I have a confession to make, and I've been toying with whether or not to make it for around a month now: I totally dropped the ball on my ashcan game at the Ashcan Front last GenCon. To be fair, I'm not trying to be a critic of the ashcan model in general, but I'm criticizing my own participation in that model. Hopefully, other folks thinking about the ashcan model will consider what I have to say here.
Background: Initially, I wasn't going to do an ashcan of Know Thyself in time for GenCon. I saw some other people talk about getting their ashcans ready by GenCon in a way that I thought felt like rushing to publish -- notably John Wick's Houses of the Blooded. (John later decided against it.) So, when I got to interview Matt & Paul about the Ashcan Front for Master Plan, I asked a question based on this: "What do you think about people rushing to produce an ashcan?" I have to say that I was surprised by Matt's answer: "I wish more people would." Granted, that was in reference to them having, at the time, a low turnout for people buying into the booth, but I was still surprised.
Fast-forward a month or so, when I finally sat down to edit that interview and put that episode together. By then, I heard that Paul Tevis was going to have his game, A Penny For My Thoughts, at the Ashcan Front. Since our games came out of the same contest three or four month prior, I knew Paul hadn't been working on his game for all that long. That, combined with Matt's answer, led me to think about whether I could do an ashcan for Know Thyself. Two more factors lead me to go for the idea: (a) my game, while not in the 80-90% range, had a physical component that would make outside playtesting problematic; (b) I thought my game was more complete than it was.
So, I told Paul & Matt about my game, about the playtesting I had done and projected I would continue to do, and I was honest that my game wasn't quite at that 80-90% but I had the physical component issue. They let me buy into the booth, and I started the arduous journey of making the game in my mind into an ashcan product.
Here's the kicker: After signing up and doing more playtesting, I found a big flaw in the game. I can't remember the details at this point, but I know we actually changed the format of play dramatically, from the playtest at Go Play NW (early June) to the format of play found in the ashcan of the game (printed in early August). After the Go Play NW playtest, I seriously considered pulling out of the Ashcan Front booth. A combination of (a) having publicly declared on my podcast that I was going to be a part of the booth, (b) not wanting to leave Matt & Paul in a lurch by pulling out (or, perhaps, not wanting to feel guilty for that), and (c) a pep talk from my local crew convincing me that I could get this done in time lead me to press on.
In hindsight, I should have pulled out then, seeing that I was still too early in the development process to release a reasonable ashcan. But I didn't. I went through four more playtests with my local group and two more draft revisions before I got the text & cards I had for sale at GenCon. I seriously rushed to publish, and I let being pressed for time blind me to the remaining large issues of structure my game had. Instead of tackling those problems, I did something that, to this day, I'm pretty pissed at myself about: I said, "That's okay, it's an ashcan. I'll look for feedback in some of these issues."
So, I sold copies of my game at the con. It was during the convention, and specifically due to being on that side of the booth for the first time, when I started having serious doubts about my game being as finished as everyone at the booth was claiming it was (not specifically, but in being a part of the collection of other ashcans). On Sunday night, I had a quick demo with Fred Hicks & Rob Donoghue, where Rob schooled me on how to more effectively use my cards. The idea required a slight re-design of the deck, which would then invalidate one of my rationales for putting the ashcan out: the physical component necessary for play. If I re-designed that, then the decks I sold would be obsolete, and I felt like at the point, my credibility as a designer would be out the window.
This leads me to the aftermath. After GenCon, I had several ideas for fixing issues with Know Thyself, primarily due to discussions with my group and on Master Mines, with a couple people I gave free copies of the ashcan to providing some comments after reading the game. To date, I don't know anyone who has played it outside of my play group (though I do know of one Celtic cross reading done with my cards -- apparently no good reading can come from my deck). But, because I exchanged money for that version of the game, and because of the implicit promise that my game is pretty close to done in that form, I feel locked into fixing the ashcan edition rather than knocking it down to the foundation and trying again, especially since I have no playtest reports from anyone yet.
If I had some playtest reports, I could say "Well, I milked the ashcan for what I could, and it tells me I should start over, so I will!" Right now, though, I'm looking to do this while making all those ashcans obsolete. But I digress. The point is: I charged money for something that wasn't as done as it should have been, and only through hindsight to I now understand that it wasn't truly ready. I feel crappy about that, and I'm looking to rectify the problem by offering refunds to those 15 folks who bought my ashcan. While I learned a lot going through this process, from many points of view but especially the behind-the-scenes of working a booth at a convention, I heavily dislike that others paid for my education while not getting their money's worth.
Granted, if you actually play the game, I will totally and happily take your feedback, if anyone is actually interested. I suspect I won't see any at this point, since I've pretty much said "Yeah, that thing you bought, it's obsolete," but knowing where you have problems could help me understand what I need to highlight in any future versions.Refund information:
Email me at email@example.com
with either an address to PayPal you or an address to mail you a check. Sadly, I won't be able to give refunds until January. (I have most your email addresses, and will email you in January if I haven't heard from you by then.)In case you want to buy one of the remaining decks:
So, I still have a bunch of card decks left. If you're interested in getting a copy of the deck, well, hey, I want to get rid of them. I think I have around 20 or so decks left. If you want a copy of that & the game book, I'll ship it for $7 in the US, and something more internationally. Whisper or email me if you're interested.