KS Lessons from the 7th Day

Post by: Grant Rodiek

We’re a week into the Hocus Kickstarter and it’s going very well. We’re at over 215% funding and 664 backers. Our fewest backers in a day has been 37, and our lowest amount raised has been $707. If this is at all indicative of the rest of our campaign, well, that bodes fantastically for us. I’m sure it’ll decrease, but what a killer first week!

Hocus: A magical card game -- Kicktraq Mini

Here are some more notes from our campaign.

Have a hook. This is true regardless of your pitch medium, be it to a potential publisher or to customers on Kickstarter. Ours is “Poker Plus Spells.” With Apotheca, Andrew Federspiel mentions “Spatial Strategy plus Hidden Information.” Many people have commented on this in their notes to me and it seems to really be sticking with them. What’s your catch phrase that’s easy to remember? Try to craft one and put it front and center for your campaign.

Plan your updates. We haven’t actually been terribly busy during the campaign, no more than normal development. But, updates are a reality, in addition to Thank You notes, and other such tasks, and you should plan for them. Especially if you’re a slow writer! Thankfully, we have 8 Spell books, which make for great updates. Plus, there is always news and clarifications to make.

Plan your updates out for the approximate span at the campaign, leaving room to be flexible as you communicate with backers. Preparation is truly at the heart of any product’s success and this is just one more area where you can be patient, do your homework, and appreciate the light dividends.

Make a routine of things. This continues the note above, but plan for pockets of time, in your daily life, to look over the campaign, communicate with folks, write thank you notes, and follow up on things. The more you plan before the campaign, the less of a burden this will be. But, if you’re shooting how to play videos, and writing thank you notes, and posting a PNP, and chasing down previews, you’ll be in trouble. Therefore, the first priority, that we’ve really appreciated, is to try to take care of as much stuff as possible before launch. The second priority is to craft a routine and stick to it so that your “chores” are properly cared for!

Obsess over your Kickstarter page. Review your page a few hundred times for typos, poor sentences, confusing sections, and anything that detracts. Ask friends, people who dislike you, and random folks to read it over. Treat your Kickstarter page like a rules document — make it clear, concise, and useful. Organize the data in order of importance, provide clean page breaks, and use basic formatting or graphic design, as your budget and skills allow, to highlight important details.

Really obsess over your page. Whenever we ask people if they have questions, an overwhelming number of people say “Nope, your page had everything.” That’s really the best response. It’s very satisfying and it has saved us a great deal of time. A few specifics, like ones regarding the wooden box, have been added to the FAQ. And really, these are the types of things an FAQ is meant for. Review your page and remove all bumps.

Just 2 days ago we found a bump on ours — our link to our rules was pointing to a not too old, but still out of date copy of our rules. Whoops! How embarrassing! Just think how that could have hurt us if someone downloaded the PNP and couldn’t figure out how to play!

Obsess over your Kickstarter page, then do it again. Typos and sloppiness will only make you look like you don’t care, or at least, you didn’t care enough.

Invest in Art. Our fundamental belief is that great art and a great price will take a Kickstarter very far. It’s a one-two punch. Great art gets the customers in the door. They like what they see in the “window” and pick up the box. They then see the price, shrug, and go “hell I’m in!”

Really invest in your art. It’s super easy to just find someone who can technically do it, but really seek out a partner that will make your game look beautiful and outstanding. It makes a great first impression, makes you look professional, and is the most beautiful way to demonstrate you care about your game.

Have your PNP Ready.  Since June 22nd, just 3 days before our Kickstarter launched, we’ve had about 470 combined downloads of our black and white and color PNP files off BGG. If you include the downloads from our pre-campaign Hotness push, this goes up to almost 700 downloads!

Now, surely many of those can be written off as repeat downloads, and surely the majority of them will sit on a desktop, never to be printed or cut. But, we’ve heard from many backers who have played the PNP with friends and family. We’ve seen several cases of backers pledging at $5 to get the high resolution PNP, they send us a nice note, then increase their pledge to get the physical copy. Have your PNP ready before you launch!

I don’t really have a way to collect data on this, but I’m convinced this is helping us in a big way. It shows preparedness, confidence, and helps people move beyond the flash and really become committed fans. Some of the nicest comments I’ve ever heard about a game I’ve designed have come from our PNP players. Just think how that might work in word of mouth with other potential backers.

Several folks have asked us to write our post mortem and we’d like to do so in a way that’s useful for you. If you have questions about our campaign you want answered, send them my way or comment below!

KS Lessons on the Fourth Day

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Hocus is still performing incredibly well. We’ve had about 60 backers over the weekend, which is enormous for a small campaign like us. You can see the Kicktraq here.

A few days ago I wrote a post about things I’d learned in the first 36 hours, and I wanted to follow that up with a few more observations.

Kickstarter is still growing. There’s a good chance you’re going to be someone’s first five backed projects. This has really caught me off guard. We’re at the point now where our dedicated social circle has made a decision on Hocus and backed, so most of our new backers are friends of them, friends of friends, or just random folks off the Internet.

As I write my Thank You notes, I can see how many projects every backer has backed. In many cases, Hocus is their first! Or their third. Or fifth. This tells me a few things that are important to keep in mind:

  1. Kickstarter is still a growing platform. If we take care of this ecosystem, it can be around for new companies for a long time, long after I stop using it as a creator.
  2. You have a huge opportunity to make a great first impression. Though this impacts others, think about the relationship you can build for your company if the first time they dip their toe in the water they have a great experience. More than anything I want people to remember their experience with Hyperbole Games fondly. If we’re one of the first companies, we can make a great first impression.

Europeans very much want to buy our games. Even with international shipping, the number of Europeans interested in Kickstarter is huge. Our game is small, so our costs aren’t too bad, plus we’re subsidizing it slightly and have a good group offer. But, we’re definitely losing a few customers due to our shipping.

Unfortunately, many of the European Friendly methods aren’t feasible for us at this time. They require a level of investment and additional complications we’re not comfortable with. But, if you have a bigger game, or feel you can take on these methods, I recommend it.

As an aside, I find it quite fascinating that brand new companies are expected to have killer international fulfillment options out the gate. Think about this: incredible companies like Portal and Czech Games Edition have been in the business for years, but are only now handling distribution outside of their territories. Previously, they worked with companies like Z-Man to sell in the United States.

When you launch a Kickstarter, you will be compared to everyone that came before you. Even if someone else’s methods are illogical, do not make financial sense, or don’t work behind the scenes, the customers will now have expectations. Either be prepared to meet them, or discuss them in a frank manner.

Folks have had bad experiences. A few times, I’ve mentioned that we’re going to try to not spam folks with our updates and share them at a reasonable pace. Every time I say that, many people come forward to say “Please don’t go silent! More is better than less!”

Now, we have no intention of leaving folks high and dry or going silent. Silence in a crisis only worsens things, if we have one. But, people have been burned before, have seen it done badly, and are willing to come forward and speak out when they have the slightest notion that it’ll happen again.

Have your communication plan in order. Know how you plan to speak to people. Be ready to engage them frequently. You’ll see me say this over and over, but provide a great experience for your customers, whether it’s on Kickstarter or otherwise. You have the opportunity to make them smile and remember good things. That’ll pay dividends long into the future.

People will change their minds. This is a little maddening, mostly because you want to know why, but people will cancel their pledge. This has happened a few times with us already. There are so many possible reasons for this:

  • People are annoyed we’ve sent 3 updates already.
  • People don’t like our no Stretch Policy.
  • People have another use for their $15.
  • People pledged, then played the PNP, and decided they didn’t like it.
  • People want to back a man with more hair than I have.

The possibilities are truly infinite. Don’t let this wear you down or frustrate you. If someone cancels? Fine. You have to be okay with that! They probably just changed their mind, which is what people do all the time.

KS Lessons 36 Hours In

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Our Kickstarter for Hocus launched 36 hours ago and I’m now an expert on Kickstarter! Actually, not at all, but I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts about things 36 hours into it.

As always, taking things with a grain of salt. What works for us might not work with you. This is my first project, so most of my data is anecdotal.

Repeat Yourself: This is a classic PR lesson. Repeat yourself early and often. You might think your page is perfectly laid out, but people might miss an important detail when reading it on their phone. Or, they don’t watch the video. Or, they just don’t pay attention.

If you have important details, repeat them, often. Here’s an example:

A copy of Hocus is $15. This is a discount off MSRP and shipping. However, additional copies only cost $13. Why? We hope this encourages people to buy additional copies. It’s a good deal!

Well, many people ask “How can I buy extra copies?” This info is on our page, but it’s below a lot of other stuff. We explained this in our first Update and immediately saw people up their pledges. We explained it tonight in our second update and again saw the same result.

You cannot repeat everything, and you don’t want to be a bore. But, if you have key information, it’s worth repeating.

Carefully consider pledge level copy. What do I mean by pledge level copy? The little area that says:

“$15 – 1 copy of Hocus. Backer pays shipping.”

Once you have a single backer at the pledge level you can no longer alter it. This means you need to be very careful about what you say. We didn’t make any mistakes, but seeing as how people are missing our information about adding extra copies, we should have written it here! Lesson learned for the future.

Write your Thank You letters. It is very easy for you to cynically roll your eyes at these. I’ve been a backer 103 times and when I receive some of these, I think “ugh, another form letter.” Don’t be a cynic!

Last night and tonight I took the time to reach out to every backer. It’s a long tedious slog, but it is SO worth it. Why? Firstly, it’s you greeting your new neighbors. You’re saying hello. It’s a warm and neighborly thing to do. Kickstarter isn’t a brick and mortar store — you cannot greet people when they enter the “store.” This is a great way to do so.

Secondly, most people won’t come to you to ask questions, even if they have them. When you reach out to them, you’re giving them a very easy way to reach out to you. You’ll be surprised by what emerges. Some simple questions that you need to add to your FAQ, some great ideas for your campaign, or even a great conversation.

Thirdly, this is an opportunity to resolve issues. Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity. Much is said about how entitled and unreasonable people are, but as Josh told me early today, people are fundamentally good and kind. If someone is angry, concerned, or even just questioning you, and you meet them halfway with sincerity? Even if you don’t agree, you’ll be delighted to see how quickly you build a good relationship.

Finally, it shows you care in a very simple way. You need to care a great deal. Not everyone does this. Be on the side that greets the neighbors.

Unless you’re hilarious, skip the humor and go straight for clarity. Josh and I are snarky people. We think we’re pretty funny. Unfortunately, our humor, like most humor, is based on the people around us. It’s very tempting to make Kickstarter videos that are goofy. Or write comments with sarcasm. Or write jokes into your updates.

Let me rip off the band-aid — DON’T! Unless you’re hilarious, just get to the point. Adam made an incredible video for Coin Age. Shut Up and Sit Down is hilarious. Me? Nah, not that much.

We received a great deal of feedback on our first campaign video. Some of it okay, some of it very harsh. It had a lame joke that we smugly thought was good. Two days before launch we re-shot our video and we’ve heard no complaints. I call that a win!

Keep it simple, focused, and leave the humor for game night.

None of these insights are world shattering, but they are what occurred to me. We’ll write more as we go!

One Week ‘Til Magic

Cover

Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

Next Thursday, June 25th, a week from today, Hocus will go live on Kickstarter. We’ve been more or less ready for a few weeks now, with only a few tweaks to our Kickstarter page here and there per feedback.

We feel pretty good (well? gooder?) walking into things and we wanted to present our case once more so that in a week, you join us by backing our game, helping us prove early demand, and ultimately begin our path as a publisher of weird card games.

Hocus is a unique spin on a classic game. Our game is designed against the idea of “poker with spells.” Fear not — this game isn’t poker. Far from it. Over 18 months, many of them just dreadful and filled with failure, we tested and ultimately crafted a game that is quite fun. We’ve written about the game extensively on this blog, but if you want to cut to the chase, you can watch our How to Play video here.

We’ve studied our peers and competitors in publishing for years now. We’ve asked a lot of questions and taken a lot of notes. Many of you potentially reading this have received DMs or emails from us with sometimes very stupid questions, but we’ve done our best to do the homework and mimic “what good looks like.” We’ve backed over 100 Kickstarter projects each, and we both have sizable collections. We know what it’s like to be customers and backers. We want to be top class there.

We believe this entails…

  • Great presentation. We have a clean KS page, short 2 minute pitch video, a How to Play video, a full PNP and rules, an FAQ, and a manufacturing and business plan ready.
  • Great price. $15 with free shipping in the US and $15 + Shipping for foreign territories is a really good offering. The best we can do, actually.
  • Great art. We’re both art junkies, but we also saw this as a way to stand out and have a great “window shopping” appeal. Hocus will be a beautiful game in your hands. We’ve hired the best we could to make it so, and our thumb drive on BGG seems to confirm this.
  • Great game. I mentioned this above, but we think we have a really good game. This is backed by local testing, UnPub/Protospiel appearances, and extensive blind testing and PNP testing.
  • Thorough promotion. We’ll have a series of previews, video and print, written and radio interviews, and more. We’re also paying for ads. Basically, we’re doing the full court press to get the word out.
  • Be responsive. You guys demanded a two piece box and we figured out a way to move to that. If other issues arise, again, we’ll be responsive. We want to be great publishers with great customers.

Where you come in?

If you’ve followed Hocus, tested Hocus, are interested in Hocus, or even just want us to succeed, please join us on day 1. Whether it’s a token pledge of $1 or $5, or a full pledge of $15 plus shipping (free for domestic backers), your help, especially early, is invaluable to us.

We don’t expect to become millionaires, or even profitable as a business yet. We’re trying to take the long outlook here. We hope to release 1 Hyperbole game every year, each with high quality development and fantastic art. We’re trying to take the long term view here and build a nice little side business. If you can help us prove our viability, we can hopefully enter distribution and become a legitimate entity.

We’ve put forth our best effort and think you’ll have a great time with $15. Next week, on Thursday, we’d love your help.

If you want to know when the project goes live, sign up for our newsletter. It’s once a month only, promise!

Thanks, and we’ll see you next week.

5th Street Bankruptcy and You

Post by: Grant Rodiek

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the bankruptcy of 5th Street Games. I see a great deal of confusion on the Kickstarter page, people I haven’t seen in years are sending me emails, and folks are upset on the Board Game Geek forums. I think this is all justified, so I wanted to write, briefly, some information in one place to help with this as best as possible.

To be clear, this is not my opinion on this incident, no dirty laundry. I’m frustrated, naturally, but this post exists to aid.

Full Disclaimer: I am just the designer of Farmageddon. I had nothing to do with its publication, other than the contents of the game, or Phil’s business practices on Farmageddon or his other projects. As I’m about to publish my first game, and I now own Farmageddon entirely again, I want to make that clear. 5th Street’s problems were not mine and I don’t want my game or my future works to be held against that.

Here are the questions and my answers, as best I can answer them.

What about Livestocked and Loaded? How will I get it?

The manufacturer of the game is working with Ship Naked to send backers their copies of Livestocked and Loaded. They posted on the Kickstarter in an update HERE.There is one catch: you must email them your information and you must pay for shipping. This seems lame, but please consider the following:

  • The manufacturer was NOT paid for this production and many other projects.
  • They will NOT make their money back doing this.
  • They have zero obligation to do this.
  • They are devoting time and money to handle this. Think of the organization and staff hours to solve this.

Essentially, the manufacturer and Ship Naked are doing this out of sheer kindness. Please do not express your frustrations with them — it is NOT their fault. If you still want the game, you can email them, pay shipping, and you will receive an expansion. If you do not want the game, do not want to pay it, or do not want to do with this, that is also fine.

I just received a letter about Phil’s bankruptcy. What does this mean for me? 

Basically, nothing. In legal and accounting terms, Phil owed you an asset, which in this case is a game. You will not receive those assets from Phil. For Livestocked and Loaded and some other projects, Ship Naked and the manufacturer are handling it now. Please check your Kickstarter pages. I can only speak for Livestocked and Loaded.

This letter essentially closes the loop. There is no action for you to take. You do not need to show up in court. The letter basically says: you were owed an asset, you will not receive this asset from Phil.

What will happen to Farmageddon? 

At this time, I don’t know. I own the full rights to the game design and its art. It is mine, free and clear. If you’re a designer signing a contract, be absolutely certain there are revert clauses in the contract for you.

I really like Farmageddon and I’m very proud of it. The first print run of 2700 copies sold out and won a Parent’s Choice Award, with practically no con presence and very little marketing. I know some portion of the second printing sold as well, again, little presence or marketing.

The game was published in 2012, and since that time I’ve observed numerous critiques of the design, and I’ve become a far superior designer. I’m just a better craftsman. I wrote about some of the changes I would like to make, and I am confident that it can be a viable game. Yes, it’s a take that, but it’s very charming, short, and has some nice small decisions between the crop hand management and which cards to play.

I am in talks with various people, but it’s too premature to discuss any of it. If any of these things occur, I’ll be delighted. If they don’t, well, I now have Hyperbole Games. Assuming Hocus performs well and I’m not throwing in the towel in a few months, I might publish a revised version of Farmageddon. At a high level, this would include:

  • Improved 2nd edition cards, including some full redesigns, and much rewording.
  • Completely new graphic design. Imagine the current art with, say, Adam McIver’s graphic design?
  • Touched up illustrations. Both Brett and Erin have expressed interest in notching them up.
  • Single box with Farmageddon, Livestocked and Loaded, all FrankenCrops.

The idea is that this would be the definitive edition of the game. Folks who like it, and folks who like it, but are disengaged, might come take a second look.

But, that’s all very premature.

Those are the big three questions. If you have others, email me, or post them below. I’ll do my best to answer them.

The Thumb Commotion

Cover

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been rather annoying this week on social media (Twitter, Facebook) asking people to click a link to our cover image for Hocus. This link leads to Board Game Geek and the image, at which point I’m hoping people click a little green image where they thumb it.

With sufficient thumbs, the image enters the front page image gallery, which gains more exposure. This seems like a lot of very annoying, tedious effort for us to get our picture on a page for some form of accomplishment, but it really matters a great deal.

Briefly, I wanted to detail why publishers like me seek out your thumbs and what it means for us.

Firstly, some perspective. The figures I’m going to give you will not be impressive. Remember, the board game hobby is a very tiny niche hobby. I am at the absolute bottom of that niche as a first-time publisher. We all start somewhere, and I’m a scum guppy choking down mud in my pool.

With 98 (and growing!) thumbs on our cover image, and 43 (and growing) thumbs on an image of our cards, we have two images in the front page gallery.

Image

Our social network, being our Twitter followers, Facebook followers, and personal friends who happen to have BGG accounts, helped us get onto that front page. Once there, people who do not know us gain access to our product and what we’re offering. Without me putting it in front of their face personally, they can take a look, click it, and go “huh, this looks neat.” With one click from there, they gain access to our page, where we have links to our PNP, a how to play video, and our publishing page. These BGG users are learning about us on their own in a less obnoxious way and they’re beginning to use our content.

Since our image hit the front page, we’ve seen:

  • A dramatic spike in Fans on BGG (up from 2 to 17)
  • A spike in thumbs for our PNP (up to 30)
  • A spike in PNP downloads (over 50+ since we hit the front page)
  • A spike in comments, primarily on our image files
  • More newsletter sign ups. This is SO valuable!
  • More Facebook fan sign ups.
  • More Twitter followers.

As a result of this traffic and activity, Hocus is now on the Hotness of BGG.

Hotness

The Hotness on BGG is updated once per day, I believe in the wee hours of the morning. For one day, you’re one of several games with front page exposure. The Hotness is based on some formula that is a combination of thumbs and activity. Basically, if people are engaging with your game, talking about it, that sort of thing, you’ll join the hotness. Often it’s represented by very popular games, like Twilight Struggle – people are always discussing it. It’s also where you’ll see many popular Kickstarter games. The reason, is that people hear about the Kickstarter, then go on BGG to engage with them. See images, read reviews, chat in the forums.

The Hotness seems like a silly banner for silly people, but I think it’s important. I have no data to back it up, other than the fact it is slowly helping us build awareness. However, BGG is a hyper targeted site. It is THE destination for board games. People who know about and like board games GO TO BGG to learn more about them and discuss. You know what advertisers crave? A hyper focused audience. Often, you hear about “18-24 year old males,” and huge demographic swaths. With BGG, everyone is there for one reason: board games. I pay every year to remove ads, but I never do. Why? Because most of the ads are for board games. Products I want to buy.

This is partially the reason for Twitch.tv’s success. Their audience is hyper engaged video gamers who want to eat, sleep, breathe, and buy video games and their accessories. Many of your favorite productivity apps exist as a way to gain a hyper focused following to then appreciate ad content.

Updated 6/13/2015: Still climbing!

Updated: Still climbing!

Thoughts on advertising aside, by being in the Hotness, and on the front page for ads, we are now on the front stage for the premier platform for board games. Though our social network is not insignificant, there is a stark difference between followers and active fans. Our active fans, and those who happened to see my post (there’s a lot of noise!) have now propelled us in front of dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of other potential fans. This is an immense gift, just shy of two weeks of our Kickstarter launch.

As a small publisher, in a small pond, we have few assets to gain recognition. One of the reasons we’ve been so slow and patient in shifting from just designers to designers who also publish is that it takes a VERY long time to build an audience. You may have 4,000 followers, but how many will click an image? Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re that popular. One of the reasons we invested so much in art, and we did, was because it helps us with window shopping appeal. People who are just browsing BGG might notice our shiny, gorgeous cover in the background. People might stop to pull it off the shelf, metaphorically in this case, and learn more.

Yes, our art is a part of the game, but it’s also an advertising asset.

In addition to organic thumb drives, publishers have a few other tools to gain attention and build a direct conversation with customers. The first and most obvious are social platforms. I recommend you use all that you think you can provide valuable content for. I have to treat FB and Twitter differently, so I do. I don’t use Instagram for publishing because I don’t have viable content at this time. Secondly, you can buy ads. This is expensive, but it’s effective if you use the proper platforms. We have ads planned for Hocus, at a time when we think they will be the most effective. We’ll probably also have ads when it goes on sale for post-Kickstarter customers, but that’s some time in the future.

A final method is to pay for a contest on BGG. This is a pretty clever solution, but it costs money. The contests on BGG ask you for many specific details related to the game. Details that require you to engage with the game on BGG. If you have hundreds, or even thousands of people suddenly visiting and clicking on your game page? Well, you’re guaranteed to be on the hotness. Next time you see a contest, see if the game is on the hotness. Hint: It is.

I hope this reveals a little information about why we, and other publishers, come stomping about, hat in hand, asking for thumbs. It’s a relatively low cost method to gain exposure and new followers. It isn’t free! You need to have good art and a social network established to do this. But, it’s effective.

No Stretching for Hocus

OwlCover_Sketch

Post by: Grant Rodiek and Joshua Buergel

A large part of our efforts the past year, beyond designing and developing Hocus, have been spent figuring out how we want to conduct business. For our first game, we’ve decided to use Kickstarter. The primary reason is that Kickstarter is a good platform by which to gauge demand and for many consumers it’s a known quantity. It’s worth the 10% cost and various efforts involved in a Kickstarter to use it versus building an online platform ourselves at this moment.

One of the most complicated elements of Kickstarter projects are Stretch Goals. As of now, when Hocus launches on Kickstarter in the latter half of June, we will feature no Stretch Goals. We have none planned at this time, and have no plans to add more.

This may be problematic for us, but we want to discuss the decision. We’ll surely be asked about it countless times during the campaign.

Fundamentally, the purpose of Stretch Goals is to increase revenue brought in via Kickstarter, ideally through additional backers. By that, I mean most backers don’t increase their pledges. Notice I said revenue! In many cases, it increases the money coming in, but most Stretch Goals also increase costs, so it isn’t free money for the publisher. One can argue that it lets backers steer the course of the product and such, but fundamentally, I believe it’s about additional revenue.

The presence of Stretch Goals means a few things to backers:

  • “This project has funded and will succeed. It is a thing.” People want to back a winner and be a part of the winning team.
  • “The project will be more exciting. I can’t wait to see what else we get!” It’s fun to be a part of “But wait, there’s more!”
  • “This is a good deal!” More stuff, at the same price, definitely feels like a good deal.

I’m not made of stone. I’ll tell you honestly I have jumped in on a handful of Kickstarters because, well, look at that deal! Fief came with 5 full expansions I’d have to otherwise pay for. It was tough resisting Space Cadets: Away Missions with so much content there.

But, Stretch Goals are not appropriate for Hocus. Our goals for the publication of Hocus are to learn about publishing a card game in a way that builds on our reputation, does not incur an undue amount of risk, and leads to a positive relationship with a small pool of customers. Oh, and we want to make a good game!

These goals must steer our execution. We need to keep our costs low, reduce delays as much as possible, and really nail what we think we can nail. The more complications we add, the higher our chances of failure or missteps. We’re new at this — it’s likely we’re going to botch something, so we need to keep it simple. The stupid is implied. That means remove anything else.

Before I go into some more philosophical points, I want to detail the things that will be included with a pledge for a copy of Hocus. Things that are often withheld as Stretch Goals will be included at the start for us.

  1. Linen Cards: We will have linen cards from the outset. We’ve paid a great deal of money for the art in Hocus and this will be a game that’s heavily shuffled. It’d be wrong to not go with linen.
  2. Fifth Player Support: Although the game was strictly 2-4 players for the longest time, we found a clever solution and five player is actually a phenomenal way to play. Five player does come at a cost – it requires 14 cards: 8 for the deck, 3 for the Spell Book, and 3 reference/tracking cards.
  3. 8 Spell Books: We could ship only the number of books to facilitate a game at our max player count, but we’ve included 3 extras. Many games add promo content, or micro-expansions. We’re including everything from the start.
  4. Rule Sheet: We have card budget to simply put the rules on cards and save a little money on the printing. But, we think the rule sheet is the best thing for the product.

Now, let’s discuss some of the specific reasons we think Stretch Goals are wrong for us and Hocus. Firstly, Hocus is a very small game with a very small price. The final game will be 99 cards, tuck box, rule sheet, and we believe it’ll have an MSRP of $15.99. The total cost for backers to receive a copy of the game will be, we believe, $13. We’re basically slashing the MSRP and backers will cover shipping. The margins are already low in a low margin business. Every dime we add in to the box hurts our ability to move towards a more fiscally responsible state. We aren’t going to get rich on Hocus, but we would like to cover our operating costs as soon as possible.

Secondly, we want to have no delays…that we can control. We want to begin printing as soon as possible, which means all art and graphic design needs to be finished soon. Let’s say our 3 additional Spell Books were Stretch Goals. Do we pay for the art now, and hold onto them hoping we fund? Or do we wait until we hit the goal, hoping we can still schedule our artist? Our artists have quite a bit of lead time. That second option seems dangerous for the project.

Thirdly, it did not make sense to balance test content we weren’t confident we would ship. We have spent months and hundreds of tests just spinning on a small subset of Spells. Why would we spend that time if we aren’t sure we’re going to use it? It’s difficult to test against possibilities. It’s a pain to gain manufacturing quotes against 85 cards, 88 cards, 89 cards, and so forth. Yes, our manufacturing partners can do that, but it seems like a waste of their time, no?

You can see a few cases above where I mention the thought of paying for/developing a thing that we then don’t use if the goal isn’t hit. There seems to be a game of chicken where you can say “we will do this if we meet this Stretch Goal.” But, if you’re below it at all, do you not do it? Even if it makes the game better, you’ve paid for it, and it doesn’t fundamentally alter your costs, do you withhold it? If you don’t, then were you lying all along about needing the money? It’s a strange choice we didn’t want to have to make. We thought the game needed linen cards, and 8 Spell Books, and 5 players, and we were willing to pay for that up front.

We think of this game as pre-Stretched for everybody, with everything we wanted for Stretch Goals already included at day one. It’s a more honest approach to this game.

If we’re wildly successful, I’m sure we’ll hear about areas we could add things to improve the game. Such as shifting from a tuck box to a 2 piece box. Adding tokens for everyone. Or, promising or developing an expansion. But, all of these have been considered and set aside due to costs, cost and complexity, and risk, respectfully.

We will undoubtedly lose some momentum from this. Stretch Goals are an expectation and part of the ecosystem. But, we’re curious if we can succeed without them. Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts, email us or share them below. We’re quite interested to see how this pans out!

Interview with Nat Levan

NewBedford

Interview by: Nat Levan and Grant Rodiek

I’m fascinated by weird and unique themes and historical takes on games. I’m also interested in how we can use uncomfortable topics as a teaching opportunity. Even better, an entertaining one. I asked Nat Levan at BGG if he’d be interested in an interview. Avast! He was!

Nat Levan is the designer of New Bedford, which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

My questions will be prefaced by Hyperbole Games (HG), with Nat’s responses as Nat Levan (NL).

Hyperbole Games: Hi Nat! Introduce yourself. Who are you and what should we know about you? What’s a good northeastern greeting for us west coast types to latch onto?

Nat Levan: I’m Nat Levan. I’ve been into board games for about 4 years. I started designing about 2 and a half years ago. I work as a structural engineer by day, so I fit one of those game designer stereotypes. I live in the Philadelphia Suburbs. Is that Northeastern to the rest of the country?

HG: East of the Mississippi, so…yes! You’re here, obviously, to discuss New Bedford. This is your midweight euro published by Dice Hate Me Games. Give us the high level rundown.

NL: New Bedford is my first complete game design. It’s set in the mid-19th century at the height, and center of the historic whaling industry. The base mechanic is worker placement, but the initial pool of actions in the town is small. Players develop the town by adding buildings with more powerful actions, so the town actually grows as time passes. The new actions become available to everyone, at a slight cost.

You can also launch ships to go whaling, sending them out into the ocean to slowly collect whales each round via a draft. But as the game progresses the whale population declines, and you’ll encounter more and more empty sea. Eventually the ships return, and you need to make enough money before then to pay the sailors a share of the profits. You need to balance building, earning money, and whaling to win.

HG: What is the coolest part of New Bedford?

NL: Well, first, the whaling is the part I’m most proud of. It’s actually been almost untouched since the very beginning. I love the subtlety of deciding when to whale. If you go too early, other players can launch later and have better choice in the draft. To late and you won’t have time to collect enough whales. Drawing whale tokens naturally reflects the effects of over-harvesting, and becomes a big element in later rounds.

For me, the coolest part is seeing how the buildings all work together to support the town. You’re building up the entire industrial base. Developing all these buildings that work together, and making sure they are not only tempting to build and appropriately expensive for their value, but also thematically appropriate has been a long but fun journey.

HG: What are some of your favorite euros or like games? What inspired New Bedford? What were your goals?

NL: I’m so glad you asked the question like that. I found Agricola and Puerto Rico pretty early in my gaming history. I still really admire them, but don’t get much opportunity to play. I took what I really liked about them as inspiration for New Bedford, with the goal of making something I would play all the time. Both games have lots of replayability, but can take a while to set up and play, so I made New Bedford easier to pull out of the box. It also plays a bit faster.

I liked the more direct interaction from Agricola, but I didn’t like how limiting it felt for someone to block the space you need, so in New Bedford, you always have access to the basic actions. I liked how combinations of unique buildings help guide your strategy in both games but didn’t like how exclusive building felt, so buildings become available to everyone while rewarding the builder.

HG: Let’s move past New Bedford for a second: do you have a favorite theme? Or mechanic? What’s your ideal game to play?

NL: I don’t have a specific theme, but I seem to find myself drawn to themes of industrialization and growth. Especially the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution. I love being able to grow something small into something productive, so it should be no surprise that engine-building is my favorite mechanic. I like worker placement because it gives you that freedom of choice while tying your personal actions directly to actions within the theme.

HG: What drew you to the story of New Bedford (the town)? I’m intrigued by the premise of a town that used to be enormous and booming and is now a quaint portion of what it used to be. I imagine people never thought it would dwindle in the past.

NL: Well, Moby Dick is one piece of it. It’s a fascinating, incredibly important but largely ignored piece of American and world history. New Bedford’s story fits in perfectly with the industrialization I was just talking about. As late as the 1830s, New Bedford was still this fairly small and unimportant town, but in less than 20 years, it became, without exaggeration, one of the most important cities in the world. Then, in the same period of time, the industry fell apart due to over-harvesting of whales, the discovery of oil and invention of Kerosene, and unfortunate luck. People sort of forget that it was ever so important. The story would feel at home in ancient legend or fantasy, but it’s well documented history.

HG: I think games should teach and being up topics of history. I love Combat Commander, and I’m so excited to see the discussions Freedom have brought forth. I especially love the game documentary Dune. What is New Bedford teaching us? It’s about whales, so why does that matter?

NL: Some of the response to New Bedford has been negative due to the inclusion of whaling, which we expected. But the act of whaling isn’t depicted in the game at all. It deals with the industry on a higher level, and the historical impact. It’s interesting to see how the town grew to support the whaling industry. But what I really wanted to show, from the very inception, was how the industry grew too big without considering the effects of whaling, many of the whale species on which the industry depended almost disappeared. What makes whaling so insidious is that it the participants didn’t want the whales to disappear, but they couldn’t figure out any other options. The history and environmental lessons are one and the same.

HG: What else do you have in the works?

NL: Right now, I’m working a handful of small designs, because it’s a lot easier to playtest them. I don’t have anything in the pipe officially, but I’ll have a pile of games to take to UNPUB 5 in February in Baltimore. The most complete are a trick taking game about tailoring suits, and a 15 minute wonder building game that fits in a small bag. I’ve also got a couple of micro-games based on New Bedford and Brew Crafters (also from Dice Hate Me Games) that I’d like to show off for fun.

HG: Anything else you want to add?

NL: The last thing I want to say is that I feel really lucky with New Bedford. The response has just been overwhelming. I’m excited about the extras we have planned for the game, so I really hope we get the opportunity to put them in.

And a big thank you to my wife for putting up with all my traveling and talking about the game for the past few months. She loves games, despite the fact that I’ve been a pain to deal with. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about New Bedford!

New Bedford is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter

The Magic of Arcana


ArcanaSet

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Wozzle has entered a new, exciting stage and I wanted to write about one of the most significant changes: Arcana. A month or so ago, we got rid of our poker cards and replaced them with 4 unique suits numbered 1-12. We found this to be more intuitive, a little more fun and playful, and it helped distance us from poker in a useful way. You have no idea how many expectations gamers bring with to the table when playing anything that resembles the 800 lb. gorilla that is Texas Hold ‘Em!

My design partner, Joshua Buergel, had an inspiration based on Tarot cards. You see, Josh has played every game ever (or so it seems) and is this vast, breathing, array of knowledge. If we aren’t using poker cards, then can’t we do something else with those cards? The answer is yes, yes we can.

We started with our first Arcana suit, which we’re calling Hexis. The gist is this: as an additional option to the 4 public spells you can pay Mana to activate, you can play a Hexis card from your hand, following its instructions, to use its effect. All of the cards in Hexis use a single, simple mechanic: Show. By this, I mean you Show the card (which is a mechanic used in normal Wozzle) from your hand and place it in front of you. Effectively, you can only use each Hexis once per round.

This does a few really cool things for us and Wozzle:

  • Arcana introduce private information and abilities. Previously, players had their cards secret, yes, but they could only use public spells. Now, they have a secret Ability.
  • Whereas Spells have to be general enough to work in almost every situation, Arcana can be nuanced and specific. That lets us explore crazy stuff.
  • It adds a layer of strategy, variance, and complexity that is nice.
  • This gives us a great expansion opportunity. Use 3 vanilla suits + 1 Arcana. Which means with only 12 new cards, we can greatly change the game.

After we tested and proved Hexis was a good idea, we designed Mechana and Alchemus. We each took a stab at them, giving them a unique flavor that fit the core. Whereas Hexis was (deliberately) a safe, simple mechanic, Mechana and Alchemus introduce new concepts.

For Mechana, I was inspired by the Construct cards in Ascension (or Locations in DC Deckbuilder). I wanted to add a way for players to have a semi-permanent passive benefit. I introduced the Build mechanic. If a player ends the round with a 2 pair or better, he may place a Mechana card in his possession in front of him. Once per round, if the Mechana triggers, he gains its benefit.

Josh took the lead with Alchemus and I love the result. He introduced the Formula mechanic. Players must discard the Alchemus card, as well as the cards listed in its formula. In exchange for this high and sometimes difficult cost, you may execute extraordinarily strong actions.

Really, the Arcana gives us a new, devious layer that involves clever timing, taking a risk, and recognizing an opportunity. They are a great addition to Wozzle that, if the game is successful, will see much more life in the future.

We’d love your help testing them. In addition to the 30 Spells, there are now 36 Arcana cards. We’d love your help making them as fun as possible.

Publishing Plans: Speaking of the future, Josh and I wanted to talk briefly about things to come. Our plan at this time is to self-publish Wozzle when it is ready to be published. I’ll finally form an LLC and we’ll use Hyperbole Games as the label.

Josh and I have both independently wanted to dabble in publishing for some time. Both of us will still primarily be designers seeking publishing partners in the future. Both of us have full time jobs we have no intention of leaving. But, we have the entrepreneurial spirit and would like to dabble in publishing for the occasional side project like Wozzle, and others we have in the works.

Barring an unforeseen arrival of money, we’re planning on using Kickstarter to raise funding and aid us in marketing. We’re partnering with some experts to help us with some of the risky things that scare us. We’re willing to pay more for mentoring. We want to do this right. We’ll also hire a fantastic artist that’ll make the game gorgeous. We’ll share details as things are inked.

What’s left still ahead for the game? Most importantly, testing. Polish, polish, polish. We’re slowly building a network of blind testers to supplement our local testing in San Francisco and Seattle. The game will make appearances at Origins and GenCon with some copies given out if all goes to plan.

We’re excited and nervous to try this. It’s a ways out still, but we intend to be fully prepared.

Questions? Comments?

Pullin’ an Interview with Dodd

front-and-back-render

Chevee Dodd is a good friend and a designer I’ve known for about 3 years now. He’s someone I talk to almost daily and share most of my design thoughts with. He’s a clever, hardworking guy and I was excited when he finally decided to, eh hem, pull, the trigger on this project. Read the interview below, but don’t forget to check out his Kickstarter page.

My comments are labeled HG. Chevee’s are labeled CD.

HG: Introduce yourself, for the 8 people who come to my site and somehow don’t yet know about your charming persona. Who is Chevee Dodd? And for the kids at home, how do you pronounce your name?

CD: Hold up. 8 people? Do you really think it’s that high? Man. I need to spend more time in your comments section!

I am a 35 year old father of two little girls, from a small town, you’ve never heard of, in beautiful West Virginia. I’m an ex-Marine, ex-parts department manager, ex-mechanic, IT professional for the WV State Board of Education. I design games for fun but also enjoy motorcycling, woodworking, video games, and fishing. On a first date I enjoy long walks on the bea….. wait…

Oh, and it’s pronounced Chevy, like the car.

HG: Before we cover Pull!, let’s go over your resume. Tell us some of your other, favorite games you’ve designed. Personally, I’m a big fan of Scallywags (published by Gamewright) and Princess Rainbow Unicorns.

CD: Scallywags seems to be a popular design of mine, probably because it’s the only one that’s ever been mass-produced. I don’t really like it all that much and hope to one day revisit the design and clean it up a bit. Princess Fairy Rainbow Unicorn dice is certainly a design that I’m proud of. It began as a dice game for my two little girls but it has grown it’s own little cult following. A version of the game, Leathernecks ‘43 is available through The Game Crafter, but most people seem to want the princess version for some reason. Like, grown men. Who knows, maybe it’ll be next on my list?

I’ve been actively designing games since 1997. I really didn’t start to get serious about publication until a few years ago and Scallywags is a direct result of that effort. I’m particularly fond of a dice and card design, Hedeby, that I worked on for most of last year. It’s currently being considered by Mayfair and I would simply be elated if they picked it up. Mayfair has been my dream publisher since I started this adventure.

HG: Give us the rundown of Pull! What is it, why do you love it, why should we care?

CD: PULL! is a non-traditional partnership card game based on traditional partnership card games. It takes heavy inspiration from classic trick-taking games such as spades, whist, and euchre, but I hesitate to call it a trick-taking game. That terminology brings with it some expectations that just don’t fit the game. There is no “trump” per-se, there is no “lead”, following suit isn’t always necessary, and there are some oddities in the scoring. While it’s true that each person plays a card and the person who plays the highest value card will win, that’s approximately where the similarities end.

In PULL!, we are shooting at clay targets. Players are dealt a hand of cards and two targets are revealed. Targets are worth a number of points. Each player, in turn will play one card until all players have played a single card on each target. The highest card played on each target will win that target’s points for their team. If a team scores both targets in a round, that is called a Double and may be worth bonus points. The targets have two values on them, you score one value if you took it as a single and the other value if you took it as part of a double. Two more targets are revealed and the hand continues in this fashion until all players have played their 10 cards. Points are recorded and a new hand is dealt.

HG: It’s probably easiest if people just watch this 5 minute video you made.

CD: That’s certainly not a bad plan! Not only is it linked on my page, and the Kickstarter page, but I’ve included a shortened link and a QR code in the rule book to make the job easier for new players to find.

HG: How did Pull! come about? Your games always have an amusing origin story, like how Paper Route was the result of an off-handed Tweet from Cyrus Kirby.

CD: This one is no different. I already mentioned that I worked on Hedeby for most of last year. That was almost the only thing I worked on all year. It was a dark time for me and I didn’t cope with it well. Sometime last fall, I got fed up with it. I wanted to make a game that was easy to print and play and cheap enough to produce through print on demand. The only problem was, I had no ideas. So, I turned to Twitter. I asked for people to send me theme ideas and I’d pick one to run with. I received dozens of responses but one kept sticking with me: Clay Pigeon Shooting w/ Trick Taking. I had a working prototype a few hours later and I’ve been actively designing it since.

HG: How many clay pigeons have you killed in your life?

CD: Approximately zero. To tell the truth, I’ve never actually been trap shooting. It’s apparently popular at the range I shoot at as there is always orange fragments covering the berms. So, I often shoot those fragments with my rifles. Does that count?

HG: I’ll allow it. Why did Pull! become the first game you self-publish in a big way? You’ve been satisfied with Print-on-Demand publication previously, or pitching to AAA publishers.

CD: PULL! sits squarely between the two outlets. It is a game that doesn’t sit well with AAA publishers because of the trick-taking background but it has a larger audience than what I can reasonably approach with a strictly print on demand strategy. Most of my print on demand games are similarly difficult for AAA publishers but are also difficult to self-produce because of component cost. This is the first game I’ve done in a while that I feel confident I could bring to market while still maintaining a relatively normal life.

PULL! has also been a community effort from day one. The inspiration, the rules, the graphics.  I’ve leaned on the community heavily to make it what it is today. It’s a perfect candidate for crowd funding because the crowd has already made the game. Going through this process myself will allow me to give back to the community through the lessons I’m learning and I like giving.

HG: What were some of the challenges you’ve encountered in the process up to pushing the “go” button on Kickstarter?

CD: Aside from the usual game design challenges, the Kickstarter process itself is a little awkward. For instance, I knew that I would have to set up an Amazon Business account to accept payment, but what I didn’t know was that the type of banking account I had made that process very different. When I registered my LLC, I set up a business checking account. Because this was a business account and not a personal account, Amazon required me to send them a bank statement that contained the business name and address as well as the bank account information. I couldn’t simply self-authorize as I would have had I used a personal account. Oh, and the only way they would accept this information is by fax. Yeah. A fax. I had to find a fax machine. I hope to write quite a few articles about the Kickstarter process after all is said and done.

HG: The first and last time I used a fax machine in my life was to buy a home. Strange how those things refuse to die in an age of scanning.

p6

CD: Yep. I’m an IT guy. This process actually baffled me. Five years ago, I could have scanned it and then plugged my computer into a phone line and sent it via my PC, but none of my laptops even have internal modems. So, not only was it difficult to find an actual fax machine, it was practically impossible for me to use the technological replacement because phone lines are a thing of the past. I’m sure I could have found a mobile app or an online tool for this, but in the end, I found an actual fax machine and sent it.

HG: What are some of your favorite games? How, if at all, did they inform your development of Pull?

CD: Some of my all-time favorites are Acquire, Settlers of Catan, DC Deckbuilder, and Tichu. I wouldn’t say that any of them had a direct influence on the mechanics of PULL!

Tichu, being the only trick-taking game of the bunch, was a sort of point of reference for me. My group plays it many times each week and when I started looking at PULL! objectively to find some ways to inject fun into the game, I paid more attention to the mood during our weekly Tichu sessions. I analyzed why some moments were fun and others were dull and I tried to capture some of that fun in PULL!

p4

HG: Tell me about those moments. Walk us through them.

CD: I take trick taking games very seriously. Because of this, I enjoy them often for different reasons. I enjoy figuring out what each person’s cards. I enjoy calculating the possibility of strong plays that can break the other player’s strategies and swing the hand in my favor. I also enjoy how the deal has a strong effect on the game, but through perfect (or near-perfect) play, the stronger player should win through a series of hands. All this means that I, personally, enjoy the duller sides of the games.

I was prompted by Matt Worden to find the fun parts of PULL! and there weren’t many. There was very little ability for the player to mess up their opponents plans. Watching my group play Tichu, I realized that those big moments when a player wrecks a Tichu is the most rewarding part. I needed to introduce some of those big moments into PULL! but it is difficult without a bidding process. Most popular trick taking games require a player to bid, or have a declaration mechanism, such as nil in spades or Tichu in Tichu. When one player declares their hand is strong, breaking that players hand is often some of the most fun in trick taking games. PULL! has neither bidding nor hand declaration mechanics. Introducing those sorts of moments needed to be on a round-by-round basis and they needed to be matter.

When I introduced the hidden second card, those moments were brought into the game. The change was suggested by Eric Handler, the person responsible for the game’s inspiration, and he suggested it after I had already sent review copies out! It’s such an important change for the game, however, that I could not ignore it. I immediately emailed the reviewers and told them I was changing the game. Nothing like developing mere weeks from the Kickstarter launch!

p3-1

HG: What are some of the “big moments” in Pull’s development? If it were a novel, we’d call them plot twists. What were the big shifts you didn’t expect, or that were pleasantly surprising?

CD: I’ve been a fan of trick taking games my entire life. Some of my fondest memories revolve around playing spades and whist. When I was asked to design a trick taking game, I tried really hard to focus on those classics and force through some sort of derivative instead of a game of it’s own. What this meant was that the entire deck was dealt out and I minimized randomness as much as possible. I wanted players to be able to calculate the strength of their hand but I didn’t reward that at all. I totally missed it. The game was almost 100% driven by the strength of the deal with little to no ability for the players to make creative plays that change the outcome of the hand.

When I finally listened to the feedback I was receiving, the majority of suggestions revolved around introducing more randomness. When I finally started loosening up the design it immediately became 100% better. Sometimes I am my largest obstacle.

p3-2

HG: In general, what are your thoughts on randomness in game? Without writing a full blog post, give us a quick rundown about how you like your randomness and where Pull! lies on that spectrum.

CD: I like a healthy dose of randomness but not so much that I feel powerless. Trying to put a figure on it, I’d say I like my games to be about 30-40% random. It gives me something to blame when I lose but also provides a great challenge. A better player should win in a random game through normalization over many rounds. That challenge is compelling for me and it’s part of the reason that random games are so fun.

Look at the massive player base that has built up around Magic: the Gathering. That game encompasses the 30-40% randomness that keeps people coming back. When you lose, you didn’t lose the game, you got screwed by your deck. When you win, however, it’s because of your superior skill at deckbuilding and play.

PULL! falls squarely in that window. The luck of the deal is certainly a big factor as it is with most trick taking games. Skilled players should win over a series of hands, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. At the same time, there is enough strategy and tactical thinking to keep it interesting. I’d like to think that I got the balance right.

HG: Anything else you’d like to add?

CD: I love you.

HG: I know.

I want to thank Chevee for the interview. Give PULL! a look on Kickstarter. $16 gets you the game.