Board Games and Beignets: Quick Look at Grifters

After two days of navigating the paths and queues of Pandora, my brain needed a new challenge. A recent Thursday was Day Two of a short trip to The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.  I skipped Gumbo Game Night to travel to Orlando for my son’s first lacrosse tourney of the summer, but after two days of misty weather, hot rain and larger than normal crowds — likely due to the recent opening of the Avatar-themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom — I was ready for some mental stimulation.

I traveled again back to Cool Stuff Inc’s location right near the Resort. It’s about a twenty minute drive over (but watch out for toll roads on the quickest route). Luckily for me, Thursday is board game night at the store. After perusing some of the daily specials, I wandered over to the open table gaming area.

I was in luck! On the left side of the room, just past a finely stocked game share library, I spotted a table of smiling gamers surrounding a game I knew from my research for The Next Purchase. A four person table playing Quebec, a game I have long been wanting to try, was just wrapping up. As the game began to reach its conclusion, I introduced myself and talked to the group about their play experience.

What I heard was all positive, but there was even more fortuitous events in store. The owner of Quebec, a friendly fellow named “Dave”, had also brought a copy of The Grifters, a card game I own but have not yet played. The cherry on the sundae? Turns out that Dave is Dave Fulton, the co-designer of the game! What better way to learn how to play then to have the designer teach you?

Dave has a lot of experience in teaching games and running a game group, based on our conversation. He recently moved to the Orlando area from Chicago, where he kept a play group going to bring games to the community and as a ready source for playtesting his designs. Now, he is trying to bring a regular game night to the Orange Blossom Trail Cool Stuff Inc store on Thursdays, so if you get a chance, swing on by and say hello.

While this is not a full review, these are my initial thoughts after playing a four person game that night, and doing some post-game research on the mechanics and theme. Does your game group like take that games, but want something with a little more heft than the usual fare? If so, spice up your game night with Grifters!

THE GAMEPLAY

Grifters, a 2015 release published in America by Indie Boards & Cards and Jacksmack Games, is a take-that, deck builder with a twist designed by Dave Fulton and Jacob Tlapek. . The game has an interesting backstory. Dave told me it was originally on Kickstarter, but Travis from IB&C liked the game so much that he decided to publish it (again with Kickstarter backers’ help if I recall correctly), albeit with the Coup Dystopian universe as the background.

Players are competing “powerful crime bosses” who use six specialists working for them to recruit more members for their organization and pull off criminal scenarios. Our group had a lot of fun with the thematic cards, challenging and goading each other about the different crimes our teams of specialists were “committing”.

Cards are played as sets and individual cards on one of three “nights” on the player’s board. Cards slide down each night after each turn until pushed out onto the reserve area. Once they reach that area, they return to the player’s hand. Voila! No shuffling just like another IB&C release from 2016, Aeon’s End, although the format for the replenishing of cards is radically different from that game.

The capers themselves scale in difficulty as the players complete them, requiring bigger and tougher combos. The players are tasked with putting together sets and cards, challenging each player to develop their deck, but successfully pulling the puppet strings will provide the crime boss with special bonuses. Many of the rewards have strictly take that elements, designed to steal cards or coins from other players.

As expected, the crime boss with the most money at the end of the game wins. The end game conditions are triggered when there are no more coins, specialist cards, and/or crime jobs available.

WHY SHOULD YOU PLAY?

Readers of this blog know that I like games with different or interesting themes (New Bedford, The Networks, etc.) There are plenty of games out there with themes that feature the Cthulu mythos or zombies or nobles in the Mediterranean, even though I enjoy those games, too.  Crime bosses convincing their underlings to perform their dirty work for them to become the most powerful boss is a new and interesting theme.

The first thing that caught my eye during our game play was how the game mechanics here fit the theme. In essence, we were the hand that pulls the string in the syndicate, and in this case, Grifters feels thematic. The different crimes all lead to different benefits (or consequences for the other players). The different types of specialists also had points of action that fit with you would expect.

The second thing that I enjoyed was how tight the experience was. Dave the designer said one point would likely separate first and second place, and he was right. The scoring is really close throughout the game, with lots of trades in coins, so you never really feel out of the game.

This is a small box game, so there are not a lot of bits to get excited about. But, the card art is outstanding, and the rest of the components are serviceable for the tasks. The box is small and easily portable, and as Dave said to us, the game play can be taught in five minutes or less. Sure, the strategies that will be needed to be successful will take more than five minutes reflection, but that just means that

THE DOWNSIDE.

One play is not enough for me to see all of the foibles in the game.  One of the other Krewe members has some experience with Grifters, but Carlos calls it fun but forgettable. It is a solid game and a good value for the price.  However, some will question whether the mechanics and game play separate it from similar games. Is the cool artwork and crime theme enough to get it back to the table after an initial play or two?

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I love player interaction, especially in a game like this where it does not feel like you are picking on anybody in particular (although whoever was the leader in coins usually took the brunt of the negative actions.) The short instruction time and quick play scream “filler”, but in my eyes, Grifters is more of a filler plus. It’s a good game to start or end the night, but be forewarned, there is a lot of take that in this game, so you better have the right game group assembled.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

@boardgamegumbo

 8 Things a Gamer Wants From a Friendly Local Game Store on International Tabletop Day 2018

Since March 30, 2013, board gamers from around the world have celebrated their hobby and tried to bring new gamers into the fold on International Tabletop Day, hosted by Geek & Sundry.

Each year, there seems to be more and more buzz surrounding the day, as more and more game stores get involved and our hobby grows. But International Tabletop Day is still in his toddler stage, and I think after five either iterations, it is time to evaluate how we as gamers can make the experience better for the hobby in general.

What are we gamers looking for at International Tabletop Day (“ITTD”)? What can our friendly local game stores learn from us, the consumers?

Here’s a list of eight things I think game stores should do in 2018 to make ITTD a better day for all:

img_1159Number One. Use Social Media and free media to spread the word.

If you are a gamer, chances are you are on some kind of social media. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Slack. Google +. Websites like Reddit and Board Game Geek. If your game store did not advertise for free in 2017 on any or all of those platforms, you are doing yourself and your game store a disservice.

Gamers spend hours during their lunch hour or while waiting for the next elevator to find out the next big event. If a board gamer knows that your store is having an event, and that gamer thinks there is even a chance that someone will play Blood Rage or Anachrony with him or her, then that gamer will make every effort to get to your store. And maybe bring friends!

Get a calendar out; start backdating. About two months before, post a brief message saying “ITTD at — SAVE THE DATE”. Then a month before, start teasing out the events (see below). And the week of the event, make sure you are tweeting, Facebook posting, Instagramming and posting all about your event and what makes it special.

Number Two. Start a game night before ITTD happens.

This is a no-brainer. If your store does not already have a once or twice weekly game night dedicated just to board gamers, then start one before International Table Top Day happens. That seems counter intuitive, right? Most store would probably think to use ITTD as a jump off point to a regular game night. The opposite is true.

Hosting a regular game night in the weeks leading up to the day means you have a ready made audience who can build up some excitement about your upcoming event. Don’t wait until after, when the fire may burn down a bit (or more likely, they will just join a friend’s game group.) Put up some flyers, post it on

Number Three. Leverage your current assets.

Does your game store already have a game night? Then you have evangelists already on board! Three months before, spring for some snacks and drinks and have a 30 minute brainstorming session with your regulars. What games do they want to play? What events do they want to run for you? Do they want special hours, or a food special, or a game to be on sale that they can help teach? Maybe its a newcomer friendly game like Ticket to Ride or New York 1901? Or maybe they want at least a section of your store blocked out for some heavy cardboard? Find out!

Your regulars come to your game store because they like your space, and they need more people to come because that ensures you stay open. Plus, they have more people to PLAY THEIR GAMES. Utilize the volunteer sales staff you already have in place to craft the best experience for all.

Number Four: Use old media to drum up some interest.

Board games are hot topics in newspapers and on TV. Old line media loves anything nostalgic or anything that is out of the ordinary. Let’s face it, 90% of your non-gaming acquaintances think “Monopoly” and “Candyland” when they about board games.

A quick email or tweet to the local news desk might entice some young reporter (who maybe plays games or has an interest in the hobby) to come out and do a pre-ITTD story. The worst that the media can do is say no, right? But the best thing could be your own feature article.

Number Five: Take Pictures of the games!

I cannot believe I have to say this, but unfortunately I do. Get your iPhone / Android device out and snap some pictures! If you are uncomfortable putting people in your pictures for advertising sake, then snap close ups of meeples and dragons and actual boards and cards. Or, have a standard form (you can download free media use forms all over the internet) and have people sign — in exchange, they get a free promo card to their favorite game! Or they get their name in a drawing for a free game or expansion!

Giving out free promos or snacks or chance to win a game is the least you can do to have smiling happy people plastered all over your website, Twitter feed, and Facebook mentions.

If you don’t have time to take the photos yourself, then just ask people to post to Twitter / Facebook / Instagram and tag your store. Make it a game. Give people bingo cards with spots like (a) take a picture of people laughing while playing (b) tag the store and © get someone to like that photo. The list is endless but if someone gets BINGO (or whatever game you use), give them a free drink or a promo or a chance to win a prize. Gamers love prizes almost as much as they like playing games!

Number Six: Not too few, not too many, but just right.

What’s International Tabletop Day without fun events? Well, from a consumer side of things, I would rather see fewer than greater. For most people, the day is really about playing as many games as possible while still having time to hydrate and use the restroom…and socialize with our friends, too.

So don’t overschedule, but don’t under schedule, either. Again, use your local talent and knowledge. Get some volunteers to be willing to demo family friendly / new gamer friendly games. (If your game store is not a part of the Envoy Herald program, what are you waiting for? Join now and get free help to demo games EVERY WEEKEND and EVERY GAME NIGHT.)

Get some of your diehards to run bigger games that day, too, but ask them to leave one or two spots open for newcomers. Make sure that the schedule is posted prominently on your website and Facebook pages and somewhere on your wall. Maybe end up with a big event, like a game show or big group game such as Two Rooms and a Boom.

Number Seven: You got customers.

We know that the reason (most likely) that you opened this game store was not just to provide a friendly atmosphere for gamers and/or families to play board game nights on week nights and all weekend. We get it, there are bills to be paid. So, let us help you!

Have some kind of sale for that day, something that would entice both the new gamers and the experienced hands alike.

You will most likely have a handful or even a few dozen newcomers to the hobby strolling in, just curious to see what the whole “board game craze” is all about it. Have a display of games that are easy for them to get into, but mix it up between old favorites like Carcassone and Ticket to Ride to things we know by heart but they have probably never heard of: King of Tokyo, Codenames, Kingdomino, Sheriff of Nottingham, Imhotep, Karuba, Pandemic, and Camel Up. Give them a reason to buy those games with some kind of special, like Buy One, Get One Half Off. Sure, we know that some of the “friends” will split up the cost of the games, but you may end the day with a lot of two games sold instead of none transactions.

For the experienced gamers, give them a coupon for 20% any game in the store if they teach a game to a newcomer. Or have a pre-order sale — give them a discount if they order from you that day only if they order from you instead of Amazon. Again, it is a sale for product you don’t even have in the store, so you would have missed out on it anyway.

Plus, look around your store. There must be a really big ticket item (maybe the Takenoko special edition?) that has been sitting on your shelf way too long. Pick out five or ten of them, and make a big display out of them with a sales price TODAY ONLY.

Number Eight: Gonna Dress You Up In My Knowledge

Ever walk around World Market’s wine section? There’s always stickers and index cards and posters and arrows pointing out which wines made this Best Wine List or scored This Many Points on Wine Snob’s 2017 List. Now’s your chance to help spread some knowledge today, and it just might get you a sale or two.

Make a display with all of the SdJ winners that you stock in your store, and list them out by year and with the awards they won. Or do the same for BGG and The Dice Tower awards. You can probably find one of your regulars who would be willing to write up a little index card about the game and why it is awesome or why they think it won that year.

For some of your heaviest games, don’t be afraid to post the Heavy Scale from Board Game Geek right on the box or on the shelf. For some gamers, that will actually make the game more attractive!

If you know of a podcast or board game media creator that has talked up a product, mention it right there! If you are stocking Baseball Highlights: 2045, why aren’t you mentioning that it is a favorite of The Dukes of Dice? Or if you have any Bruno Cathala games, you have to note that “this game is from one of Zee Garcia’s favorite designers.” Or if you happen to have a copy of Blood Rage, connect the dots to The Secret Cabal. And if for some reason, you have multiple copies of Strike, then I guess you should put Tony from Rolling Dice & Taking Names right on the shelf there too pointing out the game.

This hobby is all about socializing in person and on the internet, and if you can show that your store is an active follower of board game media, then the new customers will be impressed. Remember, not all of those new faces in your store will be newbies to the hobby — many of them will be people who rabidly digest board game media but have never been to your store before.

BONUS! Post-Game Day Means Posting Pictures!

There’s nothing more frustrating to a gamer than to know that she missed out on a great day of board gaming. Maybe it was the latest hotness from Essen, Gen Con or Kickstarter that hit the table all day and she had been dying to try it (and maybe buy it?) Maybe it was that old classic that she loves to play with a big group. Maybe it was just a large scale party or crowd game that she has never tried.

Make her and her friends desire to pledge that they will not miss ITTD the following year, with some salivating pictures of people playing games and having a great time. That will set the table for next year for sure, and maybe lead them to your game night if you advertise it in conjunction with the postings.

I hope this helps friendly local game stores from around the country see International Tabletop Day from the gamers perspective. This day should be a celebration of everything good about our hobby, but also give you a chance to show everything good about your store. Take advantage of the day, and maybe you will have a Krewe of gamers knocking at your door saying, “Can we play a game?”

So, how was your International Tabletop Day experience?  What did your friendly local game store get right, and what could they use some improvement on for next year? Post a comment below or hit me up @boardgamegumbo on Twitter.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

— B.J.

Allons marcher! at Top Tier Board Games in Hattiesburg

At Board Game Gumbo, we like to “run the roads” (courir les perron — which in Cajun French directly translates to “running the porch”). We travel for fun, for business, and for family. And when we are out running the roads, we like to visit local game stores. We even like to support those stores by purchasing a game! With homage to Greg, the traveling gamer from The Dice Tower fame, let’s talk about a great game store in the “Hub City” of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Allons marcher!

Hattiesburg is located in Southern Mississippi, just a few hours north of New Orleans, and just a few more hours from the Gulf Coast beaches. Hattiesburg is best known as the home of the University of Southern Mississippi, whose stadium is nicknamed “The Rock.” It is also known as a paradise of outdoor pleasures, like kayaking down the Okatoma River or exploring the Natchez Trace.

But, it should be equally known to gamers in the Deep South as having one of the best game stores around, Top Tier Board Games. On a recent visit, I made a pass by the game store looking to pick up a good game to play around the dinner table with my lovely bride. The store is set back in yet another strip mall, but had a pleasing sign to light the way to the corner of the parking lot.

Inside, I found a relatively small store in size but a giant when it comes to gaming spirit. For such a small footprint, the store packs a wallop. The front area has a ton of tables, filled to the brim the night I went with Magic players and X-wing gamers. The right side has four or five large shelving areas with all of the latest games, and tons of classic and old favorites, too.  There is an ample area of X-wing and other Star Wars collective games, and even a large selection of Haba games — the first time I have ever seen a display like that in the South (but not the last…)

12096462_1671580093079932_5985567886315699315_nThe owner of the store saw that I was browsing, but not a familiar face, and introduced himself to me. He asked a few questions about the kind of games that my wife likes. After talking about the hobby, he steered me toward New York 1901, which he said was about to go on a side table for a special Christmas sale that he was doing to encourage locals to try hobby games. He said it was the perfect game to introduce to new gamers, but also had plenty enough strategy choices to satisfy any veteran gamer.  But since I was not from town, he offered to give me the very generous discount, and of course, I couldn’t resist. Months later, it is still one of my wife’s favorite games, and so I am glad that the owner helped me out. What a great recommendation.

I love it when a local game store owner does it right — clean tables, ample lighting, good prices, great selection, nightly (and I mean EVERY NIGHT) special events, knowledge of the hobby, and a friendly atmosphere.  Top Tier Board Games does it right, and so if you ever find yourself “running the roads” in southern Mississippi, make sure you make a pass by and pick up a board game or three.

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Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!