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How it felt signing up my first designer

Why sign up a designer in the first place?

Being a science themed publisher I’ve always been on the lookout for potential new themes and games that might be of interest to fans of our original game Lab Wars. Being a full time designer and a publisher as a team with my partner who has a full-time job herself meant that I had limited resources. I found that I was spending most of my time playtesting and not enough time doing the publishing side of things. I found my particular strengths were in publishing and liaising with other illustrators and graphic designers. Although I really enjoyed the designing and playtesting side in reality it can be a back-and-forth experience that for me anyway could be quite draining. Having spoken to other Indie publishers in the UK it became apparent that I needed to divest my time away from designing and find designers who had completed or semi completed designs themselves.

How I found Stan

To that end I came across the indie game alliance website where the owner Matt Holden suggested I look through the list of designers looking for a publisher. Having already published an academia themed game in the form of lab wars, I noticed a hospital themed game by Stan Kordonskiy. His hospital theme with dice and worker placement style mechanics really appealed to me. I then set about contacting him about what his plans were for the game. When I got in contact with him he told me about his plans. Stan told me that he was planning on self publishing or potentially getting a publisher involved. When I mentioned that we had done quite well with our first game on kickstarter he said that he would be interested in handing over the design to us to publish it for him. We both agreed that the fact that I already have an audience who were interested in science themed games would be beneficial to both parties. Despite that it’s quite clear that even with an audience ready to back your games the game itself had to be mechanically and thematically sound.

I was on holiday when Stan the designer got in contact with me and despite this I was really enthused to learn more about the game. So Stan kindly sent me over his only copy of the game that had been produced by a print on demand manufacturer with all the dice, meeples, and the box all included! By the time I got home from holiday I was really eager to play the game because it has sounded fantastic.

Publisher/Designer relationship

Early prototypes of Dice Hospital

Me and my partner played the game practically the day after we arrived back from holiday and we really enjoyed playing it. However, it was quite clear that it still needed some refinement as do most games in development. Over the coming months Stan and I continually playtested the game on both sides of the Atlantic. During this time period we also discussed potential features in the contract that we would agree to, such as a percentage of license fees paid, how distribution would work, and future playtesting requirements on either side. I found that chatting with Stan on almost a weekly basis was really fruitful to dissecting what was great and what was just okay about the game to make it an even better one than it originally started out. I think both of our drive and commitment to making the game as best as it possibly could be without any emotional attachments or personal feelings meant that we powered through a lot of the hurdles that we had to jump. I really enjoyed this process as I felt like we have both struck upon a great relationship in which to discuss these views openly and honestly. It’s this relationship that has meant that on a personal level I really enjoyed liaising with Stan but also on a business level it has meant that we have both created a game where we feel that it is almost at a level where it can be published and many many people will be able to enjoy it. I genuinely believe that to date this is the most mechanically and thematically sound game but I will have published to date.

We’ve now agreed to terms and signed them off and subsequently called the game “Dice Hospital” which is officially on boardgamegeek (with a currently very bare page) right now. At the moment, we are at a stage where we are trying to refine some of the fringe mechanics of the game which need a bit of tuning. This will probably continue for the next couple of months as we build up towards the kickstarter which we hope we will launch in Mid summer 2017.

Given that we have a few months in which to do this, I feel that a designer (and publisher!) should always playtest their games as much as humanly possible. Going back to my original problem of spending too much time on designing and playtesting, again having Stan lead the playtesting and comments and me doing some of them as well has been a great way to ensure that on the publishing side I can make this the greatest game that can possibly be within our resources. To that end, I've been spending a good amount of time looking for an excellent illustrator. I originally found three artists that were capable of drawing excellent cartoon style characters but capable of drawing the isometric hospital rooms that is required for the player bored. I asked a number of forums and my mailing list on who they liked the best. Unfortunately, two of the artists were liked equally which made my task of picking between the two really hard!

Designer solves publisher artwork problem

Stan signing for Alley Cat Games

While talking to Stan one day and mentioning this trouble he casually pointed out a few other artists that were previously used by other publishers capable of drawing what we required. One of these was Sabrina Miramon who illustrated the well known games Quadropolis and The Builders. Having tracked down her personal portfolio website as well as her artstation page I sent her an email and was pleasantly surprised to hear that she was really interested to work with us and was within our generous budget for an indie publisher. So I am also delighted to announce that Sabrina will be illustrating Dice Hospital so that as well as being a fantastic game, it will have illustrations made by an amazing illustrator (who happens to live in the same city as I do, which is quite odd considering that most of the people I work with our international!)

The journey to signup my first designer has been a really eventful one but also meant that I have learnt a lot in the process. It’s not to say that I haven’t made any mistakes its just that going through this has been enriching but also exciting at the same time. I guess the main take-home message is maybe there should be more opportunities for designers and publishers to connect especially for smaller indie publishers like myself but also from a designer is perspective to find a publisher that is willing to listen to you but also make the game as best as possible for the right audience. As always I’m happy to reply to comments and any feedback!

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