Thursday, March 29

Session Report: Games With Dave

Dave came round on Tuesday night for another night of games. This time we went back to Space Hulk, which we started playing when we started doing these mid-week games nights, but we hadn't played for a few weeks.

I'd had the lion's share of the Space Hulk wins so far, but Dave was keen to visit me with pain and retribution. So we started the fourth campaign mission, with Dave playing the Space Marines first. The map for this one is symmetrical, with the marines try to get from the bottom of the map to two rooms near the top (one on each side) and hit them with a flamer. I decided to harry Dave from all sides - so I used all the Genestealer entry points, those in front, to the sides and behind. My reinforcements came in dribs and drabs from all sides and kept Dave's Terminators under attack, but I'd chosen the wrong strategy, and as I killed of the last non-flamer marines, Dave's two remaining flamer marines simultaneously hit the two targets winning him the first round.

I chose a conservative strategy for the second round, with me playing the Space Marines, and set off slowly making for one of the target rooms. Dave however had a brainwave, he only needed to keep me from one of the targets - so he concentrated his waves upon waves of Genestealers on the other side. He managed to kill one of my flamer marines just before I hit the first target, but by then he had such a wall of Genestealers I couldn't fight my way through, and eventually my second flamer marine bought the farm. Damn. 2-0 to Dave. Nice work.

It wasn't too late so we decided to slip in a quick game of Carcassonne before we called it a night. This time we used the river expansion, which Dave had never used before. I got off to a decent start, claiming a decent chunk of real estate for one of my farmers, and as the game went on not even Dave's Monastery Alley was able to get him enough points to beat me. Final scores: me 119, Dave 85.

At least I won something :-) Another great night of games. At the end Dave offered to pop along to Leeds with me tonight, and we agreed to go to the pub for a couple of pints on Sunday. I promised to make the new Jorvik prototype to take along with me - trying out the that idea Dave had ages ago.

In other news it's been a bit of a rollercoaster week for me on the games side. I've been (and am continuing to be) very busy making games, Border Reivers is rolling off the presses at a phenominal rate as I try to get as much done as possible while The Wife is away. I've now got six finished copies (two of which have been claimed), and I've another six which I will have finished apart from the tiles today or tomorrow. I've sold two copies this week, and I'm off to Hugo's games club in Leeds tonight to try to play it and sell some more tonight. Unfortunately I've also had a sale in America fall through when he realised just how bad the exchange rate is. I've also heard from the UK Games Expo - where I had hoped to release It's Alive! I was told a couple of weeks ago that they had no space - but now they have roomd for me - yeay! Unfortunately, (nothing comes without a down-side this week) it's more than twice the price I thought it was - so it's not an easy decision to make. Hmm.

Wednesday, March 28

Construction Rush: Progress So Far

I've got this week off work, with the intention of getting as much construction done as possible while The Wife is away. I got back from Denmark on Monday evening, and once I'd done a few chores I was ready to start construction. I made a set of tiles that night finishing off another game, and then started making the boxes for the next batch. I had to make an extra box as, for the first time, a box got damaged in the post last week. I'm sending the guy a replacement box free of charge and hoping to get some compensation from the Post Office. Not sure how much luck I'll have there though.

Yesterday was dissappointing in construction terms. I spent most of the day at work (I'm supposed to be on holiday!) and then in town later. In the evening Dave came round for games, which was good fun. All I got done in terms of construction was to make another set of tiles, finishing another game. I think part of the problem is that with all the travel I've been doing recently for work I just needed some time to relax - I spent a decent chunk of time yesterday reading some new comics I had bought.

I've got a few non-construction related tasks to do today, and in fact every day this week, but I hope to complete a couple of batches of games before The Wife gets back. I've also agreed to meet Dave on Sunday and play the new Jorvik prototype over a couple of pints, which forces me to actually make it :-)

Thursday, March 22

Session Report: Swiggers

Last night was the last of three nights in London for work. I'd not been home since Saturday morning, and I was beginning to feel a bit fed up with the whole travel thing. Fortunately, before I left home I'd decided I'd try to get to a games club in London and promote Border Reivers. I'd contacted a couple, the email address for one of them bounced, the other replied swiftly and was friendly and welcoming. I was hoping to be able to play a couple of games of Border Reivers, and hopefully make a sale too.

So I went along to Swiggers near London Bridge. I got there around 7:30pm, and there were around twenty-five people already playing games - apparently it starts at six. While waiting for a game to finish I wandered round and I was surprised to recognise so few of the games being playing. Shortly after I arrived a bunch of gents finished their games of Safari Cafe (I think that's what it was called although I can't find that in the BoardGameGeek database). I introduced myself, and Border Reivers and offered them the chance to play a game. They were up for it, so I set up a 4-player game and set about explaining the rules. The game started off fairly slowing, with Jay saving his cash in the first turn and going for the mine, Robert and John playing fairly defensively and me moving towards the mine at a fairly slow pace. Jay got to the mine first and with his first turn savings had built up a fairly healthy lead cash-wise, but he then settled down, creating a few towns at which point my slower settling (I'd only built one town) meant that I was now right next to him with far more troops than he had. He spent the money he'd saved trying to bulk up his armies for defensive purposes. I played fairly cagily, making sure I had armies left defending my cities and getting a Militia for defence as soon as I could. Robert built up extensively, and just as he built his second city (and was very low on armies), Jay hit him with a successful Insurrection. Robert didn't play much of a part in the remainder of the game, he took a while to recover, hindered further by his terrible luck on the reinforcement rolls. I managed to wrestle the mine from Jay, and then keep him on the back foot by heading toward his soft underbelly whenever he tried to threaten me at the mine. John came for me in the last couple of turns, and he did manage to push me back, but my defence in depth strategy paid off as he was unable to destroy one of my settlements and hence stop me winning economically.

After the game Jay bought a copy, but the others said they wouldn't have anyone to play it with. Still, Jay said he knew a few people who might like it, and selling a copy to one third of the people I played it with is a result in my book. I was complemented on the production value too, which is always nice.

Border Reivers continues to sell over the internet, but it sells very well when I play it with people and explain the rules to them, so I should really make more of an effort to get to games clubs or whatever and introduce the game to as many people as possible.

I'm off to Denmark tomorrow to spend a weekend with The Wife who I've not seen for a couple of weeks. I'm really looking forward to it...

Tuesday, March 20

Game Design Notebook

I always have a few designs in the works, as well as plenty of other ideas floating around in my head. For the last few months I have found keeping a notebook of ideas invaluable. I am not sure if others use a similar method for tracking ideas, but I find it extremely helpful for planning, so I thought I'd share how I use it.

I use a grid notebook. It is great for drawing quick designs of boards and cards, and allows you to write lists and columns of things very easily. I have quite a thick yet small one, so I can take it around with me.

When I first have a game idea, I like to draw out some of the components that are in my head, just to get a feel for how the game might seem. Often board or card ideas come first. As I go I jot down all the little rule ideas that pop into my head. Over time I develop these and crystalise ideas in the book until I am ready to make a pototype. Here is an early page of notes for a game called 'Nerd Fighting League'. I doubt this will every get made, but a few elements from this have made it into a newer design of mine. I have plenty of pages like this one which didn't quite capture me enough to go on with the design process.

When a game design is some way along, I also use the notebook to work out many of the details for the game. For example, on this page I was working out the balance of card numbers for Archaeology. I also started playing around with specific design ideas for the board and cards.

When a game design is pretty close to finished I also use the notbeook for plotting our the nitty-gritty of production, costs etc. Here I am writing out the different options for the components I might produce for a game. I have found lists like this very useful in comparing prices and different costing options. This sort of process has helped me make decisions about board size, numbers of components and plenty of other things.

Hope that was interesting! I'd be keen to hear how others keep track of all their ideas..

Sunday, March 18

The Woes Of Indecision

I've been trying to get It's Alive! ready for a launch in early June at the Uk Games Expo 2007, a new convention in Birmingham.

However, I know this deadline is quite tight. Before I can go to a convention I need to: get the finished artwork from the artist; do the graphic design; sell some more copies of Border Reivers so that I've got the cash to pay for the artist, printing and components; and then assemble a bunch of copies to take with me. I estimate that It's Alive! will take around an hour and a half to construct a copy - so that's no small feat.

The UK Games Expo would be the first convention I've attended where I've had to pay a trader's fee for a stand, and while I think I'd sell enough copies of It's Alive! and Border Reivers combined to make it worthwhile, I doubt that if It's Alive! wasn't ready it would be worth it to pay the price if I only had Border Reivers to sell.

So I've put off booking and paying for a stand until I'm more sure that I'll definitely have It's Alive! ready. I contacted the organisers again to tell them I was still interested and to check they still have space - and they don't! Damn. By sitting on the fence I may have missed the boat. They've got a waiting list of traders and they are going to try and re-arrange things to make more room, but I may very well not get a booth.

The moral of this tale is to just go for it - then I'll force myself to get it ready in time because I've already paid.

Friday, March 16

It's Alive! Thumbnails

Today I got some thumbnails from the It's Alive! artist R H Aidley. They're hand-drawn sketches to get an idea of the layout and composition. I've got to look them over and either choose one of each of the options or suggest a different layout.

He's sent me examples of most of the artwork, I'm not going to post them all here, but I will post a few examples. Please bear in mind that this artwork is obviously a long way from being finished. I'd appreciate some feedback :-) As usual you can click on the images to see a bigger version.

First up, the artwork for the 'Arms' card:

Personally I'm leaning towards number three - not sure why.

Secondly, the 'Coffin' card artwork:

Originally I was thinking something like numbers two or three, a simple object like the body parts. But the coffin is conceptually different - it's a wild card that can be used instead of any other part. Maybe the number one, with a scene will convey that better.

Next up the 'Villagers' Uprising' card artwork:

Number two here was my suggestion - the crossed torch and pitchfork to symbolise the angry villagers marching on your castle. However, now I thinking something like number one will again better convey the difference between this card (bad stuff) and the other cards (good stuff).

Finally, here's his take on the exterior of the player shield which hides your progress from the other players:

This is exactly what I asked for, and he's made it look much better than I imagined.

What do you make of it? Likes? Dislikes?

Session Report: Dave At Mine

On Wednesday Dave came round for a night of gaming. We had nothing in particular lined up, but Dave brought along his copy of Memoir '44 just in case. It seemed like a good choice for the evening so we set up the next scenario we had to play: Sword Beach - an amphibious assault. As usual we played both sides, I started as the Axis, defending the beach and then played the Allies in the second game. In the first game I took full advantage of the dug in positions I had with bunkers, infantry in cover and artillery to rain fire on Dave's waterlogged minions. I seemed to be doing pretty well (for me!), holding my own and wreaking some damage on Dave's special forces (who had the wrong insignia as Dave was keen to point out) and armour. However, Dave's special forces were mint and they caused a lot of damage in return once they got a bit closer. It came right down to the wire, with Dave and I both on four out of the five needed victory points. However, it was Dave's turn and I had some weak looking units within range of him, and he promptly finished them off, getting the victory point needed to win the first leg. Ding, ding! Round two. In the second leg tried to emulate Dave's successful strategy, but he brought his reserves out of cover to attack and this just overwhelmed me as I left a decent chunk of my troops in the water in reserve. Dave slaughtered me, quickly racking up the five kills need to win, while I could only manage two in return. Dave two, Jack nil.

Memoir '44 had taken about an hour and a half, and I didn't want to finish too late as I wanted to phone The Wife. So we chose Lost Cities as a nice quick filler to wrap up with. Dave had played fairly recently at one of my games nights so we were able to get stuck in pretty quickly. Dave's winning streak continued as he beat me 43 - 24 in the first game, but we played best of three, and I won the other two games, saving myself from a complete washout. Final scores: me 23, Dave -34 and me 60, Dave 25.

It was another fun evening, it's nice to hang out and play games with Dave, especially with The Wife away - I need the company. It's been a while now since we played Space Hulk, or any of our prototypes - hopefully that'll happen in the next few weeks - I was enjoying both of those.

Thursday, March 15

Border Reivers: Big Push

With The Wife in Denmark for nearly a month I'm keen to get as much construction done as possible while she's away so that I can spend more time with her when she returns. So how's it going?

She left on Sunday afternoon so I've had four evenings available. Two of those I've spent playing games (with Paul and Dave) and I've been getting home late from work due to travel requirements so I've not actually had that much time. However, I have managed a few things:

  • I've made the rulebooks for all the remaining copies
  • I've bagged the wooden pieces for all the remaining copies
  • I've labelled the boxes for the next batch of five games
  • I've done the scoreboards and mountain ranges for the batch
  • I've started the cards for that batch

Tonight I'm going round to a friend's house to do the gluing for the tiles for that batch, and tomorrow night I hope to finish two or three games from that batch. Why the rush? I'm away all next week in London and Bristol for work, so if I get any orders I'll have to post them from where I am. I need to get a few copies ready to sell and then take them with me. In addition, I'm hoping to attend a couple of games clubs in London on Monday and Wednesday to show off (and hopefully sell) Border Reivers, so I need to have some stock with me for that.

I'm going to get no construction done at all next week, (or the following weekend - I'll be in Denmark visiting The Wife), but I've got the following week off work so I hope to get a load done then. In addition, while I'm away I hope to be able to make some progress on It's Alive! doing some of the graphic design on the computer. How much luck I'll have I don't know.

Tuesday, March 13

Session Report: In Which I Don't Finish Caylus!

Last night I went round to Paul's for Monday night games again. I had to be up at 4:45am the next morning to go to Birmingham for a conference with work though - so I was hoping to finish early. First up was Spence's copy of Fluxx. I'd heard bad things about this on the Internet, so I was a bit wary of it, and to be honest I didn't take to it at all. During the three games we played the rules conspired to seriously reduce our choices each turn - for a lot of the time we had to play all the cards we had earn turn. It felt like we were just mechanically performing actions until the game was over - far too chaotic to be able to plan anything and it seemed pretty much random who won. Although I didn't enjoy it, Lisa did like, and the others seemed to think it was fun on occasion. I guess it's just one I don't enjoy. Winners: Lisa and Greg twice.

When Vin arrived we set up a game of Caylus with the five of us. I'd not played this in a while, and I enjoy it so I was keen to play. I got off to a fairly good start building a lot of castle components in the first couple of stages, but only building a single building. I'd used the favours I got to boost my score though and I was in second place. Then I glanced at my watch. It was 10:20pm, with probably an hour left to play and I had to get up in six and a half hours time. It was not good, I had to call it a night or I'd never manage to get up in the morning and catch my train. So I made my apologies and left feeling wretched. I hate walking out halfway through - it's really rude. About the only saving grace is that I don't think Caylus would suffer if someone pulls out. Who won? I've no idea. Let's say me.

A disappointing night all told - and mostly my own stupid fault, but there you go. It was still good fun as the conversation was very entertaining yet again.

Friday, March 9

Monthly Report: February

February's monthly report is significantly late I'm afraid - mostly due to the excitement around the It's Alive! announcement. It was a pretty good month in terms of games played and an exciting month in terms of creation.


As usual I'll deal with play first. I went to a couple of games nights at Paul's, I saw Dave for games once, we had a dinner party with the obligatory party game after dinner and I hosted a games night too - so plenty of gaming opportunities. As I was playing with my own games or those of friends I see regularly I didn't play any games that were new to me, but I did play several old favourites. To experience some new games I need to get down to Beyond Monopoly really, but I'm having difficulty finding a weekend free. We've had guests and taken on a time-heavy commitment that can only really be done on the weekends. I'm sure I'll get there in the next month or two though. Guillotine was popular again, it's our standard filler at Paul's and Dave has just managed to get his hands on a copy via a BoardGameGeek trade. Carcassonne remains popular, and I still consider it my favourite game. Despite owning several of the expansions the vanilla game hits the table with fair regularity too.

First up the popular games:

In addition, there were a bunch of less popular games too: Alhambra, Cranium, Die Mauer, Pirates of the Spanish Main, Power Grid and Ticket To Ride.

In terms of games played it was a fairly average month, but still enjoyable, and I'm glad Dave liked Border Reivers. When I'm designing a game I'll often suggest it to friends to get a chance to do some more playtesting. Once a game is finished I stop suggesting it - I pimp it at conventions and online, but friends only get to play it if they ask - I don't like to ram it down their throats. However, despite having played it well over a hundred times I still enjoy it, and playing against an experienced opponent is a lot more fun.


Which brings me on nicely to games design and publishing. It felt like a very busy month for games design, although on the face of it I didn't get an awful lot done. I guess the excitement makes it feel busier.

Border Reivers

It was a fairly steady month for Border Reivers sales, which is nice after the post-Christmas lull. I need to keep up Border Reivers sales to afford the It's Alive! production so a solid month is encouraging. I investigated a few advertising options, but most of them are out of my range - BGG advertising runs to the tune of a few hundred dollars, not much for an established publisher, but way out of my meagre budget. I also constructed another batch and started yet another. After this one there are only a few more batchs yet to make - it definitely feels like I'm on the home straight now - mustn't slack off! I have managed to get some stock back in, making games faster than I've been selling them which is both good and bad!

It's Alive! / Codename: Monster

Obviously a very busy month for It's Alive! I had to make the final go/no go decision, choose an artist (with my friend R H Aidley winning), get a contract together, sign it, post it to Israel and wait for the reply. Plus I worked on a new version of the website, polished the rules a bit, and created my first press release.

Codename: Jorvik

Dave's brilliant idea re-invigorated me on Jorvik, I was feeling a bit despondent about it - it just wasn't quite right, not enough interaction. I didn't managed to get enough time to create a new prototype though - that's a job for this month.

Codenames: Artist & Dollyo

No progress this month - too busy on other things.

Codename: Sennon

I'd made a first prototype of this over Christmas, but when I came to play it solo to see how my ideas worked in the flesh, the components proved to be way too fiddly. Back to the drawing board on this one - it'll probably stay on the back burner for a while I think.

Codename: Surprise

This was a new idea I've had, loosely based on a series of books I've been reading. I love the theme and spent the seven hour train journey to Paris working through some ideas in my notebook. Hopefully I'll get something together fairly soon and start playtesting it. Dave's keen on the idea too (he's reading the same books) so I'll probably have a willing playtester in the early stages when the game is rubbish.

What do I want to achieve this month? Quite a lot! The Wife goes to Denmark for a month on Sunday for her work so I'm going to be home alone, with game design, prototyping and construction the only things to keep me from chronic boredom and loneliness. I hope to finish (or nearly finish) all the Border Reivers construction, getting the last copies made ready for sale. I also hope to do some of the graphic design for It's Alive! (the schematic information that will sit on top of the artwork. I really need to get the new Jorvik prototype made and it would be nice to come up with a first prototype of Surprise. It seems like a huge amount, but I'll have a lot of evenings at home alone, and I've got a week off work to concentrate on construction too.

Thursday, March 8

Components - Cost and feasibility

I am getting very close to finishing up the artwork for Archaeology. This means I'll be heading into actual production soon which is exciting but a tad scary. My brand new stack cutter arrived today, so I am all set for some heavy duty chopping!

Lately I have been thinking about the different types of components that go into games, and how easy it is for me to produce them. It is an interesting topic for me because half the reason I chose to make Archaeology first was because I thought that out of all my developing games, it had the easiest components to construct. However, development has shown me that some things I thought would be easy are hard, and vice versa!

So for my own use (and anyone else who is interested!) here is a list of component types and how easy/cost-effective they are for me to make. After each heading I have a list of exactly what processes are required, and then a rating of A, B or C for ease and cost. A is of course the most feasible. (Keep in mind I am working alone, and am basing this assessment on the cost of printing and materials in Australia.)

Board (no fold)
Printing, mounting, back mounting (if desired), cutting
Ease: A Cost: A

Board (one fold)
Printing, mounting, taping, back-mounting, cutting
Ease: B Cost: A

Board (more than one fold)
Printing, mounting, lots of taping, back-mounting, cutting
Ease: C Cost: A

Cards (printed on one sheet)
Printing, cutting
Ease: B (lots of cutting) Cost: B

Cards (pre-printed, cut and packaged)
Nothing, just order them!
Ease: A Cost: C

Tiles (straight edges, one sided)
Printing, mounting, cutting
Ease: B Cost: A

Tiles (straight edges, two sided)
Printing, mounting, back-mounting, cutting
Ease: C Cost: B

Tiles (curved edges, complex shapes)
Now we're getting into the world of die-cutting, which has expensive entry-costs and is something I am yet to really explore. The costs seem quite high to me though.

Wooden Pieces
Ordered online from good ol' Germany
Ease: A Cost: B - C (depending on amount)

Printing, mounting, cutting, assembly
Ease: C Cost: A
(These are a pain to make, but I am yet to find a cheap solution in custom box production)

So there are my thoughts at this stage. Archaeology is tough because it has a folding board and a lot of cards. However the price isn't too bad all up. Other games of mine I feel will be much simpler to construct, but may cost a bit more, especially those with wooden components.

I feel a lot more could be said about the ups and downs of producing each component type. If anyone is interested in discussing this further just let me know. I often wonder if every self-publisher has their own methods for each of these processes!

Games Night: Dave's

Monday night I went round to Dave's for some games again. I'd brought his copy of Border Reivers, plus my It's Alive! prototype and my Pirates of the Spanish Main fleet. Dave wanted to christen his copy of Border Reivers first - so we set up a two player game. Dave won the toss, and laid out a fairly constrained map with more scenery in the middle than I like. I chose the end further from the mine (not sure why) and then we were off. Dave got to the mine before me and put a lot of armies in there to defend it, while simultaneously start to clear land for a new settlement. It's worth noting that Dave got a free reinforcement of both types army and card (Market) in his first turn - so he was off to a flying start. Despite this is was actually a really close game. I managed to successfully attack the mine, Dave won it back and I got it again. We both used Insurrections to attack fairly undefended cities, and I used a Reiving Party to trying to steal from him, while he used Siege Engines a couple of times to aid his attacking of my defences. I managed to break away on the cash front, while Dave continued to spend and receive armies, forcing me to spend my large lead to defend myself. It was one of those back and forth games where it's not clear who's going to win at all. My favourite moment was when Dave used an Insurrection to attack my city, little did he know that I had a Militia to defend with! Dave attacks, I reveal my Militia: 'Ha! My grocers are armed with...' Dave: 'That's a Market not a Militia!' Me:'Arse! It looks they're armed with fruit. Houston, we're in trouble.' Even armed only with fruit they managed to defend themselves though - the city lived to see another day. In the end I managed to wrest an advantage and won - thought it was very close.

The second game of the night was Pirates of the Spanish Main which we'd played recently. We set up for a quick thirty point battle, and I made a decision to add a six point coin to the pot of available coins - my reasoning being that I'd use fast ships with small holds to try to track it down quickly. I ended up with three ships and three fairly cheap crew. Dave chose two ships (one four-masted beast) and a couple of expensive crew, including Admiral Morgan who had the potential to be brilliant. I set out to the nearby islands and quickly found my six-value coin, Dave raided one of the islands near him and started to close with one of his smaller ships armed with a firepot specialist. I brought my Captained ship to bear on that ship using it's longer guns and ability to move and shoot to quickly dispatch the small two-master. Dave's bigger ship came over to engage. Fortunately for me Admiral Morgan's ability to act twice on a particular die roll wasn't coming up for Dave, and though I had to run away to begin with, I brought a second ship over for back-up and managed to maneouvre my Captained ship into range of his ship while out of range of his shorter range front and back guns. I managed to sink that one too, so it was game over. In conclusion I think the Captain is priceless, Admiral Morgan not so much, especially with bad die rolls a factor - he's very expensive (five points) too.

We had time for a quick game of Carcassonne: The Castle after Pirates. Dave and I both drew for the largest house, so neither of us got the biggest open space bonus, and I foolishly wasted a 'score an unfinished road' counter I picked up near the end of the game. In the end the game was decided by the markets, and I had quite a lot, so I snuck my third win of the night. Final scores: me 91, Dave 76.

Another great night of gaming :-)

Wednesday, March 7

Re-theming It's Alive!

I've been monitoring the comments on Yehuda's blog, the Board Game News story and obviously in the emails I've received.

Lots of people have been discussing the change in theme between Yehuda's prototype: The Menorah Game and It's Alive! So I thought I'd post here to give a little more background into my thought processes, rationale and whether or not I still think it was the right choice.

My Experience

Border Reivers is themed around the chaos and conflict on the Scottish Borders during medieval times. It's a pasted on theme, I invented the game way before I thought of the theme, but I thought the theme fit the gameplay pretty well. A lot of my Border Reivers customers have bought the game because they live in the Borders region, are from the Borders region or have a Scottish or Northern English heritage. In that sense the theme is good as it attracts people to the game. Still as a proportion of British people, those who live in the Scottish Borders are a small percentage, and as a fraction of a world-wide audience it becomes vanishingly small.

Why Re-theme?

First of all: I liked the Menorah theme. It's unusual, there aren't that many religous games in the mainstream and very few of those are Jewish - an unusual theme gets extra points in my book.

However, theme serves a purpose when you are publishing (as opposed to playing) a game. The theme of a game is the hook that attracts people to find out more, play the game or buy the game. What a publisher wants from a theme is something that will attract as many potential customers to a game as possible, while putting off as few customers as possible. Not every game has a theme - abstract games like Go and Chess make do without, but most modern games do. Once the customer has been attracted the game will live or die depending upon it's quality - so a good theme won't save a crap game, and a game that has an unpopular theme (or none at all) can become popular just by being a good game.

As I've mentioned before the majority of my customers are in the UK, which is a largely secular country with a small proportion of Jews. While the Menorah theme will appeal to non-religious people and non-Jews I felt a different theme might appeal to more British gamers. There's the crux of it - I wanted to appeal to as many British gamers as possible.

What Theme?

So the next question is obviously what theme do I choose? Here I was aided by my friend Dave who suggested during our first play of The Menorah Game that you needed something to cry out when you complete your set of candles - we used 'Menorah'.

That started the gears whirring in my head. The next step was to work out who I sell to. At the moment most of my sales are to fellow geeks over the internet - most sales of Border Reivers have come from BoardGameGeek. I also get a decent chunk from friends and family (who tend to buy because I made/published the game regardless of theme) and from playing the game at conventions. Most of my customer base is male, mid-twenties to mid-fifties at a guess and I'm guessing here: has a broadly similar set of interests to me: games, comics, sci-fi, computers and general geekiness.

I wanted a theme where you were collecting eight different items, the different coloured candles in Yehuda's prototype had the potential to ruin the game for colour-blind players - I wanted something that was clearly distinguishable even if you see in shades of grey. My brother and two of my gamer friends are colour-blind so it is always in the front of my mind when designing games. In addition, it needed the concept of a wild card (gold candle/coffin) and a thief (soldier/villagers' uprising).

I don't remember when I first thought of the creating a monster theme, but I instantly loved it, I thought it would fit well with the people I think my customers are, and the people I suggested it to thought it was great. The biggest problem by far was going to be getting Yehuda to agree to it. I'd taken his nice, stately religious game and turned it into a macabre game of grave-robbery and body-part trading. Gulp. They are poles apart as several people have noted in various forums since the game was announced. Fortunately, Yehuda was prepared for me to change the theme and was ok (not delighted!) with the theme I had suggested. I think he'd been hoping for something more urbane, but there you go.


So far there's been a range of feedback. AndyB regretted the loss of the religious theme. Several people commented that the themes were wildly different (no argument there), and I'm assuming a mild disapproval in their cases but I may be wrong. Several people have definitely approved though, saying it will be easier to get others to play the new theme.

Overall, I still think I've made a good choice. Is it the best possible choice? I doubt it. But I'm new to games publishing, and if my theme is good enough for me to sell out I'll be happy.

Interestingly Mike Doyle has recently posted on theme, and while I've obviously pasted this theme on a game that has (according to Yehuda) had many different themes, I like to think that I've tried to fit the new theme to the game with some success.

What are your thoughts on the new theme? Why not rate me on Mike's scale?

Monday, March 5

I Think I'm Getting The Hang Of This Publicity Lark

So Sunday I announced the release of game number two from the Reiver Games stable: It's Alive! (formerly known as Codename: Monster, formerly known as The Menorah Game). I also informed W. Eric Martin of Board Game News, and a couple of other press contacts and posted on BoardGameGeek that the pre-order list was now open.

This is quite a big difference from how I released Border Reivers when I just created an entry on BoardGameGeek and mentioned it here. Of course in those days we had hardly any readers so that didn't attract much attention.

Nowadays we get more readers here and the BoardGameGeek, Board Game News and a post on Yehuda's blog have all generated their fair share of interest. Within the first 24 hours of announcing the game I already have more pre-orders than I got for Border Reivers - so I must be doing something right.

Hello from Phil

Hello, I am a new member here at Creation And Play. My name is Phil and I am typing this from Sydney, Australia.
I thought I'd just tell you a bit of my gaming and design background in my first post.

I grew up with boardgames, but as with most kids I was mainly playing the mainstream standards. I can remember playing Monopoly at 5, as well as Battleship, Connect Four, Guess Who? and plenty of others. I think the first game I played where I can remember really noticing something special was Scotland Yard, at around 7 years. I really sensed there was something different in this game, and the mechanics (espeically the Mr. X player being invisible!) really appealed to me. A little later on I really got into games like Fireball Island and Dungeon. I really loved the worlds of adventure these games created in my imagination.

At some point in my early teens I decided to make my own games. This was partly just a fun thing to do, but I think also came about because I hadn't come across any really fun games in some time. My games were mainly made out of paper and hand-drawn. On the occasion I would do something special, and print a board off the computer or glue it onto some thicker cardboard. Here are some recollections of some of these very early games:

Army Campaign
A wargame which was inspired by Stratego and those complex wargames which I had seen but never played. I still have this, and surprisingly it's ok! The game begins with each player randomly laying down pieces of terrain, and then setting up all their units. Each type of unit has its own movement and attack factors. I even made a cardboard sleeve for the game and a scorepad!

The Crazy Hat Game
This was largely inspired by the absurdist game design of The Mad Magazine Game, which was a hoot for my cousins and I. We took the silliness to an extreme. To win, you had to be wearing the magic hat (which was made out of an icecream container), with the magic antenna (a toilet roll) stuck in it. You also had to have a sign around your neck which had something demeaning written on it like "I'm an idiot!". These objects were collected by moving around a board, finding them and also stealing them off other players.

Black and Blue
Looking back on this, I almost invented a CCG before Magic existed! Well, sort of. Basically this was a fighting card game. Each card was a character who had various attacking and defensive moves. A player would play the fighter they wished to use, and their opponent would choose their card which had the best chance of winning. Dice were rolled and the winner would take both cards. Me and my cousin played this a lot and what made it fun for us was that each time we got together we would create a whole pile of new fighters. Lots of fun!

A few years ago I played Settlers of Catan and was instantly drawn back into gaming. I love the sleekness of Euro design, but I also love the adventurous themes of the American games I played when I was young. These two things are what I try to incorporate into my designs nowadays.

I am currently working on quite a few games, which are at various stages of development. At the start of this year I decided to qive self-publishing a shot. I picked a design of mine entitled Archaeology to produce first. This was because it was furthest along in playtesting, but also because it was quite a simple game to make in terms of components. I am pretty close to releasing the game now, just having to finalise the artwork over the coming weeks. If all goes well, and I manage to even sell a few copies, I would love to move onto a number of other games.

I am looking forward to documenting some of my design experiences here, and I hope you get something out of reading them!

Sunday, March 4

Codename: Monster Is Go!

I've been blogging for a while now about Codename: Monster a submission I received from another designer. Yesterday I received from that designer a signed copy of the contract I had sent him a couple of weeks ago, so now it's game on.

The designer is Yehuda Berlinger one of the most prolific board games bloggers, and the submission was The Menorah Game a set collection and auction game themed around collecting candles to light a menorah. While I liked the theme and loved the game I didn't think that the theme would help me sell the game in the UK (where most of my customers are), which is a largely secular country and where Jews are in a minority.

I played around with the game for a while and came up with a different theme which I thought would be more appealing to the UK market: It's Alive! - collecting body parts to build a monster that you are trying to bring to life. It's pretty macabre. After play-testing it quite a lot and getting Yehuda's permission to re-theme it we're now go for launch.

I'm hoping to have it ready for early June, but that may change as I have to do the graphic design, get the artwork done by the artist and gather a bit more cash from Border Reivers sales first. Anyway, it's available to pre-order now, from my website.

Those of you who have played it please rate it on the Geek, but as ever, please do it fairly - I'd rather have a mediocre rating than an obviously biased one than people will ignore.

This is a big step for me, from board games designer, self-publishing his own game to board games publisher, publishing on behalf of someone else. Exciting times - here's hoping it works out...