Eric GellerUnited States
This entry is going to focus on what we were unprepared for when going into Kickstarter and hopefully will help anyone reading this to be better prepared for launching a game.
As a primer, I’m going to talk a bit about what goes into preparing for a Kickstarter. The run up, let’s say the 30 days prior to launch where days feel like a whirlwind and it can easily feel overwhelming even if you keep to a good schedule.
We identified these main components when preparing for launch:
Social media awareness: At this point you’ve hopefully built a solid community around your game. We did this largely through our Facebook group. We updated our banner images in our Facebook group and our Facebook page and made sure links pointed to our Kickstarter page. We also kept to regular posting, daily or every other day. We also posted weekly in public facing Facebook groups and ran giveaways in those groups for exposure.
Priming your email list: We did a monthly newsletter to keep our following engaged, but as we approached launch, we did more frequent emails to remind people of our launch date so it was fresh in their minds. We did an email once a week in the last month, the day before, and the day of. We also did resends to non-openers.
Building out your Kickstarter Page: This was one of the more time consuming parts, and there’s a good amount of interconnected elements involved with this to make sure it’s ready for launch day. You need to plan out and design a layout, flow of information, have Kickstarter graphics designed, you need pictures and content of your game, you need reviews/previews, a trailer video, etc etc. The Kickstarter page itself is a multimedia marketing creation and for many people it will be the first time they see your game, so it needs to hook them quickly and convey your value proposition effectively. Ideally you establish a good schedule and get this done soundly before your launch day.
Preparing your backend numbers especially manufacturing, fulfillment shipping, add ons, and pledge levels: Realistically as soon as you have an initial component list you should get a manufacturing estimate for your game. Getting a requote for your game, including your stretch goals and add ons before your launch day will help inform you of what to set your pledge levels at and what an appropriate funding goal is. You will also need to get fulfillment estimates, so that means talking to manufacturing to know the weight and dimensions of your game. If you are running an international campaign you either work with multiple fulfillment partners or a single partner that can fulfill internationally. Whatever direction you go in you'll want to have shipping estimates so you can include that on your Kickstarter page.
Preparing backer engagement activities: This includes engaging updates with questions, interviews, Reddit AMA’s, and other algorithm boosting activity like social stretch goals and contributing ideas to project content etc. You really don't want to be thinking about these on the fly so work out some outlines, drafts, and ideas before launch.
Now for the Kickstumbles or what we felt we can do better next time on.
Kickstumble #1:Kickstarter page marketing mismatch / flow of information:
We had a lot of content around Quests & Cannons and I wanted to include as much of it as possible. This unfortunately doesn’t lead to a very concise page. Embedding videos for example and having separate quote graphics was probably the biggest cause of congestion on the page. We actually found out that there’s a character limit to Kickstarter pages… I think we also leaned to much into the approachableness of the game and not enough into how the strategy is compelling. I think we gave the impression the game was too simple and didn’t illustrate graphically what made the game special strategically. I’ve since seen some really great KS pages that just really capture a concise message and clean presentation that I hope to model from in the future.
Kickstumble #2: No social stretch goals planned going into campaign:
We didn’t have any social stretch goals planned out at the start of the campaign which hurt the momentum on them, we got solid progress on them and if we had them going from the start they definitely would have been more effective.
Kickstumble #3: Not enough mid-campaign content planned:
Some of the better campaigns I’ve looked at have a schedule of planned content throughout the mid campaign such as live stream play throughs, designer AMAs, etc. It is stressful trying to coordinate that mid campaign. Plan as much of that as possible pre-launch so you can have a cool graphic showing when it's going to happen and people know when to tune in.
Kickstumble #4: Added add ons too close to launch:
This made getting shipping estimates tighter, especially around our neoprene mat. We managed to get shipping estimates in time for the launch but it was definitely stressful, make sure to talk with fulfillment about all of the content you plan on producing as part of your campaign
Kickstumble #5: Didn’t have case shipping prices figured out until mid-campaign:
Retailers want to know this, and some backers like the option to group pledge so it's good to have. Didn’t even think to have per case shipping rates or to offer a group pledge, but we got asked the first day about it, and we didn’t have an immediate answer, don’t do that to yourself haha. Case shipping rates turned out to be half the shipping cost per unit as regular rates across the board.
Kickstumble #6: Turned off BackerKit ads too early:
Something went wrong with our BackerKit ads on launch where they didn’t get approved on Facebook, which led to a bad start with them. ROAS out of the gate was not good, and we got nervous about them underperforming so we pulled them until the last couple days. This was almost certainly a mistake even if we ended up paying backers to back the game. We didn’t have a great upward trend during our mid campaign slump so I think that may have contributed to a psychological effect of people jumping ship more than they would have if ads were bringing in at least a consistent trickle of backers. Also as the game funds more it gets pushed out more by Kickstarter so that leads to more discoverability and indirect backing.
I plant to write a part 2 on this after we finish fulfilling or maybe once we've got final files to manufacturing that specifically covers post campaign, if anyone has any questions feel free to drop comments
Short Hop Games Self-Publishing Diaries
This monthly blog is a review of our journey in self-publishing. We'll review how we got started, and what we've done so far and what we plan on doing. We'll talk about what has worked, what hasn't, and what we would do differently. Hopefully we can help other people looking to self-publish or give people insight into what is involved.
Entry 10 - Kickstumbles and how to avoid them
01 Apr 2022
Sat Apr 2, 2022 2:31 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Entry 9 - Our Design Process
30 Aug 2021
This entry is going to focus on the design and development process that Shannon and I took for Quests & Cannons.
If you’ve been following along, you know that Quests & Cannons was inspired by a D&D campaign that I was homebrewing that took players on an island adventure reminisce of something like Legend of Zelda meets One Piece. The first stage of the design was directly inspired from some sketches a friend of ours showed us one night, combined with some "healthy" sleep deprivation from our 5 month old son. I had the core ideas of Quests & Cannons written out in a notebook within a few days of furious writing.
A lot of the initial design ideas focused on bringing ideas from this campaign into a board game, especially the ideas of exploration, interacting with economies on the islands, and different factions vying for control over the islands. The map clues directly reflect the main quest line of the campaign and we plan to carry over this idea throughout the Q&C saga.
The initial design for the game however was a kludge, we had sea creature battles, crew members which you had to feed each turn, different options for scavenging food on the islands, as well as a separate system for combat with its own tactics board. Some designs start off adding more elements as it is developed and others substract from a big mess of features until it is streamlined, Quests & Cannons was definitely the latter.
Also the original design had some grittier sci-fantasy factions loosely based thematically around Ninjas, Pirates, and Robots. This might have been more appealing to seasoned gamers but likely would have fallen flat for a broader market.
Make the game more appealing to your target audience
It wasn’t until I started repeatedly bringing the game to Shannon that it changed to more closely resemble what we know and love today.
Shannon would tell me the game was too complicated and it didn't sound like a game she wanted to play. Shannon being my wife and best friend, I of course wanted this to be a game we would play together, so I’d ask her, "what would make you more want to play." She’d tell me and I’d implement those changes and typically that would involve cutting clunkier mechanics focusing more on what made the game most fun. I think one of the first cuts was removing the idea of feeding crew members, that was practically a game within itself xD.
We would talk about what makes a game appealing to her, and one of her main points was around feeling immersed in a game through the artwork and colorful visuals. If a game didn't appeal in those areas then it made it much harder to get into. Definitely didn't enjoy staring at drab dull cardboard for over an hour. She said you need bright vibrant colors and the characters need to have broader appeal, "they need to be “floofier.” So I suggested we go in an animal character direction for the game, and that's when Shannon had the brilliant idea to combine animals with fantasy races! This conversation was the start of better understanding what gives a game broader appeal.
This boiled down to a few core areas that led our design/development decisions:
Vibrant, lush colors, with artwork that tells a story
Approachable and intuitive gameplay
Strategy focused with depth
Shannon always keyed in on the feeling people get when they're playing. Does this create mental stress, potential feelings of confusion or inadequacy? How can we change this mechanic to lessen the bite so it wouldn't prevent a new player from trying the game again?
Shannon also made sure the component design made for an organized experience, most notably the player boards. Giving everything a slot and aligning the locations of the upgrades with where those upgrades would be located on a ship made for an intuitive user experience. Sails on top, character slides in to thematically feel like boarding a ship, cannons and ammo under that, then cargo on the bottom. Through iterations of the player board we added spaces on the slots to give space for fingers to more easily flip and manipulate tokens.
Constant play testing and iteration
The first play test of Quests & Cannons took 3 hours with 3 people and half the game systems didn't function. Combat felt clunky, and getting quests felt costly since you had to spend action points to choose a quest. There were too many options and too few resources competing for those options. Looking at other sandbox games in the genre we also wanted to make sure the pacing was closer to 20min per player so keeping track of rounds and how long a turn took helped us balance out our action economy and ensure we got the pacing just right.
Each play test got us a little closer to identifying what was working and what wasn't, changing the costs of different actions, modifying movement rules, removing features entirely that took away from the core gameplay.
We made sure to play test with people of all different gaming experiences from people who had only played Monopoly and Risk, to people who played Twilight Imperium and Gloomhaven and in between.
We weighted feedback from people based on their game experience and asked questions around how they experienced the game, "did you feel like you had meaningful choices?", "how complicated was the game?", "how strategic was the game?", "were there any rules that felt challenging or confusing", "did you feel you could have changed your strategy to affect the outcome of the game?, "what were your favorite moments playing the game?"
Through this continuous process of idea-> play test -> constructive criticism and discussion centered around new player user experience, we developed Quests & Cannons to be more and more accessible through many iterations, and since we started off with an expansive system we were able to maintain a lot of the strategic depth as we pared the game down.
When we would play test we would find a rule that was clunky, or felt too complicated and discuss how to simplify it without affecting balance or removing strategic elements. Sometimes simplifying a rule made it imbalanced. One of the harder mechanics to balance was how sails worked. Adding movement being such a strong effect in the game. We tried a whole slew of ideas before it eventually took us improving the other upgrades and changing our action economy. When we made it so players could fill their cargo for a single action point and made sails extend movement instead of being able to start it that's really when it started to come more in line.
Many times we would take play tester feedback and discuss implementing to align with user experience. Originally we had 3 separate victory paths, Quests that gave prosperity 10 to win, seven map clues that had to be returned home once solved, and finally player elimination. Early on in play tests it was suggested that we align the victory paths around Prosperity and remove player elimination, we were always fairly open to try and test suggestions at least once, if it made for a better experience we'd adopt the change and keep going forward. This change was one of the better changes in the game, it made balancing the game easier, and it players could pivot and combine strategies more effectively.
Fine tune balance with consistent play testers
When the pandemic hit, it made it harder to play test in person, so we pivoted to digital and arranged weekly play test session on Tabletop Simulator. We were able to get consistent play testers week after week which helped us identify balance issues that weren't noticeable with people new to the game. This was absolutely vital to really improving the balance of the game and something we would suggest to anyone trying to sort out balance issues.
Some of the changes we tried implementing to address these balance issues caused the game to feel more complicated, and through focused discussions between Shannon and I we identified what was pulling the game away from our design goals and then refocused any changes to bring it back in line. Shannon always served as the advocate for the new player and I worked to ensure the game stayed appealing to more seasoned gamers. Through this constant interchange and refocusing kept Quests & Cannons as an approachable game with accessible yet deep strategy.
What I think has worked so well for our design process for Quests & Cannons is our ability to have passionate discussions to align the game with our goals. Often times games can have depth but aren't approachable or are approachable but don't have depth, so being able to simultaneously focus on these aspects with two designers/developers has really been a boon for us. Pair that with a willingness to test play testing feedback over many iterations and testing with many varied play tester groups has really been the core of what has shaped Quests & Cannons into the game it is today.
Mon Aug 30, 2021 9:04 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
We have some really big plans for Quests & Cannons and we’re truly excited to share about what we have in store for the future.
This has taken some considerable planning and foresight with future games in mind so I wanted to talk about some of what has been involved there.
We’ve mentioned a few times that Quests & Cannons is a 3 part saga and I wanted to detail that a bit more here and how that relates to our company philosophy at Short Hop Games.
Shannon and I started Short Hop Games to make games that could bring new people into the world of gaming that we all enjoy while also engaging the veteran players so games they want and use to introduce to new players.
With Quests & Cannons we’re building that approach not just with the mechanics in this game but also in our approach to story telling and role playing. We want Quests & Cannons to be a rampway into gaming that not only expands understanding of game mechanics but also leads people into an unfolding story over multiple stand alone games.
We’ve done a significant amount of planning to work towards that vision, so we’re hoping here to explain why our passion for this project extends past this first game.
First off behind the scenes we’ve done a lot of world building, which may seem odd for a gateway game, but there’s a great reason behind laying out a solid framework for the world this game takes place in.
We've drafted up world maps, written out cosmologies, defined cultures, races, and character backstories. On top of that we did a fair amount of concept work around the setting and the world our characters live in. This is all in an effort to set the stage for a compelling narrative adventure that extends passed Quest & Cannons: The Risen Islands.
Quests & Cannons: The Risen Islands is part 1 in this series. It’s the introduction to not only to many mechanics and game ideas players will be learning but it also serves as the introduction to the story and the world it takes place in.
We wanted this game to be accessible and approachable for new players both from a mechanics perspective and story perspective. We designed many of the mechanics around a rule of three: 3 actions per turn, 3 core actions, 3 prominent nations, 3 outposts, 3 victory paths, 3 ship upgrades, 3 types of cards, 3 character roles, and 3 types of Ports of Interest.
We found the number 3 is the ideal balance between giving players freedom in choice while not having an overwhelming amount of choices to remember.
We also designed our components to ease mental load from our cards fully explaining rules and how to complete objectives to our dual-layered player boards completely organizing and tracking each element of the game in a very pleasing tactile way. By having the game do the bulk of this mental heavy lifting it lets players focus on engaging quickly with the strategy, while giving them freedom and agency to develop strategies.
On the story side we wanted this game to feel more like an open ended response to the narrative hook we provide with the premise. This is the introduction to the story and why players are venturing out to the Risen Islands, they are just starting to experience the conflict and tension this event is causing.
We don’t have the players affecting the narrative but through the quests, character backstories, nation lore, and full frame illustrations, players begin to learn about the world in a more digestible way.
This leads into one of the biggest decisions we made as part of this plan which is our game board. The game board in Quests & Cannons is the world map of our world, Miraheim, and it is reflected on the box art for this game. We used large fully illustrated frame tiles to depict the surrounding world because we feel creating that immersion is a core part of making a great game setting.
I’ll come back to the game board as I get further into the series.
Transitioning the story and expanding mechanics:
Following up The Risen Islands, is Quests & Cannons: The Cosmic Cipher. This is a direct expansion to The Risen Islands and notches up what players can do in Part 1. From a story perspective it also transitions the narrative to Part 2.
The Cosmic Cipher will add a lot of great features that functional changes The Risen Islands into something closer to a 4X game and MOBA with some cool twists.
For features we’re adding in:
Crew members, that have unique abilities and expand upgrade slots on your ship.
Sea creature battles
Buildable towers that control territory
Buildable lane barriers that block movement
3 new ship upgrades 1 for each of canvas, metal, lumber that fit into different upgrade slots. Trebuchets(Lumber), Rigging(Canvas), Hull Plating(Metal)
New quests and loot cards:
Escort and precious cargo quests.
4 new races for a total of 12 new characters
A full narrative solo/co-op (up to 3 players) that transitions the story to part 2.
On the thematic side we wanted to show that the nations are starting to focus on controlling the islands more as tensions grow. Players will hire crew that join their ship and can build towers and lanes to control territory on the board. Crew will act as minions in a MOBA that boost the power of your ship when they’re with you, and can be stationed at towers to boost their power as well. Instead of preset lanes and towers players will be building these objects as they set out into the Risen Islands.
We hope this will create a refreshing take on the MOBA experience. No MOBA is complete without epic creatures that bestow game changing buffs, so we’re adding 3 unique sea creatures that have different methods of defeating them (can’t just fire cannons at them.) Between the towers and creatures this adds two new victory paths as well as countless new strategies and interactions with new upgrades and combinations of ship load outs. With 24 total characters this will a robust long lasting game experience with tons of replayability and strategic depth with its own teaching ramp from Quests & Cannons: The Risen Islands.
Now, on to the story side. The Cosmic Cipher will also include a narrative driven solo/co-op mode that focuses on the players searching for the mythical artifact alluded to in the premise of The Risen Islands. Through the aid of a campaign booklet the players will learn how the world of Miraheim progresses and devolves into chaos as the players are tasked by Scrollbound Librarium to follow the map clues and ensure the Cosmic Cipher doesn’t fall into the hands of those who seek to maintain and cling to their own power.
Full on story mode!:
With the players obtaining the Cosmic Cipher we are now led into part 2 of this saga, Quests & Cannons: Ark of the Elder Herd. This is our co-op narrative driven, island delving, dungeon crawl and we have loads of mechanics, features, and compelling story telling that we think you’ll truly enjoy.
One core concept that we wanted to have in Ark of the Elder Herd is an explorative overworld system where actions taken there matter combined with a tactical dungeon system.
Where this might normally be overload, by using the same world map and core mechanics from part 1 we can buffer a lot of the extra learning this would require because players will already be familiar with the system. So we made the board in part 1 the world map because it’s the same world map used as the overworld in part 2, mechanically and thematically; open movement hexes with actions points!
We’re also incorporating an overworld quest system as well as an upgradable ship that players will use to travel the world in. Choices matter in the overworld because we use the prosperity system from part 1 as doom clocks to represent the relative instability of the nations. As time progresses players will learn of events unfolding in the nations as their prosperity dwindles. Being present in nations during these events will allow players to affect the outcome of these events that will have effects later as they venture back to the nations for the main quest line. Players will have to make tough choices to manage the chaos present in the overworld of the surrounding nations while delving into the dungeons on the islands to complete the main quest line.
The dungeon tactics part of this game is especially exciting as we’re combining mechanics that will really streamline the dungeon crawl experience eliminating turn down time, and tracking of health variables. We’re using a 3 action-action programming system with action cards. Players will simultaneously choose their 3 actions for the round such as move, interact, and attacks/abilities as encounters have their own 3 actions laid face down in sequence. This gives us a huge amount of design freedom to create encounters that approach real time mechanics and especially with puzzle interactions that involve timing, such as moving blocks onto pressure plates, lighting torches in some number of actions, or slippery frozen puzzle rooms.
On the idea of low health, we want a system that really emphasizes tactical decisions without knowing with certainty what the enemies are doing. Players will have to ensure they position themselves for the worst outcomes while taking measures to strike weak points. Soaking hits is less of an option with a low health system and more care will be needed to avoid danger, crowd control enemies, and protect your squishier friends. There’s no modifiers in this largely deterministic system, if you find yourself in harms way from your actions then you get hit. Characters will have toughness which is the value needed to lose a heart at the end of the round. Attacks have a power value that add up on a character with each sequence of the action queue. If you have 3 toughness and 2 attacks land on you in a round that have 2 power each then you lose a heart. With players starting with 5 hearts that’s a big deal!
Our next core mechanic is a formation system. Players will be able to create formations on the same space with other players that allow them to focus the same target, share block values, split movement to speed up slower characters, add synergy bonuses to abilities, and have the front formation character directly take hits for the middle or back formation character. We plan on doing this with a unique base system that allows for up to 3 player character minis/standees in a single hex: Front, middle, and rear.
Our third core dungeon mechanic is interactable environments. We want players to be able to use their abilities to interact with the environment. Put out fire with water, set brush on fire, electrify water, freeze water, melt ice, grow root barriers, etc
We plan to introduce these mechanics through a series of 3 tutorial dungeons to ease players into the mechanics before combining them in novel and challenging ways.
What we’re also doing differently is there’s no XP or traditional leveling system. Characters progress in the game more like in Legend of Zelda where you’ll get more powerful as you complete the island dungeons and crafting new items and learning unique abilities from NPCs encountered along your adventure.
This all on top of a narrative driven experience where players will learn about the events unfolding in the world of Miraheim as they use the Cosmic Cipher to explore the islands. Why did the islands rise up from the sea? Where did the islands come from? What is causing the decay of surrounding world? What is the Ark of Elder Herd, and who even are the Elder Herd anyways? All this and more will be told in Quests & Cannons: Ark of the Elder Herd
Culminating the narrative:
After the events of the dungeon crawl comes part 3, the epic conclusion to this saga, Quests & Cannons: Darkness within the Fold. A stand-alone world scale boss battle utilizing asymmetric action selection and a 3D boss rondel sphere. What's a 3D boss rondel sphere you might ask? It might just be worth backing Quests & Cannons: The Risen Islands to find out! Follow on our Kickstarter pre-launch page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/short-hop-games/quests-...
Tue Jul 27, 2021 5:36 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Entry 7 - Running a Review Campaign
30 Apr 2021
Intro: If you’ve been following along our journey, you’ve certainly seen now the frequent updates of what’s happening with our review campaign. For those of you just coming in, we started sending out review copies for a 6-month long review campaign that will see around 100 different content creators through the circulation of 23 pre-production review copies. It has been a challenging logistics exercise to say the least, and I hope through this blog that I can distill the process and make it reproducible for creators that want to do the same or something similar.
Planning: Something to keep in mind when working with other people is scheduling and timelines. We started organizing and planning this review campaign a year before our launch date. This gave us enough time to gauge interest and start creating a list of reviewers we planned on sending review copies to. The other main planning aspect is based off how many people each game is going to circulate between. We wanted each review copy to make it to 4 people and we wanted to make sure each person had at least a month with the game. We ended up starting to send out copies around 6 months before our launch date. We figured 4 people each get a month and then 2 months to consider transit time and extra padding for delays and unforeseeable circumstances. Scaling up or down on this, I would consider for each stop give reviewers no less than 4 weeks of time and then for every stop add 2 weeks of buffer to account for delays and transit times. If you have 3 stops per copy, then you should start your campaign 3 months + 6 weeks or 4.5 months before launch date.
Shipping Method and Costs: When budgeting your review campaign keep in mind shipping costs for that calculation. We used the USPS for all our domestic review copies, Royal Mail for the UK, UPS to get into Canada (reviewers used best method available and we reimbursed from there), and DPD through Tradeable (Elior Davidovich) for our EU copies. Using UPS to get into Canada was a mistake we got hit with custom brokerage charges possibly from incorrectly filling out the customs declaration, but in the future, we will definitely just be using USPS as we had no issues getting copies to the UK or to the EU. It took the longest for packages to get to the EU and through customs, but once through, transit times have been rather quick. For getting copies over international borders, you may save money by sending multiple copies (individually boxed but shipped in single box) to a single person, this is what we did for the EU and for the UK. Domestic shipment prices are significantly less expensive than any international shipments for example two copies of Quests & Cannons was $123.15 to get into the UK (~$85 for a single copy) but once there $14.57 to get to a destination.
For US domestic packaging we used the USPS medium flat rate box (we actually sized our game to be able fit in this) Quests & Cannons is 7lbs packaged and using the flat rate we get a consistent rate and $50 of base insurance which we’ve already successfully collected due to one of the boxes being damaged (so that covers return shipment so we can swap out the damaged box, and then reshipment as well).
We use USPS’ “Click-N-Ship” to generate labels and send them via email tor reviewers. Make sure to confirm with people if they have a printer or access to a printer. If not, then you’ll want to send them the address and have them send you a receipt with tracking so you can reimburse via something like PayPal or Venmo.
For the UK we use Royal Mail which has a Click-N-Ship equivalent called Click & Drop, same jam without the flat rates though it turns out to be about the same cost to ship.
Review Request Form: This is something I wish we used from the start, so hopefully you read this and immediately create a review request form to share with your review prospects. This will help you collect all the information you need to keep your review campaign organized and works so much better than messaging people individually requesting that same info. Here’s our review request form for reference, feel free to use the exact same questions. https://forms.gle/H4UShxwpXaX6BBFN7
We didn’t ask for follower metrics in this request form, but feel free to add those questions as needed. Our process was going to the links provided from our form and evaluating from there. We’d also take time to subscribe and follow reviewers we want to work with. While follower metrics are important to look at, you also want to see how engaged their audience is, how much that content creator is active in the board game community, and also if they’re willing to build a working relationship with you as a publisher. We were less picky, if people were eager to cover our game then typically we found that was a good fit for us and so far that has turned our effective. We plan on doing an analysis at the end to see what data we can come up with.
Media Kit: This is also something I wish we started working on from the beginning. A media kit is a collection of images and information about your game that people can use to help them create accurate content about your product. You’ll want to include game art (ideally with transparent backgrounds) of various sizes and resolutions. You’ll also want to include information about your game and your publishing company. Nalin Chaupetcharasopon of Meeple Marketing has some great resources and templates on this that I highly recommend checking out: https://meeplemarketing.com/
You can also use our media kit for Quests & Cannons as a reference as well: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1GNTr4IbJgreuDYydtpFL...
Make sure the content creators you are working with know your media kit exists and any files they should review.
Organization/Communication: There are a lot of moving parts to running a review campaign, from gathering interested prospects, to figuring out shipping routes, and scheduling release of content. You need to use some kind of tool to track these tasks and keep your information organized. We used a series of spreadsheets to contain necessary information for content creators, as well as create shipping routes, follow up tracking, and content scheduling.
Our main spread sheet was a large list of all the content creators who wanted to work with us. This spreadsheet had the following column headers:
Company | FName | LName| Email | Street Address | City | State/Province | Postal Code | Country
We use this as our main list to further organize into spreadsheets sorted by location or to look at audience stats, track follow ups, and schedule content releases.
Once we had our main list set up, we started sorting that list by country regions based on who was on our main list. We used the following: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia.
For each of those regions we made a spreadsheet effectively breaking down that main list into more digestible lists where we could then define routes. For these spreadsheets we tracked:
Company | Address | City | State/Province | Country | Postal Code| Route | First available start time| Time needed | Unavailable Time Window |Contact | Email
If you are shipping flat rate like we did then distance for routes doesn’t matter for cost, but it does matter for shipping time which helps give padding in case of delays or someone needs more time than expected with the game. The United States is the largest geographical region as well as the largest focus of our campaign. We sent 14 copies out into the US, 2 to Canada, 2 to the UK, and 4 to the EU (we’re still working on sending 1 out to Australia). Setting up your spreadsheet so that you can sort by state helps group reviewers who are near each other, but you’ll likely need to reference a map and use the “Route” header to start defining regions. These will be custom to who covers your game.
Each prototype that you make should be one route that you define. For each route we made another spreadsheet where we tracked the order for each stop on the route as well as the shipping status and whether we send the media kit or not. In our case we made 22 prototypes going to reviewers, so we had 22 spreadsheets for each of those routes. Those headers were:
Company | Address | City | State/province| Postal Code | Country | Order | Contact | Email | Status | Media Kit|
Once we had the routes planned out, we made sure to contact all the first people on those routes to confirm if they were available to receive the review copies. If someone wasn’t, then we’d find the next person on that route and confirm with them. We found most people accurately said when they would be available from our review request form and there was little to no issue confirming with people. Using USPS, we were able to send automatic emails when a shipment was made, and we communicated expected delivery information with each reviewer. At this time, we also made sure to send our media kit and pointed out any info that should be looked over.
We used another spreadsheet to track follow up communications. For this we used the following headers:
ID | Company | Contact Name | Wave | Date Sent | Date Received | End Date | Forward Date | Content| Route | Last Follow Up | Next Follow Up| Notes
We add reviewers to this list as they receive a copy or are about to receive a copy. Any reviewer who has posted content we highlight their row in green. We use the notes column to remind us of any action item we need to take with this reviewer.
As of writing this we’re currently in between transitioning copies from wave 1 to wave 2, to ensure smooth transitions we set weekly follow ups with each reviewer to check in and see how they’re doing with the game. By follow up 3 and 4 we ask what their timeline looks like for having content uploaded and if they are ready to forward the copy on. Additionally, we also contact the next reviewer in line to confirm they are still available to receive the copy, if they are unavailable, we contact the next reviewer in that route and make a note when they will be available. If they are available, then we send our media kit and give them an estimate on when they can expect the copy.
Content Posting: Truthfully, we’ve been flying by the seat of our pants on this figuring out the best way to share and schedule content. With a 6-month review campaign we have 26 weeks of time and ~100 reviewers posting pictures and releasing videos and written reviews; least to say, there is no shortage of content. We’re seeing around 2-3 reviews a week right now and working on figuring out the best way to signal boost and share content being released. So far, we have been making posts just about everyday in the Quests & Cannons Facebook group, these are pictures people take as well as the reviews.
As for some best practices we’ve found so far:
We make sure to mention/tag pages, groups, and people accordingly. The more people you draw into a post the more that post will get boosted, and people you work with will want to engage with their content you share, it’s a win/win.
We make sure to only post one review a day to not split up exposure too much.
We also share links to all the reviews in a channel in our discord(https://discord.gg/VFvTrtugNw) as well as a section on our website(https://shorthopgames.com/Quests&Cannons/).
We make sure to comment on reviews and engage with people commenting, this helps boost exposure for any content.
As far as getting content out outside of our group, discord, and website, it’s been a bit more challenging to schedule and repost content to Twitter, Instagram, our Facebook page, and to the larger general board game Facebook groups.
The former 3 is more of a time constraint and content organization issue. We’ve since made another spreadsheet (you’d think we love spreadsheets after reading this) to track where and when we posted content. This is helping to get a handle on scheduling this content release and recycling posts across platforms.
At some point we’ll want to set time to schedule content posts ahead of time so we’re not just doing same day content releases, we’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re headed.
To wrap up this entry, one of the more challenging aspects of sharing this content is trying to get it out to the wider board game groups on Facebook. So far, I’ve shared some reviews and pictures in these groups with limited success but it’s a fine line between shameless self-promotion and sharing excitement about your first game. The general strategy is trying to ask questions to foster discussion, sharing pictures, and putting links in the comments. We also don’t post the same content in the same group on the same day.
I’ll focus another entry down the road in this campaign to identify more effective strategies around content as well as a deep dive analysis showing the effectiveness of this campaign and more notes on what we learned and what we could improve upon.
Thanks for reading!
Fri Apr 30, 2021 7:27 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Entry 6 - Virtual Play Testing
31 Mar 2021
This entry will focus on the benefits of virtual play testing and our experience in organizing virtual play testing for Quests & Cannons: The Risen Islands, so if this is something you’re trying to figure out, hopefully you’ll find this entry helpful
There are several options to play test games virtually, the main options that I’m aware of Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, and Board Game Arena. I am personally most experienced with Tabletop Simulator, but for the purpose of this entry, I’ll be talking more around the organization aspect and the benefits of using a virtual platform.
We had Quests & Cannons up on Tabletop Simulator pre-pandemic for play-testing but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that we really moved towards making that a focus of both our play testing and part of our marketing strategy. Without conventions we didn’t have a great way to really get in front of new people to play the game, so Tabletop Simulator was an excellent option. For those of you coming in without any knowledge of Tabletop Simulator, it is an application you can play through Steam (online gaming platform/store) that acts as a physics simulator where custom objects can be uploaded and then used to play tabletop games with. You don’t need to know any scripting languages to do this, but scripting can be used to help with adding features such as automatic set up and scoring. Though to be completely honest, if you are using Tabletop Simulator to play test a physical game, you are likely better to not have any scripting since it will be a better approximation of how your game actually plays.
The main advantage I found with play testing digitally, was that I could easily update the virtual prototype with new art and components, instead of physically having to prototype, especially CARDS. This made iterating between sessions much much faster and allowed me to test new changes quicker with less time investment.
The other main advantage especially with the pandemic, is having access to a play tester pool that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to, being limited by proximity and geographical location. I can play test with someone across the country or in another country with relative ease using Tabletop Simulator.
So with these two core advantages the hard part of this is figuring out how to organize and best record the information we got from our virtual play tests.
There are a good number of play tester groups on Facebook and discord, but a lot of them focus around designers and designers trading play tests, which some people may not always have time for, so this entry is more focused around setting up and organizing play tests for your game with people outside of that space.
There are a few main aspects to organizing a play test. First you need to have a place to play or your “where”. In this case it is Tabletop Simulator. Now Tabletop Simulator has voice options; however, in most cases organizing people to meet there is clunky at best and you’d be better off having people meet on a discord server ideally your discord server since that’s another place they can be part of your community from a marketing perspective. So having you game up and public on Tabletop Simulator and a voice chat channel on your discord server is your “where”. Second you need your play testers, or your “who”. The main places I found play testers were in Facebook groups such as Board Game Spotlight, The Board Game Group, Board Game Revolution, etc as well as different discord servers. There’s a very active discord server called TTS Club https://discord.gg/ykXhWs4sdU that you can find people to try your game on. You can also look for players in board game reviewer discord servers. Always remember to be engaged in whatever community you ask of, it’s just good form.
My best success was from making posts in the Facebook groups asking for play testers such as this post in Board Game Revolution.
This segways into the third aspect of organizing which is the “when”. I found that having a consistent time that we played every week if possible, was the best way to get people to come to something. Scheduling something as you find people is hard, getting people to come to something that is already happening is much easier. I also found that when attracting people to come to a play test that if I made the post at around the time the event was happening (not the exact date just the time) then it reached people who would more likely be available to play, since they’re up on Facebook at that time seeing the post. Anyone who showed interest, I’d then get to join our discord server, and ideally our Facebook group, where I’d have a recurring event that I could have them join. More recently I have also been turned on to Seshbot which allows automated scheduling directly through discord. Really easy to set up but outside of the scope of this entry.
Organizing play tests around “where”, “who”, and “when” this way allowed me to consistently get people to play test week after week. It also let me build a consistent group of play testers who helped me test more nuanced balance issues that new players would otherwise not be able to help with. I use a play test survey, here’s a link to it for reference: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1zTz3xSt3P9iQseIs-YrGHsml7Xu..., to record info from my sessions, as well as helping me credit play testers in our rule book, and another opportunity to get an email sign up (with permission of course).
So as a recap:
Build it and they will come is true in this case. Have a scheduled event that you set up weekly or every other week, consistency is key for this as it’s easier to get people to come to something than to create something around the schedules of multiple people.
Ask for play testers in Facebook groups, and in existing discord channels during the time period of your event (if your event starts at 7:00pm, make posts at 7:00pm). Get them to come to your Facebook group and your discord server.
Record the information, take screenshots of your play tests, you can post those in your groups and other groups to try to get more play testers. Tag the people who played with you and if they like your game they’ll likely vouch for how fun it is and help attract more people to play. Use a play test survey to help keep track of feedback and give yourself another opportunity to ask for emails.
As always if you have any questions on this topic, feel free to ask in the comments I hope you found this entry helpful!
Wed Mar 31, 2021 7:03 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Entry 5 - Diving into Marketing
25 Feb 2021
If you’re like me then you’re starting off into the wide world of board game design/publishing with little to no marketing experience, and that’s okay because there’s tons of available information out there as long as you’re eager to learn. Some of the best information I found was from Brandon the game dev (Brandon Rollins) https://brandonthegamedev.com/ He has detailed info on lots of areas of board game marketing/audience building and does consultations as well. Also Nalin Chuapetcharasopon is one of my favorite marketing experts in the industry, she runs Meeple Marketing and has millions of dollars of funded Kickstarter experience under her marketing hat. If you plan on going the Kickstarter route, her kits are invaluable to success. https://meeplemarketing.com/
Let there be no illusions though, marketing is hard work, it’s a slog, and also some of the most rewarding interaction you’ll have connecting your message with people that earnestly get excited about your game.
However; if you’re also like me, then you might be coming into the idea of marketing with some icky, dirty feelings attached. I know my perception around marketing was strongly that it had to do with convincing people through cheap emotional appeals to buy things that they don’t need. While I’ve come to a less pessimistic understanding of marketing through this process, I may be more aware now of the specific tactics that I don’t like, such as many of us know with Kickstarter, FOMO (Fear. Of. Missing. Out.) Ultimately what I have found is that marketing is about bringing and explaining value to the people around you. One of the more difficult barriers for me was figuring out how to accept and validate internally, within myself, that what I am bringing to market, actually does create value for people.
This piece will go into the steps we took starting off with marketing Quests & Cannons, the changes in my personal views on marketing, and how I built confidence in myself that I was doing good for the people around me.
Starting off I knew practically nothing of how to market anything. I didn’t even like marketing, it always made me think of ads that sell people on fear or insecurities, like car ads that don’t really tell you anything about the car but you’ll definitely be cool in a new Jeep (we own a Jeep so take that for what its worth). I understood that learning how to market my brand new game design was going to be key to its success. I thankfully found Brandon’s blog really early on in my journey and it outlined entire strategies and outlooks on marketing that I really had never heard of. It went into detail on making an online presence and how to approach marketing. It talked about AIDA, Attention: Interest. Desire. Action, which is a core theory of how marketing functions to move people to buy a product or service. Advertisement is really only one piece of marketing and usually near the end of the cycle. To start off in marketing I learned about market research, target markets, and how to build an audience so I wasn’t just shouting into the void of the internet.
After absorbing all that I could from Brandon’s blog, I looked in the mentorship program through the Small Business Association (SBA) called SCORE. It’s free and it paired us up with this really cool data-oriented guy who helped us focus on how to determine our target market. He advised to come up with different customer profiles and figure out why those people would buy our game. Part of doing that was simply going out in the wild world and surveying rando people. This was pre-pandemic, so we had some good luck at the local mall where we asked strangers about board games. We asked questions like, what kinds of games do they like, what do they like about board games, what makes them buy a game, what kind of art catches their eye. Then we showed them some of what we had going with Quests & Cannons and gauged their reactions, if it was something, they were interested in we made note of that customer profile. What we found most interesting is that there was an intersection between less experienced gamers and heavier gamers between a game that was accessible for newer players and that had the strategy heavier gamers were looking for. We suspected this to be the case since that was a large impetus for Shannon and I to design Quests & Cannons, but we didn’t realize how prevalent this was especially with couples like us, finding a game that hits this sweet spot could be really challenging.
Market Research: Target Audience
Getting this initial market validation was extremely helpful because it allowed us to further design and develop along a path that we knew there was a market opening for and that we could focus our feedback questions around when demoing or play testing. A lot of our initial market research was play testing with different demographics of people, age, gender, and experience with tabletop games, were our main identifiers; then we would ask questions around how accessible they thought the game and how strategic they thought the game was. We used Catan as a barometer for new player experience since it’s a game with broad appeal and understanding at this point. Continually using this feedback around our design direction allowed us to have good metrics on how changes to the game affected reception from our target market.
Market Research: Game Comparison
The other part of market research that I learned was looking for games that are similar to ours, finding out what people like about those games and what they don’t like, and finding out what our game is doing differently, why should people buy our game instead of those ones. We looked at this from both gameplay and art direction/theme.
On the art direction/theme side, we looked at Root, Everdell, and Untamed: Feral Factions, these all employed use of anthropomorphic animal characters of varying styles. Tabletop games have an advantage over video games in that the artwork/graphics don’t age over time but we found that from our early art that we got better reception from an art style that was more like Untamed: Feral Factions which we think has a kind of Legend of Zelda type feeling to it, and we leaned into that more. Additionally, we went with a stricter high fantasy to differentiate from the other games and added additional elements to our characters such as combining the animals with existing fantasy races instead of anthropomorphizing around humans. Because of the popularity of Root and Everdell, I think we would have been harder pressed to compete in that space had we done a similar art style. Untamed is already using a familiar Zelda-esque direction that has appeal that we could also utilize effectively without impeding on a more niche space.
On the game mechanics side, we knew early on that what we had was some kind of competitive sandbox style game. Our main comparisons were to Scythe, Merchants & Marauders, Xia: Legends of a Drift System, Wasteland Express Delivery Service, and Western Legends. We focused comparisons around game mechanics used, game length, player count, theme, and complexity. Game length and complexity were the big ones since most games in this genre were more on the medium-heavy side of gaming with play times 3 hours + especially as you got to higher player counts. The most similar games of this set we found were Merchants & Marauders and Xia: Legend of a Drift System. Immediately we found both of these to have levels of luck/chance that we were trying to move away from, especially in the case of Xia. Merchants & Marauders had some levels of complexity that we were also trying to move away from. In the case of Merchants & Marauders there’s a similar nautical/pirate theme, but we sought to differentiate ourselves there with an original IP and high fantasy world somewhat removed from the pirate theme. Merchants & Marauders has a complexity of 3.24/5 on BGG and Xia has a 3.17/5. For comparison Catan has a complexity of 2.32 which we used as a barometer and where we wanted Quests & Cannons to be is around a 2.5-2.7 making it more accessible than these games. Mechanically we wanted luck/chance especially output randomness to play a less role in playing Quests & Cannons something we felt wasn’t so much available in the space we were aiming for. We found that a lot of the time when complexity goes down you see randomness go up, which we from surveying our more experience players was a big detractor for playing less complex games. We used this market research to further design and develop Quests & Cannons to fit in this space effectively as well as tune our messaging to attract people who were looking to fill this space in their game collections.
Building an online presence:
Now that we established what we were trying to do with Quests & Cannons and who we were trying to do it for, we had the up hill struggle of reaching those people with effective messaging to build a community around our game. This is something I had very little experience doing, but fortunately the available information this was plentiful and detailed. The first steps as I found them were to start with an online presence. This translates to social media IE: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, discord, Reddit, Tiktok, etc and also a website or landing page. We started with Facebook and a website that we decided to build on Shopify since we thought we’d be selling something; however, this ended up to be a misstep because we had nothing to sell until our Kickstarter and the cost for hosting on Shopify are higher than Wordpress or Wix.
General advice on social media is to use what you are already comfortable with, and from my experience I’ve gotten the best results from Facebook, which I think has the best format for tabletop games; a good combination of image and text based media options. Twitter is more short text, and Instagram is more image based. Reddit is quirky and can be especially hard to break into for new users. Discord is great for building an online community around especially if you plan on doing online play testing through Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia (Which you should!) However, the idea with any of these social media platforms is that you’ll want to engage with already existing communities. Facebook has groups which makes for the easiest communities to engage with. I like to think of these Facebook groups at two different but overlapping categories, Industry facing (groups that focus on design, marketing, and production of games), and player facing (groups that focus on the playing and discussion of board games) You’ll want to join both types of groups and engage in those communities, comment on threads, ask questions, and post content such as pictures of you playing board games etc. Ask questions like “what are your favorite game mechanics?” or “what do you like most about sandbox-style games like Xia?”, you can be engaging and getting valuable information from the people you engage with.
I recommend joining and engaging with as many of these groups as you can, these are some of the most active and engaging groups that I’m part of, but this is by no means a comprehensive list.
Board Game Design Lab: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BGDLCommunity
Board Game Marketing: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Kickstarterboardgamemarketin...
Board Game Reviewers & Media: https://www.facebook.com/groups/boardgamereviewer
Art & Graphic Design for Tabletop Games: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TabletopArtDesign
Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TabletopKickstarters
Tabletop Game Publisher’s Guild: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TabletopPublishers
Board Game Revolution Community:https://www.facebook.com/groups/boardgamerevolution
Board Game Exposure: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BoardGameExp
Board Game Spotlight: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BoardGameSpotlight
The Board Game Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theboardgamegroup
Being Spread too thin:
When I first starting doing social media for Quests & Cannons I tried doing Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and quickly felt like I was burning myself out with not so great or focused results. I learned from this that focusing on one platform and then recycling content to others was the most efficient method to grow my audience. I was most successful with Facebook but some make others work well.
Setting up a good funnel:
If you’ve spent some time looking into marketing you’ve probably encountered the idea of a marketing funnel. I like to think of these funnels to include some kind of recirculating loop so they reenter the funnel and stay engaged with your content. What a marketing funnel essentially is, is how your online presence gets people to interact in a way that directs them where you want them to go. For a board game before you launch on Kickstarter the highest converting places for your audience to be is on an email list and/or your Kickstarter prelaunch page, so you should be trying to get people to those places those are the bottom of the funnel, at least until you launch. The top of the funnel is where people first interact with your online presence, so that’s usually your engagement in different Facebook groups, at least that was the main interaction people had with my content. From there I found that the most effective place to send people was a Facebook group for my game. If someone asked specifically for more information then I’d link them to my website or pre-launch page. Something that I am embarrassed it took me so long to do was using the @ symbol to link my Facebook group. For longer than I’d like to admit I would post the whole link to my group instead of just having Quests & Cannons clickable… don’t do that, use the @ symbol. One of the best tactics I learned was from Andrew Lowen who uses a single membership question for his Facebook group that asks if someone wants to be added to an email list for his game. That one question alone has been responsible for countless people added to our email list and I so wish I knew about it when I first made my Facebook group for Quests & Cannons. With the group I eventually learned to set an announcement post with more information so people would see that first when they join the group. This would include links to our website and prelaunch page to try to get sign ups from people that didn’t give us their email when joining the group. The key idea with this is make sure whenever someone gets to part of your funnel, they have paths to move further down and laterally to other parts of it. You want each person in your audience to have as many points of engagement as possible.
Your website or landing page is typically the bottom of the funnel where you get interested people to sign up for your mailing list so they can stay in the loop about your game. This piece won’t specifically talk about building a good landing page but Nalin with Meeple Marketing has great resources for this on her website. What I can say is to make sure your landing page is up as early as possible and has clear, clean messaging on your game. You can use a email marketing app such as Mailchimp to manage email marketing with your list. We do a monthly newsletter updating on the progress of our game, and what is really important is having a strong welcome email that directs people back into the rest of your funnel. Make people who sign up for you email list get sent to your Facebook group, or your discord server.
As a recap on the funnel:
Top -> Engaging in groups
Middle -> Facebook game group
Bottom -> landing page(email list) or pre-launch page
Bottom-sends to middle
Losing steam on a direction for this one so I’ll save some more thoughts for another marketing piece, maybe with some focus on running play tests and some best practices for posting on Facebook. Til next time, and thanks for reading
Fri Feb 26, 2021 12:42 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Entry 4 - Moar Prototyping!
29 Jan 2021
Prototyping- Slotted Player Boards
I've gotten a lot of requests to include a how to for these so hopefully this helps
This is one of my favorite components because of the organization and tactile experience it provides. If you’re doing anything with dice placement then slotted boards greatly improve the experience since dice will stay in place. That being said there are definitely challenges in prototyping them, and they can add cost to manufacturing due to secondary operations of cutting and gluing layers together.
We went through several iterations of player boards for Quests & Cannons, starting off with an idea of using puzzle piece connectors to add upgrades to a ship. This wasn’t so elegant and the variable starting stats for our characters would have been harder to accomplish. Shannon had the brilliant idea to create a slotted system where character tiles could be placed into the board and then different upgrades would be added and moved into the various slots. We added spaces for cards and the square sized slot to fit ammo dice and we got to where we are today.
This guide will cover the main method we used to prototype our player boards, before we started using the laser/die cutting machines.
Without a laser cutter or die cutting machine, you’ll want to use cardboard, laminated on one side if available (we used diaper boxes and K-cup boxes for ours), or foam-core board. These materials will be easier to cut by hand using a crafting knife. You can use chipboard but it will be harder to cut and your slots will be especially more difficult to cut out. You can use various arch-punches with chipboard but then your slot shapes and sizes will be limited to available arch-punches.
The general idea of a slotted board is that they have two layers; a top layer with slots, and a bottom layer base without slots. The outlines for both layers can be the same or different shapes to create overlaps. A slotted player board that does this to great effect is X-ODUS: Rise of the Corruption, where their overlap creates pseudo-slots for cards to slide under the top layer but touch the bottom layer.
You can free hand draw on your cardboard or foamboard and cut out whatever shapes you want for your slots, but for this guide I’ll walk you through on Inkscape.
Start by opening Inkscape and making sure your page dimensions are set to the size you’ll be printing on. (File -> Document Properties) We’ll be starting off by making our outline for our a player board, using the Create rectangle and squares tool (F4).
Drag out a rectangle to fill between the margins of your page. Use the align and distribute tool to center it because we like centered rectangles.
Copy and paste this rectangle and center it horizontally like so:
These will be your top and bottom layers of your player board.
Now we’ll add 6 dice-shaped slots to the top layer. Again use the rectangle tool but this time hold ctrl to drag out a square. Adjust the Width and Height to 16mm to fit a standard die. Place the first square in the bottom right corner and then use the X/Y coordinates to move it 6mm left and 6mm up.
Then copy paste 5 more squares and space them evenly 6mm apart from this square.
Now we’ll make some circle token slots. Use the circle tool to drag out a circle then adjust it’s dimensions to 19mm x 19mm (The Game Crafter’s medium size circle chit) and place it so its centered between the top square and row and the top edge of your player board, and 4.5mm left (centers nicely with the squares) from the top right corner of your top layer.
Add 2 more circles spaced 22mm apart using the X/Y coordinates -22mm for left will get them nicely centered above the squares.
Now we’ll be using the Path->Union tool to make “finger grips” for the circle slots. You can use this method to make ease of use part of any of your slots. Dice slots don’t need them since they stick up enough but any flat token that fits into a slot should have some way to easily grab it.
We’ll be using the circle tool again but this time we’ll be make vertical ovals. Center the oval over one of your circles, you can use the align and distribute tool with relative to smallest object (for vertical alignment) and biggest object (for horizontal alignment) to accomplish this.
Now with both your oval and circle selected go to Path-> Union (Ctrl + +) and it will give you the outline of the two shapes. You can copy and paste this new shape over your last two circles.
Now for good effect we can put a card slot in so drag out a rectangle and make it 2.5” x 3.5” (standard poker size and put it to the left of your slots.
To finish this off we’ll make 5 slider slots for 10mm cubes, they can have 5 spaces so they’ll be 50mm W x 10mm H. We’ll align these centered from the edge and aligned with the top and bottom of the card space.
Now if you’ve got this sweet decked out player board, but before we print this out we’re going to make the cut-outs into cut lines and keep the card space solid lines to help differentiate between what we are and are not cutting out. So select all of the slots except for the card space and go over to the Fill and Stroke tool (Shift+Ctrl+F) go to the Stroke style tab and set the width to 0.2mm and the dashes to a spaced dash.
Now we’re ready to print. Once printed we can glue both outlines onto our cardboard or foamcore board. Gluesticks will work just fine, alternatively if you print on label paper you don’t have to glue! Once you have your two layers glued on your board, you’re going to use a crafting knife to carefully cut out the slots on your top player board. Once you have the slots cut out, you can cut around the main outlines so you now have your top layer and bottom layers fully cut out. Some kind of super glue or contact adhesive will be your best where you’ll want to dap along the outline of the bottom of the top layer and the align and press onto the bottom layer. This should create a clean firm adhesion and a complete slotted player board! If you find your slots are too tight, try cutting out a knife width around the lines instead of exactly on them.
You can use these methods to make slots for any shape components, so please share what you come up with, I'd love to see some cool slotted player boards! I'll be taking a break from the prototyping section next month where instead I'll be focusing on talking about organizing a review campaign as it will be fresh on my mind!
Fri Jan 29, 2021 6:20 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Entry 3 - Prototyping Part 1
30 Dec 2020
If there’s something that I’ve learned in the short time (2 years as of writing this) I’ve been working on self-publishing, it’s that being able to effectively bring your design ideas from your head to the table is critical to developing those ideas. An added bonus is that you can save yourself considerable amount of money, if you can effectively craft prettier versions of your game.
This process is called prototyping, and it includes anything from writing on paper scraps to using final art on pre-production copies of your game.
My journey into prototyping started when I was younger when I would make paper games with my identical twin brother. We’d tape paper together for boards, draw on them, and use scraps of paper with letters on them for different resource tokens and cards.
With Short Hop Games and my prototyping work on Quests & Cannons, I started again with paper prototypes using Catan tiles as stencils for hexagons and I used a prototyping kit for a variety of pieces, such as tokens and player pawns. One of the first issues I found with paper tiles, was that they don’t stay in place very well, and since my son was born some 6 months prior, we had an abundance of diaper boxes and K-cup boxes. This turned out to be easily one of my favorite prototyping materials, relatively easy to work with and because one side is laminated with a graphic, it’s more robust when cutting compared to regular cardboard. This is when I started using Inkscape to make placeholder art, printing out those templates and gluing them on to the cardboard. Our first slotted player boards were made this way too. As we got more final artwork for Quests & Cannons we moved to working with chipboard and a die cutting machine. As we experienced issue with the die cutting machine with the thicker chipboard we used, as well as cutting shapes like circles; we were fortunate to live near a maker space where we have access to a laser cutter. This is where we’ve been working on our final art prototyping. These pictures are some of the prototypes for Quests & Cannons from paper and cardboard boxes to die cut and laser cut chipboard
This entry and the next will be structured more as a guide going over what I learned about different tools, materials, software and methods for prototyping different components.
To start, we’ll focus on tools, materials, and software that you’ll want to have to make your life easier.
If you feel like you have a good handle on this you can skip ahead to the how to section.
Tools: This section will cover some recommended tools to have at your disposable.
Punches: (Circle, Hex, Square, Corner): Some shapes are tedious to cut out with scissor or knife, using various size and shape punches will save you a ton of time. There are standard sizes that you can leverage if you prototype using those sizes.
Arch Punch: (for thick materials): while there are some lever punches that can cut thicker material, an arch punch commonly used for punching through leather, will give you more range of sizes to punch thicker material like chipboard. Arch punches will be more expensive so it’s more worth it, if you plan on doing specific size shapes (circles generally) out of chipboard. You’ll need a hand mallet to use this tool.
Cutting mat: This is a necessary tool, if you care about not destroying whatever surfaces you’re cutting on, as well as increasing the longevity of your cutting tools. There are “self-healing mats” that are constructed so you aren’t cutting the mat but instead the blade passes between tiny units of material.
Rotary Cutter: This is one of the more useful tools for cutting thicker materials in straight lines when paired with a metal ruler.
Metal Ruler(Cork Backed): Measuring as well as a guide to help cut straight lines, a cork backed ruler will prevent your ruler from sliding when you hold it for positioning.
Guillotine Cutter: (especially useful for cutting cards) a decent guillotine cutter will save you loads of time cutting cards, which is one of the more tedious parts of prototyping. Check the sheet capacity and remember to account for a lower count if you are using cardstock.
Crafting Knife: (Absolute favorite tool) This is probably the most versatile tool I use. It can cut a wide variety of materials and can effectively cut shapes and angles where scissors would feel clumsy, such as exterior acute angles.
Scissors: Scissors like the crafting knife are standard fare in a prototyping tool kit. I prefer to have a general use pair of shop scissors and a pair of scissors with a torsion bar to allow for cutting of thicker materials. You can also get non-stick scissors if label/sticker paper gives you issue.
Writing Utensil (Pencil, Pen, Sharpie/Marker): This is another staple tool you want to have around. Often times it is much quicker to make an edit on the fly or make a quick paper prototype then to sit down at a computer and format files.
Printer: A printer can make prototyping easier by leaps and bounds. If you don’t have a printer or access to a printer, investing in one is well worth it. If that’s not an option, there are ways to effectively prototype without one, such as using existing components as templates/stencils, and sleeving cards.
As far as choosing a printer, there are many options, and some factors include cost of ink, laser vs inkjet, features like duplex printing, but for the purposes of this guide the main features that I care about are color printing and different size and weight paper (such as card stock). The printer I own has duplex printing (automatic flipping of paper for reverse printing) however it struggles with duplex printing cardstock, which is the only reason I’d use that feature. My printer handles up to 200gsm cardstock and I’ll typically use around 175gsm which works fine for prototyping. If the printer you get can do color printing, can print on US letter, legal, and A4 size paper, and can print on regular paper, label/sticker paper, and cardstock then it will serve you well for prototyping. At the time of writing this, the printer I use is an HP OfficeJet Pro 8720, which in Feb 2019 when I bought it was $184.99. You should be able to find a comparable printer in between $100 and $250.
Laminator: Laminators use heat to seal thin sheets of plastic around an object. They are fairly inexpensive and can be easy way to increase the durability of your prototypes.
Die Cutting Machines and Laser Cutters: These machines are for more serious prototyping, where you can get near production quality prototypes. Both function the same way by receiving a cut file from a software to cut along the communicated path. The difference between these is how they cut material, where the former uses a blade, and the latter uses a laser. The other difference is price, where you get a die cutting machine for less than $500, you’d be hard pressed to find a good laser cutter for less than $5000. (The Glowforge being one of the more affordable options in this department) This guide won’t cover the nuances of using these machines but will cover how to make component files that can be used as cut files.
3D Printers: These machines are also on the more serious side of prototyping, and for most games won’t be necessary for testing game mechanics, but can be especially useful if your game relies or benefits from a unique component that you can’t otherwise constructed without it. 3D printers function by printing, typically some kind of plastic, layer by layer (some more expensive models have more sophisticated methods) until the 3D print file is represented on the print bed.
For a video breakdown focusing on cutting tools, Martin has some great content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo7FxeWcTdc
Materials: This section will cover common materials that will need to make prototyping easier.
Copy paper: This is your go to material, it can be cut into shapes, drawn on, written on, basically with this scissors, and a pen, you could do most of your prototyping. When using with a printer make sure not purchase cheap paper, as it will effect your print quality. There are some paper designed for either Inkjet or Laser printers, make sure you get paper that is right for your printer. Copy paper comes in a variety of sizes, but the two most common sizes will be dependent on where you are located, in the US it is US Letter (8.5” x 11”) and in most the rest of the world its A4 (210mm x 297mm). Many printers can also print on longer paper such as US Legal (8.5” x 14”) this can be useful for printing larger components that don’t fit easily on A4 or US letter, without having to go to a large format printer.
Cardstock: Cardstock is simply thick paper, it’s “thickness” is measured in weight grams per square meter, abbreviated to gsm. The higher the gsm the thicker the cardstock. Cardstock is useful for prototyping components that you want to be sturdier, making them easier to use. This is especially useful for cards and playmats where a thinner paper becomes cumbersome to interact with. When using cardstock with a printer you’ll want to make sure the cardstock is compatible with your type of printer (inkjet or laser) and that the weight of the paper does not exceed the limit for your printer. Take note that because the paper is thicker you may see colors muted when printing on cardstock.
Cardboard: This is an excellent material for prototyping boards, tiles, and player boards with, and if you already buy products that come in boxes then you likely don’t have to specifically buy it for prototyping, yay upcycling! Cardboard is a heavy-duty paper that’s usually corrugated or folded into different geometries to give it additional strength. It can be laminated on one or both sides, typically as weatherproofing for a mounted graphic.
Foam (core) board: This is another solid option instead of cardboard. It’s more expensive and you likely won’t just have any around, but it is a stiff, sturdy material, that cuts easily and resists warping. If you need to get more precise with components that connect together and can’t easily work with chipboard then this will give you better results than cardboard. Foam board is a lightweight foam sandwiched between two layers of specialty paper or paper like material.
Chipboard/greyboard: Okay we talk about a lot of different paper products here, and this isn’t the last one! Chipboard is a thick paper usually made from recycled fibers. This the material that final production games are made on, and using this effectively allows you approximate how your game will be when produced. Without some kind of specialty tools, chipboard can be fairly difficult to work with especially depending on the thickness. Chipboard is measured in thickness sometimes listed as “ply” which means the number of layers of that material, 14-ply is around 0.05in (1.27mm) and 30-ply is around 0.1in (2.54mm). 30-ply chipboard is especially difficult to work with unless you’re using a laser cutter.
Tape: In most uses here refers to an adhesive applied to a plastic backing material. It can be used to help position or secure prototyping materials to get proper alignment, and can be used to attach material together for folding game boards. There are variety of different tapes such as the common cellophane tape (Scotch Tape), painters tape, duct tape, and book binding tape, and each has its uses for prototyping.
Glue: Glue is what we use to hold it all together. If you plan on putting artwork on thicker materials or combining two layers for a slotted board, this how you likely do it. Glue comes in a variety of forms and formulations, from glue sticks, to contact adhesive and depending on how strong of a bond you should pick a type that you’re most comfortable using. My favorite glue stick is Elmer’s Craft Bond Extra Strength, which I like for most applications of paper to some thicker material that I don’t care to mess with contact adhesive. I use contact adhesive, which is a super glue type substance, for slotted player boards, and I’ll use spray adhesive for larger surface areas. When using contact adhesive or spray adhesive make sure to follow the directions and use in a well-ventilated area.
Label paper: Label paper or sticker paper is paper manufactured with adhesive already on one side of the paper. Label paper or sticker paper is super useful because it can take gluing out of the equation, and importantly it can effectively be used to modify the faces of dice to protype custom dice. Label paper comes in a variety of pre-cuts and sizes such as small circles or address labels. As always when printing, make sure you get label paper that works for your printer.
Card sleeves: Card sleeves are typically used to protect cards from damage, however in our case card sleeves can be used to effectively prototype cards with minimal precise cutting. Sleeves typically works best for fast iterations, and early stages of a prototype before it is made pretty.
Laminating Sheets and Pouches: Laminating sheets and pouches are used to apply protective plastic coating/finish to a material. There are two main types you’ll use if you decide to use this for prototyping: sheets and pouches. Sheets typically have an adhesive on one side and are applied directly to your material. Laminating pouches are used with a laminator and your laminated material is placed inside before the pouch is heat sealed around it.
Existing game bits: Many times, in prototyping it is easier and more effective to use existing game bits than to make your own for a prototype, and in some cases such as making dice or meeples from scratch it is prohibitive, unless you have a routing table or are exceptional at witling. Using coins chits, tokens, dice, meeples from existing games is a very effective way to prototype, and if you don’t want to cannibalize your beloved games, then there exist prototyping kits to get you started.
Software: The right software can greatly aid in your prototyping process. I’ll cover the most common and useful types that will help you.
Spreadsheets: Spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or Numbers is an indispensable tool for not only organizing information in your designs, but also for rapid prototyping, especially of cards where you can update data on your spreadsheet and have all your cards changed through a data merge feature. Spreadsheets function as virtual charts organized through rows and columns of editable text boxes called cells.
Vector Graphics Editor: Vector graphics editors, such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape are supremely useful for component design, creating templates, and if you use die cutting machines or laser cutters, also useful for creating cut files. Vector graphics differ from raster graphics in how they are displayed on screen, instead of using pixels, these graphics are displayed using coordinates to store graphic data allowing them to be scalable without losing image quality or aliasing.
Raster Graphics Editor: Raster graphics editors such as Adobe Photoshop or GIMP are best for working with your illustrated type artwork. Raster graphics create images through many tiny colored dots called pixels. It is important to understand what size and resolution your image is here because with too low resolution your print quality will suffer. These software are useful for any kind of image manipulation and can be especially useful or making temporary art for suited for your prototypes. Even basic skills here can be useful if you ever work with an artist for your games, as showing a quick mockup of revision you are requesting speaks louder than words.
Desktop Publishing Software: Desktop publishing software such as Adobe Indesign and Scribus are most useful for layouts, but are especially useful here for rapid prototyping of cards through a data merge feature. These software are designed to created written works, such as posters, brochures, books, and in our case rulebooks. If you use this for nothing else more than creating cards for your games then you’ll have added tremendous value to your process.
Prototyping software: Prototyping software such as Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia can be especially useful for rapid prototyping and for putting your prototype in front of more people for play testing. These work by providing a virtual play space and the ability to upload your components into that space, typically taking far less time than printing and gluing.
3D Modeling Software: Modeling software such as Tinkercad, Blender, and OpenSCAD is used for modeling 3D objects. This software really has two main uses in prototyping. Bringing your own custom models into prototyping software, and for making your own custom models for 3D printing.
How to section:
This is where we cover different methods for prototyping all the various components you will find in a board game. How this section works is that we’ll focus on each component and how to make that component for various stages at development from initial prototype to pretty prototype.
Cards: We’ll start with cards, since you can find a card of some shape, size, or variety, in most games these days. Cards come in a number of standard sizes, and it is important to prototype your game using standard sizes when possible because whether you are pitching to a publisher, self-publishing, or even using a print on demand service, it will save you on costs and make producing your game easier.
For initial prototypes, where we just focus on base ideas for core mechanics and less component design, we can just get text on scraps of nearly uniform paper to get a feel for those ideas.
Without touching a computer, you can get nearly uniform cards by folding paper. If you make the creases tight and hard pressed and folding both ways, you can even use this method without scissors if you’re ever without for some reason. Scissors, will of course, be less time consuming.
Start by folding your paper in half, you can do either long-ways or width-ways, you’ll be doing both ways so the order doesn’t matter. Once you have that half fold, fold both sides to the center line. Now do the same folds on the way you didn’t do first. This should result in having the paper folded in a way that the folds create 16 nearly uniform cards. You can now write whatever you’d like on them and then cut or tear apart. This method can also be used with cardstock. You can do less folds to get bigger cards as well. The fully folded to 16 cards will also yield card sizes that can fit into standard sleeves.
Sleeves are a great way to uniform back and reasonable shuffling experience for cards. You can use any playing card or TCG card as the base sleeved card, then you put any scrap of paper with text in the sleeve to act as your prototype card. This method is very effective for making quick changes while prototyping, as you can easily swap out paper scraps for new ones, make a small edit, and then resleeve, etc. Your paper scraps don’t even have to be uniform as long as they fit in the sleeves. If all the core cards you use have the same backs then you can use clear sleeves without issue, they’re the most economical option. Sleeves will start off slippery and may make stacking cards in a deck a bit challenging, but over time and through repeated use they lose that slipperiness. You can get matte card sleeves if this is problematic for you.
When your design has progressed to start needing layout work, or basic icons, or you have many cards where purely physical prototyping becomes tedious then it makes sense to start on some digital layout prototyping.
For card layouts, I use Inkscape, and you can pretty quickly make any template with cut lines. For this example, I’ll use standard poker size cards which are 2.5” x 3.5” or 63.5mm x 88.9mm. In Inkscape we’ll be using the Create Rectangle and Square tool, the Align and Distribute tool, the Draw Bezier curves and straight line tool, and we’ll also be using the Fill and Stroke tool.
To start, open up a fresh instance of Inkscape. Go to File -> document properties (Shift+ctrl+D) and make sure your paper size matches the size of your copy paper that you plan on using, likely A4 or US Letter. Selecting a paper size will automatically change the paper size on screen.
Now on the left tool bar you should see a square shape under the ruler. Click on that tool, it’s the Create rectangles and square tool (F4)
Click and drag anywhere on the screen to make any size rectangle, it doesn’t matter what size you make we’re going to change the dimension values.
Now I personally like my templates to have fairly narrow stroke, which is the outline of whatever object you create in Inkscape, the term is consistent in most graphics programs as well. With your rectangle selected, go to the Fill and Stroke tool on the right side (Shift+Ctrl+F) and select Stroke style.
I like to have the width somewhere between 0.1mm and 0.2mm though since that’s what the stroke will be for all the lines you create, though this doesn’t matter too much at this stage, we’ll be coming back to this tool later when we make our trim marks. You’ll also want your fill to be set as “no paint” which is the x on the far left of that section. This way when you add text or other elements it’s easier to select those elements instead of the card itself.
With your stroke and fill set for your newly created rectangle, select your rectangle by clicking on it, then copy (ctrl+c) and paste it (ctrl+v) Then select your new rectangle and move it towards your other rectangle so that the corners meet up, it will snap in place at the corners and your rectangles will be aligned with each other.
Continue doing this until you have 9 rectangles in a 3 x 3 grid on your screen.
You’ll notice that your grid of rectangles isn’t aligned with your page. To fix that you’ll use the Align and Distribute tool (Shift+Ctrl+A) alternatively can be found in the Object menu. Select all of your rectangles (drag select) and make sure you have Align Relative to:____ set as Page. Then click the Center on Vertical Axis button and the Center on Horizontal Axis button.
You now have a centered card template ideally suited for requiring the fewest number of cuts. Now if you want a template that focuses more on the appearance of the cards you’ll want to add equal spacing between the cards. You can do this by selecting groups of cards and pressing one of the arrow keys to move that group a set distance away (~.5mm) you’ll have to do more trimming but slight miscut will affect the look of your cards less.
Now that your template is centered and aligned, you can add trim lines. These lines will guide you on where to cut across and are especially useful if you have a guillotine cutter or when you have some graphics that may make it difficult to see where to cut otherwise.
You’ll be using the Draw Bezier Curve and Straight Lines tool (Shift + F6) With this tool selected, bring your cursor to the top left corner of your template so the “Handle to corner” tool tip shows, click and drag your line while holding the ctrl key so that your line is parallel with the top of your template. Your line should be about half of the width of the margin, then let go of the left mouse button and click again (don’t hold the click) and then click and release the right mouse button. Select this trim line and tap the left arrow key 3 times. Make another line this way but have it be parallel to the vertical line of your template at this corner. Your two lines should look like this.
You can now copy and paste these lines where each new card starts for both the vertical and horizontal cuts. Make sure the lines snap to the corners and then move them the same 3 arrow presses away so they are uniform distance away from your template.
This template guide can be used for any rectangular or square card shape or size as long as you follow the same steps.
Once you have your template, you can add graphic elements and game mechanics to your cards. You can either do this manually for each card or you can set up a data merge that sends card elements from a spreadsheet onto preset (that you create) layout locations on your cards. Here’s a link on how to do a data merge for prototype cards using Adobe Indesign: http://blog.ironmarkgames.com/creating-prototype-cards-using...
For manual layouts of cards, you can use a variety of shapes to create text locations and arrange icons for desired effect. There is a wealth of free-to-use game icons that can be found here: https://game-icons.net/and are perfect for placeholder graphics.
Printing Cards and Cutting Cards:
Now that you have your templates and have made your own layouts and maybe your own card backs, you can print your cards on to cardstock directly or for prettier prototypes you can do multiple layers to create your cards.
When printing your cards onto a single sheet of cardstock, make sure you use cardstock weight and size that is compatible with your printer specs. Even with your templates aligned you may find with printing that there is some drift. Once you’ve printed one side you can put that printed sheet back into the print tray to manually print the second side. If the drift is minimal you can do your cuts on the back side of your sheet so the backs are uniform. If you want to correct the drift, then you can print both sides on separate sheets (use regular copy paper for this) you can align both the sheets and hold them up to the light so you can see the difference in alignment. Measure this difference making a note for the drift in vertical and horizontal alignment. The drift will likely be minimal ~1mm, you can then go into your card back file and move the cards using the coordinates in the top left tool bar. Lower value for X moves objects to the left, and higher value for Y moves objects up.
Once you have your cards printed out, you’re ready to cut and trim them. You can use a guillotine cutter by lining up the card sheets with the top edge of the cutting platform and lining up the blade with the cut line you made. You can cut several sheets at a time this way with reasonable accuracy. For greater accuracy you can use a metal ruler and a rotary cutter on a cutting mat to cut straight lines. Once your cards are cut, you can trim any white showing if necessary. If you prefer rounded corners you can use your corner punch to trim the corners of your cards, though this is a tedious process, many prefer the look and feel of cards with trimmed corners.
For a video guide on making prettier cards, Martin has you covered with three-layer cards, and laminated cards. (As a note these videos focus on making print and plays, but functionally a PnP is no different than a prototype)
How To Make Print and Play Game Cards:
James Ernest from Cheapass games also has an excellent video tutorial on these methods.
How to Make Cards (3 Ways):
Boards: These are, for many games, the main play area of a game, boards come in a variety of shapes and sizes but the most common and familiar are the bi-fold and quad-fold boards. Some boards are made up of tiles that are either preset or laid out during play, we’ll go over that in the next section.
Quick Paper Board: For early and quick prototyping, you can make a game board using a sheet of copy paper for each section of the board, using tape on the backs of the sheet where they connect.
Sturdier Board Prototypes: After earlier stages of prototyping, when you want to better line up some placeholder graphics, and have a sturdier game board, you can use the poster feature in Adobe Acrobat Reader to automatically section your board onto sheets of paper.
You can print these sections onto paper or label paper, to glue or stick to a thicker material such as chipboard. Trim any access material (you’ll have some blank margin on each printed section). Using painters tape you can connect the tops of your boards to keep them aligned. Then to create the hinges or folds for your board you can use duct tape or better, booker binding tape. One seam of tape across the back of the horizontal or vertical axis of your sections will create a bi-fold board, and 3 seams of tape halfway across (not connecting) will allow for a quad-fold board.
For a video demonstration Martin the master of Print & Play has you covered again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj5sS3AEBXQ
James Ernest of Cheapass Games also has an excellent video that covers different methods of making boards:
Tiles: Tiles are typically some form of uniform shape that tessellates or lines up together neatly without space between them, squares and hexagons being some of the more common tiles used. Tiles in board games are usually on a material of similar thickness to a game board.
Square tiles: Square or rectangle tiles can be made similar to how cards are made. For initial prototyping you can use paper cut or folded uniformly or use an existing tile as a stencil. You’ll likely and quickly find that paper tiles are cumbersome to use, they get jostled easier and are hard to play with.
Sturdier Square Tiles: You can use heavy cardstock and print on it directly, or you can use label paper and stick that to a thicker material such as chipboard. Depending on the size of your tiles you may be able to use a square punch (2.5” x 2.5” being a larger punch size), just be wary of the paper limitations for any punch you use. If using chipboard, using your ruler and rotary cutter will give you the best cuts. If chipboard is a little too much to work with for where you’re at, then cardboard and foamboard are viable options. You can cut either with scissors or a crafting knife with relative precision. Cardboard with laminated graphic on one side is a great prototyping material because there are many products you normally buy that come in it, and it’s reasonable sturdy. If you mount your graphics on the exposed cardboard side you’ll have a sturdier final prototype.
Hex Tiles: Regular hexagon tiles are a little trickier than squares because hex templates have diagonal lines. Tri-hex and flower-hex tiles are trickier still because you have obtuse exterior angles that you have to cut into.
Initial hex tiles: Starting off you can use a hexagon tile from another game such as Catan as a template and cut your hexagons from paper by hand. This works early on but even with minor miscuts you’ll start seeing hexagons misaligning and regular paper does make for ease-of-use tiles. If you are looking for tiling with 6 paths then you can functionally get there with square tiles in a brick laying pattern, so for earlier prototyping that will likely be more efficient.
Sturdier Hex Tiles: For sturdier hex tiles you’ll want to have a template that you can print and glue or stick to a thicker material in the same way we did the sturdy square tiles. I’ll walk you through how to make a hex template, and also show you how to make a tri-hex and flower hex with Inkscape.
Start by selecting the polygon tool and setting the corners to 6.
While holding ctrl, click and drag to make your hexagon. Holding ctrl will lock the degree at which the hexagon rotates to increments of 15 degrees making it easier to put it a useful orientation. For this template we’ll have the longest length of the hexagon going in a vertical direction. Change the height dimension to the size you want for your hexagon, make sure the proportion lock is selected so your hexagon stays regular.
Now copy and paste hexagons aligning them side by side and point to point vertically. You should be able to get 3x3 3” hexagons and 4x5 2” hexagons. With all of these selected, center align to the page vertical and horizontal.
You can add some space between them if you’re concerned about cut misalignment, with the space method from the card template. Select a column or row at a time and press the arrow key away from the rest of the group 2-4 times, then select the column you just moved and the next column to move that away from the group and so forth. Do the same for the rows if you started with the columns. Keep in mind this will increase the number of cuts you have to do.
Then add your cut lines like you did with your cards, with the horizontal cut lines snaping to the vertical points of the hexagons.
Now with your template you can add your graphic elements to the hexagons and print and glue onto a thicker material. A ruler with a rotary cutter will get you clean cuts on chipboard and with regular hexagon shapes you shouldn’t have any issues.
Multi-hex shapes: It gets a little trickier on chipboard when you want to use different multi-hex tiles. I recommend using cardboard or foamboard for these tiles and cutting with a crafting knife, unless you have access to a die-cutter or laser cutter.
The method of making templates for Tri-hex and flower-hex shapes is the same. You’ll start with your base hexagon and copy paste 2 more for the tri-hex. You can drag them and have them snap into place to make the shape.
Then select all three of these hexagons, go to the path tab on the top tool bar and select Union (ctrl + ‘+’) This will get you a nice tri-hex outline.
There’s a few ways to make a full sheet template with shapes like this, I prefer to have the shapes touch resulting in fewer cuts being required. You can fit 6 tri-hex tiles that were made from 2” hexes.
From here you’re doing what we’ve been doing, adding your graphic elements and printing either to copy paper or label paper and adhering to a thick material. As I’ve mentioned previously the exterior obtuse angles will be difficult to cut with a rotary cutter and I personally don’t like cutting chipboard with a crafting knife. Foam board or cardboard is easy to cut with a crafting knife and provides a sturdy tile to use for prototyping.
Dice: Making custom prototype dice is surprisingly easy and all you’ll need is label paper and a circle punch sized to punch circles for the dice you want to modify. For 16mm dice you can use a 1.6cm circle punch but using a punch sized slightly smaller will make adhering the stickers a bit easier. Simply draw on the label paper within the size of your circle punch and then punch out that sticker and stick it to one of the faces of the die. You can make a whole sheet of symbols, or custom number ranges, print it out on your label paper and punch them out for custom dice stickers. You can also purchase indented blank dice that have square label sheets: http://indentedblankdice.com/
This article will be added to over time. Stay tuned for how to sections for components like slotted player boards, tokens, and custom shape tiles like interlocking frames. If there’s a component that you want to learn how to make, please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wed Dec 30, 2020 5:00 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Entry 2- Getting Started
29 Nov 2020
Self-Publishing a board game is a daunting task and that’s mostly because on top of designing a game you’re also running a business. If you’re thinking about bringing a game to market one of the first questions you want to ask yourself is whether you want to work with an established publisher or self-publish your own game. Self-publishing requires a significant amount of work and resources to accomplish effectively so make sure to do plenty of research before making a decision starting out. We opted to self-publish because we wanted to have more control in the direction our games took, granted we would have walked a slightly different path had we known what we know now.
Running a business takes inspiration, organization, research, planning, and lots of hard work. We started designing Quests & Cannons end of October 2018, and once we realized we had something worthwhile we wanted to make a company around the ideas and design philosophy we took with Quests & Cannons. We started with some design docs for Quests & Cannons and a business plan for Short Hop Games. These were important to write because it helped to align us along some core ideas and guide us in future decisions. I'll talk more specifically on why design docs are awesome in a later entry focused on game design.
We also took the first steps to establish our new business such as filing for an LLC in the state of NH, where we live, and registering an EIN(Employer Identification Number) with the IRS so we could get a company bank account to start separating finances.
Getting Started with Research
During this time, we devoured as much information as we could about self-publishing board games, our two favorite sources for this are Brandon the Game Dev https://brandonthegamedev.com/ and James Mathes’ blog http://www.jamesmathe.com/
There were some areas that we felt more confident in, and some areas where we felt like we were diving in headfirst and blindfolded. I work as a manufacturer’s representative in my day job, so reading The Art of the RFQ from James Mathe felt fairly intuitive to me, however, marketing and building an audience from scratch seemed daunting and far outside our comfort zone. Brandon covers this extensively in his blog, and I’ll cover marketing more specifically in another entry, but this is something we are just now getting the hang of as we are about one year from launching on Kickstarter. We also ended up utilizing SCORE which is a program put out by the Small Business Administration to help small businesses starting out. We met with a mentor who helped us get set on the right path for marketing, market research, and determining target market. https://www.score.org/find-mentor
Around the beginning of 2019 we started researching into IP protection, because like any new designer we thought we came up with the next big thing and people would be lining up to copy it. Turns out with some short work, we found that simply isn’t the case in this industry. Copyright seems to be outright not worth it, since you maintain some level of automatic copyright as you release content to the public, and patents only matter if you have designed some novel device like an automatic dice shooter. We used advise found on BGG to help make our decision to Trademark our game title logo and company logo, since we plan on making Quests & Cannons a series of games, something I look forward to talking about in future entries: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/493249/mythbusting-game-des...
We considered that a mark last 10 years and the process was relatively simple, so it felt like a good idea at the time to secure our brand. The cost was $450 for 2 marks which comes to about $3.75 a month across 10 years. We felt confident doing this without a lawyer, but that is something you will want to look into based on your experience with similar areas of knowledge.
Business systems we used:
This part might seem dry but the beginning of how we organized Short Hop Games contributed to successes we have now and problems we are working to correct. With some research we found that having an online presence is the best way to build an audience for a game, which along with making a fantastic game, is the most important part of self-publishing and bringing a board game to market in general. To us, that meant having a website, email communication, and social media. The first step we took here was registering domain names. We used Namecheap for this with a domain being $8.88 a year, this let us use that domain for a website and email addresses. We used Gmail for email which is about $12 a month for hosted email, that lets me have email@example.com which starting off lets me keep my emails organized around what I’ll be using for our company. We started with a Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter for Short Hop Games, though we quickly realized that Facebook pages don’t have the reach you want to communicate with an audience. We then created a Facebook group for Quests & Cannons, which was better suited to share updates about progress. In the beginning we tried to focus on these three social media platforms simultaneously, but it was overwhelming, we found that when we switched to primarily focusing on our Facebook group we ended up with better results. We could then recycle content from our Facebook group to our other social media platforms.
Now for what I think is one our biggest missteps, is how we handled our website. We started with a website built on Shopify, because we thought it had good tools for selling a product, which is true; however, we did not yet have a product to sell. Since we didn’t have great website building skills, we ended up using an addon called Shogun, which basically gives Shopify a Wix-type website builder. This in hindsight, was completely foolish and unfortunately a waste of money. We ended up paying $29 a month for Shopify and an additional $39 a month for Shogun. On top of spending way more money than we needed, we were never quite able to build the landing page that we wanted to and didn’t prioritize this as a tool to get email subscribers. Looking back, we should have used Wix or Wordpress starting off, and prioritized making a well-designed landing page that would get people to subscribe. I’ll focus more on this in the marketing diary entry, but creating a good marketing funnel, or where you direct people to keep them informed and following your project, is absolutely vital to self-publishing, try to get it right from the start and you’ll save yourself a lot of effort. We’re now using Wordpress for our website and spent some time focusing on making a proper landing page.
Apart from our misstep with our landing page, most of the organization we have done so far has been effective towards our goal, we’ve managed to grow a fairly modest audience around our game that continues to gain momentum as we get closer to launch, though there is another layer of organization that has been a constant struggle, and that is managing the myriad of tasks we juggle in self-publishing. Project planning is important, and we’ve found that being able to prioritize and properly order interdependent tasks is necessary to keep things moving smoothly. This knowledge has really come from experience and failing forward, but hopefully I can convey as much of that as possible in these entries.
You can use digital project management tools like Trello, which act kind of like digital sticky notes, but what we found at this point to be most effective was spreadsheets and hand-written lists. There is something about analog writing that personally helps me with retaining information and allowed me more freedom to draw out a chart, diagram, or schedule, that might have felt cumbersome or restricted to do digitally. We kept our task lists organized by section such as: Artwork, Marketing, Prototyping, Production, Play Testing, etc. We also organized our digital file tree this way to maintain consistency in our organization. To start with tasks, we work to identify goals, and then determine the milestones for those goals. For example, a larger goal would be having a complete prototype of the game made, some of those milestones would include, component asset designs, placeholder artwork, written rule draft, gathering supplies, and physically making the prototype. Continually assessing the goals we have, and the tasks to reach those goals, has made it possible for us move forward even with time management being a struggle between a day job, and raising a baby.
Costs add up Quick:
One of the first things we learned about self-publishing board games is that it isn’t cheap. Depending on the scope of your project you’re going to be spending a significant amount of money on art and marketing which are the two largest costs to self-publishing. If you’re a talented artist, then a lot of this cost can be absorbed in exchange for your time. If we were to start over, we’d probably start with a smaller game to get our feet wet with the process. We’re probably going to see at least $25,000 in our own investment for Quests & Cannons before we launch on Kickstarter, and while if we fund we’ll be able to recoup our investment, this is of course a risk that you have to have tolerance for. This also leads me into the next area of commissioning artwork. What we’ve learned about commissioning artwork can be dedicated to its own entry, but something to keep in mind on this is understanding the art direction of your game, and knowing how to communicate those needs to the artist(s) you work with. We had a minor misstep here where we commissioned a few characters that were not aligned with the rest of our art, we are still able to use that artwork as concept art though, so it wasn’t a major stumbling block. The artist we worked with also turned out to be one of my favorite people I’ve met in the industry so overall it was a win. The lesson here is to make sure you have a strong idea and examples of the style of art you want for your game. Having to redo artwork gets expensive quickly.
To wrap up this entry on getting started, I think one of most important ideas that helped with getting started and what we ultimately found to be the most effective way to build an audience and community, is to be involved in the existing communities. Learn about other people’s games, play test, review rules, join Facebook groups, and engage with other people. Make friends with people, ask questions, and learn as much as you can from other people. We’ve found that the design community is one of the most collaborative and overall friendliest communities we’ve ever encountered, and just another reason this has been an excellent journey. I’m looking forward to writing down more of our experience and sharing it here.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask any questions in the comments
Sun Nov 29, 2020 1:46 pm
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Entry 1 - How we got here
30 Oct 2020
Hi everyone! My name is Eric Geller, I’m one of the co-founders of Short Hop Games. I’m a lifelong gamer and game design has been a dream of mine since my childhood. Growing up, when we weren’t playing games together, my twin brother and I would make paper games, often getting into discussions of game mechanics together and online, theory crafting, and map making for games we enjoyed, and eventually we both went to Champlain College to study game design.
Unfortunately, life would take different events and neither of us stuck with game design. Midway through my college career with no real direction anymore, my mom became too sick to work with my dad at the small business they founded together, and I started working with my dad, largely leaving game design behind.
A few years later after meeting Shannon, my wife, Shannon knowing my love for games, attempted to search for a game we could possibly both enjoy, and ended up buying Splendor for the holidays. Up to this point, we were finding that the games I liked seemed like a foreign language to Shannon, and the games Shannon liked didn’t really scratch that itch for me. Splendor was one of the first board games that Shannon and I really enjoyed together, it felt accessible, but it had enough strategy that I wasn’t bored by it.
A year before our son was born, my wife started showing interest in Dungeons & Dragons, me going overboard, of course took that as a cue to launch into creating a full campaign adventure for our friends and us to go on. As it would go, I spent many hours working on a campaign, and we managed to get one session played before not being able to schedule everyone to get together again. Feeling defeated, left with this completely unexplored world I just created, I shelved the campaign with a feeling of wanting.
After our son was born, ideas of fantasy worlds were exchanged for sleepless nights. Somewhere about six months into this, an artist friend came over with some notebook sketches. When I was looking at them, flashes of the world I created came into my head, and I had this crazy, spark of inspiration that I could make a board game out of this. That night I spat out a game design into a notebook I had. It was a faction based fantasy seafaring game with island exploration, territory control, crew members, sea monster battles, upgradable ships, and epic quests, basically as many features as I wanted to see from the D&D campaign I was working on jammed into a board game. I made the first prototype using Catan tiles to trace hexagons and had a couple friends over to play test. A three-player game took over 3 hours to play, multiple game systems just didn’t work, and we were barely able to finish a game. Shannon had absolutely no desire to play this convoluted mess of a version. While working out the design, I would try to tell Shannon mechanic ideas to entice her to play, this was never effective, but in passing she would suggest ideas to simplify them. I would in turn, make changes, and play test with some of my more hardened game buddies. I continued to attempt to get Shannon to try the game, and eventually she told me that if I wanted her to try it, that it would have to be a lot more intuitive and “floofier”. Up until that point we had a grittier fantasy theme we were playing around with, so I suggested we theme it around something more accessible like having the three factions spin off Looney Toon animals, pigs, ducks, and bunnies. Shannon didn’t think that was a good idea, and that’s when she had the great idea of combining pigs, ducks, and bunnies with fantasy races, orcs, elves, and dwarves; thus our fantasy races were born: Porcs, Delves, and Dwunnies!
With more suggestion we cut some of the more obtuse features, like having to feed crew members, controlling territory, and random sea monster encounters. Shannon ended up playing and while there was still a bit too much going on, it turned out that as we maybe mechanics more accessible it became a game that we were both enjoying together. This interplay of our gaming preferences and experience has become our design and development philosophy with Short Hop Games, and we’re hoping our first game, Quests & Cannons, can be another couple’s Splendor.
We’ve learned a lot over the last two years, as we’ve gone down the path of self-publishing Quests & Cannons, and I think there are things we’ve done well and things that we could have done better. My goal here is to review what we’ve done so far and comment why we made the decisions we made and how those decisions impacted our process. Additionally, I will also talk about what we are planning to do and why we plan on making those decisions. Hopefully by writing these diaries we can help other people that are looking to self-publish games. One thing that I have found in designing games, is the wealth of information available and how willingly other people are to share that information and help others. I hope I can offer something that I feel was so freely given to me.
My plan here is to write one diary entry a month on various topics related to self-publishing such as business organization, marketing, art direction, prototyping, play testing, and design. If there’s a topic you’re curious about, let me know in a reply to this post, and I’ll make sure to cover it. If you want to be notified when a new entry is posted, you can follow me on BGG and/or you can subscribe to our monthly Newsletter at https://shorthopgames.com/ where I’ll include the link to the BGG post.
Fri Oct 30, 2020 7:19 pm
- [+] Dice rolls