Blogs: Joe Gill “The Dice Man”
Feb 17 2009

It is said that most people have at least one novel in them. The same could be said for board games – most people have at least fleetingly had an idea for one. And that is usually where it finishes. As with the novel, it may be in you, but there is the tedious business of creating and perfecting it. And as the cliché goes, ideas are ten a penny. Everything is in the execution. Once you have your board game, the even bigger challenge arises. You have to design and test it and sell it – to players, investors, retailers. Like novel writing, board game invention has something of the myth about it. It conjurs up an image of the old fashioned inventor bashing away in his shed – until one day he pulls the cloth off…a time machine. About Time is a time machine of sorts, a trivia game based on timelines – ‘Time travel in a box’ as it says in the strapline.

After several years testing, researching and testing it again, we decided to bring it to market. That was 2006. We set up a company, consisting of inventors, creative director and business maestro. We had a game, yes, but we did not yet have a brand, or any real idea of how we would go about selling it. This is where Michele Rosaus and Matt Gould joined Iain McGill and myself to make a team capable of doing this. The name had to change, as did the look and feel of the product, and somebody had to write a business plan and make it happen. We launched the product to market in late 2007, and built our PR story around our brief appearance on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den. It worked well enough to get us national newspaper and radio coverage and to sell a respectable number of games through a national book retailer. And lo and behold, the punters enjoyed the product and the retailers liked it too.

Jump a year on and a great deal has changed. We survived our first year as a business selling a product, extended our retail reach, struggled endlessly with the heart stopping joys of cash flow, and the breakdown-inducing frustrations of developing an online web sales and marketing presence. So much to learn, so little room for error.

Then came the credit crunch. Mercifully board games sell well in recessions, if only in the run up to Christmas, and About Time was no exception. After the doldrums of the first half of the year – tumbleweeds abounding where we imagined the never ending kerching of busy cash tills – this came as a tremendous relief. However between ourselves and the consumers are the retailers, many of which experienced something approaching panic as general sales figures plummeted in the last third of the year. We forged a few key retailer relationships and out of that something beautiful emerged. Working with The Guardian Reader Offers was particularly fruitful. Like banks, retailers are looking at the big picture and not necessarily at the potential of a single line producer whose one product, no matter how popular and wonderful, will not save them from a downturn. From enthusiasm and optimism in the summer to cold sweat and near panic by the autumn, it became abundantly clear we would have to market and flog About Time and do everything we could to keep our retailers on side. As one store managed said to me wistfully: “What a year to launch a board game!” Thanks.