Saturday, March 23, 2013

Random Review: Dropzone Games

So, the Games Workshop Battle Bunker (and headquarters) in Glen Burnie closed down a while ago. It was alright place, a bit out of the way really. The selling point was the tables; The Battle Bunker (and the current one in Bowie, MD) was loaded with Realm of Battle boards painted to a high standard, with well painted official GW terrain. The downside was that you had to deal with Games Workshop's selling approach from a number of employees and well, the place was pretty much restricted to Games Workshop products. The place also seemed to attract a certain crowd that I'm sure you've seen on the internet -- people who are just downright CRAZY about tournament caliber, large 40k games (1850+.) When I heard that the store was bought out and turned into a Wargaming store, well, it sounded like it could be great. Especially if it was anything like what I saw from Miniwargaming's Youtube videos... which many wargaming stores should be looking at!
So what's different about Dropzone? Well, I took a look at a few pictures on the facebook and the place seemed nice and seemed to have a number of pieces of well painted terrain to game on. Cool -- that's pretty much what I wanted out of the old bunker.
The storefront looks alright. I will say, I do have experience in merchandising. My grandmother worked in merchandising for various toy companies, candy, grocery, all sorts of stuff -- and I went with her all of the time while she was working. Saw what was done, and kind of understand why it was done... maybe not in a corporate-trained or college-trained sense, but in a practical way. I took a few merchandising jobs out of high school myself. Given this, I'm pretty critical of shop layouts that I dislike or think are stupid, and product placement to the same degree. It's been a long while since I've had to work in the crazy retail world, but it still stings me to see crappy shelf and/or store layouts. And that of course is the case here. Some sort of trained OCD annoyance.

Merchandising seems to be a mess. I have one area of the wall that's stuffed to the brim with miniatures so tightly the blisters are overlapping, and then I have blank space on the wall near it. The ranges supported seemed hard to browse and rather incomplete. They did have a few neat items from Mantic Games, and some stuff I'd never seen before... but not in an area that really grabbed my attention. Games that seem tucked away in a corner are not the games I want to try to play. Usually because everyone else has noticed they're tucked in a corner as well, and wonders if they'll ever get the chance to play the damn thing with even one other player.

I ran into one employee very quickly playing a Privateer Press game with unpainted models on a pretty odd looking board... not like the ones I had expected from the view of this picture they've posted of their store. He was pretty informative in explaining what the store does. They are definitely into mini wargaming here. There are magic cards, but uh, the three binders stacked weirdly on a non-fitting shelf, and a handful of boosters hardly qualifies as a magic shop. I think Alliance Comics had more going on than that. There's no RPGs or boardgames really, just a bunch of minis systems.

So, as you guess, they have glass cases, and they are filled with some brilliantly painted miniatures! But there are also some weirdly painted miniatures as well... and then there's a glass case with a piece of terrain on top of it that looks half-finished, with a few primed rare? miniatures in it with jewelery price tags. At this point, I'm a bit boggled. Hadn't this place been here for at least six months or something? What is this stuff? Shouldn't some of this stuff be in the back, under a table, out of the way, maybe not on top of this 1/8th filled glass case with miniatures you want to sell me?

I came with a camera since I was hoping after seeing a few pictures like these that I'd be able to snap some great shots of people's well painted armies playing on some great terrain being made specifically for the 40k event they were having. Well, while these pieces are great uniform terrain pieces that are very balanced for 40k, in person they looked like they were given a few quick sprays from quickly cut balsa and that was that. Lighting can make a hell of a difference. I was a bit disappointed to see that the tables in the back looked pretty weird, like this...
Contrasting yellow, red, green, and I think maybe even blue primary colored tables were a bit odd on the eyes. I liked seeing the Bunker's take on a death world, a desert planet, or an ice world. But these seemed more like what I'd find if I wanted to play on a 4x6 children's foam floor mat or something. As I walk around, I see that many armies aren't painted, or are just painted really... oddly. Walking through the GT I get the glances of many players who look at me as if I am intruding on their game, so I move on and don't pry. I play magic, I know tournaments get tense, and it's not always appreciated to have someone watching over your shoulder. At this point, I'm not really in the mood to take pictures of these crazy colored tables anyway... so I move on. (Luckily Dropzone threw up some pictures of their tables and you can check out all the pictures of their store and events on Facebook.)

Then I realize I've finally found the back of the store. They've recently expanded and I guess they are doing construction. A large amount of the back of the store is empty space, with a bunch of product racks closed up in office rooms with odd glass windows... as if maybe in the future you could have a private game in a special interrogation room. There is, however, a pretty sweet spraypaint area built in. Big plus for this, as not everyone has access to a climate controlled warehouse -- and it's WAY better to spray in a sealed environment. Well, not health-wise, but for the spray, you know.

This store has a lot of hobby tables... even more than I thought it would from the pictures they've posted. Pretty fair amount of people using them, too! Hobby tables were never my thing; I bought all of my paints and tools and have a desk myself. I guess you get to socialize, but that usually distracts me from painting. I'd say some gamers would find themselves pretty pleased that this place will rarely ever run out of hobby space. I decided to take a glance around and see if there was anything unique I should buy while I'm here, at which point employee man offers to help me again (hey, I remember this from GW!) So I'm thinking, hey, I'll listen to a pitch if he can give me a good one.

"Hey, now I know stores usually don't offer discounts, but do you guys offer any sort of 10% or 20% off GW?" I know I can get GW products online, secondhand through Craigslist or friends, or even at some brick and mortar stores that have buyer incentive programs for the entire shop. This is kind of a test. Sell me on your shop. The response? Something along the lines of 'you pay extra for this community, this space.' These words I felt were most emphasized here. A few thoughts crossed my mind... like the fact that there are other places with community, space, and today's probably not the best day for a fun community welcoming experience. Maybe some other day. But then I remembered that after I had told him I played pretty much every game, he told me, Znijurru and our fellow wargaming buddy to make sure not to bump into any tables or touch people's models or something. What the fuck even happened here? You just went full on Games Workshop, buddy, and I was hoping for an experience a bit better than that. Then again, I do look a certain way that people usually associate with uncouth persons... but the reality is that I have fucking Crohn's disease and don't give a shit enough to shave. Alright, maybe I don't shave because it makes me look more like a wizard. Either way, I don't think I'll be bumping into any tables, even though the construction and weight should be enough to handle my skinny ass falling into them. And if I did fall, you should probably call an ambulance instead of worrying about your army men.

Will I never go here again? It's plausible. Building takes a lot of time and effort and enthusiasm and they threw together a moderate sized event with commonly accepted balanced terrain. Better snack and drink selection than the bunker. Definitely seems like a good competitive environment with players who have excellent concentration and perception skills (trust me, it pays to pay attention to your surroundings like a hawk because assholes will steal from you anywhere these days. Lessons learned from Magic. And in 40k, you need to watch out for your opponent being a dick and taking extra movement, or extra dice, or whatever.) If I ever get into 40k tournaments in this scale, I'll probably have to hit this on the regular around here. I don't play 40k at those points levels though, where flyers get insane. Probably not my crowd from the amount of $75 flying stems I found in the back.

Overall, the impression I got was that this shop seemed more like co-operative wargaming club efforts I have heard about in York, PA and other areas. It didn't feel like THE Games Workshop store, but it didn't feel too much like any store, either. It did have a community atmosphere, but it was their community, not really a community. That's fine though. I just hope they don't kick me out for playing on the tables and buying nothing more than some snacks. Or ripping on them in this blog post.

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