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Warriors & Traders vs Exodus: Proxima Centauri (part 3)

Andrei Novac
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This is the third (Part 1, Part 2) and final part of my comparison between Warriors & Traders and Exodus: Proxima Centauri. I left the most difficult and interesting parts for the end.

As most of you know already, Warriors & Traders is placed in the Dark Ages in Europe, while Exodus takes place in a post apocalyptic world, when humans left Earth and found a new universe to settle in and explore. What might be less transparent is the restrictions that each theme bring to the design space, so I will take them one by one.

Western Europe map in W&T

Placing a game in a known world, in my case medieval Europe, comes with a series of constraints which determine to some extent the design of the game. Making the map for Warriors & Traders was one of the biggest challenges. With European countries fighting on a yearly basis and borders changing dramatically from decade to decade, I had to adapt the asymmetric reality to the symmetrical rules of the game and the other way around. I wanted to give every country at the same time something specific and the same chance to win the game. The rules are the same for all the players, no matter if the start in a small or big country, so the balancing was done through the Unification event and through the way the countries are divided into provinces and the connections between them. An additional layer of difficulty was added by the lack of luck, making Warriors & Traders nearly impossible to balance.

Being my first game, little did I know of how much effort it would take to make Warriors & Traders a balanced game set in medieval Europe, making as few compromises as possible. Establishing the theme before making the game and choosing a well-known theme pose some challenges that I would now think twice before undertaking again.

Exodus art


Exodus: Proxima Centauri is placed in a sci-fi universe. This makes the design space almost unlimited. Also, working at the same time on the game and the theme allowed me to adapt one of them to fit the other. I have to admit that even though Exodus is a more complex game, it took me less time to balance than Warriors & Traders. But not to worry, I am compensating by making Exodus: Proxima Centauri the first of a trilogy.

The liberty I had with Exodus allowed me to bring a lot of flavor into the game. This is visible to some extent in the prototype, the rules already incorporate the story of the human exodus from Earth, but the final game will have flavor everywhere, thus making the game more interesting. The flavor in Proxima Centauri will also introduce the second part of the trilogy, by bringing a new light on the events that led the humanity to the Centauri system.

Due to the immense work to balance it and my limited experience as a board game designer, Warriors & Traders is not a game with intense flavor. The graphic design and the technologies are bringing the players to the Middle Ages, but I did not introduce any extra elements just to emphasize the historical theme.

To draw a conclusion, Warriors & Traders is a historical game with a clear theme but it is not a thematic game. Even though the historical reality influenced the design, the focus remains on the game play. Exodus: Proxima Centauri is a thematic strategy game and the player have a choice, they can focus on the strategic part, they can enjoy the theme and try look behind the curtain and to discover the untold and or they can do a little bit of both.
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Tue Jun 5, 2012 10:19 am
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Warriors & Traders vs Exodus: Proxima Centauri (part 2)

Andrei Novac
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In my previous entry I was writing about the similarities and differences between Warriors & Traders and Exodus. Without further delaying this...

Victory Points and winning the game

Like in many other games, the victory is achieved by gathering Victory Points. This rewards different approaches and strategies and gives an incentive to players to be creative and figure out new ways to outsmart their opponents. Usually the players are more creative than the designers and I already talked to a handful of people who managed to find synergies in Warriors & Traders that I was not aware of.

In Exodus: Proxima Centauri the number of turns is fixed and the player with most points wins at the end of the game, while in Warriors & Traders it is the number of VPs which (if surpassed) causes the game to end. This is all about limiting the game duration, but the two games are similar and they stimulate creativity and allow options for player who find themselves in difficult situations.


Resources

Resources are scarce in both games, otherwise managing them would stop being a challenge. Following the same principle, the two games implement it differently. In Warriors & Traders players must choose carefully how to use the few resources they get. In Exodus, the players get to choose how many resources they get and pay tax for it (I promise it is not a communist system ). Also, the amount of (good) options to spend resources is so high that players end up making tough decisions.

Actions

Both games are 'powered' by Actions. The Actions give choices to the players, they bring things (units, upgrades, etc) in the game and they represent the core phase of a turn. But the similarities stop here. In Exodus, the limitations are not given by the rules, but by the amount of resources. Players get to do a lot of extra actions if they're willing to pay for this, while in Warriors & Traders they need to develop to be rewarded with an extra action (and this is usually happening in the mid- or end-game).

Don't judge me too harsh, but I will leave the last part of this comparison for the next article. I will talk about the flavor and the theme of the two games and about... one more thing. Stay tuned!
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Wed Apr 18, 2012 5:00 pm
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Warriors & Traders vs Exodus: Proxima Centauri (part 1)

Andrei Novac
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The weekend before Easter was all about playing and testing our new prototypes. Being out of my usual playing group, I had to face a new wave of questions about our games, about NSKN, the future and much more. The most difficult question I got during these extensive sessions was how does Exodus: Proxima Centauri compare to Warriors & Traders. And I got it twice!

At first I was thinking that I am being asked to compare apples - well, board game apples - with plums . Since that would not have qualified as an acceptable answer, I gave it a deeper thought and realized that the question is not only valid, but it requires some kind of analysis.

Warriors & Traders - the game starts!

Luck

Warriors & Traders and Exodus: Proxima Centauri are both strategy games, with a medium to high level of complexity and they address the experienced gamers rather than beginners. Gamers' games, as many will say. While Warriors & Traders is random-free, Exodus incorporates dice and cards. Even though there are ways to manage it, in Exodus luck is part of the game and of the fun. One thing is worth mentioning, rolling many dice improves the chances of getting a number of hits that is close to the calculated probabilities. The more dice, the less chances of getting peculiar results in combat. This is a way to mitigate randomness and also, it is so much fun to roll 20+ dice at once.


Grand strategy

Warriors & Traders is a combination of a Euro game and a war game, with a unique flavor - the deterministic way of solving battles. Some consider it an empire building game, some believe it is too specific to fall under this category. In my opinion, Warriors & Traders is a game for those who are looking for a different experience in board gaming without being and actual empire building game in the classic sense. Exodus: Proxima Centauri strives to be a grand strategy game. It incorporates mechanics of resource and territory management, political decisions, bidding, researching technologies (and there are many of them) and fighting opponents. The range of decisions and of options in the game makes it, in my opinion, qualify for the category of empire building games.

This is just the first part... second part coming soon.
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Tue Apr 10, 2012 8:33 pm
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    Errata

    Andrei Novac
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    Warriors & Traders is the proud owner of a new rule book!

    There were many suggestions on BGG forums asking for a more powerful Warrior and a more skilled Trader. Well, I come with good news, a new rule book is online, ready for download. This is both an errata for the original rules and an addition to them.

    What Special about the new rule book?
    - more examples
    - new, more print friendly layout - thank you Agnieszka
    - improved strcuture and...grammar - special thanks for this to Remy, Tim

    What's really new?

    1) On Military technology there are 2 big improvements. The first one at level 6, called Pillaging, allows player to skip the Feed Army step. That means that no armies need to be fed. The second major improvement is at level 7. The Warlord ability lets players build two armies with one Action, in addition to declaring war as an extra Action.

    2) On Trade technology, the Master Trader ability now allows players to buy two Extra Actions/turn instead of one.

    These two are the major changes in the Errata, making Warriors & Traders more balanced. The Production strategy maintains its power and it is still attractive for Euro gamers and the ones who want to take a shot at victory without attacking anyone. The errata bring something new though, empowering the Military path and therefore giving a better chance to those who want to engage in battle.

    There are more new exciting things in this errata.

    3) The 2 and 3-player games receive special attention. The additional rules for 2 and 3-player games are optional, but strongly recommended. These rules suggest blocking a part of the map, choosing the starting countries and using the Trade Routes for additional income.

    4) The fixed turned order stirred some discussions. Now, there's an alternative, a variable turn order giving everyone the chance to experience being the first to play.

    Last but not least, the new info cards
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    Sat Feb 25, 2012 12:14 am
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    #5 - Essen - a look behind the scene

    Andrei Novac
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    Far from me the thought of lecturing anyone, Essen 2011 was an experience so overwhelming that I feel the need to share it with anyone and everyone.

    Essen 2011 was the first time NSKN Games was present at a gaming convention, and I am not only talking about Spiel. We were coming as an absolute surprise, the first Romanian publisher ever to attend the biggest gaming convention in the world. This was also the moment we chose to release our 'first-born', Warriors & Traders.

    Signing-up and preparing

    Having little to no experience in preparing my company's attendance to fairs, I signed up for Spiel '11 Essen in the very last day possible! It was one of the big lessons learned in the publishing industry, never leave things for the last moment. Thanks to LudoFact, the company that produced Warriors & Traders, I realized that Essen would be the perfect place to launch the game. So, on the 15th of May, at 16:00 I send the application papers and this is how the adventure began.

    With a plan in mind, the actual preparation for Essen started for NSKN at the end of September, when the games were shipped from LudoFact's production plant in Germany to our warehouses in Romania and Belgium.

    The most important thing I did not account for was the amount of people. It's common to hear that 150,000 people have something in common, but this number of people usually represents the attendance at a great sport event or the populations of a medium sized town or a small country (4 times the population of Liechtenstein). So, it is hard to imagine how this many people would look like and fit in the exhibition center and it is even harder to prepare for such an audience.

    The original assumption was that as a completely unknown company, we would not attract much attention. So, having a small booth, 6 people at the stand and about 50 game boxes should be enough for the whole fair. Oh, and we'd also have some time to go and advertise the game with distribution companies and retailers.

    Day -2: the first contact

    On Monday of the Spiel '11 week, 3 days before it all started, we - the NSKN team - went to see the exhibition halls and to figure out what to bring and when.





    On some level, I always knew that the booth would only contain the white walls and nothing more, but that does not mean we were prepared for it. It was too late to ask the organizers for tables and shelves for rent.

    We unloaded everything prepared for that day and we started planning. We had 3 days left to fix the situation and make our booth look exceptional. Or, at least, decent!

    To avoid the feeling that we're leaving everything for the last day, we put our first poster on the wall and we headed to the place that held the answers to all our problems, IKEA. While driving, we made a whole list of things to buy. Four hours later, we came back, unloaded again and headed back to Brussels, our temporary headquarters, too tired even to take pictures.

    Day -1: last minute preparations

    I forgot to mention this before, but besides the standard booth we also signed up for the inventor's table. This is where designers bring their unreleased creations to get a first hand feedback from the public. Of course, we had to prepare a prototype worthy of the showing to the outside world.



    Day 0: setting up the stand

    That's when I started counting down the hours. One last trip from Brussels to Essen, loaded once again with game boxes, we drove early in the morning allowing plenty of time to set up the stand and have everything ready for the grand opening.

    We started paying the price to our lack of experience. NSKN was not present at the press conference on Wednesday, missing a lot of exposure with reviewers or distributors; we did not use the exhibitor's parking and so on. We did not even have a power plug in our stand!


    The main task of the day was building the IKEA furniture, with the aid of an electric screwdriver. Learning from our mistakes, we enjoyed a full day of physical labor, while 90% of all other stands stood ready, full of games. By 7 PM, everything looked ready, the shelves were up, the carpets 'glued' to the floor, the gaming table ready for demo sessions and the games waiting for the customers.


    In the evening we made the final 'battle' plan. Having 6 people at the stand for Thursday and Friday and 8 for the weekend, I assumed that at least one of us can do some advertising and sales all the time. Again, time will have proved me wrong.

    Day 1 (Thursday) - the initial shock

    8:00 AM: The whole team arrived at the stand, bringing the rest of the game boxes to a grand total of 48. This is what we expected to sell over the 4 days of the fair. From 8 to 8:30 we made last moment arrangements inside the booth and had a chance to walk around halls 4 and 6 and decide what to buy later on.

    8:55 AM: We met the first potential customers. In spite our lack of German language skills, people were listening to our explanations and were amazingly interested... "Really, a pure strategy game with battle?"

    9:20 AM: We sold the first copy of Warriors & Traders. We could not believe what was going on around us, it was pouring down with people, all interested to hear all the details and some of them actually buying the game.

    10:40 AM:
    My first corporate meeting as a board game designer and publisher was also the most unusual one, a company from Ukraine was interested in translating and publishing the game in the local language. It was hard to believe my eyes and ears, but I spent more than 45 minutes talking about this opportunity.

    11:45 AM: The first meeting with a distribution company ended up very promising and two week later we were shipping a full pallet with 120 games towards the United Kingdom. The interest in Warriors & Traders was far higher that I expected and the flow of people to our stand exceeded our most optimistic expectations.

    12:00 PM: 7 games sold.

    12:30 PM: None of us had a chance to have lunch or even visit the toilets.

    1:00 PM: A group of 5 friends came back to our booth for the first session of Warriors & Traders. They spent two and a half hours playing a full game. In the mean time, everyone else was talking, laughing, explaining, busy but enjoying every minute of every hour. And it was still Thursday at noon.

    3:30 PM: The first gaming session ended, the second one was about to begin. People were convinced and wanted to have their own copy of the game signed by the designer. Our total sold for the day increased to 19.

    4:30 PM: No customers at the stand for 5 consecutive minutes. We had time to take a breath, grab something to eat very quickly and rest our feet, except for Vlad who was in the middle of the second session of the day. All my colleagues were complaining that their throats are hurting from so much talking.

    5:00 PM: A new 'wave' of people came by. We assumed that those who got out of work or school later did not want to miss the first day of Spiel '11. We welcomed them.

    6:00 PM: The gates of Messe Essen were officially closed for day 1, however all 6 of us were still talking to customers. Our total number of sold games raised to an amazing 32 pieces. Truly unbelievable!

    7:15 PM: Our last customer of day 1 left. We went for a quick clean up of the booth, than we sat down amazed trying to seize the moment. We counted the total amount sold and this was 35 game boxes. This left us with a big smile and a giant problem - almost no games left for Friday.

    Did I mention that our only vehicle was a normal 5-seater car, with limited amount of space, especially when it came to carrying game boxes? This was a big puzzle - how do you get more games at the fair, using only that car and be rested for the next day, assuming that the games are stored 250km away?

    8:00 PM: Driving to Brussels, sometimes breaking the speed limit, wishing to have had rented a van. Essen -> Brussels = 250 km + a few less hours of sleep. Having games for the next day - priceless!

    2:10 AM: It was technically the next day. I was back with 55 more games. Friday was covered, being tired did not matter anymore.

    Day 2 (Friday) - the easy day

    You may wonder what was so easy about Friday...

    7:50 AM: Arriving in front of the exhibitions hall, we had 60 games to unload and set up in the stand. The biggest challenge wasn't the cold, but the fact that the dedicated parking space was full and we had to carry the games from quite far away.

    8:50 AM: There are 8 people in front of our booth, asking all kinds of questions about Warriors & Traders. Our second day started earlier.

    10:00 AM The first gaming session of the day starts earlier than planned. A few very passionate gamers insisted to 'squeeze' a one hour play test before the one at 11:00, already planned since the day before. But we always put the needs of the customer first, so Vlad had to give up his brunch and start explaining all over again. He did not mind.

    11:30 AM: Sales were going great, almost twice as good as Thursday. Half of us already lost their voice and we are seriously thinking about getting pills for our throats.

    12:00 PM: We gave a copy of Warriors & Traders to the BGG guys to put us on the hot list from Spiel '11 and to play it at BGG.Con.

    12:45 PM: Getting in and out of business meetings, it looked like I have a few seconds to catch my breath. I was, of course, wrong. There was a guy from Alliance already waiting for me for a while. I knew of Alliance, it was just hard to believe they were interested in us. Half way between confusion and happiness, I went through the first of the three meetings with the largest game distributor in the United States (and possibly in the world). All went well!

    2:30 PM: Feeling like a star! I had never had this image of myself being important, but for 5 consecutive minutes I actually did. Customers were asking to have their games signed by the designer and there were 6 (six) of them - I am not kidding - just waiting in a sort of queue for me to sign their copy of Warriors & Traders. I have to say that all the corporate meetings felt good, but that was astonishing, seeing all these guys and girls really interested and wanting their game signed made me feel like all the effort and craziness was really worth it. I thanked them then, I want to thank them again - they made me and all my team feel wonderful.

    3:45 PM: A moment to rest, there were only a few guys in our stand, so we quickly took advantage of that and, one by one, managed to grab something to eat. We called that lunch.

    5:00 PM: The people who played in the second session of the day came back to buy the game. We had to refuse any discount for the press, we were once again running low on stock.

    6:07 PM: I gave an interview. My first interview related to Warriors & Traders.

    7:15 PM: The last customers were passing by out stand while we made a new plan to bring in more games for Saturday and Sunday.

    8:30 PM: I just left on another trip to Brussels to bring back another 60 games. I put the idea of rest in a closed box and decided that sleep is for the weak. I drove again for almost 6 hours, completing my task without incidents. I thought the day was over...

    2:25 AM: we had a review of the day and decided what we could improve for Saturday. I cannot even remember that discussion, I just know that it was very effective.

    You might be wondering by now what was so easy about Friday... it was just that great feeling that what you do matters and that it was worth all the effort in the world just to be able to experience such a unique environment.

    Day 3 (Saturday) - new definition for crowded

    7:50 AM: We arrived at the exhibition center and unloaded all the games we brought before. Our booth looked once again fully supplied with game boxes waiting for people to look at, buy or just admire.

    8:20 AM: The game table was ready to go for the 9 AM session. we had to pile up the games to have some space left to move around our booth.

    9:30 AM: I could count more than 25 people in front of our stand. Some were just looking around and moving on, most of them were listening to my colleagues and I describing Warriors & Traders. The first session of the day had already started, people seems very enthusiastic. The day was looking good.

    10:45 AM: Someone had just come to buy the game, without any explanations or questions asked. We asked why and we got the answer - we were on the first place in the BGG top of new releases. It was as cool as it was unexpected. From that moment on, we put a hand written placard asking people to keep voting for us.

    11:30 AM: Our stand was around 80 meters (250 feet) away from the bathrooms. I assumed this will be a five minutes round trip and, boy, I was wrong! It took me 15 minutes and a great deal of pushing and pulling to get there only to acknowledge a 100+ men and women queue for the ... men's toilet. I gave up and decided to return later. I spent another 15 minutes on the way back, reconsidering my definition of crowded.

    12:00 PM: I had just completed my fifth business meeting of the day. We had more and more interested people coming over and we were also stirring up the interested of retailers who wanted to buy our game by the case. Unfortunately, we had to turn most of them down, fearing that we'd be sold out too soon and end up disappointing our customers.

    2:07 PM: From our team of 8 people, only 7 were still able to speak. The first 'casualty' went to find some quick remedy to help him get back fast in the game.

    4:00 PM: I threw away the original schedule put together before the fair. It was written in there how many companies we had to approach each day o the fair and it was not realistic. We did not approach anyone and yet we had already had more than 50 business meetings, most of the successful, about two and a half times more than what we had planned. And Spiel '11 was not over.

    5:15 PM: Spending most of the time standing and talking, focused 110% on board games fans, we learned to take advantage of any little free moment and take a picture or two to have then some memories to share. One of these photos shows some very dedicated players continuing one game even after one of them technically won.

    5:15 PM: More than 60 games sold in one day, a new record!

    6:00 PM: We honored some promises made to retailers in the previous days and delivered their games. One box of 6 pieces was weighting more than 13 kilos (29 pounds), nevertheless everyone seemed happy.

    6:25 PM: Taking into account the significant decrease in people coming to our stand, we decided that was the right moment to ... have lunch. We took turns, whoever did not have anyone to talk to, explain the game or make a sell had 5 to 10 minuted to grab a bite. I was the seventh one to go out of 8 people. By that time I did not even feel hungry anymore, actually I was feeling nothing but adrenaline. It had been another amazing day. I had met all kinds of people, from a 14 year old kid impressed by the graphic design but without enough money to buy his own copy to the CEO of one of big names in the industry. They all had two things in common, the passion for board games and the modesty.

    7:00 PM: There were still people around. I did not really understand why, realizing a lot later that the exhibition hall were open until later. I had reached another milestone, more that 25 games signed in one day!

    8:35 PM: Spiel '11 was closing down for another day, but this one was special for me, I did not have to go back to Brussels to bring more games. At the particular moment, there was nothing that could have made me happier.

    9:00 PM: It was time to celebrate. The fair was not over, but since Sunday evening was planned for cleaning up and driving back home, we needed our moment of joy, feeling happy of what we accomplished. We did not manage to have a coherent discussion over dinner, but we had fun.

    Day 4 (Sunday) - what's going on outside our booth?

    9:00 AM: People are playing! That's not a joke, there were people who came in early and wanted to play the game because their friends said it was worth it.

    11:00 AM: The last day of the fair is also the most prolific for small retailers who are coming to buy the latest and hottest in the gaming world. Warriors & Traders drew some attention, maybe not even half as much as the grand releases, but enough to pose a dilemma: should we sell to the retailers or should we wait until the end of the day a dn focus on regular customers? We made a compromise, selling to those retailers who came from a country where we had no contact for distribution or retail, ensuring the a wider coverage.

    12:30 PM: Sunday seems to be less crowded than all the other days. It is the first moment when I find half an hour free to go look around and possibly buy some game for myself.

    1:45 PM: A phone call from a few meters away...a colleague of mine is asking if I am available, some guy wants to buy all the rest of our games! Sadly, we had to turn him down, there were only so many games we could sell to retailers

    4:30 PM: We have five games left and three of them are promised to some gentlemen from the press who are late to pick them up. Do we sell them or not?

    6:00 PM: We had three games left, excluding the two exposed ones. The last hours were rather slow compared to the rest of the exhibition and we did not have enough energy to make the best presentation to potential customers. Plus, there wasn't much to sell. All of us got at least 45 minutes of walking around and crossing items off their shopping lists.



    6:45 PM: Our shelves were dismantled, having no more games to support. Our last gaming session ended and I was ready to run to the officials' desk to ask for a 15 minutes parking permit to load all that was left from our stand. We had one game left - someone did not honored the promise to come at 6:30 PM and make the final purchase.

    7:03 PM: Our last customer, Guido, bought the very last game. And I gave that to him in writing!

    7:30 PM: I was the proud owner of two 15 minutes Parkschein, rushing back to exhibition hall number 4 to load and make Spiel '11 just a memory.

    11:25 PM: Having had no more unforeseen events, we arrived back in Brussels and took a fist look at our Essen loot. You can see some of it in the picture below, the rest of it being still in the car.

    I do not want to end this post without writing down some conclusions, although so many things happened that it is hard to choose... so I will just stick to one of them. It is a special experience for a small publisher to be in Essen... as a publisher. Even with low expectations the hopes are high and it can be overwhelming. The one thing that makes this whole experience so special is the feeling of belonging. You are all the time surrounded by friendly faces and whatever you don't know and do wrong is understood and forgiven.

    Previous entries
    #1 - The beginning
    #2 - The development
    #3 - I have a working prototype, now what?
    #4 - Producing a board game
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    Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:41 pm
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    #4 - Producing a board game

    Andrei Novac
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    As promised in my last entry, I will go step by step into the 'fairy tale' of producing a board game as a small independent publishing company. The main question I will try to answer here is 'Who will produce my games?' and how to get closer to making the right decision.

    Let me first tell you the story of how I started looking for printing companies for Warriors & Traders or, as my friends like to call it, the most complicated way to go.

    True story

    The game was ready for production, heavily tested and with amazing graphics. Or so I assumed...

    I was hoping to solve the production issue by powering through, so one of my colleagues looked up all the companies who claimed to do printing in Romania. He started calling them and asking for offers. We had the specification well-written (at least this is what I assumed) and I was expecting to get hundreds of offers from which to choose the best one.

    After one week of calling more than 150 print shops, we had exactly zero offers. More than two thirds of these companies did not understand the very concept of board games and the vast majority of the companies who did know the concept had no idea what it takes to produce one.

    I used to work in sales and I expected that buying would be much easier than selling, so I did not give up. I decided instead to put even more effort into this. At first there was just one person researching the printing companies and calling them, so I joined forces with him and we spent 10 more days of calling and going to meetings. At every meeting we brought specifications for production together with a board game in the box, showing people what we needed them to do. And I believe numbers speak better than words, so I will list the great 'achievement' of those hard days:
    - 1000+ phone calls
    - 450 printing companies contacted
    - 32 meetings
    - 9 offers
    - 1 offer that was worth considering

    That was one major waste of time and effort, just to find out that we were not looking in the right place. One of the first lessons in life is to know when you don't know and ask the experts. It took a few hundred hours of hard work to finally get to that point, to see that we were powering through... in the wrong direction.

    We needed someone who could understand our project and could help us at least to ask the right questions. There aren't so many companies manufacturing board games, we just failed to see that for quite a while. It may seem obvious now, but back then, it all seemed so new and confusing.

    After the first discussion with an expert, we saw what we did wrong. We had to modify the map of the game to be square, just because it was too big to be cost effective, we had to organize the tokens on the punched boards differently and so many more little things.

    A few weeks later I finally got to the point where I could ask the right questions for choosing the best manufacturer for Warriors & Traders. I believe the same principles apply to most of the small start-up publishers who want to get a chance on the board games market.

    There are two questions looking for answers at the very beginning of the production process:
    - What is the quality I am looking for?
    - How many games do I want to produce?

    Answering these questions will not provide the final answer to the original and most important question, it will only bring us one step closer on the path to finding this answer.

    Quality

    Looking at a board game, one can see the quality of the materials, especially after playing that game several times. The first thing that will get damaged is the game box. It usually happens at the corners, the cardboard and the printed paper covering it split. The other 'option' is the game board, in particular that game board that is folding in 4 or 6 parts. The low quality games get damaged after no more than 4-5 plays, whereas the high quality games are still in great shape after more than 20 plays (and let's face it, very few games get to be played more than 20 times).

    Quantity

    I may be stating the obvious here, but the more games you produce, the lower the price per game you will get from any production company. The tough part here is how to find the right balance between the number of games you're making and the price/game. There are at least two things to consider, fitting inside the budget and making as few games as possible.

    The most important consideration is to fit inside the budget allocated for production, without exceeding it even with one cent. Once you compromise and you start taking money from advertising for example, you'll see that the more game you're making the more money you're saving and you'll end up spending everything.

    The second and more difficult decision is to see what's the minimum quantity to produce to break even, assuming that you know the power of the game and the final retail price for the game. Without prior preparation, it can be just a shot in the dark. Any assessment is better than making a decision just based on pure feeling and assuming that you made a great game and people will fight on who's first to buy it.

    Making less games rather then more may look at first as the safe but much less profitable way to go, but it prevents a new born company to go out of business if the first game is not 'welcome' on the market.

    China vs. Europe

    Once the decision made on the quality and quantity, we are looking into where to manufacture the games. For us there were two big options, China or Europe (I will not talk about producing in the US, we did not explore that possibility).

    China's main advantage is that it's cheaper. I thought that it all comes down to money in the end, but I managed to quickly overlook the possibility of saving money and I studied in depth the other factors.

    Shipping is one big disadvantage for China because it takes at least one month to get the game boxes in Europe. Arriving a few days later that scheduled could mean for someone the difference between having games in Essen or having an empty stand. The other major logistic disadvantage is clearing customs. Depending on the country, this may take as long as one month and it could be an endless trail of paperwork and lost time. So, from the logistics point of view, Europe wins.

    Let's now address quality. I looked at more that 50 different games to see if there's a significant quality difference between games made in Europe and games made in China. Even if not always obvious, there's a difference especially at older games. I don't want to generalize, but in my opinion, you get better quality in Europe, especially from the German companies which specialize in board games and puzzles and have a tradition in this business. My final decision was to have the games manufactured by LudoFact and I am very happy I went that way.


    Logistics

    Another aspect easy to overlook is logistics. We made the decision of where to produce and where to store Warriors & Traders before having our first orders. It was only a few months later that we saw how much easier it could have been.

    It is not uncommon for big distribution companies to have many games put together and delivered from the same big warehouse (e.g. LudoPackt) to save on shipping costs. For us, this information would have been useful about six months ago. Having produced our games in one country, storing them in another one and selling in the rest of the world made logistics a big part of our activity. That simply means less time to focus on doing what we love, board games.

    All in all, there was so much to learn in such a short time that I sometimes cannot believe we made it so far. It was an amazing experience, especially when I saw 4500 game boxes all together. But this is not the end of the story.

    In my next blog post I will cover the first Essen experience, so stay close.

    Previous entries
    #1 - The beginning
    #2 - The development
    #3 - I have a working prototype, now what?
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    #3 - I have a working prototype, now what?

    Andrei Novac
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    So, you have a board game, it looks functional, people around you like it...life is all good, but... what do you do next? First, get to the final prototype.

    As I said in my previous diary entry, the game already had shape, was fully playable, or... was it? Well, not quite, I was missing one important element, the game board!

    Building the map of Warriors & Traders

    Like any other person with high self esteem, I left the hardest part at the end. Being passionate or, as some might say, borderline obsessed with history, I could not make my peace with a perfectly playable game board without respecting the history.

    With the medieval theme in mind, the first big decision to make was to choose a more precise historical setting of the game. My biggest problem was that Europe was divided in small kingdoms and other state-like entities throughout the Middle Ages, with borders changing on a monthly basis. No matter how I was looking at the history, there wasn't any single period in which all the great European powers were all within some set borders that resemble what they are today. Furthermore, some nations (e.g. Germany) were split into so many states that it became completely blurry which were the relevant ones which later on would form a country. So, I stopped looking sequentially at the history of medieval Europe and I decided to make the border for each country based on its peak of glory. Thus, the setting is not well defined and players are the ones actually making history, taking their country out of the Dark Ages and creating an empire.


    Western Europe map on version 0.11 of Warriors & Traders


    For those who played Warriors & Traders, this map may seem a bit awkward, it lacks Germany and Denmark and 'contains' two Spanish kingdoms. This was the first draft of the game board as I imagined it, both playable and fairly accurate from a historical point of view. This is also the version of the map that carried the heaviest testing load.

    Looking at the map from the functional point of view, I had to sacrifice a bit of history to respect a few principles:
    - each country had to be composed of 5 to 7 provinces (including the contested ones)
    - the contested provinces had to be 'in a circle', meaning that country no.4 would dispute a province with countries no. 3 and 5 and so on
    - the total number of external borders of the provinces of each country should be roughly the same

    Due to the constraints listed above and a few more, I had to 'bend' history and even geography to place on the map a contested province between Portugal and... Scotland. I knew from the very beginning that this would create controversy and I had a plan to change it, but I needed it to start mass testing.

    In the pictures below you can admire the version 0.12 of Warriors & Traders.


    Armies and Barbarians in Burgundy



    Game board, resources and armies, all ready for testing



    Warriors & Traders version 0.12


    At this point in the history of Warriors & Traders, we had custom made resource tokens, army tokens, play-mats, pretty much everything was home made, printed on paper and cardboard, but still lacking any kind of artistic design. But good to go for mass testing.

    Establishing the company and the first steps towards production

    Now, I am coming back to the original question, you have a prototype, then what?

    As I was saying before, I was too in love with this game and too tired of my old job, so I made the decision to establish an independent publishing house. You know how experts say that the reasoning behind making a decision is rational, but the decision itself is emotional? For me, it was just the impulse, I simply had to do this!

    First, it was establishing the company, but I will not walk you through this bureaucratic process that is different from country to country, I will skip to the main steps related to board games production and the funny inevitable mistakes which can be the difference between success and disaster.

    Copyright

    I am moving forward with the story to the point in time where hiring a lawyer, signing a few kilos of paperwork and receiving a few weeks later the final papers for establishing NSKN were already history.

    One of the first things I was worried about was getting the copyright, the European trademark, which is valid and respected almost everywhere in the world.

    The application process is easy but expensive, the decision comes at least half a year later but the main question is 'does this bring any value or safety?' and this is what I will try to answer.

    The lack of experience in making board games and the fear of being counterfeited was the initial drive to register Warriors & Traders as a trade mark. I can say that it did not pay off and it is not a mandatory step when releasing a new game. My biggest two pros to make this decision were the added recognition and feeling safer about the game being copied and produced by others. What I failed to realize at that point was that a game has to be very good and very popular for anyone to want to take the risk of making a counterfeit version and that this would take a long, long time.

    Graphic design

    While the game was still in testing, there were two amazing designers working on the game box and the components. I thought this will be a piece of cake, I will give them the components with specifications and I will just leave the creative process up to them entirely. I did not think for a moment that the printing company will also have a big saying in the whole graphic design process. I guess this was the second and most important moment where I realized how little I knew.

    There's a big difference between being a board game designer and a board game publisher. While my main focus was on designing and improving the actual game, I realized that I also have to be involved in graphical design and production.

    So, I found a compromise, I became a game publisher by day and a game designer by night (that's when I said my final goodbye to my former employer). The graphical design was going well, but the components,although beautiful, were still lacking functionality, reflecting our lack of experience.

    The biggest surprise was after the first discussion with a printing company. That one meeting tore apart many days and nights of work. The expert in making board games explained to me the restrictions in dimensions, shapes and many more aspects, rendering half of the graphic designers' work useless. That's when I brought back to life an old motto, "Better ask now than be sorry later and never assume".

    Learning step by step what it takes to run a company and producing a board game, I had to go back to the basics and see what was left to fix in Warriors & Traders to get to the final version.

    Version 0.15 and final testing

    I am skipping to the spring of 2011. The testing showed several small flaws in the game and brought countless suggestions. Together with the development team< i was continuously analyzing them and keeping the few that made the game more interesting.

    We got to the version 0.15, the last one without the final graphic design and with all the elements that can be found in the commercial version.


    Testing Warriors & Traders in a secluded cabin in the Romanian mountains in the spring of 2011


    My original plan was to have Europe divided into West, Center and North and have 3 game boards in the box. Even more, I wanted to have them cut in such a way that players would be able to combine them into a giant mega-map where up to 12 people can play together. Boy, was I naive! After seeing the proposed production prices of some non-famous print-shops, I realized that I had to come up with some out of the box ideas on how to keep all the components of the game and still afford to produce.

    The most important change after this epiphany was to make the map square and thus exclude Spain and Portugal and move Germany, Switzerland and Denmark to Western Europe. This proved to be quite simple and the even more historically accurate than the previous version. I had a new round of testing to have the proof that these changes did not affect the dynamics of the game.

    The next step towards making Warriors & Traders an affordable project was to reduce the number of components to a strictly useful amount. For this, I organized a few gaming sessions with very different groups and recorded the maximum amount of resources, the number of armies and Development tokens that player were using in a heavy 6 player game. At the end of this little experiment, the number of physical bits and pieces were reduced by 60%, completing the process of making this a cost effective project.

    The next big step - deciding on which company to use for production. And this was probably the biggest decision of all... coming soon in my next blog post


    Previous entries
    #1 - The beginning
    #2 - The development
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    #2 - The development

    Andrei Novac
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    I will simply pick up from where I left in my previous post, the moment after the two first tests with the very first version of Warriors & Traders. The first moments of euphoria, made of "I have a functional game" and "Oh, my God, it's really happening" were soon dialed down and replaced with "is this ever gonna work?".

    Versions 0.2 to 0.5

    It was already decided that the project needed structure to become an actual board game. I had to take it step by step, changing one thing at a time, to avoid breaking what was already working.

    The first big step was to reduce the incredible number of possible army types to just a few, thus implementing a major change - keeping the armies' power and toughness equal and limited to 3. So, the armies became 1/1 army (nowadays called Infantry), 2/2 army (Archer) and 3/3 army (Cavalry).

    After testing this shortly and seeing that the project shows a better shape already, I run into a different problem, the outcome of all battles was easy to calculate by everyone and there was nothing in the game that could spice it up. I needed a mechanic to make combat ... well, to tell the truth, less boring. The improvement I found and implemented immediately was the first ability in the game. Armies of a certain level had the option to retreat when getting to exactly zero life, instead of dying. It remained in place until today, but it took a lot of time, effort and testing to remove any ambiguity. Giving the players the power to freely distribute the damage inflicted by the armies in a battle combined with the retreat mechanic made battles interesting and unpredictable.


    Using Risk pieces as 1/1. 2/2 and 3/3 armies, in version 0.5 of Warriors & Traders.

    Technologies and the Play-mat

    With armies and the retreat ability successfully tested, the game still lacked structure. To develop the three technologies, players were using Development cards. Actually, every Action in the game was governed by this extensive card usage, a mechanic that was slowing down the game a lot.

    To make it even more complicated, players were drawing their cards in the very beginning of the turn, before even feeding armies, and they were using them in a later phase, after gathering resources and trading. Every player was drawing only one card per turn, but there was a mechanic in place to draw more. Thinking back, I guess we called it 'level-up', meaning when you reached a new level on one technology path, you'd immediately draw a new card. When it came to using the cards, there was quite some chaos. Players were allowed to use as many cards as they wanted per turn, with the sole restriction that 'Declare war' cards were played at the very end. There was no turn order and everyone was taking actions at the same time, the whole game turning into a small battlefield of screaming louder than everyone else. Furthermore, without a set order of play, the Declare war cards (they have an equivalent now in using one Action to Declare war) were only used to keep your opponents under pressure, but actual wars were rarely seen.

    This whole mess needed to be addressed. At this point in the history of Warriors & Traders, a good friend of mine, Vlad, started being really involved and together we came up with the idea of completely removing the cards from the game.

    At first, we merged the drawing and playing cards in one single Stage of a turn, called the Development phase. There was no need to make player think in advance what they would do later that turn and there was also no need to pile up cards and play them all at once.

    Then, we structured the technology tree for Production, Trade and Military on a Play-mat. On Production player would get simply multipliers for the resources, on Trade better rates with the bank and on Military better armies. To upgrade one level players would need one, two or four cards. This made the game better, but we did not manage to avoid stockpiling cards in our hands.


    A glimpse at the Play-mat and the map with armies.

    Versions 0.6 to 0.10

    The game started to gain structure and we enjoyed testing it more and more. If, in the very beginning, very few of our closest friends were interested to play again, at this stage there was a 'queue' of people curious to try this new project, some of them already saying that they want a signed copy when the project will be final. At that point, I was still taking that as a joke.

    After a few more tests, we realized that the game was quite flat and that, except for the military path who provided the option for armies to retreat, there was nothing else special happening in the game. Players would quickly get bored of upgrading a technology just to get more of the same things and went straight for battle. I already had a few ideas of things that would merge naturally into the game, but we needed a few more to make all the technologies interesting and useful.

    It was the night after the Christmas day when I met my friends for a 'quick game' which turned into an all-night session of development. By 6 AM we had a new Play-mat with all the technologies in place, the same as you can now recognize on the final Play-mat.


    New Play-mat with resources.

    By that time, we had already made our own resources out of photo paper, to avoid so much depending on beans, matches or, at best, resource tokens from other games.

    We were testing continuously and making small changes, one at a time, based on feedback from many friends from many places when the idea to transform this into an actual business came out in the open. At first, I did not take it seriously, but it was growing on me and I felt that Warriors & Traders deserved a chance to become a published game. I cannot pinpoint when and what was the final kick, I just realized one day that I want this to happen. And I felt so attached to this game that I was going to try to publish it myself.

    But this will be the topic for the next entry.

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    #1 - The beginning
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    #1 - The beginning

    Andrei Novac
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    This is always tough, writing to people who actually may be interested and paying attention to what you have to say... This is my first post, so there's stress, fear of 'speaking' in public and so many more. But here I am, sharing my thoughts with the most important community in the gaming world.

    Warriors & Traders is a pure strategy historical game, which combines several mechanics, including area control, taking actions

    My first game, Warriors & Traders was released in Essen 2011 and I want to share the story behind the development and the things to come.

    The kick start

    In my group of gamer friends, I was usually suggesting changes to make games either more strategic or less dependent on dice or in some way different from what the original idea was.

    The idea to design my own board game was laying dormant inside me for a while, but a friend gave me that final push that made me start working. He gave me an actual challenge, telling me that within one year I have to come up with a board game that all of the people in our group will enjoy playing without complaining. So, a few weeks later, I started putting my idea on paper. The one that seemed to be one step ahead of all the other ones was of a historical game independent of luck. Once I chose my winner, I also came up with the name and the gaming paradigms I was going to abide to no matter what. And so the story began...

    Design principles

    I had to write down what I wanted to make out of this game, which I decided from day 1 to call Warriors & Traders. I had decided not to make any compromises and laid down all the important things that I care about and I believed make a game with potential:
    - Euro game mechanics
    - deeply strategical
    - a war component
    - lots of player interactions
    - layered long-term decision making
    - historically accurate

    Drawing the line, I realized that it will be hard to combine all these in a game playable in less than an afternoon, so I chose my priorities.

    First, I decided to put the play-ability before the historical accuracy, but without making severe compromises. This is why I chose the setup in the Dark Ages of Europe, when empires were forming, putting the bases of nowadays European countries. At some point in time, every country was covering roughly the area which is drawn on the game board. And I make here, now this promise, to come back with the details behind placing each single country on the board!

    Another key point in game design was the decision to leave every single aspect of the game untouched by any element of luck. That means no dice, no event cards, no random whatsoever. At this point, the major decision was whether to go towards an economical game or a war game, keeping the "NO luck" paradigm. At first I was tempted to go towards the Euro side, it would have been much easier to balance economic decisions in a random-less environment, but I did not gave up and decided to search for a way to put together armies, war and solving battles without rolling the dice.

    The place where I compromised a little was the player interactions. Having a fixed (non-modular) map, it was obvious that gamers would find more ways of interaction in a 6 players game rather than in a 2 players game. This seemed like the least amount of distance from the original idea.

    Version 0.0

    Once design paradigms fully covered, I started to mentally make order in the game components and mechanics. I had to always keep in mind that I was my own harshest judge and I would not go on easy on myself if not following my core design principles.

    First I wrote down game components, most of which you'll still see in the actual box of Warriors & Traders:
    - game board, with the countries in Europe, each country divided into provinces
    - army units, player and neutral; all defined by power (deal damage) and toughness (absorb damage before dying)
    - resources: weapons and gold to build armies, food to keep them alive and products as a generic "currency"

    Then I wrote down the mechanics and the main aspects of a turn:
    - tech development that applies to the entire 'country' a player controls; three
    - actions - each player takes action(s) each turn, developing a technology or building armies
    - simultaneous army movement, followed by combat and clean-up
    - strategic resource management, using resources before gathering; this required strategic planing for at least 1 turn ahead.

    Version 0.1 - plain paper


    And here it is - the very first print out of ..hmm.. 'two weeks old Warriors & Traders'

    The map - I got excited and a bit carried away, trying to put every important European country on the same map, from England to Russia. It turned out to be quite crowded and extremely large, with no less than 109 provinces player were "fighting over".

    Every province had 1 to 3 resources drawn on it, 1/2 of these resources on the map being Products, 1/4 Food and 1/4 Weapons, with Gold only available through trade.

    The resource "tokens" were small square pieces of brown (Products), red (Food) and yellow (Gold) paper and some poorly drawn swords (Weapons) - somewhere West of the map, outside of the picture.

    Provinces were Capitals (3 resources and starting provinces for players) and common (1 or 2 resources). In all of them there were Barbarians, some random armies who would fight the invaders and nothing more.

    The development cards, nowadays replaced by the play-mats containing the technology tree, were divided into... countless categories. The most important ones were upgrading Trade Technology, allowing simply a better exchange rate with the bank for Gold, Production technology - multipliers for resources and Military technology.

    This Military technology was the key to a random-less combat, so players were be able to to 5 type of army upgrades with 3 options each, so you could end up with any kind or army X/Y (x-power, y-toughness) with X and Y ranging from 1 to 10 !shake


    After seeing the pictures above, you're allowed to lough (but not too loud cool)

    The game round was composed of four steps:
    - feeding armies (yes, before getting resources)
    - getting resources
    - action - upgrade some tech OR build army
    - armies movement and battles

    First tests

    The first two tests, actually two and a half, were done with just me and my girlfriend (again, big thanks for putting up with all that).

    There were no two of the same army after 5 rounds and there were no victory conditions. We were just playing to see how the game works and what are the things that need immediate response.

    The top of the list was the giant amount of army types and the Barbarians who had random power and toughness, conflicting with one of the core principles - no luck.

    The first two game tests were conclusive, the game had potential, it worked, but it was too all-over-the-place. It required a lot of work to bring structure and a bit more effort on the basic design to make it user friendly. The last test, well... I sneezed in turn three and all the "tokens" flew away, concluding a night that I will always remember, The beginning of an amazing story that changed my career options and maybe my life.

    So, stick around, I will tell you the rest of the story behind Warriors & Traders and much, much more.
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