Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cold selling boardgames.

Board games did great for us this Christmas. I'm happy about this, but slightly worried that they will poke their heads a little too much above the radar and get noticed. There is already a cheaper version of Settlers of Catan at Barnes and Nobles -- it has a 'set' board, which in my opinion almost defeats the appeal of the game which uses tiles to create a different board set up every time you play it.

But that would a warning shot.

What I found most interesting is that I could actually sell the games 'cold.' That is, I could sell the games to people who had never heard of them, who hadn't come in looking for them -- or had any idea they could even be interested in a boardgame.

I've developed a spiel, that seems to work very well. I had one customer who told me, "You said almost exactly the same thing last year!" but that's the thing about a good spiel. If it works, you keep using it, refining it, but using it until it stops working. Then, the trick is to quit using it.

(I probably spent a couple of extra years trying to sell my 'deal' of an album and 25 sheets and three or four packs of sports cards, and a Beckett for 20.00. Worked until it didn't.)

The classic example of a spiel that worked (and these spiels are always a trial and error thing, you try a certain phrasing and it succeeds, so you keep using it, trying variations until you arrive at the killer spiel) was the book, The Postman, by David Brin.

"This is a post-holocaust story, which is set in Oregon. In fact, it mentions Bend in the first chapter. It's a great book."

Sold. Sold. Sold. It was frustrating back then, because my distribution channels were so unreliable that I could never get enough in stock.

Then it stopped working. Damn you, Kevin Costner!!

So -- the Settlers of Catan.

I start off by saying, "If you haven't heard of this, you will. What usually happens is, someone goes to a friends house, they talk them into playing, and then they're hooked. This is the "gateway drug" of European boardgames...."

1.) You don't know who is winning until the end. Everyone is in the game to the end.

2.) It's easy to learn, but has complex play. Because of the set up, you never play the same game twice. It isn't like Monopoly or Risk, where you figure out the strategy, and it comes down to a roll of the dice.

3.) You can play the game in an hour or two hours, max.

4.) High production quality. More emphasis on design and colors and pleasing feel.

5.) Interactive. You are usually building something, not destroying something. Even requires a bit of cooperation.

6.) A family game, where you sit at a table, and the pleasing memory of childhood games comes back.

7.) The secret ingredient is enthusiasm.

The other great thing about boardgames right now, is that even if this spiel doesn't work the first time, and it probably doesn't 90% of the time (10% success on a cold sell, is fantastic...) there is a very good chance they'll come back, because it's in the wind -- friends and media-- and I believe they will remember my effort.

Sadly, this isn't true for most product. It has to be a combination of supply and demand, which my little niche is prepared for. Books are everywhere, even graphic novels can be gotten. Games -- at least at this point, are kind of word of mouth and we're in that word of mouth, hopefully.