Monday, July 30

Retro Evening

I couldn't play games this evening, both Dave and Paul were busy, so instead I decided to make some games. Sadly the boxes still haven't arrived, so I couldn't start another batch of It's Alive!, instead I made a copy of Border Reivers, or at least most of one.

At the Expo another publisher asked for a copy of It's Alive! and Border Reivers. It's Alive! was no problem, I've all the pieces to make that, but I was low on Border Reivers components. I had a few spares of most things but no greyboard for making the tiles. Fortunately the artwork for It's Alive! came wrapped in paper rather than in a cardboard box, and it was protected on both sides by, you guessed it: greyboard. The publisher contacted me a couple of days ago to ask whether I'd forgotten. Man that's embarrassing. I really should get the copies off quickly.

This evening I made a whole game of Border Reivers except for the tiles, which will have to be another night's work outside in a friend's yard. I made the box out of the thicker greyboard (probably 1.5 or 2mm). I really liked the solidity of the thicker box, but I think the thinner card I use is alright, and it less raw materials from an environmental point of view. It felt good to be doing Border Reivers again, a nice change from an endless stream of It's Alive!

I've now got ten copies of It's Alive! at home waiting to be paid for. I got an email from one of my American customers asking if his copy was ready. This is what I was afraid of, I'd emailed him a couple of weeks ago to tell him it was, somewhere along the line a spam filter must have swallowed it. How many more people has this happened to?

Sunday, July 29

Not Quite To Plan

Friday was a mixed bag, I had a little bit of time to cut out It's Alive! bits, I met the small business advisor but the professionally made boxes didn't turn up. D'oh!

The small business advisor gave me a lot of advice around tax (VAT registered or not), business status (self-employed or limited company) and how to limit your tax burden. It was very informative. Plus free, which is a bargain.

The boxes didn't turn up while we were in, we had to pop out at lunchtime, so they could have arrived then, but there was no 'We tried to deliver a parcel' note when we got back, so we don't know whether or not they tried. Hopefully they'll try on Monday, but I've got to go to work that day so I'm hoping for one of those notes that explains how to collect the parcel from the depot. I've six games left to finish in the meantime, the boxes are made so it's just the interior to make. I've five finished copies at home, and twelve notified orders. Now that I can make a game in half an hour I can notify more people that their copies are ready. Some people pay up immediately, others take a few days or more, so rather than wait on those people I can move ahead a little and reduce the waiting list. Of course, now that it's holiday season people may well not be around to check their email.

Thursday, July 26

Stepping Up

It's a busy few days in the Reiver Games camp. Yesterday I was on the radio, tonight I've been constructing games and tomorrow I'm seeing a small business advisor.

It was fun being interviewed on the radio, I was on the air for about twenty minutes and The Wife said I came across well. I did however make a few mistakes that I've learnt from. They asked me to bring along some games so that the interviewer could describe them on air and having something tangible to discuss. I took my copies of Border Reivers and It's Alive! The interviewer concentrated on Border Reivers, even going so far to ask 'If any of my listeners would like a copy how would they go about getting one?', to which I had to reply 'It's sold out.' The moral of this tale: only take the product you're promoting, old ones are best left at home. I also mentioned that my core audience was hardcore gamers, which The Wife rightly pointed out may have put off casual gamers who were listening in. Still, apparently I came across well, it was good experience, and I'll learn from my mistakes and be better prepared next time.

This evening I've finished off a batch of eight It's Alive! boxes. Hopefully they are the last I'll have to do for quite a while as over one hundred and forty professionally made boxes are turning up tomorrow. This will allow me to dramatically reduce the construction time, and hopefully burn through my waiting list a bit quicker. I'm really looking forward to having stock again, and being able to promote the game properly.

Tomorrow I've got the day off work. I've a trip to my neurologist at lunchtime, the boxes are due to arrive and in the morning I'm meeting with a small business advisor to discuss the next step for Reiver Games. The small business advisors are a free service provided by the government. I saw one last March, before I set about launching Reiver Games and Border Reivers and it was really helpful. They gave me loads of useful advice. I'm going to be asking them about how to progress to professionally made games and selling to shops and distributors. I need to think about whether to continue as a sole trader or make the leap to Limited company, and also what to do about VAT. In the UK you don't have to be VAT-registered until your turnover crosses £50,000. But if I'm selling to other companies rather than end-users it might be advantageous. I'll let you know how it goes...

Wednesday, July 25

Reiver Games Rules The (Air)Waves

I'll be on the local radio station this evening, talking about Reiver Games, Border Reivers and It's Alive! To be honest I'm not really ready for it, with fifty-six outstanding orders and only five finished copies at home. But I've already put it off once and it should be fun. I'll be on BBC Radio York (103.7, 104.3 & 95.5 FM) just after 6:30 this evening. It should in theory be available via their website live and after the fact, but they seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties so I wouldn't count on it.

In other news, the professionally made boxes are due to arrive on Friday, which should significantly speed up my production, I'm hoping to be able to make at least twelve games a week once the boxes arrive, meaning I should clear my backlog in four weeks or so. I've got a convention to attend in that time though, so it'll probably push out a little.

There are a few people on the waiting list who have gone quiet. I've emailed them (weeks ago in some cases) to tell them their copies are ready and they've neither replied to say they don't want it any more nor paid up. The silence is a little frustrating, as I don't know whether to: keep a copy ready for them in case they are about to order; keep them on the list but concentrate on others or remove them from the list and give their copy to the next person who orders. I'm going with number two at the moment. I'm now getting through the copies ordered at the Expo, so if you ordered there I'm getting to you!

Tuesday, July 24

Update from Phil

Just thought I'd post a quick update about what's been happening. First of all I received It's Alive! a couple of days ago. It looks great and I am eager to play it. One corner got squashed in shipping though :( Thanks Jack for shipping it so quick!

As for my designs, I have been working hard at re-working Archaeology into a card game. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly I'd love to be able to do another print run, and cutting the cost and production time down by just producing cards will help this heaps! Secondly, there are a few rule tweaks I'd like to implement to streamline the game, and up some of the strategic play. Seeing as the original game was pretty close to being card-based anyway, this feels like quite a natural progression. I think I am getting close to locking everything in for it now.

Tuesday, July 17

London: Day Two

I had no evening plans for my second night in London, so I had a good few hours to spend on my Jorvik and Artist prototypes. I finished off colouring in the Jorvik prototype and coloured in the Artist prototype and did a bunch of solo playtesting on Jorvik. Soloing a game doesn't give you the full experience (and in particular it's bad for hidden information or bluffing games), but it will give you an idea about whether the basic mechanics work and will give you a feel for card distributions, etc. If you keep ending up with the same cards that you haven't used, then there are probably too many of them. Generally I think things are starting to work, there doesn't seem to be any first player bias (both first and second player were winning games), but there is definitely more work to do. A few of the stage three cards appear to be too numerous, and there were several cards I wanted that I hadn't made, so I'll probably swap out some for those new types. Another problem seems to be that whoever scores highest in the first stage also scores highest in the second and third stages, and hence wins. The second stage is supposed to be the great leveller, but it's not working that way at the moment. I'll probably down-grade the stage one cards to make them less powerful.

I've also tweaked my Artist prototype to fix some problems we had with it last time I played. There was an advantage if you were lucky enough to be given two scoring areas adjacent to each other as some pieces only scored if you controlled both areas. I could have just removed those pieces, but I liked them, so instead I made all the scoring cards double so they covered two areas. I've also coloured in the pieces to work around some problems that came from the pieces just having the colour written on them (which wasn't visible enough). Doubling the size of the scoring cards' areas means that each player now has less to remember (a cause of frequent card checking), and a player shield (which I'll make when I get home) will mean that the cards can be kept face up and yet hidden, so memory will be less of a problem. I've also got some ideas to make things a bit more interesting which I can try out next time I test it.

I feel like I've made some progress on both games tonight, although from my description it might not sound like it!

In other news, It's Alive! got the thirty ratings needed to become ranked on BoardGameGeek today. Its officially the 1558th best board in the world. I would expect that to move up in the coming months as it gets more ratings (which will slowly outweigh the dummy Bayesian ratings), hopefully we'll break the 1000 barrier in a few months. Fingers crossed.

Monday, July 16

London: Day One

I'm in London most of this week for a training course. This means that I can't do any game construction, but that doesn't mean that Reiver Games is on pause. This morning I posted another copy to the USA, continuing my efforts to work through my backlog.

This evening, after meeting my sister for dinner I returned to my hotel room and started working on Jorvik. I'd spent some time on the train on the way down yesterday drawing up the cards for the next prototype. I'd started testing the first part of the game on Saturday, and I'd tweaked the balance slightly already. I also removed a few cards to make the game a bit quicker. Tonight I roughly coloured the cards to make it easier to differentiate between the three stages of the game. I then played a couple of games with the new cards to get a feel for how the new version was working.

I'm trying to create a quick, simple two-player card game, which also has some depth and player confrontation. The early versions lacked the depth and the confrontation, but were quick and simple. About four months ago my mate Dave had a cracking suggestion which definitely improved the depth and confrontation, but the prototype we were playing with had a dodgy card balance which just didn't work right. I'd had some ideas for a while about how to improve things but I'd been way too busy with It's Alive! to do anything about them. This trip to London is finally giving me that chance. I've also brought Artist with me, as I had some ideas about that ages ago that I've been meaning to try out for a while.

Tomorrow night I've got the night to myself, so I'm hoping to work on the Jorvik prototype and continue my tweaking of the card balance to keep improving the game. I'm also hoping to try out the new ideas for artist and see how that goes.

Thursday, July 12

Border Reivers is Dead, Long Live Border Reivers

Eleven months to the day after I released Border Reivers I have finally shipped the last two copies. A couple of copies were left on order for the last couple of months and they've finally been claimed. It's all done. I'm not quite sure how to feel.

I'm proud of the game, its good reviews and the production quality I achieved making the game by hand. I've learnt a lot about how to manufacture, promote and sell games over the last year. Is it the perfect game? No, of course not. I've already got some ideas about how it could be improved, and when I send off the prototype copy to the other publisher that's interested I'll probably include those ideas in the copy.

Here's a quick round up of my lessons learnt over the last fifteen months producing Border Reivers.

Things That Went Well
  • I sold out. In less than the twelve months I had set myself as a goal. I was confident that I could sell fifty, but one hundred was definitely outside my comfort zone.
  • Americans bought the game. The exchange rate is awful at the moment, but still over twenty Americans coughed up the $80 to get the game and get it delivered over the Atlantic.
  • Production Quality. I had no idea what the finished game would look like until I finished the first copy, but when I did I was extremely pleased, and the production quality has received universally good feedback.
  • Publicity. When I plugged the game on BoardGameGeek, a story ran on Boardgame News and I was interviewed in the Yorkshire Post I got interest and sales, I need to keep doing this, but in a way that doesn't spam people.
  • Convention Attendance. The game was well received at the conventions I went to, and I usually had no difficulty finding people to play the game. Plus sales at conventions weren't subject to PayPal fees :-)
  • PayPal. The fees ate into my profit, but probably 60% of my sales were over the internet and PayPal made that possible.
  • Spares. The printer sent me more sheets than I asked for (about 5-10%).
Things That Went Badly
  • Cocking up. I cocked up four copies, which cost me £120 in sales. As time went on I became better at it, but at the beginning I cocked up a lot of pieces.
  • No spares. The wooden pieces supplier sent me around the right number of pieces, and some of those were knackered, as such it was these that stopped me making more copies.
  • Tiles. The tiles were a bitch to make, the gluing was unpleasant, slow and could only be done outside, which meant I had to arrange to use a friend's yard/garage, then the cutting out hurt and was slow and error prone. The 2mm thick greyboard gave them a nice solidity, but made the cutting out awkward to say the least.
  • Recycling. Because of the glue and the lamination I couldn't recycle some of my cut-offs. The spare card not used for the boxes was alright, but pretty much nothing else.
  • Time. I had difficulty fitting the construction around my full-time job and personal life. Reiver Games has been pretty much my life for the last year and a bit and that's not fair on my family or friends.
What To Change
  • Lamination. It was an accident that It's Alive! is not laminated, but the quality is fine (I think, correct me if I'm wrong), and it means that I had money free to get some of the boxes professionally made, and all my scraps are recyclable.
  • Avoid thick card components. It wasn't fun making them.
  • Time Management. Somehow spend less 'spare' time on future projects - not sure how to achieve this one.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who bought a copy of Border Reivers; who gave me feedback (both positive and negative); who gave me moral support or who helped me in some fashion and those who plugged Border Reivers/Reiver Games whether professionally or not. It's been a blast and I'm looking forward to publishing (and designing) more games in the future.

In other news, after months of tunnel vision on It's Alive! I've finally got some enthusiasm about Jorvik again. I've made some blank cards to take to London next week which will allow me to make another prototype and do some solo-playtesting while I'm away. I've had some ideas to improve the interaction of the players further and to simplify things a bit. One of the problems we had with the last prototype was being stuck with a few cards you couldn't play - hopefully that problem has been solved.

Tuesday, July 10

Slow, Then Faster

It's Alive! construction is continuing. I've been managing around six copies a week for the last few weeks, which has been good, but I've over fifty outstanding orders, so I've some way to go. I'm going to have a couple of slow weeks of production due to weekends away and working in London for a few days next week. So I'm going to have to do something else as I can't take all the construction kit with me.

While I'm in London I need something to occupy my evenings, so I'm thinking of taking the bits for my next Jorvik prototype so I can take that and do some prototyping and solo-playtesting. This prototype will be slightly higher quality than previous ones, I'm thinking of colouring the cards in using pencil crayons to aid differentiation between different stages of the game. One of the problems we had during the last playtesting was remembering to score before a new stage started, and I think coloured cards will help with that in the absence of final artwork. I've also received the first of four prototypes I'm expecting in the next few weeks. I can take that with me too and read the rules and maybe even solo it to see what I make of it.

In the meantime I need to get some copies of It's Alive! ready and shipped. I've two remaining copies of Border Reivers too that have been waiting to be shipped. I hope to get those sent off in the next few days (ideally by Thursday so that I sold out within eleven months :-) ). I'm going to spend Wednesday night making copies of It's Alive!, hopefully finishing off the next batch and getting the tiles done for the last copy of Border Reivers.

In other news I took Monday afternoon off work, so that I could post the box artwork to the box-makers in London and get some prototyping raw materials for the next version of Jorvik. I hope to receive the finished boxes in about three weeks which will allow me to step up my production of It's Alive! to maybe twelve copies a week. This will be good as I've a convention in early August, and a lot of outstanding orders to make. Once I'm ahead of the game I can add the PayPal buttons to the site and start publicising the game again, I've been pretty quiet since the Expo as I didn't want to attract more sales until I had some stock to sell, rather than a backlog of orders.

I've also had someone who ordered a copy of It's Alive! pull out when they realised just how bad the exchange rate is at the moment. This happened once with Border Reivers, I was hoping the lower price tag and shipping costs would avoid it for It's Alive! but sadly not.

All in all, things are ticking along quite nicely, but it's definitely the amount of time I have available that's holding things back at the moment.

Wednesday, July 4

It's Alive! With Yehuda

Yehuda was in York for a couple of days so I invited him round to our tiny flat. It also gave me a chance to give him his free copies of It's Alive!, a couple for other Israelis to save them postage, and to get mine signed.

I've been reading Yehuda's blog for well over a year now, but I never expected to meet him. It was a bit weird, this was the first person I'd got to know over the internet that I'd met in person. Put your minds at rest dear readers, there were no red carnations in button-holes and his daughter Tal was there as a chaperone!

Firstly I handed over Yehuda's copies, plus two others for other Israelis that Yehuda had kindly agreed to take home with him to save them the postage costs. Then I got him to sign a couple of games, those for me, my family and Dave (who had helped out at the It's Alive! launch at the UK Games Expo). We talked about how It's Alive! was going, and what my plans were for the future. We played a couple of games (one basic, one advanced), and then a couple of games of PitchCar which Yehuda had never played before.

Before we called it a night we signed a slightly amended contract, which changed some wording I was worried about, and amended the sub-licence fees that Yehuda was interested in.

It was a nice night, and it was great to play the game with the designer.

I've now heard back from the printers that they can do the boxes for It's Alive! I can only afford 150 of them unfortunately, but even that will save me over 110 hours work, so it's worth doing. I just need to send them the artwork and pay them for their troubles. This means that the waiting time for those towards the end of the orders list for It's Alive! should significantly decrease.

In other news I now have four prototypes on the way from three designers in the US and UK. I need to start thinking about Reiver Games' next game, and at the moment neither Jorvik or Artist are ready enough for consideration. I foresee a big play-off on the horizon when we play all the games back-to-back to help me in my decision-making process.