Archive for the ‘Off-Topic’ Category

Episode 3: The Return of the Customer Services

March 9, 2016 9 comments

And we have received a third reply!

Before we get into that, though, I should probably relate Miss B’s third letter to Consumer Care at Hasbro UK:


Yours, etc., Annoyed of Wantage

“To Hasbro gaming,

“I have sent 2 letters complaining about the Star Wars Monopoly game.  And twice, you have given me the same answer.  I feel as if you’re not taking me seriously or even not reading my letters.  I am NOT happy with the responses I am getting.  In letter one I said how I would complain heavily if you didn’t give me a good answer. And I will keep my word.”

Those of the words of a hacked-off Star Wars fan.  We sent that off, pretty much expecting to get exactly the same robo-reply as before, and I was preparing myself to escalate the communications somehow.

A short while later, what we received was:


Ooh, this one is actually different!

“Thank you for contacting Hasbro UK Ltd.

“We would like to apologise if you feel that our previous responses were not satisfactory.

“As the Monopoly Star Wars game was released before the latest film, Rey was not included as we were unable to release details of key figures.

“Hasbro are producing Rey playing pieces that we will be sending out to all consumers that have purchased the version that did not include her.  These will be available in the second half of 2016.

“Thank you for your understanding. We hope you and your family will continue to enjoy our products for many years to come.”

To my mind, this is a huge improvement, even though I really don’t buy the line about not being able to release details of characters, given that Finn and Kylo Ren are in the game; it is clearly just the fact that someone who was calling the shots thought the mix of characters in the set were the ones that would be most marketable.  Still, my opinions aren’t important…

Miss B was happy with this reply and, having read that Hasbro are planning to provide Rey figures both in new copies and to existing customers, she figured that they were making a good effort to fix the mistake.  She’s not sure if she’ll write again to thank them for the better reply, but I think I’ll encourage this.

And so we bring this little passage of events to what appears to be a close.  If anyone from a large corporation happens to be reading this, it looks like the main take-away is that, if you get written to by an annoyed 9-year-old, the best approach is simply to write them a letter that actually addresses their concern at some level. Surely this isn’t rocket science.

But thank you, Hasbro, for getting it right in the end.

Categories: Off-Topic Tags: , , ,

Episode 2: Miss B Strikes Back

February 21, 2016 12 comments

As you may remember, Miss B wrote to Hasbro UK to let them know her opinion (which was not complementary) of the lack of Rey in the new Star Wars Monopoly set, and they sent her a lame non-response that she instinctively screwed up, so annoyed was she.  A couple of days later a new letter was on its way to Hasbro to let them know that their response was not up to… well, anything really:


I like not your answer. Send me another.

“Dear Hasbro, My last letter Was about your Star Wars Monopoly game.  I Was comlaining about Rey + other female characters not being included.  You answered my letter by saying you appreciated the chance to assist me.  You have not answered my complaint AT ALL. I do not think this is an appropriate reply. Please give another answer.”

Well, a week or so ago (my bad for leaving it a while before writing this update), Miss B received another reply:


Okay then…

“Thank you for contacting Hasbro UK Ltd.

“We appreciate the opportunity to assist you and hope you and your family will enjoy our products for many years to come.”

Just breathe a little…

Yup, this was exactly the same letter as the previous time, only with a different date at the top.  To say we are disappointed is definitely an understatement.

Needless to say Miss B has written another letter, which is on its way.  We’re expecting the exact same reply again, but they are having another chance to save face.  Here goes nothing (but another stamp!).

Categories: Off-Topic Tags: , , ,

Me, wittering on about dragons and stuff, IN COLOUR!

November 19, 2014 4 comments

I came across a lovely fella called Ed Baraf when he was running a Kickstarter for a rather cool looking game about rescuing very cute aliens from an exploding planet (take a look here) earlier this year. Not long after the project finished, he started running a series of short video reviews for boardgames, intending them to be a little like the pitches that you might give to your friends at a games night when trying to persuade them to play something.

Even a nice cover pic for the video.

There’s even a nice cover pic for the video.

So this developed a little and Ed ended up inviting pretty much anyone out there who fancied a go to join in and provide a guest review for his channel. Against my better judgement, having never done this sort of thing before, I put myself forward and, a little to my surprise, Ed accepted my offer and sent me a load of really helpful advice on recording my video.

And so, as of today, I am a YouTube game reviewer of sorts. You can now go and see my review of Tsuro and hopefully see some of why I like the game so much. While you are there, I would strongly recommend looking at some of the other reviews on Ed’s review playlist, which includes some really illustrious company amongst the guests (boy do I feel out of my depth!). The reviews are mostly between two and five minutes and are a great way to get a feel for what people like about the games being covered.

Categories: Off-Topic, Stuff on the Web Tags: ,

Tentacles are cool!

June 11, 2014 Comments off

Moving away from the usual content for a moment or two of your time…

Lines by Mr K, colouring and additional tentacles by Miss B.

Lines by Mr K, colouring and additional tentacles by Miss B.

You may have heard of John Kovalic, the man behind the wonderful Dork Tower and illustrator of loads of games and stuff. Well, he’s been on a charity fund raising buzz (including a big bike ride last year) and now, in that spirit, he has made a colouring (sorry, coloring!) book which you can download as a PDF for the miserly sum of a couple of USian dollars, which go to John’s favoured charities.

The book, entitled Embrace the Squee! is a bunch of exceptionally random stuff for you and your nearest and dearest to colour in, from goofy dogs to kobolds in clockwork battle armour, and princesses on my-little-somethings to Cthul-Who, which you should be able to see a coloured rendition of somewhere on this page.

So, this is heartily recommended and definitely gets the Miss B seal of approval. There should be more geeky colouring books like this. You can buy one here if I’ve managed to convince you.

The slings and arrows of outrageous customer relations

March 17, 2014 Comments off

It has been a while since I posted an update on my campaigning exploits, which I will claim is in order to avoid derailing this blog too badly, but is actually more due to me not getting around to it.  Anyway, here is the latest.  I’m afraid it goes on a bit.

Two weeks after sending my previous email to WH Smith, I had heard nothing, so I figured I would send a short nudge email to them, just trying to get a response…

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it'll take a while to get there if it is.  (Image by John M,  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 - click on image to see details.)

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it’ll take a while to get there if it is. (Image by John M, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – click on image to see details.)

I wrote to you on 17th February (2 weeks ago) with a follow-up to a query about the gender-based display of toys in your shops.  I received an automated reply quickly, but have heard nothing else since.

Would it be possible for someone to let me know if WH Smith intends to change its toy displays to remove this bias, please, or give me some indication on the company’s stance on this issue.

My previous emails, along with the original reply from one of your customer relations staff are below.

Thanks for your time,

Well, happily I did indeed get a response. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for…

Thank you for your email.

I am very sorry that you were unhappy with our previous response. I have passed your comments on to our buying team who will take this into consideration.

If I can be of any help in the meantime then please let me know.

Kind regards

[Name deleted]
Customer Service Coordinator

Now, I have been really trying to think positively about this whole argument and not assume the worst of WH Smith, but when I get this sort of robotic reply that effectively parrots part of their original response, my hackles start to rise. The whole reason for my dissatisfaction last time was that they basically said, “Sorry you are unhappy, I’ve informed our buying team,” when I think the buying team is a wholly inappropriate place for this sort of query to end up.

Maybe it was time to take a different tack. At the suggestion of a friend, I tried contacting one of WH Smiths’ non-executive directors, who seemed to be slightly appropriate. Not having proper contact details, I fired off a tweet to her, trying to be polite and just asking for help finding the right person to talk to.

The next morning I was absolutely delighted to have received an “I’m on it!” type tweet. As you might imagine, I was in a great mood, actually thinking that things were finally progressing.

It was not to be. A few hours later, when I actually had some time to get online and think about what to do next I found that the tweeted reply had been deleted and said director had announced that her Twitter account had been compromised and that anyone who had followed a link tweeted by her should probably change their password.

Disheartened I decided to just wait for a little while, until today when I finally got around to replying to the last mail from Customer Relations…

Thankyou for your reply.

The reason I was unhappy with your previous response was that you forwarded my comments to the buying team, which I felt was the wrong place for the discussion to go, as how you present stock in your shops is nothing to do with purchasing.

Now I find that you have treated my follow-up email in the same way.
I’m sure you can appreciate that this makes me feel very frustrated with the whole process and gives me the impression that my emails have not actually been read.

So, taking a step back for a moment, I have a query about how shelf displays are designed and implemented within WH Smith shops. Could you please either forward my query to someone who has some responsibility for that element of the business, or give me contact details for someone I can talk to about it.

Many thanks,

A couple of hours later, probably by coincidence, I had this in my inbox…

Many thanks for your recent ‘tweet’ to [Director], which has been passed to me to respond.

I can confirm that the toy range in our high street stores is focused on best sellers in the market. Our share of the toy market is less than 2% and we therefore aim to display products by type, so that it is easy for customers to find what they are looking for, given the limited space dedicated to toys within the majority of our stores. We do value all customer feedback and would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

[Name deleted]
Group Communications Co-ordinator
WH Smith PLC

Wow, so my tweet seems to have actually had some effect after all. OK, so they are still missing the point, but we now appear to be at least talking about the same thing. I suspect that in WH Smith, a Co-ordinator is not a high rank, but I am taking this as progress.

Buoyed by this sniff of success, I figured I should get straight back in there with another attempt to get the point across…

Many thanks for your email. As you are contacting me via email I assume you have found my emails in the Customer Relations system somewhere and have read my comments. I will, however summarise my argument as it relates to your response.

You say that you display products by type so as to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for, and this is all well and good, but I would argue that “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” are not meaningful or appropriate categories of product. To say that, for instance, craft toys are for girls and science toys are for boys reinforces outdated and unhelpful stereotypes which have an influence on both the children and the people who buy toys for them.

Surely it is possible to label shelves as containing craft and construction toys, domestic toys, dolls and soft toys, toy vehicles, and so on. In the case of WH Smith, where there is often only a small area devoted to toys, then isn’t just “toys” an appropriate label?

I appreciate that WH Smith is not primarily a toy retailer, but it does have enormous visibility on many High Streets throughout the UK and a great deal of influence on shoppers. Many other retailers out there are starting to realise that gender segregation of toys is no longer appropriate or acceptable and are realising that by making a small change in how they label or organise their stock they can send a positive message to their customers and make the country just a little better for our children. Please can WH Smith become one of these forward thinking companies?

Thanks again for your time and attention.

So, that’s where we are now. I’ll report back again as and when there are any other developments.

Just as a bit of a postscript, it is worth noting that WH Smith can get it right, and are doing the right thing in at least some of their stores. All it would really take for this whole business to be put to bed — from my point of view, anyway — is for them to engage and say that they are working on it, and have already made the change in some shops. I would probably follow up with a request for some sort of a timetable, but then leave it at that (assuming they don’t rile me in some way).  But I’m not going to make it that easy for them. I want someone to show evidence of thinking.

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,

Once more, with feeling…

February 17, 2014 3 comments

After my little foray into activism a few days ago, I am pleased to say that I received a reply from Customer Relations at WH Smith. I am less pleased to say that the reply was pretty much a boiler plate “sorry you aren’t happy, we’ll bear your views in mind” which didn’t really fill me with confidence that they are taking the matter seriously.


Image sliced from a strip at (CC-BY-SA Nina Paley)

You don’t have to take my word for it, here is what I received:

Many thanks for your email.

I am very sorry that you are unhappy with the display of toys in store. We stock a wide range of toys and try to meet the needs of all of our customers and make products easy to locate.

I’ve passed your feedback on to our Buyer and I can assure you that it will be taken into consideration during our next range review.

If I can help further please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kind Regards

[Name deleted]

Customer Service Co-ordinator

Now, I wasn’t expecting the earth to shake and a thousand WH Smith employees to be instantly mobilised in order to appease me and my radical opinions, but I was hoping to receive a reply that made me think that somebody had actually thought about the issue. Can I actually be the only person that has written to them about this?

I guess I just have to write to them again as I don’t think they have this filed in the correct pigeonhole…

Thankyou for replying to my email.

I understand that WH Smith must decide how best to present stock to customers in order to ensure your customers find what they are looking for and can make their purchase. However, I am trying to point out that you can achieve this aim in different — and potentially more effective — ways than simply presenting a selection of toys for either boys or girls, ways that do not reinforce unhelpful gender stereotypes that can cause problems for girls and boys alike.

This is not an issue of reviewing your range.  The range of toys in your stores is completely unrelated to how they are presented to your customers.  This is all about what message you are sending to boys and girls as well as the adults who buy toys for them. From what I can see in the Wantage store, you are suggesting that craft toys are for girls and space toys are for boys.

It is a small thing, but this detail is insidious and in a world where we are trying to encourage women into technical fields, which have been traditionally male-dominated, the small details can add up to work against all the efforts of schools, governments and these fields themselves.  Similarly, when the images of, say,  craft and childcare are reinforced as being something for girls, this discourages boys from leading rewarding lives in these areas.  The whole of society is made less because of this.

WH Smith must, of course, make its own business decisions, but please, please take this issue seriously.  It may seem a small and irrelevant thing to some, but there are a lot of people out there who would just love to promote businesses who help to move this cause forward.  Campaign groups like Let Toys Be Toys and Pink Stinks (who, despite the name, are not wanting to ban the colour pink!) are genuinely looking for leadership in making this form of casual discrimination a thing of the past and, I’m sure, would be more than happy to spread the word of any improvements you can make.

Thank you again for your attention.  Please give this some real thought.

So, that’s off into the ether. I’m hoping that I receive a reply that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been summarily dismissed. I will report again as and when I hear something. Hopefully I can then get back to writing about playing games as usual. 🙂

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,

At least it’s not all pink

February 14, 2014 6 comments

In a bit of a diversion from the usual subject matter for this blog I’d like to say just a few words about the gendering of toys.

Umm, isn't Lego, like, for everyone?

Umm, isn’t Lego, like, for everyone?

Why today? Well, today I popped in to our local WH Smith’s shop.  For those of you not in the UK, WH Smiths is a chain of newsagents/stationers with a shop on most high streets in the country.  They sell toys and games too, the quantity varying from store to store.  Today, however, I actually noticed that the toys were divided into those for boys and those for girls.

This is an unsettlingly common practice, and one that a lot of people are trying to change. Why can’t toys just be toys? Sure, you can have sections for construction toys, cars, dolls, domestic toys, and stuff like that, but why do you need to send a message that girls shouldn’t really be building Lego spaceships, or boys shouldn’t be playing with baby dolls?

I know the counter argument that kids show this sort of preference anyway without any encouragement from adults or marketing, but I’m not sure I buy that. Are we really sure we aren’t projecting the biases ourselves? Whole can of worms, that one.

Anyway, I decided in this case that I’d not just post a picture on Facebook to farm likes from people who I know largely agree with me on this, but I would also send an email to WH Smith. I did my best to avoid being ranty and make my point in a polite and reasonably concise way. In the spirit of self-congratulatory and self-righteous blogging, I reproduce the text of my mail here…

I was in your Wantage store today and noticed that your toy section was divided into two sections: “Boys’ Toys” and “Pre-School & Girls’

I am a strong believer that toys are just toys and if a boy wants to play with toy pet animals, or a girl wants to play with Star Wars Lego (as my 7-year-old daughter does) then either is fine and to be encouraged.  I know that simply labelling a shelf as for boys or girls does not actually limit play, but it does send a message of what society expects of our children and reinforces stereotypes, adding to the weight of pressure that discourages girls from being scientists and engineers as well as keeping boys from the caring professions, home making, and so on.

WH Smith is definitely not the worst offender in this regard, but I would still urge you to rethink how toys are presented in your stores to children and to the people who buy toys for them.  Surely in this day and age we should be beyond simple gender stereotypes and should be doing our best to encourage all forms of creative play to all children so they can grow up to fulfil their potential free from centuries-old biases.

Thanks for your time.

Incidentally, if you are eagle-eyed, you may notice that in the girls’ section in the picture above there is a build-your-own pirate ship kit, which kinda throws the argument a bit. Though I can picture the little boy being given one of those: “But it’s a girl’s toy! I don’t want it!”

And finally, here is a nice infographic to help you tell if a toy is for boys or girls.

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,

Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?

December 29, 2013 Comments off

Yesterday we had an epic family outing to Cardiff for a visit to the Doctor Who Experience. Miss B, being a budding Whovian, donned her shiny new TARDIS t-shirt, picked up her cuddly knitted dalek, and took her place eagerly in the back of the car for the journey.

The blue of Dalek Sog -- sorry, Daleky -- is perfect camouflage against this TARDIS sign.

The blue of Dalek Sog — sorry, Daleky — is perfect camouflage against this TARDIS sign.

The cuddly dalek’s name, incidentally, followed one of her standard naming schemes and had been dubbed Daleky. Not the most imaginative name, but it’s her choice. After an incident at Magor services, where the Dalek spent some time in a puddle, S suggested that Dalek Sog could be an appropriate name, but Miss B was having none of it.

We met up with a couple of our South Walean friends for lunch before the five of us bravely ventured into the exhibition.

I have to say that I was really impressed. I don’t want to say much in case of spoilers, but the experience kicked off with a moment of pure SFX magic, had us flying in the TARDIS, escaping from daleks and other foes, and finished with some really great use of 3D technology before spitting us out into a superb exhibition of props and costumes from the show. Most of the exhibits were the genuine articles blagged from the studios across the road, including several that were newly arrived from the Christmas special episode.

Then, of course, there was the gift shop, with opportunities to buy t-shirts, sonic screwdrivers, cuddly weeping angels, badges, jigsaws and games…


Umm, right, where do I start? There are a lot of games out there, several about Doctor Who, and some are really quite good, so what games did they have available for purchase? Well, there was a DVD quiz game, a Trivial Pursuit variant, and a Top Trumps set, but taking pride of place was Doctor Who Monopoly.

Doctor. Who. Freaking. Monopoly.

Nothing speaks to the spirit and heritage of the Doctor Who franchise like a game of taking hours to grind your friends and family slowly into the dust with ruthless capitalist dice rolling.

What makes this worse is that the properties in the game aren’t even locations, they are stories. So you can roll the dice and find that you have landed on Terror of the Autons, which has a hotel on it, meaning that you have to mortgage Genesis of the Daleks in order to pay the rent. In what portion of time and space does this make sense to anyone?

I guess the only sense here is that there are people out there who collect Monopoly sets, and there are people who collect Doctor Who stuff. Nowt wrong with either of those, but the superset of those two sets of people is sufficiently large that Hasbro (and the BBC) can make some money from it. Shudder.

I would so love, one day, to go into one of those gift shops and find a game for sale that I could actually point to and say, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

Sorry about the rant there. This sort of thing makes me sad and upset.

Anyway, forgetting that side of it, if you (and/or the kids) enjoy Doctor Who and are in the vicinity of Cardiff, the Doctor Who Experience is a great use of some money and a couple of hours of your time. We’re thinking that we’d love to go back in a year or two to see what they have done with the 12th Doctor…

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags:

Them’s Fightin’ Words

August 24, 2013 2 comments

As a quick interruption to your regular reading, I feel slightly compelled to draw your attention to a Kickstarter project that caught my eye a couple of days ago.  It’s only got a few days left to run and is looking sadly like it may not hit its goal, but as I’d really like to get a copy of the game I thought I’d do what I could to help their publicity.

Image from 7/5 Games

Image from 7/5 Games

Anyhoo, remember those list memorising games you played in the car as a kid?  You know, you say something like, “I went on holiday and I packed a toothbrush.” Then your sister says, “I went on holiday and I packed a toothbrush and a swimming costume.”  And the game continues with the list getting longer and harder to remember.

Them’s Fightin’ Words is basically that same game transported into the wild west, based on hurling ever more convoluted insults (“You low-down, lily-livered son of a dirty, lollygaggin’ rattlesnake.”) and given some cards. I have no affinity to these guys. As I say, I just really like the look of this (along with its predecessor, Jazz the Singing Game), so please take a look and see if it’s something you want to back. It certainly made me smile, particularly after watching the promo video.

Only a few days to see if they reach goal…

I think the spy’s called Edward

July 12, 2013 Comments off

Last weekend was a games-light weekend, but one that featured something at least as good. At the invitation of some friends, we took a day trip to Chippenham, where the English Civil War Society were staging a battle reenactment along with a bunch of living history bits. The last time I went to an event of this type must have been in the 1970’s, so I was looking forward to seeing what was up.

The very hot and tired combatants rise from the dead to give a general salute.

The very hot and tired combatants rise from the dead to give a general salute.

We arrived with nearly three hours to spare before the battle was scheduled to take place, which gave us plenty of time to have a picnic lunch and talk to people in the living history area. Miss B learned to play the ancient game of Nim, found out about spinning and weaving as well as wood turning on a pole lathe. She was wowed by the working printing press, and got to help the blacksmith forge a steel feather for her to bring home (that was something really special).

The battle itself started quietly, with a commentator setting the scene of the Cavalier forces in retreat, trying to get their valuable artillery pieces to safety while being pursued by the Roundheads. This basically amounted to half a dozen horsemen, followed by a similar number of musketeers in a skirmish line, then a load of poor so-and-sos manually dragging a load of cannon across the field. The cavalry was engaged by a few enemy horse in a slightly unexciting way, and then the Roundheads started arriving and both sides began to deploy for battle.

Over the next hour we saw the numbers of combatants swell to several hundred and heard a great deal of noise, particularly from the twelve-pounder gun on the Roundhead side that shook the ground every time it fired. As someone who has in the past played an occasional wargame it was fascinating to watch the manoeuvring and imagining that the units contained five to ten times the number of soldiers that were actually being fielded, which would have made the manoeuvres make more sense. And I must give credit to those who were with me for putting up with my lengthy ramblings about how the cavalry, musketry and pike units would interact in a sort of rock-paper-scissors game.

Eventually a parlay was called, the rival commanders met and discussed terms before, the talks having failed, the Cavalier army made a beautiful advance across the field to crush the Roundhead forces.

This was definitely a very successful day, and we even managed to avoid being sunburned. Miss B told us that she would like to fire cannons and ride a horse. S and I are so proud.  We would not hesitate to go to another of these events.