Tuesday, March 31

G20 Leaders Suggest IRGAW Ahead of Summit

In a move that has surprised many in the mainstream media, the G20 group of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors from the world's leading economies have proposed "International Reiver Games Awareness Week (IRGAW)" as an ideal way to kick-start the world's economies and avoid a depression greater than that of the 1920s and 30s.

Said Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the UK: "By playing Reiver Games' games with your friends, families, co-workers and random strangers from the street you will be helping to cancel the UK trade deficit, boosting tax revenue and bringing much needed income to the impoverished Bedford area."

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke echoed: "Raising local interest in games such as the games that Reiver Games produce will help stimulate local economies, from the Friendly Local Games Stores (FLGS) and Online games stores (OLGS) through to the liquor stores where their employees spend their well-earned wages."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added: "Through their purchasing of games made by games manufacturers in Germany, Reiver Games and their games will help to lift the whole of Europe out of recession."

Reiver Games President, CEO and Grand High Uber Vizier Games, Jackson Pope had this to say: "Huh?" On being pressed he added: "And the irony is I've quit the company due to lack of awareness and low sales."

To participate in IRGAW you can:

  • Play Reiver's games with your friends, family, co-workers and random strangers from the street this week
  • Ask your favourite games store to stock Reiver Games products
  • Demo Reiver games at your games club or a convention
  • Take out a full-page add in the New York Times espousing Reiver games as an ideal way to spend time
  • Buy 1,000 - 2,000 copies of Reiver games to give out as early Christmas presents
  • Take over the world in a Bond villain-esque coup and then force everyone to play Reiver games daily

Time Rich, Cash Poor

Now that the layout for Sumeria is almost done, I've got some time on my hands. What to do with it?

What I need to do most of all is bring my games to the attention of more people. I've got the BoardGameGeek competition coming up, and I'm going to advertise on Spielbox, but advertising costs money and I can't afford to do a lot of that. I need to save up some money so that I've got enough cash to pay for Sumeria when it arrives. So what can I do that's free to raise awareness?

Seth Godin does a blog on marketing which I highly recommend. He covered this topic a few weeks ago. His first point was to improve yourself. I've got some reading about marketing to do, and the German course I bought last year in preparation for Essen, both will hopefully help me in the long run, and are free (since I've already paid for the German course). His second point was to build a following or a reputation. I like to think this blog is a step in the right direction (this will be my most read month ever), but how can I improve on that? I guess I can try to be more vocal on BGG, but vocal answering questions and providing advice, not spamming the forums with continual mentions of my games - that's the sort of thing that will just piss people off.

I'm also going to visit a few local games shops to introduce my wares and explain how to play them. Maybe even get some demo games in with the staff or some customers. There's a couple of games shops within sensible driving distance, with several more a short (but expensive) train ride away in London. I'm also hoping to get to more games clubs and small conventions to demo my games - helping to raise awareness. Of course this only helps in the South-East of England, it does nothing for my international sales.

Any other ideas?

Monday, March 30

Advertising In German

Now that all my distributors have got stock, my sales have slowed down. I need to make sure that people are buying my games from shops/online stores, so that they re-stock from their distributors, who in turn re-stock from me.

The long-delayed BoardGameGeek competition will hopefully help, bring the games to more people's attention, and hopefully leading to some sales. Speaking to distributors in Europe, BGG is fairly popular there so hopefully that will help boost sales in Europe - not just North America and the UK.

One of the biggest markets for board games is in Germany though. Lots of modern eurogames are designed and made in Germany, where board games seem to be a very popular pastime. The Spiel games fair is held in Germany and I get my games made in Germany too.

I've a couple of German distributors, who both report that sales of my games have been fairly slow. How can I make better use of the opportunities available in the German market? Advertising on BGG is probably not the best way of going about it. Speaking to one of my German distributors, he recommended advertising on Spielbox one of the big German games websites. I've contacted Spielbox, and it looks like putting a banner on their forums for a month might be both affordable and worthwhile. So I've got to make some banners for my games in German. I've got the tag lines for It's Alive! and Carpe Astra in German already (Michael translated them for the Essen posters), but I'm not sure I'll have room for them on such a small banner (234 x 60) I might just have to go with the title and a background.

The next problem is what to target the ads at? Usually a website banner ad can be clicked, which takes you to a relevant site. I've always pointed the ads I've done on BGG and Boardgame News at the relevant page of my website. But that's in English. Do I do the same, and risk putting off German-speaking visitors? Do I make a German version of that page on my website? Do I point them at a page of Spielbox? That would work for It's Alive! (Michael did a review of it there) but not for Carpe Astra, for which there is no information on Spielbox.

Decisions, decisions. Anyone familiar with Spielbox care to weigh in?

Thursday, March 26

BoardGameGeek Introduction

In the end I decided to do the 'review' as a Press Release - you can read it here. Dirk - its got the photos I promised you ages ago - excuse the poor quality of the board print - my printer decided to go a bit mental!

Wednesday, March 25

Playtesting Again

Things have been going pretty well from a forward planning point of view the last couple of weeks. Sales are very slow at the moment though, as all my distributors have decent stock levels so I've just got to sit back until they sell through and re-order.

Last week I played It's Alive! and Sumeria at my Tuesday games night (and took two pre-orders for Sumeria from three players) and then at my Thursday games club I played Sumeria and Carpe Astra (and took two Sumeria pre-orders from three players). All the games were well received and the interest in Sumeria was very encouraging. On top of that I'm starting to get a few more Sumeria pre-orders. I'm thinking of doing an 'Introduction to Sumeria' review on BoardGameGeek. It would include photos of the prototype, and an explanation of the rules and how the game plays. Usually BGG reviews also include a critique by the reviewer, but my obviously-biased position would preclude that. I would hope that the review would boost awareness of the game and build some hype, but the risk is it's seen as blatant shilling and leads to a backlash against me, my company and the game. I'm not sure if it's a good idea or not - what do you all think?

I've now sent all the prototypes of Wreck! (working title!) to the competition winners, and started to get some pretty positive feedback on that too. Of course the copies heading to North America won't arrive for several days - the early feedback is from the UK.

In addition, today I had my first playtesting session with some of my Tuesday night boys. A couple of them get a day or two off during the week, and they are very keen to help me playtest on those days. Since I'm keen to do playtesting during the day this works out really well for me. We played three games, a couple of games of Wreck!, one of a new card game that I hadn't yet played and a couple of another game which I'm seriously considering. All three games were well-received, but there are some theme issues around the new-to-me card game. We're going to meet up again during the day one day next week, hopefuly this will become a fairly regular thing.

Tuesday, March 24


I'm continually trying to improve my process for releasing a new game.

It's Alive! was a special case, as I'd already released a limited edition, so I had a lot of feedback already on the game. Still, I mentally fixed a price in my head (£15, the same as the limited edition) and then struggled to get the manufacturing price low enough to make it affordable. As a result, I need to sell a lot of copies to break even. Still, it seems to be doing pretty well at the moment and the upcoming BoardGameGeek competition will hopefully boost awareness and lead to a few more sales.

With Carpe Astra things improved a little further. I sent some blind playtesting copies to friends in Europe and America, and although the price ended up being more expensive than I expected due to the collapse of the pound, my margins are still better than I managed for It's Alive! I know that sounds money-grabbing, but if my margins aren't good enough to sustain me then I'm going to have to quit the company - I need money to eat!

Sumeria saw a further improvement in playtesting best practice, I sent more blind playtesting copies out, and to proper blind playtesters (people I'd had no contact with previously). The price is more expensive, but my margins will hopefully be better again - still not where it should be, but in the right direction. Of course, since I'm paying for this in Euros again, there's a few months worth of exchange rate shenanigans between now and when I pay for it which could go either way (though forecasts say it'll head in the right direction). I got everything in place a little earlier too, and so I've been able to send out solicitation information on the game, with some artwork 2.5 months before the game will be released. Hopefully this will help boost early sales from distributors to shops and hence from me to distributors. I've also started pimping it with local game groups, I took it to my game night last Tuesday, my games club last Thursday and I'll be taking it to a few conventions in the next few months, trying to build pre-orders and some buzz.

I also need a game or two for Essen release. I've been looking for games for a while now and have a few prototypes that I'm considering. One of these I'm quite excited about, so I'm trying to improve my process yet again. I've recruited more playtesters (I had two extra groups for Carpe Astra, six for Sumeria and now I've got twelve for this one), and I'm getting the game playtested before I sign it up. That way if the feedback is disappointing, I'm not tied into releasing the game. Feedback has been pretty positive so far though.

There are several processes I have to manage: game selection, testing/development, manufacturing and sales. I'm an expert at none of these, which is why I need to keep pushing myself to improve things, instituting what I think is best practice, what I've heard is best practice or what my customers request from me. I can't afford to sit still, making the same mistakes or missing the same opportunities time and time again. The company requires me to improve things continually, so that I can make the best of every situation and make the company successful.

Saturday, March 21

BoardGameGeek Metrics

One of the things I learnt as a computer programmer in my past life was that if you want to track progress keeping good metrics are the way to go.

At the moment I'm trying to improve awareness of my games, as the more people who know they exist, the more people might buy them. Most of my distributors are now pretty well stocked, so if I want to make any money I need to get people to buy my games, so that the shops re-order from the distributors and eventually the distributors re-order from me. I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of the game buying public (even among those people who regularly use BoardGameGeek and hence are much more in the know than the average Joe who just wanders into a games shops every now and again) have never heard of my games.

So, as you'll know if you're a regular follower of this blog, I'm intending to run a competition on BGG in a week or so's time. The competition is more expensive than advertising on BGG, but it has a couple of advantages over advertising: it's not hidden by AdBlock (which allows you to turn off adverts if you support BGG financially) and it occupies pride of place on the BGG front page for two weeks. I'm hoping that running this competition will boost people's awareness of my company and my games - but how can I tell?

Firstly, I ran a market research questionnaire competition on BGG a couple of weeks ago. I'll run the same competition a few weeks after the main competition and compare the two results - hopefully that will show a big boost in awareness. But as someone spotted in the competition comments, the respondents are skewed towards people who already know me, so the results aren't very accurate (but seeing as the two competitions have the same bias I should be able to compare the results). What I really need is a way of tracking people's interest in my games without relying on them to put any effort in.

That's where BGG statistics come in. BGG tracks and publishes a whole bunch of statistics on each game in it's database:

BGG Statistics

Most (if not all?) of these statistics are updated each day. The only one I'm not sure about is Views, which I think might be the total number of BGG users who have visited the page at least once. This doesn't seem to change very often, and I'm not entirely sure what it does.

For the last few days I've been recording the rank, average rating, number of ratings, views, people owning, people wanting and people trading for each of my games to build up a baseline of how things change normally. I'll continue doing so while the competition is running to see how these statistics change from the baseline when a competition is in progress. Should be quite interesting...

Wednesday, March 18

Need More Playtesters

I'm looking for blind playtesters again, this time for a quick filler card game I'm considering publishing. It's a very short game with some similarities to 6 Nimmt!/Category 5, it will accommodate 3-6 players, probably 10+ and takes about ten minutes to play. I'm looking for six more playtesters, four in the US/Canada and two in Europe (the UK is already covered I'm afraid).

What's in it for you?

  • You get a prototype copy of the game
  • You get your name in the rules as a playtester
  • You're entitled to a 50% discount on the finished product, if I publish it

What do you have to do?

  • Play the game a lot with your game groups
  • Make a note of: who played, whether they've played before, who won, play time
  • Provide feedback on the game (including suggested rule changes)
  • Provide feedback on the rules - how can I improve the clarity and completeness
  • Suggest a name for the game and provide feedback on the theme

How do you sign up? Leave a note in the comments to this post stating which country you live in and why you'd make an excellent playtester. I'll pick the lucky recipients at the end of this week.

Tuesday, March 17

Another Curtailed Day

I spent most of the afternoon on the way to a from hospital and in a big-ass magnetic tube. But the day wasn't a total write-off.

I've spent the last couple of days making a prototype of Sumeria with the finished artwork. First I had to do all the layout of the punchboards and gameboard (I've not got around to doing the box yet) done, then I had to get it printed. That's never a simple job with my printer (an HP Deskjet 9800 which is nothing but trouble). When that was finally finished the next stage was to glue the art onto greyboard and cut it out.

Because all the punchboards are double-sided, I had to make sure the artwork lined up front-to-back. When doing Border Reivers back in the day, I came up with a method for doing this. In the artwork, I printed a couple of lines at right-angles that were a specified distance from the art. On the front I put them in the top left corner, and on the back I put them in the top right corner. Then when I glue the art, I cut the art to those lines and glue it to the same corner of the board - front and back. It works really well - the line-up rarely leads to a noticeable error.

The manufacturer wanted me to provide the art on one layer, and the die-line on another. In addition to this, I've added a third layer with crop marks showing me where to cut the prototype without being visible in my finished article, which the die-line would be. So once I've printed and glued the art, I then cut it out using the crop marks to show me where to cut. The finished article looks really good - Harald did a fantastic job on the art. The only thing I've tweaked is that I've 'filled in' the outline font he used on the tiles and board, I thought the original font looked pretty cool, but I thought it was a little hard to read.

Making my own prototype with the finished art and layout is important - it lets me test things out before I send the art to the manufacturers for printing. I've already found one problem - I'd done some of the counters the wrong way round on the punchboard - so instead of all the counters having the same image front and back, four of them had one image on the front and another on the back breaking the whole game! I had to fix it, print out again, re-glue it and then cut them out again. Having said that, the printers would probably have caught it (their data quality department was awesome for Carpe Astra), but it's better to be safe than sorry!

Tonight I'm taking it round to my games night - I feel a powerful need to show it off!

Monday, March 16

Action Stations! Action Stations!

Set condition one throughout the fleet!

Sorry for the lack of blogging in the last couple of weeks, I've been exceptionally busy. On the home front, we're buying a new house down South and I've been in discussions with my doctors about changing my MS treatment.

On the work front, I've been very busy with Sumeria and some playtesting. After complaining last week that I was suffering from a lack of playtesters down South I finally got around to asking some of my new gaming buddies if they'd be interested in doing some playtesting for me, and they are :-) Even better news is that a couple of them a free during the day on a Tuesday so I can get some playtesting done in 'work time' rather than giving up another evening during the week - time when I can hang out with The Wife. Unfortunately, this Tuesday is a no-go since I have to go into hospital for the MRI test I was promised a couple of weeks ago, along with some blood tests. But soon!

I've decided to step up my blind playtesting. Sumeria was the first time I did 'proper' blind playtesting where I got some random people who I had no previous contact with to play a game completely from the rules. I got five people (and their respective gaming buddies) involved, two in the US, two in the UK and one in Europe. All good so far. What I probably did wrong was leaving it so late. By the time the blind playtesting started, I was already signed up to publish the game and had only a couple of months to deal with any feedback. The feedback has been really good and very useful and I think the game has improved as a result of it.

I'm now looking for blind playtesters for another game. This is one I've not yet signed, so I'm using the blind playtesting to inform my signing decision, not just to improve the rulebook and tweak the rules. I'll post another thread asking for volunteers shortly. In the meantime, I've got the prototype copies printed, I just need to cut out the cards and round the corners, ready for sending off to the playtesters.

I've also started the Sumeria layout - constructing the art from the designer into a finished product. I really enjoy this work, but it's pretty time-consuming. The first thing I did was the rules. I had some rules that were written and had some rough diagrams in, the next step was to add the background image and get images of the components into the diagrams. The images needed to be cropped to remove the bleed around the components and then downsampled to an appropriate size. I added some simple effects (a dark outer glow) to the components so they stood out from the background of the rulebook. The 'finished' rulebook has been out to my playtesters for comments and I've made a few minor tweaks based upon their feedback. I hope to post the rules to my website and BoardGameGeek fairly shortly. Then I need to create a translation grid and send that off to Michael so he can start translating the rules into German (Sumeria, like It's Alive! will have English and German rules in the box).

After the rules, I laid out the art for the tiles and counters onto the punchboards. For this I need to combine the tile and counter art into three sheets (with a front and back for each). I need to ensure the front art and back art match and line up and that the distance between each component is sufficient for the cutting process. I've printed out my own copy too, which I'll glue onto board and cut out for my prototype copy. I want a prototype with finished art ready to take to games clubs and conventions so I can start building some buzz. I'll need this copy for sending to the 'UK Game of the Year' judges in May too.

All I've got left to do now is the game board and the box, despite having to place my order this week, the manufacturers don't need this artwork for six weeks or so, which makes it slightly less urgent!

It feels good to be really busy again :-).

Tuesday, March 10

Bad Jackson!

Tomorrow, I'm off to York to see my friend Paul for some playtesting. I've yet to set up a playtest group down here in the South, and it's being made slightly more difficult by the distances. In York I was spoilt. I had a decent-sized games club and several gamer chums all within a mile or two from my house. I could easily arrange a weekly playtesting night, and get people to travel the short distances to my house. In addition, Paul is around during the day, so Paul and I could do some playtesting during the middle of the day, when I'm working (playtesting counts as work!).

Now we've moved to a small village of maybe 2,000 people. It's in a rural area, the nearest large town (80,000 people) is about nine miles away. I've joined a couple of game groups, one 15 miles away, the other 25 miles away, with whom I get some regular gaming in on weekday evenings. These club members are probably the most likely candidates for a playtesting group, but the distances mean that people may well not be interested in trekking to mine (or a local pub function room) to play games that might be rubbish (submission quality is a mixed bag, some good, some not so good - it's hard to tell beforehand which category it falls in!).

In the meantime, I'm pissing my environmental credentials up the wall and driving 160 miles to hang out with Paul tomorrow. It'll be good to see him, and it will mean a good few hours of playtesting with someone who's opinion I trust, but it's a long way and a lot of fuel...

Monday, March 9

Pound Woes

The British pound has slid again against the dollar and the euro. It's a mixed bag for me, but it's not good for Sumeria.

When the pound is weak it's cheaper for US and European customers to buy from me in GBP. Since most of my customers buy in GBP, this makes it a more attractive prospect for them, since they get it cheap (while I still get the full amount). Unfortunately, at the moment most of my customers have decent stock levels, so I can't use that as a lever to get further sales.

A few of my US customers buy in USD. They prefer the stability of knowing how much they are going to pay for the games, month in, month out. A weak pound doesn't affect these customers, but it means I get more GBP for an order than I would, had they bought when the pound was strong. All good so far.

The problem with a weak pound is when you want to buy something overseas. I got Carpe Astra manufactured in Germany by Ludo Fact. The production quality was excellent, and I was reach impressed by the customer service too. At the time when I was pricing up the print run, they were noticeably cheaper than getting the game manufactured in the UK. I had to pay half up front (I was a new customer) and half on delivery. The half up front was fine, but by the time it came to pay for the second half, the pound had started its slide. The game ended up costs me more than I had bargained for, which ate into my margins.

I'm going to use the same company for manufacturing Sumeria. However, the pound has slid much further since November, though it has at least climbed a bit since its woeful near-parity showing between Christmas and New Year. This time, I don't need to pay anything to the manufacturer until after the games arrive. I'm hoping that by mid-June the pound will have sorted itself out a bit. If so, the game will become cheaper to manufacturer and I might even be able to reduce the RRP on the game accordingly. I have to pay the (German) artist shortly in Euros however, so I'm going to take a hit on the exchange rates on that transaction.

For the moment, it's all up in the air - which is a little worrying! Needless to say, I'm watching the exchange rates like a hawk, and looking at forecasts too.

Friday, March 6

Feeling Chipper!

It feels like Spring today. The sun is shining, it's fairly warm and most importantly I can get out in it! My course of steroids at the hospital finished today and already I'm walking better, which is great, I was beginning to feel a bit confined to the house.

On the work front there's not been a whole heap of progress, what with all the trips to hospital, though I have managed to read several books. The good news on the payment front is that most of the late payments have now arrived, and those that haven't, I've spoken to and so I'm less worried about the money not turning up.

I've also received the finished artwork for Sumeria from Harald (the artist). It looks awesome - I'm really pleased with it. This means that next week I can do the graphic design, laying out the art ready to send to the printers.

I've also got to do a few chores next week (the books for February) and some more marketing (sending out the next quarterly newsletter).

It'll be nice to be able to get stuck in again properly.

Wednesday, March 4

Strange Week

It has been a very odd week for me so far. On Monday I decided to go to York for the day, I was running low on shipping boxes, and hoping for a restocking order from the US. It would also give me a chance to do some playtesting with my friend Paul while I was there.

Tuesday started sensibly enough, I had a doctor's appointment about another MS attack I've been experiencing since the beginning of last week. The doctor made a phone call and I had an appointment at the local hospital that morning! Great. I went home grabbed a book (it can take while) and set off to the hospital. I was hoping for a few tests, and then a meeting with a neurologist who would prescribe me steroids to bring the attack to a swift conclusion (I've had the steroids a couple of times before and they've worked wonders). The tests started with blood tests (normal enough) and proceeding through ECG (seemed a little excessive) and then a chest X-Ray! By early afternoon not much had happened so I made some enquiries. The neurologist wasn't in today - I would need to stay in until tomorrow! This seemed totally excessive (I was just lying there taking up a bed, reading my book) and I'd only paid for parking until early evening, so I tried to talk them into letting me home that evening. They let me, provided I returned by 8am today to see the neurologist.

Early start this morning, and I got to the hospital at 7:40am (the traffic was better than I was expecting), I saw the neurologist (who did some basic tests, booked me in for another MRI scan and prescribed the steroids - yeay!) and then had the infusion later this morning. I managed to get home around lunchtime today, which was much better. I've got to go in for a couple of hours tomorrow afternoon and Friday afternoon too. I've also got a canula in my left hand so I've got to try to avoid using that.

On the work front, I've received the first consignment purchase orders from Alliance (yeay!) and I've been struggling to get paid from some of my other distributors, for orders placed in January. It's really frustrating. We've got an agreement in place where they pay thirty days after invoicing (NET 30). Some of then are now nearly a month late. Much as I would like to cease dealing with the tardy companies, I need them, without them my games won't end up in shops and will sell far fewer copies. Still, I received two lots of payment today, and two more have told me the payment is en route. One has responded to my earlier chases, but still not paid and another hasn't responded at all.

I try to be a good customer, I try to make sure that the payment is received on or before the due date (paying early if by a bank transfer, to ensure it clears by the due date, or posting cheques to arrive by the due date), I just wish my customers were as scrupulous.

Hopefully, tomorrow will see an improvement in my symptoms and the arrival of some more money!