Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Outrider: My First Print On Demand Experience

I've been buying PDFs from the likes of RPGNow / DriveThruRPG and printing them at home for a few years now, but recently I took the plunge and decided to order my first Print on Demand (PoD) product.  Being based in the UK, I've always been reticent to use the PoD option as the costs have been quite high to have things printed in the US and shipped to the UK, but a couple of things made made me take the plunge.
  • I had an interesting conversation with the CEO of OBS, Steve Wieck, via his blog OneBlogShelf, which re-energised my passion for making games.  I've had a few ideas for card games in the past and so this was a great opportunity to try out the PoD option particularly with respect to cards.
  •  Another advantage of OBS was that I could convert some of the proceeds from my own product sales into credit with which to purchase the PoD copy of the Outrider cards
  • Following the recent launch of DriveThruCards, a One Book Shelf (OBS) site which specialises in printing card games, I discovered Outrider, an auto duelling tabletop game by Dice Fest Games which featutures an innovative movement/manoeuvre mechanism using cards.  I'm a sucker for post apocalyptic road racing games and sook took advantage of the Launch Discount and got the whole PDF + POD Cards for £17.04 including delivery.

What Makes Playing Cards so Special?

I've made my own cards in the past for things like my DM's Decision Deck and My Item Cards and whilst I'm really happy with the results from my own prints there are a few things unique to playing card printing which are pretty insurmountable for the Print-at-Home (PaH) user.

Double Sided Printing - The major advantage of PoD over PaH is that you get access to commercial grade print technology Yes with a little lot of trial and error you can get pretty good results, but you will never match commercial printers which use registration marks for alignment.

Print / Paper Quality - Home printers have come on in leaps and bounds but there is no escaping that with every incremental increase in quality you have an exponential increase in cost.  High grade papers are really pricey and tend to drink ink like a vampires drink blood.  If you want a photo quality result you have to suffer that slightly tacky feel which as you can imagine does not make for good playing cards.  Casino's are very particular about their casino quality cardstock which has a very high opacity preventing stopping people seeing the card values through the substrate.

Cutting - Several cards are usually printed on a single sheet and unlike books are not bound together before guillotining.  I've had some great results at home, but inevitably you do end up with cards either not having precisely the same dimensions or being gaffed in some way.

What You Get

The Outrider download consists of 8 files; the rules, a scenario booklet, a series of optional Terrain Tiles and 5 files of cards, counters and dashboards.  The printed cards which will be delivered to you from the printer consist of:
  • 18 x Manouevre cards.
  • 8 x Vehicle cards (double sided 16 vehicles in total).
  • 8 x Dashboards (double sided 1 for each vehicle).
  • 15 x Counter cards (require cutting up before use).
  • 3 x Range Cards (double sided single/double fire lanes).
  • 1 x Turn Order/Control Loss Reference Card.
  • 1 x Lucky/Second Wind car.

A sample of the 54 different cards contained in the deck

I would have preferred to have multiple sets of the manoeuvre cards included in the PoD element rather than the included tokens.  Personally, I find thicker cardstock counters are easier to pick up during play and would have been happy to do a little bit of DIY before being able to play.  Similarly the included Dashboards and Vehicle cards are double sided meaning that you can only play one of each style of vehicle unless you print your own duplicates.  At the end of the day you have all the files necessary in the PDF element so it's not too much of a hassle to print additional cards.

From the point of order it took about 12 days for my order to arrive, which is pretty good considering that it has to be processed, printed and delivered to the UK.  I suspect that if a UK printer/distributer  could be sourced this time lag would be greatly reduced.

A really nice poker style plastic card box was supplied for free (sadly, mine had a little crack in the lid)

The cards come cellophane wrapped, with a nice plastic poker style protective case.  Print quality is superb with a nice glossy finish.  Although the cardstock used was nice enough, it is slightly thinner in weight to regular playing cards.  This may become an issue in the future as I'm not confidentt it will stand up to normal gaming wear and tear from a bunch of hamfisted boardgamers.

How did the costs stack up

As I mentioned before, the discounted price for the PDF and POD Cards was £17.04 (which includes USPS First Class postage to the UK at £6.73) which compares favourably with say a Fantasy Flight Silverline game such as Bruno Faidutti's Citadels.  The cost of postage from the US to the UK is a significant proportion of the price (almost 40%).  This is of course largely out of the hands of either the printer or OBS and is the one issue which needs to be overcome if PoD as a concept will become generally accepted.

Final Thoughts

For me although the cost was comparable to a mass printed card game, the quality of the cardstock was a little dissapointing.  I also hope that the guys at OBS can source some UK based printing companies to add to their cadre of US ones.  This would certainly go a long way to making me choose PoD as a viable alternative to just buying from one of the big games manufacturers.  At the moment it's a bit of a 50/50 choice, which will most likely be decided by how much I lust after a particular game or not.

I have yet to actually play the game, so stay tuned for a follow up review.

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