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 some problems with the Magic: The Gathering prerelease over the past weekend, explains what goes into a good starter set, and marvels at the Magic/Hot Pockets promotion.

Wizards of the Coast supposedly had the bugs worked out of Eventlink, its tournament reporting software, until this past weekend, when numerous stores reported problems with the software running slowly or even shutting down during the March of the Machine prerelease.  The problem ran throughout most of Friday evening from about 6 pm CT until after 10 pm.

I like Eventlink; it generally has worked well for the past couple of years, until it doesn’t.  Having the option of downloading the software to desktop, laptop or tablet in order to run it offline and lessen the strain on Wizards of the Coast’s servers would certainly go far to alleviate the situation.

We had one of our best-attended prereleases in months, and I heard reports of store with 150 people showing up to play.  If we had problems with our 25-player prerelease, I can only imagine what calamity having the system shut down would do to stores running an event with 150 people.  I truly hope that WotC’s pledge to bolster the software makes it robust enough to handle the strain when it gets hit with another heavy amount of use, as I expect to happen in June with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth (see "‘Magic: The Gathering - The Lord of the Rings’ Set").

Another topic that came up recently (which I have touched upon before) was starter sets, and how more companies are missing the point of what a starter set should do.  While miniature games starter sets can reasonably exceed $50, assuming figures included, I'm seeing RPG starter sets getting close to $100 (which somewhat defeats the whole purpose of a starter set).  Ideally, even miniatures games should have a starter in the $20 to $30 range, like Games Workshop’s starters for Warhammer 40,000 and Wahammer Age of Sigmar, which come with a rulebook and a couple of figures on a sprue for under $15 (at least they did; no idea what the price will be when Warhammer 40,000 10E hits the shelves, but I would bet the price point creeps up a bit).

Here's what makes a good starter set:

  • Price point.  Price should not be a barrier to entry.  At least one RPG starter set has a MSRP of over $80.  Granted, the company puts a lot of stuff in the box, but few customers will shell out that kind of money for a game they are not sure they want to keep playing.  WotC’s $10 for the Magic Starter and $20 for the Dungeons & Dragons starter are great prices point, as is Shadowrun’s Starter at $25.
  • Value for Price.  A good starter provides everything the player needs to get started.  The publisher should not assume the potential player has dice, character sheets or rules access.  Rulebook, dice, starter adventure, characters and character sheets should all be included.
  • Not too much.  Don’t include too much in the starter.  One starter set includes digital access to the full rulebook, with a corresponding price to match.  Player handouts are great as are figures, but for an intro game, cardboard stand-up figures are fine.  Again, lower the barrier to entry as much as possible and the primary barrier to entry for most starter sets is price.

On the list of things I never expected to see, the MtG Arena/Hot Pockets promotion ranks up there, as there does not appear much synergy between the two product lines (see "Hot Pockets Enters the Magic The Gathering Arena").  Buy a Hot Pocket, upload the receipt, and customers get a code for use in Magic Arena. Maybe, if there is a sequel to the Dungeons & Dragons movie, Hasbro could work up a promotion with McDonald’s or Burger King.  The Owlbear Happy Meal, anyone?

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