Saturday, November 29

Au Revoir Garforth

My friend Hugo has been running a weekly games club in Garforth, near Leeds for several months now. It started as having a few friends round, then migrated to a new venue and has been growing each month recently. It's a great venue, free (Hugo pays for everything but accepts donations towards the costs) and there's free tea, coffee, biscuits and wine gums. In other words everything you need from a games club. Today was the last meeting of this year, and hence probably my last attendance ever as we move at the beginning of next year. I usually get the train (cost £10) but Mike offered me a lift today, as seeing as The Wife was at work this afternoon and out for dinner with friends this evening I stayed later than I usually do - to the bitter end.

First up, Mike, Jon, Alan and I christened Mike's copy of Battlestar Galactica, I brought mine along too, but after Mike had played mine at Beyond Monopoly! a couple of weeks ago, he'd bought one :-) This game was a wash-out, we had a terrible draw, with lots of cylon attacks and very little progress on the jump track. There were several cylon attacks when we couldn't add any basestars, raiders and even heavy raiders to the board as they were all already on it. We were boarded four times. When the game ended after about two hours we'd travelled a grand total of one! Next up Alan suggested playing one of my games, so we cracked open Carpe Astra. It was a tight game, with lots of storytelling (and disbelief at the stories told on the slander cards), which Mike eventually won. He liked the game enough to buy a copy too - thanks Mike! Next up was a quick game of Dominion, I came third, but I had a much better game of it this time. I think I'm starting to get a grip on it. When the others suggested a big game of Who's the Ass?, which I loathe, Hugo stepped in and offered me a game of Border Reivers. I'd not played in a while (I had to look up a couple of rules!). All in all a great afternoon, I'll miss the club and the friends I've made there.

When I got home (fairly late) and checked my email I had another stocking order from a Spanish distributor which I wasn't expecting. Woot! Great Day.

Friday, November 28

Awesome Day

Yesterday was a great day. Not only did I get serious interest from four new distributors (covering the US, Asia and Scandinavia) I had a couple of interesting sales (more on that later).

The distributors are all companies I've previously contacted before, but for some reason they all seem to finally be interested. Hopefully this interest will translate into actual orders, we shall see. I'm still waiting on payment from four distributors, with another due over the weekend. It's really annoying to have to chase them up, I've given them thirty days to pay, going over that is taking the piss a bit - certainly frustrating. Still, four more distributors. Warm glow. And relax.

In other news, Bruno Faidutti (designer of among others: Citadels, Diamant and Mission: Red Planet) wanted a copy of his friend Ted Cheatham's Carpe Astra. So he bought one from me. And an It's Alive! Spotting an opportunity (I'm nothing if not opportunitistic ;-) ) I told him I was always on the lookout for new games. Cue some submissions. First Reiner Knizia, now Bruno Faidutti. I've arrived!

Wednesday, November 26

I Can Move...

... around my flat again. The majority of the Carpe Astra stock I brought home has now gone out. There's another delivery going out to my Dutch distributor this afternoon, and another UK distributor are getting stock tomorrow.

Now things are starting to settle down I'm sending out the review copies and the other (slightly more complicated orders) that I haven't got round to yet. I'm also trying to chase the distributors who either haven't paid for It's Alive! yet or haven't yet placed an order for Carpe Astra. This is being made more difficult by a lack of email access at the moment - my service provider have a server down again.

I've also got prepare for a playtesting night tonight. I meant to get Codename: Plague to the table last week, but I'd forgotten that we were away so tonight it is instead. In preparation for the playtesting night I need to re-read the Plague rules, check I've got enough bits (I got half a copy from a friend) as well as bake some cookies and clean up the flat so it's presentable enough for visitors. I think I need to get to the shops in order to bake too. Oh, and I've got to collect a prototype from a friend, then post it back to its designer as well.

I'm looking forward to things slowing down a bit, but in fairness, I got an email from a distributor who was still at work at 3:30am, and had to be back in the warehouse by 8am for a 12-hour shift! I've not got it that bad!

Tuesday, November 25

Stocking Orders

Today is all about the stocking orders. I've got a stocking order for It's Alive! and Carpe Astra from a new UK distributor, a case going to a shop in Australia, and the Texan distribution I've been dealing with are also taking some Carpe Astra. I had to wait in for a drug delivery anyway today, so being in for the couriers is no big deal.

My trip to the box-makers yesterday went fine (they made some up for me while I was there), and it wasn't until I got home that I realised a problem. The bigger cases for Carpe Astra mean I need a bigger box. I got some bigger boxes, but when I got home and started checking the shipping prices (which require the size and weight of the parcel you're sending) I noticed that the larger box I'd bought to fit six cases of Carpe Astra was so large that its volumetric weight (cubic volume in cm^3 / 5000) was over 31.5Kg, which made it too heavy for many of the cheaper services I'd been using. Since I've already quoted several people shipping prices I'm just going to have to swallow this :-(

I'm going to go back to the box-maker today (the drug delivery has just arrived and the stocking order collections are all this afternoon) to swap some of the new boxes for the ones I used for It's Alive! which fit 4 cases of Carpe Astra quite snugly.

Talking of stocking orders, I've a few overdue accounts now from distributors. A few became due yesterday (the ones who collected at Essen among others) and I'm still waiting for the cash. Hopefully, it'll turn up in a day or two.

The individual pre-orders have slowed down now, I'm still waiting on 40-odd, I don't know whether they've even received the email, changed their minds or are just waiting for funds to become available. A couple of customers have had to cancel their orders as the credit crunch bites. What will become of the other forty? I've no idea...

Monday, November 24

Another Busy Day

Today I've got to press on with the Carpe Astra shipments. I've another six individual copies to post already today, plus I've got to prepare for the first of the stocking orders going out tomorrow. The couriers who will be collecting the stocking orders could turn up at any time, so I need to stay in all day, so all of my going out trips need to be done today.

First up, I need to pop over to the box-makers to get some more shipping boxes. I need something that will fit six of the Carpe Astra cartons (more than that and the shipping carton will be too heavy to lift - certainly too heavy to carry down two flights of stairs!). The Carpe Astra cartons are bigger than It's Alive! ones (the game is a little bigger) so I need to take some empty cartons with me for measuring purposes. Next up is another trip to the warehouse. I've got to collect some more Carpe Astra and a few It's Alive! too.

I'll have to do at least one trip to the Post Office with individual copies, and I've got to run a carton of Carpe Astra over to Jorvik Games a local online games store that are going to stock it. I've also got to go to the recycling centre with all the cartons I've emptied so far - we're supposed to be keeping the flat tidy for viewings. I'm not doing so well with that at the moment, the living room is full of games cartons!

Saturday, November 22

Carpe Astra Thoughts

I sent the first twenty orders off yesterday, then I ran out of envelopes. I went and bought some more, but by that point the Post Office was closed. Today I've sent the next eighteen orders, and now the Post Office is closed. If I get any more pre-orders paying today or tomorrow I can at least parcel them up ready for trips to the Post Office on Monday. I'm going to need to go back to the warehouse on Monday too, I've got to collect some more stock, including some It's Alive! ready to send out the first of the stocking orders on Tuesday. I'll also have to get over to the boxmaker for some more big boxes to send the stocking orders out in.

I know this is a fairly biased viewpoint but I thought I'd give some impressions about my first view of Carpe Astra. This is the first time my name has appeared on a professionally made game, and also the first time I've used this manufacturer in Germany too.

The linen-finish on the box, coins, score markers and tiles is great, somehow it makes the game feel more professional. The box quality and the tiles, etc. feel really nice, and the board pieces are well cut and a decent thickness. The cards are nicely done too. All-in-all I'm very happy with the job the Germans have done. When coupled with the great customer service and good price I'll almost certainly use them again.

I've got to try and get on top of my inbox during this lull in shipping. I received a bunch of emails while I was away that I've not had a chance to reply to yet. Must catch up...

Friday, November 21

It's Here!

After making some changes to my wesbite, I popped over to the warehouse to collect some of the Carpe Astra boxes that had arrived this morning. Apparently, the driver had tried to deliver them at 8:15pm, and when turned away was very rude to the security staff. He then re-appeared at 6:45am this morning. Nice.

But they've arrive and in pretty good nick. I brought 28 boxes (168 games) home to start fulfilling my pre-orders, and then sent out the 'they're here, pay me and I'll send yours out' email. It's going to be a busy few days of back and forth to the Post Office...

Monday, November 17

Carpe Astra On Its Way

Carpe Astra was assembled in Germany on Saturday, and will be shipping from the manufacturer's warehouse today. I hope to receive it on Friday, when I can, all being well, start sending out the pre-orders.

I'm off for a couple of days tomorrow, which looks very well timed now, as I'll be back just in time to receive the games. Of course it's been ages since I had some time completely off, and surprise, surprise, this time will be no different (don't tell The Wife!) - I'll take Codename: Jorvik with me and might do some playtesting if the opportunity arises. Talking of Jorvik, I tried the new version out on one of my playtesters at Beyond Monopoly! on Saturday. Feedback was generally good, though I've only played this version a few times, so it'll need a lot more testing and tweaking before I'm happy with it.

I've had a quiet couple of weeks post Essen, with most of my suppliers having plenty of stock at the moment, but Carpe Astra will make next week very busy again. Several suppliers are ordering It's Alive! (or re-ordering it) at the same time as Carpe Astra, so that will make it even busier. I foresee a few trips to the warehouse on the horizon...

Saturday, November 15

Playtesting One: Going Solo

I'm going to do a three part discussion of playtesting. This is part one, about playtesting solo: i.e. playing all the players in a multi-player game. I'll do the next two parts over the next couple of weeks. I spent most of Friday solo-ing Jorvik, and with our impending move down South it's going to take me a while to set up a new playtest group, so I'll need to do a fair amount of solo playtesting over the next few months.

Solo playtesting is the first stage but also comes in later on too. At the beginning it allows you try out those ideas in your head that sound awesome, but when you try them just don't work. At all. Rather than testing it on real people, trying your friends' patience or getting the game a bad reputation with the public before it's off the board, you can use solo-testing to iron out the worst of the wrinkles before you get the game out in front of real people.

Solo-testing has its pros and cons like anything else. If you know what they are, you can use it more effectively. Solo-testing allows you to try out the game between opponents of the same calibre (they're all you after all!), to find any bias for going first or last. It allows you to try out different strategies to determine if a player using one strategy has an advantage. It allows you to quickly iterate through various ideas. Game not working? Stop it halfway through, change a few things a try again. Real people don't like that :-)

Similarly it has it's weaknesses too. Games with any hidden information (i.e. cards in a player's hands that only they can see) will be spoilt. You'll know what's in everyone's hands. You'll have to try and ignore that, pretending you don't know and instead play the odds: 'There's two floods in the thirty card deck. I've got four cards and no floods, so the odds that my opponent has at least one are (24C3 + 24C2)/26C4 = 15.4%. That's a risk I can live with, I'll do X.' It's hard to be objective about a game you're heavily invested in. You can't make a go/no go decision based purely on solo-playtesting - you need to see what others make of the game, and what flaws they find that you've missed. The more people you put the game in front of, the more likely you are to get a realistic impression of the game, and the more likely you are to find any flaws.

Discuss!

Friday, November 14

Toaster!

At Paul's games night last night we played Battlestar Galactica for the third games night in a row. It's unusual for us to play the same game repeatedly, but I must admit I'm loving it. It evokes the fear, paranoia and distrust of the TV show perfectly. Last night, I got to check the President's (Lisa's) loyalty card right at the beginning of the game. I take a look. Dammit, she's a Cylon. I promptly tell everyone: 'She's a frakking toaster!', Lisa responds: 'No I'm not, he is!' Of course, no one knows who to trust, so we're both considered at risk for most of the game. Lisa is often helpful to the humans, to appear loyal. Then she throws me in the brig :-( At half-time, I get the sympathiser card, so I'm back in the brig. The game went right to the wire, with the Cylons (Greg & Lisa) winning again. We've yet to see a human victory.

Yesterday, I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped. I was busy in the morning, and then finishing off the prototype took all afternoon. Still, seeing as it doesn't require much thought, I had Battlestar season three on in the background, in preparation for season four which was delivered yesterday.

Today I'll be soloing Jorvik a few times, to see what I make of the new rules and chasing up a few distributors about Carpe Astra. I've heard from my big US distributor that sales of It's Alive! are going pretty well, and they're interested in Carpe Astra too.

All being well, Carpe Astra is being manufactured today. Hopefully it'll turn up around the middle of next week. I'm still waiting for a firm delivery date from the German freight company, I need to know so that I can warn the warehouse staff of the impending arrival.

Thursday, November 13

Back To My Roots

Yesterday afternoon I popped over to Staples, bought some card then came home and started making a new prototype for Jorvik. Using a pencil, steel ruler and craft knife to make a basic prototype felt like the old days when I was spending my spare time (or holiday from work) making prototypes and hand-made games. I was sat there listening to Rammstein and Killswitch Engage, making short work of the marking up, cutting out and then drawing the cards. I've spent most of my time recently chasing manufacturers or distributors, or doing my books, or something business-related, this however was pure games design. It felt right :-)

Jorvik is going through a few changes. Initially each card represented a single square. Dave (are you still reading this down South?) had the idea of each card representing four squares, and allowing (partial) overlapping of cards. I tried each card representing nine squares, but several playtesters found this a bit too bewildering, so I've gone back to four. I've also got rid of the specific flood cards and gone back to the generic ones I had at the beginning. I'll finish making the prototype today and then solo it a few times to see if it works. I've also changed the rules for placing the priests to making it a bit more Carcassonne- and Go-like, not sure how this will pan out - only one way to find out.

I really need to get some more products out, I need to get the company off the ground to the point where it can provide me with a regular income, more products is the way to go I think. Alternatively, you could all convince everyone you've ever met to buy ten copies each of It's Alive! and Carpe Astra. On second thoughts, let's go back to the more products idea.

Yet more Internet problems. There's a problem at our local exchange apparently. The internet is running ludicrously slowly. Like 90's dial-up. Back to my roots again!

Wednesday, November 12

Back to Playtesting

Before Essen I was running a weekly playtest night. A few friends from the local games club would come round and we'd work our way through my list of submissions. I'd bake cakes too :-) Just before Essen I was way too busy, then I was away at Essen and then I was knackered after Essen. I meant to resume them last week, but I left it a bit late notifying people, then our router went for a burton and we lost Internet connectivity, so I couldn't email people to tell them it was on.

Tonight I'm resuming them. We're going to play Codename: Pilgrim tonight, one of my submissions from the UK. Paul is a big fan, I need to play it a few times to make a decision.

I'm also trying to get some thoughts down on paper about my sci-fi idea, make a new Jorvik prototype and get confirmed orders for Carpe Astra. Busy, busy!

Monday, November 10

En Fran├žais!

I'll be spending this morning laying out a French translation for It's Alive! that I've received from a French customer. He's sent me the translation as a word document, so I'll get it into PDF form and put it on my website.

Carpe Astra is coming along nicely, I'm still taking a few pre-orders each day (now that the ad is up on Boardgame News along with a preview by Eric Martin. Interest seems fairly high, and the distributors are getting in line to stock it too, which is great. I need to contact a few shops in the UK, see if I can drum up some interest via that route.

Once those two tasks are out of the way my next order of business is to do some more work on Jorvik and possibly my sci-fi game, back to game design for the first time in ages :-)

Friday, November 7

Trapped!

My email was broken yesterday: I didn't receive any, not even spam. When you run a business from home, predominantly using email you feel strangely cut off, knowing that all the emails that you've been sent are sitting on a server somewhere, waiting to be delivered. It didn't help that I was sending out emails to distributors pimping Carpe Astra, and I was unable to respond to any replies they might have been sending. It seems to be working today though, I'm getting a steady trickle of emails that were sent yesterday.

I got my books finished yesterday as planned, that's two months in a row that I've finished them within a sensible length of time from the end of the month. I can only assume that I've been abducted by aliens and replaced by a robot double. It's not something I'd do, at one point I was probably eighteen months behind!

With Carpe Astra nearly here I need to seriously start thinking: 'What next?' I've lined up Sumeria/Codename: Ancient for next Essen, but in the meantime, I'd like to get one or two games out early next year. I've spent fairly heavily on It's Alive! and Carpe Astra though, so I'm not going to have much cash-on-hand until I've sold a decent proportion of both print runs. This necessitates cheaper games for early next year.

I want more games so that I can balance the risk better (I'm less dependent on all my games selling out quickly as I'll have multiple income channels), but I can't afford large games which require a large capital investment. I think card games are the way to go. As a result, I'm going to look closer at Codenames: Jorvik, Backyard and Native as well as a few submissions from Reiner Knizia! Yeah, his agent stopped by my booth at Essen and asked if I was interested in publishing other designer's games. 'Yes, if they're his!' was my answer!

I'm also going to revisit a sci-fi television show license I was working on two or three years ago. I've no idea whether there's any chance of getting the license, but I bought Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game at Essen, and now I've played it a couple of times it has inspired me :-)

Thursday, November 6

Pay Day!

The two overdue invoices I had outstanding were both paid today - yeay! One of them was only a couple of days late, but the other (a shop in the UK) was over a month late, so to finally get the money was a relief. I've not had any other late payments, and in the current economic climate I was worried whether this was the shape of things to come, but for the moment at least the worry has abated.

The news that Carpe Astra will be ready early has thrown me a bit. I was expecting a whole month to try to get distributors and shops on board, and the run adverts on BoardGameGeek and Boardgame News. With all the house stuff and the Essen fallout distracting me I find myself with only a week until the game might arrive! I've had to change my plans accordingly. BGG has a minimum of one month for running ads, so I'm just going with one on Boardgame News instead. I figure that once the games have achieved widespread distribution I'll run more ads, but the current one shows: 'Pre-order now' text, so that will only be appropriate for a week or so. I don't want to run the ad after that until I have widespread distribution in the US, as most readers of both sites are from there.

The other big thing I need to do today is my books for last month. In terms of turnover, last month was my most successful month ever, and it puts me well on the way towards my target for this financial year (April-April). The start of the year was a washout, as due to the printing delays on It's Alive! I had nothing to sell for May, June, July or August. It's nice to be back on track. November should be another good month, as I'll get a bump from Carpe Astra pre-orders and hopefully some stocking orders. Let's see if I can reach my target early :-) Either way I don't expect to make a profit this year, what with having to pay for all of the It's Alive! and Carpe Astra print-runs up front.

Tuesday, November 4

It's Alive! is Two!

... months old. In the two months since it was released I've offloaded 43% of the print-run. Some of those are on consignment, but the vast majority are honest sales, and most of those have paid me (I only have a couple of overdue invoices at the moment). It feels like I'm getting somewhere :-)

Of course, I've not got a whole heap of time at the moment to do company things (our flat went on the market today!), but it's coming together. Carpe Astra is nearly ready, orders are still coming in for that :-) I've got a bunch of distributors lined up for Carpe Astra, and a few new ones chasing me about stocking It's Alive!

What I really need to do when I've a bit more time is put a concerted effort in to reaching a few new markets for It's Alive! Once I've got the contacts in place then hopefully it'll be easier to maintain a relationship with the distributors and get Carpe Astra and my other games out there.

Anyway, that's all for now, I've got more house stuff to do.

Saturday, November 1

Catching Up

I'm slowly catching up with things post-Essen. The big thing I had to do was my VAT return, which I finished yesterday, great guys on the end of a phone, crappy on-line system :-(

Thursday I spent most of the day getting a lot of our rarely-used junk into storage, so that the flat looks tidier for the estate agent photos and potential buyers. Today I'll also be busy on that, doing a bunch of minor jobs around the flat that we've been putting off. Then the next two days we're away flat-hunting in the South.

The VAT return was good news in some senses, the government owe me lots of money :-) You work out the difference between the VAT you charged your customers and the VAT you paid your suppliers. If you charged more, you pay them the difference, but if you paid more, they refund you the difference. I had to pay for all 3,000 of It's Alive! in that quarter and I didn't sell all of them (and those I did were often zero-rated because they went outside the EU). I eagerly anticipate the resulting cheque!

I've also started contacting people I met (or was supposed to meet) at Essen, chasing up contacts I made. There's some interesting developments afoot...

The next thing to do is to line up distributors and shops for Carpe Astra. The Germans are now saying it might arrive in two weeks time (two weeks ahead of schedule), so I need to sort this out ASAP. Esdevium, JKLMnP, Heidelberger and FRED have all expressed an interest, now I just need to nail them down to a confirmed order. I need numbers! The German manufacturers of Carpe Astra are cheaper, so my margins are better. As a result, I can offer the game to distributors cheaper (proportionally) than I can It's Alive! This will hopefully make it more appealing to them than It's Alive! (since their margins will also be better) and hence easier to sell.

I have also found time to update my website with more information about where you can get It's Alive!, my stockists list is finally beginning to look respectable (i.e. not just UK shops!). I've also heard that the games I shipped to Boards and Bits (via Germany so they could be folded into a container shipment they were arranging) have finally arrived :-)