We caught up with Asmodee North America Head of Publishing Steve Horvath at Toy Fair, where we asked about his assessment of the games market, the company’s efforts to improve its supply chain management, and upcoming products from Asmodee studios, where there was some news!

ICv2:  Asmodee recently had an ownership change.  Other than the organizational and management changes, which we’ve covered (see "The Other Shoe Drops: Asmodee North America Begins Major Restructuring"), are there any changes in the way the company's being run with the new ownership?
Steve Horvath:  So far, no real change.  Our new partners are very engaged and very interested to see how they can help us grow in our core businesses.  It's been very exciting to work with them.

What's your assessment of the state of the hobby games market in the U.S. right now?
A lot of games coming out.  A lot, a lot of games coming out.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I've never seen so many good games, but then I also think that there's games that would have been successful two years ago that are not now, because there's so many games coming out.

Very true.
It's changed the dynamic, for sure.  It used to be a game could have six months to find its legs, and really, if not an evergreen, have a long tail to it.  Now, it seems like if a game doesn't hit in the first six to eight weeks, everyone's just moved on.

I think we're very blessed to have the portfolio that we do with Catan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Spot It!, the Arkham Horror range, the Star Wars license, all of that kind of stuff. We have a lot of perennial sellers, a lot of evergreen titles.

I think everybody should be looking harder at what they're releasing, and figuring out how they're going to break through the noise of the marketplace, and have their games take root like they used to.

Is Asmodee doing that?  Are your releases going up or down for this year?
I think our releases will be about on par with last year. We are being a lot more intentional about what we're doing.

You mentioned your perennials.  One of the things we noticed in talking to retailers after the holiday season was that the availability of Asmodee Studios' products was improved pretty dramatically for holiday season '18 versus previous years.  What did you do the supply chain to make that happen?
We changed the structure.  We added some more people. We've supported that supply chain department better.  Also, working better and closer with the sales and distribution side of the business.

Andre Kieren runs the sales and distribution side for the US. His team has done a great job helping us understand demand better, further out.  That's allowed us to be more proactive and less reactive.  I think the benefits of that, as we geared through the year, was a much better holiday season, pretty much across the board from Asmodee North America.

You said you changed the structure.  Are you talking about the split of the companies?
There's that, now we've moved towards publishing as its own business and sales and distribution as its own business.  There's that, and also giving the supply chain more support by who it reports into.

The VP of Production reports directly into the Senior Vice President of Studio Administration. I think that gives him more support.

You moved that function higher up in the organization chart?
Yeah, and gave it to somebody... Michael Hurley is the Senior Vice President of Studio Administration.  He's an 11‑year veteran of the business. He knows it backwards, forwards, and sideways.  I think he's been able to give that supply chain team some really good support.

Andrew Heu is the vice president of the supply chain team.  He's done a fantastic job.  He's also had a chance to settle into that role more.  He just came into that role in 2017. I know before he came onto that, the supply chain was more turbulent, let's say politely.  He's done a great job, now that he's had some time to be in that role and really reorganize it the way he wanted, to improve things.

Now, we're seeing the benefits of all of that work that's been going on behind the scenes. Production, supply chain management, is a tough role. It's an unsung hero, because nobody ever talks about it, unless it goes wrong.  Now, I think, hopefully we'll talk about it even less, because it's going that much better.

The only game we’re aware of where there was not consistent availability on a product was KeyForge, which was obviously a big success but had some stock outages.  What happened there?
[laughs] We printed more of that product than anything we've printed for initial release in the 11 years that I've been with the business, more than Destiny.  It's the biggest initial print run for a product we have ever done.  Destiny was the last time I said "that was the biggest thing we'd ever done," and it was.  This was bigger than that.  Fortunately, though, because there's no dice involved in this, we've been able to resupply the market a lot faster.

That also comes down to that supply chain production team, and the heroic efforts that they've done.  I think I've told you before when we talked last time, it took us a year and a half to nail down the manufacturing process for this.

Once we did, it's fine. It's not slow, but it was a complicated process.  Now, we are cranking out an amazing amount of decks, just really an amazing amount of decks.  There's been multiple restocks, and we're really thrilled with it.

The performance of it's been amazing.  I'm going to give an update about that at GAMA next month, and I think people are going to be thrilled to understand the scale that the game has reached.

It's in that sweet spot between LCG‑level consumer spend and CCG‑level consumer spend, it seems like, right?

You obviously underestimated the demand a little. Is that because consumers are buying more decks than you thought they would per consumer, or because there's more consumers involved?
I think it's a little bit of both.  We had hoped that it would reach a wider market, and it definitely has gone even wider than our wildest expectations.  People are buying more decks.  We knew that that was a possibility, but even that has been stronger.

This is the biggest play base that we've reached on a single product at a launch, for sure. Absolutely, for sure.

Then looking ahead, what are the biggest opportunities coming from your studios in 2019 that you can talk about so far?
KeyForge is one of those.  To stay with that for a minute, we just announced last week the second set, coming out later this year.  We're working really hard to make sure that people have what they need of this first set as we lead up to that second set, and that we have enough product to launch that second set properly.

That's a huge opportunity.  Organized play has really kicked in.  There's been several hundred thousand people sign up on the app; they've registered their app; they're starting to earn amber.  Now, we've started publicizing how they're going to be able to redeem that amber for the coolest prizes we have just frankly ever done.

We're really excited how this digital app system really ties the stores into some of these bigger events, so that it's really incentivizing players to go play at their core local hobby games stores.

We always want to be supporting them.  We're really excited. We think this program really incentivizes the players to play every week at their hobby store, earn amber that they can use to redeem for cool prizes, going on as the game progresses.  We're really excited about that.

We have some great stuff coming out for Catan later this year.  I can't announce that game yet, but we're excited about it. Catan had its best year ever in 2018.  We have also some cool marketing plans to rally around that and continue that heat and excitement, to continue driving that forward.  Super excited about that.

Ticket to Ride's also had a fabulous year.  There's some new expansions coming out that the players are going to like.

I'm also super excited, we've announced Outer Rim for Star Wars, board game, $65, coming out in May.

I'm not supposed to have favorites, but this'll be the third more traditional board game we've released for Star Wars.  It's my favorite one so far. I'm very excited about that.  Plaid Hat has a new game coming out, though I don't think we've announced publicly, so I can't.

There was at least one new Plaid Hat I hadn't seen before at the booth...
I'll just tell you what it is.  There we go.  If I'm wrong, well, I can yell at myself later.  It's called Abomination.  It's based off the Frankenstein mythos.  It's really interesting, because Frankenstein is in Paris, looking for a bride.

He's found all of these scientists and masterminds in the city.  He's commissioned them to build him a bride.  You're racing against the other players to be the first one to do that, so that he doesn't destroy you.

It is a lot of fun.  I think really, it's a really different take on a couple different genres coming together.  It's very unique.  Plaid Hat has a track record of really innovative, creative games.  I think this is going to really, really scratch an itch for people.  I think they're really going to like it when they play.

Is that a summer thing?

Z‑Man's going to have some cool Pandemic stuff coming out, and some very exciting Love Letter stuff coming out this year.

Other than that, I can tell you we have some pretty amazing announcements to make in the next few months about some different initiatives that we're doing on the product side, some different games that are going to be coming out and how we're really expanding our presence in some of the categories in a very exciting way.