Big Book Stores: the retail future of family games?

A recent post in this blog surveyed the landscape at what has become the de-facto retail outlet for boardgames, the discount store (Target, Wal*Mart).  There was a time when one went to a dedicated toy and game retail outlet like Toys R Us or K&B to buy boardgames– indeed, I can boast of having found several Avalon Hill classic wargames at a K&B, for five bucks each, including Basic Squad Leader.  But that was long ago, and far away.  Toy stores are fragile entities on the retail landscape– Toys R Us being the last big retail store chain dedicated strictly to toys and games that I know of.  Toy and Game stores have hit upon lean times lately– I read somewhere that there was a time when Toys R US would cycle through the cash equivalent of a entire store’s worth of inventory in ONE YEAR, that’s without a lot of fire sales.  Nowadays a toy store faces stiff competition in discount general stores like Target and Wal Mart.   So I don’t expect to find boardgames at toy stores beyond the stale core inventory selections and same ol same ol Parker Brothers “favorites” like Monopoly, Scrabble, etc.  Discount chains have little reason to be innovative with their inventory as long as they make up for lack of choice with quantity of sales.

So the successful game stores of interest in the future will likely be part of a retail operation that is general, in that it sells games as one of many non-game sidelines, and innovative, meaning it has buyers that really understand boardgaming.  I was reasonably surprised to find a boardgame section in the local Barnes and Noble bookstore the other night that fits that description exactly:

Snapshot at a B&N in Fairfax, VA Feb 2012

This isn’t an all-encompassing selection by any means, and would probably have the hipster elite of Boardgamegeek guffawing at the basic selection displayed, but there’s a lot of promise evident here, I think.  This selection isn’t perfunctory like the one in the Target picture I recently posted.  I don’t see any of the same boring old Hasbro core collection choices.  There’s not a game of Scrabble, Monopoly or (regular) Risk in sight.  This is just ONE section of a multi-section game selection, with children’s games on one shelf, puzzle style games on another, and more family friendly games on another.    The shelf pictured is the far end, the “Family Strategy” section.  If you follow the gaming industry, you will note several big sellers from 2011 that appeared on many Top-Ten roundup shows, including Dixit, Risk Legacy, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness and Survive.  There are also older games with big cult followings, such as Arkham Horror, Dominion & several expansions, Talisman and Settlers of Cataan and several expansions.   This is a thoughtful selection demonstrating retail buyer innovation and knowledge.  The buyer that made these purchases didn’t gamble on a fad, nor did he or she approach this purchase without doing some homework first.  I would not be surprised if they are a member of boardgamegeek from what I’m seeing here.  Perhaps big bookstores like Barnes and Noble (and formerly the much missed Borders Books) will be the way of the future for retail availability of games that are a step above the standard Parker Brothers/Hasbro core inventory list.   I certainly hope so.  Not everyone has a so-called friendly little brick and mortar game store in their neighborhood.

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