Tuesday, December 30

I Feel (Almost) Human Again!

I hope everyone had a nice break for Christmas. I spent most of it lying on the sofa watching The West Wing. And not in a good way. I came down with a stinking cold on Christmas Day. By Boxing Day (which was the day we were spending with my family), I was feeling worse, and when we sat down for dinner the others noticed that despite being in a fairly small room that had just been used for cooking and now had ten other people in it, and despite wearing lots of clothes I was shivering. Yes, I now had a fever :-( I promptly went to bed, and slept on and off for the next few days, except at night when I just lay there unable to sleep. Fun. Still, I'm feeling much better now, still not right, but it's just a cold again, nothing fatal (i.e. not Man-Flu).

Today I'm back in the saddle. I'm working on Sumeria now in earnest. Over Christmas I approached a German artist (who had left me a leaflet at Essen - I really liked his portfolio and I thought his style would suit Sumeria really well). I'm getting together the details for him to get a quote. Then I'm going to get a manufacturing quote request off as well.

I'm vaguely considering moving Sumeria forward. I'd like to release a new game at the UK Games Expo and another at Spiel '09. The original plan was to launch Sumeria at Essen (I think it would be the perfect game for the family audience), but now I'm thinking timing might be an issue. The UKGE is at the beginning of June, I'd want to have the games back from the manufacturers a week or two before hand to allow time for some delay at the manufacturers. It'll probably take eight to ten weeks to manufacture again, so I need to have everything ready by the end of March. If I go with Sumeria first that gives me three months to get it priced up, get all the artwork and final playtesting done. If I go with something else I have three months to choose something, playtest it, choose an artist, get it priced up, get the art done and get the final playtesting done. Sounds a bit tight...

Tuesday, December 23

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I hope you all have a great Christmas - I'm off for a few days, down to Bristol to see my family and my in-laws. I'll take a few prototypes with me, though I don't know whether I'll get a chance to try them out - I'll have to see what people are in the mood for.

In other news, I got my present a few days early. Last night we won a game of Battlestar Galactica. Yes, the humans won! Victory is sweet. I'm seriously considering retiring now.

Monday, December 22

Winding Down For Christmas

The orders I'm waiting on are unlikely to arrive before Christmas now. My distributors have been very busy in the run-up to Christmas by all accounts and several of them close between Christmas and New Year for stock-taking. I'm still hoping that several of the orders arrive in time for me to send them off before we move. Two of them sound hopeful, with another saying it'll be last week or the week before! Not holding out much hope of that one arriving any time soon. I had tried to gain some information on the rough size of the US order, but they won't give me a ballpark figure, they'd rather wait until they are ready to place the real order.

On the weekend I bought myself an external USB hard drive. I needed something to backup my data onto and it seemed like the best option. Being a computer-based company I'm particularly sensitive to data loss, and my laptop isn't that new :-/ Still, I finally got around to getting a drive, and on Saturday I wrote a little shell script that performs the backup. I plan to do weekly backups, and the disk will hold around twenty of them without any clever-ness (to do with only storing changed files), so that seems ideal.

I've been doing a fair amount of playtesting recently, but of new stuff, not the stuff I've had for a while. I think my next playtesting project is to send out some blind playtesting copies of Sumeria to get some objective feedback and some new ideas. To do that I'll need to make a bunch of prototypes. I'll need to get some wooden pieces (probably from Game-Components.com in Germany, though the weakness of the pound versus the euro means they'll be pretty expensive), make some boards (I'll probably wait until after we move and I've my own garage to doing the gluing in) and update the rules. Not making any changes to the game rules, but improving (I hope!) the rulebook by adding examples and clarifying a few things.

Thursday, December 18

Polyglot Games

My Belgian distributor wants to translate Carpe Astra into Dutch. Cool! I thought I'd use this as an excuse for a discussion of languages in games.

It's Alive! is a language-independent game. The only text is on the rules, player aids and the box, the game components feature nothing but numbers on the cards. As such, it's prime translation material. Numerous customers have translated the rules into their own languages: Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian and Japanese. When I did the second version, I got Michael (thanks, Michael!) to translate the rules, box and player aids into German, so I had a multi-lingual version. This was especially useful for trying to break into the large German market, but also at Essen.

Michael sent me his translation in the form of a 'translation grid', where each sentence or caption on a diagram was in a separate box with the German translation alongside. This was a really useful way of clearly showing me which bits of the German translation corresponded with which bits of the English rules - making it easy for me to layout the German text with the diagrams correctly.

When it was time to do Carpe Astra I chose to do a single language version only due to the large quantities of English text on each card. Although the text on the card wasn't really necessary (it's a combination of an English language description of the diagrams on the top half of the card and some flavour text which has no in-game effect), I figured it would detract from a German version if the only thing you got in German was the rules, everything else was in English only. As a result - mono-lingual game :-(

However, things are now moving along. The Dutch translator asked if I could provide the text in a form that was easy to edit. Since I had done the rules layout in InDesign, and he didn't have access to that package I offered to send him a translation grid. Then it struck me. Why not provide the translation grids for my games on my website? It will allow people to easily translate the rules into their own languages if they want, which only helps me. The Carpe Astra one is up now, the It's Alive! one will follow later today.

In other news, I'm in negotiations now with another publisher to do another version of It's Alive! in another language, hopefully that will bear fruit in a few months time.

Tuesday, December 16

Sumeria Exists

Sumeria is now listed on my website and BoardGameGeek now. You can add it to your want list, Steve!

In other news, I've heard back from a couple of the distributors whose orders I'm waiting on. One of them will come in at the end of December/beginning of January (in time for my move) the other a week or two later (too late). But it's good to know they are coming.

Monday, December 15

Time's Running Out

I've six orders that are 'coming shortly'. I'm keen to get these sorted before I move for several reasons:

  • I want to get Carpe Astra in more shops as soon as possible
  • The move itself is going to disrupt things, I'm going to be spending a couple of days on the move, and when we get to the other end it'll take me a few days to sort out internet access
  • As part of the move I've got to pay to transport my games from my current warehouse (near my house in York) to one down south. I'll pay per pallet, so the fewer games (and hence pallets) I've got the cheaper this will be.

Of course while I'm keen to get these orders done as soon as possible, I can't progress them until I've actually received the order. Distributors are obviously very busy in the run up to Christmas, so it's no surprise these orders are taking a while. Still, it's damn frustrating.

I've had a chance to play one of the Bruno Faidutti prototypes a few times over the last weeks. It's got real potential (it's a fairly light, fun game with plenty of screwage), I've suggested some changes and Bruno seems ok with them. I've got to make a couple of changes to the prototype over the next couple of days in time for my last York playtesting night tomorrow. I'll try them out and see if they improve things or make them worse...

Friday, December 12

Playtesting Two: Follow the Leader

A couple of weeks ago I did a post about solo playtesting, while hinting that it was part of a series. So, finally, here is part two, about taught playtesting.

Once you've got the prototype into a workable state (i.e. it's not totally broken, or dull!). The next stage is to play it with others. In the first instance, it's best to just play the game with you teaching it to the other players.

Why bring others on board? Two main reasons: other impressions and other strategies. Playing the game by yourself is not a huge heap of fun, especially if the game has any hidden information (you have to pretend you don't know what's in the other players' hands and what hidden actions they've taken). With real players it's easier to see how the game works when the information is truly hidden. You know what you think about the game, what about everyone else? Publishing is all about guessing whether other people will like a game enough to buy it. The more accurate your guess the fewer duds you'll publish and the better hits you'll get. Playtesting lets you get a sample of the gamer public and see what they think. If they all love it, then hopefully it will be a success, if they're not bothered or hate it then maybe you're best off dumping that game, or significantly re-working it.

I should note at this point that the playtesters' feedback is a sample of the public as a whole, but they are not a random sample and like any other sample can be affected by bias. This is especially true when you do the majority of your playtesting with friends and family. Don't be surprised when they love your game. They want to support you and will do that by telling you the game is great and asking to play it again. This bias is why the next phase is so important. At this point the game is likely to change every time you play it, or you might be wheeling out something that sounded good on paper but when you play it is shockingly bad. Friends and family are great for this, as they have more patience with your misses than the gaming public. At this point honest friends are worth their weight in gold. Someone who can play your latest darling and say: 'Man! That was shit! I mean _really_ bad.' to your face is much more useful than someone who thinks it and doesn't say it or is just predisposed to liking it because it's one of yours.

The other big advantage of playing with other people is getting other ideas and strategies. You've played it a lot solo, it's great. It works really neatly. They you play it with Bob and he uses a different strategy, one you'd not considered. All of a sudden your great little game is broken :-( Yeay Bob! Much better you find this out before you invest thousands of pounds (dollars, euros, etc.) in the manufacture of the game - it's not too late to make changes at this point. Fix the problem and try again.

While you are still making a lot of changes time spent writing a great set of comprehensive rules is probably time wasted. Why invest time writing a set of rules with lots of diagrams explaining move 'A' if when you finally play that version, it turns out that 'A' is actually a bit weak and you have to replace it with move 'B' instead? While the rules are very fluid it's not worth the effort creating an awesome set of rules and hence you can't blind playtest it (more on this next time). So you have to teach it to your testers. Taught playtesting isn't the be all and end all, you have to taken into account the bias in the feedback you get and obviously without a set of written rules to learn from you're not going to get much in the way of rules feedback. But it serves a purpose, and it's very valuable if you are aware of its pitfalls.

Thursday, December 11

Distributors

Until I started manufacturing games professionally, I'd never dealt with a distributor. A couple of shops carried my hand-made games (which felt great!) but I couldn't get them made cheap enough for the manufacturer, me, the distributor and the shop to all take a cut from the price.

Now that I am getting the games professional manufactured, distributors are the key to succeeding. Very few shops have a high enough turnover to order from me directly, and those that do often don't want the hassle of dealing with each manufacturer separately, they'd much rather place a consolidated order with a distributor for games from several publishers. Also, a lot of them just want one or two copies, at least to begin with, and that's a lot of hassle for me, much less for a distributor who can just pop into the warehouse, pick the odd copy of a few different games, box them up and send them off.

So distributors are vital. So far so good. Now I need to deal with them. The first hurdle is getting through the door. In most cases I've tried to email the email address on their website. This sometimes works, but often doesn't. Publishing an email address on your website is a recipe for spam (I know from experience), so it may be that they aren't interested, it may be that they don't even see my email - hoovered up by some over-zealous spam filter. The next stage is to try ringing them, but as these are often international phone calls this is a last resort for me - due to the expense and, for some places, time difference (if I want to call an Australian distributor during their office hours I've got to make the call between 10:30pm and 6am UK time!). If I do get through to the right person, then I briefly discuss what I'm offering and take an email address (unpublished so less spammed) to send more details to.

So, now I've got a contact. The next step is to get them to place an order. This can be like getting blood from a stone. Distributors are very busy - especially at this time of year. I seem to spend a good deal of my time chasing distributors who are 'just about to place an order'. Because my supply chain is somewhat less than optimal (I've got to drive over to the warehouse to collect some stock, drive to the box-maker and collect the shipping boxes bring it all home and arrange a courier collection) there are good times for an order to come in (just before I go to the warehouse) and bad times (late on a Tuesday evening, when they need the stock on Friday and I've got to be in from 10am on the Wednesday - i.e. yesterday!).

This isn't always the case, some times it's remarkably easy. Two examples are Brown Box, Inc. who contacted me after one of their large online customers asked them to stock It's Alive! and VINCIT, AB in Sweden, who placed a joint order with Lautapelit that was all arranged by Lautapelit. I like these ones!

Once they've placed the order and I've shipped, you'd think the hassle was all over, but no. All my distributors (except the consignment ones!) are on NET30 terms, i.e. they have thirty days to pay. At the moment, about 60% of payments are late, sometimes two weeks or more, so I have to spend a decent chunk of time chasing late payments.

Those distributors that place an order swiftly are great. I want my games in shops as soon as possible - they are not going to sell sat in my warehouse. Similarly, those that pay swiftly are great - hassle free. Sadly, neither are the majority.

Still, for all the hard work, distributors are vital to my success. There's nothing that feels quite as good as a distributor who has previously placed an order for something coming back for more stock - it's selling!

Tuesday, December 9

Time Off!

I usually work weekdays and at least some of the weekend. This weekend I had both Saturday and Monday off! Friday night we went up to Newcastle to see some friends up there before we move. Saturday we spent the day hanging out with them before coming home that evening. I did a little 'work' on Saturday, trying out a couple of prototypes along with a game of Carpe Astra. Mal (who we were staying with) has the sort of games collection I like, Rio Grande Games 25% (Carcassonne), Reiver Games 75% :-)

Sunday I did a little work, mostly emailing new distributors in the hope I can pick up more business. No replies as yet... Still the good news was that of the two flat viewings we had on Friday and Saturday we got an offer, which after a small amount of negotiation, we accepted. Fingers crossed the sale will all go smoothly, in which case that's one less thing to worry about.

Monday was spent in Bedfordshire looking for a place to rent while The Wife starts her new job. We found somewhere and started the ball rolling on that too. That's something else ticked off our list.

Today I'm back at work. This morning, I had to go to the bank to pay in some money, and pop to the Post Office to collect a parcel (the Bruno Faidutti submissions). I've been chasing my distributors and reviewing some submissions in the mean time. What I really need to do now is nail some of the ephemeral 'orders' that I've got in the pipeline and get the shipped. The few games I have left when we move the fewer pallets of games I have to cart down South.

Friday, December 5

Good Customer Service

Yesterday I was in until 7pm, getting the flat ready for a viewing and waiting in for three collections. Two of the collections happened, the third didn't. This was really annoying, not just because I happened to be in all day yesterday, and had to go out a lot today, but also the third courier had my phone number and could have rung me to warn me they couldn't make it - but they didn't. We had snow yesterday morning and unlike countries that are used to it, the UK grinds to a halt when it snows. Traffic was very slow on the roads in the morning and when the two couriers who did arrive got here (quite late) they both complained about the weather. So I wasn't that surprised that the courier had problems and wasn't able to collect.

Things were complicated by the fact that I use a courier aggregator, who have high-volume accounts with a bunch of couriers and can hence offer a much better rate than I'd get with my low volumes directly. When I phoned the courier who'd failed to collect the parcel their automated telephone system wouldn't deal with me unless I had an account number, which I don't - the aggregator has the account not me.

So I contacted the aggregator, and their automated telephone system said I'd get an email. Not that encouraging. Then I had to go out, post some games and pay in some money (we'd been out last night for The Wife's Christmas do at her old work where I sold lots of It's Alive! - they're mad for it!). When I got back I checked my email, and sure enough there was one from the aggregator. They'd re-booked the collection with the same couriers (who'd called while I was out) and another courier to ensure it was collected. They were very apologetic. I was impressed, it doesn't take much, but they'd apologised and made an effort to fix things.

I'll be spending the rest of the day waiting in for the other courier, and preparing for a trip to see my old work mates in Newcastle before we move down South. It'll be a great chance to catch up with them, hand over some copies of Carpe Astra they've pre-ordered and do some playtesting/gaming!

Thursday, December 4

Distributors Out the Wazoo

Last weekend a Spanish distributor signed up to take some It's Alive! and Carpe Astra. Yesterday I heard back from a Finnish distributor I'd been talking to. They wanted to take some of both games, but the distributor minimum I have was too high for them. So they contacted a Swedish distributor I wasn't aware of, and they're going to place a joint order! Yeay! Scandinavian distribution :-)

I've a few collections to wait in for today, which is ok, because other than that I don't have much time for work today. I've got to spend the day frantically tidying, cleaning and hiding junk in preparation for a couple of visits by potential buyers tomorrow and Saturday. I have to do it during the day today as tonight we're out for The Wife's work Christmas do.

Stuff seems to be going pretty well at the moment, what with several new distributors and a re-order of Carpe Astra already (they've only had it a week!). If I can keep this up I might be able to make a living at this!

Tuesday, December 2

Emptying The Flat

Yesterday I brought home a load more boxes of Carpe Astra and It's Alive! Unfortunately, by the time I'd been to the warehouse and collected them and then been to the box-makers for shipping boxes it was too late to arrange a collection that day. As a result, the first order of business today was to arrange collections for the two orders before the 10am cut-off time. That's done, so I'm just waiting now for the collections, which should happen at some point within the next five hours. No going out to play in the snow for me :-(

One of the two orders is an initial stocking order for my new Spanish distributor, that's four European distributors I've got now, with another three interested but as yet not bitten.

At the moment, I'm having to collect the games, bring them home, carry them up two flights of stairs to our second floor flat, box them up, then carry them down two flights of stairs to the courier. One of my selection criteria for our next place to live gives a lot more weight to houses with a garage. Carting the boxes up two flights of stairs, just to leave them in my living room for a day and then cart them back down seems a little unnecessary!

Ideally, some of the potential new distributors will bite soon, so they get the games into shops in their jurisdiction before Christmas. I'll probably chase them again today. See if I can get some definite orders...

We've got some viewings for the flat this weekend, so I need to get all my stuff tidied away so the place looks appealing to potential buyers. Getting rid of the stock I've got at home is the first step, then I need to do my books and tidy all of that away. Another selection criteria for the new place is a second bedroom I can use as an office, having all this stuff in the living room makes our current flat very messy.

Monday, December 1

Reminders Carry The Day

I had about forty pre-orders for Carpe Astra that I hadn't heard back from yet. I didn't know whether:

  • They'd got the first email and not got round to ordering yet,
  • They'd got the first email and didn't want it any more, or
  • The first email didn't reach them (due to spam filters or whatever).

So yesterday I sent out a second email to everyone I'd not heard from. Off the back of that I got another eight orders and one cancellation. I'm getting through them now.

So far today I've been running around. I've been to the Post Office a couple of times, the box-makers and the warehouse to collect more stock. One of the overdue accounts has paid (yeay!) and I've missed the courier deadline for sending a couple of shipments. Those will have to go tomorrow. Still, at least I don't have to wait in for a collection any more, so I can go the bank and pay in some money :-)

November was a pretty good month, and I'm hoping December will be too - I've several orders I'm expecting still outstanding. I'd imagine things will slow down in the new year, I'll not have any more new products for a while so I'll be relying on re-orders. We shall see.

Oh, and me email is broken again. I think a new supplier when I move is called for.

Saturday, November 29

Au Revoir Garforth

My friend Hugo has been running a weekly games club in Garforth, near Leeds for several months now. It started as having a few friends round, then migrated to a new venue and has been growing each month recently. It's a great venue, free (Hugo pays for everything but accepts donations towards the costs) and there's free tea, coffee, biscuits and wine gums. In other words everything you need from a games club. Today was the last meeting of this year, and hence probably my last attendance ever as we move at the beginning of next year. I usually get the train (cost £10) but Mike offered me a lift today, as seeing as The Wife was at work this afternoon and out for dinner with friends this evening I stayed later than I usually do - to the bitter end.

First up, Mike, Jon, Alan and I christened Mike's copy of Battlestar Galactica, I brought mine along too, but after Mike had played mine at Beyond Monopoly! a couple of weeks ago, he'd bought one :-) This game was a wash-out, we had a terrible draw, with lots of cylon attacks and very little progress on the jump track. There were several cylon attacks when we couldn't add any basestars, raiders and even heavy raiders to the board as they were all already on it. We were boarded four times. When the game ended after about two hours we'd travelled a grand total of one! Next up Alan suggested playing one of my games, so we cracked open Carpe Astra. It was a tight game, with lots of storytelling (and disbelief at the stories told on the slander cards), which Mike eventually won. He liked the game enough to buy a copy too - thanks Mike! Next up was a quick game of Dominion, I came third, but I had a much better game of it this time. I think I'm starting to get a grip on it. When the others suggested a big game of Who's the Ass?, which I loathe, Hugo stepped in and offered me a game of Border Reivers. I'd not played in a while (I had to look up a couple of rules!). All in all a great afternoon, I'll miss the club and the friends I've made there.

When I got home (fairly late) and checked my email I had another stocking order from a Spanish distributor which I wasn't expecting. Woot! Great Day.

Friday, November 28

Awesome Day

Yesterday was a great day. Not only did I get serious interest from four new distributors (covering the US, Asia and Scandinavia) I had a couple of interesting sales (more on that later).

The distributors are all companies I've previously contacted before, but for some reason they all seem to finally be interested. Hopefully this interest will translate into actual orders, we shall see. I'm still waiting on payment from four distributors, with another due over the weekend. It's really annoying to have to chase them up, I've given them thirty days to pay, going over that is taking the piss a bit - certainly frustrating. Still, four more distributors. Warm glow. And relax.

In other news, Bruno Faidutti (designer of among others: Citadels, Diamant and Mission: Red Planet) wanted a copy of his friend Ted Cheatham's Carpe Astra. So he bought one from me. And an It's Alive! Spotting an opportunity (I'm nothing if not opportunitistic ;-) ) I told him I was always on the lookout for new games. Cue some submissions. First Reiner Knizia, now Bruno Faidutti. I've arrived!

Wednesday, November 26

I Can Move...

... around my flat again. The majority of the Carpe Astra stock I brought home has now gone out. There's another delivery going out to my Dutch distributor this afternoon, and another UK distributor are getting stock tomorrow.

Now things are starting to settle down I'm sending out the review copies and the other (slightly more complicated orders) that I haven't got round to yet. I'm also trying to chase the distributors who either haven't paid for It's Alive! yet or haven't yet placed an order for Carpe Astra. This is being made more difficult by a lack of email access at the moment - my service provider have a server down again.

I've also got prepare for a playtesting night tonight. I meant to get Codename: Plague to the table last week, but I'd forgotten that we were away so tonight it is instead. In preparation for the playtesting night I need to re-read the Plague rules, check I've got enough bits (I got half a copy from a friend) as well as bake some cookies and clean up the flat so it's presentable enough for visitors. I think I need to get to the shops in order to bake too. Oh, and I've got to collect a prototype from a friend, then post it back to its designer as well.

I'm looking forward to things slowing down a bit, but in fairness, I got an email from a distributor who was still at work at 3:30am, and had to be back in the warehouse by 8am for a 12-hour shift! I've not got it that bad!

Tuesday, November 25

Stocking Orders

Today is all about the stocking orders. I've got a stocking order for It's Alive! and Carpe Astra from a new UK distributor, a case going to a shop in Australia, and the Texan distribution I've been dealing with are also taking some Carpe Astra. I had to wait in for a drug delivery anyway today, so being in for the couriers is no big deal.

My trip to the box-makers yesterday went fine (they made some up for me while I was there), and it wasn't until I got home that I realised a problem. The bigger cases for Carpe Astra mean I need a bigger box. I got some bigger boxes, but when I got home and started checking the shipping prices (which require the size and weight of the parcel you're sending) I noticed that the larger box I'd bought to fit six cases of Carpe Astra was so large that its volumetric weight (cubic volume in cm^3 / 5000) was over 31.5Kg, which made it too heavy for many of the cheaper services I'd been using. Since I've already quoted several people shipping prices I'm just going to have to swallow this :-(

I'm going to go back to the box-maker today (the drug delivery has just arrived and the stocking order collections are all this afternoon) to swap some of the new boxes for the ones I used for It's Alive! which fit 4 cases of Carpe Astra quite snugly.

Talking of stocking orders, I've a few overdue accounts now from distributors. A few became due yesterday (the ones who collected at Essen among others) and I'm still waiting for the cash. Hopefully, it'll turn up in a day or two.

The individual pre-orders have slowed down now, I'm still waiting on 40-odd, I don't know whether they've even received the email, changed their minds or are just waiting for funds to become available. A couple of customers have had to cancel their orders as the credit crunch bites. What will become of the other forty? I've no idea...

Monday, November 24

Another Busy Day

Today I've got to press on with the Carpe Astra shipments. I've another six individual copies to post already today, plus I've got to prepare for the first of the stocking orders going out tomorrow. The couriers who will be collecting the stocking orders could turn up at any time, so I need to stay in all day, so all of my going out trips need to be done today.

First up, I need to pop over to the box-makers to get some more shipping boxes. I need something that will fit six of the Carpe Astra cartons (more than that and the shipping carton will be too heavy to lift - certainly too heavy to carry down two flights of stairs!). The Carpe Astra cartons are bigger than It's Alive! ones (the game is a little bigger) so I need to take some empty cartons with me for measuring purposes. Next up is another trip to the warehouse. I've got to collect some more Carpe Astra and a few It's Alive! too.

I'll have to do at least one trip to the Post Office with individual copies, and I've got to run a carton of Carpe Astra over to Jorvik Games a local online games store that are going to stock it. I've also got to go to the recycling centre with all the cartons I've emptied so far - we're supposed to be keeping the flat tidy for viewings. I'm not doing so well with that at the moment, the living room is full of games cartons!

Saturday, November 22

Carpe Astra Thoughts

I sent the first twenty orders off yesterday, then I ran out of envelopes. I went and bought some more, but by that point the Post Office was closed. Today I've sent the next eighteen orders, and now the Post Office is closed. If I get any more pre-orders paying today or tomorrow I can at least parcel them up ready for trips to the Post Office on Monday. I'm going to need to go back to the warehouse on Monday too, I've got to collect some more stock, including some It's Alive! ready to send out the first of the stocking orders on Tuesday. I'll also have to get over to the boxmaker for some more big boxes to send the stocking orders out in.

I know this is a fairly biased viewpoint but I thought I'd give some impressions about my first view of Carpe Astra. This is the first time my name has appeared on a professionally made game, and also the first time I've used this manufacturer in Germany too.

The linen-finish on the box, coins, score markers and tiles is great, somehow it makes the game feel more professional. The box quality and the tiles, etc. feel really nice, and the board pieces are well cut and a decent thickness. The cards are nicely done too. All-in-all I'm very happy with the job the Germans have done. When coupled with the great customer service and good price I'll almost certainly use them again.

I've got to try and get on top of my inbox during this lull in shipping. I received a bunch of emails while I was away that I've not had a chance to reply to yet. Must catch up...

Friday, November 21

It's Here!

After making some changes to my wesbite, I popped over to the warehouse to collect some of the Carpe Astra boxes that had arrived this morning. Apparently, the driver had tried to deliver them at 8:15pm, and when turned away was very rude to the security staff. He then re-appeared at 6:45am this morning. Nice.

But they've arrive and in pretty good nick. I brought 28 boxes (168 games) home to start fulfilling my pre-orders, and then sent out the 'they're here, pay me and I'll send yours out' email. It's going to be a busy few days of back and forth to the Post Office...

Monday, November 17

Carpe Astra On Its Way

Carpe Astra was assembled in Germany on Saturday, and will be shipping from the manufacturer's warehouse today. I hope to receive it on Friday, when I can, all being well, start sending out the pre-orders.

I'm off for a couple of days tomorrow, which looks very well timed now, as I'll be back just in time to receive the games. Of course it's been ages since I had some time completely off, and surprise, surprise, this time will be no different (don't tell The Wife!) - I'll take Codename: Jorvik with me and might do some playtesting if the opportunity arises. Talking of Jorvik, I tried the new version out on one of my playtesters at Beyond Monopoly! on Saturday. Feedback was generally good, though I've only played this version a few times, so it'll need a lot more testing and tweaking before I'm happy with it.

I've had a quiet couple of weeks post Essen, with most of my suppliers having plenty of stock at the moment, but Carpe Astra will make next week very busy again. Several suppliers are ordering It's Alive! (or re-ordering it) at the same time as Carpe Astra, so that will make it even busier. I foresee a few trips to the warehouse on the horizon...

Saturday, November 15

Playtesting One: Going Solo

I'm going to do a three part discussion of playtesting. This is part one, about playtesting solo: i.e. playing all the players in a multi-player game. I'll do the next two parts over the next couple of weeks. I spent most of Friday solo-ing Jorvik, and with our impending move down South it's going to take me a while to set up a new playtest group, so I'll need to do a fair amount of solo playtesting over the next few months.

Solo playtesting is the first stage but also comes in later on too. At the beginning it allows you try out those ideas in your head that sound awesome, but when you try them just don't work. At all. Rather than testing it on real people, trying your friends' patience or getting the game a bad reputation with the public before it's off the board, you can use solo-testing to iron out the worst of the wrinkles before you get the game out in front of real people.

Solo-testing has its pros and cons like anything else. If you know what they are, you can use it more effectively. Solo-testing allows you to try out the game between opponents of the same calibre (they're all you after all!), to find any bias for going first or last. It allows you to try out different strategies to determine if a player using one strategy has an advantage. It allows you to quickly iterate through various ideas. Game not working? Stop it halfway through, change a few things a try again. Real people don't like that :-)

Similarly it has it's weaknesses too. Games with any hidden information (i.e. cards in a player's hands that only they can see) will be spoilt. You'll know what's in everyone's hands. You'll have to try and ignore that, pretending you don't know and instead play the odds: 'There's two floods in the thirty card deck. I've got four cards and no floods, so the odds that my opponent has at least one are (24C3 + 24C2)/26C4 = 15.4%. That's a risk I can live with, I'll do X.' It's hard to be objective about a game you're heavily invested in. You can't make a go/no go decision based purely on solo-playtesting - you need to see what others make of the game, and what flaws they find that you've missed. The more people you put the game in front of, the more likely you are to get a realistic impression of the game, and the more likely you are to find any flaws.

Discuss!

Friday, November 14

Toaster!

At Paul's games night last night we played Battlestar Galactica for the third games night in a row. It's unusual for us to play the same game repeatedly, but I must admit I'm loving it. It evokes the fear, paranoia and distrust of the TV show perfectly. Last night, I got to check the President's (Lisa's) loyalty card right at the beginning of the game. I take a look. Dammit, she's a Cylon. I promptly tell everyone: 'She's a frakking toaster!', Lisa responds: 'No I'm not, he is!' Of course, no one knows who to trust, so we're both considered at risk for most of the game. Lisa is often helpful to the humans, to appear loyal. Then she throws me in the brig :-( At half-time, I get the sympathiser card, so I'm back in the brig. The game went right to the wire, with the Cylons (Greg & Lisa) winning again. We've yet to see a human victory.

Yesterday, I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped. I was busy in the morning, and then finishing off the prototype took all afternoon. Still, seeing as it doesn't require much thought, I had Battlestar season three on in the background, in preparation for season four which was delivered yesterday.

Today I'll be soloing Jorvik a few times, to see what I make of the new rules and chasing up a few distributors about Carpe Astra. I've heard from my big US distributor that sales of It's Alive! are going pretty well, and they're interested in Carpe Astra too.

All being well, Carpe Astra is being manufactured today. Hopefully it'll turn up around the middle of next week. I'm still waiting for a firm delivery date from the German freight company, I need to know so that I can warn the warehouse staff of the impending arrival.

Thursday, November 13

Back To My Roots

Yesterday afternoon I popped over to Staples, bought some card then came home and started making a new prototype for Jorvik. Using a pencil, steel ruler and craft knife to make a basic prototype felt like the old days when I was spending my spare time (or holiday from work) making prototypes and hand-made games. I was sat there listening to Rammstein and Killswitch Engage, making short work of the marking up, cutting out and then drawing the cards. I've spent most of my time recently chasing manufacturers or distributors, or doing my books, or something business-related, this however was pure games design. It felt right :-)

Jorvik is going through a few changes. Initially each card represented a single square. Dave (are you still reading this down South?) had the idea of each card representing four squares, and allowing (partial) overlapping of cards. I tried each card representing nine squares, but several playtesters found this a bit too bewildering, so I've gone back to four. I've also got rid of the specific flood cards and gone back to the generic ones I had at the beginning. I'll finish making the prototype today and then solo it a few times to see if it works. I've also changed the rules for placing the priests to making it a bit more Carcassonne- and Go-like, not sure how this will pan out - only one way to find out.

I really need to get some more products out, I need to get the company off the ground to the point where it can provide me with a regular income, more products is the way to go I think. Alternatively, you could all convince everyone you've ever met to buy ten copies each of It's Alive! and Carpe Astra. On second thoughts, let's go back to the more products idea.

Yet more Internet problems. There's a problem at our local exchange apparently. The internet is running ludicrously slowly. Like 90's dial-up. Back to my roots again!

Wednesday, November 12

Back to Playtesting

Before Essen I was running a weekly playtest night. A few friends from the local games club would come round and we'd work our way through my list of submissions. I'd bake cakes too :-) Just before Essen I was way too busy, then I was away at Essen and then I was knackered after Essen. I meant to resume them last week, but I left it a bit late notifying people, then our router went for a burton and we lost Internet connectivity, so I couldn't email people to tell them it was on.

Tonight I'm resuming them. We're going to play Codename: Pilgrim tonight, one of my submissions from the UK. Paul is a big fan, I need to play it a few times to make a decision.

I'm also trying to get some thoughts down on paper about my sci-fi idea, make a new Jorvik prototype and get confirmed orders for Carpe Astra. Busy, busy!

Monday, November 10

En Fran├žais!

I'll be spending this morning laying out a French translation for It's Alive! that I've received from a French customer. He's sent me the translation as a word document, so I'll get it into PDF form and put it on my website.

Carpe Astra is coming along nicely, I'm still taking a few pre-orders each day (now that the ad is up on Boardgame News along with a preview by Eric Martin. Interest seems fairly high, and the distributors are getting in line to stock it too, which is great. I need to contact a few shops in the UK, see if I can drum up some interest via that route.

Once those two tasks are out of the way my next order of business is to do some more work on Jorvik and possibly my sci-fi game, back to game design for the first time in ages :-)

Friday, November 7

Trapped!

My email was broken yesterday: I didn't receive any, not even spam. When you run a business from home, predominantly using email you feel strangely cut off, knowing that all the emails that you've been sent are sitting on a server somewhere, waiting to be delivered. It didn't help that I was sending out emails to distributors pimping Carpe Astra, and I was unable to respond to any replies they might have been sending. It seems to be working today though, I'm getting a steady trickle of emails that were sent yesterday.

I got my books finished yesterday as planned, that's two months in a row that I've finished them within a sensible length of time from the end of the month. I can only assume that I've been abducted by aliens and replaced by a robot double. It's not something I'd do, at one point I was probably eighteen months behind!

With Carpe Astra nearly here I need to seriously start thinking: 'What next?' I've lined up Sumeria/Codename: Ancient for next Essen, but in the meantime, I'd like to get one or two games out early next year. I've spent fairly heavily on It's Alive! and Carpe Astra though, so I'm not going to have much cash-on-hand until I've sold a decent proportion of both print runs. This necessitates cheaper games for early next year.

I want more games so that I can balance the risk better (I'm less dependent on all my games selling out quickly as I'll have multiple income channels), but I can't afford large games which require a large capital investment. I think card games are the way to go. As a result, I'm going to look closer at Codenames: Jorvik, Backyard and Native as well as a few submissions from Reiner Knizia! Yeah, his agent stopped by my booth at Essen and asked if I was interested in publishing other designer's games. 'Yes, if they're his!' was my answer!

I'm also going to revisit a sci-fi television show license I was working on two or three years ago. I've no idea whether there's any chance of getting the license, but I bought Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game at Essen, and now I've played it a couple of times it has inspired me :-)

Thursday, November 6

Pay Day!

The two overdue invoices I had outstanding were both paid today - yeay! One of them was only a couple of days late, but the other (a shop in the UK) was over a month late, so to finally get the money was a relief. I've not had any other late payments, and in the current economic climate I was worried whether this was the shape of things to come, but for the moment at least the worry has abated.

The news that Carpe Astra will be ready early has thrown me a bit. I was expecting a whole month to try to get distributors and shops on board, and the run adverts on BoardGameGeek and Boardgame News. With all the house stuff and the Essen fallout distracting me I find myself with only a week until the game might arrive! I've had to change my plans accordingly. BGG has a minimum of one month for running ads, so I'm just going with one on Boardgame News instead. I figure that once the games have achieved widespread distribution I'll run more ads, but the current one shows: 'Pre-order now' text, so that will only be appropriate for a week or so. I don't want to run the ad after that until I have widespread distribution in the US, as most readers of both sites are from there.

The other big thing I need to do today is my books for last month. In terms of turnover, last month was my most successful month ever, and it puts me well on the way towards my target for this financial year (April-April). The start of the year was a washout, as due to the printing delays on It's Alive! I had nothing to sell for May, June, July or August. It's nice to be back on track. November should be another good month, as I'll get a bump from Carpe Astra pre-orders and hopefully some stocking orders. Let's see if I can reach my target early :-) Either way I don't expect to make a profit this year, what with having to pay for all of the It's Alive! and Carpe Astra print-runs up front.

Tuesday, November 4

It's Alive! is Two!

... months old. In the two months since it was released I've offloaded 43% of the print-run. Some of those are on consignment, but the vast majority are honest sales, and most of those have paid me (I only have a couple of overdue invoices at the moment). It feels like I'm getting somewhere :-)

Of course, I've not got a whole heap of time at the moment to do company things (our flat went on the market today!), but it's coming together. Carpe Astra is nearly ready, orders are still coming in for that :-) I've got a bunch of distributors lined up for Carpe Astra, and a few new ones chasing me about stocking It's Alive!

What I really need to do when I've a bit more time is put a concerted effort in to reaching a few new markets for It's Alive! Once I've got the contacts in place then hopefully it'll be easier to maintain a relationship with the distributors and get Carpe Astra and my other games out there.

Anyway, that's all for now, I've got more house stuff to do.

Saturday, November 1

Catching Up

I'm slowly catching up with things post-Essen. The big thing I had to do was my VAT return, which I finished yesterday, great guys on the end of a phone, crappy on-line system :-(

Thursday I spent most of the day getting a lot of our rarely-used junk into storage, so that the flat looks tidier for the estate agent photos and potential buyers. Today I'll also be busy on that, doing a bunch of minor jobs around the flat that we've been putting off. Then the next two days we're away flat-hunting in the South.

The VAT return was good news in some senses, the government owe me lots of money :-) You work out the difference between the VAT you charged your customers and the VAT you paid your suppliers. If you charged more, you pay them the difference, but if you paid more, they refund you the difference. I had to pay for all 3,000 of It's Alive! in that quarter and I didn't sell all of them (and those I did were often zero-rated because they went outside the EU). I eagerly anticipate the resulting cheque!

I've also started contacting people I met (or was supposed to meet) at Essen, chasing up contacts I made. There's some interesting developments afoot...

The next thing to do is to line up distributors and shops for Carpe Astra. The Germans are now saying it might arrive in two weeks time (two weeks ahead of schedule), so I need to sort this out ASAP. Esdevium, JKLMnP, Heidelberger and FRED have all expressed an interest, now I just need to nail them down to a confirmed order. I need numbers! The German manufacturers of Carpe Astra are cheaper, so my margins are better. As a result, I can offer the game to distributors cheaper (proportionally) than I can It's Alive! This will hopefully make it more appealing to them than It's Alive! (since their margins will also be better) and hence easier to sell.

I have also found time to update my website with more information about where you can get It's Alive!, my stockists list is finally beginning to look respectable (i.e. not just UK shops!). I've also heard that the games I shipped to Boards and Bits (via Germany so they could be folded into a container shipment they were arranging) have finally arrived :-)

Wednesday, October 29

Back From Essen

And exhausted! I slept really badly the whole time, coupled with busy and long days I'm really tired now.

Essen was really hard work, but very successful. I didn't really get to play many games (I demoed It's Alive! several times and Carpe Astra a few times), but other than that nothing at the fair. In the evenings we played a game of Dominion that lasted two hours (we were tired!) and a game of Axiom too - that was it!

First a big thank you to Dunk, Lucy and Mal who helped me man the stall for the four days of the fair, as well as setting up, tearing down and in the case of Lucy driving us to Essen. You did an awesome job guys. Also, huge thanks to Michael (Danke schoen!) for demoing the game in German for far more than the hour he promised on Saturday morning. Dean and John from Ludorum Games, who carted all my games over also deserve a shout out. I also really appreciated those of you who stopped by and mentioned you read my blog!

We shared our stand with Peter Strujif and friends of Geode games, Peter's ceaseless enthusiasm was also great - thanks!

I took (or at least Dean took for me) 840 copies of It's Alive!, the Carpe Astra prototype and a rough version of Sumeria. I returned with only four of the It's Alive! copies! Heidelberger in Germany took some, FRED in the US took loads and I sold plenty to punters too. My turnover during the four days of Essen was double that of the whole of last year, and the event was profitable for me after all the convention costs and the costs of the games are accounted for. I now have distributors in Germany, Holland, Belgium and two in the US, plus I know of shops in Estonia, Italy, Holland and Germany who took some stock.

Hopefully, I'll be able to provide a slightly more coherent review in a few days, in the meantime, I need to catch up on sleep, do the paperwork for the show and do my VAT return. Plus, I've a bunch of household stuff to do as our flat goes on the market this weekend!

Monday, October 20

One Day to Go!

There's just over 24 hours before I set off for Essen. Today has been a medium-busy day, but it's not over yet. It started with a physio appointment, then I popped into town to buy the things I'd not got yet: a float (change), a map of Europe, tablecloths for our stall and poster frames.

I'd left the posters fairly last minute, The Wife had given me some help last night getting rid of a lot of the text to make them 'punchier'. Then I asked Michael to translate the few words I had left into German (Danke schoen! Ich muss dich viele Bier kaufen!). This morning I added the German text before I went to the physio and The Wife took them to work where they can print them for a reasonable fee. After my trip into town I took the afternoon fairly easy - I'm going to be very busy over the next few days, so I might as well have a fairly easy day today. When the call came in though I had to drop every thing and head off to the print shop to collect my posters. When I checked them over the game posters were fine but the poster for the company had no black on it! Where it should have printed black it didn't. This led to a red, white and sky blue logo (the black bit is a 'rich black' 50% Cyan 100% Black, and the black hadn't printed). The guy at the print shop reckoned this was a problem with their setup where black doesn't print if there isn't a little of the other channels present (i.e. 1% Cyan, 1% Magenta, 1% Yellow and 100% Black not 0% Cyan, 0% Magenta, 0% Yellow and 100% Black). He couldn't do anything with the PDF I'd given him, he needed the original InDesign file. So I went home, got the original file and went back. He worked his magic and the printing worked fine this time.

This evening I'm going round to Paul's for a games night (I've only got a few left before we move :-( ) and to use his garage for gluing my playtest copy of Carpe Astra. I'm making a new one with the final artwork. I can then cut it out tomorrow while I wait in for a delivery and a couple of flat valuations. I've also got a few things to print out tomorrow - shouldn't take too long.

Travel plans: Tomorrow evening my mate Mal will arrive around lunchtime, and then around 5 Dunk and his wife will get here. Dunk's driving us over to Hull for the overnight ferry (yeay! should be great fun, I've not been on an overnight ferry since I was about 14. Of course, it's quite windy today, so it might be less fun :-X ) Then we drive over to Essen hopefully arriving about lunchtime. Wednesday afternoon we set up the stall, Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun do the show, and then get the Monday night ferry home. Dean of Ludorum Games will be on the same ferry will all my games so it should be good fun :-)

See (some of) you there!

Friday, October 17

Ding! Ding! Change Ends.

It's all change at Reiver Towers. The games to the other UK distributor were collected yesterday, so our bedroom feels palatial all of a sudden, now the space has been freed up. I heard back from the US distributor last night, the pallet deal may have fallen through, though they are interested in collecting some stock at Essen. I'm going to ring them later to see if I can save it, if nothing else it's one less pallet to ship down South.

Down South? Why would I be shipping my pallets to the South I hear you ask? The Wife has just got a job down there, so we'll be moving towards the end of this year, beginning of next. I'll need to arrange a new warehouse down there and then ship my games to it. The more I can sell before then (and hence the less I have to ship) the better.

I'm starting to feel on top of my Essen preparations. I've got a few things left to do, but nothing too onerous. The German lessons have suffered, but at least things will be under control at the fair (I hope!).

Thursday, October 16

Yeay! Bedroom Space!

When I got up this morning I found a purchase order from the UK distributor I've been waiting on. As a result, I'll be shipping their order to them today. This frees up valuable space in my bedroom :-)

Yesterday saw the collection of my first re-stocking order for another UK distributor, along with a pallet full of games that Dean of Ludorum Games is taking to Essen for me.

With the games gone from my bedroom, the only two orders that are causing me any gyp are whether or not the Americans want to collect a pallet at Essen as discussed, and a late payment from a UK shop which I'm chasing. One less thing to worry about before Essen.

Yesterday, I finally brought my bookeeping up-to-date. I've been really slack about doing them so there was a lot to do, but now I can just file my VAT return on my return from Essen, as I've done the books up to the end of last month (the VAT return is for July-September and has to be filed by the end of this month). I'm going to try to stay on top of them from now on, doing them each month as I go.

Today's main effort will be doing the posters for hanging at my booth at Essen. I'm doing three: It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and the Reiver Games logo. Peter Strujif from Geode Games (who is sharing my stand) has a fourth. The Wife has found out than the University print shop will do them pretty cheap, and it's just round the corner, so I can send them off tomorrow or Monday.

Things seem almost under control now...

Monday, October 13

It's All Go At Reiver Towers

Hmmm. Reiver Towers. I like that. When (not if!) Reiver Games is a massive world-spanning corporation, I think the Headquarters should be called that.

Anyway, back on topic. Today has been pretty busy. This morning I started going for a swim again before work. I've had a few weeks off, with injuries and the MS attack. On my return I've been trying to sort out the last few things for Essen (shipping the games over there for a start!).

If that wasn't enough to be getting on with, I've been trying to get the Carpe Astra Geeklist together, received my first re-order and got the proofs and plots from Germany for Carpe Astra.

The re-order is great news. With a UK distributor still dragging their heels (I've now been told I should get the PO this week), it's great that the other one are selling it successfully. They sold over a third of their stock in the first two weeks and the rest in the next two weeks. I'm sending them some more this week.

The stuff from Germany is the plots (showing location and cut lines, but not colour-accurate) and the proofs (colour accurate, but not showing cut lines). I need to check it all and then send them back signed confirmation via fax. I don't have a fax machine or a scanner though, which makes things slightly more complicated.

Around all this I need to do my German lessons and I had a doctor's appointment at lunchtime too!

Sunday, October 12

Struggling For Time

I've a lot I want to get done in time for Essen. In particular, I want to make a lot of progress on my German lessons. I did German while at school sixteen years ago, but seeing as I've never been to Germany, and my trips to Austria and Switzerland have been few and far between, I've not had much opportunity to practice. As a result I've forgotten most of what I learnt.

In the week or so leading up to Essen I'm trying to cram in as many German lessons as possible. Initially, I was aiming for one of the 30 lessons each day. I'd already done a few (though that was a few months ago, so I did a quick refresher) and although it means I'm going to only get halfway through the course, I will at least know something.

I've already slipped behind. Today I've got to do almost all of yesterday's lesson and then today's. Tomorrow I've a doctor's appointment and then physio the day after.

On top of the German I've several things to arrange for the show too. I've got to sort out getting my games to Germany (Dean of Ludorum Games is going to cart them over for me in a van, so I've only got to get them to Hull) and hopefully sort out delivery to the US distributor at Essen. Sort out my stand dressing and ensure I've got everything I need to take with me ready to go.

Panic!

Friday, October 10

Getting Exciting Now!

A couple of days ago I received a white sample of the Carpe Astra bits. I got a box, the insert and the punchboards, nothing had any print on it and the punchboards weren't die-cut, but it was enough to get me excited. This will be my first game with an insert and my first game that is linen-finished (box and punchboards - not cards). Somehow it feels more professional that way.

Carpe Astra is still on course for the end of November, despite the glitches in the box art that needed fixing (twice). I'm now trying to pimp it to distributors and shops in preparation for getting some stock. I'll put some ads up, probably on my return from Essen.

In other news, I've now finished my books for last financial year, and I'm going to start this year's this afternoon. Last year my sales grew 250% and my profit nearly 1000%, but it's still small fry, and I wasn't taking any wages out of the company. Due to the late arrive of It's Alive! and its knock on delay on Carpe Astra I doubt I'll make any profit this year, but my sales should be significantly up again.

I also got paid by one of my customers yesterday - a day early. Yeay! I've got some tardy customers too who I've got to chase for payment this afternoon.

I'm also trying to find time to do my German lessons. I got a course for my birthday, and I did a few lessons back then, but I've been slack and not done anything since. I'm trying to do a lesson every day between now and Essen to refresh me. I'll still be pretty poor - but it's the thought that counts (I hope!).

Wednesday, October 8

Hallelujah!

I've finally got through to the UK distributors. My contact (who's obviously an exceptionally busy man) is now off on holiday, so I spoke to someone else on the team instead. He said they'll do the purchase order this week. In other news, the other UK distributor seem to be doing pretty well, they've sold over a third of their stock in the first couple of weeks :-)

I was out of the office again yesterday, so when I got back I had a few things to sort out. The German manufacturers had spotted a couple of problems with the box design, so I fixed those and sent them off this morning. Now that the box and rules have gone to the printers I've posted the rules and some box pictures on my website and BoardGameGeek. I've been waiting for the rules to be up before I put the advert up, as I doubted that anyone would order a copy with so little information being available (except my true fans - thanks guys!). Now that the extra info is available I might do a BGG GeekList showing how the game evolved over time. Anyone interested?

I need to go back to doing my books too. It's dull, but I've got to submit a VAT return at the end of the month, so they need to be right up to date for that. I guess that'll be this afternoon's travail.

Friday, October 3

Press-Ganged!

My mate Mal is coming down for a long weekend this morning. This afternoon I've got to send off the art for the box and the rules. Mal has a good head for design. Hmmm. I'm seeing a cunning plan here. Mal arrives and is put to work critiquing the box design. I'm sure he'll be able to come up with some ideas to improve it further. Excellent. What's even better is that though I know Mal reads this, he's on the train at the moment - so he won't get an early warning and pull out :-)

In other news, I'm still really struggling to get a purchase order out of the other UK distributor. I've tried to email him (last response, the only one so far, was that he'd do me a purchase order last Wednesday - still no sign of that). I've tried to phone him (the receptionist always says he's busy, he doesn't return my calls). I know a bunch of shops want to buy from them, but they still don't have any stock, nearly a month after the game was available. It's very frustrating.

Thursday, October 2

Aaaahhh!... Panic Over!

Today I'm trying to finish off the box design. I need to send it to the printers along with the rules tomorrow. I've also got a friend visiting this weekend, so I really need to get both finished today. Still, I'm hoping it won't take that long. I've got a starting place (the It's Alive! box design has all the important stuff on it) and I'm definitely getting the hang of Adobe InDesign now.

Back to the title. I've been chasing a couple of shipping companies to get proof that the games I've sent via them have shipped outside the EU, so that I can zero-rate the sales for VAT. In fact I've already not charged the customer VAT so if I don't get the proof the VAT is coming out of my pocket. Obviously I don't want that to happen, so I chased the shippers for the documentation. One of them replied with:

Games? What games? We've not received anything.

Aaaahhh! I sent them weeks ago. The customer has already paid me. Where the hell are they? Check with the couriers. They were apparently delivered on the 11th September. Forward the information to the shipper:

Oh! Those games. Yes, they were received and sent on. Here's the paperwork you asked for.

I swear I've visibly aged today.

In other news, it looks like the German distributor I've lined up will take some stock at Essen. Hopefully they'll take whatever I've got left, so that I don't need to send anything back to the UK.

Wednesday, October 1

Trust The Artist, Luke.

We've been away in Bristol for a few days, to visit our folks. I managed to get some work in while I was down there, but not a huge amount.

When we arrived Friday evening I had an email from the German manufacturers of Carpe Astra, they'd spotted that I'd accidentally reversed some of the art on the back of the punchboards, was I happy for them to continue, or did I want to submit a correction?

I'm more impressed with them as each day passes. Not only was this an excellent catch, but I got the following response when I asked when I'd get the games back:

We've scheduled your production for week 47, it'll take a day to print, a day to collate and then a few days to ship so you'll get them back either end of week 47 or week 48.

Now that's organised. I've also received an email yesterday saying that the tool maker for the punchboard die-cuts has had to round the corners on the triangle support markers. Was I happy with that? They sent me the corrected die-lines. Estimated diameter of the rounded corners? 1mm! And they still bothered to check I was happy. Hell! I wouldn't have even noticed! Needless to say I'm pretty chuffed with them at the moment.

I've got until the end of the week to get the art for the box and the rules to the manufacturer. Over the weekend I laid out the rules and sent them to a few friends for proof-reading. I've had some excellent feedback and amended them accordingly.

Next up the box. When I showed my local playtesters the box design I had cobbled together based on the logo and the cover illustration from the artist they were so-so about it. I'd made some 'interesting' layout decisions. The background I'd come up with was a starfield (like the one on Race for the Galaxy) and the logo was very clean, black and white. Neither of these now fitted very well with the rest of the art which has a grungy, steampunk feel to it. As a result I've decided to use the force artist. He does fantastic stuff when I just let him get on with it. So I've asked him to grunge up the logo a bit, and design a new box that's more in keeping with the rest of the components. Initial drafts look good...

Friday, September 26

Another Short Day

The Wife and I are off to Bristol this afternoon to visit our folks, so I'm just doing a half-day today. I've got until the end of next week to finish the box and rules for Carpe Astra, so I'm under the cosh a bit at the moment. I'm taking my computer with me, so I can continue working down there. We're not coming back until Tuesday, so I'll need it on Monday and Tuesday to make some progress.

The rules are coming on nicely. Initially they were just a text file with the rules written out in. I did several versions like that, then I sent the game to a few playtesters in the US and Germany. At that point I needed to include some rough diagrams to explain things a little better. I whipped up some quick diagrams in Photoshop, and conbined them with the text in InDesign to make some rough and ready PDF rules. There was no background art, the diagrams were line drawings and the text needed some love, but in essence everything was there.

The playtesters came back with loads of comments about how to improve the wording/clarity of the rules and I got to the point where the rules were pretty much written, but really ugly. So this week's work has been to 'pretty them up'. I've been going through the diagrams, replacing the line-art with pictures of the components. I've added a 'components' page showing pictures of the various bits, and I'm adding a few extra diagrams too. I've extended the rules from 2 pages of A4 to 3, folded into an A5 booklet, which gives me room for the components page, a front cover and a back page showing the scoring. It also allows me a little more room for the explanation - letting me cover a few more things in detail - the less the first-time player has to guess the better!

I've also got to do the box, but I'll leave that until I get back next week.

In other news, the UK distributor I've been waiting to hear from finally got back to me on Tuesday, saying they'd cut me a purchase order on Wednesday. No sign of it yet though...

Monday, September 22

Strangely Curtailed Week

This week is a short one, despite being one of two I've got to finish the rules and box art for Carpe Astra. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I'm at hospital in the mornings receiving a dose of steroids (I'll be ripped next time you see me - honest, you won't recognise me), and then Thursday or Friday we're heading down to Bristol again to see our folks.

Hopefully, I'll still be able to do some work while I'm down there, so I won't suffer too badly from lack of time.

Back to the current though, and yesterday and today I posted some pictures of the Carpe Astra art to the BoardGameGeek page. So far it's just examples of the card art. Getting the tiles art up there is a little more complicated. I'm going to post them too my website too after posting this, then I'm going to concentrate on the rules/box.

Saturday I got to the Psychocon games convention in Leeds for a bit. I got to play Carpe Astra with a couple of my previous playtesters (who both thought it was much better than the last time they had played it) and I got Jorvik out for a couple of games too. I also handed over a box of It's Alive! to the guy running the con who also runs Patriot Games, a couple of shops in Sheffield and Huddersfield - so It's Alive! is now available in that neck of the woods too. I also had a chat with the MD of Travelling Man. He's now collected most of the copies of It's Alive! from the York store, and will be running the rest to their other shops in Newcastle & Manchester in the next week or so. He gave me a load more advice, promised to chase the UK distributor on my behalf and also told me about a comics convention they are running in Leeds in November that it might be worth attending. I can see It's alive! appealing to the comics crowd, so it might well be worth it (it's pretty cheap too).

Anyway, enough wittering - I've got images to post...

Friday, September 19

Woohoo!

I finally got the cards & boards artwork off to the printers in Germany :-) The Germans reckon it will take 8 - 10 weeks to make, so all being well the games will arrive in my warehouse somewhere between the 14th and the 28th November. Later than I planned by a long shot, but at least it's moving. I'm hoping the estimates from the German manufacturers are more accurate than the UK manufacturers, but we shall see.

In other news of the the two UK distributors that are going to stock It's Alive! have finally got their copies. They're taking them on consignment, so I was just waiting to receive the consignment agreement through the post. They'd sent it to my Post Office Box, which it turns out is not working. So I've had to get them to send it to my home address instead. I'm still waiting to hear from the other UK distributor. Hopefully, they'll get back to me soon. I've just spoken to one of the shops I'm dealing with, they want to get it from the UK distributor - so they are going to nag them about it on Monday. Hopefully, that'll help get the job done.

The American distributor I've been speaking to are also almost ready to jump - they're just calculating shipping costs. They may decide yet to wait until Essen, which would be a shame, as it would miss the Halloween marketing opportunity. It's tight at the moment, but might just work.

Bizarre email conversation of the day:

Lady from Scotland: 'I'm organising a do about the Border Reivers, shame the game is no longer available. Is there any chance you'd make some more if we ordered 100?

Me:'It took me 3 hours a copy to make it by hand, I'm not doing that again! Minimum order for professional run is 1,000 so not really worth it.'

Lady from Scotland: 'How much for 1,000?'

Me: 'Gor blimey Guvn'r, I dunno? About £10K?'

Lady from Scotland: 'Can't afford that. I'll be back in touch if I can sort out a sponsorship deal.'

Weird. Especially the bit where I came over all Dick Van Dyke.

Wednesday, September 17

Books and Art

Yesterday I spent the afternoon doing my books. I'd let them slip a bit and desperately needed to catch up. It's a boring job, but it needs to be done. Running a game company isn't all about the playing of games, sometimes you have to spend time running a company :-( Still, I made some progress, and I'll do some more soon, trying to bring them right up to date.

Today has mostly been spent on Carpe Astra. After I showed off the art at my playtesting night last Wednesday I got some feedback about things that could be clearer or less confusing. I asked the artist to make some tweaks based on this feedback and when I got the tweaked stuff back today I spent most of the day updating things and proof-reading all the cards. I'm going to start converting things to PDF format next and then submit them to the printer today/tomorrow. Once the card and board artwork has gone I've got two weeks to do the rules and box art. The rules are 'fixed' now, but the rule set I've got doesn't have any art yet and could do with more proof-reading. Still, if I get it to the printers this week things are underway, hopefully I'll get the finished games back in ten weeks or less...

Monday, September 15

Back & Limping

My parents were visiting for the weekend. I had hoped to ship out the last of the orders on Friday, so that the boxes were gone from the flat before they arrived, but unfortunately neither the Germans or the UK distributor I was waiting to hear from got back to me, so I had to just sling the games in the bedroom while they were here.

I did however manage to get accommodation for Essen sorted (hmm, I think I left that a little too late - note for next year - sort something sooner!). So Friday wasn't a complete write off. I spent a fair chunk of the day cleaning and tidying though, so not much progress.

The weekend was fairly games free, obviously my parents wanted to see the finished It's Alive!, collect the copy they'd bought from me and see the art for Carpe Astra. Dad's a retired art teacher, so I always value his opinions when it comes to the art, and he liked the look of the new stuff, so that was good. We played a few games of Carcassonne on Saturday with Mum and Dad, which they both enjoyed - and they're not gamers by any stretch of the imagination.

Today I'm back in the saddle, I've been amending the Carpe Astra rules with some feedback from my playtesters and tweaking the cards to include feedback too. I also went to the bank, made harder by another MS attack which is interfering with my walking. By the end of the 2.5 miles I was really struggling, and limping quite noticeably. Still, I'm seeing the Nurse tomorrow, hopefully they'll put me back on the steroids and I can develop a rippling physique.

Thursday, September 11

I Can See My Sofa!

Three more boxes of It's Alive! have been collected today, freeing up valuable space in my flat. I've still got boxes for a couple of UK distributors at home, and I'm hoping to get confirmation of an order from Germany. I'm still in negotiations for US ditribution, I'm going to try to speak to the guy on the phone this afternoon and hopefully nail an agreement.

My parents are coming to visit this weekend, so I really would like to get shot of the boxes I've got at home tomorrow. I'm waiting on a consignment agreement from one of them (my fault - I made a typo in the address so the copy they returned to me is lost in the post) and a purchase order from the other. I've not managed to get through to my contact at all at that company, I've left him a few phone messages, which he has yet to return, and my emails go unanswered too. Hopefully I'll hear from him this afternoon, but I'm not holding out any hope.

Carpe Astra is nearly there (though I feel like I've been saying that for months!). I held a playtesting session at my flat last night (amongst the boxes) and it went really well. Only a couple of minor changes since last week, but I think they improve things. I've sent the 'final' rules off to Ted in the US for feedback, as well as a couple of other playtesters in the US and Germany. I finished laying out the cards and boards yesterday and managed to get them printed in time for my playtest evening. As a result I could get some feedback from my playtesters, which has led to a couple of changes which I intend to make in the next day or two. It's all coming together. I hope to submit the art to the manufacturers next week, then I've two weeks to get the box and the rules to them. Exciting times.

In other news, this has been a community blog since the beginning, but there's never been many contributors, and recently there's only been me. I decided that I'd like to make Creation and Play a personal effort, and so I contacted my fellow contributors a couple of days ago and they all said 'go for it'. So I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Luke, Bobby, Phil and Dave for all their contributions to Creation and Play and wish them best of luck in their future games designs. From now on Creation and Play will be known as 'The Voice of Reiver Games' :-p

Tuesday, September 9

Another Busy Day

Yesterday I popped over to the warehouse to collect another 34 boxes of games ready for shipping. I also found a box-maker just round the corner that make cardboard boxes suitable for boxing up the flimsy cartons. I bought one suitable for 2 cartons, one for 6, and a couple of 8s and 12s. This morning I found out that the 12s are going to be way too heavy, so I went back and swapped two 12s for four more 6s. The sixes will weigh about 16 Kg, much better than the 32 Kg for the 12.

Today, I've mostly been boxing up cartons ready for shipping. Sadly, most of the shipping will have to wait until tomorrow, as I'm still waiting on a few delivery addresses and purchase orders, but it's definitely coming together now. While I wait to arrange the shipping our flat has a hint of the warehouse about it. It's a pretty small flat, and we've currently got 45 boxes of six at home. I've also entered into serious discussions with FRED Distribution Inc. about US distribution for It's Alive! I'm hoping we can reach an agreement that suits both of us, as widespread US distribution is key to selling all 3,000 copies.

In between getting It's Alive! ready to ship, I've also been working away at laying out the Carpe Astra artwork. It's coming together nicely, I've nearly finished the cards, with the boards about half-done. It's definitely a busy week!

Monday, September 8

A Day of Rest

or not. One of things you quickly learn working for yourself is that 'normal' nine-to-five hours go right out the window. In some ways I was used to this, as I'd been running Reiver Games in my spare time for eighteen months before turning pro. I'm also ideally set up, since The Wife usually works one day of the weekend, so I can too. Yesterday, a Sunday, and traditional day of rest I did twelve hours work laying out the components for Carpe Astra.

I spent most of that time on the cards, as they, along with the boards, need to go to the printers first. Since Friday I've received most of the remaining artwork, which meant that I could do the layout for the final components. I'd done mock-ups of the layout for the prototypes I sent out a couple of months ago for testing in the US and Germany, but several things had to change for the real thing. I had to go through the cards replacing all the guild logos (each card has one, two or three guild logos on it) with the final art, and then I had to tweak the text layout. It was a little close to the border of the new art, so I had to move it in. This of course then requires adjusting as the text starts to drop off the bottom of the frame. So I spent most of the afternoon and evening editing the text.

Today I have to sort out some boxes to box-up cartons of It's Alive! for shipping out to shops and distributors. I've a few orders of multiple cartons (a 2, a 5, a couple of 8s and a couple of 12s), and the boxes could do with grouping together, as a more sturdy box means the games inside are less likely to be damaged in transit. There's a box shop just round the corner I'm investigating this morning, but if they don't have anything useful there's an online shop that does boxes to your specifications (though at what cost I don't know yet).

This afternoon I intend to pop over to my warehouse again and pick up some more games so that I can box them up and have the orders collected from my flat tomorrow. It'll mean our flat looks like a warehouse, but hopefully only for one night! In other news, Boards and Bits have upped their order :-)

Wednesday, September 3

It's Allliiiiiive!

After many weeks (actually months) since I last had something to sell I've now had confirmation that It's Alive! will arrive at my warehouse tomorrow! Yeay!

I've posted the changes to the website (taking the pre-order information down) and I'll contact all the pre-orders today to arrange payment and shipping.

It really feels like things are coming together. I heard from one of the two big US distributors yesterday, they are interested in taking a full pallet (840 games, or 27% of the print run), and are now trying to strike a deal where they pay for half and take half on consignment (they pay me when they sell them). If they do decide to take that pallet then 45% of the print run will be spoken for, a very respectable percentage.

The combination of those sales and hopefully several at Essen will make my bank balance much healthier.

In other news, the 10mm gap between cuts for the Carpe Astra boards can be reduced in certain circumstances, so I'm going to send them an example, to see if they are happy with my layout.

Tuesday, September 2

Carpe Astra - Coming Together

First, an aside: It looks like It's Alive! will arrive this week as planned. I think the earlier problems with arrival dates were down to dealing with an overly optimistic sales guy, since I've been dealing with the Production Manager, his estimates seem to be right on the money (if longer than I'd hoped).

Carpe Astra seems to be proceeding nicely though. I've got art coming from the artist all the time now, often with a few emails a day arriving. To whet your appetite, I've posted the logos for the six guilds (left to right: Traders, Settlers, Priests, Politicians, The Military and Engineers) below and an example tile too. The tile has the die-line superimposed. As usual, click on each image to see a larger version.

I've spent the day on Carpe Astra, first of all the meeting at the bank to secure finance (apparently I'm a 'valued customer', and my credit score with them is such that they were willing to lend me 40% more than I wanted at 4% less APR than their standard rate). Since then I've been creating guides for the artists, showing him the exact dimensions of the art I require, including the bleed (areas outside the item that the background needs to cover in case of cutting error), and margins (areas inside the item that the main content cannot enter, again due to potential cutting errors). I've been doing them in Adobe InDesign and then exporting them as JPEGs at the right resolution. The rest of the day I'll spend again in InDesign, this time laying out the various cardboard components on the boards that will appear in the box. I have to lay the art on one layer, and the die-lines on another, and obviously both need to line up! The German manufacturers say that I should leave 10mm between items on the boards, and between and item and the edge, but they've sent me an example layout (on which they based their calculations) which has probably 7mm between items, so I've asked them what to do. I can still make a start though, I can always tweak things later.

Monday, September 1

Preparations

I'm hoping to receive the It's Alive! print run in a few days time. In that spirit I've spent much of today preparing for its arrival. I've contacted most of the shops and distributors who have placed orders with me to confirm quantities and warn them it's nearly ready. I've also developed a new version of my website (which I'll not post for a few days) which takes out all mention of the It's Alive! pre-order and adds a 'Stockists' page listing everyone I know who will be stocking the game.

Meanwhile, Carpe Astra is coming on, I've a final quote from the manufacturer in Germany, which means I can start laying things out (now that I know the exact combination of pieces on the boards, etc.). I've also started getting final art back from the artist, and it's looking mint :-)

Because of the delays getting It's Alive! ready (I was originally hoping to have it in stock in July!), I'm suffering a bit of a cashflow crisis. Pretty much all my money will go on the It's Alive! manufacturing costs, so I've no money left to do Carpe Astra. It's going to be a month or two before I start getting that back too. I have to pay for It's Alive! up front, but I'm invoicing my customers, and they'll have a month to pay. I want to get Carpe Astra out soon though, so tomorrow I'm off to see about a bank loan. I'm hoping they'll lend me enough money to tide me over until I start recouping the It's Alive! costs, that way I can get on with Carpe Astra. Once I've two products out I can afford to slow down a little, with my third game targeted for next Spring.

Thursday, August 28

An Expensive Day

Yesterday I paid the second half of my Essen stand (400 Euro) and then the second half of the It's Alive! print run. Apparently I'll not be getting the two finished copies I was told about, the almost finished one I received last week will do that job instead. This means I'll not see the punched coins until I go to the warehouse to collect the pre-orders for shipping. But the latest update is that they should be ready to ship next Wednesday or Thursday. I didn't have to pay until they were ready, but they won't ship until the games are ready (obviously) and they have received my payment (which takes three days to clear). So paying them now means that as soon as the games are ready they will be able to ship them. I'm desperate to begin selling them (several customers have been chasing me), so the sooner the better.

Yesterday was rounded off with another of my playtesting nights. It was Lisa, Jon and I, and we played a couple of games of Carpe Astra and one of Codename: Backyard. Carpe Astra went well, with both Lisa and Jon saying it was the best version they'd played (they've played a lot!) and wanting a second game straight after the first to improve their strategy. I'd played several games with these new rules solo over the last week, and though both Lisa and Jon have played the game a lot, neither of them had played this particular version. The scores were ideal for this. I won both games, but they both scored better in the second game than the first (so there's a learning curve, the most experienced player won, with more plays leading to higher scores). In the first game I was the start player, in the second game I went last, but I won both, so there's not a strong first or last player bias.

This morning Paul and I did some playtesting too. We played Carpe Astra and then a new prototype: Codename: Aces. Paul also liked the new Carpe Astra (and again I won) and he also really enjoyed Aces. It's a sports game, more mainstream than my other games. I need to play it more to get a better feeling for it.

In other news, one of the two prototypes I sent to US distributors last week has arrived, so hopefully I'll hear something from them soon.

Tuesday, August 26

Outreach Program

On Friday I visited a few shops in York. For once I wasn't targeting games shops, but general shops instead. Paul had suggested I contact York Dungeon, a macabre tourist site about ghosts and the less savoury aspects of York's history. Due to the gruesome theme of It's Alive! it sounded like something that would fit in well with their stock. I popped in to the shop and spoke to the manager who sounded interested, I'll chase her when the games arrive (hopefully next week!). Bizarrely, the guy behind the counter got very excited when I mentioned that I was selling board games, he's apparently designed a few abstracts, and wanted some advice on selling them or setting up a company. I left him a card, and he emailed me on the weekend :-)

I also tried a couple of the larger bookstore chains in the UK who both have a presence in York: Waterstones and Borders, both of whom sell a few board games. Neither were able to give me a phone number for the board games buyer, but I got the phone numbers for Head Office from both of them.

This morning I rang them both, I got voicemail at Borders, and Waterstones want to see a finished game when they arrive.

Monday, August 25

Essen & Prototyping

I spent the weekend looking into Essen stand details. I've a massive book of things I can order for my stand, from carpeting and furniture to microwaves and plumbing. All of it very expensive though. I might be better off taking stuff with me.

In other Essen news, my friend Paul has order a copy of Krakow 1325AD from another small publisher: Geode Games. He asked me if they could deliver it to my stand (4-415 - come and say hi!), as Geode don't have their own stand at Essen. Sure. Which led to Peter from Geode asking if I'd sell copies of Krakow from my stand. It sounds like a win-win situation, he gets a presence at Essen, I get a cut of his sales, and more traffic to my stand. I'm seriously considering it.

Despite today being a public holiday in the UK, I've spent most of the day working. I'm knocking up another prototype for Codename: Backyard. It's a fun little game, but as it stood the scoring was too vicious and it was a little too simple. I suggested some changes to the designer who then sent back some changes to my changes. I've spent the day getting the layout done for that. Hopefully I'll get it finished and printed out before I go to Paul's tonight for games night.

Friday, August 22

Chase Me!

A couple of distributors who've signed up to take some It's Alive! chased me yesterday to see when It's Alive! is due to arrive. I'd originally told them mid-August, but the manufacturers are now saying first week of September. Apparently several shops are champing at the bit to get their stock - my emailing everyone seems to be paying off :-)

I've also received a final quote for Carpe Astra from the German manufacturer. It's very reasonable, so I can get on and get that together.

In hindsight I made a mistake with the pricing of It's Alive! I tried to make it for £15 again, the same as the Limited Edition. I then spent several weeks desperately trying to the manufacturer's quote down to an acceptable level. The final result was margins that are way too tight - I can't carry on making so little profit. A better way to have gone about it was to realise that I couldn't get it done for £15 with a sensible margin, and to have gone for £20 then upped the quality of several components (cards -> tiles, thin card -> thick card for the guides and slabs). Assuming I could make a decent margin on that version I might have been better off. As it is, I'm going to hope that I do well at Essen where I'll get a better margin - selling directly to customers.

Carpe Astra will be more expensive, it's got over 100 cards, lots of thick card components (tiles, scoring markers, coins) and a few wooden pieces. The German manufacturers are cheaper too, so my margin will be a bit more sustainable.

Thursday, August 21

Breaking Into My FLGS*

*Friendly Local Gaming Store

Again, no crowbar involved. My FLGS is Travelling Man a small chain of four shops run from Leeds. To me it seems like a much bigger chain as there's one in York where I live now, one in Newcastle where I used to live, and there was even one in Bristol where my parents live. I'd met the Managing Director a few years ago and got talking to him about making my games. He gave me loads of really useful advice, and I've met him a few times since. The last time I met him, he seemed interested in stocking the professional print of It's Alive! He warned me though that he was bad at responding to emails due to the volume he received - keep hassling him was the preferred solution!

I'd sent him a email several months ago letting him know It's Alive! was on the horizon. No answer. I chased him yesterday, and he came back saying he'd like some. It's a small order compared to some I've received, but it means I can wander into my local store and see It's Alive! on the shelves. It's surprising what a boost this gives me :-)

In other news, the production sample has just just arrived from the printers. Everything is finished except the cardboard coins are only scored not die-cut - I can see where the cut line will be though. It looks really cool. The coins are much thicker than I expected - it drives up the weight, but they feel really good quality as a result. The professional run is surprisingly heavy compared to the Limited Edition. The guides, slabs and shields are a bit thicker, and hence a little heavier, but the coins are now on sheets so there's a lot of excess weight there. Plus the box is a little bigger. All in all, I'm really happy with the result - It's looking great.

Wednesday, August 20

Breaking Into America

Which sounds like I'm stood on the Canadian border with a crowbar and some wire-cutters. But I'm not. Honest.

Yesterday was devoted to making a couple of prototype copies to send to my potential US distributors. This took a surprisingly long time. First I had to layout all the components onto sheets of paper that would fit through my printer. My printer (an HP Deskjet 9800) will print up to A3, and I've got a pack of A3 card so that was the way to go for most of it. The shields however are too long, being 420mm in length - the length of a sheet of A3 paper. By the time I'd discounted the printer margins (where the printer won't print near the edge of the page), I've a printable area of maybe 400 x 287mm. So instead I popped to my local art shop and bought some A1 card, which is massive. I cut that down to 280 x 596mm (into thirds length-ways) and printed the shields on those. I'd bought a spare sheet of A1, and I only needed two of the thirds per sheet, so I had five spare thirds. Needless to say my printer promptly used them up, a combination of running out of ink, printing a test page when I least expected it and some feed errors. Even the ones that worked had quite bad front/back registration - the front and back didn't line up well at all. After hours of fighting with the printer I'd finally finished the printing by 8pm. To think I'd hoped to get it in the post yesterday - that was wishful thinking! Needless to say I was a bit stressed by the time I finished.

This morning I cut out the bits, boxed them and I'll post them this afternoon, once I've got the address for one of the two distributors.

On a related note, ThoughtHammer, a big US online shop, contacted me to ask about stocking my games. I told them they could either buy from me directly or from a US distributor, and pointed them to the two distributors who are considering stocking my games. They came back saying they don't deal with one of them and haven't heard anything about it from the other (unsurprising considering they've not yet decided whether or not to stock it). They told me of a few distributors they use, and said they'd tell them about me.

Brown Box, Inc. in Texas promptly emailed me to ask about stocking my games, and it now looks like they're going to place a fairly large order. Sweet!

In other news, I heard from the Production Manager of the company who are making It's Alive! for me. Tomorrow I should receive a game that is finished except for the die-cutting of the coins. This will be my first chance to see a finished box and the glued-up coins - very exciting. All being well I'll also be able to weigh the box and settle on a final shipping cost for the It's Alive! pre-order.

Talking of It's Alive! pre-orders, Michael, who's done the German translation of the rules contacted me to see if I'd mind him pimping It's Alive! on the SpielBox forums. Mind? Hell, no! Michael's post has led to several pre-orders from Germany which is great - thanks Michael!