Fantasy Flight's Business Model: Why It Sucks For You and Me

January 10, 2017

Fantasy Flight Games make some outstanding board games. In fact half of my current collection are games published by them and every single one of them is a quality title. Equally Fantasy Flight know how to milk their games for maximum profit. They’re in the business of expansion packs and episodic content, viewing their products as franchises rather than games and leaving players nickel and dimed in their wake.

A great example of Fantasy Flight’s cash over consumer culture is Star Wars Imperial Assault and it’s ally and villain packs. Rather than offering extras for purchase with the ally and villain packs Fantasy Flight is effectively stripping content from the core set and big box expansions and transplanting them into separate blister packaging. Nowhere is this more evident than in the base Imperial Assault box where Luke and Vader, and their corresponding missions and agendas, are packaged separately as ally and villain packs hinting at their near exclusion and a last minute audible, probably because of the menacing and otherwise misleading image of Vader on the box’s artwork. Unfortunately, despite as a similar depiction on the box art of the Twin Shadows expansion, Boba Fett wasn’t so lucky and didn’t escape the villain pack fate. As a result he’s only included as a token in the Twin Shadows expansion and you have to buy his miniature and additional missions separately.

Repackaging these well-loved characters in a game primarily about an untold Star Wars story wouldn’t bother me as much if it wasn’t for the game’s skirmish mode. Often touted as the hidden gem of Imperial Assault and proclaimed by Fantasy Flight as the second of the “two games in one box”, skirmish is a fully realised and freestanding game with a competitive tournament scene. Like all competitive games, there is a meta-game and certain characters and combinations offer a significant advantage, requiring players to purchase specific ally and villain packs to maintain a competitive edge. Furthermore, according to Fantasy Flight rules you’re unable to play tournament skirmish matches with tokens forcing players to purchase ally and villain packs for characters that were already included ‘in the box’. I understand that miniatures require a significant cost to produce it somewhat justifying their separate purchase but it feels like Fantasy Flight has rigged the table in favour of their wallets, at this point the ally and villain packs aren’t an upgrade for those with cash to spare - they’re an integral part of Imperial Assault if you want to play the second game in your core box. Whilst I don’t mind spending a little extra to have a rich universe to play in, and heck £7 for Chewbacca is worth it, at the time of writing Imperial Assault has 34 expansions, across both big box and character packs. That’s a lot to buy.

Don’t get me wrong expansions are great, they offer a fantastic way to expand on a gaming experience you love and Fantasy Flight do know how to release games that I enjoy. And to a certain extent I don’t even mind buying a lot of expansions if they offer value. When I do get upset is when they’re unavailable. Fantasy Flight produces so much physical content that it’s borderline unsustainable. To combat this, rather than continually producing games they do irregular print runs. Over time, as purchases happen, stocks dwindle across retailers and suppliers worldwide to the point that games and expansions become unavailable until the next print run. This isn’t just obscure add-ons like ally and villain packs either, it’s true of base games and big box expansions. At this point, you might think, ‘Well that’s not so bad. Fantasy Flight will just print it again!’, and that’s mostly true but the question is, ‘When?’. Based off of my experience, retailers don’t know.

Yesterday I tried to purchase some of the expansions for Star Wars Imperial Assault and every main retailer in the UK was out of stock and none of them could tell me when they’d have stock back in. Unwilling to pay the price of the secondary market, I spent hours trawling through pages of Google searching for hobby shops and visiting websites of obscure regional retailers trying to piece together an order from multiple retailers across different countries to get all the expansions I wanted.

Fantasy Flight can do better, and they should too. It’d take a culture shift but swapping their tactics to offer better value expansions, genuinely optional extras, and a more transparent print timeline for retailers would make for a much healthier relationship between publisher, retailer, and consumer.

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Last Updated: 2022-08-22 14:39