GTM #187 - Inside Munchkin
by Philip Reed

Our first Munchkin booster packs, Fairy Dust and Waiting for Santa, were published in 2009.  Those first micro-expansion packs were soon followed by other inexpensive Munchkin boosters, and as each new set was released we heard demands for more and more themes and new ideas. The boosters were, both financially and from a gameplay perspective, far more successful than we had originally hoped.

The format, though, wasn't perfect. Two different - and very public - problems kept the boosters from truly reaching their full potential, while a third issue with the boosters (behind the scenes) nagged at us more and more as the number of booster releases kept climbing.

Those three grievances were:

  • The fin-seal packaging, while tidy and effective, confused new Munchkin players as well as veteran fans. Over and over again we had to shout to the world "These aren't random," but despite our best efforts to educate the world the "How many packs do I need to buy to collect the set?" question haunted us.
  • Additionally, the fin-seal and PoP (Point of Purchase) display caused problems for stores. These micro-expansions just wouldn't shelve neatly with the rest of the Munchkin games, expansions, and accessories.
  • Finally, behind the scenes, those fin-seal packages required more time to manufacture and the minimum order requirement was higher than our usual expansion formats. That meant it took longer to get these ideas to shelves than we liked and we couldn't justify keeping the packs available. The safest action for us was to print a single run and then allow the booster to go out of print.

We hate when Munchkin expansions go out of print. It drives the aftermarket prices to unreasonable amounts which makes it expensive for new Munchkin players to grab older cards. That's no fun!

A Possible Solution? When we outlined our Star Munchkin plans for 2015 (Star Munchkin 3, Star Munchkin Deluxe, and Star Munchkin Cosmic Demo) we struggled over whether or not to reprint the Space Ships booster. Prices on eBay were around the $40 mark, but the demand wasn't high enough to justify printing tens of thousands of copies of the booster. What could we do?

After several phone calls, emails, debates in our conference rooms, and painful tears, we settled on an idea that we felt could work: The blister pack. What's a blister pack? You've seen these thousands of times before. A piece of cardboard and clear plastic shell are glued together to form a hangable package that allows us to see what's inside. Blister packs are used in almost every industry - how many of these did I tear open when buying Star Wars action figures as a kid? - and a blister pack would allow a store to display Space Ships right beside Star Munchkin 3.

And even better is that the blister pack is standard for us, and both quicker to produce and can be run in lower numbers than a fin-seal. We believed we had the solution so we went with it, shipping Space Ships to print in the new packaging format before talking with more than a handful of outside partners.

We revealed the Space Ships packaging to retailers at the GAMA Trade Show, and the response was positive! This turned out to be one of our best decisions of the year, automatically making reprints of boosters viable and providing stores with a package that pegs in the exact same spot as the various Munchkin tuckbox expansions. Win!

As soon as we knew that the new format would work we sat down and went through the list of out-of-print boosters and selected two to reprint right away. Our processes usually require more time, but the staff pulled together and managed to get these two boosters revised and off to the printer quickly.

Munchkin Dragons - Probably the fastest-selling Munchkin booster ever, this was first in line since it fit perfectly with the new Dragon's Trike booster.

Munchkin Marked for Death - As both an expansion and workable demo set, this was a perfect second choice. Marked for Death rushed off to print soon after we finished Dragons.

But reprinting out-of-print boosters wasn't the only use for the blister packaging. A few ideas floating around the office weren't big enough for a tuckbox expansion, but we had more than 15 ideas for cards. We quickly worked out pricing and plans for 30-card blister packs and created two new sets that will be in your favorite local game store before Christmas:

Munchkin Kittens - After working with Katie Cook on Munchkin Love Shark Baby we just had to get her adorable artwork into another expansion. Munchkin Kittens is insanely cute. Now to tackle Munchkin Puppies!

Munchkin Hipsters – Illustrated by John Kovalic, our staff pulled together to come up with more hipster jokes than you can shake an organic lemon-ginger mocha macchiato at!

And, we’re not finished yet! The flexibility of the new blister packaging over the old booster fin-seals has us reviewing our 2016 plans. Now that we can print fewer copies of a micro-expansion, we’re looking at bringing back some other out-of-print boosters, and the 30-card format looks perfect for a few other ideas.

We would love to hear from you about the new packaging for the booster packs. You can find us on Twitter (@sjgames), or leave a comment on our forums at www.sjgames.com. And if you have an out-of-print Munchkin booster that you want to see back in stores, please let us know! After all, part of the reason we made the packaging change was to make it easier to reprint those earlier Munchkin boosters.

Three Questions for Katie Cook:

Katie Cook is a popular illustrator, cartoonist, writer, and self-professed nerd. She’s the brain behind the Gronk: A Monster’s Story webcomic and famed for her work writing and contributing art to the comic My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Katie’s style is distinctively round and cute, with big, blinky eyes. She illustrated a Munchkin booster, Munchkin Love Shark Baby, and is doing the upcoming booster, Munchkin Kittens.

We sat down with Katie to ask her three questions about her work and illustrating for Munchkin.

Q: Katie, thanks so much for taking a few minutes to chat with us. Can you tell us a little bit about how your illustration style has evolved over your career?

Katie: The only thing I've ever wanted to do with my life is be a cartoonist. I've spent every day of my life being a sponge for cartooning and drawing... I think how I draw has evolved from what I like. Simple, dynamic, cute, fun. How I draw keeps changing every year as I see new things and meet other cartoonists who are MUCH better than me. I'm always looking to improve!

Q: Talk to us a little about Munchkin Kittens. You’re a known cat lover, so what was it like getting to do a whole booster with relentless amounts of adorable?

Katie: I will never turn down the chance to draw cats! And the prospect of getting to do something with the Munchkin folks with kittens was great. So many fun, weird little cards is a delight to draw.

Q: So with Munchkin Love Shark Baby, your first booster which is all Cupid and love and amour, did you find it easy to adapt your style to the world of Munchkin?

Katie: It's like we were made for each other! My simplistic cartoon style combined with their awesome colors and designs made something really fun. It was an absolute thrill to work with everyone on it.

Thanks so much to Katie for answering our questions. You can find her work at: http://katiecandraw.typepad.com/

GTM #186 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dice Masters & HeroClix
by WizKids/NECA

In June, WizKids announced a partnership with Nickelodeon to bring Nickelodeon's beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to WizKids' tabletop games. As part of the agreement, new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeroClix and Dice Masters games will be arriving in stores later this year, giving gamers twice the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed gaming and collectability.

So what's in store for gamers when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeroClix hits shelves? The first waves of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeroClix collectible figure releases will have 35 figures distributed through 24-count, single-figure foil pack gravity feed displays that will include classic and fan-favorite characters including Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Shredder, and more. The figures themselves will be based on the original comic book designs, which means long-time fans will definitely want to collect the original red-masked versions of the Turtles.

In addition to finding characters coming from the original Mirage run of the comics, fans can expect to find versions of the characters from the 1987 cartoon as well as the current and popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series available on Nickelodeon.

“We’re extremely excited to be working with Nickelodeon on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” said Brian Roll, Senior Art Director, WizKids. “It’s been a dream license for us and to finally be able to work on the Turtles is almost surreal. We look forward to going deep into the history of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and bringing a vast and varied collection of characters to the table."

As the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeroClix sets will be based on the well-known HeroClix rules and Combat Dial technology, players will be able to easily integrate Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello with other HeroClix sets, thus making for some great cross-universe battles with classic superheroes and villains.

In addition to the single-figure booster set, players can look out for a new Starter Set format, which will include all the materials needed to play the contents for standard HeroClix play, as well as special rules and gameplay material to support multiple different scenario games for anywhere between 1-5 players. Fans and players alike can also look forward to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fast Forces Pack and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dice & Token Pack. Moreover, there will be an Organized Play Kit for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeroClix, so fans and players can keep a look out for these special events at their friendly local game store for a chance to win exclusive prizes!

For Dice Masters players, the Turtles will also be making an appearance in their own custom sets designed by Mike Elliott and Eric M. Lang. While it's too early to say exactly what specific custom dice will be available, the classic characters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will certainly be part of the product line.

Just like other Dice Masters releases, players will be able to play as heroes, villains, or any other unique combination they devise. As with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeroClix products, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dice Masters games will be fully integrated into the current Dice Masters lineup, meaning your favorite Turtles can jump into combat with (or against!) other superheroes from various comic book and movie universes. The initial release plans include a tin and box set, each containing a fixed set of cards and dice that will give players, new and old alike, an experience worth reliving over pizza.

Players attending WizKids’ World Championships event this past June at Origins Game Fair were especially excited for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to become a part of the games they already know and love. Many of them are eager to bring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters as part of their next championship team! Can’t wait to get your hands on your very own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeroClix or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dice Masters sets? Then make sure to keep a look out at your local game or hobby store for future information and availability. Also, visit HeroClix.com and DiceMasters.com for the latest product information.

GTM #185 - Extra! Extra! — It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog, Man-Bites-Dog World
by Charles Rice

Extra! Extra! is Mayfair’s game about the exciting and tense life of a newspaper’s managing editor. Each player in the game wants to get the big stories, the stories their audience wants and they want to get to press first, scooping their competitors. To represent this world, designer Andrew Bond has crafted a finely honed, perfectly balanced worker placement and management game that requires players to work quickly and precisely, like the fingers of a veteran journalist on a keyboard.

In bringing this world to life, it all starts with the components. Extra! Extra! has a three-piece board that nicely brings a three-story news office to life. You’ll be working at a Sources Desk, an Operations Desk, and, finally, the Editor’s Desk. The stories that will make up the front page, including the all-important headline, look like newsprint and once your front page is assembled you’ll have something evocative of a real front page. You’ll send reporters to the newswire, the morgue, and to news desks around the world in search of the best stories.

Speaking of reporters, they are your most important resource and you must build your team and manage them carefully. You begin the game with only two reporters and must expand your team as the game progresses. Each turn you need sufficient money to pay your reporters, or you’ll lose them and have to waste time hiring them all over again, so manage your money wisely and keep your team intact.

Your reporters will gather the stories and photographs that make up the bedrock of your newspaper. Each story requires a certain amount of copy and photographs to put into the paper. For bonus points, you’re also going to want interviews, which bring stories to life and make them much more compelling for your readers. Again, your pool of reporters will conduct interviews and add them to your stories. You can also turn to old articles your newspaper published by visiting the morgue. This can provide you extra copy or photos for your current content.

And what that content will be varies from player to player. Not every newspaper is the same and players in Extra! Extra! will also want to tailor the types of stories they tell to their audience. There are six newspaper themes in the game: world, sports, business, political, business, leisure and home. If you craft stories that fit your newspapers theme, you’ll be able to score bonus points for pleasing your audience. You’ll also want to try and nab the valuable Extra! Extra! tokens, representing breaking news, which increase the score of an article even more, and these have to match the article’s theme.

Of course, running a newspaper is not all about jet-setting around the world with no regard to the practicalities of life; this is serious business. Editors have to make sure to keep the lights on and that means paying close attention to their cash on hand. We’ve discussed the possibility of losing some of your valuable workforce if money runs low, but money also provides the ability to bump a rival reporter off a story. Maybe you take a valuable source to dinner and as the wine flows so do the anecdotes. If a reporter is already on a story, you can bump with a reporter and cash. This can lead to a bidding war over a valuable story component, as players successively bump rival reporters, each time requiring more cash.

Getting an edge in the cash department can lead an editor to give up some of their beloved front page to advertisers. Advertising takes up room on the page but scores you no points at the end of the game. Instead, advertising gives you a cash infusion that you can use either to pay a larger pool of reporters or to get a particularly juicy scoop to round out a story. You also have the option to loan out your reporters to other (non-player) newspapers to increase your cash on hand. This is the perfect way to put a reporter to use that you don’t need to chase down a lead or a photo that turn. Either way, you’ll need to balance your needs for cash with scoring opportunities but advertising is a very important means to get ahead in the cutthroat world of international journalism.

But advertising alone will never keep readers interested so let’s take a look at the elements editors will use to compose their front pages. First of course, there’s the stories themselves, which come in different sizes and shapes. Larger stories require more resources but are worth more points. Then there’s the headline, a vital part of the front page that will draw readers in from a distance and convince them to buy the paper when they get close. Finally, there are opinion columns which can score a lot of points in a small amount of space due to their potential to entertain or infuriate your readership.

As you fill your page, Extra! Extra! takes on aspects of puzzle games as you search for stories and ads that fill out the white space on your page. In a pinch, you can send a reporter to the typesetter to rearrange your page but it’s more efficient to look for stories that fill in the existing spaces. Columns and stories are obviously a key to this but there are some other content options editors can use to fill small bits of white space on their front pages. Classified ads, cartoons and crossword puzzles don’t score points at the end of the game but each of these tiles occupy only a single space on the board, making them perfect for when you just have a bit of space to fill.

Filling your front page quickly is also important, as it allows you to scoop your competition and bring important stories to your readers first. If a player is content with everything about their front page, including its layout and have a completely filled page, they can claim a special “First to Press” card which scores bonus points at the end of the game. While this is tempting, it’s often better to have the right stories on your page than rushing ahead but being first can decide a close game.

To increase the amount of content and replayability in the game, Extra! Extra! also offers nine different scenarios to play through. These scenarios provide short games for players new to the game letting them master its content and strategy, with other scenarios adding in alternate rules and additional pages players need to fill, increasing the strategy required and allowing for a longer game. In fact, choosing between the scenarios allows player to have a very short game (as little as 45-minutes) or a long one (up to two and half hours).

In the end, a newspaper’s lifeblood is its circulation of readers. Without them, newspapers fade away into obscurity and go out of business. To represent this, each story in Extra! Extra! is worth a certain number of Circulation Points (CP). The player with the greatest number of Circulation Points wins the game. So assemble your team, grab the big stories, the best columns and be first to press, all while keeping your audience in mind, and you will take your place as one of the best newspaper editor in the world!