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#43 – Arthur Franz

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. And 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.

Patrick Rauland: My name is Patrick Rauland and today I’m going to be talking with Arthur Franz who is the designer behind Breakaway Football through Uplink Underground Games, which is his publishing company.

Patrick Rauland: Arthur, welcome to the show.

Arthur Franz: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Introduction

Patrick Rauland: Yay! So I know you a little bit just because we corresponded via email. But I now have a little game in the beginning where I just wanna have the audience get to know you. So, three quick questions. Number one, if I met you at a convention what’s the game you would play with me every time?

Arthur Franz: You know I’ve only played it twice but I love the mechanisms, Fury of Dracula. It’s just fantastic, especially the new version that just came out. The whole one versus many concept is fantastic. So yeah, load it up, I’m ready.

Patrick Rauland: So what is Fury of … What is the mechanism? I’ve never played it.

Arthur Franz: So the one versus many, one person plays Dracula and has a hidden movement mechanism, and then the other up-to-four players are actually seeking Dracula across this really beautiful map of Europe and Asia. And so this, I guess it’s called programmed action, but anyway, the selection is done in secret. And once you catch the trail that Dracula has left it’s easy to find him. But then of course once you find him you’ve gotta attack him and kill him. And if you have only one of the party find him at one time that person’s in for a world of hurt. You really have to gang up on him.

Arthur Franz: So it’s a great … It combines cooperative and collaborative elements. It’s just a fantastic game.

Patrick Rauland: Cool, cool. What is your favorite sport besides football?

Arthur Franz: Football.

Patrick Rauland: That’s it, that’s the only one?

Arthur Franz: No, no, no. I really enjoy tennis and golf, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for football. Growing up in the south it’s almost a requirement.

Patrick Rauland: And any resolutions planned for the New Year?

Arthur Franz: Yes, we’re gonna publish some more games. Uplink Underground’s coming out with a new game called Mardi Gras Madness. I’ll be happy to tell you all about it towards the end of the show, but yeah, we’re excited.

How Did You Get Into Games and Board Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Awesome. Love it. All right, so let’s talk about how did you get into games? What do you love about them?

Arthur Franz: I mean when I was a kid I played all the mass-market games that you’re supposed to play … Sorry, Scrabble, Connect Four, that sort of thing. When I was a teenager I fell into sports board gaming and also war games were pretty popular at the time. But I didn’t live around people who could play with me so I would end up normally opening up the games like War at Sea, which is an Avalon Hill game of medium weight. And there was game that had really pretty components that I bought called The Conquest of the Empire, that I never ever played, I just opened it for the rule book and the components and I really enjoyed the game just by reading about it. But no one would ever play it with me.

Arthur Franz: So when I got into sports board gaming that’s when I found more of an audience. Stat-O-Matic Football and NFL Quarterback were the two that I grew up on. I really fell in with sports board games.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, cool. That’s real interesting. I think when I was in sixth grade when I got into war games like Warhammer, and while I loved the game, I just had the hardest time finding people to play with at that age. And it’s maybe the type of game and where I was located but it sucks when you can’t find the people to play with.

How Did You Play With People?

Arthur Franz: For me it was just my location. I was just far removed from the people I was friends with; it took me about 35 minutes to commute to school. But we found a very clever way to use three-way calling on a landline to get people on a phone and play a game remotely. So we were diligent.

Patrick Rauland: That is awesome. So did you each have a copy of the game and you’d put it in front of you?

Arthur Franz: All right, this is hilarious. So I would actually pretend to be almost like a game master; I would set up the board in my room and have all the components there, and then I would click over and have one person make their play … This was with Start-O-Matic Football. So they would make their play call and then I would click over to the defense and they would make their play call. I would actually resolve the play and then I would do almost like a sports announcer for each one. So they got to experience the game slowly, but we were diligent.

Patrick Rauland: That’s so cool. That’s amazing. That’s so cool, wow.

Arthur Franz: Super-geeky. I know it’s … I geek out hard there but it was a lot of fun.

How Do You Build An Audience While Selling the Game?

Patrick Rauland: That is awesome. So let’s talk about football. So you have a game right now that you’ve been selling on The Game Crafter, Breakaway Football. You mentioned that your … in the email … You mentioned that you’re building an audience while selling the game on The Game Crafter. Can you tell me a bit about that? Later I saw you had a Kickstarter … Can you tell me why you’re selling on The Game Crafter now, I guess?

Arthur Franz: Absolutely, yeah. First, I really wanna say that it was a group effort. So there’s actually four designers on the box for Breakaway Football. It’s myself, Mark Burlet, Michael Kaplan, and Ben Jennings. And these are all people I’ve known for 25, 30 years. And it really does take a village to make a game that takes this much complexity and distills it down into something very, very simple.

Arthur Franz: But we, back in late 2015, early 2016, sort of got it in us to do this game, and shared the responsibility of designing different components. We were play-testing voraciously, and after about nine months we thought we had a good product. And we did but it didn’t look right. So the core game mechanisms were there, everything was great, but none of us is really a graphic designer … I’m probably the closest thing to it but not a graphic designer … So when we went to Kickstarter we had a great game, because we knew it was great because we had played it to death at that point and we knew it functioned. But it didn’t look like a great game.

Arthur Franz: And so it didn’t garner the attention that we had hoped for, and rightly so. I mean we learned some really valuable lessons from that Kickstarter. Some of which was, ’cause I think we were asking for x amount of money and it wasn’t very much, but the people who did pledge gave us really good feedback on a) the most important information on this card isn’t big enough for me to tell that it’s super-important. Oh yeah, that’s a great idea. So we learned a lot of those fundamental lessons that I guess people going through game design school, ’cause I understand that there are universities teaching this stuff now, that’s probably Basics 101. But when you’re coming into the hobby and trying to develop that skill from the ground up, you learn those lessons the hard way. And so that’s what happened with our Kickstarter.

Arthur Franz: I have no regrets. It was a great experience. But moving into The Game Crafter allows us to really have a footprint in the market and have a digital presence without having a significant investment in money. The three of us … Uplink Underground is me, Mark, and Ben … And the three of us are professionals with full-fledged careers that we have to attend to, and wives and children. So the notion of taking maybe 20,000 or more dollars to sink into a full print run, engaging with folks in China to make sure that the game is printed correctly, shipping it by boat, and then housing it, the inventory tax, fulfillment, shipping, all of that is a daunting task.

Arthur Franz: And so we’re passionate that were committed but we’re also pragmatic and we’re realistic. So The Game Crafter gives us an opportunity to have a real product, to promote it as a real product, but not have to worry about fulfillment, printing, shipping, all the wonderful things that The Game Crafter does for us. And I like the idea that I can tinker with the components before I publish it. Actually I noticed that your game Fry Thief is up there, and you probably have experienced that too, where you can go in and try different combinations of components until you get the price point where you want it. And that’s one of the things I really appreciate about The Game Crafter.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, absolutely. I was just talking to someone yesterday at my prototyping meet-up about … I think they sort of complained that it was like $90 on The Game Crafter but I think that’s when you need to know how The Game Crafter works to make it affordable on The Game Crafter.

Arthur Franz: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: You need to maximize every card. If you get sheets of 18 cards don’t print just two poker cards; print all 18. Do something with the other 16 of them.

Arthur Franz: Yeah-

How Do You Optimize The Price of Your Game on The Game Crafter?

Patrick Rauland: Or don’t print 19 of them ’cause then that requires two sheets, right? Like figure out how to cut one card. So there’s … man it’s one of those weird … And I’m planning out how to manufacture my game. I’m doing the same thing where it comes in sheets of 60 so my game comes with 16 cards. I can basically get 4 extra cards for free because of how the sheet … Anyways, but you kind of need to know all of that, right?

Arthur Franz: Right. Yeah, I mean knowing the size of the press sheet and planning the production of your game around that is critical. And that’s why working with your publisher is so important. Each press sheet actually is a little different. I think Panda has a slightly different size or you get more cards from it.

Arthur Franz: Anyway that’s one of the things I appreciate about The Game Crafter. When we designed Breakaway Football initially, each team had 24 offensive play cards and 10 or 12 defensive play cards. And when we lined that up with our production we realized there was a tremendous amount of waste. And it just so happened that we cut down to 15 offensive cards and 10 defensive cards because they’re all tarot-sized cards, and they’re very pretty by the way. But we cut down to 15 and it thematically worked even better because each card represents one minute of clock time. There’s 15 clock minutes in a quarter of a football game so each card represents one minute of the clock. And it just make more sense to have fewer cards.

Arthur Franz: Oh, you know, another thing, in our play-testing we noticed that people would lament, playfully, but they would actually lament that discarding these extra cards was one of the harder decisions in the game and it was something you did at the very outset. So we thought why are we printing 24 offensive cards and then compelling people to discard 6 of them at the beginning of the half? That’s silly. We should just have fewer cards, you get to start with everything. It’s less anxiety for the player. And so it’s great experience, great learning from the play-testing.

Do You Rapidly Iterate?

Patrick Rauland: So let me ask you, I guess one of the great things about designing something on The Game Crafter is that you can literally if someone says, “Hey, I don’t like this,” you can literally fix it and the next person who buys the game will get the new version. Have you done that? Have you been able to rapidly iterate using The Game Crafter?

Arthur Franz: Yeah. We try not to release a game when we know it has defects. We’ll put it that way. And we spent two years designing and developing Breakaway Football before we really released it to the public. So that first nine-month cycle we just didn’t know and we went to Kickstarter and it didn’t work. So we were determined not to have that happen again. So I probably held onto it longer than I should have, to be honest.

Arthur Franz: But with the tinkering and whatnot it did make a difference. But even so, some of the newer products, ’cause we have four expansions for the game already, three team expansions-

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Arthur Franz: Yeah, well it’s fun. I mean I have really enjoyed making this game. And it’s funny too because our core audience, we interact with them on the Breakaway Football Facebook group. And we actually had just yesterday some folks just kind of virtually tapping their toes going, “Okay, so when are we getting new teams?” And as a result I’ve started to launch a daily poll where we take one franchise that hasn’t been represented in the game yet, and we provide three or four choices of iconic individual seasons from that team. So right now I think it’s the Cowboys. We’re trying to figure out which Denver Bronco … actually, no, you’re in Denver-

Patrick Rauland: I am.

Arthur Franz: And today’s poll is the Denver Broncos. And I think the 1998 team that won the Super Bowl is leading the pack right now.

Patrick Rauland: Oh that’s so cool. And I mean as people … So I’m not super-big into sports but as people who are into something, I can only imagine you’re getting a lot of feedback and a lot of engagement from your community.

Arthur Franz: Absolutely. Folks are excited about the potential that the game has to represent real life. So for those who haven’t seen the game, what we do is we take real franchises but we name them a fake name that’s similar enough that you know what they are. We don’t wanna infringe on the NFL’s copyright or trademark but we want you to know that our Stallions team is actually the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. And there are no players in Breakaway Football. It does some things that are really strange when you think about football simulations because it’s sort of abstract. We use five-yard increments of yardage instead of one yard.

Arthur Franz: We use cards as the clock; there is no timer on the game. And it has realtime audibles. It does a lot of different things but the fact that it has no players and doesn’t use incremental yardage sets it apart from any other football game that’s out there.

Patrick Rauland: I mean the biggest thing for me … So I used to play, what is it, I played some games on the GameCube way back in the day. Is there NFL Blitz?

Arthur Franz: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: That was a ridiculous football game but I think you’re so used to playing the quarterback and passing the ball and catching it or stuff like that, that your game is all about the plays. I just thought that was really interesting.

Arthur Franz: Yeah. A good board game design needs to have agency. You need to know who you are in the game and what you’re doing. And so when you play Madden, for example, on a video game console, you’re the player. If the ball is snapped to the quarterback and you’re controlling where that ball goes. In this game you are the head coach. Or if you play in tandem, because this game does go up to four players, you’re the offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator.

How Did You Develop A Solo Mode?

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Okay so I think you mentioned that there’s a solo mode. Is that something that a lot of people are asking for? Is that something you developed initially or developed later on?

Arthur Franz: Yeah, that’s a funny story. The game was designed to be a two-player head-up, almost combination of chess and poker in a football theme. And it works really well with two. And it works pretty well with four. There’s a little bit of downtime but most people are enjoying the back and forth of the game so much they don’t mind. But I wanted to play this game basically every day. And I couldn’t get … I’m sorry, but I did. And I couldn’t get … Especially when testing new teams it was really beneficial to have a solo mode because you can try out different mechanisms, make sure they work.

Arthur Franz: But I just couldn’t compel people to play it frequently enough. I guess I got people playing twice a week but want to play every day. So that’s when the solo mode came up. And I joined some dedicated groups on sports board gaming on Facebook, these closed groups that have 1800 members, and I noticed that those folks were largely isolated from other sports board gamers and they were relying on solo games. So that’s when I said, “Oh, we absolutely have to have a solo mode for this, and it’s gotta be good.”

Arthur Franz: So we spent about a year developing the solo mode. Basically it’s just card pulls and a few dice rolls to look at a chart for the defensive AI. But it’s been a … I think people play it more solo than they do head-up. When we see the engagement on the Facebook group people are talking about it as a solo experience.

Arthur Franz: So it’s really exciting to see something that was designed as a two-player game and worked great as a two-player game really shine as a solo game.

Do You Market It As a Solo Game?

Patrick Rauland: So, okay, so here’s my question for you. You sort of … Let’s say as you’re developing the game you basically discovered, “Wow, people love solo mode.” If you were to relaunch this on Kickstarter someday would you market it primarily as a solo game with a two-player option or would you stick with the original this was made as a two-player game with a solo option?

Arthur Franz: To your point I think we would highlight the solo option as a significant advantage of the game. We’ll put it that way. I think you can have all of the above. It’s a great two-player game. It’s actually a better two-player game than it is a solo game. But people are so excited about the solo mode I don’t wanna tip ’em off that [inaudible 00:15:26]. But it’s great if you can get two players in it’s fantastic.

Arthur Franz: One of the things about the game is the audible function so the way the cards are laid out is there’s a play at the top and the bottom of each card, but the bottom card is upside down, excuse me, the bottom play is upside down. And that’s because when you place the card art on the board you’re only putting half of the card on the board and that’s the play that you’re gonna call.

Arthur Franz: Well if you’re looking at your opponent across the board and they call a formation that kind of tips you off to what you think they’re gonna do and you like the other play on your card better, you simply rotate the card on the board before you flip it over. So you have literally audibled out of one play into another one.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so for people who are not into sports, here’s my guess what an audible is, from context. You’re on the line, or in football you’re on the line, you think they’re in a formation that’s gonna beat you, an audible meaning, “Hey guys, we’re doing the … ” You basically yell, “We’re doing the back-up play.” Is that basically-

Arthur Franz: Yes. We’re changing the play to something different. Yes.

What Is Your Design Process Like?

Patrick Rauland: Cool. I learned things. Cool. Okay so let me just ask you what is the design process like? You said you’ve been working on this for over two years. What stages of game development have you gone through? Does that make sense?

Arthur Franz: I guess my stages would be angst, fear, dread. Yeah, I’ve learned a lot. It’s been three years; we’re at year three of the journey. And this isn’t the only game we’ve designed but this is my baby. I really like talking about it.

Arthur Franz: But probably the process I’ve gone through is recognizing that it’s important to start with the core experience of the gamer. So what do you want that player to experience when they are moving the bits around? And that has nothing to do with mechanisms to me. It’s really about what do you want to evoke as far as emotion in the player?

Arthur Franz: And in this game we were firm that we wanted to have strategy be more important than luck so that’s one of the reasons we removed dice from the core game. The only way you use dice is in the AI of the solo mode and that was added later.

Patrick Rauland: Can I pause you for a second?

Arthur Franz: Absolutely.

Patrick Rauland: So you originally had dice and after a certain amount of time developing the game you were like, “We don’t want it,” and you took ’em out?

Arthur Franz: Absolutely. Yeah. I started with a much more complicated version. And I pitched it to Mark and he said, “Wow, it seems really complicated.” And I said, “Yeah, I’m trying to replicate what you would actually do in real football.” And he said, “That’s too complicated. Can you strip it down and just make it cards?” And I’m like, “I’m on it.”

Arthur Franz: So that kind of back and forth among all of the people who contributed to this design is why it’s so good. Ben actually had … My other partner Ben had a great idea about what’s called the game day deck, which was we had a good way to have the strategy of the [inaudible 00:18:06] play out and those plays had single-digit arithmetic and you moved the ball according to that. But there was no way to inject that random chaos that happens when you have humans interacting with an oblong ball. The game day deck accomplishes that by introducing incomplete passes and penalties and all the other things you’d expect from football.

Arthur Franz: Like I said it takes a village. But working with people … so much better than doing it by yourself.

Patrick Rauland: Oh totally. So let me ask you, so maybe let me pivot my question there. How do you work with other people? How do you … Do people focus on different areas? Do you do different play tests? How does that happen?

Arthur Franz: The first things I think about is what is the point of view of the person giving the advice? This probably comes from the time when I was in grad school, I have an MFA in fiction writing. And so when people would come to a story that I’d written in workshop they had a particular point of view and very often they were teasing out their own foibles and using your work as a foil for that.

Arthur Franz: But in game design people have, for lack of a better term, agendas. They want to accomplish something. And if you understand what they’re trying to accomplish or why they might be making that recommendation it helps make the communication much, much better.

Patrick Rauland: Hmm. Okay. So I mean how long … I guess, how about this … You each have full-time jobs it sounds like.

Arthur Franz: Yes.

How Many Hours Do You Spend Working on Your Games?

Patrick Rauland: How many hours a day do you spend working on your games?

Arthur Franz: So I can’t speak for the other two but I spend anywhere from one to two and a half hours a day on game design. And I’m lucky in a way because I have a long commute. And I definitely use that time purposefully. 45 minutes either way can become an hour and a half. Although, to be honest, really only the way there ’cause I’m fresh and mentally alert; all the way back from work not so much.

Arthur Franz: But yeah, much to my wife’s chagrin, I do spend a good bit of time at the computer tinkering with components. I do consider play-testing games that are in progress or games that exist as design time because we’re always looking at ways to improve.

Patrick Rauland: So sorry, how are you working on your games … Are you driving to work?

Arthur Franz: Yeah. Yeah. I drive. It’s a very easy drive. It’s interstate and then the causeway, the longest bridge over water in the world. But yeah, so if you’re counting time where you’re doing thought experiments or theory crafting-

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Okay.

Arthur Franz: I definitely consider that design time. Absolutely.

Patrick Rauland: You’re not sleeving cards in the car?

Arthur Franz: No, let’s hope not.

Do You Have a White Whale of Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Okay. I had a very different [inaudible 00:20:37]. Okay. So do you have a mechanic or theme or something that you … a white whale that you’ve tried to get into a game that you just can’t get in?

Arthur Franz: Yes. Yeah, we’re actually working on it right now. So the notion of having players that age and progress over time.

Patrick Rauland: Oh man.

Arthur Franz: Think of Madden Football where you have the ability to draft teams, the ability to trade, build rosters … We want to replicate that in Breakaway Football. And have season statistics, potentially, but basically watch the arc and the evolution of your franchise over the course of multiple seasons.

Arthur Franz: One of the bigger challenges there is being able to simulate games very quickly. It takes about 90 minutes to play a head-up game; it takes about 60 minutes to play a solo game. And right now we have 16 teams in the league. Well if you do the quick math you know you can pull your game of two teams in 60 minutes, but then you still have seven other games that you might need to play if you have a full season. No one’s gonna commit that kind of time and I think no one should.

Arthur Franz: So we have a … In fact I just demoed it last night for Ben and he liked it. But we have a way to simulate a game in eight minutes with new playing surface and using the existing bits that come in the box. So we’re very excited about it.

Patrick Rauland: So I mean that’s almost like an alternate way to play, would you say?

Arthur Franz: Yeah. So it’s a way of … Imagine when you’re watching ESPN and you’re watching the highlights of a game that’s already been played. It’s really fun to see the back-and-forth really quickly and I think if you were watching a game play itself for an hour and a half that would be terribly tedious. But if you watch a game play itself for eight minutes and you have some kind of vested interest in the outcome because it influences how your team stacks up in the overall season’s stats, then that’s an acceptable amount of time to take to watch the game play itself. And the only reason we’re building it out is that we, again, had people tappin’ their toes, “How do we cycle through a whole season quickly?” Like, “I’m workin’ on it!”

Arthur Franz: We do, if I can interject, we do ask our target audience what they want. It’s one of the reasons we put the polls out there is to make sure we’re providing products that our customers want.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Let me go back to the community for a second. So you have this Facebook group … It’s a Facebook group, right?

Arthur Franz: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: Roughly how many people are in that?

Arthur Franz: Oh, only about, gosh, about 112, I think, at this point. But they’re all either people who have purchased the game or who are ready to purchase the game. And so they’re sort of diehard sports fans. And that’s just for Breakaway Football. We’re planning on doing the same type of energizing activity for other games that we launch.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I mean you said just 112 but I think 112 … like I look at a lot of games that fail on Kickstarter and they don’t have … They have like 30 backers or 10 backers. So like having 112 dedicated fans that are already in the Facebook group before the game is live, that actually bodes, I think that bodes really well for you whenever you decide to go farther.

Arthur Franz: Yeah, I agree. And the guys are great. The people who have locked into us on the Facebook group are fantastic. They’re very vocal and they’ve had some pretty high praise. And then they also have questions. It’s a great place for when people say, “How does this mechanism work again?” And then I can explain it very quickly or provide them with additional supporting documents. We actually built our whole Frequently Asked Questions document based on questions that came through that Facebook group. So it serves a lot of purposes.

Patrick Rauland: That’s great. So I do a lot of stuff in e-commerce and most people build their FAQ page off of what they assume people will ask. So it’s nice your FAQ actually answers frequently asked questions.

Arthur Franz: Yeah, they are legit questions that would get asked. And once you get asked three or four times like, “I guess I should add that to the FAQ.” We’re getting fewer questions, which I think means that the game is stable.

What’s The Best Money You’ve Spent?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. So you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve been doing this for over three years. What is the best money you’ve spent?

Arthur Franz: You know it’s not even money that I’ve spent. My wife, bless her heart, she bought a laminator … One of those Amazon Basics laminators, and I think she told me it was $16 and change. But she bought it for me and gave it to me and I said, “I don’t need a laminator,” because I use card sleeves to iterate the teams. It’s easy to take the paper out of the sleeves, scribble on it, put it back in. Well six months go by, I haven’t touched it. And we’re doing the weather expansion for Breakaway Football, which lets you play in rain and snowy conditions. And I need themed boards where I have the need for the laminator to make a snow board and a rain board. And it was the greatest thing in history.

Arthur Franz: The other thing that I’ve made is each one of them comes with a themed deck of 54 poker cards, which is the game day deck, but it’s the rain day and the snow day deck. And that way you know what you’re up against. But I needed something … when you sleeve those kinds of cards they don’t shuffle very well, they don’t have the snap and the pop that you need … So I found the laminator when you use card stock and then you laminate it, that’s pretty darn close. So I was so thrilled and I went to her and I said, “Honey, I’m so sorry. You’re so right.” And it’s the theme of my marriage; she’s always right.

Patrick Rauland: That’s great. There are things like that in my life, right, where I ignore it for like six months, for whatever reason, and then you try it and you’re like, “Oh, this is actually great. I should have done this … ”

Patrick Rauland: That was actually my experience with Love Letter. I had a friend of mine who said, “Patrick, you will love this game.” I’m like, “I don’t know. It looks stupid.” And I finally played it after months of him bugging me and I’m like, “Oh, this is great. Why did I … Just set it up next time and don’t tell me the name of it.”

Arthur Franz: Yeah, I agree. Love Letter’s a fantastic game. I’ve heard other designers who are much more influential than I am say, “Yeah, that’s a design that should not work. But it does.” And I don’t really understand what they mean but I trust them.

What Resources Do You Recommend?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. We can go into like maybe why it succeeded in a different episode but anyways I love the game. Okay, so I would love to know … you’ve been doing this a long time, you’re working with people … What resources would you recommend to another indie game designer or aspiring game designer?

Arthur Franz: Well I think podcasts are probably the most important thing to me, to help me wade through lessons that I would have learned the hard way but didn’t have to. And I did learn quite a few lessons the hard way but I went to Ludology … Your podcast is actually quite good. Thank you for producing it. There’s quite a few podcasts … There’s a BoardGame Authority one. Anyway, I apologize there. I’m blanking on it. But I really enjoy consuming that content.

Arthur Franz: And then The Game Crafter has provided us a way to have a storefront, to develop a beachhead and a presence in the industry, and to be relevant. So I would recommend those two things.

Patrick Rauland: So, all right, podcast nerd time. What speed do you listen to your podcasts at?

Arthur Franz: Speed? I guess the normal speed.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, so I know a lot of people who are really into podcasts where they speed them up to like 2x.

Arthur Franz: Oh wow. No, I have a lot of time on the road, I’m good.

Patrick Rauland: So for anyone who has never tried this, give it a try. So I use Pocket Casts on Android. And I started by speeding my podcasts up to 1.1x, which is like so barely, barely noticeable. But over the course of a year … Hold on, I need to pull up my stats. I realize this is really bad audio for anyone who’s listening. I cannot find it right now. I should have pulled this up ahead of time but you can look up your stats and it’ll tell you, over the course of a year, you saved like five hours by listening to your podcasts on 1.1x speed.

Arthur Franz: Wow.

Patrick Rauland: So if you listen … And hey, give it a try, Arthur. I would … just 1.1x, like just do it a teeny teeny teeny bit, which is barely noticeable and you’ll save hours of time.

Arthur Franz: Hey look, I’m all about efficiency. That sounds good.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I do know some people … I talked to someone a couple months ago … He said he consumed all of my podcasts in one day. I’m like, “How?” But he listens to it on 2x at work. So for eight hours he listened to 16 hours of my podcasts.

Arthur Franz: Wow.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: So yeah, anyways, you can get hyper-efficient if you want. Cool. Podcasts. Sorry, I went on a podcast tangent, I got lost. Arthur, I’d love to know what does success in the board game world look like to you?

Arthur Franz: Yeah, that’s a good one. In a way I feel like we’ve already accomplished what success looks like for Breakaway Football that has a small, dedicated community. I guess if we could organize a tournament where people wanted to get together and play it and have regional tournaments, that would be success for this particular game.

Arthur Franz: But honestly for us at Uplink Underground Games the goal is to put out exciting content every year. And am I remembering this correctly? Did Days of Wonder used to only put out one game a year?

Patrick Rauland: Oh I don’t know.

Arthur Franz: Yeah, I think that was the gig. They had Ticket to Ride and that was their ticket to ride so they could focus on one game at a time.

Arthur Franz: We’re in a position where nobody’s really expecting us to put out additional content, besides expansion teams for Breakaway and we’re happy to do that. But we’ve got some really interesting concepts in the works that we want to cultivate and take time and grow organically. And then when we’re ready we’ll put it out there and it should make a splash.

Arthur Franz: I think success for us would be putting our relevant, innovative content on a regular basis and having people respond well to it.

Patrick Rauland: So this is really interesting, Arthur. Yeah, I talk to a lot of people on the podcast but I get the impression from a lot of them that they wanna make lots of games. And I get the impression from you that if you could somehow financially work on this one game for the rest of your life you’d be happy. Like would that be …

Arthur Franz: Well, my wife agreed with you.

Patrick Rauland: Oh okay.

Arthur Franz: No, you’re correct. I could probably develop content for Breakaway Football for another four years and not get bored.

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Arthur Franz: Well there’s so many different teams. I mean there’s only 16 in the game right now, which represent iconic seasons for different franchises. But I just made a list of … There’s 32 franchises in the NFL so if I only did one season for each franchise that’s another however many expansions. And then you think of the Dallas Cowboys, they had teams in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s that people would wanna have. So each franchise could have anywhere from two to four teams that people would want. So yeah, it spirals out of control pretty quickly.

Arthur Franz: At some point the market will be saturated. You won’t need more teams. Honestly I think that number’s around 32.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, no, I hear you. But it’s really cool and Gloomhaven has 2000 or more cards. So I think I’m trying to say you can always go more detailed. There’s always a small audience that wants you to be as detailed as possible.

Arthur Franz: I’m sure the audience for Gloomhaven is much bigger than the audience for Breakaway Football. And you know what, I’ve seen Gloomhaven, I’ve played a little bit of it. It’s really impressive the amount of stuff in the box, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So I think it’s really cool that you wanna have like one game. And it’s different, I like that. So how about this? So when do you wanna … going back to your game … when do you wanna put on … Is there a time when you want it to be ready for mass adoption through Kickstarter and then maybe through retailers later?

Arthur Franz: Yeah I think for Breakaway Football we may go with a crowdfunding option next year if we are able to finish out the dynasty expansion, which is the one that I explained earlier, has the super SIM and the players and the season and all of that as far as the components go. There’s a decent chance we’ll have that ready by the end of next year. But, again, we’re not gonna rush it. We already have an audience. We wanna faithfully provide content for that audience.

Arthur Franz: More importantly is some of the other games that we’re coming out with. One of them is Mardi Gras Madness, which is completely different from Breakaway Football. The three of us are from the New Orleans area, and so that’s what we do. There are no better New Orleans’ things, honestly, than football and Mardi Gras. I apologize but that’s the way it is.

Arthur Franz: But yeah, so it’s a light family game. It’s two to six players; it really plays best at six. And we’ve prototyped it. We had an unpub event here in New Orleans last year to test it out. We got some great feedback, some pointed feedback too. We were trying to, in the most cost-saving mode, we’re trying to find small cards, so you go to those mini-cards and people said, “We want these to be poker.” We’re like, “Yeah, but it’s cheaper if you make the mini-cards.” “No, we want poker stuff.” “Okay, fine, yeah.”

Arthur Franz: So we have to listen to the audience and make sure that we’re providing them a game that’s fun for them. But a lot of the components from The Game Crafter are phenomenal and so it’s been a lot of fun. So I’m hoping to see that next year.

Overrated/Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. So I like to end every episode with overrated/underrated. And since you’ve listened to previous podcasts, this is sad, I can’t surprise this on you. You know the game.

Arthur Franz: What? This is a shock to me.

Patrick Rauland: So for those of you who’ve never heard an episode before, I’m gonna ask Arthur about a word or a phrase like, ooh, here … Well, I’ll go for a football one. Is … Oh, god, do I know any football references? No, I know no … How about this? Are field goals overrated or underrated? And you’d have to come-

Arthur Franz: That’s a really good-

Patrick Rauland: Oh go for it.

Arthur Franz: Good job. Now, field goals are underrated. They are only worth three points whereas a touchdown’s worth six and an extra point makes it seven. And the possibility to make a field goal is much stronger now; the percentages have been climbing for the last 40 years. So people assume that they’re automatic but the only time a field goal kicker’s ever really called out is when they miss one.

Arthur Franz: So no, they are vastly underrated. If you have a good field goal kicker it is definitely the difference between going, say, 8 and 8 and 10 and 6, absolutely.

Patrick Rauland: Here we go. Awesome. So I’m glad I came up with one on the fly. All right. So onto the first real one. Print and play websites like The Game Crafter, overrated or underrated?

Arthur Franz: Vastly underrated. And the quick answer why is I think back in 2009, 2010, whenever The Game Crafter really got going, the quality of the components, my understanding, wasn’t as good as what they have now. And I think people are still locked in that mode of, “Oh, well if it’s print on demand then it must not be very high quality.”

Arthur Franz: We’ve gotten great praise from our players about the quality of the components that are being shipped directly from The Game Crafter. So I think underrated.

Patrick Rauland: I love that a lot. So one of the complaints, criticisms I hear is that it’s really expensive. And we talked earlier about optimizing your game for The Game Crafter. Can you give us one tip on optimizing your game for The Game Crafter? If you can think of one.

Arthur Franz: Yeah. I would say when you’re designing you can design at the buffet table, just pick whatever you want. But then when it’s time to develop the game, so you’re moving from design, which is making a fun game, and you’re moving into development, which is making a viable product, you’ve gotta look at where can I find efficiencies? Do I need this size card or can I go with a different card? Should I use cards at all?

Arthur Franz: A good example is the Breakaway Football board is not actually a board. It’s a player mat. And the reason we have that is a very specific reason. On the board The Game Crafter doesn’t let you print on both sides. But in the player mat can. So we have a 10 x 16 player mat, and on one side is the two-player head-up version and when you flip it over that’s where the solo board is ’cause it has its own dedicated board.

Arthur Franz: So that was a value add from a design standpoint that we wouldn’t have been able to do without knowing the components or what was possible.

Patrick Rauland: I love that. Yeah, like basically figuring out a way to … You figure out a board with a non-board element.

Arthur Franz: Right.

Patrick Rauland: That’s awesome. Cool. So this one requires a little backstory. Do you know the catch-up rule proposal for major league baseball?

Arthur Franz: I do not.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. I’m gonna summarize it for you in the audience, which is basically just my mom. Oh, now my mom and you! I’m up to two listeners. So, all right, for those two people, the catch-up rule, they’re trying to shorten baseball, major league baseball, ’cause I think it’s over three hours a game and they wanna take it down to less than three, to two hours, 45 or two hours 30.

Patrick Rauland: Basically if you’re winning you only get two outs an inning until the other team is winning.

Arthur Franz: Oh.

Patrick Rauland: And some mathematicians modeled this using the last 50 years of baseball data. And they figured out … hold on I have it right here … It should cut out 24 minutes from the average game. So changing the game fundamentally, where instead of everyone getting three outs every inning, if you are in the lead you only get two outs. Should that be … Is that overrated or underrated?

Arthur Franz: So I’ll say that’s overrated for two reasons. One, I really don’t like baseball. But two, to fundamentally change the rules of a game with that much pedigree would then call into question any new records that might be set. And so you’d almost have a line of demarcation pre and post. And so you can’t look backward at the history of the game; you have to start from today forward.

Arthur Franz: And I think that would be too stressful on the fan base.

Patrick Rauland: Interesting. Cool. Interesting. All right, cool. I’ll have to discuss that later but that’s very cool. How about this? Facebook groups for board games? And I’ll caveat this and say not your own personal, not your Facebook group for your game, but just a general Facebook group for anyone’s games or any theme.

Arthur Franz: So underrated for sure. The only way that we’ve been able to tap into our target audience was through Facebook groups. We use Twitter, we use a bunch of different things and we’ve tried Facebook advertisement. But I find that the best way is that grassroots, word-of-mouth activity. And it’s most important to find where your target audience hangs out, and then go there, but don’t say, “Hi, here’s my game. Come check out my game. Look at my game.” You’ve gotta integrate with the target audience and talk about what they like, add value to the conversations they’re already having, and then just let them know that your thing exists.

Arthur Franz: It took about 18 months of dedicated communication on some of these private boards where people would start to recognize that I wasn’t just there hawking my game. I was actually trying to help contribute to the community. So that’s probably the most important thing that I would recommend is if you do find where your target audience is, do not spam them. Just go and talk to them and enjoy the time.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Now this will probably come out either at the end of December or early January so we are probably just getting over peppermint everything. So peppermint flavor, overrated or underrated?

Arthur Franz: Overrated.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: All right. Fair enough. So, Arthur, hey, thanks for being on the show. This is great. Where can people find you online?

Arthur Franz: So we’re at uplinkunderground.com. And you can find links to our games there. You can also search for us on The Game Crafter, and search for Breakaway Football. You’ll see the core game plus the four expansions that are out there. And yeah, send us an email at uplinkundergroundgames@cox.net. We’d be happy to interface with you. Thanks!

Patrick Rauland: And, sorry, can they find your Facebook group or is that hidden?

Arthur Franz: Oh, no, no it’s open. If you go on Facebook and you type Breakaway Football you’ll find the Breakaway Football board game. We encourage you to join and just kind of listen in on the conversation or join and let us know what you’d like.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. If you like this podcast, listener, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review Arthur said he would root for you in your next game with one of those giant you’re-number-one fingers. So yeah, there we go.

Patrick Rauland: You can visit the site indieboardgamedesigners.com. You can follow me on Twitter. I’m @bftrick, B as is board game, F as in fun, and trick as in trick-taking games.

Patrick Rauland: Until next time, happy designing everyone. Bye bye.

Arthur Franz: Bye.

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