Developer Diaries 1: Getting Started


Why Write Developer Diaries?

Creature College is currently winging its way towards our distributors ready for mailing out to all the lovely people that pledged for a copy of the game so our minds here at Happy Otter Games have turned to the creation of our next project.

I thought it might be interesting for anyone else thinking about creating a game to understand some of the process I’m going through when thinking about designing a new game. So I’m going to write these developer diaries as a record of the set of problems that I’m trying to work through whilst developing the new game.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Whilst Creature College funded it didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for Kickstarter. I’ve written an entire article on why I think this was, so I’m not going to go into further detail here. What I will say is please be honest with yourself. What do I mean by this? It’s really easy as a game designer to get dragged down into your own enthusiasm for your game and not see that it doesn’t have the legs it needs to make it on Kickstarter. Ask the community and listen to what they’re telling you. They’re going to be the one’s buying the game.

As we’ve approached the new game I’ve been determined that we were going to hit Kickstarter bang on. A lot of this is about understanding your market; there are many different games that seem to do well on Kickstarter but three things seem to be critical:

  • Theme – While almost any theme can work on Kickstarter there are some themes that seem almost guaranteed to draw people’s attention if done well – Steampunk, generic fantasy, viking, dragons, and a few others. We polled the community and both Viking and Generic Fantasy polled equally highly leading to our choice of theme for the new game.
  • Artistic Style – it’s very important to get this right. For our new game we found five great artists and asked them all to deliver a piece of artwork based on a very specific brief. We then showed the artwork to the community to find out which artist’s work seemed to resonate.
  • Branding and Design – The elements that you design around your artwork and the branding have to make your game look like something people will want to play. We’re very fortunate to be able to work with a couple of brilliant designers based in Buenos Aires.

It’s a little trite to hold these three items up and make them sound like the only thing that matters. Many other things go into making a Kickstarter game successful, marketing, game-play, play testing, reviews, design of your Kickstarter page, the video, pricing, pledge structure, miniatures, your own track record, I could go on and on. However if you get theme, artistic style and design right you’ll be a long way to having a successful game.

Game Mechanics First?

Perhaps oddly I tend to think about theme and artistic style before I think about the actually mechanics of the game. I suspect everyone has a different way of developing a game but I figure out how I want the game to feel before ever putting pen to paper for the mechanics.

Part of this is aesthetic, I want the game to feel like something people want to play. There’s nothing quite as validating as putting up a piece of artwork and on that basis alone someone writing “shut up and take my money”. The feel of the game is often what will make it easy or hard to market. Interestingly some friends of mine went to a talk by the fabled game designer Reiner Knizia at the Cheltenham literature festival a few years back expecting a weighty discussion on game mechanics. What they got was a treatise on how important marketing is in the game publishing business. Get the right feel to a game and it will sell because of what people perceive it to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that game mechanics should be an afterthought, just that they don’t have to be the first thing that you do.

Realistic Budget

Building and marketing is likely to cost you money which, unless you’re phenomenally successful, you won’t make back in the first year. Scribble yourself out a budget with realistic costs for artwork, design, materials, marketing, attending shows, video production and prototype production. Be realistic here, I probably spent around $10,000 on Creature College to get it off the ground and my new game will probably cost around $15,000. Even if you’re very talented and can do all your own artwork and design you’ll still need money for marketing and show attendance.

Also, unless you manage to hit it big on Kickstarter with your first game, don’t expect to make any money initially. Once I’ve sold all my copies of Creature College from the first print run, which I’m guessing will take me a couple of years, I may make $2,000 – $3000.

So What Have We Done So Far?

We’re already a little way into our second game project so I thought it might be useful to catalogue what we’ve done so far:

  • Theme – after a lot of research we’ve decided to go for a Fantasy Viking theme. Out of the 60 or so respondents we had to our surveys Fantasy came out as by far the highest scoring genre
  • Artwork – We asked five very talented artists to create a piece of concept artwork for our game and based on community feedback we chose a couple of artists to work with us.
  • Brand – Working with the same designers we used for Creature College we’ve created a name and brand for the new game which we will trademark once we have the final logo files
  • Core game loop and initial game mechanics – We’ve figured out what the core game loop of our game should be, in this case and very roughly it’s get goods, to explore so that I can complete quests, win artifacts to transform my characters so that they win honour points and become better and getting goods.
  • Plan out the events calendar for the year – We’ve purchased stands at our big annual events. For us that means UK Games Expo and Essen Spiel 2016. Figuring this out is great because it gives us points in the year that we want to work towards. For instance I know that I want new company branding work completed for UK Games Expo and hopefully a playable demo of the new game.

While all this is going on it’s important not to forget our current game which as I type is currently in the air and winging its way towards our distributors. In order to be trusted to run a second Kickstarter campaign it’s very important that I deliver on the first!

I hope this has been useful to folks. If you would like to have a general chat about game design or have any specific questions please do drop me a line at, but if you haven’t read Jamey Stegmaier’s excellent blog posts please, please go and read that before you do *anything* else! 🙂


Creature College – 10 Things No One Ever Tells You About Running A Kickstarter

10 Things

Ever take a look at a running Kickstarter and think to yourself “That doesn’t look so hard, you just stick some pretty pictures up, film a neat video and watch the money roll in”?

I’ve been running the Creature College Kickstarter for about a week now as I stare at the screen with bloodshot eyes. I’ve forgotten at least two of my children’s names, started to talk to myself, begun to cheer incoherently every time another illusive pledge appears and I think my highly disheveled beard has started to develop its own ecosystem. To top it all I’m now into the dreaded Kickstarter Lull which feels a bit like being cast adrift in the middle of the Doldrums, in an upturned wheelie bin, with only a couple of teaspoons for propulsion and tea cozy as a sun hat.

Bearing all this in mind I thought it would be a good moment to write a short article on things no one ever tells you about running a Kickstarter.

  1. Launch night – If you’ve done your prep work properly then launch night will be party time, you’ll be up till the wee hours talking to folks who are almost as manically excited about the game as you are. The Adrenalin will be flowing freely and if you get to sleep before 5:00 AM (I didn’t) it will probably only be because your significant other has rendered you unconscious with a sharp blow to the back of your head. Enjoy this moment of Euphoria because from here on in it will feel more like trying to run through a lake of treacle with a live raccoon strapped to your head. (Just to avoid any potential law suits, please don’t try strapping a live raccoon to your head. It’s difficult and it will seriously upset the raccoon).
  2. I’m here to help! – The following morning you will hopefully awake to a seriously cool number of pledges and a full mailbox of messages. Don’t get too excited just yet – 90% of these messages will take the form of “I’m a student studying social media at the University of Point Barrow  (correspondence course)  and I happen to have 1.5 million followers who will all buy your game when I tell them to for the measly investment of $200 on your part”. Be prepared to get a slew of follow on messages from these people telling you how you must take their services now or face the inevitable apocalypse complete with fire, brimstone and small red people with little pointy forks.
  3. Don’t operate heavy machinery – If like me you have a day job be prepared to be seriously distracted at work. You’ll be doing your best to do your job but find yourself oddly mentally misplaced every now and then with stray thoughts about whether or not that backer number has crawled upwards. If like me you work in an office surrounded by generally very understanding people this isn’t an issue. However if your job happens to be driving a wrecking ball or a test pilot for Boeing, I strongly suggest that you take a month off!
  4. Kiss your family good bye – well not permanently, but let them know ahead of schedule that they’re hardly going to see you for the next 30 days and when they do you’re going to be wandering around in a zombie-like trance muttering incoherently about either Facebook or Twitter. Your wife/partner also needs to know that you’re going to be running in auto-response mode when it comes to talking to the kids and take appropriate precautions. This is important because when your middle child runs in and happily informs you that she’s made a miniature guillotine and she’s about to test it out on her younger brother’s finger, the correct response really shouldn’t be “Have fun munchkin!”
  5. Carpel tunnel syndrome – OK…you’re going to be doing a lot of typing and I do mean *a lot* of typing. Whether it’s Facebook messages, tweets or articles about running Kickstarters your fingers are going to be a constant blur. Invest in a hand massage each week and buy yourself a couple of industrial strength wrist straps.
  6. Social stigmatization – Sooner or later during this month your friends are going to get seriously fed up of you talking about your Kickstarter. You’ll rationalize that it’s only reasonable that you’re talking a lot about it because, well, it’s your life right and they’re your friends, they’ll understand? Try and have enough perspective to spot the warning signs in your friends that they’ve had enough, rolling eyes, foaming at the mouth and sudden unconsciousness are all indications that you may have taken your last diatribe on Kickstarter mechanics a little too far.
  7. Bouts of sudden despair – This is a hard one. Before you start your Kickstarter campaign let me tell you that you will lose backers at points throughout the 30 days. The right response to this is to shrug your shoulders stoically and move on. If it causes you to weep uncontrollably in a corner or message the lost user with threats to do unspeakable things to their pet kittens, then you need to seek professional help.
  8. An irrational preoccupation with graphs – Look, it’s kickstarter, that Kicktraq trend is about as accurate a prediction of your final funding as trying to predict tomorrows weather forecast by studying the mating behavior of frogs in the local pond. Just accept the fact from the onset that you’re not really going to have a clue what the final funding will be until you cross the finish line and embrace your ignorance. You’ll be far happier that way. If you want some general guidelines then 35% after the first three days or 50% after the first week is “cooking with gas” so to speak.
  9. Love your community – If you’ve done your job properly you’re going to have a whole bunch of people really excited about your project. Love them and hug them and call them George! Seriously, these guys and gals are going to amaze you over the next 30 days. Running a Kickstarter has some huge highs and lows so when you’re feeling a little bit like committing Japanese ritual suicide with your letter opener, read back through some of their posts or the cool things they’ve done. Here I’m actually going to mention a couple of members of my community, Lars, Jim, George, Chantal, Robert, Larry and Reiner…you know who you are, love you guys! Thanks also to all the brilliant folks too numerous to mention that I can’t mention here on account of you being too numerous.
  10. The long dark tea time of the soul – Sooner or later you’ll hit the dreaded mid-campaign Kickstarter lull. This particular pit of despair will have you tearing your hair out trying to think of ways to ramp up your campaign. You’ll feel like every pledge gained is like wrestling a grizzily, dressed in a gimp suit (you not the grizzily, see commas are important) whilst covered in butter. On the bright side, by the time you get here you’ve only got three weeks’ish of this left to go. So assuming that you don’t collapse under the mental strain, start to wear your underpants on your head, stick a couple of pencils up your nose and start to go “wibble” (little homage there to the bard), you should do OK.

Incidentally, I’m currently in my Kickstarter lull so if you feel like making me irrationally happy and backing me, you can do so here…..”wibble!”.

We’re live on Kickstarter!

We're Live

So we’re live on Kickstarter! Last night we had a launch party on The Board Game group and we’re currently 16% funded and number 3 on Kicktraq trending towards 251% funding. The community really has been awesome and I can’t wait to see how the next few hours and days pan out! 🙂

We had some great things happen last minute. Andrey Batanov, one of the geniuses behind Tabletopia, helped us get a full Tabletopia demo alive and online for our KS page so you can now play a full game of Creature College online for the duration of the campaign and Jim Goff pulled the stops out to send us a last minute video report of Creature College.

We’ll have lots of news as the campaign progresses and we’re hoping to have an announcement today on our supported languages so keep your eyes peeled! It’s going to be a great day!

All the best,


Creature College Update 15 – 7 days until Launch!

Weekly Update 15

Welcome to Creature College Update 15

Only 7 days away now! In a few short days we’ll be up on Kickstarter and ready to be backed. It’s time for a really big thanks to our community as the support we’ve had from you all have been phenomenal.

This is going to be a short update but I do want to tell everyone about a fantastic competition we have running on Facebook’s The Board Game Group. We’re giving away $160(£100) of board games of your choice! If you want to enter head over to The Board Game Group and read the competition post. You’ll find it here:¬if_t=like

We’ll also be running competitions all night next Wednesday (23rd September) on The Board Game Group so join us for lots of fun! 🙂

Have a great week and see you in 7 days time!


Happy Otter Games

Creature College Update 14 – Only 19 days to go!

Weekly Update 14

Don’t forget to subscribe to our news letter if you haven’t done so already and you’ll be entered into our monthly “Win a board game of your choice” competition. Just click here.

Welcome to Creature college Update 14

So only 19 days to go until our Kickstarter kicks off at 7:00 PM EST on the 23rd September. Our highly trained games otters are working at full tilt to make sure that it’s going to be a great launch day and campaign. Don’t worry we’ll remind you when the Kickstarter goes live but we have some great things to tell you about!

  • If you live in the US, UK, Western Europe, China, Japan, Australia, Korea or New Zealand postage and packing on the Kickstarter will be absolutely free – yup, you heard us! There are a small number of countries that we’ll still have to charge postage and packing for but for the majority of our customers you won’t pay a cent/penny/euro cent or yuan!
  • We’re going to give you an additional card absolutely free regardless of whether we hit stretch goals or not! Hector Headskew is a free wild card that will only be available for backing the Kickstarter and at game shows. We’ll even be able to give you the card this year at Essen!
  • Hector Headskew
  • We’ve had some great reviews from Breacher18, Board Game Brawl, Bower’s Game Corner and Undead Viking. You can see all of the reviews on our Creature College.
  • We’ve finalised our stretch goals and we have some really exciting ones for you, 5 additional replacement art cards for the game, your own creature college cup, cloth gem bags and custom 3cm wooden custom dice! We’re not saying very much yet about our final stretch goal but we can tell you that it’s more than a bit special! 🙂
  • We’ve created a whole series of Creature College videos which will not only show you what you’ll get in the Kickstarter but will also really help you get to grips with how the game is played. You can find the unboxing and play through videos here.
  • We’ll be running give away competitions and doing all sorts of other cool stuff all night on the 23rd and 24th of September on The Board Game Group. Come and join us….we’ll have lots of fun and there will be a stack of prizes to win!
  • If you live in the UK and your an avid reader of Tabletop Gaming Magazine you’ll find us in there in the latest issue. So pop down to your local W.H. Smiths and pick up a copy or better still…give a copy to a friend and spread the word!
  • We’ve created a whole bunch of social avatars that you can use. Spread the word and we promise you some really great stretch goals as our targets fall.
  • social_avatars social_avatars2 social_avatars3 social_avatars4 social_avatars5 social_avatars6

Not to forget that we’re also now only a month away from Essen! We’ll be on stand 7-G112 at the show which we’re sharing with our fantastic printer Wingo Games! Come and play a game with us if you’re going to be there!

Last but not least, thank you for all the fantastic support that you’ve given us and continue to give us. We couldn’t do this without you…no I mean it, we *really* couldn’t do this without you. We’d give you all a great big hug if we could!

Creature College Update 13 – Fighting the Hamster of Chaos

PS Update 13

Don’t forget to subscribe to our news letter if you haven’t done so already and you’ll be entered into our monthly “Win a board game of your choice” competition. Just click here.

Welcome to Creature college Update 13

In homage to the late great Terry Pratchett, “If complete and utter chaos was an escaped rabid hamster with little pointy teeth then I’d be the sort standing next to a hamster wheel dressed as a carrot trying to tempt the hamster into a tiny box muttering “Here Squeaky, here boy””. We’ve definitely been in overdrive this month. Three cons, updating the website, finishing stretch goals, filming play through videos, running competitions and working with our artist, designer and media studio to get ready for our Kickstarter. My wife has hardly seen me, the children have formed their own self-ruling proto-civilization on the top floor of our family home and given my bleary eyed state at work my colleagues have adopted the mistaken belief that I spend my evening crawling bars sampling the heady Cheltenham nightlife as an elderly Lothario.

So what has actually been happening? Well with less than two months to our Kickstarter now it’s been all hands to the rigging to try and get everything ready.


Well for those who haven’t already noticed we’ve completely revamped an updated the website. Partly so we could add new features but mostly because the old website looked like it had been created by a five year old with a bunch of multi-coloured crayons. The new website is a big improvement, it has play-through videos, our rule book, details of other projects and even a shop where you can buy some of our natty Creature related merchandise. We only have t-shirts available in the shop so far but that will change over the next few weeks as we get closer in to the Kickstarter. You can take a look at the new website at


We’ve now sent sample games out to all of our reviewers and there are some really well known names on the list. Keep an eye on the website for details of the reviews as they become available.

Stretch Goals

All our stretch goal art work is finished and we’re currently working on our extra stretch goal items with our fabby printer Wingo Games. We’ll publish more details on these as they become available but take a look at these cute little suckers!

StretchMost of these guys have already been named by our friends over at The Boardgame Group but there’s still one naming competition left so keep an eye out and join in!

Play-through Video

We know that you’ve been dying to find out more about how Creature College plays so we’ve filmed this neat little video to take you through the game. It’s hard to see the cards so at some point we may film a top down view as well. You can take a look at the video on the front of our website

We’ve arrived on Board Game Geek!

So we now have our own Board Game Geek page!

We’d love for you to go take a look at our page, vote on our page and become a fan! We’d love you, and hug you and call you George ( unless you’re a girl in which case we’ll call you George).

Ninja Snails

We’re currently working on a game to be released after Creature College. We don’t plan on being a one-game-wonder! It will be a few months yet but we can give you a sneak peak at our concept art! Here is our Hashimoto Clan Leader. Ninja Snails is a card game that we think will have two decks of just over 100 cards in total. The aim of the game will be to defeat other ninja houses to collect koku. The person at the end of the game with the most koku will win.

hashimoto final Hashimoto-ideas

Well that about wraps it up for this addition of the Newsletter. We’ll be running more fabby competitions and all sorts of other good stuff will be happening in the run up to the Kickstarter so keep an eye out and thank you for all the support you’ve given us as our community. We couldn’t do this without you!

All the best,


Printing Your Game Overseas

Wingo Games at UK Games Expo

Wingo Games exhibiting with Happy Otter Games at UK Games Expo

So you’ve finished and play-tested your proto-type and you’re ready to look for a printer. Getting your game printed can feel like a bit of a mine-field and depending on who you ask you’re going to get some wildly varying quotes for printing. Five of the first things to bare in mind are:

  1. You’re going to want prototypes and these are best done with the printer you’re going to be using to produce the game. This way you get to catch places where they may not have understood what you want up front
  2. If you’re going to use traditional distribution to get your game into stores then you’re going to want to have a very low base cost as retailers look for very large margins on games (up to and over 50%)
  3. The printer you choose should be experienced at producing games and have the technical ability to realise your dream. Make sure that you look carefully at what they’ve produced before and if possible…get references
  4. They should be easy to communicate with and responsive. If you ask a company for something and it takes two weeks to get a response (to a simple question) you should consider walking away. When you’re on tight deadlines the last thing you want is an unresponsive printer
  5. You’ll need them to be flexible at times. You need to feel like your printer is coming with you on your boardgame journey and they’re willing to work with you to make your game work

So where to print? If you run a google search for game printing you’ll get a raft of companies coming up that print games. For early good looking prototypes Game Crafter is a good first stop but if you’re going to require non-standard pieces or large print runs at a low cost per game then you probably don’t want to use them for your production run. If you live in Western Europe or the US you’ll find a lot of great printers. The benefits of printing in country are:

  • You can go and sit down with the printers and brief them in person (In the US this could involve a plane flight 🙂 )
  • You don’t have to worry too much about transportation
  • Depending on where you live and where you’re transporting to import duties and VAT cease to be so much of a problem for you
  • People speak your language both literally and figuratively

So given all these great benefits of printing in country, why do so many games companies (even Kickstarters) print over seas. In the first instance there is only one over-riding reason; COST. Simply it’s cheaper per unit to print overseas than in either the US or Western Europe. The difference in cost can be staggering, quotes for my game in the UK were coming in at around $25 – $35 for 1000 units, my base cost in China is closer to $12, even with transportation costs this doesn’t come anywhere close to $25. Prices in Eastern Europe (Poland/Czech) aren’t necessarily quite as good although you can get some excellent prices and you have the benefit of working with a company within the EU. So bearing in mind the huge financial benefits to printing overseas, what are the downsides?

  • You need to find a reputable printer who is easy to work with and both of these can be a challenge if you’re not fortunate
  • Language can be hard if the printer’s contact staff don’t have good English
  • It can be hard to assess quality of materials unless your printer is willing to send you pictures or samples
  • You can feel a bit disconnected from the process
  • You may have both VAT to pay (reclaimable in the UK if you’re VAT registered) and import taxes (Games are 0% rated in the UK and come under the import code 9504908000)

So how can you lessen the impact of these downsides? Find yourself a great overseas printer. This is down to word of mouth recommendations for people that have used them. I was very fortunate to hit upon Wingo Games almost straight off the mark. They were kind enough to provide a couple of references one of whom had been another Kickstarter project. The references were good so I asked them to quote on the game. I was immediately impressed by the level of contact that I received from Wingo, despite the fact that they company turns over millions of dollars a year my contact, Ivan (they all use western names to make themselves easier to interact with), made me feel like I was Wingo’s only customer. I have contact with Ivan maybe every couple of days and he’ll regularly drop me a line just to ask me how things are going. His English is close to perfect.

They were very flexible with me for my sample games which was very much appreciated as samples are very expensive. Typically a printer will have to include the same set up costs for a big print run in the costs for your sample games. This means that some of the quotes that you receive for samples can seem astronomical so flexibility here is very much appreciated.

The next thing that impressed me was the quality of the sample games:


Here is Creature College in all its glory. You can’t feel the quality of the materials but suffice it to say (and I fully accept that this is a little bit weird) I sometimes just run my hands over the box to feel the finish! I was very impressed with the quality of work from the thickness of the box cardboard and design of the insert straight through to the print quality in my rule book.

Finally you want to feel that your printer is a real partner. As you can see from the title picture Wingo Games has shared a stall with me at conventions and we’ll be at Essen together in the fall. I don’t heap praise on a partner without good reason but Wingo Games are a vital piece in the potential success of Happy Otter Games and Creature College.

I hope this little guide has been useful. If you’re interested in my experiences and just want to chat about your own project then feel free to drop me a line at I’m happy to put people in touch with Wingo but you can also contact them yourself at

Creature College Update 12 – The Frenetic Otter!

Creature College Update 12

Don’t forget to subscribe to our news letter if you haven’t done so already and you’ll be entered into our monthly “Win a board game of your choice” competition. Just click here.

Welcome to Creature college Update 12

Sheesh, well it seems like a age since I managed to update everyone! So what’s been happening since our last update. Our big news was that our sample games arrived from China and our fabulous printer Wingo did an awesome job. The sample games look terrific and they arrived just in time for UK Games Expo where we managed to meet a bunch of our great fans and play some really fun games of Creature College. It’s also let us send copies out for review and we currently have two reviews pending with some more planned.

We’re now firmly into conventions season with several great cons planned over the summer. We’ll be at London Anime and Gaming Con on the 4th and 5th of July and Lavecon on the 11th and 12th of July, so come and join us for a game if you can! We’ll be playing demo games, running competitions and generally having a lot of fun!

We’re also now firmly in launch mode with a bunch of stuff happening in the background to get us ready for Kickstarter in late September. We’re working with our friends across at Ironbelly Studios in Montreal on our Kickstarter video, preparing the artwork for our stretch goals, working with our designer on our Kickstarter page, setting up distribution networks and basically figuring out the 100 other small details that will hopefully ensure that we’re “Not at home to Mr. cock-up” at any point during or after our Kickstarter campaign. 🙂

We’ve also been planning how we will share a stand at Spiel 2015, Essen with our fantastic printer Wingo which will be slap bang in the middle of our Kickstarter Campaign!

We went a little crazy with competitions in May/June. Not only did we give away our customary monthly competition prize (Kimberly Snelgrove) and ran three impromptu competitions on The Boardgame Group, but we also gave away over 40 prizes in our UK Games Expo competition.

As always we’d like to give a shout out for a couple of other Kickstarter initiatives that we think are worthwhile. Currently both are a little ways from their funding targets but they’re both really great projects. The first is Foe Hunters by Larry Lembke of Spellforge Games. The second is “For the Love of Spock” run by Adam Nemoy, Leonard Nemoy’s son who is trying to get the funding for a documentary about his fathers life in time to have it ready for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek next year.

Sample Copies of Creature College

We believed it was very important for us to have full production quality copies of Creature College to send out for review and to play with at conventions so we’ve worked very hard with Wingo to make it happen. Below you can see what the game actually looks like and what we will deliver to Kickstarter pledges.


UK Games Expo

UK Games Expo was fantastic. We got to meet so many great people who really made the show for us. We ran many demo games and Creature College was very well received by everyone who played a game. It was great to meet all the brilliant folks from the Boardgame group, Katerina Demeanour, Ty Voyce, Declan Noonan, Matt Prowse and Dan Voyce for dinner and games on the Saturday night. A huge thank you as well to all our friends who pitched up at the stall to give us support with the best game of the weekend almost certainly being with Dan Macmillan, Garry Hewitt and the Northampton crowd. Also many thanks to Leon from Wingo who helped make it a great show for us and was kind enough to gave away dice to everyone who came to our stand! Perhaps the biggest star of the show for us though was Ty Voyce who made us a whole pile of *branded cupcakes*! Thanks again Ty…they were scrummy!


IMG_1163(1) IMG_1164

The Kickstarter Video

We’re working on our video with the great folks over at Ironbelly Studios in Montreal and we can give you a sneak peak into some of the work that we’ve been doing with them to prepare for our Kickstarter.

Please back Foe Hunters!

Our friend Larry Lembke from Spellforge Games has launched his Kickstarter for Foe Hunters. This is a great game with some stellar reviews so go and take a look at it and help Larry make his funding target!

Well that about wraps it up for update 12. Thank you to all our brilliant fans for all the support and come and see us at one of the shows!

Creature College Weekly Update Week 11 – A Rent in the Space-Time Continuum

Weekly Update 11

Don’t forget to subscribe to our news letter if you haven’t done so already and you’ll be entered into our monthly “Win a board game of your choice” competition. Just click here.

Welcome to our Week 11 News Round Up!

The more astute of you will have noticed that something odd happened last week. Your weekly dose of Otter-orientated news, pics and other bits and pieces was mysteriously AWOL from your email tray. I was going to make up some spurious, witty and entirely too contrived story about bees, chaos theory, rogue email servers and a rip in the fabric of space. I might still if I get bored! 🙂 Sadly the truth is more mundane that my review writing exploits, preparations for UK Games Expo and my day job sending me away to exotic Amsterdam for a couple of days interfered with my update writing schedule. Fear not however! Things have toned down from Blade Runner type insane to a more sedate Oliver and Hardy’esque type slapstick so I’m back on the job (so to speak). Now my rambling excuses are out of the way, what have we been up to I hear you ask!

Well currently life in Otter World is more exciting than a small Scotty dog who has a new friend with a ball to play with. We had a winner for our massive $150 April “Win a board game” competition in the shape of Frank Auge who chose Cthulu Wars as his prize. Our T-shirts and mouse mats arrived for UK Games Expo and we duly reserved a bunch of them for UK Games Expo attendees from the Boardgame Group, and our sample prints of Creature College are nearing completion across in China!

We’ve also reviewed a couple of games this month in the shape of Trench by Rui Alipio Monteiro and Five Tribes – The Kingdoms of Naqala. Neither of which has stopped us from backing a whole bunch of stuff on Kickstarter including Gruff which has torn through it’s Kickstarter target and is obviously on it’s way to greatness.

Lastly Happy Otter Games now comes to you with added Otter! We’ve partnered up with the wonderful folks over at the International Otter Survival Fund to help raise awareness and funds for the great conservation work they do.

T-Shirts and Mouse Mats

That’s right! We now have Creature College merchandise which we’ll mostly be giving away at exhibitions across the summer.


If for some mad reason you fancy one of these just drop me a line at The T-shirts are £15($22) and the mouse mats are £5($7.50) both with free postage.

Creature College Really Exists Now!

Well not the actual college itself but the game at least! Our brilliant printers Wingo across in Guang Dong province China have been beavering away and have sent us the first photos of production proofs of the game!




They’re working on the final samples right now and should be finished for the 20th May so we’ll have a real game to play at UK Games Expo! Which for those people that don’t know is at the Birmingham NEC Hilton Metropole from the 29th-31st of this month.

Review Fever

I’ve been meaning to do some game reviews for a while and finally got around to it over the last couple of weeks. Trench had intrigued me for a while and I’d seen some reports of it. Rui was kind enough to let me buy a copy and sent it all the way from the shores of Portugal. The whole idea of the game really fascinated me and after a couple of games I knew tthat I really wanted to review it. You can read the review here if you missed it.

I’d also seen and heard great things about Five Tribes, the latest blockbuster from Days of Wonder. Amazon kindly furnished me with my copy and after the very first game I was hooked playing it three more times before the end of the weekend! Although there are lots of reviews on this terrific game already you can read my thoughts on it here.

Kickstarter Spree and More Gruff!

10981946_10153171951556052_677850946851958791_oSo a whole bunch of Kickstarters grabbed my attention and hard earned cash this month. Some of them are still active so you can still have a flutter if the mood takes you! Cauldron is a game of competitive alchemy and looks like a good cross over game for board game newbies and more seasoned gamers. Dragon Punch describes itself as a tiny card game and at a $10.50 pledge level is one of the more affordable of the Kickstarter games. Next isn’t a game but I had to give it a shout simply because it’s such a great idea. Mash Me is a piece of software that intends to take you and turn you into an animated avatar. At only a $20 minimum pledge level to get the software this is really cool functionality.

Finally…yes it’s still out there and it’s smashed through it’s target…it’s Gruff! I know I’ve harped on endlessly about this but if you haven’t backed it yet it’s only $25. Go back it now! Mutated Monster Goats…I mean…come on!

Happy Otter Games Now With Added Otter Power

We’ve always wanted to marry good business and great fun with worthwhile causes and now we’ve got the chance thanks to the lovely people over at the International Otter Survival Fund. The European Otter is a “Near Endangered” species and the folks over at the IOSF do great work helping to conserve these beautiful animals. You’ll see us collecting for the fund at most of the events we’re going to this year.

Well that just about wraps it up for this week. Until next week, have fun, play some great games and stay safe!


The Happy Otter Games Review – Five Tribes, The Djinns of Naqala by Bruno Cathala

IMG_3138 Players: 2-4 Duration: About 90-120 minutes (The rules say 40-80 minutes but we’ve never managed to finish a game in that time)

Age Range: We’d say about 10+ (The rules say 13+ – it is a deep game so I can understand their rating)

So this was another game I’d been dying to try. I’d heard good things about it from a number of friends, and people seemed to be raving about it on the boards as well…but did it live up to the hype? Five Tribes is produced by Days of Wonder, the same company that brought us the hugely successful Ticket to Ride series, Small Worlds and Memoir ’44 so I can perhaps be forgiven for having very high expectations of Five Tribes. A couple of weeks back I purchased a copy from Amazon and planned to unleash it on our Monday night games group, however on the Saturday night I had the opportunity to play the 2-player rules with a friend who had a couple of hours to kill. I was pretty much hooked from the first five minutes, clever game mechanics coupled with beautiful production and great re-playability make this a great acquisition for any one’s games collection. I had actually managed to persuade people to play it four more times by the end of games night! Five Tribes will set you back about £36($52) if purchased on Amazon.

The Unpack

For a game costing only £35 Five Tribes has undeniably beautiful production. You notice almost immediately the vibrancy in the colours, the nice finish on the cards and the large number of quality wooden playing pieces. A great deal of care and attention has been spent making this game look and feel really good. I especially like the little cloth draw string bag for the preponderance of meeples, not strictly necessary given the game play but a very nice additional touch. The crenelated edges on the cardboard coins give them a rather nice unique feel and the artwork on the cards is attractive. IMG_3176 Another nice touch is the scoring pad; the largest I’ve seen for a game but that does make it very easy to use especially if like me your arms have been getting successively shorter in the last few years. The rule book is well laid out and easy to follow and the card game references, the large mats in the picture, a luxury as they serve only to help you with quick look-ups during the game. Did I feel I received my money’s worth in the box? Definitely…I would happily have paid another £5-£10 for this quality of game.

The Trope

You have arrived in the Kingdom of Naqala to find it’s Sultan deceased and the five tribes in disarray. You have to cleverly manoeuvre the tribes into supporting you so that you can defeat your opponents and become the new Sultan of Naqala. To do this you must capture regions of Naqala, influence all powerful Djinns, gain influence through manipulation of the tribes, build palaces and oasis, and ultimately become a very rich man/woman. The trope works well and although the game mechanics would work equally well in multiple different genres you do get the feeling that the author has tried hard to make everything in the game fit comfortably into the backstory. This is a good instance of backstory definitely adding to the game.

The Game Play

Five Tribes is played on a board constructed of 30 region tiles. The region tiles are placed randomly at the start of the game. Each has a score and a special ability. The fact that the board is different every time definitely adds to the re-playablility of the game. Each tile has three meeples randomly assigned to it from the five tribes of Naqala (merchants, viziers, elders, builders and assassins).


You bid for who moves first and this can be key if you can see a particularly good move on the board. Bidding involves paying for a position on the player order board, but don’t pay too much unless it really benefits you as your hard earned cash translates directly into victory points at the end of the game!

The central mechanic of the game involves how you move the meeples around this board. On your turn you get to take all of the meeples from any one tile and move them in a line either horizontally or vertically (or both) leaving a meeple on each tile you move through until all your meeples are gone. You have to colour match on your last tile, in other words there must be a meeple of the same colour as the last meeple in your hand when you place on the final tile in your run. When you place on the final tile you remove all the meeples of the colour of the last meeple you placed.


So in the above example we took a blue, green and white meeple from the top right hand corner and left one meeple on the (5) tile another on the (15) tile and placed the final white meeple on the (4) tile. There was already a white meeple there so we were able to remove both white meeples.

Once you’ve moved there are three things that you can then do:

  • Activate the power on the tile which allows you to buy resource  cards, Djinns or buildings.
  • Claim the tile by placing one of your camels on it if you removed ALL of the meeples (i.e. they were all one colour)
  • complete the action for the meeples you removed

The meeples all allow you to complete different actions:

  • Elders (white) – these give you points at the end of the game and enable you to buy Djinns
  • Assassins (red) – Assassinate meeples and can help you claim additional tiles
  • Merchants (green) – allow you to claim resource cards
  • Visiers (yellow) – pure vp at the end of the game
  • Builders (blue) – allow you to claim gold during the game

In Five Tribes gold and victory points are the same thing, You can earn victory points by collecting resource sets, djinns, tiles, gold, buildings and meeples. These all tally up at the end of the game to determine a victor. It’s worth mentioning the Djinns as these have special powers on them that can effect your strategy significantly during the game. I found it was really worth buying djinns but you then had to play to their special powers to gain the full benefit. So there is one djinn that multiplies the gold bonus of your viziers but it’s pointless unless you collect viziers. You get the picture. I guess the point here is don’t ignore them they’re a great strategy to play.


Five Tribes is a “tour de force”; it has deep gameplay, requires you to play multiple strategies to win, pits you in very interactive tactics with your opponents and delivers more than enough mind bending for even the very seasoned gamer. In the games I’ve played with friends so far it has had a greater quotient of “hang on a moment I need to think” than pretty much any other game I’ve played. Given the relatively short time it takes to read and grasp the rules, finding such depth of gameplay is a welcome surprise. The cost is more than reasonable given the quality of production and the fact that this is a very good game. It’s rare that as a game designer that I come across a game and honestly think that there is nothing I would do to improve it but Five Tribes gains that honour and hence there’s only one way I can really rate it.

Otter Rating: 5 Otters

5 otters

very much the case here.