Max Seidman, Resonym – Post Surrealist Kickstarter Interview

A Post Kickstarter Interview

I recently got a chance to chat with Max Seidman from Resonym about their recently completed Kickstarter for the board game Surrealist Dinner Party. Max is a game designer and manager at Resonym, and has worked on several released games, including Mechanica, Monarch, and Visitor in Blackwood grove. Resonym’s Surrealist Dinner Party Kickstarter finished with just over $30,000 in pledges.

The discussion mostly centered around board games and Kickstarter, with a few questions about Surrealist Dinner Party. Some of this interview may seem a bit scattershot, but the general categories of questions and info can be found below.

  1. Production of Board Games, and various costs
  2. Some Interesting things about Surrealist Dinner Party
  3. The Changing Meta of Kickstarter

1. Producing Board Games

F(Fritz Wallace): So, this is more general, but just to start off, let’s talk about scams and failures on Kickstarter. There have been a lot of projects that don’t get finished in the game sphere, mostly video games. And even in the board game space, we have things like Glory to Rome which just imploded. Do you think these have impacted use of Kickstarter as a platform for board game projects, and for people pledging?

M(Max Seidman): From my standpoint, no. Games in general is the single biggest category on Kickstarter, and board games are a much bigger than video games. Failures in video games don’t really impact board games.

F: Let’s talk about cost. I was kinda shocked when I looked at what KS takes in terms of cut. Using Kickstarter ends up costing about 10% of money raised on the service, 5% in Kickstarters fees, and between 3-5% in payment processing fees. How high does that end up feeling?

M: So from our standpoint, this is not bad at all. One thing to keep in mind is the standard supply chain for a board game works something like this:

You take your game, and you sell it to a distributor at 40% of MSRP. The Distributor then sells it to stores at 50% MSRP. Then your local game store or Amazon or whoever it is sells the game at MSRP. So, let’s say you make a game that retails at $50. This means the local game store most likely bought it at $25. They purchased it from the distributor who bought it from us for $20.

So, for a game being sold to stores, this means that if we want to make money, the cost of production and shipping the game has to be about $10 per copy, for us to even stand a chance of making money on a MSRP $50 game.

Now let’s consider a Kickstarted game, from the same lens. Let’s say you pledge $50. Well, Kickstarter and fees take their 10%, leaving us with $45. And now that $45 is the combination of what we can use
to both make money, and to actually produce the game. So let’s say manufacturing and shipping ends up costing $35, because we can now afford to throw in more components, more pieces, nicer print runs, etc.
We now have three times as much we can spend per copy manufactured, relative if we were to go with the traditional supply chain, and we’re still netting the same amount of money profit. For some creators, this is what
Kickstarter lets them do.

Now, we don’t do that at Resonym. We want to make games that can be enjoyed by a wide audience, and as such, we want to be able to sell them at mass market prices, which means they end up going through the supply chain mentioned above. But this is why with Kickstarter versions of a game, you might see nicer tokens, extra addons, or other things that make the game better, but might be cost prohibitive otherwise.

The other reason to do Kickstarter is that we simply do not have the money to do these print runs otherwise.

ED Note: The TLDR here is that direct sales (like through Kickstarter) are much more profitable to the publisher than retail sales, which I found fascinating.

2. Some Interesting Things About Surrealist Dinner Party

F: You’ve made games before, including Mechanica. Whats been the hardest thing about making Surrealist Dinner Party?

M:
One of the longest parts of Surrealist Dinner Party has been getting the right to the actual Surrealists in the game themselves, specifically the right to use them in a board game. It’s a complicated process, and none of us are lawyers.
My understanding is that state of the rights to use their likeness and name can depend on where they lived, where they died, and bunch of other factors.
We got a lot of help from the Artists Rights Society in figuring things out.
While there are some artists who we might have been able to use without asking permission, we didn’t want to do that.

In addition, getting the rights to use them in a game was tricky, and was different on an artist by artist basis. For example, even once you got in contact with the rights holder (which itself was challenging; many estates or families never got back to us), what they would ask for was somewhat unpredictable. Some would let us use the artist’s name in the game for a reasonable sum, or a similar donation to charity. Others thought it was neat that this person would be in the game, and let us use them for free.

Some weren’t as enthusiastic, as they didn’t want the person they were representing, often a relative, in a game at all.

(Personal Opinion of Gametrodon Editor Here: This seems incredibly stupid to me, but what do I know about art.)

There were also some that asked for licensing fees that were simply so high we couldn’t include them.

F: Okay, so quick question. Since you now have all the rights to these artists for games, when can we expect the Resonym published Smash Bros, but with Surrealists?

M: Well, we don’t have the rights to use them unequivocally forever. We have the rights to use them for this game.

F: Bummer. Alright, so one last question about production before we get into the meta of Kickstarter itself. It would be silly not to mention COVID-19 and the year’s pandemic. Do you currently see that as
impacting your ability to deliver Surrealist?

M: We have some concerns about COVID-19, but they may not be the ones people would expect. Right now, I’m not worried about the manufacturing itself, as China seems to have COVID under control but I am worried about what happens when we get to shipping it out.
I’m really hoping this whole thing will mostly be under control by the time the games arrive in the US. If anything, I’m more worried about tariffs. They can have a large impact on our cost of production. I can say that COVID-19 did impact the process of getting rights to the artists in the game, which is understandable.

Ed Note: I wanted to find a good statistic for the current state of coronavirus in China, but I was unable to find a trusted source that I felt comfortable linking to as a source of truth. If anyone reading this article has good info, and I mean CDC/WHO sorta stuff that can be trusted, toss it over.

F: It wouldn’t be cheaper to produce the game in the US, or in a non-China country?

M: Absolutely not. The difference in manufacturing in the US vs China is massive at this point. There are only a small handful of factories in the US that can actually do everything that is currently done in China, and they effectively only work with big companies like Hasbro. The print run minimums are so high, that we simply couldn’t use them even if we wanted to. Of the remaining factories, a majority of them actually do a lot of their manufacturing in China anyway, or can only do specific parts of games in the US, like cards.

A lot of the infrastructure to make board games just doesn’t exist in the US.

Ed Note: Max gave an example of Meeples, the little wooden people you get with a bunch of different games, and pointed out that if you pay to get a game with Meeples “manufactured” by a US company, the Meeples will still get made in China, and then shipped to the US.

3. The Changing Meta of Kickstarter

F: Okay, so finally, let’s talk about Kickstarter, goals, early bird rewards, and all the other stuff that has changed. For me, one of the most visible ones has been the disappearance of rewards that involve putting a backer in the game. Why do you think this happened?

M: Obviously it doesn’t quite make sense to put a random backer in the game in Surrealist Dinner Party. More generally, I can think of at least three reasons that you wouldn’t do that if you’re running a Kickstarter these days.

First, there is a crew of folks who just irrationally hate it, and they tend be part of the more vocal crowd on places like Board Game Geek.

Second, because of the current demographics of Kickstarter and the board game community, there is a exceedingly high chance that you will end up with all white men. In Monarch, the only reason we were comfortable with doing the unwanted guest stretch goal this way was because the rest of the characters in the game are already women.

And finally, production times. We fulfill our Kickstarters relatively fast. For Mechanica, the Kickstarter was in February, and we fulfilled our pledges by November. But getting custom art done and approved can have a turnaround time that can end up impacting the timeline of the entire project.

F: On the subject of art, and I know this is something we’ve actually discussed (Ed Note: read as “Argued about”) in the past, your games like Monarch and Surrealist have some pretty great art. At the same time, Resonym doesn’t really do anything like selling prints or little pins, or other merchandising. Why not?

M: There are a bunch of small reasons, like having to figure out how to ship merch internationally, and somewhat limited appeal. But personally, I would rather work on things that improve the game.

For example, the wooden tokens for Surrealist. I feel that they actively improve the gameplay experience. They’re tactile, they’re fun to place, and they just make the game feel better. And while art prints would be pretty, they’re not important to the game experience.

We would rather provide items that improve gameplay feel, like the tokens, or extend gameplay, like the mini expansion for Mechanica. Does this mean that we wouldn’t merchandise if we had a big hit? No. But at Resonym, we want to make games.

Time spent on making prints, stickers, or other merchandising is time spent not making the best games and game experiences we can for our backers and our fans. We want make games, not prints.

F: Alright. Thanks for your time. Before we end this, is there anything you’d like to say to your backers?

M: First of all, I’d like to thank them for their support. And second of all: FILL OUT YOUR SURVEYS! We just had someone fill out a survey for Mechanica, approximately 1 year late. This is a problem because we actually may not have any copies left in our European warehouse to send them. You gave us money for a copy of the game, and I want to make sure you get the game. We actually had an extremely generous backer for Monarch who backed at the custom art pledge tier who we were never able to get in contact with. They still gave us the money, and we’re grateful for the support, but we want to send you your games! So please, fill out the backer surveys!

F: Thanks, and hopefully they will!

BULLET ♥︎

Yes, the ♥︎ is part of the name. I honestly have to wonder how that will impact discoverability.

(Ed Note: At time of writing, BULLET ♥︎ is currently live on Kickstarter. The version reviewed is an excellent implementation on Table Top Simulator. You can play that here. In addition, I ended up backing the game at the premium level, which is like 60 bucks, and the Kickstarter has been funded. As you might guess, I like the game, so if you’re coming in here expecting a totally non-biased opinion, you’re not gonna get it. I will include a few of my friends’ criticisms of the game, to try to provide a slightly more balanced view, but a neutral post this is not.)

I like Bullet♥︎. For anyone wondering, yes, the heart is apparently part of the name. No, I don’t know why either. Lets just talk about the game shall we?

Bullet♥︎ as a game is intended to be modeled after shmup style games like Touhou or Jamestown. While it does this at least aesthetically, I’d say the actual gameplay sometimes ends up feeling closer to a fighter, but I’ll talk about that in a bit.

The game is played in 3 minute rounds. Each player has a board representing their character, with a grid of circles on it. At the start of a round, you have a bag full of incoming bullets with numbers and colors on them. Your goal is to not let any of these incoming bullets hit you by reaching the bottom of the grid.

While you have basically no ability to control the placement of individual bullets, you do have the ability to clear them off your board using patterns, and to move them around using actions. This is the meat of the game: trying to set up efficient patterns, and make decisions all while on a fairly hard time limit.

This of course brings up one of the first complexities with Bullet♥︎. The game requires players who are used to playing games. It can be very easy to mess up and misplace, and the fact that everyone is playing at once means that pausing to ask questions about how something works, or to consult the rulebook can’t really happen. This makes it easy to misplay. (It also makes it easy to cheat, but let’s be honest, if you’re playing board games with cheaters, you need new friends anyway.)

In addition, because of this simultaneous play, Bullet♥︎ doesn’t have a large amount of inherent player interaction, especially in multiplayer games. While we never tried out the boss rush mode, Bullet♥︎ is mostly categorized by silence and quiet. This may or may not sit well with your play group.

If this all sounds like I’m being harsh on Bullet♥︎, the thing is that despite this, I’ve convinced multiple people to play it with me. I’ve played the solo mode, something I have never done before for a board game, mostly because I wanted to get better. There are very few board games I want to be good at. I like winning, but I almost never try to get better at them. Bullet♥︎ is a game I want to be good at.

I called the game a fighter up above, and that “I want to be better” is why. There’s another reason, and it’s playing the game 1v1. In 1v1, Bullet stops being purely a chaotic frenzy, and instead turns into a slightly more balanced duel. I found myself trying to predict what sort of bullets would mess with my opponent, saving patterns and bullets to set up bigger attacking rounds, and generally playing the game more like a fighter than a puzzle game.

Overall, I really enjoy the game. It won’t be a match for everyone. The game doesn’t have a huge amount of interaction between players in a way that feels massively meaningful, and the rules can feel intimidating at first.

But Bullet♥︎ is fun, and really, that’s what matters to me.

Tiny Towns – More Board Games!

A simple looking and enjoyable board game about making a better town then everyone else.

Another week inside, another board game! I actually ended up playing Tiny Towns about a week ago at this point, but it was a bunch of fun, so it’s still worth talking about. You can find the game here.

So lets talk about the game. Why is Tiny Towns fun? Well, at part because everyone is on the same playing field. In Tiny Towns, each player has a 4×4 grid, and on your turn, you choose a resource, and place it on a square on your board. Each square can only have one resource, and you’re trying to use this to complete patterns to make a building. When you finish a pattern, you remove the resource squares from the board, and place a building on one of the squares that you removed resources from to make the building.

Which is all very simple, except for one little thing: Whenever any player selects a resource, every other player takes one as well. And you will almost always have to immediately place it. So all of a sudden, two things are happening. The board is a lot smaller, and the selection of building material becomes very important. What are your opponents going to take? Does it look like they need wheat, so you can grab stone? Will giving them brick let them finish another building?

Now, if you’re thinking “Why doesn’t everyone just build the same exact thing?”, I was wondering that too. And that’s where a mechanic I haven’t mentioned yet comes in: Secret Buildings.

Each player starts the game with a single secret building. On the whole, theses buildings can swing the balance of the game quite a decent amount just based on their point value, which is pretty good. Even more importantly though, you can use them to throw off your opponents on what you’re planning to build, and what resource you might be choosing on your turn.

So, that’s your overview of the mechanics. So why is it fun? Well, in part because it’s straightforward. I’ve mentioned I like systems where you make a simple choice with complex outcomes. On your turn, you will pick a building material, place it, and then build buildings. And that’s it. There is no upgrade phase, there are no special materials that act as wildcards, just three simple actions. In choosing your material you have to deal with both what you’re trying to build while figuring out what it gives your opponents. At least for me, a lot of the fun of the game is in trying to read other players boards, and figure out what material they’re going to pick.

Oh, and the game is quite fast. I think the round we played was under 30 minutes? I enjoyed it quite a lot. Thanks for reading, and if you have board game suggestions for stuff to play while we’re all locked up trying to not die, please feel free to hit us up on our Twitter!

Glory to Rome

Let’s talk about a great game you can’t buy unless you want to sell your kidneys.

As we enter another week of quarantine, I’ve spent a lot of time playing games with people over the internet. This week, it was Glory to Rome in tabletop simulator, a board game with a really weird ass history. While I could spend time writing about that, I’d just be retreading ground already covered by Cyrus Farivar, in his article on arstechnica. So yeah, if you want to see how a Kickstarter can go horrifically wrong, and why being in a relationship with your only translator for your production line might be a bad idea, go read his stuff instead. It’s fascinating.

(Side Note: I find the failure of Glory to Rome especially interesting as the only components for the game are paper and cards. It’s all cards! No complex inserts, no expensive plastic models, nothing. Where’s the Jason Schier of the board game industry? There’s probably a fascinating and horrifying story about global supply chains in this thing.)

So instead, lets actually talk about Glory to Rome. I had a lot of fun with it. I was playing with three other friends, one of whom had played before. I also got crushed, coming in last place. Generally speaking, I get pretty salty when I lose games, and while there was some of that, I mostly want to play it again.

Probably the thing I find the most impressive about Glory to Rome is the same thing I sorta mocked it for up above: the only component is cards. The cards are your resources. The cards are your buildings. The cards are your victory points, your actions, and clients. The game manages to pack a stupid amount of functionality into each card WITHOUT making them illegible or hard to read. (Unless you’re playing on tabletop simulator with blurry scans. In which case, yeah, they can be a bit hard to read.) But the fact of the matter is, the game feels like it does a lot with very little.

The second thing about Glory to Rome that I find interesting, and would be helpful if I played it again, is how fast the game is. Most building games I’ve played tend to sorta drag out near the end, getting to the point where you’re playing kingmaker, or where you’ve lost, but the game keeps going. Glory to Rome ends with a bang. Of the four people in our game, I would say the two highest scoring players earned most of their points in the last two to three rounds of play, in one person’s case, scoring around 20+ points in one turn. (My end game score was 12 total. 3rd place was 13.) There’s an explosive energy to it by the end.

I honestly don’t really have any nitpicks with the game, and honestly, if I could, I’d go out and buy a copy. But you can’t, and no one can. At the time of writing, Ebay shows maybe two copies of the first edition, clocking in at about $130, and a single copy of the “Black Box Edition” at $425 (To be fair, that’s including the $50 shipping. To be unfair, that’s probably more then it would cost you to go and get an entire copy of the game professionally printed.) The next several results are all for games that describe themselves as “Glory to Rome-like”.

If you want to play it though, there is still a way to do it. First, you’d need Tabletop Simulator installed, and then, theoretically, you would need to go and find a mod version of the game in the workshop. You know. Theoretically. And playing this way would still cost about $20 per person, since you’d all have to buy a copy of tabletop simulator.

But it would still be cheaper then buying the actual game.

Sento – Ultimate Arcade Fighter

Holy shit, I want to own this game.

There are a lot of games at a PAX, and honestly, many of them do not click for me. There are things that can be fun when played with other people, but might not transfer to a single player experience, and there are things that just don’t grab me.

I personally don’t really like writing about things that very much, because making things is hard, and going “Hey, you know that thing you poured a decent portion of the finite time, the only truly real and limited thing that is yours on this planet, into? I think it’s trash.” has the all the tact and moral generosity of stomping on a puppy. Most people I know who make things have started by making a lot of very bad things, and then moved on to making better things. I know that for the things I currently make, many of them are either garbage, or “Shows promise, needs improvement” stage of creation.

So yeah, unless you directly ask me for feedback on whether I think something is good or not, anything I say will be more in the “I like it/I don’t like” sphere.

I don’t have to do anything of that shit with Senko fighter, because I mostly just want to play more of it.

Senko is a puzzle matching, fighter game. It’s a board game, which is also kinda weird, and honestly, you could make it into a video game, but I’m not sure if it would actually improve it. Pulling rows of marbles of the board, and dropping them back in to the randomizer is deeply satisfying. (Someone told me “Oh, like Potion Explosion?” but I’ve never played it, so I have no idea if that’s accurate.)

I think the big thing for me though, is that Senko really gets at the heart of what fighting games feel like if you’re good at them. Each turn, you’re making several decisions, all in one simple action. Do I want to attack, or build up for another turn? Am I going to try to trigger my characters feature, or set stuff up? Am I trying to go for a knockout, or just chip you down? Do I need to try to block something big you can set up next turn, and if so, can I even do it?

And the way you decide all of these things is simple, reach down a pull out a bunch of marbles, then do your attack. Different marbles correspond to different attacks, with combos at 1, 3, and 4 chains. There are three colors of marble, and each size chain is a specific attack, except your health is also tied to these marbles to an extent, and if one of your three bars gets knocked down, you can’t use those color marbles, locking out an entire set of attacks, EXCEPT now you can use those marbles you can’t use as part of an even bigger chain of other colors, so now, even though you’re “weaker” it just got much easier to pull off some of those bigger attacks, which is one of the coolest catch up mechanics I’ve ever seen.

I’m sure that as it gets more coverage in the coming months, and Kickstarter launches and whatnot, we’ll get more articles and stuff about it, but I’ll just finish by saying the following:

One thing I feel a lot in video games, but almost never do in board games, is the sense of having MY guy. In Smash Bros, it’s Ike or Ganondorf. In Pokken, it’s Chandalure, and in Pokemon in general, it’s Kyogre, my fat happy blue murder whale. But board games very rarely give me that feeling, even with things like Scythe, and it’s fairly distinct pieces and characters.

The DJ in Sento Fighter already feels like she’s MY dude, nailing the asymmetric options without watering them down so much they become more then just a random starting objective or something. And when this game comes out, I’m looking forward to playing it with friends, and dropping sick, sweet beats, directly onto their exposed, fragile cranium.

Here’s the link to their depressingly empty page, but at least you can sign up for their newsletter about when the Kickstarter is coming. And you should, if you like GOOD THINGS.

PAX EAST 2020 – Part 1

Another year, another PAX East, another massive hole in my wallet due to purchasing way too many incredibly wonderful DND related objects I don’t need. But yeah, you’re not here to read about my wallet being eviscerated, you’re here because I’ve linked you to this page.

VIDEO GAMES

LUCIFER WITHIN US – As much as I’d love to just copy paste the games description of itself, I can’t do that, because 1. It wouldn’t be fair, this game looks really cool, and 2. I only have their handout for it.

So, here is the website for it instead. I’ll do a longer write up on this one a bit later, and hopefully, more once I’ve actually gotten to play it. But yeah, really neat aesthetic in which you’re a sort of tech-priest, comparing the testimony of witnesses to a crime to try to find out who dun did it. Thing I’m most excited to see how it turns out.

KNUCKLE SANDWICH – I didn’t actually play this one. I just looked at it. It looks sorta like a combo of Earthbound and Warioware? Weird shit. Looked neat enough for me to care about it though. More info here.

GIGABASH – I did play this one. I did not win. One trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is games that are really fun to play at Cons, but actually kinda suck once you play them elsewhere, because they’re intended for couch co-op, and I don’t have friends. But yeah, GigaBash is a monster brawler where you try to beat the shit out of each other while not being murdered. You play as a bunch of Giant Kaiju things. It looks really nice, I just can’t say whether I liked it because of the convention atmosphere or the game is just good. GigaBash can be found here.

GENSHIN IMPACT – It’s some anime thing. Gameplay looked kinda like a brawler? I didn’t get a chance to play it, didn’t want to wait in line. Looked pretty though. Click that link to get to it’s website.

TURNIP BOY COMMITS TAX EVASION – Yeah, that’s the name of the game. Seriously though. I didn’t play it, did watch for a bit. Catchy title if nothing else. Kinda hard to tell if it’s YouTube bait, or legit good gameplay. I’m gonna be keeping an eye on it if nothing else. Here is the steam wishlist page.

That’s all for part one. In the next several parts, I’ll work my way through the rest of the video and board games I saw, and then maybe finish with a few brief posts about how amazing Sento Figher is. Like seriously, I need to own it.