We recently named our Game of the Year 2018 (Congrats Pendragon!). WargameHQ also listed the rest of our Top 15 games for 2018. That said, we haven’t named our Publisher of the Year 2018 though! Today, we are proud to announce that Hollandspiele is our Wargame Publisher of the Year for 2018.
You may know Hollandspiele from their 30+ games. Keep in mind that their library of published titles grew by an astounding 17 games in 2018. Now that’s something to be proud of in and of itself. It’s even more astounding when you consider Hollandspiele is two people. Tom and Mary.
A quick spoiler…
I’m going to spoil a secret. The secret to their success according to Amabel, “As cheesy as it sounds, it is Mary.”
She’s a secret ingredient that makes this work. She’s the one that deals with all our customers inquiry, she’s the one that that gets the blog posts looking nice and does layout in the newsletters and on a rule book, and she really takes the time to that things and to keep me on task.
What more praise could a loving husband dole out to his intelligent, capable, and remarkable wife? After all, without Mary, we wouldn’t have enjoyed not one, but BOTH of Hollandspiele’s “Supply Lines of the American Revolution.” I might add here that I caught some flak on Twitter for not including the Southern Strategy 2018 release in my Top 15 games…
I had a chance to sit down and chat with Amabel Russell about Hollandspiele and wanted to share some of her thoughtful reflections today.
“I think one of the things that sets us apart is that people know Hollandspiele as Amabel and Mary. That personal face is important for a small publisher. We are putting ourselves out there whether it’s through our little podcast, or the blog, people get a sense of who we are.” Amabel Russell
I was first aware of Hollandspiele when folks went crazy for Supply Lines of the American Revolution. As a publisher, especially a small one, it’s easy to be crowded out by the bigger names in the market. After all, some of these publishers have decades of fans, deep game libraries, marquee designers, and familiar publishing methods.
Instead, Hollandspiele has opted to find the “weird” in wargaming. Not necessarily strange mechanics or topics. Though, they have some of those too! But, as Amabel puts it, “not weird in a demeaning way. Wargamers have an appreciation for how weird history can be.” As a result, the Russells have carved a niche in this hobby for themselves by catering to this sense of weirdness.
After all, it was no sure thing that a game like An Infamous Traffic from Cole Wehrle about the opium trade and Opium Wars would sell. Instead, it was Hollandspiele’s first real taste of success. “That was the game that actually put us into the black” reflected Russell.
For most publishers, there’s a sort of opaque dealing with designers that happens behind the scenes. It’s alluded to in podcasts and interviews. Hollandspiele has, again, taken the road less travelled here by openly publishing their agreement as they attract designers.
Speaking from experience, Russell noted, “It’s not a great experience [as a designer] when a game gets published and it has been changed in some way without your knowledge.” As a result of his experience on the designer side of the equation, the Russells have worked to put designers first.
What was particularly telling, to me at least, was Amabel’s admission that she’ll put her own designs on hold to publish a contracted designer’s game. If that’s not walking the talk, then I’m not sure what is to be honest. The dedication to finding great games goes beyond just involving designers at every stage in the development of a game.
“When we are approached about a design, sometimes we end up asking the designer how Hollandspiele is the right fit to publish their game” according to Russell. This commitment to fit is important because as Russell adds:
We’re not the kind of people who would take a game and then alter it just to do so. We’re going to do develop the game and we’re going to try to present the game in the best possible light to make the best possible game. If we’re signing the game is because we want to publish that game that designer created and not, you know, alter, it
What rules out a game from Hollandspiele’s consideration?
“We are looking for two things….Will the game sell to our audience?…Are we capable of producing the game at a pricepoint people will buy?” said Russel.
Given that Hollandspiele has not shied away from sensitive subjects (An Infamous Traffic & recently This Guilty Land) these are pretty basic rules. The Russels specialize in identifying great games, making them better, and getting them turned around pretty quickly. As Amabel lamented, he was contracted for a game with another publisher in 2012, but it was going to be two-years before a developer could get to it. That’s a long wait.
Instead, Hollandspiele is well aware of their business model. “If we can publish 5 games a quarter, then we’re going to be able to keep doing this. We haven’t quite hit that yet, but sometimes a game exceeds our projections and that makes up for games we don’t publish or games that missed our projection.” said Russel. This assuredness and straightforward business model mean that the Russels can focus on getting games out the door.
With regard to taking on future sensitive topics, Russell simply said that their expectation is designers take the subject-matter seriously and handle it with respect. That’s a powerful statement given the backlash that Academy Games faced over Freedom: The Underground Railroad back in 2012 when it was released.
The Russels have a solid grasp on the nuance of sensitive topics which has included not selling This Guilty Land in conventions or stores. In fact, none of the Hollandspiele games are available in stores. They are a direct sale model operation.
A well deserved accolade
Amabel & Mary’s deep care for the hobby, wargames, and wagamers jumped off the screen at me throughout 2018. Their pathway and philosophy are firmly rooted in a deep understanding of why they do this.
As Amabel put it, “In some parallel universe I’m designing quirky party games for Hollandspiele. I’m lucky enough to be doing this and I enjoy the challenge.” The need to create, be creative, and to give others the same sense of enjoyment they find in board games is a driving force at Hollandspiele. Though many publishers, particularly small publishers, would say that’s their goal too, it’s evident in everything about the Russel’s approach that reinforces their success.
Here’s to a great 2019 and the continued success of Hollandspiele!
Tell me what YOUR favorite game from Hollandspiele is in the comments below…and better yet…find a new favorite over at Hollandspiele.com.