Polyversal Box Art. Credit: Bruno Werneck.
I’ve been a guest on several podcasts to talk about Polyversal (official site link) and how I first discovered and decided to publish it- it was a big decision for me since I was for the first time branching out to publish an external design. It was also quite different and new. A science-fiction based tabletop miniatures game. Up until PolyV (for short), my 5 published games were all historical WWII-based card wargames such as Spearpoint 1943 and the ensuing series. So branching into the world of tabletop miniatures was a bit overwhelming. There are so many great products out there. How would Polyversal be different? How would we compete? What would we bring to the tabletop?
What attracted me to Polyversal, as noted when I guest blogged here on Mark H. Walker’s Over da Edge blog, was honestly Mr. Teleporter. This is much like any product- the visual was striking- if not a bit odd- and it got my attention. This was part of a convention game that the designer, Ken Whitehurst, decided to run at a local game convention, Williamsburg Muster. The guys at WM were just starting up and needed events- they reached out to Ken and he agreed to run his ‘homebrew’ set he called “Multiversal” at the time.
I was there exhibiting my games but walked around and spotted Mr. Teleporter. This caught my eye, as it did for all who saw it. It was a kit-bashed Mr. Coffee maker that Ken used in the game. He replaced the decanter with a ‘glowing science orb’ which drew me in like a moth to light, scratched through “Coffee” and renamed it “Teleporter”, keeping the “Mr.” of the well-known brand. I wanted to know more about this craziness. I watched as several gamers enjoyed themselves and picked the intuitive mechanics right up. Ken, as the Game Master, was guiding them along, but in general he got to sit back and watch them play, stepping in as required. Yet, this was a homebrew set of rules. The players picked it up as if they’d known and played it for years. So, beyond Mr. Teleporter, that caught my eye as well as a publisher, designer, and gamer.
I met up with Ken later after sending him a brief message to see if he’d be interested in having his game published. He was interested. So, Ken and I set a time to play the game at a local store, Atlantis Comics and Games in Norfolk, VA in 2011. After playing the game for myself, seeing the amount of work that went into it, understanding the concept and flexibility that’s different than most other games (it’s a universal rules set that can be used with any miniatures)… I was sold. We entered into a publishing agreement. My first one ever.
Here’s a photo from that playtest game in 2011 (that’s me measuring)
Step into Mr. Teleporter. Over the next 5 years (yes, it’s taken a while), Ken and I worked together to not only develop the game, but, establish a strategy for what we’d do with such a system, all while I designed, developed, and published 3 additional games in the Spearpoint 1943 line. Now, most miniatures games companies are out there to sell you their miniatures– but- I didn’t want to make miniatures. There’s too many competitors and too many good products already out there. Plus, I had heard that sculpting and casting is another passion project– it’s expensive- and requires a lot of money, time, and dedication (kind of like Publishing, but, pick your poison)!
The basic concept with Polyversal is to adapt to whatever people already have. There’s a design system built in that lets the gamer take an existing model, determine for themselves how well that model performs (which affects its points cost and a variety of other things). Ken talks briefly about that in this short video:
Short video on how to “stat out” a miniature
The end result. An “Encegon” Main Battle Tank. Miniature by Plasmablast Games. Artwork credit: Bruno Werneck. Tile Graphic Design: Byron Collins
So yes, we had a game at this point. One that worked quite well. But, it relied on players to bring their own models in to play and design stats for them to make useful game pieces. Not everyone (who may otherwise play) is going to do that design step- it appeals to a certain audience. The game was fully-customizable, but, ultimately at this point- just a cool set of universal rules. We could have stopped there. We could have settled to release the game as a PDF product. The problem with that is it only appeals to people who are already miniatures gamers- a niche audience looking for a different set of rules- a group of people who have maybe moved on to other games but kept all their old 6mm scale stuff. These are what I call the “alpha” 6mm gamers. We decided to take a different approach to attract a wider audience. We asked ourselves a few things:
What if people aren’t already miniatures gamers? What if people see these massive companies and established rules and have no idea how to “get in” even if they are attracted to it? What “starter set” is really available in 6mm today? What if people don’t have miniatures and don’t know what’s out there?
These questions burned us up. But, with a lot of critical thinking and brainstorming, we figured it out.
I asked Ken, “Who makes 6mm miniatures now?” He gave me a long list of manufacturers already sculpting and casting sci-fi miniatures- great companies with great products spread all over the world. I began talking to them. I reached out with a few e-mails that were generally met with “huh?” And then, as the e-mail trails grew, things began to click for the manufacturers. Over the course of quite a long time- when gamers who followed our progress wondered if we had just stopped working- I built business relationships with these manufacturers. That takes time. And then, I hired the concept artist from Tron: Legacy, Bruno Werneck. His talent is incredible and fit exactly what we were looking for regarding the box art. The box was commissioned and real money was spent for the first time.
Brigade Models, Plasmablast Games, Microworld Games, Steel Crown Productions (now unfortunately out of business), Dark Realm Miniatures, Hawk Wargames, and the Phalanx Consortium are all of our current partners:
The basic idea is this: We make a boxed set of Polyversal with two factions for players to get into the game and rules, counters, tokens, dice, etc. We include miniatures from multiple manufacturers in the same box, which exposes the gamer to 5 different lines of models. They’re all the same scale (except the walkers from Hawk) and they all look good together. We develop artwork based on the likeness of each miniature for our Combatant Tiles (stat tiles) that we include. Then, we let the manufacturer use the artwork if they want (it’s based on their models). We get a nice discount for a bulk order and special casting run for each model we select- and we encourage the gamers who buy Polyversal to go buy the rest of those lines from these companies- expanding the game on their own using the design system mentioned above.
What’s in it for the manufacturers?
- We are promoting their miniatures and exposing their products to a wide audience through a ‘starter set’ that includes them. Never heard of Plasmablast Games? Now you have!
- We commission professional artwork by Bruno Werneck (the concept artist from Tron: Legacy, Thor, and Star Trek: Into Darkness) and share it with the manufacturers. Portfolio here.
- We provide them with several free copies and discounts if they’d like to promote and sell the games on their own (at conventions, online, etc.).
- We don’t compete with them by adding yet another miniatures line to 6mm. We partner and work with them.
- We place a very large order for the miniatures to support game production.
What’s in it for us (the publisher)?
- We don’t have to sculpt, commission, cast, 3D print, or otherwise make miniatures for our game.
- It helps us have a boxed product for sale. This is very important for the conventions I attend. Had we wanted to just sell rules, we could have stopped there and put them up on a webstore. The problem with that: Obscurity. The only people who will buy that are existing miniatures gamers.
- We get a nice discount that we can pass on to supporters of the game. This adds value for our product.
- We benefit from blog posts, news items, and other promotions of Polyversal by the manufacturers we work with- instead of competing with us- they work with us.
What’s in it for you (the gamer)?
- We expose you to miniatures lines from small businesses worldwide in a single box- those miniatures are yours to now explore- and if you like what you see- you can add more without waiting on us for expansions.
- Boxed sets include Combatant Tiles with pro artwork (die-cut, pro printed, etc.) designed by us to be balanced and out-of-the-box playable for two factions. This helps get you into playing the game without spending a lot of time up front designing Combatant Tiles.
- You get to support 6-7 small companies (7 because you may or may not choose to buy terrain) in a single product.
- If you’ve never tried 6mm, or never tried a miniatures game, it fills the void of this niche area with a boxed ‘starter set’.
- It’s a great game. Really. It’s been in development for nearly a decade and it works well because of Ken’s endless pursuit of ‘elegant’ and my demand for it.
What about a backstory?
Ken has had a backstory brewing for years. When I get him talking about it, various colored laser beams shoot out of his eyes and he becomes this mad-scientist-author-lawyer. In other words, he gets excited, which is inspiring for me. For the KS project video (which, in hindsight, should not have been part of the project video- it should have been its own broken out video), I put together a brief “story intro” video you can watch here if you’d like:
In addition, we hinted at more of the story in a Kickstarter update.
One important note is Polyversal has its own backstory that you can explore and use in your games- or- if it doesn’t suit you- come up with your own. Regarding the PolyV story, if you’re an amateur or professional author, you’ll be able to contribute to it by filling in gaps on a wiki-type site. We’re looking forward to community-driven campaigns, stories, scenarios, and more, and we’ll facilitate all of that.
We’re not quite there yet!
Step back into Mr. Teleporter and go to January 2016. We finally launched a Kickstarter project for PolyV (no longer active, but you can check it out). Unfortunately, we had to cancel it and regroup due to a number of things that needed to be honed or changed. We took in a LOT of feedback from our hundreds of backers and we’re applying most of it. I’ll be blogging about that in another post. There was much to learn, even though it was my 5th Kickstarter. It was best to cancel it, regroup, and re-launch, which we’re in the process of preparing for now…