Akrotiri Sold Out at Essen!

IMG_0984Well Essen has come and gone and the Internets are hopping with what people played, what’s good and what’s not. A somewhat decent flag to wave if you’re a publisher is if a game sells out. Of course if they only brought 10 copies then that’s not a very impressive flag – but Z-Man brought 150 copies of Akrotiri and they sold out of all copies! That’s great news and it sets Akrotiri up for good word of mouth – assuming those mouths belong to people that like the game.

So if you got a copy – consider yourself lucky! Please tweet or post about your thoughts on BGG, your own blog, or in response to this post. If you didn’t get a copy, no worries as it should start hitting distributors soon and then to retailers! Then everyone can bathe in the awesomeness that is Akrotiri (can you tell that I really like this game?!)!

-Jay Cormier

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Another game picked up by a publisher and more updates!

Well 2013 has come and is almost gone, and it was a good one for us Bamboozle Brothers! While we didn’t have any new games actually make it to retail this year, we signed more games and are excited about 2014 as we have upwards of 6 new titles hitting retail. Check them out:

1. Belfort: The Expansion Expansion from Tasty Minstrel Games – this one took a bit of extra time through customs and didn’t make the Christmas shipping cut-off – but it’s something we can look forward to early in the new year! The expansion adds Assistants that you get to choose every round which give each player new abilities (and there are more Assistants than you need, making each game totally different!), as well as Expansion Permits that let you expand your current buildings which unlock specific scoring opportunities that only you can take advantage of!

2. But Wait, There’s More from Toy Vault – Expect to see a Kickstarter for this party game early in the new year – January or February we think. We’ve signed the final contract and so it’s not a secret anymore and I think it’s ok to announce that the game will be set in the Monty Python universe!! How crazy is that? Very exciting to be a part of the Python world!!

3. Tortuga from Queen – Expect a Kickstarter for this one in January! This one used to be called Swashbucklers, but that didn’t translate well to other languages, so it’s been changed to the very piratey island of Tortuga! We’re very excited about this one and have even seen some early art for it. This could be a big hit for us! It’s a simultaneous roll and assign your dice game about finding and stealing treasure from other pirates.

4. Akrotiri from Z-Man Games – we’ve seen almost all the art and the rules, so I’m expecting it to come out in the first half of 2014, but we’re not sure. This is our 2-player strategy game that has tile laying and a pretty nifty mechanic where you have maps that tell you where temples are hidden – even though the map is different every time you play! Very cool.

5. Pop Goes the Weasel by R&R Games – we’re not done the contract phase of this one yet, so it’s not 100% official, but it should be soon. This is our first kid’s game where you roll 2 dice and choose one as movement and the other as how many mullberries you get to take. It’s pretty clever for a kid’s game!

6. This Town Aint Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us by Tasty Minstrel Games – we’re not done the contract phase of this one either but we should be soon! This is a micro game that use 25 tiles full of cowboys, each trying to get more in a town than the others. I’m happy about the gameplay – and possibly even happier with that title!

Once we’re allowed to share, we’ll share more news and pictures of each game! On top of that we have some games being assessed at publishers right now:

1. Rock, Paper, Wizards – We sent this into Filosofia awhile ago and they liked it, but not enough to publish it. We (Sen-Foong Lim, Josh Cappel and me) worked on it for months and finally cracked it in November. We tested the heck out of it and have just re-sent it back to Filosofia. We can’t wait to hear what they think of it!

2. Lions Share – we sent this to Amigo Spiele awhile ago and had a positive email from them before Christmas stating that they already returned all the games that they didn’t like back to the designers – so that means that they still like Lions Share. We’ll see what happens in the new year.

3. Junkyard – Filosofia has had this one for awhile, and they really love it but are having challenges with figuring out how to make it affordable as it uses many unique pieces of wood. They’re working with some manufacturers to try and figure that one out.

4. SimpliCITY – Flux Capacity has expressed interest in this game when we were at Hammercon in November. Since then we’ve tweaked and balanced it even more. Since the publisher lives close to Sen, they’re going to play it later this weekend! Crossing fingers! I really like how this game has evolved!

5. Aladdin: Cave of Wonders – the Game Artisans of Canada are putting together a collection of games, with each one based of a different fairy tale or fable. The idea is that each game in the set could be played on its own, or there would be a story mode with benefits to playing one after the other. This one was just sent to PSI as they volunteered to help us assess the age range of some of the games in the collection.

So 2014 is shaping up to be quite a big year for us! Now we just have to actually start coming up with more game ideas! 🙂

-Jay Cormier

Pitching at Origins, part 2

Following up our first guest post by Patrick Lysaght, we have a more in-depth account of how he pitched his game to publishers at Origins. It’s a fascinating story that underlines the importance of preparation and a good attitude! Take it away Patrick…

“GLORY & RICHES” AT ORIGINS

            After writing my first post about the advantages Origins has for designers hoping to pitch their game designs to publishers, Jay asked me to write a more detailed report about my specific experiences with my own design.  Since no game designer in their right mind would turn down an opportunity like that, brace yourself for the short story told long.

INSPIRATION

            To set the scene, I need to give a brief description of “Glory & Riches.”  It is a 2-5 player strategy game of resource management and area control.  The players are medieval fief lords vying for their kingdom’s throne.  To succeed, they need to produce and trade resources, build buildings, train peasants into advanced units, and expand their territory.  The unique aspect of the game is a dueling set of expansion mechanics.  Players can either build their economy and purchase the loyalty of neighboring cities, or train an army for military conquest.  The game typically clocks in at about 2 hours.

I started working on the game just before Thanksgiving 2012 as a fun way to spend some time with my siblings over the holidays.  In February 2013, the game was really coming together, and I started thinking about publishing it.  Jay and Sen have an excellent discussion about self-publishing vs. licensed publishing.  Suffice it to say that my current family, career, and financial situations do not allow me to pursue the self-publication option.  Since I had not yet stumbled across Jay and Sen’s blog, I did what seemed natural at the time.  I opened up my enormous trunk of games, and started looking at the publisher names.  Next, I started looking up publisher websites.  In the process, I stumbled upon the board game designer’s forum (www.bgdf.com).  They had some great advice about how to approach a publisher via e-mail.  Taking the leap of faith, I selected a publisher, and fired off an e-mail.

GETTING SERIOUS

            I picked Rio Grande Games.  I selected them because I whole-heartedly agree with their view of gaming’s role in family and character development.  Also, they flat out make good games.  I don’t think I have played a Rio Grande Game that has disappointed me.  Anyway, I sent their contact e-mail asking for the chance to visit their headquarters to pitch my idea.  In less than 30 minutes, I received a very friendly response from their “Spare Parts Guy” saying that the company headquarters was their owner’s house, and that he would not appreciate me knocking on his door.  He did, however, give me Mr. Tummelson’s personal e-mail.  When I contacted him, he told me he preferred to meet at a convention because they provide the play testers he needs to try out a game.  Also, he told me he would be attending Origins and GENCON.  Since GENCON was out for me due to work commitments (BOO!), this put me on a crash course with Origins.  I immediately requested a meeting at Origins, and he gave me a time that fit his schedule.  Now the clock was actually ticking.

ON THE CLOCK

            Play testing continued through March and into early April.  By now, the game seemed to be working very well, and I thought I was where I needed to be.  This was about the time I stumbled across Jay and Sen’s blog.  My initial response…PANIC!  Boy was I unprepared.  I had only made it to Step 13.  The sudden realization sent me into overdrive.  I prepped sales sheets, researched the convention facilities, and started thinking about other publishers who were attending the convention.  By the time the dust settled in mid May, I had official meetings with Rio Grande and Mayfair, and approved contact points with Z-Man and Asmodee.  Then, just when I started to feel comfortable with the concept of approaching publishers, the game underwent a significant prototype change, and all my products had to be reworked in the last two weeks before the convention.  Despite the stress, the mental gymnastics of working through Jay and Sen’s pre-convention steps gave me a clear, concise way to communicate the game’s core.

MY PITCHES AT ORIGINS

            I walked into the convention with what I considered a realistic goal: convince a publisher to take my game into their development cycle.  As a first time game designer and a first time convention attendee, I thought attempting to get a publication commitment on the spot would probably be out of reach.  My other post talks about some of the things I did at the convention to “get the word out” about my game.  Some of these ideas were spur of the moment, and some were definitely preplanned.  For example, I followed Jay and Sen’s advice all the way down to the roll aboard suitcase and business casual attire.  My focus here, however, is going to be on the pitches themselves.  I will cover them in chronological order.
MayfairGames_logo-mdMy meeting with Mr. Yeager from Mayfair Games was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.  He actually stopped by the table I was demoing my game at before our meeting, but as soon as he realized it was me, he wandered off to get some things rolling on the showroom floor.  I showed up a few minutes early to setup the game board so that he could see the components.  When Mr. Yeager sat down for the meeting, I launched right into my 5 minute drill.  After that, he asked some questions, and I basically ended up walking him through the role of every unit, resource, mechanic, and other component.  After that, I demo’ed a part of a turn.  We ended up spending approximately 45 minutes together.  At that point, he expressed a willingness to take the game into their development cycle, and talked me through the rough timelines and processes.  When I told him about my other meetings, he completely understood, and asked for me to let him know on Saturday if I would be sending the prototype home with him.  At that point, I asked him for some feedback regarding my pitch and prototype.  Mr. Yeager said that my prototype quality was better than average, my delivery solid, and he would be open to hearing about my other designs in the future.  In other words, I had achieved complete and total victory by 2 PM on Wednesday afternoon.
rio_grande_gamesThursday was rough.  I pitched to Mr. Tummelson at Rio Grande and Zev at Z-Man.  Mr. Tummelson stopped me about halfway through my pitch, and said that they would not be interested in my game.  It was a matter of a dice-based military mechanism and player elimination.  These were showstoppers for him.  On the plus side, he spent the next 20 minutes talking to me about the nature of the American game design atmosphere, recommended three other publishers to approach with my particular game, and encouraged me to continue designing games.  Also, he mentioned he appreciated the quality of my prototype and my degree of preparation.

ZMan_LogoI met with Z-Man later than afternoon in the Board Room.  He actually sat down and played a whole game with me.  It took just over an hour, and he asked questions throughout.  Like Rio Grande, Zev identified a few reasons he would not be interested in publishing the game.  He did, however, recommend some adjustments that would help streamline gameplay, compliment my pitch, and say that he would be open to future designs.  While these pitches were disappointing, I gleaned some important lessons and feedback from them.  Later that evening, I had a disastrous game demo in the Board Room.  Basically, one person was convinced the game was fatally flawed, and made it their mission to highlight it to me in a series of games.  By midnight, I was exhausted, discouraged, and genuinely concerned that my game was not worthy to be published.  I had just finished picking up the pieces (literally), and was resting my head on the table when it happened.

THE TURNING OF THE TIDE

            As I was sitting there, a man approached me and asked if I was testing out a prototype.  I said yes, involuntarily regurgitated the pitch I had given countless times in the last two days, and was about to tell him I would be happy to demo the game for him tomorrow when he opened the box.  He said he 5 minutes to kill while his son finished up a game, and wanted to look over my design.  What followed was 15 minutes of critical analysis about the size, material, and number of my prototype’s components.  I was at wit’s end, and was about to let him have it when a singular thought occurred to me.  “Why would this man care that my prototype instruction manual is not on normal letter-sized paper?”  Then the realization dawned on me.  I was speaking to a publisher.  We ended up chatting for about 30 minutes (he actually sent his son back to the hotel room), and he asked me to demo the game for his son the next morning.  Let me tell you, if you are going to have a bad day as a game designer, this is a good way to end it!

The following morning was a blur.  I executed an early morning play test to check a rule tweak to fix the issue highlighted Thursday night.  I met with Stefan Brunell from Asmodee.  We chatted for 15 minutes, and he expressed an interest in reviewing the rules for possible game development.  I demo’ed “Glory & Riches” for the small publisher who had approached the night before.  His son thoroughly enjoyed the game, and the owner asked me to meet him for a second play test that evening.  While killing time, I approached the owner of Stronghold games.  This was one of the companies that Rio Grande had recommended.  Also, I had met him on the first day of the convention while hanging around the courtyard during a fire evacuation.  He had given me his card, and asked me to stop by on Friday.  He listened to my pitch, and said that they might be interested in taking the game into development.

CHOICES

            By dinner time on Friday, I was floating on cloud nine.  I actually played a game that was not my own, had some time to grab a celebratory dinner, and found a quiet corner to reflect on my choices.  Mayfair had offered to accept the prototype, but warned their development cycle is long and relatively closed to designer participation.  Asmodee and Stronghold had both offered to review the rules, and consider accepting the prototype at a later date.  I now had only to hear back on the smaller company’s position.  The owner, his son, and two friends played the game late Friday night.  They finished up just before midnight.  He told me he was interested in the game, but that there were some adjustments that needed to be made.  He offered to take the game into development, and promised a final decision before the end of July.

Ultimately, I chose the small publisher for a few key reasons.  First, the development timeline was so much faster that even a rejection would not significantly delay the game.  Also, running through the development cycle with the small company could identify issues that could be fixed before sending it to a larger company later.  Second, the publisher promised a much more inclusive experience during the development cycle.  Third, I had established a real rapport with the small company, and just felt very comfortable with them.

AFTERMATH

OriginsLogoIn the months since Origins, the small publisher has lived up to his promises with one minor exception.  I have been completely integrated into the development process.  He would identify issues in a play test, and I could tweak, test, and recommend changes for his next test.  Due to some tremendous medical issues, however, he was unable to render a final decision until the first week of October.  I completely understood the delay, but I was still getting a little antsy.  Fortunately, he has agreed to publish “Glory & Riches!”  Right now, it is slated for kickstarter in late spring 2014, and release in late 2014, or early 2015.  As the contractual details are pending, I don’t want to release the publisher’s name.  Hopefully, I can post that soon.  In our conversations since the convention, however, the publisher has made a point of commending my prototype and presentation.  In fact, he said it was one of the key discriminators between my game and several other designs he reviewed at Origins.  My profession has a saying, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”  In this case, Jay and Sen’s 33 Steps helped prepare me to identify, approach, and present my games to publishers in a professional manner.  You can bet I will be using them again in the future!  I hope my experience can pay forward some of the help I received.  Good luck in your design, preparation, and pitching futures!

-Patrick Lysaght

Pitching at Origins

This is the first guest post for our blog and I hope it’s not our last. If you have an interesting story about pitching games to publishers, we’d like to hear about it! For now, let me introduce you to Patrick Lysaght:

PITCHING AT ORIGINS

            In this blog, Jay and Sen talk about how to prepare yourself to pitch your design to publishers.  My name is Pat Lysaght, and I can tell you conclusively that their method works.  Why?  I am a first time game designer.  I followed their steps this year at Origins, and my game (“Glory & Riches”) is slated to be released either end of 2014 or early 2015.  When I wrote Jay and Sen to say thank you, Jay asked me to share my experience at Origins.  In this blog, therefore, I am going to talk about the some of the advantages of pitching your game at Origins.

SMALL CONVENTION, BIG PAYOFF

OriginsLogoJay and Sen’s blog talks about carefully choosing your convention, and then arranging your meetings with publishers.  This is why Origins is an ideal convention to pitch your designs.  The official attendance numbers from GAMA for this year’s Origins (2013) say that 11,573 people attended the convention.  Obviously, this is well below the approximately 160k reported from GENCON.  A quick look down the list of attending publishers, however, shows that Origins still brings in a metric ton of both big and small name publishers.  From the designer’s standpoint, here is how the math affects your ability to pitch to a publisher:

 

(Length of Convention – Publisher’s Key Events)

—————————————————–   =  Time Publisher Will Give Your Pitch

Number of People Attending

 

Since publishers attend conventions to sell games, most of their time will be spent interacting with potential customers or holding events to highlight their new products.  Typically the last group publishers want to spend their convention time with is designers. So even if you can actually get a publisher’s attention in a venue like GENCON, you won’t get more than 5 minutes max.  Origins is a different story.

I walked into Origins with 3 scheduled meetings.  I ended up pitching to 6 publishers ranging on the scale from very small to very large.  Three of those publishers spent at least 45 minutes with me.  The other three spent at least 15 minutes.  This means that even the publishers who gave me a near automatic thumbs down spent 15 minutes of their convention giving me feedback or advice on which publishers I should pitch my game to.  Don’t expect that kind of access anywhere but Origins.

THE BOARD ROOM

Origins’ second key advantage for designers pitching their game is the Board Room.  Origins devotes an entire room to free play.  Since it is always teeming with people (especially after about 7 PM), this is an awesome place to demo or play test your game with willing participants.  This does two things for you.  First, it provides a designer’s dream environment for game streamlining.  I accomplished three months of play testing in four days, and actually resolved a hidden weakness in my game at the convention.  Second, the publishers surf the board room crowd at night.  If they see people enjoying your game, they are much more likely to be interested in your pitch.  Actually, this is how I met the publisher who eventually agreed to publish my game.  Other conventions have areas designated for free play, but Origins makes this the heart and soul of their convention.

THE EARLY BIRD

Another advantage of Origin’s smaller size is the “sleepiness” of the first few days.  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday offered a designer’s paradise.  The crowds are small but steady.  The events are few.  The gamers are looking for something new to play, and the publishers are patiently waiting for Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  In short, this is a designer’s paradise.  I arrived at the convention early Wednesday morning, and was able to grab a table right in the middle of the main hallway.  I set up my game, and started talking to people right away.  The net results:

  1. I demo’ed 10 games before noon,
  2. Tom Vasel from the Dice Tower snapped some pictures of people playing my game,
  3. I was almost out of sales sheets by 10 AM (had to run to the FedEx store in the convention center), and
  4. I met several publishers as they were setting up their displays. Here’s a picture from early Wednesday morning:origins

Obviously, I heartily endorse Origins as a great venue to pitch games.  Especially if you are new to the design pitching process.  Follow the steps, and good luck in your pitching!

-Patrick Lysaght

Thanks Patrick. Really cool to read that it’s a great show for pitching games! Stay tuned for another post from Patrick as he describes the process of actually pitching games to these publishers in an upcoming blog post!

-Jay Cormier

Step 33: Promoting your game

So the art is done and the game has been sent to the printers, now you can sit back and let the money roll in right? Nope – not yet! In an older post we talked about how with book authors they are expected to promote their book, while in the board game world there isn’t the same expectation. That might be true, but I think it’s safe to assume you’re as interested as the publisher is in ensuring your game is a success!

There are many things you can do to help promote your game. Let’s take a look at some examples, though this list is certainly not exhaustive.

1)     Designer Diaries: Many gamers love to read about how a game came to fruition. Write up your story of how it came to be published. Remember that most people probably haven’t played the game when they read your designer diaries, so don’t refer too much to rules that they won’t understand. Once you’ve completed writing them, ask your publisher if they would like to have it or if they’d prefer if you distributed it. If you’re on your own, no worries, that’s what www.boardgamegeek.com is for! Post it in the forum or ask Eric Martin if he’d be interested in sharing it in the News section. Once it’s posted then get your friends and family to head on over to read it and give it some thumbs to get it started. (thumbs are the equivalent of the ‘Like’ button of Facebook). Here’s the Designer Diary for Train of Thought and here’s the Designer Diary for Belfort. For Belfort we decided to mix it up and instead of just talk about the history of how it came to be, we interviewed all the people responsible for bringing the game to fruition: The playtesters, the developer, the artist and the printers!

2)     Leaking art: work with your publisher before leaking any art as they might have a proper marketing plan on how to release it. Again, use bgg.com and get those thumbs going again. If you get enough attention then it will make it to the front page of bgg.com in the images section. We had our artist Josh make up some fun promo images using the art from the game!

3)     Blog: Blog about your experiences with game design. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog. Many blogs are devoted to how to make your blog successful so I won’t go into that detail here. Rest assured that pretty much any press is good press! We even did a video ‘interview’ describing the history of Belfort!

4)     Leaking the rules: Somewhere within the last month before your game is released to the public you should get your publisher to leak the rules online. This could either be on their website or on bgg.com. Then do whatever you can to promote that the rules are available. You know – Twitter, Facebook – the usual suspects.

5)     Local PR: There are a few things you can do locally.

  1. First is to ensure your local game stores are aware that the game is coming. If the publisher has created a sales sheet for your game, print them out and give one to each game store in your neck of the woods. If one doesn’t exist then ask the publisher if you can make one on your own using art from the game. Generally any publisher will be happy for any extra promotion that you can do. A sales sheet is similar to the sales sheet we talked about in Step 14, but it’s for a different audience! The audience for this sales sheet is for retailers and customers! It will have art of the finished box and hopefully a picture of the game in progress with many of the components. There should be a short description and enough flavour text to get people intrigued.
  2. You can also make a press release and send it to your local TV, Radio and Print establishments. If you spin it as a ‘local citizen achieves dream’ or something like that, then you stand a good chance at getting some media attention. If you do get any media attention, then ensure you forward it to the publisher. If it’s appropriate then they can add it to their website. I’ll devote another post on how to write up a good press release.
  3. Once the game is out, the PR doesn’t stop. It’s up to you to go to as many game stores as you can and show the owners how your game plays. Hopefully they’re carrying your game (remind them that since you’re local, there will be more demand here), and now that you’ve given them a tutorial, or even played the game with them, then they’re much more likely to recommend it to others (assuming they like it!). There’s a store in my city of Vancouver that I showed how to play Train of Thought and they liked it so much that they recommend it to a lot of customers and it ended up being one of their best sellers last year!
  4. Organize ‘Meet the Designer’ days at your local stores. Much like an author will do a reading or a signing at book stores, you can do the same things at game stores. Help them advertise it however you can – possibly be including it in your press release. These can be a great way to show your game to people.

Train of Thought6)     Conventions: If the publisher is going to a convention and you can afford it, then ask if you can come too (heck, first ask if they’d like to pay for your flight or hotel!). I can’t imagine a publisher turning down having a designer at their booth helping promote their game. I attended BGG.con when Train of Thought was released and spent most of my time at the Tasty Minstrel booth showing people how to play the game all week. It paid off because Train of Thought ended up being the second highest rated game at the convention!

7)     Reviews: The publisher should be responsible for sending out review copies, but there’s nothing stopping you from helping in whatever way you can. I’ve sent one of my own copies to a reviewer in order to get a timely review. We’ve also sent review requests that we get (since we’re the designers, some reviewers contact us) to the publisher.  Once you do get a review, assuming it’s positive, then do whatever you can to promote that review! Post it on your blog; send it to your publisher so they can post it on their site; link to it on BGG.com.

8)     Awards: Again, this is up to the publisher to submit the game for various awards. You can help by listing awards for which you think you have a better chance at winning and forwarding them to your publisher. We were fortunate enough to win the Dice Hate Me Game of the Year award and now that victory is on the front of the box for the second printing!

9)     Above and beyond: Sen and I will always go above and beyond expectations when trying to promote our own games. For Train of Thought we filmed a 45 second video that gives a nice overview of how the game is played. We got some actor friends, and some videographers and shot and edited the video, then Sen added the music since he’s talented that way!

For Belfort we did a different type of video and enlisted the assistance of one of our friends to help us animate it.

Also I worked with another friend of mine and we wrote a 10 page comic book set in the world of Belfort. We’ve paid an artist out of our own pocket to professionally illustrate it.

Of course, we got permission to do all of this from the publisher first! As you can see there are many ways in which you can help promote your game, and why wouldn’t you?! It might not be a strength of yours (heck, you’re a game designer not a marketing major, right?), but it can only help you to learn about some of the things you can do to increase the potential of your game becoming a hit!

So that brings us to the last step in this blog! That doesn’t mean we’re done though. We’ll be adding more stories and lessons we learn along the way, which will probably mean tweaking or adding some steps here and there. We haven’t even talked about Kickstarter yet, and with a new game of ours hitting Kickstarter soon – I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from that! And who knows, maybe we’ll actually self-publish a game or two in the future! Thanks for reading so far!

-Jay Cormier

The Gathering of Friends: Part 2 – The Lay of the Land

When I got to the Gathering I got my name badge and a goodie bag full of freebies! The goodie bag had some card games (including a special Tichu deck with new pictures of people who have attended the Gathering in the past), some expansions to other games (like the expansion to fellow GAC member, Roberta Taylor’s Octopus’ Garden) and even the full box version of Two by Two from Valley Games (and designed by fellow GAC member, Rob Bartel!).

The name badge system was awesome as they were colour coded to help you identify people a lot easier. With this information it was easy to identify the publishers as you walked around.

  • Red Badge: First year attendee (so I had a red badge!). Generally speaking, red badge attendees are always welcomed by others and made to feel at home pretty quickly. People were constantly shaking my hand and welcoming me to the Gathering. It was very nice!
  • Grey Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for the last 9 years
  • Black Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for 10 years or more
  • Blue Badge: Publishers

    After I got my badge, I surveyed the layout.

Basically there was a large convention room with tons of tables set up for open gaming. Off to one side were the prize tables! Everyone was encouraged to bring something for the prize table. If you contributed to the prize table, then you could participate in the prize draw at the end of the Gathering. Near the Prize tables was a table full of brochures for local restaurants and more freebies. I found an expansion to Valdora and another for Mondo there! Around the edges of the room were tables where people stored the games they brought.

Oh look, Pierre Poissant-Marquis (right), half of the design team of the game Quebec is playing Belfort!

Generally speaking, anyone could grab any game and start playing at any time, as long as they returned it when they were done with it. Outside of the convention room were a few open areas with more tables ready for open gaming. These tables were used for the poker tournament that happened on one night. Finally, down the hall there were a couple of rooms with a few more tables. During the day we found these to be a bit quieter and therefore made it a favourite spot for us to pitch to publishers. In the late evening one of these rooms were used for a large Werewolf tournament! There were always water stations all over the place to ensure you stayed hydrated throughout the event, so that was nice! On a whole, the hotel and its staff, while a bit gungy (the hotel, not the staff), were prepared and made us feel welcome.

I found Rob and saw that he had a spot along the tables around the edges of the room, so I added my prototypes to his pile. Once we were set up then we were free to either start our own game, or join another group that’s about to start playing a game. It was always easy to find people to play a game of anything! Some of the times it would be a prototype and other times it would be a ‘regular’ game. There were a lot of designers there who, like Rob and I, were looking to get some feedback on their designs, as well as pitch to publishers. Friedemann Friese had a table dedicated to his games for the entire event. I wanted to check them out but never seemed to line up when the table was free. While the hotel offered a mini café in the latter half of the week, most of the meals were either at TGIF, which was in the same hotel, or a restaurant in the casino across the street. Sometimes people with cars would drive others to another local establishment nearby (Duff’s Buffalo wings!) or a few times we walked to a nearby Indian restaurant.

Even though I stayed up late on some days (3am) and woke up early on other days (8am), there were always people playing games somewhere in the convention area! Sleep is for chumps!

There were quite a few tournaments throughout the week ranging from 7 Wonders and Tichu to Loopin’ Louie and poker. The winners of each tournament got first choice of the prize table on Saturday night! Before the prize ceremony there was a flea market. Those that could travel with their assortment of games offered them up for sale to the rest of us. Since most people had to fly, it was a tough decision on what they could buy and what they could pack! I managed to pick up a copy of El Cabellero – a Wolfgang Kramer game that is out of print and one that I’ve been looking to get for a long time now!

[Sen:  Really?  That’s the single game of my collection that I’ve ever sold, IIRC.  Well, you know what they say about one man’s treasure…]

The prize ceremony was really the only time we were all together as one group. The hotel removed all the gaming tables and set up chairs theatre-style to fit all 400 of us in the room. Alan took the microphone and reviewed some things about the next year (I’m already pre-registered!), and then showed off the high-end prizes that people brought for the prize table. Some of the highlights included:

  • a crokinole board made by fellow GAC member, Mike Kolross, (plus graphic design by another GAC member, Mark Klassen) in the shape of a record with the label being Alan Moon’s Ticket to Ride,
  • handmade table covering with a Tichu mat on one side and a Can’t Stop and Liar’s Dice on the other – complete with all the dice and cups
  • a copy of the impossible-to-find game, Hotel
  • Big Boss from Wolfgang Kramer – another hard to find game
  • The Cookies of Catan – a fully playable and edible game of Settlers of Catan!
  • Line for Life for an upcoming game called D-Day Dice (designed by another fellow GAC member, Emmanuel Aquin). The Line for Life meant that the person would receive every expansion they ever make for this game for free!

I was called somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I managed to get the exact game I was hoping to pick up – Castles of Burgundy.  It was a game I had wanted to pick up in Essen last year, but they sold out too quick!

Up next I’ll get into the specifics of what it’s like to pitch to publishers at the Gathering!

-Jay Cormier

Belfort Expansion and new review!

First, a new review has popped up for Belfort! Dan Zuccarelli from Perpetual Geek Machine has posted his review – and we’re happy to report that he liked it! I especially liked this line:

Belfort is another one of those games whose genius lies in its simplicity while being tough to be good at it.

Thanks for the review PGN!

Secondly, we’ve been playtesting the Belfort expansions for awhile now, and I have to say that I’m pretty excited about it. We’re toying around with a couple of different ideas and we’ll be pitching them to the publisher soon to see which one we should focus on more. Rest assured that it probably won’t be what you’re thinking, as Sen and I prefer to mix it up a bit and be a little unconventional. We’ll be sharing a link with fans that want to get in on the playtesting once it’s approved by the publisher, so check back here in a few weeks if you’re interested in being a part of the playtest group!

If you’re excited about the expansion then you can head on over and vote for it as an anticipated expansion for 2012. Boardgamegeek is holding a poll and you have until Sunday to cast your vote on which games and expansions you’re most looking forward to this year.

What are the benefits of offering expansions? There’s the obvious benefit that the publisher and the designer will make some money from selling the expansion. There’s the other benefit that the base game often sells more because there’s an expansion. I know I’ve picked up a game that had an expansion and think, “Hmmm…I’ve never heard of this game – but it has an expansion so it must be pretty good.”

Fortunately board games don’t suffer from the same kind of sequel-itis that Hollywood movies often do. In Hollywood, a sequel can and almost 100% of the time will get a green light based purely on the box office receipts of the first movie. In the board game world, sales are harder to come by and are often based more on word of mouth (or reputation of a designer or publisher). It leads me to think that a game has to be pretty good to warrant that many sales.

How many sales are needed before an expansion is warranted? An expansion usually sells between 25%-35% of what the base game sold. So if the base game sold 10,000 units, then you can expect the expansion to sell around 2500-3500.

But what are the down sides to an expansion? Well, if it’s released too soon then some people haven’t had enough time with the base game to fully explore and experience it. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, because there’s nothing making me buy an expansion (except for the fact that I really want to buy it!). I’ll just keep playing the base game until I’m ready to try the expansion. Some expansions can be looked at as a cash grab, if the quality isn’t there – but I find those to be few and far between in the board game world.

In the end, I love expansions. It provides longer shelf life to your games by tweaking the game just enough to provide a fresh experience. We’ll spend another article discussing what makes a great expansion and what makes a poor one. For now, I’m just excited that Belfort has warranted enough interest to even be talking about the possibility of an expansion!!

-Jay Cormier

Step 31: Working with a Developer

The contract has been signed, so now it’s time to sit back and wait until it hits the shelves right? Not quite. There’s still some work to do. Most publishers will spend some time developing the game even further. This is common and could last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The publisher might have a team of people that are responsible for developing the game or there might be just one person in charge of it.

So what happens during this stage? Well, the developer plays your game over and over again, trying to see if it’s fully balanced and retains what it had when they first agreed to publish it. The most common thing that will happen here is small tweaks. The cost of one card could be made more expensive as it proves to be too powerful in their tests; the quantity of resources given out might be changed for balance reasons. It could be bigger changes that range from adding or removing certain aspects or even changing the theme of the game!

A famous story is how Reiner Knizia’s game, Through the Desert started as a game about campers. The publisher liked it but wanted to change the theme to camels in a desert – and the rest is history.

We were fortunate for this stage so far as we were involved in all suggested changes. Most of them were fine by us, but once in a while we would share our thoughts on why we would disagree. Sometimes it was because we had tried that in an earlier prototype and found that it didn’t work in the long run for various reasons. Most, if not all of the time, the developer listened to what we had to say and took action because of what we said.

For example, at one point we suggested starting players with some resources, and while at first it was thought not necessary by the developer, we eventually playtested it and found that it sped the game up considerably. Alternatively, we always had a rule in there that you could sell your buildings for a certain amount of gold. Eventually the developer realized that hardly anyone ever did that, so it was better to just remove it which removes 1 option players have – which is fine in this game as there are plenty of other choices to be made!

Playtesting Belfort

For us, the developer process was lengthy for Belfort and almost non-existent for Train of Thought. Train of Thought is a party game and it didn’t require any changes at all. The only development for that game came with the rules editing. Belfort is a deep strategy game and the developer playtested the game numerous times over the 6 months. Every few weeks we’d get some new reports on how the latest playtests were going. We communicated using an online forum since we were all located in various parts of North America.

It’s key in this stage to maintain a positive attitude and a humble demeanour. You don’t want to get on the publisher’s bad side at this stage. If you want a reputation, then get one that is about how easy it was to work with you as a designer. That isn’t to say that you should just lay down and accept everything they suggest. We chose our battles wisely and only really stuck to our guns if it negatively impacted gameplay. This should be one of the most fun times for you as a designer, so don’t spoil it!

-Jay Cormier

When not creating games by night, I’m a mild-mannered pediatric Occupational Therapist by day. In my line of work, I constantly tell parents that a huge percentage of the problems they or their children are experiencing could benefit from improved communication. And the same goes for working with a developer – fostering an open and understanding dialog is key to ending up with a result that everyone can be happy with and proud of.

Because Jay and I work as a team though, painfully separated by huge tracts of land, we have become somewhat experts in communicating with each other. For the most part, we are able to get our points across without ripping each other’s throats out. Having access to modern technology like Skype and our forum has really enabled Jay and I to be able to do our work despite the 3-hour time difference. We have become fairly adept at putting our ideas into writing, making physical prototypes and working things out from a distance. Giving and receiving feedback with our colleagues from the Game Artisans of Canada and our playtest teams has been hugely beneficial as well. All of these skills have been definite assets when it came to working with Seth Jaffee, our Developer on both Train of Thought and Belfort.

So, working with a developer is no different than working with anyone else – communication is a game. Everyone playing just needs to know the rules, the boundaries, and share a common lingo.

The Rules:

What I mean by this is not necessarily the rules of the game itself (though you should know those like the back of your hand, I hope!) but the “rules of engagement”, as it were. Questions you need to answer may include: Who’s in charge of what? Who’s tasked to what? Who’s the final decision maker? What is the purpose of this iteration cycle? Arming yourself with this knowledge can help you avoid some of the common misadventures that happen with groupwork – Going It Alone, Reinventing the Wheel, Passing the Buck, and the ever-dreaded Stepping On Toes.

The Boundaries:

Fact 1: You are designer of the game. So it’s your baby.
Fact 2: You have signed away your rights to the game. So it’s basically been “adopted”.

This means that you need to understand a few things, like it’s the publisher’s call whether or not the game needs to be rethemed. It’s the publisher’s call whether or not there are too many cards in Deck A, B *and* C. And, thus, by proxy, it’s the developer’s call as he/she has been employed by the publisher to take the game and make it better suit the publisher. You need to be aware going into this relationship that the developer is not there to work for you. He has a different agenda. It’s more than likely 99.9% parallel to yours, but you’ll note that I used the word “parallel” as opposed to “same”. He may have the task of ensuring that there is the least amount of language on the cards, for example, which requires you to review how the rules work with only icons. Your agendas need not clash – in the end, all parties just want to make a good game. But it takes an understanding on all sides of the die that everyone knows what’s up.

Speaking of which, one boundary that you, as the designer, may wish to discuss with the publisher and developer is your overall vision for the game – what were you trying to accomplish when you made the game? What are some of the high priority “no sale”, make-or-break items for you? If the developer holds these in mind while he is doing his thang, everything will flow from those overarching elements. It’s important to look at the game from the macro viewpoint every now and then to ensure that the wholistic nature of the game is still intact after all of the micro changes that are made. But without talking about that kind of stuff, how is the developer supposed to know? He’s not a mind-reader anymore than you are.

Share a Common Lingo

This, simply put, means that everyone is on the same page language and terminology-wise. You will save yourself a lot of confusion and arguments if everyone knows that when you say SP you’re referring to Skill Points, not Spell Points. Having very clear rules with well-layed out phases of play and a glossary of terms can really help everyone understand each other. When everyone speaks the same language, the flow of ideas is much more seamless. It helps streamline conversations when people can refer to the same points of reference instead of having to call something the “the-part-of-the-game-where-we-roll-dice-and-move-things-but-we-don’t-pick-up-any-cards-because-that-comes-at-the-end phase” (er…you mean “The Movement Phase”).

So keep the lines open between you, the developer, and the publisher. In the end, change is generally for the positive – i.e. to make the game better (in terms of playability, saleability, etc.). Be open and accepting to feedback, because if the agendas are parallel, everyone is hoping to get to the same place. So embrace change instead of fighting it, just ask for clarification/explanation from the developer if needed.

In short, communicate.

-Sen-Foong Lim

2011 in Review

Well, to say 2011 was a big year for the Bamboozle Brothers (that’s Sen and I, btw!!) would be quite the understatement!

Published Games

In 2011 we saw the release of our first two games!

Train of Thought

Train of Thought box artTrain of Thought was our first published game (though it was our second one signed to be published). It’s a party game that gets people thinking differently than most other party games. It has been reviewed very well so far. There are discussions with other publishers to see if there’s interest in publishing the game in different languages and different countries. We managed to get it into a National Retailer in Canada…yep – Train of Thought is available on Bestbuy.ca!

Belfort

Belfort box artBelfort was released just a few months ago and has been received extremely well by gamers everywhere, including achieving the number one game of this year’s BGG.con. It has sold out at the publisher level, and they are in discussions with other publishers to see if they want to do other language versions of the game. On the last day of 2011, Belfort was the 392nd best game of all time, according to users on boardgamegeek.com. We’ve seen it pop up on a few top ten lists of the year as well.

It has already been confirmed by the publisher, Tasty Minstrel Games, that an expansion will come out next year! Expansion you say? Yep! Sen and I have been working hard on many expansions for Belfort. Tasty Minstrel has given us carte blanche in creating it – so we thought we’d come up with a few and either have them choose – or, if they like them all, then stagger the release of expansions over the next couple years.

Unpublished Games

It was also a big year for our unpublished games! How so? Well, 8 of our unpublished games are currently out at various publishers being reviewed. My trip to Essen (detailed in many posts starting here) was key in getting most of our games out to publishers. We’re feeling some good vibes from at least two publishers about our games and we should start to hear from most of them in January. One of them, Akrotiri, made it to the finals in the Canadian Game Design Competition that was ultimately won by fellow Game Artisan of Canada’s Matt Tollman with his game, Undermining.

Sen and I took one of our almost-published games, But Wait, There’s More and posted it here on our website and gave it away for free to everyone! It has also been posted on boardgamegeek.com – so I guess it’s actually a published game now! If you’ve downloaded and tried it, we’d love to hear your feedback. Expect more free games from Sen and I in the near future!

Game Artisans of Canada

Sen and I belong to the Game Artisans of Canada (GAC), and it’s been an amazing organization and very symbiotic relationship so far. There are chapters of game designers all across Canada that get together to playtest each other’s games and help each other out with general questions and direction. The collective knowledge of the group is astounding, let alone the numerous contacts that each person brings to the table. You can read more about the group, including its annual get-together, appropriately named Cardstock here.

Comic Books!

We also released our first comic, which was set in the world of Belfort and was written by me and my comic-writing partner, Tim Reinert and illustrated by the uber-talented Rob Lundy. We’ve started a path that was very similar to the path Sen and I took on getting a board game published: we have no idea what we’re doing, but we’re taking it one step at a time and enjoying the process a lot!

The entire 10-page Tales of Belfort comic will be complete by Monday or Tuesday of this coming week, then we’re onto other stories set in other, non-board game worlds! Check it out at Condo Of Mystery.com!

 

This Website
It’s always interesting to see if people are reading what you’re writing. One way to tell if you’re connecting with your audience is if your posts start a discussion (go on, comment below!), but the other way is through analyzing the stats. It’s rewarding to me to see that people are visiting the site as often as they are.

What’s the plan for 2012 for this blog? Well, there are still a few more steps left to go to fully complete the journey we started long ago. Plus, since starting this blog, we’ve come up with many more tips and best practices along the way that we’ll have to squeeze into the step process somewhere. Not sure how we’ll do that…maybe just renumber the steps? We’ll see. Plus we’re hoping to get some experiences with different publishers under our belt this year. No problems or challenges with our current publisher – but it will be interesting to see how other publishers operate. We also have plans to put some videos together that better demonstrate some of the steps that we’ve described.

As usual, we’ll be as transparent as we can be – we have to hold back sometimes when publishers request us NOT to post about certain things – which we can understand. Usually it’s just a timing thing and not a forever thing.

Our goal, as it has been since we began: show and explain all the steps we took to get our games published, in an effort to make it easier for others to get their board games published. How altruistic! Well, in doing so, we’re hopefully raising awareness for our games as well! 🙂

Click here to see the complete report.

2012?

So what else is coming in 2012? We hope a few more games from the Bamboozle Brothers! While the publishers are assessing the games of ours that they have right now, Sen and I are still working on new games (it’s really a never ending cycle, isn’t it – no complaints here though!). We have Lion’s Share, RuneMasters, Scene of the Crime and more that haven’t made it through Beta stage yet.
I am really looking forward to April as I have been invited to the very exclusive Gathering of Friends! This is a week long event held by famed game designer, Alan Moon in which his friends (most of them are other famous game designers) and some publishers show up and play games all week! Wow! That’s going to be amazing!
Sen is planning a trip to Essen this year to celebrate completing 4 decades of living. I might go as well, but the Gathering will take a fair bit of change out of my spending this year.
The aforementioned expansion to Belfort will be released. Expect the first expansion to be one of the smaller kind of expansions – not a full boxed version. Just something to mix it up a bit!
I have to say that five years ago, I would never have thought I’d be where I am right now. It’s been a fantastic ride, and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us! Thanks for joining us on this trip!
-Jay Cormier

Adventures in Essen: Part 5: Tips and Best Practices

Now that I’m not an Essen noob, I have some tips and best practices for those that want to visit Essen in the future. I’ll be sure to re-visit this post as next year draws near.

  1. Book your hotel well in advance. Stay close or at least on the metro/subway line. We spent too much money on taxis though there were 4 of us so we could split the fares. Next year we’re thinking of staying at the Atlantic hotel as it’s within walking distance.
  2. Pack a luggage within your luggage. If you’re planning on buying a bajillion games, then make sure you’re prepared to get them home! Most flights out of Duseldorf (closest airport to Essen) will charge you 50 Euros for an extra luggage, so factor that in you decisions about which games you should pick up. My rule was that if I could get it in Canada, I wouldn’t buy it at Essen, no matter how cheap it was.
  3. Bring an empty rolling luggage with you to the Fair. Carrying games around all day can get tiring. One of the Game Artisans of Canada was smart and brought a rolly suitcase and made it super easy to carry games around. There were many other ‘smart’ people who did the same. I used the bags provided by the vendors and had 2 paper bags rip on me in the middle of an aisle. Boo!
  4. Create a list beforehand of the games you want AND add the publisher name and booth number to the list. It’s not easy finding games if you don’t know the publisher – but it’s super easy if you know the booth number.
  5. Bring a healthy snack if you can. The food options at the Fair are the usual hot dogs, pizza slices and Nutella-filled crepes. And they’re not cheap either – so brings some edibles and come well-fed already.
  6. If you’re going to split up with your friends, make sure the meet up point is very clear. Some publishers have multiple booths so that can get confusing! We had a meeting with a publisher who said to meet him at the Snack Point in Hall 6. After 2 very crowded loops of Hall 6, we couldn’t find any Snack Points. Apparently there was one there last year and he was basing the location from last year’s layout!
  7. No one can tell you which games you should or shouldn’t get, but pay attention to forums and buzz to find out which might sell out before others and plan to get those sooner than later. I really wanted a game called Die Burgen von Burgund and since it was a game that debuted last year, I figured that there would be plenty – however it still has not been published in America so it sold out right away and I never got a copy.
  8. Travelling to Essen from the Dusseldorf Airport will cost you 50 Euros in a taxi or you could take a train for about 4 Euros if you know how to get where you’re going. I actually went a few days early and went to Paris – so I took a train from Paris to Essen and then a cab from the train station, which was only about 12 Euros. On the way out I decided to incur the cost of a taxi because I wasn’t sure of where I was going (poor planning) if I had to take the train, and my foot was sore with some sort of heel spur.

Following some of these tips will definitely ensure a more pleasant Essen-going experience! If you’re a designer then you’ll want to follow these tips as well:

  1. Contact publishers 1-2 months in advance of Essen to book appointments. Basically, the bigger the publisher, the earlier you should be setting up meetings. Email contact should suffice.
  2. Carry all your prototypes around with you – at all times. You never know when you’re going to need them.
  3. Always carry around a Sales Sheet for each of your games. If for some reason, you can’t or don’t want to carry around your prototypes – then at least always have a Sales Sheet on hand. I’ve definitely had to pull out a Sales Sheet at unexpected times at conventions.
  4. Make sure each game is individually packaged. I used a large baggie for each game. When we send a game to a publisher, we’ll always put it in a nice box, but at Essen I was carrying 7 prototypes with me at all times and there wasn’t room for each of them to have boxes. They all fit in my backpack once I put them each into their own baggie. Of course ensure each baggie is labeled with all the pertinent information: Name of game, your name and contact info and even the basic playtime, age range and how many players your game can support.
  5. Know the publisher before meeting with them. Actually you should know the publisher before you even email them. But when you’re in a meeting with a publisher and they reference one of their games, you should be familiar with it.

That should ensure you’re prepared for a solid Essen adventure of your own. Next up I’ll regale you with a post about all the games I got at Essen!

-Jay Cormier