When playing games I rarely choose the obvious or tried and true path to victory. Take Dominion for example, with any given card setup there is usually at least one clear path to victory, and that is exactly the path I’m not going to take. Why just win when you can win by some crazy route that should not have worked. Usually I lose, but when I do pull off a win it can be that much more satisfying.
This same thinking went into my planning for opening a game store. One of the mantras of experienced game store owners is that once you have your own shop you will play fewer games. That was the paradigm, so of course I had to try something different. Heck, if that mantra were true, what would be the point? I wasn’t opening game store just to make a living, there are far better businesses for that. Oh wait, owning a game store is a rough way to make a living? OK, let’s try that too. So I set out to see if I could run a successful game shop and continue to wallow in tons of gaming goodness.
Well, over 3 years later, I’ve played more games than ever and somehow we’re squeaking by when the first of the month comes. Just this Wednesday night I was able to play City of Remnants and a few rounds of Quantum, two great games enjoyed with great people. Last week I was able to lose miserably at Terra Mystica on Wednesday night, then shirk some duties on Thursday to play a round of Babel and a few rounds of Corto with some awesome customers. Sure, I nearly spent the night at the shop to finish all of my work afterwards, but it was worth it. Oh yeah, then on Friday I did some game design and got in a game of Caverna. Kirsten’s been getting some gaming in too. Most notably, she was on fire Wednesday night with Star Realms, a great little deck-builder recommended by Ben, and Splendor, a game I’ll talk more about below.
Should we feel guilty? Nah, as I said, this was part of the point. We also view it as a very important part of our jobs. Nearly everyone who walks through our door asks for suggestions and opinions. If there is one thing I really don’t want to do is send you out the door with a product that won’t work for you. We’ve been accused once of recommending a game just to make a big sale, it took me a few days to recover from the sting of that false accusation.
So in the spirit of full disclosure, and to impart some of what I’ve learned from the smorgasbord of gaming this month, I’d like to discuss 4 different games I’ve been enjoying that I believe share some similarities. For lack of a better word, I’m classifying these games as ‘array’ games. Not a very sexy title perhaps, unless you’re like me and the thought of acting as an array processor sounds like time well spent.
The 4 games, in loose order of approachability, are Continental Express, The Builders, Splendor, and Targi. All of these games are setup as rows and columns of cards that form an offer, or array. Two types of cards are found, some that provide resources, and others that convert resources into victory points. On any given turn, you are scanning the entire array to find the optimal connection between resource collection and victory point generation. For some this can be a very intuitive, from the gut activity. I, however, like to try and recreate the entire array in my noggin and let my squishy processor do its thing. Whatever your style, these games always feel light, fun, and fast.
They all make great 2-player games as well; Targi, in fact, is strictly a 2-player game. With just two players, it is much easier to try and foil your opponent’s plans. I find Continental Express to be a particularly fun 2-player game, and it is by far the easiest of the batch to introduce to new players. With The Builders and Splendor the calculations can get a little mind-bending at times, in a great way if your into noggin-twisting. Targi takes the array concept even further by allowing you to build your own array with the cards you take from the offer, crazy good stuff.
Lucky for you, we have all of these games either to rent or to demo in the shop. I highly recommend doing either of those if you’re looking for something casual that still gets the grey matter clicking. Have a great weekend everyone!
New Arrivals: Myth
Lots of big announcements to make this week folks. But first, let’s thank all of our official TableTop Day Geeks, who did a fine job last Saturday keeping the geek currency out of participants’ hands during the Beat the Geek challenges; we wound up raffling off lots of great prizes in the evening. According to many who attended, TableTop Day was a huge success, and our volunteer Geeks are almost entirely responsible for the praise we have received. So stay Geeky all of you!
Now with TableTop day behind us, it is time to resume our regularly scheduled programming, buuutttt, actually, we’re making some dramatic changes to our regular programming. First off, we are going to finally be open on Mondays, from 11am-7pm. Ben O. will be in charge, so stop by to say hi, he may be a bit lonely on Mondays until word gets out.
The second change to our schedule is a big boy and likely to cause a few tears. For some time now we have been seeking a way to offer a wider variety of gaming events, some for hobby gamers and some for broader audiences. Our Caverna release party in January and our recent 7 Wonders tournament are examples of the types of events we would like to offer. We have decided that Saturday nights are the best nights for us to offer these events, and have made the decision to cancel the regular Strategy Saturday game nights to give us greater flexibility.
SAY WHAT! I’ll repeat that since the shock may cause some to disbelieve.
Wednesday game nights are still full on, and great events will still be happening on Saturday nights, just not every Saturday, so stay tuned and plan on joining us!
And for the last announcement, which may pale in comparison to the prior two, I have finally created a 2-Player only section in the rental library. Most of our regularly renting customers are couples seeking great head-to-head games. Currently in the section we have Summoner Wars, Targi, Babel, Asante, 2-player Agricola, and others that were already on the shelf just not in their own private section. Look for these games on the back of the window table until we work out a better home for them. I just played Babel yesterday with a customer (yes, a big perk of the job when you run a non-Magic shop), and we had a great time. Babel is a very aggressive and challenging struggle of wits and luck.
Have a fine spring weekend everyone, I’ll leave you with a list of current staff picks, new arrivals, and games recently added to our rental shelf.
Current Staff Picks: Corto, Splendor, Spyrium, Concept, Star Realms, Babel, Continental Express.
Recent Arrivals: Star Realms (an awesome 2-player deck-builder recommended by Ben, try this puppy if you like your deck-building), The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, Descent: Nerekhall, Hive: Pillbug, Splendor.
New Rentals: The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, Quantum, Lewis & Clark, Africana, Concept, Splendor.
Games, games, and more games: get ready for a celebration of tabletop delights this Saturday afternoon. If you are not familiar with the TableTop web show, give it a gander here, its a great way to learn about new games that work for a broad audience. Last year, Wil Wheaton, the show’s host, asked folks around the world to gather at tables and play some games on one day of celebration. Well it is happening again this year, so come on out and join us.
First off, we are going to have some serious fanboys donning Geek sashes loaded with special buttons. These designated Geeks will be randomly starting challenges throughout the day where you will have the chance to earn some of the special buttons. These buttons are for you to keep, or they can be used as currency to buy some sweet items from our shop and some goodies donated by generous local sponsors. Here is a list of those sponsors, you’ll have to show up Saturday to see what they’ve contributed:
In addition to the challenges, our tables will be open for gaming all afternoon. We are a small shop, but we’re going to get as many folks playing as is comfortably possible. Starting around 6pm, we’ll be converting to full play mode, and we’re hoping to have some food and drink to keep the party going.
If you would like to RSVP for the event, and see what folks are planning on playing, check out our meetup.com post. We’ll see you there.
Spring is definitely starting to win the battle against winter, so get ready for more yard work at home, spring corn snow on the mountain, and the new board game release drought period. Now I am not a big fan of yard work, but the northwest spring corn is fantastic, and the lack of new releases is much needed.
From a retailer perspective, no new releases can be rough. As many more experienced store owners than myself will tell you, the tabletop game business is primarily front-end driven, so no new releases means very lean sales. This is why the collectible card games and miniature games usually form the foundation of a game store’s business model, fans of these games line up every few months for regular dispensation of new products in their chosen lines. Since we don’t rely too heavily on the collectibles, our slow new release months are buffered by non-hardcore products, like puzzles, kids and family games, and a back catalog of strategy games that for all intents and purposes are new to many of our customers.
So do we really need any new games? As a retailer I am supposed to answer with a resounding yes, as a gamer I can answer with a firm no. Take a good look at our game shelves and yours and I’ll bet you can find multiple titles that you’d like to play but haven’t ever played or haven’t played in some time.
Great titles like Mage Knight, CO2, Last Will, Lords of Waterdeep, Snowdonia, Blood Bowl Team Manager, Village, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and so many more have not hit my table in months. And these are just from the past few years. Go back even further back in time and the list just gets wonderfully overwhelming: El Grande, Fresco, Colosseum, Dominion, Le Havre, At the Gates of Loyang, Galaxy Trucker, Belfort, Merchants & Marauders, and on and on and gloriously on. Oh, and this doesn’t even include the heavier games. As some of our game night regulars will relentlessly remind you, there is a whole world of weighty games in the back catalog to explore.
When I get together with my game group, we use a style of run-off voting to determine what we’ll be playing. Each gathering, one person makes a list of games, one game or set of games per player. Each other player vetoes one game or game set on the list, and the survivors then hit the table. Well, with an immense back catalog of personal favorites to choose from, the process of constructing a list of only 3 or 4 games can induce analysis paralysis. The veto process is no better since we want to play every game on every list.
The new games will come soon enough, and of course we’ll always have Kickstarter titles flash-flooding the market (seriously folks, stop clicking!). Right now it is time to just enjoy the bounty we have, sort of a harvest festival in Spring. The shelves are full and glorious stuff right now, get all zen, be in the moment, play the now, then get all reflective and play the past.
To encourage some exploration of the now and then, we’re going to be hosting two events at the turn of the quarter. First we’ll be celebrating a great modern classic, 7 Wonders. Join us on March 29th at 6:30pm for a friendly and competitive tournament and some 7 layer dip. See here for more details and to reserve a seat. The following Saturday, April 5, we’ll host a whole day of gaming and feasting for an International Tabletop Day celebration, gaming from the back catalog from Noon-Midnight! The details of Tabletop Day are still developing, and we are very interested in any help running game sessions, so be in touch!
Alright, signing off. Happy transition into Spring everyone. Grab blindly from your shelf or ours, then go forth and game!
Over the past few years we’ve seen board games slowly grow in size and price. For hobbyists, this is not such a concern, it is how we decide to spend our luxury funds, and if a more expensive game means a more stunning product, we are generally all for it. But there is a limit, and the number of games with top notch component quality and only mediocre play is on the rise, especially on Kickstarter.
Now I know what you’re thinking, here he goes again trash talking Kickstarter. Well, I’m not. I’m actually going to praise Kickstarter project creators for what I believe is finally a small indie movement. See, Kickstarter has really just been another avenue for publishing games and establishing a publishing company without innovating or offering any real alternatives to what we already have on the shelves. Kickstarter really just offers the same games with prettier bits. So fine, it’s a means for finding investors that is far easier and more reliable than good old fashioned pounding the pavement.
But now the site that typically offers style before substance is flipping the table. Now we are seeing creators attempt the opposite, packing as much game as possible in a small and somewhat flashless package and labeling it as a microgame. It feels a bit like an experimental movement, almost a challenge to designers, which is exactly what we really need crowd funding for. And maybe it will be too extreme, but like any artistic movement, we’ll learn some things from the attempt that should help refine the hobby.
Plenty of small games already exist, but what makes a microgame unique is the amount of strategy or forward planning involved. The designers on Kickstarter did not invent the category but they do seem to have coined the term for the genre. The classic game Citadels by Fantasy Flight was a microgame well before the term existed, and Hisashi Hayashi’s upcoming game through AEG, Sail to India, is an incredible looking microgame that did not need the help of Kickstarter to make its way to shelves. What feels independent and innovative with the current Kickstarter trend is the concerted effort by multiple designers. We’re not just seeing isolated incidents, we’re seeing a cluster of projects. Tasty Minstrel Games, who really sort of coined the term, has their very own cluster of truly microgames already funded on Kickstarter; here, here, and here.
In honor of the microgame movement, and because I detect some level of quality, Cloud Cap Games has officially backed two microgame Kickstarter projects: Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Oddball Aeronauts. Click on their names to give them a gander on the Kickstarter. You can back both of these games through us and receive 20% more in store credit. This means you will receive the fully stretched Kickstarter exclusive copies when they ship, and also get some Cloud Cap Bucks. We are halfway through our lot of Tiny Epic Kingdoms already, but through the month of February you can get the game for $24, with $5 in store credit, while supplies last. Oddball Aeronauts has a few weeks to go before the campaign ends, but we’ll keep our offer open through the month of March: $25 for the game with $5 in store credit.
While the current microgame trend is not entirely innovative, it is a movement that would be tough to push through normal publishing channels, which makes it ideal for Kickstarter. The microgame trend feels like a true indie movement, and I look forward to seeing and supporting even more experimentation in the crowd funding arena. Maybe microgames are just a fad, but I do hope that it helps realign modern game design by encouraging the development of great games in beautiful but affordable packages.
Happy gaming everyone, in whatever size you please!
As you may expect, we are in no hurry to open the shop today, wait until 2pm if you want to do any shopping. But what perfect gaming weather! If I lived closer to some hills I’d start my day by skinning up and swooshing down, getting a face full of powder. Today though, I’m just gonna play games, and you should too!
Before I sign off to hit the gaming table, I wanted to point out that we have officially backed a board game Kickstarter, Tiny Epic Kingdoms. This cool looking micro-game will not be available to retailers once it is released, so we backed a bundle. This means you can back the game through us, and to entice you to do so, we’ll give you $5 in store credit when you do. The Kickstarter campaign ends today, but you’ll be able to back it with us through February at the regular price: $24 gets you the deluxe version with all the exclusives and stretch goals. This is the year of the micro-game, and Tiny Epic Kingdoms looks like one of the best.
Enjoy the snow!