Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Interview with Brian of Game Box Monthly

We are SO excited to have Brian, the owner of Game Box Monthly, here with us. We set up an exclusive interview, so let's sit down and talk about the subscription box, why he started it, and his goals. We are big fans (Game Box Monthly was in our top five for February and we have a review of our game coming up tomorrow). We also really love to get to know the people behind products. 

As a token of thanks, Brian is also offering readers a discount on a month's subscription! If you want to try it out, enter the code OUTSIDETHEBOX, which will give you $4 off!

Now, to the interview! :)

  • Brian, thanks so much for stopping by. Let's start with the basics. What motivated you to start Game Box Monthly?

Like most people who start their own business, I was thoroughly fed up with working for someone else, at work that I didn’t care about, and for pay that was too little to justify the aggravation. I wanted to create an escape for myself from that system. And something like Game Box Monthly fit everything I needed: it was about something I was interested in and cared about, the revenue was there immediately (I couldn’t afford to spending a year building something, not knowing if it would work or not), and there was a real opportunity to help solve a problem - connecting gamers with games they hadn’t already come across in the vast landscape of tabletop gaming.

  • We completely understand that, since we both tend to prefer working for and with companies that are driven by passion rather than corporate structure! So, what is your background? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?

My background is actually in film production. I’ve been working in Los Angeles in the film industry for the past seven years in basically every position possible. You might’ve even seen me running in the background of Megashark vs. Giant Octopus 2, behind the guy who played Urkel. I also have a couple of lines in another schlocky film made by the same company, 2010: Moby Dick. I die when my helicopter gets eaten out of midair by the titular whale.

Starting my own business is not something I ever thought I would do. All sorts of things associated with it were way outside my comfort zone - managing money, selling to people, talking on the phone a lot. But I finally got so fed up with my situation that I forced myself out of my comfort zone and started to tackle all of the things that, for so long, I had thought were unchangeable parts of my identity.

  • Gotta love the Syfy movies!! :) So, how long have you been in business? In this business? In other businesses?

We shipped our first month in August 2014, so about six months. And like I said, this is the first business I’ve ever really created!

  • Subscription boxes are really taking off these days. What are the advantages of running a subscription box like this?

Well, for me personally, I get to be my own boss. I decide when and how I work. I can do it from my laptop anywhere with an internet connection. It gives me the freedom to spend my time and energy as I like and without having to waste it on office politics or making sure I look like I’m working hard, regardless of how worthwhile that work is.

For our subscribers, the advantage is being exposed to games they might not ever come across otherwise, only because there are just so many really good games out there. It’s impossible for any single person to keep up!

As a gift, we’re great for somebody who has a board game lover in their life but can’t sink hours into researching a hobby they may not know anything about.

There are other subscription boxes for geeks out there and other ways to buy board games. But, as far as I know at least, we’re the only subscription box for board gamers. I think our hobby is fortunate that it’s at a really great size. It’s big enough that there’s always something new to discover and thousands of people sharing and creating new things. But it’s still small enough that small, independent operations can not just exist, but really thrive. I hope Game Box Monthly can serve as a way to connect people with great games and other people in ways they wouldn’t otherwise.

  • Speaking of connecting people, how do you market your business? How are people aware of what you offer?

There are a lot of things I’m still learning and marketing is definitely at the top of the list. Right now, a lot of our traffic is organic but we’ve also started running Facebook ads with some great results. In the near future, we’ll also be stepping up our social media presence.

  • In addition to upgrading your social media presence, what are your long term goals?

My main long term goal right now is personalization. Different people subscribe for different reasons - some are looking to get great deals on already popular games, others are looking to discover new games, etc. And people also have different tastes as gamers. I really want to get to the point where we can cater to each subscriber’s personal preference as much as possible. Do you really like co-op, worker placement, zombie themed games? Well, as long as there’s at least a couple other subscribers like you, we’re going to get you the best game that matches those preferences! (By the way, check out Game Box Monthly's FAQs, which explain the current process of selecting games for each person - and the way they guarantee you won't get something you already have!)

And after a certain point of growth, I think it will become possible for us to create or facilitate new and exclusive board game content - expansions, accessories, and other items exclusive to Game Box Monthly.

  • Realistically, though, I'm sure there are times when it gets overwhelming, especially for one person. What are the biggest issues you face in running this kind of business?

I don’t know if I would call them issues, but there are two things that are always weights on my mind:

  1. Subscriber happiness: Are my subscribers happy with what I’m giving them? Am I giving them the best product that I possibly can? Will they stick around for that next renewal and how can I make each month a better experience than the last?
  2. Inventory: Just getting my hands on games in time. Everything always takes three times as long as you expect. ALWAYS. And with a monthly schedule, that turnover pressure is always there. We’ve just started to get ahead of the curve a little bit on this, and I am really working to get even further as we move forward.

  • As a subscription box addict myself, I can understand those concerns. Sometimes I know I have to pause subscriptions I don't want to due to other expenses, and I know I see all the time that people are VERY impatient when there is any kind of delay. As someone who subscribes to Game Box Monthly, though, I do appreciate the emails warning of billing and shipping, so I don't have to worry about if and when something should be coming. Anyway, enough business! Let's talk gaming!! What is your favorite tabletop game? 

This is a tough one. If we’re going back prior to the new Renaissance of board games of the last few years, then it goes back to Risk for me. My friends and I would play Risk all the time in college and still do whenever we’re together. Though these days, my one friend has designed his own version of Star Trek Risk (we’re also all huge Star Trek fans) that he’s been developing and tweaking for a few years now. That’s the version we play when we’re together now and for that reason, it’s the one I can’t ever wait to play. Even though the last time we played, I was knocked out in the first 15 minutes…

If we’re talking more recent (and more official) games, then probably the Game of Thrones board game, both because it’s somewhat conceptually similar to Risk (but more intricate) and because I’m a huge Game of Thrones nerd as well. Another possibility is Arkham Horror. I love the big, complex, intricate games and I generally enjoy cooperative experiences more than competitive.

  • Those are definitely my favorite types, too, and we are massive Game of Thrones nerds here! We actually have Arkham Horror, too, and now I'll be more pushy in talking my husband into trying to play it! (We are both overwhelmed by all the elements, I admit.) So, you have a lot of experience in tabletop gaming. What’s the first game that you played?

Gosh, I have no idea. Assuming we’re skipping the Monopoly and Battleship of early childhood - it would probably be the Star Wars or Star Trek CCGs, though those were still in childhood. I’m sure Settlers of Catan was in there somewhere, though I don’t remember the first time I played that.

  • Do you also play video games? Do you have a console/platform preference?

I do, certainly. I just started replaying the Mass Effect trilogy on my Xbox. I was pretty evenly split between Nintendo and Sega growing up and I’ve had an Xbox for about the last ten years.

  • Although I will play anything, I also tend to play most of my games on Xbox. What is your favorite video game? 

I’m utterly obsessed with Kerbal Space Program, which I downloaded before it was available on Steam, so thankfully I don’t have a little counter to tell me how many hours I’ve sunk into that maddening and glorious game! I’m obsessed with space, so the fact that there is a game out there that has actually taught me how to really fly through space and land on other planets is the greatest and most addictive gaming experience I’ve ever had. I only wish it had existed when I was a kid - I might have made it further in my goal to be an astronaut.

  • Okay, as much as I could talk about video games all day, your passion and your business are all about tabletop. So, what are the five games you feel like everyone should play?

I really think it depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. It’s whatever your gaming group or your partner will get the best experience from and everybody’s taste is going to be different. Some groups can handle the backstabbing and personal betrayal in games like Saboteur and Battlestar Galactica, where others are better served with a lighter, more cooperative experience like Castle Panic.

If a person is looking for an introduction to the different major experiences in modern board games, I would suggest these:

  1. Settlers of Catan: the classic economic Eurogame. When people think of the nerdy board game experience - of buying and selling resources, of carefully deliberating over where to put this piece or that piece because of the ramifications it will have three turns later - it’s Settlers they’re imagining. The economic game is not for everybody (though it’s what I love the most) but it’s arguably the center of the board game renaissance and Settlers of Catan is the Godfather of economic games. (Also a favorite of the Green Bay Packers!)
  2. Love Letter/Coup: Either of these are a great introduction to deduction and bluffing-based games - those games where you’re racing against the other players to deduce their downfall before they deduce yours. (Our review of this game goes up tomorrow.)
  3. Splendor: Dominion is sometimes cited as the game to use to introduce people to deck building games. And even though Dominion has been around longer, I think Splendor is a tighter, simpler way to introduce someone to that game type, where the objective is to setup the best engine that then carries you to victory.
  4. Pandemic: I personally love cooperative games, where players work together towards a common goal and Pandemic is possibly the best known cooperative game out there. It’s deep, but not intimidatingly intricate (like Arkham Horror, for example) and can be legitimately thrilling. (This is one of Crafty's husband's personal favorites as well.)
  5. King of Tokyo: To be honest, dice games are not my preferred game type, but I can nevertheless see their appeal. King of Tokyo is a popular one at our game table and I always enjoy myself when we play it. Being a popular and relatively easy game to learn, it’s a great introduction to that whole particular class of games, from which a person can decide whether they want to explore that particular part of the landscape more.

  • With all that diversity and with more and more new games, what do you look for when selecting a game for Game Box Monthly?

The three things I’m constantly on the hunt for are quality, variety, and novelty. Assuming it’s a good game, I’m always looking for something totally different from what was sent last month along as many metrics as possible - theme, art style, mechanic, publisher, etc. Aside from that, I’m looking for great games that people don’t already know about. Whether they’re games that are about to be released or have just come out, or if they’re games that are great but didn’t find traction for whatever reason. In the latter case, it might’ve been because of an issue that Game Box Monthly can readily fix. For example, we recently acquired some copies of a game that wasn't a hit - seemingly because the rule book could’ve been written more clearly. After it came out and the publishers realized the situation, they rewrote the rulebook and put it online, but that can only go so far when the games are already out in the world. They couldn’t go back and put the new rulebook in the old boxes - but we can!

  • Thank you so much for joining us today, Brian. Now, before you leave, I just have one final and very important gamer question: If you could only use one mana in Magic, which would it be?

I have to confess - I never really played Magic. (Boxy is currently in a corner, crying. She'll rejoin us in a moment.) Growing up, while my friends were collecting Magic cards, I was collecting its Star Wars and Star Trek CCG cousins. Even amongst the nerds, I was a class apart. I wish I had more people to play Star Trek and Star Wars CCG with when I was growing up - if only being a nerd was as popular then as it is today!

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Brian as much as we did, and we really do recommend trying out Game Box Monthly for the gamer in your life! Remember, use OUTSIDETHEBOX to save $4 on your first month. 

We don't know if this is what Brian looks like, but this person is very happy to have Game Box Monthly. You will be, too! :)

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