Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kipling and Casablanca

Welcome back! I see that I’ve let a couple of weeks slide by since the last post. Time is a serious constraint for me these days: I’m finishing up a contract gig with En Masse that keeps me out of the house from 8 am to 6 pm every day, I’m doing design work and Kickstarter preparation for my upcoming Alternity sci-fi game, I’m shepherding my Plan Number B expansion for Ultimate Scheme through art and layout, and I’m working on the second draft of my novel Restless Lightnings. 

With all that going on, blog posts tend to fall to the bottom of the stack. I guess the “good” news is that my contract at EME is winding up, so I’ll be able to devote 50 more hours a week to my writing and my own game design. I can use a few weeks to catch up on my various projects before the next contract rolls around, although I have to admit that I’ll miss that regular paycheck. That’s the life of a writer, I guess.

I Don’t Know, I’ve Never Kippled

I’ve been spending a few hours here and there over the last couple of months reading through Rudyard Kipling’s poetry because I’ve been looking for catchy turns of phrase I might use as titles in my Sikander North series. The first title, Valiant Dust, is drawn from the Kipling poem “Recessional.” The second title, Restless Lightnings, comes from the poem “The Islanders.” Then I discovered that I’d inadvertently established a “personality trait-inanimate object” naming system in my first two titles, and I needed to find a third turn of phrase that followed the established system. Naturally, finding just one more that suited me proved much harder than I’d expected! I’ve read dozens of Kipling poems in search of the right bit of verse.

Kipling is a writer not remembered kindly in many quarters these days. Yes, it’s tough to get around the jingoism of “South Africa” or the racism of “The White Man’s Burden.” But Kipling loved India enough to write Kim and The Jungle Book. And the man who wrote “Buddha at Kamakura” was no Christian supremacist. That last one is worth a read if you’ve never run across it. I’ve been thinking about it for days. I'm beginning to think that Kipling was a much more complex guy than we give him credit for nowadays.

I did finally find a title phrase I like, but I’m going to keep it to myself for a little bit longer. Book 3 is still a long ways away! If you’re curious, though, you might try reading “The Destroyers.”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the heading… it’s an old, old punchline. The joke begins: “Do you like Kipling?”

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

I watched The Maltese Falcon for the first time on Saturday evening. It’s been on my list of movies to watch for years now—I’m something of a Humphrey Bogart fan and I just hadn’t checked “the Black Bird” off my list yet. I’m afraid the movie just didn’t do much for my wife or my mother-in-law, but I liked it well enough, especially the great dialogue between Sydney Greenstreet’s “Fat Man” and Bogart’s Sam Spade. Casablanca, Key Largo, The African Queen, and The Caine Mutiny still retain their top billing at the top of my Bogart list, but I liked seeing Bogart play a quick-thinking, resourceful troublemaker. Sam Spade’s not as cynical or world-weary as other iconic Bogart characters, although I suppose that The Maltese Falcon was early in Bogart’s career.

(Note to self: Track down The Big Sleep sometime. Still need to check that off, too.)

I don’t know if this is official writer advice or not, but I’ll recommend it anyway: Read and watch some of the classics. Casablanca’s dialogue is pure genius; it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time if you haven’t ever seen it, because you’ll learn something about snappy and unforgettable dialogue if you pay attention. Heck, The Caine Mutiny’s court martial scene did “You can’t handle the truth” to perfection forty years before A Few Good Men.

So, there you go: Read old poems. Watch old movies. You might learn something!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Rich's Teenage Ten Albums

There was an interesting question circulating around Facebook a couple of weeks ago: What 10 albums most affected your teenage years? I’ve been thinking about this one off and on for days, trying to remember what was really important to me when I first started listening to “my own” music and developing my tastes. Naturally, I decided to answer the question here rather than answer it on Facebook—why waste a good blog topic on a single post?

Let me establish a couple of things right up front. First, I became a teenager on October 1, 1979 (yeah, I’m getting old). I turned 20 on October 1, 1986. But some albums on this list predates that 7-year window because I tended to pick up records that had songs I liked, regardless of whether they were current—I was starting my collection with stuff that was in some cases ten years old already. Second, being a big sci-fi and fantasy nerd, I naturally zeroed in on any album that had a science fiction or fantasy theme to it. Teenage rebellion wasn’t really my thing, sorry.

Anyway, here’s my list. Enjoy!

10. The Wall (Pink Floyd). If you were a schoolkid in 1979, “Another Brick in the Wall” was your anthem. I listened to this album a lot in college, but I long ago decided that I like Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon, and Meddle way, way more than The Wall. It’s just too damned dark for me to really enjoy listening to it.

9. The Game (Queen). In 7th grade I fell in with three good friends, and the four of us played D&D together throughout high school. I didn’t like “Another One Bites the Dust” (and still don’t, Queen was so much better than that), but we killed a lot of monsters to that song. And there was an off-track on the album called “Dragon Attack,” which as you might imagine was pretty popular at the table too.

8. Rumors (Fleetwood Mac). My discovery of Rumors just squeaks into my teenage years. In my college days I spent entire semesters drinking beer and throwing darts at a dart bar called Ton-80. They played Rumors just about every night in that place. Everyone knows the mega-hits on the first side, but I always liked the second side better; “Gold Dust Woman” and “The Chain” are serious, powerful songs.

7. Heavy Metal (various). The movie Heavy Metal came out in 1981. Thanks to the wonderful magic of HBO, I eagerly watched a rated-R sci-fi cartoon with a great rock and roll soundtrack. I guess I’ve outgrown a lot of the songs from the collection (and the drug jokes and animated sex scenes), but to this day I love Donald Fagen’s “True Companion.” 

6. Synchronicity (The Police). The Police owned the charts for a couple of years when I was in high school. I wasn’t a huge Police fan, but when they came to Atlantic City, I saw an opportunity to impress a girl I wanted to impress, so I went. I had to take my sister and her friend too, but that was okay—I saw the Police Synchronicity tour. 

5. Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie). Let’s Dance was Bowie’s giant hit album during my teenage years, but I was always drawn to his earlier stuff. God, Ziggy Stardust is a great album. I can listen to “Starman” or “Moonage Daydream” all day long and not get tired of ‘em.

4. Decade (Steely Dan). I often started my exploration of different bands by picking up a “Best of” album. Steely Dan’s Decade compilation was the one that converted me into a lifelong Steely Dan fan. I bought all their studio albums on vinyl, then bought ‘em again on CD. I think Steely Dan is the only band I can say that about. If I had to pick a favorite Steely Dan album, I’d say Aja—it’s simply perfect. But they’re all good. I’ve also had the good fortune to catch Steely Dan in concert a couple of times.

3. Fire of Unknown Origin (Blue Oyster Cult). Remember that sci-fi thing? Well, a heavy metal band with science-fiction themed albums was pretty much sure to win over teenaged Rich. Fire of Unknown Origin was BOC’s big commercial success, and put them on the map at exactly the right time for me to notice. From there, I picked up Cultosaurus Erectus and Agents of Fortune and loved those albums too, although these days I think Spectres is their best. I’ve seen BOC play a couple of times—they still tour, believe it or not! 

2. Led Zeppelin IV (um, Led Zeppelin). I bet I don’t have to tell you about Led Zeppelin IV. Let’s just say that “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Battle of Evermore” hit my not-so-hidden Tolkien geek right between the eyes (although “Misty Mountain Hop” really doesn’t have anything to do with The Hobbit). Anyway, this was another soundtrack to those D&D games of my teenage years.

1. The Yes Album (Yes). When I turned 14, I got my very first album: The Yes Album. It was a gift from my Uncle Jeff. Jeff was a music guy and he knew I was into science fiction, so he figured a little progressive rock would be up my alley. Turns out he was right. I didn’t know a thing about Yes before I got the cassette, but I listened to The Yes Album until I wore out the tape. When I wrote The Last Mythal trilogy, a book about elves in the Forgotten Realms, I pretty much listened to Close to the Edge and The Yes Album continuously to put me in an elf-y frame of mind. Yes actually came through Seattle a couple of years ago with a show in which they promised to play The Yes Album in its entirety, and I couldn’t talk anyone into going with me. I should’ve gone by my darned self.

These ten albums aren’t necessarily my top ten right now. My tastes have broadened over time, and believe it or not I don’t just listen to prog-rock all day. Anyway, I had fun thinking up this list, and maybe I reminded you of some albums you used to love when you were a teenager. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Studio Ghibli, Steampunk

On Saturday, I did something that I hardly ever do anymore: I sat down and watched a DVD. These days, it’s so much easier to just wander over to whatever’s playing on the movie channels or to check out On Demand or Netflix. Somewhere along the line I became too lazy to actually get up, root through the DVD collection, pick out a disk, turn on the Blu Ray player, and then remember which input mode on the TV brings up the player. Fortunately my daughter Alex was home, and she wanted to watch some anime and spend quality time with her sister Hannah before going back up to school. She decided to watch Princess Mononoke.

I watched Princess Mononoke once before, sometime back in the late ‘90s. I didn’t remember it all that well and what I did recall was that it was confusing (hey, it’s been like twenty years), so I tried to watch it a lot more carefully this time. It’s a really strange story, with lots of morally gray characters. In some ways, there isn’t really a villain—even the lady who runs Iron Town and seems to be doing the most villainous things in the story is a protector of lepers and mistreated women. We’re really used to Westernized story arcs and roles in our entertainment, and it’s a bit of culture shock to be immersed in a story told in a different way.

 It was especially fun to watch Hannah (an 18-year old anime fan) become engrossed in the story. She’d never watched Princess Mononoke before. Early on, I could tell she was really struggling to digest the conflicting messages about the characters and their motives. But she was completely hooked halfway through, and by the end she was literally sitting on the edge of her seat (and observed at one point, “Okay, now this is terrifying.”)

I’ve only seen a half-dozen or so of the Studio Ghibli movies: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo. Of those, I’d say my favorite is Castle in the Sky (possibly the best steampunk story anyone’s put on film so far). It’s also the most conventional (well, Western conventional) story arc of those half-dozen movies. It makes me wonder if I like it best because it’s delivering a story in the format I’m most used to, or if I like it best because I like the steampunk world in which it takes place.

Speaking of steampunk: Being a gamer, I also find myself wondering what’s the most definitive steampunk/anime RPG experience out there. Big Eyes, Small Mouth comes to mind, but it’s not really focused on steampunk. Castle Falkenstein and Space:1889 are good steampunk settings, but they’re also old. Where’s the 21st-century RPG that provides the definitive steampunk adventure? It seems like a real oversight on the part of tabletop RPG publishers everywhere. Maybe I’ll do something about that as soon as I get a suitable window in my schedule.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cover Reveal, Civ VI, Plan Number B

Welcome back! Three thoughts for today: Valiant Dust cover, Civ 6, and Plan Number B.

Valiant Dust Cover Reveal

Okay, so I know I mentioned Valiant Dust just last week, but this is pretty cool: Tor revealed the cover for my book today! I am super-happy with the artwork and the snazzy cover design work (and Mike Stackpole’s generous testimonial is double-super cool). Here’s a link if you’d like to go have a look for yourself.

I love the cover. Hope you like it too!

Civilization VI

I’ve been a big fan of the Civilization franchise for something like twenty years now. I pretty much run out and buy each new edition as soon as I can find the right moment to pick up a twenty-hour-a-week habit for a couple of months. So I’ve been happily exploring Civilization VI for the last month or two (at substantially less than twenty hours a week, since I am insanely busy these days). I’m still forming my impressions of how the newest offering stands in comparison to previous versions, but I generally like it so far. I like laying out districts for my cities, I like the civics and government, I like the lower number of units on the board, and I like the mix of strategic and luxury resources. It’s a fresh new take on the series, which is probably good—it would have been very hard to “out-Civ 5” the Civ 5 game.

One thing I wish the diplomacy interface let you do: I wish there was more of a “same to you!” function available. When a NPC leader Denounces me, I want a button right there on that screen to Denounce the guy right back. And when a NPC leader asks to build an embassy in my capital, I want an option that says, “Sure, if I can build one in yours.” In the mid- to late game NPC leaders *never* let me build embassies. It’s hard not to take that personally.

I’ll touch on Civ VI a little more as I play through a couple more games, but so far I’ll give it a thumbs-up.

Plan Number B

You Ultimate Scheme fans out there will be happy to know that I’ve got a rough design hammered out for Plan Number B, the expansion deck for Ultimate Scheme. We’re lining up artist Claudio Pozas to do our card illustrations again, and we’re playtesting right now. Plan Number B introduces 5 new factions, 3 new ultimate schemes, and a couple of new X-factors. The biggest new elements of the expansion are a brand-new scheme deck (Power schemes) and the introduction of the Interpol Agent (that mysterious pawn from the original box), plus plenty of Action cards to support the new stuff.

I generally feel that game expansions ought to offer something besides just “more,” so you’ll find that the Interpol Agent provides you with a new complication to scheme around (and a new weapon to use against your rivals). The Power schemes are built around a theme of controlling the Interpol Agent and accomplishing special “mission” schemes that offer valuable new abilities as rewards. With a little luck we’ll have Plan Number B finished up in about 4-6 weeks. We’ll print and ship it very quickly after that, since we’ll be using a print-on-demand vendor for this (it’s a pretty small print run).

That’s all for now!  

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New Look!

Hi, everybody! Welcome to my newly updated blog for 2017. As you can see, I made a few changes to the template, updated my profile, and came up with a new name. Atomic Dragon Battleship was fun, but it wasn't particularly clever or any kind of play on my name, so I decided to up my game a bit. I've never actually been to Bakersfield, but it rolled off the tongue better than Baker City (it's in Oregon, and I have been there). I would have called it Baker Street after Sherlock Holmes' famous address, but Jeff Grubb kind of beat me to it with his Grubb Street blog. So Baker's Field seems okay for now.

I'll try to keep my posts shorter and more frequent than in the past. So, without further ado, here are three things I'd like to share to start the year.

Valiant Dust in November

I'm busy working on a new series of military-themed science fiction novels for Tor Books. The first one is entitled "Valiant Dust" (it's a reference to a Kipling poem), and it'll be out early in November (2017). I've actually been done with the book for more than a year, but publishers have schedules to keep, and I had to wait for a slot to open up. Valiant Dust (and its sequels) tell the story of Sikander North, an officer from the colony system of Kashmir serving in the star navy of the Commonwealth of Aquila. I'm pretty proud of it and I think it's a good read! I'm now working on book 2 of the series, working title of "Restless Lightnings" (another Kipling reference).

Hired Gun at En Masse

Back in September, my friend and former WotC colleague Daneen called me up because her employer En Masse Entertainment (publishers of the popular TERA MMORPG) had just landed a big new localization project. Daneen needed writers, stat! So for the last few months of 2016 (and the first couple of months of 2017) I've been working in a contract gig with EME to help bring a Korean game to the US market. I don't speak a word of Korean, but fortunately we're working off files that have already been translated. 

One of the interesting parts of the experience is that I'm working in downtown Seattle for the first time since moving out to the Northwest in 1997. I catch the train in Auburn at 8:01, I debark at King Street Station around 8:35, and I walk a short mile to the En Masse office (3rd and University), arriving a few minutes before 9:00. It's strange to be a non-driving commuter! I only wish the train ride were a little longer so that I could do some serious writing in transit.


At GenCon this year, fellow Sasquatch Dave Noonan persuaded me to buy into Privateer Press's excellent Warmachine Miniatures game. I'm still learning how to play, but I'm having a ton of fun assembling and painting minis again--it's been a good 15 years since I did any painting at all. My faction is the Protectorate of Menoth. Here's a look at my Vanquisher (I use an alternative paint scheme featuring off-white and Prussian blue, just to be creative).

That's all for now!

Monday, June 13, 2016

GenCon, Summer Beer

Hello! For a change of pace, I’ll talk about a bit of the game biz that starts to loom large in my mind every year around this: GenCon. If you’re a gamer, you know about GenCon. If you’re not, let me just say that GenCon is the biggest pure gaming show in the US, the flagship convention experience if you’re a D&D fan or a boardgame aficionado. There are bigger gaming-focused shows (PAX, for example) but they lean toward digital games these days—if you’re a tabletop enthusiast, GenCon is a must-do at some point in your gaming career.

Now, here’s the strange thing: I have never really attended GenCon as a fan. During my 20-year career with TSR and WotC I served as part of the company contingent presenting seminars, running demos and games, and generally making ourselves available to the fans. Since parting ways with WotC, I’ve attended 3 GenCons as Rich Baker of Sasquatch Game Studio. So I’m going to talk about what it takes to go to GenCon if you’re a tiny company.

First, GenCon is expensive. A small booth (10 by 10) costs $1800. If you want a premium corner location, that shoots up to more like $2700. You can get in quite a bit cheaper by choosing the “entrepreneur’s avenue” for $1000, but you’re going to be in a pretty remote part of the exhibit hall. Is the corner space or end space worth it? I think it is. There are *so many, many, many* exhibitors at GenCon these days that most attendees only ever see a fraction of the dealer’s hall. Your booth is one tiny little shining star in a big night sky full of stars just like yours. Seriously, you cannot imagine how lost in the crowd you’ll feel with your 10 by 10 booth. So anything you can do to get a good location is probably worth doing, and paying for the end space or a bigger booth is one of the few things that’s in your power (see below).

You can save money by sharing a booth with someone else. GenCon adds a stiff booth-sharing fee ($350) so you don’t get it at exactly half cost, but it will save you many hundreds of dollars if you can tolerate being in the same space with a friendly competitor for 4 days. We shared space with Wolf Baur of Kobold Press the first year we got a booth. You also get a nice price break if you can commit to next year’s GenCon on Sunday of this year’s GenCon and pay 50% up front.

You don’t get much control over where in the hall your booth will be. Don’t count on landing a spot right by the busiest door so that everybody walking in and out will see your booth. The primo spots go to companies buying gigantic booth acreage, followed by companies that have been coming to GenCon forever—there is a “priority point” system that means the smaller booths in good territory go to folks who have been coming to the show for many years. As a first-time exhibitor your booth is going to be in the “nosebleed” section. You can still do okay there if you have a name, a great product, or eye-catching booth d├ęcor, of course. But it might take you a couple-three years of steady exhibiting (or paying extra for an end spot) to climb the priority ladder and secure better booth locales.

The booth cost includes two exhibitor badges, a table, and a couple of chairs. You can get extra badges if you want them. It also puts you on the list for exhibitor housing, so you have a better shot at securing close-in accommodations for the show. But downtown hotels in Indianapolis get really expensive around GenCon, so with two plane tickets and a double-occupancy room and your booth rental you’re talking about $3500 to $4500 to get to the show and have a place to sell your product. If you can drive to Indy or if you have a place to stay in town, that helps quite a bit. We’re fortunate: Dave Noonan’s brother lives in an Indianapolis suburb, so we stay in the Sasquatch Game Studio Indianapolis Regional Headquarters each year. (Thanks, Doug!)

The convention hall in Indianapolis is run by an outfit called George Fern Exhibitor Services. George Fern makes available to you a number of booth upgrades like carpeting, extra tables, better network access, and so on. If you’re a small outfit with a 10 by 10 booth, you don’t need that stuff. I think it’s quite overpriced compared to what you can bring in yourself. (You are absolutely allowed to schlep in any reasonable furnishings you care to bring.) We fly in on Tuesday night so that we can use part of Wednesday for some CostCo trips or other booth-decorating expeditions, and we find that we can handle things pretty well ourselves.

A note about friends and visitors. This is hard to say, but I’ll say it anyway: If I’m in my booth and the Exhibit Hall is open, I’m there to interact with my customers and make sales. I love seeing folks I haven’t seen in a long time and I will happily make plans to go grab a bite of lunch when I take a break or spend the evening visiting. What I really can’t do is allow knots of friends to “form ranks” between me and my customers and then stay there all afternoon. So if you’re buying booth space at GenCon, remember that you’re paying $100 an hour or more to be there and be available to customers. It’s reasonable to take a few minutes to say hi or make plans to meet up after the hall closes if things are quiet, but then you can in good conscience shoo your visitors along.

Overall, my personal goal at GenCon is simple: See and be seen. I want to be at the show so that I can see what’s going on in the game business—what’s hot, what’s not, who are the interesting new publishers, what the industry leaders are up to. I also want to be at the show because it’s a powerful bit of marketing and brand-building for our little company, and an opportunity for fans to come and meet us if they want to. I’m not looking to make GenCon a profit center for Sasquatch (although I certainly want to do my best). I just want sales at the show to subsidize the cost of being there to see and be seen.

Summer Beer: Now that the weather’s warm, I find that my beer tastes change a bit. For most of the year I’m a big fan of smooth darker beers with nice roasty malt flavors. But in summer, nice refreshing crisp lagers and pilsners just can’t be beat. This year, I’ve stumbled across a couple that are very much worth your while. The first is Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest—reminiscent of a macrobeer but just better all around, which makes it very drinkable by my standards. The second is Hellas Bellas, by Ninkasi.  Ninkasi is known for their IPAs, but this excellent helles lager is just about my favorite beer on the planet right now. It’s smooth, crisp, refreshing, and complex, just what I’m looking for in an upscale lager.

When I can’t find the Ninkasi or the Sierra Nevada, or if I’m looking to save a couple of bucks on a six-pack, I sometimes turn to Red Stripe Jamaican Lager. Many years ago I drank quite a few Red Stripes at the Officer’s Club in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Definitely a step up from a canned macrobeer and usually quite affordable. Or sometimes I’ll pick up a six-pack of Peroni. You don’t think of Italy as a place to get a decent lager, but Peroni is very crisp and carbonated and goes down nice in hot weather.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Rebuilding Ultimate Scheme, Portland Beer

I’m back! I set my blog aside for a couple of months after finishing my tour of adventures I’ve written for various RPG systems, but now I’m ready to resume. I’m just going to wander around a few different topics for now, and we’ll see where this thing goes. I’m assuming that many of you read this because you’re interested in what I do as an author and game designer, but I intend to mix in a few thoughts about current events, pop culture, or politics as they strike my fancy. (God knows there is no shortage of things to say about politics this election season!)

Anyway, this time: Rebooting Ultimate Scheme, and brew pubs in Portland.

Ultimate Scheme
We’ve re-launched my Ultimate Scheme boardgame on Kickstarter! (When I say ‘we,’ I refer to Sasquatch Game Studio, the small game publisher I founded with Dave Noonan and Steve Schubert.)  Here’s a link—please, feel free to share it around and help me spread the word!

I designed the game back in 2014, and we’ve shown off different iterations to many people over the last two years. We took a shot at launching the game on Kickstarter back in January, and to our surprise, we just didn’t get that “critical mass” of backers. So, we took the game back to the workshop to see if we could bring it in at a lower funding goal, offer a better value to our backers, and change the emphasis on our pitch to make it about the fun theme of the game and less about the details of the mechanics. The mechanics are nice and clean, but the thing that people love when they see Ultimate Scheme is the idea that they’re playing an Evil Genius and they have a bunch of wacky plots to pull off.

We did some legwork to research potential manufacturers, and we eventually found an outfit that could produce an affordable print run of 1,000 units for us. While the business plan sure looks better if we assume we’re running off 2,000+ copies, we had to adapt to the idea that we might be looking at a $20k Kickstarter instead of a $50k Kickstarter—people know us for our RPG work, and we are still trying to get noticed in the boardgame market. The manufacturers we originally targeted weren’t interested in print runs below 2,000-ish copies, so we found an outfit that would work better for us.

We also took a hard look at the game components to see if we were making a game too expensive for its market. In my original design (and my prototypes) I used wooden cubes for the resource markers, mostly because I love Lords of Waterdeep and I thought that was the gold standard for what components we ought to shoot for.  The result was classy, but it meant more expensive manufacturing, leading to a MSRP of $50 or more. So we reworked the components to go to nice, heavy cardstock, linen-finish punchboard tokens instead. That let us bring the MSRP down under $40. And the tokens let us make better use of Lee Moyer’s handsome icon designs. You’ll have an easier time telling the Finance tokens from the Science tokens when one is clearly a dollar sign and the other is clearly a gear-and-atom than distinguishing green and blue wooden cubes.

The last big component shift was changing the box size. We originally planned a “square” box like Ticket to Ride. It turns out square boxes can be more expensive to ship, and shipping adds up fast. Saving $2 to $4 on each unit you ship can make a big difference to your bottom line if you’re mailing out hundreds of reward packages to your backers. So, we adjusted the box size to more of a “book”-type package, which involved reworking the cover and making some adjustments to the board design.

Finally, we also redesigned the cover. We thought our original cover was pretty good, but folks just gave it a “meh.” You hate to buy things twice, but when your audience tries to tell you something, you’re stupid if you don’t listen. So we went back to Claudio Pozas, our illustrator, and commissioned a new cover image from him.

So, the upshot of all these component adjustments and finding new printers and new outreach and marketing (I didn’t talk much about those, but we did some of that too) is that we were able to slash our Kickstarter funding goal from $30,000 in the original to $15,000 in our current Kickstarter, and we knocked $15 off the “baseline” pledge level that gets you a copy of the game.

It’s a weird truth of Kickstarter that you are a lot more likely to get $30,000 by asking for $15,000 and funding fast than you are by asking for $30,000 and hoping you just squeak over the finish line. People want to see that projects have a good chance to succeed, and the sooner you can put the audience’s minds to rest on the question, the better off you are.

And, if you haven’t done it already: Go ahead and share the link to our Kickstarter! We can use all the awareness we can get.

Brew Pubs in Portland: Last week I went on one of my semi-annual beer pilgrimages to Portland. I join a group of Boeing engineers who take the day off to take the train from Tacoma down to Portland, buy a transit pass, and try out new craft beer places. This time around we hit Pints, Zoiglhaus, the Horse Brass Pub, 10 Barrel Brewing, and Backpedal Brewing. All were excellent, but I really loved Zoiglhaus and Backpedal. Zoiglhaus had a great menu of German food (try the brat!). Backpedal was extremely basic—no warm food, just beer and tables, they’re the base of operation for the pedaling bar you see in town—but they were super-friendly and the beer was amazingly good. On a day when I drank a lot of good beer, the Red Druid at Backpedal really stood out.