Some of our games went home with two publishers if they didn’t care about exclusivity, so it was smart of us to bring two copies of each game! We are so SMRT! One publisher was doing print and play and Hasbro wanted us to mail him copies afterwards as he didn’t want to carry all of them back with him. So we got rid of all of our prototypes with the exception of Herdables. Boo. And we had just found a way to make the game even better too. The good news is that Huch and Friends likes that game and was interested in publishing it (and gave us the OK to pitch to other publishers at GenCon). So now we will let them know about the recent changes and that might motivate them to publish it!
Well, 10 days of gaming heaven has come and gone! Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends is an invite-only gaming event full of gamers, designers and publishers. It’s my favourite 10 days of the year as I get to hang out with friends old and new – and play a bunch of games!
I’ll split this into two posts – one about the games we pitched to publishers and then a second one about the games we played.
Pitching to Publishers
Sen and I are in a bit of a lucky spot since many of our games have been picked up, which means we didn’t have a lot of new game to pitch. This meant that we had more time to work on games that were already signed while we were together. We must have spent at least 3 hours a day working on Godzilla which is due out later this year from Toy Vault.
Our first pitch was to the German publisher, Huch & Friends. Their representative is Britta, who last year took a couple of our games back with her. One was called Herdables and since we didn’t have any other plans for that game, we let her sit on that one all year. Well she brought good news with her as she said that everyone at Huch & Friends likes the game, and they’re now only trying to figure out how to manufacture it. They’re thinking of going with super thick cardboard instead of wooden tokens. Cool by us!
Then we pitched our game called Chrono Chicken. Ok – dumb name…so dumb that we didn’t even tell her the name of the game when we pitched it! It started as a game called Coaster Quest as it used actual drink coasters to play the game. But, as usual, the game changed drastically from its inception and instead of coaster it now used these cool two-dial secret spinners. We played the game – in which players secretly choose a number from one of the tokens on the table – by using their secret dials. She really liked it – and started talking in German with her cohort from Huch & Friends (dang – I forget his name!). They brought out their Huch catalogue and indicated a game that they have coming out later this year called Gum Gum Machine – a steam punk game about gum ball machines. She said that our game might make a good companion to that game – maybe call it Gum Gum Mini! So she agreed to take that game back to assess further.
Then I pitched my first solo design to her. Now, I pitched this game to her last year when it went by the horrendous title, Ingnotus (Latin for unknown). She liked it last year but after assessing it she said that they couldn’t think of a theme for it (I had submitted it as a pure abstract game). So I worked on it this year and I came up with a theme. In doing so the game changed a lot – for the better! It’s now called The Mystery of Mister E (Now that’s a cool title – finally!). We played the game and she liked it a lot more than the previous version. She took that game back as well. Huzzah!
I was able to pitch to Martin from Filosofia / Z-Man, but not our games! Instead I had two games from other Game Artisan designers that I wanted to show him. One was called City Builders: Rome from Andrei Filip – a co-operative Euro game that I only brought the sales sheet for him to see. He was interested and I have connected him with the designer. Then I showed him a quick reaction dice game called Joust from Graeme Jahns. He really thought it was unique and would like to see it again if he could figure out how to get the number of dice moulds down.
We pitched to Zoch again this year, but we didn’t really have anything new! So instead we spent time talking about the kinds of games that Zoch is interested in and he let us know what they’re looking for – which included some IPs! We’re already working on them now!
Hasbro had a new representative and with it he brought a new way of thinking. He’s super interested in meeting with designers as he wants to create a network of designers that he can access when he needs them. He ran down how he wants to work with the Game Artisans of Canada in the future. He was excited to see that we had an organization across Canada as it will allow him to be super efficient. He’s planning on visiting us once or twice a year where only Game Artisans will be able to pitch games to him! Pretty awesome!
We did end up pitching our game, Lions Share to him and he liked it, though we actually came across a game-breaking situation that had never happened before. Dang. Oh well – we know how to easily fix that in the future. Still – good to get in front if him and show him what we have.
We had been working with Ed from Toy Vault all week – either on Godzilla (our upcoming card battle game) or a Naughty version of But Wait There’s More (we learned how to make this work!) – but we finally had some time to pitch our revamped Firefly game to Ed as well. We showed it to him last year and he had some specific feedback so we addressed each of those requests and showed him the new version.
The new version played out much better, but Ed had concerns that the new actions didn’t make it feel like Firefly. Before characters could only move into empty spaces, but now they can swap with other characters – which implies that they’re hiding behind each other and throwing each other into harm’s way. Not very Firefly!
Then as we were packing up, we cam up with a totally new way to play that might allow it to fit with a more wacky license. The game played a lot faster and seemed to work fairly well actually. It was wild – quite the drastic change in gameplay and we managed to make it work. We’re now back to the drawing board with this one to see what theme works best with the mechanics.
There was a new game at the Gathering called Flick ‘Em Up, which is the first game in Z-man’s Pretzel line up. It’s called Pretzel because you can have a pretzel in one hand and still play! It’s a flicking game with cowboys and bad guys and it looks amazing! It comes with 10 scenarios which helps give the game a lot of flavour! We were happy to be asked to contribute a couple of scenarios to this game! Not just because the game is pretty darned cool – but because the second game in the Pretzel line up is one of ours – called Junkyard! That should be coming out next year!
Finally we pitched Zombie Slam to Mercury. We had tweaked it since last year as we had feedback that it was super hard to stay human throughout the game. The new ideas worked a lot better and we had a human survivor win the game! They really seemed to like this game! Mercury is currently working on their first app-assisted game and then their second app-assisted game is actual designed by Sen, Stefan Alexander and me. So this would be their third app-assisted game. We all came up with even more ideas on how the app could work with this game and it got us all pretty excited about it!
I ended the session by pitching a game I designed with Shad Miller called Q-Bot. I knew it wasn’t really the kind of game they publish as it was an abstract game with wooden cubes. They liked it better than last year’s version but that’s about it.
Coincidentally, while we were at the Gathering we also had some phone meetings with Ad Magic who is considering publishing 1-5 of our games in the near future! More to come on that as it’s finalized!
So all in all – an atypically quiet week for us on pitching games. I think it might be like that going forward because now we’re being asked to make specific games by publishers – and that takes time away from new designs. One day we’ll be able to quit our day jobs and focus on game design full time. That’s the goal at least!
Next up I’ll review the games that I played at the Gathering – from new and existing games to upcoming unreleased games from prolific designers!
As we were wrapping up our pitch session with ThinkFun, Tanya asked us if we had pitched to Hasbro yet. Uh….no…! Our understanding of Hasbro was that you can’t just be a Joe Schmoe and walk up to Hasbro and start pitching. We knew that Mike Gray, the main person who looks at pitches from designers, was at the Gathering – and we had actually had a fun run-in with him earlier in the week:
Sen and I were walking down the hall, checking out what people were playing, and we passed by the Snakes and Lattes team. We know them because we had our Belfort launch party there – and because Sen goes there for designer night. We said hi and they said “Hi Sen and Jay!” At that point, another person said, “Oh that’s Sen and Jay?” He asked us to come over to the table and said to Mike Gray, who was sitting beside him – at the same table as the Snakes and Lattes gang and said, “Hey Mike, this is Sen and Jay!”
At which point Mike stood up, stuck out his hand and said with all sincerity, “I want to thank you guys for Belfort. I was the first kid on the block to have it and I love it.” Wow! That was really cool. We talked about the expansion a bit – since it was launching on Kickstarter the following week – and then bid farewell.
So we say to Tanya that normal shlubs aren’t allowed to pitch to Hasbro and she says, “oh right.” But then goes on to say that she’s friends with Mike and that he should see our stuff. Um….OK! She calls out to Mike, who was nearby and after some figuring out, Mike agrees to see our games! He even mentioned, right in front of us that he usually never sees people he doesn’t know – but since we came with recommendations from Tanya – he allowed it! Cool!
The pitch with Hasbro was great, and while I can’t share everything that was said in that meeting as we signed an agreement before we started talking – it was super informative for both of us. He started off by saying that it was like we were aiming at a target. He hoped that today we would at least hit the board somewhere. Then, after hearing what he has to say that we would see him again next year and that we would be closer to the target. Cool analogy!
Mike shared with us the different demographics and markets that Hasbro is currently looking for ideas. It was a very interesting conversation that revealed that sometimes you don’t even need a full on prototype. If it involves a mechanism that moves in some way – that you could show a diagram that explains it. I also found it interesting that at Hasbro they refer to all designers as inventors. To me that means that they see their games closer to being toys than games – but I’m sure it’s just semantics.
Then we got to pitch a few of our games. We started with our two word games because we thought that they could possibly be a Scrabble or Boggle spin-off. Lost for Words got his attention and while he thought it was a bit too complicated for the Hasbro audience, he said he knew of someone else who had an app that might want to move into the physical board game space and this might be it. He said he’d put us in contact with him! Nice!
Then we played Chainables – and I was super surprised that we ended up playing an entire game! What?!? This is usually unheard of and has only happened one or two times with me in all my years of pitching board games. I think it’s a testament to the simplicity and fun of the game. Unfortunately it’s hard for Hasbro to bring a game that’s only cards to market. There’s just not enough margin in a card game for Hasbro. Still, it was great to play a full game with Mike!
We showed him Pop Goes the Weasel and it skewed too old for Hasbro as well. He did say something that I don’t think was part of our NDA and that was that Hasbro doesn’t want to publish a party game that just a box full of cards. They want to be able to have a commercial with something in the commercial that people can identify with and see that it’s a unique game with unique pieces. I thought Pop Goes the Weasel would be a better fit than Clunatics (our party game that is a bunch of cards in a box!!).
It was a great pitch session and it looks like we are now on the list to pitch to Hasbro in the future – which is awesome! Up next is our last pitch session with a new and upcoming publisher called Mercury Games.
Previous posts in this series:
- Intro and overview of the Gathering
- Pitching to publishers overview
- Pitching to Asmodee and Repos
- Pitching to Filosofia and Z-Man Games
- Pitching to Asmodee, R&R Games and Abacuspiele
- Pitching to ThinkFun
This year I was able to pitch games to the following publishers:
- Filosofia / Z-Man Games Abacuspiele
- R & R Games
- Mercury Games
On top of this I interacted with Rio Grande,Toy Vault, Ystari, Hans Im Gluck, Iello, Czech Games and North Star.
The bottom line is that this event was a successful one for a few reasons.
- From all our pitches we ended up leaving one of our prototypes with four different publishers! This doesn’t mean that they’ve agreed to publish it, but it does mean that they liked it and would like to play it with the rest of their team and figure out if it is something that they’d like to do. More on this in the next few posts.
- We started a relationship with ThinkFun which seems like a really good fit for many games that Sen and I make. I am positive that this relationship will be very beneficial for all of us, even if they don’t pick up any of our games!
- We pitched to Hasbro! This was wild and I’ll go into more details in another post – but this is huge!
- Relationships with all publishers continue to improve and I feel like I could call some of them friends – not just business acquaintances.
- I got to really hang out with other designers – and just play games with them all week! Get ready for some name-dropping:
William Attia, designer of Caylus: he taught us his new game, Spyrium (which is fantastic) and then we ended up playing a few other games together throughout the week like Enigma.
Stephen Glenn, designer of Balloon Cup: had an interesting conversation with him about the differences between Balloon Cup and the new re-do of that game called Pinata
Greg Daigle, designer of Hawaii: had a conversation with him and learned that he is officially Canadian so we invited him to become a member of the Game Artisans of Canada.
Vlaada Chvatil, designer of Galaxy Trucker and Dungeon Lords: I played many games with Vlaada – like Coup (when he says he’s the Captain – believe him!) and Hanabi (super interesting game).
Chris Handy, designer of the new Rio Grande game, Cinque Terre. I sat in on some of Chris’s pitches to publishers and he sat in on some of mine. He’s a good wing man!
Other designers at the Gathering that I met: Kevin Wilson, Matt Tolman, Gavan Brown,Tom Lehman,Al Leduc, Roberta Taylor, Rob…uh, and Alan Moon!!!
In the next few posts I’ll review the details of how the pitch sessions went with each publisher (though we did sign a couple NDAs, so we’ll have to be a bit less transparent than normal).