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THE ZONE RPG

Created by Raphael D'Amico

A tabletop rpg of surreal play-to-lose horror for 1-6 players In The Zone, you and your friends will take characters wracked with phobias & obsessions on a one-way trip into a dangerous place full of beauty, horror, and creative mutation. The fun of the game is taking turns flipping cards full of weird locations, scenes, and complications, and telling the story of how they push your characters towards each of their *inevitable* deaths. In the Zone, the mutations you face are created together, drawn from your character’s worst fears and deepest wishes. → More info here!

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Final reminder - Orders locked in 48 hours
4 months ago – Thu, Oct 26, 2023 at 09:32:50 AM

Hello friends!

Just a swift reminder that THIS SATURDAY I'll be locking orders and charging cards for shipping & any upgrades, so this is your last chance to make any changes. 

(Just in case: here is how you access your BackerKit)

What happens next?

  •  Next few days. GPI finishes manufacturing & assembling The Zone.
  •  ~6-7 November. Over 9000kgs of The Zone will be loaded onto a truck at GPI's factory in Foshan and travel the ~100 miles or so to Hong Kong, to the warehouse of our shipping partner, Floship.
  • In parallel, I take all the completed orders (i.e. valid address & card) and send them to Floship. 
The last leg before shipping
  •  Week of the 10th. Floship works their magic. Once each copy is mailed out, you'll receive tracking numbers and get to watch your copies of The Zone fly their way across the world to you.

I. Am. So. Excited. 

Wild to see the final production in my living room.

Please message me if you have any questions at all! And I can't say it enough—this literally wouldn't be possible without you!

Wishing you beauty & horror,

—Raph

Big Update - Orders will be locked & charged *Sat October 28th*
4 months ago – Sun, Oct 15, 2023 at 02:21:41 PM

Hello friends!

It's nearly time! The first items have rolled off the production line (I'll be getting a  copy any day now!), and will be loaded onto a truck to our fulfillment partner in the next 3-4 weeks.

That means:

  •  Order addresses will lock on October 27th. You have until then to make sure I have the correct address in BackerKit. 
  •  Shipping & VAT will also be charged October 27th. Final shipping estimates are below (not including Duties  & VAT).  

📦 If you want to see your exact costs, including Duties & VAT, please log in to your BackerKit. Though I have little control over this part of the process I've tried to keep costs as low as I can. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway 😄) that if for any reason these final costs are a hardship to you, it's not a problem at all to refund or go to a different pledge level.

To keep things simple (it is after all just me coordinating all this), I've grouped all costs into a few regions.

A few notes about shipping

My original plan was to ship The Zone in two legs—first by boat to local distribution centers, then a second leg of local fulfillment. This is how most games are shipped. But the combo of Christmas season + general continuing post-COVID logistical nightmares meant this could have delayed the game into February or even March, and also added quite a bit of additional risk! 😱

Instead, we will be airfreighting the game directly from Hong Kong. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this kept costs quite comparable for North America, but significantly lower than expected for Europe & Asia! This was an especially nice surprise given that shipping around Xmas time in general always bumps costs quite a bit.

And it's way faster!  ✈️ 1-2 weeks instead of 🚢 3-4 months!

That said, this change of strategy means I underestimated US shipping for the CONTAINMENT edition. The extra weight & size of the Nanuk case & poster makes all the difference, and things have continued evolving since the original estimate a year ago. In the end, the cost for me will be in the range of $55-60 due to how large & heavy it is, but I will cover the difference. That said, I know $29.50 is still a little more than the estimated upper bound of $25, and I hope it's OK! 

This is all a good learning for the next game. I was expecting the CONTAINMENT edition to be something perhaps only a few dozen people backed. It's truly a joy to be able to send nearly 600 of them around the world, but also a humbling lesson in the difficulties of shipping physical atoms! 

(And for backers in Canada, here's your moment of Zen: Nanuk cases are manufactured in Quebec! They were palletized, shipped 🚢 to China, charged import tariffs & VAT, combined at the factory in Shenzen with the game & glowsticks, only to come right back at you. Talk about a round trip!)

My own moment of zen is a real sense of wonder at how many places The Zone is about to ship to. Never thought this little game would land on so many doorsteps!

57 countries!

Big Bad Con

Just a quick note about Big Bad Con—what a joy to get to meet a fair few of you there! There were *five* games of The Zone run by me and three others (to my delight, two of the twist authors ran games, though neither ran their own Twist!)

  •  Aaron A. Reed (author of the Phaeton Station twist) ran his brilliant hack "Chocolate Factory" hack, based on the idea that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fits all the horrific criteria of a Zone. (we'll be bringing to the digital version soon!) 
  •  Amber Autum Faebrooke ran "Indoors", a House of Leaves Inspired Twist by Suzanne Schenewerk that you'll all be receiving. (Amber Autumn wrote the brilliant "Alive", where you descend into the gullet of a living pit.
  •  Dan Shimizu did something really cool! He printed custom character sheets, but otherwise pulled up the digital version on a large TV, creating a kind of high tech mission control version of the game. What an awesome way to combine analogue and digital!

I ran the base game, using the very first approval sample (from the last update.) I won't lie, it was incredible to finally get to use the final materials! 

One of the 5 games that people ran at Big Bad Con

To recap: orders lock & cards are charged October 27th! 

⚠️ Please make sure everything in BackerKit is as you want it before that date. I will not be able to ship the game to you unless I have a completed address & final shipping costs successfully charged. ⚠️ 

REMINDER: All instructions for how to log-in to BackerKit are here

And I haven't touched on all the other things that have been going on to get this over the line. Excited to get you your games soon, and as always let me know if you have any questions!

Cheers!

—Raph

August Update - Final proof approved & manufacturing is underway
6 months ago – Sat, Sep 09, 2023 at 10:31:26 AM

Hello friends! Let's cut right to the awesomeness—the final "tooling sample" made its way to me, was approved, and manufacturing is getting underway with a deadline of the mid/end of October. 

Check it out! I'm thrilled with it.  

But hold up—"What is a tooling sample", you ask? It's a test print of every part of the game, painstakingly assembled by hand at the factory with final materials. The colors and tolerances are not exactly representative of the final production because it's printed on different machines, and then everything has to be cut, folded, glued, and assembled by hand. But it's accurate enough for approval. 

So, it's a step in the manufacturing chain, but to me it's more than that. It's the first time—after five years of work!—that I can hold the final game in my hands (hence why they're just a little bit shaky in the video above.) Now The Zone is on my gaming shelf, and soon will be on yours!

Whoah!

Shipping will be charged around the start/mid October

You should expect cards to be charged 4-6 weeks from now, with the game shipping out shortly after. I'm working with my fulfillment partner Floship to decide on final shipping speeds & costs. Should be in line still with what I mentioned in the Kickstarter. 

VAT & Duties. I'm nearly there on this. Floship is rolling out a new tool in September (just in time!) that we'll be using to assess and charge these amounts. Thank you for bearing with me on this—I've been waiting until I can provide accurate numbers.

I will send out another reminder 2 weeks and also immediately before. That will be your last call to fill out your BackerKit surveys! (If you're holding out because you're waiting for final shipping & VAT costs I totally understand, just keep an eye out for these reminders.)


Big Bad Con

I will be at Big Bad Con Sep 28-Oct 1. There are five games of The Zone being run, including a couple Twists. If you're coming please come say hi!

And that about covers it for this month! I'm steeling myself for a tremendous amount of logistical work next month to get you all your copies, and some fun design work updating TheZoneRPG.com with all the final graphics. 

One last thing I'd love to know—have you had a chance to play the Print & Play? I'd love to hear your stories! 

Until next time! 😄🎉

—Raph

July Update - Print & Play is out!
7 months ago – Sat, Aug 05, 2023 at 12:44:13 PM

Hello friends—big updates this month!

Print & Play!

The button has been pressed! Backers of the DIGITAL tier and above, you should have an email from BackerKit with a link to the 1.0 of THE ZONE’s Print & Play edition! (Search for "New Digital Content for THE ZONE RPG on BackerKit" in your email inbox—let me know if you can't spot it.)

You’ll have:

  • The Operation Manual
  • The Book of Mutation
  • The Book of Twists
  • All 248 cards (Printer friendly)
  • Character sheets
  • Tips for how to prep the materials

I’m glad to finally bring this to you! (And apologies for it taking a little longer than I’d promised.) 


As always, interesting learnings

Prepping these materials was a surprisingly intricate process. Good design is entirely contextual, and I'd spent the last year obsessing about the version of the game that would be produced on gigantic offset printers, with a constraint of being playable right out of the box (no printing!)

Going back to digital/print & play meant adapting back to a different set of constraints—home printers often needing large non-printing margins around each side of the page, targeting US standard 8.5x11" paper and the A4 size common in the rest of the world, and not consuming too much ink. I also know many of you will be using the books on your laptops, so I wanted to make sure everything was hyperlinked and searchable.

Most of all, most of last year’s game design time was spent developing the Character, Motivation, and Callsign cards precisely so folks wouldn’t have to print anything out to play! I love those cards and how quickly they allow players to get started right out of the box, but I also know from how long it takes to print & prep 248 cards (I've had to do it many times for prototypes.) I decided to take a little extra time to update the Character Sheets now instead of waiting for the final release, so you could use them immediately. 

Use the booklet instead of Character, Motivation, and Callsign cards

I love these little booklets! They save a lot of paper, are rather fun to hold, and mean you need to print and cut out about half the number of cards. They also hold over twice as many Phobias & Obsessions as I could print cards for—including some tailored specifically to each character.

But there's space for more! The original lists evolved organically, through play and playtests, and I hope the same will happen with these ones. 

If you come up with Phobias & Obsessions you love, and you'd like me to include them in the table of examples for other players—drop me a line!


What about the other editions? 

We are slightly behind schedule (~1 month), but moving along in the excellent hands of the manufacturer. I will be looking for any and all ways to make up lost time, and will keep you posted if there is a new ship date.

The next hugely exciting milestone—expected in the next week or so—is getting what’s called a “Tooling sample”, which is a 100% complete print of the game, printed on slightly different machinery but otherwise showing perfect sample of what the final product will be.

Holding it in my hands will be a heck of a feeling, y’all. I’ll send pics 💖 

Then we’ll be entering the period where updates will be painfully uneventful, as it’s mostly waiting, exchanging logistical emails, and keeping things moving. During that time I’ll be mostly figuring out the logistics. 

📦 When will shipping be charged? The tooling sample is the first time we'll have an accurate basis to start calculating the postage, so I'll be working with Floship (our distribution partner) to create those estimates, and I'll get you that info as soon as I can. I know it's on a lot of your minds—especially for folks in the EU who I know are worried about VAT. 

🤔 Aside—what were some of the things that you hadn't accounted for, Raph?

I wrote back in the March update "There's always a possibility of something else I haven't accounted for, but at this point it feels like the project is just converging rapidly." I thought it would be interesting to share what some of those "something else" turned out to be—turns out there's always something!

Physical samples take time to turn around (a.k.a. the "You've been spoiled by Amazon Prime delivery" rule). After a bunch of research (with calipers), I asked for an other paper sample from the factory, thinking it would be a quick tweak. That alone took two weeks to make its way from China through to Massachusetts to be inspected by my production managers, and then to come to me in California. Even once I'd approved the new paper stock it took about a week to commit that new change into the system, because there are some very important steps the factory uses to prevent mistakes (approvals, paperwork, getting a new invoice calculated, etc...) It's been good to reset my intuition here. 

Nanuk cases 💌 Chinese customs. I can now cross "Have several pallets of Nanuk cases get stuck in Chinese customs" off my bucket list (hell yeah.) This got handled pretty quickly, but I did lose a bunch of time learning about import/export VAT (wish me luck getting a partial rebate on some of the manufactured items that are re-exported) while I was supposed to be finishing other things. 

[⚠️ Warning, maximum graphic design nerdiness incoming ⚠️] 

File prep with special inks. I'd built in some back & forth time to get print files prepped, but even so the asset pipeline took quite a bit more time to figure out than I was hoping. I make all my files in Figma, which is a brilliant tool but is optimized for *digital* design—all RGB. Pretty easy to convert to CMYK, but I hadn't accounted for the complexity of spot colors. I had to develop a workflow where I split my Figma frames into multiple layers, exported separately, then reassembled them into the appropriate channels in Photoshop. It was... involved.

It's funny: I've been designing digital and print products in various forms for almost 20 years, but I continue to find new ways to be surprised. I suppose none of us are truly immune to Kahneman & Tversky's Planning Fallacy.


Whew.

As a reminder, I’ll be at Big Bad Con at the end of September and very much hope to see you there! Otherwise it’s heads down, keep calm, and carry on.

In the meantime, I can’t express just how excited I am to get you the game in printable form. I hope you have an amazing time with it!!! 

When you play, I dearly hope that you’ll drop me an email at [email protected], or pop into the Discord and share your stories! There’s nothing more exciting than seeing people people have a good time.

Until next time my friends!

—Raph

June Update - We are on the rails
8 months ago – Thu, Jul 06, 2023 at 09:31:07 AM

Hello friends!

Updates are about to get a lot more boring—we are now on the road to production! The print assets have been with GPI (our printer) since June 19th. I'm now joining you in what I'll call the long wait.

Can I dream now? Yes, honey. I think we both can.

Here's the timeline:

  •  🖼️ (This week) Digital proof. Confirms that all assets have been properly prepared by the factory
  •  📚 (Mid/End of Jul) Physical proof approval. This will be a major milestone—what I receive will be what will be printed. This also gives me ~final weight/dims to estimate shipping.
  • 🔁 ... hopefully no step here, but if there are any problems with the physical proof, we repeat the above 
  • 🏭 (Aug-Sep) Production! 
  •  🚚 (End of Sep) Delivery to Floship. Truck from Shenzen ➡️ Hong Kong. 
  • 🚢 (Oct) Shipping! 

We are using Floship for fulfillment because they have a tight partnership with GPI and a global network of warehouses, which I hope will keep costs down and make sure everything goes smoothly. (🤞 Crosses fingers.) 

What does that mean for exactly when you'll receive your games? Ocean freight is slow. I've been told that it will likely take 60 days or so from when it rolls off the production line at GPI to get to your door, but it could be a little faster, or a little slower. All I know is that I'll be spending the fall staring anxiously at the tracking dot of the container ship, and keeping you all as up-to-date as I possibly can, and if there are ways to speed things up you'll hear it here first.

Raph, when will you charge my card for shipping?

A few of you have asked exactly when addresses will be locked and cards will be charged for shipping. This will happen a few weeks before the end of the production run, so likely sometime in September.

I'm hoping to have exact shipping costs (especially for Europe) before then, as I know some of you have been asking for that before finalizing your orders. The only thing holding me back there was a final production timeline and product size/weight, as Floship needs that to get me final estimates. I will post an update as soon as I have that!

It's wild to go from such intensity to forced stasis

I'd heard about this moment from other game designer friends, but I gotta say—it's a bit rough!

The last two weeks before art submission were a flurry of editing. Months of writing. Then almost every day for 2 weeks, I printed out the entire book, walked to my favorite coffee shop to mark everything up with a red pen, went home, then applied all the edits in InDesign. Last minute playtesting revealed rough edges and sharp burrs: subtle inconsistencies in the placement of labels on the cards; an unexpected interaction between the "Thank You" card and a similar looking card that served a completely different purpose; ways in which the naming of the setup section of the book made playtesters ignore a key piece of information. None of these were gamebreaking problems, but like the finish at the end of a construction job, it felt important to clean them up. Of course, that last bit of sanding down caused subtle knock on effects, each time introducing new typos that I'd have to catch in the next caffeinated round of release candidate proofreading.

Over the last few months, superfluous bits of content had crept into the cards—additional "optional" labels and references, little flourishes. A big lesson here—everything communicates. Everything you add interacts with everything else, and adds cognitive load. It felt great to take a machete to these little offshoots. We won't miss them!

My biggest tip from the whole process? I found an InDesign plugin called TextExporter that allowed me to export all 31,000 words of content from the three books to a rich text file, then I uploaded it to Google Docs. Google's spellcheck is truly a fully operational proofreading battle station—all I wish is that I'd done that at the start of the process rather than the end! (Thank you to my good friend Adrian Marple for the tip 🙏) 

In the end, my production manager at GPI had to pry the damn thing out of my still-typing-and-making-tweaks-hands. I'm so grateful that she did, but there's a real depression that kicks in when you finally let go. This has been such a huge part of my life since 2018, and it's weird to not wake up and be chipping away at it every day in the same way!

Oh but of course there's still a ton to do

My top priority is to get the game to you all—but here are some of the next few items on my list:

  • A few days of much needed vacation
  • Getting the Digital print-and-play sorted and shipped. (Apologies for the slight delay here—the final proofreading was astoundingly more intense than expected. I am still reforming from the ashes.) 
  • Get "close to final" shipping estimates
  • Finalizing post-Kickstarter logistics / fulfillment
  • Figuring out who to send press copies to
  • Updating the digital version of the game at Play.TheZoneRPG.com
  • Updating the website and setting up the online store
  • General company & tax stuff (so much paperwork to look at...)

Shipping a game isn't the end of the journey. It's very much the beginning.

Thank you my friends!

Now we wait together. At this point I am truly as impatient as you are to get my copy—and to make sure you get yours!

—Raph

(PS — Here's that link to the BackerKit info again)