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ALDERAC ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

L5R RPG First Edition: HISTORY OF AEG #10

Nov 23 2019

Show Me Your Stance 

At AEG, our role-playing roots are deep and we always intended to do RPG’s as supplemental material to our storyline worlds.  In the case of Legend of the Five Rings, the RPG material strengthened the connection players had to the story.  

The core L5R RPG book was an opus and it was birthed in the same way the CCG was.  Lots of healthy debates and teamwork.  

The Core Rulebook. We had 10,000+ pieces of art come through AEG this cover was one of the only ones I have kept.

I was a Dungeons and Dragons player so when I was introduced to our first RPG I expected to sit down, roll up a character, go kill some monsters, and steal some stuff. Life in the Emerald Empire  was not about that and the way you played the game reflected that. The team led by John Wick delivered a nuanced and thematic game that captured life in the Emerald Empire better than we ever could have hoped.  Less dice chucking, more role playing. We would play sessions where Great Clan emissaries debated land holdings and more often we would not be fighting the NPC’s we would be talking to them. Heresy.  When we did finally fight it was dangerous and deadly. It turns out if you get sliced in half by a katana, you die. You don’t fight on for another 50 hit points and then have a cleric sew you up.

I still use the phrase “Show me your stance,” which in L5R was the less deadly way for two samurai to fight.  You could tell from the stance of two samurai who was likely to win the battle so instead of fighting they would face off and the samurai who knew he was outmatched would concede.  So cool.  

The book of the Shadowlands was an immersive story book that just happened to have RPG rules included.

The thing we did not expect to have happen is that RPG’s became a stable source of income for AEG.  We got into the cycle of doing 3-6 books a year for the L5R RPG which meant we built up the company around that.  It helped the CCG because we had quality story people doing work they could get paid for, and it did much more than help AEG stay afloat between CCG expansions.  

I am scanning the internet and looking at the lists of L5R RPG products we published and to be honest I am bit astounded. Over 100 books through 4 Editions, and we haven’t started talking about the other RPG’s yet.  When people ask how AEG got started, I tend to focus on the CCG story but it is very apparent that we were a CCG and RPG company. I will amend that as I describe us in the future.  

There was some crossover between players of the CCG and RPG, but there were more players who did one or the other.  The big thing that happened is that players of the RPG became invested in results of the CCG storyline events. In the beginning that was the only way to affect the storyline, and so having the same loyalties as many CCG players, the RPG players rooted for, advised on story decisions, and followed players who played for their same Clan.  By Gencon 2017 the clans had become the teams of Rokugan and loyalty and excitement was running deeper than we could ever hope.

In 1998, the Legend of the Five Rings RPG won the Origins Award for Best Role-Playing Game of 1997.

War Chest Nobility Design Diary

Oct 3 2019

We have been incredibly happy with War Chest’s reception over the last year. Following the reviews, the comments, and the discussions has been a real treat. One thing that came up again and again was how expandable people thought the game was. Of course we agreed—we had lots of different ideas rattling around in our heads—but we had to wait to see how well the game did. When AEG gave us the official thumbs, we couldn’t have been happier. This diary explores the design and development of Nobility, War Chest’s first expansion.

Royal Coin

Of course Nobility would add new units. That much was obvious. But we really wanted it to include something else—some new element which would add additional choices and texture through its interactions with the existing content. Our starting point for this was the Royal Coin.

In War Chest, each player’s bag starts with a slew of Unit Coins (Archers, Cavalry, etc.) and a single Royal Coin. Despite its flashy name, the Royal Coin is strictly inferior to the others. You can’t place it onto the board and you can’t use it to maneuver your units. Like the Estates in Dominion, the Royal Coin’s sole purpose is to encourage you to build your bag. The more coins in your bag, the less often you have to draw it. While this is an important function, it’s not a particularly fun one. With Nobility, we set out to change this. We wanted players to be excited to draw the Royal Coin. This would only happen, though, if the Royal Coin created choices, rather than removing them. Enter the Royal Decrees…

Royal Decrees are a new type of card, which introduce generic (non-unit specific) powers into the game. Three of them are dealt face up during set up and each player (or team) gets to use each one once during the game. To do this, you discard your Royal Coin face up, and then place a Royal Seal onto the Decree. So three times in the game, your Royal Coin gets to do something cool. The king say-eth, the people do-eth!

The core mechanics for the Decrees came quickly, but it took us quite some time to get the powers right. On the one hand, we wanted them to be as varied as possible, interacting with each other and with the units in interesting ways. On the other hand, we had to ensure that the Decrees weren’t too powerful, either individually or in the aggregate. The Royal Coin still needed to promote bag building, and this simply wouldn’t happen if the Decrees were too strong. Our solution was to create powers that were situational, and more powerful in the mid and late game than the beginning.

So the Royal Decrees achieved what we wanted. They made the Royal Coin interesting, while also giving us a mechanical and thematic hook for the expansion. The next step was to design some units to run with this.

New Units

Nobility includes four new units. The Earl and the Herald have abilities that interact directly with the Decrees. The Bishop and the Bannerman are thematically linked, but explore other types of abilities. Along the way, we tried out lots of different ideas that just didn’t make the cut. Inspired by the Royal Guard, for example, we tried out a variety of units which had Tactics powered by the Royal Coin (“Discard the Royal Coin to do X”). These “Royal Tactics” were a great fit thematically, but they caused some pretty severe issues. First, they competed directly with our new Decree Cards. If you were using your Royal Coin for a Royal Tactic, you weren’t using it for a Decree (and vice versa). Second, there were power issues. The stronger the Royal Tactics, the less likely you were encouraged to build your bag. This was much worse than what we encountered with the Decree powers, as Tactics can be used again and again. Speaking of which…

Royal Guard

Confession time. While certainly not unbeatable, we felt that the Royal Guard as it appears in the base set is something of a problem. We knew it was a strong unit, but we didn’t realize just how strong until after the game was released, and people started posting strategies and discussions of those strategies to various threads. The problem is that its Tactic—Discard the Royal Coin to move—is too versatile. Moving a unit is something you can always do, and something you pretty much always want to do. This makes “small bagging” with the Royal Guard extremely effective, particularly given the nature of its attribute (When attacked, you can remove a coin from the supply rather than the unit). In a small bag, a Royal Guard becomes a tank that can move fast!

In turn this reduces the variety of game play that is on offer when the Royal Guard is in the draft mix, as its tactic dominates the game flow. We pride ourselves on how differently the game plays with different units, and different army composition, and we felt it was important to get back to that feel.

To address this, the Nobility expansion includes a new version of the Royal Guard card. The attribute is the same as before, but the Tactic now reads: Discard the Royal Coin to move the Royal coin up to 2 spaces to a location that you control. So its effect is larger (you can move two spaces), but more limited (you have to move to a location you control). This resolves the issue with small bagging, while also making much more sense thematically (The Royal Guard should be running around to guard your locations, not to cause general havoc and destruction!)

Control Markers

The Royal Coin and the Royal Guard aren’t the only things that we’ve “upgraded” in Nobility. While overall people have been extremely happy with the production of the game (how couldn’t they be!), there have been a lot of comments that the Control Markers were the same size as, and hence got covered up by, the Unit Coins. Some people forged their own DIY solutions (gotta love gamers!) but for those of you didn’t, we’ve included a set of hexagonal Control Markers. Hope this helps!

Conclusion

We’re so excited about the Nobility expansion and the future of War Chest. One of the greatest things about the experience was getting the whole team back together to work on this project. Mark Wootton served as the lead developer for the project and always pushed us to make the expansion the best it could be. And we are thrilled that Bridgette Indelicato was able to bring Nobility to life with her graphic design and artistic skills. And now let’s go play Nobility!

Be Prepared to Dig Two Graves: HISTORY OF AEG #9

Sep 25 2019
  • L5R Story, Game of Thrones, and Dragonlance story spoilers in this post.

Running a storyline CCG the way AEG did it is not an easy task.  As I had mentioned earlier we looked at our storyline games as a hybrid card game/rpg.  We created factions for players to identify with, and while there were thousands of characters over the life of the product the story revolved around the factions.  In L5R these factions were the Clans of the Empire.  

A lot went into building a clan that players might identify with.  In this area, game play, story, and art played an equal role. L5R was a war game and each of the factions had a play style.  The Lion were attackers, The Crab were defenders, The Crane were politicians and the empires best duelists etc etc. The clan colors acted as a uniform of sorts and the graphic design and art for each faction was unique. If you showed up at an L5R event wearing red everyone knew you were a Phoenix.  The characters we introduced players to from each clan were reflections of our vision for that clan. 

And then we layered in the storyline.  The storyline was a framework of what could happen but how things would play out was left to the players as much as possible. The L5R story began with the Emperor of Rokugan being possessed by the dark god Fu Leng.  The emperor’s word in all situations is law and to be Samurai means that you must show loyalty to The Empire and the Emperor above all else. This created a very tenuous situation in the Empire right out the gate. 

Samurai stories are hard to tell.  Everyone knows that Samurai and Ninja are super cool but the things that drive a Samurai to make the decisions they make are very different than in western fiction.  To a samurai honor is the most important part of their lives. This is where the L5R tag line “Honor is a force more powerful than steel.” comes from. The emperor being possessed drove the entire Imperial Edition story arc and would put honor and what it meant to the test for all of the clans.

There are so many amazing moments in each arc of L5R fiction but for me the moment that stands out in the Imperial Arc (before the Day of Thunder of course) is the death of Matsu Tsuko.  Lion Clan champion. The Lion clan had been split into two factions. The traditional Lion lead by champion Matsu Tsuko who had chosen to follow their ancient vow to the Emperor to the letter and serve him even though he may be possessed, and the rogue faction Toturi’s Army lead by disgraced Lion Clan champion Akodo Toturi who was fighting against the Emperor.  

The L5R team were not just working on the game. They were fans and we all identified with the different clans and it was no secret that the lead Dave Williams was a huge Lion clan fan and Matsu Tsuko was HIS champion.  Before we would begin work on each new set we would have a big meeting and discuss what was happening with the story, game play, etc. In one particular meeting we were discussing the marketing moments that were upcoming in the story.  There was some cool stuff but nothing that really made us stand up and say wow and so we brainstormed more ideas. At one point in the meeting. I believe John Wick said. “We could kill Matsu Tsuko. She could commit seppuku to restore her honor and reunite the broken Lion clan.”

Seppuku is a ritual suicide performed by Samurai for multiple reasons but the most compelling is the idea of restoring one’s honor. It is a very delicate subject and was something I told the L5R team from the beginning that we would not throw around lightly.  

When this was suggested. Dave went red in the face and just stared at us for a second and then he blurted something to the effect of.  “No you won’t, NO you won’t!!!” For me that was enough to seal the deal. My understanding of samurai fiction was still in its infancy but I fully understand the reaction that we wanted players to have and this felt like the perfect penultimate moment to lead us into the Day of Thunder.  For those of you not familiar with the L5R I would compare this to the death of Sturm from Dragon Lance or Ned Stark from Game of Thrones.  

While that clans battled each other and Fu Leng for control of Rokugan an even bigger battle for the fate of the Empire was being fought back at our offices.  

The first ad we ever ran for L5R had the headline: “The story ends at Gen Con 1997”.  It was a bold statement and our intention when we started L5R was to build multiple storyline CCG’s and release them in story arcs.  When one would end we would begin another. First L5R was just starting to gain momentum and second, we were having trouble designing the second CCG.  Turns out that designing a CCG from the ground up is hard work and we were in no position to promise delivery of a replacement for L5R.  

The options were: Keep the promise and end L5R as scheduled, or break the promise and keep making new L5R content after the end of the Clan War storyline.

The battle that ensued between Ryan and I was a knock down drag out affair that lasted weeks.  We wanted to stay on plan and a lot of topics were discussed but the big reasons we decided to continue publishing L5R were, first L5R was just starting to gain momentum and second, we were having trouble designing the second CCG.  Turns out that designing a CCG from the ground up is hard work and we were in no position to promise delivery of a replacement for L5R. Ryan finally conceded but it would not be until The Day of Thunder that he felt it was actually the right decision.  

I think all of us that were involved with L5R in its early days would love to go back to the alternate universe where we shelve L5R after the Imperial story and do Doomtown or another game and sell the players on the idea of arcs like movies. Having done so many CCG’s I can see that players not only fell in love with the story but also the mechanics. We did get crossover from one CCG to the next but not as much as would have been necessary to make the original idea work.  I guess we will never know but what we do know is that the decision to keep going lead to so many amazing moments and a lot of joy for a lot of people. We have 20 years of memories and I am only on year two as I write this.

ECOS: First Continent

Sep 18 2019

Anyone close to me knows how excited I am for this release.  Ecos is a John D Clair design that brings together a unique combination of mechanics so that up to 6 players can play simultaneous turns building the world and populating it with mountains, forests, and animals.  

I first played Ecos in late 2017.  At that time the prototype name was Pangea and like all of John’s games the prototype was polished and the game play was very close to what we have now in the final game.  We liked it instantly. I have decided that I really like games with simultaneous actions, my least favorite part of gaming is waiting for my next turn and in Ecos you never have to do that.  I also liked that the game was driven by a simple mechanic (Bingo) but the way you use your resources and cards creates an interesting dynamic during game play. You are building a living world.  The plains you are playing for your Antelope to roam are likely hunting grounds for someone with a Lion. Scoring depends on how you manipulate the world’s terrain, or how large a herd you can create, or how many of those animals your predators can eat.  

Early Ecos Prototype

You know a game is good when everyone wants to work on the development team and we had plenty of volunteers for Ecos.  Once you start to work on a new game the debates about art and how it will look begin almost immediately.  Mark Wootton was selected as project lead. That was a no brainier since in his life before AEG he was a ranger in Scotland.

We knew we wanted the terrain to have three dimensional and so over time.  

This 

John Clair’s Clay Mountains

Becomes this…

We look at punchboard as a possibility

and finally ended up as this.

Wood components make the final cut.

The art and graphics for the cards fell into place quickly.  Josh Wood, the art director on this project, had the clever idea of using petroglyphs as inspiration for the icons and since you rotate the cards to show they have been used we ended up using square cards.  

Playtest card
Final Card
Final Packaging is Amazing

You need a lot of different animal tokens to play Ecos and so we have provided double sided tokens and cool punch board holders to organize them for play.  

Once completed we made a few big choices about how we would release the game.  We always knew we wanted it to be our Essen release but unlike other games we did not want to wait a year or more for the German edition and so we jumped ahead and worked with a team so we could launch a German Edition at this year’s Essen show.  

We also knew that the best marketing for this game would be showing it to gamers  so we pushed the print button well in advance of the release date. We debuted the game by previewing it for a full day in our booth at Gencon. It was as expected a hit. 

Gencon

We provided samples to reviewers and the reviews have been great!

Man Vs Meeple 

Game Boy Geek

Today we are releasing a limited number of copies direct to gamers as a pre-release promotion.   

You have two options to order Ecos today:

Order a pre-release of Ecos (USA ONLY) $49.99 – save $10! plus free delivery in 2-3 weeks! (Limited time offer, quantities are limited, 1 per household please!)

Pre-order for Essen booth pickup in English or German (AEG booth 3K-107)!

Ecos – First Continent from John D Clair is our major fall release. We believe it is going to appeal to a huge audience. The game can be played by 2 to 6 players. The ecosystem theme and gorgeous African-inspired art and graphic design look amazing on the table. And the fun and excitement of the core Bingo-style mechanic means that every player is engaged in every play of the game.

Order now and be the first in your game group to shout ECOS!

WE ARE GOING TO RUN YOUR MONEY TOWARDS A CLIFF . . .: HISTORY OF AEG #8

Sep 14 2019

Ryan and I had a plan, and we thought it was a good one.  Five Rings Publishing would grow by finding multiple CCGs to run at the same time.  We believed, from our limited experience with L5R, that we could find similar themes and segments that could be at least the size of L5R.  We had already talked about the idea for a western CCG and a pirate-themed game, and we had become friends with multiple other talented small development houses looking for a publisher.

Bob had arranged a meeting with potential angel investors in Seattle, so Ryan and I polished up the pitch package and I headed up for the meeting.   Bob gave us the rundown on the potential investors, most had made their money in the Seattle tech market and the amount we were asking for was not a huge sum.  Show them what we have and we will close this deal. So Ryan and I hit them with our pitch. We outlined a three- and five-year plan to grow AEG into the publisher of multiple CCGs each year, adding more new games than we retired and growing the business exponentially.  When we were done, both of us were sure we had hit the mark . . . then when the lights came on, Bob took over.

It was kind of a blur, but HIS pitch to the investors went something like this:

“Didn’t I tell you, these are two smart kids. That is why I decided to help them and why we invited you here to hear our plan. And it is a good plan, but there is another option . . . Here is what I suggest: We are going to take their plan and your money and we are going to start running towards a cliff as fast as we can.”

What did Bob just say?

He then turned to Ryan and me and said, “There is no reason we can’t take this five-year plan and do it in much less time; right?  We have the contacts and already have a plan for the games we will do.”

Back to the investors now.  “Like I said, we will take this plan and condense it and we will run as fast as we can towards that cliff. And when we get there, we are going to jump off.”  Dramatic pause. “And we are either going to crash and burn or we are going to soar like an eagle and take this industry by storm.” He added a soaring eagle arm movement for effect.

Ryan and I stood there with our mouths open.  The investors looked at Bob and said, “Yes, let’s do that.”

And that was pretty much it.  We learned a quick lesson that day.  People with a little money to invest want it protected and want to make a decent return.  Some people want high risk, high reward. I was a little shell-shocked, but we had just locked down enough significant investment to move forward.  Ryan had shifted gears before we left the room and was already altering the plan from what I considered reasonable to blitz. Ryan would start locking down deals and I would continue selling and developing L5R

 

 

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Back at the AEG offices our main focus was Samurai. AEG had grown and we had added staff.  We were still publishing Shadis, and all through 1996 we were enjoying growing the magazine.  Marcello Figuroa came in and took over advertising sales, and he immediately crushed all my sales records.  Wizards of the Coast was buying up 8 to 12 ad spaces an issue——which was great—but Marcello had a real connection with other games and game companies. He could find something great in every game he looked at, no matter how bad they were. He would find bizarre compliments for games about obscure rules and absolutely mean it.   It was genuine. And people loved it, so they advertised in Shadis.

 

 

 

We were also deep into the first story arc of the L5R CCG.  By mid-1996 FRPG had sold through all of the Imperial Edition print run and had a second printing (Emerald) of the Base Set coming in August.  FRPG released the Shadowlands, Forbidden Knowledge, and Anvil of Despair expansions in 1996.  AEG’s team was not only developing the game, but also managing the storyline and running events. As the year ended we could now see the end of the L5R storyline coming and we had a big decision to make.

Next week: A fight about ending the story or ending the game.  And the biggest Lion Clan fan kills his champion and favorite character.

 

 

PUBLISH FEWER GAMES- AUTOPSY #1 DO YOU BELIEVE IN THIS THING?

Sep 13 2019

Yes, I do wake up every day with doubts about our plan to do fewer games.  It has been over a year since we started down this path and it has been exactly as hard as we expected, but it has also been very rewarding.  It is time for us to start talking about our plans for 2020, and so before we do that I felt it would be a good time to update everyone on our progress so far.  

When I have doubts, I can always cue up Moneyball.  Sure, we are putting it all on the line. If we weren’t, what fun would that be?  

SO, HOW ARE WE DOING?
We are just a bit behind where we expected to be at this point in the process.  We have not yet replaced the income from cutting back on the number of games we publish and selling Love Letter, but almost all of our releases this year have out-performed our projections and are individually more profitable than past games.  

The plan to give each game more attention at launch is working. From last year, Space Base and War Chest have continued to be strong sellers. From this year, Tiny Towns has been a mega hit, Point Salad is a treat that sold out in one day, and early buzz and pre-orders on Ecos: First Continent tells us that it will also be a winner.

Our choice to move a few key titles to crowdfunding has been great.  Thunderstone Quest continues to rock. We were able to relaunch Valley of the Kings, thanks to Kickstarter, and we are preparing the next milestone for  Edge of Darkness after successfully delivering the first campaign, to great acclaim.  

Our international partnership business is growing rapidly.  That is due in small part to the games and in large part to hiring the right person for that crucial position. For the first time in a long time, our international licensing process is being well managed – we’re fortunate that two of our key team members live in Europe and are able to operate locally in that market on our behalf!

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SO FAR

  1. Hitting your schedule is even more important when doing fewer games, especially with Kickstarter.  We continue to learn the hard lesson that weeks matter. Our schedule slides have cost us more in cash flow than any other mistake this year.  
  2. We are our best first customer.  We are publishing games we like to play and that has always been a great benchmark for us.  We make games, not products.  
  3. Marketing matters, but boilerplate marketing plans do not.  There is no set playbook. Every game must be treated as a unique opportunity.  Just sending out copies to reviewers and running a few ads on BGG and in distributor magazines does not work.  We would like to have a special promotion to help drive awareness for each new game and give it a chance to grab a part of the spotlight, and that means doing more than basic marketing.
  4. Even when doing fewer games it is very hard to have two games in the spotlight at the same time.  It’s crazy, but true. There can be 15 games in the spotlight in the industry from different companies, but put two games from the same company on that list and they almost always split mindshare.  Also crazy, really good games can get lost in the buzz of other games. Take Big Game Night this year.  All three games (Curios, Walking Burano, and Point Salad) are doing great but Point Salad is just going ballistic, so even when people talk about the other games (and they are) the sheer volume of voices for Point Salad are drowning out the message.  * NOTE: I am keenly aware that by pointing this out I am adding to the problem.  Right now you are thinking “what is this Point Salad he is talking about” and not thinking “I should look at all three of these games.”  🙂 Nathan from Pandasaurus Games wrote a timely blog about this subject last week. The-Super-Star-Problem
  5. New game selection is even harder than expected.  I knew when we chose to do fewer games that it would make final decisions about what to publish even harder.  We continue to attack this with a PLAY MORE mentality and we continue to cultivate new ways of working with designers. 

SO WHAT IS NEXT? 

We are about to unveil many of our plans for 2020 over the next two months.  As we do so, I will try and point out the things we are doing differently from past years and why we chose to make the changes.  

Ecos: First Continent Launch Plan – (Week of Sept 16) Coming next week our launch plan for our third FLGS core release this year.This is our major release for the holiday season that begins with the Essen show in Germany.

Edge of Darkness Kickstarter 2 – (Week of Sept 23) Announced last week, it is launching September 23 and we are preparing for this now.  The new content is amazing and we have added some upgrades to the base game. Due to the size and production cost of this game, it had a very limited retail release.  The best way to guarantee receiving a copy is to support this second Kickstarter.  

Larkstone Phase 2- (Week of Sept 30) It is the first anniversary of the AEG gaming house.  We have have doubled down and renewed the lease for another year and we are upgrading the house and inviting you in.  Upgrades, new programs, play days.  

Big Game Night 2020 (Week of October 7) BGN continues to grow, and after 12 months of game pitches we have our scheduled games for BGN release under development and will roll out the plan to grow this event in 2020. 

Kickstarter 2020 (Week of October 14) New Games, New Ideas, New Worlds.  AEG will be leveling up your KS experience, searching for lost treasures and setting sail for new adventures. 

Find your Inner Compass (Week of October 21) Just in time for Essen, AEG will show off the first games from our 2020 Brick and Mortar release schedule.   

As you can see, doing fewer games does not mean doing less work.  I will also continue my Sunday history series where I wax poetic about the fun we’ve had over the last 28 years.  

Five Rings Publishing Group: History of AEG #7

Sep 8 2019

For nine months we scraped, demoed, and clawed to keep the L5R CCG alive.   Making the L5R CCG profitable was Mount Everest, we were on the hardest part of the ascent, and we were looking for an Angel Investor to help us reach the summit (and not die trying).  

Set the Wayback Machine for 1996. Magic: The Gathering released in 1993. By 1994, dozens of companies had cloned it, mostly failing. In 1995, the companies that actually tried to make good games based on the Magic concept started to bring those games to market. Retailers, for a brief exciting period, bought everything. Collector/players bought everything the retailers stocked. Nobody wanted to miss out on the opportunity to get rich speculating and trading on the next Magic. People who had bought cases of Alpha Magic were buying cars (and sometimes homes! with the profits). Every Magic expansion was sold-out to pre-orders. A number of high-profile games hit the market to huge sales; games like Star Trek from Decipher, Jyhad, the follow up to Magic from Wizards itself, Illuminati: New World Order from Steve Jackson Games, Spellfire from TSR, etc. Tens of millions of dollars flowed into the tabletop gaming market – in the two years since the first release of Magic, a safe estimate is that the total size of tabletop gaming grew by a factor of 10x.

Then it all came crashing down – hard. It started (and it always starts) with the consumers who realized that they were spending money on worthless cardboard; there wasn’t going to be a “secondary” (i.e. speculative) market in most of these games and they stopped buying anything they didn’t like playing. Magic proved so dominant that if you were a “serious” player looking to make money in tournaments it was the only game worth focusing on, and the tournament scene for even some popular games collapsed. The result was retailers who had ordered enormous amounts of product suddenly not being able to sell those cards and thus becoming unable to pay their distributors and going out of business. 

Dying retailers – especially big established retailers – started to kill distributors. It’s pretty easy for a retailer to switch distributors, but when a distributor dies, it dies owing a lot of money to the publishers. So a bankrupt distributor sends shockwaves through the publisher tier. A lot of companies that had been formed to make CCGs vaporized.

That was the environment we were faced with as we tried to keep L5R alive – a wasteland of stores in crisis, players becoming cynical overnight that any CCG other than Magic was worth their time, and distributors fighting daily to make payroll.

Enter Bob and Arnie.  Bob was a toy guy who had spent some time at TSR during the heyday of RPGs and had a very keen insight for markets that were exploding and even though the first CCG crash had happened it had not killed Magic it had in fact strengthened it.  Bob knew people who were willing to take risks on ideas like the CCG business. Arnie was a close friend of Bob’s who had been handling the finances for huge companies for decades and was retired but willing to lend his gravitas to our little venture.

Bob brought in just enough money for us to form FRPG Five Rings Publishing Group and get Shadowlands printed and out the door.  He also had plans to bring in more angel money to allow us to grow quickly and run FRPG like a true business not a shoestring gaming company.  We opened offices in Seattle. Hired our people, and we were off to the races.  

The plan was simple (on paper). We had succeeded in finding a market of players who would support L5R with both purchases and with tournament play. Our game was different enough both in game mechanics and in style & genre that we had won a “segment” of the audience on which we could base a reasonable future projection of growth. This proved that while things looked truly grimdark for the CCG business as a whole, there could be and would be segments in the darkness that would shine brightly.

Our goal at FRPG was to find those segments. We did not think we could become as big as Magic – become a “dominant” game. What we thought was that we could grow L5R at a reasonable pace, and we could start new games that shared some of L5R’s DNA and start growing them too, and that the result would be a company that in aggregate could potentially scale up to be a true competitor to Wizards of the Coast.  What they did with 1 game, we would try to do by combining 10 games together under one roof.

We had a great staff at FRPG. Phil & Mindy (Sherwood) Lewis handled customer service and online sales (did we mention that FRPG rolled up Ryan’s embryonic online gaming business RPG International that had been the glue that brought he & I together?) We had Danny Landers (now Block) who had experience at White Wolf and ran our marketing. We had a delightful secretary / accounting clerk named Heather Beiderman who handled all the routine day to day business tasks that have to be done to make a company run. We had Al Skaar and Blake Beasley – two of the best artists we’ve ever worked with doing graphic design for cards, packaging, rules, etc.  We had Scott James Magner who filled the important role of doing whatever was needed when it was needed. Finally we had a growing network of volunteers and fans who were spread out around the country running demos in stores and conventions and running tournaments wherever L5R fans gathered.

As noted before my job was sales. During this time frame we still only had one game and I was responsible for keeping L5R sales on track. Thankfully the hard demo work we did to keep the game alive while we were looking for funds to print Shadowlands had started to pay off.  

Ryan’s job was development. Our plan was to build FRPG on the “studio model”. Our plan was to find more “L5R” segments; places where we could design a unique game experience matched with a world or a genre or a brand that had or could build a stable community of players. His job would be to keep all the studios working on those games on schedule and delivering great game play and visuals.  

Bob’s job was to find those angel investors and to use his contacts to get us a shot at some of the better hollywood licenses.  But mostly his job was to find the investors.  

Ryan and I had built what we thought was an amazing plan grow FRPG into the #2 CCG company behind Wizards of the Coast and AEG would grow as the featured studio and licensor.  We just needed Bob to come through with the capital.  

The fires were burning and the engine was running.  Little did we know that Bob had plans to throw rocket fuel on the fire and super charge our plans. Things were about to get crazy.  

NEXT WEEK-  When your new partner says. “We are going to run your money towards a cliff.” to your potential investors.  What happens next?  

Edge of Darkness Returns to Kickstarter on September 23rd at 9am (Pacific)

Aug 31 2019

Denizens of Aegis!

Having successfully delivered the Rewards for the first Edge of Darkness Kickstarter in July and August, we are pleased to announce the 2nd Kickstarter which will return us to the battle against the Blight at the end of September!

This new Kickstarter which goes live on September 23rd will introduce you to the dim sun and frigid temperatures of the Cliffs of Coldharbor; another resilient community the Blight has been unable to fully corrupt from within or destroy by direct assault – so far …

Cliffs of Coldharbor will be a $40 Reward in the new Kickstarter featuring 12 new Locations and their associated Contact/Threat advancements. For backers who didn’t join us on the first campaign – fear not! The original Guildmaster Reward returns for $120. We have a limited amount of Guildmaster that will be available for Expedited delivery in November of 2019 – just in time for Christmas – for backers in the US, Canada, EU and the UK, Norway and Switzerland. Shipping & Handling is not included in these prices and will be calculated in the pledge manager.

By special arrangement of the Harbormasters of Aegis we will also have a limited supply of the 1st expansion, Sands of Dunestar and the Metal Coins, which can be Add-ons for Expedited Rewards for delivery in November with the Guildmaster component. All the new Cliffs of Coldharbor Reward components will be delivered in 2020.

There will be one Stretch Goal for this campaign. If the Backers are able to achieve a funding goal of $400,000 or more, we will add a special Advanced Guildmaster Pack to every Cliffs of Coldharbor Reward (and all Rewards that include Cliffs of Coldharbor). This Advanced Guildmaster Pack consists of 4 Guild Boards which provide asymmetric starting conditions and new powers for the Guilds, and act as a special Location that is only available to the Guild using that board. The Pack will also include new Citizen and Patrician cards which have new game mechanics and interact with the new Guild Location boards! The Advanced Guildmaster Pack has an MSRP of $20!

We know that there are lots of questions about Edge of Darkness which have arisen from the 1st Kickstarter and we’re now able to provide detailed answers.

Additional Influence/Goodwill Tokens

We goofed. When preparing the game for production we had an internal miscommunication about the proper number of these tokens needed for play. Here’s what we’re going to do about it.

Every Backer who gets the Cliffs of Coldharbor will receive additional plastic Influence/Goodwill tokens – the pack includes twice the number in the Guildmaster Reward which should be more than enough even for the most calculating Guild Leaders. We’re including those for free.

We know that waiting until the middle of 2020 to get more tokens may be too long a delay for some players. We are going to offer the token pack on our online store sometime later this year (the exact timing depends on when the tokens are manufactured and delivered; we’re very much hoping to have them before Thanksgiving). The token pack will be free, but you will pay shipping & handling to have them delivered, and they’ll ship out of our Tennessee warehouse which means that shipments outside the United States may be somewhat expensive.  We’re doing our best to keep these costs as low as we can.

Issues with the Lettering on the Bag

We’re not happy with the leatherette bags in the Guildmaster Rewards. The bags themselves are fine and we’re very pleased with their texture and size. But the lettering that is applied via a heat transfer system isn’t standing up as well as we hoped. Those bags were all made at the same time and use the same technology, so replacements from our inventory won’t solve the problem for Backers who are unhappy with the lettering quality.

We are going to make a new production run of bags, in cloth, with embroidery rather than heat transfer letters. Those bags will be similar to the bags in War Chest and our upcoming new game Ecos.  We are going to put one of these new bags in every Cliffs of Coldharbor Reward.

Like the additional influence/goodwill tokens if you don’t want to wait until 2020 to get a new bag you’ll be able to order them from our online store roughly the same time that we’ll have the new tokens available, with the same caveats.

Add Ons for This Campaign

You will be able to Add-on Sands of Dunestar, and the Metal Coins, and Extra-Extra Premium Sleeves. You’ll be able to Add-on extra copies of the Guildmaster core game, and extra copies of both Sands of Dunestar and Cliffs of Coldharbor. Prices for the Add-ons will be the same as they were in the 1st Kickstarter: $40 for the expansions, $19 for the Coins, $15 for the Sleeves. Additional copies of the core game will be $120. Shipping & Handling will be calculated based on your total order weight and delivery destination.

Help Us Spread the Word!

As we prepare to launch the Cliffs of Coldharbor on September 23rd, you can help us raise awareness about this campaign. If you backed the first Edge of Darkness campaign we would really appreciate your ranking & rating Edge on BoardGameGeek:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/229491/edge-darkness

Every rating helps, and the higher our score, the more interested the larger community of board game players will be in the game.

The Edge of Darkness page on alderac.com:

https://www.alderac.com/edge-of-darkness

Will feature a countdown to the Kickstarter as well as a way to sign up for the Edge of Darkness mailing list. Being on the mailing list will allow us to let you know more details about the campaign and remind you when it’s about to begin. If you know someone who missed the first campaign and wants to be sure to join us for the second please ask them to sign up for the mailing list!

We’ve also published a Facebook announcement about this campaign. The critical announcement post is:

Facebook Post Link

Please “like” and “share” this post to help us boost awareness!

Thank You For Your Continued Support

Without the amazing Edge of Darkness community we would not have been able to make this game and bring it to our Backers. Over 5,000 of you are now playing Edge of Darkness and we could not be more thrilled that you’re having that experience. We hope you’ll join us as we return to Kickstarter on September 23rd!

— The AEG Edge of Darkness Team

RIP RICK LOOMIS

Aug 24 2019

I just heard today about the passing of my friend, Rick Loomis.  His battle with cancer has ended and another hero has been taken from us by that boss monster we have yet figured out a way to slay on a regular basis.  

F$%& Cancer

I did not spend a lot of time socializing with Rick, but he and I served together on the GAMA Board for three years. He was President and I was his Vice-President, which meant that he did most of the work and I would show up for the early morning GAMA meetings and help keep the Board focused on what was important.  It was my honor to serve with him. And for years now I have seen him roaming the halls, and I didn’t call him by his name. I would just say, “Hello, Mr. President”, and he would smile and say hi.

Rick loved the gaming industry.  He started Flying Buffalo long before I joined the industry.  He ran his business, ran a small booth at shows, and I must admit that I was guilty of saying more than once that “AEG needed to be more successful faster, I don’t want to be working the AEG booth when I am Rick’s age.  

I turn 55 in a few weeks. I think about my younger self thinking that, and now all I hope is that I get to live as complete and as good a life in gaming as Rick got to live.  Others will be able to laud his achievements better than I, so I won’t try. I will just say this. You will be missed,

Mr. President.  You lived a gaming life to be proud of.