The first quarter of 2017 was a whirlwind for DSG, with our mergespansion into Tempe and the utter explosion of business selling online Magic singles, to a degree well beyond even what we imagined we might see in a best-case scenario. It really did change the math. With the moving and the shaking of last autumn, we even met with and entertained buyers for the store (the only store we had at the time) and I'm a little bit glad they did not pull the trigger. I am far better situated regardless of the outcome spread now, even without knowing what market moves might happen in the region.
If you don't see a tabletop product line in this list, either I don't carry it or I didn't notice its performance this quarter one way or the other. Here is how things stacked up, in brief:
Magic: the Gathering - WINNER. It seems counterintuitive for me to crown Magic as one of the better outcomes after the underwhelming performance of Aether Revolt sealed product, but we literally do not have enough time and labor to keep up with the singles growth we are seeing in online sales. I looked, listened, asked, learned, and finally appear to have the right combination of variables in place to where cards posted for sale disappear very quickly and profitably, and despite a 1.2x price multiplier for integrated channels. This means, in plain English, local buyers in-store and on our store's own website pay 20% less for cards from us, yet remote buyers paying the higher price are purchasing far more cards for far more gross revenue every day. Is there some local economic downward pressure? Are there simply too many stores and/or backpack dealers in Phoenix? Any combination could be true. February, for the first time, saw us pay out more in cash on buys than we took in on cash in sales for the month. It was the first month where our net bank-to-safe cash movement outpaced safe-to-bank deposits. Wow. Pawnshop much? (Obviously most sales are paid via credit card.) Oh, and Modern Masters 2017 is the best reprint set of all time.
Pokemon TCG - WINNER. Ask me again in June. As I mentioned last week, the Pokemon TCG is selling extremely well for many game stores right now.
Final Fantasy TCG - WINNER. I haven't had much product, but 100% of it cleared no later than upon arrival, and at over MSRP due to sky-high market demand. Aside from printing more cards, if there is anything else Square Enix ought to have done to make this product healthier, I can't imagine what it is.
Star Wars Destiny TCG - WINNER AND LOSER. Like Final Fantasy, we saw booster packs clear from stock at full price almost instantly, and that's as healthy as you might like. We also saw Fantasy Flight Games announce a baffling, cumbersome, and unnecessary printing and rotation schedule, complete with a very Reserved-List-esque "sets will be one and done" self-imposed limitation. They did not restrict themselves from any number of reprints of specific cards, thank goodness, but realistically this was Fantasy Flight on the eve of victory high-fiving itself like Rosencarl and Guildenlenny.
Star Wars LCG - LOSER. We moved away from this game in this quarter, for the most part, though the development of Tempe has given us some wiggle room on how quickly to jettison diminishing lines. The player base migrated to Destiny in force, when they could get any product. The Star Wars Living Card Game is probably approaching its own Ewok Celebration in the near future.
A Game of Thrones LCG - WINNER. In the Living Card Game space, there were two winners. Thrones held solid with good releases and steady player growth. The other...
Arkham Horror LCG - WINNER. It's sold out in distribution. Not much more I can say than that. The need for Destiny product outstripped FFG's production capacity for Arkham. Product will be back, so don't pay the silly inflated Amazon prices. Eighty bucks for The Dunwich Legacy? Forget about it!
Warhammer - WINNER. I mean both 40K and Age of Sigmar. I cannot fully account for Games Workshop's hot streak right now except to say that maybe it's a natural market move away from the grind of constantly chasing Magic singles. I know of more than a few card players at the DSGs that have moved away from the shuffle and embraced the model-paint-play cadence of wargaming, and if you're going to wargame at all, Warhammer is pretty much the focal point. Other games exist, but in the world of minis, Games Workshop right now is where Nintendo was in 1988 in the video game trade. There's them, and then there's everybody else. There is a certain creative itch that wargames scratch very well right now. You get to build an army, including custom touches. You get to paint an army, especially custom touches. And then you play, and by then you've already had two-thirds of the fun so even a losing game can be enjoyable.
Guild Ball - LOSER. There is a small and devoted cadre of players and nobody else is interested. A shame for a miniatures game that seems so accessible and affordable.
X-Wing - LOSER. The last new releases that players cared about were the Rogue One ships, and the staggered Regionals and Store Championship schedule has mostly sown confusion. X-Wing was one of the games that benefited most from the Asmodee North America online sales ban; we were a whisker away from discontinuing it in late 2015 because online sales had gutted its value. Now after most of a strong year we are unfortunately seeing a little weakness again. The usual suspects are getting a bit more aggressive and the player base is not accustomed to the spending model of most hobby tabletop games, and has been pushing back. Ultimately if these players don't get as much enjoyment out of X-Wing as they would playing something else, they will disengage.
Imperial Assault - WINNER AND LOSER. We once again hosted the largest-attended Regionals in the country back in January, and yet the product trickles out at a rate suggesting that most players aren't deeply invested in the ongoing expansion offerings. This is one of those games that's just basically lucky my analytics attention has been elsewhere lately. On a core level, if there is a Star Wars licensed skirmish minis game in print, I want my store to have it. On the other hand, sacred cows can be dangerous.
Warmachine / Hordes - WINNER. Against all expectation and despite unpredictable stock availability in distribution, I've seen our WarmaHordes crowd grow and sales tick upward. It was good enough that I traded another store a bunch of comic statues and Magic cards for their entire Privateer Press inventory. Nowhere is this game going to scratch any skin off Warhammer, but I'm happy to see it retaining fans on its own.
HeroClix - LOSER. This franchise had a pretty good second half of 2016, but the releases in Q1 2017 were poorly received for the most part. I'm still sitting on an unnecessarily large amount of Joker's Wild, despite internet liquidation attempts. Deadpool came in and has had a bit better buzz, but the sales aren't showing up yet. Since the HeroClix model is one-and-done sets, all it takes is a strong release or two and we're right back in business.
Dungeons & Dragons - WINNER, OH GOD, WINNER. I have never seen anything like this in the role-playing game realm. Not even when Stranger Things sold us out of polyhedral dice overnight. D&D is on an absolute tear and it's so hot that even with product being dumped egregiously online, we still can't keep anything in stock despite deep reloads. Player's Handbooks? Gone. Other sourcebooks? Gone. Table mats? Gone. Dice? Can't keep up. Dice BAGS... gone. Spell Cards? Unobtainium. Prepainted miniatures? Every booster turns, singles are down to a modicum and badly need a new set brick/case break. Unpainted miniatures? They released last week to white-hot enthusiasm. Time will tell whether they hit the mark with players and Dungeon Masters. The brand-new adventure compendium Tales from the Yawning Portal appeared and was gone on release weekend despite deep stock. Just wow.
Star Wars RPGs - LOSERS. I cut them all loose early in the quarter. Consistent inability to make turns or even approach turns meant there was no real business case good enough to justify them.
Board Games - WINNERS AND LOSERS. There's a lot going on here, could be an article all its own really. I think we hit some kind of floor for board games and bounced back a bit from it. The space gain from the extra store took the thumbscrews off of the bitter edge of the board game category, and gave me some time for more observation and sales turnover. Mostly board games are still in a rough position. There is far too much being released, and too little of it is great. But I am seeing some unexpected resilience from mainstays from some of the more attuned publishers, and every now and again a new title goes nuclear hot. I expect the next such board game to be Dark Souls by Steamforged Games.
Comics have some different things going on that doesn't describe well in this article's format, and video games don't behave in the same quarterly way when most of the business is not tied to newly released merchandise.
And that about wraps up my look back at tabletop's winners and losers for 2017 Q1 at Desert Sky Games and Comics! There is probably some nuance in performance differences between the two locations. I'm putting off bothering to intuit much along those lines until we complete the move, later this year, of the Gilbert location.