Monday, July 16

FlickFleet Status Report

Things have been pretty busy again this week, mostly FlickFleet focused, but also starting to build up some Zombology stock again (I ran out at the end of June).

Zombology and FlickFleet both taking shape

I’m hoping to get FlickFleet on Kickstarter in September, but to do that there’s a number things I need to get sorted first. Last week I finished off the FlickFleet preview copies and posted three of them to the US. I also made two upgrade kits that turn blind playtesting prototypes into preview copies. I’ll be getting an upgrade kit and the last two preview copies in the post on Tuesday. That’s the last FlickFleet crafting I have to do for a while.

The other things I need to do are to do the Kickstarter page and the video (which my mate Wilka is going to help with) and some company stuff.

Until now Eurydice Games has been a trading name for me. Legally the company is me as an individual. Paul, my FlickFleet co-designer and one of my main Reiver Games playtesters wants in, so he and I will be forming a limited company in the next few weeks.

From a marketing point of view I need to properly ‘launch’ FlickFleet on BGG, and in a few other places and then the last two things are to finish the box design and get some more info up on the website.

In other news, next week I'll be in Travelling Man in Manchester demoing (and selling!) Zombology. I'll be there from 6:30pm on Tuesday 24th July. If that's local to you come down meet me!

Seven weeks to go! I’d better crack on...

Monday, July 9

The Scale of Retail

In these days of wall-to-wall Kickstarters it’s easy to forget how critical retail (both online and through FLGSs) is to the success of a game.

Back when I ran Reiver Games I started off with small hand-crafted runs (like I’m doing once again with Eurydice Games). When my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis led to a life insurance payout I decided I wanted to be a ‘professional’ publisher selling through shops and distributors. I went from selling 100-300 copy print runs to 2,000-3,000 copy runs - which in fairness I didn’t sell out of and I ended up getting rid of a load to liquidators.

With large print runs comes economies of scale, which is just as well since selling through proper channels means more people take a cut: Shops want to buy at half retail plus tax (they have to fund staff, expensive retail locations, absorb the sales tax and want to make a profit), so distributors want to pay 40%. The ideal manufacturing cost is hence 20% of retail (so a game that retails for £50 should cost you £10 to make).

With small print runs you can’t afford to sell to distributors and even selling to retail is a stretch so my whole business plan this time round was based on selling through my website and at clubs and conventions.

As feared, it’s difficult to get people’s attention in the age of Kickstarter and sales have been slower than I would have liked via my website. Sales face-to-face have been pretty good, but I don’t have a lot of time to go to conventions since weekends are my family time and I don’t want to be skipping loads of them to attend conventions. I’ve tried to make it to clubs when I can (sales have been great at Newcastle Gamers) and where possible I’ve tried to include a trip to a local club during my work trips.

But sales are slow.

A couple of months ago I popped into my FLGS, Travelling Man, and spoke to the staff about my game. They have a small press section that is full of hand-drawn comics that are printed at home and thought Zombology would be a good fit for it. By pricing the game at £13 we found a price where it was cheaper than buying it from my website including UK shipping and my cut after they had taken theirs was not too low. They took them on Sale or Return, so I only invoice them for copies sold - so there’s no risk for them of unsold stock and hence lost investment.

Zombology in retail!

In the first month they sold two of their three copies and in the second another two (I’d restocked them back up to three). Last month I met them at the UK Games Expo (I knew several guys from the chain from my Reiver Game days) and their MD wanted to take another 12 copies - four each for the remaining three shops in the chain. That month across the four stores they sold five.

It helps that I’m the only game in the section and that the box design is strong (thanks to advice on BGG), but still this is off to a great start.

Over the last ten months I’ve sold 83 copies of Zombology. Nine of those (over 10%!) have been through retail in the last three months. Despite not wanting to go into retail this time round - it just goes to show that you need to be able to adapt your plans as you gain more data.

FlickFleet is another case in point of adaptability - I was adamant I didn’t want to use Kickstarter, but the only way FlickFleet will see the light of day at a reasonable price is through Kickstarter funding of the laser-cutter so that I can do the laser cutting myself.

What changes have you made to make your game a reality or more successful?

Monday, July 2

A Successful week in America

I spent most of last week in America for work, what little time I had in the UK was spent with my family and my parents who had come up for the weekend to help with the kids while I was away.

Monday I had an hour in Newcastle airport which I spent writing last week’s blog post and then an hour’s flight to Amsterdam where I was delayed for an hour and a half. I used my layover to work on the FlickFleet box illustration, starting with the smallest ship, trying to come up with a style that I though would scale up well to the larger ships. I do most of my game art as vector art (in InDesign and Illustrator) which is more forgiving as you can constantly tweak the vectors until you’re happy with them. Consequently I’m not very au fait with Photoshop - the pixel art part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite. As such I spent a large part of that time referring to Google or online tutorial videos to work out how to use the tools which are all subtly different from the other apps.

My flight was delayed and then my taxi to the office broke down, which meant that I missed the meetings I was supposed to attend on arrival, but to be honest that was a blessing as I’d been up since 10pm Sunday (US time) and been travelling for 16 hours, instead I could have a quick dinner and go straight to bed at 7pm!

I expected that, so I had booked a podcast interview with Jack Eddy of The Cardboard Herald for 2am on Tuesday (which felt like 7am to me and was 10pm for him in Alaska! We’d done the same thing on my previous trip in January and it was great to have a catch up chat covering a wide range of topics. Jack says the interview will be released in a couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for that.

When that finished at 3am I spent a few more hours on the box illustration before heading into the office. Tuesday and Wednesday were a customer meeting with dinner on Tuesday evening, but I had Wednesday evening off, so I had arranged to nip into Cambridge (just across the river from Boston, where I had lived in the winter of 2000-01). I managed to get a lift from the office into Boston with a colleague after work and on the way in we chatted and I explained I was going to a games club. When we arrived at her house she invited me in to wait for my Uber over to Cambridge and as I waited she introduced me to her husband - a gamer! We chatted about games and the club I was attending for a few minutes and then I got the Uber to Pandemonium Books in Cambridge. After a brief stroll round the store I ambled over to the games club and grabbed some dinner in a cafe next door.

The club was a spin off of Beantown Gamers, specifically comprised of people who like lighter games - what an awesome fit for Zombology (10 minutes) and FlickFleet (10-20 minutes). It was an unusually busy session with about 25 attendees so we quick split into multiple groups. We started with Crossfire a super quick social deduction game that was alright, and then since I’d posted a comment in the meetup page that I was there to demo games we played Zombology, which we had a full team of eight players for. After a couple of games we split up again but not before I’d sold a couple of the six games I’d brought with me.

A second group of six wanted to play, so we played again, this time four times, and I made a couple more sales. Then another shuffle and a final group of five, one of whom bought a copy. At that point someone wanted to play FlickFleet, but it was 10pm and I was shattered and faced a long ride back to my hotel, so I called it a night. Five sales in an evening - what a great outcome!

Thursday morning I did another early morning podcast, this time with Brian Schneider of Behind the Indies. Fortunately Brian and I were both in the same time zone, so we chatted at the much more reasonable time of 6am, which was good after a late night and continued jet lag. Brian’s podcast will apparently be available tonight!

When I reached the office I told the colleague who’d given me a lift that I’d survived the evening (we’d joked about meeting internet strangers and the associated risks!) and that I’d had a great evening and sold all but one copy. Which she promptly snapped up as a birthday gift for her husband! I went home empty-handed :-)

With the large Sale or Return stocking order I got from Travelling Man at the Expo and now this I only had 1.5 finished copies of Zombology in stock. I sold two via twitter on Friday evening, so Sunday night I had to finish the second one so I could post them both at lunchtime today. Saturday I rang round the Travelling Man stores to find out how many they'd sold so I could invoice them for the sales. They'd sold five (including two in a store that had only received their stock that week!). So June (which was looking rubbish for sales when I went to the US) ended up being my best month for sales since I finished fulfilling the pre-orders!


The Zombology stockpile is empty!

I'm now completely out of Zombology stock - so crafting is called for! I also need to finish the FlickFleet preview copies and get those in the post to give the reviewers as long as possible to form an opinion and review it ahead of our Kickstarter.

Monday, June 25

Meet Me in Cambridge, MA!

It's been a busy week, but a productive and slightly ill one. I finally heard back from my printer on Monday and was able to send him the files for the FlickFleet preview copies. I sent them on Tuesday (after a bit more work on them in my lunch breaks on Monday and Tuesday).

The art for the ship dashboards is potentially final (pending any negative feedback!) and the rules are mostly there apart from the illustration - which is the one from the box. The box still needs quite a lot of work - the illustration on the front is essentially a sketch at this point, there's no photo on the back and the players/age/time icons are all text at this point. At some point you need to just push the button though, and with my short-notice trip to the US this week I needed to get the art to the printers as soon as possible so that the previewers could get their hands on the game with plenty of time to review it ahead of the Kickstarter I've currently got planned for September. I've run the stuff I've done so far past The Wife, who has a good eye for these things, and my dad, who was an art teacher for 35 years) and they both think it looks good, so I'm reasonably happy at this point:


The first preview copy of FlickFleet

With the files out of the way I could join lunchtime games club in the office on Thursday (for the first time in months!) and then Thursday evening was Games Night - I played eight games on Thursday!

Friday evening I swung by the printers on my way home and collected the printed files. My plan was to spend Friday evening cutting out all the ship dashboards and wrapping a few of the preview copy boxes with their labels. Instead I felt a bit rough all the way home and then was sick while The Wife was getting the girls to bed. I went to be early myself having done nothing - not even cleaned up the house.

Saturday my parents were due to arrive in the afternoon and thanks to my laziness the night before the house was a tip. The Wife took the girls out for the morning and I (still feeling pretty rough) pootled round gently tidying up (pausing only to cut out the ship dashboards for and wrap the box of my personal FlickFleet copy - ready to take to America). My parents arrived in the evening and by that point I was starting to feel a bit less ill, though by 7:45pm I was so shattered I went to bed!

Sunday was a perfect day. I felt fine, and my parents and the four of us went to the beach for the day. It was glorious weather, hot but not too hot and sunny with a light breeze - we spent four or five hours on the beach, building sandcastles, playing in the (rather cold) sea, lounging around and eating ice cream. It was awesome.

Then I was up at 3am this morning (I'm writing this at 5am in an airport cafe!) for my trip to the US. I'll be in the US all week, getting home on Friday. The good thing about this is as a terrible traveller I'll be on UK time all week (until the day I come home of course), so I'll have the jet lag hours of 2-6am every day to work on the box illustration or the kickstarter. It should be a productive week!

While in the US I'm heading to Beantown Light Gamers evening at the Cambridge Center Foyer, 345 Main St, Cambridge, MA on Wednesday (27th) evening. I should be there no later than 7pm, so if you're Boston-based please come along and say hi - I'll be demoing Zombology (I'll also have a few copies for sale at $13 which saves $8 on international shipping) and FlickFleet - now's you chance to try it out ahead of the Kickstarter!

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!