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Bootleggers

Bootleggers by Eagle Games
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Manufacturer: Eagle Games  Visit their site
Designer: Ray Eifler  "Interview"
Don Beyer Steve Gross
Players: 3 to 6
Categories: Transportation
Economic
Mafia
Industry / Manufacturing
Mechanics: Pick-up and Deliver
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Our Price:  $29.95 - Retail $39.99
Reward Points: 2,995
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From the Publisher...

It's the roaring 20's and prohibition ("the great experiment") is in full swing. The business of illegal alcohol is growing bigger and getting more dangerous by the day. Illegal stills dot the countryside and secret underground speakeasies are popping up all over big cities. Local law authorities carefully look the other way for a price, but G-Men are harder to convince and can wreak destruction on a budding enterprise. With this much money and corruption, organized crime is sure to follow.

In Bootleggers, you take the role of a "boss" making a name for yourself in the trade of illegal alcohol. By muscling in on the competition, paying off the cops, and shipping trucks of "hooch", your aim is sit on top of the world, see?

Sound easy? It ain't kid. Bootleggers is a supply chain game based on the production, shipping and consumption of illegal whiskey. Start your "family business" and build it up to an empire. Deceit, lies, and alliances of convenience are the norm as you attempt to control distribution, any way you can! You'z guys have what it takes to be the big cheese?

As you probably know, Eagle has been known for big box games with huge boards and tons of miniatures. They have also been known for games that relied on the American school of game design - games with lots of theme but tend to run quite long and have lots of dice rolling. With Bootleggers, Glenn is moving away from these types of games and toward games that look and feel more German. Bootleggers does feel like a German game but it also has quite a bit of theme - something that Glenn likes about American games. When the game is published you can expect beautiful art and cool miniatures, which have become hallmarks of Eagle's games.

In Bootleggers, players take on the roles of mobsters controlling the flow of booze to a town's speakeasies (bars, for those unfamiliar with the term). Each player produces whiskey at his own distilleries, loads them up on his trucks, and tries to sell the booze to the speakeasies for the best price. Of course, the speakeasies only need so much booze and players are competing to get their booze into the bars. Players can also try to take control of the speakeasies to force them to buy their own booze or to stop them from buying other player's booze.

Here's a quick summary of the sequence of play (and note this is from a prototype, so things may change in the final production version):

Phase 1: Muscle In this phase, a number of action cards are turned face-up. These action cards can give you more influence over the speakeasies, more production, more trucks, etc. Players bid for turn order using numbered cards (sort of like El Grande) and each takes and uses one of the action cards.

Phase 2: Distillery Here is where you roll for production from your stills. The higher you roll, the more whiskey you produce.

Phase 3: Whiskey Running In this phase, each player in turn order loads their trucks with their whiskey and moves them to the speakeasies.

Phase 4: "What's the Password" In this phase you roll to see how much whiskey each speakeasy consumes. They buy whiskey from the players that have their trucks at the speakeasy and the players get cash for the sale. The higher the roll, the more the players will sell, however, if you roll low some player's whiskey may not be sold.

Phase 5: The Heat Here is where the Copper (the fuzz, the police) move onto the player's still with the most production - sort of like the robber in The Settlers of Catan. Players then move onto the next round.

The game ends when one player reaches as certain amount of money. The game is fairly straightforward and has a number of mechanics that make it fun. Most of the fun comes from the negotiation that happens during the game - you can offer other players your trucks to use or sell them your surplus booze if you don't have the truck capacity to move it yourself. There is also a 'take that' element to the game - some of the action cards are Thug cards that allow you to hammer other players.

Read more information at the Board Game Geek website


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Gamepug

This game has a great theme and nice components. In this area influence game you are building a bootlegging empire. There is plenty of player interaction and just the right amount of luck in this game. A sure family hit.


Bootleggers just oozes theme and the components fully support it. You have a beautiful board, miniatures gangsters and even trucks to drive around. It certainly has a high toy factor. It is, however, also a very good game - provided you like direct confrontation and negotiation.

Interview...

Taking The "Euro" Out Of "Eurogames"

An interview with Steve Gross, Don Beyer and Ray Eifler of SDR Games

In the summer of 2003 I started some email correspondence with Don Beyer, a Fair Play customer from the Detroit area. I could tell from his orders that we shared an interest in the same types of games. Since he was fairly close to us, I suggested Terry and I meet with him and his friends at a centrally located mall for a day of gaming. We met up on the Fourth of July and had a great time learning several new games. During that gaming session Don shared that he had an idea for a strategy game. As I usually do, I encouraged him to pursue it.

Well, not only did he pursue the idea, but within weeks he had teamed up with two friends, Ray Eifler and Steve Gross, and started SDR Games. I was impressed with their progress in such a short time. Of course, I was even more impressed and surprised to learn that, not even a year after we had talked, Don & Co. had signed a contract for that game with Eagle Games!

As soon as it was official that their first game, Bootleggers, would be produced by Eagle, I asked Don if he, Ray and Steve would do an interview with us for Fair Play. When they agreed, I took the chance to ask about their vision (their website claims they want to "take the 'euro' out of 'eurogames'") and what it's like to work with the Eagle Games crew.


Mike Petty: First off, please tell us a little about yourselves--both as SDR Games and as individuals.

Don Beyer: SDR Games is a partnership of three really different guys that like playing, and now designing, games together.

Me personally, well... I should probably let the others answer this one for me, I am sure they have much more colorful ways of describing me. :-) In general, just an average middle-age family man big company IT employee that doesn't really like sports very much and can't seem to keep a hobby more than 6 months. That pretty much sums it up.

Ray Eifler: I am much like Don only taller and I like to watch the Detroit Lions. So, I must hate sports too.

Steve Gross: I'm thinner, younger, and much more attractive than Ray and Don. I only like sports that have a fair-to-middling chance of maiming me such as motorcycle racing. My cover identity is as a mild-mannered electronics engineer working for the University of Michigan Space Physics Research Laboratory. Also, all three of us have some sort of graduate management degree which means that we're always trying to delegate work to each other.

MP: I first met Don when he placed an order at Fair Play. I have since learned you guys are part of a fairly regular game group that meets at Ray's house. What sort of games do you usually play?

Steve: Oddly enough, I used to really dislike playing games, with the notable exception of Cosmic Encounter. Then Ray bought a smoothie machine and a bunch of rum. Now I'll play pretty much anything, but usually we focus on the German-style strategy games. I do have a real weakness for simple card games like Wizard, Rage, Take 6, and Guillotine though. And I am still in awe of Cartagena. It is so elegant.

MP: When you three game together, who usually wins?

Steve: It's not Don, that's for sure. Ray wins more than I do, he's ruthless.

Don: But when I do win, I sure appreciate a whole lot more.

MP: Has it affected the way your group plays games now that the three of you are designers yourselves? For example, maybe you make an effort to try certain games, more different games, or maybe your sessions would be more critical than if you were "just a bunch of gamers" getting together to play.

Steve: Absolutely. We haven't changed how we decide which games to play, but we can see what's going on "behind the curtain" a lot more clearly. For example, some mechanics and rules are obvious "balance fixes" to us now (not that there's anything wrong with that!). I am particularly critical of strange component choices. The impossible-to-handle " cubes in Wallenstein come to mind. Ever try to pick those up after three or four rum smoothies? At the same time, I pay a lot more attention to how the rules are written and laid out.

Ray: I now despise the concept of victory points. I like a scoring track, or money, or decimation of your opponent. Victory point games always feel like the balancing was done after the game was done.

Don: I definitely think we are more critical. As Steve said, its just a lot more obvious what the designer was trying to achieve with the mechanics and whether it was successful or not. It's also obvious now when we didn't understand the rules and something breaks on us during play. We played Power Grid the other week and it was pretty clear we had misunderstood the endgame by the way it played out. We definitely don't try to second guess or try to figure out how we would have done something differently or better… we have enough of our own projects for that sort of thing.

MP: What's your vision for SDR Games?

Ray: To bring back the glory days of American board games!

Don: This may seem a like a strange answer, but there is something really special about sitting around the kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon with your family playing a board game.

Steve: We want to produce American-style alternatives to the German-style strategy games. Like I said earlier, Cosmic Encounter is my favorite game of all time. The theme, mechanics, and artwork are all closely tied together. There's a ton of direct player-to-player interaction, free-form dealmaking is vital to winning, and the "replayability factor" is huge. Those are some of the things we try to incorporate into our designs.

MP: This raises an interesting point. One could argue that Settlers of Catan has all those elements you mention. It's always been the top seller at Fair Play by a huge margin. Still, we never find it in a Toys R Us and ten years after it's been released most people I talk to have never heard of it. What do you think keeps great games like this one from reaching the public and what do you (and possibly Eagle) hope to do differently so your games do catch on as you hope?

Steve: That goes directly to the heart of what we're trying to do at SDR. We think that games like Settlers are too abstract to appeal to the mainstream American market. The mechanics are interesting, complex, and deep, but the theme often seems to be "pasted on" at the end. Here in the US we love immersive entertainment-look at the popularity of movies for example. For Bootleggers, we kept the Euro-style deep mechanics but tied them very closely to the theme and artwork to make you feel like you are a prohibition-era mobster running an empire based on bootlegged whiskey. We really think this is the key to opening up the American market.

Ray: When you pick up a box of Settlers at the store (as an American consumer), does Settlers look "engaging"? Not really. You would buy it because you already know it's a good game. If you don't know that, you're going to go for something more familiar theme-wise or a party game. Plus, when someone introduces Settlers to people new to this style of game, they invariably beat them because they understand the statistical placement phase at the beginning. You can actually beat new players before the game begins! You are much better introducing people new players to designer games with something like Take 6, or Top Secret Spies (aka Heimlich & Co.)--which has a party feel to it--or Bohnanza or even Cartagena. Start with games where everyone feels like they have a chance, even at the end. Then put Settlers on the table.

Don: The mainstream retail game market in the US has created expectations about what board games are and should be. They are mostly party games, classics that we played when we were kids, and games based on movies or TV shows - mostly kids games. It doesn't occur to most people that grown-ups can have fun playing a board game. Settlers is sold by people who have already discovered that. Settlers was my first designer game and I was in awe. Not so much of the game, but of the experience. The regular game night at Ray's just furthered that experience. Now with invitational events like Great Lakes Games, I think that there is something really important going on with board games and we are just at the beginning of it.

MP: Was Bootleggers the first game you guys worked on together?

Don: Yes it was, that's where it all started.

MP: Tell us about how the game got started.

Don: I had been noodling around some ideas for a game and pretty much thought I was nuts to even consider doing anything about it. You know, you read all the negatives on the web about getting a game to market; all those articles can be pretty much summed up as: 1) Your game idea stinks. 2) Everyone that plays games thinks they can design one. 3) Publishers get zillions of submissions so don't even bother trying, and 4) by the way, your game idea stinks. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for short periods of time I can be quite obsessive like others whose name I won't mention (ok, its Ray) and refused to let it go. You may even remember that I mentioned it to you the time we got together up at GLC over the July 4th holiday for some open gaming. At the time, it was just a mechanic around the concept of improving something over which you only have temporary ownership. Basically building something up and then losing it to another player. I was also kicking around the three-tiers of producing, transporting, and processing. Anyway, we were all hanging around at Ray's after his girls' birthday party and, after some encouragement from my wife and a little liquid courage, I nervously mentioned it to him. He immediately suggested prohibition in place of my lame theme: plantations, paddleboats, and mills. Some number of rum punches and general brainstorming later, we had the rough outline for the game. I re-wrote it over night and got it back to Ray. Next trip to Ray's to fiddle around with the game found Steve hanging out reviewing the rules. I think all of our families were out of town that week. We spent the remainder of the week fooling around with the components that would eventually become trucks (plastic champagne glasses), crates of moonshine (pennies), and influence markers (colored Risk player pieces). By the end of the week, it seemed like we sort of had a game. Then it got tough. I think we spent the next several months playing a turn, changing, playing a turn, changing, etc. I think there were some long nights where we only played two turns.

Ray: Rum Punch. I remember rum punch… and Don nagging me about paddlewheels. The rest is a blur.

MP: What were some of the most memorable moments in the development of Bootleggers?

Don: I think we all have our personal favorites. A couple of mine were things like Ray yelling at me, "Stop checking the rules! You wrote them!". And Ray vehemently arguing for a rule change on something that went against him only to argue it back the next turn when the revision also went against him. That one was particularly funny. I think it was also about that time I earned the nickname "Magoo" for my notoriously bad eyesight that made me write our rules with two-inch margins so the "fit to screen" would make it legible for me. Both Steve and Ray used to complain horribly about that. I can see quite well now, but of course the Magoo epithet still pops up now and again just for fun.

Steve: When we were pitching Bootleggers to Eagle, by the end of the game nobody was sitting down. We were all standing over the board through the entire final round. That really made an impression on me…that a game we made could be just as engaging as a game from a big name designer.

MP: What's the typical process you guys use when you start working on a game?

Don: This one's easy. Generally, I come up with some mechanics and a really horrible theme. Ray applies a great theme and we all start shaping the rules to fit. Steve is our cleaner - he is amazingly detailed and has a real sense for game balance. Soon as I start regularly losing, we know we have something. Its not always that way, however. Steve and Ray concocted a corporate politics games in a coffee shop in Chicago the weekend we met the Eagle team that turned out to be a really good game. There are also Ray's "I had a vision" games where he sees the final product and it becomes sort of an adventure to get there. Sometimes we get lost only to find ourselves again at a later date with a promising design. Bottom line, there is no way any one or two of us could do it on our own. It's the combined talents that make it possible.

Ray: Yeah. Don is the Starter, I come in as relief, and then Steve is the closer. Remember, coffee is for closers.

Steve: I wish I could do it without them because then I wouldn't have to split the royalties. The reality is that if you give me a blank sheet of paper and say "go design a game" you'll just get your blank paper back. But once Ray and Don put the theme and mechanics together, I file down all the rough edges and make it all fit together smoothly.

MP: I talked to Don several times about Bootleggers over the last year and I know it went through a lot of changes. How did you determine when it was finally ready?

Steve: Well, you eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. After we got the game basically working-and fun to play-then we playtested with lots of different people until we couldn't find any more serious balance problems or strategies that broke the game. When we got to the point where the playtesters were only suggesting things that we had already tried, or that we thought were outright ludicrous, we stopped development. This was well after Eagle picked the game up, by the way.

Ray: For months we only played three turns. When we finally got to turn four, we new we were getting close.

MP: How often do you guys get together to work on designs?

Ray: We collaborate daily. We get together to playtest whenever someone yells, "It looks ready." They are usually wrong, and the process begins again.

Steve: Yes we have a constant flow of e-mail and phone calls. Don't tell my boss though.

MP: Do you have any official organization within the group, for example, is there one of you who has the last word in case you can't reach a consensus?

Ray: HA! The struggle is the art!

Steve: That's our one trade secret. Maybe someday we'll write a book.

MP: How did it come about that Eagle picked up Bootleggers? Judging from their past releases, it looks like a stretch for them.

Ray: We all went down the CHITAG to compare ourselves to other games and see if we were out of our league. There were so many games there where we looked and said, "I think ours are better." So we are feeling good about continuing our little hobby and run into this Glenn guy. We spend hours talking about games and the game industry. The entire time we never talked about our games. It was great fun. Glenn felt we really had similar views on games and game designs that he did, so he invited to visit him one day. When we called months later, he remembered us--a good sign. We asked him if he still wanted to see our stuff, and he said yes. We expected them to say some encouraging words and send us on our way, but they were just great. Once the Eagle guys played it, Glenn liked the fit even more.

Steve: We were really fortunate that Eagle was looking to explore a new market just as we had a game ready to go in that market space.

MP: How long was it from that first time they saw the game until now, when the game is about to be released?

Steve: We showed Eagle four games this past March. Eagle told us on the spot that they wanted to publish Bootleggers and gave us an 18-month time frame. Within a couple of weeks they had pulled the launch date ahead to Gen Con (late August) which I thought was impossibly aggressive. That turned out to be true but only barely. We're going to hit Essen (late October) and we'll be on retail shelves in the US for Thanksgiving.

MP: I've seen Eagle games show up everywhere from Comp USA to Toys R Us. If anyone is poised to bring a euro-flavored game to the American mainstream, they seem to be likely candidates. I have to say, though, I'm surprised they went for a theme of running booze for their first stab at this. I can't help but wonder how it would look on the shelf at Toys R Us with other family games or if it will get the "best family strategy game" award in Games Magazine! Was there any talk whatsoever about the theme as they considered picking it up?

Steve: Actually, we did talk about this quite a bit. Mobsters and prohibition are just naturally interesting. The main characters in the movie Shark Tale--which I just took my kids to last week--are all mobsters. I don't know how many we're going to sell in Utah but I don't think it would look out of place at Toys R Us at all. Especially if it were called "Godfather: The Board Game" or something along those lines…

Ray: Plus, this is a theme that is popular with the American audience.

MP: How much input did you guys have on the finished product--let's say the look of the components and the written rules, for example?

Steve: Eagle was really great about this. We told Glenn our vision for the art direction and he agreed almost 100%. We provided detailed notes for Paul (the artist) who did a fantastic job with them. Eagle sent all of the components to us for proofing, and bent over backwards to make changes when we asked them to. We wrote all the rules and play examples, then Eagle did the graphic design and layout and again sent the finished product to us for proofing.

MP: You previewed the game at GenCon in August. How was it received?

Don: I know everyone I played with wanted to finish the game and seemed to really enjoy it. The most enthusiastic group we had was with a group of guys that came all the way from Alabama to attend the show. Three of them played with Steve on Friday. Saturday they came back dragging two more of their buddies with them. I played with them, though at that point I think I was pretty much a spectator. They really got into the theme and understood the true purpose of the thug cards. They came back two more times on Sunday for pictures(!) and autographs(!!). Obviously this was way over the top, but it was a lot of fun for all of us. My own personal highlight was actually winning for the first time! Though Steve wasted no time in reminding me that Ray had played the first two rounds and therefore it didn't count.

Ray: Plus, Don looks great in the hat!

Don: Aw, shucks.

MP: What's been your biggest surprise so far as you've rather quickly moved into the game industry?

Steve: I'm still shocked that we got a game published! But I'm most surprised at how much work goes into designing and producing a game and how important the little details are at every stage of the process.

MP: Do you have any advice for others who are hoping to get a game published?

Don: I will leave the game theory to others. The best advice I would pass along is to not be afraid of abandoning a game. You should see our graveyard --some real stinkers in there. Sometimes I think folks get too wrapped up in a design and don't know when to let go, for good or bad. I can see that trait in ourselves sometimes.

Secondly, make sure you have a game with a high degree of replay value. Prevailing wisdom is that replay is good for the market. My feelings tend to be more selfish in hoping to avoid going nuts with the insane number of repeated plays through all the playtesting and now the demos!

Finally, this is a business and even though it is about games and entertainment, you need to treat it as a business. This may be your hobby, but this is how the folks looking at your design earn their living. Even if you think you have a really great game, you need to understand that it will only be picked up if the publisher believes that they can make the product a commercial success. Hopefully, I am not falling into that negative trap.

Steve: Playtest the heck out of your game before you take it to a publisher. Your playtesters will find lots of problems in the game that you never thought of. If you're lucky they'll also find opportunities that you never thought of either. Our Bootleggers playtesters really drove us to expand the direct player-to-player negotiation possibilities to include, for example, using Thug cards to blackmail other players. This added a great new dimension to the game while fitting in perfectly with our design philosophy.

MP: Don, you particularly have helped a lot with some game design events here in Michigan. You and I have worked together on the Midwest Game Designers Forum and Protospiel 2004 and both events have been greatly appreciated by the attendees. How do these organized events fit into your goals with SDR Games?

Don: In two ways. One, obviously, is for selfish reasons in finding a group of folks that can critically playtest our designs. Playtesting is difficult and not a lot of fun. More importantly is finding folks that are experienced playtesters who can provide the type of feedback we need at that stage in the games' development. The downside to hosting these events, as you know and I have learned, is that you tend not to get as much time to test your own designs. I think it is the added responsibility for keeping the event running and to ensure, as hosts, that everyone else attending finds value in the event.

Secondly, I wanted SDR Games to have a positive influence in the game industry. We are tremendously fortunate that internally we already have the minimum number of players for any game we are working on. Not all designers have that opportunity; for most, these events represent the only time they can test a design and gain critical feedback.

MP: What plans do you have for the near future?

Ray: Well, we have more games in the pipeline…

Steve: We have no intention of being one hit wonders, that's for sure.

MP: Is Bootleggers typical of these other games you're working on now, in terms of complexity and strategy, or do you have some party games or light, humorous card games in the works too for example?

Steve: Our main interest is games like Bootleggers--richly themed strategy games--but we've got completed designs for things ranging from simple 2-player card games (Canoe Race) to raucous party games (Fallen Idols, now on something like version 6!). Plus some things that are probably totally unmarketable because they are interesting to maybe seven people in the entire world.

MP: Guys, I want to thank each of you very much for the interview. I hope you enjoy much success with Bootleggers and your future projects!

Steve: Thanks for your time, too, Mike. We're looking forward to knocking Settlers off from the #1 sales position at Fair Play.

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