20 New Year’s Resolutions for Board Game Devs in 2020

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I’m a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. While choosing January 1 to start something that you’ve always wanted to do is completely arbitrary, it sure does work!

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With that in mind, I want to help you come up with some New Year’s Resolutions of your own, ones specifically related to board game design. Never one to pass up on a delicious clickbait potential like “20 New Year’s Resolutions,” I’ve come up with, well, 20 of them. Pick a few that you like and see where it takes you!

1. Create your first board game.

If you’ve never created a board game or pursued a passion project, this is a great goal to start with. It’s straightforward and a lot of fun. You don’t have to publish it or market it or any of that. Just go out and make a great board game for fun. Card games count, too!

2. Play-test with game designers.

If you’re the kind of creator who has a few prototype board games in your closet somewhere, consider playing one of them with a few game designers. You can usually find them at Protospiel conventions or even local game stores or Meetup groups. You will learn a lot more about play-testing with game designers than you will even with avid board gamers. Designers notice totally different things and it’s a good experience to have.

3. Order a professional physical prototype of one of your board games.

Whether you’re making a board game for the first time in 2020 or you’re digging up an old prototype and polishing it to perfection, don’t underestimate sheer ecstasy of being able to hold your actual, physical, printed game. It’s a rush and websites like The Game Crafter and Board Games Maker make it very accessible.

4. Experiment with a theme or mechanics you’ve never used.

If you’re a more veteran board game designer, why not push yourself by trying something you’ve not tried before? Let’s say you’ve made light games. Try making a heavy game. If you’ve made heavy games, make a light game. If you’ve made board games, make a card game. Experimenting helps you grow your skills and it shows you new things that you might like!

5. Buy some board game art, even if it’s just one piece.

Similar to ordering a professional physical prototype, getting a talented artist to do a little work for your game can be a major motivator to keep going. My first game, War Co., truly became alive when I got the first art from James Masino.

6. Learn how to make more accessible board games.

“Accessible” is a loaded word in board gaming, but the basic concepts are simple: make games for as many people as you can. Try reading some articles on Meeple Like Us – they’re very informative and Dr. Michael Heron writes what could very easily be a dry academic subject with compelling intelligence and humor.

7. Launch a Kickstarter campaign.

This isn’t right for everyone, but Kickstarter can really help you start a business if you use it right. It’s a great way of gaining visibility, setting yourself up for long-term success, and – hello – earning money, too!

8. Get featured on a podcast or a blog.

One of the smartest things you can do in any business, especially the board game business, is make friends. Content creators such as podcasters and bloggers often enjoy working with guests. It’s mutually beneficial and it gets your name out there.

9. Build up one or more social media accounts on a site such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

You can read more about that in my article here: Setting Up Social Media as a Board Game Dev: A Primer Course.

10. Learn how to use Board Game Geek.

Board Game Geek is a thriving, lively community that neatly captures the general ethos of board gaming as a whole. It’s a great site to learn from, meet people, and promote your work. It’s also incredibly complex as a community and it takes some getting used to. The year 2020 is a good time to get started!

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11. Learn how to use Reddit.

Much like Board Game Geek, Reddit is a complex community that takes some getting used to. There are some really good subreddits for board games such as /r/boardgames and /r/tabletopgamedesign. Might be good to look into next year!

12. Go to a board gaming convention.

While they are expensive and often require substantial time off from work, conventions can be a lot of fun. It’s worth going to one just for the experience, and if you’re really dedicated, it can be a fantastic networking event as well.

13. Launch a blog about board gaming.

I’m a fan of this one, though many would never be able to tell.

14. Build an email list.

Every product launch requires building an audience. That requires getting their attention, piquing their interest, and – as many people forget – giving them a place to go. Email lists are a very powerful tool for growing a small business, and Mailchimp lets you get your first 2,000 subscribers for free.

15. Start a Facebook group.

Facebook is, and has been, the biggest social media network for a long time. It’s not the trendiest, but the juggernaut of online connection. Groups are a great way of gathering like-minded individuals into one place to chat.

16. Learn how to sell.

Sales is a good skill to pick up for any industry. You can read more about it in my article A Crash Course on Selling Board Games.

17. Get one retailer to carry your game.

If you’ve got a game published but you sell it directly to customers, it can be a major moral victory to get your game carried in a single store. It doesn’t have to be Walmart or Target. Just try calling 10 or 15 stores within a couple of hours of you. See if they’ll buy five copies.

18. Learn how to use advertising.

Advertising gets a bad rap, but it’s still one of the best ways to get eyeballs on your project. Learn how it works. I recommend using Facebook Ads and Google Ad Words to get started. Even if you fail, the insights you gain might tell you something about your audience.

19. Participate in a board game jam.

Looking to refine your board game development skills? One of the best, and most exciting ways to do that, is to participate in a board game jam.

The basic premise is simple. You have a very limited amount of time to create a game around a specific subject. By constraining yourself with such tight time constraints, you cannot procrastinate on decisions. You just do what seems right. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need in creative work.

20. Play the top 10 games on Board Game Geek.

Last but far from least, to make great board games, you have to play great board games. Why not commit to trying the top 10 board games on Board Game Geek in 2020?

That’s all I’ve got for you 🙂

I hope this gives you some good ideas. I want to see you win, and sometimes all you need is a goal.

Happy New Year!

How Cons Can Help You Get Your Board Game into Retail

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If you want to get your board game into retail, you’ve probably heard the advice “go to cons.” But what exactly do you do at board game conventions? Why are cons so useful for getting into retail or even launching a Kickstarter?

We will answer these questions and more in this week’s post.

But first, Molly and her company are currently running a Kickstarter for The Million Dollar Doodle, a new creative party game. Check it out here!

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
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Molly Zeff cold emailed me about her board game, Wing It, which is in over 300 stores across the world. I don’t normally answer cold emails, but her story is just too good to leave untold. And that’s how we wound up on an enjoyable video call for over 2 hours!

Below, you will find an edited transcript of our video call, transcribed by Scribie. The original call was over 30,000 words in length but was so information-rich that I’ve split it into three posts of which this is the second. (You can read the first here and the second here.)

What follows has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What exactly do you do at board game cons or trade shows?

Molly: It helps you get into retail if your product, you, or your company, is recommended by other retailers. So getting referrals is important and it’s something that can happen easily at a trade show like GTS, the Game Manufacturer’s Association Trade Show, since there are hundreds of retailers there.

For example, people meet you at GAMA or at another, regular board game convention, they see your game, and if they’re excited about your product they may spread the word to other retailers. A lot of the indie retailers are friends and just in general are a tightly-knit group. Although not as many retailers attend game cons in general, the same principle applies to Origins because Origins has a lot of the retailers from GAMA. Make sure you attend both GAMA and Origins!

Brandon: Yeah, that’s good advice.

Molly: Yeah. Look around for the retailers. Also, if you go to Origins, add a day because there are several board game stores in Columbus, Ohio. If you’re not full time in the game industry and you can add a day off work, try to do that. And if you’re ableto, you can even work a half day remotely and then go on store visits, because they’re more often open during the afternoon anyway.

And keep in mind that retailers will talk. Remember, that’s how we spread from about 11 to nearly 60 stores in four weeks in 2018. It was because the retailers played the game, in fact, a ton of us played it for hours one night at GAMA while retailers there also gave me advice, and then they spread the word.

I’m not saying that will automatically happen. Of course I can’t guarantee that, nobody can, but at least I had the experience of being together with retailers, and then they shared the story. Someone the next day had actually heard what happened the night before with all of us and said, “Oh, you’re Molly, you’re the one with the cheese. I’m going to buy your game.” It turns out one retailer had spread the word. 

And also be authentic. One of the retailers said, “You were authentic. That’s why we liked you, because you sat down on the floor at the bar and you had your cheese.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s just who I am, I want my cheese.” I really like cheese a lot. It’s one of my favorite foods.

Molly at PAX Unplugged 2019

The power of referrals in board game distribution

Molly: You can also do this a little more intentionally. I have a toy store in St. Louis, it’s one of our only toy stores, ’cause I don’t usually visit toy stores, and I found that early on I wasn’t selling too many of them. I was either told [occasionally] or was thinking that our product is a little above age level for these stores.

But guess what? Because we do well at this one toy shop in Boston, Boing! Toy Shop, and Happy Up, which is a toy store in St. Louis, I started talking to the toy store owner from Happy Up and I mentioned to her…

“We’re not really even trying to get into toy stores.” I told her about my trip to almost 70 board game stores in October and all that. And I hadn’t gone on my second Upper Midwest trip yet, and she had ideas about toy stores to recommend to me in the Upper Midwest, and also in D.C. She recommended specific stores, and when I visited those stores, I was able to say, “Shawnta’  from Happy Up in St. Louis actually recommended your store.”

I would even say that when I called in advance. “I’m a game designer and publisher, and Shawnta recommended your store.” And they would say, “Oh, I love Shawnta.” People knew who she was.

Brandon: That’s smart, yeah.

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
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Molly: ASTRA is the toy store world’s version of GAMA. And I thought they were going to be [geared towards an audience that was] too young for me. 

But the first two toy stores Shawnta’ recommended both bought products right in front of me. They made a decision on-the-spot. (That is not normal).

One owner ordered 12 (Wing It) right in front of me, another ordered 32 (of both games) in front of me. They just got on our website and just did it… So I learned, “Oh, there’s a new market I haven’t explored.” And how did I do that? By just chatting with a retailer [the one from Happy Up] and getting the idea that maybe toy stores could work.

Brandon: Referrals are one of the primary ways that I actually get business these days. If somebody is happy, they’ll tell a friend, and then that’s incredibly powerful. And when you’re talking about retailers, I can scale from 11 to 60, like you said, very, very quickly.

Just having somebody’s name to mention is a wonderful icebreaker.

Molly: Also, always collect business cards. Especially if you go to a place like GAMA, but really anywhere, always collect business cards for follow-up.

The biggest way we spread now, as I alluded to or maybe mentioned briefly earlier but didn’t get into much detail, is I go to a city or a region and I just try to cover as many stores as I can in that region. So right after Origins, I visited over 30 stores across Ohio in different cities. I would just look up “Canton board game store”, “Dayton board game store”, “Cincinnati board game store”, and I would figure out my plan from there using Google Maps. Then I also looked at nearby cities like Detroit.

It’s draining. It is really hard, and it’s draining, and I’m really tired on these trips sometimes. That’s okay. You put the work in, then you’re following up with over 30 stores.

Brandon: Yeah, ’cause a lot of times, you’ll just find a whole bunch of metro areas close to one another. It’s hard, in most parts of the US, to get more than two hours from one place to another without running into a major metro with over 100,000 people, which is enough to have a board game store somewhere.

Molly: Just to summarize [from all 3 parts of this blog series], we talked about how to get into stores by walking in the door for your very first stores, in cities you live in or cities have a connection to.

We talked about the GAMA Trade Show and spreading the word among retailers and really playing [games] with them and going to the bar at night and making friends. We talked about cold calling stores.

And then we talked about the personal connection and we talked about getting referrals. Lastly, I got a little into these really big regional trips

Brandon: This has been very good! I’ve got a single question left for you…

This is Molly visiting the store Vault if Midnight in Detroit during her tour of over 30 game stores after Origins, which took her all over Ohio, the Detroit metro area, and a little bit of northern Kentucky. She began going on more of these tours in 2019.

Parting words of advice from Molly

Brandon: What advice would you like to tell yourself when it all started? You go back in time, you get to give yourself one piece of advice, what’s it gonna be?

Molly: You’re going to make a lot of friends and so when it gets really hard, just remember you have these friends who are there to offer advice. That’s what I view it as, anyway, networking is making friends.

I would say it’s going to be really hard, it’s going to be tough and you’re going to have times when it’s financially a strain, it’s okay to pay yourself a little more than the minimal amount you could possibly imagine. And…

Gosh, it’s a really good question. It’s a really good question in that it makes me reflect on what I didn’t know.

And I would say it’s okay to call up the stores that are your friends and just schmooze a little and then see if they want to order. That’s totally fine to do. You’re building a relationship in the best cases that’s not simply a business relationship.

Yeah, also just to learn to take care of myself and to try to go to bed earlier on these big trips because that’s really hard. Getting enough sleep when you’re staying with people and they get up earlier is always gonna be a challenge. So I’m trying to say this with compassion to myself from two and a half years ago…

Reach out to people you can rely on when you need to rely on them, and try to be okay with being human with retailers.

Brandon: Yeah, people are surprisingly decent. You reach out to them with a big idea and most people will be, at a minimum, courteous. And some people will change your life in incredible ways that you can’t even comprehend at the time.

Molly: We do get a lot of advice, we also get support in ways I didn’t expect. One of the retailers I visited in October, who was one of our very successful retailers with Wing It, said to me when I was visiting his store, “Why are you doing Kickstarter?”, and I was like, “Well, because it has marketing benefits and we don’t just have $12,000 laying around.” And he said, “I can loan you the money. I can put $12,000 on my credit card.”

Brandon: Oh my goodness.

Molly: I’m still gonna run the Kickstarter, but he might be a backup plan. We don’t know for sure.

Brandon: That’s good to have, honestly. That’s good to have.

Molly: Yeah. [Back to your question], I think that I would tell myself to try to find ways to take care of myself ’cause it’s something I can do right now. And also just to drag yourself out of bed when needed.

I would tell myself that I have those days when it’s just… I’m really tired and I’m just not feeling super motivated ’cause I’m worn down or because I’m not feeling great or whatever. I would tell myself, “Just try to get up for one hour and just work hard for one hour and just see if that pushes you enough to go,” ’cause I could use that advice a lot.

Brandon: I have a technique for slow days. I call it “just write three words,” that’s all you have to do, you just have to open up WordPress and you just write three words and you can adapt this to anything you do. And it’s like starting small, like what you said, that works. I don’t even know how it does, it just does.

Molly: Yeah, I’ll say when I’m having those days maybe I get up and make three calls and I’m allowed to go back to bed if I really need to…

Brandon: Yeah, but by the time you get to that point, you won’t, it’s like, “Oh I don’t really wanna go running 2 miles,” and you actually get the endorphins and you want to continue it, that kind of thing.

Molly: I’d also say to remember that if I have someone to work with, that really helps. So that’s one of the hardest things, I’d say, of doing this full-time. I have my co-founder by phone, but that’s a little different, you know, by phone or by text. He also has a new baby.

Brandon: Yeah. That makes it hard.

Molly: So he’s launching a child and a new product around the same time.

Brandon: Oh goodness. I don’t know how these folks do it, because I’m engaged, I work a full-time job, I got family, I got friends, I’m like, I don’t know how these folks balance all that stuff, and they have a baby too, that blows my mind.

Molly: You have a partner in your fiancee and my partner has me.

Brandon: That is true.

I’ve asked all the questions I’ve got in mind. Is there anything else that occurs to you?

Molly: People can reach out to me if they need some coaching or support…

Brandon: Awesome.

Molly: And almost everything I said is replicable. I think that was the word you’d used originally;it’s all replicable except for the trips that I do. As I mentioned earlier, you can probably do almost everything else.

It’ll be challenging, and it’ll be hard on top of a full-time job, but if you’re making a game, you’re already doing that on top of a full-time job, so it’s just adding, you know, the sales work.

If you’re nervous about sales, don’t fret about it. Try it out and you’ll get better and it’ll become a skill. You get tougher and find ways to decompress whether that’s playing a rowdy song you like or reaching out to a friend about how hard sales is. You get one good win out of 10 calls, let’s say, or 20 calls, maybe you don’t sell any, and you just pick up and do it again. Just keep plugging through, ’cause you’re your own best salesperson.

Brandon: Pretty much, and yeah, by the time you start really feeling the impact of your work, that’s when things are truly snowballing.

Molly: There you go.

Final Thoughts

Molly has a lot to teach us about how to get your board game into retail, both directly and through distribution! Trade shows like GAMA are really important, as are referrals. Be patient, be persistent, and be kind to yourself. You’d be amazed how far you can go this way!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth, three-part interview! You can read the first post here and the second post here. You can back her current Kickstarter campaign for the Million Dollar Doodle here.

Now go forth and get stocked 🙂

Title photo credit: By dooley, posted to FlickrCC BY 2.0 license.

How to Get Your Board Game in a Retail Store for the First Time

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If you want to get your board game into retail stores, it helps to set small, achievable goals. What could be a more achievable goal than getting in one store? Just one board game in one board game store!

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
Use the hive-mind to design brands. Pitch your ridiculous companies.
Win a million dollar investment or crack up trying.

Even this can be a huge step for a game developer, and I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t know where to tell you to start until recently.

Enter Molly Zeff. She cold emailed me about her board game, Wing It, which is in an estimated 300 stores across the world. I don’t normally answer cold emails, but her story is just too good to leave untold. And that’s how we wound up on an enjoyable video call for over 2 hours!

Below, you will find an edited transcript of our video call, transcribed by Scribie. The original call was over 30,000 words in length but was so information-rich that I’ve split it into three posts of which this is the second. (You can read the first here.)

What follows has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Molly & her first two retail customers

Brandon: What was the first store you got your games into and how did you do that?

Molly: Well, we had just two retailers pledge on our Kickstarter and I’m going to name them in a moment. And those two are actually the first of around eleven.

Why eleven? I was able to get into about 10 or 11 stores by just walking into them in 4 different cities, most of which we had some kind of connection to. These stores bought from us before GAMA last year [in 2018] and that was a really big deal, actually. The Uncommons is one of the first [retail supporters] ever. It’s in the Lower East Side [of Manhattan], it’s this cute little game store. Everything’s up against the wall and way up to the ceiling.

They were one of our first two stores. The other is The Brooklyn Strategist – a game store that’s pretty near where I was live in Brooklyn. Because I lived in New York City, I walked into a bunch of stores around town to ask them if they wanted to pledge on our Kickstarter, and those were the two who said yes.

Brandon: Well, that’s fantastic! And I would advise anybody who’s just living in an urban area, if you’re running a Kickstarter, why not just pop into the store and talk to folks? Doesn’t even have to be New York City either, like most places that are reasonably good-sized will have three or four board games stores around.

‘Cause about everybody I’ve talked to… They’ll say, “I live in Lincoln, Nebraska and there are five game stores.”

Molly: Indianapolis has many, and LA has a lot.

Brandon: I  believe that. It blows my mind that Atlanta doesn’t have a whole bunch of them because that’s a huge market… That’s like one of the top 10 cities in America. It kind of blows my mind that they don’t.

This conversation continued for several minutes as we discussed game stores in different cities we’ve been to.

Sometimes your best board game selling tool is a map!

How do you get your board game into retail stores?

Brandon: How do you reach out to retailers?

Simple loaded question.

Molly: The first answer is very simple. You walk into a store that’s local, that’s where you live or that is in a place you’re visiting early on. First you just google a city with the words “board game store.: For example, Washington D.C. Board Game stores, okay, there’s one. When I went to visit D.C. last February, over a year and a half ago now, that’s how I got into the Labyrinth Game Shop.

The first way you get into retail is you just go to your local stores, as many designers seem to do. If you don’t have any, that’s harder, but you wait till you go on trips, and you add stores to that trip, so if it’s a small number of stores, you may need to add a day or two to visit stores. If you’re going to San Diego, for example, you can hit six or so in an afternoon.I’ve done that. From early afternoon to evening, I hit six or seven and just made my way back to LA for the night

You also look at toy stores if you have something like a party game or lighter strategy game. You see if the toy stores carry board games first and whether they have some games for older kids, teenagers, or even adults Their audience matters. Some toy stores for example, felt like Wing It wasn’t a fit for their mostly young customers.

The second big way [to get into retail] is you go to the GAMA Trade Show, the Game Manufacturers Association Trade Show. And I feel like this has got to be one of the biggest secrets of the industry for some reason.

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
Use the hive-mind to design brands. Pitch your ridiculous companies.
Win a million dollar investment or crack up trying.

How GAMA got Molly’s board game into retail in a BIG way

Molly: So this is where the interview gets the most exciting. This is a fun story.

I went to the GAMA Trade Show last year because it was either Origins or GAMA that I would go to, and in 2018, I had a second cousin once removed’s Bat Mitzvah in Brooklyn, and it was during Origins, and it was likely the only family event I’d ever have in Brooklyn, so I decided not to go to  Origins. Because of a fluke, I ended up at a trade show instead [GAMA] that totally changed our lives.

Because if you go to a consumer show, you meet people, individuals, consumers, who can buy your product and you can do really well and you can make a few hundred, maybe a few thousand dollars for some of my game designer friends.

You go to a trade show, you meet retailers who can make your business sustainable. And that’s basically what went down. We were  actually advised us to go to Origins but couldn’t, which was a great thing it turned out. First of all, hen I showed up at the GAMA Trade Show, I luckily was able to work with Hit Point Sales [our consolidator] at their booth. I got a $75 badge from them. But the exhibit hall at GAMA is only two days. It’s like six hours for two days. It’s very, very short. What I did… And this is where I want people to really learn from my process, and this absolutely is repeatable.

I had missed the networking event the very first night, that Monday night because my flight was delayed. It was such a bummer. So I got into Reno really late. I went to my hostel. I was staying at Morris Burner Hostel because it’s very cheap. I saved money by memorizing the 10 Principles of Burning Man and reciting them when I checked into the hostel for a discount!

And then the next night, I went to what was essentially a networking event, but really an event for retailers. I showed up that Tuesday night  at a bar with a bag of groceries. I had walked 2.4 miles back from the store to see Reno and well, ’cause I was saving money on Lyft – I had literally my rent plus $25 in my bank account at that point. Running out of my savings, basically. That’s when we were in 11 stores. Maybe 10.

Four cities; I felt pretty good about that, I even mentioned that in the retailer session I went to Wednesday.

Anyway, that one night at the bar changed my life, and I love this story so much. What happened is, that I saw people from one of my St. Louis retailers outside the hotel/casino, and we were all going upstairs to the bar at the casino and resort that most people were staying at. So I walked with them and I first just  got a free drink.

“Oh, how’d you like the event?”

“I wasn’t at the event.” (Someone who may have been sponsoring the event gave me a drink ticket anyway).

I go into this little inlet of retailers and just start sipping my one drink and… My one free drink, right? And I started chatting with Matt who’s a store owner out in Vancouver. Matt and I are now friends and we became friends out of this event and this night.

I didn’t know that these people were part of a group of friends and colleagues who all own about 50 or so of some of the largest indie retail stores in the United States. I was just chatting with Matt.

After a little while, Matt said, “Tell you what, why don’t I take a look at your game while you eat your cheese?” I had cheese I really wanted to eat; I hadn’t eaten enough for dinner. And he looks at the back of Wing It. He looks at the thing and he looks at the back, and within moments he said, “Are you on PayPal? ‘Cause I’d PayPal you for 10 of these right now.”

That was a good size order at the time. I mean, it’s still pretty good, but people were ordering 24 later. He said, “I can sell five of these tomorrow. I could sell five of these right now, watch me.”

He starts playing with everybody. They ended up playing and giving me advice for hours.

The unsung hero in Molly’s story? Apparently, cheese!

They get Andrew Zorowitz, who owns Foam Brain Games out of bed, and he and the others en up telling me to raise our MSRP and giving a ton of other advice.

Laterthey call over two distributors to chat. One distributor they were gonna have me pitch to and it was Mark Aquino, who’s now a friend. He was like, “Wait, are you trying to pitch to me? ‘Cause I wanna get to my drink.”

And it’s funny ’cause we’re friends and joke about it now. But the rest of them were just playing and giving me advice. It was around 2:15 AM when I left that night. It was like a dream come true. So that was my one first full night at GAMA.

The next day, someone said to me after a session I was at with retailers, he said, “Oh, you’re Molly, you’re the one with the cheese. I’m gonna buy your game.” It was strange that people knew who we were. And we started making sales. I started getting emails for orders. That day I got an email from across country from someone who couldn’t come to GAMA that year who wanted to buy the game. And then we just started selling every day. I’ve never had it that easy since. People just knew who we were and emailed us to place orders.

It turns out Matt had written a story about that whole night on Facebook and I was part of that story of what happened. So because he had posted on Facebook about that night together at the bar, all these people knew [about Wing It] and they all just started buying the game, often by the dozen. Sometimes 20, sometimes 18, sometimes 12, whatever, it was great. And we thought it would end soon, we kept thinking this can’t last, and it ended four weeks later when we ran out of copies and we’re already taking backorders.

Molly's latest game, The Million Dollar Doodle, is live on Kickstarter!
Use the hive-mind to design brands. Pitch your ridiculous companies.
Win a million dollar investment or crack up trying.

Getting into board game distribution by finding a consolidator

Molly: The way to get into distribution initially is to have a consolidator, and Hit Point Sales is obviously the main consolidator that works with small companies. I say “obviously.” Are you familiar with Hit Point Sales?

Brandon: No, I’m not.

Molly: No? Okay, so they’re the consolidator that you work with if you’re a small company like ours. And by the way, if you hadn’t asked this question, I would have gone into all of this anyway so it’s basically what I would’ve…

Brandon: No, no that’s good, that’s part of what I wanted to happen [with these open-ended questions].M

Molly: Yeah, so Hit Point Sales is a consolidator that sells to distributors on your behalf, but you still need to create demand among retailers. I decided to start going on these big trips to cities or regions. Last August and September in 2018, I visited about 39 stores in three and a half weeks [on one of my first big trips], but I also along the way got to see family and friends and celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and travel between fromLA to San Diego to Seattle for PAX West, And then onto the Bay Area. In the Bay Area, you’re covering San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, and I actually went to the South Bay as well. Those trips have become a big part of our business.

Another way we meet retailers is at conventions]. At the end of the convention, sometimes before or after hours, but oftentimes at the very end of the convention, I go and I introduce myself and offer them a demo copy.

If you can’t offer them a demo copy, maybe it’s a mini promo version. It’s easy, to be fair, to offer,a full demo copy or a mini deck of each cards [for a party game]. At a convention you basically have that one-to-one face conversation, you hopefully exchange cards, and then you follow up with them, and what’s key is that follow-up call.

Basically I want to teach readers to view each convention as an opportunity to meet retailers who are also exhibiting. It might be three, it might be five, [so it’s not many, but] it’s not that hard. We do it each time and it’s an easy way to get face-to-face connections without adding an extra trip to your itinerary throughout the year.

The lost art of the cold call – getting your board game into retail by phone

Molly: Another way to get into retail by giving them demo copies and reaching out but without actually going in person is the old-fashioned cold call. Some people think the cold call is dead and it’s really hard, which it can be. And there are times you won’t reach the right person, for sure.

What I do is I ask, “who’s the person who’s your game buyer [or ‘who does your game selection] because I’d like to send you a demo copy? Were you interested in a demo?” And I tell them, “This was called one of the biggest successes of GAMA last year.” (You figure out what to say that may get them more interested in your game than they might be for any publisher who calls them up at random like this).

Cold calling is not dead. (The photo is an old AT&T ad.)

Now I do have some things to say that make it easier now to approach them. Out of all of my regional outreach to stores in a specific region, I’ve actually only done this [cold calling] once. I have a list of around 30 stores that I sent demos to and I’m gonna look at it right now; they are across the south, ’cause I just hadn’t gone to the south or southeast on my own in person. So I look, for example, at the stores in the Orlando area, I look at stores in the Houston area, in Dallas, Fort Worth.

I do it [my outreach] geographically by city. Whether I’m visiting or whether I’m calling, it’s all geographic. I look at the game stores in Asheville, [North Carolina]. There’s a ton of stores in Asheville. So I concentrate that way and then I offer them a demo, I send them a demo, and then I do follow-up repeatedly, and that’s probably the hardest part is a lot of follow-ups, a lot of calls.

You have to have a little bit of a tough shell for it which I don’t know I have, but not because people are not rude to you. Almost everybody is nice, but they’re busy and they might not have gotten to your game  in a few weeks or [or months!] whatever.

You have to be ready to hear that a lot. I even called someone recently who hadn’t even opened up the game I sent in eight months. (That’s unusual, by the way.)

Brandon: But, I mean, yeah, you run into stuff like that. Cold calling is a numbers game in a lot of ways and a game of endurance.

Molly: Today I probably called about 17 [stores I’ve worked with OR sent demos to in the past], which is still a lot. It’s draining. You do have to be tough about it and you have to be consistent. I would recommend to people who work full-time that if they’re on the East Coast, they try to call stores from the west and far west, basically the Colorado Rockies region and stores on Pacific Standard Time because if you call them at 6:00, it’s still 3 o’clock their time. I try tocall either mid to late morning or in the afternoon before schools let out since they’re likely to be less busy.

You can probably call five to eight in an hour, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but even that’s hard. And if they’re not opening ’til 12:00 or 2:00, you’re still reaching them at a reasonable time. 

Brandon: Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s funny actually, just coincidentally, I had an intern complete a post on cold calling, and of one of his takeaways, what he got from doing the research on his own, is that cold calling is a bootstrapping tool.

If you have no contact with anybody at all, you can make them aware that you exist, and you don’t even have to necessarily spend money to do that. And there aren’t that many different techniques for marketing that you can use to just get the word out there in such a powerful way as a cold call. So yeah, it might seem outdated in the age of the internet, but it’s really, really not. It’s got a place.

Final Thoughts

Molly has a lot to teach us about how to get your board game into retail! As you can imagine – there’s a lot of hustling. In addition to creating something retailers want to stock in the first place, it helps to go to conventions, visit stores in person, send demo copies, and even pick up the phone for cold calling!

Stay tuned for part three of this interview next week. You can read last week’s post here. We’ll be talking more about how conventions can help you get your board game into retail next week.

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