Meeting of Minds – Jackson Pope

One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers, creators and publishers in the UK gaming scene. To this end I’m establishing a new series of articles where I interview various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it.

image1Jackson Pope has been on the game design scene for sometime starting out in 2006 with his own company, Reiver Games, and eventually deciding to go it solo and craft his games from scratch, a quite astounding undertaking.

For his next project ‘Flickfleet’ he is going to Kickstarter and he was kind enough to answer some questions about his history in games, his approach to design and game crafting and his thoughts on Kickstarter and the wider gaming scene. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Reiver Games was your first company that put out several games pre-kickstarter. What was that experience like and do you think Kickstarter works in the favour of smaller companies like your new concern Eurydice Games?

Reiver Games was a great experience. I started it in 2006 to self-publish a game I had designed over a couple of years from 2002-04. I received a game submission by another designer during the first year and then made the leap to ‘professional’ publisher when my life insurance paid out due to illness.

Kickstarter I think favours a lot of people – hence so many people use it. It’s a great marketing platform and there’s a lot of supporting marketing around it (on BGG, reddit, etc. doing Kickstarter round-ups). It opens the door for people who don’t have the large pile of cash you need to make a game. There are some types of games that seem to do particularly well on Kickstarter (minis!) and the marketplace seems a lot more crowded now that pretty much anyone with the inclination can put a game up on Kickstarter.

Do you think that Kickstarter is a bubble waiting to burst or that it will keep being the goto platform for new designers for many years to come?

It’s still on the rise, so I think it’s got at least a while yet. Will it burst eventually? I don’t know – something will come along that replaces it in the end, but that could be a long way off. I think there’s a lot of people interested in getting the games cheaper than retail, or being involved in the development and there’s obviously a big benefit to publishers.

You’ve handcrafted a lot of games in your time. What started you down that path and made you come back to it for Zombology? How long does it take you to craft and individual game?

I had no idea whether there was a market for my first game, Border Reivers, so I wanted to make as few copies as possible so I didn’t end up with loads of stock cluttering up the house (I knew a couple of guys who had thousands of their game in their small flat). I worked out that if I bought the raw materials and got a digital printer to just print the art onto sheets of paper I could make 100 copies of the game by hand. I would make a profit on each copy, so if I sold 50 I would recoup my initial investment and if I sold all 100 I’d have more money left to invest in another game if I had another idea.

During that first year I made and sold all 100 copies and signed a game by another designer. Border Reivers took 3 hours a copy to make, but the second game was much simpler (about an hour and a half), so I made 300 of those (which I sold in a year again) and then I started get games professionally manufactured (just in time for the crash of 2009!). After a couple of years of not drawing any salary and watching the bank loan payments and warehousing costs slowly eat away at my cash I wrapped Reiver Games up.

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Zombology in all it’s glory

Zombology (my current game, a 3-8 player semi-cooperative card drafting game about ‘scientists’ trying to cure the zombie plague using alternative medicine) first saw the light of day about 5 or six years ago and after a couple of years of getting good feedback I decided I’d make it available. The unusual theme and semi-cooperative nature makes it a bit niche, so I really didn’t want to end up in the same boat as the end of Reiver Games with a load of unsold stock, so I decided to go back to my roots and make a small hand-crafted run. I figured I could probably sell 200 copies so that’s what I’ve gone for. Eleven months in I’ve sold 88 of the 200 and to be honest with my next game in development and a young child in the house I’m struggling to stay on top of the crafting! At least with Zombology it only takes 40 minutes to make a copy.

With the advent of platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and crowdfunding in general, do you think there is still a route to publication for small press folk doing things their way?

Yes, though I think with all the noise about Kickstarters it’s harder to capture people’s attention. Especially for me, as I’m attending far fewer conventions this time round as I want to spend most weekends with my wife and daughters.

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That’s no moon, it’s an upturned fruit bowl?

Do you consider con attendance an essential part of running a games company and what advice would you give to people who are attending their first con as a publisher?

Yes, it’s such a great way to meet a lot of gamers and demo your game to a lot of potential customers. In my Reiver Games days I went to a number of UK conventions (UK Games Expo, The Cast Are Dice, Beer and Pretzels) plus Spiel in Essen, Germany – it was a great way to meet potential business partners too – I got my first US distribution agreement at my first Spiel – selling my remaining stock of It’s Alive! To Eagle Games.

Flickfleet is your next project. Tell us a little bit about it and why you decided to go down the Kickstarter route with this particular game?

FlickFleet is a two-player dexterity game of spaceship combat. Each player controls a fleet of laser-cut acrylic spaceships which they flick around the table and then flick dice towards their opponent’s ships to damage them. If the die hits a ship it is damaged in the location represented by the die result. You can either play a predefined scenario (of which several come in the rulebook and more will be available on my website) or build a fleet of your choice and play a points-based game.

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Flickfleet in action

I’ve spent the last year or so chasing down options for laser-cutting the ships, but the acrylic is expensive and the laser-cutting is very expensive, so I’ve decided the only real way to do it is to do the laser-cutting myself (for ‘free’). I can’t afford to buy the laser-cutter and the raw materials for the print run so I’m turning to Kickstarter to raise the funds and let the game see the light of day with a reasonable retail price.

What game released, or releasing, this year from a UK publisher has you really excited?

I try to play lots of new to me games, but I actually buy very few – space in my games collection is limited and I try to keep it around 100 games (I give away a few games each year that aren’t getting played). The most interesting game I’ve heard of recently by a UK publisher is Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr, but it’s probably not something I’d buy as it’s not the sort of game our group plays.

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