Origins: Keeping Score

July 1, 2019

We’ve finally recovered from our first official trip to the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. (And Gen Con is just a month away — no rest for the wicked.) This was our first year exhibiting at the convention. Overall, it was a great success, but like most conventions, we learned some things as well.

With the Midsummer Classic coming up, I hope you’ll indulge me in a little baseball-themed recap. So, batter up.

Introducing the Games

For us, exhibiting at conventions is mostly about meeting gamers and letting them know about our games. We sell games to be sure, and sales are a great way to track interest and answer questions for us. Does the demo of Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit drive sales? Which Fireball Island expansions are most requested? What’s the best way to let folks see the stunning art for Unmatched? Can we ever bring enough Dinosaur Tea Party to meet demand? (The answer to that last one seems to be, eternally, no.)

On day one, we had regular crowds around the Fireball Island demo. We also had lots of folks looking at Unmatched. But, because of its physicality, Fireball Island is a game that people really like to get their hands on. Whereas, Unmatched can be displayed and demonstrated in smaller chunks. So we made a call to the bullpen and converted our Unmatched demo table to a second Fireball Island demo. Then, we laid out Unmatched on our large POS (point-of-sale) counter so folks could take a look at it when they passed by or while they were paying for their games. This turned out to be a great pivot, and we ended up getting a lot more eyeballs on both games.

Changing the line-up before the rush on Day Two.

Another dicey proposition at conventions is figuring out how much stock to bring. Bring too little, and you miss out on sales; bring too much, and you’re basically paying for the games to take a vacation to Ohio. I’m happy to say we pretty much nailed it this time. Origins was the big debut for Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit, and we had to fly in copies for the show, raising the stakes on our inventory guessing game. We basically ended up with a single copy left, which — bonus! — I got to take home with me.

Our All-Star Squad

But none of these convention goals are achievable without the right team. Exhibiting at a major convention is a huge undertaking. There are all sorts of logistics that go into a smooth show. You’ve got to make sure your booth decor and your inventory arrive in time. You’ve got to have a plan on how to set it up so it looks great and is functional. Those two things are often at odds with each other, and you’re generally working in the confines of very limited space. You’ve got to run a team of a dozen individuals and schedule everything so folks get breaks and that everyone is doing the stuff their good at. You don’t want someone who’s great at pitching games on the register while the introvert is forced to teach strangers your latest offering. You’ve got to hand out t-shirt schedules, and keep the booth stocked with snacks, and make sure the banners are facing the optimal direction, and a million other little things. And that’s why we’re lucky to have one of the greatest convention teams in the business. Look at these folks:

L-R (rear): Patrick, Jenn, Asdruval, Ronnie, Mandy, Lindsay. L-R (seated): Dominique, Rob. Not pictured: Justin, Matt, Maxine, Nick, Will.

Special shout-out to Jennifer Skahen, our convention logistics coordinator — or “Chaos Wrangler” as I call her. She’s the one who makes sure all of that stuff happens. Origins didn’t go off without a hitch — no convention ever does. Jenn makes sure, when stuff does go pear-shaped, that it gets dealt with as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.

Inside Baseball

Another great thing about conventions is that it’s a chance for the whole team to get together face-to-face. Unlike a lot of companies, we’re spread out around the country from Seattle to Eastern Massachusetts to South Florida. In addition to just getting to enjoy each other’s company and breaking bread, it’s also a great opportunity for us to talk shop and playtest upcoming games.

Origins was particularly great in this regard because Isaac Childres was there to rep Gloomhaven in his Cephalofair booth, and Noah Cohen was there as a booth helper for another company. This was the first time all four members of the Return to Dark Tower design team were in the same place since we announced the game. And we didn’t let it go to waste. We got some amazing playtesting in. We worked through some of the bigger sticking points we were facing and got to brainstorm mechanical tweaks. Return to Dark Tower is going to be a better game as a result of our Origins time together.

Like a knuckleball: She ain’t pretty, but she gets the job done.

We also got in plays of Project Kevin (needs work) and Project Rubber Duck (coming along nicely) and even a couple of new games that we’re just scoping out to see if they’re ready to make it in the big leagues. Exciting things coming down the road.

Our lovable mascot, Nick, playing Panda Ears at the Panda meet-up.

Post-Game Analysis

So that’s it. Between meeting the fans, showing off the games, and getting in some solid playtesting, it was a grand slam all the way around. We’ll be back next year. Probably want to add even more demo space though. Every time we get a little bigger we seem to get even more people stopping by and checking out our games. And that’s one in the win column for sure.