Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another Kickstarter project

Lines of Fire. Neat - this one got funded rapidly, for a small but effective amount of money, for a short-run (100 copies) of a card-based game, printed on business cards.  I looked into this before - it's tricky; in order to get them cheaply, you have to print a whole bunch of one kind at once, and if you have lots of different cards, then you're ordering 1,000 of each one, and your expenses are similar to just getting the game printed commercially.  But it sounds like this particular game got around that through design and careful, miserly use of limited components.

Having a cute-as-a-button little girl to put in your appeal video probably didn't hurt, either.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I haven't had a lot of time to write posts recently - work is heating up, and most of my game stuff is behind the scenes or waiting (contests, artwork, etc.).  I should have some good stuff to post on soon.

Oh, and I like Starcraft II better than I did at first.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tasty Minstrel Games Refer-a-Friend

Tasty Minstrel Games has a new refer-a-friend program, where you post customized links to their pages, and if your friends go to the site and buy stuff, you get some free stuff.  Seems like a reasonable way to get some free viral marketing, and might be something I'd try with Plankton Games once I've got products to sell.  It's tricky, though - you can't promise too much in the way of free gifts, or you lose the value of the sale.

A quick example - suppose sending a free game out costs you at least $6 for postage and handling, plus your cost for the game.  Figure your cost per game (not just the printing, but including royalties for art and design, warehousing, website, etc.) is something like $5.  So, to send a free game out you need to make $11 to break even (and that's conservative).

Suppose your direct sales price for your game is $18.  But you have to deduct your costs for the game, which are $5.  So, your top margin there is $13.  Seems like you could almost do a buy one, send one free thing for that, right, and clear $2 on selling two games.

But there's overhead for running the affiliate program, and some of the people who buy in the program might have bought anyway, and you actually want to make more than $1 per game or you're in the wrong business.

Michael at Tasty Minstrel has gone for a buy three, get one future game free ratio.  That's a healthier margin.  Plus, if some of your affiliates get you 1-2 sales but not the three that would trigger their free product, your costs are nearly nothing for free advertising and sales.

The question is, are people willing to sort of spam their friends and blogs and Facebook on the hope of maybe getting a free game in the future?  We'll see; it should be possible to search for the affiliate links in a month or so and see how many of them have been posted.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New monthly BGDF contest

A Robin Hood theme, with TWO OR MORE minigames, and robbing from the rich worked in somehow.  Man.  This is tough.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

GameCon Memphis Schedule

They have the schedule up - Yoggity's on tap for Saturday early morning and early afternoon, plus I guess they could play it during the open sessions.  Some of the entries seem to require 3-4 hours.  Yikes.  Yoggity is usually pretty manageable - 45 minutes to an hour, although it can take longer with more folks and is sometimes noticeably slower the first time people play.  I hope the 1-hour timeframe is enough for it, especially if they need to explain the rules as part of that.

Exciting, though!  Woohoo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Splitsville for SuperiorPOD and TheGameCrafter

After a relatively short marriage, SuperiorPOD and TheGameCrafter are parting ways.  Here's the official announcement.  I've posted about my experience with both companies, and I think those differences are what drove them apart here.  SuperiorPOD produced fine quality work for me, and had a wider variety of printed materials, but working with them was somewhere between frustrating and maddening - very little communication, and a long delay (40 days) in getting my stuff.

Recent posts on the TGC forums have highlighted some production quality problems at the SuperiorPOD facility - cards sent with parts blank, bad cutting, no rounded corners, etc. - so I think TGC's decision to pull out to maintain their reputation for quality and service was probably a good one in the long run, although obviously the transition (retransition? untransition?) will be difficult.  TGC occasionally has made printing mistakes (see mine here), but they're generally quickly addressed.  I think the head of the company, Tavis Parker, occasionally lets his emotions run too free on their forums (see the ongoing discussion on my link above, and then this thread here).  Sometimes, it's better to have the customer, no matter how misguided, get the last word.  But he runs a good company that provides good quality service, and I'll certainly keep using them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hippodice timing

OK, so, I have two good candidates for the Hippodice competition - Diggity and Yoggity.  Cult I think is too language-dependent; part of what makes it funny is the cards, and the jokes wouldn't be as funny in another language, even if most Germans do have pretty good English.  Galapagos isn't ready yet.  But those two games are both mostly language-independent (Diggity even moreso than Yoggity) and I think they'd appeal to the Eurogamers over there.

The issue?  They want only unpublished games, which both currently are.  They define unpublished more generously than other competitions; they suggest the games haven't been submitted to a publisher (true in both cases), that they not be commercially distributed (definitely true for Yoggity.  For Diggity, does TheGameCrafter count?), and that they be under 100 total copies produced (definitely true for both - Diggity is at about 23 copies, all but seven of which reside with me or friends and family, while there are only four copies of Yoggity in the world; I have two, one's with the artist, Jason Greeno, and one is in Tennessee waiting for GameCon Memphis).

So, I think I'm OK entering both.  The trick is, if I actually somehow get Diggity up and running, there's a chance I'd have more than 100 copies by March 2011, which is their final round.  I have to get the art finalized and in the right formats, and then I'll probably have to re-quote it, since it's been a while since I got most of the quotes and most of them are only guaranteed for 30 days or so, and then the printing takes a while.  So, if I figure it will take at a minimum at least a month to get the art ready, then a month to re-quote it, then 2-3 months for printing and shipping, plus holiday delays, I'm actually almost to when they're judging.  If it takes longer than those timeframes, as it likely will, then I'm easily in the clear.

So, I think I'm OK.  I can always withdraw it if things go faster than I expect, and just have Yoggity in there.

Flash Duel

Yesterday, I mentioned Flash Duel from Sirlin Games.  It sells for $13-$16 in the normal version (cards and rules only) and $30+ for the deluxe version (includes cards, tokens, board, etc.).

Sirlin has moved from video games to boardgames, which is what I've done here, too.  He worked on the Street Fighter series, so the fighting card game angle is probably related to what he was doing for the other games.  I loved Street Fighter (E. Honda can head butt you back to the stone age, by the way).  It looks like Sirlin has some really high quality production values here - good art, nice components, etc. - and a consistent line of games that include the same characters, which could lead to the growth of a brand centered around his fighters.

The prices he's selling for are on the high side of what I'm trying to do - e.g., I could get a tuckbox version of my game made with more cards for probably $2-3 per copy, and then sell it for $9-10, while the nicer setup-box version (more like his Deluxe version, although without a board and tokens) would be more like $4-5 per copy and sell for $16-20.

Anyway, neat stuff, and another example of a guy having a go at this business on his own.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amazonian regulations

An interesting post from Sirlin.Net - he's making small cardgames as I hope to do, around the same price point, and is selling them online himself and through whatever distribution he can find, which includes Amazon.  Apparently, you can't just put stuff online and always sell there; he mentions a lower limit to be listed during the busy Christmas season.

I was hoping to get onto Amazon myself, although the fact that they're feuding with North Carolina, where I live, is making some of that painful or impossible.  For example, I can't create an Amazon Associates account because of this issue - Amazon has (apparently only to apply pressure to the state) banned NC residents from linking to them and trying to earn commissions by driving buyers to Amazon.

I haven't looked into it for a bit, but I'm hoping I'll still be able to sell there.  If I have to sell multiple copies there just to be listed over Christmas, then that might be hard to figure out the rules.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

GameconMemphis contest in two weeks...

Here are the competitors. Fourteen in all, with others maybe still to come.  Looks like a lot of interesting games.  At least three are in the hand-made prototype stage, with the rest at varying levels of polish. I'd put Yoggity in the middle there somewhere - it looks nice, but it doesn't need a ton of components, and I was limited by the parts I could get through GameCrafter.  I think it will look professional enough, though.

There are what look to be at least two wargames, with territory control and little units.  Two abstract games, both with wooden parts.  One racing-themed game - maybe a good fit for Tennessee?  One hex-tile-based space exploration game.  A couple that look like economic games.  One that seems to be entirely card-based, maybe CCG or Dominion style.  One with robots and infantry.  A huge variety, which will probably make the judging even harder for the volunteers.

One of them, Ops Mundi by Jason Roth, appears actually to be his senior geography thesis.  Pretty cool.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Awards != Sales

As I consider entering all these competitions, it's good also to heed what Tao over at Starlit Citadel writes - that award-winning game designs don't necessarily sell well.  I think that's true in a whole bunch of settings; commercial success and quality are correlated on a first-order basis, but one person's "quality" is another person's crap, and there are some pretty big second-order effects.  And what you play (and what would be fun) is very situational - I've probably played much more Barbie Uno than I have played better games that I like far more.

So, what's the key to marketplace success?  A great game, sure, and hopefully one that could win awards, but maybe more importantly, one that is eminently playable - not too long, accessible to newbies, easy to set up, visually attractive, cheap and available, and fun to play over and over again.

Hey, I just described Barbie Uno, didn't I?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More on the Hippodice contest

The Hippodice contest is one of the best from a designer's point of view - it's widely known, run by serious game enthusiasts, has a relatively low entry fee, and is open to all.  There are English rules here, and then there's a detailed entry description (English on the second page).

They wisely review these descriptions and then solicit entries from those, so they don't get a bajillion games submitted.  I think that's a recent development - I think they used to just take all entries and then wade through them, but that probably got too tiresome.

If your game is selected, it's 5 Euros plus a copy of the game sent to Germany, plus return postage if you want it back, although setting up a prepaid return and customs forms through German mail is probably pretty difficult and not worth the hassle and expense unless your game has lots of expensive components or is hand-crafted or something.

One tricky bit - if you get selected, because Germany has VAT, and because you're sending them goods, you'll have to do a customs form that describes the contents appropriately to avoid there being tax due when it gets there.  I had a variety of different experiences that way in Munich when getting sent stuff from the United States last year.  Most of it came through fine, but a couple items got held up for a while because the documentation wasn't in order, and it wasn't always clear why one thing made it quickly and another didn't.  It might be worth ponying up for one of the international shipping companies (DHL is affiliated with the German postal system) if you're nervous about regular mail.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Barriers to publication

The Boardgame Designers Guild of Utah apparently has a recurring newsletter now.  A recent issue has a neat article on the barriers to entry to the boardgame market by Benjamin Stanley - good stuff.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The perennial Hippodice competition is rolling around again, with a submission deadline of November 1st.  I'm thinking of entering Diggity and Yoggity, but I'll have to figure out what I want to do following the Rio Grande competition at the end of the month here.  Could be interesting; I think maybe I would try rewriting the rules in German in that case.  I regained some of my German (and designed both games) while working in Munich last fall, so that seems appropriate.

Monday, September 13, 2010

More on Spy Alley

I commented on Spy Alley yesterday.  Looking at their site some more, I found some sales figures and history:
Interesting Facts:
Spy Alley was created in 1988 under the name International Spy. It was turned down by all of the game companies that were approached for licensing. The name was changed to Spy Alley in 1992. In 1996 Spy Alley Partners was formed to market the game. The 1st year it sold 320 copies. As of 2008 it has sold over 170,000 copies in 7 countries and 3 languages.

I'd take that kind of success.  It does sound like a self-publishing deal, which gives me some hope.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review: Spy Alley

We played Spy Alley tonight, a simple boardgame which seems to be published by a small independent game company, Spy Alley Partners LLP.  They look like they've adopted the model I'm looking to implement - they have a small line of games, and they sell through distribution and through their website.  They're bigger than I'd be starting out; the game is lots of places (many online retailers, although I think we got ours at a regular store), and it's well-constructed and appealingly designed.  It looks from the BoardgameGeek entry like there have been earlier, cruder versions in production.  So, it looks like this group has made a go of independent publishing, and may be doing well.

The game?  Eh.  We've played it a number of times.  It's fun enough, and there's an interesting mechanic at the core.  You are trying to collect all your nation's spy gear while not letting on to the other players what nationality you are.  The spy theme isn't really integrated heavily into the game play; you could be collecting four of anything.   But,  the game wouldn't be much without some kind of theme to put it on, and the spy motif fits the hidden information well, so it works.  The ending is very luck-determined, though; you roll a die to move every turn, and your choices are pretty severely limited by what squares you end up landing on.  As the game progresses, you sometimes gain more control of your movement through move cards (a mechanic borrowed from the classic Careers).

You have the option of taking a very high-stakes gamble at any time - trying to guess an opponent's nationality.  If you succeed, the opponent is out of the game; if you fail, you're out.  You win either by eliminating all opponents (or letting them eliminate themselves) or by collecting all your gear and making it to your embassy (one hard-to-reach space on the board).

There's another major luck factor, though - there's one space on the board that lets you make free guesses to try to eliminate opponents.  In our games, that's usually how people are knocked out, and that's how I went tonight. There are six nationalities, and I got free-guessed three times, knocked out on the third.  Not very satisfying; nothing I did mattered much, and the end came suddenly.  That's fairly typical in our experience.  It's more fun the longer you last, though.

When you knock somebody out, you get all their stuff, which is imbalancing but makes the game go faster (and accelerate as it goes on).  There are some other clever design elements too, although a lot of it is just random.

But, the kids like it, and it's a relatively quick family game.  As an added bonus, we have fun trying to talk in the accents of the various nationalities, and the light-hearted deception mechanic is fun.

Photo above by Chris Hawks, borrowed from

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Diggity art

I'm making some progress getting the art completed for Diggity.  The new stuff looks nice - way better than what I was able to do, which is what I was hoping for.  I'll post some pictures when we're farther along.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dang it!

Following my comments on one of my games, Galapagos, commenter Jay points out that the name has been adopted by a game that came out this year.  My game is completely different from the new one, which takes the Galapagos theme more literally by reenacting Darwin's visit, but that probably means the name is lost to me.  I'm not sure they'll have registered the trademark, so it might be legally possible to have the same name, but even so, it would probably be better to avoid the confusion and find a new one.

A bummer, because my game has been Galapagos in my head since I first came up with it back in the late 1990's, and it was a great fit for the evolutionary theme.  But, I'm not close to publishing that one, so I have time to cogitate.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rio Grande contest judging standards

With my entry in the Rio Grande game contest sent out, I'm eagerly awaiting the results.  The judging is based on total points in a number of equally rated categories:
  • Decision Driven (How much is the winner determined based on their decisions, as opposed to luck factors?)
  • Originality
  • Wait Time (How much time do you spend without interacting with the game/other players?)
  • Unpredictability (How often is the outcome of a turn/round known before it ends?)
  • Broad Appeal (Would you teach this to someone who is not a serious game player?)
  • Replayable (Do you want to play it again soon?)
  • Interactive (Do the player decisions impact other players?)
  • Equal Opportunity (Does every player have an equal chance of winning regardless of turn order/role?)
  • Fun 
  • Simple to Learn (the rules were clearly stated and communicated)
Scale for each criterion is set at 1-5. For each criterion that does not positively or negatively impact the game (or simply doesn't apply), the criterion is scored at 3. If a criterion does impact the game, the score is adjusted positively or negatively and a note/comment is made to explain the decision.

That's actually an interesting way to judge the contest.  Obviously, the intent is to get a "good" game out of the competition.  But that's very subjective; a Scrabble fiend might hate Settlers of Cataan, and a chess player might despise Monopoly and vice versa.  Breaking it into the ratings above is maybe useful, but weighting them equally is maybe misleading; I'd value "Fun" and "Replayable" as far higher priorities than most of the others.  You could put together a snoozer of a game that scored well in 8 of 10 categories but got a 1 in Fun and Replayable, and it would stand a better chance of winning than a wildly fun game that wasn't, say, as interactive or original or balanced.

This comment by Mark Salzwedel on BGG tries to get deeper into the categories, and it sounds like he's even providing guidelines for the judges at his regional contest.  I think that's a good idea, although tricky to standardize; I have no idea if they'll do something similar to that at the Memphis regional, where my game will be.  He worries that the "Decision Driven" category is a problem - since some folks like more luck and others more strategy, maybe a 3 is the desired outcome, but I think that ignores the instructions at the bottom, where you're actually supposed to rate from 1-5 depending on the impact of luck on the game itself, not on the amount of luck actually involved.

For Yoggity, my entry, I think the framework above might actually help me, since the game's strengths are a reasonable fit with the categories.  My game is more of a family game, and some of the other entries in my regional contest (shown here) look a bit like heavier wargames, although you can't tell too much from the pictures.  Games like that, even if they're awesome, are going to be more likely to lose points in the Broad Appeal and Simple to Learn (and often Wait Time and Replayable) categories.

Of course, it will all be up to the volunteer judges and how they decide to apply the categories, so there's no sense worrying too much, but it's interesting to ponder.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Anagrams Galore, or Aroma Rage Slang

Getting working on Scryptix again, after an 8-month hiatus.  I need to get some more puzzles made, which is tricky, since they need to start with interesting phrases with words of equal length that convert into anagrams that contain the same number of words with the same length, with an understandable clue.

I've made about 160 of these.  At my best, I can make 10-20 an hour or so, but I burn out after that - it's a bit tedious to look for anagrams, and you run out of ideas.  To get the game to work as I envision it, with a daily puzzle, I'm going to need to have a good number of puzzles banked up, so I can take an hour here or there every couple of weeks to make new puzzles.

At some point, I'd like to crowd-source it, and let people submit their own puzzles, but I'd have to write a submission interface for that, which takes a while, and my time is currently better spent getting the game running better.  I also have no idea if people would actually enjoy submitting puzzles and would do it in enough numbers to support the game and make it worth my while to program the interface.

Anyway, though, exciting to get the project going again.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Design by iteration, and the perils of blind spots

An interesting retrospective on the evolution of a game design over at Board Game News - Gil Hova's Prolix.  I haven't played the game, but the story he tells is a familiar one.  I get this great idea, I make up a prototype, play it, enjoy it, with family or with a few friends.  It seems awesome.  I'm so stoked about this that I kind of ignore the issues that surface during playtesting.  Finally, some flaws become apparent.  Then, I try increasingly arcane tweaks to fix them, eventually ending up with an unworkable Rube Goldberg machine, where the attempts to fix old flaws have created new ones.  Then, I despair.  Eventually, I try more tweaks, some of them radical, iterating back and forth, never sure if I'm actually progressing, until eventually, I either fix what's wrong, or realize I have to give up for a while.

That's been my experience with several boardgame designs.  One example is Galapagos - I've been working on this game on and off for over ten years.  I got excited again about it last fall after playing some fun games with my family.  So I finally got it all put together in a nice package at, bought myself a test copy, and then tried playing it a few times with new groups.  It ended up being hard to explain, not really working, being too luck-based, and taking way too long.  It obviously needs some help, but I don't know what to do at the moment.  Totally in the despair stage, although I think it's a terrific theme and pretty good game - I just don't know what to try next, so I've shelved it and gotten focused on other projects.

With Diggity, I've been through several rounds of iteration, and I think it plays well.  I've tested it with all kinds of groups, and although there are some who like it better than others, it's worked every time, and many people like it a lot.  The game rules are pretty simple and easy to understand.  So, I'm pretty confident that I'm at the end of the iteration process here, even though it's taken way less time than Galapagos.

The blind spots are always worrying - you don't know what you're not seeing (or willing yourself not to see).  You know you design games that you'd want to play, so obviously you're more likely to enjoy your designs.  You want to maintain your enthusiasm and be excited about the game, but at the same time, you need not to ignore any problems that come up repeatedly, even if they don't bug you much.  A tricky tightrope to walk, and tough to know when you're finished.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Custom Dice

Chessex offers custom six-sided dice in relatively small quantities here.  Not too economical for a small run (a fully custom die with all six sides would be $6 per die up to 25 of them, with a minimum order of 10 or $60, and not too much of a bulk discount at $2.52 per die at 500 of them, a total order cost of $1260) but maybe worth it for prototyping or small-print-run hand-made games, especially if you only need custom sides for a few of them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

200 posts!

Rolled the odometer on the blog here again - I've been doing a post a day since March.

When I started, I expected to have my game, Diggity, in production, but what I've learned is that all of that stuff takes a lot longer than I thought.  I do have a number of quotes, a much better sense of what I'm doing, art in the works, and a brand shiny new LLC.

And a bunch of blog posts.  Thanks to everybody who's reading.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Populist Gamer Score

Dale Yu at has a column on a (semi-silly) scoring system for how many of the most popular boardgames you have played and how many you own.  You multiply the ratios together, so to score high, you have to be a well-versed gamer and also a bit of a hoarder.  I'm not sure if both of those are good things.

Anyway, I ran through the top 100 list, and I've played 32 of them and own 24 of them, which puts me at a pathetic 0.0768.  Dale's score is 0.7735, and he's got some others listed ranging from 0.27 to 0.94.  An interesting way to measure addiction, although of course the multiplication will make those with less complete exposure have way smaller scores than people with marginally higher experience.

Friday, September 3, 2010

BGDF Results

The results are in.  My game, Caravan, came in second in a massive four-way tie at five votes, well behind the winner at 11 votes.  The winning game, Sorceror's Apprentices, was a neat idea - played on an Othello board, but with a magic contest theme.  I certainly think it deserved to win, although it would need a ton more design, detail, and testing to make a fully-realized game, and I think the victory conditions are not workable as written.

I'm curious about the voting - that huge a lead is uncommon, since most folks split up their votes among many entries.  I wonder if somebody sent all six of their votes or something like that.  The voting is kind of a game by itself.

I'll post the rules to Caravan up here soon.  I didn't get a chance to test it; one commenter worried about stalemate, which I was also concerned about, and that would be a very real danger.  I think I might give it a try - I've got a hex mat and some poker chips that would work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Off to Tennessee

Yoggity's packed up and in the mail to GameCon Memphis.  Exciting - I hope the testers there have fun with it.  We'll see how the contest goes.

Another source for cards

Here's a link to PrinterStudio, another place that will do custom-printed playing cards.  54 card decks, come in a box, personalized boxes also available.  Probably wouldn't work for custom games that use lots of cards - is likely a better option there - but for standard card games, this might work, and it's not too costly.  Only 150 DPI, though, so they likely won't look as nice as some of the others.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yoggity ready to go

I got my new versions of Yoggity from TheGameCrafter.  I need to put the stickers on the parts (wouldn't want to make the testers do that kind of set up) and make sure all the components are OK, and print up a nicer box label than TGC does.  But then I should be good to go to send it to Memphis for the Rio Grande regional contest.  Along with my hopes and dreams.  And return postage.