The Designer Responds...

Some creep who pretends to be a friend of mine rang me the other day to tell me that Sumo was slagging off Automania even more than he had Boomtown. I must admit I'd never read a copy of SKC before, so I stomped off to Just Games to buy the lot. After all, I like to read constructive criticism. I went home and read issues 1 to 6. SKC immediately had me chuckling quite a bit and was obviously better than most newsletters (aren't they called fanzines anymore?). However, the laughing stopped when finally I reached the Essen '91 report and the offending paragraph.

'Livingstone Games had their second game' as though I am some large unapproachable corporation. I'm sure you know that I set up Livingstone Games to publish limited editions of German-type games that nobody makes in Britain. The idea was to print 1,000 copies which would be bought by collectors. However, I was not convinced there were 1,000 collectors in the UK, so I decided to print the rules in English and German, have the components made in Germany to ensure production quality (the board and the box are made by Ravensburger), and release my games, autographed if requested, at Essen where I hoped most would be sold. The remaining copies I expected to sell at selected games shops in the UK like Just Games.

The main problem in making only 1,000 copies of a game is that the unit cost becomes very high. Artwork, design and origination costs are the same whether you make 1,000 games or 100,000. There are virtually no economies of scale to be had. And seeing as I wasn't going to publish my games on a paper-thin board printed in one colour and stuffed into a large toilet roll, I had to hope that the resulting high retail price would not deter buyers. A lot of reviewers seem to think that all games should cost about a fiver because that's what Monopoly cost in Woolies a couple of years ago. Consequently most games produced by small companies are accused of being expensive. Compared with the loss leaders like Monopoly made by the major companies they may well be expensive, but judged against their own cost they definitely are not. For your information, Automania cost almost £13 per copy to manufacture and so any sold to shops are sold at little more than break even. Profit is certainly not the motivation for producing Livingstone Games.

But onto the defence of Automania itself rather than its retail price. I guess it's too bad that you don't like it Sumo. Obviously not everybody likes the same games, and I am not demanding that you do like it. However, I take exception to your comparing it with Snakes and Ladders just because you dislike one particular card.

In Essen, Automania sold like a proverbial hot cake. Nearly 400 were sold in four days and it got some rave reviews, particularly in Fairplay. It got a good review in Spielerei, but a poor one in Spielbox.

It would appear that most people like the mechanics of the game but the Market Information cards can make some people decide that suddenly the game is crap. During the later playtesting of Automania, I too suggested that some of the cards were too powerful and should be got rid of, but the concensus of opinion from the likes of Steve Jackson, Ralf Kahlert, Theo Clark, Mark Green, Gordon Sweeney et al was, 'No, leave them in, they're a laugh'. I like a laugh too so in they stayed. And once you get to know the cards, you can allow for them. Knowledge is everything, as they say. But if you really can't stomach the heavy cards, then you can leave them out of the game. None are essential. The obvious ones to leave out are numbers 7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,26,27 and 35. If that doesn't satisfy the urge for realism, I suggest you leave out all the cards. Throw the bloody things away! But replace them with what? Suggestions would be gratefully received.

Finally, you seem concerned about my marketing policy for some strange reason. Who are my games aimed at? You seem to suggest that collectors can't possibly be interested in lightweight games. Boomtown and Automania are certainly what you would call 'lightweight' games but what is wrong with that? Looking at your readers 5&10 games, lightweight games at least get played. Oh yes, I admire Die Macher too, but I can't remember when I last played it. For me these days, fun is the key to playing games. Likeminded people having a laugh at each others expense. And these are the people I aim my games at. Not at people who buy 'heavy' games but never play them.

Sumo old son, you are more than welcome to join in the playtest sessions for the next LG release. You may even give me some advance publicity and support. I hope so.

Ian Livingstone

On to the review of Droids or back to the review of Automania.

Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information