The Unnecessarily Huge Hocus Post Mortem

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Post by: Joshua Buergel and Grant Rodiek

Grant: The Kickstarter campaign for Hocus, the first published game by Hyperbole Games, designed by Grant Rodiek and Joshua Buergel, is now over. The campaign was an immense success! In 30 days, we raised $31,403 from 1,639 backers. Our original funding goal was $6,000, so this final result far exceeded our expectations.

Although we do not have a precise number yet, we believe we’ve sold approximately 1800 copies, which is over half of our print run of 3,500. At the outset of the campaign, we intended to print 2,000 copies, which we then increased to 2,500, and ultimately settled at 3,500. This is wonderful, as it means we have a much greater opportunity to earn additional revenue through the retail channel with more copies.

Josh: And, the large number of backers greatly increases our ability to be successful with distributors, try and find international partners, and just generally get Hocus to as many possible places as we can.

Grant: Below is our post-mortem of Hocus: its design, development, and events concluding at the end of our Kickstarter campaign. We obviously cannot detail fulfillment, manufacturing, shipping, or pre-orders in a thoughtful way, as we haven’t experienced them yet. I’m sure we’ll write about them as well. Things went unexpectedly well for Hocus, so in lieu of a “What Went Wrong/What Went Right” format, we’re going to discuss a broad range of topics pertaining to the Hocus Kickstarter.

If there’s anything about which you’re curious that we don’t cover below, email me, or comment!

Long Public Development

Josh: Develop your games where people can see them! It gives you so much credibility from day one that your game is real and that you take it seriously. Early support translates into a successful project.

This one was fairly easy for us, for a couple of reasons. First, the fact that Grant and I started working on this design together as a result of him publicly looking for feedback was an instant validation of the approach. I wouldn’t have joined the project if Grant wasn’t working in public. Second, we don’t live in the same city, so we were already doing all of our communication electronically. That made it easier to open up some of that communication to the public as well. Third, we’re both voluble guys who like talking about our work, so it’s easy for us to get excited and just keep blabbing. But please, work in public. It just makes everything about your process easier.

I can’t emphasize enough how much our credibility helped our launch. We both have robust personal networks that got us plenty of backers, but we were also able to get a large number of fellow designers and other enthusiasts backing early because, in part, they knew we’d done our homework on the game. If you want any kind of virtuous cycle for your project, you need to really maximize your initial push, and public development is huge.

Grant: I’ve had several people ask me how we spread the word for Hocus. I took a deep breath and began explaining that it isn’t just Hocus, but the long process of becoming a part of our community and putting in my time. I’ve been an active member on the Twitter community for 5+ years. Josh has been active on Con Sim World for 10+ years. We’ve both been reading rules for publishers for a while, both AAA and tiny noobs like ourselves. We’ve tested for others, gone to conventions, had beers.

I’ve had folks say “I want to launch next month. How do I get people to check out my game?” And the reality is that you just cannot do that. Yes, sure, you might have a good enough product, enough ads, good enough art. But, you really want to launch out the gate strong. We had over 300 people support us in the first 30 hours and a lot of that is due to our social networks, developing in public, and building our relationships with countless testers, peers, and writers.

No Stretch Goals

Grant: Before we went live on Kickstarter we announced that we wouldn’t have Stretch Goals in this article. We followed that up with another article discussing the fallout from that announcement. Then, later, we announced we’d be upgrading our tuckbox to a two piece box in response to the fallout.

BoxinaBox

Josh: It was a bit of a gut-check, really. We faced what was our first uproar from the public, and we had to decide if we were going to eat the costs even for a small print run, or try and paper over people’s discontent with tuck boxes. In the end, we made the decision to try and give people the best product we could, and it was clear from the comments we were getting that most people thought that that best product had to include a two-piece box. We decided to stick to our principles of trying to make the base game as great as possible, and it seemed to pay off.

Grant: This approach to stretch goals led to a lot of terse conversations on social media and in email. You can still see the comments on our blog — Stretch Goals are a very contentious topic from both sides! Before our campaign, I was fairly convinced that we’d hit $10,000, but we’d dwindle quickly with no reason to tell your friends. I really hoped we’d hit $15,000 due to our price and art and social media outreach, but that was a low hope. It was basically the price we were willing to pay in order to act in a manner we thought best for Hyperbole Games.

Well. We funded in 27 hours and in our update following this we laid out our No Stretch Goal plans for our backers. We mentioned it already on our page, but not in a super overt, hammer blow way. We never wanted, and still don’t want, this decision to be a crusade. If you want to do Stretch Goals? Sweet. It hasn’t stopped me from backing a project and I don’t expect it to. You can read this update here.

Josh: I was holding my breath. It was totally unclear to me how important the sharing efforts of our backers were to the campaign, and furthermore, if the lack of stretch goals would hamper that sharing. It was all terra incognita for us. Would our momentum slow down? Would people tune out? What was going to happen?

Grant: The response was largely silent. People didn’t really care. A few folks said “neat, sounds good.” Every now and then someone would pop up with a comment along the lines of: “We know you aren’t doing stretch goals, and that’s cool, but…” with an idea. Some were perfectly fine (art on the inside of the box?), some weren’t really feasible (unique art for every card in the deck?). But, people were cool with it and it largely didn’t come up.

Josh: Interestingly, our pattern of backing was very unusual. I’ve looked at a lot of Kickstarter campaigns, thanks to the handy graphs at Kicktraq. Virtually every normal campaign (that is, a campaign that is raising funds to print a game that fits into the mainstream of the hobby) has a common pattern: for the first handful of days, each day is worse than the previous. Things might jitter a bit for days 3-6, but really, you’re looking at falling backers for the first week. Well, Hocus followed it for a bit – day 1 was highest (as you’d expect), with a drop off to day 2 and to day 3. That’s all normal. But then something odd happened. Day 4 was bigger. And then day 5 was bigger than that. And then day 6 was even bigger. I’d never seen the pattern before, and I checked. If anything, our lack of stretch goals might have even helped our secondary sharing. It’s hard to tell causality, of course, but our funding pattern after hitting our goal was exceptionally strong.

Grant: What’s our takeaway? Mostly, it’s fine to not do Stretch Goals if you’re clear about it, don’t make a big deal about it, and develop a full product from the start. Potential backers really chafed when we said “our game is really nice on day 1,” yet we had a tuck box. People called bullshit, to be frank. When we had 8 Spell books, a two piece box, linen cards, and a nice rule sheet from day 1, well, we had a full product.

Josh: After we responded with the two-piece box, the community seemed to really get that this was the full deal. We were holding nothing back, but we didn’t have anything to increase, either. It was honest, and people seemed to not only accept that but appreciate it.

Grant: It really comes down to value. We also introduced bonuses throughout the campaign. We didn’t anticipate these, but we scrambled and met the challenge in a way that didn’t greatly affect costs and in no way affected our schedule. These bonuses included:

  • A high resolution PNP available to backers at the $5 and greater pledge level, available immediately. Interesting note: several backers warned me not to give it away during the campaign because people would just take it and leave. The evidence I have available doesn’t indicate this really happened.
  • A wooden first player token that fits in the box.
  • 2 Joker cards.
  • Variant rules, including a drafting format.
  • High resolution blank cards for players to create their own spells.

To be honest, people seemed relatively quiet about these as well. We had approximately 400 comments in our 30 day campaign and most of those were from 5 people, two of whom were me and Josh sharing announcements and responding to folks.

Josh: Again, it’s hard to read the tea leaves here and see if those bonuses were encouraging other people to share or not. It’s tough to untangle. But, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed with the response to our bonuses. People seemed to think they were fine, they’re happy about them, but I just didn’t feel like we got an excited response. I’m still happy we did them, though.

Grant: Could we have raised more with Stretch Goals? I don’t know! Did we actually generate goodwill that will in turn pay dividends on future games? That’s impossible to know, at least for some time.

We believe in the future that, if we choose to use Kickstarter again, we have now established that Hyperbole Games doesn’t use Stretch Goals. I believe when backers receive their games, they’ll be very pleased with what their money bought them. I believe this precedent, and the hopeful success of the final version of Hocus, means we can now continue to act in this manner. For future pre-orders or Kickstarters, I imagine we’ll put more planning into bonuses to add, but any we do add will be fun trinkets, nothing core.

The Kickstarter revolution isn’t coming, but we are very comfortable with our decisions and really the lack of noticeable effect it had on our performance.

Josh: That unusual funding pattern makes me think that our lack of stretch goals didn’t really hurt us at all. It’s impossible to really prove, but comparing our campaign to comparable games (similar price points, component counts, etc) shows that we had a very strong performance during the periods in the campaign that you would have anticipated stretch goals helping out. I’m very content with the notion that this was the right strategy for us.

Page Layout

Josh: We sweated the details on the page before launch. And by we, I mostly mean Grant. He kept going over, and over, and over the copy. I contributed when I could, and we spent a long time working on it. And I’m really happy with where we ended up. There’s not much I would change. The placements of our quotes were great, the featuring of previews was great, it had clear information about what we wanted to have, and we didn’t have to answer too many backer questions about stuff covered on the page. I was especially pleased at how simple the offering is.

There are two things that I wish we had done differently. First, the text on the backer levels wasn’t perfect. And you can’t modify those after people use them! We should have spent more time thinking about them. Specifically, they absolutely should have listed add-on information right on the backer level, so that that information was right in front of the backer when they were putting in payment information.

Grant: For example:

Pledge $15 or More

1 Copy of Hocus. Backer pays shipping.

US backers can add additional copies for only $13 apiece and no increase in shipping.

Shipping Fees:

  • US: Free Shipping
  • Canada: $7
  • Rest of World: $12

Josh: Second, I wish we had done a few examples of costs in the main page, telling people how much different things would cost. I think it would have eased a bit of confusion and perhaps encouraged a few upgrades.

Grant: We did this on almost every update, but something in the Add Ons that said:

“If you are a US backer and want 3 copies of the game, back at the $15 level [with an image of that level] and pledge $41.” Basically, a guided walk through.

I had countless backers tell me “your page was so well laid out! All the information was there!” Yet, I had many other backers ask where they could find the PNP, or whether there were add ons they could support, and so forth. Ultimately, I think there are a few problems:

The Kickstarter layout is literally a single page with a scroll bar. It’s just a row of information. “Below the fold” basically allows for zero information, so backers must scroll if they want to learn anything.

The ecosystem of Kickstarter has formed such that a million pieces of information are required. I think this is largely good and it puts a burden on publishers who wish to be successful to do the legwork. But, most pages include written description, component listing, press information (previews/reviews/interviews), how to play videos, stretch goal information, how money will be spent information, the team, and more.

Extra clicks in games and web design and apps are generally a “no no.” The fewer clicks a customer must use to reach their destination, the better. A Kickstarter page is just a scroll, so you don’t need to go through any menus. However, I’m very curious if the option to create tabs or pages within your page would improve things. Something like this:

Untitled drawing

Each of these “tabs” would have a title and image, set by us, the creator. We could do no tabs, 3 tabs, 50 tabs, whatever. Ultimately, it would give backers a very clear way to see what was going on in small chunks. I bet superior web designers could really do wonders here.

Josh: You know, as long as we’re spitballing stuff that Kickstarter should do (they won’t), it would be super cool if backers saw a different page than non-backers. Backers could see a simplified page with prominent links to PnP stuff, rules, backer-only content, all that groovy stuff. I dunno. Maybe I’m dumb.

Grant: That’s actually a fantastic idea! I’d also love a better way to send different backers different content.

The Price

Grant: Josh and I were of one mind for almost everything throughout development of the design and planning for Hocus. Discussion on the price is probably the biggest debate we had, and at times it really had me in knots. I’m not really a people pleaser, but I really cherish my relationship with Josh and I didn’t want anything to come between it. This was one of those cases where, unlike everything else we debated, it ultimately came down to my opinion versus his.

For a long time our plan was for Hocus to have an MSRP of $15 and be put on KS for about $12. We wanted to move a lot of copies and be a very easy decision for people who don’t know Hyperbole Games or Hocus. We aren’t established so we need to be an easy sell.

We put together some business models and everything seemed to check out. We went about our work. As I spoke to peers and publishers about our plans, all of them looked aghast when I told them our price. After a while, this really concerned me. We discussed it and felt that $12 was still right. But, it was driving me crazy and I poked around our business model. It turns out we had a few omissions and were missing some things. We also spent more on art than I think we originally intended, at least in our $15 MSRP mindset, and the numbers no longer lined up. At least, not according to my assumptions and concerns. We also needed to be far more successful, again, according to my model, in order to break even.

I tend to be a conservative, plan for the worst, hope for the best kinda guy when it comes to business planning. Josh still believed that we would move significantly more copies at a lower price point and the benefits of additional copies would pay greater dividends long term.

Ultimately, neither of us were able to convince each other and I made the decision to increase our KS price to $15. I’m glad it didn’t bite us — we did fine. But, seeing how well we did at $15, would we have sold 1000 more copies at $12? I don’t know, and there’s no way to prove it. Decisions like this are terrifying when it’s your first go and you have nothing to base it on.

Josh: Essentially, this is another unknowable here. What does the demand curve look like for games? How can we explore it? What happens at different price levels? What about post-campaign stuff? There’s a lot of these things that are hard to plan for without knowing what level you’re going to end up at ahead of time, and there are a lot of ways to set pricing for different channels. I think that Grant and I had different internal projections, different pictures of what probabilities there were, and it led us to different conclusions about pricing strategy.

Ultimately, Grant seemed to feel more strongly about his position than I did about mine, and I didn’t think the price point we selected would be actively harmful, so I decided to give ground here. It’s impossible to really know who got it right, but I’m comfortable with the decision making process. And I think it was a good thing to have worked through, as a conflict we were able to sort out.

Grant: A few things will allow us to lower our prices in the future. Right now, Hocus is really our only revenue source, so it was tough to assign all costs to it. But, next year we will have a few revenue sources, including Hocus (KS and post-KS), hopefully my design signed with Portal, and a few other things I cannot yet discuss. This will give us some breathing room and we’ll hopefully better meet in the middle.

Thank You Notes

Grant: I’ve always made fun of the notes Kickstarter companies send to every backer. I’m cynical and grumpy and I always thought “pssh, just a copy and paste.” But, because it seemed like a good thing to do, I started writing notes to all of our backers, starting day one. I tried to type a personal note to people I knew, but if I didn’t know you, the gist of the message was:

Good <time of day> <first name of backer>!

Thank you so much for backing Hocus. We really appreciate it! Do you have any questions I can answer for you at this time?”

The overwhelming number of people didn’t say anything, but I did receive quite a few messages back, including:

  • No, everything looks great, thanks!
  • How do I add extra copies?
  • How do I get that wooden box?
  • Woah, do you email every backer? Wow!
  • Hi I cannot wait to play!

Ultimately, the thank you note was a handshake. It was a warm greeting. It told backers, “hey, we’re available and here for you. Ask away!” It got some people out of their shells and was the first way I was able to demonstrate that we care about our customers. If you keep up with these and do them daily? They aren’t that much of a hassle. Beyond your first and last days, and assuming you aren’t Reaper Minis, you should be able to keep up with 20-30 backers per day.

Do the thank you letters. They make a difference.

Josh: This might be the thing I’m most jealous about on the campaign. I wish I got to do these!

Grant: Every day a percentage of these customers would respond with the kindest things about how much they enjoyed the PNP or appreciated how we were doing things. It was really nice.

International Backers

Grant: If anything we did is a “what went wrong,” it was our assumptions regarding support from international customers. In short, we woefully underestimated the amount of support we’d have for international backers. I’ll comb through the numbers to provide something more accurate in the future once we release surveys, but if I had to guess, I’d say 20% of our backers are international, stemming primarily from Canada, the UK, and Australia. No surprise really that English speaking countries made up the majority! I was surprised at how many Norwegians backed us — that was really cool.

After only a few days we recognized that our assumptions were off and began investigating solutions. The problem, quite frankly, is that many of the solutions are great for publishers with far greater scale in operations and more stable long term plans. Hocus is our only game. Landfall will not be a traditional title (spoilers) and Project Cow Tools won’t be ready until the end of 2016 IF we meet our very aggressive goals. Plus, me and Josh have personal, non-Hyperbole projects in the works.

In short, it’s difficult to invest in a proper international infrastructure with only Hocus, and really, only our Kicktarter backers to justify it.

Josh kept asking: even if we knew Hocus would do better with international backers, would it have changed our decisions? And the reality is…not really? We obtained quotes from many companies and did quite a bit of investigation, and many of them were just a lot more trouble than our scale could justify at this time.

Josh: Hindsight is only helpful to the extent that you can identify major decisions you would have done differently. And, I think, in the end, we would have gone with what we did. We got pretty far into investigating a different fulfillment method, one we thought would save both us and our backers money, until we got in touch with one of those international backers and were disabused of the notion, forcefully. I’m still investigating fulfillment options, but in the end, I think we’re going to end up back in the same place.

Grant: One thing occurred to me in the middle of our campaign: companies like Czech Games Edition and Portal Games have been around for 10+ years. They have many award winning, top selling games. They’ve done very well. However, up until very recently, both of them worked with publishers in other countries for international versions. Everything we’re doing with Hyperbole is focused on slow, reasonable, long term growth. Right now, we think we are good game designers and developers. We think we are good at art production. We hope to soon prove ourselves as competent sellers and businessmen. I don’t think we can really add international sellers to that just quite yet.

Our plan is to seek international partners to create domestic versions for other territories, with proper translation, packaging, you name it, to suit the territory. This is a long term plan, and one in which we have ZERO experience. But, we have some irons in the fire and we’ll see.

Were we EU friendly, we would have absolutely had more international support. We also would have had happier backers as they wouldn’t be paying $27 for a copy of Hocus (for which we’re eating about $6 per copy as is). But, and time may very well prove us wrong, though it might have been the right decision for Hocus, it would have been the wrong one for Hyperbole.

Josh: I’m not sure if we did it perfectly. But, I’m comfortable saying we didn’t do it wrong. This was the low risk option, and that’s a good thing for a first time project. I wish we could have offered our international backers a better deal, but this is not a terrible one, and it’s just a simple, honest way to go about things. They can go onto USPS and check the postage rates themselves, and can see we’re not ripping them off. It fits with our lack of stretch goals: we’re doing our best, we’re trying to do right by our backers, and we’ll just lay thing out forthrightly and honestly.

Logistics Preparation

Grant: We tried to “dot every I” and “cross every T” before beginning our campaign. Mostly, we didn’t want to lose our shirts from a really stupid oversight. We were able to do this because we gave ourselves about 8 months to balance our final mechanisms, prepare our press outreach, produce art, and work on our campaign. The obvious result is that we weren’t caught off guard by anything. The subtle result is that we had really good answers for questions that emerged.

That sounds smug and arrogant, but it’s true. We were ready.

Josh: We’re both planners. And that’s good – we don’t need to balance that out with an impulsive person! I’ll occasionally go off the reservation on peripheral stuff, but on the core things, we have very matched approaches: list everything out and knock it all down. Early.

Grant: When folks had suggestions that weren’t feasible, we could succinctly and instantly state why. When people wanted to know why our fulfillment date was in February 2016, we had a clear answer. When we decided to investigate more international fulfillment options, we were able to dive in head first as we weren’t busy catching up on other things.

Often times, you’ll hear Kickstarter campaign runners note how busy they are and how exhausted they are. Truth is, I was exhausted during the campaign, but more from my day job and preparing for my wedding. I can honestly say the Hocus campaign didn’t keep me up any later at night. Now, time I’d normally spend on design was instead spent on Kickstarter, but that was 1-2 hours every night, maximum. Some days it was no time at all.

Josh: I had even less to do! Yes, I’ve been investigating fulfillment options, reading comments, fiddling with ads, and prepping files for production behind the scenes, but that’s not really any different from stuff I might be doing otherwise. I was sleeping soundly with how well Hocus did.

Grant: You owe it to yourself, your normal life, your project, and your sanity to be prepared and do your homework ahead of time. Create a very thorough checklist. Leave no stone unturned. Give yourself months to complete the checklist thoroughly and properly. It really pays off.

I’ve had many people email me for Kickstarter advice since we proved to be successful. They often ask the most basic day 1 questions, followed by “we’re hoping to launch our Kickstarter next month.” Don’t rush into things! Do your homework ahead of time. This is one of the few places where learning on the job is a terrible idea.

Final Art and Graphics

Josh: Maybe more than any one single factor, our professional presentation on the game drove our success. We spent a lot of time thinking about art direction, spent plenty of time finding a great illustrator in Tiffany, and made sure we reserved time with Adam, our preferred graphic designer. All in service of making sure our game was striking and looked great out of the gate. We were able to fund those costs out of pocket before the campaign, and it made a huge difference in our credibility. We’re new publishers. Everything we can do to reassure backers that we’re competent and going to make a great game was going to be worth it. Obviously, not everybody can afford to pay for their artwork up front. But having at least some final graphic assets right out of the gate makes just an enormous difference.

Grant: It helped that we only had a few illustrations for the game. Don’t create a game with 65 unique illustrations for your first title!

We had some funny trials finding an artist before Tiffany. We found one whose work was strikingly distinct and just…edgy. Unfortunately, we had some communication snafus and we hit a wall in our progress. Eventually we had to cut the cord and renew our search.

I enquired for great artists with Brett Bean. Brett is one of my favorite illustrators alive and his work was so instrumental in Farmageddon’s success. He recommended two, one of whom was Tiffany, and we reached out to her. Fortunately, at the time we met her, Tiffany was contracting for Electronic Arts in the same building where I work. We were able to meet at Starbucks for a coffee to meet each other and discuss things.

I’ve written about art before, but there are some really key things and I think we did well at them.

  • Know what you want! We had a Pinterest Board full of imagery. We could speak clearly about every card. We had a very clear vision.
  • Know your components. Ours were locked. Size, number, everything.
  • Set parameters! We wanted Tiffany to work within our space, but as she saw fit. We wanted her to craft something unique, not just do a police sketch of what we had in mind. We gave her a world, a theater, an idea, and we gave her time to create.
  • Hire great people! Adam is an EXPERT at box design and print layout. Just look at our box! Look at it! He’s also an artist as well, which is how we made our card backs just explode with detail and life. He enhanced all of Tiffany’s illustrations.
  • Pay your people. Fairly. And on time.
  • Be responsive. When your artist comes to you, respond ASAP so they are not wasting time. Good artists are busy!

I think, overall, our art process went incredibly well. I think our output stands toe to toe with almost any game on the market. And I have no doubt that it benefitted us, being finished, for the campaign.

Now, one key thing to note is that Hocus actually has a very low number of illustrations. If we had a game with 54 unique illustrations? I’m not sure we would have done ALL of them ahead of time. That would have been a significant investment. But, maybe we would have? I’m not sure. This is one of those cases where having all art finished made sense for us, but it might not for games with more art than we have.

The Pre-Campaign Hotness

Grant: We weren’t sure when to try to hit the Hotness with a thumb drive. We decided to do it about 2 weeks before our campaign when our box cover was ready and we had examples of every card with final art. We uploaded our cover and for 2 days, over the course of about 5-6 Tweets, I asked people for their thumbs. Then, the quality of our art and momentum took over.

The result is about 100+ thumbs for our cover image, and a presence on the Hotness for a week. That was really awesome! Shortly after us, the Hotness was dominated by 1 or 2 game contests running and everyone else  was quickly trounced. Our timing was fortuitous, but obviously that’s not something anyone can plan for.

Being on the Hotness was really great for us. I wrote about it in depth here, but the gist is that we saw a huge uptick in PNP downloads, more social media followers on Facebook and Twitter, several newsletter signups, and a lot of chatter around Hocus. We had a very strong launch for our campaign: 347 backers in our first 48 hours! I think a lot of that has to do with our presence on the Hotness.

Conclusion? Try to hit the Hotness a little before your Kickstarter launch. Not too soon, and not during. The real benefit is to bolster your launch momentum, which is so insanely crucial. If you have a weak initial 48 hours, by the time you hit the doldrums on day 3, you won’t have anyone to spread the word organically.

Josh: I think of a campaign taking place in several stages. First, it’s up to your personal social network. Your friends, coworkers, family – the people who will just jump in right away. That sets up a crucial second wave, which is all those folks sharing your campaign on their social networks. The friends-of-friends. Those two waves make up the bulk of your day 1 and day 2 backers, and the size of those waves is huge. The biggest reason? It keeps you high in the Kickstarter search results, which drives a surprising amount of traffic. That leads to the big third wave, which is ripples of shares, organic discovery on KS, and other people wandering in.

So, a pre-campaign Hotness drive, or more broadly, awareness drive, is crucial in increasing the size of that first wave. The more you can make people aware of things and prime them to back on day one, the more you’ll see a positive feedback loop of activity and the more you’ll roll at the beginning.

Ads and Previews

Josh: Grant took point on previews, and I sort of took point on advertising. For my day job, I’m an exec at a company that gets a significant amount of revenue from ads, so I’m familiar with how these things work, I know the lingo, and I felt comfortable with the whole exercise. For the previews, our strategy was to identify a small number of folks that we thought would dig the game, reach out to them early, and try to get a few really high-quality previews we could feature on the page. We don’t really think having a giant pile of previews helps anybody, and it would just generate a bunch of work for us in lining them up. Having some on our KS page from third parties is important for credibility, so we tried to stay focused and concentrate on quality.

I think that part of our strategy worked great. The previews we got were fantastic, they really told potential backers what the game was about, and we were pleased to feature them on our page and really give some space to things. I’m pleased with how it worked out. We wanted to give people enough information that the price point and art would carry the day.

For the advertising side, we honestly didn’t put a ton of thought into where we’d put ads before the campaign rolled out. We knew BGG was the right place to put most of our ad spend, and so that’s what we did. I reached out to Chad Krizan to get the sell sheet in February, and we decided that we wanted to go for the front page takeover. That required a total ad spend of $700, which was close to what I’d mentally budgeted for promotion, so that was kind of that. For timing, we wanted that takeover to hit towards the end of the campaign, to reinforce the 48-hour reminder and try for a really big finish to the campaign. You get a lot of virtuous cycle effects from these sorts of things, so timing two of our biggest promotional things to go off at the same time seemed like a good idea. Because I reached out to Chad in February, we basically had our choice of days we could pick for a takeover, and the dates of our KS were set: avoiding Origins and Gen Con, nestling right into the middle, with a BGG takeover towards the end of the campaign. As with so many things, planning ahead and lining things up way ahead of time pays off.

As with the previews, I’m pleased with how things worked out. The ad spend on BGG was productive, with clicks to our Kickstarter page costing us about $.27 each. We had a conversion rate of about 8.5% across all visits to our page (which is fantastic!), so that $700 ad spend generated somewhere in the neighborhood of $4100 in extra revenue. Knowing that, we should have upped our ad spend! Now, of course, some of those people might have found us through another avenue without the ads, or they used the ads as a reminder, so the real profit there is likely lower. It’s still impressive.

Interestingly, the takeover banner was about the same cost per click as the other ads we bought on BGG – a higher clickthrough rate, but they’re also more expensive per impression. However, the takeover allowed us to concentrate ad impressions on that day, to try and maximize the closing finish. And it worked, as we nearly beat our day 1 numbers on the second to last day of the campaign.

I also experimented with Twitter ads during the campaign, just on a small scale, with a $100 ad spend. Those ads were timed to bolster a weekend, to try and not let our position on Kickstarter searches decay too much. Those ads, targeted at an audience with “board games” interests, cost about $1.50 per click, and probably converted only three folks (as best I can tell), so that wasn’t a great avenue for us. Was it the timing of the ads? The content? The platform? Hard to say, really, but it’s an area I’d like to explore more.

For regrets, the biggest single thing I regret not doing for this campaign was having a deeper ad strategy. I should have had more analytics hooked up, and I should have experimented with more types of ads on other platforms and I should have had better tracking of them. I don’t think our ad strategy was unsuccessful – we put the vast bulk of our ad dollars in a very sensible place – but I’m not sure we learned that much to fuel future efforts in this kind of area. But I do highly recommend BGG ads, and Chad is fantastic to work with.

Below, you can see what our referrer dashboard looks like. You can see the sources of a lot of our traffic, and how much of it is from parts of the Kickstarter platform (the things in green). There probably aren’t that many campaigns where Twitter is outdoing Facebook, but that’s where our social presence mostly is.

Dashboard

Grant: Uh, what Josh said. For previews, I chose a few sites and content creators whose work I really enjoyed and with whom I had a relationship. I reached out to them very early with the simple email of:

Hi, We’re doing a KS for Hocus in June. I’d love to send you a copy in June and a final copy when it’s ready. We’d love you to write a preview. Are you interested?

Due to the fact we reached out so early to most and had a solid game and a good relationship, almost all of them accepted. I heard many backers tell us that they heard us via On Board Games, or watched Jon Cox’s amazing video preview on our page, and so forth. As Josh said, this content aided our credibility and just fleshed out our presentation. I’m so happy with the partners we chose.

Hustle – Mid-Campaign push to “go tell everyone go go go go go!”

Josh: We didn’t spend a lot of time during the campaign hustling for coverage, or prodding our backers into sharing. We both mentioned the campaign pretty often on Twitter, but that’s because we talk about most stuff on Twitter. I think we might have left some money on the table here, but cajoling your backers into becoming your salespeople comes at a relationship cost. We were more than happy to just have people as customers. If they want to help, great! But putting their money on the line to help us produce the game is fantastic.

Again, it’s hard to say how much this stance hurt us. But if we’re trying to build a real business here, we’ll be able to reach people post-campaign at retail, and we didn’t need to turn into hucksters to make this thing happen. And that made us both happy.

Now, we did stay in touch with our customers with updates. But we tried to make those interesting, with plenty of design notes and history of the game in them, along with some miscellaneous surprises for folks. We didn’t plan out a schedule of those ahead of time, and perhaps we could have planned things a bit better, but we only really got one complaint about them, so I think we did fine.

Grant: That complaint was about frequency as well, so take that as you will. We wrote 14 updates in 30 days. That’s not too bad.

There are a lot of typical, obvious things we could have done to hustle more, including:

  • Thumb this photo
  • FB sharing goals
  • Twitter sharing goals
  • Generally just telling people to tell others

It’s not that doing these things is bad, but it sometimes feels exhausting as a consumer. I feel like promotion is our job, right? We tried to really have our PR elements lined up ahead of time, including several previews on Jon Gets Games, Geek Dad, and I Slay the Dragon. We have interviews with podcasts like Who, What, Why? and On Board Games Crowdfunding Edition. We also mailed copies to dozens of testers and some prominent folks. Some turned into coverage for us, some didn’t.

But, we wanted to reach out to our fans on a one-on-one basis and provide them with interesting development commentary using our updates. It doesn’t seem like our lack of hustling hurt us too much. Either Kickstarter sent sufficient people our way, or our extra copy deal led to friends talking to buddy up on a pledge, or folks just told others or shared the PNP.

I don’t think we’re natural salespeople. I’m a terrible networker. I sorta naively hope the work speaks for itself, which I realize is foolish, but we lucked out in this case. It’s something we should re-examine next time.

Wording and the Nitpickers

Josh: One thing about having a pretty big early set of backers is that we were able to get a fair number of eyeballs on our PnPs and our rules. That’s fantastic! We had many backers reach out to us to tell us they’d played the PnP and were backing the project as a consequence. There’s no possible message people could tell us that makes us happier by the way. One thing that all these backers did was look through what we’d put up. We didn’t get much in the way of balance suggestions, just a couple comments. But we got an absolute ton of wording suggestions and nitpicks.

It’s easy to get a bit annoyed by that type of feedback. You immediately get a bit defensive, thinking that your wording is fine. However, settling down, we could clearly see that there were ways to improve our wording, and we tried to take every bit of textual input we got. We couldn’t quite take all of it, but having those PnPs ready to go at the start of the campaign has materially improved the wording in our rules and cards.

Grant: Key piece of advice: If you use a verb, never use another verb. We found that we used “Play,” “Place,” and “Add” interchangeably. And, it’s fine. It doesn’t hurt player understanding and it didn’t really bring forth rules lawyers. But, making it all a single term means that it reduces friction by 1% more. We had a ton of nitpicks like this and it can be trying, but it’s important to do. I’m so thankful we had hundreds of eyes on our final final game and I hope we can get this on our next game even sooner. It was invaluable.

Something we REALLY hope results from our KS and relationship is more testers. That would be worth its weight in gold. Gold I tells ya.

Interesting Tactics of Note

Grant: A tactic we observed to be very successful for other campaigns is where you have a super low level entry price point, say $15. You then have a Deluxe Price Point, that is the entry level, plus a minor expansion, plus Stretch Goals, for, say, $25.

What seems to happen is that people get their foot in the door via ads, social media, or what have you with $15 in mind. They make the decision to buy at that point, but then see the $25 price point. In many cases, folks would back at the $25 level, as they already decided at the $15 point, but wanted the major offering.

Very fascinating! I’m not sure it’s something we’d do, but it seemed to work very well for the few we saw do this during our campaign.

Things People Liked

Grant: The idea for this section came from Steve Caires. It feels a little braggy, but it will also be useful, hopefully, in that you can see the things people appreciated. How should you look at this? These are the things people liked enough to comment on.

  • How to Play Video: Many backers told me they watched this and backed the game as a result. I only spent about 5 hours making it, so the level of effort was fully compensated by the support and appreciation.
  • Thank You Letters: Everyone who responded seemed to note that they appreciated these.
  • The Game: Many many people played our PNP and really liked it. That’s…good! And expected. We haven’t spent 18 months for nothing.
  • Page Layout: When asked if they had questions, people would often respond “Nope! Page was crystal clear.”
  • Responsiveness: We tried to respond to every comment, message, and email before going to sleep every night. Folks commented frequently on how responsive we were.

The Spam

Grant: One thing I was somewhat expecting before we launched was to receive messages from people. Holy billy. Basically the second you fund, or look like you’ll fund, you will receive daily messages from:

  • “Companies” offering their promotional services. These all had a mega scam vibe.
  • Manufacturing companies seeking your business. They will email you repeatedly until you actually respond and tell them no. This is maddening, by the way. Don’t shout at people like they are a wall!
  • People seeking Kickstarter advice. This is fine, actually. I’ve asked so many people things in the past. I need to pay it forward.
  • People who want you to offer their mailing list a special deal so they recommend your project to their mailing list.
  • Other Kickstarter campaign runners seeking a co-promotion deal.

Let’s discuss this last one further. The intent, I think, is good and honest. Someone wants you to mention their campaign in an update. In exchange, they will mention your campaign. All parties benefit, more backers move around.

Right? I immediately developed a policy of rejecting all of them, because it was easier to do this uniformly instead of picking some versus others. This was actually a very easy decision in every case except for one. The reality is that I knew nothing about any of these games. I hadn’t played them or read their rules. I also didn’t know the publishers or project owners. Finally, it just felt odd. I see people complaining about Kickstarter projects promoting their new games months or even years later. I’ve received messages from people long after the initial project and as a consumer it’s like, okay, I get it. But, I’m not on your newsletter — leave me alone!

In our updates, we felt it best to talk about Hocus. That’s why people were there, right?

Josh: We’re putting a lot of effort to build trust with our backers, our customers. Our entirely strategy is predicated on building a long-term relationship with folks, and having them recognize that Hyperbole Games stands for quality. Cross-promoting projects we don’t know can chip away at that trust, even if it’s small. We weren’t about to cross against our strategy for this, even if it might have boosted our campaign.

Grant: Now, we did promote Paradox in our 10th Update. They didn’t ask us to promote their game, though they promoted Hocus when announcing that Adam McIver was working with them. I’ve played Paradox a few times and really like it. I was a day 1 backer for their game. I know Brian, Paul, and Randy. I felt comfortable speaking on their behalf and that of the game’s. I wanted to share it regardless, but also, I wanted to reciprocate their kind deed.

I know some people have done this very successfully and it seems to work, honestly. Apotheca, which has 2,600 backers and raised $112,000 featured co-promotion with about 5 different games. Their backers didn’t seem to mind, and Andrew clearly picked his partners carefully.

I don’t see myself changing this policy. It seems simplest to simply decline, politely, invitations to do this. In some cases I have no doubt Hocus would have benefited, but I really wanted to ensure that my recommendations were backed by knowledge and I just wasn’t able to do that, except with Paradox.

Josh: It’s a stance that’s easy for me to take as well. Our campaign is about Hocus, Hyperbole, and our customers. Anything that might disrupt that is something we’re going to put aside. Simple.

Grant: We’ll need to adhere to this even when we have another game. We shouldn’t bug previous backers with our next game. I’ve seen folks complain about it on Twitter and we’ll need to not abuse our Hocus backers’ trust.

Cancellations

Grant: At the start of the campaign I knew we’d have cancellations. I thought it would be 5-10 over the course of the campaign. In reality, we had 94 people cancel their pledge to Hocus, an average of 3 per day. With the exception of 2 people, nobody told me why they cancelled and I never followed up with any of them or asked why. It didn’t seem appropriate.

My mature brain thought: they have read more into the game and are no longer interested. Or, they want to spend their budget elsewhere. Or, they just changed their mind.

My lizard brain thought: OH MY GOD WHY ARE THEY CANCELLING WHAT DID I DO OR SAY WHY!!!???

I emailed some peers, checked in, and they all basically confirmed my mature brain’s sentiments. The two people who told me about their cancellation? Both had overspent for the month. It’s just one of those things that’s tough to bear, really. It feels like getting dumped, but more than anything, you want to know why.

Josh: I’m able to deal with this with more equanimity. I don’t see the cancellations, I just get to hear Grant’s gnashing of teeth. Me, I’ve only ever cancelled one KS that I can think of, but I can get why people might do it. I suspect most of them are just about budget. Seems reasonable to me.

Grant: I think that as Kickstarter grows in popularity and it becomes more common, you’ll see more people who just pop around projects. All of us are around for 30 days and they basically have tokens “in the arcade” that they can spend on anything.

This is one of those “problems” for which I don’t think there is a solution. We wouldn’t change our conduct, and there never seemed to be a correlation between any of our actions and a cancellation. We almost always received a cancellation following an update, probably because someone already considering doing so was reminded. But, otherwise, they just…happened.

My advice? Just prepare for it. Have a friend to whine to privately. I had Josh. Find your Josh?

Josh: Because it doesn’t bother me, I was able to just be philosophical about it. I recommend inventing ever more ludicrous reasons why people are cancelling.

The Video

Grant: We are not video makers. It just isn’t our skill set. When considering our budget spend on things like ads and preview copies and such, we felt like BGG ads were more important than paying someone for a really slick video. You only have so many bullets to spend and we hoped that a video preview, like the incredible one from Jonathan Cox, or our own how to play videos, would give people a little more meat.

Our video was very humble. It was a smidge over a minute in 4 cuts – intro screen, me talking, me talking some more after I forgot a line, and an exit screen. We simply laid out our pitch and price and let the rest of the page do the talking. We heard no complaints on our video, and I think our stats are pretty good!

We had 17,970 video plays, though you need to remember Kickstarter had AutoPlay for much of our campaign. The important stat is that we had 43.95% video completion. I’ll take it!

If you can make a video like Apotheca’s and it fits in your budget? By all means, do it. It’ll probably help you go viral and it really adds another layer of professionalism. But, if you’re like us, keep it simple, keep it low cost, and just let it do its job.

Do we use Kickstarter again?

Josh: Maybe? One of the biggest surprises to me is how many backers were driven directly by the Kickstarter platform. Obviously, we believed in its ability to get us more attention and folks on board with the project, but there were a lot more people finding us by browsing than I thought there would be. It’s been an impressive enough result that I think we’ll have to weigh using Kickstarter again pretty seriously. Obviously, we’d love to have a robust enough presence and strong enough mailing list to be able to support a pre-order system that works without giving up 10% of our revenue to Kickstarter.

Whether we use Kickstarter going forward will depend on a few things. It’ll depend on the performance of Hocus beyond the first shipment. It’ll depend on how much our presence in the market grows. It’ll depend on the size of our mailing list. And, most of all, it’ll depend on the specific game.

The next product of Hyperbole Games is probably Landfall, which is not going to go on Kickstarter, because it’s going to be a small printing where we need all the margin we can get. I think we’ll have no difficulty selling it out through non-Kickstarter methods. The game after that, though, might be several things. If it’s Project Cow Tools, which it might be, that’s a Kickstarter possibility. It’s a game we hope will have a fairly broad audience, and we’d like to take it to as many people as Hocus. That means we might really want to get the increased reach that Kickstarter provides, even though it costs us 10% of our revenue. The success with Hocus has been big enough that I think we would be foolish to ignore Kickstarter as at least a possible avenue going forward.

Grant: Josh really nailed my thoughts. We used Kickstarter for Hocus because we needed to prove demand in order to enter production. We were willing to pay them 10% to help us sell far more copies than we could have on our site and help us grow our reach beyond our social network.

In the past, Kickstarter didn’t drive much browsing traffic. Now, it absolutely does! Funny how things change. We really hope we have many people join our newsletter, as that is one of the most valuable tools for a publisher.

Landfall is going to be a small, boutique, weird printing and the 10% cut on KS would really affect our ability to make it. But, Cow Tools will be a bigger game than Hocus. It’ll be a bigger risk. If KS gets us 500-1000 more early customers than we can do just through our own site? It’s tough to ignore that.

We’ll really need to see where we are in a year from now. How will Hocus sell?

My biggest fear before Hocus launched was that our Stretch Goal plan would fail and we’d have to wrestle with very angry and frustrated customers on the platform. That didn’t happen and many of my Kickstarter fears have dissipated.

We’ll really have to see.

If you have any questions, comment below or email us!

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

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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

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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

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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?