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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Have a safe and joyous New Year celebration, and make plans to get home safely.

This evening is a time to remember those who we lost this year, and those who joined our family.

This evening is a time to remember all we have accomplished this year, and to renew our determination to finish what has not been accomplished yet. And then plan what we want to do for next year.

Look back at what you have done. You did it, and you own it. If you broke it, fix it. And if you didn't break anything, maybe you want to take a little more boldness into your next year.

As the Klingons say, "Go boldly in the face of peace and tranquality, and contemplate the joys that may be found in meeting a challenge and overcoming it, or in fighting a battle and winning it."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

In praise of our volunteers

The adventure/roleplaying game industry is a small one, and there isn’t the kind of money inside of it that other industries have. The industry consists of creative game designers willing to work 60 hours a week for half the pay they could command outside the game industry. And they do that just because that's the only way to be a published game designer.

Even at that, the ONLY way the game industry survives is by the hard labor of unpaid volunteers who (for some free games, or just a thank you) provide no end of valuable services to game publishers.

Mike West answers rules questions on Federation Commander. Nick Blank does the same thing for Federation & Empire, Andy Palmer for Prime Directive d20, Gary Plana for GURPS Prime Directive, and Mike Filsinger for Star Fleet Battles.

Frank Brooks runs the Play-by-Email system as a volunteer and Paul Franz charges barely enough for the On-Line game system to pay the server costs.

Federation & Empire would not exist without Chuck Strong (a real-world lieutenant-colonel from Space Command) doing scenarios, or without Jeff Laikind in charge of the overall game system and the Ship Information Tables.

Very little would get done on any of our games except for the Playtest Battle Labs run by Scott Moellmer in Colorado and by Joe Butler in Tennessee.

We have other staffers who do specific things (and sometimes a wide variety of things) for us including Scott Tenhoff, Chris Fant, Stewart Frazier, John Berg, John Sickels, Matthew Francois, Jonathan Thompson, Mike Curtis, Loren Knight. Some vital part of the product line would grind to a halt without each one of them.

Added to this list are hundreds of others who, during any given month, by Email or BBS or Forum, contribute in some way to the company and its product line. They may report a glitch in an existing product, playtest a product in development, suggest a new product, point out something another company is doing what we may want to take a look at emulating, look up a rules reference for another player, report on somebody who using our property improperly, comment on a posted draft of a new rule, or simply ask a question nobody else ever dared to ask.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful!

Marketing Director Vanessa Clark writes: Sounds like a song; wait, it IS a song. *laugh* In all seriousness, Amarillo, Texas has been hit hard the last couple of weeks with bad weather. The city is just now beginning to clear the mess from the last winter storm (ice first, then snow). You drive down the street and find a park and it still looks like a tornado hit it with half of each tree's limbs and branches broken and still laying beneath the tree waiting for the city workers to make their way with the "chipper" (shreds the branches into tiny pieces) to clean up the disaster areas (which is all over the city). Thousands of residents all over the north part of Texas went days without electricity due to the power lines literally breaking under the pressure of the ice and snow just as so many of the trees did.

Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc. didn't go without our own wounds from the last storm as well. Petrick fell on the stairs outside the office (and no one was here but him) and when he fell, he accidently dropped his keys into a huge bush just beside the stair case (full of snow and ice), resulting in him staying in the dark cold, rain and snow, half the night searching the bush for his keys.

Now we prepare for yet another storm moving in. It has rained all night and so far all day today with the rain expected to change to snow within the next hour or two. Accu Weather and The Weather Channel both predict 6-10 inches of snow. All major outgoing highways have already closed down to travel and the office is waiting for UPS to run before shutting down early and leaving for the weekend, praying to the Star Fleet Gods that we all get home safely and that we can dig ourselves out to make it back in Monday (hopefully).

Needless to say, I don't think many in this part of the country (especially Amarillo, TX) will be doing too much New Year celebration outside of their own homes unless they are of the true Klingon nature and welcome death with a warrior attitude. =) I imagine that the staff of ADB, Inc. will all stay home for the New Year bringing the New Year in by sleeping and staying warm. For those of you that do plan on going out to celebrate, please be safe and know that Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc. wishes you all a safe and happy New Year.

Here's to a prosperous New Year to all of us!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Plan Ahead --- Be Safe!

If your planned celebration for New Year's includes champagne or other adult beverages, plan ahead to get home safely. Have the party at your house, plan to sleep over, designate a driver, or just don't drink.

Leanna and I have, for many years, enjoyed sparkling non-alcoholic grape juice for New Years (two bottles of which are chilling down right now) and we find it to have all of the "bite" and fun of the real stuff, and (if we try to cook at the same time) we get just as silly and drunk as everybody else, without the hangover, car crash, DUI ticket, fine, jail, and other buzz killing events.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Have any Marketing Ideas?

Marketing Director Vannessa Clark writes: While I have a strong education and quite a bit of experience in marketing, I can always use a new idea (particularly about this unique game industry that I have joined).

If you have ideas for a new product, a new way to sell existing products, or just a new way to do things, drop me a line at Marketing@StarFleetGames.com and let me know. I’d be happy to discuss any of these ideas with you.

Some of the ideas I have heard in the last month include:
ads in Thrifty Nickle to bring people to the site.
Getting the moribund review system working.
Getting the new on-line newsletter working.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What FC products to do (and how many, how fast?)

The 2007 schedule includes three main Federation Commander products: Tholian Attack, Battleships, and Distant Kingdoms. Each with associated booster, border boxes, and squadron boxes. (Well, battleships might not have boosters, as who needs extra dreadnoughts?)

Lots of players (particularly but not entirely veterans of the universe) are pressuring us to do more products, such as a Franz Joseph Ships module, a tugs module, a scout module, an of course more ships for everybody modules.

We're torn and tempted. We want to release the FC products in a steady stream, not all at once, but there are lot of people who want everything right now.

Film at 11.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukah
Happy Eid
Happy Mithrasday
Happy Holidays
Seasons Greetings
Happy Festivus
Happy Solstice

If I left anybody out, sorry. Email me so I can put it in the message next year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Reason For The Season

There are a lot of holidays (Christmas being the most obvious of them for most of us who read this blog) around this time of the year, and a lot of reasons for having a holiday and the accompanying parties and gift-giving. Some of these reasons are more worthy than others. One of two or three days a year you see all of your relatives is perhaps the second most important (after the religious significance of whatever holiday you are celebrating).

The winter solstice has been a holiday for thousands of years. It probably began when some caveman noticed a shadow of a particular tree and marked it with a rock for no particular reason. Eventually, he figured out that the shadow got longer every day (the sun got lower) until one day when the shadow started getting shorter. It meant that "this winter thing is not going to last forever, spring will come again" which for cavemen who had no books, no schools, no weather reports, no written history of previous winters, and no television, knowing winter WOULD end really was an incredibly big deal. Lots of religions have a holiday around about now just for this reason. It's a good reason for a party, for new hope, when it's too cold to go outside and there isn't much to do outside anyway.

I don't want to upset anyone (and I say this as a practicing Christian) but nobody knows when Jesus was born, and the day we celebrate could be any day on the calendar picked at random. The point is to remember Jesus every year, not the specific day of the year. Most people know that 25 December is the birthday of Mithras, a pagan god popular in the Roman Empire. When the Empire picked Christianity as "the new state religion" sometime around 310AD, the emperor more or less forced the Christians to merge with all the other religions. Thus, Mithrasday became Christmas day so that all the worshipers of the now-illegal Mithras cult could become Christians without having to give up their big party. They had been having this party (and giving each other presents) a couple of centuries before Jesus. (Lots of other stuff happened. The cults of Apollonius and Simon Magus merged into Christ, and the temples of the Isis cult became churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary.) It doesn't shake my faith one bit to know this, and shouldn't shake anybody else's. (Christians can say, with some validity, that they had it right all along and everybody else just changed the signs on their temples and got with the program.) When the Christians said "welcome to the faith" the Mithraans said "welcome to the party" and a good time (along with new sheet music) was doubtless had by all. Everybody still worshipped and had family over for dinner and if the Christians said that "this present giving thing" that they adopted as a new custom reflected the gifts of the maggi then I guess maybe it did.

You are welcome to worship whatever god or celebrate whatever holiday you want. I will always smile and chuckle about Mithras but won't forget that this is the day we celebrate that Jesus came to Earth, even if the odds are that it's not the exact day. Winter solstice is a time hope and Jesus certainly brought that. Worship should be the most important thing (even atheists can celebrate that we're now pretty sure that winter is eventually going to end), family the second. Getting presents is dead last; giving them is part of the second reason. I get more fun out of giving to local charities than the presents I get. In an age of instant gratification, I buy my own Christmas presents any time fo the year that I think I deserve one.

So take a moment to remember your own "reasons for the season" and ask yourself if maybe you could find a better one.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Jolene Wants Your Input

Graphics Director Jolene Settle writes:

As the Graphics progress here at ADB, I am learning about new things everyday. Take for example the printing industry. I learned that different printing presses have a standard for the bleed around a piece of artwork or it will spit it back out. Also working with Spellmann and Associates has also boosted my knowledge of the search engines. Learning about marketing is a whole field that is opening my eyes. Vanessa is very intelligent and I think working with her is giving me a head start. Although learning is everyday, making messups is a regular standard for me. One day I moved the ships around in the wallpaper artwork and I left "ghosts" and then Joe Butler uploaded them and I got tons of comments on the messups. But all in all, I love the messups because It means I am learning and I can hopefully never make those messups again.

Unfortunately, as a designer you can get caught up in making thing aesthetics pleasing for yourself and forget that you also need to make the consumer happy as well. See here I am!! I want to make you guys excited, so please let me know if you have ideas. Here are a few ideas I would love for you to comment on:

MySpace-What graphics would you like to see?

How does everyone feel about a calendar?

CafePress-Please let me know what you want to see on CafePress. I just had a comment about putting box art on a mug. I am currently working on that.

Here is my e-mail: graphics@starfleetgames.com or you can comment on the forum.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Safety at work and home

Ok, so this isn't exactly a Christmas-themed blog post, but it's something few of us think enough about. I tell new employees repeatedly: "Nothing this company ever did is worth getting killed or hurt for. Any employee at any time can say that what we are doing is unsafe and we should think about it again."

There is no "command-z undo key" for a broken leg or a finger that met up with a power saw. Safety is first in line, and always must be considered. At work, and at home. If something is dangerous, stop doing it and make it safer.

We have a rule here that "No woman walks to her car in the dark alone" and that's not just to prevent muggings but also to prevent slips and falls on icy pavement. We have a lot of other rules, such as nobody goes up a ladder if nobody else is in the warehouse, and nobody uses the power saw alone, either.

Night before last, Steve Petrick stayed late enough to get caught in rush hour, so he stayed longer, started working on something, and stayed even longer. Then, after locking the door on his way out, he slipped on the icy steps and while he was not injured (other than his pride and some bruises) he did spend an hour in 20°F weather (and in a freezing raid) searching the juniper bush for his keyring. The point is that if he had hit his head or broken a bone, he'd have laid in sub-freezing temperatures for 12 hours until somebody discovered his ice-covered body when opening their office the next morning. And at this time of year, it could have been hours longer than that. We now have a new rule that nobody stays late alone if there is an ice storm in progress.

Christmas is always a time for fires (candles, fireplaces, frayed wiring on decorations), accidents (too much egg nog, or just too much nog), and suicides (from lonely depressed people). It's worth a few minutes a day to make sure you don't spend the next year regretting a lack of being careful. Check the wiring before stringing the lights, make sure somebody around you is NOT having nog, and maybe even call a lonely friend with no local family and invite him to Christmas dinner. If your lonely friend is in another town, just call him and chat for a while. Nobody should be alone at Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Federation Commander Play-by-Email

FRANK BROOKS, DIRECTOR OF PLAY BY EMAIL, WRITES: Playing Federation Commander by email is an alternative to playing face-to-face. While there are a few differences (i.e., your opponent isn't sitting across the table from you), it is the same game.

The basic gist of the Federation Commander Play by Email (PBEM) system is that you and your opponent submit your orders for the turn to a moderator via E-Mail. The moderator then processes them, and sends a "Sitrep" (Situation Report) to the players via E-Mail. You receive the results, write up your next set of orders, and then submit your orders once again. The process is repeated until the game is completed. Sounds simple? That's because it IS! It'll take a little getting used to (after all, what doesn't?), but once you've got the hang of it, you'll be lobbing photon torpedoes (or whatever your weapon of choice is) at opponents from all over the world.

Every Federation Commander PBEM game has at least three participants: two or more players and one moderator. The moderator's purpose is to accept orders from the players and carry them out, reporting the results of those orders to all players. While (s)he is not a player, the moderator fulfills a very important role in the game. Good moderators and good players make for a good, enjoyable game of Federation Commander. Moderating a Federation Commander PBEM game is also an excellent way to learn more about the Federation Commander rules.

While there are some disadvantages to PBEM (it does take longer to finish a game), there are advantages as well. You can play against people in other parts of the world (how often to you get to Australia anyway?), you can play multiple games at once, and you can have large multi-player games (without worrying about running out of chips and soda).

For more information about playing Federation Commander PBEM, please visit the Play-by-Email section of ADB Inc.'s website at www.starfleetgames.com/pbemgames and we will be happy to help you.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A day in the office, like so many others

Every day is unique. Today the roads were so bad I didn't get here until 11am, brought a bag lunch (which I just finished in 10 minutes flat) and I'm planning to leave at 4pm. We have an inch of ice covered by six inches of snow, and all of the idiots who don't know how to drive in good weather picked today to practice driving. So I avoid the hours that the roads are busy. But, I need to make the most of what time I have.

Let's see what I've done in the three hours I have been here and plan to do in the next two hours.
1. I deleted 700 spam emails. Typical day.
2. I answered a dozen legitimate emails. Typical day.
3. I checked the DiscusBBS and dealt with somebody unhappy because he never got a medal for doing something we never knew he had done.
4. I constructed a semi-finished mock-up of a new product nobody has heard about.
5. I am waiting for Jolene to get back from lunch (she drives a jeep) so we can discuss ways to get her photographs of new starship miniatures to print better.
6. I got some playtest reports on Tholian Attack and processed the data. I need to do another couple of ships for this week's quota. Vanessa could get upset if I don't deliver enough pages of several new products each week.
7. I had several conversations with people about whether D6 and WEG are still viable properties for Prime Directive. (Looks good but until I get Eric Gibson on the Ehorn I won't know.
8. I gave Steve Petrick a copy of the Borders of Madness Scout Rules. (I wrote this yesterday but had a problem getting the file to print a hard copy, caused by my entering the wrong page number.)
9. I spent a moment missing Vanessa who is with her children at their school party.
10. I processed a total of 11 requests for membership in the phpForum. I gotta remember to go read it. Just now remembered that I needed to blog.
11. In the next two hours, I need to do something useful. I'll probably read FYEO and post the files for 16-20 on the other BBS, and maybe work on tholian ship cards.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's cold in Amarillo

We had 70°F temperatures for the last week, but Monday it turned cold and Monday night it started to rain (which turned the roads into ice). Leanna and I didn't make it to work today until 10:30 because we were avoiding the worst of the traffic, but (while some where late due to ice) the entire crew (SVC, Leanna, Petrick, Vanessa, Mike, and Jolene) are here.

We're all busy doing things, including shipping things for Christmas delivery.

We plan to leave at 4:30 today so that everybody can get home in the daylight before the 5pm Rush Hour starts. But all orders will be shiipped. Leanna and I brought TV dinners so we don't have to go out for lunch in the cold.

But even with the cold, and my grouchy Christmas Annual Depression, spirits are bright. Products are being worked on, schedules look doable, and (having gotten everybody trained) I now have an extra couple of hours per day to be creative and work on more new stuff.

Merry Christmas to all.

And if you have other reasons to celebrate (Hannuka, Eid, Qwanza, Mithrasday) then happy that, as well.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How to find opponents

STEVE COLE WRITES: Many gamers are looking for new opponents, and (since Federation Commander is a new game) lots of new FC players are looking for other new FC players (or veteran SFB players willing to try something new and faster). This is nothing new. When I was a teenager, there were maybe four wargamers in Amarillo that I knew, but there must have been more as the one store that carried Avalon Hill games (then the only wargames) would sell one or two now and then that my friends and I knew we didn’t buy. Funny, it never once occurred to us to ask the store manager to give our phone numbers to the other guys. When I was in college, SPI (then the second wargame company and rapidly becoming larger and more innovative than Avalon Hill) had an opponent wanted list. I sent in my dollar to get it, and found the closest person (of the 20 on the list) was 120 miles away; the first and last person on the list were each 450 miles away (in opposite directions).

These days, the concept of contacting other gamers has had decades to mature, and works much better, and you have a lot of ways to do it. For best results, do all of them.

You can go to the Commander’s Circle and enter your data (as much or as little as you are comfortable with) and perhaps find opponents near you. We are gaining new sign-in’s every day, and since it’s free you can try it every month or two and find out of somebody near you has signed in.

You can go to the forum and find the area where local stores and groups post announcements and invitations and let people know you’re around. How silly would you feel if you found out that the guy who you’ve been arguing with on the forum for years actually lives in your town. (That HAS happened.)

Feel free to go to your local store and ask them to let you post a notice looking for opponents. You could also run a demo of Federation Commander (or any of our games) and "grown your own" opponents. If anybody already plays the game you demo, they’ll doubtless drop by just to swap phone numbers.

Many towns have community bulletin boards on the local cable company’s "home" channel. These are variously free or cost just a couple of dollars. It’s hit-and-miss, but you could get lucky. (When I commanded Company C of the 1-39 MPs, I gained a dozen new recruits in a year that came from cable TV.) You could also buy a cheap want ad in the newspaper or the free advertising newspaper (American’s Want Ads or whatever yours is called) found in quickie marts.

The quickest result, probably, is Starlist. Go to our Legacy site and look for the button that says Player Resources. Under that menu is a link for Starlist. Enter your data in the form, and you’ll get a list of local players back. (This may take a day or two as it is done by hand.) Starlist is the most effective hunt for new players because the database has some five thousand players in it, far more than all of the other sources combined. The only drawback is that Starlist works with full information (name and address) and those who are seriously concerned about identity theft often find this uncomfortable. In all reality, however, Starlist would not give an identity thief any more information than your local phone book would, and if that’s enough for those criminals to operate, they would be vastly more likely to use the phone book than to request a copy of Starlist.

The original web site has a bulletin board system and the 8th item on the main menu is "seeking opponents". You can post a notice there (and search the previous postings). Again, you can post as much or as little information as you are comfortable with.

Many of those on Starlist and StarFleetGames.com/discus will be players of Star Fleet Battles, but most of those can be convinced to play Federation Commander. Indeed, over half of the names on Starlist are people who quit playing Star Fleet Battles for lack of opponents (or because SFB was too complex for them or their opponents) and most of those are ready recruits for the faster cleaner Federation Commander game system.

With more effort, you can post opponent wanted notices in a whole lot of boardgame sites (see the links list on our site).

If there is a game convention within driving distance, it’s worth a trip to see if you might find someone who is also within driving distance. If there is a game club in your home town, or a store with a gaming area, go there and set up the game and wait for somebody to ask what it is. (Even better, take a friend who will play the game with you so you won’t be bored.) If there is a star trek club in your home town, show them Federation Commander or Star Fleet Battle Force. There are people who have printed a card with the logo of one of our games and their email address and left these in the windows of their cards who got emails from other gamers in their home towns who were seeking opponents.

You can go always go to SFB Online and play Federation Commander on-line with live opponents from around the world for the princely sum of $4 per month. You might even stumble into somebody local.

There are probably more ways than this to find opponents, but unless you live in a cave somewhere, you can almost certainly find a new friend within a short while by trying these methods.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Company Christmas Dinner

Last night was the annual Company Christmas Dinner. We had ten people (six employees and four dates), making it the largest dinner ever. I kept my speach short but thanked everyone for boosing our sales to a new record. This year we met at David's Steakhouse, a favorite of the successful business class in Amarillo.

We all enjoyed meeting Doctor Armando (ok, so he's got a few years of med school, internship, and residency, but he's still a nice guy) and in some ways the party was an engagement party for Armando and Jolene. Vanessa brought her friend Jason who told us funny stories about computers. Mike Sparks and his fiance Kyla announced that they had set a date (13 July) and had deliberately waited until after Origins. Petrick's charming "dinner companion" (neither of them is willing to admit it was a date ... yet) was our printer agent, Vickie Bryant, and the two of them seemed to get along and we all hope something grows from their first dinner together.

It has been a good year. The company has grown, in both sales and the kind of activity we have going on. Next year should be even better.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Full Speed Ahead!

Marketing Director Vanessa Clark Reports: As many know, the office has gone through a revolution. Changes for the better have been occurring and hopefully everyone has noticed. It’s been fun being a real part of so much and helping to implement those changes. I do enjoy keeping track of “the Steves” to make sure they are on schedule with products and projects. Having them report in and give me a certain number of pages for each upcoming project each and every week doesn’t just make their job easier in the end, it makes my job much easier as we go along. Having them give me 5 pages of Captain’s Log every week keeps them on track and prevents me from having 120 pages at the very last minute placed on my desk for proofreading! It’s so much easier to read a few pages every week than it is to read all of it all at one time. Let’s also not forget that the office mood has gotten better since “the Steves” have tasks that they KNOW I’ll be checking on throughout the week and then expecting something in my hands by Friday. They seem to be more at ease and I think it gives them both more time for creating and designing. If they get what I ask done early (which they have been doing) they have time to brainstorm and the best part of all of it is that PRODUCTS are ALWAYS on TIME! I don’t want to be in the position of having to make excuses to retailers, wholesalers, and end customers because we waited until last minute or didn’t plan ahead well enough to allow for “problems”. I think the workflow plan and me keeping “the Steves” on track is working great so far and it allows me and SVC the peace of mind in knowing that neither of us should have to make any excuses in the future. At current, it’s “Engines to power, warp turbines to speed; and full speed ahead!”

Friday, December 15, 2006

Communique 12 posted

STEVE COLE WRITES: We just uploaded Communique-12, the latest in our free download PDF newsletters for Federation Commander players. This one has a couple of new ship cards, a new scenario, and some tactics.

Communique is just one of many free things we have available at www.StarFleetGames.com/fc for you players.

o You can download what amounts to a free copy of part of the FEDERATION COMMANDER game (enough to play a few battles).

o The free First Missions packet (demo version of Federation Commander).

o Turn guages and firing arcs for the tabletop rules.

o Sample ship cards.

o Wallpaper of game covers.

o Frequently asked questions.

o Information for Retailers.

o The original theatrical trailer (ok, not that, but it was the original flyer handed out at trade shows).

o Notes from the game designer (me) on what parts of the older game Star Fleet Battles we decided to include in Federation Commander.

But that’s just a start. If you join the Commander’s Circle, which is free, you can download the monthly Communique which includes scenarios, tactics, and new ships. You can also access a database of Federation Commander players looking for new opponents (you!).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ten Things About Mail Order

BUSINESS MANAGER LEANNA COLE WRITES: I am the one who processes your mail orders, and I wanted to pass along a few useful items of information to you.

1. Much bigger companies have their mail orders processed by computer, without human intervention. Our mail orders are processed by a human being (me), and I can usually tell when something happened that wasn't intended. If I get two identical orders from you, I will assume you only want one of them, but I will email you about that. If anything else looks like you accidentally ordered something you didn't really want, I will email you before charging your card. Even so, feel free to call by land line (806-351-1950) and check with me directly if you have a question.

2. The online store isn't perfect, and sometimes it gives you an error message when there was no error. Sometimes when you order a second time (to get beyond the error) you end up with both orders. As above, I'm not a computer, and if I see the computer do something that seems wrong, I will ask you by Email.

3. Note carefully that I will ask questions by Email if I don't understand your order or think you or the computer made a mistake. So give me an Email address that you will check several times over the next day or two. People have called me a week later asking where their order is, having never checked the Email account they gave me to see that I cannot process their order for some reason.

4. If a product is available at either web store, it's in stock. Very rarely in some special cases (items not in regular stock, such as bags of factory seconds miniatures) we may run out of something and need a day to delete it from the store. But for regular stock items such as Klingon Border, if it’s on the cart, we have it in stock.

5. Generally speaking, if I can give you faster delivery and save you a few dollars, I may switch your order from whatever shipping method you specified to another method (usually from UPS to Post Office). If there is a reason that you do not want to use a particular carrier (maybe you and your postman do not get along) then use special instructions to tell me this.

6. Special instructions (accessed during check out) is your chance to tell me anything out of the ordinary. If you aren't sure you ordered the right thing, if you want it packed a special way, if you want one of the Steves to autograph it for you, just use special instructions and I'll do what I can. You can also Email or phone in special instructions. You can even include special instructions that you are going to phone in the next day to confirm something and for me not to process the order until we talk.

7. We normally ship products two or three days a week, so your order never waits more than a day or two ... unless I sent you an Email asking for you to confirm or clarify something. Most orders sent one night (and in my Email the next morning) go out the day I get them.

8. When you place an order, the processing system checks to be sure your card is valid and that your billing address matches your credit card company or bank's billing address. Both the street address and zip code must match exactly or the charge will be declined. Please be aware that if your charge is declined, the computer may still place a hold on your funds for the total amount of the order. In many cases, submission with a valid credit card number with an incorrect billing address will still result in a hold on your account. If this occurs, please note that those authorizations will drop off your account within 2 -to- 4 business days depending on your issuing bank. If it does accept the order, it will not charge your card but it will "lock up" a portion of your credit limit equal to the order. It's very easy for me to reduce this amount (say, I find a cheaper way to ship it) but it's impossible for me to increase it (if you try to add something). If you aren't entirely sure what you want and can wait a day extra, email me (sales@StarFleetGames.com) to determine what you want to order before trying to order it.

9. Generally speaking, we list new products on the stores 5-7 days before mail order release (which is one week after wholesale order shipments). Please do not try to order new products prior to their being listed on the cart. It doesn't get your order shipped any faster.

10. If you want to be notified when a product becomes available, whether it's a new product you know from the Forum has been sent to wholesalers or a product months away, email me (sales@StarFleetGames.com) and include in the subject line NOTIFY and the name of the product. I will place your email into a pending folder and will send notices about the product you wanted to know about when we know more about it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Future Looks Good

COMPANY PRESIDENT STEVE COLE WRITES: I'm excited about the future of the company and product lines. Vanessa's little whipcracking routine has given me a new focus. I start each week with a "quota" of pages of future products to do, and do that first, then spend the rest of the week on other worthwhile things. With a chunk of each week (usually about three days) taken up by the quota, the worthless and worth-even-less projects that consumed chunks of time just do not get done. with only a few "unscheduled" days each week, I have to carefully pick the most important items on my "to do" list and no longer have the luxury of working on trivial stuff that sounds fun but actually produces little that anyone wants. I am a river to my people, and it's about time we stopped letting half of each week's water disappear into side-streams and then try to finish a new product in two weeks of 20-hour days.

Captain's Log #35 is five months away but we already have more of it done now than we did a month before CL#34 went to press. Getting a good fiction story is always the most important part and while I don't have one yet, I have a couple of people working on stories that may work out and I have one of my own that looks like it could come together. I'd be thrilled to have five stories finished right now and be able to schedule them for the next three issues.

We're all excited about the new Fed Commander releases. I'm getting jazzed about the new RPG books. And there is a ton of buzz about which four (out of ten) potential SFB products will be selected for development.

For the first time, the Christmas holidays hold out a hope of joy. (I always get depressed at Christmas.) That joy is that Vanessa and Jolene don't have classes so I can work them as hard as I want getting a jump on next year's tasks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cafe Press

Graphics Director Jolene Settle writes:

Have you ever heard of Cafe Press? Cafe Press is a webstore which allows any company to put its product covers or other art on a wide variety of products.

Leanna set up an account and I have uploaded several designs for T-shirts, Coffee Mugs, Ornaments, Mousepads, etc.


If you have any questions or comments or would like us to put any game cover from an SFU product on CafePress so you can buy it on any of their products, Let me know , I will set it up for you!


Monday, December 11, 2006

E-Commerce and Web Marketing 101

MARKETING DIRECTOR VANESSA CLARK WRITES: Finding new ways to market is always a challenge. Common ways and inexpensive ways to market in today’s society are through E-Commerce and web marketing. Web banners are a great way to make the most of a small marketing budget provided you “shop” for ideal places to post the banners.

Some sites are outrageous in what they charge for advertising on their site when others are very reasonable. I’ve learned that cost sometimes has nothing to do with how much traffic there is, but mostly on the name, or more precisely, the “brand” of the site. Big name sites are more likely to cost more than something that may be popular but not necessarily a name brand.

When placing web banners it is also important to know basic terms like cost per image or cpi for short, whether or not the image is tif, jpeg, or a gif file and the sizes allowed. Something even more important is where the banner is pointing to. If it is a basic, more generic banner (for instance one of ours that just says “Federation Commander” and doesn’t specify Klingon Border or Romulan Border) would not necessarily go to our home page. A better place to point the “clicker” is to the “Federation Commander” game system’s page. If I were advertising the Star Fleet Universe, I would use our home page as a landing page, and if I were advertising Klingon Border, I would use the Klingon Border page as the landing page. This seems like basic common sense but it is a common error made by novice marketers.

Another great way to market a company and/or product is through Google AdWords and Yahoo Pay Per Click (essentially the same thing). This is where a company pays to be listed in the search engines and literally competes as to the position (found on the right side of the normal search results) of a particular search word or phrase. The key is not always being listed as the first, but in the top 3 for the least amount of money. What’s great about this type of advertising and exposure is that you are only charge IF the person searching “clicks” on your ad and you have the ability of setting a budget so that you don’t get a run-a-way train! You get exposure and name recognition with people who don't click on the ad but are interested in the general subject.

These are just a couple of helpful ways to market effectively on small budget!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The "Workflow Plan"

This is something Petrick and I have wanted to do for years, but Leanna refused to be the "task mistress" (enforcer of the schedule) since she thought we should grow up and work without being forced to work using self-discipline. She should know better. We're guys. We have no self-discipline.

Anyway, Vanessa came to me a while ago and said she had watched us work 16-hour days to finish CL34 and what a physical and mental toll it took on us (Steve Petrick and Steve Cole) and wanted no more of it. I told her about the workflow idea we had wanted to do, but that it would only work if some really mean female enforced it and made sure there would be no failures.

The basic concept is multi-faceted, but let me try to explain it.

1. Nothing goes on the formal published release schedule until we have almost everything from outside the office, have done a substantial amount of work, and are really confident that an excellent product can be done by the selected release date.

2. The release date will be set somewhere between 30 and 150 days in advance, based on when production slots are available (e.g, no releasing a 144-page RPG book on the same day as a 120-page Captain's log as the printers will melt) and based on a logical orderly flow of products for that particular product line (e.g., four RPG books ready now would be released over four separate release dates 2-4 weeks apart). Generally speaking, we now consider it more important to get the release dates right, than to follow arbitrary release delays required by the comic book industry.

3. Petrick and I always wanted to work on projects (particularly Captain's Log) over a period of time instead of in a crisis-managed burst at the end. We never could because the time when we could be "working ahead" on Captain's Log was the time we were trying to finish Module This or maybe That Operations. To avoid this, Vanessa and I scheduled only three products (FC Tholian Attack, FC Battleships, and CL35) between now and next summer. Of course, there are a bunch of boosters and miniatures boxes which push the total much higher, but those are not really work for the design office. Further products will be added to that schedule (for that period of time and for later periods) as we get them ready.

4. A "workflow schedule" has been set to get FCTA and CL35 done. CL35 will get five pages a week for 20 weeks, then we'll do the last 20 pages (the commnications pages which have to be done at the last minute). So far so good, 5 pages last week and this week. Tholian Attack has a more complex schedule, but I've already done this week, next week, and part of the week after next. When FCTA is done, I'll start doing a few ships/rules a week for FCB. After we get a chance to do a planning document, I'll add "so many pages for PD FED" and Petrick will add "so many pages for the next SFB product" to each week's work. As we go along, we'll adjust things. If somebody wants to add a product to the schedule, we'll see if we are or are not meeting quotas. If not, no new product goes on the schedule. If yes, maybe one does.

5. Projects are scheduled in a priority basis. If we get the pages done for the scheduled products and not for the non-scheduled products, the non-scheduled products won't become scheduled products for a while longer. But the point is that if we do some work on non-scheduled products, they will have a vastly improved chance to become scheduled products. For example, let's say that over a period of a month or two, I do my required pages for CapLog35, PDFed, and TA and do a few pages for Master Starship Book, but not enough to make it's "release at origins quota". We'll know this months ahead, and can either reprioritize to get it caught up, or scale it back and do another project instead, or just keep doing whatever we can and then, after some other projects are finished, move it up in priority.

6. Some effort will be made (now that Vanessa and Jolene and Mike have taken over many tasks done by SVC and SPP) to clear some backlog. Last Saturday, we cleared half of the "tactical papers with rules problems" and the rest yesterday. After that, time will be set aside to do "submissions" each week.

All of this only works if Vanessa "motivates" us to work on stuff (by threats of physical violence, or just a hurt look). That means she doesn't just drop in on Friday afternoon and say "How many pages have you done?" but she asks Monday morning "What SPECIFIC pages are you going to do?" and then asks every day how many of those are done so far.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Federation Commander Wallpaper

Graphics Director Jolene Settle writes:

Joe Butler (webmaster for the legacy site www.StarFleetGames.com) and I have put a page together where you can download Federation Commander Wallpaper.

Klingon Border, Romulan Border, Klingon Attack, Romulan Attack is currently available in the following sizes : 800x600, 1024x768, and 1280x1024.


If there are any other sizes -- or any other images -- that you would like to see turned into wallpaper, please feel free to write me at graphics@starfleetgames.com and I will get it set up for you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Federation Commander Newsletter

Graphics Director Jolene Settle Reports:
I spent two full days working on the Newsletter. It seemed perfect, even though I was scared to hit the submit button. I had even sent myself a test of it before I had sent it out to approximately 200 e-mail addresses. All in all, the Hailing Frequencies newsletter did not come out the way I wanted, so my apprehensions were correct. I had remembered that I added my personal Yahoo address to the mailing list, so I went and checked it, and when I opened the e-mail, the background was missing. Which would have not been such a big deal for me, except that I had written all of the text with WHITE on a dark blue background. So, for the people who couldn't read the Hailing Frequencies Newsletter, here it is, please enjoy it. Please. Your next Hailing Frequencies Newsletter e-mail will probably not in an HTML e-mail format. It will probably be a separate page uploaded to our site so you can click on the link to take you there. Let me know what you think about the Newsletter at graphics@starfleetgames.com

Steve Cole (her boss) reports: Jolene did an incredibly good job on something she had never tried before. It wasn't perfect, but we did learn a lot about it, and your help can only make it better. I wasn't much involved in this project, but Jolene and Marketing Director Vanessa did keep asking me for scenarios, ship cards, tactics, questions, and fiction they could include. If you have any comments-complaints-requests about the content, please do send them to Jolene and Vanessa who will (whenever Vanessa says I have time) ask me to whip up whatever is missing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Space Rolls On

Marketing Director Vanessa Clark writes: Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc. has created a MySpace page! Be our friend and find us! Make comments, view upcoming blogs (Jolene and I will be blogging there as well!), and see what's going on with Amarillo Design from another direction! Our MySpace page is ran by Jolene (graphics) and myself (Vanessa-Marketing Director) and the Steves NEVER got there, so you will get a different interaction with Amarillo Design Bureau than you have in the past. Will this be a way to get ideas for new products into the morning meeting without having the Steves discard them without showing them to anyone else? We shall see!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Treating Leanna as the Special Woman She Is

STEVE COLE SAYS: I have spent 29 years married to Leanna, and in love with her every day of that (and the very few months we knew each other before that). Some years I have barely noticed her birthday, some years she barely noticed it, and some years I actually tried hard to make the day special. This is one of those years and those of you who are lucky enough to be in love need to pay attention to how to treat your spouse. (This stuff is more important for guys who love girls but I guess some of it works in reverse.)

I stated by preparing her breakfast in bed, although she insisted on actually moving to a chair to eat. While she got ready to go to the office (too much work to take the day off) I cleaned the kitchen. We drove to work, and I dropped her at the door and said "I'm going to park the car over there" and took off to the store a couple of blocks away where I could buy her some flowers (appropriate vase was smuggled into the car earlier that morning) and one perfect apple. (Note the flowers. Women like having flowers on their desk, partly because they just like them,and partly because they get to silently tell all of the other women in the office "I have a man who brings me flowers. Pity about you." She scores points, I score points. Get it?

Lunch at her favorite place, and a nice sapphire/diamond necklace pre-ordered and waiting at the jewelry store a few doors down the mall. Again, she gets to silently say "See what my guy bought me? Pity about you." She scores points, I score points. Get it?

Plans for the evening include a nice dinner and relaxing evening. Leanna is worth it.She's not just a best friend, great woman, and incredible wife, she's also a great business manager. I couldn't have made ADB Inc. a success without her, and not just because she wouldn't have let me start the company in the first place.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Good ideas from strange directions

As we were finishing Captain's Log #34, Marketing Director Vanessa Clark noted that it only had 11 pages of material for the new Federation Commander game. She set a goal of 20 pages for Captain's Log #35 and 30 pages for the issue after that. This became part of a discussion, and some SFB players stubbornly refused to part with any of "their" page count to give space to the new game.

Somebody suggested we try to do a "hybrid" ship diagram, where the right half would be a standard FC ship card and the left half would have whatever SFB players needed to use the same ship in that game. We were intrigued and when we picked the E7D to be one of the ships in CL#35 we decided to try to build a hybrid SSD. (You can find it on the legacy site, www.StarFleetGames.com/discus, look under Captain's Log and then under CL#35.) It's taken two or three tries to get it right. The whole idea was to do this just in Captain's Log as a means of double-counting pages for both SFB and FC.

However, a few of those who saw it said we should at least think about doing all future Star Fleet Battles products in this format, which would allow Federation Commander players to use the new ships in those products (even if they had to use page protectors to do it since SFB products aren't laminated).

It's an intriguing thought. The next SFB product will be in July 07 and this idea just might happen.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A new way of thinking

We're trying a new "scheduling" idea. (Those of you who know me remember that I come up with a revolutionary way to get more things done two or three times a year, and none of them last a month. I think this one will work because there is a new factor in the equation, that being Vanessa.)

The general idea is to take a product (one with or without a fixed go-to-press date) and schedule so many pages of this product to be done every single week. For example, Captain's Log #35 goes to press in 22 weeks. The last two weeks are scheduled for the communications pages that have to be done at the last minute; the 100 content pages will then be done 5 pages at week. (Last week we did Victory at Origins and Galaxy of Song). I've also got a schedule to do Tholian Attack (Seltorian ships this week, Seltorian rules next week, Tholian ships the week after, Tholian rules the week after, then scenarios). Shortly, Petrick will select "the next SFB" product and will start churning out its 160 pages over a period of 24 weeks. This is going to work this time for two reasons.

1. We always wanted to do things this way, but never could because we had product scheduled and the time that should be spent doing a few pages of the July product got sucked into doing the March product. We have solved that this time by setting a schedule consisting only (so far) of Captain's Log #35 and 13 Fed Commander products. (Thanks to the way Ken Burnside set up the FC product line, "designing" two products for me means 13 products that Vanessa can sell.) We'll add other projects to the "weekly page quota" when we can (going to take a bit to figure out just how many pages we can do) and when we get things from outside designers. (Right now, John Sickels says he'll finish PD FED by the end of February. So for the next 12 weeks, I'll have to do 1/12 of the pages I'm responsible for.)

2. Vanessa is going to enforce the schedule, with screaming and physical violence if necessary. She gets this really hurt look when we disappoint her, and Petrick and I were down here all weekend figuring out how to avoid getting into trouble with her. That meant I had to do some parts of things we will give her in six weeks because if we don't start them now, we won't have them in six weeks when we run out of the first five weeks of easy stuff to give her. Which leads us to this amusing little thing which is now on the office wall. I hope no one takes offense, as I do take the original quite seriously and respectfully.

Vanessa, who art Marketing Director,
We tremble at your name.

Your schedule set,
Your will be met,
In Game Trade as it is in Previews.

Give us this day, our daily tasks,
Forgive us not our failures,
And forgive not outside designers who fail to deliver their RPG books on time.

Let us not fall into stagnation,
But make us deliver the products.

For thine is the schedule,
and the marketing plan,
and the Profit,
for ever and ever.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Play Federation Commander on-line

Many people do not know that you can play Federation Commander on-line in real time against live opponents.

Eight years ago, http://www.sfbonline.com/, was created to provide players of Star Fleet Battles with an on-line gaming capability. It was a smash hit as hundreds of gamers joined in the fun. Tournaments and other competitions, plus plenty of opening gaming, have gone on around the clock since then.

This successful operation has now been expanded to include Federation Commander!

Now you can play with real live human opponents all over the world in real time ... 24 hours a day! The computer automates many functions and acts as a friendly assistant for mundane chores.

For the modest subscription fee of less than $4 a month, you have access to all of the ships in the Federation Commander Game System as well as new ships still in playtest and development. The Java Runtime system is compatible with Windows and Macintosh systems.

Never worry about a lack of opponents. Never worry about opponents who don’t show up for games day because of silly reasons like family reunions or their own weddings. (Now, they can play on their honeymoons!) Don’t be cut off from your regular gaming group while on vacations or business trips.

Even better, you can join in on-line tournaments and campaigns, and your victories will add up to a higher and higher average score!

The system also allows you to chat with friends, taunt your enemies, and watch other players fight their own savage battles. (Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from someone else’s?) This "observer" system allows players of either game to learn the ins and outs of the other game before deciding to invest time and money in it.

So come to www.sfbonline.com right away. You can even fly the Federation CA or Klingon D7 as a free trial, or watch any game in play. Legendary SFB aces and new Fed Commander aces strut their stuff in combat arenas all the time, and you can learn from the best.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thoughts on Spam

I guess because I post the company press releases (or used to) I get spammed more than most of you. It's up to 500 per day and sometimes 600. I hear people say "I have wonderful spam filters" followed by "of course, I have to check what the filters caught to see if something legitimate got caught by accident." Then why do you need or use filters?

I have spam filters too. I never, ever, check to see if something real got caught. But then, that 500-600 spams per day are the ones the filters do not catch. Takes me 1-2 minutes every morning to delete the spam since I left the office the day before and then all day every time Mr DSL delivers mail (every 20 minutes) most of it is spam. A few clicks and it's done. I don't like it, but there is nothing to be done about it, it's just part of the cost of Email. I know people who use "white lists" to only get email it. I really resent it when somebody asks me a game question and then expects me to go to some web site and fill out some form so I can answer his question. He could whitelist me before he asks.

Today I had a special joy. Some bunch of crooks used my email as the spoof return address for a major spam mailing, and I got way over 100 "delivery failed" notices with the same Cialis ad. Because I do send business Emails and now and then get one back "undelivered" and I need to know that, I had to open all 100+ notices and sure enough, ONE of them was a legitimate Email I had sent and that I really did need to know did not get through.

Sorry that I took an extra minute there. I just got another 20-minute email cycle with more "delivery failure notices". I wonder if this is going to be going on all day? Worse, for the rest of my life? Another hour or so and I'll start getting "drop dead you filthy spammer" emails from the ones that DID get through.

I am hardly an expert on spam, just a victim. I see banks I have never heard of asking me to confirm account information (criminal spam trying to steal my bank account), I hear from the Nigerians with their "money in an account we want to send to you" (so they can steal the money out of my account), ads for various things (so called "non-criminal spam advertising") spams designed to drive up stock prices (lots of those in the last two weeks), hot women in my home town looking for one-night stands, and more and more.

I was told a story once by somebody who is in a position to have known it to be true. I don't know if it is true or not, but it's a good story. Seems one day a bunch of government, military, industry, and business people were sitting around a table inventing the internet. Somebody said "Why don't we charge 1/10 of a penny per email. We can set up the system to give all of US a hundred bucks of free email a month. But if we set up the system to require an account to be debited, we will have control over what goes into the system." the others said it was too much bother and who could possibly abuse the system so why would they need control? Pity they didn't do that. These "send 40 million ads by Email" campaigns would be shut down if somebody had to invest a few thousand in sending each one.

Spam happens because spam works. Nobody would pay to send out spam if they were not getting buyers. I got a phone call once from a guy trying to sell spam advertising. Yes, amazing as that seems. Turns out he was a fan of one of my games and suddenly realized who he was talking to. We had actually met at a convention once. We had a rolicking good chat about spam. He said "I know you don't want to be a spam person, but let me tell you that for $500 to pay for outgoing spam I can guarantee you ten times as much in sales on your shopping cart. Moneyback guarantee. Of course, most of the games will be sold to peole who didn't know what they were buying, but 95% of those won't try to send it back." There are times i wonder if I could have gotten a lot of new business that way? oh well, let's never find out.

Friday, December 01, 2006

First of the Month

It's the first day of the month. During November, we managed to post a blog just about every day (missed one or two). During December, you will start to notice some repeating posts. Some things (such as how to contact FCOL and FCPBEM) need to be repeated every month so that new people signing in will be able to find them. (Can't expect them to search years of archives for something they don't know they are looking for.) We will update these items every time so they'll always have the latest information. Currently I have ten of these and will post them on days with multiples of 3 (3rd of the month, 6th of the month, 21st of the Monday) with some variations.

It's a good day, all told. It's Friday, everybody is here despite the snow (except for the flu-ridden Mike, whom we miss since he does all the manual labor around here). We made our sales quota for the year a day or two ago and have a huge mail order day coming on Monday. It's been a good year.