Adventure Time: Card Wars – Lemongrab vs Gunter
Firefly The Game: The Whole Damn Verse Vinyl Game Mat
Sentinels of the Multiverse: Villains of the Multiverse
Slash: Romance Without Boundaries
Stronghold (2nd Edition)
The Golden Ages: Cults and Cultures
Theseus: The Dark Orbit – Hunters
Adventure Time: Card Wars – Lemongrab vs Gunter
A Game of Thrones LCG: Road to Winterfell Chapter Pack (2nd Edition)
Android: Netrunner LCG – Kala Ghoda Data Pack
Descent: 2nd Edition – Treaty of Champions Hero and Monster Collection
Red November (Reprint)
Spirits of the Rice Paddy
Star Wars LCG: New Alliances Force Pack
The End of The World RPG: Alien Invasion
Tokaido Special Edition
Trickerion: Legends of Illusion
Trickerion: Dahlgaard’s Gifts (Magician Powers Expansion)
Warhammer 40,000: Conquest LCG – Boundless Hate War Pack
Beasty Bar: New Beasts in Town
Council of Four
Fleet Commander: Ignition
Game of Trains
Legacy: the Testament of Duke de Crecy – Five Families
Magic the Gathering: Oath of The Gatewatch Fat Pack
Magic the Gathering: Oath of the Gatewatch Boosters
One Night: Ultimate Vampire
XenoShyft: Onslaught – Grafting Lab Expansion
DC Comics Deck Building Game Crossover Pack #1: Justice Society of America
DC Comics Deck Building Game Crossover Pack #4: Watchmen
DC Comics Deck Building Game Crossover Pack #2: Arrow the Television Series
Epic PVP: Fantasy
Hostage Negotiator: Abductor Pack #4
Hostage Negotiator: Abductor Pack #3
Munchkin Steampunk – Science! Dice
Mutant Chronicles: Player’s Guide
Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion
Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge
Stack and Attack
Thunder Alley: Expansion Tracks
Catacombs : the Caverns of Soloth Expansion (3rd Edition)
Council of Verona: Corruption Expansion
Hostage Negotiator: Abductor Pack #1
Hostage Negotiator: Abductor Pack #2
Mage Wars: Academy Core Set
Mutant Chronicles (3rd Edition)
Pandante: Light & Dark
Pathfinder Battles: Iconic Heroes Set 4
Rome: The City of Marble
I occasionally write these posts about the year before, talking about how the year went or not. I sort of didn’t do a massive review for 2014 last year, more discussing what would happen in 2015 instead. This year, I’ll try to get back to doing my usual year in review post.
Probably the biggest thing that affected us this year was the increase in the exchange rate. We’ve gone from around CAD$1.15 to CAD$1.40 in a year with the resulting explosion in prices. For a long-time we held our calculation on the pricing at $1.35 but we’ve had to alter that recently, with the expected resulting price increases over the next month. Worst, it means to carry the same volume of product (i.e. same number of items); our inventory numbers have just increased by 22%. In the last 2 years, that means we’ve seen an increase of 30% in our inventory cost which as you can guess with a store like ours is a significant bump in inventory.
Out of Stocks and 3rd party sourcing
Another thing that didn’t help was the lack of product for a number of hot games. As usual, Dead of Winter was out of stock for large periods of the year. Same with a number of hot products like Codenames, Pandemic: Legacy and more. In an attempt to keep stock in-place, we started sourcing from 3rd party websites and managed to keep some of these items in-stock, even if at a much higher price than we’d prefer.
MAP Policies & Acquisitions
Mayfair made a bit of a splash with us late last year with their sudden attempt to implement their MSP policy. Interestingly enough, they just lost their Catan license, which makes them somewhat less relevant as a business for us. Certainly, if we exclude Catan the only games that actually sell regularly for us is Caverna and Patchwork.
Of course, last year was also the year of the acquisition with Plaid Hat joining F2Z (who own Z-Man already) and just at the start of the year, the lost of Catan’s license to Asmodee North America. I won’t reiterate my discussion about the ANA announcement either, though that obviously was an interesting addition.
Perhaps one of the newest additions for our convention coverage was the addition of the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo last year. We’d have to call it a success and we’ll be back this year for sure. In addition, we added Yukomicon to our list of conventions we do with Starlit Citadel last year and we probably will be looking at expanding our convention coverage across more countries next year.
Fortress Geek & Product Range
One thing that readers of this blog might realise is that we’ve been expanding our second business, Fortress Geek; aggressively. It’s actually growing quite well, but for a variety of reasons (mostly backend and long-term); we’ve decided to integrate both sites. That’s been.. a mess… but it’s mostly been taken care of, just not in-time for Christmas which was sad. Still, we’re hoping that the introduction to the site will see a wider spread of sales for Starlit Citadel, diversifying us further.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to push Fortress Geek as a separate site. There are a few business reasons for that, but it’s also a matter of selection. I expect we’ll be stocking some stuff in FG that just would never make it / sell well in Starlit Citadel.
2015 was a good year for many reasons. We’ve worked out some backend issues, implemented a series of procedures that have significantly expanded our ability to grow and streamlined processes while continuing to grow our business. On the other hand, there’s been significant challenges in terms of our stock and stock management and it’s probably the biggest area that I need to work on. Our old methods of dealing with stock just no longer work, at least at the level that we need it to with the worsening exchange rate.
Well, Asmodee now has the English language rights for Catan. What that means is that they now own / have acquired the vast majority of the long-lasting brands in the board gaming space. While there are some other hot hits that aren’t part of their portfolio (yet) like Sushi Go, King of Tokyo, Coup and One Night: Ultimate Werewolf as well as the entire Z-Man Games line, most of those haven’t been around long enough to showcase if they have the staying power or not to become a long-term brand.
I’ve seen some graphs showcasing sales by publisher showing that even for non-board game specific companies, Asmodee North America has about 20 – 30% of the market space before this acquisition. Add this and they are easily in the 25-35% range. For us since we mostly sell board games on SC, that number is likely in the 50%+ range now at a guess.
This is a major, major play and all these acquisitions put us in an interesting position. We’re now ever more reliant on the good graces of a single company and any major changes they make is going to affect us significantly. Realistically, the only good news in this is that for the most part, FFG / Asmodee North America is an actually well run company which seems to be constantly attempting to improve. If you don’t think that’s true, consider the fact that we actually have stock for most X-Wing craft unlike even a year ago. While I might disagree with their policies and viewpoints, I also think that they are well run enough that they won’t cut out online retail completely. Whether that includes us (and how all this affects Canada) still remains to be seen though.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Asmodee has made a large pair of announcements. A summary of the first one is here and the second (clarifying) one here. Today, ICv2 has an interview that clarified matters further. In short, Asmodee is consolidating DOW, FFG and Asmodee operations in North America as Asmodee North America as well as restricting their American distributors to 5 distributors and restricting online sales to retailers of “significant scale, unique service, or other exceptional differentiation”. They have also clarified that B&M stores and online retailers will be provided different discount levels. It should be noted that nothing here affects Canada (yet) as Canadian stores are not under the purview of these changes.
Let me preface this all by saying that my analysis is as a retailer. I don’t have any special knowledge of anything that has happened, just an analysis of what is happening.
Why Are They Doing This?
At a guess, I believe Asmodee has decided that they need to support the development of their Living Card Games and miniature game lines in X-Wing and Armada via brick & mortar stores. By consolidating their distribution in a few distributors, they are able to get access to more data while keeping most retailers happy by keeping the ‘spread’ of distributors wide. Certainly, it’s unlikely that any serious retailer in the USA doesn’t have access to at least 2 if not 3 of these companies at the very least.
It’s not a bad move at all. Miniature games (and LCGs to a (much?)smaller extent) require the introduction of new and interesting players regularly to keep the game ‘alive’. While there are numerous ways to develop these gaming markets (gaming clubs, game cafes, etc.); game stores are certainly the largest and most easily located group. As I’m sure the executives at Asmodeee and FFG have heard again and again, B&M stores do not necessarily want to support these games because their games are being discounted online and as such, the players aren’t bringing any revenue to the stores. How much of this is an excuse will be something we shall have to see.
It also sounds like B&M stores are seeing a reduction in the discount that they can receive (hearsay says it’s 45% normal with an additional 3% based off various other incentives). This is different from the starting 45% to 48% maximum that you can get for FFG and definitely a lot worst for DOW & ASM (by 2 to 5%). At least, it’s worst than when we used to buy it in the States (again, my data on this may be old). There has been no indication of what the rate will be for online retailers. I would assume that the discount level for online retailers will be in the 30-35% range. In other words, Asmodee is increasing their profits from online sales significantly, especially since they are limiting online sales to direct sales only. That’s another 10% that they are getting that they no longer have to pay distributors.
What’s it mean for Canada?
None of this of course affects Canada immediately. However, there can be no doubt that they will put some of this in-play in Canada sooner rather than later. I’d expect an announcement in mid-July of 2016. One thing that Asmodee (and it’s distributors) will have to be very careful about is that our laws are rather different from the States and differentiation (especially of prices sold) based off channel of sales might actually not be legally viable. I am not a lawyer, so I’ll leave it to the lawyers to argue that one out. Or in this case, the Competition Tribune I guess. Either way, it’ll be years before they make a judgement which means we’ll be waiting years to
My Personal Thoughts
What do I think about this? Overall, I’m not particularly surprised by this move. The continuing consolidation of the industry and the move to exclusivity has been something that has happened in the last 8 years. The increasingly hostile environment to online businesses is not particularly new either.
A lot of it is a mis-perception or a disagreement about the value of online retail provides to customer, over and above a lower price. That’s not just the only things we do though as an online retailer to add value. I’d also add that we do work on generating demand in our own way – from e-mail lists and blog updates to video reviews and social media out-reach and recommendations, those all target our customers to drive additional demand. On a pure customer service basis, just like B&M stores, we answer numerous questions from customers asking us what games to buy next. That all this happens via e-mail and phone, in a way that can’t be seen by a publisher doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.
I’ve spoken about the lie about infinite shelf-space, and more, the fact that most game stores just aren’t going to support board games anywhere near the level that a specialised online retailer will. Yes, B&M stores may do demos – but the vast majority of game stores provide at most a single-night for board games a week. 1 gaming night a week to demo 1 game each week works out to 4 new games demoed a month. This is compared to a release schedule of over 100 new games each month easily. Yet, the fact that we will take a chance and stock numerous games from small independent publishers to FFGs entire line (literally, we’ve carried every game they’ve ever released since 2010 at least though we’ve obviously discontinued sales of some of those games due to lack of demand) means nothing. How many B&M stores brought in Winter Tales?
Which leads me to a point about demo’s. As much as Asmodee North America (ANA) says it wants to support B&M stores who provide “local presence, instant product availability, new customer generation, and crucially, in-store gaming events, demonstrations, tournaments, and organized play facilitation“, the fact stands that the best way to ensure that would be to have equal discount levels (50%) as most other publishers and to provide free demo games and demo material (ala Wizards of the Coast & Games Workshop) to stores that request it. This would be much more targeted, much more useful rather than a decreased discount level and paid organised play material.
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
Dungeon Saga: Dwarf King’s Quest
Eldritch Horror: Under The Pyramids
Flames of War: Shattered Battlefields
Force of Will CCG: Booster A2 Alice Cluster – the Twilight Wanderer
Force of Will CCG: the Twilight Wanderer Playmat
Helionox: The Last Sunset
Iron Kingdoms: Unleased – Game Master Toolkit
Dixit: The Lord of the Rings LCG: The Dread Realm Adventure Pack
Star Wars X-Wing: T-70 X-Wing Expansion Pack
Star Wars X-Wing: TIE/fo Fighter Expansion Pack
Ticket to Ride: Map Collection Volume 5 – United Kingdoms
Viticulture (Essential Edition)