Everything is off to the printers!
With the exception of the Cthulhu and Friends rulebook, which is undergoing a final round of spellchecking and proofing, I am excited to announce that everything has now been sent to the printer, and we are back on schedule!
Some people were concerned by the delays. That's totally fair! I was concerned by the delays as well. In fact, I went through the seven stages of concern - annoyance, frustration, more annoyance, staying up all night for several days working on stuff, spell-checking, negotiation, and finally relief.
I just spoke to the printer, and we have an updated timeline!
The printer estimated about a week to assemble all the final proofs, and then they're going to hit the big red "print" button at the factory (I assume that's how it works) and print everything over the next month.
(I tend to add a few days to each step, just to account for any tiny delays.)
When I created the original timeline in October, I added a few months in case things went awry. My not-so-secret hope was that we wouldn't just deliver on-time: we'd deliver early. It looks like that's no longer possible, which is a pity.
The delays were partially caused by the fundamental game changes we unexpectedly made (which I promise you, have made the game SO much better) and partially because of some annoying miscommunications between the Jellybean team and a freelancer.
It's all been resolved now, but I just wanted to let everyone know that I'm aware of the fears (Kickstarter projects hitting sudden delays is not fun for anyone) and that all is well! The game, for all intents and purposes, is 100% complete.
Now we just have to print and ship this sucker*.
To celebrate, here's the beginning of the designer diary I was working on last week! I ended up splitting it into several parts, because - as with most of game design - there's basically unlimited stuff you can end up talking about. Second part is coming next week!
This is more of a combination designer/publisher diary, but the lessons I've learned as a publisher have seriously influenced how I design games.
Also, if you're designing games with the intent of having them published, this sort of thing is extremely important.
So, let's talk about expectations.
Dracula’s Feast is an extremely quick game. The more you play it, the more strategy you pick up on, but as a game it's actually quite fast: the longest I’ve ever ever seen a game last was about 25-30 minutes, and that was with 8 players who have never played before.
With a game this quick, it’s important that people understand each concept immediately. Not only so that the game doesn’t get bogged down by rules-checking and clarifications, but also because when you see the time on a game, you have certain expectations.
If I told you "Hey, I have a game about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire", how long would you expect it to take?
This applies to box size, as well. There are exceptions - there always are - but as a rule, you want every aspect of your game to send the same signal. Game time, box-size, price point, title, theme - all of these are ways of saying “Hey, gamers! If you try this game, you can expect a certain type of experience.”
When you pay $100 for a game, you don’t expect a 5-minute dexterity game. When you pick up a game about echidnas trying on hats, you don’t expect to be spending the next 4 hours negotiating with your friends.
Like I said, this is me with my publisher hat on, but if you want publishers to be interested in your game, you have to start thinking about this kind of stuff at the design level.
Dracula’s Feast is a 10-minute social deduction game, that I’ve worked hard to make available at a $15 price point. (As Kickstarter backers, you got a big ol’ discount!) Everything from the box to the rules are - as much as possible - reflective of that.
It also has way more depth of play than a lot of $15 games, but that’s not a bug - that’s a selling point! It’s fun the first time you play, AND the more you play it, the more strategy you’ll discover.
These expectations are most important with the clearly visible parts of your game (as I said - title, theme, box-size, etc etc) but they permeate every stage of the design process.
I played a great game at Metatopia (a game design con) last year. I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called, but everyone played as Japanese nobles, vying for influence. It went for about 30 minutes, it played 2-4 players, the art was gorgeous, and it involved a lot of bluffing and trying to read your opponents.
Already, it did most everything right. Playing nobles vying for influence comes with certain expectations: you want to be sneaky and manipulative, a little bit backstabby, but you can't just send an army to kill your opponents.
Mechanically it was a lot like Love Letter - each turn, you'd draw a card and then play a card, but your hand of cards never went above 2 or 3. It was fast, smart, fun - like I said, it did a lot of stuff right.
But there was one card in the deck that bugged me, and I couldn't immediately work out why. The card was something along the lines of "Everyone turns their hand to face you; you have 6 seconds to look at them before they turn back."
The next day, while I was discussing the game with Chris Zinsli (of Cardboard Edison), trying to work out why I was so annoyed by the presence of a real-time element, he pinpointed exactly the issue.
It wasn't (just) that it was discordant, it wasn't (just) that the game otherwise had no real-time or memory elements: it was that adding a real-time "minigame" into a neat little strategy game felt wrong.
I had certain expectations of the game, and by adding an element that didn't fit those expectations, I was put off.
When you ask me to play a serious strategy game, I'm going to be annoyed if there's a sudden dexterity element in the middle of it. I'm going to be put off if there's a real-time mechanic, or a sudden die roll to determine the winner.
As a designer, you want to use your theme and title to set expectations, and then ensure that the rest of your game meets those expectations.
I have a co-design with Christopher Badell (I know a lot of gaming Christophers). For close to 2 years, it was called Hex Mex, and it was a game about wizards working in a Mexican restaurant. Delightful, right?
Except the game we ended up designing was a fairly intricate Euro, with cubes turning into other cubes, an abstract movement system, and lots of thought before each risky turn.
It was a great game, but it was never the game people expected from the name Hex Mex. We sat down a few months ago and totally rethemed it - it's now about mining comets, and the whole game is so much less discordant.
There's a reason that so many games are about "trading in the Mediterranean" - it's because when you sit down to play that game, you know exactly what you're getting into. If you can take that game and reskin it to be "zombies fighting in space", you've done something wrong.
Look at your game. Work out what kind of game it is. Then, look at your theme, look at your title. Do they match the game? If not, you've got a problem.
Whether or not you're a theme-first designer, a mechanics-first designer, or an experience-first designer, it's important that these things mesh, else you're going to turn off players, and you're going to turn off publishers.
That's all for this week! I'll be back next week with some more thoughts on expectations - specifically a lot of terminology choices we made when assembling Dracula's Feast.
Also: this weekend, I'm at UnPub 7 in Baltimore! If you're here also, come find me - I'm (almost certainly) going to be the only blue-bearded Australian, and I love meeting backers.
Thank you so much for your support,
-Peter C. Hayward
Always aiming for a N.E.W.T. score of E.E.
P.S. In each of these updates I like to link to a currently-running Kickstarter that I think you might enjoy! This week, it's Dinosaur Island - if you've ever wanted to create a dinosaur theme park, this is the game for you. After all, what could go wrong?