Friday, October 30

Looking Back

Despite the slight disappointment of Essen, things are still going very well considering how new I am to this. While at Essen I sold my 4,000th game. 4,000! That's way more than I ever expected to make, let alone sell at the beginning. So I'm going to do a brief retrospective about how things have changed in the just over three years since I started Reiver Games.

October 2006

In October 2006 my company was four months old. I had released Border Reivers only three months ago, and was still manically constructing copies by hand in my spare time. Each copy of Border Reivers took three hours to assemble from the pieces I had ordered - since I had to construct the boxes, tiles and cards from scratch. Things seemed to be going pretty well, I was making good progress through the print run, and the people I met at shows seemed to enjoy it. But giving up my weekends and evenings (and even some holiday from work) to manufacture the copies was hard work. I was already doing slightly better than I had hoped, but never in a million years did I think I would have sold 4,000 games in three years time.

October 2007

A year later it felt like the company was going somewhere. I'd sold out of the original 100 copies of Border Reivers and made a reasonable profit. I was now a publisher too: Yehuda's It's Alive! was the second game in my catalogue, released five months earlier in June. Loads of people self-publish their own board game design, fewer make the jump to publisher of other peoples' games too. It's Alive! was selling well and proving very popular, I'd decided to make 300 of these, again largely by hand in my spare time around a full-time job, and I was on course to sell out of these too within the year. Could I do this professionally? I was beginning to wonder...

October 2008

Six months earlier I'd made the jump to full-time publisher, quitting my fairly well-paid job in IT Project Management for a life of playing board games and begging for food. The first five months of full-time work had been disappointing, I'd decided to re-print It's Alive! professionally after selling out of the 300 copies limited edition in May. The reprint had taken a lot longer to manufacture than I had hoped, and I had spent many months without any products at all. Still It's Alive! had finally arrived in September, and I'd just got back from my first Essen. Essen had been a huge success and I was on a real high. I'd take 840 copies (a full pallet) of It's Alive! to Essen. Sales to punters hadn't been huge (I'd not really advertised at all) but I'd got rid of the rest of my stock to a couple of distributors and picked up four distributors in total. I was ready to conquer the world!

October 2009

In the year since last Essen things have gone extremely well. I've picked up six distributors in North America, seven in Europe and two in the far East. I've released another two games: Carpe Astra and Sumeria and sales look promising. I've still not broken even on any of my games, but they continue to sell well (after a Summer dip) so I'm hopefully that I'll reach that point on at least one of them fairly soon. Essen this year was slightly disappointing, I'd hoped my advertising spend would have led to more sales to customers, and the freight prices for carting my games to and from the show meant that I didn't make a boat-load of cash (like I did last year). But with no brand new games and good distribution in Europe, there were more people there who owned my games, rather than had never heard of them. Still, I've got interest from a whole bunch of new distributors and the Christmas season is approaching, so I'm hopeful of better things to come.

I'm now beginning to feel like a proper publisher - I've several games in stock, pretty good distribution and people are beginning to know who I am. Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, October 29

My Second Essen

I finally returned from my second Essen at midnight on Monday. It's been a pretty busy few days since I got back too, so this is the first chance I've had to really take stock.

First a big thank you to all of you who swung by and introduced yourselves - it was nice to meet you all and to know that somebody out there reads these musings!

The Run-Up

The run-up to Essen as I've already mentioned was pretty stressful, in particular the travel arrangements. When I finally found out I could get the games freighted to Essen for £160 (as opposed to £1000 for the van hire and freight rate on the ferry) I felt much better about that, but the banners didn't arrive until lunchtime on the day I left - thankfully they were ok!

Just to make things more exciting on the shipping front, I heard from the freight company (after they'd already collected the stock) that there would be a couple of extra charges. I wanted the games delivered on Wednesday (so I could unload them myself to save money) which was an extra £40, and then when they realised it was going straight to the fair there was an additional charge for unloading delays which I still don't have a final amount for. As it turns out they didn't deliver on Wednesday, but Tuesday instead. This was good in the sense that I knew that the games had arrived safely, but bad in that it incurred extra costs (warehousing at the fair and delivery to my stand by fork-lift - £140€ in total). The freight company did waive the delivery on Wednesday surcharge though.


A pretty good day. It took a little longer to get to the fair than I expected, we'd got up at 4:50am, caught a 6:50am plane to Dortmund and arrived in Dortmund at 9:05. Then we managed to miss every connection to Essen, so we didn't arrive at the fair until lunchtime. We set up the furniture, hung the banners (which looked great - much more professional than last year's posters) and waited for the games to arrive. A fork-lift dumped the two pallets and then we set up the rest of the stand and went about adding the errata sheets to all 630 copies of the expansion I'd taken. That took Andrew and I three hours, it would have been a bit quicker but I kept having to stop to speak to people :) There were even a few sales of Sumeria and the expansion too :).

Sans crowds the fair was easy enough to negotiate so I took advantage of the space to chat with my Taiwanese and one of my German distributors. My Taiwanese distributor said It's Alive! was selling well for them, and stock was running low. Since the cost of shipping to Taiwan is so exhorbitant, he was keen to collect stock from me at the show. I delivered four cases to him that day, and he said he might want some more, depending on how much space they had left at the end of the show. The German distributor hadn't yet collected any Sumeria, and assured me that he wanted to, it had just got lost in the run up to the show chaos. He asked me to come back to him at the end of the show - he'd take some of my left over stock if I had any - maybe 60 copies of each?

Feeling pretty chipper about things and with the stand ready to go by early evening, Andrew and I headed off to the apartment and a welcome Chinese takeaway (we'd eaten at about 5:30am in the airport, and then not until 8:30pm at night. Mmm. Hungry! That evening Dunk and Lucy arrived from Duesseldorf and the team was complete.


Thursday was the first day of the fair proper, and since Dunk and Lucy had arrived late the previous night, and Dirk (the Sumeria designer) was going to be helping out on the stand Thursday morning, I gave them the morning off - so it was just Dirk, Andrew and I until lunchtime. It got off to a fairly slow start - it takes a while for people to percolate through the halls to Hall 4, which is right at the back. Sales were pretty good though, lots of Sumeria and the expansion alone, plus more It's Alive! and Carpe Astra than I was expecting. The hardcore geeks tend to come on Thursday and Friday in an attempt to miss the weekend crush, and to get what is on their lists before they sell out. There was also some interest from new distributors in Finland, Japan and Singapore and my Belgian distributor collected some Sumeria too.


Friday was slower than Thursday, but not a bad day at all. I sold a box of each game to a shop in Switzerland (my first confirmed Swiss stockist) and sales were not too bad. It's Alive! and Carpe Astra continued to do better than I had expected, but it was definitely looking like my 50 copies a day target for Sumeria was optimistic. I gave Andrew the afternoon off - he'd earned it!


I wasn't expecting much from Saturday - the crowd is usually more family-oriented, tends to stick to the front halls and is less free with their money. Still nothing prepared me for just how bad it was. Sales were just over half the previous day's and it felt like we weren't selling anything at all. People seemed to enjoy the games though, and a couple of distributors swung by after apparently hearing good buzz about Sumeria. Alliance, my biggest US distributor sent a couple of guys over from their sales team. Previously I'd only dealt with their purchasing team so it was nice to meet them. They said that they'd heard good things about Sumeria and wanted to push it on their return to the States as a game with good Essen buzz. Plus a potential new French distributor had also been told about Sumeria and was interested in ordering 120 copies (a larger order than any I'd had outside America). Sales were very disappointing, but the buzz and distributor discussions left me feeling better about things.


Sunday was a real roller-coaster. Sales were going really well, my second best day of the show. Several people who'd played the games on Saturday came back and bought them and I picked up another Finnish distributor. I still had a bunch of stock left, but I hoped after the German distributor took some it would be a manageable amount to possibly send back in another UK publisher's van.

Then disaster struck. The boss of my contact at the German distributor came round, and seeing that my games were also distributed in Germany by someone else decided it would just be easier to buy from them rather than me. NO! Now I had a lot of stock to somehow get home. Time to panic! I went back to my Taiwanese distributor who took a bunch more It's Alive! and one of my UK distributors offered to take some of my stock to an Italian fair they were visiting the following week. I tried to see my contact at the other German distributor to see if they wanted some stock, but I couldn't get to see him - he was way too busy.

My last option was to buy a pallet, put the games on it, shrink-wrap them and then get the fair freight handlers to warehouse it for the night and ship it back to me in the UK. 460€. We finally left the fair at 9pm after a very stressful final few hours.

The Aftermath

The next day Andrew and I pootled round Essen before heading over to Dortmund airport for our 4:15pm flight. Which eventually took off at 9:30pm, 7.5 hours after we arrived at the airport. I finally got home at midnight, tired and emotionally exhausted.

On Tuesday I paid my take into my bank in the UK, although I brought home fewer Euros than last year, even with the huge cut the bank took, the weaker pound meant I paid more pounds into my account than last year. Of course with the sweaters, banners and the freight costs my expenses were much higher than last year, it was still a profitable week, but not by much.

Since then I've been busy on personal things and following up on all the distributor contacts I made - trying to expand my market presence further round the world. Next year things will be cheaper (the sweaters have a one off cost I've already paid and the banners are re-usable) and I really need to find a more affordable way to get my games to and from the fair.

I'm off to Patriot Games in Sheffield on Saturday for another demo day, and things on the home front will quieten down on Monday. Then sleep. Lots of sleep.

Tuesday, October 20

Off To Essen

This evening my journey to my second Spiel convention in Essen begins. Despite my best intentions it's been a largely last minute panic yet again, but now most of the panic is over. I've just been told my games have arrived at the convention centre, and I've collected my float (a whole bunch of five Euro notes for change at the booth), so the only thing I'm waiting on now is the banners which will hopefully be delivered shortly.

As I've mentioned before, last year's Spiel was a huge success for me and I'm hoping to repeat that this week. Several things are different though, and since this is only my second Spiel I don't have enough previous information to judge how that will affect things.

Last year I had rented out a third of my stand to Peter Struijf of Geode Games, and I only had one game of my own (though I had posters for Carpe Astra and a homemade prototype, the finished product was still a month away). My games weren't available in Germany yet (I picked up my first German distributor at the show, with my second signing on shortly afterwards) and It's Alive! had only been out for about five weeks - so it was pretty new.

This year I've a whole stand to myself and three games (the latest of which came out four months ago) which are all already available in Germany. I've spent more money on advertising this time (Boardgame News with their excellent English-language Spiel preview and SpielBox which is apparently the place to go for German-language Essen information), and signed up for a couple of deals with other people too (I'm in the Spiel fuer Spiel magazine again and I'm doing a deal with the Spielerei German-language magazine which will hopefully lead a few more people to my stand. Plus I'm doing the 'free 2 player expansion with every Sumeria sale' deal too.

How much will any of these factors affect my sales at the show? With so little information to go on I have no idea. The show will have cost me a lot more this year, hopefully that will pay off, but I can't be sure until next week, when I get home and work it all out.

Last year I sold 140 copies of It's Alive! to punters and another 96 or so to shops and distributors before finally getting rid of the remaining stock to a couple of big distributors. Those big distributors are unlikely to take any stock from me this time, but I'm hoping to get some orders from the smaller European distributors and betters sales to punters, due to the advertising and deals.

I'm taking a full pallet of Sumeria (504 copies), plus 192 It's Alive! and 96 Carpe Astra. My limited experience as a paid salesman back in my late teens seemed to focus entirely on targets. So I feel I should set myself some. I'm thinking 50 Sumeria, 5 Carpe Astra and 10 It's Alive! sales to punters per day. Is that achievable? I have no idea. Only one way to find out.

Wish me luck...

Wednesday, October 14

Almost on Top of Things

Off topic: 600th post - w00t!

Last Tuesday I posted about how unprepared I was for Essen next week, and how my travel plans had been through several iterations in an effort to avoid paying ridiculous shipping costs.

Things are finally sorting themselves out now. I've ordered the sweatshirts and seen the proofs, this morning I booked the pallets to Germany and I've got to get the banner art to the printers this afternoon/evening.

Even though the pallets to Essen are booked I've still got a bunch of stuff to do for that. I'm taking a full pallet of Sumeria (504 copies) plus a mixed half-pallet of It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and the Sumeria 2 Player Expansion. Tomorrow I'm going up to York to pick and package the mixed pallet, and also to bring a car-full of Sumeria back home (I'm down to 8 copies at home, from where I fulfil almost all my orders). It'll be a fairly early start as the shipping company want to collect the pallet that afternoon, so I've got to get up there (3 hour drive) and sort out the pallet before they arrive.

We're in York again on Friday, since The Wife has a meeting there. Having sorted out the pallets on Thursday, I now get to spent Friday afternoon hanging out with my friend Paul and doing some playtesting.

That leaves me the weekend and Monday to catch up with my books (I've got a VAT return to do by the end of the month and I'll have a lot to do the week after Essen if last year was anything to go by, so it's better to get it out of the way before I go. If last week was very stressful, this week is still busy, but a bit calmer.

When I get back, as well as sorting out all the paperwork from Essen there's a couple of prototypes I need to get made up and distributed to my playtesters. No peace for the wicked!

Sunday, October 11

Sumeria 2 Player Expansion

As I've mentioned before, when Sumeria was initially submitted to me it was for 2-4 players. During playtesting one of my playtesters spotted a problem with the scoring in the two player game. I was at this point sailing fairly close to the wind (sounds familiar!) and so Dirk and I made the decision to take the two player game out of the mix.

At a later stage we came up with a solution to the two player scoring conundrum, but by that point it was too late to add it back into the game.

Last year at Essen I had one game that had been out just over a month. I had very few distributors, so very few people owned a copy of it. It was to all intents and purposes a new release for Essen. This year I've a game that came out last September, and was at Essen last year, a game that came out last November (so hasn't been to Essen yet) and a game that came out in June. While most of my European distributors haven't picked up Sumeria, I can't really describe it as an Essen release - it's been out for three months.

There had been interest in the two player game and I had considered making an expansion at some point. When it became clear to me that sales over the Summer wouldn't be good enough to fund a new release for Essen (and in fact I've not received a submission that was ready to go in time anyway), I started thinking of ways to entice people to my stand. Since all three of the games I've got are theoretically available in stores - why come to my stand at Essen to get them when there's so many shiny new things coming out?

So I went back to the 2 player expansion idea. I wanted to make the expansion as cheap as possible for the buying public to make it more of a impulse purchase, and also to allow me to provide it as an Essen promo freebie - buy Sumeria at my Essen stand and you get this limited expansion for free!

That lead me down a particular route. If I sell a game to shops via distributors the retail price should be 5 times the manufacturing cost - i.e. if it costs me £2 to make it, it should retail for £10 (it doesn't work out quite like this - my margins are tighter). If however I only sell to people directly (at cons and via my website) then I can price it at 2 times the manufacturing cost (e.g. a £1 per copy manufacturing cost leads to a £2 retail price). I choose the latter route. The next decision was packaging. If you're selling to shops you want a nice pretty box that will look good on the shelf and attract peoples' eye. If you're selling directly you don't need that. The expansion can come in a baggie and the customer can store it inside the original box. This further cuts manufacturing costs (no box art needed and a baggie is much cheaper than a small box), and fits with my "small box, no wasted space" ethos. Again that cheaper option is the route I chose.

The expansion arrived at my house last Monday. I'd chosen to have it delivered to my house instead of the warehouse since it would be quite small and I was expecting it to be delivered by a courier. Instead a 7.5ton lorry turned up with the expansion on a pallet. It was five medium-sized boxes, which failed to even fill the bottom of a pallet - seemed like overkill! The lorry driver helped me cut the shrink-wrapping off the pallet and lift the five boxes off the pallet, which I then carried into my office. Opening the first box the expansions looked like exactly what I was expecting - no surprises there.

It's not been a completely smooth ride though. On top of the mental week of Essen travel disasters, there was a small problem with the expansion. In the two player game each player takes four turns per round, whereas in the three and four player games you only get three. The sticker in the expansion is designed to cover the three space turn track with a new four space turn track.

Unfortunately the sticker is a bit too transparent, so if you put it over the turn track as designed you can see the old turn track underneath. It looks rubbish.

Fortunately there is a solution: Cut the sticker in half between the three and four spaces and throw away the 1-3 bit. Add the 4 bit to the board just below and to the right of the three space printed on the board.

Works fine :) But it's a bit inconvenient and doesn't reflect especially well on my production values. I think I'll include a slip of paper in each bag at Essen explaining this fix.

Tuesday, October 6

Essen. Yeay! Arrgh! Yeay! Arrgh!

It's that time of year again, we're just over two weeks away from Spiel '09 (or International Spieletage '09 to give it its full name). Spiel is the largest event on the board gaming calendar, a chance to demo and sell you games to over 150,000 (predominantly German) board game fans.

Last year my preparation for Essen was all a bit last minute and I vowed to be more organised this year. I've not succeeded in any significant way :-(. I did manage to book my accomodation in March, and I obviously got my booth organised in time for the May deadline, but I only booked my booth furniture a couple of weeks ago, and the saga of how I'm getting my crew of awesome volunteers and my games to Essen is ongoing!

Last year I took three volunteers: Mal, Dunk and Lucy. They were awesome, they worked extremely hard, were knackered like I was and they were doing it as a favour to me, not for personal financial gain. We all shared a car, (which Dunk and Lucy drove - again with the awesome), got the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam and stayed in a couple of self-catering apartments. Dean from Ludorum Games, took my games for me in his van (we're racking up a lot of awesome here), I just paid £35 to ship a pallet of games from my warehouse to his house and then him some petrol money.

It all worked out ok. I liked the self-catering apartments (only 10 minutes walk from the venue, fairly affordable and they allowed us to cook for ourselves and hence eat cheaply). I booked the same place again this year. The ferry cost about £400, and was fun in a roadtrip kind of way.

Yet again I left several important things to the last minute. Who I was taking was up in the air until last week. Dunk and Lucy had volunteered again (gluttons for punishment!) and I was hoping to take The Wife. Sadly work commitments had ruled out The Wife a couple of weeks ago, and Lucy was unsure too. It might just have been Dunk and I. Four people on the stand takes some of the pressure off, you can take a break, wander round or come in late/sneak off early. Just the two of us would have been very hard work. So I started looking around for replacements. In the end Lucy was able to make it (yeay!) and I found a fourth in Andrew - one of my playtesters. Excellent. People sorted. Now I can sort out travel.

Games first. I'd phoned around last week and none of the other UK publishers I know had any space in their vans. Not a problem. I could hire a van and drive it over full of games like Dean had done last year. I phoned a few van companies and got a quote of £192. The Wife sensibly pointed out that since I haven't driven on the continent before (on the wrong side of the road!) and I have a medical condition, I should probably have a co-pilot who can share the driving. £66 for a 2nd driver. Then I phone the ferry company. Last year I'd paid £400 for a return ferry ticket for four people, a four-berth cabin and a car. This year I was looking for two people, a two-berth cabin and a small van (Citroen Berlingo about the size of a car). I'm chatting to the woman on the phone and she asks what the vehicle registration is.
"I don't know - it's a hired van." I reply.
"Van?" she asks, "What are you taking?"
"Some board games to a trade show."
"Oh, you'll need to speak to our freight department." They quote me £755. It's going to cost me over a grand to get my games there. A grand! A GRAND! Ok, that plan goes out of the window. After examining the options for just getting a freight company to ship the games there, I think I can go down that route, but it's not booked yet and nor are the flights for the four of us.

There's a couple of other things I want to get sorted too. Last year my Point of Sale consisted of a few posters I'd got printed at York University, which then fitted in simple top and bottom frames (don't ask how long that took - they were a nightmare!). I wanted something a bit more professional looking this year, so I've been looking at getting some vinyl banners done. Time's getting a little tight (especially considering I haven't designed them yet), but I've found a company online today that have a 48 hour turnaround, so that can be put off for a day or two.

The other thing was some kind of uniform (no, not french maids and firemen!). Last year we were all in civvies, so it was hard for passing people to work out who to speak to. I'm getting some sweatshirts done with the Reiver Games logo, so it will be clear who's working the stand and who's visiting it. At first I thought of T-shirts, but I seem to remember wearing a jumper all the time last year due to the temperature, so a sweatshirt seems like a better idea. They have a 7-14 working day turnaround (I found out today with 9 working days left), but I spoke to them on the phone today and for such a small order it shouldn't be a problem.

I found out about the ferry price this morning. I've spent the day trying to sort out getting the games to Essen, getting us to Essen, and sorting out the sweatshirts and banners. Numerous phonecalls to various companies (several in Germany) and not a small amount of stress. I'll be glad when I get there.