Friday, June 29, 2012

The challenges of a start-up (1)

NSKN is a publisher of board games and, therefore, a company. We started more than 1 year ago and from time to time we are trying to draw the line and see exactly where we stand. Now is not one of those moments, it's just the beginning of a new week, with new thoughts, most of them of how crazy life is when you are self employed. So, this post is less about board games and more about what are the challenges of starting up a company and bringing it to either success or bankruptcy.

Well, the path to bankruptcy is quite simple, paved with poor management decisions, bad cash flow management, lack of people skills, not knowing how to sell. And you don't even need all these ingredients, usually one or two of them are enough to take you down that road.

The way to success is far more complicated. Not making any bad decisions does not necessarily mean you made good decisions. Not making mistakes is not the same with doing the right thing. One year of hard, successful work can be cancelled in a split second by a really bad decision.

I guess that the major challenge for any start-up company is to survive past its first year and a half, maybe two years, when the money and the reputation have piled up high enough to counterbalance one major poor decision. The initial plan, no matter how good, will have to be adapted to the changes of the market, to the new technologies and the ever changing demands of the customers.

Moving from general and abstract thoughts to practical challenges, in my opinion the biggest "hill to climb" is cash-flow management. Those who were involved in managing a business know that the government is very willing to take and not so happy to give back (e.g. VAT return, income tax), so the lack of knowledge of the (ever-changing) laws combined to high receivable may lead to a short in the cash-flow which may lead to... I don't really want to say the word, but you know what I mean.


The second big challenge is to stay up to date with the customers. The life cycle of a product (in the case of NSKN this is Warriors & Traders) is different for similar (not identical) products. How long a board game lasts on the market depends on many factors. I can count the notoriety of the publisher, the overall quality of the game-play, the investments in marketing to keep the interest alive and these are just the most important criteria. Of course, having good cash-flow may help deal with the marketing part, but for the first two aspects (notoriety and quality) there is not much a publisher can do after releasing a game. The same principle also apply outside the board games world.


I will talk about challenges number three, four and five in my next post. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's so special about board games?

I've seen recently a picture on Facebook that really inspired me. The day-to-day life is somewhat boring if we don't spice it up a little bit. Many say that the little things are the ones that make a difference. Well, for some of us, those little things that make a grey day bright are the board games. 

What brought me in the board games world at first was the amazing combination between having fun and using my brain. It sounds funny, I know, but it is true. Once we graduate from college, most of us get so sucked in the working world and we forget that there are books around - and I am not talking about Freakonomics, C++ or Excel for Dummies - or theater or museums. I know that it happened to me. After a certain age, it become increasingly difficult to keep learning new things, to stay open minded and to use our brains outside work.

This is where the board games come in. If you don't have enough time to go to a museum, or don't want to be alone with a book or cannot afford an evening at the theater, play a board game! There are so many choices, from 20-minutes abstract game to enormous empire building games that take up the whole weekend, there are nowadays more than 10,000 decent (and above) board games on the market and at least 500 new ones get published every year. With this much diversity, it is impossible not to find something you like. So, instead of watching brainless TV, get you friends together, spread a board game on the table, talk, make strategies and enjoy a great time. 

Besides stimulating our brains and the obvious social role, board games stimulate our creativity. I guess that one of the reasons I started developing them instead of just playing. After many evenings of gaming, I realized that there a whole universe that has not been explored yet and there is an infinite number of things that could still find their way inside a game box. So, following the motto from the picture, I dug inside my head and I started putting all the ideas on paper. It turns out that there are a lot, many more that I could ever develop into games. So I must choose and even this little process of deciding what is worth developing and what isn't keeps me thinking.

__________________

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Exodus - the space ships

This morning someone rang our door a bit earlier than expected. It was a DHL guy who brought us the sample space ships from China, the very same ships that will be in the game boxes of Exodus: Proxima Centauri.

They look just amazing, maybe the purple ones are a bit pinkish but overall we are happy with the quality. Being just a sample, before we start mass production we have the option to alter the colors, so we should be able to make the purple darker.

Here are the first pictures with the real thing. I took them in a rush, better quality ones will be up soon on the NSKN website.

Battle Carriers




War Cruisers


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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Crowd funding

Have you ever heard of Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Ulule? They are all websites for crowd-funding. People who have creative ideas put their project there and other who like the idea are backing it up with an amount of money. Every project has a financial target. If this goal is met, the project creator(s) get the money and the people who 'sponsored' the project get their promised reward. That is pretty much how these crow-funding platforms are working, as a direct interface between project makers and their target audience. Board games are becoming increasingly popular on these platforms. Some of the most successful or well known games raised as mush as $1 million and newcomers on the board games market managed to raise usually above $10,000. The increasing popularity of these crowd-funding platforms caught the interest of the big names in the industry. Some of the most famous publishers are now using Kickstarter and the best example is Queen Games. Most of their releases in the past six months were first 'kickstarted' before they were  commercially available.


Using a crowd funding platform comes with a few very important advantages for the publishers. First of all, this is a good way to measure the impact of your game and to decide if your game will be economically viable to produce. Also, judging by the number of pledges, a publisher can adjust the quantity they produce to meet the need of the market and to avoid stocking. Furthermore, by "shorting" the distributing companies and the retailers, the publisher will get the money directly from the final customers, having better margins. And this takes us to the advantages for the customer.


As people who play board games, we - the NSKN team - were looking to see how we can get the newest and the coolest games as soon as possible and for a good price. Crowd funding platforms are again the right answer. Most publishers offer a significant discount to all those who are willing to pledge their money and wait for a few months before getting their product. The usual discounts are somewhere between 10% and 25%. And this can happen just because some link on the distribution chain are skipped.


But these are just the most important advantages of using crowd funding platforms. Some others are less visible, but they can still make a difference. Because the publisher really wants to sell and has full control over the information they are providing, the clients will find there pretty much all there is to know about the board game they are considering to support. There's a video from the publisher, a video review, most of the artwork of the game and the rule book and a lot of comments from the other people who are supporting the same project. As a final bonus, the collectors will have a pleasant surprise,  as some of the publishers offer signed copies of their games or entire prototypes.


If you are looking for more information about crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter, I  recommend you to check The Game Whisperer Board Game Industry Analysis where you can find more information on the current projects and how Funding the Dream is happening. There are many amazing board game and card game projects on the Kickstarter in the process of being funded. I do not want to miss any of them, so I will just share with you a search link for 'board and card games' on the Kickstarter page

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Greece, politics, board games, live long and prosper!

 
Samaras - live long and prosper!
(photo: Reuters)
I was writing a few weeks ago about the   political situation in Greece and how it  affects the world of board games.  Yesterday, a new round of elections took  place and, although I am trying to stay as  far as possible from politics, I feel  compelled to share my thoughts on this.

The whole Europe and most of the world have focused on Greece for the past few weeks, not due to their impressive come-back in the Euro 2012, but due to the importance of these elections for the future of the Euro-zone and EU itself. The fear was that, should the radicals win, Greece would no longer respect the bailout agreement with the EU and IMF and would be forced to default on their debts, thus causing an extended crisis throughout all the countries which share the Euro as their currency and the other countries surrounding the Euro-zone.

But that's just some political talk, right? How would we - the common people - feel this directly? Well, just the perspective of the Greek default cause the Euro to lose some 3% against the US dollar and other relevant currencies, the oil price dropped with more than $10. For all those who are doing business across borders and currencies, this lack of stability is causing stress and even panic. For those who have saving or credits in various currencies, this prolonged instability is a source of nightmares and for the rest it is simply a nuisance ready to become a serious issue as soon as the price are going bazinga once again.

Fortunately, the (almost final) results of the Greek elections show that ND, a moderate right hand party won and will form a government which will work with the EU and IMF to get the country out of the brown situation and respect all the international agreements that Greece had signed. The political leaders in Europe are having less cold sweats, they can now focus once again on hiding their own dirt under the carpet.

For the board games world there isn't much of a change. But there is some change. The quotation I got this morning for international shipping was 7% lower that the one I got last week, in spite of the slight increase in the oil price (everyone in the shipping business blames crazy prices on the oil and gas market), so there is hope for better.

Overall, I guess the outcome of the last political weekend looks positive and most people have less to worry about. I am just wondering what will happen when the reality hits and one of the countries which are always under the magnifying lens of the EU, IMF and the rating agencies will not make the "right" choice. 


Live long and prosper!

__________________
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Saturday, June 16, 2012

The first images from Exodus: Proxima Centauri


We promised a while ago to put some images online with the art from Exodus: Proxima Centauri as soon as we will also have a final release date. We don't have a final release date yet, but we do have bits and pieces of the final graphics.


And this is just the beginning...
The logo of Exodus: Proxima Centauri
The play-mat of the purple player


Action card Research/Trade belonging to the Red player
The back of the same card

The green Home Planet
And what is your first impression? Let us know what do you think about the graphics so we can make it even better.
__________________
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are you Vlad?

Just a few years ago, Romania was somewhere at the edge of the board games world, having a handful of players, two-three hobby stores and the newest and coolest games were getting there with an average delay of six months. But this is over now, things are changing for the better and quite fast.

If last year we - NSKN - were proud of stating that we were the first and only Romanian board games publisher, today things look different once again. The Romanian board games market has just become richer with a new game called I am Vlad from Real Wallachian Games.














After our friends or fans saw the trailer of I am Vlad, they started asking what will we do about it. I had troubles digesting the question, not really understanding why should we do something about it. Later on, I got the point. When you're the first on the market (for the sake of argument, let's assume we were the first on the market), you'd normally feel threatened by newcomers and see them as competition. I must confess I was temped to fall into this trap at first. Then, after some cold judgement, this is where we stand.


First of all, we all love board games. This is how we started and this is who we are. I personally paid a lot of attention to I am Vlad and I must say the game looks awesome, it features one of the best graphic designs I have ever seen and, from what I've heard, it also plays great. I saw the fantastic plastic miniatures and I want even more to try this game out. I personally believe that  NSKN Legendary Games and Real Wallachian Games are not competitors fighting for the same clients, but both publishers are putting Romania on the map of the hobby world. I am expecting more to follow and if this happens, in a few years the Romanian market will probably rise and be at the same level as the Czech market or the Polish one.

I've been asked to compare Warriors & Traders with I am Vlad. I obviously cannot do that, not having played the latter and it would not be even fair to do so. What I can say is that I will for sure add I am Vlad to my collections and I wish that Real Wallachian Games will fully succeed on the board games market.

__________________
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gamers' games

I spent last weekend in Italy at a convention organized by La Tana dei Goblin, the largest board gaming community in Italy. Besides their warmth, which goes without saying, I want to talk about what kind of games they were playing.

The fist game people were talking about when we (NSKN) got there was Antiquity. This is a civilization game, with asymmetric victory conditions, something a heavy gamer will enjoy. Someone ordered this game from Germany just to have it in time to play it at the convention. It arrived Friday evening, but it only hit the table on Sunday, after we left. With people arriving late at night, Friday was the day of 'normal' games and I guess the most complex strategy game played was A Game of Thrones, which lasted for the full 10 turns and almost 6 hours.

Saturday was the day for the Sword of Rome, a historical board game set in Italy (no big surprise here) which lasted for almost 11 hours. It is a game made by GMT, therefore a war game, but a heavyweight one, with a play time according to the rules of 6 hours. Besides this, more games hit the tables, and I will only count Twilight Struggle, Starcraft and Maria. As you can see, not all of them are games to keep the player in front of the table for the entire day, but most of them are seriously committing people to play for at least two hours.

Sword of Rome

Saturday evening, we gave away and unboxed later on Warriors & Traders: Italia. It was a nice moment, but also with a bit of cold sweat - my old fear of speaking in public - and as soon as this was over, we received request of playing the expansion. We sat down at the table at 10 PM and we were three experienced Warriors & Traders players and three people who never played this game before. After about 15 minutes of setup and another 25 minutes of explanations, we started playing. It took the "new" players about 1 turn and a half to really figure the game out and start making a strategy. I won't say much more about Warriors & Traders other than by 2 AM we had a winner for our six-player game and that I found a positive answer to my article from 10 days ago. 

Warriors & Traders: Italia

The same night, a group of people went to sleep early, at least by gamers' standard. Around 1 AM the "diplomacy" group went to sleep. They were preparing to wake up at 6:30 the next morning and play Diplomacy, an old but brilliant Avalon Hill game, again something that they knew would take the full day. Having left the game set up on a table from Saturday evening, they kept their promise and at 10 AM of Sunday when I went to the gaming room, they were half way through the game.

I must confess that about two years ago I had my mind set up that in Italy people have too much sun and beauty around to play board games. I had been already proven the opposite and I am happy about it. I like gamers' games and I can only hope to see more and more people being caught by them. And how was your weekend? What games did you play? Any long gaming session in progress left for the next week? 

__________________
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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Reporting live from Bologna

Last night, after a lovely Italian dinner and watching Poland and Greece drawing in the opening match of Euro 2012, we started playing board games. As my good friend Stefano is saying, we gathered here so now "we must play board games and we must like it".

We followed his motto until 4 AM in an epic Game of Thrones (2nd edition) conflict. Having only experienced gamers around the table, I witnessed and lost one of the most strategic and enjoyable games of 2012, especially since we played mostly outdoors enjoying the Italian summer.

Back in the hotel room, we could not help looking on the internet and we saw the message from Paco of G*M*S Magazine who released an unboxing video of Warriors & Traders.


And now, since we must play games and enjoy it, we're going downstairs to explain and play Exodus.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Italy, we're coming / Italia, stiamo arrivando

In a few minutes, half of the NSKN team will start driving to Italy, to participate at GobCon - a gaming convention and a gathering of friends.

Being a fairly new publishing company, we have limited experience with gaming conventions, but GobCon is something special, being the first one that we are attending for the second time. I think that says it all about how much we (to be honest, I should say "I", there was only one of us there) loved being there the first time.

As promised, we are bringing along Warriors & Trades: Italia, our very exclusive limited edition expansion, designed especially for this very enthusiastic community and we're also planning to demo Exodus: Proxima Centauri and Wild Fun West.

Speaking of the devil, take a look at the box art work for Exodus... isn't it something?


I just realized this is the first public appearance of Exodus, "dressed" with its final graphics. But now, it is time to start driving. We'll be reporting live from Italy on Saturday!

__________________
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why in Italian?

Before being designers or getting involved in the making of board games, we - and I mean all of us from NSKN Legendary Games - are gamers. Simply put, we love to play a game, sometime any game, enjoying an evening between friends. This is something we'll always cherish.

Now you must be wondering why I am telling you this. I have been asked recently what made NSKN decide to make the first expansion for Warriors & Traders in Italian, why not in English, German or even Romanian? 

There is an association of gamers called La Tana dei Goblin in Italy and one special member called Stefano. IT was their idea and they made the push for us to create the expansion Warriors & Traders: Italia. I went in January to their convention in Bologna and I met a lot of great people, I made friends and I played games. It was them end their enthusiasm that made me rush and release this mini-expansion long before it was initially planned.

To sum up, we did it for friendship rather than anything else. We made this expansion for people who love Warriors & Traders and they wanted something more and we would do it again. We are still gamers and as long as we'll have resources we will always support this kind of initiatives.

Plastic wrapped Warriors & Traders: Italia expansion
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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Is anyone still playing real games?

Every year, board game designers from Germany and the countries around gather in Göttingen for two days to present their latest creations to publishing companies. Most of the new games go by unnoticed, some of them become big hits. Today, I witnessed - as a designer - this gaming fair which is supposed to bring together the most innovative ideas in board gaming. After almost ten hours, I got to the hotel disappointed and unwilling to return tomorrow for the second day.

Don't get me wrong, the event in perfectly organized, German quality all the way, and for most designers this represents a unique chance to be seen by trend makers in the industry. My amazement and disappointment come from the request of the public. I was talking today with a representative from one of the biggest publishers in Germany and I was shocked to find out that games like Settlers of Catan or Carcassone are considered today too complex! I am not kidding, he was looking for games that people can play without even reading the rules and they can finish in 20 minutes.

So, are there any people out there playing real games? Games that make you think, that can be played over and over again? Games that you can re-discover a few years later and still enjoy? Games that last a whole evening?

I am not saying that abstract games and children games are not important and they should be ignored, I am just asking are these the only games people play today? Some say I am obsessed with counting and they might be right. Today, in the main hall of the Göttingen fair, about 65% of the games were abstract and/or for kids and another 20+ % were simple worker placement games. Compared to them, Agricola and Puerto Rico seem super-complex, something that only a little genius would play.

I did not have a real goal or any expectations from this visit to the Göttingen fair. I am now returning with some questions in my mind regarding the future of board games. Will people play simpler and simpler and simpler games? The more board gaming moves from a niche hobby to mainstream, the quality and complexity of the games decreases, but to which point? 

Last year I played some very good new "gamers' games". In Spiel '12, we will see last year's designs. Based on what I have seen now, I am curious and a bit scared of what this market will look like in 2013.

I will end this with a question, how long are you willing to spend in front of a game board one evening? One hour? Two hours? 20 minutes or maybe the whole evening. A poll is coming soon to gather your opinions.

__________________
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