Year in Review 2022: Publishing

In part 1 of the review I presented some raw numbers from another year of publishing, in this (rather late) post I want to add some context but first some summary stats. Compared to 2021 my total 2022 income was down, from £2362.41 to £2379.94 while my costs went up significantly. As a result I went from a healthy profit of £1280.69 to a loss of -£148.20.

That’s not great but it was also not unexpected and not as bad as it looks because of how the tax year falls. Signal to Noise brought in approximately half the amount of money that Project Cassandra did and virtually all of it went on art and fulfilment. The entire reason I ran a campaign for the game was so I could afford to commission Val and add her fantastic art to the game so that’s what I did, even though it meant my ‘profit’ from the campaign was non-existent. In terms of subsequent sales I think it’s paid off with the game selling well throughout the rest of the year and a number of people at Dragonmeet commenting on how great the art is. Project Cassandra used stock art throughout and its only non-production cost was editing so I came away with a much more substantial profit (~£600, which didn’t actually pay me a fair rate for the work).

Online my digital sales were down on drivethruRPG and slightly up on itch. The difference at drivethruRPG almost entirely comes down to one factor – The Synth Convergence being the deal of the day. That single boost brought in a substantial bump in sales in 2021 and many of those buyers then bought the rest of the Sprawl mission bundle. It just goes to show the power of promotion and I sort of wish I’d held on to the points to use with either Project Cassandra or Signal to Noise as it’s going to be a long time before I have enough to run another deal.

While my 2021 numbers on itch were boosted by being part of a couple of bundles pushing both Signal to Noise and Rock Hoppers throughout the year compensated for not being in any large bundles during 2022. Signal to Noise in particular caught some welcome attention including being mentioned by Sam Leigh (GoblinMixtape, who also did the playlist for the game) on one of their popular tiktok roundups. My attempt to run a ZineQuest bundle failed to gather sales and really reiterated how limited my online reach is (and how important it is for contributors to actively promote a bundle).

So what about my output in 2022? It was up from 2021. I released Signal to Noise: Interstellar Edition, Rock Hoppers, The Kandhara Contraband and Numb3r Stations. All of those got a print release and various combinations are now stocked at Peregrine Press and IPR as well as my own Etsy store. Given at the start of the year I only had a single product in print it’s a massive achievement to end the year with 5 distinct releases. Numb3r Stations turned out to be a tremendous surprise on all fronts – I could not have foreseen Albi approaching me about developing the game but the collaboration turned into one of the highlights of the year and I’m keen to work with him again in the future (also check out his upcoming Zine Month kickstarter for These Stars Will Guide You Home). The game also sold really well at Dragonmeet and we’ve discussed the possibility of extending the project further with duet rules so fingers crossed you’ll see that later in the year.

The big step forward during 2022 was Dragonmeet. I’ve already posted a four part round-up of that event so I won’t go into it again in too much depth but I think it provided a massive boost for me as a creator. I was able to get my games in front of so many people that hadn’t heard of me before and got to meet so many people in person that even if I had come away with a big loss (as opposed to the small loss I actually had) that I think it would have been worth it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything lines up this year as I really want to attend again and showcase the development of the Dyson Eclipse and, hopefully, much much more.

With all that said what’s coming up in 2023?

Top of the pile is Hopes and Dreams of the Orbital Bound, my slice of life sci-fi game and the next entry in the Dyson Eclipse. That will be kickstarting in February as part of Zine Month / ZineQuest and I’m busy trying to pull everything together for that. I’m excited about how this game will start to develop the Dyson Eclipse setting and my hope is that it will lay the foundation for the wider world by allowing players to generate a home they can return to repeatedly during, and in-between, playing other games in the setting.

My second goal is to complete at least one of my outstanding projects. Those include Red Roots of the Rose, the Espionage Protocol for Project Cassandra and a few small games that are currently at the concept stage. I’m keeping this goal to a single project because I’m slowly learning what I can realistically achieve each year. If I can publish more than one then hey, that’s great but I’m trying to avoid setting myself up to fail.

Third is to work more on promoting my work. I’m aware of how limited my reach is and while I appreciate the audience that I do have I’d like to grow it. I’ve already seen a small boost in subscribers after shifting the newsletter over to substack and am going to be looking at other ways to actively promote my projects. Part of that is a small twitter bot that will post links to my timeline a couple of times a week. Promotion is one of these things that I know a lot of creatives both hate and struggle with, I’m no different but I’m all too aware that you either need to put the work in or be incredibly lucky if you want to get your name out there. The bot is my fuck it, who is going to complain about a couple of tweets a week when others are regularly shitposting dozens of times a day. Yes, that’s a rather crude way to put it but in some ways I think that’s how I need to start thinking when it comes to self promotion.

The final goal is related to promotion in that I’d like to take on some freelance work and start to build more connections in the industry. It’s part of why I attended Dragonmeet as a trader and while I did have some discussions with other industry people running the stall dominated my attention. I’m not really all that sure how to approach this goal and it’s something that I’m going to keep on the back burner during February while I focus on Orbital Bound.

Year in Review 2022: Sales

For this first year in review post I want to talk solely about sales numbers. As I’ve stated repeatedly I think it’s important to get these values out there for others to see as most of the time when people do feel like posting them it’s because they’ve done really well. I want to show what it looks like at the small end of the scale.

Digital sales – drivethruRPG (all in $)

20222021
TitleNumber of salesGross IncomeNet incomeNumber of saleGross IncomeNet Income
Channel Surfing57.54.544.952.97
Dr Ahoudi’s Mutant Menagerie2106.5
Lockdown45321.50.9
*Mission Packet 1: N.E.O. 233420.44867.2340.34
*Mission Packet 2: Subversion 223219.25173.2343.94
Missionary Opposition45321.50.9
Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War 744.629.0314112.673.19
Project Cassandra: The Ajax Stratagem 728.6918.65
Rock Hoppers 15.923.85
Signal to Noise 17109.4671.15115233.8
Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco 32.11.3731.510.98
Talentless Hacks45321.50.9
*The Synth Convergence 25110.2266.1391292.87175.85
The Synth Divergence411.47.41925.3516.48
The Tannhauser Investment 342.677.85.07
Trick of the Light45321.50.9
What’s so [redacted] about [redacted]? 10.50.33263.9
Total136420.45263.12248649.54400.12
*Typically sold together as a bundle

Digital sales  itch.io (all in $)

20222021
TitleNumber of salesGross IncomeNet incomeNumber of saleGross IncomeNet Income
Channel Surfing11.50.81
Dr Ahoudi’s Mutant Menagerie13.52.7
Home Amongst the Stars242.6928.56.75
Near Carbon Blades49.56.39
Project Cassandra32419.7597260.16
Signal to Noise34233.5189.05148969.84
Sprawl Mission Bundle32117.59165.44
The Duskbringers242.65
The Stars Will Carry You Home37.135.28
What’s so [redacted] about [redacted]?37.135.28
Project Cassandra: The Ajax Stratagem142.87
Rock Hoppers739.531.26
Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco110.85
The Kandhara Contraband51310.18
ZineQuest 2021 Flash Sale67.57.01
Cyber [Week] Bundle5150.7944.87
Total62347.5281.2538202.13160.59

Zine Month – Signal to Noise

For the full retrospective see this post

Total backers: 68

Total raised before fees: £955.50, total raised after fees: £886.46

Digital: 22 backers, Print+Digital: 45 backers, Personal game: 1 backer

Dragonmeet

For the full retrospective see this post

Project Cassandra (£12) – 5

Numb3r Stations (£5) – 17

Espionnage bundle (Project Cassandra, Numb3r Stations, £15) – 10

Signal to Noise (£12) – 10

Rock Hoppers (£10) – 7

Kandhara Contraband (£5) – 8

Dyson bundle (Signal to Noise, Rock Hoppers, Kandhara Contraband, £25) – 5

Stealing the Throne (£12) – 14

Home Amongst the Stars (£0) – Many!

Total sales before any fees: £818, after card processing fees £805

Retailers

Peregrine Coast Press – 10 x Signal to Noise, 5 x Rock Hoppers at 50% retailer discount, total £85.

Indie Press Revolution – 130 copies of Signal to Noise, 50 copies of Project Cassandra. These are on consignment so I will get paid quarterly as and when they sell. At the moment I’m due $145 from 16 sales which will pay out Q1 2023.

Project Cassandra is also now sold out / unavailable at both Leisure Games and Rook’s Press after they bought copies in 2021.

Etsy

11 sales (7 of which were post-Dragonmeet in December) comprising:

Project Cassandra (£10-12) 7

Signal to Noise (£12) 2

Rock Hoppers (£10) 4

Numb3r Stations (£5) 5

The Kandhara Contraband (£5) 3

Total Etsy earnings: £166 before fees, £129.99 after.

Tallying all of that up (and adding some other miscellaneous income such as direct sales outside of a platform) my total earnings for 2022 came to £2379.94 and after all my outgoings (-£2528.14, a considerable increase this year) my total profit was -£148.20.

Dragonmeet Retrospective 4: The Wrap Up

This is my fourth and final retrospective on attending Dragonmeet as a trader for the first time. If you’ve missed the earlier posts you can find part one here, part two here and part three here. In this post I want to try and provide a summary of how it went. Really though I’m here to ask the question of would I do it again?

The answer to that is a strong, but not definite, yes. Running the stall was an experience that I greatly enjoyed and based on the small but noticeable sales bump I’ve experienced over the following couple of weeks it has boosted my profile. It definitely boosted my ego and energy levels significantly, something that is always helpful during these dark months.

You might be wondering why my answer to the question isn’t 100% yes. There are a number of reasons.

The first is money. I didn’t make a profit from this event, though I wasn’t too far from it. This year I could afford that and I think the cost was worth it. I’ve no idea what sort of situation I’ll be in when trader registration opens in 2023 and if inflation continues as it has done the past few months then the costs may simply be too high for me.

The second reason is location, and relates back to the first. There is a strong possibility that the event will move to the Excel next year. It’s a bigger venue and provides the space needed the convention to grow but change also means prices may rise. It’s also just that little bit more awkward to get to compared to Hammersmith.

The final factor is novelty. I had six products on offer and most of them had never been sold at a convention before (and those that had weren’t necessarily prominent items). I can’t bank on those games selling well again next year which means I need new products. Realistically I probably need 2-3 new products. Minimum. That’s not an unrealistic goal for the year given my past output and there’s always a second option – sharing the stall space. This is something I’ve discussed with a couple of people and would allow for a wider selection of games. Alongside the various one off setup costs I had this year sharing the stall would significantly reduce my costs and make it easier to break even.

The downside is, of course, that more games doesn’t automatically mean more sales. By sharing the stall I could end up losing money simply by dividing the same amount of income across more people. It’s something I’ll need to consider carefully before coming to any decision and thankfully it’s one that I’m ok with leaving to future me to deal with.

In terms of what would I do different the list is surprisingly short. The main one is more obvious this is who I am / contact details which will be especially important if I share a stand. Second is less stock as I could have taken half of what I did and gone home with a nearly empty, rather than half empty, case. Finally, adding a vertical stand or two would have made better use of the space and have brought more items up to eye level.

All in all though I think that for my first time it went really well. Part of that was planning and part of it was observation. In the months running up to the convention I was checking the hashtags for major events to get a feel for how others presented their stalls. Combined with my own experience as a visitor to conventions I had a clear idea of how I wanted the stall to look. I also looked into what others had written about running stalls. The Technical Grimoire blog has a great series of posts looking at how they have redesigned their stall over multiple conventions which was really useful in identifying the areas I wanted to focus my attention on. I was a little surprised by how few of these posts there are, which is partially why I’ve written this little series.

So what’s next? Honestly, I don’t know. Dragonmeet is rather unique in the UK in terms of the audience it attracts and I will hopefully apply to be a trader there again next year. As for other conventions it would be nice to attend one in the summer but I’m not sure what the best fit would be for me right now. I would ideally like something focused on RPGs and with a good trade hall to make it worth attending. The exception would be anything local where I could just travel to it on the day. Now that I have built up some stock and without the cost of accomodation attending a smaller event as a trader becomes much more appealing and offers the opportunity to get my games in front of a different audience.

I hope that these posts have been useful to those of you that have read through them. They’ve been very off the cuff and a way to just record my thoughts about the convention. It’s been good to get back to regular blog posts, even if I have rambled on a little.

Dragonmeet Retrospective Part 3: The Day

This is a multi-part retrospective and you can find the full series via these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I’ve already spent many words talking about my stand and how much money I made but what about the important question, what was the convention itself like?

Fucking amazing. Exhausting, but amazing.

I’m not going to give an hour-by-hour run down here but want to focus on a few things. First up, it felt busy almost all day but never overwhelmingly so. This is one of the things I’ve always loved about Dragonmeet, the space always feels appropriate for the number of visitors. As I noted in my Tabletop Gaming Live convention report there’s a fine line at which an event feels alive and vibrant. Tabletop Gaming Live never quite got over that line while Expo, despite the massive amount of space, typically goes too far past it into crowded and unwelcoming. Dragonmeet gets it right so it will be interesting to see what happens if, as rumours suggest, it moves to the Excel next year.

It was busy enough that, with two exceptions, there was a constant flow of people wandering the trade hall and while many of those people stopped at the stand it was never overwhelming. Those two exceptions were around 2:30-3:30pm and after 5pm. I think the first was due to a mixture of people attending afternoon games and having already done loops of the halls by then. This was the longest period in the day where I went without a sale, ~70 minutes in all. The second quiet period can be easily explained by it being the final hour of trading and people heading off. Despite it being quiet I still made 4 sales as those that were still around were generally there for last-minute shopping.

If you want to take a look at how sales broke down across the day then tada!

Cumulative sales income over time
Sales income per hour

So what’s the takeaway from these? Primarily, that excel makes some ugly graphs and I couldn’t be bothered to create nice ones in R. I mean, look at the x-axis on the first one where I just could not get it to just list things on a 1 hour time scale.

More seriously the takehome is that while I had a fairly regular sales pattern throughout the day (with the exception of that 70 minute gap) over half of my sales (and total income) were during the first 3 hours of the 8 hour trading window. Are the differences statistically significant? Who knows, I can’t be bothered to check. But it tally’s with my perception of the morning being busier and then tailing off as the afternoon progressed.

Those numbers are all useful but really I want to talk about the experience. As I’ve said, it was amazing and exhausting. First up, a big thank you to everyone that came by specifically and said hello. Lots of faces I knew and far more that I didn’t but have interacted with on Twitter or discord. I even had people whose only prior interaction was playing in my games previously make a point of stopping by. As a designer with limited online reach, these interactions make it worth it. Knowing that people have been playing and enjoying my games was a massive ego boost that kept me going throughout the day.

I also had a stream of people who had heard about Numb3r Stations and were there to pick up a print copy. The game was by far my best seller of the day (27 copies) which I think can be attributed to a trio of factors. One, it’s a brand new game so even people who had supported earlier projects didn’t own it in print. Two, it was cheap at £5 (as it’s an alpha) which puts it into the impulse buy category. Three, Albi and I had both been promoting it fairly heavily online. Taken together it highlights the importance of having a new product available at the booth, even if it’s just a small one and of talking about it in the run-up to the convention. This year I’d focused on promoting Numb3r Stations and just the fact that I’d be attending as a trader, next time I’ll do more to highlight individual products and build some interest in them.

One thing I hadn’t expected (but should have) was how polarising Signal to Noise would be. Many people, on hearing the premise, declared that the game was too emotional or touched on things they weren’t quite ready to think about after the last few years. As an outlet the game really was my “lockdown baby” and I poured a lot of my own emotions into it concerning isolation, distance and losing contact with people. It was cathartic but it seems some people just aren’t far enough from those early days of the pandemic to want to revisit that yet.

Of course, it goes both ways. Dragonmeet attracts many gamers who do want to explore those sorts of feelings and it sold well throughout the day (plus has done well on the IPR booth at Big Bad Con and PaxU). I really hope that the people who bought it enjoy it and want to continue exploring the Dyson Eclipse with me.

I’ve said that the convention was exhausting and it was. I made the decision that I was going to avoid sitting down as much as possible and energised by the event took that a little too literally. From 10am to 6pm I didn’t sit down at all, something I’m not used to in my day job. Surprisingly, my legs weren’t too bad the next day. 

Why did I make this ridiculous decision? Because, in my opinion, a stand with a trader who is sitting isn’t as engaging. I wanted to be in a position where I was actively encouraging people to check out my games rather than relying on passive traffic approaching me. That meant being at eye level, handing out flyers and talking to people as they passed by. I appreciate not everyone can physically manage that but it’s a decision that I believe helped bring more trade to the stall.

Running the stall by myself proved to be easier than I had expected. It meant things like my approach and sales pitch were consistent throughout the day and as all but one of the games were mine I know them inside out and can talk about all of them in depth. That said, there were definitely a number of times when having two people would have been useful, primarily when someone approached the stall while I was already talking to someone. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to share my stand with someone else so we can split the work a little. A second person will mean a wider range of games on offer, which should draw more people in but will also mean needing to rethink the layout of the stall. Another bonus is that it will allow me to get away from the stand for a little and actually experience the halls.

Not being able to take a walk around the halls is perhaps my biggest regret of attending as a trader. I bought only a couple of items (the One Ring starter set and core book, Coiled Spaece) plus did some zine trades (Lichcraft and Stories to Astonish the World) but that was it. Sure, it saved me a lot of money but getting to talk to people is one of the things I love about Dragonmeet. Now that I’m attending as a trader it becomes even more important as it’s an opportunity to network and try to build connections for the future.

I did get a chance to catch up with a number of friends on both the Friday and Saturday nights which I greatly enjoyed and is another reason I make a point of attending Dragonmeet over other conventions. Gaming is, at the heart of it, about friends and having previously lived in the South East there are many people that I now only see if we cross paths at the event. That, in and of itself, makes the travel and hotel costs worth it.

Dragonmeet Retrospective Part 2: The Stand

This is a multi-part retrospective and you can find the full series via these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

For this second post looking back at my first time attending Dragonmeet as a trader, I want to focus on my stand (part 1, focusing on sales is here). What went right, what went wrong and what I would do differently. So let’s start with a picture. This was my stand as I set it up on the Friday evening. With the exception of the banner, which I moved about a little, it’s also how it looked during the rest of the convention.

You can see immediately that it’s quite utilitarian. Six sets of zines, flanked by signs and leaflets on either end. Each zine has a little blurb that also states its price and number of players. While there is a copy of everything standing vertically the majority are lying flat on the table. Behind all that are copies of each product prepackaged in a card back envelope while my remaining stock was stashed behind the table.

So let’s start with the good and I’m going to immediately shift away from the table to this beauty: my roller banner. 

Seriously, I loved how well this came out and it really sells my brand. The images stand out, my company name is clear and it’s got useful information at the bottom. The only things missing are my name and email address, issues that are apparently blind spots of mine as they came up more than once.

With regards to the actual stand, I felt like the limited number of games worked in my favour – I had enough of a range to grab people’s attention but not so many that you couldn’t look at them all. It was also a small enough number of products that I could give a customer a quick rundown of everything without losing their attention, a fact that I believe contributed to a number of sales.

The blurbs turned out to be a star asset, especially when I had multiple people at the stall so definitely something to repeat. They’ll also be invaluable when I have a larger range on offer and have to focus my pitch on a subset of games.

The other factor that helped was that I had two clear themes. I repeated the phrase “can I interest you in sci-fi or spies?” so many times during the course of the day that it almost lost meaning by the end. But it’s a concise and clear pitch that worked. While my personal interests are wider than just these two genres I expect they will always be a primary focus so it’s useful to know that people can be drawn in with a focused sales pitch like this.

So what, in retrospect, didn’t work or would I do differently?

First up are the envelopes. I’d prepackaged a number of zines in the card-backed envelopes that I use for postage and added download codes directly to them. While customers seemed to appreciate this it did cause a little confusion, as people would pick things up to buy and then I’d put them back down and hand them an envelope. Once I’d explained they appreciated it but it was a little hitch that I could easily smooth out. The bigger issue is weight and space. Using the envelopes made my bag heavier than it needed to be, something I could have done without (and more about that in a bit).

As for the download codes again, a great idea but as they were just small slips of paper they’re easily lost. Next time I think I will print them on small stickers and just add them directly to the inside cover of each zine. Again, it’s an easy solution that just speeds things along.

Stock wise I brought far too much. I’d received advice from someone with experience that around 25 copies per product was a good number and with the exception of Numb3r Stations this would have been sufficient. How many copies did I bring? 40-50. Of everything. My case weighed a lot. Why did I do that? Honestly, a mix of “what if it’s super busy” panicking and because I had space in my case to do so. While I did manage it next year I’ll aim for fewer copies of each product and hopefully make life a little easier for myself.

What I could have used that space in my case for was some vertical stands. Compared to others my table was quite flat and below eye level. A vertical stand would have allowed me to put multiple items on display, at eye level, while also only using a small portion of the table space. I could have also used it to make the price lists more visible, as people seemed not to notice them.

One thing that surprised me was how difficult it was to get people to take a freebie. I had produced mini A6 leaflets containing the Home Amongst the Stars micro games and a sign-up to my next Kickstarter. People were really reluctant to take them and even when they were at the stall didn’t seem to realise they were free. If I print a solar leaflet next time then I’ll put some really big ‘FREE GAMES!’ signs next to them. I was also a little disappointed that while I did hand out 100-150 of these leaflets that’s translated to only ~5 signups on the Kickstarter page. Not a great conversion rate. I knew it would be hard but had hoped to get 10-20 new signups to the landing page.

The biggest issue with my setup though was the lack of contact details/indication of who I am. Of the six products, I had for sale on the stand the only one with a name on the cover wasn’t mine! To top this off I forgot to order extra business cards and quickly ran out of them and for some stupid reason didn’t add my contact details to the flyers. Not great given I was hoping to build awareness of who I am so it’s definitely something to go to the top of the planning checklist for next time.

Overall though I was very pleased with my stand setup, especially given it was my first time. I’ve attended a lot of conventions so I think I’ve subconsciously built up a picture of what I do and don’t like on a stand, which reflects where I focused my own attention on. For part 3 I want to reflect on the day itself then do a final roundup in part 4. I’ve had a lot of encouraging comments about part 1 so I hope that this is also useful to people considering running a convention stand.

Dragonmeet Retrospective Part 1: The Money

This is a multi-part retrospective and you can find the full series via these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

This weekend (3rd of December, 2022) I made my yearly trip down to Dragonmeet. It is by far my favourite convention but this year was different. Why? Because it was my first as a trader. I’m planning to write a series of posts about the experience as I think it’s important to have this information freely available. For post number one I want to talk about money, so here’s the raw numbers.

Sales

Project Cassandra (£12) – 5
Numb3r Stations (£5) – 17
Espionnage bundle (Project Cassandra, Numb3r Stations, £15) – 10
Signal to Noise (£12) – 10
Rock Hoppers (£10) – 7
Kandhara Contraband (£5) – 8
Dyson bundle (Signal to Noise, Rock Hoppers, Kandhara Contraband, £25) – 5
Stealing the Throne (£12) – 14
Home Amongst the Stars (£0) – Many!

Total sales before any fees: £818
Banked after card processing fees: £805

Costs

Stand £150
Accomodation £274
Travel £100
Printing £262
Stealing the Throne stock £126
Acrylic stands £20
Envelopes £24
Banner £40
Card reader £23
Table cloth £6

Total costs: £1025

Profit: -£220

So attending the convention as a trader cost me money and there may be a couple of costs I’ve forgotten to add to that list. The biggest single factor was accommodation – two nights in central London is expensive, especially over a December weekend. I could, if I wanted, make arguments about why certain costs don’t really count. For example, I’d have spent that money on accommodation and travel if I’d gone as a visitor while the printing and envelopes included enough stock that I probably won’t need to order reprints until at least next summer.

Was it worth it though? That’s a topic for future posts but the short answer is yes. Some of those costs such as the banner were one offs that I wouldn’t have to pay for again while I already have thoughts on how to reduce other expenditure. The big reason it was worth it though is the exposure. So many people have now looked at or bought my games that, over time, it will start to add up and boost future sales. But as I said, that’s for a future post.

Prepping for Dragonmeet

Test setup of a convention stall fill of RPG zines. To the left is a toll roller banner and the stand is in front of a bookcase

With Dragonmeet rapidly approaching it seemed wise to put together a test of my stand setup earlier this week to see if there was anything missing or obvious issues with it. I’ve been fretting over how to arrange my stand since making the decision to exhibit at the convention but honestly, I’m really happy with how it looks.

The biggest surprise while putting everything together was that I’ve got a decent range of products to promote. Unlike some creators I’m not the most prolific so to get to ordering my print run and finally feeling like yeah, this is a good selection, was really heartening. While I’d obviously love to sell out and make loads of money my aim for the weekend is to showcase what I do and build some awareness.

It’s honestly a weird position to be in as I’ve moved squarely from the hobby to keep me engaged with gaming to taking the business side of things seriously. Am I ever going to do this full time? Almost certainly not. Would I like to be recognised as a designer and build a modest audience? Yes, and this is a big step forward in doing that.

So what will be on the stall?

Well I’ll have 2 distinct themes of games – sci-fi and spies. The sci-fi releases include Signal to Noise, Rock Hoppers and The Kandhara Contraband. Supporting those I’ll also have the excellent Stealing the Throne by Nick Bate, who unfortunately can’t make it this year.

On the espionage half I’ll obviously have Project Cassandra which will be backed up by Numb3r Stations, my recent collaboration with Albi.

To top it off, a freebie in the form of Home Amongst the Stars as an A6 leaflet. Suffice to say getting through the next week of work is going to be a challenge when I’ve got the convention to loon forward to.

Con Report: Tabletop Gaming Live 2022

The last couple of years have, understandably, been hard on the convention scene. While many shifted to an online format that continued to bring people together for seminars and virtual games the trader hall proved nearly impossible to replicate. People tried but ultimately a discord channel will never be able to replace browsing a row of stalls.

With face-to-face events returning here in the UK last weekend I attended Tabletop Gaming Live for the first time. Organised by Tabletop Gaming Magazine it had moved from its previous home in the Alexandra Palace in London to the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester.

So how was it?

Well to answer that question I need to go over a rather long list of caveats, which should immediately give you an idea of where this might be going.

Caveat 1: A dead monarch. The event took place only days before the burial of the Queen, which will have definitely affected attendance.

Caveat 2: Train strikes. I went on Saturday but until the death of the Queen that wouldn’t have been possible as there were meant to be train strikes that day. While I lived close enough that I could rearrange my plans for many it wouldn’t have been an option at short notice.

Caveat 3: New venue. This was the first year that the event had taken place in Manchester and it always takes a while to settle in. I suspect many Londoners will have chosen against attending because it was no longer local and Londoners are loathe to travel outside the M25. I know that’s a massive generalisation but I worked in London long enough to know that it’s also true.

Caveat 4: Pandemic recovery. It’s still ongoing and will have put some people off, especially if they would have had to use public transport to attend.

Caveat 5: Me. I attended the event on my own and what I’ve noticed over the years is that as a lone attendee it’s harder to get attention from demo teams. I get it – most board games need at least two people to do a proper demo but even a quick rundown of the game is appreciated.

So, back to that question of how was it. Honestly? A little underwhelming.

Now before I dive into why I want to focus on the positives. First, the traders – there was a really good selection, spanning small indies to a few (but far from all) of the larger players in the board gaming world. With the size of the event, indie traders were able to shine and get the attention they deserve, rather than being hidden away at the back like can happen at Expo. There were also a pleasant number of stalls selling RPGs, some for the first time and others more established, though again with the focus on indie publishers rather than the big names that can dominate the attention at Expo or Dragonmeet.

In terms of purchases, I was trying to keep to a fairly strict budget. On the RPG front, I picked up Bucket of Bolts from Sealed Library, Regicide from Loot the Room and Kaiju Caltrops from Button Kin Games. Expect to hear more about those in the newsletter. I supplemented those games with a Sci-Fi character concept deck from Artemis Games (which will be very useful for the development of the Dyson Eclipse setting) and a single board game, Trails (part of the Parks series of games). For a smallish event that’s not a bad haul and I could have easily spent more (I did register my interest in a few upcoming Kickstarters after demoing the games).

With all that said why did I call the convention underwhelming? First off it was a lot quieter than I expected, which wasn’t helped by security performing pointless bag checks on the way in. I queued for 45 minutes only for them to check the main compartment, ask me to open my dice bag but then ignore all of the side pockets on my bag. Not a great start. There was a flow of people but the convention never felt busy or alive in the way that you really want, see the photo below which was about as busy as it got. 

It’s a tricky balance for any convention and partially this may be down to my own expectations – the event is organised by Tabletop Gaming Magazine and the promotion for it gives the impression that it will be a big event. Not Expo-sized but definitely a major convention for the UK. It felt like they were aiming too high, too soon rather than growing the event over time which may partially explain the shift out of London this year after reportedly disappointing number pre-covid.

Tied to this was the price – £16 for a day ticket, which is only £2 less than Expo (which is an order of magnitude bigger) charge for a day ticket.

Finally, there was just a lack of things to do. With it being quiet I managed to demo the games I was interested in relatively quickly and then… well that was that. I went round the entirety of the trade hall five or six times and had a good chat with a number of traders. There were only a couple of seminars and no tournaments or clear organised drop-in game spaces unless I somehow missed them. Tables had been set aside for open gaming which is always a plus but as I mentioned in the caveats I was attending alone and those spaces are more suited to groups wanting to play the games they’ve just bought. It made me realise how much I appreciate Games on Demand, where you show up at a set time and there is someone that will try to find you a game to play. I’ve only really done it for RPGs but there’s no reason it couldn’t be run for board games as well.

In the end, while I’d planned on a full day I left earlier than I’d intended and headed for home, glad I’d only bought a one-day ticket. Would I go again next year? I’m not sure. If I could go, play a 2-4 hour RPG and then browse the trade hall I definitely would but I don’t know if the current venue has the space for loads of RPG tables (or organised play board games). Without it, I think I would need a group to go with, one where we could meet up at a set time and settle in to play what we’d bought. It’s a shame as I think having this sort of event outside of London is important for the convention scene and Manchester is a great city to hold it in. I also think the convention has a lot of potential, it just needs to find its feet and be given time to grow.

I’ll wait and see what the future holds but come next year it will be an “if I feel like it” rather than a “must attend” event.

Signal to Noise retrospective 2: Post fulfilment

Back in March, I did an initial retrospective on my ZiMo campaign for Signal to Noise but now that I’ve completed the fulfilment of the game I wanted to revisit those thoughts and look at my options for the future. I’m also going to pull together final spending for a subsequent post as I like to be open about these sorts of things.

First up, the game – which is a delight to hold and looks beautiful thanks to Val’s fantastic art. It was such a pleasure to work with her and I hope I can do so again in the future. I can highly recommend commissioning her if you’re looking for detailed and realistic art.

Seriously, look at that art! If you somehow missed out on buying Signal to Noise before now then it’s available in digital from itch and drivethruRPG while physical copies are available via Etsy (with distribution via Peregrine Coast and IPR coming very soon).

Fulfilment itself was, I’m happy to say, a relatively straightforward process. That came down to a few factors – Mixam printing everything correctly the first time, the scale of the project (<50 shipments), most packages being a single zine and having help filling envelopes while I focused on the postage. At the moment I know the game has reached backers in the UK, US and even Australia but thanks to good old Brexit copies heading to the EU may still be in customs limbo.

So now that I have two successful campaigns under my belt how do I feel? Pretty good. I have no doubts that I’ll run another campaign next year and I’ve already started initial planning in terms of what to focus on. Starting planning six months out from Zine Quest might look a little premature but I need to ensure that I have a solid concept in place so I can advertise it at Dragonmeet (where I will be running a stall for the very first time).

The big question that hangs over any future crowdfunding I do is what platform I will use. I genuinely think that Game on Tabletop offers a robust ecosystem and the level of support I received from their team was outstanding. As you might suspect though there is a but hanging on to the end of that statement, in the form of “but I am certain Signal to Noise would have done far better on Kickstarter.”

And that is a frustrating situation to be in. I switched to Game on Tabletop because of Kickstarter screwing with Zine Quest and proposing that they enter the tech bro crypto market. While the community did try and support those of us that moved off of the platform many people stuck to Kickstarter and had wildly successful campaigns. I could say that I’m not into game design to make money (which is true) but on the other hand, making money allows me to make better games. I can’t afford to hire an editor or artist for games that don’t sell or fail to gather any attention, which is sadly true of much of my work.

On the selfish level, I also want people to play my games. It’s a fantastic feeling when someone says they’ve played something you wrote and that’s not going to happen if I only run campaigns that barely garner any attention. Signal to Noise is, I believe, a special game and I think it would have done significantly better on Kickstarter just by being tied into the ecosystem. Just comparing these two campaigns Project Cassandra was backed by 175 people, 107 more than Signal to Noise and every single one of them will receive an email if I launch a new campaign. Even if most of them ignore that email it’s such a big and effort-free marketing boost that I would be foolish to ignore it. That was true going into the Signal to Noise campaign but I had hoped the anti-Kickstarter feelings at the time would compensate for it and the truth is it didn’t. Or at least not as much as I’d have liked. I’ve always been upfront about the fact that Project Cassandra only did as well as it did because of the Zine Quest force multiplier effect and much of that is, frustratingly, baked into the Kickstarter site.

All of the above is really avoiding the big question – what am I going to do going forward? Honestly, probably go back to Kickstarter. I would like to pretend otherwise but the disparity in terms of the English-speaking market share between them and Game on Tabletop is so significant that I would be shooting myself in the foot if I didn’t. It sucks but as a tiny fish in the big pond of crowdfunding I just don’t have the influence to pull backers to a new platform when I’m struggling to even build an audience. I wish I was ending this post on a more upbeat note but, well I’m not, because like it or not Kickstarter remains the site to beat.

Quick Review: Umbra

What is it? A solo mapping game that sees you create a new colony on a remote planet. Building the colony one room at a time you will explore the strange new world and survive relentless attacks as you attempt to unearth the fabled Reapers Gambit.

Who is it by? Anna Blackwell, a Glasgow based designer and author of hit games such as Delve and Apothecaria.

Why should you play it? Umbra, like the fantasy orientated Delve before it, builds on the Dwarf Fortress base building approach to gameplay. While there is no inherent narrative you can’t help but wonder about the lives of your colonists and their (hopefully) growing settlement. You could easily play it without even pausing to consider the story that emerges naturally during play but that, I think, would be missing the point.

The game has a deceptive complexity, driven by the growing size of your colony, and it’s all too easy to get drawn into the lives of your colonists before chaos breaks loose and your careful plans for exploration come crashing down around you. As I progress forwards with the Dyson Eclipse I plan to use the game (and its Stations expansion in particular) to develop some of the Arrays and the lives of the inhabitants as humanity spreads across Tau Ceti and begins to uncover its secrets.

Where can you get it? Umbra is available directly from Anna’s store in print and PDF. It’s also available in digital format from itch.io.