Ed Sloman spends a lot of time at work playing games.
Sloman, the owner of Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie, says he's probably played thousands of the board, card and storytelling tabletop games he sells, but his all time favorite is Magic: The Gathering card game. That's because it has "a strong theme, elegant mechanics and high replay value," the three ingredients in all his favorites.
The players are planeswalkers (ultra-powerful wizards) locked in a spell duel, he says. The goal is to reduce your opponent to zero life points. Each player builds his own deck from a pool of thousands of cards, allowing for variation in strategies and ways to play the game.
Sloman grew up in Glen Burnie, where he spent summers playing Scrabble and rummy with his grandmother and Sorry!, Parcheesi, chess and checkers with his brother, cousins and friends. A friend introduced his brother and him to Dungeons & Dragons when he was 10 and he was hooked.
"Since then, I've spent countless hours with all kinds of different people spinning tales of epic adventures and triumph over dark villains," Sloman said. "I was blessed by having parents, especially my mother, that saw the creative and social benefits of games, and actively encouraged me to play them."
Working for about a year in the late '80s for a Glen Burnie comic book shop that also sold games sparked an interest in becoming a game shop owner. But Sloman first worked in the mid-'90s for game retailers, then a Baltimore-based game distribution company. In 1999, he scraped together the money to buy a local game shop called Games and Comics and Stuff that was run by an acquaintance and was about to close.
He opened his current business Jan. 1, 2000. In March of this year, the store moved to its latest location, in Cromwell Shopping Plaza, doubling in size to 3,500 square feet. The 10-employee shop, which sells hundreds of board, card, family and party games, hosts more than 100 events each month, including seminars, game demonstrations and competitive tournaments. In October, the shop won the 2013 Alliance Game Distributors Best of the Game Trade awards in three of seven categories. Alliance is the nation's biggest distributor of hobby and board games.
How has the growth of video gaming affected board game sales?
In the mid-2000s, the surge of massively multiplayer online games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft caused a serious dip in tabletop game sales, though sales eventually rebounded as the furor tapered off. Occasionally, when a hot new video game releases, some of our regulars will disappear, reappearing when the game's novelty wears off in a few weeks. Realistically, video games are one of many sub-categories of the entertainment industry that I have to compete with for revenue. The competition isn't as direct now as it used to be.
Interestingly, video gaming has helped the tabletop game industry in at least one way: There are computerized versions of many tabletop games available for portable devices, game consoles and desktop computers. While it would seem to most people that this ease of accessibility would hurt sales of the physical games, the opposite has happened. We have seen the sales of many of our games increase due to the existence of an app version. Since the video game market is much larger, the apps indirectly act as both a promotional tool and a tutorial. When fans are ready to play the "real" version of the game, they often visit shops like mine to make their purchase.
Are your customers typically into video games as well as tabletop games or are those generally two distinct groups? Is the tabletop gaming category growing, and if so, what's driving that?
The groups aren't distinct — most of my regular customers are into video games to some extent. The tabletop game industry has grown explosively in recent years — 2013 will be Games and Stuff's fourth consecutive best year ever, as far as revenue is concerned.
Much of the growth is due to what I'd refer to as a mainstreaming of "geek culture." References to comic books, science fiction and games show up more often now in popular media than they ever have. More people are now aware of what these games are and realize that tabletop games are not only fun, but cost-effectively scratch the itch to be competitive, social or both. Most of the games I sell cost less than what a family of four would spend at the movies.
Game quality has also contributed to this growth. In the past decade or so, the bar for what constitutes good game design has been continually raised as designers and publishers get better at figuring out what players want out of their experience. Manufacturing technology plays a part as well, as the quality of some game components being produced now simply wasn't economically feasible 10 years ago.
What's the biggest new game out this holiday season that you carry? What's one of the most popular, older games that you sell?
While it has yet to come out, I expect Rampage, from Asmodee Games, to be our hottest seller this holiday season. The players are Godzilla-like monsters slugging it out in Meeple City and earn points based on the chaos they cause. Unlike many other board games, Rampage is mostly about hand-eye coordination — the players attack the buildings by dropping their wooden monster token onto them or by blowing across the board. The game is beautifully produced and exciting to play.
Settlers of Catan is the board game that arguably jump-started the board game renaissance in the United States back in the mid-'90s. Each player represents a tribe settling on a newly found island, and spend the game harvesting and trading the island's resources (lumber, ore, bricks, and sheep) to expand their colony, scoring points along the way. Despite it being nearly 20 years old, Settlers is still one of our best sellers — it's easy to learn and has a lot of player interaction. It's been one of my top sellers for the entire 13 years I've been in business and also one of my personal favorites.
Many people think of board games as something for kids. How popular are some of your games with adults?
The vast majority of my customer base is aged 15-plus, with the bulk of those customers ranging from late teens to early 30s. The "kids-only" stigma that games have has mostly evaporated, as more people become aware of and use games as a way to entertain themselves, friends and family.
Magic: The Gathering is our most popular game by far, and most of our Magic customers are in our primary age range. Generally speaking, our board game category is a close second. Again, the social aspect of many of the games we stock is appealing to adults who use games as a tool to get together with their friends. Settlers of Catan is a perennial favorite, of course, though many enjoy building train routes in Ticket to Ride or reconstructing southern France during the Renaissance in Carcassonne.