Monday, May 20, 2019

Sell Sheet templates

The last blog post I wrote about why it is important for a tabletop game designer to have a sell-sheet. This time I wanted to create some tools to help you make your own sell-sheet.

With any graphic design project, it can be challenging to determine where to begin, so I've created four templates to help inspire you when creating sell-sheets.

Each sell-sheet has an area designated for the important information: Your game's logo, a log-line (often called an elevator pitch) for the game, the list of components, a short description of the gameplay, the game's unique selling points - the things that makes your game stand out from all of the others on the market, "the three essentials" - the number of players, age of players and time it takes to play the game and your contact information (name, email and/or phone number). The studio logo is purely optional, but I find it adds a nice professional touch.

The first template features a big bold title right in the middle to catch the reader's attention immediately. It only has a couple of spots for images, so the ones you use should be eye-catching - preferably of the game set up in all of it's glory.

The second template pulls the reader's eye around the page in a series of circular movements. The art that you use for these should compliment this movement - use preferably circular and diagonal artwork to facilitate the circular movement.

This third template draws the reader's eye downward, past the game's logo and down the page in a very dramatic fashion.

The fourth template allows the reader's eye spill down the page like a waterfall. It's much more flowing than the other templates, allowing the reader to catch the text as it travels downwards.

I hope you find these templates useful in the creation of your own sell-sheets! Feel free to use these when creating your own sell-sheets - and if you want to share them, please credit me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The importance of sell-sheets

I'm starting to create my sell-sheets for the upcoming tabletop convention season and I realized that many of you might not realize how important they are in the world of tabletop game design... or even what sell-sheets are.

Sell-sheets are kind of like the one-pager document that you'll find in my book Level Up! the Guide to Great Video Game Design - these documents act as a touchstone for the design team (or designer) to remind them what is important about the game. But sell-sheets are much more than that.

Sell-sheets act as a promotional tool for the game - a game's resume as it were - that lets the reader know what's cool about the game. But it also provides vital information to a potential publisher - which helps them determine the game's genre, cost, play time, player age, and more.

A printed sell-sheet is a "leave-behind" for the designer to give to publishers at conventions.  They even are used as the first stage entry in many tabletop design contests.

Here are a few examples of sell-sheets that I've created over the years:

You'll notice that all of these sell-sheets have many elements in common. Let's take a look at what your sell-sheet needs.

1) Your game's title: Every game needs a title and yours is no different. Make sure you check Google and's database to make sure you aren't naming your game after something that already exists. I try to create the logo of the game on the sell-sheet. Fonts go pretty far to give a game an identity and get the game's genre across to the reader.

2) The "three essentials": Number of Players, Minimum Age of Players and Time it Takes to Play your game. These three pieces of information are critical to have on your sell sheet as it informs the publisher of many things about your game and whether they will want to publish it or not. For example, some publishers won't make games for two players, while others specialize in them.

3) Game play overview: A brief overview of how to play the game and how to win the game. Keep this as brief as possible, no more than a sentence. If you can't describe your game play in a sentence, you might have a problem.

4) Game photos: Show at least one photo of the game in action, preferably with it set up to show what it is like to play. You don't always need to show players playing the game in your photos - but if you do, make sure they look like they are having a good time. Fake the shot if you have to. Nobody want to buy a game if your models don't look like they are enjoying themselves.

5) Game play description: Describe the action that is going on in the photos. Tell the reader how the game is played, what's cool and unique about the game play and why they would want to make it. Use short sentence or bullet-points to get this across. Once again, beware the blocks of text. I also think that "beautiful art" and "great story" are not valid bullet points. All games should have these (unless they are an abstract game)

6) Components List: This is a list of all of the components the player will get in the game. This is actually very important because they let the publisher know just how much your game will cost to make. Have hundreds of miniatures in your game? Some publishers might think twice or reject your game completely based on that. Others, might welcome it. (Knowing who you are pitching your game to is a very important part of the selling process.)

7) Your contact information: You should always include your name, e-mail address and/or phone number on a sell-sheet. Otherwise, how will the publisher be able to contact you when they are ready to buy your game? I also put my "studio's logo" on the sell-sheet. It gives me a little bit of a "brand identity" and makes me feel a little more professional. It's not necessary, but it's fun.

8) Graphics: Finally, make your sell-sheet look nice. You don't necessarily need pictures on your sell-sheet but if you are trying to create a mood or a theme, drawings, fonts, and graphics can go far. Even at a glance, you can tell that A Town Called Showdown is a western themed game while Rayguns and Rocketships is a pulp sci-fi game all because of the color, graphics and fonts I used on the sell-sheet. When dealing with fonts, don't forget the "two-font" rule. You should never use more than two styles of fonts on your documents: a "fancy" or thematic one for titles and headers and a simple font for the rest of the text. I am a big fan of simple, legible fonts like Calibri, Cambria and Helvetica Neue.

I hope this helps you understand why sell-sheets are so important and some ideas and guidance on how to create your own. Good luck and be sure to share your own sell-sheets in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sometimes I write articles...

As some of you know, I work for the New York Film Academy.

No, I don't live in New York.

No, I don't teach film.

(It can get a bit confusing.)

But what I sometimes do is write articles about gaming for their blog. Here are two articles you might want to read:

Netflix's Bandersnatch and Interactive Storytelling

Insomniac's Spider-Man and why AAA games still matter.

I'd love to hear your comments below!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Why don't board games sell like video games?

I often wonder “why don’t board games sell like video games?” Now, I know that there have been a few tabletop games that have sold a million or more copies (many of the ones that have, took decades to do so) but none of them sell with the speed that video games do. Why not?

After some observation and thought (and experience as I have been playing and creating tabletop games and video games my whole life), I came to the following conclusion: Videogame players are the same audience as movie audiences while boardgame players are the same audience as books readers.

You just have to look at the success of board games in retail spaces like Barnes and Noble – and the decline of their movie section – to see this in action. However, I think there is something else going on and it has to do with each media’s respective audiences. In terms of attention span and temperament, these audiences for these media are very different. Each media has several factors that appeal to or turn off an audience. I call these factors the barriers to entry. Movies and video games have a “low” barrier to entry while books and board games have a “higher” barrier to entry.

Let’s look at the barrier of entry to watch a movie. A movie viewer needs the time (roughly 90-120 min) and money (or access if we including today’s streaming services) to watch the movie. If you want to be pedantic, you can include attention span to that. However, once the movie has started, the audience member’s gratification can be almost immediate. Remember back to the first time you saw Star Wars (Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope to those of you who didn’t watch it in 1977) and when that Star Destroyer can rumbling by. I don’t know about you but I was enthrall from that opening scene. Immediate gratification.

The barrier of entry to video games is higher than a movie’s but the time to gratification can be the same. Audience members require (if they are playing a console game) the money for the game system (several hundred dollars) and the software ($40-60), the ability/dexterity to play the game (which can often be a factor is why someone doesn’t play or finish a game) and, of course, the time to play the game (the average is 6 – 20 hours) – however, if you are playing a mobile game then the time commitment is much, much shorter: closer to minutes than hours. However, players put up with these factored because, just like movie audiences, a video game player can get almost immediate gratification from playing a game.

The book reader’s barrier of entry is almost the opposite to a movie/video game. The product is far less expensive than video games (closer in the case of a movie) but the time commitment can be considerably longer (depending on the length of the book) and, more importantly, requires constant engagement from the reader. Unlike movies – which is a completely passive experience, if book readers stop reader, the experience stops. The same is true for many video games, but it is possible to “play” a video game absent-mindedly. Another barrier to entry is that book readers have to make their engagement in the content based solely on faith. Movies and video games have trailers – it is easy for audiences to make a decision to engage in the content based solely on the trailer. With a book, there’s the cover and, if you are willing, you might read a few pages in the store or on-line. There’s a reason that the saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” exists!

Gratification for book readers is much more delayed than a movie or a video game - sometimes substantially- often a reader might have to finish a book before they know whether they liked it. Or in my own experience, it might require revisiting to form an opinion.

The barrier of entry for tabletop gaming requires more money than a book (of course, this depends on the game. A game like The Mind is only $9.99 at Target, while Mansions of Madness costs $99.99), and require the same level of trust as a book reader to discover whether a game is “good” or not. The maxim “You can’t judge a book by its cover” applies to board games as well and you can watch all of the “watch it played” videos you’d like - but just like a video game - you just won’t know whether you like a tabletop game until you play it. The forums of BoardGameGeek.Com are littered with reviews stating “I thought I’d like this more.”

As with video games, the time commitment for tabletop games varies – minutes to hours – but modern hobbyist games often trend towards hours. And don’t get me started on campaign games like Gloomhaven, Kingdom Death: Monster and Dungeons and Dragons. (I have a friend who has been playing the same D&D campaign for decades!)

Of all of the entertainment mediums, the game rules offer the highest barrier of entry. Designer Rob Daviau has noted that “the best moment of owning a game is when you open the box and the worst moment is when you read the rules.” I don’t know about you but there have been many times where I have read the rules to a game, thought I understood how to play it and still “played it wrong”?).

Finally, there is one last barrier of entry to tabletop gaming: other people. Most games require other players to even engage – all other forms of media we’ve discussed are solitary – and it can be challenging, if not difficult to gather the players necessary to play a tabletop game. This is one of the reasons why I think “solo modes” have taken off in board gaming.

So will “board games ever sell like video games?” My research points to “no”. The barriers of entry for board games is just to high for the mass market. But does it need to sell like video games? I think this starts the discussion for an even more relevant question, “why do board games need to be compared to video games or movies or books at all?”

Monday, March 4, 2019

The best games that you* haven't played

Design 100 recently asked other game designers what their "hidden gem" games were, but since no one ever asks me anything, I thought I'd create my own list of games you* haven't played:

1. Barbarian Prince by Arnold Hendrick. One of the first "storybook" style games, Barbarian Prince was a sword and sorcery adventure that you could play by yourself. The prince travels a large map encountering monsters and beasts, while looting tombs and wizard towers. Long out of print, Barbarian Prince is available via Print and Play.

2. Vampyre by Phillip Shreffler is the pre-cursor to games like Fury of Dracula and Chill: Blackmoor Manor. A part of TSR's (awesome) micro-game line, this hunt and seek game is very faithful to Bram Stoker's Dracula and features great map and chit art by none other than comic artist/writer Bill Willingham.

3. Bottlecap Vikings by Andy Van Zandt. I don't really care for Vikings as a theme (other than Raiders of the North Seas) but this little rondel based game is very charming and packs a lot of gameplay into a small package.

4. Camp Grizzly by Jason Topolski is one of the most thematic horror games I've ever played. From the fantastic card art by Austin Madison to the multiple endings, if you like 80's slasher movies, you'll find a lot to like in this game.

5. While City of Horror by Nicholas Normandon ends up getting lost among other zombie games like Dead of Winter and Zombicide, I believe it captures the genre better than those other games by focusing on that trope of the living dead genre: humans who act badly when faced with adversity. This unusual mix of area control and voting brings out the worst in humans, making the zombies end up looking downright civilized in comparison.

6. Overshadowed by its big brother Qwirkle, Color Stix, also by Susan McKinley-Ross, is a colorful, fast and simple game with surprising depth. Line up the colored stix to form as many matching sets as possible within a limited time. Sounds easy, but it is addictive and great fun.

7. Fearsome Floors by Friedemann Friese is a wacky semi-cooperative game where players play a deadly game of hide and seek against a monster. The AI that drives the monster is quite robust despite its simplicity and the graphics by Lars-Arne Kalusky are delightfully daffy. Watch out for the blood slick!

8. In God Dice by Rick Maxey, players are fantasy warriors in mortal combat. Roll dice to make combinations and unleash powerful attacks. A simple game with surprisingly deep strategy is worth tracking down.

9. Qwixx by Stephen Bennedorf is the classic roll and write. Everyone gets to participate, even when it's not their turn. The dice selection mechanic is simple but filled with great choices.

10. Kung Pao Chicken by Ta-Te Wu is a great alternative to Werewolf.  Players guess to whether a player is a chicken or a fox but the hilarity this game generates is a testament to its deceptively simple design.

* probably

Friday, February 22, 2019

Board Games at Toy Fair 2019

As an action figure collector, ToyFair is a highly anticipated event. Held in New York City in February, my news feed usually is crammed with excited posts from fellow collectors about the latest and greatest toys. It doesn't help that many of my friends work in the toy industry. Needless to say, Toy Fair weekend is always an exciting time.

As a member of the board game community, I always want to know about the latest and greatest board games too. Many of the same companies that make toys make board games and they even display them at Toy Fair. However, I find that the same sites that I rely on for board game news don't usually cover Toy Fair. After a little digging around, I decided to post some of the more exciting board games shown at Toy Fair.

Villainous: Wicked to the Core
Leaked a few days before the show, the publishers of the award-winning game Villainous announced an expansion with three new characters: The Evil Queen from Snow White, Hades from Hercules and Dr. Facilier from the Princess and the Frog. Some pretty cool character choices and I'm curious to see how they play. (I'm still hoping for the Hatbox Ghost from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.) Villainous: Bad to the Core is due out in March.

As a fan of horror board games, I was excited to see Ravensburger announce Horrified, a board game based on Universal's "Dark Universe" franchise. There was no game board or components on display, but the press blurb infers that players are the pitch-fork and torch wielding mob who is trying to uncover which Universal horror movie monster (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy and the Invisible Man) is terrorizing the village. I'm still wondering how they are going to do a mini of the Invisible Man... Horrified is due out in August.

Ravensburger seems to be going after licenses with a vengeance this year. I don't know how their Jaws game will be different from 2017's Shark Island but they do mention that one of the players gets to play as the shark! Jaws is due out in June - just in time for beach weather.

Wacky Racers
When publisher CMON announced their next game, Wacky Racers, it was a bit of a departure for the company known for Blood Rage, Zombicide and Hate. Based on the 60's cartoon of the same name, players create card based tracks on which to race their highly detailed minis around. Wacky Racers will be available for pre-order this March with an April release.

One Key
From the creators of Mysterium comes this game about finding a missing key by guessing what you don't know. A family game of word association, One Key is due to come out in June.

Breaking Games' tile placement game of zen blossoms and vines was on display at Toy Fair. Players race to be the first to play all their flowers first in this cascade of color and fun for 2-4 players. You can buy Trellis in February.

This game from publisher Blue Orange introduces a unique mechanism - a magnetized dodecahedron on which tiles are placed to create a planet's surface. Evolve terrain and nurture lifeforms to gain points. Planet is available in May.

Tentacle Town
An island is under attack by a swarm of tentacles and only you (and your friends) can stop them! This game from Monster Fight Club looks adorable and comes out "later this year".

Ship Shape
Despite it's cover, Calliope games, the creators of Ship Shape, want you to know that it is NOT about pirates. Instead you are a smuggler hiding cargo from the authorities. Designed by Rob (Betrayal Legacy) Daviau, looks to be nautical fun for everyone! Ship Shape is due out in June.

Another title in Calliope's Masters of Game Design series, Spymaster has players manipulate agents around the world, using valuable intelligence to complete missions. Crucial choices, daring actions, and perfect timing will allow your agency to manipulate the world…and win the game! Spymaster is due out "soon".

Challenge of the Superfriends
Based on the classic 1970's cartoon, this card game by Cryptozoic Entertainment casts the players as classic DC Universe heroes battling against the Legion of Doom. This card game uses the fast-paced Gryphon system. If you love superheroes as much as I do, you'll want to pick up Challenge of the Superfriends in April.

Dungeons and Dragons Stranger Things edition
Transmedia! Hasbro announced a Dungeons and Dragons starter set that is "written" by the character Mike from the Netflix show Stranger Things. Included is dice, character sheets, a manual and adventure and a mini of the Demogorgon (not that Demogorgon). Dungeons and Dragons Stranger Things edition will be released in May.

Trivial Pursuit: Stranger Things: Back to the 80's
Speaking of Stranger Things, Hasbro is releasing a version of the 80's classic Trivial Pursuit - however unlike the original version (released in 1981) or the "Totally 80's" edition (2005), this version comes complete with an "Upside Down" board which, I don't know, allows you to challenge the Demogorgon to trivia matches? Trivial Pursuit: Stranger Things: Back to the 80's is due out in May.

Star Wars Escape from the Death Star Game
The biggest news from Toy Fair isn't that Hasbro is re-releasing the vintage game Star Wars Escape from the Death Star (2016's Clue: Star Wars is a better game) but that the game comes with an action figure that Star Wars fans have been wishing for since 1978 - Grand Moff Tarkin! This is the first time that a "classic Kenner" style figure has been released since the line ended in 1986!! Star Wars Escape from the Death Star Game (and that sweet Tarkin figure) is due out in May.

As you can see, there are lots of great games coming out soon! Start saving up now!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Eight ways to start designing a game

So, you want to design a board game?! That's great! But how does one start to design a game? I admit, it can be a bit intimidating; but here are eight ways that you can use to begin creating your very own board game...

1. Start with the MECHANISM

Bag builder. Worker Placement. Dice Drafting. Press your Luck. Roll and Write.

The mechanism is the primary action that the player performs over the course of your game. A good way to understand a mechanism is to play other games! For example, if you are interested in worker placement, play several worker placement games. Learn what distinguishes a worker placement game from other types of games - research the systems and tropes found in these types of games. Then replicate it... And then start changing it to make your game different and unique from all of the other games.

A good way to do this is to combine a mechanism with two or three other mechanisms... there really is no limit to how many mechanisms you can combine, but remember, the more mechanisms you have in your game, the more complicated your game will end up being. Sometimes simple is better. There are literally dozens of types of mechanisms; a good list can be found here.

2. Start with the GENRE or THEME

What is Genre? For those of you old enough to remember Blockbuster video stores, VCR rentals were always categorized by genre: Horror, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Super-Hero, Romance, Drama, Thriller.  In my tabletop design class, I refer to this type of genre as "story genre" to differentiate it from "game genre" aka mechanisms. The great thing about starting with a genre is that there are many examples of each genre in movies, book, plays, comics, theater, etc. Just pick one and go!

Theme, on the other hand, is what the work (the game) says about the subject - "Crime never pays", "Greed is Good" or "Betrayal", "Love", "War" or "Revenge"  can all be themes for a board game design. A theme can also be applied to any Genre so you can have a science-fiction game about betrayal like Who Goes There? or a fantasy game about the necessity for civilizations to evolve like Small World.

Wikipedia provides a great list of genres here while you can find a great list of themes here.

3. Start with the STORY

Designer Jerry Hawthorne was inspired to create Mice and Mystics after he told a bedtime story to his young daughter. Designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews wanted to tell the story of the Cold War in their game Twilight Struggle. Both of these games started with the story - whether they were fictional or factual. The good news is, games can be about almost anything!

Board games are wonderful storytelling devices; after all, they use all of the tools that a storybook does: words, images, characters, and conflict. The classic three act structure and the dramatic arc offer game designers a strong framework that can be used to start designing a game.

Some games tell a "fixed" story such as The 7th Continent, TIME Stories, and Fury of Dracula. Other games offer stories with multiple paths such as Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, Tales of the Arabian Nights and Betrayal at the House on the Hill. What story will you tell?

4. Start with the TITLE

Titles are very powerful tools for the game designer. They can capture the spirit of a game immediately. A good title quickly and effectively communicates the story, theme or mechanism to the player from the moment they pick up the box. Looking for more inspiration? Here are some ways you can choose the title of your game:
  • Name it after a character or a place: The Batman Game, Merchant of Venus, Sagrada, Carcassone
  • Name it after an activity in the game: Twister, Kill Doctor Lucky, Acquire, Roll for the Galaxy
  • Give it a descriptive title: The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, Hey Pa! There's a Goat on the Roof!, Dead of Winter
  • Give it a "cinematic" title: Fortress America, Through the Desert, Shadows over Camelot, Fury of Dracula
  • Give it a purple cow* title: Qwirkle, Qwixx, Qwiddler, Farkle

    *A purple cow is the marketing concept of choosing a name which "makes your audience stop in their tracks and wonder why the title was chosen."

    When choosing a title, make sure you do your research first! Choose a title that hasn't been used before or isn't too close to the title of another published game. Don't worry, there are plenty of words (in many different languages) out there to use!
5. Start with the COMPONENTS

Components is the official board gaming term for the "bits", "parts" or "pieces" required to play a game. The good news is, you can make a board game from just about anything. I've seen designers create games using toy dinosaurs, magnets, foam guns, an actual bell, inflatable caveman clubs, dental dams and even lasers!

Using a component in a clever way can make for an appealing game. Interesting components will draw players in. Never underestimate the "toy factor" of a component. The shape, size and texture of a component can make a huge difference in how the component is used both in the game and by the player. The game Bootleggers uses standard wooden cubes to represent boxes of liquor - which look particularly thematic when they are placed in the backs of little plastic trucks!

Some games use unique versions of standard components to create new mechanisms and game play. The games Gloom and Mystic Vale both use transparent plastic cards but each in totally different ways. Try looking at an old component in a new way and perhaps you can invent something new!

6. Start with the PLAYER COUNT

Just like a comfy pair of slippers, game come in all sizes. Some are fast-paced party games that can accommodate a large amount of players like Pictonary, Pantone the Game and Cards Against Humanity. Other games work better with less players such as Ticket to Ride, Pandemic or Lords of Waterdeep.

But what happens if you have no one to play with at all? Then design a solo game! Solo games are very popular right now and more are coming out all of the time. Games designed for a single player include Friday, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and Robinson Crusoe while multiplayer games like Mage Knight, Massive Darkness and Scythe offer robust solo play modes.

7. Start with A "MOMENT"

Game designer Eric Lang asks “What are some key moments that make the players feel awesome?.” Think of a moment that you want the player to experience while playing your game.

It can be the rush of pleasure from gaining a pile of resources, the thrill of the tide of a battle turning, a sense of dread from the inevitable appearance of a horrible monster or the sting of betrayal. Capturing these moments will help give players great memories long after they've finished playing your game.

8. Start with an EXPERIENCE or MOOD

Game designer Catherine Stippell had an uncle who is blind, but loved to play games. She asked herself "What if the tables were turned and we as sighted people had to adapt?" as she tried to capture that experience, she created the game Nyctophobia.

By focusing on creating an experience for the player - making them feel powerful or helpless or hunted - can be a great starting place for a game design. Then search out the mechanisms that will help you create those feelings within the players.

9. Start with the PUBLISHER'S NEED

Designing a game is a lot of hard work and effort and you want to give your game the best opportunity to succeed. Rather than create a board game that will be a "hard sell" why not hedge your bets and find out what game publishers want?

On many game publisher websites you will find their submission guidelines. A publisher might list what genres of games they are looking for. They might ask for a game to be a specific player count or take a specific amount of time to play. They might even specify the size of the box required for the end product. By designing to the publisher's specifications, you might have a great chance of getting your game published!

Contests are similar way to start. They will give a criteria such as "design a two-player game" or "design a game that fits in a tin of mints". These design restrictions actually help a game designer focus and concentrate on the essentials of the game. You can find board game contests all over the internet:  at sites like Board Game Geek, on Facebook pages like the Board Game Design Lab or even at printers like the Game Crafter. Good luck!

I hope that you have found these suggestions useful. The best advice I have is, no matter how you decide to design your game, the most important thing to do is START! All the best of luck to you with your new game design!