Tell us a bit about yourself and TALES OF THE NORTHLANDS, The sagas of Noggin the Nog.
Me: By qualification I am a Chartered Building Surveyor but by profession I run my own office interiors fit out company. Married for 13 years with a 12 year old daughter, 3 year old Schnauzer called Elsa and 3 fish. We all live in the outer suburbs of London. I used to be a keen SCUBA diver and gained an open water instructor qualification and trained to dive on mixed gases. I hope to do it all again one day.
Tales of the Northlands: Is a game that has taken me almost 3 years to develop. It is based on an old BBC children’s TV programme, The Saga of Noggin the Nog that first aired in 1959 and was shown on and off until the late 1970’s. It has huge nostalgia for British people of a certain age. To the rest of the world Noggin is a very well-kept secret. Noggin is a young Viking prince who becomes King and has to deal with the evil plans of his wicked Uncle who wants to steal his crown. The game replicates this dynamic with the players acting as Lords of the Northlands trying to help Noggin.
What did you do to build up a following before you launched Noggin the Nog?
In truth that process started 4 years ago. I thought it would be fun to try an publish a game but realised that from a standing start I had no profile in the gaming industry and a big box Euro was too ambitious. I had designed a few games but never approached a publisher and realised that to use a manufacturer would require 1000 units being made. I would never sell that many.
I self-made my first game and produced 400 copies. My second game was produced in China and was successful on Kickstarter. It was launched at UKGE2017 and also sold at Essen. A large European distributor also took it on following favourable reviews in Counter magazine and a video review by Rahdo. It raised my profile a little over the parapet to give me a small pedigree as a designer, enough to give me some confidence that a big box project like Tales of the Northlands might have a chance.
How did you approach and convert the fans of the Book and TV series?
To be honest I wasn’t sure that fans of the original books and TV series would be interested in a game that needs two hands to pick up (weighs 2kg). My focus was to create a gamers game but when I met with Peter Firmin (the original artist and illustrator of the books and films) he was very keen that the game shouldn’t be so complicated that children couldn’t play it. So I decided to have three versions of the game in one box,
A Family version
A Solo version
A Gamers version
In this way, non-gamers could enjoy a simplified version with their children and grandchildren and also experience the artwork of the cards and board which are so familiar. I produced a Facebook page and suddenly found requests to join, links from other Noggin fan pages and other TV series produced by Smallfilms (who made Noggin). I also found out that there was a travelling stage production of Noggin touring the country so I contacted them and they agreed for me to be able to include a flier for the game (pre-Kickstarter) in their programme. I went to see the show and met the cast. It is very good.
When did you launch and why did you choose that exact moment?
Project management is a big part of my day job so I picked my preferred ‘retail’ launch date (Essen 2018) and worked backwards. Allowing a contingency for unforeseen hitches I allowed a 3-week end of project buffer, 2 weeks worst case for customs clearance, 28 days shipping from China, 1 week loading, and 28 days for manufacturing. Add that up and it meant I needed a 100% tested, finished and agreed design by the start of July. That worked neatly with the UK Games Expo which is the first weekend in June. The artwork had all been finished in August 2017 and the playtesting was all wrapped up by April 2018. The production tenders for manufacture had been finalised in March. I started the Kickstarter launch in May so that it overlapped with UKGE and ended the following week. That allowed us to demo at the show, generate some buzz and allow people a few more days to back the campaign. Again, that process was helped incredibly by a 10-minute run through video by Rahdo which he uploaded the day after the show. The man is a God.
Did you expect so many backers?
Short answer, no.
Long answer; Feedback at UKGE had been very generous and the campaign was helped tremendously prior to that by reports from Edward and Amanda of Heavy Cardboard. I met them at Leiriacon in March 2018, the Portuguese games convention. I had taken a ‘nearly there’ prototype to Portugal hoping to get it played once and gain a little feedback. However, the organisers had very kindly issued a bulletin listing all the prototypes to be there. These included Captains of the Gulf by Spielworxxx, Venus, the new Concordia expansion by Mac Gerdts, Reykholt by Uwe Rosenberg and Escape Plan by Vital Lacerda. To say I felt considerably outgunned is an understatement. I was blown away when Edward actually approached me and asked to play following a request from one of his patreons to take a closer look. Edward made some very favourable tweets and follow up mentions on his pod cast. He then interviewed me and ran a video play through. It was as if the USA had suddenly been introduced to Noggin. They started watching episodes of the programme on Youtube and they seemed to like him.
Despite all of this positivity and preparation, I was acutely aware that I was doing this all alone and was still a new boy at this. I had to be realistic about what was achievable. So when the KS campaign hit its target in 2 hours I was blown away. In the end we were 450% of target. It’s the stuff of dreams.
The time between your campaign and delivery is very short. Are you sure you will make it in time, if not do you have a backup plan?
Just to be contrary, I don’t think the time between KS campaign end and delivery for TotN is short. If you have put the work in before the Kickstarter launches and have a fully play tested and developed design that has been inspected, sanity checked, priced and prototyped by a reliable manufacturer, my lead in period for TOTN from KS success to official launch has between 6-7 weeks of slack. Its all about thorough preparation before the ‘launch’ button on Kickstarter is pressed. I really don’t know why so many Kickstarter games take over a year to materialise. If I were to guess I’d say that the images and game play shown on many KS campaigns are thin facades of a game with negligible development. The publisher uses Kickstarter to test the water and if it’s successful, then they start to work on the game and the rules. Without naming names, I have play tested a game which was launched two weeks later at Essen and even then the rules had been changed after I played it. If thin development isn’t the case then there is no excuse beyond an incredibly relaxed attitude to programming and timescales.
Am you sure it will be on time?:
I cannot be 100% sure of anything that is now totally out of my control, but I have confident expectations. I received photos this morning of the fully boxed games on pallets in China being taken to the docks for loading in 2 days time. Here they are;
The shipping agents have confirmed the ship to be used and I have a docking date in the UK of 29thSeptember. The shipment once cleared through customs is being trucked directly to the fulfilment company who is booked to take delivery by 7thOctober. Outward postage to backers should be completed within a week of that They have the full backer details. I literally have nothing else to do.
If the ship sinks or runs aground that will be astonishingly bad luck but no contingency or back up plan can cater for that. The freight is insured, a second edition will be reprinted and we will try again. The games would still be delivered within a year of the Kickstarter commencing.
Your first campaign was for a Golf game. It was unsuccessful. What happened?
It was my first publishing experience and I had no idea of what was achievable. I handmade 50 copies to test the water, distributed some to reviewers and put the rest up for sale. They sold out in 24 hours, in no small part owing to a very complementary video by Rahdo who I wrote to on impulse and he liked the sound of the game. I invested in some banner advertising on BGG and had quotes from Chinese manufacturers who were using heavy sales approaches to get me to sign up for 3000 units. The weird thing is that this process has a strange hypnotic effect. You start thinking that shifting 2000 units must be easy. But in a moment of clarity I decided to be cautious and base my cost model on 1000 units (the minimum they would deal in). I needed £10,000 to cover my costs and I hit the earth with a bump when the KS campaign only achieved half of that.
Why did it fail? In a nutshell no one really knew who I was except that I was a first-time designer/ publisher and probably a dubious gamble at a time when campaign pledges weren’t arriving and owners were skipping off with the cash. The diagnostics on the BGG banner advertising showed a microscopic click return that was quite shocking.
It was a card game with few frills and no minis just cards counters and pawns. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker but it certainly wasn’t a head turner. It had no stretch goals and I overestimated the draw of the wooden box. I thought it was a great feature. Many people were very critical asking why I hadn’t used a nice cardboard box. Some reviews after UKGE dedicated several paragraphs on how much they didn’t like the wooden box, more words were written about the box than the actual game inside.
A factor that I never appreciated was that the majority of board gamers really hate golf as a pastime. That is no exaggeration. People were responding quite aggressively at times when we tried to pitch at the UKGE. ‘A good walk ruined’ etc. It is a very unpopular theme for a board game. Just to prove the point, when I self-published 400 copies and sold them myself, the game achieved a rating of 7.1 and an overall ranking of 5857 on BGG. Nothing to write home about but it is the highest ranked golf themed game on BGG. Read the comments on other golf games, people DESPISE golf.
Your second game was a small game about Bees. How did that campaign go? The Kicktraq graph shows you had rather unusual funding curve.
The Nimbee campaign was touch and go. This time the retail launch was to be at UKGE so the KS campaign started at the end of December. It was a small box game with an MRSP of £20 so I decided to accept a KS target less than break even but have some extravagant stretch goals, a cute sculpted Queen bee, wooden bespoke ‘Beeples and wooden honey pots.
It took three weeks to hit the target of £1500 but then it seemed that backers were playing a game of their own and pulling out to drop the fund total back under the target. This bouncing across the target line went on for about 2 weeks and drove me insane. I hadn’t hit a single stretch goal. Then I went to Leiriacon in early February and met Rahdo, who again produced a fantastic 10-minute review video for the game. From the day the video was uploaded, sales took off. All the stretch goals were hit in three days. With 4 days to go I did a mail shot to all the previous backers of the Front Nine (the golf game) advertising that all of the stretch goals were achieved, and the sales curve took off once more. Final total was £4500. I was very happy.
What’s the best kickstarter advice you ever received?
I’m afraid I received no tangible advice concerning Kickstarter prior to jumping in and have had to learn the hard way. However I have been told that the best advice I have passed on is;
1/ Kickstarter will not release your money for up to one month after the campaign finishes, so don’t make arrangements for the backer’s cash for four weeks. Factor this into your delivery date.
2/ Aim to break even with your first KS campaign. Don’t expect to make a profit.
3/ The first impression will sell or kill a project within 10 seconds of the KS page loading. You need a sharp punchy video.
What´s your thoughts regarding stretch goals?
Love & Hate. Good stretch goals boost sales, that is an undisputed fact. However many so-called stretch goals are in fact items that always intended to be in the game but not stated in the description. These include, box inserts, 310gsm blackcore cards, extra artwork, foil on the box, ‘thicker’ player mats and player aid cards. Or they are useless expansions consisting of simple counters that detract from the core game play.
What do you think is the most important element of a Kickstarter page?
For the seller it’s the initial video. It’s got to catch the backer’s imagination and impress. For the buyer, its clear information on contents, cost and delivery.
If you could change one thing with Kickstarter, what would it be?
Release backer’s money to the seller within one week of leaving the backers account.
Do you have any role models in the board gaming industry?
When I pitched The Front Nine to numerous publishers, not one had the good manners to contact me afterwards to say thanks but no thanks. Most took a review copy and none were returned despite express promises to the contrary. It was all very disheartening.
At that time Tony Boydell was the inspiration for me setting up my own publishing company. He emphasised that the much cited and glib belief that ‘if your game is good enough a publisher will pick it up’ is ludicrously naïve and hopelessly aspirational. Excellent designs are missed and passed over all the time and diabolically inadequate games are signed up too often. Publishers are human, they have off days and they make mistakes.
Tony is an excellent games designer, great company and has a lot more creativity to share with the world.
Where can people reach you?