2015 Annual Report

(with help from Joshua Buergel)

I’ve always really enjoyed reading the Annual Reports from Steve Jackson Games. In a blatant copycat effort, I’m sharing a similar style report right here, right now for Hyperbole Games LLC to cover the efforts of 2015 and the plans for 2016.

Currently, Hyperbole Games LLC is solely owned by me, Grant Rodiek, though that might change at some point, which I’ll go into greater detail below.

This report will cover:

  • General Statement of Purpose
  • 2015 Operations, primarily focused on the development, Kickstarter, and fulfillment of Hocus
  • 2016 Business Opportunities
  • 2016 Products
  • Partners of Note
  • Partnership discussions

If you have any questions about these contents, or have questions about other topics, don’t hesitate to ask. You can always reach out to me at grant@hyperbolegames.com.

General Statement of Purpose

Hyperbole Games LLC exists as a way for me to play at business owner in a hobby I love. I’ve spent a decade working on video games for a great company. However, Hyperbole exists so that I can create my own games, on my own terms, using my own methods.

I see Hyperbole Games evolving in a few phases. Phase 1, which is where we’re currently at, is about learning about manufacturing, learning about board game marketing, learning about convention support, learning about basic business practices (accounting, management, etc.), building a brand, and generally working towards a fiscally reasonable state.

On that last point, I don’t expect to be rolling in dough, but I would like to get better at managing budgets, develop a pattern of direct pre-order sales, and work towards making this hobby self-sustained.

Phase 2, which I see as 3 to 5 years out, is about Hyperbole Games growing up. Phase 2 is defined by having a catalog with 4 or more games, participating in more significant conventions (as in, it makes financial sense to do so), considering submissions from other designers, having at least one evergreen title, working with international partners for our titles for localized versions, and not using crowdfunding for titles.

In fact, I’d like to expedite this last item, crowdfunding, to Phase 1 if possible. There will be an experiment on this front for Farmageddon 2nd Edition in 2016. But, for now, Kickstarter is too good at building awareness and generating direct sales before entering distribution. I’ll talk more about Kickstarter specifically below.

I see Phase 2 coming to a close 5 years after it begins, which means in 10 years, the company might enter Phase 3. What’s Phase 3? I don’t quite know yet, but it basically means Hyperbole Games LLC is a real thing, with a handful of well-respected titles, and maybe it’s a thing that may evolve into more than a hobby. But, that’s very far away.

So, in conclusion, Hyperbole Games LLC is a corporate entity built by a passion for my own creative outlet and a proving ground for my ability to run a business without a massive corporate infrastructure to protect me. Gulp.

2015 Operations

This year was split into two fairly distinct phases. The first half of the year was defined by final development on Hocus, primarily balance and tuning, as the core mechanisms were finalized in November 2014. We conducted a fairly extensive, for our current reach, blind testing program, and invested about $500 to mail copies to folks in the US, Canada, and a few in Europe. This paid off with a game that we feel is well refined and tested. When you’re designing a game with asymmetric cards, you need to invest the time to hammer out every stupid inconsistency and ill conceived power combination.

We also spent the early half of the year overseeing Hocus’s illustration development with the wonderful Tiffany Turill and graphic design with the fantastic Adam McIver. They were absolutely the right partners who completely nailed their tasks.

When not working on art, we were furiously preparing for our Kickstarter campaign. This effort included copy editing, creating and revising videos, debating pricing, triple-checking costs, and investigating various fulfillment solutions. We spent almost 6 months preparing for our Kickstarter, and the benefits were clear to us during the campaign. We see a lot of peers fretting their launches, sweating during the campaign, and feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps we’re fools, or our campaign isn’t big enough to warrant the fretting, but Josh and I felt quite relaxed during the entire campaign.

"Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics." We found that quote to be rather true for us.

It would be inaccurate to omit mention of “Tuckbox Gate,” before the campaign. We’ve always been big proponents of open, transparent development, and this is a case where we were really saved by doing so. We announced we weren’t doing Stretch Goals a few weeks before our campaign, but also that we would have a tuck box. Folks, uh, got angry. We reviewed the numbers and made the decision to re-work the graphic design and go with a two piece box. We admitted fault and folks seemed to appreciate it. Had we stumbled through this mid-campaign, it would have been much uglier. I always like supporting businesses who are open to feedback and responsive to customers. I’m glad we can say we did the same thing.

But, during the campaign, nothing weird popped up, we didn’t have a PR goof, and really, our audience was rather quiet. Folks showed up to back and seemed content with our lack of Stretch Goals and product offering. Phew!

  • You can see our Kickstarter page for Hocus here.
  • You can read our extensive Kickstarter post-mortem here.

About two weeks after the end of our campaign for Hocus, and what felt like a thousand re-reads of the Hocus rules and cards, we submitted our digital files to Panda GM. We quickly moved through the process of digital proofs, the first physical copy, and then the mass manufacturing copy. Thankfully, no hiccups were found! We love Hocus, which is first and foremost why it’s the first game, but, it’s also a dead simple product. Box, 101 cards, rules. Done. I highly recommend new publishers make their foray into games with a similarly simple product.

Last Thursday, December 10, 3663 copies of Hocus, packed into 75 boxes, and weighing about 2100 pounds, arrived at my doorstep. I had 6 friends arrive to help me unload and before long we filled our guest bedroom in the garage, aka the warehouse. I spent this past weekend and every free night so far packing copies of the game and custom wooden tokens into mailers. Meanwhile, Josh, up in Seattle, is using his expertise as a software engineer to code a solution for us to quickly print labels. With over 1600 backers, this is no small feat!

Josh prints the labels, ships them to me, then I apply them to eagerly awaiting packaging. I then take them to various places to drop them off. We’re fulfilling Hocus about 2 months early. At the time of this writing, we’re not yet finished, but we should be finished before the end of 2016. Sadly, due to holiday hours, and length of travel for some copies, we probably won’t have every copy in every backer’s hands before Christmas, but we’re doing our best.

I’m very pleased with our fulfillment solution. Yes, it requires labor from us, time we could arguably spend doing other things, but honestly, there is no other way of us to reduce our costs by so much. It is also a great way to learn how the nuts and bolts work. If we use a different solution in the future, we’ll do so from a better foundation of knowledge to make an informed solution of what it costs and the labor involved.

Now, this solution isn’t for everyone. For one, I benefit from the space in my garage to do this and a handful of personal relationships that make depositing a few hundred boxes off at a time “no big deal.” Hocus is a very tiny and simple game — we couldn’t fulfill Tail Feathers by hand! Finally, although we’re thrilled by our pre-order of about 1700 copies, that’s small potatoes for other folks. If Hocus hit 2500, or 3000, we might have needed to reconsider our fulfillment solution.

For now, I appreciate the savings, which can be put into a reprint (fingers crossed), new titles, and other expenses.

Hocus, so far, has far exceeded our expectations. We had over 1000 downloads of the print and play via BGG, over 1600 backers, and sold over 1700 copies to date. Today I shipped over 1000 copies to our distributor and they should be appearing in retail in early 2016. This next phase is the part about which we know the least — marketing. We need to continue building momentum and plan to promote the game with reviews and ads in early 2016. We’ll also be participating in conventions, which I’ll detail below. But, we still need to make Hocus a success and hit the button on a re-print…how to do that exactly is something we’ll need to figure out.

We may do a post-mortem for the second half of our Hocus Kickstarter journey, but some high level notes include:

Avoid add-ons. These were the main point of confusion for our campaign, though they didn’t cause too much confusion, but definitely the main point of headache. I had to email, re-email, and message folks who insisted they wanted a thing, yet never paid for it. It took a lot of time, led to a lot of weird sorting, and ultimately, didn’t add that much revenue to the project.

Bake add ons into pledge levels. Were we to do Hocus now, I’d have the following pledge levels:

  1. Buy one copy
  2. Buy one copy + box
  3. Buy 2 copies
  4. Buy 3 copies

Done. Or, some variation of that. Folks who have special requests, and they always exist, will contact me for variations and we’ll work things out.

The other side effect of our add-ons not baked into backer levels is that we had to run our surveys early to get a final tally for the volume of add ons. Put simply, backers can be shockingly terrible at entering their address and updating it as needed. The UX on Kickstarter is actually incredibly simple and well done for this, but many folks either don’t do it, get lost, or don’t care. Now, would it be better if we had a condensed time to gather addresses? I’m not sure. Every time I reminded folks over the course of months, dozens of people would change their address. Who knows!

Basically, we’ll modify our backer levels in the future to make it easier for ourselves and our backers.

2016 Business Opportunities

In 2016 we will have our hands full. Our primary responsibility is supporting Hocus customers on BGG and wherever they have questions or input, as well as keeping Hocus in stock with our distributor and for direct sales.

Secondly, we need to improve our web presence. The Hyperbole Games website is reaching a point where it’s no longer meeting the needs of the business and needs to be promoted in a few key ways.

  • It needs to be easier for folks to join the newsletter.
  • Key articles need to be surfaced better and made more attractive.
  • Key products need to be surfaced better and made more attractive.
  • It needs to be easier for customers to contact us for support.
  • Tools, like how to play videos and FAQs, need to be surfaced better.
  • It needs to be easier and more attractive for customers to buy games.

Over 3 years ago when I had HyperboleGames.com built, I didn’t have products to sell, a newsletter to join, and it was mostly a blog. The needs of the site have evolved past its current capabilities and I need to fix this. If you are a web designer, or know someone who is, email me at grant@hyperbolegames.com. I have work for you!

We’ll be trying out conventions for the first time. Yes, we attended TwitchCon in September of 2015, but we didn’t have product to offer. Now, it’s a different ball game. Currently, we are confirmed for KublaCon (Bay Area), Geekway to the West (Missouri), and are investigating a few others, such as the Alternate Press Expo (San Jose), various craft fairs, and perhaps Strategicon (Los Angeles). We’re trying to focus on conventions that don’t cost us too much, but allow us to build that 1 on 1 presence with customers. It’s so important!

Ultimately, I have a full time job and a wife who isn’t into board games, so I need to balance things. Josh has a full time job and THREE KIDS (dear god), as well as a wife who would like to see him occasionally. Conventions can eat up a lot of time, so we have to spend our bullets well.

I’m very intent to develop an international partnership for Hocus, but this is something I don’t know about. I’ll need to reach out to folks and learn the hard way. Hopefully, success domestically greases the wheels for us, but this is new territory.

Revenue for Hyperbole Games LLC will be coming in from a few sources next year, including Hocus, Farmageddon published by Trefl Krakow for European territories, and Cry Havoc published by Portal Games for worldwide release. My designer contracts for these two games are with Hyperbole LLC -- they are NOT co-publications. Cash coming into the company will be nice, because as the company is still new, there are so many things to spend it on.

2016 Products

The first new product of 2016 will be an old product with a new spring in its step: Farmageddon 2nd Edition. This product will be for North America only, as Trefl Krakow has the European rights. The game will be manufactured out of pocket and will not go through crowdfunding for a few reasons.

Firstly, this feels like a good, safe bet to experiment with direct pre-orders. This means no 10% cut given to Kickstarter, nor do we have to invest significant amounts of time preparing for a Kickstarter campaign. Secondly, I don’t want to anger European backers to whom I cannot sell the game. It's a legitimate reason, sure, but these things can be tough to explain. Thirdly, I don’t want to run afoul of folks who backed the game from 5th Street Games and still have bad blood. It’s not my fault, at all, but that can be a very tough and emotionally charged discussion to have that I’d rather sidestep.

Farmageddon 2nd Edition is deep into testing now. The game will feature the beloved illustrations of Brett Bean and Erin Fusco, but with a completely overhauled graphic design for the box, cards, and rules. Farmageddon will be more beautiful and functional than ever.

The game will feature re-written rules improved for clarity and with new diagrams to ease learning. The game will also have a how to play video for folks who don’t like reading rules. There are a few minor rules tweaks to improve the game, but the majority of the improvements will be seen in the Farmer cards and FrankenCrops. Overall, the cards have been tweaked for cleaner, more effective writing and keywords. But, all the cards that led to questions, were prone to edge cases, or were just trite, take-that cliches have been replaced, re-imagined,and improved. The result is a game that is more fun, easier to learn, deeper, and better at making you smile.

We’re investigating promo cards and custom wooden tokens for pre-order folks. We expect the pre-order to go live in late spring once the game is on the boat.

If you’re curious why Farmageddon, well, it’s because folks are asking for it. Fans, distributors…there seems to be demand for the game. Adding a second game to the catalog, and one that I love dearly, is too good of an opportunity to miss. We’ll see how it goes. If Farmageddon is successful, there is an expansion almost ready to go, which means we can support this product line relatively easily (compared to starting from scratch elsewhere).

Folks may be curious about Hocus expansions. Currently, no such expansions are in the works. We figure it’ll make sense to release a Hocus expansion if/when we have about 10,000 copies sold and in the market. If we’re lucky, 20% of folks will buy an expansion, which means a minimum printing of about 2,000 requires a larger audience. That could take a few years, which is fine by us. We’ve been grinding on Hocus for almost 2 years now and a little break will be good for our creativity. We have a lot of ideas for Hocus expansions, including delving into drafting or a focused 2 player experience, but it’s a ways away.

We have two completely new titles at the top of the heap for our 2016/2017 schedule. The first, and most important, is Project Cow Tools. This is a collaborative design between me and Josh. We began poking at this idea a few months ago while waiting for Hocus to arrive from China. The game is early — we haven’t even prototyped it yet! But, there are some neat ideas we’re trying to get on paper. The elevator pitch for the game is that it’s a “social war game,” in that it plays with many players, relatively quickly, and revolves around teamwork and poor communication. The code name “Cow Tools” is inspired by a famous Far Side strip that we think exemplifies the experience perfectly. This game will be bigger in that it'll have probably 150 cards and some tokens. We’re trying to be very cautious of the price point of every game we make, as new publishers should be careful about asking uncertain customers for heaps of money. At least, that’s what I think. Naturally, we’ll watch how the game evolves. You shouldn’t design a product based on a price point either as you might strangle its potential. It’s a tiny needle to thread.

The next game is one designed by me. It’s a passion project that I’d love to succeed. Project Gaia is a 2 player, 54 card game with deck construction (or drafting) and some tile manipulation. By deck construction, I don’t mean deck building, like Dominion or Star Realms, but building a deck before the game like Magic or Netrunner. But, this isn’t a CCG — it just has that experience that I love packed in. Project Gaia is also interesting because it’s small and has a low footprint. Depending on its cost, this might be another game that Hyperbole can fund without using crowdfunding, though again, the marketing impact cannot be overlooked. 

There are other potential games, including a few by Josh. One in particular, I Expect you to Die, is also a 54 card game with a very compelling drafting element. This game and Gaia might pair well together. We’ll need to see how testing reports emerge and what interests us.

Partners of Note

This business is built around a lot of very important partnerships, and I’d like to take a moment to provide a shout out for folks who have helped Hyperbole.

Tiffany Turrill is a phenomenal talent and a joy to work with. I’m so happy we hired her for the Hocus illustrations. I want to hire her again as soon as possible.

Adam McIver did a phenomenal job with our graphic design. He’s a rare character in that he has the heart of an illustrator but the craft of a graphic designer. It’s a strong combination.

We used Drive Thru Cards extensively to send out prototype and review copies. Their service was consistent, their cards are great, and they always worked hard to help us out as customers. We will continue using them for card prototyping.

Peter Wocken helped us in a pinch for some BGG ads that came out fantastically. This was my first time working with Peter and I really enjoyed it. I plan to bug him again.

Panda GM manufactured Hocus and, barring anything nutty, will be hired again to manufacture Farmageddon 2nd Edition. Working with Brent, Ben, and Darrell was fantastic. I was emailing Brent a year before we pulled the trigger on Hocus and he always took me seriously and was incredibly helpful. I’m so happy we chose them to manufacture Hocus.

We had some great support from members of the press and I want to thank them. Jonathan Cox of JonGetsGames made an absolutely wonderful video explaining Hocus before our Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been a longtime reader of ISlaytheDragon and peer of the folks involved for a few years now, so I was delighted when Jonathan Schindler took the time to preview our game. To continue this round of Jonathans, Jonathan Liu of Geek Dad, an excellent blog, also took time out of his schedule to preview Hocus. Without this, we might not have ever launched so well.

Tiffany Caires, previously Tiffany Ralph, went out of her way showing Hocus to people at conventions. This was a truly awesome piece of evangelism that really helped. Finally, Donald Dennis and Stephanie Straw had us on On Board Games to discuss the game. They have a packed schedule and I appreciate them making time for us. Oh, and Who, What, Why interviewed us much earlier in the year. That was a lot of fun.

We have a lot of projects planned for 2016, so I look forward to meeting new partners, getting the band back together with old ones, and continuing to build relationships with great folks in this industry. If I failed to mention you above, uh, remind me and forgive me. I've been packing boxes every night for a few days now.

Partnership Discussions

You may have noticed I failed to mention one pretty important partner above - Joshua Buergel. Josh is the co-designer of Hocus and really, co-publisher. I’m stuffing copies in the warehouse, he’s hunched over his keyboard figuring out code solutions for labels. I’m editing KS copy, he’s figuring out tariff arrangements for international solutions.

So, we were equal partners on Hocus, though I tossed in a veto once or twice, which still feels like a little bit of a failure on my part. Yes, decisions have to be made, but I’d prefer a compromise. But, where does that partnership go beyond Hocus? Project Cow Tools is an obvious arrangement. But, Farmageddon 2nd Edition? Project Gaia? Just day to day crap?

If you listen to the Start Up Podcast, and you should, one of the first episodes is about Alex Blumberg, the founder, trying to figure out what of his company he should share with his soon to be co-founder.  He goes back and forth, they have awkward conversations, he offers his potential co-founder a garbage, lowball offer, and ultimately, comes around to more or less share the company.

This is basically where we are right now. Put simply, Josh wants in. He’s gone through the interview process. He aced it. But, and I’m not saying this is rational, I’m having some trouble relinquishing everything. I’ve been blogging about games for about 5 years now and participating on Twitter building my brand and follower count. Next year, two of my other designs will be generating revenue for the company. Games I’ve spent years on. I founded it, been paying the taxes, and handling all the weird administrative problems.

Plus, I like my veto. Being the owner of a business means you are the dictator. It’s nice.

I’m married, which means I need to compromise and share. I’m employed by a large corporation, which means I need to complete my tasks and take instruction. But, at Hyperbole, if I want to charge forth and make a particular game…I want to be able to do that. Final say on an artist? I want that too. I’m willing to pay for it and take the heat. I started the company to create the things I want to create.

I need to make a decision though. This is an important decision, one that’s tough to dial back. I need to figure out exactly what it is I want and need so that I can better share the stakes and responsibility with Josh. Regardless, Josh is involved now and will be in 2016.

In Conclusion

At 4000 words I think we’ve gone too far. I hope this was an interesting insight for you and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at grant@hyperbolegames.com.