Train Heist: Designing the Ultimate Western Board Game, Part 2

By Sean_McDonald

Welcome to the second (and final) entry in my series about the creation of Train Heist! If you missed Part 1, click here to check it out. Now, let’s continue the story right where we left of!

With my new prototype ready, I took Train Heist to various playgroups and—to my relief and excitement—discovered I was getting some very positive reactions. It was then that I started considering publishing the game. But before going too far down that road, I still needed to look outside of the design aspect of the game and examine the engineering of the game. Was it too complex? Was it functional? Around this time, I decided to remove the train direction card from previous prototype iterations and start using train pieces featuring an arrow silk-screened on the side to aid players in discerning the train’s current direction. 

I also needed to come up with a solution to the newly added Train Heist Meter and Train Speed Meter, which were originally tracked via a wooden component. I decided a spinnable arrow for each meter would not only give the game a much cooler and thematic look, but also prevent a simple accidental table bump from mucking with play. After much thought, a standard plastic spinner attached to the board simply wouldn’t work, as it would have to be removable for the board to fold up. Alternately, I could have had the board printed on the reverse side, but that would leave the spinner exposed to potential damage after folding it up. In addition, it would wear on the board and potentially not have enough friction to hold in place, being no better than a wooden component. Thus, the idea for a magnet imbedded in the board came about. And it worked perfectly. I felt the game was ready at last.

But that’s when I ran into some logistical problems. As someone located in northern Canada, it was difficult to make a connection with the tabletop industry, and it was hard to justify the expense for travel just to meet a publisher. Most publishers prefer meeting in person, since not only is it the best way to present a board game, but the industry is as friendly, passionate, and sociable as you’d expect. Limited by my location and finances, I decided to attempt to crowdfund Train Heist myself. 

After much research, math, time, editing, and effort to reach my fellow gamers out there, Train Heist was successfully crowdfunded via Kickstarter in April 2015. However, only an extremely limited number of games was manufactured (1000 units), as I had not considered going much further than this. The game released a month ahead of schedule in October and over 700 copies were sent out to Kickstarter backers and late backers, and then the remaining copies were sold to the friendly local game stores in my home city.

I was shocked to discover that, despite the lack of fanfare, Train Heist was a top seller during the 2015 holiday season in all three stores that had graciously taken a chance on me, even reaching the top 10 in sales alongside some well-known games from major publishers. When one local shop owner asked if I was doing a second print run, I told him flatly, “No,” since I didn’t have the bankroll and made little profit due to the small print run and the amount of my own time I put into the game; plus, I had no distributor connections to pursue.

The store owner kindly offered to take my game with him on his trip to New York Toy Fair in 2016 and try to find a publisher for the game on my behalf. I did research on who was attending, wrote out my story, and sent a few games with him. Months passed and I forgot about it until—to my great surprise—Cryptozoic contacted me, stating they loved my game and my story and were very interested in acquiring the rights to publish the game. As you can imagine, I was elated!

Cryptozoic and I worked together based on feedback from the Kickstarter edition to refine Train Heist even further, and you can now see the final result!

After all the time and energy spent and experience gained, I wouldn’t change anything about the process of creating Train Heist. I’m very thankful Cryptozoic was there to take the game to the next level. And I’m excited to have their partnership as we try to make Train Heist part of many, many more board game collections!

Editors Note: Train Heist will be available in limited quantities at our Origins booth (#GH501) for pre-release! You will see its full release at a Local Game Store near you this summer.