We had the pleasure of interviewing the owner of Capstone Games – Clay Ross. Clay has been instrumental in expanding access to heavier games in the United States. During this interview Clay touched on everything from his background in gaming, to what he’s learned about accessibility in board games, to Kickstarter, and so much more.
Andrew: So Clay, what is Capstone games? What motivated you to start a publishing company?
Clay: I’ve always enjoyed heavier games, games from companies like Spielworxx and Splotter, that did new and interesting things. For a long time it was hard to get those games, you were either paying international shipping or paying a lot of money second hand. I wanted to start a company to serve the demand both in the United States and worldwide to better serve the heavy games community. We were able to set up a license agreement for Arkwright from Spielworxx and that was a perfect fit for the game and where I wanted to take the company.
Andrew: Since you target primarily to the heavier end of the hobby, do you face particular challenges with distributors and friendly local game stores that other publishers might not face?
Clay: There are five major distributors in the United States and working with them is great. They know what they’re getting from Capstone Games and they like the consistency of the heavier titles. Working with a local game store is a little different because it takes a lot longer to explain one of our titles than it does for a game like Happy Salmon or Splendor. We just got back from the GAMA trade show where we worked with retailers to help them with selling these heavier titles.
Andrew: What is the Simply Complex line of games and what makes a game “Simply Complex”?
Clay: My friend Joe Wiggins introduced me to The Climbers and I immediately fell in love with how simple the rules were but how interesting the game was. I did some more research and found some more similar games that I wanted to reprint. These games don’t really fit into the main Capstone Games line since they have a much simpler rule set but still have a lot of depth. I started Simply Complex to have these games that are easy to teach but still have an interesting gameplay and having the separate line allowed me to not dilute what Capstone was doing.
Andrew: Can you talk more about the first Simply Complex game – The Climbers?
Clay: This is an interesting story, I fell in love with The Climbers back in September of 2016 and I had to get the license from the designers. They’re out of the industry and they don’t really do email so I had to go to Essen and work out the deal face to face with them. That left me with the challenge of printing this game and I had to find a bunch of wood to make the game happen. Each copy has five pounds of wood and I searched so many factories but no one could do it at a reasonable price. Finally, I found a factory that would do it and we wrapped up the artwork right before Origins. It was so cool at Origins just seeing people walk by and check out the game. We sold out of games at Gen Con, Essen, and the rest of our print run was sold before it left the factory.
Andrew: You have a game on Kickstarter right now, can you tell us about The Estates? (Kickstarter link)
Clay: The Estates is another reprint, the original game was called “Neue Heimat” and it is an auction and city building game. It is a very, very cutthroat bidding game. I really wanted to print The Estates before The Climbers but I thought it would be better to release the nicer game first. The thing I love about it is the closed economy. At the beginning of the game each player has 12 dollars and there is such a dynamic storyline, one moment you might be rich and the next you’re flat out broke and it just continually changes throughout the games.
Andrew: This was your first Kickstarter, what did you do to prepare?
Clay: I did a lot of research on previous campaigns. You can never mention Kickstarter without mentioning Jamey Stegmaier. He has a wonderful blog with lots of great knowledge so thanks for that, Jamey. In particular, his insights on how to get games from the factory to fulfillment centers was valuable. It helped us learn how to make sure people don’t have to pay import taxes on their games.
Andrew: As we’re talking, you’re about a day and a half into your Kickstarter, what have you learned so far?
Clay: It’s kind of like having a kid in that you can’t really explain what it’s like until you have one. You can’t really explain it until you have one and Kickstarter is the same way. The big thing is you can’t please everybody. At the end of the day, the people who are crowd-funding the game with you want to help and I will listen to any feedback and take any comments to heart to improve the game. People should not be afraid to reach out to me and we will do what we can.
Andrew: The Kickstarter for The Estates ran into some criticism early on for accessibility. What is the story there and what was the outcome.
Clay: When I was first shopping around The Climbers I had a lot of stores tell me it would do a lot better if it was color blind friendly but there wasn’t anything I could do at that point but I did take that to heart for The Estates. That was when we had the idea to add silk screening to the game. When I got the quote from the factory for the silk screening my jaw hit the floor and it was not something we could afford to do. That was when I realized we could do the Kickstarter and if there was enough interest, raise the capitol to print the game the way I was hoping to.
Our stretch goal for hitting 80k on the campaign is to add silk screening to the sides of the cubes to make the game color blind friendly. Some people in the comments and on Twitter called me out for making accessibility a goal and not something immediately part of the game and they were right. I screwed up and got carried away with silk screening and I forgot that we could just use stickers if we didn’t get to the goal and either way it achieves our goal of being color blind friendly.
Andrew: Is Kickstarter in the long-term plans for Capstone?
Clay: We will have to see. Previously I’ve always been opposed to it but it has been amazing to see how much buzz there is around a game that is being released on Kickstarter. I think that is because Kickstarter is like a resume for a board game, it has a video, gameplay, reviews, rules, and components. With traditional straight to retail, it is much more of a hassle to get information out of a publisher. Kickstarter is open information and there is so much buzz around the games.
Andrew: To wrap up, Clay do you want to plug The Deep End?
Clay: Absolutely! The Deep End is a podcast featuring me, Joe Wiggins, and Ryan Metzler and once a month we just chat about heavy games, everything from a publisher to mechanism, to the games we’ve been playing. You should check out our YouTube channel.
Andy Matthews: One final note, Capstone Games is sponsoring Nashville Tabletop Day and we are really excited to have your games there both as prizes and play to win games.