Post Protospiel Spiel

I was going to write my final post about making a card game today, but I’m still full of ideas and adrenaline, despite being exhausted, from Protospiel Notts yesterday. It was a genuinely fantastic event, big thanks to Chris Kingsnorth for organising it, and Alex for telling me about it (numerous times, weirdly sometimes I need persuading for obviously fantastic ideas). So I just wanted to praise it, and post some tips for myself when going to the next (there has to be a next).

The event itself seemed to be a huge success, definitely from my experience, but I didn’t speak to a single person there who was disappointed in any way. I’ve been to my fair share of playtesting focused events, meetups, and helped run and been on the playtesting stand at conventions, but the atmosphere when an entire day is devoted to it, and everybody is there ready to reciprocate all testing, was very different indeed. Whilst I was initially unsure on reciprocating play, given how game lengths vary so much, it worked perfectly. We played shorter games multiple times, and had snapshots or vertical slices of the longer games.

Also a big shout out to all the people there. Really nice to see a bunch of familiar faces, and everyone was incredibly friendly. Also polite to a fault, always offering to try out somebody else’s game before asking to playtest there’s. There was a real sense of community and working together to make these games the best they can be. And it worked- we’ve managed to improve our next game*, through playing, talking and, mainly, simplifying. Always simplifying.

Some thoughts and tips for my future self and anybody else going to a protospiel:

  • Take a bottle of water. There was free water there, but I still didn’t drink enough. And you’ll end up talking a lot. Also a snack.
  • Remember your book for taking notes. Obvious, but easily forgettable.
  • If you’ve got a game longer than an hour (by a fair margin), work out which part of the game you want playtested. Come up with a consistent setup for the mid-game or end-game if necessary. Otherwise put a time-limit on it and make sure everyone is aware of it.
  • If playing a shorter game, offer to play it multiple times. Especially if yours is twice the length.
  • Listen to all feedback, good or bad, and accept all comments. You might not agree with them, but take them on board. A player’s suggestions might not work, but their feelings are their feelings.
  • Try to find where the fun in the game is. If it’s heavy, choosing the options should be fun, if there’s combat it should be fun for both players, more casual, make sure the fun is clouded by rules.
  • Understand your audience and make it clear to the playtesters. It’s still worth getting all ranges of players to try your prototype, but don’t feel you need to eliminate randomness from your game just because your playtesters were very deep eurogamers. Just make sure they know what they’re playtesting first.
  • Don’t focus on the singular negative feedback! When playtesting Forks I’d have 9/10 people love the game, but my worrying mind would always go back to the 1 who didn’t. No game is universially loved, even Agricola is disliked by someone.
  • However, if multiple people dislike something, it probably needs changing. A question came up, “How do you know if a game is bad, or just not to the players’ tastes?” And the simple answer is the numbers of players feeling each way.
  • Watch people playing, and think about what to record beforehand. Time of game is the obvious one, but also see what people do and what choices they make. It’s good to have hard data, rather than ask them how many times they took a particular action.
  • When playing, try to think about how you are feeling- what are you finding fun, what is preventing you from having more fun, how much are you having to think.
  • When feeding back, don’t suggest changes you’d make without explaining why you’d make them. Some designers don’t want suggestions at all, some do, but the important thing is why you feel that change ought to be made.
  • Be honest but fair with your feedback. Don’t sugar coat anything, but remember that a designer has poured their love into the game before going to town on it.
  • When asking for feedback, try to be specific with your questions. The more specific you are, the better you can hone in on what improvements could be made.
  • Stay in touch with the designer! Share twitter handles or email addresses. Not only is this just a nice way of building the community, it means if an idea pops into your head later on you can let them know.

*Something beautiful coming this way soon

Going Postal

You’ve got all the art, ran a successful Kickstarter and manufactured everything? It’s time to post everything out. This stage is going to be as simple as you make it, but it’s going to cost. We need to consider:

  • Keeping everything in good condition and packaging costs
  • Domestic and foreign postage costs
  • Posting goods abroad (including friendly shipping)
  • Logistics

First thing we need are postage costs. Again, this is primarily for a UK audience, so here are the Royal Mail costs:

Hopefully now you can see why thickness of the deck is important. If you’ve got 50 cards you’ll be about 150g. Expect to pay around £1.32 per game for domestic UK postage. If you’re thickness is 2.6cm, you’re paying £3.00 per game. Might not sound much, but for a small box £12 game that’s a bite either your losing, or your asking your customers to pay.

However, for cheaper and more efficient postage, I used Drop of addressed packages and they’ll post them, and for cheaper too. You don’t get proof of postage, but in return you’ll save hours. If you’ve got ~200 games to post in the UK they come recommended.

Internationally there are a lot of companies who will do friendly batch dispatching, but they simply aren’t worth it for games this size. Here are the international Royal Mail prices

Again, you want to be a large letter at this point, but your looking at around £5 per game no matter where it goes. We partially subsidised this for Forks, moreso for Americans. All batch dispatching companies started at £5 per parcel minimum plus an initial setup payment.

For packaging we went with thin layers of card shrinkwrapped to keep the game free from scuffs. This was measured out to keep the game as a large letter, and we did test posts to make sure everything arrived in perfect condition. For some reason we also sent the mini-expansion as a stretch goal, which meant trying to keep a small pack of cards from getting bent. For this we used glue dots and card, and I haven’t heard anything negative yet (let me know if there was an issue though, please!). Grey polythene postage bags kept the thickness razor thin.

For labels we did a mail-merge from the Kickstarter and just printed them onto labels from a regular printer. However, for international orders there are a few other things you’ll need:

A7 document wallets. For international orders you’ll need to enclose an invoice on the outside for any customs checks. For invoices I just did a mail merge again from Kickstarter with details of how much was paid, how much was paid in shipping, tax paid (0 when not VAT registered).

A CN22 form. These are easy but time consuming to fill in. You’ll be sick of them by the time you finish. It’s all self-explanatory except for HS Tariff number. For a card game the number is 95044000. Make sure you put UK as country of origin (assuming you’ve gone the self-manufacturing route). These you can pick up for free from any post office- just ask and they’ll give them to you. Better you fill them in elsewhere then on the counter.

The total value is there, and it’s probably worth talking about friendly shipping now. Until Brexit is done/revoked Europe is an unknown. Currently you can ship there with no tariffs in place. USA and Australia have high import thresholds which you are not going to breach with a small card game. Check for other types of game, but generally assume you are friendly to the USA and Australia until calculated otherwise. Canada is different. If your game is worth £10 it should be okay depending upon exchange rate. At £12 you’ll likely be above the threshold, and your customer will have to pay tariffs. Tread carefully! If you offer freindly Canadian shipping and charge £12 for the game, you’ll either have to lie on the CN22 and invoice (don’t do this), offer to refund any tarrifs and fees paid by your customers (not ideal at all, and technically not friendly shipping), or find a Canadian distributor (this will cost you more than you have got for the game).

Overall expect to pay ~£1.40 for domestic postage and ~£5.10 for international postage and packaging. If you charge for this on Kickstarter rather than a pledge manager, people will prefer it, but you’ll lose 10% of those postage costs as well. Feel free to subsidise these as much as you think you can, or shift costs to the game (I think people would rather pay £10 for a game and £2 postage, then £8 for a game and £4 postage, even though the total cost is the same), but make sure you’ve considered them. The worst Kickstarter results have been from ignoring p&p.