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Subject: Why Small Box Games is Small. rss

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j clowdus
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I’ve wanted to write this, or something similar to it, for a while. I’ve touched on some of the content here and there over the years, but seldom have I ever gone into much detail. A post came up the other day, and it kind of set things up for me to write this.

So here it is: Why Small Box Games is small.

For those of you who know about Small Box Games, you realize we run our company a bit differently than the majority of other board game companies. If you’ve never heard of us before, it’s because we run our company a bit differently than the majority of other board game companies. Just in case you didn’t know, we’re Small Box Games. We’re small, and we make games that come in small boxes.

From the onset of Small Box Games, I realized that the odds of having the reach of a company like Fantasy Flight, Rio Grande, or Z-Man would be next to impossible. Sure, there are some flukes that happen, and some small companies make a huge splash; Plaid Hat and Flying Frog come to mind. But, the fact is, not every gamer likes or buys every game, or even every “good” game; tastes vary and the board game world isn’t quite as big as a lot of us would hope for it to be.

Small Box Games has changed a bit, the quality of our product has increased drastically, and I’ve grown a whole lot as a designer since we released Politico nearly five years ago. However, the core idea of our company is still the same.

I read a comment a few months ago regarding the success of our Kickstarter project for the second edition of Omen. It was something to the effect of “they’re not getting thousands of copies printed, they’re not selling it anywhere aside from their site, and I don’t see how this was a success.” Just because our games will never end up on Tanga because we over-judged demand does not signal a lack of success.

Over the years, we’ve sold games several different ways, most of which revolved around preorders funding small print runs. That part hasn’t changed, and probably won’t ever change. Right now, we get 1,000 copies of a game manufactured. We have them manufactured domestically. Printing domestically is something that is important to us. Among other reasons, it generally leads to much faster turnarounds and more quality control.

At 1,000 games, sold directly through us, our numbers aren’t that different than if we were getting 3,000 copies printed overseas and selling through distribution. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a hell of a lot of work, and we work our asses off to make up the difference. To date, we’ve packed and shipped thousands of orders over the life of our company. But to us, that’s one of the special parts of our business model; from concept to the time that box ends up on a customer’s doorstep, we’re involved in every step.

I see every name on every order. We know who our games go to. When I see someone place their 20th order for Small Box Games, I know we’re doing this the right way for us. When I see an unfamiliar name, and then see that name again in a few months, that’s an awesome feeling. When I meet someone at a convention, I have a pretty good idea what games of ours they own.

If something’s wrong, it’s our fault. Sure, things can screw up at the printer before we have the games in hand, but from the point that my doorbell rings and a metric ton of cardboard shows up on my door step, it’s on me. It’s also on me to right any wrongs. Luckily, our rights far outweigh our wrongs.

That relationship now extends to some game stores. They’ve reached out to us to carry our games, and we’ve reached back out to even more game stores. But again, it’s about that relationship. We want people to order our games, not just because they’re good games, but also because they like us as a company. Getting into retail is like a second business in and of itself, but I realize that once we make that first retail sale to a store, chances are, they’ll be back, just like our normal customer base.

But then again, we’ve had a bunch of stores to tell us to leave them the hell alone because we’re not available through Alliance or ACD. And that’s fine, we get it. On that same note, I realize we lose out on a bunch of sales because Omen: A Reign of War isn’t available for $25.00 with free shipping off of your favorite OLGS. But, we’re missing out on sales, not customers. That may raise an eyebrow or two, but we don’t consider the two to be the same thing.

Here’s the thing, our games are kind of niche, even within this already niche market. We would much rather sell 1,000 copies of a game to 1,000 customers who’ve read about the game, looked over the rules, and really think this will be “their type of game,” than to have 3,000 people buy the game on a whim because it’s cheap. We’re in the business of making fun. Sure, we also make money, but without making fun, in the end, we make no money. The last thing we ever want is for someone to buy one of our games, just because the game is cheap, only to end up with a game that they bought, that was so far out of their normal type of game that they should have never bought it, just because it was cheap.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we could have easily taken Omen, and gone the traditional route with it, and had thousands of copies printed in China and sold through distributors. It’s got the ratings, reviews, art, and presentation to pull that off. It’s just not the way we want to do business.

There will always be people who don’t think we’re a successful company, or won’t order our games, because we don’t run our company like the majority of other companies. There will also always be people who never hear of our games because of the way we have chosen to run Small Box Games. We’re fine with that, and we’re happy with the size we are. Every customer means a lot to us, and we realize there are a lot of different games released monthly from many different publishers. While their products may not directly compete with our products based on theme or mechanics or personal tastes of any one gamer, they do compete with the limited supply of game spendin’ money any single gamer may have. We appreciate every customer, and those of you who have met us in person, know that this isn’t just me being sappy; we love what we do, and love that people buy our games. We’ve worked really hard to get to a place where we can sell 1,000 copies of a game in a relatively short period of time without having to go through distribution.

*Please note, this is in no way intended to be a knock against publishers who run their companies in a traditional fashion. It works for them, and I’m very happy that our hobby can sustain so many different companies. I’m just offering the reasons behind why we, Small Box Games, choose to do business the way we do.














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Ya'itz Yer'moov
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Geoff
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I've got all kinds of respect for any person who spends his time in the way he wants, enjoys it, and makes his experience completely his own.

I've also got mad wicked respect for anybody who puts fantastic games on my table. In the interest of my game shelves, I hope Small Box Games keeps bringing you joy meeple
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Dan Conley
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Once I found out about Small Box Games through a review, I was on board! Looking forward to my copy of Tooth & Nail: Factions arriving this week.

Thanks so much for a very insightful article, John! Best wishes to you and Britt in all your future endeavors!
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Dimitri Gia
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I am one of those Small Box Games customers who keeps on coming back. And that's no easy feat, considering the fact that I live over that big puddle of water between us...

Sure, there have been some games I haven't bought and some games that I bought that were not that well received in our group (can't argue about gaming taste and preferences after all) but there have been some addictive gems and unique little games. And it's a splendid thing to see them (both the games and SBG) evolve during these years.

Furthermore, coming back on topic : fascinating to see the motivations behind the "staying small" part, I can only add that it's completely understandable and I think I would follow the same route should I ever release some games (keep it small for a small number of fans who know what they go for instead of making just "another" boardgames that's printed in large quantities for the masses).

So thanks for the background info and the games

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Jonathan Ramundi
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Glad I heard about Small Box shortly after getting into the hobby in early 2011. Omen (first edition, I'm proud to say) was my first Small Box game, one of my first board/card games, and is to this day one of the most played games in my collection.

Keep doing what you love doing, John and Brit. I love seeing the stuff you two churn out.
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Russ Hill
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I have to say I loved Small Box Games from the moment I read reviews/watched playtest videos of Hemloch and Omen. Very sad I was not quick enough to get in on the Omen Kickstarter, but that has made me keep my eyes open even harder for new announcements from John.

So far, I've only bought Hemloch from SBG, and haven't yet had time to play it, but just from that one experience, and now from reading how John works, it's made me want "more". It's clear from the box, art and components in Hemloch that SBG do indeed invest in quality.

So John, to you (and your wife), all I can say is: keep doing what you're doing!
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Serious? Lee
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I must say I enjoy being a customer of your company and not just a consumer of your product. The relationship does make all the difference. Keep designing and producing great games. I'll be there with your other customers to buy them.
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Sam
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leemc13 wrote:
I must say I enjoy being a customer of your company and not just a consumer of your product. The relationship does make all the difference. Keep designing and producing great games. I'll be there with your other customers to buy them.


Very well said. Me too... have gotten 4 games so far, I'm sure the number will increase in the future. Keep up the good work.

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Jonathan Jordan
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I am one of those customers you mention. Found your guys by way of the Omen kickstarter. From that, I got a copy of Hemlock, because why not? Omen was so fun, a friend of mine went online and bought a copy the same night we played. I enjoyed it enough to back Tooth & Nail.

I look forward to whatever else you produce. I also hope that whenever I get the means to produce my own games, I will be able to do what you have done.
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Daniel Rocchi
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On The Vinyl Cafe, a popular radio program on the CBC, the main character runs a small independent record shop named The Vinyl Cafe. Their slogan is "We may not be big, but we're small."

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Adam Rouse
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You guys are awesome.
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Gyorgy Boda
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Lemme tell you something folks about this as well. Here in my country, there is a great little company that prints game legally for those guys who can prove they own the print & play version that game. So on kickstarter projects I could just go along with the 5$ versions, and then print it here , saving a lot of costs e.g. for international shipping...and I do this a couple of times.

But not with smallboxgames. There I go for the version, where I get the game directly from John & Britt, which is more expensive for me but I do not regret a single cent of it. Why is that? Well, because I like their games, but I also like the way they do their business. And therefore I decide to support them that way, even if it costs more for me. And I will do so in the future as well. There are few guys like that, we have to take care of them:)
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Jared Kelsey
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Well said, John.
I really appreciate hearing your statements.
As a guy who is trying to get my own games printed & published, you reasons and your passion are inspiring.
Thanks for posting this great article.
I'd love to talk to you sometime soon, if you are agreeable, about more details on how you have gone about doing what you do.
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Andrew Conniff
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Well that pretty much sums up everything I would want to be if I had my own board game company! Well said! You guys are truly inspiring! I imagine there are many husband/wife teams on this site that only dream of having what you two have. And seriously, you've earned every penny.
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Jay Lacson
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Late to this thread, but I saw it on the BGG News post.

I was a fan of Small Box Games and even gave my copies of Irondale and Hemloch to my old gaming group. Read this post makes me want to support SBG even more and I'll be buying all available titles current and in the future.

Keep up the good work, John and Britt.
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