Mikey Mouse Club #2 – The Magic and the Madness

It’s about 7pm, and my kids and I are putting on imaginary clown suits to walk into a Target. It’s a meme I picked up back during the Great PS5 Hunt, you’d go get in the Sony virtual queue and feel like a clown for waiting when you got in and there was no stock. But we’re not looking for the hot new console, we’re looking for Mickey Mouse cards. She says “imma go for the rainbow wig and floppy shoes this time”. Son goes for Pennywise, as he does. I opt for the more sophisticated and somber Pierrot style because I’m sick and effin’ tired of walking into Walmarts and Targets looking for Ravensburger’s Disney Lorcana Trading Card Game.

At this point, just take the damn boxes too. (Author)

I had actually already been within spitting distance of buying the cards a few days earlier. In a dead shopping mall by my house, there’s a coin and stamp shop that’s been there, I dunno, 40 years. It’s run by this guy with a wild shock of white hair. He had full inventory. And everything was marked up twice retail. His allocation was small, and apparently, he had to go through “other sources” to secure anything. Fine, but I’m still not buying a $12 booster pack even if they are coming through the French Connection. It’s MSRP or bust for us.

To the sound of a phantom calliope, we approach the trading card section, as we had something like eight times across eight different stores earlier in the day. I’m relieved that there aren’t any middle aged “baseball card dudes” sniffing around, I had already had an unpleasant exchange with one earlier in the day, when he asked me if I was trying to buy Lorcana. He offered me starter packs that he had in his car. $35 per. 200 percent of retail price. It was almost like this scalper was staking out the cards and waiting for potential buyers, which he may have been. Some of these unscrupulous scoundrels have gone so far as to put air tags on the vehicles of distributor representatives to track them as they do their stocking rounds. I declined the offer. I said “well, I hope you enjoy playing the game” as I walked off. I knew full well this guy didn’t know the Duke of Weselton from Flynn Ryder.

With the path to the card aisle unobstructed by Lorcana robber barons, we make our death march to disappointment. But- I’ll be damned- there is a single booster pack. One. I have no idea if some kind soul thought “well, I’ll buy these 23 packs but leave one” or if a middle aged baseball card dude dropped one while was sweatily scooping up all the inventory. Either way, we grabbed it. My daughter opened it in the car and we oohed and ahhed. The foil was Robin Hood, Unrivaled Archer. My favorite Disney character. Now, there was blood in the water.

Who left one pack? (Author)

Across three more stores, we finally hit paydirt around 9:50, ten minutes before closing. A completely full display of Starters. We get the three and leave the rest, likely for another person to come and buy them all. The next day, I’m one of like six people that are actually able to get an order through when Ravensburger drops stock at 10am. My credit card is charged nine times. I never get an order confirmation or shipping notice. A booster display and an Illumineer’s Trove magically appear at my doorstep about a week later. I try for the ShopDisney.com release, even though they don’t even have the full product line. It appears to sell out in like two seconds. A couple of days after the release I get a hunch and hit a Target that looked like the card area wasn’t stocked by their Excell rep recently. Sure enough, 12 boosters and another Illumineer’s trove. Jackpot.

Obligatory “Wot I Bought” image. (Author)

I’ve managed to get cards (a full set) because I’ve been exceptionally tenacious and lucky, but many potential players have had no such luck. Or they are playing as best they can with a Starter Deck or two. [Editor’s Note: That’s me!] Some are having to cobble decks together with singles, which are being sold in an utterly ridiculous singles market. And all around the fringes, scalpers ply their trade offering product at absolutely breathtaking markups. Scalpers are buying from other scalpers to sell to scalpers. Many interested players never even had a chance to buy cards at retail. Preorders were cancelled when game shops received fractions of orders. Some listed retailers never got anything. Others were forced to ration product for organized play and couldn’t sell it. 

Many held out hope for the subsequent wide release, where big box stores would get product in stock but this was a mess too—primarily because of how TCGs are distributed by third party companies to Target and other retailers. An independent rep (Excell for Target, MJ Holdings for Wal- Mart) goes around to stores and stocks the shelves, usually with little to no regard for street date and often these folks are in cahoots with scalpers looking to beat the public to the product. There are numerous anecdotal reports where scalpers paid off distributor reps to buy out the stock before it touched store shelves. I have yet to see a single piece of Lorcana product at a Wal-Mart, Gamestop, Best Buy, or Barnes and Noble- all listed retailers. 

It’s wild out here, and the entire mania is being driven sadly by speculators more than players. I believe more people have opened a booster pack looking for an Enchanted Elsa, Spirit of Winter (this set’s Black Lotus) than they have to play the game. The MTG Finance bros are circling. For a game that is so accessible and possibly appealing to a broad audience, it’s shockingly unavailable. This is not healthy for the game or the community, and Ravensburger quite frankly doesn’t really seem to know how to address the issue, other than to release more cards.

Until Lorcana, the storied and venerable German firm Ravensburger was chiefly a board games and puzzles concern. I think they simply misjudged the demand for this game as well as how people buy TCGs. Frankly, I misjudged its potential myself.  When it was announced last year I thought “hey, cool, Mickey Mouse cards, I’ll check it out”. But then the D23 promos came out at Disney’s annual fan convention and values immediately skyrocketed. A groundswell of interest began to mount. Then the madness at GenCon happened, with people waiting ten hours or whatever to buy product—largely driven at that point by speculation as much as interest in the game. 

Ravensburger’s Gencon booth. Notice the millions of dollars worth of product. Also, the person dressed like Mr. Smee. (WDW News Today)

I’m not quite sure why Ravensburger, who has a relationship with Target in particular, didn’t direct distribute this but it’s still early enough for them to course correct. What’s harder to fix is that the initial print run was simply way too low- Ravensburger was likely risk averse because let’s face it, starting a TCG product line is about as sure-bet as opening a tart frozen yogurt shop. But the result is that the game is all but unavailable and what’s worse the second set, Rise of the Floodborn, drops in November and was, according to insider reports, printed at the same numbers as Chapter 1. Retailers are already reporting allocations much lower than anticipated. Unscrupulous game shops, leaning into the late-stage capitalist “supply and demand” justifications for exploitation are posting preorder listings on eBay well in excess of retail price – without having allocation numbers or guaranteed product. 

Using this photo to prepare my Rise of the Floodborn shopping outfit. Pictured is when the shopkeep tells me that the booster packs are $15 each. (Wikipedia)

There is some comfort in the promise of a reprint of the Chapter 1 set coming in time for the holidays with no distinguishing features from the first run (so eat it middle-aged baseball card dude). This reprint will also include an early second printing of Rise of the Floodborn. What remains to be seen is if these cards land in the hands of players or if the scalpers continue their exploitation racket. I’ve already taken a PTO day November 17th, when it supposedly releases. I’ve told my kids to get the clown suits ready. 

Next time- was it worth it?