Wednesday, October 31, 2007

TimothyP's Board Game Buyer's Guide - Part 2

After posting a link to my original Board Game Buyer's Guide, I received much useful feedback from gamers on the BGG forums. Some notes from that thread have been added to my original post, and I will deal with the rest here. To see which games were tested, and the results of the first post, go to the Board Game Buyer's Guide - Part 1.

It was desired by some people that I take a look at more stores than I had originally covered in my testing. My first test was based on stores that had gained my attention in one way or another and had seemed to be either popular stores, or stores with great prices. A few other stores were recommended in the thread on BGG, so I decided to add four of these to my testing. I ran the same tests with these online stores as I ran on the original post. I chose four stores that seemed to be recommended more than once. Some of these I had seen before, some I had not. The new stores on the list are:
NOTE: My tests included United States websites only.

First, let's get to the results. Then, I'll give my new notes.

I have removed the entry for "Local Game Store" and have instead changed it to "List price" since that was my original intention. When considering best and worst price, I exclude List price as a contender. These tests are about stores. List price is just for reference.

Here are the new results for the Large Order test.

Best price: Boulder Games
Runner-Up: Fair Play Games
Worst price: Funagain Games

Here are the new results for the Mid Size Order test.

Best price: Boulder Games
Runner-Up: Boards & Bits
Worst price: Funagain Games

Here are the new results for the Single Game Order test.

Best price: Time Well Spent
Runner-Up: Boards & Bits
Worst price: Funagain Games

  1. These were all calculated assuming the games must ship to southern California. Some prices might vary by a few dollars depending on where you live. Since Boulder Games is in Georgia, their shipping is quite high to California. On the other hand, they could use a simple flat shipping cost like Thought Hammer.
  2. Fair Play Games and Time Well Spent were calculated assuming these stores would be willing to price match, as is their policy. The lowest prices were always found at Boulder Games.
  3. The Large Order test for Time Well Spent was estimated because they didn't have all the games in stock. I could be off by a dollar or two in either direction. Either way, Time Well Spent is in the top 6 for this test.
  4. Neither Boulder Games nor Game Surplus carry Battleground Fantasy Warfare. At Boulder Games, I substituted Cutthroat Caverns: Deeper and Darker, and at Game Surplus I substituted 6 Nimmt. These were the same price as BGFW starters on other game sites.
On with the new notes!

First, I'll look at the four new stores I tested this time around.

Faithful Fans

By far, the store that received the most discussion in my BGG post was Boulder Games. This was a very interesting discovery for me. I didn't remember hearing about them before, but it turns out they have many faithful fans. I was surprised to find that they were the lowest on stock of all the stores. Aside from not carrying BGFW, Boulder Games was initially out of stock on 4 games I needed for my testing.

But this brings up one of Boulder Games' strengths. I talked to Jim, who manages Boulder Games, and asked him to run my tests for me since I couldn't add some items to my orders. Jim kindly agreed and ran tests for my large, mid, and single game orders. So, thanks to Jim, I got the results I needed for these tests. He also mentioned that much of the stock was on order and arriving sometime soon.

Another problem I have with Boulder Games is the web interface. It is very minimalistic. It is easy to search and find games, but there isn't a very good shopping cart system, nor a wishlist of any kind. The site is nearly devoid of images, using text for everything. I also found that I couldn't create an account on the site and have it remember my shopping cart. But again, Jim mentioned that the website will be receiving an overhaul sometime soon. It is in the works.

Jim also told me that the reason they don't stock BGFW is that they don't sell collectible-type games. So if you're buying CCGs, Boulder Games is not your store. Jim prefers to stock eurogames and wargames.

I also didn't like that I couldn't easily get shipping estimates on this site. I found that I had to get through several other more time-consuming phases of checkout first. Jim indicates that he intends to rework the whole system to make it more user-friendly.

Despite a few little flaws, the site is functional and has many dedicated users. Why? Because Jim is so good to work with. Besides the fact that Boulder Games typically has the best prices on games, Jim is very involved with his clients. He communicates on BGG, and he took the initiative to contact me about my testing. Jim wants to run a great game site, which is clear by the way he interacts with the gaming community. For many people, I think this would be the deciding factor in making Boulder Games their game store of choice.

Other nice features of Boulder Games are shipping coupons and permanent price matching. I really wish they would use a simple free shipping system instead of coupons, but hey, any discounts are nice. I think their permanent price matching system is one of the coolest things I've seen. Essentially, if Jim finds out about a lower price on the internet, he matches that price on Boulder Games - permanently. He is dedicated to always having the lowest prices.

Here are some comments from my Buyer's Guide thread on BGG regarding Boulder Games:
“Just to add - kudos to Jim and Boulder Games. They had a system problem due to the traffic they got from the sale they had. But Jim stood by the deals and is getting my full order together.” - Eric Robinson
“I would also like to add a pat on the back to Jim @ Boulder Games as he honored the order I was trying to put in. Not only did he go out of his way to email me almost immediately upon me posting I had a problem but he went far beyond what he had to as a retailer to make me as a customer happy. This was also my first order so it wasn't as though I was a long time customer of his. However he now has me as a more than loyal customer and I have made sure to let the people in our game group know to put the orders in with him and his company.

Great job Jim and Boulder Games

A very happy customer.
Jason” - Jason Wingo
Clearly, Boulder Games is in the running for the position of Ultimate Game Store.

The Other Stores

Superhero Gameland had great prices, great stock, and free shipping on orders over $99. This is the best free shipping deal among the stores tested. They also sell comic books, graphic novels, books, card supplies, and comic supplies. Even though they have the best free shipping minimum at $99, their base prices are not enough to give them an edge. All it would require is one more game to reach the $125 limit at other stores.

Troll and Toad is a very interesting store. They show up in the listings when you search on, and they have a huge stock, and their site is very good. They just have tons of stuff you can buy. They have board games, out-of-print games (for very high prices), CCG singles, action figures, miniatures, RPGs, and gaming supplies. In terms of stock, Troll and Toad is the clear leader. They also have competitive prices on everything. They have an updated front page, many payment options - almost everything you could want.

The problem with Troll and Toad is that their shipping rates are very high. After all your savings on low-priced games, you make up for it with shipping costs. If they had flat shipping rates and/or free shipping options, they would be a more of a contender with our low-price leaders. The shipping cost on the Large Order test was $21.98. Compared to Free, that's a high price.

Game Surplus was the most uninteresting site of the new batch. Sure, they have a clean web interface, accounts and shopping carts, reasonable prices, and adequate stock. But they don't seem to shine in any area. They don't have free shipping options or discounts, they were out of stock on two games, backordered on one game, and they don't carry BGFW at all. I had a really hard time finding a substitute because their variety of games was lacking compared to other sites. I finally found 6 Nimmt to be a good sub for BGFW in the Large Order test. Game Surplus is certainly a good site to buy games from, but it can't compete with some of the other prominent stores. Some sites really sell themselves - Funagain, Time Well Spent, Troll and Toad, Boards & Bits. Game Surplus is not one of these. Their site seems to get the job done, and that's all.

Thoughts on the Large Order test

In the case of large orders, you are going to save almost $10 off any other store's price by going to Boulder Games, or going to Fair Play Games and having them match Boulder Games' prices. The main feature to consider when placing a large order is free shipping. This makes all the difference. As I mentioned earlier, Boulder Games has a coupon policy, which is still confusing to me. I would almost favor Fair Play Games for this reason alone. I like to know I'm getting an easy-to-understand free shipping deal. I'm sure Boulder Games has a good reason for doing it the way they do, but I'm speaking from the viewpoint of the consumer. As the consumer, I want low prices and ease of use.

If Fair Play Games refused to price match, Boards & Bits would be my next stop.

Keep in mind, with large orders, quantity and variety of stock are the most important factor of all. If you are purchasing 10 games, you need a store that has all of them in stock, or a store that allows pre-orders, like Thought Hammer. If my test was a reality, I would probably have purchased from Thought Hammer because they had a low price and pre-ordering. Almost every site in the test was out of stock on at least one game. Most stores were out of 2-3 games. And two stores would have been excluded simply because they don't carry BGFW.

Thoughts on Mid Size Order test

The top results were similar to the large order test. No real surprises here. One thing to note here is that Superhero Gameland made it into the top 5, pushing Time Well Spent down. You'll also notice that, even with price matching, Fair Play Games slides down a couple notches once you remove the free shipping deal. If you are ordering from Fair Play games, you really want to aim for free shipping. This is true of many stores. When you remove free shipping, there are only two stores that consistently stay low-priced: Boards & Bits and Thought Hammer. This is because of their flat shipping fees. In terms of price, Boulder Games was the top contender again.

Thoughts on Single Game Order test

This was the most surprising test to me. Time Well Spent launched to the top this time. This was the result of two factors. First, they were willing to match Boulder Games' low price. I even got an e-mail response about this. Their quote matched my calculation. Next, their shipping for a single game is pretty low, probably because they are in Colorado and I'm in California. I think this test would likely show different results for buyers in different ares of the US. But, for me, Time Well Spent had the best final cost.

Another interesting turn of events was watching Boulder Games fall down to 6th place on this test, essentially swapping positions with Time Well Spent. The killer for Boulder Games was the shipping fees. But, to keep things in perspective, we're talking about less than $2 difference here. I would confidently order from any of the top 6 here, if they had the game in stock.

The amazing thing to me was that Funagain Games actually took last place, taking the final cost $5 above list price. They were consistently at the bottom of the charts. Unfortunately, their prices don't match up to the quality of their website. The best way to buy from Funagain would be to visit one of their two stores in person and eliminate shipping costs.

My conclusion: Most important store features and my choices for best online game stores.

Important feature #1: Stock

The best stock of all stores was found at Troll and Toad.

Important feature #2: Price

The best base prices of all stores were found at Boulder Games. Jim deserves attention for his policy of always having the lowest prices. Runner-Up for lowest prices is Boards & Bits.

Important feature #3: Shipping fees

The best shipping rates of all sites were found to be Boards & Bits with free shipping over $125 and flat shipping of about $7.50 on other orders. Runner-Up was Thought Hammer with free shipping over $125 and flat shipping of $8 on other orders. Superhero Gameland had the best free shipping plan at $99, but no flat shipping rate for orders less than $99.

Important feature #4: Website design and features

The most feature-rich or well-designed sites were, in alphabetical order: Boards & Bits, Fair Play Games, Funagain Games, Superhero Gameland, Thought Hammer, Time Well Spent, and Troll and Toad. All but two stores delivered very well in this area.

Important feature #5: Involvement and communication with the community.

Of all the game stores included, the only two that communicated on BGG or with me personally were Tom from Boards & Bits, and Jim from Boulder Games. I can also testify from experience that Thought Hammer has very good support and communicative staff. One BGG user describes an opposite experience with Thought Hammer. If you would like to read it, go to the thread on BGG.

I find it very difficult to choose a best game store. I'm not sure it's possible, and it seems that it might vary depending on where you live, in some cases.

One thing I know for sure - when shopping online, any of the top 6 stores are a good choice. They consistently had the best prices. None of them have as good of stock as Troll and Toad, but if they have the games you want, you shouldn't have to look beyond these 6.

Of these 6 stores, I think you can further narrow it down to the stores which made it into the top 4 on any test. This eliminates Superhero Gameland, making the top 5 stores (alphabetical order):
  • Boards & Bits
  • Boulder Games
  • Fair Play Games
  • Thought Hammer
  • Time Well Spent
On the tests, Time Well Spent only made it into the top 4 once, and Boulder Games made it twice. If we're going for consistency, that leaves us with these games as the top 3:
  • Boards & Bits
  • Fair Play Games
  • Thought Hammer
These stores were consistently in the top 4, making them the overall best. All of them tend to have a great stock and a broad variety of games and gaming items.

Fair Play Games only beat the other two stores one time, using price matching. Despite their many qualities, Fair Play Games is not as consistently inexpensive as the others. That brings us to the top two stores:
  • Boards & Bits
  • Thought Hammer
In every test, Boards & Bits is one notch above Thought Hammer, narrowly surpassing it. With slightly lower flat shipping rates, imports, and great community involvement, my vote for the #1 overall game store goes to:

Boards & Bits

But, we can't forget that it was a different site who always had the best base prices. Even though they were out of stock on many games, and more limited in variety, among some other weaknesses, my vote for the ultimate game store in terms of low prices goes to:

Boulder Games

So here's the final word after two rounds of testing:

TimothyP's Top Game Sellers
Consistent Best Prices
Overall Best Game Seller

If you have questions or comments, please post them!

To reiterate my position: I know that this is not the most comprehensive test ever. I know that there are other good game stores online. I know that there are variables which could change the results of my testing. I know that other people have had different experiences than I have with the stores tested. This test was to inform readers of my own discoveries in my personal search for the best online board game sellers. I do not claim that this is the best or more thorough and accurate test of this kind ever to be done. If you are unhappy with some aspect of my testing, you are welcome to run your own tests. This was tested and recorded for those who will gain some benefit from it. If you disagree or don't benefit from it, I can't help you. Please continue doing things the way you prefer to do them. I have spent weeks on this and do not intend to devote anymore time to it. I found the answers I wanted. I cannot meet everyone's personal needs or preferences.

1 comment:

StephenAvery said...

Heya. Nice writeup and very thorough too. One thing I often look for to get the best value is ding and dent games. You can save a mint buying games with minor damage. Many times I've recieved games that were in perfect condition at "damaged" prices.

Thoughthammer has great discounts and combined with the free shipping is a real bargain.

Cardhause (didn't update sold out stuff quickly)

Funagaingames(threw in a bonus game Woot!)

and Fairplay (quickly shipped to GA)and has shipping deals when buying damaged games

Boards and Bits gives the best description of what kind of damage and a scaled discount.I've not used them yet though just from circumstance

Lastly I have a high reguard for Boulder but haven't ordered from the yet because of sales tax and their weird shipping policy)

Small orders go to my local game store Factory Games.