Since its launch in 2014, Unplug Yourself has grown tremendously. What started out as a joint venture between Boardgames.co.za, Skycastle Games, and Blowfish Entertainment has grown into a legitimate brand with a solid foundation. Because tabletop gaming is my thing, I sat down with the three bigwigs of Unplug Yourself at rAge Cape Town 2016 and had a chat about how the campaign was going. First up: Eugene Vermeulen of Skycastle Games.
Eugene Vermeulen: Skycastle Games
Skycastle Games, founded by Eugene, specialises in the tabletop strategy genre, encompassing titles like Battlestar Galactica and the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.
NAG: How long have you been in the tabletop industry?
EV: It’s been about five, no, six years. We’ve been doing it for six years now.
NAG: How has the Unplug Yourself campaign affected Skycastle?
EV: I think it’s been quite a good thing for us. I think it’s interesting in this industry that we’ve got three different companies, who would normally be competing with each other, and said: “Let’s do something together, let’s grow the industry”, as opposed to just competing with each other. We’ve found that’s worked well for us. We’ve seen, since we’ve been doing the expos, since we’ve been doing Unplug Yourself, you know, interest in board games have picked up, sales have increased. So yes, it’s definitely been a good thing for us.
NAG: If you could adapt any property into a tabletop strategy game, what would it be?
EV: I would love to see a game based on the Wheel of Time books. It blows my mind that there isn’t one yet. To me, it’s just a great series, and there’s so much in there that lends itself to a good strategy, or a good adventure game. There’s just such a wealth of resources that you can pull out of that universe.
(We then geek out for a minute and talk about Wheel of Time)
NAG: Besides Unplug Yourself and the three-way collaboration, what else do you think can be done to grow tabletope gaming in the country? Particularly the miniature strategy genre?
EV: Well, at the moment it is growing, so something is happening. And we’ve always said right from the beginning with Skycastle that we don’t want to necessarily focus on just sales – even though sales are very important – but we want to focus on building a boardgame culture. Because as we build a boardgames culture, sales will follow. So I believe the best way for people to learn about boardgames is to play boardgames. And I would encourage people who love boardgames just to invite friends over and play. Play in public, play wherever you can. People can have an initial resistance, because they look at games, and it looks foreign to them. But as soon as someone invites them, and says: “Come play a game”, once they get past that initial fear of trying to figure out what this is about, once they get the game, it is huge.
NAG: What city centres are you seeing the most activity in?
EV: Well, Joburg, obviously. Joburg is the financial capital, I think people have more expendable cash over there. Having said that, we are seeing some amazing things happening in Cape Town. There are a lot of boardgame groups, a lot of initiatives, and it’s really exciting to see. Capetonians are really getting into it.
NAG: What advice would you give to South Africans who want to make their own tabletop strategy game?
EV: We do often get guys who approach us about game design. The one thing you’ve got to realise is that it’s not an easy road, and I think you’ve got to have a thick skin. And I think you’ve just got to be open to people pointing out the flaws in your game, because there are so many games out there, and you want to come up with something that is so much better than what anyone else has ever come up with before. So you’ve got to be at the point where you’re just fine-tuning your game the whole time. I’ll say play-test it a lot. And before you go into self-publishing, really do your research. Kickstarter is obviously a way to further your game. But the biggest thing I would say is make sure your game is polished by the time you go for that.
But guys who are looking into making a game should approach us at Skycastle. We’d love to have a look at their games, and we are starting to plan around possibly starting a South African boardgame label.
NAG: What’s your personal favourite boardgame?
EV: My absolute favourite, hands-down, no contest, would be Battlestar Galactica. It’s an amazing boardgame, it’s got a little bit of everything. You don’t even have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the game, it’s just so well thought out.
Thanks very much to Eugene Vermeulen for chatting with us. If you’re at rAge Cape Town today, be sure to swing by the Unplug Yourself stand, and make some time to play something.