Thursday, August 28

An Expensive Day

Yesterday I paid the second half of my Essen stand (400 Euro) and then the second half of the It's Alive! print run. Apparently I'll not be getting the two finished copies I was told about, the almost finished one I received last week will do that job instead. This means I'll not see the punched coins until I go to the warehouse to collect the pre-orders for shipping. But the latest update is that they should be ready to ship next Wednesday or Thursday. I didn't have to pay until they were ready, but they won't ship until the games are ready (obviously) and they have received my payment (which takes three days to clear). So paying them now means that as soon as the games are ready they will be able to ship them. I'm desperate to begin selling them (several customers have been chasing me), so the sooner the better.

Yesterday was rounded off with another of my playtesting nights. It was Lisa, Jon and I, and we played a couple of games of Carpe Astra and one of Codename: Backyard. Carpe Astra went well, with both Lisa and Jon saying it was the best version they'd played (they've played a lot!) and wanting a second game straight after the first to improve their strategy. I'd played several games with these new rules solo over the last week, and though both Lisa and Jon have played the game a lot, neither of them had played this particular version. The scores were ideal for this. I won both games, but they both scored better in the second game than the first (so there's a learning curve, the most experienced player won, with more plays leading to higher scores). In the first game I was the start player, in the second game I went last, but I won both, so there's not a strong first or last player bias.

This morning Paul and I did some playtesting too. We played Carpe Astra and then a new prototype: Codename: Aces. Paul also liked the new Carpe Astra (and again I won) and he also really enjoyed Aces. It's a sports game, more mainstream than my other games. I need to play it more to get a better feeling for it.

In other news, one of the two prototypes I sent to US distributors last week has arrived, so hopefully I'll hear something from them soon.

Tuesday, August 26

Outreach Program

On Friday I visited a few shops in York. For once I wasn't targeting games shops, but general shops instead. Paul had suggested I contact York Dungeon, a macabre tourist site about ghosts and the less savoury aspects of York's history. Due to the gruesome theme of It's Alive! it sounded like something that would fit in well with their stock. I popped in to the shop and spoke to the manager who sounded interested, I'll chase her when the games arrive (hopefully next week!). Bizarrely, the guy behind the counter got very excited when I mentioned that I was selling board games, he's apparently designed a few abstracts, and wanted some advice on selling them or setting up a company. I left him a card, and he emailed me on the weekend :-)

I also tried a couple of the larger bookstore chains in the UK who both have a presence in York: Waterstones and Borders, both of whom sell a few board games. Neither were able to give me a phone number for the board games buyer, but I got the phone numbers for Head Office from both of them.

This morning I rang them both, I got voicemail at Borders, and Waterstones want to see a finished game when they arrive.

Monday, August 25

Essen & Prototyping

I spent the weekend looking into Essen stand details. I've a massive book of things I can order for my stand, from carpeting and furniture to microwaves and plumbing. All of it very expensive though. I might be better off taking stuff with me.

In other Essen news, my friend Paul has order a copy of Krakow 1325AD from another small publisher: Geode Games. He asked me if they could deliver it to my stand (4-415 - come and say hi!), as Geode don't have their own stand at Essen. Sure. Which led to Peter from Geode asking if I'd sell copies of Krakow from my stand. It sounds like a win-win situation, he gets a presence at Essen, I get a cut of his sales, and more traffic to my stand. I'm seriously considering it.

Despite today being a public holiday in the UK, I've spent most of the day working. I'm knocking up another prototype for Codename: Backyard. It's a fun little game, but as it stood the scoring was too vicious and it was a little too simple. I suggested some changes to the designer who then sent back some changes to my changes. I've spent the day getting the layout done for that. Hopefully I'll get it finished and printed out before I go to Paul's tonight for games night.

Friday, August 22

Chase Me!

A couple of distributors who've signed up to take some It's Alive! chased me yesterday to see when It's Alive! is due to arrive. I'd originally told them mid-August, but the manufacturers are now saying first week of September. Apparently several shops are champing at the bit to get their stock - my emailing everyone seems to be paying off :-)

I've also received a final quote for Carpe Astra from the German manufacturer. It's very reasonable, so I can get on and get that together.

In hindsight I made a mistake with the pricing of It's Alive! I tried to make it for £15 again, the same as the Limited Edition. I then spent several weeks desperately trying to the manufacturer's quote down to an acceptable level. The final result was margins that are way too tight - I can't carry on making so little profit. A better way to have gone about it was to realise that I couldn't get it done for £15 with a sensible margin, and to have gone for £20 then upped the quality of several components (cards -> tiles, thin card -> thick card for the guides and slabs). Assuming I could make a decent margin on that version I might have been better off. As it is, I'm going to hope that I do well at Essen where I'll get a better margin - selling directly to customers.

Carpe Astra will be more expensive, it's got over 100 cards, lots of thick card components (tiles, scoring markers, coins) and a few wooden pieces. The German manufacturers are cheaper too, so my margin will be a bit more sustainable.

Thursday, August 21

Breaking Into My FLGS*

*Friendly Local Gaming Store

Again, no crowbar involved. My FLGS is Travelling Man a small chain of four shops run from Leeds. To me it seems like a much bigger chain as there's one in York where I live now, one in Newcastle where I used to live, and there was even one in Bristol where my parents live. I'd met the Managing Director a few years ago and got talking to him about making my games. He gave me loads of really useful advice, and I've met him a few times since. The last time I met him, he seemed interested in stocking the professional print of It's Alive! He warned me though that he was bad at responding to emails due to the volume he received - keep hassling him was the preferred solution!

I'd sent him a email several months ago letting him know It's Alive! was on the horizon. No answer. I chased him yesterday, and he came back saying he'd like some. It's a small order compared to some I've received, but it means I can wander into my local store and see It's Alive! on the shelves. It's surprising what a boost this gives me :-)

In other news, the production sample has just just arrived from the printers. Everything is finished except the cardboard coins are only scored not die-cut - I can see where the cut line will be though. It looks really cool. The coins are much thicker than I expected - it drives up the weight, but they feel really good quality as a result. The professional run is surprisingly heavy compared to the Limited Edition. The guides, slabs and shields are a bit thicker, and hence a little heavier, but the coins are now on sheets so there's a lot of excess weight there. Plus the box is a little bigger. All in all, I'm really happy with the result - It's looking great.

Wednesday, August 20

Breaking Into America

Which sounds like I'm stood on the Canadian border with a crowbar and some wire-cutters. But I'm not. Honest.

Yesterday was devoted to making a couple of prototype copies to send to my potential US distributors. This took a surprisingly long time. First I had to layout all the components onto sheets of paper that would fit through my printer. My printer (an HP Deskjet 9800) will print up to A3, and I've got a pack of A3 card so that was the way to go for most of it. The shields however are too long, being 420mm in length - the length of a sheet of A3 paper. By the time I'd discounted the printer margins (where the printer won't print near the edge of the page), I've a printable area of maybe 400 x 287mm. So instead I popped to my local art shop and bought some A1 card, which is massive. I cut that down to 280 x 596mm (into thirds length-ways) and printed the shields on those. I'd bought a spare sheet of A1, and I only needed two of the thirds per sheet, so I had five spare thirds. Needless to say my printer promptly used them up, a combination of running out of ink, printing a test page when I least expected it and some feed errors. Even the ones that worked had quite bad front/back registration - the front and back didn't line up well at all. After hours of fighting with the printer I'd finally finished the printing by 8pm. To think I'd hoped to get it in the post yesterday - that was wishful thinking! Needless to say I was a bit stressed by the time I finished.

This morning I cut out the bits, boxed them and I'll post them this afternoon, once I've got the address for one of the two distributors.

On a related note, ThoughtHammer, a big US online shop, contacted me to ask about stocking my games. I told them they could either buy from me directly or from a US distributor, and pointed them to the two distributors who are considering stocking my games. They came back saying they don't deal with one of them and haven't heard anything about it from the other (unsurprising considering they've not yet decided whether or not to stock it). They told me of a few distributors they use, and said they'd tell them about me.

Brown Box, Inc. in Texas promptly emailed me to ask about stocking my games, and it now looks like they're going to place a fairly large order. Sweet!

In other news, I heard from the Production Manager of the company who are making It's Alive! for me. Tomorrow I should receive a game that is finished except for the die-cutting of the coins. This will be my first chance to see a finished box and the glued-up coins - very exciting. All being well I'll also be able to weigh the box and settle on a final shipping cost for the It's Alive! pre-order.

Talking of It's Alive! pre-orders, Michael, who's done the German translation of the rules contacted me to see if I'd mind him pimping It's Alive! on the SpielBox forums. Mind? Hell, no! Michael's post has led to several pre-orders from Germany which is great - thanks Michael!

Tuesday, August 19

Best Laid Plans

Today I was going to solo a bunch of ideas I've had for Carpe Astra with 2, 3 and 4 (imaginary) players ahead of tomorrow night's playtesting.

Last night though, I had an idea though about trying to get the US distributors to bite for It's Alive! Both are sitting on the fence for now, waiting to see a finished copy before they decide whether or not to place an order. Because of the manufacturing delays I was worried that by the time they've received a finished copy, played it and made a decision it will be too late to get the games into shops for Halloween. This is obviously a big marketing opportunity for a game with such a gruesome theme :-)

So last night I contacted both of them offering to send them a hand-made prototype and some of the production samples I've received so they can play the game and at the same time get an idea of the production quality.

They both took me up on the offer. So today I will be mostly making It's Alive! prototypes instead.

The It's Alive! pre-orders are continuing to trickle in, only two weeks to go...

Monday, August 18

It's Alive! Pimping

I'm now trying to crank up the interest in It's Alive! The adverts are doing well, driving a lot of people to my site. I'm getting a lot more click-throughs from BoardGameGeek than from Boardgame News which is to be expected as BoardGameGeek is the more popular site. On BGG, my advert is getting three times the average click-through rate which is pretty cool - thanks for all your help designing it. Strangely though, all but one of the pre-orders I've received have been through the Boardgame News advert. Odd.

I've also been contacting UK shops telling them about the game, offering the chance to buy from me or either of my UK distributors. I've been working my way through the UK FAQ on BGG, contacting the shops listed on there. Several have got back to me saying they are going to buy from a distributor which is great as it might increase the order size before I receive the games. I asked them to let me know if they intended to order from a distributor so that I could add them to a stockists page I'm going to add to my website.

I hope to have a more productive week this week. Last week I did a couple of days consulting at my old job and had a physio appointment on Monday. Coupled with a slump in my mood mid-week, caused in no small part by the continuing delays in manufacture and the realisation I'm going to have to boost my income with some more work on the side, I didn't get much done. I'm feeling much more positive again today though - It's Alive! is now only two weeks away and Carpe Astra is coming together.

Thursday, August 14


... Production samples and more playtesting.

Today I received more samples for It's Alive! These are finished components, as will appear in the games bought in the shops. This time I got the slabs, player guides, shields and proof sheets (i.e. not glued or die-cut) for the boxes and the coins. The proofs were nothing new, I've received proofs before. Admittedly they're on the label paper that will be glued to the card, but that doesn't make them that interesting. The slabs, shields and guides were interesting though. They were on the final material, and in the case of the shields exhibited the die-cutting and folding. They're all fine, it's pretty cool to see the final components. The only ones I've yet to see now are the die-cut coin sheets and the assembled boxes. I doubt I'll see either of these until the final games turn up in three weeks time. The boxes in particular are made by a different company, and the packing is done there too.

I also held another playtest session last night with Carpe Astra (4-player) and Codename: Native hitting the table. Lots more good ideas for Carpe Astra, but I really need to stop fiddling with it and settle on some final rules. It's still improving though, which is a good sign.

Monday, August 11

It's Alive! Manufacturing Progress

There's been some progress on It's Alive! manufacturing. I was told by my contact that I'd get some production samples last Friday. They didn't turn up, but he told me they'd been sent by ordinary post so they'd probably turn up on Saturday. Saturday we waited in for them (no biggie it was pissing with rain most of the day) mainly playing Paul's copy of Agricola that I'd borrowed for the weekend. I thought The Wife might like it and I was right :-) They samples didn't turn up though. Monday morning's post arrived and still no samples. I rang the Production Manager at the manufacturer (my contact is off on holiday now) to see if he knew when they'd arrive. I also asked if he knew when the games would be delivered. The delivery (initially due for Wednesday) has now slipped to the week of the 1st September. D'oh! At this rate I'm going to run out of money before I've actually received any stock. So much for the 'four to five weeks' estimate I first received.

When I got back from my physio session the samples had arrived via courier. It was a deck of shrink-wrapped cards and the rules in English and German. Just the coins, shields, slabs, guides and boxes and it's all done.

In other news, the It's Alive! advert is now up on BoardGameNews and has already lead to one (or two) pre-orders. Sweet. Of course the 15th August date could now change to 31st August. I might run that on BoardGameGeek.

Thursday, August 7

Playtest Central

The adverts have been tweaked slightly following the numerous excellent suggestions I received (thanks!) and sent off. I'm going to run the 'Pre-order before 15th August' It's Alive! one for a week, I'm not sure what to do about the Carpe Astra one yet, it might be a bit too early as there's not much info available yet.

In addition to the adverts I've also been playtesting a lot. Tuesday I played four 2-player games of Carpe Astra solo, trying out Michael's idea. I'm liking it more and more. Then yesterday evening I held the inaugural Reiver Games playtest night. I'm going to try to do them every Wednesday night to try to get through the massive stack of games I've received. Last night only Lisa and Chris could make it, but we played Sumeria and tried out a new one: Codename: Pharaoh (guess what that's about). Pharaoh took a while to get going as I think I misunderstood the rules a few times - they could do with being clearer. Writing a good set of rules is one of the hardest things to do, so I don't knock the designer for the problems I had. I had several questions, the answers for which may well be in the rulebook, but I couldn't find them.

Today my mate Dunk came round, and we played: Carpe Astra, Sumeria Codename: Match (x3) and Codename: Backyard. I really like Backyard, but I think the scoring needs work and the card balance could do with some tweaking too. I'll knock something together.

Dunk also asked me how Jorvik & Artist were going. Despite having given up my job I still struggle to find the time to work on my own designs! Jorvik & Artist are on the back-burner for now while I concentrate on getting It's Alive! and Carpe Astra out.

In other news, I got an email from the manufacturer to let me know that I'll receive some finished bits for It's Alive! tomorrow. These are printed and constructed for me to proof - not finished games. The finished games are due to arrive next week (according to the schedule of a few weeks ago), don't know whether that's still on course - I'll ask the manufacturer tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 6

Adverts Version 3

Here's a third version based on second version feedback, do you think these are better?

Tuesday, August 5

Adverts Version 2

Based on some feedback I received here I've made a few changes, do you think these are better? I've tried contacting some marketers, so assuming their prices are reasonable I might get them professionally improved.


As recommended by Scott, here are the adverts I've knocked up for It's Alive! and Carpe Astra. I'm not sure what I'm doing, so all feedback grateful appreciated. Do they pique your interest? Would you click on them? What could I do better?

Monday, August 4


I've spent the last few days focussing on raising awareness of It's Alive! and Carpe Astra. Thursday & Friday last week were spent preparing images and text for an advert in the Greater Games Industry Catalog a US trade publication. Not sure how much good it will do but it's pretty cheap.

The next couple of days will be spent working up some web adverts for BoardGameGeek and Boardgame News. I've decided to go with the 160 x 600 add as both will support this. BoardGameGeek will allow Flash and (presumably animated) GIFs, while BoardGameNews will allow you to submit multiple ads that will appear on different pages. Both these venues are highly targeted (anyone visited either is definitely interested in games), though BGG allows regular users to pay to turn off ads, so ads there might be mainly targeted towards the more casual gamer.

Spielbox have also contacted me about advertising in their Essen preview. It's fairly cheap, but the combination of their web and print magazine will hopefully attract the Germans who will make up at least 90% of the attendance at Essen.

Designing an advert is surprisingly tricky. I need to come up with something that will attract enough interest for users to click on the ad for more information. I've no background in marketing so judging this right is pretty haphazard. Will I come up with something that piques people's interest, or just puts them off? Only one way to find out...

In other news, I think I'm going to have to get some part-time work once Carpe Astra has gone to the printers. It's Alive! has taken much longer to print than I was hoping and Carpe Astra is still a way off. Until now we've been surviving on The Wife's earnings from her job, but that's finished and she's not going to get another one until she submits her PhD in January. I fear with neither of us earning for longer than planned the savings won't last long. Working a couple of days a week shouldn't get in the way too much once Carpe Astra has gone to the printers (it'll be several months before I've enough cash on hand to do another game anyway). The extra money will hopefully eke our savings out a bit longer, until Reiver Games is up and running and The Wife is employed again.

In other depressing news, it looks like Carpe Astra is going to slip until after Essen. I should hopefully have sent it to the printers before Essen, so I'll have a few demo copies with me that feature the final rules and artwork, but I just can't get the game ready in time for the fair. Bummer.