Meeting of Minds – Eurydice Games
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.
Dexterity games have always been a draw for me. The mix of skill and moments of luck can lead to those fist pumping emotions that the best in tabletop games can give us. I’ve tried a few over the years and recently, at Tabletop Scotland, got to try Flickfleet from Eurydice Games. This is a game where you flick large laser cut spaceships around, firing off weaponry and ships from larger vessels, and trying to out manoeuvre your opponent.
I’d had my eye on the game for a while as not only is it a dexterity game with a loyal following, it’s also a small operation run by Jackson Pope and Paul Willcox. They do all the design, production, and distribution of the game from the UK making them an ideal candidate for an interview.
They were good enough to give me some of their time to talk about running a small publisher, doing it all yourselves, how they’ve remained friends through all the ups and downs, and the future for Flickfleet!
What made you want to get into designing and publishing your own games?
Jack: I played a very long game of Mighty Empires one weekend and decided I could come up with a similar game playable in a fraction of the time.
Paul: It was not something I ever really thought about. I’ve enjoyed playing games for years and I greatly enjoyed helping Jack playtest and develop games back in his Reiver Games days. The idea for FlickFleet came to me during a conversation with Jack and reflected those years of gaming and development experiences. I never considered publishing until Jack invited me to join Eurydice Games so that we could manufacture and publish FlickFleet together. I’m very proud of how we work together and that we quickly established some core rules for working together that would safeguard our friendship.
Could you let us know what those rules are and any advice you would have for friends looking to go into business together?
- That it does not affect our friendship
- That we are not spending our own money (apart from setup investment)
- That we are having fun
We are happy to be flexible on the second as long as the first and third remain true! We check in with each other every few months to check we are still best friends and having a blast!
The best advice I could give to others is to really think it through. You need to know what it is you want to achieve and what you are and are not prepared, or able, to do. Designing and publishing are two different worlds and we are very lucky that we enjoy straddling both to varying degrees. Having said that, the time we have for designing is limited due to the demands of manufacturing etc.
You also have to be really honest with your friend(s) and communicate! When I accidentally destroyed our first laser cutter (and thus wiped out a fair amount of our profit!) I was heartbroken and utterly devastated. In large part, my strong friendship with Jack helped me carry on with Eurydice Games. If we were not so close, and if I hadn’t been able to tell him how I was feeling, it would’ve been easy to give it all up at that point.
Trying to fit the business into the rhythms and events of everyday life can be challenging – especially if something happens outside of this work that demands lots of your time and thus compromises your productivity – illness for example..
Jack, could you tell us a bit about Reiver games?
Jack: I started Reiver Games in 2006 to self-publish my first game: Border Reivers. It ran for 5 years, but despite doing really well on a tiny scale in the first couple of years it didn’t survive my attempt to change it into a ‘proper’ publisher, getting games manufactured in factories and sold through distribution and retail. I ended up selling several thousand games to liquidators and losing a decent chunk of my investment (though bizarrely, that was my life insurance!).
What are the challenges in producing games in small runs like you do with Flickfleet?
Jack: Paul’s best placed to answer the manufacturing part of that, but from my perspective it’s getting your game noticed on a shoestring marketing budget.
Paul: marketing is tough! From my point of view the main challenges are:
1 – you have to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and learn stuff as you go along. I’d never physically seen a laser cutter until one was installed in my garage a few months before we had to fulfil our first Kickstarter using it. It was a very steep learning curve!
2 – if something goes wrong, it’s your fault. You have to correct it and absorb the losses (money or, more importantly, time). And those losses hurt.
3 – storage. My house is currently filled with FlickFleet boxes, wooden components, printed materials, stacks of acrylic (so much acrylic!), neoprene playmats and all the shipping cartons, bubblewrap and chips required.
4 – we don’t actually make much profit as the manufacturing method we use (me!) is labour and time intensive and the raw materials are expensive. We don’t achieve many economy of scale savings which we probably would if we were having 10,000 copies made for us in a factory somewhere.
5 – not selling via retail is an interesting challenge as it makes us purely reliant on crowdfunding, which forces a pattern of manufacturing to a deadline, which can leave little time for, for example, new game design.
How difficult is it to stand out as a small publisher in a crowded marketplace?
Jack: Very difficult. We’re lucky that FlickFleet has built up a loyal following of fans who have in a lot of cases become repeat customers, getting extra FlickFleet expansions on our subsequent campaigns. But catching the eye of a new customer is difficult and expensive, and I really struggle to optimise our marketing as I’ve limited time available around a full-time job and young family.
Paul: I agree with Jack. Also, a lot of gamers will see FlickFleet as a silly dexterity game and not realise the tactical depth of the game (which is partly why I think the game has acquired a small fanbase). It was interesting at UKGE last year how often people would pause seeing the game being played and would then start to be sucked in! There are a lot of games out there and the bar to publish is much lower than it used to be, in large part due to crowdfunding I think. This is great as it means there is a fantastic array of games that will suit all tastes and preferences but, as a publisher, it makes it harder to find and connect with your audience. The economic downturn also doesn’t help.
How important is it for a small publisher like yourself to foster a supportive community?
Paul: I think it is crucial. It is a very crowded marketplace with an overwhelming amount of new products churning out constantly. Just getting your name out there is hard. Having a community around you as publishers and around your games is now very important, particularly for tiny publishers like us.
We are lucky in that there are a small number of people who appreciate our rather unique method of publishing and are keen to support us largely because of that. Having a high quality mailing list is essential at present. More satisfying for us though is that as FlickFleet has been out there for a few years, there is a small, supportive community around the game itself. This has grown fairly organically. Obviously we invest time in supporting these fans of the game and I think also our openness and honesty hits the right note, at least most of the time!
We try hard not to treat fans and backers as ‘walking wallets’; although buying the complete game now is rather expensive and we do have a core of loyal fans who have backed everything that is available. To make us feel better about this we involve the fans in deciding what happens with the game. This has included asking backers to vote on box art and stretch goals, nominating people who are having a difficult time to receive a free copy of the game, and writing personalised messages in game boxes.
The highlight of this approach for me is that we asked fans for their ideas for the FlickFleet expansion, Box of Flicks 2. We chose the ideas that excited us the most, developed them, worked out how to manufacture them and they were subsequently included in that expansion. We credited and paid the designers for their contributions, which felt awesome! The wealth of ideas we received that Jack and I would never have come up with was truly humbling. Without such a lovely community around FlickFleet, this would not have been possible.
How do you think the wider availability of home 3D printing/ laser cutting will affect the tabletop games industry?
Jack: That’s an interesting question. We sell the print & play files for FlickFleet, but they require plastic spaceships which you either need to print or cut out yourself. We sell quite a few of them, so there’s definitely interest, and it avoids the international shipping which can be very expensive. I think there’ll definitely be a market for hobbyists to make their own stuff, but due to the effort and skill required it’ll never become a major part of the market.
Paul: completely agree with Jack. I’d like to dabble with 3D printing but I would use it for prototyping pieces rather than full-on manufacturing. We are managing to use the laser cutter to power our manufacturing but only because we are making small numbers (and its still a huge amount of work!). Whilst the skills are attainable, to manufacture at scale would still be fairly slow, expensive and require a lot of room for multiple, or bigger, machines.
I do think the wider availability of 3D printers particularly, has increased consumer expectation of gaming components (“I could make this myself, so the one I’m buying should be better!”). I’m not sure how I feel about this. Blinged-out games seem to inflate the price and, sometimes, don’t add much, if anything, to my enjoyment of the game; I’m happy with wooden cubes, discs, cylinders and meeples!
What are your future plans for Flickfleet and Eurydice games?
Jack: I’m working on a bunch of new games of wildly different types, but we’ll probably do more FlickFleet first – we now have 5 factions in the FlickFleet universe, but the first two are far bigger than the latest three, so probably another expansion to boost either the pirates or the Hive and the Storm from Xeno Wars.
Paul: expansions for the 3 smaller FlickFleet factions are definitely top of my list! We’ve already received some ideas from fans for new ships which are very exciting! I had an idea for a new Hive ship inspired by receiving a stack of the wrong opacity of acrylic and thinking how we could still use it! I love supporting Jack with the new game ideas (I think I’m more of a developer than creator to be honest) and I’d like to explore publishing games by other designers in the future.
What game from a UK publisher are you most excited about?
Jack: Paul’s a better person to answer that – he’s much more on the pulse of new games – I tend to play a lot of old games
Paul: to be honest, I’ve been so busy manufacturing I’m out of the loop at the moment sadly. When I do get to play games I’m still enjoying ‘new to me’ games from a few years ago (the most recent publications I’ve played are Scout and Gutenberg). This is an issue for me: there are so many games coming out I now find I get excited about new games when I’ve played them, less so in advance. I’m still trying to persuade Jack that we should publish a game designed by a friend of ours which needs a bit of development work but I still really enjoy everytime I play it!
Jack, what older games do you enjoy playing and do you feel that great older games get lost in the constant stream of new titles?
Jack: I think if you get your gaming info from social media you see very little of the old stuff as content creators chase the new thing to get the views and growth they need. I’ve played a few games over 200 times (Carcassonne, Magic the Gathering, 6 Nimmt!) and another 12 over 100 times. Games I love that are older include 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Ra, Stone Age and King of Tokyo.
Follow Eurydice Games at the links below