Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Year's at Castle Perilous

Here's a list of events scheduled for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

New Year's Eve  

 Camp Castle Magic/Kajudo for players 16 and under  1 p.m.

All events below start at 6 p.m. and run until 12:30 a.m. or completion, whichever comes first
Magic Booster Draft--Theros

Warhammer 40,000 Countdown Tournament

Heroclix--Santa's Little Helper

Warmachine Grand Arena

We will have hot cider and snacks available from 6 to midnight as well as drawing for door prizes every hour starting at 6 p.m.  Must be present to win.

New Year's Day

1 p.m.  Camp Castle Pathfinder for players 16 and under
2 p.m.  Ticket to Ride Tournament  Free Entry

4 p.m.  Warhammer 40,000

6 p.m. D&D Encounters.

7 p.m.  My Little Pony the series (two episodes)

8 p.m.  My Little Pony the collectible card game

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

D&D Encounters Iteration 3

Though RPGs do not dominate our sales the way they did a decade ago, when they regularly accounted for between 20 to 25% of revenues, they still average a solid 7 to 10% share of sales in the store, mostly due to Pazio’s Pathfinder RPG, but Dungeon & Dragons 4th Edition still takes the number 2 place solidly and  WOTC’s D&D Encounters program, at least for the first several campaigns, stands, to my mind, as the best developed and supported store-based organized play program I have seen. 
Consider what stores received:  a multi-week campaign designed for first level characters, broken into bite sized segments that a good GM could run in a couple of hours (on a couple of occasions, when our GM failed to show, I stepped in and ran the evening’s play with less than fifteen minutes spent reviewing that evening’s session) and that did not require more than an evening’s commitment from a player.  Since each evening’s game was comparatively self-contained, a session would build on what had happened on previous evenings, while at the same time not leave a new player at a tremendous disadvantage compared to regular players. 

Starting with Murder in Baldur’s Gate and continuing with Legacy of the Crystal Shard, this format changed.  Now , stores no longer received the campaign with each week’s session broken out.  Instead, they had to purchase the full scenario and run it as more of a traditional campaign, with each week’s events more closely tied to what had gone before and players unable to join or miss sessions without having a greater impact on both their character and the campaign.  The new format also required extensive work by the GM in order to develop 2 hour sessions of gameplay so as to fit store time constraints while at the same time satisfying the players.  However, satisfying a request of many players and GMs, WOTC did develop online conversions for the campaigns, allowing DMs to run them using either 3.5, 4th edition or D&D Next.

This changes again with the next D&D Encounter season, Scourge of the Sword Coast, launching with the D&D Game Day the weekend of February 15, 2014. First, the campaign will only support play with the currently in-development D&D Next rules, though stores may apparently convert the adventure to D&D 3.5 or 4th Edition  if they so desire.  However doing so requires more work on the part of the store and/orDM, while using the D&D Next compatible various means that retailers do not promote D&D products currently available for sale, rather instead building interest in D&D Next.

The other major problem was that, unlike the previous two campaigns, Scourge of the Sword Coast would only release as a PDF and retailers, according to an email I received from WOTC’s Retail Support Team, would have to purchase the PDF at full price.  This sounded, to me, like a splendid way to kill off retailer enthusiasm for the program, so I contacted Tolena Thorburn, Global Communications Manager at WOTC for clarification. She informed that while WOTC still has to work out the details, retailers that run Scourge of the Sword Coast will receive, along with the Game Day materials, instructions on how to download the adventure at no charge. 

Regarding my other concern, that the next session of Encounters promoted the upcoming (and unavailable) D&D Next rules, rather than the currently available 4th Edition ones, Thorburn replied:   With regards to the other changes to Encounters, we want to be clear that the Adventure can be played with any rules set, but when it comes to in-store play experiences, Wizards will always encourage retailers to work with our most current product. We encouraged stores to run the first two Sundering adventures in 4th edition or D&D Next, however the in-store entertainment experience is truly up to the store owners. For 2014, we encouraging stores to focusing on running the adventures using D&D Next, which ties to our announcement yesterday that the new rules system will release in summer 2014.

What stores decide to do with the next season of Encounters should prove telling. While our attendance has held steady, I know of other stores which have reported huge drop-offs in attendance, to the point where they could no long justify continuing with the program, while still others shifted the time-slot to promoting other RPGs such as 13th Age, Pathfinder (like it needs it) or Numenera.  What happens with the next Encounter season should prove telling as to how players will respond to Next, a version of which WOTC will provide along with the PDF of Scourge.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Never Assume

Once again I am reminded what a good police it is to “NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING’.  Even if somebody tells you something has happened or they will do something, never assume it, always double check.

Case in point  #1.  As it says at the bottom of the column, I teach at Southeast Missouri State University.  The semester just ended and we have to turn in grades in the next couple of days.  The university adopted new software this year, which, among other things, automatically posted graded items to the gradebook, pretty useful that.  However, if a student fails to turn in an assignment or take a quiz, instead of giving said student a zero, it leaves the space blank and the software ignores it, giving said student a higher grade unless I manually enter a zero. That’s well and good for most assignments, since I have to manually grade them anyhow.  However, tests automatically post themselves and I was told that, if a student failed to take said test, the software would automatically recognize this and give them a zero for the quiz. Turns out, I assumed would do what I was told it do and it didn’t, meaning I had to go in and fix quiz grades, which probably won’t make the affected students happy.

Case in point #2:  A fellow store owner gave a trusted employee an instruction.  One would expect said employee to follow said instruction, being as how it came from said employee’s said employer who cuts said employee’s said paycheck.  However, said employee failed to follow said directions, causing someone to get injured.  You wouldn’t think you would have to follow up, especially with a trusted employee but you just can’t assume anything, can you?

The point I want to make is that, if you own the store, whether a game store or a comic store,, you bear the ultimate responsibility for its success or failure.  You put the money into it, it is your money on the line and assuming that things will happen the way you expect them is the surest way I know to lose it all.
I don’t care how loyal, trustworthy or dependable your employees and staff are, unless you have given them part ownership in the business, they never view it the same way you do. They can’t.  Every piece of merchandise on your shelves represents dollars of investment sitting there staring back at you , rather than nestling comfortably in your wallet or bank account.

In either of the cases above, did either of those involved set out to cause harm or increase the difficulty of doing a job?  Of course not.  People in general want to do a good job, if only to avoid getting terminated. Only in rare cases do people act to cause harm to the place they work.  However, even if they have worked for you for years, you still cannot assume that they will do what you tell them to do or that they understand it the way you think they should.  You still have to follow up and build that into your management style, because, when you get down to the nub, it is your money on the line.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Hours

Here are our hours through the end of the year:

Saturday December 21 & 28  10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday  December 22  noon to 8 p.m.
Monday December 23  10 a.m. to 9 p.m
Christmas Eve 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Christmas Day  4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
December 26, 27, 29 &30  Regular Hours
December 31 New Year's Eve  10 a.m. to midnight
New Year's Day  Regular Hours

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

D&D Encounters Change

As near as I can tell, according to this, stores will only be able to run the next session of D&D Encounters using the D&D Next rules, which contradicts what Greg Leeds said earlier this year regarding The Sundering and how players could use either 3.5, 4th Edition or D&D Next when playing.

This isn't a good idea since D&D Next rules are not available for sale yet and the whole idea of Encounters is to give players an opportunity to play D&D each week, not to playtest the next edition of the rules.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top 10 Graphic Novels for Christmas Gifts

Here are Brian's suggestions for 10 great graphic novels to give as gifts this holiday:

Top 10 Graphic Novels to give as gifts
1.        Saga Vol. 1:  A great gift for fans of science fiction or fans of compelling characters combined with great art and storytelling.  It has been showered with awards and is, in my opinion, the best comic currently available.

2.       Scott Pilgrim Color Edition Hardbacks:  The top choice for the video-game fan in your life.  This new edition has been colored gloriously and presented in quality hardback form.

3.       Gunnerkrigg Court:  Based on the award winning web-comic series, it has also been praised by Neil Gaiman.  It mixes Science Fiction and Fantasy into a wonderfully understated mystery set in the enigmatic Gunnerkrigg Court.  Great for fans of Harry Potter.

4.       V For Vendetta with Mask:  Make the political activist in your life happy with Alan Moore’s eponymous series about a corrupt fascist government being brought down by a lone revolutionary hero.  This edition also comes with a Guy Fawkes mask!  Great for any budding anarchist.

5.       Star Wars:  The Shadow of Yavin:  This Brian Wood series follows the Rebel Alliance after the battle of Yavin IV as they try and re-group and evade the Imperial navy.  It focuses on Princess Leia coming to terms with the destruction of Alderan and her new leadership role in the Alliance.  We also see Luke have to deal with his new status as one of the Alliance’s greatest heroes.  On the Imperial side, we see Lord Vader dealing with his failure to prevent the destruction of the Death Star and the Imperial officers who would take advantage of this to improve their position in the eyes of the Emperor.  This would be a wonderful gift to any Star Wars fan especially those who have shied away from the daunting expanded universe.

6.       Girl Genius Book 1:  Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank:  This introduces the reader to an alternative Victorian Europe, ruled (badly) by Mad Science.  We follow Agatha Heterodyne, the lost daughter of one of Europe’s greatest heroes as she struggles to find her destiny in a chaotic collection of city-states kept from controlled by the fearsome Baron Wolfenbach.  Ignorant to her famous lineage, she discovers that she, like her parents, possesses the “Spark”, the ability to create impossible feats of science.  Though This series borrows a lot from Steampunk, it’s creators describe it as “Gaslamp Fantasy”.  It is full of Heroism, Adventure and Romance, a must for any fan of Alternate History, Victorian Adventure, or Steampunk.

7.       The Massive Vol. 1:  Black Pacific:  This near future tale is set after “The Crash”, a combination of Social, Economic and Environmental collapse.  World governments dissolve, countries splinter into factions, weather goes haywire, economies crash and all of the side effects push the world past the breaking point.  We follow the crew of the Kapital, members of the Environmental Direct Action group, 7th Wave, as they search for their sister ship, the Massive with which they have lost contact with.  They must carefully find their way through a new, frightening world that is emerging in the “Post-Crash” world.  How can they save a world that has already been destroyed?  Can they hold on to their ideals is a world gone mad?  This is a thrilling story that hits very close to home and would be a great addition to the library of the Environmentalist in your life.

8.       Maus:  Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer award winning book gives not only the harrowing account of his father’s experience surviving the Holocaust, it is a detailed study of his relationship with his father as he puts his story to paper.  One of the most notable features of this award winning book is the way he depicts the different ethnicities;  The Jews are depicted as mice, the Nazis are cats.  As enthralling as his father’s survival story is, the story of the long-lasting effects are just as gripping.  Probably one of the most important works of graphic fiction ever, this is a must for anyone looking for a powerful story of humanity, survival, and family.
9.       The Walking Dead Compendium 1:  Collecting the first 48 issues of the hugely popular zombie apocalypse series, this would be a great gift for zombie fans of all types, especially fans of the AMC television series.

10.   Mouse Guard:  Fall 1152:  This heroic tale follows members of the Mouse Guard, a group of brave mice who guard the roads between the independent mouse city states and protect the settlements from the barbaric weasels and all sort of predators.  Written and beautifully illustrated by David Petersen, readers young and old, will fall in love with the brave, tiny heroes trying to protect the innocent and each other in a big, dangerous world.  A great gift for fans of heroic fantasy and beautiful artwork.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Snow Business

Well, the last couple of days have certainly proven that even the holiday shopping spirit is not match for Mother Nature as the elements saw fit to drop a foot of snow throughout most of the Midwest, forcing the cancellation of the town’s major Christmas event, the Lights Fantastic parade.  Typically, the Lights Fantastic parade brings  thousands of people into downtown for most of the day as they jockey to get good viewing spots for the spectacle. This gives stores in the area bordering the parade the opportunity to entice them inside prior to the parade with specials or, more often as in our case, hot cider or tea and cookies, as well as the opportunity to use the bathroom.  The Lights Fantastic Parade typically increases a December Saturday sales by about a third with minimal effort on our part.  

Unfortunately, due to the weather and concerns about traffic, the Illinois Department of Transportation pulled the parade permit the day before the parade.  No permit, no parade on a state highway.  so we had lots of cookies and hot cider to give out to many fewer people

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Small Business Saturday

Now we come into the holiday shopping season, the time of year when, depending on to whom you talk, retailers make 20 to 40 percent of their sales.  Black Friday, Cyber Monday (a self-fulfilled event, if you look at the statistics) and since 2010, Small Business Saturday, a creation of American Express.

Small Business Saturday  is promoted by AmEx  ostensibly to promote small businesses in the US, and, more practically, to encourage more small businesses to sign up to accept the American Express card.  I say ostensibly to promote small business because any small business can register to participate in Small Business Saturday and receive a welcome package, including door stickers, floormat and shopping bags.  However, in order to take advantage of the main thing driving customers into stores, a one-time $10 credit on their AmEx statement when they make a $10 or more purchase in a participating store, the store must accept the AmEx card.  Since many stores in the US, especially small retailers, do not accept American Express, due to higher merchant fees than Visa or Master Card, or even Discover, charge, I would willingly bet that AmEx looks at the list of retailers participating in Small Business Saturday, compares it to the list of those that accept AmEx and contacts non-accepting retailers to pitch the card.   Assuming that a store got a number of customers in attempting to use an AmEx card to get the discount, AmEx could point to that as a strong argument for taking the card.

While I really like the idea of Small Business Saturday , as I favor anything that has the potential to drive traffic into stores, I still have some caveats about the promotion, two to be precise:

1.        Placement.  Putting Small Business Saturday on the Thanksgiving weekend, directly after Black Friday, really dilutes its impact. Given that Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year and the Saturday after Black Friday is typically the third busiest shopping day of the year (the Saturday before Christmas is the 2nd busiest shopping day of the year, just in case you were wondering), it appears quite difficult to measure the impact that SBS has. Given that so many people are out shopping anyway, how does a store determine what impact, if any, SBS promotion has on sales.  Put the event on a Saturday in January, February or March, when you don’t already have the holiday shopping season driving traffic into stores and see what effect it has then.

2.       Coattails.  This is the fourth year for Small Business Saturday and American Express is still the only major company promoting it and, in fact, has the term trademarked.  If SBS is to become an “organic” event, rather than a paid one, we need to see more companies taking advantage of or sponsoring it, rather than just AmEx.  A quick search on Google shows only AmEx and Constant Contact  running promotions tying into the event, while Wordstream  has paid search tied to Small Business Saturday.  In our industry, Alliance Distribution has come out with a FLGS Success Plan for Small Business Saturday, downloadable from the Alliance website, and offering stores the opportunity to win a $100 credit by submitting events and promotions tied to SBS for a drawing to take place in early December.   Alliance, however, as far as I know, is the only company in the gaming (or comic) industry to really push SBS.  While these promotions are  good, Small Business Saturday needs more companies tying into the event to make it an actual “day” such as Black Friday, which developed on its own. I fear this won’t happen so long as the day remains a trademark of AmEx.

Here’s hoping I am wrong on these points, both that SBS will prove a major selling tool for stores and that more companies will start promoting it from both the front and back end.  The store has registered for it again, so we shall see.