Monday, January 26

A Digital Digression

As I've discussed over the last couple of weeks, one of my goals for this year is to get back into hobby publishing, like I did in the early years of Reiver Games. I've got all year to do that though and there are more pressing things on my plate - like the NaGa DeMon Winners' copies of Dragon Dance (and bonus Zombology) to finish and get in the post.

I've made no progress on either of those things this week though. Not even taken any more pre-orders for the as yet unannounced game (still at 4/50!).

Instead I've been focusing on a couple of my Windows Phone apps. I'm technically a programmer by profession, but over the last few years I've been moving into more of a project management/team leadership role, so I don't get to do much actual coding anymore. I still enjoy it, but with little practice in the office my skills are atrophying, so I've been making a few apps for my Windows Phone (bought because I could make apps for it in the languages and tools I 'use' in my day job). Several of these apps have an audience of one (Codename: Vacuum randomiser and recorder anyone?), but a couple of them, while written for my use and as a coding exercise, potentially had a bigger audience, so I've uploaded them to the store.

The first of those, BGG Last Plays was an app version of the excellent Last Plays by BGG User Heroku App. I wanted this as I'd set myself a goal of playing every game I owned at least once last year, and I was using that webpage to keep track (but I wanted a few extras that were easier to implement in app format). One of my goals for this year is to make another version of this which makes it easier to keep track of this year's gaming goal: To have played every game in my collection at least ten times.

The most recent app I've added to the store (which is starting to get some downloads finally) was a pass-and-play version of the Martian Dice game by Scott Almes.

I had a trip away for work this week, so I had an evening to kill, plus five hours on trains, so I took my laptop and decided to work on my apps. The first priority was fixing a crash in Martian Dice that had been reported three times in a week (despite only 16 people owning it!). I had a stack trace showing me where it happened, but couldn't reproduce it myself. Still the stack trace was enough information to fix the problem. No soon had I done that, then my mate Mal pointed out a rather glaring bug in the undo functionality: if you rolled any tanks in a turn you could forget them by clicking undo! That totally broke the game :-( So I fixed these two problems (and made a couple of usability tweaks recommended by a user on BGG).

With the urgent things fixed, and still some time to spare, I moved onto making the Last Plays app support my new goal. I've added the ability to sort by the number of games played, and to select a number of plays below which a game is highlighted. 26 days into the year and I've already completed one of my goals for the year! I've also added a link to the game's BGG page if you press and hold its listing in the app.

On Saturday night I published both of these updates to the Windows Store - they should both be available now.

With these out of the way, I can now focus on the NaGa DeMon winners' copies of Dragon Dance and Zombology. I've printed and made the games, it's just the rulebooks and box labels outstanding. I've got a few hours on Tuesday night while babysitting for some friends that I can apply to this task, plus if necessary a bunch of hours on trains on the weekend, while I go down to Bedford to see my mates down there for a games day.

Monday, January 19

Self-Published Run: Specification

It's been a great week on the blog here, thanks largely to W. Eric Martin of BoardGameGeek covering last week's blog post - thanks Eric!

I've not yet decided whether it'll be Zombology or Dragon Dance that I try to self publish this year (currently leaning towards Zombology) but either way there a bunch of things that are the same for both.

Printing

I'll get all the artwork printed professionally (but digitally, not litho - for a small print run the litho set up costs are prohibitive). The box and cards will also be laminated, which makes them more durable and the print more hard-wearing. Professional laminating is nothing like the lamination pouches that you can get done in most offices, it's almost unnoticeable. The cards and box for Border Reivers were both laminated in this way and I was very happy with the results. For Border Reivers and the first edition of It's Alive!, I used a digital print company who have since changed their name to StressFreePrint. They'll be my first port of call as I was very happy with their service and products in the past.

Box

I'm going to hand-make tray and lid boxes and then wrap them in printed labels. The boxes will be 123 x 95 x 20mm, the same as most two deck card games (think 6 Nimmt! or No Thanks!). This means they will be small and pretty cheap to post.

Cards

The cards will be laminated as described above and have their corners rounded, very similarly to Border Reivers.

Other Bits

Zombology is 108 cards and a rule book. Dragon Dance has some other components: eight dice and a number of wooden bits. The wooden bits would be published game quality (I'd get them from SpielMaterial.de again) but generic, I'm thinking yellow wooden discs for the dragon's life tokens and red wooden hearts for the knight's. I've got my eye on some nice Chessex dice, but I'm not sure my budget would stretch to it.

Price Point

I'm aiming for £10 per copy as the retail price for both games which is about what you'd pay in a store (not online) for that sort of game in the UK. That's $15 or 13€, both of which are a bit expensive for what it is, but I'm expected most of my orders to come from the UK (friends and family will probably feature heavily!). Seeing as it's a very short run I'm not looking to get it into shops or distributors, so all of that (minus PayPal fees for online sales) will be going to me. I want to charge twice what it costs for the components so I've some money left over for website, playtest materials and potentially I'll can make a profit toward making a bigger game next year if it goes well. So my budget is £5 per copy for the materials and the printing. I've no idea yet whether this is feasible, but that's my goal at this point. So that's £250 for 50 copies or £500 for 100 copies.

In other news, I've not much to report this week. The Daughter's been sleeping badly again, so early nights all round and The Father-in-Law made an impromptu visit on his way back from Scotland for the last half of the week. Next week I'm away for a couple of nights for work, so I'm hoping to start making some progress on finishing of the NaGa DeMon winners' copies of Dragon Dance. And, despite the fact that I've not settled on a choice of game, I've already got 4 pre-orders!

Monday, January 12

Why Aren't I KickStarting?

Since announcing my intention to get back into board publishing as part of my 2015 goals post last week, the question I've been asked the most is:
So, why aren't you KickStarting the (yet to be decided!) game?
It was the first question the guys at Newcastle Playtest asked and the first question that came up on twitter too. I've spoken at length before about my concerns with KickStarter for board game publishing, but to be honest that wasn't really the deciding factor.

When I started Reiver Games back in 2006 my family consisted of myself and The Wife. The Wife was in the middle of a PhD and fairly busy so I had some time to kill in the evenings. I was quite happy to commit to 300 hours of Border Reivers assembly plus the numerous hours I spent posting copies and on promotion and half-arsed marketing.

These days things have changed. I'm now a dad and I want to spend my free time with The Wife and The Daughter doing family things and enjoying these fleeting moments of The Daughter's childhood. When The Daughter goes to bed, I want to spend time with The Wife. My priorities are totally different. So I can't commit to a massive expenditure of time. Which makes making the games by hand sound even more ridiculous, but it's not. There's method to my madness (I hope).

With a small run there's less monetary investment and much less worrying about stock clearance. I don't need to market to shops and distributors (which took a lot of effort) to get widespread availability and I don't have to worry about ongoing warehousing costs. Plus, I've done this all before, so I've got experience and knowledge, plus (I hope) some potential customers from my Reiver Games days.

But probably the biggest benefit is a known budget in terms of both time and cost. With KickStarter, people expect you to offer stretch goals and different pledge levels. Until the KickStarter is complete and you know exactly how much money you've raised and how many people you've got at each level you've no idea what you're letting yourself in for. I've got a full time job and a family, the last thing I need on top of that is an unspecified amount of work I have to do in my spare time that I'm contractually (and morally) obliged to.

With a run of 50 or a hundred copies, where each copy takes about an hour to construct, I know exactly what I'm letting myself in for. Plus, I don't expect to have sold out of the print run before I start it, so initially there will be less that than amount of work and then just a trickling amount from then on as the last of the stock slowly sells through.

This is something I can prepare for and plan for, and something I can do in my evenings after The Daughter goes to sleep. It's achievable around my job and my family, both of which I consider higher priorities.

This time round I'm not in it to make a fortune, or to try and go full time, I'm just in it to make games and hopefully bring some gaming joy to some of my customers.

Oh, and I've already got two pre-orders, despite the fact that they don't know which game it is yet!

In other news, this week I managed to make it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time since October! It was a great evening and I managed to get in three games, two of which contribute towards my goal of having played every game I own at least ten times. Both the games I played on Games Night helped as well! Off to a good start...

Monday, January 5

2015 Goals

The last couple of years I've set myself some goals for blogging and playing and designing games (see: 2013, 2014). I want the goals to be achievable, but also a stretch, so they encourage me to push myself and learn new things. This year, in addition to the usual three categories, I'm adding a fourth: app development :-)

Blogging

Last year I wanted a 10% growth in page views, to blog every week, to take part in NaGa DeMon and to gain ten new followers. I hit most of those, except the followers one which, to be honest, I don't really care about, so this year's goals are:

  • 45,500 page views (taking me to 183K in total), another 10% growth
  • Blog every Monday
  • Do something for NaGa DeMon (I've enough games on the go, so it might not be starting a new one...)

Playing games

Last year I wanted to play every game in my collection at least once and play at least 365 games in total. I'm going to mix it up a bit this year:

  • Play at least 365 games during 2015
  • Have played every game in my collection (with the usual exceptions) at least ten times.

I'll use this second goal to hone my collection a bit again, and give me a chance to gain a better understanding of some of the longer games in my collection. Games bought during 2015 are excluded.

Designing Games

I'll keep it simple here, yet excitingly different. This year I want to release a self-published, self-illustrated board game in a limited edition, like the good old days of Reiver Games.

Only one goal? Yes, but it's a biggy. The Wife bought me a graphics tablet for Christmas, so I'm going to use that to hone my illustration skills and along with Adobe Creative Cloud (which is damned expensive, but I get a discount as a CS3 owner and I'm putting Christmas present money towards it). I'm already tinkering with some Bayeux Tapestry inspired art for Dragon Dance!

This is a real challenge. It'll probably be either Zombology or Dragon Dance, whichever is the better game (and most sensibly priced) in a run of maybe 50 copies, or one hundred if there's a surprisingly high demand. I'll be blogging artwork and sketches for feedback throughout the year. Why a limited, handmade run you ask? Despite the lure of KickStarter, I'm still uncomfortable with it and it was the large print runs that I couldn't get working with Reiver Games. The two handmade limited editions I did: Border Reivers and the first edition of It's Alive! both sold out quickly and made me money (excluding time spent!). A short print run is a known quantity that I can manage around my family and work commitments and I know exactly what I'm getting into, having done it successfully before.

The exciting and challenging bit will be doing the art myself - this will require learning lots of new skills.

App Development

I'm learning German again, using the excellent Duolingo. In many ways it's superb, but I'm the sort of person who likes to learn from structure, so being able to visualise tables of pronouns and verb declensions really helps me. In the vein of my current selfish app development, I want to make an app to help with that. I also want to release a new version of BGG Last Plays that helps me track this year's different plays goal.

There, that's enough to be getting on with! Wish me luck...

Monday, December 29

2014: The Year in Review

2014 has been a pretty good, if slightly strange, year. It started on New Year's Eve in the house on my own. Thanks to radiotherapy for my overactive thyroid I had to keep my distance from The Daughter for three weeks. With her only 16 months old it was going to be very unfair for me to always be around but never come near her or give her a cuddle, so The Wife and The Daughter stayed in Bristol after Christmas and I came home on my own and got nuked. I got the dose on New Year's Eve in the afternoon, that evening I was at my most radioactive - so I didn't even go out and see friends. Definitely the second crappiest New Year's Eve of my life.

The next three weeks I was home alone, so I got to live the bachelor life style: eating like a student and playing games all the time - I even got a game of Twilight Imperium III in! On the way to rescue The Wife and The Daughter I stopped in at Terry's and had a day's gaming with my old Bedford group. I used to see them for games every week, but since moving to Newcastle (about 250 miles away) I don't get to see much of them at all. The rest of the year was busy but good fun, with a trip to Baltimore for work (but no impromptu gaming this time!), a convention (Beer and Pretzels in Burton again with Terry). But in November we had some bad news which derailed my NaGa DeMon efforts a bit.

Games Design

I'd set myself a few goals in 2014 for games design:
  • Make four more versions of Vacuum
  • Get Zombology ready to submit to a publisher
  • Do NaGa DeMon again
I had mixed success. I made new versions of Vacuum in January (during the exile period) and February, but then didn't really touch it for the rest of the year. Goal 1: Failed. My main focus was Zombology instead. I was making a new version almost every month and playing it a lot. Towards the end of the year I was getting pretty happy with it, so much so that when Dan from Newcastle Playtest saw a publisher asking on BGG for that sort of game, I sent it off. It wasn't really ready, but I sent it off anyway. The result? It's not really ready - could have seen that coming! I've now got another version together that I'm hoping to find playtesters for shortly. The publisher is still interested, once it's ready, so I need to crack on really. Goal 2: I submitted it, so I'm going to call that a pass! I did NaGa DeMon again, designing Dragon Dance: Fire v Lance. It's very early days, but I think it's got some legs, so I'll continue working on it next year. NaGa DeMon on the blog was less successful than last year, but it's still my second best month on the blog ever. Goal 3: Passed. In other news, I dusted off Border Reivers and started trying out some ideas for a second edition, taking everything I've learnt in the ten years since I initially designed it and trying to fix some of the flaws.

General Gaming

My goals for gaming in 2014 were:
  • Play at least as many games as there are days in 2014
  • Play every game I own at least once*
Now that I count playtest games and iPad games against humans towards my totals, goal 1 was pretty easy. The Daughter is older and sleeping better than last year and I've been doing a reasonable amount of travel for work with my iPad and some colleagues/victims, so I've aced it. When I wrote this last week I'd played 514 games. Goal 1: Passed. Like a Boss. You'll note the asterisk next to goal two. That's important. According to BoardGameGeek I currently own 71 games (excluding expansions) but six of those are games I own for sentimental reasons, and those I excluded. So I own 65 games. At this point I've played 64 of them, and I'm pretty sure the last one will get played in the next week or so, so that's a provisional: Goal 2: Passed. I've also used this goal to hone my collection, those games that I've been struggling to drum up the enthusiasm to play left the house this year as gifts to friends or Newcastle Gamers. Those that left: Qwirkle, Meuterer, Snow Tails, Pirates of the Spanish Main, Citadels, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, Tigris and Euphrates and Clans.

My five and dimes for this year were:
  • 63: Zombology - the joy of designing a short game is that you can test it quickly, over and over again
  • 28: Ra - mostly on the iPad on the train
  • 27: Martian Dice - including testing my Windows Phone app with friends
  • 26: Coup - a Games Night staple
  • 25: Hey! That's My Fish! - on the train
  • 23: Dragon Dance - all since the beginning of November!
  • 23: Carcassonne - on the train again
  • 18: Love Letter - at Games Night
  • 16: Rumis - great fun
  • 16: Race for the Galaxy - mostly with the Alien Artifacts expansion (sans orb bit)
  • 13: 6 Nimmt! - at Games Night
  • 12: Stone Age - on the iPad
  • 11: X-Wing Minis - with Dave mostly
  • 10: Lords of Waterdeep - on the iPad and in the flesh
  • 10: Pandemic - on the iPad mostly
  • 10: Stormy Seas - all on Christmas Day! This is straight onto my wishlist
  • 9: 7 Wonders - still popular at Games Night
  • 7: Hive - no idea when I played this!
  • 6: Codename: Vacuum - early on, before I focussed on Zombology
  • 6: Coloretto - Games Night filler
  • 6: No Thanks! - Games Night filler
  • 6: Hol's der Geier - Games Night filler
  • 6: Die Speicherstadt - Games Night
  • 5: Firefly - Love this, just wish it was shorter, so it fit comfortably in a Games Night
  • 5: Puerto Rico - on the iPad
  • 5: Forbidden Island - iPad, I don't own the cardboard version

Blogging

My goals for blogging this year were:
  • Write a blog post every Monday
  • Get 40,000 page views
  • Gain 10 new followers
Again, mixed success! I blogged every Monday in 2014 except one, when an automatic scheduling error during my holiday in the wilds meant it didn't go live until Tuesday when I wandered into some mobile signal and checked. I'm gonna call that Goal 1: Passed. During 2014 I got 41,500 page views. Goal 2: Passed. But only three new followers, Goal 3: Failed.

My most popular posts of the year were:

Windows Phone Apps

In addition to playing, designing and writing about board games, this year I started developing board game-related apps for my Windows Phone, a few of them are personal apps for helping me design or test my games, but three of them seemed of interest to others, so I made them freely available this year. Between them they've only had 60 downloads, so they're not wildly successful, but I did them for my own interest and as programming exercises, so if they are useful to anyone else at all that's an added bonus. I'd like to keep up the app designing next year too.

That's enough wittering for now, so until next week's Goals for 2015 blog post; I hope you all had good years too, and here's hoping next year will be even better!

Monday, December 22

Progress, At Last!

It's been a funny old week. It was meant to be my last week of work before I had two weeks off for Christmas. But it didn't quite go to plan. In a bad way. And then a good way!

Monday morning I'd booked off to go to a Christmas show with The Daughter and The Wife. So we had a lie in, I came round gradually, slowly achieved consciousness and then sprinted for the toilet. Where I spent the rest of the day. The Wife and The Daughter went to the show without me, only to find out on arrival that it was cancelled, as the cast too were stricken with a stomach bug.

Tuesday I managed to get up and get dressed and didn't have to sprint anywhere thankfully, then Wednesday I was back at work, if still not 100%. I say work, but it was the day of our Christmas party, so after spending the morning trawling through a couple of days worth of emails, we went on a team building trip in the afternoon and then out for the night. Clearly I still wasn't right - I had a couple of small beers and left at 9:15!

I'd kept some holiday back in case of having to take some to look after The Daughter if The Wife got sick, which meant I could finish for the year on Thursday at lunchtime. I promptly spent the afternoon doing all my chores so that on Friday I could finally make some progress on the NaGa DeMon winners' copies of Dragon Dance.

I finished off the boxes and printed and cut out the cards, so all that remains to be done is design, print and attach the box labels and write, print and fold the rules. I've also decided to give the three winners a copy of the latest version of Zombology, so I printed out four copies of that too. The only copy I cut out and boxed of that was mine though, so I've got it in time for the Christmas holidays, in case anyone in my family or The Wife's family fancies playing it.

After a couple of weeks of nothing to report it's nice to be making progress again!

All that remains is for me to wish you a Merry Christmas and thank you all for reading my blog this year. I hope you all have a great break.

Monday, December 15

Too Busy!

Last week I thought I was going to be busy, but in the end I was too busy and ended up getting very little done indeed. I managed to finish the boxes for the NaGa DeMon winners' copies, but sadly that was it.

This week was supposed to be even busier. I had a work night out lined up for Monday and our Christmas party on Wednesday. We've got lots of corporate visitors at work and lots of meetings and we've got to get ready for our trip to Bristol to visit my in-laws and my family for Christmas.

Sadly, I'm not going to get much done for a different reason, I woke up this morning racked with another stomach bug. I'll be spending most of the next couple of days in 'the littlest room' I fear. Joy.

So, I doubt I'll get much done this week either. I do have a chance on Friday night to make some progress I think, but as feared it's going to be January before the NaGa DeMon winners' copies are winging their way to the winners. Sorry for the delay!