Monday, June 20, 2016

Do miniatures gamers need game stores? Vice versa?

I thought I would share a topic that my gaming colleagues and I have discussed recently on the weekly Hobby Hangout and amongst the local gaming group.

The question arose from recognizing that the miniatures gaming scene in Huntsville resides in homes, as opposed to game-stores.  This state-of-affairs may very well be the case the world over, and it may actually have been the dominant case throughout the history of the hobby.  But Huntsville had a period (before my time here) where there was a relatively thriving scene at game-stores.  And the consensus of the discussion on the Hobby Hangout is that we reached "peak game-store" several years back, and it's been in decline since.  So what gives?

If there is indeed a decline, I think it has been a natural evolution, based on a couple of factors:
  1. Internet sales
    This is perhaps the obvious factor, one that affects all bricks-and-mortar operations.  I have more selection and more convenience to order gaming goodies on-line.  I and many of my gaming colleagues do what we can to support a game store, but the typical game store does not maintain the extent of both old and new inventory that would incite me to visit there.  I've seen stores that are the exception to the rule, but I live nowhere close to those stores.  I imagine that most gamers live too far away from a deeply-stocked game store.
  2. The passing of the Games Workshop monopoly
    When GW was the only game in town (literally), players could go to the game store (even a non-GW game store) for a pick-up game.  But with the variety of games in the marketplace now, it is unpredictable to know what is being played at the game store on any given day.

So, given the lack of incentive to frequent a game store, we knocked around ideas to determine what benefits, if any, would attract players out of the comfort of their own homes and the comfort of their own gaming-groups to play at a game store.  The ideas needed to serve the business interests of the game store as well, in order to generate enough revenue to justify the miniatures portion of the business.  So, for example, I leave out 'maintain extensive inventory'.  I just don't think maintaining deep inventory is a viable value proposition for a game store.   Here's what we came up with:
  1. Game-specific organized events
    This idea helps solve the uncertainty of pick-up games.  If I know that a given game system is scheduled for a specific event, then I know with certainty that the trip to the store will bear fruit.  Furthermore, I have the opportunity to expand my player-base for a given game-system, combined with the "safety" of encountering potential new players in a public space, as opposed to inviting near-strangers to my home.  Players have an opportunity to scope out compatible play-styles before committing to spending time together.  That sounds suspiciously like dating, but, ironically, this hobby requires almost as much social interaction!  Complete with awkward introductions, hasty judgments, disagreements, break-ups -- as well as long-lasting friendships.
  2. High-quality terrain tables
    One of the joys of this hobby is creating a tactile, cinematic spectacle on a tabletop.  To fully achieve that experience requires painted models, and it requires a compelling terrain board as well.  One of the sights at GW Games Day that made the biggest impression on me was seeing the terrain tables that the local clubs had produced.  Beautiful, integrated, thematic tables.  An Ork submarine breaking through an arctic icecap.  A rocky hillside and valley stream for Lord of the Rings.  A Skaven warren with tunnels opening onto an unsuspecting village.  I absolutely itched to play on these tables! 
    Terrain tables are major projects in and of themselves.  And they require some amount of skill to achieve a high-end aesthetic.  And they consume a lot of space.  I would gladly pay a game store to assume all of the time and logistics necessary to provide high-quality terrain tables.
  3. Beer!
    I say that half-jokingly, actually.  Not everyone desires alcohol to accompany their game.  But it's a nice option to have, when you're spending a weekend-afternoon with a bunch of your buddies. 
    That said, this idea forces a different business model upon a game store.  My gaming colleagues and I have a recurring conversation about the emergence and potential future of the "gaming tavern".  But that's really a whole other topic.  It would be nice for a game store to accommodate beer-drinking, but this factor has much lower priority than the others listed, since it's asking for an entirely different business model.  But it's important for a game store owner to be aware that they are competing with the advantages that a gamer enjoys, if he or she hosts games at home. 
    Music falls in this category as well.  Not everyone wants to listen to death metal at a volume that overwhelms your game.  As a funny aside, one of my gamer buddies actually did like death metal.  And he wasn't crazy about the occasional song by Yes or ELO that would slip into my random-play.  The only music that he and I agreed on was jazz.  So it was a little surreal to play Warhammer 40K with Chet Baker playing in the background, but it's what worked for us.
  4. The Basics
    This should go without saying, but, unfortunately, the stereotypical game store demands that the following be explicitly stated.  A game store should be clean, spacious, well-ventilated, well-lit, and clean-smelling -- with friendly, professional staff and clean restrooms.   I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum.  I know that a pleasant, inviting environment is attainable.  And I've certainly encountered the bad stereotype. 
    Layout makes a difference, too.  A curious shopper is not inclined to wade through a gauntlet of gamers just to see what is on the shelves at the back of the store.  If
    Often, the difference comes down to whether the shop-owner wants to be a serious retailer -- or wants to be a hobbyist who dreams of running a game store.

So, to answer the question from the title.  I think 'No' in both directions.

I think the main thing that miniatures gamers miss from game stores is the opportunity to grow the community.  But I think Facebook groups and other social media now fill that void.

Nor do game stores need miniatures gamers.  We're too expensive a proposition, compared to the revenue-per-square-foot that is ensured by selling cards or comics instead.  Boardgames and RPGs, too, probably have a better value proposition, even if you add table-space to accompany those products.  The only cross-over into the miniatures market comes with the hybrid-style skirmish games, like Guild Ball, which require no more table-space than a board game, and which require no significant extended space to store terrain.

I don't think there is a sufficient supply/demand equation that needs to be solved for our hobby by the presence of a game-store.  That said, I would sure like it if a game store provided all those things I listed above, and I would support that game store, and I would promote it to others.  Add a deep inventory and a bar with good food, and they wouldn't be able to get rid of me.

By the way, a couple of game stores come to mind that I can recommend for miniatures gamers:  Games & Stuff in Glen Burnie, Maryland, and The Game Vault in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  At least, they were the shizzle the last time I visited those places a couple of years ago.

So what do you think?  Are game stores relevant to our hobby, or has the industry evolved away from them?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Preparing for NOVA Open - Lord of the Rings

I can't show my projects for Capital Palette, but here is some classic assembly-line work to prepare for participating in the events for Lord of the Rings Strategy Game and possibly War of the Ring.

I'm not actually scheduled to play any events for War of the Ring, but I needed to paint up some of my Isengard Orcs for the Lord of the Rings events, so I figured I might as well paint up the entire collection of 48 models, just so I'll have them for War of the Ring.  These guys were assembled and primed several years ago, and I've been waiting for an excuse to finish them.

I filled the bases with Magic Sculpt, to serve as a bonding surface to glue on fender washers.  The washers add heft and allow me to magnetize the models to movement trays and transport containers.

In my renewed enthusiasm, I decided to build out more Pikemen.  I already have three trays of them, but it's just not enough to make a proper impression of a pike block.  So I'm adding another 20 models, which will double my pikemen -- plus a few more to fill out the remaining holes in the movement trays.

I can't get enough of these Pikemen.

I basically need another "one" of these!

I also may have the good fortune to have convinced some of the local players to try out the game.  So I might actually have a chance to learn how to play the game, prior to showing up at NOVA!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Frostgrave party

As in, a multi-player game of 8 players!  

Frostgrave is a testament to the power of the skirmish game.  A game like Frostgrave lends itself so much easier for gathering 8 dudes in one dining room and yucking it up with brats and beer for an evening of hilarity.

It's a hellacious brawl in the center of the table, as Donovan's Demons and Jeff's summoned Greater Demon vie for the Supertreasure (worth 3 normal treasures!).
Jeff had already won the game at this point, by his calculation, since his only objective was to successfully summon a Greater Demon...

Old Man Tumbergrumbler, his apprentice, Laddy Boy, and the crew had a much better showing in the dangerous alleys of Frostgrave.  They had a magnificent haul of 3 Treasure Chests, and they distinguished themselves in battle, to boot.

The Frost Giant moves in to protect his Supertreasure.
The Frost Giant gave a good pounding to several foolish warband members.

Two Orc Infantrymen even earned the following honorific to their respective names:  Demon-Killer.  Congratulations, Johnny Demon-Killer and Longshanks Demon-Killer!

Ho! What's this? Johnny, the Orc Infantryman, successfully dispatched the Greater Demon! And now he's going to try his luck on the Frost Giant. Unfortunately, Donovan's archer denied Johnny his well-deserved glory with a cheap shot from afar. Johnny is Badly Wounded and will miss the next game. But when he returns, he will return as Johnny Demon-Killer.

The highlights:
Old Man Tumbergrumbler threw a lucky Bone Dart into a Level-12 Wizard's face and took him out. 
Johnny killed a Major Demon, summoned by aforementioned Level-12 Wizard.
Longshanks killed a Minor Demon random monster.

Treasure #1:  100gc, Grimoire
Treasure #2:  50gc, Potions(2)
Treasure #3: 20gc, Magic Weapon/Armor
Grimoire: Reveal Invisible (pretty damn situational; what a piece of crap)
Potion #1: Potion of Invisibility (so with my Grimoire, I'll be able to see myself....)
Potion #2: Potion of Teleportation (oooo, sweet!)
Magic Weapon/Armor: Bow, +2 Damage.  Awarded to Nod, to compensate for former battle wounds.

Total points: 400 points.  +90 from previous games = 490 Experience.  Level 4!
Total gold crowns: 180gc.  +10gc in the Vault from previous games = 190gc

Meanwhile, more demon shenanigans are afoot. Rumscratch, the Treasure Hunter, (the sharkman on the right) is earning his title and making off with a pile of loot. Unfortunately, a Minor Demon has materialized to block his escape.

Level 4 advancements:
1. Improve Leap
2. Improve Health
3. Improve Bone Dart
4. Learn Imp

"Must...escape...with the treasure! Aaargg!"

Run, Rumscratch, run!

Yay! Longshanks, the Orc Infantryman, comes to the rescue and defeats the Minor Demon! One-handed even. Because the other hand is a hook. Although he's wielding a two-handed weapon. With one hand. And a hook for a second hand.  So I'm sure that must be legal. Ahem.

Well, in any case, he was rewarded for his efforts by being shot in the back by Troy's Apprentice. Luckily, Longshanks is only stunned by the ordeal, and he will return next game as Longshanks Demon-Killer!

190gc and -5gc to hire each new Soldier allows me to hire both a Knight and a Templar!
Sonny is fired.  Johnny Demon-Killer...thank you for your service.
I wish to welcome to the team Bruce the Knight and Ragnarok the Templar.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Wood filler

Or more precisely, a blog entry that is a filler post -- about wood.  A wood post?

By the way, yes, I thought of a dozen much funnier titles that use the word, 'wood', but I decided not to go there.

Anyway, I'm working on several projects, display pieces of all things, to enter into the Capital Palette at NOVA Open.  I don't often do display pieces, but most of these ideas are ones that I wanted to enter last year, and I didn't have the time to prepare them, due to settling in to my new digs.  This year, I want to get them done, because:  1) some of the ideas play on current affairs, and the ideas are slipping away in terms of their relevance; and 2) I'm motivated to paint display pieces, coming off my coaching session with Raffaele Picca.

But I am left with a conundrum for the blog.  I can't post work-in-progress shots of my projects until after NOVA.  That's because I wish to prevent the Capital Palette judges from seeing the pieces beforehand, and therefore risk contaminating their decision process, in either direction. 

So that leaves me with posting blog entries about: 1) gaming, 2) opinion pieces, and 3) the occasional, odd hobby post, like this one. 

I'm accustomed mainly to painting gaming miniatures.  My standard approach is to magnetize the base, when I assemble the mini.  The magnetization helps transport the minis to game, and it also allows me to mount the figure on a jar, so that I have a handle to use to grip the piece, when I'm painting it. 

Display figures present a different problem.  They'll be pinned to a diorama or to a plinth.  So I need a different type of handle.  All of that to say, voila, I have wood!

Who wood have seen that coming?

I cut these handles from a piece of stock wood that I bought for a buck at Home Depot.  I doubt I'll ever have that many figures going at the same time for display pieces, but, hey, you never know.  Might as well have too many.  I didn't know what else to do with the excess anyway.

The goblin is the last crew-member that I needed to paint for my Spear Chukka crew.  I knocked him out during a Hobby Hangout, when I didn't want to concentrate too hard.  I still need to paint the Chukka, though.

I am going to try to interleave my display projects with at least one gaming project.  I plan to play Lord of the Rings Strategy Game at NOVA, and I have a lot of Orcs and Haradrim that I should prepare, so that I will have some respectable options to bring to the table.  I also need to learn how to play the game and fit in some practice games, before NOVA arrives.  Boy, I have a lot to do this summer to get ready!