Small Business: Board games - Julia Schiller

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Local games designers Julia Schiller (l) and Amanda Milne with some of their creations. Photo / Supplied
Local games designers Julia Schiller (l) and Amanda Milne with some of their creations. Photo / Supplied

Julia Schiller, board game designer with Amanda Milne - they operate under the SchilMil Games label. Top games include Komodo, Raid the Pantry and Kenakalan.

Komodo has won two awards from the New Zealand Games Association and was recognised as a top educational game by an American reviewer. She talks to Gill South.

Why board games are fun

The board and card games I most enjoy are like a microcosm of life itself that is more orderly, satisfying and fair than reality. Age, gender, looks, wealth and connections have no impact on your fate: it's mainly up to your brainpower.

Everyone follows the same rules, which guide your interactions. Unseemly gloating is impolite, but among adults, it's perfectly acceptable to wallop your opponents.

After all, it's just a game, and the loser can always blame bad luck. For all participants, there is usually at least the satisfaction of having achieved a concrete goal like managing to connect Copenhagen to Constantinople by train in Ticket to Ride or growing a settlement to a city in Settlers of Catan.

Euro games

Growing up, I played many games with my parents, especially card and word games such as Pinochle, Hearts, and Boggle. As an adult, I discovered Euro games. With their detailed artwork and usually wooden pieces, these games are pleasing to the eye and hand. I also like that no one gets eliminated before an end point is reached and that you often have to cooperate as well as compete with your fellow players.

Test your game

With my friend from Mensa games nights, Amanda Milne, we began on two working game prototypes. We started testing them, first in our circle, eventually with strangers at board gaming events. Encouraged by their reception, we formed a company and researched how to have them published.

SchilMil Games

Today, there are three card and board games on the market under our SchilMil Games label: Komodo, Raid the Pantry and Kenakalan.

Our games are now available at over 30 retail outlets and online stores in New Zealand, including the three Auckland Whitcoulls Kids Stores, six Toyworld locations nationwide and Te Papa. In August, just three months after its introduction, Komodo won New Game of the Year and Children's Choice awards from the New Zealand Games Association.

Our next challenge

Since we handle distribution in New Zealand ourselves, Amanda and I now spend much of our time making sales calls, managing relationships and record keeping: all necessary tasks, but not as enjoyable for us as game design.

For SchilMil to grow to be a viable business, we will need to both expand our product line and find additional channels for overseas sales. Australia is a logical target, and we will attend Melbourne's annual toy fair in March with the goal of finalising an arrangement with at least one distribution partner there. We have just started working with a business mentor to help us articulate and clarify our goals and nut out more specific issues.

The rewards

What I savour most is the laughter and enjoyment I see people experience from playing our games. My personal long-term goal is to achieve the industry's ultimate recognition, a German prize called the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year). I've always been proud of my German heritage, so winning it (and as part of a two-woman design team, which would be novel) would be especially gratifying.

See here for an online video on Komodo Game.

Next week: the Christmas rush - for many SMEs this is the busiest time of the year. How have you prepared yourself for the silly season? What did you learn from last year? Email me, Gill South at the link below with your stories:

- NZ Herald

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