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Subject: Design Question - Why Minis rss

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Andrew Riley
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Woodford Green
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After coming across the Kickstarter, I've been reading game details and your blog posts with some interest. In What's the price of a game you come really close to talking about this design decision without really going into it. It may be that you've addressed it elsewhere in which case a quick redirect would be appreciated.

In essence I'd like to know why this game comes with minis? Is it a design decision to really press the theme? A marketing decision to tap the very large KS mini backers audience? A combination of these and other considerations?

Obviously adding minis, as mentioned in the linked blog, adds to the price, using more generic meeples would presumably have been cheaper and might have allowed a greater range of scenarios (assuming a few years down the line I need even more variation), by being able to assign different roles to each meeple type in different scenarios, where as an imp mini is stuck being an imp.

Clearly I've waffled on for long enough, but I'm very interested in the decision making process around this area.
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Greg
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I just wrote a billion words on this and then summarised it at the end. The summary is probably more useful:

Pros
- Better game experience (demonstrated by playtesting)
- Marketing advantage (minis do well on KS)
- Specialisation advantage (from our artists specialising in minis)
- Economic incentives (high value product makes sense with fixed costs)

Cons
- Manufacturing cost (moulds are v expensive)
- Manufacturing complexity (more to go wrong)

I don't list limited design space as a con because I haven't found using these three monsters to be restrictive and have many more ideas for them than I've managed to squeeze into the game. Overall we came to the conclusion that the pros justified the cons, there wasn't a single factor that determined things.

Personally I care more about mechanics than minis so a non-minis version of the game might have suited me more as an individual - that makes me nervous that I've compromised my main goal (make peoples lives better) but I think that most people aren't like me and that in general the choice has made it a better game



...



What? You were disappointed when I skipped a billion words earlier? Okay, here they are:

From a design point of view the use of minis makes sense, there's no drawback and there's a benefit.

I don't think that the use of minis has meaningfully cut down the design space as you suggest, sure an imp has to be an imp, but there's a lot that monsters of the same type might be able to do. To give an example from the game itself: In most scenarios demons and fire have no special relationship, but one scenario features fire demons and has special rules that cause fire to spread towards the demons and demons to get extra moves when fire spreads. Theoretically a scenario could be written in which the demons are dimension twisting demons and rotate rooms that they move through. Or teleporting demons that move to the nearest player automatically. "Imp" "Troll" and "Demon" are all monsters that have a LOT of variance (Each one of them has dozens or hundreds of different versions in different mythologies). I've not begun to scratch the surface of everything I could do with these monsters, so I don't feel that it's meaningfully limited the design space to make minis of them.

We'd always planned on minis for the main characters, but using them in playtests convinced me that a heavier use of minis would lead to a better game. The difference between playtesters using counters and playtesters using minis (Even when the mini was just a lego figure) was marked and the difference between the placeholder mini and the prototype Nyvetta mini was also noticable. Objectively, on average, players enjoyed the game more with minis.

A quick aside here: I actually don't understand why. As a gamer I have no particular attachment to minis and don't care very much about component quality - I'm all about interesting rules and mechanics. But playtesting is about understanding what is and isn't working for players of the game, not finding excuses to impose my own preferences. I can't tell you *why* people enjoyed the game more with minis, just that they did.

Phew! We're a long way into this post and I've still not managed to answer the question. I must've been watching too many political debates recently. Let's have a blue footed booby break.



I love those birds. So derpy.

So as I was saying, from a design point of view there was a benefit (though marginal compared to some other considerations) and no drawback. This isn't quite strictly true because a designer wants their game to be published so the publisher factors are all designer factors too, but purely from a "what makes the game best" POV there's a reason for minis.

Now the publisher's perspective is a little more complicated. Again there are a bunch of factors in play and this time they're positive and negative.

In the negative corner we've got two big ones: Cost and complexity. From a cost point of view it'll be more expensive to manufacture the minis driving up the overall price of manufacture. From a complexity point of view there's more to go wrong in the manufacturing which means a higher chance of a drawn out process and a higher chance of ultimately needing to send out replacements and troubleshoot problems.

On the plus side we've got a bundle of factors: There are pretty strong marketing advantages to having minis on Kickstarter, as you've noted. We're also an art publishing company that specialises in 3D art (The name of the company is 3DTotal) and have been for ten years - we know that we could do a really exceptional job of this. Economically we lost money on the last game because fixed costs (like office rental) ate a lot of it up, these costs don't vary with the scale of the game so there's an incentive to make a more deluxe game (i.e. All things being equal if we have a quality 'q' and the game costs £qX and the sales price is £qY then it's best to make q as high as possible because some costs aren't affected by it)

So there are a lot of pros and cons, but overall the pros seemed to outweigh the cons.


Now to take a minute to talk about how I feel about this personally - as a designer I care about making great games and getting them into the hands of as many players as possible. The minis decision can hurt that in terms of putting the game outside of the price range of some players so that I don't get to bring joy to so many people. On the other hand it helps it if it means we get to make more games in the long run and if it brings extra players to the table who wouldn't have been interested without the minis.

I'm pleased to get to make a game that is, as an experience, a little better than it would have been without the minis - but really I think that the core gameplay is what makes Wizard's Academy special and while the minis enhance it I'm honestly not sure hand on heart whether they do enough to justify their cost or not. It's hard for me because as a gamer I don't care that much about chrome, I know that other people care about it a lot and want to make them happy, but when I make a sacrifice of something that would affect me as a gamer (the game costs more) for something that would not (the game gets minis) I worry.

Still, the playtesters are generally in favour of it. The reviewers are overwhelmingly in favour of it. This isn't the first time that I've paid attention to what players enjoyed over my personal dogma and that way of making decisions hasn't served me wrong in the past. I think that - on average, for the average player (in so far as such a creature exists) - the minis add more to the value of the game than they do to the price
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Andrew Riley
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Thanks for the quick response, and for the billion words, it really gave some insight into the meat of the choices. I think I'm like you in that I'm less interested in chrome, although it definitely has its place.

Good luck with the Kickstarter, I will be heading to the project page as soon as the budget resets at the start of the month.
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Box of Delights
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Great post. Nice boobies.

I've been playing with tokens, and it works just fine. But I am looking forward to getting the minis because of the third-dimension adding to playability. Like Tannhauser, the minis will give you more immediate view of what is going on. I guess the same reason we tend not to play chess with tokens... it's about the "user experience".

But minis certainly work bettter with a game with a larger footprint. This is where the fit has to be right. WA has a bigger footprint and can accomodate minis really well, and the minis would compliment this larger game space.
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Greg
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Trying to do plastic minis as an optional add on would be an unmitigated disaster from a manufacturing point of view.

The fixed costs dramatically outstrip the per unit costs, something to the order of magnitude of £18000 fixed costs to do it at all and then £5 for each game that has them. If there are 1000 games with minis the fixed cost can be divided between them, pushing the price up by £22 per game. If there are 100 games with minis then covering the fixed cost would require a price increase of £185 per game.

Please take these figures with a pinch of salt, I'm not in the office and can't check the numbers, but the order of magnitude is about right - making plastic minis an optional add on would make them fantastically expensive.

Unless you're a huge publisher with an audience in the high thousands you have to make a call between "every game has plastic minis" and "no game has plastic minis"

In an ideal world I've love for everyone to get a fully customized game, no reason to stop at minis: Everyone should get to choose their card stock, counter thickness, number of scenarios in the rules, whether they have an insert, whether they get card sleeves, which of ~30 characters they want and so on. That way everyone could have the money that they put into the game spent on exactly the things they care about while saving money on the things that they don't. The problem is that efficient manufacturing relies heavily on making a lot of games that are exactly the same. So at some point you have to make a judgement call on "we reckon this is what'll create the most joy for the most people".
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