Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Customer Vital Prep for Card Games, Part 2

Greetings All!

This continues from last week's post about vital prep for card games.  Today I'm going to address tokens and dice.  That's right, I'm going to keep you guys waiting on the controversial sleeves article, because I found when writing this article that I had plenty to say about dice and tokens and wanted to give adequate time to sleeves without crowding out that discussion.

Tokens are a brief study, so let's cover that right up front.  Traditionally, tokens for card players used to be just glass beads, the kind you can get thirty for a buck at Cost Plus or Pier 1 or Hobby Lobby.  Even Wizards of the Coast included simple glass beads in the Revised and 4th Edition gift boxes.  These:

These work well enough really, with the marginal downside that they don't stack well or group well.  That problem is addressed by tokens like these by Fantasy Flight:

We carry a bunch of colors of the FFG stackable tokens and they work reasonably well.  Wizards of the Coast included some extremely nice tokens in the horribly short-printed 2012 Commander's Arsenal, for +1/+1 and -1/-1 creature power and toughness indicators:

But a lot of times, players just use d6 dice to indicate power/toughness, loyalty counters for Planeswalkers, and so on.  That's about the end of the token revolution.  If the players aren't using dice, a lot of the time they just use common objects (such as spare change) or their own hand-crafted items, or in the case of token creatures in Magic: the Gathering, the printed cards that have been around for about ten years now.  There is a non-trivial cohort that likes to use poker chips, but those tend to be a shade too large for extensive on-board use.  So, mostly we see dice used as tokens.  I like that as a segue, so...

There are 1.18 names in dice right now, and the 1 is Chessex Manufacturing and the other eighteen-hundredths of a name are everyone else put together, most notably Koplow Games, "the Nice Dice company," new entrant Metal Dice, and board game companies such as Asmodee, Fantasy Flight, and WizKids.  Your bottom line in terms of volume will be Chessex, but it's worth carrying the other companies' dice too.

Miniature wargamers and a subset of card players tend to like dice by quantity and aren't especially concerned about appearance.  A set of Chessex solid or translucent 12mm d6 are usually more than enough for these players and the low price point reflects that:

Role-playing gamers, especially the superstitious plurality of them, are extremely particular about their dice, even going so far as to discard a die that someone else has rolled a 20 with, because of the belief that the die will not roll as many 20s in the future now that one has been "taken away."  Because of the tremendous overlap between this audience and that for LARPing, cosplay, and other social and artistic gaming, Chessex's most elaborate (and expensive) dice tend to be a hit with this group.  They are also utterly gorgeous.  Some examples:

16mm d6 "Festive"

Polyhedral "Borealis"

Polyhedral "Vortex"

Polyhedral marbled "Gemini"

Among pure card players, you will see both types and you will want to cater to both.  I have found that dice are what Gary Ray calls a "product pyramid" category, in which you will get laggard sales until you have basically the full product line, at which point you will get great sales across many SKUs.  This is definitely consistent with what happened at DSGCW as I ramped us up to carrying the entire Chessex line.  We used to carry a handful of Chessex SKUs covering both sizes of d6 blocks and some polyhedrals, and we'd sell perhaps $25 in dice per week.  We now have the entire line, basically a one-time expense since it restocks 1:1 on sold items now, and as of this writing, we sell $150-175 worth of Chessex dice per week.  That's a huge difference.  I have to source them from two different distributors, GTS and Alliance, to cover all the restocks.

Koplow makes some great novelty dice like 30-sided trinatakohedrons, 14-sided days-of-the-week dice, dice embedded within translucent dice, and so forth -- they really are cool, but they are niche.  They are not the go-to dice that players use every day.  Examples:

d30 Trinatakohedron:

♫ Dice within dice  in a spiral array ♫ ...

Some game companies, mainly Asmodee, Fantasy Flight, and WizKids, make custom dice for their games.  This is basically a pain in the rear and I wish they wouldn't do it, because it creates an item to get lost from the base games, and you never sell any of them until a customer desperately needs them, at which point you probably already clearanced them off.  The dice packs that come to mind are for Formula D, Star Wars X-Wing, and Attack Wing.  (Well, and Dice Masters, but that is an entirely self-contained game and if you lose those dice, look out below.)

FFG X-Wing dice:

One promising development is the introduction of ultra-premium dice into the mix.  So far these have seen slow uptake in the RPG world, but the card players gravitated right to them.  Metal Dice opened the door with d6 solid metal packs and then polyhedral colored metal packs, which at thirty to forty dollars the pack are not for the squeamish or dabbling player.  The corners on those polyhedrals are sharp.  We're talking caltrops-grade hazardous here.

MD 16mm d6 Ancient Gold set:

MD Poly Sterling Gray set:

Caveat: Card players love casino dice.  Love them.  Carry these without fear, regardless of how you have to source them or what you have to charge for them to make keystone margin:

Naturally, Ultra-Pro, of all manufacturers, has upped the ante by crashing the dice party with a forthcoming series of Gravity Dice, anodized "aircraft-grade aluminum" laser-etched dice that Ultra-Pro claims are "perfectly balanced for a more randomized roll."  For $25 the deuce or $50 the five-pack, these dice will need to live up to those strong claims, but I already know some of the players at my store who will be buying these on release day because it's very compelling bling.

Gravity Dice 5-pack:

Whatever you end up doing for dice in your store, I strongly encourage you to commit heavily to it.  A player wants to know that you care about their gaming experience as much as they do, and one of the clearest ways you can communicate that is by having a wide variety of dice for them to choose from. If you skimp on dice, before you have even said a word, you have told the player walking into your store that the stuff that player loves just isn't all that important to you.  Clearly, that's a message none of us would want to convey.

If you're a player reading this, honestly, don't worry about the industry side of this equation at all.  That's not your job.  Just buy the dice you like and enjoy, and by all means give feedback when you can so that your Friendly Local Game Store can further tailor their offerings to suit your preferences. Your job is to have fun, and to the extent possible, roll those natural twenties!

To be continued next week (for real this time!) in Part 3, in which I will discuss naught else but card sleeves!

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