To be perfectly honest I’m not sure who started the micro game phenomenon but I know that Council of Verona was being published near the very beginning. I remember very well what started my love affair with the microgame . One of the questions that I am asked most by people is why I love microgames so much and why Crash Games primary focus is on microgames so I thought it would be a good time to share
Back in 2011 Crash Games began the journey of publishing Rise! and one of the key features of Rise! was that it came in a very small but sturdy box. I have to admit that I’ve always been enamored with boxes and I’m not sure why. I love clever packaging and I love the aesthetics of a great box; the look, the feel and even the smell. My wife has worked very hard to get me to part with boxes that I keep around “because it’s a good box, I may need it for something.”
I promised myself that Crash Games would never make a game inside of a crappy box and I am happy to say that I have kept that promise. Rise! is by no means a microgame but it got me to thinking about games that pack a big experience in a little package, which Rise! certainly does.
A Trip to My FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store)
On a trip to my FLGS I picked up a copy of Fantasy Flight Games’ “Cold War” this was a game that already existed in their catalog but they decided to take it out of it’s previous box (Citadels Size) and put it into a very small square. I was completely in love and enamored by the box. I purchased the game just because I loved the box and still to this day (nearly 3 years later) I still have not played the game :/
When I got home I emptied all of the contents and I began dreaming about what I could put into that box size. I thought about all of the advantages of publishing a game inside of a small box and how cute the size was. This is what began it all.
Council of Verona is Born
In April 2013 I was approached by Michael Eskue about a micro game he had been working on called Council of Verona. The game was very small components wise consisting of only 13 cards and 12 tokens (the game later grew a bit with Stretch Rewards) and I had finally found a game that I not only loved but that I could put inside a very small box.
Right at the same time I was signing Council of Verona and putting into development a game that came in a little red bag called Love Letter hit retail stores and while I knew the comparisons would never end I also knew that if a company like AEG was publishing games like this that I was certainly onto something that made business sense.
What Is a Microgame?
This is a topic that has been debated within the community for a while know and there are many different interpretations. There is no one correct answer to the question of what a microgame is, so really the best that I can do is tell you what a microgame is to me and what Crash Games considers a microgame.
To me the first qualification of a microgame has nothing to do with the amount of components but more so to do with the amount of space it takes to play the game (often called the “footprint”) Ideally I want to be able to play a microgame anywhere I go including a restaurant, a pub and even on an airplane.
My second qualification is that a microgame comes box size around the size of my Council of Verona Box (the 1st installment in the Crash Games Pub Series) and that the components are minimal. I absolutely cannot say how many is too many but if you are filling the box up then it is probably too much.
I also prefer that a microgame be played in 30 minutes or less.
Gamer Love for the Microgame
As a gamer there are many aspects of a microgame that I love. If you’ve read this far you already know why I’m enamored with small boxes but I also love that you can fit a meaningful play experience in such a small package. If I’m paying attention to what I’m playing at home and when I travel, games that have smaller footprints get played a lot more than their larger counterparts and this makes sense to me. Games that are easier to the table have that barrier removed of people not playing that game for the size reasons (I’ll explore this in more depth in the next section).
There’s just something about the discipline and the restrictions of having a meaningful game inside of a small set of components that I really admire as a gamer. The design process of a microgame must be difficult in my opinion because it must be oh so tempting to just add more things in to round out the experience, balance or fix a potential play issue. As a gamer the entire concept of throwing 10+ games into a small bag is a very exciting concept.
Publisher Love for the Microgame
From a publisher standpoint the attractiveness of a microgame is tremendous. People will often ask me about what I do for a living and how I do it and the line I always tell them is “When you boil it down all of the work I do is about removing barriers.” I’d like to talk about some of those barriers now and how the comparison of a microgame stacks up against its bigger counterpart. In these examples I will use Council of Verona and Pay Dirt.
Without getting into too many specifics it is tremendously less expensive to manufacture a game like Council of Verona than it is to manufacture a game like Pay Dirt. I can make 4-5 copies of Council of Verona for every copy of Pay Dirt. One big manufacturing advantage of a card game like Council of Verona is if you manufacture it efficiently you can fit two games or even more on one sheet of cards. Also if you can keep the “sourced” components low (what’s considered “sourced” varies manufacturer to manufacturer) low or even completely eliminate them you can cut down on potential errors as well as the long process of sample approvals.
2. International Shipping
This is a no brainer. Council of Verona has 48 copies in a very small “case” and Pay Dirt has 4. Less cases means less pallets, less pallets means less container space and less container space means lower shipping cost. This becomes an even better cost when you manufacture several games at once and you can divide the shipping cost equally between projects, thereby lowering your total Funding Goal for each project.
3. Domestic Shipping / Fulfillment
With Kickstarter Fulfillment there are many different ways to slice it. I am a bit of a control freak which is primarily driven by my desire for quality control. There are aspects of my business that I do not care to delegate and this is one of them. I want a backer’s Kickstarter experience to be as good as possible and I know that no one else is going to take the care that I will. That being said as I grow I have chosen to delegate International Fulfillment to various companies because eliminating VAT & Taxes is worth the risk of how the game is packed up and sent. I’ve also made great choices for International Fulfillment in my opinion.
So in this example we will use USPS as our example as it is the current system that I use. I have been looking into FedEx but that will be a journey and I’m not versed in their arena.
The magic number for Domestic Fulfillment is 13 ounces. I live and die by that 13 ounce mark. A small package weighing 13 ounces or less can travel First Class Mail which is about a 3 day max turnaround time in the Continental United States. The postage is also pretty affordable at the rate of $2.74 for 13 ounces and it comes with free tracking. The trouble with this is that if you hit even a 16th of an ounce over your package is now considered 14 ounces and First Class is no longer an option (If you send 5000 packages a year in a specific “class” like First Class you can actually go up to 15 ounces) The next most affordable level of shipping at 14 ounces is a Small Flat Rate Box (provided the game fits and it should at that weight) which cost $5.25. This is nearly DOUBLE the cost!
I was able to ship “Where Art Thou, Romeo?” for only $1.12. For microgames like Council of Verona and Nanogames like “Where Art Thou, Romeo?” I like to use heavily padded envelopes. These work better than bubble mailers and they aren’t really that different in terms of cost. So to sum this all up the lighter the game, the more inexpensive the shipping is.
4. Distribution/Retail & Convention Sales
The smaller your MSRP is on a game the better position you put yourself in for retail sales, particularly if you have a potential mass market game on your hands. MSRP is one of the biggest barriers to someone purchasing your game so microgames become very attractive in terms of price point. Let’s again use Council of Verona as an example.
The MSRP of Council of Verona is $14.99 (Traditionally it isn’t the best idea to have a game priced at $14.99. It’s much better to have a $9.99 or a $19.99 MSRP) so that means that traditionally a Distributor will purchase it at $5.99 and then sell it to a Brick & Mortar Store (aka FLGS) for $7.49. This is not a huge profit for them but what they lack in individual profit on one copy of the game they should ideally make up for it in volume. I have spoken with game store owners that say they sell 6+ copies of Council of Verona a week which makes them and their distributors very happy.
Most FLGS’ operate on a billing system called “Net 30 Terms” This means that they order “x” amount of product from Distributor X and the bill isn’t due for 1 month. Ideally the retailer should be able to sell through their entire order in that 30 day time period. That gives them the money to place an order the following month for additional product and then they are able to count that other 50% as profit (minus their operating expenses of course) Many stores struggle tremendously with inventory control and it is one of the biggest reasons that stores close their doors unfortunately. (I could write an entire article on this. If you’d like to see that as a future post please let me know in the comments)
Conventions are never my primary focus on revenue for Crash Games but they are tremendously helpful in many ways. If I am able to cover all of my costs for a convention I count that as a win. I love what I do for a living and being an ambassador for not only Crash Games but the hobby/industry as a whole only helps everyone who makes games. That being said once I started selling Council of Verona I started actually making a profit at conventions and I know this is not a happy accident as I have seen it repeated multiple times.
Plain and simple many people want a low cost option and having games at price points of $9.99 to $19.99 is a very wise strategy. A $50 game to a non-gamer is astronomically high and many customers’ threshold is $20. I am absolutely fascinated by the psychology of buying habits and big corporations spend millions trying to understand their consumers better. Without all that research I have just found that a more inexpensive game will sell much easier as it seems people think about it far less than they do for a more expensive game.
In Summary (TL:DR)
So in summary the microgame is a complete win across the board, provided that the gameplay is good. There are plenty of microgames that I think are not good but I will never publish ANY game that I don’t fully and completely love. Here is the recap of why I love the micro game:
1. Inexpensive to make.
2. Inexpensive to ship both from overseas and to backers domestically.
3. Low barrier to sell to distributors, FLGS & Convention Attendees.
4. Very gratifying to play (hopefully)
5. Small footprint and you can take them nearly anywhere.
So what do all of you think about microgames?