Valley Games–The Trials and Tribulations of Board Game Publishing Part 1

Torben Sherwood of Valley Games, the English-language publishers of board games (Titan, Container, Stronghold, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Republic of Rome, Die Macher) kindly agreed to do some guest-blogging for Livingdice. Torben’s two-part series on the origins of his publishing company and the difficulties in developing a board game from concept to market are must-reads for anyone interested in entering the board game publishing market. Most importantly, Torben is completely honest about the pitfalls of board game publishing and mistakes made that everyone can learn from. Read on!

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

Valley Games – A History

Valley Games started out with 2 guys getting the idea that running a game store was a great hobby and they loved to do it but where did all of these games come from?

A customer came in to order some games and asked about some of these great games that were only available in German and only released in Europe. “I wish some of these games were available in English”

Fast forward about 11 months and out comes Die Macher in 6 languages and Torben standing on the corner of Martin Wallace’s booth in Essen Germany showing the game to anyone passing by on a table waaaay too small to accommodate that game!

That was October 2006 when we released the title and from there we went on to secure other great titles like Titan, Container, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Republic of Rome, and the list goes on. Die Macher was the springboard that opened new doors and new possibilities and the exciting world of publishing. This is going to be great, think of all the games we could do!

Well that was a surprise, there were rules editing and artwork and play testing and emails, oh man the emails. Then there are phone calls and more emails then problems with art and[pullshow] problems with emails. You need a website, you need content, you need a shopping cart, you have to have contracts, you need a lawyer….the list goes on and on and then it became “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

You realize pretty quick that the extension on your mortgage to cover one game was not going to be enough and that we were going to have to find a way to get more money to do more things. (You try and have that conversation with YOUR wife tough guy!) Thus the Pre-Order was born at Valley Games!

Hey this is great! “Hi everyone! We are going to produce this really great game, could you help us out and we can get this thing out the door and into your hands. You just need to agree to pay us up front, no not now, we’ll tell you when, but could you let us know if you are interested? Great thanks. “ 2 days 750 copies ordered, bam. Okay, looks like we can go ahead and get this moving here.

So a couple months go by, we are told to go and print in Germany, this is where all the good stuff is printed. Okay, sounds good, let’s find a printer. We find one, come up with a price and away we go, let’s advise everyone that we are going to collect on the pre-orders and then we can pay for the first part of the print run. Things are going well, the money collecting anyways, then we get a phone call saying that the plates are wrong, the white lettering on the board is causing an issue, why don’t you make it black. But black is really hard to see, fine make new plates for that or whatever you have to do.

The issues we experienced have not all been great, [pullthis id=”2″]we were new to the business like everyone has to be at some point, and we made some mistakes[/pullthis] . Some were our fault and others were not but the bottom line was that it was all under the umbrella of Valley Games. So we accept responsibility and we hope that we can learn from those mistakes.

It all comes down to this statement: we have never had any intention of spending many thousands of dollars to create a bad product and hope people would buy it and not say anything about it. That would be absolutely ludicrous to think anyone would set out to do that.
[pullshow id=”2″]
[pullthis] We are game players as well, and not just casual players, we love to play games[/pullthis] and I can honestly say that we are as picky as they come when it comes to game components and artwork. But it also needs to be said that what one person finds appealing may not be for many others out there. These are things that we need to juggle everyday and we attempt to make the best possible decisions we can. We realize that we are not going to please everyone, and reading some of the online posts, we aren’t. But we are not trying to make anyone mad, that’s for sure.

We have also been promised many things from printers and plastic manufacturers that have caused us great distress when the product arrived in sample format perfect, then completely flawed at final production. Then when we asked for replacements or a refund we are advised that there is no recourse, these are things that we never thought would happen or could happen. It’s even worse when you are at a major show expecting to show and sell product to the masses and there is a huge problem.

There’s a quote from a movie that my daughter watches from time to time and the first time I heard it I felt it to my core, it goes

“In many ways the work of a critic is easy; we risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and themselves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so…”
-Anton Ego

It’s in this quote that I desperately want to advise people out there on the amount of things that we deal with every day and with every production. It’s not easy at all, otherwise everyone would be doing it. At times, it is very thankless but we still keep working to get better and deliver more things that people want.

Let me take you on a journey of a board game…

The second in the Valley Games series posts on Wednesday.

Update: Click here for the second part of this series.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Torben Sherwood is the co-founder of Valley Games, a board game publisher.

2 thoughts on “Valley Games–The Trials and Tribulations of Board Game Publishing Part 1

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  • June 15, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    I wasn’t going to comment, but I felt this needed to be attached to this article. I have no doubt that new gaming companies have hurdles that are sometimes HUGE to overcome, but Valley Games burned their own bridges.

    The biggest issue with Valley Games has not been the quality of their games or the delays, it’s been the communication. Delays are one thing, not answering e-mails or posting updates is another.

    There was that whole pre-order debacle as well. The issue wasn’t in the delays for the printing it was that they decided to sell copies of the game at Essen BEFORE they shipped copies to those who had pre-ordered the product. To those of us who are in the board game hobby, this smelled very fishy. (aka, the pre-order copies were resold at Essen to drive spin for the game)

    I can also understand about the effort in dealing with e-mail overload, but this can be solved with a simple posting on the front page of your website or a mass mailing. Neither was done.

    Valley Games does not have a good reputation with in the board gaming community. Ask about them on and see what kind of reaction you get.

    Container was my first and only pre-order experience. After all was said and done I ended up paying the same amount that I could have paid for it locally, and I received my copy after I had seen it for sale in the local stores. Almost six months after I finally received my Pre-order bonus which really doesn’t work with the game in any case.

    As a customer I can only really voice my opinion with how I spend my income. I haven’t purchased another Valley Games product since.

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