Anyone who has been following these articles since the beginning might have got the impression that releasing Lords of War was a rough ride. In all honesty, it was but, out of hard graft, long hours and financial difficulty, very good stuff did start to happen. The most notable turning point, when the sunshine broke through the clouds, was the UK Games Expo, which took place in Birmingham in April.
We will never forget it.
The UK Games Expo
If you’re not familiar with UKGE, it’s the UK’s largest board and card gaming show. When I say largest, if you put it up against Essen then it looks puny (circa 10,000 people attend UKGE versus 150,000 people attending Essen), but Essen is a four-day show with a 5-decade heritage. The UK Games Expo is still in many ways in its infancy but it is growing fast and we knew, as a brand new British company, that we needed to be there.
As I covered in The Crafting of a Card Game Part VIII, in the weeks preceding the UK Games Expo we had finished the artwork for Lords of War: Elves versus Lizardmen and submitted both a homemade prototype of Elves versus Lizardmen and a pack of Orcs versus Dwarves for the UK Games Expo Awards. We then waited and planned for the expo, booking hotel rooms, pulling in friends and getting ready to rumble.
Sales of Orcs versus Dwarves had started to warm up during this period (March-April) and we had shifted our first 500 copies through UK retail, all via Nick’s diligent work phoning shops one by one. We then opted to borrow some money to print Elves versus Lizardmen – it seemed like our only option – and we hit the print button. In doing so, we knew we had gone past the point of no return although, frustratingly, we also knew that we wouldn’t have proper Elves versus Lizardmen packs to sell at the UK Games Expo.
Nonetheless, we had committed to Lords of War for the long-haul. It was a necessary step.
Cashing in holiday days from our main jobs, an advanced Lords of War raiding party arrived at the UK Games Expo on the Thursday and set up the booth. As we did so, we looked around the room and saw the competition. Mayfair Games, sponsors of the event. Yu Gi Oh. Fantasy Flight Games. Hasbro. The big boys were there!
Also present, of course, was Esdevium Games, the UK’s biggest games distributor – the company we had been trying to get the attention of for almost two years by that point. Our strategy for UKGE was to ignore them and run our booth to the very best of our ability. We hoped by leaving them alone they might come to us. The rest of the team arrived on Friday, and then something just kicked into gear.
As anyone who attended the UK Games Expo would attest, Lords of War’s presence at the show was substantial. It wasn’t so much that we were everywhere, because we weren’t. Instead, we were positioned extremely well for foot traffic (or rather we were pretty unmissable, particularly with our mass of banners) and, as we had turned our whole booth into a bank of gaming tables, whenever anyone walked through the halls they could see that we were constantly busy. We then had our incredible team of friends and family running demos or, if they were free, accosting members of the public to pull them in and tell them about the game.
Bums hit seats in a constant stream and demo after demo went well. Sales ratcheted up. People bought the game one day, brought more friends back the next and they brought more the next. Word of mouth was spreading Lords of War even just within the expo.
More than any show we had attended before, Nick and I had also planned to hit the stands of companies we saw potential for partnership with, dropping off copies of the game and saying hi to people we’d met previously. There were plenty of gamers too who recognised us from Dragonmeet, and their passionate hugs and handshakes created even more curiosity for everyone else about who we were and what our weird little game was.
Sales of Lords of War were very good that weekend, and when Sunday rolled around Nick and I went to see the UK Games Expo Awards ceremony, the two of us just happy to be there and to have been nominated. We were both certain that one of the big companies would win – the Doctor Who Card Game, the Star Wars Card Game, the new Munchkin expansion and so on – particularly as 50% of the award decision was as a result of a public vote. Who would vote for us, we thought? We were far too unknown. But maybe next year or the year after.
Then it happened.
“And, thanks to an overwhelming amount of support from the public and a unanimous decision from the judges, the winner of the UK Games Expo’s Best Strategic Card Game 2013 goes to… Lords of War!”
I almost threw up on myself.
Nick and I went and collected the award, had our photo taken and then danced back to the booth. It was like a dream. We showed the team the award, took more photos, and then – in the wake of that atom bomb of news – we went back to running demos. There was no time to waste!
Even though it was fairly late Sunday by this time and there was hardly any time left at the expo, another flood of people subsequently came by to play the game for the first time. We rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in, and then something really weird started to happen.
It turned out that a lot of the people we had been demoing for had been ‘secret shoppers’ – members of businesses not telling us their place in their companies. Representatives from Waterstones, Toys R Us, Toymaster and more. Plus reviewers (the UKGE was where we met the awesome folks from Beasts of War, for example!). And then, a truly, truly bizarre occurrence took place.
“So,” said the punter in front of me, “I work for Esdevium Games and I want to know why we aren’t stocking Lords of War.” I sat there, flabbergasted.
“You tell me!” I said, before giving him a truncated version of the whole story.
“Right,” he replied, giving me his card, “we’ll have to get this sorted out. Call me tomorrow, and congratulations on the award. I look forward to selling lots of copies for you!”
As he walked off, I did another little dance and hugged Nick. We were now really ready to roll. And as we packed up after the show and made our way back home from Birmingham, we kept talking about all the possibilities for the future. We were buzzing, and for good reason.
The following morning we did call Esdevium and we did get through. A meeting was set for us to come up and deliver some stock and we breathed a deep sigh of relief. That was that one sorted, finally, we thought. We then noticed, after Googling ourselves, that Esdevium had already put out a press release announcing that they were distributing all the winners of all the categories at the expo.
Cheeky monkeys, we thought. They weren’t distributing us yet!
Next came the inevitable series of follow-ups. Every business card we had received or email address we had scrawled down needed to be chased, and so over the following days we did and, in true Black Box Games style, we were relentless in our pursuit of opportunities.
Seriously – give us your business card at your peril!
And with that, UK distribution seemed to be sorted, Elves versus Lizardmen was on its way and Lords of War was starting to receive positive reviews left, right and centre. We were flying, finally, and there was no way that we would allow our speed or altitude to drop.
Everything suddenly seemed possible.
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