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.

Monday, February 9

A Glorious Week of Gaming

After the long drought and then last weekend's gaming trip down to Bedford to see Terry and Andrew, who I used to game with weekly when I lived in the south, I've had another week of decent gaming.

The gaming didn't start until Thursday - the beginning of the week was games-free since I missed Tuesday's Newcastle Playtest session. But Wednesday night I finally made the January 2015 edition of Zombology and Thursday lunchtime we got to play it. Three times!

There were loads of changes from the December version (which I sent to Spain and Germany last week to my NaGa DeMon winners - Derek, your copy is ready to go, but I need to get to a Post Office for a customs label). The Boffins have become Gurus and are now treatment specific, the Fatal Mistake cards have gone along with some of the more complex rules. The new rulebook is actually significantly shorter (a good thing to my mind). I've also taken out the play a card, keep a card rule that knackered the drafting aspect.

With only three plays it's hard to tell if it's better or worse, but I tweaked a copy of things during the games and I've another idea I'd like to try out this week (that doesn't require any new components or printing - yay!). It's easier than I was expecting, I don't know it that's just luck of the draw from a small number of samples or a genuine effect, it should become clearer after more plays...

Then Thursday evening it was back to my weekly Games Night for the first time in a month, which was a great evening despite finishing unusually early. We played six games (mostly fillers) and somehow I managed to win four and tie another one. An unusually high win ratio!

Finally, we rounded the week out in style when Paul (who I used to game weekly with when I lived in York) and his family came up to stay for the weekend. Paul and I played games late into the night on Saturday (or what counts for late in my house: nearly 1am!) and then snuck another game in on Sunday afternoon during The Daughter's nap.

It was a great week of gaming, I've played two more games on my need to play this year list (Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia and Homesteaders), plus a couple of new to me ones: Bang: The Dice Game (much better than the card original) and Coal Barons. Plus it was great to catch up with old friends, guys who I used to game with every week and now see far too infrequently.

Monday, February 2

After The Drought, The Deluge

Believe it or not it had been several weeks since I last played a board game against a human opponent. I've had to cancel the last three of my regular Thursday Games Nights for various reasons and I've been putting off playtesting at lunchtime as I've had a bunch of ideas in my head for Zombology that I've not gotten around to doing the graphic design on, let alone printing out.

The gaming drought ended on Tuesday with a trip to Manchester for work with my boss Ian, a regular Games Night attendee. I always take my iPad which is stacked with board game conversions so we played a bunch of those - I think ten all told!

That evening I was babysitting for some friends and I put the hours to good use, doing the graphic design for the box labels and the rule books for the NaGa DeMon winners' copies of Dragon Dance and their bonus copies of Zombology. With that finally done I could print them out on Wednesday and finish the copies off ready for posting:

NaGa DeMon winners' copies of Dragon Dragon

There was no Games Night again on Thursday, but only because I was off to Bedford on Friday night for a Games Day with Terry and Andrew, two of my gaming buddies from my time in the south.

I spent Friday and Saturday nights' train journeys doing the graphic design for the next version of Zombology which has some sweeping changes from the December version. As yet I don't know if it will make things better or worse, but it will be interesting to see how it pans out, once I've printed it out and got it to the table. I'm trying to address a few things: one is some issues with the graphic design, another is a few things to add theme. I've also got some concerns about how easy it is for one of the players to win (as opposed to everyone lose).

In addition, a recent change allowing players to keep a card between rounds, which has been almost universally popular, is disappearing. The change was introduced to give the players more control and to make the game more strategic but, to be honest, a ten minute drafting game needs to be fun more than strategic. Allowing players to keep a card meant that the good cards were retained so the drafting aspect was knackered - it was only the dross going round.

As with any large changes to a game, I'm expecting that some bits of it will be an improvement and some bits a step backwards. I'll have to play it a few times to work out which are which and then start honing the game again.

Or the new version might just be dreadful and I'll have to roll back to the previous version!

Saturday's games day was a great day. It was great to catch up with Terry and Andrew and we played seven games, of which I'd only played Fresco, Firefly and Las Vegas before. The games I was introduced to: Machi Koro, Orleans, Red7 and Roll for the Galaxy were all entertaining, with Roll for the Galaxy being my favourite of the day. Roll is similar to Race and clearly of the same theme and feel, but it's different enough to have made it high up on my wish list. Race is a favourite with my Games Night crowd and I think Roll will be too.

Plus a game of Firefly is a step towards having played every game I own at least ten times :-)

This week Games Night is back and then my friend Paul is up from York on Saturday. The deluge continues!

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.


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.


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.


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 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!