Novice Knights – Chapter 4 “How much is too much?”

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When setting up a Kickstarter for a game such as Novice Knights, one of the first things that everyone asks you is, “What are the stretch goals?”

Inevitably, just about every successful project has some version of stretch goals, but I find many projects do theirs in such a manner that they are insulting their backers. So often, even on the most successful of campaigns, I see stretch goals that include

  1. New cards
  2. New rules
  3. New pieces
  4. More players

Every time I see this, it sends a giant message to me on a billboard. “GAME IS NOT COMPLETE AS ADVERTISED. IF I DON’T GET WAY MORE BACKERS THAN MY FUNDING GOAL, YOU WILL RECEIVE AN INCOMPLETE GAME.”

Now, is that what these creators are tying to tell their backers? No, of course not. They are trying to incentivized further funding through optional additions to the game. The problem is, they are doing this piece mail, and while I’m sure they have thought about the balance of each and every change, they are inevitably selling a game that is not quite 100% of what they originally intended. I am all about expanding games, but if you want to do that, it should be done as a complete, optional, expansion; not piece mail.

That is why, no matter how you slice it, Novice Knights will be released as a whole game. There will be no “additional player” goal. There will be no “added cards” goal.

Another flaw, that I think could often be fatal to a start up game maker is the idea that some stretch goals will also include novelty items or perks, such as T-shirts or whatever. The logistical nightmare that is involved in trying to fulfill hundreds, if not thousands of orders is enough in itself, but you are almost certainly not manufacturing your key chain or T-shirt in the same place you are manufacturing your game. As such, you would either need to pack them yourself (time consuming and expensive) or have a fulfillment center do that on your behalf (expensive with multiple items). These items, while nice as a gesture, will take any earnings you might of had, and flush them down the drain. Good luck making Game #2.

“So Jim, if you’re not going to offer additional features, and you’re not going to use an air cannon to send me my free T-shirt, what can I expect in stretch goals from Novice Knights?”

That’s a great question, and that is exactly what I’m here today to answer.

  1. Improved Parts
  2. Creative License

Those are the only two things I can reasonably say a startup game manufacturer should ever offer as a stretch goal, and here’s why.

Improved Parts: The game is complete, but not all complete game are created equal. Improving the quality of the parts used in manufacturing is a way to show backers that you care about them, and that their continued support is important. As you increase your back base, the number of orders will grow. As the number of orders/units grow, the economies of scale will start to reduce the cost per unit. Instead of just hoarding that money for yourself, reinvesting that money into higher quality game components not only shows the backers that you care, but it will make for a better end product, which will result in more orders post campaign, and will likely help generate a following that will want to back your future games.

Creative License: Now this one is a little bit trickier than Improved Parts, but in other ways, it is simpler. For any game being created, there are a number of pieces of art, graphic design, names, settings, etc. For the game to function as designed, none of these factors matter. For a game to be successful though, the game will need to execute these areas very well. While some game makers like to include custom art as a stretch goal or perk, I think that is going a bit far. What is not going too far is allowing items, characters, cards, etc to have their names selected as a reward. It will not affect the general aesthetics of the game, it will not affect the mechanics, but it still allows your backers to have some creative license with the game itself. While depending on your theme, the number of backers you can allow to do this might be limited (If you do a theme with established names/places this become more difficult), if you have a fully original theme, you are only limited by the number of items the game has to offer.

For example, the Dragons of Novice Knights will be available to be named by backers of a certain pledge level.

While opinions vary, I am truly vested in what I want to deliver as a  game to my future backers, and what I want to get them is the best, complete game possible, regardless of funding level.

No T-Shirt included.

 

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Novice Knights – Chapter 3 “Who to work with”

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Deciding who you are going to work with and who you are going to draw advice from is a vital step in developing a board game. While the development of the board game itself and the mechanics of that game will go on to determine the quality of the game itself for the players, if you don’t find the right people to work with, you will either

A.) Not get your project off the ground, or

B.) Get your project off the ground, but flop

While we here at Novice Knights are still early on in our game production, it became very clear from Jump Street just how important finding the right influence and partners would be.

I won’t go into too much detail on why I am influenced by or working with any of the following, but I will try to give a brief overview.

BoardGamesMaker.com is the first that I would like to mention. I am using them for developing my prototypes. While the shipping costs are a little high from China for a limited print prototype run (The prototypes are for play-testing only), and the per unit cost will be through the roof (Manufacturing alone will be more than MSRP for a completed game, when it’s usually about 15-20% of MSRP), they offer a wide selection of fully customizable board game components with no minimum order requirements. Basically the economies of scale are in fully effect here, and if you only order 5 of something (far less than the 1,000-10,000 that is normal in a board game print run), it is going to cost far more per unit. What I like is that I can get a prototype with full art that feels like a completed game without a minimum print order.

Second, I would like to mention Panda. A fantastic and well respected company that makes it their business to make sure that individuals, especially in America, have direct access to a project manger that works with manufacturers in China. The vast majority of startup game manufacturers go through China for their printing, and having a team dedicated to making that process work, instead of having to navigate it yourself, is truly invaluable. My only real fear is that I will meet my own personal funding goal, but not exceed it. If that is the case, my print run will have to be smaller than the minimum Panda allows, and I will have to self manufacture. I am crossing my fingers that I can reach the bench mark I need to in order to make this product with them.

Third I would like to mention someone that I am working with on this project, but the other person doesn’t even know it. Jamey at Stonemaier Games is by far one of the greatest partners a person could ever have. I could list the countless things he has done for me here, but it would take too long. The funny thing is, Jamey doesn’t even realize the impact or the mentorship that has been formed. I should probably tell him. You might be wondering how there can be such a deep connection to a person without the other person knowing. It is possible because of Jamey’s generosity. He openly shares COUNTLESS articles and pieces of advice on the very topic of board game manufacturing. He shares, free of charge, everything you could ever need to know about this type of project. He’s done such a remarkable job, that his most recent game was beyond wildly successful. I plan to eventually reach out to him and see if I can pick his brain a bit, but I’m pretty positive that happens to him on a daily basis, so I’m going to wait for the moment to arise organically.

Lastly, I would like to mention my artist Hedi. Hedi has been a delight to work with, and her style of drawing is how I’ve imagined my game sense its inception. It is so much fun to watch her bring my ideas to life through art. While the rules and specifications of the game will certainly be the most critical aspect to the game’s success, Hedi’s hard work and imagination will certainly be the thing that brings this game to a wider audience, and will make (hopefully) countless players fall in love with theme and story.

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Novice Knights – Chapter 2 “Game Difficulty”

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Anyone who has played board games with any regularity will know that there are some games, that while fun, are just an absolute beast to learn and set up. As such, they are found beyond an artificial wall for most players, where the time and effort required to play them are just not something that they are willing to overcome.

The look on a person’s face the first time they play Axis and Allies, when they’ve only ever played Risk is about the same as the look a person gives when they’re learning Chess and they’ve only ever played Checkers.

While there will always be the select few who enjoy the challenge of learning lengthy and obscure rules to lengthy and obscure games, I would like to think that most people do not.

The difficulty I’ve run into while creating Novice Knights is not the age group or balance to the game, but instead the ease of entry when it comes to rules and game play. My overall goal was to create a game that was:

  1. Appropriate for nearly all ages in regards to content
  2. Appropriate for most ages (8 or 10+) in regards to difficulty
  3. Fun for all ages that the game is appropriate for
  4. Able to be learned by all ages that the game is appropriate for

Number 1 was one of the easiest goals to achieve. Originally the game had a section called “The Brothel”. As it was pointed out to me by one of my friends a few months ago, just the terminology of a Brothel and the people who worked there, I would be limiting my audience to probably 16+, but at the very least 13+. Because I want the accessibility of this game to reach all the way down to 8+, the obvious change was made to turn the Brothel into “The Inn”.

Numbers 2-4 were a bit trickier in the development phase, because making something that is able to be learned by an 8 year old, but still fun for a 20 or 40 year old, can be a bit tricky. This is what I have been working on for quite a while now, and I think you’ll like what we did.

We took game style and game play techniques from several of the easiest games there are to learn, and divided them up into sections of the game. For example, we have:

  1. A basic “Roll the Dice and Advance” section of the game
  2. A basic “Tile selection” section of the game
  3. A basic “Card Draw and Set Completion” section of the game

On top of these three sections, we have added an additional mechanic of resource allocation, which is determined at the start of the game when the player decides how many resources to dedicate to each of the three sections above.

What this allows us to do is create what can be played as a complex, fun, advanced game for more experienced players, that is not difficult to learn for beginners. Each section in itself probably takes less than 30-60 seconds to understand the rules, about one or two play-throughs to truly grasp, while allowing more advanced players numerous games before a definitive strategy is developed. You can learn this game in just a couple minutes, but mastering it will take some time, and will be variable depending on the play style of your opponents.

All this being said, there is enough luck built into the game, that while more experienced players will typically win with a more developed strategy, it is not a sure thing, and the more novice players in the game still stand a real chance to be competitive. This of course is tailored specifically for replay-ability among a wide range of skill levels.

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Novice Knights – Chapter 1 “Game Origin”

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With our first post, we thought it prudent to share with you the origin story for the game mechanics of our inaugural board game Novice Knights (which also happens to be the name of our Board Game Division). We could share with you the thousands of little details that have gone into this game, and over time, we’re sure we will, but for now, let’s focus on the actual reason that Novice Knights was designed the way it was.

To understand Novice Knights, first you have to understand my personal history with board games.

My name is Jim, and I love board games. Understanding my love of board games goes all the way back to when I never won a single board game. Back in the dark ages known as. . . My childhood!

When I was young, my family used to play board games on a semi-regular basis. Not every night, but often enough that it is one of my fondest memories as a child. When I was younger, games often went unfinished, and I almost certainly never won. The middle child and only boy in the family, most often my mother would win, and here’s why: My father never cared about winning.

To this day, I still have no idea if he actually enjoyed playing board games. Regardless, I know that he did not care in the least about winning. How did I know this as a young child you might ask? Because games were played and won the same way every single time. We would start by choosing a game, typically Classic Risk. Once the game was all set up and ready to go, we would begin, just like any other family, except within a turn or two, the same thing would happen every single time.

  1. I would attack my father
  2. My older sister would attack me
  3. My younger sister would be bored and stop playing
  4. My father and my mother would make an alliance

These things happened in no particular order, but all four of them would happen without exception. What followed next would also always happen, without exception.

  1. I would over commit to attacking my father or revenge against my older sister
  2. Younger sister wasn’t really playing to begin with (She was usually teamed up with someone else), but she would exit the game completely, usually falling asleep.
  3. My older sister would attempt late game diplomacy
  4. My father would hold sacred the alliance he formed with my mother
  5. My mother would equally attack my older sister and I

At this point, the weakest player was typically myself or my old sister. The alliance that my mother and father formed would team up to eliminate one of us. Typically me. Once one of us was eliminated, this is when things would get interesting.

If my father was strong, which he usually wasn’t due to my persistent attacks, my mother would continue the alliance, and destroy the other child. If my father was weak, which he typically was at this point, my mother would prematurely break the truce and destroy my father. She would collect his cards and reap the mid/late game benefit of cashing in for all those glorious armies. The remaining child would usually forfeit at this point.

So why did we allow this to happen?

  • I was too stupid and pigheaded at the age of 12 to realize there was an alternative.
  • My older sister was attempting to play like my mother, but she wasn’t as skilled.
  • My younger sister didn’t care much for games at this point.
  • My father kept his alliances, regardless of the consequences.
  • My mother actually enjoyed playing games and winning.

When I think about board games, I always think back on these relationships and how they are effective, and how they aren’t. In order to have a competitive game, you need to have a combination of all types of players. In order to have a truly competitive game, you have to have games that vary by nature, and players that by nature vary their play style. Otherwise, you will keep on playing the same game and you will keep on having the same outcome.

So how does this affect the Origins of Novice Knights?

Well Novice Knights appeals to all different types of players. From the hardcore player who loves nothing more than the 30 minutes it takes just to set up Axis and Allies, to the little sister who is bored 20 minutes into the game. The mechanics of Novice Knights allows for a distribution of wins among skilled and unskilled players alike.

While the lion’s share of the wins will always go to the more skilled and cunning players, the mechanics of the game are not built in such a way that my mother will always win.

 

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