On January 7, 2021, OffWorld Designs, who was the clothing and goods partner for conventions such as Gen Con, decided to retire. A few months later in May 2021, Gen Con announced a new merchandise partnership with Rollacrit. At the time, many of us hadn’t heard of Rollacrit. I had the pleasure to sit down with Erin Zipperle, CEO and Founder, and Conrad Pflumm, COO of Rollacrit to discuss their startup, partnership with Gen Con, and their path ahead.
Rollacrit was founded with the goal “to build a community based around product,” as Erin described it. “There hasn’t been a lot of collectibles and merchandise companies for the tabletop community and we wanted to fill that gap.” Erin is no stranger to the collectible community. He worked in Marketing for ThinkGeek which produced mass amounts of collectibles for the fantasy and sci-fi community. The company ended up being purchased by GameStop and then GameStop merged those products into their own stores. Though many of those from ThinkGeek moved on to other companies, Erin, Conrad and a few others banded together to form Rollacrit. “It’s a bunch of team of people that got together because we didn’t want to see ThinkGeek die, but we couldn’t enter in that same realm. And we always had awesome brainstorms and opportunities to work with Wizards of the Coast and some other tabletop publishers, at that time, but we never really capitalized on that….I really wanted to get into a place where people still interact.” And board and tabletop gaming brings in that human interaction.
Conrad and Erin went to college together and he felt Conrad’s perspectives on roleplaying games made him a perfect fit for the Rollacrit company. “The biggest opportunity that we saw on what Rollacrit could be was there’s a lot of passionate people with a lot of incredible creativity in this space,” Conrad explained, “And being able to find ways to get them to demonstrate that either through, like Erin said, collectibles, or apparel and things like that. But, without it feeling like it’s a logo stop of a gaming that you’re into. There’s subtle touches…there’s ways to showcase your fandom without it having to scream that necessarily. And that way it creates that secret handshake experience so other people who are in the know, they pick up on it, and other people who aren’t just think you’re wearing something really cool. Or you have this awesome accessories that just happens to be a great design. But, when you know, you know. And that’s how we take the approach to all the products that we do.”
Erin and Conrad started getting things rolling in 2020, but didn’t launch until February 2021 as they were building their Kickstarter. And they certainly had their struggles as they were building their business during the pandemic. Supplies and materials were harder to gather worldwide for all companies and production was just as much of a struggle. Erin said, “It’s definitely been quite a challenge, but it allowed us to do is build a strong infrastructure and also build a strong foundation to make sure we thought through a lot of the processes that we wanted to work through. And find other solutions that allowed us to be more agile that relying on product from overseas.” And that product that Rollacrit is offering today includes apparel, dice, pins, and other items they were able to create domestically to showcase what Rollacrit can provide. They also want to be able to enter the retail space getting their products into stores for people to purchase. But, as Erin explains isn’t an easy process. “When you want to make a product you just can’t get 10 of those, you need spend a lot of money and get 4,000 of those. So until we build our audience and our traffic up, which we’re hopping to do soon, we can’t really fulfill that market.” One of Conrad’s favorite products he showed was their Cheeze Whizard in support of the PAX Unplugged convention held in Philadelphia as that was their local convention both being from the East coast. Erin was wearing his Liberty Bell mimic. They really enjoy having fun making these types of products.
The Cheeze Whizard
Photo by Rollacrit
Liberty Bell Mimic
Photo by Rollacrit
The Gen Con partnership was definitely a defining moment for Rollacrit. The team had known about OffWorld Designs since they were in a similar space of things Rollacrit wanted to produce. The moment OffWorld announced their retirement Rollacrit saw a huge opportunity for them. “When they said they were retiring, the opportunity arised to come in and see what we could do in that space,” Erin explained. “We sent Gen Con over a deck and they liked what we could do and knew the clout we had and the experience we had as this wasn’t our first rodeo in making product so it seemed like a natural fit. They were excited to get us in and we had four months or less to pull everything off.” Erin said there was a lot of sleepless nights to ensure they had product delivered on time and some things they couldn’t offer because no one had the product available or the timing for delivery couldn’t be met. And it wasn’t all perfect. They wanted to bring the same spread as OffWorld offered, but had dropped the ball on a few things. Erin said they learned a lot from the experience, especially with apparel. He worked with Barb from OffWorld Designs who provided them a lot of insights and shared her experiences working with Gen Con for so many years to help Rollacrit through the process. “This year I think we’ll be able to get more of an offering that we wanted to bring to our first show. It’s going to get better and better.” Conrad added, “It’s the longest running tabletop convention in the United States. There’s a lot of expectation on that experience. And being able to be a part of that is something that we’re very proud and thankful to be able to provide to the audience as well. Because those are the people that we want to, both as Rollacrit and Gen Con Store, be a part of. And to be able to get experience and to show them what is that we want to bring to the table, it’s been an awesome experience working with Gen Con and the attendees of Gen Con. Conrad did say pint glasses and shot glasses would be coming this year as those were highly requested by attendees. And they do have a surprise coming for the 55th Anniversary of Gen Con which should be announced soon! The Spring Collection for Gen Con was released in March with a summer vacation feel of fanny packs, flip flops, and the like. You can find their Gen Con Spring Collection at https://www.rollacrit.com/collections/gen-con-spring-collection.
About one month after Rollacrit signed their partnership with Gen Con, they signed another partnership with Asmodee Entertainment to bring licensed apparel, merchandise, and collectibles for the Catan catalog. Settlers of Catan is one of the most well-known board games for gamers and has been around since 1995 and has a huge footprint at the Gen Con convention as well. Erin explained the connection between them and Asmodee. “An old relationship from times past from Pax West…we were boothed next to Mayfair Games back at the time. We were really good friends with Rob Margin who also runs Catan Studios, which is the Catan store online. I was picking his brain about starting Rollacrit to see how to enter the space and that’s where he was like, ‘Hey, I’ll just connect you with Asmodee!'” With regards to the product he says, “There’s a lot of ideas as have, a lot of stuff we want to get into the market for that, so we’ve been working hard. We launched some of the shirts already for some of the collections and some of the other product that we have for Catan as an exclusive on Rollacrit.” Conrad added, “Since we’re not the official Catan store like we are with Gen Con, we took an approach kind of like a tourist shop almost. We think about Catan like a physical place. If you were there what would it be like? What would a gift shop on Catan sell? So we came out with our Greetings From Collection and it’s very postcard-esque and things like that. And the most recent one we did was tapping into the port side of things, because it’s not something a lot of people think about in terms of mechanics there, so we created a whole Seaside Resort for the island. ‘Relax, unwind, settle in’ is the tagline for it.” And there is another Collection for Catan coming out soon. You can find the current Catan Collection at https://www.rollacrit.com/collections/catan-products.
Catan Lush Forest Mug
Photo by Rollacrit
Catan Seaside Resort Tote Bag
Photo by Rollacrit
Erin did say Rollacrit will have more licenses coming, but those had to be kept under the hat at the moment. They want to bring the apparel and collectibles to the content creator’s fan base. So definitely keep your eyes out for what’s coming!
Rollacrit also got themselves into the board game market via Kickstarter. Heroes of Barcadia started out as an April Fool’s joke from ThinkGeek in 2016. Erin explained as they formed Rollacrit, they were looking for ideas they had come up with at ThinkGeek they never brought to market and Heroes of Barcadia was one of them. They spent about a year going through the game with a fine-tooth comb to ensure it was playable and made sense. This was Rollacrit’s first jaunt into the Kickstarter market and it definitely came with a learning curve. Erin and Conrad both agreed that production of the game was a huge challenge. Conrad even said, “I have a new found respect for people who make games, let me tell you!” Erin added, “When you are making the most difficult type of game where everything is made of PVC and comes with a set of cups, it’s not your traditional call up a board game manufacturer and get some cardboard printed. This is like they needed to re-engineer how they did things and had to figure out how to do an engineer a lot of stuff specifically for the game to get it to a point where we could actually bring it to market.” And running a campaign on Kickstarter itself came with some learning curves. “It was a big crash course of learning that whole market, going through and manufacturing that game, and just the not knowing. There’s a lot of newbie stuff that definitely some of our backers saw. I thought I was going to be fulfilling this out of my garage!” Well, when you have a $50,000 goal smashed within 4 hours, end up with 14,000+ backers, being one of the top 3 Kickstarter campaigns for 17 days between June and July 2021, and a final funding of $1.25 million, that garage fulfillment idea went away quickly. “We had to scale ourselves very quickly,” Conrad said, “There’s been some definitely obvious learning moments that we had to do publicly, but that’s OK, because that’s what we have to do. What we’re never going to do is sacrifice our own expectations for a product to just meet a timeline. And unfortunately, we had internally wanted to get this out by March of this year. But, with one, all the things had been struggling with just because of the environment with shipping and the pandemic and things like that, we were unrealistic I think in that goal from that side of things. But, two, because we really wanted to make sure this product is something that feels like an impressive thing to open from the get go….We really wanted to make sure that there’s an experience that you have.”
Erin and Conrad both referred to this as a “gateway game”. It’s a game that may look complex and difficult, but it’s not. Anyone can learn and play the game. The rulebook is small and as Conrad said from feedback they received “accessible”. The game is essentially a dungeon-crawler with a really unique twist through its “liquid life” system. Your health is tracked via liquid in a cup. When you take damage, you drink. If you lose all your life, you drop your items where they are and go back to start, re-fill your cup and start again. Conrad said this concept opens up the game to people who may not in interested in dungeon-crawlers for the ability to put some fun stuff in your cup. The dungeon is built with tiles provided in the game and are randomly selected, so has a huge re-playability. Your miniature is your cup with your liquid. You go through trying to collect 3 power-ups and are fighting to get the drinks back in Barcardia from the Drink Hoard. And for those who think this is a “drinking game” with alcohol. It’s not. That is not required or expected. While there are alcohol puns in the game you can play with game with kids with apple juice or milk or soda or whatever.
Heroes of Barcadia
Photo by Rollacrit
Heroes of Barcardia is slated to get into backers hands by Quarter 3, which means sometime between July to September 2022, but that is still a moving target. Erin said they are on pace to deliver by Q3, but there are things that could hold it up like customs. And there were things in the process that took longer than normal, such as testing the components in the game. They wanted to make sure all the materials were compliant, nothing was poisonous, was the materials sturdy (i.e. dishwasher safe), etc… One of the most important things about the game too is all of the components are 100% waterproof. If you spill your health all over the gameboard and pieces, no problem!
Along with that, Rollacrit partnered up with Roll20 to bring a digital version of Heroes of Barcadia into people’s hands. As Erin stated, “At the time we were doing the Kickstarter, a liquid life system game during the pandemic was not really ideal. Because a) a party game that involved liquid, not great. So we wanted to make sure there was a solution for it if something like this should happen again. Or as it continues to happen or be able to play with your friends anywhere because it is a party game.” Will there be other games from Rollacrit like Heroes of Barcardia? Erin says, “I think it’s for us coming up with different iterations or different realms for people to live in and using that mechanic system because we believe in the game enough…the game is amazing but we don’t want to continue with ‘What’s the next game?’ because we’re not publishers.”
Erin and Conrad are super excited to get this into other people’s hands to get their feedback on the game. They’ve been playing it internally and with a small group of friends for the past two years and really feel backers and others who pick it up with love it. You can still put in a pre-order for Heroes of Barcadia over at their website at https://www.rollacrit.com/pages/heroes-of-barcadia.
So what’s next for Rollacrit? They’re currently focused on their partnerships with Gen Con and Asmodee, as well as the upcoming conventions of Gen Con and Pax Unplugged. And Erin is focused on getting Heroes of Barcadia into the wholesale market so people could pick up a copy at your local Walmart or Target. Conrad said, “We’re completely self-funded. We’re a small group of people that happened to be in the industry for a while so we’re very capable. We have a lot of big areas we want to influence around.” Erin added, “We started working with a company that helped us with our launch Thirsty Dice, which is located in Philadelphia, and they’re coming out with two new restaurants…since then we’ve been in touch with them and kind of really working with them to see what we can do in the physical space too. We all work remote. Conrad and I live very close to each other in Delaware but the rest of our team is all over the country. Because we don’t have offices it would be great to have a space we can call our own or at least be able to partner with. We’re working with them and we’re in the works with them right now, so I guess this is a new kind of partnership too, is developing a place where we can sell some of our apparel and our product and things like that physically at a board game cafe, but also make product for them.”
And of course let’s not forget that Erin and Conrad are gamers. Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is one of favorite Erin’s board game. Conrad is a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons but since he’s been very involved with his kids, Hi-ho Cherry-O and Uno have been big at their home.
Go over to rollacrit.com to see their product and follow what’s going on with them there. You can also find them under Rollacrit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And they will be physically there at Gen Con 2022 so go visit them at their booth. If you want to watch the nearly full hour interview (that certainly didn’t feel like an hour!), you can check that out below.