Aug 12 2020
Mark Wootton – Developers Diary #1
In 1971 I was taken on a daylong school field trip to a local country park In the UK. I had a friend on that trip that was interested in birds, and before we went, he spent some time explaining what we might see. Within the first few minutes we were treated to the sight of House Martins swooping and diving for insects and returning to their nests under the eaves of a house next to the park. I was hooked. Over the course of the next year I developed a real interest in birds.
The next year on vacation in the Highlands of Scotland I told my parents, that their 12-year-old son knew what his life was going to look like – I was going to be a ranger looking after the natural heritage of Scotland.
During my first summer vacation from college I got a job in that same country park that I first visited in 1971, leading guiding walks and putting on talks. I went on to have other ranger jobs in different parts of the UK, and the year that I turned 30 I became the head ranger for a region of Scotland. It felt like that 12-year-old boy was living the dream!
What I should also mention is that 12-year-old boy also had a passion for games, the same friends that went out birding on a Saturday morning spent the rest of the weekend playing Risk, Buccaneer, Campaign and many of the roll and move games that were around in the 70’s.
By the time the 90’s rolled around I was also in with the CCG revolution playing firstly Magic, then Legend of the Five Rings. It was in 2004 AEG asked me to undertake a development consultancy for them on Legend of the Five Rings, through their player design team. It was a blast! And from there our relationship grew and blossomed, so that it was only natural that games would become a bigger part of my professional life when I finally left rangering in 2010.
For the first part of my working life I was able to work at my passion for nature, and relax playing games. Now that has reversed and I spend my professional time on games and enjoy the majesty and beauty of British Columbia, where I emigrated to in 2014, to relax.
It will, therefore, come as no surprise that I loved it when Wingspan was released – I am a fan!
I had spoken of to John Zinser multiple times about my desire to collaborate on games that were natural world focused. Turns out 2019 was a great year for that. I was already working with John Clair on Ecos, which was going to press early that year, and in late 2018 I was presented with a game AEG was planning to sign about Monarch butterfly migration by a designer named Elizabeth Hargrave. It turned out she was about to release another game, dealing with birds and bird habitats, which we discovered, shortly after signing Mariposas, was being touted a game that “might do quite well”!
Not only was I going to be working on a great game, but also I had the opportunity to learn about a whole bunch of the natural history of the butterfly, with another designer that was clearly inspired by nature. As a relative newcomer to North America this was something different from the Orange Tip, Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies that I was used to seeing back in Scotland. Not only did I learn about the Monarch, but I was drawn through the game into the narrative that is the story of their multi-generational migration. This was going to be fun!
Aug 7 2020
Elizabeth Hargrave – Designers Diary #2
According to my computer files, my first draft of Mariposas was in 2014. I remember that the inspiration first struck while I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior – which is about monarch butterflies and climate change. I played several versions of an early Mariposas against myself, but just wasn’t happy with how it was working. So I set it aside and dove much harder into the bird game that I was working on, instead.
I didn’t bring Mariposas off the shelf again until the summer of 2018, when I was done with Wingspan and waiting for it to be released. AEG had put out a call specifically looking for women designers to submit games by the end of November, which would put them on track to be part of AEG’s Big Game Night at Gen Con in 2020.
I was feeling vastly outnumbered in the game design world. I attended monthly playtesting events where I was often the only woman. That spring, two popular design contests had picked long lists of finalists – and each included just one woman. (For the next design contest I saw, I created Tussie Mussie in a bit of a fury over this.) To say that I appreciated a publisher trying to do something to shift the balance would be a vast understatement. It meant a lot.
So I got to work. My vision for Mariposas was that it would be a gateway-weight game, because kids and newcomers will be attracted to a butterfly theme. I wanted it to tell the story of the monarch migration and lifecycles, with:
- Butterflies moving on a map in a way that mimics actual migration patterns,
- The ability to make more butterflies with milkweed
- Flowers as some sort of currency.
Moving around the map
It was clear Mariposas should include an element of moving butterflies on a map, but it took a while to settle on the right mechanism for movement. I had started with a system that included flowers as a payment, and a whole system for getting the flowers, but it was too complicated. Eventually I came up with a deck of movement cards. The cards trade off between distance and flower collection: some let you move fewer spaces and get more flowers, while the longest moves give you just one flower at the end.
Simplifying even further, I realized I could give each player just 2 cards at a time. More cards overwhelmed players as they tried to see all the permutations of how they could move multiple butterflies on a hex-based map, without necessarily giving them better choices. The interesting decisions are all in the paths you can find on the board to do as much as possible.
Making more butterflies with flowers and milkweed
From early on, I had butterfly pieces labelled for the 4 generations of butterflies that hatch each year, because I think the fact that no single butterfly ever makes the round trip from Mexico to the north and back again is one of the most fascinating parts of the monarch story. Working out exactly how those different generations should come on and off the board took some work.
Any butterfly on the board can pay flowers to hatch a butterfly from the next generation, but only if it lands next to a milkweed symbol. The placement of those milkweed symbols was an important breakthrough in the design: I originally had them on single spaces, just like a flower, which made it much more challenging to get to them, and meant you didn’t collect a flower from that space when you went to hatch a butterfly. My playtesting buddy Matthew O’Malley had the insight that putting the milkweed in between the hexes would give players a lot more flexibility.
To echo the annual cycle of monarchs, one generation of butterflies comes off the board at the end of each round. To make sure this doesn’t result in someone getting wiped out of the game entirely, I let players have a free butterfly from the next generation at the same time. This became an unexpectedly interesting decision point in the game: should you pay to put that butterfly out before scoring happens, or to wait to get it for free?
Mimicking migration patterns
My first draft of Mariposas had encouraged players to move their butterflies based on latitude lines and tagging locations — based on projects like Monarch Watch that put tiny sticker tags on monarchs’ wings. There were monthly rewards and requirements. When I picked it back up, I quickly distilled this down into three seasons. I went through a brief phase of trying modular pieces on the board before settling on fixed regions, with varied goals.
I really like games that have intermediate scoring rounds, to give you some short-term focus. In Mariposas, each round has a distinctly different feel. The goals in spring reward you for going north and starting to reproduce; in the summer you’ll probably want to get as many butterflies on the board as you can, and location goals may encourage players to spread out on the board. Then, in the fall, there’s always a big reward for getting as many butterflies as possible from your fourth generation back to Mexico, along with some other bonuses you can pick up with butterflies that don’t make it back.
The result is that your player pieces on the board will often look remarkably like actual maps of the monarch migration.
Pitching to AEG
At the end of November 2018, I sent a video pitch to AEG with the game as I had it. I knew it needed some more work, but I also was pretty confident that what I was sending was already a really solid game. I heard back from them in January while I was in Guatemala, and sent a prototype off to California as soon as I got back. Soon I heard back that they had played Mariposas and wanted to sign it. They assigned Mark Wootton to be the developer – he’s not just an accomplished designer and developer, but a former park ranger. It was a match made in heaven!
Aug 3 2020
STATEMENT ABOUT JOHN ZINSER’S HEALTH
03 August 2020
Friends, partners, customers, and industry insiders, we have some difficult news to share. On Thursday July 30, John Zinser, our CEO and fearless leader was taken to the hospital and a subsequent CT scan revealed a mass in his brain which required surgery on Saturday, August 1st. We are awaiting the result of the pathology report but there are some encouraging signs that the mass was benign. As a result of these events John is going to be on Injured Reserve for the foreseeable future.
Due to the global COVID19 pandemic John cannot have visitors at the hospital and he is not able to take phone calls or respond to email at this time. Conditions at the hospital also mean that he isn’t able to receive gifts or flowers.
John’s wife Julie is being supported by her and John’s family and of course by those of us at AEG as well.
The family requests that you respect their privacy during this time and that you direct any questions or concerns that you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the interim, Ryan Dancey will be assuming John’s duties as CEO, and the AEG leadership team of Ryan, Nicolas Bongiu and Luke Peterschmidt will be continuing to carry out the company’s 2020 strategic plan. We will be reviewing John’s inbox to ensure that any and all matters which were pending a decision from him or action by him are taken in a reasonably short time. Any business concerns that you may have can be addressed to email@example.com as well.
All of us at AEG are hopeful that John will make a full and speedy recovery and be back at the helm soon. We thank you in advance for your show of support and positive thoughts.
The AEG Leadership Team.
Jul 31 2020
Elizabeth Hargrave – Designers Diary #1
In 2002, I quit my job working for a US Senator, got married, rented out my apartment, and hit the road with my husband. We planned to travel for six months: camping and visiting friends across the US, down the California coast, and back east as far as Austin. We left our car with friends in Austin, flew to Belize City, spent almost a month learning Spanish in a tiny town in Guatemala, and started working our way back north by bus.
And so it was in early 2003 that we found ourselves in Michoacán, Mexico, debating the pros and cons of hitchhiking on the back of a logging truck to get up a steep hill – the last leg of the journey to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
The vast majority of monarch butterflies in eastern North America migrate to Mexico for the winter, a journey of up to 3,000 miles. And they don’t go just anywhere in Mexico – they make their way to about a dozen specific mountain slopes where the conditions are just right for them to survive the winter. No single butterfly ever makes the round trip. In fact, there are generally four generations of monarchs in a year – so the butterflies that return to Mexico in the fall are the great-grandchildren of the butterflies that left in the spring.
Imagine what it must be like to be there when half a continent worth of butterflies return to this tiny region. It’s estimated that about 300 million monarchs made the journey in the fall of 2018. The butterflies arrive around the Day of the Dead, and local traditions say they are the spirits of ancestors returning to visit.
The monarchs roost in huge evergreen oyamel trees on cool, cloudy days, gaining a little extra warmth by huddling together. I remember arriving in the reserve and seeing trees that looked like they had autumn leaves – and gradually realizing that each one of those leaves was an orange butterfly with its wings folded. Then the sun came out, and clouds of butterflies took to the air all around us. It is an experience I will never forget.
The clouds of butterflies have been decreasing at an alarming rate. A few decades ago, the migratory population of eastern monarchs was over a billion. The 300 million in 2018 was a particularly good year in a stretch of much worse numbers – the population was as low as 34 million in 2014, and probably about 150 million in 2019.
On the northern end of the journey, weedy patches of milkweed plants — monarch caterpillars’ only food source — are becoming fewer and fewer due to land development and agricultural herbicide use. In Mexico, the oyamels are being poached, and also starting to show stress from climate change. Early in 2020, 2 men associated with the monarch reserve were found dead — many assume at the hands of the illegal loggers.
My primary goal with Mariposas was just to tell the amazing story of the monarch migration. But the little things that those of us who live in the eastern US and Canada can do to help them survive are integrated into the game, because they’re the things that monarchs need. As monarchs move around the map, they land on nectar-giving flowers – the fuel for their 3,000 mile journey. If they land next to a milkweed icon, they can make new butterflies. In cities, they can collect bonus-giving waystation tokens – a nod to the Monarch Watch waystation program. Just as Wingspan has inspired a few gamers to become birders, perhaps Mariposas will inspire a few people to plant their own monarch waystations to help provide nectar and milkweed and sustain the next generations of monarchs on their journey.
Jun 6 2020
Dead Reckoning #3 But I don’t wanna be a Pirate!!
It would be easy to describe Dead Reckoning as “a Pirate Game”. But that would be an incorrect classification.
At least once per game someone quotes the Seinfeld puffy shirt episode. “But I don’t want to be a Pirate.” Inevitably someone chooses the merchant or explorer path for their ship and they are more than happy to avoid combat whenever possible.
I think this shows a new era of enlightened game design. 20 years ago we would have said, “it’s a pirate game” and that would be that. The modern game design team sees a swashbuckling game. Options to be “good” or “evil,” aggressive” or “passive,” “sneaky” or “assertive” are all baked into the design and are tools for the players to use as they see fit. All play styles are welcome and work.
You will never be forced to attack another player or raid a merchant ship. The islands you control may, however, be asked to defend themselves. Our advice for any peace loving players is to speak softly but carry a big stick. Try not to make yourself the biggest target on the seas and when you are the biggest target make sure that the price to attack you is prohibitively high. Merchants and explorers can bulk up their ships and crew with combat cards and abilities. This way when you are attacked you can give as good or better than you get, and scallywags and wanna-be pirates will sneak away to find softer prey.
If you are building a merchant route make sure to protect your islands. Level-up your Purser (the member of your crew who specializes in Island development) but don’t forget your First Mate (who can drop Garrisons and Forts onto your islands to help them fend off attackers).
There are 9 objectives in the game. In order to trigger the endgame one player must complete 4 of them. 7 of the 9 objectives do not require you to focus on battles, and both of the battle objectives can be achieved while defending.
If you are playing with the Saga Expansion content, the vast majority of the new material can be discovered without firing a shot.
A Note for Pirates and Privateers: It’s not all sunny days and calm waves. Every ship is a prize and every island is worth taking. If you know your crew is stalwart and your cannon are accurate, hoist the Jolly Roger and earn a name for yourself as a terror of the seas! Every great yarn needs a villain! ?
Join us- LINKS TO SIGN UP
Jun 4 2020
AEG is very excited to be able to announce that we will be the distribution publishing partner for the game Calico! This is the first game to come out of the Flatout Games CoLab project.
What is Calico?
Calico is a puzzly tile-laying game of quilts and cats. In Calico, players compete to sew the coziest quilt as they collect and place patches of different colors and patterns. Each quilt has a particular pattern that must be followed, and players are also trying to create color and pattern combinations that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also able to attract the cuddliest cats!
Calico was Kickstarted in October of 2019 and raised just over $200,000 from more than 6700 backers.
It has received critical acclaim from many folks in the board game industry, and you can learn more about the game by visiting this link to the Kickstarter page:
How did this game end up on AEG’s radar?
We had recently worked with Flatout Games (Molly, Robert, and Shawn) on Point Salad and the upcoming 2020 Big Game Night release Truffle Shuffle. In fact, I started drafting this blog post in January as we were finishing up our second design summit at the Larkstone house.
The Flatout Games Team is pulling triple duty right now as start-up entrepreneurs often do. On top of holding down full time non-game industry jobs, they are also designing their own games and working with other creators to bring games to life through Kickstarter via the Flatout Games CoLab. The CoLab is a profit-sharing model where collaborators own projects split the risks and rewards of publishing games equitably based on the level of effort put towards the project.
Since we signed Point Salad we have gone from being working partners to friends. Their idea for the CoLab is to create an evolving collective of creative talent that works together to publish great new games. A team grows up around each product and they each share in the success of that game. The idea has drawn in some great creatives and created a real hit with their first product Calico. My pitch was that AEG should and could partner for distribution and production of the game. We knew Calico was great and would be a hit in the same way we knew Point Salad was a winner, and so I let the Flatout team know that AEG was interested in helping with distribution if they needed it, and if not, happy to help navigate the waters if they chose to go that direction on their own.
The plan by Flatout to work with AEG on Calico was not decided upon quickly. As noted above they are building this business while running their full time lives but they are still very conscious of who they want to be and how they want to treat their customers. The Flatout, and CoLab, team want their Kickstarer backers to have the best possible experience while also having a chance to reach many more customers through the retail channel. Keeping what they have built from the ground-up as independent and backer-focused as possible is very important to the team.
The agreement to partner on Calico is part of building our relationship with Flatout Games. However, for now this is a one game deal. AEG has been helping with the production, particularly communications with China, although Flatout has been doing all approvals and keeping a close eye on the project. AEG will also help Flatout with the logistics of getting product out of China and where it needs to be to get to backers and then, sometime at a later date it will be available from AEG for wider distribution via retail.
It was our hope that we would be able to fulfill backers in the summer and then debut to the rest of the world this fall. That is still our hope but everyone understands the current issues with production and logistics, and while things seem to be getting sorted in China, the rest of the world is adapting.
If you aren’t familiar with Flatout Games and the work they are doing, check them out. They can be found on Twitter @flatoutgames and you can check out the other projects they have going on at their website: Flatout.Games
Look for more amazing products from this partnership in the future!
May 25 2020
One of the main elements of game play in Dead Reckoning is the sailor deck. In Dead Reckoning you add advancements you acquire by visiting islands and interacting with NPC ships to your deck in the same way you do in Mystic Vale and Edge of Darkness. Each card in your sailor deck has room for 3 advancements. You can put any advancement on any member of your crew.
The new twist in Dead Reckoning is that your sailors Level Up! Each card stack consists of a cardstock sailor card, a plastic sleeve, a clear card with the character’s art, and any advancements that you have earned. Each turn you can Level Up one of your sailors. You remove the cardstock card, and rotate it, then return it to the sleeve. When you make the 2nd upgrade you flip the card over. Each orientation has a set of abilities linked to that sailor’s role. Each time you play you can mix & match which sailors you Level Up and how you sleeve advancements on them, creating huge replayability!
Leveling up sailors and adding enhancements is key to building your strategy each game. As your crew members level up and get stacked with advancements, your options expand, but so does the target on your back.
The composition of your crew is important to winning a game of Dead Reckoning, it is also important when building a game the size of Dead Reckoning.
We have put together a first class crew to bring the Dead Reckoning game to you.
The Captain: John “The D Stands for Dangerous” Clair designed Dead Reckoning which will be the 7th game of John’s that AEG has published. His past hits include. Mystic Vale, Space Base, Custom Heroes, Edge of Darkness, Ecos and later this year Cubitos. John has become our featured designer as we have grown into a board game company and it is perfect that John has unlocked our next Swashbuckling world of adventure!
The First Mate: Mark Wootton started out as a deckhand at AEG many years ago and has leveled up to Number One as lead developer on some of AEG’s most successful lines including Doomtown Reloaded, Thunderstone Quest, Thunderstone Advance, Warchest, and Ecos. Mark is a great leader and has run a very tight ship and gets great results from his crew.
The Bosun: All of the art & graphic design for the game has been created by Ian O’Toole (who already has a great pirate name). One of the best visual creative talents working in the industry today, Ian is responsible for the look of games such as Lisboa, Escape Plan, and The Gallerist. What is so amazing about working with Ian is that he is a gamer and takes a deep dive into the games he works on. We think Dead Reckoning features his best work to date.
The Buccaneer: In charge of our Kickstarter boarding party, Luke “The soft hand of death” Peterschmidt. Luke has recently joined AEG but we have been working with him for years. We technically brought Luke on to help get the word out about our Kickstarter campaigns but the reality is we knew that he could infuse fun into the whole process and we are excited to have him on deck.
The Purser: Paul “The Rules Lawyer” Grogan. Great rules writing is so hard to find. So, before we set out on this voyage we enlisted the help of Paul Grogan, one of the best rules writers in the business. Paul is also a gamer and so he is not editing pre-written rules he is playing and writing them from the ground up.
The Gunners: Cannon Masters, David “Hidden Blade” Lepore, Nicolas Bongiu “The French Pirate”, and Manolis “The quiet terminator” Trachiotis. These fighters will make sure the game gets printed, published, and delivered around the world.
The Crew: Kaz Bones, Josh Wood the Plank Master, The Dread Pirate Matty P, The Crimson Couple (Jon and Beth Bancroft), Goldmaster Goody, Todd “Salty Dog” Rowland, Taylor VooDoo Queen Butts. Brave Boot Shuss, Neil The Bloodthirsty Galley and Vlad captain of the scurvy crew of the lost Guatemalan princess.
Deck Hands: Old Crafty Captain “Z” and Ryan “Jamaica on my mind” Dancey.
If you want to set sail with us. Join our lists
Apr 29 2020
Want to join AEG for a Massively Multiplayer Space Base game on-line? Want to Host one yourself?
Here’s how to do it!
Space Base at Home requires a “Host” who will run the game, and 1 to 1 million “at home” players on-line to play along.
AT-HOME PLAYER SET-UP:
Get your copy of Space Base and remove two level 3 upgrades from the game; the U.E.S. Armstrong and the U.E.S. Gordon. Then set up your outposts and upgrade markets each with 4 cards (instead of the normal 6). Then, give yourself 5 gold, draw the top cards of the level 1 upgrade deck, pay for it, and add it to your base. Lastly, give yourself one more gold, because you (and all At-Home players) are considered to be “Player 2” for this game.
Set up the Reference board on the “Turn Side” with a marker/cube on the Turn 1 space. Make sure the board can be seen on your stream feed. Grab a 2 pairs of d6 and you are ready to go. If you want to play as well, also follow the At-Home player set-up.
The Host will roll for Players 1 and 3
The At-Home players roll for themselves as player 2.
1) DICE ARE ROLLED
The Host rolls for Player 1 and Player 3 and after rolling puts those dice on the reference board in the matching Player area on the reference board so that all players watching can see the dice. The At-Home players each roll for themselves when it’s player 2s turn.
2) PLAYERS SCORE RESOURCES
If the roll is from the Host, players score as they do in a normal game on another player’s turn. If it’s an At-Home players roll, it is treated as being from that player.
3) PLAYERS PURCHASE A CARD
If it’s an an At-Home players roll, players may purchase a card.
4) REMOVE 2 MARKET CARDS
After Player 3 rolls, the host rolls 2d6 and references the chart on the reference
board, removing the last card in each market rolled. Then slide the cards down and fill in the rest of the tableau.
5) NEXT TURN
The Host then removes the dice from the board and advances the turn marker. if this moves the marker off the 11 spot, the Host flips the board over to the End Game Side (rules on next page). Either way go back to player 1 and keep rolling.
How long should the 2nd player’s turn be?
As the Host, try not to rush the At-Home players when they are buying cards. We suggest you give them ~45 seconds on turns 1-6, and up to 1 minute on turns after that. Feel free to chat during that time to keep your player’s engaged!
End Game Board
When on the end game board side, after each Player 1 and Player 3 roll, the Host will use a cube and cover up that roll on the right side of the board. If there is already a cube there, the game ends after the next Player 2’s turn (so players get one final turn after this).
After flipping the board over, the next Player 1 roll is a 5 and a 1. The Host puts the dice in the Player 1 area as normal, but also puts a cube on the 5-1 space.
This will happen after every player 1 and 3 roll until a number is rolled that already has a cube on it. At that point, the game will end after one more at home player’s turn.
More than 1 player at a single At-Home location
Sometimes there will be more than one player in a single location playing along with the Host. In this case, the At-Home players will all use
the same upgrade markets. Randomly give one of the players the “First Player” card from the game. This card just means that player gets the first opportunity to purchase a card when it’s the At-Home players turn. Markets will not refresh after that purchase, so the next player to act will have one less card to choose from.
After each turn, give the First Player card to the next player clockwise, so all players get a chance to buy first.
Note: All the At-Home players roll their own dice when it’s the At-Home player’s turn.
Reference Card “Turn Side”
Reference Card “End Game Side”
Apr 26 2020
For your consideration
Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of campaigning for awards. It feels disingenuous to spend your time and money promoting games to try and win an award.
That being said there are only a few times in 28 years of making games that I have felt gut punched by something that has happened or didn’t happen. The first time was when I knew that Love Letter was in consideration for the Spiele des Jahres. The one accolade I would love for AEG to capture over any other critical success. I didn’t sleep the night of the nominations and my wife Julie knew we had not been nominated when I did not come to bed. I also felt that way at the GAMA show this year when the Origins Award nominees were announced and we did not get the nod for any of the amazing games we made this year.
I need to say that I would not take a single spot away from any of the great games that were recognized and there are some very good ones, but I did feel that if the games we made last year were not good enough to be recognized I don’t know what should be. I realized that I was not frustrated for myself as much as I was for the teams that worked so hard to bring those games to life.
I also realized that all of those signs in Hollywood reading “For Your Consideration” were likely less about the voters and more about the studios saying thank you to the creatives who worked so hard on those shows.
So… with the campaign season in full swing for the BGG Golden Geek Awards and The Spiele Jury making final decisions:
I present to you…. For your consideration, three games which I feel were the truly great work of our company in 2019, and that is saying something as we believe 2019 was one of the greatest creative years of our company’s history with release after release being wonderful successes!
Tiny Towns – Build your own Tiny Town in this unique spatial challenge! Work with resources chosen by other players to score the most points. Designer: Peter McPherson Developer: Josh Wood
Point Salad – Fast and frantic salad building as you collect veggies and point cards. Score points in up to 108 different ways in this easy to learn and quick to play card game. Designers: Flatout Games Developer: Todd Rowland
Ecos – Shape the world in this simultaneous play, bingo-like game. Develop flora and fauna for points, but beware the whims of your opponents who are also changing the landscape to their designs. Designer: John D Clair Developer: Mark Wootton
Apr 21 2020
If you are following along….back in the history of AEG #8 the company we created to publish Legend of the Five Rings, Five Rings Publishing Group (“FRPG”) got investment money to run a fast paced condensed version of our CCG plan. Our original idea was to grow the business to 3 CCG’s each with 3-4 releases a year. Basically one release every month.
The investors liked the plan only they wanted the timeline drastically sped up. So that is what we did.
Alderac ramped up development of Storyline CCG’s. The team at FRPG started looking at partnerships and acquisitions of games ready to publish.
And then, as requested, we started running the investors’ money towards the cliff. In less than a year we went from publishing one CCG to active development on six collectible products including an expensive and hard to wrangle dice game.
• Legend of the Burning Sands (“LBS”)
• Dune CCG (Last Unicorn Games)
• Rage (licensed from White Wolf)
• Deadlands: Doomtown (licensed from Pinnacle Entertainment Group)
• Star Trek Dice Game
Let’s be clear. FRPG’s CEO Bob Abramowitz believed in the “run your business at the cliff” concept with his whole heart and he was not afraid to throw money at a problem as long as it meant we were moving forward. He was generous, ruthless, and fearless. We learned a lot.
I still think it was a good plan but since we were running so fast we were making bad decisions and paying for them. Plus we got some good sales results that caused us to make some bad decisions.
FIRST: L5R Scorpion Clan Coup. We took a standard 150 card set and made it three 50 cards sets to be released in 3 consecutive months. The result was we sold 3X as many cards in the same time frame. This caused us to change the release schedule for Doomtown to a monthly model.
SECOND: The Doomtown plan was to sell a different sized set each month. Each package would pop up and become a different building in a little western town. It was very cool and looked more like the LCG releases popular now but greed, overwork, and bad data caused us to just change each release into a 50 card monthly release. Despite the horrible decision that we called Rolling Thunder (But became rolling blunder) Doomtown did well.
THIRD- Legend of the Burning Sands- An L5R spin off with similar but different mechanics. Our assumption was we would grow the overall player base between the two games. What we did was split the L5R player base in half. We took one healthy game and turned it into two struggling games. We struggled to find the right tone for this product during development but finally ended up in the right place IMO.
FOURTH: We took on Dune and Rage. One game past its prime and one game designed for the hard core gamer fan.
FIFTH: We did the Star Trek dice game and I have no idea how much cash was sunk into this one but knowing what I know now about dice games and licenses it was a flaming metric buttload.
During this phase of FRPG’s life, we operated on “hub & spoke” model. FRPG was the hub, which provided editorial control, managed production & logistics, and did all the back office stuff that was necessary to keep the company running (sales, marketing, legal, etc.) The spokes were the studios we hired to design the games we wanted under contract. FRPG had a contract with AEG to work on the L5R CCG, and the LBS CCG, and to make the situation more complex, AEG licensed back the rights to create the L5R RPG, and then we did a three-way deal to license the Deadlands intellectual property from Pinnacle Entertainment, and put AEG under contract to develop the Deadlands: Doomtown game.
We had a studio agreement in place with Last Unicorn games to do the work on Dune. We had a contract set up with Luke Peterschmidt to do the work on the Rage Relaunch game, which we licensed from White Wolf. We contracted the work on Star Trek Dice to Dan Verssen (before he had his own publishing company) and also did a lot of work with Ed Bolme on that game.
All of these games were in publication, development or playtest in the fall of 1996 less than six months after FRPG itself was created. We were spending money at a furious rate.
Needless to say one day I got the call just after the new year 1997. “Come to Seattle we are about to run out of money. Again”
Before we go into the crazy events of the next few months you should know that we had placed an escape hatch in the Five Rings Publishing Group (FRPG) deal. If FRPG ever went out of business or stopped publishing L5R it would revert back to the original owners. I prepared my management team at AEG for the possibility of us taking on the L5R CCG moving forward.
If any part of this story seems a little over the top to you. Buckle up, because it gets stranger. I flew to Seattle and met with Ryan and Bob.
The table was set for an epic spring.
I was told we are about to run out of money and we cannot go back to our investors and ask them for more because we had reached the cliff and had failed to fly.
I thought, incorrectly, that this is where we talk about closing down FRPG. Not only did we go through all of the investment money. We had substantial printer debt and a significant overhead. I was told.
“We cannot ask for money to save the current business but we can ask for money to grow the business. So we are going to buy TSR.”
TSR, the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, the company and game responsible for both Ryan and I being a gamers in the first place. Holy S%&$. Of course, why would I think that we would slow down. We weren’t failing. The stakes were just not big enough.
It was by all accounts a short trip to Seattle. Bob gave me a pat on the ass and said. “We need you to sell like crazy to keep this business open until we can close this deal.”
And so I did. I flew home, did my laundry, packed my bags for a big trip and hit the road. I would hit every distributor in person. Help them promote our games and push as much product into the market as possible while Ryan began our due diligence on TSR.