We just hit a major milestone in our 5th birthday here at The Players’ Aid Blog! I must say that I never thought this was where we were headed when we started this little endeavor in the spring of 2016. It was really done as an experiment and to give us additional ways to discuss gaming. It wasn’t something that we expected to last, much less for 5 years, but we are pleasantly surprised that it has and enjoy doing what we do. We are continually reenergized by our followers and your comments on our content and want to thank you all for that! 2020 was a year that was interesting to say the least. There were many challenges, changes to our daily lifestyles and generally I am glad to see it in my rearview mirror. But there were some positives that came from it, mainly in the growth of our written blog as well as in our YouTube Channel.
Happy Birthday To Us!
Before we start talking about anything, we both wanted to thank everyone that has been with us on this 5-year long ride. As you know, we started the blog in 2016. In fact, our first post was on April 17, 2016 and was a very short AAR on our very first attempt at playing Empire of the Sun from GMT Games (I look at the pictures we used in that AAR and notice that the counters were not clipped! Barbarians!). We still laugh to this day that that was one of our first games that we tried to cover. I guess we both like diving into the deep end of the pool! From those meager beginnings, we have posted lots and I think have improved the quality of our content since that first try. Your readership and viewing has helped keep us inspired and motivated to put out consistent content. Its been a lot of work, and does take up quite a bit of our free time, but we do enjoy it and have no plans to slow the train down. We also have been very lucky in the support that we have received from various publishers, websites (such as consimworld and grognard.com) and designers as they have worked to keep us going as well. From sharing our posts on Twitter, to posting our videos and reviews on the game pages on their websites, a good portion of our views come from these sources and we appreciate that.
We also want to thank the myriad of designers who have taken time out of their busy schedules to answer our long and sometimes deep questions about their designs in our interviews. Our Designer Interviews series has been a huge success and is a big part of our weekly posts generally starting each week off with a new post. I work hard to try and stay up on the newest games and give our readers an inside look at the mechanics, design process and game play on these in-design games. We recently have been covering more Kickstarters in this fashion and have started posting those interviews in the middle of the week as the campaign’s kickoff. As I looked back on our past content, we have published 287 of these interviews, which frankly is amazing. I have very rarely been told no by someone when I contact them on email to discuss their game and have been able to build quite a number of what I would call friendships with several of these designers. I will not name specific individuals, as I don’t want to inadvertently leave someone out, but thank you to you all! You are simply the best!
By the Numbers
Onto a look at the numbers, which is always my favorite part! Statistics are a good indicator of how we are doing and I personally pay a lot of attention to our daily, weekly and monthly numbers. Actually, I might say that I am addicted to looking at them and check several times (which means about 10 times) per day.
Since the blog started in April 2016, we have been viewed nearly 3.1 million times (as compared to 2.2 million this time last year). These views have come from an astounding 927,002 visitors. This means that each visitor that comes onto the blog averages 3.34 views. This number is down slightly form last year’s 3.47 views per visitor but is still very comparable. It is a good thing that when people do come on they spend some time viewing our current content and sometimes even dive back through our older stuff. That is one thing that I like about how WordPress runs, as they will link comparable articles and posts below the new post so that when the reader is finished they can simply click a link there to take them to another article. We have really been blown away by the response that we have seen in our blog. While Alexander no longer writes on it, save when I browbeat him and shame him into doing it (he is really stubborn though and cannot be influenced on most things!), I have really enjoyed continuing to cover games in the written format as I know that there are people out there who prefer it to videos. I know that I prefer written blogs but everyone is different!
You will also notice that we have done 1,687 posts over the five year period that our blog has existed. Remember though that 2016 only included 9 months of content while 2021 only takes into account the first four months of the year, which accounts for the lower numbers for those shown years. If you look at the individual years’ numbers though you will see that we posted a lot in 2017 (433), 2018 (335) and 2020 (356) while 2019 (194) was a bit of a slow year as I had started a new job and was very busy with some travel and out of town work that kept me from my regular routine of writing. Also, early on, remember that there were three of us writing for the blog (remember Tim) and over the past few years it has just been Alexander and I, although at this point as mentioned earlier I do 99% of the posts on the blog. One of the reasons that our statistics have continued to rise over the past three years is that we post regular content with at least 5 posts per week, sometimes as many as 7. This consistency keeps our blog fresh in our readers minds and on their timelines.
We have built quite a library of content and we still come up often in internet searches which brings a lot of visitors to our site. In fact, here is a look at some interesting data from the blog where you can you see our top Referrers from 2020. These are sites that send visitors to our site as they have hosted or linked to our articles, videos or other content and people find us this way. Notice though that Search Engines sent 156,508 views our way, which is a about 18.2% of our total views (Total Views for 2020 were 862,277). Social Media is also a good source for views as Facebook brought in 35,727 views and Twitter 21,160 views. GMT Games is a big part of our views as they have referred 23,185 views as well as Consimworld which referred 18,634 views. Grognard.com views in 2020 were lower than in previous years at 9,802 but not by much. They are really good about posting our daily posts on their site and we truly appreciate that. Not shown in the graphic are the myriad of smaller referrers that send views our way. That list is really very long and I couldn’t post the whole graphic but there are about another 100+ referrers ranging from 4,000 all the way down to just a handful of referrals. We appreciate all the views though and will never not be grateful for any help that we can get.
The following graphic shows our Monthly Views since 2016 and tells a really interesting story. As you can see, our monthly views have steadily increased over the years, growing from a Monthly Average Views of just 16,153 in 2016 to over 71,856 in 2021. This number jumped from 69,325 in 2020 so has grown by about 3.7% . I understand that this growth in 2020 is most likely attributed to the Coronavirus and quarantine but we think that those that are finding us now during the quarantine will hopefully stay with us. In fact, thus far in 2021, we have seen comparable, albeit slightly less, per month views through the end of March. January 2021 was actually over 12,000 more views than January 2020 but that trend has not continued in February and March. We still are on track for well over 800,000 views in 2021 but probably won’t hit our all time high of 862,277 in 2020.
A few years ago when we posted these stats there was a request for a map of viewers and viewership based on location. The WordPress (powered by JetPack) statistics are pretty good so here’s a heat map of where the 2020 views came from. Obviously the US is where the majority of views come from with the UK and Canada bringing up the second and third spots respectively. We are an English language written blog so that’s to be expected. But we have a good representation of views from other countries including France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia, Sweden, Netherlands, Greece and Poland amongst many others. I am always surprised when we get a comment or interaction with fans from other countries and when I look at this graphic I realize that we are a global blog with lots of fans in lots of countries and that makes me very happy.
Top Performing Blog Posts for 2020
I thought that this year I would show you a list of our best performing posts on the blog. It seems that lists do the best, including our regular Wargame Watch feature as well as things like Alexander’s Top Wargames, Grant’s Top 10 Solitaire Wargames, our annual Wargames to Buy Your Wargamer for Christmas and our annual Top 10 Wargames lists.
In 2020, the blog hosted 63 interviews with designers, with several of those being for Kickstarters. That means that we posted more than 1 interview per week so we were busy. Thus far in 2021, we have posted 20 such interviews and seem to have no problem finding interested designers who want to share their games. I regularly scour various sources for news and anytime I find information about an upcoming game I add it to my list and try to reach out to at least 3-4 designers each month. The goal here is to have a continual pipeline of these designer interviews in the works, either having sent questions out to the designers or working to format and schedule interviews I have received back on the blog, I am always a few weeks ahead in order to make sure I have a continual flow of posts. Here is a look at some of our better performing designer interview posts:
Interview with Emanuele Santandrea Designer of Black Swan: Europe 1939-1945 from VentoNuevo Games – our number 1 performing interview is a block wargame from VentoNuevo that covers the entire European Theater of Operations during World War II. We have played several of their block wargames and have enjoyed each one of them. The designer is now working on this system for the Pacific Theater and that should be coming to Kickstarter in late 2021.
Interview with Dan Fournie Designer of 1944 Battle of the Bulge from Worthington Publishing – our number 2 performing designer interview so far in 2020 is from Dan Fournie. Dan has designed lots of scenarios and rule sets for games that we are all familiar with such as Tyrant (a Great Battles of Alexander Module-2003) and Barbarian (an SPQR Module-2008) as well as over 40 articles in C3i magazine with scenarios for the Great Battles of History Series, Pax Romana and Commands & Colors: Ancients. This is Dan’s first full design and he has done a great job with hitting the high points of the Battle of the Bulge and making it approachable for new wargames but with enough crunch to appeal to Grognards.
Interview with Brian Train Designer of COIN Series Volume XII China’s War: 1937-1941 from GMT Games – You know how much we admire and enjoy our associations with Brian Train. I have never met him, but we have carried on communications over the past four years as he has designed some of my favorite games including Colonial Twilight, A Distant Plain, Winter Thunder, District Commander Maracas and others. We posted this interview with Brian on December 30, 2019 and I am counting it in this post as a 2020 designer interview because it has done so well in 2020, with most of its views coming in this new year. China’s War is the next volume in the COIN Series and you know how we feel about it. The game looks amazing and I hope to have it in my hands by year’s end.
Interview with Volko Ruhnke Designer of Almoravid: Reconquista and Riposte in Spain, 1085-1086 from GMT Games – the follow up to the first successful entry Nevsky in the Levy & Campaign Series is covering the Reconquista of Spain and the infamous El Cid. This one is much larger scale and much more open than the 1st entry but still retains all of the interesting puzzle like concepts of supply, unit priority and decision regarding how to best use them in battle.
Interview with Mike Nagel Designer of Dawn of Battle from Worthington Publishing – the popularity of this interview blew me away as it just shot right up there once posted. Mike Nagel is an amazing person and has a really interesting approach to game design. I have interviewed him before covering Saint-Omer to Saint Crispin: Tactical Battles of the Hundred Years War from GMT Games and he was very easy to contact and was very thorough in his answers. This new game Dawn of Battle appeals to so many because it is focused on Ancients and is highly playable. The game just screams to be played and I really like the look of it.
Interview with Ted Raicer Designer of The Dark Summer: Normandy 1944 from GMT Games – we played The Dark Sands this past year and Alexander played solo The Dark Valley during quarantine and we are very taken by this system. We love Chit Pull and this one takes that mechanic in a new direction that keeps you on your tore and assists in telling a great narrative of your play. Ted takes the system to the beaches of Normandy and this one looks really good. In fact, it was included on my Top 12 Most Anticipated Wargames of 2020 list. If you haven’t added this to your P500 list what are you waiting for? A written invitation?
Interview with Brian Train Designer of Brief Border Wars from Compass Games – another Brian Train interview covering a very interesting game that is reminiscent of the old Avalon Hill Quads as this one contains four small battles that all use the same system. This one landed in our mail box a few weeks ago and we cannot wait to get it to the table. Brian has a real skill when it comes to dealing with small insurgencies and weaving a great system together that helps you understand the history that you are gaming. I have really loved our plays of all of his games and always get a bit excited when I catch wind of a new Brian Train design.
Interview with Maurice Suckling Designer of Chancellorsville 1863 from Worthington Publishing – a rising star in the gaming industry is Maurice Suckling and he has designed a hidden movement American Civil War game on the Battle of Chancellorsville and it simply is amazing. We loved his Freeman’s Farm 1777 design and now have this one to play and enjoy.
Interview with Bruce Mansfield Designer of the Tru’ng Bot Update Pack for Fire in the Lake from GMT Games – another rising star in the design arena is Bruce Mansfield who designed Gandhi from GMT Games in 2019 and is now taking that solo bot called Arjuna and putting it into one of our favorite games Fire in the Lake. He has a real gift for seeing how the bot should interact with the player and his card assisted bot has revolutionized the solo wargaming industry and should be showing up in all future designs.
Interview with Gregory M. Smith Designer of Imperial Tide: The Great War 1914-1918 from Compass Games – we love Gregory M. Smith and he is simply the king of solo game design with so many titles to his name you would think that he is trying to make money at this. This game uses a similar system to his Pacific Tide design and looks really interesting but covers the trenches of World War I which should be a very interesting gaming experience. There is also more to come from Greg as he is working on several solo designs including West Front Ace, Defending America and Spitfire Ace.
Those were simply some of our best performing designer interviews on the blog throughout the year. To access our backlog of these interviews, just go to our blog and check out the Categories section located on the right side of the screen and enter Designer Interviews.
A Year of Accolades!
We were honored to receive several awards over the past year plus. Keep in mind that we didn’t pursue these awards nor did we do any type of marketing to garner votes or pressure people into voting for us. I think that we both were surprised and humbled when we found out we received these prestigious awards (whenever I say that I laugh to myself and think about the comment from the father in A Christmas Story about his “major award”, which as you know was a fish net stocking clad woman’s leg lamp!). Well, we didn’t get anything quite that audacious but it was nice to be recognized, whether we really deserved it or not!
People’s Choice Award for Grognards of the Year for 2019 – No Enemies Here
This award actually was announced at the end of 2019 but we failed to mention in our post last year. This was really great as it was voted on by fans of our YouTube Channel and it was really impressive to see the kind comments and input that we received from the announcement. Dan Pancaldi does a great job with this award and we were really humbled to be chosen from among the many very deserving fellow content creators that are out there. The announcement video was just awesome as many of our friends in the industry shot video segments congratulating us including Hermann Luttmann, Harold Buchanan, Brian Train, Ardwulf (Gary Nengle), Gregory Smith, Stiglr, Devin Heinle, Morgane Gouyon-Rety, Maurice Fitzgerald, David Thompson, John Kranz (who was wearing one of our T-shirts) among others. It was also awesome (really concerning and scary though) to see Dan’s crazy hand dance as well! What was that?
Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Wargame Review or Analysis
After a short hiatus, 2020 saw the return of the prestigious Charles S. Roberts Awards. The Charles S. Roberts Awards or CSR Awards is an annual award for excellence in the historical wargaming hobby. It was named in honor of Charles S. Roberts the “Father of Wargaming” who founded Avalon Hill. The award is informally called a “Charlie” and officially called a “Charles S. Roberts Award”.
The Award is managed by the Charles S. Roberts Award Committee which has no commercial sponsorship, made up of designers, writers and hobbyists. It is a “people’s award” with winners chosen through votes submitted by fans. We were nominated for and won the CSR for Best Wargame Review or Analysis and we are extremely grateful and humbled by the support that we receive. I wanted to thank Dan Pancaldi of No Enemies Here for hosting the show on a livestream on his channel on Sunday, October 25th. It is a long show but worth the watch if you haven’t had a chance to see it.
Top 100 Board Game Blogs, Websites and Influences from 2021 – Feedspot
A recognition we have received a few times over the past couple of years is recognition on a Top 100 Board Game Blogs list that is managed by Feedspot. This ranking takes into account several factors including the number of social media followers, Social Engagement and the rank on searches on the internet called Domain Authority and Alexa Rank. In 2021, the ranking was just updated in early April and we appear in the #26 position. Keep in mind that this is for all board game blogs and channels, not just wargaming. You can check out the entry in the link below:
Social Media/Other Platforms
One of our most important marketing efforts is our focus on various Social Media platforms with the most used platform being Twitter followed by Facebook. We share our posts from the blog on Twitter and Facebook daily and have expanded into sharing in around 6 Facebook groups including Wargamers, Solitaire Wargames, Official GMT Games Group (when our posts focus on one of GMT’s games), The Jacobin Wargamer, Wargames are for everybody! and finally THE BOARDGAME GROUP. I always worry about our near daily posts and upsetting the groups with our frequency of posting but I do spend time trying to respond to comments and questions on our posts, share my gaming pictures and read others posts and comment on them as well.
As you can see from the table above, I missed noting our stats for these Social Media platforms in 2019 but we have had a lot of growth in our Social Media reach with a 13.2% increase in Twitter followers, 34.1% increase in our Facebook follows and 17.2% in Instagram followers (which is a platform that we really have ignored over the past year). In just over 4 years, we have built a network of followers on these platforms that really helps us to engage and have discussions on various topics. Before the service went away, we were routinely having a Twitter reach in the 150,000 account range, which means each post was being read by around that many people through retweets.
Our biggest area of growth though has been in our YouTube Channel as we now have over 11,176 subscribers. Compared to this time last year in April 2020, we gained a whopping 3,472 subs or a 45.1% increase. I know that we were all quarantined and could only watch so much Netflix, but we have seen significant growth here and are amazed that we breached the 10,000 subscribers plateau in early January 2021. It was kind of funny, but I prognosticated last year that we would reach 10,000 subscribers sometime in late 2021, as at the time we were growing by about 100 new subs per month. Well we shattered that expectation and I think that a lot of the credit goes to COVID-19 but I also think that we simply have increased our reach as well and more people are discovering our videos. As you can see in the graphic below, we had 833,000 views of our videos on YouTube. Those total views have added up to 112,800 hours of watching, which is amazing to me. Most of our videos are around 30-40 minutes so this means a lot of watching for a fair bit of time. Wargamers are a bit more committed than other gaming groups so watching through an entire video is not that weird for Grognards. My guess is we will reach 14,000 subscribers in late 2021 (we will see how well I do with that prognostication!) so please subscribe to our channel if you haven’t already.
Just a couple of interesting facts about the YouTube statistics. To date, we have had 2,041,945 total views of our videos. This breaks down to 259,500 hours of viewing which equates to 29.6 years! That was calculated by multiplying 25 hours per day x 365 days per year to come to a 8,760 hours in a year. Then divide the total hours watched of 259,500 and divide that by 8,760 hours for a year and you come to 29.6 years! So, I guess that we owe all of you an apology as you have lost nearly 30 years of time! We also noticed that our viewers are 99.1%, which is not all that surprising but I was thinking it might be closer to 90%. I guess we have some work to do in marketing to our female population of wargamers. Another interesting tidbit is that 43.8% of our viewers are also subscribers. Most channels see a 25-35% range for this statistic so we are really pleased with that.
Patreon is a newer platform where you can donate monthly, or as a one time gig that helps us to keep going. We started our Patreon page about three years ago and the added revenue has allowed us to upgrade our video and audio equipment, purchase some new lighting for the bunker, get me a nice video stand for when I shoot solo videos, add some soundproofing foam to the ceilings in the bunker and has also allowed us to attend a few more gaming conventions than we normally could. We have also purchased our TPA banner that you see in our videos and take that with us to conventions as well so you can find us. As of now, we have 78 Patrons which is about 20% more than last year. We have quite the good discussions on our Slack Channel and have also started asking our Patrons for ideas on topics to discuss during our Monthly Debrief Video Series. We’re still a little hesitant about Patreon, it feels really weird asking for donations, but we have put those donations to good use, so thanks already. Just to be clear, we started and have done most of this of our own volition, so there’s no risk of us going away or having to shut up shop because of lack of money. We just wanted a way that’s a bit more official for you to become a part of what we do and we can more easily manage a few perks for those that do donate!
One final thing. We have had a deal for a few years now with TeeSpring who sells our t-shirts for a fairly reasonable price as well as a few other pieces of swag including logo stickers, blankets, mugs, sweatshirts and even face masks (we are proud of our logo as it was designed by Alexander with my input and feel it conveys a lot about who we are and what we stand for) so when we see it on a t-shirt in the wild or at a convention, it brings us great joy! Here is a link to that page: https://teespring.com/stores/the-players-aid
To wrap this up, we simply want to say thank you for all of the support that you give us and for your interest in our content. Ultimately blogs and YouTube Channels only really continue with consistent posts if there is a response. The work involved, while it is a hobby and something that we do for the love of the games, does take us away from some of our other responsibilities at least partially and it is good to see that our content is having an impact on someone. We have made a lot of good friends through this little blog experiment of ours and we look forward to seeing many of you again soon once we get back to going out and attending conventions again, hopefully that will be later this year.
Please let us know what you would like to see from our blog and YouTube Channel and also tell us what you enjoy about our content. Thanks and here is to hopefully another successful 2021.