How We Fulfilled the Tasty Humans Board Game Kickstarter

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Tasty Humans is the latest, and in my opinion, the greatest creation of Pangea Games. It’s a tile-placement, puzzle-solving board game for 1-4 players about villagers attacking monsters. Except it’s from the monsters’ point of view! The Tasty Humans Kickstarter went on to raise $20,536 and then several thousand more on BackerKit for a total of $28,000 and counting.

It’s been an extraordinary privilege of mine to work with Ryan Langewisch, the designer of the game as well as Tyson Mertlich, the developer who helped make the magic happen so early on. They were the creative force behind the game, and really, the soul of it.

But my role? I took their work, which they had so painstakingly and lovingly created, and marketed it before printing it and sending it around the world. Now I’m going to tell you how I did that last part.

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What is Kickstarter fulfillment?

You hear all this talk about Kickstarter fulfillment. What exactly is it?

As backers use the term, fulfillment covers basically everything between a Kickstarter campaign ending and people receiving their rewards. That means manufacturing, freight, customs, and order fulfillment.

How Tasty Humans was manufactured is complicated and I intend to write a post about just that. Suffice it to say, BangWee printed Tasty Humans and they did an absolutely phenomenal job. The price was low, the material quality was high, the colors were gorgeous, and the customer service was handled remarkably well. I have nothing but praise for those folks printing board games out in Hong Kong.

As for the rest of fulfillment, there are basically three parts: freight, customs, and order fulfillment. Freight involves getting large shipments of games from the manufacturer to a fulfillment warehouse. Customs involves importing goods into a different country. Order fulfillment involves finding a warehouse to store inventory, putting items in boxes, and shipping those boxes to customers.

How did we handle freight shipping and customs?

Fresh off the truck in the Fulfillrite warehouse!

Freight shipping is one of the most intimidating parts of Kickstarter fulfillment. It’s one of those legacy industries that even in the 2020s is bursting at the seams with unnecessary middlemen and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Many freight companies have websites that look like they were made when Friends was airing new episodes. What’s more, their customer service tends to be spotty and vague.

So imagine my relief when the CEO of Fulfillrite turned me onto a tool called Freightos. It’s basically Expedia for freight companies. You make an account, log in, describe your shipment and its weight, and – boom – you have a list as long as your arm of sea and air shipping companies. You literally just have to pick one, enter in your credit card information, and fill out a few forms. How these guys haven’t taken over the world yet is beyond me.

Now most freight companies that you select through a marketplace like Freightos will handle customs for you. But there are still two salient points which I feel must be made.

First and foremost: pad your schedule to account for customs exams. Make sure you have some extra cash set aside, too. Customs flags games for additional exams pretty often. Tasty Humans, in particular, was pulled aside for about two weeks and X-rayed. Shortly thereafter, a bill for $600 arrived in my email inbox. Nice.

Second: if you absolutely feel the need to have warehouses in different countries, split your freight at the point of origin. Don’t ship from China, import the whole thing into the US, pay a customs bill, and then ship part of it to Germany, and pay a customs bill again. What’s the use in that?

A brief note before we talk about fulfillment…

I would like to talk about how we handled order fulfillment. However, I am first obliged to say the following.

We used Fulfillrite for order fulfillment. I have done a considerable amount of paid consulting work for Fulfillrite, and I still do. As such, consider this paragraph the necessary disclosure of that fact. Even still, I will relay the facts of our experience with them exactly as they happened.

How did we handle order fulfillment?

I can’t see why something like this would get held up at customs.

Fulfillment went really well! During the downtime caused by the customs delay, I went ahead and integrated BackerKit with Fulfillrite’s systems. On that fateful Monday morning when the games arrived, January 6, there were about 700 orders ready to go. The remaining 140 were either $1 backers with no physical reward, stragglers who had not yet provided an address, and people whose credit cards expired before they could be charged.

The games arrived sometime around 10:30 that morning. They had about 200 shipped out by noon. By the time I had typed up an update to go out to my backers, a mere five hours later, there were only 100 orders left unshipped. The only reason they had not received the inventory and shipped every order that day is because I had to wire transfer more funds into the dashboard.

Holy smokes! I’ve consulted with these folks for a long time, so I know what they’re capable of. But I really think the same-day shipping and receiving speaks for itself.

Now you may ask yourself, as I initially did, “how do you fulfill international orders from a US-only warehouse?” They had recently partnered with a company called Asendia, which is a postal carrier that specializes in shipping to foreign countries in such a way where the shipper pays the customs fee. It’s a neat way of circumventing the myriad problems that come with having a dedicated warehouse in Europe or the UK, a subject about which I will likely write a 2,500 word, SEO-friendly diatribe about later.

No campaign fulfillment ever goes without a hitch, of course, and Tasty Humans ran into two distinct ones.

Problem 1: The Padded Envelope Affair

I marked “padded envelope” as an acceptable form of shipping packaging for a 2-pound, foot-long, sharp-cornered board game. Thinking back, this was likely something I did because I expected there would be large padded mailers with thick walls which would be acceptable packaging for board games. This wasn’t the case.

No one overrode my initial error in judgment by forcing the games to go out in rigid boxes. My approval of shipping Tasty Humans with padded envelopes instead of rigid boxes went unquestioned. But let’s be real: can I truly be frustrated with a fulfillment company for following my instructions to the letter?

Problem 2: The Customs-Free Customs Fees Affair

Remember how I said we were using a service called Asendia to pay for customs on behalf of our international customers? Well, Politifact says “mostly true.” A lot of people don’t know this, but you have to cross a certain threshold item value before customs fees are incurred. This is called the de minimis customs value and it’s different for every single one of the 200-odd countries on this planet.

Fulfillrite’s systems are very smart. They calculate the cheapest overall postage, and they assign that to your order unless you override it or otherwise specify. So for many European countries, we ended up sending packages via USPS or FedEx, and no one was hit with customs fees. Places like the U.K. that have low de minimis values, we sent packages via Asendia and paid the customs fee for our customers, and they never even noticed!

But this was not so for Denmark or Sweden. No, our northern European friends were hit with value-added taxes that were not covered by Asendia…mainly because we didn’t use Asendia. We used USPS.

You could call this a fault of Fulfillrite’s system. You could call it my own error for not overriding the default shipping method. No matter who you blame, though, the fact remains that I ended up Pangea-PayPal’ing six or seven Scandinavians because we take our “no customs fee” promise very seriously, even if it means reimbursing customers.

What did we do well?

Overall, the process was very smooth. We’d go with Fulfillrite again in a heartbeat. Freightos was also wonderful in helping us to arrange freight as well. BangWee, the printer of Tasty Humans, has gotten nothing but compliments and we are particularly thrilled with the quality of their materials.

I’m own worst critic and I’m happy with how this campaign turned out. This campaign’s fulfillment process has met the standards of a guy who beats himself up for not being able to run six miles when it’s 100 degrees outside.

What would we have done differently?

Looking back, we’d fix the two problems we mentioned with fulfillment earlier. We would also pad our timelines by another month or two overall. The simple fact is that even though we were very fast and efficient in shipping this campaign, we missed our target date by two weeks. A drop in the bucket for a five-month process, sure, but still not what I had intended.

Imagine working in a warehouse and pulling bright red board games emblazoned with the name “Tasty Humans” in a sea of industrial steel, concrete, and beige cardboard boxes.

Final Thoughts on Fulfilling the Tasty Humans Kickstarter

We were very happy with how fulfillment went for Tasty Humans. The campaign ran into few issues, was pretty close to shipping on-time, and stayed within our budget. By sharing our story with you, we hope that you can have a similarly positive fulfillment experience with your board game Kickstarter!

4 Lessons from Quacks of Quedlinburg for Aspiring Board Game Designers

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In 2018, Quacks of Quedlinburg won the elusive Kennerspiel des Jahres award. It has since remained a hot game on Board Game Geek and a perennial favorite in Pangea Games board game giveaways! So with that in mind, what can we learn from this award-winning board game with a silly name?

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Before we talk about what we can learn from Quacks of Quedlinburg, let’s talk about how the game works. For that, we’ll borrow the following blurb from the game’s Board Game Geek page.

In The Quacks of Quedlinburg, players are charlatans — or quack doctors — each making their own secret brew by adding ingredients one at a time. Take care with what you add, though, for a pinch too much of this or that will spoil the whole mixture!

Each player has their own bag of ingredient chips. During each round, they simultaneously draw chips and add them to their pot. The higher the face value of the drawn chip, the further it is placed in the swirling pattern. Push your luck as far as you can, but if you add too many cherry bombs, your pot explodes!

At the end of each round, players gain victory points and also coins to spend on new ingredients to add to their bags. But players with exploded pots must choose points or coins — not both! The player with the most victory points at the end of nine rounds wins the game.

1. The name is immediately funny, and the theme adds another twist.

When you first heard Quacks of Quedlinburg, you probably chuckled a little bit. The name itself is ridiculous, calling to mind images of ducks wandering the cobblestone pathways of Bavarian towns making a ruckus (as if they were geese). It’s a funny image that warms the hearts of non-gamers who aren’t enticed by the idea of trading wood for stone.

Once you open the box, though, you find out that you’re actually playing as a quack doctor, pushing a different kind of canard! You compete against others to make life-improving elixirs for the uneducated populace. Of course, if you fail, your whole pot will blow up like you dropped Mentos in Diet Coke.

It’s absurd and you can’t help but smile at it. Aspiring board game designers should take note of how the name and the theme tear down barriers that would otherwise keep would-be-gamers out of gaming.

2. It’s an example of push-your-luck par excellence.

Quacks of Quedlinburg is unabashedly, unashamedly push-your-luck. Not everybody is into this kind of mechanic and many find it to be unsatisfying. But this game leans into it, and instead of trying to shoehorn push-your-luck elements into a game where it doesn’t belong, it fully embraces it.

Throughout the whole game, you are building your bag to have different ingredients which you draw at random and add to your potion. You know that adding ingredients gives you a better chance to win, but you also know that adding too many will make the whole thing explode. When playing, you have to constantly ask yourself, “is it worth the risk of adding that one, final ingredient?”

The trade-off is dead simple and couldn’t be more obvious, but it works.

3. Mitigate push-your-luck with a good catch-up mechanic.

Unfortunately, push-your-luck games can quickly become obnoxious. This is because any game that proudly proclaims that it is luck-based runs the risk of becoming unfun very early on. You are, after all, one bad dice roll away from ruin in many push-your-luck games.

Smartly, Quacks of Quedlinburg included rat-tails, which act as a catch-up mechanic. In essence, you will receive an amount of rat-tails proportionate to how far you are lagging behind the first player. The first player, of course, will receive no rat-tails. Without getting into the specifics, the important part here is that losing players receive a handicap that matches the number of rat-tails they receive.

The upshot of all this? The game works to give losing players a chance, not unlike Mario Kart, which gives better items to players who are losing.

4. The time to play each game is matched perfectly to the game’s weight (as suggested by theme).

When you have a game that is proudly luck-driven, you have to keep the play-time short. Even with well-designed catch-up mechanics like rat-tails, luck-based games are like firecrackers. They’re fun for a short amount of time and they fade away quickly.

That is to say, a three-hour luck-based game would be Monopoly intolerable. A forty-five minute luck-based game, such as Quacks of Quedlinburg is much better.

Now that said, one of the common criticisms of Quacks of Quedlinburg is that it runs too long. The game has been generally received as positive, so the time to play is not a particularly nasty issue. That said, if you’re creating a luck-based game, let this be a lesson to you: even with a catch-up mechanic and a fairly short play-time, you will likely receive the same criticism.

Final Thoughts

Quacks of Quedlinburg is a fine example of a heavily luck-driven game done well. It’s enticing to newcomers and has a good sense of humor. The play-time is short, keeping the game from feeling like a long game of roulette. The presence of a catch-up mechanic keeps it from feeling like the die has been cast from turn 1.

4 Lessons from Spirit Island for Aspiring Board Game Designers

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In 2016, Spirit Island raised $84,176 on Kickstarter. That is by no means a small amount to raise, but what’s interesting is that Spirit Island has remained on the Board Game Geek Hotness list off and on for almost three years. Its expansion went onto raise almost $800,000.

Clearly, there is much more to this game than what immediately meets the eye. There’s a lot we can learn from it!

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Hold that thought for just a moment, though. First, let’s explain to the uninitiated what Spirit Island is about. For that, we’ll reference the game’s Board Game Geek page.

Spirit Island is a complex and thematic cooperative game about defending your island home from colonizing Invaders. Players are different spirits of the land, each with its own unique elemental powers. Every turn, players simultaneously choose which of their power cards to play, paying energy to do so. Using combinations of power cards that match a spirit’s elemental affinities can grant free bonus effects. Faster powers take effect immediately, before the Invaders spread and ravage, but other magics are slower, requiring forethought and planning to use effectively. In the Spirit phase, spirits gain energy, and choose how / whether to Grow: to reclaim used power cards, to seek for new power, or to spread presence into new areas of the island.

1. Spirit Island flips the standard colonization theme on its head.

You can’t have a meaningful discussion about Spirit Island without discussing the theme. You and all the other players in the game play as Spirits who fight off the Invaders – basically, people who want to colonize your island.

Let’s be real: this is a politically hot subject right now. In the last couple of decades, in particular, many people have become much more familiar with the misdeeds of our distant (and not-so-distant) ancestors. Though this realization is about as comfortable as having a bucket of ice water dumped on your head, it’s a necessary one and ultimately a good one.

Done incorrectly, this theme could turn a lot of people off. But it doesn’t do that, because it’s well-executed and all-around fun! The fact that it happens to be covering a politically hot subject has actually likely contributed to its success.

Why does this work? In my opinion, it’s because it’s not preachy but rather clever and original! Spirit Island offers a really interesting twist on standard board game themes that have been done and overdone. We need more games like this that subvert standard board game narratives. (You’re next, agriculture games!)

2. Cooperative play is underused.

The default mode for most board games competitive. I have no problem with that and I certainly enjoy the feeling of good, well-matched competitive play.

Sure, cooperative play is not exactly some exotic unseen mechanic too. You have Pandemic, the Forbidden games, Mysterium, Elder Sign, and many other great games.

Yet if you take all the cooperative games on Board Game Geek and divide it by all the board games on Board Game Geek, you wind up with a figure like 6%. Just 6%! With such a small percentage of board games being cooperative, choosing to make a cooperative game – like Spirit Island – remains a deliberate stylistic choice. Spirit Island kicks it up a notch by having you play a cooperative game against Invaders, which as I mentioned previously, is the role you would play in most other games.

3. Playing defense creates gameplay experiences you don’t see in other types of games.

Even among cooperative games, you often wind up solving a mystery together or working toward some common goal. A smaller subset still have you focus on defending yourself from a dangerous outside force. In Spirit Island, you do exactly that.

While there is certainly the opportunity to plan ahead, the game forces its own agenda on you in a way I haven’t seen since Pandemic. This is a nice change of pace from normal cooperative games because it adds a necessary element of stress that makes Spirit Island feel satisfying.

I think Arah’s review on Board Game Geek says it best. “Vibe: brain burny whack-a-mole.” 

4. Balanced asymmetry leads to greater variety.

Last but not least, we’ve talked on this blog about how variable player powers can add variety to a game. We’ve even discussed at length how you can implement them in your own game. (Spoiler: the answer is TONS of play-testing).

The trick, of course, is to make sure all varying powers are definitely distinct while remaining balanced. With Spirit Island, you can tell they play-tested the game within an inch of its life.

To further explain my point, I’ll borrow from the Spirit Island wiki for the following sections. I’ll list out the play style of just four of the eight base game spirits. Check out how different the play styles are!

A Spread of Rampant Green

Fairly good at dealing with Towns, but terrible at handling Explorers (who are unfazed by prolific foliage). Can get Presence onto the board faster than most other Spirits. Extra Presence is good for targeting and especially for ‘Choke the Land with Green”, which can be extremely effective at slowing down invaders. Just be careful not to destroy Sacred Sites needed for Power use.

Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares

With most Spirits, Terror Victories are a backup plan if the main push against the Invaders stalls out for too long, but Bringer turns Fear into a more viable primary strategy. Its transformation of damage & destruction into Fear can turn Major Powers into tremendous sources of terror and panic. However, the only real offense Bringer has is the Dahan fighting back. While it does have some defensive ability, it is fundamentally poor at clearing areas of Invaders.

Lightning’s Swift Strike

Virtually all offense to start with: without a more defensive teammate, Blight may become a problem. Excellent at destroying buildings, less good at containing Explorers. Using Thundering Destruction tends to be a burst affair: a turn or two of position and build up Energy, followed by a really big turn.

Ocean’s Hungry Grasp

Extremely good at assaulting the coasts where the Invaders start out strong, but quite weak island – the ocean is not accustomed to affecting events so far ashore. Its Presence shifts in and out like the tide, which can be tricky to manage, but permits re-positioning and tactical retreats or offensives in the hands of a skillful player. Has fairly inexpensive Unique Powers, but the energy gained from drowning Invaders can be necessary in stepping up to more potent Powers.

Final Thoughts

Spirit Island excels for a few reasons. The first is because of its well-crafted, interesting, original theme. Another reason is that it uses underrated mechanics – namely cooperative gameplay and you vs. the world – to excellent effect. Lastly, the variable player powers are balanced in such a way that the game stays fresh for a long time!