Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking to Liberty Kifer, who designed Crystallo, which is a Solitaire puzzle game. Now we're going to talk about that game Crystallo, and how much money it raised and how well it's done on Kickstarter, then we're also going to talk about what happens after you have an initial success on Kickstarter or with your game, so stick around for that because I'm really excited to chat about a different topic after that. Liberty, welcome to the show.

Liberty Kifer: Hi. Nice to talk to you, Patrick.

Introduction

Patrick: I'd like to start with a lightning round game to introduce you to the audience. Cool?

Liberty: Yeah, totally cool.

Patrick: All right. What is your favorite mythical creature?

Liberty: I was obsessed with dragons growing up, so that would have to be– Am I supposed to be fast?

Patrick: No, not that fast.

Liberty: OK yeah, dragons. But I also really loved the jackalope. I'm from Montana, so got to love the jackalope.

Patrick: You got to love those made-up animals, yeah. Now I got to ask you an important question about dragons. Do dragons have four arms and two wings, or do they have two legs and then two arm wings?

Liberty: I'm going to have to go with four legs and two wings because I find the other ones creepy.

Patrick: Yes, great. I feel like the other dragons are somehow inferior. So, great. I'm glad you like the cool type of dragon.

Liberty: Yes.

Patrick: So in lots of games– Your game, Crystallo, has lots of gems and we're going to be talking about those. In lots of games, gems have magical properties, so what is a magical property you would want from a gem?

Liberty: I guess this is weird, but I would want one that you could plant it and then it would make a tree that would grow more gems.

Patrick: Great.

Liberty: [First thing I'd want].

Patrick: Like a money tree gem, I like it.

Liberty: Yeah.

Patrick: Very cool. Then what is a game you would play with someone every single time at a convention?

Liberty: I will always play Texas Hold 'em if it's available. That's the one game I'm truly competitive about, so I would probably always go for that. But I hope that I'll get to play a bunch of games that I haven't played.

How Did You Get Into Board Games and Board Game Design?

Patrick: Great. Yeah, that makes sense. I have played Texas Hold 'em I think one time, and I was easily the first person out. I did very badly. So, I don't know what skills you have, but they're not the skills that I have. All right. So first real question is, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Liberty: I had never really thought about it, and then my kids and I made up a car game. I'm saying, “Car game,” not “Card game.” But when we got home from this trip, we were talking about how fun that was, and we decided we wanted to try to make a card game out of it so that we could play it with other people. So we started working on that, and I still have that game pretty much complete, but it's been on the back burner since I ended up working on Crystallo and that took me in a different direction. But yeah, my kids are the reason I got into it, for sure.

Patrick: That's very cool. I think you are the first person to have that reason on the show, to where your kids got you into it, and it wasn't something you did on your own.

Liberty: Really? That's cool.

Tell Me About Crystallo

Patrick: Yeah, it's very cool. OK, so tell me about Crystallo. Just give us the 2-3 sentence description of the game, and then where did it–? Tell us where did it come from, where did the idea come from?

Liberty: OK. Crystallo is a Solitaire puzzle-y card game. It's played with a little 54 card deck and some pretty gems. It uses site collection and pattern building. You're matching up these crystals in certain ways to build out patterns in order to free these mythical creatures that have been trapped by a wicked black dragon, and then if you free all the creatures, you get to go ahead and try to trap the black dragon in his lair. So, that's Crystallo.

Crystallo components

Liberty: As far as how it came about, I was spending time on BoardGameGeek working on this other game I was telling you about, I was working on with my kids, and I saw the contests. The solo Print & Play contests and I was immediately really fascinated by that because I didn't know that there was such a thing as solo board games. That was totally new to me, and I really couldn't imagine what game I would play by myself, so I just wanted to get involved on the level of understanding what the contests are like and getting to know more people. But I kept thinking about it and kept thinking about it, and finally one day I just got a deck of cards out and started fiddling with an idea. Crystallo happened pretty quickly after I started playing around with it.

Patrick: OK, so you have– So you're randomly on BoardGameGeek, and you randomly see a design contest challenge thing about a Solitaire game, you go “That's cool. I didn't even know you can make one of those.” Presumably, you've never played one with the exception of maybe Solitaire itself.

Liberty: I played a lot of puzzle-y apps online, like Solo, but I had never played one physically, I guess except for Solitaire.

What Inspired You?

Patrick: Interesting. I don't play many puzzle games on my phone, was that an inspiration for you? The puzzle-y game on your phone that helped you make a good–?

Liberty: Definitely.

Patrick: Very cool.

Liberty: Definitely. I feel like that was probably– That and I had just played SET for the first time, which I fell in love with immediately. The spatial aspect puzzle part of it was just really, and I don't know, the pattern stuff just really caught my attention and my imagination. So that was a big inspiration for how the mechanics worked, but as far as the feel of playing it I wanted it to have that yummy, sparkly app feel to it. I think I was a big inspiration for the look in the gems.

Patrick: Yeah. It is very sparkly.

Liberty: Definitely. It's very girly. I didn't realize that people were going to– That so many people would go for it. I was making something that I would like and thought my girls would like.

Patrick: So I normally do– I have a couple of follow up questions on Crystallo, but I want to take a little detour here. Were you surprised–? When you say it was “Girly,” did you think that guys would never buy it? Or did you think– Is that right?

Liberty: Honestly, I when I was first designing it I wasn't even thinking beyond just putting something in the contest. I just designed it basically– Like, my kids love the fantasy creatures, and they helped me pick out what was going to be in it. I was doing the drawings for something that they would enjoy, and then because I was thinking about them while I was doing it I thought that there would be a lot of these male game designers in the contest who would look at that and think “That's for kids,” or “That's too girly,” or I don't know. I was just really surprised that people responded to it the way they did.

Patrick: Very cool. It's nice to have your expectations exceeded.

Liberty: For sure, yeah. It was a great surprise.

What Design Challenges Did You Run Into?

Patrick: Did you have any design challenges with the game? Was there something that took you a while to figure out?

Liberty: I can say that the first iteration of the game that I put together, it was all played in the hand. It was a fairly different game at that point, but I ran it by my oldest daughter who is 12, and she said “It feels boring and predictable.” So yeah, I had to go back to the drawing board a little bit and see where it was wrong. I ended up going on BoardGameGeek and asking, and I think the one player guild “What are you looking for when you when you play a solo game?” Because I didn't know, I didn't know what people expected from them. I had never played a solo board game, so then I was able to take that feedback and rework it pretty quickly into basically what it ended up being.

Patrick: One of things I think we were talking about ahead of time is basically the core of the game was developed in two days. Is that right?

Liberty: Yeah, as far as having a playable prototype that worked like Crystallo works. Yeah, I had like a throwaway theme, but the game was built basically in two days.

Patrick: That's pretty amazing. I think we were talking and chatting about this just a little bit right before the show, but it seems like maybe, I don't know, 20-30% of my guests have a game that works in a couple of days or a week, or the first playtester or something like that. Then maybe 60% of people don't. It's a struggle, but they work on their game design for a year or two. So it's pretty cool that you're in that 20-30% that finds something super interesting right off the hook.

Liberty: Yeah. I'm still definitely feeling fortunate that it came together that quickly, and although I think it does– We'll talk about it more on this podcast, but it does give me that little bit of doubt, like “What if lightning only strikes once?”

How Did You Create the Artwork?

Patrick: Yes, we are going to get there in just a minute. The other thing I want to point out about Crystallo. You made the art, and not only did you make the art, I believe you also learned Illustrator to make the art. Why would you do such a crazy thing? I say that in a good way. What is the word I'm looking for? “Crazy” is the wrong word. Why would you do such an audacious thing? That's a lot of work. I think it's remarkable, in a good way.

Liberty: I had been playing with Illustrator on a casual basis up until that point, and then I had used it a little bit on this other game I was working on, but in a really simple way. The artwork for that was a lot simpler, so I had to teach myself a lot during the process of making the art for Crystallo and, I don't know. I guess I like that challenge. I am stubborn, a lot of people would go online and find tutorials, and they would learn how to do things from watching other people who know how to do them. I'm just not that way. I have to get in there and start pushing buttons. I don't know why that is. It's a little masochistic.

Patrick: Did that also only take you two days, or are–? Do you–?

Liberty: No, but I did bust the artwork out fast because I didn't have my idea for the solo game until we were just a couple of weeks out from the deadline. I think I entered two days before the contest deadline, but I had spent about two weeks on the artwork before that.

Patrick: You learned Illustrator and made all the illustrations in two weeks?

Liberty: Like I said, I had some background with Illustrator, but it was– I had to learn a lot, for sure.

Patrick: That is super impressive. That is very impressive. I give you kudos..

Liberty: Thank you.

What Happened After Your Success on Kickstarter?

Patrick: OK, so the thing I am actually– The reason I reached out to you is you had this post on a Facebook group. By the way listeners, I will share a screenshot of the post in the show notes, so if you want to see the whole post, it's in the show notes.

Post on Imposter Syndrome

Patrick: But you basically said, “I'm [inaudible]. I had a great time at the designing game-winning contest, running a successful Kickstarter campaign.” Which by the way, we haven't mentioned yet. I think you raised $40,000 dollars for your game, which is very impressive and lucky. Then you talk about how you're working on the next game, and you feel all this doubt, you feel a bit anxious. I think the thing that people usually call that is imposter syndrome, and I'd like to know, could you talk about–? Maybe talk about what exactly you were feeling and what happened when you posted this and that whole story.

Liberty: Yeah. I'd had this building feeling of, I don't know, I was avoiding working on the new project, and I was feeling stressed out. I was trying to figure out why, because I was excited about this new game I was working on, and then I just stopped, and I couldn't get myself going again.

Liberty: I'm just one of those types that it's all or nothing. I can't do a little bit. I have to– When I start working, I'll work for five days straight and then take a break, which is OK. I'm learning how to deal with that, but it had been a long time that I hadn't wanted to work on it and I realized that I was having a lot of self-doubt and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because I had this successful– Way beyond my expectations successful game my first time, and all of a sudden I had people asking me advice, and I got invited to speak on a couple of panels at the convention that I'm doing in October, and it's all really exciting, and I was thrilled. But at the same time, it was like, “I don't know if anyone should be asking me advice. I don't know that I know anything.” I started feeling this pressure of, “What if this next game I'm working on ends up being garbage and what if nobody likes it, and that's the end?” So that's where I was at, and when I feel that way I have to get it off my chest so I can move on.

Patrick: There's 127 comments at the time of this recording, but what was the response there?

Liberty: It was way beyond what I expected. I thought that I'd get a couple of half-hearted “We all go through it, don't worry about it” kind of thing. But there was so many people pouring their hearts out, saying “I've been through this, I know what it's like, I'm so sorry that you're dealing with it, but it's such a normal part of the process. We believe in you, and you're going to do great.” It was touching, and it made me realize what a common experience it is for people in this industry and probably in every creative industry.

Advice for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Patrick: For someone who may be going through this, just some self-doubt, they don't think they can do it. Maybe they want to think, or maybe they didn't, but what would you recommend to someone who's going through that?

Liberty: The best thing that I can recommend is talking to people about it because that was the thing that has taken a weight off of me a little bit. I still have those feelings, but now it's not this secret feeling that I'm carrying around of “I'm not good enough. I don't belong,” or “I don't deserve this.” When you're carrying that around by yourself it magnifies, and it becomes this big real thing that you're hiding, and then you wonder if other people can tell, and that's the imposter syndrome thing. But if you talk about it, and you're like, “I just feel like I don't know what I'm doing.” Then you feel like you can look at that and laugh at it and be like, “OK. This is just a part of life.”

Patrick: Listeners, if you think I know what I'm doing with the podcast, I don't.

Liberty: See, don't you feel better?

Patrick: I feel better. I think it's really good advice, and I think sometimes maybe there's a bunch of contests that I like to participate in. I did good in one of them recently, and I got second place in one contest. In a different contest, I didn't even make the first cut, I was probably the bottom half, and now I'm like, “God. Did I have one good game?”

Liberty: Right?

Patrick: I don't know what the real answer is. I do think talking about it is step one, but I wish there was more steps. I wish there was other than “Just keep going,” and I don't mean in a bad way, but it's like you keep creating and eventually you'll make something else that's worthwhile. That's not a great word, but something like that.

Liberty: Yeah. I think something like the contest thing is also sometimes you're going to have something that resonates with the people who are running in the contest, and sometimes you're not. Maybe you're just a little bit earlier in the process, and you could still have a killer game, you need to spend more time. So I definitely get that with the contests. I've actually, I started entering something in the solo Print & Play contests for this year. That's the game that I want to get back to working on, but yeah I think that definitely added to my own internalized pressure too. Like, “I won it last year. If I don't do OK this year, I'm going to feel terrible.”

Patrick: Yeah. Do worry about being–? What's the term in music? A “One hit wonder.” Do you worry about being one?

Liberty: Yes, absolutely. And that's so silly because when I entered the contest with Crystallo I had no expectations at all. I thought I had put a lot of time into the artwork, so I thought maybe I would take one of the little artwork awards. I did not expect remotely to place for the whole thing, much less win it. So that was a wonderful experience because it was like “No pressure. Just having fun,” and then I realized that it's really hard to go into it that way again after something like that. I don't know what the secret is to finding that.

Patrick: I think we have the first step, and the first step is to chat about it, and then we can figure out the next step after that. But at least the very first step is to be all open and honest about it, so I think it's helpful to hear that. Thank you for sharing.

Liberty: Yeah.

What Is Your White Whale of Game Design?

Patrick: So, I'm changing gears a little bit. Do you have–? What are other mechanisms you're looking into? What's a white whale, or what's something you've tried to get into a game that you just haven't been able to figure out yet?

Liberty: Yeah, I have– This is a broad thing, I don't know of that is OK.

Patrick: It's fine.

Liberty: But I've had this idea in my head for a long time of a game that rewards creativity and novel thinking, so that's something that is my white whale. I would love to find a way to do that. I always think of that scene in Apollo 13, the one that had all those problems. Anyway, there's a scene in that movie where the people at ground control have to figure out how to make something out of the pieces that are up on the space station. So they are on the shuttle thing, and they have to figure out how to make these two pieces of the ship fit together using what they've got on board, and that's the thinking and the kind of puzzle that I find exciting. If I could find a way to do a cooperative, creative, come up with a solution together in a short timeframe, that kind of a game. If I could figure that out, that would be my white whale.

Patrick: Very cool. Then just randomly, have you seen the movie The Martian?

Liberty: I have, yes.

Patrick: I imagine it ‘s– I don't remember Apollo 13, apparently I watched it too long ago, but is it like that? Where they're like, “OK. He has the rover, so we can take the rover, and we can cut a hole in it. We can do this.” Something like that?

Liberty: Yes. Yeah, exactly. That kind of thinking where it would be different every time, and it would be– Yeah, cooperative. Putting your heads together and brainstorming, it's probably my favorite. It's like the time when I feel most alive is when I'm brainstorming for something, so if I can capture that in a game that would be a big deal.

What Is Holding You Back?

Patrick: For lack of a better word, what's holding you back? That's what I think I want to ask you, are you just waiting for the right design contest? Are you going to wait for this design contest to be done, just so you can focus on that and submit something, then work on something new? Or, what's preventing you from working on it?

Liberty: No, I think with that it's more just one of those ideas that is percolating. I feel like as far as what that looks like mechanically, I'm so far from having an idea that it's just an “In the distance” thing.

Patrick: Cool.

Liberty: But it's something that I feel like once I have more experience, and I have more– Or maybe it will just happen that I'll be in the shower one day and I'll have this idea, and this is how we're going to do it. So I'm patient with it, but that's definitely in the back of my mind.

Does Game Design Energize or Exhaust You?

Patrick: Awesome. Then I'm happy we– Listeners, in case you don't know I always chat with my guests about the questions that they want to chat about on the show. One of the ones that you wanted to talk about was, “Does game design energize or exhaust you?”

Liberty: Yeah, I thought that was a really interesting question because I feel like it's both. The way I was explaining that earlier, the way my mind works is that when I'm engaged in something some people call it hyper-focus. I only want to do that thing for days. So when I was working on the artwork for Castello, it was 12 or 14 hour days, and I don't even feel that. It doesn't bother me, I'm barely hungry, and I'm just focused.

Liberty: Then I have to take a week off, like completely off and do nothing because that's just the way I operate. So it makes it hard sometimes because it does energize me at the time, and then it exhausts me after. So it's both, and I have to learn to work with that because if I can't, that's also part of my problem. Though I've had so much going on this summer, it's just little personal stuff. We're renovating, and we've got neighborhood kids here all the time, and it's just been busy. So if I know that I can't devote several days in a row to something, it's hard for me to even want to put any time in on it because I know that's what's going to happen. I know I'm going to dive in.

Patrick: So it's almost like it's energizing, however, you need to have certain requirements to get started.

Liberty: Yeah, I have to be able to know that I can set that time aside and that I'm not going to be constantly interrupted, and I need to be able to work because I get cranky.

What's a Resource You'd Recommend?

Patrick: Very cool. OK, so I like to ask people these similar three questions. One of which is, what is a resource you'd recommend to another indie game designer? Usually something free, usually something free like a book or something cheap like a book, an audio book, blog post, a podcast other than this one, stuff like that.

Liberty: I think BoardGameGeek, the design forums are underrated. I feel bad because I have spent so little time there recently because I've been– I've gotten in all these Facebook groups now which are very convenient. But I think that I would not have been able to be where I am right now if I hadn't started on BoardGameGeek and just spent time on the forums reading questions and answering questions when I could. Reading other people's rulebooks, there's so much going on there all the time, as far as problems that people are working on. It's a really helpful community, the website is terrible, but I hear they're working on it.

Patrick: Is there a specific forum? Because– I have a web design background, so every time I look at it, my eyes bleed.

Liberty: Yes, I understand.

Patrick: So is there a specific forum that you can point me to so I don't have to browse for it? Like, is there a specific game design forum? Or is it–?

Liberty: Yeah, there's a game design section. There's a few forums within that, there's board game design, and then there's art, I know there was– And then there's the contest threads and the work in progress. The work in progress thing is super useful.

Patrick: Really?

Liberty: Yeah. You make a work in progress thread on there, and I've had to do it for contests, so that's why I know about it, but if you make a work in progress thread, you can catalog your process of making the game and people will help you with that. I got an incredible amount of help and feedback from people there. I had a girl put my Print & Play together for me.

Patrick: Wow.

Liberty: She's good with– She's a professional Print & Play maker. She does amazing work. But I had no idea what format to put that in, so if you ask for help people are so willing to help, which is amazing.

What's the Best Money You've Spent?

Patrick: Very cool. I've considered a work in progress thread for a while, and I just have never pulled the trigger, but I might have to do that after your advice. So, thank you. Then I'm a frugal person, and I try not to spend money when I don't have to. What is something that you spent money on for game design that was worth every single cent?

Liberty: Definitely, prototypes. I think getting a nice prototype to play with was worth it. I can't recommend DriveThruCards enough.

Liberty: I have not used a bunch of services, but I like them, and their customer service is amazing. But also, spending money on getting a lot of prototypes to send out to reviewers. The nice thing about Crystallo is that it's not very expensive and it's not expensive to ship because it's so small. But yeah, I sent out 20 copies prior to my Kickstarter, and that was definitely the best money I spent because I didn't spend anything on advertising and I still had my game popping up everywhere because I had sent out a bunch of copies. So, I definitely think that was my best investment.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick: Awesome. Very good to hear that. Then I think my favorite wrap up question is, what does success in the board game world look like to you?

Liberty: Gosh, that's a good one. I think what I would like to see is I'd like to look back and see a catalog of games that has a common thread that people would recognize, where they're like, “That's a Liberty Kifer game.” Where like, if they knew one of my games they would know what my other games are because there's something– Because that would make me feel like there was something that I brought to the table that was unique to me, and I don't know, maybe that's egotistical. But you want to feel like you're contributing something that only you could have, that's unique.

Patrick: Very cool. I love that. I'm trying to think– I'm so sorry. I was off in daydream land. I was like, “Would I want to be recognized for artwork, or would I want to be recognized for mechanisms or packaging? I don't know.” Which one would you like? Would you want to be recognized for maybe your illustration style, or mechanics, or the size of the game, or Solitaire games? Or what?

Liberty: The artwork is a big part of it for me, obviously. If people– I actually would love at some point to do artwork for other people's games too. Just throwing that out there. But yeah, I think also just the feel of it, like “How does it make you feel when you play it?” I think if I could create something that is consistent like that, like some of these other game designers that you hear about where it's one of their games. You know because it feels like one of their games. That's very amorphous, and I don't know how I'll know if I've achieved that.

Patrick: No, that's great, and you can figure out the details later. That sounds awesome.

Liberty: Yeah.

Overrated / Underrated

Patrick: So the actual ending, sorry listeners if it's your first time. The real ending is this silly little game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard about it?

Liberty: I don't know.

Patrick: Excellent. You kind of already played it in this episode where you said the BGG forms are underrated, so I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and you have to tell me if you think it is over or underrated. Make sense?

Liberty: Should I give a reason?

Patrick: Yes, a one or two-sentence reason why. So if I said “Peanut butter and jelly,” you're going to say “Underrated because they're delicious,” something like that.

Liberty: OK.

Patrick: So I'm going to go with the original Solitaire card game that you can play with a regular deck of cards, overrated or underrated?

Liberty: I'm already going to break the game. I'm going to say it's appropriately rated. I feel like it's as popular as it should be, which is to say it's OK.

Patrick: What I find great about this is a lot of guests go, “Can I say appropriately rated?” And then I say, “No.” Then you just did it. That is great, and I love it. We're going to stick with it. I'm going to go with the archetypical Philosopher's Stone, overrated or underrated? Just for listeners who don't know, that's a thing that can turn metal into gold.

Liberty: I'm going to say overrated.

Patrick: You think turning random metal into gold is overrated?

Liberty: You know what? I feel like when you said it the second time it sunk in. I'm going to say underrated. Because gold prices are good right now.

Patrick: OK, cool. I have an opinion, but it's not necessarily– It doesn't have to line up. We can have disagreeing opinions.

Liberty: I was looking at it from a spiritual angle. I'm like, “Wealth. I could use it.”

Patrick: Interesting? Let's go with the third one here, how about just all BGG contests in general? Are they overrated or underrated?

Liberty: Way, underrated. Great experience.

Patrick: The last one, just because I thought of the Philosopher's Stone. How about Harry Potter? Overrated or underrated?

Liberty: I'm going to lose friends. Highly overrated.

Patrick: Wow. Not just overrated, but highly overrated?

Liberty: Yeah, I apologize, but I got to be honest.

Patrick: You've got to give me at least one sentence why.

Liberty: I don't know. I think they're good, I don't think– I think there's series of books, and there's a lot of better stuff out there. That's all, I think.

Wrap Up

Patrick: OK. Very cool. Liberty, thank you so much for being on the show.

Liberty: Thank you for having me, it was a lot of fun.

Patrick: Where can people find you and your games online?

Liberty: Anywhere that ‘s– I'm Light Heart Games everywhere. So you can e-mail me at Liberty@LightHeartGames.com. You can find me on Facebook as Light Heart Games. TwitterInstagram, everywhere. Light Heart Games, super easy to remember.

Patrick: Very cool. Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you leave a review, Liberty said she would help you find your spirit animal, which sounds fantastic to me. You got to take her up on that. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter, I'm @BFTrick. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Chris Rossetti, who designed Brace for Impact! and 11:59. He also runs Rampage Games. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Rosetti: Thank you for having me. I'm excited.

Continue reading “#90 – Chris Rossetti”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week to talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking to Jessica Creane who designed a destructible tabletop game called Schrodinger's Cat, a game theater piece running in New York City called Chaos Theory, a gamified philosophy salon called Know Thyself, and a collaboration with the National Park Service that includes conversation games about climate change. I don't even know what a game theater piece is, nor a gamified philosophy salon, so we will get into all that in the show. Jessica, welcome to the show.

Jessica Creane: Hi, Patrick.

Continue reading “#89 – Jessica Creane”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking to Michael and Christina Pittre, who designed On The Rocks, which is a game about making drinks. It's on Kickstarter as we're recording and will likely be done when this episode is released. Michael, Christina, welcome to the show.

Christina Pittre: Hi, thank you for having us.

Michael Pittre: Thank you.

Continue reading “#88 – Michael & Christina Pittre”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way.

Patrick: My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Zach Horton, who designed Mehen, which is a game played in ancient Egypt over 4,500 years ago. I played a prototype of this at Origins on an insanely gorgeous board, and I have a couple of photos that I took, which I will include in the show notes. In the meantime, Zach, welcome to the show.

Zach Horton: Thank you so much.

Introduction

Patrick: I have a very quick lightning-round introduction thing so that the audience gets to know you, answer these however you can. What is a game you play with someone every single time at a convention?

Zach: I'll answer this by saying a game that I would play with anyone, anywhere is Carcassonne. That's for me, a perfect balance between utter simplicity of play and complex emergent strategy.

Patrick: I love it. It's such a good intro game too, so I like that answer. Now besides Mehen, are there any other ancient games that you like?

Zach: Yes. I have to admit that I am not a huge player of ancient games, but as an academic, I'm very interested in the history of games. I study these games often, and there are some that I quite like. The Royal Game of Ur is a fantastic ancient game, sometimes called The Game of 20 Squares. Senet, which is another ancient Egyptian game, roughly contemporary to Mehen and much better known, but also a fantastic game. I enjoy playing it. Maybe Go is another ancient game that I think is brilliant. I am far from a great player of Go, in fact, it's embarrassing to me how bad of a Go player I am, but I think that is an amazing game.

Patrick: I've yet to play Go, but it looks absolutely, fabulously, deep in terms of gameplay. If you had– So, I have a silly question. If you have to choose between taking care of giant snakes or a lion, which would you choose?

Zach: I have to say a lion, partly because I am a fan of Tippi Hedren. If you know the actress from The Birds who lived with lions for years and years of her life with her husband in the 70s, I believe. Literally, lions roaming around the house. Pretty amazing. She's a big fan of lions and then later created a little more sustainable wilderness refuge for lions that she runs today. I've been there and met her and seen her lions. She made a film in the 70s called Roar, it's a narrative film, but it's with her pet lions and a similar story. I recommend that. I don't know what my giant snake would be eating, I don't know what a giant lion would be eating either, but I think I have to go with the lion.

How Did You Get Into Board Games & Board Game Design?

Patrick: I think that makes a lot of sense to me. I like it. So first real question is, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Zach: I've been designing board games since I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. I would say that began– I had no sophisticated introduction to board games. They just showed up from– Picked up at garage sales, or whatever. This would have been in the very early 90s, it was before the current boom in board games and before euro games, except for very early ones.

Zach: I remember Scotland Yard and getting a copy of Scotland Yard, which I still think is a great game. I just felt the desire to modify this thing, and it was such a cool system. All of these networks of roads and bus lines and metro lines all over the board, and these numbered squares, it had so much potential. You could do so much moving around London through all these networks, and I thought, “I could make a cool game out of this.” I started drawing my own lines and creating even more sophisticated of a game, and at some point, I gave that away, unfortunately. It was a one-off copy, and I'll never play it again, but I do still play Scotland Yard.

Zach: Also at that time, there were Avalon Hill games around, they're war games. I was also inspired by these hexagonal boards with all this beautiful terrain on them. It was a similar thing about potential, the potential of this landscape, and this board. I was less interested in actually playing the wargames themselves in their specificity, and more interested in this open-ended possibility of the board, so I just started creating my own systems. I should say, though, that I didn't design games for about two decades after that. I had a period early on, and only in recent years am I now getting back to that. Otherwise, I would probably have a huge string of games made. It was an early obsession, and now a new obsession again.

Tell Me About Mehen

Patrick: That's great. I really want to talk about your game Mehen, because it's this ancient game from roughly 5,000 years ago. No one knows the exact rules. The question is, why did you decide to explore this game and flesh out the rules? Or I should say, take your best guess? Correct me if I'm wrong, but work on the rules and make them more impressive, and you hinted at it in your intro or in the lightning round section. Professionally, what do you do and why is this related? That's a giant question for you.

Zach: Great. I'm happy to take on a giant question. First of all, I'll address this question of how to pronounce this game, because it's a strange one. This being a podcast is the perfect medium for this. The game– In ancient Egyptian, there are no vowels as such or not vowels as we have them in English. Transliterated the game actually would be spelled “M-H-N.” You don't pronounce the “H,” It's more of a slight pause, so it's pronounced “Men” like the word “M-E-N.”

Zach: That's an interesting aside right there, that is difficult for most people because you don't usually hear it pronounced. Most people probably don't even see it written, because the game is a bit more obscure than Senet, which is the most famous Egyptian game.

Zach: But at some point in just looking at ancient games, I came across this board, and the Mehen board is so beautiful. It's this huge, round board. It's one of the only prolific– Let's say, widely-played ancient game that I know of that uses a round board.

Zach: More importantly than that, it's a spiral. This is exciting. This is rare, even in modern times as well as ancient times in board game design, that you'd have a spiral as your area of play. The idea that there was something here– It's very unlike other ancient games, for instance, which often are played on grids. Those are the most common games of that period, of 5,000 years ago.

Zach: The Sumerian games and the Egyptian games of that time are almost exclusively played on grids, so the idea that you would have this strange spiral intrigued me. The board is just beautiful. There are only about 15 copies that exist that archaeologists have found from that time period, but they're stunning to look at, and that was what attracted me to the game. I thought, “How do you play a game that's so radically different from the way we think of ancient games, especially at that time? How do you play a game that's not on a grid, that's on a spiral, that's a snake?”

Zach: It also seemed like it had a really interesting theme, and to tie that into the other part of your question, I'm a university professor of literature, media studies, and game studies at the University of Pittsburgh. As a kind of media, as a form of mediation, a way of mediating dynamics between people and of course historically, as a form of media that develops over time. Over thousands of years, actually.

Zach: I'm very interested in contemporary board games, contemporary video games, and older board games stretching back a long time. This game is an anomaly actually, in the history of board games for a number of reasons, and that anomaly attracted me. I thought, “There is a mystery to this game. People don't know exactly how it was played.”

Zach: So, you're right. It is in some ways taking a guess, but there is evidence as well. In terms of regarding how the game was played, the game shows up and is referenced a lot in literature and poems. In some of the surviving texts we have, it's mentioned as being played a lot. There are images of it on pottery, and there's a famous tomb painting, an actual painting that was well preserved with all of its color and everything in a tomb of the game.

Zach: Of course, we have a number of boards and some pieces that have been recovered archaeologically. There is a fair amount of evidence about the game itself, but no rules. There's no writing and no explanation of the rules of the game that have ever survived to modern times. The game isn't played, it was only played for about a thousand years from about 3000 BC to 2000 BC. So there is a break, and we don't know how it was played, and that mystery excited me, so that's how I came to it and indeed had to figure out how it could be played.

Patrick: I love that answer. I also find it funny that you say the game was only played for a thousand years. What percent of the games that are being made now are going to last for a thousand years?

Zach: Absolutely, yeah.

How Do You Revive Such an Old Game?

Patrick: I wanted to comment on the board. I was walking down the hall of Origins, and I saw this cool wooden snake board, and I walked over, and I was like “What is this awesome thing? Tell me about it.” That's how this whole thing got started. It is stunning, so I am definitely including photos in the show notes to show people. I am really curious, there's hints, there's rules, and things of how the game might have been made or might've been played, but can you go into detail? How do you revive a game that hasn't been played in 3,000 years? How do you put together the rules? Did you–? Some sub-questions are, did you come up with a whole bunch of possible rules, and then you play tested them, and then you're like “No, those can't be it?” Or did you–? What is the whole process of recreating rules from three thousand years ago?

Mehen Board at Origins
Playing Mehen at Origins

Zach: Right. Great question. There are scholars who exclusively focus on ancient games, and some of them have speculated, a number of them have speculated about how the game might be played based on the evidence. I did my scholarly research there, so I know what other people have, in the past, thought about how the game might be played.

Zach: The game isn't played now, so in some ways, these are academic guesses. Let's say that academics aren't always necessarily the same or have the same minds as game designers. I happen to be quite interested in both, but not everyone is. The rules that have been suggested are not necessarily very playable. That might be one reason that the game has not been successfully revived, whereas Senet has.

Zach: People do– It might not be super common, but people do play Senet, a contemporary game that was roughly as contemporary to this one in ancient Egypt. But I looked at those rules, and I said, “This is not fun. This would not be a fun game as people are suggesting how it would be played, and it's also not very necessarily imaginative how people were suggesting it would be played.”

Zach: In other words, they were extrapolating from other games like Senet, games that were more grid-based games. Grid-based race games, I'll say, where you're trying to race from point A to point B. I think this is a race game, was a race game, but I think a far more interesting one and a non-linear one. That's the only thing that makes sense to me, otherwise, it would be designed like other race games of the time.

Zach: That was my first clue and divergence, is to say, “I'm going to take my inspiration from the boards that exist.” I looked at the existing boards, the archeological examples of boards. There's no standardization in this game on the board, unlike, for instance, Senet or The Royal Game of Ur, which generally have the same number of squares and the same orientation with only small variations.

Zach: This game, they're wildly different. Each board is different, so that's a clue. I was looking for clues like that. How could each board be a little different? Some are huge and have hundreds of spaces, some are small and have less than 100 spaces, but they all have this spiral shape.

Zach: We also know a few other clues, which are that up to six people could play. We know that from examples, images, that there were up to six sets of pieces. It's the only ancient game– every other ancient game we know of is a two-player game, as far as we know. This one could play, who knows how many? Up to six. That was interesting. We know that the pieces, each person has six pieces from this beautiful painting that show six of each color.

Zach: These are sometimes by scholars called “Marbles,” because in early versions of the game, the oldest versions, they were indeed marbles. Later they were not necessarily marbles. In our version, they're not marbles because we're going with a late game design from the 2000 to 2500 BC era. Later in the game's history, that's the era that we're– The game went through an evolution. But anyway, what I did is I said “OK. Look, we have this board, it's a spiral, it works a certain way. It's about God.

Zach: Mehen is a God to the Egyptians, and it's a Snake God, and the Snake God is a protector of Ra. I assume everyone knows that Ra is the Sun God, the most powerful and important God to the ancient Egyptians. Ra, of course, is all-powerful during the day but at night Ra goes below the earth. The sun goes below the earth and into the nether world, and then will rise again the next day. Ra is vulnerable during that period of time, and Mehen is the God that protects Ra during the nighttime.

Zach: Mehen, as a giant snake, is often thought of as wrapping its coils around Ra, forming this protective barrier against all of the evil spirits and things that will assail Ra at night. So, this is interesting. This is a fantastic story, and this is a fantastic theme for a game. We know from the surviving examples that this played out in a really interesting geometry. The spiral geometry of the board, which represents the coiled snake, or Mehen, and you move from the tail to the head. The object is to reach the head. Then there's some disagreement whether or not you're meant to also then get back to the tail or not. In my version, you don't go back to the tail.

Zach: But this is what we know, we know the story of Mehen, what role this God played in Egyptian mythology and religion, and we also know how the game looks, and we know the pieces. With a wealth of evidence, I could say, “That still leaves a number of possibilities, in terms of how this could be played.” That's why it was a creative process at that point, and it becomes a game design exercise at that point. Say, “OK, these are my constraints.” I kept to these pretty heavy constraints, in terms of how the game I think really could have been played, but within those constraints I played around with different mechanics, different possibilities, to say “What would make this a fun game?” “How do I approach this as a game designer?”

Zach: I can't say with any authority “This is how it was played,” but neither can anyone else. No one knows how it was played. We only have the evidence we have. I'll say that one other interesting piece of evidence, that a few revivals of this game in the 90s, there was a museum book published by the British Museum that included this game in a cardboard fold-out version. Irving Finkel, great scholar there, recently more also a YouTube phenomenon for his explanation and play of The Royal Game of Ur. But his suggested rules for Mehen were boring, no offense to Dr. Finkel, but I don't think that's the best way to play the game.

Zach: What was interesting is, ignored by him and other people who have tried to create little versions of the game in the past is the fact that there are lions in this game. There are regular pawns, and there are lions, which you alluded to earlier in your question. The Lions, very interestingly, are not in the evidence we have color-coded like the pawns. It's not like you have a set of pawns and then you also have a lion or a set of lions, or something like that. The lions are a neutral color, and the pawns are color-coded to the different players. This is a key piece of evidence that mostly people ignore, if they try to figure out how to play the game because they say “That doesn't make sense to our modern sensibility” Truly, there are two types of pieces that have different moves on the board, and you use them strategically with each other.”

Zach: There are scholars who have correctly said, “That can't be the case because you wouldn't be able to keep track of which one is your lion. They would simply be color-coded if that were the case.” The lions have to play a different role in the game. A previous suggestion was that “Maybe the first player who gets all of their pawns to the center and then back again, changes them out for lions?” Because we know that there were six in a full set of this game. There were six sets of six pawns and one set of six lions. That's suggests maybe that the pawns swap out for lions at some point, but only one player would do that. Then you would have one player who becomes lions late in the game and devours the other players, but at that point, that player would have already won the game. From a game design standpoint, that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Zach: The game only gets exciting when the lions appear, and that only happens after one player has won and then people are just vying for second, third place, etc. That doesn't seem likely, or if that was how it was played, it certainly wouldn't be the most interesting version. That key piece of information led me to think on this problem. “How do you–? how does this work? No other game does this. How would this mechanic work?”

Zach: Finally, I hit upon this idea that the lions are in play during the game, not just in a later stage of the game, but the Lions can be controlled by anyone. Any player can move the lions. That seems to be a solution that both makes the game work and fits the existing evidence. That is indeed how it makes sense in terms of how these are color-coded, that perhaps the lions could be moved by any player. That also makes sense thematically in terms of the story I just told you.

Zach: This spiritual story of Mehen, the God, which is to say that lions were protectors of Ra, as well. Allied with Mehen, in that sense. Lions were thought of as the warriors of Ra. It would make sense if perhaps pawns, which would represent people, regular people or humans, at some point become lions as they achieve a union with Ra or with Mehen and thus through Mehen with Ra.

Zach: In this game, we call it “Enlightenment,” it is a bit of an anachronistic term, but “Enlightenment” in this sense means “Union with Ra, the God of light and the sun.” It makes sense literally. In my version, pawns can, at some point, become lions when they achieve enlightenment, which means reaching Mehen, the center of the spiral. Once they become transformed into lions, anyone can move those lions and lions become hazards to all of the other pawns trying to reach the center.

Zach: The lions move in the exact opposite direction of the pawns. The pawns are moving along this spiral toward the center, and lions are moving from the center on a spiral outward and devouring, trying to land on and devour the pawns. When you combine these together with a couple of other mechanics that allow a lion to come out early so that they don't come up too late in the game, it becomes an incredibly fun game. That was the big eureka moment for me in playtesting, was “Oh my God, this works.” The game suddenly becomes far more than just a roll and move with a little bit of strategy, in terms of which piece you move at a time. Suddenly it becomes this cat and mouse game where you're trying to race to the center, but the center is dangerous.

Zach: Anyone can be moving these lions out, killing the pawns, eating the pawns. At that point, you have to create certain formations, move very strategically, and think about whether you're moving lions or pawns. There's an offensive strategy or defensive strategy. All of a sudden, there are many different strategies. We don't think of race games as often having allowing for that complex strategy, and this is exactly what emerges in this gameplay. We hit upon what is now my favorite ancient game, and it is incredibly fun to play. I'll be honest and say that when I started this process, I didn't know how fun it would be to play. I wanted to make it as fun as possible, but my goal was to revive this game. When it turned out to be an incredible blast to play, that was a surprise to me and a great delight.

Patrick: Yeah. This is such a great story. I didn't play the whole game, I think I maybe sat down for a half-hour because I had to go to a different event, but I got to play for a half-hour. The lions came out early, and it was such a fun– Like, “I want to get closer to the center, but if we get too close then my opponents can move the lion and eat my pawn.”

Patrick: It was this really fun– I forgot what I did, there's certain rolls– I should say not rolls, they're throwing sticks, but certain combinations of throwing sticks where you can jump into an inner ring of the spiral. That was how I was trying to avoid the lions. Oh my gosh, that was definitely really fun. I love your thought process on– There's six groups of six pawns or whatever, and each group of six has their own unique color.

Patrick: The lions are their own color, or a separate color, a neutral color. Clearly, it's not like chess where there's one special piece. That's pretty obvious when you look at it in hindsight, or when I've played a game, and I go, “Of course not.” I wonder if other academics or other professors didn't playtest the game? Or didn't sit down with the pieces and try to make the game work, because I feel like if they did, they might have discovered “We can't tell whose lion is whose, so that's probably not how that works.”

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick: I love that very simple deductive reasoning. That's really cool. I normally ask a question near the end called “What does success looks like to you?” But I want to move this question up to the beginning and change it a little bit. What is your goal with the Kickstarter? The reason I'm asking this is– I'm not saying monetary goal, not what is your target goal, but why are you running a Kickstarter campaign? Because I think many people do it because they love games, they want to get their game out into the world, or they want to make lots of money, or they want to become a full-time game designer. What is your goal as a Kickstarter? Because I feel like you might have a different take on this than other game designers and publishers.

Zach: Great. Yeah, that's definitely true. It's partly because I am a professor and I have an academic interest in these things. My goal with this particular game is really to revive it. It's a game that no one plays, that hasn't been played really in thousands of years. I think it's an amazing game, whether you play with my set of rules or whether you invent a different one, or try to play with other speculated sets of rules. Which I don't think would be very much fun, but you could do it.

My goal with this particular game is really to revive it.

Zach: The game is incredible. Visually, it was an amazing game. It would take artisans– Clearly, the few boards we have in existence from that time. It's just this gorgeous work. Artisans would have to carve out of stone. Probably most of them were carved out of wood, that's the medium we chose. Those didn't survive because wood only survives so many thousands of years before it rots away, whereas the stone ones were the ones, of course, that did survive for thousands of years. They're incredible, and they look amazing, I've seen at least one in-person in a museum.

Zach: In some ways, it's a crying shame that this game isn't played. My greatest goal is to get people to learn about this game. Even if they learn about it, that would be some satisfaction for me. This is a forgotten game, I would love for people to see it and I would love people to play it.

Zach: That said, we're making a high-end version of the game. I mean, it has to be said that this is not a cardboard, mass-market version. I don't think the game would appeal to the mass-market anyway. I thought that if we want to reintroduce this game, a game that is so stunning visually, a game that is so interesting and unique visually, and such an artisanal game– For instance, many other games like Senet, there were fancy boards that artisans would create in ancient Egypt for rich people.

Zach: There were also soldiers or common folks who would scratch it into a stone, and you could scratch the rectangle with some lines to create squares. You can use rocks an just scratch it on to the street, or scratch it onto a monument which was often done, which we are horrified by now but it was common practice. Or draw it in dirt, anybody can do it and play it.

Zach: Mehen is a bit different. You could do that, but it'd be far more difficult to scratch spirals into a stone. In some ways, this was a higher end game, a more artisanal game. A game that was a challenge for artisans at that time to carve and make a beautiful set out of. It was important for me to capture that element of the game. There's the gameplay element, and there's the historic element, there is the thematic element.

Zach: All those are also really important, but the aesthetic element was also key for me. My attempt with the Kickstarter was to do something– I teamed up with an artist, Jeremy Boyle, who is capable of realizing this goal. My goal here was to create a version of the game that did justice to all of those different aspects of this ancient game — released it in its proper way.

Zach: Maybe in the future, we could do another less expensive version or something with different methods, but this is a three-dimensional carved board out of wood that does justice, I think, to the original game. It was really important for me. That really can only be a Kickstarter thing, and I wanted to get– Kickstarter helps get the word out to a lot of people. Get the word out to a lot of people even who maybe can't afford it, or can't pay $150 for a game, but they'll learn about it, and they could make their own version.

Zach: I want to get the word out there. Then I also want that first experience people have of the game, whether it's just seeing it online or getting a copy, to be one of craftsmanship that recreates the game and all of its artisanal richness. That's why we use these methods. It's not going through a factory, and we're producing it all ourselves in a studio, not cutting any corners at all. It's all hardwood. There's no veneer, no fake stuff, no particle board and there's no laser etching. It's all cut into the wood. That's how the game was made in ancient Egypt, so we wanted to make sure that people experience it that way.

What is the Audience for Mehen?

Patrick: I love it. Now I have to ask, and I love talking about marketing. I do that as part of my day job. Who do you imagine is going to buy this? Is this history buffs? Is this Egypt buffs? Is this people who like ancient game buffs? Is this, maybe not like your average gamer, but the gamers who are more collectors and they want to have all the cool games? Or, some other group of people? Who are you targeting with this campaign? Who do you think is going to buy this?

Zach: Egyptologists. Scholars of ancient Egypt. I figure there are about 15 of them out there who would be interested in the game, and that's our audience. No, I hope that they are interested, but I also hope that there are other people interested as well.

Zach: But History buffs, anyone interested in ancient games. For me, anyone interested in games as an artisanal experience, for instance, I think will be interested in this. Because I think the game is fun enough to play that no one will be disappointed, anyone who is interested in it as an artisanal thing would not turn it down because “It's not an interesting game. It just looks good.” It looks good, and it's a great game, so I think anyone interested in that. That's a kind of split.

Zach: We're used to board games costing $50 and maybe sometimes you can get someone to pay $100 or $150 for Gloomhaven or something that has lots of miniatures or whatever in it, but this is a little bit different in the sense that we're asking people, because we're not trying to make money, I'll say that right now. It costs us a lot to make these, and our margin is very thin, but our methods are high end, so the games are going to be more expensive.

Zach: Anyway, I think that this is a game, for instance, that I think any family would love playing. Anyone who can afford and wants a beautiful table piece game that is also great to play, I would love to see normal, just average people, casual, board gamers play this. It's great family game because you can play– Unlike most ancient games, you can play with four players easily. In fact, the game gets spiced up and is more fun, the more players you add, up to six. Anyway, I do hope to reach some normal people who have the budget for and are interested in a game that– Or let's say a table piece. If you're not playing this game, you could put it on your coffee table, and it would be an amazing coffee table piece. I'll tell you one other thing that you probably don't know is that we are cutting a keyhole into the backside of the board, so it can be hung on a wall.

I'll tell you one other thing that you probably don't know is that we are cutting a keyhole into the backside of the board, so it can be hung on a wall.

Patrick: Oh, that's cool.

Zach: It actually can be hung up as a piece of art. I think that as a piece of art, it's very inexpensive compared to what people normally pay for high end, hardwood, handcrafted wooden art. It fits in between, as a marketing standpoint, it's everybody's marketing nightmare because it fits in between existing categories. It's partly for gamers who have an interest or a budget for that high-end stuff, it's partly for people who are interested in high-end wooden art, but have an interest in games and it's partly for people who are passionate or excited about the history of games or ancient games, or etc.. Somewhere in between all of those. We don't reach a million people, and we don't have to reach that many people for it to be a success. I want a lot of people to see it and learn about it.

What Resources Would You Recommend?

Patrick: Very cool. In your game design journey, you must have come across some resources. Do you have any resources that you'd recommend to another indie game designer? A blog, a podcast– Not this one. A blog, a podcast, a book. Something like that?

Zach: Yes. I'll tell you that I'm a little skeptic– Personally, not to say it's not useful for some people, but I'm a little skeptical of the game design literature and books and stuff out there. I think that in some ways, game design is something that there aren't really that many secrets to it. You can't learn it.

Zach: As a professor, I teach games. I teach board games, even. I can't teach someone how to design a game. In my classes, sometimes we do have game design assignments, but I can't teach someone secrets to design a game. I don't think really anyone else can either. I will say that I think the greatest resources for game designers, especially game designers just starting out or thinking about why they might want to design a game or what's possible, is actually to play games.

Zach: Not to play the most popular games, but of course, you should do that too, and those are great. But it's exciting to think about “What are experiments people have done in game design, and does that spark something?” A very simple resource I would recommend is Sid Sackson's book called A Gamut of Games. Sid Sackson was a great game designer and designed Can't Stop. I mentioned another Sid Sackson game earlier, I can't remember now, but he produced a book in 1969 called A Gamut of Games. They're mostly abstract games, but they're games he designed himself, or they're games that he in his journey meeting game designers would meet them and learn about their games and their games and thereby by monks who had designed a game and Sid Sackson learned about the game and put it in the book, all kinds of things like that.

Zach: What's exciting about this is these are fairly abstract games. This is, of course, before the modern era of board games and certainly before euro games and etc. So it's somewhat different, but that's why it's exciting. You look back and say, “Here's somebody who's just thought about games his entire life, put together all of these games.” There's I don't know how many, but there are score dozens and dozens and dozens of games in there, most of which can be played with a pen and paper, or you make checkers pieces or a checker board and some pieces, or you make some pieces or play a deck of cards.

Zach: That, to me, is a playground for game designers. You look, and they say, “What can be done with very little?” That's where a game designer should start. “How much complexity can you create from something very simple? Instead of buying billions of little pieces and starting to create complex systems, how cow can you create a simple system that ends in or produces complex interactions?” That's my number one example. [Inaudible] copy of a Gamut of Games.

What's Worth the Money?

Patrick: Awesome. I will link to that in the show notes. I'm looking over at the Wikipedia page on it right now, and there's a lot of cool-looking games. Just in the description, there's a lot of cool-looking games in there. So, I'll definitely link to that. Is there something that's worth spending money on besides maybe that book? Is there something in the game design world that–? Because I'm a frugal person, so I try– If at all possible, I don't spend money. But is there something that you're like, “If you have this thing, this opportunity, this challenge– Definitely spend money on this? It's worth it?”

Zach: In my experience, there's almost– You don't need to spend any money at all. In fact, as soon as you're spending money on something, it's probably precious to you, and you're taking it too seriously or relying on it too heavily. So besides a good computer and you don't even have to spend money on software. Get Inkscape and design anything with Inkscape or Gimp or Photoshop if you get it. But honestly, I don't think you have to spend money on anything. You can go outside and scratch a game board into the dirt. As I mentioned that many of the ancient Egyptians did when they were passing time, and that's a great place to find inspiration. So, that's my answer there. You don't need to spend any money at all.

Overrated / Underrated Game

Patrick: Love it. So then the last thing I like to do is this silly little game called Overrated/Underrated, where basically I'm going to give you a word or phrase and then I'm going to ask you if you think it is overrated or underrated. If I said “The Women's World Cup soccer team,” you would say “Underrated. They are the best soccer team of all time.” Something like that. Got it?

Zach: Got it

Patrick: All right. The first one is throwing sticks. Are they overrated or underrated?

Zach: Definitely, underrated. Throwing sticks are amazing, and even in ancient times they coexisted with dice, and dice won out over time because they're simpler in some ways, but throwing sticks are definitely underrated. They seem like maybe they're too fiddly or complex of dice, but they are not. The probability distribution of throwing sticks is radically different than dice, so you might only have the same number of possible outcomes. For instance, if you have four throwing sticks but the probability distribution is non-linear, you have certain combinations that are really common and certain combinations that are radically uncommon, and that makes for really exciting– As a game designer playing and working with men, for instance. That's exciting because all of a sudden you can think about probability, whereas at dice are the same probability for each number that comes up. So, definitely underrated.

Patrick: Great answer. Love it. What about just snakes in general, overrated or underrated?

Zach: I have to admit that I find snakes– I've had some encounters with snakes in the wilderness in my life, rattlesnakes in particular, that make them a little terrifying to me, I have to admit. However, I think there's– I do think that they are underrated because most people are terrified of snakes and snakes are interesting. The way that snakes interact with other snakes is to coil around them, like when they're mating, for instance. That's really weird and exciting. It's a different way of being when the possibility of a snake, the idea of the coil, the line, the curve– It's a different way of being. I think that we could pay more attention to that.

Patrick: How about Origins, as in the convention where we almost met, but I met one of your associates who showed me the game? Is that overrated or underrated?

Zach: I don't want to make any enemies here, and I don't– I like Origins, so it's nothing against Origins. But I would say Origins, like all conventions, in my opinion, is a little overrated. But that's really to say that conventions are a bit overrated, because in some ways they– They're fun, they're great. You get to see new games. But they're also a very commercial outlet, and I know that's not– They're not only commercial, but it's really– They're commercial enterprises, and they're big advertisement. In that sense, I don't think we– I don't think they're as necessary to board gaming culture as maybe the role that they often seem to have. So, that's what I think.

Wrap Up

Patrick: Got it. Zack, thank you so much for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Zach: The best place is probably to go to our website, which is Pandora-Games.com. There's contact information there, that's the best play way to get a hold of me and learn more about this game or anything else we're doing.

Patrick: Listeners, this episode should be coming out when their game is on Kickstarter. It might have been out like a week, or so, we'll get the exact timing down, but this episode should launch when the game is on Kickstarter. So, you can also look for Mehen on Kickstarter and– Any other tips on how to find it? I think just that the title should be fine, right?

Zach: Yeah, I think it'll be very clear. It's the only spiral snake board game on Kickstarter.

Patrick: There we go. Love it. Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave your review, Zach said he would throw some throwing six at you. So, that sounds fantastic. You can find the site IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter, I am @BFTrick. That's all, everyone. Have a good one and happy designing, bye-bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Nicholas Yu, who designed Eternal Dynasty, Hero Brigade, and Adventure Tactics. I'm going to butcher this– Domianne's Tower, which should be live on Kickstarter when this episode airs. Did I pronounce it right?

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/letimangames/adventure-tactics-a-co-op-tactics-campaign-for-1-5-players/

Nicholas Yu: Yeah, you got it. Got it in one try. Thanks for having me.

Continue reading “#86 – Nicholas Yu”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Nathan Meunier who designed The Blessed Dark, which is on Kickstarter right now. Nathan, welcome to the show.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nmeunier/the-blessed-dark-a-cult-themed-mint-tin-card-dice-game

Nathan Meunier: Hey, thanks for having me.

Continue reading “#85 – Nathan Meunier”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode– A bonus episode of the Indie Board Game Designers podcast. This is the sixth and final installment in the Simple Elegance series. We spent, “We” being me and Cody, spent the last three months or so working, preparing, and entering a game into the Simple Elegance contest on The Game Crafter.

Patrick Rauland: This is just the final episode about how everything went. We're going to talk about how our process went, and also about all the other games submitted. This one will probably be a little bit longer than the rest just because there's a lot of stuff to get through. But before we get onto the contest, Cody, how are things going?

Cody Thompson: Good, Patrick. Thanks for having me back for one final episode before you boot me off the channel forever.

Continue reading “#84 – Simple Elegance: Resolution”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking to Julio Nazario, who designed and signed a handful of games, although none of them have come out quite yet. Julio, welcome to the show.

Julio Nazario: Hey Patrick. Thanks for having me.

Continue reading “#83 – Julio Nazario”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking to Christopher Wiley, who designed a ton of prototypes which are available on his website or through print and play, or through The Game Crafter. Some of them, there's a lot–

Christopher, welcome to the show.

Christopher Wiley: Thanks, Patrick. I'm so excited to be on the show today.

Continue reading “#82 – Christopher Wiley”