Monday, 5 February 2018

Not So Fair Toy Fair

Our booth behind the column.
I rushed along long corridors filled with cardboard boxes, plastic wrappings, pallets and trash. I had already walked through three large halls. Hall 10, where our booth was, was still to be found. Eventually I found our 3 meter x 3 meter spot: behind an almost meter wide column, which blogged the entrance and visibility to the booth. “This can not be true...” I picked up my phone and called to the contact person for the Toy Fair. He soon found out what my opinion was of being charged a full price for a booth in such a location.

Very hard obstacles

So our first impression of the Nuremberg fair wasn’t the best one. Part of it was due to the fact that I hadn’t got time to read all of the information material the fair provided on their website. Now that I have read those, I still haven’t found all the information we would have needed beforehand to avoid all our trouble. It seems, maybe due to the long history of the event, organizers cannot see it from the first timer's point of view. When I compare the communication we got with, for example, UK Games Expo, it is like night and day. From UKGE I have got a personal service, from Nuremberg I have got mass produced emails with irrelevant information.

We managed to find a reasonable solution with the organizers concerning the entrance blocking column but the biggest obstacle was still ahead. In the morning, our son was not allowed to enter the fair. The fair has an age limit of 16 years. I had talked about our son’s participation earlier that week with the organizers' representative and got the impression it should be ok, because he has an exhibitor pass. I had also visited the fair service office during the assembly day with him, but nobody had said anything about his age and possible difficulty to enter.

You can imagine how furious and frustrated I was. It took three hours of negotiations to get one form filled in and an approval from high up. Eventually I got an A4 sheet with a signature and a stamp. With that, Väinö was able to enter and start working. He gave an interview in English and charmed many customers on the first day alone.

Timo and Väinö interviewed by Eric Martin from BoardGameGeek.

Professional or passionate

I kind of understand the age limit. Nuremberg Toy Fair is a business-to-business event. Nobody wants to have children around playing. The fair has a system where young Toy Experts must have a permission to enter. They are, however, obviously not very keen to promote and use that possibility. This year, our son was the only minor at the fair.

For three months I have been deleting emails which offer hired models for various tasks at our booth at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. During the fair I saw those models, professional in looking good. What I don’t understand is how a model just smiling in a pussycat costume can be seen as more professional in a game fair than an 11 year old presenting a game he has designed.

Brain teasers designed by Constantin
Even though we were expecting a b-to-b event, we didn’t expect it to be so stiff and formal. People in suits were selling toys, games and funny costumes. But they didn’t seem to enjoy it. There was no enthusiasm, no passion, just profit expectations.

Our booth neighbour was a nice exception. Jean-Claude Constantin designs and produces wooden puzzles and brain teasers. Beautiful, almost art-like toys which are very hard to solve. It's also a family business, but their son was old enough to work at the fair without extra hassle.

We also met a nice couple from Brighton. They were the very first visitors with whom we could talk about gaming itself and the passion of playing. @iplayred tested Darwinning! and liked it. Can’t wait to see her review.

Far away

After a couple of days, the half a kilometer route from caravan to booth became familiar. Across fallen oak leaves, over the big road. Past the concierge in funny costume. Then through the halls: first remotely controlled cars, an atrium filled with miniature tractors, then outdoor toys with trampolines and bikes. Pyrotechnics, balloons and party equipment, carnival costumes and insane variations of demonic contact lenses. Some chess boards and jig-saw puzzles and eventually: our booth behind the column.

On Saturday morning it snowed a little. I phoned my mother. I had had my morning coffee from a mug my recitation group gave as a farewell present. It has a winter scene from Lapland. I felt a little home sick, but when my mother told it was still -20 degrees celsius, the feeling eased a little bit.

The Nuremberg Toy Fair was the first of over 20 conventions we are going to participate in this year. Here is the list of events and cities where you can find us for the next 4 months:

8.-9.2. Cologne, Germany
10.-14.2. Brussels, Belgium
23.-25.2. Cannes Games Festival, France
1.-4.3. LeiriaCon, Portugal
9.-14.3. Valencia, Spain
16.-18.3. Ludesco, Switzerland
24.-25.3. Ratingen Spieletage, Germany
6.-8.4. Modena Play, Italy
12.-22.4. Venice area, Italy
24.-27.4. Rome, Italy
30.4.-9.5. Vienna, Austria
11.-14.5. Brno, Czech
15.-17.5. Krakow, Poland
18.-20.5. PyrCon, Poland
1.-3.6. UK Games Expo, U.K.
4.-26.6. around U.K.

So far we have travelled over 3,000 kilometers. And as you can see, we still have a few ahead. I hope to see many of you on our tour!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Police and MacGyver

Duck tape did not solve the problem.
We parked our car and trailer on the roadside, in Kiel. It was time to say goodbye to Nikolas and his wife Flora, have a cup of coffee in their apartment, and move on. We had found out that we have to be Nuremberg a day earlier than we thought, so we had a lot driving to do. As usual, we checked the caravan and the car. This time around, annoyingly, we found that everything was not OK: the cable that connects our caravan to the car was damaged, badly. It is too long and part of it had dragged on the ground, so part of it has just disappeared. Not good. The lights in the caravan still work, so we’ve decided we can still go on. After our coffee.

Sleepless on a motorway

We drove several hours after the coffee I got in a Moomin mug (Oh, how much I miss my Moomin mugs…), eating a Döner on our way. Around 8pm, somewhere on autobahn number 2, we turned to a “rastplatz”. Germany is full of good parking places by the road, some of them even have toilets and places to cook. There are usually many trucks - I think this is the only way to tell if the place is any good. Our parking place had no facilities but we just needed a place to sleep.

Our heater didn’t work. The temperature in the caravan was 13°c and the night was going to be cold. Timo checked the batteries. They were ok. We still had gas but not that much. Had the damaged cable had any effect? We had no idea. I was ready to sleep under extra blankets, but Timo wanted to find a new gas bottle  - or a place with electricity. So we started up again, Väinö half asleep on the back seat. Half of the lights on the caravan were out, and of course it was raining.

We stopped at three different gas stations with no help. I tried to Google all possible locations that might be helpful. We took a turn into a caravan site, just to find out it was not open. I was getting desperate. Right then we spotted a police car. In a dark and otherwise empty parking-lot of an Aldi supermarket.

Police inspection

We drove up next to the police car and I went to talk. The policeman on the driver’s seat opened the window and I found out I was disturbing their evening meal  - Döner, of course. The police officer talked rather good english and suggested we should go to a gas station near by. That place had a huge parking space for trucks, and it was open 24/7.

We drove to the gas station and Timo went to ask for gas, electricity or any kind of help. Soon I noticed that the police car had driven to the same station. Perhaps they had noticed the illegal lighting - or lack of it - on our caravan, perhaps they were just friendly or had nothing else to do. They came to check that we got help.

With help translating from the police officers, we managed to buy a new gas bottle. While Timo was installing it, I showed the caravan to the officers. Because they asked, and you don’t say no to a policeman. “It is soooo big!”, they said. I’m sure they had a memorable night shift.

My darling MacGyver

The new gas bottle did not help with the heating, though. It was way past 10pm. I was exhausted. Timo checked all possible components with a multimeter. If you go on the road for a year, you MUST have a multimeter. And some knowledge of how to use it. We also have the manual for our heating system. With their help, Timo discovered that a fuse in the heater was out. A tiny little tube of glass.

Fortunately the gas station sold glass fuses. With that little piece, the machine started. We had heating!

At half past eleven we were able to go to bed. On a parking-lot of the gas station. A noisy motorway next to us. At least it was warm. And we were in our own beds.

The only downer was that I had lost my tablet. The one where I read my morning paper and nice book in the evenings with the Kindle app. I hadn’t used it during the day. We searched everywhere. The only strangers we had in the caravan were the police officers. I don’t think they took it. It is just misplaced.

I downloaded the Kindle app and our family library to my phone. One chapter of wizard Dresden’s adventures (Butcher’s Dresden files, highly recommend)  was exactly what I needed after a day like this. His life is also quite messy. But he doesn’t have foreign police officers as friends, and a clone of MacGyver as a husband.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Pit-Stop For A New Start

We stopped in Luleå and Umeå. In both camping places parking was easy... 
I woke up to a beeping noise. It was the computer UPS: we had lost electricity. Or I had. Timo and Väinö were at the Umeå swimming hall. I was having a nap due a bad migraine. My migraine and not-so-nice snowy weather were the reasons why we had stopped in Umeå instead of driving 300 km further to Sundsvall, as we had planned. I sent a WhatsApp message to Timo: “Electricity lost, don’t know what to do”. We had a similar issue previously but I just couldn’t remember how he fixed it.

Of course, this would happen when I’m alone. It’s Murphy’s law. The very same reason why our mail server decided to stop working right when we left Finland. We seem to be Murphy’s favourites right now.

Prepared - But Not Well Enough

It was a memorable moment when I locked our home door knowing it will be almost a year before I open it again. I shed a few tears when driving - south, below the arctic circle, to a whole new way of living. On the last morning I woke up at 6, gathered the last few items in a pile in one room, collecting the random stuff I thought I might need during the year into some bags and threw them into to van. I phoned our tenant and apologised that we didn’t have time to clean up. Later I got a picture from her of a fully organised collection of spices. Our house will be in good hands.

Voting for a president before leaving the country.

We stopped in Rovaniemi for some final repairs to the caravan. And to fulfill our civil duty: voting. In Finland we have a presidential election at the moment. In the Finnish parliament system the candidate who gets the most votes wins. (Unlike in some other countries...) If there will be a second round in this election, we will not be able to vote. We will be at the Nuremberg Spielwarenmesse.

When we crossed the border to Sweden, the snowing started. Have you ever tried to drive while towing a 9 meter long caravan on an icy road? The draft from cars overtaking your slower vehicle gives some interesting wobble to the van. I usually have low blood pressure, but I can assure you, there were some really high peaks then. I know where the migraine came from.

There have also been other sources of stress lately. While we were packing everything for the tour, we also had to finish materials for the Kickstarter campaign of Darwinning!. The hours we had in a day were not enough. We ended up doing just the mandatory stuff. Not everything we knew was needed, not everything we are capable of doing. We hoped for the best, and right after the Kickstarter launch we knew that hope was false.

Laundry, Cleaning and Second Start

The electricity loss in Umeå was easily solved: the fuse of the electrical outlet was blown. My migraine eased with medication. We repacked the caravan to get better balance and the wobbling decreased. After two days of driving I was able to relax in the car. But I let Timo do the driving.

What we were not able to solve on the road was the mail server issue. We are still not sure what is broken and why. We cannot read company emails and that is a major problem. It was necessary to make big decisions. We cancelled the Darwinning! campaign because it obviously needed more marketing and at the moment we don’t have the resources to do that. We will make a fresh start with Darwinning! in February.

Closer to Stockholm: less snow, more sun.
We did eventually reach Stockholm and we parked up at Ängby Camping. Nice, small place with a surprisingly large number of caravans, obviously in use for full-time living. We will stay here for a few days. I have time to investigate what on earth I threw in the bags before leaving.

Luckily we have a friend in Stockholm with two laundry machines and a sauna! Even though we have been on tour for less than a week, this pit-stop is really needed. It is nice to have dinner in a kitchen were two people can move at the same time without walking into each other.

But our son voiced my thoughts during breakfast this morning: this caravan is starting to feel like home.

Väinö making pancakes - just like at home.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Wrapping up Pieces of Life

I could tape two Christmas calendars together and use that as The Tour Calendar. We are running out of days! We have been planning the tour over a year now. There is still a long list things to do.

We knew October and November will be hectic. There were weeks without free days, nights with too few hours of sleep. We keep telling to each other that next year will be easier. We have actually booked some weeks for vacation during to the tour! Life will be simplifier because we concentrate only to the tour.

Farewells on Stage

During this year, in addition to board game business, I was directing several art groups. Within a month there have been a final show of a historical theater play, premiere of a short film and performance of my recitation group. Every now and then I have been on stage with my own show of bawdy Finnish folk poems.

I thought everybody knew about the tour because I had told about it in Facebook and on this blog. But it was only after the local newspaper wrote about our short film and told “there will be a break because the director is travelling next year” that everybody started to talk about it. “So where are you going?” I get asked at the supermarket, in the post office and by the guy who is emptying our cesspool.

I know I’m going to miss directing other people. The moments of perception and understanding, analyzing impressions and emotions, working together towards unforgettable experiences. It is good to have some time with myself though. Hopefully I will get some inspiration for new performances. I have packed my collection of Finnish folk poems, English translation of old Finnish spells and Shakespeare’s Hamlet in original language. Yes, I have an idea, and I hope the month in UK will help me with that...

Before Polar Night

One major problem of the tour got solved when we finally found the car for towing. We decided to leave Lump at home. Instead we bought VW Multivan, with four-wheel drive and manual gears, 2,5 litre engine and 5 cylinders. (Everything I didn’t want to know about cars, but have been forced to learn). One main reason for this choice was “if it breaks, spare parts are easily available”. So it is a reasonable choice. I also like the interior of the Multivan. It’s designed for long rides. Good chairs, plenty of room for legs and a lot of pockets and places for cups, papers, napkins, solar glasses and chocolate bars. One does not get claustrophobic in that.

Also the solar panels are finally installed to the caravan. Just in time before the polar night begins. So I have no idea when and where we will have enough sunshine to actually test the system. But I’m convinced it will work. We got the panels and instructions from our dear friend Janne “The Ice Carousel” Käpylehto. He’s a jolly good propeller head, specialized to renewable energy solutions and innovations that makes life enjoyable.

Minor Details

In a project this vast, the amount of minor details gets enormous. And it’s the minor details that gives you a headache. Booking a booth to ten different conventions is not a problem. But because they all have a different setup for what’s included in the booth, it takes days to make sure you have walls, carpets and electricity in all places. Every fair center has also its own regulations. I was a bit surprised when receiving a kind remind from a french fair center that “safety shoes are mandatory during the setup and dismantling”. During setup I need to hook a three meter wide canvas - weighs like 200 grams - and open up the handy sales desk case. Hazardous business, so I MUST have safety shoes. Mother-in-law promised to loan her pair of safety shoes for our tour. Thou shall not mess with safety regulations!

The idea of having a mobile home for the tour seemed handy. We could stay overnight where ever we like. Europe is filled with nice camping areas. Except that they are not open during the winter… February and March will be interesting. I know we can manage in the caravan where ever we can park it. But will the caravan manage where ever it’s parked while we are at the conventions? There is no point to worry beforehand. All I can do is to get good insurances.

Which leads to another “minor detail”. We have had continuous travel insurances for years. One could assume “continuous” means that it’s valid all the time. But in the small print you find out the maximum length for one trip is three months. A minor problem if you are not coming home for a year. I quoted for travel insurance for a whole year. Price tag had four digits. Per person. I have two months time to find a reasonable solution. I need chocolate!

Backseat School

Our son liked the Multivan, because it has a table at the back. “I can do my homework here!” We can be proud of a son who actually likes studying and understands he has to do that also while we are on the road. With the school everything has worked out fine. Our son will do home schooling. He will get some tests from the school twice during the semester. We have his schoolbooks and each teacher will think about some special tasks.

It’s surprisingly the non-theoretical subjects that requires more planning. We must have sports every week. This will be useful for mum and dad, too. For art lessons he has his drawing equipments and he’s prepared to visit art museums with me. For hand crafts I have packed material for needlepoint and other embroidery.

This year he will start his Christmas holiday a bit earlier. We will visit our relatives and friends in southern Finland. They will get this year second hand presents, as we are trying to get rid of extra items. Each wrapped up with love and kind thoughts. It’s time for celebration and farewells.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Demons and port wine

Each child should have their own demon for day dreams” my child announced at the age of five. He was going to daycare with his toy Cthulhu. The green, fluffy monster, with tentacles, was his favorite at the time. Yeah, demons can be cute and cuddly too. 

I have never liked monsters with tentacles. I learned that when I watched Alien. I like science fiction, action and horror films. Usually I can sleep well after the films, or even during them, but slime and crawling creatures make me feel uncomfortable. One might say that is the point of horror films: to be a bit scared and uncomfortable, from the safety of a couch.

Game of horrors

I have to say, that I didn’t think of Perdition’s Mouth as a horror game until I watched Rahdo’s Final Thoughts of the game’s prototype. He loved the game, but said that his wife will not play it due to the horror aspect.

OK, there are monsters. Some of them even have tentacles. The Demon in Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift is not cuddly. It’s a nasty, spiky formation of evilness from the Abyssal Rift. For me, it reminds me of a butterfly or a moth. And those remind me of the Silence of Lambs. So OK, agreed, it is a bit scary, especially if you imagine it as life-size.

There is violence and torture. In the first Kickstarter campaign we got several comments about the victim miniatures. Especially about the girl in a cage. ”It’s humiliating!” Not the imprisonment, though. But that it was a female. Nobody cared about the male figure strapped up to a spiked wheel. I understand that not everybody likes the victim miniatures. They are cruelty made visible. But hey, this is fiction. Try and watch a documentary about the Syrian war. At least our victims can be rescued.

Red stains

Could you remove the blood from the maps?” A sincere question from a backer. I know some people might faint if they see a drop of blood. I don’t like to see blood either. But to have a dungeon with evil monsters, to fight in there for your (make-believe) life and not to have a single drop of blood visible would be… fake.

We have found that the realism in Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift – not only in graphics, but also in the game mechanisms – is the real horror aspect. My hero does not get better, just the opposite! They’re wounded, they’re slower, they have fewer action points. At the same time, the monsters get worse, bigger, nastier. Not fair, you think? Well, as Rahdo said in his video: this is not high fantasy, it’s fantasy horror. You might survive this dungeon, but you will be bleeding.

During one game session we accidentally spilled some port wine on the game map. Luckily the map is good, thick quality. No real harm done. There are still some red stains though. They blend in with the graphics. You can’t really tell what is blood and what is port

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Unforgettable Essen Spiel

One taxi driver after another shakes their head as I approach their cars at the Düsseldorf airport. Finally, Mr. Shabani has a car big enough for my luggage. ”Do you know the way and the right entrance?” he asks, when I tell him I want to go to Messe-Essen. This is the second time I’m participating in the world’s biggest gaming convention Essen Spiel. Of course I know the way. You never forget your first time in Essen.

In the past it has usually it has been Timo who traveled to gaming conventions. But right now he has his right hand and thumb in a tight plaster packet after surgery. Nevertheless, he can move nine fingers and uses those to comment on and update our ongoing Kickstarter campaign of Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift Revised Edition. We got the amount needed for funding within 21 hours. The campaign still requires constant work though: answering questions and organizing marketing to get more pledges.

Friendly faces

I dragged my 50 kilos of luggage from the taxi to hall number 2 and immediately found friends. Jouni and Tomi from Dized were struggling with IKEA furniture. I smiled. This year I would not spend hours looking for missing screws and struggling with heavy shelves. My luggage included our new sales desk. This very handy Desk&Case solution will be very useful on next year’s tour. In only five minutes the desk was set and, with the company’s new logo emblazoned on it, it looked great.

Essen Spiel is a truly international event. It gathers game publishers, manufacturers and retailers from all over the world. Boardgamegeeks travel long distances and queue hours to get the game they desire. It was very useful that we had our foreign team members at the booth. We were able to present our games in English, German, Spanish, French, Czech, Swedish and Finnish.

Dagmar de Cassan and Jouni Jussila
This was the first time I met some of our team members. We have written hundreds of messages on our virtual platform, shared ideas and worked together for a common vision. But have never met. Finally aliases had faces. I learned more of where they come from, saw pictures of their children. I even found out one of them was half Finnish!

For us, the Essen week also means pizza with our dear friend Dagmar de Cassan. She has an amazing collection of 30,000 board games in her board game museum. While enjoying our dinner (and the distinctive service traditions of the pizzeria) we discussed the future of the collection. It needs a new location and funding for the maintenance. I truly hope a solution will be found for this soon.

Mementos of Essen

How can you tell you have been in Essen?

First of all, you have lost your voice due to four days of constant talking in a noisy hall. You have explained the main features and basic rules of your games over and over again. This year we presented, in addition to our existing games Perdition’s Mouth and Black Hat, the prototype of Darwinning! This was the first time we presented it to the public and the feedback we got was excellent. Our team’s brainstorming for the name of the game proved to have been successful. Noble Artist had managed to make a logo that raised an instant interest in the game.

We thought we designed a family game. So I was surprised to see a group of older women stop and playtest Darwinning! The tradition of trick-taking games in Germany and Austria is long. People are used to playing them and want to find new variations on card games. We had many hilarious moments with Darwinning!: amebas eating a dinosaur, an elephant with a hard shell and birds using tools. We will continue developing the game based on the feedback and ideas we got at Essen. In January 2018 you will have an excellent trick-taking game on Kickstarter!

Time spent in Essen can also be counted by the dirty t-shirts with a company logo. I usually have one t-shirt for each fair day. This year some of them came home unused. Our order of new t-shirts for the whole team became a sad example of deliveries gone wrong. After two weeks in ”out-for-delivery” -mode, DPD finally managed to deliver the package to my hotel during the second day of the fair. Yet again, this reminded us why we should not use DPD, as this has happened with over half of their shipments to us. Perhaps I should feel lucky: every year there are companies in the fair whose games are stuck in customs or just not delivered.

Also your bag is filled with free samples from Chinese manufacturers, who have eagerly explained their factory sizes and showed miniatures, punch boards and dice with a big smile. They all have better quality than the competitors and they have all produced the best games ever published. It’s not easy to find a trustworthy manufacturer. My most important meeting during Essen was with our current manufacturer - LongPack Games. We had a long list of minor details for the ongoing production of Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift - Traitor Guard and for future productions. We looked up card samples, talked about packing and shipping, ideas for inserts etc. Small things, but important for our integrity.

Winter is here

Every year during Essen Spiel the winter begins, in Finland. Temperatures went below -20°C and we had 10cm of snow. The Iranian taxidriver in Düsseldorf had relatives in Sweden. He knew it is a cold country, and that Finland is even colder. Dark and cold. I have to disagree. With the river frozen and snow all around, it’s like millions of diamonds shimmering.

At home, I find out that a toner bottle has leaked in the suitcase. Luckily not on Timo’s new board game, nor on the special Pikachu I bought for Väinö.