GTS Seminar: Building a Better Manager

Having written about David Wallace’s Competitive Edge seminar at the 2012 GTS and transcribed his debate about Online Retailing with Jon Huston from Troll and Toad from later at the same show, I had high expectations when I went to Wallace’s Building a Better Manager two-hour retail seminar on Monday, March 18. Wallace didn’t disappoint and even brought another guest speaker with him in the form of Mike Brodeur, whom Wallace had promoted to General Manager overseeing his four Midwestern gaming stores. Wallace prefaced his seminar by pointing out that it’s one of the most difficult talks he’s worked on, due in part to the topic being such a “vague notion.” Before getting into the heart of his talk, Wallace also mentioned that he recently had to let go of one of a longtime employee and manager, but said that he owes the employee, “a debt of gratitude. He forced me to become better at management.”

What is Management

What is management, Wallace asked the crowd and waited as retailers slowly began to respond. He clarified, “If management is good for the company, why?” There were scattered answers that a manager is involved in teaching, coaching, and supervising. Wallace agreed that in general, management is confused with supervision. But Wallace pointed out that a supervisor of a plant is not supposed to change anything. He or she is to maintain the plant and keep its production going.

Wallace: Management IS Change

Instead Wallace proposed that management is change and further defined management as continuous improvement. Do we have different expectations for employees in their first week on the job and ones who have been working for several years? We expect employees to improve with experience, Wallace pointed out, before mentioning visiting stores where nothing has changed in five years. Getting employees to do the bare minimum is not management, but instead treading water.

He then brought up retailers spending 40, 60, or even 80 hours working their stores, cleaning, ringing customers up, handling product and finances, and dealing with employees. This is not actual management according to Wallace. The mechanics of running retail are just job skills, Wallace said, but “who’s managing when you’re busy working your store?” Wallace acknowledged that many retailers also work their own stores, but they must find time to manage them in order to improve.

David Wallace stands with brothers in red shirts at GAMA Trade Show

David Wallace Talks with Clifford and Chuck Robbins of The Game Empire Stores

If you don’t do it… it doesn’t get done.

“Management is not natural. It’s unnatural,” Wallace opined. It has to come from a person imposing his or her will and creating the change. He warned the attending retailers, “If you don’t do it – and it doesn’t get outsourced or delegated – it doesn’t get done.” Retailers wishing that they had more attractive displays or better in-store play for customers will do just that, wish. Management is getting those changes made and it’s not easy. Wallace also advised retailers not to bite off more than they can chew when it comes to making changes. Instead, they should pick one or two things to improve on at a time.

When Management is About People…

Wallace is adamant that friendship cannot be used as a substitute for management, nor should an effective manager be swayed by familial ties. Five years ago Wallace fired his General Manager, his brother, during a dark period when his company was saddled with debt and facing bankruptcy. Within a short period of time, Wallace says, he was “debt free, back in [the] black.” Wallace was clear in his advice to retailers intent on implementing change: “If you have someone who refuses to go along, just get rid of him.” In the long run, being able to achieve continuous improvements is worth the loss.

gamatradeshow2013thefantasyshopgeneralmanagermikebrodeur

The Fantasy Shop General Manager Mike Brodeur

Wallace, who at one point had nine gaming stores but is now back down to four, also brought up interpersonal and communication skills as necessary to an effective manager. Knowing his audience well, Wallace smiled and said, “I’m going to guess that a few of you play World of Warcraft?” He compared employees’ love of feedback on their job performances to gaining points in the Fishing skill. We all love to see immediate feedback on our improvement. Brodeur agreed, but framed negative management as hearing “the Imperial March” when a manager walks in the room and employees dreading being “Force Choked” by their management. Brodeur’s Star Wars references didn’t stop there. For Brodeur, the allure of management by authority is akin to the Dark Side, brutal and expedient. Instead, Brodeur says managers should be patient and cultivate their employees much as Obi-Won and the Jedi Council would do with their padawans. It can be hard for managers to resist this “seduction of authority”, Brodeur admitted, but ultimately if they want to invest their employees in the company, they must. It’s the difference between a manager telling an employee to empty the trash, compared to one who asks the employee “What should you be doing now, John?” The nurtured employees begin to suggest and make their own improvements.

The Effects of Wallace’s Changes in Management

Wallace’s sales are “going up, up, up” and his business is enjoying 20% growth. Now his employee “turnover is next to nothing” at his Fantasy Shop Comics & Games stores in Saint Louis, Missouri. There have been other benefits as well. Mike Brodeur chimed in to point out that management meetings “used to be a courthouse; now they’re a classroom.” Wallace echoed the sentiment, saying that “meetings have become a joy for him.”

“The only thing I do well is learn from my mistakes,” Wallace said with no trace of irony. After 32 years in the business he is still learning, but his success has also enabled him to live more on his own terms. While Wallace and wife Kelli spend most of the year in Colorado Springs, they enjoy traveling around the country. David Wallace plays World of Warcraft when he wants to and was pleased to say that he doesn’t have to have a phone.

GTS Press Conf. #2: Chaosmos, Ares Games, North Star Games, CMON

After Arcane Wonders and Crystal Commerce spoke at the press conference, we heard from four more exhibitors, Mirror Box Games, Ares Games, North Star Games, and Cool Mini or Not.

Mirror Box Games: Chaosmos

Joey Vigour from Mirror Box Games presented Chaosmos. While still in development, Chaosmos is a science fiction board game wherein the 2-4 players search for the mysterious singularity, the Ovoid, in a “cosmic treasure hunt.” The game is still so new that brothers Joey and Danny Vigour are still deciding on its final components, but have a rough estimate of a $40-50 price. What’s clear to the Brothers Vigour and their two co-designers is that Chaosmos’s play style is “emergent”, with no particular path to victory. Whoever holds the Ovoid at the end of the game will be the victor. Players who have good memories and deductive powers though will be rewarded because the game has a Clue-like element with an envelope on each of the game’s 10 planets. Players have a maximum 7-card hand, but can trade out cards on the planets. The Pheromonic Harpoon is a potent weapon card in Chaosmos, but a player with the Pheromonic Recoiler card can resist its devastating effects. Keeping track of where the two device cards are is part of the challenge of the game, but the focus of Chaosmos isn’t really battles, says Vigour. Instead, battles are just a further way of obtaining information.

Three players trying new board game Chaosmos

Brothers Joey and Danny Vigour (center and left) Demo Chaosmos at the Mirror Box Games Booth

In addition to the 10 planets, there are also 10 aliens, each with its own unique powerful racial ability. These racial abilities combined with players’ hands of cards makes “every player begin to start thinking they’re invincible,” according to elder brother Joey Vigour. For example, the alien Drusu the Scryer can look at other players’ hands and into the planetary envelopes with his Scrying ability. A powerful ability, but the Scryer can also tip off his opponents by his probable knowledge of the Ovoid’s location, so discretion is advised. Mirror Box Games’ efforts at demoing the game at Game Night and in the Exhibitors’ Hall elicited interest from attending distributors and game publishers, with at least one prominent company making the brothers a serious offer at the show. Mirror Box Games has not rushed to a decision about how Chaosmos will be produced and released, but their experience goes to show just how powerful the connections made at the GAMA Trade Show can be.

Diagonal view of board game Chaosmos with 10 planets and play pieces at GAMA Trade Show with three players

Danny Vigour Points to Alien Playing Piece on One of Chaosmos’s Ten Planets

Ares Games

Model miniature ships battle in Sails of Glory on blue mat representing ocean

Sails of Glory: Still Kickstarting

Roberto Di Maglio briefly touched upon Ares Games’ past releases, Wings of Glory, Lord of Middle-earth, Aztlán, and Micro Monsters. The Italian native explained that Ares Games released World War I and World War II lines of pre-assembled and prepainted miniature planes “realistic enough for simulationists” for Wings of Glory in 2012. The game’s mechanic of a maneuver deck of cards to move the planes around has been a hit and Ares Games adapted the mechanic for their Age of Sail game, Sails of Glory. The first Kickstarter attempt for Ares Games, Sails of Glory is currently funded, but still open for backers. The game is set in the Napoleonic era. Kickstarter has also doubled the hits to Ares Games’ website, Di Maglio revealed.

Shiny plastic sci-fi miniatures for board game The Galaxy Defenders on hexagonal playing surface

Plastic Sci-Fi Miniatures from The Galaxy Defenders from Ares Games

Two other games Ares Games will be launching later this year are The Galaxy Defenders and Inkognito. The Galaxy Defenders is a cooperative game using sci-fi miniatures with the players taking the part of the Terrans and battling against the AI aliens. Di Maglio expects an August or September release for the game. Inkognito will remain close to the spirit of the classic game released by Milton Bradley in 1988.

Large round playing pieces for board game Inkognito by Ares Games

The Stylized Playing Pieces of Inkognito Which Ares Games Will Release Later This Year

North Star Games: Clubs

Luke Warren from North Star Games kept his talk quite brief, focusing on the company’s newest release, Clubs. Clubs marks North Star Games’ entry into the light strategy market with the trick-taking game for 2-6 players, which takes 30 minutes to play. Retailing for only $14, it releases in April and may appear in Barnes & Noble stores. Expect a review of Clubs on Craven Games in the near future. Warren also noted that Wits and Wagers – Party will be replacing the regular version of Wits and Wagers in mass markets.

Light strategy card game Clubs marketing artwork with box cover from North Star Games

Cool Mini or Not

Dave Doust wearing Cool Mini or Not shirt gestures with left hand at press conference

CMON Director Dave Doust

David Doust introduced himself as a director at Cool Mini or Not, then provided a little overview of CMON’s 11-year history, describing the CMON of the past as a place where he used to sell boutique miniatures and users would upload their own miniatures for rating. Now CMON has many partners and Doust referenced Rivet Wars as an example of the company’s success with Kickstarter and multiple brands, with CMON releasing 6-8 titles a year. Rivet Wars is also exclusively distributed by ACD, Doust noted. He then turned to another huge release, Zombicide, and pointed out that alpha gamer Kickstarter backers who receive the game tend to become salesmen for the game for retailers.

Cool Mini or Not in the Exhibitors’ Hall

CMON had a much more modest booth compared to their 2012 GTS booth or their sprawling 2012 Gen Con complex. The two glass display cases they brought though were packed with miniatures and they had a recognizable face backing up Sedition Wars in the form of Mike McVey.

Thin British painter Mike McVey with crossed arms in front of Zombicide poster at Cool Mini booth

Miniature Gaming and Painting Legend Mike McVey at the CMON GTS Booth

Some of the Zombicide miniatures on display were brand new, a CMON booth worker pointed out. He also showed the new mechanic whereby the survivors turn into zombies themselves by flipping over Amy’s character card, as well as the new survivor Derek, before slowly thumbing through the Toxic City Mall rulebook.

GTS Press Conference Overview, Arcane Wonders, Crystal Commerce

At the 2012 GAMA Trade Show, all press pass holders were required to attend a press conference on Thursday of the show, taking time away from covering the Exhibitors’ Hall. Several members of the press at the show did not attend. They missed out on a number of smaller game designers and publishers. This year Press Coordinator Erica Gifford made a number of improvements, starting with dropping the mandatory press conference. There was a Media Center in the Exhibitors’ Hall, drastically reducing time exhibitors were away from their booths, as well as a Press Room in the opposite side of Bally’s near the seminar rooms.

Another improvement was the variety in those speaking at the Press Conference, ranging from nervous first-time game designers to Cool Mini or Not director Dave Doust, Wizkids staff, and Osprey Publishing. While it’s questionable that the larger companies will get much benefit from the 5-10 minutes they spent addressing the assembled press, for the smaller presenters, it may have been their only opportunity to receive any media coverage. Unfortunately there are only 10 hours to scope out the 110 plus exhibitors for the two days that the Exhibitors’ Hall is open. Every year LivingDice.com tries to cover as many of the exhibitors present as possible, but several probably slip through the cracks.

The Press

As for the press, the following were at the Media Center on Thursday afternoon at 2 PM:

16 chairs at press conference with Tom Vasel, Eric Summerer, Milton Griepp, Scott Forster, and Larry Dunne in them

Meet the Press: ICv2, The Dice Tower, Pulp Gamer, and Tyro Magazine in the Flesh

That was it. While the quantity of press present might call for ironic quotations around “press conference”, the quality of those present perhaps made up for it. For the most part, there were no follow-up questions after the presenters talked about their game releases, which was another positive change from the previous year, when there seemed to be questions posed more out of politeness than any attempt to really gather information.

Arcane Wonders

Arcane Wonders employees speak to press with Mage Wars boxes in hand

Arcane Wonders: Byran Pope & Patrick Connor

Bryan Pope and Patrick Connor from Arcane Wonders provided an update on Mage Wars, which had its big release last August at Gen Con, selling over 15,000 copies to date. Pope had previously spoken at the 2012 GTS about the game when it was still in development, a five year process of figuring out and balancing the math for all the wizards and spells involved. The Force Master vs Warlord expansion came out in February and retails for $39.99. The Force Master’s spell book focuses on telekinesis and mind control while the Warlord excels at zone control. This summer Arcane Wonders will add a second expansion, releasing the Druid vs the Necromancer at Gen Con 2013 in August, also with a target price of $39.99.


The Mage Wars Organized Play kits are also doing very well with Arcane Wonders selling out of the first batch of them, despite printing twice as many as they thought they needed. Each kit comes with 36 gold foil promotional cards and costs retailers approximately $12 to order via their distributors. Players also impact the ongoing storyline set in the world of Etheria with their victories and losses, which are recorded and then compiled by Arcane Wonders. Arcane Wonders is also planning a spell book two-pack. This will allow aspiring mages to build multiple spell books. For example, a Beastmaster could have a hunter Beastmaster spell book, a shepherd Beastmaster spell book, or one built around the strategy of turtling. Another plan in the works is alternative artwork for mages, such as a Female Beastmaster, which will come in their next spell tome expansion. Each mage will also receive an alternative ability card, which may include one or two different abilities as well as possible stat changes.

Crystal Commerce

E-commerce Expert Anthony Gallela from Crystal Commerce in long-sleeved blue shirt

Crystal Commerce’s Anthony Gallela

Anthony Gallela from Crystal Commerce spoke next. Crystal Commerce’s ability to include singles, individual comic titles (including upcoming releases from Diamond Previews), and its integration with POS systems were some of the advantages he cited. Another service Crystal Commerce offers to gaming store clients is web hosting including a web storefront. Actual website design is also available for a fee, but the complimentary hosting includes a free template. Crystal Commerce will customize the template with a client’s logo for free. Crystal Commerce sites integrate with Amazon, eBay, and TCGPlayer. Retailers consequently only have one inventory to manage and the amount of work in inputting data is significantly reduced, down to just the item’s price to the end customer. Customers can also buy tickets or pay entry fees to events like Friday Night Magic using the Crystal Commerce software. They also have the option of in-store pickup for anything ordered online.

Crystal Commerce’s plans for the future include adding a purchase order system, exposing more sales data to retailers, and the launch of Point of Sale 3. Point of Sale 3 is currently in beta development, but will offer retailers a significantly more intuitive user interface, as well as the functionality for split payments, such as cash and credit cards, or cash and store credit. But what is Crystal Commerce and what does it actually do?

“Basically, we do all the heavy lifting and try to free up game store owners to do what they do best, build relationships with their customers and sell awesome games.”

– Jerad Ellison

To answer that, I contacted Crystal Commerce after the GTS via their online sales chat feature and chatted with salesman Jerad Ellison. He clarified that Crystal Commerce is an e-commerce solution with a core strength in inventory integration. Rather than a store owner tediously inputting and managing separate sales information and pictures on Amazon, eBay, TCGPlayer, and the store’s own website, merchants can simultaneously control their product inventory across multiple platforms, including in-store sales. As Ellison put its, “We want to make the lives of our clients easier. If you have ever tried to list something on eBay or Amazon and keep an accurate inventory of one item selling in multiple spots you may understand.” Ellison also pointed out that Crystal Commerce offers retailers suggested prices for Magic singles as well. Crystal Commerce’s main selling point? “Basically, we do all the heavy lifting and try to free up game store owners to do what they do best, build relationships with their customers and sell awesome games.”