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 talks about the situation for retailers in week 2 of the Covid-19 lockdown, and offers an obituary for small press game publisher Bill Levy.

Well, here we are entering week 2  (at least here in Illinois) of the coronavirus shutdown and it looks like around two thirds of the nation has joined us in shuttering their doors, at least to walk-ins by customers. From what I have read on various social media sites, many stores are doing the best they can (where legal or permitted) to keep cash flowing in through other channels by doing curbside pickup and home delivery, offering online gift cards and bulking up their online presence. As I mentioned last week, Square has proven a pretty good partner for engaging in those last two.

Meanwhile, as of this writing, Alliance has closed up operations (and Diamond has stopped shipping new products, see “Diamond Halting Distribution of new Product, Alliance Shutting Down Completely”). One of the Southern Hobby Supply warehouses (Chicago) is closed, others are open [note: updated 3/30 2:30 PM CT, ed.].  ACD has closed their California warehouse, but is still shipping out of  their Pennsylvania and Wisconsin warehouses [note: updated with new info as of 1:20 p.m. CT, 3/31]. Mad Al’s, GTS and Magazine Exchange all were doing business as normal last week, but that may have changed in the past few days, and I have not heard anything from PHD.  If any distributor would like their status updated, send me an email and I will be glad to do so [note: ICv2 asked a number of these companies to update us on their status last week, but none of them have responded to date. Please help us keep retailers informed!—ed.].

A number of publishers have announced changes to their release schedules as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus. In comics, of course, we will see no print copies hitting the shelves until after the distribution shutdown eases, although digital is another matter. While this is good for the shuttered stores, which do not have to worry about inventory building up and invoices coming due during closure, it also means that those shops not covered by any shutdown have no new product to sell. Similarly, in the game channel, Asmodee, Greater than Games, and Renegade Game Studios have announced they will suspend new releases until after the epidemic wanes, and Wizards of the Coast (see “WotC Pushes Back ‘Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths’”), and Fireside Games have delayed specific releases. Much as with distributors, if you are a publisher delaying release, email me and I will be glad to update.

In addition, I currently count over 30 publishers listed on the GAMA Publisher Crisis Initiatives page, with WOTC’s plan to reprint the Mystery Booster set and sending an allocation free to all stores  participating in the WPN program.  Given how popular the first run of Mystery Boosters proved among Magic players, this release will be a welcome shot in the pocketbook to cash-strapped retailers come May. I don’t know how deep The Pokemon Company’s and Konami’s pockets are, but some sort of similar announcement would certainly be welcomed by the retail tier. Very few of the smaller game publishers have the cash flow to afford doing something like this, which is why the number of the companies that have signed up with GAMA’s Publisher Crisis Initiative is wonderful. Thank you!

On a much more personal note, I was sorry to hear that small press publisher Bill Levy passed away from a heart attack last week.  Anyone who attended a SF convention in the Mid-South region over the past 40 years likely had at least one, and probably many, encounters with Bill, usually in the gaming rooms or con-suite where he could (and did) talk on dozens of topics for hours.  I have carried games from his Godiva Games imprint (Brandub, DeepSleep, Club, Spirax) since the 90s and planned to restock when I saw him later this year. I was also a big fan of his Night Mart strip, which he had published off and on for years ( I still sit down and flip through the one collection of the strips he published whenever I run across it in my library). From what I understand, he had suffered from chronic pain for a number of years, but my last memory of him is him at a convention panel enthusiastically reading from his first novel, which he expect to see published sometime this year.  He was a big man, with a big personality and his passing leaves a big hole. Rest in Peace Bill.

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