Philip Reed(PhilReed)United States
Back in 2012, we started to discuss giving Munchkin fans a way to pass out game cards at Halloween. Giving away treats other than candy at Halloween isn't a new idea, but we had never produced something specifically for distribution at Halloween, so we had a lot of work ahead of us.
Fortunately, a really big job doesn't look so bad once it’s broken down into smaller bits. After some conversations in the office, discussions with our factory rep at Grand Prix International, and several talks with John Kovalic, we determined that we could make the pricing work. Then the work really began.
* Andrew and Steve worked through the card designs and settled on suitably Halloweeny fun we felt would make a good introduction to the Munchkin humor.
* John Kovalic took those card designs and art specs and – somehow, most likely through magic or a deal with some horned being – cranked out Munchkinly-funny artwork in record time. (We were a little behind schedule at this point. Sorry, John!)
* Our talented production staff colored everything and mashed it together into a complete package. These guys are often left holding the bag and come together to assemble games on a tight deadline. I owe our entire production department a reward of some sort; think they’d like some candy?
With the Munchkin Halloween Pack at print, it was time to prepare the world, and there is no better way to start spreading the word than to tell retailers directly.
Randy, in his role as Retailer Liaison, calls stores every day of the week (when he isn't at a convention) to update retailers – telling them what’s new, what’s going out of print – and to make sure the retailer is completely stocked with promo items and any demo games they may need. The Munchkin Halloween Pack idea went over well with our retailers, and we were soon ready to ship the packs.
Once distributors and retailers were aware of the new pack, we started sharing news of the project with the gamers of the world. Advance releases at San Diego Comic-Con and Gen Con gave us the first indication of how things were going to turn out for the idea, and based on response and sales at those two conventions, we knew things were going to turn out great.
And that brings us to today. The Munchkin Halloween Pack is now in stores, and in a few more weeks kids will start receiving the cards during Halloween. With luck these cards will make kids laugh, and we will create some new Munchkin fans just in time for the holidays.
Anything it takes to introduce more kids (and adults!) to gaming is totally worth the effort, and we cannot thank all of the Munchkin fans out there enough for embracing the idea and supporting it . . .
. . . even if we know you guys are totally passing these cards out just for the chance at more opponents to beat on your way to victory.
Secrets from inside Steve Jackson Games.
Archive for Philip Reed
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Anyone with a casual interest in games who had the privilege of sitting down with Mars Attacks: The Dice Game in the first six months of 2014 would very likely not realize that they were playing with a handcrafted prototype. To be fair, everyone noticed the dice — stickers placed on dice we scavenged from a copy of Fireside Games'Bears! — were not final dice, but the rest of Sam's prototype looked so good it seemed real.
Unfortunately, once New York Toy Fair ended, it was time to really get to work. You see, not only was the physical prototype that we showed at NYTF a prototype, the actual game wasn't even finished.
And fuzzy details are exactly what we had with Mars Attacks: The Dice Game when NYTF ended. The game at its core was strong and working, but the little things — the exact balance of the cards and all of the special rules as well as the actual rules writing — were unfinished.
Sam and Randy, taking the feedback Ross, Steve, and I gave after more playtest sessions, dove deep into development. Game designers often receive the applause, but it is the developers and editors on game projects who polish the details and make the finished product far more than it would have been without their hard work.
One troubling part of development includes that stage when a Eureka moment is actually the start of wasted effort and time, and Mars Attacks: The Dice Game went through one of those exact same moments during this process as we briefly explored changing the way in which the radioactive symbol in the game works. Fortunately, we didn't go very far down that mistaken path, but it was lost time.
Additionally, it was at this stage that the true production and graphic design work was started. Sam's prototype looked wonderful, but to actually print the game we needed finished print files. With Sam and Randy making constant adjustments, the graphics work fell on Gabby, with changes sometimes happening several times in a single day as the print deadline approached.
In addition to the work on the actual game, there was also revision after revision to the game’s back cover text. We’ve all flipped over a game and read the description, and in many instances it is the game’s description on the box that is all that stands between the game sitting on a store shelf and going home with a gamer. Writing sales text for a game box is an art, and our marketing team — Lenny and Brian — worked overtime to perfect the back cover copy.
Finally, after a few months of constant changes — I don’t think anyone really understands how much work goes into creating a game until they’ve lived through the process — Mars Attacks: The Dice Game moved from our office to the manufacturing process with our partners at GPI.
The difficult work of creating the game was over.
Now for the hard part of the entire process: Launching the game.
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You have to really love the cold to visit New York City in February. Either that, or the toy and game industry has to be such a vital part of your business that you're willing to risk the chance of freezing to death when you fall into the largest and deepest puddle known to man while walking to the Javits Center. Fortunately, I love NYC . . . yes, even in February.
On Saturday, during setup, Sam's gorgeous Mars Attacks: The Dice Game prototype got its first action as Ross, our Sales Director, learned the game and then took it away. "Hey," my brain screamed, "I need that!" But I didn’t really need it until later, so I let Ross take the game to show some of the distributors.
Hours passed. Several hours. Ross still had the game, and my protective nature kicked in. I needed the game back! Well, not really, but Ross sure had been gone a long time with MY prototype. (Yeah, the prototype game quickly became mine. Hey, I needed the game for meetings!)
Years later—well, maybe it just felt like years—Ross returned happy. "Ten thousand," Ross said before I could even ask for his thoughts on how many we should print. The distributors liked the game more than I had hoped.
That's fantastic news! Ten thousand may not seem like a lot of games if you've never been involved in game manufacturing and sales, but that's about twice as many copies as our very first Munchkin printing way back in 2001. 10,000 is a very respectable first printing.
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/27725/ny-toy-fair-2014...). I felt really good when I went to sleep that night. The game was real and the response was more favorable than I had hoped for.
The next morning, I started reading the online comments and saw that gamers wanted to know more about the game. Some were even ready to buy copies. There's nothing quite as exciting as someone wanting to buy before they even get to try the game.
Now all we had to do was transform our prototype into a finished game that was ready for print.
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Monday. Not even 24 hours had passed since we decided to create a dice game based on a strange blend of Zombie Dice and cards, with the entire mix then married to the Mars Attacks! brand. And I had roughly two weeks until I had to leave for New York Toy Fair, the place where I wanted to show off the game and judge buyer response to the idea.
Sam and I sat down at about nine that Monday morning so that I could elaborate a little on my email notes and transfer the real work of designing the game to his talented mind. One thing I've learned—and really love—is that Sam is great at taking my insane ideas and turning them into objects that occupy reality. We talked for maybe thirty minutes before I left him and got to my responsibilities managing the company.
Later that day, I peeked in to watch Sam run the very first Mars Attacks: The Dice Game playtest. I didn’t hang around to watch, though, because the best way for me to support any game project in the early stages is to not get involved. Sam had my ideas, and I trusted him to report back on the game.
Wednesday. That afternoon, Sam reported that the game was ready for me to play. Randy joined us—he had already played a few times and had given Sam valuable feedback—and as a group we had a blast destroying cities. The game worked wonderfully! It was not perfect, but after a few tweaks, we were ready to play the game with Steve.
Thursday. I went on a trip to Dallas, so I was not there for Steve's first playtest of the game, but things went great. Steve weighed in with suggestions for more interactive card effects and ways to solve balance issues, but things went so well that the reports I received from Sam that evening led to me asking that a set be ready when I returned the next day.
Friday. I met Kali at the Waterloo Ice House in Austin, and my wife, Gina, joined us to chat and to try Mars Attacks: The Dice Game. We laughed. We devastated human cities. I smiled knowing that not only did things work but, more importantly, we had a fun game on our hands.
At that point, we had to push even harder to prepare the game to show the game buyers at the upcoming New York Toy Fair. I was a little stressed thinking about all that needed to happen to show the game, but I was ready to get out of Sam's way for the next week so that he could give us the best possible prototype.
I just hoped the buyers would see the same potential that I saw in the game.
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15 Sep 2014
A friend of a friend found a few of the original trading cards at a garage sale on base—I was living on the Grand Forks Air Force Base at the time—and I was excited as soon as he showed them to me. These cards were disgusting! Violent. Beautiful. Everything about these cards made me love them and want them.
I did not get the cards.***
Fast forward roughly a decade later to 1994. By this time I was significantly older—I'll pretend that I aged one decade in ten years, but anyone who has met me knows I actually age at a rate faster than normal humans—and I saw the Topps Mars Attacks! comic books. I had to have them. Those strange and violent Martians were finally mine.
I enjoyed the Topps comic books, but I didn’t get the original 1962 trading cards even when Topps reissued them. What was wrong with me? I've no idea. Clearly, I was broken in some way.***
Jump almost two decades into 2012, and Mars Attacks! again entered my life. I met Adam Levine, Topps' mastermind behind bringing those crazy Martians to a larger audience, at a toy exhibition during the New York Toy Fair. Adam and I knew each other by reputation only, but we experienced a creative spark that couldn't be ignored while we chatted. We quickly made plans for an expansion to the Munchkin Apocalypse game, and Steve went to work designing cards.***
Two more years passed. The Munchkin Apocalypse: Mars Attacks! expansion was just starting to ship to stores when my brain latched onto an idea. "How," my randomly organized brain asked, "can we reskin Zombie Dice to work as a Mars Attacks! dice game?"
As soon as I got home, I sent two emails.
Steve, Sam, and Ross all received an email in which I outlined the basic mechanics of the game. In that first email were the dice icons and mix, the card mechanism, and the concept of some cards having special effects. The details, as any creative knows, can be worked out later. Right now, I just had to share the rough idea and make sure the others agreed that it was a game we should pursue.
Adam received an email in which I ran through the game concept and asked permission to proceed. I was acting as if my mail to Steve, Sam, and Ross had already generated a favorable response.
Adam replied 15 minutes later (yes, many of us work every day) with a "Yes!" Before noon that Sunday, I had everything in place to begin working on Mars Attacks: The Dice Game.
Realistically, though, my work was done. It was time to hand off the project to others.
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