Formal Ferret Games

Gil Hova designs, publishes, and plays board games

Introducing my new podcast, Breaking Into Board Games!


I’m on a podcast! It’s called Breaking Into Board Games, and it’s about breaking into the board game business. My co-hosts are Ian Zang and Tony Miller.

In the podcast, Tony discusses the business from a game designer’s point of view, Ian discusses the business from a game developer’s point of view, and I discuss the business from a game publisher’s point of view.

Our next few episodes will feature interviews with Scott Almes, JR Honeycutt, and Tim Fowers, talking about how they broke into the business. More interviews are on the way, as well as episodes where the three of us discuss a single topic about getting into the hobby.

You can listen now on Libsyn or iTunes. More episodes to come!

The Networks is doing great on Kickstarter!

I launched The Networks on Kickstarter at the beginning of September, and I’m delighted with how it’s been going! We’ve raised $50,000, over double my original funding goal, and we’re at almost 1500 backers. 

Please visit the page and pledge if you haven’t already!

The larger good versus the smaller great

Here’s a design question that fascinates me.

Say you have a prototype that is playing fairly well. People are enjoying it, and they tell you they like it. They may even ask you when it’s coming out.

You’re thinking of making a change. It would alienate half your potential audience, but the other half would become rabid about the game. They would sing its praises until the end of the world.

What do you do? Do you make a good game that appeals to a wide audience? Or do you make an incredible game that appeals to a narrow audience?

(The question works in the other direction as well; maybe your game already has a narrow appeal, and you’re wondering whether you should widen the appeal at the expense of toning down what makes its fans happy.)

There’s a lot this question depends on. I know a lot of new designers who would immediately make the change without a further thought. They want to make the best game possible, and if their vision limits the audience of their games, so be it.

But many other designers out there care about game sales. It sounds cold and possibly selfish to a new designer, but it’s a reality; designers who sell many games are considered most successful. And of course, publishers will tend to put out games they believe will sell more copies.

And have you ever had people decline to try out your game, because they don’t think it’s for them? Imagine doubling that. It’s not fun. So if you’re looking for a simple, one-size-fits-all answer, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Again, the answer to this question depends on a lot of things.

So now that we’ve established that this is a question without a simple answer, let’s look at ways we can work towards an answer.

First, what is your game’s core engagement? Does the change preserve it? Does it refine or amplify it? Or is it a completely different approach to the game?

Second, what is your goal for the game? Will you be happy with a highly-regarded game with lower sales? Or would you prefer a game with broader appeal, that you can show to many possible demographics? Of course, neither of these answers is always correct; it all depends on your approach to game design.

Third, can you approximate the game’s quality and appeal before and after the change? On a scale of 1 to 10, how much appeal does your original design have, and how enthusiastic are players after finishing it? On the same scale, how much appeal do you think the new design has, and how enthusiastic do you think players will be after finishing it?

If the new game has one value under 4 and the other value isn’t at least an 8, I don’t think it’s worth making the change. If both values for the new game are around 6 and 6, that’s also not a good sign; the new design may be too mediocre to survive.

But if the new design has at least an 8 in one category? You might have something there.

Fourth, can you branch the games? If their core engagements or experiences are different enough, perhaps you can retheme the new design and see where it takes you. If you keep fiddling with it, it may turn out to feel completely different than the original game. You’ll have two games from one!

Of course, we would all like our games to have the best of both worlds: wide appeal and an enthusiastic audience. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and we must pick one.

Personally, I would make the change if it brought either a huge, cult-like devotion of fans, or if it would become widely, massively popular without compromising any of my creative vision. I would not want to dial my games down just to make it feel more generic without some sort of hook that would gather game fans’ attention. If the old design was an 8 or more in appeal, and the new design was an 8 or more in enthusiasm (or vice versa), I would look at branching and developing the two as separate designs.

But it’s a question with a different answer based on the circumstances. Just like a good game. That’s what makes it so fascinating.

Lessons from Gen Con 2015

Photo Jul 30, 9 22 41 AM

Phew, what a Gen Con! It was my first time selling at the largest tabletop gaming convention in America. I learned a ton, but I think I made enough contacts, showed my games to enough people, and made back enough of what I spent, that I can consider the convention a huge success.

Here’s what I think I did right:

I was there. And I was all over the vendor hall. Last year, I set up a table in the Event Hall, but I was only able to draw about 20 people in 5 or so events across the event’s five days. But when I had Battle Merchants set up in the BGG booth for a video, I had five people come up to me in the space of 15 minutes! I knew then that I had to find a way into the Vendor Hall.

Being there is important. Gen Con is a pillar for the gaming community. Gamers look to it to find the new games for the coming year. It’s how to stay relevant.

I had an amazing boothmate and an incredible location. I split a booth with Nazca Games, which is run by Emerson Matsuuchi, of Volt and Specter Ops fame. I’m learning so much from Emerson. He embodies professionalism and passion. I want to be him when I grow up.

Even better, our booth was co-located with the Plaid Hat booth. That means we had an incredible spot, close to the center of the hall. We never suffered for traffic! I don’t know if I’ll ever have a spot as good as this one again (although for Gen Con, there don’t seem to be any truly bad spots; people will find you.)

Best of all, Emerson insisted on helping me demo my games when I was short on manpower, even though I told him that he should focus on his own games. And on Sunday evening, I returned to the vendor hall to pack up my booth, only to discover that he and his team had done it for me!

Photo Aug 05, 12 49 19 AM

I, and my booth staff, were friendly and fun to demo with. I’ve seen lots of booths with surly demo-ers, and it’s not surprising to find out that they just don’t want to be there. Selling at a convention isn’t for everyone, but if you’re not feeling it, your customers will sense it.

I’m very lucky that I genuinely love to show off my games. And while the way I talk is a little awkward – words have a way of crashing into each other as they fight to get out of my mouth – I hope my passion comes through. For every 10 groups I demoed Bad Medicine and Battle Merchants to, I’d say I sold 8 or 9 copies. I wish I’d been at the booth longer… more on that in a moment.

Most importantly, I made sure that my demo team were soft sellers. We’re there to show the game, not to force a sale. I think this technique works; I had a few people who didn’t buy my games at Origins return to buy them here instead.

And it’s good to be there just to meet fans. It’s strange for me to say, but I had several people who came by to tell me how much they liked Battle Merchants. That means the world to me.

I spread myself out. In addition to the booth I shared with Emerson, I spent some time demoing Bad Medicine at the Ad Magic booth, and the Indie Game Alliance demoed The Networks a couple of times on my behalf. I also bought some time at the First Exposure Playtest Hall, and was able to get feedback on the game’s graphic design from 16 enthusiastic testers.

I ran evening events. Unlike Origins, my evening events were extremely well-attended; I had about 50 people try my games across all three evenings, and many of them showed up at my booth the next day to make a purchase. This is definitely something I’ll do again next year.

I brought a bunch of business cards with appropriate web sites. It’s so important to give some material for people who are interested in my games. Perhaps I just did a demo in the event hall, and someone wants to remember the game. Perhaps I just showed a game at my booth, and a person wants to come back later to buy the game. Being able to hand out something physical, even a tiny business card, is huge.

And if they don’t come back to my booth, they can go to the appropriate web site on the card and get more information about the game over there!

I ate regularly, went to sleep at a reasonable hour, and didn’t push myself overly hard. My schedule was crazy, sure; show up at 9 am to start demos, leave at midnight. But I knew I could do it for three days, especially because I didn’t stay too late, didn’t force myself when I was feeling tired, and made sure I ate three meals a day plus snacks. I find it vital to make a pre-con supermarket run where I can pick up stuff for sandwiches and snacks, especially when my hotel comes with a mini-fridge.

Photo Jul 30, 7 45 55 PM

Here’s what I will do next year:

I will figure out a way into the vendor room again. This will be tricky; Gen Con may not be expanding their space, and yet more vendors want in. People like me who haven’t had a booth in our name yet can only hope to win a lottery for first-time booths, and that will only get us a small 10’x10′ booth at one of the edges of the convention. At this point, I have the resources and imagination where I should be able to work with someone else to get a decently-sized space in a better area. Stay tuned…

I will get more help. This was my biggest mistake. I had only two volunteers, and we had three places to spread out. We wound up not staffing the Ad Magic booth during all hours, and we only had one person at the Formal Ferret booth at any given time. Next year, there will be at least as many people at the Formal Ferret demo area as available demos, with extra folks to handle shift changes and other demo opportunities.

I will remain at the booth during vendor hours. Gen Con is my opportunity to see people I only get to see a few times a year. But I had no fixed address at this con; while I made sure my booth was always staffed, I was not there on Friday or Saturday; instead I ran demos at the FEPH and the Ad Magic booth.

This wasn’t good; I missed a bunch of people who wanted to say hi or interview me. Wasted opportunities, darn! I will be sure to be more available next year, and to have a volunteer handle any demos that happen outside my booth.

I will print my booth number on my promotional materials. This is a nice touch I need to make sure I handle next time. Gen Con is huge, and those booth numbers are easy to forget. I usually wrote down my booth number on the back of the card, but it will be easier next year to just have it on the card in the first place.

I will keep my evenings free. I ate dinner hurriedly this year, wolfing a salad down while setting up a 7 pm event. As a result, I missed a bunch of prototyping and networking opportunities. So next year, I will entrust evening demos to a volunteer, leaving me to go to dinner with people I don’t get to see often. Some amazing things result from those simple encounters.

I will take more photos. I only had four or so photos on my phone once the smoke cleared, and none of them featured me demoing anything. It may seem narcissistic, but these photos are really good for newsletters and Kickstarter updates. I’ll be sure to have better documentation next year.

Overall, it was a heck of a convention. I know it was good because it only felt 30 minutes long! Here’s to another “30 minutes” next year.

The Formal Ferret Gen Con 2015 schedule

I’ve been planning Gen Con 2015 ever since I returned from Gen Con 2014. In two weeks, we’ll see the results!

It’s going to be an amazing convention for me. I’ll be showing the final manufactured copy of Bad Medicine, previewing the most current demo of The Networks, and selling the Battle Merchants: New Kingdoms expansion.

I’m going to be busy the whole way through, but if you want to find my games, there are a few easy places to go at any point in the con.

First, if you won’t be at the convention at all, you can watch me on BoardGameGeek’s live Gen Con coverage. I’ll be showing The Networks at 3 pm EDT on Saturday, August 1.

You can always visit the Formal Ferret Booth (#2229, with Nazca Games). I’ll be demoing Battle Merchants (with the New Kingdoms expansion) and Bad Medicine. You’ll be able to buy Battle Merchants bundled with New Kingdoms for $45, the expansion alone for $10, or the base game alone for $40. You can also pre-order Bad Medicine for $28. I’ll even be selling official Formal Ferret t-shirts for $10 each!

Here are all the places you can find my games at Gen Con 2015!

Thursday (vendor hall opens at 9 am for VIPs, 10 am for everyone else)
All Day:
Indie Game Alliance open gaming area (Hall E) – Battle Merchants, Bad Medicine, and The Networks available for checkout.
9 am – 6 pm: 
Formal Ferret booth (#2229) – Demos of Battle Merchants (for sale) and Bad Medicine (for preorder).
9 am – 6 pm: Ad Magic booth (#461) – Demos of Bad Medicine and The Networks.
7 pm – 9 pm: Hall D, Yellow tables #7-8 – Full play of Battle Merchants
9 pm – 11 pm: Hall D, Green table #28 – Full play of The Networks 
11 pm – 12 am: Hall D, Green tables #28-30 – Full play of Bad Medicine

All Day: Indie Game Alliance open gaming area (Hall E) – Battle Merchants, Bad Medicine, and The Networks available for checkout.
10 am – 6 pm: Formal Ferret booth (#2229) – Demos of Battle Merchants and Bad Medicine.
10 am – 1 pm: 
Ad Magic booth (#461) – Demos of Bad Medicine and The Networks..
12 pm – 2 pm: Indie Game Alliance booth (#2827) – Demos of The Networks.
2 pm – 4 pm: First Exposure Playtest Hall (Hall E) – Full play of The Networks.
4 pm – 6 pm: First Exposure Playtest Hall (Hall E) – Full play of The Networks.
7 pm – 9 pm: Hall D, Yellow tables #6-7 – Full play of Battle Merchants .
9 pm – 11 pm: Hall D, Green table #28 – Full play of The Networks .
11 pm – 12 am: Hall D, Green tables #28-30 – Full play of Bad Medicine.

All Day:
Indie Game Alliance open gaming area (Hall E) – Battle Merchants, Bad Medicine, and The Networks available for checkout.
10 am – 6 pm: Formal Ferret booth (#2229) – Demos of Battle Merchants and Bad Medicine.
10 am – 12 pm: First Exposure Playtest Hall – Full play of The Networks.
12 pm – 2 pm: First Exposure Playtest Hall – Full play of The Networks.
4 pm – 6 pm: Ad Magic booth (#461) – Demos of Bad Medicine and The Networks.
4 pm – 6 pm: Indie Game Alliance booth (#2827) – Demos of The Networks.
7 pm – 9 pm: Hall D, Yellow tables #1-2 – Full play of Battle Merchants .
9 pm – 11 pm: Hall D, Green table #28 – Full play of The Networks .
11 pm – 12 am: Hall D, Green tables #28-30 – Full play of Bad Medicine.

All Day:
Indie Game Alliance open gaming area (Hall E) – Battle Merchants, Bad Medicine, and The Networks available for checkout.
10 am – 4 pm: Formal Ferret booth (#2229) – Demos of Battle Merchants and Bad Medicine.
2 pm – 4 pm: Ad Magic booth (#461) – Demos of Bad Medicine and The Networks.