Monday, December 25

Merry Christmas!

A very short blog post today, just to say Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you've had a great 2017, but regardless I wish you an even better 2018.

In the meantime, I hope you have a great week, get loads of gaming in, and just a quick reminder that I'm giving £5 to charity for every sale of Zombology this month - it's not too late to get a copy of Zombology and also choose which of the five charities I've selected gets the £5.

Monday, December 18

FlickFleet Level Up

As I mentioned last week, FlickFleet has been pretty much static for a few months now. I've been playing it quite a lot and it's been getting great feedback, but I don't want to just throw it out the door as soon as people start enjoying it, I want to make it awesome.

To do that requires trying out new ideas and keeping those that improve things, while discarding those that don't. The problem up until now has been what ideas to try. Usually in the early stages of designing a game it's so hideously broken that it's obvious what needs improving. With FlickFleet, it's been perfectly playable almost since the beginning and there's been nothing obviously wrong with it. People have said 'It's great fun', 'I prefer it to X-Wing Miniatures' and 'I prefer it to Flick 'Em Up'. All of which is nice, but doesn't really help improve things.

Can you spot the new stuff?

I took it down to Paul's this weekend and I was keen to play it with Paul and see if he had any ideas. Paul's been instrumental in the original idea and several early improvements, so I was hoping to rely on him again for more inspiration.

There were a couple of things about the game as was that were a bit weaker than the rest:

  • The turn order was a layer of complication, and led to things like Dreadnought-launched fighters often getting destroyed before they could act.
  • The game turned into a bit of a grind when you were down to your last few ships as you battered away at each other without doing much damage.
  • The destroyers were a bit boring as all they really did was move and shoot.
  • Once a ship lost its Engineering location it potentially became a floating hulk quite quickly.

Paul and I played a game with the existing rules, talked about a couple of ideas I'd had (free turn order with activation tokens, giving the destroyers shields) and then spent a good half an hour talking about some other options, before trying a new version. The new version was a lot more fun, so my task now is to get the new rules written up and order the bits to make a few more prototypes - one for Paul, a new one for me and a couple for some people who are interested in playtesting for me.

I also need to get some more Zombology sales. December has been very slow, despite my charity donation offer. What I need to do really is put aside some time to go and play it with people, as that has definitely been my best route to sales (whether among friends or strangers).

Monday, December 11

Winding Down

Last week was a quiet one. After a busy and demanding week in Belgium the week before, I took some time to catch up on sleep (when I could - Daughter the Second is not sleeping well at the moment, so I spent a fair chunk of the week up in the night or early with her). So I made no progress on Zombology until the weekend - there's no chance at all that I'll hit my quarterly production target, but there's still a good chance of hitting my sales target.

The highlights of the week were FlickFleet related. I made it along to Newcastle Playtest (for only the second time since the birth of Daughter the Second back in May) and we played four games of FlickFleet. The feedback was good again ('better than Flick 'Em Up'!) and there was nothing glaringly wrong, but a couple of ideas surfaced and I started to try those out. At the end of Games Night I got another play in using one of those and I think it could be an improvement.

FlickFleet at Newcastle Playtest
FlickFleet at Newcastle Playtest

Since Thursday night's play at the end of Games Night I've finally had some inspiration for several more changes - I'm looking forward to trying those out shortly. I've also been collecting some market research via Google+ and twitter polls!

This week is also pretty busy (we've a big meeting at work with a couple of nights out including our office Christmas party), but I'm hoping to get some gaming in at the weekend when we head down to York to visit Paul and his family. Paul was instrumental in the first idea of FlickFleet, so I'm hoping to show him the progress I've made too.

Monday, December 4

NaGa DeMon 2017 - Part 9: Complete

My goal during NaGa DeMon this year, as with a couple of the previous years that I've taken part in, was to make concrete progress on a game idea, while benefitting from the wisdom of the crowd to help me consider things from a different angle.

At the beginning of the month I had played FlickFleet a grand total of 7 times, but versions with wildly different levels of maturity and none with all the pieces I thought I needed to give a true reflection of the game in my head.

During the month of November I played it another 9 times, all with the components I wanted and all were very well received. I got some great ideas on production, feedback on the rules (which I wrote up of the first time) and I even started designing the box. As with previous years the competition I ran started off very well with lots of interest and then things tailed off a bit in the second half of the month - I struggle to retain people's interest! We did get one late entrant, Steve who gave me some great information about scroll saws and then further advice in a follow up email, but Todd carried it in the end.

The final scores were:

10Officer CadetNot A Cyborg Zircher
6Very Petty OfficerGames Book
5Very Petty OfficerSteven Davis
4Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassChris Preston
3Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassMike Jones
2Ensign (Expendable) 3rd Class7isprime
1Red ShirtEric Francis

So Todd, I'll be reaching out shortly to get some contact details to arrange delivery of your prototype, which probably won't arrive until January I'm afraid.

Friday, December 1

And We're Back!

I've spent the last week (since Sunday afternoon) in Brussels for a work training course. I'm now finally on my way home. It's been a gruelling week, the course was excellent, but mentally and emotionally challenging and I've slept badly while I was away, so I'm shattered now. I had hoped to come back refreshed after a week without being woken in the night by a baby, but that was not to be.

There is another way I am back too: after a month of NaGa DeMon (more on that in Monday's blog post) I'm now back to focusing on Zombology.

In November I've put a lot of work into making progress on FlickFleet and I've learnt a lot and have made the first decent chunk of progress on it, but Zombology has suffered - I didn't quite meet my November production target and I put little effort into promoting it or making progress on the website and other things I need to do to drive people's awareness of it.

I now need to swing back the other way and make decent progress on Zombology (while not completely abandoning FlickFleet). The first thing I've done in that regard is to announce a promotion on BGG where I give £5 to charity for the first 33 (the number of games I have in stock currently, plus the number I hope to make in December) copies of Zombology I sell during December. That £5 is more or less the profit I make per game, but will come from our personal funds, not Eurydice Games. The Wife and I have chosen five charities we want to (and currently do) support to receive those donations, but the Zombology purchaser gets to pick which of the five they would like 'their' £5 to go to (from that list).

Hopefully it will achieve a triple goal of encouraging us to donate more to charity this month that we had planned, raise awareness of Eurydice Games, Zombology and the great work these charities do and also hopefully lead to a few extra sales.

I have a couple of other ideas to work on too, including hopefully playing it at games clubs more this month.

While in Belgium I managed to get to Outpost Gamecenter and play Zombology a couple of times (plus Between Two Cities and Vanuatu) with some lovely, welcoming Belgian gamers. The four who played it liked it enough to play twice, but not enough to buy it.

I'd mentioned to the people on my course that I was a board game designer too, and several people expressed an interest (the fools!), so I showed them the finished game. At which point several of them wanted to play it, so during a break on Thursday afternoon we played six games (with I think six different people many of whom played several or all six games). The game was well received and I sold three when we returned to the main room! A couple of the other attendees want me to send them some details via email too.

It was a great week, but I'll be delighted to get home and now need to take some time to consolidate everything I've learnt this week.

Monday, November 27

NaGa DeMon 2017: Part 8: Production Considerations

It's far too early to be thinking about production for FlickFleet, so I've spent a good chunk of this week thinking about production considerations for FlickFleet *shakes head*.

I'd like the game to retail (i.e. the price on my website) to be about £30 ideally. My first quote for the laser cutting was going to be £60 per game (regardless of print run size), then there would be the box, rules, ship cards and wooden pieces on top of that. I'd end up losing a ton of money unless I priced it around £100! Which is clearly a crazy price.

Since then I've been looking around for other options, and I found another company that would do it for £20 (so probably £40-£50 retail once the other stuff is included) and then last week I bumped into the MakerSpace people who reckoned (wild guess at this point) about £3 per game plus £10 per month, so assuming 16 games a month around £3.50 a game. That price doesn't include perspex (which is about £7.50), so the two of them are about £11. Then there's the box card and labels, rulebook, ship cards and wooden bits. My guess is it'll end up being in the £30-£40 range with this option.
FlickFleet ships arrayed
FlickFleet ships
Obviously I need to price up the boxes, rulebooks, ship cards and wooden bits at volume. I also need to check the pricing on the laser cutting at MakerSpace, but it's not looking obscenely expensive like it was to begin with. It turns out the perspex is the really expensive part, so I've laid out 4 games worth of perspex pieces on a bigger piece of perspex and done it more efficiently - I've got from 500x400mm down to 470x395mm (which over a lot of games actually saves quite a lot!). I had to lose a destroyer from each player's allotment, but 3 destroyers, 2 carriers and a dreadnought (plus all their fighters and bombers) is plenty for a decent sized game and several different scenarios.

Before I can think seriously about production I need to do a bunch of things: playtest the crap out of it (in progress, I'm hoping to playtest it with Belgians this week during my trip to Brussels!), confirm ship points values, come up with some scenarios, write up the rules properly in InDesign with examples, images, etc. and design a box.

I've got some time in my evenings during my trip to Brussels (I arrived about 8pm last night, I should be back around 7pm tonight, Tuesday I'm at Outpost for demoing Zombology and playtesting FlickFleet, Wednesday I should be back by 6pm), so I can start work on some of those. Probably the things I'll focus on are the box design and the rulebook, keep your eyes peeled for another blog post on Wednesday evening letting you know how I've got on...

Finally, here's an update on the PIP situation, no movement again this week, the competition for the free, unique early prototype closes on Thursday, so if you'd like to get your hands on the free prototype time is running out!

10Officer CadetNot A Cyborg Zircher
6Very Petty OfficerGames Book
4Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassChris Preston
3Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassMike Jones
2Ensign (Expendable) 3rd Class7isprime
1Red ShirtEric Francis

Thursday, November 23

NaGa DeMon 2017 - Part 7: Too 'Good'

And by too good I don't mean great, I mean good, just too much.

Traditionally when I design a game the first play is curtailed about a third of the way through. We agree never to talk about it again and I go away and work on the hideously broken mess that was the physical incarnation of a game that was great in my head. Later, once I've fixed the most glaring errors, we reconvene and as we play it's still broken, but not so broken. Maybe we change a couple of rules as we go, evolving things that don't work in practice. This can go on for months.

Eventually, we reach a point where the game is reasonably stable and it's only the occasional edge case where something unusual happens that requires a change to the rules. But by this point the game has been through several iterations, and lots of ideas have been tried out. Some have worked, others not so much. But there's a possibility space around the current rules where I've got a good understanding about what changing various things about the game does to the feel of the game. And I've lots of ideas about what I can change to improve it.

FlickFleet is an anomaly in that regard. I first played it (once!) in July with MDF toy food. It was fun and definitely worth pursuing.

Hmm, spaceships you say?
Hmm, spaceships you say?

After a few months I finally got some bits laser cut and played it again four times at Newcastle Playtest in October. It was definitely still fun. We made a couple of changes after the first game and then left it alone. I'd not yet ordered the wooden pieces or made the ship cards, so the bookkeeping was all done with pencil and paper, which was sub-optimal, but hey, early prototype, so who cares.

Just in time for NaGa DeMon in November I did the ship cards and the wooden pieces arrived. I've also played it a lot in November. And it works, which is surprising. It's been getting great feedback ("I prefer it to X-Wing", "It's as good as Flick 'Em Up") and it's good fun.

But it's not yet great. And with nothing obviously broken I'm struggling to see what I should be changing to see if I can get it from good to great.

Any ideas?

Monday, November 20

NaGa DeMon 2017 Part 6: Making a Scene

Last week I played a couple of games of FlickFleet (bring the Dreadnought into play for the first time in the office lunch break sessions), which let me tweak the Destroyer's point value slightly - I think I under cooked it - it's more like 12 than 9 points (though it is especially vulnerable to fighters and bombers).

I've also been thinking about how I could get it made and whether it's possible to get the laser cutting done professionally at an affordable price. I've found a company who will do it for £20 a copy including perspex and VAT, which is much better than my first quote, but still very expensive. Then quite by fluke I bumped into the guys from the Newcastle Maker Space at a craft fair on the weekend. I spent some time talking to one of them about the project and he reckons it would be about £3 a copy (plus £10 a month membership). So if I could make 4 a week that would be less than £3.50 a game (plus perspex). This is looking much more affordable (if far more draining on my time as I would have to be there to run the machine).

Now that the points values are starting to take shape I can start considering some scenarios for the game. I know that two destroyers are more or less equal to a fully-laden carrier and three are equivalent to a fully-laden dreadnought, so there are a couple of fair-ish fights that I need to come up with a story for. But in scenarios there are other things you can do than just a points-based fair fight (which is the point of free play). I can play with things like reinforcements arriving halfway through a game or goals other than destroy your opponents (cross the board and exit before being destroyed, protect a departing civilian ship, stay alive until reinforcements arrive, etc.). I think having a turn counter would help with a few of these. What scenario ideas do you have?

Tonight I'm having the first playtesting night at my house since I started Eurydice Games (I've been meaning to do this for months but work travel has kept getting in the way). Hopefully we can try out a few of these ideas and then I can write some of them up into the rules that I published a while ago.

The dreadnought launches its fighters
The dreadnought launches its fighters

Finally, here's an update on the PIP situation, no movement at all this week, there's only two weeks left now, so if you'd like to get your hands on the free prototype time is running out!

10Officer CadetNot A Cyborg Zircher
6Very Petty OfficerGames Book
4Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassChris Preston
3Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassMike Jones
2Ensign (Expendable) 3rd Class7isprime
1Red ShirtEric Francis

Wednesday, November 15

NaGa DeMon 2017 Part 5: All Shapes and Sizes

I got a couple more games of FlickFleet in at lunchtime today and I've another planned for Friday lunchtime too. I'm using these games to continue to work on the point values for the ships (I think Destroyers need to go up a bit) and also to see if there's anything I can do to simplify things without losing the essence of the game.

Still no changes to the rules or ships at this point.

In other news, I've started to think at a very early stage about the manufacturing of the game. The biggest stumbling block is going to be the cost of laser-cutting the pieces, seeing as the cost is largely proportional to the laser burning time, so more copies is more expensive - there's little in the way of economies of scale.

I've done a very simple first stab at the ship shapes - just something to get me started. Since making my copy in September I've changed the way the ships move (you now flick them too) so my original plan for the bomber wings (three stacked chevrons) no longer works - when you flick them they separate. To combat this, the next version will jigsaw together so moving them doesn't cause them to separate.

The ship shapes are an interesting conundrum. I want them to be big enough to not get knocked around too much by the dice and yet small enough that they don't use up too much perspex. I want them to look visually like spaceships, but to minimise the length of their outlines to reduce total burn time. On top of that there's some constraints of the manufacturing process, if they are made out of 5mm thick perspex, they shouldn't have bits less than 5mm thick to minimise warping from the laser heat.

This is what I've got so far:

FlickFleet ships to scale

What do you think?

Monday, November 13

NaGa DeMon 2017 Part 4: Points Mean Prizes

The most surprising thing about NaGa DeMon 2017 is that I've not made any changes to FlickFleet yet. It's been through four playtests last week and I've not come out of them with any changes to make to the gameplay. That won't continue, it's almost certainly too complex and will need some simplifying, but there's nothing glaringly broken about it, which is great at this very early stage in the game's development.

With no glaring errors to worry about I've been able to think about the two things that are currently missing: points values for the ships (needed for free play and scenario creation) and some scenarios. I spent a good hour or so in my Parisian hotel room on Thursday night facing some very small fleets off against each other in an effort to determine which was stronger (and hence should be worth more points). The results were as follows:

Carrier > fighter
2x fighter > carrier
Bomber > carrier
Destroyer > fighter
Destroyer > bomber
Destroyer > carrier
2x fighter > destroyer

The most interesting thing I found was the bombers. Due to firing a D6, they always damage capital ships on a hit and do double damage. So against capital ships they are way better than fighters. The downside of them is that against fighters (which fire first) they are actually pretty weak - the fighters can destroy them before they get a chance to attack, or at least severely hamper them.

FlickFleet at NewcastlePlaytest
Another FlickFleet playtest

I like that - they are powerful, but weak and you will need to play tactically to try to avoid exposing them to a barrage of fighters. With those results in, I've a first cut at the points values - I'm sure these will change quite a lot as the game gets more plays...

Empty Carrier6
Empty Dreadnought20
Fully laden Carrier24
Fully laden Dreadnought30

Finally, here's an update on the PIP situation, we've got a couple more people involved during the week, but Officer Cadet Not A Cyborg Zircher and Very Petty Officer Book are still ahead!

10Officer CadetNot A Cyborg Zircher
6Very Petty OfficerGames Book
4Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassChris Preston
3Ensign (Expendable) 3rd ClassMike Jones
2Ensign (Expendable) 3rd Class7isprime
1Red ShirtEric Francis

Wednesday, November 8

NaGa DeMon 2017 - Part 3: The Proof is in the Pudding

FlickFleet has been a long time coming. My friend Paul and I had the idea on a walk last summer, but I didn't do anything with it at the time. It wasn't until this summer that I had the idea of using the dice as projectiles and the die results and a damage selector, at which point I got really excited about it again. I tried it out this summer with my brother-in-law and then Paul again using MDF toy food and it kinda worked, so I was inspired to do a design for the ship pieces and get them cut out (which I did with the help of my friend Dan) in September.

The first attempt using MDF food!
The first attempt using MDF food!

Once I had the laser cut pieces I was able to take a half-made prototype to Newcastle Playtest at the beginning of October (it was just the ships, I used frantic scribbling on pen and paper to record the status of the ships). We played this four times that evening (two against me, two with me watching) and most of the people who played wanted to play again. It was described as 'fun' which, considering it was it's first real outing and it was half-finished, was very exciting.

Laser cut bits at NewcastlePlaytest
Laser cut bits at NewcastlePlaytest

I got the wooden pieces I needed ordered from SpielMaterial a couple of weeks ago and then the ship cards design done and printed last week. Now all I needed to do was play the latest version and start iterating versions to iron out the inevitable kinks.

With these successes under my belt I was keen to make more progress, but I've been focussing on hand-crafting the Zombology print-run so that I've got some stock for sale, so I've not really made any FlickFleet progress. I've decided to do NaGa DeMon again just to give me the kick up the behind I need to crack on with this. I'm hoping that it will force me to make some progress, but also in an ideal world rope in some crowd-sourced wisdom to make the game improve even faster.

And so far, so good. I've had some great feedback on the rules and I've managed to play the game a couple of times at work in my lunch breaks where it earnt the 'I prefer this to X-Wing' plaudit from Chris!

I'm focussing at the moment on fixing any glaring problems (I haven't found any yet which is both bizarre and exciting!) and trying to sort out the point values of the various ships (which I need for free play and to design balanced asymmetric scenarios). I've even taken the prototype with me to Paris (for a 24 hour work trip!) so that I can spend my evening in a hotel facing various combinations of ships off against each other to get a feel for what the point value of each type should be.

In action at lunchtime
In action at lunchtime

I really hope that someone who gets involved with my NaGa DeMon challenge does have access to a laser cutter and I can start getting feedback from a wider variety of people. I think this game has huge potential, now I just need to test the crap out of it and more playtesters means faster feedback!

Monday, November 6

NaGa DeMon 2017 Part 2 - Let's Make It!

As I mentioned last time, to make FlickFleet (in it's current incarnation) you need a bunch of laser cut ships, some wooden discs and cubes, the rules and some ship cards.

The ship cards are two sheets of A3 that need cutting into seven parts (the cut marks should be self-explanatory. One page is the ship cards for the Imperium, the other for the Insurrection, other than colour differences they are the same. You can download them here. You also need a D10 and a D6 (with fairly rounded corners).

FlickFleet prototype
A couple of ships and their fully-loaded cards

The laser cut file is for a piece of material that is 25x20cm. I use 5mm thick perspex but, as long as it's not too thin, MDF or wood would probably work fine. You need to cut a couple of sheets so you've got pieces for both sides, but to be honest you could just cut it once and play asymmetric scenarios using one set of ships (which obviously means you need half as many cubes and discs and only one sheet of A3 ship cards). I've done it as an SVG file, but if you need it in a different format I can probably convert it - just let me know the specs.

So you are the perfect person, you have a laser cutter, some perspex lying around, an A3 printer and bot loads of wooden discs and cubes. You've got nothing better to do than make a prototype for me (those PIPs are like crack aren't they?), so what is it I want you to test?

Number one: Is it fun? Does it have potential? Did you enjoy playing? What changes would you recommend?

My intent is that the game can be played in free play where players can build a fleet of their choosing up to a given points total or scenarios, where the players have potentially differing fleets, differing points and differing goals.

I currently have no points values for the ships and no scenarios. So any ideas on those fronts would be much appreciated.

For information, here's the current ship roster:

8Very Petty OfficerNot A Cyborg Zircher
6Very Petty OfficerGames Book
2Ensign (Expendable) 3rd Class7isprime
1Red ShirtEric Francis

Thursday, November 2

NaGa DeMon 2017: Part 1 - Introducing FlickFleet

I've decided on the walk to the station this morning to take part in NaGa DeMon (National Game Design Month) again this November. Like the good old days I'll be running a competition so you can all collect Pointless Internet Points (PIPs) for all the help you provide me during the month. The person who helps the most will get a copy of the game as it stands at the end of November shipped anywhere in the world for free! In addition, the top three (at least) will get their names mentioned in the rulebook in the examples and everyone who gets involved will get a shoutout in the credits.

This time round I'm working on a dexterity game (I've alluded to it a few times on twitter as the 'Super Secret Dexterity Game' - clearly it's less secret now!). It's essentially the illegitimate lovechild of Star Wars Armada and Pitch Car - a game in which you flick a fleet of capital ships around a table and then flick dice at each other to fire weapons.

You can read the latest rules (and comment to your heart's content) here.

So as before, there are PIPs available. You get your first free PIP for commenting below and offering to help design FlickFleet (working title). There's a second PIP available for subscribing to my quarterly email newsletter. After that you'll have to provide some meaningful help to the project to get more points: signal boosting on twitter, Google+ or somewhere else, reading and commenting on the rules, proof-reading and corrections, printing and playing the game (requires access to a laser cutter I'm afraid!) or anything else I find helpful. To further encourage you, you'll get ranked according to your level of support:

0-1Red shirt
2-5Ensign (Expendable) 3rd Class
6-10Very Petty Officer
11-15Officer Cadet
51+Grand High Uber Vizier Destruction

All points are awarded at my discretion and I'm capricious, so have a go and see what happens!

Monday, October 30

Zombology In Stock!

I got the Zombology artwork from the printers back in August, the day before I left on a week long family holiday. In the intervening two months I've been on holiday twice and away for work a few times, the baby's had a filthy cold that wrecked our sleep for a couple of weeks and I've still managed to make over 36 games. That's 27 hours of games crafting!

These are now available for sale!

This week I cleared the last of the pre-orders so I finally have games in stock (and a personal demo copy!). This means a few things - I've finally made the game available for sale (rather than pre-order) on my website and added it to the BGG Marketplace and I can also start trying to push it a bit harder - I didn't want to put too much effort into marketing when I didn't have the copies available for sale as that would just delay getting to the point where I had games for sale.

I need to get better at driving interest online for Zombology - especially trying to find the people it would appeal to and getting it in front of them. The other thing I need to do more of is getting out there and playing Zombology with people. It's been one of my most successful routes to getting pre-orders and it should be easier to get people to part with a tenner for a game in hand rather than sign up for (and then later confirm) a pre-order that could be months away. I fulfilled all the pre-orders before making my copy, but now I've got that (and some stock) I can start trying to go to conventions and games clubs and playing it with random people.

With a newish baby, a full-time job and a young daughter the opportunities to travel to play the game will be fairly limited - I'll have to see if I can tie something in with my work trips...

Monday, October 23

What Does Success Look Like?

Following on from last week's blog about why I've gone down the route that I have and what my long term goals are I thought it would be good to share what my goals for this year are. In my head the year runs from September (when I started genuinely making Zombology) to August rather than the calendar year or the traditional April-April financial year.

This time round I'm trying to be a bit more business-like than I was with Reiver Games. I've got a business case I've written with sales predictions, costs and planned actions and risks.

Success for me is not based on the reception of Zombology directly, though the criteria will only be met if it's fairly well received. Zombology is a niche game that's likely to be a bit love/hate with people. One of the advantages of a small print run is that I can make more unusual, interesting games, ones that might not succeed as mass-market games. Some people like a zombie theme, others hate it. Semi-cooperative games are a turn off for a lot of people. Some people might find it too deep/complex for what is a 10-15 minute game once you know how to play it. I'm hoping that most of the people who buy it enjoy it and are happy with their purchase, but it's hard to treat that as a success criteria, and I don't want to rely on something like BGG scores as a proxy.

So the obvious measure is sales. My business plan has me selling 135 out of the 200 copy print run by the end of August next year. That's five a month most months with the exception of the pre-orders and launch buzz in Sept/Oct and Christmas in December and an aggressive target of 50 sales at the UK Games Expo next year.

Not quite on target yet!

In the days of Kickstarter goals are not enough. You also need stretch goals. So let's throw a couple of those out there too - one that's tough, but might be within reach and one that's crazy hard.

Stretch Goal 1 is to sell the whole 200 copy print run within the year - i.e. by the end of August 2018. That's tough, but not impossible I think. I sold 300 hand-made copies of It's Alive! in 2007-08, for £15 each, so 200 at £10 should be distinctly possible. Obviously it's a different, more niche, game and there's a lot more competition these days thanks to Kickstarter. Also, I've a young family at home that I want spend quality time with, so there's more time pressure on the crafting, marketing and selling than there was back in the early days of Reiver Games.

Stretch Goal 2 is pie in the sky, but if you don't dream big you'll never get there. Stretch 2 is to get Zombology picked up by another publisher for a professional run after I've finished the hand-made run. I'm not going to put any effort into this, so I'll not be submitting it to publishers or hawking it to them at conventions. The only way I can see this working is if Zombology gets great reviews on BGG or similar or if someone who works for a publisher orders it and really likes it (that happened for It's Alive! - I had the chance to licence it to another publisher, but back then I wanted to be the professional publisher, so I said no).

So there we are - that's what I'm trying to acheive. Wish me luck! Any advice greatly appreciated.

Monday, October 16

Choices and Long Term Goals

A couple of weeks ago I talked about how I was forming a Board of Advisers to help provide input on my plans and give me advice on how to be more successful. I sent the first report to them last week and got some really useful feedback, including a long email from Brett Gilbert, designer of Divinare, Elysium and Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time. I've know Brett since my Reiver Games days when he submitted one of my favourite prototypes to me. He lived fairly locally, so we met a few times to discuss it, but sadly it went no further. In the meantime, Brett has co-founded the Cambridge Playtest UK group, been recommended for a Spiel des Jahres for Divinare and nominated for a Kennerspiel des Jahres for Elysium. So he struck me as a perfect candidate for the Board, and I was delighted when he accepted. His response to that first report was great, it really made me think about why I'm doing this. I've reprinted (with his permission!) an excerpt from his email below, along with my response - since I figure you guys might be interested too!

Perhaps the biggest question that this report doesn’t answer is what your long term goals are. You have a clear focus on hand-crafted games (and that’s a noble aim!), but you also raise the threat that a crowded internet space, in which other creators are drowned out by the noise of big Kickstarter campaigns, puts on your ambitions. KS is here to stay, and it has completely changed the landscape.

The best thing about the internet, as someone once observed, is that it makes everyone a publisher; and the worst thing about the internet is... that it makes everyone a publisher.

So. I'm just going to put something out there, just to see how it sounds…

Why are you laboriously hand-crafting games if your finished product is designed to look just like something that’s mass-produced? Zombology seems to be a POD product, just with *way* more leg-work for you. There are few exemplars of artisanal game-makers; indeed the only one I can think of is Gavin Birnbaum (Cubiko, Jam Sumo) — but he literally hews his games from lumps of wood, crafting objects with the spirit of a piece of art. That’s his thing, and he does it really well (and Jam Sumo is an absolutely cracking game), but every single one of his ‘pieces’ are unique and literally unattainable by other means — and buyers know that; they *feel* it. It takes him all winter to make 30 games. Their preciousness is *why* they are sought after — but also the thing that limits his success. Do you expect — *can* you expect — your buyers to have the same reaction to a box of Zombology?

This may feel like too harsh or too profound a judgement, but if you want to become an artisan rather than just a designer or a publisher, then the soul (for want of a better word) of your product has to be the thing that sells it. But if your goal is to make games — rather than crafted objects that are *also* games — then it seems as though hand-crafting your games will only slow your ambitions down.

I appreciate that this may not be the sort of feedback you were hoping for. But I hope there is something here to inspire you!
Hiya Brett,

You’ve raised a couple of great questions and ideas there, ones that deserve a reasoned response.

I’m a maker of things. At times it’s been (bits of) computer games, game designs, painted miniatures, mini scenery, hand-crafted games, mobile apps and hand-crafted games again. I’m much happier making something that I can be proud of than reading a book or watching TV or a movie. In the words of Race for the Galaxy I would rather Produce than Consume.

I enjoy designing games, I enjoy playtesting them. I love doing the graphic design (though I’m not great at it) and will give doing the art a go too (I’m pretty bad at this though, see Border Reivers and Zombology). I also love physically making games. Yes, it’s hard work and yes it’s time consuming, but I enjoy doing it, and doing it well so that I can look at the final product and be proud of the quality I’ve achieved.

You describe three different routes: the standard publisher/Kickstarter, my halfway house with hand-crafted games that aim for almost professional quality and hand-crafting works of art like Cubiko. Why have I chosen the route I have, and where am I aiming to take this? I’ll answer the first one first!

I’ve got previous self-publishing games. One of the things I learnt during my Reiver Games days is that I’m a pretty bad judge of what makes a popular game, more so if it’s one I’ve designed myself and I don’t have the distance to be able to judge objectively.

To Kickstart a game successfully you need great art (which I can’t do, so I’d have to pay for) and to be a great marketer (which I’m definitely not). I could easily throw a few grand at trying to Kickstart Zombology and fail due to my own shortcomings as a marketer, regardless of the quality of the game. I’m also uncomfortable with the ‘money up front before the product exists’ model of Kickstarter. The effort required to fulfill a Kickstarter quanity of orders and then try hawking the remaining stock to distributors and shops is also more time than I’m prepared to invest around a young family and a busy job with a reasonable amount of work travel.

Hand-crafting takes time

The route I’ve chosen is also quite a lot of work, but I know exactly how much (it’s going to take 150 hours to make the print run) and it’s something I’m good at and enjoy. Sure, the fact that I’m only making a few games a week is slowing me down, I could sell the games faster if they were in boxes filling my garage (like the good old days!). But this is a halfway house and I’m reasonably confident I can sell 200 games (I’ve sold 300 hand-made games in a year before, though admittedly before Kickstarter).

The true artist’s route would require a different type of game, maybe I’ll design one of those in the future, but the only way I could do that with Zombology is to hand-paint the cards and I don’t have the skills for that.

To answer your second question (what are my long term goals), I want to continue sharing my games with gamers and hopefully bringing some fun to their lives through my games. I've invested £1,000 in the company. That's a chunk of money: not so much that I'd cripple myself if I lost it all but nor is it enough to do much in the games business. I've a plan I think I can deliver in 2017/18 to turn that into a slightly larger pot of money. If Zombology does well, I'll have more money to invest in my next game and so on. The hand-made print run is small enough that I believe I can sell it all, but large enough that the economies of scale mean I can do it at a reasonable price and still make a profit. Over time maybe I can build up enough reputation, brand awareness, customer loyalty and cash on hand that I can do a larger, professional print run, but unlike last time I do not want to rush it and end up losing money. If Zombology is hugely popular then I'm happy for someone else to publish it via Kickstarter or whatever, but that's not what I'm good at or nor what I want to spend my evenings doing.

I've got a day job that pays a decent salary and a family that I have a responsibility to help support. I'm not looking to quit my day job and start a publishing company again. Last time I invested a huge chunk of my life insurance payout and lived off another chunk for a couple of years. I didn't earn a salary for two years and managed to recoup only a third of what I'd invested in the company. Two years without any earnings, pension contributions, etc. I'll not be doing that again. I want to create a company that lets me fund my games design hobby, slowing growing over time while allowing me to share my designs with gamers so that those games can live outside of my games room and hopefully bring some fun to gamers I don't know and will likely never meet.

Monday, October 9

Quarterly Update

Eurydice Games is just over two months old and has completed its first calendar quarter. It's been a busy one, with most of my focus (unsurprisingly) on Zombology.

Zombologys ready to ship

At the very end of July I officially formed the company and requested a bank account. During a busy August I spent a week in the US for work, then ordered and collected the Zombology artwork from the printers and then went to The Netherlands for a week's holiday. When I got back I could finally crack on.

The website went live, I shipped the proof copy to Derek (who didn't get either of the versions I had previously sent him due to the vagaries of the South African postal service) and I began making copies in earnest.

September was all go. I had intended to make 23 copies (which I did with 1.5 hours to spare!) and ship the first 20 pre-orders. With a busy first couple of weeks (four evenings written off by work travel, friends visiting for a weekend and preparing for Daughter the First's birthday party), I got off to a slow start, but things soon picked up.

It turns out the 4.5 hours I need to make six copies equates to three or four post-bedtime evenings (by the time we've got the kids to bed, eaten and tidied up there's not a lot of time before I need to go to bed, seeing as I can be up very early with Daughter the Second). So the second half of September felt like I hardly saw The Wife, but I got it done. I think that now I've nearly fulfilled all the pre-orders I'm going to slow my construction down to six copies (the number of boxes I can make from a single sheet of SRA2 greyboard, and hence my batch size) every ten days, rather 6 copies every seven days - that way I should be able to cram in some time with the family too.

I didn't quite hit the target of 20 sales (I had enough games and enough pre-orders but a couple of the pre-orders have gone dark and probably won't actually buy and I was trying to only email people when their copy was ready to post, so it moved quite slowly from my end).

Things are looking pretty good for October, I've already sold five of my target of 12 and have another six pre-orders I'm confident that I can sell to and deliver this month. By the 20th I hope to have built up stock for the first time, at which point I can make it for sale on my website and the BGG marketplace.

I'm also hoping to get a couple of reviews in the next few weeks, which might lead to some sales if I'm lucky!

Monday, October 2

Board of Advisers

One of the advantages of running a larger company is that you have people around the office to bounce ideas off and a corporate board to whom you are accountable. As a sole trader, I have neither of those things.

So I've decided to form a board of advisers instead. I've invited a group of friends whose opinions I respect, plus designers and publishers I know and a couple of people with business experience. Unlike a corporate board these people have no legal responsibility and will not get vast wealth through share allocation - they are just doing this as a favour to me, for which I am extremely grateful.

Bristol Ruinart Boardroom Meeting by Hotel du Vin Bistro
Bristol Ruinart Boardroom Meeting by Hotel du Vin Bistro on Flickr

Obviously I don't want to take the mick, so I'll just be sending them a quarterly report of my progress, successes, failures and challenges and hopefully I'll get some other perspectives and great advice as a result.

The first report goes out this week, I'm excited to see how their different viewpoints can help me be more successful.

Monday, September 25

Working in the Cloud

Back when I started Reiver Games in 2006 there wasn't a lot of cloud functionality (I had GMail, that was about it). I didn't own a smartphone or a tablet. My bookkeeping was done on paper (in a physical ledger book), all the spreadsheets I had of game manufacturing details, orders, sales tracking, etc. were OpenOffice (it's free!) spreadsheets on my laptop.

As someone who traveled a lot for work it made running the business quite awkward. I would only be able to update things properly at home. Doing my books turned into a weekly, then monthly and then yearly nightmare. I could only respond to emails when sat at a computer with a physical internet connection. It made things harder and less productive.

This time round I'm approaching things differently. I've a smartphone with a decent data plan that I can use in the UK, Europe and the US. So I can check and respond to emails at home, on the move, at lunch or even while travelling abroad.

Clouds by theaucitron on Flickr
Clouds by theaucitron on Flickr

I've made a concious decision to host as much of my Eurydice Games stuff as possible in the cloud. My books are online, so I can update them as soon as I receive an order or incur an expense, keeping them up to date like this removes the horror of the 'my taxes are due. Quick! Let's catch up the months of bookkeeping I've been putting off!'. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my task list is in Trello which I can access from my laptop, from my iPad and my phone. If I think of a cool idea I can just write it down.

I use Evernote to record information about the game ideas I have in flight - so I've got notes, rules, ideas all written down and accessible from all my devices.

I even use the CC (Creative Cloud) version of InDesign and Illustrator for the graphic design of my games, so I can work on them while travelling too.

Having all this data and information available while out of the house, on a trip to the US for work, on the train to Manchester or at lunchtime means I can be more productive and have to keep less stuff in my head. It's a great way to work and I really appreciate the improvement over the first time round.

Monday, September 18

I Need Data!

This time round I want to do a better job than I did with Reiver Games. Reiver Games was actually pretty successful during the first couple of years when I was hand-crafting Border Reivers and first edition of Its Alive! It wasn't until I tried to make the jump to professional publisher that it all went wrong.

There are a large number of reasons why it went wrong, but one of the most egregious was my inefficient use of my time in the professional phase of Reiver Games. To compound matters, I kept very little data on the things I was doing and how well they worked, so it was difficult to determine what was the best thing to be doing anyway.

This time round I'm trying to keep better information so that I can use that to inform decisions, especially around how best to use my limited time. I'm keeping track of what sources lead to Zombology orders, web traffic to my blog and website and twitter analytics. I'm even trying to get very accurate information about how long it takes to make each part of the games too (a set of cards take 21 minutes to cut out and then another 4 minutes to round the corners and pack them in the box!).

I'm not making much use of this data yet, but once I've collected a decent amount of it I can start using it to drive some of my decision making - hopefully leading to higher productivity or better marketing efforts.

In other news, I've started shipping Zombology to my pre-orders. Only three so far, but I've now got a stock of games so I can start working through the list. I'm hoping to make at least twenty copies this month, so hopefully a decent chunk of my pre-ordering customers will get their games soon!

Monday, September 11

Habitual Game Designer

Daniel Pink (author of Drive) sent me to the Farnham Street blog this week and I ended up reading this blog post about Habits vs. Goals. It got me thinking about my approach to running Eurydice Games.

This time round I'm far more organised than I was during my Reiver Games days - I've written a business plan and I've a Trello board with all my tasks in. I set myself deadlines that are aggressive (I hit most of them in July, but missed a lot in August due to work travel and holidays).

What I need to do to be successful is to maximise the impact I get from the very limited amount of time I have to work on this around my day job and my family life. I need to build a set of habits that enable me to get loads done without stressing me out. Making them habits means they just become a natural part of my week rather than something I'm straining to achieve and stressing about.

I've already got habits in place for social media (twitter, BGG and Google+) plus blogging, hopefully these will allow me to raise enough awareness for me to find the 197 customers I need to sell out of Zombology. The next most obvious thing to add is actually crafting the games I'm trying to sell. If I habitually make five games each week I will finish building the print run for Zombology in nine months - i.e. the end of May next year. That would be great.

As part of my approach of continuous improvement I'll be reviewing my achievements each month and I can adjust my habits accordingly.

Monday, September 4

Small Print Runs are Liberating

Most people designing and self-publishing board games are turning to Kickstarter to share them with the world. There are a lot of advantages to this (not least getting a good idea of the market size and not having to front the all of the production costs yourself), but I've chosen a different route. I've mentioned before why I don't like Kickstarter (see here, here and here).

But there are distinct advantages to the opposite approach too:
  • Knowing what you're getting into up front
  • Personal connection with your customers
  • Personal connection with the games
  • Freedom to do the unusual

Knowing what what you're getting into up front

I've not done a Kickstarter and I've only backed two, but reading Brandon the Game Dev, you need to have art ready to go before you start your Kickstarter. So unless you are or you know really well, an artist you're already a few thousand pounds out of pocket before you start. Then, with pledges and stretch goals you don't really know what you're getting into until the day the campaign finishes, when you have hundreds or thousands of people out of pocket awaiting you to deliver on your promises. That's stress I could do without.

I knew before I spent any money that I was risking £785 of my own money on Zombology. No more, no less. I've spent that £785 and now I'm just waiting to see how much of it I can recoup/will I make a profit to invest in my next game. 80 odd orders and I break even, 100 odd and I fund the other things like website costs and other game development costs. All 200 and I make a small profit to reinvest in my next game.

Because I've funded it myself there's no-one out of pocket but me, I'm not taking money from my customers until I have their games ready to ship, so it's no risk for them, which eases the pressure a bit, seeing as I'm not sitting on a pile of other people's money with obligations to deliver.

Personal connection to the customers

Lots of the pre-orders I've received so far are from people who bought games from Reiver Games. They are people who've supported my games designing and publishing over the last thirteen years. I've never met many of them (they are worldwide), but I feel like we have a connection and I hugely value their support.

Selling hand-crafted games direct lets you form a bond with the customer in a way that selling to distributors who sell to shops who sell to customers really doesn't. Plus, hand-crafting the games lets you personalise them a bit too - with signed and numbered copies each of which can have a personalised message inside.

Personal connection to the games

As awesome as it is to walk down the aisle of a dusty warehouse surveying the pallets on which your games are piled, it's not the same as making the game yourself. Personally cutting the box net, folding it, taping it and then applying the label. Folding the rules sheet and the individually cutting out each card and then rounding their corners gives you a close bond to each and every copy. Time is money. Doubly so when you have a busy job and a young family. That I've devoted 45 minutes to the construction of each and every copy makes them more valuable to me and hopefully to you.
Zombology before I start crafting it

Freedom to do the unusual

I've got 200 copies of Zombology to sell, probably 195 after review copies and a copy for myself. Of the 7.4 billion people in the world I need to find only 195 that are willing to part with a tenner for my game. In that position, I can afford to make a quirky game that appeals to a niche within the strategy gaming niche market. If you're kickstarting a game it needs to appeal to as many people as possible to increase its chance of funding. Glorious art, loads of minis, popular mechanics. I can afford to try something a little more off the beaten track (e.g. semi-cooperative) and do the art myself (with crowd-sourced art direction!).

It's liberating doing small print runs and now I've started making the games I'm really appreciating the route I've taken once again.

Monday, August 28

Learning From My Mistakes

One of the advantages of starting a second board game publishing company is that you have previous experience and in particular, lots of previous mistakes from which you can learn (if you didn't you still be running the first one!).

I had a lot of successes with Reiver Games and I'm proud of what I achieved, but the errors outweighed the successes over time and they came to define the company and eventually kill it. According to Carol Dweck, how you respond to failures is a key part of your mindset - some people treat failures as judgements on their abilities, others as lessons from which they can learn. I like to think I'm in the second camp, but you never know.

So what went wrong with Reiver Games? It was all going well while I ran the company as a hobby, hand-making games, it wasn't until I made the leap to professional publisher that things started to come off the rails. I can think of five major mistakes that I really don't want to repeat:

  1. Jumped to professional too soon
  2. Artwork is critical to retail success
  3. Carpe Astra rushed out
  4. Taking a bank loan
  5. Losing momentum/motivation

Jumped to professional too soon

When my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis led to my life insurance paying out I had a choice to make, keep working in full-time employment, running Reiver Games as a hobby in my spare time or invest heavily in Reiver Games and go pro. I chose the latter, far too soon. I had maybe ten true fans, and a whole heap of people who had heard of Reiver Games - enough to be able to sell 300 hand-made games within a year, but not enough to sell 3,000 games through retail channels. I should have waited until I had more experience and a better market presence. This time round I have no plans to go pro - I've a family to support now, I can't afford to go without a salary or take a big pay cut.

Artwork is critical to retail success

When you're making games by hand and selling them at conventions and games clubs you've a lot on your side - you're selling the games, and people like to support the little guy or the designer of a game who's excitement about their project is so palpable. When you're selling through retail channels no-one is selling your game. The store will stock it (if you're lucky!), but it will just sit on the shelf amongst hundreds or thousands of others - the staff won't know how to play and won't be pushing your game over any other game. So your game has to sell itself, whether through hype, word of mouth or shelf presence. A beautiful box will really help here, as it will draw people in to learn more. With both It's Alive! and Carpe Astra I got a friend to do the art, and he did me a great deal, so it was very cheap. But he didn't have board game art experience. I loved the art of It's Alive!, but the box was weak, so the second edition had a new box, which was weak in a different way. The art for Carpe Astra was also weak - especially the box. But when it's a mate doing it dead cheap it's very hard to ask him to redo it, especially when you can't clearly articulate what's wrong with it. This time round I'm not aiming at retail, so I can side-step a lot of this, and I'll be mostly selling the game face-to-face with people who have played it, which makes the box art less critical to its success.

Carpe Astra rushed out

If you want to make a living selling board games through retail channels you need to sell a lot of games. Let's say you want to earn £30K. The usual pricing for retail is that you sell to distributors at 40% of retail and aim to get it manufactured at 20% of retail. So your profit is 20% of retail (if you sell them all!). It's Alive! retailed at £15, so my profit should have been £3 per copy (I overspent, it was nearer £1.50). If It's Alive! was the only game I made I would need to sell 10,000 of them every year. That's excluding money for warehousing, attending conventions and advertising. One way to make things easier is have multiple games, that way you can do several smaller runs, and it makes it easier for shops or distributors to place an order with you. To try to get to this point I rushed Carpe Astra out. It had some nice ideas, but it wasn't ready for prime time, and as a result I was left with a lot of games that I couldn't shift. I should have had the balls to delay its release until I though it was ready, rather than rush to be a 'multi-game' publisher. This time round I'm not trying to go pro, so I'm very happy to only have one game on the books at a time, or even none if I've not got the next one ready to go.

Taking a bank loan

A couple of things went wrong with the launch of Carpe Astra, as well as rushing the game out before it was ready, I'd hit several delays when trying to get It's Alive! to market. I'd taken the £4,250 I'd made on the hand-made games and invested £12K of life insurance to fund the £13,500 cost of It's Alive! It's Alive! was months late, so when I wanted to launch Carpe Astra (too early!) I'd not recouped enough of the It's Alive! investment to fund the £10K cost of getting Carpe Astra manufactured. I could have waited, building up funds and giving myself more time to improve the game, but instead I went to the bank and got a loan. For the next three years I would be paying the bank £330 a month. In a good month I'd bring in a lot more than than, but in a bad one I'd bring in a lot less. So my cash on hand slowly dwindled and eventually I ran out. This time round I'm going to be very careful about recurring monthly expenses. At the moment it's just the bank account fees, that don't start for 18 months...

Losing motivation/momentum

It's easy to be excited and motivated when everything is going well, less so when sales are slowly tricking in and your bank loan and warehousing costs are draining your bank account before your very eyes. How you perform under those circumstances says a lot about your character and your likelihood of success. I'm sad to say that I lost faith and gave up - I was spending my days largely watching television on one, then two, then six hour 'lunch breaks', supposedly researching game ideas based on my favourite TV shows. I was pretty pathetic and had I manned up and hustled at that point it might have still been possible to turn things around. I didn't and I paid the price. Reiver Games went under. This time round I hope I'm a better man, I've seen what that leads to and know the warning signs to watch out for. The reduced pressure from not trying to make it a salary paying job will also make it less demoralising if things don't go to plan.

I really don't want to make same mistakes again. This time round I'm taking some things from my day job to help me keep on top of things. I'm adopting a process of continuous improvement and taking regular checkpoints when I ask myself what's going well, badly and what I should start doing that I'm currently not. This step back will hopefully let me spot problems before they become too entrenched and fix them, leading to more success than last time...

Monday, August 21

It's Alive!

Nope, I'm not talking about a reprint of the game I published back in 2007 (and again in 2008), but instead Eurydice Games, my second board games publishing company.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been doing the various things I need to do to make it a reality (getting a bank account, telling HMRC, creating a website and then buying a domain name and some web hosting and setting up a PayPal account ready for accepting web payments from the customers I hope will flock to buy Zombology from me :-)

This has been a curtailed week, I didn't get home until Monday, from a work trip to Massachusetts last week that was book-ended by stays with my parents down in Bristol. Tuesday I was in Manchester for work and then Wednesday I was in Sheffield for my biannual MS check up as part of the clinical trial on which I'm registered. Thursday was my only day in the office because I'd taken Friday off to get ready for a family holiday to The Netherlands which started on Saturday (I wrote this blog post last week and then automatically posted it during my holiday).

The other exciting thing about this week is that I collected the printed materials for Zombology from the printers on Friday. I've now got everything I need to hand-craft 200 copies of Zombology. The first order of business when I return from the holiday is to start making and shipping the pre-orders, I don't want to start accepting money until I have the games ready to ship, so making and shipping the pre-orders is a necessary step to complete before I can put the games up for general sale on my website, BGG and potentially other marketplaces.

Monday, August 14

Jet Lag Hustle

I've spent the last five days in Massachusetts for work - it's somewhere I visit a few times a year as our corporate headquarters is based there. Despite being a fairly frequent traveller I'm pretty bad at it and I suffer from jet lag every time. But being an optimist I view it as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance.

While in the US I woke around 4am every day (except the last one when I was finally on US time, just in time for my return to Bristol). I used the jet lag hours of 4-7am to work on Eurydice Games, cracking on with a bunch of tasks that have been sat in my todo pile for quite a while now.

I had hoped to be able to do a few things that required spending money, but the business bank account wasn't opened until I got to the US and my bank card was delivered to my house while I was away, so I'm not able to spend any money until I return home on Monday.

That didn't stop me making progress though. I've done a load of work on the website (nearly finished!) and also tweaked the Zombology artwork, ordered another proof with the new art and made a laser cutting file for my new dexterity game idea.

Kobold Guide to Board Game Design

In addition, I've written a couple of blog posts and finished reading the Kobold Guide to Board Game Design, which is excellent - I highly recommend it. It's a series of essays written by really experienced game designers, developers and editors providing really sound advice from their years of experience. Several of the essays made me think about games design in a different way, so it was a very worthwhile read.

This week I've got a lot of train travel (more opportunities to make progress!) and then we go on a family holiday to The Netherlands at the end of the week during which I'll be focusing on my family and will make next to no progress on anything. Hopefully I'll get a few things done before I go!

Monday, August 7

Ship It!

I'm writing this blog post in the Departure Lounge of Bristol Airport, shortly before a work trip to Boston that will eat up the whole of the coming week. Why Bristol? We came down here for a school friend's party and spent the weekend with my parents (I'm coming back here afterwards and The Wife and The Daughters are staying the week). So I'm away from home for 11 days.

That gets in the way of a whole bunch of Eurydice Games things (I can't make games while on the road!) but it isn't a total wipeout as I'll be awake with nothing to do during the jet lag hours of 2-6am while in the US. I'm planning to spend those hours finishing the first version of my Eurydice Games website, tweaking the Zombology files a little before ordering the print run and doing a laser-cutting file for a prototype of a new game idea I've had.

Last week has been focused on getting things ready, not done :-/ I made some progress on a few things - I got a proof done of the new artwork by the printers:

There was a problem with the cards (printed on the wrong stock), but the box and the rules were fine and having those done, in combination with the cards from the previous version, meant I could price up shipping costs (one of the last remaining unknowns).

Shipping prices have increased hugely in the 11 years since I started Reiver Games (I know, inflation!), and the small and fairly cheap (£10) game means that shipping makes up a significant proportion of the total cost:

  • UK: £3.70
  • Europe: £4.40
  • Aus & NZ: £5.95
  • Everywhere else: £5.50

I also told HMRC that I was starting a company and applied for a company bank account. I was hoping that the bank account would be completed before I left so I could order a few things while in the US, but it's not completed yet, so it'll all have to wait for my return unfortunately. Progress in August is going to be less impressive than last month, especially since we're off on holiday for a week shortly after we return from Bristol. 

Monday, July 31

Let's Get Organised!

One of the things that will be critical to the success or failure of Eurydice Games is my ability to focus on what's important and get it done in a timely fashion. At work I use Trello extensively to keep track of and prioritise myriad tasks, so it makes perfect sense to replicate that for Eurydice Games.

So I have set up the Trello board shown above for Eurydice Games. For the moment it's a single board with all the tasks I'm aware of on it. As and when I think of something else I add it to the board immediately, rather than trying to remember it (and inevitably forgetting).

This provides several advantages:

  • I don't have to rely on my notoriously bad memory for important tasks,
  • I can access the board from my phone, iPad or laptop,
  • I can get a quick view of everything on my plate.

Trello brings several other benefits: I can label tasks and then filter them (I've currently got labels for the three games I have in active development, company stuff and blog post ideas), I can give tasks a due date and get reminders when they are approaching. I can also see tasks moving through the process and get the dopamine spike from incremental achievements. You can also include notes and checklists on tasks too.

I use Trello in a Kanban-esque fashion, with lists for future tasks, tasks to do in the next month, tasks currently in progress and tasks completed in the last month. Weekly and monthly maintenance keeps those lists up to date so I can focus on what is most urgent which is particularly important around a full-time job and a young family - I've little time to devote to this effort, so I want to make sure I'm using it effectively.

One of the reasons Reiver Games failed was that I lost focus when things got difficult. As sales came in slower than expected (hard to see as I didn't have a business plan with sales projections!) I became disillusioned and to some degree gave up. I had no idea how to drive sales of my games in far flung shops, so instead of spending every minute hustling to drive awareness and sales of my games (and I was doing it full-time at that point, so there was plenty of time available) I slumped and started watching more and more TV each day. Clearly with my limited time this time round that is not an option, I need to stay laser-focused on bringing my games to people's attention and finding those customers who would be interested in buying my games. I still don't completely know how best to do that, but with 200 (instead of 3,000!) copies to sell it should be easier this time.

I give almost all my tasks an aggressive (yet achievable) due date, and then work hard to achieve them. There's loads to do at the moment (I'm setting up the company, designing a website and organising the printing of my first game) and, with upcoming family holiday and work trip to Massachusetts, even less time than usual to do them. I'm doing a bit most evenings and also often during my lunch break at work. Once those things are out of the way the next focus is hand-making the pre-ordered games which take 45 minutes each.

Monday, July 24

Eleven Years Wiser?

Eleven years ago this month I founded Reiver Games to self-publish my first game: Border Reivers. Then, as now, I was intending to make a small print run (100 copies for Border Reivers) by hand and to try to sell them via my website, BGG and by attending games clubs and conventions.

A lot has changed since then, both personally and professional and in the world in general. It'll be interesting over the next year to see whether my plan to essentially try to repeat the early successes of Reiver Games still works in the world of 2017, rather than 2006.

So what's changed?


The month after I founded Reiver Games I experienced my first Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. It took another seven months to get a confirmed diagnosis and then I had a pretty unpleasant couple of years of frequent relapses and constant fear over what my future would hold. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to get on a clinical trial of a treatment that has worked wonders for me - I've now been relapse free for eight years.

When I started Reiver Games I had a job that involved a reasonable amount of international travel, and the 300 hours of hand-making games in the first year, and then 450 in then second year was a struggle to fit in around the travel and wanting to spend some time out of work with The Wife. So I jumped at the chance of investing some of my life insurance money (yay MS!) into the company and quitting my job and going full-time. Of course I now have another job that includes a reasonable amount of international travel and I've still got a (the same!) wife and now two daughters under five too (one's only eight weeks old!). I'd like to spend some time with, so I'm back in the same boat as the beginning of Reiver Games. Thankfully Zombology only takes 45 minutes to make, so I'm looking at 113-150 hours of construction in the first year, assuming I can sell them all within a year, so that burden is lower at least. I'm hoping I can get this done in one or two evenings a week after the daughters have gone to bed.


Skills-wise I've learnt a lot in the last eleven years, not least having five years of board game publisher experience that I didn't have last time round. I also now manage a decent sized budget at work now, so I'm a lot more finance-savvy than I was the first time around.

I've also got a lot of contacts in the board game business and enough people know me that I can say 'I'm getting back into self-publishing' on BGG and get a few pre-orders purely based on my previous reputation!


This is where things get interesting. I founded Reiver Games three years before Perry Chen, Yancy Strickler and Charles Adler founded Kickstarter. Since then the number of board game publishers has exploded, especially people self-publishing their own games on Kickstarter. Back in 2006 I was pretty unusual as a hobby self-publisher, now everyone's doing it. Furthermore, everyone else is funding games on Kickstarter without risking their own money, and making games that are professionally manufactured and have professional art. Is there still a market for hand-made limited edition runs of games? Especially those with, what I'll charitably call, amateur art? I'm betting a chunk of my savings on the hope that I can find 150-200 people who would pay £10 for a simple-looking hand-made game. Only time will tell whether it's a dumb wager to make...

Monday, July 17

Final Zombology Art Review

My parents have been up this week, so I've had a chance to pick the brains (how appropriate!) of my dad, a retired art teacher. I've been trying to finalise the artwork for Zombology ahead of getting a proof copy done by the printers to check the colours look OK and that the lamination works on top of the new art (if there's too much ink the lamination doesn't adhere). Over the last couple of weeks I've been crowdsourcing advice on the art/graphic design, from dad, The Wife, BGG, Google+ and twitter.

First up is the box designs. I've run three polls on BGG (1, 2 and 3). In the comments of the first and second I got some other ideas and JPotter came up with something that looked like this:

Which I really liked, so I tried to mimic it (see above). I've also adopted a similar style for the back of the box:

In addition to that, I've also updated the card art (after my last attempt here which got feedback here and on Google+). I tried to incorporate all the feedback I got, reducing the number of colours, swapping the icons on the Guru, making the text bolder on the sides of the cards, getting rid of the gradient fills and generally tidying things up a bit:

What do you think? Let me know any comments you have in the next couple of days - that way I can act on them before it goes to the printer.

Monday, July 10

A Gamble And A Plan

I've spent this week (and by this week I mean the hours of 9-11pm, holding an almost sleeping baby in one arm while) trying to finalise the art for the new version of Zombology taking into account the feedback I received here and on Google+ for the last version I posted. With the exception of the box art, it's almost done.

With it almost done, I don't want to share what I've got until I've finished, so instead I thought I'd talk about my business plan instead this week. When I ran Reiver Games my initial business plan consisted of 'Make games by hand, without taking any salary and sell them for twice the printing/pieces cost so I've got some money to cover expenses, trade show attendance and to invest in new games'. Seriously, that was it. It's a wonder I was at all successful. 

But I was. Fast forward two years and I'd nearly quadrupled my initial stake and I had my life insurance payout to partially invest. This was the moment when I needed a rock solid business plan, but again I had none. The result this time? Losing a bunch of money, selling games to liquidators at 19p each and two years with no salary earnt at all. That'll teach me.

This time round I'll be trying to replicate the first half of that, not the second one! But, I also need to ensure that I learn from my mistakes. I'm older and hopefully wiser this time, and with experience now of managing a large budget in my day job. So I need to make sure I've though out how this could go down.

As with any investment, this is a gamble: I could win big, or I could lose it all. I'm intending to invest £1,000 in the company to fund the setup costs, stationery, website hosting and printing of Zombology. So I've potentially lost a grand. Which would be bad. I've already got a bunch of pre-orders, so assuming everyone who has pre-ordered actually pays for a copy, that's down to £840 at risk. Still a significant chunk of cash.

I'm still hovering between making 150 and 200 copies of Zombology v2 and to take advantage of the economies of scale I need to decide this before ordering the printing next month. If I sold them all (I'll be giving a few away to reviewers) then the potential payout is £1,500 to £2,000, so at worst I lose £840 and at best I gain £1,000 on top of my original stake. Now that gain also has to pay for a bunch of things: website hosting, stationery, travel and expenses for attending conventions or games clubs, so it'll be less than that, but that's an upper limit on my payout in the first year.

I've drafted out what I think will go down:

  • Sales of 20 copies in September (pre-orders, currently at 17)
  • Sales of 10 copies in October (launch buzz)
  • Sales of 10 copies in December (Christmas pressies!)
  • Sales of 50 copies at the UK Games Expo next June (there were over 16,000 unique attendees this year and a 15 minute game for 3-8 players can be shown to a lot of people over three days)
  • Other than that, just five copies a month through my website and the BGG Marketplace.

That's 135 gone in the first year at an average effort of 2.5 hours of game manufacturing a week (should be just a single night a week of effort on average). If sales dropped to two per month in the second year with another 10 at the UK Games Expo in 2019 then that would be another 35 taking me to 170 in total.

Now obviously there's quite a lot of risk in that. Is there still a market for hand-made games in this era of Kickstarter? 17 people say yes, but that's a shed load less than 200 or even 150. Are my sales estimates accurate? Can I shift the games through BGG? My website? Is 50 copies at £10 each reasonable at the Expo? The numbers I'm basing this on are 11 years old, and pre-Kickstarter.

Pretty soon I'm going to have to make a decision about 150 vs. 200. It'll be time to put my money where my mouth is. Literally.

Monday, July 3

I Need Your Help, Please!

If you read this blog regularly you are among my biggest fans - thank you very much for your support over the last 11 years of my game design career. As a regular reader (you're not? Ok, start here and then continue until you're up to date!), you'll know I'm about to get into self-publishing hand-made games again. I've got previous for this - the first two very successful years of Reiver Games from July 2006 until July 2008 when I made 400 games by hand (Border Reivers and It's Alive!). But things have changed. There was no kickstarter back then, and certainly in year two I had built up a bit of a fanbase and had a mailing list of interested gamers.

This time round there's a lot more competition through kickstarter and as the father of two young (one's only five weeks old!) girls I'll be busier than I was first time around. So I need your help to be successful. If you're interested, here's a few ways you can help my second board games publishing effort be a success:

Do you own Zombology, and have played it?

Please provide an honest rating and comments on BoardGameGeek, please also download the second edition rules and introduce it to new people and let them know I'll be making another hand-made run of it shortly if they'd like a copy of their own.

Do you own Zombology but you haven't played it?

Please also download the second edition rules and introduce it to new people and let them know I'll be making another hand-made run of it shortly if they'd like a copy of their own. Then please provide an honest rating and comments on BoardGameGeek.

Do you own one of my hand-made games?

If you have a copy of Border Reivers, It's Alive! first edition (grey box) or Zombology, please could you provide a quote I can put on my website about the build quality of my hand-made games?

You don't own Zombology?

You can still provide feedback on the new rules, if you know anyone who likes zombies, mad scientists, fillers, semi- co-operative games, card-drafting, and/or hand-made and rare games to the Zombology BGG page or this blog. Tell them there's a new version coming shortly and they can pre-order a copy of the world's only game about curing the zombie plague using healing crystals and magnets from me for only £10 + P&P.
Thanks in advance for spreading the word!