I had heard about Habour from a few friends who said they had played it and liked it. It wasn’t a high priority for me, but the more I toyed with the idea of buying it the more enticing the game became. One day I saw Harbour for $20 on sale and seriously considered snatching it up. Instead, I spent a few more hours pondering the decision before concluding I would buy the game, but alas I was too slow and it was sold out. This missed opportunity only managed to get the game under my skin. Eventually, I was willing to pay over $20 for Harbour and went hunting around online for the best deal and I could find. I settled on a purchase, but it was 12:45 pm and, as a teacher, I was due in class. I saved the page and decide to buy the game as soon as school finished. 3:10 pm hit and I race back to my office excited about the purchase. I opened my saved page and discovered the game had sold out while I was away teaching. This is curious as the store had several copies listed less than 3 hours earlier. I was perplexed as to the rush on the game. Perhaps the system had miscounted how many were available. No matter, by this stage I knew what other stores were on par and headed over to those sites. I was aghast, these stores were sold out as well. Not that much earlier all these stores claimed to be stocked with this game, what happened? Immediately I was incensed. How could all of Australia be out of a game that had been released for years and no one had wanted? Not only sold out, but sold out within a matter of a couple of hours?
I typed "Harbour Board Game" into Google to see if there were other copies around. Surprisingly, Wil Wheaton’s TableTop was at the top of my search advertising their latest episode, Harbour. It turned out that within the few hours of me being in the classroom, TableTop released an episode on Harbour and suddenly the game went from being well-stocked to being a hot ticket item. I had heard about the TableTop effect, but never really experienced it until this moment. And let me say it was brutal. The worst part was that now the game was completely sold out I wanted it more than ever. For weeks I searched and the message was the same regardless of where I looked, "out of stock." Months past and still no game. I eventually just signed up for a few websites to notify me and chose to forget about the game entirely. Well, not entirely. I was angry yet at the same time appreciative of the impact that one episode had and what that must have meant to Tasty Minstrel Games who publish it.
The TableTop effect is real. I think Wil has created one of the best infomercials board games could ever want. If Danoz Direct had Wil marketing their products I suspect I would have a room full of useless junk items and an endless supply of free steak knives. Instead, what I have is valuable and very useful collectables like bobbleheads, Pop Culture figures, comics, and board games. Well, mostly valuable. O.K. Valuable to me. Wil is an actor, comedian, and presenter. He knows how to sell himself and to seem excited even when he may just be tired or disinterested. On his show, he gets professionals who are either actors, presenters, or salespeople for their games and products. These people know how to make a simple joke seem like the funniest thing they have ever heard. Most importantly, they know how to have fun and banter with each other while demoing a product. This is not me being cynical by the way. I think they are great at it and have I have bought games simply because I wanted to have as much fun playing board games as the people on the show.
TableTop presents the best side of the products it is demonstrating. On top of that, it gives a full game condensed down to 30minutes of the best bits. What you don’t see is the rule reading, game testing, arguments over how rules work, or any of the downtime. All you get is the laughter and the excitement. This energy and well-edited fun sells people quickly on more than the game, it sells people on the kind of experience that is possible with the featured game. You see Wil and the guests laughing, trash talking, giving high fives, and naturally, we want to replicate that joy in our own gaming group. As you would expect people go out and purchase the game. However, the more people buying the game the fewer copies there are on the market making the game scarce. As people who evolved during a time of scarcity, our brains hate the possibility that we may have to go without. You will often see scarcity (real or otherwise) used as a way to pressure us to buy something. Just look at the signs in stores when you go shopping next, “running out”, “going fast”, “hurray, before you miss out”. Ultimately, no one wants to be in my shoes and have to wait months to get their game. In a desperate attempt to avoid that pain, the brain tells us we need to buy this product. The result is people no longer thinking about whether they want the game or not because they know delaying may cost them the chance to buy the game now. Tabletop has become a self-replicating machine. Games get played on the show, everyone likes what they see, but knows that the game is about to become scarce, rather than waiting they make an impulse decision to buy the game, the game becomes scarce and reinforces the decision to buy the game in the first place.
These factors all lead to a situation where a relatively unknown game like Habour can make a single appearance on a YouTube show and be sold out with a couple of hours. This is of course not Wil’s fault, and I certainly refuse to complain about board games getting popular. However, I was left wondering why this game I initially only had a passing interest in was suddenly my must have game. How I went from thinking I might purchase Harbour if I can find it for a good price to suddenly being willing to pay anything for it just to get my hands on a copy. It’s a powerful thing the power of suggestion. Perhaps there is a challenge to all of us to quell the impulse to rush and buy a game for fear of missing out. Surely taking the time to think about if we really want a game and making purposeful purchases will make us happier in the long run. The alternative is to cough out our hard-earned money on every game that looks mildly exciting just so we don’t miss out. I wonder how many bad games, or even unplayed games, sit in our collection because of this fear.
In the end, a brand-new copy of Harbour was donated with a number of other games to our school board game club. Unfortunately, the game was not a good fit for the group and was offered to me. I graciously accepted and then went back to my office and laughed manically. Seriously though? I enjoyed the game. I have kept it in my collection even. What I can tell you is that waiting had no impact on my enjoyment of the game. It didn’t change the play experience or alter whether my group enjoyed it or not. Instead, the wait taught me that missing out isn’t really that bad. Taking my time and making a good purchase is more rewarding and perhaps worthwhile doing even if it means waiting a while for new stock. But honestly, did you see that Fury of Dracula Episode? I mean, just one more perhaps.