You’ve been anxiously anticipating its arrival, but here it is! At last! Scorpion Masqué’s sixth Year-End Review, in words, thoughts, and numbers!
For newcomers, my name is Christian Lemay, and I founded Scorpion Masqué in 2006. Each year since 2016 I sum up our 12 previous months of activity and I give my thoughts on the board game industry, and its evolution... and I also add some nice and crunchy financial details.
Scorpion Masqué is a board game publisher. Our job consists of:
Our structure underwent some significant changes this year. From a very small company with 6 full-time staff, we merged with the Randolph Group, which has over 300 employees if you count all the franchised gaming pubs! Traditionally, there was Christian Lemay (yours truly), President-Founder and Grand Poobah; Manuel Sanchez, Creative Director and Project Manager; Hélène Vigneault, in events, marketing, and logistics; Carl Brière, Sales Manager; Sébastien Bizos, graphic and motion designer, and Matthew Legault, in communications, translation, and playtest coordination.
Things have changed.
You should probably know that on January 1st, 2021, the Hachette Group (third-largest book publishing group on the entire planet!) bought the entirety of the shares of Scorpion Masqué. In the months that followed, Hachette exchanged a minority stake in Scorpion Masqué for a minority stake in the Randolph Group.
For those outside of Quebec, Randolph consists of 7 gaming pubs across the province (with more in the pipeline), a brick-and-mortar game store in Montreal, a distribution branch, and a board game publishing house specialising in party games that enjoy enormous success throughout Quebec.
All this movement of assets means that I am no longer the boss or the Grand Poobah of Scorpion Masqué, reins that I was more than happy to pass along to another, and that we are now ‘siblings’ with Randolph, a group that I admire very much. Since 2012, Randolph has known how to make board gaming ‘cool’ in Quebec, and also how to make their name known all the way over to France! So from here on, I will be concentrating on selecting games (and I have already found some gems this year!), their development, and I help out with marketing. I remain the best person for presenting our games... and I manage to add my two cents in to some of the compay’s strategic decisions as well. This is both because they ask me for my advice, and also because it’s not easy to completely drop what used to be a significant part of my daily workload.
Another consquence is that Randolph and Scorpion Masqué have moved in together! Yes, we are sharing a new office space with each other. Obviously, Hachette wanted our Canadian distribution to be taken care of by Randolph. September 1st, 2021, we terminated our 11-year collaboration with ILO 307, our Canadian distributor, who I thank from the bottom of my heart for those wonderful years. The same thing transpired in France, where we had to finish our relationship with Asmodee and move to Blackrock, where I am happy to find my old friend, company President Yoann Laurent, with whom I published the game Kairn back in 2011! I also tip my hat to the entire Asmodee France team, especially José Chavez and Christophe Arnoud, who helped us to climb to even greater heights since we began working together in 2018. I’m sure some people are rolling their eyes as the capricious Scorpion Masqué moves on to its 4th French distributor...
Today I think that the only member of the original team whose position has stayed more or less the same is Sébastien... although not really, as he was just named Artistic Director and he is now taking care of our quotes from the manufacturers! Manuel has become the head of the Randolph-Scorpion graphic design team in addition to inheriting the position of Head of Studio within Hachette... Hélène was able to drop marketing and events to make room for an increased role of managing all logistical matters concerning importation and shipping for Scorpion, and gradually Randolph as well, as well as taking care of our entire production schedule!! She’s got a lot on her plate... but she’s a logistics ninja! I probably don’t need to remind you that we’re still living through a catastrophic period for maritime shipping. If you’d like to see our take on the situation, have a look at Carl’s excellent summary here. Speaking of Carl, he has been running his own studio for a while now (Synapses), and Chantal has stepped in to replace him in his duties as Head of Exportation. Chantal is an industry veteran, and a well-known face in Quebec gaming circles; if you've ever attended a convention in North America or Europe, you have almost certainly crossed paths with her! For his part, Matthew initially joined the marketing team, but since January 1st, he’s moved closer to the publishing section, concentrating his activities on development (Matt is an excellent rules reviewer!) and translation. In addition to Scorpion and Randolph games, he’ll be able to help by doing adaptation and localization work on games coming from France to the North American market (Randolph and Scorpion have to conquer the United States for Hachette, that’s all). And let’s not forget the fact that translation is not a simple matter of changing words into another language! Our French friends require significant help when it comes to communicating distance in inches and weight in pounds, and also with certain hot-button issues that burn brightly in North America, but which get dimmed as they cross the Atlantic and are translated into other cultures... We’re here to help.
So basically, the positions of all the Scorpions now concern the entirety of the group, which increases our responsibilities. On the other hand, each type of task (logistics, accounting, marketing, etc.) rests on the shoulders of a team rather than a lone individual, which makes us less vulnerable, and more efficient. And it’s also helped us meet a bunch of new super-motivated people!
We would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the arrival of Joëlle, who will oversee our marketing. Oh yes indeed, for the first time since its creation, Scorpion Masqué will have a person dedicated to this important task!! Welcome, Joëlle!!
Phew! I think that actually sums everything up.
Don’t forget, Scorpion Masqué is still a board game publisher. This year, with all the changes we went through, in the middle of a global pandemic that is kind of finished (...?), there was no way that we were going to be able to keep up the intense rhythm of the previous years, especially considering that we finished the previous year with two releases that constituted a colossal amount of work: Master Word and Zombie Teenz Evolution. In 2021 we therefore published only two games: 1 new game and 1 new version of an older game. For the first time in 6 years I can honestly say that we didn’t bite off almost more than we could chew.
1. Olé! Guacamolé
Discovered just before I left for Essen in 2019, this ‘silly’ little game by Guillaume Sandance (which is actually a little on the spicy side!) was love at first sight. The rules for OG can be explained in literally 15 seconds. This gives it a huge advantage, as it can be sold much more quickly and to a very wide audience. The ability to be understood immediately after a short explanation from a salesperson played a significant role in its success. I say success because we started off by printing 16,000 copies of the game, which disappeared almost immediately, in both Quebec and France. (Oh yes, I didn’t mention this... we decided to only print it in French... a point I will go into in further detail below.) It still kills me that I didn’t press harder on the ORDER button... but, what are you gonna do? Anyhow, we still managed to sell 20,000 units even though the game released in June in Europe (not the best period for a launch) and near the end of September in Quebec!
We took a long time to settle on the theme, the format of the box, and how it would look overall. Manu and I wanted a theme and look that was a bit absurd... French Tacos, Arctic Flamingo... Manu was leaning heavily towards a small box game, a nice-looking object, like games from the Oink Games line. But while this kind of design strikes a very specific chord for us aesthetes, I have the feeling that these boxes are less appealing to the general public, for whom we were aiming OG. Carl suggested an avocado-shaped box. A super idea to help the game stand out on store shelves, but also to get both influencers and store owners talking about it. This represented a not-insignificant extra production cost. I attributed this difference to the marketing budget, and I think it was the best way to invest the money. Nice work also from our own Sébastien on the lettering. It works soooo well!
And now for why you haven’t seen this game in English: On the exportation market, OG’s life is going to be a bit more difficult. First of all, little party games like this one don’t generate the same kind of buzz that a larger game would on sites like Boardgamegeek.com. The demand from the average Italian or Japanese player would therefore be almost zero, as they wouldn’t even know that the game exists. Creating demand from these ‘external’ (for us) markets becomes essentially the responsibility of the distributor, a task that isn’t usually theirs. The business strategy therefore relies only on the ‘push,’ without the ‘pull’. In addition to this, each of these markets regularly put out these kinds of little games that enjoy enormous success, but whose fame isn’t transmitted outside of their borders. Because of this, other distributors don’t ‘need’ a game like OG, because they already have games that fit into the same niche that already sell very well.
Having said this, the game will be translated into Italian, Spanish, and, yes, English! The Italian version will be looking for a reprint soon, and the English version will be hitting stores towards the end of 2022! Keep your eyes peeled for the avocado-shaped box!!
2. New Edition of Mot pour mot
I won’t go into too much detail on this, as it is the French-language version of the game The Word on the Street by Jack Degnan, which we printed for the first time in 2017 and which, although it enjoyed significant success, we esteemed could benefit from a face-lift, both graphically (a new theme: cactuses!), a new box-size (in the same line as Decrypto, Stay Cool, and Master Word), and in terms of the challenges in the box (updated, reinvigorated!). We also applied one of the core design principles of Mark Rosewater, the Creative Design head of Magic for the past 20 years: “You don’t have to change much to change everything,” (check this out) by making some micro-changes to the gameplay to make games quicker, more family friendly, and to remove the first-player advantage that had been an irritant in the original version. We were quietly confident that we had created, in our opinion, a perfect product, and your enthusiasm reflects this as we just recently launched our second printing of the game!
Obviously moving from boss to employee represented the most significant change for me this past year. Although... you can ask my new employers, I still do what I want. I can see, partially, behind the curtain, I can observe how some big companies work, each one different from the other, of course. I can see the strength of a group... and also what I would call inconsistencies. An example of this would be, why ask us to produce sales forecasts, only to revise them and increase them? You know, that kind of thing. If you knew better than us how many units of a game we would sell, why did you ask us to do the calculation? I can't wait for next year to see who was right! ;)
At the same time, we have access to new resources, a new ‘pool’ of thinkers, of creators, and incredible support workers. We are throwing ourselves at our work with renewed vigor, with useful information at our fingertips. Hachette has a very human face for us, in Isabelle and Ghislaine who, despite the organizational hierarchy of a large company (as well as the ocean and the time difference between us), answer all my questions same-day... even though Scorpion Masqué is only one of the many studios they have to manage.
I’m not going to play the ‘Everything Is Gumdrops and Rainbows’ card (that card was banned in early 2006), however. The merger with Randolph wasn’t done without a number of disagreements. And that is fine by me. By this I mean that conflicts are never an end in themselves, but if you know how to respect to the person in front of you, it can prove to be very profitable. You should see us, Manuel and I, when we argue about an illustration or a fine point in the rules. Sparks sometimes fly!! And with time, Manu has become one of my closest friends. We are a pair in which each has an immense respect for the other. This doesn’t happen overnight, we didn’t develop this mutual trust instantly. It’s more a product of numerous conversations, countless discussions, that resulted in not finding compromises, but new ideas that surpassed our respective initial positions. I see can see similar movements today in the tectonic plates of Randolph and Scorpion Masqué, and I think that the result will be extraordinarily interesting. Both in the ways in which we will help each other to make games and in the more human side of things.
A Trip to Berlin
I already brought a little photo-journal into the world about my trip to Berlin for the Spiel des Jahres ceremony. I won’t go too much more into this event today, but still... Two nominations for the Spiel. As I write those words, I still have to pinch myself to believe it. Seriously, no joke. Bravo again to designers Antoine, Corentin, and Annick, to illustrators NIKAO and Rémy Tornoir, and of course to the entire Scorpion Masqué team.
Video of the Year
(this section is, of course, tongue-in-cheek)
Eric Martin from Boardgamegeek is... a geek. Like me. And like you, perhaps. Despite all our wonderful geek qualities, we sometimes have little... shall we say, unhealthy...? obsessions. Notably the way in which we put away our games at the end of a session. At the beginning of the year, Eric ‘enraged’ Twitter by publishing a video in which we see him put a game away with one sweep of his arm, sending pieces, cards, dice, everything, into the box in a crazy mess.
This ‘act of high treason’ earned him an incredible number of criticisims and replies that some found inappropriate, but which I just found ridiculous. He answered his critics with a long 30-minute video (!!!!) that you can see here: The Smart Gamer's Guide to Putting Away Board Games.
Because it’s the Internet, that only made things worse... so he replied to the replies to his reply with ANOTHER 37-MINUTE VIDEO!!!! Feedback on The Smart Gamer's Guide to Putting Away Games.
My Geeky friends, we've got to be able to laugh at ourselves...
Article of the Year
It’s once again Eric Martin who wins this year, with this analysis that takes up and improves on what I had already formulated in a much less complete and fleshed-out way than he did, namely that there is a bias in favour of newer games on game sites. But maybe not for the reasons that you might think... simply because there are more games. And that a lot of gamers better understand their tastes and rarely venture into territories outside of the genres that they like, because they are already overwhelmed by the number of titles published in that genre alone. And as a result, we play fewer and fewer games that are not our cup of tea, and... well, we don’t rate them!
Choice and Bias: Why New Games Top the BGG Rankings
And for the record, it annoys me when a recent title is praised for being a very pale and bad imitation of a title released a few years earlier. For every beer you pay me, I'll give you examples (in private!) when we can meet at conventions!
Games of the Year
Seeing how Scorpion Masqué doesn’t have the monopoly on good games, not even close, actually, here are a few titles that I came across over the past year that stood out for me.
I get the feeling that Riftforce didn’t receive the attention it should have when it came out in French with La Boîte de Jeu, but even still it managed to snag a place in the short-list for the Kennerspiel des Jahres! Riftforce is a duel-style game for two players in which you deploy troops into 5 combat corridors. The activation system has an elegance to it that would make the most talented designers pale in comparison: discard a card from your hand and activate 3 units with the same value OR that come from the same guild. Yes, there are 10 guilds in the box, and you draft 4 for each game. You score points by eliminating enemy troops, and for every corridor where you are unopposed during the turn in which you sacrifice in order to take cards back into your hand. I get incredible pleasure from playing this game, and from introducing it to players. Every time you play you need to discover new combinations by adapting to the cards you have in your hand. The games are tense and the victories satisfying. If this speaks to you at all, go grab it!
Beyond the Sun
Full disclosure: I’ve only played 2 games of Beyond the Sun, but I really really want to play more. It’s my ‘big game’ of the year. The one that takes a good 15-20 minutes to explain, and 90 minutes to play. Even though most of the mechanisms are far from being revolutionary, it doesn’t stop Beyond the Sun from having its own personality. It’s still a DEVELOPMENT game, a genre I have always loved.
You find yourselves in an area-conquest game, cousin of the area majority game, where you need to choose which actions (which become more and more powerful) will be added to the board, depending on which strategy you have opted for. On your turn you move your only worker (instead of placing it) on a huge board. These actions allow you to increase your efficiency in the technology race, as well as being able to move your spaceships on another (tiny) board that represents the planets to be colonised.
Beyond the Sun, which many have renamed ‘Tech-Tree: The Game,” has a few little readability problems: too much text on the actions that get added throughout the game. I would have much appreciated more icons! Despite this, it works remarkably well, especially at the 4-player count. You will enreage your opponents, who will return the favour, without resorting to direct attacks. The timing plays a critial role in this game. Because you automatically collect resources on every turn (contrary to most classic German games), you will never be too limited in your actions, which gives the game a little ‘feel-good’ aspect that is easy to appreciate.
Welcome to the Moon
It. Is. Good. Wow. I doubt that Welcome will ever be pegged as the most addictive game ever, but it remains one of the most solid, intelligent, and accesible games out there. You get the distinct feeling that this new edition benefits from the experience gained from the other versions launched since 2018. Welcome to the Moon offers no fewer than 8 scenarios... 8 different games, if you will! Eight different styles showing both consistency and surprising novelty. Some require more planning, while others allow you to attack or force you to almost literally play on top of each other. A campaign that can be completed quickly and redone (a little) differently each time, thanks to Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style booklet. I’m not kidding! I'm amazed at the generosity of the authors and the publisher! Bravo to them!
Using the concept of various shapes that you have to fit into a limited space, like Patchwork or Tetris, depending on your age, Reiner Knizia has created a little wonder. My City is an evolving and competitive game (a great game design challenge) that can be played in 24 games of about 20 minutes. The winner of each game advances on a "progress" scale and the person who has made the most progress will be crowned the winner at the end. In the first few games, you will score points mainly by covering as much area as possible, which is already a nice little puzzle. Then, as the game progresses, new constraints and new sources of victory points will be added. Knizia succeeds in adding just the right amount of "novelty" to each game to renew interest, without drowning us. His genius does not stop there. Without giving too much away, let's just say that he sometimes removes certain elements, so that at any given moment in this story, the "sum" of rules to be known remains perfectly digestible. And finally, the icing on the cake on the sundae, it even incorporates new ways of advancing on the progress ladder (the one that leads you to the ultimate victory at the end of the 24 episodes) within the games. So you'll have to navigate between the points in the current game and the progress ladder. Oh, did I mention that the "handicap" system to help those who fall behind is delightfully done? It's all just delicious.
Mindbug can be quickly summed up as: Micro-Magic. Personally, I prefer "My First Magic", but Manuel finds that it sends the wrong message, giving the impression that Mindbug is primarily aimed at children. This is not the case at all. Mindbug is a combat game where you attack your opponent with creatures that you put into play, each one having its own little power that breaks the rules. The rules can be explained in less than 3 minutes, and the games end in 10 minutes. And you play them back-to-back compulsively, and with great pleasure. The box comes with about 50 cards, amongst which 32 are different. Each player receives 10 cards at random, and draws 5 for their starting hand. This is the deck you have to deal with for the whole game! It's great, violent, tense, ingenious. Despite the incredible simplicity of the rules (on your turn, you play a creature OR attack with only one of those in play), there is a real learning curve. The game keeps revealing a depth that you didn't suspect at first. I've been waiting for this game for many years.
What About the Numbers?!
Yes, yes, I know that you’re only here for the juicy financial details. That's why I put them at the end. I hope you’ve taken the time to read the rest of the article. So here are a few anecdotes with numbers...
I don't have the exact sales figures for 2021, but we estimate it at 4 million Canadian dollars ($4,000,000!), or about $3.2m USD. This is an increase of almost 15%, an extremely satisfactory result, given that the previous year saw our sales figures jump by 36% compared to the year before that... This is all the more surprising given that we only had one original release in 2021, OG, whose tiny unit price doesn't move the needle in a significant way. In contrast, last year we ended the year with 2 titles that had enormous launches: Master Word and Zombie Teenz. You have to sell twice as many OG as Zombie Teenz to generate the same amount of money! We owe this new growth to our international sales, outside the French-speaking world. Notably to an order of 50 000 units of Zombie Teenz by Germany (accompaied by a TV commercial!!), even before its nomination to the Spiel des Jahres!
This figure of 4 million Canadian dollars was calculated using our old method and does not represent the figure entered in the official books. In fact, this is probably and unfortunately the last year that I will be able to give you accurate sales figures that represent our actual growth. No, it is not because the managers of a "nasty company" forbid us to do so, but because the way of counting the sales figures within the group has nothing to do with our way of doing things. Very humbly, I always calculated turnover by adding up all the invoices produced between 1 January and 31 December. Full stop. Some accountants, smiling, told me that I was very cute, but that the "real" ones don't do it like that. Now, some sales and expenses will be moved to the previous year or carried over to the next year. And I don't know what else... In short, a kind of Gordian knot that makes our accounting team work harder and doesn't change at all the number of games we sell over the course of the year.
2021 brought its share of challenges: a merger, a move, two changes of distributors in our two biggest markets, a transport crisis and a near complete reorganisation of the team. All of this in a world in the throes of a pandemic, where the ebb and flow of confinement forced us to constantly review our schedule. We used 2021 as an opportunity to get a bit of a head start... or to play catch-up.
I'm still not sure which.
As a matter of fact, a new game is already sailing towards our warehouses and we’ve made excellent progress on the files of our 2 other releases of the year... plus another title planned for 2023! Finally, I'm already starting to plan titles for 2024... All this work upstream, all this leeway we have given ourselves time-wise, compared to our old way of working, only compensates for the new shipping delays and the time it takes to translate games before their launch - we like it when several languages are part of the first print run. As I often say, you have to get better every year if you want to keep at the same level.
In short, Scorpion Masqué is now in an excellent position. Yes, I literally copied the sentence I wrote last year. In 2011, during an entrepreneurial contest in which I was a finalist, the judges had mentioned that the biggest vulnerability of the company was the fact that it rested on the shoulders of one person. Today, I can count not only on a very solid team (yes, I said that last year too), but also on a complete group. Our release schedule consists of a mix of completely original games and others that extend the universes and lines that we have been developing.
And so, just for you, as a special treat [drum roll...], our first original creation of 2022 will be... Zéro to 100!
Our first game with rising star Antonin Boccara. the general knowledge game for those who have none! The kind of guessing game where you can't know, but without being in a total fog... A team game that will generate some very funny discussions and above all some very surprising surprises! Your happy-hour game to discuss funny facts that are both totally useless and fascinating. Wonderful illustrations provided by Thiebault Courot.
This will be followed by Turing Machine, the world's most intelligent deduction game, by Yoann Levet and Fabien Gridel.
And finally a game in the world of Zombie Kidz, created by Baptiste Derrez and Marc-Antoine Doyon called Flashback: Zombie Kidz. We are over the moon with the illustration and art work of Laure De Chateaubourg, Jennifer Mati et Michel Verdu. Take a look for yourselves!
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Oh, if you like this kind of article, I write one every month (weeeellll, theoretical months… let’s say… around 8 per year!).
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Once a month Scorpion Masqué's Grand Poobah shares his thoughts with you. From how the market has evolved, to writing rules that make sense, with detours into game mechanisms, you will get a glimpse at the board game industry from the point of view of a publisher.
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