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North Star Games: it all started on a sinking ship in Alaska
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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I captained an Alaskan commercial salmon fishing boat for 12 summer seasons. The job paid for my college, but I was never satisfied with it as a life-long career. During the winters, I went to school, played on the Magic pro tour, and worked on countless game designs. During the summer, I tested my games with crew members and dreamed daily about starting a board game company.

In 2001, I went to business school to learn how to start the company of my dreams. Since that time, our company has produced 4 games, won 2 Golden Geekies, raised $700,000, placed games at Target, Barnes & Noble, and Borders, nearly gone bankrupt, released an Xbox version of Wits & Wagers, and lost money every year for 5 straight years. In 2007 we lost $106,724. Ouch.

But right now we have great cause for celebration. When we finished our 2009 taxes, we learned that we turned a small profit for the first time in our history!! North Star Games is finally "turning the corner". This is in large part due to the support that we've received here on the BGG.

Here is my story...

(Feel free to post questions. I'll be happy to answer anything of interest to you.)
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1. Board Game: Chaos in the Kids' Room [Average Rating:6.06 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Childhood: 1969 - 1987       (PICTURE: Playing Monopoly with friends in 1983)

My family did not watch much TV. We played board games instead. I still have copies of several games that I designed when I was 11. When I was 13, one of my games (Kabloogi) was banned from school because too many students played it during class.

One of my dad's dreams was for me to become an international chess champion, so I started going to tournaments when I was 8. The height of my career came in 1981 and 1982 when I became Pasadena CA elementary chess champion for two years in a row. My interest in competitive chess diminished greatly when I found out at my boarding school that playing chess wasn't cool.

I wasn't so concerned with the stigma by my junior year, when I started running a sizable D&D campaign using my own rule system. My final project during senior year was a business plan for a game company. That was the only thing I could think of that I wanted to do with my life. The first two products I planned to release was my role-playing system and the war game (Kabloogi) that had been banned from 8th grade. I also had several other unfinished games that were coming along.
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2. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:120]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Gaming in College       (PICTURE: That's me in (and on) the 1998 Magic State Championship poster.)

I instantly became addicted to Magic the moment I learned you could build your own decks. My favorite format was sealed deck. Every draft was like designing a new game, and then play-testing to see if the game worked.

I placed at several pro tours including taking 2nd for $15k in the 1998 New York tournament. Although I still love playing, I started thinking my time and energy would be better spent pursuing my life-long dream instead of keeping up with each new release.
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3. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:1526]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Getting Serious: 1997 - 2002       (PICTURE: That's the game I designed that was nearly published by Alea.)


I started getting more serious about pursuing my dream when I graduated from college in 1997. Over the next few years, I interviewed retail store owners, spoke with Jay Tummelson from Rio Grande, Will Neibling from MayFair Games, and many people at other game companies including Wizards of the Coast.

I polished several game designs and tested them hundreds of times with crew members over the summer. These designs were increasingly Euro in style. My favorite design (Port Yugee´s Election) made the Hippodice recommendation list in 2002 and was later almost published by Alea.

When I met Stephen Glenn at PrezCon in 2000, he was running the Rio Grande booth and raving about a new game called Princes of Florence (which quickly became my favorite game). After he played one of my prototypes, he talked about his dream of starting a yearly convention for game designers called Protospiel. I helped him get his dream off the ground by finding a location and doing the logistical legwork for the first year (here is an article about the first Protospiel).

Soon afterwards, Stephen got me invited to Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends. Talking with people at the GoF has been one of the most important aspects of my industry education over the past 5 years.
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4. Board Game: Cluzzle [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:2110]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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My First Party Game: 2000 - 2004       (PICTURE: Me with my first published game!)

Although I had sobered up from my Magic addiction (with a few relapses here and there), my competitive background left its mark on my game designs. Most of my prototypes were 2 hour brain burners with interesting mechanics and pasted on themes. Port Yugee's Rebellion was almost published by Alea. I still have the email where Stefan Bruck attached a contract and said he was 70% sure Alea would publish it for 2003.

Regardless of its appeal to gamers, I had to bribe office mates with free pizza to get them to play. They played it as if they were taking an IQ test, constantly worried that they would make a bad move and look stupid. Furthermore, I had learned that most strategy games sell less than 5,000 units, meaning it would be impossible to compensate me for all of the time I had spent designing the game (several thousand hours).

My new goal was to design a game so fun that people asked me to play it instead of my having to bribe them. My first attempt at a party game was inspired by Barbarossa. The first 10 working prototypes simplified certain aspects of the game, but added more strategy over-all. It was very difficult for me to design a game that was simple enough to appeal to my non-gamer friends. The feedback I always received was "it's too complicated".

Finally, in December of 2001, a friend asked to borrow Cluzzle for a New Year's party at a beach house! I took this as a sign that Cluzzle was good enough to start a company with (boy was that wishful thinking).
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5. Board Game: Ninja School [Average Rating:1.00 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Business School: 2002 - 2004       (PICTURE: That's me on the left from a series of "fight club" pictures.)

The premise of North Star Games is very simple: to publish games that gamers can enjoy with their non-gamer friends. I figured I wasn't the only one who wanted to play games with my relatives over the holidays, but didn't want to be bored to death with rolling dice in another game of Trivial Pursuit. The only problem is that I knew nothing about business. So my goal was to learn how to start a company and to find a great business partner.

I ended up receiving an entrepreneurship scholarship for business school based upon a business plan for North Star Games.

Getting an MBA was the most demanding thing I had ever done. I was working part-time at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurs, going to classes like accounting and finance, and starting a company all at the same time. I had a background in liberal arts, so these were totally new skills for me. Sure, the experience was not as intense as commercial fishing in Alaska, but it lasted for 2 years instead of 2 months.

Although school opened up my eyes to the world of business, the most valuable thing that happened at business school was convincing Satish Pillalamarri to join the company after graduation.
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6. Board Game: Start Business [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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Bethesda
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Business School: 2002 - 2004       (PICTURE: Working on the Cluzzle packaging.)
Summer Internship

Instead of doing a traditional summer internship with a large corporation, I was given office space in the entrepreneurship center to work on North Star Games. I enticed Satish to join me for $8k (I was not paid anything), but it was contingent on him investing $5k back into the company. I wanted to ensure that he had a long-term interest in the company. Getting Satish on board at this juncture was very difficult and extremely critical to the success of the venture.

We raised $30,000 to manufacture 2,500 copies of Cluzzle. I put in $10k, my dad put in $5k, Satish put in his compulsory $5k, and our entrepreneurship professor loaned us $10k to be paid back in three years.

(Notice all of the MBA charts on the wall. We had a graph for everything) laugh
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7. Board Game: Hard Times: The Money Management Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Work Weeks & Salaries: 2004 - 2006

After graduation, we raised another $45k (for a total of $65k) and got our professor to increase his loan to $30k. A company cannot do very much with $95k, so Satish and I worked without salary for the first two years after graduation.

During this time, I worked 10 - 15 hours a day during the week and another 5 - 8 hours a day on the weekends. We averaged more than 80 hours a week if you include conventions. Some of this time was spent on designing and testing Wits & Wagers at parties, so it was not all bad. In fact, it was a hopeful and exciting time.

With enough milestones beneath our belt, we were able to raise another $50k in 2005. Unfortunately, this was still not enough to pay for salaries. soblue
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8. Board Game: No Sweat [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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MBA Sweat Shop: 2004       (PICTURE: My living room with a small Cluzzle throne in the distance.)

Our first big task was to assemble 2,500 copies of Cluzzle. My roommates, Hajo (from Germany) and Mirta (from Croatia), were saints for putting up with this project.





Collating 2,500 games with this many components was a horrible use of 4 months of time. Every set of 110 Cluzzle cards had to be collated 1 card at a time from 110 different boxes, then rubber banded. Luckily, we had a pool of 20 MBA classmates who were still looking for jobs and bored. We bribed them with pizza and beer to help out. They were amazingly supportive. Some of them donated over 100 hours of time.


This picture really makes it seem like an MBA sweat shop.
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9. Board Game: Fun Fair [Average Rating:4.50 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Our First Toy Fair: 2004       (PICTURE: Satish thinking he's running for office.)
We had no idea what we were doing, so we just had fun!



...and we talked to a lot of helpful people, like the founder of Scene It? in the booth next to us (notice the two movie reels in the next booth). The next year they were upstairs with the big boys (Lego, Mattel, Cranium, Play Mobile, Gund, etc) in a huge 40 x 30 booth with a $75,000 booth setup.
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10. Board Game: Trivial Pursuit [Average Rating:5.22 Overall Rank:10884]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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Bethesda
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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The Making of Wits & Wagers: 1984-1985 and 1998-1999       (PICTURE: Original packaging)

The design of Wits & Wagers has a long history which starts when I was in high school. I thought memorizing facts for tests was a waste of time, so it is not surprising that I hated Trivia Pursuit. After my first play, I started working on a trivia game which I called Conceptual Pursuit. The idea was to figure out who understood concepts better, as opposed to who had memorized more facts. Quantifying one's understanding of a concept was difficult. My solution was to have questions where all of the answers were numbers. The player with the best understanding of the concept would be the one whose answer was closest to the correct answer.

In Conceptual Pursuit, everyone answered the same question by writing their answer on a piece of paper. The closest answer received a point in one of ten categories by placing one of their ten tokens on the appropriate space on the board. The game ended when someone had received a point in each category.

Thirteen years later, I put several hundred hours into the idea to refine it and compiled questions from friends and family. By the end of this period, Conceptual Pursuit did not have a central board. Instead, the question card was awarded to the person who wrote the closest answer. Players received 3 points for the first correct answer in each category, 2 points for the second correct answer in each category, and 1 point for each correct question after that. The first player to 30 points won the game. This ensured that the game would not go on forever if players were weak in specific categories.
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11. Board Game: Wits & Wagers [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:361]
Dominic Crapuchettes
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Bethesda
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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The Making of Wits & Wagers: 2003 - 2005       (PICTURE: Current packaging)

While in business school, I became obsessed with cross-pollinating proven ideas from two different cultures or industries. That's when I mixed Conceptual Pursuit with poker. In Know-Limit Trivia Poker(TM), players write their answer on dry-erase boards, and bet no-limit style on whose answer is closer. There was two rounds of betting. One with hidden answers, and once again when all of the answers were revealed. Know-Limit Trivia Poker(TM) is a great game, but it is much too competitive to be a party game.

After testing the game, I went to a friend's house and framed the problem for him. The only way for a player to win chips, is to win them from another player. This means someone is happy only when someone else is unhappy. To solve this, the game needed to be played against the house so that way everyone could win chips at the same time, and be happy together. My friend, Nate Heasley, thought about it for a few minutes and said "The game needs to be more like the craps table. That's the place where everyone is cheering when you go to a casino. What if all of the answers were face up with different odds, and then you placed bets on the different answers?" My first reaction was "no way, that will never work", but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like it might work. I came up with a method for creating odds so that the riskier bets paid out more, and then put together a prototype. It turns out that Nate's idea worked brilliantly!



Satish and I tested the game (called Trivia Casino) with over 1,000 people before it was published 2 years later. The first people to play the game were 60 - 70 of our business school friends. We also played it at family gatherings as well as every game convention in the area including the Gathering of Friends, WBC, Game Days, EuroQuest, and PrezCon. Although extensive testing is the time consuming part, it is also the most essential part of creating a hit game. Several brilliant ideas will get you 80% of the way there, but that puts the quality of your game at the same level as several hundred other newly released games. It takes another couple of years at the grind stone to give your game the final polish it needs to really stand out. This is the most grueling part of the process which is why most game designers don't do it.

Satish Pillalamarri took on the monumental task of writing, compiling (from 9 different writers), editing, fact checking, and choosing the final questions. It took him over 3 months of 70 - 80 hours weeks to put all the questions together. Out of the 400 original questions that I wrote for the prototype, only about 125 made it into the game. We ended up writing nearly 3,000 questions in order to get the final 700 for the game.

We were partnered with Eagle Games when the first edition was released in November of 2005, which is why the first edition comes in a HUGE box with a HUGE rubber betting mat. The game was intended to cost $45, but we fought to keep the price at $30. We did not think people would drop $45 on a party game.

It seems like the story of designing Wits & Wagers should be over now... but it's not! We received lots of feedback from BGG users like Randy Cox and Alex Rockwell. This feedback (along with another year of demoing thousands of times) helped shaped the rule changes for the second edition. Although testing with the first 1,000 people was instrumental to the game design, getting feedback from a pool of over 20,000 BGG users helped take the game to the next level.

Thanks to everyone who helped with this process!!

Wits & Wagers Award Highlights:
2006 Mensa Mind Games - Mensa Select
2007 Best Party Game - BoardGameGeek Golden Geek
2007 Party Game of the Year - Games Magazine
2008 Finalist - Game of the Year, Finland
2008 Finalist - Party Game of the Year, Norway
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12. Board Game Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Eagle Games Partnership: 2005 - 2006

In February 2005, we signed a 3-year partnership with Eagle Games. North Star Games would provide 3 games that would help Eagle Games get into the mass market. Eagle Games would finance the production, marketing, and sales of our games and pay us $100k over the course of a year against future royalties.

The fact that we expected this contract to be honored reveals our lack of understanding of the industry. Our games could not have become profitable quickly enough to justify the upfront expense to Eagle Games. In hindsight, it is obvious that Eagle Games signed this contract because they were desperate and crumbling, but at the time, we expected the contract to be honored. So we stopped trying to raise money and moved forward as if we would be receiving $100k from Eagle Games over the next year. I won't go into the messy details, but suffice it to say that Glenn Drover did many sketchy things as he struggled to keep Eagle Games solvent.

I recently found a strategy document dated December 15th 2005. Here are the two options we laid out:

      1) Fold Company
      Save $65,000 to pay back debts. Keep website running. Get jobs and try to sell games to other companies.

      2) Continue moving forward
      We can continue with current operations for 8 months at a burn rate of $9,500.

Our willingness to believe the improbable promises of Glen Drover put us in a bind when Eagle finally collapsed. The peak of our problems came when our inventory was put up to the highest bidder in October 2006, right before the holiday season. The way bankruptcy law works, we would not have received royalties when the other bidder (a prominent online board game retailer) sold our games. This was a bitter pill to swallow since we had spent all of our investor's money trying to get the word out about Wits & Wagers. So while the games would have sold due to our hard work, we would have received nothing.


NOTE: Eagle Games is now run by Keith Blume, not Glenn Drover. Keith Blume was always very straightforward and honest in his dealings with us.
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13. Board Game: The Moment of Truth [Average Rating:2.67 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Moment of Truth

This led to a serious moment of truth in my life. I had to decide whether to fold the company, or try to save it. My only recourse was to increase the limit of every credit card I owned (ones that hadn't been used in 10 years), and max them out to $45,000. This $45k coupled with the last $15k in our bank account would be enough to buy the inventory, but it would leave the company without money to pay salaries and me with $45k of high-interest debt. I was hoping that Satish would be willing to put half of the debt onto his credit cards, but he wasn't ready to do that. I don't blame him. I was the person that dragged him into this crazy venture. His unwillingness to take this risk led me to assume that it would be a foolhardy financial decision.

I could read the writing on the wall: North Star Games was going bankrupt... only I couldn't bring myself to accept it. I was not emotionally ready to give up on my dream. I also couldn't face going to our investors (like my parents) and telling them that we had lost their money. It made me sick to my stomach to think about. I knew it was unreasonable, but I didn't care. So I maxed out all of my credit cards and we purchased the inventory.

While this relationship with Eagle Games was disastrous in most respects, it also allowed us over a year to focus on designing two amazing party games (Wits & Wagers and Say Anything, both of which won Party Game of the Year awards from the BGG). It gave us the time to test each of them with over 500 different people and incorporate their feedback before going to production. We also accompanied Eagle Games to a Target meeting where we pitched a Wits & Wagers prototype. This was instrumental in our getting our foot into the door at Target. We would have never been able to set up a meeting on our own.
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14. Board Game: Target [Average Rating:5.99 Overall Rank:5942]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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Target: 2006       (PICTURE: Satish and I feeling 10 feet tall)

After we purchased the inventory, luck smiled upon us... Sales in the hobby channels were extremely good due the buzz Wits & Wagers started receiving when it won the Mensa award, then Party Game of the Year from Games Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal. At the same time, Target decided to test Wits & Wagers in 61 of their stores! I immediately posted on a BGG forum thread asking people to help out by purchasing holiday gift copies at Target.

Sales were good enough in hobby game stores that I was able to pay off my credit cards by the end of February. Unfortunately, the Target sales were about 30% of what Target expected. So while we were excited about the great sales in the hobby channels, we weren't sure if it would be enough to keep the company running.
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15. Board Game: Target [Average Rating:5.99 Overall Rank:5942]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Target: 2007       (PICTURE: My first time seeing W&W in Target)

Then something strange happened at the 2007 Toy Fair in February. The Target buyer came to our booth and said that Wits & Wagers was their favorite game to play in the office during lunch. He knew we were a small company, but he asked if we would be able to provide them with 25k units by October. Wow!

Hmmm.... 25,000 units. We did some quick math and figured we would need to raise between $300k and $400k to keep operations running (meaning not go out of business), meet Target's order, and supply the hobby stores with games. The kicker is that we would need to do this within 6 weeks. So we said what any rational person would say under the circumstances... "Sure, we can do that. No problem."

No problem... Yikes! Needless to say, we knew it would be a bit of a problem.
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16. Board Game: The Fund-Raising Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Raising Capital: 2007       (PICTURE: Pitching to investors)

The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship was instrumental in helping us get in front of professional investors. To begin with, we entered and won a yearly business plan competition which they host (funded by Kevin Plank, the founder and CEO of Under Armour). The $10k prize was minimal compared to the credibility and exposure we received. In fact, two people in the audience ended up investing the first $100k of a $556k round of financing (for a total of $696,000).

How did sales at Target go? I posted the 2007 holiday sales figures on this BGG thread thinking that people might be interested in following along. In short, it was great for us, but rather poor for Target. Luckily, it was just good enough for Target to continue with the product in hopes that it would build momentum.


(I spoke at the 2009 business plan competition. The picture on the left is of me with Kevin Plank.)
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17. Board Game: Thanks a Million! [Average Rating:4.50 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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BGG Saves the Day! (twice)

I left out one important part of the story... The Target buyer had a burning question when he came to our Toy Fair booth in 2007. He said "Tell me the truth. Did you get all of you family members and friends to scour the country and buy up all of the Wits & Wagers from Target just to make the test look good?". We answered with a rhetorical question: "Do you honestly think we have that many friends?"

It turns out that perhaps we do. There is a good chance that our company would have failed without the help of the BGG community. Many of you went out of your way to help sales during the 2006 test run, and when Target first took Wits & Wagers nation wide in 2007. Both of these times were critical to our company staying in business.

On top of those two incidents, we've felt tremendous support from the BGG all the way since the release of Cluzzle (Derk and Aldie talked it up on an early podcast) until now. It means a lot to me. As a hard core gamer who used to frown upon party games, I understand that our games are not everyone's cup of tea, but we're doing our best to bring games into the lives of as many people as possible, and especially to bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers. So thanks to everyone who has supported our endeavor! We really appreciate it.
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18. Board Game: Say Anything [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:537]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Say Anything: 2008

Most of the design work for Say Anything took place in 2005 and 2006, but it wasn't until 2008 that we felt good enough to release the game. We tested it for several years at the Gathering of Friends, Protospiel, Stephen Glenn's PowWow, at weekly game nights at the Looney's, and over holiday's with family and friends.

I need to thank the BGG once again, because the design of Say Anything can be attributed to feedback I received on the BGG. People at the Geekway to the West did not enjoy Wits & Wagers. I already knew that many people would never get over the fact that all of the answers are numbers, but I learned from Chris Darden and others that many people don't care whether the Empire State building is 500 feet tall or 2,000 feet tall. Is the Mississippi River 1,000 miles long or 3,000 miles long? Who knows? Who cares?!! So I started thinking of ways to use subjective questions for Wits & Wagers. These would be questions about things that people cared about, like what's the best rock band of all time, or who is the hottest actress in the movie theaters today?

While I was working on this idea, Satish was working on a game called Top 5. In his game, the players would create top 5 lists of everything from football players to guitarists to authors. We decided to merge our ideas. I approached the process from a game mechanics point of view and Satish approached the process from a user accessibility point of view. I came up with 20 - 30 game systems designed to motivate people to do the activity which was fun. Satish listened to all of my crazy ideas and let me know where I was going wrong. His general advice was to simplify, simplify, simplify! This whole party game business was very difficult for me to get right.

Although I created the mechanics to Say Anything, Satish was integral to the whole creative process. It's safe to say that Say Anything would not have been a great game without Satish's input and guidance.

I think we only used about 100 of the first 300 hundred questions that I put together. Leave it to me to test the boundaries of the game. I tested intimately personal questions (my parents are therapists and they love those questions), philosophically profound questions (my parents love those as well), political questions, as well as all the fun questions that made it into the game. Once the game design was completed, Luke, Satish, and myself spent a week coming up with the final question mix. By that time, we had a pretty good understanding of what made a good question.

Our attention to feedback seems to be paying off, because Say Anything has much broader appeal than Wits & Wagers. It's success has led to the development of our most ambitious company goal: to turn Wits & Wagers and Say Anything in household names over the next ten years.

Say Anything Award Highlights:
  2009 Party Game of the Year - Origins Award
  2008 Best Party Game - BoardGameGeek Award
  2008 Game of the Year - Spiel des Josh
  2008 20th Best Game of All Time - The Dice Tower: starring Tom Vasel


(Satish and I with the Origins award. JessA (Jatoha) made a Select-o-matic Tea Towel. Say Anything making people laugh!)
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19. Board Game: The Tragedy of McDeath [Average Rating:5.28 Unranked] [Average Rating:5.28 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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GreekTragedy - 2008       (PICTURE: That's me in a near-death experience with an inflatable Cranium hat)

So we're high on life when we get an email from the new Target buyer. It turns out he wasn't buying into the "long-term slow growth" idea of the previous buyer. He says that sales of Wits & Wagers are disappointing and that he will probably drop the skew for the 2009 holiday season.

Holy shit! We had just hired 3 people several months previously based upon what we thought were promising prospects. If we lost our Target account (more than 75% of our revenue), we would have to let go of everyone at the company and cut our salaries (we were getting paid $45k at the time).

After running around like chickens with our heads cut off, Matt secured a 3 week test run of radio advertising with Dave Ramsey for the 2008 holiday season. It turns out that Dave Ramsey loves playing Wits & Wagers with his son. Although it cost a lot of money, the test turned out to be good enough to tip the scales in our favor as long as we increased the advertising for 2009. More expenses means a longer road to profitability, but the other option would have been catastrophic.

Perhaps this is a lesson about hubris like you'd read about in the Greek tragedies. You may think you're on top of the world and that nothing can touch you, but there is always something out there that is beyond your control.
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20. Board Game: Wits & Wagers Family [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:939]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Wits & Wagers Family - 2010

I started working on Wits & Wagers Family in 2005 after I returned from a state fair. By the end of the show, I had stopped teaching people how to organize the answers around the median, and I stopped telling people about the odds on the board. I took this as a sign that I should think about removing these aspects from the game. It also hit home how hard it was to get your average person to buy a $30 game. That night I started working on the simplified version of the game that would be less expensive to produce...

After 5 years and lot's of testing, we finally released the family edition of Wits & Wagers. Just like with Say Anything, sales have been far better than we imagined. We sold out of our first print run of 9,000 games in less than 2 months, we have 13,000 more games on a boat, and we're already realizing that we're going to have to have another print run before the holidays!

I think the success of this game is largely due to the fact that we've had 5 years of listening to what types of games people want and what types of games store owners tell us they can sell. In this case, we created a game that is very simple, is fun for parents and kids to play together, and sells for $20.

There is a little bit of a disconnect between reviews on the BGG, and how well this game is selling for us. This is probably because Wits & Wagers Family is designed for families with kids, and not your average BGG user. It's pretty hard to please everyone. We're trying... but it's not easy.

EDIT ---
I just checked the ratings and it turns out that W&W Family is currently our highest rated game. Perhaps the disconnect is not as big as I was suspecting.
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21. Board Game: Wits & Wagers Family [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:939]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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How Hot is Your Meeple Contest!   (Win Free Games)



Richard (Enders Game) came up with a cool idea when he posted a geeklist called How hot is YOUR meeple?!

Ender Wiggins
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We decided to run a monthly contest on our Facebook page using his idea. Just post your Meeple drawing to our Facebook page for the chance to win a free game. Right now the only person to post pictures is this man:

Martin
Australia
WA
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So he won a free game last month... and he's going to win another free game for this month if no one else enters the contest. So what are you waiting for?!! Go draw a cool Meeple and post it on our Facebook page!!




This link is where you will need to go to upload your Meeple picture. Or if you're too lazy to do that, then send an email to freegame@NorthStarGames.com. We raffle off a free game or t-shirt every month to someone on our mailing list. But if you do this, then you'll get 2 - 4 emails a year (depending on how many we send).
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22. Board Game: Big Breakfast Vital Statistics [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Product Releases:
  2003   Cluzzle
  2004  
  2005   Wits & Wagers
  2006  
  2007  
  2008   Say Anything
  2009   Wits & Wagers Expansion
  2010   Wits & Wagers Family


Initial 3 years of Cluzzle Sales:
  2003   900
  2004   1,200
  2005   2,100
Initial 3 years of Wits & Wagers Sales:
  2005   1,200
  2006   6,300
  2007   23,700
Initial 3 years of Say Anything Sales:
  2008   11,500
  2009   23,800
  2010   30,000 (est)
Initial Wits & Wagers Family Sales:
  2010   30,000 (est)


Full Time Employees:
  2003   Dominic (summer), Satish (summer)
  2004   Dominic, Satish
  2005   Dominic, Satish
  2006   Dominic, Satish
  2007   Dominic, Satish
  2008   Dominic, Satish, Luke, Ladi, Matt
  2009   Dominic, Satish, Luke, Ladi, Matt, Amber
  2010   Dominic, Satish, Luke, Matt, Amber


Part Time Employees:
  1999   Dominic
  2000   Dominic
  2001   Dominic
  2002   Dominic
  2003   Dominic
  2004   Matt Anderson (40 hrs/wk starting in Oct)
  2005   Matt Anderson (40 hrs/wk ending in May)
  2006   Mary (10 hrs/wk for several months)
  2007   Luke (30 hrs/wk starting in Sept)
             Joey (10 hrs/wk)
  2008   Joey (10 hrs/wk)
             Brittany (10 hrs/wk)
  2009   Amber (30 hrs/wk starting in Jan)
             Femi (40 hrs/wk starting in Dec)
             Robby (20 hrs/wk in summer)
  2010   Femi (40 hrs/wk ending in April)
             Andrew (8 hrs/wk)
             Robby (20 hrs/wk in summer)


Revenue:
  2003   $400
  2004   $15,038
  2005   $52,565
  2006   $95,398
  2007   $307,669
  2008   $730,039
  2009   $1,573,506

We lost about $400,000 between 2003 and 2007. In 2008 we were pretty close to breaking even, but in 2009 we made a profit! Unfortunately, we're not yet sure how much we made because we're in the process of converting all of our accounting from Quickbooks to an online system.

Over the last 7 years, we've cultivated what I consider to be our management team. There are 5 of us and we work extremely well together. What's the secret? We all get paid considerably below market value, but we have equity in the company. This aligns our interests and ensures that we are all committed to the long-term success of the company. In regards to vesting, I used the same formula for everyone. 25% of their equity package vests after the 3rd year of employment, 25% vests after the 4th year of employment, and the remaining 50% vests after the 5th year of employment. I figure the best years from each employee will be between the 3rd and the 5th year, after they've gotten a deep understanding of all the different facets of the company (from game design to marketing to cash flow management) and before they've burnt out on the company.


Here is the current NorthStar crew. We've got an awesome team right now!
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23. Board Game: What's GNU? [Average Rating:5.55 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Sneak Peek at What's Coming Up...       (PICTURE: iPhone app icon)

We will release two games at Toy Fair next year: Crappy Birthday and the family edition of Say Anything. Crappy Birthday is a party game where you try and give the crappiest gift to people. It will retail for $14.99.


An iPhone version of Wits & Wagers Family will get released in October and an iPhone version of Wits & Wagers will get released in November. I'm under a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I cannot say too much, but if everything goes as planned, something pretty cool could be happening at one of the upcoming electronic shows (sorry for being obscure).


We're working with the American Library Association to help promote National Gaming Day at all libraries across the country. We'll be donating another 2,000 games to libraries across the country just like we did last year.


We're still working on a television game show. We decided not to sign the contract with CBS in favor of a contact with Embassy Row (owned by Sony). It's still a long way from being produced, but we've definitely reached some major milestones. Once the contract is finished and signed, then the studio will shop the idea around to a bunch of television channels.


But all of this pales to the most important thing going on in my life: I'm going to be a dad in late August!!


LEFT: My preggie wife on our last childless vacation.     RIGHT: The artist who is painting our Dr. Seuss Nursery.
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24. Board Game: We Didn't Playtest This At All [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:3680]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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Help Test Family Questions for Say Anything!

We are looking for people to test questions for Say Anything Family. If you have a family with kids ages 6 - 15 and are interested in trying out some new questions, contact Matt Mariani at Matt@NorthStarGames.com.
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25. Board Game: Sell Out by National Lampoon [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
Dominic Crapuchettes
United States
Bethesda
MD
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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When are you going to SELL OUT?       (PICTURE: iPhone app icon)

We've been approached by several companies including Mattel, Spin Master, Mega Brands, Imagination Games, and Buffalo Games. It's nice that others think we're doing a good job, but I'm not interested in selling the company. I started North Star Games because I love board games. If I was interested in money, I would have done something else with my MBA (like selling mortgage backed securities on wall street). There is nothing else in life that ignites my passion like designing games. So I'm in this industry to stay...

... but at some point our investors will demand to get their money back out of the company. What will happen then? My goal is make sure that North Star Games is generating enough cash at that time that we can buy out our investors with internal money.

If you've been in the industry, you know this is a very difficult goal. Most game companies lose money. How are we going to have $600,000 in cash to pay back our investors, and another $1.2 million in cash to pay out a return on their investment? The answer is simple: I have no idea, but I know I'm damn well going to try!
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