November 30, 2022

5 Questions with… Tim Densham of Catastrophe Games

Brant Guillory, 11 July 2022

Catastrophe Games are a new player in the wargaming field, and had a robust presence at the past 2 Origins.  In 2022, they even partnered with us for some events in the Wargame HQ.  We snagged some time with Hellcat6 himself, owner Tim Densham, to talk about the company, as well as their latest project, Stonewall Uprising.

 

Your first couple of games have been twists on wargames, but all definitely situated in that market.  When you launched Catastrophe Games, what was your vision for the kinds of games you wanted to publish, and how did that affect the first few designs you rolled out?

I started Catastrophe Games initially as a way to get Zurmat published. I thought I had a pretty good design with it but could not see how it was going to get published by any of the other publishers due to their backlog of work and the fact that it was a modern conflict with unusual mechanics. So I just made my own company.

Once I got going I realized I probably should start publishing with some simpler designs first before trying to tackle Zurmat. Not sure if Kickstarter would take to such an unusual design as the first offering for a publisher. So then I started looking to see if there were any other designs that might be more suitable.

My parameters were the kind of games I see myself playing now as a busy middle-age dude: Games that play under 2 hours, with short rules, with fog of war.

Then I started trolling BGG… The annual wargame competitions were a gold mine for me. That’s where The Landing: Gallipoli and USS Laffey came from, along with a couple other games that haven’t been published yet. Once the first game was successfully published I started getting submissions come to me, which is where Judean Hammer and Stonewall came from.

I was also tackling the “how to publish” problem. As the operations manager for Academy Games I had a pretty good idea of what traditional (print in China, ship, distribute) looked like, and realized that could easily suck up all my available time just dealing with logistics. When I looked into Hollandspiele I saw a model that could work for me. If Blue Panther prints the game then ships it, my time involvement goes down dramatically.

The downside of course is the dramatic cost difference between printing overseas and domestically. However, this was the only model that would work with my available time commitment.

My goal is that in about 4-5 years I can stop working full time for the Army National Guard as a contractor for Northern Strike and instead be dedicated to Catastrophe Games.

 

With all that said about your vision for what you’d like to publish, how did Stonewall Uprising fit into that plan, and how’d you decide to run with it?

I like to make the distinction that Catastrophe Games publishes historical games, not wargames exclusively. Therefore Stonewall Uprising fits in that wheelhouse. We also have a game coming soon about a failed attempt at finding the Northwest Passage, Lonely Cairn, so that distinction will be made more clear as time goes on. Very likely though that most of our games will be about conflict, so wargames will not be going away.

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 click images to enlarge

 

So Stonewall Uprising is already live on Kickstarter.  Where have you seen the greatest successes with the launch so far, and where are you still hoping to make some progress with awareness and pledges?

There was a huge support from people hungry for a game about this particular issue, as seen by the day 1 funding and pledge support. I tried outside marketing for a few days, which did drive up sales, but with low margins I wasn’t actually profiting and in fact on some days lost money, so quickly ended that experiment. More previews and interviews are coming out, and there are a ton of people following the game, so hoping it will end with a big bang of pledge support.

 

Tell us a bit about the mechanics, and what inspired them?  What other games did you look at and think “hey, that’s a good idea that I can run with!” or “man, that’s close, but I want to tweak it this way…”?  Thinking ahead, what are some other conflicts you could see where these mechanics might apply?

When I first look at a game that I’m considering to publish I’m looking at 4 criteria:
1) Does it fit our parameters? (2 hour play time, fast rules)
2) Is it fun? (Are there good decisions? Do the mechanics work well once you are familiar with them?)
3) Using the Print on Demand model, can/should I make this game?
4) Is it historical enough? (Is the history involved sincere, or just a veneer?)

I guess an additional parameter is how much time am I going to have to spend to get the game published. Stonewall took a great deal of time and money to put together with original art on every card. Not sure I’m ready to do that again any time soon.

Mechanics-wise Stonewall uses deck-building along with a social tug-of-war board. This combo seems unique yet interesting, something I had not seen before. I do think this could be applied to other social conflicts in the future.

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What’s been the biggest headache in running your own publishing company so far?  What’s been the most gratifying thing about Catastrophe Games?

I have 2 huge headaches:
A) Art. Getting art done, to include the rules layout, is a huge pain. Not so much financially (Stonewall being the big exception here), but just trying to run down an artist and then the inevitable followups and editing. A ton up work.
B) Selling overseas. Our first 2 games probably had 30% of our sales from outside the US. We did not make much money, but interest from dedicated gamers overseas did help drive up our US sales as well.

Then the rules changed in the UK & EU regarding crowdfunding and VAT. In addition, the rules for shipping into the UK & EU changed for Blue Panther. The long and short is that we can’t ship direct overseas anymore. So I’ve been trying to build a network of distributors/sellers overseas that don’t add tons of time for little gain and can be managed for the most part by Blue Panther. 2+ years in and I’m still trying to get a solid foothold into Asia.

Without question the most gratifying thing is seeing a completed game showing up at my doorstep, knowing that I was directly responsible for making that happen. Pretty cool feeling.
The response to our games has been gratifying as well. Of course I never intend to publish crap games, but each time you publish a game you always wonder how it will be received by the public. So far both anecdotal and subjective (BGG ratings) responses have been quite positive, so I’m pleased with that as well of course.

Finally, at the personal level, finding out my design, Zurmat, has been used at both the US Naval Academy and at the Command and General Staff College has been quite an honor as well.

 

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Don’t forget, there are bonus questions from all of our interviews that we set aside for our Patreon supporters – just one of the perks of joining our Patreon!  See what else Tim tells us from behind-the-scenes at Catastrophe Games.


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Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

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