Formal Ferret Games

Gil Hova designs, publishes, and plays board games

Formal Ferret 2017 convention schedule

Last year, I published a really ambitious convention schedule. I wound up missing a few of those events (I never made it to PAX AUS, unsurprisingly), but I kept to the schedule pretty closely. I remember going into UK Games Expo thinking I’d over-extended myself, and leaving with the certainty that I’d return in 2017.

Here’s the schedule, with analysis and thoughts below. I’m only listing public events and trade shows; I’m not listing invite-only conventions like the Gathering of Friends.

Dreamation
(No booth, but will be running events for The Networks and Wordsy)
February 17-19
Morristown, NJ

New York Toy Fair
(No booth, but I will be at large on the floor. Contact me if you want to schedule a meeting!)
February 20-21
New York, NY

Geekway to the West
May 17-21
St. Louis, MO

UK Games Expo
June 2-4
Birmingham, United Kingdom

Origins
June 14-18
Columbus, OH

Dice Tower Con
July 5-9
Orlando, FL

Gen Con
August 17-20
Indianapolis, IN

SPIEL ’17
October 26-29
Essen, Germany

Metatopia
(No booth, but I will be running playtests for upcoming games and holding seminars)
November 2-5
Morristown, NJ

BGG.CON
November 15-19
Dallas, TX

 

Gen Con remains a must-attend, and Origins built up enough amazing buzz for The Networks that I feel I need to return this year. It’ll be my 3rd year at BGG.CON with a booth and my 11th overall. Essen SPIEL and UKGE are also crucial for me, as they let me reach an overseas audience that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

I’ve decided to avoid small shows that focus on video games, and only have board games as a sidebar. They’re just not worth my time anymore; I need to spend that time at shows that better target my audience. Trying to sell my games to someone who isn’t disposed to buy board games in the first place is a struggle I may be able to take in a few years, but for now, I have to focus on more winnable battles.

I’ve also dropped out of the PAX circuit for 2017. PAX South 2016 was absolutely wonderful, but it’s just too far away for me, and I didn’t have any stock when it was held this year. PAX East is extremely expensive, it’s impossible for a publisher of my size to get any booth space in the tabletop area, and my performance there last year outside the tabletop area was lackluster. PAX AUS and PAX Prime are too far away for me to attend in 2017, and the newly-announced PAX Unplugged is the same weekend as BGG.CON, which I’ve already committed to. I’ve heard that PAX Unplugged will not overlap BGG.CON in the future, so I will likely exhibit there in 2018.

I had wanted to attend UnPub, but had to pull out. I wouldn’t have any prototypes there in time, it wouldn’t be a selling convention for me, and it conflicts with a new part-time job I have at a local escape room. It’s a shame, because I love UnPub, and I really want to attend next year.

I considered attending BGG.Spring, but the timing just wasn’t right. I would have gone from Geekway to BGG.Spring to UKGE in three consecutive weekends, and that would have been too exhausting.

I’ve been at Dexcon, a local convention in Morristown, NJ, for at least 10 straight years (at least, it feels like that), but it overlaps with Dice Tower Con this year, so I will sadly have to miss it. But I will be attending their other two shows, Dreamation and Metatopia.

I had wanted to attend the Granite Games Summit, and I hope to someday! But it conflicts with the Gathering of Friends (not listed above as it’s invite-only).

I hope to see you at some of these shows soon!

A 4P Testimonial from Chip Beauvais

January is rapidly approaching, and with that comes my annual game design challenge, 4P. Instead of other game design challenge that have some sort of conceit of “finishing” your game at the end of the challenge, 4P challenges you to test your game 4 times in a month, making tweaks between each test.

Chip Beauvais is the designer of Chroma Cubes, Smoke and Mirrors, and now Universal Rule (currently on Kickstarter). Here he is with some words about how 4P has helped him…

For the last two years, I’ve participated in the 4P program by subjecting one of my game designs to four playtests during the month of January. One of the rules of 4P is that, between playtests, the designer needs to elicit feedback from players, and incorporate that feedback into the prototype. The goal of 4P, unlike many month-long challenges, is not to finalize a design, but instead to make significant progress with it.

After a successful campaign with Smoke and Mirrors in 2015, I proposed a few ideas for additional games with Jason Tagmire of Button Shy Games. He countered with the idea of creating something meatier, maybe a 4X game. My immediate reaction was, “With only 18 cards?, That’s impossible.”  But, a few weeks later, I realized that January was just around the corner, and this would make a perfect 4P experiment.

That’s one of the things about 4P. It’s not a large time commitment, and it’s contained within a single month. If, as I initially thought, creating a 4X game using only 18 cards was actually impossible, I would find out quickly. In any event, I would learn a lot.

In the first playtest (January 7, 2016), I saw which elements of the game engaged players. They enjoyed the banter, negotiation, and threats they could make while playing. I also learned to make every card exciting. With only 18 cards, there wasn’t room for boring planet powers.

Another advantage of 4P is the requirement of iterating quickly. It’s easy to theory-craft a game in your head and spend a lot of time fine-tuning a game that might not even work. This drives designers to make significant changes (doubling, or halving values on cards) rather than small tweaks which may not be noticeable. As a result, your questions are answered more quickly.

During the second playtest (January 15th, 2016), I learned that the non-planet elements of cards (e.g. “Discard this card for an effect”) were mostly ignored by players. On the one hand, I was a little disappointed, because I thought that there was a lot of design space to explore in this area. On the other hand, the playtester’s preference was too clear to ignore. Without playtesting, I might have spent weeks tinkering with this aspect of the game, but thanks to 4P, I could see that the best way forward was to drop this part of the game entirely.

One of the neat things about Universal Rule is the opportunity to participate in everyone’s turn. Whenever an opponent selects an action, you can “follow” that player by paying an additional cost. Sometimes, however, you either can’t follow (perhaps you can’t afford it), or you don’t want to follow. In this case, you get a consolation prize of 1 credit. While the concept of following was in the game from the very beginning, this single credit for not following was added during the third playtest on January 22nd.

Finally, it’s easier to get playtesters when I explain what 4P is, and what I’m trying to accomplish. Saying to my friends, “I’d like to work on a game that maybe, in a few months, I’ll be able to pitch to a publisher who maybe, a few months later, will want to publish, and which will finally, a year later, become a physical game” doesn’t have the same urgency as, “I’m striving towards four playtests before February begins.” As game designers, we understand the importance of sub-goals for driving player engagement, and 4P is a great subgoal in the game of designing games.

I hope you can join Chip and me for 4P 2017! No signup is required, no reporting is necessary. Just get those four playtests done!

Metatopia 2016

Metatopia is a game designer convention in Morristown, NJ. The only games on offer are prototypes. Because of that, it’s one of my favorite events of the year. Every year, more big-name designers attend, and it’s becoming a must-attend show for designers and publishers around the country.

I’ll be testing the forthcoming expansion to The Networks. Look for event B261 on Friday at 4 pm, B371 on Friday at 10 pm.

I’ll also be running a blind test of Wordsy, which means I hand you the rulebook and watch you try to figure out the game. That is event B813 on Sunday at 3 pm, although we’re going to try for an impromptu event on Sunday at 5 pm as well.

Here’s the full board game schedule. There are also schedules for RPGs and LARPs.

Finally, if you’re an aspiring game designer, I suggest checking out the incredible schedule of panels and seminars. These are always illuminating, informative, and very honest. I usually make a point to present several panels, so here are my offerings for this year.

D015: “Life After Kickstarter” presented by Gil Hova, Nick Sauer, Diane Sauer. Your Kickstarter funded; hooray! You shipped all your product, hooray! Now what? If you’re like a lot of board game self-publishers, you’ve got some stock left over. What channels can you use to sell it off? How can you market it? How do you get a distributor’s attention? If you can’t get ahold of any distributors, what are the alternatives? And when should you press that reprint button? Friday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D059: “Theme: What is it Good For?” presented by Gil Hova, Tim Rodriguez, Geoffrey Engelstein, Sarah Judd. Most board games have a theme, but we’ve all played those games whose theme didn’t work for the game. Maybe the theme was really boring. Or it was really exciting, but the mechanisms didn’t match up. Or it left everyone confused and angry. It’s a subject worth studying. Why is theme so important to some board games? Why is it so unimportant to others? What can we as board game designers do to make sure our themes are working as well as possible? This panel will dive into the subject, exploring it from as many perspectives as possible. Saturday, 1:00PM – 2:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D063: “Con Booth Survival Guide” presented by Gil Hova, Stephen Buonocore, Curt Covert. Getting a booth at a large convention is intimidating for a new publisher. It’s expensive, and requires many hours of labor from many volunteers. There’s also cash to handle, signage to bring, and inventory to sell. Join publishers Stephen Buonocore (Stronghold Games), Curt Covert (Smirk & Dagger Games), and Gil Hova (Formal Ferret Games) as they discuss best practices for keeping your convention customers and volunteers happy. Saturday, 2:00PM – 3:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D072: “Ten Mistakes New Board Game Designers Make” presented by Gil Hova. Do you have a new board game? Or even just an idea for a new board game? Board game designer Gil Hova has played a lot of board game prototypes, and knows the kinds of traps new designers are likely to fall into (and has fallen into most of them himself). Join him as he discusses ways around the most common pitfalls in board game design! Saturday, 5:00PM – 6:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

See you there!

My newest game Wordsy is live on Kickstarter now!

wordsy-main-graphic

My newest game Wordsy is now live on Kickstarter! Check out the campaign, back the game, and watch the video where I bicker with a stuffed chicken.

Wordsy is the spiritual successor to my first published game Prolix. I’m very excited about the opportunity to revise this game, and I can’t wait to get it into your hands!

No, The Networks has not been “discontinued by manufacturer”

According to Amazon, as of today, my game has been “discontinued” by the “manufacturer.” This is quite the surprise, as I am the manufacturer (or more accurately, publisher) of the game.

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People familiar with the Wild West that is Amazon FBA know what happened here. Jamey Stegmaier encountered the same thing, and it’s why he’s moved on from Amazon FBA.

The crux of the matter is that any retailer with stock of the game can update its listing n Amazon Seller Central, which is, for lack of a better term, a way to access Amazon’s vast database of products.

But once that change has been made, only that retailer can change it back. So they can change it to “Discontinued by manufacturer,” or they can attribute the game to the wrong publisher, or give it the wrong player count (both of which happened to Jamey), or worse!

There is a way for publishers like me to take control of our listings. It’s called Amazon Brand Registry, and in theory, it should set up the listing so only the publisher could change it.

I’ve tried using the Amazon Brand Registry. I got a vaguely-worded form letter rejecting my application. At the time, I was prepping for Origins, and I didn’t have time to follow up. I may try to give it another shot, but like many other things related to Amazon, it means dealing with a lot of automated, counter-intuitive procedures, and that’s not something I have a lot of time for right now.

After Bad Medicine, I swore to not use Amazon FBA to fulfill any more Kickstarters. I was lucky to discover Funagain just before I fulfilled The Networks, and they helped me keep my promise. At the same time, I figured I would try to use Amazon FBA to at least move some stock of my game.

But I’m likely going cold turkey with Amazon FBA from here on in. It’s just too difficult to deal with, and too much work. I’d rather spend my time building relationships with distributors and publishers than have to do all the screaming into the void that a relationship with Amazon FBA requires.

(I may still use Amazon Launchpad, which is a different model than FBA, as long as they guarantee me control of my metadata. With that system, I actually sell Amazon my product, and they act as retailer. Not everyone can get in it, but so far, it seems to be a decent system that actually lets me talk to a human if I need to.)

So what’s the fate of The Networks? I’m down to fewer than 400 units in my inventory (from a 5,000-unit print run), and I plan to sell out of my remaining stock at Essen and BGG.CON. More copies will arrive in February, and those will (finally) enter wide distribution.

I’ve reached out to retailers who may have made the change to my Amazon FBA listing to ask that they remove the misleading information. Hopefully I’ll hear back soon. In the meantime, please know that Amazon is not a reliable source for breaking game news.