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Publisher Diary: Seven Years of Spiel for Bézier Games

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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It's hard to believe that 2011 will be the seventh year (in a row) I'll be attending Spiel, and the seventh year I'll be selling items at the fair. For me as a publisher, the annual game convention in Essen, Germany has served as a catalyst for the growth and continued success of Bézier Games, so this article is from the perspective of how Spiel has impacted my business. In 2011 alone I will have SIX new offerings at Spiel: TieBreaker, Ultimate Werewolf Artifacts, Ultimate Werewolf: Night Terrors, Age of Steam: African Diamond Mines & Taiwan Cube Factories, Age of Steam: Australia & Tasmania and Age of Steam: Outer Space & Reversteam. Compare that to 2005, when I had sixty copies of a single Age of Steam map: Age of Steam: Bay Area.

So instead of a typical designer diary, this is actually more of a publisher diary. If you're curious about the process or thinking about making this journey on your own, come pick my brains...

2005: Year One

To put this all in perspective, in the fall of 2005:

• Bézier Games, my company, didn't exist.
• While I had been designing games for a while, none had been published yet (though I had signed a contract that summer with Atlas Games to publish Seismic).
• I had never been to Spiel, but I had listened to Derk & Aldie's GeekSpeak podcasts about the already-past 2004 and upcoming 2005 Spiels (and was fascinated by the stories told by Greg Schloesser and Rick Thornquist).
• I didn't really know anyone in the boardgame industry at all.
• There was no such thing as an iPhone. (This is relevant later.)

That fall, however, I was looking at an opportunity to take a trip to Europe for my company and decided to time it so that I could attend Spiel for a few days. At about the same time, I had contacted John Bohrer of Winsome Games to see what the requirements would be if I were to publish a print-and-play Age of Steam map I had been working on: Age of Steam: Bay Area. Though many of you who have read his online occasionally-crazy comments may find it hard to believe, John was incredibly helpful and offered a ton of advice, including the suggestion to sell maps at Spiel (in exchange for a small royalty for him and Martin Wallace, of course). I decided to take him up on that offer and printed sixty maps (most single sheet, rolled into a tube, with about ten or so hand-mounted on boards) to take to Germany on my trip. John offered me the use of his booth to sell the maps during his traditional 10-12 Thursday timeslot, which I eagerly accepted.

I was absolutely thrilled about going to Essen and even more thrilled to be given the opportunity to sell my maps there. I sent an email to Rick Thornquist, who was running GameWire news (and who would found BoardgameNews.com shortly thereafter). He added my expansion to the list of Spiel releases, then it was added to the BGG database as game #19983. I saw the expansion appear on BoardGameGeek while traveling in Paris during my European trip that was to include Essen as a last stop, and I was SO excited – but I realized that the BGG entry had no pictures of the Bay Area expansion, so I took two pictures of the game laid out on the bed of my Paris hotel room and uploaded them to BGG. (You can see the sheet under the board/rules in the photos for the game.)

A lot has been written and said about Spiel, but until you attend, you can't quite grasp the magnitude and wonder of the giant halls filled with board games, boardgamers, publishers, resellers and more. It's unlike any convention anywhere. You really can't compare Origins, Gen Con, BGG.con or any other gaming event to it. It's amazing. It's also somewhat addictive, being part of the first set of gamers who get to experience the hundreds of new games that are being shown for the first time at the show. Sure, most of them will be forgotten in a few months, many of them are downright unplayable, but during the show itself, even the most questionable-looking games have some sort of magic appeal that results in you fawning over them, buying them without playing them first (every year I say I won't do this, but that resolution goes right out the window before the show even starts), and gushing over components and (at the time at least) innovative mechanisms. The lights in the halls give every component of every game a come-hither look, and believe me, unless you're magically immune to their charms, you'll go hither and acquire all sorts of games.

I arrived in Essen via a train from Hamburg on the Wednesday before the show and, as was the custom at the time, walked right onto the exhibition floor as things were being set up. (They've since clamped down on just anyone wandering into the Messe prior to the show opening, with armed guards, an interrogation room for anyone caught on the floor without proper ID and a torture chamber full of really bad worker placement games.) Even only partially setup, the Messe was a wonder to behold for the first time. Giant stands from German publishers like AMIGO Spiel and Hans im Glück, huge areas for playing new games within the booth areas of Days of Wonder and Ravensburger, and used game stands in Hall 4 with hundreds – even thousands – of games each that had tears coming to my eyes. Wow. I found the Winsome Games booth in Hall 5 and eventually found John Bohrer, who again was exceedingly gracious in showing me around and providing lots of great advice. Well, except for saying that I should be staying at the Hotel Jung...that place is a dump! (I ended up at the much nicer Holiday Inn Express, which let me have my own private bathroom and didn't have a smoke-filled atrium.) I ended up purchasing Caylus and a bunch of other new games that day, and even managed to get a first game of Caylus in that evening, though the experience was somewhat marred by a nose-picking – and eating – British gentleman. Fortunately we weren't playing with my copy of the game...yuck!

Thursday morning, the first day of the show, came and I got to the Messe early with all of my maps and stood in the Winsome Games booth, not quite knowing what to expect. The mad rush of gamers that entered the hall at 10 a.m. was unseen by me as I was back in Hall 5, but you can hear the noise level increase in the hall steadily until at 10:15 there are people absolutely everywhere. And shockingly enough, there was a line of people at the Winsome booth buying my maps! Part of the reason for this, of course, was because of John Bohrer's (clever, yet annoying to people who can't make it there on Thursday) tradition of selling his games ONLY during that 10-12 time slot. In 2005, most of the people buying his games were AoS players, so I was inundated by my target audience, many of whom were excited that there was a new AoS map available from a source other than Winsome or Warfrog Games (Martin Wallace's company).

At this point, I think it's important to discuss what I was doing to make my map different. First, even though most of those Bay Area maps were not mounted, they were full color, and looked as good (or better) than the Warfrog maps, and distinctly better than the Winsome maps. (Though some like the plain style of Winsome Games, I believe the majority like things less clinical looking.) And I had really snazzy rules in color with examples, something I have backed away from recently due to space limitations.

I was trying to differentiate my map from those from Warfrog and Winsome. Over the years I've continued to differentiate my maps in a variety of ways, most recently by making them all mounted (like the three new sets available in 2011), with simple rule changes that have a dramatic and unique impact on game play, but aren't full of fiddly changes. This is in contrast to AoS Team maps (which are very unique but have a whole bunch of changes per map) and Steam Brothers maps (which are very detailed in terms of rules...some would call them fiddly). My maps appeal to different sets of gamers than the "competition" (though I think it unlikely that most Age of Steam and Steam players ever "choose" one publisher over another).

By 11 a.m., almost all of my maps had been sold, and I suddenly had Euros in my pocket. Like any self-respecting gamer, I reinvested my earnings in other new Essen games. Whoops! Aside from quality games like Caylus and PÜNCT, I also bought a lot of losers like Socks in the City, Pacru and Badaboom. Whoops again. Fortunately, I scored well at the used game booths, picking up much-wanted copies of Urland, Union Pacific and the Hans im Glück edition of Euphrat & Tigris. Before I left, I had filled two suitcases to the brim (and more) with new games...54 in all! And I couldn't wait to go again.

2006: Validation of Game Sales

The little taste of success at Spiel in 2005 resulted in me looking for a way to produce a higher quality version of the Bay Area map that I might provide to resellers. After a ton of frustrating quotes from printers in the U.S., I ended up printing a "soft" version of the map (on heavy cover stock), rebranded to Age of Steam: 1830's Pennsylvania / Northern California with a new Pennsylvania map on the back of it, and was able to sell many maps directly and others through a few online resellers, including Boards and Bits. A huge shout out to Tom Powers at Boards and Bits, by the way, who has sold my entire line of games and put up with my horrendous invoicing practices (which have improved slightly over time, but were absolutely dreadful in early 2006). Midway through the summer I decided I would again be attending Essen, but this time I had more new expansions in mind. And I also had a new game in mind: Start Player: A Kinda Collectible Card Game.

I decided then and there that instead of just publishing under my own name, I would start a game company. Bézier Games was born!

Start Player: A Kinda Collectible Card Game was the first game published by Bézier – and by published I mean that I printed and cut every single card myself. There are now about 800 copies of the base game in existence, each of which contains a deck of cards that I cut and "randomly mixed" by hand. A ton of hours went into printing, cutting, sorting and packaging that game. Of course, had I known it would have been that successful, I would have had it professionally printed. But I had a limited budget at the time. I'm proud to say that Bézier Games has been operating within its own budget since that game as I've used the money earned from previous releases to fund games in production. The seed money I used to print the Bay Area and 1830's Pennsylvania / Northern California maps (and to buy supplies for and to lease the commercial-quality printer I used for Start Player cards and that year's Age of Steam maps) was very small, less than $3,000. I ended up making a special bundle of Start Player to sell along with the game that Essen.

In 2006 at Spiel, I published one of my own Age of Steam maps (Age of Steam: Disco Inferno / Soul Train) as well as one of JC Lawrence's (Age of Steam: Sun / London), and sold them (as well as the 1830's Pennsylvania / Northern California expansion) again at the Winsome Games booth from 10-12 on Thursday. However, the amount I could sell this time was limited by two factors: The limited time slot and the small number of maps I could bring with me to Essen.

Later in the show I met with Zev Shlasinger at Z-Man Games about publishing Start Player "for reals" and signed a contract with him. This was at a time when I was still achy from cutting cards and was only a few hundred into my eventual 800 copies. (Had I known it was going to be that successful, I probably would have done the "professional" printing myself!) Zev is awesome, by the way, not just for what and how he publishes, but because I set up my meeting with him for 9 a.m. on Saturday of the show, which means that Zev basically lost an hour of sleep on the busiest day of Spiel to meet with me about what eventually would be the Z-Man edition of Start Player. While it worked out great, my advice to designers who want to meet with publishers is to do it during normal show hours (and set up those appts. way in advance).

That year was another crazy banner year for purchases at the show. Regardless of how much time I spend selling, I love walking up and down the aisle, looking at the new stuff, buying things I shouldn't, and eventually doing "suitcase tetris" to fit everything into my bags to get home. That year was no exception. I purchased a bunch of winners, like Imperial, Factory Fun and Yspahan, and in the used games booths I snagged much-wanted copies of Arbos, Traumfabrik and a mint-condition version of McMulti. But I also ended up taking home a high percentage of losers, like Astoria (with sweet components...you can't blame me for getting it), Anasazi, Hameln and Perikles. That big mess of components in the lower right was a sweet find at the show for any game designer: a giant bag of mixed pieces for about €6 per bag.

Spiel 2006 was another great experience, but I knew I could have done better if I had more time and more games, so as soon as soon as I got home, I started working on what I would do to achieve those goals.

2007: Selling for the Whole Show

In 2007 things really started taking off. I published Ultimate Werewolf: Whitebox Edition, a handmade version of Werewolf (since all the other versions were and still are so lacking in so many ways). It eventually sold more than 600 copies (with every single card hand cut...argh!) in the single year it was published.

With things going well for the games I was making, I decided I would take the plunge and get a booth at Essen. Then I checked the prices. Wow! With the exchange rate, it cost just over $1000 for a booth – a small booth, with no extras. Doing the math, I realized I would have to sell an awful lot of product just to break even. I couldn't justify the cost given my limited product list, even though I really wanted a booth. Besides, I had no idea if I would sell significantly more maps and games throughout the entire show as opposed to just from 10-12 on Thursday morning.

At this point I had started to make friends in the boardgame industry, including Martin Wallace, the designer of Age of Steam, Steam, and of course a billion other Warfrog and Treefrog games. Martin agreed to let me sell my expansions out of a corner of his extra-large booth for the entire show (for a fee, but significantly less than if I had gotten a booth myself). And as a bonus he supplied all the furniture (yes, again for a slight fee...Martin also owns his own publishing company and has lots of expenses). Unfortunately, at this time things between Winsome Games and Warfrog Games were heating up a bit, so there was some awkwardness between John and Martin. (Was that the politically correct enough way to put it? Hahaha.) I'm glad this "issue" is pretty much behind everyone now, but deep down inside I'm disappointed that we'll probably never see another collaboration between those two. I'm of the opinion that most of Martin's Warfrog designs would greatly benefit from the development that Winsome provides.

Knowing that I would have a booth to sell from, I invested in my first mounted Age of Steam map – Age of Steam: Mississippi Steamboats / Golden Spike – then another one just in time for Spiel:Age of Steam: America / Europe. These two expansions were my first forays into "real" publishing, and the sticker shock of those quotes was pretty astounding at the time. Note to prospective publishers: The most expensive item in your box is the board. Meeples and dice are relatively free. Rules seem like an afterthought. But the board is pricey! I also put together two new paper-only sets of maps just for the show, Age of Steam: Jamaica / Puerto Rico and Age of Steam: Barbados / St. Lucia (though I would end up selling them later as well). Finally, I brought along a whole bunch of Start Player and Ultimate Werewolf: Whitebox Edition.

The good news was that I sold out of the Start Player and Ultimate Werewolf, but the bad news was that I had indeed overestimated the viability of selling Age of Steam maps throughout the show. This is the year I learned The Pattern of Essen Attendance, which goes as follows:

Each day of the show is attended by a specific gamer type, looking for specific types of games (and other stuff).

Thursday: Gamer attendees. In 2007 and 2008, I made more than half of my income for the entire show on Thursday. These are the folks who rush the show floor hunting down the new releases from the Euro publishers and gobbling them up quickly before they're sold out. (I'm in this category, by the way.)

Friday: Gamer attendees who are looking for new things, and press (who are done hobnobbing with the big publishers). While Thursday is the day for gamers to pick up their new releases, Friday is the day they spend at the smaller publishers and with less-well-known games. This is typically the day when you hear about the "next great game" at Spiel (though there are about ten of these). In 2010, for example, Troyes had the most buzz by Friday evening (and it was sold out early Saturday as a result).

Saturday: Family day. The busiest day of the fair, typically, when families attend. They're not plugged in like you are. (I'm assuming anyone reading this is very much plugged in to new releases and general Spiel goings-on.) Everything is new. This year, most of them will not have heard of Qwirkle except in passing, and they might be looking to try it out at the show. I know that sounds strange, but that's what happens with SdJ winners each year. This is now my busiest day, too.

Sunday: Family Day II, and the procrastinators. A lot of people look at the games on your shelves and decide they'll wait until Sunday to purchase. (Quite often, even if you like a game, you have to decide between purchasing it right there and lugging it around with you for the rest of the day or waiting to make a game run later in the day/week.)

A huge bonus when staffing a booth is getting an Exhibitor Pass to Spiel. The Exhibitor Pass is a magic little card that allows you to enter the show floor early (9 a.m. on most days, and earlier on Thursday) and bypass the masses that are waiting at the front doors to get in. There's a little bit of Moses in you when you arrive at 9:50 on Saturday and the ocean of attendees is parted so you can waltz right into the quiet, bright empty show floor that's brimming with potential weekend sales.

Staffing a booth (even a corner of a booth) at Spiel is a unique experience. Even though I didn't need to do any set-up or tear down, it was much more tiring than I had thought it would be. I made up a bunch of signs and posted them in the booth. Shown here is a picture of me in 2007 at the booth, looking smug-as-can-be. You're seeing the whole entire section of my booth there, just not the tables below with the games on them. Even if you have chairs in your booth, you're on your feet almost the entire time; you're continuously talking to potential customers. In my case, I "get to" explain AoS and Steam to many customers as well (resulting in few direct sales of my maps, unfortunately, but hopefully those customers remember that "tall fellow" who introduced them to that game, and purchase expansions in the future).

Customers at Spiel are typically very friendly, though a few go out of their way to come by to tell you that your prices are too high, to declare that they don't like AoS or Steam, or to ramble on about why the American political system is inferior to those in Europe. (I was lectured in 2008 by some kook for about thirty minutes before the show started on the evils of America, even though I had never spoken out in any way regarding my political views.) Very few try to barter with you on prices, and because I'm from the U.S., it seems like it's a little easier for me to just say "that's the price" and point at the price list when they try to offer less, and for them to accept that and pay the price on the list.

Spiel is a cash-based show. A few of the larger resellers have credit card machines, but pretty much everyone just takes cash – and by cash I mean Euros. No U.S. money is accepted (though I get one or two people a year at my booth who give me U.S. money, but it's kind of a pain because I have to do the conversion math).

That year's haul was another huge set of games, with some really great new stuff like Oregon, TZAAR, In the Year of the Dragon, Ubongo Extreme and 1960: The Making of the President. On the used game side, I picked up a shrinkwrapped copy of Chinatown (sweeeet) and the reprint of Bausack. Losers abounded as well, with purchases of The Circle, Laborigines, Moai, Utopia and Hamburgum. As I write this, I am going to have to go through my lists of purchases from each year to see what percentage of games I actually still have from Spiel. I would estimate that it's around 40% or so.

In terms of income in 2007, I did really well. I don't have the exact numbers anymore, but I sold enough out of that little corner of the Warfrog Games booth that I figured I could support my own booth the following year, especially if I had more games to sell.

2008: Bezier Games Gets Its Own Booth

I contacted the Powers That Be at Friedhelm Merz Verlag, which organizes Spiel, in January 2008 to ask for a booth. I learned then that they send out the booth request forms in February. I was tremendously excited to get my packet.

There is a downside to Spiel for American publishers, and that downside is that the show is in Germany. Not only is there a long flight (11 hours for me coming from California) to get there, but you have to get your stuff there as well. And to pay for things like the booth, you need to wire money there (which is fairly high up on my list of "top ten things I don't like doing at a bank"). Making long distance arrangements for everything is not nearly as much fun as you might think, though careful planning (I have a BIG list in Excel that I use) is key.

After receiving the packet, I registered and paid via wire transfer, and then in July I received another packet, this time with a booth number and location: Booth 5-100. The number is great. Love it. The location is...well, it's in hall 5, and I was hoping for Hall 9. But the good news about my booth (besides the number 100, which is cool) is that it's at the end of an aisle, so it has good visibility from three directions. In the image to the left, you can see the booth when it was 100% empty (well, except for "the help"). In addition, I have nice neighbors who don't compete with me on products. And did I mention how cool it is to have my own booth at Spiel?

There are a bunch of halls at Spiel, with a bizarre numbering scheme that makes sense only to long-time exhibitors. The Messe (convention center) in Essen is only about two-thirds full for Spiel, and we don't use halls 1, 2 and 3. We use halls 4-12. Halls 10 and 11 are really one big hall without any real separation, where you'll find Rio Grande, Amigo and other larger publishers, as well as a few established smaller German publishers like 2F-Spiele. Hall 12 is home to Days of Wonder, Ravensburger, and lots of midsize German publishers like Pegasus (yay!) and little ones like Cwali. Hall 9 is where the cool kids are. This is the place for Z-man, Ystari, Lookout and other popular publishers. Hall 5 is a mish-mash of longtime publishers, including Warfrog, JKLM, Splotter, and of course, Bézier Games. Hall 4 contains primarily two kinds of booths: used game resellers and one-shot resellers (those who get a booth for one year with one game and don't do well and are never heard from again), as well as a few longtime publishers like Japon Brand and R&D Games. Hall 6 is the Fantasy hall with all sorts of cool stuff and Hall 8 has mostly comic books. So Hall 5 works for me (and has continued to work, so much so that I haven't tried to change my booth at all for the last two years).

2008 turned out to be quite a busy year for Bézier Games. Early that year I took the plunge and invested in the creation and manufacture of two new professionally produced games: Rapscallion and Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition. Rapscallion was a new card game that I really didn't know how well it would do (not all that well, unfortunately). Ultimate Werewolf had done really well as a homemade version, so I had high hopes for a much better, professionally-produced version. As many people know, Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition has been a runaway success and is certainly the flagship of the Bézier "empire" at this time, spawning three expansions (Ultimate Werewolf: Classic Movie Monsters, Ultimate Werewolf Artifacts, Ultimate Werewolf: Night Terrors and their little baby brother Ultimate Werewolf: Compact Edition. I ensured that both of these new games were going to be ready for Spiel.

In addition, I published a new mounted AoS map (Age of Steam: Vermont, New Hampshire & Central New England) and a new heavy paper coated stock one (Age of Steam: Secret Blueprints of Steam Plans 1 & 2), as well as a preorder-only bonus set of maps (Age of Steam: Special 2008 Spiel Limited Edition - Essen Spiel & Secret Blueprints of Steam Plan #3) that included a map based on Spiel itself! (I printed a few extra Spiel ones that I slowly put out at the booth each year as it's fun to have a Spiel item on sale!) The two major expansions for sale was a big experiment for me: How many more copies of a mounted map like Vermont, New Hampshire & Central New England would sell compared to a paper one like Secret Blueprints? It turns out that the price people are willing to pay for mounted maps vs. paper maps is quite different, even if the non-mounted ones play well and look good. People just seem to want the mounted maps (a sad realization when it came to the following year...see below).

Getting the games to Essen that year proved to be a challenge (and continues to be, though for 2011 I am better prepared). While my mounted AoS maps were being printed at LudoFact in Germany, my other games were printed in China and shipped to the U.S. Getting the games from the U.S. to Germany is a huge hassle. There are a few ways to do it:

• Take them with you in your luggage, aka "Reverse Muling".
• Ship them there on a ship two months in advance.
• Fly them over at an enormous expense.

I've been using the Reverse Muling system for several years, and while it works, it's not fun at all. It limits what you can take and isn't cost effective after your "free" bags are allocated. Getting each bag to the 50 lb. point but not over is a big hassle, too. But this method has worked for me in the past, and while I won't be entirely dependent on Reverse Muling in 2011 – I'm shipping some stock of new games directly to Germany – I'll probably continue to do it to some extent.

In 2008 I had the good fortune of traveling with my best friend and his girlfriend, which gave me additional luggage space for games. (That might sound crass, viewing friends as beneficial only for their luggage space, and it only gets worse in 2009.) However, we spent a week in London and Paris prior to the show, which meant we had to lug our games with us until we finally arrived in Essen.

This also marked the first year that I stayed in an apartment instead of a hotel. The cost savings are absolutely huge if you're going to be in Essen for an entire week. There are a number of apartments available for rent (usually with a minimum stay of a week) and you'll save about half of what you'd spend on a hotel – and probably have much larger and nicer accommodations as a bonus.

With a booth comes the need for furniture. Since I planned to have a booth at Spiel for several years, I decided to buy furniture and store it instead of just renting it each year. So the Monday before the show started, we went off to the Essen Ikea and bought a bunch of shelves, several tables and chairs, and carpet. I didn't have the foresight to purchase a little vacuum cleaner, unfortunately. The upside was that every morning at the booth I got to exercise for about 20 minutes on my hands and knees picking up carpet fuzz and trash.

Tuesday is set-up day (though I would prefer to finish set-up on Monday, if possible). Setting up the booth takes time. Assembling the furniture was (and still is) a long process. (It has to be disassembled each year in order to store it.) Putting up signs and organizing games for the show also takes a lot of time. I estimate I spend about eight hours doing assembly and set-up each year, and that's with at least two people helping me.

The show in 2008 went extremely well, with all my copies of Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition selling out by Saturday morning. (It had Essen buzz!!!) Rapscallion sold below expectations. The AoS maps did well, but again I had more than I needed on hand. The lesson from that year (in terms of products) was that you can't bet the show on a single product; if I had had only Rapscallion, I would have had a very disappointing show. Fortunately, the AoS maps and Ultimate Werewolf more than made up for the difference.

Again with the Spiel haul of games that year. Because my best friend and his girlfriend were only casual gamers, I was able to use their extra luggage space for the way back from Essen as well! More games to buy! And this year, while I had purchased plenty of losers like Comuni, Lungarno and the ridiculously-overhyped Duck Dealer, I ended up with a good number of winners. One of the best finds was Hab & Gut, a game from Winning Moves that is phenomenal, yet was never published by any U.S. publisher; had I not bought it at Spiel, I would never have played it, most likely! Other winners were Le Havre, Big Points and Powerboats. In the used game area, I found a great copy of Sternenhimmel. Despite all that extra luggage space available, however, I spent a lot less time away from the booth. Having your own booth is even more time-consuming than having a portion of a booth, and I was frantically busy throughout the show.

So now I was a booth operator at Spiel, and as soon as the show ended, I felt the pressure of having to do something for a follow-up to ensure that my investment (mostly in furniture at this point) would continue to pay off.

2009: Designing the Perfect Spiel Game

Without hesitation I signed up for another year of booth ownership at Spiel, but I had an issue – what game (or games) would I have available? Ultimate Werewolf sold well, but Rapscallion didn't. I thought I understood why one was more successful than the other at Spiel. That's when I decided to design a game specifically for Spiel, and that game was Beer & Pretzels.

Our game group, the FNVPs (Friday Night VPs), plays a lot of Wizard, and when you play a card in Wizard, you toss it into the middle of the table. It had become a little game to the group to toss cards on top of others (if they were larger, taking the trick), or to try to slide the cards under others if they were lower. As a fan of dexterity games, I started with that concept: Make a card game in which you want to toss your card on top. That evolved into Beer & Pretzels.

So why was Beer & Pretzels a Spiel game? Because it had the following Spiel-friendly attributes:

• Easy to learn (<1 minute of rules).
• Quick to play (five minutes for a game).
• German rules in addition to English ones (and preferably some German on the box).
• GREAT to watch others play; I'll probably always have Beer & Pretzels set up on a table in my booth because when people start playing, other people stop to watch those people throwing these big colorful coasters around.

So Beer & Pretzels was slotted as a new game, and I also had a few AoS expansions ready to be printed: Age of Steam: Alabama Railways, Antebellum Louisiana & Four Corners and Age of Steam: 1867 Georgia Reconstruction, South Carolina & Oklahoma Land Rush.

However, the USD to Euro exchange rate was super high and I decided that I couldn't justify printing new mounted boards in Germany, so I went to a local printer and printed heavy card stock maps again – which caused even more dismay when it came time to take games with me, as nothing was in Germany already. As expected, both expansions sold only okay at Spiel as they weren't mounted. The return on non-mounted maps in 2009 clarified the issue for me: mounted maps or nothing. (You'll note that the expansions for both 2010 and 2011 are all mounted, and there's even more of them than before...but more on that later.) I also decided to do a crazy fun bonus expansion for preorderers: Age of Steam: Beer & Pretzels, which does away with victory points and instead lets players just focus on money. It's vastly underrated and of course totally unavailable, but it's great fun!

Beer & Pretzels was in the largest box I'd ever produced, which means I could get only about fifteen or so in a large suitcase. The image shown here is a fairly large suitcase with two packs of six Beer & Pretzels in each. They were so so so large! Argh!!!! I begged and pleaded for several friends (and new friends!) to take games with them to Essen for me, as many U.S. visitors to Spiel carry empty suitcases there in hopes of filling them up with games for the flight back. (This is the epitome of the Reverse Mule concept.) That, and I took my kids with me in 2009 – Four more checked bags! Two more carry-ons! I mean, I loved the idea of taking my kids to Europe for the first time, but the thought of all those extra pieces of luggage was pretty darn exciting too.

For the first time, in 2009 I decided to participate in the press room on the Wednesday before the show. This is one of those things that most attendees don't even know exists, but upstairs, above the buffet-ish eating area behind the glass doors just outside of Hall 11 is a semi-secret press room where publishers display their games specifically for the press. The idea is that this way the press, who are of much nobler birth than the common attendee, get to interact directly with publishers and designers directly for two hours without all of the annoying riffraff getting in their way.

I always made a practice of going up to the press room to check out the new games on display on Wednesday, but there's some sort of weird vibe up there that I'm still not quite fond of. Maybe it's the strange mostly-Euro press people who often seem a little snooty, or maybe it's because most of my fellow publishers and designers are all a little stressed out to be forced to hang out up there while their booths are not getting their final touches on the day before the show.

Either way, I kind of forgot to sign up for it in 2008, due to the new booth and all, but for 2009 I was determined to have a presence there. I set up in the "good" back room. There are three rooms within the press room: the main entry room that you really want to be in, the "good" larger back room with the stage in back, and the "sad" room where all the publishers who show up too late on Tuesday to claim a good spot end up.

I draped a cloth over a section of table and set up Beer & Pretzels (and also brought my expansions for Steam/Age of Steam, though as I suspected, pretty much no press people could care less about them). It's a painful two hours standing there behind your game, just waiting to talk to someone about it, so I did what anyone would do: I talked my kids into manning it for me.

The booth set-up in 2009 was fairly straightforward, as I received a palette full of my furniture on Monday and went to work getting it all set up by the end of the day. The booth looked better than ever, and having lots of people manning it (two friends, one mom, two kids and myself) made things go really smoothly. Everyone had time to check out the rest of the show, and when we had two or more people in the booth and there was a bit of a lull, we would simply play Beer & Pretzels, which actually caused a bunch of people to stop and watch or join in! A booth that looks busy gets busy, I've determined, and having a few people there at a time playing or moving games around makes it easier for attendees to stop by the booth and get involved in some way.

This was the year I decided to spend more time as an attendee at the show, trying to play more games from other publishers and a little less time in my booth. I didn't feel comfortable at all doing that in 2008, but I had help from friends who manned the booth during certain times, my kids helped out (my daughter turned out to be quite the salesperson!), and my mom was there, ostensibly to watch the kids, but she was having so much fun playing games and helping out in the booth that it gave me even more free time. Wandering around the show floor with your kids is a fantastic experience. Mine were 10 and 11 at the time, and not only were they a huge help, they absolutely loved it. Having all those folks there definitely made the show more enjoyable, and let me purchase more games than ever before!

My haul in 2009 consisted of a much higher number of winners than ever before: The most worthy sequel to any game yet: Ubongo 3D, the crazed super-fun speed game Fast Food, the better-than-Snorta! game Tarantel Tango and a great metal-box heavy-tile version of the Tichu-like game from Korea that Dale had introduced to me earlier that year, Peeper. Of course there were some -ahem-, non-winners as well: the overproduced yet uncompelling Alcazar, the disappointing Pony Express, and the nausea-inducing board in Last Train to Wensleydale. In the used game department, I was pretty happy to find a copy of Medieval Merchant for cheap, but I didn't buy any other used games that year!

Spiel 2009 was a success! I was spot on about Beer & Pretzels being a great Spiel game as it sold incredibly well there and brought a lot of attention to my booth. I actually sold out of the Steam/Age of Steam maps I brought with me because this year, they were compatible not just with Age of Steam but also with Steam (which had just been published). I even sold copies of Age of Steam and Steam in my booth!

Of course, as soon as it was over, there was 2010's show, looming in the distance. And I didn't have a game ready (again)....

2010: The Economics of Repurposing

So here I am in the beginning of 2010, without a new game ready to go. (Most of the games I had been working on at that time were beyond the scope of Bézier Games as they were too big for me to publish.) That and my garage was filling up with stock of unsold games, a big chunk of them copies of Rapscallion. I realized that I was probably never going to sell all the copies of Rapscallion I had printed. It's sad, but it happens. But what if I could use some of the components from Rapscallion for another game? I could save a bit of money on components *and* get rid of my overstock!

Well, that was a grand idea, and the game that came out of it, Perpetual-Motion Machine, is one that is really, really good. (I just played it with my wife the other day after a long hiatus and really enjoyed it.) But the cost savings were much smaller than I had originally thought they would be. Here's what I ended up doing:

• Disassembling a large number of remaining Rapscallion boxes into two decks of cards, one score pad, and empty boxes and rules.
• Throwing away the empty boxes and rules. (This was really hard to do...it made me wince.)
• Saving the scoresheets for personal use. (They have "Rapscallion" on them, but they work great for keeping score for any games up to six players, and as a bonus they also list poker hands in order of value.)
• Using one deck of cards for Perpetual-Motion Machine, and storing the other deck for some future game. (Who knows what that might be?)
• Buying cubes. There's something pretty awesome about getting tens of thousands of cubes in a big old box sent you from Germany. The picture here shows a standard Carcassonne meeple on top of the pile of cubes I received.
• Printing new boxes, rules and player mats for Perpetual-Motion Machine.
• Assembling the games and shrinking them myself.

All in all, a whole lot of work resulting in minimal savings. If I were to bill my company at minimum wage for my time spent disassembling and assembling, it definitely would have been a LOT more expensive than just having it all assembled directly at the factory.

But now I had a game for Spiel 2010. I had already determined my "bonus" map for preorders to be the very, very evil Age of Steam: Sharing, and thanks to a deal with LudoFact, the high quality printer people in Germany, I was able to print a big set of three new mounted AoS/Steam expansions: Age of Steam: Atlantis & Trisland, Age of Steam: California Gold Rush & Underground Railroad, and Age of Steam: Amazon Rainforest & Sahara Desert. I was able to save a bit of money by treating the boards as a single board (as they are all the same size) with three different sets of maps applied to them. When you're printing in low quantities, these kinds of savings are critical.


That said, while it is cheaper to do them this way, manufacturers will always tell you how much you'll "save" if you print more. If I doubled my order, the cost per expansion is reduced more than 20% – which sounds really good until you realize that I'm never going to sell double that number, and the math will make this obvious. Let's say each map costs me $10 to produce if I get 1,000 of them printed. But if I get 2,000 of them printed, they cost me only $8 each! That's $2 I'm saving on every map I sell!

But then take it to the next step: The original batch of 1,000 will cost me $10,000; the "cheaper" batch will cost me $16,000. Now if I'm particularly optimistic, I might even say that those additional 1,000 maps really cost me only $6 each! But it all depends on whether I can sell them or not. If I don't think I can sell more than 1,000, I've just wasted $6,000 (and taken up even more space in the Bézier Games warehouse, which is currently the garage). It's very tempting to increase quantity to get lower prices, but unless you are certain you're going to move those games, it's always better to stick with the lower, expected quantity (as long as you can make a profit based on the original per game price...if not, you might want to reconsider publishing the game in that manner).

In 2010 I "hired" two friends, Patrick Korner and Brett Hardin, to help me with booth duty (including assembly and booth duty during the show) by providing them with free housing during Spiel. That was a big win for them and me. They did an awesome job. Brett even manned the press room table...and he was there early enough to secure a prime slot in the entry room, too! This picture shows him in that room, standing next to an equally happy Frank DiLorenzo of R&R Games, who also snagged a prime spot!

Both Patrick and Brett knew the lineup of games I carried already, and both are Age of Steam players, so it was easy for them to settle in and start selling. In addition, because they knew and liked my games, they were much more effective than someone you might be hiring just to have an additional body in the booth.

Here's a whole slew of booth pictures from the Spiel 2010 booth. One thing is for certain: The Bézier Games booth was really hopping during the show!







2010 was the first time I've ever gotten sick at Spiel. I came down with a super nasty cold. It hit initially on Friday and was so bad that I actually considered staying in bed Saturday. I didn't – yay, cold medicine, caffeine and cough drops – but I was really miserable. I was so sick I didn't make it over to pick up a copy of Troyes (and for me to miss out on a buzzworthy game at Spiel, for those people who know me, means I was pretty close to death). Having additional people at the booth was a lifesaver for me as I could barely talk that day. If you're a small publisher at Spiel, avoiding getting sick should be high on the list of things to prepare for in the back of your mind. And if you're coming from overseas, be sure to bring medicine just in case. You don't want to be searching for stuff with German on the labels at 9 a.m. on Friday. (Most medicines are totally different brands there, too.)

Even with being sick for a chunk of the show, I managed to pick up a whole lot of games! Winners included 7 Wonders with the (initially) Spiel-only 7 Wonders: Manneken Pis Promo, the you-can-find-it-only-in-Europe Snapshot, the terrific "kids game" (it's not just for kids!) Geistesblitz, the rarely-seen but terrific Water Lily, the surprisingly fun Mord im Arosa, Scott Tepper's excellent English publishing of Kaigan, and of course the German-only Die Sieben Siegel that was rethemed as "Wizard Extreme", which has tremendous artwork. I also picked up a used copy of Klondike for very little cash. On the bad side, we had the I-really-wanted-it-to-be-good Funfair and the horribly rules-impaired Black Friday.

In terms of the show sales, Perpetual-Motion Machine sold out at the show, and continues to do better in Germany and Europe than in the U.S. I sold out of my AoS/Steam maps again, and sold out of the Ultimate Werewolf I had brought with me.

2011: The Biggest Year So Far

As soon as Spiel ended in 2010, I already knew what one of my games for the following year would be: TieBreaker, the follow up to Start Player. I'm constantly asked about Start Player at Spiel, even though I don't publish it (and it is currently out of print, awaiting a new print run from Z-Man Games). For me, I had always wanted to do a follow-up, but while Start Player's random card draws were fun, a game about tiebreaking needed to be less random. So I came up with a ridiculous number of minigames, one per card, in which tied players compete in order to break ties. It's fun, it's a little bit silly, but it fills a niche in the same way that Start Player did in 2006. And, possibly more important than anything else, it contains a giant orange TieBreaker meeple! I have high hopes for TieBreaker at Spiel this year.

I'm fulfilling a lifelong (well, five year long) dream with TieBreaker, too. Back when I was figuring out how to publish Start Player, I was given the advice to make the game box larger than it needs to be. As a gamer, I'm appalled by this idea, but after talking to distributors and knowing what it would cost me to publish Rapscallion, I went with a bigger box than I needed to – not much bigger, but I had originally envisioned publishing the game (and any card game really) in the compact AMIGO-style boxes that you'll find copies of Wizard and all their other small card games in. They're great to throw in a bag to take with you to a gaming get together, they take up almost no room in your game collection, and they don't have any wasted space. I love 'em. TieBreaker will be the first game I'm publishing in that size, and I'm really excited about that – and because of what it does, it's just the type of game you want to carry around with you, but you don't want it taking up a lot of space.

I had been working on two new Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition expansions – Ultimate Werewolf: Night Terrors and Ultimate Werewolf Artifacts – over the last few years, and while it seemed weird to put them both out at the same time, they're quite different. Night Terrors is a standard set of additional roles (but they're all roles that have an impact at night time...get it, "night" terrors?), while Artifacts adds an entirely new dimension to Ultimate Werewolf games. In fact, Artifacts can even be used with other versions of Werewolf! Artifacts is one of those expansions that makes me sad that it's just an expansion. It's terrific and provides werewolf players with some new information about the rest of the people in the village, and also gives them some really interesting decisions to make – all without increasing the complexity of the game or changing it fundamentally. And like TieBreaker, I'm making Artifacts super compact, so that it will actually fit in your existing Ultimate Werewolf box!

And I had a bunch of Age of Steam/Steam maps in the hopper, so I broke out a bunch and started developing them. The winners were Age of Steam: African Diamond Mines & Taiwan Cube Factories, Age of Steam: Australia & Tasmania and Age of Steam: Outer Space & Reversteam, along with the preorder-only bonus maps Age of Steam: Orient Express & Disoriented Express.


These new games bring me to a total of twenty-six (26!!!) different products that Bézier Games will have available at the show this year, including a few things that are out of print in the U.S. (I've kept unsold games in storage in Germany instead of bringing them back and forth each year.)

For 2011 I put out a call for help in the booth in the BGG Essen forums and had an overwhelming response, choosing one new person who seemed to be a good fit. That, along with my wife and a good friend to help out in the booth, and I'm all set for another Spiel. Bézier Games is still at Booth 5-100, this time for the fourth year in a row.

Six years and almost seven Spiels later, here's where things stand:

• Bézier Games, my company, now has a product line of more than two dozen games, sold all over the world.
• I've designed more than 30 games and expansions, the majority of them being published through Bézier, but others, like this year's Ticked Off, being published by other publishers.
• I've been to Spiel six times and have gotten to know Aldie, Derk, Rick, Greg and many others in the industry...and they're all really great people!
• Not only do I have an iPhone, I also have an iPad, and the first game from Bézier and House Full of Games – Start Player – is available on both!

If you're attending Spiel this year, stop by my booth and say hi (and buy some games, of course). If you're a publisher who is looking to attend Spiel by getting a booth, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope my experiences noted here might give you some insight to help you be even more successful.

As Bézier continues to grow in terms of both revenue and product line, I'm sure I'll continue to attend Spiel each year. A few times a year, when I'm in the booth doing inventory or fretting over missed opportunities because one game or another is sold out, I'll reminisce fondly about those first few years when I spent only a few hours selling and had the rest of the show to casually walk around and soak up all the new game goodness. But then those moments pass and I'm simply just thrilled to have a booth in the biggest, best game trade show on the planet!

Ted Alspach
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