Friday, December 31, 2010

Boardgame Palooza

I've been talking about how well boardgames have been doing this Christmas. It's not dramatically higher than last year, but considering everything, it felt a little stronger this year.

I think these games are approaching the tipping point.

Tipping into national awareness, instead of word of mouth. I mean, those who know -- know. For those who haven't heard of them, I always say, "Well, you heard it from me first, but you'll hear about it again."

Anyway, becoming a national phenomenon is both good and bad for us. During the first third or so of an upsurge (as I said, I think it's gaining steam) we'll do very very well. If I'm careful to have them in stock while the other guys continue to have spot shortages people will come to us.

But eventually, as I always say, supply catches up to demand. And then piles on.

If it hits the chainstores, all bets are off. I foresee Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride selling for massive discounts.

But then it will start not to be so "cool" anymore, and ....well, it'll be my job to recognize each stage of the cycle.

To the games themselves:

It's been a long time since I could "cold" sell an item in my store with any kind of consistency. I'm talking about a product that the person walking in the door had no intention of buying -- maybe even something they hadn't heard of. This is really hard to do.

European boardgames have been that item this Christmas -- and these aren't even all that cheap, at least for my store, running in the 30.00 (Carcassonne) to 42.00 (Settlers of Catan) to 50.00 (Ticket to Ride and most other major games.) 100.00 (Huge boxes of Warcraft and Descent.)

I call Settlers of Catan the "gateway drug" of boardgames. Many people have at least heard a glimmering of it -- followed closely by Ticket to Ride. (Railroads!)

Over the last couple of years, I kind of developed a sales patter for boardgames, which I've had a chance to refine. You know, you talk about a product enough, you start to realize which phrases people are responding to, and you keep those, and you discover which phrases people aren't responding to, and you throw those out.

I can't vouch for a 100% historical accuracy in the following spiel, but I'm pretty sure it's close.

"So we've all played Risk and Monopoly, right? But those games get sort of -- predictable, you know? You settle on one strategy, and that's that.

"When they tried to make the games less predictable, like Axis and Allies, they became overly complex, taking way too much time to learn.

"So, about 15 years ago..." (Catan has a copyright of 1995) "...some of the European gamemakers made some substantial improvements. They, in a sense, reinvented the boardgame and it's been pretty big in Europe every since. American games have followed suite, and there are many cool boardgames in every subject -- from pirates to S.F. to humor to historical to....

"The best game to start with is Settlers of Catan, followed by Ticket to Ride, followed by Carcassonne. But any of them are fine as the starter game.

"Here's what makes them great.

"1.) The setup to the game is different everytime. So you can never play the same strategy twice. It has endless complexity and fascination and yet....

"2.) They are easy games to learn. Usually about halfway through the first game..." (I snap my fingers), "you suddenly understand it."

"3.) They are interactive and cooperative games, that you can play with your family or friends. And people forget how much fun that is. Anybody from about 8 years old on up, but it isn't just for kids, or even primarily for kids.

"4.) They are strategic games -- they rely less on Luck than most old American style games.

"5.) Here's a really cool feature. You don't know who's winning the game until its over. Everyone is "in" the game to the end.

"They only take about an hour to play, most of them.

"6.) And finally, I like to point out that the production quality of these games are very high. They just feel and look good. Usually people play these games at a friend's house, and then they GOTTA have it. Because they're addicting. It's sort of a word of mouth -- cool -- sort of thing so far."

So that's it, tailored to the individual customer, of course.

So, some people, if I'm glib and on a roll will actually listen to the whole spiel and will be wavering....

Here's where the two secret Christmas ingredients comes in.

The first secret ingredient is my own enthusiasm; I've really enjoyed Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, and I'm a relative newbie myself, so I can relate.

The second secret ingredient, are the other customers. Someone in the store will pipe up and confirm, "That's a GREAT game!"

If I don't have someone doing that voluntarily, sometimes I'll turn to the most likely customer and ask, "Have you played the game?" and sometimes they have.

So put all those ingredients together, mix them together into the feverish Christmas buying pot, and....

I'll sometimes make a sale. It's not every time, by any means. But more successful than most "cold" sell situations.

If they turn me down, I always just comment mildly, "Well, you heard about Settlers of Catan from me first, but you'll hear about it again. In fact, as 10 friends and I'll bet one of them has played it. Or, go online to, say Boardgamegeek. com, and check out the whole scene. You'll be amazed..."

No comments: