Catacombs and Crowdfunding: Interview with Aron West

If you’ve browsed Kickstarter, Indiegogo or other crowdfunding sites lately, you may have noticed that the gaming category has been growing and growing in popularity. Crowdfunding has become a viable way for game designers to turn their ideas into reality.

Catacombs, the award-winning dexterity fantasy board game, was first published in 2010, followed by a sold-out second edition. When it came time for their third edition redesign, the creators did something a little out of the box, so to speak – they turned to Kickstarter.

We talked with Elzra Games cofounder Aron West about why Elzra turned to Kickstarter, what they learned and how they knocked their campaign out of the park.

What is your background? How did you become interested in designing games?

At a high level, I have a background in software development, enterprise systems, cloud computing etc., so designing board games enables me to ship “physical bits” as opposed to “digital bits.” It’s a nice change.

How did Elzra Games come about? How did the game Catacombs come to be – the idea, concept and design?

Catacombs as a product happened by accident. Approximately five years ago, Ryan Amos, Marc Kelsey, and myself were involved in designing and manufacturing the first edition of Catacombs. Given our exposure to a wide variety of board games, we had a feeling for some ideas that we thought could work. We discussed some initial designs and ultimately focused on the idea of a exploring a dungeon by flicking a wooden disc as most dexterity games involved sports or racing cars.

The first edition of Catacombs was released in 2010. From humble beginnings and word of mouth it took off under the Sands of Time Games brand. Elzra Corp. took over the assets of Sands of Time at the beginning of 2014 (before the Kickstarter). I am now responsible for the creative and operational aspects of the company and the Catacombs Third Edition product line.

The first two editions of Catacombs were very successful and in fact, sold out. Why turn to Kickstarter for the third edition?

We wanted to test the market demand for a new version that implemented some improvements that customers had suggested. Kickstarter seemed like a perfect way to accomplish this.

What sorts of research and preparations did you make before launching?

We reviewed other Kickstarter campaigns and devoted time and resources to creating an engaging video. We also paid close attention to our reward and stretch goal setup, which any serious campaign will do as a matter of course. Kickstarter had not been available in Canada for very long, so it felt like we were a trailblazing project.

Having a strong following from editions one and two must have made things a little easier. Did you find them to be supportive?

There was a great deal of controversy about the new artwork direction in the Catacombs Third Edition product line. Some of our existing fans felt that we had abandoned them. This is definitely not the case! However, the new artwork by the talented artist, Kwanchai Moriya, is much more colourful and accessible expanding the game’s appeal. As they have become accustomed to the new artwork and the many fan driven improvements in the Third Edition, people are becoming more accepting of the changes. Overall, the response to Catacombs Third Edition has been fantastic!

What were the biggest challenges you encountered while running your Kickstarter campaign? What would you do differently next time?

We would ensure we had currency-hedging instruments in place. The drop in the Canadian dollar from 2014 through this year really hurt us. Simultaneously launching with a German language version in conjunction with a third party publisher proved logistically challenging as well. Finally, we have a much better sense about the costs involved in shipping to certain countries and would raise the shipping rates accordingly. Who would have thought that shipping from Germany to Serbia was as expensive as shipping to Australia?

Really good point! Is this what led you to bring in help for your fulfillment?

Yes, because as a new company with low shipping volumes, it is very expensive to ship packages from Canada internationally. Instead, we shipped packages to European and international backers from a fulfillment company located near the printer in the Netherlands where our games were produced. We had Fulfillrite handle shipping packages to the backers in the US and we took care of sending out packages to domestic backers based in Canada ourselves.

Were you ready for the incredible response to the campaign, having raised over $200k of your $40k goal? How did you handle it?

No, it was a nice surprise. We knew how much work was ahead of us, so there were no celebrations or anything like that. We immediately got started. We also incorporated many suggestions from fans, for example, the “chicken hero” and the “bee familiar” were included in Catacombs Third Edition as direct result of comments received during the campaign.

What’s next, are you working on any new games?

Yes, three new titles set in the Catacombs universe. One is a card game being designed by one of the original Catacombs designers, Ryan Amos, another is a direct expansion to Catacombs and the third takes Elzra’s Dexterity Game System and turns it into a competitive experience. The Catacombs Third Edition product line looks set to become available in additional languages as well.

Finally, the Catacombs Third Edition base game and the Cavern of Soloth expansion will be available at retail before the end of 2015.

To learn more about Catacombs, the Cavern of Soloth and Elzra Games, please visit them at Elzra.com

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