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Subject: Please mercilessly criticise my sellsheet! rss

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Andrew Rowse
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I've been working on a deck-building spelling game for a couple of years now, and I want to approach publishers. I've put together a sell sheet to send out, with the hope of securing some face-to-face time at Essen this year.

I've left this a bit late as it is, so there's no time for polite equivocation. Gloves off, please. If you can see something lacking in this image, please post it. Feel free to insult my intelligence or parentage as necessary!

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Nate K
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Your sellsheet is a hamster, and it's mother smells of elderberries!
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Richard Morris
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kurthl33t wrote:
Your sellsheet is a hamster, and it's mother smells of elderberries!
... and its father is unknown.
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Richard Morris
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I see issues with diacritics that you probably need to address if you expect this to be multilingual.

Do word play experts have comments on letter frequencies and scoring from things like scrabble that mean that e.g. a German or French version would not be properly balanced?

In your what could be added, you could presumably replace a score pad with various things like fancy dials or coins/tokens. Score pads seem to be so 1980s to me.

Is it expandable, or is that pretty much as far as you can go?
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Nate K
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kurthl33t wrote:
Your sellsheet is a hamster, and it's mother smells of elderberries!


On an unrelated note, this game sounds awesome. It's exactly the kind of deck my brother would love to play/cream me at.
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Harvey Wasserman
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Does the discard pile have both face-down and face-up cards? The flowchart seems to indicate that.

Will people, that the sellsheet is directed to, see the possibilities for "lateral thinking," or "tactical and strategic play" in the game?

144 cards is a shuffling challenge (about 3 regular decks), as well as a publishing challenge. Any other selling points, such as "great for schools," or "for tournaments"?
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Andrew Rowse
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AnnuverScotinExile wrote:
I see issues with diacritics that you probably need to address if you expect this to be multilingual.

Do word play experts have comments on letter frequencies and scoring from things like scrabble that mean that e.g. a German or French version would not be properly balanced?


Each language would have to have a different balance - for instance Z is much easier to use in German, and Y is much harder. I do plan to approach German and French publishers, but I would be up-front about the fact that I would need help from a native speaker to properly balance the cost/ability distribution (I can get most of the way there with a frequency analysis table, but there are subtleties to do with synergies between letters - for instance N and G in English are easy to use together in the suffix ING).

Diacritics are not really an issue for French, because the spelling is all capital letters, and you're allowed to leave the accents off capital letters when spelling in French. For German, I would expect to add Ä, Ö, and Ü cards (or a single ÄÖÜ card) to the pool. I've toyed with the idea of having an umlaut as a card by itself, but I feel it injects an unnecessary extra layer of rules.

Quote:
In your what could be added, you could presumably replace a score pad with various things like fancy dials or coins/tokens. Score pads seem to be so 1980s to me.


When words are banked (scored), they have to be recorded, because banking a word prevents any player from spelling that word again for the rest of the game. Good point on the 1980s feel though!

Quote:
Is it expandable, or is that pretty much as far as you can go?


It is expandable, but it's not intended to need expansion. All the letters in the alphabet are represented in the base game. Adding a few extra cards to the mix such as letter pairs (CH, LL, PH etc) could be interesting, but otherwise the only possible expansion would be a replacement set of pool cards.
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Corsaire
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I think the content of the sellsheet is pretty solid; you have the right amount of info and the layout feels right.

Criticisms:
It is a bit dry. Your summary should be punchier with all action verbs. You need some sort of exciting tagline that the person reading it will want to repeat to others.

You may want consider second person for the summary, that tends to be more engaging.

I think the number of players, playing time box is a bit big relative to the title. I'd want my title to be the biggest thing at the top.

Adding some additional subtle color to the background of the boxes or the main might make the sheet a bit more intersting.

The play sequence makes sense, but took me a couple of read-throughs to get the communal purchase area.

Example of stronger language:
Build a deck to spell your way to victory. Attack as you make words. Bank points or spend them to enhance your letter arsenal.
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Andrew Rowse
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CrocWrestler wrote:
Does the discard pile have both face-down and face-up cards? The flowchart seems to indicate that.


It's a deck-building game, so I'm hoping that publishers will infer that that part of the flow (E and F) shows the discard pile being flipped and shuffled to form a new deck. I'm hesitant to give a full rules rundown on the sellsheet.

Quote:
Will people, that the sellsheet is directed to, see the possibilities for "lateral thinking," or "tactical and strategic play" in the game?


Probably not from the sellsheet, but I'll be including a link/printout of the rulebook as well, and hopefully the sellsheet will pique their interest and compel them to read the rulebook and see whether those things are there!

Quote:
144 cards is a shuffling challenge (about 3 regular decks), as well as a publishing challenge. Any other selling points, such as "great for schools," or "for tournaments"?


Only 72 cards get shuffled (the rest are the four 'core cards' that are always available to buy). Excellent suggestions re the other selling points!
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Andrew Rowse
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Here is the rulebook, in case anybody is up for helping simulate the publisher experience of 'okay, I've seen the sellsheet and am prepared to learn more'...

http://www.scatteredfleet.com/data/dexikon_rulebook_3_4.pdf

I'm wondering whether I ought to make a quick youtube video of me playing the game, and include a link to that (as well as the rulebook) in the cover letter.

I'm cautious about using too much marketing language, because I worry that boardgame publishers may share my cynicism about things that feel like spin. I've also been told that it's a good idea not to come across as too artistically polished or slick, because art-first designs are generally rubbish (!)
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Gregg Jewell
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I will check it out but have you seen the game play of Paperback?

A lot of similar elements to your game:



And here is it's BGG entry
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Harvey Wasserman
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I think the sellsheet should answer questions before they are asked. The sellsheet should say right away, "Dexikon is a deck building game. Some cards are shuffled, and some cards are available face-up." How long does it take to set up the game, from one game to the next? Does the design of the cards help to separate the different kinds of cards?

You shouldn't depend on what publishers will infer from a brief read of the sellsheet. For example, I assumed that all the cards would be shuffled to start with -- it's more than just shuffling. Also, I'm skeptical about the promise of tactical and strategic play in any card game.

Can you make a demonstration deck? Perhaps a third the size (or less) of the 144 card deck, so that interested publishers could get right into playing the game, and see "accurately" what the intended concepts are.
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Andrew Rowse
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JewellGames wrote:
I will check it out but have you seen the game play of Paperback?

A lot of similar elements to your game:

And here is it's BGG entry


Ah, Paperback

Paperback launched on Kickstarter about a week and a half before I was planning to open Dexikon up for PnP playtesting on BGG. Imagine my initial dismay when I read through the KS description! Worse still, it was well designed with a clever theme! Bother!

However, after checking out the rules, I realised that while the spelling gameplay and letter buying was outwardly very similar, the two games have a very different 'flow' through the game. The main difference is that Dexikon makes wild cards freely available, but penalises players for having them at the end of the game - whereas in Paperback it is points from the wild cards that determine who wins the game.

This changes the tail of the game quite a lot. In the endgame of Paperback, you often draw wild cards, making it easier to spell words, but reducing the number of points they're worth. In contrast, Dexikon's last few turns are characterised by difficult combinations of letters that make spelling a word somewhat Herculean, but very rewarding!

(I actually started out with a scoring system very similar to Paperback's - with three levels of wild cards, each of which scored no points during the game but was worth VPs at the end. An attempt to exclude already-spelled words resulted in a score sheet, which evolved into the bank/spend choice mechanic that obsoleted VPs on cards.)

There are other significant differences, such as Dexikon's 'limited wilds' - cards that give you a choice between two easily-used letters - AT, ES, and IOU. Players start the game with two of each in their decks, along with four ? (fully wild) cards. Even if a player draws a hand of no wilds, they are guaranteed to be able to use all of their cards on their first two turns, which was an important feature for me.

At any rate, I was happy that although Paperback and Dexikon shared the core concept of 'deck-building spelling game', the actual implementations were sufficiently different that there was space in the market for both - just as Ascension and Thunderstone cater to different (but often overlapping) demographics. I cancelled my plan to distribute PnP files for Dexikon, so that there would be no chance of sabotaging Paperback's campaign.

Now that Paperback has succeeded and there's no danger that publicising my game will damage another designer's game that I admire, I'm playing catch-up.

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John A. White
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Looks like you're saving Ink..
 
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Andrew Rowse
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CrocWrestler wrote:
I think the sellsheet should answer questions before they are asked. The sellsheet should say right away, "Dexikon is a deck building game. Some cards are shuffled, and some cards are available face-up." How long does it take to set up the game, from one game to the next? Does the design of the cards help to separate the different kinds of cards?


Those are some really good points! Especially the question of how long it takes to set up a game.

The game system has more in common with Ascension than Dominion. Setup involves placing four stacks of 'core' cards (AT, ES, IOU and ?) on the table, using those core cards to create a starting deck for each player, then shuffling the 72 'pool' cards and dealing six out onto the table. Maybe two minutes tops, and the same again to sort the core cards out at the end of the game.

The core cards are visually distinct from the pool cards.

Quote:
You shouldn't depend on what publishers will infer from a brief read of the sellsheet. For example, I assumed that all the cards would be shuffled to start with -- it's more than just shuffling. Also, I'm skeptical about the promise of tactical and strategic play in any card game.


This is incredibly valuable feedback! I don't think I'm quite in agreement with you about how much to spell out and how much to leave implied (or leave out), but ultimately my opinion is one of the least important - it's the reader's opinion that matters most! I'm going to put your position to a variety of people and see how many concur.

Quote:
Can you make a demonstration deck? Perhaps a third the size (or less) of the 144 card deck, so that interested publishers could get right into playing the game, and see "accurately" what the intended concepts are.


That's not a bad idea. 54 cards would be sufficient for a very basic two player experience - 10 core cards for each player's starting deck, plus 6 or so extra to demonstrate that the core cards can be bought during the game, plus 1 or 2 of each of the 19 different pool cards (with the lower cost cards getting the repeats).

Again, I'm going to put that to a few different people, and see how they think it compares to bringing a full deck instead.
 
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I'm no expert on sellsheets so please take my feedback with a grain of salt. Having said that, I do edit documents all day long with an eye toward trying to make them understandable for about 7,000 people in my company. There were a few things that stood out to me:

> Even though I have a basic understanding of how the gameplay flows, it's not clear to me what makes the game end and what determines the winner. Something like, "Players rack up as many points as they can over the course of five rounds. At the end of round five, whoever has the most points is the winner," might be helpful.

> The sellsheet as it currently stands makes the game sound a little boring and it looks a little too easy. I'm guessing the special powers on the cards solve that issue, but your sheet doesn't spell out any of the powers (upon further reflection I now see that the 6 larger cards on the right have special powers you can read, but I did NOT notice this until I looked at the document multiple times - you may need to draw more attention to this somehow) I think you need to give one or two examples so I can get a sense of where the tactics, strategy, and fun come into play.

> I got hung up trying to figure out how you made the word "style" using the cards. I didn't realize the cards with more than one letter on them were limited wild cards until I read your comments later in the thread. Perhaps use an example that doesn't require wildcards?

> I couldn't make any sense of the rows of cards under the letter D. Is this the bank of available cards to buy? Some clarification might be needed here.

> The chart showing what happens on a turn is not really understandable just by looking at the pictures. I like the idea of the Gameplay Overview box but I think it needs to be reworked. I think I'd like to see the bullet points changed into captions below each individual picture. You might need to resize the box to make that happen.

> Lastly, can the cards at the top that spell the name of the game be in color? Give me color at the top of the page!

That's all I've got - hope it was helpful.
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Corsaire
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p.s. this blog entry on sell sheets for games is sweet:
http://andrewfederspiel.com/myblog/?p=226

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Not related to the sell sheet, but I think the cards with multiple letters on them (where I assume you can choose from any of the letters) would be more clear if the letters were arranged vertically or at least staggered diagonally.

Before I took a second look at the example, I was wondering what the word "esatyl" meant.
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Andrew Rowse
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golden_cow2 wrote:
Not related to the sell sheet, but I think the cards with multiple letters on them (where I assume you can choose from any of the letters) would be more clear if the letters were arranged vertically or at least staggered diagonally.

Before I took a second look at the example, I was wondering what the word "esatyl" meant.


This is an issue I've gone back and forth on a lot - how to make the limited wilds clear to a new player, without making them look clumsy. Do you think that this does a better job of communicating 'one of':

 
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Harvey Wasserman
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KAndrw wrote:
CrocWrestler wrote:
Can you make a demonstration deck? Perhaps a third the size (or less) of the 144 card deck, so that interested publishers could get right into playing the game, and see "accurately" what the intended concepts are.
That's not a bad idea. 54 cards would be sufficient for a very basic two player experience - 10 core cards for each player's starting deck, plus 6 or so extra to demonstrate that the core cards can be bought during the game, plus 1 or 2 of each of the 19 different pool cards (with the lower cost cards getting the repeats).

Again, I'm going to put that to a few different people, and see how they think it compares to bringing a full deck instead.

Consider this game, recently published: Yōkaï no Mori (an introduction to Shogi).
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Andrew Rowse
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Thanks to the replies above, I was able to take a step back and rethink what I'm trying to communicate, and come up with this instead:



I tried a couple of variations on adding colour to the logo, but all my attempts wound up conveying the wrong feel.

I gave up on trying to get across how the game flowed, and instead aimed to convey gamplay in a far more general way.

I lifted a lot from the blog post on sellsheets Corsaire posted - and completely forgot to mention that setting up takes less than two minutes! So what should be replaced with that?
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Harvey Wasserman
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Much cleaner presentation.

Since setting up is part of the game flow, you could save "setting up time" for the rulebook.

As for acknowleging rights to the names Scrabble, and Ascension, I suggest you check with an attorney:

Found online: "SCRABBLE® is a registered trademark. All intellectual property rights in and to the game are owned in the U.S.A and Canada by Hasbro Inc., and throughout the rest of the world by J.W. Spear & Sons Limited of Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc. Mattel and Spear are not affiliated with Hasbro."

I'm not familiar with the Ascension game.

You could replace “Scrabble meets Ascension” with “A deck-building spelling game,” and avoid the legal hassle.
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I like where you went with it. It's a good teaser with enough detail to intrigue. I hadn't heard of Ascension, but I'm guessing it is like Dominion.
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I like your second version a lot better! It sounds much more interesting =)

Good luck getting your game published!
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