Brazil in quarantine

With our friends from Devir, we work together to bring our games to several countries. They already sent us how it looked in Spain, and now the situation in Brazil.

Brazil is, as we write this message, the epicenter of the pandemic in South America.

All our territory is officially in quarantine, and some regions are already in lockdown. Only essential activities are permitted, and most of us are struggling to keep social distancing, many times, against the bad example of some of our federal authorities.

Business is also struggling to survive, those who were prepared to sell online are in better shape; those who weren´t, now face extinction.

The government has approved some economic aid measures for the population and business (as low-interest credit), but in both cases, the help doesn´t seem to reach those who need it.

And as we thought Amazon already had all the advantage they needed to expand their market share here, well, we were wrong.

For now, in the short term, for some sectors of the economy, the gain from the increase of online sales should compensate the loss of income from the brick and mortar stores.

And despite all the grave global repercussions of the pandemic, the ones we are facing now, and the ones still to come, the undeveloped Brazilian board game market has an opportunity to grow, due to the intrinsic social nature of the board games.

Quarantined families, couples, and even people who leave alone share their experience with board games on social media more than never.

Our analogical hobby is spreading through the digital.

There are many reasons to be concerned, but not to be a pessimist.

Situation in New Zealand

Since the start of the blog, we had a lot of coronavirus reports, but none was that far from the Czech Republic as this one. Our friends from Pixelpark sent us what is happening in New Zealand:

March 24th, the New Zealand Government enforced a 4 week National Lockdown at level 4. This means all Schools, Universities, shops, services, and public transport must close and for everyone to remain in their homes till the end of April. Travel is restricted, and all social gatherings of any kind, other than the people we live with, are banned. Essential services (Supermarkets, drugstores, and Freight Companies) remain in operation but in a restricted capacity. This is going to have a major impact on our operation for the foreseeable future.

We have had to close our warehouse and will not be sending any orders to stores till the lockdown is lifted. As of today, all the stores in New Zealand we supply have closed. All new releases scheduled for April will now ship in May.

The Tourism industry in New Zealand – which is a significant portion of our GDP has effectively been shut down and will stay that way for quite some time. NZ will see a significant increase in unemployment. I imagine everything that is going on will take a toll on retailers’ cashflow, which will have consequences well beyond the lockdown.

We have survived 3 recessions, an earthquake swarm that lasted several years, the mass shootings last March with the subsequent 3 weeks in a police cordon (we are next door to the Christchurch Mosque). We’re getting pretty resilient. But it will still be a challenge, especially taking into account the hammering our currency has taken over the last few weeks, but we’re in a strong position to get through this difficult period, which is unprecedented.

May 16th – After 7 weeks, stores have finally opened, with COVID19 seeming held at bay. Social distancing is still required along with customers signing in and out of stores for contact tracing, but at least stores can begin trading again. Sales have been strong as stores have been restocking after solid sales the day before lock-down, (it turns out that boardgames are the ideal product for quarantine). But how all this will impact business over the next year is unclear at this stage.

How to play Trapwords over the internet

We are continuing to work on many projects to help people survive social distancing. A few weeks ago, Tony Gullotti, our PR manager for North America prepared a video showing how to play Codenames with friends over the internet. Today he shared a video showing how to play Trapwords using Discord, you can watch it below.

Many of the conventions that CGE usually attends will be virtual this year, so we have been focusing on things to make playing games easier, and more enjoyable when played online. Next week we will be sharing a big project that I feel will benefit upcoming virtual conventions we will be attending, and Tony will continue to make more videos showing instructions for more of our games with another videoconferencing software.

Adrenaline Solo Play DLC

Three weeks ago, in a post How to play Codenames over the internet, I mentioned that we are working on several things for you to survive social distancing more enjoyably. Two weeks ago, we released an update to the free print and play game Under Falling Skies – which now has official translations into Czech, French, German, and Russian. And today, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Solo Play DLC for Adrenaline.

Adrenaline is a game from Filip Neduk, which we published in 2016. It is our take on first-person shooters in board game form. It was a lot of fun to develop this one, and later we felt that it would be great to add the possibility for players to play as teams. So we developed and published Team Play DLC, an expansion where DLC meant “Discovered Leftover Cardboard.” And now we are introducing another mode for this game: solo. And this time, DLC in the name really means “DownLoadable Content,” as you just need to download these rules, and you can play it.

With an idea how solo game could work, Petr Čáslava came, who was the lead developer of Team Play DLC, and Czech people might know him as editor-in-chief of Deskofobie. Both Filip Neduk, the game’s author, and the CGE team, liked how it worked. So, Petr continued working on it. For some time, we were unsure if we would find a great way how to make the expansion without adding unique components, which were not in the game. We were working with a possibility that we will make some additional components for this variant and distribute them as a free bonus to players at shows and thru retailers. But in the end, we were able to find a way how to make it real DLC. It just required players to have both the Adrenaline base game and Team Play DLC expansion.

Before we actually released it to the public, COVID-19 happened. And at first, we felt that it is great that we actually have something for solo play ready and available. But then we realized that it requires to have an expansion. As always, there are significantly more people with just base game than with expansion also. And in current times, when many FLGSs (Friendly Local Game Stores) were forced to close, it might be hard to acquire Team Play DLC.

So we decided that it would be nice to work on it a bit more and try to find a way how to make it playable with base game only. Petr took this challenge, and he succeeded. How well did he do? You can see from the first comment by Filip Neduk after he finished the first solo game:

I just finished a game of the Solo Play DLC. I just loved it. It was a lot of fun. It was really clever how the programming works, and it’s really intense. I thought I was going to die all the time, but in the end, I actually won. The next bot turn would have killed me. It is fast, elegant, fun, dynamic, and well balanced. Great job!

Petr congrats on a great addition to the Adrenalineverse. Now that I’m hooked, I have to play with all of the other characters. I played with Sprog or Juancho, as he is known in the Spanish version. 🙂

When I tried it for the very first time, I was not that fortunate, and I lost by just one hit. But I enjoyed it a lot, nevertheless. And if you want to give it a try, you can download it here from our website. Have fun!

Greetings from Baltics

Our friends from Brain Games operates in all three Baltics countries. So it is interesting to see a different approach by these countries to the current situation:

Brain Games handles distribution and retail in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Each morning all our team leaders meet for a video chat to update on the local happenings and learn from the shared experiences. Everyone who can is working from home and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Each country has different regulations in effect, but in many terms, we feel united, and our company tries to use the same practices with all our employees and partners no matter the country. Still, it’s easier to talk about each country on its own.

Lithuania had the slowest start regarding Covid-19 spread. Still, it was the first Baltic country to close all non-essential shops for over a month. It was challenging to transfer sales and customer support to online channels. A week ago, the Lithuanian government decided to reduce restrictions, and shops were allowed to re-open again. Now there is an obligation for customers to wear face masks, and there can be only one customer inside a shop at any time. The consumer traffic is obviously not the same as it was last year and the shopping habits have changed.

After Lithuania decided to close all the shops, Estonia did the same. Currently, the latest decision is that all shops will re-open next week. During this period, Estonia as well tried to transfer all sales online. Estonia has the most total cases from all three Baltic countries, so they are even more cautious. It will definitely take a while for things to get back to a more normal state, but it will not be as it was for sure.

Latvia was the only Baltic country that decided not to close shops fully. Currently, shops are not working at weekends, and there are reduced working ours for other days. Brain Games did decide on their own to close its retail shops for a while to make sure that we can provide a safe environment for our employees and customers. We re-opened our shops with rules that there can be only one customer at a time in the store, no cash payments are processed, and customers cannot touch any games. In Latvia, we have experimented the most with how we tackle this situation, e.g., now we even have our top games available in what was normally only a food delivery app. We have tried some online plays, RPG sessions, rules teachings, and created or shared various content for those who are staying at home.

Overall in distribution, we see that the biggest struggle has been for our partners who have big retail chains. They had difficulties in transferring everything to the online environment, and it has been impossible to keep the same consumer traffic. Small stores, however, are doing okay. Interest for the games, jigsaw puzzles, and activities to perform home with your family have increased in this period. In all countries, kids are learning from home, and their teachers are encouraging parents to spend more time with their kids playing games, so they are not outside with friends. We see that everyone is missing gatherings with friends and other public events. Most likely public events will not be back this summer, but small gatherings will happen, and games will be one of the best ways to spend time in a narrow circle.

Facing summer with social distancing will be a challenge. Still, we feel like Baltics have been doing well so far. The increase of total case count in our region is slowing at the moment with only ~21 new cases each day based on the last 7 day average for all 3 countries combined. It is impossible to say if, by people starting to get less cautious, this will not cause a big spike. Still, we can only hope that the general public will continue to practice all government requirements to keep this number as low as possible.

What about Canada?

One of our partners in Canada, Lion Rampant Imports (recently acquired by Asmodee), sent us their view of the current situation:

Like most countries across the globe, Canada hasn’t been spared from COVID-19 and in early March, both federal and provincial governments put in place safety measures to minimize the spread of the disease as much as possible. As a result, for over a month now, Canadians have been actively practicing social distancing by staying home. Schools and most public spaces have been closed since mid-March, public gatherings are banned, and nonessential businesses have had to adapt how they operate in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.

How have Asmodee Canada and Lion Rampant Imports responded to this unprecedented situation? The same way we respond to any circumstance that is beyond our control—with compassion, flexibility, and resilience. We recently appointed Kevin Ratko as General Manager, under whose guidance we are committed to supporting our retail partners offering e-commerce, or whose brick and mortar stores are permitted to remain open. We are also committed to retaining as many jobs as possible in the face of the crisis. That said, our number one priority is the health and safety of all our employees and partners. As such, we have established a “work-from-home” policy wherever possible and have implemented strict safety protocols – as outlined by the Government of Canada – for all on-site staff members.

We are impressed by the tolerance and patience shown by Canadians during this difficult situation. We know that many have turned to tabletop games and puzzles to provide a bit of fun, connection, and normalcy at a time when the world seems to have been turned upside down. We are proud of and impressed by the resilience of the entire Lion Rampant team, as well as that of our partners and we’re confident that together we’ll get through this.

How it is in Germany

Our dear friends in HeidelBÄR Games wrote to us how is current situation in Germany:

Covid19 caused a similar dramatic situation in Germany, as in many other countries. As a freshly restored publisher, the situation is challenging for us, too. But being a smaller and more flexible company has its benefits in this situation. Miltenberg, where we are located, is close to Frankfurt/Main, but in Bavaria. It is a beautiful small city, which is very quiet now. No tourists and the shops are closed. A small part of our team comes into the office every day, limiting the contact. The rest works from home – which is a major change for us. Teamwork is our strength, and it is different not to discuss at the same table while playtesting. Technology allows the basic work with file sharing, but direct contact is missing. This is a change in company culture, but we believe we are doing okay, others have it worse. Our sales got slow – no surprise – and we feel the pressure on our business. We went into so-called short-work (like a lot of other businesses in Germany), which allows German companies to reduce working hours for its employees under special circumstances. The government then compensates for a significant part of this for the employees.

Acceptance for the active restrictions (shops closed, no contact with others, etc.) in Germany is still surprisingly high. A step-by-step lockdown exit strategy for May is upcoming. Of course, we have our share of issues, complainers, stupid politicians, etc. Stability seems to work best, as it seems. Considering that we have a federal system, the different states have managed okay, but the rules vary from state to state. For now, Covid19 deaths seem to be in control, at least. Of course, nothing is safe, and more is to come upon us. Nothing will be as it was before. Everybody’s life has changed, easy to see when buying food at a grocery store: wearing gloves and face mask, using disinfection, blenders for the cashiers, and more.

After many weeks, retailers are reopening these days again, though under restrictions. Bavaria is the most strict, so we will not open before May. Face masks could become mandatory, the distance will be required. We are very happy with our retailers. Stationary German game retailers suffered a lot, and they are the backbone of our strong gaming market. We hope … players/customers will come back, too.

HeidelBÄR Games tried to support our beloved hobby as well in the last difficult weeks, similar to others, with downloads for playing at home, etc. We sent hundreds of free word games to teachers. Their hardest time is about to come, as we fear. We don’t do face masks after all!

In the motherland of the SPIEL, where Germans appear to be grumpy, our spirit as HeidelBÄR’s is not broken. We are even more dedicated to overcome the obstacle of this global crisis and try to make the best for everyone wherever and whenever possible. Gaming is a great social experience, and the last weeks have told us how important it is for all of us. Game on!

Situation in Greece

Our friends from Kaissa sent us how the situation in Greece is:

The situation in Greece seems a little bit better than the situation in Western Europe. Our government was really cautious from the beginning, afraid that our weak medical system wouldn’t be able to accommodate enough ill people. It took some early and harsh measures to stop the virus from spreading fast, like closing the schools and most of the shops, which aren’t selling food or medicine.

For the last 4 weeks, all citizens have to stay in their homes unless they send SMS to the government with the reason why they need to leave their homes. That can be either go to work, supermarket, pharmacy, or to take a short walk outside.

Right now, since most of the shops in Greece are closed, our company is only able to sell to online shops and Supermarkets. Even though we have fewer selling points, the demand for board games is high; therefore, we haven’t been affected as much as other companies in Greece. Our

Our number 1 income-producing industry in Greece is tourism. We are hoping that the situation with the virus will be much better by June, not only in Greece but also in all countries. Otherwise, the effect on our economy will be big.

Under Falling Skies – free print and play game

As I mentioned in last week’s post, How to play Codenames over the internet, we are working on several things for you to survive social distancing more enjoyably. Today I have a pleasure to present the second one. Before we get to it, though, let me tell you a story about it.

For several years we have been organizing playtesting events in the former Czechoslovakia. They are usually focused on testing our prototypes. Still, we encourage participants to bring their own creations and get both feedback from other testers and from us. A frequent participant was Tomáš Uhlíř (and you thought that Vlaada Chvatil’s name was hard to pronounce). He brought one prototype, which was later published as Spring on a String. Besides that, he helped us several times with the organization of several events, and his observations from playtesting prototypes were always constructive.

So, when we were looking for a colleague to join our team in Prague, he was our first choice. Fortunately, he agreed to our proposal and started working with us. From the very beginning, he was very involved with the development of Sanctum, and later, he even became a lead developer. Independently to this, he submitted his prototype Under Falling Skies into BGG’s 2019 9 Card Game Print and Play Design Contest.

His game won the contest in several categories: Best Solitaire Game, Most Thematic Game, Most Innovative Mechanic, and even Best Overall Game. But even before this happened, he showed us the game. We were skeptical first, as we never imagined we would publish a solo game, but we were astonished by how much we liked the game. And we enjoyed not only playing the game, but also watching other people play the game. This is always a sign to us that we would enjoy working on the game. So we will be able to spend many hours playtesting it ourselves, but also closely looking at how others are playing the game.

But we wanted to be sure that we will be able to enhance the game, so it will become more than just a nicely produced version with better graphics and components. Together with Tomáš, we found the way, but that is a story for another day. We, obviously, started with that print and play version and playtested it and changing it towards the new version.

Once the coronavirus situation happened and we were thinking about how we can help, we realized that we can improve that print and play version. Since we were playtesting it a lot, we knew that there are a few little details that could make print and play version better and easier to grasp. We started working on it, and besides gameplay changes, we updated the rulebook, to make it more clear.

You can download this new version here:

We hope that you will have fun with the game as much as we do. And here is a small tip: Even though it is a solo game, we found that we enjoy it a lot as a two-player coop game where you are consulting together what to do and how to defeat those pesky aliens.

If you already have the old version, you don’t need to print new cards, only the rules were changed. Here is a summary of all the changes we made to this new version:

ENERGY

Many players tend to play this rule wrong, so we decided to make it much more intuitive.

  • Don’t set the energy to the room’s value, but you add it instead. 

ROBOTS

Robots are probably the most challenging concept in the game, so we decided to make them less unforgiving. 

  • Place a robot immediately after resolving the blue (robot) room. (But you can still use it only from the next round.)
  • Lower its value only when you decide to use it.
  • You can choose to remove the robot at any time.
  • When you use a robot, you can mark it by rotating the die 45° to make sure you don’t use it more than once per round.

RESPAWNING ENEMY SHIPS

Respawning enemy ships was the least exciting part of the round. And since a player usually had more options where to place them, he needed to go through quite a lot of calculations for a decision that, in most cases, didn’t matter that much. So we decided to automate this part as much as possible, speeding up the game and allowing the player to focus on the more important and more exciting stuff. 

  • Place all the green (respawning) ships first and only after that, place the red (one-life) ships.
  • The ships are placed in empty columns, if possible.
  • But if every column has a ship, choose a starting spot with the most empty spaces between it and the column’s top ship. 
  • Only when there are more possibilities where to place the ship, you can choose.

Some of the above changes make the game slightly easier, and that’s actually great because it allows the players who struggled even with the lowest difficulty to explore more of the game’s variability. 

COVID situation in Poland

I still have a backlog of reports from our partners from last week. So without further ado, here is today’s dose of COVID stories around the board gaming world. This time from our partner Rebel.pl from Poland:

It is probably more or less similar to Czech. In essence, schools and shopping malls are closed for 3 weeks, a lot of our customers are not operating at all or operating 20-30% regular turnover. On the other hand, online stores are very, very active right now, and they have more audiences than ever. So overall our sales were quite similar to sales last year (however channels are different).
Of course, in shopping malls, our stock is not rotating, so we don’t expect any orders from them in the nearest future.
We change our marketing powers from events (obviously) to online, and this is something already with some effects.

For now, our situation is not bad. If it does not stay too long (ends in the nearest 4-8 weeks), we assume our sales will be similar to last year. If it will get worse, who knows? It can crush the whole economy of the country, and this is something challenging to plan.