Between Two Cons - a FiaB Retrospective
This is the season to show appreciation for all the people and things that brought us together. In that vein, I wrote this history/thank you letter to all the individuals who have made Fight in a Box possible. I can’t thank these people and our fans enough for giving me a life worth living. Fight in a Box got started more than six years ago when Nigel (Muse on Minis), Bob (Tower Games), Ryan (Private Citizen) and I (Village Idiot) got excited to publish End of the Line. In 2013, Kickstarter competition was starting to heat up and we understood that just launching EotL with no audience or a track record wasn’t a formula for successful. Thus Ryan’s three part plan was put forward:
1. Make a game we could sell now to build an audience.
2. Make a card game with reasonable price point and simple components to build a kickstarter track record.
3. Make End of the Line our second kickstarter.
Bob’s famous “Squirrels & Tulips” incident had happened about that time and so “Phase 1” started when I busted out Squirrel or Die in six weeks. John Redmann, original owner of Tower games, volunteered to do the art for the wood cut versions Muse on Minis produced. Muse encouraged us to go to Warmachine Weekend in St Louis catapulting us into “Phase 1.” For almost two years, we went to as many conventions as possible selling the fancy SoDs. The entire time we worked on “Undermind,” a card game where you are a supervillain trying to end the world first while despite incompetent minion workforce.
Brian Forrest and Charles Hubbell formed a super group with Bob and these videos were incredibly fun to make. We were preparing to charge into “Phase 2” when things took a critical left turn during a “Fight in a Box” game day at Bob’s house. At the event, as a final check, we asked all of those in attendance to vote secretly what they would like to see Kickstarted first: End of the Line, a card Squirrel or Die or Undermind. Almost everyone in attendance voted for EotL. That stopped all the clocks. We did more digging and discovered that I had been working for 18 months on a game that was impenetrably difficult to learn. With a little heart broken, we moved End of the Line center stage for our first kickstarter launch.
To make things more difficult, we had a personnel shift; Nigel’s success with Muse made it all encompassing. Luckily, Melonie Lavely jumped in as our graphic designer for End of the Line. It was her vision of EotL which we took to the first CaptainCon in Warwick RI and every other convention we could afford that year.
The End of the Line Kickstarter was the following February and thanks to our fans was a success! We got a few stretch goals in, we learned innumerable things and still we delivered 3 months early on our promise. But “success” didn’t make things easier, we lost Ryan to Colorado as he got promoted at work. Additionally, we now had to figure out a sales channel for nearly 1200 copies of EotL. We continued to drive to Iowa to “hand make” the fancy SoDs and we started selling End of the Line at conventions like Con of the North and Adepticon.
Looking back, our plan could have used a “Phase 4.” We did not have a KS the year after EotL because we didn’t have the bandwidth to charge up another KS while finding a method to sell the remainder of our EotL. The major step forward in solving the distribution puzzle was when our friends at Prolific Games recommended us to local MN game store chain Game by James. We demo’d both EotL and Squirrel or Die for them. They took a chance and stocked both. Things went well and they reordered shortly after.
Games by James had 11 locations selling End of the Line. With the Source Comics and Games and Tower Games, we now had a track record of retail and convention success. That helped us convince local distributor Aladdin Games to pick up EotL. We now thought we were ready to approach the larger distributors. We charged GAMA getting an appointment with every distributor we could and got rejected by all. Shortly after, Bob brought us to ACD games day where I was fortunate enough to get to ask their head buyer why our petition was rejected. He was kind enough to explain and that conversation lead to Atlas Games being our distribution partner. With Atlas’s help and an order from ACD, we got picked up by all the major distributors in the US, UK and Canada.
Mel’s design for the box cover of EotL worked extremely well in IRL retail environments. The monolithic nuclear green against a sea of multicolored packaging really stands out. Additionally, End of the Line’s fans did an amazing job indoctrinating their friends and family. Table time is precious. Everytime someone chooses to play one of our games we’re thankful.
With EotL sales coming in, we felt secure enough to self fund the card version of Squirrel or Die. We enlisted the help of local artist Graham Judd for the illustrations and narrative. Mel pulled together the graphic design for the latest SoD and the early IMR prototypes but we eventually lost her to Chip Theory Games in MN.
With having a card version of Squirrel or Die, we phased out the trips to Iowa to make the fancy wood ones and went to more regular conventions with Atlas games. Squirrel or Die sales went very well; not only did it do well with local retailers, but places like Total Escape in Colorado, and FLGS like Canton Games in Maryland.
Parallel to unlocking the sales effort was the development of Conquest Princess Pew Pew Pew with Chris Lyons. After a year’s effort, we felt the game was ready for testing on the convention circuit. Feedback was devastating. Though some of the testers loved it, an equal number hated it and most agreed that the first version played twice as long as you’d want it to. The heartbreak of reformulating was too much for Chris. I pressed on solo for the rest of the year with 7 reboots of the concept before needing a break. One of those breaks was Processing.
This, of course, is not the end of the story, but will be continued in part 2.