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.

Review: Flare Audio Calmer earbuds

Looking back it’s quite easy to see how poorly I have dealt with auditory processing throughout my life, whether it be my tendancy to hyperfocus on particular sources or general dislike of crowds. At one extreme there are times where if I’m focused on the audio from a TV I won’t process the words of someone else in the room. My brain will hear the noise but it just registers as background, not a voice or words I need to listen to.

Experiences like that mean I sometimes joke that I’m hard of listening as opposed to being hard of hearing.

At the other end of the extreme though comes overstimulation, times where my brain tries to process every voice in a crowd and is unable to push any into the background. It’s an exhausting, overwhelming and anxiety inducing experience that I can only really mitigate by getting out of the situation. It’s also entirely out of my control, sometimes a crowd of hundreds is fine while other times a dozen people in a relatively small space is too much.

What’s that got to do with gaming though?

Well most of the time RPGs involve people and conversations and with the return of in person conventions larger crowds, all speaking at once. After a particularly bad (but not gaming related) experience last year I decided to try out Flare Audio Calmer earbuds to see if they could help. Partially this was because of my plan to attend Dragonmeet and I wanted to have the additional option if needed. As it turned out I wore them the full day, only taking them out once I got to the confines of my hotel room.

What are they?

Flare Audio are one of a number of companies that offer soft silicone ear buds designed to filter out a portion of the audio landscape. The company claims that they remove distortion in the 2-8kHz range (middle to high frequencies) that can trigger the fight or flight response while leaving the wearer able to hear most sounds.

What are they like to wear?

Surprisingly comfortable, though they do require some getting used to. The silicone is soft and the buds easy to fit – if you are ok with standard in-ear earbuds then you should be fine with them. They’re available in three sizes, standard, mini and kids plus a range of colours while a pro version offers a more fine tuned filtering (though at twice the price). It took me a few days to get used to wearing them for more than a couple of hours but after that I got into the habit of just putting them in whenever I was out and about (though it’s worth noting on occasion I do find they get a little uncomfortable).

Do they work?

That’s the important question, to which the answer is yes, but. There’s always a but. They definitely take the edge off of noises, especially high frequency ones such as machinery or the screeching of train brakes (yay, commuting!). They also succeed in taking the edge off of voices, especially from background conversations. However, this is where that but comes in.

By filtering out some vocal frequencies there have been occasions where I’ve found them that little harder to follow. Not by much, but just a little, to the point that they may sound a little flat. It’s a trade off I’m generally willing to accept as voices tend to be the major source of troublesome noise for me the earbuds would be pointless if they didn’t filter them out.

So are they worth it?

For me, yes. If you struggle with auditory over stimulation then I would recommend giving them a try. There are a number of companies selling similar products and the basic models (such as the Flare Audio Calmer I use) only cost £20. That’s low enough that they’re worth just giving a try if you think they might help, just be aware that the effect might be subtler than you first expect. As they fit into the ear canal it’s also possible to stack them with over the ear headphones. This can not only help smooth out the audio range of whatever you’re listening to but also means they can be combined with active noise cancellation to enhance the effect.

Quick Review: The Wretched

Who is it by? Chris Bisette of Loot the Room

What’s it about? Dying alone in space. Heavily inspired by Alien and similar horror movies The Wretched positions you as the lone survivor of an attack by an alien entity you have, temporarily, managed to blast into space. With the clock ticking can you survive long enough to repair your ship or be rescued before the alien once again gains access? Or will the Jenga tower tumble and send you to a doom you always knew was coming.

What system does it use? The core mechanic, available for general use via the Wretched & Alone SRD, combines narrative prompts with the tension of a Jenga tower. Pull a card, resolve the associated prompt and if directed make a pull from the tower. While some cards will aid you in your quest for survival the vast majority will push you closer to calamity, represented by either the collapse of the tower or pulling all four aces from the deck.

Why should you try it? Solo gaming has exploded over the past couple of years and The Wretched has been one of the core foundations of that explosion. Games such as Dread had already demonstrated the ability of block towers to impart tension into games so The Wretched, with its tale of doomed survival, was a natural next step. The Jenga tower builds a tremendous amount of tension and combined with the extremely tight writing works to put you in the mindset of the survivor. Subsequent games from other creators (such as my own in-development game: Rock Hoppers) have built on its foundations but for me this remains a go-to example of how to mesh genre and mechanics into a flawless whole.

Where can you get it? You can purchase the game in print directly from the Loot the Room store while PDF copies are available from both itch.io and drivethruRPG.

Quick Review: Sonja & Conan vs the Ninja’s

What is it? A storytelling game of action and adventure that flips the traditional one GM, many PCs to one PC, many GMs. The multiple GMs collaboratively build scenes and frame the actions of the antagonists but aren’t allowed to confer with one another, instead, they must rely on building on details others have already introduced.

Who is it by? Guillaume Jentey

What’s it about? The game is built to tell one-shot traditional sword and sorcery tales focused on a single protagonist who must battle alone against the forces of darkness and either save the day or meet a glorious death in battle. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in a loincloth swatting aside countless minions and you’ll know what I mean.

Where can you get it? It’s available in print on demand format from Lulu or digitally from itch.io. Those links are for the English language versions but it was originally published in French, which you can also find on itch and lulu.

Why should you try it? The collaborative narrative structure, with the ninjas (GMs) creating challenges without being able to discuss them in advance makes for a really interesting way to build an adventure. I also love that when it comes to narrative scenes or inglorious actions not befitting a barbarian the character must roll a d6 and can only use that many words to describe their speech or action. It keeps things terse and to the genre and I can easily see this becoming a go to pickup game for those nights when one or two of your players can’t make it.

Set phasers to boring: Starship combat and RPGs

During the most recent edition of the newsletter I ruminated on the issue of starship combat and why most systems fail. I’m currently preparing for a mini-campaign using the Tachyon Squadron system, one of the few which I think works but for this post, I want to take a deeper look at the most common approach to starship combat, which I’m going to call bridge combat.

The best example of bridge combat is on Star Trek. Each character has a specific and narrow role to play – Worf at tactical, Sulu at the helm or Janeway in the Captain’s chair. With the exception of those episodes when a character is forced to work at a different station for the sake of the narrative (such as Picard taking the helm), they have a single, clearly defined role.

In a TV show this makes sense but in a tabletop game it leads to boring combats. Why? Because each character is static.

Let’s take a hypothetical scene from TNG and break it down into the standard turns of an RPG. Worf, standing at tactical because Starfleet doesn’t believe in providing seatbelts, fires the phasers. Next turn he… fires the phasers. There may be some minor variation to the roll when he switches to photon torpedoes but ultimately his choice of actions are limited. This plays out for each and every character – they make the same type of roll turn after turn. In some situations they may not even be able to make a roll, for example if there isn’t a ship for Worf to shoot at.

And that’s boring.

Worf did not sign up for boring

It works for a TV show for a few reasons. The tension and dynamic nature of a scene is built into it as a whole and that’s where the audience’s attention is. It’s rarely focused solely on an individual character and all the time they spend standing around waiting.

The second reason is that it plays out in real-time – we don’t have to wait for Worf to remember which button to press or to pause as we calculate the damage. We can even have overlapping actions, with Worf taking his shot at the same time that Picard is giving orders or Geordi is falling in love with a hologram. That adds to the drama and the tension.

And all of that is absent from bridge combat in an RPG.

In a game, we focus on one character at a time and a second long action may take a number of minutes to resolve. The passage of time drags out so by the time it gets around to a player’s turn they want to be able to contribute and to have a choice in how they contribute.

To use a personal example a number of years ago I played in a high-level campaign of the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader RPG from FFG. We had a group of six players and each of us had a specific role during bridge combat. As the Missionary, mine was to minimise the crew losses when the ship took damage. One action, rolling the same skill every turn of the combat… except on turns where we hadn’t taken damage and I did nothing. Because of how the system was designed that was almost the only way I could contribute to the combat. Many of the fights took multiple hours and I’d often leave a session having rolled only two or three times. Not the best of ways to maintain player engagement.

Yet mediocre (at best) bridge combat seems to be the default for sci-fi games and I don’t know why we’ve come to accept it as the norm. Tachyon Squadron gets around the issue by shifting the focus to starfighters and I’m going to do a deep dive of it once the upcoming campaign is underway.

But how to improve bridge combat?

Personally, I think the solution is to shift the focus back a little, away from individuals and onto the ship as a whole. A player should be able to take any action, regardless of which character it is technically associated with. Get round to the person playing the medic when the ship is on the tail of their target? Well, they might end up as the one to take the shot.

The trick though will be to design the system in a way that they are balancing resources/harm. Sure they could take the shot but should they be trying to repair the shields or perform first aid on the crew instead? They might be better at the first aid roll but is the shot a more urgent action? Are the shields at 20%, 10% or out entirely? It requires the sort of balancing act more often seen in board games than RPGs but I think it would make for more dynamic bridge combats that would keep players engaged. It’s certainly one I’ll be looking to explore when I get around to introducing bridge combat to the Dyson Eclipse.

Quick Review: Paris Gondo – The Life Saving Magic of Inventorying

What is it: A story game about getting to the end of your adventures and having to decide the age-old question: does the loot I have acquired spark joy?

Who is it by: Kalum of the Rolistes podcast (the game also has its own twitter account)

What’s it about? Paris Gondo tongue in cheek take on decluttering your life, inspired by Marie Kondo and her approach of asking ‘does this spark joy?’ During the course of the game, you will create adventurers and the loot that they have acquired during the course of battling the big bad. You’ll then have to ask yourself – does this loot spark joy, will it aid me in escaping the dungeon or is it merely an encumbrance I can live without?

By the end of the game, you’ll have made your decision, escaped the crumbling lair of your defeated foe and determined whether your adventurer lives a fulfilled, happy life or whether they chose poorly and are destined to forever question the choices they made.

Why should you try it? On it’s own Paris Gondo is a fun, light-hearted game that can easily fill a couple of hours. The rules are easy to learn and include a variety of both digital and physical play aids. Kalum has also been inspired by the Japanese TTRPG scene to include a ‘replay’ that walks the reader through an entire session of play!

While I’ve yet to use it this way the game would also be a fantastic add on to a regular campaign, providing a lighter session of play following the intensity of a big fight against a boss and their minions. Imagine getting back to your favourite watering hole to find that the bard has not only started the round without you but is waving the great axe you discarded and telling tales of how they used it to vanquish foes left and right, conveniently omitting your own contributions.

Where can you get it? Paris Gondo is available digitally from itch.io and drivethruRPG. Print copies are available direct from The Rolistes store (UK) and Ratti Incantati (US).

ZiMo Retrospective – Signal to Noise

The campaign for Signal to Noise has come to an end over on Game on Tabletop so I wanted to do a quick post focusing on my first thoughts about how the campaign went. I did this for Project Cassandra last year and found it really useful – both as a reminder for myself and as a way to share my thoughts with others. This post is likely to be a little rambling and only lightly organised so reader beware! Also, while I will report on various numbers I’m going to avoid any formal analysis, so any conclusions I do reach should be interpreted in that context.

First up, some raw data. The campaign ran from the 8th of February until the 26th of February on Game on Tabletop. I had an initial goal of £300, no formal stretch goals and money was collected at the time of pledging rather than at the end of the campaign. The available tiers were PDF only (£5), Print+PDF (£10+p&p), Itch upgrade (£5+p&p) and private game (£50+p&p). I also offered copies of Project Cassandra as an add on, in both PDF (£6) and Print+PDF (£8+p&p) formats.

The campaign raised a total of £817 from 61 backers. By comparison Project Cassandra, my 2021 ZineQuest project, raised £1830 from 175 backers. Both totals include shipping. It’s common to collect shipping when the project approaches fulfilment but I chose to include it upfront for two reasons – I expect the turnaround time on this project to be relatively short and while global shipping is still a mess the rates for small zines shipping out of the UK is relatively stable.

This campaign was all about funding art for the game. I had already commissioned 1 piece using existing funds. Thanks to the campaign I’ll be able to add a further 4 pieces of art to the game, all by Val Sannais, who did the fantastic piece below.

So how do I feel about it all?

The answer to that is mixed. I moved off of Kickstarter due to their general disregard for creators, both in terms of non-existent commitment to ZineQuest and the proposed move to the Blockchain. That decision almost certainly cost me backers and money. It was, therefore, frustrating to see just how many people stuck with KS. I appreciate that some creators rely on the platform to make a living but most don’t and after all the outrage that had been flying around I’d hoped more would move to alternative platforms. If we want to make a shift to a more diverse funding environment then the community is going to have to step up and take those early hits.

As an alternative to Kickstarter I chose to use Game on Tabletop (GoTT), a European crowdfunding site that predominantly cater to the non-English speaking market. They offer a mix of crowdfunding, pledge manager and marketplace options with a robust toolset and more options for customisation than Kickstarter. It’s honestly a little embarrassing how much KS have fallen behind in terms of features given their overall dominance of the space.

For Signal to Noise I chose to use the basic crowdfunding approach, collecting pledges as they were made rather than at the end of the campaign. This may have put some people off but in the event we didn’t reach the £300 goal I planned to release a print version of the game anyway, just without art. The trajectory of the campaign funding looked like this:

There’s the initial early push and the usual flat middle that I’ve come to expect from KS but what I didn’t see was a final 48-hour boost that I’d hoped for. While GoTT let you sign up to be notified when a project goes live or enters the final 48 hours they are separate. If you sign up for the first you don’t automatically receive the second, which some users may not have realised. It’s a point I’m going to feedback to the GoTT team. I also didn’t have the benefit of being able to draw in previous backers – if I’d stuck with KS then everyone that backed Project Cassandra would have received an email letting them know I’d launched a new campaign, so again that was an audience I had a limited ability to tap into (I did let them know via a project update but avoided spamming them with messages using that approach).

Game on TableTop

Using GoTT was, for the most part, relatively easy. The interface is pretty clear and the main project page tools give you plenty of options. The site does appear to rely on some older code based on the visual appearance and option to embed flash animations but overall that’s not really an issue. Obviously, more customisation does make it a little more complicated if you’re not familiar with this sort of interface so it’s worth taking your time in building the page.

One thing that I really appreciated about GoTT was the level of support that I received. When I signed up for a creator account I was emailed directly by a member of staff and offered a one to one video call to walk me through using the site. While I didn’t go down this route I did email them a number of times and always got a quick response. There were a few language issues, possibly related to the use of online translators, but given English will be a second language for most if not all of their staff it wasn’t a major issue. I will have earned the site all of about £25 (they take a 5% cut of pledges but not shipping) so this is a phenomenal level of support. Contrast it to KS where I’m not sure whether a human ever looked over my details or campaign page and the difference is massive. I hope the site is able to maintain that level of customer service as it grows.

Promoting Signal to Noise

Promotion wise everything felt much harder this time around. I think I can attribute that to multiple factors. For Project Cassandra, I had been talking about the game for years so people had heard of the game. We were also approaching a year into the pandemic and riding what I think was a bit of a peak. That lead to a very active ZineQuest and loads of engagement, all boosted by the broader KS ecosystem. This year things were very different. Signal to Noise was a smaller, less traditional game that was harder to pitch. It also felt like the bubble had burst a little on zines. I was still seeing engagement with tweets and posts but they weren’t leading to pledges in the same way that I had seen in 2021. I’d be curious whether others got the same impression. Obviously being off of KS didn’t help in that regard.

The final factor was me – I didn’t go into the campaign with the same energy levels as I had last year and crashed faster, something I need to keep in mind when I run the next campaign.

Thankfully I had help in getting around the challenges. Firstly, I have to say hats off to the other zine month creators who were a constant source of energy and helped spread the word by sharing tweets or mentions in newsletters etc. Secondly, I was fortunate to do two interviews, the first with the Effekt podcast and the second as part of the Yesindie’d chain reaction series. Both were great fun and definitely brought in backers – they ended up releasing on the same day and I saw an increase in pledges over the following 48 hours. They were also just really enjoyable experiences, as a solo publisher it’s rare that I just get to sit and chat about my games, especially with the limited number of face to face gaming over the last few years.

Alongside the interviews, I used a few other tools to promote the campaign. I ran two adverts on Yes Indie’d, one before the campaign launched and one during. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a clear boost that I could link back to them so it’s difficult to say how effective they were. The new to me approach was a press kit that I was sent out to various sites. This resulted in the game receiving coverage on sites such as Cannibal Halfling Games and Dicebreaker as well as being featured in a number of newsletters. Again, difficult to say how many backers that brought in but I feel like it was a worthwhile endeavour and one I’ll use again in the future.

In Conclusion

With all that said the campaign was worth it. I’m personally going to make virtually nothing from it but after all is said and done this turned into a very personal campaign. Signal to Noise is very much a game that only exists because of the pandemic. The emotions that the game touches on are raw and personal. Making it was cathartic and getting it to print is part of that process. As with Project Cassandra, I am going to approach a few retail outlets to see if they are interested in stocking the game. It would be a nice bonus but not essential. I’m still working out what I want to get back from the publishing space so right now earning something is a bonus but not a requirement.

2021 Retrospective: Gaming

Note: This is part 3 of 3. Part 1 covered my sales numbers for the year, while part 2 discussed my achievements this year as a designer/publisher.

My goal for 2021 was, after almost a year of pandemic life, to game more. Have I achieved that? Not really. I’ve continued to find getting into online games a challenge, primarily with regards the mental effort involved in arranging and setting up games. I miss the ease of a regular group that meets week in, week out.

That said I did manage to get in more games than I’d originally thought I had, though most of them were one-shots. What did that include?

  • Paris Gondo (player, one shot) – as part of GenCon online
  • Project Cassandra (GM, one shots) – in person at Dragonmeet
  • The Cthulhu Hack (GM, one shot) – as part of BurritoCon online
  • Alien (player, one shot) – as part of BurritoCon online
  • Alien: The Colony (player, campaign) – A drop in/out West Marches style campaign run by The Effekt podcast
  • Aftermath Tenerife (player, ongoing campaign) – A new mini-campaign in GURPS spread that will be continuing into 2022
  • Folk, Form, Phenomenon (player, one shot) – in person at Dragonmeet, probably my only “miss” of the year.

It may not be the hundreds of hours that many people have posted about but having felt like I struggled most of the year with engaging in actual gaming I am, in retrospect, relatively happy with that list. It also doesn’t cover the sheer number of games that I read during the course of 2021. That is certainly something I want to continue doing this year. While I know a lot of people don’t get much from it I really enjoy just sitting down with a rule book and going through it, learning the system or engaging with the world-building. It also means that even if I don’t bring a game to the table I can say I have gotten something out of it that makes the purchase worthwhile.

So what about 2022? Any goals? Well first off more in-person gaming, which of course is highly dependent on Covid. I was fortunate enough to get to Dragonmeet at the start of December, just prior to Omicron beginning its sweep, and it was really invigorating. While it was a risk to travel to London it felt like an acceptable one, especially as I work almost exclusively from home and could minimise contact prior and post-convention. Getting to actually engage with people again was an extremely positive experience and fingers crossed I’ll be able to do it again this year, ideally with Expo and Dragonmeet. There was also the announcement that the Tabletop Gaming Live convention was relocating from London to Manchester so I expect to make the trip to that as well if possible.

As for other plans at the moment I’m going to keep it to a vague “game more” as I know that anything more specific is lining myself up for failure. I’ve got a number of games that I would like to try running or playing, top of the current list are Tachyon Squadron, Scum & Villainy, and L5R 5e. That’s just off the top of my head though and there are plenty of others that I could add to the list.