Saturday, September 30

I Love The Inland Revenue!

There's a phrase you don't here very often.

But it's true. In the UK if you start your own business you need to register with the Inland Revenue within three months of starting up. I'm sailing damn close to the deadline as I started Reiver Games three months ago next week! So I finally pulled my finger out and contacted them.

The guy on the phone was polite, helpful and warned me that registering would take about five minutes. He guided me efficiently through the process in less than five minutes, and then offered to get someone to contact me about a course they run. They offer a free course to cover the basics of running a business and doing your own books. They would email to arrange a time that is convenient for me to attend. Excellent.

Before Mal arrived last night I got another set of tiles (and hence game) finished. That completes the previous batch that I started before The Wife went away. Now I'm in a position to concentrate on the next batch, for which all I've done so far is construct the boxes and glue a few tiles. The batch is twelve copies, so ideally I'd like to get them (and a few more) completely finished before The Wife gets back. We shall see...

Last thing last night Mal and I had a game of Border Reivers. It's kind of the World Series of BR, as Mal has played the game more than anyone else - we've played about twenty games against each other. I won the first fifteen or so, but now the score must be around sixteen to four. Mal's creeping back. In last night's game I made a fatal flaw. Early on Mal got a secret card, I was afraid it might be Insurrection or Reiving Party, so I rushed an army back to protect my city. Nothing happened for a few turns, and I finally decided to get Mal off the mine, so I move the army out of the city to threaten Mal's hold on the mine. It was an Insurrection, and Mal won the combat, then promptly sacked my city leaving me with no settlements whatsoever. My three remaining armies fought on bravely, but Mal had three too, and a city to gain more. I was wiped out a couple of turns after the sacking. It was the first time Mal had played an Insurrection that early in the game (it often comes out later), and since I'd not had a Militia card I really should have protected my cities with armies. Chump! Still, a nice victory for Mal. He earnt it.

Friday, September 29

Good Progress

Last night I had less distractions - so I made a lot more progress. First up was another chance to get some more gluing done while the weather holds. This was especially important as the five-day forecast showed last night as the only dry one, and I've no idea what will happen more than five days out. I managed to finish gluing the six copies I started yesterday. Then I came home and did the cutting out of two and a half of those six copies, completely finishing another three copies. I've now got five finished copies, and only seven outstanding orders - I'm nearly ahead of the game! I also did a few box trays, just constructing them, not covering them yet.

In other news, Richard Turner is a new board games publisher based in the UK looking for a game to publish.

In totally unrelated news, Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist has been blogging about her experiences travelling to, and living on the International Space Station. It's a very enlightening diary - and it lets us in on what I dreamt of as a kid - space travel for non-governmental employees. Sure it cost her around $20 million, but it will get cheaper... Unfortunately, I spotted her blog too late (as she's already returned to Earth), but it is still an interesting read.

My friend Mal is coming down tonight for the weekend, so construction will pause, but I'll probably get some games in, and Mal and I are hoping to overhaul the Reiver Games website - let's face it, it needs it.

Thursday, September 28

And So It Begins...

With The Wife absent last night, I started my big push on construction. I'm keen to get ahead of the curve on construction as until now I've been playing catch-up.

To start off with, I did some gluing in my friend's backyard. I did the reverse side of a couple of copies (completing them), and then the front side of another six copies. I had a bunch of chores to do too, but I also managed to get one and a half of the completed copies' tiles cut out.

I don't think I'm going to manage to get as much as I want done while The Wife is away, I'm busy both weekends now and my evenings are getting eaten up by other things. But I will get as much done as I can.

If the weather holds tonight I'll do another round of gluing as it's the tiles that are the bottleneck.

Wednesday, September 27

Sales :-)

Last week I mentioned that I had no confirmed sales all week. I was a bit disappointed as I'd had a few enquiries from the States which came to nothing (as I expected with the current exchange rate), but a few of other enquiries which initially seemed to be pretty likely, but then went quiet.

I contacted two of the guys I thought seemed up for it to see if they would like me to reserve them a copy and both have replied. Both were waiting for funds to become available before sending the order, but intended to buy. I've also secured another order here too.

This has boosted my spirits as a week without any sales is a bit disappointing, and I'd thought they were interested, but then I didn't hear anything for a while and assumed they weren't. Plus, one of them is my first overseas sale, which is a nice achievement.

I'm feeling much happier now (especially as I have a few more potential sales in the pipeline), or I would be, if I hadn't just dropped The Wife off at the station for a two week trip to Canada.

Tuesday, September 26

The tales of a casual games designer: Part 7

Well here's the first six boards out of nine of the mountain stage, printed in GLORIOUS technicolour! Looking good though I'll need to make a few changes before the final design, mainly revolving around shadows of the mountains.

Construction Begins

Unfortunately, Paul's Game night was cancelled as Paul wasn't feeling well, so I'd stayed at home. The Wife was out at her evening class, so I settled down in front of an old season of the The West Wing as background noise and started making boxes.

I've one finished copy and four copies that are only waiting on tiles. I'm aiming to get thirteen copies done while The Wife is in Canada, one per day she is away. That's three hours a night - not a small undertaking. So I've got off to an early start constructing the boxes. I'll build and cover them first, so that I've got something to store the bits in. The bottleneck is still the tiles, but I can only do the gluing for the boxes on a nice day (which are becoming fewer and farther between as we head into Autumn) during daylight hours, so I'll do the rest of the game when the weather is dubious or I get home too late and miss the light. In the end I got twelve box lids constructed - a good start.

In other news, I've been thinking about Jorvik, trying to think of ways to boost its strategic qualities without overcomplicating it. I'm considering a three stage game, with multiple scoring rounds and separate cards for each stage. It fits the theme really well - but I'll have to play it a few times before I can tell how well it will work.

Monday, September 25

Great Weekend

Mum and Dad were visiting for the weekend, so I didn't get much done game-related. However, we did spend a lot of time chatting about my plans and the next game. Dad's very keen to help out with design advice and illustrations in the future, which is great news as he has a breadth of experience it takes years to accrue, and he has skills in these areas where I don't.

We discussed loads of ideas, and I got to play my new game Codename: Jorvik with both Mum and Dad over the weekend which was a good experience. Neither of them are gamers, and Dad in particular doesn't think in that manner at all. I thought that if I could get Dad playing it then I had the right level of simplicity for a gateway game.

It's clear that the game needs a bit more to it though. The game seems to be driven almost entirely by the luck of the draw at the moment - there's not much strategy involved. I've a few ideas in mind that hopefully will address that problem - I'll let you know how those play out as I get to test them over the next few weeks.

I'm off to Paul's again for Games Night tonight. I've not been for a couple of weeks - one week I missed due to needing to do some Border Reivers construction, and another was cancelled since Paul's daughter was ill. I'm really looking forward to it tonight - should be good.

Friday, September 22

Mixed Week

It's been a mixed week this week. Some good, some bad. Here's an overview:

The Good:

  • I've made contact with an editorial assistant at the BBC Mindgames Magazine who's doing a feature on our games club Beyond Monopoly. She's considering doing a piece on my game, pending playing it.
  • I've completed four copies this week, fulfilling three pre-orders and a new sale. I've only two more pre-orders outstanding now - I'm almost to the stocking up point.
  • My parents are visiting this weekend (so I'll probably not post here). Dad can finally collect his copy and see how I've used his design advice and box illustration to complete the game.
  • I got a load of good advice on BoardGameGeek about how to publicise my game - and it's still coming.

The Bad:

  • No confirmed sales as yet this week - I don't want to do a publicity push until I've built up a stock though.
  • I've cut my index finger in exactly the same place for the third time while making tiles. Fortunately I didn't draw blood this time.

The Wife goes to Canada for two weeks next Wednesday, so I'm going to make use of the time to get a shed-load of construction done and build up a stock. I need to anyway, as I'm attending another convention in early October.

Thursday, September 21

BoardGameGeek: The Dichotomy

Two threads on BoardGameGeek caught my attention this week. One was started by me, so it's no surprise, the other was from someone in a similar boat, and the difference between the responses is amazing.

Thread One was me asking for advice from other self-publishers on how to publicise my game with a minimum of expenditure. I got several complimentary replies. They were thoughtful, helpful and had lots of good ideas. I was offered good luck and people offered to pimp the game in their locality in exchange for a free copy. I even had people send me emails with extended advice. You really get the feeling that BGG is a really friendly and welcoming community, out to help the little guys like me.

The other thread has since been deleted. Someone was asking people to invest in the production of a new game like Monopoly they had 'discovered'. It turns out with a little digging the 'discoverer' was the designer's wife. She made a bunch of mistakes in her assumptions:

  • She assumed BGGers like Monopoly
  • She assumed BGGers support large companies over small ones
  • She misrepresented her association to the designer

And, as a result, she was throw to the wolves. Sure, some people made some good suggestions in the thread, but there was an awful lot of flaming and acrimony. It got ugly - which is why it probably got deleted by a moderator.

So there you have it. Think before you post to BGG. If you're going to do it, don't lie, or shill your game - ask for advice and help and you'll receive it in bucket-loads from the great community. Otherwise you risk the ire of the community, they're not stupid and don't appreciate being taken for a ride or manipulated - if you do that you will get a response - and things will get nasty.

New UK Games Convention

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a guy who was organising a new games convention in Birmingham. They are hoping to get a convention to compete with the big one in Essen. He sent me a Press Release the other day, so I thought I'd re-print it here. Here it is in full:

UK GAMES EXPO 2007 “Everything about games” 2nd to 3rd June 2007 The Clarendon Suites 2 Stirling Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16 9SB www.UKGamesExpo.co.uk

2007 sees the launch of UK Games Expo. We aim to be a show case for all that is best, fun and fascinating in the world of games. Whether it is board games, card games, miniatures, computer gaming or role playing games we aim to present it all in an event which will be entertaining and appeal to men, women, children and in particular families.

Although there are many people who will play these games in the UK we have long been in the shadow of the huge and great European and US gaming conventions attended by tens of thousands. More people for example attended the great Spiel festival in Essen, Germany last October than went to the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC. UK Games Expo intends to challenge that dominance.

At UK Games Expo traders, manufacturers and producers of games will have trade stands with the latest boardgames, wargames figures, collectible cardgames and roleplaying books available to browse and buy. There will be many participation and demonstration games to join in including a western gun fight, radio controlled tank battles, car racing games, pirates and much more. There will be LAN gaming and massively multiplayer online games for you to try out and play.

For the competitive games player we have tournaments in Magic, Dungeons and Dragonns Miniatures, Wizkids games, board games and wargames.

The venue is located in Birmingham which has long had a tradition of being a premier location for conventions and exhibitions and is easily accessed from around the country. The date is the weekend at the end of May/June half term week. An ideal opportunity for bored kids and tired parents to enjoy themselves.

To find out more check out the website or email info@ukgamesexpo.co.uk

I'm definitely considering attending next year, it could be a good opportunity to get some exposure with ordinary members of the public rather than the usual hardcore gamers you meet at a convention.

Tuesday, September 19

Jorvik Second Prototype

Last night I got to spend some time on construction as The Wife was out, I made another copy and started yet another. I'm slowly getting through my pre-orders. I'm hoping to get four done this week before my parents arrive for the weekend. Mum and Dad are going to take a couple of copies back to Bristol with them, and I'm hoping to finally deliver a couple of copies to friends.

I thought I'd update you on the progress of my second game Codename: Jorvik. It's going to be a quick and simple 2-player card game. I'm aiming for a nicely-themed filler. A few weeks ago I came up with a first prototype copy with the cards made from bits of paper with pencil squiggles on. It was designed to be played against myself as a tool to sort out the initial balance. I used it in a couple of games against The Wife, and the paper cards were blatantly insufficient. They were see-through, so you could see which card your opponent was going to draw next. Also, the squiggles weren't expressive enough for someone who didn't design the game to understand.

So I've made a second prototype. This one features cards made from actual card, with a slightly more expressive squiggle and some additional information. The cards feature no artwork yet and the backs are plain, but it's a start. Here's a photo of a few of the new cards:

I've also made a few changes. I've changed the distribution of the cards to make the game flow more, and I've added a few new card types. Initially, I had some very powerful cards, which I thought were too powerful. As there were only a couple of them in the game, it's very possible for them both to end up in one player's hand. That leads to that player almost certainly winning. That's obviously unacceptable. So what could I do to solve the problem? Here's some options:

  • I could remove the powerful cards
  • I could power down the powerful cards
  • I could add more powerful cards

As unlikely as the last option sounds, it reduces the chance that one player will get them all. In the end I chose options two and three, I reduced the powerful cards, and I added some more even less powerful cards. I'll play like this a few times and see how it's working out.

Since the last few games I've also had some more ideas. When developing Border Reivers I started with a very complex idea and over a couple of years I simplified things until I ended up with a streamlined game. With Jorvik, I started with a very simple game, and I'm finding it too simple. The game needs a bit more to it. So I'm going to be trying out some more ideas to give it a bit more depth. I'll have to be careful though - I don't want to over-complicate it.

Monday, September 18

Wikipedia

I use Wikipedia a lot to look things up. I considered adding a page for Border Reivers to Wikipedia, since other games already have their own pages - it would also provide a link between the historical Border Reivers and my game of the same theme.

A few weeks ago I finally got round to submitting a page. I tried to do it in the same factual style as other game entries, without any hype or marketing - just letting people interested in the history know that the game exists. You can see the page here. You can also see the link from the historical article page. Did I manage the right style? You'll have to let know.

It's paying off though, I've already sold a copy to someone who found out about the game from Wikipedia. Yeay! I can recommend it if you don't have a huge marketing budget.

Sunday, September 17

Session Report: Beyond Monopoly

I went to Beyond Monopoly again yesterday. I'd intended to get there early and then leave fairly early too, and do a short day. As it was I didn't get there as early as I wanted, and the I stayed late to play a game of Border Reivers with a bunch of interested gamers, so I left late too. It was a great day, although I didn't get much time to do gluing for Border Reivers once I got home.

First up was a 6-player game of Condottiere by Dominique Ehrhart and Duccio Vitale with Jon, Paul A, Paul D, Mason and Robert.

In this game you have to claim three adjacent cities to win. Each player plays cards to compete for the current city, with the player who plays the highest scoring cards winning. As well as numbered cards there are some interesting cards which allow you to mess around: The Drum doubles the values of your cards, Winter makes all players cards score 1 (except the Heroine), The Heroine always scores ten, a Scarecrow allows you to retrieve a card you've already played, a Key automatically ends the battle - scoring the city and the Bishop ends the scoring without the winner getting the city. Once a city has been claimed the winner gets to choose the next city, and you play again with the cards you have left. This continues until only one player has cards remaining, when you all draw a full hand of cards and carry on. This turned out to be a really nice tactical game as you tried to compete for the cities you were interested in and scupper the others when you weren't. By the end of the second round I was in the best position with five possible cities winning the game for me, with Mason and Jon a close second with two possible cities each. I bluffed the first possible city for me, making the others think I'd lost my good cards, while hanging on to my best cards for the last round. In the end I pulled it off and won right at the end of the third round.

Next up was an 8-player game of Pitch Car the dexterity game by Jean de Poel. I'd had my eye on Pitch Car ever since the disastrous game of Manifest Destiny when a tableful of people next to me seemed to be having a lot of fun playing Pitch Car while I wallowed in despair.

It didn't disappoint. You play a Formula One style race on a wooden track with plastic rails protecting one side of each track segment. Players take it in turns (starting with the player in the lead) to flick their car (represented by a small wooden puck) around the track. If your puck goes off the track or knocks another player's car off the track all affected pucks are returned to their positions before your flick. If your puck ends up upside down (either on or off the track) you must miss your next turn flipping it the right way up - representing correcting a spin. It's a fun game, with lots of squeals and whoops. Paul A got an early lead, and was pretty much unassailable, even lapping a few of the back-markers. After a couple of turns I was very near the back of the field, but throughout the game I slowly crept up through the field eventually coming third at the end of the three lap game. It was really good fun, simple and yet very engaging. I'd definitely be up for that again.

I went down for lunch with Jon and we had a quick two-player game of Hive by John Yianni. This reminded me of Hey! That's My Fish! in that it was a very simple game, and yet there was a lot of strategy and tactical play involved as the options were many and varied at every turn. Jon had a distinct advantage (having played it before), and when I started getting a strategy together to win the game (about halfway through) Jon was clearly one step ahead, as he was shutting me down at every turn. Jon won it in the end but I wasn't that far off, and I made a bad decision in my penultimate turn that made it easier for him.

After lunch, Paul the Third (it was a surprisingly Paul-heavy day, I played with three of them, and chatted with another two) sat down for a quick game of Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation.

Like Lord of the Rings this is designed by Reiner Knizia and illustrated by the Tolkien artist John Howe. It's another beautiful game, but at heart it's just a version of Stratego with the pieces having special powers, and a set of one-off use cards to boost your chances in a combat. Paul and I played two games, one from each end (you play as the fellowship or the bad guys), and in both cases the good guys won by getting Frodo to Mordor. I wasn't really enamoured of this one. It's didn't grab me like the others I had played.

Paul also wanted to play Border Reivers by me. As we set up Paul (the fourth), George and Wolfgang asked to join in. As it's only 2-4 players, Paul the Fourth and Wolfgang set up a game of Jambo instead, and then we were joined by Adrian for a 4-player.

Paul started saving his money in the first turn, and built up an early lead while the rest of us spent all our money on cards and Armies. The other three players all went for a Market first, while I choose a Guildhouses to increase my chances of getting cards. Adrian fully tooled up his city, getting a full set of buildings for it, while the rest of us went for two cities. The mine was hardly used (Adrian had it for a turn or two), but was tempted out of it to make attacked or defend himself. George built the most effective economy drawing in nine gold every turn, but I was the first to start saving and then George had to play catch up. I was repeatedly attacked with Reiving Parties and Insurrection, but my choice of Guildhouses earlier in the game meant I'd been able to get a Militia in to defend myself. In the end George realised he couldn't beat me, so he spent all his money on defending an attack from Paul. He still managed to come second as Paul and Adrian had continued spending throughout the game. Final scores: Me 40, George 9, Paul 7 and Adrian 5. It was a much closer game than it appeared from those scores though, as if I'd been successfully Reived or Insurrected George (aged twelve) would have beaten me at a game I had designed myself. Draw your own conclusions...

The tales of a casual games designer: Part 6

Oh yeah, here's an image of the black and white board with the colourful cyclists on it....

Fun fun.

Saturday, September 16

Games All Day

I'm off to Beyond Monopoly York again today. I'm having to cut short my trip so that I can do some gluing and tiles construction this afternoon, I really need to get ahead of the curve on construction. I'll post another session report tomorrow.

Friday, September 15

The tales of a casual games designer: Part 5

So, work on Tour (or tour. as it's now known as small letters and random full stops are cool!) has kinda slowed right down this last week, mainly cos I need £40 for cyclists for 20 games and another £50-60 for enough blank dice (12 a game) and counters (120 per game).

Those three parts together will make £5 per game. I also need printing, card, glue and a couple of other bits and pieces that will take it somewhere between £10-£15 - currently at the lower end but bound to get higher. I'm thinking of selling the initial game for £20 a copy and subsequent stage packs (planned to have two more stages per pack with an extra 'home team' and a few new cyclist cards to make the add-ons more appealing) would probably cost people around £10-12 as they won't need plastic cyclists, counters or dice!

I got a good playtest with my wife the other night on the completed stage which is probably gonna be one of the longer stages and JUST about fits on the 9 A4 boards that make up the stages. Playing with just eight cyclists between the two of us I was worried it wouldn't scale well down to it but it worked well and only two of the cyclists tired so much as to be coasting home (both mine and that was a tactical error). The session report is up on boardgamegeek.com under the game entry "Tour".

My wife told me she really enjoyed it which was great as she's hardly a cycling fan, and I've had good comments from friends who have seen the black and white draft gameboards and have said it looks professional.

My new fear are that I've made the corners straight lined rather than curved as photoshop just doesn't work well with curves....It looks OKAY but I think I'd rather have curves. I may go back to drawing and sketching for the tracks and putting it together on photoshop.

I must have a good working beta for Midcon.

Language Level In Games

I'm aiming to make Jorvik completely language independent - i.e. the only use of the English language will be in the rules, all the components will feature no English language explanation or naming on themselves.

Why? Some people like language-independent games as it allows them to buy a game from anywhere in the world, which can sometimes be cheaper than buying it in their own country. Once you've got the game all you need to do is get a translation of the rules (often available on The Geek for free) and you're away. It also will potentially increase my market, as customers in non-English speaking countries will be able to buy and play the game. I've quite a few gaming friends whose first language is German or Dutch, so it would be good for them too. We've tried to play word games with them before (such as Cranium), but this is very difficult if English is your second (or possibly third) language. The same friends are keen to play the Cities and Knights of Catan expansion for Settlers. However the only copy we have between us is in German and since my German is bad and The Wife doesn't know any, we're understandably keen to avoid it.

There are a whole bunch of games that cannot have the language component removed from them (word games and games with complicated mechanics which need describing to a player during the game are two examples). However, I think it's good to aim for as little language on the components as possible. Numbers are alright as they are shared between a large number (although not all) languages, symbols are fine too. But once you start getting into explanations and names on components then you are looking at multiple language versions of the game if you want to sell it world-wide, which is also going to hit production costs, since you (or another publisher) will have to redo artwork and print new versions for other languages - leading to an increase in costs.

I'm looking forward to trying to make a language-independent game after Border Reivers, which featured an explanation of the cards functionality on the cards themselves. It'll be an interesting new challenge. I think however that language independence will mesh well with the simple, quick game that I'm aiming for with Jorvik.

Thursday, September 14

The Power Of The Geek

Yesterday I thanked Andy for his nice write-up and session report on The Geek. I was more pleased with the write-up and rating, as they boosted my average rating by quite a lot, and they described the game nicely too. It turns out however that the session report was the more useful.

BGG has sections on the front page for recent reviews and session reports. The Geek has tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of users. Only a tiny fraction of those are aware that Border Reivers exists. Only a small fraction of those will want to own a copy, so what I need to do is increase the awareness. Andy's session report was on the front page of The Geek for nearly twenty-four hours. As a result, a bunch more people looked up the game and some of those are interested. I got another order, and a couple more enquiries from the States. I'm not expected anything from the American interest due to the exchange rate, but it's all good exposure, and I'm pleased with the number of people who want to buy a copy based on what they've read. Very encouraging.

In other news The Wife generously went shopping without me last night so I got a chance to get a load of construction done. I finished another copy, and did some prep for the next round of gluing. The tiles are definitely the construction bottleneck - I need to think of ways to streamline their construction.

Paul Morrison of Morrison Games has also published his own game, he's used a machine for both glue application and cutting out, but I don't think I can afford either of those machines - so until I think of a better way I'm going to have to continue doing it all by hand. You can read about his experiences here.

Wednesday, September 13

Distractions

Publishing a game in your spare time requires a huge time commitment. I've spent an average of maybe an hour or two every night for the last six months on this, and it's getting to the point where I feel a little guilty for not spending time on it.

Last night I left work early to go to the Post Office and post another copy of Border Reivers to a customer. I needed to create a new rulebook (I hadn't yet done one for that number), so I made a batch of ten - might as well get ahead. I also tried out a new technique for stapling the rulebooks. Each rulebook consists of a cover and then three sheets of A4 paper folded in half to make a booklet. I need to staple the rulebooks together, while simultaneously holding the sheets in position relative to each other. This is the bit I've been having trouble with. The sheets need to be well-aligned or the resulting rulebook looks a mess. I've tried a couple of things but neither of them has worked very well. Last night I tried clamping the pages together with a clothes-peg at each corner while I did the stapling. It worked a treat. The clothes pegs are strong enough to hold the paper in position, without being so strong as to damage or crease the paper. I'll do that again.

I meant to spend some time later on cutting out another set of tiles (hence finishing another copy), but instead I got sucked into watching Season Seven of The West Wing which had just arrived on DVD. I've got Season Two of Battlestar Galactica on the way too, so my productivity is probably going to suffer...

Tuesday, September 12

Gluing Outside

I've been putting off gluing indoors for the last week. I've been avoiding it because of the aerosol nature of the glue. Not only should it be done in a well-ventilated space (because the glue probably isn't very good for you if inhaled), but it also settles on the floor making it quite tacky. I put a large sheet of taped-together paper underneath me to protect the floor, but the stuff gets everywhere and hence I have to clean the floor all around the room to get rid of the worst of it. We live in a flat, so we have no outside space to use for the gluing - but a friend has let me use her back yard. However, I'm then limited by the weather - I can only do it on a nice day: no rain, little wind and during daylight. I've got to fit it around my job too. As a result I missed Paul's games night last night to take advantage of the good weather before the autumn gets into full swing. I need to make some progress as I received a couple of new orders last week, and I've still got pre-orders to fulfill too.

It went pretty well. I did two full games worth (fixing some earlier problems I had with the last batch of gluing), and I did the front side of another six games. I was using a large plastic sheet to protect the ground and a face mask to protect my lungs. The face mask didn't stop all of it (I could still smell the glue), but if the amount of air getting through it was any indication of its ability to filter out the glue then it did a pretty good job. When I got home (it was starting to get dark), I cut out the tiles for one of the two completed sets of gluing. Doing the gluing in large batches like this outside should allow me to get more games done each week, hopefully allowing me to catch up with my pre-orders and get some stock in, ready for my next convention.

Sunday, September 10

Session Report: Games Night

Last Night I had a few friends round for games. It ended up being just five of us, as a few people couldn't make it, but Mal made it all the way down from Newcastle, which was great - I'd not seen him in ages.

Seeing as we hadn't seen each other in ages the evening was spent mostly chatting and catching up, we got two games in: Carcassonne by Klaus-J├╝rgen Wrede and Ticket To Ride by Alan R. Moon.

Carcassonne was a nice, quick game that we all knew how to play while we waited for others to arrive. As it turns out they weren't coming, but we didn't get the message until the next day! I'd not played a 5-player game for a long time, so I'd forgotten how few turns you get - the tiles disappeared really quickly. I didn't get any of the cloisters, having to make do trying to build cities and claim farms. I had a nice city going until Mal played the four-edged city making it pretty much impossible to complete, and then The Wife joined up two of our cities - largely to her advantage. I'd claimed a field all to myself though, so I still had high hopes. In the closing stages, The Wife managed to complete a behemoth of a city shunting her well into the lead before final scores were calculated. We started totting up the uncompleted scores and The Wife's lead extended further thanks to a few nearly finished cloisters. Then farming. I grinned. Then I looked at the board. Chump! I'd managed to claim an almost worthless farm, so in the end The Wife won, closely followed by Karen, with the three gents bringing up the rear.

Next up was Ticket To Ride, which Mal wanted to play as he'd never played it 5-player before. Mal and I were the only ones who had played before, so after a quick explanation of the rules we settled down to our second game of the night. This lasted a really long time, although whether that was due to five players or the chatting and joking I couldn't tell. The beer and Pimms probably didn't help either :-) I chose a strategy of going for the long segments, and only kept the shortest of my initial three route cards, discarding a coast-to-coast route. I ended up with a lot of routes going into/out of Helena, and near the end managed to get a circuituous 'longest route', only to be pipped at the post by Karen. A few turns from the end all four of the others drew a second set of route cards, with Karen keeping all three. Risky. I ran the game out but placing all of my trains and we totted up the scores. I had a healthy lead (nearly one hundred) as we went around the board, until we got to Karen who had made all five of her routes - most of them were beasts too, cross-country all in a similar area. With that and the longest route Karen won by a mile, with over one hundred and thirty.

I also got a chance to chat with Mal about my new website for Reiver Games. I'm getting the text together, and Mal is going to help me with the design - he's got a flair for it. Early impressions are that the structure I'm going for is good.

I'd also like to thank Andy (thanks, Andy!) for his very favourable write-up and rating of Border Reivers on BoardGameGeek. It's great to have received such a nice write-up, especially since I've not yet received any real slatings. Eventually, I'll probably end up with a normal-distribution of ratings. At the moment there's still not enough ratings to look like a bell-curve, and there's very little at the bottom end which is great. It's also nice that the first really good rating I've got, is from someone I've never met - it's not a friend/relative or me shilling things.

Saturday, September 9

And I Thought Wednesday Was Weird

Friday morning I had a certification exam for work in Leeds. I'd not had a chance to prepare for it properly, and the frantic preparation I did on Thursday night was disastrous. I needed 80% to pass, and I was getting 40-60% in the practice tests I was doing. I got to bed late, and had to get up early, so I set off to the exam feeling pessimistic and very tired. When I finally arrived, (after a bus journey and coffee stop spent desperately pouring through the course syllabus that I'd still only half covered) I was told there'd been a problem, and my exam needed rescheduling. The poor woman behind the desk was really apologetic (even though it wasn't her company that had cocked up) and expecting a roasting from me, I think. 'Great!', I said, 'I wasn't ready to take it anyway.' Then I headed back to work. In the afternoon I was feeling pretty rough so I went home and then to the doctor, I've a battery of blood tests to take on Monday morning now :-/.

The day ended with a massive clean-up, our flat was getting pretty messy, and having Border Reivers bits everywhere just makes it feel worse - as there's so much less room. I also got some really in-depth feedback from the first guy to buy a copy from me over the internet. It was a bit mixed, there were things he liked and things he didn't, and they'd played a variant where you roll a D6 for reinforcements and cards and played to a higher points total (49 instead of 40), since the game was finishing too quickly for them. Interesting stuff. I'm surprised by how quickly it played out for them, but very impressed at their house variant. It'll play differently to the way I had designed it, but it might suit some players more as you'll get more armies and cards and hence a bit more action. I'm really pleased that they liked the basic rules enough to experiment with the balance. On BoardGameGeek loads of games have variant rules posted by players - it makes me feel like Border Reivers has made it.

I've listed Border Reivers on the BoardGameGeek marketplace in the hope it'll attract more attention than my website. It'll also generate a cut for Aldie, the guy who gave up his job to run BoardGameGeek professionally. I've a lot of respect for that, and am very keen to support him (I've already bought a supporter's badge for this year). Anyway, why did I mention this? I sold my first copy on The Geek yesterday - so it does seem to be working.

I'm having friends round for games again tonight. It's been ages since my last games night here, I've been so busy with Border Reivers and it takes up so much space that it's difficult to make room for guests around the table. I think we're going to have to stash all the Border Reivers kit away in the bedroom for the night.

Friday, September 8

Practically Game-Less

Yesterday was very busy at work, and this morning I've a certification exam which I've had no time to prepare for - so I can't see me passing that. I only got halfway through the 800 page course book. So I'm screwed.

I spent all day trying to fix a mess at work, and then all evening doing practice questions and reading the book. No fun at all. Still, my day was brightened mid-afternoon by a phone call from the bank. My 'business specialist' was checking to see if everything had been set up ok. He also mentioned that he'd seen the copy I sold to the manager at the branch, and he was surprised at the difference between the prototype and the final product. He had decided to buy a copy for his sons as a Christmas present! Woot!

I was beginning to worry that sales were dropping off after The Cast Are Dice, and was considering different ways to promote the game in an attempt to create some new sales. It's nice to see that the copies that are already with customers are attracting some attention.

Thursday, September 7

Weird Day

Yesterday was odd. I set off in the car in the morning (I usually take the incredibly slow bus to work - but I had to get back early to post a copy of Border Reivers, so I took the car), giving The Wife a lift to work on my way to work.

There we were, chatting away happily, when suddenly smoke started to pour into the cab through the air vents. Not what you want to see, especially not at sixty miles an hour. We pulled up onto the verge and phoned the AA. After a frustrating phone call with an awkward telephone operator we were promised a visit within 35 minutes. A couple of minutes later I get a text message to say he's on his way and will be here in less than 15 minutes. A couple of minutes after that he pulls up - mint!

He has a look under the bonnet, and notices that we have no coolant left - Ooops! We should check that more often. So he fills it up. And it empties straight away. There's a leak - so it wasn't our fault after all. He tracks it to the heating unit and bypasses that, and tells us to send it to the garage to get the faulty pipe replaced. Net result: I get a day off work (and lose a bunch of money).

I spent the day on a range of games-related tasks. First I started collecting the content I want for the new Reiver Games website. The current one is pretty pants, and could do with a good overhaul. Next up was some construction. I needed to post a copy that afternoon, so I finished that copy and another one too. Might as well make some headway with the time off. I popped into town to post the finished copy and bought some card to make a second, more durable, prototype of Jorvik. I finished off the day making the Jorvik prototype while half-watching The West Wing on DVD.

I felt like I got loads done, but in retrospect it doesn't sound like so much. Still, I feel good about it, and that's what counts.

Wednesday, September 6

Publishing Progress

A few days ago I said that I intended to aim my selling efforts at gamers, as I wanted to get my game being played, and hopefully build a reputation and introduce it to other gamers who might want to buy a copy in turn. I think the game will appeal most to casual gamers, those who like Risk, for example. The problem I have is that these are the customers who buy their games in toy and department stores. There's no way that I'm going to be able to sell my game in these kind of shops, since I don't have that kind of clout - so how do I reach these gamers?

The easiest way I have to reach customers is to publicise it on The Geek and to play it and show it off at conventions. The people I will meet and expose it to through those methods are going to be predominantly hard-core gamers and wargamers, who probably won't enjoy the game so much. I need to work out a way to reach the customers I'm most likely to convert. That's something to think about. In the meantime, I can confirm that I'll be at Psychocon in Leeds in October. Hopefully, I'll see some of you there.

Here's a breakdown of the sales so far:

  • Sales to family: 1
  • Sales to friends: 7
  • Sales to gamers via word-of-mouth: 7
  • Sales to gamers after playing: 4
  • Total sales: 19 / 100

Tuesday, September 5

Session Report: Paul's Games Night

Last night I went round to Paul's again for games. There were five of us last night: Andy, Greg, Paul, Spencer and me. We played a couple of games (both of them I'd played before) and it was a very entertaining evening - thanks, Paul!

First up was Guillotine by Paul Peterson, which had come out at the end of last week's session. I'd really enjoyed this the first time around, and it was just as entertaining the second time. Paul also noticed that the piece of carboard in the box that holds the cards in place was actually a little guillotine, that you could place at one end of the queue of victims to remind you who is next. Nice touch.

The game got underway quite quickly (it's very simple), in the first round I managed to pinch Robespierre fairly early on by moving him forward a lot - bringing the day to an early close and giving me an early lead. On the second day, things went even better as I managed to get a couple of decent cards, including the elusive (and very high value) Master Spy. The third day marked me out as the target for all, as I had a healthy lead. I was targeted by a couple of other players, and Greg managed to pull off a nice trick collecting three cards at once. The others were gaining on me... When it came round to my last turn I needed only two points to win, and there were two cards left, one worth two and the other (Marie Antoinette) worth five. I didn't have any cards that would let me change the order of the queue, but I could remove one of the nobles. I removed Marie Antoinette, picked up the other one and won the game. Everyone looked at me. Why? I could have removed the other one and picked up Marie Antoinette. D'oh! What a chimp. Still, I won regardless, although the others thought I should be stripped of my victory for stupidity, and I had to agree with them. Final Scores: Me 14, Greg 13, Paul 12, Specer 8 and Andy 6.

The second game of the night was Caylus by William Attia. After a brief discussion about how unattractive the box is, we set it up. I was only only player who had played before, so I set about explaining the rules (with much reading from the rulebook as it had been a while). In hindsight, it was probably a little late in the evening to start a 5-player game of Caylus with four people who hadn't played it before, the game went fairly slowly to start off with as we all tried to get our heads round the wealth of options, although it sped up later on. This was a very silly game. After Greg's early outburst of 'Cock it!' when someone played a worker where he had intended to, this became a regular feature of the game. We were also calling food 'blancmange' for some reason, I've no idea why. It was a pretty close game, that I won finally around 11:15pm: me 65, Greg 59, Andy 56, Spencer 50, Paul 47.

Once again I was drawn to the importance of colour and symbols within a game. Generally speaking I think the design of the pieces in Caylus is very good, there are cues throughout the board to help remind you what does what, which buildings yield which resources, etc. However, unlike in Ticket To Ride, the colour is the only information distinguishing the resource cubes from one another, and the building tiles from one another. Also, the little diagrams showing which cubes you get are only separated by colour. Nearly one in twenty people are colour-blind to some degree, including my brother and two of my friends. Caylus proved to be a nightmare for the colour-blind, reinforcing the importance of symbols and colour to differentiate pieces or types. I'm really glad that I've colour-blind people to play-test my games with, to ensure that I don't make games that exclude them.

Monday, September 4

Festival Of Construction

Around the Beyond Monopoly trip Saturday and most of the day on the allotment yesterday, I've managed to get a fair chunk of construction done again.

I've now got fourteen games ready, apart from the tiles, enough to fulfill the remaining pre-orders, orders and review copies. I spent most of Sunday evening on sets of tiles: first gluing and then cutting them out. I've got five sets of tiles in various states of completion and I finished one off, ready for delivery at Paul's games night tonight.

I can't begin to describe the amount of time I'm spending on construction. I think I've managed to get the construction down to under three hours per game, but for the one hundred copy run that's still three hundred hours, or a game every evening for three and a half months. This is not an undertaking for the faint hearted, or the flighty.

If I manage to sell the one hundred copies within a year I'll consider it a success - I've got no marketing budget, and I'm an unknown designer. I think I'm on course so far, I'm hoping for spikes around the conventions I attend, and I think there might be a few more sales to come yet from friends and family. There's a paradox here. I need to sell all my copies (or at least break even), as quickly as possible, so selling to friends and family is a good thing. However, I need to sell to gamers who are going to play the game, to boost sales (through having played it and liked it enough to buy a copy) and raise my profile. Friends and family are likely to buy it as a favour to me, or in the hope it'll be worth something later, rather than to play it. So who to sell to? I'm going to try to aim for more gamers, but I do need to make my investment back sooner or later...

The game still seems to be well received (Exhibit A: Andy's comment from a couple of days ago) and so far I've not had any bad feedback. People have told me they don't like it, or it's not their type of game, but I've not had anyone tell me it's crap. I guess being a newbie, and a fairly nice guy those who really don't like it are keeping quiet to protect me. Thanks guys!

Sunday, September 3

Session Report: Beyond Monopoly

I popped over to Beyond Monopoly about four and a half hours yesterday and got a whole bunch of great games in. When I arrived there were a few games in progress already, including two games of Settlers. I had to wait around ten minutes for a game of Terra Nova to finish, then I joined up with Paul for a game of Tempus.

Tempus by Martin Wallace is a civilisation building game, played from the development of writing through to flight. It features a modular board made from groups of hexes, a progression of player powers as they develop further technological advances, combat and ideas cards. It also has a nice mechanism to keep players at a similar level - each turn players compete to see who goes up to the next level first and gains an advantage, and then at the end of the turn the rest of the player move up to the same level and everyone competes to see who goes up to the next level first. I was playing with Paul, George and Gordon and I chose a poor starting position away from the grassland you need to breed. Paul was quickly hemmed in. George was making full use of his religion ideas to convert Gordon's pieces, while Gordon was getting full use of his nice central location to breed like fruit flies and spread out. I got a few cities early on, but Gordon soon outstripped me. I slowly reached some grassland and started getting back into the game while Gordon and George had at each other. Then the ships technology was invented and Paul could free himself from the corner he'd been trapped in, and head off to the other side of the board where he quickly developed several cities and a lot of pieces. In the final turn Paul and I managed to get joint development of the flight technology to gain the 3 VP bonus. Final scores: Paul 23, Gordon 22, Me 21 and George 15.

Next up was Hacienda by Wolfgang Kramer

In this game you compete as farmers in South America trying to gain the most from your animal herds. You gain money by linking lands you control to the markets dotted across the board by herds of your animals. Linking to the markets earns you the money to buy more animals, land, plus the haciendas and watering holes that get you more points. Halfway through and at the end of the game you calculate your points, which you gain for connecting to markets, owning chains of connected land, and for being next to watering holes and having a hacienda on your herd or land chain. This was a really good game, but you could tell after the first scoring round that I'd messed it up, I'd not connected to many markets and since the market scoring increases (1=1, 2=3, 3=6, ...) I was losing by a fair amount at half-time. Sadly I didn't make much progress in the second half either, but I did enjoy it, there were plenty of choices to make at every turn and even a bit of confrontation as players tried to cut each other off from the markets. Final scores: Jon 94, Dave 90, Gwen 83, Me 58! Owned.

I finished off with a couple of quick filler games, neither of which I remembered to photograph. Hey! That's My Fish by Alvydas Jakeliunas and Gunter Cornett is a surprisingly strategic game of claiming territory. Each player controls a number of penguins (two in a 4-player) that can move from their current hex in any direction any number of spaces in a straight line. Each hex has between one and three fish on it, which are worth a point each at the end of the game. When they move off a hex it is removed from the board and the player gets to keep it (and hence earn the points for its fish). Penguins cannot cross a gap left by another penguin, so your movement can have a very strong effect on the other players. Play continues until a player cannot move, or there is no competition left for areas. At the end of the game the player who has the most fish wins. I started off going for the three fish tiles, and before I knew it I was in a position to claim quite a large area for myself. I did that, ending the game and I also won due to that area. I really liked this one, so quick, so simple and yet really deep with loads of options. Final scores: Me 29, Jon 23, Dave 21 and Gwen 19.

The last game for me was Clans by Leo Colovini. In this game you all have a secret colour which you try to score highly. You move clans from a territory to an adjacent territory trying to create a village when you end up with clans surrounded by empty territories. Once you move the clans out of a territory that territory will remain empty for the rest of the game. I had no idea how to do well at this game, none at all. I tried to create a few villages (which earn you bonus points), but my colour ended up getting lamped, so the final scores were: Gwen 24, Dave 21, Jon 14, Me 11.

All in all, another great gaming session, I won one out of four, and they were all games I'd never played before, so my breadth of games experience is still expanding. I'm off to another of Paul's games nights tomorrow too :-).

Saturday, September 2

Yeay! Games!

I'm getting down to Beyond Monopoly again today. I'll obviously be avoiding Manifest Destiny like the plague on mankind it is - I'm hoping for a bunch of quick, fun games that I've not yet played.

Session report to follow, and this time I'm hoping to remember the memory card for my camera so I can get some photos. I felt like a right idiot, stuck there, playing the game from hell, and when I got my camera out to take a photo, I couldn't.

Friday, September 1

First Impressions

At conventions and FLGS the first impression we get of a board game is its box. A couple of days ago, I discussed the trend of supplying games in boxes larger than they need to be. Today I'm thinking about the boxes in general.

Euro-game boxes are a very conservative (small 'c') design school. They almost all have a large illustration on the front (cartoony if it's a humourous game) with the game name, designer name and the publisher's logo on the front. The sides usually feature the game name, publisher's logo and those icons that quickly show the number and age of players and the game time. The back tends to have a description, maybe a photo or a illustration of the game in action and the icons again.

What surprises me is how badly they're done. Really, some of them are awful. These are companies with large turnovers, producing in some cases millions of copies of a game. Yet they come up with terrible artwork. Now I'm not saying I could do better (at either the artwork or the design), but they really should.

Here are some examples of bad game boxes:

This illustration is bad.

Another one.

The guy in this picture is round the corner! Only his hat is left on the front. Nice framing.

It's not all bad though. Here are some good examples:

Beautiful, nicely evoking the period.

Whoever decided to get an internationally-reknown Tolkien artist to illustrate the box (and in fact the game too) of the Lord Of The Rings board game was a genius - it's fantastic.

Simple and yet perfect - it just oozes theme.

When designing the box for Border Reivers I intentionally aped the mainstream board games - right down to construction method. I wanted people's first impression to be 'this looks like a professionally-produced game'. I know that some of the game components are sub-par, and that the artwork I've done also looks weak in a lot of places, but I'm hoping the effort and the money I've put into production quality will carry some weight - especially for the first impression. Some advice I got from the Managing Director of a chain of FLGS was: 'have a nice box - because that is what will sell games in a store.' Did I succeed?

I think I've done a creditable job, with Dad's illustration taking the bulk of the credit. Certainly the feedback I've got so far has been very positive. If you're thinking of self-publishing a game, and you wish to sell it in shops, I can definitely recommend spending a lot of time on the box - it'll repay you in kind.