Step 16: Elevator Pitch

Before you go to a publisher with your new board game baby, you should spend some time on your Elevator Pitch.  An Elevator Pitch is a 30 seconds or less description of your game.  Sounds easy, but you can easily get tongue-tied and forget some important aspects of your game if you just wing it. If you created a Sales Sheet that we described in Step 14, then you should have a lot of your Elevator Pitch ready.

So what should be included in an Elevator Pitch?

Name of the Game: Hopefully the name of your game is already interesting and makes a publisher want to know more.

Type of Game: Is it a party game or a strategy game?  Whatever it is, it should be mentioned immediately so they know right off the bat what you’re talking about.

Type of game play: Does your game have tile laying, resource management, worker placement etc…? Use the industry terms to describe your game.

How many players: Pretty simple – but it’s important to a publisher to know if your game is only a 2 player game or can reach the magical 5 or 6 player target that some publisher want.

Why your game is different: Here’s your opportunity to dazzle the publisher with why your game needs to be published.  What makes it different?  Why should the publisher publish this game?  Steer clear of saying things like “everyone who has played this has loved it” as publishers know that the majority of your playtesters are probably your friends and family.  Even if they’re not, don’t waste your precious 30 seconds with empty praise that means nothing to a publisher.

Leave them wanting more: Give them a tease that will intrigue them to know more about the game – and possibly a playtest.

That’s about all the time you’d have!  So let’s see an example of what this would look like.  Here’s an Elevator Pitch for one of our upcoming games called Akrotiri:

Akrotiri is a Euro-style strategy game that has tile placement, move and deliver and a clever treasure finding mechanic.  It’s a game for 2-5 players where each player is an explorer searching for lost temples in the Mediterranean.   They ship resources back to Akrotiri from the islands they are creating by the tile placement in an effort to raise enough money to fund expeditions to find temples.  How they find temples is based on a new and interesting mechanic that I’d like to show you if you have more time.

The goal would be to ensure that this doesn’t sound dry and robotic – like you memorized it.  You have to add your own personality to it when you say it.  That said, saying this 3-5 times to yourself (out loud!) before you meet a publisher will help when you have to give the spiel for real!  Combine a well practiced Elevator Pitch with a professional looking Sales Sheet and you’re definitely going to stand out from the crowd!

Next up we’ll be talking about the two ways you can get in touch with a publisher: in person or online.

-Jay Cormier

The elevator pitch – that magical 30 seconds in which the decision maker is trapped and at the mercy of the hungry game designer.

This is make or break time, bucko.

Do you have what it takes?

At any game convention where publishers are around, always have copies of your sell sheets handy, or a business card at the very least. If you can carry your prototype with you at all times without looking like you’re headed out on safari, do so! And have your pitch ready to roll.

If there’s time – and I know 30 seconds isn’t long – you can also add in bits about:

Theme – as inconsequential as some designers thing theme may be, it (plus the cover art) is a prime force in moving product off shelves. At the end of the day, that is what publishers want to do. So if you’ve got an interesting theme, sell it.

Components – some companies are in the hunt for specific games that use specific components – and conversely, some are avoiding them. So being upfront that the game is a card game or uses electronics may have some bearing to prospective publishers.

Also:

Know Your Audience – When you’re pitching, if you know a bit about who you’re pitching to it can go a long way. There are companies that expressly state things like: No CCGs. No Dungeon Crawlers. No Miniature Games. It pays not to waste their time with your game about exploring dungeons that uses a collectabile miniature system with optional card expansions because the next time you *do* have a product they might want, you won’t be “that guy”.

Let them know this isn’t just a vapourspiel – If you have a prototype ready to play, let them know that you would love to play it with them later at the convention or send it to them sometime. Get their business card or contact information so you can get their mailing address if they will accept your prototype.

Many companies will not look at unsolicited prototypes, so don’t just send stuff with the expectation that it’ll get looked at. You will most likely end up sorely disappointed. Games are kind of like vampires – the publisher has to agree to let a prototype in the door.

Your job in the elevator pitch is to ensure that your game has the highest probability of being invited to the ball. The elevator pitch is really make or break time. It is an opportunity that you cannot afford to waste. Jay and I often talk about making the most of an opportunity by being prepared. If you follow the steps above, have your pitch, sell sheets, and prototypes ready to go you will be prepared.

So, press “up”, step inside and make your own luck!

-Sen-Foong Lim

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Final Box Art for Belfort!

This just in – here’s Josh Cappel’s final art for the box for Belfort.  I probably sound like a broken record but this is just amazing!

 

When you are trying to get a game published you go through some anxious phases.  Phase 1 is when you submit a game and you’re anxious to hear back from the publisher.  Phase 2 is when a publisher wants to publish your game and then you’re anxious to see if they want to change the game a ton or not (“Love the game – but can we make it about ponies making rainbows?”).  Phase 3 is when you’re waiting to see the first art for the game.  If the art sucks then for the rest of this game’s existence you’d bring it out and say, “yeah, don’t look at the art – the game is awesome though.”

Fortunately we’ve made it successfully through each of these phases!  I think the next phase is waiting to see the actual physical product and see if the components are top quality.  Then the next phase is sales!

But for now – we are extremely happy with where we’re at!

Belfort box art

-Jay Cormier

Step 15: Rules for making Rules

Ok we’ve procrastinated long enough, now it’s time to actually write the rules for your game.  What’s that, you say?  Shouldn’t the rules be one of the first things you write?  Well, there are outlines and there are rules.

An outline is a point form list of concepts and mechanics that you use to keep your facts straight as you’re designing.  It’s what you come back to tweak after your playtests.  It helps you remember basic turn order and end game objectives and start game set up.  Much like prototype designing, it’s important to save each version of your overview.  Once you start playtesting you could find yourself going in circles – changing one thing only to change it back 7 playtests down the road as it might fit better now that you’ve made other changes.  At that time you will be thankful to have old copies of your notes!


Rules for our game, Jam Slam

Rules however, are a different beast.  Rules are the entire rules to the game.  This is the document that eventually will be what the publishers are going to read – so it has to convey every aspect of the game.  Unless you have a face to face meeting with the publisher (and more on how to do that in an upcoming post), these rules have to explain every rule for your game.

Think about this for a second: what’s your least favourite aspect of playing board games?  Most likely it’s reading or listening to someone read the rules.  This is why when we make our rules, we try to make them as close to what we would like to see in the final rules as possible.  This means that we give a lot of graphic examples of the gameplay.  This means that you do have to create these extra graphics – but you’re just repurposing your existing graphics into scenarios.  Bottom line is that we would never like to read a rule book that is only text – and therefore we’d never submit a rulebook to a publisher that was just text.

Take a look at some of your games and look at their rules.  How are they laid out?  Some use columns like newspapers to allow easier readability, some have a running summary down the side, which helps people who have played before but can’t remember everything, and some even give strategic advice on how to play.

How do you know if you’ve written decent rules?  There’s really only one way – blind playtest.  This is where you give your game and the rules to a group and have them read the rules and play the game – WITHOUT you making a single comment or answering any of their questions.  Man, this is going to be tough!  It’s really frustrating to see people playing your game incorrectly, but you have to let them play it out as that’s the only way you can see how they interpret your rules.  It will become ridiculously clear if parts of your rules are confusing or misleading.  You should always blind playtest your rules before submitting to a publisher.

One game we submitted to a contest was Jam Slam – and while we played the game numerous times with a ton of people, we never blind playtested the rules.  The game made it to the semi-finals but we received feedback from their playtesters about the game, and here’s what one of them said about our rules:

“In simpler games like this one, I think it’s extremely important that the rules are crystal clear. I think you are mostly there, but there are some issues. For example, the cards that you have to discard from your penalties can only come from the current round, correct? This is specified in the example, but it should be specified in the main rule. As far as the Goal Cards are concerned, it doesn’t say whether you use only the cards from the current round to determine if you’ve made the goal (as opposed to also counting leftovers from previous rounds). I assume you only use the current round’s cards, but it should specifically say this.”

So this is a perfect example of why it is imperative to have your game blind playtested before submitting to a publisher – or a contest!  For us, we hate writing the actual rules and it often comes later than it should.  That said, once we do write the rules, we try to spend as much time on them as we can to make it as perfect as we can.

-Jay Cormier

The only things I can add to Jay’s post are:

a) In my opinion, there’s no such thing as “too many examples” in rules. In working with other playtesters and designers, the one thing that is often commented on during blind test sessions is that a rule was misinterpreted. This is often the case when wording is ambiguous or made more friendly than technical. However, having a clearly illustrated and documented example or ten can clarify how the game is supposed to be played. This goes back to the graphic design segment: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a well illustrated example of gameplay can take players from “???” to “oh, that’s what they meant”. Words can often be misinterpreted. The designer’s intention becomes much clearer when paired with pictures to show the movement of pieces, the discarding of cards, etc.

In a more complex game, like “Belfort”, we are going to have to spend a lot of time over the next few weeks drafting out examples that can then be depicted graphically. Some games go so far as to have an entire sub section devoted to an example of a turn from start to finish. This may be the length we have to go to for “Belfort”. Sometimes, words just don’t do justice in explaining the complexities of a game turn.

Basically, when it comes to providing examples, the more the merrier. I’d rather you provide too many examples than too few.

b) Write accessible rules. – rules that suit the game play. I am known for being (overly) technical and writing (mind-numbingly) precise rules. However, they are very dull, dry and boring to the point of unreadability. For a fun party game, like “Train of Thought”, this didn’t work at all. The development team spent a lot of time reworking the rules such that the flavour of the game was captured and the integrity of the rules was kept.

c) A “quick start” rule section may be a good thing to include and then have more detailed rules available for the second play once the gist of the game is understood. Note that this doesn’t always work for every game.

d) Often times, you can do a summary of the rules on the back of the manual, on spare cards, or on a separate player aid. These are all excellent things to have in rules-heavy games so that players don’t constantly have to refer back to the rules. They are especially important to have in games where keeping your actions secret is important – if everyone sees you looking at the “How to Attack Your Neighbour” in the rules, you can rest assured that they’ll save their defensive cards in anticipation!

e) Proof-read your rules. Better yet, get someone other than someone intimately associated with the development of the game to do the proofing. And just get them to proof for spelling, grammar, and understandability – not to comment on the rules of the game per se.

-Sen-Foong Lim

 

Belfort Box Art: Second Sketch!

Here’s the next stage of the Belfort box art from Josh Cappel.  Loving it!  Great attention to detail in the background.  You can even see the wizard lowering the top of the tower down.  Tasty Minstrel requested one change from this image…simply to reverse the hammer in the Elf’s hand!  Next step is the painting.  After this we only have a few more pieces of art left: the Calendar board, the Collection board, the player order indicators, the player aids and the rulebook.  Getting close!

 

belfort box board game art

Design Tip: Simple versus Clean

What’s the difference between a simple game and a clean game?  A simple game has reduced decisions and strategy and a clean game can be any game that is streamlined where everything fits and makes sense and has no extraneous rules or pieces.

This concept took Sen and I awhile to understand actually.  We could easily recognize when one of our games was messy and convoluted, but would often think that the solution would be that we should make it simpler.  In the end we would end up with a very basic – but still messy game!

Let’s look at the difference of each by using some examples from one of our games in progress: Akrotiri.

In Akrotiri, part of the game has players moving their boats from island to island picking up resources and then shipping them back to Akrotiri to sell them.  Seems easy enough, but we were continually challenged with how to determine the prices of how much Akrotiri would buy these resources from players.

The Simple way to do it would be to set a fixed price and say that every resource is sold for 1 gold.  That’s just too simple and offers no strategy and cannot be affected by a player’s choice at all.

Our initial idea was to use a stock market to track each resource’s value.  Every time a resource is added to the board then the stock market goes up by one.  If a resource is sold to Akrotiri then the market goes down by one for that resource.  Seems like it makes sense, but it wasn’t clean.  Why not?  Because players would often forget to change the market when either adding a resource or selling to Akrotiri.  It was messy and caused players to say things like, “oh I sold that resource last turn but forgot to lower the price – so it should be 2 steps lower.”  Not a good gaming experience.

We toyed around with some other ideas before coming back to this stock market idea.  This time we placed all the resources on the market itself.  If a resource is added to the board then it is taken directly from the stock market.  When it is sold back to Akrotiri then it is placed back on the stock market tracker and the player gets the amount that it is placed onto.  Now that’s a lot cleaner.  Now players can’t forget to affect the market.

So when designing your games try to be objective and determine if it’s simple or clean, and unless you’re making a game for children, lean towards clean!

-Jay Cormier

First off, thanks to Sean of the G.A.C. (Game Artisans of Canada – a group of designers that Jay and I belong to) for his assistance with coming up with the current stock market mechanism. Secondly, there’s nothing more rewarding than coming up with creative solutions to a problem that doesn’t increase the analysis paralysis or downtime – and that’s the difference, for me anyway, between a simple game and a clean game. Though, personally, I prefer referring to them as “simplistic” vs. “elegant”. Semantics, I know. To me, “elegant” means also linking multiple mechanics in the same game to affect the outcome as a whole.

To me, a simplistic game can be made by reducing the rules and components until you’re left with the most basic elements of the game. There is very little interaction on the board or between players. Think of a classic “roll and move” game like ‘Snakes & Ladders’ – you roll, you move, the board tells you if there’s a penalty or a bonus based on the square you land on. Two players never interact. First one to the end wins.

An elegant game, to the contrary, may have some very simple mechanics (and, in fact, works better if it is made up of primarily simple mechanics) but the complexity is built into how those mechanics interact. How the board, the pieces, and the players interact with each other all form a meld of complexity. The art, here, is making it as seamless as possible – hence elegant. It should, at the best of times, come off smoothly without much down time or referring to charts or manuals. It should be minimal in execution, but maximal in effect. Think of something as simple as the event die in ‘Settlers of Catan’ 2-player card game – roll a die and something happens. The elegant part of this was that both players were affected by this die roll on either player’s turn, but not necessarily in the same way, depending on the buildings they had, the resources they stockpiled, their contingency of warriors, etc. It was a simple roll with simple rules to effect each result (compare who has the most red points in knights – that player gets a benefit) and both players took part in the event phase, even on the other player’s turn which keeps things interesting. And the result of the roll can be more or less beneficial depending on how well a player planned in his or her previous turn. Almost zero downtime for a ton more effect in the game. Definitely a worthwhile trade-off if you were to do a cost/benefit analysis.

Both the ‘Snakes and Ladders’ and ‘Settlers of Catan Card Game’ example use a single die as the mechanism. The difference is in the ramifications of the die roll. One is simplistic, the other is far more elegant.

-Sen-Foong Lim

 

Tasty Minstrel Gives Status Update

tasty minstrel

Just read a nice status update from Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel on the timelines for both our games.  Great news: people who pre-order can get Train of Thought by Christmas!  Others have to wait until the new year before seeing it in stores.  Other great news: Belfort is about a week away from having all its art done!  Very cool and exciting.  Read more on Michael’s Blog.

Step 14: Create Sales Sheets

Once you’ve decided that you want to send your game to a publisher then the next step would be to create what we call a Sales Sheet.  A Sales Sheet is a one-page document that gives a quick overview of your game to a potential publisher. To some this might seem superfluous, but to us, we credit a lot of our success to having these Sales Sheets ready.

Showing a clean looking Sales Sheet to a publisher immediately tells them that you are professional and you know what you’re doing.  When I attend board game conventions and approach a publisher’s booth to ask them if they are accepting submissions, I often get an ‘eyes-rolling’ kind of vibe as they begrudgingly say “ok sure.”  Then when I pull out my Sales Sheets, I can actually see a visible change in attitude as they immediately realize that they’re dealing with someone who’s serious about game design and not someone who has designed the next Monopoly clone.

A Sales Sheet needs to include the following things:

  1. Title of game – preferably with a mock up logo
  2. Suggested age range
  3. Number of players
  4. Length of time to play the game
  5. Quick overview of the game
  6. Category that the game fits into
  7. List of contents
  8. Images of the game
  9. Sample of one turn or round of play
  10. Some reasons on why this game will sell
  11. Your contact info!

Here’s an example of one of our Sales Sheets for our game Jungle Jam (which has since been retitled to Jam Slam, but we haven’t updated our Sales Sheet yet!).

board game sales sheet

Our newer Sales Sheets have a lot less text, but this one had all the major points on it that I wanted to cover.  See bottom of post for an example.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

1. The logo might seem challenging to you if you don’t have artistic skills, but you really don’t need a lot of skills to create a logo.  Google ‘how to make a logo’ and you’ll find a bunch of resources to help you.  The main key is that your logo should have the same energy that you want your game to have.  If your game is a quick reaction game then your logo needs to be playful and punchy; but if your game is a serious game about trading antiques then an old fashioned feel is obviously better.

2-4. The next three can be combined into a graphic similar to what we see on published board games.  If there are ways to remove or reduce text on this page, then do it!

5. The quick overview gives the publisher an understanding of what the game is all about and should not take longer than 15 seconds to read.  So keep it short and concise.  It will take a lot of copy editing to come up with the most colourful yet efficient ways to get your message across!  Get your English Major friends to help you with this one.  Here’s an example of an overview for our game, Junkyard:

“The Junkyard is the frantic and fun-filled stacking game where junk piles rise high but tensions rise even higher. Each player builds their own junk pile out of oddly shaped blocks that their opponent’s have challenged them to use.  Should you place that piece to make your junk pile more stable or make it taller? While a stable structure will keep you in the game longer, it’s the tallest junk pile that wins!”

6. The publisher should already know what kind of game it is, but most games have subsets of categories that it could belong to.  Our upcoming game, Belfort is a Resource Management game, but it also has Worker Placement, Area Majority and Building as subset categories.  It’s beneficial for a publisher to know which categories your game fits into as they could be looking for an Area Majority game.  Conversely they could be full up on Area Majority games and will want to pass on your game – but it’s better to know that sooner rather than later anyway.

7. A publisher is always looking at the bottom line so a list of contents will help them understand if it’s a game they can make with a profit or not. Hopefully your game is as lean and clean as possible so you don’t scare off any publishers with a ginormous list of contents.

8. If you can include actual photographs of your game instead of just computer based samples, then it will go a long way to show the publisher that there is a full prototype ready to go.  Just like when we look at a game we might want to buy from a game store, the image on the Sales Sheet would be better if it shows the game in progress.

9. It’s even better if you can use this image to show an example of one round of play.  This part can be challenging because think about what everyone’s least favourite part of playing board games is…it’s reading the rules.  So don’t just put a rules summary in your sales sheet.  The publisher doesn’t need to understand why Player A did what they did – the publisher just needs to know how some of the mechanics work together.  Here are a couple examples.

10. The last part is your chance to let the publisher know why your game is worth publishing.  It’s important to keep to facts here instead of telling them how much fun your playtesters have with your game.  Some examples of what you should talk about here:

  • If your theme is interesting or hot in the market then list that
  • if your game has a new mechanic that’s never been seen before
  • If your game has variants or expansion possibilities
  • If your game could be licensed to popular characters
  • If you are open to re-theming your game entirely (instead of wizards collecting dragon eggs, it’s a bunch of Igors collecting body parts!)
  • If it’s a kid’s game then list any educational impact
  • If you can find any sales stats that support why your game will do well, then that’s perfect!

[EDIT BY SEN FEB 4, 2015 – in discussing this with James Mathe of Minion Games, he finds this offputting; I’ve also heard that from one other publisher.  They find it presumptuous that designers would tell publishers what would sell.  While I still think it’s good for you to *think* about the above points and perhaps be able to discuss them, it may be best to leave them off lest you offend the publisher you’re trying to sell your game to.  This also clears up a poop-load of space from your sell sheet.  Don’t be in a huge rush to fill it up, though – remember that white space increases readability and walls of text are an instant turn off!  Feedback works!  See?]

11. Obviously don’t forget to put your contact info on it!

Once complete you are now ready to approach publishers.  We’ve found that whether we’re approaching a publisher in person or via email, we’ve used our sales sheets almost every time.  In an upcoming post we’ll talk about the importance of conventions and how these Sales Sheets are invaluable to us as designers.

Here’s an example of a newer Sales Sheet that is more show and less tell.  It works well for this kind of family game and this was what was used to show to Mattel and Hasbro.

Promo sheet board game design

-Jay Cormier

Not much more to say except treat your sales sheets like your “business cards with a bang”. You want something to leave people with that says more than just your name/contact info/website. You want to leave them with the impression that you are professional, that you’ve got a prototype ready to play at the drop of a hat, and that you’ve put a lot of thought into the product you’re pitching. Short of giving the publisher a working prototype, you want them to be able to get the gist of your game – the general rules, the look and feel, the target demographic – with as little effort on their part. The less amount of time they have to spend scouring the internet, calling you, chasing you down the better for you.

The sell sheet is your foot in the door when your foot isn’t even nearby. Publishers will take the countless sell sheets they’ve picked up from a convention and sift through them, hoping to chance upon the next SdJ. Make sure your game is poised to be picked up by making a sell sheet that helps them remember everything pertinent about your game without overloading them. Give them confidence in your product by creating a well-presented, succinctly worded sell sheet.

The time spent making the sell sheet and handing it out will pay dividends if it’s done right.

-Sen-Foong Lim