Gaming for a living

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?

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Bye bye 2012

Andrei Novac
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We're back from holidays and among the first things we have to do at the beginning of the new year is to draw the line and analyze the last 12 months with the goods and the bads, so we can learn and improve.

For NSKN, 2012 was a very busy year, the second in our short history and the year with the greatest growth so far. We released an expansion for our first board game and two new ones, we attended several gaming events and we expanded our market. But, let's take it step by step...

Jan 2012 - NSKN attended GobCon, an event by gamers for gamers in Bologna, Italy. It was our first local gamin convention, we got to meet a lot of great people and we established a long-term relationship with La Tana dei Goblin, the largest board gaming community in Italy.

Feb 2012 - We announced our new games for 2012, Wild Fun West and Exodus on BoardGameGeek. With the aid of the great people, we polished the games, we chose the right names and we organized play-testing sessions.

Apr 2012 - One year after being established, NSKN got a new look. We designed a new logo and a new website in our effort to increase awareness and to give better customer support to all of you who own or are interested in our games.

May 2012 - Our team went all the way to Birmingham, UK to attend for the first time the UK Games Expo. It was a unique experience, we met lots of great people and we discovered a community of great people. We presented to the public for the first time the final prototypes of Wild Fun West and Exodus: Proxima Centauri, our upcoming games for the fall of 2012. The feedback was encouraging and we decided to move further with both board games.

Jun 2012 - June marked our second trip to Italy to meet Tana dei Goblin for and to released the first expansion of Warriors & Traders, Italia. We got a lot of help from our fiends form Italy and we designed this expansion especially for them. The first print sold out immediately and this represented another landmark for NSKN, our first ever sold-out product.

Jul 2012 - The graphic design for Wild Fun West was ready and we announced the game for Spiel '12 Essen.

Aug 2012 - Exodus reach its final state, with all the illustrations and it was ready to go into production. We made the decision to use Indiegogo for crowd-funding and we prepared the projects.

Sep 2012 - In the beginning of September, NSKN celebrated another brand new accomplishment, we were no longer a one-game-publisher, we had Wild Fun West ready and Exodus was getting significant support on Indiegogo, getting ready to be funded. At the same time, our new games were being produced and shipped from China.

Oct 2012 - October was by far the month with the most work, events and accomplishments for NSKN. Just a few days before Essen we reached our goal on Indiegogo. Our year long efforts were repaid by gaming enthusiasts who decided to back Exodus and we even exceeded our goal by 10 %. As soon as our crowd-funding campaign was successful, we shipped more than 130 copies of Exodus, in an effort larger than it looks for a still very small company.

Since the first print of Warriors & Traders: Italia sold out so quickly, we decided to make a second print, also limited to 50 copies. It was the last chance to get this exclusive expansion and we got preorders for more than half of the production.

The second part of October was marked by the mobilization effort for Spiel Essen. We attended the largest board gaming event in Europe for the second year, bringing a team of 8 people, three games and one expansion.

Nov 2012 - NSKN went back to Italy for Lucca Comics & Games, a convention that brought together 138,000 people. We were the only foreign publisher and even though our Italian language skills were limited, we made an impression and sold out the last few copied of [thing=124430]Warriors & Traders: Italia[/thing].

Dec 2012 - After we got back from Lucca until the end of the year we focus of sales and getting our new games to as many hobby stores as possible. We expanded our distribution network in Asia and Europe and this effort will continue throughout 2013. The year ended with a long overdue vacation from which we have just returned.

After we drew the line, 2012 was a good year with many highlights but also some mistakes. We managed to expand, we designed and produced two new board games, but we also encountered some production quality issues that we'e still fighting to solve. We have big plans for 2013 but we want to stay a small, friendly company which is capable to respond to any request in a matter of hours or days, putting our fans and customers first. We're still learning and every day we realized how special and amazing the board games industry is.
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Mon Jan 7, 2013 8:09 am
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A special day

Andrei Novac
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Today is a special day for me for two reasons. The first is that it's my birthday, but that's been happening every year for the past... well let's leave it at that. The second reason is that exactly two years ago today I made a life-changing decision, to quit my day job and make board game full time. It was the kind of decision which triggers all your friends to gather up and have an 'intervention' to make you realize how silly/crazy/stupid you are and to bring you back on the righteous path.

Well, I stood my ground and two years later I am still in the board games business and I don't regret it for a second. It was probably one of the best and (at the same time) worst decisions of my life, but I am finally doing something that I love and even though from the financial point of view it is not as good as my old job, I have high hopes and most of all I am happy from the professional point of view.

There are people around who contribute to my being happy with what I am doing and those are the people from NSKN and all the others who I won't name here and who are contributing by testing, giving feedback, etc.

So, this is the story of the day, at least for me, and now I will go back to doing what I'm usually doing - board games!
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Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:39 pm
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Praetor - a worker placement board game

Andrei Novac
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I've been asked countless times what the story of NSKN focusing so much on civilization or empire building games and when will we come to our sense and do what every typical start-up board games publisher does and make a simple worker placement game which would potentially reach a much wider market. Every time I answered the same thing, "when the time is right, our Euro-game will come to be", maybe with less fancy words, but you get the idea.

Well, it looks like that time has finally come and we're working on a Euro-game!

The working title of our board game is Praetor, it has a setting in the Roman Empire - pretty obvious I would say - and a number of players, most likely up to 6, are competing to become a Praetor. They're all in charge of building a new new Roman settlement together, each responsible for his own part and in the end, the most skilled of them will be appointed Praetor by the Caesar/Emperor.

As Euro-games go, this one aims to be either middle-weight Euro. That means it won't be addressed to absolute beginners - it looks like I am simply not capable of designing easy games - but it won't be too complex for the average gamer to enjoy and it won't last more than 90 minutes.

So far the theme is a bit different from the typical worker placement game (Agricola, Pillars of the Earth, Caylus, Fresco, Le Havre, Ora et Labora) but this is just the beginning.

Since we're in the early stages of development and the game has undergone just a few tests, we can't reveal all the details, but just to stir your curiosity... the most important 'trick' this game bring is that your workers gain experience over time, becoming more efficient in building and collecting resources. However, once a certain amount of experience is accumulated, they retire so you must recruit new ones.

Moreover, instead of being a simple worker placement board game, Praetor will combine this mechanic with city building. You will start with a simple settlement and you will develop it by placing new tiles. In a nutshell, each game will look different, simply because the order of available building will be different.

Most Euro-games have a scalability problem, if they work well with two players they become messy in 4 or 5, or if they work well with many players they will become dry with only two. We plan to overcome this problem from the very beginning by changing the modular map setup according to the number of players.

I guess these details will do so far, as soon as we're convinced and start massive play-testing, we'll come back with many more details and pictures.

Until then, it looks like the winter is the season of great board game ideas. Stay tuned!
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Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:54 am
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Technology in games and real life

Andrei Novac
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In many modern board games and especially in the empire building games, the games is won by accumulating Victory Points. There are usually many ways to do that, conquest, exploration, economic and technological development.Warriors & Traders and Exodus: Proxima Centauri fall under this category, of civilization games, where players compete on several "layers" and each direction brings Victory Points.


Exodus: Proxima Centauri tech tree
While play-testing Exodus: Proxima Centauri, several people asked me why are there no VPs awarded for developing their technology tree. The same things happened to a lesser extent with Warriors & Traders. I gave an answer to each person, but I feel it would be useful to elaborate on this a little bit more.

The topic I am going to debate is the reasoning behind our technological development and how are we benefiting from that.

First of all, what drives us - humans - to research. There's curiosity on one side, our constant need to discover and to find answers and on the other side there is the need to improve our lives, our existence, the need to prosper, but also the need to expand or defend.

I have read research (I cannot quote though) that most technological advancements in the history of humanity were achieved during the time of war or while preparing for war. Just think about World War II or the Cold War. Also, during the time of peace, most of our technology was not a purpose but means to achieve a greater goal. What I am trying to say is that we rarely research for the sake of science, but we have a purpose, a goal to achieve.

It is possible that I am over-simplifying things, but I have this image in my mind of the first man on the moon. This was a peaceful technological achievement, but the technology that stood behind it was driven by the Cold War Space Race, which has mostly (if not solely) military purposes.

My point is that developing technologies, research in general is the path to achieving a goal, not the goal itself. Moving back to board games... in Exodus: Proxima Centauri, there is no VP award for learning any specific technology, although researching is an important part of the game. It may be an obsession of mine to make games (even sci-fi ones) realistic, but every technology gives an advantage and just waiving one's achievement in front of the opponents won't bring extra power, it would be just a threat at most. And this is exactly what happens during the game when a player has reached a technology that would potentially give him an outstanding advantage: his opponents see it, fear it and react.

Imagine that during the Cold War the US would just tell the Soviets "we know how to make nuclear weapons" and the Soviets would suddenly say "you the greatest, you win". History proved that both sides had to actually make nuclear weapons and threaten to use them to get a strategic position. The technology served as means, not as purpose. I followed the same rule. In Exodus, most technologies bring some military or civilian know-how. Then, the players have to build the weapons or the ships to take advantage of the successful research. Nobody says that they have to actually use the weapons, just like the Soviets never attacked the US, but they can be used to build up influence and to score indirect points.

Maybe I've taken the comparison too far, it is just for the purpose of exemplifying a concept that I believe in - technology is not greatness but it serves as a path to greatness.

Now I might be accused that I did not follow the same principle in Warriors & Traders, where the most advanced player on each of the three tech paths gets a direct award of Victory Points. The reality in the Dark Ages was different. The intelligence was not as developed as we are used to and enemies had to severe difficulties in spying on each other and gather relevant information. Hence, there was a short path from reality to myth and a big discovery could easily transform into a legend which would simply keep the enemies away.

So, to keep the long story ...not so long, I am concluding my debate on technologies here wishing that people will simply enjoy playing our games.
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Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:50 pm
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What's so special about board games?

Andrei Novac
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I've seen recently a picture on Facebook that really inspired me. The day-to-day life is somewhat boring if we don't spice it up a little bit. Many say that the little things are the ones that make a difference. Well, for some of us, those little things that make a grey day bright are the board games.

What brought me in the board games world at first was the amazing combination between having fun and using my brain. It sounds funny, I know, but it is true. Once we graduate from college, most of us get so sucked in the working world and we forget that there are books around - and I am not talking about Freakonomics, C++ or Excel for Dummies - or theater or museums. I know that it happened to me. After a certain age, it become increasingly difficult to keep learning new things, to stay open minded and to use our brains outside work.

This is where the board games come in. If you don't have enough time to go to a museum, or don't want to be alone with a book or cannot afford an evening at the theater, play a board game! There are so many choices, from 20-minutes abstract game to enormous empire building games that take up the whole weekend, there are nowadays more than 10,000 decent (and above) board games on the market and at least 500 new ones get published every year. With this much diversity, it is impossible not to find something you like. So, instead of watching brainless TV, get you friends together, spread a board game on the table, talk, make strategies and enjoy a great time.

Besides stimulating our brains and the obvious social role, board games stimulate our creativity. I guess that one of the reasons I started developing them instead of just playing. After many evenings of gaming, I realized that there a whole universe that has not been explored yet and there is an infinite number of things that could still find their way inside a game box. So, following the motto from the picture, I dug inside my head and I started putting all the ideas on paper. It turns out that there are a lot, many more that I could ever develop into games. So I must choose and even this little process of deciding what is worth developing and what isn't keeps me thinking.
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Tue Jun 26, 2012 11:03 pm
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Greece, politics, board games, live long and prosper!

Andrei Novac
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I was writing a few weeks ago about the political situation in Greece and how it affects the world of board games. Yesterday, a new round of elections took place and, although I am trying to stay as far as possible from politics, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on this.

Antonis Samaras-live long and prosper!
The whole Europe and most of the world have focused on Greece for the past few weeks, not due to their impressive come-back in the Euro 2012, but due to the importance of these elections for the future of the Euro-zone and EU itself. The fear was that, should the radicals win, Greece would no longer respect the bailout agreement with the EU and IMF and would be forced to default on their debts, thus causing an extended crisis throughout all the countries which share the Euro as their currency and the other countries surrounding the Euro-zone.

But that's just some political talk, right? How would we - the common people - feel this directly? Well, just the perspective of the Greek default cause the Euro to lose some 3% against the US dollar and other relevant currencies, the oil price dropped with more than $10. For all those who are doing business across borders and currencies, this lack of stability is causing stress and even panic. For those who have saving or credits in various currencies, this prolonged instability is a source of nightmares and for the rest it is simply a nuisance ready to become a serious issue as soon as the price are going bazinga once again.

Fortunately, the (almost final) results of the Greek elections show that ND, a moderate right hand party won and will form a government which will work with the EU and IMF to get the country out of the brown situation and respect all the international agreements that Greece had signed. The political leaders in Europe are having less cold sweats, they can now focus once again on hiding their own dirt under the carpet.

For the board games world there isn't much of a change. But there is some change. The quotation I got this morning for international shipping was 7% lower that the one I got last week, in spite of the slight increase in the oil price (everyone in the shipping business blames crazy prices on the oil and gas market), so there is hope for better.

Overall, I guess the outcome of the last political weekend looks positive and most people have less to worry about. I am just wondering what will happen when the reality hits and one of the countries which are always under the magnifying lens of the EU, IMF and the rating agencies will not make the "right" choice.

Live long and prosper!
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Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:22 pm
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    Is anyone still playing real games?

    Andrei Novac
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    Every year, board game designers from Germany and the countries around gather in Göttingen for two days to present their latest creations to publishing companies. Most of the new games go by unnoticed, some of them become big hits. Yesterday I witnessed - as a designer - this gaming fair which is supposed to bring together the most innovative ideas in board gaming. After almost ten hours, I got to the hotel disappointed and unwilling to return for the second day.

    Don't get me wrong, the event is perfectly organized, German quality all the way, and for most designers this represents a unique chance to be seen by the trend makers in the industry. My amazement and disappointment come from the request of the public. I was talking today with a representative from one of the biggest publishers in Germany and I was shocked to find out that games like Catan or Carcassonne are considered today too complex! I am not kidding, he was looking for games that people can play without even reading the rules and they can finish in 20 minutes.

    So, are there any people out there playing real games? Games that make you think, that can be played over and over again? Games that you can re-discover a few years later and still enjoy? Games that last a whole evening?

    I am not saying that abstract games and children games are not important and they should be ignored, I am just asking are these the only games people play today? Some say I am obsessed with counting and they might be right. Today, in the main hall of the Göttingen fair, about 65% of the games were abstract and/or for kids and another 20+ % were simple worker placement games. Compared to them, Agricola and Puerto Rico seem super-complex, something that only a little genius would play.

    I did not have a real goal or any expectations from this visit to the Göttingen fair. I am now returning with some questions in my mind regarding the future of board games. Will people play simpler and simpler and simpler games? The more board gaming moves from a niche hobby to mainstream, the quality and complexity of the games decreases, but to which point?

    Last year I played some very good new "gamers' games". In Spiel '12, we will see last year's designs. Based on what I have seen now, I am curious and a bit scared of what this market will look like in 2013.

    I will end this with a question, how long are you willing to spend in front of a game board one evening? One hour? Two hours? 20 minutes? Or maybe the whole evening?
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    Sun Jun 3, 2012 8:10 pm
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