Jim Owczarski, 14 November 2018
Wargame writers tend to focus on games, game designers, and the companies that manage them both. The backbone of the industry, though, are the stores, large and small, that help bring the games to the market. Even more special are those that sell both new and used games, letting eager gamers connect with a title they might have missed or become reacquainted with a fondly-remembered childhood pastime.
For over 20 years, Don Pawley has been responsible for Enterprise Games. Located in Indiana, it is for those of us who love the hobby something of a magical kingdom filled with thousands of old and new games, some of which have been out of print for decades. Mr. Pawley has a long-standing affiliation with GMT Games and, in that capacity, has been a sponsor of wargame events run by Armchair Dragoons staff at the Origins Game Convention for several years. He was good enough to take the time to answer questions about his business, the state of the gaming market, and the most expensive game he ever sold.
For those unfamiliar, who is “Enterprise Games”?
Enterprise Games is an online retailer of board games with our specialty being wargames. We carry new games, but our focus is on out-of-print. We do dabble some with military miniatures and non-sport trading cards, but that is a minor part of our business. Most sales are through our web site www.enterprisegames.com but we also setup at several conventions in the Midwest, in particular Origins.
I suppose everybody’s answer to this one is a little bit different, but: how long have you been in operation and what convinced you to open a game store?
We have been in business since 1995. It evolved from being a hobby, mostly selling at auctions and shows with a little bit of online or mail sales with most of the sales actually being more in the area of non-sport trading cards than board games. Once we started our web site in 1998, the board game business really started, and we have continued to grow larger each year since then.
I know you’ve got a store – my friend Doug (PanzerDe in our forums) makes me really jealous with his proximity; I’d be set up there like a hobo — but are you mostly digital these days?
Although online, we do have several local customers, such as Doug, who stop by the house to pick up their orders rather than do shipping.
Every retailer I talk to has a different opinion of how the Internet has affected the business. What do you think? Has it made things better or worse for people who do what you do?
Since we are an online store, we would not be in business if it wasn’t for the internet or at least at the level that we are today. I suppose that we might be a mail order operation and also sell at conventions and shows, but that scale model would be considerably smaller than our current level.
In my experience, your pre-owned games are of consistently high quality. Where do you get them from?
They come from a variety of sources including auctions at conventions and flea markets, but by far the majority are from personal collections. Usually this is a matter of someone who wants to downsize their collection and is wanting cash, but also there is the situation where they want to trade in older games as credit against new game purchases. Unfortunately, we do have the situation where games are coming from estate sales or being sold for health reasons which is tough. Out of business liquidations of game companies and game distributors have also added quite a bit to our inventory.
A peek inside the warehouse
Obviously, you don’t want to have 32 copies of “Terrible Swift Sword” on the shelf. How do you choose what to buy and how many?
This was really an issue when we were storing our inventory in our garage and basement, but less so since we moved into our warehouse in 2005 and then doubled its size three years ago. However, despite all of the space, we still seem to fill it up and can only have so many copies of Luftwaffe. So, I still need to look at how many copies of a game we have and its selling history to make the purchase determination.
I’m not flattering here, but I think your prices are some of the best in the business. What guides you as you set them?
First of all, thanks for the compliment. We do try to keep our prices as low as we can but also understanding that we are running a business. As to the pricing guide, the first thing that I look at is our historical data base of past sales, but I also try to stay on top of the market monitoring internet sales.
What’s the most valuable game you ever sold? Or bought, if different?
Not a board game, but the most valuable game that we have sold was probably a first edition of Chainmail by Guidon Games. Some others include a first edition Titan, some of the early La Bataille games by Marshal Enterprises, and SPI soapbox editions.
What game does everybody seem to want that you can never get enough of?
I don’t know about everybody wanting them, but there are many games that we can never keep in stock, some of which are Carrier by Victory Games, B-17: Queen of the Skies by Avalon Hill and any of the Musket & Pike series from GMT.
You’ve got a very strong relationship with GMT Games. How did that come about?
We have been working directly with GMT for about 20 years both as a distributor and a retailer. They are great people to work with and Tony Curtis and all of the others have always treated us well, and we do whatever we can to promote their products. We stock all of their games and try our best to keep many of their out-of-print titles in stock. When we do conventions, over half of our booth consists of GMT games which is especially the case at Origins where we have the privilege of representing them.
We’ve met on a number of occasions and I’ve never thought to ask: are you a gamer yourself?
Yes, we would not be doing this if I was not a gamer. I started with the Milton Bradley American Heritage series and the early Avalon Hill games in the 1960s. Then during my college days as a member of the Purdue Wargames club, I went through my SPI period and also got heavily involved in miniatures, especially ancients. I don’t get a chance to play as much these days but we do have a miniatures group that meets monthly here in Indianapolis, and I occasionally get out a board game to play, the latest being The Russian Campaign and GMT’s At Any Cost.
There are many, myself included, who regard this is a golden age of wargaming. There are others who point out, however, that the generation that preferred hex maps, CRTs, and monochromatic chits is aging fast. Folks are demanding better designed, more attractive, simpler games. Not that these are contradictory thoughts, but, where do you think the industry will be in, say, 10 years?
I have been hearing for over 30 years that board wargaming is dying. However, as you said, I agree that we are in a golden age of wargaming, and board games in general. The quality of the games that we see today, from numerous publishers, is far superior to what we had in the 1970’. Yes, we will no longer see games with the production runs of Panzerblitz or Squad Leader, but I think that traditional hex-and-counter-based wargames will still continue to have a place alongside the other genres of wargames such as block and miniatures based as well as systems such as the COIN games. I am also encouraged that we continue to see younger customers who are just getting into the hobby.
Anything else you’d like to share that I’ve missed?
I just wanted to add how much we enjoy working with your team at Origins, and hopefully at other conventions in the future. You have done a lot to revive the visibility of board wargaming there.
Thanks to Don for the kind words and for taking the time to give us a peek behind the curtain.