Lots of Merchant of Venus News

If you’re a fan of the Avalon Hill board game Merchant of Venus, you have a surfeit of good news, it seems. Perhaps not so good for the companies involved, though…

Yesterday saw two announcements regarding this classic game. First, an announcement from up-and-coming game company Stronghold Games:

Stronghold Games, in conjunction with the Designer and license holder, A. Richard Hamblen, announced yesterday that we will reprint “Richard Hamblen’s Merchant of Venus“.

We look forward to bringing you this great game during 2012 !

This was also the feature of a live webcast from the Essen Spiel 2011 game fair.

Good news, eh? Well, yesterday also saw an announcement from Fantasy Flight Games:

More than a year ago, Fantasy Flight Games signed an exclusive licensing contract with Wizards of the Coast, LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., to return this classic 1980’s board game of interstellar trade and exploration to print.

Since that time we’ve been working hard to produce what will be a fantastic edition of Merchant of Venus, one that remains true to its magnificently campy core, while expanding the game in surprising ways that will cause even the most hardcore fan to celebrate.

Once they heard about FFG’s announcement, however, Stronghold Games followed up with the following:

It has come to our attention that Fantasy Flight Games has laid claim to the license for the reprint of Merchant of Venus.

First and foremost, Stronghold Games bears no ill will towards Fantasy Flight Games over what can only be deemed as an unfortunate situation. In fact, we remain fans of Fantasy Flight’s work within the game industry.

However, over 18 months ago, we began negotiations with Mr Hamblen for the license to Merchant of Venus, finally signing an agreement recently. After much research, Stronghold Games feels very strongly that the license is solely Mr. Hamblen’s to offer, and he has selected Stronghold Games for the reprint.

In our opinion, the party that has sold the license to Fantasy Flight Games does not own the rights to this license. Mr Hamblen has also expressed to us his firm belief that the license is his alone to offer.

At this time, we are intent upon defending our and Mr Hamblen’s claim to this license, noting once again that we view Fantasy Flight in the highest regard and regret that they have been put into this position.

I’ve got to say, this looks incredibly sticky. Apparently we’ve got two parties claiming they have the rights to the original game, each of whom has sold those rights to different licensees, at exactly the same time. Yeesh. Obviously without seeing the original contract between the designer and Avalon Hill (the original publisher), it’s impossible to tell what’s what, and this looks destined to end up in court at some point. FFG (and WotC) has deep pockets.

Although wouldn’t it be nice if both companies could just agree to each market their own version of the game and let the chips fall where they may? Yeah, that’ll never happen, and honestly if it was my game or I had shelled out a lot of money for a license, I wouldn’t be inclined to do so either.

(Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Stephen Buonocore, one of the managing directors of Stronghold Games, for many years.)

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Lots of Merchant of Venus News

  1. I hope Stronghold wins out! FFG is a great company but they are the 1000 lbs. gorilla, they've got plenty going for them already.

    It's great to see an old AH game being released, it would be nice to see more like Dune, UFO, Powers and Perils, Down With The King, Wizard War, Lods Of Creation….

  2. Interesting. I have an old copy of the game which we haul out now and again. It is fun and campy and a good change of pace. (in our clan there is also a the opening lyric of a song never written which starts, "Its the man of impossible furniture!") Being anal with my games, we have all the pieces and don't have need of another copy. Its always hard to know how popular these games are outside our circle.

    I don't know how much interest there is in our group for another version of the game with some new variations.

    Sad though, to see legal fights over games.

  3. Given the legal environment pervasive in America today, my money is on Fantasy Flight Games (and by extension, Hasbro). Not because I think they would do a superior job. I just think they have deeper pockets.

  4. That is interesting. Hasbro owns Avalon Hill, so I can see how they might think they have the rights to Merchant of Venus. On the other hand, it really depends on what that original contract says.

    I would buy both versions if they came out. I love Merchant of Venus. I still have my old copy, but a reprint would be awesome.

  5. The rights to Richard Hamblen's games (Merchant of Venus, Magic Realm, etc.) have always been very confused. A lot of old Avalon Hill games have been reprinted in recent years, but none of his.

    It's a real toss-up as to who actually has the rights, alas.

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