Monday, August 13

Kickstarter - The Rollercoaster

We’re hoping to bring FlickFleet to Kickstarter in September. The original plan was to launch on Tuesday 4th, but with out of sync family holidays and a lot going on in August, I think it’s going to have to slip back to later in the month. I’m still hopefully that we can launch in September though. The video is one of the main stumbling blocks - I’d like it to feature both of us, which means finding a day that we’re both available and so is my mate with all the kit.

The source of my current worries

So we’re still several weeks away from launch but the emotional rollercoaster has already started. Some of this is similar to the other games I’ve published as either Reiver Games or Eurydice Games: will people like my game? Can I find enough customers to make it, at least, break even?

But Kickstarter brings a couple of new dimensions to it - the month of unknowns and the debt.

Every previous game I’ve made I know exactly what I’m getting into at launch, either hand-crafting or ordering a fixed number of games at a fixed cost. I know how many hours of crafting are on the horizon and how many copies I need to sell at what margin. It could be terrifying, risky or fairly safe, but I know what it is. I know how much money is at risk and I know what my crafting future looks like. With Kickstarter however, until the campaign closes you’ve no idea what you’re on the hook for. How many backers will I get? How many copies will I have to make? What will my margins be? All of this is up in the air until the campaign closes. It’s even worse for us as we’ve set a two stage campaign - to keep the target low we’re planning a small hand-crafted run. But there’s a stretch goal to get the boxes, rules, dashboards and wooden pieces professionally manufactured and assembled. If we get close to that we’re still on the hook for hand-crafting everything. For a lot of copies. Even if we hit the stretch goal we may need to do the laser cutting ourselves (I’m still investigating options for a very large run of laser-cutting, but one of the reasons we're doing the laser-cutting ourselves is to keep costs down - there doesn't seem to be any economies of scale for laser-cutting). I’m not sure what my preferred outcome is - scrape over the funding target, just hit the professional stretch goal or something else.

In addition, there's the fact that you owe a lot of people a lot of stuff. I'm okay with the idea of crowdfunding - it makes FlickFleet a possibility, but as I've said before I'm uncomfortable about taking people's money up front. They're paying for a copy (or two!) of the game. They know it'll be a while. They must be comfortable with that or they wouldn't back it. But I've never taken money for something that's not ready yet. Even pre-orders for my previous games were just a request - I didn't take any money until I had a game ready to ship to them. I lost a few pre-orders that way, but I was more comfortable with that than owing someone for something that's an unspecified amount of time from completion. I'm hoping the discomfort around owing people games will encourage me to crank them out as quick as possible.

Exciting times. It’s not keeping me up at night yet, but it’s certainly occupying a lot of my thinking during my evenings and weekends.

Monday, August 6

Crunch Time

We're hoping to Kickstart FlickFleet in September. There's still loads to do though, so that timeline is getting tight and Paul's currently out of the country on holiday and I'll be heading off on holiday at the end of next week.

We've set up the limited company and are now getting the bank account and related guff together, while working on the Kickstarter page text and images, scripting the videos and the box art. It's all feeling pretty hectic now.

I've also been trying to build up some Zombology stock as there may well be another stocking order shortly from Travelling Man (York is getting very low on stock) and I'd like to have a decent pile ahead of the kickstarter so we can focus on FlickFleet afterwards (assuming it funds). We're offering Zombology as an add-on which allows you to get it with much cheaper shipping.

I thought my laptop power lead had died this week, which limited my options at home (lots of those tasks are hard/impossible to do on an iPad or phone), but it seems to be working fine here (I brought it to work this morning in order a replacement power lead for it). Maybe the power socket had broken - who knows.

Here's the next iteration of the box art, it's coming together slowly - what do you think?

Latest iteration

Previous iteration

First concept

Monday, July 30

Let’s Get Limited

My first games company, Reiver Games, was legally a Sole Trader - the company didn’t exist as a legal entity, it was just me, using a trading name. Had anyone sued me back in the day it would have been my personal assets (house, car, etc.) that would have been at risk.

Eurydice has been exactly the same until now - while selling a small number of hand-crafted games I thought the risk was quite low, but with Kickstarter coming up in just over a month I’ve decided to do things properly. I’m going to form a limited company (a separate legal entity) and incorporate Eurydice Games Ltd. Paul, my FlickFleet co-designer and long time Reiver Games play tester is coming on board too as another Director.

I need to get the company founded and a bank account set up as well as get the Kickstarter page together and finish getting quotes for manufacturing and shipping the various different manufacturing options. Paul has done a first draft of the Kickstarter page, so that’s coming together nicely.

Time is progressing apace, I’ve lots to do, and a holiday to take, plus I need to get Zombology back in stock too (I keep running out :-) ). Must crack on...

P.S. Don’t forget we’re running a scenarios

Monday, July 23

Win a Deluxe Copy of FlickFleet!

FlickFleet, our new 2-player space battle dexterity game, has two modes of play: pre-defined scenarios and free play where both players design a fleet that has a particular points value.

A draft of the FlickFleet box

I really prefer the scenario play and one of the things Paul (my co-designer) and I would really like to see is a large body of community designed scenarios available to play.

In an effort to kickstart (see what I did there?) that collection of scenarios ahead of the September Kickstarter for the game, we’re running a competition - with a first prize of a deluxe copy of the game.

Now very few of you have a copy of the game, so we’re not expecting expertly crafted, perfectly balanced scenarios, instead, we’re looking for ideas. The game is set in humanity’s far future when a totalitarian Imperium of Earth bestrides the galaxy. Sick of the endless oppression an Uprising has formed and they are starting to wage a civil war in an attempt to free the citizens from the yoke of tyranny.

To enter the competition, read the rules and see the examples on pages 11-15, read the capabilities of the different types of ships and then submit an entry by emailing with your scenario in that format. You can write your scenario from the perspective of the Imperium or the Uprising and include as many of the ships that come in the game as you want.

Entries will be judged on:
  • The scenario setting
  • Interesting asymmetry or special rules
  • With bonus points available for using common household items as scenery.

You will not be marked down for an unbalanced scenario, as we will playtest, balance and publish the best ones (with attribution!).

Entries must be received by midnight (UK time) on 31st August 2018. Winners will be chosen by me and Paul (the game designers) and will be announced by the end of September. If you choose to back FlickFleet and are declared a winner we will refund your pledge. The winner will win a deluxe copy of FlickFleet including free worldwide delivery. If we are successfully funded, second and third places will win a standard copy of FlickFleet with free delivery.

We reserve the right to publish any of the scenarios to our website (attributed to the submitter) after playtesting and tweaking for balance.

Good luck!

Monday, July 16

FlickFleet Status Report

Things have been pretty busy again this week, mostly FlickFleet focused, but also starting to build up some Zombology stock again (I ran out at the end of June).

Zombology and FlickFleet both taking shape

I’m hoping to get FlickFleet on Kickstarter in September, but to do that there’s a number things I need to get sorted first. Last week I finished off the FlickFleet preview copies and posted three of them to the US. I also made two upgrade kits that turn blind playtesting prototypes into preview copies. I’ll be getting an upgrade kit and the last two preview copies in the post on Tuesday. That’s the last FlickFleet crafting I have to do for a while.

The other things I need to do are to do the Kickstarter page and the video (which my mate Wilka is going to help with) and some company stuff.

Until now Eurydice Games has been a trading name for me. Legally the company is me as an individual. Paul, my FlickFleet co-designer and one of my main Reiver Games playtesters wants in, so he and I will be forming a limited company in the next few weeks.

From a marketing point of view I need to properly ‘launch’ FlickFleet on BGG, and in a few other places and then the last two things are to finish the box design and get some more info up on the website.

In other news, next week I'll be in Travelling Man in Manchester demoing (and selling!) Zombology. I'll be there from 6:30pm on Tuesday 24th July. If that's local to you come down meet me!

Seven weeks to go! I’d better crack on...

Monday, July 9

The Scale of Retail

In these days of wall-to-wall Kickstarters it’s easy to forget how critical retail (both online and through FLGSs) is to the success of a game.

Back when I ran Reiver Games I started off with small hand-crafted runs (like I’m doing once again with Eurydice Games). When my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis led to a life insurance payout I decided I wanted to be a ‘professional’ publisher selling through shops and distributors. I went from selling 100-300 copy print runs to 2,000-3,000 copy runs - which in fairness I didn’t sell out of and I ended up getting rid of a load to liquidators.

With large print runs comes economies of scale, which is just as well since selling through proper channels means more people take a cut: Shops want to buy at half retail plus tax (they have to fund staff, expensive retail locations, absorb the sales tax and want to make a profit), so distributors want to pay 40%. The ideal manufacturing cost is hence 20% of retail (so a game that retails for £50 should cost you £10 to make).

With small print runs you can’t afford to sell to distributors and even selling to retail is a stretch so my whole business plan this time round was based on selling through my website and at clubs and conventions.

As feared, it’s difficult to get people’s attention in the age of Kickstarter and sales have been slower than I would have liked via my website. Sales face-to-face have been pretty good, but I don’t have a lot of time to go to conventions since weekends are my family time and I don’t want to be skipping loads of them to attend conventions. I’ve tried to make it to clubs when I can (sales have been great at Newcastle Gamers) and where possible I’ve tried to include a trip to a local club during my work trips.

But sales are slow.

A couple of months ago I popped into my FLGS, Travelling Man, and spoke to the staff about my game. They have a small press section that is full of hand-drawn comics that are printed at home and thought Zombology would be a good fit for it. By pricing the game at £13 we found a price where it was cheaper than buying it from my website including UK shipping and my cut after they had taken theirs was not too low. They took them on Sale or Return, so I only invoice them for copies sold - so there’s no risk for them of unsold stock and hence lost investment.

Zombology in retail!

In the first month they sold two of their three copies and in the second another two (I’d restocked them back up to three). Last month I met them at the UK Games Expo (I knew several guys from the chain from my Reiver Game days) and their MD wanted to take another 12 copies - four each for the remaining three shops in the chain. That month across the four stores they sold five.

It helps that I’m the only game in the section and that the box design is strong (thanks to advice on BGG), but still this is off to a great start.

Over the last ten months I’ve sold 83 copies of Zombology. Nine of those (over 10%!) have been through retail in the last three months. Despite not wanting to go into retail this time round - it just goes to show that you need to be able to adapt your plans as you gain more data.

FlickFleet is another case in point of adaptability - I was adamant I didn’t want to use Kickstarter, but the only way FlickFleet will see the light of day at a reasonable price is through Kickstarter funding of the laser-cutter so that I can do the laser cutting myself.

What changes have you made to make your game a reality or more successful?

Monday, July 2

A Successful week in America

I spent most of last week in America for work, what little time I had in the UK was spent with my family and my parents who had come up for the weekend to help with the kids while I was away.

Monday I had an hour in Newcastle airport which I spent writing last week’s blog post and then an hour’s flight to Amsterdam where I was delayed for an hour and a half. I used my layover to work on the FlickFleet box illustration, starting with the smallest ship, trying to come up with a style that I though would scale up well to the larger ships. I do most of my game art as vector art (in InDesign and Illustrator) which is more forgiving as you can constantly tweak the vectors until you’re happy with them. Consequently I’m not very au fait with Photoshop - the pixel art part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite. As such I spent a large part of that time referring to Google or online tutorial videos to work out how to use the tools which are all subtly different from the other apps.

My flight was delayed and then my taxi to the office broke down, which meant that I missed the meetings I was supposed to attend on arrival, but to be honest that was a blessing as I’d been up since 10pm Sunday (US time) and been travelling for 16 hours, instead I could have a quick dinner and go straight to bed at 7pm!

I expected that, so I had booked a podcast interview with Jack Eddy of The Cardboard Herald for 2am on Tuesday (which felt like 7am to me and was 10pm for him in Alaska! We’d done the same thing on my previous trip in January and it was great to have a catch up chat covering a wide range of topics. Jack says the interview will be released in a couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for that.

When that finished at 3am I spent a few more hours on the box illustration before heading into the office. Tuesday and Wednesday were a customer meeting with dinner on Tuesday evening, but I had Wednesday evening off, so I had arranged to nip into Cambridge (just across the river from Boston, where I had lived in the winter of 2000-01). I managed to get a lift from the office into Boston with a colleague after work and on the way in we chatted and I explained I was going to a games club. When we arrived at her house she invited me in to wait for my Uber over to Cambridge and as I waited she introduced me to her husband - a gamer! We chatted about games and the club I was attending for a few minutes and then I got the Uber to Pandemonium Books in Cambridge. After a brief stroll round the store I ambled over to the games club and grabbed some dinner in a cafe next door.

The club was a spin off of Beantown Gamers, specifically comprised of people who like lighter games - what an awesome fit for Zombology (10 minutes) and FlickFleet (10-20 minutes). It was an unusually busy session with about 25 attendees so we quick split into multiple groups. We started with Crossfire a super quick social deduction game that was alright, and then since I’d posted a comment in the meetup page that I was there to demo games we played Zombology, which we had a full team of eight players for. After a couple of games we split up again but not before I’d sold a couple of the six games I’d brought with me.

A second group of six wanted to play, so we played again, this time four times, and I made a couple more sales. Then another shuffle and a final group of five, one of whom bought a copy. At that point someone wanted to play FlickFleet, but it was 10pm and I was shattered and faced a long ride back to my hotel, so I called it a night. Five sales in an evening - what a great outcome!

Thursday morning I did another early morning podcast, this time with Brian Schneider of Behind the Indies. Fortunately Brian and I were both in the same time zone, so we chatted at the much more reasonable time of 6am, which was good after a late night and continued jet lag. Brian’s podcast will apparently be available tonight!

When I reached the office I told the colleague who’d given me a lift that I’d survived the evening (we’d joked about meeting internet strangers and the associated risks!) and that I’d had a great evening and sold all but one copy. Which she promptly snapped up as a birthday gift for her husband! I went home empty-handed :-)

With the large Sale or Return stocking order I got from Travelling Man at the Expo and now this I only had 1.5 finished copies of Zombology in stock. I sold two via twitter on Friday evening, so Sunday night I had to finish the second one so I could post them both at lunchtime today. Saturday I rang round the Travelling Man stores to find out how many they'd sold so I could invoice them for the sales. They'd sold five (including two in a store that had only received their stock that week!). So June (which was looking rubbish for sales when I went to the US) ended up being my best month for sales since I finished fulfilling the pre-orders!

The Zombology stockpile is empty!

I'm now completely out of Zombology stock - so crafting is called for! I also need to finish the FlickFleet preview copies and get those in the post to give the reviewers as long as possible to form an opinion and review it ahead of our Kickstarter.

Monday, June 25

Meet Me in Cambridge, MA!

It's been a busy week, but a productive and slightly ill one. I finally heard back from my printer on Monday and was able to send him the files for the FlickFleet preview copies. I sent them on Tuesday (after a bit more work on them in my lunch breaks on Monday and Tuesday).

The art for the ship dashboards is potentially final (pending any negative feedback!) and the rules are mostly there apart from the illustration - which is the one from the box. The box still needs quite a lot of work - the illustration on the front is essentially a sketch at this point, there's no photo on the back and the players/age/time icons are all text at this point. At some point you need to just push the button though, and with my short-notice trip to the US this week I needed to get the art to the printers as soon as possible so that the previewers could get their hands on the game with plenty of time to review it ahead of the Kickstarter I've currently got planned for September. I've run the stuff I've done so far past The Wife, who has a good eye for these things, and my dad, who was an art teacher for 35 years) and they both think it looks good, so I'm reasonably happy at this point:

The first preview copy of FlickFleet

With the files out of the way I could join lunchtime games club in the office on Thursday (for the first time in months!) and then Thursday evening was Games Night - I played eight games on Thursday!

Friday evening I swung by the printers on my way home and collected the printed files. My plan was to spend Friday evening cutting out all the ship dashboards and wrapping a few of the preview copy boxes with their labels. Instead I felt a bit rough all the way home and then was sick while The Wife was getting the girls to bed. I went to be early myself having done nothing - not even cleaned up the house.

Saturday my parents were due to arrive in the afternoon and thanks to my laziness the night before the house was a tip. The Wife took the girls out for the morning and I (still feeling pretty rough) pootled round gently tidying up (pausing only to cut out the ship dashboards for and wrap the box of my personal FlickFleet copy - ready to take to America). My parents arrived in the evening and by that point I was starting to feel a bit less ill, though by 7:45pm I was so shattered I went to bed!

Sunday was a perfect day. I felt fine, and my parents and the four of us went to the beach for the day. It was glorious weather, hot but not too hot and sunny with a light breeze - we spent four or five hours on the beach, building sandcastles, playing in the (rather cold) sea, lounging around and eating ice cream. It was awesome.

Then I was up at 3am this morning (I'm writing this at 5am in an airport cafe!) for my trip to the US. I'll be in the US all week, getting home on Friday. The good thing about this is as a terrible traveller I'll be on UK time all week (until the day I come home of course), so I'll have the jet lag hours of 2-6am every day to work on the box illustration or the kickstarter. It should be a productive week!

While in the US I'm heading to Beantown Light Gamers evening at the Cambridge Center Foyer, 345 Main St, Cambridge, MA on Wednesday (27th) evening. I should be there no later than 7pm, so if you're Boston-based please come along and say hi - I'll be demoing Zombology (I'll also have a few copies for sale at $13 which saves $8 on international shipping) and FlickFleet - now's you chance to try it out ahead of the Kickstarter!

Monday, June 18

Kickstarter Rush

I'm hoping to bring FlickFleet to Kickstarter in September, which means I'm just over two months away from D-Day. Which means it's getting exciting at Eurydice HQ. At the moment I'm trying to get five copies of FlickFleet ready to post to previewers so I've got some reviews and quotes for the Kickstarter launch. I've got the greyboard (I've stolen some from Zombology for the moment) so I've made the box blanks this week. I've also received the wooden bits so I've bagged up all the bits ready to put in the games. I've received the acrylic and am ready to start the laser cutting, but my usual laser cutting guy is in Boston (where I'll be shortly) so I'm hoping my mate Wilka can do it instead - he's recently got one too.

All that remains is the printing. I've spent the last few lunch times working on the art. The ship dashboards were finished at the beginning of the week and I've been working on the rules (tidying up a couple of rules, streamlining some of the wording and starting to make it pretty). The last thing is the box. The box art has been started on my iPad, but I need to get it onto the box and also onto the front page of the rules. I'd like to make it more attractive, but I'm running out of time to do that as I'd like to give the reviewers a couple of months with the game so they get plenty of time to get a decent feel for the game. It takes a week or two for the games to get to the US (where several of the reviewers are based) so I need to get them out very soon. Ideally today.

You can see what I'm going for here, but there's lots left to do

The printers have been having some issues, so I've not got a quote yet, but even if I had I'd like to do a bit more work on the illustration. So the art is now urgent. This has been further complicated by a trip to Boston next week that appeared on the horizon last Wednesday. 10 days notice. So, I need to crack on.

As a result, today's blog post is short so that I can get a little more art done (I'm writing this on Sunday night).

Monday, June 11

Half-time, Change Ends

I turned 42 last week, and I recently read that the life expectancy for a male born in the UK in 1976 is 83, so half-time! Ok, so multiple sclerosis reduces my life-expectancy by a bit, but I’m reasonably healthy and my MS is still in remission, so we’ll go with 83.

Time for a mid-life crisis. I should be remortgaging the house to buy hair transplants and a bright red Ferrari. Arguably, starting a second board game publishing company two months after my second daughter was born and six years after my first one failed and cost me a load of (insurance) money is my mid-life crisis. Clearly, I’m not very good at mid-life crises.

Interestingly, it’s only in the last few months that I’ve come to some revelations about myself. Shame it’s taken me 42 years to work them out!

My memories of my childhood are very sketchy (possibly MS-related, possibly not), but one of the few things I do remember is writing computer games on the BBC Electron my dad borrowed from his school during the summer holidays. I was 10.

Although I’ve spent most of the intervening 32 years coding professional and/or as a hobby I do not consider coding a core part of my personality. I miss it, now that I no longer do it as part of my job, but games design fills the same hole for me.

I’ve recently started another company (technically I’ve been self-employed or part of a start-up five times) but I do not consider myself an entrepreneur. I’m too risk-averse and bad at marketing.

The two core parts of my personality that I can trace back to those earliest memories are gamer and maker. I’ve been a very keen (obsessive?) computer gamer, Magic player (on at least three separate occasions), role player, miniatures gamer and board gamer over the last 30 years.

I’ve made (bits of) computer games, miniature games scenery, DnD scenery, LARP costumes, painted minis, mobile apps, board game prototypes and over 500 high-quality hand-made board games for sale. Making things makes me happy, certainly happier than reading and watching TV.

Board game design is a happy blend of the two - I get to make prototypes and then play them and then make changes and play them again. I start companies to make those games, not to get rich or famous but, because I love making the games by hand and doing the graphic design - after I’ve done all that it seems a shame to leave the games in a cupboard unplayed.

Obviously I want to be a good husband to The Wife and a good parent to The Daughters too, but those are more recent things - I can’t trace them back through my childhood.

Now that I have this knowledge about myself, what can I do differently in the second half of my life to further boost my happiness and life satisfaction? That’s the next thing to consider...

Monday, June 4

Back in the UKGE

Yesterday I attended the UK Games Expo for the first time since 2009. I attended the first three UK Games Expos in 2007, '08 and '09 as an exhibitor with Reiver Games selling Border Reivers, It's Alive! (first and second editions) and finally Carpe Astra and Sumeria. I also exhibited at Spiel in Essen in 2008 & '09. Until yesterday I'd not been back to a large games convention, just attending Beer and Pretzels a few times with my friend Terry.

In the year I last attended there were 1,800 unique attendees and 2,500 total attendees (where one person came on several days). This year those figures were approximately 21,700 and 39,000 - a growth of 12-15 times over the last nine years and 30% up on last year (again!). It's now huge and feels very different to how it did back in the day.

One of the reasons I've not attended for the last eight years is that I am not a target punter for this at all. I don't buy a lot of games - my collection hovers around 100 games, and each year I give a few away and buy a few more - usually things I've played several times and really enjoy. I am not a Cultist of the New, most of my games collection is 5+ years old and has been played tens (or even hundreds!) of times. So a big trade show where you can buy the latest games is not pitched at me at all.

I ended up just going for the day on Sunday, adding another 400 miles of driving (Newcastle to York on Saturday night to stay the night with my FlickFleet co-designer and long-time playtester and friend Paul) and then York to Birmingham and Birmingham back to York with Paul a brief snack and toilet stop at Paul's and then back to Newcastle. This was on top of a week that I'd driven 750 miles with the whole family (including notably a five year old and a one year old). It was a lot of driving. But totally worth it!

I've mentioned already that I don't buy many games, but I did buy three:

My UK Games Expo 2018 HaulMy UK Games Expo 2018 Haul

I've been looking for Santorini for a while (I think it was out of print at Christmas), so when I saw it on the Games Lore stand I snapped it up (after a brief chat with Paul, the boss who I know of old) despite the fact I've never played it. I also bought the Crime and Punishment expansion for Firefly (more stories and misbehaving cards!) and Fuji Flush (which Paul brought up last time he visited and we played a lot). Total spend just under £50.

The main thing I got from the Expo was a chance to catch up with old friends: Games Lore, Surprised Stare Games, Ragnar Brothers, Steve and Nabil from Travelling Man (who picked up another 12 copies of Zombology on Sale or Return for the other three stores - the Newcastle store has already sold four copies). Plus Brett Gilbert (designer of Elysium, Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time, and a bunch of other cool games). I also ran into the aforementioned Terry and our mutual friend Graham, who I'd not seen for quite a while (I missed Beer and Pretzels this and last year).

I also got to meet numerous internet friends for the first time: Matt Dunstan and Rob Harper from Playtest UK, Robin Bates from Coaching for Geeks, Heinze & Rachel from Semi-Coop and Chisel. It's nice to meet people for real!

The morning was spent wandering round chatting to people carting round a very heavy bag containing everything I needed for my seminar and some stock in case anyone wanted some afterwards. I was very happy to put it down before my seminar, and as soon as it was over I ran it back to the car, just taking a few copies of Zombology just in case (as it turns out it was too few, I had to go back to the car to get more for Travelling Man!).

In the middle of the day I had my Made by Hand seminar where I had intended to live craft a copy of Zombology. It takes me 42 minutes when I'm focussing on it, which I thought was doable in an hour, but then I found out I only had 50 minutes. So instead I offered the audience (only eight people, including Terry and Paul) the choice of that or more talk and definitely not finishing it. They chose the latter. As it turns out that was very wise. I wittered on and ended up with the box half-finished with only ten minutes left! I quickly did a bit about the cards and then wrapped up with a rather lacklustre 'anyone want a copy' sales pitch. I sold one, and then got a twitter DM from someone apologising for missing it and asking to meet up to buy a copy, so two in total (plus the 12 to Travelling Man on Sale or Return, so I came home with 6 of the 12 I took). Sales were disappointing, but pretty good considering the small audience (lots of whom already owned it!). The seminar was well-received and several people were taking lots of notes, so I must have done something right! The biggest wrong was joking about 'are there any first-aiders in the audience?' and then cutting myself with my knife. Things to remember for next time: black jeans hide the bloodstains!

There were a few things that surprised me. Most notably the number of stands that were just demoing a game that was on (or coming soon to) Kickstarter. I hadn't considered attending without a decent pile of stock to sell - to just write off the several hundred pounds cost of attending (booth, travel, hotel, food, etc.) as a marketing expense when you could be selling games to cover the costs didn't even occur to me. There were also lots of stands that were selling non-games (gaming tables, dice, dice bags, soap, dice towers and box inserts, etc.). Finally, probably the weirdest thing of all was that in the seven hours I was there I didn't play any games. The reason why I prefer Beer and Pretzels as a punter is that there I spend the whole time gaming with chums (mostly Terry) and very little time wandering around/schmoozing.

As a punter, one day was definitely enough for me. Hopefully next year (assuming our Kickstarter is successful and I've fulfilled it ahead of the Expo) I'll be back for all three days as an exhibitor again!

Monday, May 28

A Day in the Life

I’m currently on holiday for a week, touring the UK, in car with a baby and a five year old. For reference, no we not ‘nearly there yet’. This blog post was written before we left and then scheduled to go live on Monday morning as usual. Hopefully it worked.

I thought people might be interested in a day in the life of a games designer, self publisher and parent in full time employment, so that the subject of this week’s blog.

My days usually start between 5 and 5:30 when The Baby finally ‘wakes up’. I say this in quotes because, like her sister before her, she’s a terrible sleeper and wakes hourly from about 11pm. I help out with a few of those, but The Wife bears the brunt of it, so come 5am it is definitely my turn. My day doesn’t start with meditation, a quick workout and then blitzing emails and a brainstorming session like most internet business gurus, instead it starts with 30-60 minutes of passing a series of soft toys to a baby who is far more conscious than I am while I stagger blearily into wakefulness.

At 6 the day begins as we shower, have a family breakfast and get the girls ready before I head off to work around 8. I walk to work (it’s just over 2.5 miles each way which I do at a breakneck pace as it’s my only exercise). The walks in and home are a great opportunity to think about the games I’m designing, graphic design and art ideas and company stuff in general.

Most days I spend my 30 minute lunch break on something games related: updating the website, graphic design, art or playtesting, or something similar.

I leave work between 5 and 5:30 most days and usually get home from work around six and get to spend 30-60 minutes with the girls before bedtimes begin. This sometimes includes a family dinner, but often The Wife and I will eat once they are down as the girls will have eaten earlier.

At seven, while The Wife gets The Baby to sleep, I get Daughter the First ready for bed and read her stories. Once The Baby is asleep she takes over and I head downstairs to clean up. The cleaning and dinner take until 8:30-9 most nights, then we have some free time!

Now as I’ve mentioned already, The Baby sleeps really badly, and The Wife takes the brunt of it, so I help out where I can in the night. If I go to bed at 10 I’ll get 7-7.5 hours of broken sleep. I’m one of those guys who needs eight hours, so I’m never really functioning on all cylinders. But ten pm is doable as long as I get one or two earlier nights a week (Games Night on Thursday usually means getting to bed after 11, which hurts).

So I get 1-1.5 hours a night for fun. I want to spend several of these with The Wife, Games Night takes up one most weeks, so I get 2-4.5 hours a week for Eurydice Games! A batch of six copies of Zombology takes 4.5 hours to make, so with a following wind I can make one batch a week (it’s been one a month for the last few months as I’ve been focussing on FlickFleet instead).

I’m looking forward to The Baby sleeping better, so I can extend my evenings later and get more done in fewer evenings so I can spend more time with The Wife too.

Hopefully we’ve less than a year to wait!

Monday, May 21

Hectic Couple of Weeks

It was Beer and Pretzels this weekend, a convention I’ve attended a lot over the last ten years, usually with my mate Terry, whose games group I was a member of when we lived down south (‘09-‘11). I missed it last year as The Baby was due within a week of it, and this year I’ve had to skip it again as it’s just before a crazy week.

Next weekend we drive to Oxford for a wedding, then Salisbury for a holiday with my whole family (16 of us!) then drive home just in time for me to drive to Birmingham for The UK Games Expo. I’ll only be at the Expo on Sunday for the day (where, shameless plug, I’ll be giving a seminar on hand-crafting games during which I’ll craft a copy of Zombology from scratch - Sunday, 1-2pm in the Piazza Small).

Last week and this week have been very busy as a result, but it’s been great to make some decent progress after months of sleep-deprived survival.

I’ve been trying to get 13 more copies of Zombology finished so I’ve got some stock for the Expo, so I’ve spent my evenings on that after the girls are asleep and I’ve cleaned up and eaten. At the same time I’ve spent my lunchbreaks at work on FlickFleet art. Last week it was the ship dashboards, which are nearly finished now, next up is making the rule book prettier and finishing a first rough cut of the box art.

Here’s a look at the latest dashboard style - any feedback? I’d love to know what you like and what you don’t!

Monday, May 14

How To: Craft a Tray and Lid Box

Last week on Google+ long time reader Derek asked for more details on how to make game boxes. So here's a detailed tutorial on how I made the boxes for Border Reivers, It's Alive 1st Edition and the two hand-crafted versions of Zombology I've done. It's quite long, but there's lots of pictures to break it up!

If you found this interesting and are planning on attending the UK Games Expo at the beginnging of June in Birmingham you can see me hand-craft a copy of Zombology from scratch in front of a live audience! My Made by Hand seminar is 1-2pm on Sunday 3rd June in the Piazza Small.

For this tutorial you'll need a good ruler with a steel cutting edge (ideally that lies flat with the cutting surface) and a clear scale for measuring, a self-healing cutting mat and a sharp knife (I use an Xacto-style knife with snap off blades).

So, let's get started. The first thing you'll need to do is choose a box size. For this I strongly recommend choosing a game you own and making your box that size. There's three good reasons for this:

  • You can empty that game's box and check the bits fit in ok

  • Games look cool on the shelf if they are all the same size - it's easier to store them and stores to stock them

  • If you want your game to go into manufacturing, using a standard box size saves you the cost of tooling new dies for the box blanks and labels, shipping crates, etc.

  • My personal philosophy is that the game box should be the smallest one that the components can comfortably fit in, but if you're hoping to go into retail your box needs to reflect your MSRP. Being the only £25 game on the small games shelf really hurt sales of Sumeria. Once you know your manufacturing cost, times that by five and go into a game store - how big are the boxes for games that cost that much?

    Once you've picked a box size, measure the width (W), height (H) and depth (D - the distance between the lid opening and the top of the lid) of the box lid. The dimensions of your box blank (BW and BH) are W+2*D by H+2*D. You need two rectangles of greyboard (chipboard I think in the US and Canada) that size. I usually use 750micron (0.75 millimetres thick) greyboard for a small box or light game and 1250micron (1.25 millimetres thick) for heavy or larger games.

    On that greyboard measure out two rectangles that are BW by BH. Then draw lines that are D in from every edge on one of them (this is your box lid). For the tray the lines need to be further in, for a 750micron thick box you can draw them D + 1mm in, for 1.25micron greyboard you'll need D + 2mm. Making the box blanks the same total size means that the tray is smaller, but taller than the lid - this means you have a small amount of tray showing when the lid is on, so it's easier to open the box.

    The next step is to cut the small squares out from each corner of the tray and lid blanks, and to score (gently scratch with a knife - not all the way through) the remaining bits of the lines you drew.

    Now turn the blanks over so the drawn and scored lines are underneath and fold the sides of the tray and lid up along the scored lines.

    The final step of making the blanks is to tape the box corners. I use Scotch Magic Tape for this as it has a nice matt surface that the label sticks to nicely.

    For a prototype I'll often stop there:

    But for a hand-crafted game you want this to look like a real game that's been professionally manufactured. So you need labels. In the old days I used to get these printed onto paper (and then professionally laminated for durability) and then glue them on by coating them in watered down PVA glue. This is an awful idea - don't do that! For a smaller game where high fidelity isn't critical you can print onto label paper (I think you can get it in up to A4/Letter size), but I've started using Vinyl labels (also professionally laminated) for Zombology which are awesome (if expensive). Your box art will need to be W+2*D+30mm by H+2*H+30mm so that there's 15mm of label on each side to wrap over the box into the inside. Do the box label art (and getting it all the right way up!) is enough content for another post, needless to say you'll have to get this right!

    My next step is to cut out the labels. You want the long edges to go from the corners of the box top/bottom straight out to the edge of the label (you can make them 2 or 3mm narrower at the label edge if you want - this makes the wrap slightly smoother on the inside, but it slows down cutting a bit as you can't do both cuts at the same time without moving the ruler). The shorter edges need to go from the corners of the box tray/lid 45° to the depth of the box, before going straight out to the label edge - see below:

    Once you've cut out the labels, take the box lid label and the box lid blank (be careful at this point - the box blank lid and tray look almost identical!). Remove the label backing and place it face down. Place the box blank on top, being very careful to line up all four corners of the box blank with the corners cut into the label. Press down firmly across the whole blank surface to get a good adhesion to the label.

    The next step is to do the shorter sides. Roll the blank onto one short side, pressing firmly along the blank to make sure it adheres well to the label. Now cut from just inside the corner of the box to the label edge (so the cut goes slightly towards the middle of label edge), and then again towards the corner of the label where the 45° cut turns towards the label edge. You want to err towards the 45° cut at this point, you don't want any label ending above the blank edge when you wrap the label over the corners.

    Now starting in the middle and working out towards the corners, pinch the label over the edge of the blank. Make sure the label sticks really well both on the inside and the outside of the box edge.

    You can now wrap the two diagonally cut pieces round the corners of the box - this strengthens the box corners and also ensures that none of the greyboard will be visible on the corners. Repeat the last four steps on the other short side.

    Next up are the long edges. Roll the box blank onto one of the long edges and press down firmly along the edge to ensure the label sticks well across the whole edge.

    Starting in the middle again and working out towards the corners, pinch the label over the edge of the blank. Make sure the label sticks really well both on the inside and the outside of the box edge. If you cut the long edge straight out to the label edge you might need to pay attention to pressing the label into the corners on the inside, which is less of a problem if you cut the label slightly in towards the middle. Repeat this process on the other long edge.

    Repeat this process on the box tray and Hey Presto! you have a professional looking tray and lid box!

    I hope this was helpful - let me know in the comments if you'd like any more details or another How To post on something else (e.g. box art layout).

    Monday, May 7

    Brief but Thankful

    I usually write my blog posts in my lunch break at work or, failing that, at the weekend. This week I’ve spent my lunch breaks finishing off my new website (any feedback appreciated!) and this weekend we’re going away to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! So needless to say I’ll not be spending a decent chunk of our holiday writing a long blog post!

    So this is a short one to say: in your quest to be successful at designing games (or whatever else it is that you want to achieve) make sure you have a support network. One or more people who love you and want you to be happy and succeed. They could be a partner, spouse, parent, child, sibling or best mate. Find them and treasure them - their support is priceless.

    And thank you to The Wife for being mine for the last 21 years!

    Monday, April 30

    All At Once

    April was going pretty slowly in terms of Zombology sales, I’d been focusing on FlickFleet again (and learning about Kickstarter! - Jamey Stegmaier’s book is great by the way), and although I’d made a batch of Zombology I’d not sold any at all. My sales targets are pretty low and I’d already missed last quarter’s by a little, so I wasn’t relishing the chance to slip back by another whole month. I popped into my local FLGS, Travelling Man and they have a small press shelf where people who hand-craft comics can sell their wares. They were willing to take on Zombology too. I chose a price - £12.99, similar to other similarly-sized games in the store, and it has the benefit that it’s cheaper for the customer than buying it from my website with UK shipping, but means that after the shop’s cut the take home for me is similar to a web sale after PayPal fees and shipping.

    Price of place on the Small Press shelf

    I gave them three copies on sale or return on Thursday and by Monday they’d already sold one! This was the start of a great week. I got another order on Tuesday while on the train to Manchester for work and then sold a couple to people I’d met through work on Friday and then another online order on Friday evening. Saturday one of my tweets went unexpectedly ‘viral’ (viral for me - it got a bunch of RTs from people I don’t know including John Kovalic, the artist of Munchkin) and I got a couple more orders - including my first Print and Play one!

    Saturday I also made it along to Newcastle Gamers for their International Tabletop Day session - I just joined for a couple of hours in the evening, but I got to play a few games of mine and Sentinels of the Multiverse for the first time (I wasn’t a fan - maybe we had an unusual set-up or draw, but it felt very mechanical).

    Finally, this morning when I checked with Travelling Man they'd sold another one too, so I delivered them another two and invoiced them for the two copies they've sold. I've ended April ahead of target!

    This week I’ve got Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday and then Games Night on Thursday before a weekend away to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! Time flies!

    Monday, April 23

    Final Changes

    This week has been all about tweaking FlickFleet. There are now three blindplaytesting copies in three different countries. Three sets of people trying to learn the game from my rulebook and then provide feedback on the rulebook and the game. The first set of feedback has come in with some great suggestions for improving the rulebook and some comments about the game.

    The playtester found the game fundamentally fun and loved a few bits about it, but there were a couple of things he didn't enjoy. The biggest problem he has was that it is possible to get yourself into a situation where victory is impossible for one of the players. I'd seen this happen a few times - it's an asymmetric game, so the players often have different forces, and some of the ships need to be played in a particular way to be successful (e.g. carriers need to launch their fighters and bombers quickly as they are weak on their own) and the ramming rules were an attempt to dealt with this, but clearly for new players without my experience (or strategy advice) the problem was bigger than I realised.

    Clearly this situation is no fun at all for the loser and not much fun for the winner, so it was something that needed addressing. The playtester had even volunteered a couple of suggestions that he thought might fixed the problem - which was great.

    As a designer you will get a lot of suggestions about your game. Some will be great, some will be rubbish. Some will be great, but take your game in a direction you are unhappy with. One of the things you need to be good at is to take the suggestions (and where not spelled out work out the root issue) and then decide what to do with them. Are they a good idea? Do they take your game in a direction you are happy with? What's the problem the suggestion is trying to fix? Is there a better or different solution to that problem you should also consider? Is that problem just that the the game is not the suggester's type of game? Perhaps the suggester's perceived problem is not a problem in your eyes, or something you are happy to live with? As creator of the game, the editorial control lies with you until you sign it over to a publisher.

    As it turns out the problems spotted by the playtester were an issue and something I wanted to address. Paul (my co-designer) and I talked it over and we had an alternative solution that we've been trying out this week (and over the weekend while Paul was visiting with his family). It seems at first blush that our solution improves the game and largely addresses the problem. As a result of this feedback the game has improved, despite the fact we didn't go with the playtester's suggestion. Hopefully, he will find our solution addresses the problem as he experienced it too.

    Remember that playtesters suggestions are valid, and are shaped by their experience of your game. But the control lies with you. Are you happy to leave the problem they experience un-addressed? If not, is their suggestion the best resolution to the problem they experienced? It might be. Or it might not. You decide!

    Monday, April 16

    Lots Going On

    After last week's Kickstarter revelation I've had a week of many different tasks.

    Before I can Kickstart the game I need to get the rules finished, the ship dashboards done and do the box art. I've a rough cut of the ship dashboards already, and a first stab at the rules that are currently being blind playtested in three separate countries. The box is very much a rough sketch though.

    This week, during the hours of 5-6:30 I've taken The Baby downstairs a couple of times to give The Wife a bit more sleep. A couple of times The Baby has gone back to sleep so I've had an hour or so sat on the sofa in the dark with my iPad. I bought the Procreate drawing app and I've been having a play with that to flesh out the box art. One of its coolest features is that it automatically builds a time-lapse video of your work. It's so cool I've created an Instagram account to share it!

    Started sketching out a #FlickFleet box illustration

    A post shared by Jackson Pope (@jacksonpopeeg) on

    I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination (to the chagrin of my father who was an art teacher for nearly 35 years), but one of the ways I'll keep costs down on the hand-made run of FlickFleet is by doing the art myself (possible stretch goal if it's wildly successful: professional art! By an actual artist!). Using an app like Procreate that lets me tweak things as I go is definitely my best chance of coming up with something acceptable. I've invested in an Apple Pencil to allow me to do the finer work (my large hands aren't designed for fingertip art on a tablet!). I've also taken to watching/listening to Procreate tutorials while washing up! Now that's multi-tasking!

    In addition to this early morning shift I've been using my lunch breaks at work to revisit my website. It was a pretty hurried effort last autumn while simultaneously trying to get Zombology off the ground and when I showed it to my friend Wilka he described it as 'retro', which clearly meant old-fashioned and a bit rubbish. I've not had much time to work on it recently, but I've been refreshing it a bit this last week. Hopefully there'll be a refresh coming in the next week or two.

    All in all, pretty busy!

    Monday, April 9

    Time For Humble Pie

    If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know my views on Kickstarter. I'm not a fan. Evidence: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C.

    You'll also know I've been working hard on FlickFleet for the last six months or so, and I'm clearly planning to bring it to market in the future. Behind the scenes I've been getting quotes for a small run like the 200 copies I'm making of Zombology. It turns out that acrylic is expensive, and commercial laser cutting is very expensive. And because you're paying for laser time, there's very little in the way of economies of scale. I could make a 200 copy run, but the cost to me would be so high that I'd need to charge £40 for the game, which is too high for what it is.

    There is another option. I could buy a laser cutter and do the cutting myself. This would mean the laser cutting would essentially be free (though I'd obviously need to cover the cost of the laser cutter over time). If I made 300 copies I'd be able to pay for the laser cutter and the materials and charge £30 a game for FlickFleet - which is much more reasonable. The only downside is that I can't afford to buy the materials for 300 games and a laser cutter. I'd need to seek alternative funding. A great example of that would be Kickstarter. :-(

    Time to eat some humble pie.

    Blueberry Pie
    Blueberry Pie by Andrew Malone on Flickr

    I need to swallow my pride and admit that Kickstarter really is the best venue to get FlickFleet made at a price that's reasonable. By admitting I was wrong I can save the potential customers £10, which seeing as lots of them will be my biggest fans is the right thing to do.

    So, reluctantly I've decided to Kickstart a small print run of FlickFleet, probably in the September timeframe. I'll set the target high enough to cover the cost of a laser cutter and take it from there. Marketing isn't my strong suit, so I'm certainly not expecting Fireball Island levels of success, but hopefully with a low target I'll be able to sneak across the line and get the funds I need to make a small run.

    If you have any advice on running Kickstarters, or who to speak to, what to read or listen to on the subject I'm all ears - I'll need all the help I can get!

    Monday, April 2

    Crowdsourced Art Direction!

    I'm currently on holiday in Bristol, so I'm auto-posting this post that I wrote last week. Over the last couple of weeks I've started to make a more 'finished' looking set of ship dashboards for FlickFleet. These dashboards serve two purposes - they remind you what actions each ship can take and they show the status of the ship in terms of whether the shields are still up and which bits of the ship are currently damaged and inoperable. There are three types of large ship in FlickFleet - destroyers, carriers and dreadnoughts. Each has different capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Here are the latest versions of their dashboards, I would really appreciate any feedback you have on the look, and also the clarity of information.

    The destroyer - a heavily armed but flimsy gun boat

    The destroyer has two shields (damaged on a 1-10 die result), 3 guns (damaged on 1-3), plus shield generator (5) and engines (6). A result of four will destroy them once their shields are down. They can be moved by flicking the rear three surfaces, as long as the engines are not damaged. They also have an engineering location that cannot be damaged that allows you to repair a damaged location.

    The carrier - weak by itself, but it carries a lot of fighters and bombers

    The carrier has two shields (damaged on a 1-10 die result), a gun (damaged on 1), a fighter bay (damaged on a 2 or 3) that allows you to launch a couple of fighter wings during the game, a bomber bay (4) that allows you to launch a bomber wing, plus shield generator (5) and engines (6). They can be moved by flicking the rear three surfaces, as long as the engines are not damaged. They also have an engineering location that cannot be damaged that allows you to repair a damaged location.

    The dreadnought - fear its might

    The destroyer has four shields (damaged on a 1-10 die result), nuclear warheads (damaged on 1), two guns (damaged on a 2 or 3), a fighter bay (damaged on a 4) that allows you to launch a couple of fighter wings during the game, plus shield generator (5) and engines (6). They can be moved by flicking the rear three surfaces, as long as the engines are not damaged. They also have an engineering location that cannot be damaged that allows you to repair a damaged location or repair the hull. In addition to the locations above, dreadnoughts also have three hull points.

    How clearly do you think that information is portrayed? Do you like the look? Any thoughts or comments?

    Monday, March 26

    What's The Point?

    When interviewed by The Cardboard Herald and W. Eric Martin back in January one of the first questions they both asked was why I'm doing what I'm doing. Why hand-craft games rather than submit them to publishers? Why fund it myself rather than go the Kickstarter route?

    Both good and valid questions, and despite the fact that I know why I'm doing it, I flailed around a bit for an answer when on the record. As a result I've spent some time thinking about why I'm doing this. Why I'm risking my own money and investing a decent chunk of my time into the project. It's not to start a company that will become a full-time concern for me - I've tried that and failed spectacularly once already, and while Jamey Stegmaier has the skills, I don't - I accept that.

    So, in a very buzzword bingo, corporate-speak-esque fashion (I am a manager in a large corporation in my day job after all), I've decided to codify my mission, values and strategy. While that seems frankly ridiculous in a company with only one person (me), I figure the time spent thinking about it is probably time well spent, and if I can codify them I've them got something written down that I can refer to and check that I'm still heading in the right direction. I can also use them as a yardstick: Has my behaviour lived up to my aspirations?

    By publicising them here I'm committing to them, and you guys can hold me accountable too!

    So here they are:


    I'm passionate about playing, designing and crafting games and sharing my designs with other gamers


    Crafting unique board gaming experiences


    Craftsmanship in everything I do
    Building community
    Encouraging and supporting crafting in others
    Lightening the mood with humour
    Supporting charities


    Make small, profit-making hand-crafted print runs of unusual games finished to a very high standard
    Grow the business to make larger/more complex games possible in future
    Re-prints of popular games can be licensed to other publishers or not
    Make my games available to other crafters as Print and Play editions
    Build a crafting community

    What do you think of them?

    Monday, March 19

    Sizing a Hand-Crafted Print Run

    FlickFleet is coming along nicely so one of the many things I'm working on at the moment is pricing and sizing the print run.

    As with Zombology, I'm intending to do a small, limited edition run first where I make the boxes by hand and cut out the ship dashboards by hand (though I'll be buying in the wooden pieces and laser cutting the acrylic ships).

    So how big a print run should I do? In a perfect world I'd like to do a print run that I can comfortably hand-craft and sell through within a year. The smaller the print run, the more confident I am of both those things. At the same time, the bigger the print run, the better the economies of scale, so the cheaper each copy is to make and the cheaper I can price them (which will hopefully make them easier to sell). Although, of course the initial outlay is higher.

    FlickFleet up close

    The other thing to consider is the number of pre-orders. For a professional run or a Kickstarter, the more of these the better. For a small hand-made run it's not that simple. Since it takes me time (at this point I'm estimating 1-1.5 hours) to make each copy, and I'm doing this in my evenings after the kids go to bed, I actually don't want too many - it'll just put me under a lot of pressure to get them done and delay building up stock and promoting the game. For Zombology I had 20 pre-orders (on top of the 30 copy run I'd already sold out of to friends and family), which was 10% of the print run and about 15 hours of crafting to make. The Baby was only 3 months old at that point, so our sleep was dreadful (it's still pretty bad!), so that was a lot of evenings and took about a month to complete. Ideally I'd have about 20-25% of the print run spoken for up front, which will still mean a chunk of evenings and probably a calendar month of construction.

    The biggest factor for FlickFleet's cost though is the laser cutting, for which there isn't much in the way of economies of scale (you're paying for cutting time which scales linearly with number of copies). One of the options I'm exploring is buying a laser cutter. They are very expensive, but it would save me a lot of cost per game and I would be able to amortize it over the games (and potentially other projects).

    At the moment it looks like I could do it for £30 if I do the laser cutting myself and £40 if I outsource the laser cutting. That £10 is a big deal, £40 is a lot to ask for for a hand-made game.

    I'm toying with either a 200 (Zombology-sized) or 300 (It's Alive! First Edition-sized) print run. Numbers of pre-orders is probably what I'll
    use to make the decision on run size, and they are coming in surprisingly quickly at the moment, considering the fact I've not announced it or even worked out the price!

    Hopefully I'll be ready to decide and make an announcement shortly - keep your eyes peeled!

    Monday, March 12

    A lesson in Doing it Right

    I noticed in passing Jamey Stegmaier's 2017 Stonemaier Games Stakeholder Report on twitter this week. It's an incredible read. Especially when you compare it to his inspiration, the Steve Jackson Games equivalent. And my earlier admission of failure.

    What made it especially interesting to me was comparing it with my first attempt at running a publisher, Reiver Games, and my current self-publishing project Eurydice Games.

    Jamey has been fantastically successful. Fantastically. Fair play to him, he's exceptionally good at what he does. Stonemaier have one full-time employee (Jamey) and made $7.1 million in 2017. That's more than double what they made in 2016. Plus, importantly they were profitable.

    Their first game (Viticulture) was published just four years earlier. $0 - $7.1 million in turnover in four years. Now that's impressive. For comparison, Reiver Games ran for 5 years, its best turnover was around £22,000 and I never took a salary from it. Clearly Jamey does this way, way better than me.

    Reiver Games was founded in 2006 and was just hand-crafted runs until mid-2008. I made the jump to 'professional' publisher then, just before the stock market crash in September 2008 when lots of people's spare cash dried up. I invested a small amount of my own money in it at the beginning, then a fairly large amount of my life insurance payout and then took out a loan. Servicing that loan killed Reiver Games. Stonemaier by comparison have no debt.

    Now probably the biggest difference between us is Kickstarter. Kickstarter was founded in 2009 and Jamey has initially released most of his games through it, with great success. Pretty much everyone who is new to publishing (and quite a few old hands) now launch new games through Kickstarter, but it wasn't available in the UK until after Reiver Games had shut down and I'm still uncomfortable with it now. Which probably explains why I'm hand-crafting small print runs again and Jamey is turning over millions of dollars.

    In addition to the fantastic success Jamey has deservedly raked in, there's several things in that report that staggered me.

    Jamey has been that successful making one new game a year, plus a couple of expansions. When I was running Reiver Games I was convinced the only way to be successful was to have a lot of games on your books like Z-Man or Rio Grande. That was always my aim: get to the point where I had several games coming out a year. Hopefully one of them would be a smash hit, but if not, half a dozen less successful games meant that you could more easily sell to distributors and shops and meant that brand awareness would build as people saw your logo in more and more places. But even in these days, when there are thousands of new games appearing on Kickstarter, Jamey has been hugely successful with one new game a year. That goes to show the quality of the games he's producing, and the fan-base he's built.

    The print runs show just how successful he's been. At the time of Reiver Games people talked about 5,000-10,000 copy runs being for very good games, with maybe up to 50-70,000 if the game won Spiel des Jahres or something similar. My 'professional' Reiver Games print runs were 3,000, 2,000 and then 3,000 (for It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and Sumeria respectively). Nowadays I'm hoping that I can find 200 people interested in Zombology (which admittedly is a niche, within a niche, within a niche!). Stonemaier have five games in circulation with between 31,000 and 150,000 copies in the wild. Those are epic print runs, and with such large runs come some huge economies of scale - something I never successfully achieved.

    Even with those however, Jamey admits that his margins aren't where he wants them. He's aiming for manufacturing costs to be 14-20% of retail. He's not quite there yet. During my Reiver Games days I was aiming for 20%, but only managed it once. It was nearly 30% for It's Alive!, about 25% for Carpe Astra and finally 20% for Sumeria, for which I did a larger run (so some economies of scale) and bumped up the price to £25. Sadly, with my obsession for small boxes all that meant was my game was the only £25 game on the small box shelf, the rest were all £18-22. Looking really expensive by comparison didn't help me since the vast majority of my sales were through shops and distributors. Now that I'm making games by hand and selling directly I don't need to worry about shops and distributors getting their cuts, so I'm aiming for 50% (it's just under 40% for Zombology and due to the laser cutting and perspex it'll probably be over 60% for FlickFleet :-( ).

    The other thing that stood out was the size of Jamey's audience. He's got 33,000 people on his mailing list (I've started from scratch again, so I've only got 60!), 9,000 twitter followers (to my 2,250) and is active on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube where I don't even have accounts. He's clearly doing a lot of things right.

    For those of you coming here for advice on getting into game (self-)publishing, you should be going to Jamey. Come here for the cautionary tale instead!

    Monday, March 5

    A Busy Week

    It's been a very busy week this week. I've shipped the first two blind playtesting copies of FlickFleet, made my first batch of Zombology in ages (I've been focussing on FlickFleet for the last couple of months), had a UK Games Expo seminar accepted and then spent the weekend with Paul (my FlickFleet co-designer) doing some gaming, some playtesting and attending Beyond Monopoly, the club in York, for the first time in probably nine years. Finally, I found out that FlickFleet is not a finalist in the Cardboard Edison Award - despite really positive feedback from the judges.

    The blind playtesting is a crucial step in the development of a game. You're sending a copy of the game, complete with rulebook to strangers for their feedback. They will have to learn the game from the rulebook, as if they'd bought it in a shop and then play it - rightly or wrongly based on their reading of your rulebook. You will then get feedback on the quality of the rulebook, what wasn't clear or was missing and their opinions of the game. From strangers. Who unlike the people you will have mostly been testing with, are not your friends and are less inclined to go easy on you to protect your feelings. It's an invaluable opportunity to find the weak spots in your rulebook (writing rules well is very hard, and invariably you will have missing things or made statements that can be interpreted in different ways), and to get a better idea how a random punter would experience and feel about your game - it's also a great opportunity to get a better idea of what the market reception of your game might be.
    A blind playtest copy ready to go in the post

    Zombology has suffered a bit over the last couple of months. I'd built up a decent stock in December, and while I intended to keep cranking out copies in January and February, sales were not fast enough to demand it (though on track!) and I spent what little time I had (The Baby has been sleeping terribly since Christmas, so I've been going to bed early and Eurydice time is between kids' bedtime and mine, a time period that has been heavily squeezed!) on FlickFleet instead. In January I was trying to get a Cardboard Edison Award submission done (more on that later) and then this month it's been upgrading my copy, getting a copy to Paul and then working on the blind playtesting copies. With a trip to Beyond Monopoly last weekend though I needed to boost my slowly diminishing stock a bit - I'd rather take far more than I need than have fewer than I could have sold. I got six boxes and three games made during the week, which meant I had 15 copies to take with me to Beyond Monopoly.

    On Monday I also heard that the seminar idea I had pitched to the UK Games Expo in Birmingham in June (me hand-crafting a copy of Zombology live in front of an audience while talking about my experiences running Reiver and Eurydice Games and the many tips and tricks I've picked up over 16 years of hand-crafting games). It's going to be 1-2pm on Sunday 3rd June and spaces are limited to 50 people, so if you're interested I'd get there early!

    Friday evening we braved the snow and drove down to York to see Paul and his family again. I was too tired in the evenings for our usual playtesting and gaming (baby-related sleep deprivation again!), but Paul and I made it along to Beyond Monopoly on Saturday afternoon - the big games club in York I used to attend when I lived there. While there I spent the afternoon demoing Zombology and playtesting FlickFleet and I sold two copies of Zombology :-) It was also great to catch up with some old gaming buddies. There was a lot of interest in FlickFleet too - several people signed up to my mailing list to be kept in the loop.

    The week ended with the news that FlickFleet had not made the cut for the Cardboard Edison Awards finalists. From a field of 192 the judges had to pick approximately fifteen based on a video introduction, a rulebook and a brief overview. My video (done the night before submission) was spectacularly uninspiring - I sounded terribly dull and not at all excited about my game, and the rulebook was pretty poor too - it was also last minute, and had no examples and not enough diagrams. I could really have done with getting the new rulebook (finished last week) done in time for the submission at the end of January.

    This week I'm hoping to make it to Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday to show off the latest FlickFleet changes and get peoples' opinions on them.

    Monday, February 26

    Secret Sauce

    The title sounds much raunchier than this blog post actually is!

    I was asked on Friday evening on twitter if I could share some of my ‘Hand-crafting secret sauce’ by a fellow game designer and Zombology customer. His question was specifically around three things: tools, costs and time.

    The tools question is pretty easy to answer as I did a post on this years ago, but I’m still using the same tools. The corner rounding tool has halved in price since I bought it in 2006, so it’s not quite so expensive any more.

    In terms of costs, Zombology is pretty straightforward. Shipping is the cost of the padded envelope (I bought them in bulk so they were only 30p each) plus Royal Mail 1st class postage to the UK (£3.40) or standard parcel elsewhere (£4.10 to Europe, £5.65 to Australia and New Zealand or £5.15 to everywhere else). For those copies I sell via my website PayPal fees vary between 67p and just over a pound.

    The cost of manufacture for Zombology comes down to printing alone. I bought box card (750 micron thick greyboard), box labels, rules sheet and card sheets from a local digital printer. Printing is one of those things where there are real economies of scale. The first copy is really expensive, but the more you do the cheaper it gets. I wanted to sell Zombology (which is 108 cards and a rules sheet in a two deck card box like No Thanks! or 6 Nimmt! comes in) for £10, which is more or less the retail price of a game that size in the UK. I also wanted to do it at a profit so that I had some money to pay for advertising, a website, trips to conventions, making prototypes of new games and to grow the company so I can make bigger print runs or more complex games in future.

    When I was pricing it up the cost for 100 copies was £585, so £5.85 per game. If I sold all 100 copies at full price (I’ve already given away four for reviews, my copy, etc. so that's not going to happen!) then I could make at most £415 minus PayPal fees. Which doesn’t leave a lot for all the other things I’ve mentioned above.

    150 copies was £630 (£4.20 per copy) with an absolute maximum profit of £870, and 200 was £790 (£3.95 per copy minus PayPal fees) with a maximum profit of £1,210. Could I sell 200 copies? That’s the £790 question. Sales are on track at the moment, but without any marketing budget or any real marketing skills it’s hard work, especially with the constant stream of amazing looking Kickstarters with their stretch goals and hundreds of minis. We will have to wait and see.

    I could have made the game much cheaper than that, but I made a couple of decisions which push up the costs and the quality. It's squeezing my margins and forcing me to do larger runs, but it's a decision I still stand by. I craft games to a very high standard. I do it in my spare time around a young family, after the girls go to bed. And seeing as I’m usually up around 5am, I don’t go to bed late myself, so time is very limited.

    Decision one was to use vinyl stickers for the box labels. When I did Border Reivers and It’s Alive! I printed the box labels on paper and then hand glued them onto the box blanks using watered down PVA glue. It took ages and was really awkward. With less time available I’m all about saving time and effort where possible. The vinyl stickers are very expensive, but they are very quick and easy to stick on.

    Decision two was to keep laminating the cards and box labels. The printer applies a very thin coat of plastic over the artwork and then melts it into the paper. It makes the cards and box more hardwearing, slightly water resistant and it feels really nice in your hands. Again it’s totally worth it. I want people to be amazed that I’ve made the games by hand, not think they look and feel shoddy.
    A Zombology before I start crafting

    The final question was about time. I make the games in batches of six (the number of boxes I get out of a single sheet of SRA2 greyboard. Each batch takes about four hours (it was 4.5, but I’ve honed it over the twelve batches I’ve made so far), so it’s about 40 mins per game. The boxes take about 15 minutes each including cutting out, folding, taping, cutting out the labels and then labelling. Folding the rules is about 2 minutes and then cutting out all 108 cards takes 20 mins. Rounding all the corners using the aforementioned tool takes the final three minutes!

    I submitted a seminar idea for the UK Games Expo this year where I hand-craft a game in front of a live audience, explaining how and why I’m doing what I’m doing, along with sharing some tips and tricks on what I’ve found works and what doesn’t. I should find out today whether or not I’ve been accepted...