Monday, January 26

A Digital Digression

As I've discussed over the last couple of weeks, one of my goals for this year is to get back into hobby publishing, like I did in the early years of Reiver Games. I've got all year to do that though and there are more pressing things on my plate - like the NaGa DeMon Winners' copies of Dragon Dance (and bonus Zombology) to finish and get in the post.

I've made no progress on either of those things this week though. Not even taken any more pre-orders for the as yet unannounced game (still at 4/50!).

Instead I've been focusing on a couple of my Windows Phone apps. I'm technically a programmer by profession, but over the last few years I've been moving into more of a project management/team leadership role, so I don't get to do much actual coding anymore. I still enjoy it, but with little practice in the office my skills are atrophying, so I've been making a few apps for my Windows Phone (bought because I could make apps for it in the languages and tools I 'use' in my day job). Several of these apps have an audience of one (Codename: Vacuum randomiser and recorder anyone?), but a couple of them, while written for my use and as a coding exercise, potentially had a bigger audience, so I've uploaded them to the store.

The first of those, BGG Last Plays was an app version of the excellent Last Plays by BGG User Heroku App. I wanted this as I'd set myself a goal of playing every game I owned at least once last year, and I was using that webpage to keep track (but I wanted a few extras that were easier to implement in app format). One of my goals for this year is to make another version of this which makes it easier to keep track of this year's gaming goal: To have played every game in my collection at least ten times.

The most recent app I've added to the store (which is starting to get some downloads finally) was a pass-and-play version of the Martian Dice game by Scott Almes.

I had a trip away for work this week, so I had an evening to kill, plus five hours on trains, so I took my laptop and decided to work on my apps. The first priority was fixing a crash in Martian Dice that had been reported three times in a week (despite only 16 people owning it!). I had a stack trace showing me where it happened, but couldn't reproduce it myself. Still the stack trace was enough information to fix the problem. No soon had I done that, then my mate Mal pointed out a rather glaring bug in the undo functionality: if you rolled any tanks in a turn you could forget them by clicking undo! That totally broke the game :-( So I fixed these two problems (and made a couple of usability tweaks recommended by a user on BGG).

With the urgent things fixed, and still some time to spare, I moved onto making the Last Plays app support my new goal. I've added the ability to sort by the number of games played, and to select a number of plays below which a game is highlighted. 26 days into the year and I've already completed one of my goals for the year! I've also added a link to the game's BGG page if you press and hold its listing in the app.

On Saturday night I published both of these updates to the Windows Store - they should both be available now.

With these out of the way, I can now focus on the NaGa DeMon winners' copies of Dragon Dance and Zombology. I've printed and made the games, it's just the rulebooks and box labels outstanding. I've got a few hours on Tuesday night while babysitting for some friends that I can apply to this task, plus if necessary a bunch of hours on trains on the weekend, while I go down to Bedford to see my mates down there for a games day.

Monday, January 19

Self-Published Run: Specification

It's been a great week on the blog here, thanks largely to W. Eric Martin of BoardGameGeek covering last week's blog post - thanks Eric!

I've not yet decided whether it'll be Zombology or Dragon Dance that I try to self publish this year (currently leaning towards Zombology) but either way there a bunch of things that are the same for both.


I'll get all the artwork printed professionally (but digitally, not litho - for a small print run the litho set up costs are prohibitive). The box and cards will also be laminated, which makes them more durable and the print more hard-wearing. Professional laminating is nothing like the lamination pouches that you can get done in most offices, it's almost unnoticeable. The cards and box for Border Reivers were both laminated in this way and I was very happy with the results. For Border Reivers and the first edition of It's Alive!, I used a digital print company who have since changed their name to StressFreePrint. They'll be my first port of call as I was very happy with their service and products in the past.


I'm going to hand-make tray and lid boxes and then wrap them in printed labels. The boxes will be 123 x 95 x 20mm, the same as most two deck card games (think 6 Nimmt! or No Thanks!). This means they will be small and pretty cheap to post.


The cards will be laminated as described above and have their corners rounded, very similarly to Border Reivers.

Other Bits

Zombology is 108 cards and a rule book. Dragon Dance has some other components: eight dice and a number of wooden bits. The wooden bits would be published game quality (I'd get them from again) but generic, I'm thinking yellow wooden discs for the dragon's life tokens and red wooden hearts for the knight's. I've got my eye on some nice Chessex dice, but I'm not sure my budget would stretch to it.

Price Point

I'm aiming for £10 per copy as the retail price for both games which is about what you'd pay in a store (not online) for that sort of game in the UK. That's $15 or 13€, both of which are a bit expensive for what it is, but I'm expected most of my orders to come from the UK (friends and family will probably feature heavily!). Seeing as it's a very short run I'm not looking to get it into shops or distributors, so all of that (minus PayPal fees for online sales) will be going to me. I want to charge twice what it costs for the components so I've some money left over for website, playtest materials and potentially I'll can make a profit toward making a bigger game next year if it goes well. So my budget is £5 per copy for the materials and the printing. I've no idea yet whether this is feasible, but that's my goal at this point. So that's £250 for 50 copies or £500 for 100 copies.

In other news, I've not much to report this week. The Daughter's been sleeping badly again, so early nights all round and The Father-in-Law made an impromptu visit on his way back from Scotland for the last half of the week. Next week I'm away for a couple of nights for work, so I'm hoping to start making some progress on finishing of the NaGa DeMon winners' copies of Dragon Dance. And, despite the fact that I've not settled on a choice of game, I've already got 4 pre-orders!

Monday, January 12

Why Aren't I KickStarting?

Since announcing my intention to get back into board publishing as part of my 2015 goals post last week, the question I've been asked the most is:
So, why aren't you KickStarting the (yet to be decided!) game?
It was the first question the guys at Newcastle Playtest asked and the first question that came up on twitter too. I've spoken at length before about my concerns with KickStarter for board game publishing, but to be honest that wasn't really the deciding factor.

When I started Reiver Games back in 2006 my family consisted of myself and The Wife. The Wife was in the middle of a PhD and fairly busy so I had some time to kill in the evenings. I was quite happy to commit to 300 hours of Border Reivers assembly plus the numerous hours I spent posting copies and on promotion and half-arsed marketing.

These days things have changed. I'm now a dad and I want to spend my free time with The Wife and The Daughter doing family things and enjoying these fleeting moments of The Daughter's childhood. When The Daughter goes to bed, I want to spend time with The Wife. My priorities are totally different. So I can't commit to a massive expenditure of time. Which makes making the games by hand sound even more ridiculous, but it's not. There's method to my madness (I hope).

With a small run there's less monetary investment and much less worrying about stock clearance. I don't need to market to shops and distributors (which took a lot of effort) to get widespread availability and I don't have to worry about ongoing warehousing costs. Plus, I've done this all before, so I've got experience and knowledge, plus (I hope) some potential customers from my Reiver Games days.

But probably the biggest benefit is a known budget in terms of both time and cost. With KickStarter, people expect you to offer stretch goals and different pledge levels. Until the KickStarter is complete and you know exactly how much money you've raised and how many people you've got at each level you've no idea what you're letting yourself in for. I've got a full time job and a family, the last thing I need on top of that is an unspecified amount of work I have to do in my spare time that I'm contractually (and morally) obliged to.

With a run of 50 or a hundred copies, where each copy takes about an hour to construct, I know exactly what I'm letting myself in for. Plus, I don't expect to have sold out of the print run before I start it, so initially there will be less that than amount of work and then just a trickling amount from then on as the last of the stock slowly sells through.

This is something I can prepare for and plan for, and something I can do in my evenings after The Daughter goes to sleep. It's achievable around my job and my family, both of which I consider higher priorities.

This time round I'm not in it to make a fortune, or to try and go full time, I'm just in it to make games and hopefully bring some gaming joy to some of my customers.

Oh, and I've already got two pre-orders, despite the fact that they don't know which game it is yet!

In other news, this week I managed to make it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time since October! It was a great evening and I managed to get in three games, two of which contribute towards my goal of having played every game I own at least ten times. Both the games I played on Games Night helped as well! Off to a good start...

Monday, January 5

2015 Goals

The last couple of years I've set myself some goals for blogging and playing and designing games (see: 2013, 2014). I want the goals to be achievable, but also a stretch, so they encourage me to push myself and learn new things. This year, in addition to the usual three categories, I'm adding a fourth: app development :-)


Last year I wanted a 10% growth in page views, to blog every week, to take part in NaGa DeMon and to gain ten new followers. I hit most of those, except the followers one which, to be honest, I don't really care about, so this year's goals are:

  • 45,500 page views (taking me to 183K in total), another 10% growth
  • Blog every Monday
  • Do something for NaGa DeMon (I've enough games on the go, so it might not be starting a new one...)

Playing games

Last year I wanted to play every game in my collection at least once and play at least 365 games in total. I'm going to mix it up a bit this year:

  • Play at least 365 games during 2015
  • Have played every game in my collection (with the usual exceptions) at least ten times.

I'll use this second goal to hone my collection a bit again, and give me a chance to gain a better understanding of some of the longer games in my collection. Games bought during 2015 are excluded.

Designing Games

I'll keep it simple here, yet excitingly different. This year I want to release a self-published, self-illustrated board game in a limited edition, like the good old days of Reiver Games.

Only one goal? Yes, but it's a biggy. The Wife bought me a graphics tablet for Christmas, so I'm going to use that to hone my illustration skills and along with Adobe Creative Cloud (which is damned expensive, but I get a discount as a CS3 owner and I'm putting Christmas present money towards it). I'm already tinkering with some Bayeux Tapestry inspired art for Dragon Dance!

This is a real challenge. It'll probably be either Zombology or Dragon Dance, whichever is the better game (and most sensibly priced) in a run of maybe 50 copies, or one hundred if there's a surprisingly high demand. I'll be blogging artwork and sketches for feedback throughout the year. Why a limited, handmade run you ask? Despite the lure of KickStarter, I'm still uncomfortable with it and it was the large print runs that I couldn't get working with Reiver Games. The two handmade limited editions I did: Border Reivers and the first edition of It's Alive! both sold out quickly and made me money (excluding time spent!). A short print run is a known quantity that I can manage around my family and work commitments and I know exactly what I'm getting into, having done it successfully before.

The exciting and challenging bit will be doing the art myself - this will require learning lots of new skills.

App Development

I'm learning German again, using the excellent Duolingo. In many ways it's superb, but I'm the sort of person who likes to learn from structure, so being able to visualise tables of pronouns and verb declensions really helps me. In the vein of my current selfish app development, I want to make an app to help with that. I also want to release a new version of BGG Last Plays that helps me track this year's different plays goal.

There, that's enough to be getting on with! Wish me luck...