Meeting of Minds – Chris Priscott (Unfringed Ltd.)
One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers, creators and publishers in the UK gaming scene. This series of articles interviews 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.
Images of the game have been kindly provided by Chris.
In my continued search for UK tabletop games folk to interview I occasionally have to go to other countries! Chris Priscott’s fulltime job may have taken him to Switzerland but he’s still a Devonian at heart and his games company Unfringed Ltd. is solidly based in the UK. His first game Zuuli, a drafting game about building and managing a zoo, is UK printed and UK distributed making him an excellent fit for an interview.
Chris was good enough to take some time to tell me about his journey into game design, the considerations in printing locally, and how it has been bringing his first game to the attention of the boardgame community.
Zuuli represents your first foray into tabletop game design. What made you want to design and publish your own game?
I’ve always been a huge gaming fan, from staying up late as a kid watching my Dad play Diablo 2, playing Rummy with my Nan, to playing a lot of Magic the Gathering as a teen. I’d dabbled with making games on PC and mobile before but after playing a lot of Sushi Go and Draftosaurus on Boardgame Arena, accompanied by some more free time during the pandemic I started to jot down the card game idea that had been floating around my head for a little while. Drafting is my all time favourite game mechanic and I wanted to be able to make a game that used it whilst being accessible but also containing enough strategy to keep more seasoned gamers interested. What came out in the end was Zuuli.
What has been the hardest part of the process of getting Zuuli out?
Running a Kickstarter and producing my first game has definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions and no matter how well you prepare there’s always something that throws a spanner in the works. The global shipping crisis and paper shortages helped add a good splash of uncertainty into the mix too. For me personally though the hardest part has to be that pervasive nagging thought that you get in your head that’s constantly asking “What if nobody likes it?”, “What if it’s not very good?” or “What if this goes wrong?”. I don’t think this ever goes away fully but the wonderful reaction from fans of the game has really helped suppress this and helps a lot in pushing through those mental blocks.
You kickstarted during a fairly turbulent time with supply issues, rapidly changing shipping costs and more causing headaches for many companies. Did that cause any problems in terms of fulfilment of the game? (2021 was the Kickstarter launch alongside preparation and manufacturer research, Zuuli was fulfilled February 2022)
Along with the shipping crisis and paper shortages one of the things I did to minimise risk and increase my chances of a successful Zuuli campaign was to limit my audience to the UK only. I also manufactured the game in the UK too so there was no border crossings or risk of boats getting stuck in the Suez Canal, and for fulfilment I worked with the amazing Spiral Galaxy Games to get copies out to all of the wonderful backers. All in all, even though I would have loved to have shipped copies further afield, taking this approach really helped me experience the whole end to end process and I’ve learnt a huge amount that will no doubt be useful for future games and projects.
Local manufacturing has become a bit of a watch word issue recently with more companies trying to limit their environmental impact by producing closer to the point of delivery. What challenges have you encountered in producing in the UK?
It’s fantastic that we’re seeing some push towards local manufacturing both for the environmental reasons you raised but also as a way to reduce some of the risk introduced by global uncertainty.
As a smaller Indie publisher I’m certain I face slightly different challenges compared to ones who are producing at a much larger scale, and with more components, but from my limited perspective I’d say the greatest challenges are price and logistics. Price wise, you’re going to struggle to find a quote that comes close to what is offered from places like China, although the difference in landed price is somewhat reduced when container/oversea shipping prices are very high. From a logistics perspective, if you’re not only targeting the UK then exporting to places like the EU has become much more difficult, expensive and admin heavy in recent years, mostly in terms of VAT and safety testing requirements.
That said, I like to think that both of these points aren’t insurmountable and with increased demand and support, from both creators and consumers, I could see the process improving greatly over time. My experience of producing the first edition of Zuuli in the UK was excellent and I would definitely encourage Indie publishers to explore their options here.
Zoos seem like a recurring theme for games of all types. Did Zuuli always have a zoo theme? What do you think it is about zoos that attract folk to games about them?
That’s a great question and it does seem that since games like Wingspan came out there’s been quite a surge of animal themed games launched. My wife and I are huge animal lovers so no doubt this had a big influence on Zuuli being themed that way, and with how the game developed it just made sense thematically for it also to be zoo or wildlife park based.
With respect to their appeal, for me I think it comes down to two things, the familiarity people already have with them and also the general love for animals. One of the biggest joys post release of Zuuli has been seeing it be used in schools and clubs to help kids with their maths and problem solving and I think a big part of that comes from a familiar theme that helps reduce the barrier to entry.
Was making the game educational one of your core aims or has it been a happy coincidence?
Truth be told, during the design and development phase I never truly considered that it might also be used as an educational aid. As a big maths fan myself though it brings me a lot of happiness to see it being used that way and I hope to be able explore this further not only with Zuuli but also with future games too. Maths gets a particularly bad rep for being a little dry sometimes and learning through application, whilst also enjoying the other values of board games, seems like a fantastic endeavour to me.
This seems like a great place to also shout out Gamers@Hart for the excellent score sheet they developed and publicly shared as part of their board gaming summer club.
What’s next for Unfringed now Zuuli is out in the wild?
I’m very fortunate to be able to say that we’re down to our last handful of copies so one thing I’ve been working on is a reprint which should be coming in the near future.
In other exciting news (at least for existing Zuuli fans) I’ll also be running a Gamefound campaign for the first Zuuli mini expansion, containing two new animals that should shake up how those winning parks are planned and developed!
What game are you most excited for right now?
If I could only pick one then it would have to be The Old King’s Crown by Eerie Idol Games. The artwork alone is absolutely stunning and even though I’ve not had a chance to play it yet I’ve heard fantastic things. (You can read about our impressions on this game in our Tabletop Scotland review)