Just what is going on with these guys?
Last year, Valley Games became THE gaming company to talk about. Suddenly, all of these great games that had thought absolutely impossible to reprint....well, here was this company who was going to swoop in and do what none of the "big boys" seemed able to do. To say that excitement was high was an understatement...
(see Malloc proclaiming some of that excitement last year)
And it wasn't just one subset of gamers who were excited...Valley Games was going to have something for everyone. They reprinted Die Macher, which definitely made some Euro fans very happy indeed. But for wargame and AT fans, just hearing the news that Titan and Hannibal were going to be reprinted was heady stuff, indeed.
What's more, this company was going to buck the status quo. They were going to release these long-absent niche titles with strong production *and* an affordable price.
Yet since then, many gamers have come to have little but harsh words and stinging venom for Valley Games. How did we get there from here?
Trouble in paradise seemed to begin quietly enough as some were dissatisfied with the production quality of Die Macher. I've never seen the reprint (heck, I've never seen the original), so I don't have a personal opinion on what the issues of the reprint might be, but apparently some people had them. It didn't help matters when Die Macher turned up at deep discounting website Tanga, making some folks who had taken the more expensive plunge more than a little upset.
But their ace in the hole had to be Hannibal. Here was a game that was high on the charts on BoardGameGeek but had been long out of print. No other company had seemed able to wrest it from the grasp of Hasbro, who had been content to sit on a shitload of great games and do absolutely nothing with them except hold them hostage. Yet Valley Games had done the unthinkable, and it was coming. Soon. Gamers who had little interest in Die Macher certainly were salivating at this one, and lined up to pre-order the game just so they'd be some of the first to get their mitts on this "grail" title. And incredibly, there would be a bonus for these pre-orders in the form of some incredible looking plastic generals.
All this and Titan, too? The fangasm was nearly overwhelming. At any minute you just expected someone from Valley Games to go, "Oh yeah, and we're reprinting Full Metal Planete also." About this time was the apex of the rush of everything that Valley Games was promising.
It took them a little longer than expected, but finally Hannibal arrived on the doorsteps of eager gamers. It seemed like it was time to believe the hype. Hannibal was and is an INCREDIBLE production. It is probably the most gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing wargame that I've ever laid eyes on. Everything about it screams loving care and slavish attention. Gorgeous art, thick counters, a puzzle board that seems like it shouldn't work but does...oh, and did I mention that this thing was affordably priced? That's right, even though Valley Games was a small company, the price was VERY affordable--(the argument for GMT games being higher is their smallers size and niche market....I'm not trying to start a flame war, just using this argument for comparison's sake.) No thin counters, no crinkly paper map...this was a wargame you could take home to mamma and say, "Mamma, we're getting married," and she wouldn't be forced to say, "Well, I'm sure you love her, deep down."
But those plastic generals. Oh, those generals.
Once the euprhoria wore off, expectant gamers began to wonder where their generals were. So far, nothing. First it was that the first batch were substandard quality. Then, constant promises of "any day now." Even when Malloc interviewed Kevin from Valley Games back in December, he indicated that these would be in gamers' hands in January'08...which has come and gone. Communications from Valley Games has slowed to a trickle, and every time Kevin posts on BGG (whether related to Hannibal or not, it seems), the question always follows him..."Any news on the generals?"
More troubling is that the Valley Games website appears to be six months out of date. The pre-order system is reportedly no longer working. People have had their money taken in advance for future games and not a peep has come out about them. (NOTE: I have been informed that I was mistaken, and that games are not actually charged until they are shipped. That's what I get for relying on second-hand information, and I apologize.) The Titan rulebook was published, and while that was refreshing there were numerous typos in the thing. It did seem as though they hadn't screwed with the base game too much according to fans, but still...where were the games? For Hannibal pre-orders, where were the generals?
So here we are, with a lot of gamers having plenty of negativity to heap on VG, several swearing off of future pre-orders, communications nil to none, an outdated website that isn't functioning, and broken promises. Geez, it's no wonder gamers are sour...and in the internet world, bitterness spreads so much easier than optimism, so this sentiment didn't take too long to take root.
The question is, who's to blame? What happened? Right now, it's only speculation. VG could come back swinging in a month or so by announcing a ship date for Titan and getting the generals into gamer hands, which will quell a lot of the negativity, at least for a bit. But if they implode, if this really is the beginning of the end for them, you have to wonder if maybe other companies were right. Maybe getting the rights to reprint these older games was never really economically feasible. And maybe GMT has a good reason for charging what they do based on their company's size (had GMT done a production of Hannibal of this quality, it would've easily been a $80+ game.) Maybe Hasbro knew what they were doing sitting on some of these titles and doing nothing with them except waiting to sell them. I don't know.
What I do know is that no matter what happens, a very beautfiul thing did emerge from all this, and that's Hannibal. From all reports it's almost gone, too...and who knows if VG will be in shape to do another run? So no matter your feelings on the company, hunt down a distributor who has a copy and pick it up...you'll be helping distributors more than VG at that point anyway, so you can put your feelings aside on that one. It's likely you'll be kicking yourself later if you don't. Hopefully, we'll see Titan soon enough, the people will have their plastic generals, and Valley Games will hit us with another batch of jaw-dropping anouncements of games that they're bringing back from the grave.
We can only hope, anyway.