NorthStar Game Studio - March Update

Dominic Magic Tour 1998

Hi, I’m Dominic Crapuchettes, founder and lead designer at NorthStar. We’re starting a regular blog series to share insights into life at a board game company. We’ll cover a different topic for each blog, plus what we’ve been up to over the last month.

If you have any questions about game conventions, the history of NorthStar, or anything else, comment below or join Ross and me on Facebook live at 12 noon EST on Thursday, March 7th. 

First, for those new to NorthStar, I’ll briefly cover our history.

A Brief History - North Star Games

I’ve been making games since I was a kid. In 8th grade, one of my early designs got banned because too many students were playing in class! In high school, I designed a role-playing system and several games for the company I planned to start after graduation. After captaining an Alaskan fishing boat for 12 seasons, I finally dropped anchor to chase my dream.

Dominic's Fishing Boat

I started North Star Games in 2003 and quickly found success. My first hits were party games called Wits & Wagers and Say Anything, which sold 4 million copies. More success followed with Happy Salmon and the Evolution series, both of which passed half a million in sales. However, big success opened the door to big mistakes.

North Star Games was growing, but too quickly and in too many different directions. Our company lacked focus, and in all honesty, I lacked the leadership skills needed to communicate a new vision amidst a quickly changing market, two young kids, and a failing marriage. In 2017, we had 6 games nationwide at Target and 30 full-time employees, but everything started unraveling.

Satish & Dominic in Target

Instead of focusing on game design, I was buried in the work needed to run a company. When my business partner of almost 20 years lost his battle with cancer, I realized I didn’t want to run a company. I never liked running the company. I wanted to design games.

I faced a tough decision: declare bankruptcy or pour my entire life savings into rebuilding North Star Games based on everything I’d learned. Despite the risks and challenges that would lie ahead, I was not ready to let go of my childhood dream. So I ignored the advice of my sensible friends (to purchase a house) and instead pulled together a talented team for another try!

Worlds to Explore

Worlds to Explore - NorthStar Game Studio

The new NorthStar is focused on hobby games that are richly thematic, deeply strategic, and relatively easy to teach. The center of this vision is an internal studio where I can focus on game design instead of managing a complex company. I spun off everything that would pull us away from our core customers. I sold Happy Salmon to Exploding Kittens, licensed Wits & Wagers, and Say Anything to Mattel, and gave away the digital division to the person who had been running it for 7 years.

Building a publishing company around a game studio is a dream come true for me, but it also poses several problems. Fans, reviewers, and retail partners always ask when our next game will be released. All of this excitement is wonderful - it fuels our passion - but it also creates tremendous pressure to release faster.

Eila and Something Shiny

Once a game has been put into a launch timeline, it becomes increasingly difficult to change the schedule. The problem is it can be difficult to predict when a game will find a distinctive voice and get the final polish needed to become successful. As such, it’s easy to get lured into putting a game into the release timeline before it’s truly finished.

Nature Playtesting

Our old solution was to throw timelines out the window and release games based entirely on when the game was ready. That strategy works for toy stores and the mass market - half of our brands sold over 500k copies - but waiting three years between releases in Hobby is problematic. The community of hobby gamers is generally most excited about the latest release. Some people call it the cult of the new. We learned the hard way that waiting three years between releases is too long. Once your company falls off the radar, getting back into the conversation can be challenging.

Our new solution is to find and build relationships with international publishers that don’t release their games in English. We aim to bring 3 or 4 high-quality games to North America each year. This ensures we’re releasing great titles, staying in the conversation, and allowing our internal studio to craft our game designs at the highest level.

NorthStar Puppies

Journey to Nuremberg - February Update

Each February, we head to Germany for the Nuremberg Toy Fair. The first reason is to find games for the North American market and to cultivate partners who can bring our games to other countries. This year, we met with 30 publishers from around the world, including Ravensburger, Iello, Asmodee Asia, CMON Asia, Korea Board Games, Devir, and ICE Makes.

Board Game Playtesting

During the Nuremberg Toy Fair, we looked at hundreds of games releasing at Essen later this year and narrowed it down to 10 promising games. Playing these games in the office is a real highlight of my job! The rest of the month has been spent diving into conversations generated by those Nuremberg meetings. Coordinating a worldwide release for Nature in 2025 is pretty time-consuming, but we couldn’t be more excited for the future.

In other news, two puppies joined my life, and it will never be the same!

Ross with Oceans

More NorthStar with Ross

Hey folks! I’m Ross, the Marketing Manager at NorthStar. The first thing to know about me is that board games are more than my day job. They are my passion.

I post about board games in my spare time under @MoreGamesPlease. Have interviewed dozens of board game illustrators on my site and play games as often as I can. Even without my day job, board games occupy a big part of my life.

So far in 2024, I’ve logged 80+ plays of over 40 different board games, ranging from big-box legacy games like Ticket to Ride: Legends of the West to complex games like Brass: Birmingham and smaller ones like Point City. If you know where to look, there’s a game for every group and situation.

Ross's Board Game Shelves

Visiting an event like the Nuremberg Toy Fair allows us to discover new games and introduce them to you. Choosing games requires a deep knowledge of the industry, current trends, and what is right for our audience. It's our pleasure to work that out, and we hope you enjoy the results of those efforts.

Next month, we'll return with a look at some upcoming projects!

NorthStar Facebook Live

Any Questions?

If you have any questions about game conventions, the history of NorthStar, or anything else, comment below or join Ross and me on Facebook live at 12 noon EST on Thursday, March 7th. 

Join our community on Discord, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. We hope to see you there!


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