Saturday, January 9, 2016

Thoughts on Catan, Asmodee, Fantasy Flight & Origins

Hey all.  Sorry for the lack of bloginess lately, raising a kid and all that.  At any rate, I saw a few articles in the past month and had some thoughts I wanted to get down.

While most of you came here for painting/terrain making tutorials, you know I occasionally feature a board game review.  In reality, for a long, long time, board games were a much bigger part of my gaming than anything else.  In fact, while I was dating my future wife, she introduced me to The Settlers of Catan.  Most of you, even if you don't particularly care for board games, have probably heard of it.  It was the game responsible for introducing most people to the concept of "Eurogames", games that are very different than the type we grew up with (Monopoly, Scrabble, etc).  Although it's been a couple of years since I've played a game of Catan or any of it's variants, it still has a special place in my heart.

It's also no secret that boardgames have exploded in popularity in the past several years, especially among millennials. This trend is so prevalent that my city has had several new stores open that deal almost exclusively in board games, and even supports a dedicated board game parlour. The popularity of Catan means you can even buy gaming tables that are made just for playing Catan.  A few years ago, there was a glut of articles talking about how Silicon Valley had been overtaken by Catan-mania.

So imagine my surprise when I read that Asmodee had acquired the rights for Catan from Mayfair Games.

See, board games are handled similarly to books - the publishing rights can be bought or sold (and in fact are all the time).  And the rights are usually separate for each language/country.

But the English-language rights for Catan are arguably the most valuable cash cow in the entire gaming industry.  This is the board game industry equivalent of J.K. Rowling selling the rights to all the Harry Potter books, or George Lucas selling off Star Wars.

The rights were bought by Asmodee, a french company that also recently merged with one of my favorite publishers, Fantasy Flight, and just a couple of months before that, bought another of my favorite publishers, Days of Wonder.

While this undoubtedly makes Asmodee the new 800-pound-gorilla of the board game industry, what does it mean?  Is it a good deal? Will Mayfair survive?

I don't know.

It's impossible to say without knowing what Asmodee paid for the rights to Catan, and even then, I probably don't know enough to speak with any authority on the subject.

A lot of those articles about the "board game craze" are five or six years old at this point.  One point of view is that Mayfair made a fortune, and was smart to get out before the bubble popped.  The other side could say that Catan is a cash cow that hasn't even begun to be milked, and Asmodee made a smart buy.  Like I said, without in-depth info about the financials, it's all speculation.

One of my main concerns is a bit more personal - Mayfair Games was the premiere sponsor of my favorite annual convention, Origins Game Fair.  Will Mayfair still take this role at Origins?  And will the fans respond to them if they don't have Catan in their portfolio anymore?  This article says:

Catan Studios, Inc. is the name being given to the team that is part of Asmodee. Mayfair isn’t just cutting all ties, though, as they will still help with the coordination of all official events listed for Catan this year, as well as CatanDay, and the Catan World Championship.
This change is part of a management change happening at Mayfair. Such changes include Larry Roznai becoming both President (which he already was) and CEO (formerly held by Pete Fenlon). Alex Yeager will now be the VP of Acquisition & Development, which had been done by S. Coleman Charlton. Various other VP and Director positions have new people in charge of them as well.
A lot of Mayfair's involvement with Origins will probably hinge on Larry Roznai - he's kind of a fixture at Origins.  I have to admit I've talked with him, attended seminars led by him, and always found him to be a pleasant guy.  But, apparently he's been at odds with Origins: a couple of years ago a well-liked member of the GAMA (the company that puts on Origins every year) staff was let go, and he shared a lot of info on Facebook:

(Names and pics obscured to protect the innocent, blah blah blah).  

I'd hate to see Origins move from Columbus, as it's local to me - it's my annual vacation, and I do the bulk of my gaming purchases every year there and at Adepticon.  It's an interesting idea presented by the former employee that Mayfair pulling out of Origins would be a non-issue - I'm not so sure that's true, simply because I don't know who would pick up the slack.  Fantasy Flight hasn't attended Origins in several years.  Rio Grande had a good showing 4 or 5 years ago, but seems to have scaled back their presence in favor of GenCon.  Queen Games has stepped up quite a bit in the past couple of years, but I don't think they have the titles or fan following to be the "major" sponsor.  Looney Labs used to be a major sponsor several years ago but stopped attending due to scheduling issues (and other unspoken but implied reasons). 

Another interesting piece of the puzzle was a recent Asmodee's announcement:

The marketplace has long been distorted by providing one-size-fits-all sales terms to every retail account, regardless of its channel of sale. The growth in demand for games over the last decade, in our view, has been fueled not only by fantastic product, but by the support of specialty retailers who incubate personal connections between players, facilitate tournaments and leagues, provide instant product availability, and increasingly provide a “third place” that is instrumental for so many gamers to enjoy and discover our products. The retailer cost of providing such channel services is significant, and so we’re now making policy changes to ensure that the sales terms provided to those retailers, relative to other channels, are positively reflective of the value they add to our distribution chain. - See more at:

What does the above marketing-speak mean?  Short short answer: no more cheap online sales of games.  While I'm more willing than a lot of people to spend a little bit more to support my local retailer or vendor at a convention, it's nice to have the option to get stuff online.  What this means as far as going up against Amazon will be an interesting scenario as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Building With Hirst Arts Blocks

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the classes I took at Origins 2015 was building with Hirst Arts blocks.  I've played with them a bit before, but I've never really detailed the process on the blog.

The instructor had a half-dozen or so pre-cast & bagged sets to choose from - I chose a set made from the cavern molds, as I thought it'd be the most versatile to have in my collection (as opposed to a set that was strictly sci-fi or fantasy -themed).  Here's some pics of the instructor's assembled version:

We were given a bag of pieces and a bottle of glue, and basically told to go to town while the instructor lectured on general tips & ideas.  For some of the Hirst Arts molds, the pieces are very interchangeable and it's pretty much like building with LEGOs - there are a million different ways they can go together.  The cavern molds are not one those types of sets - the instructor specifically indicated "there's pretty much only one way that set can go together".  It was a bit frustrating at first without a schematic or anything, but eventually I sussed it out - here's the pieces I was able to get together during the class:

To finish the assembly, I was going to need a solid base.  I packed up the pieces carefully, and when I got home I grabbed a piece of foamcore board:

Then I laid out what I had:

Then I started duplicating the layout based on the pictures I took in class:

After I was confident I had the layout right, I started gluing everything down:

The glue that seems to get recommended the most by folks who build with Hirst Arts blocks is Aleene's Tacky Glue, but wood glue or regular PVA ("school glue") will also work.  Note: be generous with the glue - these blocks are cast from Hydrocal (lightweight gypsum cement) - they absorb a lot of moisture out of the glue.  When I initially assembled a lot of the pieces I thought I was using plenty of glue, but when I picked up the pieces a half-hour later most of them snapped apart.

After gluing everything down well and letting it dry overnight, I used a utility knife to trim off the excess foamboard:

(I left the door piece separate, so it can be removed if needed during a game).

Next, I coated the edges of the pieces with glue and sprinkled them with kitty litter:

I did the same to cover any obvious gaps on the interior of the set, too:

After the litter had dried, I mixed some glue 50/50 with water and dripped it on the kitty litter, to really "lock in" the gravel.

...and that's it - coming soon, we'll paint it up!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Origins Game Fair, Part II

The next morning, we made our way to the board room and started with an old favorite, Dominion:

It had been a while since I'd played, but it didn't take long to get back into the swing of things.  I'd forgotten how groundbreaking Dominion was when it came out, and how many games have copied it's mechanics since then.

After that, we went back to one of favorites from previous years, Wasabi!:

my only complaint about this game is that's it's been out of print for a while - I want a copy for my library!

Enough already:  Shopping time!

I picked up Risk: Godstorm because it's been on my shopping list forever, and I still loves me some Risk.  Plus lots of miniatures!

I also picked up Patchwork from the Mayfair Games booth - it was recommended to me by the guys at my FLGS, but they didn't have any in stock at the time.  It's two players (great for the wife & I) and I'm betting she'll like the theme. 

I neglected to take a picture, but I also picked up Qwirkle - another recommendation from the guys at the FLGS.

I also grabbed the most recent Pandemic expansion, The Cure.  Granted, I haven't played the last two Pandemic expansions I bought, but... hey, who asked you, anyway?

...and no convention shopping trip would be complete without buying some fresh dice - both for me:

...and for the boy:

He already rolls better than his old man:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Origins Game Fair Pt. I

A couple weeks ago the wife and I attended one of our favorite events of the year, Origins Game Fair!  This was our first year attending since the kiddo was born, which was a new experience to say the least.  While all our plans were tentative at best, we still managed to have a lot of fun.

We started out by picking up our badges - Origins moved to new system this year, where you printed out your confirmation email and scanned it at a kiosk, which then printed your badge & event tickets.  There was much raging on the Intarwebz about this new system, but for us (and pretty much everyone else I talked to in person) it worked fine.  The only glitch was that the locations of the events didn't print on your tickets, but taking five minutes to leaf through the event catalog and jotting the locations down on my tickets solved that problem.

We made our way to the Board Room, which is our group's usual base of operations during Origins - for a flat $20 fee, you can enter the Board Room anytime and check out any of the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society's 800+ games.  Since playing in an ticketed board game usually costs $2 - $4, it's really a great value.  The other motivation is that there's enough tables that our group usually just sets up camp there on Thursday, and comes and goes as needed - there's always a couple people hanging around to watch everyone's stuff, get a quick game in, or just sit and relax for a bit.

While waiting to check out a game, a couple members of our group struck up a conversation with another attendee who offered to teach them a game - it turned out to be IceTowers, a game that uses Icehouse pieces from Looney Labs:

(Icehouse pieces are abstract game pieces that can be used to play dozens of different games - there's even an entire book to give you ideas).  This game was a lot of fun, and I chatted with our new friend about Looney Labs in general - the wife & I used to spend a great deal of our time at Origins in Looney Labs "Big Experiment" (a room dedicated to nothing but Looney Labs' games), but apparently the company had some sort of falling out with Origins several years ago, and no longer maintains an official presence at the con.  Bummer.

After playing for a while, I decided to wander around and see what the convention center setup was like this year.  One of my first stops was the official convention merchandise booth - every year, I'm tempted to buy a hoodie and a messenger bag or backpack, but I never talk myself into, or if I do, they're sold out by the time I go to get it.  This year I resolved to budget for them ahead of time, and to pick them up ASAP.  I found the booth and asked - no bags this year, and no sweatshirts in my size.  Sad panda.

I wandered through the vendor hall and came across the Offworld Designs booth, who had done the official show merch in the past (although I believe Origins now does everything in house).  I talked with the employees there and after rummaging around for a bit they found one of the bags I wanted!  Hooray!

After heading back to the Board Room, I ran into some friends - one of them had purchased Boss Monster earlier that day, so we gave it a playthrough:

This was a fun game with a unique take: instead of being a hero and trying to get loot, you're an end boss of a video game level, and you're building a level to attract certain heroes to their doom.  The art is all very inspired by 8-bit Nintendo games (the box even looks like a cartridge, and the expansions are packaged in boxes that look like Game Boy cartridges).  Overall a fun, light game, even though I died in the second round.

I headed back over to our group's base camp and found them playing Pandemic: Contagion:

This is a version of the popular Pandemic family of games that uses a dice-based mechanic.  I watched them play for a while, and it looked like fun - it seemed similar in feel to the other Pandemic games.

Day II

The next day, I had a RPG bright & early - Baker Street by Fearlight Games:

Baker Street, as you might have guessed, it role-playing set in the world of Sherlock Holmes.  Our GM was Bryce Whitacre, who is actually the author of the game (and also GM'ed our amazing Masters of the Universe game last year).  This was a nice change of pace from your standard fantasy or sci-fi RPG - all the material is officially licensed from the Conan Doyle estate, and Bryce obviously has a lot of love for the material (as evidenced by the fact that he GM'ed the game while wearing a houndstooth overcoat, deerstalker cap, and carrying a pipe).  The book looked great and our group was a lot of fun.  I wasn't crazy about the mechanics, but it was a nice change of pace.  

I headed back to the Board Room and was looking to grab a quick game before my next event - someone in our group grabbed Diner by Dice Hate Me Games from the library:

While reading the instructions for the game, it mentioned that the game doesn't have turns.  No turns? to say I was skeptical was an understatement.  Turns out, this was a surprise hit.  It's one of those "hard-to-explain, easy-to-play" -type games, and our group had a lot of fun with it.  It would be easy to grasp for slightly older kids, but still fun for adults, and only takes ten or fifteen minutes to play - for ten bucks, I'd highly recommend it.

My next event was Building With Hirst Art Blocks - I had taken a similar class before at GenCon,  but I think it was $20 - this one was only $2, so I decided to give it a shot.  I figured it'd be a lecture about Hirst Arts blocks, then maybe you'd get to build a tiny accent piece of terrain or a deployment marker or something.  Turns out, it was building full size kits - there was some kind of mix up with Origins, and the only option they gave the instructor was to offer the class for the price printed in the catalog, or to cancel all the classes.  He decided to offer the class, but mentioned that donations of generic tokens would be gladly accepted.

We were offered our choice of several pre-sorted kits - I went with a cavern with pillars:

(Here's the instructor's completed set as an example):

This class was really great, and the instructor offered a lot of tips while we worked.  Needless to say, after class I ran downstairs and bought a handful of generic tokens to throw in his tip jar.

Next: Part 2!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Origins 2015!

It's time for our hometown convention, Origins Game Fair!  Watch my Twitter feed for up-to-the-minute updates, and I'll be back with a full report next week!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Beyond The Board

It's no secret that boardgames have experienced a bit of a Renaissance in the past few years - my city now has a dedicated board game parlor, as well as a boardgaming club that is attended by hundred of players every other weekend.  This has resulted in a few new shops opening around town, too - for my birthday a couple of awesome friends gave me a gift certificate to one of the newer shops, Beyond The Board, so I decided to check it out:

Yay! Money that must be spent on games!

 The shop is tucked into the corner of a shopping center off of W. Bridge St. in Dublin, OH:

Unfortunately, there was no good way to get a decent picture of the store - either it was blocked by the trees, or I was under the overhang

Walking in, the shop seems nice, if a bit... unfilled, I guess?

It just feels like a much bigger space than necessary.  (Although I've never been there during a CCG tournament or event - the extra space might be nice to have on those nights).

I was mildly surprised to see that they had a corner of the store dedicated to Games Workshop & Privateer Press minis & products, but make no mistake - their main focus was definitely board games.

They also have a nice selection of games in their "library" for customers to try out:

At this point, I decided to pick out a game - while there is lots of stuff on my wishlist, in particular I was looking for something that 1.) would play well with just my wife & I, as well as with friends, 2.) was fairly "light", 3.) didn't have a theme that would instantly turn my wife off (just about all sci-fi themes & many fantasy ones are right out), and 4.) wasn't too expensive (say goodbye, Fantasy Flight coffin-box games).

This is were Beyond The Board stood out - I told the lone employee working that day, Chris, what I was looking for, and he proceeded to walk the aisles with me, point out any possibilities, and give me a brief overview of the play style & mechanics of each game.  After me telling him my personal pros & cons of some of his picks, we were able to narrow it down to four or five solid possibilities.  In the end I narrowed it down to King of Tokyo, Qwirkle, and Planes - I decided to go with Planes (although I'll probably go back and pick up Qwirkle sometime):

I also picked up a copy of Star Wars: Empire vs. Rebellion for a friends' birthday (this was a 2-player card game that Chris highly recommended - I kinda wanted a copy for myself, but the theme is a hard sell for the missus):

After making my selections, I went to pay, and found out they have a pretty cool rewards program:

I could potentially fill a scary number of these cards in record time

After paying, I chatted with Chris a bit longer before taking off.  Overall I was really impressed with the sotre and the staff - if you are in the area, check them out!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Exemplar Errant Officer & Standard

...finishing out my recent Protectorate of Menoth purchases, I picked up a Exemplar Errant Officer & Standard:

(If there's one beef I have with the Army Box deal, it's that they give you the Exemplar Errants but not the Unit Attachment, which I've literally never seen anyone NOT use for their infantry-type units).  This would have been the absolute first set of models I'd have bought to expand my collection, but no one had it in stock locally, so a trip to eBay was necessary.  This should be the last of my Protectorate purchases for a bit...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Monolith Bearer & Initiate Tristan Durant

I picked up a couple more models for my Protectorate of Menoth force today:

That's a Monolith Bearer & Initiate Tristan Durant.  These two models kept coming up in my search for "must have" units, and I think the Monolith Bearer is an awesome sculpt and look forward to painting it...  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

More Protectorate of Menoth

Shortly after acquiring my Protectorate army, lars4life & I wandered into our FLGS, where he presented me with some models for my birthday:

Sweet!  A Vassal of Menoth and a Paladin of theOrder of the Wall!  (I bought the Devout myself).  The menoth force is coming together quick!