Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Allow Me

There’s a saying all creative people have heard, and a lot of them have also uttered during their lives: “Show, don’t tell”. Simply put, it means that if you want a scene in a novel or a movie to be heart wrenching, you cannot simply tell your readers or viewers what they should be feeling or doing at this given moment. Similarly, you cannot simply make somebody laugh by telling them to laugh – or by telling them to do a thing that is definitely going to be hilarious.

Image Source: Boardgamegeek
It’s no secret I’m not a fan of party games – whenever people ask me about my gaming habits, I tell them that I am mostly a gaming omnivore, although I will rarely be convinced to play a real time game, or a party game (often actually being also a real time game, so that gives us one strike more). In fact, I will often admit to specifically not liking party games as a genre and actively avoiding playing them, choosing to rather not play than play a party game.

If you’re starting to feel slightly confused by how detached the two above paragraphs are, let me now tie them together. I don’t like party games, because a lot of them try to force me into making silly stuff just for other people to laugh at me – or make other people do silly stuff so that I could laugh at them. And they try to do it in such a ham-fisted way, that the only thing I do feel is embarrassment.

I’m not going to point my finger at any specific transgressors. Suffice to say that if a game simply orders me to cluck like a chicken instead of talking, or play with my forehead on the table, I’ll probably pass. I can make other people laugh at my expense, but I refuse to be the butt of primitive jokes made by someone else. I will not be happy about that, and I will certainly not pay for this type of entertainment.

Image Source: Boardgamegeek
What I will pay for is a subtle but engaging system that will allow me to make an idiot out of myself – and allow other people to laugh at my expense. And here, I will name names: Anomia, Apples to Apples, Spot It, 5 Second Rule – games that do not start from insulting their players by forcing them to do stupid things. No, by creating a seemingly neutral gaming environment they allow us to do silly things as we try to play according to rules that do not tell us to do a specific funny thing to amuse others.

So, if your thinking about designing a fun party game, first look at the ones that (over the years) had the most staying power – and that you enjoy (not dread!) coming back to, and then remember one thing: allow me. Specifically, allow me to entertain other players with my blunders. Don’t make me look like an idiot with a forehead on the table. Instead, allow me to find a way to make an idiot out of myself using your entertaining ruleset. I’ll like your party game that much more, I promise.
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fruit of thy labours

If you’ve been following our blog, you already know that NSKN Games went to see how the production of Mistfall is going. We posted both a Kickstarter update, and a blog post for those who had missed it. The visit in Kraków gave me the opportunity to take a copy of my first published game in its final form, lacking but the shrink wrap, and hold it in my hand. And it was a glorious feeling.

It’s still going to be some time before the actual copies of Mistfall are assembled, and we are ready to start sending them, so the copy I got is “semi-official”. It was put together from the components already available at the factory, but it did not go through the full production cycle like all the games the backers will receive – and like the boxes that will end up on store shelves. But it was still a first copy of Mistfall. The first copy of my game.

You might think that after showing the game to a lot of people in a multitude of different forms – from the most basic, black and white, homemade prototypes, to the most advanced ones, printed using the final graphic design and artworks – would allow me to get used to the idea of what the final game would look so much, that it wouldn’t be anything moving. And yet, it was. 

Seeing Mistfall as a finished game, browsing through the rulebook, punching out the tiles and tokens felt at first completely unreal. What I would always see as a pile of cards made using sleeves and some commons from this, that or yet another CCG, and some tokens either made at home, or stolen from another game, was now an actual game. And for a time I could not believe that this box filled with gaming goodness is the essentially the same thing as a black and white prototype I still have.

As you can see, this blog post is yet another personal one, so you’ll not find any professional advice or peek behind the curtain of the publishing process. But I’ll try to make reading this worth your while by telling you two banal but incredibly important things. The first one is that plans and ideas, sometimes no matter how wild, should never be something that is forever in the future, something you think just before going to sleep and smile. You can make them real, if you work hard.

And the second thing is, that in this strange and complicated world, you can still achieve stuff if you simply work hard. And I have the fruit of my labours to prove it.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mists will fall sooner...

Last Friday the NSKN Games team made a little trip to Kraków. Although it's a beautiful city, our mission there was not to marvel at all its wonders, but to see what is up with the production of Mistfall - our newest successful Kikcstarter. And the news are good.

More than 90% of Kickstarters today arrive late to the backers, and we know that this is something backers have learned to accept, although they never should - and again, in case of Mistfall, our backers will not have to.  All the components have been produced, and assembly was to start a day before publishing this post. And this means that our backers will get the game early. Yes, you've read this right.

So, first, let us show you a bit of an inside story.

At the factory itself we saw live in action the machines making decks of cards, we heard some technical details and met good people at work. No one is ever naming them, but the whole industry relies on their skills, patience and hard work. So, a big thanks to them, even though they preferred not to be photographed.

But arguably the most important picture is this one:

These giant boxes contain all the decks of cards which will become Mistfall in a few days. You're looking here at several metric tons of cards.

And these master cartons contain 6 Mistfall boxes each. For the moment the game boxes are still empty, but this situation will be remedied next week.

Last but not least, it was very nice to see the amazing quality of the punchboards which will be part of Mistfall. Nice, thick cardboard full of tiles and tokens easy to punch out.

So, you've read this far... now it's time for the really good news. Our current estimation is that our European backers will get their games in July, our backers from US, Canada and Australia in August and everyone else by the end of September. The "average" Mistfall game box will arrive more than 1 month early.

The truth is that we are both proud and happy that we will be able to make Mistfall happen before time, not only for the simple reason of proving that we can, but also - and more importantly - because we will be able to deliver a game a lot of our fans are impatiently waiting for sooner, thus making the gruelling wait shorter.

So, if you're a backer - know that your wait will be a shorter one. And if you're not - here's another good reason to become one in the future.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

4 pieces of advice for first time Kickstarter creators

We've recently proven that a complex project involving lots of cardboard, dice, wood and plastic space ships can be delivered on time (actually early, but that is beside the point). It's all about hard work and proper planning. So, if you decide to crowd-fund, it's up to you to do the same or better.

I am going to keep this short and simple, as what I am about to say has been said before and will probably be the same sentence that any experienced Kickstarter creator will give any "first-timer": deliver!

Advice no. 1: Plan to deliver! Ideally this should done be on time, but late is still better than never. US authorities are taking a closer look at creators who do not deliver and you may face legal action. I need to clarify this... if you're what people define as a "normal person", you will think it is very odd to read these few lines, but NSKN Games has received numerous messages from creators-to-be with questions such as "Do I have to deliver? What happens if I don't?". Now, there is an "official" answer, the FTC takes legal action against creators who mislead and mismanage.

Source: fx24seven.com

Advice no. 2Kickstarter is hard work, not easy money. Start with this idea in mind and the countless challenges you face will seem a lot easier. Well, maybe not a lot, but somewhat easier :)

Source: www.associatedlearningsystems.co.uk

Advice no. 3: The key to success is good planning. This applies to pretty much everything you do in life, but for Kickstarter creators this is especially true. Sound common sense is your first tool, but there are plenty of resources in the digital world which can help you crack open the secrets of strategic planning and project management. You can also hire a professional to guide you through the whole process and this may very well pay off if you are unwilling or don't have the time to learn everything there is to learn, but this is just back-up.

Source: blog.valpakfranchising.com

Advice no. 4: Do your homework. It is very unlikely that you will reinvent the wheel, so take a look at some of the successful projects and see what they have done right. Check their campaign pages, but do not ignore the updates and comments section, they often reveal more than the main project page itself. There are thousands of successful projects so you will most likely be overwhelmed by the variety of approaches. Every single Kickstarter creator will tell you that their way is the right way. Your quest is to discover yours. "Steal" the best ideas from past successful projects and adapt/improve them to your vision. It sounds easy enough, but it's a lot of hard work. 

If these pieces of information sound generic, we will return with some more advice specific for board games.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

More theme - yay or nay?

What do we need a theme in a game for? If it’s a Eurogame, we probably need it to help out in the learning process a little bit, and to not be in the way when the learning is over. And if the theme ever rears its ugly head too much, things may get suddenly worse.

Image source: BoardGameGeek.
Thematic Eurogames certainly exist. The problem here is that depending on who you ask, what is and is not thematic differs significantly. A game considered super-thematic by some, is dry and completely devoid of any theme to others. Just look at Lords of Waterdeep, that was both praised for a high level of immersion (for a Eurogame), and bashed for being a soulless cube pusher, thinly layered with a Dungeons & Dragons theme.

It’s obvious that to an extent it is what we like or dislike that makes us consider a game thematic or dry. Some specific elements work better to anchor us in what a game is supposed to depict. For example, I find Shipyard (a very abstract abstract Eurogame by Vladimir Suchý) thematic despite having to work with several different rondels as well as a pile of disassociated mechanisms working in the game, simply because the goal is to build ships – and build them on a board, using tiles that make the final outcome look like an actual ship.

However, sometimes one of the design goals for a game is to more accurately depict whatever the game is about. And this means introducing rules that would “simulate” some real-life phenomenon or mechanism, with a possible outcome of making a game that is more “realistic” – and often less of a solid game.

Image source: BoardGameGeek.
Among many games Martin Wallace has designed over the years, few have been bashed as much as Tinners’ Trail – a light Eurogame about mining and selling tin in 19th century Cornwall. Wallace (by his own admission) was aiming to create a game that could accurately show the volatility of the 19th century market, which is why he introduced a dice based mechanism that would change the price of tin from turn to turn – sometimes significantly. What he actually did is design a game that was quickly dismissed by many hardcore Eurogamers – or immediately house-ruled to make it more strategic – and probably less realistic.

The question of realism is one we actually tackle on a regular basis. Should a game be more balanced, more well-rounded, and less “realistic” to be considered better? Or should it be maybe a bit less of a solid game, but slightly more thematic? Until now we’ve been walking the “more solid” path, but we are very curious to know what you think.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The NSKN Method

The topic of Kickstarters being late comes back to me every few weeks. Talking to other gamers, reading content on BoardGameGeek, or listening to a podcast, I encounter yet another story of a game, an expansion, a box of miniatures or wargaming terrain being just late – or horribly late. In fact, more than 90 percent of Kickstarters arrives to their backers late, and it seems that everyone expects their products to be late. But it does not have to be that way.

We’ve recently been to UK Games Expo, where we had the chance to talk to our backers about both Exodus: Edge of Extinction and Mistfall. Most were pleasantly surprised that everything is on time, and that they will be receiving their games as planned. Some even jokingly asked us if we could reveal some of our secrets to other publishers, so that they could do what we did. And now, with first copies of Exodus: Edge of Extinction reaching the backers, we decided to did exactly that: reveal our method. So, if you want to be on time, just follow these three steps:

1. Do your research. 

This is really crucial: be sure that you know beforehand what the costs of everything are and how much time you will need to manufacture your product. If in doubt, try to ask others who already know how some of these things are done – or at least take a good look at Kicksarters similar to yours – and never leave anything for later. Have everything you possibly can researched and planned, always taking into account the possibility of things taking exactly as longs as expected (basically, treat 3-5 weeks as 5 weeks), and giving yourself some extra time in case something is late.

2. Set your deadlines. 

After researching everything and giving yourself some extra time just in case, set a hard deadline for each step of your project – including deadlines for you personally. Put each of them in a single timeline (using any software you see fit – or even a traditional paper calendar), and be sure that anyone involved with the project knows and has accepted them, and has easy access to them.

3. Stick to your deadlines. 

No matter what, do not change them. Do not move them. And if you’re late, don’t throw up your hands and delay everything by a week. Instead, burn the candle on both ends if needed, work through the night, and minimize the consequences of the delay in such a way, that as many of the following deadlines as possible are met.

And that is it. That is seriously it. That is how we managed to be on time with Progress: Evolution of Technology, with Exodus: Edge of Extinction – and that is how we will be on time with Mistfall. Now you also possess this not-so-arcane knowledge, and can pass it on – free of charge! – to anyone you think might need it. And if you make a use of it, come to our booth at any convention to brag about it. We’ll be happy to shake your hand!|| 

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Don't you want to breed dragons?

Yes, our next board game is all about breeding dragons! 

We've been quite busy this year with two successful Kickstarter projects (Exodus & Mistfall), but we have been working in the background to finalize a project we've been long dreaming of...

If you played Hyperborea and loved it, you must know that Pierluca Zizzi is the "brain behind the game". He is a talented Italian designer with several published games and he first showed us Simurgh two years ago in the Nurnberg Toy Fair. We've been impressed and decided to take the game on the spot.

Cover work in progress by Odysseas Stamoglou

To make things even better, the cover art will be signed by Odysseas Stamoglou, the same amazing artist who has been responsible for Exodus: Edge of Extinction, Versailles or Among the Stars.

So, what is Simurgh? It's a worker placement board game with a hint of board building, it's also a race game, highly competitive and... it has dragons. Should we say a more than you get to breed dragons and some of your workers are in fact dragon riders?

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Conventions and trade shows – and why we attend them

A convention or a trade show is a very special event, both for those gamers who are more deeply engaged in the hobby, as well as for us – publishers and designers of board games. Some of us love them, some of us hate them, but most of us attend for reasons I’m going to share below. And it’s a great time to share, since it’s all still fresh in my mind after the recent UK Games Expo.
Let me again start with a quick preamble: NSKN Games is very much like other publishers, but neither I, nor any other member of our crew has yet mastered the art of mind reading (though Andrei, the Big Boss himself, is most likely to make that breakthrough, and when he does a voice in your head will happily announce it to you), so whatever I say here will not be true for all publishers. Although, from our own experiences, educated guesses and some beer-propelled conversations with other people in the business, it probably is true for most.

So, let’s start with the basics: going to a convention is both expensive and exhausting. I won’t be talking about actual prices of space in different convention halls, but just know that the owners of these facilities know their worth. They also know very well that not all booths are equal, and not only size, but also multiple other factors influence the final price of being able to set up shop during the convention or show you saw us at – with all sorts of corner booths usually being the most expensive, and the first to go.

When it comes to exhaustion, just remember that whatever you see around you at a booth, was brought in by a number of human beings. And if you’re in a booth belonging to a smaller publisher (like NSKN Games), also know that those same human beings are most probably surrounding you now – all bubbly, enthusiastic and happy to see you, often despite being quite tired. Incidentally, this is why if you are absolutely certain you are not interested in a product they are to tell you more about, just tell them. You’ll save yourself some time – and they’ll be able to preserve their voice.
The NSKN Team at our UK Games Expo Booth

Having revealed the awful truth about conventions and trade shows, it’s time to finally get to answering the titular question. Why? Why do we attend? Is it for the possibility of making a quick buck on games that sell well, or sell out? No. Definitely not.

The truth is that selling a lot, or even all the games you bring to a convention, does not “make” you money – not in the sense of coming back with more cash than you had coming in. Most times, when you saw a booth selling games left and right, or have come too late to pick up a game (this may have happened to you for example last year in Essen if you wanted to pick up Praetor or Versailles on Sunday – or Progress on a Saturday afternoon), the publisher was not in for a big financial gain, but was happy that the event will break even.

Yes, between the prices of exhibitor space, the travel and transport costs and the hotel bills, a convention or a trade show for a publisher is a financial success if it makes them, all in all, spend a relatively small sum or no money at all. But no matter how much we pay, we do bring something back from each such event. We bring you.
Exodus Proxima Centauri - base game and the Edge of Extinction Expansion at UK Games Expo 2015.
Trade shows and conventions are important because of people we get to meet. We are happy to get to know new people in the industry, joke around a little bit, congratulate our competitors on a job well done (yes, that really happens!), and share experiences in the evening, in a hotel filled with exhibitors and attendees, or in a nearby pub overrun by the convention crowd. Apart from that, hands are shaken, eyes are looked in – and deals are made. Sometimes deals that make smaller publishers stay in the game – or help them develop, expand and grow.

Finally, conventions are important because of all of you. All of the people that come by to say hello – and all those who come in to ask: “Who are you again?”. Believe it or not, but we not only get a kick out of meeting new people, or getting to shake the hands of those of you, who we usually know by their Facebook profiles, Twitter or BoardGameGeek handles, but we are also interested in what you have to say. 

Clicking a thumb up on Facebook or bashing a game or mechanism online is so easy, that sometimes it almost goes unnoticed (although we always try to listen). Having an actual, face to face conversation with a person wanting to praise or critique something we’ve done is always memorable. And having ten people say “we did/did not like this and this” to our faces may actually influence what and how we’ll do in the future.
For all of you who asked about the NSKN Cats during UK Games Expo :-)
I’ve written all of the above mainly because we’ve just come back from UK Games Expo, and I had a chance to show off an advanced prototype of Mistfall to both new people, and our extraordinary backers. And this made me aware of one more thing. Each time (after playing a few turns) someone would tell me: “Yeah, I’m happy I backed this, it’s an awesome game”, I felt that a total of four hours in the air, two take offs and two landings between two consecutive flights suffered by a guy who hates flying, was something that guy would happily endure again. And each time we would say: “Yes, both Exodus: Edge of Extinction and Mistfall will be delivered without delays”, and see perplexed faces of gamers not used to their Kickstarter stuff ever arriving on time, we got a feeling that it is something we are simply unable to put a price tag on.

So, in short, the people are why we attend. The lure of talking to all sorts of individuals from all corners of geekdom, the chance to meet the persons we are fans of – and the people who are our fans, and the chance to share in stuff that is not only good for our business, but also pretty cool as a memory for us, simply as human beings
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