Late last week, news began to spread that Heroscape, Hasbro's popular mass-market friendly entry into the miniatures arena, was being shunted off to Wizards of the Coast.
Really, the news is both good and bad...it's bad because this means Hasbro finally decided to drop back and punt instead of finally finding a way to work through their distribution woes. Anyone who is a fan of Heroscape knows the frustration of knowing that a new wave is out but seeing only old waves cluttering up store shelves.
For anyone who hasn't worked in retail, this all ties back to barcodes and how big retailers like Wal-Mart order product. For multiple items in a product line, there are many different barcodes but for all of them, there is one overriding barcode that is used to order more product. Take Disney's "Cars" toys for example--a toy manager doesn't order more Darrell Cartrip toys, he or she simply says "Send me x more Cars toys" and from there gets a case of...whatever is inside. Of course, what happens is that some are more popular than others, and those sell through, leaving the shelves cluttered with the excess Fillmore toys that no one wanted.
Eventually, the shelves are left clogged with what no one wanted, no more are ordered, and eventually the extras find their way to the clearance shelves.
This provides a huge problem for Heroscape, which found all of its boosters labeled under a generic "Heroscape Booster". Also, there was very limited shelf space at most stores, meaning that if there were leftovers from wave 5, well...no new ones were getting ordered. Period. It was a case where a product that needed a smaller, more specialized delivery system tried to swim against the current of the mass retail system.
The other "bad" thing at work here is that gamer confidence in Wizards of the Coast's ability to handle anything that isn't Magic or Star Wars Miniatures is fairly badly shaken. After all, WotC was a company that was handed the Avalon Hill line (see my previous article on that whole affair HERE) that was crammed with promising titles that seemingly appealed to everyone, only to see the whole series be tossed aside at firesale prices and the "new" AH given up for dead aside from the Axis and Allies series.
There is good to be found here, though. First and foremost is the knowledge that we will at least see more Heroscape product. Since last summer, fewer and fewer new boosters have found their way onto store shelves and more and more Heroscape has been found at clearance prices pretty much everywhere. My brother scored a Swarm of the Marro set--a brand new release, mind you, not a dusty copy of the original base set--for about a quarter of its MSRP over the Christmas holiday. Marvel Heroscape has been seen for half price or less at both Wal-Mart and Target, both appearing to want to be rid of them.
WotC's involvement may end up only being a temporary transfusion of blood, but at least this means that there will be something left in the Heroscape world to look forward to. I have no doubt that WotC will at least give it a college try and this will at least give the game one more year of 'life' at least. WotC is also not exactly swimming in the hits and if they can figure out how to turn this into a cash cow, you'd better believe they're going to that. This does mean that now that Star Wars Miniatures and Heroscape are under the same umbrella, the idea of "Star Wars Heroscape" (something I wistfully wished for in an article found HERE) is even farther from reality than it ever was.
You've got to admit, it was GREAT seeing a product like Heroscape on Wal-Mart shelves, nestled in there with the licensed Spongebob Monopolies and the rehashed kiddie crap. Even if Heroscape ended right now, it saw nearly a four-year run, far more than anyone would've predicted when the game launched.
For me, a lot of my opinion on the whole thing is going to rest on whether WotC gets us the Marvel Heroscape "Reinforcements Arrive" expansion or not. 10 characters really isn't enough, and even with mixing the figures there's only so many times Cap can fight off a zombie horde...