“Thank you so much for granting us an interview. We hope it inspires couples to build Tabletop Game Homes” – Rachel and Heinze.
Every day, the Tabletop gaming community continue to amaze me. I have always wondered the value chains created because a single game exists. And I bet Rachel and Heinze do too because they do not only enjoy playing games together or surfing the world’s best conventions as a couple. They have also created a niche for themselves telling more people about boardgames using WEBCOMIC!
Check out my interview with them as I tried to understand what brought them together, where they are heading to and everything between. Have a fun read!
Can you tell us about yourself? How did you meet?
Rachel: We are Semi Co-op the world’s biggest (…and only!) webcomic that focuses purely on tabletop games. We’ve been making weekly comics since 2015 and haven’t missed an update since, resulting in more than 350 comics about more than 150 different games!
We first met at the introduction weekend of our university course and we’ve been together ever since, it kinda was a real love at first sight situation. I work as a freelance illustrator (you can see my work at www.rachelkremer.nl) and Heinze teaches web development and data related courses at a university.
Heinze: We have both enjoyed playing video games from a young age and played some D&D and Munchkin when we just started dating but the real switch to board game came after our apartment flooded and we couldn’t live there for two months while it had to dry out. We were living at my mother-in-law’s place during that time and Rachel saw Agricola at a local store and that was our first serious board game that started all of this!
How would you describe the Tabletop Games Industry in terms of growth, realities and challenges
Heinze: I think it’s super interesting the industry exists on several levels at the same time. There are a number of big players, like Asmodee, Ravensburger, and Hasbro, and several publishers of party games that make very popular and mainstream games that a lot of the community isn’t really talking about. At the same time, you have hobby board games which you’ll see a lot more people who would consider themselves “board gamers” talk about while selling a lot less.
On the media front, you have a ton of people writing, podcasting, and making videos about games with more and more of those creators trying to turn their output into a part-time or even full-time job, which is wonderful. We have a pretty quiet niche, as we are the only webcomic that only focuses on board games, which helps us do things on our own terms. I imagine it’s a different story for people making video content since they have to keep adapting to stand out in the crowd.
Rachel: The current industry landscape is starting to remind me a little of the mobile game market ten years ago, with the biggest difference, of course, that board games are physical products, which greatly increases the threshold to actually realize a board game. Kickstarter greatly lowered that threshold and made it more accessible to a larger group of designers, though. Nonetheless, it’s definitely a difficult market to introduce a new product with so many new board games coming out each year. Looking at the market in general, I think that board gaming as a social non-screen activity is definitely still on a rise and that’s great!
What inspired you to start making and/or promoting Tabletop games?
Rachel: Well, actually, I was looking for a project that would force me to draw more cartoon characters. I knew following some tutorials wasn’t going to structurally improve my skills, so I played around with the idea of starting a webcomic. At first, I was thinking about making a webcomic that focused on geeky things in general – from geek culture, video games to board games. But there are a lot of webcomics like that already, so I figured I could better focus on a niche market if I’d also wanted to build up an audience. Back in 2015, there were only two other webcomics that focused on tabletop gaming, Tiny Wooden Pieces and Up To Four Players, so there was room for more! Looking back, I can certainly say that drawing over 350 comics does really do wonders for your cartoon drawing skills. 😉
How has it been working with your spouse in the Tabletop games industry?
Heinze: It really helps to have a traveling buddy to go to conventions and it helps to have someone that you can bounce ideas off of, even in the middle of the night. While we love games we both have game genres we personally enjoy more so that also helps to keep the games we talk about diverse and interesting.
How do you handle creative differences and other decision making?
Heinze: As I don’t do the actual drawing, which takes the most time, I tend to leave most art decisions to Rachel. Of course, it would be a lot of fun to make jokes about massive armies in War of the Ring getting sent back and forth between the same two fields because the player can’t decide what they want to do but the comic has to be drawn in a single day so I understand that Rachel looks at things differently than I do.
Rachel: When drawing short comics like ours, you have to keep in mind that most people will look at it for maybe 20 – 30 seconds. So yes, I do sometimes dumb down some visual ideas Heinze suggests to protect myself from pouring hours and hours of work into a comic, while most people won’t even “see” it. Especially if it’s not necessary in order to communicate the joke to the reader. Other than that, I don’t think we have many creative differences, to be honest.
What is the best part about working together?
Heinze: We have to think of something funny for the comic every week, so we have to soak up as many games, media, and board game-related ideas as we can. It helps not to do it alone and we will often build upon each other’s first pitches for comics to make something better. It also really helps to have a dedicated player in the house to play all of those different games with.
Rachel: Having a shared hobby and activity besides “normal” work is fantastic. We both enjoy being creative in our free time, so it’s great that we can do that together. The line between “work” and “free time” does get a little blurred though, but as long as we like what we do, that doesn’t have to be a problem.
In your opinion(s), what does the future hold for the industry in your country and in the World at large?
Heinze: Board games have always been present in Dutch households. Ticket to Ride Europe was outselling everything in the toy market during the pandemic (even Lego) so I don’t think the popularity of board games will decline. I am curious if we’ll see more Dutch designers reach big levels of success. We of course have Splotter Spellen but there are also other interesting companies like Broken Mill that released Heroes of Tenefyr, Clever Owl released Untamed, and Quality Beast have some really cool designs coming out which are worth your time.
On the media side of things, we have some Dutch creators that are doing things but no real big names. I feel we, and most Dutch creators, make things for an international audience. For us making bilingual content isn’t worth it as the Dutch market is quite small and most people in the Netherlands are proficient enough in English to enjoy it anyway. But it’s weird to have such a board gaming focused country and not have a big content creator that is the face of board gaming.
What advice would you give to a couple or anyone interested in joining the Tabletop Games industry?
Heinze: Make sure you talk about what your goals are. It could be that one of you just wants an excuse to spend time together, while the other wants to change tabletop gaming. Those are very different goals with very different intensity levels. So every time a big opportunity comes along or you have an ambitious idea, talk about it. Does it match with your goals? Will you still have fun doing it or is this the moment it becomes “work”? Is it a bad thing if it becomes work?
Rachel: Other than that it is very much a “who do you know” industry. If you’re able, try to make connections at cons or make sure you engage with people online. As far as we’ve experienced, everybody is just excited to help each other along but it’s frowned upon if you immediately start asking for help. So take the time to build up relationships, champion other designers, reviewers, and streamers so they’ll know you are about just as much about giving as much as you are about taking.
Which Tabletop Game would you say holds the best memory for you as a couple and why do you think so?
Rachel: Oh, this is a hard question. There are so many to choose from and all games are unique! I think I’m going to go with Netrunner. We’ve explored the many dimensions of this card game with the two of us and when we felt like we knew what we were doing, we decided to start playing it at our friendly local gaming store in town at Netrunner nights, resulting in many friendships we still have today. We might not play the game anymore because we couldn’t keep up with the pace of the new expansions and datapack releases, alienating us a bit from the game, but it has a very special place in our hearts.
Anything we missed that, you would like to share? An announcement maybe!
Rachel: There are no big secret projects to announce, but we’d like to thank you for interviewing us. These questions were great! We’d like to encourage anybody who feels like making board gaming related content to take the plunge, just give it a try and see what happens. I certainly did not expect that Semi Co-op would still be a thing five years later and wouldn’t have believed how many people follow us online and the amazing people we’ve met and can nowadays call our friends.
And because I know I should be more proactive in sharing this: if you like the comics we make and would like (and are able) to support our work financially, we have a Patreon account: https://www.patreon.com/semicoop/. But we’re also very grateful if you’d share our work with your friends, who knows… they might be convinced that board games are indeed a fantastic hobby!
How can people reach you (website and/or Social Media handle)
Heinze: That’s quite easy in our case! You can read all of our comics on our website (https://semicoop.com) and you can follow us on most social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube) as “semicoop”.