Top Shelf Gamer comprises a third party retail website that serves the board gaming community in a singular way. Chad Ingham and his spouse, Marlene, endeavor to provide a nexus for board game upgrades to preserve, prestige and “pimp” your library with storage, sleeve and token solutions. Its proprietor, Chad Ingham sat down with feature contributor Barrett Huddleston to discuss the project and reflect on the future of third party board game retail in relation to the overall hobby.
Barrett | “Top Shelf Gamer” is a “one stop shop” for board game upgrades. Tell us about your inspiration for this project.
Chad |The origin of the idea for Top Shelf Gamer came a few years ago when I had upgraded a few of my favorite games with nicer components, plastic storage containers, etc. It had happened slowly over time because I would stumble upon the upgrades through the Internet or my own trial-and-error. And sometimes when I did discover an upgrade I wanted, it would involve tracking down the seller, asking what the price and availability was, and then paying them through Paypal or check. It was kind of a hassle so I thought there might be a better way.
I did sit on the idea for a couple years until my wonderful wife, while on a walk together last summer, said that we should work together to make Top Shelf Gamer happen. That was countless hours and days of work ago but ultimately that’s how we got to where we are today.
Barrett | Your website describes “Top Shelf Gamer” as a “hub” for an array of third party designs: what does that mean?
Chad |We do not manufacture any of our own products. There are many individuals and businesses out there making incredible and innovative upgrades for tabletop games.
At the same time, we continue to do a lot of research for upgrade manufacturers and we actively reach out to them as we are able. There are quite a few manufacturers that we are aware of but are not on our site yet because we just haven’t had the time to form those relationships. We are eager to hear from designers/manufacturers. In fact, a person who just ran a successful Kickstarter campaign reached out to us and we’ve formed a deal to offer his product on Top Shelf Gamer.
Barrett | How much of your selection process in identifying new and worthwhile products derives for personal experience?
Chad |Top Shelf Gamer does reflect a lot of the games and upgrades we do own. My Lords of Waterdeep, Eclipse, and 7 Wonders are really maxed out and we have inserts, component upgrades, fan-made content, and play aids on a lot of other games. Up until recently, I wasn’t a “card sleever” but now I’m getting into that and realizing the quality feel that brings to my games.
That seems to be the way it is with upgrades I’ve done on my games. Most are very tactile and once I experience them on a game or two, I think “This needs to be on all my games!” But I have to balance my game acquisition disorder with my upgrades acquisition disorder. First world problem, I know.
As far as our product selection process goes, our goal is offer all upgrades and accessories and let the customer make the decision for what’s right for them. So in that regard, if it’s out there we’ll likely carry it. Our selection process only involves ensuring that the items are quality made and are sufficiently distinctive from other items we offer. There are very few times where we run into products that we decide are so similar that it would be confusing from a buyer’s perspective to carry both. At that point we’ll make the decision on offering the lowest price item.
Barrett | Many reputable news sources have pointed to the recent surge in the board game industry as a “bubble” approaching its event horizon: any concerns?
Chad |I’m an optimist and I don’t believe that we’re in a board game “bubble”, at least in regards to the number of people. Ask most gamers how long they’ve been in the hobby and a majority will say five or less years. I think that bodes well for where we could be in another five to ten years. I believe the rest of the world just needs to be exposed to modern tabletop games to realize what they’ve been missing out on.
Are we in a bubble in regards to the quantity of game titles … possibly? There does seem to be a dizzying amount of good games being printed right now and it seems to increase every year. But if there is a bubble and it pops, I think Top Shelf Gamer will be fine. A pop would likely mean a consolidation of companies and reduction in games titles. Gamers would be playing a fewer number of game titles more often. That’s Top Shelf Gamer’s “sweet spot” – the games that see your table again and again. The games you want to make into the best experience possible for you and your friends.
Barrett | Although your website has just begun, do you have any long term plans for the business and it ongoing contribution to the industry?
Chad |In the near term, our focus is to greatly expand our product offerings – more games supported, more products (coins, etc.), and more manufacturers. Also, based on popular demand, we’re looking into shipping outside of the United States and Canada.
In the longer term, we’d like to become the “go to” place to find information about tabletop upgrades – with news, reviews, buying guides, comparisons of products, and videos. We’d like to help gamers visualize what upgrades can bring to their games and then help them figure out which upgrades fit their needs best.
We’d also like for upgrade manufacturers, of all sizes, to see us as a resource to help publicize their products and make them easily available. By putting game upgrades first, Top Shelf Gamer can allow small upgrade manufacturers let their products really shine to the gaming community.
Ultimately, I’d like to see every gamer become a Top Shelf Gamer by having some games in their library that they consider the gems of their collection – the games we’ve helped them fully upgrade because they are a loved, favorite game that they can’t wait to share and play with their friends and family again and again.