Monday, June 18

Kickstarter Rush

I'm hoping to bring FlickFleet to Kickstarter in September, which means I'm just over two months away from D-Day. Which means it's getting exciting at Eurydice HQ. At the moment I'm trying to get five copies of FlickFleet ready to post to previewers so I've got some reviews and quotes for the Kickstarter launch. I've got the greyboard (I've stolen some from Zombology for the moment) so I've made the box blanks this week. I've also received the wooden bits so I've bagged up all the bits ready to put in the games. I've received the acrylic and am ready to start the laser cutting, but my usual laser cutting guy is in Boston (where I'll be shortly) so I'm hoping my mate Wilka can do it instead - he's recently got one too.

All that remains is the printing. I've spent the last few lunch times working on the art. The ship dashboards were finished at the beginning of the week and I've been working on the rules (tidying up a couple of rules, streamlining some of the wording and starting to make it pretty). The last thing is the box. The box art has been started on my iPad, but I need to get it onto the box and also onto the front page of the rules. I'd like to make it more attractive, but I'm running out of time to do that as I'd like to give the reviewers a couple of months with the game so they get plenty of time to get a decent feel for the game. It takes a week or two for the games to get to the US (where several of the reviewers are based) so I need to get them out very soon. Ideally today.


You can see what I'm going for here, but there's lots left to do

The printers have been having some issues, so I've not got a quote yet, but even if I had I'd like to do a bit more work on the illustration. So the art is now urgent. This has been further complicated by a trip to Boston next week that appeared on the horizon last Wednesday. 10 days notice. So, I need to crack on.

As a result, today's blog post is short so that I can get a little more art done (I'm writing this on Sunday night).

Monday, June 11

Half-time, Change Ends

I turned 42 last week, and I recently read that the life expectancy for a male born in the UK in 1976 is 83, so half-time! Ok, so multiple sclerosis reduces my life-expectancy by a bit, but I’m reasonably healthy and my MS is still in remission, so we’ll go with 83.

Time for a mid-life crisis. I should be remortgaging the house to buy hair transplants and a bright red Ferrari. Arguably, starting a second board game publishing company two months after my second daughter was born and six years after my first one failed and cost me a load of (insurance) money is my mid-life crisis. Clearly, I’m not very good at mid-life crises.

Interestingly, it’s only in the last few months that I’ve come to some revelations about myself. Shame it’s taken me 42 years to work them out!

My memories of my childhood are very sketchy (possibly MS-related, possibly not), but one of the few things I do remember is writing computer games on the BBC Electron my dad borrowed from his school during the summer holidays. I was 10.

Although I’ve spent most of the intervening 32 years coding professional and/or as a hobby I do not consider coding a core part of my personality. I miss it, now that I no longer do it as part of my job, but games design fills the same hole for me.

I’ve recently started another company (technically I’ve been self-employed or part of a start-up five times) but I do not consider myself an entrepreneur. I’m too risk-averse and bad at marketing.

The two core parts of my personality that I can trace back to those earliest memories are gamer and maker. I’ve been a very keen (obsessive?) computer gamer, Magic player (on at least three separate occasions), role player, miniatures gamer and board gamer over the last 30 years.

I’ve made (bits of) computer games, miniature games scenery, DnD scenery, LARP costumes, painted minis, mobile apps, board game prototypes and over 500 high-quality hand-made board games for sale. Making things makes me happy, certainly happier than reading and watching TV.

Board game design is a happy blend of the two - I get to make prototypes and then play them and then make changes and play them again. I start companies to make those games, not to get rich or famous but, because I love making the games by hand and doing the graphic design - after I’ve done all that it seems a shame to leave the games in a cupboard unplayed.

Obviously I want to be a good husband to The Wife and a good parent to The Daughters too, but those are more recent things - I can’t trace them back through my childhood.

Now that I have this knowledge about myself, what can I do differently in the second half of my life to further boost my happiness and life satisfaction? That’s the next thing to consider...

Monday, June 4

Back in the UKGE

Yesterday I attended the UK Games Expo for the first time since 2009. I attended the first three UK Games Expos in 2007, '08 and '09 as an exhibitor with Reiver Games selling Border Reivers, It's Alive! (first and second editions) and finally Carpe Astra and Sumeria. I also exhibited at Spiel in Essen in 2008 & '09. Until yesterday I'd not been back to a large games convention, just attending Beer and Pretzels a few times with my friend Terry.

In the year I last attended there were 1,800 unique attendees and 2,500 total attendees (where one person came on several days). This year those figures were approximately 21,700 and 39,000 - a growth of 12-15 times over the last nine years and 30% up on last year (again!). It's now huge and feels very different to how it did back in the day.

One of the reasons I've not attended for the last eight years is that I am not a target punter for this at all. I don't buy a lot of games - my collection hovers around 100 games, and each year I give a few away and buy a few more - usually things I've played several times and really enjoy. I am not a Cultist of the New, most of my games collection is 5+ years old and has been played tens (or even hundreds!) of times. So a big trade show where you can buy the latest games is not pitched at me at all.

I ended up just going for the day on Sunday, adding another 400 miles of driving (Newcastle to York on Saturday night to stay the night with my FlickFleet co-designer and long-time playtester and friend Paul) and then York to Birmingham and Birmingham back to York with Paul a brief snack and toilet stop at Paul's and then back to Newcastle. This was on top of a week that I'd driven 750 miles with the whole family (including notably a five year old and a one year old). It was a lot of driving. But totally worth it!

I've mentioned already that I don't buy many games, but I did buy three:

My UK Games Expo 2018 HaulMy UK Games Expo 2018 Haul

I've been looking for Santorini for a while (I think it was out of print at Christmas), so when I saw it on the Games Lore stand I snapped it up (after a brief chat with Paul, the boss who I know of old) despite the fact I've never played it. I also bought the Crime and Punishment expansion for Firefly (more stories and misbehaving cards!) and Fuji Flush (which Paul brought up last time he visited and we played a lot). Total spend just under £50.

The main thing I got from the Expo was a chance to catch up with old friends: Games Lore, Surprised Stare Games, Ragnar Brothers, Steve and Nabil from Travelling Man (who picked up another 12 copies of Zombology on Sale or Return for the other three stores - the Newcastle store has already sold four copies). Plus Brett Gilbert (designer of Elysium, Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time, and a bunch of other cool games). I also ran into the aforementioned Terry and our mutual friend Graham, who I'd not seen for quite a while (I missed Beer and Pretzels this and last year).

I also got to meet numerous internet friends for the first time: Matt Dunstan and Rob Harper from Playtest UK, Robin Bates from Coaching for Geeks, Heinze & Rachel from Semi-Coop and Chisel. It's nice to meet people for real!

The morning was spent wandering round chatting to people carting round a very heavy bag containing everything I needed for my seminar and some stock in case anyone wanted some afterwards. I was very happy to put it down before my seminar, and as soon as it was over I ran it back to the car, just taking a few copies of Zombology just in case (as it turns out it was too few, I had to go back to the car to get more for Travelling Man!).

In the middle of the day I had my Made by Hand seminar where I had intended to live craft a copy of Zombology. It takes me 42 minutes when I'm focussing on it, which I thought was doable in an hour, but then I found out I only had 50 minutes. So instead I offered the audience (only eight people, including Terry and Paul) the choice of that or more talk and definitely not finishing it. They chose the latter. As it turns out that was very wise. I wittered on and ended up with the box half-finished with only ten minutes left! I quickly did a bit about the cards and then wrapped up with a rather lacklustre 'anyone want a copy' sales pitch. I sold one, and then got a twitter DM from someone apologising for missing it and asking to meet up to buy a copy, so two in total (plus the 12 to Travelling Man on Sale or Return, so I came home with 6 of the 12 I took). Sales were disappointing, but pretty good considering the small audience (lots of whom already owned it!). The seminar was well-received and several people were taking lots of notes, so I must have done something right! The biggest wrong was joking about 'are there any first-aiders in the audience?' and then cutting myself with my knife. Things to remember for next time: black jeans hide the bloodstains!

There were a few things that surprised me. Most notably the number of stands that were just demoing a game that was on (or coming soon to) Kickstarter. I hadn't considered attending without a decent pile of stock to sell - to just write off the several hundred pounds cost of attending (booth, travel, hotel, food, etc.) as a marketing expense when you could be selling games to cover the costs didn't even occur to me. There were also lots of stands that were selling non-games (gaming tables, dice, dice bags, soap, dice towers and box inserts, etc.). Finally, probably the weirdest thing of all was that in the seven hours I was there I didn't play any games. The reason why I prefer Beer and Pretzels as a punter is that there I spend the whole time gaming with chums (mostly Terry) and very little time wandering around/schmoozing.

As a punter, one day was definitely enough for me. Hopefully next year (assuming our Kickstarter is successful and I've fulfilled it ahead of the Expo) I'll be back for all three days as an exhibitor again!

Monday, May 28

A Day in the Life

I’m currently on holiday for a week, touring the UK, in car with a baby and a five year old. For reference, no we not ‘nearly there yet’. This blog post was written before we left and then scheduled to go live on Monday morning as usual. Hopefully it worked.

I thought people might be interested in a day in the life of a games designer, self publisher and parent in full time employment, so that the subject of this week’s blog.

My days usually start between 5 and 5:30 when The Baby finally ‘wakes up’. I say this in quotes because, like her sister before her, she’s a terrible sleeper and wakes hourly from about 11pm. I help out with a few of those, but The Wife bears the brunt of it, so come 5am it is definitely my turn. My day doesn’t start with meditation, a quick workout and then blitzing emails and a brainstorming session like most internet business gurus, instead it starts with 30-60 minutes of passing a series of soft toys to a baby who is far more conscious than I am while I stagger blearily into wakefulness.

At 6 the day begins as we shower, have a family breakfast and get the girls ready before I head off to work around 8. I walk to work (it’s just over 2.5 miles each way which I do at a breakneck pace as it’s my only exercise). The walks in and home are a great opportunity to think about the games I’m designing, graphic design and art ideas and company stuff in general.

Most days I spend my 30 minute lunch break on something games related: updating the website, graphic design, art or playtesting, or something similar.

I leave work between 5 and 5:30 most days and usually get home from work around six and get to spend 30-60 minutes with the girls before bedtimes begin. This sometimes includes a family dinner, but often The Wife and I will eat once they are down as the girls will have eaten earlier.

At seven, while The Wife gets The Baby to sleep, I get Daughter the First ready for bed and read her stories. Once The Baby is asleep she takes over and I head downstairs to clean up. The cleaning and dinner take until 8:30-9 most nights, then we have some free time!

Now as I’ve mentioned already, The Baby sleeps really badly, and The Wife takes the brunt of it, so I help out where I can in the night. If I go to bed at 10 I’ll get 7-7.5 hours of broken sleep. I’m one of those guys who needs eight hours, so I’m never really functioning on all cylinders. But ten pm is doable as long as I get one or two earlier nights a week (Games Night on Thursday usually means getting to bed after 11, which hurts).

So I get 1-1.5 hours a night for fun. I want to spend several of these with The Wife, Games Night takes up one most weeks, so I get 2-4.5 hours a week for Eurydice Games! A batch of six copies of Zombology takes 4.5 hours to make, so with a following wind I can make one batch a week (it’s been one a month for the last few months as I’ve been focussing on FlickFleet instead).

I’m looking forward to The Baby sleeping better, so I can extend my evenings later and get more done in fewer evenings so I can spend more time with The Wife too.

Hopefully we’ve less than a year to wait!

Monday, May 21

Hectic Couple of Weeks

It was Beer and Pretzels this weekend, a convention I’ve attended a lot over the last ten years, usually with my mate Terry, whose games group I was a member of when we lived down south (‘09-‘11). I missed it last year as The Baby was due within a week of it, and this year I’ve had to skip it again as it’s just before a crazy week.

Next weekend we drive to Oxford for a wedding, then Salisbury for a holiday with my whole family (16 of us!) then drive home just in time for me to drive to Birmingham for The UK Games Expo. I’ll only be at the Expo on Sunday for the day (where, shameless plug, I’ll be giving a seminar on hand-crafting games during which I’ll craft a copy of Zombology from scratch - Sunday, 1-2pm in the Piazza Small).

Last week and this week have been very busy as a result, but it’s been great to make some decent progress after months of sleep-deprived survival.

I’ve been trying to get 13 more copies of Zombology finished so I’ve got some stock for the Expo, so I’ve spent my evenings on that after the girls are asleep and I’ve cleaned up and eaten. At the same time I’ve spent my lunchbreaks at work on FlickFleet art. Last week it was the ship dashboards, which are nearly finished now, next up is making the rule book prettier and finishing a first rough cut of the box art.

Here’s a look at the latest dashboard style - any feedback? I’d love to know what you like and what you don’t!

Monday, May 14

How To: Craft a Tray and Lid Box

Last week on Google+ long time reader Derek asked for more details on how to make game boxes. So here's a detailed tutorial on how I made the boxes for Border Reivers, It's Alive 1st Edition and the two hand-crafted versions of Zombology I've done. It's quite long, but there's lots of pictures to break it up!

If you found this interesting and are planning on attending the UK Games Expo at the beginnging of June in Birmingham you can see me hand-craft a copy of Zombology from scratch in front of a live audience! My Made by Hand seminar is 1-2pm on Sunday 3rd June in the Piazza Small.

For this tutorial you'll need a good ruler with a steel cutting edge (ideally that lies flat with the cutting surface) and a clear scale for measuring, a self-healing cutting mat and a sharp knife (I use an Xacto-style knife with snap off blades).

So, let's get started. The first thing you'll need to do is choose a box size. For this I strongly recommend choosing a game you own and making your box that size. There's three good reasons for this:

  • You can empty that game's box and check the bits fit in ok


  • Games look cool on the shelf if they are all the same size - it's easier to store them and stores to stock them


  • If you want your game to go into manufacturing, using a standard box size saves you the cost of tooling new dies for the box blanks and labels, shipping crates, etc.



  • My personal philosophy is that the game box should be the smallest one that the components can comfortably fit in, but if you're hoping to go into retail your box needs to reflect your MSRP. Being the only £25 game on the small games shelf really hurt sales of Sumeria. Once you know your manufacturing cost, times that by five and go into a game store - how big are the boxes for games that cost that much?

    Once you've picked a box size, measure the width (W), height (H) and depth (D - the distance between the lid opening and the top of the lid) of the box lid. The dimensions of your box blank (BW and BH) are W+2*D by H+2*D. You need two rectangles of greyboard (chipboard I think in the US and Canada) that size. I usually use 750micron (0.75 millimetres thick) greyboard for a small box or light game and 1250micron (1.25 millimetres thick) for heavy or larger games.


    On that greyboard measure out two rectangles that are BW by BH. Then draw lines that are D in from every edge on one of them (this is your box lid). For the tray the lines need to be further in, for a 750micron thick box you can draw them D + 1mm in, for 1.25micron greyboard you'll need D + 2mm. Making the box blanks the same total size means that the tray is smaller, but taller than the lid - this means you have a small amount of tray showing when the lid is on, so it's easier to open the box.


    The next step is to cut the small squares out from each corner of the tray and lid blanks, and to score (gently scratch with a knife - not all the way through) the remaining bits of the lines you drew.


    Now turn the blanks over so the drawn and scored lines are underneath and fold the sides of the tray and lid up along the scored lines.


    The final step of making the blanks is to tape the box corners. I use Scotch Magic Tape for this as it has a nice matt surface that the label sticks to nicely.


    For a prototype I'll often stop there:


    But for a hand-crafted game you want this to look like a real game that's been professionally manufactured. So you need labels. In the old days I used to get these printed onto paper (and then professionally laminated for durability) and then glue them on by coating them in watered down PVA glue. This is an awful idea - don't do that! For a smaller game where high fidelity isn't critical you can print onto label paper (I think you can get it in up to A4/Letter size), but I've started using Vinyl labels (also professionally laminated) for Zombology which are awesome (if expensive). Your box art will need to be W+2*D+30mm by H+2*H+30mm so that there's 15mm of label on each side to wrap over the box into the inside. Do the box label art (and getting it all the right way up!) is enough content for another post, needless to say you'll have to get this right!


    My next step is to cut out the labels. You want the long edges to go from the corners of the box top/bottom straight out to the edge of the label (you can make them 2 or 3mm narrower at the label edge if you want - this makes the wrap slightly smoother on the inside, but it slows down cutting a bit as you can't do both cuts at the same time without moving the ruler). The shorter edges need to go from the corners of the box tray/lid 45° to the depth of the box, before going straight out to the label edge - see below:


    Once you've cut out the labels, take the box lid label and the box lid blank (be careful at this point - the box blank lid and tray look almost identical!). Remove the label backing and place it face down. Place the box blank on top, being very careful to line up all four corners of the box blank with the corners cut into the label. Press down firmly across the whole blank surface to get a good adhesion to the label.


    The next step is to do the shorter sides. Roll the blank onto one short side, pressing firmly along the blank to make sure it adheres well to the label. Now cut from just inside the corner of the box to the label edge (so the cut goes slightly towards the middle of label edge), and then again towards the corner of the label where the 45° cut turns towards the label edge. You want to err towards the 45° cut at this point, you don't want any label ending above the blank edge when you wrap the label over the corners.


    Now starting in the middle and working out towards the corners, pinch the label over the edge of the blank. Make sure the label sticks really well both on the inside and the outside of the box edge.


    You can now wrap the two diagonally cut pieces round the corners of the box - this strengthens the box corners and also ensures that none of the greyboard will be visible on the corners. Repeat the last four steps on the other short side.


    Next up are the long edges. Roll the box blank onto one of the long edges and press down firmly along the edge to ensure the label sticks well across the whole edge.


    Starting in the middle again and working out towards the corners, pinch the label over the edge of the blank. Make sure the label sticks really well both on the inside and the outside of the box edge. If you cut the long edge straight out to the label edge you might need to pay attention to pressing the label into the corners on the inside, which is less of a problem if you cut the label slightly in towards the middle. Repeat this process on the other long edge.


    Repeat this process on the box tray and Hey Presto! you have a professional looking tray and lid box!


    I hope this was helpful - let me know in the comments if you'd like any more details or another How To post on something else (e.g. box art layout).

    Monday, May 7

    Brief but Thankful

    I usually write my blog posts in my lunch break at work or, failing that, at the weekend. This week I’ve spent my lunch breaks finishing off my new website (any feedback appreciated!) and this weekend we’re going away to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! So needless to say I’ll not be spending a decent chunk of our holiday writing a long blog post!

    So this is a short one to say: in your quest to be successful at designing games (or whatever else it is that you want to achieve) make sure you have a support network. One or more people who love you and want you to be happy and succeed. They could be a partner, spouse, parent, child, sibling or best mate. Find them and treasure them - their support is priceless.

    And thank you to The Wife for being mine for the last 21 years!