Tuesday, 31 December 2013

That 2014 Look Ahead Post

A blog like this wouldn’t be a proper blog without taking a look at the year ahead and making some bold commitments.  So what does 2014 look like from here?

Game Time

It looks like I’ll largely continue where 2013 left off when it comes to game time.  I want to be able to commit to at least 3 sessions in 4 for attending the club on Friday nights.  Not quite sure how best to allocate those (if at all) but Star Wars EotE will definitely be 1 of those session as will board games.  If I can sustain attendance and if Alpha Strike (post to come on that) gives me the ability to play Battletech within the clubs hours then I can see that being a semi-regular game.

Alongside that though there’s a small group of people that I’ve met via BoardGameGeek who are looking to establish a board game night in St Andrews.  Not quite sure where this is going yet (early days) but if I can add this to my game time then that’d be great.  Note I say ADD as I don’t want it to be simply a case of more options, same amount of play.

I have been tempted to try and establish and ORC style community/club near where I live for some time but never really had the time to invest in making it happen.  Maybe with the help of the other guys who are interested that might change.

I also expect (or should that be hope?) that 2014 will be the year that home based gaming becomes a reality. This might suffer depending on how the St Andrews thing develops but I have enough “gateway/pseudo-mainstream” board games to make this a reality and have some neighbours / local friends who have an interest in the hobby that needs to be explored a bit more.

Commitment wise I know there’s a limit to what I can do here but let’s go with the following –

  • 3 sessions in 4 on Friday nights at DWARF.
  • Once a month gaming with the St Andrews crowd.
  • Once a month gaming at home.

That gives me a fairly low bar to aim for.

What to play?

As with 2013 I expect my board game collection to develop further, possibly more likely to be expansion related than new game related though especially when it comes to games like Gloom, Sentinels Of The Multiverse, Seasons and Lords Of Waterdeep.

RPG wise I’ve already said that Edge Of The Empire will likely be a mainstay for the first half of 2014.  I’d also like to do more with D&D Next prior to the official launch and of course the Atomic Robo RPG is due out in 2014 so expect that to be my “New Year, New Game” game.  Whether I play it that often is yet to be determined but I know if nothing else it will be a great pickup game.

I also hope that Alpha Strike (seriously there’s a post to come on that!) gives me the opportunity and the players to play Battletech. It might also lead me to trying to run the Battletech RPG – A Time Of War again but I’m not making any commitments around that!

What else?

Well GenCon is probably the main thing.  I plan to fly out from Edinburgh on Tuesday the 12th August returning on Monday the 18th (well Tuesday the 19th really due to timezone stuff).

Tickets go on sale on the 26th January and I’ve got a few options accommodation wise.

What I would like, although happy to do without, is for some of my gamer colleagues to come with me!  Yes Richard Talbot, +Chris Brind and a few others I’m talking to you!

When I’m at GenCon there are a number of things I want to do, not least of which will be play some D&D Next with the D&D team.  I want to play Atomic Robo RPG with Mike Olsen, assuming he’s planning to run games of it again, and no doubt I’ll be playing a variety of board and card games when out there.

I also want to meet up with some other gaming bloggers when at GenCon, specifically UK based bloggers.  I don’t really see myself as a blogger.  I mean sure I’ve got a blog (the one you’re reading) and it’s about gaming but it’s not review blog or anything like that so not sure how it fits in other than being MY blog about MY views on the hobby.  Mind you how is that different from any other individual blog?  Anyway… I’d like to meet up with some other bloggers when out there if only to just y’know meet them!

Other than GenCon?

Hmmm not sure.  Without revisiting some of the objectives I’ve set I’m really not sure.  I would like to try and get this blog back onto a regular schedule, whether that be daily, weekly or whatever but I’m not quite ready to set that agenda plus I seem to be writing longer and more detailed posts just now so maybe that’s an evolution of the blog that I should just let evolve further.

I always have a temptation to get my original gaming group back together and 2014 will be no different. Whilst I would still like to do that the challenge as ever is getting us all in a room and given that this happens once a year at most there’s usually other things that we want to do.  Still in many respects I think that temptation will diminish over the next few years as my game time grows and my gaming group grows with it.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

2013 Retrospective

This has been a bizarre year in many respects and I’m not just talking gaming wise.

I’ve changed job twice since the beginning of the year and that brought with it some challenges around my free time, particularly of late.
I started this blog which when I set out to do it I was confident of achieving the post a day goal but that’s proven to be unachievable for a variety of reasons (see above), still at least I managed it for 100 posts!
My game time has solidified around the Friday night gaming I have at DWARF in Dunfermline where I think I’ve managed to attend 3 sessions out of 4 on average over the past 6 months which is great and I’ve reminded myself of the gaming goodness that’s available out there.

My Gaming Principles have been fleshed out and have largely stood the test over the past year.

Quick reminder –
1. Only buy it if you’re going to use it.
2. Is everyone having fun? Including you.
3. Accept that you’re going to be the GM.
4. Change is a good thing and is necessary.
5. Opinions aren’t as important as knowledge and experience.

I think the 1st one is probably most open to debate.  The games where I’ve not used it or indeed not used it that much are probably systematic of this hobby and my personal enthusiasm for the products that are put out by publishers.  That doesn’t mean I have abandoned this principle, more that there will always be exceptions (Star Wars LCG being the most notable one although there are others).  I plan to do a value related post to show the variance across my 2013 purchases in the next few weeks so we'll see just where the problem lies.
The other 4 seem to just be everyday parts of my hobby and also I feel they relate to the Tabletop Ambassador post I did a while back.
So does anything need revisited or added or anything like that?  I don’t think so.  I believe that these 5 principles are working for me (value aside for some things) and indeed believe that they will continue to be the core of how my hobby operates.

Alongside that I established my current hobby objectives.  Again a quick reminder –
1. Sustainable and regular gaming.
2. Play more with more.
3. Home based gaming.
4. Play something new at least one in every six gaming sessions.
5. Visit more game shops.

Apart from number 3 these are all doing fine.  Sure I’ve been restricted by only having the Friday nights for gaming but I expect in 2014 that this will change and I have some thoughts on how to do that.  The home based gaming I suspect hasn’t happened for a number of reasons.  The main one is that I just haven’t put the time or energy into making it happen.  The other is that there may be a psychological barrier going on here – home is for home stuff type of thing.  I don’t associate my time at home with my hobby so the motivation (whilst there) isn’t that strong.
I didn’t do enough of 5 but that was largely down to work stuff getting in the way.  I expect that to improve in 2014.

If I was to add anything to the objectives it would be – Attend more gaming conventions.  That’s largely driven by my plans to go to GenCon in 2014 and with the news that D&D Next / 5th Edition will be released there I’m more excited than I was previously about going.  I also have a desire to go to UK Games Expo (2015 I suspect) and Dragonmeet (2014 is possible).  Alongside those I should be at Conpulsion in Edinburgh again this year but I’m less convinced about that as every time I go I feel more underwhelmed than before…  Definitely a post needed on that topic.  Just need to ensure I’m giving constructive criticism rather than just having a moan!

Highlights of 2013

Board games.  As my gaming shelf will attest 2013 was definitely the year of board games for me.  Why is that?  Well I think in the main it’s down to being able to just grab some games and sit down to play, with minimal (or in some cases) no prep required.  Any particular games?  Sentinels Of The Multiverse, Seasons and probably The Resistance are the stand out games for me just now.  There are others that I thoroughly enjoy (Lords Of Waterdeep) but those 3 are probably the 3 biggest successes.

Alongside boardgames I’ve re-ignited my roleplaying thanks to Edge of the Empire from Fantasy Flight Games.  I expect the first half of 2014 to be loaded with EotE gaming.  I also expect some D&D Next to be in there but (perhaps predictably) that’s likely to take a less important role until the game is officially released in the Summer of 2014.

The people I play games with.  Without getting all slushy and asking for a group hug I have to say that the group of people I’m gaming with are great and the group continues to grow which is excellent.  As I’ve covered here through my posts on community this is a large, if not the largest, part of the hobby for me and it reminds me why I do it.

Lowlights of 2013

Nothing really stands out as a particular lowlight.  If you look again at the objectives I’d set myself sure there is still that home based gaming gap but other than the odd Friday when I just couldn’t make it along to play games I don’t really have a lowlight for 2013.
There was the 1st Anniversary of the closure of KoA which did hurt a little but I don’t think I’d reflect on it as a lowlight as such.

So in summary?

2013 has been a good year of gaming.
It’s difficult to say if it’s “the best ever” or whatever as I don’t think I can really compare it to anything in the 1st Chapter.  It’s definitely up there though and I hope 2014 is even better.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Navigating the Barriers

Whilst perusing the blogosphere lately I’ve either struck on a pattern forming or at very least I’ve found some blog posts that resonate with where my head is at with the hobby.  It’s probably the latter really and the nature of my Google-fu.

Over on Plaid Hat Games there was a post about Barriers Of Entry to the board gaming hobby.  This is something I’ve touched on here in the past but mostly from the community angle as opposed to the product angle.  But then again I’m not a publisher of games!

Whilst reading this I was nodding away enthusiastically and then realised that I may actually be a barrier of entry.  But before I dig into that topic it’s worth exploring the elements that Colby talks about in his blog post linked to above.

A lot of what is covered is focussed on the board game market which is to be expected as Plaid Hat are a board games publisher but at the same time it can be related to the other formats within the tabletop hobby.


“What do you mean I need to read this 100+ page book before we can start playing?” Nothing worse than being given a manual on how to have fun.  This is particularly problematic when it comes to RPGs and Wargames but some CCGs (I’m looking at you Magic The Gathering) have similar challenges when you look at the “comprehensive” rules.

The size of the tome isn’t the only problem though and as Colby says the ability to read, digest and ultimately understand a ruleset whether that’s on 1 page or 100 pages is what’s important.  I used to have a rule when it came to RPGs that if the character sheet looked complicated then the rules must be too.  Whilst that’s probably been unfair at times over the years it is however a reflection of rules being a barrier.  Taking a board game like Bang! however the rules are relatively simple; unfortunately the rulebook reads like it’s been translated from Italian by Google Translate…

Layout of the rules is also particularly key.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read through a “Getting Started” or indeed “Character Creation” section of rules only to learn elsewhere in the rulebook that I’ve missed something or worse still got it wrong.  Proof reading isn’t just about grammar and spelling it has to be about flow of information to the reader too.

The solutions presented by Colby are fine and whilst I don’t want this to be a response post I do feel that watching videos of actual play and indeed having a game demo’d to you are not good ways of learning how to play the game.  These are more about showing what playing the game is like rather than explaining how to play the game.  Plus the number of times that Wil and other people get the rules wrong doesn’t help matters.
So what’s my solution?  Participate in actual game play.

This is not the same as having a demo as really a demo is only there to give you a taste for a game.  This is participating or perhaps even just being a spectator of a game that you’re interested in.  This gives you the fun factor of playing the game, playing with other gamers and also helps to determine if the game is of interest to you mechanically or thematically.

So how do you participate in or spectate on a game?  I bring you back to common themes of this blog – community and the flgs.  Both of these present opportunities to take part in games for the first time and also hark back to the other category that I’m going to mention but I’ll come back to that, honest I will!

Stage Fright

This barrier I agree with wholeheartedly and believe that it can be compounded by the community in which you’re playing in or indeed attempting to join.  I’d agree with Colby’s solution to a point but for me Stage Fright is as much about how you tackle engaging the new player into the group.  My post on New Players is relatable here.


Again I'm going to agree with Colby on this which will likely come as no surprise with my posts on value tackling this from a consumer perspective.  I do however think that pointing out the cost of production can at times be a double edged sword.  Smaller print runs suggests “unpopular” which in turn can work against getting people to take part in playing.  Yes it helps to explain the difference in pricing but it doesn't explain the value of the product being bought.
Education on the re-playability and in many respects the high production quality of the games across the hobby is where the solution lies, not through explaining the economics of the hobby.


Yep, agreed on all fronts.  I think the community (including the publisher and the FLGS in that) is what helps here.  Promotion of the hobby as a whole is something we all should have a vested interest in.  Online shows like Tabletop and ShutUp&SitDown help but other exposure through mainstream media like Community and Big Bang Theory (which I have problems with but that’s a post for another day) TV shows help to showcase the hobby to a much wider audience.  Indie movies such as Zero Charisma (which I've still to see) also give an insight into the hobby. Indeed one of the best hobby themed movies is Tap: Max's Game which is a Czech movie about playing Magic.
The word nerd or geek is traditionally banded about when it comes to tabletop games and the mainstream exposure that the hobby gets is usually through the stereotypical nerd/geek representative.
My challenge back to the community at large is “So what?”.  I’ve been a geek since I was 12 (which is 28 years ago) and I was probably a geek before then too based on the TV shows I was into back then and that I was into computer games from the point of getting my ZX Spectrum not to mention my interest in comic books.  The tagging of nerd/geek doesn’t actually mean anything unless it’s being used derisory to demean what you’re doing.  <snark> Sure, go ahead make fun of me playing with funny shaped dice, at least I’m sitting round a table with friends and having fun… </snark>

Attention Span

I hadn’t really looked at this barrier in this way and maybe that’s a gap I need to review but in short Colby is spot on that finding the right length of game for the target player is as important as finding the right theme, complexity level and other facets of game selection.  Attention span though is as much about keeping the player interested as it is about how long a game can take to play through.  Indeed finding that game which tackles the “keep them interested” aspect is probably the only sure fire way of getting them interested in other games.
Playing a game of Tsuro because it only takes 15 minutes should only be done on the basis of “we only have 15 minutes to play something” and not because of the attention span of the player.  Sure if they like puzzles with elements of strategy and luck then Tsuro is a good option both because of the game itself and because it only takes 15 minutes you can play it more than once!

So this not-a-response response post brings me to the one thing that I think is overlooked in Colby’s post. In saying that I’m not surprised it’s missing as it’s probably one of those emotive topics that a publisher should stay away from to avoid rocking the boat with potential customers.


I’ve touched on this before but didn’t really dig into it.  Gamers are as much a barrier to entry to the hobby as anything else.  This isn’t about problem gamers who are “no fun” to play with, although they do constitute a barrier of sorts.  This is more about addressing the knowledge and experience gap between the new gamer and the long standing gamer.  Indeed that can be extended further to cover the casual gamer and the “serious” gamer.

Gamers are as much an asset to the hobby as anything else, indeed a strong community is the very foundation of what makes this hobby great and is probably the largest single reason why I’m still a gamer.  So why do Gamers represent a barrier of entry to the hobby?  Simple.  It’s all about language and a certain amount of snobbery/elitism.
Think about it, the way you talk when gaming with your friends is laden with gamer phrases and in many respects will be very “in crowd” based.  Especially when talking about the finer details of rules and play styles and army builds and so on the new gamer will likely be a) bamboozled by the terminology and b) disconnected from the conversation.
I know I experience that sensation when people start to talk about army builds and deck combos as I’m not well versed in either the terminology or indeed the knowledge required to participate.

So what’s the solution? Well that really depends on the situation.

If it’s a club based community it’s largely the responsibility of the “leadership” to be on hand to help new gamers take part.
In a FLGS based community the responsibility really lies with the FLGS staff or a representative of that staff (e.g. an organised play leader) to ease the new gamer into the hobby.
If it’s a home based group then well it’s fairly obvious that whoever is doing the introducing of the new gamer really has that responsibility to ensure that all the other gamers are trying to include the new gamer.

There is however another aspect to this.  The new gamer has to be prepared for the experience of gaming, they have a responsibility to not be put off by the language (gaming language that is!) used at the table. That’s easier said than done especially if the new gamer is nervous about this endeavour.

Plus let's not forget the geek-mantra of “Don’t Be A Dick!” championed by Wil Wheaton which applies to both new gamer and existing gamer alike.  I'd like to expand on that by quoting the Wyld Stallyns and suggesting that we all "Be Excellent To Each Other" when playing games.

A lot of this has been touched on in other posts I've made but it was only when reading Colby's post that some of the barriers experienced in the hobby were crystalised for me.  Plus, it goes to show what my posts look like when I'm not posting every day.  I likely wouldn't have gone to this level of detail otherwise!!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Why D&D Next is important.

So Wizards have confirmed that D&D Next / 5th Edition will be released in the Summer of 2014 which is usually code for "around the time of GenCon".

Why is this important though?

If you look at the D&D "family" of games you can see that these still account for the largest slice of the RPG hobby.
Pathfinder has in most regions replaced D&D as the market leader and with other relations like 13th Age and Dungeon Crawl Classics and the plethora of retro-clones out there you have to ask is there a demand for D&D itself?

I believe that there are 2 aspects to D&D with one more important than the other depending on your point of view.


D&D is for a lot of people looking in on the RPG hobby the only game that exists. You say "Roleplaying Games" to people who don't know what it is they will either look blankly or think of something like World Of Warcraft or another MMO.  If you say Dungeons & Dragons then you're more likely to get a reaction that at least suggests they know what you mean, if likely a more stigmatised version of the game.

The brand for D&D is largely historical and really down to the way that the hobby has been (mis)represented over the past 20+ years.  Without a D&D product available to buy it can be difficult to overcome that situation of a consumer wanting to buy D&D. Sure you could suggest alternatives but none of those have any kind of brand which usually results in a level of distrust if the consumer is asking for D&D itself.  I've witnessed this and it's not just limited to D&D but that's another story...

So I believe that having D&D as a brand is important to the hobby as it provides a recognisable name that the mainstream public can identify with and should be able to associate new people with the hobby.

It's D&D

This is more about the perception of the hobby from within.  Some people will focus on a specific game as their game.  For me fantasy roleplaying has always been about playing D&D and D&D has always been about fantasy roleplaying.  Sure there are lots of other fantasy based RPGs out there but none of them appealed other than in my early gaming years when I dabbled with games like MERP, Rolemaster and Runequest but ultimately D&D was where it was at.

There are others like me who will only play the "true" version of D&D simply because it's D&D.  Sure that's perhaps narrow-minded or even ignorant to what else is out there but it's not as if D&D is the only RPG I (or indeed those others) play.  I suppose in some respects it's an emotional attachment to the heritage of the game, plus as I've said elsewhere I embrace change in the hobby including new editions of a game.

Yeah but Dave, why is D&D Next important?

It may not have the largest market share of product sales right now and it might not even have the largest player base but it's D&D.  It's also being produced by Wizards Of The Coast who could quite easily have decided to not bother as Magic The Gathering continues to grow exponentially so why should they bother about a brand that isn't anywhere near as commercially viable?  It's D&D, that's why.

If it fails commercially then I do worry for the future of the brand and in turn potentially for the RPG marketplace but I think if nothing else it will help to provide some much needed interest in the RPG market as a whole.  If the finished game is anything like the playtest rules then I think it's going to be very popular, not sure if it'll be popular "enough" though (whatever that is).

So 2014 sees the release of 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (well really 6th as 1st Edition was AD&D and we had "Basic" D&D before that but let's not split hairs) and it's also the 40th anniversary of the game being released.  That landmark milestone is a fantastic opportunity for Wizards to promote D&D in new ways and reinvigorate a title that in many respects lost it's way over the past 10 years.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Still gaming

I've had no time to post but still gaming so thought I'd share some of the games I've played recently.

Dread Curse - A pirate themed game where the players take on various roles on the pirate ship. Objective is to have the largest hoard of gold at the end of the game avoiding the black spot coins. Lots of fun playing this despite my ending the game with both black spot coins. There's a certain level of strategy and bluffing involved but I feel the level of luck needed (or bad luck in my case!) was a bit higher than I usually like. More plays needed I think.

Seasons - Becoming a staple of my gaming just now and given the layers to this game it's a different experience each time. The most recent game we played used all of the rules from the core set so next time I think we will start to add in some of the expansion contents which brings more cards to add variety and more optiins to likely confuse us at first.

Bang! - Hadn't played this for a while so it was good to play it again. Still plenty of variety to this which was great to see even if John did seem to have a combo that meant his sheriff was unkillable and his luck on drawing cards was crazy at times.

Gloom - Fast paced game as we were short on time but always fun to break out Gloom. Especially on Friday the 13th. Some weird and wonderful stories coming out during the game too.

Resistance - Almost a guaranteed play when we get together and lots of fun as some players get so confused about who is and isn't a spy it's hilarious. Having played it with the expansion cards a couple of times I've yet to be convinced that they add to the overall play experience but need to use them more to really be sure.

I think that's all of the games we've played in recent weeks and this Friday is the last gaming night of the year (at the club at least). 2014 looks like being a good year of gaming for me but that's likely to be another post as I revisit and set out my gaming objectives for next year. Not least of which will be getting my RPG sessions fully up and running.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Off the rails.

So it looks like I've underestimated the challenge in maintaining this blog on a daily basis.
Rather than promising to overcome the challenge I've decided to pull back from the daily post commitment and at least for now keep the posts to when I can make them.
I have plenty of content that I want to share it's simply a question of available time to make the posts.
Topics that I will write about are a mixture of those which I've already posted about and some new ones.

Namely -
GenCon 2014 - My plans to go continue and I'm (gently) harassing friends who would also be interested in going. Either way though I will be in Indianapolis next August.
Star Wars EotE - Having held the initial session recently I expect to post about the progress of this game and what learnings I take from the game mechanically.
D&D Next - Similar to EotE but yet to kick off the sessions.
Hobby Value - This is an ongoing thought process and I will continue to share the value measurement that I'm tracking of my hobby but also the ways that value can be measured as part of the purchase of games.
Hobby Profile - I have some data that I want to digest and share my views on with respect to growing the profile of the hobby within the UK and beyond.
What's New - I am continuing to look at new games and accessories that intrigue me and some of those are worthy of posting about.

Plus anything else that strikes a chord with the intent of this blog.
So. Have no fear the blog will continue but unlikely to be daily at least for the foreseeable future and maybe that gives me the chance to dig deeper into some of the topics listed above or indeed revisiting previous topics.
Cheers for now!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The value of buying online...

A friend of mine likes to talk about the monetary value difference between buying online and buying from bricks & mortar stores at RRP.

Seriously, I have a friend that does this probably more so that I do!  Anyway.  He posted recently about online discounting v FLGS' for Games Workshop products and it went something along the lines of this -

The “myth” of the Online discounter for Games Workshop:

A box of Space Marine: Assault Squad - RRP from GW is £20.50.  One of the cheapest sets and the smallest box size.

Picking 3 Online Discounters, how much do you actually save?

4TK Gaming: Assault Marines @ 20% off - £16.40 + £2.60 Postage = £19.00
Saving £1.50 ! (That's only a 7.5% reduction!!) and 3 - 5 days for delivery

Wayland Games: Assault Marines @ 15% off - £17.02 + £2.75 Postage = £19.77
Saving 73p! (That's only a 3.5% reduction!!) and 3 - 5 days for delivery

Dark Sphere: Assault Marines @ 25% off !!! - £15.38 + £3.80 Postage = £19.18
Saving £1.32! (That's only a 6.4% reduction) and 3 - 5 days for delivery

So what does that mean then?

It means you can save money, albeit a relatively small amount when you factor in postage but is it really worth saving £1.50 when you have to wait 3-5 days to get what you want?

I suppose the economy of scale is when you buy in bulk online but then again if you're buying in bulk maybe it's worth having a conversation with the owner/manager of your FLGS as they might be able to do something.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Questions - When do people play games?

And we're back!  What did I miss?  Nothing?  Really? Oh well...

I've only got 1 more post to make on the revisiting the questions before I return this broadcast to your usual content.

When do people play games?

In the previous post on this subject I focussed on the length of time it takes to play a game and explained how widely varied that can be.

The question of when is as much about where as it is about when.

Tabletop games can be played anywhere there's a table, yes some of them need a big table and indeed some of games are designed for a specifically sized table but in reality if you have a table (other work surfaces can apply) you can play a tabletop game on it.  But when do people play games?  Anytime is the simple answer or maybe that should be all the time.

I mean there are people who play games on specific nights of the week (Friday nights for me) and there are those who play games during the day (ORC Edinburgh was built on the principle of Saturday afternoon RPGs) and indeed there are a lot of gamers out there who play at every opportunity they have.

The benefit of a number of the games out there is that you can play short games, long games and some games in between and that enables the gamer to really play whenever they have free time.  Some of the most enjoyable games I've played have been short 30 minute games like The Resistance.

What you have to consider when deciding to play a game is home time do you and your fellow gamers have to play.  Then it's simply a case of picking a game or number of games that fit that slot.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Did I speak too soon?

Ok so the eagle eyed amongst you will notice that I've not managed to get back to posting here.

Don't worry though as I will get this sorted as I expect to get back to the forward posting over the next couple of days to restart the posts after this weekend.

This week has been challenging in the same way as last week with work taking priority.  The positive news though is that this Friday I get back to playing games with the start of my new Star Wars RPG campaign but more on that later...

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Normal Service Will Resume!

As predicted but hoped to avoid in my post about November I've not had time to do a few posts for several days which has resulted in a gap in the posts on here.

This is just a quick post just to say that normal service will resume as I'll get back to posting regularly this weekend.

I will also be missing my regular gaming this Friday night which is also frustrating but hey that'll change too.

So, what have you been reading or doing or playing in my absence?

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Questions - Where do people play games?

Continuing the theme of re-asking the questions I've come to a revisit of this post on where to play games.

I focussed a bit too heavily on the FLGS side in that earlier post and I think in this post I want to focus on the majority of gamers that are out there and where they play.

The majority of gamers out there are home based gamers or "kitchen table" gamers as I've referred to this demographic in the past.  Yes there are clubs all over the world that exist purely for gamers to congregate and share their hobby, but what I'm saying is that the majority of gamers out there are perfectly happy playing at home with a small select group of fellow gamers.

This was how I started out.  At home with my friends, usually on a weeknight or Saturday night and we'd get together to play a RPG of some form or another.  Nowadays though that home-based group plays a lot more than RPGs.

I know more people who play games at home than do at the clubs I've attended over the years. In fact I'd go so far to say that the home based group is not just the majority of gamers out there but is probably something in the region of 70% of the gaming population - particularly in relation to RPGs and Board/Card Games.

FLGS' and clubs help to draw these people out into their gaming spaces on a part time basis and of course enabling them to participate in the overall hobby community can help the kitchen table gamer to meet new gamers. In the main though these home based groups aren't interested in doing anything more than simply play games at home.

As time has moved on the solitary gamer has perhaps found it harder to find the community around them as in the main it's a static community which either isn't a) looking for more gamers and b) bothered about that wider community.

So what's the answer to the question Dave?

People play games all over the place whether that be the home game, the gaming group/club that meets up in the pub/cafe/wherever and the community that's hosted in your FLGS.  Personally I feel it keeps coming back to the fact that whilst this is a social hobby the majority of those targeted as part of that community aren't really that bothered in being social about it beyond their kitchen table with their usual set of players.

None of this is wrong but what it does do perhaps is say that the majority of gamers are not interested in or really all that bothered about the community of gaming.  They like to game - yes.  But the community around the hobby is much more than simply that which exists in clubs and stores around the world.  The majority of gamers just aren't that bothered about all that, they just want to play games at home with friends.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Questions - How do you play RPGs?

In the last post I talked about how to play tabletop games in general and I made reference at the end of the post that RPGs are a little bit different.

RPGs have the same "Action & Outcome" element in the main particularly in relation to conflict resolution but they also introduce players to a more narrative style of game play.

This isn't limited to only RPGs as there are other games that have a narrative element but in the main this is a RPG component.

So, how do you play RPGs?  The normal way I walk a new player around this is to take an everyday situation and then introduce an usual component but this is likely better explained by example.

Me: Choose an everyday situation and let's roleplay how that might change.
Player: Ok, my commute to work involves driving to the train station and then getting a train to Edinburgh.
Me: Right, so you're on the train and it's quieter than normal for a Monday morning.  The train stops just before crossing the bridge, a rare occurrence but rare enough for you to take notice.
Player: I check my watch and take a look out the window to see if there's anything unusual.
Me: Your watch has stopped at 7:13am which was 5 minutes after you boarded the train.  Outside of the train the weather is heavy rain and strong winds.
Player: Maybe that's why we've stopped before the bridge?  The wind I mean?  Not sure why my watch has stopped either.  I get out my mobile phone and check the time on that.
Me: Your phone has lost power which is odd as it was more than 80% charged when you got out the car. It doesn't respond to any attempts to turn it on.  Other passengers are starting to move around.
Player: Ok.  Odd.  I get up and ask if anyone has the time or a phone I borrow.
Me: There's a man in a light grey suit at the back of the carriage.  You've never spotted him before, in fact you don't remember him getting on the train.  The passenger in the seat across from you says that her phone is also not working.
Player: I call out to the man in the grey suit.  "Hey, do you have the time?"
Me: He doesn't say anything but starts walking towards you.  You think he's got something like a knife in his left hand.
Player: A knife?! Crap. Ok, erm I took an umbrella with me this morning as I thought it might rain.  I take it out from my bag and hold it.
Me: One of the other passengers notices he has a knife too and screams.  Another man tries to grab the grey suited man but is stabbed in the process.  He falls to the ground.
Player: Ok... I grab one of the hard suitcases that's on the luggage rack next to me and throw it at him.
Me: Ok.  Here are 5 coins, flip all of them.  Tell me how many come up tails.
Player: <flips coins> 4 tails, 1 heads.  What happens?
Me: You hit him with the case and knock the knife from his hand.

etc etc...

The situation was entirely narrative until there was an action that required a random element to the outcome. What's key though is that out of every option available the Player had chosen to confront the man in the grey suit.  They could have easily tried to head for another train carriage or indeed ignored the grey suited man. The coin flip was to measure the random element with tails classed as a success in this case.

This is roleplaying at it's core.  Situational narrative with conflict resolution.  With each decision and result leading to another situation.  Simple really.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Questions - How do you play?

This question came up in a conversation with a non-gamer recently and it reminded me of the chat I had with my "nearly gamer" work colleague.

The mainstream board game that is played by families across the world isn't that far removed from the hobby game scene.  Sure the games are different but there are similarities with respect to how you play the games.

Now the first thing you have to consider is that these are games.  In the mainstream market that usually translates into "competition" rather than anything else. It also usually doesn't include any real strategy elements other than perhaps in games like Risk which is one of those games that sits on the border between mainstream and hobby gaming.

In simple terms each game consists of the following -

Rules - These will vary based on format of the game and complexity level.  Some hobby games are fairly light on rules whereas others will have pages upon pages of rules to govern the gameplay.
Chance & Strategy - I'm struggling to think of any hobby game that doesn't have a Chance or Random element to it.  Almost all of them will involve some level of strategy though.

Rules in Hobby Games
These govern all sorts of things from how far you can move miniatures on a table, how cards interact with either other, how your player character does when trying to pick a lock etc etc.  Different levels of rules and play styles will be covered by the rules of the game.

Chance & Strategy in Hobby Games
In most games this involves dice of some description. Whether that be the default 6 sided dice that you can find in most mainstream games but some games use different numbers of sides including but not limited to d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and d100.
For games without dice the chance element is normally managed through shuffling a pack of cards to ensure that the drawing of cards from the deck is relatively random.

So an example of this would be a wargame like Warhammer or Warmachine where the player elects to move their models by a pre-set (in the rules) distance and then opts to conduct an action that needs a random element (dice roll) to determine success.

In the main that's all there is to it - Action & Outcome. Sure you add things like story and for RPGs you also need to include the actual role playing but that's very specific and probably a post by itself

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Questions - Who to play with?

This goes back to my previous posts about community and how you find other like minded gamers.

If your search for people who play the same games as you is starting completely from scratch then the best routes that I've found are -

Internet search for clubs - you shouldn't limit that search to the game/format that you're looking to play. Invariably a gaming club will have players of various games so be prepared to search for games that aren't on your list.  e.g. searching for Warhammer and Bolton will bring up a variety of information about wargamers in Bolton. That may lead you to find Board/Card, CCG or RPG players

The other primary source of gamers is the game store. The Find Your Game Store website helps you to locate game stores throughout the UK and a lot of them will either have onsite play space where you can get to know that localised community or will have information on groups of gamers in your area who play the same games.

Manufacturer websites also in some cases have event locators.  e.g. Wizards Of The Coast have a locator which enables you to search for organised play events for D&D and Magic.

If after exploring each of these and you still come up blank then I'd suggest alternative approaches -

If you have a FLGS nearby to you then offer to run demos of the games that you want to play.  That way you might just be able to build that player base that you are looking for.

Check out your local University and College setups to see if they have any gaming societies or semi-related subjects for societies like Sci-Fi / Fantasy themed societies.  Even if you aren't a student yourself this suggests at least that there is a population of people who would be interested in playing the games you want to play.

Plus going back a few posts I looked at the Online Communities that exist.  Whilst it is possible that any post you make will be lost in the noise of the forums it'd definitely worth posting.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Revisiting the questions - Why should I buy Game X?

Back at the end of July I asked the question Why Play Tabletop Games? and a few others too.

I'm going to revisit each of these over the next few days and ask them in a different sort of way.

Why should I buy Game X?

Let's assume for a moment that the game interests you already.  Let's also assume that your fellow gamers are likely to be interested in it for the same reasons you are.  But what is it about Game X that makes you choose to play it?  The reason I'm asking the question is because I'm never really sure that games get their pitch correctly.

The constituent parts of that sales pitch involve -

  • Theme - Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Historical/Horror etc
  • Artwork
  • Blurb on the box/book

These items combined are the face value sales pitch.  The reason you've decided to pick it up and have a closer look but not necessarily the reason why you're going to want to play it.  This is an important step for any game as once you've got it in your hand you're more likely to actually buy it.  But what comes next?

This is where I think a lot of games are disadvantaged or perhaps even let themselves down.
A sealed product cannot be perused any further and the potential purchaser is really limited in how they take their decision making beyond what they've already gleaned from the external product.  This leads them to reading or hearing opinions from a vast array of online resources and the retailer themselves.  Not a bad thing but is there not more that a manufacturer can do here?
An "open" product gives you a chance to read the introduction and other parts of the game.  How often though does a product introduction start off with a "This is how to play" section rather than a "This is WHY you should play" section?

For me there should be more stuff on the why people should play Game X in a highly visible way on the product itself.

But what do I mean by that?  Do I mean the social benefit stuff?  Well that's kinda a yes and a no.  I'd love to see a quick and simple graphic that tells me if the game is a resource management game, a mathematical game etc etc but I don't really think that's what I'm after.
I'm after a more robust hook than "oh doesn't this look cool!" from a game.  Give me backstory, tell me what role I'm playing in the game, intrigue me, give me an example of play WITHOUT mechanics, show me all the components laid out in an actual play situation etc etc.

Or am I asking for too much?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Online Communities

Pre-Facebook/Google+ etc online tabletop communities tended to be based around forums.  Those communities are still very vibrant today and tend to be the best "hub" for activity on discussing your hobby online.

In the past I've used sites like ENWorld and RPG.net in the main really down to my RPG playing history.  I still use ENWorld from time to time and rarely use RPG.net other than for their Game Index.

With other tabletop formats I've never really been part of the forum community "scene" except for geographical communities like ORC Edinburgh (obviously), Dunfermline Wargaming And Roleplay Fellowship (aka DWARF - now my Friday night club) and the Kirkcaldy Gaming Club.

With my relatively recent interest in boardgames increasing I've started to use BoardGameGeek a bit more. This is mostly for researching number of players that games can accommodate rather than reviews as I'm not a huge fan of review websites.

With the explosion of groups and communities on Facebook and Google+ as well as publisher pages etc the amount of information available is amazing; at times perhaps overwhelming when you have a cross hobby interest.

The online communities really enable you to find that specific group of people that you're looking to engage with and in many respects can help you to find other players to game with.

What online communities are you a part of and why?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Long November

November looks like being a long month for me for a variety of reasons.

My day job as a Project Manager is something that keeps me very busy.  In November I am changing role and moving from 1 large financial services institution to another and that will likely detract from a) my hobby and *apologies in advance* may also impact on b) this blog.

I'm hoping that neither will be the case but such as the way of things I can only see long days ahead which will minimise my time available to do things like this.

However, I'm not one to walk away from a challenge!

By the time this post goes live I hope to have gone through the character creation process for the D&D game I am planning to run.  This will be using the last playtest packet for D&D Next ahead of the formal release which some indicators still suggest will be in 2014 (GenCon!?) but there are others that suggest it might slip into 2015.  I'm hedging my bets on 2014 largely because of it being the 40th anniversary of D&D and I think WotC would be making a mistake to miss that one.  Unless of course they plan to use that to re-release the original D&D box set in a non-collectible format...  Something I'd probably end up buying anyway.

Also November is a 5 Friday month which means there's 1 additional slot of gaming goodness on the horizon.  I expect it to go something like this -

1st November - Well I've already covered that as I expect to be going through character creation for D&D Next.  I also expect to have read the rules by then but that may be unlikely...
8th November - Board/Card Games methinks.
15th November - Star Wars campaign kick off.  As I've said elsewhere on here I'm planning to use the Beyond The Rim scenario as the framework for this.  There is a concern that, at least initially, I'll be using the book as written but as with most published scenarios I will likely deviate from it enough to give the players enough variety in play.  I've read through the book once so far and I have a few ideas for alternate railroad stations but I definitely need to re-read it and expand my notes a bit ahead of this session.
22nd November - Board/Card Games methinks again.
29th November - This is an interesting one as with it being a 5 Friday month I'm tempted to do something different.  Not entirely sure what that would be other than perhaps let +Erik Langskaill beat me at Star Wars LCG again.  Alternatively I could kick off the D&D Campaign which might be the more logical option; assuming of course that we've agreed a setting for it!

December however is a short month with really only 3 Fridays in it that I will be likely to game on so the temptation grows to get the D&D Campaign kicked off in November and have D&D and Star Wars take precedence over Board/Card Gaming.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


So in Indie RPGs there are 2 terms which seem to form the cornerstone of how gameplay works.

Kicker - Dramatic scene described by the player with their character in the middle of it.
Bang - The action that drives the story, usually instigated by the character.

These 2 aren't exclusive to Indie Games though, both are used throughout the RPG hobby just that in Indie Games they've been pushed to the front of "how to play".
In many respects this approach is the origin of the player narrative style of game play that has led to GM-less RPGs.

What I've been considering of late though is how this approach can be used to define the environment for a new campaign.  Sandbox / Sandpit style approaches work in most creative fields.  A group of people get together and create with no restriction knowing that what they come up with is collaborative and probably more importantly drives a collective story.

Seeing as this is the 5th of November I'm going to use the phrase Fireworks to cover this process and really that's not a bad definition.

As the creative process flows the players all start to bounce ideas off each other ultimately resulting in that collaborative and collective picture of where their characters will exist and the adventures that they will take. All that's really happening here is a creative chain reaction but one that isn't restricted to linear paths. Woah that's pretty heavy but then again what's so special about that?

Nothing really but to take the Kicker and Bang labels they're really not that special either indeed the Firework is a culmination of those to reach a major Bang or indeed succession of key Bangs throughout the collaborative picture.

I suppose that the Firework is almost more aligned to that collaborative piece too.  Each player and their character will have their individual Kickers & Bangs but when you combine these from multiple players you arrive at the Fireworks.

This might not be anything new to you and in reality it's nothing new to me but in the interest of giving things labels (is there such an interest?) I think Fireworks serve the purpose of describing that collective Bang.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Planning for GenCon on a jet plane.

As I continue to prepare (save) for GenCon 2014 I have set up various alerts on the price of flights to Indianapolis.

So far the price from Edinburgh is varying between £862 and £926 return with Glasgow being that little bit cheaper but a much longer drive to the airport and home for me.  It's a strange experience watching the price go up slightly then come down again ever so slightly (today it's at £882 for Edinburgh and £866 for Glasgow) as I resist the urge to buy the tickets too early.

At the same time as looking at this I've also received an "Important Information" email from the GenCon team.  It has lots of information in it but the bits of particular import are -

1 - Pre-Registration opens at noon (Eastern time so that's 5PM UK time) on Sunday the 26th January.  This is open until June 29th at 11:59pm (again Eastern time so thats 4:59AM UK time on the 30th June).
No real danger of me waiting until June 29th....

2 - Hotel Registration begins on 2 days after Pre-Registration so that's Tuesday the 28th January at the same time so 5PM UK time...... which means if I'm going to opt to be part of the hotel room-block that GenCon have then I need to be hovering over a fast internet connection at work.  Either that or I take a day off...
At present I'm still looking at the condo/apartment option as a preference but will decide that in January I suspect.

There's a variety of other information in the email but these were the 2 of particular interest and essentially my "Go / No Go" timeline around whether I can muster up some friends to go with me!

So on Christmas Day it's only 4 weeks and 4 days to GenCon pre-registration!  Excitement builds!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Celebration Time

In the run up to Christmas (yes I know November's only just started) there tends to be a lot of celebration planning, thinking about gifts to give and that you may receive.

That annual celebration along with others similar celebrations are part of our culture and everyday lives. Within the hobby community celebrations come in all shapes and sizes with different products and manufacturers providing some focus through their Organised Play activities but also using new releases as celebrations of that product.

For me celebrating my hobby just involves having fun playing games and I'm sure this is how the majority of people celebrate their hobby.

My FLGS recently celebrated 15 years of operating and as part of that fantastic anniversary they held a party.  I couldn't attend it due to family commitments but from what I have heard it was a fantastic day of gaming and cake.  The shop had constructed a Death Star trench out of MDF and had also build a number of gun emplacements using Lego and people played X-Wing.  As well as that there were board games a plenty and Magic drafts for others to enjoy.  It was, judging all by the posts I've seen on Facebook, a fantastic day for all that went along.

Events like this and to some extent conventions also provide that opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the hobby as a whole no matter what format of gaming you indulge in.  It's probably what I miss most about the 1st Chapter.  This blog however isn't about looking back at that time it's about looking forward and so I've started to consider how I can celebrate the hobby more in the future.

There are a number of options here and there's definitely a variation in scale that they can take however I'm not quite ready to share these here as there's a lot of other stuff I want to focus on first before I start to really promote my plans for future celebrations.

Rather than just leaving it hanging there though, perhaps I can ask a favour of my readers by asking a few questions.

How do you celebrate your hobby?
What types of celebration do you enjoy most?
Why don't we celebrate the hobby more?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Force is strong with this one.

In my previous post on licenses I made reference to the popularity of Star Wars within the hobby.

Star Wars is one of those properties that has serious longevity and is consistently establishing new fans to enjoy the games by publishers such as Fantasy Flight Games.

What caught me by surprise today is that ICv2 have released some market performance information around the success of games in the Non-Collectible Miniature format during Summer 2013.

These numbers are taken from independent stores in North America and doesn't include Games Workshop stores in that mix.  The numbers show that the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game outsold Warmachine, Warhammer Fantasy and Hordes.  Now there are no numbers published to give market share or anything like that but seeing the game selling so well in comparison to the stalwarts of that format is surprising.

Top 5 Non-Collectible Miniature Lines – Summer 2013

Warhammer 40k
Games Workshop
Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures
Fantasy Flight Games
Privateer Press
Warhammer Fantasy
Games Workshop
Privateer Press

Mind you looking back at my post on bias/snobbery in the hobby I had managed to determine that the market for Warhammer (both games combined) was something in the region of 1.5 Million players worldwide.  So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that a game which gives fans of Star Wars the opportunity to play games of starship battles or maybe it's more a reflection of the size of that format as a whole but either way it was a surprise to me to find X-Wing as the 2nd most popular Non-Collectible Miniature game of the Summer.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Why Don't Superhero RPGs Work?

Ok so the title is a generalism because Superhero RPGs actually do work but why aren't they more popular?

Let me explain.  Comic books are going through a bit of a resurgence in recent years.  This is in part due to the success of movies based on Marvel (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and The Avengers) and DC (Batman, Green Lantern and Superman) properties.  I also think that like Hobby Games the comic book market is experiencing an element of "Geek = Cool" just now.

So why then do I think that Comic Book RPGs don't reach the same level of popularity as say Fantasy or Sci-Fi based RPGs?  I honestly don't know...

It's been one of those "Why?" questions that I've been trying to work out for a long time.  Given the episodic nature of comic books and the opportunity for Superhero team-ups surely this should be a perfect fit?

Maybe it's down to a lack of systems available to play?  Nope that's not it as there's an abundance of RPGs focussing on Superhero type games.

In a previous post I mentioned that I owned but never played Brave New World which was a Superhero RPG using something similar to the Savage Worlds mechanics.  Indeed over the years I've owned a variety of Superhero RPGs but I've never managed to run a decent length storyline and that's speaking as someone who's been reading comics for as long as I've been playing games...

So - Why Don't Superhero RPGs work?

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Cursed Item Horror Stories

As I've posted previously me and horror don't really work that well together and given that this post is going out on Halloween I felt I should post something with the word Horror in the title.

This post could so easily have been about horror stories of games that have gone horribly wrong and been memorable for all the wrong reasons but I wanted to focus more on player character disasters rather than gaming disasters as it were.

For those old school D&D players amongst you there may be a shiver down your spine when you read this but please hang in there!

Back in D&D and AD&D 1st Edition (the latter especially I feel) cursed magic items were very much a part of the game.  Now these came in a variety of formats and in many respects were just variants (dangerous variants granted) on a normal item which if the PCs weren't careful would backfire on them.

One such cursed item that has stuck in my memory all these years is the Horn Of Collapsing.  A cursed item so vile and malicious that it was deemed too risky to include in the Queen Of Demonweb Pits scenario.  So what makes that item stand out from all the others?

Easy - It resulted in my first ever total party kill (TPK).  Ok so it wasn't really the Horn itself that did that, more the recklessness of the player who thought "Hey there's a bugle, I wonder what will happen if I play a tune on it?" and ultimately resulted in that TPK.

Now I no longer own the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide but through the power of Google I was able to find a version of the rules for this despicable cursed magical item...

The horn appears to be a normal musical instrument, perhaps a bugle or warning horn of some sort. If it is sounded improperly (e.g., without first speaking the proper command word) or 10% of the time in any event, the following will result:

  • Out-of-doors: A torrent of fist-sized rocks will strike the individual sounding the horn, 3d6 in number, each causing 1d6 hit points of damage.
  • Indoors: The ceiling overhead will collapse when the device is blown. The character suffers 5d12 points of damage.
  • Underground: The area immediately above the character sounding the horn will fall upon him. The damage is 5d8 points base, multiplied by one for each 10 feet of height which the material above drops (i.e., twice damage if a 20-foot ceiling, three times damage if a 30-foot ceiling, etc.).

Proper use of a horn of collapsing enables the character to sound it while it is pointed at the roof overhead from 30 to 60 feet beyond the user. The effect is to collapse a section of roof up to 20 feet wide and 20 feet long (10-foot radius from the central aiming point) which inflicts damage as noted above if indoors or underground only.

The horn can be used once per day.

Some versions of this horn have charges. These kinds can be used as often as desired until the charges are used up. They cannot be recharged but also do not require attunement. They will usually have 2d6+2 charges.

I just remember explaining the result and back then I didn't really cater for rewinding the clock or anything like that to give the players a 2nd chance.  The decision had been made to blow the horn and now all that was left was for lots of dice to be rolled.  The character in question was being played by my good friend Craig Milne who was part of my original gaming group back in the day and some 25 years later this episode is STILL cast up even though none of the original group (other than me of course) still play games.

I can't even remember what class Craig's character was playing back then or anything like that.  I simply remember that they were in a cave/underground complex and Craig's character discovered the Horn and decided to blow it.  The resulting dice roll killed the entire party in one foul swoop.  Needless to say that for many future games to come Craig was never again allowed to pick up random objects to see what they would do...

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

When Retailers Go Bad

On my recent family break in London we did some of the tourist trap stuff and also did some shopping. Some of that shopping involved a trip for me out to Leisure Games for the first time and I had a great visit and plan to go back next opportunity I have.
However there was one particularly negative shopping experience that has been niggling at me since that break.

We went to Hamleys in London solely for our daughter to have a look and spend her holiday money.  She decided to get a new Build-A-Bear and whilst she waited in the queue I did some investigation into the "hobby games" section they had.

Pretty decent selection all in all.
Pandemic, Ticket To Ride, Settlers Of Catan, Carcassonne, X-Wing and a few others that I can't recall.

What struck me though was the price of the games...

Taking 1 specific example - Pandemic RRP is £29.99. Hamleys price £40.  I stood there for 5 minutes looking at it and picking up multiple copies just making sure it wasn't an error in case the wrong price tag had been put on it.  However all that happened was that the price was confirmed.  £40...

Ok so I know it's Hamleys and I know it's on Regents Street in London etc etc but a 33% markup over and above the RRP!?

Then I got to thinking a bit more and maybe this is something more core to the financial model of the hobby market.  Using the markups I had in my previous post on the 4 Party System that £29.99 RRP translates to a Distributor price of £20. So by pricing it at £40 Hamleys are putting a 50% markup over the Distributor price that they're buying it at (assuming they don't get a larger discount).
Maybe, just maybe, that's the correct price?  What I mean is I bet the majority of non-hobby games that Hamleys carry have a larger markup than 33%, indeed I'd be surprised if that markup wasn't 50% across the majority of non-hobby games that they sell.

I'd also have to say that Pandemic is likely worth £40.  Although I'd rather give my £29.99 to my FLGS!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Cheating in games...

I'm kinda surprised that it's taken me so long to cover this topic but then again it's not something I've encountered (to my knowledge) recently.  One of my hobby principles is to have fun when playing games and I've also touched on how unimportant winning is in achieving that fun.  I however haven't cover cheating in games.

So what do I mean by cheating?

It can be blatant cheating either through fabricating dice rolls, illegal deck builds, fudging stats in games or something more extreme.

Now I'm not referring to the GM fudging a dice roll to ensure the party stays on the railroad.  That's permissible to a point, isn't it?  Suppose that depends on your gaming group and whether "dice as rolled" is part of the mantra.  I've been known to fudge a situation to ensure that the game doesn't end early as a result of total party kill or indeed to provide the party the opportunity to find something out that they otherwise wouldn't learn.  Now is that cheating?  I suppose technically it's "cheating the game" rather than "cheating the players"; unless of course that fudging results in the PCs missing out on something...

Cheating your fellow gamer is wrong and I don't think anyone will disagree with me when I say that but why do some people cheat?  I suppose it's similar to the "must win" attitude that comes with some from my fellow gamers to the point that they forget that it's a game which is supposed to be fun...

People might also cheat because of the nature of the contest.  Any game that has a "pro" circuit brings with it a highly competitive environment.  That environment is, in the main, very cordial and fair but there are some gamers out there who take the competitive element too seriously and are prepared to cheat to win.

Tolerance levels of cheating vary from community to community.  I know game store owners who ban players for life on the basis of cheating during a tournament irrespective of whether it's a first offence or not. That may sound extreme but I understand why they do that.  Similarly I know clubs who have had disruptive individuals due to persistent foul play during games and those individuals have been excluded from participating in tournaments and at times been ostracised by other gamers.

Have you encountered cheating when playing games and if so what happened?

Monday, 28 October 2013


When writing a framework for a campaign you generally have a trigger that helps you shape the overall plot.  That trigger can come in a variety of forms and it usually isn't fully formed when it first comes to you.
One of the best triggers in D&D games for me has been names.  These usually turn into NPC names or location names but sometimes they turn out to be something more.

I ran a campaign called Kilranthia at +ORC Edinburgh which had elements from a previous campaign that I'd ran; specifically I took the names of PCs from an old campaign and built them into the pantheon of Kilranthia.  Now that was the easy bit and wasn't actually the trigger, it just helped me to refine the trigger into the fully formed one that Kilranthia needed.

The trigger became known as Dimura's Prophecy and this is what it said -

The life of the world began when the light of the sky first shone upon the child of the land.
From the heart of the forest came the hand of the destroyer and he stole the eye of the mountain.
The mouth of darkness tried to remove the jewel of the ocean and block out the light of the sky.
From the child of the land will come those to face the hand of the destroyer and free the eye of the mountain.

In the heart of the forest hope remains.
In the eye of the mountain hope depends.
In the child of the land hope relies.
Without the light of the sky hope dies…

In the mouth of darkness despair waits.
In the hand of the destroyer despair triumphs.
In the jewel of the ocean despair fears.
Without the life of the world despair nears.

Reading it back after quite sometime it still has a lot of meaning to me.  Essentially the prophecy tells of a moment in the future where The Big Bad will win.  There is a chance, a slim chance, that this moment can be prevented but the terms in the prophecy are not simple to translate.  During the campaign it became something that the players leaned on and revisited many many times to justify their actions and determine their next steps.  I'd be interested to know what others make of it other than perhaps it being some poorly written poetry.

Let's take 2 of the "names" that are referenced and see how I used them in the game.

"Eye Of The Mountain" - Represented in the game by an eagle named Lóthdor.
Lóthdor was an avatar of one of the ancient and forgotten gods. This god was largely nature based and had created Lóthdor to be his Eye so that he could watch over the world and help guide those in it.  Essentially all that happened here was that one of the PCs had a companion who was an eagle named Lóthdor who also just so happened to be an avatar of a once dead god.
Lóthdor was both a distraction and a focus for the characters at different points in the story and became a key device in reminding the players that the prophecy was tangible and could be used to influence them.

"Hand Of The Destroyer" - Represented in the game by a big time Wizard named Weston who worked both angles whilst at the same time looking to grab all the power for himself.
Weston was nobodies fool and someone who worked all the angles to get what he needed.  He was both the saviour of the PCs and their enemy.  Ultimately he was manipulating the world so that when that moment of The Big Bad winning was upon them he was ready.  Essentially he was there to emphasise the doubt the PCs had in what they needed to do and no matter what The Big Bad did, Weston was always going to win.  If The Big Bad won then Weston was the reason for that success.  If The Big Bad lost then Weston again was the reason for that failure.  This really came down to who the PCs trusted which in the end it all came down to a coin toss...

Some of the above will read like railroading and at times I'm sure that did happen however I'd suggest that those instances were more about demonstrating that forces beyond the understanding of the PCs were involved in the plot.  The role of the PCs was to change the balance of any outcome, to be that thorn in the side of The Big Bad and the prophecy gave them the means and opportunity to do that.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Hobby Market: Selling Direct

So in the 4 Party System I walked through the various tiers of the hobby market and how each tier adds a layer of cost to the price the consumer pays.

So what would happen if the manufacturer sold directly to the consumer only?  Stress the ONLY part here.

The biggest change in a manufacturer to consumer approach is the level of stock and so in turn investment that the manufacturer has to do.

If the manufacturer was still to create 500 units for sale then they need to confident that they would make a quick return through Direct Sales to consumers.

Let me break that down -

So the manufacturer still spends £2,500 on producing those 500 units.
Do they continue to sell them at the RRP that was previously used?  Definitely worth exploring.

At £17.50 per unit - To reach a break even point on that £2,500 investment the Manufacturer would need to sell 150 of the 500 units.  Which is a pretty amazing mark up but what has to be remembered is that the Manufacturer is now dealing with individual Customers (potentially 500 of them) rather than a few select Distributors or Retailer (<50?).  This adds a management overhead around storage and distribution and of course means it's down to the Manufacturer to sell all 500 of the products directly.  Well I suppose they could only sell 200 and make a gross profit of £1,000 but why create 500 then?  Other than to get the production price down to £5.

At £7.50 per unit - This brings a different dynamic.  To get to a break even point the Manufacturer has to sell 335 of the 500 units.  This is the same markup we used in the example previously of 33% except in that scenario this was selling the product to a Distributor.

But if the product is £7.50 rather than £17.50 they'll sell loads more!  Right?
Hmmm, maybe.  I mean sure selling more of the product because of a lower price is likely but we're talking about moving from selling 150 to 335 to break even.  That's double the sales to make the same amount of revenue.  Why would you do that?

In the scenario where the Manufacturer only sells to the Consumer there's definitely an element of price elasticity available to the Manufacturer when setting the "RRP".  The balance has to be between the overheads of managing the fulfillment, achieving profitability to re-invest into the business and of course setting a price that the product will actually sell at.

If an equivalent product sells at £20 then why would you sell at £7.50?

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Character Creation: Edge of the Empire

So we recently went through character creation for EotE and I really felt this was one of the easiest and most interactive character creation processes I've ever taken part in.

To set the scene - I've got about 9 people interested in playing and that number might increase so looks like the Active/Passive approach is going to be a must have here.

On the night that we got together for character creation only 5 of the players were able to make it.  Some of the players had fairly strong concepts in mind whereas others were largely winging it.  Lots of good chat followed and the players settled on the following.

Human Explorer (Fringer)
Human Smuggler(Scoundrel)
Human Smuggler (Pilot / Scoundrel)
Rodian Colonist (Politico)
Wookie Tech (Outlaw Tech)

What was most interesting though was how the characters changed as the players went through the process of creation.

One of the mechanics of EotE is called Obligation and this brings a very simple narrative measure of what connection the character has to the fringes of the galaxy.  Within the rulebook the player has the option of rolling d% or choosing an Obligation from the list; or with agreement from the GM they can develop another Obligation entirely.  There are other narrative components to the creation that develop the character's origin, journey to the fringe and their motivation.  All of which help to hone that initial character concept into a more rounded playable character.

The other thing about Obligation is that it matters how heavily obligated the whole party is to those fringe elements.  e.g. The higher the parties obligation the less likely that respectable (if only publicly seen that way) connections might be willing to do business with them.  The counter to that though is that if their obligation isn't that high then certain parts of the underworld might not take them seriously.

What was of particular interest here and something I was keen to do, was how the players started to knit their characters together through shared Obligations and other elements of their backgrounds. Alongside that those players with fairly strong concepts at the start of the process were happy to revisit and adjust them to create those links between the characters to ensure that the party had a strong foundation to work from.

When it comes to creating the other characters those same links will need to be woven into any underlying plot for all the characters that will be taking part in the game.  That's one of the challenges of the Active/Passive approach - involving all the characters in the game.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Hobby Market: 4 Party System

So the hobby market works in mysterious ways or more precisely that's how it may appear to the consumer. Let me turn back that curtain and give you a view of what goes on behind the scenes of the hobby market.

So as a consumer you buy a hobby product from a retailer and 99% of the time that's all you need to know.
As a retailer you sell that product to consumers and buy it either from distributors or (particularly in the wargames category) the manufacturers themselves.
As a distributor you sell that product to retailers and buy from the manufacturers or in some cases buy from other distributors worldwide to bring that product to your market.
As a manufacturer you sell that product to distributors, retailers (as I say particularly in the wargames category) and on occasion directly to the consumer.

What does all that mean then?  It's all about money surprisingly enough, for each layer or "party" involved in the end to end transaction there is an amount of money allocated to that product.  Aligned with that money element is a quantity which as you move down the tiers listed above the quantities involved increase.  Taking a fictitious example moving from Manufacturer to Consumer and fabricating the margins that exist for simplicity it looks something like this.

The Manufacturer
Manufacturer creates a new product for market and the cost of production is £5.
The Manufacturer produces 500 units of this new product and sells them in bulk lots of 100 units per lot at a Sell Price of £7.50 per unit.
Total potential revenue is £3,750 which would give a Gross Profit of £1,250 for the Manufacturer based on those 500 units all selling.

The Distributor
Distributor becomes aware of new product from Manufacturer and arranges to buy 100 units of the product for onward selling to Retailers.
The Buy Price for the Distributor is £7.50 per unit and they order 100 units for a total Buy Price of £750
The Distributor then sets their sell price at £11.50 which is approximately a 35% markup.
Total potential revenue is £1,150 which would give a Gross Profit of £400 for the Distributor based on those 100 units all selling.

The Retailer
Retailer is contacted by Distributor (or in some cases Manufacturer) and orders 10 units of the product.
Distributor (and Manufacturer usually) agree what the Recommended Retail Price is for the product and set it at £17.50.  This enables the Retailer to apply approximately a 34% markup onto their Buy Price.
The Buy Price for the Retailer is £11.50 per unit and so 10 units is an investment of £115 with a potential maximum Sell Price of £175.  This would give the Retailer a Gross Profit of £60 based on those 10 units all selling which as I've said is roughly a 34% markup.

The Consumer
Consumer buys product from Retailer for £17.50.

So a product that costs £5 to produce in turn has to sell for £17.50 to give each party a slice of the action in the region of a 34% markup. As I've said above this example is based on fabricated margins each time to represent the nature of the beast.  In reality the margins are different across the tiers but as a model this explains how these things work.

Now each of these tiers has an overhead above and beyond the acquisition of the product itself which is where the markup has to be sufficient to
a) cover those purchase costs
b) cover all other overheads that business has
c) enable an element of profit to improve each business in the chain

So the question is what?
Why doesn't the Manufacturer just sell direct to the Consumer?  They could charge more than £7.50 per unit and make a healthier profit.  This is true but will they shift 500 units?  Keeping in mind that to go into production they had to produce that many for economies of scale.

The tiered system has flaws but it also has a number of key benefits.  But that's for a different post I feel.