A discussion on Reddit a little while ago pointed out a common mechanic (or mechanism, if you prefer) that many games use, but which lacks a name. I love this mechanic, and I call it the crescendo mechanic. Once I started looking for it, I saw it in more places than I expected.
Crescendo is an Italian word meaning “growing” and it usually shows up in music to tell the musician to gradually get louder. The long “greater than” sign that appears below the music staff in the image above is the crescendo symbol, and it is telling the reader to go from “mezzo forte” (medium loud) to “forte” (loud) over the course of a few notes.
In board games, the crescendo mechanic means that something the players could choose gets bigger or more valuable the longer it goes unchosen. If you pass over it, some resources or points get added to it so that it becomes more attractive to choose in the future.
Examples of crescendo mechanics
No Thanks: If a player doesn’t want to take the card, they must put a chip on it. The card keeps gathering chips until someone agrees to take it, at which point they get to keep the chips.
Agricola: Certain resource collection spaces get more and more resources on them with each passing turn, until a player eventually spends an action to take all of them.
Puerto Rico: Every role that does not get selected in a round gets a coin on it. Whenever a player takes a role, they get all of the coins that have accumulated on it.
Small World: If you don’t want a particular race/class combination, you can put a coin on it to pass over it to move on to the next one. Whenever a race/class combo is taken by a player, that player gets the coins on it. I’ll note that Daniel Solis talked about this specific type of crescendo mechanic in 2014 as “pay to pick.”
Alchemy Bazaar: The longer a shop has gone unchosen, the more valuable the goods it will pay to the player who eventually chooses it (liquid, then metal, then gem).
Why Crescendo is a great mechanic
There are several reasons that I love the crescendo mechanic, reasons that explain why it shows up so many places.
Feeling of building. Players love to feel like they are building something in a game. With the crescendo mechanic, you get some of that building feeling as a choice gets better and better. And it can lead to memorable moments: “Wow, I can’t believe you let me get nine wood from that spot in Agricola!”
Press your luck. In many games with crescendo elements, you might be willing to take the choice at its current value, but you might decide to “let it ride” and hope that you can take it later, when it’s even more valuable. This adds some great tension to the game and gets the players to judge one another – are you going to take this if I let it get more valuable, or do you want something else even more?
Automatic balancing. Figuring out exactly the right cost or reward for every game element can be extremely difficult for a game designer. The crescendo mechanic lets the designer put choices in front of the players at a low value and let the players decide when the choice is valuable enough to take.
Rewards skill. Crescendo is a very low-luck mechanic. A player who is better at figuring out what one choice is worth relative to another is going to do very well in games with crescendo elements. It’s a bit of a “shopping” mechanic: How good does the item have to be before it’s a good deal for the price? This gives players a great deal of control over their fortunes.
I have a feeling that crescendo is a mechanic that shows up in subtle ways in all sorts of games. Does a drafting game where your first set of cards might come back to you have a bit of a crescendo element to it (take this good card now, or take a different good card plus the original one if it comes back)? Are there games where players choose where to crescendo, making only one possible choice among many more valuable when they choose something else? How else might crescendo be used in the future?
I’d love to hear about other interesting uses of crescendo in games. Definitely let me know if you’ve seen some good ones, either here or on Twitter.
Over on Reddit, someone asked me about the status of a game they remember I was working on a couple of years ago, and that made me realize that it might be fun and informative for me to write a “state of the company” post, focused on where my various designs stand right now. Let’s dive in!
This was my first ever game design, and the game that inspired the name of my company (Clay Crucible was one of my favorite cards from the game). I published the first edition in 2012, and Game Salute published the second edition in 2014.
The rights to publish Chaos & Alchemy have now reverted to me, but I don’t have any plans to do anything with them. You can still typically find copies of the second edition on Amazon or the BGG marketplace for somewhere around MSRP.
Otters was my second published game, which was also the first Kickstarter campaign I ran on my own. This was quite a pleasant experience, start to finish! It’s a simple game, aimed at kids, with cute pictures of otters on the cards. The Kickstarter campaign exceeded the funding goal, and I delivered rewards ahead of the promised date.
Now the game lives on in a print-on-demand format from DriveThruCards. I’ve just added a printed tuck box to the game there, which should make for a much nicer overall product.
As I wrote back in 2014, Grey Fox Games signed Alchemy Bazaar for publication. The company went through some changes in the intervening years which led to Alchemy Bazaar being slower to see print than originally expected, but they are now actively developing it. I don’t know when to expect it to actually come out, but let’s say “someday.” Probably within the next year, I’m guessing.
Everest: Technically unsigned, maybe will be published by Grey Fox Games
Everest is in an odd little limbo. I wrote about this in that same 2014 blog post. Randy from Foxtrot Games put me in contact with Shane from Grey Fox Games due to Shane’s interest in Everest. I showed Shane both Everest and Alchemy Bazaar at Gen Con 2014, and Shane liked them both. He wanted to do Alchemy Bazaar first, and that’s the only game we have a contract for. But Everest might come from Grey Fox someday, I suppose. <shrug>
Fibercraft: Forthcoming in 2017 from Clay Crucible Games
As I wrote recently, Fibercraft is my newest game, and I’m planning to publish this one myself. Stay tuned!
This was my second game design attempt, started during NaGaDeMon 2012. I wanted to build a card game where you had a Champion that you were adding powers to, but each round the Champions could be swapped around,
I put up three designer diary posts about this game, and I continued developing it for several months past the final diary post (my last version of the game is dated July 2014 and the last blog post was April 2014). I took it to a local convention for playtesting, and it went okay, but not well enough for me to get passionate about polishing it.
This was also about the time that I decided I needed to spend more time with my wife and less time developing and playtesting games, so I intentionally backed off for a while.
Robo Battle: Shelved, almost certainly forever
I never blogged about this game, but I demo it at a couple of local conventions. The funny story here is that it has been totally superseded by Mechs vs. Minions.
A little known fact about MvM is that it was based on an older, never widely published game called Weapons of Zombie Destruction. That game was designed by Stone Librande, who is a friend of a friend of mine. Our common friend had a copy of WZD that I played back when I lived in San Francisco.
I always though WZD was an interesting game, so I started designing Robo Battle as my own twist on it. I didn’t get especially far, but then last year Mechs vs. Minions came out. I’m definitely not going to be able to compete with that! So, Robo Battle is on the trash heap.
Corporate Rivalry: Shelved
This is one you would only know about if you closely followed my tweets in early 2016. I enjoy Twilight Struggle, but I would love to capture a similar experience in a shorter play-time. So, I started designing my own twist on it, where the two players are rival corporations trying to gain market share in a region. A game like this needs a strong theme in order to direct the development, I think, and I don’t have that theme yet. I could see coming back to this one someday.
This isn’t really a full-on design, but just a one-page printout to modify the rules of Catan (aka Settlers of Catan) to remove the luck of the dice. It’s basically a mash-up of Concordia and Catan. Honestly, I don’t think this one gets enough love, especially because I regularly see people complaining about how the dice can wreck a well-played game of Catan. Take out the dice!
So there you have it: The state of all of my games that have gotten at least as far as the prototype stage, as of spring 2017. Do any of the shelved games pique your interest? Have you seen any of these out in the wild? I’d love to hear about it!
I haven’t published any games since Otters in 2014, and that an intentional choice – game design and publication take a lot of time, and I have been devoting my time to other parts of my life.
However, I’m excited to announce that I’m working on a new game that I’ll be self-publishing. It’s called Fibercraft.
Fibercraft has two sources of inspiration. The theme is inspired by my wife Barbara’s business, Kitty Mine Crafts. The mechanics are inspired by an old Magic: The Gathering draft style that I don’t believe is used much anymore, called Winston Draft.
Fibercraft is about operating a business where you dye and sell various types of yarn and fiber (wool, alpaca, silk) to people who want to knit or crochet or spin or felt or whatever. This is what my wife has been doing for the past five years, and she’s built it into a successful business. The products are really pretty, and it sounded fun to me to make a game that would cross over with her shop.
The mechanics are inspired by a two-player Magic: The Gathering draft style known as Winston Draft. The idea is that there are three piles of cards to choose from, and on your turn you will look at the first pile and either take it or pass. If you take it, your turn is over, and you put one card from the deck in that pile’s place for your opponent to look at. If you pass, you put a card from the deck on top of the pile, and you then look at the second pile. You either take that one or pass. If you pass, add a card to it and look at the third pile. Take it or pass. If you pass, add a card to it, and take the top card of the deck.
The related inspiration here is 7 Wonders Duel, which is a two-player drafting game that my wife and I enjoy very much. Two-player drafting is just not a very common game type, and Duel does it so well. I liked the idea of something like Duel that wouldn’t take up so much table space and that would be a little more straightforward, so I decided on Winston Draft.
My first “proof of concept” playtest for Fibercraft was to take the 7 Wonders Duel cards and deal them out à la Winston Draft. I was pleased to discover that it worked pretty well! So, if you’re ever looking for a variant on 7 Wonders Duel, try Winston Drafting it instead of laying out the pyramid of cards.
I’ll write more about Fibercraft as the game development process moves along, but I’m pretty excited about it! I plan to self-publish this game in a manner very similar to the way I published Otters in 2014 – a Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs of doing a small print run. Nothing too fancy – I like to keep things simple.
If you enjoy games like 7 Wonders Duel and Patchwork, I think you’re going to like Fibercraft. That’s my goal!
At the beginning of 2016, I mentioned to my wife Barbara that some people on the BoardGameGeek forums were talking about the “365 Play Challenge” – setting a goal to log 365 plays of various games during the course of the year. Barbara liked the idea, and so did I, so we set it as a goal for ourselves.
Every time we played a board game during the year, I logged the play in my BoardGameGeek account (user name ChaosAndAlchemy in case you’re wondering), using the excellent BG Stats app on my iPhone (it’s only a couple of bucks, and I personally love it). I also tweeted each play using the #365games hashtag. This lets me look back now that the year is over and reflect on what an awesome gaming here it has been!
The main goal was to log 365 plays, averaging one per day (and yes, 2016 was a leap year, so we had an extra day to get there). Mission accomplished!
On December 17, during a run through several months of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, we hit our 365th play. By the time the year ended on December 31, we had logged 385 plays in total.
Game 363-367 of the year: Pandemic Legacy. WE REACHED THE 365 PLAY GOAL!! And with a great game. Made it through May with a win. #365games
I’ll note here that I only logged plays of games that took place with the physical game, not online plays or plays against an app. We both played lots of app games as well (for me, mostly Star Realms, Pandemic, Backgammon and Chess), but only the real-world games counted for our challenge.
Now, while we mostly play games with the two of us, sometimes with friends added in, not every play included both me and Barbara. There were two games of Rhino Hero that Barbara played with a friend of ours at BoardGameGeek Con in Dallas in November while I set up and learned the rules to a different game (Shear Panic), so I only played 383 games myself. As for the other direction, I logged many plays of games at lunch breaks at work, plus a few at BGG Con while Barbara was doing other things, so Barbara’s total was 323 plays. Close enough!
Another common challenge that people set for themselves on BGG is the 10×10 Challenge. In the Normal version (which we ended up doing), you try to have 10 different games that you’ve played at least 10 times each by the end of the year. In the Hardcore version, you pick 10 games at the beginning of the year (plus one alternate) and aim to play each of those specific games at least 10 times during the year.
Mission accomplished on the Normal challenge! In fact, we ended up with 13 different games that we played at least 10 times. We accomplished the “11×11” in this case, but not 12×12 or 13×13.
I like that our 10×10 list has a mixture of some quicker games with a bunch of meatier titles as well. As you can see, we played the full 15 game campaign of Risk Legacy and about half of a Seafall campaign. Not shown here are our 7 games of Pandemic Legacy; it was a very Legacy year!
When we were at BGG Con, we played some games with one woman who said she was working on a 25×5 challenge. Similar to the 10×10 but rewarding more variety, the goal is to have at least 25 different games that you’ve logged 5 or more plays of.
At the time, we realized that we had already hit something like 22×5, so it wasn’t too much effort to get to the full 25. In the end, we ended up with 29 different games with at least 5 plays each.
This is one I noticed when looking at our stats as the year neared its end. We had logged plays of over 90 different games during the year; wouldn’t it be cool to get to 100? Yes, yes it would.
This is the one that I was scrambling to get at the end of the year. We hit 97 pretty naturally by mid December, so I looked through my collection to see which games just somehow hadn’t hit the table in 2016 yet.
Barbara and I played a quick game of Otters (yay!) to get us to 98. As I looked toward the last couple of days of the year, I knew we would be getting together with friends on December 30, and that turned into TIME Stories night (we played the Marcy case), which got us to 99. We also pulled out Euphoria, which somehow hadn’t made it to the table in over two years, bringing us to 100.
Of those 100, 45 were new-to-me games. BGG Con certainly helped in this regard, since we got to play a bunch of brand-new games but we also took advantage of the game library to try some older games that we had never played. This was how we discovered Trajan, one of our gems of the year.
Part of the fun of tracking board game plays is the ability to look back at the end of the year and remember the events surrounding those plays. In addition to all of the great times with just Barbara and me, playing a game at home, I also loved recalling these:
The many games we played with our friend Dana before she shipped off to Air Force boot camp
The flurry of Codenames plus Agricola that we enjoyed while visiting friends in Florida
The Risk Legacy campaign we powered through with our friends Lisa and Brian before they moved to South Carolina
The time I sought out a board game store in Oakland during a business trip to San Francisco and taught a new friend how to play Patchwork, Pandemic and Dominion
The visit from Barbara’s distant relatives where we taught them to play Love Letter (and they got INTO it!)
The two separate visits from my friend Mark from Washington, where we not only pondered the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and inhabited a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars: Rebellion, but also tried out one of Mark’s prototypes
The big board game day in April that I had almost totally forgotten – the only time all year we spent with our friend Ben. And I forgive him for convincing us to play Munchkin that night 🙂
The many games of Star Realms that I played with Jack, the young son of a friend who seemed to really appreciate the time with me
The gaming desert from the beginning of May, when Barbara and I put an offer on a house and started the process of moving, through the end of June, when we had finally moved. We got to 385 plays while only logging 5 plays in May and 8 in June.
The visit from our Florida friends to come spend time with us in the new house, when we played a whole bunch of Happy Salmon with their little girls.
The discovery of the beautiful World’s Fair 1893 in July and the introduction of it to friends throughout the year
The housewarming party populated with great friends and a truly weird mixture of games
The “we are adults, which means we can have cupcakes for lunch if we want to” day with our friend Jess, where we introduced her to Set and Medici
The epic dedication Barbara and I developed to solve The Ravens of Thri Sahashri, despite constantly discovering various rules we had missed
The days when we wanted to log plays of something but didn’t have much gaming ambition, so we fell back on Yahtzee and Fluxx
The visit from my non-gamer mom and stepdad where we introduced them to Betrayal at House on the Hill (a perfect choice, as it turned out)
It was a really, really good year of gaming, and I definitely have more concrete memories of so many good times with friends and family thanks to keeping track of my games played.
While I don’t think we’re going to get nearly as many plays in for 2017 (we’re trying the hardcore 10×10 but not the 365), I know we will continue to build memories and relationships around the gaming table, and I can’t wait.
This post has been a long time coming, but I’m thrilled that things are settled to the point that I can talk about them publicly.
The big message: Two of my unpublished game designs, Everest and Alchemy Bazaar, have been picked up for publication by Grey Fox Games. Woo hoo!
Now, things are a long way from the end point right now, and there can be a lot of changes between today and the day that you can buy these games in a store. The contracts aren’t signed yet (though they’re pretty close to being done), and Grey Fox Games will be doing some development work on both games, which could mean different names, different themes, etc. But they have agreed that they want to publish both of these games in the next few years!
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m excited about this. Let me tell you how I got here.
From Foxtrot to Grey Fox
The story of my connection to Grey Fox Games goes back to Gen Con 2013 and a different publisher entirely, Foxtrot Games. Specifically, the man behind Foxtrot Games, Randy Hoyt.
Randy was one of the publishers who attended the first Publisher Speed Dating event at Gen Con 2013. I was there for two separate one-hour sessions: One of them showing off Everest and the other showing off Alchemy Bazaar. Randy had apparently seen me talking about Alchemy Bazaar online and was specifically interested in checking it out at Speed Dating.
I wrote in detail about this event on my old Online Dungeon Master blog last year. The part about Foxtrot Games is what I referred to in that post as “Meeting 3: Micro publisher follow-up.” Randy is a great guy, and he and I have become friends over the past year. He and his son had a lot of fun with Everest, and he was strongly considering publishing the game, even to the point of having some nice prototypes made up and sent out to playtesters. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t quite the right fit to be his company’s second game, so he decided to pass. However, because Randy liked Everest so much, he decided to help me find a publisher. He was doing some demos of the game at BoardGameGeek Con 2013 (last November), and he got a couple of people from Grey Fox Games to sit down for a demo. They were really interested in the game, and Randy and I ultimately worked together to develop the game further for Grey Fox.
Gen Con 2014
By the time I was preparing for Gen Con this year, I had already had extensive discussions with Shane at Grey Fox, and he had already agreed that he wanted to publish Everest, though it would likely come a bit later in their production schedule. Since he and I were both going to be at Gen Con, I set up some time for us to meet Saturday afternoon to nail down the details about Everest.
First, though, I had some other publisher meetings.
Thursday morning of Gen Con I met with another publisher friend of mine who had expressed interest in Alchemy Bazaar at Gen Con 2013. We went through a demo with the updated rules, and while he liked the improvements from last year, he ultimately decided to pass on Alchemy Bazaar.
Friday evening at Gen Con I went to Publisher Speed Dating again. This time it was two hours on a single game, Alchemy Bazaar. I talked to about a dozen publishers about Alchemy Bazaar, four of whom seemed to be very interested in the game. None of them got back to me before my Saturday meeting with Grey Fox, though.
So, Saturday afternoon I met with Shane at the Grey Fox booth, and we found a table in a slightly quieter area to talk about Everest. I pulled out the prototype copy of Everest I had made for him, explained the rules, and we played through the game (which takes about 15-20 minutes). It’s a cooperative game, and we just barely lost, but it was a close call. Shane was happy with it, and we talked about further development plans (getting it in the hands of Grey Fox playtesters and such).
As we were talking, I decided that I should at least mention Alchemy Bazaar. I described the game briefly, and Shane told me that he’d like to see it. I had a prototype with me (naturally), so I brought it out and went through things in a little more detail. Shane was very intrigued, so I offered to let him take the Alchemy Bazaar prototype (I still had another one), which he eagerly did. (I also gave him a copy of Otters, because he has kids in the right age range.)
Fast forward a few weeks to Labor Day weekend, when out of the blue I get an email from Shane saying that he and his friends had played Alchemy Bazaar, they really liked it, and Grey Fox Games wants to publish it!
As I mentioned above, there are still a lot of details to work out. It seems likely that Alchemy Bazaar will be published first and Everest second (which is fine with me). As publisher-level playtesting moves along, we will likely try out some changes to both games. It’s entirely possible the themes might change (which is also fine with me). But if all goes according to plan, you will eventually see two of my games published by Grey Fox!
By the way, for those of you who are not yet familiar with Grey Fox Games, they’re the publishing offshoot of CoolStuffInc. They are publishing two games that have already had success on Kickstarter, Draco Magi and Conquest of Speros, with Run, Fight or Die and other games coming in the future. I’m excited to have my games in their future lineup.
I’ll keep you posted when there’s news to report (Kickstarter campaign, etc.). It will probably be a while, so be patient! 🙂
I’m a big fan of Klaus Teuber’s Settlers of Catan. It’s not the first modern board game I played (that would be Citadels, believe it or not, in its translation-sheet-needed form of Ohne Furcht und Adel). But when our gaming friends introduced my wife and me to Settlers, we fell in love with the game. It’s still a big hit for introducing new gamers to the hobby in our house.
One complaint that seasoned gamers sometimes have about Settlers of Catan is that the dice create too much randomness. A smart player who builds settlements on hexes with numbers like 5 and 6 and 8 and 9 should get lots of resources because those numbers should be rolled a lot… but sometimes the dice roll a streak of 3s, and weird things happen.
The publisher of the game introduced a tool to help prevent this outcome – a deck of 36 cards that reflect the “correct” distribution of each number that can be rolled on a pair of 6-sided dice. If you draw from this deck without replacing the cards you’ve drawn, you eliminate the possibility of a crazy “hot streak” for any number.
I think that’s a neat product. However, I wanted to turn resource production into an interesting decision. Rather than rolling dice or drawing a random card to decide which hexes produce resources each turn, I wanted players to have some decision-making power over production.
The rules for Clay Crucible Catan are simple:
Replace the normal number circles with the numbers in the attached document (2-7, each appearing 3 times).
Deal the numbers out randomly, with the one caveat that you can’t have all three copies of a number surrounding the same point (just switch the last copy out for another number).
Give each player seven playing cards from the same suit, Ace through 7.
On your turn, instead of rolling dice, you choose one of your playing cards and put it on the table face up. The number you play is the number whose hexes produce resources this round. Leave that playing card on the table.
When your turn comes around again, you’ll play another one of your playing cards. Note that whatever numbers you’ve played before are still face-up on the table, so you can’t play those numbers again.
If you decide to play your Ace, this activates the knight/robber just as in regular Settlers rules, with one extra bit: You also get to pick up the playing cards you’ve previously played and put them back in your hand for future use.
When you play the Ace, you leave it on the table. When you play a different card next turn, you get your Ace back in your hand (so you can’t play your Ace in back to back turns).
Note that, since you choose when to play your Ace, you can know how many cards are in everyone’s hand (including yours) when the knight is activated.
Feel free to talk to the other players about which number to play. For instance, you could say, “Hey, if I play my 4, you’ll get two bricks; if I do that, would you trade me one of them for one grain?” Of course, these negotiations aren’t binding, so the person could change their mind after you decide which number to play. (You can use binding negotiations at your table if you prefer.)
The one-page PDF contains these rules (condensed) plus number squares you can cut up to use with your Settlers game (I recommend printing on card stock).
So far I’ve found this to be a fun variant for Settlers of Catan. I wouldn’t recommend it for new players, since the extra layer of decision-making makes Clay Crucible Catan a bit harder for people who don’t play games. But for gamers who prefer a bit less randomness in their Settlers game, this variant is a good fit.
Please let me know if you try this variant with your group – I would love to hear about it! You can leave a comment here, or email me at ClayCrucible@gmail.com.
I’m a big fan of transparency. When new game designers / publishers are just getting started, having detailed stories from people who’ve gone before them is a big help (it definitely was for me).
With that in mind, I wanted to share a detailed financial breakdown of my kid-friendly card game, Otters. This will cover everything from the initial concept of the game on November 1, 2013, up to the publication date of this article, April 28, 2014. It’s a six-month period during which I designed Otters, playtested it, got art and graphic design, found a manufacturer, built and ran a Kickstarter campaign and then fulfilled all of my Kickstarter pledges.
A few notes:
I’m proud to say that I delivered Kickstarter rewards ahead of schedule. My expected delivery date on the campaign page was May 2014, and here we are in April with the rewards already out the door! (I’m sure a few international backers won’t actually receive their packages until early May, but I shipped them all by April 26.)
There are still seven Kickstarter backers to whom I have not yet shipped rewards. One is local to Colorado, and she will be arranging an in-person pickup. Three haven’t filled out their surveys yet. Three indicated that they wanted to add something to their order but haven’t paid for the add-ons yet. The total amount of add-on payments I have yet to receive is pretty close to the total shipping costs I have not yet paid, so that’s going to be more or less a wash and won’t change these numbers dramatically.
If you want the quick summary, I ended up turning a very, very small profit on the game: About $250. This is on a Kickstarter that raised over $5,000. Call it a 5% profit margin (without getting anything for my labor, of course).
The income side of the equation is pretty simple. I brought in money from the Kickstarter campaign, I had some post-Kickstarter add-ons to backer pledges, and I sold a few pre-order copies to non-Kickstarter backers.
Kickstarter pledges: $5,321.00
Post-Kickstarter add-ons from backers: $321.60
Pre-orders from non-KS backers: $35.32
Total income: $5,677.92
I’m going to break expenses into several categories, because I think that will be most useful for other Kickstarter project creators.
Expense: Kickstarter / Amazon fees: $499.17
Once the Kickstarter campaign ended, backer credit cards were charged via Amazon payments. Each charge showed up in my Amazon payments account with some money coming to me and some money going to Amazon/Kickstarter.
I ended up moving money from my Amazon payments account to my business bank account in three waves: One the day after the campaign ended (the bulk of the transfer), one a few days later after a few backers had updated their credit card information so that the payment would go through, and one three weeks later when the last backer’s payment finally went through correctly. I simply added up the total money I was able to transfer to my bank account and compared it to the total pledges to get the fees lost to Kickstarter and Amazon.
I’ll note that this expense was 9.38% of the total pledged. So, all the advice you see about expecting these fees to be 10% – that’s pretty good advice.
One last note here: Every single backer paid me. When I read about other Kickstarter projects, I’ll usually hear about 5% of backer payments failing to go through and never getting fixed. I had a grand total of one backer who took longer than a day or two to have his payment go through, and while I was expecting to write that one off as lost even he came through in the end.
Expense: Card print runs: $2,038.55
Naturally, this is the biggest expense for a card game like Otters. I used DriveThruCards as my manufacturer for Otters, and I’m completely happy with them. The card quality was excellent, the communication was excellent, the speed of production was excellent… what more can I say? I hope they someday offer custom tuck boxes for card decks, but I can live without them.
This expense is actually two separate expenses: $1,688.10 for the main print run, and $350.45 for the “Speedy Otters” print run that I had done before the campaign started. That Speedy run gave me decks to ship to Speedy Otters backers right after the campaign ended (those went out within a week) as well as review copies to send to bloggers and podcasters in advance of the campaign.
Expense: Quality Assurance: $65.60
This covers the cost of test decks from DriveThruCards, both prior to my initial print run and prior to my main print run. QA is important, folks!
Expense: Art and graphic design: $886.12
Otters uses primarily Creative Commons licensed photographs for the “art” on the cards, which doesn’t generally cost money – but I ended up sharing some of my profits with a photographer who let me use a ton of his photos (not required, but he asked and I thought it would be nice).
This expense is mainly made up of the cost of graphic design – the Otters logo, the cover design, the card layout, rule sheet layout, creation of PDFs for DriveThruCards, etc.
It also includes the cost of a couple of illustrations that I commissioned before the campaign began, when I thought that a stretch goal would be for illustrations instead of photos. We hit that stretch goal, but my backers preferred photos over illustrations as it turned out, so those illustrations were unused.
Expense: Custom cloth bags: $374.00
This covers the cost of manufacturing and shipping for 50 custom Otters bags.
Expense: Supplies: $209.70
Most of this expense ($121.93) covers the cost of 500 blank brown cardboard flip-top boxes shipped to my door, each big enough to hold two Otters decks and a rule sheet comfortably. I only went through about half of these for this campaign, but they come in 500 packs.
The other components are a box of 250 bubble mailers ($51.77) and a set of color printer ink that I went through in creating prototype decks ($36.00)
Expense: Printing labels and rule sheets: $168.41
I went to my local Staples office store for a whole bunch of printing over the course of this project.
For labels, I used some nice glossy sticker paper that I left over from my initial Chaos & Alchemy print run. I printed 9 labels per page, cut them apart with a paper cutter and stuck one to each box.
For rule sheets, I had Staples print on paper that was a step up from their normal quality; it just feels nicer.
Expense: Shipping: $1,065.61
Until I actually sat down and added this up, I didn’t know that I had crossed the thousand-dollar-mark in shipping expenses. Now, to be clear, $59.43 of this cost is for review copies of Otters that I sent out prior to the campaign. But that still means I spent over $1,000 in the cost of postage alone in getting Otters into the hands of my backers.
Not included here is the cost of shipping labels; I already had plenty of them on hand.
Expense: Taxes: $124.77
This is a little bit of an estimate right now, and I know it’s not 100% correct, but we’ll go with it.
For sales tax, only a few backers are here in Colorado, so I’ll only owe a total of $5.62 in sales tax so far.
For income tax, I’m estimating based on applying my marginal federal and state income tax rate to the nominal profits I’ve made on this game so far. That’s not going to be the actual number in the end, I’m sure, because it’s ignoring inventory for one thing. But it’s a reasonable guess for now.
Kickstarter / Amazon fees: $499.17
Card print runs: $2,038.55
Quality assurance: $65.60
Art and graphic design: $886.12
Custom cloth bags: $374.00
Labels and rule sheets: $168.41
Total expenses: $5,431.93
Total income: $5,677.92
Total expenses: $5,431.93
Now, I’ve simplified things a little bit here.
First, I’ll say that if all I had to show for this whole experience with Otters was 246 more dollars in the Clay Crucible Games bank account than I had beforehand, I would still call this a success. I’ve created a game out of nothing and gotten it into the hands of hundreds of gamers around the world, and I even made a little money doing it. That’s pretty good.
However, I’m also left with some inventory. I have plenty of leftover game boxes, several labels and rule sheets, a few custom bags, and importantly, some Otters decks. After setting aside the 11 decks and 1 bag that I owe to backers who have either not paid for their add-ons or not completed their surveys, I still have 53 Otters decks and 9 custom bags on hand. I also have 11 Speedy Otters decks, which I have no idea what to do with (probably give away to worthy causes of some sort).
If I end up selling those decks and clear $9 of profit on average for each of them, and call it about the same for the bags, that would be another $558 in future profits.
Furthermore, I plan to eventually put Otters up for sale directly on DriveThruCards, and the sky’s the limit… but I’m not expecting anything crazy, of course!
I hope this helps!
My goal with this sort of post is to help other Kickstarter project creators and game designers / publishers to understand the financial reality of putting a game out there via Kickstarter. This was a very humble campaign, and it worked out just fine in my book. But I’m certainly not quitting my day job! 🙂
If you want to say thanks for the information, you can get yourself a copy of Otters right here.
In the first two chapters of this Design Diary (chapter 1, chapter 2) I talked about the underlying inspiration for my auction game, Mansion Builder, and the different methods of conducting the auction that I tried.
Today I’m talking about the use of icons on my game cards.
First attempt: All text
When I’m developing a new game, I start with the quickest, simplest prototype I can make (prototype early and often). This typically means that I’ll put some card names and text and numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, print them on regular paper, cut them into slips and insert those slips into sleeves with Magic cards for backing.
This also means that I’m not investing any time in making these cards look good. They need to be functional, but that’s it. They’re black and white (cheaper to print) and they have no graphics. This way, if my initial attempts reveal that my game idea just isn’t fun or it’s completely broken or I’m not inspired to work any farther on it, I haven’t wasted a bunch of time making a nice-looking prototype that I’ll just throw away.
In this vein, my first Mansion Builder cards featured all text with some numbers.
I was happy to discover that the basic game mechanics worked and were interesting. Players were bidding on Improvement cards for their mansions (the top row of cards), and then they were getting money from selling mansions with the right Improvements to the various Buyer cards (the bottom row).
The problem was that I had 12 different Improvements, and it was hard for players to scrutinize the various Buyers in order to tell which Improvements they wanted. With a bunch of cards on the table, the text became overwhelming.
I have an intermediate set of icons that I won’t show here because I don’t own the rights to them. These came from simple Google Image searches, and I wasn’t specifically looking for Creative Commons icons or anything like that.
However, I later discovered The Noun Project (discussed a bit in an earlier post), which had all of the icons I needed. The cards now look like this:
I’ll point out that I switched from Excel to Photoshop for this version of the cards, but I did have an intermediate step where I dropped the icon images into Excel.
Beyond the icons for the improvements themselves, there are two other things I want to point out. The first is that I’m using icons with numbers for money and reputation/victory points (the “dollar bill” icons on the improvements and the “laurel wreath” icons on the buyers). This makes it clear that there are two different meanings for numbers on cards.
The second thing I want to point out is that there are two different types of numbers now. In the first iteration that you saw above, all numbers were the same – money. I soon realized that it was important to separate money (the stuff that gives players more options during the game) from victory points (the stuff that lets you win the game). I’ll write more about this in a future post, but if you make the power-giving currency the same as the game-winning currency, you tend to get a runaway leader problem.
Having icons on the cards has made things much easier, and I’m glad The Noun Project exists (I bought the rights to use all of these icons, which was quite affordable, just a dollar or two apiece). The icons are still black and white, though, which needs to change (being able to tell which icons are which based not just on shape but also on color will help).
In chapter 1 of this Design Diary, I described the initial idea for my work-in-progress game design, Mansion Builder. It’s an auction game in which players are property developers, bidding in auctions to acquire ridiculous improvements for their mansions in order to satisfy the desire of oddball buyers.
One of the first issues I had to deal with: How do I want to actually conduct the auction? It’s a simultaneous auction where everybody decides how much they want to bid and then everyone reveals their bids at the same time. How did I want this to work at the table?
Well, as a designer I had a few different approaches for running simultaneous bid auctions.
My first thought (since it was at hand) was to go with cards. Specifically, I used regular playing cards and gave each player a set of Ace (representing 1) through 10 of a suit. When it was time to bid, everyone would choose one of their cards, put it face down in front of them, and then everyone would reveal simultaneously.
This actually did work, but it had some drawbacks.
First, it limited the players to bidding up to 10. In theory, if a player has 25 money and they want to bid all of it, they should be allowed to.
Second, it created an awful lot of components. A full set of bidding cards for each player is unwieldy.
Third, if the game were played a lot, these cards would wear unevenly. The lower numbers (5 or less) would be used the most, and could end up being marked.
My next idea was to give each player a card with a dry-erase coating on it, along with a dry-erase marker (think Telestrations, but smaller). Everyone secretly writes their bids, then reveals simultaneously.
This worked okay in practice, but I still wasn’t completely happy with it.
First, depending on how sneaky players were being, it could be possible to figure out what others were writing based on the movement of their pen.
Second, it was a little bit messy with all of the dust from erasing the bids.
My current approach is making me happy so far. Money in the game is represented by small tokens of some sort. I’m currently using small plastic “scatter” that looks like little crystals. The clear crystals are worth 1 money each, and the amber crystals are worth 5.
Players put whatever quantity of money they want to bid in a closed fist, then all players simultaneously open their hands to reveal their bids.
The biggest advantage of this approach is that it’s a lot of fun. There’s a nice moment of tension when all of the players have a closed fist in the middle of the table right before the bids are revealed.
Another advantage is that it makes bookkeeping much easier. I always had tokens for money, and with the other methods the players had to reveal their bids, then reach into their supplies to fish out the right amount of money and put it back in the bank. Now they can just drop the crystals that are in their hands right into the bank pile.
End of chapter 2
So, that’s one issue solved: Closed fist auctions are going to work for Mansion Builder. Next time, I’ll talk about the challenges of designing useful playtest cards. Icons ahoy!