Monthly Archives: August 2013

Good Enough Games

pic517933_mdA couple years ago I was repping AEG at boardgamegeekcon and had a great time. When the show ended, we had  inventory left over. Among other things, a couple of cases of Monkey Lab, a game about monkeys. In a lab.

During breakdown, I was over at the Funagain room, trying to sell leftover stock at a discount so we didn’t have to ship it home. I brought the full list of everything we had left–Thunderstone, Infinite City, Nightfall, some other stuff. The Funagain guy picked some, rejected others. He wouldn’t take any Monkey Lab.

I asked him why.

“It’s an OK game,” he said. “That’s the problem. There’s plenty of OK games.”

Monkey Lab is probably nobody’s favorite board game. It’s not a bad game. It was good enough to get published. It’s a decent kids’ game. But by some measures, that might be a step worse than being an outright bad game. 

Every game company that’s been around for long has a stable of these. Games good enough to publish, but not good enough to flourish. Games that will roughly break even and then sink to the bottom of the catalog.

Reminds me of the apocryphal story of when Sony bought MGM studios. The formerly-MGM execs presented their slate of movies for the year to their new bosses.

“We’re going to make 40 movies this year. Five will be blockbusters. Ten will do OK. Twenty-five will lose money.”
The new bosses ask, “Why don’t you just make the five that will be hits?”
The movie types say, “We don’t know which ones they are.”

Some of that happens in any creative endeavor. Nobody wakes up and says, “I’m going to make a sufficient game today!” But it can be surprisingly difficult to tell what’s really good until it gets out there. Your bullshit detector loses its calibration unless you take pains to keep it accurate. When you’re running a business, that calibration easily falls down the to-do list.

More often what happens is that you MUST put something out. Cash flow is desperately important to a small business, often more important than high-quality product. A game that you’re confident will break even keeps cash moving around until the real moneymaker shows up.

But as we’ve seen, it can be hard to tell the moneymakers from the money-not-losers. A lot of companies jump from sufficient game to sufficient game for a long time. I guess that’s really just called “business.” Nearly every game company would like to operate like Blizzard or Days of Wonder, only putting out excellent games on an excellent schedule. But in most cases, that is neither feasible nor desirable. One that I know of intentionally operates the other way, publishing good enough games as a wildcatting strategy. It works too.

Ultimately, I wrote in praise of the OK games. They have a place, although not an honorable one.  We would love for all our games to be Tickets to Ride, Agricolas, and 7 Wonderses. But thank the Lord there’s room for Monkey Labs too. Monkey Lab keeps us all here in ways that Power Grid cannot.

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Kickstarter Backing With $1

fourquartersI’ve scoffed at the $1 backer level for Kickstarter. It’s a reward for the project do-er, not the project supporter. I don’t get excited about having my name in a list on somebody’s website. I don’t know who does.

But here’s a couple of articles that are changing my mind. As I contemplate my own project, I’m considering these carefully.

Demystifying the $1 Kickstarter Pledge
Summary: The $1 pledge is about emotional support for giver and receiver, not fiscal support. Also, it’s useful for marketing.

After reading this, I’m wondering if you can include a $0 pledge level just to get more people minimally invested for marketing purposes.

The Power of $1
This article from Kickstarter’s blog demonstrates things successful project-runners have done with their $1 level to create value for the backers. This way, they’re not just giving you a buck because hey man give me a buck. More value for backers = doing it right.

I’m starting to imagine a game or activity for backers that the $1 level lets you participate in based on name length or twitter handle or something. Something that scales well, doesn’t take significantly longer to add new names to, but gives some tangible outcome to the backer.

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Gen Con This Weekend

panelingHey if you’re at Gen Con this weekend, here’s my seminar schedule:

Friday, 1pm  Game Development

This modestly-named panel hides star power like Eric Lang and Paul Peterson. Every year at Gen Con you see a few “get your game published” seminars. But this one is stacked with people who know their shit: solid, published, full-time game designers. And me. =)

Friday, 3pm  Little Big Planet: Navigating the Social Media Maze

My current day job is copywriting for an ad agency in Philly and I occasionally consult with our social media director here. I hope to bring some professional know-how.

Saturday, 5pm  Break It to Make It Stronger: The Value of Editing

Magazine editing is how I got started in gaming. This seminar is ostensibly about building a relationship with your editor to improve your writing; an invested editor who gives a crap about you and your writing is something you don’t know you need until you have it.

Sunday, 2pm  Beginner Boxes, Quick Plays, and Rules-lite RPGs

I’ll be with Stan! and Ryan Dancey, so expect a lot of good stories and insights.

Free tickets are still available for all of these events. Come out and say hi!

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Circle Games August Recap

I know these recaps are sort of self-indulgent, but I keep doing them for two reasons:

  1. Blogs are ravenous.
  2. I’m trying to sell you on coming to one of these if you’re in the Philadelphia area.

So here’s how August went down:

Started off the night floating and greeting new people. In between, I kibbitzed games of Love Letter with some friends and Toc Toc Woodman with some kids of friends. Lots more kids this month, and more new people I’ve never seen before.

I’ve said before that Dungeons & Dragons is one of the best ways I know to love people. I could probably expand that to general game play as well. I’m pretty introverted, but I love meeting new people over games.

Here’s what I wound up playing:

Kingdom Builder kingdombuilder
When I start to think about Kingdom Builder, I find it hard to think of as even a game… it seems more like a puzzle at first. But then interaction with other players kicks in and the potential for screwage puts it into the “game” category after all. I find myself liking KB even when I lose.

 

Eight-Minute Empire8-minuteempire
This game stays intriguing for me, but candy-like after play… tasty but unfilling. It still intrigues me enough to keep playing though. That must mean something.

 

 

Maximum Throwdownmaxthrow
Got this in the mail a week or so ago, and for once I was the first kid on the block to show up with a new game. Well, a new game that we’d been playing in prototype since January. AEG sort of AEG-ed the game up, which was to be expected. I liked the addition of starter location cards that allow you to vary the size and placement of the game’s start. It’s also probably more economical for AEG than just putting in a 5″ x 8″ paper rectangle or something. We played! Somebody won! Hooray!

Pitchcar (with stunt track)pitchcar4
Love how 10 blocks of styrofoam are marketed as 10 of “20 Pieces”.

In a field of eight racers, Team Quick was first and second for most of three laps, with Meredith in front, and me in second nakedly keeping her in first. Josh opportunistically joined Team Quick when he wanted to ally himself with winners. I don’t know why everyone didn’t try this tactic.

This became a boon for Team Quick after all when Josh leapt to the front on the final turn. The jump at the end stymied Meredith, so I stopped being a supportive husband and just took second place behind Josh. The pack caught up to her while she was trying to clear the jump, and she finished somewhere ignominious in the bottom half. Boo!

But Team Quick still placed first and second, so go Team Quick!

We’re doing this again September 10, 2013, so rush on out to 1125 S. Broad in Philly and join the hoopla!

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The best part of the character sheet

ImageThe original D&D character sheet is a marvel of simplicity compared to the ledgers you use to circumscribe your  modern-day D&D dude. And the very best part of the whole sheet was the generous space left for you to draw your “Character Sketch or Symbol”.

The reason it was the very best part is because it opened up the field for you. Every other part of the page was a box designed to be filled with some number or set of letters–a tool that allowed you to interact with the rules set, funneling you down into specific lines of thinking.

Then along comes a box that says, “Open it up and draw something, kid.”

It was actually too much for me! I was intimidated. What could possibly go there? I couldn’t draw very well, and my characters never had “symbols.” But they could have. No reason they shouldn’t have.

DnDNextCharacterSheet

The new thing from Wizards is… well, it’s got a big circle in the middle of it. That’s visually interesting. But it also has a little box above the circle labeled “portrait.” It’s a step in the right direction.

My ideal character sheet is a big drawing of your character smack in the middle of the letter-size paper. Then all the numbers and words are around the edges in the margins. Your intelligence-related stuff is near your head, your Strength-related stuff is near your arms, Constitution-related stuff near the torso, etc. But mainly, when you look at it, you see a bad-ass picture of your dude looking awesome and then there’s some other stuff too as necessary.

I still can’t draw worth a damn, but I’m much less inhibited to try and be bad at it these days. If I ever get another turn on the player side of the screen, I’ll give it a shot.

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