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 reports on the Magic: The Gathering--Battle for Zendikar pre-release, and the major "dark game" trend.

The Battle for Zendikar pre-release took place this past weekend and, at our store, we have seen the best numbers for a pre-release in over three years.  I think part of it is the fondness people have for the previous Zendikar block and the announcement of the Zendikar Expeditions cards, reminiscent of the Treasures included in the first wave of the original Zendikar set.

Given that pre-sales of the Zendikar Expeditions have run anywhere from $100 to $300 per card, ‘tis not really surprising that players have shown themselves quite interested in the set.  I have read several reports of stores selling out of seats at their pre-release tournaments a week before the events took place and only one report of a store seeing fewer players come out.  The fact that several online retailers have raised their pre-order prices for booster boxes to a point higher than they typically do for a new set of Magic also speaks volumes as to how retailers expect Battle for Zendikar to do over the next few months, as does the fact that BFZ is the first set to have Fat Packs allocated in a number of years.

I do not know how long the Zendikar Expeditions cards will command the high prices they currently do, given that stores, and players, only now have some idea regarding the rarity of the cards.  Out of roughly a case of boosters opened here during the pre-release we had two Zendikar Expeditions cards pulled, which tracks with what I have heard from other stores.

OK, enough about Battle for Zendikar.  I also wanted to comment on what I call the "dark game" trend that Cards Against Humanity started several years ago.  There are a surprising number of games that hit the shelves in the last few years that appeal to the baser instincts of humanity.  Despite releasing in 2011 and the difficulty in stocking it, Cards Against Humanity remains the best-selling card in many stores across the country and it presaged a trend in similar-themed games over the past four years, games that appeal to the darker aspects of our nature, such as:

  • Cards Against Hunamity expansions that are even “worse” like Crabs Adjust Humidity.
  • Similar types of games such as Awkward Turtle or Disturbed Friends.
  • Darker versions of existing games such as Sour Apples to Apples and Telestrations After Dark.
  • Games with themes that make players go "Unnnh" but buy them anyway such as Tentacle Bento, Kittens in a Blender and the recent Kickstarter hit Exploding Kittens.
  • And games that encourage betrayal and lying such as Betrayal at House on the Hill, Shadows Over Camelot, The Resistance and the innumerable variations of Werewolf from companies as diverse as Looney Labs and Bezier Games.

At the same time, for me to point a finger at any of these games is a case of "pot meet kettle," as we stock a lot of these and make good money on them.  In fact, this category of games is likely our best-selling category within the board/card game section of our product mix and we are continually restocking a number of them.  So is this a case of providing what the customer wants until they move onto the next big thing, a lengthy fad within the game category or a new category within the market?  Your thoughts?

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