Posted by Sam Mercer as War Games
By now quite a few people know about Kickstarter. It is becoming … quite a big deal. Previously the highest funded boardgame on Kickstarter (Alien Frontiers: Factions) raised a massive $76,078. With no major fan base, and a completely new project, Canadian designer Emmanuel Aquin came along with his dice game D-Day Dice and reached his initial funding target of $13,000 not even 19 hours after opening. Inspired by a Zombie themed print and play game, watching Band of Brothers helped Emmanuel refine this elegant dice game. Beating all Kickstarter records for the highest funded project in the “Game” category, it shows no signs of stopping at $113,795 with 4 days still to go. We caught up with Emmanuel and found out how it was touch and go that the game would even make it to Kickstarter, and why he would never want to be a fulltime game designer.
Emmanuel, first of all thank you for spending the time to speak to us at PurplePawn. Let’s start at the beginning, tell us a little about your life and how you become interested in boardgames?
Well, I started out as a novelist, publishing serious “literature” stuff when I was in my 20s. Then, in my 30s, I started my own publishing house, which helped me as I was writing romantic and humorous novels & some far-out sci-fi. As a publisher, I had to do a lot of things: graphic work, layouts and ads. I really didn’t enjoy myself. So I turned to screenwriting, and that’s where I am now: writing for TV shows.
I’ve always played games. But when I was a young kid, being an only child, I often found myself with no gaming partners. So I invented my own. Then in my early teens I discovered Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I was sucked into the world of pen & paper RPGs, exploring a ton of systems and universes and playing in many campaigns: D&D, Fasa’s Star Trek, James Bond RPG, Marvel Superheroes, Vampire: The Masquerade and Star Wars RPG. Plus a whole lot of one-time adventures in things like Call of Cthulhu, Rolemaster and Paranoia.
In 1994, I discovered Magic: The Gathering. It opened up new ways for me to spend my money and become addicted! 2 years later, I played my first game of Settlers of Catan.
The problem for me was always gaming partners. My girlfriend at the time didn’t care for 2-player games, so I became frustrated. I never could play enough … so I entered some kind of gameless Dark Age, where video games became my only food.
Years later, I discovered the BoardGameGeek and wow, what a revelation! I constructed my first “print-and-play” game, Zombie in my Pocket, and I was hooked! Soon after, I created my own mod of that game, called Airborne in my Pocket, which I uploaded to BGG. The success I had with this game gave me the push to create a new game, called D-Day Dice…
With only a few days to go before it finishes its Kickstarter pledge run, D-Day Dice has not made its target of $13,000 – it has absolutely smashed it becoming the highest earning game ever on Kickstarter and is the first boardgame to advance over the $100,000 mark. Why has become so successful?
I wish I knew! Really if I did, I could repeat this success over and over. Every day, I am amazed to see there are still new people pledging to our game. I always imagine that we have reached market saturation, and then the pledges start raining down. Not that I’m complaining!
I think that the rewards we offer make our game much more attractive. Over time, a lot of free swag was added to our original offer, making it a “no-brainer” of some sorts: pledging at the lower levels now gives you triple your money’s worth! That helps a lot, I think.
What were the steps that you had to go through in order to get D-Day Dice where it is now?
At first, I entered my game in 2 design contests, one in France and one in Canada. I had the fortune to be a finalist in both, which helped me gain a lot of visibility and attracted many publishers. I had to choose between basically 4 different publishers, which wasn’t easy. I chose Valley Games for 2 reasons: they are Canadian, just like me, and they wanted to publish the game in its original WWII setting (while other publishers were mainly interested in a re-theme of the game).
I then worked a lot on the game’s core, transforming it from a mainly “multiplayer solitaire” to a truly co-op game. I was surprised at the amount of changes I had to make, and yet, I felt stupid for not making them sooner. The game works a lot better now than it ever did before.
But then, we had to find a way to be eligible for Kickstarter. Since we are Canadian, and Kickstarter is American, it was an uphill battle. Having bank accounts and offices over there wasn’t enough. So Valley had to spend 3 months fighting the red tape to get us to finally launch our campaign.
Where do you think D-Day Dice will progress to in a few years time?
First, there’s a ton of expansions for D-Day Dice. A ton. We are already publishing the first four (or five, if you count the “Badges” mini-expansion) at the same time as the base game. Then, next year, two big expansions are coming (they are already designed and are in their playtesting phase). After that, sky’s the limit! I have easily 5-6 more expansions in the pipeline, one of them being a stand-alone expansion (“D-Dice: Pacific”), which should come out in 2014.
Second, there are other games coming, using the same “Red, White & Blue” (RWB) mechanics as D-Day Dice. One is a Zombie game, the other one is a “themeless” or abstract version. And other iterations are also being considered. Each will have similar mechanics but will also be unique (so they won’t be simple re-themes).
What then are your personal plans in the future?
I have more and more games in development. It is exciting to start a new “career” in game design, but I’m not naive: I won’t quite my day job anytime soon. Earning a living designing games is quite elusive: very few designers manage to do it. And even if I could do it, I’m not sure I would be able to focus only on designing games: I need to have variety in my life. Writing novels & scripts, doing graphics & illustrations and other creative projects are what drives me. I cannot be content doing only one thing. Even if that one thing would be game design.
After all, who wants to transform a wonderful hobby into work anyway?
With so many rewards and so much excitement around its elegant design, some think that this well polished dice game will set an unbeatable precedent.
I am more inclined to think that it will be the flag bearer, leading the beach assault for many more games to reach the dizzying and epic heights of Kickstarter.