Living Card Games in Australia – 2016 Edition

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In the tail end of 2012 Fantasy Flight Games released two new Living Card Games to add to its portfolio, these being Android: Netrunner and Star Wars.  Along with the introduction of these games FFG introduced a brand new Organised Play System which included a whole bunch of prize support kits and also Store Championship, Regional, National and World tournaments.

After enjoying an initial surge in popularity with numbers quickly swelling, especially for Android: Netrunner, the Living Card Game scene enjoyed considerable success, with much of the credit lying with Kieren Otton of Good Games Distribution and the retail stores prepared to give the new product line a go.

Since then it’s been an interesting (if somewhat roller coaster) ride with the scene enjoying predominately high points but also a few unhappy moments as well.  To be fair though one might argue that some of the negative events could be attributed to ‘teething problems’ as things such as rules settle in.

Rather than looking at the scene as a player, I’m going to take a look at things through the eyes of a Tournament Organiser and as someone who used to own (and still works in) a retail gaming store and who jumped on the LCG bandwagon early in the scene.

Price

When LCG’s first arrived on the scene, all was well.  Stores bought lots of shelf stock and players eagerly gobbled it up.  The Australian dollar was trading strong against the green back and expansion packs could be sold for as little as $20 while stores still made a respectable profit.  Things changed though, they always do, and eventually our dollar began to slip.  Combined with the delay in product arriving from the USA, players started to look for alternative options.  This was when online retailers saw a golden opportunity, in that they were able to ship singular units much faster and much cheaper than local Australian retailers.  What’s more they were able to sell the products substantially cheaper than local stores.  The result was a massive exodus of players who had been buying product locally.  While many of these players would be more than happy to purchase product from their local store at a higher price, the tipping point was the speed in which they could receive the product, often a month or more before stores had it on the shelf.

Shipping

One of the biggest problems Australian retailers have faced in stocking LCG products is shipping.  We’re a long way from the United States of America or Europe and when moving large volumes of stock the cheapest way to do it is via sea.  This means large shipping containers are filled and stuck on the back of a boat and pushed off pointing in our general direction.  Because of the costs involved, that container needs to wait until it is full or near full before it’s put onto a ship.  Sending a half-full container costs as much as a full one so it would be an obscene waste of money to send a container not filled to the top.  The result is a month (or sometimes two) delay in product reaching local retailers and again this creates the perfect opportunity for online retailers in Europe or the USA to get stock immediately, then dispatch it via air at a fraction of the cost.

adn_2016_storechamp_productlayoutPrize Support

Initially, in 2013, Living Card Games received three different game night kits.  This was reduced to two in the following years.  Now, combined with the above shipping problems Australian stores received only ONE game night kit for the entire year of 2015.  This created a huge level of disparity with the players who so love the games.  Turning up to an event late in the season only to find it’s the same prize support you’ve been seeing for the last 8 months and you already have three of the playmats and two playsets of the promotional card is a real dampener.  I asked Kieren Otton from Good Games about the current situation with Store Championship kits looking to cop a four week delay. He informed me that “Prize kits seem to be put together separate from their (FFG) other lines/products.  Which means they are ready to be shipped to us at various times, usually not when other things are ready to be shipped”.  When you combine this with the above shipping problem you can see how kits can easily miss one container and have to wait for the next.

Solutions

Fantasy Flight Games themselves have taken a number of steps to improve the price and shipping situation.  They have (or will) shut down the selling of their products with a number of online retailers.  They are also implementing street dates of new products, something I personally believe they should have been doing since the beginning.  Kieren from GGD also informs me that local release dates “will still be freight dependent on whether we get it before everyone else or not”.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction and hopefully gives retailers more reason to stock the product range, because with customers spending their money online there is really very little reason from a monetary point of view to carry the product range, not when compared any Trading Card Game you care to mention.  As I mentioned above, I think it’s fair to say that MOST Living Card Game players would be more than happy to pay the extra $5 or $6 for an expansion pack and support their local store provided they were obtaining stock around the same time as the rest of the world and NOT one or two months later.

KateMacShipping is something that we, here in Australia, simply need to accept.  One small disadvantage for living in such a wonderful country.  As Tournament Organisers we simply need to get smarter and book our events as late as possible in the window provided.  The expenses involved in shipping a Regional kit via air would create a situation where gaming stores would have to charge $70 or more for a seat at the table to cover costs on some of the smaller and less played LCG’s.  The only way this is ever going to change is if our dollar trades exceptionally well against the USD and the added cost of flying freight becomes negligible.  One solution might be to allow Australia to sanction their Store Championship, Regional or National events a month later than the rest of the world.

Prize support is something that I, as a Tournament Organiser, personally feel is still lacking somewhat from the LCG scene.  Fantasy Flight Games now has the ability to perform print-on-demand runs of their cards.  Why not implement a system similar to Magic: The Gathering’s Friday Night Magic?  Print a full-bleed promotional card and mail it out every month.  Even if you have to sting retailers a few dollars for the pack, a fresh card every month is going to lure players back into stores every week and give players more reason to participate in events.  I’d also like to see quarterly Game Night Kits being shipped promptly and regularly; one playmat for a six month (or longer) period just isn’t going to cut it.

And just quietly, as a Tournament Organiser, if FFG could organise some decent and functional software to run and report their events it would be greatly appreciated.  Something that understands the various score systems for the different games, super byes, single and double elimination pairing for asymmetrical games, etc.  There are a number of ‘fan made’ products out there which are great but an official product would be really nice.

Summary

2016 has a lot of potential to be a really great year for Living Card Games, both for players AND retail stores.  Lets just hope that Fantasy Flight Games continues along the right path and continues to make good decisions.  Now all FFG need to do is announce Call of Cthulhu 2.0 and I’ll be completely satisfied.

2015 Winter Game Night Kits are just about to arrive (Good!) however 2016 Store Championship Kits have been delayed four weeks (Bad!).  Regional applications have been received and stores awarded events. Regionals will be held over April to June and Tournament Organisers are being advised to book as late as possible in the window to allow for prize support to arrive.  Here is a list of who is running what, check with the store for more details.

Android: Netrunner
NSW – Good Games Hurstville
VIC – Games Laboratory
TAS – Area 52
SA – Infinity Games
WA – Stratagem Games
QLD – GUF Brisbane
ACT – Jolt Games

Star Wars
NSW – Good Games Hurstville
QLD – GUF Brisbane
ACT – Three D6

Game of Thrones
NSW – Good Games Burwood
VIC – Kay Jays Game Cafe
TAS – Area 52
SA – The Hobby Matrix
QLD – Good Games Brisbane
ACT – Three D6
Far North QLD (Cairns) – Wicked Goblin

Warhammer 40K: Conquest
NSW – Good Games Town Hall
VIC – Tezza’s Games
QLD – Ace Comics & Games Annerley
ACT – Three D6

What are your thoughts on the matter?  Have some suggestions of your own to make?  Agree or disagree with this article?  Post your comments below and share your thoughts.

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