Bricks and Mortar, Inside the FLGS – An interview with Michelle Davis of Rules of Play

Bricks and Mortar, Inside the FLGS – An interview with Michelle Davis of Rules of Play

RESPECT! That’s all I can say to those who own Friendly Local Game Shops (FLGS) and any other type of small board game retailers as well. Especially in the current state of the world’s economy.

I guess I’d have to say that one of my Bucket List items is to own a FLGS. Maybe some day… But its never as simple as it sounds so I thought that it would be a great idea to get the real inside scoop from someone in the know. So here is my interview with Michelle Davis of Rules of Play, located in Cardiff, Wales…

Thanks for talking to Boardgames in Blighty Michelle!

1) First off, tell us the story of Rules of Play! Can you tell us about the process you went through to arrive at the launch of the shop? Tell us about the ups and downs.

It all happened very quickly; in February last year we discovered that our local games shop was to close down after not being able to find a suitable premises to relocate to in Cardiff. Three of us had a conversation starting with ‘isn’t it a shame there won’t be a games shop in Cardiff’ and ending up with ‘why don’t we open up our own’! We went from business plan to opening the shop in around eleven weeks – not an experience I’d wish to repeat!

In many ways it was not at all the ideal time to be starting a new business venture – Ian (my husband) is tied up full time with our coffee shop, while I was busy doing the admin side of the business as well as looking after our three children (the youngest wasn’t even four months at that point) and Steve was about to start a postgrad in Environment and Development at LSE. But we figured that we couldn’t have a perfect opportunity AND perfect timing, so we took the decision to go ahead.


2) Tell us about your shop. Location. Why Cardiff? Space for gaming? Do you run game events? If so, what have been your most successful game events so far? What kind of feedback have you received?


We chose a city centre location, in one of the Victorian arcades in Cardiff’s Castle Quarter. Partly through practicalities – it is near to our coffee shop and also near to the site of the old games shop, so customers could be redirected easily. But also – we didn’t to be in a large, anonymous shopping centre – we felt that Rules of Play would be much better suited to the Castle Quarter, with its myriad independent shops and businesses. And finally, we felt that the fact with Games Workshop, Forbidden Planet and ModelZone all within 2 minutes walk there would be a real synergy for customers and businesses – and so it has proved. There is very little product overlap between our four shops, so we are all happy to refer customers to each other – and help each other out if needed.

3) Tell us about your Unique Selling Points – what advantages do you present to customers as an FLGS?


We are trying to create a store which appeals to serious gamers, with knowledgeable staff and a wide range of games available including new releases , but which also offers a welcoming and unintimidating environment for people who simply like to play the occasional game. Its important for us to be accessible to everyone – whatever your age or taste there’s a good chance we’ll have a game for you – its our job to provide informed and honest recommendations and advice, whether you’ve been playing games for years or haven’t played anything other than Ludo!  For us success means that we provide as good a service to the person looking for a gift as for the experienced games player.

We chose a unit that has a downstairs playing area, with a loo and facilities for making tea, coffee etc, so that people can come and hang out, play games (either their own or one from the store’s growing library) – and we encourage people to use this area whether or not they are planning on making a purchase that day. We also have as many demo copies of games as we can beg, borrow, or steal from our respective homes(!) so that wherever possible people can have a proper look/play with what they are buying.

As well as offering a space for casual play, we have a busy programme of events – from tournaments to ‘Learn to Play’ events to Open Boardgaming days – and even themed games days, for instance our Spooky Games Night at Halloween took place in the Arcade itself, which is indeed spooky after dark, and served our players a menu of Vampire Soup, Goblin Fingers and Hard Boiled Eyeballs!

Of course the one thing a bricks and mortar store can’t compete on is price, both in comparison to internet sellers or to large chains like WHSmith, Waterstones or John Lewis. We have to stick to RRP – but we work very hard to make sure our customers feel they are getting value over and above the purchase price in terms of advice, demos, events, and just general fun!  All of us at Rules of Play love playing games, and we’ll never try and sell you something which we don’t believe is right for you.



4) What type of games do you and your partners like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games or game types that you dislike?


Our criteria for playing at home is that we can play them after the kids are asleep and before we conk out , games that are easy to set up, not too long and also work well for two players. At the moment we’re playing Hive, Rising Kings, Carcassonne, Ascension, San Juan – and Rat a Tat Cat and Too Many Monkeys with the kids! But I get to escape to a games group once a week – recently we’ve played  The Resistance, K2, Havana, Settlers, Pandemic, London, Smallworld, Power Grid, Dixit and a LOT of Saboteur – for some reason it’s always the game we end the evening on! Ian also gets to escape once a week – he tends to go to one of the Magic the Gathering nights at Rules of Play; since he’s discovered Magic he has become annoyingly good at it!
Steve plays a lot of games with friends in London, they’re currently playing a lot of Troyes, Dominant Species and Dominion – with exams on the way the all-day epic games are on hold for a while!

5) Likes and dislikes in regards to mechanics, theme?


Steve loves Euro-style strategy and worker placement games – the more small wooden cubes the better! Ian likes anything with a historical/political theme – he is forever trying to find someone to play Twilight Struggle with! As for me, I’ll try anything and tend to be quite fickle in my favourites – but the game I’ve enjoyed most in the last couple of months and want to play more of is London.

6) What is your view of the board gaming scene here in the UK? Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities?


From talking to our customers, it seems that there is a real resurgence of interest in board and card games in the UK – particularly driven by families. They appreciate the opportunities that gaming as a family bring – with younger kids it’s about having fun as a family and also picking up valuable social skills – negotiation, how to lose gracefully, how to take turns and so forth.  There are some great games out there which different ages can relate to in different ways – with even the most surly teenagers happily getting involved, which is great to be part of!
However, many people only real think of Monopoly and Scrabble when they think of board games. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve shown customers Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, or Carcassonne – and their reaction has been one of “wow, I just didn’t realise there was anything so accessible and FUN out there!’  Our Learn to Play events are designed to help get people to know some of the really fantastic games that are available, and get a chance to play them and see if they like them. Its a great chance for people to do something different and meet some new friends, and they’re something we’d really like to expand on.
Cardiff has a really great gaming community, who are very welcoming, and we’re increasingly involved with and would love to support more.  We’re trying to open up gaming as a hobby to a wide an audience as possible. I’m currently looking at doing a games evening in a local cafe, also running games evenings for PTAs, and helping younger kids develop an interest in games – Rules of Play lends different games to the local school’s Chess club, so they get a chance to play something different while waiting for each other to finish matches.


7) What advice would you give to anyone thinking about opening up a FLGS?
Unless you want to be permanently exhausted, don’t do it if you already have a cafe and three kids under five and a full time postgrad course between the three of you!!!

Make the most of local advice – we had some incredibly useful sessions with local gamers before deciding to take the plunge. Make sure that your team is well-rounded – a high level of gaming knowledge is essential within a games shop – but you also need to make sure there is a mix of customer service/ administrative/communication/business skills too.


Finally don’t underestimate the power of social media in building awareness and building a brand – I’m still a learner in this area but, using Facebook, Twitter and WordPress has made a big difference to our profile. (www.facebook.com/rulesofplay, www.twitter.com/rulesofplaygame, www.rulescardiff.wordpress.com).

8) Tell us how you are involved with the local community

We all three of us believe that as a local business, supported by local people, we should be supporting our community in return; the local primary school benefits from an end of year donation of 10% of the sales to parents; we also offer gift vouchers as prizes for charity events.


I’m also very excited about our First Birthday – to celebrate making a full year (keep your fingers crossed, few weeks to go yet!!) we are holding ‘Cardiff Unplugged Games Day 2011 – in support of Ty Hafan, our local children’s hospice.  We have booked three rooms at the Chapter Arts Centre, and will be gaming gaming gaming from 10am to 10pm, with entry by donation and all proceeds going directly to Ty Hafen. I can’t wait for this event, as I am hopeful that we’ll attract lots of families, younger games players and people completely new to the hobby – as well as generating support from Cardiff’s existing gaming community. For more details, ‘like’ this page:
http://www.facebook.com/GamesDay


9) How can Game publishers and distributors support the success of the FLGS?

Well. A person who defines themself as a ‘non gamer’ isn’t going to suddenly go online, research available games, and make a purchase. However, that same ‘non-gamer’ may end up in an FLGS – perhaps to buy a present, perhaps because his/her kids have badgered them, perhaps for no reason other than it’s raining. And that’s where you have a real chance to talk to them about what games they may like, invite them to an event, possibly sell them a game – and possibly, create an interest that means they continue to buy games. And that’s why I firmly believe distributors and manufacturers should do all they can to support bricks and mortar stores – because we are a major source of NEW games customers. Support could come in a variety of ways – a bricks and mortar only discount is one; promos or expansions ONLY available at bricks and mortar stores is another; also, committing a proportion of their inventory to be available as demonstration copies would be really useful.

 

 

Press Release from Victory Point Games – The African Front: 1940-1942

Press Release from Victory Point Games – The African Front: 1940-1942

A remarkable sequel to a hit game that will expand wargaming to a new theater, designer Carl Paradis and we here at VPG have finally brought No Retreat 2: Africa to your doorstep. This game is composed of a narrative game rich in feel of the ebb-and-flow of the campaign, wrapped around an exciting maneuver and combat system that harkens back to the glory days of classic wargaming but include all of the modern features and plenty of innovations.

Jammed with great gameplay, players take the action to the African Front from the start of Operation Compass on 8 December 1940, through 1942 to the eviction of the Axis from Libya.

The desert lies before you and World War II is at stake. Can you endure and prevail under the most surprising and grueling of circumstances? Prove that you can, for there is No Retreat!

Click here for all the details and to order No Retreat 2.

 

Cards on the table – Boardgames in Blighty and Little Metal Dog Show are collaborating on a board game design…

Yep, some of you who follow us on Twitter may have seen Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show and I referring to Project X. Well no surprise I guess, we are collaborating on a board game design.

Working title – “Espionage” – it is set in London prior to WW1 and involves completing missions, traveling via Hansom Cabs and some strategic backstabbing.

We will post designer updates here and on our blogs  as we would appreciate your comments and possibly ask some of you to do some playtesting.

Follow us on Twitter – I am @blightygamer and Michael is @idlemichael

Little Metal Dog Show – http://littlemetaldog.com/

Review – Wrath of Ashardalon from Wizards of the Coast – Descent killer?

Review – Wrath of Ashardalon from Wizards of the Coast

Designed by – Peter Lee, Mike Mearis, Bill Slavicsek

Many thanks to the awesome folks at Rules of Play Game shop in Cardiff for providing me with a copy of this game for review purposes. To order this game, go to  – http://www.rulesofplay.co.uk/

Yeah, I am a complete sucker for fantasy boardgames. Anything involving Elves, Dwarves, Warriors, Mages… you know the drill.  I’ve played quite a few over the years and of all shapes and sizes from the elaborate to the quick and dirty. Heroquest, Advanced Heroquest, Dungeons & Dragons boardgames, Talisman, Runebound, Descent, etc. and so on. Nothing like a good ol romp in a dungeon or other treacherous and confined space where there’s just enough room to swing a sword, cast a spell or two and kick Monster butt and take names while shouting “It’s clobberin time!!! ” You can keep your Euros with their pansie resource management, route building, and cutsie little wooden cubes. Give me some fresh Orc meat… Arrrrggghhhh!

Interestingly enough, I’ve always been interested in Role Playing Games and Dungeon’s & Dragons as a role-playing game but never got acquainted with a group of friends who would play. I played earlier D&D system board games which I thought were a bit meh, with my favourite dungeon bash games being Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest. What? I hear you say. Don’t you worship at the altar of the behemoth that is Descent? Well, to be honest, Descent is cool but just way over the top for me. Too much detail, too long to play, and plain hard work. Nice mini’s though…

So what is a soul like me to do? Check out the latest D&D Game, Wrath of Ashardalon of course!

Boy, this one comes in an oversized box and it is packed to the rafters with all kinds of goodies. I’m not going to list it all but let me tell you that the mini’s immediately stand out as quality figures. Adventurers and monsters (orcs, kobolds, snakes, etc. including the best named monster ever, the “Gibbering Mouther”. The daddy of the game is the Dragon Ashardalon which is simply awesome. Having said all this, I would have thought that WOTC should have provided full painted minis. I doubt it would have cost much more and would have added to the experience in a big way. This is more than a mere quibble. For the price of the game, full painted figures should have been provided.

There are lots of stuff – dungeon floor tiles, lots of cards (which are a bit bendy I’m afraid) for treasures, encounters, monsters, powers. Tiles and chits for wounds and different information that you will need to carry out various missions in the dungeons that await you and your fellow adventurers. There is a rule booklet and an adventure booklet with the preset adventures which are organized in an order of increasing difficulty.

Wrath of Ashardalon is the follow-up to Castle Ravenloft and has enhanced the system for an even better game experience. It is playable solitaire (this is an excellent feature…) and with up to 5 players, aged 12+. It is, in essence a co-operative game where the players help each other to defeat the nasties. Either you all win, or you all lose.

Gameplay

This is really a simple game system, more than just a game and this is where the real value can be found because not only do you have a number of preset missions, but there are loads of variations as you randomly pick monsters and treasures to face. Tons of replay value. Lots of opportunity to create your own missions as well!

The rules are quite simple. Especially when compared to the deeper and more complicated Descent. And to me, that’s the charm. After choosing an adventure, you choose a character to play and the powers that your character can use. You also start off with a treasure which will be a randomly chosen and assigned weapon. Yes, you and your buddies can decide which starting weapon goes to which character to best help the team.

Be warned, if you are looking for a deep role-playing game extended into a board game format this will not meet that need. However if you are looking for relatively fast and simple fun, with more monster bashing but little in the way of time-consuming role-development and story line, yet a great introduction to the genre, this is just the ticket.

Each Hero takes their turn as follows:

Hero phase – They can move and attack

Exploration phase – new passages and rooms are discovered along with their inhabitants!

Villain phase – Villains get in on the fun, Monsters and traps are activated

The heart and soul of the game is the card based system. Whats’ really well done are the clear instructions for what the heroes and monsters can do. The choices of weapons, spells, movement and attack are minimal but enough for a simple game. The programmed instruction of the Monster AI is good and works well. It is a clean system. No muss, no fuss.

As you open up new path/room tiles, new monsters pop up. There is a reasonable variety but it can seem a bit repetitive. Again, this is a simple, entry level game and the limitations on the monsters and abilities are fine. The limitations on the heroes abilities and the ability to improve or become a higher level character with a bit more “oomph” again is reasonable bearing in mind the simplicity of the game.

There is a good selection of Treasure cards to help you and the variety of Encounter cards will keep you guessing and worrying what may befall you and your company of heroes. I really like the mechanic of shuffling the dungeon tiles and choosing them blindly as this again adds continued freshness to your games. There are some small problems with some of the encounters which are not logical. An example is the boulder which can come down the hallway, wounding the heroes along the way. It seems that the boulder can have a life of its own and change direction on its own as it has to move towards the nearest hero. Not logical, and a sign that a bit of sloppiness slipped into the rules writing. These issues are minor and with a bit of common sense, can be adjusted.

As you kill monsters, you can gain experience points which can be used to cancel the effects of nasty Encounter cards and also you can cash them in to become a level 2 hero to add more to your prowess. Of course, the monsters attack the heroes and along with a number of dangerous Encounters, the heroes need to maintain their health because if one of your party begins a Hero Phase without any hit points left, GAME OVER!

There are extra rules that can be added for choosing powers, Boon cards which add more tactical challenges for the heroes to overcome, chambers which need to be scoured of extra monsters and doors.

To top it all off, there are 13 Adventures which add layers of difficulty. Adventures 4 and 13 have 14 adventures in them and Adventure 6 has 3 linked adventures so what’s that, 41-ish? PLENTY of value for the money.


Did it work for me?

Finally, a successor to the glory that was Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest! This is a really good game and I highly recommend it for those who need a dungeon bash fix but don’t have the time, the inclination, or the funds to get into Descent which is really for a harder core audience. To me, Wrath of Ashardalon fills the gap of wanting a simple, gorgeous, fun, dungeon cooperative game. Sure there are some small quibbles but all in all this should be a must buy if you like the genre. Get a copy before it goes out of print! In fact, this game could be a Descent killer, bringing fun dungeon bashing to the masses!

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 9 out of 10

Family Friendly?

Well maybe… Easy enough but will the whole family like it? 12+ is definitely the right age. Its really a game you would expect early teens and above to love.

For more information about Wizards of the Coast go to – http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=ah/welcome

Review – Expedition Sumatra from Igramoon Spieleverlag

Review – Expedition Sumatra from Igramoon Spieleverlag

Designed by Jens Jahnke and Britta Stockmann

ArtworkMariusz Gandzel, Piotr Rorot, Anna Wiodarska

Many thanks to the folks at Igramoon Spieleverlag for providing a copy of this game for review purposes.

Another new game from a small publisher crosses my threshold and it is a game of exploration of the jungles of Sumatra. Rare animals are in danger of extinction and must be captured and protected, or sold to the highest bidder. So off you go to Sumatra only to find that its not as easy as you think. For one thing, the jungle passages are confusing and its easy to have your way blocked. Also, you only have a couple of trucks to capture the animals and place them on your ship. Oh yes, you are under time pressure as your ship is circling the island and will be leaving soon! And then the local inhabitants may not take too kindly to your antics on their home turf…

Anyway, I love family games and the good folks at Igramoon Spieleverlag have come up with a game for 2-4 players aged 8+ which provides a change from the usual fare.

Expedition Sumatra comes with excellent quality components ranging from the lush jungle board, to the jungle pathway tiles to the ship and truck tiles. Even the rules are set out very nicely in a layered brochure. Disappointingly, animals are represented by cubes. Yes, sterile colored cubes which are serviceable. If only they’d gone a step further and created animeeples… sigh…

The aim of the game is to find and catch animals, using their trucks to transport the animals to their ships. So a pick up and delivery game. But their is more… The jungle pathway tiles are placed on the board and can me moved and turned to help the players create paths to the ships OR block other players. So, we have a tile placement and manipulation aspect along with and interactive “Gotcha” element.

Victory points are gained for capturing animals.

Gameplay

The game process is relatively simple. Each player can choose from 4 actions in any order per turn

– Move a tile – flipping or rotating to your advantage or to impede other players

– Drive a truck through the jungle and on/off the ship – Ships are randomly organized and will have different limits to the number of animals that can be taken onto different parts of the ship

– Load an animal which shares a square on the game board with one’s truck onto the truck

– Steal an animal if your truck is on the same square as an opponent (costs 2 Actions)

– Move your ship 1 square forward or backward

After completing the 4 actions, the special Ship rule takes place – the player checks where his large truck is located and  then moves his ship forward a number of water spaces equal to the number of pathway exits in the occupied tile. If the large truck is on a ship, the ship is moved forward 1 space.

The jungle pathway tiles are all the same on one side and have different effects when flipped. Thing is, you will need to flip them to create a path to your ship so there is no avoiding it. Most tiles are flipped to reveal a pathway which can be rotated. Other effects are –

Animals – Yay! place the relevant cube to represent the animal

Trap – Yay! You can randomly place any animal cube

Native – Uh oh! The natives release one animal per player  as noted in the rules

Binoculars – Yay! you can secretly look at the reverse side of 2 tiles

Storm – Uh oh! tiles and ships are moved

The game ends when

– the draw pile is used up or

– one player has managed to fill all his cargo holds completely, or

– when the first ship circles the island and returns to its starting position.

Victory points are scored for animals, ships circumnavigating the island, completing big and small animal orders.

The flexibility of actions works well and the process and mechanics are easy to understand and pitched at an appropriate level for families.

Did it work for me?

Expedition Sumatra is a very nice family game and a good start for Igramoon Spieleverlag. The quality components and clear rules make it very easy to get into. The tile placement and manipulation is fine and the challenge of balancing collecting animals, getting them on your ship, navigating changing roads where your opponents can make things difficult for you and doing all this whilst moving your ship around the island provides a good variety of choices and balanced tensions. The luck factor is reasonable but may frustrate some gamers although I do think that pulling the Native tile is a bit harsh. If you approach this game as a gateway game /or family game, you should enjoy it. A very solid design and fun game.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 6.5 out of 10

Family Friendly?

Yes, and the 8+ age is right, although it may take a couple of turns for younger players to understand. A nice family game.

For more information about Igramoon Spieleverlag go to – http://www.igramoon.de/Igramoon_Games/Home.html

VPG Press Release – No Retreat! 1 Bundle now on sale

http://victorypointgames.com/details.php?prodId=162

The entire No Retreat! 1: Russia pack, from designer Carl Paradis, is now bundled together for one low price. Alongside the Russian Front game, its three expansions – Na Berlin!, No Surrender!, and No Retreat! Solitaire – are included!

No Retreat! 1: Russia is a skillfull blended collation of classic hex-based wargaming and modern card-driven simulations. It is a great, two-player wargame that retells the story of the titanic struggle between the invading armies of Nazi Germany versus Communist Russia during WW2.

All together at one low price, this is one deal you don’t want to retreat on!

Click here for all the details and to order the No Retreat 1 Bundle.

– Victory Point Games

VPG Press Release – Levee en Masse French edition available

LES GUERRES DE LA RÉVOLUTION FRANÇAISE, 1789-1802

https://victorypointgames.com/details.php?prodId=161

This solitaire game of the French Revolution has finally been released in our new French edition!

Assiduously translated from English to French, every component has been revolutionized into “Republican” French.

You must stop the advances of foreign armies and the counter-revolutionary forces within France itself to defend the virtues of Republicanism. Enlist today, grab your musket and a banner, and join the Levée en Masse!

Click here for all the details and to order Levee en Masse (French edition).

– Victory Point Games