When one designs and published board games for a living, one tends to rant a lot about it. This is where we do that, the folks involved with NSKN Games and our special friends and supporters. We'll post here our ideas about gaming, about life, about gaming more often than not, about the specific challenges of making a business out of a hobby and... did we mention games?
Aesthetics are very important when it comes to board game publishing. Color and images are tools which are used to invoke emotions, to convey messages and meaning, often in form of symbols, icons, or patterns. We use color to denote player components or to provide separation and add meaning to game boards or the use of certain cards.
There is a lot more to this process than simply creating images or choosing an artistic style that fits the theme of the game.
Gamers everywhere continue to be selective when it comes to the aesthetics and artistic direction of the games they choose to enjoy or purchase, and this is a good thing! There should be a reasonable expectation that a publisher will put some effort into their published works. We expect game play and mechanisms to evolve and modernize, so we should also expect the visual aspects to do the same.
We live in an age where the collective information of our entire species is at our fingertips, where the history of the rise and fall of empires is well documented, readily available for our consumption. Technology and science continue to progress at an unstoppable rate. There is little to no excuse to not have this vast knowledge reflected in board games.
Many designers and publishers put a lot of thought and effort into their creative works, ensuring accuracy or basing their designs on historic facts. Others fall woefully short in this area.
During the development and pre-production process of Teotihuacan: City of Gods, a lot of time was devoted to ensuring the accuracy of the colors and icons used in the game. It was important to use colors that match those used on murals in the ancient city. Every key icon, symbol, or graphic detail was, in one form or another, based on the culture and art that the game is designed to depict. This same effort is put into upcoming games that we are currently working on.
Of course, artwork is always subjective. Not everyone is going to love the visual aspects of every game we create. But at least we can say that we tried, and that we take pride in the respectful and faithful depiction of any historic, fantastic, or futuristic game we decide to publish.
What are your thoughts on the visual aspects of board game publishing?
How important is it, for you, that the artwork and graphic design not only looks good, but also strives to portray with accuracy and in a way fitting the theme of the game?
What are some shining examples of games that "did it right"?
Are there areas where publishers can improve further?
Spiel Essen is about a month away and every true gamer has already prepared a list of their most wanted titles. Thus, we have a bunch of Geek lists dealing with the hottest titles for Essen. Probably the most popular one of these lists is the Essen preview curated by W. Eric Martin himself, followed by SPIEL'18 Most Wanted Games Tracker.
We (NSKN Games) are fortunate enough to have not one, but two games on these geek lists, very close to the top. This is a first for us, and we want to think this is a result of: our hard work over the past 8 years, famous designers added into the mix, good artwork, marketing effort and a bit of luck.
But this is not really about us or our games. If you look at the hottest games from past years - 2015 through 2017 - you will discover that Spiel's most anticipated games ended up being retail hits, with very few exceptions. More than 80% of the games listed in each year's top 25 most desired games before Essen came through and made the Essen hot list and later made a splash in retail, with numbers in the thousands (most of them) or even the tens of thousands (e.g. Terraforming Mars).
Quite recently, I have had the chance to speak face to face with one of the buyers of a major distributors, so I asked the following question: "what are, in your opinion, the most anticipated board games of the fall of 2018?". I expected an answer looking like a small subset of the games listed in the aforementioned geek lists. I did not expect to hear one of our titles listed in there, but latest games from Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenberg should have made it to the list. Well, if not that, how about Newton made by CMON Limited? It turns out my expectations were completely out of line. The hottest titles from where they stand are: latest release of Magic: The Gathering and whatever Asmodee and WizKids have up their sleeve, for example the new Star Wars: X-Wing (Second Edition).
The effect of this affects everyone on the distribution chain: hot Essen titles will be stocked in very limited quantities by retailers, thus small/medium publishers are keeping print runs short to avoid over stocking (which can have really bad effects on cash flow and can lead even to bankruptcy) and gamers end up buying games on eBay at ridiculous prices.
Is there anything we can do - and I use "we" here to define all of us board game publishers who do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing budgets - anything at all we can come up with to compete? My only thought is that more of us should put forces together, not in a large, fragile alliance, but rather properly consolidating, putting forces together and forming larger companies, which can start having at least a tenth of the marketing budgets of large publishers.
The recent developments in the Kickstarter campaign from CMON’s Death May Die have left the crowdfunding division of community in a state of uproar. The company that has been bringing us plastic zombies, Vikings and extra-terrestrial invaders has caught a lot of flak – some probably well-deserved.
A side effect of the lively discussion that ensued was also the rekindling of a certain sentiment, namely that big publishers should leave Kickstarter for good. I’m here to tell why this would be a major disservice to Kickstarter backers – and to small creators as well.
We all know what crowdfunding is for. Dream a project, find people ready to back you, and make it a reality. It’s a romantic notion, one that feeds off an almost universal desire to see the underdog succeed. However, when established publishers start throwing their hats into the ring, it seemingly becomes almost impossible for the little guy (or gal) to really break through.
Well, not necessarily.
I believe we can safely say that board games truly made it to Kickstarter for the first time in 2010. It was then, during a 60-day period between April and June that the first edition of Alien Frontiers was funded. It was a game that – for a time – took our imagination by storm.
Almost everybody was surprised that someone was able to put a board game on Kickstarter, receive almost triple the funds needed to print and deliver copies to backers, and then put it on store shelves, albeit for a blink of an eye, before players hungry for some dice-based innovation and retro sci-fi atmosphere gobbled up the first printing.
Now, stop for a moment and tell me if you remember how much Alien Frontiers made on Kickstarter? If you don’t (and chances are, you probably don’t), do me a favour and don’t check yet. Just try to recall what the perception of its initial success was – and hold on to that though for just a while more. We’ll get to it in a few short paragraphs.
I’m a project creator myself, so – using the default Kickstarter tool that tracks backer activity of a live project from within – I can vouch for a certain negative influence the biggest projects have on the smaller ones. If you ever ran your own campaign while a new CMON monster landed on Kickstarter, or when a game like Batman: Gotham City Chronicles launched, you definitely felt the ripples.
Some of your backers had to make some hard choices and left you for a bigger, more shiny box. At that moment it’s easy to state that the larger project sucked some life out of a number of smaller ones – and that statement would even be - in essence - true. Good projects of smaller size survive this short turmoil with but a few scratches. Projects fighting for their life usually suffer a mortal wound and go down forever.
Regardless of how many big projects are there on Kickstarter at any given moment, success still breeds success, and repeated failures almost uniformly push projects into a death spiral. The presence of bigger, louder and bolder games only enhances what is already a part of our nature: to change our mind and pursue things we perceive as better.
Still, when you compare a project like Death May Die – one that was actually pretty troubled when compared to the smoothness of other CMON’s vehicles – to a game of a small creator making their first steps in the world of board game crowdfunding, it’s easy to think that they stand no chance. After all, they will never get even a half of the money made by a big publisher. They will often make less than one tenth. Yet, with your help, that will be enough.
Remember when I asked you to hold on to your perception of how much money Alien Frontiers originally made on Kickstarter? It's time to tell you exactly how much: $14,885.
It may come as a bit of shocker. Even if you take into account that it was over 8 years ago (and adjust accordingly), you still end up with an amount that pales in comparison to what many projects today reach. And yet, it was enough to (pardon the pun) kickstart the game, which has since proven a commercial and critical success.
With Kickstarter being as popular as it is today, receiving double the backing Alien Frontiers had received back in the day is probably easier than it was in 2010. Competing with the likes of CMON is a whole different issue, but becoming a successful project creator is simply a matter of a lot of work, and a bit of knowledge.
The knowledge is suprisingly easy to obtain. You can ask around, and many project creators will share their experiences, allowing you to better prepare for the exprience of crowdfunding a game - and often avoiding their mistakes.
Kickstarters are now built for a more active audience, and one that is also a bit more "trained" in spotting their weaknesses. In fact, it's more difficult to make it with a good idea, and little actual preparation, which - in the end - works out well for both creators and backers. The latter are not left with a sub-par product (or a complete no-show) for their trouble, and the unready creators - when they inevitably fail - are left with a learning opportunity for the future.
The big companies often set the bar. They draw in more audience. They make Kickstarter more professional. And as much as we like to believe in the crowdfunding dreams, we're all better off sticking to current realities.
If you’re a fan of the game, you’ve probably already seen this information in a news feed, but this time we are coming back with some details, and some dates!
If you don’t know Snowdonia, here’s all you need to know: Snowdonia is an awesome worker placement game – a modern classic of laying tracks and building stations in foggy Wales, and a work of art – polished and expanded with new scenarios (which will take you on a wild ride around the world), micro expansions and promos since 2012.
Out of print for some time now, Snowdonia will return in a glorious Deluxe Master Set edition: a huge box filled with pretty much all of the content ever published for the game, and with components upgraded to the deluxe level.
SnowdoniaDeluxe Master Set will be launching on Kickstarter on July 3rd 2018 – a week from when this post is published.
- All scenarios ever published for the game: 12 in total (2 from the base game, 10 published separately).
- A completely new scenario: The Bluebell Line by Mr Tony Boydell himself (so, a total of 13 scenarios right out of the gate).
- Over 360 wooden components: cubes, discs, wooden tiles (for player ownership markers) custom made labourers, surveyors and generals, custom made work rate markers (shovel and track piece), as well as specially designed scenario markers like water droplets, dynamite, daffodils, coffins, and more. Yes, this means that you no longer have to use player ownership markers in different scenarios, so you can play them with up to five players!
- Almost all of the promos ever published (excluding those which were printed for charity auctions, and a few which would infringe upon existing intellectual property), which – when added to all the scenario cards – make a whopping total of over 400 cards!
- A two part plastic box insert (both pieces coming with transparent lids of their own) for superior box control, as with the aforementioned 360 wooden components and the aforementioned 400 plus cards you will definitely need it!
- A new board, new cover art, deluxe player aids, two rulebooks, and a nice, big cloth bag for all the resource and event cubes!
- A new giant box (if you own a copy of Exodus: Event Horizon, you already know how huge), to house all of the components.
As you can see, when we say Deluxe, we in fact mean Deluxe. Still, if you’ve been a fan of the game for years, and you don’t want to purchase the whole Master Set Deluxe edition just for the new content, we will have a special veteran pledge level. Right off the bat it will include the Bluebell Line, but as the campaign grows, any stretch goals adding new, never before published content will also be included.
Finally, one more important piece of news: due to an insane number of components, we will be limiting the sales of Snowdonia Master Set Edition to Kickstarter, and to some direct sales after the project is over. Like other Kickstarter Limited content, you will be able to still purchase the Deluxe Master Set directly from us mainly at conventions, but the game will not enter regular distribution.
So, if you want to be on top of things, you can bookmark our countdown page available here. Once the campaign starts, it will lead you where you need to go!
As it has been a tradition for NSKN Games for the last six years, we are once again coming to UK Games Expo, where you'll be able to find us in hall 1, booth K-2. Here's some of the cool stuff we have to show you.
Let's start with some big games, shall we?
Firstly, there is Teotihuacan! The game by Daniele Tascini (the designer of Tzolk'in) is now in production, but we have an in-house prototype, which you will be able to see, touch, and - most importantly - play!
Secondly, Dávid Turczi's Dice Settlers! Our newest Kickstarter is being manufactured as we speak, and we will also have it available to try out. So, if you're a fan of light 4X and rolling loads of custom dice, definitely come by!
If you're curious about the newest entry in the Aestemyr (also known as the Mistfall universe), we will have an early production copy of Chronicles of Frost (by Yours Truly) for you to try out.
Finally, we will also be showing and selling Dragonsgate College - a game of dice drafting, where you're in charge of training wizards, warriors and rogues in a school of magic and mystery, from the designers of Yedo.
The above should satisfy the true heavy gamer, but we also have some great stuff for more family oriented among you:
Have you played Scare It!, our incredibly versatile game of scaring house pets (and elephants)? 15-minute gameplay, 1-8 players, different modes of play, and some amazing art, which has been a staple of Strawberry Studio for some time now.
If you're interested by upcoming titles from Strawberry Studio, you will also be able to try out Little Monster that Came for Lunch and Stayed for Tea, a new game of monstrously good fun from Robin Lees and Steve Mackenzie, as well as Bon Appetit! - a bidding game for the finest meals on the planet.
Okay, that is a lot of games, and we will be demoing them at different times of each of UKGE's three days. If you're there, come by booth K-2 in hall 1, we'll be happy to say hello, and have you seated for a cool gaming experience.
If you’re reading this, chances are that table top gaming is one of your favourite pastimes, and that you are what society considers an adult. It’s also quite possible that at least once in your gaming life you caught a funny stare when you admitted to spending your personal time over what many consider a toy.
This is by far not the first time the way “regular people” look at gamers is explored. Dig long enough here on the Geek, and you’ll probably come up with stories of people forced to explain that they don’t wear elf ears to gaming nights (not that there’s anything wrong with wearing elf ears), or that a responsible adult would not consider game a worthy pastime unless they could make a few bucks winning. Still, most of those stories would be kind of old.
Gaming and “general geekery” is in a different place than it was five to eight years ago. Board games seem more widely recognized as an actual idea for a fun evening, as opposed to be the straw desperate parents clutch on a hopelessly rainy Sunday afternoon to somehow manage potentially destructive, boredom-induced tendencies of their offspring. Our non-gaming friends usually know what we do in our free time, and we’re not considered as weird as we were back in the day. Society, it seems, has accepted us as its fully functional members.
I bet that after reading the above paragraph, there is somebody there thinking about proving me wrong. Honestly, I would not be surprised. From what I see here in Poland, even though designer board games are available in chain bookstores and supermarkets, there are still people thinking that each of them is based on the idea of rolling a die and moving a pawn that many spaces, and – as a consequence – games are “only” toys.
So, perhaps something else has changed? Perhaps the fact that being a geek is no longer truly an insult, we ourselves are mellower when it comes to dealing with people who know all about our hobby having played only Monopoly, than we used to?
Finally I’m able to arrive at what I wanted to ask all along, but needed a few paragraphs to set the stage: does it really matter to you, how your pastime is perceived? Do you feel the need to prove that gaming is something people can treat seriously, as seriously as they treat more “adult” pastimes? If so, do you feel that your experience is somewhat lessened by other people looking down at the fun you have?
Kickstarter is about creating what otherwise would probably not exist at all – with the help of backers. For a creator, it’s about coming up with a creative idea, presenting it to a group of enthusiasts, and making it a reality. For the backer, at least until the promised game is delivered, it’s about participation.
Over the last few years, I’ve written a few “Why back now?” sections for a few of the NSKN Games Kickstarters, as well as for a handful of campaigns we helped to create. One of the reasons that would always make an appearance was: “to make the game better for everyone”.
I don’t think I was the first to come up with the “better for everyone” idea, but I am certain that I had used it, before I bumped into it on other Kickstarters. I believe it’s an idea many people came up with independently, and it does not surprise me one bit. After all, it’s not only a good thing to say, it’s also something that is generally true.
Unless it’s not.
As backers, all of us love to participate in the game expanded and grown before our very eyes, and as we speak our mind, we get to be part of a creative process. As creators, we have an opportunity to use the suggestions of people already in love with the game to make it even better. An opportunity we sometimes have to ignore.
Backers often don’t react too well to being told that the thing they want is not going to happen. With multiple interesting projects running on Kickstarter almost any given day now, it’s also easy to see how those unhappy with the answer they got pull their pledge and take their business elsewhere. Hard as it may be, sometimes the only right option a creator has is sticking to their guns.
Responsibility is the key here, for when a project has a few hundred backers (and we all know that a couple of hundred backers make for but a small Kickstarter), a creator of a mid-sized campaign will usually communicate with perhaps a few dozen backers on any given day. It’s easy to forget that there are hundreds (if not thousands) others, who are slower or less eager to communicate.
Listening to a fan base in the making is incredibly important. Interacting with backers makes the creator form a bit of a bond with people who are helping to bring their project to life. Saying no to people who genuinely want to make the game better for everyone can thus seem like saying something inappropriate. Nonetheless, it’s something that sometimes it has to be done, no matter how dirty it feels.
As a company, we pride ourselves on delivering our Kickstarters on time. It’s not that we’re never late, sometimes even the best laid plans end up one contingency short of a perfect ending, but the few times we’ve slipped (out of a dozen or so projects), the delays were rather small – and we worked hard to minimize them.
For most creators, however, delays happen due to bad planning. Optimistically assuming that every step of brining a game from a prototype to a product is the mistake made most often – and one grievous enough to ensure that no amount of extra work will help minimize delays that keep on piling up.
The truth is that, as backers, we’ve come to almost expect Kickstarter projects to be late. After all, Kickstarting a game often changes it enough to force the creator into devoting extra time for unexpected design and development – and that is something very difficult to properly schedule for. Still there is a bigger problem that makes backers wait for most of the games: their own expectations, and how creators deal with them.
As I said, we almost expect Kickstarter games to be late, and while creators do not account for delays, many backers often do. Simply put, when you see a waiting period of six months, you often immediately assume you’ll probably have to in fact wait for eight to nine months, because – hey! – delays are a part of Kickstarter.
It is a kind of a vicious circle. Many creators now are able to accurately assess the time they will need to fulfil a Kickstarter project, but putting a realistic timeline requires actually telling the backers that it is realistic. In the highly competitive crowdfunding landscape of today, games you’ll have to wait for longer than for others – similar in scope, complexity and component lists – can easily earn a pass by a prospective backer internally accounting for inevitable delays.
It’s a global problem that is hard to fix. After all, Kickstarter is the place where amateurs get their shot at becoming pros, and some mistakes are bound to happen. Still, urging other creators to build realistic timelines is something we do when lending a hand or providing consulting.
Building better communication is important for all Kickstarter creators. Hopefully, with more projects delivering on time, the circle can be broken for good, allowing backers to expect their pledges to arrive on time(or a late by no more than a few weeks) – and not having to mentally adjust for obligatory delays.
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Last week I talked about Kickstarter exclusive games – including those which are so difficult to find outside of Kickstarter that are widely considered exclusive – and hinted on another topic I’d like to touch on in a separate post. The topic was board gaming Kickstarter today, and companies using it to crowdfund their games.
Board games were certainly not a big part of Kickstarter about ten years ago. Now tabletop gaming is kind of huge. Some of the biggest projects on Kickstarter – which means biggest crowdfunding projects in the world – are board games.
Large companies making Kickstarter exclusive games becoming a thing re-sparked a certain side-topic of many discussions: is Kickstarter still what it used to be, and do small publishers and creators still stand a chance against large companies competing for backers’ attention – and having the resources to steal it?
Well, Kickstarter is not exactly what it was ten years ago, and that’s actually great! If it stood in one place, our hobby – and our industry – would not be growing. More and more games are pitched, funded and delivered to backers’ doors, and that indeed means that competition might be fierce, but it is as it should be.
In fact, it is not only a natural course of events, it’s also highly beneficial to backers. A creator or small company who has already managed to successfully deliver a quality product is automatically more trustworthy of future pledges, and with the bar raised by competition, scammers (or creators who are simply incompetent) are much easier to spot.
As I said in my previous post, Kickstarter exists to allow products (games) that would otherwise never exist to become a reality, and it still serves that function for pretty much anyone who is willing to give it a fair try. It is only by comparison with the most funded projects that smaller and less established creators seem to suffer, as they are usually far from today’s highest funding levels.
Still, while analysing the situation, it’s worth to research funding levels of games that were considered smash hits back in the day (around 2010 to be exact). Alien Frontiers, the first big hit made with Kickstarter made a whopping $14 885 – a funding level now easily beaten by Kickstarter first timers.
Apart from the odd lightning in a bottle, a creator nowadays has to do pretty much the same thing anyone has to do to be successful: work hard, be ready to invest (some money and probably a lot of time), possibly receive a bit of help from their friends, and have a bit of luck. With that much – and a reasonable idea for a game – Kickstarter will still make you a published game designer and/or a publisher.
And by “Kickstarter” I mean backers – gamers and dreamers, truly passionate about their hobby, and interested in being a part of the creative process of making a game – people whose numbers were never as high as they are today.