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Rolling Realms: Micro Dojo

You’ll know from my one of my recent articles that I’m a big fan of Roll-and-Writes games, and just recently I picked up Rolling Realms – a Stonemaier (meta)game that distills elements each of the publisher’s games into various ‘realms’ that make up the game for a unique experience each time.

A ‘research’ session in progress

One of the exciting aspects of Rolling Realms is the idea that more realms, including crossover games from outside of the Stonemaier games catalogue, can be easily added in future. In fact two additional realms have already been announced. Whilst playing the game I couldn’t help but put my game designers cap on! I found that it has a fairly balanced framework that can be used to derive several principles with which to create and benchmark new realms. As well as digging in to the numbers, I used this to create my very own Micro Dojo realm to fit into Rolling Realms.

If you want to skip straight to the Micro Dojo realm you can go to the end of the article. For more details on the analysis of Rolling Realms and how I used that framework to build the Micro Dojo realm, continue on below.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Stonemaier product. This is fan-made content for personal use, and printed versions cannot be distributed or sold. More info on Stonemaier’s fan content policy here.

Realm Thematics

Stonemaier games tend to have fairly unique mechanics, or combinations of mechanics, that make them recognisable. Rolling Realms abstracts those mechanics, or typically just one of them, into a very simplified form that is still reminiscent of the original game.

In the Scythe realm for example, the core mechanic of gaining a resource with a top action and spending a resource to gain an additional bottom action is captured in Rolling Realms. The area control, resource management, and scoring systems are far too complex to capture in Rolling Realms, but it is still recognisable to anyone who has played Scythe.

Realms: Scythe and Between Two Cities

In Between Two Cities, the concept of your score being based on the lower of your two cities is captured by your realm score being dependent on your other two realms. Euphoria evaluates dice ‘totals’ in an area when placed. Tapestry has you fit objects to fill a 9×9 grid. Viticulture combines multiple objects to create a final product…

To create a Micro Dojo realm then, it’s necessary to catalogue the key recognisable aspects of the game. I consider this to be simplified to:

  • Move workers on a 3×3 board
  • Spend resources to purchase buildings
  • Score predetermined objectives

The worker movement aspect is the core of the game experience, and in particular the tension with your opponent that it invokes, so a 3×3 grid is a must in the Micro Dojo realm. Gaining resources and then spending them to obtain an ability or score points is also something that is easily abstracted into the Rolling Realms format. All of the objectives in Micro Dojo rely on player interaction to evaluate which player scores points, and since there is no player interaction in Micro Dojo this was part of the game that didn’t make it into the realm. So now there is an outline in place for the Micro Dojo realm – a 3×3 board, and possibly with 6 available buildings.

Realm Balance

Rolling Realms’ has two (maybe three) great advantages that make adding and balancing a new realm very simple.

Rolling Realms’ modular approach, where 3 different realms are chosen for each of 3 rounds, means that two games won’t be the same (with around 90,000 unique combinations). This modular approach means that realms can be designed and balanced in almost complete isolation. Unlike complex euro games with unique interactions between abilities, each realm is effectively independent and linked to the other only through common resources. As long as the realm is internally balanced (i.e. in line with the framework detailed here) then it will fit well within the Rolling Realms…realm. The exciting thing about this from a game design perspective is that it makes the game easily extensible, as already demonstrated by the official Terra Mystica promo pack and the very meta Rolling Realms realm.

Rolling Realms Terra Mystica (Credit: Stonemaier Games)

Secondly, Rolling Realms uses shared dice and a shared set of realms (like X-and-write’s such as Welcome To or Railroad Ink) as opposed to personal or semi-shared resource like in Ganz Schon Clever or Hadrian’s Wall. This means that, since all players have access to the exact same resources, it becomes a game that rewards the most skilful use of those resources. More importantly for balancing purposes, it allows for somewhat imperfect balance without affecting the enjoyability of a game. Internal balance issues in games typically cause frustration when they favour one particular player (e.g. they drew the ‘broken’ card or got the ‘best’ player character) and usually when this is a result of random chance. If one particular realm is viewed as stronger or easier to complete than the other, then all players have an equal opportunity to exploit that realm. Whilst a totally overpowered realm would be undesirable, it does mean less overall playtesting is required to create a suitable realm. This analysis should go a good way towards creating a balanced realm.

Realm Action Economy

First let’s take a look at the action economy in the game. There are 9 turns in each round, with two dice being placed each turn, and as each realm can only be activated once per turn, this ordinarily means that 9 spaces is the maximum number that can be completed.

RealmAction Spaces
Between Two Cities9
Between Two Castles10
Charterstone12
Euphoria12
My Little Scythe12
Pendulum11
Scythe12
Tapestry9+?
The Society9
Viticulture9
Wingspan9
Number of Action (dice) spaces available by Realm

As mentioned above, 9 is the maximum number of dice that can normally be placed in a realm, so Between Two Castles, Charterstone, Euphoria, (My Little) Scythe and Pendulum are immediate standouts . Most of those realms manage this by offering ways to place additional dice; Euphoria allows doubles to placed for ‘free’, Charterstone allows all matching crates to be crossed off at once, and Scythe allows extra spaces to be crossed off by spending resources.

Realms: Between Two Castles and Euphoria

Another aspect to look at here rather than the number of available spaces is how many dice are required for a maximum score. A lot of realms require every single box to be complete in order to score the maximum 6 stars (see the section below on scoring) however Pendulum and My Little Scythe do not. This means that it is possible to score the maximum 6 stars even with no (intrinsic) way to obtain place additional dice and more than 9 available spaces. The only realm that seems like an outlier here is Between Two Castles – it requires 10 dice for a maximum score and no method of placing an extra dice without spending 3 Pumpkins.

The Micro Dojo realm would need to have 9 available spaces at least to fit the 3×3 grid that is the central playing area of the original game (or perhaps 5 if ignoring the starting corner spaces). If the available spaces go beyond that, some method of placing additional dice would be required.

Realm Scoring

Obviously, it should be feasible to score all 6 stars for a realm, so I wanted to look at the minimum possible dice needed , assuming optimal dice rolling. The table below shows the minimum number of dice needed, and whether that also leads to a ‘complete’ realm.  (If you have a better Tapestry solution do let me know!).

RealmMinimum Dice for 6 StarsRealm Complete
Between Two Cities6No
Between Two Castles10Yes
Charterstone7Yes
Euphoria3No
My Little Scythe0No
Pendulum8No
Scythe6Yes
Tapestry9?Yes
The Society9Yes
Viticulture6No
Wingspan9Yes

Aside from Euphoria and My Little Scythe, all of the realms require at least 6 dice to score 6 stars. In fact, the average minimum number of dice needed to score 6 stars is about 6.6 across all the realms. This is the best case scenario but does give a good minimum for the number of dice needed to get the maximum score in the Micro Dojo realm – at least 6.

Of course scoring 6 points in all 3 realms is challenging, if not impossible in some realm combinations, but I was curious to dig further into this scoring pattern. The chart below maps how points are delivered per dice, assuming an optimal path to 6 points. Some realms offer points at a fairly even pace (Scythe for example at a rate of about 1:1). Some realms require a heavier investment up front to begin scoring (such as The Society and Tapestry). Others deliver their points in chunks (such as Viticulture, Pendulum and Wingspan).

In the games that I have played, I’ve scored an average of 13-14 points per round. Some outlier situations resulted in a round score of around 16 (thanks, Between Two Cities) or lower scores of around 10 (thanks, dice gods), but an expected score of 13-14 per round means an average score per realm of about 4.5 stars.

Realm Resources

As a general rule across the realms, placing a dice seems to lead to 1 resource generated (whether pumpkin, heart or coin). This assertion is instinctual given that, on their own, few spaces do ‘nothing’ and few spaces provide two resources. Let’s have a look at the numbers in more detail by seeing how many resources are available and how many dice are needed to obtain them:

RealmPumpkinsHeartsCoinsTotalAction SpacesRatio
Between Two Cities4441291.33
Between Two Castles3339100.9
Charterstone2226120.5
Euphoria44412121
My Little Scythe6*6*6*18*121.5
Pendulum6*6*6*18*111.64
Scythe2226120.5
Tapestry33399+1-
The Society333991
Viticulture222690.67
Wingspan222690.67
Micro Dojo
Resources to action spaces ratio

Firstly, and rather unsurprisingly, resource are equally spread across every single realm. That is the number of Pumpkins, Hearts and Coins available are the same in any given realm. Though it seems like an obvious point that realms should have equal internal balance as well as overall balance, it is reminder that the Micro Dojo realm should also have equal resources (and that these resources are about equally accessible, with no one resource harder or easier to obtain than another).

Secondly, my assertion above that placing a dice leads to 1 resource generated is about right, at an average of 0.97 per dice. However, this average is calculated on the basis of a fully completed realm. Since scoring points is the ultimate goal of the game, and resources simply smooth the way to get there (the 0.1 points per resource being fairly nominal), it is also interesting to look at how many resources are generated when following the optimal scoring path.

RealmResourcesDiceRatio
Between Two Cities460.67
Between Two Castles9100.9
Charterstone670.86
Euphoria030
My Little Scythe0*0*0*
Pendulum080
Scythe0*60*
Tapestry991
The Society991
Viticulture360.5
Wingspan690.67
Resources generated whilst following optimal scoring

When following an optimal scoring path (i.e. the minimum number of dice needed to obtain 6 points) the number of resources generated per dice is about 0.5. In several cases this is because no resources are generated when exclusively focusing on points, or in the case of Scythe because the gained resource is offset by a resource spent.

Realms: Tapestry and Charterstone

Finally, an approach that focuses on optimising gathering all of the resources in a realm (whilst ignoring scoring) results in an average ratio of about 1.2 per dice. Hardly enough above the baseline to warrant resource gathering over scoring points as a strategy, and so I’ve omitted it here. I also charted the delivery of resources for the optimal scoring case above (much like I charted the scoring path) to see if resources were generally delivered consistently, front loaded, or back loaded. Since the optimal scoring path is not particularly realistic however I’ve also excluded it from the analysis. In actuality, given the typical ‘1 resource per die’ finding above, I expect any deviation from the optimal scoring path (due to dice randomness) to be spent generating resources.

The real number of resources per dice is of course somewhere in the middle, as players balance the randomness of the dice rolled with the current game state whilst trying to optimise scoring. I briefly mentioned above the number of dice needed to ‘complete’ a realm, and in the case of both My Little Scythe and Pendulum, more dice are required than are available (12), so the actual numbers may be skewed slightly. Nevertheless, this gives a good guidelines for creating a Micro Dojo realm where a dice placement can be expected to generate a single resource on average, with slightly less for a scoring path that leads to 6 points.

Bringing it All Together

Bringing all of the principle parts of the framework together now gives a pretty good baseline for creating a realm. Naturally the realm could (and probably should) deviate from these principles in some areas, lest it be a distinctly ‘average’ and uninteresting realm to play with. But as mentioned above these principles can help benchmark the realm and ensure it has a reasonable fit in Rolling Realms:

Theme

  • Capture just one of the key mechanical elements of the original game
  • Use a common language, resource and object elements

Action Economy

  • No realm has less than 9 action spaces
  • Realms with more than 9 action spaces should:
    • not require all of them to be completed for maximum score
    • and/or should offer ways to place additional dice

Scoring

  • It should be possible to score 6 points in a realm independently
  • A typical score for the realm should be 4-5 stars
  • Scoring 6 points in a realm requires at least 6-7 dice on average

Resources

  • Resources should be equally distributed in a realm
  • Resources should be equally obtainable in a realm
  • Resources should be gained at a rate of 1 per dice on average
  • Following an optimal scoring path should yield approximately 0.5 resources per dice

Micro Dojo Realm

I actually went through several different designs for Micro Dojo, with the one I liked best below. This realm (and one of the alternate designs) is available to download and print: (Download the printable realm here)

Rolling Realms: Micro Dojo

Starting with the idea of movement I toyed with a few methods of capturing the mechanic. First was an approach using circles and crosses to simulate moving a different meeple to the one previously. This led to a rather ‘standard’ path each game though. In the end, it occurred to me that a big part of the movement mechanic in Micro Dojo is having your opponent block spaces – this is represented by having spaces get marked off according to the other die roll. Another design also included building spaces (with the concept of spending resources for some benefit) which, whilst interesting from a play standpoint, proved complicated from a graphical design perspective (as well as balance) and ultimately I chose to go with the more simple design.

As a nod to fans of the original, I’ve also tried to distribute the resources in appropriate space on the board (with stars for Action spaces, Coins where Gold would be, Food where Food would be, and Hearts filling in the gaps).

Balancing all of the numbers to align with the principles above was actually more challenging than I expected, with resources and stars needing to be multiples of 3 (and all evenly distributed). Adding two spots to each ‘square’ (making the total 18) was much easier to balance and captured the feel of the original game more elegantly. Just like with the other realms let’s take a look at the numbers:

Action Spaces18 (9)
Minimum Dice for 6 Stars9
Resources Available15 (9)
Resource Ratio1
Resource Ratio for Optimal Score0.66
Rolling Realms: Micro Dojo vital statistics

The realm has 18 spaces which is far over what any other realm has. In reality the number of available spaces is around 9, since each time a dice is placed another space will also (usually) be marked off.

Since optimal scoring requires every space to be complete, this is a realm that could actually be quite challenging to complete fully. The resources granted for a ‘complete’ realm is a little above the average which I think is fine to offset some of the difficulty scoring points.

I expect the first 3 stars to be fairly easy to score (needing only a single dice), the 4th and 5th stars to be a little more challenging, and the 6th one to be very difficult. This mirrors Tapestry in that way, and is about in line with the expected score of 4-5 points for any particular game. Having to pay attention to the other rolled dice adds some additional complexity due to the ‘spacial’ element of scoring the final 3 stars.

I believe this is a realm that is quite ‘balanced’ from a numbers perspective, but that offers a lot of flexibility early on in the round whilst getting more and more challenging as the realm gets closer to completion.

Conclusion

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most of that number crunching and analysis came about after I had put together an outline for Micro Dojo. It’s true that game design is as much art as it is science, and the first stage of the design was making sure the game feels about right.

After that baseline experience was in place, all of the analysis here could be used to benchmark the realm. If the number of dice needed, or resources granted, or path to 6 points, were wildly different to the realms that already existed then the Micro Dojo realm would feel like a square peg in a round hole. Then, borrowing ideas from other realms to either accelerate dice placement (Scythe, Euphoria, Charterstone), ‘chunk’ points awards (Wingspan, Viticulture), or pump up resource generation (Pendulum, Between Two Cities), a unique realm could be created that easily fits alongside the existing ones. In effect, I had 11 mini games to use as a reference to create a number 12.

Analysing and drawing out the Rolling Realms framework was a really enjoyable process, like teasing out the hidden structure behind a musical masterpiece, or seeing the clear image pop out of a magic eye picture. It was made even more exciting by having a purpose for such an analysis in creating the Micro Dojo realm.

If you haven’t played Rolling Realms yet I urge you to consider picking it up (or trying out the Print-and-Play, or the web application). If you include Micro Dojo as one of your realms, I’d be honoured to have it played alongside Jamey Stegmaier’s creation, and even more so if you let me know your thoughts and experience with it so it can be improved!

Categories
Game Updates

Micro Dojo Expansion launching March 16 on Kickstarter

Today marks the start of a new year, and an exciting announcement for myself and the Micro Dojo fans. The expansion will launch on Kickstarter in just a few months on March 16th. If you’d like to get early notification of the launch, just click the button below:

The expansion has you pledge your loyalty to the Shinchoku and Tsuyo clans that are battling for the town, and includes:

  • Modular board setup for more variability
  • Alternate advancement tracks to pledge Loyalty
  • A new resource – Favour
  • New objectives, including split objectives
  • Extended 9 point game
  • More cute meeples (with advanced movement rules)
  • Deluxe boxed edition with wooden character meeples

And all designed for super low cost shipping and a low price. If you’d like to try out the new content in advance, you can find an updated version of the game online on Tabletop Simulator:

Categories
Company Announcements

Principles to Live (and Design) By

Writing a set of company principles right from the outset of Prometheus Game Labs might have seemed pretty sensible, defining what sort of company I wanted to build from the outset. The truth is I didn’t really know what my principles should be. As I became more experienced in running my first campaign, I realised that my principles were already there, guiding all of the ways I operate, and it took all of these interactions for my principles to reveal themselves to me in a consistent way. Instead of thinking what my principles should be, I’m now able to reflect exactly what they are.

These principles should serve as a compass – as long as I am following the direction I set here, I believe it to be the right course.

Delight People Throughout the Journey

At all stages of the journey, I want my customers to be delighted with their experience. Ultimately, I want to build a company I would want to support, a game I would want to play, and a Kickstarter project I would want to be a part of. This means providing an overall experience that I would be delighted to have.

This objective then is the one that all others stem from in support of it.

Provide Value

Providing Value in my products doesn’t just mean creating something at the cheapest price possible. It means packing as much game as possible into whatever the product is.

This means providing replayability and variability in games. It means providing additional content and play modes. It means making efficient use of components and materials. It means designing with the end package and shipping in mind. All of these things together inform choices in the others to make the product the best it can be. I won’t be content with producing something that is just ‘fine’.

Give People Choice

I love having choices, and I love products that let me get exactly what I want. Giving people more options for their shipping, options for the type of product and options for upgrades leads to more happy people. It adds additional challenges in manufacturing and shipping, but it’s something I think is worth it to allow people to choose exactly what they want.

It is fatal (or at least foolish) to believe that your product is suitable for everyone, but I want to reach and include as many people as possible. So from the people that want the smallest purchase possible, to the people that want everything, I want to cater for you.

Communicate Often

Whether it’s good news or bad news, nothing is worse than silence. I aim to keep people informed at all stages of the process.

This means responding to messages promptly. Keeping people updated as to the status of their pledge or order. Communicating updates on progress in game design and sharing in that journey.

Responding personally and genuinely is something I also believe is very important. I made an effort to respond to every single comment during the Micro Dojo campaign, and to reach out to every backer personally to thank them for supporting me, and it’s something I intend to do in future.

Deliver Promises

Customers should get copies of their game in a perfect condition every single time. If there is even the slightest problem, I will do everything I can to fix it.

When backers support a project, or someone buys a copy of my game, I believe they deserve to get exactly what they paid for and even minor damage should be replaced. Of course this policy comes at a cost, but I believe that cost to be entirely worth it to make sure someone somewhere is made happy.

I have personally had many experiences where my view of a company in light of an issue or error by that company is made significantly worse or better not by the original issue, but how it was handled, and I value good customer service very highly.

Include Fans

Sharing information and ideas early with fans offers two things. One, it allows me to offer something special that the closest followers will get to see. Two, it allows me to get feedback and inputs from the people most invested in receiving a quality game.

This of course leaves me vulnerable – exposing my mistakes or flawed designs, or even disappointing some fans with abandoned or unchosen ideas. But it doesn’t take one person to make a game, it takes the contribution of many. Comments, criticism, thoughts and feedback are a crucial part of that process and quite simply the more there is the better the game is – every single one has added an extra layer of polish.

This also includes remembering to thank, publicly, those people that contribute their time, effort and enthusiasm to helping me make games even better and bringing joy to thousands of people.

Respect Partners

Partners are crucial to the process of making games. Playtesters, manufacturers, artists, graphic designers, marketing consultants, fulfilment companies and shipping providers are all experts that I simply cannot do without. Forging good relationships built on mutual respect is not just the right thing to do from a personal perspective, but a pretty sensible business decision as well. I really value the time and support from these experts, and in return I aim to pay them promptly for the services they give me.

Categories
Game Design

VAT and Board Games

On a fairly regular basis, I see questions from designers (and backers) about VAT and how to handle it. Whilst I am not a tax expert, I have done quite a lot of reading and I’m familiar with compliance and legal terms, so I thought it would be useful to share as much as possible in a single article.

This article will be relevant for anyone involved with selling to (or buying in) the UK and countries in the EU, but specifically I will focus on sellers (and particularly Kickstarter) from outside those countries (since sellers inside are probably somewhat familiar). A quick reminder here that though the UK and EU (and indeed each member state) have VAT laws that follow similar purposes, they are applied differently, and I’ll be calling out differences in the UK and EU situation where relevant.

I will try and break down the article logically in the flow that most sellers would normally encounter steps, with a Glossary section at the end for reference:

Note: This article may be updated in future with further clarifications

What is VAT?

VAT stands for Value Added Tax. To think about it most simply, the tax is only on the value that has been added at each stage of a production process.

As an example, a manufacturer buys £100 of wood from a supplier that is VAT registered, which charges £120 (at the UK VAT rate of 20%) and sends £20 to the UK tax authority in its tax return. The manufacturer makes 10 toys worth £20 each out of the goods and charges customers £24 each for a total of £240. Since it collected £40 of VAT from customers it sends that to the tax authority, however it is also able to reclaim the £20 that it paid out in VAT (which the wood supplier sent). The total tax that the manufacturer pays is £20 – in other words it is a tax of 20% on the value added from £100 of wood to £200 of toys. The tax authority essentially gets a tax of whatever the value of the final product was (which is £40, if you remember that it has received £20+£40 and issued a refund of £20).

VAT typically has a standard rate to cover most items, which is around 20% but varies by country, and may have various reduced rates for certain items. Board games do not usually qualify for a reduced rate.

How is VAT charged to customers?

Sellers that are VAT registered in a particular country must charge VAT on their products sold in or to customers in that country. Conversely, sellers that are not VAT registered cannot charge VAT in that country, nor can they reclaim any VAT that has been charged to them on purchases. (Note that whether VAT registration is required will be covered in the next section).

Sellers that are VAT registered essentially act as collection agents for the tax authority by adding an additional charge to their goods and services. The tax they have collected is remitted in their regular VAT returns, and any tax they have paid out to another seller is reclaimed and refunded.

How do I pay VAT?

There isn’t a direct channel to pay VAT to the tax authorities on each purchase or sale. As mentioned above, with sellers acting as collection agents, any VAT owed is paid by submitting VAT returns to the relevant tax authority (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, HMRC, in the UK, and other local authorities in each EU country). This VAT return is handled separately from other local taxes like a sales tax, income tax, corporation tax etc.

In the UK these VAT returns are required to be submitted every 3 months, though after a period of correctly completing submissions (‘good behaviour’) this can be reduced to yearly. In the EU this requirement can vary by country, but for the IOSS (which is the solution for sellers shipping into the EU) this is required on a monthly basis.

  • UK – Quarterly (or yearly) returns
  • EU IOSS – Monthly returns
  • EU OSS – Depends on country

It is worth clearing up a common misconception here – VAT registration for non-resident (i.e. abroad) sellers is not mandatory, and there are no ‘fines’ as such for non-compliance. This is because VAT will still be charged, with the liability passed onto the customer and the courier acting as the collection agent (and usually charging an exorbitant additional ‘admin’ fee). Aside from avoiding the negative customer experience of a surprise charge there are some good reasons for a seller to register for VAT, which are covered below.

0. Registration

The registration for VAT, as far as we are concerned for delivering games to backers, takes two (or three) steps:

  1. Register for VAT in the appropriate country
  2. Apply for an EORI number
  3. Apply for IOSS and/or OSS (EU only)

Applying for VAT allows (or requires) you to collect VAT on taxable sales, and to remit that to the tax authority. It also allows you to reclaim any spent VAT on purchases. An EORI number is the Economic Operator Registration and Identification number, and is used to uniquely identify you for any goods you import. IOSS is the Import One Stop Shop, launched on July 1 2021, and simplifies the process of collecting and remitting VAT in the EU. This is not to be confused with the One Stop Shop (OSS) which allows for VAT registration in a single EU member state for coverage of the whole Union (rather than registration in each individual member state).

For step 1 in the UK you will be applying for VAT registration as an ‘overseas seller’ (definition here). You can register online here and I found the process to be fairly simple and completed it myself (with guidance here), though you can also appoint a professional to do it if you’re not comfortable or want to save your time. You may not have to apply if you are based in the UK and have a low turnover, but it can be worthwhile to do so anyway.

For step 1 in the EU, you only need to apply for VAT in a single member state (when using the OSS or IOSS). Commonly this is done in Germany, France or Italy due to ease of registration or simplified reporting requirements, but any EU member state would do. One big challenge here, aside from language differences, is that registering for VAT and consequently the IOSS, requires you to have a registered presence in the EU. If you do not (which I am assuming in this article) you require an EU resident intermediary to do this on your behalf. So unlike the UK registration where you may want an expert to help you navigate, it is essentially mandatory to use a tax specialist (like SimplyVat or Avalara) to handle this for the EU. This is not cheap, with registration costing several hundred (for steps 1 and 2 above charged separately) and then monthly submission requirements also costing over a hundred. The process of registration and monthly reporting can cost around €3000+ for a year.

Once your VAT registration is complete, you can apply for an EORI number in the UK here, and in the EU via your tax specialist.

Why register for VAT if I don’t have to?

Countries typically have revenue thresholds for which VAT registration is mandatory (for example in the UK it is £85,000) but these typically only apply to business in the country in question. So why register if you don’t have to?

The primary reason for registering is to be able to deliver products to customers with no extra charges (though there are a few alternatives available discussed in the article). So let’s assume we want to have happy customers receiving their games, why else might registering be a good thing?

Since registering for VAT requires you to charge VAT on sales, and allows you to reclaim any spent VAT on purchases, there are often financial benefits if your purchases come from within the country (including any import VAT charges on goods shipped from outside the country). Being able to reclaim any VAT added by service providers, shipping materials, or even any manufacturing you do in-country. As an example, for the Micro Dojo campaign I shipped goods in bulk to the UK, paying (and reclaiming) import VAT, and then fulfilled to customers worldwide (also reclaiming VAT spent on shipping materials). If you’re importing goods to a country, which may include a fulfilment centre, it may still be worthwhile to register for VAT.

Note: There is an alternative in the UK called the flat-rate scheme, however this is only available to sellers that have been registered for 2 years and is best evaluated by a finance professional for your specific situation rather than in this article.

What other options are there?

Your first option is the simplest – don’t register and collect VAT. It’s also probably the least attractive option as it leads to a negative experience for backers. Your goods will arrive at their door with an extra administration charge to pay on top of the VAT cost (further discussed in section 3). I put this option in the same category as not offering sales to UK and/or EU – not advisable unless you have no alternative.

The EU allows for marketplaces to register for IOSS. This means that for registered marketplaces like Amazon or Etsy, they are responsible for calculating, charging, invoicing and remitting VAT. As long as your sales are under €150 and you use a registered marketplace, then there is no need for you to register for VAT – you simply affix the marketplace’s IOSS number to the package.

In the UK, there is a similar scheme for sales of £135 or less, however the registration is a little different (and the definition of an online marketplace means they have to handle delivery as well) so you are less likely to find a registered marketplace for UK sales. Fulfilment and distribution partners like Spiral Galaxy Games may be able to act as an online marketplace. You are technically making a sale to the online marketplace at a zero-rated supply, and if this is the only method of sales to UK customers you can apply for exemption from VAT registration.

Kickstarter does not see itself as a marketplace, and has no role in calculating, collecting and remitting VAT. To bridge the gap between individual creators and VAT services, some pledge managers are looking into IOSS registration to allow them to handle VAT for campaigns. I know that Gamefound is looking into this, and I’d be surprised if other pledge managers are not as well. In future I expect we will see less and less individual creators registering for VAT and using pledge managers and fulfilment partners to handle tax collection.

A final note on a commonly asked question. I believe that there is still a duty free allowance for items declared as personal gifts up to €45 (though in practice it’s inconsistently applied). So it’s often asked “can’t I just send items and declare them as a lower value gift?”. Misrepresenting the value of goods on a customs declaration is customs fraud, and can be met with severe financial penalties. Don’t do it.

1. Funds Collected

Charging Backers

When selling (i.e. offering and shipping rewards) to customers in the UK and EU a chargeable event has occurred – how that tax gets collected and remitted to the tax authority is covered elsewhere in the article, but as a creator you need to know how to charge backers correctly first.

Kickstarter does not collect tax through it’s platform, nor does it offer an easy way to do it (since backer location is not known until the post-campaign survey). So as a creator your first decision is set prior to the campaign launch, and you have a few options which I’ve ordered from (generally) best to worst:

  1. Charge VAT post-campaign via a pledge manager
  2. Add VAT to shipping costs for each region in Kickstarter
  3. Create different pledge options with different prices for backers to choose from
  4. Don’t collect VAT from backers, and:
    1. Require backers to pay the VAT on delivery
    2. Pay VAT directly to the tax authority (‘eating the cost’)
  5. Don’t offer rewards to backers from UK or EU

The merits of each option could be discussed in a whole article, but for now I strongly suggest pursuing option 1 (or option 4.1 for very small campaigns).

Receiving Funds from Kickstarter

A few weeks after the campaign is completed, Kickstarter will send you the funds from all backers (minus it’s administration and payment processing fees). Unless you have followed options 2-5 above, you will still need a way to collect VAT in addition to the funds sent from Kickstarter (which is usually through the pledge manager).

There is an important myth to clear up here:

Myth: Kickstarter is not selling a product so there’s no need to charge VAT

Fact: Receiving goods in exchange for support (reward model) is considered a supply for VAT purposes

Kickstarter claims that it is not selling a product in its terms and conditions, stating “backers must understand that they’re not buying something when they back a project – they’re helping to create something new, not ordering something that already exists.” However, this is not the view of the tax authorities, which ultimately are the ones that decide whether VAT should be charged. In the UK, there is a publication called VATFIN5550 which covers the ‘Reward model’ type of funding Kickstarter follows, and determines that a pledge is taxable for VAT purposes. I am not aware of the precise law that exists in the EU, but I highly suspect that is has a similar effect.

The amount of VAT to charge to the customer will depend on the country, details of which can be found here.

Payment to tax authority

Kickstarter campaigns have a couple of complications when it comes to VAT collection:

  1. Funds are often collected long in advance of delivery
  2. Backer location (and hence VAT jurisdiction) is not known at the time of funds being collected, only post-survey.

In the UK, a tax point (or ‘time of supply’) is defined for a product as “the date they’re sent, collected or made available”. Some fulfilment companies I spoke to suggested that, in the EU also, the taxable event occurs upon on delivery in the same way.

This appears to take care of both problems above, however note that you may end up claiming VAT refunds in one period (e.g. for import VAT, see section 2) and then submitting VAT payments in a future period, so take this into account when managing cash flow. In the recent Micro Dojo campaign I both collected funds and delivered to backers in the same 3-month reporting period which made for one easy VAT return.

Actual payments to the tax authority are made after submitting your monthly, quarterly or yearly return and the total tax owed (or refunded) has been calculated. I found the UK system quite simple to navigate, however the calculations required to be able to complete the submission correctly can have its own complexities (for example, the difference between reporting VAT zero-rated and VAT exempt) and I do recommend procuring professional financial services for this. As mentioned above these regular submissions can be quite costly if using a professional, especially when required monthly for the EU.

One small note on this – depending on the options you’ve taken above your accounting could be quite different. Take a pledge of £10. In option 1, you submit whatever VAT was charged and collected through the pledge manager (e.g. you would have charged backers 20% of £10, which is £2 extra) , however for option 4.2 the tax authority considers that the £10 total already includes VAT (which is £8.33 + £1.67 VAT for a total of £10). Options 2 and 3 (adjusting prices in Kickstarter) might lead to some slight tax differences if the tax authority doesn’t recognise that the higher amount charged is intended to include VAT, but it is worth getting professional advice on this if you intend to follow that route.

2. Products Shipped to Country

For goods arriving into either the UK or EU (for onward fulfilment in region) import VAT is calculated and levied by the customs authority on arrival. If you are VAT registered you will want to include your EORI number on the customs declaration (which will allow you to later reclaim the VAT paid). If you are not VAT registered then the declaration and payment will be handled either by your courier or fulfilment centre, however you’ll be liable for those costs (one reason you might want to register for VAT).

Import VAT includes the cost of the product plus the cost of shipping. In the UK the declared value of the goods is typically the price paid to the supplier plus the cost of shipping (including any onward shipping), and a more recent update to guidance on calculating the VAT cost also includes any duties payable in the calculation of VAT.

It’s worth noting here that, with the introduction of the OSS and IOSS, the main reason to use an EU fulfilment centre is to reduce shipping costs for EU customers by having them ship from closer to their destination. The VAT benefits of using an EU fulfilment centre have been closed with the changes since July 1st that require sellers to account for sales within the EU via the OSS. The concept of free circulation still exists, where import duties are handled so that goods can be sold like any product made in the EU, and is handled via the OSS.

3. Products Shipped to Backers

What are my options for shipping to customers?

Essentially, goods can be shipped to backers in one of two ways:

  • Ship from outside the country
  • Ship from within country/region

When shipping from outside the country, this will fall into one of 3 categories:

  • Under IOSS (for EU)
  • DDP – Delivered Duty Paid
  • DDU/DAP – Delivered Duty Unpaid/Delivered At Place

The IOSS applies to goods shipped to the EU from outside the EU only, and for goods valued under €150. The customs declaration will still include your EORI number and also your IOSS number, allowing it to pass through customs.

In the DDP model, the seller pays (or accounts for) any duties, via the courier paying duties and passing on this charge to the seller. Often couriers charge for this service, and it may not be cost effective for lower cost items (which luckily is where the IOSS comes in for the EU) however it doesn’t require VAT registration since the courier acts on your behalf. For shipping high value items (over €150) to the EU, this will also require accounting in the OSS and VAT return but may be handled by your fulfilment partner in special cases (see below).

DDU or DAP is the least desirable option as it is used for consignments where duty is not handled by the seller (either via IOSS or DDP). This means that when the goods arrive to the customer, they will need to pay the VAT owed. The issue with this method is that additional charges will be levied by the courier that collects the payment, which can be significant, leading to extra cost for customers.

Finally, if shipping from within country or region, the application of VAT may be different. When shipping from within the UK to UK customers there is no need for a customs declaration – if VAT registered, the seller will simply account for sales in their regular VAT returns. If using a fulfilment partner as an online marketplace there is guidance for the parts they will be responsible for, which includes calculating and charging VAT at point-of-sale.

For shipping within the EU, for example from a fulfilment centre, then VAT registration is required for the country in which the goods reside and OSS registration will allow for goods to be shipped within the EU in free circulation.

What about UK/EU Friendly Shipping?

You might have seen badges on Kickstarter projects like EU Friendly Shipping (below). All this means is that backers will not be charged import VAT when receiving the package – it does not mean there are no VAT charges at all. This is because VAT will be collected by the seller (see section 1) and remitted to the tax authority.

EU
What does EU-Friendly Shipping mean?

The EU Friendly Shipping badge has always meant that backers will not be charged VAT on delivery. Previously items could be shipped from an EU fulfilment centre with the creator usually absorbing the one-time import VAT charge on the (lower) manufacturing cost, or because items were shipped from outside the EU and declared under the low-value consignment relief (LVCR) value of ~€23. Since July 1st 2021 the LVCR has been removed and requirements for registering for the OSS (for sales above €10,000) have been introduced.

What alternatives are there if I’m not VAT registered?

If you’re using a fulfilment partner that’s able to act as an intermediary, you may be able to proceed without VAT registration and still deliver to backers without charges. If the fulfilment partner is within the region, you will have to bear the costs of the import VAT on the goods – if you’re using a model where MSRP is 5x landed cost, then you are looking at losing approximately 4% cost (20% of 20%) on all your sales for that region. If the fulfilment partner is not in region but is acting as an intermediary for the IOSS/OSS, you will likely incur a small charge for them to handle the administration and VAT liability on your behalf. Spiral Galaxy charges 5% of the payable VAT, so at an approximate 1% of EU sales that makes it cheaper than registration (unless you have very large consignments to the EU).

There is a solution for UK providers shipping to the EU called Taxamo Assure, which also act as an intermediary and charges a flat rate of £2 per parcel (plus any VAT required to be paid) and provides an IOSS number to be used for shipping. It integrates with Royal Mail’s shipping solution Click&Drop, however it is also required to be integrated with the marketplace so it’s more suitable for those making sales via their own website than Kickstarter or a pledge manager. I suspect similar solutions may be available in the US to enable shipping to the EU.

How about shipping to retailers?

A final note on shipping to retailers (and distributors). Typically, as the retailer or distributor will be VAT registered in their country, you will be putting their EORI on the customs declaration and they will be the importer of record. The invoice (and packing list) will include the quantity of the goods at whatever price you sold them at, not the MSRP.

If you are VAT registered for goods sent to a retailer in the UK or EU, you may need to charge VAT on the sale and account for this in the invoice.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to take in in this article, and the specifics of your situation may call for different approaches. In general I found UK registration and VAT reporting to be easier (and cheaper) than the EU, but if you are not as comfortable with any of parts of this then you will need a finance professional

You will almost certainly need partners to handle VAT for customers. Luckily these are probably partners you are already working with. A pledge manager is the first priority simply to allow you to charge VAT appropriately for each country. A fulfilment partner can ease the burden of customs, and shipping if they are able to act as an intermediary for you. Finally, whilst the cost of VAT registration can be high for small publishers, if you are already engaging a finance professional to help with regular VAT reporting it may make sense for them to handle registration in addition.

Selling to customers in the UK and EU may seem intimidating, but it is absolutely worth offering games to these markets, which are some of the largest behind the US, in exchange for some extra work when it comes to fulfilment.

Glossary

  • VAT – Value Added tax
  • DDP – Delivered Duty Paid
  • DDU/DAP – Delivered Duty Unpaid (Delivered at Place)
  • EORI – Economic Operator Registration and Identification
  • IoR – Importer of Record.
  • OSS – One Stop Shop
  • IOSS – Import One Stop Shop
  • HMRC – Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the UK tax authority
  • LVCR – Low Value Consignment Relief.
  • Return – The reporting of your VAT liability to the tax authority in a given period
  • Remittance – Sending payment for owed VAT to the tax authority
  • Free circulation – Goods that have had import formalities completed so that they can be sold in the Union like others goods made in the EU.
Categories
Game Updates

Micro Dojo Expansion – Kickstarter Approved

The Kickstarter project for the expansion (tentatively titled Clan Loyalty) has been approved! The prelaunch page has a ‘Notify me on launch’ button which will send you an email as soon as the campaign goes live.

I am aiming to have things in place to launch early next year, so to follow along click the button below and then click Notify me on launch. 1 bonus VP to anyone who also clicks the share buttons on the page to tell a friend!

Categories
Game Design

Recipe for an X-and-Write

I’ve been playing a lot of X-and-Write games lately, from abstract Roll-and-Writes like Ganz Schon Clever, to spatial Flip-and-Writes like Cartographers, and a highly complex euro game in the form of Hadrian’s Wall. I have even tried my hand at creating a Roll-and-Write in with Microll Dojo (still a work in progress).

When considering X-and-Write games, I’ve noticed some common trends and features. Whilst new games do need to innovate, they also need to have some familiar elements to be accessible, and so I present a basic recipe of features for an X-and-Write.

Light Weight

Perhaps due to the disposable nature of the format, X-and-Write games tend to be lighter weight. This means things like simple mechanics, shorter turns, shorter play time, and usually a smaller footprint (making them suitable for travel). This also correlates with lower prices, with games coming in the $10-$30 region.

A game time of 20-30 minutes, with quick (or simultaneous) turns, seems to be the expectation for most X-and-Writes. This short play time combined with a simple gameplay loop is what often leads to us playing ‘just one more game’ of Ganz Schon Clever or Railroad Ink.

X-and-Write’s don’t have to be lightweight, but they are more challenging to market when they’re not. Hadrian’s Wall is a fantastically successful heavyweight game, but a common perception is that it is expensive at $60 for ‘just’ a flip-and-write.

Blue Player Setup
Hadrians Wall – posted to BGG by Shem Phillips

Work with what you’ve got

A lot of X-and-Write games have a phase for generating resources that is shared by all players. In this way X-and-Writes set a puzzle for players to solve, which is to make the best of whatever resources they have. When the resource generation is shared by all players (such as in Cartographers) then the game becomes a true test of skill, as all players are provided the same inputs and the winner is the one that makes the most effective use of them.

For this reason, X-and-Writes tend not to have ‘bad’ resource events (where there is a direct failure or loss). In other words all resources will benefit the player, but how much benefit can be derived from it depends on the the current state or time of the game . There are no fundamentally better or worse terrain types in Cartographers, or good and bad workers in Hadrians Wall, but the ones you would want depend on your strategy at the time.

A selection of Explore Cards
Cartographers Explore Cards – submitted to BGG by Keith Matejka

As a side effect, this shared input also allows these games to scale to almost infinite player count. When all players have the same input, turns can be taken simultaneously, preventing larger player counts from taking a long time. Even when there is player interaction it can be restricted – the sphere of influence for both Cartographers and Hadrian’s Wall is limited to your adjacent neighbours only.

C-C-Combos

One of the most satisfying moments of playing a game like Ganz Schon Clever comes towards the middle of the game, as boxes start to get completed, and multiple bonuses can be strung together in a chain. This mini puzzle which takes place over the course of a single dice choice provides a game within the game, as players try to sequence their choices to maximum effect. If I take this blue dice then I complete a row, which lets me cross off a yellow box, that let’s me put a 4 in my orange box and unlock the +1 bonus to…

GANZ SCHÖN CLEVER (Thats Pretty Clever!) One of our most played roll &  write games this year its been with us on all our trips away.  #ganzschonclever #rol…
Ganz Schon Clever – picture from boardgamemeeple Instagram

X-and-Writes often have bonuses for covering certain spaces (even if they just offer extra points like the mountains in Cartographers or the middle spaces of Railroad Ink). In euro style games this would encourage specialisation in a certain strategy, but it works fantastically in points-salad games where proper sequencing or timing can allow players to push a collection of their points scoring categories higher with only a single move.

Unexplored Territory

Even with the explosion of X-and-Write games in recent years, I still think there is some new territory to explore for designers.

Shared Board

Most X-and-Write’s give players individual sheets as their own personal ‘board’ to draw all over, but few have players play on a shared board or sheet.

A shared board lends itself well to area control games (something that X-and-Write’s can do well with the permanence of ink), and during development of Microll Dojo I started to lean into this aspect more heavily. However, a shared board also allows some of the common aspects of worker placement games to be realised, such as competition for spaces and limited resources.

A shared board not only allows players to compete for space, but also to cooperate. A lot of X-and-Write games have players working on their own player sheet or board, perhaps with common resource generation, but few have players working to a common purpose. Both a shared board and cooperative X-and-Write games are areas that I believe are still to be further explored.

Erasing

Dry-erase boards and markers are provided in some X-and-Writes (such as in Railroad Ink), instead of paper player sheets. This can add to replayability, since a dry erase board doesn’t ‘run out’ like a pad of paper as well as reduce waste. Some players also prefer to keep their papers for posterity, reviewing old scores or maps.

Aside from these cosmetic differences between paper and boards, most X-and-Writes don’t take advantage of the major difference which is the ability to remove or change marks during the game. The possibilities for erasing marks makes area control games more possible, as well as the ability for players to interact more by removing each other’s marks. There is a danger that an X-and-Write that leans into this too heavily could have just been better achieved as a ‘regular’ board game, with tokens and pieces to represent changing resources or movement, but I think there is still room for games to explore the mechanics that erasable boards offer even further.

Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition - Components
Railroad Ink by Horrible Guild

Final Thoughts

I think that almost any game could be adapted to an X-and-Write format – I even brainstormed what Pandemic would look like as a Roll/Flip-and-Write. However, whilst a game can be presented in this format, the core elements of the game may just perform better as a ‘regular’ board game.

To really be successful as an X-and-Write I think a game needs to hit most of the elements above, but importantly it really needs to make the Write part of the game the irreplaceable part of the experience. There is something primally satisfying about leaving your own personal mark on something, as many players of Cartographers can testify.

Board Game: Cartographers
Artistic Cartographers map – submitted to BGG by Maik Hennebach
Categories
Game Updates

Micro Dojo Print-and-Play on PNP Arcade

A lot of people have asked me how they can get a copy of Micro Dojo after the Kickstarter campaign closed. I’m happy to share that the Micro Dojo Print-and-Play files are now available at PNP Arcade:

The files include:

  • Game board and tokens printed on a single page
  • Rulebook translations in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Arabic and Japanese
  • STL files for 3d printable storage box
  • Printable matchbox storage (and low ink version)

PNP Arcade is a really cool store for Print-and-Play games that I first heard about via Jason Tagmire of Button Shy Games. PNP Arcade was a perfect fit for Micro Dojo, being in line with other micro games and having a very small printing footprint.

Check out the product page for Micro Dojo at the link above, and why not look at some of the other great games on PNP Arcade (including some free ones!).

Categories
Game Design

Where did all the money go?

I thought it would be interesting to give you a pretty rough breakdown of the funding from the Micro Dojo campaign to see where money was spent (and maybe help you plan funding for your own campaigns).

Design includes the artwork costs, some rulebook translation, and other minor costs like licensing fonts.

Promotion is the cost of creating review copies and advertising spend during the campaign. Note that I did no advertising prelaunch.

Product is the cost to physically produce 3000 copies, which was done in two separate print runs (of 1000 and 2000). There is some stock left over as 2100 copies were sold, but since Micro Dojo doesn’t have a direct line to retail this stock isn’t as easy to count as future profit.

Shipping includes the cost of freighting the product to the UK from UAE, and the cost of shipping all of the individual copies to backers (as well as shipping materials). I didn’t use a fulfilment partner.

Fees and Costs includes Kickstarter fees and payment processing fees, PayPal fees from late pledges, and also includes VAT costs for UK backers. I absorbed the costs of VAT for UK backers which offsets the import VAT costs to bring the goods into country, and so were not included above in shipping.

Profit is exactly what is says. I expect there to be some further future costs to replace some missing/damaged copies etc. but this shouldn’t materially change the amount

One of the things that immediately jumped out to people is the cost of shipping, well known to be astronomical at the moment. This didn’t sit right with me though because Micro Dojo was designed to be ultra cheap to ship, and even using a standard parcels service to freight from the manufacturer to my door was still a similar cost or cheaper than a commercial air or sea freight option. An alternative way of breaking down the costs then was to split it by the phases of the project. This is a similar split to above but basically includes the game design phase (pre campaign), promotion during the campaign, production and freight post campaign, and then fulfilment to backers.

What’s Missing?

Time. A question that comes up for new designers, but not often enough, is how much is your time worth?

Making a game is a hobby for some designers, and even for some budding professional designers it is considered a success to run a campaign that doesn’t lose too much money. So ending with some amount of profit from Micro Dojo was a massive success far beyond what I could have hoped. However, it also put into perspective how difficult it can be to make designing board games sustainable.

Micro Dojo from first conception through to the end of (the majority of) fulfilment took 10 months. On that basis it’s a small return over that time period, but I was also working a full-time job which meant I wasn’t quite doing 40 hours a week on Micro Dojo. That said, I estimate that somewhere between 20-30 hours per week is an average time spent.

A large part of that time was spent on campaign details and learning about other factors like manufacturing, logistics, the changing VAT situation etc. Further till some time was spent on things important to the development of myself and Prometheus Game Labs but were not strictly related to Micro Dojo. Playtesting others games, reading books and articles, developing and sharing my thoughts on this blog, and so on. Whilst future campaigns shouldn’t take as much time to cover the basics, it’s still worth noting that game design was actually a very small component of the overall time spent to bring a game to life.

Was it worth it?

From a purely financial perspective, I would have been better putting my spare time into working a second minimum-wage job, though I would have learned and created very little. However the Micro Dojo campaign gave a ton of value beyond the financial return:

  • Expertise in game design and publishing
  • An audience for future games and campaigns
  • A creative outlet
  • Engagement with people in the design and gaming community

Totally worth it. Micro Dojo was intended to be a launch towards larger campaigns (and larger games) and it’s provided a fantastic start. The format of the game allowing for a low price and low cost international shipping was well received, and future games in this format are also likely to be successful. Making games of this type sustainably in future though will require reducing the time spent on the project, or increasing the reach.

I hope this article helps other designers looking at their costs and breakdowns, as well as provides an interesting insight to fans of the game that want to know more about what it takes to create and launch a game.

Categories
Company Announcements

What’s next for Prometheus Game Labs?

With the Micro Dojo campaign mostly wrapped up, many people (including myself) have asked what’s next for Prometheus Game Labs?

Before the start of the campaign I had plans that Micro Dojo would be the beginning of a future in game design rather than the ending. Whilst there are a lot of potential avenues to explore, I thought I’d share some of the key areas I’m considering (and you might just see a few hints for future projects in the article).

  • Publishing more games
  • Publishing games from other designers
  • Licensing games to other publishers
  • Designing games in partnership
  • Consulting

If you want to get future updates on all the details here, you can subscribe to the mailing list below:

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Publishing more games

Number one on my list is to design and publish more of my own games, as well as add-ons for existing games (first spoiler alert). The micro game format proved to be hugely popular, especially at a time when material and shipping prices are at an all time high. It is a challenge to make sustainable in the long term however, and I plan to produce both small and larger games in future. You can also expect future games to appeal to a similar audience, as my personal preference is for Euro and Worker-Placement style games.

I really like the project dashboards that both Stonemaier Games and Mindclash Games include in their monthly emails, showing how far along their current projects are and what their plans for the future are. Not only is it a nice way to keep backers up to date but it’s also a good way to keep me on track. Announcing plans (and progress) publicly means I can focus on completing the things that need doing, and I have thousands of you to keep me accountable by being able to see where projects are developing or stalling.

This kind of project dashboard is something I plan to incorporate in the monthly newsletter, so keep an eye out for some additional game reveals in next months newsletter:

Stonemaier Games Project Dashboard
Mindclash Games Project Dashboard

Publishing games from other designers

Publishing games from other designers is another option for Prometheus Game Labs that allows me to leverage my experience in developing a game and fulfilling a campaign. It also frees up designers to focus their time on creating new designs. Bringing a game to life is hard work, and in the time spent planning and fulfilling the Micro Dojo campaign I likely could have created and tested several new games. Whilst I was certainly thinking of new game concepts and ideas during that period, nearly all of my attention was focused on the campaign which can make for a slow production cycle.

When considering games from other designers, they must fit a similar theme and style or at the very least appeal to fans of existing games. It also has to be a game that I am very excited about, to work as hard (if not harder) as I would to bring a game of my own to life. I see taking on another persons design as a lot of responsibility – their success as a designer rests on the publisher making their design a success after all.

Publishing games from other designers is certainly something that I am open to in future. I’m not actively pursuing it in the short term whilst I focus on launching the next steps of my own games.

Licensing games to other publishers

Licensing games to other publishers is a well-trodden path taken by designers that focus more exclusively on design, but also has a couple of other advantages I can see.

I mentioned above that games published by Prometheus Game Labs would follow a similar style and appeal to a similar audience. Part of the design process involves experimenting with other ideas, genres and mechanics, and I may find some exciting projects that don’t really fit the existing brand. This is where licensing games to publishers that fit their brand can allow us both to be more successful.

Another option, with the quality of Micro Dojo already proven, is producing a larger sized premium edition and utilising an existing publishers reach (both in audience and distribution chains) for a successful partnership. Plus the name Micro Dojo: Macro Edition has a nice ring to it don’t you think?

Designing games in partnership

Arguably a mixture of the previous three options, designing a game in partnership with another person or team is probably the most common approach in board game design.

Though it seemed Micro Dojo was almost an entirely solo endeavour, the Thank You section of the campaign page shows just how many people ended up contributing to it’s success. When you also count the feedback from playtesters, fans, and other designers, even a micro campaign takes inputs from literally hundreds of people.

I’m used to working on my own a lot, but I prefer to have other people to work with (especially when we have differing skillsets). I’m at my best when I’m engaging with people and, if for no other reason than keeping myself healthy and happy, I very much look forward to working with other designers on some future games.

Consulting

My full time job, for nearly all of my working life, has been as a consultant. Being a consultant, particularly in security, has developed a lot of skills that transfer to board game design – from problem solving to project management. Consulting also lets me do some of the things I really love to do.

I love to share knowledge and to teach. I love to solve problems and create elegant solutions. I also love being able to communicate those ideas and inspire people. Finally, I love to help people create something.

One thing I would have found hugely valuable during the whole campaign for Micro Dojo was an expert in certain areas to check-in with on a regular basis. Whether to answer specific questions, or just as a way to keep things on track and generate new ideas, even a 1 hour session every couple of weeks would have let me focus my efforts in the right places and keep momentum going.

When the time comes to transition to board game design full-time, supporting other projects with consultations (either one-to-sessions, or through a structured toolkit and methodology) is something I plan to add on top of designing and publishing games.

Summary

Where Prometheus Game Labs will actually end up going in future could well differ from all of these, as new opportunities come and go, but I hope this post has given you an insight into my intentions. In the short term I’ll be working on more games that fit the existing mould set with Micro Dojo, so keep an eye on the blog and email updates for more announcements (you signed up to the mailing list, right?).

Categories
Uncategorized

Modernising Game Mechanics

It might seem odd to think of board games as having modern improvements the way a technology does – after all we’re using chunks of wood and cardboard which are pretty old fashioned as materials go. But board games have matured rapidly over recent years, and games even only ten years old can feel dated. Just like the first manufacturer that put a camera or a fingerprint reader on a phone that has now become a standard, board game designers also develop new game design features that become accepted standards.

One of the things I aim to do as a designer is spot trends in other well designed games and try to understand where that can be applied, or at the very least broaden my understanding of why a good game is a good game. With that in mind I want to share three examples of modern game design that interest me:

  • Worker Placement – Never Blocking
  • Deck Builder – Quality of Life
  • Table Presence

Worker PlacementNever Blocking

Raiders of the North Sea has a unique worker placement mechanism (something that other Garphill Games are also well known for), where the player takes two actions – placing a worker on an empty spot and then picking up a (different) worker from an occupied spot. Gugong is another game with a unique worker placement mechanism, where players take actions by placing a card (numbered from 1-9) from their hand with the caveat that the card placed must be a higher value than the one already on the space.

Both of these games are ones I would introduce to newer players as being more accessible than some other worker placement games. Often more accessible games coincides with lighter game experiences that don’t have as much to offer more serious gamers, yet these games also offer a decent depth of play .

Gugong from Game Brewer

Worker placement games tend to reward planning, sequencing, and taking advantage of opportunities (either in spotting ‘open’ strategies, or timing your actions before opponents). These things can be challenging for players that are newer to gaming, and even to experienced gamers that may be playing for the first time. As a lot of mental energy is going towards understanding what actions are possible (i.e. how to play the game), planning several turns in advance and then rapidly resequencing or restructuring that plan when an action gets blocked can be overwhelming.

This is where worker placement games that don’t (hard) block spaces come in. In Raiders, if that critical empty space you were planning on taking has a worker placed on it by another player, well now that space becomes your second action instead of your first. In Gugong, if another player plays a higher card on the space you wanted then you now have to play an even higher one perhaps than initially planned, or pay an additional cost to place a lower one.

Disrupting, but not blocking, a player’s plans improves the experience by still allowing the player to have agency in executing their plan. More importantly though it lowers the barrier for newer players, reducing cognitive load since plans can change in efficiency rather than being completely reworked.

Deck BuilderQuality of Life

Another area I see improvements in board game ‘technology’ is what I would call quality of life improvements to established game mechanics. Incremental changes that (should) become established norms.

Lost Ruins of Arnak is a deck builder combined with worker placement. Deck builders tend to follow a similar format, with cards (often 5) being played on a turn and then used to obtain more powerful cards. These new cards go into the discard pile to be later shuffled back into the draw pile when empty. Most deckbuilders work this way, but Lost Ruins of Arnak has you put the newly acquired card on the bottom of your draw pile instead. A small but very effective change.

Under Falling Skies and Lost Ruins of Arnak – finally in stores! « Czech  Games Edition | Boardgame Publisher
Lost Ruins of Arnak from Czech Games

Most deck builders that follow the discard and shuffle method of acquiring cards adds a negative experience in two ways. First player has to get through all the older, less interesting cards before shuffling the new one in, and secondly when they do shuffle it in it still may not show up for some time (or even at all in late game). When a player has obtained a new card for their deck that does something cool, they want to use it!

By placing the newly acquired card on the bottom of the deck, players have some level of reliability about when that card is coming, and they get to play with their new card sooner. Not only is this more fun for the player, it has an added effect of getting to the power quicker (without changing the raw power level of cards) and speeds up the game. This is more important in modern deck builder + ‘something’ type of games (Dune Imperium, Clank, etc.) , where decks are not recycled as quickly as in a pure deckbuilder. I can think of few deck builders that wouldn’t be made more enjoyable by this minor change.

Table Presence

You can’t mention table presence without mentioning the Everdell tree (pictured below). This was the thing that I saw, from the other side of the room, and made me say “what is this game? I want to play it!”. The thing about the Everdell tree is that it’s completely unnecessary for play, and the game could easily have just been a flat board. But it wasn’t, and the tree became an icon of the game. (See also the Tekhenu Obelisk, and the Viscounts of West Kingdom Castle).

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Everdell from Starling Games

I would have considered myself the type of gamer that cares more about the core mechanics than aesthetics, and yet even I am drawn to games that look good or look different. The models for Anachrony and Cerebria are similarly unnecessary to play the game, but after painting them and putting them on the board they really do improve the experience! Mindclash Games also does something really interesting with these models by providing them separately (or as part of an expansion) to the base game. This really speaks to me as I like to offer gamers a choice, catering to those that want to experience the game at a lower cost and to those fans that want to upgrade their experience.

Games with table presence are now much easier to design and produce. Thanks to improved design tools, easy prototyping with 3d printers, and the ability of manufacturers to produce more complex and detailed moulds and materials. I expect to see a lot of successful games in future with components that differentiate them and stand out on the table (more than just an army of miniatures).

Summary

With Micro Dojo, it would seem that I’ve had quite the opposite of table presence, and a core aspect of the game is about tactically blocking spaces! In fact, the game has a table presence all of it’s own, attracting attention by virtue of how small it is, and being a more tactical game (with very short turns and limited choices per turn) means that disruption of plans doesn’t lead to a negative play experience.

That said, improving the accessibility of games (whilst still having depth of play), adding quality of life features for a smoother experience, and making games with a unique table presence, are all important aspects that I want to be part of my design and I will be strongly considering how to include them in future.