Inside the Box Games: Peter Blenkharn speaks to Zatu

The board game industry is a growing one! Anybody who has been following my recent articles will know that I'm a huge fan of the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter. One of the stand-out games last year was Sub Terra, by Inside The Box Games.

The reason for this was not only the fact that the game looked cool and extremely fun, but for the fact that it was the brainchild of a UK-based designer.

This is a massive growing area and games from all over the UK are popping up on Kickstarter. The problem for designers, however, is that after you get an idea past the play-testing phase, you’ve got to make a prototype that’s closer to the final product than the one you have used so far. This prototype can be rough and not in its final form but this will not win you many backers. Kickstarter has changed, as have the backers, and now those backers demand high quality games to be shown. With the mass amount of games on the platform if you don’t show off a near finished game that only requires a bit of refinement you may be left behind, and may struggle to reach your funding goal.

After Sub Terra caught my eye I invited Peter Blenkharn (the bearded gentleman behind its publisher, ITB Board Games) to join my Facebook group, Board Game Exposure, and we spoke a few times about his game and how the Kickstarter went. A few conversations later I noticed that he and many other people shared my view that a high-quality game prototype needed to be shown to help a campaign succeed, but the problem was there was nowhere in the UK offering this kind of service with both a good sense of what designers need, and at an affordable rate.

This is where he wanted to step in and help; waiting for parts from America or China can take weeks and then if they arrive damaged or the quality is poor you have to wait even longer for replacements. These delays prolong the testing and pushes a Kickstarter launch date back.

I had a chance to ask Peter what his idea involved and how it came about:

"About a year back, when I was relaunching Statecraft (after an unsuccessful first attempt), I decided that to really show potential backers that this was a cool product, I needed some relatively high quality prototypes to show off. I used them at the UK Games Expo that year, and took loads of snazzy photos. It really helped communicate the value of the game and I think it went a long way to helping make Statecraft such a breakthrough success for us.

Although it was worth the several hundred quid getting those prototypes (10 of them, from US prototyping service, Gamecrafter), in terms of the return on that investment - the price was pretty eye watering, especially when the majority of the cost was shipping and import taxes. If the campaign hadn’t been so successful, I may have looked at that large cost differently.

Since then we’ve come a long way. After receiving over £400,000 of pledges and pre-orders for Sub Terra, we’ve invested in a lot of new equipment to help our in house development and prototyping process, with a high-end SLA 3D printer, laser cutter, large format printer and loads of other bits and bobs to help us speed up that process.

Given that we’ve got the insight into what a games designer wants from a prototype (as we’re designers ourselves), our technical expertise with this equipment, and the huge cost barrier preventing more high end prototypes making their way in the hands of UK designers, and crucially, publishers, it was an obvious jump for us to start thinking about offering that kind of service."

Inside the Box Games - Any Challenges?

"One of the biggest challenges I found when running the Statecraft project was navigating all the jargon and technical waffle that went along with print, both in terms of the archaic and unhelpful platform that Gamecrafter used and then technical challenges proffered by manufacturers. 

Given that realistically this shouldn’t be something that amateur designers (or even professionals) should have to contend with (most conventional print websites are a dream to use), we decided to plan out a service that could offer the UK (and the rest of Europe) a slick and specialised platform to prototyping, at a fraction of the cost, in a fraction of the time."

Looking Ahead

"We’ve now got a solid plan to get this off the ground in 2018, offering a range of standardised products that game designers will expect to see (like custom cards/boards/punchboard etc), with interactive component builders and viewers so you can see exactly what it’ll come out like, as well as loads of cool things you won’t see anywhere else, like custom miniatures, alongside all the usual suspects like meeples in a bajillion colours and all the other standard off-the-shelf components.

We’ve even got plans for an integrating play-testing service, where we make a copy up for the ITB development team and provide exhaustive analytical reporting on your game. In short, we want to offer the UK the world’s most sophisticated tabletop prototyping service, right here on your doorstep.

A few people we’ve talked to about this whole plan have asked, “Does this mean you’re moving away from publishing and Kickstarters?”

Nope!

This is something we’re doing anyway that we want to scale up to help our friends across the UK Indie Tabletop Industry. Publishing and designing games is what the core of ITB is about, making cool stuff that pushes the boundaries of what tabletop games are, and can do. In that vein, we’re launching our most ambitious project yet late 2017/early 2018 on Kickstarter, which as far as we can tell, is the first of its kind."

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