September Newsletter

September Newsletter

Reopening plans!

We have the keys for our new rooms – units 14 and 15 in Bovis House (next to LilyAnne’s coffee bar). A wall has just been knocked down – everything’s looking great! Next step: decorating, then furniture, then we open J  

We’re now aiming for 25th September for our first day – but that depends on all kinds of other things going on and we want to make it look awesome! So, basically, it’ll be ready when it’s ready 🙂

Games nights and opportunities to play

We’re not open yet, but we have opportunities to play again!

Magic: The Gathering

Friday Night Magic has started again. Magic: The Gathering is the oldest and most-played trading card game. We’re currently running Modern format for more experienced players, and an Intro League. Intro league, as you might guess, is perfect for people who are relatively new to the game or looking for to play with a ready-made deck (rather than build your own). Every week, you’re given a booster pack, and allowed to tweak the deck with those cards – gradually improving your deck over the weeks! FNM is hosted by LilyAnne’s Coffee Bar.

Other events – including Commander and weekend events will follow shortly, when the shop’s open.

Pokemon/MTG Battle Academies for Young People

We’ve started a new set of clubs for kids!

We cater for all ages from 6 to 14, and every week we teach and play Pokemon (younger groups) and Magic: The Gathering (older group), then have some fun, interactive, problem solving maths activities, and end with other games that also develop maths skills.

These clubs are ideal for kids who love extra maths challenges, or find maths a little too abstract and want to see how it works

Games nights, RPGs, YuGiOh, and more….

Are you wondering about what’s happened to all the other events we used to do? Sunday afternoon X-Wing? Thursday Night LCGs? Wednesday RPGs? Tuesday YGO?

Well, things may look a little different, but we’re committed to bringing back as many of these as people want to play, using community venues.

We also have People’s Meeples – the community organisation that’s run by some of our regular customers, that used to organise the Autism Friendly Nights. They have funding to restart games nights and RPGs post-lockdown.

Facebook groups

If you want to meet like-minded people, keep updated about events, and share in general gaming chat, we have these Facebook groups. For some of the most in-demand items, we also have special offers, so our regular customers don’t have to play inflated prices for rare games:

LCGs (including Keyforge)

Magic: The Gathering

Pokemon

RPGs

General board gaming

YuGiOh

Top sellers

What we’ve sold most of this August:

Marvel Champions: The Mad Titan’s Shadow was our biggest seller in August, thanks to Marvel Champions being our largest subscription. We get 1 MC release a month – usually a hero pack, with cards that you can use to play as a hero and defeat one of your favourite Marvel Villians. These twice-yearly campaign boxes introduce a whole new story arch, and this time we take down Thanos (or not).

Hoenn – Every month in 2021 Pokemon are launching large-format, special edition collectible cards for different regions in the Pokemon lore. Hoenn became a biggest seller in August.  

Marvel Crisis Protocol – thanks to our new subscription service you can expect to see the latest Marvel Crisis Protocol expansions near the top of pretty much every month now. Create your set of superheroes and battle in a duel, throwing cars and jumping off buildings, recreating your favourite Avengers moments. August saw the release of Captain America, Jean Grey and Red Omega.

Lord of the Rings: Journey’s in Middle Earth is probably our favourite of the new wave of app-based campaign games. While you move around, exploring a physical board, interacting with tokens, and battling enemies – the app provides the story and the consequences for your actions (like a virtual games master). Shadowed Paths was the first large expansion, virtually doubling the content of the base game. This restock sold out before we’d even received the stock in! If you missed out don’t worry, the second expansion is coming soon.

Some random things sometimes hit our top sellers in a month just because a few people buy up our stock a game becomes rare – that’s exactly what happened here. Star Wars Legion Snow Troopers – no longer in stock (reprinting soon though), and a little hard to find in other places too.

Kickstarters

We’re now taking preorders on these games from Kickstarter:

Isle of Cats: Don’t Forget The Kittens kickstarter, with various expansions and ‘Explore and Draw’.

Canvas Reflections (expansion)

So, You’ve Been Eaten

On The Underground

Stroganov (Standard and deluxe)

Cult of the Deep (standard and deluxe)

Return to Dark Tower plus expansions

After the Empire Deluxe Kickstarter Edition

Streets standard and deluxe

Kickstarters we’ve recently backed

Flamecraft delux, standard, and extras

Doomtown Weird West Edition

SHASN and SHASN: Azadi

August Newsletter

August Newsletter

What’s coming up soon? Lots!

New shop news, new clubs, new games nights… it’s all happening! Read on to find out more.

A new shop

Early September we expect to be opening a new shop! We’ve secured a unit in Bovis House – a business centre in the heart of Hartlepool, on Victoria Road. It’s an ideal location, near buses, a five minute walk from the trains, and round the corner from our old premises.

This’ll only be a shop – we don’t have cafe space, but LilyAnne’s Coffee Shop is right below us – and we’ll have space for smaller events in the building, with larger events at another venue (see below).

Most importantly, it’ll be a place you can come for all your gaming needs!

A new series of gaming clubs

Following on from two incredible successful sets of holiday clubs over Easter and Summer, and building on an idea we almost started back just before Lockdown 2.0, we’re proud to announce Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering maths clubs!

A large part of these clubs is playing games – but they’ll be run with teachers who will provide small group tuition that will gently support children who find maths tough, and provide a satisfying challenge to those maths-fiends who can’t get enough. These, with the games, will provide real-world example of how maths works!

They’re available in three groups, for children up from 6 to 14, and you can find out more here.

New Games Night with People’s Meeples

People’s Meeples is a community group managed by regular customers and owners of gamers@hart – it specialises in promoting the social and educational benefit of gaming. In the past, we ran autism friendly nights at the old tea room, and we gave out bundles of literacy games throughout lockdown. This organisation allows us to run events that may not work commercially, but are needed and valued, and allows us to search for funding.

Thanks to the NHS resilience fund, we’ve been awarded nearly £30,000 to run RPG groups and weekly games nights!

We’ll be releasing more information when we know about it, but we’ll be renting a town centre location large enough to run several games and events at a time. What’s really important is that by October, we’ll have regular gaming of all kinds running again!

New ‘Battle Academies’

New ‘Battle Academies’

Supporting Maths Through Gaming

We’re delighted to offer three different ‘Battle Academies’, for children and young people aged 6 to 14.

The aim of these clubs is to support school maths curricula, develop problem solving and strategic thinking, and promote social skills, within a friendly, fun, affirming atmosphere.

These clubs will appeal to two groups of children: those who loves maths, who can’t get enough of it, and thrive on being set extra challenges; and those who find maths tough, perhaps too abstract, and want some support disguised as playing games.

We summarise our aims in three words. We want children and young people to:

  • Learn – develop new maths skills, learn new games, create new strategies and tactics.
  • Challenge – members will be given a suitable level of challenge, gently challenging those who speed through maths, and supporting those who need more help.
  • Grow – socially, as well as academically, we support young people’s communication, leadership, and problem solving skills.

Sign Up

Small Group Tuition

Each group is run with a qualified teacher, and will include direct tuition on areas of development for each member of the club. These sessions will be personalised to the needs of the group, and include engaging and imaginative activities members will love! For children who love maths, this will offer tailored challenges to stretch their ability. For children who find maths tough, this will offer gentle support to bolster the work they complete through school.

Pokemon Trading Card Game/Magic: The Gathering

Pokemon is a perennial favourite amongst children, and Magic: The Gathering is the worlds most popular collectible card game, with an increased level of strategy for young people. Each week children will either learn their game, or spend 45 minutes playing other members in a league.

We use Pokemon partly because children love the game – but also because through playing children are making at least 40 calculations, mostly addition, subtraction, and simple multiplication. However these calculations are often simultaneous, putting demands on the player’s working memory. And these calculations are useful – by adding up and comparing multiple options they develop a strategy for how to play well. Although it’s possible to play the game without doing calculations in advance, players will be encouraged to think through their strategy and plan several turns ahead, according to their ability.

Magic: The Gathering is suitable for older players as it has more possibilities for deck building (creating the deck of cards that you play with). It moves beyond basic operations, and introduces concepts like algebra and algorithms. In the game, the player takes the role of a powerful magic-wielder (a Planeswalker), who summons creatures and casts spells in battle against another planeswalker. It’s the oldest, best known, and most popular collectible card game in the world!

Both games require an understanding of probability for deck building – they’re also both easy to differentiate, making this club suitable for children of all abilities who are looking for a challenge. For some children, practising calculations as they come to them will be a challenge; but for others we’ll encourage more advanced strategies.

Maths Games

Every week we’ll introduce new games that put maths into practise, drawn from our experience using tabletop games over the last seven years. Children will also have the opportunity to borrow games to take home and teach the family!

Details

Your child will receive:

  • Personalised, small group tuition in maths
  • Training in Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering
  • Entry into a league for their card game
  • Every 12 weeks children will get own deck and equipment to keep, worth over £20 for Pokemon and £40 for MTG.
  • A drink and healthy snack
  • Opportunity to build friendships and develop confidence in social situations
  • Games to loan

A typical session will look like:

  • 45 minutes: Pokemon/MTG League
  • 30 minutes: Personalised small group maths tuition
  • 45 minutes: Other maths games

Timings for each group:

  • Pokemon for Years 2-4 (ages 6-9), 10am – 12pm
  • Pokemon for Years 5-8 (ages 9-13), 12:30pm – 2:30pm
  • MTG for Years 7 – 9 (ages 11-14), 2:45pm – 4:45pm

Location: Hartlepower – A large white building next to The Causeway Pub: 81 Stranton, TS24 7QT

Costs:

Every child can try their first session, free!

If they enjoy it, you can pay in four or twelve week blocks. This club runs through most holidays, except Christmas.

  • Pokemon: from £9.50 per week (£39 for a block of four weeks; £114 for a full term of 12 weeks).
  • Magic: The Gathering: from £10.75 per week (£44 for a block of 4 weeks; £129 for a full term of 12 weeks).

Did you attend our Pokemon Summer Club? We have a special offer with 15% off!

Pokemon Summer Club

Pokemon Summer Club

We are delighted to offer, in conjunction with Hartlepool Borough Council, Pokemon themed holiday clubs across Hartlepool for four weeks over the summer holidays – and we need up to forty new members of staff to help!

Go on Poke-Walks with Pokemon Go, learn to play the Pokemon Trading Card Game, get creative with Pokemon crafts, and there’ll be all kinds of other games, fun, and, of course, a healthy lunch!

These clubs will be happening in different venues throughout Hartlepool, aimed at children aged 8 (i.e. end of year three) through to 11 (i.e. end of year 6), and we have free places available for children in Hartlepool!

More information will come soon – if you want to keep updated, and be the first to hear when registration opens, submit your email address here*:

Vacancies

We have positions for up to forty members of staff: up to five co-ordinators and 35 support workers. If you are looking to build experience of working with children, you are over 16, and can show dedication and enthusiasm, there are also opportunities for training and volunteering!

We will provide full training on Pokemon TCG, other games, and the curriculum for the club. We simply need people with experience of teaching or tutoring with primary aged children (for the coordinator positions) or experience of working with children (for the support workers).

This club is using the maths inherent in Pokemon (and other games) to develop children’s confidence in numeracy. We know that children’s schooling has suffered over the last 15 months, and the gap between the most and least disadvantaged children’s maths progress has increased by up to 24%. This club is aiming to be a fast-paced, fun-filled, Pokemon themed educational extravaganza – which gently promotes and practices maths skills with real-world (well, game-world) applications. To make the most of this opportunity to help disadvantaged children ‘catch up’, we are looking for people with experience of teaching maths to primary aged pupils – this may be teachers (qualified or working towards a qualification, with experience), tutors, or HLTAs with experience of classroom teaching to act as coordinators, or anyone with experience of working with children to act as support workers. We would also be delighted to train and support anyone with an interest in working with children, and offer volunteer placements.

You can now apply for these positions – more information here.

Please note: our safeguarding policy requires DBS checks and satisfactory references before working with children. If you are unwilling to undergo necessary checks, please do not apply.

*you will only be contacted about the Pokemon Club, this will not be used for any other purpose or passed on to any other organisation

15% off Thank You Sale!

15% off Thank You Sale!

We did it! We’ve now smashed 1500, thanks to all our Drax preorders ready to ship!

And as promised, we have a flash sale. 15% off all board games and miniatures, for 2 days only, if you spend £50!

That includes classics like Ticket to Ride, the best of this week’s new releases like Destinies, and kids games like Fossilis.

And it includes all D&D miniatures, Marvel Crisis Protocol, and Star Wars Legion!

Use the code ‘1500ThankYou’

T&Cs

What’s the offer? 15% off anything in the ‘board game‘ and ‘miniatures‘ categories.

How do I get the offer? Spend over £50 and use the code ‘1500ThankYou’ on the checkout page before 11:59pm, 16th June 2021.

What’s not included? Preorders and sale items.

Can I use this with other offers? Sorry, no, one voucher code at a time.

We reserve the right to end this promotion at any time.

June Newsletter

June Newsletter

Community Newsletter June 2021

What’s happening in the Gamers@Hart community at the end of May, and what do we have to look forward to in June?

Here’s a glimpse!

Plans to Reopen

At the end of January we explained our plans to reopen in summer, with the ending of social distancing restrictions.

We’re selling games with one aim – to raise the money we need to pay for our first set of running costs when we reopen. We’ve written a little bit about what it’s like selling games at such a large discount.

We’d aimed to sell 1500 by the end of May – we didn’t quite get there, but at the time of writing we’ve just topped that, just a little behind schedule.

But we’re not worried! We’re not worried for 3 reasons:

  1. We need to sell 3000 items – if it takes us a little longer, it just means we open a little later.
  2. Past-us lost sales to future-us. Like many online companies, we used to take payment for preorders upfront. Now we don’t – we charge a card about a week before a release when our stock is confirmed. We also have our subscription service – if everyone who is currently subscribing had preordered their game instead, we’d have smashed our 1500 target.
  3. Counting games is just a proxy for raising money. Just because of the kind of things people were buying in May, we may have sold slightly fewer items than we’d aimed for but we’ve increased our turnover by 20%.

So we feel on target!

Any news on a new building?

Nothing concrete. For people who know Hartlepool, we’re considering a serviced building so we can focus on what we love – playing games. With out last building, just keeping it from falling down took so much energy away from our mission. We’ve checked out Advance House (not really suitable – too officey), and approached Bovis House (which, given some similar and like-minded businesses, might be a great idea) and the Enterprise Centre. But good quality, well decorated, clean properties are hard to find in Hartlepool (if you know of any please do get in touch!). So we’re thinking we might need a stepping stone to a new town-centre shop – perhaps something not so great, but you could could still visit to buy games, and we’ll run events (or People’s Meeples will run events) in community venues.

Lockdown Family Support

With People’s Meeples we’re continuing to find funding for literacy boxes – thanks to Thirteen and the Hadrian Trust we’re going to have another set of boxes to give out very soon. This will probably be our last set of boxes, as we look instead towards restarting gaming in community venues when restrictions lift.

Top Selling Items of April

So what’s been selling well for us this month?

Our top 5 look like this:

Pokemon 25th Anniversary Boosters Packs – these oversized collectors cards are going down a storm! We have four different types in stock, with Kalos being the biggest seller. Also going with them (though not quite as quickly) are special edition binders.

Marvel Champions: Gamora Hero Pack. In our top 5 for the second month in a row, Gamora is still more popular than Star Lord (released at the same time). And every single mail-order sale asked for our plastic-free option! This is the perfect way to reduce shipping costs, as we remove the hard outer shell and send it as a ‘large letter’ rather than a parcel.

New York Zoo. This game has recently had a reprint, and a whole load of buzz. A tile laying game – collect animals and build up your zoo!

MicroMacro: Crime City: A giant (and I mean HUGGGEEEE) map, turning Where’s Wally into an actual game, where you hunt for clues and uncover what happened. With about 16 scenarios, this has loads of replayability!

Wingspan. This seems like it’s perennially on our top sellers – and no wonder. It’s a fantastic game for a gentle evening’s bird watching and passive-aggressive dice stealing. We’ve just restocked the European and Oceania expansions too!

What’s New?

So much is new!

It’s no surprise that we’re increasing our online activity, and while we’re passionate about gaming within and around Hartlepool, we believe we can become a serious online retailer too, able to rival some of the larger companies (in time – it takes a while to build up our stock!). This is partly because we’ve noticed that there’s not much that differentiates online-majority retailers except price. The service they offer is almost identical. Here’s where we’re different:

Subscription service – we’re offering a new service where you only need to sign up once and then you can automatically receive every update of your favourite game. So Marvel Champions and Marvel Crisis Protocol are our most popular, but Arkham Horror: The Card Game has had a sudden burst of interest after information about the new expansions were released.

A new approach to preorders. We used to rely on preorders as a kind of short-term, interest-free loan to help us pay our bills. Most online companies do this (your FLGS probably doesn’t though!). As our number of preorders grew we thought we should make sure we don’t rely on prepayment before it was too late – so although it’s been a little uncomfortable to start off with, we now take all your payment details but we don’t charge your card until you can be guaranteed you’ll shortly receive your product – usually about a week before release. As consumers, we think this has various benefits:

  1. You keep your money for longer.
  2. You don’t prepay for something you might never receive – sometimes things go wrong. Games get canned, products are in short supply, and release dates are delayed. You’re not handing over money for an unspecified amount of time, possibly to receive nothing at all.
  3. The apparent financial struggles of an online retailer brought home how fragile this whole sector is (see our reflections on this here) – if a business folds with your preorder you’re unlikely to get the money back. That won’t happen with us – plus, because our cashflow isn’t relying on your preorder, it’s less likely we’ll ever go under 🙂

This means our website looks a little different. We clearly list something as a preorder, and it’ll either have a specific date which we have good reason to think it’ll definitely arrive by. Or it’ll say ‘expected in the future’ – this means the preorder is expected, the game isn’t out of print, we just don’t have an exact date. This is true for restocks as well as preorders. It also means you need to ‘check out’ once for each different preorder, and you can’t mix and match preorders with in stock items – sorry!

We’re also taking part in the Totally Locally Fiver Fest! Find some excellent family games we’re reduced to £5 to take part in this amazing venture to support local businesses!

What have we been playing in April?

What’s hit the Hart family table this month?

Not as much as we’d like! But we finally got round to trying our Railroad Ink – just the yellow version for now. We’re loving the simplicity of it so far – roll dice, create a network on your player board with wipe-clean pens, build in particular features to score points. We’ve also played Llama’s Unleashed for the first time – we were already fans of Unstable Unicorns (and this is virtually the same game), we keep returning to Wingspan, and Overboss as a gentle tile-laying game (if you ever buy Overboss, you need to play with the ‘advanced’ rules at the back. They’re not really that complicated, and they turn an ok game into a great game!)

And now Covid restrictions have eased we’re able to play Lord of the Rings: Journey’s Through Middle Earth again! Getting through a few of those scenarios was an amazing feeling!

Kickstarter Update

We regularly look for the next big thing on Kickstarter. In May we saw Bristol 1350 come in – and almost sell out already. A little quieter on what we backed this month, but we did go in hard for the new Isle of Cats expansion – plus a ton of exclusives (including enamel pins). You can still back it here – or we’ll be taking preorders later in the year.

We’ve been pricing like a ‘deep discounter’ for five months: this is what we’ve learnt.

We’ve been pricing like a ‘deep discounter’ for five months: this is what we’ve learnt.

First up – we’re going to be hazy with numbers. That’s partly because we sign an agreement with suppliers that we won’t distribute sensitive price information, and partly out of respect for the rest of the industry who wouldn’t thank us for it.

But there’s a controversial Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) v Online store debate that keeps popping up – and it gets quite heated. It partly gets fraught because it becomes framed as a moral issue (I guess where we choose to spend or donate our money is a moral issue). It’s often presented as ‘cheapest prices’ v ‘helping the community’. Of course, this is simplistic. We all know that nearly everyone is between the extremes of ‘online bargains only’ and ‘FLGS only’ – but it is fair to say, generally speaking, your money is usually helping more people in an FLGS. But it is taking more out of your hard-earned wage, and that extra saving could be put to good use somewhere else.

We’re a very small business. You can see from our running total of games sold, we’ve dispatched barely 1500 items in 2021. By way of comparison, Dice and Decks said they sold 2000 in one weekend when they put there entire board game stock on sale, much of which was below cost-price. So when we slashed our prices to a bare-minimum, we didn’t expect anyone to feel threatened – but I think some people did. We just want to take this opportunity to explain why we’ve cut our prices, how we can afford to do so, and why (from our experience) it isn’t fair to expect everyone to do this.

A quick recap of where our business is:

At the end of 2020, our shop shut. It was a blow to us, but it was definitely the right choice. A pandemic wasn’t the time to sign a new lease on a building we didn’t like anyway.

We spent January just recovering from that, personally.

By Feb we decided ‘let’s give this another go’. We had no actual cash to do that with – but we did have some stock. Not much, we were mainly a cafe, our shop was very small and we’d sold a lot off as we closed, but we had something to begin with.

Our local, loyal, and much-loved customers kept buying from us. But that wasn’t going to be enough to raise what we needed. We considered crowd funding for about 30 seconds, before we realised there would be some of our regular customers who would dig far deeper than they could really afford. This model works well for many people, for us it felt it could become exploitative.

So we thought ‘how do we increase sales online?’.

I don’t speak in absolutes often, but I choose my words carefully here: The only way to get noticed online is price. We do all kinds of things that set us apart from the top online stores – we offer no quibble replacements for damaged boxes; biodegradable packaging; subscription services; ‘plastic free’ options for some games, preorders with payment on dispatch, rather than upfront…. but we find none of that cuts through the noise of online shops clamouring for your attention, at least, not as much as being the cheapest.

So, we set about doing that. Basically, like a bored toddler in Tesco, we began undercutting everyone just for the attention. We didn’t feel we needed to be the absolute cheapest in every situation – but we aim to be close to the top of boardgameprices.co.uk without making a loss.

It’s worth mentioning too, our overheads are tiny and we don’t take a wage. So all we’re trying to do is slowly fundraise, a game at a time, a few pounds at a time, until we can afford the running costs for our first couple of months so we have the confidence to reopen. And to buy Kallax. And maybe replace some of our games library, that we sold off to pay our Asmodee debts (side note – what we didn’t do, that some businesses do, is cease trading and owe other businesses money, and restart with a new company – we paid all our debts when we closed).

So what are we learning from deep-discounting?

Well first of all, I don’t really have a definition of ‘deep-discounting’. There’s one online shop that regularly sells games at 20% below RRP, I see that they’re referred to as a ‘deep discounter’, so we’ll go with that as a threshold. As most of our games are at least 20% off at the moment, we fit in here too. Although I think, though, it might actually be to do with marketing (giving the impression they are cheap) rather than the reality (they’re not the cheapest). I think there’s plenty of FLGS offering a similar percentage off.

Anyway… we’ve learnt:

1) Not every sale makes money. The ‘wrong’ combination of heavy games that push the order above free postage can make a small loss. As in: ‘purchase price – cost of games – cost of shipping’ is a negative number. Around 5% of orders end up like this.

2) Some sales wouldn’t cover staff and packaging costs. Even at minimum wage, if a member of staff packed, labelled and sent 10 games per hour – and then add the cost of a box and packaging – it would move another 10% of our orders into the ‘no profit’ area (no one is paid to pack games at the moment – so this isn’t an issue for us).

3) We have a target amount of money that we’re trying to make from each game we sell, and most games make us that amount. This isn’t a lot of money! This is the few pounds we need for our target of 3000 games to get us the capital we need to reopen. However – if we only sold games (no other kind of income), and we had the same costs as our last shop (which we won’t), we would need to sell nearly 2300 games per month, at this level of profit (spoiler alert: we don’t sell 2300 games per month).

4) A small number of sales makes us a decent profit. Things that are in short supply. We don’t go over RRP, but we will sometimes sell an in-demand item at RRP. We have to – these are the games that make up the losses we take in the first category. Around 5% of our sales are in this category. We’d love to offer the cheapest prices all the time, but then we’d never be able to reopen our shop.

We also learnt, there isn’t the volume required for these tiny margins to be sustainable using this model with board games. We’re pretty sure about this, because we not only checked out other online prices – we also took to stalking other websites with deep discounts. Older games on other websites – even large shops – don’t sell much faster than ours. We have the same stock that sells slowly that they do. Some companies occasionally cut their losses and sell below cost. Selling board games online, it appears, is more about being a ‘loss leader’ and gaining market share than making a profit. I think many people assumes that a large company can sell Ticket to Ride super-cheap at £27, because they sell 1000 of it and so they only need to £1 profit on each to become loaded. From what we can tell, no one is selling 1000 copies of Ticket to Ride.

Of course, bigger companies will have cheaper courier costs than us, and more efficient packaging systems may be able to make a slightly higher profit – but the difference is likely to be small.

It does beg the question – why are companies investing their capital in something that is so unlikely to make money? Perhaps the very biggest can make it pay – but, basically, if it isn’t Amazon or Zatu, deep-discounting board games seems like a poor investment choice. Like, if you have a spare £20,000, and you want to see a return on your investment, deep discounting board games is a terrible, terrible idea. I have a feeling there are people out there who had a chunk of cash and thought ‘Zatu can do it; we’ll compete with them’.

Heads up; you can’t.

Of course, we’re doing this now! Isn’t that a terrible choice? Maybe – but I guess we’re not trying to use our capital to get rich or supplement an income. We have other purposes that motivate us – and while selling other things may make more money and we could open sooner, we know nothing about other industries. And we don’t care about other products. We do enjoy researching, ordering, and wishing we could open games.

What about Gamers@Hart? Will you always sell games so cheaply?

For now, we have very small overheads, so this plan is working well! We’re seeing month on month increases in turnover of around 20%. We’re seeing large numbers of repeat customers (thank you!). We’re enjoying the banter via email and messenger. We like to be creative, and this has helped us innovate what we offer.

But what about the future? If we get a physical shop we’ll definitely still offer fantastic value for money. We’ll definitely still support online retail – the pandemic has shown us we should have been doing this all along. But can we afford to out-price Zatu all the time? It’s looking unlikely. When we have the overheads of a bricks and mortar shop we may need to rebalance it a little. Partly, because we can’t fluctuate prices in a physical shop as easily – and we wouldn’t want to have a two-tier pricing system.

So to keep our new online customers happy when we reopen, I think the question will be ‘Can we make a little more money from games, but make that feel like an insurance for outstanding customer service, especially when things go wrong?’. The emphasis here is ‘little’ – we’re situated in a part of the world with very cheap property prices, and we’re looking to rebuild one step at a time. We won’t be moving to an expensive, town-centre location straight away – there’s going to have to be a middle-step.

If we do need to increase prices when we reopen, hopefully everyone will recognise the choice isn’t between selling Ticket to Ride for £27 or £29, it’s the difference between selling Ticket to Ride or not. In the meantime, enjoy knowing that the small profits we make are genuinely making a difference!

Preorder Without Prepayment

Preorder Without Prepayment

At risk of sounding churlish and/or hyperbolic, we’ve had one bad experience with an online company, and now we want to set a new standard in online businesses.

Our story was pretty simple – we tried to buy some games, the company cancelled the order, but won’t (or can’t) refund us for 28 days. We don’t think that’s ok, so we make sure everyone knows that we process refunds within 1 working day.

But that set in motion a thought:

What else do online companies do, that your friendly local game store would never even dream of?

So we did a little market research, thanks to the lovely people over on Board Game Trade and Chat UK. And the number one complaint was companies that hold on to your money for preorders or restocks, sometimes for months, and sometimes you get nothing in return.

Now – in fairness – we used to do this too. Because it’s easy. You pay for a game upfront, and as soon as it comes in we ship it to you. This also subsidises our cashflow. Your money actually buys this month’s new releases. Then, next month, someone else gives us the money for your game*. This piggy-backing is great – until the money runs out. Or until a business goes bust, and you’re unlikely to get a refund.

Few FLGS would do that – they wouldn’t usually take your money and expect you to wait forever (except, perhaps, a deposit). So we did some digging with our website. Could we create a system that means we have the certainty of payment so we don’t over-order and create a ton of waste, but we don’t hold your money for ages? Surely, if it was that easy, someone would already be doing this?

24 hours later we produced a solution.

It’s really simple.

  1. You click the ‘preorder now’ button
  2. You input your details
  3. We don’t charge your card until the game is with us – usually about 7 days before the official release date.

One small note – you can only preorder 1 game at a time, and you cannot add ‘in stock’ games at the same time. Sorry, at the moment, our payment system would be unable to differentiate between the games to be sent now, and those sent at different times, and it would risk being charged for the whole order twice – so the website simply won’t allow it. It’ll kick other things out of your cart when you add a preorder item.

Now, there is an increased cost to us in running this system – just like there is with the subscription service we offer. So at the moment we’re trialling it to see if this is a system people really want. And there’s so many 1000s of products we could put on our website it would take an age to list them all, so if there’s anything you’d like to preorder you don’t see, please email us at info@gamersathart.co.uk – we’ll get it online asap.

What if your card changes, or your address changes, or something else? Anything to do with deliveries, you can email us and we’ll make the changes for you. Anything to do with the card – don’t worry. When we come to take payment, you’ll get an automatic email saying the card was declined and please input a new one. It takes 2 minutes.

So, do let us know what you think, and let us know what you’d like us to make available for preorder!


*Just to address the elephant in the room – what if you’ve already preordered something with us and paid in advance? We’d politely ask, if possible, please don’t cancel and reorder – because we incur fees 🙂

Why Games Shops Are Here To Stay

Why Games Shops Are Here To Stay

I was recently shown a video produced by an online-only store. In it, the owner argued that games shops were dead and there’ll be very few physical shops left soon. His argument was: online is cheaper, the internet provides advice, and you don’t need to play games in a shop because you could hire a hall.

We think he’s wrong… Of course we would, we’re busting a gut trying to reopen a shop.

But here’s the number one reason we’re sure he’s wrong: gaming is full of fanatics like us; there’s a long line of people who want to try their hand at turning their hobby into a job. Whenever a games shop closes down in a town, a new one opens within months.

However, even if people trying to peddle boxes of happiness to local communities were in short supply I’d suggest that the demand for games shops is high, and we need them more than ever. Here’s a few reasons:

Game shops* invest in their local communities.

Of course, some online places also have shops that invest in their local communities too, but they’re probably not investing in your community. For example, we have been busy with holiday clubs for children receiving free school meals and giving out literacy boxes during lockdown, Beanie Games run children’s activities in schools and with local authorities, Board in the City specifically aim to cater for marginalised groups, The Ludoquist have raised over £3500 for the NHS and local families during lockdown, The Mug and Meeple run book libraries to fund community work; Critical Hit Games Café (and others in Liverpool) supported local foodbanks during lockdown…. (add in the comments any I’ve missed!).

25 families joined us for our free Virtual Easter Club, and 115 Literacy Boxes have gone to local families

Games shops provide spaces to meet.

Space is expensive; games shops use other parts of their business to subsidise play spaces. For us, it was selling coffee at near-coffee-shop prices that meant we could offer space very cheap. All game shop owners I know are not in retail to sell games, retail is a means to an end – and that end is building and supporting communities of gamers.

Our perspective isn’t “play spaces reduce our profit”, it’s “profit from selling games allow us to do what we love”.

Game shops reduce isolation.

Reported loneliness, February 2021. Source: https://www.ons.gov.uk/

Now, more than ever, we need to reinvest in the social fabric of our communities –as we’re in the middle of an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. A decade of under investment in local communities mean there are very few spaces for people to meet that aren’t businesses.

And space to meet provides opportunities for long lasting friendships and more! We’ve have quite a few long term relationships, and a handful of marriages, of people who met in our shop (we’ve even hosted two weddings!).

Games shops tend to be an easier place for newbies to introduce themselves and ask for help in finding new clubs – some places, like The Gamersguild, even advertise this and actively facilitate matching people to groups. In fact, gaming places often become home to those people who struggle to fit in to other social situations: there’s something about the nature of gaming that means people can quickly relax and be themselves. No matter how welcoming the club, crossing that threshold for the first time can be really difficult – with a public space like a shop, it’s just that little bit easier.

Games shops support clubs.

Most people don’t set up clubs to compete with or close down shops. In fact, many clubs, or regular groups of people who meet to play, use shops – either to get resources or to utilise their space. There’s a positive, symbiotic relationship in most places.

Games shops improve mental health.

Taking Hartlepool as an example, there’s fantastic opportunities for people to engage in arts and crafts to meet others in non-threatening, non-judgemental environments. But there isn’t much else. Games shops offer a welcoming place to meet others especially when anxiety is an issue – what’s even better is there’s no need for awkward small talk – the game in front of you becomes the conversation. There are stories of profoundly life-changing interactions by many shops and cafes – even stories of lives saved, as shared by Taylored Games.

Games shops provide safe spaces. 

Shops have a vested interest (and legal requirement) to be as inclusive as possible. Staff often have sensitivity training – our staff, for example, were all trained in autism awareness, and the directors have backgrounds in anti-oppressive practice. But more than that, shops often actively amplify the voices of marginalised people in their community, for example Meeple Perk have taken a public stand against transphobia because of the impact it has on their community.  And shops work with particular groups, like Patriot Game’s work with people on the autistic spectrum. Games shops will also make sure children and vulnerable groups are kept safe, and the majority will have some kind of safeguarding policy.

Game shops provide organised play.

Shops provide prize support, a draw for players from outside your immediate friendship group which provides greater variation in the ‘meta’, and following of established rules and procedures ready for higher-level play.

Games shops sell games that don’t get much online attention

Sure, some games get all the ‘hotness’ with large online marketing campaigns and glowing reviews from a small number of influencers. But there’s nothing like walking into a shop, seeing a little known game you like the look of, taking it home, and discovering something new that you think is awesome. Browsing websites is awesome for getting what you know you want, terrible for discovering something new.

Games shops (perhaps mainly cafes) are curators of museum pieces:

Some places, like The Ludoquist, have huge libraries including rare games that you’re unlikely to ever be able to play again if these places cease to be.

Games shops support the growth of large online retailers.

Bit of a weird one this – but stick with me. The idea that an online retailer is celebrating (hoping for?) the demise of high street shops is ultimately self-defeating. How many times have you gone into a shop, looked at something you like, then googled it and bought it online?

If you’re into card games, were you taught to play in a local shop? And then go on to buy some of your cards online?

Local shops are advertising games and creating new customers for online retailers. In fact, rather than approaching the relationship as one of conflict, it would be interesting to hear how large online retailers and local shops can work better together.

If we closed all the shops tomorrow, who loses out?

The sociologist in us questions ‘who is disadvantaged if all board game shops closed?’

Those people with the time, organisational skills, sufficient connections, or large houses will find it easy to set up a club. Those with good management and literacy skills may even be able to find a little money to help start it off. Those people with sufficient IT skills will find it easy to get reviews for games they like. Those people with well-established social circles won’t really miss the interactions in game shops – in fact, there’s already a well document participation gap in social clubs between the more and less affluent in society.

So what about those 16 year olds who are too young to hire a hall, who don’t have houses large enough to host D&D? What about the people who have barely seen anyone for the last 15 months? What happens to those people who can’t afford room deposits or up-front rental fees? What about those areas with precious few community resources?

Those people without access to a car will miss out, if clubs move to affordable room hire in obscure locations. The kids who want to spend their pocket money will miss out on their weekly trip to their favourite shop. Where will the kids go who want to learn to play Pokemon? What age groups are less likely to buy online? What age groups are less likely to find a club to join? The people with anxiety that want to begin as an anonymous onlooker? The people with access requirements? What about the people who currently don’t know anything about gaming, but would have found a shop by accident and been introduced to a hobby that gently improved their lives?

As with many things, the closure of games shops would serve to disproportionately disadvantage those already disadvantaged.

But FLGS do have unique challenges.

Lower footfall in town centres does mean fewer sales; anxiety about meeting up as the pandemic ends is lowering attendance at events; and there’s significantly higher overheads as a proportion of turnover compared to stores operating mainly online.

What have I missed?

Are you an owner or a customer of an FLGS or games café? Share your stories in the comments!

*By games shops I also mean cafes… businesses where you can meet, play, and possibly buy games.

Top 5 Games for Families This Half Term

Top 5 Games for Families This Half Term

MicroMacro Crime City – £19.99, rrp £25.99

What you do:Unfold the giant map and, Where’s Wally style, scour it for clues to piece together what happened.
Why it’s great:With 16 cases this game has loads of replayability. It’s a new, innovative idea – bringing something fresh to board games!
Who’s it forAnyone who loves puzzles or searching over large maps. The official age is 12+, but when playing with adults we think the youngest children will still enjoy searching for clues in this game!

But be aware, some of the scenarios cover more serious crimes, so discretion is advised with young children.

Camel Up – £27.99, rrp £36.99

What you do:Bet on the outcome of a camel race as it unfolds before you, a round at a time.
Why it’s great:Although a cute design, this game is genuinely nail biting – especially in the final stages. The mechanism for moving the camels doesn’t sound particularly amazing – you randomly select a colour to move. But camels on the same space stand one on top of the other – if you select the camel at the bottom, all those camels move – so the race can change so quickly!
Who’s it forOfficial age is 8+, but this game definitely works for children of any school age right up to adults.

Pokemon – £17.99, rrp £24.99

What you do:Collect the cards, or play the game!
Why it’s great:Pokemon is a perennial favourite. The game is easy enough to get started with, but lots of people just prefer to collect all the cards from each set.
Who’s it forIf you’re into collecting, we suggest the new tins – but if you want to learn to play, we suggest the new Battle Decks as a great way to learn!

Men At Work – £35.49, rrp £47.99

What you do:Balance little men and wooden girders to earn points. Like reverse-Jenga.
Why it’s great:Very simple to learn, and a test of dexterity as much as strategy.
Who’s it forAll ages 🙂

Dinosaur Island – £44.99, rrp £65

What you do:Compete with other people to create the best dinosaur theme park! Roll dice, collect DNA, and take actions to create your very own attractions.
Why it’s great:Because it’s Jurassic Park: The Board Game, without the licence 🙂
Who’s it forThis game is probably one for people who have some experience of playing games. If you already enjoy family favourites like Quacks of Quedlinburg, New York Zoo, or King of Tokyo – it’s a small step up in complexity from those.

Official age is 8+, but we’d perhaps recommend 10+if you’re new to gaming.