2012 Jack Vasel Memorial Fund Auction at BoardGameGeek

European city state on cover of AEG board game Dominare

One of AEG’s 11 Donated Listings for the Auction: Dominare

From November 1 to November 18 BoardGameGeek.com is hosting a charity auction to benefit the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund. The fund exists in memory of Jack Vasel, the infant son of game guru Tom Vasel, who passed away in January, 2011. Famous for more than 1,200 game reviews, Tom Vasel heads Dice Tower and is the Executive Editor for Game Salute News. When his son passed away, the gaming community rallied around Tom Vasel and his family to help cover medical expenses. Vasel was so touched by the generosity of the gaming community that he started the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund to help others in the gaming community faced with similar circumstances.

There were 346 board games, RPGs, and card games up on offer at the auction Monday afternoon according to Vasel with many titles from AEG and R&R Games, Kickstarter-only gaming components and add-ons, signed copies of games, and even more personalized offers. The charity auction is the main method of fundraising for the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund with other funds coming from direct donations to the charity and the proceeds from the live auction at Dice Tower Con, held in Orlando every July beginning this year. Vasel estimates that over $20,000 was raised in the last auction. Past recipients of the charity’s funds include a family that experienced a home fire, one coping with cancer, and one dealing with the death of a family member. One criterion for the fund’s charity is that the life crisis impacting the gamer is of a traumatic nature, while another is that the source of the problem is external and isn’t due to the gamer himself or herself, such as poor investments or gambling addiction. Due to privacy concerns, Vasel cannot discuss the individual circumstances of each family, but last year $15,000 from the fund was spent on four families.

More on Tom Vasel

Marvel Bowman Hawkeye nocking an arrow on card art for Marvel Legendary

Art from Vasel’s New Favorite: Marvel Legendary

Vasel however is very vocal in which games he enjoys, though he cannot always keep them himself. Vasel will probably keep less than a dozen games from 2012 simply because he does not have enough room in his home in Homestead, Florida to store all of the titles he’s enjoyed. Definite keepers from 2012 for Vasel include Mage Wars, Suburbia, Mice and Mystics, Seasons, Masters of Commerce, First and Goal, and newcomer Marvel Legendary. When asked if there had been any new game he had “immensely” enjoyed playing recently, Vasel picked Marvel Legendary, the deck-building card game set in the Marvel Universe from Upper Deck Entertainment which will hit store shelves November 13. At a recent gaming event Vasel restricted himself to games he had already played before, because his friends aren’t always interested in playing a new game every time. As a prolific reviewer, Vasel gets most games for free, but did purchase Gale Force 9’s Spartacus because he knew his podcast and Youtube followers would want a review of the game. While Vasel liked aspects of the game, it did not make the cut, and will be moving on for another gamer to enjoy.

Contributors

Super fans of print and play (PnP) games will not want to miss Jim Flemming’s auction listing. Flemming is offering the top five bidders constructed versions of the games which end users usually print out themselves. Flemming expects each game to possibly take up to two weeks of construction. For Flemming it goes a bit deeper than a desire to simply help out a fellow gamer; Flemming is a past recipient of Jack Vasel Memorial Fund charity. A fan of Dice Tower who found himself in dire straits both medically and financially, Flemming contacted the Memorial Fund, but assumed that his “situation was not serious enough to warrant assistance”. The charity’s board thought otherwise and came to his aid. Times are still hard for Flemming and his hopes of being able to pay back the charity in kind with donations of prized games from his own collection have not materialized; Flemming has sold the games just to make ends meet. Wanting to do his part though, he has turned past success at crafting PnP games for himself into an asset for others and describes himself as “overwhelmed” by the response he has received on BoardGameGeek. As of November 6, Flemming’s unique contribution is set to bring in at least $600 for the fund.

“I donate my game, someone else donates to the charity fund (and receives the game) and we both gain some benefit from our contribution…And the game gets played for sure. And that’s pretty important too.”

– Greg Taylor

Greg Taylor of Bellevue, Washington is another contributor. For Taylor it was a choice between donating his seldom-played board games to the children’s hospital outreach program Child’s Play in Seattle or the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund auction. Child’s Play’s focus on handheld games is ultimately why Taylor went with the Jack Vasel Fund, with Taylor offering seven listings, including Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne: The City, and Nuns on the Run. Taylor, a 12 year veteran video game programmer, finds the “conciseness and tightness of the designs in board games” to be a good influence on his A.I. and gameplay design. Like many of the other contributors he has listened to Dice Tower podcasts and watched Youtube reviews of games. Ultimately for Taylor, a first time donator to the charity auction, it’s a win-win situation. As he says, “I donate my game, someone else donates to the charity fund (and receives the game) and we both gain some benefit from our contribution…And the game gets played for sure. And that’s pretty important too.”

IT professionals have good representation on BoardGameGeek and in the charity auction with Chris Heuer of Eagan, Michigan putting up 13 items. Heuer is a software engineer and has been involved in both the initial auction to help the Vasel family with its crisis and with subsequent game donations to the 2011 Jack Vasel Memorial Fund auction. Heuer’s listings are among the first on the BGG geeklist thread because he was “super ready” to help this year. Heuer points to the significant international community found on BoardGameGeek as the reason he is including free worldwide shipping on his auctions, in hopes of seeing even higher bids on some of his items, to provide even more help to those who need it.

GAMA Trade Show Manufacturing Seminars

Larry Roznai of Mayfair Games: Domestic Manufacturing 101

I only caught the tail end of Larry Roznai providing advice to would-be manufacturers and game developers at the Domestic Manufacturing 101 seminar. Larry has a strong, confident personality and a very colorful vocabulary, so I can only imagine what I missed earlier and cannot post one of the more evocative expressions he used. He also loves working at Mayfair Games, where he is company president, and being surrounded by games and gamers, claiming happily, “this is nothing like a real job.”

One of the benefits of domestic manufacturing that Roznai covered when I arrived is the increased chance of getting credit from a printer. If a company can get 30 days credit, that is money that can be used elsewhere for those 30 days. It may require an extensive and intrusive credit check, but it can be worthwhile, according to Roznai. Credit terms are much harder to obtain with foreign companies.

Someone asked about cover art and where it fit into the schedule. Roznai affirmed that artwork is necessary for a distributor to solicit interest from retailers, but the entire game need not be finished. He advised that the artwork should be included in the cost of the first printing, as well as all of the tooling, and that these expenses not be amortized.

Then the question of Kickstarter came up and why Roznai thinks it may not be good for a manufacturer. To Roznai, making deals on Kickstarter is selling the cream of the crop. It can potentially exclude the retailer. Either Roznai or another attendee cited Darwyn Cooke, “You can piss off your customers, but you should never piss off your retailers.” Game manufacturers should want their audience of “1500 hardcore mother geeks” buying their game from retailers. Several attendees did not agree and voiced their differing opinions.

They also spoke up with their own experiences. Don’t go up against a Magic release, one warned. Another pointed out that releasing your game the week of Gen Con can actually kill it, because gamers are already spending their cash elsewhere that week. As for how often to contact a distributor about your game, Roznai said you “can’t go to a distributor often enough to pimp your game.”

Overseas Manufacturing

I and many other attendees crowded into the Overseas Manufacturing seminar, hosted by AEG and partner Panda Game Manufacturing.

John Zinser, AEG

John Zinser, President of Alderac Entertainment Group, shared his experiences with overseas manufacturing, which AEG has been doing for 4 years now. The initial move to overseas manufacturing surprisingly wasn’t motivated by domestic costs, it was actually a customer service issue for AEG. When the collectible card game industry collapsed, domestic printers started scrambling and the level of customer service AEG received dropped. As the makers of Legend of the 5 Rings, this was of major concern to Zinser and he has found that in China and Germany there is a higher level of customer service.

Another draw of overseas manufacturing is the difficulty in finding good plastics in the United States or at least Zinser hasn’t found them yet. This meshes with the fact that Reaper Miniatures has initially done its plastic Bones line overseas, even though they plan on bringing production in house.

Overseas manufacturing is about relationships, systems, and check-ups. If you’re manufacturing in China, Zinser says remember that:

  • no deal is ever completely closed
  • the wider the parameters, the more leeway the manufacturer will take

Even for domestic manufacturers, or those in Germany as well as China, Zinser advocates providing them with examples of other manufacturers’ quality. The manufacturers will in turn use the samples as their own benchmarks for quality.

When AEG started overseas manufacturing, they made many mistakes. They got back a “myriad” of things, some amazing to Zinser, and others from the exact same partners that made them “cringe”.

AEG Production Manager David Lepore

Zinser introduced Dave Lepore, head of production at AEG Games who began outlining his work process at AEG though Zinser occasionally contributed an explanation or made a few suggetions.

Lepore’s lengthy process begins when he talks to AEG’s game developers who already usually have a basic knowledge of the components they will want for the game. He begins to quote out the product to suppliers. If a developer initially comes with a game that has 100 cards and then wants 150 cards after revisions, it will probably necessitate a new quote.

To help in the process Lepore uses a preliminary specification sheet, listing whether tokens are wooden or plastic, what sort of punch card will be used, and so on. As the game moves on, he gets a list of final specifications. Next AEG prints up a protoype of the game in house, using the “fiddly bits” from other companies to test the production aspects of the game.

After the final specifications are complete, he then gets quotes from at least 3 suppliers if not more, including 1-2 domestic suppliers. He builds a spreadsheet to look at all the numbers and requests samples from the manufacturers of similar products, components and things like the plastic vacuum trays that organize most board games’ pieces. He gets very specific, what does Company X’s matte varnished punch board look like, what does your linen texture feel and look like? What about their matte texture? 280 gram cardstock versus 300 gram cardstock, Lepore requests it all.

When they arrive he labels the samples and begins to catalogue the advantages. A product might have great depth of print quality. That gets noted. The costs do as well. Sometimes costs are plainly divided as line item costs, while other companies return quotes with blanket costs. Obviously having line item costs gives Lepore more insight into how a change in the game could affect the cost. This process takes about 1-2 weeks. Any manufacturer taking much longer doesn’t want the business enough.

Lepore suggests soliciting the opinion of manufactuers who oftentimes will know about possible subsittutes or other ways of making a game from past experiences. On the other hand, no matter how impossible your need is, Chinese manufactuers have the attitude that “we are going to find a way to do it.”

Once the manufacturing company has been selected, the work doesn’t stop. Dave Lepore looks over an electronic proof of the game in house. He reviews barcords, SKUs, and legal text. It should have already been reviewed by the designers’ project leads who must insure that all 20 of their 20 cards are actually in the soft proof. Lepore then makes a digital proof, and again looks the game over. The digital proof is the last opportunity to get a feel for the color and feel of the game. Dave looks at color balance, graphic artififacts and remnants like little white lines unseen on the computer screen or boxes appearing in print that are not displayed on screen.

Having approved the digital proof, AEG sends the game to the manufacturer.

As soon as possible, they want the production sample, the first of the game to come off the line. According to Lepore, he has a “huge” checklist that he goes over to ensure the product is what it should be, including dropping the box from at least 2 feet up and checking to make sure that images and text aren’t reversed. The clearer you were about the quality and the more samples you provided to the manufacturer of what you expect, the better the result. As for what happens should the production sample be off, it depends on the terms you have set up with your manufacturer.

Michael Lee from Panda Game Manufacturing

Box art for Eclipse made by Asmodee Games

Eclipse box art courtesy Asmodee

Fortunately there was an overseas manufacturer on hand who then covered his end of the business. Michael Lee from Panda Game Manufacturing in China was AEG’s guest at the GAMA Trade Show. The manufacturer of titles such as Pandemic and Eclipse as well as being a partner with AEG, Panda has been very busy over the last 18 months, especially with the Kickstarter craze.

Lee suggested that game developers keep things simple for their first game stating that “even experienced publishers make mistakes” when new to overseas game manufacturing. He advised that beginners choose one thing to tackle, two at most. Games combining multiple materials and technologies won’t make good first time overseas ventures. Plastics are particularly challenging.

Lee stressed the need for a very good graphic designer to avoid many common pitfalls he has seen, otherwise there are problems for those who don’t understand bleed or the need for CMYK colors. Lee cited Z-Man Games as a company with a very strong working relationship with Panda Manufacturing and strong knowledge of the process; Panda can get through the production process on a Z-Man game in 10 days.

He also warned new developers not to undersestimate their own pickyness when it comes to what they want from their game and how that can add time to manufacturing. In his experience, they can be very protective of their baby. On the other hand though, the manufacturers that they might be dealing with might not be board game manufacturers. I believe that Zinser and Lee both agreed that there are 4 to 6 good manufacturers to work with in China.

As for how long the process takes on his end, Lee said a good estimate is 4-5 months from FTPing your files until the product should arrive at the warehouse. First time designers should factor in a couple of extra weeks of buffer time. Shipping alone is usually 5 to 6 weeks. The prepress process usually takes a month on average, but it could take as long as 6 weeks or more. Lee reaffirmed that the average Euro takes 4-5 months. Once the production sample is ready, Panda FedEx’s to the client “and hopefully you’ll smile”. Sometimes, he said, the fault is with the manufacturers and they will work to correct it at their cost.

Shipping was the final topic that Lee and also Zinser spoke on. A large container is 40 feet, while a small is 20 feet. 5,000 Pandemic games fit into a small container. When shipping, it is best to:

  • get one 40 foot container rather than two 20 foot containers
  • fill your container or fill exactly half a container
  • share your container with another American client if you are not filling it entirely to split shipping costs

Shipping costs vary depending on the season, but in March 2012, when they spoke, costs varied from $3,500-$4000 for a 40 foot conainer. That is the cost for the trans-Pacific freighting, but to actually go from the manufacturer to the receiving company’s warehouse door-to-door, could vary from $3000-$6500.

A Few More Thoughts on Manufacturing

Michael Lee has written his own overview of how board games are manufactured at PlayTMG. Speaking to several other attendees later about the manufacturing seminars, everyone consistently agreed on how much value they took away from them. Larry Ronzai held a second Domestic Manufacturing seminar later, which I did not attend, one of many other manufacturing seminars offered at the GTS including Demystifying QR Codes, How to Work Your Booth, and the mammoth New Manufacturer’s Orientation. Most gamers, myself included, have a few games or gaming products they want to develop. The GAMA Trade Show does seem to be the place to go for starting your game company. I should also point out how friendly and welcoming GAMA members are to their future competitors. This was also the case at the retail seminars. The focus is on growing the hobby and industry and providing better games.

AEG: Alderac Entertainment Group’s Premier GTS Seminar

John Zinser, President of Alderac Entertainment Group, led his staff’s presentation in the afternooon on March 13. With him were Dan Brisco, Jeremy Holcomb, Bryan Reese, and David Trudeau among others. They would be staying in Las Vegas after the GAMA Trade Show for their game development meeting for 2013.

Legend of the Five Rings and AEG’s Development

AEG's Emperor Edition card game deluxe boxes.

Image courtesy AEG

After querying the seminar attendees about how many of them sell the Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R) card game with a strong response, Zinser announced that AEG has never done better on a product than they had on the Emperor Edition of the game, calling it the best L5R product in 20 years. At the time of presenting, Zinser stated that the Emperor Edition would be sold out within 3 weeks from AEG, creating a lag time of 6-8 weeks until it would be back in stock again. AEG admitted that “L5R is not easy”, but “it is long money”. Out of the collectible card game market, Zinser estimated their customer base as maybe three to five percent of the collectible card game market, and even as low as two percent, but AEG has no intentions of leaving the market.

AEG's Nightfall game

Image courtesy AEG

Last year Zinser discussed AEG’s history at the previous GAMA Trade Show; at this one he explained AEG’s process in developing new games. First, they have a brainstorming meeting where they list all the things they want to happen with the game. Then theygo back through and take the crazy ideas out. They thought of vampires and werewolves and came out with Nightfall. Zinser explained a bit more of the process at a manufacturing seminar on a different day. They cited Thunderstone and L5R as games which were easy for them to playtest and detailed a bit more of their process on games like Monkey Lab and Abandon Ship.

Thunderstone Advance by AEG

Image courtesy AEG

What really stood out to me (as well as a few other attendees I spoke with later) was AEG’s commitment to customer service and excellence, as well as their candor in discussing some of the company’s mishaps. The Kolat Edition of L5R came about because of shipping delays. Rather than leaving customers unfulfilled and waiting for the Emperor Edition, AEG made the delayed Emperor Edition cards available online for free as part of the Kolat Edition. They explained that the Kolat are an evil shadowy faction in Legend of the Five Rings determined to overthrow the Emperor. In an odd turn of events, the AEG staff asked what would the Kolat do if they were in the position that AEG was with the Emperor Edition delays and they decided that giving away the cards would be the way the Kolat would undermine the Emperor. Zinser signed off on the idea which the fans took advantage of. The cards were still available online for free up until March 19.

AEG Dominare Boardgame Artwork

Image courtesy AEG

Several other growing pains that AEG covered were an odd shipment of smelly boxes caused by the inks’ drying times and a mix-up involving Spanish cards mixed in with English. As they said earlier in the seminar though, if it is a reasonable request from a retailer, Customer Service will fix it. I have to imagine that this same ethic also extends to their customer base.

Returning to new products, AEG mentioned that Embers of War is on a boat and will be arriving very soon. The expansion to the L5R line will introduce some new mechanics as well as heralding the arrival of the Imperial Herald. Senseis will also return to the game. Embers will come out in the middle of AEG’s Kotai Season, a special global tournament season for Legends of the Five Rings players. A “Learn to Play L5R” set will also be coming out this summer.

The Oracle of the Void

Bryan Reese discussed the Oracle of the Void, an incredibly detailed online database cataloging every single card from L5R’s 20 year history. AEG just got it up in February and the database will store players’ card collections, allowing them to put together haves and wants. It’s also all entirely free. The database is up to almost 10,000 cards and was a mammoth undertaking, taking over 3 years to develop and thousands of hours of labor. Reese summed it up well, “My wife hates the Oracle.”

Other features include making public or private decks and being able to print out cards a player doesn’t have. Members of AEG’s Imperial Assembly enjoy special benefits on the Oracle. The printed cards allow players to playtest decks, but are not legal for organized tournament play. Nevertheless, to me it sounds like a massive amount of value to L5R players and is more of an incentive to try the game out.

Other Products

AEG's Shufflebuilding Deck Game Smash-Up

Image courtesy AEG

Returning to Thunderstone Advance, AEG pointed out that it will still be compatible with every version of the game. AEG introduced Smash-Up, a “shufflebuilding” card game featuring 8 factions with 20 cards each. The factions include Ninjas, Aliens, Pirates, and Dinosaurs. A player can “probe” his opponent with an alien card and then toss a throwing star at him.

They also announced Mercante and Dominare which definitely had a Eurogames look to them. Mercante seems to be a resource-trading game, while Dominare is about poltiical control and influence. Both seem to be set in a Renaissance Roman setting. They also announced the development of a third game in the same setting with the working title of “Courtier”, though I think “Consiglieri” would be more in keeping with the Latin-Italian theme. At the end, an attendee shouted out his question, asking whether the long-delayed Art of War board game would be coming out and I believe the answer was along the lines of “Not yet.”