Monday, March 30

Like A Phoenix From The Ashes

I've spent half of this week in Germany for work, on a flying visit which left me with little time to see anything of Berlin. I did however get to see Konrad, one of my core playtesters and a friend who's supported me since the earliest Reiver Games days, who just happens to live in Berlin. Convenient.

I knew that Konrad was interested in Codename: Vacuum, and I'd promised him a copy of it after he was so helpful during my NaGa DeMon 2013 competition. It wasn't quite ready to send then, so I tweaked it a little and then got completely distracted by Zombology and later Dragon Dance.

It's been over a year since I'd played Vacuum, and until recently I hadn't even really thought about it at all either. About a month or two ago I had some ideas to streamline some of the clunkier bits and simplify a few things (I was also intending to complicate some others!). I started work on those changes on a recent train journey, but then I've run out of time to finish them off.

Seeing as Vacuum comes in a box the size of Race for the Galaxy, shipping it to Germany wouldn't be cheap, so it made sense to take Konrad a copy while I was over. Konrad kindly invited me to his flat one evening and offered to cook me dinner, so we had a plan.

Like all the best-laid ones, it all went to pot. I had little time before the trip to finish off making the changes I had in mind for Vacuum (and what little time I did have I spent programming my new German language app), so I didn't have a finished copy to take with me. Instead I crammed my personal copy (with the cards from Feb 2014 and the rules from August 2013!) in my suitcase, and told Konrad I'd leave it with him and send him updated cards when I'd finally got around to finishing them.

Konrad and I playing Codename: Vacuum

We had a great evening, a lovely meal followed by a game (and great discussion) of Vacuum and then a couple of games of Alchemy, one of Konrad's designs, which I really enjoyed. Konrad was even kind enough to give me a copy of that (which thanks to a smaller box than Vacuum meant that I had room in my suitcase for a little souvenir for The Wife and The Daughter). The game of Vacuum was a little embarrassing (it had been so long since I'd last played that I'd forgotten a number of rules until halfway through the game), but really useful, refreshing my memory of what works and what doesn't. Afterwards we had a lengthy chat about what Konrad liked and didn't like and my ideas for the next version, which Konrad's input has already simplified further.

A great trip all in all, and it's good to get back into Vacuum, the game that started my second wind of games design, post Reiver Games debacle.

Monday, March 23

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

And I don't mean a jam doughnut.

Actually, I'm not a Berliner at all. But I am in Berlin. My fourth trip to Germany (after a couple of trips to Spiel in Essen in 2008 and 2009 with Reiver Games, and a trip to Tübingen last year for work) is my first visit to Berlin.

Sadly, as with so many work trips, I'll get to see almost none of it: just the airport, the hotel and the conference centre (in this case the Technical University of Berlin). It is not however a total washout (like last week was, my only progress in anything was a play of Eclipse towards my ten plays goal thanks to a very busy week at work).

Tonight I am meeting Konrad, a Reiver Games customer of old who has become one of my best playtesters in recent years (he's won both of the last two NaGa DeMon competitions I've run). I've brought along my current copy of Vacuum which he's keen to play and I intend to leave it with him and then post him just the new cards when they are ready. I'm hoping to Playtest some of his games too. Once tonight is over I'm entering a bit of a gaming drought as I'll be going three weeks without a Games Night due to this trip and then having our bathroom replaced. I'm hoping to get some gaming in over Easter though, we'll be down in York seeing two lots of gaming friends...

Monday, March 16

Impromptu Holiday

The good news is that on Thursday evening, after Games Night, The Wife and I decided to take a long weekend away, so we were in a little cottage in rural Northumberland enjoying an impromptu short break for the last few days - hence the late blog post. We had a lovely time and even got some gaming in (it's been ages since The Wife and I have played games together, the sleep disruption caused by The Daughter has left us too tired in the evenings to do much other than slump).

The bad news is that I'm not making any progress on anything this week due to the holiday and work commitments so I'm not going to have Vacuum ready to take to Germany next weekend. I'll have to post a copy to Konrad on completion after my trip to Germany :-(

Still, I'm on holiday! Yay!

Monday, March 9

They Tried and Failed?

... They tried and died. That quote seems somehow appropriate this week.

It's been another busy week. Monday I was travelling for work with Ian again, so there was iPad gaming on the train (complete with another game of Galaxy Trucker, towards my ten plays goal) and then Tuesday was Newcastle Playtest.

I was pretty knackered though, so I left about nine o'clock after three games of Zombology and one of Dan's Ming Voyages. It was a really good turn out with eight of us including two new people and it was good to get some games of Zombology in with more players than the usual three or four we manage in my work lunchtime sessions. We played two games with six players and then when the new members arrived we played an eight player game. Because I'd missed the session last month it was the first time these guys had seen the most recent (and fairly large) changes. They liked some aspects of it, but weren't so keen on others, especially the reduction in control. The previous version let you keep a card between rounds. This gave you a lot more control as you could prevent a card going to an opponent, and could keep a card that would potentially let you complete one of the suits, thereby controlling which suits were scored at the end of the game. The downside was that all the good cards were being kept by players, completely knackering the drafting element.

I'm ok with it not being a very strategic game, it's supposed to be a 10-15 minute filler like 6 Nimmt! which also has very little control. I also like the way the drafting gives you increasing information about which cures are possible as the game plays out.

Between us we had a few new ideas to try out, and on Thursday lunchtime I got to try out one of those - dealing all the cards up front. This was a spectacular failure. It tried, and died! With only three players and all the cards dealt at the beginning of the game you know by the end of the third turn which suits can be cured (in our case: none!), which sucks a lot of the fun out of it.

I've some other ideas from Tuesday to try out, but they need new components, so will take a little longer to organise.

Thursday was Games Night which included a couple more games of King of Tokyo (which is fast becoming a favourite) towards my ten plays goal. Both our games were six player and we found there was very little incentive to stay in Tokyo till the start of your next turn for the two points. The winners of both games never went in to Tokyo at all! We're considering trying a house rule next time to encourage Tokyo hogging ...

Finally, on the weekend I did a bit more work on my German app. A bit of refactoring and adding some new functionality. It's slowly coming together.

This week I really need to crack on with Vacuum so I can try it once before I go to Germany. Ideally, I need to get it printed and playtested during the week...

Good progress on my goals for the year this week, but not on my more pressing aims regarding Vacuum and Germany. I need to sort myself out!

Monday, March 2

Back to App Development

Not much to report this week. I've not made any more progress on Codename: Vacuum ahead of tomorrow's Newcastle Playtest and my trip to Germany at the end of the month. Nor any progress on launching my company and getting back into Games publishing.

It's not been a total washout though. I've played three games towards my ten plays goal (Galaxy Trucker on the iPad with Ian on the way to Manchester on Tuesday and then Chinatown and King of Tokyo on Games Night on Thursday).

I've also started in earnest on my next Windows Phone app. Again it's a personal app that I'm going to make available to others, this time for helping me to learn German.

I learnt German for a couple of years at school and then again via evening classes while I was running Reiver Games. Since getting a smart phone I've tried (and got very frustrated with) a few apps for learning German. Then I got Duolingo which is absolutely awesome. I've been recommending it to everyone it's so good. But it's not perfect.

I learn best when I can visualise data in tables. Things like verb conjugation and adjective declension just make sense to me in tabular form rather than introduced piecemeal through an array of real sentences. So I'm making an app for that so I can help myself learn German in the way I find easiest. Hopefully as it develops and becomes more functional I can make it available and help others too.

German Learning app

Monday, February 23

Stay On Target!

If you've been following this blog for a couple of years you'll know that Codename: Vacuum was the first game I started designing when I got back into Games Design, a couple of years after I wound up Reiver Games, having lost a ton of money in the process. Reiver Games had been a great experience and a lot of fun and I'd met some fantastic people through it that I still consider good friends, but watching your company slowly wither and die kinda sucks the fun out of things and I'd gone off games design for a bit. As the highs and lows of Reiver Games faded from my legendarily poor memory, I started thinking about games design again, and Vacuum was the first of those ideas to be realised in actual cardboard.

I started working on it back in November 2011, and after a couple of years of frequent changes and regular playtests it took a back seat as I focused on Zombology in 2014. I've not really touched it since February last year and despite a couple of ideas during the year, I've done nothing. So much so that this year it didn't make an appearance in my goals at all. Had I not even thought about it once all year, that wouldn't get in the way of my goals at all.

With the NaGa DeMon winners' copies all posted I'm finally in a position to crack on with achieving this year's goals, the largest of which is to become a hobby publisher again.

But instead, I've spent the week working on Vacuum again. I had another four hours of train journeys on Wednesday, this time down to Sheffield and back for my quarterly hospital check-up. I spent that time designing in my head and then starting the graphic design for a new version of Vacuum. The last version was alright, but a couple of the strategies were quite dull and the game took up too much space for what it was.

I've started on a new version which I hope to finish in a week or two so that I can make a copy to take with me to Germany at the end of March. I'm off to Berlin for a conference with work, and I hope to meet up with Konrad, my NaGa DeMon winner two years on the trot and a keen supporter of Reiver Games from back in the day. Konrad has expressed an interest in Vacuum and his feedback on Zombology and Dragon Dance has been really helpful, so it'll be great for both of us If I can get it done in time!

But, I also need to stay focused on my goals, with two months down already, I'm going to have to crack on. In the words of Gold Five: Stay on target!

In other news, Robin David is interviewing me via email for his blog. I'm famous again! ;-p

Monday, February 16

New Games Company Checklist

So, as I'm sure you're aware by now, I'm aiming to get back into games publishing this year. It'll be small scale, just a small number (50 or 100) of hand-made, signed copies of a simple card game (Zombology or Dragon Dance). There's a bot-load of things I need to do before the game is ready to sell, so I need to spell those out and then start working through them. This list is not necessarily in order, but some of the later things depend on earlier ones. I'm not going to do a Gantt chart though, that would be too much like work.


  1. Choose a company name. Reiver Games is gone, I need something different. I'd quite like something that alludes to a cautionary tale as Reiver Games went too far too fast and crashed and burned as a result. I was thinking Daedalus Games, but there's something very similar already. Jack in the Box Games was another idea, for obvious reasons.
  2. Register the company with HMRC. Fun.
  3. Set up a company bank account with some cash in it. I'll need this before registering a website or buying any materials.
  4. Choose which game. Almost certainly Zombology, but I'm not quite ready to commit just yet.
  5. Website and PayPal account. Need to do 1 and 3 before this.
  6. Price up the components. I'm aiming to sell the game for £10, which means I want to spend about £5 per copy on components and printing, so I've got money left over for marketing, website costs, etc. I'll need to get quotes for the raw materials and printing, and then work out how many copies I need to make to make it affordable. More copies make each individual one cheaper, but require more of my time to make, market and sell, plus more cash outlay at the beginning.
  7. Finish designing the game. Relies on 4, naturally.
  8. Do the art and graphic design. I can't finish this until I've finished 7, but I can definitely make a start as the games aren't going to change dramatically between now and release. Doing the art and graphic design is both a challenge to get myself to learn new skills and also a way to save money. The art on Sumeria cost a few thousand Euros, I can't afford that if I'm making 50 copies that I want to sell at £10 each.
  9. Buy the raw materials. For Zombology this is just the box card (I'm making the boxes myself, these are going to be lovingly hand-crafted games!). For Dragon Dance there's the box card, dice and wooden counters, plus some plastic baggies.
  10. Get the printing done. Obviously this relies on 8. I'll try StressFreePrint first as they were who I used for Border Reivers and the first hand-made edition of It's Alive!
  11. Start assembling the boxes, which relies on 9. Boxes are pretty easy to make and I can make these up ahead of time to save time once the artwork arrives.
  12. Start cutting out and assembling the games.
  13. Start taking cash, relies on 5. Unlike KickStarter, I don't want to start taking cash until I've got the games pretty much ready to ship.
  14. Start shipping finished games.
  15. Marketing. It sounds a bit late in the day to start marketing a product, but unlike KickStarter where the aim is to get people all hyped up before you've got anything concrete to give them, I will be aiming to stay ahead of my orders once i've cleared the initial pre-order backlog. With each game taking an hour to make and free time at a premium I'll want to drum up some trade after I've sent all the pre-orders and built up a small stock. I'll still be blogging throughout (which also counts as marketing!) and I might get lucky and get another blog post picked up by BoardGameGeek News or reddit which would be a bonus in terms of exposure.
  16. Fame and fortune! (As if!)


My goal is to get a decent chunk of the way through this list before all the copies are pre-ordered! I've now got seven pre-orders and I still haven't confirmed which game it will be! Bizarre.

In other news, I made it along to Newcastle Gamers again this week which was great and had a second Games Night in a row! Things are picking up.