Byron Collins of Collins Epic Wargames sat down for an interview with me regarding their “Frontline
General” tabletop war game. Byron explains why he is giving the game away for free and has some great insights on the game publishing process. Read on for details.
Trask: How did you company “Collins Epic Wargames” come about?
Byron A long time ago, a friend and I created an LLC to design games. We really had no idea what we were doing- but we loved to design and play games. That company, Lithian Games, LLC folded due to a variety of reasons and without any complete designs. Since I did the majority of the work, I took the rights to our best “working” game, Frontline General. Still a work in progress back in 2002, the game had a long way to go. I let it sit for four years… I decided to pick development of the game back up. So in 2006, pulling from lessons learned, taking a fresh approach to the game, and learning more about business, I chose to start Collins Epic Wargames.
Trask: Had you had any experience in the game publishing industry before starting “CEW?”
Byron My only experience with publishing was limited to what I had read online and our failed business in 2002. I learned what ‘not to do’ back then.
Trask: Let me go back to your earlier business. What lessons did you learn from you first attempt at game publishing?
Byron We collectively learned about business ‘the hard way’. Entering into an industry we knew nothing about- we had good intentions and good ideas- but no way to execute those ideas. We learned that we would need a lot of money and a lot more time than we were willing to spend. We also learned that advertising and exposure are key drivers of success- and getting exposed in some way- even with a work in progress- would have been very beneficial at the time. I’m sure there are plenty of other tangible lessons learned from that failed business- but mainly, I personally learned to not give up- and to follow through with whatever you invest your time in.
Trask: Rising from the ashes of your earlier effort, “Collins Epic Wargames” is your new venture. What kinds of games does it produce?
Byron: Right now I’m focused on a new WWII historical wargaming system, Frontline General. The system covers operational and tactical aspects of WWII conflict and attempts to combine a traditional board wargame with optional resolution of decisive battles using 15mm Miniatures.
The Frontline General system has an almost endless potential for expansion. So for the time being, we’re sticking to FG.
Trask: So “Frontline General” is a rules-heavy tactical simulation?
Byron It’s tactical, yes, but also has operational elements. The operational elements (supply, larger scale movement, taking objectives, etc.) are played out entirely on the boardgame map. The entire game including all combat may be played in this way at this level. For one or two battles where players want to fight it out with more tactical detail (adding morale, line of sight, movement between firing, more terrain effects, etc.), players may choose to enter into battle operationally and then ‘zoom into’ the hex were the battle occurs and fight it out using miniatures. Essentially, the miniatures battle table IS the hex where the engagement is initiated. The two scales are linked by several common threads including the components that drive the game called Unit Cards.
Trask: I understand. So you can have a map with dozens of cardboard unit markers, but when a fight erupts, you move to another map/board with miniatures to do the actual battle. Is this accurate?
Byron Correct, except one minor detail- in our production version of the game, we opted for plastic-backed unit markers instead of cardboard. Cardboard markers are fine but they tend to fray along the edges over the years…
And just to be clear- the miniatures component of the game is entirely optional. For example, you wouldn’t want to do this for every battle due to the amount of time it would take- I recommend that players only resolve one or two battles using miniatures. And as an alternative, the game may be played entirely on the miniatures table- skipping all of the operational elements and simply playing a tactical miniatures battle or skirmish.
Trask: I looked at images of the game online and the production quality looks quite high. For those readers considering producing their own game, what were the logistical challenges of getting the actual board, packaging and pieces manufactured?
Byron Ahh logistics. It was an incredible challenge to self-publish the game. Now, this game includes a LOT
of components- more so than many games. To give you an idea of our production quantities, we ran 250 sets worth of cards (just one of the main components) in our first run- the total number of two-sided full color Unit Cards was 123,750.
One of the greatest challenges in getting everything made was actually being flexible. For example, I was SET on printing all of the counters directly onto plastic and then having each one die cut and arrive pre-sorted. I called 10 different die-cutting companies who all said they could not do this due to registration issues- i.e. lining up the die with the artwork. The 11th company said they could do the job and at a somewhat higher price than I had hoped. I said okay.
At the last minute, they backed out.
I had already announced that we would have 100 shrink-wrapped games available at Gen Con Indy 2008.
I scrambled to find a solution. That solution required flexibility. Instead of pre-cutting each piece with the artwork already in line- I had one die-cutter make and package 415 “blanks” in a hexagonal shape. I called around and found a company who would print the artwork for the counters on peel-and-stick vinyl to match the blank size.
The trick was that the peel-and-stick vinyl would have to be thermal die cut (like a sticker sheet). The end result worked out to be more cost effective and I made the deadline of Gen Con.
There were many logistical challenges- including storage of all of the components as everything arrived. The game boxes alone filled 14 cartons 36x36x30.
The main challenge aside from my self-imposed deadline was actually kitting everything. Luckily, about a dozen friends came over and spent most of one weekend sorting cards, counting components, bagging dice, and boxing everything up. It took more time than I thought, but (I think) they had a good time. The key is to provide beer AFTER- not BEFORE kitting games.
My best advice for readers considering even a small production run is to be flexible, expect to spend money- lots of it- and get samples of everything before committing to a custom job of anything.
Trask: The game is now assembled and ready for sale. You spent a great deal of time, money and beer putting it together. Here is my question: Why are you giving the game away on your site? You can download the whole thing for free. I am confused.
Byron Ahh. For two years, I issued a dozen newsletters claiming that players would be able to download the introductory game for free as a print and play version. One reason the game is available in two forms is simply that I wanted to make good on my promise for those faithful newsletter readers (approx. 6000 readers per issue). Another reason is that I’m confident in my game and I don’t want people to buy something they’re not sure they’d like. So I tell everyone who’s a potential customer- hey- check out all of the files online. A third reason is that many people don’t want to deal with printing and assembling even one copy of this game. It’s a LOT of work. I estimated and had a 3rd party reviewer estimate as well- that people who assemble the game themselves will actually spend at least double the cost of the production version in materials- ink- paper- etc.- not to mention time and trimming efforts. It’s a big job. One last reason- Exposure. I’m new. Many players are willing to download some files and read rules online (13,000 rules downloads so far since September)- but not necessarily keen on dropping their hard earned money on an unknown company and new game system. The exposure from having all the files available has been enormous. Finally, this version of the game is just the beginning- and this is the only version of the game that will be “free” to download in this manner.
Trask: You have future supplements planned?
Byron Yes, lots. The game system will be expanded in several ways- new scenarios/campaigns, new maps, new countries and associated Units, and combinations of those.
For example, our first expansion will cover the entirety of WWII southern Italy. We’ll be offering this game as a standalone game and as an upgrade to the introductory game. This expansion will include a huge map, additional units, and at least five historical scenarios.
Trask: Do you have a tentative release date for the supplements?
Byron Not yet. I’m still in the research phase on several of the scenarios. We do have something coming out early next year however, which is a printed, single-scenario standalone game, which acts to introduce players just to the Frontline General Combat System. This game will retail for approx. $20 USD and will cover the Battle of San Pietro. I’m planning to sell this “intro” to the combat system through distribution. As well as direct from our store.
Trask: Great. I do not want to keep you too late, so I will wrap this up. Do you have any final comments/questions/philosophical musings?
Byron For potential self-publishers who are interested in some general guidelines on the process, and some of my lessons learned, check out this article I wrote over on Boardgamegeek: Game Design and Self-Publishing
editors note: The Game Design article linked above is impressive. It is a well written, step-by-step guide to self-publishing a game. I highly suggest all aspiring publishers read it. Byron also mentioned the “Board Game Design Forum” site as another valuable resource..
Byron And also, if anyone has any questions or if I can help a potential designer / publisher by answering a question or two based on the paths I’ve taken, they’re welcome to get in touch with me through the Frontline General website.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer