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Nemo's War Ship's Log: III

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Rechristining the Nautilus

My perspective by Alan Emrich

As we completed elements of the layout and prepared to wrap what is now the first (i.e., the "Red Box") Second Edition of Nemo’s War (i.e., to commence its marketing and manufacture) VPG received a message. It was from Ian O’Toole. Being a narrowly-focused little old wargame maker, I had no idea who Ian O’Toole was. My first thought being, “Well, my grandparents were the Duleys and O’Bannions, so anyone with a good Irish name like that is someone I should shake hands with!” Little did I know that his art was the breathtaking reason for the success of many (mostly Euro-style) games in our hobby. The VPG staff knew who Ian O’Toole was and soon set me straight!

Ian's early thoughts on Captain Nemo

Indicating that he truly enjoyed the First Edition of Nemo’s War (Ian is also a bit of a wargamer and enjoys history). He expressed a desire to contribute his inestimable talents to create the Second Edition game's visual environment.

“A pipe dream,” I thought. “The Little Game Company could never afford such a professional.” And that was true. When asked about his going rate for such a job, I begged him to tell me in installments instead of a lump sum so that I wouldn’t faint right away. And, sure enough, that going rate was much, much more than this project could ever afford for a print-on-demand wargame that VPG was preparing to manufacture.

The Second Second Edition

The second Second edition cover by artist Ian O'Toole

But to his great credit, Ian, a mensch, persisted that he wanted to do this game. This was a passion project for him, and we had to reach an agreement.

Well, how can you argue with that?

I sheepishly explained what crumbs we could offer as payment. Somehow, we negotiated a satisfactory compensation, so the deal was struck. Because he still needed real paying gigs to live, Ian would be working on Nemo’s War around those in his (ahem) copious free time (something that artists never seem to have). So, we shook hands on the deal (to the grinning satisfaction of our Irish ancestors, no doubt).

The Little Game Company's crew set aside their nigh-completed Nemo’s War project. At the same time, Ian took the helm and harbored the Nautilus in Western Australia at the docks of Chez O’Toole.

O’Toole Time

It did take quite a while. Ian received all of VPG’s almost-published first Second Edition playtest and pre-publication files for Nemo’s War. These made it very clear what this new version of the game was trying to achieve. We froze everything about this project for Ian’s sake. There is no sense in driving a project’s artist bat-crazy with incessant little changes creating a Sisyphean task. However, we couldn’t get the playtesters to leave the game alone! As Ian recreated the labors of Heracles, going all-out on the Nemo’s War illustrations and graphic design, playtest data kept coming in, and we used it to better balance the numbers in the game.

Ian O'Toole's artwork transformed a mere game into a work of art

A canny BGG player noticed this! How great!!

To our surprise and delight, Ian outdid himself – and that is saying something! Each Ship Token was individually illustrated. As was each card. The map, the other Tokens… even the rules book and epilogues had that amazing illustration/graphic design touch that is the treasured hallmark of having Ian O’Toole associated with a game. We printed out and built a production mockup of how this would look for VPG’s print-on-demand customers. We laid it out on our meeting table and the VPG staff rushed in to admire it; it was glorious to behold, and our staff was at first in awe and then giddy at the prospects of releasing this game.

How I looked while considering VPG's abilities just then

Except for me; I was over-awed and knew that every silver lining has a cloud. I reflected on the quality of the graphics and our humble print-on-demand process. I could not help but notice the incongruence nor reconcile the two. “It’s too good,” I remarked solemnly. “We have a problem.” Gobsmacked, the team lent their serious attention. I explained that our production methods would actually detract from Ian’s efforts. Ian delivered on his game (graphics), and now we must up our game (production and marketing) to match his. We needed to do justice to Ian’s outstanding work.

Ian delivered on his game (graphics), and now we must up our game (production and marketing) to match his.

I proposed a professionally printed and boxed version of this (i.e., the now second Second Edition of Nemo’s War) with a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to manufacture it professionally. I declared to our heroic staff that the onus to do so was on us. It was a sobering moment at The Little Game Company. Then, the storm broke...

The VPG Crew Mutinies

I was taken aback by the VPG crew's resistance to this idea. It’s not that we didn’t think this game featuring Chris Taylor’s design, my redesign, and Ian O’Toole’s art didn’t deserve a glorious boxed edition; on that, we could all agree. But to launch a make-or-break Kickstarter campaign? For a wargame? And a solitaire wargame at that? Based on a 150-year-old work of fiction, no less? Those points were averred in opposition to going forward with this Kickstarter. There were few successes and notable failures for each of these aspects among past Kickstarter campaigns before the advent of Nemo's War; consequently, matters did not augur well. To attempt to hurdle all of those negatives on a single KS campaign’s success was deemed an unsupportable (and potentially fatal) risk to The Little Game Company.

Who knew this Finale card was prophetic?

I trusted our amazing staff. Everyone excelled in our work-family for quality efforts and hobby knowledge. But I knew what had gone into this Second Edition design. I knew what kept the playtesters coming back. I could see Ian’s artwork supporting a truly original wargame from Chris Taylor. So, although the storm clouds of this distraught council obscured the view, I believed that the stars had aligned beyond them.

I explained this and did something that seldom occurred at The Little Game Company; I pulled rank. Although our financial straits were rocky at that time, I explained that we would bet the company on this project. It was time to get on board with the Nautilus or offboard and find a less-risky gig. Still doubtful (especially when I insisted we launch the Kickstarter between Christmas and New Year - "at the worst possible time," I was told; it turns out that Nemo's War sort of "owned" Kickstarter during its campaign, which was a pleasant surprise), the team rallied as a family and produced our absolutely best Kickstarter campaign. We had learned so much from previous Kickstarters about pricing the game, attributing shipping costs, estimating its release time, and the like (with special thanks to our Comptroller, Petra Schlunk). We applied every scrap of that hard-earned wisdom to the Nemo’s War campaign. We even decided to make our first 3-D plastic model game piece, the Nautilus. Ian graciously created the necessary files to be manufactured with the boxed product.

We tried to think of everything for the Nemo’ War Kickstarter campaign. It had reasonable stretch goals that, when unlocked, would be included in every copy of the game for backers and game stores (we would never alienate store owners with “inferior” versions of the finished product). We priced canvas draw bags, wooden cubes, special die-cutting, and so forth so that all would be included for the best possible playing experience. The KS campaign was “storyboarded” for launch, as was each post-launch day of the campaign. This storyboard was posted on VPG’s hallway wall for all to see, discuss, and be ready to improve on the fly, depending on how well Nemo’s War would be received by the KS audience. Thus ready, we waited for the day the campaign went live and fastened our Mae Wests for the anticipated rough Kickstarter seas.

The details of this campaign’s success are for others to present. The Little Game Company team proved their “That Could” spirit once again. The risk had paid off. When the clouds parted, and all could see Nemo’s War on Kickstarter, it was clear that the stars were aligned. We would go on to deliver this second Second Edition to much praise among gamers. Here's is my Gen-Con demonstration of the game during those exciting times:

Review Remembrances

While praise of your company’s game is ephemeral, the sting of criticism leaves a mark. Everyone loved Chris’ design, Ian’s art, our extra material, and the presentation efforts for this second Second Edition of Nemo’s War. That is what we had worked so hard for and expected. This had been an absolutely “A” effort from our A-Team. However, among gamers, particularly Euro gamers, we were often besmirched by their anti-conflict and anti-dice contingents who fired their verbal guns at the Nautilus.

All creative endeavors attract critics

However, satisfied owners on game forums wryly noted that the game’s title was Nemo’s War, not Nemo’s Sightseeing Tour. Of course, there would be conflict as the protagonist was a complex character for whom conflict was a necessary tool to meet the Imperialists he despised. Many ships must be sunk in this process.

Regarding the reflexive derogatory moniker ascribed to Nemo’s War of “dice chucker,” reflective players who understood how the probabilities worked poo-pooed that notion and brought the receipts to prove it. In particular, mathmagician Wes Erni carefully (and frequently) explained on Boardgame Geek how appearances were deceiving; the gameplay was deep enough for the Nautilus to reach the ocean’s floor. The insights of those great players and fans have earned Nemo’s deepest thanks.

Fortunately, most who eschewed conflict in their games or a rapid dice-rolling mechanic came around. They still warn others sharing those trepidations who might consider purchasing the game that Nemo’s War featured those elements. However, they add that those elements contribute to the game’s narrative experience, play balance, and fun – not detracted from it.

No Successful Game Goes Unexpanded

And it came to pass that the demand for more material for Nemo’s War could not be resisted, but that is a story for our next installment which includes news on the unpublished materials from Nemo's War.

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Gordon Johansen
Gordon Johansen
03 juin 2022

This is just one of those game that I had to have. Due to time contraints, I still have not managed to play it. I too, pulled rank (overruling my staff) and managed to get it into my store even though it was not easy to get from distribution. Much to their surprise, we sold every copy we could scrape up through distribution. Looking forward to the next installment. It's a fun look into the trials, tribulations, and joy of game design and production.


Alan Emrich
Alan Emrich
03 juin 2022

The next installment is the best, I think. Thank you so much for joining this adventure with me. This narrative of events behind the making of this game is just me sharing my heart so that all will know what into the making of Nemo's War. I'm glad you're enjoying it. Please share this journal with other fans of Nemo's War! 😊


Hank Heyming
Hank Heyming
02 juin 2022

This series is amazing. Thank you, Alan.

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