Board Game Exclusives: Are They Fair?

The hunt for Firefly exclusives begins. Hope you can keep up!
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I know the “Great Preorder Debate” here on GameSkinny has come and gone, but it got me thinking about how preorders and exclusives are affecting the tabletop community.

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There once was a time, years ago, that release dates were as firm as a video game release. Not anymore. With powerhouse companies like Fantasy Flight Games constantly shoving product through the printers, it’s hard to find space or even know when your product will come out.

Many companies used to post exactly when their models or board games would be released. Now, thanks to demands at the printer and the ever-changing whims of nature, no release date is safe in the tabletop community.

FFG now just posts on their website when games should be at your local game store. Store managers are left to scour their order lists every week looking for any new items that weren’t formally announced. If they miss out on a big game release, they could lose their sales to online competitors.

The point of that tirade was to bring up how exclusives have edged their way into the tabletop market. Before, there were models or cards that you could only get at big shows such as GenCon. Quite often, they would be something silly, or something that didn’t really affect the game.

However, Wizkids creates a fine example of huge models, such as Galactus or the Sentinel, that can only be bought at these cons and are used for scenario type games. These figures are incredibly powerful and their limited nature makes them pretty popular for collectors.

The Artful Dodger – Game Trade Magazine

Now Available on the GF9 Webstore

It’s no secret that the Firefly Board Game is one of my new favorites. I knew how many exclusives Gale Force 9 has already managed to put out for Spartacus in one year, and I expected no less for Firefly. The exclusive engine started earlier than the game’s release.

GTM, or Game Trade Magazine, is a detailed catalog of all the items expected to release in the next month or two for tabletop. It’s usually not a big purchase for gamers. My LGS didn’t even have a GTM for sale. It’s more of a tool that store managers can use to get customers asking for the new hotness.

Even before GenCon, Firefly’s pre-release, the GTM featured an add-on ship for the board game. It was a cool sea foam green color–way better than that mustard yellow ship that came in the box. The ship also had a few varied stats. You lost a bit of cargo so that you could have more crew aboard your ship and a faster engine. The ship was pretty balanced with the others in gameplay, but the kicker is that this promotional figure, only found in a magazine that you would probably already have trouble finding, is the only way to sit five players down for a game.

That’s right, if you managed to know about this promo before the game ever went live, you would be able to have a five player game instead of the measly four suggested on the box. I haven’t tried it yet, but five players would seem like more of a hassle than a game. It has been surmised that it would drastically increase the amount of time the game would take.

Resin Alliance Cruiser – GenCon

The Second exclusive to come out for the game is the resin Alliance Cruiser. I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of resin for the Cruiser, mostly because of its shape. If you don’t know much about resin, it’s great for detail, but bad for long pointy parts. It’s easy to break if you don’t take care of it.

I heard that this exclusive was more of a mistake than intentional. The word is that all the copies of the game that went to GenCon were sent without the Alliance Cruiser packed inside, so GF9 found a friend and had the resin figures made to be put in the box. I don’t know if the story is true. If it is, good work on GF9’s part to get replacements made that quickly. The upside to resin is that it isn’t bendy. I’ve seen the plastic Cruiser from the game, and it’s not very pretty.

Mal’s pretty floral Bonnet – Thinkgeek

Mal’s floral bonnett is a special equipment card that you can only get from ordering your copy of Firefly from There isn’t much to say about this one, except that it’s one card–not game-breaking, and you’ll still have to pay full price for your copy of the game. Online. When was the last time you paid full price online? And shipping?


Big Damn Hero cards – ACD Distributors

Now Available on the GF9 Webstore

These promos I didn’t even know about until a few days ago., well after the game’s intended release. What good is that? Not only that, what stores use ACD? Ever since the Diamond/Alliance combine, most stores I know get most of their goods from the same place. Comics, games, and supplies all come from the one wholesaler.

If I’m looking for these cards, how will I know where to find them? Your average game store employee, except for the managers, aren’t likely to know their distributors. Online retailers rarely tell you where their stock comes from. If you’re lucky, they might have a sticker on the box telling you if there are promos in the box anywhere. Apparently, this was a preorder offer, from a distributor I didn’t even know existed, that I found out about after I had already owned my game for several months. Doesn’t seem super-effective at all as a preorder.

I also feel that these cards just aren’t good for the game. They are equal to their in-box versions, except that they add a simple “When you proceed while Misbehaving, take $100.” It doesn’t seem like much at first, but I’ve played the game several times now. There is a pretty solid balance between players taking the low risk, low stakes path and players taking the high risk path. The high risk path already pays off and wins the game regularly. Throw in a few extra $100 every time you go on a risky job, and the low risk path has no chance.

Wash’s lucky dinosaurs

This one you can get for just sending Gale Force 9 a picture of you and your friends playing the game with an upgraded first player marker. Details are on their homepage. This is a good way to reward players for following the rulebook’s suggestion on upgrading your first player marker to a real bona fide 3D dinosaur. Trust me, it actually helps players remember the first player marker better when it’s that big. Also, most dinosaurs have a few sharp bits that could remind you as well as stepping on a Lego.

If you want all the promos and only one copy of the game, good luck!

Just taking a quick glance at eBay, this is already disheartening to see how much one would need to keep up with the promos. From my point of view, I got my game at Gencon, so I have the resin Cruiser. In order to fill out my collection, the Artful dodger runs about $25 on eBay, Big Damn Heroes are going for $50, and Mal’s bonnet is nowhere to be found. At least you can get the dinosaurs without spending extra cash.

Fortunately for me, the only promos I don’t have are the ones I’m not that big on. The ones I want are pretty easy to get or I already have. A completionist isn’t going to be happy though. At this juncture, you would need to spend two and a half times the cost of the game just to get all the promos in hand. That’s not to mention that GF9 is big on promos. If Spartacus is any example, this list will double in size by next year.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Gale Force 9 and the great Firefly board game that they have produced. I’m just a little disappointed that I could sit down with another players copy of the game and it won’t even be the same game if the Big Damn Heroes cards are included.

Firefly isn’t the only game like this, but at least it doesn’t suffer for it. The game is perfectly playable without any of the exclusives. It does move into a mode that feels like you are paying to have a better version of the game than someone else.

Whatever happened to buying a board game and then never needing to buy anything for it again?

Most board games when I was younger were a non-changing experience. These days, games like Battlestar Galactica, Twilight Imperium, and pretty much anything FFG produces are expected to get new cards, rules and more boards for your board game pretty often. Are exclusives just another way to get on the “micro-transactions” train with expansions and their video game equivalents, DLC? Are they actually clever ways to drum up fanfare for a game? I’m not really sure where Gale Force 9’s strategy for Firefly fits, since I didn’t even know about a few of the “Order here!” exclusives until after the games general release.

Gale Force 9 recently announced a Spartacus exclusive has been added to their webstore and they intend to release all future exclusives to their webstore after an unspecified period.

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Landon Sommer
While I do play some of the greats like Civilization and X-com, consider me your Tabletop guru here at gameskinny. Want to know about a tabletop game? Just ask!