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Six hundred games into it, I'm discovering that I like different games and types of game play than most of my game group... it's OK... interesting, even.

Archive for Julia Ziobro

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Penny Gems: A Special Artisan's Workshop Tour

Julia Ziobro
United States
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(Long post. Tons of embedded photos and video clips. Sorry/Enjoy!)

It's my dad's fault. He took us on many factory tours on our camping trips. As an adult, I recognize that my parents saw the tours as free educational entertainment, but as a kid, I just thought factories were places of MAGIC. So when Dave started explaining how Penny Gems are made in the updates to his Kickstarter project, I had to become a backer so I could keep reading them. I quickly volunteered to come help after he happened to let slip that he was making them a few miles from where I live.

He finally took me up on it (I offered, shamelessly, more than once). Monday afternoon, instead of playing a board game, I headed to the Dave's workshop at PlastiCreations in Redmond, WA.

(Many, many thanks for Dave's kindness in allowing/encouraging me to share my day of Penny Gem creation with the broader community via a blog post. I know he's wanted to share this kind of information with his backers and others who might be interested in Penny Gems, but it's hard to take the time when the project's succeeded beyond the best-case predictions and there's literally thousands of gems to produce and ship! I take full responsibility for anything I've missed or got wrong, and if Dave provides any corrections, I will update this post. Dave did not bribe me; I write as an unpaid fan.)

Making the Penny Gem Labels

First things first: get the printer started! That's the slowest part of the process, so it's critical to begin right away.

Cutting is the next part of the printing process:

After the gems are printed and cut, "weeding" must be done to remove the excess vinyl material from around the gems. Dave showed me how to do it, and just like waxing to remove hair, the trick is to hold the material tight to the table and then to pull fast and to make as big a fold away from the sheet surface as possible. The n00b instinct is to go slow and careful, and that doesn't work so well.

First part of the pull:

About 1/3 through a sheet:

The last few rows (and yes, I'm not so good at it LOL):

I have to say thanks to Dave for being patient with me. Happily, this part of the process is reasonably forgiving. Labels damaged at this point in the process can be carefully replaced with good ones from a stash of extras.

Here's a shot of full printed sheets next to a bunch that have already been weeded:

When working with Penny Gems, it's hard not to notice that even the TRASH is pretty:

I swear, I'm part magpie... I wanted to take it all with me!

After the gems are weeded and carefully inspected for printing problems, they are placed on metal trays that have slippery but strong HDPE feet. Thin magnetic strips hold the label backer sheets to the steel trays so that the labels don't move during the doming and curing process.

After traying, the labels are piled on the table to the left of the doming machine, ready for doming.

Applying the Polyurethane Dome Material

Here is the doming station:

Now the real fun begins! Dave prepares the machine, a specialized rig that uses a modified computerized medical IV pump to dispense precise amounts of polyurethane material in a time-measured fashion. Dave starts the pump with a foot pedal, and then slides the tray under a custom nozzle-holder that he engineered and built, advancing the labels one row at a time until each of them has been domed.

A view from the side:

A view from above:

Sometimes, careful adjustments are required:

Regular Penny Gems; towards the top of the photo, trays of freshly-domed sheets, with sheets yet to be domed closer to the bottom:

The trays are stacked in piles of 12, because that's what fits into the curing cabinet Dave built. The top tray is covered with a clear lid to prevent dust contamination. We are making gems by the thousands! It's an impressive stack, to be sure:

Octarine sheets ready to be domed:

When Dave is done doming all of the regular gems (full and partial insignia sheets), he cuts off two of the nozzles, reprograms the controller to dispense less polyurethane with each pulse because there are 8 gems on a row, not 10, and starts doming octarine gems:

Domed octarines:

Finally, the piles of trays are placed in the curing cabinet, which maintains a 45C temperature. This cures the polyethylene material in six hours instead of the 48 hours it would take at room temperature.

Quality Control and Finished Product

After curing is complete, the sheets are moved from the trays, and the rigorous quality control step can begin. I got to do a bunch of this (full disclosure: I worked on labels that Dave domed on Saturday. He'll come back and do today's run on Wednesday or Thursday, after shipping out the weekend's production tomorrow). The quality check requires careful viewing of each label at several angles, pulling any defective ones, and then replacing bad labels with good ones from sheets of spares. The possibility of human error exists here, but great care is taken to make sure each label is right.

Bad labels might have not enough material, too much material, or bubbles or dust in the doming material. "Good enough" is not good enough; I rejected marginal labels and replaced them with perfect ones.

Most of the bad labels I pulled today:

The QA workstation:

The completed partial insignia labels from today's work:

The completed full insignia labels from today's efforts:

The completed octarine gems from today:

An Exciting Peek into the Future of Penny Gems

So if you were paying close attention earlier, you noticed some labels that didn't look so familiar. "Something," you thought, "is not right with those gems."

Indeed, the real treat of the day -- other than getting to chat with Dave for six hours and getting to know him a little bit, discovering a gaming friend or two in common -- was seeing the potential prototypes for the not-yet-official (insert another layer of no-promises disclaimer text here) pastel Penny Gems!!

You can't possibly be as excited about these as I am!! laugh I will become a backer the moment that project goes live, and I advise you not to hesitate, because Dave will run it for a shorter period next time, anticipating higher demand and wanting to maintain great quality and turn-around speed.

My Overall Impressions

Dave is a true artist... a perfectionist, but not a diva. (We laughed about ways in which artists CAN be divas, and Dave tried it on, but no, probably not his default mode).

We talked a lot about how something approximating Penny Gems could maybe be made in a less labor-intensive, cheaper process, probably in China. Maybe they COULD do it, but I honestly don't believe the end results would even come close.
d10-1 Dave's printing process requires two or even three layers of overprint to get the color intensity that you see in your gems. That's a lot of ink and a slower printing process.
d10-2 Once you lay down that much ink on the vinyl, you've got to move fast, or the ink drying on the vinyl will make it curl.

d10-3 Maybe some super-fancy machine exists that does doming with less hand-work required, but probably not.
d10-4 We've all seen that quality control can be lacking in some overseas company's efforts. Except for the labels I did today, every single Penny Gem you get from Dave will have been personally inspected by him about five times (by my count). The ones I did today will be inspected by him at least three times. Dave CARES about these... he wants them to be spectacularly beautiful, and I think they are. "Good enough" doesn't fly. If they're flawed, you won't get them, except through human error.
d10-5 This is a 100% US-made product now. US ingenuity and design, US vinyl, US polyurethane, US ink, US equipment, US labor, US packaging, hell, even US PENNIES! I don't know about you, but I am thrilled to buy US-based products which help keep my friends and neighbors working.
d10-6 These are going to last a very long time, and you will enjoy them for years to come. If corners are cut in their production, will they last as long? Hard to say. Does being 10% cheaper at the moment of purchase really increase your enjoyment long-term?
d10-7 Dave's a gamer in addition to being an artist. I really love keeping my gaming dollars in our little community so that a few people can make their living doing these things we love to do.
d10-8 Buying close to home (for me, less than 2 miles, but I know I'm special) reduces the petroleum footprint of the Penny Gems. ALL products from China come with a hefty petroleum expense, both in real economic terms and in broader environmental ways.
d10-9 Thanks to great materials control, they are known to be non-toxic. Inks, adhesives, doming material. Stuff from elsewhere SAYS it's non-toxic, but is it always? Oversight is much less reliable so it's harder to be sure.

Oh go on, really, it's about doing the right thing and owning a set of really delectable gaming accessories. I've spent a lot of money on gaming accessories, and these blow all others away completely. You don't hold these, you fondle them. You don't use them, you enjoy them. It will take your enjoyment of gaming to a new level.

You will sound ridiculous and giddy when you try to describe the tactile pleasure of these things (as I know I do), and then you hand them to someone and they will HAVE TO HAVE THEM. Now. Be prepared for your friends to try to borrow or buy them from you (it's already happened to me)!

Getting Penny Gems in the Future

If you missed the Kickstarter campaign in April, Dave will have some on his Etsy store: (see update, below). You will also be able to get the next edition of Penny Gems on Kickstarter once Dave announces them (and I will try to remember to update this blog post accordingly to help you find them).

I hope you enjoyed this insider look at how these beautiful improbable objects are made. Please thumb this post if you did, and check out Dave's work.

Dave Howell
United States
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Availability Update - 30 May 2012 or, Your Reward for Reading the Whole Thing is Learning How to Get Some Penny Gems of Your Very Own!

About half of the Kickstarter orders have been fulfilled, so Penny Gems have been added to Dave's Etsy store!

The gems listed there show a status of "backorder" because all Kickstarter orders will be filled FIRST, but he says he's going to start shipping Etsy orders in about six weeks, and then will ship those orders in the order they are received.

Quartet Set $20 - 10 each of ruby red, topaz yellow, emerald green and sapphire blue

Prism Set $20 - 5 each of the standard 8 colors (crystal silver, ruby red, amber orange, topaz yellow, emerald green, sapphire blue, amythest purple, jet black)

Rainbow Set $35 - 10 each of the standard 8 colors listed above

Double Rainbow Set $60 - 20 each of the standard 8 colors listed above

Full Spectrum Set $99 - 40 each of the standard 8 colors listed above

Octarine Penny Gems, the amazing sparkly ones, are not yet available through the store but will be sold separately in sheets of 20. Stay tuned!
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Tue May 29, 2012 11:30 am
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Kickstarters we've backed

Julia Ziobro
United States
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I discovered Kickstarter late last year and felt oh-so-tempted. I was scared, though, that it would become like eBay was for me, masterful drainer of thousands of dollars and deliverer of things I didn't need. So I held off on Kickstarter, and missed a few games that looked interesting, especially Caveman Curling: The Black Sheep of the Clan.

I got over my fear, and have gone a little crazy on Kickstarter. The other night, I decided to see what new-game deliciousness we have to come!

Realm Coins This is the only project that I've backed that we have in hand. They are better than expected! We have already used them when playing Mundus Novus, Puerto Rico, Runebound (Second Edition) and others.

Next to arrive will be Tumblewood. This game looks fantastic in that it is made in America by one person, by hand, and is of the highest possible quality. The Kickstarter for this one is still active too:

May will see four games hitting our front door!
I suspect that For The Win (Zombies, Pirates, Ninjas, Aliens, and Monkeys) will be first. Just a hunch. This was the first Kickstarter project I ever backed; the game was cheap, it looked completely silly, and the stretch-goal rewards were too tempting to resist.

Next, probably, is the Darkana Tarot deck (not a game, I suppose).

I wonder (no offense intended) if the next two will miss their projected dates. They are complex projects!
Seven Sisters, which looks like a solidly amusing game, even if the card layout makes me think of Citadels (an unfair comparison!)
Poker Chips for Gamers, Ceramic Currency for Board Games, which is still open for pledges:

June will be a bit calmer; only Di Renjie should arrive. Its origami card holders look fascinating; certainly unique, and this game was so cheap that I actually paid more than the required level (only $10 including shipping for the game; I pitched in $15!)

July brings two new games from Kickstarter projects, if they stay on schedule.

The wildly anticipated Kings of Air and Steam was the first big, expensive project I backed. This game is so up my alley I can barely stand it -- it's trains AND airships!, though I'm sort of "meh" on the whole steampunk thing.

Blurble looked good and I'm eager to add it to our somewhat-thin party-game shelf. Yes, I know that these games are not "serious" but we do all enjoy them when they're brought out as filler, to clear the air between heavy games.

August brings two games as well, if we're lucky.
VivaJava: The Coffee Game is not what I usually consider "my kind" of game but I found myself raving about it and showing it to everyone at game night two weeks in a row... which pushed me over the edge to back it. The fact that it can be played by up to 8 is a huge selling point; we get tired of 7 Wonders sometimes and there aren't so many games that play well with so many people.

Chicken Caesar looks a bit crazy for me but I am guessing that several people who regularly come to our game group will LOVE it, so I figured it was worth a try. And I was thoroughly addicted to Kickstarter by then anyway.

September sees only one game so far, but it's probably the one I want the most of all of these: Fleet. This campaign is open for 30 more days, which is killing me, because I want this game NOW, but it's good too... everyone go pledge and drive up the huge pile of stretch-goal goodies! Seriously, the game design looks excellent and it seems to have real depth which will lead to great replayability.

And I'm sure we'll eventually end up with more, but right now, we have one game scheduled to arrive from Kickstarter in October: Zpocalypse. Boy, is this an unlikely favorite for me... zombies bore me nearly as much as pirates, and as a theme, it's typically a dead end. However, this game is really WORKING its theme... it's not just "any random game" with zombie art pasted on... and it actually looks interesting. Even if it does turn out to be the best zombie game ever & still boring, I will be glad to have it in our collection because I'm sure people in our game group will love it. And the stretch goal possibilities here are also quite awesome, so check out its still-open campaign:

What are YOU backing on Kickstarter?
Am I missing something? Are you avoiding the entire Kickstarter "thing" because -- well, why? I have heard some reasons, and I understand them, but I'm curious. I find it pathetically exciting, love the stretch goal bonuses, and feel glad to help games that I like make it to cardboard. I'm willing to take the risk, since I actually feel I am taking a similar risk whenever I pop the shrink on something from FLGS.
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Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:00 pm
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