Thursday, May 29

National Prototype Day

From now on, 28th May will be known as 'National Prototype Day' a public holiday, when people will send each other game prototypes. Why? I received three yesterday. It was a busy day for my postie, as well as the three prototypes, I received some business cards and another entrant for 'UK Game of the Year' which I'll be judging as part of the judging panel at the UK Games Expo. I'm going to try to play it tonight. I took it to Paul's yesterday afternoon, but after playtesting the latest incarnation of Carpe Astra, one of the new prototypes and another prototype we didn't have enough time left to get a game in. Hopefully, we'll get a chance tonight.

Due to the high cost of Carta Mundi's quote, I'm going to go with the Germans, but this comes with its own problems. Their turnaround is ten weeks, and they need the artwork right at the beginning, so I guess it's going to be at least twelve weeks before it's ready. Seeing as I've sold out of It's Alive!, that's three months of self-employment when I have nothing to sell! Hmmm. Far from ideal. I'm considering a couple of options for bridging the gap.

Tomorrow, without any artwork likely to arrive, I'm likely to take most of the day off. The Wife gets back from a conference in Poland late tonight, so it'll be nice to spend some time with her.

Wednesday, May 28

Finally Getting Somewhere

I got the quote from Carta Mundi yesterday, as promised. Unfortunately it's significantly more expensive than the German offer, so I guess I'll be going with them and waiting for the games until the end of August at the earliest. I've asked Carta Mundi for another quote though, so I may still get something from them.

Still nothing back from the artist, but I know he's got an exhibition on Friday, so I imagine he's exceptionally busy at the moment.

I'm considering another hand-made run to keep my hand in until the professional run of Carpe Astra arrives. I think I can do it fairly cheaply and with little effort on my part (the game I'm considering is fairly simple), so this morning I requested a bunch of quotes from the suppliers I used for It's Alive! to see whether it's worth doing.

This morning I popped over to a local warehousing company to see what they offer. They are prepared to deal with me (despite the small number of pallets I'll be receiving), and they're with my storage budget so that's a good thing.

I'm going to request a final quote from the Germans today, and then once the artwork is finished I can start the ordering process. It'll take them eight weeks from when they receive the artwork for the cards and boards. I've then got two weeks to get the rules and box artwork to them. Six weeks after that they'll ship to me, and then a week or two after than I'll receive them.

I had Lisa round for playtesting last night, and I'm going round to Paul's again this afternoon to try out the latest tweak to Carpe Astra. I think it improves the player interaction and gives you more routes to winning the game, making it feel a bit more Euro (though there are definitely things about it which aren't).

Sunday, May 25

All Weddinged Out

We went away Friday night for my mate Dunk's wedding, at which I was Best Man and The Wife was a bridesmaid. I got home this afternoon after dropping The Wife at the station en route to Poland for a four day conference.

The B & B / hotel in which we were staying was very noisy (we were woken at 3:30 and 6 the first night, and 4ish on the second) so I'm pretty sleep-deprived at the moment. I've spent most of the afternoon dozing in front of the telly.

Still, we had a great time, and I managed to get a few things done before I left on Friday and during the wedding!

Friday, I finally got in touch with the UK Manufacturer, who has been exceptionally busy in the run up to the Expo next weekend. He's promised to get a quote to me first thing Tuesday (Monday is a public holiday in the UK). At Beer and Pretzels I was warned the German manufacturer's have a habit of dropping smaller orders when a larger rush job comes in from a German publisher. Their quote is going to take longer than I'd like under ideal circumstances, so I've decided to give the English guys another chance. We'll have to see how competitive their quote is when it gets here.

I also managed to complete another lesson from my German course in on Friday, hopefully I'll be competent in time for Essen, though obviously not competent enough to sell/demo in German. I'll do another lesson this evening.

I got to see the artist at the wedding (he's a friend of Dunk's too). He's also been exceptionally busy with a couple of projects and an exhibition that starts on Friday, so hopefully he'll be back on the case too.

Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday in the UK, which I wasn't really aware of (no longer getting the day off automatically). But since the quote won't arrive until Tuesday and I'm unlikely to receive much in the way of artwork tomorrow, I'm going to take the day mostly off, and hang out with a couple of friends from Newcastle, who are visiting York for the day.

Friday, May 23

Version Control and Other Stories

In a comment on my last post, Mal wondered how I perform version control of my ever-changing prototypes.

The earliest versions of a prototype don't have properly written rules, they're just a series of scribbles in my notebook. I'll make an early prototype out of scraps of paper and pencil scribbles. It's not until I have something that's basically working that I make a more solid prototype using card, thick cardboard for tiles/boards and slightly more impressive artwork involving pen and pencil crayons. It's at this point where I start writing out the rules.

From there on, every time I make a change to the rules, I do a new version of the rulebook - with a new version number. I just save them as <game name>.<version number>.txt. I have lots of ideas, only those that I'm fairly convinced are worth trying or I've tested a few time make the rules, other than that they float around in my head until I've tested them.

That's the rules covered, what about the components? Honestly, I don't bother with them. If the components change between one version and the next (they might not) I store the old components and make new ones. There's no infomation about which version those components were used for. I can either work it out from the rules, or I can just recreate them. The earlier components tend to be fairly generic with just enough information on them to differentiate between the different types. As the rules change these can be re-purposed a lot of the time, only occasionally do they need to be re-created.

In other news, I received another prototype from an established designer yesterday, and having received an overview and a copy of the rules, I've now asked for a prototype.

Still nothing from the British manufacturer or from the artist yet. I've been concentrating on my prototypes and using my German course, in preparation for Essen.

Tuesday, May 20

Back In The Saddle

I took most of yesterday off, after working the weekend and to celebrate selling my last copies of It's Alive! Still did a few things, I had to update my website so that people could no longer order It's Alive!, and fix all the references to it being available. I also emailed Ted the latest set of rules I'm trying out for Carpe Astra. I'm still tweaking it, it's very hard to let go when there's several thousand pounds riding on it. It's still getting better (in my opinion) but sooner rather than later I'm going to have to stop and leave it alone.

I got my first bit of colour artwork from the artist yesterday too. It's the new banner for the website. It wasn't a final one, but it gave me something to comment on. There's things about it I love and things I'm not so keen on, so hopefully there'll be a new version winging its way to me soon.

Today I'm going to concentrate on the layout for Carpe Astra again, getting the frames in place so that I can paste the artwork in when it arrives.

Monday, May 19

It's Alive! Sold Out

I had a great weekend at the Beer and Pretzels games convention this weekend. I was selling It's Alive! during the day Saturday, but after a decent day of sales I decided to call it a day and start playing. I hooked up with Steve K (hiya!) and Neil and we played a bunch of games, mostly new to me as well as a couple of my prototypes. Despite not having a stand on Sunday, I was still able to sell the last few copies of the It's Alive! Limited Edition. I've only got six copies left at home now, mine and five I'm holding for other people.

I'll be going to the UK Games Expo in a couple of weeks too, but seeing as I thought I'd sell out of It's Alive! before then, and I didn't think Carpe Astra would be ready in time (right on both counts!) I've not got a stall there. Instead I'll be wandering around hawking my wares to the various shops and I'm a judge for the Game of the Year award. Bribes in excess of £5K gratefully accepted ;-)

Seeing as I've been 'working' all weekend, I'm going to have a fairly easy day today. I've got to nip into town to pay in my take from the weekend, and get a haircut in preparation for Dunk's wedding this weekend (I'm the best man - ought to look presentable!).

Friday, May 16

Ich Gehe Nach Deutschland!

I've just received confirmation that I've got a booth at the International Spieltage, at the Messe Essen in Essen, Germany in October. Or just plain Essen for those in the know.

In preparation I've ordered a German language kit as an early birthday present to myself. I did German at school, and was fairly good at it, but that was sixteen years ago, so I'm a little rusty :-(. Even with the course I'll not be competent enough to explain my games in German, so I could do with a German speaker on the stand, seeing as most of the 150,000 people attending the show will be German. Who to ask? I'll need to think on that.

In other news, I'm pressing on with getting a final quote from Ludo Fact for Carpe Astra and I spend a decent chunk of today going through the submissions I received ages ago working out which ones I want prototypes of sent to me.

I'm off to Beer and Preztels for the second year running tomorrow morning. It's a 8:20am train, so that'll mean an early start for me, but it should be good fun, and I've only got nine copies of It's Alive! left, so I might even sell out while I'm there.

Thursday, May 15

Frustrating Week

This week has been frustrating. I'd like to use Carta Mundi to manufacture Carpe Astra, they are both fairly local (so there's less shipping involved) and fairly quick (six weeks if it includes wooden pieces). However, trying to get a quote from them is like drawing blood from a stone. I'm trying to spend money with them, but you'd never guess so, judging by the speed at which the Sales Manager replies to my queries. I guess I'm one of the smaller customers they have, but still the lack of response is really frustrating, and I'm tempted to use someone else just to spite him.

I'm also in contact with Ludo Fact, who were recommended to me by Dean of Ludorum Games. In the time I've been waiting for a quote from Carta Mundi, I've had a quote from them (reasonably priced including shipping from Germany to the UK), and an amended quote after I requested a couple of changes. The only thing that's stopping me choosing them right away is it would take eight to ten weeks.

I've only got ten copies of It's Alive! left and I'm off to the Beer and Pretzels games convention in Burton-on-Trent this weekend. If I don't sell out there, I can't imagine they'll last beyond next week. If I have to wait ten weeks for Carpe Astra then that's ten weeks with no money coming in.

I've started doing the layout for Carpe Astra, doing the text for all the cards, but without the artwork from the artist I can't get much further. I've not had anything else from him since those sketches I've been posting.

To top all of that, I'm still not quite happy with the scoring mechanism for Carpe Astra, I've tried a few things recently, none of them quite work. I was hoping to take a finished game with me to Beer and Pretzels to play with a few regular customers, but I guess I'm going to have to take a prototype, and warn them things might change.

Still, in other news, I played a couple of my submissions with Paul on Wednesday afternoon, and they've got potential...

Tuesday, May 13

Submissions - Update

I had a terrible night's sleep last night, so I had just struggled into conciousness when the doorbell rang, it was Parcel Force delivering another prototype. That's the fifth one to arrive. Its arrival reminded me that I still haven't got back to most of the people who submitted games to me just before I went pro.

As a result I've taken some time out of the card layout for Carpe Astra to continue processing my submissions. I've been through the rules for another five this morning (two rejected, three prototypes requested). I need to improve my time management so that I've time to go through them, I've another nine sets of rules to review, plus another five sets of rules I'm still waiting to receive.

Getting a whole heap of submissions like this has been really good, it allows me to be more selective about what types of prototypes I receive. This means I can focus more on what I see the core product lines being for Reiver Games. I'm not beyond branching out a little though, so the occasional abstract or family game might appear under the RG logo too.

Monday, May 12

Carpe Astra - Character Preview 3/4

I've had the weekend mostly off again (stag do this time). I've spent most of today transferring the card text from the spreadsheet I was using to the layout application. It turns out that even using 12pt text I've got room for more flavour text, so I've been bulking out the explanations as I go. This is good, I was having difficulty coming up with a story that fit the limited space of my first guess at how much text I could fit on the cards.

Here's the third character preview from Carpe Astra:

Representing the colour blue is High Priest Ichthon, from the priests. He's an ancient old man, dressed in the ceremonial robes of the priesthood.

Flavour text: Ichthon has been a priest since adolescence, and over the last five hundred years has risen to the higher echelons of the Priesthood. He is a traditionalist, voting in the council for tighter restrictions on permissible behaviour and is always trying to boost the power of the Priesthood.

Finally the sketch the artist has done for him, which is my favourite of the bunch so far:

Friday, May 9

It's Alive! Construction Finished!

All day yesterday and this morning I've been making copies of It's Alive! I figured I was best off finishing them all in advance of the Beer and Pretzels convention next weekend, and if I got them finished that would free me up to concentrate on Carpe Astra.

Turns out to be good timing. I contacted those people on the Geek who listed themselves as wanting a copy to warn them that I was running out. Several bought a copy as a result of this (several more emailed me to let me know they wanted one, but couldn't afford it with the current US/UK exchange rate :-( ).

One of the customers who bought it received it yesterday and promptly played it with his partner several times. He loves it, and was quite happy to tell readers of SpielBox that he loves it. The very complementary review has led to several more sales to Germany today - will I have any copies left to take next weekend? In some ways I hope so, in others I don't :-)

In other news, I've just bought Adobe InDesign CS3, it's staggeringly expensive, but the right tool for the job of laying out the artwork for Carpe Astra. I downloaded a free trial several weeks ago, but that's now run out so it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

Wednesday, May 7

Carpe Astra: Sketches

I've got the first artwork back from the artist. It's obviously just a rough sketch, but it'll give you some idea of where we're going :-)

I've asked the artist to make a couple of changes to make the characters look a bit more ruthless among other things, but I'd appreciate your feedback too. What do you think? These two are the Admiral and the Trader, as discussed in the last two character previews.

As usual, you can click on the image to see a larger version.

The other two character previews with feature the artwork for those characters, the High Priest sketch in particular is awesome!

Tuesday, May 6

Carpe Astra - Character Preview 2/4

I've had the weekend mostly off (I went to Beyond Monopoly! on Saturday for a bit) and I've been at my old job for the day today - paying the bills :-)

Until I have something to report on the work front, here's another character preview from Carpe Astra:

Second up, in the yellow corner (the colour I normally play) is Trader Tyn-dar, representing the traders. He's a fairly young, successful businessman who ruthlessly exploits any avenue to increase his fortune (sounds like me!). As with the Admiral, he's not a nice person :-) (maybe not!)

Flavour text: Despite his youth, Tyn-dar has risen to the top of the Iartron Corporation with amazing speed. His judgement regarding emerging markets borders on prescience, and he's willing to exploit any weakness to turn a quick profit.

Saturday, May 3

April Report

A very busy week to end a very busy month.

Looking back, April 2008 is the month it all really began. I worked my last official day in the office on the 4th, and stopped getting paid on the 15th. Scary! It's also been a very exciting month, I received a lot more submissions (which I'm still pouring through), sold lots of It's Alive! and announced Carpe Astra.

As usual, I'll start with Play first.


I didn't play a huge number of games, but I play several for the first time, and I got to count playing games as work - so it's not that bad :-) I played at Paul's, Hugo's and had Dave staying the night on a brief trip to York, so it was all nice, social gaming. Here's the multiples:

Race comes top again - still loving that. The shrapnel: Mississippi Queen, Hey! That's My Fish!, San Juan, Check, Pickomino, Revolution!, Zanzibar, Diamant and Through the Desert. Of those, five were new to me: Mississippi Queen, Check, Pickomino, Zanzibar and Through the Desert. I was underwhelmed by all but Check and Through the Desert, with TtD as my favourite new game of the month. That's three months on the trot that Race has been my most played game, in fact, ever since I bought it, The Wife and I have yet to try the 2-player variant, and there's an expansion coming out soon, so I think it's got plenty of life left in it too.


Game creation is where all the excitement was in April. Quitting my job was a big step, but I felt like Reiver Games had reached the pinnacle of what I could achieve making the games by hand in my spare time. Moving full-time means that I've far more time available for playtesting and graphic design work and it's much easier to get to the Post Office when I have games to send. I've started a playtesting afternoon with Paul on Wednesday afternoons, and I've had a couple of evening sessions for Carpe Astra during April too.

Carpe Astra

I announced this during April (previously known as 'Codename: Network'), and I've already taken a bunch of pre-orders, which considering the dearth of information available is pretty cool. I'm offering a discount to pre-orders, which has probably helped, but they are almost exclusively from people who have bought one (or both :-) ) of my previous games. Once the rules are finalised, posted online and there's some pictures of R H Aidley's artwork available, I'd hope for more pre-orders to come in. The game has changed a few times this month, first simplifying the scoring a bit by adding a scoreboard, and then stripping out the scoreboard as it was a bit too fiddly with four players. I still need to playtest the latest variant (with scoring tokens) more, but it seems to simplify scoring further still. Always a good thing. It also introduces a few more choices, and hence a little more though during the game. I've met with a manufacturer, and started approaching shops and distributors, more of that to follow next month when I get the rules and some artwork up...

It's Alive!

It's been a good month for It's Alive!, selling more copies than any other month so far this year. I reckon my remaining stock will run out before the UK Games Expo at the end of May, so not paying for a booth was a good idea - It's Alive! will probably have run out, and Carpe Astra won't be ready yet. I've not got that many left to make so it feels like it nearly done.


My first two submissions have arrived, although so far I've only had a chance to play one of them. I've still got a load to go through and work out whether I want prototypes - Carpe Astra has taken up all my time recently. The one I have played I enjoyed, so I'll need to get it out a few more times and think about it more.