Posted on December 26th, 2014

Now I’m not technically a kid anymore, but that is just a technicality. There is still a rather big kid in me who knows that this is one of the greatest weeks of the year. This special week between Christmas and the New Year is a free week, the last of the year. This is the week we all get to play with our gifts without a bedtime or a morning alarm.

I guess when I say we, I really mean all of you lucky jobless boys and girls with no school until the new year, I still have to work this week. But compared to the past 4 weeks, this upcoming week will hardly feel like work. We had a very busy month, we had a strong holiday season, and we had some stellar support staff that made it all run smoothly, I mean stellar.

But now its playtime folks. Kirsten and I enjoyed a few light kid games yesterday during our PJ Christmas. I spent some time sorting out my copy of Star Wars Imperial Assault (I love you Fantasy Flight, nobody can provide cardboard punching and token sorting game preparation joy like you do). This week I’ll be digging back into Doomtown and building at least one new deck for the upcoming meetup.

I still feel so silly getting excited about this stuff, like I did in high school when I hid my inner game geek every day until that final bell rang. I had to chuckle at my glee this Christmas as I ripped open the Imperial Assault game and admired every beautiful cardboard tile. Assembling the Walker was a bit dicey though, did a little finger damage and nearly shot my eye out.

But once I had my Imperial Assault game all prepped, my bubble deflated a bit when I realized that I had to wait for the gang to play it. This got me thinking, as I’m prone to do, about the social value of board games, which then lead to a reflection on my progression through the hobby. Now, many years after my first fateful plays of Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, my approach to the hobby has changed dramatically.

See, our humble little shop gets visited most during the holidays by new gamers, or people shopping for new gamers. This season I interacted with a lot of folks who were new to the hobby. I could tell that, like me, they had played their first game of Settlers, or T2R, or Carcassonne, and were left awestruck. Like seeing your first David Lynch movie, the first experience with modern strategy board games leads naturally to the thought ‘Wow, what just happened?’.

I vividly remember the games I played during my early days in the hobby, and I remember my reactions to them. The three pillars, Carcassonne, Settlers, and T2R, left strong impressions. Without these games I would not be involved in the hobby, our shop would not exist, and Target, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s would find something far more profitable to fill the shelf space in their game section. I can also recall some early disappointments, like Notre Dame and Power Grid. But you know what I don’t remember as much from those early days that is so important to me now? The people I played with.

Early on in the hobby the games were so mind-blowing that they took the spotlight and the people I played with were largely just opponents. I didn’t care who I played with, only the game mattered. I would play nearly anything because it was all so new, and I just needed bodies to fill the seats around me. Then, I got a bit pickier about the games, but still less-so about the players. Just take a seat and move those pieces will you, I want to play this hot new game.

Now, after playing many ho-hum games with great people, and playing great games with ho-hum participants, I’m much less concerned with what’s on the table and more interested in who is sitting around it with me. I, like many board game enthusiasts, spent far too much time in the land of game snobbery, and I still often revisit the dark gooey world if my sleep schedule is disturbed or I’ve had a wee bit much to drink. At one point for me, the pillars of the modern strategy game world were simply gateways to larger and more complex games. They were high speed train cars to the land of game snobbery where any muggle in my path to find the greatest brain burner was punished with a swift joy-depleting kick to the gut.

Through all of the long hours spent selling games this Christmas season, one of the greatest joys was witnessing people leave our shop excited to give and possibly try out the goodies in their bag. Our aisles were largely filled with the new or more casual game-players that too often get discounted by some of us hardened pros. They are the reason this hobby is blooming and staying strong, and their glee and awe are so contagious and nostalgic. Moving forward as a gamer, I want to avoid the trend of narrowing my taste in games and instead try to recapture that new-gamer glee by playing big games and small games, simple and complex games, amazing games and crappy games, but always enjoying the people I’m playing with.

To honor the idea that the latest and greatest don’t mean much without good people, we’ll be hosting a game gathering this Saturday night dedicated to the lowest-rated games in your collection. Go ahead and bring some stinkers, we’ll still have a great time.

Enjoy the end of the year everyone!

Posted on December 1st, 2014

The holiday shopping season is officially underway, and we are working like elves. The Little Boxes event this past weekend, was fantastic, bringing in great customers, both repeat and new. What made the event especially great for us was our holiday crew. I need to toss out a huge thanks to all who helped us out this busy weekend. Since we’re such a tiny shop, having multiple staff members year round is impossible. Luckily we have a fantastic customer support crew that pulls through every holiday to help out with customer service, gift wrapping, and of course, cleaning. We seriously would not be able to survive the holiday season without their help.

The same awesome crew will be back this coming weekend as we celebrate the local business community event, Decemberbville. While this is yet another chance to save some holiday shopping dough, more importantly, it is a chance to get yourself drenched in holiday spirit. I’m a child of Christian suburban descent, so the wintry, elfy, clydsdale, santa memes all carry serious nostalgia for me. The Christmas season was about that feeling for me, something about the cold and the cheer, spending time with family, and being 100% wide-eyed child. I like Decemberville because it tries to capture that spirit. The event turns the neighborhood into one large Santa-like village. We can all curse the consumerism of the season, but that does not mean we should give up the cheer. Decemberville is a time to put the scrooge outfit in the closet and be a kid again. Bring on the wonder and warmth, and burn some skis for the snow gods to top it all off.

As for the shopping side, we have a few deals going on this Saturday. First, everyone will receive 20% of a single item. Second, purchaser $60 or more and get a free copy of the classic family card game, Milles Bornes. Third, purchase $100 or more and choose from a selection of kids games for us to donate to the Children of Raphael House Toy Drive. We’ll see you Saturday, bring your cheer!

Now from memes to themes. We just finished our Last Saturday Metagame night, and this time the night was dedicated to games with a female designer or artist, which I thought was fantastic. We saw games hit the table that we’ve not seen in years, or never seen. One gamer brought only Dominion cards illustrated by female artists, very cool. I was able to end the night with a game of Village, a game I enjoy that I have not played in a while, and it is designed by a very worthy husband and wife team. This is why I like the theme nights, because games you would not normally play can get played. Sure we could do more straightforward themes, but then you would probably just play the games you would play anyway. I don’t want you to be able to just look at your shelf and easily pick out games that match the theme, I want you to have to research your game library to find ones that fit. That’s why December’s theme will be the lowest rated games in your collection, good luck. But based on what I know about many of your collections, this is still going to be a night of awesome gaming.

Happy December folks!

Posted on November 19th, 2014

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).

Cheers everyone,

Bandits are Offensive!

Posted on November 7th, 2014

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 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.

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!