A Renaissance for Vegas Game Day – August 17

Gamers try Fantasy Flight Games Ingenious Board Game at Vegas Game Day

Spontaneous Board Gaming at Vegas Game Day: Ingenious from FFG

Several months had passed since I last attended a Vegas Game Day at the Emergency Arts Building here in Las Vegas. On the whole, compared to my first time at a Vegas Game Day, attendance in the early half of 2013 has been down, but on August 17, I saw promising signs of a Vegas Game Day Renaissance. While the morning session had four of the /usr/tech/lib’s six tables reserved for games, there were so many new faces that impromptu board game action spread over to one of the remaining tables.

However back in 2012, Vegas Game Day would typically have all of its available tables booked with a variety of role-playing and board games. At the time Vegas Game Day was also serving as a meeting place for volunteers for the now-defunct Las Vegas gaming convention Neoncon. For VGD organizer Perry Snow, ensuring the right coverage of scheduled games is just one of many challenges in providing gamers a great place to play and meet other like-minded gamers. He also creates and updates the day’s schedule on Warhorn, besides designing and updating the brochure each month which describes the day’s offerings. Snow also spends time monitoring the group’s Meetup page, welcoming newcomers, answering questions, and steering gamers towards others with similar interests. Helping others is a major part of Snow’s regular workday as a programmer analyst, which sees the fan of the Citadels Card Game and the Cortex Plus (Drama) RPG system troubleshooting user problems with computer applications. As someone who has spent most of his life in front of a computer screen, it is the social aspect which Snow enjoys most about Vegas Game Day, meeting and sharing with other gamers in real time.

As Snow tells it, in the past a Vegas Game Day might even be followed by pick-up games at an organizer’s house. If a newcomer gelled with his or her table or party, he or she might be welcomed to come play later or in a home campaign. While there is still that possibility now, Snow is unable to provide it himself, having become married and the father of two. As for the right number of games offered at the tables, Snow admits it can be difficult. In the past he had a dedicated board gamer who could be counted on to bring his own games or play in games scheduled by others. However after three months of little to no turnout for the board game sessions, the player lost interest. For RPGs and would-be GMs, it can be even more draining. The GM can spend hour upon hour prepping an adventure only to not get enough players to play.

Such was the case on August 17 when the morning session of Shadowrun was scrapped due to low player turnout. In part this seems due to Vegas Game Day coinciding with Gen Con, but it’s not the first time that Shadowrun’s been cancelled recently. For now the steady sessions and mainstays seem to be Savage Worlds and Pathfinder Society, but the influx of new players may see some changes to future Vegas Game Day offerings.

Savage Worlds: The Land of Ugh!

Savage Worlds uber-fan Jerrod “Savage Daddy” Gunning has done it again! Taking inspiration from Wingnut Games’ Land of Og RPG, Gunning ran a caveman-themed Savage Worlds session with delightful results. Most significantly our characters’ vocabularies were very limited. At the beginning of the session we made a Smarts roll to determine our vocabularies and took turns drawing words out of a hat. I rolled a 3 and had “No”, “You”, and “Cave” for the rest of the game. We also knew our character’s own names; mine was Frock. True to form, rather than just using poker chips or some other token as Bennies, Gunning provided us with rocks to use to get re-rolls and as rewards for good role-playing.

Five real rocks used as Bennies on top of Savage Worlds Ugh Caveman character sheet

Real Rocks for Bennies Only Add to the Immersion in Savage Worlds: Land of Ugh!

The actual adventure was simple and straightforward. Our caveman chieftain commanded us to go out and gather food and to also look for a rival tribe in the area. Unfortunately for us, to understand this required successful Smarts rolls and a decent amount of role-playing. After knocking a little sense into the less intelligent we set out and came upon some velociraptors. An excellent opportunity to use the Finger-Counting skill! Success! I counted out the number of raptors as three on my thick fingers as my main rival, Urr, moved in to attack. Other players had failed their Notice rolls and blundered about. I may have tried to encourage my fellow cavemen, using my words: “You cave! You cave!” I certainly attacked and brained one, “Frock cave you!” Urr claimed another and our pea-brained ally Grog found some fermented mangos and tossed one down another’s throat. I began to eat the brains of one of the raptors, hoping it would allow me to gain some smarts and received a Benny for my efforts.

“You’re not afraid of the mango.”

Grog handed out fermented mangos, which the rest of us promptly began to eat and successfully passed our Vigor rolls to avoid intoxication, even as we failed to understand Grog’s animated warnings. Around this point, I also used my Pictogram skill to draw a lewd depiction of a velociraptor … riding Urr (which would be far too obscene to show here). To even look at the drawing, Urr’s player had to make a successful Smarts roll, which he did. “You cave! You cave!” I suggestively taunted Urr. Among his responses to me was “Idiosyncratic.” Gunning had peppered the commonplace words like “You”, “Me”, “Rock”, and “Bang” with “Idiosyncratic” and “Perspicacious”. Yes, Savage Worlds of Ugh! was both funny and fun.

The T-Rex Battle

Gamers play Savage Worlds Caveman adventure at Vegas Game Day

Savage Worlds Indeed! Players get Primitive at Vegas Game Day

The climax of our adventure soon arrived in the form of a “big hairy” battling some other primitive cave people. Apparently their vocabularies were as horrible as ours because the beast turned out to be a Tyranosaurus Rex. Supposedly they were a more advanced tribe as well, using spears with sharp rocks attached. Frock had the Arrogant hindrance and paid little heed as those who made their Smarts rolls realized and tried to explain the better weaponry. It was all in vain anyways because Frock rushed off to show the T-Rex who was boss, racing against Urr to make it there. That left Urr’s brother Gurr to try to use the new technology, while Grog began pulling back a tree to use as a catapult to launch mangos (or maybe even rocks) at the terrible lizard.

“Frock you!” I cried as I struck at the T-Rex with my Trademark Club doing 1d6 + 1d10 + 2 points of damage, which actually did no damage because of the T-Rex’s 22 toughness. At some point I wised up and made a successful Cavewise roll to notice that the others attacking the dinosaur weren’t of our tribe. “You no Frock cave!” I bellowed as I brained one after another. Two significant things happened in the meantime, the first being Urr climbing up the T-Rex and Grappling it around the neck. How he wrestled the great beast! Grog abandoned his catapult attacks and made his own contribution, grabbing palm fronds and waving them around. Grog only had “Big” and “No” in his vocabulary and it wasn’t quite clear who he was cheering on, but we did get a bonus for his cheerleading. The attack bonus later turned into a Spirit check when Grog upped the ante and did a cartwheel and the splits revealing bruised, overripe mangos he had stashed down into his loincloth. Gagging at the sight, we managed to fight on and I would love to report here that Frock did the dino in. Being quite Arrogant, Frock thinks he did. It’s possible, though unlikely, that Urr actually managed to choke out a T-Rex.

crude pictogram of dinosaur with blurred crotch held by stick figure cavemen

Another Pictogram (Blurred for Decency)

Having dispatched the dinosaur (and the rival tribe), we needed to communicate the need to return to our cave which resulted in another round of Pictograms. This time most of the group seemed to understand the message and we returned home triumphantly, bearing the full T-Rex (after some successful skill checks). Another highlight of the game was hearing Jerrod Gunning instruct another player, who was trying to get somewhere, “Give me a die up there by Pace. It’s probably a d4 since you’re Obese.” Fun times indeed.

Pathfinder Society Scenario 04-18: The Veteran’s Vault

Pathfinder Miniatures on Flipmat in Pathfinder Adventure The Veteran's Vault

The Veteran’s Vault Holds Many Dangers and Affords Much Combat

When a Level 3 Fighter named Asir Al-Nimr adventures with three first-level characters deep into PSS 04-18 The Veteran’s Vault, the greatest challenge, it turns out, is maneuvering around in the sewers in Full Plate +1. However while I wouldn’t say the challenge was welcome, all of the combats would have been over quickly if I didn’t have to manouever the slow-moving Asir into position first. As my ninth Pathfinder Society Scenario completed, I can say that The Veteran’s Vault is a little atypical in its lack of dedicated skill challenges, instead being a pretty straightforward combat-heavy dungeon (or sewer) crawl. As such, it lacked the compelling narrative of A Silent Tide or the exploration and mystery of Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment, but it should please combat-oriented groups. I was definitely pleased to survive the sewers and dispense Abadar’s justice to enemies left and right with very few scratches on my armor to show. Asir did trigger a trap that did 12 points of damage, which would have felled any of the first-level characters, but the party’s Oracle quickly healed him back to full.

Hero Lab

Earlier in the morning I downloaded Hero Lab from Lone Wolf Development, clicked around in it for 10 minutes, and then purchased a license for $29.99. Offering support from systems ranging from Savage Worlds to World of Darkness to Shadowrun, Hero Lab more importantly has extensive Pathfinder character generation files. Several months ago I had tried to create a new Level 1 Cleric on the fly by hand 10 minutes before an adventure was to begin, but found it too challenging. While Hero Lab has been a little quirky in the two hours or so that I’ve used it, it has worked charmingly well. I inputted Asir Al-Nimr and was pleased to see almost all of my character validate in Hero Lab. Even more pleasing for me was that Hero Lab caught a few of my skills that I had listed as higher than they were and took into account my Armor Check penalty for my magical Full Plate.

Screenshot of Hero Lab Application showing Pathfinder Society character

Validation is a Breeze with Hero Lab – A Screenshot of the Program Showing Asir Al-Nimr in All His Glory

Having earned 9 Experience Points, Asir leveled at the end of The Veteran’s Vault and is now a Level 4 Fighter. I eagerly entered Hero Lab and spent my new Skill Points and chose Desperate Battler from the list of Feats. The Feat provides a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls provided no ally is within 10 feet, which tends to describe the first few rounds of any of Asir’s battles. By the third or fourth round so far, Asir might be moving over to help any comrades who are engaged, having already dispatched his own foe(s). While I could add this new Feat into Hero Lab, I haven’t been able to add Furious Focus in yet. The feat, which offsets the penalty to hit from my extra-damage dealing Power Attack, comes from the Advanced Player’s Guide, which is not included in Hero Lab’s core Pathfinder files. At this point, I can live with the missing feat compared to the $9.99 cost of downloading the Advanced Player’s Guide.

Once I finished tinkering with Asir, I set out to create that Level 1 Pathfinder Society Cleric that had eluded me thus far and ended up making two! Now that Asir Al-Nimr is 4th Level he will be tackling adventures for 4th-5th level characters, which frees me up to also adventure at the lowest levels with my new PCs. I think that the $29.99 for Hero Lab is a true testament to how much I have enjoyed Paizo’s Pathfinder Society organized play, as well as a commitment to further adventures in the world of Golarion. And while I have GM’d a Pathfinder Society Scenario for my home group of players, I have only ever played the game at Vegas Game Days, so I look forward to many more of those as well.

Paizo Overview Premier Presentation at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Paizo Publisher Erik Mona with pleased expression at GAMA Trade Show

Paizo Publishing’s Publisher Erik Mona at GAMA Trade Show

Erik Mona headed the Paizo Publishing leadership at the Paizo Overview Premier Presentation on March 19 at the GAMA Trade Show, flanked by Pierce Watters and Paizo’s new head of marketing Jenny Bendel. Mona explained that prior to Bendel’s arrival he had handled all of Paizo’s marketing himself, but had recruited Bendel into the company four months previously. Later Mona also explained that Paizo’s name originated with the company’s first publisher Johnny Wilson, who discovered the ancient Greek verb paizo, to play, while in seminary.

Jenny Bendel and Pierce Watters stand side by side at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Lvl. 20 Marketing Assassin Jenny Bendel and Pierce Watters

Mona began the Paizo presentation with even more history, explaining that the company acquired the licenses to publish Dragon Magazine and Dungeon in 2002. In 2007 Paizo released The Rise of the Runelords, its first in a series of Pathfinder Adventure Paths and has been an RPG powerhouse ever since. Pathfinder has been the #1 selling game in the RPG category since 2010 according to ICv2 with more than 100,000 Core Rulebooks sold worldwide. Paizo also boasts the largest RPG Organized Play program in the industry and produces monthly releases in several product lines. As of the GAMA Trade Show in March, Paizo’s Pathfinder Society program had over 45,000 players in 23 countries and will have 133 available four-hour Pathfinder Society Scenarios for home or in-store play at the end of the current season, Mona shared. Another revelation from Mona: the Pathfinder Beginner Box was tested extensively with Erik Mona and Paizo geniuses watching behind a one-way mirror to better understand and improve players’ experience.

Third Party Licensing and Releases: Diamond Select & SJG

Goblin art image on stone Granix display slab showing Pathfinder imagePathfinder has a “growing metaverse” in licensing and third party releases, Mona said. Sales of Diamond Select goblin plushes have been strong and Paizo had the prototype of a goblin plush backpack from Diamond Select available in their booth. The backpack will be coming out later this year. Zach Oat of Diamond Select provided further, limited details about the backpack. A rough prototype was shown of it at New York Toy Fair in February, but the product is still very much in development, with pricing still to be determined. Pathfinder Mini Mates are also still in development at Diamond Select, but pictures of concept artwork were snapped at New York Toy Fair. Diamond Select is also producing two Granix display plaques for Pathfinder. A Granix piece uses a roughly 7.5 by 5.5 inch slab of rock as the medium to display artwork, with each piece weighing in at over four pounds.

Pathfinder Munchkin

Red dragon cartoon and pathfinder goblins battle Munchkin players on cover for Pathfinder MunchkinPathfinder Munchkin is another licensed release for 2013, trading off of both the Pathfinder brand and Steve Jackson Games’ iconic game of treachery and greed. Announced in 2012, Pathfinder Munchkin has been playtested, but is still in development with card art submitted by artist John Kovalic. Steve Jackson Games is aiming for a release this fall and plans on bringing early copies of the game to Gen Con in August.

2013 Key Paizo Releases

While Paizo posts a near-constant stream of updates to its customers via its own website and through Pathfinder Society emails, this was Paizo’s chance to share specific products with retailers.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Cover of Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder Adventure Card GameAnother new product that Mona introduced was the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game which will be composed of 500 playing cards, dice for 4 players, and be supported by 110-card adventure decks. Each card will feature iconic Pathfinder artwork of characters such as Seoni and Valeros (who are themselves referred to as iconics by Paizo). Mona said that the game would be going to the printer in a week when he spoke to the GTS attendees on March 19. Its release will most likely coincide with Gen Con where it will retail for $49.99. Mona detailed that the Burnt Offerings Adventure Deck features six scenarios from the Burnt Offerings adventure, which was originally the first adventure in the Rise of the Runelords campaign. The mention of the Thistletop setting seemed to spark some recognition among attending retailers, if not cheers of approval. According to Jenny Bezel, two scenarios in the Burnt Offerings deck will involve Thistletop and feature “many classic foes and monsters” pulled from Rise of the Runelords.

Pathfinder RPG Releases

Mona moved through the Pathfinder release schedule at a brisk pace, constrained by the hour-long session, and listed future releases of:

  • Mythic Adventures: – Specifically designed for players who favor a more epic or demigod experience for Pathfinder, Mythic Adventures will be released in August for $39.99. The product was first announced after Gen Con in 2012 and any would-be Achilles, Theseus, or Gilgamesh can test its mechanics out using the playtest PDF available on Paizo. Mythic Adventures will be supported the releases of Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Mythic Realms, as well as the Pathfinder Player Companion: Mythic Origins.
  • The Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign Book: For GMs who want to craft the most immersive setting possible, the Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign Book will provide guidance in fleshing out background choices, creating taverns, and building kingdoms. It will retail in June for $39.99.
  • Demonic beings on cover of Pathfinder AP Wrath of the Righteous adventureWrath of the Righteous Adventure Path: With a front cover painted by Wayne Reynolds, the first adventure in the Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path will release in August. Adventure Paths are composed of six interlocking thematic adventures that build upon one another and take players from Level 1 to Levels 15-18, depending upon the AP. Character death is also a distinct possibility in the challenging adventures which form the basis for entire Pathfinder campaigns. The Wrath of the Righteous will be expanded upon in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Worldwound as well as the fantasy novel Pathfinder Tales: King of Chaos by Dave Gross. GMs will also be able to hand loot cards out to players via the Pathfinder Cards: Wrath of the Righteous Item Cards. The Wrath of the Righteous begins with the destruction of a magical wardstone which has helped to keep the demonic denizens of the Worldwound entrapped and at bay for centuries. It will be up to the PCs to stem the demonic tide and prevent Golarion’s absolute annihilation. After attending the GTS, Jenny Bendel subsequently identified the six adventures making up the AP, as well as their authors:
    1. Pathfinder Adventure Path #73: The Worldwound Incursion by Amber E. Scott
    2. Pathfinder Adventure Path #74: Sword of Valor by Neil Spicer
    3. Pathfinder Adventure Path #75: Demon’s Heresy by Jim Groves
    4. Pathfinder Adventure Path #76: The Midnight Isles by James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan
    5. Pathfinder Adventure Path #77: Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth by Wolfgang Baur
    6. Pathfinder Adventure Path #78: City of Locusts by Richard Pett
  • Skull and Shackles: While the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path debuted last year in April, in Paizo’s experience, it takes up to two years for playgroups to play through an adventure path, so Paizo and WizKids have been supporting the adventure path with pirate-themed Skull and Shackles miniatures.
  • Cover of Pathfinder Bestiary Box 2 with pawns out front on white backgroundMore Pawns! – Anyone who questions companies releasing overlapping products (such as Reaper selling the same miniature sculpt prepainted, in metal, and in plastic) should take note! Mona said that the Pathfinder Pawns has been the fastest-selling new product launch for Paizo since the Core Rulebook. This is happening at the same time as WizKids is producing the equally popular Pathfinder Battles prepainted miniatures. Pathfinder fans apparently can’t get enough of the double-sided cardboard standees, causing the Bestiary Box to sell-out. Paizo will also be releasing the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) NPC Codex Box set later this year as well as the Bestiary 2 Box. Mona also took note of retailers’ complaints about the Bestiary’s box design, which has the list of included monster pawns on its back. The design makes it difficult for GMs to easily check to see if they have a particular creature when the box is open and still contains pawns, forcing GMs to either raise the box overhead above themselves or crane their necks awkwardly to check the contents. Ideally this helpful list of monsters would be replicated on the box’s sides as well.
  • And Even More Pawns! Mona went on to add that Paizo has also released collections of its pawns (minus the bases) related to particular Adventure Paths. Joining the existing Rise of the Runelords and Skull & Shackles Pawn Collections will be the:
    • Reign of Winter Adventure Path Pawn Collection
    • Shattered Star Adventure Path Pawn Collection
    • Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path Pawn Collection

  • Encounter Packs – Mona also revealed that he helps to make the decision of what to put in Pathfinder Battles Encounter Packs from WizKids such as the Champions of Evil Encounter Pack. He said that there will three Encounter Packs released a year going forward. Rather than a random selection of miniatures, each pack has a designated set of miniatures using pre-existing sculpts from the main line of Pathfinder Battles miniatures.
  • Pathfinder Modules: There will be changes to future Pathfinder Modules as well going forward. Previously they had no spine and were 32 pages in length. Now they will be 64 pages and include a doubled-sided tactical map. Pathfinder Modules are longer than one-shot adventures and are instead intended to be played over multiple gaming sessions.

We Be Goblins, Too!

Paizo gave Pathfinder fans a chance to play as goblins in 2011 in the “We Be Goblins” adventure released for Free RPG Day and gamers’ reactions were so positive that Paizo will release We Be Goblins, Too!, allowing the opportunity to adventure as the demihumans again as a tie-in with Free RPG Day on June 15. WizKids will be releasing the associated Pathfinder Battles Builder Series We Be Goblins set on May 29 to coincide with We Be Goblins, Too! The small range of 12 figures is exclusively goblin-themed and features five news sculpts, while the remainder will be repaints of previously released figures and are all viewable here. The figure boxes are random and will retail for $2.49, with a case going for $75.

Little goblin Warchanter miniature from Pathfinder Battles We Be Goblins Too

Goblin Warchanter: 1 of 12 Sculpts for Pathfinder Battles Builder Series We Be Goblins

Paizo Continuing Releases

The popular Combat Pad, which allows GMs to keep track of player’s initiatives and key stats during combats, has been out of print for some time, but Paizo plans on changing that and will be restocking the item. Initially sold by a licensee, Paizo bought back the rights so the company can sell it themselves. It should be returning to the market early this fall in 2013 according to Jenny Bendel. Mona mentioned another perennial favorite of both Paizo staff and customers, the Critical Hit Deck, which has been reprinted four or five times due to its popularity.

Game Mastery Map Packs -> Pathfinder Map Packs

Mona also announced that going forward Paizo would be retiring the Game Mastery logo on its marketing of the modular map packs and flip maps.
Paizo will instead be using the Pathfinder name, but Mona pointed out that the gridded playing maps will still be usable to track movement for any other fantasy RPG.

Retailer Reactions

Mona did take several questions, with one retailer asking how he is supposed to sell the Pathfinder Core Rulebook for $49.95 when Amazon sells it for $30. Mona conceded, “I think that’s a challenge,” but did not elaborate on how the challenge could best be overcome by retailers. He did point out that when Paizo has its products distributed to hobby stores, the shops receive them on the release date and said that Amazon doesn’t have them until two weeks later.

This would seem to be the case as at the time of this article, April 26, Amazon only has the latest Pathfinder Map Pack, the Army Camp, up for pre-order with an availability date of May 14, whereas customers can already order the 18-card set from Paizo directly.

Pathfinder banner behind Jenny Bendel and Erik Mona at Paizo table in convention center

Paizo Publishing’s Erik Mona and Jenny Bendel Interacting with Attendees in the Exhibitors’ Hall

All product images copyright to their respective owners. Used with permission.

Jason Engle on Downfall, Illustration, Pathfinder, L5R and More

Jason Engle is the visual half of the creative team behind the science fiction comic Downfall which finishes its Kickstarter campaign on Friday, October 26. Written by fantasy author Maxwell Alexander Drake, Downfall has strong narrative hooks, striking visuals, and a gripping plot. It also marks a departure for Engle who can usually be found painting fantasy novel covers and illustrations for CCGs and RPGs in Jacksonville, Florida. Engle shared his thoughts on Downfall, illustration, and gaming on October 19. More info on Downfall at downfallthecomic.com and more on Jason Engle at jaestudio.com

Downfall and the Downfall Kickstarter

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi Downfall cover and open comicCG: How does drawing for Downfall compare to doing your fantasy art?
JE: Well, it kind of doesn’t. That’s one of the things that I like about it. It’s so completely different in pretty much every way. For starters, sequential artwork is fundamentally different from illustration, especially for like card games or role-playing games. You have to think in more storytelling terms. Sometimes they ask to illustrate an RPG and the image may involve a story of one type or another, but it’s more implied and it’s more simplistic. It’s more to illustrate one concept at a time rather than a character throughout a sequence of events in a story like you do in a comic, so it’s very different. I mean the approach is, by itself, something that gives me a lot more interesting challenges than I’m really accustomed to. It’s definitely fun by comparison. It’s a different visual style too. I’m trying to make it more graphic and less painterly, because if I painted every single frame of every page, I might have one issue of the comic done in ten years. So that doesn’t seem like a reasonable production timeline.
CG: Did you go back to any kind of Understanding Comics or anything like that about doing sequential art and refresh your memory of how to do sequential art?
JE: I’ve kind of been dabbling in comics for years. I’ve done a lot of work here and there on a lot of projects that got started that didn’t go very far. [Laughs] I’ve done some work for compilation books, where you just do a small story and it gets included with a bunch of other small stories, stuff like that. I’ve kind of always been into drawing comics in one way or another, so I didn’t really go back and start from square one and go “Gee, what do the experts tell you to do to tell a story?” I kind of already have a handle on all the basic concepts. It has been a lot of fun to put that knowledge to use in a consistent way. It’s been fun. It’s definiely a lot different.

Ramshackle city and buildings built onto cliff from Downfall comic

CG: What’s it been like working with Maxwell Alexander Drake?
JE: Absolutely terrible. He doesn’t turn anything in on time, he swears a lot, I can barely get him to pick up the phone, he spends most of his time with drug dealers and prostitutes, as far as I know. Yeah, it’s been good. He’s a fun guy to work with. He’s really, really easy-going. One of the challenges I’ve had getting into comics is that I’ve never really gone after it as a professional objective. It’s never been my main target. Professionally I do very well as a fantasy illustrator. Comics I really enjoy, but I’ve never felt the need to put them first and completely deep six my illustration career. I really like illustration and if comics didn’t work out, I could always go back to it. It’s just not something that I ever really want to put in first place, but one of the problems I’ve had is finding an author who is reliable. And Drake is a novelist. He does a lot of words at a time every single day of his life. He’s very reliable, he’s very professional and he’s production-oriented. When you don’t take comics very, very seriously like I haven’t in the past, you end up partnering with people who also don’t take comics very seriously. [Laughs] When that happens it usually doesn’t go very far. It’s always been a matter of I do a lot of art, I come up with a lot of great ideas and have a lot of fun doing it, and the writing never really gets past one issue. Comics are about quantity. You’ve got to produce a lot of work in a short amount of time. When a comic writer can’t produce a quantity of work reliably, it’s hard to understand but there’s a lot of people who get enthusiastic about a project at the outset and then lose that enthusiasm pretty quickly. It’s one of those things. Some people can be professional creatives and some people can’t. It’s just a matter of whether you can treat it like a job and still have fun doing it. I’ve not had to worry about that with Drake. He already is kind of a self-made, creative professional just the way I am. That’s kind of the great thing about it: we both have the self-drive to do a project on the side and still treat it like a professional goal. It’s worked out really well so far; I’m hoping it continues to.

CG: Now have you read Farmers and Mercenaries or Mortals and Deities?
JE: Yeah, I read both of them! He gave me Farmers and Mercenaries at Gen Con the first year I met him and this was a couple of years ago. He said “Here! Read my book.” And I was like “Sure, guy! I’ll read your book.” But he gave it to me for free so the next year when Gen Con was coming around I was like “Man, I bet I’m going to run into that guy, I should probably read this.” About a month before the convention I picked it up and finished it before I could get on the plane. That way I could meet him at Gen Con and say “Hey! You don’t suck as a writer.” I could actually say that truthfully. When he finished the second book I made sure to get a free copy from him. [Laughs] You know, it was actually better than the first one.
CG: Now you’re waiting just like everyone else for the third, yeah?
JE: Yeah, pretty much. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an interesting fantasy series. It’s got a lot of elements of traditional fantasy in it, but the world he set it in is completely new and original, which is a rarity these days. You know, a lot of fantasy authors try to play it safe and Drake sees very little value in playing it safe and that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to work with him on a comic. When you’re doing a comic, especially fantasy or science fiction, you have to have a certain open attitude to new ideas.

CG: On your promo video for the Kickstarter campaign for Downfall, am I right that you came up with brand new artwork for it? It’s not stuff from Issue 0 or the first series with the scientist?
JE: When we first started talking about doing a Kickstarter video, he started talking to me that he was going to do a script for us and we’d both do like a little webcam thing. He’d say a few lines, then the screen’d split, and I’d say a few lines. It’d be like we were talking to each other, only we weren’t. I was like “Yeah, that could work.” I’d seen a lot of the Kickstarter videos people’d done, it’s all talking heads staring at a camera, saying “This is me. This is my project.” I knew I could do something better than that. I didn’t actually have the technical knowledge to do it, so I went out and found some software and learned how to do a little bit of basic animation. So I threw together a basic concept that was about 30 seconds to a minute long, something like that. It was art that we already had at that point, a logo shot, some music in the background. I was like “Look, here’s more of what I had in mind. It’s more of a TV commercial/video game thing. It’s got a little bit more slow motion drama to it. It doesn’t have to be just us staring at a camera telling people what we’re trying to sell them. Let’s show them the story. I don’t think seeing us ask them for their money is really going to convince people that we have a good idea. Let’s show them the idea.” When he saw that, he got really enthusiastic. He ended up laying in bed thinking about ideas. He got up out of bed and started writing a script. That’s how we ended up with a seven minute video. [Laughs] I’d really only intended for us to have an animated piece maybe a minute long, but he got so into the script he was writing and telling the story about this character. I thought it was such a neat idea, I just didn’t have the heart to shoot it down. In the end, I started out laying out the scenes, doing the animation, and doing the art. I think when I went over the script originally and I wrote down the different ideas of what it needed visually, I estimated probably 30 percent of the art that I ended up doing eventually. It went from being two or three weeks of work to two or three months worth of work.
CG: Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. This isn’t stuff that you’ve recycled, this was all brand new just for the video.
JE: Yeah, it was all custom done. We are going to use it for other purposes. [Laughs] Because we like how the script came out so much we’re going to do a comic version of the video itself and break it into panels and word bubbles and all that because we already have the art and it’s such a neat story. After the Kickstarter’s done, no one’s going to be able to see it really, so we want to put it into print form and make it part of our Issue 0 that we’re doing to catch people up on the background of the story.

Fantasy Artist and Illustrator Jason Engle

Fantasy Artist Jason Engle at his table at Gen Con

Fantasy Illustrator Jason Engle at Gen Con 2012

CG: Where does card art fit into things versus doing a cover versus interior artwork?
JE: As a freelancer, you take what you get pretty much. You hope you get enough art directors offering you enough jobs to fill up your schedule month to month. There are periods in my career where I’ve done nothing but collectible card games for a couple of years at a time. You get a lot of work doing card games. That’s the great thing about ’em. Some of them pay better than others. Some of them pay really well. Some card games you can only get one or two cards at a time. Other card games, you can get ten or twenty at a time. They usually come out with expansion sets on a pretty consistent basis. If you get your name out there and get prominent and do a few cards that are important in that game then you become one of the face artists of that game and you basically have guaranteed work for the lifespan and popularity of that card game. If you get a few of those on your roster at once then you get a lot of work coming in the door. As a freelancer, that’s a good thing.
CG: Would you consider that to be true for yourself? Were you ever one of these “face” artists for a company?
JE: Uh… yeah. I was the main artist for AEG’s card game Warlord. I was one of the big ones on their game Legend of the Five Rings and I’ve done some promotional stuff for Magic: The Gathering as well. I wouldn’t say that I’m one of their main artists just yet, but they’ve used me a lot on a few of the sets that they’ve done, which is what they tend to do. They have access to so many different artists that they tend to pick a few guys for the different sets that they want to kind of represent and define the look for that set and they use that person much more on that set and then maybe they don’t give them any cards on the next set. I mean they’re a little different from most companies in that they tend to bounce around a lot. But it’s good. They keep a nice, varied look for their game that way.

Female sorceress holding skull on card art for Legend of 5 Rings Moto Rani by Jason Engle

Artwork for Legend of the 5 Rings Card Moto Rani by Jason Engle

Warlord is the game that I was the most prominent artist on for a number of years. L5R I’m still one of the more prominent guys on that game. Warlord was a good example back in the day, but it doesn’t exist any more. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s always been great because you go to the conventions and you get to meet a lot of the fans. A lot of the people that go to game conventions these days are people that play collectible card games because it’s a place for them to play in big tournaments and get together and just play nonstop card games for the entire weekend.
CG: Even on that note, the guy behind me on the plane on the way out to Gen Con was and is a huge Warlord fan who’s trying to revive the game, so the chance to meet you would probably be big to him.
JE: It’s got a huge, huge fanbase. It’s one of those games that was sizable enough for a number of years that it still has a number of fans around the world. And a company purchased it, based in Germany, which is where it actually was much more popular ever: in Germany rather than the US. They kept it going for a couple of years. They did their best to kind of revive it, but in the end I think they weren’t quite able to pull it all together and make enough money to keep it around, but there is still quite a fanbase out there for it.

CG: Now when did you really know, I’m going to be an artist?
JE: I never really thought of being anything else, I think. When I was probably four or five years old people would ask, like they do to most kids, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” At the time I didn’t really have an answer. I thought about it for a while and realized I liked art and decided that that’s what I’m going to do. So I started doing that pretty much all the time and then from that point on whenever I was asked that question, I’d say “I’m going to be an artist.”

CG: What was your training once you were out of high school?
JE: My training once I got out of high school was… [laughs] I pretty much went right into a web marketing company rather than going into college or art school. I got a job and I was building websites for a living during the dot-com boom.
CG: So you were doing more graphic design?
JE: Yeah, logos, brochures, websites, anything that people were willing to pay our marketing company to create for them. I mean it was fun. I was able to learn Photoshop and all the wonderful things it could do, but I started applying it to fantasy illustration. When I first started doing it, it took me forever to complete an illustration. Gosh, it was probably two weeks or so to do a single image. All my graphic designer buddies in the office would go “You’re still working on that thing? Photoshop’s not good for that, man, it’s for graphic design. You’re never going to be able to make money doing that. It takes too long.” And now, of course, everyone in the business uses Photoshop to paint, so it turns out that I was just really, really much more correct than they were. It was a fun way to get started.

CG: Are you actually self-taught then?
JE: … Yeah. I kept building my fantasy portfolio and eventually a group of us at the marketing company split off and started our own company which was kind of half-marketing, half web company, and thirty percent game publishing house and I did all the art for that book and all the layout for it and all the graphic design and we launched our RPG book at Gen Con that year. It was callled Shards of the Stone, which is a long title, but it did really well at the convention that year because D&D 3rd edition was also launching. It was like any fantasy RPG that came out that year sold gangbusters even if nobody had ever heard of you. But the advantage of that was that I had done all of the art in that book and it got in front of all the major art directors in that year all at once, so I kind of got my portfolio out there all at the same time. It wasn’t too long after that that I was able to start freelancing full time and leave the graphic design and marketing business behind me.


CG: What’s been your favorite piece of your own fantasy art so far.
JE: Well, I don’t know, man. They’re like kids: you love them all. I would say… Gosh… this is a tough question. Probably The Dark Knight, it’s an image I did for my first art book that I got professionally published back in 2004. I did it for the cover specfically. It’s kind of an homage piece to Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer. It’s kind of a silhoutted dark knight character on horseback. He’s got spiked armor and looks menacing and all that, but it just-, it’s one of those pieces that seems cliche, but it just came out really well and I was really happy with it and it went on the cover of my first art book so it holds a little nostalgia for me because of that I suppose.

Engle’s Inspirations

CG: Ok, yeah. Who inspires you artistically? Other fantasy and science fiction illustrators? Fine artists?
JE: Anything, yeah. All kinds of fiction and science fiction media is inspiring to me. I get probably more inspiration from other fantasy artists than any other individual source though, but that’s something that I’ve always been a fan of just in general. I grew up with tons and tons of fantasy art books sitting in my closet and on my bookshelves and all around. It’s one of those things where when I got to be part of the business myself, I never really stopped loving the work of other fantasy artists. And now that I know a lot of them, it’s even that much cooler because I still have the books I grew up with and used to copy out of and all the prints that I purchased from them and now I go drink beer with those guys when we go to conventions together. That’s pretty neat.
CG: Is there somebody you’d still like to meet?
JE: Well, gosh, that’s a tough question. I don’t know. I think I’ve gotten to meet just about all my heroes at this point.
CG: So I know Larry Elmore is the kind of guy who would be at Gen Con, so you probably hang out with him?
JE: Yeah, I’ve hung out with Larry a number of times. He still has no idea of who I am. He’d probably know me by face and not my name. That’s one thing you start to realize: some of these guys that have been in the business for 30 or 40 years, they’ve met so many people over that period of time that they get to know people visually more than they get to know you by your actual first name. But no, I’ve spent time hanging out with pretty much all of them. I’ve hung out with Brom and Michael Weylan and Todd Lockwood, Larry Elmore and yeah, you name any of the big name guys in the business and I’ve at least shook their hand.
CG: Yeah, you’ve named two of my favorite artists, Brom and Elmore.
JE: Oh yeah. No, those were probably two of my biggest influences growing up. I think Elmore for a long time and Keith Parkinson were my two major influences when I was younger. As I started getting a little older, Brom started to become more prominent on the scene and as soon as I started to see more and more of his stuff I instantly just loved him more than anybody else.

Engle’s Speed as an Illustrator

Flaming skeleton in armor card art for Warlord card game by Jason Engle

Warlord Card Art: Spirit of the Burning Sky

CG: Changing topics just a little bit, how long did something like Spirit of the Burning Sky take?
JE: Um… well, it really depends honestly. If a piece is really really complex it could take a few days. But if it’s just a single character, it really isn’t that bad, I mean that particular image, took me maybe four or five hours.
CG: Wow. Ok, so you’re very quick?
JE: I mean yeah, that’s always been one of my advantages in the freelance business, especially when I was starting out. I had a lot of art directors that would come to me for last-minute, emergency jobs. If another artist dropped out or when they needed a huge amount of work in a very small amount of time, I’m quick enough that they could come to me and say “Hey, can you do me a favor? Can you do me a rush job?” And I can say “Yeah, absolutely.” So I kind of always built myself that way and developed my style around both quality and speed.
CG: You work now just purely in Photoshop?
JE: A lot of the time, yeah. I do still like to sketch things out in advance. I do thumbnails and work out the compositions. I do a bit of a tighter sketch. I usually do several of those and send them in to get approved. And when those get approved, I just pick the one that works and start painting the rest in Photoshop, but I still do like to do everything in pencil first if I can, if I have time. It just allows you to play around with a lot more ideas and kind of niggle around details. Photoshop’s great for painting, but it’s one of those things that some people can use it for sketching. For me it doesn’t quite have the same organic feel that real pencil has.
CG: And you’ve tried tablets and things like that?
JE: [Laughs] I have them all, man. I’ve spent I don’t even know how much money on equipment that’s sitting in my closet. It’s all about the process that works best for you. The shortest amount of difference between your imagination and the finished image is always going to leave the better stuff. If a tablet works really well for you and it feels really natural and easy and you don’t even notice it’s there, by all means go for it, but I’ve never played with it enough to where it’s gotten to that point for me. It’s easier for me to use pencil and a piece of paper and then I use a mouse from that point forward.

CG: Have you kept track of how many separate pieces of art that you’re at?
JE: Oh god! I don’t have any idea. I’ve done a lot of games where I’ve been the only guy producing work on that game and you know when that happens, you’ve done or you do hundreds of pieces of art. And you know, I’ve been working on the L5R card game since, gosh, almost since the start of my career, so what? Probably twelve, thirteen years. And when you’ve worked on a card game that long there’s no telling how many pieces you’ve done for it all in total. So I’ve probably done over 10,000 pieces.
CG: Oh wow. How old are you now?
JE: I’m about to turn 32. I started when I was 18. You start early, it gets you a lot more time. I was hanging out with Todd Lockwood at Comic-Con this year and he was like “So how long have you been at this anyway, I’ve seen your stuff for years.” And I was like “About 14 years.” And he was like “14 years! You don’t even look 14!” But you know, you get started early it gives you a lot of time to build up your portfolio. Art’s one of those things that really doesn’t require a college degree to be more successful. It’s more a matter of skill. Portfolio, man. If you’ve got the ability to do it, it doesn’t matter if you spent four years in school.
CG: Well are you involved in anything any more where an art director hasn’t heard of you or you need to prove anything?
JE: Oh sure! You pretty much always have to, I mean, there’s sides of the business I haven’t spent much time in, like comics for example. Probably almost every art director in the comic business hasn’t heard of me unless they’re into fantasy games specifically or read fantasy novels. They probably have no idea of who I am so if I ever do comic work as a freelance gig, that’s somewhere where I really have to prove myself. Novels, it’s the same way. Every time I’ve worked on a video game it’s the same way, these guys don’t really know who you are, they don’t really know how long you’ve been around, and honestly they tend not to care. On the higher end of the pay scale, the art directors know that they’re paying for the absolute best of the best. That’s pretty much what you’ve got to bring to the table. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at it, it’s just a matter of what you can do. So you never really stop having to prove yourself in that way.

On Art Direction

CG: Does art direction vary much from gaming company to gaming company?
JE: Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely different. And it’s not neccessarily every gaming company so much as every art director. Different art directors have different styles of dealing with freelancers and some know how to do it better than others and some are very controlling in the way they want to do it and those are usually the ones I prefer not to work with, because they’ll be intentionally vague at the outset, let you do a lot of work, and then basically tell you to change it all because you didn’t do it the way that they were hoping you would do it telepathically. [Laughs] That’s usually not something I like to deal with very long because simply put, when you’re a freelancer time is money. When one art director wants to cost you twice as much as time or three times as much time as other art directors do for what boils down to the same amount of paying work, that’s not a job that I really have a lot of enjoyment for.

“If you get a compliment for the work you’ve turned in that’s three words word or longer then that means that you just blew it out of the water! It means that they’re probably going to use that piece for promotional purposes and stuff like that.”

– Jason Engle

So yeah, I mean they definitely differ. Every art director’s different. You know like the art director for Magic: The Gathering for example. He will give you a job and it will have a few paragraphs of detailed description and a style guide which is usally over a hundred pages long with lots of reference art in it. Then once he gives you that, that’s usually the last you hear from him. [Laughs] I mean usually you turn in the final art and you get a one word answer when you turn it in, where he goes “Awesome.” or “Good.” He’s pretty hands off when it comes to art directing. He hires people that he knows can do the job and doesn’t worry about it and he’s one of the best art directors in the business.
CG: Were you being literal about the awesome vs. good?
JE: [Laughs] We like to joke about him because he has these one word responses to almost everybody. If you get a compliment for the work you’ve turned in that’s three words word or longer then that means that you just blew it out of the water! It means that they’re probably going to use that piece for promotional purposes and stuff like that. Yeah, most art directors I’d be exagerrating but with Jeremy [Cranford] it’s literal, yeah. But it’s because he has to art direct so many pieces of art all at the same time. It’s unbelievable how much art Magic puts out and how many different expansions they work on at the same time. It’s pretty nuts. He does what he needs to for time but it also means that it kind of decomplicates the issue for the rest of us. Some art directors will give you a response to an image and have you do little fixes or little changes here or there. And if he sees something that needs to be changed, he’ll definitely let you know, but honestly most of the time if it looks good and it works, that’s what he cares about. And that kind of frees an artist really. You don’t feel as concerned about doing the job and getting every little detail to be just the way the art director wants it. You just try to do the job as well as you can. It’s a purely pscyhological approach. It gets all the BS out of the way.

Woman with bare midriff in Jason Engle's Soma painting

Jason Engle’s Soma

CG: You have a work, Soma, it seems like it was drawn from life or a photo, was it? You usually work from your own sketches though?
JE: Yeah, that one was actually drawn from reference. That was a piece for a website that basically had a competition. They had a promotional character that they had a bunch of artists do different versions of and that was actually from well back in my career. I did that piece probably nine or ten years ago at least. But the time frame on it was so short and it wasn’t really a paying gig, I was doing it as a favor to the guy who ran this site, so I needed to streamline the process a little, so rather than making it a really actiony/illustratish you have the drawn image. But I went and found a good bit of reference photography and kind of pieced it together and then I painted it from there and really streamlined the process, it kind of ended up giving it a different style and a different look, which I like, but it also took a lot less time than just noodling around until the lighting gets right and all of that. Having a reference is great; it really streamlines it. If you’re working on the kind of project where they want something that’s photorealistic or just realistic, it’s a great way to go.

Zephyr Guard Artwork by Jason Engle for Paizo's Pathfinder

Zephyr Guard for Paizo’s Pathfinder by Engle

CG: For all your other work just in general though you’re working from sketches?
JE: I’d say about 80-90 percent of it. It’s just a matter of doing work for the client based on what their visual style is, based on the brand and the product. Everything has to have a different look. If you’re a working artist, you’re creating art for a brand. They’re a lot of guys that have their own signature style, stick to that, and won’t do anything outside of it, and yeah, I have kind of a signature style, but I’m capabale of doing a lot of different styles and I enjoy doing a lot of different styles. That’s another reason that I enjoy working on Downfall so much, because it requires that I come up with a totally new style from anything I’d done before.
CG: You can see that visually that it is different, just like you can see that Paizo illustrations are kind of different than other fantasy art.
JE: Yeah and Paizo is another good example. I tried to draw a little bit more in the style of the main artist they had used on their Pathfinder game in the past and stick close to their visual brand that way. I’ve done the same thing with D&D and a number of the RPG’s I’ve worked on.

Jason Engle’s Cartography

CG: Another one of the things that you’ve done for a bunch of gaming companies is you’ve done cartography, so is that a nice break from illustration for you?
JE: Oh yeah. Like I said, I like to do different styles. When it comes to doing a different style, there is no different style that is more different than cartography. It uses a totally different side of your brain almost. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a little bit more relaxing. With illustration you kind of build it up, piece by piece as you go. Sometimes it can be a struggle, sometimes the pieces don’t fit together the way you thought they would, but you don’t know that until you’re already haflway through the image. It can really really kind of devolve into a fistfight with the image. But with cartography that never happens. It’s so straightforward and so simple that it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces into place, making it clear and making it look good on top of that. And if you can do all that, then you can do cartography and it’s a lot of fun. Because I’m also an illustrator it’s given me the ability to do different kinds of cartography from what a lot of the guys working today can do. I can do cartography that’s more illustrative, that’s a little bit closer in, that’s more attuned and actually has an illustrative element. That’s why Wizards of the Coast used me for a lot of the battle maps that they’ve done, their Dungeon Tiles product line, their Fantastic Locations product line. They just came out with a new board game called Dungeon Command where I did all the board pieces for that. It means I kind of straddle both sides of the business, but I love them both equally so it’s a good way to get out of your comfort zone.

CG: Do you have any tips for GMs at home making their own maps on ways to improve?
JE: My biggest tip is learn Photoshop, because once you learn that, you’re not as limited in as many ways. I used to make maps when I was a kid playing Dungeons & Dragons and I used to get my hands on as much graph paper as I could find and it worked for what I needed to do, but today if you’ve got a copy of Photoshop, there’s really no limit to what you can put together in terms of a map. And the tools are so powerful that you could make something that’s very very concise very easily and very quickly.

The Gaming Side of Jason Engle

Crossbow wielding Inquisitor pencil sketch character art by Jason Engle

Sketch from Gaming: Inquisitor

CG: So for gaming, you just actually mentioned it, when did you start gaming?
JE: I’m not even really sure what the age was, I think it was eight or nine. It’s a pretty normal story as far as that goes. I had a friend that got really into gaming and started telling me about it. He got me and my brother into it. We just pretty much loved the hobby from that point forward. That was the time that I was kind of building my illustrative skill so I was able to use gaming as a way to grow those skills. There’s a lot of times where you’re sitting around the role-playing games table where you want to draw your character or you want to draw someone else’s character or you find a cool sword and you want to draw what that looks like. So it gave me an excuse to build my skill set.

“…when people would ask me what I was going to do, I wouldn’t just say I was going to be an artist, I’d say I was going to be an artist that worked for TSR.”

– Jason Engle

CG: Did you start on D&D then?
JE: Uh, I did, I did. I moved on from there to Role Master and RIFTS and Shadowrun. I’ve played most of the big ones from one time or another. In the end I’ve always come back to D&D. That was the game that after I started getting into it and after I started getting good at drawing, when people would ask me what I was going to do, I wouldn’t just say I was going to be an artist, I’d say I was going to be an artist that worked for TSR.
CG: Ok. Yeah. Awesome.
JE: It turned out to be not as accurate.
CG: So you grew up admiring the Elmore illustrations in the Player’s Handbook.
JE: Oh yeah. I’d say one of the pivotal moments for me was right when I was getting into role-playing games I got a copy of a Dragonlance artbook. It was basically, I think, the first one that they’d done, the Art of the Dragonlance Saga. It kind of introduced me to a lot of the artists that I’d seen their work, but didn’t know them by name and it introduced me to a lot of that stuff in quantity and I was able to just pour over all the art. I just wore the pages of that book out looking at the art day after day. That’s one of the reasons that I fell in love with so much of the art in the gaming business and kind of why I drove my skills in that direction.

Pencil sketch by Jason Engle of a sorcerer from an RPG game session

Engle’s Sorcerer Sketch from Pathfinder Game

CG: Now are you still gaming today?
JE: I do, I do! [Laughs] When I have time! I would say I manage to get a game in probably every month or three. It’s not something that I manage to do all the time. And all the guys I game with now are all my age or a few years older and they’ve all got kids. Everybody’s schedules don’t always work together easily enough to get together for a six or eight hour session, but when we can, we absolutely make it a priority to do it. And I don’t play D&D anymore, I play Pathfinder, but that’s basically the same thing.
CG: So you’re playing on Game Mastery map packs right, that you helped to illustrate?
JE: Yeah, I do. The guys like to make fun of me when they spot something like a little mistake or could be a softer shade. They like to needle me about that kind of stuff. Usually when you do work on a game for one of the bigger companies they give you a complimentary copy of the product which means that we basically never have to buy anything, because I work on so many different games I get tons of free books. Honestly, I try to keep one copy for myself for my book shelf at home, but if they give me three copies of something I just show up to the game table and go “Here, guys! I got some free stuff.”
CG: You’re a couple of years younger than me, but this is all stuff that we would have loved to have growing up, the Map Packs…
JE: Absolutely. It’s all stuff that’s really taken the game and made it so much more visual. It just really makes the game more three-dimensional in a number of ways. Even as a kid I used to use miniatures, but it was always kind of challenging. You had to use a lot of your imagination and it didn’t always work all that well. The fact that they started introducing that as the main component of the rules set, building visual products to go along with it, I mean it’s really improved the game immeasurably in my opinion, not just because I work on it.
CG: Even there, how are you as a miniature painter?
JE: Oh, I’m terrible. [Laughs] I try not to get into the actual real life paint if I can avoid it. It’s a very very time consuming process. For some reason when I’m working on a two-dimensional piece of art that’s original and I’ve spent all that time and effort in creating myself, I can spend ten hours at a time doing it. But when I’m painting someone else’s sculpture I just have very little patience. It’s not a hobby that I was ever able to really get into.
CG: So, it doesn’t translate?
JE: Yeah, you’d think it would, but for some reason it doesn’t click for me. But thankfully I have a number of friends that are very into it. I let them do all my miniatures painting for me and I draw their characters for them.

Collectible Card Games

“The sad reality is that I used to play Magic and after I got old enough to have disposable income I was able to stop playing Magic and get in a recovery program and kick the habit.”

– Jason Engle

CG: Going back not to RPGs, but to card games, did you play L5R or still play it?
JE: I’ve never played a single game of L5R. [Laughs] I should lie about that or I should go out and start playing it, one of the two, but I’ve never actually gotten to play a game of it. The sad reality is that I used to play Magic and after I got old enough to have disposable income I was able to stop playing Magic and get in a recovery program and kick the habit. I haven’t gone back into that area since with collectible card games because I know they’re something that I absolutely love and will sink a lot of time and money into if given the opportunity, so I try to keep myself from getting back into the hobby. Because I know I would love L5R if I started playing it like that and I’d be playing it all the time. It’s a wonderful game from what I understand. I know lots of people in the community. Like I said, I’ve been working on it for so many years that I’ve had the chance to meet most of the players that are really big in the community at the conventions and I got to say that L5R is different from a lot of the games out there in that players are so tight knit and they’re so nice, which sounds weird to say. But like, for example, you go to one of the Magic tournament and they’re very different in mind set because it is a broader scope of playerbase. There’s a lot more people that are more mainstream and less into the whole geek hobby which means it’s a lot more competitive, a lot more aggressive mindset. It’s not a very tight knit community in that sense, whereas L5R a lot of the people know each other. It’s just more of a real community of players which is kind of neat and unique in my experience.

Walking Ominous Stone Golemesque Magical Being

Engle’s Magic: TG Card Art for Ominous Statuary. Prints available at buyfantasyart.com

Board Games

CG: And what about any board games, you delve into that a little bit or are you more of an RPG guy?
JE: Yeah, I’ve done a couple of board games. I did Thunderstone. I did all of the art for that one. That came out a couple of years ago and I think it’s gosh, I don’t know how many expansions they’re on now, but it’s done pretty well. The first board game I did was called Tobogans of Doom. Yeah, that one you’re probably not going to find on too many shelves.
CG: And I was just actually asking if you’re a player of board games, haha. Wasn’t expecting that you’d done some.
JE: Well, I used to. I haven’t really been into too many of those for a few years either. The things about board games in particular is that they’re sort of similar to card games in that you have to be around a certain amount of the gaming community in order to get introduced to new ones and have people to play them with and all of that and I just don’t really go to that many gaming stores these days. There really aren’t that many in Jacksonville that are worth going to visit. The sad truth is that they’re kind of a dying breed and even ones that do have a bustling community built around them, if you don’t know where they’re located in your town, you’re pretty much out of luck. If there was a play to do that sort of thing in Jacksonville, I’d be absolutely into it. I do still enjoy board games when I get the chance to play. But without a real community to be a part of, it’s not something I spend a lot of time doing.

More on Engle’s RPGs

Pencil and paper sketch of a Paladin by Jason Engle

Jason Engle’s Paladin Sketch from Gaming

CG: So when you’re playing RPGs like Pathfinder now, are you the player or the GM?
JE: I’m a player. I’m a total player. I’ve dabbled at GMing. It’s fun to do, but here’s the problem with someone who’s overly developed their visual aesthetic: when you start designing an adventure, you start designing everything from a more visual standpoint than you need to and you end up spending way too much time in all the wrong areas. And when it comes time to play the game all that preparation work is generally not all that useful, so it’s a great thing to do, it’s really enjoyable, but GMing just takes too much time for me to really put into it. But I love playing and it allows me to both play my character and draw scenes from whatever is going on at the time. And the other players don’t mind having that so it works out.
CG: My last question for you then is what kind of characters do you end up playing?
JE: Um, well I’ve played them all, man. [Laughs] I’ve played the giant barbarian, the thief that usually ends up getting blown up first, I’ve even done the cleric, you know the healer, because no one else wants to play it. I usually like the fighter characters more to be honest because yeah, when you’re playing a combat game – which is what D&D and Pathfinder essentially are – your main skill set is going to be much more useful as that kind of character. Even though the guys I play with, we’re a little older, we try to integrate a lot more story and a lot more role-playing into our game, but in the end when your character’s really going to be bested and all the chips are down, it doesn’t hurt to have a fex extra hit dice.

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.