Now is a great time to be a small-press game publisher. Printing is both reasonably priced and high quality. Thus, even if you don’t license your games to Kosmos, Rio Grande, or Mayfair, you can choose to self-publish a game of entirely professional quality. We’ve been seeing this trend for years on the European side of things. Doris & Frank, Richard Breese, and Andrea Meyer are just a few of the German publishers who self-publish well-beloved games.
Meanwhile, over in the United States, there have been small-press publishers ever since the hobbyist game movement got really rolling in the 1970s with miniatures, war games, and RPGs. However in recent years we’re seeing something different: US small-press publishers that are publishing more European-style games.
This week I’ve talked with one of the small-press publishers that’s caught my eye, Eye-Level Entertainment, producers of Nature of the Beast and E.T.I..
Eye-Level Entertainment appeared on the scene in 2005 with their card game, Nature of the Beast, and broke out into the wider board game field this year with the recently released E.T.I..
Nature of the Beast (Rating: 5/4). A customizable card game that comes in two non-collectible decks — with a third scheduled for this year. The game has some fun theming of armies of animals battling it out, while the mechanics allow for some great tactics. Although theoretically playable by three or more players, I think it works best with two, and for that numbers it’s a very clever CCG-style game.
E.T.I. (Rating: 4/4). A game of alien invasion. Players must try and build up new technologies to ward off alien invasion, and in the end are betrayed by one of their own, who manages the alien invading fleet. Theoretically a cooperative game, but really you’re doing most of your work on your own. Moreso than Nature of the Beast, this is a heavily experiential game. If you like the theming and the very clever mechanics, you’ll enjoy the game, but there is a pretty large random element as to who lives and dies in the end, and if you’re adverse to luck, that’ll turn you off the game.
The ELE Q&A
The folks at Eye-Level Entertainment were kind enough to offer the following answers to some questions about themselves and their company:
Q: What is Eye-Level Entertainment?
A: ELE is the combined efforts of three brothers, Mark, Matt and Tony (interesting trivia – we’re triplets – though not all identical). We each bring our own different sets of skills and experiences to the table and that interplay (arguing) creates a pretty darn well-rounded product in the end.
As kids, we played tons of different types of board, computer, role-playing, card, console, etc. games. The fun we had with those games was a constant “background noise” as we grew older, graduated from college, and began our “real lives”. Starting around 2001 with an idea from Mark, we began development of an idea for a game that would eventually become Nature of the Beast. We felt the game was solid, fun, and brought something new to the market. We then had to make a decision to punt or get off of the field. We punted and Nature of the Beast hit the market right around the start of 2006!
Q: Why do you design games?
A: Games are a great way to challenge your mind, get together with friends, and forget the everyday stuff for a couple minutes or a couple hours. The real reward is seeing others having positive experiences with the work we’ve designed. Plus, there is the legendary fast and rich lifestyle of the game designer which held an undeniable appeal to us as well.
Q: What makes for a good game?
A: Our motto is “Focus on the Fun”. We start on that principle and build from there.
Beyond that, we’re very open to different game styles and genres. A good game has a well-defined set of rules, a victory condition achievable via a variety of playing styles, an engaging theme, and finally it should bring something new to the table. We don’t have the time, resources, or interest as a small company to just rehash the latest game d’jour. When people see our logo, we want them to think, “Hmm, I wonder what those guys came up with this time?”
Q: What’s your favorite game that Eye-Level Entertainment publishes and Why?
A: As the first game we put out, Nature of the Beast (NotB) will always have a special spot. We’ve been honored to have many different game reviewers compliment ‘Nature of the Beast’ as a solid, strategic game with a great theme and a good sense of humor about itself. With variant play and the strategies of new players from all over, we still find ourselves being challenged and surprised by it as we play. It has the potential to support expansions and (time and money willing) we look forward to revisiting the NotB universe again. We see it as an “evergreen” game and we hope to keep it available on the market for a long time to come.
Our second release, ETI is a wildly-different game than NotB. It is a simpler boxed game as opposed to a card game. We placed the focus on the players interacting and negotiating with each other. Players seek an edge over each other while trying to sniff out (or stay concealed as) the Alien co-conspirator. In the meantime, they need to manage their research cards and develop their facility in such a way to help them emerge victorious from the final battle. Production-wise, being a boxed game instead of decks of cards, it was a much more challenging project to undertake. The early reviews of ETI suggest that it holds its own against lots of the “big name” releases as a fun and innovative game. We look forward to reaching a larger market of new players and retailers through their experiences with ETI.
So to be honest, we can’t pick a favorite. We like both for different reasons. We hope lots of people who play games will too!
Q: Long term, would you like to continue being a small press, or to become a design house or a big press and Why?
A: We enjoy the design process and we enjoy the control that producing our own games brings. Ultimately, it will come down to the numbers. If we can make a decent profit producing high-quality gaming experiences on our own, then that is the ideal scenario. But as long as we can maintain a reputation as a company that puts out quality, innovative games, then we’re open to where the road takes us.
Around the Corner
Thanks to the folks at Eye-Level Entertainment for their help with this article! I’m hoping to get together material for a look at another small-press American publisher next time.
In the meantime, I’ve been hard at work writing elsewhere these last few weeks. You can find my final, overview article on The Prisoner’s Dilemma, The Tragedy of the Commons, and The Free Rider Problem over at Skotos. In the meantime I’ve written reviews of Glory to Rome I.V, Key Largo, and Murder City over at RPGnet in the last couple of weeks.
Author’s Notes. Seven years later, Eye-Level Entertainment has put out just one more game and another Nature of the Beast set. But the beauty of small press is that you don’t have to meet anyone’s demands for products. —7/7/15, SA