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An Interview with Mary Russell of Tiny Battle Publishing

C Hansen
United States
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If given the option, I would prefer to play with the green pieces, please.
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I recently talked with Mary Russell of Tiny Battle Publishing. All of their games (as well as many of the games from their associated company Flying Pig Games) are released in both a published format and a PNP format that players can assemble themselves.

For my take on a few of the games published by Tiny Battle Publishing, see my reviews:
My review of Stamford Bridge
My review of A Hill Near Hastings
My review of Invaders from Dimension X!

Chris Hansen: First off, I'd like to introduce you to the PNP community. Can you talk a little bit about yourself and your gaming history?

Mary Russell: I’ve been playing games since I was little, mostly older, “traditional” games, such as Cribbage, Dominoes, and card games. My dad taught me to play Cribbage and we used to play it a lot. My dad read a lot about the game at some point and started playing “scientific”, but instead of winning every time, he lost pretty much every time! And he would say, “How did I lose? I was playing scientific!” I have really fond memories of playing with him, and playing Scrabble with him and my mom. They’re both gone now, sadly. After I got married, I taught my husband Tom Russell to play Cribbage. He was doing alright with it until he started reading up on it and playing “scientific” too. My husband and I got into “modern” gaming relatively recently, in 2010. We kinda stumbled upon it by accident, three different ways in the space of couple of weeks. We tried some games, and by the end of the year, Tom had started designing games, more in the Euro-style. He never really made much headway with those, unfortunately, but has had more success with train games (he’s had one in each of the last three Winsome sets) and historical wargames. Most of the games we play though are still light and medium-weight Euros. How I got into running a wargame company (though Tiny Battle isn’t strictly a wargame company) is that Mark Walker needed someone to run it, and Tom, who edits Yaah! Magazine for Flying Pig Games, recommended me.

CH: How is Tiny Battle different from Flying Pig Games? What is the relationship between the companies?

MR: They’re both owned by the same guy, Mark H. Walker, but they have two very different models/niches. Tiny Battle is all about small-footprint, affordably-priced games, with components that are reasonable for that price-point and market. Flying Pig releases big boxed games with deluxe components, thick counters, mounted maps, etc. Flying Pig also publishes Yaah! Magazine, which uses the same printer as Tiny Battle and so has similar components. We’re doing some reprints of popular Yaah! games in the Tiny Battle format, such as Stamford Bridge, and Yaah! is publishing some scenarios for some of the Tiny Battle titles to cross-promote, but otherwise there’s no overlap: they’re completely separate entities, and I don’t have anything to do with Flying Pig or Yaah!

Board Game: Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age + A Hill Near Hastings
The Tiny Battle Publishing version of Stamford Bridge (PNP Edition). Image credit: Chris Hansen

CH: What is your history with PNP games? Have you built or played many of the free PNP games that are available on BGG?

MR: I don’t have much personal history with PNP, actually. I’ve assembled a few small ones that my husband was interested in, especially when we were just getting into the hobby. I’m more likely to be printing and assembling prototypes to playtest. (Incidentally, we definitely prefer designers to send us playable prototypes via snail-mail, as we’re able to get the game on the table right away without any printing, stickering, or scissoring.)

CH: All of the products from Tiny Battle have PNP options. Why did you decide to offer this option?

MR: It just seemed like a smart thing to do, especially with the low number of components. If someone’s on the fence about a $20-$25 folio game, they might be more likely to take the plunge with a PNP. It just increases our market, especially for our overseas customers, and that can’t be a bad thing.

CH: Old School Tactical and '65 both had PNP options available in their Kickstarter campaigns. Do you feel that offering a PNP option increased the visibility for the game? Did the PNP options contribute to the success of the campaigns?

MR: That’s a good question, but that’s not something I had anything to do with. But sure, it probably helped. I know from looking at photos on BGG that some people have done PNP versions of the Flying Pig Games. With the number of components—multiple countersheets, cards, and mapboards—it’s going to be a much larger and time- and ink-intensive undertaking than our standard one-map, 88 counters Tiny Battle releases. My assumption is that while people are purchasing the PNP versions for Flying Pig, you’re going to get a lot more people going PNP for Tiny Battle style games.

CH: Are the PNP options for Tiny Battle successful? What percentage of the sales are PNP vs published editions?

MR: They are successful. I’m not sure of the exact percentage, but it definitely helps put us in the black and keep us there.

CH: You've worked with many established designers such as Hermann Luttmann and obviously Tom Russell whose works aren't normally associated with PNP games. Have any of the designers been concerned with the non-traditional publishing option of PNP?

MR: Nope! So far, everyone’s been cool about it.

Board Game: Invaders from Dimension X!
Hermann Luttmann's Invaders from Dimension X! (PNP Edition) Image credit: Chris Hansen

CH: What are some of the benefits of offering PNP options for your games? You mentioned that they help out better overseas customers. Is that due to the high cost of international shipping.

MR: That’s a big part of it. It helps increase our customer base, and it helps series like the medieval games that have a larger market overseas than they do in the US.

CH: Are there downsides to offering PNP options, such as file sharing?

MR: File-sharing, as in people might share the file illegally? That’s not a huge concern for us; gamers are a pretty trustworthy bunch. File-sharing, as in the mechanics of sharing the file? Well, we’ve run into quite a few problems there, where customers will order a game and then not get the link, which is set up to be sent to them automatically. Then they send me an email, I verify the order, I send them the link, etc. Most customers have been very understanding, but some have been rather unpleasant about it. To save us from all of those headaches, we’re going to be offering our PNP versions exclusively through Wargame Vault. It definitely cuts into the money we’re getting for offering it directly, but it’s going to be a more reliable delivery mechanism.

CH: Do you feel that PNP games will continue to have a place in your business model going forward?

MR: Yes, I think so.

CH: Tiny Battles recently published Neuschwabenland, which was previously available as a free PNP download. How did that come about? Did you find the game online or was it submitted to you?

MR: Mark had found the game online and really dug it. It was one of the first titles we had signed.

Board Game: Neuschwabenland
The original PNP version of Neuschwabenland. (This is not the Tiny Battle Publishing edition.) Image credit: Chris Hansen

CH: Do you frequently evaluate free PNP games for publication?

MR: We do. It’s difficult cutting the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. I’m not necessarily talking about the quality—though there are games where the development has been fairly minimal, which is always disappointing. It’s more about finding PNP titles that will fit neatly with our production model/specifications: 88 counters, 11x17 map, few pages of rules. A lot of PNP games have extensive components—there was this card-driven game that sounded really great, until we realized it had over a thousand cards! Some have odd numbers of counters that can't be changed to 88 or reduced to 176. It may be a great game, but if it doesn't fit our model or the ziploc bag then we can't use it. In some cases we'll work with the designer to adapt it, but that's only if adapting it makes sense and won't damage the design.

CH: Do you think that PNP options will become more popular for other publishers in the industry?

MR: Depends on the game and the market. I don’t see it being super-successful or vital for components-rich games, ala Fantasy Flight or Plaid Hat, nor for a lot of Euro-style games. It’s probably more viable for wargames or other conflict games that utilize counters and paper maps. And the reason for that is someone’s homemade PNP version can often have comparable components to the printed edition. Sometimes better! A paper map and cardboard chits isn’t an obstacle for a wargamer, whereas a Eurogamer wants to have those little wooden cubes, the mounted boards, etc. I wouldn’t want to play a homemade version of Tzolk'in or Agricola, for example.

Board Game: A Hill Near Hastings: The Beginning of the Norman Conquests
Detail of the PNP counters from A Hill Near Hastings from Tiny Battle Publishing. Image credit: Chris Hansen

CH: Can you talk about upcoming titles that will be published by Tiny Battle?

MR: Sure! We have several games in the pipeline. There are sequels and expansions for some of our series: Space Vermin From Beyond is a new game set in Hermann Luttmann’s Invaders universe, designed by Fred Manzo. The third game in the Blood Before Richmond series, Savage’s Station, just came out in December, and the last two will be out sometime next year. We have expansions for John Gorkowski’s In The Trenches coming which will be reprinting scenarios from the original 2009 releases. Mark Walker’s Platoon Commander system, which debuted with Sticks and Stones (one of our best-sellers), has a historical Korean module coming early next year. Christian Sperling is working on a sequel to Neuschwabenland, as well as a brand-new post-apocalyptic game.

We also have non-series stuff, of course. Plan Crimson is an alt-hist game about a US invasion of Canada. Next month will see the release of David Cuatt’s horror-themed Swamp Devils From Blood Bayou. (Note from Chris: the game has now been released.) Tom Russell is working on a sci-fi title for us, High Speed Hover Tank. We have another ACW title, this one from designer Sean Chick, which should be coming out soon, and some more WWII titles in the works. We’re evaluating a Napoleonics game, and there’s a Nappy card game we have in development as well.

I'd like to thank Mary once again for taking the time to talk about her company and specifically the publication of PNP games. Thank you for reading and thanks as always for your thumbs and geekgold tips to the post.

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