Monday, December 28

2015 The Year In Review

For the third year in a row I set myself some goals at the beginning of the year in four categories: blogging, playing games, designing games and app development. They were meant to be a stretch, but achievable so here's how I got on.

I set myself three blogging goals this year: 10% growth in page views, blog every Monday and do something for NaGa DeMon. All modest and achievable, or so I thought. Blog page views have been climbing steadily since I started blogging again back in 2012, but for some reason around April they suddenly dived. Whether Blogger have started blocking spam bots or I've suddenly become far more boring than I already was (which would be a real stretch!), the readership tanked and never recovered. I was aiming for 45.5K page views and I only managed 36K, which was 15% down on last year. Epic fail. I did manage to blog every Monday (as far as I recall) and I did something for NaGa DeMon (publishing the handmade run of Zombology) so mixed success on the blogging front.

My most popular posts were:

  1. Why Aren't I KickStarting
  2. After The Drought, The Deluge
  3. New Games Company Checklist

My gaming goals were to play at least 365 games and to have played every game in my collection at least ten times (with exceptions). At this point, with a few days to go I've racked up 413 plays with the following over ten plays this year:

  • 58 plays: Unpublished prototype (mostly Zombology)
  • 27 plays: Ra (I think all on the iPad)
  • 22 plays: King of Tokyo (one of the games I had to play ten times - nailed that one!)
  • 20 plays: Carcassonne (all but one play on the iPad)
  • 20 plays: Pandemic (iPad)
  • 17 plays: Hey! That's My Fish (iPad)
  • 15 plays: Lords of Waterdeep (iPad)
  • 12 plays: Galaxy Trucker (ten plays list again and all on the iPad)
  • 12 plays: Stone Age (mostly, but not all, iPad)
  • 11 plays: No Thanks! (A Games Night filler favourite)
  • 10 plays: Coup (Games Night favourite)
  • 10 plays: Martian Dice (some in the flesh, some on the app I wrote for my phone)

The other goal was to have played every game I own at least ten times by the end of the year. Not necessarily during this year, if I've played it at least ten times in the past I didn't have to play it this year at all. I started the year with seventy-something plays required to hit that goal, and I didn't quite make it (there are four games at nine and two at eight plays left at this point and that's almost certainly how it's going to end). Close. But no cigar.

I've found the ten plays goal useful for honing my collection (I gave away 11 Nimmt!, 20th Century, Divinare, Euphoria, El Grande and Thurn und Taxis) but to be honest I've also found it to be a bind, it drove the games selection at almost every Games Night I had and sucked the fun out of things a bit. I mustn't get myself into a similar mess next year.

Another notable thing this year was the start of what I hope will be a large part of my life from now on. I've been a gamer since I was little. I've been a dad for three and a half years. But this year, I became a Gamer Dad. The Daughter has a few (very simple) games made by Orchard Toys: Where's My Cupcake?, The Lunch Box Game, A Game of Ladybirds and, since Christmas, Monster Dominos. She's learnt to take turns, roll dice, draw tiles and match symbols. She's also learnt to win and is in the process of learning to lose gracefully (that one might take a bit longer!). Where's My Cupcake?, a particular favourite, almost got a listing above with nine plays this year. As yet none of these games require any skill, it's just taking turns and following the rules. I don't want to rush her into proper gaming, I want it to be something that she wants to do for fun, rather than something I push onto her because I want to do it. We'll see how next year develops and what makes it into the list of ten least ten plays at the end of next year.

Designing Games
Only one goal here, self publish a game again this year with my own art. Well it was a roller coaster, but I just about pulled this one off. It started out with the goal of publishing a 50 or 100 copy run of either Zombology or Dragon Dance. Then that turned into making a 150 copy run of Zombology at £9 each. I took 20 pre-orders and started getting ready for that, setting up a bank account and everything and then disaster: I got promoted at work. Ok, that's not really a disaster, but it put paid to any notion I had of becoming a hobby games publisher again. At the last minute I decided to just make the twenty copies for the pre-orderers for NaGa DeMon at cost which I hoped I could get around the £9 I had initially advertised. Do you see what I did there? Folding two goals into one? Cheeky, but I make the rules so, I figure, acceptable. It turned out I needed to make thirty to hit the £9 cost so I wouldn't lose any money on it (but not make any either). During November I only finished fourteen of them (so I failed NaGa DeMon!) but the others just need the cards doing and I've shipped six of them, so that counts as a success as far as my goal for the year goes.

App Development
I'm still slowly learning German using the excellent Duolingo, but there's some stuff I'd like it to do that it doesn't, most notably, show verb conjugations and adjective declensions in a table and present similar words together. I'd started writing an app for that on my phone, and my goal was to finish and publish that this year. I've made some progress on that (it's now useable and I do use it on my phone) but it's not yet ready for public consumption, not even as an early beta/alpha, so another failure I'm afraid. I want to go back to working on that next year.

All in all it's been another good year, hard work and I didn't achieve everything I set out to at the beginning, but still good fun! Here's hoping for another good year next year.

Monday, December 21

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

As expected, it was a week of no progress. After Monday's trip to Manchester, we had several nights of interrupted sleep as The Daughter was down with a filthy cold that kept waking her (and by extension us) up throughout the night. I also had a couple of nights out with work: our Christmas party and a night out with the numerous visitors who were over for our three day planning meeting. With the nights out, the broken sleep and then coming down with the filthy cold myself, it was spectacularly unproductive.

This week will at least feature a Games Night (I've managed to cram an extra one in tonight, for Christmas, complete with mulled wine and mince pies :-) ), and I'll take a bunch of games down to Bristol for our family Christmas trip, so hopefully there'll be a few more games played before the year is out.

When I get back from Bristol I need to buy some packaging so I can start posting the Zombology copies and finish off the final 16 sets of cards. Then I can get the Print on Demand art done and start on something new (or at least different!) for 2016.

I hope those of you who celebrate it have a great Christmas, and I'll see you on the flip side for my 2015 round up post next Monday.

Monday, December 14

The Second Coming

No sooner had my parents' visit come to an end then my father-in-law turns up! It's been a busy couple of weeks with guests. I did manage to squeeze in a trip to Manchester for work and a Games Night between the two though.

Games Night was good, we had a new starter so, rather than try to split up the seven of us into two tables so we could cram in another couple of games from my ten plays list, we just got a lot of big games in instead. It felt quite liberating to not be controlling everyone's gaming through the ten plays list - I'll not be doing something similar next year - too prescriptive!

I managed to get a couple of hours of Zombology construction in during this weekend, so I've now finished off all the boxes, and all that remains is to cut out the cards for the last sixteen copies, which I estimate is about eleven hours' work. I've spent 24 so far, so it should be about 1 hour and ten minutes per copy when all is said and done,

I doubt I'll make any progress this week, I missed Newcastle Gamers on Saturday due to my father-in-law's visit (and the snow!), I'm writing this on my way to Manchester again for work and then I'm out on Wednesday and Friday for work dos including the office Christmas party. Around all that it would be nice to spend some time with The Wife seeing as we've had so many visitors recently.

Next week I've got one final Games Night of 2015 and then we're off down to Bristol for Christmas with our families. I think Zombology will have to wait until 2016.

In other news, I watched the Tabletop episode for Libertalia (not sure why) and promptly bought Libertalia (damn you, Wil Wheaton!). Buying a game unplayed is quite unusual for me, so we'll  see how that goes, but it looked fun, was a good length (under an hour is popular at Games Night) and I don't own any pirate games, so it gives us something to play on International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

I've also bought Splendor, Las Vegas and It's Alive! for the iPad. I've had a quick try of each of them and first impressions are:

  • Las Vegas: Too much animation, creams the battery and Game Center login every time is annoying
  • It's Alive!: Auction games don't work well Pass and Play (should have remembered this from Settlers of Catan)
  • Splendor: Mint.

Monday, December 7

NaGa DeMon Post Script: Late Ruling

Another week, another blog post written in a hotel (this time at Manchester Airport, for work).

So my last blog post was written on the morning of the last day of NaGa DeMon and spelt out exactly what I had achieved during the month of November. It turns out that I also spent that evening folding, signing and numbering the rulebooks too, and that was still November, so that counts. So I got the twenty copies completed except for 6 games worth of cards (about four hours work). On top of that I've also got another ten sets of cards and eight box labels to do to complete the thirty copy print run. So there's not a huge amount to do.

Once the thirty copies are done and posted I'm going to finish off the artwork for the Print on Demand version and get that uploaded and available and also make the game available Print and Play too - lots of ways to Zombology!

Then Zombology is done. It's been my main focus for a couple of years now, so it's going to be weird to put it aside and go back to (or start) something else. My options are:

  • Codename: Vacuum
  • Border Reivers 2nd Edition
  • Dragon Dance

I'm not sure what I'll feel like in the New Year, but I'm going to need to pick something up!

In other news, I didn't make much progress this week with my parents visiting, but I did manage to get a game of Eclipse in on the iPad on the way to London for work, so that's now ticked off my ten plays list. That just leaves nine plays of six different games left. I've got somewhere between one and three Games Nights left this year, a possible Newcastle Gamers next weekend and maybe some Christmas gaming. I'll get pretty close I think, but not quite make it.

Monday, November 30

NaGa DeMon: The Final Reckoning

November ends today, and with it, NaGa DeMon. This year I did something a bit different, instead of trying to design a game from scratch like I did with Zombology in 2013 and Dragon Dance in 2014, I set myself the goal of making a print run of a game in a month instead.

I set out hoping to make 20 copies of Zombology for the twenty people who immediately pre-ordered a copy of the short print run I announced back in May. After my promotion at work, I realised that on top of the job, the additional work-related travel, and the family, I would struggle to find the time to make 150 copies of a game, let alone do the marketing and convention visits required to sell them. But there were twenty people who had signed up for a copy at £9 plus shipping, so I would make those twenty copies in November for NaGa DeMon as a thank you to my pre-ordering chums.

That was the plan. As with all plans, they didn't pan out. First my printer had got a new customer service rep, and her poor levels of customer service meant I needed to find a new printer, and test them. Thankfully, I found Bang On Print just round the corner from work. Because they were an unknown quantity (and I was trying something new with the box labels), I wanted to make a test copy first to check everything worked OK. So I had to give them the art and £50 and then wait a few days for the first copy. Once I'd got that back and assembled it, I had to go back and give them another £205 for the remaining 29 copies. The astute among you will notice that 1 + 29 != 20. I had to increase the size of the print run to thirty to avoid losing a chunk of money on the printing.

Fortunately I have 25 friends and family and another six of them stepped up, so now all but four of the print run are spoken for.

Unfortunately, the delays of going to the printers twice coupled with several work trips away and my parents arriving for a week on Saturday means I ran out of time to make the games, the twenty aren't complete:

Total time spent (on construction): 21.5 hours

  • Boxes assembled: 30
  • Boxes finished: 22
  • Games finished: 14
  • Games delivered/posted: 2

Fortunately, with some babysitting and a couple of mornings in work-related hotels I've managed to do most of the graphic design changes for a Print of Demand version, my self-imposed stretch goal - I'll be making this available after I've finished and shipped the hand-made ones.

It was a very different NaGa DeMon experience, but it reminded me just how much I enjoyed hand-crafting games back in the day - I find it a very relaxing way to spend an evening (or ten!).

Wednesday, November 25

NaGa DeMon 7: Back to the Drawing Board

But in a good way! This morning I'm in a hotel in Manchester, waiting for my colleagues to wake up so we can go for breakfast. Seeing as I expected to wake up early, I took my laptop with me so I could work on the graphic design for the Print on Demand version of Zombology (a NaGa DeMon stretch goal). Last week while babysitting I resized all the cards (which was a surprising amount of effort), this morning I've laid all the cards out in the order that the POD supplier wants them in.

I'm all done with time to spare, so I can blog about my progress :-)

The POD version is still not quite finished, seeing as the game will come in a clear plastic deckbox, they recommend adding a couple of extra cards, one at the front and one at the back to act as front and back box labels. I've not done those yet, but I don't envisage them taking a particularly long time, so nearly there.

Monday night I made another copy of the real game. Unfortunately, only one. By the time I'd put The Daughter to bed, packed for my trip to Manchester, ironed a shirt and had some tea it was nearly nine and I had to be up at five the next morning. So my best guess is now 14 finished copies by the end of the month, which I hasten to add is not 20. It's a shame that I'll not be able to complete the full twenty copies by the end of the month, but real life is more important!

Monday, November 23

NaGa DeMon: Week 3 Recap

It's been a week of two halves. To begin with, I spent the first half of the week just cooling my heels waiting for the artwork to arrive back from the printers. I paid for the rest of the print run on Monday and was warned that I wouldn't get anything back until this week probably as they were very busy, so I was just sat there thinking that that had screwed my attempt to get the print run made in November as part of NaGa DeMon.

Come Thursday I was itching to get started on something, so during my evening babysitting for some friends' kids I started working on the graphic design for the Print on Demand version. It involves resizing the cards from the 55 x 80 mm that fit nicely onto a sheet of A3 card to 2.5 x 3.5 inches (which is apparently US Poker size). Then, once that is done I've got to create a new file that lays all the cards and their backs out in a new order. It's a bunch of work. Fortunately, I got loads done on Thursday evening, all the cards were resized and I got halfway through the new card ordering too!

Then Friday the art arrived earlier that I was expecting - awesome!

I've spent the weekend evenings rattling through. Friday I cut out 21 box labels (I meant to do 19, enough to make the twenty original copies including the prototype that I did last week, but it turns out counting to 19 is not my strong suit). Saturday I stuck all the box labels on, finishing all those boxes.

Sunday I started making the games proper. My thinking was that i would get pretty close to finishing the print run - I've only four evenings to make the games proper: yesterday, tonight, Thursday and Friday as I'm away on Tuesday and back late Wednesday, then my parents arrive on Saturday. My guess (based on making earlier prototypes) was about 35-40 mins per copy, so about 13 hours, I get two or at most three hours an evening, so I might get pretty close.

Last night I spent 3:15 on it and made four games. Fifty minutes each. The slippery laminate and the un-trimmed sheets slowed me down a chunk as I had to take more care to avoid mistakes. So, again, it's looking impossible, hopefully I can get maybe 15/20 finished before mum and dad arrive.

I will however take my laptop to Manchester with me, and spend an hour or so on Wednesday morning working on the Print on Demand version.

Total time spent so far: 16.75 hours

  • 30 boxes constructed
  • 30 inserts made
  • 22 boxes finished
  • 5 games finished
  • 0 games delivered/posted

Saturday, November 21

NaGa DeMon 6: Let's Go!

I got a phone call from the printers on Friday afternoon to let me know the art for Zombology would be ready that evening at 5:15 (just after they officially shut!). So I left work and trooped across town to collect it all.

This is awesome, they were originally saying it would be ready next week, but next week I've only got three free evenings and then next weekend my parents arrive for a week long visit, so that would mean I only had three evenings in total to cut out the box labels, stick them on, cut out the cards and fold the rules for the 19 copies remaining of the 20 I'm aiming to complete by the end of the month. The boxes are all made (all 30 of the print run), but labelling them and doing the cards I reckon will take about 45 minutes per game or just over fourteen hours in total.

Getting the artwork on Friday evening doubles the amount of time I have available for construction - I've now got last night, tonight and Sunday night as well. Fourteen hours between six evenings is a far more achievable two and a half hours a night rather than five.

Last night I cut out all eighteen box labels (there's two per sheet so I had two already from the prototype test run), and finished a second box. Tonight I hope to finish the remaining eighteen boxes and possibly even start on the cards for the second game.

Total time spent so far: 10.5 hours

  • 30 boxes constructed
  • 30 inserts made
  • 2 boxes finished
  • 1 game finished

Wednesday, November 18

NaGa DeMon 5: Rollercoaster Trough

As promised on Monday I went back to the printers to pay for the remaining 29 copies of the print run after the success of the first copy. The good news is that payment was made and that I'm just awaiting delivery of the finished printing. The bad news is the timing.

This week I'm moderately busy, it's Games Night tonight and I'm babysitting for a friend tomorrow, but other than that I'm free, including this weekend. So I've quite a lot of time to do the construction of the remaining 19 copies.

The artwork won't come back from the printers until next week though - they're very busy this week. This week I'm just cooling my heels. That's pretty much knackered any hope of getting it done by the end of the month as I'm away for two nights next week and then my parents arrive next weekend for a week long visit. So if I don't get the art until next Monday I have only three nights to finish it off. I estimate there's 40 minutes work per copy left, so 40 x 19 = about 13 hours left. Considering I don't get to start until 8ish and I go to bed pretty early, that's going to be a struggle on three work nights.

I exhorted the printers to see if they could get me anything this week, so we'll see if they can save me...

On the plus side, I'll take my laptop with me when I go babysitting on Thursday and away for work next week, so I should be able to make some progress on the stretch goal of getting the artwork ready for the print on demand version.

Monday, November 16

NaGa DeMon: Week 2 Recap

This week has been a rollercoaster. It started on a high as I finished the boxes off and sent the art to the printers on Monday. Then there was the wait. Endless waiting... years passed. Finally on Wednesday the printers emailed me to tell me the art was ready to collect, so I left work early and headed over there on the way to collect The Daughter from nursery. The printing looked good, but Oh no! The laminate! On the untrimmed sheets it looked really messy and I was worried that it hadn't bonded as well to the paper as I remember it working for Border Reivers.

Wednesday was further darkened by an apoplectically tired The Daughter requiring a cancellation of Games Night. Thursday I was in Manchester for work again and in the end I didn't get around to making the prototype copy until Saturday night. Thankfully it all turned out fine and the laminate looks good after the cards have been cut out:

Complete Zombology prototype

But there's another problem! The laminate is incredibly thin, but not insignificantly thin. When you multiply it by fifty-four cards and two sides it adds about 5mm to the thickness of the cards, so now the cards don't fit perfectly in the box any more :-(

Too thick!

The lid still fits on fine so it's not a disaster, but it does spoil the aesthetic a bit :-(

This lunchtime I'm heading off to the printers to pay for the rest of the copies and then I've got a few more days of rest before the epic finale of trying to make the remaining copies by the end of the month begins. I should sleep while I still can!

In other news, on Saturday night I made it to Newcastle Gamers after finishing the prototype. We played Macao and Homesteaders - knocking two plays off my ten plays goal and removing Macao from the list.

Thursday, November 12

NaGa DeMon 4: The Moment of Truth

On Tuesday morning I finally finished all thirty game boxes, then it was just a case of waiting for the proof of principle artwork to arrive back from the printers. The proof of principle copy is a single copy printed using the same printing and finishing as the final copies, so that I can check everything works OK before splashing out on the full print run.

The proof of principle is costing me £50, but the remaining 29 copies in the thirty copy run cost £205, so the total cost is £255, just under £9 each. Once you discount the copy I'm going to keep for myself and the copy I'm giving to the font creator, I'm only losing £3, which is entirely acceptable.

I've not used these printers before, so I wanted to check out the quality before committing £250 to the cause especially as there's also something I'm doing for the first time: printing the box wrappers onto self-adhesive labels - I need to check that this works ok. For Border Reivers and It's Alive! what I did instead was to print onto laminated paper and then paint the other side of the paper with watered down PVA glue which I then stuck onto the naked boxes.

I collected the proof of principle from the printers last night and have already folded the rule sheet and checked that works OK. The next step is cut out the cards and the box wrappers and stick the wrappers on to see how that works.

Zombology rules

Both the box labels and the cards have been laminated - not in the horrible thick plastic pockets that you can do at home or in the office, but professionally. Professional lamination applies a very thin coat of plastic to the paper which gives it a nice smooth feel and also protects the ink from handling and wear and tear - very important for a card game!

I'm moderately concerned that the lamination isn't as good as the stuff used on Border Reivers. My copy of Border Reivers was printed in July 2006 (nine and a half years ago!) and has been played at least a hundred times - it was the official demo copy during the year I was trying to sell out of Border Reivers and recently we've been playing it again at Newcastle Playtest while I work on a second edition.

The Border Reivers cards arrived as two sheets of A3 card that I cut the fifty cards out of using a steel ruler and a craft knife and all these years later they still look perfect - there's no sign whatsoever of the laminate peeling round the edges or any bubbles where it has failed to ahdere properly.

It's too soon to tell whether the new cards are as good, seeing as I've received unfinished sheets (SRA3) that haven't been trimmed so I'm seeing a different view to what I had of Border Reivers (plus my memory is terrible, so I can't really remember what the original sheets looked like for Border Reivers). What I need to do now is cut the cards and the box labels out tonight on my return from Manchester and see what the final thing looks like - if the laminate isn't good enough, I'll have to go back to the original printer, despite my recent poor customer service experience with them.

Tonight all will be revealed!

Monday, November 9

NaGa DeMon: Week 1 Recap

Historically, during NaGa DeMon my regular Monday morning blog posts were used to record the scores in the NaGa DeMon competitions I ran for people helping me design the game by providing feedback and playtesting the early cuts.

Because I'm not designing a game this time there's no competition (known as The Game Within A Game or TGWAG for short) this year, since none of you have come to my house to help me construct the games. Thanks a bunch.

So instead, I'm just going to do a quick recap on progress during the week. My best guess is that each copy is going to take 60-90 minutes to construct, so the twenty copies I committed to are about an hour a day on average, and the thirty copies I'm getting printed are an hour and a half a day worth of stretch goal.

I'm doing this around a full time job, a family and a chunk of work-related travel, so that's going to be a challenge, but we'll see how I do.

In the first week I've done almost seven hours construction, and in that time I've completed 24 boxes and all thirty inserts. The boxes are actually taking a bit less time than I was expecting, and the fact that the new printer can print onto labels means the box wrappers might be a lot quicker than I'd bargained for (sticking the wrappers on with watered down PVA glue was a bit of a faff for Border Reivers and It's Alive!), saving yet more time.

I'm almost at the point where I've done all I can until the artwork arrives, six more boxes and I'm cooling my heels. This week I've also got a trip to Manchester for work which will swallow up an evening and Games Night which swallows another. Next week I've got a night's babysitting for friends (I can't take all my construction stuff round theirs!) and the week after a two day trip to Manchester, so things are going to get tighter still. Must crack on while I can!

Saturday, November 7

NaGa DeMon 3: Insert Here!

Last night I finished off the twenty boxes plus one for the prototype. Here they are in all their glory:


It was a good day yesterday, at lunchtime I'd been to the printers with the art on a pen drive and paid for the prototype. I'd got the guy at the printers to quickly check the art and it all looked OK, so fingers crossed that's a few days away now.

I'm going to have to make thirty copies to avoid losing a bot load of cash on this, but I'm still setting myself a goal of getting the original twenty pre-orders done for NaGa DeMon, i.e. by the end of November. If I can get the other ten done, so much the better.

My best guess is that the games will take about 1.5 hours per copy to cut out and construct. I've spent 5:45 so far, with twenty boxes made but no wrappers on them yet.

The next step is the box inserts, little slips of card that sit in the tray of the box keeping the two stacks of card separate:


As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, the box tray is 117 x 91 x 20mm. The insert has to fit in there, so it has to be less than 117 x 91mm in folded size. The cards are 55 x 80mm, so the two flat bits under the card need to be at least 55mm wide and I want it to almost fill the height of the tray (20mm) so there's little room at the top for cards to drift over. I've gone with two 55 x 89mm flat panels separated by a 19mm high peak. so the total width is 55 * 2 + 19 * 2 = 148mm and the height is 89mm. This is then scored three times - once on the front for the mountain fold and twice on the back for the valleys.

When finished it looks like this:


One down, twenty more to go...

Thursday, November 5

NaGa DeMon 2: Time To Commit

Over the last few days I've been able to scrape together another couple of hours (now 4:15 in total!) for making boxes for the Limited Edition run of Zombology. I've almost finished cutting out and scoring the 20 boxes for the print run, plus an extra one as a prototype dry run to test everything works OK before committing to the full 20 copy run.

Once they are all cut out (I'm hoping to finish that tonight after writing and posting this blog post), the next step is to tape the boxes so that they actually form a box, rather than just two bent bits of greyboard. The next step from there is to make the box inserts: little bits of white card that will sit in the tray keeping the two piles of cards separate for easy setup. They're pretty easy to make - just a rectangle of 300gsm card with a mountain and two valley folds (which need scoring to fold neatly).

In the meantime, I've been negotiating with a local printer for getting the print run printed out ready for cutting out and assembling.

When I was thinking of getting back into games publishing as a business, I was going to do a print run of 150 copies of Zombology, and I'd priced that run up. I could get them done at a price that would allow me to sell them at £9 (a sensible retail price for such a game in the UK) while still making a decent profit that I would be able to re-invest in the next game I made.

When my promotion at work and associated travel made that plan no longer achievable, I still wanted to do the short print run to thank the 20 people who had already pre-ordered a copy of Zombology, and I intended to do it for the same £9 per copy that I'd offered them initially. Now that I'm not intending to funnel the profits into a company, I'm happy to do it not making any money at all (even a slight loss is acceptable, seeing as I'm also intending to make it available print on demand in the US, which could be done for a very slight profit to eventually recoup the loss).

The local printer (Bang On! Print and Design) has been very helpful and they're so close I can wander over there at lunchtime and have a chat with the staff. Unfortunately, the cost of such a short print run is too expensive for the £9 a copy I've been aiming for. However, they can do a 30 copy run for £9 a copy. Intriguing.

A quick query on BGG has led to a few more takers, so tomorrow I'm taking the art over there at lunchtime to pay for a print a single prototype copy for testing their set-up. One of the advantages they have is they can print the box wrappers onto self-adhesive labels which, if it works, will be significantly less hassle than using watered down PVA glue like I did for It's Alive! and Border Reivers. I'm looking forward to trying them out!

Monday, November 2

NaGa DeMon 1: Boxy!

As I mentioned last week, for the last couple of years I've started designing a new game for NaGa DeMon, first Zombology and then Dragon Dance last year. Each year I've run a competition, complete with Pointless Internet Points (PIPs), achievement levels and prizes for the winners, to encourage people to help out by playtesting and providing feedback as I post multiple iterations of the rules.

With Zombology, I spent another couple of years working on the game and I'm now ready to call it finished, so this year instead of designing a new game in November I'll be making a short hand-made run of one instead. So no competition I'm afraid this year, I can't think of a way you guys can help me make the games!

So November started yesterday and I got off to a good start, cracking on with the boxes. I've got the greyboard (chipboard in the U.S.) kicking around, so I'm going to just use that rather than order some more specially. The games will come in standard two deck tray and lid boxes (like 6 Nimmt! or No Thanks!), which are 121 x 95 x 20mm. I make the lid less tall so the bottom sticks out slightly (making it easier to take the lid off), so the lid is 121 x 95 x 18mm and the tray needs to be smaller to fit inside, so that's 117 x 91 x 20mm. Both nets are a big rectangle with smaller rectangles hanging off each side, the size of the height, like so:

Box Net

The best thing about this is due to the difference in height, they both end up being 157 x 131mm in total size - convenient! I mark the internal lines at the same time as the outer rectangle, because I can do several at once, that way saving time. Once I've cut out each rectangle, I then score the crease between the sides and the top/bottom and cut out the corners which are for the bin:


I then bend up the side along the score line and tape the corners using Scotch magic tape (which has a matt finish which is better for the wrapper glue to adhere to).


The large sheets of 2mm greyboard I've got are big enough for twelve rectangles, so I can do twelve games per two sheets - I needed four sheets for the twenty copy run and the prototype. Fortunately, I've got eight sheets at home already. Last night I cut out all the rectangles and scored folded all the trays. Time spent on the construction so far: 2 hours, 15 mins.

In other news, I'm changing printers. I've used Stress Free Print in the past for Border Reivers and It's Alive! (back when they were called Asterisk Digital), but their new customer services rep has been particularly slow and unhelpful, so I'm going to try out a local company instead. I'm going to pop over at lunchtime today with a prototype and Border Reivers to discuss it and see what they can do.

Monday, October 26

NaGa DeMon 2015: Full Circle

So November is almost upon us and it's NaGa DeMon time again. As I said at the beginning of the year, my NaGa DeMon goal was 'to do something for NaGa DeMon'. This week I've decided what that something is: MAKE a game. Not design one! Make one. I guess that makes it NaGa MaMon.

I'm going to make the twenty copy hand-made print run. In a month.

The art is finally ready to go, I'm just waiting on a quote for the printing so I'm almost all set. Once I get the quote I'll have to massage the art into the final format for the printers and pay for it and send the art off. Then I can start making the tray and lid boxes and box inserts while I await the finished printing.

Once the printing turns up I've got to glue on the tray and lid wrappers for the boxes, cut out 2,160 cards and pack the cards and the rules in each box.

Zombology Box Art

And seeing as that looks like a ridiculous amount of work for someone with a full-time job requiring a chunk of travel and a young family I'm going to set myself a stretch goal (madman!): Get the art re-formatted for the print on demand version.

Let the frivolities commence!

In other news, Zombology has been submitted to BGG, hopefully it'll be live there soon...

In yet more news, it's been an awesome week. Games Night on Wednesday (a disturbingly rare event these days) involved a couple of games of my ten plays list, and then on the weekend my friend Paul and his family came up from York for Saturday night. We played five games, two from my list and two that Paul had brought up that were new to me: Above and Below and Ligretto. Ligretto was a fun, very quick simultaneous play card game which was alright, but I really enjoyed Above and Below. A strange mixture of Choose Your Own Adventure and worker placement game that was lots of fun with a nice 60 minute play time. Pretty art too.

We ended up inviting Paul et al. to stay Sunday night too, and got another five games in (and another two off my list!). A great weekend's gaming. Including six games off my list, three of which were Chinatown, which is still awesome.

Monday, October 19

Zombology Almost Final Art!

As I mentioned last week, things have been picking up pace over the last couple of weeks, the combination of a bit more focus and having Adobe Creative Cloud on my decent laptop (as opposed to InDesign CS3 on my prehistoric, slow laptop) have meant that I've been able to really apply myself.

Last week my trip to Manchester for work was a rare one on my own, so I took my laptop and went to work on the rules and the box art, they aren't finished, but they are definitely taking shape now. I also 'finished' the card art:

Zombology Cards

When I say finished, I mean I'm happy with it now, pending feedback that I receive from wiser minds. Now I need to get try the latest version of the rules, get some feedback from playtesters and get a test game printed by the printers I'm going to use.

There's a couple of potential printing pitfalls I might run into:

  • The game box wrapper might be too stiff to wrap around the box
  • The artwork may have too much ink coverage to laminate

So the next step is to try it out as if it was the final print run, but with just a single copy, so I don't blow a load of cash to find it's all wrong. I also need to get a quote for the 20 copy run, I'm expecting it to be a chunk more expensive than the 50 copy minimum I've previously been quoted (which was about £7.50 a copy), but I'm hoping I can still sell it for £9 a copy, even if I have to make a small loss - the print on demand price can include a small profit that might eventually offset the loss!

Please can you provide any feedback you have on the card art above, and anyone who fancies proof-reading or trying out the rules, you can get the current version here.

Monday, October 12

And We're Off!

I've actually made some decent progress across the board this week for a change.

Monday to Wednesday The Wife was away for work, which unfortunately meant I missed Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday. I'd been hoping to playtest a game for one of our London Playtest UK confederates on Tuesday, but seeing as I was going to miss it, and he wanted some feedback before Essen, I spent Monday night soloing his game and providing some feedback on the rules.

Tuesday was then free for work on Zombology, so I copied all the files from my old laptop onto the new one and then made the changes I'd been planning to the cards and started on the rules. I'm hoping to get Zombology finished fairly quickly now so that I can crack on with something else.

Wednesday was my weekly Games Night, and we had six people, the most for a while. I requested a try out of some new Zombology rules, which were considered an improvement across the board I think, plus a couple of games of Coup and King of Tokyo, a game of Martian Dice (on my phone after being knocked out of KoT) and another play of Kigi. Including three plays of Zombology that was eight games in total!

Friday I got to see The Martian at the cinema (I'd been stoked for this since I heard it was coming out - I loved the book). I thoroughly enjoyed the film too, though I can see that Wilka's comment that he wished it was a 12 episode season on Netflix would have meant less would have been cut.

And then to round it all out I made it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time in months on Saturday and got a couple of plays towards my ten plays goal: Macao and Alea Iacta Est.

It's been a great week, now I just need to build on this momentum and keep cracking on with Zombology - it's within shouting distance of the finish line!

Monday, October 5

Another Quiet Week

Not much progress again this week, my father-in-law has been visiting and we were camping this weekend near the Scottish border, where thankfully we weren't set upon by Reivers, though we were savaged by midgies.

I've done the bacteria-based background for the Zombology cards though, so it's not be a total wash out and we managed to get a game of Firefly in on Wednesday (towards my ten plays goal).

The Wife is now en route to Switzerland for work, so I'll be missing tomorrow's Newcastle Playtest, but I'm hoping to attend Newcastle Gamers on Saturday and get some more progress made on the Zombology artwork, if only getting the existing stuff off my crappy old laptop and onto the new one.

I will do better this week!

Monday, September 28

Art: Looking for Feedback

It's been another busy week, I've been in London Wed night, Thursday and Friday and I was babysitting for a friend on Tuesday. So little time at home. As a result, I chose to stay home on Saturday and miss Newcastle Gamers.

The busyness doesn't mean no progress however. I took my laptop round on Tuesday when babysitting and spent that evening finishing off the Zombie head that I showed last week:


Then (due to conditioning by The Daughter) I was expecting a couple of early starts while down in London. So I took the laptop again, and spent my mornings sat in my hotel room bed doing some more art too. I've done this (can you guess what it is yet?):


And also these:


These bacteria images are intended to be a very feint background pattern on some of the cards and the rules sheet, the next thing to do is to actually get that together.

What do you think of these? I'd appreciate any feedback you have.

Monday, September 21

Art Evolution

So I'm pretty much done with the game Zombology. The feedback from the blind playtesters was fairly critical and hence very useful. Most of them played the game 'right' (i.e. they played the rules as written and intended) but didn't follow the spirit of the game, as a result, they didn't enjoy it.

Most of my other playtesters do really enjoy it, so clearly I need to improve the rules to make it clear the 'real' way to play the game.

One of the other main criticisms was that the game was too random. They didn't like that aspect of it all. However, it's intended to be a 10-15 minute chaotic drafting game, it's meant to be random. If you don't like short chaotic games, then you are not the intended audience. I wanted it to feel a bit like 6 Nimmt! in that you've got a little bit of control, but your opponents' actions can complete scupper you. I think it has a similar vibe.

With my new plan for route to market, I want to get it out there as soon as possible, rather than radically changing the game to cater to a different audience. Before I do however, I want to improve the art, which in some places is quite nice, and in others is really quite pants. So I want to boost the art a bit before making the tiny hand-made run or uploading the print on demand files.

I've made a tiny bit of progress on that this week (I got back from holiday on Monday, was in London Tuesday and Wednesday and then went away for the weekend, so not much time available) and this week is going to be another busy one (I'm in London Wednesday night through Friday night), but I'm babysitting for friends on Tuesday, so that'll be a chance to make some decent progress, I should have three or so hours of concentrated art time.

As a little teaser of where I'm going, here's a quick look at the new Zombie:

Zombie WIP

The rest of the art of the game is quite simple and iconic (not unlike 6 Nimmt!), so I wanted to improve the current (really bad) Zombie icon and knock it up a notch. This is clearly a work in progress, but I think the direction is clear (above the nose!).

Let me know what you think...

Wednesday, September 16


I've been away for the weekend for a short family holiday, followed by friends round for dinner and then an earlier morning trip to London for work (I'm writing this from my hotel room, before breakfast). So needless to say, not much progress and the blog post is a couple of days late.

I did manage to get a Games Night in last week, and we played a couple of games towards my ten plays goal (The Bridges of Shangri-La and Village), but sadly that was the only Games Night in five weeks, I'd missed the last two due to trip to Manchester for work and I'll miss this week's and next week's due to trips to London for work!

I'm hoping to get a bit more done on the Zombology artwork this week though, taking advantage of InDesign Creative Cloud and being about to use my decent laptop. I'm aiming for a November launch of Zombology, once the art is complete.

Monday, September 7

The Only Constant Is Change

Regular readers will know I've been prevaricating for the last two or three months about whether or not to go through with my plan to do a limited edition hand-made run of Zombology this year.

One of the reasons for this has been a secret up until Friday, but now the cat is finally out of the bag I can admit to it! I've been in the running for the last few months for a promotion at work. Seeing as several of my colleagues (and friends) read this blog, I didn't really want to be discussing it here until a decision was made and they found out through official channels. On Friday I received the job offer and accepted it, so it's all go, starting next month.

The new job is a big step up and will require a load of new skills, learning on the job and responsibility, plus more travel, i.e. less time for games design. For the last couple of months I've already been travelling around once a week, which often clashes with Games Night or Newcastle Playtest, further complicating making progress on games design.

The majority of my mates in Newcastle are also colleagues and have helped me with the lion's share of my Zombology, Codename: Dragon and Codename: Vacuum playtesting. These mates will now all be reporting to me. Which is going to be really weird, and also probably not conducive to playtesting.

So everything is changing. What I don't need on top of that is a huge commitment of my spare time and additional stress around marketing and trying to recoup an investment. So I'm ditching the plan to hand make 150 copies of Zombology and instead going with Print on Demand, which requires no effort from me other than the graphic design.

As I mentioned in my review, there's a few downsides to this, not least the cost of shipping to the UK. Most of my 17 pre-orders are from the UK, almost all friends or family. I don't want them to have to pay silly money to a company in the states for a copy of the game so in addition to the print on demand edition, so there will be a Super Limited True Fans Edition™ of the game, featuring a hand-made tray and lid box and laminated cards. I'll make 20 of these: one for me, one each for the 17 family, friends or true fans who've pre-ordered a copy and 2 spares. These will be selling at the original £9 plus shipping price quoted earlier, so I'll not make any money on them - I'm just doing it because I enjoy it and to support those who've supported me.

There's two spares... Just sayin'.

In other news, I made it to Newcastle Playtest this week for the first time in ages and got to play both Codename: Dragon and Border Reivers Second Edition and got some good ideas for both of them.

I've also invested in Adobe Creative Cloud as a little 'promotion present' to myself. It means I'll be able to work on the Zombology graphic design without having to wait a week for my old laptop to boot up and then continually fight with its glacial slowness. W00t! I've already started on the changes I want to make to Zombology before release.

Monday, August 31


It's been both a very busy and a very unproductive week. My parents came up last weekend, just in time to help out with The Daughter's third birthday party and then stayed with us all week (they left yesterday morning). So we've been entertaining them (badly - I've been knackered all week!).

With mum and dad here I've made no progress on anything, just a little discussion with dad about my company logo one evening after work. There was no Games Night last week (travelling for work and mum and dad here) and there's none this week either (travelling for work again - scheduling FAIL!). So I haven't even made any progress on my play every game ten times goal. The one redeeming feature of travelling for work is that it's often with Ian, a Games Night regular and I take my iPad full of games with me...

This weekend just gone The Wife was away too, so after mum and dad left on Sunday morning I was sole parent in charge of The Daughter until The Wife returned at eight this morning. Lots of fun, but surprisingly hard work - I'm knackered again!

This week I'm hoping to make it to Newcastle Playtest tomorrow night, so fingers crossed I'll at least get a chance to get some playtesting in and go through the feedback I got from the other Playtest UK groups re. Zombology.

Hopefully, things will pick up next week!

Monday, August 24

Print on Demand: A Review

After considering the prolific Daniel Solis' Kigi for a while, I happened to catch a note of his on Google+ a couple of weeks ago stating that it was the final day of the sale he runs every summer. So I decided to jump in an order a copy of Kigi from Drive Thru Cards.


Kigi is a beautiful game (that much is clear from all the pictures I've seen of it) and it struck me as a good opportunity to check out how Print on Demand (POD) works from a customer's perspective while considering it as a publisher (since it's another option I've been considering for publishing Zombology).

The process
I ordered the game one Saturday night from the Drive Thru Cards website. Pretty standard stuff, it was easy to use and all went very smoothly. I bought Kigi ($9 sale price) and a plastic deck box ($1) which all seemed very reasonable. Shipping to the UK was $14.70 which was a bit galling, that's more than the game! Still with the exchange rate the whole thing came to about £16, which doesn't seem to bad for a small print run game.

I got an email on Tuesday telling me they had shipped the game, which is not bad considering they had to print it and cut it out first. Shipping took eight days - arriving on the following Wednesday in a little box which protected it nicely during transit.


  • The biggest advantage of POD from publisher's point of view is the lack of associated hassle and cost. If I make a hand-made game and sell it through my website there's a lot of time and effort required, plus a lot of upfront cost if I don't KickStart it. With POD all I'd have to do is upload the files and choose a retail price, no cost or effort involved.
  • The cards were very well made, better than I could manage by hand.
  • Shipping to the US/Canada will be quicker and cheaper than from me in the UK.
  • Cross-selling opportunities - people going there to by one of Daniel's or another designer's games might see an ad for Zombology and add it to their order.


  • Shipping to the UK (where a lot of my friends & family customers are) is exorbitant.
  • I prefer card games in tray and lid boxes with large format rules - I broke the plastic deck box the day I got it and having the rules on half a dozen cards is a bit fiddly, it's easy to get them muddled up.

If the shipping to the UK wasn't so high, I'd be very tempted by Drive Thru Cards. There are other options (e.g. The Gamecrafter) that might have more affordable shipping and different packaging options. I need to investigate those too.

In other news, I'm making decent progress on my German app, it's coming along very nicely. What I really need to do now is get a load of vocabulary into it. I need to start reading the data from a file, rather than hard-coding it in.

Monday, August 17

Produce / Consume

As I'm sure most of you are aware, the title is a reference to Race for the Galaxy, one of my favourite games and one which I've played exactly 150 times according to BoardGameGeek.

There's a sliding scale of producery-consumerness (a technical term, check out the Big Five personality traits) on which, I'm assuming, most people sit slightly nearer the Consumer end than the Producer end. Some people are happiest reading a great book, or watching a great film or shopping for new clothes. Some people however are happiest when making things, whether knitting cardigans for babies (thanks Mum!), writing novels or painting.

It turns out I'm definitely towards the producer end of that scale. By day I'm a computer programmer, and I love that I can type words and bend a computer to my will, creating programs and apps that are useful, interesting, attractive or just fun. By night, I'm just as bad. Historically it's been writing (bits of!) computer games, painting miniatures, designing worlds and stories as a DM and obviously designing board games.

It struck me this week that probably the bit I enjoy most about game designing is actually the graphic design. Working with a very limited set of artistic skills to make prototypes or hand-made games that are attractive, or at least functionally well designed. Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy trying to wrestle in my head with the game design to design something that's fun to play and there's something zen-like about cranking out well-made hand-made games, each one lovingly hand-crafted but done well. And the end result is satisfying too, when you hear from a gamer who has played one of your games and really enjoys it. I'm not a great game designer, so it's rare enough that I hear from a gamer who loves one of my games, but when it does it brings a smile to my face every time - I've brought pleasure to another human being, often someone I've never met (and probably never will). That's pretty cool.

Why this philosophical train of thought? I've been agonising over whether or not to do a hand-made run of Zombology for a couple of months now, after bravely/foolishly committing to doing it at the beginning of the year. The concerns that have given me most trouble are not having enough time to get to the conventions I need to attend to drum up sales and whether there's still a market for hand-made games now that everyone can make a professional run of a game they've thought of through KickStarter.

I've asked the question in a couple of places and the advice seems to be that I should embrace KickStarter and do what I plan through there. Assuming I was successful on KickStarter, most or all of the games would be pre-sold so convention attendance would be less critical, so that could be a plus point to going that way. Anyway, Im not leaning toward KickStarter, despite my earlier antipathy towards it. I'm flighty like that.

In other news, I've got some feedback from a couple of playtest groups. Both of them only played it three player (the weakest I think). The other Playtest UK group played it a couple of times, and didn't seem overly enamoured. In the second game they tried changing a couple of rules. They did however provide really good feedback which I need to go through and learn from. The other group had played it before (about a year ago) and really liked this new version, playing it eight times (though still only three player). They suggested a rules clarification that I'll have to make shortly.

This week is mostly about trains. I hope to make some good progress on the Zombology art upgrades on my way to and from my quarterly hospital visit to Sheffield on Wednesday.

Monday, August 10

Digital Leaps and Conceptual Bounds

I've been working on a couple of things this week, making good progress on one, and working out in my head what to do with the other.

The first is my learning German app that I'm writing for my phone. This week I've made loads of progress on in. The first half of the week was refactoring the crap out of it, removing a load of duplication, specialist classes and generics and just making the whole thing far, far simpler behind the scenes.

That set me up well for the second half of the week where I added staged repetition and improved the styling quite a lot. There's still very little vocabulary in there, but I figure once I've got it working how I want I can start adding vocabulary wholesale. For the moment just getting it to the point where it's a useful tool for myself will be great. I'm really pleased with the progress I've made this week, it feels like it's developing rapidly despite working on it in my free time around work and a family.

The second thing alluded to in the title is the Zombology graphic design. I've got a moderately attractive (if very simple and hobby-esque) prototype that has been slowly improving over the last year or so. I'm fairly happy with a lot of it now, it's simple, but it's ok for a hand-made print run. The weakest links now are the zombie overrun card, the pay rise card and the round marker cards (which also feature zombies). If I'm honest the weakness is my piss-poor attempt at drawing a zombie. It's bad. It's also not really in keeping with the rest of the graphic design, so it's letting the side down and standing out as well.

I've had an idea this week about how I can come up with something that's more in keeping and within my limited art skills. So the next thing to do is break out my abysmal old, slow laptop and crack on in InDesign/Illustrator. I've got four hours of train journeys in a couple of weeks for my clinical trial hospital visit, but I hope to make a start on this stuff before then. Hopefully, I'll also have some feedback from the other Playtest UK groups soon too, which will give me a more unbiased view of the quality of the game.

In other news, I've crossed Hansa Teutonica off my ten plays list with a game at Games Night last Wednesday and I'm leaning more towards a hand-made, stretch goal/pledge level free run on KickStarter (despite my KickStarter misgivings). Need to do some more market research still, but the idea is taking root in my head.

Monday, August 3

Market Research

Is there still a market for lovingly hand-crafted short print run games in the age of KickStarter? That's the question I asked on BGG this week in an effort to help me choose whether or not to dive in to self-publishing again as I did back in the early days of Reiver Games.

It struck me that for all my prevaricating here on the blog what I really needed to answer was two questions:

  1. Am I prepared and able to spend enough of my free time on it to make it successful, and,
  2. Are there 150 people out there who would be willing to buy the game?

I need to answer question one myself, and that's what a lot of the soul-searching has been about this last month or so, but if the answer to question two is no then question one is a moot point. I can't answer question two myself, I can only have a guess at it. So asking the question on BGG is a way to get a better understanding of the changes in the market that have occurred since I stopped hobby publishing back in 2008.

I've had quite a few answers, lots of them pointing towards using KickStarter, even with the hand-made limited edition run that I'm planning. Assuming these respondents are right and the lack of stretch goals, pledge levels and professional manufacturing doesn't sink it on KickStarter, I might have to get over my dislike of KickStarter and look into that. There's definitely a lot to be said for the free marketing that comes from running a KickStarter campaign.

In other news I've been cracking on with writing my German language app on my phone again this week, moving towards getting the spaced repetition functionality in there.

I also made it along to Newcastle Gamers on Saturday and knocked a play of Hansa Teutonica off my 'play every game I own ten times' goal. I also got to try Zombie Dice and The Palaces of Carrara for the first time too.

This week it's Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday, but sadly I'm going to have to miss it again.

Monday, July 27

A Digital Digression II

So I've made a bit of progress on Zombology this week, posting blind playtesting copies to the Leeds and London Playtest UK groups, I'm hoping to get initial feedback from those groups in a week or two, once they've met and had a chance to get a game or two in. I also got a few games in at Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday, my first attendance there in a while.

I still haven't decided what I want to do re. board game publishing, so in the meantime I've been doing some work on my German learning app instead. I loved Duolingo, which I've spent a lot of time on, but I've finished the course now. I still practice every now and again when things show up as needing refreshing but certainly not every day any more. The main thing I didn't like about Duolingo was the lack of structure. You seemed to learn words in a haphazard fashion, and it was hard to see things that were related at the same time. I learn well when I can tabulate things in my head, so I've been writing another app for my phone to provide a more structured learning experience for myself.

I started it months ago, and then in the Zombology publishing related excitement I shelved it for a while. Last week I went to Manchester on the train again for work on my own (which is unusual). I had my laptop with me to use in a demo once I got there, which gave me an opportunity to do some development on the train, and since then I've been cracking on, making some decent progress. At the moment I'm focusing on getting the basic functionality in there, rather than lots of vocabulary. That can always come later once it works. Hopefully I'll find it useful as my language learning journey continues.

I think I'm now waiting for the Zombology feedback before I make any decision on the publishing side of things. There are still three options I'm considering:

I had an established publisher who was vaguely interested, but he wanted to see blind playtesting feedback, which at the time I didn't really have. So getting the feedback from the Playtest UK network is useful for that route and will hopefully lead to a better game regardless of which route I take.

Monday, July 20

Harnessing the Power of the Network

The Newcastle Playtest group of which I'm (theoretically at least) an assistant organiser is part of a larger network of playtest groups across the UK. Playtest UK started in London and then spread to Cambridge before we became its northern-most offshoot. Since our creation, groups in Cardiff, Brighton, Leeds and Enfield have also joined, further strengthening the network. The group runs playtesting sessions at a number of UK conventions and members have published several games including Elysium, Relic Runners and Pocket Imperium. Brett J. Gilbert one of the co-organisers in Cambridge, who submitted a great game to me in my Reiver Games days, has since had great success being nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013 and the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year.

Since my appeal for blind playtesters last week on my blog garnered a grand total of zero applicants, I've decided to harness the power of the Playtest UK group by sending copies of Zombology to a few of the other groups for testing and feedback. Leeds and London have already volunteered (thanks!) and I've agreed to playtest a game for the London group in return. Hopefully this can be an ongoing arrangement where we harness the power of the wider group to gain access to willing (and knowledgable) playtesters who we don't have a close friendship with to gain the honest, critical feedback that you need as part of your game development. Blind playtesting is important for just that reason: to get people to test the rules without you there to clear up any inconsistencies and also to get honest feedback that isn't tempered by friendship. Honest feedback is critical to get a better understanding of how your game will be received outside of the group of friends you usually play it with.

I spent Sunday evening printing and assembling their copies and will pop them in the post today. I look forward to getting an outsider's view of Zombology and using that information to help me plan my next steps.

In other news, Newcastle Playtest had to rearrange our last meeting, since very few of us could make it a couple of weeks ago. It's now tomorrow. I'm in Manchester for the day for work again but fortunately we meet near the train station, so I can amble straight over on my return, I'll just arrive a little later than usual. I'm hoping to get some feedback from the guys on the new version, which is still yet to be played!

If you'd like to try the latest version it's not too late to apply in the comments below.

Monday, July 13

A Little Encouragement

I've been quite busy with work again this week, including another long day's trip to our corporate UK head office in Manchester. But regardless I bravely soldiered on and got loads of gaming in. It's a hard job but someone's got to do it and, selfless man that I am, I took one for the team. You guys owe me.

Wednesday's Games Night suffered extreme attrition and ended up just being Ian and me. We played Lost Cities, Firefly (one towards my ten plays goal!) with the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion (for the first time) and Carcassonne: The Castle (one towards play every game I own once this year). Firefly was done and dusted in only 65 minutes! That's about half the length of my shortest game to date. Ian and I have both played it a few times so we knew what we were doing and that made a big difference. I liked the new story card from the expansion, but we didn't really play and of the expansion PvP rules, just by being good space citizens rather than any determined effort not to.

Thursday's trip to Manchester was with DJ and Mal, two Games Night regulars who had cried off on Wednesday. As usual, we ended up playing a bunch of board games on the iPad during the journeys, mostly Carcassonne and Hey! That's My Fish! We also played a few games of my Martian Dice app on my phone :-)

Then Saturday I finally made it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time in what feels like centuries. It was a great evening, I only played a couple of games, but it was great to catch up with everyone there and the games were good ones that helped towards my ten plays goal (Homesteaders and Aqua Romana - which is now ticked off the list).

Finally, as I was leaving I spoke briefly to a few Newcastle Playtest regulars. Last time I went to Newcastle Playtest (also some time around 1530, I'm pretty sure Henry VIII was still on the throne), I'd left a copy of Zombology with Dan for him to take to the UK Games Expo playtest event. I've not seen Dan since, so I don't know if he got a chance to try it out, or what the feedback was, but I hope to see him next week. Olly said it felt like he hadn't seen me in ages, and I said that I'd missed the last couple of sessions due to travelling for work. I jokingly said it must have been weird having a session that didn't start with a couple of games of Zombology (it's our staple opening game while we wait for people to arrive). But it did! Dan took it along and they all played it without me! A good sign.

That and another event during the week are starting to restore my confidence. On Tuesday I was out of the office at a networking event where I bumped into a friend of a friend who recognised my name and company name from my badge. She asked if I was the game designer and we chatted about that for a bit. I told her about Zombology (She started it! I didn't pounce on her like a lion that hadn't been fed in months! Well actually I did, but in the sort of genteel way that's acceptable at a work conference). I happened to have the prototype on me (it was in my bag for Wednesday's train trip where it didn't see any action), so I showed it to her and explained the premise. The combination of zombies, wacky science and a £9 price point combined into enough excitement for her to pre-order a copy there and then. Maybe selling 150 won't be so hard after all...

Monday, July 6

In Flux and In Corporeal Form

Finally, after a few weeks of fannying on, I've finally printed out and constructed the new version of Zombology incorporating changes suggested during my trip to St. Louis at the beginning of June. I had the evening to myself last night as The Wife was out with friends, so after getting The Daughter to sleep I printed it out and made it all up. Excellent! Took long enough. I've been wanting to try this version out before sending it out for playtesting, but I have to miss this week's Newcastle Playtest because of travelling for work again, and I've not managed to fit a playtest in at work for a while either, so screw it, it's going out untested! It could be awful! It could be genius! Only one way to find out.

New Zombology Prototype

I've contacted a few friends who have done playtesting for me before to see if they'll try it out and give me some feedback, but what I really need is blind playtesters who aren't friends of mine and are willing to try it a few times and give me some honest, critical feedback. Fancy helping out? Let me know in the comments.

That's the 'Corporeal' part of this week's title. The 'In Flux' part refers to the fact that I'm still deciding what I want to do about Zombology. I've got three options as I see it:

  1. Give up on publishing myself and either make it freely available (print and play) or try to get a publisher to pick it up.
  2. Publish it in a time-light fashion, e.g. print on demand through a company like The Game Crafter or Drive Thru Cards.
  3. Or the original plan of a small, hand-made print run that I'll sell through my own website.

If you'd asked me two weeks ago, I was utterly convinced that option 3 was the way I wanted to go, now I'm in the middle of a crisis of indecision. I'll give myself a couple of weeks to discuss it with The Wife and think things through, but then I'm going to have to make a decision and start acting on it.

Still, at least with the finished prototype I've actually made some concrete progress this week.

Monday, June 29

A Moment of Reflection

Not much progress again this week :-( I was babysitting for a friend on Tuesday and used the evening to finish the graphic design (and add some further improvements) of the next version of Zombology, but then was too busy for the rest of the week to either print them out or playtest them.

I was hoping to get the printing done on Friday night while The Wife was at the cinema, but after a bad night's sleep The Wife cancelled, and my cousin popped in on a visit from Bath while showing her son local universities he's considering attending. I was also hoping to make it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time in months on Saturday, but instead we went on an impromptu camping trip to the wilds of the North Pennines (which were lovely!).

I missed the last Newcastle Playtest too due to a work trip, and I'm going to have to miss the next one for the same reason - I'm travelling a bit more for work now. Newcastle Playtest is only monthly, so I'm going to go three months without attending one, which is pretty pants for a supposed co-organiser.

All this has got me thinking. Am I really set up for another self-publishing company? I did pretty well last time around, but I had no kids at that point and The Wife was really busy with work so I had plenty of time in the evenings for making games and marketing. A weekend away at a convention was an easy sell at home because The Wife was busy and often worked some or all of the weekend anyway. Now I'm travelling more with work and have a family, do I really want to be going away from them on the weekends that I'm not away for work to demo and sell games at conventions?

Last time round I sold a good chunk of games at conventions. I went to The Cast Are Dice, Beer and Pretzels, The UK Games Expo and a few smaller ones. It was a good opportunity to promote my games because when you're running a small company with no marketing budget the vast majority of your intended audience have not heard of you, your company or your products. When I'm going on regular trips away for work, some of which eat up a weekend it's much harder to justify giving up another weekend away from The Wife and The Daughter for selling games. The Daughter's growing up so quickly at the moment that every missed moment counts. The work trips are also getting in the way of playtesting, my Games Nights and attending Newcastle Gamers. In addition to time for developing, manufacturing and selling the games, I also need time to test them, and at the moment it feels like I haven't got that time available.

I've got 13 pre-orders already, which is good, but that's less than 10% of the print run I'm planning. Can I sell the other 90-odd percent through free web marketing and the odd convention attendance? I don't know.

Anyway, I'm going to take a couple of weeks before I commit any money to the effort to check whether I'm sure I'll have the time to commit to making this successful, or whether I think I can make this successful with the time available to me. I'll also consider other paths to publishing one final time: print on demand, or selling to another publisher.

While I think about it, I'll get this next prototype printed out and tested, so at least I'm making some progress...

Monday, June 22

Like a Glacier

Moving forwards, only very slowly.

The good news is that my company bank account is set up and ready to use, the bad news is that I don't yet have online access to it, and I want to make sure it's all up and running correctly and there's cash in it before I start spending from it.

In other progress this week, I've tweaked some art for Zombology, done a first draft of a company logo (now with my dad, a graphic designer and artist, for review) and I've selected a web hosting company for the company website. But still, slower going than I was hoping for. I need to get the holding web page ready to put up on the website once it's ordered and print out the new version with its rules tweaks this week too. Once it is physically realised, I can start testing this new version to check I've not broken anything with these minor rules changes.

I must do these things this week. Must. It's almost halfway through the year and I'm still a way off publishing the game.

Monday, June 15

Concrete Progress At Last

As I mentioned last week, one of the things I had to do this week was an appointment at the bank to open a bank account for my new hobby board games publishing company. This is an important step in my journey to being a publisher again: before I can sell games I need to get them manufactured and I need a website and a PayPal account, all of which require a bank account to fund.

The business adviser that I spoke to in the bank was impressed that I'd taken along all the games I'd (self-) published as Reiver Games. I wanted to give him an idea what I was talking about, but also to show him that this wasn't a crackpot idea, it was something I had some experience and knowledge about.

As it was it was unnecessary, he'd played Settlers of Catan with some friends a few weeks ago, so he knew exactly what I was talking about. Disappointingly, unlike when I created the Reiver Games account back in 2006, he didn't place an order!

The account was ordered on Thursday, there's some legal things they have to sort out, so it should be set up properly on Tuesday, then it's game on.

In the meantime, I've some tweaks to try out from my playtesting in the States and I'd like to give a few key playtesters access to the latest version to get their feedback while I start improving the art. I had great ideas initially about trying to do some comic style art myself, but I think it's more realistic to do some simple iconic art (more like 6 Nimmt!) rather than wait until I've improved my art skills to the point where they are good enough.

We've got a very busy week at work this week, so I doubt I'll be able to test it one lunchtime, but maybe it can get some action at Games Night on Wednesday.

Anyway, there's plenty to be getting on with now!

Monday, June 8

Jack: 3 - US Axe Murderers: 0

As I mentioned last week, I've spent the most of the last week in St. Louis, MO at a conference for work. It was a long and busy week, but I managed to get a night off on Wednesday and that meant I could get over to the St. Louis Board Gamers Meetup at The Wizard's Wagon in University City.

The Gateway Arch

I've been to this conference four times in a row now. The first time in Vancouver I met up with Tao who runs Starlit Citadel (who had been a supporter of me in my Reiver Games days). The second time in Minneapolis I got to go to the Fantasy Flight Event Center twice on two consecutive nights with gamers who collected me from my hotel, drove me to a restaurant for dinner, then to the Center for gaming and then finally back to my hotel (thanks Alfredo, Jay and Fred!). Last year in Baltimore I got nothing, but this year I struck gold again.

Dan posted on the Meetup page that he could meet me at a coffee shop opposite a Metro station and then drive me over to The Wizard's Wagon. Which he did after first recommending a take out place and something good from the menu. We played seven games (variously with Dan, Patrick, Rebecca, Chris, Jim and Kit) including a couple of playtests of six-player Zombology (from which I got some new ideas to try out). At the end of the night Kit also introduced me to Medina by Stefan Dorra which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great game, coupled with very attractive city construction during play. There's apparently a re-print coming fairly soon. Finally Dan drove me back to my hotel in time to meet up with my colleagues for a final couple of drinks on our last night in St. Louis. Thanks Dan for a great evening!

Medina by Stefan Dorra

That's now three times I've agreed to meet a random American whom I've only met on the internet, get in his car and get driven to an out of town location, and not once have I been axe-murdered. Board gamers are awesome!

I'm back now, and The Wife is away for a couple of days with work tonight and tomorrow. I'll be using my free evenings to make a new version of Zombology to try out some of the ideas generated in America, and to prepare for Thursday morning's meeting with the Bank Manager. We're almost off to the races!

Monday, June 1

Hello From Sunny St. Louis

I'm writing this at 3:30am in my hotel room listening to Mongolian Folk Metal, clearly not yet on US time :-( And St. Louis isn't very sunny either.

The last week has been a bit of a blur. I drove to Bristol, then Devon, then went to Plymouth for a few hours to see Dave, one of my old friends from York who had the temerity to move four hundred miles away. It was great to catch up again, Dave had been around during the founding of Reiver Games and even came to the UK Games Expo with me back in 2007 to help out on my stand. But since he moved down south we've seen very little of him, 400 miles is a long way to travel with a two year old!

After that we had a few days in a rented farm 'cottage' with eleven other members of my family - 14 of us in total! It was a lovely week, and we even played a few games - gaming is not something I generally do with my family (usually the in-laws), by my sister, brothers-in-law and even my mum got involved. We played five back to back games of Zombology one night and I've taken a few more orders off the back of that!

The day after driving back from Devon I was collected at 6:30am for my trip to St. Louis, MO. I'm out here for a week for work, but I spent a chunk of the flight time playing board games on my iPad with my boss Ian and I'm hoping to make it along to the St. Louis Board Gamers MeetUp on Wednesday evening at a Wizard's Wagon. We'll see! 

I'm back on Friday, when I hope to start making progress on publishing Zombology again...

Monday, May 25

The Elephant In The Room

This post is being posted automagically while I'm on holiday in deepest, darkest Devon with the entirety of my fairly large family (14 of us! In one house!). It might take me a few days to respond to comments as I'm not sure if they have the internets in Devon yet.

So I'm getting back into hobby board game publishing as I'm sure you're all aware. I've got a game to publish (Zombology) and some startup funds and a business plan. Go me!

I've bravely decided to eschew KickStarter and just make a small hand-made run like I did in the early days of Reiver Games. I keep harping on about how I've done this before, and I know what I'm getting myself into, yadda, yadda. I've run the numbers and I think I can sell 150 copies at a reasonable price and yet still make enough money to cover my (non-time) costs and the overheads and hopefully have enough left to invest in potential future projects. I made 100 copies of Border Reivers (my first game) by hand and sold them all within a year and then 300 copies of It's Alive! by hand and sold those all within a year too. So 150 sounds pretty achievable, right?

The only thing is that I made Border Reivers in 2006 and It's Alive! in 2007. That's years ago. Literally. Since then, everything's changed. Back in the day there were only a few of us hobby publishers hand-crafting games in our basements/garages/living rooms. If you were a rabid collector of board games with a ton of money you'd won at the casino there weren't that many options to get your hobby publisher fix so by just being there and talking on BGG occasionally, I made a surprising number of sales.

KickStarter changed all that. Now everyone can pitch their hobby game to a room full of people who've just splashed out on something similar. If you want to support the independent hobby publisher which of the 1,500 KickStarter projects you've heard about in the last month are you going to back? All of them? Probably not.

When you've got KickStarter projects up the wazoo all of which have funded on day 3 of 30 and hit the stretch goals that means the components are linen-finished and the artwork was done by Banksy and the game pieces are made of real gold and stone and steel and wood and it comes with miniatures and expansions and the moon on a stick, why would you spend more money on yet another game?Especially one that's been hand-crafted by an idiot and illustrated by the same and the components are cut out by hand and made of paper and card and not even gold inlaid, linen finished card?

There's the question. Is there still a market for my handmade games? Is it big enough for a print run of 150 copies? We'll soon find out...

Monday, May 18

Marching Forward

It's been a week of steady progress this week. I've been working on a logo for my new games publishing company with my dad (a retired art teacher, artist and graphic designer). I don't really want to announce anything about the company until I've got all its accounts set up, and that's waiting on having a bank account to pay for them. I've an appointment with the bank when I get back from the U.S., so that should all get moving then. I'm going to use last week's blog post as my business plan when I go to the bank, that and my previous experience running a board game publisher should carry me through I hope. That blog post also led to a couple more pre-orders, so I'm slowly climbing towards break even point already.

Before then, the main things to work on are the Zombology graphic design and a draft website, plus any Zombology art I feel capable of making. I've got a bunch of time this week before I go on holiday - I'm babysitting for a friend on Monday night and then have four hours on trains on Wednesday as I head down to Sheffield for my quarterly hospital visit. I'm hoping to get next week's blog post written as well as make some progress on Zombology during that time.

One of the other things I'm working on is trying to streamline the rules around the Gurus a bit. Gurus represent an expert in each of the six suits in the game and they provide their owner with an in game benefit in their suit. Initially they all start out neutral, but during the game players can recruit them (or steal them from an opponent). Functionally they work pretty well, but it's a bit clunky and hard to explain, so it will be good if I can come up with something similar enough to still work well, but simpler to explain and smoother to play. We tried something on Thursday lunchtime, but it seemed like a step backwards, so that's fallen by the wayside.

In other news, I had a second consecutive Games Night last week (I've only managed four in the last nine weeks!), but sadly it's the last for another three weeks as I have a week's holiday immediately followed by a trip to St. Louis for work. While in the States I'm going to try to make it to a St. Louis Board Gamers MeetUp on the Wednesday, like I did a couple of years ago in Minneapolis, should be fun!

At Games Night I managed to tick another game off my ten plays list, King of Tokyo is safe too now. But I'm starting to think about another purge (not using anti-aircraft guns!). There's seven or eight games that are great games, but we just don't play them at Games Night, so I'm thinking quite seriously of getting rid of them to free up some more shelf space...