Managing campaign stress

So it's been awhile since I've been able to sit down and blog.  And I apologize for that.  But I've found that running the KickStarter campaign has consumed almost all of my time outside of work.  My poor husband has barely seen me since I launched.

One of the things that I've learned over the past few weeks, though, is just how stressful running a KickStarter campaign is.  It would have been great if I had had one of those campaigns that funded on the first day, but I didn't.  Instead the Xenofera campaign has been making slow but steady progress towards it's goal. And while the fact that the progress has been almost always positive is good, the pace of it does wear on you.

So I'd like to offer up a glimps of what I've been experiencing, so that first time KickStarterers (yep just made that word up) might see into some of the stresses that they may have to manage during the campaign. 

I've listed them in the order in which I experienced them. Here you go.

  • Stress: Did I set an adequate goal?  Even though I'd spent several weeks researching all my options, determining the various expenses that I would need to cover to produce and ship Xenofera (with a buffer), and running all sorts of spreadsheets I still worried that either I'd missed something or miscalculated something.  Management: It took me sitting down with my finances and determining how much I could personally put into the project to give myself a contingency cushion before I was able to let this one go. Theirs always going to be risks in a project so having a way to mitigate for them is huge relief. Take-away: Next time I will determine how much I can afford to cover if funding amount doesn't quite cover all the costs before I launch the campaign.
  • Stress: Mid-campaign slump.  I'm told that the mid-campaign slump happens to just about every project that doesn't fund on day one.  And that it doesn't mean your campaign won't fund but, I can tell you first hand, it definitely can cause stress as the numbers barely move day by day. Management: I tried to be as proactive as I could.  I identified various gaming nights and conventions to go to during the middle of the campaign to help keep awareness up. I sent out prototype copies to additional reviewers to get additional exposure for the game. Basically, I decided that I wasn't just going to let the slump happen to me. And in general I think it paid off since I saw small bumps in backers after just about every engagement. Take-away: Next time I will focus more pre-campaign on building a following.  The bigger the bump during the first few days the less I will have to battle uphill during the mid-campaign slump.
  • Stress: Backers canceling their pledges. This one can truly hit you hard, especially during the mid-campaign slump.  Nothing like getting 2 new backers and then having those essentially canceled by 2 other backers dropping their pledge levels.  Management: At first I handled this by giving myself a narrative.  Something to the effect of "something must have happened in their life and they can't afford to back me any more". Which may very well have been the case, but that only helped for the first few and only during the early stages of the mid-campaign lull.  Luckily, after a while I just began to accept it and immediately deleted the emails that came in when a backer canceled their pledge. Take-away:  I think next time I do this, I will take Jamey Stegmaier's advice and set up a rule in my email to funnel all emails about canceled pledges directly to my trash folder.  It is more important that I stay upbeat and motivated than that I know when a backer drops.  Simply because there is little to nothing I can do about a backer dropping, so why worry about it.
  • Stress: Bad Review.  This is one that I was not expecting.  I'd gotten really good reviews on the game from both play testers and initial reviewers.  So when one of the play testers posted a less than glowing review on BoardGameGeek I was really upset.  In retrospect it wasn't that bad of a review, it could have been far worse.  But it came during the middle of the mid-campaign slump when I was already having a hard time staying upbeat; and it was a bit devistating.  I then spent several days worrying about the impact of that one play testers review would have on potential backers.  It also made me very nervous about what kind of reviews I was going to get from the reviewers who had not yet posted their reviews.  You cannot imagine my relief when those other reviews came back positive.  Management: I'd like to say that I had a good way to manage this but at the time I didn't. Though some sound advice from a friend about creating the game that I wanted and then letting it find its audience instead of trying to cater to everyone helped.  But, it took getting those other positive reviews to give me back my full confidence. It also helped me realize that not everyone will like my game. So, I need to take negative reviews with a grain of salt.  If they point out something that could be improved use it as a learning experience, but otherwise don't take it to heart. Take-away:  Going forward, I need to keep reminding myself that not everyone will like my game.  Heck, my husband hates Catan!  Yep Catan. Tastes are going to be different and I have to look to the other X number of people who do like the game and not worry about the 1 or 2 people that the game is not right for. 
  • Stress: Not funding. This one I am still going through.  I'm getting closer to the end of the campaign and I'm doing well. But until the project funds, I won't be fully stress free.  The hardest part here is that I'm getting a bit exhausted.  Probably from managing for stress number 2 above. Definitely something else to watch out for.  I managed to run myself so ragged from lack of sleep that I got sick and lost my voice for 3 days.  So whatever you do, pace yourself!  Managment:  I continue to look to finding new ways to introduce Xenofera to more people.  And I remind myself that if I don't fund, it is not the end of the world.  There are 350 people at least out there that really like the idea of owning Xenofera.  And that is close to 300 more than I had when I started the campaign. So if I need to launch again, I'll have a great group of people supporting me.  Not that I've given up yet. Take-away:  Not funding is not the same as failing. 

Anyways, I hope those of you running KickStarters or thinking about running a KickStarter get some benefit from reading about the experience that I'm having.  I know this has been very cathartic for me.  

And if you have questions about anything I've said above or any other aspects of my campaign experience, feel free to post in the comments below.





PixelPop - Oct 8th and 9th

So, I am excited to say that I will be demoing Xenofera at PixelPol Oct 8 and 9th at the St. Louis Science center.  And as a bonus, I've been asked to participate in their Game Design Panel. That was totally unexpected.  

So, how do I prepare for talking about how I design games.  Hmmmm...... Thank goodness, I've got some of it already recorded in my blog posts.  

Anyways, I will update this post with details on how it goes Sunday night. Until then wish me luck!

The Update

As promised I said that I would update this posting after PixelPop.

The PixelPop Festival was a great event.  The St. Louis Science Center is such a good location.  A lot of people came in to check out the games and I had some really good conversations with other St. Louis area gamers. We are lucky to have such a vibrant gaming culture here.

Participating in the Game Design Panel was a very unique experience.  I was on the panel with a number of designers from VolcanoBean. Some very talented guys who do digital games.  

We discussed the creative process and how we each come up with our game ideas and how those game ideas evolved over time.  Having worked alone on my games, it was really interesting to see how VolcanoBean works as a group coming up with ideas and working off of each other.  I may have to do a couple of games with other designers.  That creative process of bouncing things off of each other just seemed like so much fun.

One of the main challenges to designers that we discussed was getting exposure.  This is problem for most new indie designers and other than hard work there is no sure fire way to get.  Some advice we had for new designers was:

     1. Make sure you have a good game.  If it's not good then wait till it is.

     2. Attend as many gaming events as you can to show off your game and make sure you have a way for people to sign up for your Mailing List.  I failed to do this and probably missed out on a few backers, who now may not know my game has launched on KickStarter.

   3. Constantly find new places to get exposure.  My goal since the launch of my KickStarter has been to find a new place to announce my game each day of the project.  

Anyways, I will definitely attend the PixelPop festival next year.  

Let me know if you have any questions about PixelPop or game design specifically.  I'd be happy to answer.



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Preparing for a KickStarter

So this blog is for those aspiring game designers out there who are thinking about KickStarting their projects.  I'd like to share with you what I've learned so far about preparing for a KickStarter launch.

As I'm sure you've discovered in other blogs, the game design is really the easy part. And the funnest part, Even though finding play testers can sometimes be a real challenge and every once in awhile you have to rip the game apart and put it back together to get the game play you want.

Preparing for the KickStarter launch is just plain work.  So here's a checklist of things that I've identified, to date, that need to be done before you launch.

  • Determine all the components that will be in your game and what they are made of. (1)
  • Determine the size of box you will need. (2)
  • Identify a manufacture or 3 and get quotes. (3)
  • Identify how you will fulfill the game.  Self-fulfillment (4) or fulfillment company.(5) 
  • Shipping from your manufacturer to your fulfillment location. (6)
  • Create a video.
  • Have some art work made
  • Send your game out to reviewers. (7)
  • Determine your base price. (8)
  • Determine your funding level. (9)
  • Determine your stretch goals. (10)
  • Create your project page.(11)

(1) If you are planning on have stretch goals that add pieces to the game or improve component material be sure to get a number of quotes that incorporate the different configurations.

(2) Determining what size box you will need.  This is like a game of Tetris, in Tetris, in Tetris.  You must not only consider the game components and how they will fit in the box, but you will need to look at how the size of the box will affect shipping price.  This can be anything from fitting inside a small flat rate USPS box, to the number of games that will fit in a carton, to the number of cartons that will fit on a pallet.  All of these things will affect your base price. So getting the box right is important.

(3) There are many good resources for identifying manufacturers, and a number of blogs on the subject, so I won't go into detail.  But be sure to get a number of quotes, they will vary widely based on where the manufacturer is located.  Here's a good place to start: 

(4) In small quantities, for small games you may want to self-fulfill.  But make sure you have room to store all the games and time to package and ship them.  When building your budget be sure to include the cost of boxes, tape, and bubble wrap.  Also realize that if you have customers in the EU and ship from outside the EU to them, they will have to pay customs and VAT (it's a tax on most goods in the EU, roughly 20% of the price) when they receive the game, which can be off putting for many EU backers.

(5) Fulfillment companies offer a streamed line process for getting your games to your backers. Utilizing Fulfillment companies in the EU to send to your backers can remove the need for your backers to pay customs and VAT. You'll take care of that for them, so remember that in your budget.  Be sure to thoroughly vet your Fulfillment company.  Be sure you understand all the fees and charges you'll incur and what services they offer.  Also, do research to see how well they package games they ship.  The last thing you want is for the Fulfillment company to not adequately protect your game for shipping and have it arrive at your backers house damaged.  Here's a good list put together by Jamie Stegmaier at Stonemaier games:

 (6) If using a Fulfillment company they often have shippers that they work with and can recommend.  If shipping to yourself for self-fulfillment, check with your manufacturer.  They can often recommend a shipping company that they work with. Don't forget the shipping insurance.

(7) Finding reviewers can be surprisingly hard. So, it is suggested that you start interacting on reviewer sites well before you request a review.  When you're ready to have your game reviewed send personal requests with your rules and some artwork attached to a bunch of reviewers. Then hope a few will accept. Note: Some reviewers may charge for their review.  You will have to decide how you feel about that.

(8) Your base price will be determined by your final budget.  You'll need to add up the cost of all the items listed above, determine whether or not shipping will be included, add in some marketing budget, and then divide that by the number of games you will make. Then use that to figure out your base price.  In general, it should be about 5 times your manufacturing cost, but you'll want to make sure that works out for your specific game.

(9) Give people a few options in how they support your game and what they get.  Stay away from things that will be costly to ship.  Also, limit the levels before the base game level, otherwise people may get frustrated trying to find the cost of the actual game.

(10) As you layout your stretch goals you may need to revisit previous items in this list and update them.

(11) Put your project page together.  Plan on doing several revisions. So give yourself time.  I gave myself about 10 days, and it really wasn't enough. Ask people who have backed KickStarters or set up projects on KickStarter to review your page.  They will help you optimize your page for best reception.  Show off your artwork. But most importantly make sure people know what your creating and why they should be excited about it.

I really hope this helps.  I'll update this blog as I come across things I've failed to mention or address yet.

Good Luck!

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Experience the Game

I'e been telling you all a lot about the game.  

Now I'd like to here your thoughts on the game. Tell me what you like.  Tell me what you don't like. 

You can have a hand in shaping the final game.  To help you out, I've included a link below to the basic Print and Play version of the game.  

To create your own pnp game, all you need is a printer, some heavier paper, scissors or a straight cutter, and glue (spray glue works best).  And while not necessary, clear card protectors to slide the cards into will make handling the cards easier.


So. Here's the link.  Check it out and let me know what you think.




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Evolution of Creatures

It's interesting how the creatures have evolved since I first started working on the game.  For my first drafts the animals were just words. So I had to be pretty descriptive, allowing the player's imagination take over.  

As I worked on the names, I drew inspiration, believe it or not, from The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  In the movie there is a scene where the hunters are in an open field in their modified vehicles trying to capture a bunch of the dinosaurs.  At one point the leader is in a jeep trying to tell one of the vehicles to go after capturing a Pachycephalosaurus. But as you would suspect he can't say the word Pachycephalosaurus. Irritated he throws the reference book he was using aside and tells them to capture "Friar Tuck!". 

I started thinking about thinking about how explores of new worlds would name the indigenous life they came across; and I realized it would be exactly like that. Scientist would come in and classify the animals, giving the scientific names.  Put most people would just name them after earth animals they resembled or mythical creatures the animal reminded them of.  Wanting to keep the feel of the game as authentic as possible I decided to follow suit.



Even with that inspiration, I can tell you though coming up with names is not as easy as you would think.  That first night, sitting at the bar in Kansas City, I think the beer helped a bit.  I also drew on ideas from friends.  Nymphadrax, was a name proposed by one of my friends daughters, Sarah.  While my friend James came up with the name Ignasraptor, which I ended up using for the scientific name of the Flaming Eagle.


Other creatures were obviously right out of lore. Babe for instance, pays homage to my Wisconsin roots. Though I'm not sure if Paul Bunyan would recognize his friend. 



And what creature game isn't complete without it's own version of the Jack-a-lope.

Jeff's drawings affected the names of several creatures. The Puff Duck is an example of this. When I first named this creature, I called it the Paddle Duck. In my mind, I envisioned a creature whose wings acted like paddles that just twirled around. A little like a paddle wheel. Now when I gave Jeff the name Paddle Duck for a creature, I didn't tell him what I was envisioning. So I was a bit surprised when I saw the first sketch.

It was definitely not what I had envisioned but it was so cute.  I thought it looked like a big puff ball. I decided right then to changed it's name to Puff Duck rather than ask Jeff to draw a new image. And I'm glad I did, the Puff Duck is just about everyone's favorite creature.

Vega's Viper is another creature where having a the artwork helped with coming up with a great name. It was originally called the three-legged snake.  And Jeff did a great job of envisioning a three-legged snake with his first sketch. After he mocked up a color version of the creature, I started thinking about what an explorer would name this creature.  It obviously resembled a viper, add in the star Vega, to make it spacey, and wah lah ... Vega's Viper . 

This, also, lead to other ideas like how it moved. The idea struct, what if the creature could rotate its "hips" all the way around allowing the neck to either come from the top or the bottom?  We wanted to make the game a rich experience for the players.  So we tried to add little details like this where ever we could.

Most of the creatures went pretty smoothly but not all.  Sometimes it took a while to get the creatures to have the right feel. One of the few creatures I had Jeff really tweak was the Cabbit. It was originally named the 6-toed cat, after a cat that I had many years ago AC. He had six toes.  But the first drawing of the 6-toed cat just didn't hit me as right. Neither did his second sketch.

But looking at the first sketch, and seeing how over sized the hind legs seemed to be, gave me the idea of having an animal that was a cross between a cat and a rabbit. Rat wouldn't work obviously. But Cabbit, now that would work.  Funny side story, no I didn't look it up on the internet. So I had no idea that a Cabbit was actual the name a creature in folklore. Interesting, but not surprising coincidence. Anyways, I proposed that idea to Jeff and his next sketch was spot on.

I look forward to sharing the rest of the creatures in the final deck.  Jeff and I have worked hard to really make sure the creatures seemed like something that could exist and that fit into the habitat and exhibited the characteristics we attributed to them.

And we look forward to your feedback.  Let us know what you like about the creatures and what you don't.  

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The artwork is awesome! How'd you find your artist?

This is one of the common questions I get.  And I got pretty lucky when I met Jeff Porter.  Jeff is a very talented artist, who has done artwork for a variety of games.  Most recently, he did artwork for Battletech and Warhammer 40K.  You can his find the full list and examples of his other work at and

As I was saying though, there was a lot of luck involved in my meeting Jeff.  It was at the same game convention in Kansas City, where I built the first draft of my deck.  I had finished play testing the game and was pretty hyped after the positive feedback I'd gotten.  So, I decided to browse the vendors booths, not really looking for anything particular.

As I walked around, one booth in particular caught my attention, Jeff's.  In his spare time, Jeff liked drawing whimsical, alien creatures and he would sell prints of them at his booth.  The first one to catch my attention was a drawing of a one-eyed, one-legged chicken. (This creature would become the inspiration for one of the creatures in the game, Chyklops.) So I stopped and started flipping through the various creatures, quickly coming across several that fit perfectly with the theme I was going for with the game.

I immediately purchased the prints and struck up a conversation with Jeff.  I started telling him about my idea for the card game and how his drawings were exactly what I was looking for.  I briefly discussed with him the idea of working together on the game.  He said he was interested and gave me his contact information. 

I took those prints home with me that Sunday and it would be February before I would reach out to Jeff again.  By that time I gone through several iterations of the deck and a lot of play testing sessions. I was pleasantly surprised when Jeff responded to my email that he was still interested.  So we started collaborating on the project with me working the game design and other logistics and Jeff creating the artwork, oh, and doing some play testing too.  And 7 months later, Xenofera has some really awesome artwork.   

I have to say, Jeff has been great to work with.  He's done an excellent job taking the descriptions of the various creatures I've given him and bringing them to life.  I couldn't have asked for a better artist to work with.  His imagery of the alien landscapes and his eye for detail really brings players into the game. 

Just wait till you see the final artwork on the finished game!

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From the beginning....

I wanted to not just make this a blog, but actually use this as an opportunity to chronicle my journey in developing and publishing a game. So, with this post I want to take you back to the very beginning and walk you through the initial inception of Xenofera.

I first began playing with the idea for Xenofera last fall.  The initial catalyst for the idea was actually a series of posts on Facebook where people were coming up with fanciful names for real creatures.  I started thinking about how that could be used as the premise for a game.

Over the course of about a week, I worked out the basic mechanics of the game, recruit a crew, build cages, and use the cages and crew to capture the creatures.  I liked the simplicity of it.  I wanted a game that was relatively easy to learn.  I personally have always preferred games with short rule books.  I can get bored with a game even before I play it if it takes to long to read and understand the rules.  So I wanted to create a game whose rules would fit on only a couple of pages.

At the same time I was coming up with the idea for this new game, I had reserved time at the Midwest GameFest in Kansas City to play testing another game I was working on.  I had decided to attend the event alone. So the first evening found me sitting at the bar next to my hotel creating the first draft of my game. I had an enjoyable evening chatting with the bartender, bouncing creature names off of him.  By the end of a few beers, I had my first deck. I should also note here that some of the creature names were probably influenced by those few beers.

The next day I sat down with a fellow gamer I had met the previous day and played.  To my surprise, he was impressed with the game even in its rough form.  His feedback encouraged me to set aside my other game, which needed some rework of the mechanics, and focus on this new concept.

Over the next 10 months I would play it, tweak it, play it again, and tweak it some more, until finally I had a game that I felt was ready for a Kickstarter.  And as you look through the website and learn more about the game, I thope you'll agree.

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Play testing at GenCon 2016

A video of one of our play test sessions at GenCon 2016 was just posted on YouTube by "Forged by Geeks".  Unfortunately, it was during one of the loudest play testing sessions, so audio is not as good as you'd like.  But with that said, it will still give you a good idea of how the game is played. Check it out at