Writer's Dice

[UPDATE: Writer's Dice are now available!]

Oh, you know, just an idea. Partly inspired by Mathematicians' Dice, Rory's Story Cubes, and this lesson on plots from Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

In that lesson, they talk about arranging the beats of a story. They emphatically recommend that you not join any beats with the words "and then." Instead use conjunctions like "therefore." These force you to explain consequences and examine motivations that enrich a story. Just watch the video, I'm not doing it justice.

But here's a humble proposal for you writers out there. A simple six-sided die with interesting clauses and conjunctions to help you figure out the plot of your story. When Protagonist A finds out Antagonist B is his father, roll a die to lead you to the next beat. This die can easily fit into any storytelling game, too. Heck, the pips let you use them as regular dice.

I've looked at Koplow's catalog (which really ought to be digitized) and not found anything like these. For example, here are all kinds of speech and language dice. Koplow even offers these shape dice, which obviously didn't discourage Rory's Story Cubes from going into production.

So, based on my past experience with custom dice, I'm seriously weighing the opportunity to release a Writer's Die via Kickstarter, in the same model and spirit as the Mathematicians' Dice.

What do you think?

Stupor Market: The Phonetic Food Game

Here's a fun game for groups at a restaurant, especially if the players have been imbibing a little bit before the game starts.

Stuff You Need
3 or more players at a restaurant or bar.

A pen and two pieces of paper for each player. Leave the first sheet of paper blank. On your second sheet, write each other player's name.

A 30sec timer.

How to Play
All players do these steps together at the same time.

1. On the blank piece of paper, write the name of a food served at this restaurant. Write the food as cryptically and phonetically as you can, in all capitals. This can be a basic ingredient, like fruits and vegetables; or more complex foods, like appetizers, entrees, or side dishes. For example, "lettuce" could be "LAYDUS." "Sweet potato" could be "SWOT PERDERDER." "Chicken noodle soup" could be "CHALKING OODLE SAP."

2. When everyone is done writing, hold your paper up so everyone can see it. You should probably hold it up with your non-writing hand, you'll need your writing hand in a sec.

3. Start the timer.

4. Look at the other players' misspelled foods and try to decipher what they actually are. Write down your guesses on the second sheet of paper as fast as you can, next to the name of the player holding that word.

5. When the timer runs out, put your pen down.

How to Win
One at a time, each player says the actual name of their chosen food.

You score one point for every food you guessed correctly.

Double those points if some of the players guessed your food correctly. Not all the players, not none of the players, just some of the players.

After three rounds of play, the player with the most points wins.

Stupor Market for Couples
For couples at a restaurant, the rules are a little different and much more casual.

1. Each player writes a list of five misspelled foods served at the restaurant.

2. Each player hands the paper to his or her opponent.

3. Try to decipher as many of those foods as possible. Write your guess next to each item.

4. When the waiter speaks to either player, that round is over and each player scores points.

You score one point for every food you guess correctly. Double that if your opponent guessed some of yours correctly. Play as many rounds as you like, or until the waiter kicks you out.

Design Notes
At first, I was thinking about making this a commercial game, with a deck of food cards, a timer, and so forth. I might still do that, but for now I just wanted to get the game out there in a playable form.
» Here's the initial inspiration
» Here was the first playtest
» Here's how I made the title graphic

French Reviews of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Sounds like Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is making inroads into France, too!

» Radio Roliste: "It's a kind of Windpunk setting reminiscent of How to Train Your Dragon and the Little Prince."

» Antoine Bauza: "No longer engaged in role play... I try to keep up and listen to the podcast Radio Roliste. It is an episode of the podcast that made ​​me buy the digital version of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple (and its supplement)."

Merci pour la traduction, Philippe A. Ménard!

Figuring Out How To Design a Logo Title Graphic for a Board Game

Experimenting with more commercial-style title graphics. One thing I've noticed is that they have lots and lots of outlines. Layer upon layer upon layer. I don't quite have the hang of it yet. Partly, it's a matter of starting with a hand-drawn letterform instead of a standard font. You get more character out of the title and more control over the entire personality. Starting from a basic typeface isn't a bad start, though.

Elapsed time: 1 Hour

» Music CC-BY-SA: Popof – "Friandise"

Emergent Narrative and Imposed Narrative in Game Design

When I design a strategy game, my primary goal is to create emergent complexity. That is, a game easy to learn, but soon branches into multiple options, deep tactics, and long-term replay value. That's great for a strategy game, especially an abstract strategy game. If your game has a strong theme, your mind starts filling in that abstraction with aesthetic details.

This topic came up in a conversation with Sage LaTorra about For the Fleet. He looked over the alpha draft and had the following comments: "I feel like the game I was hoping for had more narrative than FtF currently does. FtF is pretty much a pushing your luck game with some extra cool dimensions of how and where you push that luck, which I dig. I just like the Zap Brannigan feel so much that I wanted more."

Eventually this settled into the notion of a Mission for each ship. Essentially, each ship gets a mission with three thematically related objectives. Each objective offers additional glory for your ship. Accomplishing the entire mission earns an upgrade for all ships in the fleet. For example:

Objective 1: Start at Sector 1, RAID one Target in each Sector. / 2 Glory
Objective 2: Be the first to WARP to the Imperial Capital. / 5 Glory
Objective 3: RAID the Imperial Capital twice. / 10 Glory
Mission Accomplished: All ships in the Fleet gain Experienced Crew.
Experienced Crew: You may declare three standard actions instead of two.

That is an imposed narrative. It presses a narrative structure on a system that doesn't naturally create one on its own. This is a valid solution, and one with many possibilities for play scenarios. I can see prison breakouts where you're ferrying POWs from the Imperial Capital back to Sector 1. I can see missions that call for you to pillage key Memes from specific Targets, bring them to another Target, so the Fleet can upgrade to faster engines.

Contrast this with Sandy Petersen recounting his first test of Call of Cthulhu's Sanity system 30 years ago: "My players found a book which enabled them to summon up a Foul Thing From Otherwhere. At the moment they completed the spell, the players suddenly chimed in with comments like "I’m covering my eyes." "Turning my back." "Shielding my view so I don’t see the monster." ... I had actually not realized that the Sanity stat, as I had written it, would lead to such behavior. To me it was serendipitous; emergent play. But I loved it. The players were actually acting like Lovecraft heroes instead of the mighty-thewed barbarian lunks of D&D."

That's classic emergent narrative. The rules didn't directly say "Play your characters like neurotic cowards." They simply provided a structure where that was the most natural course of action.

Sage offers some more references: "My points of comparison here are primarily Lord of the Rings card game and Death Angel. I can kind of sum up my gameplay in those games as a story with a distinct ending. My reading of FtF sounds like the narrative summary would always be "We went and raided some planets, then made it back home." (Or "ran our of fuel" or "got stuck")."

Imposed narrative isn't a bad thing, nor is it necessarily preferable to emergent narrative. They're just two very different solutions to the same task. Emergent narrative is simply a more difficult butterfly to capture.

Leo Lalande's New Handmade Procession Set

You might recall the last time Leo Lalande made physical sets of Procession as wedding favors. He's been hard at work again, making more durable versions of the game. Check out more pics and details here.

The New Haul reviews Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Brent at The New Haul is playing 50 games in 50 weeks. This week, he played Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple!

"After a few rounds, it becomes clear that the pilgrims are regularly getting into trouble, and each player must, while storyteller, balance helping her friends and moving the story along towards its goal... The book’s cover claims that it’s aimed at players 12 or older, but I think it’s ideal for kids as young as 8. It’s basically Avatar: The Last Airbender, without the heavy long-term story arc."

» Read more at The New Haul

What's next for the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge

The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge
Last January, I announced the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge unsure of whether anyone would enter. Boy, did that doubt fade fast. The submission period closes with just under 50 entries. Now, we'll review them, play as many as physically possible and try to pick a winner. Here's what we're looking for:

Elegance: The winning entry should be easy to learn, teach and play, ideally playing in under an hour.

Accessibility: The winning entry can be played by most people, most of the time, in most places. Any special props may come from sustainable resources.

Fun/Community: If we like a game, that's great! But even a game isn't our cup of tea, if we see a thriving community of eager players, that's strong evidence that the game can last a while.

And on that note, if you're an entrant to the challenge, your job isn't over yet! Send us pics or videos showing your games being played by real people around the world. Seeing that community will weigh greatly in our judging. So, get some friends around the table and play some games!

Abstract Strategy Games
Portal by Kenny VenOsdel*
Numeria by Lloyd Krassner aka Warp Spawn Games
Coerceo by the Coerceo Company*
Zuniq by Marcos Donnantuoni*
Board Tag by Greg Stolze
Rin by Zhen Wang
Cartography by Benjamin Alan Mohr*
Rush Run Riot by Kelvin Beriguete
Sáto by Kristian Järventaus †
Venn’s Revenge by Louis J. Cassorla
Klon by Antoine Richard*
Take-Back-Toe by James Ernest*
Antipode by Shane Hendrickson †
Charing Cross by Mike C
Saaguan by Andrew Cooke*
Push by Dan Hope
Push by David Gordon Buresh
WarMaze by Mackenzie Cameron*
Nomad by Kirk Mitchell
ZoxSo by David Weinstock
Tricala by Myles Wallace
Muros by Enrique Sánchez*
Turning Points by Joseph Kisenwether
Sygo by Christian Freeling
Hunters & Haunts by C. Casey Gardner*
Flume by Mark Steere
Bluffing Style Chess by Tyler Tinsley*
Catchup by Nick Bentley*
Yodd by Luis Bolaños †
GUCKOY by Mark A. Tiroff*
Hexiles by Derek Hohls*
Hot Wire by Phil Leduc
Crowns by Sovereign Games*
Kodrek by Joshua A.C. Newman*
Close Doesn't Count by Andrew Juell
Shooting Stars by Magnus Esko*
Bakkhus by Clay Gardner
Spread by Fernando Rivas*
Box by Douglas Hoover
Commander-in-Chief by Paul Miller*
Neighbors by XiFeng*

Social or Conversational Games
Public Secrets by Joshua Curtis Kidd
Pandora's Box by Benjamin D. Stanley
The Movie Game by Tonio Loewald*
F*ckin' Do It Then by Ryan Hughes*
Beloved by Ben Lehman*
Hand Covers Bruise by Andy Clarke and Grethe Mitchell
Rule of Three by Chris Sakkas*
Millennium Saga by Brian Suda*
Liars' Club by Matthew Moore

Dice Games
Kickbones by Frywire, LLC
Drop-Shy by Jonathan Walton

Card Games
Arena of Heroes by Jeremy Southard*

We'll announce the winner of the challenge on January 1st, 2012.

Thousand Year Game Design Challenge - Last-Minute Entries

The Thousand-Year Game Design ChallengeWell, we're settled into our new home, so I can finally round up the few entries to the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge that came in on the very last day.

Kodrek by Joshua A.C. Newman
Indie game designer Joshua says: "Kodrek came out of a game of Human Contact, a science fiction roleplaying game about anthropology. When we needed a game that space pirates were playing in a bar, we started to describe this. After the game, we fleshed it out a little more. A dozen or so playtests later, I'm entering it in the contest and sending out prototypes to my Kickstarter backers who are getting a board."

Close Doesn't Count by Andrew Juell
Andrew offers this interesting abstract puzzler with several thoughts on its longevity. "I would be deeply hesitant to speculate as to how humanity and its circumstances will evolve over the next 100 years, much less the next 1000.  Nonetheless. I am far enough below my word limit that I should probably at least explore a scenario or two." Read his entry for more.

Shooting Stars by Magnus Esko
Magnus sends in this lovely little abstract. He says: "Shooting Stars is an abstract strategy game for two players. It takes about 10 minutes to play. The board is the night sky and the players create new stars, shooting them around to spread stardust. The player who can spread the most stardust is the winner." He spends most of the entry discussing strategy, making components, and even suggesting tournament rules.

Liars' Club by Matthew Moore
Matthew provides one of the few entries to the challenge that are almost entirely conversational in nature. This is a social deduction game where you're tasked with divining who's a liar and who is not. A classic puzzle, to be sure. Oh! And Matthew also provided the game in flowchart form.

Bakkhus by Clay Gardner
Clay sends in this lovely game of symbol-matching, stone-placement and tile-flipping.

Spread by Fernando Rivas
Fernando sends in the most technically specific game of all the entries so far. Using a set of polygonal pieces, you form contiguous groups across a field, trying to reach the other side. The twist? The height of the group has an influence in play. Play the Flash demo here.

Drop-Shy by Jonathan Walton
Jonathan sends in this entry in the final hours of the entry deadline. It combines some elements of dominoes with enough open-endedness to cause friendly arguments among players. Oh! And it uses an open-ended number of dice, tossed all at the same time. You know I love that mechanic. :D

For the Fleet's Ship Consoles

Okay, I said I was putting aside For the Fleet for public alpha, but I woke up this morning with visual ideas. Needed to shake them out or else I wouldn't get anything else done.

The icons are still rough, but I put together these backgrounds and spaceships from some stock art. Took a long time to find good source material, I tell ya.

I was reluctant to use 3d renders since they feel a little less approachable, but hopefully the bright saturated colors help that a bit. Okay, now I'm setting it aside. Too much else to do!

FOR THE FLEET - Alpha Document Release

A Strategy Game for Glorious Captains and Short-Lived Crew

» Alpha Rules Document
» 1-6 Players * 30-45 Minutes * Ages 12+
» Genre: Humor, Cooperation, Push-Your-Luck, Resource Management
» Theme: Star Wars' Rebels, Futurama's Zap Brannigan, Battlestar Galactica
» Game Inspiration: Catan Dice Game, Zombie Dice, Forbidden Island

» Description: You're a Star Captain serving in the ragtag rebel fleet. Your ship is a civilian vessel just barely fit for active duty. Hey, the Fleet takes what it can get. Trash haulers, pleasure yachts, and scrappy shuttlecraft – all against the dastardly Imperial Armada. Cooperate with the other captains to WARP across the galaxy, RAID the Empire, and PILLAGE futuristic resources. Keep your crew alive and bring home glory... FOR THE FLEET!

» Development Status: Alpha - See the current draft linked in the image. This is the kind of rough draft I usually write for any game with lots of little bits n' pieces. At the end, you'll see a long section outlining various cards and components. Not pretty, but it's easier to design and balance at a glance when it's all in text.

For now, I have too many commitments for the rest of the year to dwell on this too long. I still encourage comments for future reference, though. I'll revisit this game in earnest in a few months. For now, read the doc, ask questions, leave comments, and enjoy!

Star Wars as Unlockable Kickstarter Rewards [Guest Post: Kevin Allen Jr]

Kevin Allen Jr. just posted this on Google Plus, in response to this week's Kickstarter-centric posts. It's all so good I just wanted to share it with you all:

+Daniel Solis has been talking a lot about kickstarter on his blog lately, and he's had my wrapt attention. His most recent post (linked below), gave me a nifty idea.

See I skimmed the title of his blog post in my RSS reader and got an idea of what he was going to talk about but i was WAAAAAY off. (NOTE: What he actually talks about is useful and interesting to anyone who's thinking of launching a kickstarter. I'm not going to talk about that. I'm going to talk about what i thought he was talking about.)

Examining the reward titles/levels Solis whipped up, I got the idea that depending on how far over goal your kickstarter goes you would "unlock" new parts of a games (or other transmedia project's) meta-fiction.

For example: Lets say you were making a game that essentially re-created the experience of the Star Wars saga.

- At 100% success the game play emulates A New Hope. The game is totally complete, and we don't need any more to have a satisfying experience. You play the game, blow up the deathstar, kiss your sister and a wookie gets the last word.

- At 200% success The Empire Strikes Back is brought into play, the game provides ways to incorporate that films darker tone, cloud city, lando, degobah, etc. But it leaves you with a bit of a cliffhanger/mysterious ending.

-Only if the project is funded 300% do benefactors unlock The Return of the Jedi parts of the game. This rounds out the experience, delivers on promises and threats put forward in the first two levels of the game. People will want to get here. You want people to want to get here.

There's a motivation for backers to put more money in after the initial goal has been reached, because now the project they've already invested in will be even richer. Also by adjusting the scope of work to the overflow of funding you will actively be showing people where their additional monies are going (pro tip: people like that).

Using Game Fiction in Unlockable Kickstarter Rewards

Now, about that $100 price point in yesterday's post. Board games are expensive to produce in small volumes. By being clear that these are rare, boutique prototypes, I hope that price for a physical copy is a little less painful. There is a way around this, though. If the campaign is extraordinarily successful, we could produce prototypes more affordably and pass the savings to the backers.

200%: The Fleet Raids the Fringes of the Empire. $45 backers get the benefits of the Free Citizen reward level. Any backers $50 or over get a digital bundle of the game's raw production files.

300%: The Fleet Leads a Revolution on the Core Worlds. $40 backers get the benefits of the Free Citizen reward level. Any backers $50 or over get a digital bundle of the game's raw production files. This also unlocks a video demonstration of the game.

400%: The Fleet Conquers the Imperial Capital. $35 backers get the benefits of the Free Citizen reward level. Any backers $50 or over will get a digital bundle of the game's raw production files and a video demonstration of the game. The highest backer will also get 20 hours of Daniel Solis' time to do art direction, layout and branding consultation for one project. (Details to be negotiated.)

As you can see, the unlocked rewards here aren't necessarily more expensive to offer. The digital files would already be made for production, so making them available to backers costs nothing extra except maybe bandwidth. The video demo costs time to produce, but also gives an opportunity to show off a good prototype. And that offer of 20 hours? You can do that too if you have some special skills you can offer to one lucky backer.

As you set your own milestones, it never hurts to be optimistic. Want to go as high as 500%, 600%, even 1000%? Go right ahead! Just make sure the unlocked rewards are affordable for you to offer to that many people.

» Photo: CC BY-NC-SA Miguel Villasis

Name Recognition and Personal Investment in Kickstarter Reward Levels

I'm taking my own advice in a little thought-experiment. Based on consultation with the card game price gurus, I thought FOR THE FLEET might be better suited as a traditional board game with chits, boards and dice. I could use Kickstarter to fund the production of boutique prototypes to demo at conventions and ship to interested company prospects. By current specs, the prototype would include

6 Ship Consoles
6 Ship Pawns
18 Sector Cards
36 Target Cards
1 Home Base Card
1 Imperial Capital Card
54 Crew Chits
27 Bio Chits
27 Pep Chits
27 Fuel Chits
27 Tech Chits
27 Meme Chits
54 Glory Chits
6 Dice
I've advised people to use your actual printed space as an opportunity for limited rewards for Kickstarter backers. That real estate is limited and valuable. It costs nothing extra to print a credit on a board, card or chit, but it means a lot to your most excited community members. Even if you're just printing a book, you could offer small bylines on each page for each sponsor. "This page sponsored by Firstname Lastname." With that in mind, here is how name recognition could be used in FOR THE FLEET's reward structure.

Imperial Drone: $1. All backers are listed in the game's credits on the rule sheet.

Rebel Sympathizer: $10. You will get a print-and-play PDF version of the game, complete with kickass papercraft starship miniatures.

Rations for the Fleet: $20. [27] This pledge provides nutrigel, vitaloaf, and coffee for the rebellion. You can name one of the Bio Resources in the game. Your chosen name is listed on one of the Bio chits. Plus, you will get the PDF version of the game.

Energy for the Fleet: $30. [27] This pledge provides dark matter, compost, and other exotic fuels for the rebellion. You can name one of the Fuel Resources in the game. Your chosen name is listed on one of the Fuel chits. Plus, you will get the PDF version of the game.

Hardware for the Fleet: $40. [27] This pledge provides hull patches, computers and duct tape for the rebellion. You can name one of the Tech Resources in the game. Your chosen name is listed on one of the Tech chits. Plus, you will get the PDF version of the game.

Luxury Items for the Fleet: $50. [27] This pledge provides comics, saucy holo-vids, and adequately sized helmets for the rebellion. You can name one of the Pep Resources in the game. Your chosen name is listed on one of the Pep chits. Plus, you will get the PDF version of the game.

Dangerous Ideas for the Fleet: $60 [27] This pledge provides secret Imperial plans, ancient alien knowledge, and addictive cat videos for the rebellion. You can name one of the Meme Resources in the game. Your chosen name is listed on one of the Meme chits. Plus, you will get the PDF version of the game.

Rebels for the Fleet: $70. [38] This pledge provides wave after wave of crew members for the rebellion. You can name one of the crew members. Your chosen name is listed on one of the Crew chits. Plus, you will get the PDF version of the game.

Free Citizen: $100. You will get a rare, first-run prototype of the game made specially for you by the designer, plus a PDF version. The first ten [10] backers at this level will also get to name one of the crew. [International Orders: Please add $20]

Imperial Overseer: $200. [36] You can name a planet. Your name is listed on its card with the title of Overseer. You will also get a rare first-run prototype of the game plus a PDF version. [International Orders: Please add $20]

Imperial Sector Host: $300. [18] You can name a Sector. Your name is listed on its card with the title of Sector Host. You will also get a rare first-run prototype of the game plus a PDF version. [International Orders: Please add $20]

Fleet Captain: $400. [6] You can name a rebel ship. Your name is listed on the ship's console with the title of Captain. You will also get a rare first-run prototype of the game plus a PDF version. [International Orders: Please add $20]

Rebel Leader: $1000. [1] You can name the rebel's home base. Your name is also listed on its card with the title Rebel Leader. Throughout the game text, any mention of the Rebel Leader will use your name. You will also get a rare first-run prototype of the game plus a PDF version. Your prototype will be signed and numbered by the designer. [International Orders: Please add $20]

Galactic Emperor: $1000. [1] You can name the Imperial Capital planet. Your name is also listed on its card with the title Galactic Emperor. Throughout the game text, any mention of the Galactic Emperor will use your name. You will also get a rare first-run prototype of the game plus a PDF version. Your prototype will be signed and numbered by the designer. [International Orders: Please add $20]

Each of these rewards gives the backer a sense of identity within the game's setting. This helps instill a sense of ownership in the fiction. You can easily do this for books by naming characters after backers. In a game, you can name example players after backers, too.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how you can use the game's fiction in a different way, to structure the unlockable rewards.

» Photo: CC-BY-SA Kai Schreiber

Maintaining Kickstarter Momentum after 100%

Sebastian Hickey asks for some Phase 2 crowdfunding advice:

"I used your Kickstarter project as a template for my effort, so apologies for stealing some of your ideas. I hit my funding goal really early, but now I don't know what to do with the project. Do I leave it there, sitting idle, or is there anything I can do to get more funders?"

Congratulations on hitting your goal! That begins Phase 2 of your campaign. Now, look at your production cost estimates and see where you can get volume discounts. Then you can start offering high tier benefits to backers of a lower tier. For those who already backed at a high tier, offer additional low-cost or no-cost benefits like PDFs and other digital goodies.

For example, when Do's campaign started, we only offered books to those who pledged $40. After we we passed ~150% funding, we started offering books to $30 backers, too. After the next milestone at ~200%, we offered books to $25 backers, too. So the $40 didn't feel like they were cheated, we offered them exclusive print editions of the first Do expansion and PDFs.

It's good to plan those milestones before the campaign starts, so newcomers aren't confused about what they're actually getting when they pledge.

Another thing you can do is start sending free product to charities once certain milestones are reached. Make sure those milestones give you enough profit to cover the loss of that free product.

For example, in Happy Birthday Robot's campaign, I sent free copies of the game to schools and libraries of backers' choice. This not only built good will with the game's target audience, but kept the urge to pledge active for the life of the campaign.

Just remember, this is one of several phases in the average Kickstarter life cycle. There may still be unexpected costs once your campaign is over. Keeping up the momentum and encouraging more pledges gives you enough cushion should anything go wrong in production or shipping.

Q&A on Card Game Design, Costs and Prices

Last week, I sought council from Fred Hicks (Evil Hat), Matt Gandy (Margaret Weis Productions), Chris Hanrahan (Endgame), and Jeff Tidball (Who needs no introduction). I was curious about how price this card game:

A Game of Glorious Captains and Their Short-Lived Crew
1-6 Players * 30-45 Minutes * Ages 12+
Pitch: Zap Brannigan's Catan meets Zombie Dice.
Description: You're a Star Captain serving in the ragtag rebel fleet. Your ship is a civilian vessel just barely fit for active duty. Hey, the Fleet takes what it can get. Trash haulers, pleasure yachts, and scrappy shuttlecraft – all against the dastardly Imperial Armada. Cooperate with the other captains to warp across the galaxy, raid Imperial targets, and earn futuristic resources. Keep your crew alive and bring home glory… FOR THE FLEET!
Genre: Humor, Cooperation, Light Strategy, Resource Management, Push-Your-Luck Dice Rolling

I already calculated numbers on costs for production, shipping and retail for a small print run. Using SuperiorPOD, here's what I got for a 100-unit small run.

Specs: 72-Card Deck, Full Color, Double-Sided
Deck of 2.5x3" Cards: $5.52 per unit, $552 for 100
A 8.5x7.25x1" box: $1.50 per unit, $150 for 100
with rigid foam packing: $0.60 per unit, $60 for 100
A 7"x10" Color Rules Sheet: $0.30 per unit, $30 for 100
TOTAL: $7.92 per unit, $792 for 100

So I asked the gurus a few questions.

Price and Box Size: If I used a fitted tuckbox, my per unit cost would be $6.57. However, for a product that size, I don't think I could get away with charging more than $15 at most. The larger box increases my per unit cost by over a dollar, but I feel like it psychologically allows an MSRP of $25 or even $30. Am I right?

FRED: Personally I don't think you can easily go over $20 for a simple deck
no matter how overpackaged it is. $25 for light componentry. $30 would
have to bring me a lot of componentry, I think, though 6 dice and
"lots of chips" may be just fine.

CHRIS: $20 is _way_ too high IMHO. In your card count, you have a ton of titles you are competing with that are as much as 25 - 50% less in terms of MSRP. Up your print run, and let volume sort this out.

JEFF: my gut says you can't go higher than $20 for a 72-card game with no additional components. You'll see lots of games with 100 or 110 cards at that price point, but worse than that, your 72 cards are really closer to 60 than to 100 in the eyes of your customers, and those games retail for $12 to $15. That is to say, basically, there's no way you can complete on price with a 72-card game if you're making 100 of them at a time.

MATT: I think it's good to ask these questions now, but I think the cart is getting a little ahead of the horse, based on your current prototype. I'd like to see you refine the game a bit further, to get a better sense of what you're really looking at. As is, I worry that you're working your design around print restrictions, rather than designing the game you want to see.

JEFF: In case it's not obvious, the 1-player capacity is huge. This is a *substantial* selling point of your game. Highlight it in all marketing.

I think the large box might sell more units, but only (essentially) as subterfuge, and at a substantial cost in customer satisfaction for everyone who actually opens the box. Be prepared for every review of your game to include at least one sentence to the effect of, "This is a large, mostly empty box containing a game that should have cost $12."

My recommendation is that you should shoot for whatever physical format for resources that their usage calls for. If they work best as poker chips (for example), don't use cards. Players will find that annoying. Speaking of printing, ODT is a new POD-like card printing option that will have substantially better quality than SuperiorPOD, at a slightly higher price. I'm attaching their booklet of pricing. Check out their small-format cards as an option for your resources. You might also look at The Game Crafter . They've recently rolled out some improved quality printing and componentry, so if you're looked at them before and been appalled, you may be pleasantly surprised at a re-visit.

My suggestion: Compete on awesome. Spitballing: Buy 100 sci-fi-looking metal ammo boxes as the packaging, hand-distress them all with a big metal file and a blowtorch, sign and number them all, make a video of yourself explaining the rules (and hand-distressing the ammo boxes!) and put it on a flash drive that you put inside the box, and charge $50 for the thing. Or $100. Then, in addition to that, sell a PDF version with a few alternate formats of the cards: one for avery nametag labels that fit playing cards well, one for cutting out and putting inside card sleeves, one for… i don't know, little tiny cards that fit on a keychain. Charge $5 or $6 for that. So, anybody who wants to play the game can do it inexpensively, and anyone who wants something Totally Awesome can give you lots of money for it. And in neither of those cases must you compete on even terms with a Mayfair or Fantasy Flight that's printing 5,000 copies at a time.

Components, Costs and Buyer's Remorse: If charging $30, should the game come with more components? Presently, the game calls for players to provide 6d6 and lots of chips for resource tracking. If those components were included, would the cost of production make a $30 MSRP unfeasible? Is $30 too much to ask for a game that doesn't come with everything you need to play?

FRED: Beware that as something with non-printed components, there's no
guarantee without paying for expensive testing that your product is
safe for kids & all that. So this might not be something that'd sell
into/through retail at all.

JEFF: There's no iron-clad liability dodge based on labeling alone, sadly, as the administration that interprets the rules has pretty broad discretion. Probably: You'd get away with it at 100-unit runs. It sort of depends on your tolerance for a low potential of high disaster. Two years ago, GAMA's legal counsel did a presentation on CPSIA, the most recent legislation on testing requirements, and provided a good handout.

Shipping Costs: Any idea on what a ballpark shipping price would be for a product of this size and weight?

JEFF: $5.20 is what the USPS small priority mail flat rate box costs. I'd choose a box size that fits inside it. Getting the shipping box for free is worthwhile. (Compare to shipping box prices at Uline, for example.) Depending on the game's weight, first-class mail could get down to $3.50 or $3.75 per game, but that will vary depending on the zip codes involved, and then you'll be paying for the shipping box as well.

It looks like if FOR THE FLEET is a card game, it will need to be a lot cheaper to produce. This is especially true if it doesn't come with all the components, even if some of the resources were included as additional cards to increase the size and weight of the box.

If FOR THE FLEET is not a card game, the price point can be higher because it would include more custom components and come in a larger box. However, the liabilities of hazards, labeling and product safety testing are cause for some concern. The best I could do to avoid those liabilities would be a print-and-play PDF with components you construct yourself. I might be able to give away prototypes, too, but that's more iffy.

Jeff's suggestion that single-player mode is that much of a selling point came as a surprise, honestly. I know there's a nice demand for good two-player games, especially ones that a couple can play in under an hour. But solitaire games? Huh. Very surprising.

Plenty to think about here. Years ago, I focused on making free games so I wouldn't have to worry about commercial potential. Now I find myself thinking about costs and MSRP for a game earlier and earlier in the design process. Matt's right, of course, it's too early to worry about that when the game is so nascent. Still, this was all very useful information and I thought it would be valuable to you, too.

As a thought experiment, I structured a plan for how I could use Kickstarter to fund production of prototypes, but that's another post.

» Photo: CC-BY Chris Metcalf
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.