Posted on October 19th, 2014

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.

Posted on October 12th, 2014

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!

Posted on October 5th, 2014

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!

Posted on September 26th, 2014

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.

Posted on September 5th, 2014

Many of you may have noticed that I was absent this past Saturday for one of our biggest sales of the year. This was not me playing a cruel joke on Ben and Kirsten. I was lucky enough to be invited as a speaker on a panel about 3D printing and tabletop gaming. “What in the world are you doing on such a panel?” was the question I received from more than a few friends and customers. I wasn’t quite sure at first, but Sara, the panel moderator, wanted to get a retailer’s perspective.

Well, the panel was amazing. Sara did a fantastic job of moderating, and I recommend you check out her blog (PvE Portland) for more of her great work. On the panel with me were David Perry, the creator of a 3D-printed electronic fiddle (check it in action here), Alex Dick, the designer of innovative 3D printing filaments (Proto Pasta), Arian Croft, a 3D printing enthusiast and game designer (Ill Gotten Games), and Jessica Goldsmith, the designer of a set of dice for the visually impaired (project here). The audience was massive, a few hundred people filled the seats. I had no idea how hot this burgeoning technology was, but gamers are into it. I got to sit next to one of Alex’s machines printing away at a bust of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy as we talked.

I feel like we all learned a lot through our discussion with each other and with the audience. I think everyone expected me to poo-poo the tech and talk about how bad it would be for retailer and publisher profit. But, in fact, I fought to stop using the term disruptive technology to describe 3D printing’s influence on the industry, and we came up with the term complementary technology instead. We’ll see a lot more use of the tech with gaming in the future, but the ability to customize or personalize your games will only help generate excitement for the gaming industry as a whole. Despite what Games Workshop thinks, the tech will probably not hurt their business anytime in the near future, unless folks want to wait weeks to produce inferior miniatures.

We’re going to try and schedule a 3D printing night at the shop, with Alex bringing a machine or two and printing some quick goodies while discussing the tech. We’ll also try and get David to talk with us and do some fiddling. And, of course, we’ll get them both into some games. Should be a unique evening. We’ll get Sara there as well to document the shindig and help up the geek factor! Oh, check out her sweet video of our silly little shop, you may just see someone you know.

As for new games, we’ve got two notable ones, Tragedy Looper, a cooperative time travelling crime-solving game brought over by Z-Man, and Doomtown Reloaded, a revised edition of a classic western meets magic tech card game. Technically, we can’t sell you Doomtown until Monday, but you can definitely come admire it. We won’t have the incredible premium set until next week though. There are a few other new games arriving, but they’ll actually be going straight to the sale table, so give that a gander if you swing by this weekend.

Finally, a few upcoming events of note. We’ll be hosting a puzzle swap on the evening of October 11, so grab a good quality puzzle that you’re done with and come trade it for another. There will also be mini-puzzle competitions and lots of swag provided by Pomegranate Puzzles. a few weeks after that will be our 4-year anniversary party on October 25. We’re still working on details, but 4 years is a big deal, so it will be a party. And, drum roll please, stay tuned for Last Saturday Metagaming at Cloud Cap. We’re going to bring back one Saturday night game night every month, with a twist. Again, details forthcoming.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Posted on August 15th, 2014

I don’t know if it is the brain sluggishness brought on by the heat, the increased summer workload at the shop, or my attempts to play outside as much as possible before the rains hit. But for some reason, I’ve been digging the lighter games lately. It could also be that we’ve had a few good ones hit our shelves in the past month. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the little guys I’ve been enjoying.

Friday the 13th: No, this is not a game about a troubled kid in a hockey mask terrorizing coeds. This is from the uber-brain of Reinier Knizia and it is a re-theme of his older card game, Poison. Friday the 13th has some large, attractively illustrated, and very hard to handle cards in 3 suits. The game feels like a trick-taking game, so card-counters will be in heaven. You will play cards to suited-piles, and if you tip the total over 13, you take the cards. Generally a bad thing, but great if you shoot the moon and have the most of a given suit. Simple and fun to watch those piles build to a point where one player is just outta luck.

Biblios: This is a re-release of a game that last sat on our shelves last year. Another example of a game that sold very well but the publisher decided to take a year to reprint it. Thankfully they did get some copies out, because it is a blast. You play 2 rounds, and much like the game For Sale, in the first round you collect cards, then use them in the auction during the second round. It all boils down to set-collecting, but you get to choose the cards that go in the auction and you get to adjust the final scoring for each suit. You won’t be able to play just one round of this one.

 

Lost Legacy: The Starship: This is another one of Seiji Kanai’s games with only 16 cards. Love Letter is his most famous, but Brave Rats is another one, and I’ve been forcing this one on everyone I can to fill tiny time gaps. In Lost Legacy, you simply draw a card, play a card, and try to deduce who has what cards. Ultimately you want to find the starship card to win. This is Love Letter with a teensy bit more choice and a theme that works. A perfect filler.

 

Seventh Hero: This is a borderline filler, as it is closer to 45 minutes in length. This game also got poo-pooed at the shop on the first try due to some rules arguments and just general lack of desire to have fun. I still enjoy it, largely because I like to watch the frustration in others when they realize they’ve been stuck in a no-win situation with the card I’ve passed around the table.

Now, my gaming time has not just been filled with these lighter games, although I’ve been playing more of them than usual. This past weekend though, I had the chance to attend the inaugural convention held by a long-time loyal customer whose interest is big, heavy wargames. I cannot say enough good things about this experience. Beyond the games, I had the chance to play with fantastic folks that I did not know at all before running the silliest game shop in Portland. This is why I opened the shop, to build a community of gamers, rather than just a group of nameless people playing games. Thanks to Ty for making this happen. As much as I’d like to do something like this at the shop, we are a business, and the shopping must go on, so I’m grateful I was able to get away to TyCon 2014. Here’s what I played:

Roads and Boats: It’s big, and sorta heavy, but it is not what you’d consider a wargame. That did not stop 1 of the players from trying to turn it into one. Roads and Boats feels like a civilization game, but with opportunity to send your donkeys and geese out to the fields to do some baby-making. Yeah, there are some interesting ideas in this nearly-impossible-to-find game, but it is really an industry-building and pick-up-and-deliver game with a malleable map and a whole host of paths to try.

 

Here I Stand: Holy Hand Grenade! This is a monster of a game. We’re talking 3 different games in one really. Here’s the tagline: ‘the first game in over 25 years to cover the political and religious conflicts of early 16th Century Europe’. Boy, why did it take them 25 years to make another one? Well, because there is so much going on in this game. I played as the Protestants, so for about 6 hours I did nothing but fight the Papacy for the hearts and minds of the good people of Germany and translate the bible into 3 different languages. During this time, on the other side of the table, France, England, and the Hapsburgs were battling for space as well as for treasures from the New World. Oh, and then the Ottomans were making pitiful pirating attempts along the Mediterranean coast. This is a game you need to play 6 times so that you can try each faction, because they are all very different. In the end, 10 hours later, God won, perhaps only due to exhaustion. Truly an epic game that belongs at every TyCon in the future.

Hope all of you have been playing some sweet games. Clear your tables and balance your checkbooks for next week, because the first of the GenCon beauties should be arriving. Rumor has it that Imperial Settlers will be in the shop by next Wednesday, and after playing its predecessor, 51st State, I cannot wait! We’ll see what other excitement arrives. Happy gaming folks!