Age Of Soccer - Box FrontWith the World Cup in full swing, I figured this would be the perfect time to post about Age of Soccer, and an Q&A session I just had with Dr. Michael Pambos of Legend Express.

Age of Soccer is an upcoming fantasy soccer game by designers Annis Araim, Saad Choudri, Zubbar Choudri, Dr. Michael Pambos, and Dilwar Rahim. The game combines light strategy with hand management as players try to build the perfect team and take them to victory.

Can you tell me a little bit about the team’s background?
To give you a brief background of the team behind the game – we are 5 friends who are made up of two teachers, two doctors and a video games lawyer. We have a lot of good exposure to the video games market and have launched apps in the past. Board gaming has become a real passion for us for the last 5 years and felt that there wasn’t a game that could merge mass market appeal, soccer (football) and the strategy of modern board game mechanics – so we decided to make our own.

From start to finish the journey has been purely self funded and self taught. From finding great artists, to negotiating deals with Chinese manufacturers, to avoiding the occasional “sharks” looking to take advantage of us – it has been a real roller coaster ride.

Can you tell me a bit more about the game, and it’s development process?

The game itself is a hand drafting and “take that” mechanic and is designed to appeal to players who are new to the hobby and those who are slightly younger in age. We have found tremendous support and feedback from family’s playing together with younger children as well as gaming groups looking for a “palate cleanser” in-between other games.

Intentionally it is not as complex as modern “euros” as we wanted to create something that wouldn’t be daunting to new gamers.

The game gives players a couple of choices each turn – the choice to strengthen your hand, the choice to strengthen your team, the choice to attack opponents (potentially making yourself more vulnerable) or the choice to store cards for a later offensive. It has the foundations and building blocks of hand management and strategy that are found in more complicated games but without the huge learning curve.

When we originally started playing board games as a group we found it a daunting and quite exclusive hobby. We didn’t know who to turn to for advice and it was sheer luck that we stumbled upon a couple of games we all enjoyed. The gaming community has come a long way since then, thanks to online sites like your own, however we feel there is still a way to go until it is as regarded as mainstream as video games now are. We feel a lot of the problem is the insistence that only some themes work for boardgames – zombies, orcs, wizards, farms and trains. When designing our first game we wanted to redress this and try something new.

From the outset we had a couple firm of goals – to create a game that was accessible and fun for new gamers and more experienced players, and to use a theme that was mainstream and different to 99% of other games out on shelves. We felt unless we took the risk with a new direction, then we would just be stagnating with yet another zombie game. For this reason the football theme worked well. It was a theme we are all passionate about and something that has mass appeal around the globe from young to old.

After settling on a theme we then had the decision of whether to make it a football simulation game – typically only for two players or to create something that multiple players can enjoy at once. The decision was simple and Age of Soccer, a football themed card battling game for 3-6 players was born.

The initial prototype stage took approximately 2 weeks to make, the refining changing of rules and modification of the game took a further 4 years. It was only through constant play testing feedback and improvements of the mechanics with numerous gaming groups that we have arrived at a product that worked.

So we had a game that was fun, a theme that was different and achieved our aims of being accessible to new gamers yet enjoyable to more experienced players, what next? Well then came the most difficult part of the production process – getting the game made.

Through a lot of hard work and luck, we managed to find two fantastic artists to work on the game. They loved the direction we were taking and their passion for the project really shines through in the art they created. The next step was finding a manufacturing partner. Unfortunately it was not cost effective to produce the game in the UK, or even Europe and we had to find a manufacturing partner in China. Again hard work and a touch of luck allowed us to partner with a fantastic printer who produced the wonderful product we have today.

Finally we are at the stage that we are today – getting the game out there. We received our first shipment last month and already sales have been extremely positive both through retail and also directly to consumers. We attended the UK Board Game Expo two weeks ago and support for the game was phenomenal, since then we have been attending local and regional gaming events which have been a lot of fun.

It has been four years of hard work but it’s all worth it when you have people play the game for the first time and say “wow I love this game”

You mentioned that you skipped the Kickstarter process. With more and more companies/people turning to Kickstarter, what reason’s did you have to go your own way. Was it the over-saturation of Kickstarter? Something else?

We started the project four years ago and at the time the Kickstarter landscape was completely different to the one we have today. In fact, Kickstarter wasn’t available for UK companies in the early stages when we were looking at financing options.

Another important factor to why we didn’t go via crowd funding was the fact we wanted to gain experience in running and setting up our own business and not just experience of a Kickstarter campaign. By that I mean the experience of registering at companies house, forming a proper business responsible for paying taxes on incomes and expenses, one that would be accountable for failure and could be proud of successes. The aim for us from day one was to be sustainable and release games over and over again through prudent business practices and good game design.

The decision has been a huge blessing, by having limited resources from the outset we have had to make very close business relationships with manufacturers, have been able to drive costs down and have superb contacts with artists and shipping companies. In fact I look at 90% of Kickstarter projects and hand on heart I know we can achieve what they are hoping to with on average 50% less funding that they are after.

This is one of the main problems with Kickstarter – you may be successful in achieving your financing goal but the real difficulty comes in turning that into a product that has been CE tested, manufactured properly and is of a high enough quality that consumers will want. Just by coming up with a game design that people love and have “invested” in does not mean success in getting it to market. Ultimately, we didn’t want to let our customers down. I know for one, I am still waiting on a number of Kickstarter games I backed two years ago to arrive.

The final aspect of Kickstarter that was not obvious in the initial phases but is becoming apparent for us now we are launching product into shops is the fact Kickstarter completely bypasses distributors and completely cuts out local friendly game stores from the equation. In sitting down with stores and discussing our game with them, a number have been glad we haven’t kickstarted it. We wanted to create something that would ultimately help support local game stores and keep the hobby alive. After all why would a store even consider your game if you have already cut them out and sold all your product to interested customers directly? It’s akin to being invited to dinner and be fed the leftover crumbs.

Now it may seem that we are completely against the idea of Kickstarter. That’s not entirely the case. I think as a concept it is a fantastic idea – allowing creatives to come up with an idea and turn that idea into a reality is tremendously empowering. Many of my friends have gone down the Kickstarter route to good success. I think for our company however, it wasn’t the right choice and we are far stronger for not doing it.

Equally, the arena of crowd funding is ever changing, with larger businesses and companies now turning to it to pitch ideas or “pre sell” games, I think it’s core ideal sadly is becoming ever more diluted and standing out is now even harder. People need slick advertising campaigns, professionally shot videos and spends ranging from the hundreds to often thousands of pounds to stand a chance, even so this doesn’t guarantee success.

Would we ever do a Kickstarter in the future? I’m not sure we would, at the moment we are happy and proud to ‘kick it old school’ with the approach we took to self fund the project.

So what about plans for the future?

We have an extremely busy but exciting year ahead of us.

At the moment we are actively getting Age of Soccer into the hands of as many gamers as possible in the UK and Europe through attending local gaming events, big trade shows and finally heading off to Essen towards the end of the year. To get a good sense of the game and how fun it is, you really have to get hands on with it.

We also have a mobile game due for release at the end of the month which uses the fantastic art from the board game within an addictive and exciting puzzle game. This will be available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

In addition to Age of Soccer, we have a further two games in development – the first a family friendly card game, the second a very very interesting Euro style game with a board and game mechanic that’s never been attempted before (unfortunately I can’t quite lift the lid on these yet)
As well as working on our own games we are actively looking to act as a publisher for other designers. We have developed some amazing manufacturing contacts, have close ties with superb artists and now have logistics and shipping in place. We are actively working with a couple of UK designers on a few additional products and are always open to talk to anyone with a passion for game design. Helping turn someone’s idea into a reality excites us just as much as seeing our own designs made.

Ultimately, getting more people gaming together is what we hope to achieve. So jump on board with Legend Express.

You can snag Age of Soccer now for £24.99.