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Ticket to Ride and Exploding Kittens maker to take part in owner's restructuring that has already cut 900 jobs

Despite leading a strong quarter for Embracer, one of tabletop’s largest publishers will join Embracer Group's wide scale, cost-saving initiative.

Image credit: Lum

Update: When reached for contact, an Asmodee representative stated that Bouillon was speaking in her capacity as the head of the saving initiative for the Embracer Group as a whole, not specifically in her role as Asmodee CFO. They also provided the following statement, which precedes the original article:

"While we won’t comment on specifics or answer detailed questions, we are of course assisting our parent company Embracer in achieving the cost-savings targets. Asmodee’s participation to [Embracer] Group’s restructuring plan does not require and is not to result in any disruptive change. Our publishing and distribution activities remain unchanged. We are a healthy global leader in the boardgames industry, where our employees, our partners and our players matter greatly to us."

One of the largest publishers in the tabletop industry posted big numbers for its corporate owner, the Swedish holding company Embracer Group, but that didn’t save it from a wide scale restructure plan meant to chip away at a reported $1.4 billion debt mountain.

Asmodee Group’s CFO Müge Bouillon joined Embracer co-founder and CEO Lars Wingefor to address investor questions during a Q2 interim report. Amongst the business chatter and promises to prioritise stock prices, Bouillon - acting in her capacity as the head of Embracer Group's saving initiative - mentioned that the holding company was “now deep into the implementation of further reduction of headcounts.”

Bouillon did not directly confirm that the company responsible for Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Exploding Kittens and Catan had taken part in a cost-saving measure that already laid off a reported 904 people over the last three months. She did mention during a later Q&A portion that "the implementation of restructuring programme has started also at Asmodee".

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“Further restructurings, closures, buyouts are in process and that will lead to further headcount reduction”, she told investors, referring to the whole of Embracer Group. “Having to say goodbye to our valued colleagues is an unfortunate consequence of the program, and we will do our utmost to carry out this with respect, integrity and compassion.”

Such assurances will be cold comfort to the designers and workers sacrificed on this fiscal pyre if Asmodee's restructuring mirrors the experience of other studios, especially seeing as Asmodee outperformed both Embracer’s mobile and video game division to lead the company’s net sales for the fiscal quarter between July and September this year. Asmodee and the rest of the tabletop segment accrued SEK4.1 billion (roughly $389 million), a solid 25% compared to the same period in 2022.

As noted by Wingefors, Asmodee attributed a significant portion of these sales numbers to Magic: The Gathering’s Lord of the Rings crossover set, Tales of Middle-earth, going absolutely gangbusters earlier this year. Embracer owns Middle-earth Enterprises and reportedly has “exciting plans for the Lord of the Rings IP across our segments in the years ahead,” according to Wingefors.

Promo image for Ticket to Ride: Legends of the West.
Ticket to Ride: Legacy was name-dropped as a high performer for Embracer's tabletop segment.

The executives noted that the upcoming holiday season is one of the strongest performance periods for Asmodee, and the board game publisher will follow that up with the imminent release of the Star Wars: Unlimited trading card game. While the buzz around the competitive TCG hasn’t matched the absolute fervour surrounding Disney Lorcana, a solid design and several-year-long expansion runway means someone is confindent in its post-launch success.

Does that mean Asmodee's success couldn’t insulate it from carrying its own share of Embracer’s financial burden? Embracer has pivoted hard away from its aggressive acquisition of licences and companies from 2019 through 2022, and a spiked $2 billion deal with Saudi-funded Savvy Games left the holding company with an enormous debt pile to chew through. The strategy so far has been a spree of company shutterings and brutal staff reductions in video game studios, as well as rumours that it wants to sell Borderlands maker Gearbox.

Bouillon claims she is “happy with the performance of Asmodee”, which she attributes to a “combination of both the current trading, the operational performance and the proper execution of the plan” (referring to the successive rounds of layoffs). It isn’t clear how many Asmodee employees - or those within the studios that it owns - have been affected so far. Dicebreaker has reached out for more information.

Update: Bouillon's statements regarding layoffs and prior restructuring have been clarified to denote Embracer Group as a whole instead of Asmodee, specifically. This story has been updated to reflect these amended facts.

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