Lessons from the Sub Rosa Kickstarter Campaign (part 1)

Back in late March and early April, I ran my first Kickstarter campaign, Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire. You can see the project page here, if you're interested in the fine details. Whilst it didn't set the world on fire with it's untold success, if did slightly reach beyond its funding goals. The rewards were shipped out in early August and all backers now have what they paid for.

I want to take some of your time to briefly go over some of the lessons learnt through running the campaign and fulfilling the game to backers. Take everything here with a grain of salt and don't assume it should apply to your campaign or everybody's campaign - this is a sample size of one.

The Sub Rosa Kickstarter

Keep Your Schedule (Relatively) Clear

The Sub Rosa campaign had a habit of becoming overwhelmingly time consuming, if I let it. For the first 16 hours of the campaign, I was glued to my computer, answering questions, going on forums, tweeting, emailing, updating, texting my marketing manager. I had spent months preparing the campaign, but still felt like I was scrambling on that first day. Make sure that the day you launch a campaign, you have the time to guide it.

Keep it Simple

I'm so happy that I decided to run a relatively simple campaign, without add-ons, excessive amounts of stretch goals, or even a particularly complex product. This made the whole process so much less stressful - I knew the project would be profitable and delivered on time, no matter how many stretch goals were unlocked.

Being a simple game also meant that manufacturing and fulfillment were a breeze for Sub Rosa. After all, it was just a rulebook, 10 cards, and 30 tokens. It's size and the lack of complicated add-ons meant it could be shipped straight from the factory to the backers.


Keep it Short

Most of the activity on my campaign happened in the first 48 hours and the last 48 hours. In the middle of that, there were huge swathes of inactivity. I think at one point, I went a day without a single new backer. My campaign was 21 days long and while sitting in the middle of it, it felt too long. 21 days is a long time to maintain buzz about your product. I think for future campaigns, I will reduce the length of the campaign to 14 days.

Engage the Community and Focus on Your Marketing

This is probably my biggest weakness. I enjoy using twitter and I have a reasonable following on there, but I hate talking on internet forums and BGG. I'm also a pretty bad salesperson - even if I believe in a product, I can't bear the idea of forcing it onto somebody. So for the Sub Rosa campaign, I hired a marketing manager to take the reins a little and offer some guidance. I went with the services of Wilderland Campaigns, and I was really happy with what they did provided. Nate, from Wilderland, came into the project early on and offered guidance on elements of theme, pricing, press releases, and ways to engage backers. For instance, Nate convinced me to post an update requesting all backers take a "Secret Agent name" and post it on the comments section. I thought it was the goofiest thing I'd ever heard, but reluctantly went ahead with it. And to my surprise, it worked really well! I don't think the project would have funded at all, had I not had Wilderland on board. And that leads me to my next point...

Advertising

I should have done some. Not a lot, but I can't help but see some missed opportunity there. I should at least have tried a small amount to see what came out of it. My next campaign will be for a word game and trying to appeal to a much more mainstream audience, so I will certainly have to look at advertising for that.


Part 2 of this post is coming soon...

Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire is on Kickstarter!


This week, Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire launched on Kickstarter! Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire is a 2-4 player microgame all about bidding, bluffing and manipulation. The low-resolution printable is available if you want to check the game out first.

Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire

Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire (download) was formerly called Bid for Power, and is a tactical bidding and bluffing microgame for 2-4 players. Sub Rosa has been developed with the intention of being launched as my first Kickstarter project - so I wanted something small and simple. I wanted it to be a game which provided interesting decision making moments with as few components as possible. So Sub Rosa uses only 5 double-sided cards and 28 small bidding tokens.

Towards the end of a 3-player game.

Players start by shuffling and flipping the double-sided cards and laying a number of these cards out on the table, depending on the number of players - these cards are the agents available for hire in the game. Each agent card has its own specific powers, and the combinations of agents that come out can alter the game significantly. In a 4-player game, there are 32 possible combinations of agents - and while some of these variations are slight, some are quite drastic and can result in some unexpected combos and some fun bluffing opportunities.

Once the available agents have been determined, players take turns placing their bidding tokens onto the various agent cards. Each bidding token is numbered, with a value between 2 and 6. Most tokens are played face-down and are not revealed until the end - this is where much of the bluffing comes in. Additionally each player has two tokens that let them utilise the various agent abilities. Thematically, it's like the players have been able to blackmail the agents into doing various jobs. These jobs include manipulating opponent bids, moving agents around, or locking agents from bids for a round.

Once players have each placed all but one token, they reveal all the face-down tokens, and the values on these tokens determine who has won control of each agent. The player who wins control of the most agents at the end of the game is the winner. In the case of a tie, the tied player who kept the highest value token in their hand is the winner.


The biggest selling point for Sub Rosa is that it is easy to teach and learn, but has a lot of interesting emergent strategies contained within it. This happens because of the interaction between the agent card abilities and also because bluffing is such a central mechanic.

Sub Rosa was developed in the Playtest Dublin group. It started out as a tiny two-player idea and was quickly thrashed into its current shape. Because it's so small, it's been playtested a lot and it's been possible to send it through many iterations. All of this has been great for the game and I'm eternally grateful to the Dublin gaming community for their help.

Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire will be popping up on Kickstarter in about a month's time. In the meantime, you can get a free print-and-play, so you can try the game out. The print-and-play uses only one sheet of thick paper or card and is in black-and-white.

Follow this link and enter your email to get the files.

The New Litterateur PNP is Available


Litterateur is a card-drafting word building game for up to six players. It lasts 20-30 minutes and rewards savvy planning, not just an expansive lexicon.

The black-and-white print-and-play is available for free, here.

Report from Playtest Dublin #6

Since arriving in Ireland, I've missed tons of things about my life in Singapore - the food, the weather, the convenience, old friends - but one thing Dublin has given me is a community of game makers to interact with. Notably, the Playtest Dublin group has been a spot to bring my designs to more varieties of playtesters, and this has resulted in huge changes in my games, as well as development of my game design skills. Here's the report from January's large playtest sessions.

Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire

Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire is a bidding, bluffing, base-control microgame, which I've been developing since the middle of last year. I'll outline it's development in more detail in a later post, but for the sake of this article, playtesters were trying out a late version of the game. Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire has been through more iterations than any other of my games and has had a significantly faster development cycle - partly because it's a small game and partly because it's quick and easy to test. The playtests in January were all blind-playtests (I just gave the players the rules and left them to figure it out), and things went swimmingly. Players enjoyed their plays of the game and I've started locking down features for the final version. A print and play is imminent.

Sub Rosa: Spies for Hire

Watermelons

Another long-time design. This game started development in February, 2015, and there are quite a few posts on this blog outlining its development. At it's core, the game is a push-your-luck bluffing game, where players dare one another to take cards which may or may not be poisoned melons - if you get poisoned, you are out of the short round, but still score points, so it's a matter of deciding when it's most advantageous to meet your ugly demise. Since the last post here, the main changes have been with regards to the balance of healthy melons to poisoned melons, and the score values of those melons. Players really enjoyed this one and one group played the game, just for fun, an additional two times. Several groups of playtesters have told me that this game is finished, but I still feel like it lacks something. I think the next step will be to send it to wider groups of playtesters, to see how they respond.


Dropships

This is a quick dexterity game I put together the week before the playtest. I've been beating around the idea of making a micro-legacy game. That is, a game that changes each time you play it and comes with only a limited number of plays, but then also contained within very few components. Dropships is a war game where you launch ships onto a planet's surface to fight battles. Wherever these battles take place, the terrain is changed for all future games. The game itself didn't really work very well - the dexterity element of the game felt a little flat and uninspiring. I will probably return to the idea, after mulling over it for a while.

Space Traders

This is my Chinatown-esque trading game, about developing the best businesses on a space-mall. Players are free to trade any items they own - business licences, established businesses, renovation contracts, cash - and then they enter into a short, tile-laying phase, a little similar to Carcassonne, where there are certain rules about laying certain tiles. After this, players are paid based on how well they have developed their businesses and a new round begins. The game went fine, but it doesn't provide a unique enough experience to be interesting, at this point. I have some ideas regarding how to develop the tile-laying part of the game, to make things more interesting, but it'll have to wait until I have other projects out of the way.

Space Traders

Cliques

Cliques is a card game for 4-8 players which I've been developing for a while, with the intention to submit it to a game design contest. My intention was to have a game which plays a high number of players without having a lot of downtime, which typically happens with high-player-count games (Bang and Citadels being among the clearest examples of this). No changes came out of this most recent playtest of this and players had a lot of fun with it. This is possibly the game that I have playtested the most, at this point, because it's easy to pull out at normal gaming events. It's currently in the hands of the judges in one game design contest, and has been submitted to a bunch of publishers.

Modular City Game

I'm a huge fan of Carcasssonne and in December I picked up a set of micro-expansion for the game. These are 9 tile expansions that come in tiny boxes and each add a new mechanic to the Carcassonne base game. This got me thinking, would it be possible to design a game which consists of a set of standalone modules, which can be played separately or together? Every module could be made available for a low price, because they are small, but if you have enough, you could combine them to make a large and relatively unique game.

I thrashed out the idea for a while and decided that a city-building, tile-laying game could be interesting. So far I have made two modules - one is a small town module and one is a marina module. Each can be played alone, or if you combine them, you are playing a game about developing a small town by the sea. Players enjoyed the ideas presented in the game, but end-game scoring proved to be problematic. This is an issue with the tile-laying mechanic, rather than the modular concept. I'll continue to think this one through.