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.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Solving Problems

I drove the caravan, almost 16 meters in total length when hitched up, from our yard down a narrow forest road to the E4. It was surprisingly easy – and getting easier: the next turn would be after 120 kilometers. So let’s go, to southern Finland! We were, however, 45 mins behind the planned schedule – and were soon to find out that that was the least of our problems.

Print proofs of the Traitor Guard expansion were supposed to be delivered the day before. We were going to be on the road for the next five days. Production could not wait that long, we needed the print proofs. While I was driving, my husband Timo phoned DHL trying to locate the delivery. If it was still in Rovaniemi, we could catch it there. We needed to stop there for some hours, anyway.

Unfortunately, the package was already in a delivery truck. After a couple of hours I got a phone call from the delivery truck driver. He was heading back to Rovaniemi. Just in time for us to pick up the package and be on the road again. Right on schedule!

Sudden stop

During our stop in Rovaniemi we changed the car. Our largest ”family member”, a Chevrolet Suburban called ”Lump” (Möhkö), was left to rest and we continued with a Jeep Grand Cherokee. We have had this Jeep for some months. We had never used it and were going to change it to a Volkswagen Transporter T5 in southern Finland.

Our son Väinö didn’t like the Jeep, because ”it’s so small”. He even posted a picture of the ”tiny spot” he was having at the back seat to his friends on WhatsApp. Small boy and already fond of big vehicles. ”I like the Möhkö more”, he announced. Yeah, after this journey, I would like the Lump more, too.

The journey ended 240 kilometers later, all of a sudden, right after a roundabout. It was raining, the pitch black darkness of late evening, and we were partly blocking the road and the Jeep would not start...

Rescued by pros and neighbour

Some minutes of trying and testing achieved nothing. So when a van with Limingan Raskashuolto (Liminka Heavy repair) text on the van back stopped to help, it was a real relief. We were soon towed to their garage yard just a kilometer further on. It was an experience to be towed having a caravan behind you. The helpful guy gave us electricity to the caravan and organized their tow car to pick up the Jeep. It could be fixed in their repair workshop in Oulu.

So we had our first caravan dinner at a garage back yard. Heavy trucks and other cars that worked passing by. But our little home was warm and cozy. Väinö soon went to bed, after all it was late. Timo and I checked the print proofs while waiting for the tow car. Fortunately the quality of the printing was much better than the quality of our car.

The next day we learned which part of the car was broken, how many days it would take to get it and how many numbers the price tag had. None of them sounded good. Our wide network amongst US car repair guys turned out to be really useful. We managed to get the needed part in five hours and with a more reasonable price.

Nevertheless, in the evening the car still would not start. It was clear we would not get to southern Finland. So it was time for survival plan b+n: I would go back to Rovaniemi, fetch Lump and drive back to get the guys and our caravan back home. Even if the situation was tricky the solution was easy. Our friend, who lives in Oulu and has a cottage right next to our home, was going to his cottage the very next day. I got a ride to Rovaniemi. Before midday I was already driving back with good ol’ Lump.

Lousy and nifty designs

On our way back we stopped in a caravan shop to check the latest models and to get some ideas for improvements. It is clear that the vast majority of caravans are not designed for long-term living. They are meant for short vacations. Design concentrates on luxury items like wine glass holders and impressive LED lighting instead of usefulness. Our son voted as ”most stupid layout” a solution where a single bed was located on top of the double bed. Perhaps caravan designers never have to pee during the night.

I drove from Rovaniemi to home. It was dark and raining. If there were reindeer, it would have been almost impossible to see them. So I used my Reindeer bell app. This quite recent app has managed to reduce car crashes significantly with reindeer in northern Finland. I highly recommend this to everyone driving on arctic roads. It’s free to download. Reindeer bell gives a warning signal when you are close to an area where reindeer have been seen recently.

The final solution

We didn’t get any reindeer alarms. Late in the evening we were safely at home again. But we still had the last junction. A 90 degree turn from the narrow forest road next to our garage through a less than 3 meter ”wide” gap.

In the darkness neither me, behind the wheel, nor the guys with flashlights, outside, could see much. I drove really slowly, got instructions, but still suddenly found the caravan very close to a pine tree. Way too close…

The final problem was solved with a chainsaw. Luckily we live in an area where cutting down our own trees is allowed. Nevertheless it is not recommended to do it in the middle of the night. With one pine less to worry about I finally managed to park the caravan.

So our little test journey with the caravan turned out to be something really different than what we planned. Changing the Jeep is delayed for some weeks, solar panels will be installed later. I need to find some compensation for my nephew who missed his cousin’s visit.

If I can park here, I can park anywhere.
In Finland we have a saying: A shitty journey but at least it got made (from the Unknown Soldier by Väinö Linna). Anyhow, I feel this was a very successful rehearsal. We learned (again) that life does not always go as planned. The year 2018 won’t be any different: we will experience surprises. But at least it’s now proven that our family is good at solving problems.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Reversing to the Next Level

I like driving. Which is good, because I have to drive about 30,000 km yearly. That’s unavoidable when living in Lapland where distances are long: I usually drive over 100 kms to work, one direction. The closest grocery store is 20 km from home, it’s even one kilometer to the mailbox!

For me, driving means independence. When I first got my driving license, I drove 800 km to visit a friend; just because I could. That’s why it is so difficult for me to understand women who stop driving when they get married. It is so often the man who sits behind the wheel, especially if it is bad weather, or dark, or the car is brand new... Or if you have to reverse.

Just Open The Window!

I got rid of the fear of reversing about 10 years ago when I acquired my truck license. I learned to reverse zigzag between poles with an 8 meter long truck using only mirrors. In the driving test I had to pocket-park with the truck. So I’m not afraid of reversing a car. But I have to admit, I avoid it anyhow. I haven’t done much pocket-parking with any vehicle since that test.

Just recently I upgraded my driving license to be able to tow our caravan. That’s an extension of 10 meters behind my car. And that forced me to do another driving test: reversing a trailer. Now that was clearly trickier! So many backwards things. Turn wheel to opposite direction where you want the trailer to go. But what is ”opposite” when you are watching the movement through a mirror?! My brain just screamed in confusion.

Oh, just open the window and pop your head out!” my driving teacher told me. That simple thing really helped. But there were also moments when Hitchhiker’s Guide’s advice was needed: don’t panic! After some hours of practising, I started to feel I could manage the test.

Become Better

My friend works at a local copper mine, driving a dumper. A BIG one. Mines like to hire female drivers, because they are more careful, take good care of the vehicle and have an economical driving style. Anyone can learn these skills, if motivated enough.

At the moment we have two choices for a car for the tour. We are now comparing fuel consumptions, technical issues, differences with road tax costs etc. On a tour this long some minor details can make a huge difference. A Danish friend of ours teaches economical driving and gave us good hints. Technology also provides many ways to follow economical driving, which I’m planning to take full advantage of on our tour. I like to challenge myself to be a better driver. Not only when reversing, but also while moving forward.

Next Step

In Lapland I’m used to driving in the dark, on icy roads, in the middle of snowstorms avoiding reindeer, elk and flocks of black grouse. I’m not used to heavy traffic. My blood pressure rises immediately if there are more than two lanes on the road or more than three cars at a crossing. Driving through Helsinki feels exhausting. So this whole tour is outside my comfort zone.

That’s why I took the latest driving lessons in Rovaniemi. To collect experience points in driving in a city. I survived - and so did the city of Rovaniemi.

The next step will be a long weekend on the road with the caravan. We will go to Helsinki to install solar panels on the wagon. This means about 2,000 km of driving; sleeping and cooking in the caravan and creating some electrical innovations. Yes, I’m having nightmares... And no, I can’t wait to be on the road!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Big Change

This is not a blog about a miraculous diet and losing weight - even if I might need that, too. It's not about getting rid of junk and cleaning your closets - even if that is going to happen as a side-effect. It's about doing what you really want to do, living like you think it would be cool to live, experiencing things you have never done.

Our family have now run a company for over a decade. It has been more of an "environment-to-do-cool-stuff" than earning a living. We have had our full time jobs elsewhere. Now, though, we have noticed that people like the "cool-stuff" we do. The amount of time and effort needed to take care of customer service and company paperwork is increasing. So it is time for me to jump to the full-time entrepreneur life. Not for the first time in my life, but hopefully for the rest of my life.

Family games

Our company Dragon Dawn Productions is a Finnish board game publisher. We have published four board games (Zanziar, Phantom League, Black Hat and Perdition's Mouth) and a couple of expansions. Even if board games were a part of my childhood, I hadn't played a real (or really good...) board game until I play-tested an early version of Zanziar, a game my husband had designed. Immediately I fell in love with the challenge and strategy variations a good board game offers.

We truly are a gaming family. Our son’s (now 11 years old) second full sentence was ”My turn to roll the dice”. He has been a part of testing and developing Black Hat and Perdition’s Mouth. At the moment we are working on a new product, a trick-taking game called Darwinning, for which I’m one of the designers.

It’s not my first design. Whilst cleaning our pile of board games I found a damaged board for Uusi finanssi. On the other side of the board was the only version of the game ”Hupaisat rosvonuolet” (Hilarious bandit arrows); I remember inventing it one summer in a tent at a neighbor's yard after my neighbor and I got fed up with the original game. I was about the same age my son is now and certainly had no clue I would be running a board game company in the future.

The grand tour of 2018

Since the very beginning our company’s markets have been outside of Finland. We sell games all over the world and have warehouses in three different continents. Yet there are still a lot of customers to be reached, and there’s a lot to be learned from foreign markets. We have decided to pack our family and games in a caravan and make a tour around Europe in order to participate in game fairs and conventions and to meet both gamers and distributors. We will be on the road for the whole of 2018.

Yes, it’s going to be an interesting and challenging year. We will share it with you in this blog. Following this blog you can also follow our route - perhaps we will meet and play a game.

Do come and meet me next month at the Essen Spiel (26th -29th Oct) at our booth 2F131. You can hear more about this tour and test play Darwinning with me!