Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cardboard Olympus Part IV: A Matter of Faith

Do you remember Black & White – an old video game created by Peter Molyneux? If you don’t, let me refresh your memory. In Black & White you play as a god, invoked into being by prayers of a family hoping for a miracle to save their drowning offspring. As time passes, your task is to make more people believe in you, for your powers – and your avatar – grow with the unwavering faith of new believers.

Image source:
What does this all have to do with board games and the BoardGameGeek ranking? Well, as I previously said, entering the Cardboard Olympus requires a powerhouse publisher and a well known designer (besides an excellent game, which should go without saying). If all that is true however, how is it possible that Twilight Struggle is and has been the number one for some time now?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that GMT Games is in any way lacking, but if we compare it to Wizkids, Asmodee or Fantasy FlightGames, it is still relatively small, with substantially smaller print runs. Now, it is true that Twilight Struggle has been the all-time bestseller for GMT, but if you compare the number of boxes sold to Agricola, you will see how vastly less popular Twilight Struggle actually is. Since we know that just being a great game is not enough to justify a godly position, there must be something more to the seeming miracle of a political wargame reigning supreme over mages, knights, farmers, colonists, dwarves, mystical lands and power grids.

And there is - the loyalty of the people who play games published by GMT Games. Anyone who is a fan of this publisher, knows that it has a business model that used to be quite unique. A game goes through a period during which the fans can look at its prototype components, read designer diaries, ask questions and possibly even become play-testers, and decide to pledge a fixed sum of money towards the game, which guarantees them a copy, if the game is ever produced. If enough pledges are gathered in the time allotted, the game goes to the printers.

The above system is called P500 and if you’re seeing some similarities to Kickstarter, then you are absolutely right. This is why I said this business model used to be unique. It still is actually, but not as much as when GMT started using it years ago, when crowd-funding was merely a glint in somebody’s eye. Still, even now it brings something very unique to the table: a sense of participation and loyalty, usually associated with either the largest and oldest companies, or those who really know how to work their crowd-funding magic.

Obviously, P500 has one more advantage: it lowers the financial risks of publishing a game. However, from the BoardGameGeek ranking perspective, it creates something even more important: the willingness of the fans to invest themselves in the project. And this investment means that they will buy, play, talk and be more disciplined and eager when it comes to rating a game on BGG.

“Hold on a moment”, a hear you ask, “does that mean that a place on the Cardboard Olympus can be secured merely by fans who are a vocal minority?” Well, yes… in a way. Although you may also say, that it’s more of a proof of how much passionate fans can do for a relatively unknown, but nonetheless excellent game. That is why one should never underestimate the power of a happy community of followers, for becoming a cardboard deity is not only a matter of cold calculations but also, to a reasonable extent, truly a matter of faith.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A busy summer

A few week have already passed since our Kickstarter campaign for Progress: Evolution of Technology finished. We have been relentlessly working on the final files for production and this cause our week of silence. Now this silence is over because the manufacturing process has starter and we're glad to announce that everything we planned is still on schedule.

The tech tree file for approval
Our Kickstarter project has drawn quite some media attention and for those of you who can speak Romanian, here is an article in one of the most popular Romanian newspapers about Progress and the Polish-Romanian team who managed to pull this off.

Agnieszka and Andrei on the cover of the article in "Gandul"
The ink has barely settled on the first print run of Praetor - this is a slight exaggeration, of course - and we're already preparing a second print run in English. The original 7500 copies are in stores around the world, according to our estimation currently in 33 countries on 5 continents.

On Wednesday evening (8:00 PM EST) we will hang out with Ryan from Cardboard Republic talking about Praetor and the future plans of NSKN Games. You are welcome to join us...

Last but not least, about one month ago during TIG Con we had an interview with our Bulgarian friends from the most popular local blog. No need to get scared, all the questions and answers are also in English...

And for those of you who do speak Bulgarian, here is the link to the local article

Oh... since we haven't spoken about Exodus in a while, a friend has found it in a games store window in Utrecht, the Netherlands, surrounded by quite some other impressive titles...

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

A few thoughts after a successful Kickstarter campaign

Two days ago our first Kickstarter campaign for Progress: Evolution of Technology has ended. The results exceeded our expectations and we would like to thank once again all our supporters - people who trusted us and helped bringing this project to life - as well as Richard Ham and Lance Myxter for reviewing Progress.

We have raised 95,000 dollars reaching an amazing 500% of the funding goal, while unlocking no less than 19 stretch goals.

The messages we received and the comments were overwhelmingly positive and thus the expectations are now very high. We would like to savor this moment just a while longer, but the truth is that we don't have much time for gazing. 

These days the focus is entirely on the production process. Our promised deadline is October 2014, which leaves little room for delays. We want to establish a pattern in living up to our promises, which right now translates into delivering to 1980 backers their rewards on time.

Even though Exodus: Proxima Centauri has undergone a crowd-funding process itself, having a game on Kickstarter was a completely new experience. We have learned a lot, faced a whole palette of new challenges and started a whole new direction for NSKN Games.

Even though most of our upcoming titles will no go through Kickstarter, we've gained the confidence that we can present our most special titles to you directly and gain your support. 

While Progress: Evolution of Technology  has been the focal point for NSKN Games and our fans for the past three week, we're not forgetting about our other titles. Just recently our friends have discovered Praetor in game stores in France and Poland in the largest local network of book stores.

Praetor in Empik

Last but not least, our success on Kickstarter caught the attention of the business magazines in Romania and just today Progress was featured in an article.

Article about Progress: Evolution of Technology in Ziarul Financiar

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Friday, June 13, 2014

The road to Progress

Civilization games… ask any heavy gamer what is their favorite genre and more often than not you’ll hear this answer: “civilization games, of course”. In today’s world, with everyone being busy – and this category includes the aforementioned heavy gamers – many people are looking for short, yet deep empire builders, games which offer the epic feeling and yet they last just a few hours. The civilization game playable in less than one hour has slowly become the fata morgana of the board games world.

As a designer – probably like many others – creating a civilization game is “the jewel of the crown”, the one achievement that I can be most proud of. So, there I was, about two years ago, with a pen in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me, thinking of the perfect civ, one game which would define my career as a designer. Now, let’s fast forward into the future. In November 2012,Agnieszka – co-designer – and I were sitting on the couch, cutting and sleeving no less than 550 cards which made up the first playable prototype of the game we used to call Evolution (of Technology).

The idea

In 2012, everything and everyone at NSKN Games revolved around Exodus: Proxima Centauri. We brought it at several fairs and conventions and, curious as we are, we kept asking people “what do you like the most about this game?” and the most common answer was “the tech tree”.

It was one regular evening, one of our many game nights, when it suddenly happened. After an epic game of Civilization which I lost miserably, I said out loud “I love this game…” and the natural question was “What? Why?”

Indeed, why did I like Civilization, along with many other civ games? Well, it was the tech tree.

I think that now it’s time to state the obvious. The will to design a civilization game was fitting perfectly with the new idea of making a game which is all about the tech tree. So there it was, sitting in front of the eye of the mind, the idea we were looking for, a game about researching technologies, following the path of mankind from the ancient times to the modern days, discovering technologies and shaping the things to come.

The first prototype and the secret plan of our friends

In the beginning it was all about research. We went through the history of technology, the history of inventions and of religious ideas and we selected what we believed to be the most important technological achievements in human history. I keep saying we because Progress: Evolution of Technology was not an undertaking suitable for one man. The amount of information to process was huge and it required team work and since Agnieszka and I had done it before for Exodus, it was supposed to be the perfect team. And so it was…

Back to November 2012… The first tech tree required the entire back side of a one square meter poster and it featured no less than 160 technologies divided into five types (Culture, Engineering, Science, Military and Government) and five ages, staring with the Antiquity and ending up with the creation of BoardGameGeek. This did not discourage us, so we went on to make the first prototype consisting of 550 cards which would all be used in a 5-player game. Agnieszka warned me that the game might be “a little too heavy” but I went on and tested it with a group of good friends.

The first play was epic indeed. Advancing to the third age after 3 hours of play, the table was not large enough to keep almost one hundred technologies. So I decided to end the experiment and ask for feedback. To my surprise, they loved the game but they all said “do not do this to me ever again”. Back then I could still pretend it wasn't my fault and blame Agnieszka, because for all they knew, it could have been her who insisted on allowing all those technologies in the game, not me.
The second group had a slightly different reaction. After a little more than five hours, when they had finally reached the end of the fifth age, I asked for feedback. One of them stood up and said to the others “it’s just the five of us here, no other witnesses, if we kill him now no one will ever know”. As it turns out, they didn't go through with it. On the contrary, they quite like the idea behind the game, the flow of technologies and how it all came together. Progress: Evolution of Technology had an epic feeling and the only major problem was the length of the game.

A friend of mine came with a simple yet enlightened idea. “What you've got here is a game with like… five expansions. Trim it down to… just one game” he said and so we did.

From five ages we cut it down to three, from five technology types we chose three of them which made up the core of the game and went back to review the mathematical model.

So, what is Progress: Evolution of Technology?

The rest of the story is neither that epic nor that funny. We went on playing, designing and revising until we and our testing groups could agree we have a good game in front of us. The final version of Progress: Evolution of Technology features less than 60 technologies and spread over almost 200 cards and the play time is now less than 90 minutes from the original 5+ hours.

The final stage was to dress up the game with illustrations and graphic design.

We think of Progress: Evolution of Technology as a light civilization game, focused solely on technologies and their impact on mankind. In terms of game play, Progress: Evolution of Technology revolves around hand management mechanisms. Each card represents a technology which comes with costs and prerequisites, while it is also the “currency” used to pay for other technologies. Each technology offers game play enhancers (such as larger hand size, extra actions, etc) and means to compete for victory points.

We did not give up on the rest of the original game ideas, the ones which we had to cut out. We kept optimizing and we split the universe into a base game plus several expansions, trying to separate both game mechanisms and historical ages. We went even further and made plan for additional two ages beyond the one already designed with the idea in mind that it’s better to be prepared that otherwise and on the plus side it’s an awesome feeling to play with your imagination and try to anticipate which technologies humanity may develop in the near future.


Is Progress: Evolution of Technology the light civilization game I was talking about in the beginning? We think it is, but we created it, so you don’t have to take our word for it. All I know is that we have both learned a lot of history (and some physics, some anthropology, some… more of everything), we argued, we laughed and we met a lot of awesome people on the way. Designing Progress: Evolution of Technology was an amazing journey.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Progress: Evolution of Technology

Our latest game design, Progress: Evolution of Technology has been on Kickstarter for 5 days and it is already over 200% funded!

We would like to say a big Thank you to all of you who have already supported our project and we promise to keep adding interesting stretch goals!

It's now time to shed some light on the development process of Progress: Evolution of Technology, the path we walked for the past two years which led to the game we're happy to present today.

The first version of Progress was massive, it had more than 500 cards. Each of the three gaming groups which tested it gave the same feedback, with different words, "the game is great, but it's too long. You designed a game and several expansions".

We did not give up and after a few months of polishing the game, we came with a solution which made the game customizable and versatile. We split the Progress universe and its concepts into a base game and several expansions.

The base game covers three technology types - Culture, Engineering and Science - and three ages - the Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The game play is quite fast, averaging 20 minutes per player and the game mechanism are simple without sacrificing the game complexity. The major mechanics are hand management and action selection. The players interact through the discard piles and by competing on the Power tracks for supremacy. 

The Personalities are a mini-expansion which add speed to the game play and one special mechanic - the Heritage system in which a player has the option to choose between a steady small bonus and a one-time larger bonus. 

The second mini-expansion is made out of Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Milestones. These are additional cards featuring significant achievements of humanity. They introduce some more player interaction as players will be able to reach them together (or separately, but through larger effort).

The next expansion we planned was the Industrial Age (IV). This new age will add a few more concepts into the game, mostly related to scoring. 

Age V (Modern Days) continues on the same line, allowing scoring of majorities on types of technologies and on knowledge. Both these expansion of Progress add technologies vertically. 

Another way we expanded the game is horizontally, adding two more technology types - Military and Government. They will bring more player interaction. Players will be able to copy technologies from each other, race towards short term goals, trade abilities for new ones, etc. They will also be new ways to manipulate the draw decks and discard piles.

Of course, we have also prepared the Ages IV and V for Government and Military tree, to have a complete 5 (ages) x 5 (types of technologies) massive civ card game. We are trying to make some of the expansions playable as stand alone games, to still appeal to those of you who want to play a fast game.

There have been rumors about some elusive Ages VI (Near Future) and VII (Far Future). There's a degree of truth in these rumors, we are working on Age VI and dong our research for age VII.

In the spirit of full disclosure, each expansion increases the game time. We are looking for solutions to keep the down time between turns as small as possible and to introduce abilities which trigger on other players' turns. 

We hope that this short peak into the future of the Progress universe satisfied your curiosity and we're here to answer any questions you may have.

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