two of my favorite civ games, one for the BIG game Clash of Cultures, and one for the not so big game 7 Wonders, but the expansion does make it bigger. Both expansions were fantastic, and if you like either of the two base games, you will not be disappointed with the new material. I highly recommend hunkering down for a civ game extravaganza some time this winter with some appropriate drinks and great friends.
The New goodies just keep pouring in. We are getting the final pieces from Gencon this week, including Kanban and Sheriff of Nottingham. Both of these games were heavily allocated, so unfortunately if you did not preorder a copy, we won’t have one for you. Sorry about that, this is something our distributors are doing to ensure that all stores get copies, sadly it does mean that many stores get fewer than they ask for. This is why we stopped taking prepaid preorders. The industry is blowing up right now with great new stuff in high demand.
Have no fear though, we do have other new games to enjoy while you wait 6 months for reprints of Kanban and Nottingham. Last week we received Pandemic the Cure and King of New York. Both much lighter than the new games this week, but if you drop your ego and loosen up a bit, you just might find yourself having some fun, careful. If you do have something to prove though, we also have copies of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, one I have not tried yet but am very anxious to try.
Finally, lots of buzz about the possibility of Essen games releasing before the holidays. One podcaster claims there were 840 new games at Essen (it’s high tide gang), but only miniscule fraction of those will make it Stateside. So a few things about the buzz. First off, if you know you absolutely want a game, let us know so we can do our best to guarantee you a copy. Second, we know absolutely nothing about release dates, and neither do the publishers nor the distributors. We find out that the game is released the day it is available to ship to us, someday this might change (especially if Asmodee owns the industry), but for now that’s all we get, 2 days notice. Finally, Colt Express looks awesome, but beware, you will be playing as an evil bandit, so some reviewers and podcasters may find it offensive. No slave cards though (disclaimer, this is just a jab at the furor over Five Tribes, not a comment on slavery).
We’ll start off this discussion of wackiness with a mildly anticipated game that arrives today, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig. What makes this game wacky you ask? Well the Mad king himself, because he’s tasked you with constructing a castle using oddly shaped rooms with strange purposes. I’m hoping that we’ll see an expansion that involves laying siege to opponents’ castles with wacky weaponry. I am personally excited to play this game, so expect a demo/rental copy ASAP (speaking of rentals, I just added Camel Up, Subdivision, and the Battle at Kemble’s Cascade).
Want more wacky? How about a second podcast started by a game night regular? I mentioned many moons ago that a few of our regulars started a podcast called Punching Cardboard. I’m happy to report that the podcast is going strong, and at a breakneck speed of one episode per week. Some industry honchos have begun to take notice of these guys, and you might want to as well. But now, another of our customers, and an occasional guest host on Punching Cardboard, has started his own podcast with his wife and friend. They are still working on the wool over their microphones, literally, so right now we only have a sneak peak of what is to come, but check it out at the tatteredboard.com. I think I just heard the Xbox achievement sound come on for “Dos Podcasteros”.
Now I’ve got a wacky topic for you podcasters, why are publishers pumping out new games at an industry-killing pace while refusing to reprint great games that SELL OUT EVERY TIME THEY ARE MADE!!!!!! I recently played Carson City and found it to be an excellent worker placement game with challenging area control aspects. But guess what, this well-regarded game is completely out of print. Must be a trend with enjoyable area control games, like El Grande. What other great games make the list of not available in ages? Well, we’ve got Lost Cities, Lost Cities for crying out loud! Luckily we’ll be getting that back, but not before we get hundreds of other games that the publishers aren’t sure they can sell. Wacky. Caylus is another one that does not stay on the shelf long, but we only see about one tiny print run per year. This industry is just plain crazy, makes me pull my hair out into a Wonka-do.
How about more industry craziness, in the form of Marvel Dice Masters, and the shape of the new series, the Uncanny X-Men. This set recently graced our shelves, and window display, and way too much space in our storeroom. But guess what, now that supply is not an issue, demand is gone. When the first series hit, the product was selling like water at Burning Man. But now? Meh. So what does this mean? That the new color for the set, blue, is psychologically too relaxing and does not encourage purchases? That the word uncanny in the title makes people feel uncomfortable? Or is it that the game is only good if its not available? Bing, Bing, Bing, right answer Jim. Welcome to the game industry. Oh no, is this why I like Carson City and El Grande so much?
Oh boy, I might be losing it, so before I get too wacky wide-eyed I’m going to go listen to a few podcasts and get ready for a round of Mage Knight, it has a special way of calming me down.
It is time to celebrate folks, Cloud Cap Games turns 4 years old this fall, and we’ll be throwing a party on Saturday, October 25. Since we have all of you to thank for us making it this far, we’re giving you 20% off nearly everything on our shelves from Noon-7pm on Saturday. We’ll also have some sale tables with items at an even bigger discount. Come browse, you’ve earned it.
Then, on Saturday night, it is time to get our gaming on, because that is what we are in business to do. Cloud Cap was born in 2010, so all night we’ll be rocking games from that year. And boy was it a good year for games. There is a reason that the board game renaissance really hit its stride in 2010, and why that was the year we started to see the big box stores seriously begin to commit to carrying key hobby games. So go and search your collections everyone, especially for those sparkly gems that have not hit the table much.
Four years ago, we had the insane idea that people wanted more out of a game store than cases and cases of Magic singles and nightly Magic herd events. We wanted, and we bet a lot of money on the idea that others wanted, a game store that actually knew about all the products they sold, not just a single product line. We also wanted to create a gathering place for a broader segment of game players, and more importantly, a place that would foster a community beyond the games. The fact that we are here 4 years later, and planning on being here for years to come, says that, at least to some extent, we were right, and have accomplished our goals.
But I won’t lie, this past year has been a challenging one for us. We realized during the first quarter that we had overextended ourselves by running 2 game nights every week, and by the second quarter we made the difficult decision to cut our Saturday game nights. For a store that was designed to foster community, this was a counter-intuitive decision, but one that had to be made to maintain our energy. The first and second quarters were also flat, and we came to grips with the fact that our growth was stalling in large part due to our location. Even if we were the first choice store for many, in actuality we became their last stop. It also became clear to us this year that the brick and mortar retail model was on its way out, at least without selling Magic singles. When we opened our shop, we knew that online hobby game sales accounted for well over 70% of purchases, but this year we really started to feel the sting of Kickstarter taking even more of the pie. We’ve learned a lot from these fourth year challenges, and we are already attempting to adapt as we move into our fifth year.
It would be a bit of an understatement to say that earlier this year I was a bit disheartened about our performance. While still uneasy, small business owners are always uneasy I think, I am now much more excited about moving into our fifth year. One big reason for this excitement is our crew. Somehow we managed to get Kirsten full-time in the shop at the beginning of the year, and I think you all know what an asset she is to the business. Ben also joined us this year and has proven to be a stellar staff member and a friend. The loyalty of many of our customers is also encouraging, and their ability to step up and help out occasionally is amazing.
This week we will be meeting with an OLCC investigator to makes plans for providing alcoholic beverages, which we hope will allow us to expand our events without relying on inventory sales to fund them. We are also gradually moving online in an attempt to remove distance from the equation and offer our products to Portlanders who may be reluctant to make the trip to southeast Snoozewood. Our rental sales have grown quite a bit, and we plan on expanding that service throughout our fifth year. Finally, we will be looking for ways to offer more family events. There is massive demand for kids and family events, and we will be cautiously trying to meet this demand.
Thanks everyone, and please come party with us this Saturday! Now, I must go prepare for some Sunday Doomtown goodness.
We had a very busy day yesterday, with hardly a chance to stop and think, or take a lunch break. These days are fun and exhausting at the same time. Part of why I enjoy my job so much is the opportunity to geek out with people, to talk about games with the pros, or recommend and demonstrate games to the wide-eyed amateurs. The day also extended a bit into the night as we celebrated our inaugural Jigsaw Puzzle Swap. Thanks to anyone who reads this who attended; we hope you enjoy your new used puzzles and will join us for a second round soon!
At one point yesterday I came back from a break and saw a father and daughter in the game room with freshly purchased copies of Machi Koro and Imperial Settlers. Oh what joy! They were about to experience two very distinct but extremely satisfying game experiences. I was excited for them and thrilled that they chose to hang out and open their copies in the shop so I could watch their reactions. Over the course of a few hours, I witnessed an awesome interaction between this father/daughter duo. The father was overjoyed with his game purchases, and with the fact that his daughter was fully interested in opening and discovering the games with him. While they explored Imperial Settlers together (of course I had to watch and advise), I could see their joy continually rise as the depth of the game revealed itself. The father repeatedly stated how much he enjoyed the game. They cared less about winning or mastering the game. Like me, these two were finding immense satisfaction in the discovery of a rich set of strategic choices masked by a simple set of rules. They were geeking out, and I was vicariously doing the same.
At some point I broke out of my Hallmark channel moment and felt a bit weird. What was actually happening here? The neuroscientist in me took over and wondered how in the world exploring a new game could generate such pleasure, and furthermore how was I able to experience that same pleasure second-hand? Doesn’t it seem odd that we game geeks derive satisfaction from pushing cubes and cards around as we twist our brains into logical knots?
From both an evolutionary and biological neuroscience perspective, fundamental pleasures such as food and sex are easier to understand. Food and sex are essential to survival, so the brain darn well better have a way of rewarding their acquisition. All mammals have basic circuitry to handle these fundamental pleasures.
But what is happening when we play games, and why would our brains even bother to maintain circuitry that rewards activities like playing games? The evolutionists hypothesize that brains which reward complex analytic behaviors have a better survival rate due to increased adaptability. Makes sense, and if you look around you, there have been a lot of happy humans through the centuries solving puzzles to create better ways to survive.
Neurobiologically, a major difference between humans and other mammals is the size of the frontal cortex, especially the small region just behind and above the eyeballs, the prefrontal cortex. Our brain is like one of those RV units that sits in the bed of a pickup, and the prefrontal lobe is the sleeping area that hangs over the cab. It turns out that the basic pleasure circuitry found in all mammals has branched out extensively into all cortical regions in humans, but especially into the frontal lobe. And since the frontal lobe receives highly processed information from all sensory systems, it is able to analyze abstract patterns within our entire perceptual experience, so linking these analyses to our pleasure system allows us to derive satisfaction from behaviors requiring complex thought. I guess that provides a somewhat soulless biological explanation for why we geek out.
But as we know from Star Trek, pure logical thinking provides only so much satisfaction. Aristotle proposed that a person’s overall happiness relied on two different types of feelings: hedonia, simple short term pleasure, and eudaimonia, or the meaning derived from a life well-lived. Turns out that a large part of that eudaimonia thing relies a lot on social interaction and a feeling of place within a community. This explains why building my Doomtown deck is far less satisfying than actually playing the game with others. It also helps me understand why hanging out at a bar or a party just chatting is a often less personally satisfying than playing games at a bar or a party. Gathering with other people to play games fires off both the hedonic and eudaimonic circuits in the brain. It is the same reason playing in a band is usually more satisfying than making music alone in your room. It’s also explains why I no longer spend much time playing video games.
So next time you geek out during a game, see if you can feel more sparks flying just behind your eyeballs. Or not, and just enjoy the game and the people you are playing with, and try not to think about how weird you are for enjoying it.
Time to go to work, game on everyone!
Now I’ve never been much of a card player folks. In fact, I’m the sucker you invite to a poker game if you want some easy money, I never fold. I also had to cut my relationship with Magic the Gathering short when I did some basic arithmetic and realized that I would lose just as much money at Magic as I did at poker. Even relatively straightforward card games like Cribbage, Pinochle, and Tichu confound me because I just can’t seem to motivate my self to count cards.
Well, I just realized the other day that I have been playing far more card games during the last few months than board games, almost exclusively in fact. I think it started with Friday the 13th at the pub one night. I fell in love with that little trick-taking style game, so I decided to give Biblios a try. Loved that one too. Then Imperial Settlers dropped out of the funky air of GenCon and I was deep into the cards. I was so hooked on Imperial Settlers that I actually forgot it was really just a card game. A month or so later, I was introduced to Doomtown: Reloaded, and oh my wild west heavens was I hooked. The other night, I played a round of At the Gates of Loyang, another card game with a similar feel to Imperial Settlers, with equally cute wooden pieces.
Then, Friday night, Ben had to go and introduce me to the new Fantasy Flight Living Card Game, Warhammer 40K Conquest. I’m going to quote every one of Rahdo’s final thoughts videos here: OK, let me cut to the chase, this game is fantastic.” Conquest is stupidly simple to learn, serioulsy, it is ridiculous how easy the rules are. But that is where the simplicity stops. Conquest is largely a tactical card game with area control aspects, with some opportunities to develop strategies that span multiple rounds. But for the most part you will be attempting to control planets each round to gain income, destroy your opponent’s troops, and win the game. With 7 factions out of the base set, there are lots of awesome tactics to explore. Like any constructible card game, you’ve got tactics that allow you to manipulate your resources, deck and discard piles, and alter units in play. But you also get a whole host of tactics that affet unit mobility and area control. Fantasy Flight has produced a fine game here, it is unfortunate that their other fine game, Netrunner, may drive this game into obscurity in a few years. If you have any interest in tactical card games, give this a try. It is far easier to learn than Netrunner, and should have comparable depth once add-on packs pile up.
Now I did finally sit down to play an actual board game last night, Dead of Winter. This puppy has been hyped to mars and back, so naturally I expected it to be just another horror game where you have few choices to make and lots of random cards to read. I was wrong. Dead of Winter has plenty of interesting and enjoyable choices to make. Each person is in charge of a group of characters trying to survive a Zombie apocalypse. Each character has unique abilities and stats, yeah, so does every Cthulhu game on the market. But in Dead of Winter you have to smartly use a dice pool to activate your character abilities to control zombie hordes, deal with short-term crises, and work towards objectives. I only played it 2-player, so it was a fully cooperative game. Super fun, but the game will really shine with 3 or more players, each with secret objectives, and the possibility that one player is a traitor working against the team. Dead of Winter is not normally the kind of game I try to bring to the table, but I just might. The replay value is immense, with 30 unique characters and tons of objective cards. It also has the crossroad mechanic, which was sorta blah in the 2-player game but should be amazing with larger groups. We now have a rental so give it a whirl.
Game on gang!
Hello Cloud Heads, and welcome to the beginning of amazing gaming weather! The fishing is still great, but gaming season starts now. Bystanders, put on your orange or you may just get shotgunned by my gaming fervor!
But business first. As you walk into our silly little shop this week, you are going to be near blinded by a bright yellow sign on the window. This sign kindly says “These guys want to serve alcohol, do you trust them?” Definitely don’t trust me when my game craze is full throttle.
But what does this obnoxious sign mean for our shop, besides me visiting downtown more times this next month than all of last year? Well, we really want to create amazing events at the shop, but since our money comes from inventory sales, we obviously need a way to help cover the costs of running awesome events. You guys are all great, and we absolutely appreciate that you buy as many games as you can from us, but there are just physical limits to your collections. So relying on inventory sales to fund events only goes so far. And nobody is going to pay $5-$10 just to come play at a game store, especially one that is harder to get to than the moon. Heck, when we started the punch card last year ($1/person by the way), at least one person not-so-kindly informed us that playing at game stores after hours should be free. Some nut job started the whole play-for-free nonsense at their game store years ago and has doomed all future shops to running massive Magic tournaments just to pay for their play space.
Crud, I digress, the point here is that we really, really want to run awesome events and help create amazing communities, and stay in business at the same time. Now what is holding us back from hosting the most awesome events in Portland, besides our outpost location and limited play space of course? Food and alcohol. So we’re working on one of those right now. Don’t expect any massive changes at Cloud Cap because of this, except perhaps more awesome events.
Now for some games. The super incredibly hyped horror survival game, Dead of Winter, arrived this week, and somehow we still have copies. We’re your first choice, last stop game store, so the other guys must still have stock. And our price is cheaper than the online guys thanks to the extremely limited supply. Next week I expect a flood of people looking to buy 12 copies just to turn (won’t they be mad when we won’t let them). Anyway, I have not played the game yet, so let’s move on to a few games that won’t be flying off the shelves but maybe should be.
Five Tribes: Yes, there are lots of slavery cards in the game, and you will be playing these cards to help you. Days of Wonder tried to maintain the Arabian Nights theme of the game with the slavery mechanic, they made a terrible decision. But the game is fantastic, one that I kept craving well after each play through. The core mechanic is simple, pick up all workers from one tile in a 5×6 grid, then move them, dropping them off one at a time, until you drop your last worker on a tile with another matching color worker. Now do the tile action and the worker action. So simple, but in the early game when the workers from each tile can potentially end up in more than 6 different locations, the options can be hard to process. The key is to just make a play, possibly lose, then play again and again until you can truly be one with the matrix.
Doomtown Reloaded: I never played the original incarnation of this wacky constructible card game, but I have fallen in love with the reboot. See, I love a good meaty card game. I got hooked on the Lord of the Rings LCG by Fantasy FLight, but without anyone to consistently play with I lost interest. Now I’m hooked on Doomtown, and I spent all last night creating a deck that I’m sure will crash and burn, but it does have character. What is it about this game that gets me excited to build crappy decks? First is the theme, wild west steam punk, just crazy cool. Second is the area control aspect of the game. You move guys around multiple zones, and a single move can really mess with your opponent’s head. Finally, the shootouts rely on poker hands, so some randomness, but very fun. I’ve decided to start a regular gathering for Doomtown on Sundays, the first will be next Sunday at 1pm, so please come check it out.
Imperial Settlers: Still playing it, still loving it, still a bit imbalanced at times, I don’t care, I’ll play it again.
Alright, signing off, got some bookeeping to do before a long gaming session. We’ll hopefully see all of you this saturday night for our inaugural Metagaming night with an Italian theme. And please head over to the shop Sunday at 3pm to meet an adorable young lady who has written an entire fantasy novel, Magic the Crest, and will be demonstrating a board game based on her work.