Monday, December 31
I'm considering re-printing games that are now out of print as a different avenue for Reiver Games.
I've started a Geeklist on BoardGameGeek for people to suggest games that need re-printing, and it's generating some interesting ideas.
In other news, I woke up at 6:20am this morning, and couldn't get back to sleep. Mal is visiting, so I couldn't go in the living room, and I didn't want to disturb The Wife seeing as we've a late night planned tonight, so I just lay there in the dark. My head was buzzing with ideas about Codename: Network, one of the submissions I've received, which could hopefully improve it...
Thursday, December 27
That's right, according to TNT, they've found my box of boxes. It's due to be delivered on Monday 31st, so all being well I can send off my sales then. Of course, they've still got to deliver it to me, and let's be honest, they've not got a great track record when it comes to delivering stuff to me.
In other news, it's been a fairly quiet Christmas for games, with a few games of Magic with The Wife, and a couple of games of Incan Gold with my family. I've had a few games design ideas though, an all new game inspired by my 4 month old niece, and some ideas to improve (I hope!) Codename: Jorvik. Must get scribbling. In other news, I'm still putting off doing my accounts for last year despite bringing everything down here. Time is running out though.
Monday, December 24
There's still no news about the missing boxes, lost by TNT en route from the London boxmakers. I rang them again today, now their inventory system is experiencing some problems, so they are not sure where they are. I'll try again after Christmas. I figured it wouldn't be too much of a problem, I wasn't expecting many sales over Christmas, but I sold two yesterday (saving me from the ignominy of my first week without a sales since It's Alive! was released). I had to send the poor customers apologetic emails, warning them I was out of stock for at least a week, possibly longer, and offering them a refund. Fortunately, both were very understanding, and didn't mind waiting. Still I feel like bad for providing poor customer service, and slow turn-arounds on their orders.
We're now down in Bristol for Christmas, staying with The Wife's family. I've had a chance to get four games of Codename: Jorvik in (using the new scoring suggested by Dave and a couple of other scoring simplifications), and one of Codename: Artist. Artist's scoring is way out, I managed to win a game 134:10 - needs a lot of work, it should never be possible to crush someone like that - I aim for much closer scores.
In other news, Merry Christmas everyone!
Friday, December 21
Today I was working from home, and the rest of the It's Alive! boxes were due to arrive. Needless to say they haven't. I phoned TNT and they couldn't find them, so I'm not going to get them now until New Year's Eve at the earliest. So if I get any orders over Christmas they'll have to wait.
They don't even know if they've lost them, so I may never get them, which will be a huge faff as I'll need to claim the money, get the artwork printed again and then get the boxes made again, which will take several weeks.
Last time TNT managed to deliver my boxes plus a job-lot of Cisco Routers, so their ineptitude is pretty staggering.
Russin' frussin' couriers.
Thursday, December 20
When I arrived home this evening in the post there was an invoice from my boxmaker. So what? I can hear your thinking (good ears, huh?). This invoice was different, in a quite exciting way. I've received my fair share of invoices up until now, but they've all been along the 'You gave us X pounds, so we're grudging giving you something in return' variety. This one was of the 'Here's some stuff, you've got thirty days to pay us, or we're sending Big Joe round with his 2x4 and his Rottweilers' variety. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's right. I'm now a respectable businessman, so respectable, people will give me things before I pay for them. Sweet!
In a bizarre addendum to this, the invoice is for 92 boxes, I could have sworn I only gave them 83 copies of the artwork! Either my basic ability to count has left me (damn you, maths degree!) or they're giving me boxes for some other game too! Anyway, I'm feeling a little light-headed (hence the whimsical nature of this post), I must be coming down with something. In a vain effort to ward off whatever lurgy is headed my way, I'm going to go round to Paul's and drink mulled wine (medicinally, honest) and play games.
Now all I have to do is remember to pay the damn invoice.
I had to go down to London on fairly short notice today. I get the train, which takes just under two hours. GNER used to have the franchise that allowed them to operate the London-Scotland (via York) trains, but lost it recently to National Express. I write this to you from the train, as National Express have decided to allow all customers free use of the WiFi on the trains - yeay!
As I'm still without boxes for It's Alive! I've had yet more time to think: What's Next? On BoardGameGeek last night I asked what games people thought were best for small publishers like myself to publish. It led to an interesting discussion, with the general feeling being things like It's Alive! quick and simple games that are easy to explain, fairly cheap and have fun themes. The next two games of my own that I've got in the pipeline are a historical 2-player game and an abstract game, so perhaps they are not the best games to be going with. This information will guide my choice for RG0003, the next game I publish.
What are your thoughts? Themed or abstract? Light or heavy? Short or long? Number of players? Cheap or expensive? Bear in mind som of the choices are mutually exclusive!
Wednesday, December 19
Don't get excited, it's the games that are naked - not the players!
Monday I had to take the day off work as the one and only bus to work was cancelled (I found out later the bus company had received a batch of dubious fuel, and all the buses were stalling - they had to empty and refuel them, which took several hours). So, I've a day to myself, with no plans - what to do? Let this post be a warning to you, as I list just how much games design/hobby publishing takes over your life.
Well, I was in town already, and I had a game to post to The Netherlands and some sales cash to pay in to the bank. Neither the Post Office or the bank opens until 9am though, so I spent twenty minutes wandering round town aimlessly in the cold, until they opened. Then in went the money and off went the game. The Wife in her infinite wisdom recommended that I make some games seeing as I had the day off and I had no stock. Usually the first thing I need when making a game is the box in which to place the pieces, but the box delivery wasn't due until Tuesday (I'm finally getting them Friday - I have to wait in for a plumber to fix our leaking washing machine). In an unusual step I made the game components without boxes to put them in, just building a pile of game components. During the course of the morning I managed four games worth. Hence the 'naked games' of the title (You can see their bits!).
In the afternoon, my mate Dave (who's already on holiday for Christmas - jammy sod!) came round and we playtested a bunch of games. Codename: Jorvik of mine (which has changed a lot since he last saw it), and two submissions he'd not played yet: Codenames: Harvest and Harry. I'd only played Harvest once myself (it's the most recent addition to my prototype collection), and although Dave was screwed by a slight error in play compounded by an unlucky card draw, he still enjoyed this most of the games we played. We gave Harry a go too, but we played slightly modified rules, and there was one rule we weren't sure about. It's good but I'm not sure it's good enough :-(
Sunday, December 16
After a run on It's Alive! orders, I'm now out of stock temporarily. I sold ten this week, which cleaned me out, and I can't even make any more until the boxes arrive on Tuesday. I can't take Tuesday off work though, as I've my departmental Christmas meal at work, so I might not get them until Wednesday.
As a result I've decided not to go on the radio, since telling everyone what a great Christmas present It's Alive! would make will backfire if I can't get any ready in time to deliver before Christmas.
Instead of making games, I've managed to get a few games of Jorvik (soloing still) in today around my weekend chores, plus a first play of Codename: Harvest - my latest submission. Jorvik went well (including taking down the extra information I mentioned a couple of days ago). I tried one strategy that I thought might be unbalanced, and although it got a much large score than before, the other player won! Choosing that strategy boosts your points, but it also helps your opponent.
Playing Harvest brought home to me the importance of blind-playtesting - where you give the game and the written rules to someone who has not played it before and get them to play the game from the rules. Although the rules seemed very well written when I first received them, it's not until you try playing the game that you realise where all the small cracks are - what do you do in this situation? Does this card work like that or slightly differently? I've now got a bunch of questions to email off to the designer. First impressions were promising though.
Friday, December 14
One of the factors that is often used to describe a board/card game is randomness. How much will events outside your control such as drawing cards, dice rolls or other random factors affect your chances of winning?
While playtesting Codename: Jorvik, I got to thinking that a good way to determine the level of randomness is to play a game between people of equal skill using the same strategy. Don't have an evil twin? Play against yourself. In games where you score the game, play against yourself a bunch of times, and the look at the scores that result. If they vary a lot, then there is a lot of randomness, if they don't (or you get a lot of draws) then there isn't.
I've also stepped up my recording of my games of Jorvik. At first I was just recording scores, and who started (in an attempt to spot any first player advantage). Now I'm adding a few others to the mix:
- Which cards are left over? The game may finish with cards not used, recording those might spot cards that get used less often, or weaker cards.
- How many cards are left over? Is using all your cards a better (or worse) strategy?
- Strategy used - Does one strategy consistantly win?
Recording these details as I play will allow me to spot (slightly more scientifically than 'a feeling') potential problems with the game, and adjust it accordingly. In particular, I'm expecting to change the distribution of cards a fair bit in response to the info I get.
In other news I sold six of the nine copies I've got in the flat at the moment on the back of the review on Joystiq.com yesterday, which leaves me some to take down to Beyond Monopoly!, my local games club when I pop down tomorrow. Oh, and the local radio station have invited me back on Monday morning to talk about board games (and It's Alive! in particular) in the context of the Christmas board games sales spike.
Thursday, December 13
With construction stalled on It's Alive! (I've bagged all the bits and I've no boxes at home to make any more copies until the next delivery from my boxmaker), I've had some time to think more about the third game from the Reiver Games' stable. I've a few promising submissions, and I've one more en route. Two of my games are nearly ready too, Codename: Jorvik and Codename: Artist.
I've been working from home the last couple of days. With time to kill at lunchtime and after work, I've spent some time giving Jorvik a thorough run-through. It's a 2-player card game, with an estimated play time of 15 - 30 minutes. I've played a bunch of games solo, trying out different ideas quickly to see what works and what doesn't.
The rules have changed in minor ways after each play as I tweak things, and I think it's definitely improving. I'm trying to smooth things out so the rules are as simple as possible while providing a challenging and fun game. I'm also trying to get it to involve some player confrontation, but not too much. The recent changes I've made have simplified card placement, at the expense of slightly more complicated scoring. By easing the restrictions on card placement it's easier to play cards, and hence your less likely to be unable to play a card on your turn. It also simplifies the rules (in terms of complexity and word count). The slightly more complicated scoring thematically makes sense (which is important to me), and gives you a secondary goal for card placement - which makes the game slightly deeper (it's still pretty light fare). I'm going to play it a bunch more, trying out a few more ideas. Once the rules settle down a bit then I'll be ready to try it out on a few friends, write the rules up and get some blind-playtesting done.
For the moment, though, it's back to the tweaking and solo-play.
In other news, It's Alive! has been reviewed on Joystiq.com. The reviews lead to three sales within half an hour of posting, and seeing as I've only got nine copies finished at the moment pending further boxes, this could get interesting...
Tuesday, December 4
Well, I'm back, and after another debacle where Delta lost my luggage again (two for two - outstanding!), I'm back in the saddle.
I arrived home around lunchtime yesterday, and promptly read my emails, caught up on the blogs I read and posted the game orders I'd received while in the States. I've been off work today as well, catching up on sleep and writing a GeekList on BoardGameGeek about where I've sold games to, and how my customers heard about my games. If you're making games yourself, the information might give you a few ideas, and will hopefully prove useful.
This afternoon I'm going to make a bunch more games, but I've only got seven more boxes left until the box manufacturer ships me the rest, so that will be the limiting factor.
In other news, the designer of Codename: Escape got back to me yesterday about his game. The email I'd sent him didn't enunciate why I wasn't willing to publish it very clearly, so if he's willing to move on a couple of things that might still be in the running.
Sunday, December 2
Another month has passed in a blur. I've been pretty busy once again for work, and a busy month for games too. Since I've been out of the country so much, I've not ended up playing many games, but I've still been busy.
Not a huge amount of games played this month, but I attended MidCon so It's Alive! has a good showing. Also several games played for the first time, thanks to Paul's games nights.
Plus three games playing once, and all for the first time: Fearsome Floors, League of Six and San Marco. Of the three, Friedemann Friese's F-alliterating Fearsome Floors was the one I like least - a bit too chaotic for my tastes. There wasn't much between League of Six and San Marco, both solid Euros, but I guess I have a slight preference for League of Six - plus it's Czech! I live there for a couple of months, so I have a soft spot for it.
Looking forward to December, I hope to make it to Beyond Monopoly! my local games club once, plus with less travel for work, holidays with our families and the return of my gaming buddy Dave from Afghanistan, I'm hoping for a decent month of gaming.
Turning to creation it's been a pretty good month. Sales of It's Alive! have been almost twice last month's poor showing. I've received a whole bunch of prototypes too.It's Alive!
It's been a good month for It's Alive! Twenty sales, plus a few orders by friends, and my first sales to Japan and Sweden. It had a disappointing outing at MidCon, but a good month over all. I also decided to get the last lot of boxes professionally made. The professional boxes are slightly higher quality, and getting the last few made will save me about eighty hours of construction.Codename: Escape
Unfortunately I've had to drop this one. I enjoyed the game, but the theme (which is some ways is superb), is a little too controversial. I wanted to tweak it a little, make it more fantastic and less controversial, while still in the same vein. The designer wanted to keep the original theme, which of course he's entitled to do, so I've passed it over. Hopefully it'll see the light of day elsewhere.Codename: Harvest
Another new submission, which after reading the rules, I've requested in prototype form. Hopefully it will have arrived by the time I get home.
Saturday, December 1
This week I'm in the US for work. We arrived in New York on Monday, and after our conncting flight to Washington was delayed by a couple of hours it was promptly cancelled. So we decided to stay in New York, since we were due to return on Tuesday anyway. Despite both us and our luggage being in JFK airport, we couldn't retrieve it, it had to go on the plane the next morning, and after a few round trips to Dulles airport, I finally got my luggage back on Thursday :-(.
After a few days work, we've got a few days off to enjoy the city, and yesterday afternoon I visited a couple of NYC game shops. First I dropped in to Neutral Ground where the staff were very friendly and helpful, then The Compleat Strategist which has an awesome number of games. My main aim was to discover a reasonable retail price for It's Alive in the States. At the moment, making them by hand my only option is to price them according to what it costs me to make them, but that's expensive by US standards, not least because of the exchange rate. Judging by games in these shops that I know the price of in the UK, $25 seems about right. Do my US readers agree?
In other news, it's been a pretty good week for sales, with three sales to the US and my first sale to Sweden. They'll all be shipped on my return.
Thursday, November 22
Firstly, Archaeology - The Card Game has basically sold out, I have a few copies left. I will be doing a second print run soon with a couple of very minor rules tweaks, just to clear up a couple of issues. The response has been good, lots of friends have passed it on to their friends etc, I think I have sold 10 or 15 copies to people who are passing it on to others they have played with. That is the most rewarding thing I think, knowing that people are actually wanting to get their own copy once they've had a play.
Secondly, I have a handful of games quite far into playtesting for my next release. All are again card-based games, although not all play like card games in the traditional sense. It is amazing what you can "use" cards for as the components in a game! More news on the next game soon I guess!
Anyway, catch you all later, Phil
Wednesday, November 21
This evening after my course finished I posted the Italian rules for It's Alive! on my website.
One of my Italian customers offered to write them, and post them on La Tana dei Goblin which is apparently the premier board games site in Italy. I told him that was fine, but I'd like to post them on my website too. Which brings up some interesting questions:
- Did I make any errors converting the PDF to HTML?
- Has he made any spelling, grammatical or punctuation errors?
- Is it a fair translation?
Speaking no Italian, I've no idea about the answers to any of these questions. Google Language Tools can help a little with question three. The quality of the translaton back into English is pretty flaky, but it's good enough to understand that the content is basically the same.
How do I answer questions one and two though? The best I can think of for one is to get the original translator to check my format conversion, and two is to hope that I can find another Italian speaker willing to check. Without any budget to spend on this, I think these ideas are the best I can hope for.
Anyone speak Italian? I'd appreciate a second pair of eyes.
In other news, I've had an offer from one of last week's two Japanese customers to translate the rules into Japanese. That would be an even harder language to check! I'd also appreciate it if anyone else wants to translate the rules into their first language, all I ask is that you include the copyright notice, and let me post your translation (attributed to you with a link) on my website.
Tuesday, November 20
This installment of Creation and Play is brought to you from my hotel room in Windsor, second (or possibly third, fourth or fifth) home of Her Majesty The Queen.
I'm trying to do some work on my website while I'm away. Today I updated the events section after visiting MidCon. The next stage is to post a translation of the rules of It's Alive! into Italian, done by Fabio Bernieri, one of my customers. I'm going to edit the rules section to allow you to switch between languages via little flag buttons. It'll probably take a day or two. But I've got tonight and tomorrow night to kill...
In other news, I've asked for a prototype of one of the two submissions I got last week, it sounds interesting, I need to play it to see how it works. For the moment it shall be known as Codename: Scythe.
Sunday, November 18
Sunday I went to MidCon in Birmingham. I wasn't sure about the wisdom of attending, It's Alive! had been launched in Birmingham, so I was afraid that everyone there would already have seen it, and bought a copy if they wanted one. As a compromise, I only went for the day on Saturday, saving myself the cost of a hotel and more meals.
Friday hadn't finished until 1am, as I had to make myself a packed lunch (another way to reduce costs) as well as making games. The alarm went off at 6am, and as I had a fairly tight timetable to catch my train I leapt out of bed, had a shower, had breakfast and then set off to the station. I slept for most of the train journey, and arrived feeling at least partially awake. After a moment to orient myself, I set off and arrived at the convention at about 10am.
I had with me ten copies plus my demo copy of It's Alive!, two signs, a mailing list sign up sheet and some pens, my receipt book and a couple of prototypes (Jorvik and Escape). My plan was to demo and sell It's Alive! until 6pm, test some prototypes for an hour and then leave at seven for the 7:30pm train, which would get me home around 10pm.
On arrival there were no tables free, but while we were waiting (for half an hour) for the extra tables I got to meet Martin Wallace a legendary British game designer, who was there paytesting his latest prototype among other things. I finally got a table, but things didn't noticably improve until after lunch. Despite over 130 people at the convention I didn't get much action, and those who did play weren't buying. By lunchtime I was feeling fairly despondent. But the afternoon went better. I sold three copies (below my target of five), one to people who had played it at The Cast Are Dice with me, and I ended the evening with three games with a family who had bought at TCAD, and loved it, playing it regularly at home. Several people told me they enjoyed it after buying it at a previous convention. Talking of loads of people, there were lots of people there who either already owned a copy, or had played before. I recognised almost none of them! While feeling low at lunchtime, I wondered whether this was yet another symptom, but on reflection, it's probably just a natural response to having met so many people at conventions over the last year or two.
In the end I didn't have time to playtest my games, I just went to the toilets to take my medication (want to feel dirty? Try injecting yourself in hotel toilets!), and then headed off (getting lost in the process). All in all, slightly disappointing, but I'm beginning to think I'm reaching saturation point at conventions, and should concentrate on the internet, where I've reached a far smaller percentage of the market.
It was a great week of sales in the end, despite the slightly disappointing convention. I sold ten copies, which was my best week of sales for seven weeks (when I sold a bunch to a shop). That includes two copies to Japan. Excellent! Of course the Self Published and Gorgeous Geeklist on BoardGameGeek helped :-).
In other news, I was not receiving any emails over the weekend. I could fortunately check on PayPal for sales, but I was not getting the notification emails, nor anything from BGG or my tests. It was very annoying.
Thursday, November 15
Three times over the last week I've spotted a mistake on my website. They've all been related to It's Alive! now being available. It's been available for over four months. Chump! I had references to It's Alive! not being ready yet, but available for pre-order on four separate pages, but when it became available I only changed the main one. The Wife spotted one mistake on the weekend and since then I've found three more. I need to be a lot more careful when making such a major change to the website to ensure it stays consistent throughout. I guess that explains why I've had several emails from people asking me if I had copies of It's Alive! ready/available.
In other news, I sold my first game to Japan today :-) I'd previously sold one to Singapore, but this was my first sale to Japan. I'm also seriously considering getting the rest of the It's Alive! boxes professionally made. When I released the game I was swamped with so many orders, and it was taking me an hour and a half to make the game. I got just under 150 boxes made for me and that enabled me to make a game in 40 minutes, at no increase in budget, since I was just spending money I had been refunded after my printers failed to laminate the artwork. The extra 80 boxes would increase the cost of the run, but not to the point where I would be selling at a loss, it would just eat away at my profits, but the boxes are better quality, and it might well be worth the cost to free up seventy hours of my limited free time.
Wednesday, November 14
Monday, November 12
I had a good week last week, selling a bunch of copies, after a relatively dry spell. The weird thing was, it seems like it's my mate Carl's fault.
Between my business travel and his time off work, I've not seen much of him recently. I went over to chat to him and during the conversation he asked me how the games-selling business was going. "Slowly," I replied. "You should sell more games," he advised. I got a couple of sales shortly after that. I ran over to tell him. "You should sell more games," he said grinning. I sold a couple more. This was beginning to get freaky. I told him again, this time I was fairly incredulous. "You should sell more games."
That evening a couple of friends came round, and they both bought a copy. Carl it seems is my lucky mascot.
We were both in again today. I wandered over to say hi, and told him about his special powers. "You should sell more games." I've sold another two today.
Run your own company selling games? I'll hire him out for a modest fee...
Thursday, November 8
I only managed to get eight games made last night in the end, instead of the twelve I had planned. Still, at least I managed to build up some stock. Tonight Paul's games night was cancelled so I figured I'd get the last four done, and be back to my old twelve a week rate. Especially with a convention to go to next weekend. I managed to get one done before I realised I'd forgotten to take my medicine. D'oh. So I promptly injected myself in the left arm. I think it went a little deep. It feels like I've been punched in the arm, hard. It's going to make doing another three games this evening tricky, as I use my left hand to hold the steel ruler in place while cutting against it. I'll see how it goes. I'm not very hopeful though.
In the meantime, I'm posting on BoardGameGeek where appropriate, to try and raise the profile of It's Alive! and Reiver Games. The good news is that It's Alive! has received a few more ratings, and after a few negative ones that caused its average to drop a bit it has received a few more positive ratings and climbed a bit higher. It's now got a couple of nines and more eights than sevens once again.
Wednesday, November 7
Only a few days ago I was disappointed that It's Alive! sales had slowed down. Having been away so much for work my stock had dwindled and with very little stock I didn't want to make too much noise, as I didn't want to end up with sales I couldn't satisfy due to lack of stock.
Now that I'm back at home more, I've built up my stock and started making some noise again. On the weekend I mentioned It's Alive! in a thread on BoardGameGeek, and another BGG member recommended it too (thanks, Philip!). That lead to a couple of sales. Then on Sunday I sent out a newsletter to my mailing list. I got a couple of orders from that too as Christmas presents. Finally, we had a couple of friends round last night, and they both wanted a copy too. I've sold as many games in the last two days as in the previous three weeks. The moral of this tale, is instead of worrying myself, I just need to do something about it.
It meant again that I was out of stock, but fortunately I was off work today, so I'm aiming to get back up to twelve in stock.
Sunday, November 4
We're down in Bristol this weekend visiting The Wife's family, but I've managed to get a little gaming in.
On the way down we stopped off at Dunk and Lucy's and saw Tim and Vicky too. Dunk and Tim are two of my oldest friends so it's always good to see them, but sadly it's fairly infrequent. We went out for dinner and then spent a couple of hours catching up. When the ladies went to bed, Dunk, Tim and I had a couple of fairly drunken games of Codename: Escape which I had brought along to show them and folks down in Bristol. We played a variant on the rules as submitted, which I'd played with Paul on Thursday. They both enjoyed the game and recommended it for publishing. I need to play it a lot more times though before I make a decision.
I popped over to my parents' house for dinner last night, and after dinner finally finished off the prototype of Jorvik I started a while ago. I've also coloured the cards quickly with meaty felt-tip markers, I don't care how tidy it looks, it just needs to make the prototype easier to play. Because I expect the distribution of cards to change I don't want to invest too much time in making the cards as I expect to have to make more and bin some of the ones I've already made.
In other news, It's Alive! has finally received a real panning on BoardGameGeek. Ted Alspach, creator of the Board 2 Pieces cartoon strip on Boardgame News, and designer of several games has given it 2.1 out of 10! I guess he really didn't like it.
Thursday, November 1
It's been a long time since I did my last monthly report, I've been too busy with It's Alive! and travel for work. Now that things have calmed down a bit I'm going to start up again.
I had the joint highest number of monthly plays since records began (admittedly only last August). Last time round it was because we'd been on holiday with a group of friends, this time because The Wife and I had a hankering for Magic: The Gathering again. I also got to Beyond Monopoly! once which led to the following playlist:
- Magic: The Gathering: 40 plays!
- Carcassonne: 5 plays on holiday
- Pirates of the Spanish Main: 2 plays on holiday
- It's Alive!: 2 plays
Sherlock Holmes and No Thanks! were new to me (I thought I'd played No Thanks! before, but I was thinking of 6 Nimmt). Of the two I prefered No Thanks!, but neither of them bowled me over.
It was really nice to play more games with The Wife, I love it when she's in the mood for games - she even bought San Juan :-).
This was a month of frantic travel for work, so I didn't have much time for making games, but I've made a few It's Alive!, talked Jorvik artwork with my dad and received yet another prototype (Codename: Escape).It's Alive!
It's been a slow month for It's Alive! both in terms of production and sales. Now I've got a few weeks at home I'm going to step up production and build up a decent stock again, and I've a few ideas to boost sales over the next few weeks. There's a couple of conventions on the horizon that I'm considering...Codename: Jorvik
Codename: Jorvik has been ticking along. I tried another idea (taking Dave's excellent idea to the next level), mainly for production/packaging purposes, but it seems to be working, and I need to finish the prototype so I can test it properly. Paul has offered to test it for me, he and his wife are big 2-player gamers, so they're the perfect target market.Codename: Escape
Yet another prototype turned up during October. In fact, rather conveniently, it arrived at the Post Office (I wasn't in when they tried to deliver it) the day before my local games club met. I collected it from the Post Office and took it with me, and we got a game in at the club. I love the theme (and it certainly attracted plenty of attention), but I'll need to play it a few more times before I really get a feel for it.
In other news, I'm toying with the idea of going to a convention in Birmingham this month. Why only toying? It'll be fairly expensive, and I launched It's Alive! at a convention in Birmingham in July. I'm worried that everyone there who might be interested will have already seen/played/bought it.
Tuesday, October 30
I've noticed recently that my blogroll is heinously out of date, so if you blog about board game design, let me know the URL to your blog in the comments and I'll add you to the roll.
In other news, Greg Schloesser has reviewed It's Alive! on BoardGame News, it's mostly an explanation of the rules, but he seems pretty positive, which is nice. No sales from this as yet.
In still further news, I'm actually making games this evening! Now I'm back in the UK for a few weeks, I've got time to concentrate on making games again. I hope to get another three or four done this evening.
Monday, October 29
It's been yet another busy weekend, with my parents visiting this time. While Dad was here we talked about Jorvik. I think he'd make an excellent artist for it, and would generate unusual art, a mixture of ink lines and limited watercolour wash, quite different to Carcassonne or similar. I'd given Dad a few brief ideas about how the game worked and the sort of artwork I was after, and he'd sketched a few ideas.
After the success of the It's Alive! artwork by my friend R H Aidley, I've decided that what I want for Reiver Games is for the games I publish to be distinctive when it comes to artwork. I'd like them to stand out, with unusual, high quality artwork.
They aren't quite right, but they are the sort of thing I was after. What are your thoughts?
Thursday, October 25
This post is coming to you from the Castle Hotel in Windsor, opposite the Queen's house :-)
I've hardly been at home the last few weeks, and as a result my stock levels have dropped really low. Before coming out here I managed to get back up to seven finished copies in the flat, but at one point it dropped to zero! In such a situation (and especially with a lot of work travel on the horizon) I've not been putting much effort into publicity, which has had a knock-on effect with sales (as you would expect).
Sales have dropped to negligable levels (just two per week for the last couple of weeks), however, I'm going to be at home more for the next three weeks, so it's time to get back in gear. Yehuda got in contact with Scott Jon Siegel of Joystiq's board games column, and I sent him a copy last week for review. I'm hoping that will lead to a few sales, as it has an enormous readership, and being mostly focussed on computer games, the readership will probably not have a huge overlap with BoardGameGeek, where It's Alive! has already got a fair amount of coverage, thanks to Tom Vasel and Greg Schloesser among others.
In addition, I've been prepping for a potential second run. I should mention here that I think I've made a mistake regarding the second run. I've mentioned it a few times, here and on BGG and Boardgame News. My thinking was that I could create some publicity on a slow news day along the lines of 'This game is so good, it's going to be reprinted' which might encourage people to buy it. What I didn't think about were the risks involved in this course of action (can you tell who's been on project management courses for the last two weeks?). Thanks to the awful exchange rate between the US dollar and the pound, It's Alive! is fairly expensive for US customers, and the cost of airmail shipping just exacerbates the problem. Several Americans and Canadians have bought anyway (thanks guys & gals!), but the cost has put several (that I know about, and probably at least a few more) off buying. Then comes the news that you'll be able to cheaper, and potentially better production quality version fairly soon. There goes any incentive to buy the hand-made version. D'oh! An added downside is that if I can't sell the handmade version in a reasonable period of time, I'll be less inclined to spend the huge sum of money required for a professional run, as my confidence in sales covering those costs will decrease. Muppet. Still, at least I've learned from the experience.
In the background I've been investigating the professional run, if I do go down that route in the future I'll need to have several things in place to capitalise on the opportunitiees it provides. I've been investigating a few things to that end:
- Speaking to manufacturers to investigate costs and get quotes.
- Speaking to distributors in the US to investigate whether I'd be better off dealing with them or individual shops.
- Speaking to UK shops to gauge interest and raise awareness.
My list of UK shops has grown dramatically for very little effort. I did a search on Google for 'Board Game Shops', and I considered only the first page of results and the sponsored links. Surprisingly the ones I've already met/spoken to: Games Lore and Eclectic Games (which already stock It's Alive!) plus Shire Games, Spirit Games and Travelling Man didn't feature in those results (so either their search engine optimisation is failing or my search term was bad). But it did throw up an additional ten potential stockists that I wasn't aware of: Board Game Company, Farscape Games, Green Knight Games, Game Stack, Legend Games, Lingards Games, Orcs Nest, Secret Game Shop, The Games Player and The Game Store. These all seem to stock strategy games (i.e. modern Euro- & Ameri-games). So I've contacted them all to gauge interest. Hopefully it'll generate some, but it was remarkably little effort if it was a waste of time.
Friday, October 19
It's been an absent couple of weeks for me. Last week I was in the Lake District on holiday (it's beautiful, arguably the best scenery in England), and this week I spent the first half of the week on a course in Leeds. Leeds is close to home, so I didn't have to stay away, but I did have to get up at 6am Monday - Wednesday and I had to work Saturday, Sunday and Monday and Tuesday evening. Needless to say I'm knackered.
When I got back from my holiday I found out that Tom Vasel had reviewed It's Alive! while I was away, so I had a bunch of orders on my return. That got rid of the entirety of my constructed stock. Since then I've received a couple more orders that I've had to make in short order. What I need to do now is make some stock so I'm ready for my next orders. I'm off to my local games club tomorrow, and I'll want to take a few copies along to that in case anyone is interested. I also need to send one more review copy to Scott Jon Siegel of Joystiq tomorrow too.
In other news, another prototype turned up today while I was at work. I'll have to collect it from the Post Office tomorrow, on the way to the games club. So many games, so little time!
Thursday, October 11
Tuesday, October 9
Monday, October 8
Monday, October 1
I'm writing this in the departure lounge of Manchester Airport en route to Oslo for work. It's been a crazy few days, and it will continue. November is looking a little more reasonable though.
Yesterday evening on the train home from London I used the train's wifi network to check my email. That you can browse the web while on a train is pretty cool. I was impressed by that. Anyway, I had an email from Yehuda saying that Greg Schloesser and Tom Vasel had both played and liked It's Alive! Episode 106 of the The Dice Tower includes Tom's review. I tried to download the Dice Tower episode but it turns out that the train's wifi is too flaky to download an hour of audio without a smart download client, so I'll pick it up in the hotel in Oslo this evening.
Hopefully the positive review will drum up some more business, I'm halfway through the print run now, just another 140 or so copies to go.
In other news, I've nearly finished another prototype of Jorvik. This one tries something new - taking the idea Dave had to another level. I played it with The Wife on the train down to London, and it seemed to work pretty well (there was a risk it would be unplayable). The Wife found the plain white cards with a few pencil lines on them hard to differentiate though, so I've brought the prototype and some colouring pencils with me and I'll colour them in while I'm in Norway. I've also started discussions with my Dad about the artwork. I saw a painting of his in a half-finished state last time I visited, and I really liked the textures he'd put in it. I think that style of artwork would make Jorvik very visually interesting, so he's going to do some mock-ups for me in time for my parents visit in four weeks time.
Finally, I'm going to try Vassal for the first time. My mate Dave, who I try to play games with once a fortnight or so, has been deployed to Afghanistan. He thinks he'll be able to access the internet every now and again though, so we're going to try and play an offline game of Memoir '44 using Vassal. I need to brush up on the rules!
Friday, September 28
This has been a weird week. I've been in Paris Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for work, and then on Wednesday I got a day off to compensate me for travelling all day Sunday. I was in London today, and I'm down there again tomorrow and Sunday visiting my sister (who's made me an Uncle). Monday I'm off to Oslo for a few days. As a result I've only made six copies of It's Alive! this week, and I'll probably manage less next week.
This week I've experienced a strange duality in sales. I've actually sold thirteen copies (twelve to a shop in the UK) but only one of those is a new order. Last week I only had three new orders. It's all going a bit quiet. I need to boost my exposure or I'm never going to get through the first hand-made run. If that happens, there won't be a second run.
I tried sending out a press release to my local news contacts, but I've only had one response, so that's not worked very well either. Still, with any luck that one response will lead to some coverage to 86,000 households - so it may yet led to some sales.
Thursday, September 20
With The Wife out every night for her conference I've had plenty of time to make games. I've now made fourteen this week which is pretty good going, but I'm out tomorrow night (see - I do have a bit of a life) and all day Sunday I'm travelling to Paris for work. So I'm probably done for the week. Still fourteen is not bad. I've got eighteen stock which is great, but twelve of those are for a stocking order which I have to fulfill next week. Next week I hope to have a pretty good week for construction too. I've got a day off on Wednesday in lieu of working Sunday, so I'm going to try to make a ton of games that day. What I need to do is build up a decent stock of games as I'm getting towards the end of the professionally made boxes and I don't want to be scrabbling to make ordered copies once I've got to take longer making the boxes myself.
My geeklist hasn't been as popular as the last one. The last one has nearly two hundred recommendations, and earnt those very quickly. This one is languishing under fifty. I'm not sure what I did wrong. I think the title is not as snappy, and the content is more of a history than advice for those in a similar situation. It's been out two days and is already starting to drop off, I think it's done. Still it's attracted some attention, and made a couple of sales, so it's not all bad. I think where I went wrong may have been talking about a professional run too soon. Some potential customers (especially in the US where the exchange rate makes it quite expensive) are holding out for the professional edition in the hope they can get it cheaper. It probably will be available cheaper - online retailers discount - but it won't happen if I don't sell out of the hand-made edition. I think I need to do some more publicity in the UK where the price is very reasonable. Perhaps another newspaper/radio feature or try to get on the tele. What I need is a press release.
In other news, on the bus to work this morning I had some ideas about Codename: Jorvik. When Dave and I played the latest version the other night we considered a new endgame, and worried that the scoring was too maths-intensive. I thought of a new scoring method that simplfies things a lot. I've also cut out and lined a new set of cards. I'll finish them during my six hour train journey to Paris on Sunday and then I can try them out in my hotel room. I'll play around with the scoring too.
Tuesday, September 18
I got an email today from one of last year's Border Reivers customers approaching me to see if I'd be interested in speaking about game design at a convention in the UK next year. I used to do a fair bit of public speaking, presenting research papers at computer science conferences, and I used to really enjoy it - so I'm definitely up for that. I've replied to the guy suggesting a talk on 'So You Want To Be A Game Designer? : From pipe-dream to shop shelves'. It's obviously very early days at the moment, but it will be really cool if it does happen.
In other news, The Wife is hosting a conference in York this week, so she's going to be out entertaining visitors this week. I'm going to make use of this time alone at home to make a metric ton of games, build up some decent stock. In an attempt to get rid of some of that stock I've done another Geeklist on BoardGameGeek describing my efforts publishing Yehuda's game. I did one last year on self-publishing Border Reivers which was very well received. It also led to Border Reivers appearing on the Hot Games list, and several sales, so it's not an entirely selfish act :-) Here's hoping the publicity drums up some interest and sales.
Monday, September 17
Last week I had a week off. Not off real work, but making games. The last ten weeks I've been frantically making games in my spare time. I've still managed something that resembles a social life, but the vast majority of my free time has been construction. Because I've been trying to clear my backlog of orders and I've got customers waiting, I've felt guilty when I've not been making games.
A couple of weeks ago I contacted the last people on my waiting list and since then I've been responding to new orders as soon as I get them from the stock in my flat. Having stock means the pressure is off a bit so I can take a break. As a result I made one copy last week. One! The previous weeks I'd done a little better (16, 10, 12, 14 and 26). This week I'm back in the saddle, and with one day down I've already made a couple, and I expect to get at least twelve made this week, possibly more.
I've also been thinking seriously about which game to do next. I'd love to do Jorvik if I can get it ready in time, and to that end I've had another idea. It builds on Dave's brilliant idea, taking it one step further. Of course it may make things worse rather than better, but there's only one way to find out. I'm going to make a prototype (and probably take it to Paris with me next week) and give it a shot.
Saturday, September 15
Larry Levy has just published a very complimentary review on Boardgame News. It's nice to be getting some positive reviews, especially considering I didn't send him a free review copy. It's already led to one sale :-)
Friday, September 14
I've been thinking about the size of runs that I've been doing. I did one hundred copies of Border Reivers and three hundred of It's Alive! When I made Border Reivers I was fairly happy that I could sell fifty copies, but one hundred was a push - I had no idea whether I could sell that many. I did, in less than a year, but the construction was punishing. I spent three hundred hours making the games, plus probably another hundred or more on the artwork. It's Alive! was an easier game to sell and manufacture. Having to pay a designer royalties and an artist for the artwork, I needed to make more copies to amortise the cost across them. Due to the quicker construction time I felt that I could make more copies in a reasonable time, though until I got some of the boxes professionally made it was very slow going.
In terms of raw sale potential (if I sold every copy at full price), the Border Reivers run was £30 * 100 = £3,000. It turned out being considerably less than that once I'd paid PayPal fees, convention fees, given a few copies away, wasted a few copies through cocking up construction, and given play-testers a discount. Still, theoretically £3,000. It's Alive! has a raw sales potential of £4,500 (£15 * 300). I'm thinking that aiming for a run size of £5,000 for hand-made runs is a reasonable target. The bigger, more expensive games will have shorter runs, which is good due to the higher cost in terms of construction time. The small, cheaper games (which take a lot less time to manufacture) I can do more copies of. Until now I won't have had enough cash to fund a run of this size, but It's Alive! should leave me with enough funds to do it.
I'm seriously considering a professional run of It's Alive! for after I've sold out of the hand-made run of It's Alive! It's proved itself as a popular game (inside the top 1100 on BoardGameGeek now) so I'm more confident about investing a large sum of money in it. I'm thinking of a run of 3,000 copies (which I will mostly sell through shops and distributors with possibly a few more at Essen and BGGCon next year if all goes to plan). That would have a sales potential of £45,000, but I would only see a fraction of it as I'd have to sell at a significant discount to shops and distributors. It will cost me a lot of money to pay for up front though, and I'll have to work out ways to contact shops and distributors and interest them in the game, otherwise I'll be significantly out of pocket.
Wednesday, September 12
I'm still trying to work out which game to publish next. I reckon it's going to take me until at least Christmas to finish making this run of It's Alive!, so next year I'm going to need to come up with another game to publish.
I've several designs of my own in one state or another, but only two of them are anywhere near ready. One is a simple card game for two-players (Codename: Jorvik). It would be really easy to make (which is a big win when you're constructing games by hand in your spare time) and the low weight would mean that the cost and shipping would be lower than It's Alive! which would hopefully make it more appealing abroad, where the strong pound leads to exhorbitant prices for everyone else. The other is an abstract strategy game, which would require a bit more construction effort (Codename: Artist). Abstract games are a huge market, which I haven't tapped into at all up until now, so that's appealing too. I'm not sure either is ready yet though. Dave and I played Jorvik last night, and we had some more ideas which I think will add to the endgame, but the scoring is still a bit too complicated. I need to think on it more.
I've received another submission too. Excitingly the designer came to me out of the blue, so Reiver Games must be slowly making a name for itself. I need to read the rules for this new game to see whether it is something I might want to playtest.
Monday, September 10
With both Border Reivers and It's Alive! I had a spreadsheet which tracked what the status of each numbered copy is: ordered, sold, shipped, etc. I've numbered the copies in the hope that it will make the games more appealing to collectors, though I don't know whether this is actually true.
Anyway, with Border Reivers I had only one hundred copies, and only ten pre-orders before the game was released at last year's The Cast Are Dice. Most of those were from friends and family who I knew would come through. As the game progressed if people enquired then I would offer to hold a numbered copy for them, e.g. I'll put number 37 aside for you. In some cases it took a couple of months for them to pay for the game, but that was no problem. However, in one case the customer hadn't realised just how shockingly bad the UK/US exchange rate was, and when he did he couldn't afford it. I was now left with a copy with a lower number that I had to allocate to someone else. No biggie.
It's Alive! is on a different scale however. I'm making three hundred copies, and I had fifty pre-orders before the game was released. Again I offered people numbered copies. This has been more troublesome. I've had difficulty contacting some of the customers to let them know their copies are ready, some people take longer to pay than others, and a few people have pulled out. I have to sort through the rulebooks (where the numbers are recorded) to find the right one when I make a sale, and I've a few low numbered copies that I'm holding for customers who might not come back.
There's a couple of things I don't like about this. Getting a low numbered copy is supposed to be the reward for ordering the game early, not the reward for being the first person to buy a copy after someone who ordered early pulls out. Also, even though the rulebooks are in numerical order and grouped in sensibly sized groups with a post-it note describing their range, it take time to find the right one. Not a long time, but probably getting on for a minute. And I've got to do this three hundred times. That's getting on for five hours hunting for the rulebook I promised someone. Life's too short. And I'm too busy.
For my next game I think I'll change the plan somewhat. As people pre-order the game they'll be added to a waiting list. When the games are ready I'll contact people on the waiting list in the order they contacted me, so early adopters have the chance to get low numbered copies. However, what I'll do is assign copies in the order that people pay me. That way the rulebook I'm looking for will always be the top one.
Sunday, September 9
I was quite pleased when I came up with the name 'It's Alive!', it has been one of my catchphrases for ages, and it led to the theme for the game. Generally the theme, the name and getting to cry out 'It's Alive!' at the end have been well received. However, it's not been without its problems.
I've been working my way through my backlist of pre-orders, emailing the customers to let them know that their copies are ready and how they can pay for the copies. Fourteen of the customers I had notified had yet to respond, either paying me, or letting me know they no longer wanted their copies. Over the last week or two I've found out that several of my emails have been falling foul of spam traps. Even my follow-up emails have been disappearing.
I've been trying to work out how to contact those people to work out whether they have received my emails and whether they still want the copy they have ordered. I've managed to get in contact with a couple through BoardGameGeek, which has no spam filter, but I don't know the username for most of them.
The other day The Wife suggested the problem may be the use of 'It's Alive!' or the exclamation mark in the subject which is causing the problem. It seemed like a very good point (I get lots of similarly titled emails suggesting I invest in one stock or another). As a result, today I sent an email to everyone who I had yet to hear from with 'Your Boardgame Pre-order' as the subject. Three of them have paid already, none had received my earlier emails. I think I've finally got to the bottom of that.
Saturday, September 8
This time round I've given away a few copies of It's Alive! to reviewers in the hope it will lead to some positive buzz and extra sales.
I gave away a few copies of Border Reivers to people who had helped me in some way. I got one (obviously), I gave one to my Dad in return for the box illustration and Mal got one for doing the Reiver Games website. But I didn't give away any review copies. The combination of the high ticket price and the small run meant I stood to lose too high a percentage of the maximum total income for the run.
It's Alive! however is a cheaper game, with cheaper postage and the larger run means that giving away a few copies will hopefully be both affordable, and worthwhile in terms of greater sales. In addition to free copies for myself, two for Yehuda and one for the artist, I've given three copies away to three of the big name reviewers: Tom Vasel, Greg Schloesser and Skip Maloney. Tom has the most reviews on BoardGameGeek as well as posting on The Dice Tower. Greg writes for both Counter and Knucklebones, and Skip also writes for Knucklebones. Skip in particular comes highly recommended by Dean of Ludorum Games.
I've got some press already, and now that I've contacted everyone on the waiting list telling them that their copies are ready I can start making a small but concerted effort to attract attention. Eric Martin of Boardgame News did a short story which lead to three sales (so far), and Luke (sometime blogger here) apparently plugged it enough to lead to at least one sale.
I've just got back from a few days in Copenhagen for work, so there'll be no more pimping until I have bolstered my dwindling stock.
Thread about it on BGG: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/205536
Order page on my website: http://www.adventurelandgames.com/
I am happy with this version of the game, and it has been excellent not having to work super hard just to produce a single copy! I have already got some sales happening which is great. Hopefully some feedback will start coming in soon.
Oh and Jack if you are still thinking about a solution for scoring card to make folds, I am using a butter knife to score the tuckboxes for the card game. It takes a bit of pressure and a few runs back and forth to get a deep enough groove, but it seems to be working ok.
Thursday, August 30
In other news, I've now got a huge pile of copies of It's Alive! at home, all but a few people have been notified that their copies are ready, but there's a delay between notification and payment, hence the stockpile. I'm thinking of opening it up to the public soon now.
Wednesday, August 29
I've now sold (i.e. received the money for and shipped) the first one hundred copies of It's Alive! I've a bunch of customers that still haven't replied to my emails letting them know their copies are ready, but I know for a fact that some of my notification emails are being swallowed by spam filters. I'm still not sure how to get around that. I wonder how many haven't heard from me due to spam filters, how many are waiting for more cash to come in first and how many have gone silent because they've changed their minds?
I've another thirty-eight orders outstanding, but a bunch of those are for friends and family who will get them when I see them, and at least fifteen are waiting to hear back from the customer. So the waiting list is feeling a lot shorter. Once I've cleared the waiting list I can make the game properly available, with PayPal buttons on my website, and a listing in the BoardGameGeek marketplace. Once the game is available to buy I should have less of the customers who fail to respond, as I expect that the first thing I'll hear is that I've received the money.
In other news, I've started playtesting some of the submissions I've received. Whether I publish a game of my own or another submission I only really want to go with games that I think are excellent. When playtesting another designer's game I have the advantage that there is a critical review by someone who isn't invested in the game (i.e. me). The game has to convince me that it's worth gambling some of my hard earned cash and a lot of my precious free time on. Whereas when the game is my own that is lacking - I've invested a lot in the game already and I want to see my name in print again, so I've got to look at it really carefully to make sure I'm not favouring it and pushing it out before it is ready. My company is too small to suffer from publishing a game that is not good enough, that kind of thing could really harm my fledgling reputation.
I'm going to hold a six-way play-off between the games I'm considering in the next few weeks in a pub in York one evening. If you'd like to come along and help out let me know in the comments. In return for your time and effort you'll get your name in the credits and a 20% playtesters discount on any of the games you play that I publish.
Saturday, August 25
I've been having some issues folding the player shields for It's Alive! Up until now I've been scoring the card with a craft knife, aiming to cut approximately halfway through the card and then folding it neatly along the scored line. Most of the time this is fine, sometimes I don't cut enough, which makes folding it a little harder, but at least the shields look pretty smart. Recently I've had a couple of problems. In the run-up to The Cast Are Dice, I over-cut a couple, actually cutting through the card, so the shield had a hole in it. I had to bin those ones, obviously. At TCAD, Luke (of this blog fame) spotted that I'd given him one of these over-cut shields in his game - I'd obviously not noticed that I'd done it. Damn. So I gave him a new shield, and he was happy, but I was beginning to think I needed a new technique. Yesterday I received an email from one of my customers, whose copy now had a couple of these broken shields after over one hundred plays! I'm going to ship him a couple of replacements (despite him living on another continent), because it's an artifact of the way I've made them, and customer service has to be important to any company, but especially one as small as mine.
This afternoon, in an attempt to fix the problem, I bought a specialist scoring tool from a craft shop. It's like a very small pizza cutter, with a rotary blunt metal blade. I've tried it out this evening, scoring both the inside and the outside of the shield, and neither work very well. Firstly they don't dent the card sufficiently to make it easy to fold, and secondly because the ink on the outside has to be stretched round the fold (rather than separated when I score with a knife) it tears and ends up looking really messy. Back to cutting with a knife, just a bit more carefully.
In other news I've now had ninety-nine people pay for their copies of It's Alive!, very nearly a third of the print run, I've 138 orders, which is nearly half the print run, and probably over half of the amount that will be for sale (once cocked up copies and freebies are discounted). Not bad for less than three months work. The number of orders has been helped by another stocking order, this time from a Bricks-and-Mortar store down South.
Thursday, August 23
Tuesday night I went to another designer's house to deliver copies of Border Reivers and It's Alive! which I had traded at cost for a copy of his latest game at cost. We'd spoken at the Expo, and I'd got the impression that they were looking for games, and were vaguely interested in Border Reivers.
So Tuesday night I went over to his house, took It's Alive! and Border Reivers and played both, explaining the rules. It was me, the other designer and a friend of his. We played Border Reivers first, then discussed ways to improve it for a second edition, and then It's Alive! After the game of Border Reivers we discussed the game. I'd been biting my tongue throughout the game, trying to resist mentioning changes while the others were learning the rules. It was a good game, really close and in the end the other designer won economically - though we would each have won on our turn had we been able to stop him. The others both said they enjoyed the game, and I described some ideas I'd had to improve it if it went to a second edition. They had some ideas too, and being far more experienced designers, they were good ones :-)
I dropped hints that I had no plans to do a second edition anytime soon as I didn't want to do anything that demanding by hand, and I didn't have enough cash to do a professional run. Nothing. By this point I realise that I had imagined a lot of stuff, in my excitement at the Expo. D'oh. Ah well.
The next day I emailed him asking whether he was interested in doing a second edition of Border Reivers. I figured I needed to ask him straight out, since it clearly wasn't his intention, so I needed to make mine clear. The worst he could do was say 'Hell, no. It's awful'. What did I have to lose?
His reply? He'd not thought of that. Now he is thinking about it. Result!
In other news, Archaeology - The Card Game is at the printers and should be released at the end of next week (unless anything goes horribly wrong). The print run is 125 copies, and the rules will be available on BGG any day now.
Wednesday, August 22
It's Alive! now has forty-four ratings, which due to the Bayesian nature of the BoardGameGeek rankings means that it has climbed the rankings quite quickly. It's now the 1276th Best Game in the world, which considering only thirty-nine people on the Geek own it is not bad. There are over 31,000 games listed on BGG, so to be near the top 1,000 is something I'm very proud of.
You can also nominate It's Alive! for an award in the Golden Geek Awards - BGG's equivalent of the Oscars.
In other news I went to another publisher's house last night to play Border Reivers and It's Alive! I'm hoping they will consider publishing a second edition of Border Reivers. They enjoyed both games, and we discussed a bunch of things that could be done to improve Border Reivers for a second edition. They had a bunch of ideas that I'm keen to try out. Now I just need to find the time.
Monday, August 20
Last week was a blinder of a week. The combination of shipping twelves copies to Games Lore and The Cast Are Dice convention lead to my highest weekly sales of It's Alive! so far. Thirty copies! Games Lore received the games today and apparently two have sold already :-)The Cast Are Dice
This year's con was slightly bigger than last year as it starts to become established. Nick and Sue of Shire Games had 169 tickets pre-ordered plus a few on the day. Nick had reserved me a table right in the entrance that you pretty much had to walk past, so the location was perfect. I was right next to Dean of Ludorum Games who was demoing Fagin's Gang and a new prototype that was getting a lot of positive feedback. Dean and I chatted throughout the con and he gave me a lot of really useful advice about professional runs, having made 1,000 copies of Fagin's Gang last year in Germany.
After being stymied at the Expo by a lack of stock (both my printer's presses broke the week before so I didn't get any artwork until the Thursday morning, leaving me two days to make as many copies as possible), I was determined to take far more than I needed. I was donating a couple of copies to the raffle table, delivering four pre-orders and hoped to sell ten. So I reckoned I needed about sixteen copies. I took twenty-six. Anything I didn't sell would go to the next people on the waiting list.
Sales-wise I set myself the target of ten sales, to match the income I got from selling five copies of Border Reivers last year. By the end of Saturday I had six, and I got another six plus one order on Sunday, so I'm counting that as thirteen, a good result in my book.
As well as seventeen games of It's Alive! over the two days I also managed to get a game of Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga and fellow blogger Luke's Tour. Both were very enjoyable. I meant to play Luke's games last year but I didn't find him until a couple of minutes before he left, and even after a year's waiting the game definitely lived up to my expectations - great stuff. Rumour has it Border Reivers also hit the table somewhere, which is nice.This Week
This week is already off to a good start, I've sold three copies already (in the last eighteen hours), and tomorrow after work I'm off to see another publisher to demo Border Reivers and It's Alive!
Thursday, August 16
I've been frantically making copies in the run-up to The Cast Are Dice, to avoid running out of stock at the convention like I did at the Expo. Last week I managed seventeen copies, and so far this week I've managed fourteen. I'm off work tomorrow though, and The Wife is out in the evening so I'm hoping to get at least another twelve done. I've fourteen copies stacked up ready to go, so hopefully twenty-six in total as stock at the con. That should be more than enough.
In other news, Parcel Force are collecting my largest order tomorrow, twelve copies for a UK internet retailer. It's going to be really cool seeing one of Reiver Games' offerings for sale in a retail setting. One small step down the road towards being a real publisher...
Monday, August 13
Someone out there really likes it:
They've never played it though.
In other news it's still doing well on BoardGameGeek, up to 34 ratings now and still well over 7. I reckon another couple of decent ratings should push it into the top 1,500. Hopefully after TCAD it will gain a handful of new ratings...
Sunday, August 12
That was a very busy week. The first week making games with the professional boxes. I finished seventeen games this week. That's nearly three times the average for hand-made boxes. At this rate I will clear my backlog fairly quickly. I'm already up to copy number 86. If you ordered a copy with a lower number and you haven't received an email from me telling you your copy is ready yet, that is due to a spam filter somewhere eating my email. Drop me a line and I'll let you know about payment and delivery.
I've received the cash for my largest order (twelve copies for an online store in the UK), made the games, and started stockpiling games for The Cast Are Dice in Stoke-on-Trent next weekend. After running out of copies so quickly at the Expo I'm determined to take more than I need. I sold five copies of Border Reivers at last year's con, at twice the price. I'm hoping for around ten sales of It's Alive! this year. I'm hoping to take between twenty and thirty to ensure I've got plenty!
In other news I've been in touch with a couple of UK publishers, discussing future runs of both Border Reivers and It's Alive! When there's anything to report I'll let you know...
Wednesday, August 8
Now that the boxes have arrived I can make a copy of It's Alive! in just over thirty minutes. Up until now it's taken nearly ninety. I've been making about six copies a week on average so far, it would have been more, but we've had a lot of weekend plans with either friends or family visting us or us visiting them. This week I've made seven already, in only three days. It's going much better. The next order I have to fulfill is a special one. At the Expo the owner of a UK online games store played It's Alive! and really liked it. He liked it so much that he wanted to stock it in his shop. He'd never got involved with hand-made games before, only the professional ones, but this one he wanted. I was obviously ecstatic, and after I got back we ironed out the details via email. I'm trying to get his order of twelve copies together now, should be done by the weekend. It'll be really exciting to see one of Reiver Games' games for sale at an outlet that I've bought games from for probably six or more years. It'll feel like I've arrived!
This weekend we were down in Bristol visiting my parents, The Wife's parents and some friends from school. I showed Codename: Artist and Codename: Jorvik to my family, in particular my Dad, whose brain works totally differently to mine. He's not a gamer at all, but he has a very creative brain, his years as an art teacher mean he automatically thinks of the visual aspect of games, and he's always thinking up new ideas, far more off the wall (and hence innovative) than anything I could come up with. I wanted to show him Jorvik, because he and Mum had played it months ago, and it had changed significantly since they had played it. I was also considering asking him to do the artwork for it. The game's not ready yet, but I can start laying the foundations. When I got to their house I saw one of his latest paintings, half done in the living room. I really like some of the effects in it, and I thought they would be a really good fit for Jorvik, while being innovative enough to really stand out from the crowd with respect to artwork. He agreed to try out a few things for me.
I also wanted to show him Artist, as the whole game came from an idea of his. He had given me a single word, and asked me to design a game around it. I didn't recognise the word, but it was the surname of an artist. He suggested I design a game based upon the artist's body of work. So I did. It's still fairly early on, but I'm really excited about this one. I'd like to do Jorvik next as it's really simple to make, but I think this one might be more ready. It's going to be an abstract strategy game, which is something I've not tried before. I played a few turns with my dad on Saturday, and then a game with my brother, his girlfriend and my sister on Sunday. They all liked it, and Dad was very excited. The scoring was a bit problematic (12, 12, 12, 10!) but the mechanics seemed to work pretty well.
Now that I can get through It's Alive! copies much quicker I need to start thinking of the next step. I've two prototypes at home from a couple of designers (one fairly high profile :-) ) another two from a published designer on their way, and Artist and Jorvik. I'm thinking of doing a six-way face-off, getting a load of play-testers round to play them all and get an idea of which ones are most ready to go. That'll be a good night :-)
Wednesday, August 1
I'm not that impressed by TNT. The boxes were supposed to arrive last Friday, instead they turn up on Tuesday. The delivery guy gives me four boxes. Four! I was expecting one. But I check, and the labels on all of them are addressed to me. So I sign the delivery note ('It says two but there are four') and lug them up two flights of stairs. The two smallest boxes are the heaviest - heavier than I was expecting, bizarre. The first box I open (one of the smaller ones) is full of Cisco Routers. Five of them. So now my already tiny flat is rammed with someone else's IT hardware. I contact TNT to tell them of their mistake, and the woman on the phone says she will have to log a support call and get the support team to ring me within an hour. They don't. So I'm going to somehow arrange to get TNT to come and collect the routers and ship them to the right address. I'll probably have to stay in for them too.
In happier news, the boxes are pretty good. They're a little sturdier than the hand made ones, and although the registration on the tray artwork is slightly out, it took The Wife a good while to spot it knowing there was something wrong. I've got 143, which should keep me in games for quite a while and allow me to clear the backlog of orders fairly sharpish.
I've also started pricing up a professional run of It's Alive! to follow on from the hand-made one. At the moment it's proving to be very expensive, just the boxes and wooden bits (pre-bagged) come to 116% of my budget. I'm going to have to find some cheaper suppliers. I'm also going to try Carti Mundi as I know they made the Canal Mania second edition which is nice quality.
Monday, July 30
I couldn't play games this evening, both Dave and Paul were busy, so instead I decided to make some games. Sadly the boxes still haven't arrived, so I couldn't start another batch of It's Alive!, instead I made a copy of Border Reivers, or at least most of one.
At the Expo another publisher asked for a copy of It's Alive! and Border Reivers. It's Alive! was no problem, I've all the pieces to make that, but I was low on Border Reivers components. I had a few spares of most things but no greyboard for making the tiles. Fortunately the artwork for It's Alive! came wrapped in paper rather than in a cardboard box, and it was protected on both sides by, you guessed it: greyboard. The publisher contacted me a couple of days ago to ask whether I'd forgotten. Man that's embarrassing. I really should get the copies off quickly.
This evening I made a whole game of Border Reivers except for the tiles, which will have to be another night's work outside in a friend's yard. I made the box out of the thicker greyboard (probably 1.5 or 2mm). I really liked the solidity of the thicker box, but I think the thinner card I use is alright, and it less raw materials from an environmental point of view. It felt good to be doing Border Reivers again, a nice change from an endless stream of It's Alive!
I've now got ten copies of It's Alive! at home waiting to be paid for. I got an email from one of my American customers asking if his copy was ready. This is what I was afraid of, I'd emailed him a couple of weeks ago to tell him it was, somewhere along the line a spam filter must have swallowed it. How many more people has this happened to?
Sunday, July 29
Friday was a mixed bag, I had a little bit of time to cut out It's Alive! bits, I met the small business advisor but the professionally made boxes didn't turn up. D'oh!
The small business advisor gave me a lot of advice around tax (VAT registered or not), business status (self-employed or limited company) and how to limit your tax burden. It was very informative. Plus free, which is a bargain.
The boxes didn't turn up while we were in, we had to pop out at lunchtime, so they could have arrived then, but there was no 'We tried to deliver a parcel' note when we got back, so we don't know whether or not they tried. Hopefully they'll try on Monday, but I've got to go to work that day so I'm hoping for one of those notes that explains how to collect the parcel from the depot. I've six games left to finish in the meantime, the boxes are made so it's just the interior to make. I've five finished copies at home, and twelve notified orders. Now that I can make a game in half an hour I can notify more people that their copies are ready. Some people pay up immediately, others take a few days or more, so rather than wait on those people I can move ahead a little and reduce the waiting list. Of course, now that it's holiday season people may well not be around to check their email.
Thursday, July 26
It's a busy few days in the Reiver Games camp. Yesterday I was on the radio, tonight I've been constructing games and tomorrow I'm seeing a small business advisor.
It was fun being interviewed on the radio, I was on the air for about twenty minutes and The Wife said I came across well. I did however make a few mistakes that I've learnt from. They asked me to bring along some games so that the interviewer could describe them on air and having something tangible to discuss. I took my copies of Border Reivers and It's Alive! The interviewer concentrated on Border Reivers, even going so far to ask 'If any of my listeners would like a copy how would they go about getting one?', to which I had to reply 'It's sold out.' The moral of this tale: only take the product you're promoting, old ones are best left at home. I also mentioned that my core audience was hardcore gamers, which The Wife rightly pointed out may have put off casual gamers who were listening in. Still, apparently I came across well, it was good experience, and I'll learn from my mistakes and be better prepared next time.
This evening I've finished off a batch of eight It's Alive! boxes. Hopefully they are the last I'll have to do for quite a while as over one hundred and forty professionally made boxes are turning up tomorrow. This will allow me to dramatically reduce the construction time, and hopefully burn through my waiting list a bit quicker. I'm really looking forward to having stock again, and being able to promote the game properly.
Tomorrow I've got the day off work. I've a trip to my neurologist at lunchtime, the boxes are due to arrive and in the morning I'm meeting with a small business advisor to discuss the next step for Reiver Games. The small business advisors are a free service provided by the government. I saw one last March, before I set about launching Reiver Games and Border Reivers and it was really helpful. They gave me loads of useful advice. I'm going to be asking them about how to progress to professionally made games and selling to shops and distributors. I need to think about whether to continue as a sole trader or make the leap to Limited company, and also what to do about VAT. In the UK you don't have to be VAT-registered until your turnover crosses £50,000. But if I'm selling to other companies rather than end-users it might be advantageous. I'll let you know how it goes...
Wednesday, July 25
I'll be on the local radio station this evening, talking about Reiver Games, Border Reivers and It's Alive! To be honest I'm not really ready for it, with fifty-six outstanding orders and only five finished copies at home. But I've already put it off once and it should be fun. I'll be on BBC Radio York (103.7, 104.3 & 95.5 FM) just after 6:30 this evening. It should in theory be available via their website live and after the fact, but they seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties so I wouldn't count on it.
In other news, the professionally made boxes are due to arrive on Friday, which should significantly speed up my production, I'm hoping to be able to make at least twelve games a week once the boxes arrive, meaning I should clear my backlog in four weeks or so. I've got a convention to attend in that time though, so it'll probably push out a little.
There are a few people on the waiting list who have gone quiet. I've emailed them (weeks ago in some cases) to tell them their copies are ready and they've neither replied to say they don't want it any more nor paid up. The silence is a little frustrating, as I don't know whether to: keep a copy ready for them in case they are about to order; keep them on the list but concentrate on others or remove them from the list and give their copy to the next person who orders. I'm going with number two at the moment. I'm now getting through the copies ordered at the Expo, so if you ordered there I'm getting to you!
Tuesday, July 24
As for my designs, I have been working hard at re-working Archaeology into a card game. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly I'd love to be able to do another print run, and cutting the cost and production time down by just producing cards will help this heaps! Secondly, there are a few rule tweaks I'd like to implement to streamline the game, and up some of the strategic play. Seeing as the original game was pretty close to being card-based anyway, this feels like quite a natural progression. I think I am getting close to locking everything in for it now.
Tuesday, July 17
I had no evening plans for my second night in London, so I had a good few hours to spend on my Jorvik and Artist prototypes. I finished off colouring in the Jorvik prototype and coloured in the Artist prototype and did a bunch of solo playtesting on Jorvik. Soloing a game doesn't give you the full experience (and in particular it's bad for hidden information or bluffing games), but it will give you an idea about whether the basic mechanics work and will give you a feel for card distributions, etc. If you keep ending up with the same cards that you haven't used, then there are probably too many of them. Generally I think things are starting to work, there doesn't seem to be any first player bias (both first and second player were winning games), but there is definitely more work to do. A few of the stage three cards appear to be too numerous, and there were several cards I wanted that I hadn't made, so I'll probably swap out some for those new types. Another problem seems to be that whoever scores highest in the first stage also scores highest in the second and third stages, and hence wins. The second stage is supposed to be the great leveller, but it's not working that way at the moment. I'll probably down-grade the stage one cards to make them less powerful.
I've also tweaked my Artist prototype to fix some problems we had with it last time I played. There was an advantage if you were lucky enough to be given two scoring areas adjacent to each other as some pieces only scored if you controlled both areas. I could have just removed those pieces, but I liked them, so instead I made all the scoring cards double so they covered two areas. I've also coloured in the pieces to work around some problems that came from the pieces just having the colour written on them (which wasn't visible enough). Doubling the size of the scoring cards' areas means that each player now has less to remember (a cause of frequent card checking), and a player shield (which I'll make when I get home) will mean that the cards can be kept face up and yet hidden, so memory will be less of a problem. I've also got some ideas to make things a bit more interesting which I can try out next time I test it.
I feel like I've made some progress on both games tonight, although from my description it might not sound like it!
In other news, It's Alive! got the thirty ratings needed to become ranked on BoardGameGeek today. Its officially the 1558th best board in the world. I would expect that to move up in the coming months as it gets more ratings (which will slowly outweigh the dummy Bayesian ratings), hopefully we'll break the 1000 barrier in a few months. Fingers crossed.
Monday, July 16
I'm in London most of this week for a training course. This means that I can't do any game construction, but that doesn't mean that Reiver Games is on pause. This morning I posted another copy to the USA, continuing my efforts to work through my backlog.
This evening, after meeting my sister for dinner I returned to my hotel room and started working on Jorvik. I'd spent some time on the train on the way down yesterday drawing up the cards for the next prototype. I'd started testing the first part of the game on Saturday, and I'd tweaked the balance slightly already. I also removed a few cards to make the game a bit quicker. Tonight I roughly coloured the cards to make it easier to differentiate between the three stages of the game. I then played a couple of games with the new cards to get a feel for how the new version was working.
I'm trying to create a quick, simple two-player card game, which also has some depth and player confrontation. The early versions lacked the depth and the confrontation, but were quick and simple. About four months ago my mate Dave had a cracking suggestion which definitely improved the depth and confrontation, but the prototype we were playing with had a dodgy card balance which just didn't work right. I'd had some ideas for a while about how to improve things but I'd been way too busy with It's Alive! to do anything about them. This trip to London is finally giving me that chance. I've also brought Artist with me, as I had some ideas about that ages ago that I've been meaning to try out for a while.
Tomorrow night I've got the night to myself, so I'm hoping to work on the Jorvik prototype and continue my tweaking of the card balance to keep improving the game. I'm also hoping to try out the new ideas for artist and see how that goes.