Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks at the potential effects of the Asmodee NA / Alliance deal.

As you may or may not have read, and you certainly did read it if you keep up on the ICv2 website, Asmodee North America and Alliance Distribution announced a partnership this week that will result in Alliance handling all sales of products offered under the Asmodee NA umbrella to the hobby store channel.  Although there have been other announcements of exclusive deals, this is the largest, and will have the greatest impact, since WizKids went exclusive with Alliance just over ten years ago.  What does this mean for various levels of the channel of distribution?  Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Customers — Very little.  The customer will probably be the least affected member of the channel of distribution as the whole purpose of the channel is to render its activities invisible to the ultimate consumer.  If the channel works properly, the customer should be able to get what products they want when they want them.  There may be some short term outages from the stores that the customer frequents, as not all stores, especially those that have opened in the past couple of years, have Alliance accounts, and it may take a few weeks for those stores without Alliance accounts to set one up.  Within one to two months, stores that want an Alliance account should be able to get one set up and have product on the shelves for customers.

Retail Stores — In some ways, this is kind of a "Back to the Future" scenario as only a couple of years ago, many of the products supplied under the Asmodee NA umbrella (Catan, Z-Man Games, Days of Wonder)were exclusive with Alliance Distribution.  A store either opened an Alliance account, ordered direct, found a back channel for product or did not carry games from those companies.  When those publishers merged with Asmodee NA, the exclusive arrangement with Alliance ended [for all but Catan, ed.] and retailers could purchase from whichever approved distributors they wished.  Now, stores are back where they were two to three years ago, only with the addition of the Asmodee and Fantasy Flight Games lines to Alliance’s exclusives.

In addition, Alliance has what is known as a "tiered" discount structure, meaning that gross margin on many products purchased through them is tied to dollar amounts purchased from Alliance during specified periods of time.  Stores are not sure yet as to whether that tiered discount will apply to Asmodee NA products or whether some other discount structure will go into place, such as the flat discount applied to all WizKids products [note--clarification on the WizKids "flat discount" added Monday, June 5, as per Thorne--ed.].

Given the popularity of those games produced under the Asmodee NA banner, any store stocking a extensive selection of boardgames will have to set up an Alliance account.

Distributors — Really good for Alliance Distribution (and probably its parent company Diamond Comics Distribution) as they get exclusive rights to distribute what is probably the best selling line of board games sold in specialty game stores.  Given that popularity and the lack of other options after August 1 (though I have heard of distributors considering the feasibility of stocking a projected years’ worth of Asmodee NA products before the August 1 deadline), I expect to see a marked increase in account applications to Alliance.

Other distributors, not so good.  Though most of them will put on a "stiff upper lip" and have sent out messages congratulating Alliance and Asmodee, losing this many popular product lines at one time has to hurt the bottom line.

Asmodee NA — Gets to shift a lot of its warehousing, and associated costs, to Alliance, along with the expense of running an in-house sales team.  Asmodee will still have to promote its product lines, but now it only has to worry about maintaining one channel, rather than multiples.  Anytime a company can consolidate costs, it adds to the bottom line. Overall, the change benefits Asmodee NA.

That’s how things stand as I see it.  Will certainly be interesting to see how the industry landscape changes over the next year.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of