Wednesday, 29 August 2007

"The Next Epic Duels"

Blah blah blah, due to the holiday and con season the blog has stalled, so let's put some content out there....

I joined BGG during the height of Star Wars: Episode III madness. My brother and I had been playing the hell out of Clash of the Lightsabers and of course Star Wars: Epic Duels. It was a search for more games as good as those two that led me to find out about this other incredible Star Wars game I missed (some little game called Queen's Gambit or something like that). From there, BGG.

Epic Duels was just this crazy good game that was stupidly affordable, *completely* opposite of what you'd expect to find. You've probably heard everyone say how they picked up a copy for $5, and in the same breath wonder why Hasbro didn't follow up with an Episode III version (hint: stores don't buy things that only sell when they finally go on clearance).

In today's environment I doubt this could happen--just look at Heroscape...I think if that was released before there was a real AT renaissance and awareness on the web in any significant numbers, it would've had a base game that bombed and that would've been that. I don't think the web-aware boardgaming hobbyists would let games like Epic Duels go unnoticed again.

Funny thing, though, is the aftermarket success of Epic Duels spawned the catchphrase, "The Next Epic Duels". Gamers started talking like speculators. Sure, we're all collectors, but for any of us who lived through the speculation-mad crash n' burn of the comic book industry, that sort of thinking makes you a little wary. People were looking for that cheap game that would make them a hundred bucks after dropping only $5 on it.

Battleball for a long while was considered one such game; people mentioned buying five copies or more from Kaybee Toys. Battleball actually has a lot in common with Epic Duels; it's a mass market game that had a great bits per dollar value that went largely ignored by the gaming public. Probably for very different reasons, of games have bled the notion that licensed gaming properties suck (hence Epic Duels bombing out), and Battleball has probably THE worst "game in action" photo on the back of the box I've ever seen:

...just stay the hell away from me, kid

Seriously, who could slap that thing down on the counter and expect to have any semblance of dignity? Who freakin' greenlit this thing? It's like the kid on the right just discovered his dad's Playboy stash and has been hit by a uncontrolled burst of hormones.

I like Battleball okay...we just played it yesterday in fact (I lost a humiliating 2-0, and *four* of my guys were critically injured by halftime). It has a lot of the same things in common with Epic Duels--nice bits, great price, fast and easy even fills a niche of super-easy to play sports boardgame, a not terribly crowded field.

However, it will never be "The Next Epic Duels".

Why is that? I'll tell's just like something I heard once: "Anything that says 'Collector's Item' on it will NEVER be worth anything." If you've got people buying up cheap copies hoping to sell for a huge profit, but everyone is proclaiming a hot item sure to appreciate in price, who's going to buy it? See anybody willing to fork out $30 for Battleball? $20? $10 is more like it, if you're lucky. Not because it's a bad game, but honestly, who are the speculators going to sell it to? Each other? They were all able to pick up their fill of copies without a hassle...I could still have picked up an extra copy for many, many months after I scooped up mine, and most Toys R' Us stores had a glut of them that took awhile to work through their clearance stock.

Just like comic books, y'know? Marvel printed eleventy-billion copies of X-Men #1, and speculators gobbled them up only to find they had no one to sell copies to at inflated prices. Same AND demand.

I had written off the "Next Epic Duels" phenomenon as being a thing not likely to be replicated. Queen's Gambit sells for a decent chunk of change but it was considerably more expensive to begin with...time may see that one increase, but unless Lucas gets his stuff together I doubt we'll see another Star Wars-induced gaming frenzy.

And yet....

The "Next Epic Duels" came and went, didn't it? That's right, it was "Betrayal at House on the Hill". There's another game where the desingers are probably due reparations from the savaging that Betrayal received--and to be fair, some of that was likely deserved thanks to the egregious misprints and rules omissions, monsters without proper stats, underground lakes on upper levels of the house, you know the drill.

Even just prior to this holiday season Betrayal was selling for $20 as Toys R Us was desperate to get rid of their "New and Improved" Avalon Hill stock. But then a crazy thing happened; all the copies in the retail channel dried up, and the price shot up (copies now close for $50-70, and a few for even more than that). And this time, we don't have movie hype to explain it away...more likely, it was a game people meant to get "someday" and when they saw that the game was getting harder to find, they finally got off their butts to get a copy...but for some of them, too late.

The speculators are there, though...there are a couple of Ebay sellers with $100+ copies, if you're interested (ah, Ebay...the home of eternal optimism). But it's possible that this one will continue to rise unless Hasbro decides it's worth reprinting--no one wants to make more copies of something that should sell for $40 but ends up on clearance shelves for $20.

So for all the hawkish claims, Betrayal slipped under the long 'till we hear, "Hey man, this might be the next Betrayal!"


Booder98 said...

Personally I've been placing my bets on _Nexus Ops_, but I think that one might have the 'too many copies' thing going for it. That's okay though, I have one to play and three just in case. Not like they go bad or anything.

Ken B. said...

"Won't go bad?" Have you *smelled* those little neon buggers?

That is a mystery to me though...Betrayal all gone, Nexus, Vegas and the other AH square-boxers on Tanga for 5 for $10 or something ridiculous like that.

But no doubt, Nexus is a great game.

dan daly said...

One of my thoughts regarding this issue-

Where do people get all the SPACE required to horde multiple copies of games for the purpose of selling them years down the road???

I've got 80 some games counting expansions and card games. That takes up a lot of space. I know there are far, far larger collections out there. Personally, I'd rather use the shelf space I do have at home to have copies of different games I enjoy playing, instead of repeat copies of the same game still in shrink wrap. As far as investing goes, I'll put money into my 401k and IRA.

Ken B. said...

I was guilty of this only one time; I picked up an extra copy of a dusty Epic Duels I found at a card store and traded it pretty quickly for LOTR + both expansions. Only time I've really been guilty of buying a boardgame for purely speculative purposes. Like you, I don't have the room!

Even when I played CCGs I usually only went for cards I wanted or cards I knew could get me something I wanted. Thankfully history has proven that if it ain't Magic, it ain't worth sitting on. Anybody remember $100 Charizards? Man, weren't those all the rage? I had a guy send me one for free not long ago when I traded for some Pokemon cards for my son.

Boardgames are different because when CCGs die, their "life" just sort of sputters out. They thrive on an ever-changing environment. Boardgames are static and even if a game goes out of print, it still works right out of the box and will continue to do so no matter what.

Anyway, I don't really sweat it too much. I've seen the "grails" of the boardgaming world and many of them are grails because they're hideously rare, not because they're any good.

Shellhead said...

I completely turned my back on everything related to Star Wars after seeing The Return of the Jedi just once. I hated Ewoks, because it was immediately obvious that they were put in the movie to sell toys to kids. Close friends warned me about Jar-Jar, so I never even bothered with the more recent trilogy.

And yet... I really enjoyed playing Star Wars: Epic Duels. My L5R rpg group was wrapping up early one time (due to my lack of prep for that session) so one of my players whipped out Epic Duels, and insisted that we would all enjoy it. Four 4-player games of it later, and I had to admit it was really fun. The only reason that I didn't buy a copy right then while it was on the clearance shelf was because of the Star Wars name. I regret that decision, but I'm not quite willing to pay the current market rate.

neonpeon said...

Ken B. said...'s not really so much about Star Wars in this case, but the weird nature of speculative boardgame collecting.

Epic Duels shouldn't be worth all that much. It's a fun game, but it was mass-produced by one of the biggest companies in the world and sold on the shelves of the biggest retailer in the world, all in mass-market quantities.

Booder98 said...

I'm not walking around thinking I'm going to make my first million by selling 10,000 copies of _Nexus Ops_ for $100 apiece 10 years from now. But the extras I have aren't taking up all that much space, and I'm hoping they'll be good trade bait a while down the road. At $10-$15 apiece, that's cheap enough that you don't have to get a lot of trade value in return. Plus, better waiting at my house as trade bait than moldering away in some Arizona landfill like all those old Atari cartriges. :)

Booder98 said...

I also have 2 extra copies of the Heroscape master set that I got at an Amazon 'Buy 1 get 1 free' sale. At that price ($20 per) I couldn't resist. I don't think Heroscape's going to disappear soon, but if I ever get _really_ hooked on it, I have all the basic terrain I'm ever going to need.

Pat H said...

Looks like Bob Saget jr's career is getting off to the same sort of start that the old man's did.

When I started to frequent the FLGS's again in January I noticed Betrayal & Monsters Menace America being dumped (up here $30) rather that the $49 they were going for previously. Nexus Ops on the other hand has remained steady at $50 with no sign of dropping anywhere. As a matter of fact the word is out so I don't see the price dropping anytime soon.

The problem we have here in Quebec is that if they can't stock a French version on the shelves they are not allowed to keep an English version on the shelf. The smaller FLGS's do put them up but we don't see the large scale Toys R Us stock or dumps because they never stocked these in the first place. Looks like Hasbro just never bothered producing mass # 's of these in French, so no English versions made it either - thus no need for clearance.

I did pick up a Monsters Menace America for $30 though.

Ken B. said...

I need to get Monsters Menace to the table; it was a $20 TRU acquisition. The pieces in that are just crazy cool.

Are you guys like me? 30+ games fighting for roughly 12 "big" game sessions per year? It's hilarious when we have our monthly game session I'll start listing off "we could play this..." and the list is like a full Word page long...

This has had the effect of slowing my collecting. I've got games purchased a year ago that haven't hit the table yet. Not from a lack of desire but from a lack of time. It sucks.

I did pick up Marvel Heroscape last night...couldn't resist.

Pat H said...

I started "collecting" (don't say that around the wife) games again and as a matter of fact am picking up Axis and Allies Revised (the board in my old copy has molded - however it did save my Fortress America, Shogun and Conquest of the Empire! took one for the team as they were in the same box), Twilight Imperium 3rd ed.

My mother in law works for a distributor in Toronto so I get really good deals on games now so why not (what a fluke, or a godsend now that I'm back in the hobby!). I have started a game night that has expanded to now support two 4-6 player games so this is my justification for picking up the new titles.

TOI is probably the game I want to play the most right now and I've only managed a couple of solo dust'ups. It's easier to get 5 guys interested in a multiplayer AT dicefest than a traditional 2 player wargame. Hopefully after a few months everyone will be familiar again with rules etc…

Now I need to find a bigger space to accommodate all the rowdiness.

When I say collecting games I mean strictly for myself. I abhor the collector for cash mentality and found that working usually will provide a better return and takes up less space in the house. I’ve gone years without even a care for something I owned, only to become really interested in it again years later. If someone would have told me I would be hosting game nights again with my 20 year old copies 5 years ago, I would have said “yeah right” but I held on to them just the same, just in case & not for cash, and I’m so glad I did.

neonpeon said...

I hear ya Ken - I was addicted to buying games, but a few months ago I declared to myself that I will stop, because I've got all my bases covered. I've got some of the best light, medium and heavy games in the categories of Ameritrash, Euros and wargames - old and new. Two player games, 8 player games. Conflict heavy, conflict light. Dripping with theme, and abstracts that look good on my coffee table. Etc., etc. I even have a personal holy grail that is Magic Realm in excellent condition. My only party game is Apples to Apples, which is great for family occasions (my mom can't wrap her brain around anything besides party games) and better than Trivial Pursuit. For classics, the only one I'm into is Scrabble and everyone I know has a copy.

What else do I really need? Most of my games I haven't had the opportunity to play more than a few times. When I feel like there's nothing fresh in my collection, THEN it makes sense to buy more.

I do buy games as gifts, though. For their respective birthdays, I recently got Doom for my video game-addicted, teenage cousin, and Nexus Ops for my conflict-loving, poker-playing brother-in-law. Last year I wrote the cousin a check. He never would have bought a board game on his own. I don't own Doom, but I get to play it now, introduced Cuz to a good game, and I was going to spend the money anyway.

I had to resist pre-ordering Titan - life will go on if I don't buy it, and I'm sure the game be around for a while if it gets printed. There's always future birthdays.

So what's my point? Stand up proud and declare, "My collection is freakin' awesome and my money can be spent on better things, like beer and/or hookers for game nights!"

Just my opinion.

Michael Barnes said...

The thing about BETRAYAL is that it has direct, immediate appeal that even folks who completely hate the idea of hobby boardgaming can get into- I think I've had more success introducing people to BETRAYAL than even SETTLERS. No joke. There was a period in my store where EVERYONE was playing it- like 3-4 times a night. Everyone that played it bought a copy, they played it with friends and their friends bought copies.

It was really a very grassroots, word-of-mouth thing and it took time to build. It may very well be that it didn't peak until we started seeing those $100+ copies on Ebay. I'd be willing to bet that a lot of the bidders on those aren't "hardcore" gamers and may not even own anything outside of the usual mainstream fare. But they played the game with some friends and decided they had to have it.

It has a very distinct novelty that just hooks people, regardless of how good/bad the gameplay actually is in the end. Most people outside of the hobby don't give two flying flipping fucks about "mechanics" and care more about experience, story, and atmosphere. And fun. BETRAYAL, for better or worse, offers those things in spades.

If BETRAYAL had been marketed a little differently and more widely accessible to the mainstream marketplace, I think it would have sold four times as many copies as it did. With some TV ads, a couple of notices in those christmastime "Board Games Make Great Gifts" syndicated articles, and strong word-of-mouth it could have been a huge breakthrough for this style of game.

What's really funny too is that it has a lot of very gamer-y things in it- like tracking hitpoints and all that. But there again, if you give people a very immediate, engaging experience they'll overlook the usual stumbling blocks we encounter when we try to introduce "outsiders" to the hobby.

Even EPIC DUELS had some of that "x" element- the STAR WARS license went a long way toward that(it's Mace Windu versus Vader! Get outta here!)but it also had that discrete factor where you can just imagine kids playing it in a basement and then 10 years later remember how awesome the game was and wanting to play it again. HEROSCAPE had that too.

There's a common thread here that may be uncomfortable for many in the hobby to look at...these are all games tied to "Hasborg". It makes me think that if Hasbro put a little more effort into marketing and support their more hobby-centric lines and designers like Rob Daviau, then we might see stuff on par with the Gamemaster games or even HEROQUEST on shelves.

Ken B. said...

From the interview with Rob it's obvious he has interests that lie along that path, and you can see he has talents at coming up with good, accessible AT games.

But of course, there is the constraint of Hasbro.

And can you blame them? Like I said in the blog post, all the square AH titles are available for a song (Betrayal was too before all the copies disappeared). Epic Duels last seen on K-Mart shelves with a clearance sticker for $5. From what I've read, The Queen's Gambit was actually a bomb sales-wise (this boggles my mind). Battleball tanked.

We can *say* that they should be putting more of these out, but their sales data makes it hard to argue.

The difference is a post-Heroscape outlook on things. The perfect combination CAN sell in the mass market, if consumers are aware.

I don't remember reading jack squat about Epic Duels in any of the gaming magazines, but I saw tons of previews for Heroscape and reviews in both InQuest and Scrye.

Ditto Betrayal...I don't think I ever saw an ad for that anywhere.

neonpeon said...

"With some TV ads, a couple of notices in those christmastime 'Board Games Make Great Gifts' syndicated articles, and strong word-of-mouth it could have been a huge breakthrough for this style of game."

You'd think they could replace two or three of the 500 Monopoly varieties with Avalon Hill games. Given equal marketing, would Chicago Cubs and Garfield Monopoly really outsell Betrayal? Maybe they would. :|

Michael Barnes said...

Advertising and proper marketing make a TREMENDOUS difference in terms of sales...even if someone happens to catch a HEROSCAPE ad on TV and then sees it on the shelf at Target they're not going to have that "Never heard of it- next" reaction that most mainstream consumers do. Surprise, folks...most folks don't give a shit about board games if they don't already know how to play them. So why would they touch something they've never even heard of?

Marketing is so pervasive in modern culture that it's critical for a product to be viable to be _visible_ and _accessible_ to the consumer. Otherwise, all you'll ever get is a small niche of buyers. It's just like with movies- witness RESCUE DAWN, the latest movie from Werner Herzog. It got some ad time, I even heard an ad for on the radio. And I'm thinking, "This is the guy that directed EVEN DWARVES STARTED SMALL and AGUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD." And as a result, more people went to go see it than likely went to see even Herzog's most highly regarded pictures. Otherwise, only the foreign film set would have shown up to see it. Why? Because marketing effectively prepares a consumer for a product. It generates an instant familiarity. I think that makes an insurmountable difference. And we see that with HEROSCAPE- it gets mainstream ad time, and as a result it sells well. BATTLEBALL could have done better if it had been actually advertised instead of simply left out to dry on the shelves next to games that people are actually familiar with.

It's way past time for game publishers (FFG, I'm looking at you) to get past the "if you build it, they will come" idea...because it just doesn't happen like that. If FFG did a commercial for TIDE OF IRON and it aired on the History Channel and maybe somewhere like Spike TV or G4 then they could likely double sales. Producing a hobby game is expensive, time-consuming, and a very risky proposition to begin with and it just doesn't make any sense to me to throw it out onto the dusty, seldom-visited shelves of hobby retailers where mainstream dollars seldom venture.

Another issue I think is that there is this particular "cult" exclusivity that hobby gaming enjoys such that any time a company like Hasbro (or Mattel since they just bought some of the Out of the Box titles)actually makes money or seeks to go more mainstream that they're somehow bad, wrong, or stupid. I can't help but think that this limits the ambitions of some publishers who ought to be setting their sights higher then getting a game distributed through hobby outlets. Sure, we've seen companies like Hasbro mismanage the Avalon Hill properties and I understand the distrust...but shouldn't there be something more?

EPIC DUELS is sort of an unusual had one of the biggest licenses out there (if not the biggest) and it already had huge nerd the people that bought it for friday night kicks wound up getting 4-5 other people to buy it too...but still, it just didn't sell well enough for Hasbro to support it any further, and like most licensed products it was discontinued after the "buzz" dissipated. If that's what that sound surround EPISODE II was. I think HEROSCAPE is very much a result of the small success that EPIC DUELS enjoyed and I think it's entirely appropriate that HEROSCAPE is very much the grown-up successor to that game.

BETRAYAL is even more unusual since it's a posthumous success without a lick of advertising or marketing...but word-of-mouth is a stronger marketing tool than just about anything out there, not to mention it being a fairly novel product.

Oh, about NEXUS OPS being the next EPIC DUELS...I agree that there's too many in circulation...but more significantly, it's just too esoteric for people to really latch onto like they did with EPIC DUELS and BETRAYAL.

Booder98 said...

G4/Spike/History Channel/Military Channel would be obvious places to spend your ad dollar, but do companies like FFG have that ad dollar, and more so that production dollar to risk?

I'd think that to do the ad, buy the time, and most importantly produce the extra 100,000 copies of _Tide of Iron II_ would expose the company to an entirely different level of financial risk than the familiar 'I know I can sell 20K of these to the usual suspects'. Hasborg blows this with a product, and some brand manager has egg on his face. FFG blows it, and they're trying to figure out how to keep the lights on.

Mr Skeletor said...

I'm going to break from the crowd and say none of the new AH titles are going to be the 'next Epic Duels'.
ED had a big thing going for it - the star wars license. A lot of colectors are into star wars, which is why its price can go high.
On the other hand, as much as Nexus Ops is a good game, would I pay $100 for it? Fuck no. I find it hard to believe people are paying anywhere near $100 for Betrayal. If it is selling for that price i'd be guessing it's delusional 'investors' simply selling it to each other.

I can see some FFG stuff being worth something one day, similar to how games workshop games are now expensive, for several reasons.

1) Licenses. The "Starcraft" "warcraft" and "doom" names extend well beyond this hobby. People playing Starcraft 3 in 10 years time may well look into that old starcraft game they once heard about.
2) Their games by modern standards are expensive. At $80 no one is buying several copies of world of warcraft to put away, thus you don't have the bullshit 'investors' market having a glut of them go for resale.
3) Expansions. FFG have a lot of expansions, and if ebay teaches you anything its that expansions end up worth more than the base game due to their lower print runs. If someone is going to spenmd big $$$ on getting an old game, he is enough of a fan to want the whole system, not just the base game.
4) Lots of stuff in the box. I don't care about what you think of their respective gameplay, you feel less ripped off spending $150 for a secondhand copy of World of Warcraft then Nexus Ops.

Chris said...

Dude, I would set my TIVO to record a commercial of Tide of Iron!

And then watch it repeatedly until my TIVO box gave up the ghost. The game is that good!

Ken B. said...

Chris, don't forget...that restraining order for Christian Petersen is still in effect.