My most-requested game is now a book series. To celebrate the release of book 2, Thieves & Beggars, let's kickstart a $3 worldwide version!
In the Devils & Black Sheep microgame, you are one of a group of rival outlaw crews zooming between planets in the Heracles System. Though the Seven Systems are caught up in a civil war, you're not there to take sides. You're there to raid the derelicts for anything of value after the battle is over, then sell your loot on the black market. But make sure you keep a watchful eye on the local law enforcement and escape the system before things heat up too much.
Freelancers, pirates, wreckers, salvagers ... there are lots of words others use to describe you. But you really think of yourself as entrepreneurs, and this is an opportunity to make some money. And eventually bribe the jumpgate operator to let you past the blockade.
Devils & Black Sheep has become my most requested microgame. Because of this, and to celebrate the worldwide book release, I've put together a $3 version, similar to what I did with Carrier Commander. This game runs on the same rules as the original, but will include lighter counters in a sheet instead of die-cut, for faster and less expensive production.
The game itself is small, light, quick, and easy. Turns last about 1 minute, and a game lasts 30-45 minutes. I designed it as a two-player experience, but it scales well and could be played with 3-4 players if you combine two games. Solo play isn't recommended.
Players control outlaw crews zooming from battle site to battle site in deep space. The goal is to be the first to arrive, pick through the flotsam and derelicts to find the salvageable wreckage, and escape back to the planet. There are shady deals and scams to be run on the side, too.
Navy patrols wander the area, intent on keeping pirates, bandits, and smugglers in line. The patrols monitor each player's "wanted level." When a player has a high enough bounty or is caught with contraband too many times, the patrols will chase them down and exact revenge. Sometimes a ship's own activities will make them more wanted; sometimes a reliable tipoff from a rival crew will do the trick.
This game consists of three components in a 4x6 ziplock bag. No, there is no box, nor will there be a boxed version. Yes, I really am that cheap.
- Cover & Board - The cover has the above image and the title and designer's name. The back of the cover is the play area, with the hex map and bank sections in the corners to help organize counters.
- Rules - The rules are a single sheet, front and back. It's jam packed with all of the information necessary to play the game, including playing with a few advanced rules.
- Counter Sheet - The counter sheet is an uncut sheet with 66 counters on it for money, salvage cargoes, wanted markers, three different pirate ships in two colors, Navy patrols, and top secret upgrades.
Devils & Black Sheep has a simple 3-part turn sequence:
- Phase 1 - War & Peace - Place new derelict ships.
- Phase 2 - Law & Order - Patrols move and/or attack.
- Phase 3 - Scum & Villainy - Players act.
*FUN FACT: This three part sequence was the core of the Devils & Black Sheep book. I thought it was important for the book to feel familiar to people who had played the game, so I purposely outlined the story that way.
First, WAR & PEACE, during which you place new wrecks. You accomplish this by rolling the die and following a placement matrix to determine where rumors of wreckage will lead you. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to live in a junkyard? This is basically your dream junkyard, because it's in space.
Players roll the dice at the beginning of each turn to determine whether new reports of a recent battle reach the rumor mill of the local cantina. The first roll determines how much wreckage from 1-6 is rumored (some battles are larger than others, of course ... just as some rumors are more outlandish than others). The second determines which sector the wreckage is in. The third roll determines which hex the wreckage is in. These wrecks are derelict ships abandoned or destroyed in a recent battle. Every wreck has the potential to be raided for valuable(ish) salvage, but the actual amount of salvageable junk won't be known until you arrive and check it out.
For example, if you roll 1, then 2, then 3, you would take a "1" marker from the wreckage pile, go to the sector indicated by 2 (the orange sector), count 3 hexes out, and place the wreckage marker in that hex.
If you rolled 6, then 5, then 4, you would take a "6" marker from the wreckage pile, go to the sector indicated by 5 (the blue sector), count four hexes out, turning clockwise and continuing when necessary, and place the wreckage marker in that hex.
*FUN FACT: In the original manuscript, chapter 1 featured a pirate searching the site of a recent starship battle for valuable salvage. Edits and revisions pushed that part all the way back to chapter 3.
Next is LAW & ORDER. This is when the Navy patrols move and attack. It will be a tame part of the game early on, but as your Wanted Levels increase from all your shady activities, it could get nasty. The Navy patrols start out together but will become split up by players placing bounties on each other.
The local Navy Patrols roll to see whether they are ordered to bring any of the outlaw crews to justice. Sometimes the patrols will simply move around and harass players. Sometimes they will bring the full might of their patrol to bear.
The higher the player's "wanted level," the more likely a patrol will take notice and give chase. Wanted levels can increase by getting caught in your illegal activity, and can also be increased by other players placing bounties on your ship. Because "a reliable tip-off" is a thing. As much as courts of law want it to not be a thing, it's still a thing. Your wanted level decreases by either being attacked by the local patrol, or by bribing officials (via sizable campaign donations, no doubt) to reduce it.
*FUN FACT: Though a small part of the game, the many law enforcement agencies chasing the pirates are a primary plot element in the book. One lawman, the spymaster Leer, is a minor character, but was more popular among proof readers than any pirate character.
Finally, SCUM & VILLAINY, during which the players act. Each player chooses one of the following actions:
- Bribe: donate to an election campaign in exchange for a reduction in wanted level
- Bounty: place a bounty on a ship to increase its wanted level
- Fence: sell some of your loot to the local chop shop
- Raid: attack an opponent and steal some of their stuff
- Salvage: explore nearby flotsam for something of value
- Move: pretty self explanatory
- Smuggle: sell dark energy on the black market ... VERY illegal stuff
Degrees of Success - After choosing an action, players roll to see how well their action succeeded. The roll determines how successful your action was. This game specifically avoids the polarized success/failure result that commonly turns choices into all-or-nothing deals, and instead replaces it with a gambling mechanic.
*FUN FACT: The Bounty, Fence, Raid, Salvage, and Move actions are plot elements in the book.
Until a step is completed, the timing of that step can change. I can't control floods and dock worker strikes and countries leaving unions and such. I'll update with tracking numbers as I get them, so that you can track the components along with me as the warehouses ship them to my house.
- Prototyping - Completed. All I had to do was review the rules, see if anything needed to be changed, upload them to a few printers, and get a test run. Then I weighed each component separately, weighed the various assembled games, and chose the combination that would be the easiest to package and ship while not sending me over my $3 per game budget.
- Kickstarter Crowdfunding - Friday, May 10 - Sunday, June 9. This mostly involves me sitting in my chair staring at a computer screen.
- Backer Survey - Sunday, June 9 - Saturday, June 22. It takes two weeks for KS to charge cards and make the deposit, so there is no need to rush the backer survey. Inevitably, there will be backers who won't fill out the survey until a month or two after the project funds. Those who fill out the survey in a timely manner will be the ones to get their games in the most timely manner. Also, international backers, please be accurate. I get more international returns than domestic, and re-sending those gets to be expensive.
- Funds Deposited - Monday, June 24. Hooray! Now I can pay for everything. Everything proceeds smoothly from here, funds are divided up and paid out for (1) envelopes, (2) labels, (3) postage, which the local post office loves me for, (4) ziplocks, and (5) the three game components.
- Shipping Labels Printed - Monday, June 24. I learned not to trust professional printers in a previous KS project. Now, I print my own labels here at home. After funds are deposited, I'll order Avery labels by the bajillion, convert the backer survey into an Avery template, and print label sheets.
- Envelopes Ordered - Monday, June 24. I can typically get these in bulk the day after I order them. So if funds are deposited Monday, they should arrive on Tuesday, and I get to have fun affixing all the shipping labels. This could take days. On Carrier Commander it took me I think three days of all-day-long grinding to get all the envelopes labeled and stamped. I watched all three seasons of SeaQuest straight through while I did it.
- Components Commissioned - Monday, June 24. Let's get those printing companies working! I've already got the files uploaded, all I have to do is hit "go" and the presses will be hot.
- Components Shipped - estimated Monday, July 1. Depending on the printing queue, it shouldn't take more than a week for the press to print and ship the components. Sometimes things happen. But most of the time they've gotten things out to me within a week. During the in-between time, I'll pass the day stamping and labeling envelopes. And watching entire seasons of ... I don't know. Maybe I'll do a movie marathon. Kung Fu Panda 1, 2, & 3. Predator through Alien Resurrection in chronological order.
- Components Arrive - estimated Monday, July 8. I don't have any control over the United ... States ... Postal ... Ser ... vice. Or UPS, or FedEx, or whatever shipping company the printers use. All I can do is sit and wait. But during this time, I'll be applying postage and shipping labels to envelopes. And by that, I mean like 1000 envelopes a day, or something like that, if this is anything like my previous $3 madhouse. I'll post pics of the mess in an update.
- Incentives Mailed - estimated Monday, July 8 - Wednesday, July 10. I'll do my absolute best to get everything out within a few days. I only have so many hands and there are only so many hours in a day. But my previous $3 game put out thousands, and I got it done, so ... yay. Also, sore fingertips. And papercuts. Lots of papercuts.
- Domestic Incentives Delivered - estimated Tuesday, July 9 - Tuesday, July 16. Depending on where you live, you might get the game the day after I mail it, or it could take up to a week.
- Foreign Incentives Delivered - estimated Tuesday, July 16 - Tuesday, July 23. My experience has been that Europe receives their stuff quickly, usually in 6-7 days from the date of mailing. Eurobackers should start getting their stuff right about Tuesday the 16th, though some may arrive earlier. I don't control the postal service. Some may get lost or take a roundabout route or go through less efficient post offices, and so could take a month or two. But 99% of backers, even international, should have theirs within two weeks.
There's a story behind this. If you're the type of person who likes to watch all the blooper reels and makings-of and special features, here are some details.
Way back when I first started the whole "resurrect the old 70s microgame" idea, I created a game that would have been printed on two rack cards. You know those tall, thin advertisements that are typically stacked by the dozens in wire racks, typically in tourist trap sorts of places? Yeah. That was the format I was going for, entirely because it would be cheap to produce. So I designed this game, which at the time I called Space Pirates & Grave Robbers.
As the concept developed and I added things and stripped out others via playtesting feedback, one of the things that had to go was the name. Nobody liked it. It was too long, and the players weren't actually robbing graves, just being pirates. But shortening it to Space Pirates felt uninspired to me. So I played around with various piratey themes and came up with Devils & Black Sheep. That name was well received. So was the game.
After Devils & Black Sheepbecame my most requested post KS game, I wondered if people might enjoy a longer version. A full length novel. I hammered out a manuscript while recovering from medical issues, then shopped it around. It was the story of a pirate crew trying to fence their salvage and escape a star system during a civil war. It took a few years and many revisions, but a publisher picked it up and BOOM! Here it is.
Here is Devils & Black Sheep on Amazon in hardcover and paperback, and here is the ebook on the Baen Books website. The second book in the series, Thieves & Beggars, came out in March. Check it out HERE in hardcover, HERE in paperback (Why does Amazon have the hardcover and paperback versions as two separate books? *Shrug* The world wonders.), and HERE in various ebook formats. The story continues, though none of the remaining Crimson Star pirates will be the same when it's done.
A few weeks ago, my book was selected for inclusion in the military sci-fi themed ebook StoryBundle Targets Locked. It's like an ebook version of Bundle of Holding. You can do the basic package and pay what you want for four sci-fi ebooks, with a portion of proceeds going to our selected charity, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. But if you pay $15 or more, you get 25 (!) ebooks, including novellas from 56-time bestseller Kevin J. Anderson and Nebula and Dragon Award finalist Jonathan Brazee. If you read a book a day, that's almost a month of reading.
So, it's been quite a ride. I credit Kickstarter and my backers for that rising tide. So, to give back to the community that put me where I am, I'm running another $3 global game following the model I set out with Carrier Commander, which sold 6700+ copies. Now, please understand that I can't do much for $3, especially when that includes shipping anywhere in the world. But that's not the point. The point is that Kickstarter backers got me here, they are the reason I am where I am, and the best way I can think of to give back to the backer community is with another $3 game.
So, here it is. Devils & Black Sheep was my greatest post-KS success. Now it's back for round two. I hope you enjoy it!
Risks and challenges
The game is already designed, illustrated, playtested, and has been out and in play for several years. This new $3 version needed new prototypes. I've already tested several printers and selected one, which I've used before; I know their system. I've learned from previous KS projects what to do and what not to do. This is why I'm not doing add-ons or stretch goals. Seriously, I'm one guy doing this in my spare time. No add-ons. No stretch goals.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)