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Ep#06 Mindbug: Raising $800,000 & Joining Forces w/ a Gaming Legend

In this episode of our podcast, we dive into the world of crowdfunding for board games with Marvin Hegen, the mastermind behind the popular board game Mindbug. Listen as Marvin shares his experiences running two successful crowdfunding campaigns, including the challenges he faced and the feedback he received from users—even the advice he wishes he hadn't pursued.

We also delve into the fascinating fact that one of his collaborators, a board game legend behind some of the most popular games ever, is related to a former US president AND the inventor of the paper clip.

Check out Mindbug here and their latest Kickstarter here.

Full transcript below:

George: [00:00:00] My name is George and I used to work at Kickstarter, and currently I help creators run successful campaigns with my companies YG and fantastic funding. Today on the show we have a really exciting guest. His name is Marvin Hegen. He's the creator of the Mindbug Series and the founder of Nerd Lab Games and the podcast.

George: His two projects raised over $800,000 combined from over 16,000 backers. He has been nominated for several awards and he works with a great grandson of a US president. So there's a lot of things to get into today. Welcome, Marvin.

Marvin: Thanks for having me.

George: Before we dive into the project and the game, could you share a little bit about yourself?

George: Where are you from and what's your background?

Marvin: Sure. I'm from Germany. And my background is actually in economics and computer science. So I have been for most of the time I have been working in the consultant area for [00:01:00] digitalization and stuff like that. But I've always been a gamer.

Marvin: I've been playing magic, the gathering in my childhood. I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons all the time, and I always loved to create stuff to be creative. And I al always wanted to combine that with my love for economy and I therefore created several startups in my life.

Marvin: And a few years ago, I made the decision that I really wanted to create a game because that's my real passion. And that's when I started the Nerd Lab Games podcast because I wanted to share my story of being just a gamer to becoming a game designer and a games publisher.

Marvin: That was a few years ago and then I have been working mostly on the game Mindbug that we published. You mentioned it via Kickstarter. We had two very [00:02:00] successful campaigns with it and. It was a long journey. It took me a few years to get from just a gamer to a game designer.

George: I think a long time is very relative. I think most people, if you tell them, you went from just a gamer to, doing probably in the millions of dollars with these games. In two years. I think it's not a long time for a lot of people.

Marvin: I mean, it feels much longer if you're in that process. And it has been longer than two years. The two Kickstarter campaigns now have been two years, but there was a lot of development for the game going on before that and I think I started the podcast in something like 2018 around then. And if you start something with five listeners also, and you do it for a year and you still have I don't know, then maybe 10 listeners.

Marvin: It feels like a long journey, but actually if I look back at it, yeah maybe five years.

George: Let's dive into the game itself. You have Mindbug, moment of contact, right? And [00:03:00] now you have the latest campaign that just closed. Can you give the listeners a little bit of an idea of what the game is about and what this universe revolves around?

Marvin: Mindbug is a dual link card game. And it was created by Christian Kuda and myself initially. And our core idea was that we love all the different trading card games. Like Magic, the Gathering and Christian was a bit more into Hearthstone and Epic and a lot of other card games, and we wanted to create a similar experience. So we looked at the strength and the feeling that these games create and wanted to keep that, but we wanted to make it much simpler, much more accessible, and we wanted to get rid of some of the flaws of these games.

Marvin: I think we did a very good job with Mindbug because the result is a game that only consists of creatures.

Marvin: And [00:04:00] it's just one deck. We got rid of the trading card aspect of a lot of those games. So you don't need to buy booster packs and get this feeling of a loot box. It's like you buy one, you buy, but one copy and you can play with with two people right away. And you have everything that you need.

George: It's German simplicity at its best.

Marvin: Yeah. So that's correct. And you shuffle the deck, you draw 10 cards and you are good to go. No deck building just creatures. And you try to defeat your opponent. And the promise that we give is, with those 10 random cards you get, you will get the same feeling like with a fully flown 60 card trading card game deck.

Marvin: Cause we kept all the things that are really cool and fun and got rid of resource systems that don't work sometimes and stuff like that.

George: I want say thank you because I have such a problem with games with. I have adhd. Reading through the first page of a manual is a struggle for me.

George: And this game, it's so [00:05:00] nice and simple to understand. There's a number on each of the cards, correct me if I'm wrong here. And you can have, for example, one creature that can defeat a creature that has a number, for example, lower than six. And so if you can count to 10 and you can read, you can play this game.

George: And I think it's brilliant.

Marvin: Yeah that's correct. But it may sound super simple and boring to some players that know these game, that know these games. And therefore I would like to make a point that there is still a lot of depth in this game because we have a simple mechanic.

Marvin: And this is, these are the mind box. So each player has two mind box at his or her disposal. And when the opponent plays a creature, it could be the strongest creature in the whole game with Power of 10, for example. The opponent could play in the first turn. And what the Mindbugs do is they allow you to steal an opponent's play twice a game.

Marvin: When you play a card, you really need to think about whether you [00:06:00] can beat your own card or not. Otherwise your opponent might steal it with a Mindbug and you now face your own threat. And this little element, it sounds super simple, but it gave us so much flexibility in creating these cards because we only need all of our creatures are super strong and powerful because you always have the risk that the opponent steals it from you.

Marvin: So it's very tactical. It's very deep. While still being super fun.

George: It's so good. And I think it really resonated with, people all over the world. Clearly with your first campaign did, how much was it?

Marvin: We had more than 10,000 backers and it was like $350,000.

George: Must have been an incredible moment as well for you starting as a game fan, like what did it feel like when you saw that Kickstarter number go up and then, and when that money hit your bank account?

Marvin: It was an incredible feeling of course. We had several of those moments where we said, oh, is this real? The first moment really was when Richard Garfield, the designer of Magic Gathering, joined our design [00:07:00] team. Yes. That's he was my superhero when I was young and playing all of his different games.

Marvin: And now I'm actually working with him on a weekly basis on this game, which is, it just feels like. Super cool. Yeah. Okay. And then seeing this game being successful and getting all these positive feedback from the community, it was very satisfying as a first time publisher, of course,

George: we need to talk about Richard Garfield because obviously people in the gaming community know who he is.

George: He's the creator behind Magic the Gathering. But for those who don't know, I just, I pull up the Wikipedia and there's just this, a list of games, right? The creator of Magic Gathering worked on says Richard Garfield worked on Magic Gathering, Robo Rally, BattleTech, tcg, king of Tokyo 20, 30 more titles, and then Mindbug.

George: And he is the great grandson of a former US President, James A. Garfield. And his great uncle invented the [00:08:00] paperclip. Yes, you need to talk about it to him, about the uncle that invented the paperclip. But how did he and you get involved?

Marvin: Yeah, I invited him as a guest to the podcast that I mentioned in the beginning.

Marvin: So yeah, I set up this podcast to record my journey. And one aspect of it was I was completely new in the industry and I knew that I would only be able to. Get my foot in this door if I make connections in the industry. And therefore, I invited a lot of very successful game designers to learn from them.

Marvin: And my goal was to record those sessions. Because if you just go to anyone and tell 'em, Hey, can you help me? Can you explain me some stuff in a one-to-one? That typically doesn't work. So I gave them also an audience so that we share this knowledge, not only between the two of us, but with a larger audience with new and aspiring game designers.

Marvin: And Richard Garfield was one of those guests, which was already super cool. [00:09:00] And then at the end of the session, I asked him, Whether he would like to take a look at at a game that we have been working on. And he said, sure, of course send it over. And this is where I took a little bit of time to create a good pitch for that because I wanted it to resonate with him and that he really looks at it I made a very bold statement, and that statement was we created a mechanic that allows us to create creatures as strong and powerful as we want.

Marvin: And this mechanic automatically balances the game and we achieve that without the need of a resource system. And that was a very bold statement. His reaction was this must be an overstatement. And it actually is literally what he said it. Yes, it, that's what he said. And it, it is an overstatement, but it, I think it, he was very interested to see how what we had and if it works or not.[00:10:00]

Marvin: And most of the time it actually works. We can really create very powerful creatures and it doesn't break the game. And so we played, then we played, we met and played the game. And after the first round, he said, I'm very impressed. Can we play again? And then he still was impressed after the second or third match.

Marvin: And on the next day he sent me a message that he played dozens of games with his playgroup and his family, and he was super impressed by the replayability of just a 50 card set. And then we talked about potential cooperation and it didn't took long until he joined our design team.

George: That is incredible. It's not only incredible because you got Richard Garfield on your team. It's really incredible that the only convincing you did or didn't do is just show him the game and he, you as a first time game publisher or designer made something that he loves so much that he just wanted to join [00:11:00] that.

George: That's a huge accomplishment.

Marvin: Absolutely, and I cannot say, often enough, how much we learned from him and also from Skaff Elias who joined together with him. Yeah. We learned, so Christian and myself, we learned so much from them because they're really veterans in the industry and yeah, they added a lot of stuff to the game to make this successful.

George: What were the top lessons that you learned from them?

Marvin: There's one funny story. In the beginning, all the cards were unique in the set. And we thought it would be cool for the game that everything is unique and more stuff to explore. Every card is exciting and every other card is exciting as well.

Marvin: And so you can combine them. And then after two or three matches Richard Garfield said, okay let's copy the deck. And he copied it 16 times and we had 800 cards or so, I don't know. And we shuffled and. Then there were multiple cards [00:12:00] coming up and instead of being boring, what I would have expected, it became more interesting because there were cards that you would need to take care of.

Marvin: For example, we have a card that deals one damage to the opponent and you only have three live. So if you have this card or it was already played, you don't have to fear it. And since there now were duplicates you still have to fear it. And there were a lot of very interesting interactions with duplicates that we hadn't before in the game. And that was just a super simple change that he made. And it made the game much better in a second. And I thought, oh my God, this guy must be a genius with these simple changes. That was just one of many things he changed for the game.

George: I guess also it really helped in the promotion of the project, right? To have his name on board.

Marvin: Absolutely. It's much easier to sell a game of a very successful game designer. Especially as a publisher that publishes their first game, it's a[00:13:00] stamp of approval that maybe moves the needle for some people to buy the game when they make their buying decision.

George: And tell us about the new game. What's different, what's new? Because the first game sounds like such an evergreen I'm just really curious that what is it that you changed to be able to make a whole new game out of this?

Marvin: And that was, that was always the plan that this could be an extendable game because it's so much fun to create new cards to experience new cards, to combine old cards and new cards to create to learn new environments. Because sometimes you have to evaluate the same card very differently if you play them in a different meta game with different, with other cards. We have created two new standalone expansions where we experience with new mechanics.

Marvin: And new keywords. And they can be played completely standalone in their own environment, but they can also be mixed and matched with the old [00:14:00] cards or with each other. And yeah, they are a lot of fun because the two sets play very differently. They will probably appeal to different player groups and we just want to explore like more artifacts and more different tactics.

George: And so if this is an expansion, but that also is playable on its own, what did you see in terms of people from the first campaign backing the second one? Did you see most of the backers for the second campaign being the same ones from the first, or did you also attract

George: like a whole new audience?

Marvin: To be honest, I didn't run the complete analytics of that yet, but of course, I think the huge majority are returning backers. Yeah. And there are two reasons for that, I think if you are a new backer. So what we have seen is we have also seen our sales in our shop, for example, going up during the campaign.

Marvin: Because that's where people could buy the old version of the game. Yeah, and receive it immediately. They wouldn't [00:15:00] have to wait for the Kickstarter to deliver. So I think we attracted a lot of new players, but they bought the game. They maybe bought the base game in the in retail or in our shop.

Marvin: And some of them of course also back the new campaign. But I would say mostly returning backers for our Kickstarter campaign.

George: And so what generally is the distribution on your campaigns? If you can speak to this. Like for example, how many people come in organically? How many people come in through ads? How many people come in through Kickstarter? Did you guys track any of those metrics

Marvin: I have to say that our advertising was not as good this time for the second campaign, so I don't exactly, I didn't have the time to look into the reasons for that, but the percentage of people coming through really paid and targeted advertising was much lower than our first campaign.

Marvin: [00:16:00] But what was of course, much higher is stuff like the backers that came from our email lists, for example, and we did some updates on our old campaign. And also I think Kickstarter also sends information to old backers so that were basically the the majority where we got our packers.

George: Okay. Gotcha. And you guys work with Yello, right? On these campaigns to promote them? The ads? Yes, exactly. Why did you not choose to do your own ads? Just out of curiosity?

Marvin: We also did our own ads. So we did both, but the decision was basically time.

George: Time because you're a small team.

Marvin: Yes, we are super small team and running a campaign is very stressful and like hundreds of emails in your inbox every day. Yeah. And we just didn't have the time to track 50 different ads. Yeah. On a daily basis. Adjust them. And that's where we decided to work with a partner. In that case it was [00:17:00] Yello and I could see running it ourselves, but to be honest, someone with more experience in that space, I think can help a lot.

George: That's a very smart thing to do. So you mentioned hundreds of emails every day. You were a small team. What were some of the hardest things about running these Kickstarter campaigns?

Marvin: The second campaign was, more smooth than the first one. In the first one, we made a big mistake. And that mistake was to I don't want to say to listen to the backers because that sounds super strange. But there were some. Some very loud voices in the comments of Kickstarter and they wanted to have a change in one of our pledge levels.

Marvin: And that was, in our case, that was the box of the game, how the game is packaged. And we thought it makes a lot of [00:18:00] sense and would even cost us more money. We would give the people something more than we announced in the beginning. So we decided to change one of our, the content of one of our levels.

Marvin: We thought it was an upgrade, we would receive like hundreds of nice comments. But it turned out to be like 50% want that change and the other 50% won't. And that is the worst thing that can happen because you have a hundred percent of people that are unhappy and that are arguing with each other in the comments and with you.

Marvin: And that was very stressful for us because we first said we make the change and then we wrote it back and it, for us, it felt like a shit storm. But it actually, it really, it wasn't a real shit storm, but It was very stressful for us to get this situation under control.

George: The good thing about the situations though is that people are clearly very engaged with your project and care so much, right? But so your advice to creators who are going through this would be, don't [00:19:00] necessarily listen to the loudest voices, just listen to the most voices.

Marvin: Yeah. We value their input a lot. And I don't even say that they were wrong with what they requested. However, if you look at the number of comments you get in a Kickstarter campaign and the number of backers, you will see that 90% of people don't write a comment at least.

Marvin: And those people might be super happy with what you offer. But as a first time, Creator, you might get super nervous and worried by a small percentage of people that are unhappy with something, and of course you need to handle them, but never forget that there are a lot of people that don't write comments and don't raise their voice probably because they are happy with what you're offering.

George: Oh man, that is such solid advice. I really wish every creator would hear this, because we see that a lot and it's it makes sense, right? Like you freak out at every negative thing you freak out because you want do everything right and you want make everyone happy. And I guess it's just like in real life, like [00:20:00] sometimes you just, you can't make everyone happy, right? Not everyone is your friend. So that makes a ton of sense.

George: Speaking of your first Kickstarter campaign, how did you learn how to do a campaign. Like how did you prepare for that? Where did you find the information to, to just come bursting out the gates with such a successful campaign?

Marvin: We had multiple resources of people talking about their campaign. Jamey Stegmaier is a very good resource. Who did a lot of Kickstarter campaigns in the early days for Stonemaier Games, his publishing company, and he has a blog with a lot of advice and we went through all of it and created plans and also we gave Barrett from Board Game Design Lab. He has I think a PDF with advice for board game Kickstarter publishers and we read a lot of that and we used our, yeah, our existing knowledge about marketing staff, which we had from other, from [00:21:00] our daily business or daily jobs.

Marvin: And yeah, created a plan and a strategy and for us, the most important part in the first Kickstarter campaign was to get reach because. We are not one of the, these big publishers with like hundreds of games under our belt and with like email lists with thousands, over thousands of people.

Marvin: So we try to get our game out to as many reviewers as possible. And we had the very good advantage that we could produce the game in a beta print run. Fairly simple. It's a just a smart small card game. It's not like a 600 miniature game that costs like 200 years to produce.

Marvin: For us it's viable to send it to hundreds of people to review the game, which helps a lot to get traction.

George: That is very smart. But what I then also am curious about is those reviewers [00:22:00] have a lot of things to choose from, right? There's a lot of creators wanting their attention. So you guys got great reviewers. How did you make sure to stand out for these reviewers and make sure they actually did the review?

Marvin: I think this is where Richard Garfield's name helped of course, because most of them or all of them knew the name and probably know that most of his games are at least good. So that's the bottom line for Richard Garfield games, I would say.

Marvin: And that opened the door for them. That made them excited about it. And we had a little bit of a kind of attention back in 2021 after the Essen Spiel Fair, where we had a small print run and invited a lot of content producers to visit our booth, and there we had a very enthusiastic team, super hyped team.

Marvin: And we showed it to them and we convinced [00:23:00] everyone there that this is a super good game and played with them and showed them everything. And I think they took this excitement that we delivered as a team to them and brought this to their reviews. And so we got a little bit of attention early on and other reviewers listened to them and wanted to have it then as well.

Marvin: So it spiked.

George: How did you reach out to these content producers? Because again, I'm thinking you come from being a game fan to just going through these steps on your podcast. Are you literally just like googling and emailing people or did you find someone to help you with it?

Marvin: I think this game is successful because of two things. One or maybe three. One is definitely luck. You always need a little bit of luck. And, but we also put in a lot of hours of work. I literally, I had like 60 to 80 hour day job in that time.

Marvin: Prepared the Kickstarter campaign, and every night I stood I wrote until 2:00 AM in the night [00:24:00] to 50 to 100 reviewers a day every night. 50 to a hundred a day. Yes. Over a lot, over a few weeks, I would say, as a preparation for the Essen Spiel Fair. And it was just finding out the best reviewers in the world, in every country, putting them in an Excel spreadsheet. Contacting them, talk to them on a, not like a spam email, but getting in touch, making personal connections with them and yeah, sending them a prototype and or invite them to visit our booth. And that is a lot of one-to-one communication that is needed there. That costs a lot of time, but I think you have to put in that work if you want to be successful as a first time publisher.

George: Does it get easier now that you have done this successfully?

Marvin: For example, we have given away whenever we reveal a new card, we do this like a spoiler card. We give it to someone in our social media channel, and it can be a smaller [00:25:00] channel. But they get to be the get to reveal this card for the first time.

Marvin: And it was pretty hard to do it for the first card because no one knew the game and we didn't have a personal connection to a lot of those people. But now we said, Hey, you revealed the card last time. Do you want to reveal another one? And everyone said yes, sure. With a hundred percent success rate now.

Marvin: So it definitely gets easier because you have those connections and you can reuse.

George: So you send reviewers or people with an audience a card that has not yet been revealed. To the public, to the backers, and then they get the exclusive to reveal it.

Marvin: Yes. And we also make sure that when we repost it on our channels, that you cannot read the card so that all of our people on our channels need to go to their channel to read the card. So we try to give them a little bit of the spotlight that we have so that they have a good reason to do it. So it's always a give and take there.

George: You are one smart man. These are great strategies [00:26:00] about Mindbug Beyond, is there anything left to reveal today? Is there anything to share that maybe people haven't seen before? Little glimpses?