A Crowdfunder's Strategy: A Late Look at Jamey's Book

Who? Jamey Stegmaier, co-founder and president of Stonemaier Games, and author of A Crowdfunder’s Strategy: Build a Better Business By Building Community. Games from Stonemaier include Viticulture and Scythe.

What? This is a look at, rather than a review of, Jamey’s book. I haven’t read the physical book cover to cover, although I am familiar with the material, having read it (usually in fuller form) on the Stonemaier website.

When? I’m writing this in early November 2016. Jamey’s book was published in September 2015. So is this really a late look? I think that it is, partly because 14 months is a long time on the web, where crowdfunding happens.

The book is written for creators of reward-based crowdfunding projects, such as the project that Jamey created for Scythe on Kickstarter. In return for funding the project, backers received rewards, mainly in the form of the game itself. They did not receive equity in Stonemaier Games; had they done so, we’d be talking about equity-based crowdfunding.

The primary explicit message of the book is “that you will significantly increase your odds of crowdfunding success if you focus on building community, empathizing with supporters, and developing trust-based relationships.” You might already have guessed that from the book’s subtitle (“Build a Better Business By Building Community”).

A secondary, less explicit, but still vital message of the book is that: in crowdfunding, details matter; and there are a lot of details to consider, and decisions to make, before, during, and after a crowdfunding project.

Jamey discusses many of the decisions and details involved in crowdfunding. He does so using his experience as the creator of multiple Kickstarter campaigns for tabletop games. I think that he generalizes well from his own experience: he is keen to share the lessons he learned, while being careful not to over-generalize. I find him to be an engaging writer, but you can judge that for yourself using the online sample chapter.

Do I recommend A Crowdfunder’s Strategy? Yes! Am I going to address some specific qualms you might have about giving Jamey and his book your time, attention, and (possibly) money? Yes! Am I going to carry on in Q&A (question and answer) format? Yes!

Do I recommend it for projects other than tabletop games? Yes. The book was intended from the start for “all types of entrepreneurs who are intrigued by the idea of crowdfunding”. The book as published is true to this intention.

Do I recommend it for platforms other than Kickstarter? Yes. It’s about crowdfunding and community, rather than about the specific platform Jamey and Stonemaier used. It does include a paragraph on each of multiple platforms, but that’s the sort of content that can rapidly become out of date, and hence may be better accessed on the web than in a book.

Do I recommend it, given that Jamey has blogged much of the same content? Yes. The book is not a hasty paste of words from the web. The content was largely rewritten, and then organized and edited to make a coherent book. I should add that I recommend both the book and the blog: they are complements, rather than substitutes.

Do I recommend it, given that it was published over a year ago? Yes. The main lessons on crowdfunding and community are still valid. For example, Jamey explains mistakes he made, so that his readers don’t have to: those mistakes are still easy to make, and well worth avoiding.

Do I recommend it, even for people who may never create a crowdfunding project? For some specific groups of people, yes. You may be researching a school or college project. You may be a fan of Stonemaier Games interested in the background to the games themselves. You may be interested in how the tabletop game business is changing; it has certainly changed a lot over the last few years, with many of the changes related to crowdfunding.

Having recommended the book, I’ll close by pointing out one of the ways in which a blog may be better than a book: it may allow discussion of its own content. So feel free to leave a comment here. Thank you!

Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target

The Kickstarter campaign for Swamped was, I’m delighted to write, very successful. Now, that sentence, and the post title, will raise questions for some readers. If you’re not among those readers, you can just skip down to the paragraph with the chart.

Questions arising from this post’s title and opening sentence may well include:

  • What’s Kickstarter? Well, Kickstarter describes itself as “a new way to fund creative projects”.
  • What’s Swamped? It’s a card game (and hence a creative project) funded using Kickstarter. The players are adventurers, traveling through the swamp in a shared boat, seeking to achieve certain goals. Some of these goals, such as avoiding the hungry croc, are shared. Other goals differ between adventurers, and are private.
  • What does Tabletop mean here? It denotes a type of game that’s not a video game: this could mean a card game, like Swamped, or a board game, or…
  • What do you mean when you describe the Kickstarter as “very successful”? Well, …

The chart shows that the Kickstarter for Swamped was successful, especially over its last few days. It:

  • Raised well over twice its funding goal.
  • Attracted more than 1,000 backers: each of these backers pledged money in order to receive a specific reward; most of them pledged $12 plus shipping for one copy of the game.
  • Saw an upturn in funding over the last few days of the campaign. If you looked at the chart carefully, you might have noticed that the last 3 days of the campaign saw a pledge total of over $5,000, and of more than 25% of the total for the whole campaign.

Continue reading “Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target”

The Rime of the Ancient Harbour Town

A poem inspired by the tabletop game Harbour.

Gullsbottom is a harbor town.
I’ll tell you of it, mate:
The leading occupations there
Are crime and real estate.

Why do you ask? You’re moving there?
Crime’s not for you, you think?
You’d like to talk of property?
You’re paying for the drinks?

Don’t flash your cash in Gullsbottom—
Unless you want to float
In harbour deep, with money gone,
And slash across your throat.

How do you buy your buildings
Using neither coins nor notes?
You sell goods from your warehouse,
Which are loaded onto boats.

The money gained by selling goods
Buys buildings the same moment;
So you don’t have to carry cash
To be violently stolen.

When goods are sold, the prices change:
The goods just sold go down.
And that may inconvenience
Your rivals in the town.

You’ll start with just a few goods.
You will visit various buildings.
With swift and shrewd and simple moves
Your warehouse you’ll be filling.

So it’s all about the buildings:
You will use them to get goods;
Which you ship to buy the buildings,
To be big boss of the ‘hood…

Which you’ll be when your collection
Of bought buildings is the best;
And I’m certain that your actions
Will be smarter than the rest.

You say it’s time you must set off
Toward your new abode?
Gullsbottom bound you are now?
Let’s have one more for the road!

Monument Valley Fever

ScreenshotI can’t remember where I found out about Monument Valley (“adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness”) but I do know that it has been played a lot in our house since I bought it a week or so ago. Yesterday evening I couldn’t play, or read the ebook I wanted to, because each kid had claimed one of our two iPads.

The image is a screenshot from the second “chapter” of MV. The game encourages screenshots. I presume that’s so that people will take and share them; it seems to have worked on me.

Princess Ida, in white, needs to step on to the button in the center near the top. Some of the path (the darker part) can be turned using the handle. But that part of the path seems to have risen far above Ida as a result of the last button she stepped on to. What’s a Princess to do in order to get to the next lovely set of puzzles?

The base game consists of ten (X) chapters. My favorite is The Box (XIII), which I can’t describe without spoiling. Then Forgotten Shores adds eight (viii) appendices. That’s eighteen (X + viii) levels, each with its own look and theme. While I love MV, I understand that some people prefer longer, tougher games. I don’t understand the people who trashed Forgotten Shores because it cost money ($2).

As you journey through the levels you see and inhabit different environments, find new ways of changing those environments, encounter black crows and have the princess in white interact with them in various ways. You may well feel, as I did, that the game-makers want to you overcome the challenges, without making too many of them too easy for you, and that the main reward is entering and experiencing the next environment.

Congratulations on Monument Valley to ustwogames, who recently posted some interesting numbers about the game: sales of over $5M; development costs, substantial but far lower; and so on. Michelle Starr at CNET contrasted Monument Valley’s pricing with the freemium model: I for one am glad that I never saw ads in Monument Valley.

Getting Epic Wins Done

At about the same time I was rereading Getting Things Done, I was reading Reality is Broken for the first time. The full title of Jane McGonigal’s book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

Make us better? Does that mean that games can encourage us to get things done? Yes it does: for example, McGonigal and her husband compete in the game Chore Wars, each an adventurer seeking to outdo the other in tasks such as “conjuring the clothes” (doing the laundry).

That raises the question: can Allen’s GTD system be “gamified”? This question has been asked and addressed before (for example, by this fellow WordPress blogger).

Next question: has someone already developed a GTD game? The nearest thing I and Google could find was Epic Win, an ioS app that provides a role-playing interface to the familiar to-do list. Here’s the avatar for my character, which has recently leveled up (but only to 2).

To address first the question that led me to Epic Win: it’s not a close fit with GTD. For example, EW expects actions/quests to be assigned a date, whereas Allen specifically recommends against the daily to-do list. It would be more GTD-ish for quests to have locations on the EW map, just as GTD actions can be assigned contexts.

That said, it would be unfair to judge EW as an implementation of GTD, since it doesn’t claim to be one. So how is it as a to-do list flavored with quests and other role-playing spices?

I’d say that the (RPG) spices are done better than the to-do nutrition. I don’t find the interface to be intuitive. Part of this is due to organization by date, rather than by context, priority, or some other criterion my choice. But there are other things I stumble against.

There is integration with Google Calendar. But as far as I can see, there is no integration with Google Tasks. More seriously, EW made some strange (with respect to time of day) changes to my calendar.

Epic Win feels like a work in progress. To be fair, there is progress, in the form of updates to the app. But, at $2.99, it feels expensive for an iPhone app. Maybe we’re spoiled in terms of app prices, and maybe I’m judging EW as I’m using it, on the iPad, rather than on its native iPhone.

So I’m still looking for an iPad app to gamify GTD. Any suggestions? Or any reactions to my remarks on Epic Win?

The iPad and the Board Game Geek

I’ve played a bunch of games on the iPad since getting an iPad 2 earlier this year. Though I’ve enjoyed Angry Birds and other made-for-mobile games, my favorites are actually boardgames implemented on the iPad.

I used to play a lot of boardgames before the kids came along. My favorite was, and still is, Through the Desert. In TtD each player establishes and extends camel trains, and earns points for visiting oases and waterholes, for marking off areas of the desert, and for having longer camel trains than other players. TtD presents interesting decisions, while being defined by fairly simple rules.

The designer of TtD , Reiner Knizia, is particularly good at simple rules framing interesting decisions. When I got far enough into boardgames to have a favorite designer (a little more than a decade ago), Knizia quickly took that spot, and has retained it ever since.

TtD is one of what is sometimes called Knizia’s tile-laying trilogy, which also includes Samurai and Tigris & Euphrates. In each of these two other excellent boardgames, play involves placing cardboard tiles on a board representing a map. TtD could have been implemented using tiles, but I’m glad to say that it includes little pastel-colored plastic camels.

Each of the games in the trilogy now has an iPad implementation. I want to get on with discussing these apps, so I’ll refer you to BoardGameGeek for further detail of the games themselves. There is a lot of information and opinion on these (and may other) games at BGG.

So, for each game, I’ll link to the main page for the boardgame and to a recent review of the iPad implementation; I’ll also provide the current price and a link in case you want to purchase. Here are those links for TtD (main, review, $2.99), Samurai (main, review, $4.99), and T&E (main, review, $5.99).

The most important point about the iPad implementations of the tile-laying trilogy is that each of the three iPad apps is well worth buying. Other similarities also deserve mention. Each app allows between two and four players, and each game scales well within this range. (The TtD boardgame takes five players, but I don’t think it takes five well, so I don’t regard the four-player limit as a problem with the app.) Each app allows play against other people, by either passing the iPad, or playing online.

Each app has an AI component to provide one or more opponents. Most of my plays have been against two AI opponents. I’d describe the AI for each app as respectable, but not strong.

Each app has a tutorial, so you don’t need to have played the boardgame to use the app. Indeed, the app may well be a good means of learning or trying out the boardgame. Talking of trying out, none of the apps has a free version for you to try before you buy.

Enough, for now, of the similarities between the apps; it’s time for the differences, and especially the differences that might steer you toward a particular one of the three apps. Through the Desert is the cheapest app, and the simplest game to learn. As I noted above, it’s my favorite boardgame. On the other hand, it may not be the strongest app of the three. When I first bought the game, back in April, it would sometimes crash during a game, and forget the game state. The current version brought “iPad 2 stability fixes,” which are working for me (as well as faster AI).

Samurai has the best user interface of the three apps. I don’t think I have a better-looking app on my iPad. More important, I find playing the app smooth and intuitive. The screenshot shows a game in progress: I’m red, it’s my turn, and I am choosing from the five tiles displayed at the bottom of the screen. If I had make a straightforward recommendation for just one of these three apps, it would be Samurai.

Tigris & Euphrates is widely regarded as Knizia’s masterpiece. It is probably the deepest of the trilogy. It certainly has the most complex rules. For this reason, I’d hesitate to recommend the app as a means of learning T&E.

So, based on my play, on the iPad, against the apps’ AI, I recommend these three iPad apps, and of course have made more specific recommendations above. I haven’t played any of the games on an iPhone, or online; so if you’re particularly interested in those features, you might want to check out the reviews (see above links) and discussion of the games at BGG and elsewhere.

Please feel free to leave a comment here if you have used the features I haven’t, or have anything else to add about these apps, or about boardgames as apps.

Teaching Maddie Patience, and…

Maddie is my 6yo (less one week) daughter, and Patience is the card game Americans call Solitaire. Looking through my collection of board and card games, she found a pack (deck?) of regular playing cards and asked to learn “this game.” As I explained, there are hundreds of games that can be played with a pack of cards.

I had to choose just one, for the moment. I decided on Patience. Maddie caught on fairly fast, although she currently lacks the patience required to really enjoy Patience.

More her speed is Star Wars: Episode 1 – Clash of the Lightsabers. It’s a card game, but the cards in question are specific to the game: it’s not played with a regular pack of cards. It’s a pretty good game for a movie tie-in. I’m relieved to say that it’s way better than the movie with which it ties in.

Clash is a card game simulating a lightsaber fight. The theme is pasted on, but pasted on pretty well with images from the movie on some of the cards, and figures for the two fighters. Most of the cards represent attacks of differing strengths. They are played during a series of duels. Some of the more interesting decisions concern when to concede a particular duel in order to preserve quantity and quality of cards for future duels.

Maddie’s good guy defeated my villan, although I think it’s fair to say that our discussions of the game as we played helped her more than they helped me. She asked to play again the next day, and again won; I’m sticking to my story about helping her.

She did get the strategy of conceding the current duel in order to be stronger later. So perhaps she has more patience, or at least ability to defer gratification, than it seemed when we were playing Patience.

Clash is out of print, but available via sites including Amazon and BoardGameGeek. I bought my copy years ago, when it was going out of print and available very cheaply.

I’m glad I hung on to Clash. It’s similar to Battle Line (that’s another link to BoardGameGeek, and here’s another link to Amazon), one of my favorite card games. While I hope that Maddie and I will play Battle Line in a few years, Clash is better for her now: it has simpler rules, and well as a theme she likes.

A Game and a Game and…

Blokus has one of my favorite qualities in a game: the rules are simple, the decisions less so. I played it yesterday for the first time in years, with my almost-six daughter, her similarly-aged friend, and my three-year-old son.

Well, Max, didn’t make all his own decisions. When his turn came round, he chose one of the pieces in his color, and I chose where on the board to place it. Yesterday was a landmark in his game-playing development in that he seemed to understand and respect the concept of waiting for one’s turn.

So what do you do on your turn? You place one of your pieces on the board so that it touches one of your previously-played pieces at one or more corners. It may not touch another of your pieces along an edge. It may touch another player’s piece. You start the game by placing one of your pieces in an empty corner of the square board.

The game ends for you when you cannot legally place any of your pieces. The game ends altogether when no player can play. The aim is to get all your pieces onto the board. Failing that, you do well to be left with only a few small pieces unplayed.

The photos show a four-player game going from first moves to what I’d consider the end of the opening (or the start of the middle game, as the players meet in the middle of the board) to game end. They show how colorful and attractive the board becomes as the game develops. The visual appeal, along with the simple rules, makes this a good kid/family game.

If, after reading the above, you’re interested in buying Blokus or games like it, you have several broad options. One is to buy it from an online game store. I think I bought my copy from Funagain, where Blokus is currently on sale for $20.

I’m glad to say that Blokus and games like it are more widely played and sold than they were when I was doing a lot of game-buying. New online game stores, such as GameSurplus, have sprung up.

I should apologize for my parochial bias in linking only to USA-based sites. But instead I’ll become yet more parochial in linking to a few stores near Roslindale (and hence near Maddie’s friend Hannah). Eureka! is a good puzzle and game store in Brookline. Near Eureka in Coolidge Corner is the toy store Magic Beans, and nearer to us, in Jamaica Plain, is the toy store Boing! I think I’ve seen Blokus in each of them, although I’m more sure about Beans than about Boing.

Then, to return to online retail, there’s always Amazon. The selection of games there is a lot better than I’d have expected (and found) a few years ago. Amazon even has a video promoting Blokus.

Blokus is an example of a game that’s been successful, and has been part of the wider increase in interest in board games. That wider change is worth a post of its own, and will probably get one soon. But right now, I’ll remain specific to Blokus, and remark that there’s a series of Blokus games.

There’s the smaller version, called Blokus Travel or Blokus Duo depending on the edition. (It’s currently available at Eureka! and at the online retailers mentioned above.) There’s Blokus Trigon, and… but you can go to the official Blokus website and find out more.

In closing, Blokus is excellent as a family game, or as a light filler for groups who usually lean toward heavier games. The basic game strikes me as best with its maximum number of 4 players, but I’ve heard positive reports of it for fewer.

Unity Games, the Organization

Unity Games is many things:

  1. An organization of and for players of designer games in Eastern Massachusetts and beyond.
  2. A collection of gaming groups in that area. For example, I used to host gaming at my apartment in Boston’s South End every Wednesday evening.
  3. An series of open (i.e. no invitation required) gaming events.
  4. A discussion forum, implemented as a Yahoo Group.
  5. Another website, unitygames.org.

I think that most UGers would agree with each entry on the above list, although some might add other items, and many would change the order. The first list entry is a rather general definition, and includes a couple of terms that could themselves use clarification. Let’s start with the designer games that UGers play.

[A] broad class of games that generally have simple rules, short to medium playing times, high levels of player interaction, and attractive physical components.[1] The games emphasise strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.

That definition is from the the Wikipedia article on German-style games The article itself explains the German connection, and presents several alternative terms for the genre. The term designer games is appropriate because the game boxes usually feature the names of the designers.

The other term that might raise questions is organization, which might seem rather heavyweight to describe a collection of people who play games. But, as of today, the Yahoo group has 799 members, and yesterday saw more than 300 people at the 15th open event: that requires organization.

UG, like any organization, has both formal and informal aspects. The formal aspects are things like schedules and policies. For example, Unity Games XV… [was] held Saturday February 7, 2009… at the Woburn Hilton and had a pageful of policies.

Informal, or cultural, aspects of UG include an emphasis on teaching games to others. When I first went to meetings of a UG group (even before UG as such existed) I was impressed by how willing the members were to teach games, and how good their explanations were.

UG has grown considerably since its founding in 2000. Compare UG XV’s attendance of over 300 with UG I’s attendance of under 50 (which was a little higher than expected).

Organizations are subject to growing pains. Good cultural stuff in particularly likely to suffer, for a couple of reasons. First, there are simply more people, and new people. Second, growth often brings the need (real or perceived) to introduce more formal stuff.

UG has done a remarkably good job of hanging on to its culture. For example, teaching games remains important. This may be partly because it is a particularly viral virtue. If someone teaches you a game, does so well, and appears to enjoy doing so, you may be encouraged to teach others. It’s also because this informal aspect now has a formal counterpart, in the form of a teaching area at UG events. Volunteers sign up to teach particular games at particular times.

Another way in which UG is able to grow is that the gaming groups are autonomous. Anyone can start a group, and announce sessions on the UG Yahoo group. Of course, they don’t have to, and some groups are invite-only.

As UG approaches its 10th anniversary next year, it continues to grown without losing its strengths. Since that seems like a good topic sentence for a closing paragraph, I won’t tack on more paragraphs in further support.

Fun, Games, and Family

Having kids changes everything, including the games one plays. I used to play a lot of board and card games, but the time available for that hobby decreased sharply just over five years ago, when Maddie arrived. I have of course played many games with Maddie, and with her younger brother Max, but those games have been along the lines of Peek-a-Boo or Candyland (the former being the more interesting of those two games).

I’m glad to say that Maddie is now five, and able to play some games for which I actually want to be awake. We’ve played a lot of Rat-a-tat Cat since it arrived as a present for Maddie. The same goes for Labyrinth.

It’ll be a while before we’re playing my favorite game together, but it’s a good start.