Around the World of Board Gaming April 2018

Welcome to one of my favorite blog columns. Not “board game news” so much as “board games IN the news”. Today’s topics include lots of stuff. You can print and play games the CIA uses to train its agents. Board games help children with autism. Out of the Box in Muskegon has closed its doors. And of course, we talk about the latest happenings at The Gaming Annex.


Around the World of Board Gaming April 2018


Print & Play CIA Board Games

El Chapo from the C.I.A.
El Chapo from the C.I.A.

The CIA has used board games to train the next generation of agents. Long time readers of this blog already know this. But what you probably didn’t know is that these games are now available for gamers who like to print and play their games.  Two games were unredacted from a recent FOIA (freedom of information act) request.

Rulebook cover for Kingpin
Rulebook cover for Kingpin

The folks at Ars Technica have a lot of the details concerning this. Enough was unredacted to both give you the rules and the necessary information to make the components to play them. The more intriguing of the two games “released” is Kingpin: the Hunt for El Chapo. Two teams spar off in this tense cat and mouse simulation. One team is the cartel which must protect and elude the agency. The other is the agency which hunts the cartel’s leadership across the world.

Collection: a CIA training game
Collection: a CIA training game

The lesser of the two games (at least to me) is Collection! Players must collect cards which have different resources on them. Players must correctly marshal resources in order to put out fires all You cover the world.

The rules were analyzed by famed game designers Jason Matthews and Dominic Crapuchettes. Both designers said these CIA games showed worthy game design elements. Both also said these games seemed to be more focused on training than on fun. The mechanical strength should go without saying. The CIA tapped famed designer Volko Ruhnke, designer of such games as Labyrinth: the War on Terror.

You can download the information here. It’s quite large so be prepared.


Board games and autism

Autism Speaks logo
Autism Speaks logo

It’s always heartening to hear news that your favorite hobby has great side effects. I would still play board games even if there wasn’t any unexpected discoveries such as this. But I’m glad news like this involves tabletop gaming!

A recent article at eMax health lists some bullet points regarding board games and autism. Board games can encourage children with autism to be more social, to learn from the visual nature of board games and to follow directions.


Hasbro vs. Mattel in the news

  • Vast Salary Differences: $74,000 per year versus $6,300

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating piece about the pay gap. And the pay gap in question was not between men and women–it was between Mattel and Hasbro.

Hasbro’s median yearly salary is a handsome $74,000. Mattel’s is a not-so-handsome $6,300. It would be misleading to end the conversation there. Thankfully, the WSJ explains what is probably obvious: Mattel employs 75% of its workforce in China and Malaysia.

One would think Hasbro, the world’s number two toy manufacturer, would also need a hefty Asian workforce too. Not so. Hasbro does not own the manufacturing of its toys–only the design.

Mattel has made the conscience decision to own large portions of its supply base. Executive leadership at Mattel believes this affords them better quality control. Also, the amount of employees varies considerably between the two toy giants: 35,000+ at Mattel versus just over 5,000 at Hasbro. So salary comparisons are really apples to oranges.

It must be the engineer in me that finds technical details like this fascinating. Two companies in the same industry, bitter rivals for years…and their approach to supply chain management and employee compensation vary so drastically.

  • Fallout from Toys ‘R Us is still under way

Both Hasbro and Mattel’s biggest customer is going out of business. This customer, for those who’ve been under a rock for the last six months, is Toys ‘R Us. This will cause lots of ripples in the toy manufacturing world. It will affect Mattel more than Hasbro, however.

Hasbro has better retailer diversification than Mattel. That’s a fancy way of saying Mattel depends on Toys ‘R Us more than Hasbro.

Also, while Mattel is a larger manufacturer, Mattel is lagging behind Hasbro is some key areas. Think board games. When was the last time you bought a Mattel board game? Probably in the 70’s or the 80’s.

Also, Mattel is owed a heap of cash from Toys ‘R Us. $135 Million all told. That’s more than double what Hasbro is owed.

What can the board game hobby expect from this? Not much. Unless the rumors that Hasbro is going to buy Mattel are true, don’t expect any good or bad news from Mattel or Hasbro on the board game front. I do think Mattel is missing the boat on the resurgence of board games as a hobby. Maybe a intrepid marketing person there will stumble upon my humble little blog and steer Mattel in the right direction. Failing that, our hobby will be unscathed from the Toy’s ‘R Us/Mattel/Hasbro woes.


Closer to Home

Century Club in Muskegon
Century Club

Out of the Box has officially closed their Muskegon operations. Jeff, the owner, told me he was making a profit at this store. However, the time it took to spruce up the store due to driving to and fro was not worth it. He could better use this time and energy making this Kentwood store better. Maybe in time, a full Out of the Box, not just a satellite store like the one in the Century Club, would be feasible.

Jeff does have some competition in greater GR. The Kentwood Out of the Box is my favorite store in the metro Grand Rapids area. But it is certainly not the only store in metro GR. Jeff, in my estimation, wants to make Kentwood his flagship store. When the time is right, maybe expand. Maybe Muskegon again. We will see.


The second annual Muskegon Toy and Comic Convention (MuskeCon for short) was a few weeks ago. I was planning on attending. Due to a last minute cancellation, I was actually given a booth! Kiel over at the Griffin’s Rest gave me a vendor’s badge. I was given a table to demo some games. So I taught passers by how to play King of New York, Codenames and Karuba. After which, I sent these passers by back to Kiel so he could sell them some games.

I had wanted a booth at MuskeCon for The Gaming Annex. But all the booths were already taken. The convention leadership got almost 100% of their vendors from 2017 to return. And the remainders they filled from a long wait list. The last minute cancellation was a godsend for Kiel and us.

The convention leadership has secured a much needed bigger venue for next year. And in 2020, an even bigger venue will host the convention. The exact whereabouts have not been disclosed. As I learn more, I will report this back to you.

851 W. Laketon Avenue 49441 The Gaming Annex
The (New) Gaming Annex

We have ended the “dictator cycle”. On Tuesdays, we had a formal way of selecting which games to play. We went in alphabetical order by player’s name. That player got to pick the games for the evening. This was used in order to put the kibosh on the endlessly hemming and hawing. Unfortunately, it was not successful.

The need for a formal way of selecting games was too officious. People wouldn’t or didn’t respond to it as well as was needed. We have instituted an informal system. It doesn’t have a name yet. But it involves some dry erase boards that Dick Dima installed. We will be using these on Thursdays as well. I’m hoping we will have the bugs worked out of this very soon.

We are also changing the Sunday paradigm. For the longest time, we have been playing games on Sundays. However, our Sunday group is by far the weakest in terms of attendance. We have a few ideas to improve this.

  1. Play games on Sundays at noon instead of 9AM. We will do this about once per month. Many of our attendees are church goers so a 9AM start is, well, a nonstarter.
  2. Play games on Saturdays. We will do this once a month also. This should help build the weekend gamer group.
  3. Start a RPG campaign. We have been ignoring the RPG community for far too long. Why not play RPG’s on Saturdays or Sundays? That would build the community fo sho!


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