Archive for category New Bedford
This article has been a long time coming. Way back before the first New Bedford Kickstarter in 2014, I was starting to wrap up the expansions for New Bedford (now collected in Rising Tides). I had noticed a real uptick in the number of “solo variants” for games I followed on BGG, so I started to think that people were going to want a solo variant for New Bedford. But it would be another year of work before I actually got a solo mode I was happy with. In the roughly two years since I started working on the solo mode, a lot of new resources have appeared to assist designers of solo games, and I think it’s helpful to talk about how the Lonely Ocean mode was developed with regard to some of these resources. Read the rest of this entry »
The solo mode was the last thing to be added into New Bedford. But it was not a last minute addition. I had already started considering a solo mode before the initial campaign launched. At the time it was rough, and the extra few months I got before the relaunch enabled me to develop it considerably. Read the rest of this entry »
When I originally designed New Bedford, one of my goals was a fast game. So I limited the game to 4 players at most. This also made it easy to track building ownership around a square board. And, when I ran the numbers, it worked out very well for the number of buildings and whale tokens I could fit on a sheet of paper. [Perhaps you could argue that I subconsciously chose all the numbers precisely to fit the paper size, but either way it’s funny how often these little things seem to work out.]
And four players was fine. I rarely sat down to play with a group larger than four. But every once in a while, I found that it would be helpful to play with one more. It’s easy to see the advantage of adding an additional player, as it makes the game accessible to a lot of groups. Looking around at the games I liked and respected, many of them played up to five out of the box. So I began trying to figure out how to make a fifth player work.
As I previously discussed in Part 7, In the basic game, turn order is fixed, but the game length was set to give every player an equal chance at going first. With a fifth player, that balance goes out the window unless you make the game a few rounds longer, which I didn’t want to do. Other concerns were running out of whale tokens or buildings.
I really tried to avoid adding the “first player” space, as many games do, but a variable turn order was the only solution I had. And so, I added the “Wheelhouse” that allows a player to take the ship’s wheel, which serves as the first player marker. Yes, I know that’s a part of a ship, and not a building per se, but it immediately ties it to taking the ship’s wheel. I could have gone with Captain’s House, I suppose, but that was already in use.
It would have to be a town action, so it needed a bonus and regular action, and that gave me an opportunity to put my own spin on it. Instead of taking the ship’s wheel as the bonus action, taking the wheel is the basic action, and the bonus is taking $2. Let me restate this: the last player who takes the action spot in a round becomes the captain. This guarantees that one player can’t monopolize the space multiple rounds in a row (which would be inefficient anyway). The $2 can either be a nice bonus or a consolation if someone goes on to claim the wheel after you. And it introduces a small amount of money which I expect to be a little tighter with more players.
With the addition of a fifth player, I had an opportunity to look at some new actions that wouldn’t work with fewer players. I wanted buildings that increase interactivity by keying off of other players. Part of my motivation was to keep players involved, since it would be longer between turns. It was surprisingly difficult to find abilities that were unique, balanced, took advantage of the increased player counts, while keeping direct negative player interaction low.
A few of the new buildings were simple: a building that reduced the ability to block building action spaces, a building that could disable other player buildings. That became the College and Empty Lot, respectively. I needed another bonus building, and decided to add the Rectory, which is like a small version of the Seamen’s Bethel, but requires another player to own it. This keeps one player from being able to grab 10 easy points, while adding some strategy in timing.
I also wanted to carefully add the ability to take money from other players (with the Chemist’s Shop/Unpub Labs already providing the ability to take resources). To balance this between player counts, the Almshouse takes $3 from a single player. This ends up being one of the most inefficient ways of getting money, but the net gain against a single player is decent, and has the potential to impact carefully laid plans. The Firehouse went through several iterations, dealing with wood cost in buildings, but the final version is straightforward. It also scales better, since it becomes more difficult for all 5 players to build 3 or 4 buildings.
Of course, all of these extra buildings and Wheelhouse can also be used in games with as few as 3 players. And the buildings, in particular, can be mixed in with any other buildings as normal. But they won’t really make sense in a 2-player game. One odd consequence of a 5th player is that the 4-sided town board needed to change. A board add-on to keep the 90° angles while adding perimeter space was considered, but the final result will be a roughly pentagonal board. While less thematic than a grid of streets, it was the most effective way to add a 5th player, and the regular 2-4 player board will still be included in the box.
As a final note, this was definitely something that I felt was more appropriate as a stretch goal, because it wasn’t part of the core design. It adds extra mechanics, but only the few player tokens needed to accommodate the extra player–no new whale tokens or resources–and it’s not something that we felt was necessary to enjoy the game. In short, it’s not simply something that was simply held back as a marketing gimmick. It really couldn’t have been added without the support of so many backers.
What a wild ride. Thanks to over 2000 backers, New Bedford‘s second campaign earned over $100, 000, making it the third most successful Dice Hate Me Games Kickstarter, behind Compounded and its expansion. Admittedly, the campaign was a bit of a Nantucket sleigh ride, where we grabbed on at the beginning and just tried to hold on for the rest of the campaign. There were a few course corrections mid-campaign, but in the end, I’m really proud of the product we will be able to bring to the backers.
I sat down earlier this week to talk to Isaac and Stephanie on the On Board Games Crowdfunding Edition, and we talked about what it was like to relaunch and what made the campaign different. That episode should be available this weekend, here. But I wanted to spend some more time going through the details of what we learned from this second time around. In no particular order:
- Nobody knows nothing about nothing. After the first attempt, we didn’t know what to expect. We still thought there was a lot of support and that the changes would help it to fund. We were taken by surprised when we woke up to discover it had funded in less than 24 hours.
- Don’t rely on one silver bullet to make your project successful. Because we made so many small changes, that also means that we don’t know exactly what made it work and what didn’t. But it’s important that whether it’s your first time or your 10th time, you can’t count on any single thing to get people on board. Don’t overlook any avenue that can encourage backers to support you.
- Simplify Shipping. Last time, there were three pledge levels, depending on shipping, but Kickstarter added the ability to calculate shipping separately since the first campaign. This means we could set the base price to the retail cost (actually a little better). Hitting that $29 price point is big, and even with $9 US shipping, it’s less than the first campaign’s price.
- No really, Simplify shipping. Shipping a single copy internationally is very expensive. But shipping costs on the New Bedford campaign were fixed no matter how many copies you pledged for. This means domestic shipping, too. There were still several comments asking to reduce the international shipping, but there was also a lot of interest in international group buys. This will be a bit of an experiment, so we’ll see how it works. I’m curious to see how many backers ordered multiple copies.
- Art is what people see. People want to see what they get. And the art for the relaunch is so striking. The artist, Nolan Nasser, really did a great job making it stand apart from your typical bland euro, while still capturing that feel. With the art in place, we got a much bigger reaction from the community.
- Feedback is Engagement. When we posted an early version of the cover art, some comments made us go back and reconsider the cover. We made some changes based on feedback and got an explosion of support for the updated art, sitting on top of the BGG image hotlist for a week. And we continued to listen to backers art as we go through the campaign. Many said the town board was too bland, and we added more detail to make it really outstanding. Like any feedback, you have to choose what to use, but by showing backers we were listening, they were more invested in continuing to support the project.
- People Love Custom. This wasn’t something I didn’t know before, but the level of enthusiasm for the custom resource tokens was more than expected. Sadly, it means that the mnemonic of disks=$1 and cubes =$2 is lost, but that’s a small price to pay for awesome pieces. However, this goes both ways, because there’s also a lot of enthusiasm behind custom whaleeples (whale shaped wooden tokens instead of the cardboard bits). This was something we encountered on the first campaign, and it just doesn’t work with the design. But I don’t think anybody is dropping their pledge or refusing to back over it, either.
- Player Count Counts. For one thing, people will ask how your game scales. Lots of people play primarily with 2, and it was important that those people knew that the two player game wasn’t a hack or tacked on; it was part of the design from the start. For another, between the first and second campaigns, I really took note of how important player count is to a Kickstarter campaign. I read about a poll that showed that something like 50% of players cite the inclusion of a 5th player or solo game as the most important factor in picking a game. Not every game can support that, but it’s worth considering. I’ll share more about how the fifth player and solo games came about in a segment of Notes from New Bedford.
- You don’t create buzz. At least, not directly. Before the first launch, we were hitting a bunch of podcasts to spread the word, and I was doing several interviews on other designers’ blogs. I was worried we had used up all of that energy or good will, since we couldn’t do it all again. But it didn’t seem hurt the second campaign any more than it helped the first campaign. This is a bit of a surprise, since I frequently hear other designers doing the same thing on multiple podcasts ahead of a launch. I don’t know exactly what this all means, but I suspect the lesson is that a media blitz needs time to develop into a buzz. From small ripples, mighty waves grow.
- Prepare for more than your Expectations. We had updates ready for all the listed stretch goals to 2x funding. By the time we realized we were going to hit the last stretch goal during GenCon, we were already in the middle of preparing (which was a lot more work for GTG than I realized), and it was too late. We appeared to go silent after hitting the last listed stretch goal, but there just wasn’t time at GenCon to plan for new goals. I’m sure we probably lost a few backers who were expecting updates, and we might have lost a little momentum, so it’s important to have that stuff in place, just in case.
- Make component quality clear. DHMG always goes straight to the thick cardboard and premium component quality. Never any “upgraded card stock” stretch goals. That wasn’t clear on the page, and a lot of comments were asking for increases in quality. So if you’re already at premium component quality, make it clear.
- People Don’t Read Updates. Even people who are enthusiastic about your project like to “Set it and Forget It” after backing. We added Nantucket as an add-on around 60k, but even many friends didn’t realize it until we mentioned it. So if it’s not automatically included in stretch goals or pledge levels from the beginning, people might miss it. We ended up talking about it in three separate updates, and there were still people who discovered they missed it after the campaign ended. Fortunately, it looks like those backers will be able to get copies, too.
- Know when Enough is Enough. Our last stretch goal was at $80k. There were a few ideas that we could have added, but we had already made the game everything we wanted it to be. A big part of the DHMG philosophy is that you increase value by making the best game possible, not by just filling a box with stuff.
This campaign was bigger than I had expected, but was what we thought New Bedford deserved after the first campaign. I don’t think you can ever do everything perfectly, but our experience relaunching helped us get a lot right. So here’s a big THANK YOU to all of the backers, the GTG team, everyone who stopped by at GenCon, and really everyone who helped make this one of the most successful Dice Hate Me Games projects. This literally could not have happened without all of your help. My final piece of advice comes by way of Mark Twain:
“So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
In All, Four special tokens survived from the initial development of the Ship’s Log. They are not, strictly speaking, part of the Ship’s Log, but they all include reference cards which act as Ship’s Log cards, if that inspansion is included. Three of the items are whales, or whale-related, and I felt it was important that they still be tokens, to keep the excitement of drawing them from the bag. The fourth is not a whale, but it made sense in the prototype to keep the tokens in groups of 4, and it made sense to give it its own token.
While working on New Bedford, there were a lot more aspects to the history that I wanted to include through expansions. One particular question I was asked several times during development was “Where is the White Whale?” Moby Dick is so closely associated with whaling in popular culture that it becomes somewhat conspicuous in its absence. I wrote in the last part that I wanted to keep the separation between the book and the game, but of course I couldn’t completely ignore it, either. So a “White Whale” expansion was one of the first expansions I tried to develop. Read the rest of this entry »