Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why do Video Previews of Boardgames work well?

I recently finished a video component preview of the map artwork and functional design in the upcoming Frontline General: San Pietro Infine game. A direct link to the video may be found here: Link (52mb .MP4 format, use Quicktime to view). The video previews the map for San Pietro in its entirety, shows the area of coverage, explains the functional elements (symbols) and how they are used to replace traditional hexagonal terrain types, and provides a brief intro to the game using period photos courtesty of

The video creation and editing took roughly 15 hours for this 15 minute video- part of that time no doubt due to my lack of experience in video editing and learning new software. I used the 30-day free trial of Camtasia Studio 9 by Techsmith, the same company that makes Jing, which is a lower-cost stripped down version of Camtasia (with no editing capability and more limitations). I really like Camtasia for its editing features, but at $300 for a licensed copy, I may stick to the cheaper full version of Jing for future less-complex vids.

Why did I spend the time to do this you may ask? Well there are several reasons:
  • Videos provide visual and audible communication all at once. I can clearly show you what I am talking about and point to it using screen capture.
  • Videos provide motion and animation and the ability to focus your attention on a single element. With the screen-capture approach, I can zoom in to key points and features, get your attention focused on them with highlighting tools in Camtasia, and quickly move to the next point.
  • Properly edited videos become polished productions that not only preview elements of games but can also be used as tutorials for players learning the game post-release, eliminating a lot of rules reading.
  • Showing how something works and talking through it is often much easier than putting it into words, even if it takes a while to talk it through correctly.

I've already mentioned the software I used for this video which I do recommend if you're interested in creating video previews of your games. However, you may want to start with the free version of Jing before diving headfirst into editing, just to see how it works. Once you've used Jing to create a few screen capture vids with your own voice-over, check out Camtasia to see the wealth of features it provides beyond Jing's functionality. The free 30-day trial is fully functional, which is nice, but as I mentioned, the full $300 pricetag for the key to unlock it after 30 days is expensive.

Use of videos to preview boardgame elements works well for all of the reasons mentioned above and for the simple reason of quickly presenting your games visually to a potential customer in a polished format that could impact their decision to buy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

After one year, CEW is now in distribution

I'm very excited to announce that Collins Epic Wargames is now in distribution with the largest US game distributor. After a year of talks and preparation, I am proud to say that my upcoming games Frontline General: San Pietro Infine and Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943 will be available in retail game stores across the United States. I'll also still sell games direct, but, I do prefer that if you purchase any of the titles I offer, especially after preorders are fulfilled, you buy through your local game store to support them as well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Playtest Notes on Initiative: Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943

Playtesting continues on Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943, my main focus right now. Last night at ODMS, four new players tried the game for the first time. In about 2 hours they each played 4-5 games and seemed to really enjoy themselves. I was there to answer any questions and guide them through the rules- so this wasn't a blind test- but it was a lot of fun.

Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943 is a fast-playing standalone card game based on Frontline General: Italian Campaign Introduction combat rules that focuses on WWII squad-level and individual tank, aircraft, and artillery unit combat for two players. The game plays in 30 minutes or less and includes an assortment of card-based land and air units that handle all necessary stats for play, command cards, dice, several pre-constructed deck suggestions and easy-to-learn rules. It is a non-CCG, so no random packs of boosters, etc.

The base game includes 150 cards - of those, 50 cards are Command Cards that let players affect units in some way during the game.

Combat is the focus of the game and has become the main area of rules adjustments. Some of the rules adjustments have been working so well that they will also be applied to my first game's combat system, which has a traditional board, counters, cards, scenarios, etc.

I want to talk about one of the rules in particular and how the mechanics have been tweaked to be less powerful. Initiative. Initiative in both the base game and initial prototype of Spearpoint used to determine who fired all of their attacking units first. Since damage in the game is not simultaneous, Initiative was very important and very powerful. It's determined with a die-roll on a D10 (highest number wins).

In Spearpoint 1943, Initiative started off as the same rule from Italian Campaign Introduction, described above. After target declaration, players would roll Initiative and fire every unit on their side if they won.

This was too powerful- especially in a card game where combat is the entire game. Players had a huge advantage for firing first- possibly destroying all of their opponent's initial units without the chance of the opponent to retaliate. No good and no fun.

Initiative is still rolled on a D10. However, the winner of Initiative now chooses to resolve one of his/her attacks. Players then alternate resolving attacks of their choice after the initial one is complete. This choice is still a powerful thing and as Uwe Eickert puts it, "it adds tension, which is what you want in a game like this". Damage is still immediate, meaning that if an attack is resolved that destroys another unit that hasn't yet attacked, that unit's attack never occurs. So initiative is still a powerful thing.

This simple tweak to make Initiative determine the first attack changed the entire flow of combat, lowered the importance of the Initiative roll, and eliminated downtime. The old way, the opponent used to have to wait while all of his units were possibly decimated. With the change, both players became active- constantly planning and adjusting strategies based on the results of hits (or misses)- and making tough decisions as an Initiative winner regarding which unit should fire the opening volley for the current Combat phase.

A few Command Cards may affect Initiative- providing a bonus to the roll if they are played.

One other rule regarding Initiative that represents loss of momentum very subtly, is that the Winner of Initiative receives a cumulative penalty of -1 to the next Initiative roll. That penalty is reset when they lose Initiative. So if a player wins Initiative 3 consecutive turns, that player receives a -3 to the roll the following turn. This is a balancing mechanic that helps prevent the same player from winning Initiative each turn, because let's face it, firing first is fun- and we can't let one player have all the fun...

I must thank Uwe Eickert for this suggestion as it came up while playtesting the game with him at WBC. We were looking for a way to improve the combat flow and make Initiative less powerful... after weeks of further testing, I'm extremely happy with the results.

I plan to discuss more rules adjustments in this game as a result of playtesting here on the blog as well as the background and reasoning. Adjustments like these stem from playtesting, which is why it is so important to thoroughly test your designs. One minor rule change can change the entire game, which is why I always recommend that if someone changes a rule- they change only one rule at a time- the effects of that change are more easily understood during the next playtest.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back from WBC

WBC (World Boardgaming Championships) is an annual tournament-driven convention held in Lancaster, PA with lots of open gaming, demos, seminars, and a small vendor area later in the week. I just returned from my first WBC as a Vendor and it was a blast! I can't stress enough how important it is to go to shows and exhibit, sell, and/or demo games as a publisher. Many people at each show say they've never heard of me- but that's actually a good thing- it means I'm reaching new people at that show.

The 2008 Charles S. Roberts Awards were announced on Saturday evening at WBC and my friend Uwe Eickert took three awards for his game Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! - Russia 1941-1942 and his efforts on the design. I want to extend my congratulations once again to Uwe for sweeping the awards. He has put a lot of thought into CoH and has made it one of the best WWII tactical systems available today. If you haven't yet played this game, please check it out- as well as his other games in the line which can be found on the Academy Games website.

It was nice to see Mark H. Walker and his wife again at the show, of Lock N' Load Publishing. Mark is another really nice guy and friend that I first met at Fall In! in Gettysburg, PA. I also got to meet some of the guys at MMP, GMT, and Lost Battalion. Z-Man was my booth neighbor.

Academy Games is publishing Michael Tan's Sturm Europa! This is a grand-strategic block game that covers the entirety of World War II. It was nice to meet Mike- he's a really smart designer and has some neat concepts going on in the game- he was there demoing a working copy during open gaming in the auditorium. I believe the game has the potential to become one of the best WWII grand-strategic games of all time. It still is in need of some refinement, but I think Mike is well on track to have a very successful game.

I also met my map and box artist for the first time in person. Mark Mahaffey came by at the show and I didn't recognize him (his online picture is a bit dated)! Great guy, talented artist. Mark and I talked about the new map for Frontline General: San Pietro Infine that I had at the show on display- and how the print came out a bit dark. He'll be lightening it up before production. I plan to do a video preview soon to show everyone online how this map is more functional than most wargame maps out there. I'm really proud of how it turned out and it certainly helped me sell some preorders for San Pietro at the show.

The show was great, the people were even greater, and I almost sold out of the copies I had on hand of Frontline General: Italian Campaign Introduction with the new vinyl Deluxe Map (shown to the left).

It was a lot of fun to playtest one of Uwe Eickert's son's games at the show. I can't reveal much about it- but wow- what a fun Euro. A 4-player session that lasted about 1-1/2 hours was a bit cutthroat but was a lot of fun.

Another WBC highlight for me included playtesting Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943, my new card game, with Uwe Eickert. Uwe had two rules suggestions that I've now fully implemented for further testing. Those two tweaks resulted in the elimination of 3 die rolls whenever Armor Piercing rounds are used vs. armored units. I can't wait to upload more previews and info on this title, including a video. In Uwe's words, "This game is gonna be hot."

I highly recommend that if you missed this year's show, and you're big on boardgames, you make plans to attend WBC in 2010.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Introduction - Collins Epic Wargames

Collins Epic Wargames. Collins Epic Wargames (CEW) focuses on publishing high quality wargames that appeal to a competitive niche market of adults, ages 25-60, who are avid history buffs, board gamers, and/or historical miniatures gamers. Formed in 2006 by Byron Collins, CEW brings a fresh approach to wargaming and game publishing by introducing new concepts and unparalleled player support. CEW is now branching off to publish games by other talented designers that pass our high standards of quality and target audience appeal. We take our time with development and testing which results in playable games right out of the box without subsequent errata and FAQs. Each game introduces a new innovation in rules or a new concept in gameplay, along with top quality physical components such as mounted game boards, thick, die-cut cards and counters, and full-color printing of every item.

CEW strives to design and publish games that provide years of entertainment, stunning components and artwork, and an epic depth of play. We employ an extensive external playtesting process for all games, relying heavily on hand-picked internal and external playtest teams all over the world as well as professional consultants in the US. CEW does not stop with the sale of a game to the customer. The CEW player base is actively supported through e-mail and internet forums, video gameplay tutorials, and periodic newsletters that offer previews, examples, add free content to existing games, and reveal “behind the scenes” insight into game design and development. Collins Epic Wargames is actively forging business relationships with other game publishers, distributors, and retailers for maximum exposure and joint cooperation. All of our games are manufactured and assembled entirely in the United States, which supports our domestic economy, US-based printing companies, and their suppliers. We look forward to bringing you great games now and in the future.

Here is our main website:

Introduction - Byron Collins

Byron Collins. The 30-year old owner and founder of Collins Epic Wargames, Byron has a passion for all types of games, World War II history, art, engineering, and historical research. Byron began studying World War II history at a young age and has learned a lot from his uncle, a WWII veteran US Naval Reserves officer who helped plan the small boat portions of the Utah Beach D-Day Invasion. Byron points to the formal interview he conducted with his uncle to capture his WWII experiences, just three months before he passed away, as the most personally rewarding part of his venture.

Growing up, Byron took 14 years of private art lessons and has exhibited his watercolor artwork at various local and national shows. As a degreed Mechanical Engineer with a unique art background, he brings to the business an understanding of math, statistics, economics, the design process, and project management, mixed with artistic abilities and accomplishments in fine art and graphic design. Byron currently manages all aspects of Collins Epic Wargames and he designs, publishes, and sells his own games after extensive development and external playtesting. Byron jumped head first into game publishing and has not looked back since 2006. He is active on various Game Design forums and is always willing to pass on what he has learned to those who consider turning their game design hobby into a business. He currently travels to promote and run his games as events at various conventions and trade shows including Gen Con, Historicon, and the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC).