A significant update with a significant number
Hi, it's Mike. This is Apocrypha update #66, which as you know is kind of a significant number for us. The base set was originally priced on Kickstarter for $66, and our goal was $66,666. Numbers like that appear all over Apocrypha, and since we've reached this milestone, I think it's appropriate for me to review how we got here. We try to do that on every project, with the goal of preserving the good things and doing better on the bad things next time. It was a long journey, and had some major bumps in the road, but one that taught us a lot of good lessons and produced some very pretty and strange games.
I'll get more into that in a bit, but first two other things.
Everything is shipped
After a month of assembling, priming, staining, sanding, and packing Master's Edition boxes, we've finally sent the very last ones out. We hope to hear from folks in all corners of the globe that they've received them and that they like the results of hard work by us and the nice folks at Broken Token. The Master's Edition is one of the classier things we've ever created, and so if you got one, we hope you like it.
We also included something special for our Beast Box backers: a little book called The Book of Omens. We promised our Beast Box backers "stories from the Apocrypha Bible," a document so far out of date that it couldn't be salvaged. But we did have five stories we commissioned when we were first envisioning the game. Those stories by Bobby Derie, Stephen McQuillan, Jason Schmetzer, Marc Tassin, and Phaedra Wilson were looking for a home, so we came up with the idea to make a book to go with the Beast Boxes. Editor Aviva Schecterson polished them up all nice, and so we made this.
We don't know if that will ever be available again, but we wanted to make sure our Beast Box backers got something unique to go along with their Master's Editions and signed World boxes. If you got one, I hope you enjoy it.
So I got asked about puzzles
At PAX Unplugged, I got grilled by some folks about whether there was a puzzle series in Apocrypha. Notably, Michael Andersen, the head of ARGNet, was particularly curious.
So yes, there's a big puzzle series woven through Apocrypha. Maybe the biggest we've ever made, though I think The Maze of Games will give it a run for its money. There's a game-based conclusion for anyone who solves it, and I won't go much deeper than that. I will say that everything you need is in the game boxes and perhaps some promo cards; you don't need any of the accessories. Because of that Gatekeeper fellow in the center, this page on the back of the Devil storybook might have something to do with it. If puzzles are your cup of tea, I hope you enjoy this aspect of the game. Let us know where you end up.
Some reflections on how we got here
And so, with everything sent out, that ends the Kickstarter campaign for Apocrypha. But it's taken way longer than I expected, so it's worth going back through some lessons we learned and how we'll do things differently when Lone Shark thinks about running another big Kickstarter.
OK, some hard-earned lessons:
1. Just because we'd made dozens of games with other companies doesn't mean we knew how to make them on our own. Hoo boy, were we overconfident. We'd come off The Maze of Games Kickstarters having done pretty good with them. It took longer to finish writing the book than I thought, but that's par for the course when you're writing your first novel. Printing a book was relatively easy. Fulfilling a book and a map and some pencils and a few cryptexes was harder, but not overwhelmingly so. The biggest challenges were on things we didn't know how to make ourselves—an ebook and an audiobook—but we figured those out too. So it stood to reason that making a big-box game couldn't be that much harder. Spoiler alert: It was that much harder. Pretty much nothing went according to plan. We employed seven game designers, four graphic designers, and ten fiction writers, bought a very large number of pieces of art (666 of them, it turns out), and worked with dozens of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping people. We added a cool app that needed daily updates. We made a lot of free PDFs. Nearly everything was costlier and took more time than anticipated. We can handle some of our predictions being off, but when all of them are, it can be pretty disastrous. We would have loved for it to go a lot more smoothly, and for you to have gotten everything sooner.
2. We took some questionable advice to heart, and it hurt all our games. Early on, we put out feelers with the distribution channel on Apocrypha, a game that a lot of them wanted very badly. But that desire came with a warning. To hook the big distributors, we got the clear indication that they needed multiple games from us, and with lower cost boxes rather than one big one, because otherwise it was not worth their time to create an account for a company with only one game. Now, here's the surprise: I've canvassed them recently, and none of them say they felt that way, because it was our game and thus a good bet. So I'm not sure how real that fear was. Certainly many companies we knew found it impossible to get distribution with only one game. Anyway, before we were done with Apocrypha, we launched two more campaigns for The Ninth World and Thornwatch. That hooked all the distributors for sure. They wanted those two games a lot, so it seemed like the right idea at the time. But the drag on Apocrypha was too great. We got all three of those games out after we wanted to. It was bad planning based on bad assumptions. We've made some changes at Lone Shark to make our decisions differently in the future, because we never want to be in that spot again.
3. Printing and fulfilling games is really hard. To be clear, we're not planning to stop doing those things any time soon. But boy, if I could magically find a way to wish games into production and teleport them to your doorstep, my life would be a lot less stressful. We got some great partners in AdMagic and Asmodee UK and Let's Play Games and Atlas Games and Quartermaster Logistics and Snakes & Lattes and UltraPRO and Broken Token and Blurb and—man, that's a very long list. That's just for Apocrypha. With our other games and books, we used a whole different list of suppliers. It's a lot of relationships to manage in a narrow window of time. And that wasn't the only resource that got taxed. We certainly consumed way more money than the amount we got on Kickstarter, especially since we sent out multiple waves of Apocrypha shipments, which easily consumed $100,000 more. (The tariff war and paper price spike were also highly unwelcome.) We made and shipped more product than we promised on Kickstarter, of course, so we're not complaining. But that time and money didn't come cheaply, and it was too much in the production pipe at once. Thankfully, we had other sources of revenue. That said...
4. We had a lot of other projects than our own. Basically, our Kickstarters did a great job of paying for themselves—assuming we didn't want any paychecks for a few years. They covered art and manufacturing and shipping, pretty much on the dot. But to keep the lights on, we also had our Pathfinder Adventure Card Game line to maintain and Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow's Walk to create and Amazon puzzle hunts to run and so on. Internal resources were taxed pretty heavily. While Apocrypha was by far the project that got the most design and art time from our team, sometimes that team was yanked away when it was needed most. Probably the worst was in the first half of 2016, when Widow's Walk and Mummy's Mask were both in development along with Apocrypha. I would not turn away those projects for the world, but The World was exactly what took the blow. If we had been able to reorient our schedule, we could have gotten the first box of Apocrypha out a year earlier. Or maybe even held onto it so that we shipped all of the sets at once. We didn't do that, and I wish we could have found a way to do it.
5. The luxury item business is really challenging to get right. We've now made two luxury boxes, one for Thornwatch and one for Apocrypha. The Thornwatch one, made by Dapper Devil, went pretty well. The Apocrypha one went through four different companies. I'm hard-pressed to explain why without getting into trouble, so I'll just say that we got some promises which were not borne out in reality. Broken Token eventually was able to make one we really liked, but they were not able to assemble and stain them in a reasonable time frame, so we did it ourselves. Thankfully, we have some people with a lot of levels in the Craft skill. But seriously, that should not ever happen. After having issues with externally developed products outside our skill set, we're going to try to focus on things we know how to make ourselves. I'm not saying we'll never do another luxury edition, but we'll be a lot smarter about it.
6. It is really, really, really important to get the rulebook right. I say a lot of things on the subject of rules. I honestly thought we made a pretty good one for Apocrypha. That did not bear itself out in reality, and once people got the accurate perception that we've made a difficult game to understand, it was hard to get them off that perception. We did some good things thereafter, including releasing a PDF of a living rulebook that better represented the game we were all playing. But initial comprehension is crucial for a product launch. We needed to do better, especially on the subject of the Enter Here deck. So, again with the teleportation thing: I would love to magically replace every rulebook in every copy of The World. I can't do that. I recommend folks read the new PDF first and you'll have a better time, even if you use the box rulebook after that. I'm sorry that's how it happened, and just know that we've learned from that since.
7. Apocrypha is still pretty rad. I love all our games, but Apocrypha remains my favorite. It's the most personal game I've ever made, coming out of personal confrontations with the subject of Alzheimer's disease, and yet it's the most collaborative one too, with many dozens of my author and designer and artist friends getting together to jam in our shared revision of the modern world. Sure, it got out of control, scope- and size-wise. That'll happen. But what those people did together was awesome. I love re-reading the fragment text by Jerry Holkins and Pat Rothfuss and Kij Johnson and the rest, or seeing the creepy art that Dhaniels Castillo and Oscar Camaro and Daria Rashevskaya and others knocked out. I got to write some killer stories just how I wanted them. And both as an adventure card game and especially as an RPG, it runs like I want a game to run—fast, nimble, raucous, and weird. Let me be clear: There are lots of things I would have done differently in the process, and will do differently from now on. But as a game, I like our strange mutant offspring. I just don't let it near the good china.
I hope that's all stuff that's worth hearing. I wanted to write this for a while, but mostly I wanted to focus on getting everything we needed to get out out. Now that's done. The last wooden boxes should be making their way to good homes as I write this. Going out on update #66 feels like it's a weird sort of karma. I thank everyone who stuck with us and said good things and even those of you who were critical at times. I hope you enjoy Apocrypha on those dark, rain-swept nights, or maybe in a polar vortex near you. If you see me at a con, come get a Contract Poison. I'll be happy to meet you and hear what you think of the game. Thanks again for supporting Apocrypha.
Mike Selinker, on behalf of all the Sharks