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#17 – Adam Wyse

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to Indie Board Game Designers podcast. Today we’re going to be talking with Adam Wyse, who is the designer behind a half dozen games. Now you work for Roxley Games as a logistics manager, which includes game development, bookkeeping, and anything with data. Is that right?

Adam Wyse: That’s right. Thanks for having me.

How Did You Get Into Board Games

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah. Thank you. Welcome to the show. First question I like to ask basically everyone, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Adam Wyse: Well, I probably played my first modern board game with my brother about five years ago, or so. I got into, I started playing Catan, Power Grid, discovering more and more of these games that I had no idea existed, as a lot of us have over recent years. After about a year of discovering and playing new games … I used to be a software engineer, so I was designing things during the day. I figured I wanted to give a shot at design, myself, see what I could do. Yeah, so that was my first step into it.

Adam Wyse: My first game was kind of a disaster, wasn’t great, but my second game was actually Masque of the Red Death, which is now published from IDW Games. I had gotten started in with developing that one. I discovered the local convention here in Calgary, called FallCon. It runs every fall. I encourage anyone who’s in the Alberta area — I’m up in Calgary, Canada — to check out FallCon. It’s awesome. There’s a designer area. I didn’t know any designers around, but I brought out my game.

Adam Wyse: Up until that point I’d just been playing with friends and family, getting their feedback, but I wanted outside perspectives on my game, and see if it was anything worthwhile really, to people who knew a little more about the design process. I brought it out to FallCon and met a lot of the great designers. That really got me just rolling in game design. Met with them every week, nearly every week since. We meet every Monday night to play test.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that’s great.

Adam Wyse: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: I talked to a few people, and so far the only group of people that I know that have a weekly board game prototyping or testing meetup are some people in New York City, so that’s really impressive that you have a weekly meetup group.

Adam Wyse: Yeah, it’s great. There’s enough designers here in Calgary that we’ve gone to a second day often, as well.

Patrick Rauland: What?

Adam Wyse: We can get a lot of play testing in.

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Adam Wyse: Calgary’s kind of a hot spot. A lot of Canadian cities … I’m part of the Game Artisans of Canada and we have chapters in the major Canadian cities. We network and communicate amongst ourselves. It’s a really great, really great organization for game designers. If you get connected with the group you can enter as a apprentice member, eventually becoming an artisan. There’s some very well known and great designers in the Game Artisans of Canada.

Patrick Rauland: I want to go back to a previous thing you said. I didn’t realize you’ve only been in this for five years and you have, I think, six published games?

Adam Wyse: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: That’s more than one a year. That’s amazing.

Adam Wyse: Yeah. I’d kind of built up a pile of really good games. When I finally had the money to get to a convention I got a lot of them signed, all at once, one after another basically.

Patrick Rauland: Really?

Adam Wyse: Yeah. Like, I think 2016 I had four games signed, one after another.

Patrick Rauland: Wow. That is amazing.

Adam Wyse: They’re all coming out now, basically.

Patrick Rauland: Wow, that is really, really cool. I’m just imagining you … I just did a publisher’s speed dating at Origins, and I’m just imagining you sitting there with a pile of eight games, and you’re like, “Which one do you want me to talk about?” [inaudible 00:04:32] a plethora.

Adam Wyse: Yeah.

Which of Your Games is Your Favorite?

Patrick Rauland: This is one of my favorite questions, but I don’t get to ask many people this. What is your favorite game that you designed?

Adam Wyse: I think my favorite game that I’ve designed is called Leprechaun Tractors. It is not quite signed yet. It’s nearly there. It’s kind of in the handshake thing, so it’s not announced or anything yet. But it is a game where players are low-paid government leprechauns building rainbows in the rainbow factory.

Patrick Rauland: Oh my gosh.

Adam Wyse: It’s a time track game of hidden goals, where you’re trying to complete your job cards that you’ve been given by your boss, as well as completing bribe cards, because there’s a lot of corruption going on in the rainbow industry. The companies that manufacture the materials the rainbows are made out of are bribing players — with pots of gold obviously, because we’re leprechauns — to complete certain objectives for them. I love it. I cannot wait for it to become something that I can share with more people.

How Do You Get Games Signed?

Patrick Rauland: That sounds ridiculous in the best way possible. That sounds great. I just want to point out, you do work for Roxley right now, but you, basically all of your games, I mean you’ve signed your games with three to four different publishers before Roxley. A lot of people, if they do this many games they don’t work with that many publishers. You have quite a breadth of experience there. I think a lot of people like myself, I’m intrigued by, “How do I get a game signed? How does it work?” Can you give us any tips on working with publishers or getting your games in front of them?

Adam Wyse: Yeah. My biggest thing for getting games in front of publishers, my strategy … I didn’t know anyone. I had no connections, no networking, so where do I start? I saw a bunch of design contests online. There’s all kinds of design contests. If you research, you’ll find a whole bunch of them. I just started entering my games into contests, because often the judges of these contests are publishers themselves, so they see your name, they watch your video or read your rule book. Oftentimes you’ll get an email from them afterwards, if they have some interest in your game.

Adam Wyse: Even if you weren’t a finalist in a particular contest, I’ve had that, gotten an email from a major publisher and ended up sending the game to them for evaluation. I started trying to build a network and getting to know people through contests, was my biggest thing. And then, like I mentioned, going to conventions. The first convention I went to was the result of a contest. I was the finalist for the Ion Award in Salt Lake City, at SaltCon. I had just been laid off my job a couple months prior — the company shut down — so I didn’t have any money, it was a big decision to fly, to go present my game at this contest.

Adam Wyse: But my wife was super supportive, so I want for it and it really kicked everything off. I met with the guys from Mayday Games and ended up having two games signed with them, the one that won the contest, called Cypher, and then Poetry Slam, which came out at Origins this year.

Patrick Rauland: Wow, that’s such a cool story. I just want to go back to the contest for a second because I, I think in my brain, “Oh, there’s no point in entering.” There’s GenCant right now, there’s a contest with Button Shy, and I’ve seen so many tweets about it. I’m like, “Oh, man. If I’ve seen 15 different people on Twitter talking about their prototypes there’s another 70 people who are submitting that aren’t talking about it. Like, there’s no way I’m going to win.” But now it’s really helpful to think about, “Hey, even if I don’t win, maybe a publisher still might be interested.”

Adam Wyse: Right. Yeah, that was the case with the first time I entered the Ion Award, that instance I mentioned, where I got contacted by Z-Man Games, where I wasn’t a finalist but they still were interested enough to get in touch with me. Even if your odds are long, I’ve entered games in a lot of contests, not always a finalist, because it’s very hard to judge something on just five minutes, or this little bit that a judge has to work with. Don’t be discouraged if you’re entering contests and not making it forward, either.

How Do You Approach the Right Publisher?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Love it. For me, I haven’t signed any games. I haven’t done anything like that. Is there a publisher you’d recommend for new designers? Maybe that’s not a good question. I’m just trying to think. Is there any other tips you can give us about approaching the right publisher? How about that?

Adam Wyse: I would say, if you’re going to a convention and pitching, do your research a little bit beforehand. Write out some notes. Know what their catalog is like. You want to have something that will fit. If you have a game that fits the weight of what they do, or a similar theme, something like that. But again, not too similar because they don’t want to cannibalize their own market share by doing the same game again and again. It’s a tricky line, but certain publishers aren’t going to look at a trick-taking game at all. If you have a trick-taking game, maybe you want to look for someone who’s more suited for that weight of game.

How Did You Get a Job in the Board Game Industry?

Patrick Rauland: Got it. All right, love it. Now you work for Roxley Games. How did that happen? I think I got the first part of the story. Your company was shut down. But how did you decide you wanted to work for a board game company? And then I guess, how did you meet them? How did they know that you were the right fit? All of that.

Adam Wyse: I would say it was mostly opportunity and luck. Roxley is a publisher from Calgary, as well, run by Gavin Brown. I met Gavin at that first FallCon I went to in Calgary. When I brought my game, I met him, played a game with him. Over the years, played more and more games, become friends with Gavin and Paul, who also works for Roxley now. Just getting to know people, being someone … Over time, playing games with these people so many times you develop a mutual respect and friendship and everything.

Adam Wyse: You want to work with people that you’re familiar with, and you know are hard workers and you’ll get along with. Developing that relationship, it was just a great opportunity as Roxley has started to grow. I came on as, I was doing contract work at first for Gavin, trying to take on some of the logistics duties from him, not really knowing much about logistics at all to begin with. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m getting it as I go, and just now developing into a full time career at this point.

Adam Wyse: It was a lot of luck, in my case. I know, for other people who have gotten into the industry and gotten jobs in the industry, oftentimes it begins with just those relationships at conventions. If you’re up, playing games with people and just meeting people, playing games. I was at Origins until 4:00 A.M. one night, just playing games with a bunch of people, meeting new people. It’s invaluable.

Adam Wyse: Oh, volunteering at booths, as well, is another good way in. Sure, you’re volunteering your time, but you’re getting to know people. You’re helping out. Publishers often have a fairly slim profit margin, so if they can get volunteers to their booths it’s super valuable to them. Yeah, that’s a great way to meet people as well.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, no, I love that. Lots of other people have said the same thing, and it’s so, it’s so true that it’s not what you know but who you know. Right? Even if you have the best game on the planet, which I don’t think exists, but if you could make a perfect game, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the person who would sell that game.

Adam Wyse: Right. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: All right. For someone who is thinking about, “Hey, I really like game design. Maybe I’m not meant for designing games. Maybe I’m meant for development or logistics,” other than meeting someone at cons, do you have any suggestions on how to get into that industry?

Adam Wyse: I think I’ve already gone through my main tips, there.

Patrick Rauland: So, cons.

Adam Wyse: Yeah, cons. Cons, volunteering. I don’t know. Or be very lucky and meet the right people.

What Games Do You Like to Design?

Patrick Rauland: Sure, sure. Cool. No, I love it. Makes sense. Okay, I think I kind of know the answer to this, but what type of games do you like to design??

Adam Wyse: I really try to do something really different with every new game I start designing. I have found, overall as a theme I love deduction games. I used to love Mastermind and stuff, growing up. Masque of the Red Death has a strong deduction element. Head of Mousehold, one of my games, has a [inaudible 00:14:21] deduction side to it as well. Cypher has some deduction. So I love that, but overall I just, I don’t want to be constrained into any type of thing.

Adam Wyse: Like, my favorite designer is Vlaada Chv├ítil, and he does something, he’s all over the place and I love it. I’ve designed party games, word games, all kinds of stuff. I want to do something really different each time.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. One of the things I’ve noticed is, it seems like a lot of your games have a fun, silly pun. I love Gorilla Marketing. I just love looking at the game. I want to play Gorilla Marketing just because there’s gorillas in it, not G-U-E-R, that type of guerrilla.

Adam Wyse: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Is that something you do? Do you like the silly puns? It seems like you take an existing concept and then you just make it silly.

Adam Wyse: Yeah, a little bit. I kind of like the off-the-wall themes a little bit, like Leprechaun Tractors. Oftentimes, with naming a game, I do tend to go to the pun kind of names. I don’t know why. I’m not a real punster in life, but it appeals to me, coming up with something clever for the name of the game.

Patrick Rauland: I don’t know if this is how you do this, but sometimes I will come up with a funny game title, and I’ll try to make a game around it. Maybe I’m doing that in the wrong order, but I’m like, “This is such a great name, we have to make a game for it.”

Adam Wyse: No, that’s interesting. Getting inspiration from a source like that is really good. Sometimes I’m inspired by just a component. I want to use this piece in a game. What theme does this speak to? How would that fit into a game? I love coming up with inspiration from lots of different sources, whether it be the title or a piece or a mechanic or whatever.

What Mechanics & Themes Are You Looking Into?

Patrick Rauland: Is there something, design or mechanic, that you’ve tried to put in a game but you just haven’t been able to get it? You just haven’t cracked it yet?

Adam Wyse: Yes. I really want to design a game with nontransitive dice.

Patrick Rauland: What does that even mean?

Adam Wyse: If you haven’t heard of those, that was actually one of the very first inspirations for trying to design a game in the first place. I came across an article about nontransitive dice. Those are really interesting custom dice designed by … There’s a few different types, but I ordered some of them called Grime dice. They’re named after the inventor, or mathematician. These are dice that, let’s say the green dice have some faces that have fives on them, some that have zeros. The red dice have some faces that are twos and some that are sevens, something like that.

Adam Wyse: Every set of dice, there’s five of them in a set, if you roll one of the green dice, on average it will beat one of the red dice, like 75 percent of the time or something like that. The red dice beats the blue dice, most of the time. Every other dice beats every other dice.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, kind of like rock-paper-scissors?

Adam Wyse: Like rock-paper-scissors for dice, basically.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, got it.

Adam Wyse: So we’ve got this really interesting interplay, and then when you throw in a second dice, it flips. So where, if green would beat red, one die versus one die, if you’re rolling green die versus two red die, now red has the advantage.

Patrick Rauland: What?

Adam Wyse: I found the whole concept super interesting. I have tried several times to design a game around them, but … That’s my goal. I haven’t done it yet.

Patrick Rauland: That’s really cool. So all right. Maybe spitball some ideas. What type of themes have you gone for. Like, how can you use nontransitive dice in a way that makes sense? Or what have you tried?

Adam Wyse: My very first game was with nontransitive dice. That’s the one that I said was kind of a disaster. But it was about microorganisms trying to evolve in a swamp, or something. So the dice were involved with combat. If you’re combating with the other species that is using a certain color of dice, you know you’re good against some players and bad against others. You’re trying to hit the ones that you’re good against and avoid the others. That one didn’t really work.

Adam Wyse: I tried kind of a beat ’em up style side-scroller game, like an old Nintendo game style, with these things where you are getting bats or chains or something like that, that’ll give you access to the different dice you’re trying to use to beat up the thugs, and you’re working together to beat them. But that never really-

Patrick Rauland: That sounds great.

Adam Wyse: Yeah. I was hopeful for it, but it never really, it kind of fizzled out. It might be something I come back to, but for now those are the main two I’ve tried with that, but haven’t had enough success yet.

Patrick Rauland: I have to say different weapon armaments makes a lot of sense for nontransitive dice. Right? It’s like, “Oh, he has the blue defense die. I better use, you know, which is body armor, so I shouldn’t use my gun. I should make sure to use the giant hammer.” Yeah, cool.

Adam Wyse: Yeah, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that’s really, really to think, and I literally think you’re the first person to say nontransitive dice on this podcast, so congratulations. That’s sounds like a really cool mechanic you’re trying to work out.

Adam Wyse: It is, because I like the rock-paper-scissors idea, but this adds the extra element that it’s not a guarantee, either. You still have some odds in there, as well, like green is going to beat them most of the time but not always. I think it’s very cool.

What’s The Best Money You’ve Spent?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. All right, so as a game designer, what is something that you spent money on that you found incredibly, incredibly helpful?

Adam Wyse: I think my biggest recent purchase that was super useful for me is a really good paper cutter. I had one before that was just like one of the big blades that comes down. I got a fairly expensive one with the rolling blade, made by a company called Carl. It’s got a green acrylic thing on it to guard the blade or whatever. But it’s super useful. I can prototype … I’ve got a game with 160 cards that I was preparing for Origins, and I can print that off and cut all that, and have it cut and sleeved in 20 minutes or something, now. It just cuts through so many pages, so fast, so accurately.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that sounds great. Literally, the last person I talked to on this podcast, he mentioned a card cutter. Now, in his specific case, I think it’s literally designed for poker cards. Like, the way you print out all the cards side by side, and then you just slide it in, and then like three columns come out. I think you do the same for each, the next thing, and it just cuts them into poker card shapes. This sounds like a similar thing.

Adam Wyse: Yeah. I usually sleeve my cards with the paper printout, with the card in behind, in the sleeve. My printer’s not good with card stock or anything.

Patrick Rauland: Very cool. I’ll have to check it out. I’ll bug you for a link afterwards, just to give people a product that they might be able to find.

Adam Wyse: Sure.

Patrick Rauland: I was working on an 18 card game earlier this week, and I want to say … I made two copies, one for friends and one for me. I think that took me over an hour. And you don’t think it takes that much time, but I had to get the print files ready and I made the size wrong. It’s putzy. If I can shave off a little bit of time with the right tools, that sounds super useful.

Adam Wyse: Yeah.

What Resources Do You Recommend?

Patrick Rauland: Are there any resources that you’d recommend for a game designer, maybe a book or a blog or something like that, that you find really helpful?

Adam Wyse: I really like a series of articles on a site called Games Precipice. They have a whole bunch of articles. I don’t know if they’re still posting them, but there’s a wealth of information there. Every one goes into, if they’re talking about a certain mechanic, really good examples of games that use this mechanic. It’s very detailed, super useful for discovering different things that are out there. They give really good reasoning and explanations for their descriptions of what they talk about.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: All right. I haven’t heard that one before. I will have to check it out and add it to my ever growing list. Okay, last question and then I got a little game for you, here. And actually, you’ve already seen a fair bit of success in the board game world, but what does success look like to you, moving forward?

Adam Wyse: Yeah. I feel success is a constantly moving bar for me. It’s going to look different to every person. At first, for me, it was to get my name on a published game. And for me, something that I didn’t self-publish. Self-publishing is totally valid, a totally good way to go if that’s what you want to do, if you want to start a company and do everything that’s involved with that. All the logistics and all the financials are on you. But if you want to focus on designing games, like I did, I really focused on the publisher route. I wanted to get my name on a box.

Adam Wyse: Once that happened, obviously I’m still reaching for more. I want to get games with multiple publishers, so I’m at that point now. I think my main goal at this point is to kind of have a hit. Most of my games aren’t super well known at this point. I’m hoping Gorilla Marketing will break through with that. That’ll be out later this year, from Roxley. But to have a big hit is my next goal. I think success is a constantly moving bar.

Overrated / Underrated

Patrick Rauland: Oh, absolutely. All right, very good. I do have a little game for you. It’s called Overrated-Underrated. I’m going to give you a word or a phrase, and then you need to tell me if you think it’s overrated or underrated. Got it?

Adam Wyse: Okay.

Patrick Rauland: All right. One player games, are they overrated or are they underrated?

Adam Wyse: I’m going to say overrated.

Patrick Rauland: Ooh. And give me a one sentence reason why.

Adam Wyse: I play games to experience them with friends around the table. I’m there for the experience of interacting with others, and not necessarily just interacting with mechanics.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. What do you think about puns? Are they overrated or underrated?

Adam Wyse: Surprisingly, overrated. I know I have a lot of games that are puns, pun names, but I’m not the biggest punster, really. I roll my eyes, most of the time.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so maybe in game titles, but in real life they’re overrated.

Adam Wyse: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Cool. Okay, variable player powers, are they overrated or underrated?

Adam Wyse: I’ll say underrated. I think variable player powers give a lot of re-playability to a game. It kind of gets you into the theme. You’re taking on this role of a character that has a special thing that no one else has. I like ’em.

Patrick Rauland: And the last one, because of your game Poetry Slam, is poetry overrated or underrated?

Adam Wyse: Underrated. There’s not many games about poetry. I think Poetry Slam is super unique. If you have any interest in poetry or word games, I would check it out. It’s a very unique thing. I haven’t seen many games about poetry. You’re coming up with rhyming couplets in Poetry Slam, and I think I haven’t seen that kind of thing before.

Conclusion

Patrick Rauland: Wow. No, that sounds really, really cool. All right. Well hey, thanks for being on the show, Adam. Where can people find you online?

Adam Wyse: Well, I have Instagram, that’s adamwyse83, W-Y-S-E. Adamwyse83 on Instagram. Or I have a Twitter that I don’t really use very much, but I’m LoanWolf_, L-O-A-N wolf underscore.

Patrick Rauland: I’m thinking of a loan shark, but the land version.

Adam Wyse: Yeah, exactly.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Well, thank you again for being on. By the way, if you’re a listener, if you like this podcast, please leave a positive review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this. I forgot to talk about this with Adam ahead of time, so let me know if this works. If you leave a review, Adam said he’d personally help you train your gorilla. That sounds really cool, right Adam?

Adam Wyse: Yeah, I’ll do it.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, great. All right. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com. You can follow me on Twitter. I am @BFTrick. Thank you for being on, Adam. Until next time, happy designing. Bye-bye.

Adam Wyse: Thank you.

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