Hostile Takeover Post mortem

Hostile Takeover was a long process full of pit falls. From conception to finish, it took a lot of time, energy, and more money than I had to put it together. The whole project took a massive toll on me and I felt it's finally time to write about what happened. The good, the bad, what I learned, and what I still need to improve.

In the Beginning

In November 2020, I was playing around in Tabletop Simulator, spawning things in and messing with the base inclusions. That's when I stumbled upon piece pack. This was the first I had heard of it and all the little things it had where so cool! I spent several hours messing with various concepts that went from a farming game to a witch's ritual. In the end, things started coming together for a simple strategy game.

The Beginning

Things started off simple.

It wasn't much to look at yet, but I saw a lot of potential here. I called my roommate over and we both spent the next 4 hours playing around with this concept. We knew it was fun, but we also weren't having fun with just *us*. Most of the core parts of Hostile Takeover actually fell into place on day one. Map generation, the use of 12 sided die, the two different building types. All of them were part of of the game from the start.  It was decided early on that you could recapture buildings at any point in the game, meaning it could potentially go on forever. The goal was to take out the other players and conquer the map. The question quickly became "what is the ideal game?"

We have a good stack of games in our apartment and we've always found it frustrating how many of the strategy games say "2-4 players", but what they mean is "2 or 4 players". We have three people who generally play the games together living here. That makes several games inaccessible if all of us want to play a game. That was where I decided to optimize for a three player game, but I also know others want to play. It became a 3 or 4 player game as a result of us not having any, simple as that. After that, we settled on three lives per player, allowing for a true end game to be reached.

The Long Game

I knew from experience that this would be a hard game to sell. My previous attempt at a tabletop game had been a complete failure for me, but on the upside it was only time and effort, I hadn't had to spend money on it to make it. I vowed Hostile Takeover would be different. A month after I started designing it, I had a physical prototype available. I wanted to make this game as real as possible to increase interest in it. The core game play was finished very early on, but it took three months to come up with a title. The first three months, I had been calling it Urban Conquest but the title felt too charged for the game.

The first prototype
The original physical prototype for Hostile Takeover
Since the core game play was set early on, that gave me more time to work on everything else. I first started with packaging, going through about 20 different designs before realizing that as someone with no money and self funding I couldn't use any of them. That may sound ridiculous, but my favorite design early one was a clear plastic box with a band wrapped around it with the game title. I still wish I could have used that design, but I could not source the part. In fact, sourcing became an immediate issue early on. I was still completely fresh to board game design and had no idea where to go to get anything. It took me months to find The Game Crafter which I ended up using for supplies because even after finding them, everyone else I found was either charging quite a bit more or didn't have parts I wanted.

I chose to stick with piece pack to make the game as accessible as possible, so players who have a piece pack could play it whether there were physical copies available or not. I had no budget to work with so this was a deliberate decision early on  to keep it as accessible as I could. A decision that bit me later on when I started buying parts to build copies. Everything I was using was available except pre-made quadrant tiles. I didn't have the money to get them printed which meant that I bought a large quantity of blank square tiles and used a ruler and marker to make each tile by hand. The boxes also proved to be difficult to obtain, again due to cost. I ended up choosing to use media mailers so I could have the space I need and actually afford them.

The first hostile takeover box
The first hand made box for Hostile Takeover, using the original cover image
The media mailer box
The second to last design revision on Hostile Takeover
Finalizing Everything
The time was approaching where I had to pick a release date. I had the manual done for months and all the parts needed to make the physical copies. The project ended up entirely being funded by the covid relief checks I got from the government. After months of posting the game to Twitter with each update, I had estimated that 100 copies would be a good amount to make. The game appeared to be something everyone wanted and I kept getting people telling me they were excited to play it. I estimated that about 35 copies should sell at launch and I wanted an excess stock for everyone else. I contacted approximately 80 different reviewers to look at Hostile Takeover to try to get coverage and started promoting it everywhere I could. The release date was set for 28 September 2021.

The reviewers rejected my game left and right. The majority didn't respond, followed by many saying "we don't review prototypes." I managed to get one review for Hostile Takeover and they acted surprised by a lot of aspects of it, things that I had put in the e-mail when I reached out to them. They criticized the rules in a way that showed they had only skimmed the rulebook and criticized me for using square tiles. They're the only actual review I've received. I sent the review to my testers to ask if they had the same issues the reviewer had. Every single one said no and to disregard the review.

In the time it took for the review to come out, the game launched. I stuck with for the entire process, which turned out to be a mistake. is great for digital games, don't get me wrong, but for physical I had to include the price of shipping in the cost. I wanted the game to be available to everyone which made the game 45 dollars at launch for a physical copy. This enabled international shipping, but also heavily limited the number of people willing to pay. I sold two copies in the first month. I was crushed. Everything I had seen were just numbers and I was severely over on how many would convert to actual sales. To this date, there have been a total of 10 payments for Hostile Takeover. I know of at least 10 people who I can think of who said they'll buy the game and never did. I still vowed to pay out of my own pocket to get Hostile Takeover translated into other languages. The two languages I wanted more than any were Georgian and Arabic out of a love for the writing scripts. I did pay for those translations despite no one asking for them and no one seeming to want them, but they're there on the off chance anyone who speaks those languages want them.

Physical copies are currently available on Etsy. I took too long in moving them over. There is no hype for Hostile Takeover anymore. If I had been smart, I would have set it up from the beginning. It would have kept direct consumer costs lower at the start. Unfortunately there's not much I could have done about the prototype issue. I could have produced fewer copies that looked professional, but they would have ended up costing more to the consumer because the would have cost more to make. Which brings us back to funding. As stated before, I used my covid relief checks to pay for this. That totaled about 2400 USD. About 500 of that came out of my own pocket as well. I still have no idea how to get funding for my projects. I'm terrified of investors and loans because many want their money back and I don't want something to go wrong and I'm unable to pay it. I don't want to do a Kickstarter because I don't want to lock interested people out of my game simply because they don't live somewhere that Kickstarter doesn't support. Publishers are just as out of reach. I've looked and many state that they will not take unsolicited submissions which makes me wonder how to even get a foot in the door. 

Hostile Takeover was a failure, but I learned a lot working on it. It's still a genuinely fun game and we still play it in our apartment. It just doesn't change how crushing it is to put so much effort into something and only to have it fail. I wouldn't change much though. If you made it this far, thank you for reading.

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Thanks for the post-mortem.
If you learned a lot, it wasn't a failure.
How far in advance did you start tweeting and utilize social media? 

From day 1 of working on it. I always post my random ideas I'm working on because if I forget, having them documented helps and it works as a mini dev-log as well.

That is a great idea that many forget to do.
Best of luck with your future endeavors!