Interview with PK Torretto on P.O.W.E.R.

I interviewed P.O.W.E.R. creator PK Torretto on May 24 and will be reviewing the modern military card game soon. It should be on shelves in stores as early as late June.

PK Torretto’s Background in Gaming

Steel box for POWER sits on playing matt with P.O.W.E.R. cards deployed to playCG: So you came up with the idea for P.O.W.E.R. in 2009 on a car drive from LA to San Francisco, what had you been doing prior to that in terms of gaming?
PKT: In short? Nothing official or professional, but I give myself my own personal trophy for logging in over 465 hours in Oblivion IV. I am, and always have been, an avid gamer. Specifically PC, not console. People have the Commodore 64, Atari or Apple IIe memories, but I can one-up those with this: my family had a TV gaming system that would move a pong-like white dot on the screen and the way you would change games is to apply a different see-thru sheet of a map that would stay onto the TV by the static! Each game would have a different color and maze, but I digress.
CG: But this wasn’t the actual Pong?
PKT: No, no. The white dot was like that of Pong and we had several games, Haunted House, Treasure Finder, which were different themes on a see-thru plastic sheet that would stick the TV and stay because of the static. Then you would play with the pong-like dot through these stick-on maps/games. That must have been 1975? I have no idea on the name of the manufacturer. [The Magnavox Odyssey from 1973.] Genius for the time. Of course I played Magic when it first came out 1994ish and revisited it around 2008. I played all the popular board games throughout my youth, like Life and Monopoly, and pen-and-paper D&D big time. Our DM wrote a thesis at Cal Berkeley about the learning/teaching opportunities of D&D!
CG: Do you remember his name?
PK: Dennis O’Flaherty from Ancient Dragon Comics in San Rafael, CA. Clerics had to cast spells in German, Mages in Latin, to name some examples. Man do I miss those days!

The Development of P.O.W.E.R.

Playing grid on a board game surface with military-themed POWER cards in play

P.O.W.E.R. in Development: As a Board Game

CG: Wow. I’ll have to look him and the thesis up then. You played Magic in the 90s, but you went with a non-collectible format. Was that inspired by your Magic-playing days?
PKT: The booster pack-buying, luckier guy gets the better card? I just didn’t like it. When I would play with the Magic professionals they would get a circular combo and just win, period. I didn’t have access to these cards as a casual player and that’s why I made certain the U.S. Core Pack’s game ranks Private to Master Sergeant must be played using only the Core Packs. Thus? “The richer player doesn’t win” as in Magic (assuming one buys enough boosterpacks that money spent supercedes luck). The Air/Sea expansion and Officer Game Ranks lifts this restriction and you can play with any card you own when deck-building.
CG: What has the retailer reaction been to that idea? Magic: TG arguably puts a lot of money into their registers because of its collectible nature.
PKT: They love it. Apparently the thought of buying boosters over and over again to get the cards you want just leaves a “bad taste in their mouth” and for a new game? They just will opt not to buy-in and play it from the get-go. Hence the LCG market was born. And I developed this game prior to FFG’s trademark of that term, widely used nowadays. Moreover, the online selling and purchasing of individual cards really upsets the business model in my eyes. The richest player truly wins at that point. Remember, P.O.W.E.R. is a deck-building tactical card game “where the cards are pieces with movement and range.”
CG: You came up with the game in 2009, some of your copyrights are listed as early as 2010, so what’s been happening in the interim, if you could give us an overview of P.O.W.E.R.’s development.
PKT: In the first half of 2009 – competitive research on wargames. How many? What type? What era? No board game was modern warfare… and all the video games were! Even by namesake. So first, there was nothing like it. There was a niche. After the I-5 drive? I laid out all the pieces in Excel. They looked like Monopoly cards.

Since the cards have movement and range and take up space, I experimented with different sizes to shorten the field of play, but the amount of info and legibility became an issue. Pricing too at the end of it all, actually. Then playtests started in the last half of 2009. Once the name was decided? I started the trademark process to protect it. Both word mark and design mark with help from a college buddy, Sho Higuchi.

Then 2010 was all patent. The crazy thing is if you know about it because you look it up? That’s “willful infringement” and three times damages. Talk about ignorance is bliss! [That] led to a complete redesign and the birth of the Build Queue, which I may patent if possible. I also set up my LLC this year and all that company stuff, like taxes.

I started finalizing the design in 2011 and looking for printers/manufacturers and the like. I decided to go with less information on the card and more icons and logos which led to the major info redesign of having buzz words or traits not a paragraph explaining what each card does over and over. So Immobile Fire is when a card can’t move and shoot the same turn. instead of writing that on every card, I can just list it, in hopes that in the future I can just say “Immobile Fire” and not define it.

P.O.W.E.R.’s Build Queue and Future Mechanics

A vinyl map with a verdant green hill background is the playing grounds for PK Torretto's P.O.W.E.R.

The Vinyl Playing Matts are an Accessory

CG: You mention the Build Queue. I know that it was, in part, inspired by Real Time Strategy games, what are some of your favorite RTS games?
PKT: Here’s the thing, I don’t like them. I think they are broken (or I can break them) mathematically (my major at UCLA). Starcraft, Dawn of War II, you name it. There is a sweet spot of either wait and pounce, or steadily chop down the tree, that is always there. Always. Maps/terrain restrictions can change this, but there is an exploit somewhere in the video games, not in P.O.W.E.R. however.
CG: So it’s really just the mechanic of the BQ that you take away from RTS?
PKT: I love, love, love Homeworld by Relic Entertainment and Alex Gardener. Best game ever in my humble opinion, but I don’t know if that’s strictly an RTS. I’d have to say that my favorites are Company of Heroes and World in Conflict, but yes, the wait for the bigger/stronger pieces, or immediate smaller/weaker forces is the foundation of RTS and their Build Queues. The math has to be right and to do this? I used a 6-way rock/paper/scissors mechanic – which RTS games don’t.
CG: Speaking of mechanics, will we see more cards like Body Armor that affect the entire army or units in the army? Improved Munitions? Environmental Battlefield Conditions?
PKT: In short, yes. I have a whole matrix of buffs to be made as an expansion pack to include in your deck. Many say those are the enchantments, sorceries, and equipment cards, and yes, well, sure they are.

The Direction of P.O.W.E.R. Expansions

CG: You had our American military helping you out with images for the game, I think. Have you started looking into where you’ll get your other images for any other nations’ militaries and so on?
PKT: I have one buddy to help with the Chinese. I forgot to add that in my timeline by the way. I spent over six months and many IP lawyers to get rights to all of the images. But that’s why I don’t have multiple nationalities… yet. The different laws overseas. And the nostalgic packs like the “British Schooner Navy” must be graphically rendered. So, when big enough, I hope to hire. Not to mention the puppy dog packs for the anti-military. That was a joke sort of. We joke that our next expansion is going to be stickers that you would just place on the cards! Tanks would be werewolves and helicopters would be vampires. Infantry? Zombies, et cetera. Makes the wargamers chuckle and the fantasy players snarl. But? Then again, what tank can match an Abrams? And do you know how hard it is to find an in-service land-based SAM? All of the US’s are on ships now. All of my units are in service by the way.
CG: I think you’ve mentioned Chinese Infantry, animals, now the British Schooner Navy, what will most likely be the first non-US pack of cards we’ll see?
PKT: Technology Development (Tech Dev, the grey ones) and Politics & Population (P&P the purple one) – but that’s not your question is it…
CG: No, because those would go along with the US military. Or is it still up in the air whether it’ll be Canadians, Russians, Chinese, or Terrorists?
PKT: See, you are bringing up a good debate. As the developer, I don’t want the reenactment so much and I don’t want the “bad guys”. A military board game is a hard enough sell as it is. Flames of War is fantastic and I hope they play POWER in their off-time or a 30 minute skirmish, but it’s about the area of influence and control – and math – less about the theme to me. In fact? I can go ahead at this very moment and say after the A/S Expansion? I would like to make the Pacifist Packs – think Tiananmen Square. Captures more market. And could lead to good trash-talking banter either way, if the math is right. Though we are in talks about going alien invasion/cyberpunk/futuristic versus the US now.

CG: I know the Air/Sea Lane Expansion has been in the works for a while, what all will that give players, besides lifting the restriction on Core cards. Does that cover it?
PKT: The gameplay changes immensely with your Submarines ducking under Aircraft Carriers and Jet Bombers refueling in the air. And remember the Air/Sea Lane Ranges are in rows across the entire Battlefield.
CG: Is it hard to adjust to going back down to the Core set after you’ve been playtesting and working on Air/Sea?
PKT: No, that’s where the game is played and won and I wanted it to be that way. Though at times you wish you didn’t flip over that card, because it must enter the battlefield, you know? The Air and Sea doesn’t inhibit or take over the game, much to playtesters’ surprise. Much to my surprise is that the increased number of cards per side, up to 20 each in Admiral instead of the 8 cards now, does not increase gameplay duration because of the strength of those units. Having said that, there is a lot of balance in the Air and Sea units.

P.O.W.E.R.: In Stores Soon

Small light Cayuse helicopter displayed on orange-backed card for P.O.W.E.R. game

Torretto’s Favorite Card: the Cayuse

CG: What are your personal favorite cards in the game?
PKT: Of the ones in the U.S. Core Packs? The Cayuse – a BQ1 C.A.S. that can do 1 dmg in the current square. People don’t see it now, but when you have to take out the Seabees that are building the naval or air base that will launch Destroyer Class ships or F16’s? Better believe they are stacking Cayuses in their BQ. Take out the Construction Battalion? No bases, no sea, no air: lots of cards turn into sore thumbs.
CG: Duly noted. How well do you tend to do at playing P.O.W.E.R. yourself?
PKT: Actually, not that great. I make little mistakes that seem to add up against the expert gamers that play games more than design them. But? There are times I see the end quicker than they do, so I win decisively, just not all the time. And that to me is a sign of a good game, come to think of it

CG: Where can gamers find P.O.W.E.R.?
PKT: At Origins next week…. and SoCal Smackdown at Disneyland Sept 21-23… check http://www.powerthegame.com/news/ and http://www.facebook.com/powerthegame and http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/113456/power for upcoming details.
CG: What’s this Disneyland one?
PKT: socalsmackdown.com
CG: When will P.O.W.E.R. be in stores? Do you have a date yet?
PKT: Alliance Distribution is taking pre-orders now… and I have found sites on the net already taking orders. End of June, methinks
CG: Awesome. Thanks, PK.
PKT: Thank you!

P.O.W.E.R. card art and board game picture copyright PK Torretto, used with permission.

The 2012 GAMA Trade Show: What Went On and Who Did It

Sparse "crowd" at the 2012 GAMA Trade Show Exhibitor's Hall with maybe 12 people milling around

The 2012 GTS Exhibitors’ Hall Was Easy to Navigate

Two months after the 2012 GAMA Trade Show, I am just now posting my final article about it. There was a lot of information, both formal and informal, to take in at the trade show. Ultimately it was an incredibly positive experience for Craven Games, generating 24 direct articles and interviews, including this one, and helping to spark some future interviews and product reviews. I think that 95% of the attendees also shared my enthusiasm for the GTS and got as much out of it as I did.

Part of understanding the GAMA Trade Show is recognizing the last two words in its name: it’s a trade show. The public is not admitted. Instead the atmosphere is professional without being corporate, for the most part. Most members of the game industry – whether retailers or manufacturers – seem to be gamers themselves and just as liable as the next fan to be excited about Fantasy Flight Games’ new Tie Fighter space combat game, for example. With one or two exceptions, everyone was friendly and welcoming. The other half of the GAMA Trade Show is recognizing that GAMA is the Game Manufacturers Association, a non-profit trade organization for manufacturers. GAMA exists to “advance the hobby games industry” and while it has a retail division, it is not an association of game stores. From attending the GTS, I can say that the members of GAMA want to see the gaming industry succeed and will help each other and newcomers to do so.

Sparse crowd is typical at the GAMA Trade Show

Easygoing Relaxed Atmosphere at the GTS

In preparation for attending, I carefully read over Living Dice’s coverage of the 2010 GAMA Trade Show. In general, I found my experience to be very similar. As seen in these two pictures of the Exhibitor’s Hall, there aren’t throngs of people to push through. Add a couple of people into each shot and you would have the GAMA Trade Show Exhibitor’s Hall at its busiest. The hall was only open on Wednesday and Thursday. I spent the rest of the time at the show at seminars, meals, or Wednesday’s Game Night.

GTS Seminars

Almost all of the seminars were quite helpful. From the manufacturing seminars, to Dave Wallace on competitive edges for retailers, to the intellectual property seminar, there was a lot of advice and other information to digest. Some of the seminars got quite crowded and some ran over time. For attendees who miss a seminar or two, there was a table with hand-outs on it, including many in-depth ones from seminars that David Wallace ran. I attended a few seminars without writing separate articles about them. Jim Crocker chaired one such seminar called “You Get What You Pay For”. Essentially it was about accounting and tax implications for retailers who use barter transactions as well as the legal implications. There were enough questions raised that I have considered the viability of a tax guide for gaming stores PDF as a possible Craven Games download. There was actually a separate seminar on taxes, “Death and Taxes” provided by Chip Bowles of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, which I did not attend.

One thing that I noted about the seminars that I haven’t brought up elsewhere is that unfortunately it is hard to know just who is giving the advice. Many of the seminars are presented as speaker-audience, but just as many have members of the crowd making their own contributions. I think it is vitally important to know whether a retailing tip is coming from someone who has only had a store for a year or two or whether it is coming from a 15 year veteran. This is still the case across the aisle in manufacturing seminars, where it is important to differentiate between someone who has Kickstarted a PDF of a $5 RPG supplement to someone who has sold 20,000 units of a game. Unfortunately if you do not know the faces of the attendees or don’t check their badges after a seminar, you may try to follow some bad advice.

GAMA Trade Show Meals

While I enjoyed almost all the other parts of the GAMA Trade Show, I do have to say that the meals were remarkably lackluster. The meal ticket cost $65 for 3 lunches and 2 dinners. The meals seriously consisted of hamburgers and hot dogs for at least one meal. All I can remember about the food is how disappointed I was. Fortunately I am not a vegetarian nor a vegan. They had the meal “choice” of salad and by salad, I mean lettuce, if I recall correctly. I stopped going to the lunches after the first one and went to one of my favorite places to eat on the Strip, a short walk away at the Paris, to its expensive creperie. As a Las Vegas resident, I am also embarrassed by the ridiculous prices being charged to the trade show, such as $72 for a gallon of coffee. Yikes. That definitely explains how back in 2002, banquet waiters were making six figure salaries here. I still am incredulous that over $50,000 of the GTS meals were subsidized by GAMA. However, if coffee is $72 a gallon, how much are hot dogs? Maybe each hot dog cost $5. Even then, that wouldn’t begin to explain the $50,000 figure brought up in Friday’s analysis of the GTS.

GTS Meal Talks

The other reason I decided to skip out on further lunches at the GAMA Trade Show was the talks. Each of the meals is sponsored by a number of manufacturers. On Tuesday of the show, several sponsors came up and made presentations. Andre from Games Workshop came up to address concerns about Citadel Finecast melting in cars. A Warhammer Fantasy Battles Empire Captain was passed out to those with BUYER ribbons. Loren from Catalyst Games got up to promote Leviathans, their steampunk 1:1200 scale combat game and Aldo Ghiozzi promoted this year’s Free RPG Day.

The GAMA Trade Show Dinner on Tuesday night was more of a non-event than a highlight of the show. This could be because I arrived right before it began, found a seat in the back of the room, and along with my tablemates had trouble hearing the speakers. Instead we started talking business which spawned my interview with David Stennett. The keynote speaker was Scott Knoblich, Vice President of Sales for Wizards of the Coast. The blurb about him in the GTS guide was almost longer than his “speech”. Several other manufacturers came up to talk about their products, but I missed most of it. I also missed out on further “freebies”, like Wizkids’ Horsemen of the Apocalypse for Heroclix, again due to lack of a BUYER ribbon. From all that I attended and many conversations with other attendees, Thursday’s Online Retail Event was the actual climactic can’t-miss event of the 2012 GAMA Trade Show.

The GAMA Trade Show Game Night

While the Online Retail Debate was pretty poignant, inspiring stuff, the Game Night was a lot of fun. Manufacturers sign up for tables (and pay for them too, I believe) to run their games. It can be slightly daunting and I strolled around to take in what the offerings were; someone at the wrap-up on Friday suggested having a map of manufacturers and tables, which would be wonderful.

P.O.W.E.R. Attack

While playing and getting the hang of P.O.W.E.R. the Game, a Canadian distributor came up and asked about the game. Its creator PK Torretto gave a little spiel as I waited for him to take his turn. “It looks boring,” she told him. Now admittedly the game’s box and the card’s backing give no hint of anything about the game, much less its modern military nature. Then the distributor surprised me, putting me on the spot and asking what I thought of the game and whether it was boring or not. I told her I thought that she was very blunt. She was as taken aback as I was seconds before. Having long since finished the game those two months ago, I would now tell her that I found the game to be very entertaining and that I have thought about P.O.W.E.R.’s mechanics and playing it again quite a bit, much like my recent experience with Munchkin.

Sirius Games: Monkeyland and
Jabba-Dabba-Dû!

Brown monkey playing pieces and fruit cards for Monkeyland board game by Reiner KniziaFrom there, I moved on to trying out several of Sirius Games’ offerings. Sirius Games is a subdivision of Zvezda. First I tried Monkeyland which is basically a fruit-based Memory game with shifting playing cards. Every time a piece is flipped over, it moves across the circle of fruits. I had a hard time with it, but would play it again against a child with a short attention span. It was soon abandoned in favor of
Jabba-Dabba-Dû!
.

Jabba Dabba Du. There is just something special about this weird caveman hunting board game which, like Monkeyland, is also designed by Reiner Knizia. The caveman playing pieces are nothing special and the artwork should possibly appeal to a 4 year old, but I love its secret bidding mechanic. With two players the game is not exciting, but with three or more it starts to take off. I ended up playing two different games of it with Arel and Roel Cordero, the inventors of Yards the Game of Inches, as well as Tommy Raedin who had come out from Russia with Konstantin Krivenko.

Line art cavemen cavort around a fresh kill in Reiner Knizia's bidding mechanic board gameBasically the game has 5 or so hunting locations. Each turn, you select two cards, playing them face down until they are revealed to the group. The cards are the 5 hunting locations with the 6th card being another caveman hunter, allowing you to double up at that location. The cards are revealed and you transfer your cavemen figures to the marker. Each turn there is a winner at the hunting ground based on the highest number of cavemen there. The winner gets the highest number of victory points, which varies from hunting location to hunting location. Think Baltic Avenue and Mediterranean from Monopoly versus Park Place and Boardwalk. I had a hard time grasping the odd squirrel mechanic that pops up in the game, but essentially you can be rewarded for past victories at the hunting grounds.

Jabba-Dabba-Dû!has a few basic strategies and recognizing them was part of the fun for me that Game Night. Outside the game mechanics, there is the social aspect of predicting your opponents’ likely course of action. In learning your opponent(s) and also bluffing, the game is slightly reminiscent of poker. I doubt I would ever buy the game myself, but I would gladly play it again and again if someone else had a copy. Of course, if I were to have children, that might be a good cover-up for having the childish game.

The Lords of Waterdeep or Lack Thereof and Other Games

Not everyone had as good a time at Game Night as I did. Wizards of the Coast left Modern Myths owner Jim Crocker and others hanging. WotC had advertised that they would be bringing copies of Lords of Waterdeep to Game Night, but in Crocker’s words they “not only didn’t have the game, but their tables in the hall were completely empty. They didn’t even have the foresight to ask a few interested WPN stores to run demos on their behalf. When they tell us at their presentation how interested they are in our feedback and how important organized play is, but then blow it off themselves when it really matters, that’s a very mixed message.”

Glowing blue crystals illuminate a mining cave complex for Dark Age Games

The Dark Age Games Demo Board

I myself didn’t notice Wizards’ absence, probably because I was so busy enjoying other games. I also managed to get a game of Dark Age in and experienced something that was lacking at the other tables. The Game Night had two bars set up inside the room. You could pay for your drinks, but manufacturers also had tickets to give out to get free drinks. Maybe the other vendors were being selfish, but B.J. Kourik shared a couple of tickets with me for playing what is already my favorite miniatures game. He has since left Dark Age, but I had fun that night playing Forsaken against one of the Cordero brothers on the scenic demo table that Cool Mini or Not had brought for Dark Age. My newbie opponent was playing with the Outcasts. Of course, I brutally smashed the poor Cordero. When it comes to demos, I don’t believe in holding back, but as in all things Dark Age, he also took out a few of my models. It is not uncommon in Dark Age for the victor to have only a few models remaining. I finished the night off by watching PK Torretto play a game of Yards: The Game of Inches on one of the four empty tables, possibly empty because of Wizards not showing up.

Kicking gress donkey on the social game cover for Donkey It's a KickAnother highlight of Game Night that most attendees will probably recollect and smile about is when a player stood up and shouted “I AM A PRETTY PONY!” He was playing the game Donkey: It’s a Kick from the Cleveland Kids. The Cleveland Kids is a family business headed by Cleve Cleveland who has been playing Donkey for 50 years now. His mother came up with the game which involves cards and pucks. It’s designed for ages 8 and up for 3-8 players, though they’ve had 14 players. Basically there is a “puck ruckus”, a mad scramble for the puck. The “loser” each round of the game is the Donkey, but as Cleve explained “even though you’re out, you’re still in.” The Donkey can try to tempt other players into talking to him or her and otherwise interfere with the game. If another player talks to the Donkey, he or she becomes the Donkey. The reason that the attendee yelled “I AM A PRETTY PONY” was because of one of the Kicker cards. The Cleveland Kids will be releasing a second set of kicker cards, but for now the game has 54 different kickers and will have a suggested retail price of $24.99 with a wholesale cost of $14.95.

Paizo’s Black Eye

Jim Crocker’s disappointment in Wizards of the Coast’s no-show for The Lords of Waterdeep was also expressed towards Paizo. “Paizo’s message was essentially the same [as WotC]: demos and teaching people our games is incredibly important, except when those people are retailers who could benefit from being taught how to run a demo.” Crocker went on to say:

If anyone at the show was unsure of why RPGs are being increasingly marginalized in hobby retail, they needed look no further than that demo room, where not a SINGLE RPG company was represented with even a quick-play demo of any of their games, despite the presence of numerous dedicated RPG vendors in attendance or being repped in the hall.

While there are many other RPG companies that could also have remedied the lack of demos of their upcoming games, I was struck by Paizo’s name coming up again in another negative context. In the Online Retail Debate, David Wallace pointed out that he doesn’t “like it when a manufacturer starts trying to cut into my customers and cut me out of the loop,” citing Paizo as a company that does so.

Those are two well-respected retailers. I am neither a retailer nor well-respected. Perhaps someday I might be both, but I have my own Paizo GTS story to share. I crammed into one of the meeting rooms to attend Paizo’s Premier Seminar. I listened. I took notes. I hefted the very hefty Bestiary Box. Paizo announced that players would soon be able to play Rise of the Runelords as Pathfinder and not Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. They talked up Liane Merciel’s new Pathfinder novel. They promoted the Pathfinder Comics from Dynamite. The Pathfinder MMO should have a “very quick” turnaround of 12-15 months before launch. Find out more at goblinworks.com. There will be a Goblin Plush from Diamond Select Plus in either 8″ or 2-3″ size for keychains. It might be a special Gen Con edition. Pathfinder Society is being played in 13 different countries. Attending this Paizo seminar, in fact, contributed directly to me trying Pathfinder at a Vegas Game Day. The owner or manager of Galactic Quest, a 24,000 square foot gaming store in Lawrenceville, Georgia saw his Pathfinder Society grow from 4 players to 32 players in 14-15 months. “Without stores, you don’t have Pathfinder Society” either Mike Brock or Pierce Watters said. I don’t know who to attribute that comment to though, because despite giving out their email addresses at the seminar, and my emailing them, I have never heard back from either person. A picture of the Bestiary Box would look good right here, but not even Paizo’s Customer Service got back to me about arranging for some Paizo images. So I must agree with Jim Crocker that Paizo talks the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.

The 2012 GAMA Trade Show Theme: Staying the Course

One of the oddest things about the GTS was its theme or motto of “Staying the Course”. GAMA’s Executive Director John Ward wrote in the GTS booklet “This year’s theme is “Staying the Course,” reflecting the bold determination of the talented people in our industry regardless of business and economic challenges.” Now to me, “staying the course” is missing something, and while it doesn’t reflect any failure or negativity, it could almost be “We’ve Hit a Plateau” or “Plodding Along”. I can understand that if the gaming industry isn’t thriving or going gang busters, GAMA might want to avoid an extremely positive message and the backlash that would cause from its frustrated members. However the irony is that with one exception, every single indication at the GAMA Trade Show pointed to a thriving gaming industry. Wizards of the Coast were trumpeting the Dark Ascension set for Magic: TG. In Helene Bergiot’s words, “Magic has never been a stronger brand.” Wizkids was pumped up about Heroclix, the Hunger Games, and Pathfinder Battles (and so were retailers)! At the Online Retail Debate, Dave Wallace said “My sales are up. My store is healthy! I love what I do and I’m going to keep doing it.” Speaking about the entire gaming industry, he also said, “Our industry is not hurting. We’re not in trouble.” I only spoke to one retailer that felt that he was in hard times. In fact, everything at the GAMA Trade Show was up; 100 percent of exhibit hall space was purchased and the seminar meeting rooms were separate from the Exhibitor’s Hall because of the success of the GTS, it having outgrown a smaller, more compact location. One manufacturer said he had “four times more orders this show than last year.” There were 52 people in the 3-hour New Retailer Orientation and 50 in the New Manufacturers’ Orientation which also was 3 hours long. Six of the seminars also ran over the capacity with attendees standing in the back to hear the information presented. The number of attendees was also up, according to GAMA Executive Director John Ward. He cited a figure of 883 attendees at the 2011 show and said that 2012 show had grown by 10 percent.

The Dirty Word of the GAMA Trade Show

On the other hand, despite the success currently being enjoyed in the gaming industry and despite the overall welcoming nature of most members, there were odd moments of invective and scorn at the GTS. The object of GTS retailers’ derision are hobbyists. No, not hobby gamers or hobby modelers, but hobbyist retailers, shop owners who don’t run their stores as professional businesses. When Paul Burdick popped up in my interview with Luke Warren from Northstar Games and said “Some retailers hate me ’cause I’m only open for Christmas.”, I thought he was exaggerating or joking. By the end of the GTS, I knew he was being dead serious. Serious retailers can’t stand other retailers who run their stores as a hobby. Part of the resentment can be understood by reading the Online Retail Debate. Store owners who take pride in their professionalism and who who pay electricity, plumbing, wages, shipping, and other overhead costs can’t stand a 12 year old running a business from a home. While I can appreciate the sentiment, when retailers complained of “hobby” retailers or “hobbyists” they really sounded as though they were describing Al-Qaeda or Nazis.

The Other Hidden Side of the GTS

You have to use a bit of inference and deduction to recognize the hidden aspects of the GAMA Trade Show. There were something like 900+ registered attendees, but each seminar room only holds 60 or so people and there were maybe six of those rooms. A lot of the “action” at the GTS is happening outside the seminars. It could be a manufacturer and a retailer discussing business over coffee downstairs at the Bally’s deli, Nosh. This could be happening up in a hotel suite, or it could be happening at the craps table or over at a strip club. Unfortunately, I don’t have a secret insider whispering in my ear on this. I know from speaking to an employee at one prominent game company that his boss was present in Las Vegas the night of the mixer and the next day, but I only ever saw him at the Exhibitor’s Hall. This must be quite typical at the show.

As someone from GAMA pointed out at the wrap-up session on Friday morning, manufacturers don’t want to have multiple Game Nights, because they want to use that time for networking. There must be a ton of networking going on outside the established convention spaces. Of course, seminars aren’t great avenues to meet and get to know one’s peers; many of my interviews or articles happened because of the communication out in the hallways right after a seminar.

Who Comes to the GAMA Trade Show?

For the most part the GAMA Trade Show is actually attended by its intended audience: professionals in the game industry. There were several “buddies” of store owners I ran into, not that they advertised themselves as such. They had been pressed into service to help their friend out at the show or came along possibly to enjoy Las Vegas. Attendees came from across the country with a strong contingent of Canadian store owners present. Europeans like Konstantin Krivenko with Zvezda or Dave Stennet from Playford Games made the journey. Retailers and manufacturers were mostly male, but there were a number of women involved in various aspects of the trade show from Wizards of the Coast’s Helene Bergiot, to the GTS PR Director Erica Gifford, to the co-owners of the Comic Shop in San Leandro, California. I was struck more by the gray hair at the GTS; many of these attendees have been at this for over two decades since RPGs were in their infancy. There are some younger faces, but I would estimate that the mean age was 40 if not older. GAMA seems to be split between retailers and manufacturers with seminars devoted to each side of the industry, but then there is a third group comprising the distributors and other assorted individuals and companies that service the gaming industry. Fellow gaming websites and services like GameHead and Pulp Gamer were present. Mike Webb from North America’s biggest game distributor Alliance attended as did the owner of America’s largest gaming fulfillment house, Aldo Ghiozzi from Impressions. Anthony from Crystal Commerce contributed many suggestions or facts during seminars. Greater Games Industry Magazine exhibited and ran a seminar or two. However, the largest constituents of the GTS definitely are manufacturers and retailers.

New Manufacturers and Retailers

Logo for Disaster Looms a new space exploration game on Kickstarter and GTS attendeeEric Salyers came to the GTS for the first time as a new manufacturer “hoping to learn more about domestic manufacturing, and to have the chance to network with store owners and distributors.  I was also hoping to get to meet others that were Kickstarting their game, as well as successfully Kickstarted.”   Did Salyers feel that the trade show was worth it? “Definitely!  This was the first time our game had been put in front of the industry… We learned that we are on the right path, we also learned a lot of things we can improve! We would not be nearly as prepared as we are now if we had not been at this show.” Arel Cordero, another game designer attending for the first time, also found the GTS to be of great value, “Attending GAMA significantly moved us closer to producing Yards by helping demystify the process of becoming a new game manufacturer. I found several of the seminars especially valuable, but being in the company of others doing the same thing was the greatest value.” He also learned that sports and board games are a hard sell to the hobby game industry as the brothers discovered at the trade show.

PK Toretto also made a number of discoveries himself. He had P.O.W.E.R. the Military Tactical Card Game manufactured before coming to the GTS and arrived expecting to sell to members of the public, not recognizing that the GAMA Trade Show is purely business to business. All of his card packs and merchandise were unnecessary for selling to brick and mortar retailers. His game did get picked up by Alliance though and for Toretto, distribution is “worth every penny” of his expenses in attending the GTS. In retrospect, he would have liked to have had more printing options before producing P.O.W.E.R., as the GTS exposed him to more manufacturing options in that area, with printers giving samples of their work at the GTS. This has provided Toretto with more leverage. Many of the seminars at the GTS addressed areas which Torretto had studied and researched himself. He “still went to every seminar” that he could though, to ensure that he was on the right track and to check his work. He had “no clue” about just how informative the seminars would be. Torretto pointed out a problem with the GTS seminars though: exhibitors cannot attend the seminars scheduled during Exhibitor Hall hours. He would like to see repeats of seminars to enable attendees who missed one because of exhibiting or attending another seminar to have the chance to hear the material. One other benefit that Toretto found at the GTS was meeting the top distributors in the industry and learning about them and seeing how they pitch gaming products.

There were also a number of new retailers attending the GTS for the first time with some attending in anticipation of opening a store. I met Brian Wampler and Chris McCartney of B&C Games who will be opening their store in Indiana. Wampler feels better prepared and “more pumped now to open” B & C Games’ storefront. He explains that after “seeing so many people there that either were in our shoes or had been at one point and getting to talk to them, it made the decision pretty easy.” He found “anything with Dave Wallace” to be especially valuable at the GTS. As Wampler says, “The man is a legend in the industry, and I attended nearly every one of his speaking engagements. Pat from Gnome Games also had a lot of insight to share with us.”

Experienced Professionals

The husband and wife team of John and Lynn Dorney were new to the GAMA Trade Show, but not new to the gaming industry. Treefort Games in Fayetteville, Georgia has been in business for three and a half years. They came because, as Lynn puts it, “We had hit a bump. We seemed to be at a point where we needed to either close the store or do something to keep it going and growing.  We thought GAMA would be able to help us figure out which direction to go.” Treefort Games has decided on the going and growing with the pair returning home to Georgia with a renewed sense of purpose. Among the seminars they attended at the GTS were Getting the Most Out of Your Employees, Social Networking, and the GAMA Education Certification. The GTS had a number of seminars on Games in Education, which I did not have time to attend, but both of the Dorneys did, because as Lynn says “We view our store as much a community center as a place of business.  It seems only natural for us to reach out to our area schools.”

Shawn Rhoades of Game Haven in West Jordan, Utah has a bit more experience at the GAMA Trade Show, if not in retail. This is his second year in business and his second time at the GTS. He also cited David Wallace’s classes as among his favorites, saying that they were definitely “the most useful.” For Rhoades the box of demo products was also a draw. Instead of retailers going from booth to booth collecting free product at the GTS, they now receive a crate of games delivered to their stores. However the big box of games also requires retailers to collect stamps from attending various Premier Presentation seminars. After each Premier Presentation a line of retailers would form trying to get their special sheet stamped. In Rhoades’ view though, this was “a total waste of time” as the presenting companies “covered exactly the same things at the luncheons and dinners”. The exception for Rhoades was Mayfair Games. He pointed out that “their seminars are always fun.”

Trevor McGregor had been to the GAMA Trade Show 7 times as a manufacturer, but the 2012 show was his first as a retailer. McGregor now owns The Gaming Pit and is very realistic in his expectations within the game industry:

Running your own small business is a daunting task for anyone in any industry. GTS offers a place for retailers to pick brains of other retailers, including some very successful ones. Even if the other retailers aren’t out of the park successful there is quite a few things you can learn by just hearing what other retailers have done that worked or even hasn’t worked. I really wanted the experience of networking and finding out information I didn’t know. It was also nice to get face time with manufacturers and see their upcoming products but that was secondary.

McGregor found Michael Stackpole’s seminar on marketing with social media to have “quality information”, but also learned from every manufacturer’s seminar he attended. His favorite seminar he attended though was the Wizards of the Coast Organized Play seminar, citing WotC’s candor with their goals for events like Friday Night Magic, Magic pre-releases, and some of their own marketing data about player behavior as the reasons why.

Tom Anders from Impact Miniatures has been in business a number of years, but this was his first GAMA Trade Show. For him, the show was “very beneficial” allowing him to connect with several stores that weren’t aware of Impact Miniatures’ existence. Talking about his roller derby board game, Impact City Roller Derby, he said “We were leaning, based on quotes that we were getting, that we would charge $45 for the base game. I got really good feedback that said ‘You know what, this looks like a $40 game to us,’ from multiple stores.” Anders has taken the feedback to heart, trying to find a place to shave off $5 from his MSRP. Again, the identity of the persons providing that feedback probably made a huge difference as it was coming from multiple experienced retailers and not neccessarily fans of Impact Miniatures. “That’s valuable feedback because at the end of the day, you want game stores to buy it and you want game stores to tell you who’s going to buy it,” Anders confirmed.

And the Industry Veterans

Rick Loomis is the head of Flying Buffalo, the publisher of Nuclear War and Play By Mail giant. He is also the President of GAMA. What does the President of GAMA do at the GAMA Trade Show? Loomis answers “As President of GAMA, I attended two Board of Directors meetings, two meetings regarding the Origins Awards, attended the “Intro to New Manufacturers” seminar and had several long conversations with our executive director and other officers. As owner of Flying Buffalo Inc, I set up my booth, and sat at the booth during exhibit hours, having conversations with retailers and distributors.” Another veteran of many GAMA Trade Shows, John Mansfield is a retailer and the owner and operator of Pendragon Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba for 38 years. He has been coming to the GTS since it was held in the Tropicana Casino and comes mostly to “look at new stuff” and “see the new ideas”. He also comes to “listen to all the ideas that never happen”.

Dave Wheeler, CEO of Dragon’s Lair Games, has also been coming to GAMA Trade Shows for many years, since the “fateful” Miami show when an extremely small number of retailers attended. In business since 1986, like many other attendees he cites the personal contact that comes from meeting face to face with other retailers and manufacturers at the GTS as a draw. He has increasingly found that “socialization is becoming more important to me”. Wheeler also benefits from attending manufacturer seminars because they provide a window into understanding the challenges that game publishers face. Like the Dorneys of Treefort Games, he finds the GTS reinvigorating: “Besides learning about new ways to do business and finding out about new products, GTS is very energizing for me! I go in, I am around people who share the same challenges that I experience. I find out how they overcome their challenges. I share how I overcome mine. I become enthused about going home and trying out new ideas and bringing in new products!” One other thing that Wheeler is still enthusiastic about is Michael Stackpole’s Social Networking seminar and the growth in crowdfunding he saw at the show, which inspired him to create the Crowd Funding Friendly Retailer Mailing List. Interested retailers can still join the list by emailing him at info at dlair.net.

While Rick Loomis is GAMA’s President, John Ward is its Executive Director. He also spent much of his time at the GTS in meetings; in fact, he spent most of his time at the GTS in meetings. He did circulate around the GTS and felt that “there was a lot of good energy at the show this year”. He was pleased with the strong attendance at the seminars offered on Monday and Friday. Those two days really are more of travel days, I think, for most attendees with Friday being a half-day and Monday really being registration and the mixer. Ward also points to the overseas traffic this year as a marker of the GTS’s success, citing a European manufacturer’s pleasure in being able to meet with all of his European distributors at the show. “That’s the kind of setting that we really want to help foster,” Ward enthused. While Ward did “quality control” by sticking his head in at a few seminars and walking the Exhibitors’ Hall, he was already busy planning for Origins later this month, and in fact, for the 2013 GAMA Trade Show and Origins 2013. Of course, the GTS and Origins are not the only things that GAMA does and the other activities in promoting game manufacturing were a big part of his meetings here in Las Vegas. I also know how pleased he was with the Online Retail Debate and the direction it took. He is also already looking forward to having a representative from Kickstarter at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show, as a response to requests from the membership.

GAMA Trade Show 2012 Final Thoughts

If you are a game designer with aspirations of manufacturing your own game, the GAMA Trade Show is the place to be. You will meet your distributors and a good number of your best retailers at the GTS. The members are friendly and welcoming. If your product is not good or ready for the market, someone will probably tell you and offer constructive criticism. Friendly people may take an interest in you and take you and your game idea under wing and help you in your efforts. If you can, bring a working prototype of your game with you. Eric Salyers was able to show Disaster Looms! to a number of distributors and already has four distributors lined up to distribute the game post-Kickstarter. He adds “This was a direct result of having the game in hand.  We also generated a lot of interest with store owners and store employees – again a benefit of having the game in hand and being able to demo the game all week.” The GTS is just as much a place to be for an aspiring game store owner offering quality information, strong contacts in the industry, and a chance to rub shoulders with like-minded helpful individuals.

The other thing to do if you are considering attending the GTS is to plan ahead and possibly bring your business partner, an employee, or a spouse. Separate to work the trade show and attend double the seminars or have one person in the Exhibitor’s Hall while the other is networking or attending a seminar. I found myself incredibly busy throughout the four days and can only imagine that a visitor to Las Vegas will feel pulled in many more directions with all the distractions that Vegas offers.

Jabba Dabba-Du and Monkeyland images copyright Sirius Games. Donkey: It’s a Kick copyright Cleveland Kids. Disaster Looms! graphic copyright Break From Reality. All images used with permission.

2012 GAMA Trade Show Press Conference Part One

On Thursday March 15, those of us with press passes at the 2012 GAMA Trade Show were supposed to attend a Press Conference. Most of the companies who signed up for the press conference attended. It was a very small affair, no flashing cameras, and no stunning revelations. This is part one of two for the GTS press conference.

Mage Wars from Arcane Wonders

Mage Wars box art from Arcane Wonders

Mage Wars box art courtesy of Arcane Wonders

Bryan Pope from Arcane Wonders talked about Mage Wars, which is set to come out just before Gen Con in August. In Mage Wars, each spell is represented by a card. Players control wizards who flip through their spell books and select which card they wish to play. Even though in most RPGs, a wizard does not cast spells directly from his or her spellbook, there is something very enticing to me about having the spell book in the form of a binder in your hands. The game itself combines CCG tactics with tactical miniatures play in a magical arena setting.

The initial mages will be the Priestess, the Beastmaster, the Warlock, and the Wizard, but expansion mages are already in the works. There will be a total of 24 mages to choose from and the plans are to release them 2 per expansion, so players will have the Force Master and the Warlord and then the Necromancer and the Druid. The game is not collectible, but it is customizable. The expansions are expected to retail for $30. There are also plans to do Arch-Mages for the holidays. One Arch-Mage can potentially take on 2 or 3 other mages.

Mage Wars Wizard vs. Priestess

The Wizard makes arcane battle with the Priestess, image courtesy Arcane Wonders

Mage Wars will retail for $75, takes 75-90 minutes to play, and will come with everything that you need to play the game. Arcane Wonders has had 18 playtest groups across the country striving to balance the game and its magic-users. Each type of mage has at least 5-7 tactics or strategies to pursue that the playtest groups have discovered, but I bet an innovative mage will create a few more. An interesting aspect of play are hidden enchantments played face down. Another is that while your opponent is normally restricted to 3 copies of a spell for its Spell Points cost, he or she can add additional copies for an additional cost. You won’t necessarily know what you’re up against in Mage Wars. At the same time, there aren’t hundreds of cards to keep track of. The core of each type of mage’s deck is built around 55 spells.

Arcane Wonders will be supporting the game with league play and I look forward to playing it myself this summer.

Square Shooters

Square Shooters Deluxe bot from Heartland GamesAmber Dickens from Heartland Consumer Products talked about Square Shooters. The key concept in the product is that a deck of playing cards has been represented on 9 dice, including 2 Jokers. The concept originated with inventor Carmelyn Calvert and was patented in 2011.

Square Shooters dice with card faces on them.

Square Shooters images courtesy Heartland Games

I can’t quite predict the exact uses, but I do envision some gamers buying the dice just to add to their dice collections. The playing cards on die faces concept is a tricky one. According to Dickens, the suits and numbers are distributed so as to allow every straight flush and every 4 of a kind. The National Parenting Center has called the dice “mindblowing”. That may be a bit of hyperbole, but there are some implications for traditional card games. The fact that the 7 of Spades is with the 9 of Clubs, and 3 of Hearts should make a 6-7-8-9-10 straight more unlikely, because you can’t “draw” or “toss” the other face values.

The Basic Set sells for $12.99 and comes with the 9 dice, 100 chips, a dice pouch, and game cards to play the Square Shooters games associated with the dice. The manufacturer, Heartland Consumer Products, is actually a playing card company which helps explain why the Deluxe Set includes a set of playing cards. You also get a fairly nice felt-lined dice cup for the $19.99 that the Deluxe Set costs.

Square Shooters has been out since August of 2011, but this June, Heartland will be releasing Rodeo Rummy targeted towards younger players, which will be available at Origins.

P.O.W.E.R.

P.O.W.E.R. Rifle Squad featuring photograph from U.S. Army

P.O.W.E.R. card courtesy Power Games

Wednesday night I took the opportunity to play P.O.W.E.R. and thus much of what creator PK Torretto said on Thursday afternoon I either knew firsthand or was repeated. P.O.W.E.R. is a card game with movement based on the modern military, America’s in particular. Players control M1A1 Abrams, Apaches, Force Recon, and Sniper Squads, battling to reach the opponent’s control or deployment area.

The game was fairly easy to pick up with the 8-card version offering a few tactical choices. The key to playing, at least when not building your own deck, is understanding the icons on the cards. This Rifle Squad, for example, is not equipped to shoot down attacking Aircraft. Instead, because of the icons near its bottom, the Rifle Squad can engage other Infantry, Supply, Defense (like Patriot batteries), Armor, and Artillery. To shoot down enemy aircraft you would need a Stinger S.A.M. card. Some cards enhance other cards, such as the Body Armor for the Rifle Squads, boosting their defense. The Rifle Squad has 1 offense and 1 defense and a range of 0. It must move into the space holding an opponent to do its 1 damage. The directional icon at the top also means that it moves a grueling 1 square a turn. By comparison, the Supply trucks zoom across the battle area with a movement of 3.

Further much-needed expansion cards are in the works including a German blitzkrieg deck, a Chinese infantry deck, and several surprising choices including an animal deck. I say much-needed because the U.S. military battling against the U.S. military is not a very satisfactory experience. Where are the French Mirages and French Foreign Legion cards? Where is the Taliban? Essentially the rules are in place though, so whatever other factions get added, be they zombies, Belgians, or drug cartels, they can use the existing rules.

The first expansion was also at the GAMA Trade Show. It adds a naval and air support column to the playing grid. Destroyers and aircraft carriers battle with F22s. Particularly exciting to me as a Battlefield 3 player, was an anti-air vehicle resembling the Tunguska, the S.A.M. A.D.A.T.S., which can be found in the basic set. Its attacks are not restricted to one square, but to entire rows of aircraft on the battlefield.

M1A1 Abrams Armor card for P.O.W.E.R.

M1A1 Card courtesy P.O.W.E.R.

One of the key components of P.O.W.E.R. is the Build Queue (BQ). The BQ adds a real-time strategy feel to the game with units queueing up on the side to enter the game. You can look at your opponent’s BQ and alter your battle plan accordingly. You can also plan ahead for your own. The BQ3 in the upper left hand corner of this M1A1 Abrams means that it will take at least 3 game turns before it deploys. The game is played on a 4×8 grid with the unit cards navigating the 32 rectangles of the battlefield. Even though the game can be played without a playing mat, I find it hard to imagine. Torretto’s playing mats are made in Alaska, while the cards are printed in Battle Creek, Michigan. All of the game, Torretto is proud to say, is made in the United States. One of his plans for the game is to participate in the Games for Troops program and have P.O.W.E.R. be played in Forward Operating Bases (F.O.B.s).

One of the advantages he also cites of P.O.W.E.R. is that it’s not collectible. He doesn’t like that winning in many collectible card games comes down to the richest players having particular cards. The other thing he was careful to do in designing the card boxes was to make the game easy to fit in a Point of Purchase display on a counter, but at the same time the game boxes have hang tabs to make retailers’ jobs easier in deciding how they want to use their precious store real estate.

P.O.W.E.R. has been picked up by Alliance for distribution with the basic set retailing for $20, I believe. I will be interviewing PK Toretto in the near future.