Monday, September 22, 2014

Congress of Gamers Casts Its Spell On Me

If there's a convention that I've sworn off, it's Congress of Gamers. It's not even the convention's fault or anyone involved with it. It's simply that it's an expensive drive, at almost $35 in tolls for a 6 hour round trip. Mix that with the traffic ticket that I received in the mail last year, and add the rest stop $3 ATM fee because I THOUGHT $30.00 cash would cover all tolls... and you've got one unhappy Congress member.

But what brings me back each year is the Unpub room. This is a small convention, with an even smaller Unpub room. I've barely left that room each year, just to venture to the game auction and snack bar every few hours, but inside I've seen some magic inside of that room. There have been some seriously loud and exciting games in an otherwise quiet senior center. Post Position by Aaron Honsowetz and Austin Smokowicz had the room on their feet. East India Company by Paul Owen had eyes glued to the table for every second. I've brought Pixel Lincoln, ZombieZone, Maximum Throwdown and a handful of others and always had great, attentive players at every game. It's hard to ask for more than that.

So this year I was dead set against going. The traffic stuff was just outweighing everything else, since the bad things seem to always push their way in front of the good things. But then Alex Strang and Kevin Kulp talked me into it. They both signed up and there was just one slot left so I pulled the trigger and committed to Saturday Sept 27th. I'm still not 100% sure what I'm bringing, but I'm leaning heavily towards Jinx.

Jinx is a 2 player double simultaneous reveal game with just 22 cards and a handful of tokens. Players are witches combining ingredients to make powerful potions. Each player has a hand full of ingredients numbered 1-4, as well as a hand of potions numbered 2-8. On their turn, they will choose one of each and reveal the potion, then the ingredient. Your ingredients come back to hand each turn, but the ingredient you just played is set aside for one turn. Potions stay in play until 5 have been played and then the game ends. Each potion has an effect that automatically takes place when played, allowing manipulation of cards, rules, and other fun stuff. If a player manages to play the potion that matches the sum of both ingredients, they gain points. If they manage to get 3, 4, or 5 potions in a numeric row, they gain more points. If they keep specific potions in hand, they gain more points, or even lose some points.

That's it. It's real fast, a little thinky, and coming along very well. It was first designed with Marty Cobb, then tweaked with the help of Matt Loomis and Mike Mullins. It's a top choice for me to get in front of the crew at Congress of Gamers.

Congress of Gamers
Rockville Senior Center
1150 Carnation Dr.
Rockville, MD
Saturday, September 27, 2014 - Sunday, September 28, 2014 10:00 am - 9:00 pm

Monday, September 8, 2014

How A Cat Photo Doubled Our Funding

Here's a Kickstarter life lesson for those of you who are having trouble funding, or for anyone in their mid-campaign slump...

I did this, and it worked. Here's the story.

My campaign for Alex Strang's Movie Plotz opened to about 25% on its first day and had a few pledges bringing it up to about 35% by the end of day two. I was a little stressed out because I had hoped it would have done better, but at the same time I wasn't too worried because I knew it usually works out by the end.

Our goal was just $1000 (to cover costs for our travel wallet packaging and fancy bulk folded rules), so 25 and 35% still feels very low. We also have a low base pledge level, so it kind of balances out. I'm just used to seeing a large backer count on opening day, whether it's a Kickstarter of mine, one I'm part of, or one that I'm just watching. Movie Plotz had a few immediate Kickstarter strikes against it (party game, storytelling and very little art), but I still saw it's potential and wanted to bring it out to a larger audience. With it being small and easy to ship, it balances out once again. Lots of balancing on this project!

By the end of day two I was scratching my head. If we had a higher funding goal I would have been in full-on panic mode, but I was thinking of how we would reach a larger audience??? I posted a Boardgamegeek article about "How To Package A Microgame" and it had a bit of buzz going. Lots of thumbs, favorites and retweets. Some people even jumped in on the discussion, which is near impossible when you post directly about your game. This didn't translate to funding, but that wasn't the point. It was to show off our new form of microgame packaging... as seen in Movie Plotz on Kickstarter. <wink!>

Everything changed on day three when I posted this:

Poor Ernie's Catastrophe is a fake movie that was made up in a session of Movie Plotz. The session was videotaped and available on youtube when I was thinking of making a fake poster. This one turned out great (designers Jay Treat, Bonnie Neubauer and David Dunham really nailed it) and being able to share the video made it the perfect choice.

Within a few hours we had doubled our funding and our worries turned from "what happens if the lull continues?" to "uh-oh, it's time to announce some stretch goals!". Not a bad problem to have.

So that is what happens when you post a cat photo to your Kickstarter. INSTANT FUNDING!*

*I should note that I also sent out the Button Shy newsletter the same morning to about 800 of our followers, but I cannot conclude whether our surge was due to the newsletter or the cat photo. You'll have to try it yourself and let me know if it works. :)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Interview with Alex Strang. Part 1 of 3.

This is part one of my three part interview with game designer Alex Strang. I've known Alex for years now and I feel like I've only just scratched the surface of figuring out what makes him tick. Over the course of this series we're going to talk about his beginnings, struggles and successes starting right here with Act 1: The Setup.

JASON: For someone who doesn't know you, can you give us some insight into "who is the mysterious Alex Strang?"

ALEX: Sure! I started out drawing comics / manga since forever, and designing games at a very early age. Eventually I became a filmmaker and animator, then full-time screenwriter. I shot a lot of films, and wrote many for TV and movies. (one reason I know too much about the Hollywood mentality…sigh)

One of my niche specialities has always been creature design and I've begun archiving the literally countless monsters I've used for various projects over the decades into a convenient blog, the Cybergecko Kaiju Gallery. This has resulted in other artists collaborating to make toys and other works, using these creatures. I'm very excited about the notion of seeing my monsters come to life this way!

My first published game was Super Giant Monster Showdown, a 100% complete simulation (a heavy game) of the Kaiju genre. It was crazily successful for a long time and I learned a lot about the gaming industry and self-publishing. So much I could write a book, but I won't, I promise. I also publish a series of interactive game books called The Mr. Buckethead Adventure Game series, which take the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style books to an entirely new level. I'm also the head writer for the science-fiction shared universe called Starcade, a very exciting project with a team of creatives that are a blast to collaborate with!

I've worked with other companies such as Z-Man, Button Shy and a wild variety of clients. I became immersed in working within the team building industry, writing games/activities for large corporate groups. Doing that kind of work, plus writing for Film Directors, and doing lot of Marketing consulting, resulted in my need and ability to work extremely fast and turn around within blinks of an eye. As some others will testify, I literally cannot stop my output. I used to write pitches for others, and I became very accustomed to that way of thinking too. Fast, fast, fast!

The movie background, the game background, the team game background and improv speed background combined to form Movie Plotz. It began life as a corporate team exercise, then became a card game, and even a live comedy show!

JASON: Tell me about one of the first movies and games that really blew your mind. Something life-changing. (Alex and I regularly joke about life-changing films, as I've stated I only want to see a movie if it's going to change my life.)

ALEX: I remember TV a lot more than movies and TV had the most impact to me. If we can mention TV, I'd say Magma Taishi (aka Space Giants). I remember seeing that at the youngest age form which I can remember anything.

Regarding movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey was early for me and was life-changing (my top movie of all time), though I probably saw Gojira (aka Godzilla) first). The 3rd life-changer was the entire James Bond movie series.

The first game I remember was Snoopy And The Red Baron, an awesome game where Snoopy sat on his Sopwith Camel and rolled marbles down a chute to hit the Red Baron. My Mom would only let me play with it when it was raining outside (otherwise I had to go out to play). I even saw it on Ebay recently and also fainted (like in the movies).

A game that blew my mind? The IDEA behind Dungeon and Dragons blew my mind, though I quickly created my own RPG to 'do it better' (I still use mine, and I still think it's the best RPG..haha). Another mind-blower was Heroscape, and long-lost collectible hex-tile game called Vortex. I like games that have a seemingness limitless freedom built into the structure, so you feel you can do 'anything'.

JASON: As you first started designing games, what were your intentions, hopes, or dreams?

ALEX: Better Games. My first motivation was simple: making games that were better than anything out there already. Games that were very different, and games I'd like to have myself. In many cases, I'd play a game and find it frustrating or too limiting, and I'd design something much better. (in my opinion, anyway)

Events / Parties / Gamification. I designed many games just for me and my friends or colleagues to play as one-shots for events or parties because to me, gamification systems in general are what matters in the world going forward. I like to see activities that are more immersive than usual.

Freedom. Another goal has always been to design games that at least provide the illusion (if not the reality) of complete freedom of choice. I always found games frustrating (and boring) that seem to hold you back from doing what you really want to do. I find them counterintuitive. Sometimes, a game even has very arbitrary rules that limit your experience. I prefer more open game systems, where there are many options, and your experience reflects how much of yourself you 'put in to it'. This has nothing to do with a game is 'simple' or complex'…'s about elegance of design. I always want to make games that feel easy to get into, feel intuitive (you can do things you WANT to do), though 'under the hood' there may be a lot of depth there.

World-Building. Being a comic artist, a writer and filmmaker, I see games as yet another way to 'tell a story' and 'create a world', from where many things could spring from. In fact, of all the medium for storytelling, I find games to be the easiest one to have your ideas realized.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How Do You Package A Microgame?

Over the past year or so as we've been working behind-the-scenes on Movie Plotz, I've seen this question come up more than anything. How do you package a microgame? And the definition of microgame varies, but for the purpose of this blog I mean a game that is 12 cards or so.

Packaging is a tough task because the standard packaging in gaming is a box, and it's the least likely candidate here. A typical two piece box is expensive. It's expensive to make and expensive to ship. With a game with such a small footprint, you really want to be able to save on shipping. So I had to start thinking outside of the box.

An envelope could work and we've now seen it used in the Tasty Minstrel Games line (Coin Age, Burgoo). I was looking into envelopes a little while back and found sources that can print on envelopes. This was important to me, as I wanted to be able to express something on the games packaging. I wanted to tie it to the game in some way. I also wanted it to be re-usable and looked into envelopes with metal clasps. Tasty Minstrel would up using a very sturdy cardboard envelope that naturally stays together, which is nice. But I still kept searching.

Ziploc / Polybag
I tried to avoid this if possible. It's simple and you can buy them in every size, but I don't even like to keep my prototypes in bags. It just feels like the last (or only) resort and doesn't do anything for the game. Might be personal preference, but I wanted to keep searching.

Resealable Clear Sleeve
This is something that I do like, although it doesn't allow for you to brand the packaging in any way. A clear plastic sleeve, similar to a comic bag. Put the cards in, and fold over and seal the top flap. It separates itself from the Ziploc in one big way: no ugly seal at the top.  This is nicely folded over and in the back, out of the way. If you go with a clear sleeve and want to achieve the feel of a packaged game, you'll need to make sure your front card represents the game. It could be the back of your cards, or the back of your rules. Something that tells everyone what this is. Since microgames barely make it to retail beyond a convention floor, this isn't as important for online sales. But conventions and other sales situations will benefit from the presentation side of things.

Cloth Bag
We've seen this done with Love Letter and a few others from AEG now. But even with this method, the bags were further packaged inside a clamshell case for retail. With a bag only, you would at least need a tag with the barcode and important information. You would also need everything to be tightly packaged inside something that is inside the bag (a bag within the bag) so that everything doesn't fall out. That isn't the end of the world. A positive side to cloth bags is that you can print on them, and they area little more durable than all of the above methods (aside from Tasty Minstrel's super thick envelopes). The bag can be tossed around and provides a buffer between the game and everything in the real world that is trying to destroy it. 


For Movie Plotz, we thought about all of the above, as well as our concerns. We want it to be portable, but we also want it to be protected. We want it to look presentable and make sense economically. We ultimately settled on the Resealable Clear Sleeve, but then found something new.

Vinyl Wallet
This is a fold over vinyl wallet usually used for business cards, and sold at (I'm sure others do as well). You can print on top and inside you can fit 12 to 18 cards or so, plus small rules. The best part about using a vinyl wallet for packaging is that it's made for portability. It's made to protect the items inside. So with a cards only microgame, there was no other choice. We decided to make this the "travel version" as it costs a little more than using a Resealable Clear Sleeve, but to me it's the essential version. The only downside is that it will not work with any non-flat components. You can fit cards, rules, stickers, thin cardboard punch sheets, but you aren't getting a wooden cube in there. 

Hope this helps those of you looking to package a microgame. If you have any other ideas, please share them!

Also, if you want to see the vinyl wallets in action, Movie Plotz has 15 days on Kickstarter and as always, could use your help. It's hopefully the first of many pocket sized games using the wallets as packaging.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pet Peeves and Project Updates

This is my least favorite kind of post to write and overall one of my biggest pet peeves in blogging. The apology post. The "sorry it's been so long since I posted" post.

I've seen people apologize for not posting more than they've ever posted. I don't like those posts because nobody is forcing anyone to do this. We write because we love to do so, and if we don't love it enough, we don't do it. I haven't written because I was physically spent, but it's no excuse. I'm happy to be back. End of rant. :)

But yeah, I was beat. Kickstarter campaigns nearly kill me every time and the Pixel Lincoln Re-Election one was no different. That's the last time I blogged here and then Christmas happened, then Unpub, then Eagle/Gryphon picked up Seven7s, then TotalCon, then Storyteller Cards: Fantasy on Kickstarter (nearly dead again), then Origins, then Gen Con prep, then Gen Con, then kids and wife go back to school and now we are nearing my favorite time of year: FALL. My New Years Resolutions start in September as it's more of a reset for me than the mid-school year calendar rollover.

My resolution is to keep you all informed of what's going on. And there is a lot. Here's a quick rundown.

Movie Plotz is launching on Kickstarter this Wednesday, September 3rd. 
It's a tiny storytelling movie pitch game by Alex Strang, packaged in little vinyl wallets. The game can bring out great laughs with a crowd and great ideas as well. I wasn't planning on doing another storytelling game right away, but the time was right and I've always loved this game.

Storyteller Cards: Fantasy are with the printer and should arrive in October as planned.
Campbell Whyte really blew me away with this fantasy illustrations. I can't wait to double the size of our Storyteller Cards line and I've already been thinking about a third one, superheroes and super villains. But for now, I need to get this one done and out.

Pixel Lincoln: Re-Election is shipping this month.
I'm not sure how widely known this is, but the Kickstarter campaign was for 4 different expansions at once. Each was 54 cards, including a full level of Enemies, Items, Bosses, Mini-Bosses, Characters and Secret Items, along with 18 or so special cards like Environments that shape the world, Voting cards that change the way characters work, and much much more. These will ALL go out to Kickstarter backers at once, but the retail versions will be spread out over a few months. We have some new Pixel Lincoln stuff in the works, but no details just yet.

Maximum Throwdown 2 is on the way too.
Not a lot of info has been released so far, but I spilled some details on the Geek All Stars Podcast Episode 79. It's a standalone expansion that can be played with or without the original, introducing 6 new icon types. I can't thank Josh Edwards, Jay Treat, Jason Crognale, Jeff Quick and Mike Mullins enough for their help with creating this set.

60 Seconds To Save The World is with a publisher and I hope to talk more about this soon. 
This is my little Pandemic meets Hanabi style doomsday card game. The world ends and players need to cooperatively plan to save it. But there are communication issues as players are scattered across the world. I'm really excited about this one.

Tag Team Games are a thing now.
For a while now, I've been making games with my daughter Elle. The one thing I will miss about the summer is going for a walk every morning where she makes up a new game every day. Sometime after Origins my wife got the bug and got in on it as well. We prototyped a handful of games that spawned from these chats and set out to create a line of games called Tag Team Games. These are games created by my family for your family. We created the games, the art, the prototypes, etc... all in house. Our house. But indie kids games are a tough market (and by indie I mean one guy with no budget), but we're all about giving it a shot.

The Starcade Project is chugging along. 
If you don't know about the Starcade Project, it's a series of games that we are creating with Island Officials. The games are set in the Starcade universe, a shared universe created by Alex Strang about an amusement park planet and it's magical history. We have a team of artists and designers on it and the first game that should see the light of day is Kevin Kulp's dice game Rare Kingdom. We're meeting tomorrow night to move further on the game, so I expect to have some details here ASAP.

So those are the reasons I haven't been writing. But they are also the reasons I need to be writing. So much going on that you probably don't know about.

Here's to the Button Shy New Year, starting today September 1st.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Last Day For Pixel Lincoln: Re-Election


Today wraps up our most recent Pixel Lincoln campaign. It's been a fun one, with lots and lots of unlockable cards. It ends in just 9 hours. I think it's safe to say Lincoln has secured his Re-Election.