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Knockabout

Knockabout by Pair-of-Dice Games
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Manufacturer: Pair-of-Dice Games  Visit their site
Designer: Greg Lam  "Interview"
Players: 2
Time: 20 to 30 Minutes
Game Type: Board Game
Categories: Abstract Strategy
Dice
Ages: 12 and up
Availability: Unavailable 
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Our Price:  $12.25 - Retail $13.95
Reward Points: 1,225
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From the Publisher...

Maneuver your army of four-, six-, and eight-sided dice around the board to knock your opponent straight off the map and into the gutter. Each die can move as far as the number on its face. However, a die gets rerolled whenever it is knocked about by friend or foe. A strategic game of position and calculation.

Our Comments...

Knockabout was a 2002 Honoree in GAMES Magazine's Games 100!

Read more information at the Board Game Geek website


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Interview...

The three guys from Pair-of-Dice Games, Greg Lam, Luke Weisman and Brian Tivol, were among the first to enter their game into the Independent Designer Program here at Fair Play. Warp 6 fit perfectly with my original intent for the IDP. It was a self-published game done inexpensively, but with style.

As it turns out, though, the guys needed no help from Fair Play getting exposure for their game. Shortly after adding to the site, we got news that the game, along with another from Pair-of-Dice, was selected by GAMES Magazine for their Games 100. As has been my custom now, I asked the guys if they'd be willing to answer some questions for us to include with our IDP Feature. I think their responses will prove useful to anyone else seeking to publish their own games.


Mike Petty: Let's start with what each of you do for a living.

Brian: I'm a software engineer.

Greg: You mean you don't think we're making a living with game design alone?!? I do freelance graphic design and also administrative work for non-profits.

Luke: I teach math and computer science at a small private highschool.

MP: That's exactly what I'm teaching this year. Do you ever do any gaming with your students?

Luke: Yup, as much as possible. We have two all-school retreats every year and I bring a big sack of games and try to convert the masses. I believe strongly that thinking about games, i.e. actively using your brain, helps you in the long run. Sometimes the kids play my games. One of them buys my games and I always feel like some kind of slime drug-dealer when he hands me cash and I hand overproduct during school hours.

MP: I can relate to that! I've made a few Fair Play sales at school myself.

So, how and when did Pair-of-Dice games get started?

Luke: I started inventing games, and then somewhere along there some other folks started inventing them as well. The main game I was testing, Prospectors Scramble, was fairly heavyweight and my thoughts of publishing were curtailed by the size of the thing. Around that time I invented the Triangle Game one Saturday morning because I was frustrated by the lack of three-player games on my shelf. When I showed the prototype to folks they got really enthusiastic and so I decided to try and make that one. I shopped around and cobbled together a design, talked to folks, and ended up making 100 copies. Greg was inventing games at this time and there was talk of doing stuff together. This is when I registered Pair-of-Dice Games.

Then Greg came out with Knockabout and everyone flipped over it, so we decided to do it. Brian said he wanted it out there, and that he wanted a copy, and that he would front money, and that got the three of us rolling. We then collectively invented Warp 6, threw in some other games while we were at it, and ended up with our first line of five.

Greg: We put that first line of games out there in December 2001.

Brian: Every once in a while, I'd hear about Luke's progress selling the Triangle Game. I must not have been listening, really, since I had the impression that making and selling games would be unbridled fun. When he broke even on his first investment, I asked if he'd be up for manufacturing another round of some different games.

MP: And a year later, two of your games make the Games 100. Congratulations!

Brian: Thanks!

MP: I'm interested in how the idea for Warp 6, the pick for best abstract strategy, first came about.

Brian: We knew that, for Knockabout, we'd be buying a lot of polyhedral dice, so we tried to make a different game that used the same pieces. We all sat in my kitchen, throwing out ideas -- Greg traced a spiral on a Knockabout board, suggesting a race game, and the three of us started to figure out how to move pieces around.

Luke: We were sitting around trying to figure out how to make Knockabout a good 3-player game. We got frustrated and started brainstorming games with the Knockabout board and dice. We piled ideas on each other and somehow ended up with Warp 6.

Greg: That's the secret about the Warp 6 board. It's really the Knockabout board in disguise. You move the dice around the perimeter, then warp inward if you land on a die. It really amused us in the GAMES Magazine reviews that they counted the number of spaces on the boards. It never occured to us to do that.

MP: Now, the rules to Warp 6 are very simple, which is great. But how did all three of you manage to work out a game with so few rules? How did each of you contribute?

Greg: This game is unique for us in that we all were there when it was created. Looking back on it, it's hard to remember who came up with what, but we had been playing around with the mechanic of having dice which are your pawns as well as being the random number generators. That mechanic is common among Knockabout, Pagoda, and Warp 6 in various forms. So Warp 6 came about as a result of playing around with that idea. After that initial meeting, in which we laid out the basic game, I went and played around with the spiral idea to better describe the playing surface, rather than having a hexagonal board with little arrows all over the place. That would have been too busy, especially when we're only printing with one color on the board.

Brian: Brainstorming in my kitchen, we wound up with a game that's very close to Warp 6 now. Both games only have about six things to describe in their rulesets (the board, the initial set-up, movement, the ability to alter a die, the victory condition, and the name), and we each contributed two to the kitchen game. Through playtesting, we tweaked some of the parts of the game (especially the name), and our individual rules were modified or replaced by others. I'm sure we can't cut up today's ruleset into equal thirds, but it started as a group effort and we were too lazy to change the attribution.

Greg: For some reason, they weren't crazy about "Downward Spiral" or "Down the Drain" as a game title. You get into a lot of odd discussions when designing a game. Like is that spiral going uphill or downhill, towards you or away from you?

Luke: It was all a muddle, but in general we kept looking to cull rules that did not contribute. I think that often a single, simple, novel idea can create a rich world of strategy.

MP: Greg, you said Warp 6 was unique. It doesn't fit your usual design process?

Greg: No, Warp 6 is unusual. Every other game we've worked on, one of us has come up with the idea, then brought it in to play test. Warp 6 just sort of happened. It's actually fairly hard to get the three of us together.

Brian: I'm notoriously bad for saying, "Here's a board with a neat mechanism for moving parts around. Now, what should they do?" We spend a lot of time tweaking, playtesting and helping each other, but, for the most part, each idea has one inventor who cultivates it.

MP: How do you test your games, and what sort of reaction do you look for from your testers when you try out a game like Warp 6?

Greg: Comprehension. I look to see if they get it, if they're interested in the process, if they're having fun with it. Or if they're looking around in space when it's not their turn. That's happened as well with other games. We just try and get various people to play it.

Luke: We play them, we force our friends to play them, and then we make arbitrary judgements.

Brian: It's good to hear "I want to play that game again". Normally, when a player says that about any game, they're interested in feeling out a new strategy or a different angle on the game, and those are the kind of games we hoped to make. When we hear that comment from our friends we've strongarmed into playing, it's even better -- after fulfilling their obligation to us as friends, they'd actually play the game again without our bullying.

Greg: I don't know about Luke and Brian, but I'll often play games solo when I'm alone, taking both sides to see if anything interesting happens.

MP: When you guys aren't working on your own designs, what sort of games do you play?

Luke: Board games of all sorts, role-playing games, party games. These days I love things like Princes of Florence, Die Pyramiden des Jaguars, or Go.

Brian: I like games that force you to plan to make the best of randomness, so I've been playing a lot of German card games recently: Battle Line, Foppen, and Sticheln. I also like games where you can tweak an opponent without having to sacrifice your own goals. Both Die Pyramiden des Jaguars and San Marco have a nifty "I split you choose" card mechanism, so I've been enjoying those lately.

Greg: There's a weekly game playing session on Mondays that we go to with a number of gamers who have a pipeline to the most recent stuff. I just go and play what's there. Really, there are friends of ours who have a lot more information about the depth of games out there than I do, not to mention a better collection of games. So I just go there and play what's being played.

MP: What things can we expect from Pair-of-Dice Games in the future?

Luke: We are working on a few games, all of a different feel than our previous ones. We are toying with more themed games, for example.

Greg: We're also doing some marketing on our games. I got a response from a guy which was a manifesto on why themed games were so much more appealing than abstract strategy games. I was like, "Man, we have nothing against themed games. We just don't have 8 shades of pastel plastic camels on hand."

We're in the process of doing another printing of Warp 6 and Knockabout, the other game that got into the GAMES 100, since that was an unexpected boost in general visibility. Basically, we're trying to establish ourselves and stay the course. Getting into the GAMES 100 was a great, unexpected thing. We never thought that'd be possible so we didn't stop to think what that would mean. Now we have to figure out the manufacturing process. All of the games we sell in tubes--Knockabout, Warp 6, and Pagoda--involve two components: A board and dice. That's because we didn't know how to make cards, tokens, and pieces on any sort of scale cheaply. If we figure out those processes, then we will probably come out with different types of games.

Brian: We have a few games in the works that we hope to have ready during the spring. We're branching out, too, looking at die-cutters, cloth bags and cardboard.

MP: So I take it your games are produced largely by hand?

Greg: Yes, we get cloth for the boards from fabric stores. Then we take the cloth to a place to get cut into squares, take it to another place to get silkscreened, and then pack it into tubes along with the dice. We can do this since we only make 100 or so at a time. If we get more exposure and higher volumes, we may have to switch to a production company, but that's all in the future.

MP: I get a lot of e-mail and comments about our Independent Designers Program. People toying with game design on the side tell me they hope to submit their own games someday. As a final question, do you guys have any advice for hopeful designers in getting that first game design out there without going broke?

Luke: It is both amazing what a small-print run can cost, and how cheap it is. We have been cautious all the way through, never exposing ourselves for much of a loss. This has also made us less likely to spread like wildfire, but it seems to be working. I'd advise simple component games, obviously! Keep things simple. The main piece of advice I wish I had followed more is being willing to spend a bit more up front making prototypes and getting random parts. Be patient and rework the physical design as much as possible. There are things in our games that I would change now, that wouldn't have cost us more to produce. For example, our tube size has never been quite perfect. Labels were an issue (entirely my fault, sadly). So be patient and explore all possible ideas.

Greg: Our initial print of the three tube games (Knockabout, Warp 6, and Pagoda) cost around $2,000 to make 300 games. Start small, keep realistic, don't expect things to happen too quickly. You can do it yourself for a while if you design games within the set of materials you could realistically assemble in mass quantities. Have a large number of people you play games with. Go play all sorts of games with frequent gamers and make sure they like your game before you try to manufacture it. They will probably be your audience. Join boardgamedesign@yahoogroups.com.

There's a saying that popped up on a screensaver I had once: "Good, Fast, Cheap. Choose any two." It's kind of true. If you have a lot of money from your day job you could go directly to a game printing company (they do exist) and make 1,000 professional-looking copies rather than 100 handmade ones. But how do you sell 1,000 games and keep them from languishing in your basement? There are inputs of time, money, and effort you have to make in order to manufacture and sell.

MP: Sounds like a lot of good advice. Thank you for the tips and the chance to ask you guys some questions. I hope Pair-of-Dice enjoys even more success in 2003.

Greg: Thanks much. We appreciate this chance to talk.

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