The Summoning of Kramdar
The Summoning of Kramdar is a 2–4 player tabletop board game that was developed by Good Lookin Kids Inc, and launched on Kickstarter. Over the past three years we developed a fully functioning game that was tested, refined and manufactured overseas. Our goal was to see if we had what it takes to create a product from scratch, brand it, market it and raise funding for a project that we were passion about. The game itself was built on the nostalgia from our childhood growing up in the 80s and 90s, mixed with modern gameplay inspired by some of our favourite board games.
Our story begins on a bus ride from Cusco Peru to Mount Machu Pichu.
The Ideation of Kramdar
I have my best ideas while on vacation. Maybe it’s the fact that I can clear my mind of the day-to-day hustle of running a business, or maybe it’s the exposure to new and exciting landscapes that gets my mind moving. When I left Toronto, Canada for a month trip across Peru I had the plan to come up with some kind of a product to take our service-based design business into a more tactile direction.
My brother Chris (and business partner) and I had grown up in what I would consider the golden age of toys and games, where Saturday morning television was filled with radioactive protagonists and gross, gory and slimy products that were sold at your local Toys R’ Us. If we were to make our own product, creating a board game reminiscent of this era was the first thing that came to my mind.
At first I wanted to make a board game made up of multiple parts that could be played in many different ways. I had this idea of taking the ads found in the back of old comic books and merging them into a game made up of x-ray glasses, vampire teeth and bizarre oddities. I quickly became overwhelmed by the logistics required to make a game with so many moving parts, so I started simplify things a bit.
I had just finished learning about Incan and Pre-Incan cultures and the sacrifices they made to the Sun, while visiting Cusco. As I began to fall asleep on a bus ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Pichu) thoughts started pouring through my mind. I quickly woke up and grabbed my notebook and started sketching cards and pieces and rules to what would eventually become The Summoning of Kramdar. While a lot of what was written has been modified and revised — that moment, on that bus, was the the catalyst that started it all.
A Perfect Storm. The Rise of Kramdar
My brother and I would often take time to explore different creative avenues on our own to keep our minds fresh. At this particular moment Chris was exploring the world of 3D sculpting at The College of Makeup Art and Design (CMU) in Toronto. If it wasn’t obvious yet, Chris and I are geeks at heart.
Chris had begun to have a growing passion for cosplay (the hobby of costume design from pop culture). We have a tendency of doing something 100% or not at all, so if Chris were to continue his passion for cosplay, he was going to be sure that he was professionally trained in the field.
His time spent at CMU lined up perfectly with the ‘birth’ of Kramdar. Now fully versed in the 3D modelling software ZBrush, we were ready to put these skills to use to craft the character pieces for The Summoning of Kramdar.
With my vision of Kramdar fresh in my mind Chris got to designing right away…. annnd it wasn’t what I was thinking.
So we went back to the drawing board and continued to sculpt and revise until we had something that we were both proud of. We made his horns bigger, his face angrier and his muscles more muscular. I wanted him to resemble the monsters that gave me nightmares when I was child, from the movies I would secretly watch while having a sleepover at our older cousin’s house.
The posture of Kramdar was based around the idea that he was on his way from the depths of hell crawling through a vortex that had been opened by his devout worshippers. Chris made it possible for Kramdar and his monks to enter our realm.
The first version of the game was incomplete. We liked the idea of keeping the illustrations and designs simple, reminiscent of tarot cards and early versions of the Ouija board, but it needed something more. The addition of a faux 3D type to the logo came in later versions and added some of what was missing.
The cards were inspired by Art Deco patterns mixed with wood block prints. We wanted the designs to not only work for the game, but to also be strong enough on their own if we decided to use them in marketing materials (on shirts, as pins or any other wearable product).
As mentioned earlier, the initial gameplay was for lack of a better word — loose. The foundation was there, but it took several play-throughs with friends to really get things right. Early versions of the game found players dumping piles of cards in the middle of the board ensuing pure chaos. This was easily resolved with minor game adjustments.
In addition to these adjustments we had to strip down some of the components of the game to not only simplify gameplay (making it more accessible to a larger demographic) but also remove some of the components to cut costs of production.
The initial concept of the game had Kramdar evolving from a “fetal” state where his attacks on other players would grow as his crystal prison was slowly broken away. This would require a 3D piece made up of a series of pieces that fit together like a puzzle. While this may be something we introduce in an anniversary version of the game, we were being overzealous with game pieces and components.
The Game Changer (literally)
The basic rules of the game were to make sacrifices to Kramdar by collecting and playing matching sacrifice cards. Players would either make a sacrifice or force another player to. If the forced player couldn’t make a sacrifice, that player would take damage on their Wheel of Death. These basic rules worked, but there was still something missing.
There was no repercussions for sending other players to the altar. The game started to feel mundane and repetitive until we introduced The Valley of Lost Souls. Suddenly there was a risk involved and players had to fight with chance.
The idea of being banished if you misread a player’s hand forced players to be more strategic about how they played the game. To take it even further, we introduced the Banish card (which made a lot of our test players incredibly frustrated with us). With this however came a dilemma — how do you become “un-banished”?
The official rules state: On your turn, you must roll the demonic die. If you roll a 6, you are released from the Valley of lost souls.
While it was entertaining for us to see our friends struggle with a 1 in 6 chance of returning, we had to admit that it was definitely unfair. With careful consideration we updated the rule of “un-banishment”. We did this by allowing players who had previously made a sacrifice, to give up their highest scoring card (reducing you chance of winning the game).
One of our favourite parts of board games is that often the players can interpret or fudge the rules the way they want. For some, even with the introduction of giving up a sacrifice, and the rolling of a “6” was still too difficult. So off the books we let players bend the rules to allow them to roll a 4 or higher. This allows player’s to use their discretion for how challenging they want the game to be.
In order for us to start testing the gameplay we first needed to find a way of prototyping. Sure, we could have cut up pieces of paper and sketched out the pieces, but what fun would that be?
So we started where most would by googling “board game prototypes”. We found a number of printers, mainly in the US, that specialized in tabletop products. They had a variety of templates that you could use to map out your game. The problem is that we were limiting ourselves creativly by using their provided dimensions, however it did help streamline things from a production perspective.
We ended up using a company called The Game Crafter. Their prototypes are amazing. The card stock, the print quality — just about every part of the game looked like you could buy it at your local toy store. The downside however was the cost. Obviously the more we ordered, the cheaper they would be but for our purposes, a one-off game (not including game pieces) averaged around $80 CAD a unit.
We moved forward with the prototype, then chalked it up with modifications, then re-ordered a prototype (this went on for 3 iterations).
From here we were ready to start looking into production.
The Production of Kramdar
An old friend
Chris and I grew up in a neighbourhood in South Etobicoke on a street bustling with a group of friends. Mark, a Harvard graduate was one of the members in this squad. It had been over a decade since we had seen each other. Coincidentally he had recently met Lewis, an importer who would be able to help us to produce our game overseas. This connection catapult us in the right direction and was the impetus for creating The Summoning of Kramdar. We were incredibly fortunate to reconnect with Mark and meet Lewis. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work, luck is always a factor that can’t be overlooked. For us, connecting with an old (and new) friend was exactly what we needed to make things happen.
The most important parts
We recently purchased a 3D printer which allowed us to make the player pieces, but 3D printing our initial run of 500 units was just not feasible. The new contact we had made was able to source a manufacturer who would be able to create our player pieces with injection moulding. Being big fans of designer toys like Kid Robot, we were super excited to make this happen. That was until we saw the price tag. The initial startup costs to make the moulds for our injection moulded pieces would significantly increase the cost of the game to the consumer. We felt that in order to make our game a success, this cost would not be feasible.
The Cost of Kramdar
We were a little too ambitious
We had a lot of custom pieces that we wanted included in the game – the problem was that each custom plastic piece required it’s own mould. While we liked the aesthetic of it all, it wasn’t practical for our first game. This caused us to hit a major road block.
As the game sat dormant for almost a year, unsure of how we would be able to find a cost effective way of producing 3D pieces we began to lose hope.
Thinking back to our 90’s roots, we recalled a number of games like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles board game that used cardboard pieces in plastic stands. The custom die cut cardboard pieces would be significantly cheaper, and the plastic stands could easily be sourced. This adjustment to the game was our saving grace. We were back on our feet and ready to sign off on production.
Funding the Project through crowdfunding
Finding time to work on passion project while continuing to operate our daily business was a difficult task to begin with. Finding a way to fund the project added additional obstacles that we needed to overcome.
We had set aside a percentage of income from projects that we had been working on (from our design service business) but in order to reach the amount of money that we needed to produce our game, as well as the costs associated with marketing the project, we needed to find help.
The income we had set aside covered the costs for prototypes, and initial deposits. We were also lucky enough to have a network of colleagues and friends willing to donate their time to help our project come to fruition.
To raise the remaining capital, we looked at various crowdfunding platforms, ultimately landing on the most popular: Kickstarter.
We did thorough research on Kickstarter before diving in. We had read a number of horror stories regarding the execution of a successful campaign, but took this information with a grain of salt. While we ran into a number of complications along the way (and as a result has steered us away from using Kickstarter in the future), we were glad that we took the risk and learned a lot from our experience. For our full review of our experience, read our comprehensive article on Medium.
The Marketing of Kramdar
Our priority was to get people to view our Kickstarter campaign, which meant the majority of our marketing efforts were done online. In our full review of our experience on Kickstarter, we discuss the different approaches we took, utilizing our full designer toolkit.
With our experience in video production and animation we called in the big guns to put together a commercial for the campaign. We wanted it to look and feel like a commercial from the 90s that was ominous enough to draw the attention of horror lovers (and not necessarily board game players), while also showing that the product was something real.
To shoot the spot, we called in our colleague and friend Michael Jari Davidson, who worked with us on the Alice in Chains music video — The Devil put the Dinosaurs Here. His portfolio and skills were right in-line with the video we wanted to produce.
In conjunction with the commercial, we shot a live action video focusing on how to play the game. Unfortunately due to some changes to the rules of the game (and timing) we weren’t able to use the original footage. As a fallback, we were lucky enough to have our cousin-company (Buckshot Design) to put together an animated video. While we weren’t able to have the live action video that was filmed in a temple hidden in a catacomb, the VHS aesthetic of the animated spot fell in-line with our theme.
Our Instagram Campaign
We used promoted ads on Facebook and Instagram right away. After the first ad went live we were quickly able to see we had a lot of traction coming from Europe (to our surprise) so we adjusted future campaigns to target these areas. As a result, we received a ton of conversions.
In addition, we found that the best response on Instagram was around clips from the commercial that we produced (which we anticipated). Our hypothesis that we would be able to capture a broader audience (outside of board game enthusiasts) by highlighting the “horror” aspect of the game was correct!
Local Game Shops and Influencers
We reached out to a number of board game cafe’s and geek bars in Toronto, and were lucky to get a copy of the game in Storm Crow Manor, with some promotional ads.
We were also able to reach out to Canada’s Drag Race contestant Juice Boxx who has an active social media audience who are also game enthusiasts. These connections helped ramp up our campaign and get eyes on the game.
In addition to the game we created an exclusive limited run soft enamel pin. We had experience making pins for local Toronto drag queens so we knew what could be done and the final product was better than what we could have expected. The concept of creating the pin was to add something special for our supporters that was exclusive and rare.
We thought back to our early board game concepts of combining products found on the back of a comic book. I laughed thinking about the well known episode of the Simpsons — “Homer the Great” where Bart and Lisa blow into their “Special Rings” after Homer leaves the Stone Cutters. Our pins (which we sold more than 50% of) are the special rings for our supporters.
The Failings of Kramdar
With any project there will be ups and downs. We can either take these personally and negatively, or we can use them as learning experiences to help us with future projects.
Our biggest failure was being worried about our intellectual property. We were so scared that our idea would be stolen, or worse, copied and released before we were able to, so we kept the project off the public radar until we were fully ready to launch.
We were incredibly protective of our baby. It was the first product that we were developing, and had the potential to shift the way we operate our business — change can be a scary thing. As such we were very selective of what assets we released to the world.
When we launched our Kickstarter campaign, we were hoping for a BIG BURST of interest based solely on hopes that our marketing campaign and retro commercial would get in the hands of the right people.
Timing is key
For our plan to work, timing was crucial… and unfortunately (for us) we slightly missed the mark. We are proud of what we did, and feel that the effort we put in resulted in us hitting our goal… but if I were to do it again, I would have built up a community around the game during it’s development.
Media and Influencers
We developed a press kit and sent it out (to what felt like the great Abyss). It can sometimes be frustrating to expect businesses and individuals to push your content when you want them to. This, combined with timing can either make or break your marketing strategy. I feel that if we would have built certain relationships much earlier on and expressed the importance of our release schedule, we could have created a bigger impact.
Advice for anyone considering a Kickstarter campaign
We had purchased a domain (summonkramdar.com) that we pointed to the Kickstarter campaign URL. We used this in all of our marketing materials as well as used it as our CTA for influencers to point to. With the campaign now complete, we were able to re-point the domain to the shop on our website (glkshop.com/product-category/the-summoning-of-kramdar/). This has allowed us to capture new potential sales from customers who are just now finding out about our product.
With our background in interactive design we want to create a digital experience for our tactile product. We currently are working on an AR (Augmented Reality) component to be released as a sort of ‘easter egg’ for our supporters. Our goal is to create an app for Android and iOS that would map the game board in a virtual space and project animated 3D pieces. We want to unless Kramdar into the digital world.
The story doesn’t end here
While we had been developing The Summoning of Kramdar we had new and exciting ideas brewing in the backs of our minds. Using our experience with EVERYTHING that happened with this project (from conception, to production and marketing) we have made it past the learning phase and are ready to take the next project head-on.
This project has been about more than just making a board game… it has been a learning experience, is changing the direction that Good Lookin Kids Inc. will be moving to in the near future.
We hope that The Summoning of Kramdar will find new fans along the way, and we are excited to see what the future holds.