Building a Better Sell Sheet

There’s been a lot of talk about sell sheets lately in the game designer community, especially with Gen Con coming up so quickly. A sell sheet is basically like a business card or webpage for your game – it gives information about what the game is like, the components it needs, and some images. The trick to a sell sheet is to keep it brief and, as Andrew Federspiel puts it, “sexy.” While I completely missed the “brief” portion of it with last year’s sell sheet for Cool Table, I think there’s plenty of sex in here: cool table sell sheet image

Click here to see a larger PDF version: Cool Table Sell Sheet

This year, I have a few revamps to do. The sell sheets I’ve seen that really knock me over are graphics-heavy (which is kind of “yikes” for me, but I think I can put something together). I want to cut by text by a third to a half, and replace the images with better-quality ones. So, I have my work cut out for me!

An Improv Engagement

I was looking back through old posts and I realized I’d never posted this. So, last November, this happened:

Pete arranged a whole improv show, just to propose. The theme was “Fall, In Love” and the other teams were all couples. It was incredible. Much thanks to Abby Fudor for the gorgeous video. :-)

Workin’ On My Knight Moves

10547489_606475068362_330321728007750060_nOne idea that’s been hanging around for over a year is a kawaii breakfast-themed deckbuilder. Part Diner Dash, part adorbs, all fun. It started as a Tanto Cuore clone, then fell prey to the soul-sucking black hole that was this past fall and winter.

I dragged it back out this spring to take a look at it with fresh eyes. Combined with some new game mechanics I’d been playing and tinkering with, it became a fun new game – but with just one problem: Sushi Go. Kawaii, adorable sushi is pretty similar to kawaii, adorable breakfasts. I’d even planned for the waffles and pancakes to have faces! Woe is me, back to the thematic drawing board.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Pete and I realized it could be a Cool Table-themed game. But universe games, as I mentioned, make me feel a little uncomfortable. So, during a night of drinking, we came up with a great name: Hard Day’s Knight. A quick Google revealed its untenability, but Knight Shift fit the bill. A pun, and a reference to some game mechanics? Yep, we’re in!

So, freshly inspired, we banged out the rules for what would become a super-fun little game. It’s got drafting, espionage, intrigue, press-your-luck, and some really fun flavor text. We’re in the midst of coming up with some fun prototype graphics and overhauling the scoring system to be simpler.

We’re pretty excited. We’ve worked on a couple of other games together, but this one seems to have the most traction – plus, since it’s just cards, it’ll be easy to prototype and produce…

If only our printer would stop running out of yellow toner.

Why Game Designers Should Keep a Notebook

As a lifelong journaller, I love notebooks. As a newbie game designer, I love checking out other peoples’ processes. I figured I’d combine them both and talk about my game design notebook.

I was initially tempted to just keep my game design stuff where I write everything else down. But my logical brain figured out that this would be a great way to lose work. So I compromised and bought a notebook – but it’s not organized at all. I’m using the same principles as a spark file – brains really like to smoosh things together, and by choosing not to organize, stuff sometimes organically comes together in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

I use a long rectangular sketchbook with pages way bigger than I’d ever want to use in real life. That way, if I have a cool idea, I can actually sketch out a board if needed and try things out, or do a gigantic brain map, or just keep really, really detailed notes.

board game design notebook

Here’s what I keep in the notebook:

  • Game theme ideas
  • Game mechanic ideas
  • Sketches of boards, cards or other components
  • Playtest notes
  • Card breakdowns
  • Contact information for other game designers
  • Marketing information, ie, “Seriously, Who’s Going to Buy This?”
  • Taped-in cards, sell sheets or other pieces from mine and other games

I love this approach because it’s really freeing. I tend to like to keep things in their place, but with game design, you have to be willing to take risks and try new things. The space is so competitive that there’s really not room to keep retreading old territory (unless you’re Love Letter). And this is one way I’ve found to keep trying new things and bring ideas together into new, amazing games.

How to Reach Out to Reviewers

Earlier today, Macktholemew (designer of Killer Croquet and owner of a name that is probably not “Macktholemew”) asked about resources for figuring out how to reach out to reviewers on the Card & Board Game Deisngers Group on Facebook. Since my day job is in digital PR (aka finding and emailing people basically all day), I figure I’m pretty qualified to discuss this. Reaching out to reviewers is just like reaching out to anybody else who’s a human being that you don’t know. You need to be:

  • Polite
  • Inquisitive
  • Interested
  • Brief

You absolutely do NOT want to be:

  • Pushy
  • Talkative
  • Scammy in the slightest (we’ll get to that)

The email template that I base most of my “cold call” requests on is this one:

Hi Reviewer,

My name is Name Naminson, and I’m the designer of a game called The Gamey Game. I’m wondering if you could tell me a bit more about how you select the games you review?

The Gamey Game has mechanics, and takes this many people. This is where I would write about the theme, and basically give my “elevator pitch” in 3 sentences or less. I would also link to my website here, as a plain link, not as a hyperlink, here: http://www.jasmineadavis.com

[OPTIONAL: I’m reaching out to you with this game because of reasons (see below).]

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions! Any information you can offer would be tremendously appreciated.

Thanks,
Name

This basic template can be customized with your information and stylistic preferences. It’s polite and short without asking for too much. If you simply state, “I want you to review my game,” you may turn off potential reviewers. After all, you don’t know how they select games to review! They may only review games for money, or perhaps they only pick games that they know they like. They may have been burned by past, scammy designers, and may be less open to new “pitches” from other designers.

Don’t Be Scammy

As I mentioned earlier, you want to avoid any whiff of scam. There are a few ways you can do this. First of all, do not attach images or any other documents. If a reviewer wants them, they will ask for them. Many email programs treat attachments with extra caution, too, so attaching anything makes you more likely to go to spam.

Also, do not hyperlink your website. Think about it – if a stranger sent you an email, would you click a link in it? Probably not. Give them the URL for your website or Facebook page outright. If it’s a really long URL (ie, more than about a line and a half), either give them the top-level domain (with brief directions if required) or send them to one of your social media profiles for the game instead.

Advanced Tip: Why You?

Some reviewers are perfectly happy to take a chance on an unknown designer, or review lots of games and are willing to take yours. Others are less willing to do so – so you’ll need to do the legwork for them and explain why YOUR game is awesome. However, you should still do this briefly – 1-2 sentences at the very most. You’ll want to do research and get creative here. Consider things like:

  • Do they always review a certain type of game, and your game fits that category?
  • Have they expressed a preference for a certain theme, and your game fits that theme?
  • Have they expressed a preference for a certain type of mechanic, and your game has that mechanic?
  • Does your game fit their demographic, ie, family game, “gamer game”?
  • Do you think your game fills a gap in their current roster of reviews? For example, if they’ve never covered a deckbuilder, and you have one, you could mention that.

Meanwhile, if you know a reviewer hates deckbuilders and you have one, consider not reaching out to them. Your game is probably not the one that’s going to change their mind.

Following Up

If it’s been several weeks (2 – 3 weeks and no sooner) and you haven’t heard back, you can follow up politely. Here’s my typical email for this:

Hi Name,

I reached out to you a few weeks ago to learn more about how you select games for review on Your Game Review Website. I just wanted to follow up and see if you needed any additional information about The Gamey Game, or if I can help in any way, let me know.

Feel free to get in touch, and have a great weekend!

Thanks,

Name

A Few Extra Tips

  • You pay for both the cost of the prototype and shipping. If you want it back, you pay shipping both ways. Depending on your game, you could send self-addressed packing materials for your prototype’s return.
  • They’re doing you a favor. Remember that if you happen to get frustrated. Unless money has changed hands, you don’t get to dictate their timeline for reviewing or publishing the game.
  • They’re not obligated to give you a positive review. Don’t ask for a positive review.
  • Check their website for a page that explains how to submit games for reviews. If they have a page like this, then do that, instead. Always follow the process that the reviewer prefers (especially if that includes not soliciting reviews – in that case, don’t reach out. They don’t want to hear from you).
  • People are people. Think about the kind of info you’d want, and the kind of stuff you’d want to see, from a total stranger. Make yourself legitimate.
  • Put your name, email, website link, Twitter handle, etc, in your email signature. Not only is it something that will mark you as a pro, it’s also a way for them to check you out.

Wondering how to find reviewers? James Mathe has put together a list of reviewers, along with their follower counts, email addresses and websites. You can find it here, and use these tips to reach out to them!

Should you buy art?

One of the questions I’m struggling with now is something that lots of new game creators run into – should you buy art for your game? Of course, there’s two sides to that story, and I just fell on the wrong side.

NO! Don’t buy art!

When you ask most game designers where they stand on the question, you’ll hear that you should definitely not, never-ever purchase art for your game. “Publishers don’t care about your art,” they say, “and they’ll just replace it with their own artist.” That’s what I bought into, and I still actually think it’s true, in many cases.

That’s because often, art takes a backseat to the mechanics – does the game work? If not, no amount of art is really going to save it (unless it’s from a really good IP). This focus on mechanics, rather than art, is a good thing – after all, the mechanics are what make a game fun and replayable and etc etc.

Plus, says everyone, when you put too much time and effort into your art assets, you’re showing the publisher that you’re “too finished” and that you’re so proud of your baby that you won’t want to make any tweaks or changes. When you show up with a game that looks too nice, it could be a sign that you’re inflexible.

Plus, getting art for an entire game can cost you thousands of dollars. Yikes.

But wait…why NOT buy art?

geek card

This is literally the extent of my artistic and digital skills. The pinnacle of everything I have achieved can be seen in this card.

At first, I fell in line with the “don’t buy art” crowd – after all, it makes perfect sense. Then, Cool Table got accepted into the Tabletop Deathmatch, and I thought, “Okay, I need to put enough design time into this to get it off of index cards, but it doesn’t need to look great. It just needs to be functional.”

So when I finally saw my episode of the Tabletop Deathmatch (especially the rough cut), they spent a large chunk of time talking about the art and how bad it was. That was incredibly disheartening to me. I didn’t realize that we were supposed to be so far along, and that your art was an important component of this.

And they were absolutely right – my demo copy of Cool Table last year was a mess. The colors were all over the place and everything was bland and flat. I did the best I could, but it just wasn’t enough. I’m not an artist. My rudimentary skills in Inkscape are laughable, even a year later. I make stuff, but I’m not an artist.

So this year, I worked and reworked my cards and tokens and demo copy, and finally got the game mostly presentable and slightly more-well-designed, but it was still missing life. It was missing the cliques. For Cool Table, theme is important – perhaps not as important as mechanics, but it’s still a key piece of the game. And I’m definitely not capable of drawing these highly-specific cliques (nor are there images I can draw from online – YOU try finding a goth-kid-wizard-math-genius!).

After worrying about it a little, I finally decided to just pay for art. My artist friend, Cynthia Lee (who is amazing), is giving me an incredible deal (and she’s doing it incredibly fast!) and I’m absolutely thrilled. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it’s a really, really good way for publishers and playtesters to get to see a nice, better-executed game. After all, understanding the Geekroids is critical to game-winning success.

The trouble with Logitech

When you buy someting, you expect it to work properly. This is what happens at Logitech when something you purchase doesn’t work properly.

I had a Treat Yoself kinda day earlier this year, and made a huge purchase – a new iPad Air. Obviously, the first thing one acquires post-iPad purchase is a case. Having been a previous iPad owner, I’d been researching cases for a couple of weeks and I’d settled on the Logitech FabricSkin Folio Keyboard. I saw the bad reviews about the clip cracking, but I figured that if I was REALLY careful, I’d be fine.

Of course I was wrong, it cracked within 2 weeks.

I contacted their customer service department (well within 30 days, which becomes important) and after about a week of not getting an answer (I even called them, and the person I spoke with said a supervisor would call me…which never happened), I finally heard from them. They wouldn’t refund my money, but they’d give me a replacement. Oh, and they’re out of the awesome color I bought, but will send me a black one.

10341535_601885890112_3074119928107893650_nAfter waiting about a week to receive a shipping label, I finally got one and mailed it off. Just four short weeks later, I finally got my replacement! And look, conveniently, there’s no power button cover! Just jagged pieces of plastic where it’s been clumsily melted off!

So I got back in touch with my customer service guy, Gian, who is a champ at repeating the exact same thing over and over, because they’re refusing to give me a refund, even though I contact them within their 30 days.

Meanwhile, when I buy something, I expect it not to scrape my cuticles every time I want to use it. Because of course the magnets that turn it on and off are broken. And according to Gian, “It’s just designed that way.”

I really don’t ask for a lot when it comes to the things I buy. I recognize that no one product is magically going to solve every need. But I do ask that things work like they’re supposed to, don’t arrive broken, and don’t break within two weeks of light use.

So, no more Logitech for me. My hope is that they’ll redesign this and I’ll get a new case that won’t immediately break. But regardless of how this resolves, I’m definitely not going to purchase anything else from them. They don’t care about their customers, don’t care about making a good product, and don’t care about making anything right.

 

 

Prioritization Skills

That arrow was the bane of my existence!

That arrow was the bane of my existence!

After going through about six months of absolute down time, in which I wanted to work on nothing, write about nothing and generally do nothing, I’m getting back into the swing of things. The last 6 weeks have been crazy inspirational in terms of game design. The challenge is having so many ideas I can’t prioritize all of them. And of course, the project I most want to work on is the one I just thought about.

Of course, half-formed ideas are worth nothing. The only way to actually put something out there is to finish it – or at least get it in shape for public consumption. That’s what I’m trying to do now, but it’s so hard to stay motivated when my shoddy Inkscape skills keep getting in the way (Protip: If you’re using a tutorial for any reason, save it. Just do it. You may not need it right away, but someday, you will.) I know the slog will be worth it (Gen Con is just around the corner!), but in the meantime, gosh is it hard to figure out exactly how to get a game board printed and at what dimensions one should reasonably create art.

So – I think I’m going to pick blogging back up as a means to documenting some of my processes on specific games, and hopefully provide an outlet for talking about the projects I can’t yet work on. That way, when I have to spend 5 hours figuring out ratios of pixels and inches, I can take 5 minutes here and there to dream about what’s coming down the pipe – if only I make it through Inkscape hell.

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