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Subject: Which of these abstract games do you think is most publishable? Why? rss

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Nick Bentley
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This is a selfish post.

I've been thinking about how to publish at least one of my good abstract games for a long time. I've edged toward and away from it several times through the years, but never convinced myself to go for it. I don't want to unless there's a chance of making a hit, something on the order of say, Onitama or Hive.

Nonetheless, it remains a goal. To help me think, I'm wondering if you could share your thoughts about which of these 4 games might be the best vehicle for that goal:

Blooms
Catchup
Circle of Life
Bug

Nobody knows my games more thoroughly than you guys, which is why I'm posting here. Which would you most want to buy in boxed form? Which do you think would generalize most to an audience beyond abstract fans? Why?

I share my own thoughts below in a spoiler. I request you only look at, and comment on, my own thoughts (or those of other commenters) after recording your own first, independently.

My thoughts:

Spoiler (click to reveal)

Blooms
The color design of this game can be better than for the others.
I suspect it's my best game.
It's proven fairly approachable for non-abstract lovers
The theme is obvious (flowers competing for space in a meadow), attractive, and it's easy to imagine there's some flower-centric production design scheme that could be really beautiful.
Can probably be played 4-players
gulp I don't see how it can be played 3-players
gulp too close to Go?
gulp too austere?

Catchup
I'm most certain of its quality, due to its long track record.
it's my most popular abstract game by a fair margin, due to age, the great app, and the enthusiastic Little Golem population.
Has negative feedback, to make early experience with the game not feel too brutal
gulp Carnivores crushed it in Pepsi Challenge at conventions (see below).
gulp Strictly 2-players. Can't be scaled at all.
gulp I have no idea how to theme it. It's proven really resistant to my efforts in that regard.

Carnivores
by far the most thematic - captures some key dynamics of real ecosystems.
Crushed Catchup in Pepsi Challenge. ~60 players played both games back-to-back in randomized order, and ~75% of them preferred Carnivores
I have the best and most fully formed idea for art direction for this one. It's the only one I'm confident about w/r/t art direction. Great art direction matters *a lot* for game sales.
Along with bug below, it's often cited as the most novel of my games.
Has negative feedback, to make early experience with the game not feel too brutal
I suspect it will scale fairly well to 3-4 players.
gulp The circle of life makes the game a less approachable to some (though in a weird way, more approachable to others, I've noticed. Naming the "creatures" on the circle might help in any case).
gulp I don't have good ideas for how to do the piece-design attractively to support the theme.

Bug
Arguably the most approachable as it can be played on a tiny board. Has a "catnip" quality I associate with commercial abstracts
I suspect it will scale fairly well to 3-4 players.
Along with Carnivores above, it's often cited as the most novel of my games.
Has negative feedback, to make early experience with the game not feel too brutal
gulp I don't have good ideas for how to do the piece-design attractively to support the theme.
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It seems like Bug would be the best candidate as it's the most obviously amenable to the application of a "theme." Many of the more commercially successful abstracts published in the past couple of years have had "themes" applied to them. In Bug you could provide body segments for militant mutant caterpillars... seems like a winner to me.

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Quinn Swanger
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I vote for Cat Herders: The Cat Herding Game of Herding Cats
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Nick Bentley
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qswanger wrote:
Heh. I'll accept votes for this one too.
 
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Nick Bentley
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fogus wrote:
It seems like Bug would be the best candidate as it's the most obviously amenable to the application of a "theme." Many of the more commercially successful abstracts published in the past couple of years have had "themes" applied to them. In Bug you could provide body segments for militant mutant caterpillars... seems like a winner to me.
Interesting! I wonder what you'll think after reading my spoiler, where you'll see I have a different view about which is most themey.
 
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Russ Williams
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My reaction before seeing the spoiler was "Catchup, then Bug".

Interesting about the "pepsi challenge" (?!) where more people preferred Carnivores (which I've still not tried, alas) to Catchup.

I played Blooms but it didn't grab me yet anywhere as much as Catchup and Bug.

Bug feels like the most original/novel to me. Catchup has the proven track record and clearly many people do like it, there's plenty of online play at littlegolem.

But I dunno. I tend to share your pessimism about publishing abstract games generally; it seems like a low probability of success, regardless how good the game is.

---

BTW: I really like playing Catchup on random boards at littlegolem. So a commercial edition (of it as well as the other games for that matter) could consider having geomorphic tiles (like Barony, Gipsy King, etc) to allow randomly shaped boards.
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fogus wrote:
It seems like Bug would be the best candidate as it's the most obviously amenable to the application of a "theme." Many of the more commercially successful abstracts published in the past couple of years have had "themes" applied to them. In Bug you could provide body segments for militant mutant caterpillars... seems like a winner to me.
Above is probably true.
However, I have only tried Blooms and Catchup.

As I have stated before: I would prefer to see a combined highend package of stones (four colors evidently) and boards (wood please) for a number of your hexhex based games (both Blooms and Catchup needs a score track now). Like a high quality games compendium for modern abstract games. If you made the board modular the right way one may even use it to play Volo (not your game I know). I am thinking quality like the Kadon version of The Game of Y:

and a limited number of great games.
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Daniel Rodriguez
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I'm not a hard core player but I can tell you that I would spring for Blooms or Bug with little thought because they are both accessible and fun. Carnivores wasn't as accessible although I still thought it was cool. I would need to play Catchup more to give an opinion. So, there's my 2 cents.
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Nick Bentley
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russ wrote:
Bug feels like the most original/novel to me. Catchup has the proven track record and clearly many people do like it, there's plenty of online play at littlegolem.
Got it. Re Novelty: in the feedback I've collected, Bug and Carnivores end up approximately tied for "most novel", which makes sense since they're closely related, mechanically.

Quote:
But I dunno. I tend to share your pessimism about publishing abstract games generally; it seems like a low probability of success, regardless how good the game is.
Knowing what I know about publishing, I'm confident in the correctness of this view.

Quote:
BTW: I really like playing Catchup on random boards at littlegolem. So a commercial edition (of it as well as the other games for that matter) could consider having geomorphic tiles (like Barony, Gipsy King, etc) to allow randomly shaped boards.
Modular, randomizable board would be an essential feature in a boxed version. The plan is to have modules that can be put together both to make a regular hexhex5 and weird shapes.

But the aforementioned Pepsi challenge is a red flag, imo. It's also a reminder that different groups of people have very different views of games, and the people who matter for this effort are those who like to buy and play physical games. That Pepsi Challenge was fairly representative of those people, or I'm guessing more representative than the folks in this forum.
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Daniel Piovezan
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Blooms
- is the most popular of them all, relative to how long it's been around
- has some eye candy
- I don't care much for it, which means most people will like it

Spoiler (click to reveal)
I only played Blooms a couple of times against Ai Ai, but I don't think it's TOO close to Go. Maybe it's some 50% Go, but 50% its own very different thing. But it could be too austere. I mean, all abstracts are somewhat austere, but it looks more austere than Hive.

Carnivores surprises me again. What the hell is a Pepsi Challenge?
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Brian Svoboda
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While I know a lot less than many folks here, Blooms seems like it could be a commercial success in the same vein as Azul and Hive. They are popular abstract games without much theme but they have extremely pleasing components. If you made chunky and tactile bakelite hexagons for Blooms, perhaps with some artistic patterns or clear resin inlays, I think it could generate a lot of enthusiasm.
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Nick Bentley
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BozoDel wrote:
Blooms
- is the most popular of them all, relative to how long it's been around
- has some eye candy
- I don't care much for it, which means most people will like it
ha

Spoiler (click to reveal)
I only played Blooms a couple of times against Ai Ai, but I don't think it's TOO close to Go. Maybe it's some 50% Go, but 50% its own very different thing. But it could be too austere. I mean, all abstracts are somewhat austere, but it looks more austere than Hive.

Carnivores surprises me again. What the hell is a Pepsi Challenge?

A split-test. I teach 2 people both games, they play them back to back, then fill out a form telling me who they are, which of the two games they prefer, and why. Then repeat with more pairs of people until a clear winner emerges. I could've stopped the experiment much earlier than 60 people, but I was also surprised at which game won and by how much. So I kept going to be sure I didn't miss anything. By the end, I was really convinced. There's something unintuitive about the loser that made it hard for player to both learn, and to develop ideas about how to play in their first game.
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milomilo122 wrote:
A split-test. I teach 2 people both games, they play them back to back, then fill out a form telling me who they are, which of the two games they prefer, and why. Then repeat with more pairs of people until a clear winner emerges. I could've stopped the experiment much earlier than 60 people, but I was also surprised at which game won and by how much. So I kept going to be sure I didn't miss anything. By the end, I was really convinced. There's something unintuitive about the loser that made it hard for player to both learn, and to develop ideas about how to play in their first game.
If you tested "normal people" and those are your costumers (which is needed for big style sales) then listen to them and not to us - or at least not to me. Having thrown money after Tai Shogi, Superschaak, wooden version of La Trel, Le Super Morpion Tournant, etc. makes me rather unrepresentative for the common costumer I realize.
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Another point about Carnivores. It's the only one of these games I've not promoted in any significant way. No designer diaries or anything. Nonetheless it has managed to acquire some fans on its own. That has some meaning, I think, thought not sure how much.
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One thing this feedback is making me think is I should split test all four games. I pray not to see any nontransitivity.
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Nick Bentley
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The Player of Games wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
A split-test. I teach 2 people both games, they play them back to back, then fill out a form telling me who they are, which of the two games they prefer, and why. Then repeat with more pairs of people until a clear winner emerges. I could've stopped the experiment much earlier than 60 people, but I was also surprised at which game won and by how much. So I kept going to be sure I didn't miss anything. By the end, I was really convinced. There's something unintuitive about the loser that made it hard for player to both learn, and to develop ideas about how to play in their first game.
If you tested "normal people" and those are your costumers (which is needed for big style sales) then listen to them and not to us - or at least not to me. Having thrown money after Tai Shogi, Superschaak, wooden version of La Trel, Le Super Morpion Tournant, etc. makes me rather unrepresentative for the common costumer I realize.
Agreed, but the enthusiast-core matters too. If I, e.g. run a Kickstarter campaign, it will work a lot better if the core abstract game players are enthusiastic about it, in addition to a broader market. Both are necessary, is my current view.
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Blooms, without an instant’s hesitation. It may or may not have the best chance of commercial success, but it is definitely your best shot at immortality – which should eclipse every other consideration, right?. Catchup is neat – and obviously popular, as witness the number of plays on LG – but feels rather lightweight by comparison. Carnivores and Bug both seem to me (and I’ve never played either) a bit ‘busy’, a bit contrived. Both are certainly interesting, but somehow give the impression that they’re really part of a reaching-out process towards some truly noble abstract somewhere out beyond them, which, when it eventually reveals itself, will turn out to be purer and simpler. Blooms is one of that élite group of games that remind me of the McCartney story where he wakes up having dreamed 'Yesterday' entire and spends the next few days wandering around asking everyone he meets where he’s nicked it from.

It may, of course, never catch fire, but it will always be a classic whether or not recognised as such.
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There should be a Word Games Subdomain, or at least a Word Games Forum!
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It seems quite obvious to me that Carnivores has the most general appeal. Bug is second. To the average gamer who isn't specifically into 2-player combinatorial games, Blooms and Catchup are both Go variants, and will be seen as dry and less interesting.

Carnivore and Bug have good thematic possibilities - and you'll need that for marketing. In the circle of life of Carnivores, each species can be given its own fun name, and "illustrated" as more than just a polyhex - put eyes on it, and maybe legs and other body features. This gives the game a lot more personality, even if it adds nothing to the strategy or pure abstract interest of the game.

Let the games connect to something "real" or at least relatable, in the players' minds. It's the difference between a math problem that's just raw numbers to be calculated, and a "word problem" that has some realistic connection to something tangible.
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Nick Bentley
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Interesting stuff mocko!

mocko wrote:
Blooms, without an instant’s hesitation. It may or may not have the best chance of commercial success, but it is definitely your best shot at immortality – which should eclipse every other consideration, right?
Well, if the question is specifically about which game I should publish, maybe not. There are great but unpublishable games, like Slither. And there are less great but highly publishable games, like [redacted].

Also, commercial success dramatically improves the discoverability of a designer's games. If someone has a hit, publishers and fans want to know what else the designer has made. So let's say Blooms has less commercial potential than some other game. So I publish that other game, I get lucky and it's hit, and all of a sudden there's more of a spotlight on everything else I've done. So publishing Blooms might not even be the best strategy if my ultimate goal were to proselytize for Blooms.

[edit] and actually, along those lines, I've designed a game which is going to Kickstarter soon, called Oceans which has A LOT of mainstream gamer buzz (eg), which will probably help more in this regard than any of the above games could.

Quote:
Catchup is neat – and obviously popular, as witness the number of plays on LG – but feels rather lightweight by comparison.
Note "lightweight feel" is usually a pretty powerful commercial asset for abstract games.

Quote:
Carnivores and Bug both seem to me (and I’ve never played either) a bit ‘busy’, a bit contrived. Both are certainly interesting, but somehow give the impression that they’re really part of a reaching-out process towards some truly noble abstract somewhere out beyond them, which, when it eventually reveals itself, will turn out to be purer and simpler.
I hope that's true. I've waded in these waters for years now and I haven't found it though. Maybe someone else will have more luck than I have.

More relevant to this conversation: I suspect the "busy" quality you feel isn't a problem for the more general audience (though, to be clear, I agree it is for some of us purists).

Quote:
Blooms is one of that élite group of games that remind me of the McCartney story where he wakes up having dreamed 'Yesterday' entire and spends the next few days wandering around asking everyone he meets where he’s nicked it from.
You just made me feel REAL good.
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Phil Fleischmann wrote:
It seems quite obvious to me that Carnivores has the most general appeal. Bug is second. To the average gamer who isn't specifically into 2-player combinatorial games, Blooms and Catchup are both Go variants, and will be seen as dry and less interesting.

Carnivore and Bug have good thematic possibilities - and you'll need that for marketing. In the circle of life of Carnivores, each species can be given its own fun name, and "illustrated" as more than just a polyhex - put eyes on it, and maybe legs and other body features. This gives the game a lot more personality, even if it adds nothing to the strategy or pure abstract interest of the game.

Let the games connect to something "real" or at least relatable, in the players' minds. It's the difference between a math problem that's just raw numbers to be calculated, and a "word problem" that has some realistic connection to something tangible.
This is resonating strongly with me at the moment.
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None (or all) of the above.

Publish some fancy, coffee table quality components. The games - while the point - are kind of the side-show in a Kickstarter. Don't skimp on the components. Make it fancy enough and people won't even bother reading the rules until after FedEx drops off the box.

Put your name on it. State that it comes with a nicely formatted "collection of highly regarded games by Nick Bentley" and mention that the components are compatible with dozens (or hundreds if you like hyperbole) other high quality games.

You guys keep telling yourselves that abstracts don't sell, but your problem is you keep thinking like players of games instead of collectors of products. If you want to go on kickstarter, you need to know your audience. I could play your games with some chalk lines and two flavors of Oreo cookies, but I won't *buy* your games until they're printed on kangaroo hide and shipped with precious stones and metals.

Ok, that's enough crass cynical commercialism. I'm going to go puke and then uncover your spoiler

(Ooops, I just noticed that you never mentioned a Kickstarter. The advice still stands. No one buys Cathedral because of the rules. It's because it's pretty. If you get a good game with your product, that's just icing)
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Rex Moore
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It’s a tough question because your “hit" market demographic is probably quite different from us. Thinking about it from that demo’s perspective:

Bug - The simplest and most accessible game; tons of fun and strategy packed into a small space.
Catchup - Maybe a bit more complex, but not at all hard to learn and discover the layers.
Blooms - The richest and deepest; probably not as easy to grasp for people without a Go background.
Carnivores - This is the wild card for me. I’m not taken with the game because the chain is distracting. I played Bug first and just kept thinking “Bug beats this game hands down.” At the same time it’s well-loved by others and has that theme that fires the imagination. So I just don’t know.

For me personally, I absolutely LOVE the first three games. I’m quite taken with Bug after my first several plays. You already know how much I like Catchup after some 350 games. Blooms is now my favorite of yours and is the masterpiece that I think could make you famous. I’m going to give Carnivores more chances, but at this point it’s frustrating for me.

You want to hang it all one one game? It’s not an easy call but I’d go with Blooms.
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The Player of Games wrote:
As I have stated before: I would prefer to see a combined highend package of stones (four colors evidently) and boards (wood please) for a number of your hexhex based games (both Blooms and Catchup needs a score track now). Like a high quality games compendium for modern abstract games.

I partially agree with this suggestion. Based on how similar the components are, I can see a compendium of your games, although going all-wood would make it prohibitive to make it a hit (too expensive).

If you are thinking to go the single game route, I'm going to give my opinions about them.

I never played Blooms so I can't say about gameplay, but I can see a theme being applied here and that seem to be a must if you want to have a hit in your hands (flower gardens, or anything like that).

Bug could be offered quite cheap if you go for the smaller size (hexhex3). This can make it quite atractive and prone to "impulse buys". Gameplaywise, it is fast and novel. You could also apply a theme here (some plastic bugs or whatever).

I really enjoy Catchup and I think it is a great game but I don't see a feasible theme here.

Carnivores is novel, but has a barrier of entry with the whole circle of life. You know that games that fail to click might be easily forgotten, so I'd pass on this one.
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Russ Williams
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Re: Compendiums:

I'm somewhat leery of that idea if the goal is mainstream publishability and popularity. "Mainstream" gamer thought seems to be that compendium games are mediocre at best. In discussions about compendiums, game kits, etc I very often see negative opinions about them, e.g. statements like "I'd rather buy and play one good game than a box full of generic mediocre games" and "Looney pyramids look cool but there aren't any really good games for them", etc etc. There was a hyped anthology game Stonehenge: An Anthology Board Game which greatly disappointed people and contributed to this with its reputation of famous designers making crappy games for a compendium. Mainstream skepticism about game kits, generic parts, etc seems a significant strike against publishing a compendium of games all using the same bits.

Even the single game 504 (which I would say is clearly a single highly modular game in the vein of Dominion or Kingdom Builder, but more radically modular) got trashed by this (false IMHO) reputation that it's "just" a game kit with 504 separate and mediocre games.
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Nick Bentley
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russ wrote:
Re: Compendiums:

I'm somewhat leery of that idea if the goal is mainstream publishability and popularity. "Mainstream" gamer thought seems to be that compendium games are mediocre at best.
I agree. Bottom line: compendiums don't sell. The message they send is too unfocused, so potential buyers don't know how to evaluate, I think. Would you prefer to go to three movies at the movie theater where you don't have much information about each, or one movie you're confident about?

In any case, for the question at hand, a compendium is out.
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