“20 Questions” Interview With Stephen Buonocore President Of Stronghold Games – AND WIN A FREE GAME!
Hello and welcome Stephen Buonocore, President of Stronghold Games, to 2D6.org’s new questions and answers from the readers segment. In my opinion, Stronghold Games has done a fantastic job revitalizing gaming classics and delivering wonderful new games with some high-quality components. “Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War” and “Survive: Escape from Atlantis!” are two games that have my vote as some of the best remakes I have ever seen. Stronghold has a fairly large stable of games so far including Core Worlds and Outpost, and their latest games Lost Temple and Revolver, just to name a few.
2D6.org: For people who may not know you, who is Stephen Buonocore, how did you become President of Stronghold Games, and what is it like entering the publishing world for a beginner?
Stephen Buonocore: Michael, thank you so much for inviting me to address your website audience! It is an honor to be asked, and a special honor to the first one in your new segment!
Stronghold Games was born in late 2009. From the beginning the goal, and in fact the mission statement, of Stronghold Games was simple: “To publish only the highest-quality, finest board games in the hobby game industry”. That’s a tall order, but one that we believed we could achieve, as long as we kept our heads down and focused. Get the highest-quality from your printer, and ensure that the games are the best in some dimension that gamers want, either thematically, mechanically, fun, whatever the game is trying to be for the gamer. So far… well, so good!
Early this year, I purchased the half of Stronghold Games that I did not already own, as my business partner left the company. I became the President and sole owner of Stronghold Games at that time. And there will be a lot of interesting things going here at Stronghold Games in 2012 and beyond…
2D6.org: What is your view of the relationship between the community and a game publisher and how important is it to a publisher to have independent game reviews?
SB: These are two separate questions….
First of all, it is critical for game publisher to make a connection with the gaming community, be it on BGG, here on 2D6, or on other highly traversed game sites and on podcasts. It is the “Alpha Gamer” that visits these sites and listens to the podcasts. The Alpha Gamer is the “Evangelist” for game publishers. YOU are my core demographic, the early adopters, those who seek out the latest “hotness”, buy the games, get others to play the games, and generally spread the word to the masses. It is very important to connect with YOU, the Alpha Gamer. I do so by keeping a presence on BGG, working with other websites such as 2D6, and appearing on as many podcasts as will have me. The podcasts are especially good, as they have very wide reach. I am sure your audience has heard me on…well, *all* of the podcasts at this time. Tom Vasel said that “Stephen is almost a podcaster, as he’s been on every podcast!”
Independent game reviews are critical as well to spreading the word about your new releases. You need to have these, again specifically to ensure that word is getting out about your new games. While we would like to get dozens of people reviewing our games, we do have to be somewhat selective, and we try to get review copies to those who have a good reputation for doing a thorough and fair review, as well as those who are followed by many people. In any case, simply getting people to do write-ups on your games is extremely important.
More on game reviews later, as I see there is another question about this at the bottom…
2D6.org: Last month I wrote an article on 2D6.org about growing the board gaming hobby. Some of the things mentioned were greater presence at the chain stores such as Target and Barnes and Nobles and what kickstarter.com is doing for the hobby. What are your feelings on Kickstarter.com (especially how other publishers like Tasty Minstrel and Steve Jackson Games are now using it to fund games) do you think Kickstarter would be a good way for you to bring out new expansions for your currently available games? How do you feel about the larger chain stores carrying hobby games on the shelves and a larger media awareness of the hobby?
SB: Ahhh… the Kickstarter question. I’ve had this asked of me on many occasions, and I’ve commented on this quite a bit, often being misunderstood… Maybe now, I can make my points more clear…
My opinion in one phrase regarding Kickstarter is this: “Caveat Emptor”. Unlike when Stronghold Games or other professional publishers print a game (and thereby place at risk their own capital and potentially the entire company’s future), those utilizing Kickstater do not take risk. They therefore do not *necessarily* vet their games as thoroughly as a publisher. I say “necessarily”, not “definitely”. There are many great games that have come through Kickstarter, of course.
When Stronghold Games announces a new game, we have ensured that this game is ready to be published and we place our own capital at risk to bring the game to you. We are professional publishers and know all the ins-and-outs of the industry, i.e. the right printers, the right designers, the right shipping companies, etc. We are ensuring the quality of the production by putting our name and capital at risk in every game. We have raised our brand to mean “Great Games, Great Quality”. You cannot ensure this with Kickstarter projects.
As for professional publishers using Kickstarter, I can only see this for “Special Projects”. Steve Jackson Games has successfully done this for “Ogre – Designer’s Edition”, which is a $100+ game. A game such as this would be not only extremely expensive to print, but extremely risky if the market could not bear the cost and accept this older game in a collectible expensive (!!) edition such as this. Obviously, it could with the overwhelming support that this game has received. BTW, it is the only game that I have backed on Kickstarter, and I did so because it is a game that I wanted from the moment (about 2 years ago) when I heard that it might be done. However, besides special projects such as this, I think that professional publishers should generally stay out of Kickstarter and put their own money and reputation on the line when they announce a new game.
The second part of this question is not related to the above: Large chain stores carrying hobby games and media awareness of the hobby games. I answered some of that in the previous question, but more to this:
What we are seeing now is the adoption of our hobby into the mass market…albeit slowly. Stronghold Games had both “Survive: Escape From Atlantis!” and “Code 777” in Barnes and Nobel in 2011, and we will have “Survive: Escape From Atlantis! 30th Anniversary Edition” in B&N again this year. It is very very difficult to get your games into the mass market! You can’t just force them to take the games. You need to work with a sales agent that has a relationship with the mass market retailers.
2D6.org: Following up on the last question, Survive! is for sale at Barnes & Noble. Are there plans to place more games there? Any plans to put Survive! into Target?
SB: As stated above, it is very difficult for a hobby game publisher to get ANY games into the mass market outlets. These outlets need to decide to take the game, not the other way around! I’d love to have all my games in B&N, Walmart, and Target… but that is not in the cards for Stronghold Games OR ANYONE in our industry. The acceptance of the hobby game in the mass market is just starting, though it will grow…slowly.
B&N has limited shelf space, and while they are growing that shelf space, they still are not a game store. They are the premiere “non-game store” to carry hobby games, however. Walmart and Target needs games at very low price points AND games that are very very approachable. “Survive!”, for instance, has the approachability factor, and it is on the cusp of the price point required… but still it is very difficult to crack into those stores. My sales agent would love for that to happen (as they get a nice cut from me), but likely B&N will be the only mass market outlet for Stronghold Games’ products in the near future.
2D6.org: Speaking of Survive!, the 30th Anniversary edition has been announced, can you tell us how the 30th anniversary edition of Survive! will differ from the 2010/2011 version? Also on the topic of Survive!, are there any plans for an Ipad/Android version? Do you have any plans to bring any Stronghold Games to the growing tablet market? If so hopefully online and pass and play functionality will be included.
SB: “Survive: Escape From Atlantis! 30th Anniversary Edition” (I like long names on games, ‘huh? ) differs in the following ways from our previous version:
– New artwork on the box top, box bottom, and rulebook, which displays the thematic change to early 20th century exploration of Atlantis.
– New artwork on the reverse side of the tiles, giving a more interesting, polished look.
– New, more realistic game board artwork.
– New, high-quality resin/plastic people with brightly colored, stamped numbers on the bottoms to ensure consistency and greater readability for all people tokens.
– New box tray for better storage of the components.
– Removal of the optional components (dolphins and dive dice), which helped keep costs down for this new edition, since we also…
– Reduced the MSRP to $39.95 (it was $49.95 in the previous edition), which is not something you see very often in this industry. We wanted more people to be able to own this great game! Not many companies LOWER prices, now do they…?
AND, for your website audience… until THIS SUNDAY, May 13 at 3pm EDT, we are running a “Mailing List Only” special for “Survive: Escape From Atlantis! 30th Anniversary Edition”. You can get a copy direct from Stronghold Games at 25% off the already lowered price (so it is $29.96), and you are guaranteed to have it shipped to you before anyone else (including Distributors and Retailers). If you want to get your copy of “SURVIVE!”, which has been out of print now for over 6 months, get it at a discount and get it before anyone else, shoot over to our website at:
We will be shipping these “preorders” NEXT WEEK, so you won’t have to wait long to have it in your hands!
The Ipad/Android version of Survive is coming out… soon…soon… We hope to have it within the next couple of months, but a third party developer has it in their hands. Stay tuned…
We may have other digital games in the works too, but as I don’t have contracts in place for those yet, I would rather not be specific, sorry.
2D6.org: Stronghold Games first caught my attention by bringing out fantastic remakes of classic games, does/could feedback from the community including petitions help influence which games will get the remake treatment in the future? Can you drop any hints about future remakes, original Intellectual properties, or other surprises (Core Worlds expansion perhaps)?
SB: Thanks for those kind words about Stronghold Games and how we first caught your attention. This is *exactly* what we intended! We needed to raise “Brand Awareness” of Stronghold Games. How does one do that? Well, you take away the “uncertainty” for the consumer:
1. Announce a known game that is highly in demand
2. Announce games from highly noted designers of these known games
3. …and suddenly, the unknown name “Stronghold Games” is put on the same playing field as these other known quantities. We “raised” the Stronghold Games brand to the level of these games and designers.
This was our strategy from the start, as well as to then branch out into NEW game designs once we were well-known. Our introduction of CORE WORLDS and PANIC STATION were our first forays into the new game space, and these have been great sellers, and very well-received.
We will always accept ideas for new games to reprint. Unfortunately, many people want games back in print that are either not in great demand, or they are not currently commercially viable games designs in 2012. So, don’t be disappointed if we say “Sorry, we can’t do that one.” And since we are not alone in trying to locate reprints, this “well” is running a bit dry at this point…
As for hinting about “future stuff”… I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you, and since your audience is about 3 million readers, that would bring the law down on me pretty quickly…
So, I can’t say anything right now about unannounced projects, but… well, let’s just say that you did mention something that could possibly/likely/we’ll see/maybe come to the light of day soon…soon…
2D6.org: Speaking of remakes, the 800 lbs Gorilla is the news about Magic Realm! I appreciate your commitment to bringing these classics back to life with minimal modifications but are there plans to release a “basic” or rules -lite version section in the rulebook?
SB: Magic Realm? What’s that?
Your question above (“plans to release a ‘basic’ rule set”) actually implies that we are doing a game by this name. We have not announced any such game at this time. And, for this game especially, since there are other games that are tangentially or very directly (<cough> “MoV” <cough>) related to this particular IP, I cannot say anything else… sorry… I wish I could…
2D6.org: If someone had an idea for a game, would you be someone they should contact or do you think kickstarter.com is a better avenue for them to pursue?
SB: Stronghold Games does not accept *unsolicited* game submissions. HOWEVER, if you make an appointment to meet with us at a convention, we will look at your game. We go to aLOT of conventions, so if you are a major convention attendee, contact us before the con to setup an appointment. Heck, just come by the booth and say hello! I’m the most approachable, gregarious person you have ever met, and of course, talking about Stronghold Games, the industry, or just games in general is something that I love to do! And you might find me at the convention watering hole afterhours where I might even tell you secrets…
Stronghold Games is attending these major conventions this year: Origins, WBC, Gen Con, Essen Spiel, BGG.CON, plus some local NJ cons as well. Please come by!
[OH, and if you want to help out Stronghold Games in our booth at any of these conventions, drop me an email at email@example.com! We are always looking for help…and helpers are usually rewarded very well (can you say “free games” or maybe even a free (exhibitor!) badge? J) We are definitely looking for help at ORIGINS, which is coming up soon!]
Of course, we can only do so many games per year, so over 90% of what we see we cannot do. This is the same for even the largest publishers as well. So… if you have something UNIQUE, it stands a lot better chance of being published by Stronghold Games.
2D6.org: How hard is it to maintain a profitable games company in this day and age? Do you think attendance at conventions helps with the success of a game?
SB: Well, like any successful business, it is hard work. And in many cases, it is a labor of love, as the margins are relatively thin, and you have to work really hard at finding that “next great game”. But my motto in life is “hard work never killed anyone”, so I continue forward to bring great games into the gaming hobby. I think our success so far shows that we know what we are doing, and we hope to continue doing it even better in the future.
Attendance at conventions is very important. It is important to be there, as you are meeting your core demographic. I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me and say “Hey! You are the guy I heard on XYZ podcast! I love your voice! It is so great to meet you!”. How anyone could love MY “New Yawk” accent is beyond me, but it is great meeting these gamers, actually striking up a relationship with them, and in general speaking about Stronghold Games and games in general. It is key to getting a fanbase of gamers who will then tell their friends about you…
2D6.org: Artwork in games, how do you feel about it and what do you think is a common dollar amount a publisher will spend on artwork in games?
SB: Artwork is one aspect of a game. There are many aspects, and you should not skimp or forget any of them, but artwork gives you “Shelf Appeal”. The number of kudos we got for the artwork on Core Worlds is astronomical, and this definitely helped the initial push and sales of Core Worlds (though the great game play of course is what is taking the game to the next level of popularity).
As for how much we spend on artwork, that is very variable. Naturally, a game like Core Worlds with 130 or so unique pieces of art, plus all the layout, is more expensive than average. I really can’t be more specific with a dollar amount, but suffice to say that it is definitely one of the more expensive parts of publishing a game.
2D6.org: Finally what in your opinion makes a good reviewer? What do you want to see in a game review whether from your own company or any game company for that matter?
SB: A good game reviewer takes their time in making the review worth reading, giving a rundown of how the game is played and the components used, and generally ensuring the review is thorough. A GREAT Game Reviewer takes it to the next level. They provide photos. They go into significant detail. They play the game several times, and give their experience with the game. They rate the game on various metrics. You can see the difference between the reviewers on the amount of love and care that they put into their reviews.
We want to see game reviewers that take this type of care in their reviews. We don’t expect stellar reviews all the time, but we do expect very thorough reviews. It is not cheap to give away review copies, so we like to work with those that really “get it” and want to act like “professional reviewers”. In essence, all reviewers are getting “paid” (with a game that is free or discounted), so professionalism (which translates into thorough reviews is what we want to see.
2D6.org: Any last thoughts or comments, Stephen?
SB: Thank you all for submitting the questions and reading this!
I encourage you all to sign up on the Stronghold Games website to receive our newsletter, which is not salesy/spammy, but rather informative, and gives information on our upcoming releases. In fact, we always tell our newsletter subscribers first about our games before anyone else, so if you want to know FIRST, sign up for our newsletter at:
Thank you all again!
2D6.org: Some really fantastic answers from Stephen. I am really looking forward to the 30th Anniversary edition of Survive! and that fantastic price point has me tempted to order a second copy for gifting around the holidays. Thank you again Stephen!
We at 2D6.org would like to thank Stephen for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions and for being our first volunteer. ALSO for our readers Stephen has generously offered to give away a FREE copy of Lost Temple or Revolver!
How can you win? Simple, post a reply to this article stating what you liked about it, whether you prefer future segments to be written or audio, and who would you like to see as the next guest. 1 entry per person unless your question was chosen to be asked to Stephen, if so you will get 3 entries for posting below, Good luck! Remember you have to post a comment below to be entered for the contest.