News Digest Brainwaves Episode 122

This is a copy of the “script” we used to organise Brainwaves Episode 122. It is not a full transcript but should give you an overview of the news as we reported it. 

Brainwaves Episode 122

Quotes are in italics


Quackalope and Aeon Trespass Odyssey

  • On the 20th of May, Youtube Channel Quackalope put out a video. That video was called “The Horrible Truth of Aeon Trespass Odyseey”. Aeon Tresspass Odysseey (or ATO as we will refer to it in some of this article) is published by Into the Unknown games and they responded like this to the negative comments on the video. Posting to their Kickstarter they said
    • “Not if, for example, a YouTuber contacts you months in advance to say they’ve shot the content, don’t like the game, but they can reshoot it for $7500. We would not respond well to such a proposition 😉 In fact, we would never work with someone like that again.”
  • The implication here being that Quackalope had effectively tried to extort money from the publisher. 
  • The internet responded in the calm and measured manner it always does. Everything went to hell in a handcart
  • The reddit user who brought this to everyone’s attention called it blackmail, people started throwing accusations at Quackalope, and everyone called for more evidence from Into the Unknown to turn their insulation into fact.
  • Initially Quackalope said that Jesse Anderson, the face of the Quackalope brand, would not be immediately responding as he was attending a Yeshiva in Israel and had limited access to the internet. A Yeshiva is a Jewish College or School where you can go to study the texts of the religion.
  • Jesse did put out a denial in a thread on Boardgamegeek. In that post he said:
    • “TLDR: We did not and have never asked a publisher to pay us in order to prevent the channel posting critical or negative content. I will do a Live stream the week of JUNE 12th, once I am back in Cleveland, hanging out and answering any questions the community has.”
  • On the 21st of May, Into the Unknown released an official statement on the controversy as as a shareable PDF. They start this statement by saying:
    • First off, we’d like to say that everyone is entitled to their subjective opinion about a game, especially when it comes to consumer products. We do not censor content, and we do not argue with critics and reviews. We try to learn something from them, good or bad. We have no problem with Mr. Anderson’s opinion about Aeon Trespass Odyssey
    • Second, we also have no problem with the idea of sponsored ad content. We use Facebook/Meta andReddit Ad tools regularly, we also collaborate with content creators on things like rules videos,summaries or playthroughs.
  • Now the rest of this statement is rather long, and includes several emails back and forth between Marcin Welnicki, the CEO of Into the Unknown Studio, one of the other members of the studio called Bartek (their production manager), and Jesse Anderson who runs Quackalope. We will give you an overview of that conversation along with some highlighted quotes. These quotes were highlighted by ITU in their statement. 
  • The emails start on Jan 19th, 2023. In that email Jesse says they have a copy of the game, that they bought, and proposes working together on upcoming coverage. Jesse says towards the end of the email:
    • We normally charge $2500 per video. My proposal is a 5 video sponsorship at $1500 each. Totalling $7,500 for a full run of media and marketing push. These videos can be Gameplays, Tips & Tricks, Strategy Guides, Previews (for a PM push) and more. 
  • Marcin sends his first email back on the 3rd of February. In that email he says they were very happy with the unboxing video that Quackalope did but that
    • $1500 is still a bit steep compared to the market average, but nothing we couldn’t work with – at the end of the day it all depends on what the video is, how it’s put together and what return in viewership is! We could do a ‘pilot’ and go from there!
  • It goes onto ask some details about what sort of content Quackalope would produce, turnaround etc.
  • The next email we don’t have a date for. It is from Quackalope in reply to the previous message.  It opens by agreeing to talk details and suggesting they meet up over Zoom. It then goes onto say the following:
    • Long story short, we would love to work with you. However, we did invite a patreon member of ours down the studio for an entire week to film and play as much ATO as possible. We have put about 50 hours into learning, tabling and recording content at the moment. 
    • However our experience as a group was quite frustrating overall. We struggle with the rules, finding cards throughout the decks, and tracking all the moving parts of ATO.
  • They go onto say they desperately want to play more of the campaign and that it would benefit them from working with the publisher. The email continues:
    • If we are able to move forward we would need one of two things. Either a designer/developer who is willing and able to oversee the gameplay videos (we have a private live stream system) that would allow us to get everything as accurate as possible. Or, we would love to extend an invite for you to come and film in Cleveland Ohio, for a week.
  • It’s the next bit of this email that has raised all the eyebrows.
    • If we are working in collaboration with you we would scrap the footage we have already recorded (since we want to be as accurate as possible). If we decide to work independently, we will likely not invest more time beyond the 50 hours of content and 8 videos we have recorded. 
  • There are two or three more emails with Into the Unknown explaining they can’t dedicate the employees to helping Quackalope out, but would be happy to respond to any game questions via email. There is a bit of a pause in communication until the 31st of Mar when Bartek emails Jesse explaining that the flu had hit the studio, and that Into the Unknown would be interested in at least one video. 
  • Quackalope responds by saying they are sorry to hear about the illness, but the radio silence (my words) meant that they had proceeded with putting out the videos they had. Jesse ends that email by hoping they can work together in the future and Bartek responds in the affirmative.
  • Over the next few days there was some discussion on Twitter of the situation, and the usual paid review vs advert debates came up. I’ll link to our thoughts on that matter. Moving on
  • On the 23rd of May, Jesse posted a video from the Yeshiva he was studying at in Israel. Now, we are not going to give you a blow by blow account of everything he says in that video. It’s entitled “Our Statement” and gives Jesse’s perspective on what happened and what the future for the channel holds. There are two points of note we think. One is that he says Quackalope will no longer approach publishers about review copies and collaboration, they will let publishers come to them. The other is that it takes him 25 minutes to actually say sorry.  We will get to that in a moment. 
  • Last time we checked Quackalope had lost close to 4000 subscribers over the last week or so. There has been no further update from the channel at the time of recording but Jesse did say in the statement he would be doing a Q&A when he got back from Israel, after his wedding which is in a couple of weeks time. 
  • Boardgameco that used to work with Jesse, also put out a video not commenting on that situation but laying out how they work with publishers and what they do to be clear about that. 

Spiel des Jahres Nominations

  • On Monday, 22 May, Spiel des Jahres, the German association that tries to bring more people into the hobby, has announced the nominations for its 2023 awards of Spiel des Jahres, Kinderspiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres.
  • The first Spiel des Jahres, the award for best board game of the year, was given out in 1979. The Kinderspiel award for best family game was added in 2001, followed in 2011 by an award for the best expert game or Kennerspiel.
  • The awards cover games released in Germany in the preceding twelve months and try to make modern hobby games just as popular as the classics that everyone knows.
  • Here are the nominations for 2023:
    • Spiel des Jahres: Dorfromantik, Fun Facts and Next Station London
    • Kinderspiel des Jahres: Carla Caramel, Gigamon and Mysterium Kids
    • Kennerspiel des Jahres: Challengers, Iki and Planet Unknown
  • The association also announced a special Spiel des Jahres 2023 award for Unlock! Games Adventures and Unlock! Kids: Detektivgeschichten.
  • The winners for the three awards will be announced on Sunday, 16 July in Berlin and we hope to be there for the awards ceremony in person. Watch this space…
  • But for now, congratulations to the nominees and winners of the special award.

Elizabeth Hargrave draws attention to the gender gap in designers

  • The day after the Spiel des Jahres nominations were announced, Elizabeth Hargrave, designer of the cultural juggernaut that is Wingspan, posted a thread to Twitter. It started like this
    • I would like to offer some data, not as criticism of the SdJ org, but as a criticism of the PIPELINE. Something is wrong with a system that leads to these pictures: 
    • 1. Nominees for the SdJ since 1999: 5 women, 103 men (& no other gender ID AFAIK). No women in the last 2 yrs.
  • With an accompanying bar chart showing the number of female designers nominated between 2011 and 2023 compared to to the number of men. She goes on to look at the Kennerspiel (connoisseur games) and the Kinderspiel (kids games) saying:
    • Nominees for the Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur Games) since it started in 2011: 5 women, 52 men. No women this year. Never more than 1 woman in a year.
    • Nominees for the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Kids Games) since it started in 2012: 8 women, 43 men. 
    • The only woman who was nominated for any SdJ award this year, out of 9 games, was in this category: Sara Zarian for her game Carla Caramel.
  • With accompanying barchats as for the Spiel to illustrate her point.
  • Elizabeth goes on to make it clear that this is not a criticism of the Spiel des Jahres, but of the whole structure around who tries to make games, who pitches games, and who chooses games to get printed. 
  • The responses were ‘predicatable’
  • Jaro, one of the founders of Phalanx, said
    • Maybe women design less, pitch less and are generally less interested in games and gaming? Could this be a reason? For what it’s worth, I had zero games submissions from women over the last 15 years.
  • He wasn’t the biggest name to put his oar in though. Ryan Dancey, COO of Alderac entertainment group posted a bunch of tweets about how only 10% of the 1000 pitches they’ve had since 2016 were from women and only Mariposas by Elizabeth Hargrave got published. He goes onto explaining what was wrong with most of those pitches and then starts to speculate about why they get so few pitches. At one point he says this
    • I think there is a significant gap between when someone decides to try and become a game designer and when they produce their first publishable game. Life in that gap consists of a lot of rejection and negative criticism. 
  • I wonder if that gap accounts for a good part of the missing female design cohort – females are socialized in the West to avoid situations where they’re subjected to fairly harsh criticism of their abilities and creative ideas. Males are socialized to take the punches and keep moving forward.
  • The response to this was predictable with many calling out Ryan to do something about the situation and on the language he used. 
  • Elizabeth herself said
    • “If you assume women can’t hack it, you’re biased against their pitches.”
  • Dancey replies to this saying he thinks women can hack it, but Elizabeth says in reply
    • “Really? Because above you appear to argue that the main reason that women aren’t pitching you publishable games is that they aren’t willing to weather the same amount of criticism that men do.”
  • On the 24th Dancey put out an apology saying
    • Yesterday I engaged in a discussion about the lack of representation of women as designers in the gaming community. It was not my finest moment. I’m embarrassed and mad at myself for the tone and content of my contribution to that discussion. It doesn’t reflect my views and it certainly doesn’t reflect the views of the company I work for.
  • He goes onto promise that they will actively connect with designers from under represented groups, reach out to support groups who help folk pitch games, and actively pursue more diverse designers. He ends by saying
    • Check back with me in a year and hold me accountable; I’ll provide updates as we make progress.
  • Elizabeth posted some thoughts on Ryans comments today, 25th of May, on Twitter. I’ll not read it all out but she asks people to not use Females, to give up on the trope that women aren’t interested in gaming, to take into account aspects of childcare when arranging gaming sessions, asks everyone to familiarise themselves with women that are publishing games, help out organisations that approach diversity, and most importantly to not make Elizabeth and other women do this alone! 


Steamforged running out of puff?

  • Steamforged Games Limited, the company behind the Dark Souls RPG and Dark Souls board game, as well as the upcoming Elden Ring board game, recently reduced its workforce by around 20 employees.
  • Steamforged Games provided Dicebreaker wit the following statement:
    • “SFG can confirm a restructure of business operations was recently completed and that, as a result, some employees sadly had to leave the business by reason of redundancy. SFG will be making no further comment on this confidential and now-completed process.”
  • Accounts filed on 31st of March 2023 at Companies House show that the company continued making losses in 2022. After reporting total negative equity, in other words “a loss”, of £2,907,183 in 2021, this figure increased to £4,225,316 in 2022.
  • The accounts also show that forecasts for cashflow from multiple crowdfunding campaigns and a reduction in costs and overheads of £1,200,000, as well as other factors, support the company directors’ opinion that the company will be able to meet its financial obligations going forward.
  • Shortly after this announcement Steamforged released details on a new collaboration with Kickstarter. This partnership will allow for collaboration on content and means Steamforged will crowdfund exclusively through Kickstarter. This is the first time Kickstarter has engaged in this kind of partnership.
  • Kickstarter’s Chief strategy officer Jon Leland said:
    • “This partnership with one of our biggest tabletop games publishers is a testament to the fact that Kickstarter can be part of an ongoing business model that works beyond initial success,”

Wizards price hike

  • Wizards of the Coast, owner of Magic the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons and other studios, as well as a subsidiary of Hasbo Inc, announced on 23rd of May 2023 that it will increase prices for upcoming books.
  • Starting with the release of Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants later this year, the company announced plans to increase the MSRP of all future rulebooks to $59.95.
  • RPG books will also be affected by the price changes. Additionally, the digital-physical bundles will increase to $69.95, although Wizards of the Coast said that the bundle will have a discounted price of $59.95 for pre-orders.
  • The company also said that previously published books will be unaffected by price changes.
  • Wizards of the Coast’s Director of Product Management for D&D, Liz Schuh, said in a press release that:
    • “As materials, transportation, and other production costs have increased over the nine years since we released the fifth edition of D&D, we’ve kept the price of our books stable. Because we are committed to maintaining high standards and quality products for our fans, we have made the difficult decision to increase the price of our new release print books, starting with Glory of the Giants. We are able to maintain our digital pricing because the cost increases associated with print products does not impact digital products.”
  • The price increase comes at a time when Wizards of the Coast reported a $77 million operating profit for the first quarter of 2023 and a total operating profit of over $500 million in 2022.
  • The company is releasing several new RPG products every month from August to November this year, including one previously unannounced product “The Practically Complete Guide to Dragons”, which is described as a “field guide” that includes updated lore and art about dragons.

Embracer earnings call

  • Embracer group, the Swedish company that owns a bunch of gaming studios including Asmodee, reported their quarter four (jan-mar) financial earnings recently. 
  • Earnings were below expectations but still quite healthy on the tabletop gaming side of the company, as well as the comics side which includes company Dark Horse. 
  • Sales for the financial year were around $3.5 billion with growth around 2%.
  • Profits were $71.6 million for the quarter and $415 million for the year.
  • Asmodee and Dark Horse both expressed positive outlooks for the next quarter and are looking at single digit growth, mostly driven by Tradeable Card Games like Pokmeon in Asmodee’s case. 
  • The market being what is though, punished Embracer for missing targets and stock dropped 45% on the announcement. 
  • It was also mentioned on the call that a strategic partnership had fallen through that had been negotiated for 7 months. 

Jobs, Opportunities, and Events

Rowan, Rook, and Deckard looking for Customer Service Assistant, remote, part-time

  • RPG publisher Rowan, Rook, and Deckard, makers of Spire, Heart, and Jason Statham’s Big adventure, based in the UK are looking for a customer service assistant. The position is fully remote, part time and starts at around 8-10 hours a week. 

UK Games Expo

  • Happening this coming weekend, hope you all have a great time. 

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Monopoly causes arguments, survey finds

  • Yes, we’re finally back with more Monopoly news. Well… I say news… but I think it’ll hardly come as a surprise to anyone that playing Monopoly leads to fallings out. Yet, YouGov, a UK Internet-based market research firm, and Monopoly Go developer Scopely, decided to get some hard data on this question.
  • In a poll of more than 2,100 Monopoly players, 30% of respondents admitted that they had squabbled with family or friends as a result of the classic board game.
  • Interestingly, the survey also found that it was 25 to 34-year-olds that were the most incendiary age group among the squabblers, with 39% butting heads.
  • It gets even worse though. More than 25% of 18 to 24-year-olds admitted to stealing from their fellow players or the bank.
  • Yet, there is a silver lining. Over half of all players prefer to help out their opponents. So, Monopoly players are actually quite friendly after all.
  • And if you ever wondered what everyone’s favourite playing piece is, it is, of course, the Scottie dog, with over a quarter of the vote going in favour of this cute component. The top hat and racing car came in second and third with roughly half as many votes.
  • So, there you have it. Who knew? Monopoly does cause fights. We have scientific proof now.

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