"Nobody gets me. I'm the wind, baby!" - Tom Servo
"Push the button, Frank!"
Merchant of Venus
It's been over a month, time for another update. And another upgrade to my classic edition (old school) Merchant of Venus set! I seem to not be able to control myself with this game. I have a similar problem with Mecanisburgo. Another game I just love and have pimped to beyond ridiculous!
As you have seen from my previous blogs, I've done a lot of pimping to this game. I've made all new player mats, ship mats, market/deed mats, ship standees, etc. The original reason was I wanted to make the game more attractive to play but still use the original gameboard and counters. So pretty much everything was upgraded but those elements. But slowly I started replacing those elements too. I made new Deeds, Race Standees, & IOU tokens. The deeds were very thin cardstock, the race counters being flat were hard to see on the board, and the IOU tokens were so small, so creating new ones seemed like a good idea. And compared to the rest of the counters, there wasn't much that needed to be remade.
Back in early 2012 I was working with Brad at BEK Laser getting some custom lasercut acrylic tokens made for several games. I was really impressed with his ability to try unusual design ideas. One of the jobs he did was new AI tokens for Mecanisburgo which I had him do several different designs for.
Mecanisburgo AI Tokens cut by BEK Laser-
I started thinking about design ideas for new spaceport and factory tokens. The original game only had these 1/2" counters and I wanted to make something nicer. So did a high res image of the spaceport icon with window etchings and asked him if he could make that in a small size. He did some tests and asked to increase the size a small amount since the window etchings were too close to the edge. The next tests worked fine. I thought it might be nice if they were raised off the table a bit and he mentioned he could cut really thick sheets with his laser. 9mm thick!!
My original design-
I really like the Mining Colony fan expansion so also added tokens for those. After several poor design ideas I decided to go with the standard mining symbol. Sometimes simple is better!
Half way through the cutting job Brad's laser broke so had to put the project on hold. He also had a huge backlog so we had some delays and a few trial new designs that didn't pan out. He sent me a partial set of finished mining & factory tokens and 1 set of yellow spaceports.
I found another issue when I tried out the factories and mining colonies on the gameboard. The original design had clear factory bases and the mining colonies had no base. Some of the colors blended in to the board and were difficult to see. The board is quite colorful so they just got lost. After all this work I didn't want them not to be seen! So after some thought and fooling around with some spare acrylic parts I had in a bag I asked Brad to cut new factory bases in ivory and brown. The ivory would be for red, blue, green, & black. Brown for yellow and white. I also asked for extras to uses as bases for the mining colonies. Now they all stood out on the board!
Once the bag of final spaceports arrived I got ready to ink in the etched parts. Unfortunately we had a small mistake. Brad used the wrong color blue plastic on the spaceports. I had picked out a lighter shade so it matched better with the cyan original colors. The normal blue is really dark and blended in too much on the gameboard. Brad recut and mailed out those new pieces. This gave me time to practice inking while I waited.
Wow, inking! That's a big job and very time consuming. I used acrylic paint I got at the local Michaels art supply store. To make it work best you must water it down. I probably used 2/3 paint to about 1/3 water. I didn't measure it exactly but that seemed to work pretty well. I used a very small brush to carefully paint in each window and edge lines. I'd do about 3-4 at a time. Then used small pieces of damp paper towels to wipe the excess paint off the top. It usually took 2-3 coats to fill in the etchings completely. And a very big pile of tiny pieces of paper towel! I had 60 spaceports to do and I estimate it took about 6 hours to do this job!
Gluing and losing brain cells from the fumes! I've glued a lot of acrylic from the various tokens I've had made or bought. I've used Litko quite often in the past. They recommend a special glue they sell called Craftics #33 Thick Acrylic Cement. The container recommends doing this in a well ventilated room. And they mean it! First time I used it I just did it on my dining room and got seriously light headed after about 30 minutes. I next tried in the bathroom with the vent running and the same thing happened. I started doing it in the garage with the door open which works pretty well but I had to do this on the dryer since I have no table in there. After several hours your feet get tired from standing! So this time I did it Sunday afternoon on the dining room table with the windows open and a fan blowing from the window across the table on low. Having a window open on both sides of the house created a nice breeze and the fan kept the fumes out of my face. I had 120 tokens to glue which took about 3 hours and didn't have any adverse affects by the end. The #33 glue isn't easy to work with. It goes from liquid to stringy in seconds after coming out of the tube. You have to work fast and you waste A LOT. You will use lots and lots of small pieces of paper towels wiping excess from the tube end. I recommend using toothpicks to place the glue on small parts. Otherwise you might splort a ton of glue on your piece! Superglue is much easier but I don't recommend it. It frosts the plastic. #33 dries clear.
All the tokens inked and glued-
I was extremely happy how they turned out and very thankful that Brad was good enough to work with me on this project. We had several revisions and changes throughout the project and he never had any issues with that. I was really happy to work with him and will go to him again when I have a new project. I also highly recommend his Eclipse cube trays which are a must as far as I am concerned.
The full board with the various tokens-
Closeup of the tokens-
With all the pimping I've done I can no longer get it all in the original box. So bought a bead box from the local Michaels. I'm not sure of the model number though. I have one more hole left!
The future?? Depending on my free time. I've been thinking of actually making a new gameboard. I found a nice planet creator plugin for Photoshop which shows promise. I've fooled around with sizes. I'd like a larger board. Probably 30"x 24". I'd put a market stack along one side and a deed stack on the other. That way I could get rid of the market and deed mats. I'm mostly just fooling around with it when I'm in the mood and not sure if I'll actually finish it.
I'd also like to get new illustrations done for the 6 player races. If I can convince one of my illustrator friends to do them! That would mean revised player mats. I might even revise the ship mats to remove the Relic rules and add in more space for deeds, IOU's, & patents. Make those spots generic instead of specific to deeds. I'd just put the Relic rules on a separate sheet. Not sure if I'll do all, some, or none of these ideas. A friend is picking up the FFG edition soon and for all I know we'll love it so much that I'll just toss my version in the furnace! Just kidding. But it will all depend on my interest and free time. When I do these fun projects I sometimes get distracted so no idea how far I'll go. I'm just hoping we get at least one play with my new components!
If you want to contact Brad about doing laser cutting you can geekmail him or check out his website.
I want to live here
We've now played the game twice and we really loved it. Our first game went so well that we played again the following weekend. We tried out the alien races in the second game and I really like them. I do have the expansion on pre-order though looks like we won't get it until end of December or January. But they had printing errors so they are correcting those. I'd rather have a fixed game so don't mind the wait.
I really wanted a spacy mat to put the tiles on. Several fans have made very nice ones. I liked Thierry Camprubi's space mat best and was high resolution. I decided to print on cloth so I didn't have a storage problem with such a big board. I find my Dune & Chitin: I boards a bit problematic since I have to lug around a big art portfolio when we want to play those games. Cloth just folds up and you can even wash it!
I decided to have it printed by http://www.fabricondemand.com/. I've used them once before and they do a decent job. The mat isn't super dark which is my biggest problem. But they are dead accurate on DPI settings which is important when you do mats with tiles. I made it 200dpi and it was perfect. The tiles fit just fine.
Here's an in-game shot of the board in action-
This is actually mat #1. I recently made a second mat which I have being printed right now. When there are a lot of tiles on the board it sometimes wasn't obvious which were I, II, or III. So I added I & II icons to those spots. And left all the III blank. I also airbrushed out the edge turn sequences since the game is simple enough we never needed them. I added rotation markers and boosted the brightness on the player setup info in the corner. To be honest I wished I just airbrushed that out too. With the expansion there's a whole bunch of alternate setups and that info would be more useful on a separate ref card. Too late now though since I've already uploaded it. Once I get it in the mail I'm going to send it to a family member that has a sewing machine to stitch the edges.
When the expansion shows up I plan to glue the clear stands to the bottoms of the ships. I have enough spares to do those. The acrylic spacestations are another problem since they use unusual colors. I emailed Litko to see if they plan to offer those but they just send me a vague email saying they'd look into it. Might have to stick with the cardboard ones for those.
I work at Obsidian Entertainment and we finished a recent Kickstarter for Project Eternity. Wow, it went really, really well! We raised over 4 million dollars (KS & Paypal) and I think it's the 3rd highest grossing KS project currently. You can check out the completed Kickstarter here.
I'm not currently working on it since I'm working on some pitch projects. But will be on it later once they are out of pre-production. I've seen the tests so far and its really facinating how they are planning to get the fantastically detailed environments working in the game. You'd think it would be easy, but it's not. A 2D image with 3D characters has a lot of issues that have to be solved. How to layer the map for when a character is in front of or back of something, what's walkable and what's not with proper pathing for multiple characters, lighting affecting 3D characters that blends in correctly with the background, proper shadows, etc. Plus 2D backgrounds take a huge amount of disk space! We have to plan for high end monitors. The old games were designed for 640x480, now we have to think about 1920x1200 or more!
So there's a lot of work before we can actually start making content. The designers are busy with the gameplay rules, classes, abilities, story, etc. So everyone is very busy getting ready for full production. Exciting and scary!
Personal rant disclaimer: my opinion only!
I've worked in the computer gaming industry since 1991. Besides some contract work I've really only worked for two companies. Interplay (Video Game) and Obsidian Entertainment. That's almost unheard of in this industry. With companies rising, falling, being bought, being liquidated, you just don't have that happen much. When I worked at Interplay we were both a publisher and developer. At the time I had no idea how nice that was. When a project slipped we'd just say sorry and that was it. There might of been some stomping of feet and a few pissed off people but we kept at it. Certainly there was tons of crunch time since we were generally terrible at schedules. So being a year late wasn't unheard of. But that's also probably a good reason why it slipped from a megapublisher to a small one. Constant missing of release dates and publishing way too many low selling games wasn't a good mix. I started there when it was about 40 people, went up to over 500, then back to around 40 when I left. As Charles Dickens wrote "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." I'll always treasure that time in my life. Especially when Black Isle Studios was at its peak. Man, I could write volumes of stuff on IP and BIS.
But once you start working as a pure developer then you are at the mercy of the publishers. To be honest they can be dicks. On the one hand they are paying all the bills so if you frack up on your schedule it makes perfect sense they get a bit annoyed. But they will also take advantage of you when they feel you are vulnerable. If you are struggling to pay rent and payroll or have a contract cancelled unexpectedly they will attempt to make ridiculous offers to see how desperate you are. They'll sneak scary wording into contracts so you better have really good lawyers to read them before signing! Basically, they can really screw you over if you aren't careful. They can also be really political and have internal strife/infighting that spills over to your project. I am so glad I'm not an executive. I don't think I could handle that kind of pressure!
So, now we have our own project that not only we control the IP but also are our own publisher! Sort of like the old days at Interplay but with a lot fewer employees! It's our first steps in being self sufficient and it feels great. But it can also be scary. What happens if we frack it up? Gamers and reviewers don't like it? We have a responsibility to our backers to make a good game and I feel much more attached to them then a nameless license holder.
I'd love to see Obsidian moving to a publisher free position in a few years. It would be nice to make games for that group of gamers that the big publishers don't care about. A small developer can do quite nicely with niche titles since we don't need to spend 50 million and sell 10 million copies. And no committee, marketing, license holder meetings trying to appease all those people at the same time. Now we do it for the gamers and not the middlemen. So great and scary but I think this is the type of thing I want to do and hope we succeed. I certainly have seen a lot more happy faces at work since this project was a success then when we were working with a big publisher trying to guess what they really wanted.
My Current Backings
I said last time I've slowed down Kickstarting projects but I've been bad and backed a few more. This year it surprised me but I've backed more games on KS then I've bought regularly produced games! Wow, that's interesting. I wonder how many others can say that this year? I'd say this is definitely the year of KS for the boardgame industry. Even established companies that probably have no need of KS are using it. I'm not sure how I feel about it since KS is not suppose to be used as a purely pre-order system. Certainly some are using it that way. Others are using it to add more bling to the game like Lost Valley: The Yukon Goldrush 1896.
There's plenty of examples of over hype. Some projects have so many backer levels, stretch goals, add-ons, level dependent stretch goals to make your head spin. I do admit I'm finding those types a bit tiresome. If I have to spend 30+ minutes searching your KS project to figure out what I am and am not getting, I'm only going to do that if I really, really want your game!
There are also examples of projects that are sort of fire and forget. They put up a game and basically just forget about it until the end. That appears to be what's happening to Moongha Invaders: Mad Scientists and Atomic Monsters Attack the Earth!. They will make their initial backing but they haven't put up one update or appear to be paying any attention to it. Though I appreciate their super simple backer levels, I don't feel any attachment to the project. It basically feels like a standard pre-order. I'm not sure it will make any stretch goals but we'll see.
King of Crime card game sadly failed today. I liked the designer's previous game Battle of the Bands and really enjoyed his art. He was super active on the updates and really put his heart and soul into the art. He's trying a small print run directly and hopes to do another edition next year. I'm going to back his small run since I really want him to succeed. He's a perfect example of a KS project. Passion for his game!
Castle Dice is ending tonight and it did very well the last week. It was in danger of missing its one and only stretch goal (bigger sized dice) but they lowered the amount needed and in the end got enough backers anyway. They are also donating some of their money to Sandy relief efforts. Classy! This game looks really fun too.
Eight-Minute Empire is ending next week and looks like it might make its 5 player stretch goal. I hope it does since my group rarely has only 4 players. It's a short filler empire building game. I'm really looking forward to this one. I'm a mega-huge fan of Peloponnes (which we sadly rarely play) so always looking for quick empire building games.
Twin Tin Bots isn't doing so well. I backed it briefly when an early bird level was free but then decided to cancel. Nothing against the game but I've backed a lot and I'm not sure it would be a hit with my group. I'm trying to take extra care on my purchases and my straining shelves appreciate it!
I'd debating about backing Stone & Relic by Small Box Games. They are trying something unusual. Three games in one KS project. You can order any or all. They are doing it to cut printing costs which is a good idea. The games are pretty cheap, only $23 each. This one is an empire building game and suppose to be quick. They made their stretch goal for this one so I'll probably back it. They are doing something else odd. They are putting in promo cards for their other games in each pack. I no longer own Omen so will probably just give them to someone that has it.
Nothing Personal looks interesting. The art is wonderful. That one is doing fantastic numbers. Makes me sad that King of Crime did so poorly with a similar theme. But Tom Vasel is a major boardgame celebrity so not surprising. I'm holding off for now but plan to watch the gameplay video and evaluate before it's over.
Boss Monster: The Dungeon Building Card Game is cute. It reminds me of Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Game. I didn't back Pixel Lincoln but this one is a more interesting theme to me. It's pretty cheap at $30 and doing amazing numbers so lots of stretch goals. I need to study it more before I back it though.
Damsels of Darkmyre. Wowza! I don't really plan to back this one since I'd want them professionally painted too and that would cost a fortune. But nice art and minis! And though it might be non-PC, I like me some cheesecake every once in awhile!
I was a contest winner for Chicken Caesar and should be here soon! I've entered over a hundred contests so was happy to win one. This game looks fun so looking forward to trying it out.
I also backed a few non-boardgame stuff.
Art of Brom. The Brom book was an impulse backing. One of the artists at work noticed it just an hour before it was over and a bunch of us just backed it on a whim. His work is pretty awesome so it should go nice with all my Frazetta art books!
Star Citizen. I wanted to support him since Chris Roberts is trying to do what we are doing with Project Eternity. I loved the Wing Commander games and really miss not having those types of games made much anymore. His videos are jaw dropping amazing! I have some slight concerns with his add-ons. Sounds like you have to buy your ships as add-ons. I only backed the lower level so not sure how that all works. Will the game still be fun with the base game or will I need those add-on ships to be fun? Is the one ship all I get? I guess I'll have to check his project carefully before it ends to see if I want to make any adjustments. I would like the soundtrack CD since I'm a big collector (900+ CD's in my soundtrack collection!) But looks like I need to do a physical level for that. Either way I'll keep backing this one.
Thanks again for tuning into my blog. These are always fun to write. They take awhile but are pretty satifying. And they are fun to go back and read to see what I was doing in the past! I guess my memory isn't what it used to be.
As for future projects I'm working on a small one right now. Doing color versions of the Ogre record sheets which I'll be laminating so I can use with dry erase markers. I also enlarged them to 3.5" x 5" since the original size was rather small. I made variant Superheavy record sheets to try out that variant rule. I think that's a cool idea so will try those when the game eventually shows up. I most likely won't release these publicly since Steve Jackson Games isn't very fan friendly towards that sort of thing. But will post pics when they are done.
I'll also continue fooling around with a new Merchant of Venus gameboard in my spare time. If I can make it look good enough I'll finish it up. Right now I'm not super happy with it so will see if I can find the right look to make it work.
Full Metal Planète is still on hold. I'm not really feeling inspired about working on it like I did earlier in the year. The map needs a lot of work and unsure how to proceed on the counters. I would probably build them in 3D Studio Max and that's a fair amount of work. Plus I'm a bit rusty with the software. Definitely won't get to it before next year.
Take care all!