Monday, January 25

The Economics of a Very Small Print Run

Back in May I talked about the economics of a small print run of a game. At that point I was intending to start a second hobby publishing company (a la Reiver Games, my first, unsuccessful attempt) and make small print runs of hand-made games.

A promotion at work, coupled with the realisation that I really didn't have time for the sort of promotion required to sell 150 games in a year around my family commitments meant that pipe dream died, but I then resurrected a lighter version of it for NaGa Demon last year: instead of a 150 copy run - just twenty for the twenty friends and family who had pre-ordered a copy when I announced the 150 copy run.

I was going to make the run at cost, so I wasn't trying to make any money any more, just reward those supporters who'd backed me instinctively and do something fun for NaGa DeMon. I'd originally priced the 150 copy run at £9, cheap enough to encourage sales but expensive enough to make a decent return on investment, so I could invest further in future games. I decided to do the very small print run at the same price to be fair to those who had ordered at that price.

I found a local printer who could not only do it at that price, but also do the box labels as actual labels - on vinyl which (I hoped) would save a massive amount of hassle (affixing the labels to the boxes for Border Reivers and the hand-made first edition of It's Alive! was a massive pain and time sink), the only problem was that I needed to make thirty copies to (almost) break even. A quick post on BGG and another six were pre-ordered, leaving just four of the run unclaimed.

I needed greyboard (that's chipboard I think in the US) for the boxes, thick card for the box inserts and then the printing done. I had thick card and greyboard kicking around the house (what self-respecting game designer doesn't?) so I donated those to the cause for free which just left the cost of the printing.

The printing was going to be £255 for thirty copies, selling all of those at £9 would yield £270, but I'm keeping one, and I've given one to the designer of the font I used in the game in lieu of payment so if I sell the rest that's £252. I've also got to pay for the postage and packing to the US for the font-creator's copy, another £5.55, so if I sell out of the print run I'll have lost £8.55.

Once I've finished making the hand-made limited edition, I'm going to make it available on Drive Thru Cards as a Print on Demand game, which if it's priced sensibly might reclaim that £8.55 if I sell a bunch of copies - clearly I'm not getting rich from this, but hopefully not losing too much either.

I've got eight copies left at home now, five of which I've finished and three of which are just awaiting their cards (an hour and a half's work). Two of those eight are definitely spoken for, two of them were pre-ordered but I've not had confirmation from the orderers (muninnhuginn and Richard W, if you're reading this, please let me know if you still want one!) and four are as yet unclaimed. If you'd like one they're £9 plus shipping (£4.10 to the UK, £4.75 to Europe and £5.55 elsewhere). Americans and Candians are definitely best off waiting for the Drive Thru Cards version, which will be much cheaper for you, unless you're desperate for a signed and numbered limited edition copy!

Monday, January 18

More KickStarter Thoughts

As I'm sure you know, I'm not a fan of KickStarter (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B), until this week I've only backed one project on KickStarter, and as unlikely as it seems, it wasn't a board game.

This distrust of KickStarter, coupled with my natural risk-adversity meant I didn't consider KickStarter as a potential vehicle for Zombology last year, I just chose to repeat the most successful period of my Reiver Games days: the hand-made games. As it turned out, I didn't even manage that, with the promotion at work meaning I limited my ambitions even further to just making enough copies for the twenty fans who pre-ordered a copy when I announced the 150 copy run back in June.

What has got me thinking about KickStarter again, and what a game changer it is for the hobby board game publishing industry is my mate Tim. I've known Tim for nearly twenty-five years and we've spent that period gaming together at every opportunity, from Magic in the early days through miniatures, computer games and board games. Tim and I live about 200 miles apart (and have done for twenty years), but despite the distance and our two young families we try to get together a few times a year for some gaming (which now features his young son during the day and then late night sessions just the two of us after our wives bow out at a sensible time). Tim's been a professional computer games programmer for eighteen years and he's been working on a social deduction board game for the last year or two. When we've got together we've discussed and played it together and I've been providing (hopefully helpful!) information about board games publishing and playtested it for him too. Tim decided to go down the KickStarter route from the get-go, the game is themed around nobles poisoning each other at a formal banquet and he wanted the game to come with goblets and napkins for the full atmospheric effect. Clearly, this wasn't going to be something he could just cobble together like I've done for Zombology. Tim's done the research, sent preview copies to a whole bunch of very enthusiastic reviewers and got it live on KickStarter this week.

It's a really fun game, so I was one of the first backers (to be honest, I would have been even if I didn't like it! Tim's backed me through many years of games publishing, it's great to be able to return the favour), which means I'm now watching his KickStarter enfold.

Until now, I've almost entirely avoided KickStarter for board games. I pay no attention to games being KickStarted, I don't visit the KickStarter website, I don't read the Crowdfunding round-ups on BGG or anything. I know it's completely changed the market, from established publishers like Queen Games using it, through the new publishers like Tasty Minstrel and Stonemaier whose business models revolve around, to the massive successes of any project involving miniatures and Exploding Kittens. But I'm aware of it in the loosest possible sense.

So I'm watching Tim start his company by publishing his first game while thinking of my first attempt with Border Reivers and my second almost attempt with Zombology last year. It took me a year to sell 100 copies of Border Reivers (and co-incidentally a year to hand-make the damn things), a year during which I went to conventions, games clubs, ran competitions on BGG and blogged obsessively. Tim got his first 100 sales within 48 hours. I didn't consider getting a game professionally manufactured until I'd got two games and 400 sales under my belt because the £15,000 outlay scared the pants off me (thankfully most of it was life insurance money!). Tim's outlay is vastly smaller than that, and he will go straight to professional manufacturing with the money in hand from pre-ordering customers (assuming his KickStarter is successful). The two stories couldn't be more different. It's probably just as well that I got promoted and bottled out of starting up another publishing company, I'm now hopelessly out of date and my plan of hand-crafting 150 copies looks like something from the last century to a market that lives on KickStarter, as evidenced by the fact that it took me six months to get 25 pre-orders for Zombology.

Obviously, Tim's got it easier because he's got a great game with neat components, fantastic art (it helps working with computer game artists!) and slick videos and website, but watching his backers climb towards his goal reminds me how much has changed since I was struggling to service my bank loan during the latter stages of Reiver Games.

Anyway, please check out Tim's KickStarter if it sounds like something you'd be interested in - I need it to get funded so I can get my prototype upgraded into a proper copy :-)

In other news, I've made good progress on Zombology this week towards my goal of finishing the limited edition run this month. I've now got 25 copies completely finished and by tomorrow will have shipped 20 of those. Nearly there!

Monday, January 11

Turning The Dragon Inside Out

It's been a great start to 2016. Last weekend I spent a couple of days with my old friend Tim (I've known him since school, but never went to school with him). During the days we hung out with our families and played with the kids, while discussing his forthcoming KickStarter for a game he's designed (Toast: a game about poisoning each other during banquets). Then in the evenings we had a couple of late nights of gaming. All told I'd played 11 games by the 3rd of January!

Monday I was back at work and it was Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday. I'd missed quite a few towards the end of last year with various work trips getting in the way so it was great to get along and catch up with everyone. We also played a couple of games of Dragon Dance (my NaGa DeMon game from 2014) and one of Zombology (I'm no longer playtesting that, but I'd delivered a few copies of the handmade version and it's one of the staples of Newcastle Playtest, played almost every session since November 2013 when I started work on it - even sessions I didn't make it to!

Wednesday was my regular Games Night with an attendance of eight and seven games played, and then I played a couple more games of Dragon Dance at lunchtime on Thursday.

Why such a focus on Dragon Dance you're wondering? With Zombology finished and the handmade run hopefully being completed and shipped this month, I need something new to work on. I've not really touched Dragon Dance since the end of NaGa DeMon 2014. I'd left it kind of working: there was some bluff and strategy involved and there was nothing obviously wrong with it, but it wasn't particularly good either.

It's a game of simultaneous action selection with a bit of bluff: each action consists of a card and a die that affects the efficacy of the card. I wanted to capture the feel of combat where you're acting simultaneously using your opponent's slight tells to guess what they are about to do so you can counter or attack as appropriate. I've (technically still!) got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, so I wanted to get the feeling I remember from sparring and competitions.

So in the game each player simultaneously chooses one of their limited number of dice, and then once you've seen the die your opponent has chosen, simultaneously chooses a card - the die is the tell and can be used to bluff your opponent or to telegraph your next move.

So far, so good. You've got a small number of dice and when you use a card and a die they are both put aside until you give up a turn to reclaim them. The die add an element of randomness but also limit the number of turns before you have to catch your breath. I'm thinking of changing it so you choose the card first and each card has three options: attack, defend and rest, the die you use will determine which of the options you do. This effectively turns each card three cards, increasing the number of options every round.

On Sunday, I even considered getting rid of the dice altogether and instead having a selection step after the card reveal to choose which part of the card to choose. Anyway, I've got ideas again, and some things to try out. Dragon is back in play. I also finished another four copies of Zombology and took payment for another two of the finished ones.

P.S. I finished the week on 27 plays by the 10th. If I could keep that rate up I'd beat my best ever month (66 plays in January 2014 when The Wife and The Daughter were banished due to my radioactivity). I won't though. I hope to finish up above 40; 50 is a possibility but above sixty is very unlikely!

Monday, January 4

2016 Goals

We're four days into 2016, so it's about time I set myself some goals for the year. I've done it for the last three years and I'm doing the same again this year. As before, there are four categories: blogging, gaming, game design and app development.

Since my page views tanked in May last year I've no idea what is an achievable page views goal any more, so I'm just not going to set myself one, instead just these two:

  • Blog every Monday in 2016
  • Do something for NaGa DeMon

Not sure what to do for NaGa DeMon at this point, we'll see how I get on with the remaining games in my stable (Border Reivers Second Edition, Codename: Vacuum and Dragon Dance) before I commit to anything.

For the last few years I've set myself the goal of playing at least one game for every day of the year (i.e. 366 in 2016). I usually nail this one (over 400 plays last year), but if I pull this off I'll reach 4,000 plays recorded in BGG (since August 2006), so well worth going for again.

Over the last couple of years I've also set more structured goals: play every game in my collection at least once in 2014 and have played all the games in my collection at least ten times by the end of 2015. I found this to be a real bind last year with it taking over the games played at Games Night to the exclusion of others' preferences so I'm not going to do anything like that this year. I'll still use my app to keep track of which games I've not played in 2016 and which ones I've not played ten times for honing my collection purposes, but it's not a goal and so I'll not be sucking the fun out of Games Night with it.

Instead, I'm going to aim to play 24 new to me games in 2016. That's a 50% increase on the 16 I managed last year. Because the vast majority of my gaming is either on my iPad or at my Games Night, we almost always play games I know. Time to broaden my horizons. Trips to visit gaming friends and Newcastle Gamers will also help with this I hope.

Game Design
Finish him! I need to finish off the Zombology hand-made run I started in November for NaGa DeMon and get the art up on Drive Thru Cards for the Print on Demand version. Let's say end of January for making the hand made run and end of Feb for the Print on Demand version. After that, get back into game design, either on one of the other games mentioned above or something new.

App Development
Finish him II: Revenge of the him! I've just finished the expanded Duolingo German track, so I need something new to get my teeth stuck into, and the app I have in development should be that thing. I meant to finish it last year, but didn't get round to it, so let's get it out the door in 2016.

That should be plenty to keep me out of trouble, let's see if I can actually finish them all this year!