|The artist we used
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Part 2 of the Story of how we got Breaking Away published
On the starting line
As soon as it became clear that we would make some profit on version 1 of the game, we started on version 2. In the end it took about two years to get the damn thing finished, and this article will hopefully explain why.
The first thing I did was to redesign the board. It was back to MicroGrafx Designer and my legendary technical drawing skills.
Play-tests at various games conventions indicated to me that the race length of 120 squares, which is the norm in the postal game, was a bit too long face-to-face. So I reduced the race length to 100 squares but kept the format of racing over two and a half laps, which meant 40 squares per lap rather than 48. This had the added benefit of making each square bigger, which should reduce the chances of a recurrence of "big counters-small square" syndrome.
Adding numbers to the squares was easy enough, and after about 10 hours I had a draft copy that I felt was accurate enough to hand on to a professional graphic designer. If I had had my head on straight I would have got in touch with Geraint Davies, the resident artist of my old gaming fanzine Take That You Fiend!, and asked him if he wanted the job of tarting up the board (I know all the technical terms) but instead I asked Stuart Blower, who did the drawing for the cyclist counters in the first edition, if he could do it or knew of anyone who could do it.
At the time Stuart was working in advertising so not surprisingly he knew of one or two blokes who would do it for "a drink". I only started to get worried about how much this drink would cost me when I went out to the pub with the guys from the advertising agency and found out that their lunch hours lasted from midday to about 10.00pm, after which they would go back, do three hours work and then hit a club until three or four in the morning.
The artist we settled on was a bloke called Bob Ahearne. A good solid name, "Bob". Had his name been Tarquin, Rupert or Bradley I might have looked elsewhere. Anyway, I showed him the draught copy of the board I had done, together with the "fading into the distance" Breaking Away logo I had devised, and tried to explain to him what it was I wanted. His eyes did not exactly glaze over when I explained the background to the game but I could see that, like a lot of people, he was having difficulty grasping the concept of a game without dice. He did, however, ask one very relevant question, which was: how big do you want it?
Mindful of the fiasco with the smallness of the squares on the first version I had brought with me some sample counter bases. (At home I had produced a prototype version of the board on my laser printer that had 40 squares per lap and was big enough to fit the old Version 1 counters; the board ended up at about half the size of a Subutteo pitch, which was too big. So I had already decided to reduce the length of the counters to about the diameter of the counter bases).
Armed with some sample cyclist counters and a brief to produce a race track that had 40 (numbered) squares to a lap and with squares big enough to fit the sample counter I had provided him, Bob was left to get on with it. About the only explicit instruction I gave him was to change the shape of the track if necessary to make more economical use of space; I thought it might be necessary to change the shape of the race track to an S-shape to make maximum use of space.
I have never told Stuart Blower this - or Bob Ahearne for that matter - but all I had in mind for him to do was a more precise version of the draught copy I had given him; make the angles on the curve correct, centre the numbers on the squares and tidy it up a bit. I figured it had taken me ten hours to do on a PC, so these advertising boys with their Apple Macs should be able to produce a fairly basic line-drawing in a lunch hour. Worth £50 of anyone's money for one or maybe two lunch-hours work.
So when I went back a couple of weeks later and saw what he had done with it, I was a bit gobsmacked. Using an eye-catching combination of reds, yellows and oranges (the colour not the fruit) he had created a board that suited the cycling milieu (i.e. you could puke up on it and not notice the puke for at least five seconds) but which was not so "busy" as to distract from the functional purpose of the board. He had also added a sort-of blurred cyclist motif (to convey movement or possibly a reminder to visit the optician) and, somewhat to my surprise, he had used my Breaking Away logo, with a few added go-faster stripes to again convey the impression of movement.
I had a movement of my own, in the bowel region, when I got the bill. It was £250. Perfectly reasonable for the job he had done, but then the job was about five times better - and more expensive - than I had expected.
That was fine, except that it now meant that the components for the rest of the game would have to match the board if they were not to look as out of place as peanuts on a pearl necklace.
The best, okay the only source of games components I knew in the UK (apart from Car Boot sales) was Dice & Games of Sudbury in Suffolk. I ordered a new catalogue from them to see whether they had any cyclist counters. They did not. Bollocks. This meant spending about £600 to get a mould made for a production run of plastic cyclist counters. Alternatively, I could contact Ian Livingstone who, when considering producing Breaking Away as a Livingstone Game, had managed to track down the manufacturers of the cyclist counters for Six Day Race.
I rang Dice & Games up to get a quote on six * 400 cyclist counters and they said, "You're in luck, we have a mould for cyclist counters in stock." Deep joy and much leaping around the house ensued at the prospect of saving £600. Not that the counters were exactly cheap, at almost 7p each, but had we been forced to get a mould made too the unit cost would have risen to about 32p each.
So I ordered a bunch and sent the bill to Mr. Woodhouse, the still-gullible sponsor. Mike Woodhouse had not, at this stage, purchased his money-pit of a house and was enjoying the comparative luxury of running only one mortgage, so £162 on little bits of plastic was, to coin a phrase, "not much to a man of his means".
The cyclists duly arrived with a note that any defective counters should be sent back within six days of receipt. Yeah, right, I was going to sift through 2,400 counters to check for missing limbs and heads and stuff.
I wish I had, now, for unaccountably the batch of blue cyclists had a reject rate of about 4%. Never mind, I have kept all the rejects and if we order a second batch of cyclists Dice & Games will get the dodgy ones back post-haste.
Okay, we had the master copy of the board and some counters that fitted on to the squares on said board. All we needed now was a new set of rules (piece of cake), some more movement pads (ditto), and some suitable packaging.
The latter was to prove tricky, for just as the high quality of the board had forced upon us the need to upgrade the quality of the components, so there was now a requirement to package the game in a box.
Custom made boxes for small-runs are very expensive, and it took us a long time to track down a suitable supplier. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), it took months for the printers to find a slot in which to print the boards. I could not really complain as the printing job was being squeezed in between real work being performed by the printing staff. The difference between "real work" and the work I wanted them to do can best be defined by H.M. Inspector of Taxes so Ill not go into detail here.
For many months I tried to find an "off the shelf" solution to the packaging problem. Much time was spent drifting round Ryman's and Office World, looking at plastic wallets, box file cartons and goodness knows what else, wondering whether they would be suitable receptacles for the game.
David Watts of Rostherne Games apparently had some plain boxes for sale but from what I remember they were between £3 and £4 each, which tends to suggest that like us he had discovered how bleeding expensive these things are. Nevertheless it was beginning to look like wed have to bite the bullet and pay through the nose (not easy to do when youre mixing metaphors at the time). Enter the hero of the hour, Kevin Rolph of Kevingston Games, who unfortunately seems to have disappeared from the hobby.
Kevin is the designer of a good family game called Special Delivery. It has a mounted board, proper cards and a colour-printed box with a lift off lid. Hed previously been down a lot of the supplier routes Id investigated and a few more besides. He was tremendously helpful in pointing me in the right direction on the packaging front. For instance, he did not come right out and say my idea of buying plastic wallets from Ryman's was crap, but his silence was eloquent enough, and he was right. A game in a plastic wallet would almost certainly have never made it on to the shelves of a game shop whereas Breaking Away in its cardboard carton casing has, somewhat to our surprise, infiltrated several specialist game shops.
Kevins information was so useful to me that in the interests of helping prospective game designers, I reprint it more or less verbatim below:
For the record, I checked out Clarke Rubicon and they were very polite but more or less told me they would rather games designers stopped bothering them unless they were prepared to do several thousand copies.
The Bridger Packaging lot looked promising, however, especially as Letchworth is just up the road from Fiendish Towers. I gave them a call and had a pleasant chat with their Sales Manager who apparently makes a trip to Enfield every week to visit whats left of the industry that used to populate the Great Cambridge Road. He wasnt put off by the small quantities we wanted to deal in and was very helpful, offering to do the box art as well if we wanted. From the sound of it though, the reproduction quality of the art printed directly on to the card would not be that great so I went for a plain white carton (the sort with flaps at the end that tuck in, rather like those giant bars of Cadbury Dairy Milk.)
We ordered 500, as this offered some economy of scale. We did not expect to sell 500 copies of Breaking Away but we were fairly confident that we could use the same boxes for future Fiendish Board Games releases.
The first sample Bridger Packaging sent was a bit flimsy, so they "increased the microns" to something a bit more robust. Experience has shown that the box is still not thick enough to withstand the sort of buffeting the Royal Mail likes to give it, even when the box is ensconced in a padded Jiffy envelope, which is why I now flat pack the box and pack the components separately.
It was that man Kevin Rolph (again) who gave me the idea of using a standard box with a sticker on to identify different games. Initially I had hoped to get the labels printed by the same people who printed the boards, hopefully reusing some of the (expensive) printing plates from the boards for the cover artwork. However, having waited several months for the boards to be printed it soon became apparent that I would probably have to wait a while for the sticky labels to be done too. Such is the disadvantage of getting stuff printed by the back door.
So we went for the DIY solution. Our friendly local tax avoiding print room had some "crack-back" sticky-backed paper going spare which they graciously cut up into A4 chunks for me so we could slap them through Mike Woodhouses colour inkjet, and even though I say so myself, the labels are very eye-catching.
Mass produced colour labels normally only go to 4 colours - anything more gets too expensive - but by going down the inkjet route we were able to smack as much colour on as we liked. Even so, we ODd on the yellow a bit and Woody reckons we get about 30 labels per £21 inkjet cartridge before the yellow starts to fade a bit.
The real fun with the sticky labels is applying them. Its a bit like that Aero advert where the father and his son are slapping on wallpaper that has about two million air bubbles.
If you are one of the poor sods who bought a copy with a label that has more creases in it than Brian Walkers face then I apologise but the labels are extraordinarily sticky and once they come in contact with the box it is very hard to peel them off and reapply them. I think I have developed a system now to apply them reasonably well but in the early days there was a lot of cursing going on in the kitchen of Fiendish Towers - the kitchen being the room which has a table big enough to apply the labels (if you are lucky you might get a bit of cannelloni with your boxed set).
Smugly pleased with the way the labels had turned out, we decided to make further use of the colour-jet printer on something called "sprint cards". In version one of the game player simply recorded on paper how many sprint points their team got, but in the new version sprint cards are handed out to record sprint points. It makes it easier to see who is winning. The sprint cards have to be cut out with scissors, but in every other respect the game is ready to be played out of the box (if you have pens or pencils that is).
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