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.