Category Archives: Special Guest

#35: Special Guest Fedor Sosnin (Disruptive, Inc.)

Good morning, we have another special guest today, this one has far more experience than the rest 😀 I met Mr. Sosnin through Twitter during his first Dice Bazaar campaign. The game looks great – so I was really surprised when the clock ticked down and he fell short. Mr. Sosnin immediately went to work revamping his campaign, preparing for a relaunch. The more I researched his previous campaigns and saw him prepare for a second shot, the more impressed I became – I HAD to pick Mr. Sosnin’s brain. And without further ado, here he is 😀

Fedor Sosnin

First, tell us about yourself and then about Dice Bazaar.

Hello everyone. My name is Fedor Sosnin, the designer of Battle of Durak. I run Disruptive Inc, a design firm in Sparks, Maryland. Dice Bazaar is my second table top game. I really wanted to create a game that can be played by a variety of people. Something you can share with non-gamers, family, kids, co-workers, and not scare them away from the table from a complex set up or overwhelming table presence. I wanted to create a dice game because everyone knows what to do with a die. Shake it, roll it, have fun. I worked hard to make the game light enough yet be engaging enough for avid gamers. I chose the game’s theme based on my memories of bazaars and markets from Uzbekistan from when I was a kid. Keeping the colors bright and vivid, I tried hard to not only give it a presence on a shelf but also make it attractive to all ages.
Dice Bazaar 3
With this as your 2nd game, how was this campaign different from Battle of Durak?
I learned so much from my first campaign, Battle of Durak. I wanted to take all of those lessons learned and apply them to my presentation of Dice Bazaar. I wanted to be as clear and transparent as possible so there are no questions when someone has scrolled through the campaign. I also worked hard to get copies out to reviewers to hear their thoughts and get their feedback early on. I also learned some new software to create a better video that I’m proud of. Hopefully, my hard work shows in this new campaign. :)
 

You made a somewhat controversial move by launching Dice Bazaar before Battle of Durak shipped. What were your reasons? 
Once I got the word from ShipNaked that everything was in their hands and ready to go, I saw a green light. I want to show that I have more material, more games, to show and share with everyone. As well speak, almost everyone has Battle of Durak in their possession and I wanted to transition right into the next game with no delay. Maybe it is a somewhat controversial move, but I have no regret because I wanted to keep the excitement high.
Dice Bazaar Box

“Customs Friendly Shipping” for Canada, Australia, and the European Union is no easy feat, and most campaigns don’t bother. How are you pulling it off, and how important do you feel that extra step is for your backers?
It is super important to me to make sure that EVERYONE can get Dice Bazaar. I am using ShipNaked for shipping and fulfillment and they assure their customers that they ship all over the world, customs friendly. To have this level of service, I will not be making extra money off of my backers and their pledges, instead, that money is going directly towards shipping and getting the game produced. After-all, that is what KS is all about.
 

What were your major “mistakes” in the first Dice Bazaar campaign that you’ve been fixing for the relaunch?
Shipping. That was by far the biggest hurdle. My biggest mistake was making the box large. That not only cost more, it weighed more and cost MUCH more in shipping costs. Reducing the box size and getting rid of luxuries like player boards got the weight down and fixed the issues from my past campaign allowing me to price the game $10 lower!
 

Where did the idea for Dice Bazaar come from?
I was toying with many dice game ideas before stumbling on what Dice Bazaar is now. Since I wanted to keep the game in the family category, I instantly thought of having the dice be the currency in the game. After many prototypes I found that it not only worked, but memories of going to these types of Bazaars in Uzbekistan when I was child stood out. The rest just fell into place after months of testing and tweaking.
 Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 11.42.26 AM

When did you know you had something special?
I knew I had something fun when I tested the game with strangers at a local convention. Smiles, laughter, even shouting over a stolen good was an indicator. Since then, it’s happened more and more and because of that, I’m all in.

What was the worst part of preparing your Kickstarter campaign?
It’s just so much work! If I had to choose the “worst” thing about preparing the campaign it would have to be checking and double checking and triple checking all of the numbers and costs.
 

What was the most difficult part of designing Dice Bazaar?
Finding the part that makes the game different yet fun. I came up with the fluctuating market idea when I realized that most other roll and match games had dice on the cards and the game was stagnant. The market makes things exciting and allows the chance for player’s dice to stay on the board instead of being completely knocked off. The hard part was figuring out why and how many cards and dice to use. Do I have a 6th product, should I have multiple products? A balancing act that can only be figured out though testing and many, many plays.
 

What was your favorite part of designing it?
My favorite part was the creating the art. Aside from that I think it would have to be when I thought of the idea of allowing players to trade products. That really took the game to next level and gave it that zing other games didn’t have.
Dice Bazaar 1
Do you have any advice for designers and project creators reading?
Don’t give up if you fail, brush it off and try again. Iterate, change, tweak, test. Take feedback with a grain of salt, but listen to each and every word. Figure out why they gave that feedback more so then what the feedback was. At the end of the day you might need to make changes but keep in mind your goal and your vision as everyone has a different opinion. :)
 
Best,
FEDOR SOSNIN
USER EXPERIENCE DESIGNER
WE MAKE APPS, WEBSITES, & GAMES

Really cool stuff, huh? This guy has really busted his butt to deliver the kind of service and beautiful product I hope to present. Please, visit Twitter or Facebook and thank him for sharing, and take a peek at his Kickstarter campaign. He’s doing some great stuff that we can all learn from 😀

#30: Special Guest Matthew Rodgers (Gamesicle)

This week I’m fortunate enough to bring on yet another designer that I met at Strategicon.  Matt was very open to meeting, discussing design, talking the maths of printing and shipping, and was just a great guy to be around and play with.  I asked and he was kind enough to do this little interview right in the middle of the final push of Bane‘s campaign.  Without further flattery, here’s Mr. Rodgers!

Please, tell us a little about yourself and Gamesicle.

I’ve been gaming all my life; games of all shapes, sizes and types. I played a lot of RPGs and board games in my formative years. I have always been attracted to game systems that have immersion and quality player interaction. Gamesicle was born from this tradition.

 

I have only recently begun to devote my energies full time to building Gamesicle. Before that I worked in Information Technology and Emergency Management. I also have a lot of experience in the performing arts (primarily theatre) and that certainly shapes how I view and approach things.

 

At Gamesicle our quest is to connect players through immersive game experiences.

 

How long have you been working on Bane?
Bane was originally conceived in 2010, but we have been working on it mostly over the past 2 years or so. Bane has shared development time with several other projects. Our approach was to have several games queued up ahead of time so that when we made the move to build Gamesicle we would be able to grow.

What inspired Bane?  Where did it come from?
Bane’s inspiration was simple: create a game where the players felt like hunter and hunted. We wanted a simple mechanic that placed the players in tricky situations of survival. The use of the Vampires, Werewolves and Humans took a bit of doing, as I was opposed to using it at first. But, over time (and with substantial testing) it was the favored direction. I had to create my own I.P. for it though, make the world of Bane a living, breathing place in order to be pleased with the look and feel.

 

How much did your experience with Junkyard King influence the development, iteration, and marketing of Bane?
Our first game, Junkyard King, was a deliberate step we took as a startup game publisher to learn the ropes so-to-speak. It has taught us a lot about how we want to make games. We still have more to do with Junkyard King as well; we want to bring it to full retail.

How long have you been preparing for this Kickstarter campaign?
We’ve been building our network or relationships for about a year and a half and began in earnest on this Kickstarter campaign about 9 months ahead of launch.

 

What was the most important piece of advice about Kickstarter projects, which you found before launching?
Make sure your first 2 days are as strong as possible.

 

I know you hit some unfortunate hiccups just as you launched.  Could you tell the audience about that?

The 3 weeks leading up to launch got really crazy. Let’s just say that things didn’t go according to plan. But, that’s life and business. You have to be ready for anything, flexible. Because it was my first time running a Kickstarter I found myself saturated with information, it was very challenging to know what to do with the final details, how to pull it all together. In the end, I stuck to my commitments and stayed focused and followed my instincts.

 

What is the most important piece of advice you can give about Kickstarter projects now that you have launched?

Make sure that your first 2 days are going to be very strong. Build lots of support. Get your prototypes made early and get the word out that your game is coming. Let people see it, touch it, play it and review it. Talk about it, share it and promote it.

 

Make sure that every Plan A has a Plan B.

 

What is your favorite aspect of Bane (component, mechanism, art, etc.)?

What I like most about Bane is how interconnected the mechanics are. The deck composition, the core mechanic, the scoring mechanism, the turn order, the player setup, the special powers, the bane token and the game boards all blend together to create the unique experience that is Bane. Because of how it’s designed, Bane scales itself to the players. The decisions and player interactions are the soul of the game.

What was the most difficult aspect to get right?  

Creating what I answered in the above question. Balancing the right amount of chance and choice took an awful lot of work and time.

 

What part of the game changed the most between inception and now?

The game boards were the last major design addition. It completely transformed the overall experience. The game instantly became much easier to manage and learn when we added the boards. The overall experience elevated and grew more immersive. 

What was your favorite experience playing Bane?

I don’t have a single experience that I would label as a favorite. What I always enjoy about Bane is that you constantly have interesting plays presented to you throughout the game. Even when you are behind the leader you have plays you can make to give yourself a chance to win. Your goals are not always identical to the other players and those goals can change from turn to turn. I love this about Bane. There is always something to work for, some line of play you can pursue.

 

What is next for Gamesicle?

We want to further develop the world of Bane (RPG… maybe?), we have a strategy game in the wings and we’ll begin working on a project this summer with another design group – but, I can’t release those details just yet.  ; )

 

Any additional comments or advice for the audience?

 Thank you for your interest in Gamesicle! Let’s do this again.

 

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Awesome!  Thanks, Mr. Rodgers, for taking the time to chat with me about your great project and exciting company.  YOU!  Out there in the world: go thank Matt for taking time out of his crazy busy schedule to talk with us.  He can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and the web.  More importantly, Mr. Rodgers currently has a Kickstarter campaign running RIGHT NOW!  Bane can be found HERE.  Honestly, I got to play it at Strategicon and it was great.  I love blind bidding (Top-Deck) and he does a beautiful execution of it.  Not only that, he layers the mechanics in a way which allows for quick pick up but a lot of depth and growing strategies.  I can’t say enough good things about this guy and his project.  But don’t take my word for it – go check him out  😀

#29: Special Guest Brent Critchfield (Studio Woe)

I know I’m excited about all of my special guests but this time we’ll be hearing from someone I’ve actually met in person!  I was blessed with the opportunity to attend Gamex (by Strategicon) this past weekend.  During a lull in my schedule, I had to go over and see what the deal was with this “Gruff” game.  It turned out to be pretty fantastic!  Not only was the game a unique take on my kind of fun, but I really fell in love with the theme and Mr. Critchfield’s storytelling (I mean, come on!  Weaponized goats!  Fat, mean, weird goats!).  Anyway, this guy impressed the snot out of me with his skills as a designer and his approach to this business.  So, without any further ado, here’s Mr. Critchfield!
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Once upon a time, I was working at a company called Vigil Games in Austin Texas (The guys that made the Darksiders Franchise and the ill-fated Warhammer 40,000 Dark Millenium Online). Their publisher, THQ, was in their death-throes, and I lost my job as the studio dissolved.
I had been excited about creating a card-game for ages and when my wife got a really great job offer in California I saw an opportunity to deep dive on this idea. I had been creating a Steam-Punk Americana shoot-out game where you would take Cyborg John Henry and have him fight Carnegie Melon in a Mech-suit. On the long drive from Austin to LA I remembered a project that Virginia had been working on where she had filled sketchbooks full of the weirdest, meanest, and fattest goats of infinite shapes and sizes. Whenever I saw those goats I wanted to see how they would animate, how they would fight, how they would evolve. It dawned on me that I should merge those crazy goats with the crazy card engine that I had built. It took another 9 months before that idea resembled anything like Gruff, and another 2 years of testing before it was ready to be shown to the public but now it is all together and I am really having fun with the results.
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From the earliest stages, I knew I wanted to make a game that was both visually and mechanically “Over-the-top”. Something that would quickly escalate from a slap-fight to a world-shattering conflict. To do that I created an exponential resource generation system, and open ended cards that would easily combo into one another. I love those moments when you are playing a game and all the elements that you set in motion finally come together in some devastating effect. Gruff is designed in a way to make that happen as often as possible.
I knew I wanted to embrace the inconsistency that you get from a deck of cards, but I also knew that I wanted players to have important choices that were independent of randomness. By using self-evolving stats and board positional gameplay, players should always feel like they have important choices right up until the end of the game. Players should never feel like the game was over just because they started the game with a bad hand.
 Ready_Deep_Brine002 (1)
Primarily, I knew that the success of the game hinged on expressing the personality of the individual goats. To do that I created specific card pools for every goat, and gave them unique abilities that encouraged people to play with them in a specific way. After each match I will ask players who their favorite gruff is. People don’t always name the same gruff, but they are always very enthusiastic about their choice​. When I started seeing that type of reaction I knew the game was close to done.
 Getting to Kickstarter was a really complex path. The thing that really saved my project was meeting up with a local “Support Group” of other Kickstarter hopefuls and veterans. The advice I got from them made me realize that I had planned on releasing the game much too quickly. The scariest part of getting ready for Kickstarter was all the complications that arose once I had actually committed to a date. I had a printing catastrophe that almost scrapped the entire launch. I gave myself 2 months to prepare demo copies for review, and it was not nearly enough time. The next time I Kickstart I am going to give myself 4 months from the date of preview content completion and the moment I actually push the button.
ProductShot_B
The one big newbie mistake that I made was launching on a Friday. We were lucky to have a really great first day, but all of that inertia evaporated the moment the weekend hit. Next time I will definitely run a mid-week campaign.
8633557_origOne thing that went really well was the creation of an “Online Launch Party”. Basically a Facebook event that I advertised a month in advance in order to prepare people to support the game on day one. I really can’t overstate how important day 1 support is. Campaigns like this are all about momentum. If you do not start strong it is almost impossible to build up momentum mid-campaign.
It has been a struggle and I have made a lot of mistakes (poor launch timing, not knowing when to slow down my messaging, getting the wrong people to review my game) But it has absolutely been a great experience. I feel like the experience I gained during this process has made me a better developer. I have come away with a much greater appreciation for all the hard work that goes into the games that I love.
Gruff_Darby_C
Such a great story!  Thanks for taking the time out of your super-busy week to share with us, Mr. Critchfield.  Everyone, please do yourselves a favor and check out his highly successful Kickstarter campaign for Gruff.  Great price, easy shipping, fantastic product for 2 players or a 4 player draft – it’s a no brainer.  For me, this was an auto-back and I will even be demoing it with him at Gateway in September.  I can’t say enough about this guy and his game.  Thanks for reading!  Be sure and look for Mr. Critchfield on Twitter, Facebook, and on the web and thank him for sharing 😀

#28: Special Guest Jared Barry (Mad Ape Games)

Holy smokes, today I have the privilege of sharing with you an interview with Jared Barry of Mad Ape Games!  Mr. Barry is the proud publisher of the gorgeous 2 player dueling game, Clash! Dawn of Steam, which funded back in July 16, 2014.   I recently reached out to Mr. Barry about Clash! and his latest projects, and he was gracious enough to give me a bit of his time.  Following are some great insights he’s picked up on his 1.5 year long journey to get Mad Ape Games off the ground.
 Mad Ape Games
I know you work in a print shop by day, but do you have any background in the game industry itself?
 I worked in a print shop for the past three years and just a couple months ago I was fortunate enough to transition into a position doing graphic design and marketing for a motorcycle company. This transition has allowed me to spend more time working on building up the studio, which has been just terrific.I don’t actually have any real work experience in the game industry prior to Mad Ape Games. Though I’ve been an avid gamer for the last 15 years, which may be an insignificant measure of time compared to some industry veterans, but considering I’m only 23 years old that’s more then half my life. I like to think about it like this, being so young I have plenty of time to build the studio and grow with the gaming industry. Everyday I wake up and feel so lucky to be healthy and to have the opportunity to make games for others to enjoy.
 See when I was 17 years old I found out jarringly that I had a rare form of cancer in my spinal cord, and that they would have to do emergency surgery to remove the tumor the next night. My chances of survival were very low (around 20%), yet I woke from the surgery in the ICU having suffered severe nerve damage but alive. Then I went through the gauntlet of chemotherapy, radiation, and physical therapy to fight off the cancer and get back to living my everyday normal life. I’ve now been living cancer free for five years proudly. The point of that back story is that when I was going through very hard times getting together and playing games with my friends pulled me through.
 That’s the magic and power of gaming, though many outsiders look at it just as some geeks rolling dice, for many it’s a great source of joy and positivity. If I can momentarily brighten up just one person’s world when they play my games then I am more then satisfied with spending the countless hours bringing those games to life.
 Clash! Dawn of Steam
Where did the idea for Clash! Dawn of Steam come from? How did it start? 
Well to be honest my first love is wargaming, but with the cost and room for error so high with regards to miniatures production I decided quickly that I wanted my first published game to be a card game.  Next I actually brainstormed what sort of mechanics I personally liked that I would want to put into it. I came up with the idea for a card game where one player lays siege to a city and the other defends it. Not an original idea by any stretch, yet, many of my favorite things included these types of epic sieges (Lord of the Rings, R.A. Salvatore books, Game of Thrones, Privateer Press, Final Fantasy to some extent etc). I really liked the idea of a fantasy world with no magic being suddenly hit by a storm and now magic is an unexpected reality for the people.
A lot of great questions stemmed from that concept, how would the different nations be affected? Surely some would be quick to embrace this “Dawn of Steam,” as the world is thrown into an industrial revolution fueled by magic. Others would be resistant to change like the Edenites in The Scuffle for the SS Rogue. So to answer the question I just became obsessed with this concept and tried to dig deep into this world of Asyria, that was the start in this case.
When did you KNOW that you had something special, here?
Well my first prototype for Dawn of Steam looked terrible with neon colors and the balance of the cards was crazy swingy, but the game had something I really liked about it. I think the thing I liked about it so much was that to me, the play felt reminiscent of an old Japanese rpg as players would watch what the opponent did then strategize how to outfox them most efficiently.
 Clash layout
Reading your descriptions of a huge world and the 2 decks in Dawn of Steam give the distinct impression that you have even more content waiting in the shadows. Why did you decide to move forward with these decks and characters, specifically?
I’d love to keep releasing 2-player boxed sets(as a matter of fact I have many plans to do so), thus really shedding more light on the world of Asyria. I am very much into story and narrative in gaming and though Dawn of Steam is a light card brawler I still wanted the fluff to be here for those interested. Honestly every game the studio releases will likely have some sort of narrative element whether weaved into the game or as a companion book.
I felt these factions represented the initial struggle to assimilate into this new world of magic really well. The Magister Praeta are religious alchemists who fight zealously for their god, the All Mother. Naturally they would be quick to industrialize, as it is a religious principle for them. Meanwhile the Salvation of Eden is a faction from the primitive island nation of Eden, they are hesitant to change. Prior to the Dawn of Steam Eden by location was safe from outside influence, as the sea was too treacherous for an army too reliably cross. With the invention of airships brought invaders from all corners of Asyria upon Eden, raiders eager to plunder the ancient treasures of the nation.
 At first the Edenites were no match for the technology wielding invaders and much pain and misery was inflicted upon the primitive locals. Cities burned, temples pillaged, many slaves stolen from their homes, and at the darkest hour the Primarch of Eden Zdeno Xao was poisoned and later went mad before being put to final rest by his people. Newly ascended cub Braeatak Xao was crowned Primarch of Eden, tears still in his eyes from the grief of his people, he vowed that this would never again happen. Guided by a human orphan who had been adopted by his people when she washed ashore many seasons past. The now adult Eve of Eden shared her insights as to how to beat the invaders by using this new technology against them.
 Together they wielded this new technology and drove the invaders from Eden. With Eden now in ruin they set sail with the remaining army to bring an unrelenting war to the main land, intent on rebuilding Eden by reclaiming all that had been stolen.
For those who are unfamiliar with your story, it took you 3 tries to
successfully fund. The funding goals and pledge amounts were wildly different each time. What kinds of changes to your approach of the campaign itself did you make each time?
 I guess you could say I’m resilient. Well I learned so much it’s hard to even find words to begin. I learned that everything needs to be ready for change, if a better solution is presented I’d be a fool to not at least consider it. This is the philosophy I adopted, and I posted all over the Internet trying to get as many minds to help me as possible. Some people will hate for the sake of hating, but most people in this gaming community really just want more awesome games to be released for the benefit of all.
 In this way I learned how great the community is and the value of sharing with any and all that would listen. I’m really glad that the campaign didn’t fund the first two times because it allowed me to refine the presentation that much more. My willingness to take good advice was the big change from then to now realistically, other then that just experience and coming upon the knowledge of James Mathes and his blog was hugely beneficial.
Were there any changes you made to the game? 
Many many changes were made, from mechanics to aesthetics to approach. It ties to the positive progression through feedback as mentioned above. I believe it’s important to be totally open to change, resistance is futile after all.
How much of your experience from Dawn of Steam is affecting your process with your next projects? Are there specific roadblocks which arose with Dawn of Steam that you are now planning / designing around? 
I wish I could say Dawn of Steam was perfect and that I was all knowing enough to foresee and prevent the little problems that arose, but honestly speed bumps did occur.  Mainly we printed the game here in California with a local print shop (note, not a game manufacturer). We thought the quality of the product would be through the roof with this approach and that the game would be done twice as fast as one coming from China, thus distinguishing our studio as a promising young studio.
Sure we knew it would be a big task to sort these games and fulfill them ourselves, but this was something I was willing to do for my dream of making games. This turned out to be a huge undertaking, not to be taken lightly, seriously other game designers don’t do this. I felt like if I did it this way just for the first game that it would give me a taste of the American dream, well I got more then a taste that much is certain. In the future we will be manufacturing with one of the Chinese factories, likely PandaGM. The quality of our American print shop was actually nowhere near as good as what was shown to us via samples and some of the cards were miscut after multiples send backs.
What can you do though but live and learn, I’m proud of CLASH! Dawn of Steam as our debut release at the end of the day.
Now that Clash! Dawn of Steam has been fulfilled and is moving into distribution, feel free to brag a bit about your next projects: Exfiltrate Xenos 9 and T. R. E. N. C. H. A Deep Sea RPG. 

Well these new projects have me giddy like a school girl, the first Exfiltrate Xenos 9 is an engine building points grab type board game in which players each become a different mutant waking up with amnesia from cryosleep in a creepy prison set to detonate. Mutate to survive as you try to learn as much about who you are as possible before the prison goes up in flames. This one is a blast and play testers have enjoyed it much so far, I’m excited to show the game industry what a young studio can do with the launch of this game.

T.R.E.N.C.H. is a roleplaying game set in a future where all land mass above sea level has been destroyed, as such civilization carries on at the bottom of the sea. People live in giant Sanctuaries on the bottom of the ocean, here only the bravest venture out across the open sea in ships called Vessels. An rpg about exploring a world of peril that aims to crush you. More to come on this subject in the future.

Any other thoughts? Advice?
My main advice to others who love games or aim to make games, just do it. Nike paid me to say that, seriously though, put equal parts passion and problem solving into the process and you will make it happen. Pay an editor or let your backers proof your game. Other advice pertains to being active in the community, this is an age of the internet, go make friends with others who share similar interests via facebook groups or bgg, or even in person at your local game store or convention.  Thanks again for your time my friend,
-Jared
Thank you so much for your time and wisdom, Mr. Barry!  Wow.  This guy is going somewhere and doesn’t mind sharing how.  If you are interested in finding more information on Mad Ape Games you can find him on the the web HERE; his Kickstarter campaigns HERE, HERE, and HERE; on Twitter HERE; and on Facebook HERE.  Please, check him out, follow him, and thank him for taking the time to talk to us 😀

#19: Special Guest 4Hogs

Howdy everybody! Today we have a guest post from the team at 4Hogs. This post is very special, though, because this is the first time I’ve been able to chat with a designer whose project, Vaults, failed to fund. While some people may be inclined to look down on a “failed” project, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to learn from a developer in the middle of analyzing what they could have done better. The guys were excited for the chance to share and generous with their candid insight. Here’s their story:

TABLE TOP DESIGN – A WANNABE DESIGNER’S TALE BY 4HOGS

We have never met a passionate table top gamer who didn’t have an idea for a new, groundbreaking game. House rules for various games are common thing these days and that’s usually how it all starts (at least that was our case). Game design is fun, creative, challenging but also exhausting and frustrating. Don’t get us wrong, WE LOVE it and we feel that there should be more game developers out there. Unfortunately a lot of “soon-to-be-great-designers” quit their projects somewhere along the way.

When we were approached by Lagniappe Games to write about our experiences we felt a bit inadequate since our Kickstarter campaign didn’t reach its goal, nevertheless we decided to share our experience and maybe throw couple of “wannabe” tips along the way.

FIRST STEP IS NOT ALWAYS THE HARDEST

This is one of the best steps in game design as far as we are concern. Fresh idea emerged, hopes are high and the image of the perfect game is so clear you can almost play the damn thing. The same was with our game, Vaults. The towers, mutants, mercenaries, attack and defense of the troops…no, no, wait, there is none of all that in Vaults? Well, here is our little secret: Vaults, steampunk themed card game was originally supposed to be a cyberpunk tower defense game. Somewhere along the way it all changed.

BRAINSTORM ALL THE WAY

We won’t burden you with entire development process because it would take far too long. We simply wanted to show you how drastically our game changed. Why? Well, it’s quite simple actually. We always had production costs in mind and also we wanted something simple. Tower defense game was simply too expensive to produce (and the whole mechanic was broken but that’s beside the point  ) We were lucky to have the four of us working together since we could brainstorm in order to fix sine nasty bugs in the game.

CHANGE IS ALWAYS GOOD

Since Vaults isn’t first game we developed, we can safely say that original idea and final product almost never meet. And that’s OK. While we struggled with Mercs (that was supposed to be the tower defense game title) one of us decided to strip the game and rearrange a couple of components. When that rogue designer within our midst returned with his idea we felt it had potential. Once we made the mechanic stable enough we simply gave it a new skin, shiny steampunk skin. Of course that wasn’t even close to our final product.

IMG_9691One of the first versions of Vaults

PLAYTEST – REWORK – PLATEST – REWORK…

Yup. First 2we played until we couldn’t bare our own game anymore and then we decided that we are ready for public test. Boy, were we wrong…Naturally, game testers found all kinds of loopholes in the game and tanks to them we had more things to take care of. But the good part of the story was that they loved it and that was the necessary boost we needed.

3The whole design process lasted over one year and when everything was finished we needed funds to finally publish Vaults. Of course there was only one place where we wanted to present our game.

KICKSTARTER

There are tons of really good Kickstarter guides out there. Of course we read most and we thought we had it all covered. We had a good game, reviews were very good and design and artwork were gorgeous. Anybody who ever made a game knows how we felt. We were very proud with our work and we were ready to take the world with our game. And like many others before us we stumbled.

If you plan to do a Kickstarter project for your game don’t hasten it. Forget about deadlines and focus on your soon to be backers. Remember to visit table top forums as often as possible and show them you share their passion for games. Be honest and if possible include them in your development process. To be honest we feel that this game would be even better if we did that.

We made few mistakes along the way and maybe those mistakes are the reason why we are not producing Vaults as you read this. Of course we are working on relaunch right now and we hope that things will go better next time.

All in all it was a great journey! Yes, it was long, grueling and resulted in a failure but we don’t regret a minute of it. Like we said in the beginning, game design is fun but frustrating. With every fixed thing, ten broken things emerge from the shadows. The only question is how much you love it and how bad you want to succeed. When the Kickstarter campaign ended some of us felt like it was the end of the road, but our backers showed us that we are just at the beginning and we thank them for that.

We thank Lagniappe Games for this opportunity and, even though we told only small part of the story, it felt good to take a trip down memory lane.

And to finish, we promised a couple of advices so here they are:

  • Be creative
  • Become involved in the gaming community
  • Don’t be scared to change your game
  • Always listen to your players (game testers)
  • Don’t be too proud when you receive bad critic – remember those are the best for development process
  • Think ahead
  • Prepare your crowdfund project and when you think you are done double check everything
  • Never ever neglect your fellow gamers

Thank you so much for sharing, Four Hogs! Please, keep your eyes peeled for the relaunch of Vaults. It’s a beautiful little game with a neat little mechanic. You can download the FREE Print and Play version here and here. Thanks for stopping by!

#17: Special Guest Chris Handy! (Perplext)

Hey there! I know this is 2 days early but I just couldn’t wait to share this with you. What a treat I have this week! This guest is another one of the designers I met on Twitter and was enticed by his preview posts. For months, I saw posts and pictures of cute, pocket-size games that all combine into a nifty Pack O Game. By the time his Kickstarter project launched I knew what was coming, but I was still blown away by how great of an idea he had! 

I started emailing with Chris Handy because I am fascinated with micro games. They are great for any company’s catalog because a good one is more likely to be played and shared (by friends, with family, etc.) than a big box game. I really struggle with designing at that scale, though. So, I asked Mr. Handy for some pointers. What he sent back was just fantastic. Not only did he take time away from his project to email with me, but he gave long, candid answers. The information he shared was GREAT. Then, he graciously gave me permission to share our chat with you! Here we go:

  • Aside from Long Shot and Cinque Terre, do you have a background in the physical or virtual game industries?

I’ve been professionally designing board games since 2000, so I’d say yes to the “Physical” part of that question. Also, my publishing company, Perplext, released 4 fast-playing games on iOS within a few months of the iOS App craze: Enterstate, Kount, Clockwize, and See-Quence. Digital Game design is a skill I’m desperate to have and I have been teaching myself Objective C, Unity and others in the last few years to become proficient.  I have some big game ideas that I’m hoping to get out at some point.  Right now, Long Shot for mobile is in development, and we’re making some great progress at the moment. I’m hoping that in the next release of AppleTV, they’ll open it up to apps and we can release a version of Long Shot that you can play with 8 players on your television.

Long_Shot_Mobile_App

  • How did Pack O Games start? Where did the idea come from? It looks like it was a design exercise that you stuck with and elaborated upon.

I don’t do design exercises. But, what I do is change up card sizes and components now and then, to keep things feeling fresh and to add extra interest. I had an idea for a color-square, tile-laying game that used long cards in a 1 x 3 fashion. I printed the game, and initially used some wooden pieces to score in an “area control” fashion. I was calling it, “Colorisma.”  In testing with my wife, I said, “This is great, but it would be fantastic to make it a “cards only” game, but still retain some kind of long term strategy in the game. We reworked it and came up with “the last card you hold is what you score” mechanism, and renamed the game RGB. I soon made a tuck box for the game and took it on vacation. I was shocked at how much we played it, and how tiny it was. After we got home from vacation, I started challenging myself to think of other games I could put in this box using only 30 cards. It started with a single new game idea, then other, then 2 more…then it was a rush of ideas.  I have close to 100 one-sentence theme/mechanism pairings, 40 SOLID ideas that I could start to print immediately and about 20 that I actually printed within about 2 months period.  Once I determined that I was going to publish these under Perplext and launch a KickStarter campaign, I backed off on design and really hammered out, tested and revised the ones I had printed.  This was a 12-15 hour a day process, for about 6 months straight. I was completely hyper-focused, obsessed really. I wasn’t much fun to be around either.  I was very protective of the idea as well, when usually I’m willing to put my games in front of anyone.  I felt like this was a much stronger concept than so many other games I had done. To me, it truly paired my artistic/craftsman side, with 15 years of game design experience, with KickStarter campaign strategy influence on design and “series” concepts, with Publisher Manufacturing/Distribution perspective.  It was a melding of ideas that frankly was overwhelming at the time, and felt completely original, fresh and inspiring.

  • Why gum pack size games? Was it a specific effort at this unique size and shape or a flippant “THIS small!” type specification?

It was the tuck box for RGB (which became HUE) that really set the tone. In carrying it around is that size box with cards in that are 1 x 3, it was so obviously comparable to a Pack O GUM. My wife came up with the name by the way.

photo RGB’s first night out on the town.

  • How early on did you hit upon the variable difficulty and rating system? It’s the kind of professional “extra” you don’t typically see on self-published projects.

In blind-testing with non-gamers, I saw some reactions that clued me in on the fact that there was an expectation from a game this size.  Certainly gamers expect these to be really light, simple, maybe even kids games. The opposite is true for non-gamers. TKO and FLY are what they would expect. But, letting non-gamers figure out GEM, with it’s different phases, auction, turn-the-card-to-indicate-status, and unforgiving nature, you’ll quickly see that it’s a game they’re NOT expecting to find in this pack. As gamers we’re completely used to phases, auctions, and so many little common game mechanisms that we’ve seen hundreds of times. So, as a gamer, you might not agree with a “3 – Challenging” rating of a game like GEM, but we’re meeting two target demographics here.  I didn’t intend my “3 – Challenging” rating to match Twilight Struggle’s rating, or the BGG rating system.  It’s about expectations from a game this size, for both demographics.

  • Were there certain games that you pack-i-fied purely for the challenge? How about because you thought they’d just be great / fun in a smaller format?

No, but I had a couple unpublished games that I’ve reworked for this size. I have thought about specific mechanisms (I’m trying to switch to saying “mechanism” instead of “mechanic”), and how I can use the materials effectively, but I’m not obsessed with doing that.  Again, I have a ton of game ideas, and there’ll be no shortage for me any time soon in this form factor.

  • Which is your favorite game in the pack and why?

HUE (RGB) was the first, so it’s special in that regard. There’s an elegance about it that I always find attractive in other games. Players only take 4-5 turns too, but it completely works on a satisfaction level.  I’m really proud of it.  But, it doesn’t stand out too much from other games like BUS or SHH.  SHH pulls off some serious tasks for what it sets out to do. Having a word game with 1 card representing each letter exactly 1 time (26 letter cards) is a challenge for any word design. And BUS is “Pick Up and Deliver” in 30 cards!

IMG_9691HUE (RGB) testing with Steve Sartain

  • Of course, which was the hardest game to develop? Why?

SHH was most difficult for a couple of reasons.  It started out with some “virtual card/place holder” mechanisms that through people off.  It was VERY difficult to win/play. I found non-gamers trying to edit the game instead of trying to win.  Man, is that an indicator that it’s time for a big revision. But, there were challenges in revising it. In a normal box game, you can put a million ideas or revisions or extra cards in there.  In the case of a Pack O Game, you are STRICTLY limited it. This is where I feel like 15 years of game design has finally paid off. There’s no way I could have made these games 5 years ago.  No way.

Another challenge was perception of the game from an on-lookers point of view.  The cards in this game are vivid, close-up pictures of real objects.  It draws people in like nothing I’ve ever seen.  But, in doing so, people may think, “Oh, it’s gonna be a laughing, party, apples to apples thing…..I want to try it!”  Then, they continue to watch and realize, there’s complete silence and concentration happening.  There is an occasion giggle if a word is misspelled or if it has to be referenced.  It’s all part of the game and is possibly the most impressive of the bunch.  I was really afraid of putting it in the “core four” game offering in the KickStarter campaign because of gamer sentiment towards word games. So, I held it back. But, I think it has the most potential to cross-over into more channels than any of the other games.  It’s certainly a favorite in my playtest groups.

IMG_9888
SHH – When it was called “GAB” and was more difficult and clunky with the “virtual letter” mechanism
  • I understand there’s a significant variance in the development processes, but what would you say is the biggest difference in your APPROACH to a micro game versus your previous full size games?

You can put a million different concepts in a 12 x 12 x 4 box. You can always add more cards for balance, add extra rule pages for clarity. Add another set of bits to add to the number of players, etc. In Pack O Game, you have to work at lot harder to achieve a solid game that accommodates 4 people, and uses only 30 cards. Every millimeter on every card and on the rule sheet counts! It’s a very different design experience. But, it’s one that I have enjoyed immensely. But, I certainly don’t think I could have pulled this off much sooner in my career.

  • When did you KNOW that you had something special, here?

When I made the second Pack O Game (which I won’t name, and which will NOT be a part of this first campaign in any way.)  I often like to surprise my wife with the games I’m working on.  I’ll only talk “around” what I’m working on, and then “BAM!!!”, I’ll bust it out on the table. We were sitting at a restaurant, and right after we ordered, I said, “And…there’s THIS!” She was shocked that I was able to put a completely different game into the form factor.  But, it wasn’t until I explained it that she was complete taken by the different use of the cards, completely different theme, and even more complexity in the level of gameplay. As I dropped her off at the airport that night, I told her I had ideas for many other games, and I needed a name for the series.  She came up with Pack O Game while we were driving, and I bought 4 domain names WHILE I WAS DRIVING.  When I picked her up the following night from her business trip, I had printed SHH earlier in the day (then called GAB.)  We played it that night, again waiting for our food at a restaurant, and we both new that this was it.  This was the right idea to launch with. The next 9 months was a whirlwind. I journal on an app every night, and haven’t missed a day in 3 years. So, luckily I can go back and review early photos or prototypes and playing with people to see the progress.  One more indicator.  I took it to TKO to my niece’s birthday party and taught my niece and newphew how to play the game afterwards.  After a few plays, I told them that I had to take the prototype with me, and couldn’t leave it as they were asking me to.  My niece quickly made a crude version with pen and paper so she could continue to play.  I’m pretty certain they haven’t played the Cinque Terre game I gave them.  It’s been an exhilarating year.

IMG_9849My niece’s crude version of TKO

  • Any other thoughts? Advice?

On the design front: Keep it FUN!  Games only “work” if they create an experience of interesting choices and fun interaction.

Outstanding stuff! Thank you so much for the time and insights, Mr. Handy. I know this isn’t my normal format or topic, but it was such a great response that I had to share. Please, head on over and check out Pack O Game. He may be fully funded with 4 days left, but I know we’d all love to unlock some of his “extra” games with those stretch goals 😀 And be sure to let him know how much you appreciate him sharing his story!

#15: Special Guest Eduardo Baraf

Hey there! We are launching a day early because we get to hear from a great guy, Eduardo Baraf! He has an impressive background in digital games, and now has a Kickstarter campaign going right now for his wonderful little board game, Lift Off! After seeing the obvious signs of extensive preparation, I invited Mr. Baraf to share some insights. He was kind enough to send along this little breakdown of his process from development up through launch. I hope you are excited as I am about what he has to say. Here he goes:

On The Prototype
Like everyone else, I started with pencil prototypes. I’ve actually uploaded a number of the designs to Twitter and the game’s Facebook page. Early on though, I knew I wanted to have a prototype which would last for a long time and be a showcase for what I actually intended the final game to look like. While doing the design work we explored the visual style and once they were both in great shape moved to making the prototypes (there are 3 in existence).

All of the prototypes are hand made. We used cardboard, masonite, wood and a jigsaw. Lots of trial and error and crafts work to get it right. I’ve included some of those steps along the way in my Uber Fan package on the KS.

On Playtesting
Playtesting is critical.  To start, I played tested early versions by myself. Playing as multiple players, etc. Then I played with my wife, Nichole, and Adam. This was the core group who played multiple games. From there, I had game nights to play the game. This was the meat of the early playtesting.

I set up group to do playing where a) I didn’t play and then b) where they used the instructions on their own to play. Then for a long time it was a game I pulled out with different groups – just took notes each time. Getting ready for the Kickstarter there have been a TON of plays. Also in sending it off to reviewers and friends.

On Printers
I evaluated a ton of printers by looking them up, checking online resources, asking people for references, etc. Then I sent out my spec for bids from four I believe. Three came back with bids, two of which are actually competitive. I had those two bids as I rolled into the Kickstarter.

Leading up to the Kickstarter
I began my planning and prepping for the Kickstarter roughly 1 month to launch. This was after the lion share of the material was complete for the Kickstarter. This period I really focused on lining up reviews, talking to blogs, reaching out to people, building my following on twitter etc. I would have liked to have started 3 months before!

Advice / Lessons Learned
I found it very hard to cut through all the mountains and mountains of information and advice on how to be successful for Kickstarter. Amazing stuff out there, but it is information overload. I’m not going to do that here!

Attitude
Be humble, listen, always try to do better, and pay it forward by helping others.

Your key destinations will be Facebook, Twitter, and BGG
You will need a YouTube channel too, but just to get a H2P [how to play] video up. 

  • Facebook: This acts as your home base for users and your website (you don’t need a website). This is easy and quick to setup.
  • Twitter: Start early. Twitter accounts grow slow and steady. Your reach is a reflection of the time on Twitter. To start, the only thing you should be doing on Twitter is helping other people, building trust, and being interesting. Pay attention to good use of hashtags, pics, links, etc.
  • BoardGameGeek: Basically a requirement and a snarl to set up. You need to wait for admins to approve and they are picky. Get this set up a month in advance.

 

Setting up your Kickstarter
Let me save you a lot of time. Go find your favorite Kickstarter, which you thought was most effective. Copy it (layout, content length, information amount, etc). Then take a look at 3 other successful campaigns, figure out the delta, and take one improvement from each. Then pass your preview links around readily and listen to feedback.

Build a small group of 15 super individuals to be your core
One of the best things I did. Early on I recruited friends and strangers to be on my Lift Off! SWAT Team. Only requirement was that they let me tell them what I was doing and what I was thinking. Helped a ton.

Make a Calendar
Use Powerpoint, Keynote, or an actual Staples calendar to chart out every day of your campaign and what is happening. THIS IS HUGE. Fill gaps.

Marketing

  • Consider what you are willing to spend on reviews
  • Consider what you are willing to spend on ads
  • Get to know blogs and bloggers
  • Look at what everyone else is doing.
  • Use Backercamp (solid $10 value)
  • Be weary of everyone else.

 

Get to know every single backer that will let you
I’ve written a direct note to all 400+ backers of Lift Off! some respond, some don’t. If they respond I start a dialog.

Front-Load, but still have more
You absolutely want to have a big first 2 days. Your entire campaign rides on it. At the same time, do make sure you have interesting things going on for the duration of the project. If you have nothing happening during slump you’ll get super depressed.

Wow! How great was that?! I gotta tell you, I first saw Mr. Baraf on Twitter, @ebaraf, where he was constantly chatting with designers, sharing other projects, and enticing us all with teasers for his game. When he finally launched the campaign, I was blown away by the professionalism, open communication, and extensive preparation that I saw on every inch of that page. I really appreciate Mr. Baraf taking the time to share some of his knowledge with the rest of us. Please, check out his campaign for Lift Off!, and, more importantly, stop by his website, Facebook, or Twitter and let him know how much YOU appreciate his advice.

#13: Special Guest Mark Basker (Around the Clock Games)

You are in for a special treat, today. At the time of this writing, his first Kickstarter project, Virus the Card Game, is 583% funded with 274 backers. He obviously is doing something right! So, I asked Mr. Basker if he would be so kind as to write up some of the things he is/has learned from this current adventure. Mr. Basker graciously sent the following message along:

I am writing this post on the request of my friend Derik Duley (@Festerduley) from  Lagniappe Games.  He asked me to write about what I learned from my first Kickstarter Project, which was for Virus the Card Game.

1.  Your Dreams – I am by no means an expert in Kickstarter.  In fact I barely knew what Kickstarter was a year ago.  I knew of course that you could take an idea and present it to people, but I always thought it was for “someone else”  not me…  I’m not an artist, or a big shot designer, but I realized Kickstart IS for everyone.  It is for “Your Dreams” too!

2.  Everyone’s a Critic – I received a lot of critical advice before and during the project.  A lot of people said they don’t like X or Y or Z.  The first thing I realized is not everyone is going to like everything about your project.  Just like everyone doesn’t like chocolate ice cream.  You have to realize even though you can’t please EVERYONE, you can still please hundreds of people with your project, and that’s great!

3.  Listen to your Backers – I changed many aspects of the game during the campaign, but it was an enjoyable and collaborative process with my backers.  I went in with the mind set to listen to them in the first place; welcoming ideas.  I actually enjoyed taking their advice, and trying to improve it how they saw fit.  I couldn’t change everything for every person, but most ideas were great, inventive, and friendly.  My backers were like my friends rooting for my project.

4.  Don’t be Afraid – I was really afraid to push the start project button on Kickstarter.  I wasn’t sure if Virus the Card Game would even fund, but I realized I would never know if it would or not if I didn’t try.  Fortunately, it was more successful than I dreamed it would be!

5.  Enjoy the Process – I heard a lot of people talk about how the process was so stressful or so burdensome.  I have found the Kickstarter process to be fun and enjoyable.  The one aspect that seemed taxing a bit was the fact that the 30 days seemed to drag on forever.

Those are the lessons learned, or tips, or whatever you want to call them.  I’m already planning my next project, Airline the Card Game, and am really excited about that as well.

Thanks for reading!

by Mark Basker (@Bloodmoondice) – Mastermind of game development at Around The Clock Games.

*Thanks a lot Mr. Basker! If you haven’t checked out Virus the Card Game, yet, there are still 3 days to go on his campaign! Head on over to the project, or even to Around the Clock Games, say “Hi”, and thank him for sharing his experience with us.