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The True Story of a Board Game, Bludgeoned by Amazon Vine

This short story diverges from our usual fare, as it recounts a modern-day experience—an adventure undertaken by a team of entrepreneurs. More accurately, it’s about a small family that created a board game.

This is not just a story inspired by true events; it is true in its entirety.

It all began four years ago, in the summer of 2020. A family living in the Pacific Northwest, faced with the ennui of long summer days, was brainstorming new hobbies to alleviate their boredom. They asked themselves: What can we do to be productive and have fun? What family activity can teach the children new skills and help us pass the time enjoyably?

“Let’s create a family board game,” suggested the mother. Instantly, the father and sons were brimming with ideas and creative energy.

So, the family set to the task. They exchanged ideas, formed themes, researched game theory, devised strategies, and troubleshooted issues. They spent hundreds of hours creating and re-creating gameplay and all possible game scenarios.

Once the rules were established, they came up with a name: Boston Massacre.

Boston Massacre is a 5-10 player battle of wits—a game of hidden identity and persuasion with complex gameplay strategies that evolve with each game. It has been called the best new secret identity game on the market, surpassing even Mafia. While it takes effort to learn, it is easy to play once the concepts are understood.

Here is a Summary of Gameplay:

  1. Initial Setup: Players are randomly given player cards based on the themes of the Revolutionary War and the Boston Massacre. Each player receives either a Patriot, Redcoat, or Benedict Arnold card.
  2. Eyes Closed: Everyone closes their eyes, and the Redcoats and Benedict open theirs to see each other.
  3. Game Start: The game begins with a full-on war of deceit, persuasion, and cunning weapon play to seek advantages and win battles toward victory. The first team to win 5 battles wins the game.
  4. Benedict Arnold’s Role: Benedict Arnold must remain discreet. If revealed as a Redcoat spy, they compromise their chance for an early Redcoat victory.

Gameplay proved to be not only raucous but also addictive, with the family and close friends spending hours on weekends playing it repeatedly. Even when the game was finished, discussions of strategy continued, often over text.

A common post-game conversation might have gone something like this:

“Mark, darling, your performance as Benedict Arnold was positively reckless. Allow me to impart some strategic wisdom: when playing Benedict as a Redcoat, your primary objective should be to ingratiate yourself with the Patriots. Yes, even if it means sacrificing an early battle or victory for the Redcoats. Trust me, trust is your most valuable asset—something you seemed to squander with wild abandon.”

And mark might have replied:

“Oh, please, spare me the lecture. Trust might be your precious commodity, but I prefer a more direct approach. Subtlety is overrated—at least I kept things interesting. Maybe next time, you can try not to micromanage from the sidelines.”

And thus, the games unfolded, one after another, with everyone joining in—grandparents and kids alike. Some of the games were streamed live on Instagram, while others can still be found on YouTube, complete with chants, jeers, and playful trash-talking.

To summarize: There had never been a game that captured such excitement and family energy, filled with tears, noise, and enthusiastic chants.

As with Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

With a realistic view of the business potential but still carrying a degree of excitement, the family team invested in 500 sets of the game “Boston Massacre,” set up an Amazon Seller Account, and put the game up for sale online. Within a month, they managed to sell 100 board games. Even as the initial rush subsided, they consistently sold at least one game per day, sometimes more. Then, the reviews began to pour in.

One reviewer exclaimed, “We’ve played this game multiple times in larger groups—it’s an absolute blast. My voice is actually strained from yelling so much. It’s a straightforward game, yet its replay value is high because it’s different every time.”

Within one year, they had 10 organic reviews and a 4.6 star rating.

Their sales were on an upward trajectory, but upon comparing their Amazon listing to others in the same genre, they realized theirs lacked the visual appeal of established brands. While it contained text and photos, it lacked the eye-catching elements present in other listings. They researched how to improve this and discovered that incorporating trademarked brand names was necessary to access certain template listings.

Using the funds they had accrued from sales, totaling approximately $1000, they decided to invest in establishing a trademark and securing a business name. They settled on the name “Blue Chimp Games,” envisioning potential expansion into a broader range of games in the future.

Unfortunately, they discovered that transitioning the listing of “Boston Massacre” to their newly trademarked brand, Blue Chimp Games, would require starting from scratch with reviews. There was no method to transfer the existing reviews to the new listing, necessitating a fresh start.

They petitioned Amazon customer service for an exception, but there was no flexibility.

So, they relisted their game under the new brand name, starting afresh with zero reviews and an unfamiliar listing in the vast landscape of the internet. Like Ishmael of Moby Dick setting out in unfamiliar territory:

“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

The watery part of the world turned out to be a graveyard for the Game, Boston Massacre. As soon as the listing was moved, sales dropped to zero. If you typed Boston Massacre Game into Amazon, the listing would no longer show up.

So the family got nervous. And called Amazon.

Amazon told them that they can apply for the Vine Free Product Review program, where they give away board games for nearly free in return for product reviews.

The family consulted, a vote was taken and it was decided to enroll, to enlist like a good Amazon seller soldier.

Not much different than that described by Shakespeare:  

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

It’s been more than a year since they initiated this program, so I inquired about its progress. They shared a link to their listing, which displayed 23 reviews and a rating of 3.6 stars. Interestingly, all the reviews were from “Vine customer reviewers for a free product.”

Surprisingly, none of these reviewers had actually played their game. Instead, they focused on aspects like the design aesthetics, materials used, and the rule book, among other things.

Boston Massacre, the game, is apparently now dead in the water, with sales flatlining at zero and their prospects bleak as well.

Much like the ship Pequod in Moby Dick:

“We beat to quarters, the yards were squared, the sails set; and as if by magic, the ship was under way. It was a magnificent and exhilarating sight. The spray was flying in all directions; the sun was shining; and the whole scene was one of animation and life. Suddenly, however, our progress was arrested. The ship seemed to stagger, and then to stop altogether. We were dead in the water!”

So, I asked the family what their next steps were. The father compared their situation to Ahab’s pursuit of the Great Whale. He admitted that he didn’t have the resolve to be like Ahab, and that Amazon, the Great Whale, would inevitably win this battle.

He remarked that their game, “Boston Massacre,” was fated to sink into the vortex, much like the battle-scarred Captain Ahab.

“Looking up, he saw the white whale’s jaw; and the jaw slipping still further into the coil; a sudden vortex spun him round, and sent him shooting head-foremost beneath the sea.”

To the Boston Massacre game, we salute you with the old military funeral tradition, Taps. We look back not with regret for you joining Amazon’s Vine program, which ultimately sank the ship, but with backward-facing optimism for the time well spent together.

POST SCRIPT

This is step by step how Boston Massacre game sales dropped from appx 3-5 a week to 1-2 a month.

1). We initially set up Boston Massacre Game on Amazon without a brand, so we were unable to take advantage of perks that come with having a brand (ie fancy listing, pictures, videos, etc). We were selling about 3-5 per week for the first year.

You can see that our rating was 4.6 with 10 reviews:

There weren’t a lot of reviews, but they were credible, thorough and mostly positive.

Because they were people that Actually played the game!

2). We talked to amazon about getting a brand name so we could take advantage of the perks. It was relatively easy to do, although it was quite expensive as we had to apply for a trademark.

But, we did it.

3). We listed our game under our brand: BLUE CHIMP GAMES

We were told that there was no way to migrate our first listing and we couldn’t move our reviews over either.

So, we had to start over.

4). Amazon said we should use the Vine Customer Reviews to build up our reputation. All we had to do was give away a bunch of our games for dirt cheap.

So, we did it. Because we’re naive.

5). We got 23 reviews. All of which were from the Vine Product Reviewers.

NONE OF THEM ACTUALLY PLAYED THE GAME

These are what the reviews look like now. Basically talking about the quality of the material and the looks of the game. Not ONE person has actually played the game how it’s meant to be played.

OUR SALES HAVE FLATLINED AT ZERO.

And there is now nothing we can do about it. Can’t relist it. Can’t do anything. Just destroyed our business. Great game that won’t ever be played. Not just a great game, it’s one of the best party games ever invented. It takes skill and intellectual adjustment to succeed. None of these vine whiners could figure it out. Doesn’t surprise me.

Goodbye Boston Massacre Game,

Sincerely,

Team BM

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