Thursday, April 24

Carpe Astra - Character Preview 1/4

The flavour text is done now, but an unexpected visit from the International Trade advisor meant I didn't get as much other stuff done as I meant to.

Over the next week or two, I'm going to give previews of the four characters in Carpe Astra, as well as some of my thinking behind why they are as they are. The four characters are played by the players and represent the power-hungry elite of the galaxy. I've got the flavour text (character and card) and some brief blurb which will appear in the rules, on my website and on the box to set the scene for the game. While most gamers are au fait with sci-fi in general, I'm trying to bring my vision of a dystopian future to life, to help the players get in the spirit of the game.

The galactic empire of the game is definitely a human one, but there are passing mentions of other aliens species, so we're not alone. The characters are all ruthless, driven and successful, not very nice people - that should make the slandering aspect of the game more fun - with plenty of latitude for some terrible slanders to besmirch their reputations.

I've made them equally split along gender lines, and want them all to appear of non-specific race, as if the races of planet Earth today have melded over the intervening time, without the continents of our history to constrain peoples movement. Each character represents one of the six powerful guilds of the game: The Military, Traders, Priests, Engineers, Expansionists and Politicians. They also have a colour which will be the colour of the pieces that player gets to use.

First up, in the red corner, we have Admiral Ch'un, representing the military. She's a career officer, appearing to our eyes to be in her late sixties (though actually over 300!), she looks scarred and stern.

Flavour text: During a military career spanning over 300 years Admiral Ch'un has built a reputation for bravery, ruthlessness and winning at all costs. Thinking nothing of wasting the lives of her underlings, she often does the unexpected and has an unequalled record of military victories.

The character flavour text will appear on the player guides (one for each character) with a picture of the character and an overview of play.

In other news, I spent an hour and a half with a Trader Advisor this afternoon during an impromptu visit. I had some questions about Passport to Export a UK government programme to support new exporters. I found out that I am eligible for grants up to £1,500, which is great. I also found out there's a £250 joining fee :-( and they'll only match your spending. But both trips to US/German distributors and trips to overseas conventions (e.g. Essen) count, so I could get half my expenses paid for the Essen trip, which I was planning to make anyway. I'm now considering visiting US distributors, and maybe a US convention such as GenCon or Origins too.

Wednesday, April 23

Unexpected Perks of Self Employment

I'm halfway through my third week week of self-employment, and I've noticed some advantages I wasn't expecting when I gave up my old job. I used to drive, get a lift or take the bus to work, clocking up around sixty miles a week in our car, and probably only walking ten miles a week in total. I no longer drive to work, so I'm saving the environment ever so slightly, but more importantly I'm doing more walking, with frequent trips into town and to the Post Office sending copies of It's Alive! and I walk over to Paul's for our Wednesday afternoon playtesting. I reckon I'm walking nearer to twenty miles a week now. Seeing as walking is my only form of exercise at the moment, this is a good thing. In addition, my lack of willpower regarding food led to almost daily trips to the tuck shop at work for snacks and a can of pop. Without easy access to tempt me, I've been eating much better (and cheaper!). Between the two of them I've lost 3/4 of a stone (10 pounds / 4.5 kilos) over the last couple of months - excellent. I expect you all to compliment me on my svelte new physique next time you see me ;-) Because I don't have a commute I'm also getting more sleep, which is great, I hated getting up at 6am.

In other news, I've made some more changes to the website today, incorporating feedback from The Wife and my Dad over the weekend. I've also contacted GS1UK about getting some barcodes so I can put them on my boxes. I'm also continuing to contact more distributors, trying to drum up interest in Carpe Astra.

I didn't get as much of the flavour text done as I wanted to, due to the website work, but I'll post the first character preview tomorrow. There won't be any artwork yet, but a description and the flavour text.

Tuesday, April 22

Full Day!

It was nice to get to spend a full day on the company today. My first task was to respond to a bunch of pre-orders for Carpe Astra that resulted from yesterday's newsletter. I also had a couple of It's Alive! sales to prepare and dispatch.

Most of the morning was spent on a few changes to the website suggested by my Dad on the weekend. I had a couple of CSS bugs to fix, and I wanted to make the page a bit more resilient to font size changes in a user's browser. I've got them done, but I've not posted them yet, I'm going to have The Wife have a look at them first.

This afternoon was spent contacting distributors and shops to start the ball rolling on Carpe Astra, and also preparing the flavour text for Carpe Astra. I need some flavour text on each of the 97 cards, plus a little blurb for each of the characters to go on the player guides. I'm about halfway through the cards at the moment. The flavour text serves a dual purpose, it's there to get players into the mood of the game, but also to provide a suggested narration for the game. An optional rule is to describe how you've made the connection with the Guilds, the flavour text give you an example if you're not confident making one up. Tomorrow I hope to finish the flavour text, and come up with some example layouts to show the artist next week when I meet him. I'm going to leave the layouts with him (just pieces of card showing where I want all the components of the artwork) so that I can start laying things out up here, knowing that they'll fit the artwork.

Here's a couple of flavour text examples:

  • Network card: Connect yourself with The Military, Traders and Politicians. I lobby the Senate for reduced trade tariffs for military purchases.
  • Slander card: Connect an opponent with The Military and Politicians. They are using Marines to coerce Senators to vote in their favour.
  • Event Card: Pirate Attacks. Get an extra credit every time you score The Military or Traders. Piracy is on the increase, freighters are vulnerable without military escorts.

Of course, you can make up a story that describes how you're taking advantage of the event to gain additional power.

Monday, April 21

Ding! Ding! Round Three!

I'm now in my third week of working for myself, and I'm really enjoying it. When it's your own money on the line, it really brings your time management decisions into focus! This week I'm starting the consultancy for my old company, today I had a meeting in London (an hour walking to and from the station, four hours on the train and two hours in a meeting). I can only bill for two of those hours, but at least the time on the train isn't a write off - I can work on there with my laptop, especially as there's now free WiFi. In fact, I write this very post in the vicinity of Peterborough on the way home :-). I'll be working several hours again on Friday, though thankfully that's in Yorkshire, so the travel time is less. Then next week I've a two day meeting on Monday and Tuesday. The extra money will come in handy, it's going to be a while before Reiver Games can support us.

So, what am I up to? I've posted the Dutch translation for the It's Alive! rules, which has generated some useful feedback on BoardGameGeek and I've announced Carpe Astra on my website, which has been tweaked a little to make it slightly more flash (what do you think Mal?). The Carpe Astra logo, banner and teaser image are just placeholders until I can get something official from the artist. I did the stars background myself from this tutorial which is pretty cool. I did mine in an hour, I didn't want to spend too long on it, as it's only temporary. I've also started getting pre-orders for Carpe Astra. I'm offering a discount for pre-orders which I hope will lure a few people in, but the lion's share of the sales will have to be to shops and distributors. I need to start contacting them soon, so I can build up a list of orders and get ready for the end of July when I hope to be shipping Carpe Astra to retailers.

Next up is the graphic design and artwork. R H Aidley, the artist who did It's Alive! is going to do Carpe Astra too, he's busy until the end of the month with a couple of children's books though, so the artwork will have to wait until then. The layout can be started now however, so it won't delay me. I was going to do the same thing as It's Alive!, and get him to do all the art, and then do the layout and text myself. I'm now thinking that I can get him (at extra cost!) to do the layout for the cards, scoreboard and player guides. It will look at lot more professional than the semi-transparent boxes I'd have done, should be really cool.

In business, people tend to ask you what your 'differentiators' are (or similar, they probably use a made-up word such as that!), what makes you different from your competitors. That's a question I need to answer. Why should people spend their money on a Reiver Games game, rather than one made by someone else? Obviously I need to make great games or I'm stuffed, but great games alone won't cut it, lots of companies make great games. I'm thinking that art will be one of my differentiators. Lots of German games have terrible art. Truly hideous. The big American companies have technically good art, but not very exciting, innovative or 'arty'. I think that's an area I can compete in successfully. Although I'm not a competent artist, I think I have a fairly good eye for these things, plus I've got The Wife (who's officially my Art Director :-D) and my Dad (a retired art teacher) who also give me really good feedback on the aesthetics of my games. Border Reivers was pretty weak in the art stakes (with the exception of the box art that my Dad did), but I love the art on It's Alive!

It's not perfect - I'm not 100% happy with the box art, a few of the cards get confused easily (legs & arms being the classic example), but it stands out. It's comic-like (which I wanted) while being different enough that it looks a little unusual. And the outside of the player shields are fantastic!

Last time round I was fairly easy going, I described to the artist what I wanted, got some sketches (including fantastic ideas I'd never have thought of), picked my favourite and that was it. The net result was a couple of things I wasn't completely happy with, but I didn't say anything. This time round I want to be a bit more pushy, if there's something I'm not happy with, I want to get it fixed, even if it costs more. As part of this I've arranged to meet the artist next Wednesday to discuss the art, I'll take prototypes and layout guides and spend a couple of hours discussing ideas with him. Hopefully it'll be a really good meeting, and lead to a great looking game.

Thursday, April 17

Busy Few Days

I've spent thirteen hours at hospital this week including travel time, which has obviously had an impact on the amount of progress I've been able to make, but even with that I've managed to get a lot done. Plus the treatment seems to be making a difference so that's worth it too.

Tuesday I managed to make my Codename: Network prototype a little nicer looking in preparation for a playtesting night with Paul G, Greg and Lisa. It was (believe it or not) the first time I'd played 4-player, and as a result we made a couple of changes to make player interaction a bit easier - all good stuff.

Wednesday afternoon, I got confirmation from the designer of Network, Ted Cheatham, that he was happy with the name and the contract, so I can now confirm that Network will be the third game released by Reiver Games in July of this year. I want to call it 'Carpe Astri - Seize the Stars' but apparently the correct name is 'Carpe Astra', someone spotted the error on BoardGameGeek and I checked it with a Professor of Latin at Cambridge University! I'm hoping to have the professional run ready to ship pre-orders (at 30% discount) at the beginning of July, sending copies out to shops at distributors at the end of July/early August. If you're after a copy please either email me to go on the pre-order list, or contact your favourite store and ask them to stock it. I expect it will cost somewhere between £15 and £25 GBP, but I'm waiting on a quote from the manufacturer before I can confirm that.

Wednesday afternoon also featured another playtest, this time with Paul W and Lisa, giving the new 3-player layout a test. Again it went well (plus I won 3/3 :-) ), so that was really useful too. Wednesday evening Rich tried it out too, he enjoyed it as well, which is a useful barometer as he's not a game geek like the rest of my playtesters.

This afternoon, I finally got to meet the sales guy from the manufacturing company. That was a really useful meeting, I got to enquire about what affected the price (and by how much), show off a couple of prototypes and generally get a lot of my manufacturing questions answered. I've not gone down the professional route before, so I don't know much about it. The more I can find out quickly, the better.

I've also contacted a group who might offer me a grant to help with exporting, on the advice of my small business advisor. They offer grants to do things like visiting potential overseas markets. If I can get an all expenses paid trip to the States to visit distributors that would be awesome!

Monday, April 14

New Website

I've not changed any of the content, just migrated it to PHP, to remove some duplication, making it easier to add new games in the (near!) future. If you get a chance, check out the site and check I've not broken anything!

Sunday, April 13

Games Day

Yeay! 400th post!

I went round to Paul W's this afternoon for a games day. I missed the morning, so I turned up halfway through a very entertaining game of Pirates. Paul's 3-D scenery looked really cool, as did playing on a blue surface, they really set the scene. When they'd finished we got a 4-player game of Network in, which was really useful. I've not actually played it 4-player yet, and it was good to see that it worked as I'd envisaged. I'm thinking of tweaking the scoring a little more, but I'll get a chance to do that on Tuesday (play-testing with Greg, Paul W & Paul G) and then again on Wednesday afternoon (with Paul W). It's so nearly there! We wrapped up with a couple of games of Guillotine, which I love (and recently bought for Paul G for his birthday).

It's been a cracking week for It's Alive! too. I sold more copies this week than in the preceding three put together, and the two weeks before were pretty good. If sales continue this well I'll sell out in three weeks! To be honest I doubt the next three weeks will be consistently as good as this one, but it definitely feels like I'm on the finishing straight. If you're after a copy I wouldn't wait too long, they'll be gone soon.

In other news, today is my MS-versary, I was diagnosed a year ago today (on Friday 13th April - how auspicious is that?).

Friday, April 11

A Week of Working For Myself

My first week at home is nearly done. It's felt good, but also slightly strange. It feels a bit like taking a week off, in the past I've taken a week off work to construct lots of games in preparation for a big convention. I think it'll take a few weeks for it to really sink in.

I've spent most of today working on Network. I was concerned that the version that Paul and I came up with on Wednesday could be broken if one player played a particular strategy, so I tried it out today and I was right :-( I've spent most of the day soloing various versions, trying to simultaneously fix the strategy problem and tighten the theme up a bit. Nothing major, just changing hand sizes, scoring mechanisms and also trying out some extra cards that the original submission also came with, but I'd taken out. Network is so nearly there, but it's difficult to stop playing with it and call it done. I guess I'm a perfectionist, or an inveterate tinkerer - one of the two! I'm trying to tie the game tighter to the theme by tinkering with the scoring, so that it 'makes sense' in the context of the game. It's also possible to do it by adding flavour text to the rules, or just rewording things, an example from the Network rules: replacing 'replace a piece' (the mechanic), with 'bribe an opponent's operative'. I'm hoping to do some playtesting on Tuesday night, and I'll take it along to Paul's on Sunday, if people are interested it will be really useful to get more multi-player games in.

Thursday, April 10

Shush! I'm Working!

It's amazing what counts as work these days :-)

Yesterday I spent the morning starting to go through the rules of the submissions I have requested, they've not all arrived, but those that have arrived I can take a look at. It's much slower going than the first pass, I have to read the rules, figure out in my head how I think the game will work and then make a decision. So far I've asked for prototypes of three, and rejected two.

At lunchtime I stopped to print, cut out and write some new cards for Network in time for an afternoon of playtesting with Paul. I had a new idea that I wanted to try out, I was worried the game felt a bit too random, a bit out of control. Also, I was worried that a run away winner could not be caught up. Paul and I spent the afternoon trying out variations on that theme. The version we ended up with at the end of the afternoon worked really well two-player, I've not had a chance to try it out with more yet. I had a really good afternoon, Paul make a great playtester (load of really useful ideas and insightful probing of potential problem areas), and it was nice to just hang out playing games - while working!

Today I did a bit more on the submissions, then I had another idea for Network. I printed, cut out and wrote some more cards. Tomorrow I'll solo them to see if they work at all, and try it with three and four (virtual) players. I hope to try it with real people on Sunday and Tuesday next week. Hopefully I'll get a chance to try it out with both three and four players.

In other news, I've now lined up meetings with the manufacturer and my small business advisor for next week, that'll be all three of the meetings I wanted to organise sorted.

Tuesday, April 8


That's 36 submissions, from 24 designers, 25 of which I've accepted on the first pass.

My first pass through the list is looking at a couple of paragraphs the designers sent me to see whether I'm interested in seeing the rules. At this point I'm considering the theme, mechanics and components. Here's the criteria I use to rule games out:

  • Theme. I'm looking for fun themes (rather than abstracts), nothing too distasteful or which I find un-interesting - e.g. sport games.
  • Mechanics. Mass market games are right out, I don't have the clout to compete in the party game/mass market arena, Hasbro would eat me alive! You also need to make massive runs to make it affordable, I don't have the capital for that. I'm not interested in wargames, or card games based on a standard deck of cards, nor anything that sounds too light (not enough meaningful choices) or too heavy (very long or complicated games).
  • Components. I don't like using generic boards, I'm trying to position Reiver Games as a company that makes attractive but unusual games, I can't do that using a chess board as the playing area. If it requires hundreds of plastic minis that's out too.

Also games that the designers freely admit to not being especially well tested fail the test too. I'm after games that are ready to publish. While I don't mind doing a bit of development if a game is almost there, I don't want to be doing the designer's playtesting for them. That's what they get paid for.

I've done the first pass through my submissions, now I need to look in more detail at the rules for those games that make the cut.

In other news, the meeting with the new bank manager went well and was useful, and I'm hoping to meet the manufacturer towards the end of this week too. I need to get a lot done this week, as it now looks like I'll be spending a decent chunk of next week in and out of hospital :-(

Monday, April 7

The Best Laid Plans...

Well, my first day working as a game publisher is over. 11 hours! Still, it doesn't feel like work :-)

I used (in the bad old days of employment ;-) ) to check my email while I ate breakfast so if I needed to package copies of It's Alive! to post at lunchtime I could. This morning I didn't turn the computer on until I was ready to start work. And what a great start it was! I had four sales of It's Alive! waiting for me in my inbox when I turned the computer on. Fantastic start to the business. Auspicious. During the day I sold another (my first sale to Estonia!), so five in total, that's more than I sold last week, in my first day :-) Needless to say it gave me a real spring in my step.

I'd started the day with only two finished copies of It's Alive!, and only a single padded envelope, so my plans for the day went out the window. Instead I started the day with a trip to Staples to buy more padded envelopes (they'd gone up - d'oh, but were on a buy one get one free deal - yeay!). I then spent the rest of the day making It's Alive! to make the copies I'd sold and build up some stock again. I paused briefly to pop to the Post Office to post those copies in the afternoon - postage has gone up too. Then back to construction.

I did, however, manage to get one of my tasks done - I've a meeting with the new bank manager tomorrow morning.

I'm off to Paul's now for games night. Man, I'm obsessed!

Saturday, April 5

The First Day of the Rest of My Life!

Dramatic enough for you? It's true though, today I'm no longer employed, I'm self-employed. It's going to take few weeks to settle in, but when it does it should hopefully feel very different.

A couple of things are going to make the transition easier:

  • Work want me to come back part-time as a contractor/consultant. It's far fewer hours than I do now, but at a far better rate, so it'll give me a chance to acclimatise myself to being on my own more, as I can wean myself off office life to some degree. Plus the money will help, allowing us to survive a bit better or give me longer to get the company off the ground.
  • I'm due a pay rise at work, back-dated to August, it looks like it going to be around £680 after tax, and will turn up at the end of June, again the money will be welcome.

I'm trying to have the weekend mostly off (though I've been checking my email compulsively as usual, and I've corrected the German rules for It's Alive! on my website again). Monday will be the big kick-off. I've arranged to see Paul on Wednesday for playtesting, before then I want to print some more cards for Network to try out a new idea. I'm going to create a spreadsheet of all my submissions. Until now I've been fairly cavalier about managing them, but with the vast number I've received over the last week I need to be a bit more organised.

That's it from me for the moment, I'll let you know how Monday goes...

Thursday, April 3

One More Day...

It's my last day at work tomorrow. One more day before I'm a professional board game publisher. Exciting! I've been getting as much stuff ready as I can, I want to be busy next week, rather than just sat around twiddling my thumbs.

Here's my todo list:

  • First pass through my submission list. Since my request for submissions last night I've had around forty. They've been coming so thick and fast that I've not really had time to look at them. One of my first jobs is to go through the list as a first pass, asking for rules to the ones I'm interested in.
  • Codename: Network. I need to start publicising this. The steps are: choose a name, list it on BoardGameGeek, nail down the rules and components, get a quote for manufacturing, start a pre-order list and start recruiting shops and distributors to stock it.
  • Make the last copies of the It's Alive! handmade limited edition, and sell them.
  • Meet with the small business advisor, my new bank manager and the sales guy from the manufacturer.

That's enough to be getting on with. The submissions alone will take a decent chunk of time. As for Network, the names I'm leaning towards are: Web of Stars (nicely captures the network aspect), Carpe Astri (latin for Seize the Stars) and Power Vacuum (space = vacuum geddit?). I'm going to ask for The Wife and the designer's input before I make a decision.

Tuesday, April 1

March Report

Big month for me! As usual, play first.


By the numbers, it was a fairly average month, but in the flesh it was a great one. I spent a weekend in Newcastle with old friends playtesting games, the next weekend we were down South playing games with yet more old friends, plus there was a week when I made it to both of Paul's games nights, my last two gaming sessions with Dave before he moved down South, a night in the pub when we ended playing drinking Jenga, and a visit to Hugo's for a gaming afternoon. Here's the multiples:

And the singles: Puerto Rico, Revolution!, Carcassonne: The Castle, Bang!, The Pillars of Venice, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. It was my first outing for N-Tropy, Revolution!, Bang!, The Pillars of Venice and Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. I wasn't a big fan of Bang! or The Pillars of Venice, N-Tropy was alright. My favourite new game of the month was Cleopatra etc. Nice theme, beautiful chrome, I like that the box is used as part of the board (like Niagara), and I love the corruption mechanic, where scoring the most points often means getting corruption counters, the player with the most at the end of the game loses, regardless of their score. Nasty :-D. Special mention goes to Revolution! by fellow blogger Philip duBarry. Dave and I played it, and I enjoyed it but felt it would be better with more players. Then I read the box. 3-4 Players. Muppet! I took it along to Hugo's but there were too many of us, so I'll have to try at Paul's instead.

All in all, it was a great month for playing games. Great to see so many old friends, and to be invited to yet more games sessions :-) Still, it was a shame to see Dave leave, I'll miss our Tuesday nights together, and our nights in the pub chatting about game design.


Ooooh. Exciting month. I finally stopped prevaricating about whether to quit my job and set up Reiver Games full-time, and just did it. I also started making a splash to try to build awareness of my company, and to drum up more submissions. I posted a few things on BoardGameGeek, which attracted attention, and lead to a brief story on Boardgame News. In total I think I've had around thirty or forty submissions. It's a bit overwhelming. For the moment I'm just replying telling the designers I'll look at them next week. At least I'll be busy in my first week at home :-)

It's Alive!

Sales have been slow since Christmas, but they've started picking up this last week as I'm more active, and making a splash about my company. I've sold nine during March, and I'm hoping that having some time to invest in publicity (and the quitting my job story) will raise awareness and lead to some more sales in the coming weeks. I've almost run out of the massive pile of finished stock I built up several weeks ago, time to get constructing again. Looking forward to next month I've a couple of appearances at the local game store (their games night and a Saturday slot) which should also lead to some sales.

Codename: Network

I've been working on this the last few weeks quite hard. I've started putting together some graphic design and been bouncing ideas back and forth with the designer. I started a thread on BGG asking for title suggestions and got hundreds. I need to pick one, and then start publicising it properly.

Codename: Jorvik

Jorvik's gone on the back-burner for now. I had some constructive feedback from Mal & Paul that made me think it wasn't quite ready. So I'll continue working on it, and release it when it is ready, rather than rush it out too soon.

In other news, all the fuss has led to the most hits in a single day here on Creation and Play. I'd like to welcome all my new readers, hopefully you'll stick around and join the discussion every now and again. It's going to be an exciting few months here on CnP I hope you enjoy reading about it.