OK – this is a slightly different interview – I thought it would be interesting to ask Nick Medinger a few questions about how he prepares for Essen. If you don’t know Nick, he’s the “man on the ground” for Funagain.com. He goes to Essen each year, buys a metric butt-ton of games and then tries to get them all back to Ashland, Oregon so that you can order them and get them to your house by Christmas!
Dale Yu: So, Nick – How long do you prepare for Essen (when do you start)
Nick Medinger: I SHOULD start prep for Essen long before I actually do. It’s getting so huge that I really should get myself in gear in the middle of the summer. However I’m always far too busy with other stuff and publishers don’t really start getting their information out until August/September. That’s when I normally start the ball rolling on things. Some publishers are very good at putting out info and even contact Funagain directly with game information. Other publishers not so much.
DY: How do you choose the games you bring home?
NM: This is the main component of the “before you actually get to Germany” part of Essen. Choosing isn’t always easy. A lot of stuff is a no brainer, new games by established publishers and/or designers are a pretty safe bet. As long as you avoid the normal batch of German fluency-required, pop culture trivia games. The hard games are either a) games by somebody that no ones ever heard of, b) the games which just appear out of thin air once the show starts. Every year there is at least 1 game (last year K2, year before that Hansa Teutonica) that aren’t on anybody’s radar/buzz-o-meter before the show. Then I get home and everyone wants to know if I bought 5000 copies or 50,000 copies?
Honestly a lot of deciding what to import is just plain divining. I use my best guess, past experience and what’s being said directly before and during the show to determine what to bring back. Sometimes you miss, sometimes you hit, but most of the time you do pretty much ok.
DY: How do you get them home?
NM: If you pay somebody enough money they load stuff into giant catapults and fling them to the destination of your choosing. At least that’s what the scientists tell me.
DY: How many games (both number of titles as well as overall number of boxes) do you end up shipping back?
We get pretty close to 75-100 titles each year. I can’t even remember how many individual games it is every year, probably well north of 1000.
DY: Do customer requests affect which games you go for and how many?
NM: Absolutely. We use this barometer more than anything else. The trick to buying is, you have to quickly learn, you aren’t buying for yourself. It doesn’t really matter what kind of games I like because I’m not buying for me. I need to buy for the customers. I can guess all day long but the BEST way to know is to have people say, “I want this game.” A good example of this is Agricola. Back when it came out in Essen I wasn’t really sold on the game that much. I had it down to get some but I thought, what good is this going to do us? The game has German language cards which are central to the game. Sure somebody will translate them and make them available but unless you’re really dedicated you’re not going to take the time to paste-up everything. It’s exactly the kind of game we’d normally avoid. Then I once the show started I saw the lines….which never ended. I heard all these non-German speakers going crazy for it and I started paying attention. By the end of the show I think we took home about x5 the amount of games we were doing to before the show. That was a lot of games but we could have done more. I’m pretty sure I had to re-order at the end of November.
I figure for every person that says, “I want this” there are at least 5 more who want it but don’t say anything. I’ve had skeptical people say to me, “well you just want me to place a pre-order so you have my money.” It’s true we’re in the business of selling games, but the real reason I want somebody to place a pre-order is so that I can decide if a game is worth importing.
DY: So you allow pre-orders? How does that work?
We do allow pre-orders. It’s not much different than non-Essen titles, we do our best to get our pricing information from publishers so that we can price the games. As soon as we know what our price will be we put it up for pre-order. I wish the process were more streamlined but the nature of the beast doesn’t allow for that. So much info comes in at the last minute, or in some cases not until we show up ready to buy the game during the fair. We put up info as we get it and then people can order. Once stuff is ready to go out we try and combine everything down into 1 shipment per customer and then send it on its way.
DY: Do you have a set formula for pricing all of these new Essen games?
NM: I have a rough formula that’s worked pretty well throughout the years. It allows me to convert prices on the fly. But much like the 11 herbs and spices, exactly what it is is a secret.
DY: Does Funagain still do the used game thing?
NM: We do but the market has changed dramatically in the past few years. First off there are a lot of games which used to be out of print that have been reissued. That pretty much kills the used market for a game unless it’s going into some collector’s hands. Secondly there’s a much bigger market for the used games then there used to be. eBay and other “selling” sites has driven up the prices. In the old days of Essen, long before I started going, there were (or so the old guard has told me) great used game deals to be had. Prices are just higher now than they used to be and in some cases, we can’t buy a game, bring it back to the US and have any hope of selling starting at the price we paid for it. Plus the Euro to dollar exchange rate doesn’t help at all.
DY: Finally, Currywurst or Jagerschnitzel?
NM: Currywurst for lunch, Jagerschnitzel for dinner. And doner pizza when I want to induce a food coma.
DY: Thanks for the short interview! Have a great time at SPIEL… I’m sure we will catch up over a warm banana beer.