Boardgames in Bloom

Dragon Age 2Happy Easter long weekend, everyone. In case anyone's keeping track, March pretty much slipped away from me. This was largely thanks to the fact that, in my new Operations role at BioWare, I've been overseeing the finalization, launch and patching process for our latest video game, Dragon Age II. The game has faced mixed reviews and its share of both fair and unfair criticisms but sales remain strong overall. The first major patch is out and improving the experience for a large number of users and we're hard at work on another, as well as a variety of other initiatives across the franchise. I try not to talk too much about work on this blog as I have to be pretty careful about what I say. Nevertheless, that should give you a pretty accurate high-level view of what's been keeping me busy lately.

FarmVille_logo.pngIn other news around the intertubes, I responded to a recent Global Toy News article about the rise of digital gaming and what it means for the board and card game industry. I disagree with the writer's central argument that the recent surge in Facebook and iPhone games is cannibalizing boardgame sales. To the contrary, if you look beyond the specific drop he reports in boardgame sales at Hasbro, the market is actually up, in many cases dramatically so. Just as games like Angry Birds and Farmville turned the video games industry on its head, the same is now beginning to occur in the boardgames industry and yes, that's impacting the bottom line for dominant players such as Hasbro. However, I'm also convinced that the rise of casual video games is actually creating new markets for boardgames and reminding an ever-broader range of people of their inherent capacity for play. Anyhow, go read my response for the full details. I'm working on a longer pair of articles for another site where I'll draw some interesting parallels between the history of videogames and the history of boardgames but that won't be released until sometime in the fall. I'll be sure to post the links here when the time comes.

pic618341_t.jpgAs for Two by Two, the game continues to be well-received. The Board Game Family has updated their previous video review with a more detailed text review and it's great to see that the game is showing its staying power over the longer term. As their review concludes:
"So far, Two by Two is a board game that has scored well on the “Let’s Play Again” meter. It’s another game that the kids will play more than one time in a row. In part because it doesn’t take too long to play and also because of what we mentioned earlier about the element of luck. It’s both the choices they need to make on their turn as well as the mix of luck on what they’ll turn over that keeps them coming back. The kids want to play again right after finishing one game because they’re sure they’ll do better the next time."
71kamZLGcIL.jpgI've also been experimenting with posting some annotated images to Roll over the various hotspots on the gameplay photo to get a better sense of the game. If you've played it, I'd love to see some reviews posted on Amazon along with some stars and list-mania entries. Despite all the positive feedback the game's been receiving, it's still flying under the radar for a lot of gamers so I'm still looking for additional ways and opportunities to spread the word.

game-license.gifAs for game licensing, it's been a pretty interesting past couple of weeks. My entry in the Ticket to Ride Map Contest has been well-received and has moved on to the next stage of judgment. The winner will be notified by the end of June so wish me luck. A couple of publishers have also recently taken a liking to some designs by Gordon Hamilton, for whom I act as agent. Hopefully both of those will proceed to contract as they're great designs and I'm eager to see Gord's work in print. There've been lots of other things happening behind the scenes that have been keeping me on my toes as well but those will have to stay top secret until I have more to report.

Lastly, a quick preview of what's coming in my next Canadian Made, Canadian Played newsletter, which I send out on an occasional basis on behalf of the Canadian Heritage Collection. As I explain toward the end of the newsletter, you can expect to see more of these sorts of cross-posts here in the future, giving you some further insight into what I've been up to.


Boardgames in Bloom!

Tulipmania 1637
Spring is in the air and we Canadians are emerging from our hibernation eager to play. For this newsletter, I'd like to cover some exciting new activity in the Canadian boardgame industry including the emergence of some brand new domestic publishers, the epic cross-country journey of this year's Great Canadian Board Game Blitz, and highlight the latest news out of our national design organization, the Game Artisans of Canada. While we're at it, I'd also like to share some changes we're undertaking here at the Canadian Heritage Collection to improve our communications and become even more relevant and topical to Canadian game retailers. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the new directions we're considering.

Spring is an exciting time in Canada and happenings in the board game industry always seem to reflect that. Like the first early crocuses blooming above a veil of snow, here are some new Canadian publishers (or perhaps simply new-to-you) that will be placing big boxes of joy on store shelves this year. Join us in wishing them all the best with their new endeavours.

Tartan Grizzly Productions

Tartan Grizzly Productions may be new but the people behind it are no strangers to the industry. In fact, many of you already call them up every week to ask their opinion on the latest and greatest games and place your orders. Who are they? Rose and Ross of Lion Rampant Imports, of course. Their first two games, a running-of-the-bulls racing game called Pamplona and a back-stabbing party game, My Precious Presents, are currently en route from the factory. Needless to say, distribution won't be a problem.


Whimsy Games

Whimsy Games is the brand-new publishing imprint of award-winning game designer, Roberta Taylor. Their first title, Roberta's exciting Sherwood Showdown card game, is expected to arrive in June. I've had the pleasure of meeting her and playing a number of her other designs. She has a remarkable eye for what makes a game fun and I have no doubt that you'll be seeing many more wonderful games from her over the coming years.


Le Scorpion Masque

Le Scorpion Masque isn't actually new. Christian Lemay and his company have been a big part of the thriving Montreal gaming scene since 2006. They've recently begun releasing some of their games (TraffficClimb! and Quebec) in English, however, and are actively looking to expand into the broader Canadian market. Drop them a note to see what you can do to help.

Diceless Games

Diceless Games' inaugural product, À la dérive, was given a limited test release last year in Quebec to mixed reviews. Although attractively illustrated, the game suffered from troublesome and unclear rules, a non-standard box shape, and a title that failed to resonate with anglophone audiences. Fortunately, they appear to be a company that's willing to learn from their mistakes - they quickly posted updated and revised rules to their website and replaced the old rulesheets across all of their remaining stock. More titles are coming and it sounds like the Diceless team has taken the criticisms to heart. If you're feeling wary about stocking their future titles, get in touch with owner Stephen Faille so he can explain what steps he's taking to earn back consumer and retailer confidence.



Bursting onto the scene late last year with their gorgeous art-deco-inspired horse-riding card game, Perfect Stride, Funleague looks to be a company to watch. Combining excellent shelf appeal, solid game design, and some savvy alternative marketing ideas, I'll be interested to watch their well-laid plans bear fruit in the years to come.

Know of any other new Canadian publishers? Drop me a note ( and I'll be happy to consider showcasing them in upcoming editions of the Canadian Made, Canadian Played newsletters.

Great Canadian Boardgame Blitz
The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz (GCBGB) is a circuit of board game tournaments held at Canadian game conventions and retailers. Players take part in several rounds of games over the span of eight hours, collecting points based on their finishing rank in each game. The national finals are then held each summer at Toronto's Fan Expo.

2011 is an ambitious year for the organization and their first attempt to expand beyond Ontario and Quebec to become a truly national tournament. From a Hal-Con tournament in the shadow of the Halifax Citadel national historic site to a tournament at Vancouver's fabulous Drexoll Games (a longtime Canadian Made, Canadian Played subscriber) and all stops in between, the Great Canadian Boardgame Blitz has been getting the entire country playing, one giant stack of boardgames at a time.

I sat down with organizer Marc Lanctot in March as the Blitz rolled through Alberta with a tournament at St. Albert retailer Mission Fun & Games (another valued subscriber Canadian Made, Canadian Played). One of his top goals for next year is to begin dedicating certain rounds within the tournament specifically to Canadian designed and published games. I left him with a copy of our latest Canadian Heritage Collection catalog and we've agreed to keep in touch and work together to celebrate Canadian titles in the coming years.

If you'd like to host the Blitz at your store or local convention or if you'd like to promote, sponsor, or assist an upcoming Blitz event in your area, you can get in touch with Marc and the others via their website.

Another rapidly growing national organization that I've had the good fortune to be involved with is a professional guild of game designers called the Game Artisans of Canada. The group describes itself as "a game foundry, forge, and refinery with a positive reputation amongst discerning players of games" and has grown from a single Calgary chapter in 2008 to a robust national body with members hailing from Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa/Hull, and Southern Ontario. There's even a Hinterlands chapter for Canadian designers living overseas and in remote communities.

The Artisans' list of published, publicly announced, and award-winning games is growing rapidly. Being privy to all that's occurring behind the scenes, I can promise you that 2011 and 2012 hold plenty of additional announcements still to come. If you're interested in learning more, check out the latest issue of their cleverly titled Meeple Syrup newsletter.

If you're interested in bringing a local Game Artisan out to your store for a demo day or other event, you can contact the organization at Likewise, if you're aware of talented game designers in your community, put them in touch.

Canadian Heritage CollectionAfter less than a year of operation, some exciting changes are also afoot here at the Canadian Heritage Collection.
  • For starters, we're revamping the Canadian Made, Canadian Played newsletter and the nature of the content we cover. While we're maintaining our focus on keeping you informed of new and upcoming Canadian games, we don't want to just be a mouthpiece. Our readership is full of interesting people - retailers, event organizers, publishers, designers - and we want to share your stories. Effective immediately, we're instituting an open call for Letters to the Editor and other content contributions from our readership. If you want to tell us about your business or product, share insights about the industry, or respond to a previous article, please do so. Likewise, we'll broaden the range of our own editorial content to cover the Canadian board game industry as a whole, not just highlights regarding new games.
  • Aside from content changes, we're also going to explore some distribution changes. This newsletter will continue to appear in your inboxes and we welcome new subscribers but we're going to explore a greater range of cross-posting on the Canadian Heritage Collection blog (which also doubles as my personal game design blog - consider yourself forewarned). Those who prefer to get the contents of this newsletter via RSS feed or web will be now able to do so.
  • The newsletter isn't the only thing getting revamped, however. Our Canadian Heritage Collection catalog that tracks Canadian-designed and published games is going to transition from being a static annual document to being a dynamic electronic one that I'll be updating on an ad-hoc basis throughout the year. At any point, you'll be able to download the latest version for free and print out all or part of it according to your own needs and schedule. We'll also explore some Print-On-Demand options like MagCloud for those who want to keep a professional-quality physical edition on hand. The Canadian Content labeling program will continue to route directly through us but purchases of the printed catalog, if it continues, will be routed through a third party.
  • Last but not least, the Canadian Heritage Collection website and the overall curation of the catalog may transition over to the Game Artisans of Canada. We're still in talks and they're still working on their new website that would make such a transition possible. If this does occur, I'll remain involved in the Collection as an active member of the Artisans and will probably still lead up the effort. However, many hands make for short work and it's important that the Collection be a truly national effort and not solely a personal project on my part.
These changes won't take place all at once but you've already seen hints of them in some of our previous newsletters. The ideas and initiatives haven't come out of nowhere and it's been a iterative process of figuring out what works and doesn't work for us and for our audience. That iteration and occasional course correction will continue unabated well into the future. We want to become a valuable resource for Canadian retailers, distributors, publishers, designers and organizers throughout the industry and the only way to do that is to listen closely and continue to adapt.

Like what you hear? Invite your friends and colleagues to subscribe. Have concerns? Write a Letter to the Editor and get involved. We want to hear from you.

Rob Bartel, curator
Canadian Heritage Collection

1 comment:

  1. "but sales remain strong overall"

    This is why one should be careful when repeating corporate propaganda. The need is temporary, the benefit of participating is minimal, and the visible foolishness endures.

    (I say this as someone who learned that lesson with a far worse product - I made the mistake of trusting a co-worker's statements)