I was about one hundred feet north of the four-way stop at the intersection of County Road B2 and Prior Avenue when the drugs took hold.
My rules lawyer—a burly Samoan—advised me to hit the brakes, but I don’t think he’s been reading the newspapers. Either that or he didn’t realize he was riding in a Rav4, a vehicle that I gather from reliable sources actually has no brakes. In all probability, my lawyer was unable to see the the car’s make and model when he got in, for all the Razorwings, which were even at that moment trying to break through the sunroof, clinging to the top of the vehicle like a gang of rabid fanboys after some late-breaking list of card spoilers.
We were headed to the grand opening of the Fantasy Flight Games Event
ual Center. My lawyer had advised against the trip because he had heard that he wouldn’t be allowed to play Munchkin.
We arrived just after four, the appointed time. We were shocked (shocked!) to discover that there was no boxed readaloud text to give us the gist of what we found ourselves gaping at. I have, thus, taken the liberty:
If you succeed:
If you fail:
Despite our best efforts, we were appraised of The Three Rules:
1. Burn Not Ye Locals.
2. Abuse Not Ye Tourists.
3. Terrify Not Ye Help.
Either that or The Two Rules:
1. Talk Not About Ye Event Center.
2. Talk Not About Ye Event Center.
Either that or The One Rule:
1. No Outside Food or Drink.
I had brought my own coffee, which I secreted in my trousers.
After glad-handing passers-by, I realized that my lawyer had wandered off, so I went back out to the Rav to grab a signal flare, which I figured I’d set off in the bathroom in order to…
FFG’s new event center is a good-looking space. As you can tell from the pictures, it’s big-ish. What you can’t see in the main image on that page is that there’s a second room of about the same size, adjacent. My wild-ass guess would be that it’s about 3,000 square feet, all told.
The banner displays—art from various FFG products—are copious, and make the event center feel gamer space, as opposed to feeling like the kind of generic hotel event space where you find game conventions. That’s a plus, whatever you think of Jesper Myrfors.
The place is well-lit. I confess confusion that “well-lit” is always the first physical characteristic used to describe a professionally run game store. Not that I have anything against good lighting. In any case, the event center is well-lit. So there you go.
The grand opening was well-attended. I only stayed until dinnertime, so I can’t say whether the crowd grew or shrank after the first two hours, but people did seem to be settling in for games. The FFG standards were all going (your Arkham Horrors, your Descents, your Battlestar Galacticas), and some other odd games as well. I taught a trio of guys how to play Chaos in the Old World before I took off.
Notably, there was a table of guys playing Munchkin, which I had been under the impression was not going to be allowed. (That is, I had been under the impression that the event center was going to be an FFG-only venue, not that Munchkin was going to be singled out for special treatment.) Apparently, though, the event center will be both (a) open to the public from 4:00 to 9:00 every day, and (b) the public will be allowed to bring and play whatever games they like.
All told, I came away with the impression that the facility was a good one, and that the opening was a success.
The question of whether the event center will “succeed” in the long term, for varying values of “success,” is an interesting one. It’s common wisdom that to operate a hobby game store is a break-even proposition at best, but the event center isn’t exactly a game store. Relatively little space is given over to retail, although FFG will clearly make a better-than-retail margin on its own product.
One imagines that FFG hopes to make up at least some of the event center’s cost of operation by selling its memberships. But, on the other hand, it’s equally possible that FFG simply intends to operate the facility qua facility in the red on an ongoing basis, as what amounts to a marketing expense. That wouldn’t be an unreasonable approach.
Although there are obviously significant differences in scale and intention, it’s interesting to contrast the event center to Games Workshop’s retail stores. One non-obvious but significant difference is the fact that you can visit a GW retail store on your own and find something to do there. The nature of the GW hobby is such that there’s a solo mode of “play” in painting and modeling. Fans can visit GW stores to learn those skills by doing, under the tutelage (if desired) of a GW staffer. But FFG’s products—and by extension, FFG’s facility—don’t offer a solo mode in that vein. Although there’s mention of a “flight deck” program to match gamers who wander in alone into games, it’s anybody’s guess whether a critical mass of gamers who’re interested in playing the same games on any given day of the week will arise.
I have a sense that the event center would have been more likely to thrive as a business proposition in better economic times. An annual membership to the tune of $120 strikes me as the kind of put-it-on-my-credit-card discretionary expense that would have been a much easier sell before the financial meltdown, when nobody was paying any kind of attention to what they were spending their money on. But with family budgets as strained as they are, those mindless put-it-on-my-credit-card expenditures seem (to my non-expert, no-evidence-having self) to be simply falling out of the economy these days, a victim of the New Austerity. From that standpoint, the event center seems badly timed.
On the other hand, one of the things hobby gaming has to offer a cash-strapped society is a phenomenal value for entertainment. Setting board games aside (and especially setting $100 board games aside), the enjoyment it’s possible for a group of people to derive from hobby games approaches a cost of no dollars per hour. The only requirement (other than the group) is a space to play, and the event center provides that. So maybe the event center is timed exactly right.
The event center’s managers would be wise to devote a lot of effort to cultivating a strong local community around their facility, but I don’t see a lot of evidence that that’s a priority, either from the center’s various web pages, or from talking to the people who work there. Take that analysis with a grain of salt; I wouldn’t necessarily be aware of a massive grass-roots movement of local FFG supporters. On the other hand, I do know what a community-oriented organization feels like, and I don’t get that vibe from the event center, either the physical facility or its online presence. And as a guy who plays a lot of games and lives practically on top of the place, you’d think I’d be square in their crosshairs.
End of the day, there’s no question that this new event center is good for me: It’s a nice place to play games that’s all of seven minutes from my house. Is is good for you? Good for gaming? Good for FFG? Good for local retailers like the well-established and massively popular The Source? I have no crystal ball. Time will tell.
Let’s end with full disclosure: I have been an FFG employee in the past, I designed one major forthcoming FFG release (Horus Heresy), and I have recently worked for FFG on other freelance projects. I am obviously no better than a paid shill, but at least we’ve had Mr. Duke’s unbiased interjections. Viva—as they say—Las Vegas.