With all of this talk of the great games coming from Germany, one might wonder if there are any games coming from the U.S. There are in fact, right from our own back yard. Today I want to talk about three of these games from designers here in the capital region. Each of these designers published their game in drastically different ways. I would like to briefly introduce each game and explain how the varied avenues to market impacted the final product.
The first game I would like to focus on is Grave Business by Minion Games, designed by Andy Van Zandt. In another nod to just how varied modern games can be, this is an undead themed spatial auction game with light combat. It sounds like a mouthful, but it’s a ton of fun. A grid of tiles on the main board represents items you are digging up in the graveyard, and players bid by placing their undead creatures on a given row or column. However, your creatures are fragile, freshly reanimated, and so opponents can attack your bids, literally, and return them to the graveyard they came from.
Representing the old guard of this small hobby market, Grave Business was published by a traditional board game publisher. The way this classically works, is designers pitch their game to publishers, both big and small, who then help with the development, art acquisition, and production of the game. Publishers sell the game to the various board game distributors, who then sell to online and local stores, who then sell the game to you. This whole process is still the most common route to get a game to market today, and many of the biggest hits are from these well established publishers. This support from a publisher shows in the quality of the art and production found throughout Grave Business, and it is certainly the best produced game of the three I will cover today.
However, just as I was getting into the hobby, a different path to market was gaining traction. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding sites have given board game designers an alternative way to get their games into the hands of players. Unlike the traditional avenue of publishers, designers can run a crowdfunding campaign where gamers pay for the game up front. These campaigns often have various incentives and bonuses for these early adopters that encourage them to spend more money to improve the final product. Designers then use the money raised through the campaign to produce the game themselves, without a traditional publisher. Many designers use this approach to take their game concepts directly to their target audience. However, without a publisher, designers must handle the development, art, and play testing of a game themselves. Designing a great game is one thing, but producing it is another story! Sometimes the game does not come together due to all this extra overhead. Thankfully Monolith did not fall into any of these common pitfalls.
Monolith is a dice game by Goblin Army games designed by Matt Papa. Players use the dice they roll to select actions from rune cards that change each game, leading to a short fun game that is different each time you play it. With the funding of just 379 fans, Matt was able to produce this game he had designed and play tested at Zombie Planet for months. While going without a publisher added greatly to the work involved, Monolith belongs entirely to its creator. The game has a clean and simple look vs Grave Business fitting both it’s theme and it’s funding model. Art is often the most expensive part of producing a game, and the production decisions for Monolith kept that cost to a minimum.
Finally I want to talk about a game that bypassed both Kickstarter and a traditional publisher and just went to a print- on- demand model. The Decket by P.D. Magnus isn’t a game but rather a system of games. It consists of a deck of cards not unlike a traditional poker deck with a few important differences. One difference is that there are six suits instead of four. The other difference is that most cards have two suits. The designer himself created many games using this system, and also works with other designers to implement their own games using the cards. The game itself is available via the Game Crafter, a site which prints games on demand. You can also buy a book collecting all of the best games designed for the unique card system. The art on all the cards was also designed by P.D. himself, and there is a lot more art than just the face cards in a poker deck. Here there are locations, characters and events illustrated on all of the cards, some of which are used in how a game plays. My personal favorite Decktet game is called Magnate where players build cities with the cards as different buildings. Players must balance turning in cards for the resources to build while holding onto cards that will score them the most points. However there are also more traditional games similar to Hearts or Rummy that you can play with the Decket.
Three very different games with different paths to market. It can be very difficult to design a game, but there are more ways than ever to get your game out there. However, game design is rarely a full time job. Only the most successful designers make enough off their design work to make a living. Matt and P.D both have day jobs that they are passionate about in addition to their design work. Andy was fortunate enough to land a job at one of the major publishers Tasty Minstrel Games, and uses his talents to develop games and continue working on his own designs.
All three games prove that the hobby has more variety than ever before, both in the game play and the ways they were published. Print on demand and Crowdfunding models simply weren’t available a decade ago, but now designers can sell directly to their audience and bypass the traditional publishers completely. And with all this variety to choose from it is a great time to be playing games.