In this edition of Meeple Speak,  we welcome guest writer Keith Matejka designer of  Bullfrogs, where he reflects back on the project and shares with us the lessons he learned from Bullfrogs.

Welcome to another edition of Meeple Speak. This time around we have an article from designer and publisher Keith Matejka. Keith is the man behind Thunderworks Games and is also the designer of  the game Bullfrogs and the upcoming (Oct KS) fantasy game, Roll Player.

If you like to learn more about the creation of Bullfrogs, you can find my interview with Keith about the game, by clicking here.

Lessons Learned from Bullfrogs

by Keith Matejka

In the Spring of 2014, I ran a Kickstarter campaign for a card game I designed called “Bullfrogs.”  It over funded to 200% and I raised over $30,000 to print and ship the game to over 900 backers.  It was a crazy experience, and I learned a lot.  Here are a few of the items that come to mind when reflecting on the process:

Lesson #1: Shipping internationally is ridiculously expensive.  Everyone warns you that shipping is expensive. You plan for it. You leave a wide margin for error. In the end, it’s even more expensive than you planned. Maybe Bullfrogs was unique, in that it drew a higher percentage of backers from Europe (France specifically) than most Kickstarter projects.  During the campaign, a backer posted a great preview of the game on a French gaming website.  Awesome! It generated a huge spike in backers from France. That really helped push the project towards its funding goal. Unfortunately, when it came time to ship all those copies, I had planned for a lower percentage of backers from overseas, which lead to me digging into some personal funds to get the last of the copies out to backers.

Final product of Bullfrogs in play.

Lesson #2: Make the game you want to make, not the one you think will fund. After doing tons of research, I had gotten it into my head that I need to simplify the production as much as possible. Trim as much fat as possible. There’s a problem with that.  Players want the fat! With Bullfrogs, I had set the initial funding goal with the idea that I’d ship wooden cubes and cylinders instead of the awesome looking frog meeples, if I barely make it over the finish line to the funding goal. As the campaign went on, I received a lot of feedback that people were waiting for the cool wooden pieces to unlock before they pledge. The more I thought about it, I was not going to be happy with the game without the custom wooden pieces, and neither were the backers. So, I made a significant change to how the stretch goals were structured to get the custom wooden pieces unlocked ASAP, well before the end of the campaign. Looking back now, I can’t imagine only using 1 set of images for each deck of cards, or using only cubes and cylinders for the player pieces. In the end, I’m very proud of the game and I think it’s a pretty attractive package for players to enjoy.

Lesson #3: Don’t give up. The Bullfrogs campaign wasn’t looking like it was going to cross the finish line. I had seriously contemplated canceling the project and relaunching with some changes. Do I forge ahead with the seemingly failing campaign? Spend more on expensive ads to give it more attention only to fail and need to reinvest on the relaunch? In the end, I decided to stick with it. There were 2-3 things that helped me turn it around.

  1. BGG Ads. I didn’t have a lot of money left to invest in ads, but the admins there worked with me to get the best bang for my buck.
  1. Translated Rulebook. I had many different language speaking backers offer to do translations of the Bullfrogs rulebook for me. The nice thing about Bullfrogs, is there is no text on the cards, so for someone who doesn’t read English, all they need is a translated rulebook, and they’re good to go. The game got a lot of additional exposure and interest from overseas as the rulebook started getting translated.
  1. Backers/Bloggers Reach. The number one thing people recommend for creators that are interested in using Kickstarter to launch product is to build the fanbase BEFORE the campaign. Well, I had done some of this, but not nearly enough. My backers, friends and various bloggers who had done previews and seen how good the game is really helped get Bullfrogs in front of more gamers.

Lesson #4: When a manufacturer wants to try a new process to develop the components for your game, say NO. For manufacturing, I ended up going with Panda GM as they are known for quality work. Late in the campaign, I added an Add On option for a solo variant of Bullfrogs.  I wasn’t planning on doing it, but there seemed to be an opportunity to include it as an option and I went for it (which was arguably a horrible idea). The variant required 2 custom dice.  I was planning on going with Chessex for the dice, but in the end, Chessex couldn’t do an order as large as I needed. So, Panda took care of them. I had shown the backers the specked dice idea from Chessex, and when Chessex couldn’t do it, I asked Panda to do a speckled version. They said they hadn’t done speckled before, but would like to try. I mistakenly said “sure.” Turns out, it took them a long time to figure out a process for it, and the end product wasn’t even the same color I approved in the final manufacturing proof. Panda did their best to try and fix it, but it was too late to do much. To Panda’s credit, they have since switched to a different dice supplier since. In the end, the many delays on the dice caused the game to be delivered about 6 weeks later than I had promised.

Lesson #5: Decide on your box size before you commission cover artwork. For Bullfrogs, I had originally planned on doing a square box similar to KOSMOS’s 2 player games like Lost Cities, or Targi (both excellent games BTW). I had John Ariosa do the cover with those dimensions. After I was down the road a little further on the project, I realized that a square box does not fit into the USPS small flatrate box, and if it DID, I could save myself a lot of headaches and expense if I ended up fulfilling the game myself. So, we had to crop the image to get the box to fit in a small flatrate box. It didn’t really work vertically, so we went horizontal. As it turns out, that some retailers don’t really like horizontal boxes. It takes up more space, and doesn’t stand tall to grab attention. If I had figured out the final box size ahead of time, I could have been more retailer-friendly.

Square vs Final cover comparison

Lesson #6: Ask for help. There were (and are) a lot of folks trying to do what I was doing. I reached out to many creators both during and after the Bullfrogs campaign. Most people in this community are amazingly friendly. I bounced ideas off of people. I asked questions. I provided feedback. It was SUPER helpful as a one-man operation to have another person to confirm I’m not crazy. As an example, I was getting questions from backers that they were concerned about the strength of the laser cut Bullfrog meeples. I thought they had a good point.  Maybe it was an issue I wasn’t giving enough attention to. So, out of the blue, I mailed Michael over at Gamelyn Games. They were blowing up on their latest “Tiny Epic” Kickstarter, but I had a question about the fantasy meeples he had done the year before. I was a backer, and I knew he had dealt with a lot of laser cut meeples. He was awesome to respond right away and ask me the dimensions of my figures. He reassured me that I nothing to worry about. Whew. And it turns out, he was right. I’ve seen, by far, more of the smaller frog meeples break than the larger laser cut ones.

Bullfrog pallets

Lesson #7: If you’re moving pallets to your house, know what a liftgate is. So, I decided to move half of the copies of Bullfrogs to my house.  The problem is I live in condo that’s relatively obnoxious to get to. Getting them in my garage on a snowy afternoon was a little nail-biting, as I didn’t have a liftjack, and the drivers don’t TECHNICALLY have to move the pallets into my garage for me.  I didn’t want to rent one and not need it.  I have heard you can tip drivers to do it for you, but I don’t really know what’s appropriate to tip, so, I just winged it.  It turns out, it was super easy and smooth.  The guys that Panda had hired did an awesome job. Once I had the games, about two weeks later, I ended up needing to move a full pallet of them to a warehouse in Indiana. So, I ended up using of reality TV fame to put the load up for bid to different drivers.  Since I needed a liftgate on the truck (as I didn’t have a loading dock at my house), it was pretty expensive, and there was a lot of communication issues with a lot of different potential drivers.  Next time, I don’t think I’ll truck any copies of the game to my house, as that process cost me a lot of money for no reason.  I’ll just ship a couple cases from the fulfillment warehouse.

Lesson #8: Your friends want to see you succeed. Appreciate them and enjoy your success. Even now, people ask me about Bullfrogs all the time. Many of them are not boardgamers, but they want to know how the game is selling or ask questions about how I was able to do it. Many people along the journey have made sacrifices to help me out. They want to be a part of something cool and support a friend. They are a huge part of why I’ve met the level of success I have. When my head’s down in the production or creative work it’s hard to find the time to just sit back and celebrate. The availability of Kickstarter has provided a huge opportunity for everyday people with cool ideas to go out on their own and make their dreams reality.  That’s pretty awesome.