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Nov 07 2013

What Is Stellar War?

Snippet of the Stellar War sales page banner from GameCrafter, showing the title of Richard Carrier's game against a background of a NASA image of stars in a nebula. Some card faces are shown, including a Secret Agent card and a Fighter Attack card.Answer: a card game I invented in high school. (That’s back in the 1980s, for those who never noticed my birth year in Facebook.) I created it by hand with tape and cutouts and a photocopier using paper-card stock. My friends and family played it for years.

Why mention it now? Well, because now you can buy it. And it’s not just tape and cutouts and photocopied card-paper anymore. It’s an almost professional quality game set now, thanks to GameCrafter, essentially the “CreateSpace” of card and board game publishing (design-by-web-interface, publish-on-demand). If you want to check it out, then see the sales page for my now-resurrected childhood card game Stellar War.

Photo of hand-crafted pale wooden box containing Brother Sam's table game Superstructure, the Superstructure logo in red across the top.Why do this now? Well, because I was inspired by Brother Sam Singleton. Or as many know him, game designer (and jack of many other trades) Roger Scott Jackson (his pals call him RoSco). He designed a game back around the same time I did, called Superstructure, and he just recently resurrected it, with the help of his wife Cari. His IndieGogo funding campaign went off well (it even got a story in the Charleston Gazette). RoSco made a YouTube video about the project and now you can buy a hand-made reproduction of the complete game (at BestGameBuilt…note the amusing headline there).

This made me think, “Hmm. Technology has changed a lot since then. Maybe they have PODs for games now?” So I looked around and discovered GameCrafter, which I can now say (having completed one whole project with them) is a really excellent company as far as its online design and accounts interface. Its product is just a touch below professional corporate game manufacture (which is still far better than tape and cutouts and card-paper), and its pricing is high, but that’s unavoidable because this is one-off manufacturing (if you pay them to build just one box set for you, then you are going to have to pay a lot more than if you bought a thousand units at bulk wholesale price).

You can buy a Stellar War box-set set for fifty dollars. The price would be nearly half that (which is honestly more like what it’s worth) if I did a full production run of five hundred units and ran my own distribution network, but I’ll never sell enough of them to justify that, so I’ve made it available for die hard fans and table-game geeks like me who won’t mind dropping fifty bucks on a unique and entertaining bit of Richard Carrier’s creative past–and to enjoy a fun game your friends are unlikely to have even heard of!

A photo of Richard Carrier's card-game Stellar War in mid-play. Several decks of cards, a die, and cards upright on the table showing space frigates and dreadnaughts and missile attacks and lunar space stations and chain reactions and all manner of whatnot positioned around a table.Though I invented Stellar War in the 1980s, in 1998 I revised it slightly in order to pitch it to a major game company, which finally passed on the project because it did not fit the then-growing trend in tradeable card games. Other than that I’ve only had my hand-crafted mock-up set ever since the 80s (even a hand-made card-paper box–I built three or four complete sets for myself, friends, and family). With modern computer tech I redesigned all the cards and rulebook to look smart and professional. But I kept all my original hand-drawn graphic art. So as you play, you are staring at spaceships and commando helmets and lightning bolts that I drew by hand as a teenager…nearly thirty years ago.

You can learn all about the game, and see shots of the game in play, and, if you feel so inclined, buy one for yourself (or as a Christmas gift for a friend!) at GameCrafter.

I have another amusing game in the works at GameCrafter now–History or Hogswallop!?–which I invented just a few years ago to teach historical methods to kids and teens at Camp Quest West (it has consequently been very well playtested). So stay tuned for that!

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Eric Haas

    It needs an entry on BoardGameGeek.com.

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      Good idea. Can just anyone register and create such an entry?

    2. 1.2
      Eric Haas

      Yes. When you submit it, it will go into a queue until it’s approved by the moderators.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Groovy. I’ll do that when I get back from Skepticon.

  2. 2
    Reginald Selkirk

    A run of 500 copies doesn’t sound too overambitious.
    That’s if you could get it to the right audience. I am thinking of a science fiction site like io9. I suppose there are gamer sites as well which might be even more relevant.
    Is there anything like Kickstarter which would be applicable, so you could judge the amount of interest before going in?

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      I don’t think you realize what you are saying.

      Do you have $12,000?

      That’s just the stock cost for 500 units.

      The distribution system (the means by which you take and process customer’s orders, which requires paying a credit card service, business taxes and licenses, and then pay for packaging and postage to mail product) will run you several more thousand. Plus thousands of hours of personal (or yet more paid) labor.

      If you have the fifteen grand or so this would take and the thousands of hours (or additional twenty grand or so for employees) it requires, be my guest. I’ll be happy to give you the license and you can keep half the profits! (Which, BTW, will only be about $500, unless you list every unit at over $30, and then you can rake in a whopping one or two grand. Woo.)

      But I suspect you’ll balk. As I did.

      Then you’ll understand. :-)

  3. 3
    trucreep

    This is awesome! Ever been to http://boardgamegeek.com ? You should put that on there! They have a great community, especially for those smart enough to design their own games. Maybe we’ll see Stellar War as the next Z-Man or Rio Grande game! :]

  4. 4
    Cari Park

    Love Love LOVE! what you said to Reginald Selkirk–and thank you so much for your kind words about SUPERSTRUCTURE. You are obviously well aware of the difficulties and expenses involved in producing and marketing a quality game. That’s AFTER developing the concept and mathematical functionality, as well as the graphics for cards, packaging etc. That’s why we decided to do hand made wooden games. (The cards are professionally printed for us by a fantastic studio.) While SUPERSTRUCTURE costs $100, (compared to $25 for the plastic, mass produced 1987 version) it’s going to last a mighty long time, and the parts are satisfying to handle.

  5. 5
    Roy Price

    Most card games of this type retail around the $10-15 mark (see BoardGameGeek for hundreds of examples). Some as low as $8 (for card-only games). You can also easily produce such cardgames for around $3-5 (if doing a small run of 10′s of decks etc) of customised playing card images in various sizes with whatever back you want, or even multiple backs at places like Arstcow.com. You could print off 50-100 copies of this game in beautiful glossy cards for a few hundred bucks to give a copy to each of your friends at Christmas. You could certainly bash off 1,000 copies for a few thousand dollars if you wanted to make a commercial venture out of it.

    1. 5.1
      Richard Carrier

      Those prices are for small single-deck games, not box-set multi-deck games. And your thinking I can burn “a few thousand dollars” on a thousand units the most of which I’ll never sell, would suggest you think I’m far wealthier than I actually am. On my own (as a business), I make barely above poverty level income. If I’m going to burn “a few thousand dollars,” it’s going to be on at trip to Europe with my wife, not a gigantic storage nightmare. ;-)

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