Pitching games to publishers at Gen Con 2013 – Part 2

Yesterday I talked about my first day at Gen Con 2013 and the experience of pitching my game designs to publishers. Today, I pick up where I left off in order to talk about Friday and Saturday. And yes, another reminder about the Chaos & Alchemy Kickstarter campaign!

Meeting 4: Medium publisher follow-up: Everest

On Friday while I was eating a late-ish lunch with my wife and a friend (at a restaurant called Patachou, which I STRONGLY recommend if you’re looking for healthy food within a block of the convention center at Gen Con), I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. I decided to step outside and take the call – and I’m glad I did! It was from one of the publishers from the speed dating event who had seen Everest. This is a medium-sized publisher, with over ten card and board games in publication (plus role-playing games). The rep wanted to meet with me that day, so we set up a meeting for an hour later.

Everest game board

Everest game board

This was pretty exciting for me, as I wasn’t expecting to get attention from such a well-established company, especially for my secondary game! The meeting itself was great, I think. Since Everest is such a quick-to-play game, we were able to play an entire two-player game in about 15 minutes. We won in round 8, which was a fantastic result, too (Everest can be hard!).

The rep had lots of questions throughout the meeting, all of which I answered honestly and was glad to see that the rep liked the answers. In a couple of cases, I was worried that my answer would not be what this company was looking for, but it ended up being a really nice fit.

We talked a bit about a possible re-theme, which had also come up with some other publishers during the speed dating event. This was surprising to me, as Everest is really my only theme-first design so far (cooperative mountain climbing), but as I thought about it, I realized that the mechanics could also work for any theme where a group moves through tougher and tougher challenges. This could be a dungeon delve, a group infiltrating an enemy base, going through deeper layers of Hell, etc.

As with the previous night, I left this publisher with a no-bits prototype copy of Everest. I’m curious to see if this meeting leads anywhere!

Meeting 5: Pre-arranged meeting with up-and-coming publisher: Alchemy Bazaar

I had arranged to have dinner with the head of a small but quickly rising publisher Friday evening, after which we would play Alchemy Bazaar. Dinner ended up not working out, as the restaurant we met at had nothing my wife could eat (she has a gluten and soy allergy, and everything there was cooked in soybean oil), but the gaming afterward happened as planned.

I sat down with two people from the publisher and two of their friends and taught them to play Alchemy Bazaar. The game itself went just fine, though I realized that I hadn’t shuffled the Formula deck well enough and we ended up with a glut of gigantic Formulas on the board, which was not ideal. I plan to try cutting down the number of those Formulas in the deck, and to explore ways to cycle undesirable Formulas, too.

Alchemy Bazaar components

Alchemy Bazaar components

Anyway, it was a good experience, and the players were happy to sit and chat about the game afterward, offering great feedback. I was making it clear to publishers that I’m not done with the game yet – there are still a few things I want to play around with.

I got some good suggestions, as well as some ideas for other themes (one person suggested time travel, which blew my mind). I also loved hearing some thoughts about possible graphic design directions we could go with the game; for instance, making it look like a cave system with connecting passages or a deep forest with paths, if we were to re-theme it. That’s the sort of thing I never think of on my own, so it was really cool to hear.

This is a case where the publisher was already interested in Alchemy Bazaar before Gen Con, and I think the publisher is very much still interested. Good possibilities!

Addendum: After I originally wrote this but before the post went live, I received an email from this publisher telling me that his group had spent some more time talking about the game (an excellent sign) and he had a suggestion for a new theme: an archaeology dig! I love the idea, and I think it might be a great fit for the mechanics, too (possibly even solving one mechanical problem I’ve been wrestling with). I’m working on that theme now; we’ll see how it goes.

Meeting 6: Follow-up meeting with a large publisher: Robo Battle

This was a micro-meeting, and hard to arrange, but this came out of the publisher speed dating event from the publisher who asked, “What else have you got?” He wanted me to pitch Robo Battle to a colleague of his, and it was hard to nail down a time.

We finally made it happen at a point on Saturday when we each had only a few minutes before another meeting. I laid out the board (just a partial setup) and a few cards and explained how the mechanics worked. It was enough for the rep to get a feel for the game, and we’ll have some conversations in the future, but I have no idea whether this might amount to anything or not. If it does, great, but if not, that’s fine; this is still an embryonic design.

Meeting 7: Follow-up meeting with a small publisher: Alchemy Bazaar

This was another meeting that came out of the publisher speed dating event. The publisher and I set up a meeting via text message on Friday to meet Saturday afternoon (in my case, immediately after the Robo Battle meeting). We found ourselves a table in the big board gaming hall, and I taught the full rules to Alchemy Bazaar.

We played through one “day” of the game (the first of five rounds for a two-player game). It was enough for him to get a good feel for the game, and he made it clear that he really liked it. When he described what type of game he was looking for, he almost perfectly described Alchemy Bazaar (medium weight strategy game, not too heavy, somewhere between Caracasonne and Agricola).

My plan is to finish my design work on Alchemy Bazaar and then follow up with this publisher in October. This was another case where the publisher and I “clicked”.

Actually, I would say that I clicked with the publishers really well in every meeting except Meeting 1 (the very large publisher) and Meeting 6 (Robo Battle). And even in those two cases, we got along just fine; I’m just less optimistic that those two publishers came away feeling like, “Man, I really want to work with Michael.” I think that the other publishers felt that they would like to work with me, and I felt the same way about working with them.

Closing thoughts

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the way things went at Gen Con 2013 for Clay Crucible Games. My Chaos & Alchemy demos were great. I got to meet some of my Kickstarter backers (thank you all!). I picked up some sweet metal dice to trick out my own copy of Chaos & Alchemy. We picked up lots of pledges for the Kickstarter campaign throughout the Con, with great momentum heading into the final few days.

And on the game pitching front, I was thrilled. Getting call-backs from well-established publishers, finding interest in THREE of my games (when I was really only planning to talk about two – and one of those only secondarily), building good relationships… it was everything I could have hoped for. I think that there is an excellent chance that both Alchemy Bazaar and Everest are going to see publication in the not-to-distant future, and I’m feeling really happy.

So, the main lessons I walked away with are:

  • Be prepared with sell sheets and a polished, short pitch about how your game works and what makes it special
  • Be honest with publishers about your game, no matter what
  • Set up meetings ahead of time if you can
  • Be prepared to be flexible with your schedule if meeting publishers at a convention
  • Keep in mind that you’re partially selling yourself here; you want publishers to feel comfortable working with you, whether it’s on the game you’re pitching or something else that might come up in the future. Present yourself as someone who has their stuff together and is easy to work with.

And if you’ve found this post to be useful and it’s before August 23, 2013, as you read it, please also have a look at Chaos & Alchemy on Kickstarter! (Hey, this is my blog; I’m allowed to plug my Kickstarter, right?)

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.

Receiving playtest feedback: Unpub and more

I have three stories about receiving game feedback to share today: Two Unpubs and one blind playtest.

Unpub 3 in Delaware: Chaos & Alchemy


I learned last week, to my surprise, that my first game, Chaos & Alchemy, was available to try at Unpub 3 this past January in Delaware. As you may know, Game Salute is in the process of getting ready to publish Chaos & Alchemy, and they were apparently at Unpub 3 with games in tow, including mine. I had no idea it had been available there until this past week, when John Moller, the Unpub coordinator, mentioned that he had some feedback forms from Chaos & Alchemy from that event. How cool!

Chaos and alchemy001 chaos and alchemy002

There were only two forms, but the players seemed to get the game easily and to have a good time with it. My favorite was the place on the second form where the player mentioned liking the game, and listed “Random / dice games” as his/her least favorite type of games. If you hate random/dice games and you still enjoyed Chaos & Alchemy (which is very random and uses lots of dice), then it’s a good game. 🙂

Blind playtest feedback: Alchemy Bazaar

I’m not going into a lot of detail on this one, but I sent a copy of Alchemy Bazaar to a friend in Florida for blind playtesting. That is, I sent a copy of the game with the rules and all of the components and asked my friend to try it with a group, without me providing any input beyond the rules as written.

Poster 2

There’s no easy way to put this; it didn’t go well. When I’ve taught the game in person, it’s been a big hit all around. But the blind playtest just didn’t work, and it was almost entirely because of the rules. Lesson learned: I need to get much, much better at writing rules. I’m working hard on this, and I’m confident that I’ll get the rules to where they need to be. If I have any blog readers who are interested in giving my updated rules a read-through and providing feedback, let me know in the comments! I’d love the extra set of eyes on the rules.

Unpub Mini Enchanted Grounds: Alchemy Bazaar

The most fun bit of playtest feedback I’ve gotten recently at Unpub Mini Enchanted Grounds, which was an event this past Saturday at my friendly local game store. I was basically the organizer of the event, as well as a demonstrator of a game. We had six games going at a time: five designers who were there for the whole six hours, and a pair of designers who traded off the first six hours and the last six hours (so, a total of seven games).

Things started off a bit slowly, and I played the role of host, talking to people who came into the store and shepherding them to games that they would likely enjoy based on their preferences. Eventually I got to start demoing Alchemy Bazaar, and had the chance to run a total of three games.

Alchemy Bazaar in action at Unpub Mini. Note the game board for my super-rough game Everest in the foreground.

Alchemy Bazaar in action at Unpub Mini. Note the game board for my super-rough game Everest in the foreground.

Two of those games were won by a guy who had first tried the game the week before at Tabletop Game Day. He liked it so much that he came back this week and played it twice more. Definitely a good sign!

The feedback forms from this event were very positive. One of the games ran a bit longer than I would have liked, and that was reflected in one of the feedback forms, but that’s fine; I can tweak the length easily enough.

Unpub Mini was a rousing success for all involved, I think. Lots of players came through the store to play lots of games. Some, like Mighty Heroes and the Monster Zone, were very polished in terms of production values and will soon be on Kickstarter. Others, like my own Alchemy Bazaar, were in earlier prototype stages, but still complete games. I didn’t get a chance to actually play any of the other games, but I at least got to talk to the designers and learn how the games work.

Frankly, I’m just happy to have met some other local board game designers! I think we’ll be getting together again in the not-too-distant future.

Dealing with feedback

Through this process, I’ve learned some lessons about productively dealing with playtest feedback. The positive feedback is useful because it tells you what elements of the game are working, so that you can be careful not to change those too much. The negative feedback is even more useful because it tells you where you need to focus your efforts. I’ll admit that I took the negative feedback hard and was feeling pretty down, but I eventually buckled down and fixed what was broken (or at least worked hard to fix it; I don’t know how fixed it is yet).

So, through it all I think I’m continuing to grow as a game designer. That’s the hope, anyway!

Michael Iachini, the OnlineDM

Clay Crucible Games

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Simplify, Simplify – Streamlining game design

I’m still a relatively new game designer, so I’m learning all the time. One of the best lessons I’ve learned so far about good game design can be summed up by the famous quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify.”

Walden Pond

Thoreau was talking about life in general, but I’m talking about game design. My design process tends to have me start with an idea, ponder it in the back of my mind for a while (Chaos & Alchemy had very little pondering, but my other games have had more), put a prototype together, and start playtesting. My first playtests should be solo, followed by a game with my wife (though I admit that I’ve typically subjected my wife to my embryonic game ideas more often than not). After some initial revisions, I’ve historically played with a core group of friends, including my good friend Nate.

Nate is a professional game designer. He has worked on some very well known tabletop games in the past, and he currently works on electronic games. I’m very sad that he and his wife recently left Colorado, where I live, because Nate has a terrific skill for a designer like me: He can see what needs to be cut out of a game.

I’ve almost invariably found that my games start off too complicated. Too many moving pieces, too many decisions, too many things to remember for the players. I want to make games that are easy to learn and intuitive to play, which means that I have to simplify.

Example 1: Chaos & Alchemy dice

Those of you who have played Chaos & Alchemy know the basic turn mechanic: You conduct an Experiment by rolling three six-sided dice. Each die that matches or beats the shared Fortune Die counts as a Success and each die that’s lower than the Fortune Die counts as a Failure. You also get one Free Success per turn. Each Success lets you either draw a card or play a card, and each Failure forces you to discard a card.


In the earliest prototype of the game, players were only rolling two dice. They also were allowed to draw one card for free and play one card for free each turn, in whatever order they wished. This allowed for a lot of flexibility, but it was hard to keep track of.

My first solution to this tracking problem was to create three tracker cards for each player: Draw, Play, and Roll. When you drew your card for the turn, you flipped the Draw card over. When you rolled your Experiment dice, you flipped your Roll card over. When you took your free play, you flipped your Play card over. It worked, but it was still fiddly.

Nate’s suggestion was to eliminate the Roll card, since it was usually easy to remember if you had rolled yet. Simple enough.

He then suggested getting rid of the Play card and adding a third die to the Experiment. There was still a free Draw, but we were down to one tracker.

Naturally, Nate then suggested eliminating that card as well… and I tried it. Ultimately, though, the most fun solution was to have the Free Success that I ended up using. It’s only one thing to track, and it uses another die, so it works just like other Successes. Also, as a fun side benefit, you get doubles (Chaos in the game) a lot more often with three dice than you do with two (4 out of every 9 rolls instead of 1 out of every 6), and rolling Chaos is cool.

Example 2: Alchemy Bazaar tile ownership

I know that I haven’t blogged in detail about Alchemy Bazaar very much, but it’s in active playtesting now and going very well. I’m excited about this one!

The basic idea is that players add shop tiles to an ever-growing bazaar of alchemical goods and formulas, then send their apprentices through the shops to get the things they need to conduct alchemical experiments. It was heavily inspired by Lords of Waterdeep (one of my favorite games).

Playtest game by my brother Danny, at the end of the game

Playtest game by my brother Danny, at the end of the game

In the initial version, whenever a player added a tile to the bazaar, they would put a small token on the tile to show that they owned it. Whenever another player’s apprentice would later use that tile, the owner would get a benefit.

It was fun, and it made sense to anyone who has played Lords of Waterdeep (its building tiles work the same way). After the first play-through with Nate, his only suggestion was to eliminate tile ownership.

Now, this required that I revamp the economy of the game somewhat, but Nate helped me see that the core fun of the game came from moving the apprentices around the bazaar. Shop ownership worked, but it was a bit of a distraction.

And you know what? Removing it hasn’t hurt the fun of the game one bit.

Example 3: Alchemy Bazaar walls

Another inspiration for Alchemy Bazaar was originally Alhambra, which has specific rules about the way the walls on the tiles can be played. Alchemy Bazaar’s shop tiles originally had walls, too, which created various passageways through the bazaar. It was kind of interesting, and it allowed for cards that would let players pass through walls or rotate tiles and such.

My first blind playtester for this game, as with Chaos & Alchemy, was my brother Danny, who lives in Pennsylvania. He was a real trouper, creating his own print and play version of the game, and most of his confusion came about with the rules for walls. Clearly, I needed to write the rulebook better.

Later, I took the game to Genghis Con, a local gaming convention here in Colorado, and ran seven games over the course of a couple of days. Feedback was fantastic, and I usually asked players what they thought about the walls. I was noticing that these games usually ended up with the walls not really coming into play very much.

I received two suggestions. One was to add more walls. If there aren’t enough walls to matter, then make more of them! This could work, and would make those tile manipulation cards more interesting, too.

The other suggestion: Do away with walls.

I decided to try the latter suggestion. And you know what? I don’t miss the walls one bit.

Yes, I had to get rid of the cards that only matter when walls exist, but that wasn’t a great loss. And now the game is much easier to teach; the wall rules took up more time in the explanation of rules than they were worth.

A game about moving around a bazaar could be very interesting with walls as a major component. But as it turns out, Alchemy Bazaar just doesn’t need them.

Keeping it simple

Now, there are certainly cases where an overly-simple design needs an extra mechanic or something to make it interesting. But it’s my belief that more often than not, what makes a good game design into a great one is the ability to simplify the game to the core of what makes it fun. With Nate no longer here in Colorado, I guess I’ll have to take that lesson to heart myself!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Chaos & Alchemy has a publisher!

Exciting news for anyone who’s been following my development as a board/card game designer over the past six months: My first game, Chaos & Alchemy, is going to be published by Game Salute!

Frankly, there’s not much more to announce right now. Game Salute will begin their process of fine-tuning the game, ordering art and setting up for a Kickstarter campaign over the coming months, depending on where Chaos & Alchemy falls in the queue (they’re a quickly-growing publisher with lots of games in the pipeline). At some point the Kickstarter campaign will launch, which I’ll be sure to tell you all about right here!

As for me, I’ll be continuing to help in getting Chaos & Alchemy polished for its ultimate print run, but I’m also working on some other ideas. I’ve talked about Gods & Champions, which I don’t plan to do much more with right now, but I also have an idea for a worker placement game that has me excited at the moment.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to have an actual publisher lined up for my game. Huzzah!

– Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

A little “meh” on D&D for the moment

I haven’t been blogging much recently, which is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of my time on Chaos & Alchemy (currently working on setting up a Kickstarter to run in the next month or so). My audience here on Online Dungeon Master is interested in D&D, not necessarily my new game company, so I try not to inundate you all with content about the game. However, I will note that I’ve opened a call for artists to do color illustrations for the cards – let me know if you’re interested!

Another reason that I haven’t been blogging much is that I’m not as passionate about D&D right now. Again, that’s in part because my gaming passion is elsewhere, and for a while I thought that was all there was to it.

Drow again?

As I reflect more, though, I realize that there are two other things that are keeping my D&D passion in check. The first is that I’m really not digging D&D Encounters this season. I’m still running the game every week, but it’s not grabbing me. I’m kind of sick of the drow, frankly, and knowing that there’s still MORE drow to come in the next season has me feeling a little depressed. Drow are evil and all, I get it. Can we move on now?

I’ve still been creating maps of the encounters, so I’ve included the Week 5 and Week 7 maps below (I was out of town for week 4 and 6, and week 6 didn’t use a map anyway). Enjoy!

Drow Library Map – Gridded

Drow Library Map – No grid

Underdark Antechamber Map – Gridded

Underdark Antechamber Map – No Grid

The impact of D&D Next

The other thing that has me feeling down is D&D Next. It’s not that I don’t like the system – I’m sure it’s going to end up being really cool. But I currently play 4e, and with all of the community’s attention being on Next, I find it hard to get psyched up about 4e.

The obvious solution to this problem is “Play D&D Next!” And I will, eventually. But I ran the first open playtest, and I think that might have been a mistake for me. I appreciated the quickness of combat, but I was really bored with the Caves of Chaos. Also, the limited pre-generated characters didn’t seem exciting.

Now, had I waited for the second batch of stuff that came out just before GenCon before jumping into the playtest, I think I would have been much happier. The new fighter looks like a lot more fun, and having character creation rules is a very big deal. But by the time that packet came out, I was already getting to the point of ignoring D&D Next. I read the second packet, but I didn’t feel inspired to play it. Again, that’s partly because my time was on Chaos & Alchemy, but it’s also partly because my groups didn’t have that much fun with the first playtest packet, and I didn’t feel passionate about getting them to try the second.

What’s next?

So where do I go from here? Well, for the immediate future I’m going to be busy with Chaos & Alchemy. But I’d like to get back to running a regular D&D game. My online family campaign for Madness at Gardmore Abbey has been on hold for many months, but I’ve got it all prepped and ready to go in MapTool; that’s the most likely place to resume. I’d also like to get back to trying D&D Next; I haven’t even looked at the latest playtest packet yet, and that’s a shame.

But I’m not in any hurry to do that stuff. I have other hobbies occupying my free time right now, and I’m okay with that. D&D will wax in my interest again, but it’s in a waning phase right now. And that’s okay.

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

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). 


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!


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. 


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.


I have a few notes about some of the components. 


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.


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

TactiCon 2012 Recap: Fiasco, Ashes of Athas, Chaos & Alchemy and impromptu D&D

Labor Day weekend has been a lot of fun for me the past three years, as I’ve been attending TactiCon. This is the smaller of the two conventions put on by the Denver Gamers Association each year (the bigger one is Genghis Con over Presidents’ Day weekend in February), but the 2010 edition was the first gaming convention I ever attended, so it always has a place in my heart.

I’ve done the “Marathon GM” thing in the past, where I run a D&D game in all nine of the convention’s four-hour slots over the weekend, but I was taking it a little easier this time – only being signed up for seven. Yes, I’m still nuts.


Thursday night, I had signed up to run a session of Fiasco. I had only played once before, but I think it’s a cool system and one that I want to get more comfortable with. I’ve been playing around with creating a playset of my own, but since it wasn’t ready in time I just brought the four sets from the base Fiasco book, plus the D&D-themed set, the rock band set and the set played on Tabletop a couple of months ago. My players, two of whom had never played before, opted for the Antarctica set. Since there were four other players plus myself, I decided not to participate as a player, instead just helping them along. I think Fiasco plays best with four.

The players had a good time, setting up a web of relationships and secrets. Things were going swimmingly until the radioactive penguins started growing tentacles at the end of Act One. Amazingly, the players all rolled pretty well by Fiasco standards at the end of the game, so none of them ended up dead and one ended up coming out smelling like roses. We finished in under two hours, too, which was great – I still had a little prep for the rest of the weekend’s games to finish.


Friday was Ashes of Athas Day One. I was running the three adventures from Chapter Three of the Dark Sun-set organized play campaign. I was delighted to discover that three of the guys whom I’d run Ashes of Athas for back at Genghis Con had returned, and they were stoked to play at my table again! They really made it fun for me last time.

This time was no different. With my projector setup running (and attracting lots of admiration from passers-by, as usual), we kept the fun flowing all day long. I felt bad for my core three players when they were bumped to another DM’s table for the middle session, but the reason was that we had a group of new-to-D&D players and the organizer knows that I love running games for new players (and that they tend to keep coming back after they’ve been at my table). I did love the new folks, too. Something about new players just gets my energy up.

My core three players were back at my table for the final adventure of the day, and it was mostly a big, two-part combat encounter. The second part had a very interesting environmental effect: Any PC starting or ending a turn in a zone of evil ashes had to make a death saving throw. This was in the Athasian plane of death, so it made sense. The cool thing about this was that it made it possible for a PC to die while still at full hit points, but not randomly out of nowhere as in a pure “save or die” effect. It really affected player tactics once they found out about it, and made things tense when they otherwise might not have been.


Saturday was going to be an interesting one. I was signed up to run Ashes of Athas from 9:00 to 1:00, from 2:00 to 6:00 and from 7:00 to 11:00. However, I was also signed up to run demos of Chaos & Alchemy in the board and card game room from noon to 3:00. I had asked the D&D organizer ahead of time if maybe I could bow out of some of my Ashes of Athas games, but he told me that he was really short on DMs.

Fortunately for me, he was wrong. Saturday morning, we had three DMs and three players. Easy solution: I would bow out, one of the DMs would play and the other DM would run a table of four! This let me get some much-needed coffee, check out the vendor hall, and then start showing people how to play Chaos & Alchemy.

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

My lovely wife came to join me in the demos at noon, and she was very eye-catching (like I said, she’s lovely). We had two tables of demos running non-stop, with lots of folks deciding to buy a copy of the game. One guy started telling all of his friends that they needed to come try this game, and I believe four of them bought copies. One of THOSE people also sent another buyer my way! Players are teaching one another to play the game.

A guy who owns a very new game retail store bought a copy and asked about carrying Chaos & Alchemy in his store. Two guys turned out to be involved with the organization of Denver Comic Con and wanted to talk to me about having a table at next year’s convention, with a “local game designer” angle on it. There was a lot of enthusiasm, and I ended the weekend with just 25 copies from my original 125 copy print run on hand. It’s off to a really good start!

As you might guess from all of that, I was able to spend most of the afternoon running Chaos & Alchemy, in part because there were only two tables worth of players for Ashes of Athas and the other two DMs ran the games. However, when the evening time slot came around, we had two tables of players but one of the other DMs was nowhere to be found, so I set up the projector and ran the adventure.

The players for Saturday night were the same six I’d had for Friday night. The adventure was the conclusion of Ashes of Athas Chapter Four, and it was my least favorite of the Ashes of Athas adventures I’ve run so far. It was really long, with too many skill challenges and combats for a standard convention time slot, and one of the combats ended up wiping out the other table of players (my table had a very hard time with it). We still had fun at the table, though. The party didn’t mind when I switched to some brief narration rather than actually running through some skill challenges, and they rolled with the bizarre “desert peyote trip” ending of the adventure.

This adventure also gave me my favorite gaming moment of the convention, when a new player who was running a spear-toting Ardent was trying desperately to figure out what she could to to help her allies while she was standing on a bridge and the gargoyle menacing them was 20 feet below her. Answer: Jump off the bridge, spear pointing down, and hope for the best. I gave her a +1 bonus for charging (sort of) and a +2 bonus for combat advantage (the gargoyle did NOT see this one coming!), and ruled that if she hit with the attack, it would count as an automatic critical hit.

Boom – gargoyle pieces everywhere! What a great ride.


I had nothing scheduled on Sunday, which was a first for me. I decided to sleep in, have an early lunch and get to the convention around 11:15. I got in on a game of Smash Up, which I knew had been a big deal at GenCon. I love the theme of the game – you play with a 40-card deck that’s made up of two 20-card decks smashed together to give you something like Alien Dinosaurs, Ninja Tricksters, Zombie Pirates or Robot Wizards. The mechanics of piling up minions and playing actions to take down some shared bases, with points awarded based on who contributed the most to breaking the base, were pretty good. The balance seemed fine, too, with the final score being 15-11-11-8 (I was one of the 11s).

However, I just didn’t have that much fun during the actual gameplay. The Robot Wizards, for instance, had really long, involved turns. The Ninja Tricksters got to do interesting things at unexpected times. The Zombie Pirates both had things popping out of the discard pile. The Dinosaur Aliens… were big. And they could return things to players’ hands. My turns were short and a little boring. It’s a game with lots of potential, but it didn’t quite do it for me.

I ran a couple more demos of Chaos & Alchemy, then headed over to the D&D area to see if maybe I could play in a game in the last time slot at 2:00. The organizer asked if I could run something instead. I didn’t have my laptop with me, even though the projector and rig were in the car, but since I’d never tried running module cold, I agreed to go for it.

I was loaned a wet-erase mat and marker and was seated at a table that was mostly empty, since the players (mostly kids who were friends and family of one another, with one adult) were apparently in their rooms leveling up their characters. Once I realized that they didn’t care what module they played, I decided I’d run one that I wrote – The Stolen Staff. I downloaded it from my blog to my iPad. I used the backs of business cards for initiative trackers. I wrote down monster hit points on a sheet of paper. I borrowed some minis from one of the players to represent the monsters.

And we had a rollicking good time! I soon realized that these kids really just wanted to fight stuff, so I gave them plenty of interesting things to kill. We had gotten off to a really late start, but we still fit in three fights and some role-playing, finishing on time. I did have a weird moment afterward when one of the kids asked me, “So who did the best?” I didn’t understand the question, so he clarified, “Who did the most damage and killed the most monsters? Who was the best?” I told him that my favorite moment was when one of his friends had his character jump off a tower to land on a minion (I guess I have a thing for PCs throwing themselves off of stuff). Maybe he’ll get the message that D&D is about creativity, not just numbers. Here’s hoping. It was a very min-maxed party, so I’m guessing I won’t change any opinions, but so it goes.


Once all was said and done, I still wasn’t quite finished. A couple came up to me as I was packing up from my last game and asked if I was Michael (I am) and if I could teach them about Fiasco. Apparently they had bought the game and weren’t confident in jumping in, and they had seen my name in the program as someone who had run Fiasco. So, after the GM appreciate ceremony, I met up with the two of them and taught them about Fiasco before heading home.

Yay for more new gamers!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Between GenCon and TactiCon 2012

Just a quick update since I haven’t written in a while.

GenCon was an awesome experience. The highlight was getting to meet so many of my friends from the online D&D world, mainly from Twitter (d20Monkey, Jennisodes, LawOfTheGeek, deadorcs, FELTit, GeekyLyndsay, d20Blonde, Squach, TheIdDM, SlyFlourish… the list goes on and on). A lot of these were at the Thursday evening GenCon Social, with more coming at the Saturday evening recording of the Tome Show and dinner afterward.

I sat in on several seminars during the convention, with the highlights being a Kickstarter panel, the Law of the Geek panel and a panel on board game design.

I was on an episode of This Just In From GenCon as a sponsor.

I did some informal demos of Chaos & Alchemy in the general gaming areas with some good success. I was only able to do about 30 or so demos over the course of the weekend (not having a booth makes it hard to do that sort of thing), but 10 people did end up buying the game after playing it – a pretty good conversion rate! It was enough to make me want to keep going with this thing, and I’m currently talking to some small publishers and also doing the research about maybe running a Kickstarter for a big print run.

I’ve learned that my Wednesday bowling league that usually keeps me from running D&D Encounters in the fall and spring is going to be on Tuesday instead this year, which means that I’m DMing Encounters again. Yay! No write-up for this week, except to say that my table full of evil drow did a good job of role-playing. They’re scheming and backstabbing and having a lovely time.

Now I’m on the eve of TactiCon, one of the two local conventions each year. I’m running Fiasco tonight, followed by two days of Ashes of Athas (the D&D 4e organized play set in Dark Sun). I’m going to try to find time on Saturday between Dark Sun games to demo some Chaos & Alchemy as well.

So, I’m still out there, still gaming, just very busy!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


  • 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)


  • 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!


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!