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Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report


At the GAMA Trade Show (GTS) this past weekend, I realized that every new game is an unknown. Reviewers may pass judgement, but until it hits the market and the gamers vote with their $$$, it's still an X factor.

Schoedinger's Cat is a famous thought experiment which places a cat (always a cat) into a locked box with a poison capsule attached to a radioactive 'trigger'. The trigger had a 50/50 chance of going off in any given minute. After one minute (Schroedinger asked), is the cat alive or dead? The answer is that it is both. That until the cat is observed, its state does not exist as either one or the other, but as a superposition of both. Ponder this, then we'll move on.

At the GTS this past weekend, I saw many, many games. And I cannot honestly say whether any of them will live or die-- until you (the gamer) buy it and open the box, their state is indetermined. They are all Schroedinger Games. It makes little difference what the product is, or who produced it. What matters is that they are observed, opened, played with. Then final judgement may be passed.

This is relevant because one of the big issues rocking the industry right now is the matter of game distribution. In a perfect model, you wouldn't notice this. Games would hit retail outlets like magic, you'd see them there, and their fate would be instantly determined. But like the box for the cat, there's a subtle probability working. Retailers order games from some distributors, but only get 50% of what they'd asked for. Suddenly, each game's state is undefined. Does it exist, or not? The distributor says is does, but the retailer can't find out until they actually buy it and find out if it arrives.

Then it arrives at the store, and suddenly it's in another Schroedinger box-- the retail shelf. If it's tucked behind magic racks and TSR books, the product is virtually hidden away. Is that copy of "Nocturnum" (an independent Cthulhu book from Fantasy Flight) really at the store? Until you actually peek at the shelf and look, it has no real existence.

Given all this indeterminable stuff, it's amazing that any game actually survives to be played. The point of this month's column is to try and confirm some of these "cats", to list products that have a bonafide existence. Hopefully this will reduce the uncertainties so gamers can get the games they want.

I'd mentioned that distributors are one source of this uncertainty. One of them, Zocchi, did take the time (and money: $100/minute for a 3 minute spot) to confirm their existence. They're trying to break the box for distribution. They promised that they will "stock what they say they carry!" A bold move indeed! Why, if this is the case, others will follow suit. Suddenly, retailers can actually get products that are out there, and what will happen next? We might be able to buy the games we want! Chaos will rein!!! Mwah ha ha ha!!!!

When hitting up distributors to carry our magazine (Metagame, the only professional live action magazine in existence, and something I bring up far too often in this column), I was pleased that most of them were promising good service. Time (and this column) will tell what the results are, but at the very least (in backwards alphabetic order), Zocchi, Wargames West, Liberty, Greenfield, Diamond, Chessex East and Central, Berkeley, and the Armory showed interest. Since we had 45 retailers specifically say they wanted to order it, well, let's do the math. 45 retailers. 9 Distributors. Yep, odds are quite good that we'll be able to track who is able to keep our retailers satisfied. It should be an interesting year.

Besides our magazine, we are told there are a few other products and companies out there (note-- there is no sarcasm tag in HTML. Deal with it.) So without further ado, here is a report on the company presentations at the GTS, in the order they spoke.

Wizards of the Coast went first (of course), and let be known that new M:TG cards will be numbered and have the rarity indicated. That preconstructed decks will continue to be made. That the overall backstory will continue, and be supported by novels. That the Hercules, Xena, and C-23 CCGs (TCGs in WotC-speak) will be out using the ARC system, aka "Magic Lite", making them roughly interchangeable. And that 4 party games will be coming out (of which Twitch is Peter Adkison's favorite, and which he cheerfully demoed for the whole show. This is not to be confused with the excellent game "Fluxx", as I did in my earlier edition of this column-- Fluxx is put out by ICE and is very cool, and since I had a copy staring me in the space, it called to me... "Sandy, be lead astray, mention me instead of the other, lesser game... misattribute me, I beg of you." My apologies to ICE for giving in to the temptation, and sorry for this digression.

Mayfair Games is alive and kicking with board games, card games, and railroad games available. They hope to release a dozen new games this year!

Redemption is selling well for Cactus Marketing in Christian Bookstores, has "grown up since its 1995 release", and has 2 supplements. One of these is "Women in the Bible", which I can't wait to read a review of. Let's hear it for historical accuracy and equal time! They're offering a full return policy, so smart retailers can take a chance on them with little risk. Good plan.

Sagarian, as their English stand-up comic/partner/co-designer clearly proved, is a wacky, cool, insane, great game. Their presentation was excellent, and I must say the game looks equally so. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, though, so again, I can't wait to see what the reviews say. It's out, so hey, someone buy it and let us all know!

FASA is powering along with Earthdawn books coming out, Battletech stuff coming out, and Shadowrun coming out. With that latter line, they've announced 3rd edition will be here, as well as advanced magic rules and other fun stuff. Wheee!

Precedence is cranking out the B-5 CCG, and they gave us copies so expect reviews of it on RPGnet soon! We know it's cool because Ed Wasser, aka "Mr. Morden", was there to tell us. "What do you want?" quickly became the tag line of the show, which is rather twisted when you think about the context. So hooray to Precedence for keeping a sense of humor about these things. They are still making supplements to support their RPG, Immortal, and also have an Aliens and Predator CCGs, and will have the B-5 "The Shadows" expansion out come December.

TSR was next, and let us know that last quarter, they were in the black. That's a very, very good sign for them. Their 3 main lines are being supported: AD&D, SAGA, and (the flexible SF game) Alternity. They want "a games system you can hang campaigns off of". And hang novels off of, apparently-- 40 novels making them the largest fantasy novel publisher around.

Five Rings Publishing announced they have 8 CCGs in or coming out-- some L5R spinoffs like "Burning Sands" (great art, btw), and some in totally new directions. Ergo, that market must be thriving.

Eden Studios has had 7 releases for Conspiracy X in the past year, and fans can look forward to Forsaken Rites, Shadows of the Mind, Exodus, the Black Book, Subrosa (create your own conspiracy!) Also, they are coming out with a new line, "Extinction", which is loosely connected to the Con-X chronology. They scare me. That's a good thing.

Agents of Gaming have the coolest trailer/movie I've seen, for Starseige. Their partner is likely to be putting that up on the web so everyone can see it, but for now I'll just say, wow. They have an upcoming GenCon release of tabletop and minis stuff, plus they bought "Terrain Creations". And they will release RIfts minis, Werewolf minis, and likely other stuff too. If Rob, our wargamer columnist, gets his hands on these, expect many reviews.

Wizard Intertainment splashed up a lot of covers for InQuest magazine, which is greatly expanding their RPG coverage. Given that Shadis is thinking of expanding and shifting its format to include a game with each issue, it looks like there's a neat competition going to see who can be the RPG magazine.

Last Unicorn Games announced that they snagged the highly lucrative Star Trek RPG license, woo hoo! They have the RPG, the minis, and the LARP! Plus Heresy and Kingdom Come and a partnership with 5 Rings for the Dune CCG. Fun, colorful, glossy, and Trek. What more could one want? (Ask me later).

Kenzer & Company have the ever-excellent "Knights of the Dinner Table". If you don't get it, beg your local gaming or comic store to get it. It's one of the three funniest things out there and hey, 10,000 copies are being printed in time for GenCon. They also have their Kalamar fantasy RPG setting with cool covers by an ex-Disney alum. And their Monty Python card game. Which, just to prove their sense of humor, they gave us a box of-- a box of boosters. A huge box of boosters, all of which say "you have to have a copy of the main game to play with these". Now that's insideous marketing. "Have the boosters for free, 'cause then we know you have to buy decks!". So expect an RPGnet contest for these real soon now, so we can have more time to read our back issues of KoDT!

Finally, Archangel Entertainment's own Ken Whitman closed out the bits with a presentation of a heck of a lot of products they are producing. If you recall me mentioning that KoDT was one of the three funniest things out there, well, his presentation is one of that set. They're putting out a blistering array of products-- wacky card games like Groo and 3 Stooges and some upcoming ones, RPGs like Zero and EV, art books that are gorgeous, and other stuff. Lots of stuff. Lots of cool stuff. Lots of cool expensive stuff. Lots of cool expensive stuff worth buying. Hey, I'm easily suckered in by a flashy show, but what Ken did with just a slide projector and a tape recorder was brilliant, and it sold me.

Meanwhile, on the dealer's floor, our co-boothie Mark of Guardians of Order was pleased as punch that his anime hit, Big Eyes, Small Mouth, made the Origins award nomination for best RPG of 1997. Blue Planet and the Legends of the 5 Rings RPG also made it, and if I ever get some sleep, I'll list the others!

So there it is. You know the score. Now, what lives and what dies, it's all up to you.

More next week! The rest of the GTS report!

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