Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Battlelore: Lost In Translation

For background to this post, read my previous posts Battlelore is Pregnant & ...and Tide of Iron is the Baby Daddy.

Christian Petersen, the CEO of FFG, posted
a Q&A about the status of Battlelore on the Fantasy Flight website. What follows is quotes from that Q&A mixed with my comments/"translations" of what was said.
Q: Does Battles of Westeros use the same game system as BattleLore?

CP: No. While both are games of medieval army battles and have some slight similarities, they are different games... The classic BattleLore game is based on Richard Borg’s “Command and Colors” game system, while Battles of Westeros is an entirely new engine, one that is significantly more involved than C&C and more in tune with FFG’s design principles.
OK, no surprise here. These are different games & Westeros will not be treated as an expansion.
CP: We acquired BattleLore to be our core brand for medieval tactical warfare games (in the scale represented in the classic BattleLore game). The BattleLore name is not necessarily tied to Richard’s “Command and Colors” system.
As others have commented, this doesn't completely make sense. For those who like the original system (what CP calls "classic Battlelore"), slapping the name on a different game doesn't make us like it more. And for those who didn't like the "classic" game, it turns them off to your new product. This does not, at least to my untrained eye, seem to be a wise brand management move.
The classic BattleLore game (which we purchased from Days of Wonder in ’08) had an eclectic mix of a Fantasy and historic medieval theme that FFG has never been comfortable with. We solve this problem with Battles of Westeros, which will take on the role of our gritty, no-magic, medieval warfare game, while the classic “BattleLore” game’s trajectory will be of more traditional fantasy.
OK, an attempt at translation: "We had this Westeros game in development that was close enough to Battlelore that we realized we needed the license to not offend a truckload of gamers. And then we thought about selling a bunch of Battlelore on top of that & made the offer to Days of Wonder, who was already completely overwhelmed with what they had created."
Q: Will the classic BattleLore game continue to be supported?

CP: Yes. We are working on new releases as we speak, one of which will be announced on the FFG site in the near future.
Translation: "We will throw you guys a bone or two, so please stop gnawing on my leg as if it was made of Milk-Bones with your blog posts & general hysteria ."
Last year, Richard posted some ideas for “future releases” for BattleLore. Unfortunately, some fans took this post as canon, and are now expecting these specific releases. I think it important to note that while they were well-intended ideas of Richard’s, they did not fall in line with FFG’s vision. What we’re working on with Richard currently has no relation to anything in that old post, but something entirely new and different.
Having never read the original post by Richard (who is, btw, a very nice guy), I don't know what those ideas were. CP is exactly right here - ideas of the designer are just ideas unless the publisher puts up the dough to get 'em printed.
Q: Speaking of BattleLore, the main BattleLore game has been out of print for a while. Will this come back into print?

CP: There have been, and continue to be, some very serious issues in reconciling the production methods and expectations in the way Days of Wonder produced the BattleLore main game with those of FFG. We understand the lack of availability is an issue and we’re working on a solution...

There’s a particular trap in manufacturing games, and it’s one that applies here. The initial printing of a game is typically printed in large volumes, which means that certain efficiencies of this volume are not able to be replicated in a smaller (i.e. reprint level) production. This is a trap that FFG works hard to avoid in its own manufacturing, but the original BattleLore printing was of course not in our production control. Not only was BattleLore caught in this trap, but the game was priced aggressively to begin with, even assuming the best of production efficiencies. On top of that, the factory that DOW used for this production essentially admitted to pricing their manufacturing of the original BattleLore “to get the business in the door” -- which means that the costing levels on the first run was eminently underpriced.
Translation: "We would like to blame Days of Wonder for a problem we've owned since 2008. Since that seems a little cheeseball of us, I'll go into more detail & explain that part of the reason DoW was willing to sell this to us was they were struggling with the same thing and were more than happy to let us pay them for the privilege of not having to deal with it anymore."
This, set against the overall backdrop of an already steeply escalating cost in game manufacturing, has made the core game a serious issue. Reprinting the core game “as is,” would essentially result in a near $150 retail price point, which is obviously unacceptable.
Note: this sentence was tweaked in the last 24 hours... it originally read "near $200 retail price point".

Translation: "We won't be reprinting the base game in the same format. Do the math, people."

Q: Was this a surprise?

CP: When we took over BattleLore, the key value to FFG was the BattleLore brand. Which, as you can see, we’re carrying forward with Battles of Westeros.

We were concerned that the classic BattleLore base game, as had been created by Days of Wonder (“DOW”), was going to be troublesome on a production level. We did not, to be honest, expect it to essentially be non-manufacturable, as is the case.

Translation: "I won't answer that question, because it looks oopidstay for me to admit we bought a pig in a poke. Instead, I will wave our flashy new game in your face, hoping you'll pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Then I will once again tell you that the eBay/Geekplace value of an original base set should start climbing, as we will not try to punch that particular tar baby again."
So, as I said before, we’re working on a solution to this problem, and we have some short-term solutions that I think will work very well for players looking to get into BattleLore.

Q: Such as?

CP: I’ll have to defer the details and the exact “when” for another day when the details are more concretely in place (they are subject to change at this point.)
Translation: "We're scrambling here, but we really do have good intentions. Please don't make us promise something we can't follow through with..."

Some final thoughts:
  • I don't think FFG (or Christian Petersen) is the Evil Overlord in this scenario. They made a business decision that has turned out to be fraught with difficulty (and probably not helped in any way by the world economic situation) and so they're trying to make lemonade out of lemons without cheesing off a whole bunch of potential customers.
  • I think FFG has overestimated the value of Battlelore as a brand name separate from the game system released originally by Days of Wonder.
  • I think FFG underestimated the difficulty of producing Battlelore & expansions... and now they've got a tiger by the tail.
  • I'm glad to hear that there will be some kind of continued support for Battlelore... and I hope that it will wisely take into account the pre-existing fan base as well as the potential for bringing new players into the game. That's going to be a difficult task.

Legal Fine Print: Any comments that I made in my "translations" are purely speculative and indicate no real insight or information... they are simply my attempts at commentary & humor. Please do not sue me.


MiddleClassJoe said...

If anyone is interested, I've got a copy of BattleLore that I'm willing to let go of for $199.99, erm, I mean $149.99.

Jeff Myers said...

Will FFG collapse under the weight of their own plastic minis?

Will the value of my copy of Dune go up since they keep stalling on their "not-Dune" remake?

Will Mark's next post involve the gathering of torches and pitchforks?

Will I ever play Battlelore?

Please tune in next time for another exciting adventure of the pastor guy!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Joe: unless you really love the game, I would consider watching the market pretty closely right now. It's likely to get valuable pretty quick - at least until they announce whatever "fix" they're going to come up with...

Jeff: If FFG does collapse, we can bury the corpses in the extra Tide of Iron & Runewars boxes - those things are massive.

As to Dune, it's already pretty valuable. I don't think that the un-Dune will change that much.

No torches & pitchforks... but I'll be happy to let folks know about GOOD news as well as bad.

Yes, you will. Right now, Braeden & I are both bringing our heroes back (my Rogue & his Wizard) for yet another fight.