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Off the Grid: Franchises, classics, and homogeny


Every other week Scott Jon Siegel contributes Off the Grid, a column on gaming away from the television screen or monitor.

Oh Barnes & Noble, what happened to you? Less than a year ago, your halls were flush with all the greatest board games, in honor of National Games Week. You carried Carcassonne. You sold Settlers of Catan. You retailed Robo Rally. Now, any semblance of that respect for the non-digital medium has gone out the window. Pictured above, witness the horror that is the Barnes & Noble "board game" selection.

The larger Barnes and Noble locations have always been more than happy to stock a few shelves with board games. The problem is that they're wary to stray from what will absolutely, positively sell. The result is an odd mix of familiar faces: Monopoly, Sorry!, Scrabble, Life, but also Spiderman, Transformers, Shrek, Friends, Grey's Anatomy. It's the worst kind of franchising: the kind that leads to an utter homogeny. It's clear that Barnes & Noble needs a gaming enema. Let's dig a little deeper to figure out hot to do it.

Looking closer, we can tell that the problem is two-fold. The first issue is an adherence to classic board games. Monopoly's a staple of the analog industry, along with Clue, Sorry!, and others. Barnes and Noble knows that, and obviously wants to promote these games more than less-well-known titles. The notable exceptions to this are the "new classics" of board games, like Apples to Apples and Cranium.

The second issue is the sheer glut of branding going on. There are not one, not two, but FOUR different Shrek-themed versions of popular games on the shelf. The intersection of these two issues results in a great deal of repetition, presumably for the purposes of an implied "variety." Like Pirates of the Caribbean but hate Stratego? Get the Life version instead. Want to play Monopoly but you're not a Spiderman fan? Try the Transformers version instead. This obviously isn't true variety, so how should B&N handle their selection?

For starters, instead of stocking branded titles, offer games that mirror the themes of the major blockbusters. Stock the shelves with pirate-related games, and not just umpteen classics skinned with the visages of Captain Jack Sparrow. Use the success of Transformers to promote games with robots, and not necessarily those which feature Optimus Prime and Megatron. It's doubtful that an upper-echelon Barnes & Noble employee will read Off the Grid anytime soon, but maybe a general manager will take it upon himself to switch the order up a little next time. We can, after all, only hope.

Scott Jon Siegel is a fledgling game designer, and fancies himself a bit of a writer on the topic as well. His words and games can be found at numberless, which is almost always a work in progress.

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