Saturday, July 17, 2010

End of an Era

Black Diamond Games is dropping Flames of War. This means a lot to me because I played my first face-to-face game of Flames of War at Black Diamond, and bought the vast majority of my WWII miniatures there.

I first got into Flames of War a couple of years earlier with two orders I placed online, one to a company in the US that distributed the product, and the other directly with Battlefront in New Zealand. Other than painting a handful of models, I'd done nothing with the game since then until I discovered Black Diamond.

Shortly after discovering the store, the owner, Gary, asked me my opinion on his stocking Flames of War. I recommended against it, or that he at least be conservative in what he stocked. Fortunately for all of us, he ignored my advice and started carrying a large selection of the stuff.

My advice was based on my opinion that it was a niche game, and that with a Games Workshop just down the road he'd have a hard time selling people on a new miniatures game. As it turned out that Games Workshop actually helped as a lot of people were looking for alternatives to Games Workshop at the time. It soon became the biggest selling product line in the store!

His customers for the game even included most of the redshirts from the Games Workshop store! Black Diamond had very little room for playing games back then, but we still managed to get together a small group to play every couple of weeks. There was a lot of interest and we hoped that when the store moved to its new, larger location that the game would really take off.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. There was a perfect storm of factors that led to the demise of Flames of War at Black Diamond. The first was life. Most of us involved in playing the game regularly at the store saw our lives get busier. Among the factors contributing were new jobs, a new marriage, and a new school.

Another factor was that Games Workshop closed its local store. This let Black Diamond get into GW games in a big way. Combined with the fact that GW had fixed a lot of the problems that had led people to look for alternative games, and GW ended up taking the spotlight at the store that had been briefly held by Flames of War.

At the same time, Battlefront started going downhill as a company. Their quality control tanked in a big way, as did some areas of their customer service. They adopted many of the very same policies that GW were in the process of abandoning after finding them to be counter-productive.

From a retail perspective, Battlefront established a US distribution office that has never provided service as good as what was provided by the office New Zealand. The office was kept out of the loop as to what was really going on in the company, and when they moved that office from the west coast to the east coast, things just got worse. Gary said that the rep changed so often he stopped adding them to his contact list!

Those that had fled GW for Flames of War now fled Flames of War back to GW.

There were still people playing Flames of War in the area, and some of them even lived close to the new store, but for some reason they never played at the store on a regular basis. They played at other stores in the area, but not Black Diamond.

All these factors led to sales of the game stagnating. About the only time the store sold anything was when it was put on sale for clearance. Obviously this couldn't go on forever.

Gary's manager had been urging him to drop the line for some time, but Gary let it hang on partly for nostalgic reasons. It had been one of his first breakout successes at the store, and he felt he owed it a chance to recover. It never did, and now it's out of chances.

Interestingly, Gary made this decision the same week that my current FLGS, Castle House Hobbies & Games, also decided to drop its remaining Flames of War inventory at clearance prices. I was also asked by the manager there whether or not to carry the game prior to his stocking it, and I also advised against it.

My basis for that advice was based on more solid information, and sadly, this time I was proven correct. The game failed to ever take off here. There's been some tepid interest, but no one ever followed up on it, and sales were almost non-existent.

I'm sad to see it go at both places, but I can't say that I'm really that surprised. It's an end to an era that's been a long time coming.

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