A version of this commentary first appeared in the July/August issue of The Toy Book.

ASTRA Game Night Pic 1

ASTRA Game Night took place in Ballroom CD of the Charlotte Convention Center.

Game nights are a terrific way to unwind, and the one hosted by the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) during its Marketplace & Academy in Charlotte, N.C., this past June was no exception.

Co-sponsored by Blue Orange Games and Games Workshop, ASTRA’s Game Night featured more than 30 game companies, eager to show off their latest titles to hundreds of retailers and members of the press. With each company situated at its own table within a sprawling ballroom, dozens of individual games took place at the same time. Every 10 minutes, all players stood up and moved on to other tables to begin the next round of games.

This year’s Game Night was the largest in the history of ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy. Yet despite the sheer breadth of games on-hand and the extended three-hour playtime, the event still couldn’t keep up with retailer demand, according to ASTRA President Kathleen McHugh.

“Game Night is one of the most popular events at ASTRA’s annual Marketplace & Academy,” says McHugh. “Over the years, we have expanded the hours and the number of games that are featured—yet somehow we always have more demand for Game Night than we have seats in the room.”

Many retailers acknowledged the difficulties imposed by the event’s time constraints. Nevertheless, they were satisfied by the experience and knowledge they obtained, which they hoped would translate into game sales.

Elisa Moriconi, manager of The Learning Tree, said she was looking forward to teaching her employees how to play several of the games. She was also excited to share what she learned about the most effective ways to sell games to customers.

“If you’re excited about a game, [the customer] is going to get excited,” says Moriconi, whose store is in Prairie Village, Kan. “If you love a game and you’re telling someone about it, they’re going to love it, too.”

Other attendees, such as Devoney Wolfus, the owner of Los Angeles-based game store Landis’ Labyrinth Inc., appreciated the opportunity to play a variety of games without having to purchase them first.

“To be hands-on, to get to know the product, that gives me the confidence to go and place orders,” says Wolfus.

ASTRA Game Night Pic 2

(L to r) Ted McGuire, president of Thames & Kosmos, enjoys a round of Dohdles! with Elisa Moriconi, manager of The Learning Tree, and Fay Parker of Deanna Dash’s Toy Shop.

From the manufacturers’ points of view, events like Game Night allow them to make a face-to-face case for their products. Ted McGuire, president of Thames & Kosmos, was on-hand to personally demonstrate Dohdles!, one of his company’s games.

McGuire acknowledged the need to simplify games for 10-minute demonstrations, which is not always easy.

“The challenge is in deciding which aspects of the game are most important to teach, so that a retailer gets a good sense of why the game is fun, why it is valuable, what the selling points are, and why someone would play it,” he says. “And then we try to stay on message, and not get too bogged down in the less important elements of game rules and so on.”

Game Night presents retailers and manufacturers a unique opportunity to come together for a fun night of gameplay.

“It’s about business and exercising the due diligence of learning your products and getting tips for selling them,” says McHugh. “But it’s also fun and a great way for ASTRA’s retailers and sales representatives to strengthen their working relationships.”

For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and interviewees, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!