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 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.

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.