Tuesday, January 29, 2019

GM's Tricks of the Trade

Courtesy of Troll Lord Games:

Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: When setting up and preparing a game, manage your expectations. Chances are you can see a whole tapestry unfolding in your mind. In it is an epic adventure with nuanced moments bound in with chance and choice. How can it be anything but fun? Remember that you can see the tapestry, the players have no idea what to expect. So, manage your expectations, orient on getting the quest/adventure started and the players involved. Everything beyond that is gravy. If you try to push it on them or explain it to them as this that and the other, you are likely to cloud the whole game. Its much akin to overselling a movie you like. I love the Walking Dead, but if I talk about it too much, people who don’t know the show, just think I’m nuts. Just don’t expect too much. Once they do buy into the narrative and the whole of it is revealed, the moment will be that much better.

#2: Much of the game is interacting with players, but a bit of it is behind your screens -- or if you don’t use screens -- on your end of the table. One of the simplest things to do, to prep, concerns your dice. Too often dice sets are all the same color. They look pretty and you can showcase the matching feng shui one with the other, but they are actually unpractical. Several of the dice are shaped alike, and when you have 30 dice, pencils, miniatures, note books, crib sheets, books, food and drink piled around you, the last thing you want to do is break the stride of a game…whether combat or other…by trying to sort through your dice and accidently picking up and rolling a d8 instead of a d10, then having to reroll. Just put different colored dice behind the screen. Your d8 should be a different color than your d10 and so on. It leaves one less thing you have sort through. Sadly these sets are hard to find and you may have to buy several to get different colored dice.

#3: This is something my good friend (Mac Golden co-Designer of C&C) reminded me of, or rather I was reminded of when listening to the Crusader Podcast he was a guest on. Do not require an attribute check for everything. I go to the Spring River often, I swim in it and I don’t drown (I did dive into a ball of water snakes once). I can swim decently. The river is slow moving and relatively shallow and not very wide. Though I could drown in it (knock on wood), mostly I don’t. A check isn’t really required. As the GM just allow them some things. If they try to climb a wall. “Yes, you climb the wall.” If they try to swim a river. “Yes you can swim across the river.” Save the checks/saving throws for important things.
#4: Go easy on the traps. Having your character killed by an orc with a huge battle axe while you are defending a group of orphans is kind of heroic and lets you sleep at night. Having your character fall into a pit and become impaled on some stakes and die of rot disease that was on the stakes keeps you up at night just mad. Traps can be fun and challenging but they can be extremely irritating. There is next to nothing the player can do aside from one saving throw/attribute check or they become maimed, wounded or dead. In combat they can keep fighting after one, two even a dozen wounds. But for traps, you get one roll. They can be fun, just limit them and try to avoid the “you fall, you die traps. As an aside, they can be fun and funny sometimes, so don’t toss them altogether.

#5: We have a saying in my family: “No is a complete sentence.” Don’t be afraid to tell players no. They are going to try all manner of things, describe all manner of characters, role play things, act out, attack, etc. Just say No. You don’t have to explain yourself. You are the GM. Adjudicate. You can explain yourself, but you don’t have to. If pressed say “Just, no.” Now it’s not something you want to do too often, players have as much vested interest in playing in your game as you do running it. But when something is beyond the pale or makes no sense or is just crazy, don’t hesitate to say No.

Friday, January 18, 2019

New Yu Gi Oh Set

Konami Digital Entertainment Inc, is proud to bring you the newest boosters release, Dark Neostorm.  Forget about April showers, the real storm is brewing May 3rd, the official release date of Dark Neostorm, the last 100-card 1st Edition booster set of the 2018-2019 Dueling season.  Each of the core booster sets this past season highlighted one of the main Special Summoning mechanics from previous eras of the game, and inDark Neostorm it’s Xyz Summoning’s turn to shine!

Spearheading the return of Xyz Monsters are the Super Quantum mecha pilots!  These heroes are joined by a mysterious masked Super Quantum pilot clad in white!  This pilot has their own Super Quantal mecha that negates monster effects and can join up with other monsters to form a new Link Monster variation on Super Quantal Mech King Great Magnus.  Meanwhile, all the major players in the battle over the World Legacies have gathered, and Armageddon is nigh!  World Chalice, Krawler, Mekk-Knight, Crusadia, Orcust, and Guardragon all make an appearance in Dark Neostorm alongside a brand-new Knightmare that can wipe the field clean of Link Monsters!

Dark Neostorm also follows up from October’s Legendary Hero Decks by introducing brand-new cards for Destiny HERO Decks including a new Fusion Monster that can rearrange the top cards of either player’s Deck – perfect for putting powerful Normal Spells on top of your Deck for Destiny HERO – Diamond Dude to find!  In addition to all that, Duelists will be able to find a wide variety of cards for many different strategies and situations, including…
• A metamorphic Dragon that lets you trade a card in-hand for a monster that matches the Type and Attribute, but not the name, of something on the field.
• The first new “Assault Mode” monster in a decade, designed to work in a Deck using the “T.G.” cards from Savage Strike.
• Multiple new “discard” Effect Monsters, including one that boosts your LP for each Effect Monster your opponent Special Summons and another that takes aim at Extra Deck “climbing” strategies and other similar strategies by preventing a monster from being Tributed or used as material for a new Extra Deck monster.
• A Reinforcement of the Army-like Spell Card for Cyberse monsters, the perfect addition to any Deck based around the cards from Structure Deck: SoulburnerStructure Deck: Powercode Link, or Structure Deck: Cyberse Link.
• A Danger!-ous Spell Card that lets you escape from the clutches of a massive monster only to find yourself face-to-face with something smaller and possibly fiercer.
• A Link Monster for one of the most popular Xyz-focused Decks of all-time: Burning Abyss!
• Brand-new cards for Valkyrie Decks!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Tricks of the Trade

Every so often, Troll Lord Games post some ideas for GMs. Here is the latest:

Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: Encourage inter-party role playing and don’t interrupt it when it happens. There are hosts of benefits. Players have more game time and feel like they are doing something more often. They develop characters more and create a more cohesive party or group. It has the added benefit, always important to me, that allows you to make quick adjustments to NPCs, encounters, or situations. It can also be used in recapping adventures and bringing players who weren’t paying attention up to speed.

#2: Weather governs our lives in more ways than we realize. Use it. Whether rain, snow, wind, mist, heat or no weather at all, describe it. I often begin a game session with a comment on the season and what that day is like. “It's late summer, the air is warm and still. The sky is a pale blue, with only a few clouds here and there to block the sun.” Everyone at the table can relate and they immediately conjure images of weather they have lived through (more than likely). It’s the primary reason I went into such detail with the Codex of Aihrde, creating weather patterns. If you are in the Darkenfold and it's raining, you know it's because the Anvil Wind is bringing the moisture off the Amber Sea. These details anchor people to a time and place. It is true even if they are going into a dungeon. Begin the dungeon outside so you can get your weather description in.

#3: When getting started, particularly as a new GM, but also for the veteran, don’t over prep a game. It is very easy to do. You’ll get caught up in your own notes and stories, write out a dozen pages of finely tuned material and be insanely fired up for the game. You are setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Likely as not the players aren’t going to be as excited as you are when play begins. They don’t know what cool stuff is planned and are really focused on their characters and not your story. You also run the risk of over-obsessing and when things don’t go as planned you’ll see your finely tuned game start to derail, like a slow-moving train wreck. This forces your hand into forcing player hands which rarely ends how you want it to. Better to make light notes and scribble down intentions. I’ve said it before, be flexible. Work your overall stories into the ongoing campaign, over time. This allows you to adjust the game as it develops, and tell the story as it develops. On average about a half page to a page of notes is all I start with.
#4: Remind players to equip their characters and let them know if they don’t have it written down, they don’t have it. I cannot stress enough how important equipment is to game play. It allows players to create an image of their character and set a tone almost immediately. The GM (as noted in a previous Trick of the Trade) can use equipment to deflect damage to characters by destroying it. It is used to absorb excess gold by giving players something to actually spend their rewards on. Some players take tremendous joy in equipping their characters, others do not…this latter group is why we created the Adventurers Backpack Equipment Cards…pick a card, pay the price and you are equipped and so on. At start of play, while you are organizing, they can equip. Also, be sure to let them have some idea of what they are getting in for, i.e. overland, dungeon or city.

#5: Get some names for NPCs together. Either get a book like our Gary Gygax’s Extraordinary Book of Names, or a baby name book, or a name generator online and get yourself a list of about 10 names for each gender and few for demi-humans and hang them on your screen. The characters are going to want to talk to someone, somewhere and usually when you least expect it. Have a name to give them!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Three Ways to Publicize Your Game

WOTC has been doing a pretty good job of weekly disseminating both basic and novel ideas used by other stores to keep their customers coming back and making customers feel special. However,  even though it is far easier to generate additional sales from existing customers, at some point you need to get your name out in front of new potential customers and get them into the store. Without a flow of new customers, a store will eventually tap out its existing customer base and see flatlined sales. I wanted to suggest three ways to get your name in front of new customers. As a savvy store owner (or publisher) you are likely already but just in case you’re not:

1.       Social Media—the great thing about social media is that it is free, to start. Set up an account on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, maybe even Snapchap and Instagram.  Unfortunately, due to the ways in which the various social media sources have tweaked their software, you now really do have to spend money in order to get your name and posts out in front of potential customers. The great thing about social media it that you start out for as little as 5 bucks to boost a Facebook post and have a lot more control over who will see it than you would with advertising in traditional formats. Facebook, and other forms of social media, allow you to have friends and friends of friends see your boosted posts or you can keep them from seeing them and spend your money to reach a targeted market that’s not already familiar with your company. I know stores spending 4 figures just on monthly boosting of social media.

2.       Join Civic Organizations—Become a member of organizations like your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club or Kiwanis or Jaycees or Main Street. Not only do they work to better the community, and he better your community is doing , the better your business will do, but becoming a member allows you to take advantage of the services the organization offers. For example, as a member of our local Chamber of Commerce, I can send out promotions and notices to all other Chamber members , many of whom would have no idea what the store sells. Also,  if you have some sort of negative event take place, a position as a recognized member of the local community  helps mitigate the effects of bad publicity.

3.       Press Releases—The local media is always looking for local news and your store (or company) is newsworthy, whether you are hosting an event, are hiring new staff or even have a list of the top 5 games in your community for the year. This last one is one we sent out and we got a spot on local TV as well as mentions in two local papers, all for about half an hour’s work and another 5 minutes or so emailing them to the local media. Remember, you may not follow local news much but there are a lot of people that do, people who may not know you exist but have money to spend on what you are selling. Don’t know how to write a press release? Search for “sample press release” on the interwebs or hire a local journalism student to write one for you.

There are plenty of other ways to get your name out there, so if you have a good idea that worked, and would like to share it, send it to castleperilousgames@gmail.com and I will include it in a future post

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Glut of Games

We really have a glut of gaming products hitting the market and really have had for the past few years. It is to the point, though, that only a web based store can offer every thing that comes out on a monthly basis and even then, stocking them all would tie up a whole lot of warehouse space, meaning that they likely receive an order, forward it on to the publisher, and then take possession of it to ship onto the customer. What brings me to this conclusion? The current issues of Meeple Monthly and Game Trade Magazine.

I did a quick count of the number of games and expansions offered in each, not counting novels and non-fiction books or miniatures figures, and came out with over 120 different items. Of course, publishers want to produce new products for their customer base and there are some customers, not many, unfortunately, who will buy everything that releases new for a game.  If we count in miniatures and books, we are looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of  over 150 new items each month. That works out to about 1800 to 2000 new gaming products every year. That is a lot of products for the market to absorb. Online stores have infinite shelf and display space to display products but for the brick and mortar store, carrying that many new products on top of perennial selling products like D&D, Catan, Betray at House on the Hill, Fluxx, Dead of Winter, Munchkin, Gloom,  etc. (though some companies are considerately making the FLGS job easier by offering exclusives to chain stores such as Target, Barnes and Noble and Walgreens, meaning we don’t have to worry about stocking them, but that is a subject for another column).

So we have a lot of games that already sell on a regular basis AND we have about 1500 or so new products releasing every year, more than the market can reasonably absorb. A rule of thumb is that approximately 10% of the products released during a year will still sell 5 years for the date of release, meaning that of those 1500 products releasing this year, only roughly 150 will still be sought by customers 5 years from now.

The trick, and the job of the retailer, is to figure out what customers will want. If word of mouth starts trending on a product and we start seeing mentions of it in the mass media, such as what happened with Catan (popular among gamers in the know since the 1990s) and Cards Against Humanity, customer will come in asking for the game. The other thing really driving game sales is the TableTop effect, expanded to other media. A game appearing on TableTop or Watch It Played or getting lots of attention at GenCon creates awareness among other customers, creating positive word of mouth and driving sales.

The problem occurs when neither of these situations happens. A publisher sells a game through the channel and the distributor and retailer have to decide whether to stock it or not.   If they do and it doesn’t sell, it winds up on a distributor’s sale list or the retailer’s clearance table, which unfortunately happens way too often.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Looking at the Past Holiday Shopping Season

I always like to read over research on the retail industry so was interested to run across this survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers looking at sales results over the Thanksgiving weekend. Somewhat surprisingly, the results bode well for the future of the brick and mortar store.

57% of those surveyed over the weekend visited a brick and mortar retailer over the Thanksgiving weekend, up from 51% in 2015 and just under 90% of shoppers purchases from both online and brick and mortar retailers. Brick and mortar still dominates retail as just over 80% of sales went to retailers with physical stores. Despite the apprehension brick and mortar retailers feel towards Amazon and other online retailers, the industry is still dominated by the physical store (of course, this also includes the sales of food and gasoline, neither of which have proven feasible to deliver online in large quantities yet).

More and more shoppers are taking advantage of those retailers that are what we call omnichannel retailers with both physical and web presence. Just under 65% of those surveyed took advantage of a retailer’s omnichannel capabilities, ordering something online and picking up the order at a physical location (click and collect), up about 6% from 2015. This proved profitable for the retailer  as the same percentage reported buying something in the store when they came in to collect their online purchase.

“Showrooming” ( researching a product in a physical store, prior to buying it online) and “webrooming” (researching a product online prior to buying it in the physical store) have both proved controversial over the past decade. However, and somewhat surprisingly, the percentages of each have shifted dramatically, with roughly 50% of shoppers reporting that they showroomed a product, while just over 65% reported that they webroomed one.

In addition, I have heard store retailers complain about the practice of shoppers using their mobile devices in stores, then purchasing them elsewhere (showrooming), to the point that some stores seriously considered putting in cell phone jammers. According to the ICSC survey, this would actually prove counterproductive as right at 80% of shoppers reported that, when they used a mobile device in a store, they made a purchase in the store. Making the store more hospitable to the shoppers’ needs, rather than less appears to pay off.

Gifts accounted for a large percentage of the roughly $373 spent per shopping over Thanksgiving weekend with survey respondents indicating that about 45% of the money spent went for gifts,, 35% went for other non-gifty merchandise and about 20% went for food and entertainment over the weekend, as if the shopping wasn’t entertaining enough.

One last thing I found interesting came from a different report, published by the NPD Group. This indicated that, although toys and games sales increased by 10% over 2015, the sale of “youth electronics” dropped by about 9% over the same period. Either the gamers of the future are moving more towards web based gaming, which only requires a mobile device, or they are looking for analog rather than digital forms of play. The fact that the largest growth category in toys last year was in outdoor toys gives me hope.