Kickstarter recap: Chaos & Alchemy

Edit: This post originally went live on September 5 before it was finished. I fail at post scheduling sometimes. Sorry about that!

The Kickstarter campaign for my first game, Chaos & Alchemy, successfully finished on August 23. Today, I’m looking back at the campaign to share what I’ve learned and to thank the many, many of you who signed up to help my dream become a reality

The numbers

Let’s begin at the end: How did we do?

Game Salute (my publisher, who was running the campaign) was looking for $5,000 in order to publish Chaos & Alchemy. We ended up with $40,761 and, even more exciting to me, 1,066 backers.

That’s an unqualified success in my book! How did we get there?

Pre-pre-campaign

It’s worth noting the history of Chaos & Alchemy. I did a small (125 copies) self-published print run with black and white illustrations in mid 2012, which I sold through by last October. I then started planning my own Kickstarter campaign to fund full color artwork and a full size print run.

Example cards from first edition - black and white illustrations

Example cards from first edition – black and white illustrations

In preparation for that campaign, I sent copies of Chaos & Alchemy to several game reviewers and set up some advertising (primarily a video preview by Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower). I also got manufacturing quotes, started lining up illustrators, etc.

Then, Game Salute stepped in to publish my game. I no longer needed to worry about manufacturing and hiring illustrators, but the review copies and advertising would still come in handy (although I had to tell those folks to delay their reviews and ads, since Game Salute needed more time).

Also, having a hundred or so copies of Chaos & Alchemy in the hands of gamers who had bought the original print run definitely helped. I already had ratings on BoardGameGeek and some honest-to-goodness fans of my game out there. Most Kickstarters don’t have this luxury, but I can tell you that it helped.

Pre-campaign

It took about eight months from the signing of my contract with Game Salute until the launch of the campaign. The most important things that happened during this time were the new graphic design and illustration. Dann May did a great job with the former, and Enggar Adirasa is doing a great job with the latter.

Examples of some of the new cards from the Game Salute edition

Examples of some of the new cards from the Game Salute edition

20 of the 43 cards were finalized before the Kickstarter campaign launched, which was hugely important. Being able to show backers what the game was going to look like, even if it wasn’t completely finished, mattered a ton.

Game Salute had some more review copies of Chaos & Alchemy printed and sent them to more reviewers in preparation for the campaign.

They also figured out the manufacturing cost and the plan for pricing the game. My original print run shipped with 26 dice, but that was going to be prohibitively expensive for Game Salute. We would either need to have an unacceptably high pledge level to get the game, or lower the cost somehow.

I campaigned hard for the latter, and we ended up going with a “pass the dice” approach. The game would come with 10 dice instead of 26, which is enough if players pass the experiment dice and free success marker around the table rather than giving each player their own. I think this was the right choice, as it made the pledge level to get Chaos & Alchemy $25 instead of $30 or more.

I also sought input on the campaign page from people whose opinions I value, including the BGG game designer forum and the Card and Board Game Designers Guild on Facebook. I highly recommend doing this for your Kickstarter campaign.

Campaign launch

For launch day, I had arranged to take a day off work. We launched around 10:00 AM Mountain time (I live in Colorado), and I spent most of the day spreading the word.

I went a little nuts with my excitement on Twitter; I recommend not overdoing it (but people will cut you some slack if you’re just overly excited).

I announced the campaign on my personal Facebook page as well as the Clay Crucible Games Facebook page.

I updated the Clay Crucible Games and Chaos & Alchemy web sites to include links to the Kickstarter.

I thanked the BGG and Facebook designers groups for their help with the campaign page, also mentioning that it was now live.

I sent emails to people who would be interested in the game. I went with personalized emails for most of these, though I had a copy-and-paste email for the people who had signed my sheet at Denver Comic Con to be notified of the Kickstarter.

I kept checking the Kickstarter page itself, keeping a close eye on the comments so that I could answer questions. Same goes for BoardGameGeek; I made sure to chime in on threads where people were discussing my game, especially where there were questions I could answer.

I stayed in close contact with Game Salute about the questions that I couldn’t answer – namely, anything to do with money.

And I stayed up late to watch the campaign hit its funding goal on the first day. Huzzah!

Ongoing campaign management

As the campaign rolled along, I spent a lot of energy talking to Game Salute about stretch goals. We had some goals in mind, but I don’t think Game Salute was expecting to need them quite so soon!

The initial stretch goal plan was not well received by backers. Basically, we started adding extra dice to the game every few thousand dollars. This went over like a lead balloon.

Plans were revamped. $15K became the level to get a cool cube to mark the Free Success. $20k would come with upgraded art for the success / failure tracker card. $25k would get upgraded card stock.

Success Cube

The big one, though, ended up coming at $18k: the Enhanced Edition. See, I had designed the Substances expansion last year, and it’s a lot of fun. I know that fans will love it, and the only question was at what level it would become economical to make it available.

Ultimately, with the campaign mired in the mid-campaign slump, Game Salute decided to pull the trigger and unleash the expansion. This was important not just because it made more content available, but also because it gave fans a way to pledge more than $25 if they wanted to support Chaos & Alchemy (the Enhanced Edition cost $39).

This is a important point: it’s really useful to have ways for fans to pledge at higher levels if they want to do so. Game Salute is very opposed to add-ons (custom dice bags, premium game box, play mats, sleeves, etc.), which is one common way of creating premium pledge levels. The Enhanced Edition gave us this option without adding too much administrative complexity.

Gen Con

One nice feature of the timing of this campaign was that it was running during Gen Con. Game Salute had scheduled six Chaos & Alchemy events, which all sold out pretty quickly even though the Kickstarter campaign came way later than the Gen Con event sign-up period. I asked my players at the GenCon events what led them to sign up to play this particular game, and it was largely because it was something new and it sounded interesting based on the name and description. A few even mentioned the good ratings on Board Game Geek!

Ultimately, though, Gen Con didn’t make a huge difference to the campaign because no one was demoing it in a booth. My Gen Con was really about pitching my new games to publishers, not about Chaos & Alchemy.

Final days

The Chaos & Alchemy campaign ended the Friday morning after Gen Con. This meant that the reminder emails for people who were interested in the campaign but not ready to back yet would go out Wednesday morning after Gen Con.

Most Kickstarter campaigns get a significant boost in the last few days, of course. This is partly because of that reminder email – people who glanced at the campaign a few weeks ago will take another look, see the stretch goals that have been reached, and decide to get on board. I think the boost is also in part because of human nature – many of us are procrastinators!

Looking at other gaming projects, I was trying to guess how much of a boost we might get in that final stretch. I was estimating that 20% of our funding could come in the last 2-3 days.

As it turns out, the final boost was much bigger – we got about 30% of our funding in the last three days.

Kicktraq chart. Note the huge increase in the last three days.

Kicktraq chart. Note the huge increase in the last three days.

I think a big part of the late-campaign success was the $35K stretch goal that was announced near the end of the campaign: custom dice.

Blue Starry Dice

This at last was a stretch goal that people were really excited about, and I’m so glad we got them!

Done!

In the end, the Kickstarter campaign for Chaos & Alchemy was tremendously successful. We hit 800% of our funding goal and managed to unlock the expansions and the custom dice. My personal work is mostly done; I just need to finalize the design of the new Apprentices mini-expansion (let me know if you’re interested in playtesting!). I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished products in my hands – and in stores – next year.

Thank you so much to everyone who supported me!

Michael Iachini

Clay Crucible Games (@ClayCrucible on Twitter)

Chaos & Alchemy is on Kickstarter – and over 200% funded!

Big news for me from last week: My first game, Chaos & Alchemy, is now on Kickstarter from my publisher, Game Salute!

I know it’s odd that it took me five days from the go-live date to finally post this on my blog, but man, it’s been a busy five days! I still have people who tried Chaos & Alchemy at Denver Comic Con and who gave me their email addresses to be notified of the Kickstarter whom I haven’t emailed yet. I’ll get there, though.

Anyway, as you can see from the widget, the campaign is doing really well. We hit the $5,000 funding goal in under 15 hours, and we were 200% funded by the first weekend. Stretch goals are starting to be achieved!

I really hope we hit a bunch of stretch goals, because there are some seriously awesome things that I want to see happen in this campaign. Game Salute isn’t publishing all of them yet, but I know what they are, and I know that one of them in particular is really exciting.

So, if you’ve been following my blog and reading about the whole creation process and initial DIY publication of Chaos & Alchemy from last year, you can now get in on the complete, color illustrated edition. It’s just so pretty!

Sojourn from Chaos & Alchemy. Illustration by Enggar Adirasa. Graphic design by Dann May.

Sojourn from Chaos & Alchemy. Illustration by Enggar Adirasa. Graphic design by Dann May.

Thank you to those of you who have been following me all this way, and especially to those of you who are supporting me on this Kickstarter. It’s so exciting to know that my game is actually going to be in stores soon, thanks to your help. You guys rock!

Michael Iachini

Clay Crucible Games (@ClayCrucible on Twitter)

P.S. If any of you are interested in taking a gander at my simple co-op (or solo) mountain climbing game, tentatively called Everest, please drop me a line at claycrucible@gmail.com.

Guest Post – Making the Game part 10 – Overseas manufacturing

Previous Entry: Part 9

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. This is an addendum to my previous post about manufacturing the game by guest blogger Jamey Stegmaier, the creator of a game called Viticulture that is currently on Kickstarter. Here’s Jamey.

-Michael the OnlineDM

Jamey Stegmaier – your friendly guest blogger today

Viticulture has a number of components, including: 

  • A box
  • 140 cards
  • A game board
  • A rulebook
  • Player mats
  • Wood tokens/meeples
  • Clear acrylic glass gems
  • Punchboard coin tokens

Unlike Chaos & Alchemy, I’m obtaining all of these components from the same source: Panda Games Manufacturing. Michael was doing a print-run of 125 games, and it’s great that he was able to piece everything together from manufacturers here in the U.S. It definitely saves on freight shipping.

But I wanted a manufacturer who could handle the whole process and keep costs low. I did not have success finding a manufacturer in the U.S. who meets those requirements, so I turned to a company that several other Kickstarter game creators had recommended to me.

Their recommendations could not have been more accurate. Panda is a pleasure to work with—specifically, Chris Matthew (chris@pandagm.com), who actually works out of Panda’s corporate office in Vancouver. Chris is highly communicative and is great at identifying little issues that you might overlook (like when your player mats are bigger than the box…oops). I wouldn’t recommend reaching out to him unless you know exactly what your components will be. 

Freight Shipping

The other factor you have to weigh when you consider Panda Games is that you have to pay for freight shipping across the Pacific. That will run you between $4k (half a shipping container) and $6k (a full container). They’ll ship door to door, which means that they can take care of customs and tariffs and all that (you’ll pay for it, but they’ll oversee the process). But you also need to have a destination for all those games (I’m still learning about what happens next if you use a storage and fulfillment center, so perhaps I’ll have to follow up with another post in the future). 

Cost

The high freight shipping cost means that you want to ship as many games as possible. The minimum order through Panda is 1500 copies of the game, hence the necessity for Kickstarter unless you have $20k sitting around collecting dust (and if that’s the case, you really should at least put that cash in a bank). If your game has similar components to mine, you can expect to save about a dollar if you increase your print run from 1500 to 2000, and then another dollar if you increase that to 3000 (which will fill a shipping container). Thus 3000 is kind of the sweet spot to maximize your per-unit price and your shipping costs. 

Viticulture box art by Beth Sobel – one of the Chaos & Alchemy artists!

Duration

You’re probably wondering about manufacturing time. From the minute you send your final files to Panda, there will be a bare minimum of 4 months before you receive your games, and that’s if everything goes perfectly. 3 months at Panda for manufacturing, 1 month for shipping. And that doesn’t include packing and shipping the individual recipients. I budgeted 6 months for Viticulture, but I hope to be faster than that. 

Customization

On Kickstarter, it’s common to offer different versions of the same game so people have a choice. For example, I offer the Viticulture base game for $39 and the game + expansion for $49. Panda can custom package your games based on those reward levels.

Components

I have a few notes about some of the components. 

Cards

You’ll want to keep a few numbers in mind if you have cards in your game so that you can maximize each sheet of cards, as it costs a fair amount to set a single sheet. Depending on the size of the cards you’re using, different numbers of cards can fit on a single sheet: 

•    57 x 87mm (bridge) – 54 cards/sheet
•    63 x 88m (blackjack) – 54 cards/sheet
•    59 x 91mm (euro) – 45 cards/sheet
•    44 x 67mm (mini) – 70 cards/sheet

I decided to go with the mini cards for Viticulture—they’re the same size as the cards in Settlers of Catan. They’re not big enough for a lot of text, but my cards don’t have much text.

Wood Tokens/Meeples

Panda can make pretty much any type of token if you send them an outline to use. You’ll have to pay extra for custom tokens, and even more with custom tokens with concavities, but anything else is fair game.

Punchboards

You’ve probably seen these in games: thick cardboard with corrugated coins to be poked out before you can play. The key with these is to include everything on a single punchboard and then have Panda include multiple copies per game if necessary. For example, in Viticulture, there are 108 coins. I can fit 36 per sheet, so I’m putting all of the various types of coins on one sheet (opposed to all silver coins on one sheet and all gold coins on the next). That way Panda only has to set one sheet of tokens.

Metal Coins

I wish I had known more about metal tokens before I started my campaign. Now I know better. I think these are a really cool addition to any game. They’ll cost you a bit, but it’s not extravagant, and at the very least you could offer them as a stretch goal on Kickstarter.

I think that’s pretty much it. I’m sure I’ll have more to share after this process is over—I’ve only really just begun. But I’ll share more in the future. In the meantime, if you want to stay in touch with Stonemaier Games, feel free to subscribe to our blog or Like us on Facebook. Or back Viticulture on Kickstarter to get updates throughout the manufacturing process—I intend to share the inside scoop with everyone there. Thanks!

 

This is Michael jumping back in here to say that I’m a backer of Viticulture; it’s definitely my kind of game. I highly recommend checking it out!

-Michael the OnlineDM

Making the Game part 9 – Production

Previous entry: Part 8

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. This is the final part in the actual making of the game – getting the physical item produced.

Chaos & Alchemy is a fairly simple physical object as games go. It consists of:

  • A box
  • A baggie full of dice
  • A label for the box
  • A rule booklet
  • A deck of cards

Each of these items needed to be sourced in a way that met my standards for quality but was as inexpensive as possible.

Boxes

I have one word for you when it comes to boxes: Uline. I spent time thinking that I was going to use a little jewelry box from the Container Store, or possibly getting something custom printed from All Packaging Co. or something like that, but no. It was Uline. They have tons of choices, and they’re even happy to send you samples if you’re trying to decide among different options.

My own personal copy of Chaos & Alchemy (#1/125) in the box

Now, I did have to buy my boxes in a case of 500 even though I only needed 125, but that was okay. Uline. They’re awesome.

I’ll note here that I also got my dice baggies from Uline. Did I mention that they’re awesome?

Dice

As a role-playing gamer, I’m very familiar with Chessex when it comes to dice. I liked what they had to offer, and they offer discounts for bulk orders like mine, too. I didn’t want to only talk to one company, though, so I also reached out to Koplow.

Koplow was good in that they were willing to send me some samples (I had to pay for my sample dice – and shipping – from Chessex). However, their selection isn’t as broad as Chessex’s. Specifically, I was able to get some really sweet black dice with gold spots from Chessex, which went perfectly with the color scheme of the cards in my game (the card back and the dice go beautifully together). Koplow didn’t have that color combo.

Even though Koplow would have been a bit cheaper, I went with Chessex, and I think it was the right call for me.

Labels

My graphic designer, Bree (I’m telling you, game designers – hire her!), knows her stuff in the graphic design world, and she found some high-quality glossy label paper that I could use for my box. She designed the label itself, too – using the awesome cover art from Chris Rallis on the front, with a blurb about the game on the back, the ages / time / number of players on one side, and legal info / credits on the other side.

We had considered lots of different packaging options; for a long time, I thought I was going to be using a two-piece box with a belly band. Ultimately, though, the 4″ x 3″ x 2″ flip-top box from Uline was the perfect size for the cards, dice and rulebook, and a belly band made no sense. The sticker option was perfect.

The tricky part was actually getting the darn things printed. I wanted the quality to be excellent, so I wanted them done on a color laser printer, which I do not happen to own. After calling some different print places, I decided to go with Staples.

Staples had a little trouble with the PDF I was using for printing, apparently because Bree had created it on a Mac and their system was Windows. I was getting slightly off-color backgrounds to the text boxes on the label (and the rules sheet). The solution was for me to open the PDF in Photoshop Elements on my Windows computer and save it as a new PDF. Voila – no more weird background colors.

The PDF is formatted to do two labels per 8 1/2″ x 11″ page, which meant that they needed to be cut out using a paper cutter. My awesome wife Barbara handled all of the label cutting. I applied the labels to the boxes (very carefully) myself.

Rules sheet

There was a point after we had decided on the compact box that Bree and I thought we might go with a tiny little rulebook with a whole bunch of itty bitty pages. Ultimately we thought better of this and went with a single 11″ x 17″ sheet of paper that would be folded in half to form a four-page booklet, which could then be folded into ninths that would slide perfectly into the game box.

Bree designed the rules sheet in color, but did it in such a way that it would still look good in black and white. I really wanted to have color rulebooks for Chaos & Alchemy, but boy howdy is that expensive to print! I went with black and white here.

I had Staples print these, too, and we had some miscommunication about the price. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone with Fedex Kinkos for the black and white rule sheets. Live and learn.

For folding, my wife and I each got a bone folder (something I previously knew nothing about; apparently it’s used in scrapbooking) to make nice, precise folds. After doing one right, we had a template to work from, and things went swimmingly. We knocked out all 125 of these things in about an hour and a half.

Cards

I saved the big one for last. Chaos & Alchemy is fundamentally a card game, which meant that I needed to have some high-quality cards printed. I wasn’t sure how to do this, so very early on I reached out to Rod Waibel of Sacrosanct Games. I had backed Rod’s Kickstarter for Compact Heroes last year, and I figured that he might have some suggestions for me.

Rod came through like a champ (hence his credit as a “production consultant” in the rulebook). He pointed me toward Superior POD (print-on-demand) for small print runs and a company in Asia for a large print run if I get to that point.

Ah, Superior POD. I have such a love-hate relationship with them.

Love:

  • Great web site that gives you automatic quotes for any size order of any size card deck
  • Templates for print jobs are easy to download and easy to design to
  • Great product – the cards themselves look and feel really nice
  • Occasional bursts of great customer service – when they had printed the wrong sheet the wrong number of times on one of my early test orders, they reprinted the right sheet and got it out to me right away
  • Reasonable prices for a small print run
  • Ability to shrink-wrap the decks
  • Ability to print card boxes and rules booklets (though I didn’t use these)

Hate:

  • Card boxes are very flimsy (which is why I didn’t use them)
  • A little unpredictability in lining up card fronts and backs (some cards come out a bit crooked)
  • Atrocious communication 80% of the time

Ultimately, I went with these guys, and I got my cards, and they look great, and I could afford them. I didn’t go with their card boxes, but that’s okay – I found another source (there’s this place called Uline…). The card crookedness isn’t a deal breaker; it’s a little less professional than I’d like, but it’s way better than I can do myself.

The customer service, though… wow. As I said, I had an awesome experience with my first one-off order when they fixed an error they had made very quickly. But ever since then, it’s been a nightmare.

My second one-off order, with the final card images, was a mess. I paid extra to have one-day turnaround, and two days later I got an email in the afternoon telling me that there was a problem and that I’d have to re-do my files. This meant that I ended up getting three-day turnaround, and some snippy emails from customer service in the process (granted, I was a bit snippy at that point myself).

My main order was nearly a nightmare. I don’t want to go into all of the details here, but suffice it to say that I went out of my way to try to do everything perfectly, and I was met with absolute silence until it was too late. I got my cards almost a week later than I should have, and then there were issues with the shipping charge…

But you know what? I got my cards, and they look awesome. I had a lot of stress along the way, but the final product is great, and I’m a happy customer.

I would recommend Superior POD as a company to work with for small print runs like mine, but I would caution you to build it plenty of extra time to the process. Fortunately, I had left myself eight days of wiggle room, and while I needed six of them, it all worked out.

This game comes with everything you see here!

Shipping

Since I did so many pre-orders, I’ll say a few words on shipping. Single copies of the game are shipped in bubble mailers. Multiple copies (2-4) are shipped in cardboard boxes I have lying around (I’ll often make a box that’s the right size by cutting down a larger box). More than that (5+) go in a medium flat-rate box from USPS. Single copies weigh only 9 ounces, so I use first-class mail. Multiple copies are over 13 ounces, which means either parcel post or priority mail, so I’ve been springing for the priority mail option. It seems to have gone great, too, so I plan to stick with it.

And there you have it! The nitty gritty of production. I’ve shipped out about 50 games, delivered a few more to friends in Colorado, consigned some to an FLGS in Colorado, brought a few with me to Indianapolis to deliver to folks who pre-ordered for GenCon delivery, and brought the rest along to try and sell here at GenCon.

Wish me luck!

Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

P.S. If you’re at GenCon and want me to demo Chaos & Alchemy for you, send me an email at onlinedungeonmaster@gmail.com or watch my Twitter feed for updates on where I am at what time!

Making the Game part 8 – Marketing

Previous entryPart 7 / Next entry: Part 9

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. Today, it’s time to talk about getting people interested in the game.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a natural salesman. I have a good head on my shoulders and am easy enough to get along with, but I’m not someone who will naturally draw people in and make them want to buy whatever I’m selling. Still, when you run your own company and have a good product (even if it’s a game), you have to be able to get the word out if you plan to actually get people to buy it.

Because I had so many parts moving at the same time, I had to figure out marketing while I was still developing the game itself. It’s not an easy task to market a product that you don’t yet have available for sale! But it can be done.

Blog

Frankly, the blog series you’re reading right now is a form of marketing. Those of you who read my blog regularly and like my style might be interested in a game written and developed by me. I don’t want to force Chaos & Alchemy on my blog readers, and I do intend to keep writing about Dungeons & Dragons, but I realized early on that I was putting a lot of my gaming energy into my new card and dice game, which meant that there was little left over for D&D.

Also, I write my blog because of passion, not because of some goal of being hired as an RPG writer or anything like that. Since I’m passionate about my new game, I’m writing about it! No one has complained so far, so I think I’ve done an okay job of balancing “Here’s something else I’m passionate about, even though you probably started reading my blog for D&D stuff” with “Here’s some D&D content, too.”

Web Site

With a new game and a new game company, I was going to need a web site for it. I did the first part of this fairly early on, registering a bunch of domain names related to my game, but I didn’t start a real site right away. Once I was ready, I called up the company I use for hosting here at onlinedungeonmaster.com and learned that the simplest approach would be for me to upgrade my existing web hosting account to allow for multiple sites on the same account.

The web site for Chaos & Alchemy came in fits and starts. At first I was hosting it at claycrucible.com, since the name of my game company is Clay Crucible Games. However, I made a marketing decision that I didn’t really care so much about the Clay Crucible Games brand, at least not now, since the focus should really be on the game itself. Thus, I migrated everything to ChaosAndAlchemy.com.

At first, I just had a simple home page. Since I’m familiar with WordPress from this blog, I installed it for use on the Chaos & Alchemy site as well. I used the logo that Bree, my awesome graphic designer, had put together for the banner at the top of the home page. I wrote a few lines describing the game and left an email address as a “for more information” link.

Then, as I started getting actual content, I started adding pages to the site. When artwork for the cards started coming in, I added an Art Gallery page. When I was ready to accept pre-orders, I added a tab for that. Sample cards. Rules. Print-and-play cards. FAQs. Even a page with a link to all of these blog posts for people who want to read about how the game developed over time.

The web site is obviously important from a marketing perspective because it’s the only way I have right now to let people actually buy the game. It’s also the way for people who are curious about the game to figure out if they want to buy it or not by letting them see the rules, the cards and the artwork.

I should note here that I intentionally decided to take a very open approach to my game on the web site. The full rules are available for download with all of their glorious formatting, as is a set of print-and-play cards for people who want to try the game out and don’t mind a little arts and crafts work. The print-and-play cards don’t have the artwork and formatting, but that’s intentional – there has to be something special you get for actually buying the game aside from a box and dice! 🙂

The rules look beautiful; this is the inside of the booklet.

Twitter

I don’t have a ton of Twitter followers; I just passed my first demi-milliwheaton (250 followers), but I have enough that makes it worthwhile to let folks know about the development of my game. I try to make sure that my Chaos & Alchemy related tweets are something I think will interest my followers; stuff about game development, calls for playtesters, announcements about new stuff they can check out, etc. I try to be sensitive not to flood my feed with marketing, but I know that I have followers who are interested in the game.

As with lots of marketing, it’s a fine line.

Facebook

I have a personal Facebook page for friends and family, most of whom are not gamers. Still, I popped onto Facebook with the occasional post about my game, mainly focusing on how excited I was about it. I did let people know about pre-ordering, and I was surprised to see how many non-gamer friends and family did so, just to support me. I have awesome people in my life.

Suffice it to say, this is not a marketing channel I plan to use much any more now that the game is done and I don’t have tons of exciting announcements about the thrill of development. But if anything changes with the game (expansions, etc.) I’ll mention it for folks who might be interested. I’d rather my customers be mostly gamers rather than just kind friends and family in the end.

BoardGameGeek

This is one that I knew about but that I waited to get involved with until the game was done. I’m glad I finally jumped on board, though, because BoardGameGeek is a community that’s great to be a part of. I’ve found it enlightening just to read the forums over there.

Once I was ready to talk about Chaos & Alchemy on BGG, I started a thread in their Board Game Design forum where I mentioned the game, talked a bit about it and linked to the site. I was encouraged by the folks on that forum to submit my game to the BGG database, where it has now been accepted and even expanded upon by other users (another kind user submitted a link to the game rules).

Intriguingly, BoardGameGeek was also how I was contacted by a person from a well-established game company asking if I would be willing to swap a copy of Chaos & Alchemy for a copy of one of their games. Having a game publisher approach me to say that they wanted to get their hands on my game… well that’s pretty cool! My game was also added to a list of “games debuting at GenCon.” Which brings me to…

GenCon

As I mentioned in an earlier post, once we realized that Chaos & Alchemy had actual potential, my wife told me that I should go to GenCon to show it off. While I plan to find open tables and drape my banner over them, demoing the game to anyone who’s up for it, I thought it might be good to spread the word a bit more as well.

The banner I’ll be displaying at GenCon

 

First, I happened to hear about the GenCon Social on the Jennisodes podcast. This is an event that’s mainly for RPG podcasters rather than card and board game players, but it sounded like a fun event. If I were to pay some money to sponsor the event, I could put some kind of advertisement in the goody bag that will be going to folks who come to the dinner. I thought it might be fun to put a card from my game in the bag, and I hit upon the idea of creating a special GenCon promo card. Every attendee at the GenCon Social will get two Chaos & Alchemy cards – one random card from the game with normal black and white art, and one special GenCon 2012 promo card that has the web address in the flavor text. The promo card also has color art (which looks amazing, I must say), but I’m going to hold off on showing you that card until GenCon itself.

I’ll mention here that anyone who buys a copy of Chaos & Alchemy at GenCon will also get the promo card (while supplies last).

The other sponsorship I decided to participate in for GenCon is the This Just In From GenCon podcast. I’ll be appearing on the Thursday evening podcast from the convention. I’ll be curious to see if this actually results in anyone discovering my game!

Also, if I get the chance to see Wil Wheaton while I’m at the convention, I’m totally giving him a copy of the game.

Beyond

Past GenCon, I have no idea what I might do for marketing Chaos & Alchemy. If the game doesn’t really succeed, I probably won’t do much. I’ll leave the web site up, and that will be it. If it does succeed, well, who knows? A Kickstarter to do a bigger print run with color illustrations would be my dream, but I have no idea if that’s going to happen. We shall see!

– Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Making the Game part 7 – Playtesting

Previous entryPart 6

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. Today, I’m going into more depth about the playtesting process over the course of my game’s development.

I came up with the idea for what would become Chaos & Alchemy on the last day of May, and within a week I had made the decision that I wanted to have this game available for sale at GenCon in mid August. This meant that I had to start moving on a lot of different projects all at once in order to make this happen – legal stuff, graphic design, artwork, production details. And since the game had only existed for a week at this point, I still had plenty of playtesting to do.

In an ideal world, it would probably be best to completely playtest a game before moving forward with any of the production details, but I didn’t have that luxury. That was okay, though, since I had the basic framework of the game nailed down and could start ordering art and graphic design right away. If the text of the individual cards changed somewhat, I would still be able to use the illustrations and design elements I had ordered.

Early playtests

The first wave of playtesting was purely internal – me and my wife. We played just a handful of games, enough to convince me that the game was worth investing more effort.

The second wave of playtesting was with close friends – especially my friend Nate, who is a professional game designer. His feedback was particularly useful in helping me focus on what makes Chaos & Alchemy fun and what was getting in the way of that fun. Playtesting a game is a lot like editing written material; the goal is largely to cut out the crappy parts to let the good stuff shine through. Yes, you’ll occasionally need to add something entirely new as the result of playtesting, but if you’ve got a fundamentally good game you’ll probably spend more effort getting rid of what’s not working.

My brother Danny was also pivotal in this second wave of playtesting. He was very excited about Chaos & Alchemy even before I had the whole alchemy flavor, and he took it upon himself to print out updated cards as they became available, trying the game with multiple groups of players with varying levels of game experience. This helped me to figure out who the target audience for Chaos & Alchemy is (basically, people who aren’t gamers at all probably won’t want to start with this game, but anyone who likes games already will probably grasp it immediately).

Side note: This past weekend I was in Pennsylvania at Danny’s wedding; please join me in congratulating him and his beautiful bride, Jill! We had a blast, and it was awesome that Danny and his friends and our family could be the first to see the final Chaos & Alchemy cards in print with me.

Broader playtests

The third wave of playtesting was with a broader swath of people online, plus some in-person testing with strangers myself. On my end in Colorado, this mainly involved hanging out at the friendly local game store (thank you, Enchanted Grounds!) and seeing if anyone wanted to try my game. A few of my D&D players were up for it, as were some other random folks I met at the store.

The online part of this playtesting involved some friends in New York and Florida plus some hearty Twitter volunteers who expressed interest. I had five Twitter followers who said they wanted to be playtesters, and I ended up getting actual playtesting feedback from three of the five (not a bad rate, frankly, given the level of effort required to print out the cards).

Lots of evolution. Top: Two cards that were later cut/drastically rewritten. Middle left: Evolution of success/failure tracking. Middle right: Evolution of card back. Bottom: Evolution of a single card.

Goal of playtesting

So what was I looking for from playtesting? I kept my requests broad. Fun was the focus. I asked folks to tell me what they liked and didn’t like. Were there cards or rules that were especially confusing? Was any part of the game just pointless? Were there any cards that felt bad to have in hand? What suggestions did they have to make the game more fun?

I received tons of great feedback, most of which I incorporated in subsequent iterations of the game. My New York friends suggested some kind of playmat to keep track of Successes and Failures, which evolved into the Success/Failure cards included with the game. Lots of folks asked questions about cards that were unclear in play, which became edited (or rewritten) cards and FAQ entries. I received ideas about how to make the endgame less abrupt and more fun, which became a succession of different endgames before finally ending up at the simple “race to 10 points” base rule plus an optional “Transmutation for the King” advanced rule.

The Success-Failure tracking card, inspired by a playtester’s suggestion.

Bottom line: My playtesters were awesome. Friends and family and helpful strangers all took the time to build their own card sets, try the game, and provide detailed feedback. It made a huge difference, and the final game is much better for it.

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

P.S. I’ve now made the “print and play” cards for Chaos & Alchemy available to anyone who wants to try them, just like my playtesters did! These cards don’t have the fancy formatting, illustrations or flavor text of the actual cards, but they have the rules that you need to try out the game to decide if you want to buy it. The pre-order period will last until the morning of July 24 – one more day from the time this post goes live! After that, the 10% discount will go away and I’ll take orders at the regular $25 price, still with free shipping to US buyers. Check it out, and place an order if you like the game!

Making the Game part 6 – Hiring artists

Previous entry: Part 5

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. In the earlier entries in this series I’ve discussed the inception of my game idea, my first outside playtests and the development of the game’s theme, the point where I decided to actually produce the game, the process of working with my awesome graphic designer, and legal stuff including the formation of an LLC to publish my game.

Once I had decided that I was actually going to produce my game, I started moving on a lot of projects at once. I’ve written about some already (legal stuff, graphic design) and will write about more in the future (playtesting, production details). Today I’m focusing on artists.

Sadly, I have poor skills of an artist. And since stick figures weren’t going to cut it for Chaos & Alchemy, I knew I would have to hire some artists to illustrate my cards. There’s a delicate dance here, though; I wanted art that would look good, but I couldn’t afford to pay tons of money for it.

Also, I don’t know any illustrators. This could be a problem.

I started by putting out a call online for suggestions of artists on Twitter. My network isn’t all that big, but a response from Michael Olsen led me to one artist: Beth Sobel. You can judge this for yourself over at my Art Gallery page, but I think Beth’s art is really outstanding and a great fit for Chaos & Alchemy. She was one of the last artists I contracted with, and she asked if she could sign up for all 10 of the remaining illustrations I needed at the time. Thank you, Beth!

Adjacent Laboratory by Beth Sobel

I next thought about places where I might find artists online, and I came up with the folks from the Prismatic Art Collection, which I had recently backed on Kickstarter. I think the project is a great idea, and I know that part of the whole point is to get exposure for these artists so that they could get more paid work. Since I was offering to pay, this seemed like a good place to find artists.

I started by pinging Tracy Hurley just to make sure I didn’t need to go through her or Prismatic Art before contacting the artists (nope, I could go straight to them), and then I started emailing artists. I looked through the stuff they had submitted to Prismatic Art so far as well as stuff on their web sites (for those artists who had web sites) and picked a few people to email.

Saboteur by Andres Canals

Some of them got back to me quickly, but were unfortunately too expensive for me to work with. Some never replied. One replied over a month later, by which point I had already contracted out all of the art. But one, Andres Canals, did get back to me promptly and was willing to do black-and-white illustrations for a price I could afford (which turned out great).

Going through this process with the Prismatic Art folks helped me crystallize my plan. I would hire a bunch of different artists for low-cost black-and-white illustrations for the cards themselves. I would also hire one artist to create a single full-color illustration that I could use on the cover of my game. Each time I contacted an artist from here on out, I would ask for two quotes: One for black and white card art and one for a full-color cover illustration.

Volatile Solvent by LochaBWS

I found one artist in-person in Colorado at the friendly local game store. She goes by LochaBWS professionally, and she spends a fair amount of time in the store with a sign on a table offering to draw character portraits for RPGs for $10 apiece. I noticed her there in my first week of creating Chaos & Alchemy, and I approached her after I was done running D&D Encounters a week later. She would indeed be interested in doing sketches for my cards, so I had her flip through the cards and pick out a few that she had ideas for. I hired her to illustrate four of them, with more to come if she did a good job and was interested in more work. She delivered her work on time, and ended up illustrating a total of 13 cards.

One artist came to me directly via D&D. I have been running a Friday night online D&D game for a couple of years, and when development work on Chaos & Alchemy took off in earnest I had to step away from running the game. During the last session that I ran, I was talking about Chaos & Alchemy, and a few people in my game mentioned that they might be interested in doing some illustration work for it. One of these, Lana Gjovig, latched on to the physical objects in the game that needed illustrations and offered to take those. She also recruited J.J. Mason to illustrate another card. Networking!

Fun side note: Lana uses an alias for our online games; putting together a contract for her illustration work was the first time I heard her real name.

Replacement Codex by Lana Gjovig

Royal Inspector by J.J. Mason

Another artist came via networking in a different way. LochaBWS (the artist from the local game store) had gone to Denver Comic Con in June and brought back a business card from an artist who worked fast and who she thought might be a good fit for Chaos & Alchemy. I contracted that artist, and she was far, far too expensive for me, but she in turn put me in touch with another artist, J. Embleton, who was interested in the work I was offering at the price I had in mind. J is primarily a comic-book artist, and you can see that in the work she’s done for Chaos & Alchemy, but I think we came up with a style that fits the game nicely. J also signed up to do the sole full-color card illustration in the game, which will appear on my GenCon promo card (to be revealed later).

Call for Knowledge by J. Embleton

Each artist had to sign a contract (put together with the help of my lawyer, Rob Bodine) that specifies:

  • Our respective names and addresses
  • The work they’ll do
  • The dates they’ll do the work by (including proofs if applicable)
  • The fee I’ll pay them for the work
  • The fact that they’re assigning my company the copyright in their art once I pay them for it
  • The fact that they’re an independent contractor rather than an employee

I used the same contract with all of my artists (except the very earliest art, which came before my lawyer had drawn this contract up), which worked out nicely.

With all of the individual card illustrations contracted (43 unique cards, plus the one promo card), that left only the cover illustration. This one would be more expensive, I knew, but I was willing to splurge a little bit to make the game look good on a shelf (and to have some awesome art to use in marketing on a web site or a vinyl banner, for instance). I had asked a few folks involved with Prismatic Art Collection about cover illustrations, but it didn’t seem like that was going to be the way to go.

I next turned to deviantART, a web site where all kinds of artists can display their work. I searched for “alchemy” and other similar terms and started putting together a batch of favorites.

My absolute favorite piece among those that were already created was “The Alchemist” by Jena DellaGrottaglia.

The Alchemist by Jena DellaGrottaglia

I could see this piece being used as-is as the cover art for Chaos & Alchemy, so I reached out to Jena to talk about buying or licensing the rights to the art for my game. Unfortunately, Jena was busy with other things at the time and couldn’t get back to me until I had already passed the point where I had contracted with another artist. Also, apparently Jena is much more established in the art world than I realized (doing book covers and such) and her rates were too expensive for someone like me. But she’s a heck of an artist, you have to admit!

With Jena not able to get back to me in time, I turned to another artist I found via deviantART, Chris Rallis. He had created this piece for a video game called Spellchemy:

The Alchemist by Chris Rallis – For Spellchemy by Mind Juice Media

I thought that Chris’s style would fit very nicely in Chaos & Alchemy, so I inquired about fees and timing for creating something similar for my game box. Chris was very professional and said that he would be able to create artwork in a little over a week’s time (full color and all), but his rate was on the high end of what I could pay.

I talked with another artist about creating something similar, and while the other artist’s rate was lower than Chris’s, I definitely liked Chris’s style the best. So, I bit the bullet and paid for some awesome artwork:

Chaos & Alchemy cover art by Chris Rallis – Logo by Bree Heiss

Seeing the results, I have zero regrets! Chris did an amazing job.

And with that, the art for Chaos & Alchemy is complete! You can see all of the card illustrations over on the Art Gallery, and you can see an illustration from each artist in its final form within the card frames on the Sample Cards page. I hope you like them – I sure do!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

P.S. Pre-orders are still open for another day or two for Chaos & Alchemy at 10% off the regular price plus free shipping.

Making the Game part 5 – Legal Stuff – Trademarks and forming an LLC

Previous entryPart 4

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. In Part 4, I discussed working with a graphic designer to develop a cool-looking card face and how it evolved from rough sketches to a polished product.

Once I had decided that I was really going to try to publish my game, I knew that I would have some questions for a lawyer. I’m a fan of the Law of the Geek podcast, so I had some idea of the intellectual property issues involved with game design, but I didn’t know anything about business structure and I wasn’t sure if I needed to be worried about patents, trademarks, etc. So, I started searching for a lawyer.

Finding a lawyer

I began by calling the office of the local lawyer who helped my wife and I draft our wills. Unsurprisingly, they don’t handle intellectual property stuff, but the receptionist told me that she’d have one of the lawyers email me a list of local attorneys I could try. I never did receive that list; hm. I did later learn that the guy who drafted my will is a gamer – when I called weeks later to ask him if this game company would mean I need to change my will (answer: no), he asked if Chaos & Alchemy is like Dominion, which is a game he enjoys. Yay for having a gamer lawyer!

Since the local lawyer search wasn’t going anywhere, I turned to the internet. I used the Law of the Geek contact page to send a message to Geoff and Melina; unfortunately Geoff’s reply ended up in my spam folder for over a week! I did eventually talk to Geoff on the phone, and he had some excellent advice for me, but by that time I had already found another attorney to work with.

Thanks to a Twitter tip from Paul Baalham, I ended up seeking out a friend of Matt James who is a lawyer and who writes a column on Matt’s site called Protection From Chaos. The lawyer in question is Rob Bodine, and he practices law in Virginia. Rob is a gamer himself and is very interested in the legal side of gaming; he’s working on building a reputation as a “gaming lawyer”. Since I was starting a game company to produce a game, Rob was interested in working with me.

Copyright, trademark and patent

Let me start by saying that I am not a lawyer, so please don’t take any of this as actual advice! But I’ve had to learn a few things about copyright, trademark and patent over the course of making Chaos & Alchemy (although I learned much of this previously from Law of the Geek).

Copyright covers a creator’s right to be the person to make and distribute copies of his or her work. You don’t have to file for it – you automatically have it whenever your creative work (words, art, music, whatever) is “fixed in a tangible medium”, which even includes a file saved on your computer’s hard drive. The words on my game cards and the words in the rules are copyrighted automatically when I write them, for instance. The game mechanics, however, are not protectable by copyright.

Trademark covers my use of the name Chaos & Alchemy, for instance, or my logo. Technically you can get trademark rights just by making use of the trademark in promotional materials and such, but if you want to really protect it you can register it with the US government (there are also state trademark registrations, which are cheaper). My understanding is that the fee to file for a trademark is about $300, and you’ll likely need to pay a lawyer for his or her time on top of that to actually put together and file the paperwork.

My (trademarked) logo for Chaos & Alchemy. The TM will become an R in a circle once the registration goes live

Patent could theoretically protect a game mechanic if it’s innovative enough, but that’s unlikely in my caes. I understand that Wizards of the Coast has a patent on “tapping” a card by turning it sideways from Magic: The Gathering, for instance (although some people think that the patent shouldn’t have been granted; I’m not going there!).

My needs in talking to a lawyer were:

  • Figure out if I need a patent (nope, that was pretty clear from the start – it’s just too expensive)
  • Figure out if I needed to worry about infringing on someone else’s patent (probably not, but doing a thorough search to find out is too expensive for my tiny company)
  • Figure out if I need to register any trademarks (probably a good idea for the name of the game and the logo)
  • Get a contract that I can use with artists to handle the transfer of their copyright in the work they create to me once I buy the work and the rights (doable in about two pages)
  • Learn about setting up a company to publish the game (cheaper and easier than I expected, actually!)

Rob and I exchanged a couple of emails, then had a 45 minute phone conversation to establish the points above (no patent work, yes on a trademark registration or two, yes I could hire him to draw up an artist contract, and yes I should start a company). It was a pretty painless process, and I would definitely recommend Rob for other game designers who need some legal advice.

Setting up a company

One part of my conversation with Rob where I took detailed notes was around setting up a company to publish my game. While I could just publish the game under my own name as a sole proprietor, it would be a good idea for me to set up an LLC – a limited liability company – to publish the game. An LLC is quick and cheap to set up, it doesn’t require complicated paperwork to run, it can have just me as the single member, and it protects my own assets from any liability claims (such as if someone injures himself on my game or someone sues the game publisher for some reason). The LLC is only liable up to the amount of capital that I put in (plus any profits if they materialize, I guess) as long as I set it up correctly.

The steps I followed to set up my LLC were:

  • Pick an available name for the LLC
  • Go to the appropriate web site for my state government and fill out a few pages online, paying a $50 fee to register the company
  • Go to the IRS web site and apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) – basically my company’s Social Security Number (no cost)
  • Go back to my state government’s web site and apply for a state business license, which mainly sets me up to pay sales tax for in-state sales ($60 or so for Colorado)
  • Check to see if I need a local business license (in my case I don’t, but that’s apparently unusual)
  • Head to a local bank to set up a bank account for the company

The first step – picking a name – was harder than it should have been. I could have called the company Chaos & Alchemy LLC, but if I ever publish a second game that might seem weird. I liked the idea of Chaos Games LLC, but there’s already a retail store in Colorado with a similar name (Chaos, Games and More). The store name isn’t quite the same, and I could legally use the name I wanted, but I called the store owner as a courtesy and it was clear that he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of me starting a company with a similar name. Since this is exactly the kind of store that might one day carry my game on its shelves, I didn’t want to alienate him!

So, after much brainstorming with my wife, I settled on the idea of picking a card from the game and using its name: Clay Crucible Games LLC. Tagline: Concocting fun with cards and dice!

Handling all of the online paperwork took about took about 30 minutes, if that. I thought I was going to have to wait for something in the mail in order to open a bank account, but I actually could have done it right away.

Opening a small business account at a local credit union required the Articles of Organization that I had submitted to the state online, a certificate of good standing (which the credit union was able to print out on the spot by going to the state’s web site), and my LLC’s bylaws. I didn’t have bylaws, so I asked if I could write them out longhand right there in the credit union, which I did.

Boom: I have a business bank account! And with that, I was off and running; paying lawyers and artists, setting up PayPal, getting a Square reader account, heck yeah!

Cash inflow?

So far, of course, the money has only been flowing out. But I’m finally to the point that I’m ready to take pre-orders for Chaos & Alchemy over on the game’s web site. I’m offering the game at a 10% discount from its regular price to pre-order customers (normally $25, but only $22.50 for pre-order), and I’m throwing in free shipping for US buyers. This means that I won’t be making much of a profit on these games, but that’s okay – I’m mostly curious to see if there’s any interest out there! I’ll be delivering games in early August and the price will go up once the game goes to print, so hop on over if you’re interested.

– Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Making the Game part 4 – Graphic design

Previous entryPart 3 / Next entry: Part 5

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. In Part 3, I discussed the first playtest of the game with strangers, and the way the name of the game came to be.

At this point, I had decided that I was going to develop this game to the point of doing a small print run. Furthermore, I wsa going to do it in time for GenCon. Keep in mind that this was early June, and GenCon is in mid-August, so I was working on a 10-week timeline. Aggressive, but exciting!

The cards at this point looked like this:

Kind of uninspiring, don’t you think? I knew I was going to need art for the cards, but more importantly I was going to need well-designed cards. While I don’t personally know any illustrators, I do happen to be close friends with an outstanding graphic designer, Bree Heiss.

I called Bree one evening to talk about my game and the role I thought she might be able to play. There were several things that needed some awesome graphic design in my game:

  • Layout of the fronts of the cards (a very big task, incorporating different information for different card types, point values, artwork, artist credit, legal stuff, plus rules text and flavor text)
  • Design for the backs of the cards
  • Design for the box that the game comes in
  • Design for the rules sheet that comes in the box
  • A logo for the game itself

You’ll note that not included in this list is illustrations for the cards or the game box; the graphic designer’s job is design, not illustration. How are the elements arranged on the card? How do the words on the game box intersect with any artwork on the box? These are the kinds of things a designer can help with.

Fortunately, Bree was available for some design work. She even put a contract together for the work she would be doing; very professional (more on contracts in the next segment!). I was thrilled to find that she had given me three options for paying her: A single set fee, a lower fee plus 5% of game profits, and no fee plus 10% of game profits. While I went with the straight fee, I was tickled to see that she had enough confidence in me and my game to be willing to give up her fee in exchange for the chance that I might make a profit. (Note: While anything is possible, I am not assuming I will make any profits here!)

And with that, we started working together. Bree has been my main sounding board throughout this process; it’s amazing how the graphic design and the game design are closely intertwined! She started off by doing some sketches of potential card layouts.

The graphic design magic begins!

From here, I started providing feedback. I liked the idea of making the point value of a card in play nice and clear, as on Mortar and Pestle. I liked that Bree provided variation on themes as well as totally different themes.

At this point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get even black and white sketch art for my cards, and one of my playtesters (my brother in Pennsylvania) had suggested that an all-text layout might be the way to go. I asked Bree to try one of these. We also talked about ways of trying to clarify which cards in play had ongoing effects and which simply did their thing and then sat there, and one idea was to use a horizontal layout for cards with ongoing effects, to make them clearly different.

The next set of sketches incorporated some of these ideas:

New ideas start to develop

There were some innovative things here. The side-by-side art and text of Telescope on the bottom left and Solid Workbench on the bottom right was a cool idea, but we soon decided that the whole horizontal layout was just too much of a pain to deal with in-hand, even though it looked good on the table.

I liked the circular doo-dad that held the point value of Double Pelican (bottom row with purple border), but I liked the placement of the point indicator on King’s Disfavor (top row, second from right). Having the point value up top meant that players could stack up the cards that had no ongoing effects in their laboratory, showing just the name and the point value.

I also liked the black background of the negative point value on King’s Disfavor; it made it clear that this was a negative card to play on someone else.

With this back-and-forth, a vision for the cards started to take shape. Bree’s next set of sketches showed this zeroing in on a plan (and she also had gotten her scanner set up by this point, so we’re seeing scans instead of photos from here on):

Variations on a theme

Lots of cool stuff going on here. The design I enjoyed the most was this variation on Double Pelican (top row, second from left). I liked the big point indicator on the top right corner of the card. I liked the art box with a nice space but with some curves to it. It felt both clean and cool. Bree wasn’t thrilled with some of the blank spaces on it, so I sent her back a modification of her sketch (note that I am a poopy artist here, and it shows):

Note my efforts at editing the bottom right part of the art box

Bree understood where I was going with this, and put together an actual wireframe using some art she found online (not actual game art – sorry).

I love Bree’s flavor text

Yeah… this was looking good.

Now, there’s more to card front design than just arranging the parts – there’s also font to deal with! Bree supplied me with a dozen different fonts for the title and for the main text. We also used this process to pick a font for the card back, but I’ll address that later (we set the fronts aside for a while to work on the backs).

Once we came back to the fronts, Bree was ready to go all out – color, shading, legal text, art for the cards we had in, the whole nine yards.

I’m liking the color and the point indicator – Bree was experimenting with having it point downward for some cards and left for others. The art looks great (Beth Sobel did a fantastic job on this, her first piece for my game), but the art box is just so… rectangular.

This one is definitely not a rectangle. The filigree below the art window is kind of cool. The point indicator is too orange, though, and the oval art window was a little on the small side; not every piece would look good in it.

All right – now we’ve got some interesting choices! I personally loved the second layout of these four, Distributed Lore. A slightly curved art box, still plenty of space for text… yeah! I wrote Bree an email, and somehow screwed it up, telling her that I liked number 3 (Reversal of Fortune).

In the ultimate bizarre irony, here’s what I got next:

Yes, I got four cards mocked up to look like card number 1 from the previous set. I liked number 2, I mistakenly said number 3, but Bree did number 1. It was a weird mix-up, but Bree got it all worked out in the end:

Final layout in all its glory

Mmm, delicious! It’s clean and easy to read, but still beautiful. The swirly bits on the point indicator and the filigree beneath the art indicate that this card has an ongoing effect (cards without an ongoing effect will lack this). I just love everything about this layout.

Sharp-eyed readers may have also noticed that this card is of the “innovation” type, which wasn’t present in earlier versions. The rules are still in a little bit of flux based on playtesting, and I only in the last week renamed the Laboratory card type to Innovation in order to avoid confusion with the use of the word “laboratory” that refers to each player’s board.

It’s pretty amazing to see how far the card design has come in just a few weeks. It helps to have an amazing graphic designer like Bree Heiss on your team! None of you are allowed to hire her just yet; she’s still working on Chaos & Alchemy for the next few weeks, so hands off! 🙂 After that, though, hire the heck out of her; as you can see, she’s awesome.

And just wait until you see the  work Bree has done with the card back for Chaos & Alchemy. Fantastic stuff, I promise.

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

 

Making the Game part 3 – Outside interest and deciding to go for it

Previous entryPart 2 / Next entry: Part 4

Welcome back to my blog series Making the Game, in which I talk about the process of creating my card and dice game, Chaos & Alchemy. In Part 2, I discussed my first real playtesting sessions and the process of adding a theme to a game that started as raw mechanics.

Tuesday, June 5, was an important turning point in the development of Chaos & Alchemy. This was the day that I took my playtest version of the game (slips of crappy-looking black and white paper stuck inside of sleeves with Magic cards) down to my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, to see if I could get anyone to try it out. The game still didn’t have a name at this point.

I knew that the name would probably have something to do with alchemy, since that was the theme. During my Sunday evening playtest, my game designer friend pointed out that I needed a special word for what happens when you roll doubles in the game, since that’s an important thing – this is when you re-roll the Fortune Die. He suggested that I might want to just make up a nonsense word to call out, sort of like “Uno” in the game of the same name (and yes, I know that’s not a nonsense word!). I thought that if I could find a good word, I could use that as the name of the game, but I had a devil of a time coming up with anything.

I eventually settled on “Chaos” as the word for what happens when you roll doubles and the Fortune Die changes.

For the name of the game itself, I tried out Alchemy Chaos for a little while, but it felt clunky. Alchemical Chaos… same problem. Just before I left for the game store on that fateful Tuesday afternoon, I took a sheet of card stock and some markers and created a quickie sign that I could put on the table to attract attention:

My first advertising attempt

This was the first use of what became the game’s actual name, Chaos & Alchemy. I found an empty table at the FLGS and set this sign on it, along with the deck of cards and a bunch of dice. I also had my iPad with me to take notes.

I sat there for a while, trying to catch folks’ eyes, but most of the patrons were doing there own thing. One guy came in and was standing around watching his friends play a game, so I invited him to join me – no thanks. Sigh.

Strangers play my game!

After a while, one of the guys who had been playing Magic came over and gestured to the sign to ask about the game. He thought the name sounded cool, and he wanted to learn more. So, he sat down and we started to play a two-player game.

A few minutes into the game, some of his Magic-playing friends who had finished their game started gathering around to watch and to ask questions. I invited one of them to take my place at the table so that I could take notes (okay, I mainly just wanted another person to play my game). The two of them had a blast and were already making suggestions about expansions and new ideas and asking when they could buy this game before they had even finished that first game.

Yeah, that was a good sign.

When they were done, their other three friends, who had been watching most of the game, decided that they wanted to play, too, so the five of them sat down for a big game. This one took about 45 minutes, which is on the high end for game length that I’m shooting for, but not bad for five players. These guys were hungry and delayed their dinner plans so that they could play some Chaos & Alchemy.

All five of them gave me their email addresses so that I could keep them posted about the game and when it would be available.

Turning point

At home that evening, I talked to my wife about the experience I had at the store. We were both feeling good about the game beforehand, but having strangers getting excited about it made a big difference. At some point she said the fateful words:

“You need to take this to GenCon.”

My first GenCon was last year (2011), and my wife came with me for that one. It was a ton of fun, but it looked like we weren’t going to be able to make it this year. Chaos & Alchemy was promising enough (after less than a week, mind you!) that my wife was sending me to Indianapolis.

I was already starting to poke around online to find out what it would cost to get art for my game if I decided to publish it, and this process now became serious. I also realized that I was going to need some legal advice, so I ended up getting in touch with Rob Bodine, who writes the Protection from Chaos column over on Loremaster.org (and yes, I see the irony of his column name when combined with the name of my game).

I would soon be a very busy dude.

– Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

P.S. The cover art for my new game has now come in from the talented Chris Rallis – take a look over at the Chaos & Alchemy web site. It’s pretty fantastic.