GAMA Trade Show 2011 Report

The Game Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA) puts on a trade show once a year in Las Vegas. Unlike events like Essen and Gencon it’s only open to people in the business – retailers, publishers, distributors and some designers. This is my second visit to GAMA so here is my perspective on the event from someone who is relatively new to the retailing business.

I flew down with Gord, who has attended almost every GAMA show since it started. Having owned the Sentry Box for over 30 years he is pretty well known by a lot of the other retailers and the older publishers. We arrived on the Sunday afternoon, with the show registration taking place on the Monday night and the show proper not starting until the Tuesday morning. That gave us plenty of time to chill out and have a bit of a wander around Vegas, as well as some time sunbathing by the pool. It’s hard work but somebody has to do it.

The show itself is over the course of 4 days, from Tuesday to Friday, and consists of various seminars, lunches, awards, and a game night. The first year I went, and seemingly in previous years, the majority of the seminars were from other retailers and were about various topics that are of interest to retailers such as marketing, organised play, accounting, etc. This year was slightly different in that a lot of the publishers ran seminars that mostly amounted to giving out information on upcoming products and/or their organised play programmes. The retailer seminars obviously won’t really be of interest to most of you out there but if you are evr thinking of setting up a business I’d recommend going to GAMA and checking them out, particularly those by Dave Wallace.

The publisher seminars may be of more interest though, so I’ll give brief highlights of the ones I went to:

Cryptozoic:

The Cryptozoic team may well be fairly new as a company but they have a lot of experienced people who have worked for other game and trading card companies. They talked about their Organized Play system and the various events they have going on for the World of Warcraft TCG and then mentioned some of the other games they are going to be coming out with, such as Bazinga, a Big Bang Theory Board Game, and a Walking Dead Card Game, amongst other things. They also gave out a few Loot Cards as prizes, so if anyone wants to make me an offer on the Mottled Drake Loot Card I won just let me know 🙂

Sandstorm Publishing:

Sandstorm Publishing actually publish games from a number of other companies, allowing those companies to focus on the design and creative process while Sandstorm take care of the business side of things. They currently publish products for the following companies: Wildfire (Cthulhutech), Posthuman (Eclipse Phase), Closet Nerd (Strategy Games such as Globalization), Glofly Games (Lighter Games such as Hecho), Giant Treehouse (Children’s activity games), and Wild Thing (card games such as Poo). The seminar I went to focused on the board and card games rather than the roleplaying. Closet Nerd have a new card game coming out called ‘Kittens in a Blender’. I think the title speaks for itself. Glofly have a card game called Impossible Machine, a party word game called Nyms, and a word tile puzzle game called Alphabet Soup. Giant Treehouse have a whole host of indoor/outdoor kids activities such as Dizzy Darts and Hello Kitty Bowling. Wild Thing have Nuts!, which is the follow up game to Poo.

Wizkids:

I went to the Wizkids seminar that focused on board games again, rather than Heroclix. They were showing off the new Star Trek Expeditions board game, and talking about upcoming releases such as a collectible Smurfs game, and Iron Maiden Board Game (???), a Star Trek game called Fleet Captains (across all Star Trek licenses except the new movie), a dice building game called Quarriors, a new non-collectible Mage Knight board game by Vlaada Chvatil, and a semi co-op Lord of the Rings game where you each play one of the Nazgul.

Wizards of the Coast:

Wizards had one seminar for Magic and one for D&D and I went to both. For Magic they talked about the new multi-player release that will be coming up, called Commander (basically a renaming of the old EDH format). They will be releasing specific Commander decks which for the first time ever in a non-set product will contain new cards, as well as some oversized foil legends. There will also be foil oversized promo cards at the launch party. There will be 5 different decks available. Wizards will be having an integrated paper and digital launch for Gather Your Allies, a new video game follow up to Duel of the Planeswalkers. September 10th will be a new event called Magic Celebration. From the Vault Legends will include a preview Legend from the new set Innistrad, which will be released on September 30th.

For D&D they announced a new organized play programme called Lair Assault. This is meant to be very challenging program for more advanced players, as opposed to the Encounters program that is more for new players. The Lair Assults will have bi-monthly new content and are meant to be played again and again until solved. Players will need every advantage they can get. They are designed to last around 3-4 hours and invlolve a lot more tactical play. The next Encounters season will be Dark Legacy of Evard, running from May 11th to August 3rd and will be tied to the Heroes of Shadow book. The Lost Crown of Neverwinter starts with Worldwide D&D Day in August and is linked to the next Encounters season, running from August 10th to November 9th. There will be lots of products tied in, including Icewind Dale tiles, a new video game release, the Legend of Drizzt Board Game, novels and comics. For board games there will be two more games this year, namely Conquest of Nerath in June, and then the Legend of Drizzt game in the Fall. Legend of Drizzt will be in the same vein as Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, whereas Conquest of Nerath will be more of a Risk-type war style game for 2-4 players.

People were also asking about the D&D miniatures and what will be happening with them. For now the sculpts are just going to be used in board games, and one collector’s set per year (the next one is Dragons). There may well be more uses for the miniatures in the future though.

AEG:

The AEG seminar was actually the most interesting as the owner, John Zinser, talked at length about the history of AEG, right the way up to the present day, and talked about their new philosophy on releases. Specifically, they will only be releasing a couple of games per year, making sure they focus on the games they really like and know will be successful, rather than putting out a whole load of games and hoping some are good enough to do well. As both a retailer and a gamer I certainly applaud this philosophy. In terms of upcoming releases they discussed Nightfall, their new deck building card game, and we have a store demo copy if anyone is interested in trying it. They also talked about War of Honor, a Legend of the Five Rings CCG Board Game. Essentially it is a multiplayer version of the card game and most of the cards in the game are interchangeable with the CCG. For the actual card game they talked about the new Emperor’s Edition which is the first premium edition of the game and will be their best supported product yet. They also mentioned a new game called Ninja which is a hidden information team game where you are either a nija or one of the guards at the palace trying to stop the ninjas from assassinating people. Finally, there is an Emerald edition book coming out for the latest incarnation of the L5R roleplaying game.

There were several other seminars but since they clashed with each other those were only ones I was able to get to.

Other than the seminars there are two days of the trade hall being open, where all the publishers there had booths and got to demo and talk about their products. I took a bunch of photos in the trade hall and if you’d like to see them just go to our Facebook page.

Some highlights from the Trade Hall include:

Trying the Dark Age miniature skirmish game
Getting a quick demo of a product called Dungeon Deck, which is a deck of cards that can be used to generate roleplaying adventure ideas very quickly. Ideal for beginners or for off the cuff games with no preparation.
Checking out games from new publishers, such as Square Shooters, a poker dice game; Donkey, a fun party game; Super Dungeon Explore, basically like a Gauntlet Board Game; Fortune & Glory, a cool looking Indiana Jones style game from Flying Frog; Orbit: Rocket Race 5000, a card-laying game, and the new version of the Icehouse game from Looney Labs.
Seeing some cool fantasy art playmats from ccgstuff.com
and lots more…

On the Tuesday Night there is a sponsored GAMA Dinner, and this includes the Power Retailer Awards. There are awards for Outstanding Store, Outstanding Store Design, Outstanding Marketing and Outstanding Organized Play. It’s only the second year of these awards and it seems that many stores are not really aware of them or how they work, as the nominee lists seemed to contain the same four stores for all awards, with one or two extras or exceptions. If anyone feels like nominating the Sentry Box for next year just let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.

On Wednesday night there is a game night where all the publishers have tables and demo their games throughout the evening. I sat in on a couple of games of The Resistance with Travis from Indie Boards & Cards, followed by a game of Train of Thought from Tasty Minstrel Games, then a game of Slapshot, which is going to be re-released soon by Columbia Games, and finally a game of Donkey. I was hoping to get in a game of Battleship Galaxies, Star Trek Expeditions and Eminent Domain but for one reason or another it didn’t happen. I did have a good chat with Mike from Tasty Minstrel Games though and he’s setting up something so that Canadian retailers can take part in the promotional deal for Eminent Domain when it comes out.

On the Thursday night there is a Poker tournament sponsored by one of the distributors but since there was a $50 entry fee and I’m not very good at poker I decided to sit that one out.

So, all in all, it was an interesting show. From a retailer perspective I’m not convinced that the publisher seminars were all that useful as they mostly just gave us information that we already new or that is on their website. It also seemed like it would be advantageous for the smaller publishers to have a separate game night just for them. On the Wednesday the vast majority of retailers were playtesting stuff from the bigger publishers such as Mayfair, Wizkids and Wizrads of the Coast, and the little guys weren’t getting a lot of love. Other than that it’s always good for networking, meeting other retailers, and enjoying the Vegas sunshine. Just make sure you aren’t sharing a room with Gord if he’s ill as I got very little sleep over the week due to his horrendous snoring every night!!!

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