Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kickstarter Chronicles - Part V: Our influence on other projects

If I had been on the ball, I would have started a series of blog posts about my Kickstarter experience with Eminent Domain. I would have called it The Kickstarter Chronicles, and it would be in several parts. I did not do that, so instead I'm going to pick up in the middle. I'll include a complete outline, and maybe one day I'll go back and fill in the missing chapters:

Part 0: What is Kickstarter?
Wherein I learn about an interesting new crowd-funding website, and implore Tasty Minstrel Games to use it.

Part I: Designing our first KS campaign.
Wherein I try to optimize pledge levels to offer desirable rewards in a cost effective way.

Part II: Running the campaign.
Wherein I observe several different ways of promoting a Kickstarter campaign, what worked, and what didn't.

Part III: Production post campaign.
Wherein I discuss the learning process of producing a game on a larger scale than expected, and the growing pains involved.

Part IV: Complaint department.
Wherein I enumerate lessons learned in customer service, and observe what Kickstarter means to the people pledging.

Part V: Our influence on other projects.
Wherein I note specifics of recent Kickstarter projects which appear to be a direct result of the events involving ours.

Part VI: The final word.
Wherein I form an opinion on the Kickstarter campaign after it's finally over - will I consider it a success? Would I do it again? What would I do differently?

Part VII: The future of Kickstarter
Wherein I examine earlier thoughts on the evolution of Kickstarter as a tool to fund board game publication, and form an opinion about whether I think it will be worthwhile, or even possible, for us to use it again.

Part V:  Our influence on other projects

In the previous chapters I discussed (or would have discussed) a few different things about EmDo's KS campaign. We were not the first to successfully fund a game on Kickstarter, there were several games before us... most notably Alien Frontiers by Clever Mojo Games. Their campaign was a rousing success, bringing in almost $15k - 3 times their target amount. Of course, their target amount was low - probably a lot less than it actually cost to print the first run, which I believe was only 1000 copies of the game. The first run was such a success that the first run sold out immediately, and some people even had trouble obtaining pre-ordered copies.

I definitely wanted to learn from that experience, take what I thought worked well for Clever Mojo and avoid what caused problems. So my project was clearly influenced by others before me. As it turned out, through some confluence of quality, strength of character, coincidence, good marketing, or just dumb luck, Eminent Domain not only me but surpassed our lofty goal of $20k - bringing in an unprecedented $48k for a board game! After that performance, it only makes sense that other projects would look to ours, try to choose what we did right and avoid what we did wrong in order to enjoy their own success.

Well, that was then, and this is now. There has been an explosion of KS game projects, some well run and some not - some successful and some not. Until recently I could only see influences from our campaign itself in other, newer campaigns. Only now, 9 months later, have I started to see more lasting effects of things that have transpired (see Chapter IV), and the influence that has had on other projects. Here are a few things I've noticed about some of the new Kickstarter projects, where I see they may have been influenced by our experience, and in some cases my opinion on them.

Looking at some of the more successful recent projects: Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Glory to Rome Black Box Edition,  and Carnival, each of which has surpassed their goal by a lot. One thing I see that may have been influenced by Eminent Domain is this: Tiers for multiple copies of the game. We included:
* A tier for a single copy of the game, for those who simply wanted to pre-order themselves a copy,
* A tier for 2 copies, for people who wanted to go in with a friend (this would save us money on shipping)
* A tier for 3 copies that was a better deal all around (cheaper per copy, Limited Edition) than the 2 copies, to encourage people to go in with *2* friends
* A tier for 6 copies - specifically intended to facilitate overseas orders

While the specifics vary, all of the current heavy hitters seem to have adopted a similar structure. Also, in-game real estate for a high dollar amount, like the planets and tech cards in Eminent Domain, went well for us, and I see it popping up in some of the current campaigns as well (such as Clever Mojo's new Sunrise City project).

Something that's decidedly different however is the number of different trinkets, exclusive items, and bonuses. I think giving everybody a little something more (i.e. adding something additional to the game) at certain thresholds after meeting your goal is a great way to encourage people to get their friends to pledge! However, for logistical reasons I think offering handfuls of different options will prove to be very difficult and potentially problematic. As for exclusive items, well - I've written about this elsewhere - I don't think they're a good idea at all... there's a setup cost involved, and once you've paid that, if it's not game content, then I think it usually makes more sense to add the item to the game altogether rather than making it exclusive. Give the value-add to all of your customers, not just a select few. And if it IS game content? Well, the thought of an ever growing group of people who will be forever unable to access all of the game content is just terrible!

I've noticed the following disclaimer at the bottom of a couple KS projects lately:

From DiceHateMe's Carnival project:

Without our Kickstarter Backers, DHMG would not be able to bring quality games to market. To show our respect and appreciation, DHMG promises that backer copies of Carnival will be shipped out before copies are available for purchase at retailers or conventions. DHMG also pledges that any reward marked as promotional in our Kickstarter campaigns will never be offered for sale in stores by DHMG, either alone or as part of any product. 

And from Clever Mojo's new Sunrise City project:
We recognize and appreciate the important role that our Kickstarter Backers and Springboard Retailers are playing in the launch of Sunrise City and the success of Clever Mojo Games. Therefore, we make the following promises to you:
  • The promo cards and tiles noted as EXCLUSIVE will remain exclusive. We promise not to sell them individually or as a set, and not to include them as a part of any game expansion or re-printing. Once the Kickstarter Backers and Springboard Retailers have received their exclusive items they will NEVER be re-printed.
  • Sunrise City will be shipped to Kickstarter Backers at least two weeks before the items are available for purchase at ANY convention or store. Actual delivery dates will vary depending on your local postal service.
  • Stores who participate in Game Salute Preview Nights for Sunrise City will receive a preview copy for their Game Library in advance of the scheduled release date.

Both of these games look like fine products. I have read the rules to Carnival, and it sounds like a solid, lightweight filler. I don't know much about Sunrise City, but based on the video it looks like a fun city building game (I have fond memories of Sim City)... I have nothing against either of these projects. I bring this up merely to point out that, although potentially a coincidence, these "Our Pledge" sections appear to me to be in direct response to what has happened recently surrounding Eminent Domain (again, see Chapter IV).

So it seems that we've had an influence on the current crop of KS projects, but not necessarily in a positive way - more in a sort of "cover your ass" or a "what not to do" way. The two biggest complaints that cropped up about EmDo were that the "exclusive content" ended up in all of the first run boxes, and that the games were available for purchase at Gen Con when the KS supporters had not received theirs yet. I absolutely cannot fault either Dice Hate Me or Clever Mojo for taking that route - for including exclusive items and for promising that the supporters will get their copies first - that's clearly what people expect and/or want for their pledge (see Chapter IV again). They're not pre-ordering a game, and they're not helping a small company get off the ground... they're shopping for trinkets and exclusive items.

On the down side, this propagates a dynamic that I think is bad for the industry - exclusive game content - and it also degrades the efficiency of Kickstarter in the first place - trinkets. Things like pins and ball caps cost money to make and money to ship. Enticing someone to add $10 to their bid in order to also get a hat that costs you $9 a unit to make, well that's not getting you very far. when I was researching rewards for my KS campaign, I also found that a lot of people did not seem interested in a hat, or a t-shirt, or even a poster print of game art - and here I thought those were all great ideas!

So it remains to be seen whether a small company or self publisher will be able to succeed on Kickstarter the way *I* think they should be able to - offering people the opportunity to pre-order a game and help it get off the ground, or if it will be a novelty emporium for gamers to shop around for trinkets and exclusives. Is there room for both of those types of projects on Kickstarter?

Monday, August 29, 2011

EmDo Expansion - new tech and planet card ideas

I wanted to do some brainstorming about new tech and planet card ideas, and if I do that brainstorming here, then it'll be here for me to reference later!

I had some neat tech card ideas that I was testing with the Exotic expansion:

Level 1:
Double Time: Play 2 more Action Cards

Level 2:
Improved [X]: Like level 1, but with "Play an additional Action" added.

Thorough Survey: Search the Planet draw and discard piles for any 1 Planet card. Shuffle those piles to create a new Planet deck and place the chosen card on top.
Synthesize: Search your draw and discard piles for any 1 card and put it in your hand. Shuffle those piles to create a new draw deck.
Cryptography: Draw 3 cards, then return up to 2 cards from your hand to the stacks.
Coalition Victory: If you have 2 each Advanced, Fertile, and metallic planets in play (face up), you win the game.
Premium Product: Collect 1 additional Influence for each Unobtanium you trade. (Comes with an Unobtanium slot)
Cult of the New: Exotic icons in your Empire are worth 1 Influence. (Comes with an Exotic icon)
Deep Space Probes: When doing a Survey role, you may look at 2 fewer Planet cards. If you do, keep 1 additional Planet.

Some of those, Coalition Victory, Premium Product, and Cult of the New, will absolutely have to wait for the exotic expansion, because they rely heavily on having an additional planet type in the game. The rest however are not unique to the Exotic expansion, and could be used in the 1st expansion instead. I especially think Synthesize and Thorough Survey should be in the same set, because they feel complementary to me.

So it stands to reason that Thorough Survey, Synthesize, and Cryptography should occur in the first expansion, as well as the permanent tech Deep Space Probes.

The Level 2 Improved techs kind of go along with Double Time in that they add a theme of playing additional cards to the game. Thus far only Productivity (a level 3 tech) has done that. So unless I want to come up with a handful of more unique techs, it seems wise to include that set of cards as well. Currently Double Time and the L2 Improved techs all have an Exotic icon on them, to tie them together with the Exotic expansion. If I'm moving them to the 1st (non-Exotic), perhaps I should remove those - but I was thinking it might be neat to include them, so that when the Exotic expansion comes along it will integrate better. Until then the Exotic icons of course just won't do anything.

That's all old stuff though - let's get to the brainstorming already! This will obviously be less detailed and less well thought out, by merit of it being... well, a brainstorm:

Different types of technologies I could use
* Techs with effects that trigger when the card is used to follow (or boost?) a role, such as:
- - Collect 1 Fighter when using this card to Follow a role
- - Collect 1 Resource when using this card to Follow a role
- - +1 Colony when using this card to Follow a role
- - Draw 1 card (2 cards?) when using this card to Follow a role
- - Remove 1 card (2 cards?) in hand from the game when using this card to Follow a role
- - Trade 1 Resource when using this card to Follow a role

* Techs that have Resources as symbols
- - These could be discarded in lieu of a Resource in your Empire

* A tech with all 6 role symbols on it.
- - What, if any, Action should this card have? Maybe no Action, but the text "After using this card to boost or follow a role, you may put it back into your hand." (so like a +1 of each icon, but -1 Hand size situation). maybe call it "Versatility"

* Techs that cost Resources (resource icons in the 'required planet" or the 'research cost' locations)

* Permanent tech that says "1x/turn you may place a FIGHTER on [this card]. Remove 3 FIGHTERS from [this]: Collect 1 DESTROYER. Remove 5 FIGHTERS from [this]: Collect 1 DREADNAUGHT."
- - Or perhaps better, each time you Lead/Follow a Warfare role - thus making Destroyers and Dreadnaughts obtainable through heavy use of Warfare.

I'll note that costing a resource is basically another way to indicate a planet requirement, since the resource types are based on planet types. It's actually a bit more 'expensive' because it requires not only that you flip the planet, but that the planet has a resource slot, and that you use an action to fill it. I did have an idea for a Permanent tech called Biosphere which gives you resource slots. I think it would be interesting if the cost for that was A Food and a Water, and the slots it provides are Iron and Silicon.

So here's what I'm looking at at the moment for expansion tech cards:

Advanced/Fertile/Metallic Level 1:
Double Time with 1 Native icon (and 1 Exo icon?)
Influence: 0
Double Time with the other Native icon (and 1 Exo icon?)
Influence: 0

Advanced/Fertile/Metallic Level 2:
Improved [x] with 1 Native icon and 1 Exo icon
Influence: 2
Improved [x] with 1 Native icon and 1 Exo icon
Influence: 2

Unaffiliated tech:
Improved Colonize
Cost: Food + Iron
Icons: Colonize + Food
Effect: Same as Improved Colonize, with "Play an additional Action"
Influence: 0

Improved Produce
Cost: Water + Food
Icons: Produce + Water
Effect: Same as Improved Produce, with "Play an additional Action"
Influence: 0

Improved Warfare
Cost: Iron + Water
Icons: Warfare + Iron
Effect: Same as Improved Warfare, with "Play an additional Action"
Influence: 0

Improved Survey
Cost: Iron + Silicon
Icons: Survey + Iron
Effect: Same as Improved Survey, with "Play an additional Action"
Influence: 0

Improved Research
Cost: Silicon + Food
Icons: Research + Silicon
Effect: Same as Improved Research, with "Play an additional Action"
Influence: 0

Improved Trade
Cost: Silicon + Water
Icons: Trade + Silicon
Effect: Same as Improved Trade, with "Play an additional Action"
Influence: 0

Cost: Iron + Silicon + Water
Icons: ?
Effect: Search your draw and discard piles for any 1 card and put it in your hand. Shuffle those piles to create a new draw deck.
Influence: 2

Thorough Survey
Cost: Iron + Silicon + Food
Icons: ?
Effect: Search the Planet draw and discard piles for any 1 Planet card. Shuffle those piles to create a new Planet deck and place the chosen card on top.
Influence: 2

Cost: 1 Destroyer?
Icons: ?
Effect: Draw 3 cards, then return up to 2 cards from your hand to the stacks.
Influence: 2

Biosphere [Permanent]
Cost: Water + Food
Icons: NONE
Effect: [Iron] and {Silicon] resource slots
Influence: 2

Deep Space Probes [Permanent]
Cost: 3 Research? 5 research?
Icons: NONE
Effect: When doing a Survey role, you may look at 2 fewer Planet cards. If you do, keep 1 additional Planet.
Influence: 2


Next time I'll brainstorm ways to get and use Destroyers and Dreadnaughts. So far I've got a couple ideas, but nothing concrete.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Alter Ego - back to that again...

The other day I re-read my last post about revamping Alter Ego and making it into a Cooperative Deck Building game. That was back in April, right after my visit to Spielbany. Sadly, I have not done anything with the idea since then!

Today I finally got around to working on updating my prototype. I added 2 more types of Hero cards/icons, like I discussed with Richard at Spielbany. In updating the Henchmen cards I think I've run into a potential problem. I've noticed that with my current rules, players will be bringing 1 henchmen into play each turn. However, in the very beginning of the game they will not be able to defeat 1 Henchman per turn (not the way I'm thinking of having the henchmen) - and if they could, the game would be pretty dull anyway. That means later in the game, players have to be able to defeat more than 1 Henchman at a time in order to catch up a bit.

It's possible that players won't need to defeat every single henchman - and in fact maybe it would be best if they could not. That might actually help encourage them to beat the ones with the Arch Villain symbols in order to 'awaken' the Arch Villains and defeat them.

In any case, I think I need to think about the design of the henchmen cards. Should they start out very easy to kill, then progress on, so that by the time players can defeat more than 1 of them at a time, they must choose between that and defeating just 1 bigger henchman, which would confer some benefit? Or should I re-define the way that henchmen come into the game?

For now I have created a set of 5 really wimpy henchmen ("Pest"), and a set of 10 almost as wimpy henchmen ("Nuisance"). These will come into play, take just 1 Civ token hostage, and offer no benefit for defeating them (except that they will release the hostage, of course).

I think this could make for a reasonable early game - on your first turn you'll turn up a Pest, and you'll choose a hero card (probably the one needed to defeat that Pest). On your second and third turns, you'll add a Nuisance, and you'll choose a Hero card based on that. Then you'll start drawing harder-to-beat henchmen, and there should be some number of them built up in play...

This is the part I'm a little concerned about - if the Henchmen come out faster than the players can defeat them, then how can the players win? Perhaps that is the tension required to actually make this game any good - maybe it's just something I'll have to try out empirically.

The last thing I have to do before I can try it is to assign how many and what types of Hostages will be taken by the Henchmen. The "hostages" aren't necessarily supposed to represent actual hostages - like kidnapped people - though in some cases that's applicable. It's supposed to represent a group being hassled by the criminals. How many groups/types of Civ tokens should there be? I want to say "3," because I always seem to want to say "3." also, I'm currently planning on there being 3 Arch Villains, so having 3 types of Civ tokens might fit with that - each Arch Villain, once in play, could attack a different Civ type.

Hopefully I'll finish the henchmen cards and print out the new prototype before I get sidetracked or lose interest again...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Game mechanic for a hunt

Sitting at lunch today I had a random thought, about Seal Team 5 and their capture/killing of a terrorist. I heard someone say that Disney had bought the rights to "Seal Team 5" - as if to make a movie about it (maybe they're waiting for that not to be in extremely poor taste?)

Anyway, that thought led to game mechanics for searching for a hidden target. Imagine that each player represents a different intelligence agency, and they're all out to find (capture?) a hidden target, maybe a terrorist or maybe just a particular item or piece of information (the Holy Grail, like the Da Vinci Code?)

Suppose that there are first of all several Macro-locatins where the target could be located. Maybe these are countries for example. Players would go about getting information, trying to figure out which macro-location they should dispatch their Ops team to. When they think they have this information, they may dispatch their team, but so as not to tip off other players they would not reveal which location the team has been sent to. They would however have to lock that choice in.

While everybody else is still trying to figure out which location to send their team to, you can go about your business trying to learn more specific information - like where within that macro-location the target is hiding, or how to go about getting it. Meanwhile, since you have dispatched your team, you can (must?) spend some of your limited actions 'advancing' them... say you have an "Ops Team Progress track" for example, and you advance a marker on that track to indicate that your team is making physical progress.

Eventually there would be some trigger which would cause the correct Macro-location to be known to all players. Maybe at this time a specific board for that location is brought into play. Any player who has dispatched their team must reveal where they dispatched them to. If they were incorrect, then all the "progress" they made is wasted - they won't find the target. However, assuming they were right, then they have already effectively taken X moves on the new map (where X is the number of advances on the Ops Team progress track have been made). Thus, they have ahead start in the race to find the target.

I don't know how interesting this would turn out to be, or how fun, or exactly how the game would work - but it sounded like a neat way to implement a race for hidden information. I think this could jive well with the type of thing that Indiana Jones' Lost Adventures was doing with the game system knowing information that the players do not.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The state of things... games in development and TMG submissions

I haven't been posting as often as I'd like in this blog. For one thing I would like to keep my readers interested with what's going on in my gaming life, and for another I like to chronicle my thoughts for my own use later!

So here's what's going on with some of the games I've been working on lately for TMG...

I posted about a week ago about my latest thoughts on the 1st expansion for Eminent Domain, and about 3 weeks before that about The Untouchables (a simple coop game I was experimenting with). I haven't done any more with either of those since their respective posts.

Kings of Air and Steam
I have been worried about some aspects of Kings of Air and Steam that have not come together quite like I'd like, and I'd had some unfortunate playtests at Protospiel and Gen Con. I've been discussing some things with the designer, and we've finally addressed the boards (something I'd been leaving for later) as well as some other items that weren't working out too well. I think we've made some huge steps in the right direction, and I'm feeling much better now about the state of this particular game.

Josh Cappel will be doing the art for this one, and I'm looking forward to it looking every bit as good as Belfort.

Scott designed some new boards, hexes rather than rectangles, which I liked very much. They are more modular, and more attractive, and they don't have as many dead corners. I think the hex boards are definitely an improvement, but it's possible the playing area was too large in general - this is based on some of the negative feedback we'd gotten. You see, the interaction in this game comes mostly from the threat or worry that another player might be going for the same thing as you. If the board is so big that much of the time the other players are not near enough to you to matter, then the interaction seems to go away. Scott just made new boards (updating things like the number of cities and factories) and has made each with fewer hexes. We'll see if this makes the overall game feel more crowded and hopefully more fun.

The new boards also have a nice, more confined number of factories and cities of each color, which I think will create a good number of cubes over the course of the game, and a good amount of demand for those cubes.

One thing I was not happy with at all was the Depot buying mechanism. I've tried several iterations, each of which had their good points and their bad points. Something that I came up with in an effort to justify depot pricing and also fix another problem in the game (some players have more than enough actions and end up passing) was this - make depots worth money at the end of the game! Therefore, while buying a depot eats up your working capital, it represents a profit in points in addition to something you need in order to deliver goods. Also, when confronted with an action when you have nothing better to do, now you could purchase a depot thereby scoring points. The escalating cost of depots ($4/$6/$8 for the 1st/2nd/3rd depot on a line). Another way to look at this, which is technically the same thing, but I think is somehow a little nicer, is to say that instead of your score being the total money that you have, score 1 point per depot, plus 1 point per $10 at the end of the game. I played with this rule yesterday and it seemed to go well. Thematically your score is based on the 'strength' or size of your network, as measured by your depots in place. Of course, money counts too.
Thinking about is a little more right now I'm wondering if it shouldn't be 2vp/depot + 1vp/$10...

At Gen Con I was listing my concerns to Andy Van Zandt, and he suggested that perhaps passing could entail collecting a couple of dollars - maybe $1/depot you've already built. In addition to this being something a player could do when they have no reasonable action to take, this turned out to be good because it allowed players who are a little bit short of cash to get enough money to make an upgrade or buy a depot without them having to make a delivery. I decided it might be simpler to decouple that from the number of depots made (especially if depots are worth points, you already have incentive to build them) and instead make it that you get $1/round... so in round 1 you collect only $1 when you pass, while in Round 5 you collect $5. I like the way that scales, and it's easily communicated on the Market board.

The new production rule didn't seem to go over well in the 1/2 game played at Gen Con, but has seemed great when played lately. The current rule is that each factory produces 1 cube, and in addition, each market tile generates 1 cube per factory of that color. I think the number of factories changed between Gen Con and recent playtests, so that explain the difference in how it has worked out.

Bank Job - a TMG submission from Phillip Dubarry
I love the sound of Kingdom of Soloman (coming soon from Minion Games), so I was interested in checking out this submission by Phillip Dubarry. I like the theme - it's like a Heist movie, where you assemble a crew and go rob a bank and stuff. Michael was excited about it and enjoyed it. I like the idea of the game, but I am finding I'm not fond of Simultaneous Action Selection, especially when resolved in some arbitrary turn order. I had wrestled with that for Kings of Air and Steam (where it's less of a big deal) and solved it by sorting the character powers and allowing those with weaker powers to have better priority when in a timing conflict.

In Ruins
I played Andy's post-apocalyptic card drafting game In ruins at Spielbany, at Protospiel, at my friend's game night, and again at Gen Con. I enjoy it, and I like the theme of the game, as well as the innovative drafting mechanism. It may be a title that TMG eventually picks up. One thing I worry about is how well it'd go over (sell) - novel card drafting isn't as hot a mechanism right now like Dice Drafting is (was? Is it still big?) or like Deck Building or "dice building" (Quarriors) is. Or is it? Is the popularity of 7 Wonders (and potentially 51st State) enough to imply that players are interested in games driven by a card draft? One other potential turn off is that the core mechanism, the reason the whole thing works, MIGHT just piss off players (any new, awesome card that comes up may be blocked by a player, therefore more often than not it may seem like you're drafting the dregs of what's out there). The last thing I think might be a problem (commercially) is that it's not a 'quick, simple game' like 7 Wonders. Which is not a knock on the game - the rules aren't actually very complicated at all, but the cards are, and the game has depth and is subtle. I worry that people may prefer a simpler game like 7W which is easier to grasp - which is a concern really on the general state of gamers (one I'm sure I've discussed before) more than it's a concern about any specific game. I mentioned to Andy that I might like to see another, different, simpler game using this draft mechanism which may be more likely to become a "hit" in the way something like 7 Wonders or Dominion has. I mean, one could probably take a copy of 7 Wonders and replace the booster draft mechanism with Andy's draft mechanism and see how that goes!

My Little Vineyard
I haven't thought much about or done much with this since Protospiel. The designer hasn't either - Scott told me he'd been dealing with personal stuff rather than game design. I still generally like the wine theme and the dice drafting mechanism, but I'm beginning to wonder if the general game buying public is over both of them. If not, then I think it would make a nice addition to the TMG line, so long as all the kinks get worked out!

I apologize for the negativity that is about to flow here...
I finally played Quarriors. Frankly, I cannot think of a bigger waste of time or effort. The game is simpler/less interesting than Dominion, and yet it's more fiddly/complicated to explain/play. It's like playing Dominion with a severely diluted deck - like whenever you buy a Village, you gain 3 Villages, 2 Copper, and a Silver. The fact that the only choice you really make - which die to add to your deck - only MAYBE means you get the effect of that die I find entirely regrettable, I feel like that defeats the entire purpose of the game.

The worst part about all this is that despite Quarriors being so little of an actual game, it will sell thousands of copies because it's the first game of it's kind - the next twist on deck building - and because it's got lots of dice and comes in a nice tin with nice art.

I do however like the idea of a deck building game where the cards in your deck have variability to them (like dice). But how do you make such a game that isn't disappointing like Quarriors? I think some of the same reasoning I put into Eminent Domain to set it apart from typical deck building games may apply here as well. However, I also think that any die added to your 'deck' really has to do it's job no matter what face is rolled on it. Maybe the effectiveness or intensity of that effect could be variable depending on the face rolled, or maybe a secondary/alternate effect could be based on the face rolled but the general/standard effect should be based on the die itself, and the fact that you have chosen to add it to your deck.

A BGDF member has been working on a 'dice building' game for quite some time, and I think it's closer to what I'd expected to see out of Quarriors. I haven't seen the latest version, but I think it would be cool to check it out. If it's everything I want it to be, then I think it could make a good addition to the TMG line.

Quick Gen Con recap, and EmDo Hullabaloo

I recently went to Gen Con for the first time, and in addition (perhaps related) there has been a lot of Hullabaloo about Eminent Domain on BGG. By way of disclaimer I'll restate up front that this is my personal blog, and opinions stated here are my own, and should not be attributed to Tasty Minstrel Games (with whom I'm often associated).

Gen Con
Michael, Erin and I went to Gen Con a few weeks ago. I have never been, I've always thought of it as more of a commercial event. I don't like he idea of going to (and paying for) a gaming convention and then having to pay extra to play in events, or simply to get into the Open Gaming room! However, this year I didn't attend the con in the capacity I normally attend game cons - We attended as Tasty Minstrel Games. We had a booth, and brought 6 different games to sell, including Eminent Domain, Belfort, Martian Dice, Train of Thought, Jab: Realtime Boxing, and Homesteaders 2nd Edition. Our booth was rather busy all 4 days of the con, and we did many, many demos. Looking up and down our booth at all 6 of our offerings I noted that, while no game is for everybody... within their target demographic, each of our games is really very good. They are the highest quality game, and the art and production (now that we've moved to Panda) are also the highest quality. I felt proud to stand behind each and every one of them! Even Martian Dice, which is the type of game that generally doesn't interest me at all, is really very good for what it is - I heard people saying it was better than Zombie Dice (a similar quick filler).

One of the best feelings was when someone who had bought EmDo or Belfort the day before would stop by and tell us how much fun it was or how much they liked it when they played it that evening! Another high point for me was when 2 different people stopped by our booth with a copy of Terra Prime asking me to sign it, and telling me how much they like the game! We also had a number of EmDo Kickstarter supporters stop by and reassure us, ask us to hang in there, and while they were anxious to get their copy of the game they were not upset about "all the hullabaloo."

Eminent Domain, and all the hullabaloo
Having copies of EmDo at Gen Con was good - we were able to show it, and sell a few copies in order to get the game out there some more. But it had a down side as well. There have been threads and posts all over BGG and on Kickstarter, but in case anyone is unclear on what happened, here's the story. This (the game designer's blog) is not the correct forum for further complaints on the subject, so I won't even approve any comments of that type. Please see the threads on BGG or contact Michael at TMG directly if you need to.

There were 3 mistakes made, and they combined to make for a very rough experience and a customer service nightmare:
Mistake number 1 - Traded limited exclusivity for Utopian planets
Originally Michael made a very big deal about the exclusivity of Prestige planets in the Kickstarter rewards. He wanted them to be entirely exclusive, but I veto'ed that because I did not want a good, useful portion of the game to end up being unavailable to everyone except the few people using Kickstarter. So he ended up saying "exclusive until the 1st expansion comes out" - and then played up the exclusivity part of that sentence quite a bit.

Somewhere along the line, Michael also decided to make the Utopian planets available - he planned to sell them as a mini-expansion through the BGG store. He hadn't actually asked me about it, and when I protested he said it was already done. Except then something fell through, and they weren't going to be a BGG exclusive after all.

I realized that it would be silly to have the Prestige planets given to kickstarters then also include them in an expansion (as was the original plan), because then people would have 2 copies of those planets... At about that time I also realized that it made more sense to combine the 3 Prestige Planets and the 6 Utopian planets into a 9-card mini-expansion and then NOT include them in the actual expansion (which by that time I had begun to work on).

Michael wanted to include these in copies pre-ordered from the Preview night promotion he had put together, and he thought that people would not mind that they were no longer exclusive (1) because this new pack was technically a mini-expansion, and (2) they would be getting more stuff than advertised. He was trading out the limited exclusivity (limited until the mini-expansion, which ended up being coincident with the first print run) for more cards. His thought process was "why would anybody complain about that? They're getting more cards!"

That's the second time Mike has underestimated people's propensity to complain. He said the same thing last year before BGG.con when he decided to give away copies of Terra Prime and Homesteaders - he thought that people would not complain about miscut or misaligned pieces since they got the game for free. Needless to say he turned out to be wrong.

Mistake number 2 - Bonus planets added to all boxes
Now that preview night pre-orders were going to get these Bonus planets, there was some number of Kickstarter boxes getting them (labeled as kickstarter copies), some pre-orders getting them (unlabeled), and some copies not getting the planets (also not labeled). In order to avoid mistakes and make it easier to deal with, at some point along the line Michael told the guys at Panda to just put the bonus packs into all the 5,000 first run boxes.

This was a mistake for 2 reasons. First and foremost, it directly contradicted the big deal he made about the (limited) exclusivity on the kickstarter page. As I mentioned, in his mind he'd already resolved this by giving the kickstarters the 6 additional cards. The other reason this was a mistake was more of a common sense one - unless every single first-run box has been pre-sold, there will eventually be a point where a store will have 2 copies on the shelf, one with bonus planets and one without!

I would have preferred (and I bet Mike would too, in retrospect) if he's instead told them "don't put the bonus planets into ANY of the boxes" - and then when shipping a particular box to a particular person, a bonus pack could have been sent along with it.

Something I have only just thought of right now - since we have a 2nd printing following the first one, we could have potentially decided to hold back the non-KS, non-preordered boxes from the first run (with the bonus planets in them), fulfilled normal orders with the 2nd run, and then sold the rest of the first run with bonus planets included as a separate item (EmDo WITH Bonus Planets expansion) for an additional $10. In fact, I don't think it's too late to do that. I will have to discuss it with Mike.

You see, this is the problem with "exclusive" or "limited" items - once you print them it makes so much more sense just to always include them!

Mistake number 3 - Copies sold at Gen Con
Originally the print run was supposed to arrive in April. When that didn't happen due to delays, it was still supposed to arrive in June or July. When further delays occurred such that the shipment would not arrive in time for Gen Con, Mike decided to air ship a small number of games to the con. I do not actually think this was a mistake at all. As a small publisher, TMG cannot afford to go to a big show like Gen Con and NOT have their new product. However, even though it wasn't promised in any way, some Kickstarter supporters were upset that they were not the first to receive their copies of the game. Like any pre-order, I can see the thinking there - they paid for the game 9 months ago, and especially those that would be at the con could watch another person walk in off the street and purchase a copy. However, I don't think that makes it a mistake to have done this. The delays were regrettable, but there's nothing TMG could do about them. Some of the more vocal complainers in this respect seem to imply that the game was made available to the general public - to everyone except the kickstarters. They don't seem to know (or care) about the facts of the situation and the numbers involved - just the principle that someone else got the game before they did. For the record, the number of people that got their game before kickstarters was about 10% of the number of kickstarters. We sold less than 200 copies at the con. That's not the general public, that's a handful. So, I understand the complaint, but for those who suggested that TMG (or especially ME personally, like it was my choice to make) is smarmy or disingenuous for selling copies at Gen Con before the kickstarters got their copies... I disagree with you. That's not smarmy, that doesn't lack class.

The combination of those three mistakes caused quite a stir in the forums on BGG, and it was rather disheartening to read wave after wave of criticism. The long and short of it is that some of the kickstarter supporters felt like TMG had changed what they were getting (they had - 6 Utopian planets were added) and some even canceled their order because they felt like they'd been lied to. Well, despite what you might read on BGG, Michael and I DO NOT want the kickstarter supporters to feel like we don't care about them or that we do not appreciate their support! As a result Michael decided to provide a new item, completely exclusive to kickstarter supporters, which will be added to their package when it's sent out.

I cannot wait for the people who asked for a refund to complain that they now cannot get this item, as it's exclusive to kickstarters.

Monday, August 15, 2011

TMG Game reviews are online!

TMG's summer releases are still on their way from China, but we did have some copies with us at Gen Con, and they all seemed really well received! Lately I've seen a few reviews popping up online:

Drakkenstrike's Belfort Components Breakdown Video Review in HD
BGG Review: A Cranky Old Man Review: Belfort (9 out of 10)
BGG Review: Did you know that Gnomes are inherently pentagonal? - a mini-review of Belfort

Eminent Domain:
I Slay The Dragon
BGG Review: Is it really RftG + GtR + Dominion?
BGG Review: First Impressions (this one's neat because the OP chimes in after further play)
BGG Review: More First Impressions

Martian Dice:
Board Game Reviews By Josh
BGG Review: Know when to hold em', know when to fold em', know when to walk away, know when to take your cows and run!
BGG review: Martian Dice: Buy, Try, or Sigh

BGG Review: Homesteaders: Not only a great game, but it has Cowples!!!
Go Forth And Game: Under The Microscope - Homesteaders

Thanks to those who have posted these reviews! Everybody should check them out :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

EmDo Expansion - second thoughts

I've posted about my thoughts for the Exotic Expansion I'm working on for Eminent Domain. I really like parts of what I have so far, but I'm not 100% happy with it yet. In addition, the expansion does not address the 2 biggest things that players seem to really want to see addressed...

1. People want the different resource types to mean more.
2. People want the different fighter tokens to mean more.

So lately I've been thinking about holding off on the new "Exotic" planet type, and instead adding some of the things I've had in mind to address those 2 main questions people have been asking. The expansion will still feature additional Role cards to support 5 players, and additional technology cards as well.

Resource types

Currently, the resource type is based on the planet type, so there is no difference between Iron and Silicon except that Iron comes from Metallic planets and Silicon comes from Advanced planets. There's a little bit of subtlety to that - it means that inherently Iron is a little harder to come by, since fewer Metallic planets have resource slots than Advanced planets do. That distinction does not really matter in game terms though.

There exist 3 tech cards in the base game that refer to resource types:

Genetic Engineering: +1vp for each TYPE of resource you produce this turn
Diverse Markets: +1vp for each TYPE of resource you trade this turn
Specialization: Choose a resource type. +1vp for each resource of that type you trade this turn.

I have some plans for another future expansion to use Agendas, some of which would refer to particular resource types - such as an Agenda making Water worth 2vp apiece instead of 1.

Lately I've been thinking about more things I could do with resources. The obvious thing is to make cards that cost resources...

* Planets which require expenditure of resources to flip over
* Tech cards which require expenditure of resources to purchase (or to play)
* Cards/Actions that allow you to trade resources in for something other than Influence (VP)

Fighter tokens

Many people see the 3 sizes of fighter tokens and immediately want to assign denominations to them - which is fine. However when they see that the rulebook does not do that, they immediately ask why not. Well, there IS a reason for that. Ever since it was known that we would have 3 different fighter token shapes I thought it would be cool to one day make the medium ships "Destroyers" and the large ships "Dreadnaughts," each with their own meaning.

I'm currently thinking of adding some of these types of cards to the first expansion, in lieu of the Exotic planets with the new icons I was playing around with.