Ace of Spies Kickstarter Case Study

Project Duration: May 21st 2012 – June 20th 2012 (30 days)


Even though this is something that we did in the Genegrafter Kickstarter as well, I forgot to mention it at the time.

My general advice on this is that it’s not worth the time or effort to add likenesses as a reward. There are a few of reasons:

  1. People don’t generally like the way they look in photos, so even if you make a card that looks just like them, they may not like it. Some may ask for revisions that will take time (and maybe additional cost for your artist).
  2. It takes a lot of time and coordination to get the photos at the right angles, lighting, etc.
  3. Backers aren’t necessarily on your schedule and this may not be a priority for them so your production schedule could be hindered.
  4. Lots of extra paperwork. I had everyone sign a release to use their likeness just to be on the safe side.
Double Agent Promos for Ace of Spies

Note: Everyone on this project was easy to work with when it came to likenesses. That is not true for some of the other projects in which we offered the likeness as a reward level.

Game Design

I learned quite a few things last time about how not to make a game, so the game design went a bit smoother this time around. For starters, we licensed a design from two guys from the UK, Mark Rivera and Michael Fox.

The core mechanics were pretty solid and we didn’t change a lot beyond removing a really over-powered player action.

Knowing what I know about games now, I would have more changes to make, but that just comes with experience.

Add Your Name to the Rulebook

Again, one of those “at your own peril” kind of things. Some people will submit names like “Royal Butt Spelunker” and you have to decide if that’s going in the rulebook or not. It also adds a page or two to your production cost. Probably only 7-10 cents, but it’s still good to be aware of.

It might also throw off some other factors in the rulebook. For example. saddle-stiching requires the rulebook to be formatted in pages of four. So if your rulebook is at 24 pages and you make it 26 to add backer names, you now have two other pages of content to account for (because it has to be 28 pages total).

Game Reviews

This was the first time we actually sent one of our games to a reviewer to look at. Fortunately, we had met Tox (Scott Morris) at a local gaming convention (Austin Board Game Bash) and he agreed to review our game on

The most important thing we learned is that you need to have good, solid reviews of your game if it has any hope of gaining traction within the gaming community. There are a ton of reviewers out there, so find the ones who’s reviews you enjoy the most and ask them if they wouldn’t mind taking a look at yours as well. As long as you don’t ask them to do it tomorrow, they are usually open to taking a look at them.


We learned a little bit about sending Kickstarter surveys on the last project. Generally, don’t have too many questions and don’t ask open-ended questions.

Unfortunately, Kickstarter had (and still has) a terrible survey system. Every field is required and it’s impossible to force any kind of validation, like only entering a number or a date for a particular response.

Plan on using a third-party solution for this unless you have a very simple reward structure without any add-ons.


We did much better this time around, getting the games shipped out within about six months of the project ending.

This project also fulfilled after we had done the Cthulhu Playing Cards project, so we went with a fulfillment house. I’ll go over considerations for picking fulfillment centers in a later case study. But for this particular project, it was a good fit and everything went as smoothly as it could have.

This Game Is Like…

It doesn’t matter what game you make, it’s going to be like something else. Tabletop games have boards, cards, miniatures, tiles, etc. They have mechanics like drafting, rolling dice, bartering, bluffing, and bidding.

What makes games unique is how they use these mechanics in combination with theme and find their own way to make it fun.

So no matter what game you make, it’s going to be “like” something. When you get this response, use it as a teaching opportunity because it will help provide short hand to other gamers to be able to pick it up faster.

“You know the bidding in Ra? It’s kind of like that.” This gives the gamer something they are already familiar with and helps make the overall game feel less daunting.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofrread!

This is especially true of the rulebook, but always get as many eyes on anything you will print as often as possible.

Being so close to the project, you will invariably miss something because your brain will automatically fill in the gaps for you with the information that it expects.

During this project, we had misprinted some of the Interrupt cards so that there were too many red variants, and not enough orange variants. We could have just told everyone which cards to change with a sticker and been done with it.

We didn’t and instead printed up some new cards to replace the misprints. This caused several issues:

  • The cards needed to be color matched to the original print run so that they wouldn’t stand out in the deck. This was more expensive.
  • We needed to ship the cards to everyone that received a game. This was particularly expensive for international backers.
  • Many backers told us they didn’t receive them and we had to ship them again.
  • There isn’t an easy way to get these misprint packs to anyone that buys them outside of our direct channels. So if they buy from Amazon, we have no way of knowing the customer doesn’t have the correct cards with the errata stating what needs to be replaced.
Misprint Pack
Misprint Pack

But everyone thought it was noble that you reprinted the cards right?

If they did, we never heard about it. The printing alone was over $3,000 and if it bought us any goodwill in the community, it never felt like it.

Part of that may be because a large portion of the backers were bitter about…

International Shipping

Now this was during the great Wild, Wild West days of Kickstarter. Out on the frontier when nobody knew what they were doing and there were’t a million blogs and books detailing the best practices for a Kickstarter project.

At the time, I had one source for information about shipping, USPS. We had received quotes from Fedex, UPS, and USPS and the last one had the lowest prices for what we needed to ship.

We had tried looking at Amazon, but they aren’t what you would call the most intuitive organization when it comes to implementation. Fortunately, guys like Jamey over at Stonemaier Games figured it out and wrote about it for the rest of us.

So what happened?

Well, we looked up how much it cost to ship a game to the UK, and Australia, and some other places, and we charged that much for shipping.

Not a totally crazy concept, but here’s what really happens when you ship something internationally:

  • You pay shipping from the US to some other country.
  • The recipient may have to pay additional customs fees based on the amount of those items.

So in our case, we had a $25 game.
That then became a $55 game after a $30 shipping charge.
For some backers, that became a $60 or $65 game after customs fees.

Obviously, this wasn’t what anyone had signed up for, paying more than 2x the game’s cost.

We weren’t happy with it and neither were backers. Fortunately, there are much better ways now.

Not Enough Playtesting

As a publisher, I feel like we need to do at least as much play testing as the designers, if not more.

For this game, we didn’t do as much as we should have because of time constraints.

As a fledgling company, we were trying to finish a product and get it out the door so it could start generating cashflow that we could use to keep the lights on.

This meant that two of the most important aspects of game publishing suffered:

  1. The rulebook wasn’t fleshed out.
  2. We didn’t do enough play testing (blind or otherwise).

I can’t say that too many aspects would have changed, but I know of at least a couple that would have resulted in a much cleaner presentation. Hindsight is always 20/20, but we playtest the shit out of games we work on now.


We spent a ridiculous amount of money on the Kickstarter video for this project.

Which might have been okay except that after watching it, everyone responded with a collective, “huh?”

It didn’t say anything about the product, and worse, used up valuable marketing dollars that could have been spent elsewhere to promote the project.


Overall, Ace of Spies was a much cleaner project and a much stronger title.

It could have used more play testing to tighten up the rules and gameplay, but it’s an enjoyable set collection game with some fun take-that mechanics.

We definitely faltered in finding the best shipping solution for our customers.

If you’d like to check it out, there are a few copies remaining here.