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comity (kom'-it-ee) n. 1a: friendly social atmosphere; social harmony. b: a loose widespread community based on common social institutions. c: comity of nations (1: the courtesy and friendship of nations marked especially by mutual recognition of executive, legislative, and judicial acts. 2: the group of nations practicing international comity.) d: the informal and voluntary recognition by courts of one jurisdiction of the laws and judicial decisions of another. 2: avoidance of proselytizing members of another religious denomination. [from Latin comitas from comis "courteous," from Old Latin cosmis from com- "with" + -smis akin to Sandskrit smayate "he smiles."]

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"I think that Fluxx is the best game ever invented!!!!" -- Jami of Keizer, Oregon

Thursday, April 21st, 2005
by the Writer's Guild of Wunderland

What's New?


What's Going On? We Refuse To Go To China

The good news around here this week is that Zendo was one of the 5 winners in this year's Mensa Mind Games Competition! Yay! Congratulations, Kory!

Now for the bad news. Despite this recent feather in Zendo's cap, we have decided to let Zendo go out of print. The reasons behind this possibly shocking decision are complex, and yet simple: it's all about money.

More to the point, the problem is the costliness of those lovely pointy pyramids. The Icehouse system has yet to be a money-maker for us... our success as a company is due almost entirely to the strength of the sales of our card games, most especially Fluxx, which is far and away our biggest hit. We've sold ten times as many copies of Fluxx as we have of our second biggest hit, Chrononauts. Fluxx accounts for more of our sales than everything else we make, combined.

The pyramids on the other hand always cost too much and sell too slowly. They'd be cost-effective enough for a game which used only one of each color, as single pawns, for example, but so many pyramids are required for a full Icehouse set as to make the costs really quite staggering. Our pricing on them two years ago, when we did the first print run of Zendo, gave us almost no margin for profit, and since then, the cost of plastic has sky-rocketed (being petroleum-based products, the cost of plastic goes up with the cost of gas). So we really can't afford to make any more until we find a more cost-effective means of getting the pyramids manufactured.

This leads us to the question of going to China. Always in the past we have resisted the lure of the Orient, but obviously, the idea comes up in any conversation about how to get small plastic parts manufactured more cheaply. It goes against all our hippie ideals to even consider exporting this job... but the idea keeps coming back, particularly since sales people from far away are always offering such services.

A few months ago, Kristin finally broke down and -- just for the sake of argument, you understand -- allowed an overseas manufacturer to quote on making our pyramids. And as you might expect, the numbers are astonishing. Icehouse pieces would easily be profitable if we were getting them made overseas, even with the added shipping costs. Heck, we could probably even lower the price if we did that. But could we sleep at night?

I can't promise we'll never consider it again, but right now, we're still refusing to go to China. We are determined to find a way to get pyramids made more cheaply here at home. We love our plastics manufacturer, KLON, a small company located just up the highway from us, north of Baltimore. They've been hit hard by the economy these last few years, and they've lost a lot of business to overseas competition, but they're still there, hanging on by their fingernails, and they're eager to make more pieces for us and ready to find a way of doing so more cheaply. And it's not like there's any mystery about what we need to do: we need a bigger mold. The problem is, new molds cost big bucks.

To date, all injection-molded Icehouse pieces ever made have come out of the exact same mold, a "family" mold we commissioned in 1999 at a cost of around $10,000. This mold makes just 1 piece of each size at a time, which means the pieces are very pricey. This is made worse by the fact that the press must be run relatively slowly, due to the differently-sized pieces being made at the same time. On top of that, we couldn't afford to buy extra-fancy (i.e. even more expensive) mold gating, meaning that each piece has to be cut free from the spur with clippers, by hand, which of course adds yet more to the cost of the job. (We need a mold with a hot runner, instead of a cold runner, if you want to get technical about it.) Finally, as if all that weren't enough, the pieces are then delivered to us loose in big boxes, meaning a lot of expensive and error-prone hand counting has to be done in order to assemble finished game sets.

All that was just fine back in 1999 when we were first pioneering these injection-molded pyramids... but we just can't afford to make sets that way any longer. What we need before we can make any more Icehouse sets is a trio of new molds, each of which makes 5 pieces at a time, with hot runner gating. And a new molding system like that is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars to create, which of course is way more money than we have available.

That brings us to the next topic, which is our overall funding problem. We need money. Quite a lot, actually. Obviously, we had hoped for our company to be operating in the black by now, but the fact is, building this company up from scratch is expensive, and we won't know how much it will have cost until after we are all done. But even as another year goes by in which we must borrow more money to continue, we still have enough faith and confidence in our products to know that we will *eventually* be hugely profitable. Games follow a slow path to success, but the real hits become household names that sell millions of copies and remain saleable for decades.

We believe Fluxx has the potential to become another Uno. We've sold 200,000 copies thus far, and the market for it just keeps on expanding as it creeps further and further into the public's consciousness. Someday, we will sell our millionth Fluxx deck, by which time I expect our money woes will be long over... and yet, we'll still just be on our way to doing the kind of sales numbers that Uno has achieved (which when last I heard were somewhere well over 25 million copies sold).

But that's in the glorious future. Right now, money is very tight. As our expenses continue to exceed our sales volume, we keep needing to borrow more money for growth. So we have a lot of debt we have to service, plus we need money to print all the new stuff we want to create (like Eco-Fluxx and Just Desserts and everything else on the Stove), plus we need more money to reprint the stuff we're running out of, plus we need more money to pay more workers because we need more help to get all this stuff done.

All of this leaves us wondering how best to find more investment capital. Here are a few of the ideas we're considering:

  • Arrange a series of additional personal loans like those we already rely on (Thanks again, existing investors!)
  • Find an angel investor willing to invest heavily
  • Start playing and then win either a lottery or a high stakes poker tournament
  • Pull off some sort of publicity stunt that gets us the extra attention we need to push our sales past the tipping point
  • Strike black gold (or "Texas Tea") while shooting at some food in the backyard, then sell our land to an oil company
  • Get a government agency to grant us the money to buy the new Icehouse mold, as a way of supporting small companies and preventing the outsourcing of American jobs
  • Invent time travel, then go back in time and invest in the stock market, horse-racing, etc
  • Ask fans of Icehouse (and American manufacturing) to contribute to a "new mold" fund

None of these plans will be fast or easy to accomplish, but we'll figure it out, we always do.

We are working on plans for keeping the Icehouse system going, with or without the added money we need for better tooling. If we must, we can still get another run of pyramids done the old way, even if we lose money on them and the price for the set is $50. It's all in the new Icehouse Manufacturing RFQ (Request For Quote) which Kristin posted this week. Even if we can't afford to buy a new mold this year, we're still hoping to publish at least a small print run of Volcano sets in time for the holidays. But Zendo probably won't be reprinted this year.

For over 15 years, Kristin and I have been trying to make money selling these pesky little pyramids, and basically, we never have. But we still believe in the pyramids! We continue investing our money in the system, and along the way, we've repeatedly re-invented the product. As new games have been developed for the pyramids, we've been changing the focus, always searching for that "killer ap" that will get large numbers of people to finally buy an Icehouse set.

When we published Zendo, we were hoping it would be that Killer Ap... but now we think it's really Volcano. At the Little Experiments we've been running, we've been teaching everyone Zendo, IceTowers, and Volcano, and it's been really obvious to us which one has been the universal favorite: Volcano.

The honest truth is, sales of Zendo have been disappointing. It's been almost 2 years since we printed just 2000 copies, and we are only now getting close to selling out of that first print run. Even winning the Origins Award for Best Abstract Game of the Year did little to increase sales of Zendo. The biggest reason for this may be the price... we kept the price as low as we could, but $40 is still too much for many people's budget, even given the great value the set represents because of all the different games you can play with the pieces. Maybe people are confused or put off somehow by the mystical Zen theme, or just feel that Zendo is too much of a brain-burner for their tastes. We can only speculate. But the hard reality we have to face is the fact that Zendo sets haven't been selling very well.

Instead, what we're hearing is that Volcano is the game people really like best, so that's the one we're going to shift our attention (and limited resources) over to. Hopefully someday we'll be able to bring Zendo back, when we have more money and aren't having to choose between publishing new titles and keeping old ones in stock. But given our current funding constraints, it just doesn't make sense for us to reprint a slow seller at this time, even if it has won some major awards.

We still have around a hundred Zendo sets in our warehouse, so if you haven't gotten this boxed edition yet, you still have a chance. You won't find it in stores much longer, since we have stopped sending them to our distributors - and to make sure they all go to good homes, and to stretch the supply as long as possible, the price for these last few Zendo sets will soon go up to $50.

AndyHave a Great Week, and Thanks for Playing Our Games!

PS: As long as I'm making a list of stuff we need money for (see paragraph 12 above), here's another thing: We need to go to Europe again. The Germans who published German Fluxx have expressed interest in bringing Chrononauts and the pyramids to their market, but obviously there are some challenges involved in translating these titles, particularly for Chrononauts (though at GTS I did hear some tantalizing snippets of their ideas for a German timeline from Frank, their rep). Also, we're in negotiations with a Dutch company who wants to make Dutch, French, and Italian editions of Fluxx, and it would be really good for us to have some of these meetings face to face. And as long as we're in the neighborhood, I'd like to freshen up my knowledge of the coffeeshop scene in Amsterdam, prior to publishing my deck of Amsterdam Coffeeshop playing cards (which is yet another thing we wish we had money to do). Anyway, we have this idea for combining all these tasks with another big trip to the Essen game festival in Germany in October, but right now, we just don't have the money available to consider taking this trip.
PPS: As long as I'm on the subject of international versions of our games, I'm happy to say we also met with some Japanese businessmen at GTS and are close to signing an agreement for a Japanese version of Fluxx!

Thought Residue
The Canadian government has approved the prescription sale of a natural marijuana extract called Sativex, produced by GW Pharmaceuticals in Britain. Sativex is basically liquid marijuana, being derived from whole plant extracts instead of being merely a synthetic version of one of marijuana's most active chemicals, like Marinol. Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, says "Sativex is to marijuana as a cup of coffee is to coffee beans," and notes that while this is obviously a big victory, "we could end up with a policy every bit as silly as telling coffee drinkers that they can buy a cappuccino, but they'll be arrested on sight if caught in possession of coffee beans." It sounds like Sativex might be perfect for treating Kristin's migraines... so must we really move to Canada in order to get a prescription for it? How much longer will our government insist cannabis has no medical value? What is the Supreme Court going to say?

For years I've been making chocolate angel food cakes, but this week I tried something new, and they turned out great: chocolate angel food CUPcakes! (OK, it might seem obvious to you, but I've never tried it...) You need to use extra large foil baking cups, and filling 'em is a bit tricky, but instead of one big cake that doesn't slice up very nicely, I got 20 lovely little cakes that are perfect to put on a tray and pass around at a party!
It's kind of a shame that "Star Trek: Enterprise" is on the brink of cancellation... it was finally getting good. In this, the 4th season, they've stopped inventing new aliens we've never heard of but should have (like the stupid Xindi), and are instead finally fulfilling the promise that first excited long-time fans like me, namely exploring more deeply the mythos of the original concepts. In this year's episodes we've seen interesting new details of Vulcan history, Andorian culture, the Eugenics Wars, those green-skinned Orion slave girls, and more. We've seen the beginnings of the founding of the Federation, we've gotten an explanation for why the Klingons of Kirk's era lack "cranial ridges," and perhaps most exciting of all, this week's episode promises to be a Mirror, Mirror prequel! It's too bad they weren't this good until the 4th year... in contrast, the first season of the Sci-Fi channel's new version of Battlestar Galactica was outstanding!


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