For our June Main Event, we had something a bit different. Randall Thompson of Caper Games gave a talk about his experience developing board games including a history of Caper Games, his approach to designing a game, the process of having the physical game made, and the future direction of Caper Games. This is a summary of that talk.
Randall’s game development journey started when he was 10 years old, cutting out hockey cards to make games and making up games with sticks and rocks. Then as an adult he joined the military and forgot all about games until 1998, when Randall suffered an eye injury at the Ministry of Health, and since then has been suffering from Light Sensitivity (Photophobia).
He was raising his children at the time, and because he could no longer watch TV he began to read books, listen to the radio and play and make games with his kids. This lead to the creation of his first game – CrunchTime – a basketball board game released in 2001.
In 2003, two years after CrunchTime was first released, Randall decided his game needed an edge. Where most people would have stopped at dreaming of celebrity endorsement, Randall actually contacted NBA star Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks to ask him to promote CrunchTime. CrunchTime is also known as Dirk Nowitzki CrunchTime, which goes to show what you can do when you’re willing to take a risk.
Another risk that Randall took was accepting an invitation to go to Germany, which was thanks in part to the attention that endorsement brought him. That risk paid off in more ways than one: not only did Randall sell many copies of his game, he also met his collaborator and girlfriend Silke, who ended up doing graphic design and promotion in German for the game.
After CrunchTime, Randall invented Soccer Tactics, which his German fans just loved. He sold close to 5000 copies in Germany at that time and has now sold around 20,000 copies. From 2005-2006 he spent a lot of time in Germany, then in 2007 Randall and Silke came back to Canada. Conveniently enough, the 2007 under-21 world cup was held in Canada. One of the venues was even right here in Victoria!
Having a world cup venue right in your own back yard was the perfect promotion opportunity for a soccer game. However, FIFA licensing was so restrictive Caper Games had to do guerilla marketing, and even then would often be told by FIFA reps that they were too close to the venue and had to hand out their pamphlets on the other side of the street. Caper Games had their own game of cat and mouse with the FIFA reps, but fortunately they were persistent and nimble enough to promote their game effectively without running afoul of FIFA.
Sadly, after all that work 2007 to 2010 was a bit of a dry spell for Caper Games. Then in 2011 Randall’s creative drought ended when he tried adding cards to Soccer Tactics and ended up inventing STRIKERZ. Why cards? Cost of manufacturing is a big concern with physical games. Not only are card games like STRIKERZ and tile based games like NUGGETS much cheaper to manufacture than board games, they’re also easier to explain to other players.
Another challenge with board games is that it can be very hard to get sports games onto shelves when you’re not Hasbro – store owners just aren’t always interested in that genre. Fortunately for Caper Games Randall had a friend in Toronto who was able to show Soccer Tactics to a big distributor who liked it but wanted a hockey themed version. Luckily Randall had one in the closer he was able to polish up. The distributor in Toronto loved it and bought thousands, now SHOOTERZ is in Toys R Us.
Caper Games is looking into NHL licensing for it but that’s really difficult to do, especially for a small company. Just applying for a licence requires extensive experience manufacturing and distributing your product, plus financial information on the company and sales forecasts for the products to be licenced. With all of those hurdles to get over before the expense of getting a lawyer involved to finalize the contract, it’s no wonder that NHL licences are hard to come by.
Around 2011-2012 Caper Games took a bit of a new direction. At the time Silke was playing a lot of Scrabble which inspired Randall to invent a word game: NUGGETS. He made the board an 8 x 8 grid so strategic word placement was really important. Another mechanic that made his game stand out was that once you’re done your turn, your opponents can ‘steal’ any words you missed.
Most recently Randall has continued to branch out of the sports game genre and is now working on his first game for adults, a spy game called Get ADLER! set in WW2 for 4 players. 1 person is the double-agent Adler, the other players are trying to uncover him. The first phase of the game is trying to figure out who is Adler, then once he’s found the second phase is trying to capture him. It’s silly and lots of fun, play testers have just had a ball with it. Play testing has featured heavily in Caper Games design process, and Randall has seen an amazing progression from his early games to his latest two.
Since that first game, Caper Games has gone on to about 10 games in total. Their latest games are SHOOTERZ Hockey Card Game, NUGGETS Word Game, and Get ADLER! (A Deduction Card Game). They have a couple of other games designed and waiting to be produced as well. Caper Games is also now looking to produce mobile games, particularly NUGGETS which Randall keeps hearing would make a good computer game. He’s talked to a few videogame developers, one of which has said to build a prototype and come back.
At the end of Randall’s talk, he was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions from the audience.
Audience: How did you fund all this development?
Randall: A big part of it was a Canadian fund for people with disabilities – they were funding just about any idea a person with a disability had.
Audience: Do you have a distributor?
Randall: We do have some distributors in different areas, and we also sell directly to customers online.
Audience: How do you manufacture a game?
Randall: I wish we could do it all in Canada but it’s much cheaper to do it in China. To distribute we order from china and store our stock in a small warehouse. The usual minimum order from a manufacturer is 5000 units but that can be negotiated. The price and quality of product from the Chinese manufacturer is excellent. German manufacturing is even better but the price is prohibitive.
Audience: Why the gold theme in Nuggets?
Randall: Very early in game development I decided I wanted a different scoring system to help the game stand out (grams instead of points). gold just seemed to fit. Silke always talked about digging for words when playing scrabble which inspired Randall to think of a prospector digging for gold nuggets.
During the Q&A, Randall had a question for the audience:
Randall: Does anyone with a game partner with a small/medium studio to build that game without cash up front?
Audience: Definitely happens, anything can be negotiated.
Thanks again to Randall Thompson of Caper Games for coming out and talking to us about a part of the game industry we don’t normally hear about. It was fascinating to hear about how cost of manufacturing affected his design decisions. If we’re lucky Randall will come back to give another talk after Get ADLER! comes out and maybe bring a copy for us to try!