Turn Sideways Games
Board Game Discussion, Review, & Design
Turn Sideways Games
Board Game Discussion, Review, & Design
As I’ve mentioned before, I tried my hand at launching a Board Game (My Metropolis) on Kickstarter once and before and learned a lot through the process. One of the key takeaway can be summarized in a direct message I received from an opinionated KS user:
"I hate your artwork and font selection. People place over 50% of their purchasing decision on the game’s artwork and layout. Yours looks like a power point presentation I did in high school."
I realize that people throw out unfounded, made up statistics all the time on the internet. But it’s telling that someone felt so strongly about the artwork and went out of their way to say something.
As an engineer and game designer who revels in game mechanics, I really never cared much about the artwork. For My Metropolis, I decided to use corny stock photography for the card images and I had someone “cartoonify” them. It was a low cost option and at the time I really didn’t see the importance of good artwork and good graphic design. I have learned my lesson.
I’ll never make the mistake again of not plating proper importance on artwork and layout. With Taco Ninja Adventure, we spent about 6 months and a good bit of our budget searching for illustrators. After some trial and error with determining how best to vet each illustrator, we settled in on each providing two black/white sketches – one character card and one item card. We'll do a deeper dive into that process in a later post.
TL;DR: Get the artwork right or people will tell you how much it sucks.
We’ll cut to the chase here and state that our game, Taco Ninja Adventure, will be play tested at GenCon 2018. We purchased Four 2 hour sessions and I’m still waiting to hear back from Double Exposure, the group who runs it. In order to prep for this and determine best practices, I posted in several forums asking for advice and best practices. I wanted to compile the info in one location so that others could benefit. Here’s what I have so far:
I have attempted to launch one game at this point. It’s called My Metropolis. I launched it on KS and cancelled it after 1 week. We made it to $1000 in the first week which was exciting, but it was 10% of our funding goal and I received a lot of feedback effectively telling me that it was best to relaunch so I took it down and I'll likely do a redesign and launch later. At some point soon I’ll also cover lessons learned from that KS... there were a lot.)
I bring up My Metropolis to make the point that I see a lot of other first time game creators launching games on Kickstarter and making similar mistakes. I bleed for these guys and girls who spend 30 days, scrambling to figure out how to make their KS games hit a funding goal in under a month. It usually always plays out where they get $1-2k pledged and then they flat-line.
How Do We Fix This?
There is no question that the main problem they have is that they didn’t build the right crowd prior to launch. Now there’s a difference between just having 2000 followers on Insta and having the right crowd. There’s nothing to say that a single one of those 2000 followers actually wants to play your game. They may be following you because: your funny, they like your game’s artwork but not enough to purchase a copy, or they followed you randomly at some point and are too lazy to unfollow.
So my conundrum is this:
In board games and in life, there are winners and losers. Winners are the weird guys from high school that wore capes, bred Venus fly traps in their refrigerators, and then invented nut-free almonds, making them billions of dollars. Losers are the ones that referred to themselves as “All American”, wore bedazzled jean jackets, and cried themselves to sleep while watching re-runs of their glory days as 37 year olds.
Being a loser sucks.
But there are certainly good losers and bad losers. Of the bad kind of losers, there are many iconic breeds: the one that pouts, the one that seethes in quiet internal rage, and then there’s the guy who flips tables... don't be that guy.
I am a “quiet rage” kind of loser. It’s particularly bad when I realize that I’m going to lose in the middle of the game: I can’t quit, because that will make the game unplayable and I won’t be invited back for future gaming events – where there will be handmade paleo tortilla chips and nut-free almonds. So instead, I’ll attempt to create as much chaos in the game and imagine that I am some kind of fickle, demi-god of random chance – my younger brother taught me this one (he is also of the quiet rage variety). Playing games, especially competitive ones like Settlers of Catan and Magic the Gathering, has taught me a lot about losing and has made me… dare I say it... a better loser.
So what constitutes being a better loser?
1.) Lose with grace: Very few games are designed with the express purpose of participants having a bad time (see: Keep Away or CSGO). By acting like a dingus and not finding a way to stay positive and engaged in the game, you ruin the game for everyone and no one is going to want to be your friend, you spiteful little turd.
2.) Have fun while losing: Don’t focus on the fact that you’re the big loser. Some may think of it as being delusional, but change your definition of what winning is. No longer is the objective to get the most victory points-- it is now to see how many trades you can make, if you can influence the game to allow an underdog to win, or make the most people laugh through your in-game decision.
3.) Learn from the mistakes: This one, in my opinion, is the highest value takeaway. You are wasting a very good opportunity if you walk away from a loss without identifying what caused it. Catan is always a good go-to for discussion on this kind of stuff. My last loss in Catan was the result of a total lack of available resources. I made an error in ignoring the long term expected value of my first settlement. Expected value (EV) is a very important concept and I promise that I will write several articles on this, but the short version of the explanation is as follows: (Note: It’s about to get a little nerdy so feel free to skip to the poem about tacos at the bottom)
*EV is a predicted value of a variable, calculated as the sum of all possible values each multiplied by the probability of its occurrence. In other words, it’s the “value right now” of any action. So in a game like Blackjack, your EV is the probability that you’ll win times the amount of money that you bet. Let’s say that you have a 44.2% chance of winning at a Blackjack table. If you have $100 you plan to bet, then your expected value of playing Blackjack is $44.20. That’s the principle that allows Casinos to be profitable.
Let’s look at this within the context of Catan – this is about to get a little technical so feel free to skip if you aren’t interested in upper level Catan strategy.
You can choose to build a settlement on intersections of hexagonal shaped resource blocks with numbers on them. Every turn, 2 die are rolled and if the number on the die matches the numbers on the resource blocks you are built on, you collect those resources. In the image below, if a 6 was rolled, then both the red player and the blue player would collect a Rock, or, as some call it “Ore”.
So where does EV come into play with Catan?
The maximum number of hexagons you can build on is 3. I choose to build on a coast with only 2 resources (see image below)
These were good resources to have in the early game, wood and bricks, but, at the end of the day, I was still only built on 2 resource tiles. Over the course of the game, the rest of the players were all able to collect a greater number of total resources and build things. While I was collecting diddlysquat. I had planned to quickly expend out of the coastal region but my numbers didn’t hit early in the game and it was wildly frustrating to not have the resources for the rest of the game and essentially do nothing.
In general, the play with higher EV play in Settlers of Catan is to build in locations where you can collect on 3 resource tiles. This will allow you to spend those resources and build out to other tiles. There is some Excel simulations that I can work up and post on this if there’s enough interest, but I don’t just do that kind of stuff for fun (I’m totally lying).
To end this Life/Statistics 1000 lecture, nothing solidifies a lesson learned quite like a staggering loss. But it’s vital that you take the time to identify what caused the loss. If you’re not sure why or how it happened, then ask the other players in the game. Everyone can learn from your loss and you’ll probably come away with insights about how to be a better player, you spiteful little turd.
“There is only shame in defeat if you learn nothing from it.” – Rusty Scioscia
Play more board games.
It’s Monday. Gathered around the watercooler, inevitably the question comes up from co-workers more often than the weather:
“What’d you do this weekend?”
When I tell them that I played a board game, at times, I’m met with narrowed-eyes and a slow, cautious “that’s interesting…”, while they grasp for a new topic, usually the weather. I can tell that they’re probably thinking about me hanging out in my parents’ basement, going on ‘quests’, speaking in old-English, and pretending that I’m a wizard, dwarf, or a combination of the two (which honestly doesn’t sound half bad).
Sure, it’s cool when the premise of Stranger Things is built upon a board game – but when people stereotype a 28-year old male, sitting around a table with his adult friends on a Saturday, admittedly, it evokes a different image. You now no longer have conversations around the watercooler.
Let’s talk about the argument for board games, that you can share with your sideways-eye-glaring, reheats-fish-in-the-cafeteria-microwave, co-worker Karen.
If you’re not here for that, and you’ve stumbled here while researching “how to brush my cat’s teeth”, please continue reading anyways. There’s no judgement here.
I’ll come out and say it: board games save money for you and you friends. The vast majority of board games out there are between $10-50. In fact, of the 152,729 results on Amazon when you search “Board Games”, a little over 64,000 (41%) are under $25, and roughly 29,400 (19%) are $25-50 for a total of 60%.
Let’s set the scene:
You just purchased a standard 3-4 player game that takes 30-90 minutes to play. You invite your friends over: have a little cheese, wine, and Flaming Hot Cheetos (with a fork—can’t get that magic Cheeto finger dust on the board).
For the evening, you spent $35 on the game, $7 on the semi-firm cheddar cheese from Whole Foods because you couldn’t pass it up after you tried a free sample (ok, tried four free samples), $3 on Trader Joe’s wine because you’re also economical, and finally $2.98 on the Cheetos because your mom bought you one of those Amazon Pantry subscriptions for your 28th birthday…and again, they’re delicious.
In total, this brings you to $47.98.
Your alternatives for an evening with friends are:
In all likelihood you’ll probably (definitely) have more than two drinks because you’ve already paid for the Uber and you haven’t even had any Flaming Hot Cheetos. You’re now stuck with food poisoning from the gyro and your ears won’t stop ringing from the trashy bar music.
So, in the case of the board game versus bar, you’re hovering right around $50 for the evening.
Don’t get me wrong folks: I ain’t no “bar-hater”. I actually really enjoy going out to bar every once in a while, specifically, the ones with trashy music. The long-winded point I want to make is that getting drinks at the bar is a “one-and-done” experience for $50, while with a board game—you are investing in quality and interactive experiences with your friends. This goes without saying, talking to all of you financial analysts out there, but when you have another board game night, the cost of the game is continually dispersed, so you’re saving money in the long run.
The particulars will be saved for another post, but the interaction that is stimulated by playing games with your friends versus just talking with them at a bar is vastly different. Both are good, but they are different. I’ll get into all the beauty and wonder of board game interaction and psychology in future posts.
But for now, I’ll sign off by saying that cash is king and it’s important to retain value.
Play board games people.