Wednesday, August 17, 2016

On the Role of the FLGS Part 1: Why the FLGS is Struggling

This is one of those posts that I've written and deleted and then written and deleted over and over and over again. And it's not an easy one, because there are good points to be made by all sides.

And I'm probably going to wind up breaking it into multiple parts, because it's getting long and I'm nowhere near done saying what I want to say.

You see, a few months ago someone stirred up the "The FLGS is an outdated model that has no place in modern gaming" argument again. It was probably in response to Asmodee North America's restrictive internet sales policy, which was designed (in part) to try to protect the FLGS distribution model.

So what is the FLGS model? Why do people have such strong opinions about it?

First of all, let me state that I am not unbiased here. I am a proponent of the FLGS model - and I live in a region where I'm blessed with a number of them to choose from.

Let me also state that I am not an economist. I've done a ton of reading and research over the years, and I currently work for a distributor (one not in the gaming industry). And I'm also going to be speaking in generalities. There are always going to be stores and wholesalers who are exceptions to what I'm saying (Docking Bay 93, for example, is more-or-less built out of a warehouse).

Let's start at the very basic level, here:  FLGS stands for "Friendly Local Game Store."  This is a specialty retailer who sells hobby games. Sometimes it's a dedicated game store, sometimes it's a comic or hobby craft shop that happens to also sell games.

There are lots of things that differentiates a good game store from just another game store, and I'm going to go over that in a few posts.

In the pre-internet days, retail - for almost anything - worked like this:

The manufacturer would make the product and then sell it to a distributor.

Distributors would then mark the price up a bit and sell it to a retailer.

That retailer would then mark the price up a bit and sell it to customers.

Very few manufacturers went direct with retailers - and, when they did, it was often some sort of exclusive deal. Like (for example) Craftsman Tools, which were only available at Sears.

This model worked very well in the pre-computer days. Manufacturers liked it because they only had to keep track of a small handful of addresses to ship to and bill. Retailers liked it because they only needed to keep track of a small handful of distributors to get all of their stuff.  Distributors liked it because they made money.

Retailers didn't go direct because manufacturers didn't like the additional paperwork (and neither did many retailers).

Let's put the use of distributors more-or-less in perspective.  Would you rather:
  1. Go to one store for Asmodee products, another store for Hasbro products, another store for your Cool Mini or Not games, another for your Playdek games, another for your Czech Games Editions, and another for Pelgrane Press, and yet another for Cubicle 7?
  2. Go to one store to buy all of the above in one place, but pay a bit more per product?
In example 1, you're going to be spending more because of the gas and time (and/or shipping costs). Not only that, but you'll need to keep track of a dozen different stores and their invoicing and billing cycles and the like.

In example 2, you pay more per product, but you don't waste time driving around (or paying shipping) for every little thing. And - in business - time is money. Overall, the second example above does save money.

Example 2 is one way in which distributors work - and why they work. Small business owners already put up with a ton of paperwork and - sadly - not all of them are well-organized enough to actually make it work. And they need to keep track more carefully for tax purposes than you do when buying games to play.  Some distributors give discounts based on volume, too. So if you buy a ton of stuff from them, you pay less per item.

It's also representative of how retail works - and explains the appeal of "superstores" like Target and Wal*Mart. They're descendants of the old-fashioned General Store model.

Now fast forward to now.  Computers have made things easier, so it's less work for manufacturers to have more and more and more accounts. It's easier for retailers to also have more accounts at more places for a wider diversity of products.  Some manufacturers even sell to the general public, now.

This is not a bad thing. I want to make that very clear.

But suddenly the internet appeared.

Physical stores have overhead.  The costs of doing business. Rent. Taxes. Licenses and permits. Utilities. Maintaining their computers and software. Paying their staff. Black Diamond Games in California has a fantastic breakdown of where money spent in their store goes. I recommend their blog in general, too.

Internet retailers also have overhead, but several categories are much lower (and a few can be higher). The notably lower categories for internet retailers include the biggest bit of overhead that stores face - rent. Especially when calculated per square foot.

Internet retailers can run out of warehouses in the middle of nowhere. They don't rely on foot traffic to keep them afloat. Because of this, their rent per square foot is significantly lower than the rent paid by a game store. But internet retailers also tend to have a lot more square footage.

Internet retailers also buy in larger quantities than small storefronts do. They can afford to store it (they have the room), so why not? It means that they can buy from distributors at a greater discount. So where a brick-and-mortar guy pays $55 for the game, the internet guy pays $50 (or less).

The internet retailer is already making $5 more profit for the same game. If he's someone "known," he can expect to sell more games than the brick-and-mortar guy (with some exceptions), so the stuff turns over more quickly. Internet retailers also aren't limited in their audience.

I don't spend a lot of money at Canton Games in Baltimore, MD. Don't get me wrong - it's a fantastic game store, and I very much enjoyed visiting a few years ago. But I can't spend money there because I'm in Seattle, Washington. I'm three thousand miles away.

But I can buy from Funagain. I can buy from Amazon.

And both of them are regularly cheaper than my FLGS, even when I factor shipping into the picture.

Suddenly, I can pay my FLGS $100 for Hyperborea, or I can pay considerably less than that online.

That means that the FLGS is suddenly selling less product with higher overhead. Some game stores are offering discounts to regular customers or coming up with loyalty plans or otherwise working to reduce the impact of selling less product - but they still can't really reach the low prices you'll find online.

From a strictly monetary perspective, the FLGS model is obsolete. But then so is most retail. There's a reason that shopping malls are slowly dying off in many areas.

So why are manufacturers working to support the FLGS model? Why is it important? What's worthwhile about it?

I'll go over that next time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Character Generation Project: Burning Wheel Gold

It's been a while, so if you don't know what this "Character Generation Project" thing is, follow this link. Steph wrote about her usual process here. If you want to see past posts in the project, there is a link in the sidebar to the right.

The questions are in bold text, Steph's answers are in plain text. My comments are italicized.

It's worth noting that there are two versions of the character sheet - one version is for short campaigns of a dozen or fewer sessions, the other is for longer games. We used the shorter version (in part because it's fewer pages and is, therefore, less intimidating for people new to the system).

Which game is this for?
This is one of those games that I really like. On paper. It's a game I desperately want to try to play sometime, however. I'll write more about it further in.
IMG_0001
Note the empty "second" page, here?
Those blank sections are mostly used
for character advancement. Theoretically,
she should have 1 Fate and 1 Persona.

How long did it take you to generate the character?
2 hours

What was your character concept going into generation?
Cherie Littlebottom from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series  
When Steph told me this, I figured she was trying to make a character similar to Cheery Littlebottom. I hadn't realized that her goal was to exactly recreate Cheery.
A note on spelling, here: Sometimes it's Cheery, sometimes it's Cheri, and sometimes it's Cherie in Pratchett's writing. So the fact that Steph spells it one way and I spell it another is not an error on either of our parts. She was initially Cheery, but once she decided that presenting as female was not shameful, it changed. It may also bear noting that even Female Dwarves on the Disc are bearded, so the "Bearded" trait isn't even a little unusual for Dwarves.

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting?
The setting seemed pretty divorced from the system, except for the life paths.
 This is a game that is very much like Dungeons & Dragons in that respect - while it doesn't include a setting, it is built around a set of specific setting conceits about how (for example) Elves and Dwarves behave (and interact with one another).
IMG_0002
This is the second page of the sheet. It's where the
mechanical stuff appears - stats, skills, etc.
An interesting decision.

How much control did you feel like you had during character generation?  
A fair amount
Any time a character generation system is diceless, the player has more control over the outcome. This game has no random elements during character generation, and so Steph had complete control over her outcome - barring her wanting something crazy like having her Dwarf character take an Elf lifepath or something similar. As a GM, I might have allowed her to take the (human) City Guard path, had she asked - but she found paths that did what she needed without needing to ask for GM intervention.

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?
I felt like I had enough control to make the character happen.
This is both a strength and a weakness of lifepath-based character generation systems - sometimes, the path you want to take is supported by the system. Sometimes, you need to "jump the tracks" to get to the path you want. Burning Wheel has a way to "jump the tracks," but Steph didn't need to use it - her desired lifepaths flowed from one to the next seamlessly, and seem to have done what she needed them to do.


Do you like the character you ended up with?  
Yes

Do you think your character fits your concept?  
Yes

Do you feel like your character would be effective and/or useful in a game?  
Yes

Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically?  
The layout of the book and the helpful worksheet didn’t match up, which led to a lot of flipping back and forth. The traits and skills weren’t spelled out particularly well, and took more time than I expected to figure out how to spend my points appropriately.
The "helpful worksheet" is the character burning worksheet from burningwheel.org's wiki. Its steps six through eight are different from the steps six through eight in the book. They do the same thing, but in a different order.

Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected?  
Not really
But there weren't any huge obstacles, either, which is good. Especially as this is the crunchiest system we've done so far.


What changes would you have made to the character generation process?  
Having the worksheet line up with the sections of the book; having a clear explanation of what needs to be spent for each skill.
It doesn't help that the Burning Wheel guys use the most pretentious language throughout the book. It's - honestly - a bit off-putting.


Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?  .
No

What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for?  
It’s a more character-driven game, as I understand it, and I am always looking for something of that nature.
Beliefs and Goals and Instincts having actual mechanical effect goes a long way towards pushing this game in that "character-driven" direction. In theory, any game can be character-driven, but very few games actually push character mechanically.

Looking at Steph's Beliefs, I think that "Presenting as Female should not be shameful" is one belief. "I will become a great Watch officer" is another. If I were running this as a game, I might ask her to split this into two separate Beliefs.

How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?
This took longer than I expected, and seemed more complex that I had anticipated.
This is the "crunchiest" game we've made a character for so far. In general, I tend to prefer games with "lighter" character generation - but a bit of crunch never did harm to anyone.


Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign?  
Yes
Worth noting: If I were to run a Burning Wheel campaign, I'd force her to make a new character, because I want to see her character, not Terry Pratchett's character. Although she could probably change the relationships and make this work.

Does this character make you want to play this game?  
Yes
I don't know if I've said this before, but I consider this to be the most important question that Steph answers on the questionnaire. Character Generation should always be one more hook into a game - if CharGen turns you off of a game, then it doesn't matter how good the game is or how smooth it is in play, you'll have lost a player before you even start. And this game requires a fair amount of player buy-in right off the bat.

Do you have any other questions, comments, etc.?  
I think the life path mechanics is a great way to open up the character generation process, and the beliefs and instincts are a solid bit of character development in-game as well.

Have you given any thought to what game you'd like to do next?  
Probably Star Trek
By Star Trek, she means FASA's old eighties version of the game, not Last Unicorn's or Decipher's versions - or even Prime Directive - although we do own all of the above (and I may ask her to attempt to re-create the same character in one or more, just to see what happens).

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Gamethyme's Game of the Year 2015

So I'm not at GenCon this year, but I'm still using it to schedule my Game of the Year.

And for the year ending with this year's GenCon, my Game of the Year will probably not surprise anyone (especially you, Pete).

Starfighter.

This game is - hands-down, with no question - the single best new-to-me game I've played in the last year.

I first saw the game as rules. It's one of the games which I worked on.

Remember how a few years ago, I claimed that I could tell if I was going to like a game based on the rules?  That's not 100%. There are games that I need to play to figure out.

This is not one of them. I read the rules, and immediately wanted to play the game. If I'd had a card list, I'd have proxied up a deck right then - and I don't proxy cards, because it's too time-consuming and annoying to get it just right.

Starfighter is a two-player card game in which each player has a hand of starfighter cards that they will use to attempt to destroy their opponent's capital ship. Each card is double-sided, and each side of the card is divided in two.

On your turn, you will either play a card or pass. If you play a card and it has certain symbols on it, those abilities will trigger. When you play a card, it'll also cover half of the card beneath it. When you pass, you are done for the moment. Once both players have passed, a battle is resolved.

There are restrictions on where you can play your cards - each capital ship design has different column formations, and most cards can only be played at certain levels. If you don't have a card in hand that can be played where you want to play a card, you can play them face-down as wild cards.

Once both players have passed, the player who has initiative can shift the capital ships relative to one another, hoping for a more advantageous column vs column matchup. Then they decide to go left-to-right or right-to-left in resolution.

With each column, you start by counting visible starfighters. Each fighter is a potential point of damage dealt to the opposing capital ship. Then - in turn - damage is dealt. As soon as a card is destroyed (via damage dealt to all of the visible fighters on that card), it is removed. If this removal reveals a special ability symbol, that symbol triggers immediately.

Read that last sentence again, because it's the key to the entire game.

It means that mid-battle, cards will still be moving from column to column or flipping or rotating or otherwise triggering. Now, the amount of damage you're dealing is set at the start of a battle, but other cards in the column can soak up damage. So you might move ships out of a column you've already resolved into this one (to soak more). You might move ships in a column yet to be resolved.

It means that your initial card placement continues to matter, because you're setting up combos that will trigger later. And sometimes those combos will trigger multiple times.

After the battle, players draw cards based on draw symbols visible on their capital ship's board, and play continues.

It's a surprisingly tactical game. As in, "Do I want to cover this card up and risk triggering its special at a not-great time, or do I want to make sure I have coverage in the next column?"

If you pass too early, your opponent will overwhelm you - but if you pass too late, you won't have very many cards in hand for the next round.

There isn't a lot of art on the cards - there is one image for the fighters themselves, and a bunch of symbols. The art is the planets that appear in the background of some of the cards.

I couldn't stop playing this game last year. Remember how I don't play two-player games that often? I played this one a lot. And, even though I knew I wasn't going to get to play it very often, I still brought it into the store almost every week for Game Night.

This is the best two-player game I've played since Dungeon Twister, and you all know how much I love that one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hugo Spreadsheet

I had a couple of e-mail requests for a copy after this morning's post, so here is a link to the Excel spreadsheet I used to determine my Hugo votes.

My ratings have been deleted, because I'm not choosing to share all of my votes with you.

To use this, just fill in values for "good" and "fun."  I used the "Weighted Good" for my final outcome (it makes Good three times as important as Fun when voting). And I'm not a mathematician, so I'm not even sure "weighted" is the proper term for what I did.

Also: Fun doesn't necessarily mean "light-hearted or entertaining."  "Fun" for me was "engaging/kept me reading." Something that is Good +10, Fun -10 would still finish ahead of No Award on my ballot, with a final score of 11.49 (with 11.53 being the cutoff, as noted in this morning's post).

I'll be tweaking and updating and changing this spreadsheet over time - I'm not sure that 1/3 is the right balance, here. But this link will always have the "latest" version of the spreadsheet.

Hugo Awards: Done Voting

I read as much as I could. And then I watched as much as I could. And there are only a few days left for Hugo votes, so I locked my votes in.

I'm not going to go too deeply into my voting, but I will go briefly over why I voted as I did:

I've mentioned before that too many people confuse Good with Fun, and think that fun things are deserving of awards, when they aren't. And that is sorta the root of the Puppy issue from a few years ago. Books that they liked weren't winning awards.

The Hugos are the only major award that is fan-chosen, and it's a self-selecting group of fans: People who are willing and able to spend money to vote on an award.

They didn't break any rules. Not any written rules, at any rate. But they hijacked the system last year nonetheless. And this year, they hijacked it again - only worse, because last year they learned that dominating the ballot won't necessarily win them any awards, so they filled the ballot with complete crap.

I did not read the obvious joke nominees (although I did try in at least one case). I did not read the hit pieces.

I read as much as I could of the others. I looked at the art nominees.

And then I grabbed an excel spreadsheet and rated everything based on a +10 to -10 scale of "Good" and "Fun." I plotted that on a graph, and figured out where my "No Award" point was - it's equivalent to 0 Good, 0 Fun. Anything with a score worse than that scored below No Award.

I also weighted the spreadsheet in favor of Good.  So a Good 5, Fun 0 work will have a better score than a Good 0, Fun 5 work.

Remember that this is zero average. Mediocre scores for good and fun are the +2 / -2 range. 3-5 is good, 6+ is great.  -3 to -5 is bad. -6 and less is awful.

Then I fed it to a formula to determine the distance from 10,10, as if it were a triangle and I was calculating the hypotenuse. So low numbers were good, high numbers bad.

0, 0 in my spreadsheet, BTW, comes to a final score of  11.53, so anything above that level was out.

I'm going to discuss two categories, tell you how I voted, and discuss each nominee in that category. I'm going to discuss Best Novel and Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form.

And yes, I know. I crazy-overthought this.

In the Novel category, my vote looks like this:

The Fifth Season: Good 7, Fun 3 (Final score: 5.02)
I liked this book. It was really good. But the changing POV - even though it made sense by the end - drove me up a tree. Second-person writing is also a rough one for me, even when handled well. These made it difficult for me to get into and through the book, even though it was very good.

Ancillary Mercy: Good 3, Fun 4 (Final score: 7.80)
My biggest concern with this one is simple: Does it stand on its own? I've read the earlier two books in the series (and I very much liked them), but this didn't feel like a standalone novel. Not only that, but felt like the second half of a book more than it felt like the third book in the trilogy. This pushed its "Good" score down a bit for me. I will say that book one, Ancillary Justice, is very much worth reading. If you like it, move on to books 2 and 3. If you don't ... well ... then don't.

Seveneves: Good 5, Fun -2 (Final score: 8.52)
Stephenson is always a slog for me. He's one of those authors who feels like he's using more words than he needs to make his point, sometimes. His books are nearly always good, but I often really really struggle to get through them.  Seveneves was no exception. In fact, I'm not completely through this one as of this writing. His Good score may drop a bit, but I suspect his Fun will be pretty stable. I'm told by a couple of friends that it stumbles in the last third or so of the book. Worth noting: This was a Puppy nominee. Widely believed to be one of their "human shield" nominees who were there to make straight anti-Puppy voters feel bad for voting down actual quality work.

Aeronaut's Windlass: Good -3, Fun 4 (Final score: 13.45)
I really enjoyed this book, but it was not good. Not at all. It read like many of the Star Trek novels I have sitting on my shelf. Not because the characters fit the Star Trek character roles, but because it felt like he was trying to hit specific beats. It's like someone challenged Butcher to write a steampunk novel, and he was working his way through a steampunk checklist. And he didn't bring anything new to the genre in the process.  Don't get me wrong: I'm going to buy the sequels to this, too. At least the first couple of them. But this is The Expendables. This is The Fast and the Furious. Rollicking fun summertime fare, but not something that should win awards. This is below No Award on my ballot.

Uprooted: Fun -3, Good -7 (Final score: 15.47)
I couldn't. I just ... this book was really not for me. I hated every page of it that I read, and I gave up pretty early. I'm not a fan of Novik's writing - I got through the first two Tremeraire books before giving up midway through the third - and this book utterly failed to change my mind about her talent. She has potential to be a fantastic writer, I just haven't liked anything she has ever written.

In the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category, my vote looks like this:

Mad Max: Fury Road: Good 5, Fun 6 (Final score: 5.50).
I loved this movie. It wasn't a transcendent experience, and it was a bit of an odd duck (post-Apocalyptic films haven't been A Thing for a while, now). But it was well-directed, well-acted, and a ton of fun. Some of the most fun I've had watching a movie in a while.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Good 2, Fun 9 (final score: 8.02)
It was a little too derivative of the originals for me, and the whole "Luke is missing!" mystery at the core of it was ... forced. And not well, either. Having Artoo hold the key to the whole thing was also a bit of an almost-too-literal deus ex machina. But it was fun.

The Martian Good 6, Fun -3 (final score: 8.47)
It was good. Really good. Fantastic, even. But it was also dull. Through most of the film, nothing happened. It's done well enough to (mostly) distract you from that realization, but man. I could just watch Survivorman on TV and get much of the same degree of escapism. Because really, this really was just Survivorman on Mars.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Good 0, Fun 4 (Final score: 8.71)
I think I'm the only one I know who was less-than-impressed with this one. The effects were good, the story was cliche-ridden. The worst of the Marvel movies that I've seen (I didn't see the second Thor movie). Nowhere near the promise shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, either. It was mediocre but fun - and that fun keeps it above No Award on my ballot.

I haven't seen Ex Machina, so I don't know how good it is or isn't. So I'm just leaving it off of my ballot. There also aren't any films in the category which scored below No Award, so I'm leaving No Award off of my ballot, as well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Learned Something New This Weekend

I know that parts of my gaming experience are unique. Everyone's experiences are somewhat unique, if we're getting pedantic (and I'm known for my pedantry at times).

You know how I talk occasionally about publisher customer service?  Apparently I have a lot more experience with it than most folks.

This week, I acquired Kaosball. It's a fun game, so far, and I have Thoughts that will share here at some point. But I'm thinking about getting back into painting miniatures.

The game arrived on Monday, and it hit the table on Wednesday. I spent Tuesday reading and re-reading the rules and the FAQ and generally just getting ready to play on Wednesday.

We played a quick three-player game on Wednesday. Made a couple of rules mistakes - nothing big. Just little stuff. But we got through it and had a good time.

On Saturday, I pulled it out and started examining the figures to see what kind of task I was in for with the painting, and then I noticed that one of my Ringers was headless.  He wasn't a ringer that'd come out on Wednesday, and I hadn't even looked at the figures prior to that.

So I contacted CMoN customer care, and I assume they'll take good care of me. Because game publishers do that. It's a small industry and a small hobby and so negative word-of-mouth is especially damaging.

I mentioned it to a friend, and his comment was, "Again, Eric? It seems like almost every game you buy has an issue! I have more than 1500 games, and I've never needed to contact the publisher for support!"

Me? I apparently have The Luck. I have a number of games with damaged pieces. If the damage doesn't affect the gameplay, I'll often let it lie. But if it's missing pieces or something that impacts gameplay is damaged, I'll go to customer service.

How frequent is this an issue for me?

Here's what I can think of off the top of my head (and every time I start on this list, I think of another one):

1) Archipelago was missing one of its punch boards. I discovered this when I didn't appear to have a start tile. Ludically got one to me surprisingly quickly.
2) Room 25 was missing half of its countdown/number line/turn order tracker. In fact, I had duplicates of half of it. Matagot was very fast at sending the missing punchboard to me.
3) My copy of Star Trek: Attack Wing had an Enterprise with a malformed peg for sitting on the base. WizKids put me through a brief song-and-dance of sending unclear photos to demonstrate the issue, but they sent me the replacement ship.
4) My copy of Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game was missing a card. One card out of six hundred. One of the "rare" cards for one of the characters. Had I not been sleeving them, I would never have discovered this card missing. Because I was one card short. Upper Deck sent me a replacement without a hassle.
5) My copy of Mutant Chronicles was missing a promo piece. I acquired the game at GenCon, and everyone who got it there was supposed to get a promo. Fantasy Flight sent the promo with zero hassle.
6) There was a known issue with some older copies of Cutthroat Caverns or one of its expansions - I honestly don't recall which. Somewhere in one of the print runs, the cards changed size, so the newer expansions weren't as compatible with one another as they should have been. But Smirk & Dagger made good on replacements, including a replacement box insert. When mine (weirdly) still didn't fit right, they sent me a second box insert. Curt Covert is good people.

These, by the way are just off the top of my head. I could probably spend some time in my collection and point out, "And this was missing its rulebook. And this was missing ..."

I have RPG books that are misprinted - one book is missing pages, one book has an upside-down cover, one book has repeated pages ...

In all cases, the publisher took care of me and gave me a replacement. All cases.

I even had a game that I purchased second-hand. It was missing pieces, and I contacted the publisher asking if there was a way I could buy them. I told him up front that I had purchased second-hand. He still sent them for free. And no, it wasn't a publisher I had worked with before. It wasn't someone I knew.

I have never had a publisher fail to take care of me when something I'd purchased was damaged or defective. I know there are laws in place to protect consumers from defective goods, but I have never gotten the impression that these were "forced" customer service issues. One publisher threw in a bunch of promos with their replacement shipment, for example. One RPG publisher sent me PDF codes for supplements in the e-mail when they were waiting for a fresh printing of my mis-printed book (because they had run out).

This is an industry where the people who are in the industry full time want to make it right.

Just one more thing to love about the hobby, I guess.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Box Inserts

This week, I have a new-found appreciation for the change wrought by a good box insert.

I mean ... I've known that a good insert makes a huge difference, but it was really driven home by several events over the last few weeks:

  1. I decided to try out the Broken Token inserts, including their 7 Wonders insert. I have all of the expansions and promos for this game and my cards are sleeved, and which means that the base game's insert is filled with fail. I can't fit the leaders and all of the Wonders and the Babel cards and tiles in there.
  2. I acquired Food Chain Magnate, which includes 300+ cards and no insert. Looking through my collection, I have a few games in this category, too.  Nations and Megacivilization both spring immediately to mind.  Having that many cards and no insert (or tuckboxes for the cards) is - honestly - unforgivable.

Here's what you need to know about me and handicrafts:

I'm clumsy and uncoordinated.  That's putting it mildly.  I can't even count the number of miniatures I have glued myself to while assembling them. The most notable self-gluing came while when I was 19, living in a dorm, and assembling a Locust battlemech, where I managed to glue both hands to the figure and my phone, and I managed to glue the phone to my ear at the same time.

So I looked at the Broken Token's roster, first, looking for a simple kit to start with. I settled on their box insert for Legendary Encounters, because I have Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game (and I quite like it, for reasons I can't fully articulate - but that's another discussion for another time), and I'm dissatisfied with the "stock" insert (because I sleeve cards that get shuffled/used a lot). I ordered the insert and a bit of Gorilla Glue.  It took me about ten minutes to get the box together.

The instructions were clear, and I barely needed to use any glue on it (and I didn't glue myself to the box).  I can do this, I thought.  So I ordered the previously-mentioned insert for 7 Wonders.

It's several degrees of difficulty higher than the other one. It took me about an hour (not including time for the glue to dry) to get this one together. But it works. It holds all the bits - all of them. Sleeved cards, extra Wonders, Leaders, City Cards, and all. In the base game's box, which is now a bit sturdier than before.

Sadly, neither The Broken Token nor Go7Gaming make inserts for Nations or Megacivilization or Food Chain Magnate. So I did some digging and found several sites of DIYers who were doing game inserts out of foamcore. The Esoteric Order of Gamers even has some walkthrough posts with video showing how to use foamcore to make inserts.

I can do that, I thought. So I had my wife pick up a metal yardstick and some glue, and I grabbed a self-healing cut mat and my trusty X-Acto knife and then I ... proceeded to make a hash of it. The yardstick didn't have any kind of cork or non-slick backing. My X-Acto knife kept cutting at an angle because I wobbled. So I had curved and angle-cut foamcore, when I wanted crisp edges and straight lines. But - and this is the important part - I enjoyed the work. So, even though nothing usable came out of it, it was fun. It was something I want to do again.  Only with better tools. And it's the kind of thing where the more I do, the better I'll get.  You know: Practice Makes Better.

I don't do things half-way. It's just not me.  So I ordered this kit. I did my research, and it's highly-rated and should do what I need it to do. Now I just need to wait for it to arrive so I can ... waste a ton of foamcore trying to get things right.

I don't expect to turn out professional-quality inserts in No Time At All, but with a bit of practice and some time, I'm pretty sure I can get some pretty solid results in a reasonably short amount of time.

Provided I don't glue myself to the box.