The Road to Arnak

Developing and publishing Lost Ruins of Arnak amidst a global pandemic has been a harrowing adventure of its own, to say the least. Hitting exciting milestones, like recently winning the 2020 Golden Geek award for Medium Game of the Year, certainly helps to keep our spirits high, but this trek has had its share of pitfalls, too. As we plot a course forward through these difficult times, we also wanted to take a moment to look back to appreciate the journey itself.

The Evolution of Arnak

Once per year in March, we invite all CGE employees and our friends from the Czech board gaming community to gather together in one place. There, we mostly playtest games, focusing the most on games planned to be released the same year. In 2019, that was Sanctum and the Through the Ages expansion.

Besides testing games already in development, we also spend time trying out new prototypes, too. And that was the case with Arnak from Mín and Elwen, who both happened to be our friends and have been working with us in CGE for some time. They started showing their prototype to several people, and I remember that at some point, I heard from several people that we definitely should try it out. 

When something like this happens, it’s usually quite promising. So we tried it, and we were pleasantly surprised. Not only did we see its potential, but we felt that the prototype was in such good shape that it would be possible to release it the same year. I am glad, however, that we resisted that temptation.

Releasing it in 2019 wouldn’t allow us to make all those beautiful illustrations and develop the game properly, as some crucial ideas came to us only one year later. And the production wouldn’t be on the same level as it is now, as those arrows, tablets, and jewels wouldn’t have been possible to make in time.

So we agreed that we were interested in the game, with a preliminary launch date for Essen Spiel 2020. Throughout the rest of the year, designers continued playtesting, iterating, and expanding on the core design. By Spiel 2019, the game was in great shape, and people were enjoying it a lot, so shortly after that we made the formal decision to publish it in 2020.

But nobody quite expected the crazy times ahead.

2020: A Wild Ride

The world of Arnak really started to come alive in the first weeks of 2020, as Mín and Elwen worked closely with graphic designers and illustrators to expand the game’s lore and visual style. It was an exciting time for the project. With everything coming together, 2020 was shaping up to be a good year for Arnak.

Then the lockdown came, and COVID-19 completely turned the world upside down.

Fortunately for us, CGE originally started as an online company. When we worked on our first games Galaxy Trucker and League of Six (and the original Through the Ages even before that), we worked from our homes and met only at gaming events. Only after several years of existence, we decided to have an office. But even after that, not everyone was visiting the office regularly, as some people were living too far from Prague for that.

So we knew how to work remotely and test our games online, as we had done that before. But not being able to attend gaming events and playtest games there was new for us, and from our experience, we knew that it is crucial. Games can feel very different when you are playing them online compared to playing with actual physical components. Fortunately, during the summer, events here in Czech were allowed again, and we were able to playtest Arnak in person.

Arnak was announced on July 1st, 2020, and the reception was amazing! It was a relief to see the game make a successful launch in October, winning numerous awards and receiving lots of critical praise from press and players alike. Interest in Arnak was even higher than our most optimistic predictions, however, and it didn’t take long for demand to outpace supply.

In late 2020 and early 2021, the pandemic also put limitations on wooden component manufacturing across the industry. Cardboard and paper supply issues, alongside slower shipping times around the world, have further exacerbated those challenges in recent months—making it exceedingly difficult to keep the game in stock. We know this is frustrating for players who’ve been waiting to delve into Arnak’s depths.

The good news is we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to battle this, and things are starting to look up! Big praise here goes to our partners who publish Arnak in other languages with us, as they committed to a second print run of Arnak even before they received the first one!

The Adventure Continues…

On the digital front, we are glad that the Beta of Arnak was recently released to play online on Board Game Arena! It’s still in active development by our friend Adam Španěl, but it’s fully featured, and you can enjoy the game online for free. But what about newly vaccinated players who can’t wait to get Arnak to the table with their gaming group this year?
We have more copies en-route to retailers as we speak, and we’ve worked out a solution to increase our global production capacities. Our hope is that we’ll soon be able to deliver enough games worldwide to meet demand and keep copies in stock.

We are very grateful for our amazing player community, and to everyone else who has been patiently waiting to enjoy Lost Ruins of Arnak for the first time! Looking ahead, we have some exciting developments in the works, including a hefty solo campaign (and companion app) as well as some other fun surprises for you.

Stay tuned and stay safe!

How to play Trapwords over the internet

We are continuing to work on many projects to help people survive social distancing. A few weeks ago, Tony Gullotti, our PR manager for North America prepared a video showing how to play Codenames with friends over the internet. Today he shared a video showing how to play Trapwords using Discord, you can watch it below.

Many of the conventions that CGE usually attends will be virtual this year, so we have been focusing on things to make playing games easier, and more enjoyable when played online. Next week we will be sharing a big project that I feel will benefit upcoming virtual conventions we will be attending, and Tony will continue to make more videos showing instructions for more of our games with another videoconferencing software.

How it is in Germany

Our dear friends in HeidelBÄR Games wrote to us how is current situation in Germany:

Covid19 caused a similar dramatic situation in Germany, as in many other countries. As a freshly restored publisher, the situation is challenging for us, too. But being a smaller and more flexible company has its benefits in this situation. Miltenberg, where we are located, is close to Frankfurt/Main, but in Bavaria. It is a beautiful small city, which is very quiet now. No tourists and the shops are closed. A small part of our team comes into the office every day, limiting the contact. The rest works from home – which is a major change for us. Teamwork is our strength, and it is different not to discuss at the same table while playtesting. Technology allows the basic work with file sharing, but direct contact is missing. This is a change in company culture, but we believe we are doing okay, others have it worse. Our sales got slow – no surprise – and we feel the pressure on our business. We went into so-called short-work (like a lot of other businesses in Germany), which allows German companies to reduce working hours for its employees under special circumstances. The government then compensates for a significant part of this for the employees.

Acceptance for the active restrictions (shops closed, no contact with others, etc.) in Germany is still surprisingly high. A step-by-step lockdown exit strategy for May is upcoming. Of course, we have our share of issues, complainers, stupid politicians, etc. Stability seems to work best, as it seems. Considering that we have a federal system, the different states have managed okay, but the rules vary from state to state. For now, Covid19 deaths seem to be in control, at least. Of course, nothing is safe, and more is to come upon us. Nothing will be as it was before. Everybody’s life has changed, easy to see when buying food at a grocery store: wearing gloves and face mask, using disinfection, blenders for the cashiers, and more.

After many weeks, retailers are reopening these days again, though under restrictions. Bavaria is the most strict, so we will not open before May. Face masks could become mandatory, the distance will be required. We are very happy with our retailers. Stationary German game retailers suffered a lot, and they are the backbone of our strong gaming market. We hope … players/customers will come back, too.

HeidelBÄR Games tried to support our beloved hobby as well in the last difficult weeks, similar to others, with downloads for playing at home, etc. We sent hundreds of free word games to teachers. Their hardest time is about to come, as we fear. We don’t do face masks after all!

In the motherland of the SPIEL, where Germans appear to be grumpy, our spirit as HeidelBÄR’s is not broken. We are even more dedicated to overcome the obstacle of this global crisis and try to make the best for everyone wherever and whenever possible. Gaming is a great social experience, and the last weeks have told us how important it is for all of us. Game on!

Situation in Greece

Our friends from Kaissa sent us how the situation in Greece is:

The situation in Greece seems a little bit better than the situation in Western Europe. Our government was really cautious from the beginning, afraid that our weak medical system wouldn’t be able to accommodate enough ill people. It took some early and harsh measures to stop the virus from spreading fast, like closing the schools and most of the shops, which aren’t selling food or medicine.

For the last 4 weeks, all citizens have to stay in their homes unless they send SMS to the government with the reason why they need to leave their homes. That can be either go to work, supermarket, pharmacy, or to take a short walk outside.

Right now, since most of the shops in Greece are closed, our company is only able to sell to online shops and Supermarkets. Even though we have fewer selling points, the demand for board games is high; therefore, we haven’t been affected as much as other companies in Greece. Our

Our number 1 income-producing industry in Greece is tourism. We are hoping that the situation with the virus will be much better by June, not only in Greece but also in all countries. Otherwise, the effect on our economy will be big.

COVID situation in Poland

I still have a backlog of reports from our partners from last week. So without further ado, here is today’s dose of COVID stories around the board gaming world. This time from our partner from Poland:

It is probably more or less similar to Czech. In essence, schools and shopping malls are closed for 3 weeks, a lot of our customers are not operating at all or operating 20-30% regular turnover. On the other hand, online stores are very, very active right now, and they have more audiences than ever. So overall our sales were quite similar to sales last year (however channels are different).
Of course, in shopping malls, our stock is not rotating, so we don’t expect any orders from them in the nearest future.
We change our marketing powers from events (obviously) to online, and this is something already with some effects.

For now, our situation is not bad. If it does not stay too long (ends in the nearest 4-8 weeks), we assume our sales will be similar to last year. If it will get worse, who knows? It can crush the whole economy of the country, and this is something challenging to plan.

Slovenia and France

Slovenia, a small country in southern Europe, is not hit as hard as it’s neighbor Italy. But still, even there situation is not easy, as our partner Ponva wrote to us:

It has been almost a month, and now we are reaching 1200 infected (this is week old info, sorry for posting this a bit late). It may not seem much, but bear in mind, we have a population of 2 million. Shops are mostly closed, international shipments are complicated, and anyway, the warehouses are closed, domestic traffic is jammed (a lot of internet shopping), social gatherings and crossing of municipal borders are restricted, we are trying to keep as much to ourselves as we can… But we have slowly got used to the new ‘normal’ of days. And then the first death in the circle of friends comes, and everything is strange again.

France, on the contrary, is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe. So it is totally understandable what our partner Iello is doing:

On the IELLO side, it was decided to cut back at the beginning of the crisis, mainly to protect the employees.
We have decided to suspend the shipment of our games, not to penalize the shops forced to close.
Our teams are now teleworking, and the logistics service is, of course, very reduced.
Each department is permanently on duty to answer the most urgent questions and to continue the development of the games.
We, of course, continue the development of the games since the beginning of the crisis. We also continue to translate/distribute Print ‘n’ Play games, stand-alone where possible, and we publish guides to light content games: What’s… Deckbuilding? And Play with others… from home!
Activity continues despite all the constraints, the teams are teleworking, to be able to survive to the end of the crisis in the best possible way.

How to play Codenames over the internet

Over the last several weeks, we were working on many things that might help people to survive social distancing more enjoyably. Most of them are still being worked on, but I am glad that we have the first one ready. Tony Gullotti, our PR manager for North America, prepared a video showing how to play Codenames with friends over the internet.

He is showing some neat set up with Skype and cool Codenames Gadget app (iOS, Android). Pieces of information in this video can be used for other board games as well. But he will not stop there, and he will prepare instructions for more of our games with another videoconferencing software.

Spain with a bit of music

Spain is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe. But the board gaming market is not that bad, as our partner Devir wrote:

Things in the Spanish market were going extremely well. The sales were booming so much that even the lockout issued by the Spanish government on the 12th of March did not affect the growth of the turnover for that month. Then everything stopped, but online sales.

Curiously enough, Spanish game publishers were able to confine the online below the red line of a 25% market share. Nowadays, it’s 100%, and thanks to the gods of trade, almost doubled its sales. Family games are being continuously played all over the Spanish geography.

The consequences of the confination and the lockout of all the brick and mortar stores can be devastating for the distribution. In Devir, we are working on setting up the best conditions for our clients and friends to recover as fast as possible. This is going to be our priority, together with the planning of a safe OP System.

The situation in the country is very Spanish. A combination of heroic behavior of our medical and health professionals, unprepared politicians acting like apes handling a shotgun, military personnel addressing patriotic, overacted motivational coaching as spokesmen of the government (!), and the highest rate of deaths per capita in all the world.

People take this situation as the Spanish normally take this kind of situation: a combination of fatality acceptance, banalization through humor, and harmless revolutionary domestic rage.

It seems that the impact of the crisis is going to be enormous. Tourism is vital for the Spanish economy, and this will not be over for months, affecting income, unemployment, families, politics, and trade. Maybe someone will think it would be a good idea to produce something valuable instead of selling sun and sangria.

I do not see any purpose of amendment from the country ruling elite, and the EU is missing in action, as usual. The future looks dark, but somehow, the people will get over it, as it always did in the past with sacrifice and finding strange ways to justify its misfortune. Help!

The good part is, as always, our people. Just listen to these guys from my home town Barcelona! Stay home! And enjoy this confination!