Chris Michaud

#101 – Chris Michaud

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 with Chris Michaud, former moderator of the Flip the Table podcast. He also designed Roll Estate, which is a roll and write homage to those classic mass-market games we grew up with, but with modern board game mechanisms. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Michaud: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me.


Patrick: Yay. I like to start with a lightning round to introduce you to the audience, cool?

Chris: Yeah, let's do it.

Patrick: Great. Do you rent or do you own?

Chris: I own. It took a while to talk me into owning, but I'm glad I do own. Although I did buy the smallest possible lawn for the least amount of mowing.

Patrick: Are you one of those people that's going to rip up your lawn and replace it with stones or clover, or something else that doesn't grow too high?

Chris: We did look at one house where they had basically paved the lawn and turned it into a giant backyard driveway. We did not end up buying it, but it was very tempting. At this point, I do as little maintenance as possible so that we don't violate city code, and that's about it.

Patrick: I understand. Then because your game is based on a certain classic game, I have to ask this next one, what is the longest game of Monopoly that you've ever played?

Chris: Probably three hours is the longest one that I've sat in, but since I adopted the speed die 6 or 7 years ago that has become indispensable to me. I can get a 2 player game done in about 45 minutes, and 4 players in maybe 2 hours.

Patrick: I need to know what the “Speed die” is.

Chris: The speed die is wonderful. The elevator pitch is that it is a third die that you roll, and three of the sides have numbers on them, and you add them and roll and move with them like you normally would. But two of the sides have an image of Mr. Monopoly on them, and when you roll that you take your normal turn and then it advances you to the next unowned property on the board, which you may also buy.

Then once all of the properties are gobbled up, Mr. Monopoly turns evil, and when you roll him, he pushes you to the next property on which you would pay rent. It eliminates dead spots on the board fast, and then at the end of the game, when the last property is owned, everybody locks down and keeps their best properties. At that point, you roll the dice a couple more times to see who wins. It's wonderful.

Patrick: That's fantastic. I have not heard of this, so I'll look into it. Then one my favorite lightning round questions is, what is a game you play with someone every single time at a con?

Chris: I love to schedule a game of BSG if I can, usually around 7 o'clock at night, so I can use it as that day's closer. I can settle into it, play for 3 or maybe 4 hours. It's one of the longer games I enjoy, and I love going to conventions because I can never find a shortage of experienced players to enjoy that game. It's one of my all-time favorite games.

Patrick: Yes, it is a fantastic game. If you haven't played Battlestar Galactica, play it. Now I see here that you play it with at least the Pegasus expansion, but do you also play with other ones?

Chris: We have all the expansions at home, we collected them pretty much as they came out, as soon as we got into it. I prefer Pegasus at minimum because it messes up the traitor mechanic a little bit in a way that I find a little more favorable and into my own taste.

Patrick: I was going to ask if you like it because– If I remember correctly, the Pegasus expansion also introduces the airlock location.

Chris: It introduces the airlock, and it gives you some ways to shoot down raiders that don't involve getting into a ship. If your pilot turns out to be a Cylon, which happens every time I think, then you have a way to defend yourself, at least. It also introduces this loyalty deck where you can play halfway in between a regular Cylon and a human, and nobody knows your real motive until the game is over, and that's intriguing to play with as well.

Patrick: You and I will have to play that at a con because I always take a character. Either Gaius Baltar, or– Who's the–? Sharon, I think, is her name. Boomer, right? I always take one of them, so I have the highest chance of becoming a Cylon. It is fantastic. I love that game.

Chris: So you're one of those, then?

Patrick: Yeah, I am. Listeners, if you go to my BoardGameGeek profile, it says, “100% Cylon.” That's what I put in my profile. I think I've been– I don't know how, but I try to be a Cylon every time. I think I've been a Cylon, and I don't know, 80% of the time? I have very good odds. I don't know how it happens, I have very good odds, so it's great.

Chris: I did play in a game with a guy who did not draw a Cylon card in either the regular or the sleeper phase and still played as a Cylon the entire game. It was +1 Cylon the whole game, and it was quite an eye roll from that table when it was over.

Patrick: I had the opposite, we were playing a 6-player game of Battlestar, and we were playing with a couple of the friends that always play and a couple new people, and one of the new people happened to be the second Cylon. I was the obvious Cylon, I had revealed myself and was blowing up stuff left and right. I'm like, “All right. There's another Cylon out there. I know there's at least one more out there because it's a 6-player game. They've got to be throwing votes left and right.”

I started thinking that we misdealt the loyalty cards because they're just so subtle. “How is everything passing?” We go through the game, and she says she didn't want to be a Cylon. I was so angry when there's a 3-hour experience when someone says, “I didn't want to be a Cylon. Too bad.”

Chris: That's pleasant.

Patrick: Yeah. Hopefully, we can, when we play it– Sometime when we meet each other IRL, we'll not have that experience. Anyway–

Chris: Correct. Everybody is going to read their cards very carefully. We'll make sure of it.

How did you get into board games and board game design?

Patrick: Yes. All right, great. So first real question now that I have talked your ear off, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Chris: For the longest time, I would say probably from when I was 15 until maybe 12-13 years after that, I was highly into roleplaying games. Those were my primary hobby. I love roleplaying games, and then shortly after I met my wife, we started playing some more mass-market type games. We played Monopoly, we played Munchkin, we played a couple of the nerdier games, but we weren't that deep into it until someone showed us Shadows Over Camelot, which I cite as the game that got me into hobby games.

Because it had all of the social experience that I liked in a role-playing game, but without all the front-loading. You didn't have to create characters, and you didn't have to write an adventure. You just set it up, and you go, and I got to have that cooperative experience that I liked with a little bit of drama and a little bit of intrigue.

That's what got me into it, and then I joined the Bangor Area Gaming Guild, which was co-founded by one of the other hosts of Flip the Table, Flip Florey, and that is what really blew the door open and showed us all the other wonderful games out there. I've been in love with the hobby ever since.

Patrick: So, you are really into social deduction games?

Chris: I wouldn't say social deduction games necessarily, like The Resistance and Werewolf, they don't speak to me. But those first couple of games I liked because it was the first time I ever experienced a game where you cooperate. I also like them because if you were revealed as the traitor, your game wasn't over. You still kept playing, and that's important to me too. Some of the other social deduction games, once you find out who the traitor is the game's over and you're done.

Patrick: Right.

Chris: So that added a layer and a level of intrigue that I liked. Since then, I'd say probably deck building games are my favorite type of game, other than old cheesy mass-market games, like [we reviewed on Flip the Table].

Why did you start Flip the Table?

Patrick: Cool. I normally want to chat about your game design, which we'll get to, but I want to start off with– I'm pretty sure you're the only other podcaster I've had on the show. I want to start with why did you start Flip the Table podcast? Maybe tell us like a sentence or two about it.

Chris: Sure. Flip the Table is a podcast about cheesy, weird, and obscure board games. We called it “The podcast about the other side of games.” We played old VCR games and old games based on movies and TV shows, and that show ran for five years from 2012 to 2017. We made 111 wonderful episodes, and then we made the decision to close the showdown in 2017. We did an epic final season, and we capped it off with what we call “Episode 10,000,” where we reviewed WrestleMania the VCR game. That was our big curtain call game.

What inspired me to do that was when I first started getting into the hobby. I have a background in broadcasting, and I went to school for TV production, and I took a lot of classes about radio, and it's always something that I've loved doing, but I couldn't make a career in broadcasting. It's the best second job I ever had out of college, but I couldn't support myself doing it at least in a small market like Bangor, Maine.

Then one summer at work my company was acquired by another much larger company, and there was a period of about eight weeks where we literally had no incoming work because they were changing all the phones and redoing everything in the building so that we could transition into working for this big company. I had a lot of time to sit and read, and in their online library, they had a bunch of books about podcasting, and I found out “Hold on. I can do this myself now, and I can afford to do this. I can buy this equipment and start something on my own. I'm excited. I want to do a podcast.”

What I ended up doing was marrying two of my greatest loves in life, which is broadcasting and board games and Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I think defined my experience as a youth. So that's what we were going for when we started Flip the Table, and it ended up connecting with people, and we had a wonderful run of it.

Greatway Games talked about being exhausted in their final episode. Why did you end your podcast?

Patrick: But I wanted– I recently listened to the last episode of Greatway Games, which is another good boardgame podcast, and sadly it was their last episode. They talked about being exhausted, and I'm wondering, is that just a thing that happens to podcasters? Do they just get exhausted when they're making their show? Is that why you ended, similar to them?

Chris: I can tell you, you shared these questions with me ahead of time, and I went back and listened to that episode of Greatway Games, and I had all the feels listening to that. Because I just felt like I connected with it having sat on the other side of those microphones in a certain way, and podcasting is hard work. It's a lot. It's incredibly rewarding, and we had nothing but success.

When we closed the podcast down, it was still growing. But it was at a point where I'd had some changes in my own life, I was changing jobs, and I had a new family. The other guys had changes happening in their lives too, and it was either a choice between keep doing this and not do it as well as we'd like to or to just maybe white knuckle it for 7-8 more episodes and give people a really good ending and good closure.

I made the decision at that point to give people closure and end on a high note because I always felt like if I did that, I would appreciate that as a fan if I was a listener. It also opened the door to stay a part of the community after that and to stay involved and pick up those instruments and jam once in a while, but on my own terms. Yeah, but podcasting is a lot harder work than you think it is. Everybody who starts a podcast learns that. I'm sure you've learned that in the time that you've been podcasting as well.

Is there something the board game community can do to keep good shows going?

Patrick: Is there something–? Because here's the thing, let me explain. I listened to Greatway Games because every time I listen to the show, it feels like they invite me into their living room, and they give me a hot cup of tea, and they sit me in a nice easy chair, and then they ask me how my day is going. That's what the podcast feels like.

It's this wonderful experience, and I'm sad that it's gone. How do we, as a board game community, keep good shows like yours, Flip the Table, and other podcasts going. What do we do to make it–? To make them–? If it is just always a lot of work, what do we do to make the work worthwhile?

Chris: I can tell you there's two things, now that I have some perspective on it and I've been away from it for a long time. There's two things that you can give a podcaster that will extend the life of their podcast. One is engagement, and the other is money. When we first started the podcast we didn't know how many people were going to listen or if anybody was going to listen, and especially in those early days every time somebody reached out to us, every time somebody tweeted us or emailed, when we'd hear a mention on another podcast saying “Go listen to them, go check it out.”

That engagement told us we were connecting with people and that we were saying something worthwhile, and that means the world to anybody in a podcast. You don't necessarily have to give money, but giving engagement is incredibly valuable. Whether you're just showing a little appreciation and saying “I love your last episode,” or if you're connecting with them and talking with them about the topic of that show, that means a lot too.

In that Greatway Games episode, they talked about how they want to stay in touch with the people in their Slack channel and stay connected with that community because it means so much. Engagement is important, and I feel like if you're talking into the void eventually, you get sick of it, and then you get bored with it, or disheartened or whatever. I will say that when Flip the Table started Patreon, I can safely say that extended the life of the show by 2-2.5 years.

Patrick: That's significant.

Chris: Yeah, and the reason for that is because we cultivated enough in an audience that we were able to, first of all, get a decent flow of money going. But it let us do things creatively we couldn't have done otherwise, like take the whole crew to a convention far out of state and do a podcast live in front of an audience there. Or to get access to games that are so rare and weird and obscure that you have to spend a certain amount of money on eBay to pick them up, and you wouldn't do that on your own budget.

Even just being able to buy coffee and donuts for the guys, we had a Flip the Table Dunkin Donuts card that we kept reloading with Patreon money. We would buy coffee and donuts at the beginning of the session, and just having that to look forward to power us up at the beginning of recording.

So that really did a lot for us as far as our ability to stretch ourselves and to do more than we may have otherwise done because I think at a certain point we might have hit our limits and said “We've said everything we can say with this” and got done with it. But I'm so grateful for the support that we got from the community, whether it's Patreon T-shirt sales or whatever that let us do things like our dice share live show and all that stuff.

Patrick: Awesome. I will take a very– I will plug myself very quickly. I have a survey you can take at, and then you can let me know what you like, and then I will make more of that.

Chris: Yeah.

Patrick: Great.

Chris: There you go. See? Engagement, that's magic ingredient number one.

How did you decide to create Roll Estate?

Patrick: Now that I have self-served myself, let me change gears. Thank you for that look into podcasting, it's not something I talk about very often on my show. We normally talk about making games, but I think it's helpful for me to think about how the community can foster podcasts that they appreciate and they like. I appreciate that, thank you. OK, tell me about Roll Estate. What is it, and how did it start?

Chris: Like most of the fun creative projects I've done, Roll Estate started as a joke. We made good friends with a podcast called Building the Game, which listeners of this show should be listening to if they're interested in game design. I was appearing on an episode of that show, and they do a segment at the end where you pitch a game, and you just come up with a game idea, and you pitch it to them.

It's a way to practice that, and they do it with each other, and guests who come on the show have to do the same thing. Knowing that I was going to be doing this show, I was like, “What's a just weird idea that I could pitch and see if I could make it work?” I ended up coming up with a game that mixed a certain very popular game about rolling five dice three times, and another very popular game about acquiring a bunch of real estate and charging rent on it, wink-wink.

Mixing those games together to see if it could work. As we're having the discussion on the show, I was like, “There's something here.” I had already just prototyped it a little bit, just because I was playing around with it. But I was like, “OK. This is a fun stunt that I can do. Let's see how far I can take this joke.” I ended up working on it, testing it, iterating it, and bringing it to a convention, Granite Game Summit.

People were like, “This game is clever. What the heck are you going to do with it?” Because I certainly did not own the trademark to either of those properties nor do I want to step on that trademark at all. I love classic mass-market games, and I want to play nicely in that pool, so where Roll Estate came from was a way to transition that stunt, that joke, into something that can stand on its own. Be its own thing and live in its own universe while still paying respect and homage and love to those certain classic mass-market games that we're talking about.

Patrick: It's also a roll and write game, right?

Chris: Yes. It is a roll and write game.

Patrick: So I imagine you're running around the board and crossing stuff off, and then when people land on– Can people land on your space?

Chris: The way that it works is you roll the dice three times, and the combination of that dice will allow you to buy rental property within certain neighborhoods in the city. If you fill up your neighborhood on your sheet, you then get to open up a business, and the businesses are wacky things like record stores and wrestling schools, there's even one called the Money Factory in the most expensive neighborhood in the game.

You are competing because the first person who gets all of those properties and opens that business locks everybody else out of being able to do the same thing. Each neighborhood has room for 1 or maybe 2 businesses, and that bonus is really valuable to winning the game. You can also roll sequences of dice to claim parts of the mass transit system, or you can invest in the stock market by getting sequences of five to multiply your liquid assets.

It's a lot of interaction with players as you compete to get to the right places first and decide when you're going to go head to head with somebody and try to race them, and when you're going to go in another direction to try to get out of their way so you can maximize your own investments somewhere else.

Patrick: That's a cool story. I think the coolest part there is how it started. Like, how someone– You were on a podcast and they're– They had a silly– I don't want to say silly, but a segment.

Chris: It can be very silly. I think it's fair to say.

Patrick: OK.

Chris: Because they've done some pretty silly pitch challenges on building the game. Those are some of the most entertaining episodes.

Why did you decide to release Roll Estate on PnP Arcade?

Patrick: Yeah, but it's great that you started with just this thing. You challenged yourself, and you made a thing, people gave you some feedback, and then you turned it into a real thing. Then that leads nicely into this next one, and you are– It's listed now on PnP Arcade, which is Print & Play Arcade. Why did you decide to release the game that way? I think for listeners, I'll have a link in the show notes, and it costs $3 bucks. It costs a couple bucks. Why did you decide to release it that way instead of, I don't know, trying to sell it to a publisher and getting a million bajillion dollars?

Chris: I did have Print & Play Arcade in mind from the beginning, because I made myself a New Year's resolution that by the end of 2019, this year, I was either going to sell it to a publisher or I was going to find some other way to get it out to the public, including print and play. But that was my goal, is “This will be on its way to being in the public's hands by the end of this year.”

I did pitch it to a few publishers, and I was lucky enough to have a really good hit rate on people responding to me and at least looking at it, whether or not they tested it they at least reviewed it. The mass-market publishers that took a look at it said “This is a little complex for us, this is more of a hobby game.” And then the hobby game publishers that looked at it said, “This belongs as a mass-market game.” Everybody, I want to be clear, was incredibly kind and generous in their feedback to me. They were nothing but respectful, and I'm very appreciative that they took that time because getting that feedback from both sides of it told me that I was on track with my vision for the game.

I wanted to make something that paid homage to these mass-market games, but with that little bit of gamer dust on it. That little bit of extra salt. Jason Tagmire, one of the people behind PnP Arcade, we go way back. He has ads for his game Pixel Lincoln on the original episodes of Flip the Table, the first four that came out. We've been good friends ever since, and so I trust him a lot. I'm fascinated by this model because it reminds me of the old James Earnest games like Give Me the Brain and The Great Brain Robbery, where you get the bare minimum components you need, and you supply your own dice and your own pens, whatever.

It spoke to me in that way, because this game is so light on components you only need five dice and some pens and some score sheets. I loved the idea that somebody could buy this for a low margin, $3 bucks, and be playing in five minutes just right off their printer. 10 minutes if you laminate, for future games. I find their publisher terms are really good, so if you've got a small game that you're designing and working on publishing, it's an option to consider. Especially if it's a low construction type roll and write game.

Patrick: Fun. I like that you took that route. It's also nice to have to make a ]digital release because it's just so easy. You don't need to run a Kickstarter, and you don't need to contact a manufacturer in China. You can skip all that and release it, and if people play it, great. If they don't, that's also OK. That's cool.

Chris: Exactly. It's low risk for everybody involved, their publisher markup is really good, so you get a decent percentage of that, and to be honest, the audience for this game is a micro-audience. But it's the audience I was talking to on Flip the Table for all those years, it's people who consider themselves serious gamers but love the old stuff too. So I was like, “I'm going to put this directly in their hands for a decent price point, and I'll maybe make enough money to take myself out to a nice dinner at some point.”

Patrick: Love it.

Chris: Maybe I'll shoot some pinball or something. That'll be fun.

Patrick: Love it. Or buy donuts and coffee.

Chris: Exactly. Donuts and coffee for my next creative endeavor.

Patrick: There we go.

Chris: reinvest, right?

How did publishing your first PnP game change your design process?

Patrick: There we go. So I sometimes ask this question, but I'm going to tweak it. The question normally is, “How did publishing your first game change your process?” I want to change this to, “How did releasing a Print & Play game– What was something you learned since you made a Print & Play game? What was something about that process that you learned that you didn't know before?”

Chris: I learned that I suck at graphic design. That's one thing that I learned.

Patrick: OK.

Chris: I learned about things like the Noun Project and, and ways that you can at least get a prototype to a place where it makes a little bit more sense. Most of my design work was done in Microsoft Excel, that's how bad at graphic design I am. Because it would hold everything in neat rows and columns for me, and that's what I did. But I also think that with Print & Play especially, one of the barriers to entry is construction.

I've been turned away from Print & Plays where you have to cut up 200 cards. That's one of the mistakes I made 10-12 years ago when I tried to design games then. Like, when I first started getting into games, I wanted to design my own game. I was just really excited about it, and I made 2 or 3 prototypes, and I made all the mistakes you could possibly make. I rushed to a full-color prototype with a million words of text without really testing it well and then learned that hard lesson of “I have to change something. Now I have to remake this whole thing.

So on it goes to the shelf to sit forever, because I'm never going to do that.” So with Print & Play, I think the thing that I learned is that the best Print & Play games, at least my own opinion, are the ones that you can easily get put together and that have a low barrier to entry as far as that. Some people might enjoy the construction process and more power to you, but that's not me.

Patrick: Do you think you're going to make more games after this? Because you've been in the board game world a while, and this is the first game you've gotten over the finish line. Now that you've got this one under your belt, do you think you're going to keep going?

Chris: I'd like to. One commitment that I made after Flip the Table is that any creative endeavor I do from here out is going to be at my own pace. Because with Flip the Table, by the end, I was white-knuckling it. I left it on the stage, and I gave it all my energy, but I had none left after making those last few shows.

I promised myself that my creative endeavors going forward are going to enrich me, not burn me out. If I come up with a game idea that motivates me to work on it and that pushes me, then I'll definitely work on it. But I'm not going to set myself an arbitrary deadline of “Now I'm going to set myself another New Year's resolution.” No. I have to have that shower thought, or that morning coffee “What if we tried this?” And if that carries me across the finish line, then great. But it's got to be on my own terms, on my own pace.

How do you recognize burnout before it sets in?

Patrick: I find that interesting. For listeners who might be– Some of them might be pushing themselves hard, some of them might just be getting started or are just curious and not doing so, but I know that I have the exact same tendency, Chris. Where I will dive head first into something and crush it, but then add onto my plates like, “I'll do a game design podcast. And I'll design games. And I'll write a book, and I'll do this.” It's so easy to add a thousand things to your plate. How do you not do that? Because I give you kudos, Chris, on ending your show before burnout set in. But you were at your limit, right? How do you recognize it?

Chris: 100%.

Patrick: How do you recognize this years before it happens so you can keep doing this creative endeavor you love, but at some point, it switched from enriching you to draining you?

Chris: I think you have to learn to be honest with yourself. I want to be very clear, there's nothing wrong with hustle. There's nothing wrong with being that person, that freelancer if you want to be a person that works 50-60 hours a week and that works only for yourself that has that level of drive and is always creating, that's something special. I am not a person that has that. I was giving extra hours to Flip the Table because I loved it because it was giving back to me, but when I started not looking forward to the editing process and when I started feeling that little bit of “Here we go again.”

I was like, “This is becoming a job, and I can't keep doing it if it's a job. This is something I'm doing as a hobby, and it needs to stay a hobby.” In the world of board games, I feel like we are propped up by enthusiasts who give of their free time. I would say 80% of board game media is just freelancers doing it because they love it. They're not doing it for a living. Maybe they make a little crowdfunding money or something, but a lot of them don't. That is the core engine that drives this hobby, is that love of it. I never want to lose that love of it. I felt a threat to that, and so I stopped.

What games or game mechanics inspire you?

Patrick: I love it. So let me look on the brighter side of this, rather than just talking about, “How do we prevent all the bad stuff?” If there is another mass-market game out there that could inspire you, that could inspire some new game design from you, is there a certain mechanic or certain theme or a certain classic game that you would love to be inspired by? I'm going to say “Derivative work,” and I mean that in a good way. Like, you're inspired by this, and you make something that combines the new and the old. Is there something out there?

Chris: Yeah. I've always been fascinated with the world of Clue. I feel like it's got this untapped universe in it, and they've flirted with doing different things with it over the years, but just that murder mystery type thing is appealing to me. I did try to design a Clue variant years ago, which also went as well as you would expect. But I feel like that is something that appeals to me, and I've always wanted to do something with cribbage.

I tried prototyping cribbage the deck-building game recently, and I was riding high on Roll Estate, so I was like, “Now I'm going to take cribbage and turn it into a deck-building game,” and that crashed and burned. It was real bad. Just so bad out of the gate, and I was like, “I need to put this away and come back to it.” But I feel like cribbage is a little underexplored in the world of board games.

We have a game called Kings Cribbage, which is like cribbage and Scrabble, Scrabble tiles, but you make cribbage hands. There's a couple of games that have flirted with that, but I feel like there's a designer game out there somewhere that takes cribbage and involves it in a new and fun way that hasn't been seen before. I'd love to see that.

Patrick: Love it. I know so many people who play cribbage nonstop. There is a huge loyalty to that type of game, so I think that's that is a prime area to do some digging. Good luck with that.

Chris: That's a good way to put it. “Good luck with that.”

What one resource would you recommend to another indie game designer?

Patrick: It's cool. I like to end with the same three questions for everyone. First one is, what one resource would you recommend to another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer?

Chris: You'll be surprised to know that my bias is toward podcasts.

Patrick: What?

Chris: I know. Shocking. I already mentioned Building The Game podcast, hundreds of episodes where you see their journey literally from day one when they did nothing, to being published game designers with a few games under their belt each. That has just been revitalized with a new format, and one of the host stayed on while the other one moved on to pursue other endeavors.

Mutually, it was a good thing. It was a fond farewell. Now is a good time to get into that, because now it's the main host Jason with a rotating cast of other game designers with different perspectives. Now's a good time to jump into that. Also, Ludology podcast about the “Why of gaming,” they call it.

That has an amazingly deep catalogue of podcasts all about different subjects, just thinking about games and game design. It's something you can enjoy whether you're a designer or not. Those two are right at the top of my list. I've been told that Flip the Table is a good design resource because it sometimes shows you what not to do. I'll let you be the judge. You should probably listen to all 111 episodes and then decide if that's right.

Patrick: Awesome.

Chris: I'll just put that out there.

What was the best money you ever spent as a game designer?

Patrick: Love it. I totally agree on podcasts. I listened to podcasts for months before I got started, and it really helps, there's a lot of good ones out there. Then I'm a frugal person, so what is the best money that you've ever spent as a game designer?

Chris: I am really glad that I hired out my graphic design. It started with buying the noun project license for a year so that I could own enough of the rights to those icons to use it in prototypes and pitch to publishers and things like that. Once I had gotten to a point where I was ready to publish on my own, I got together with Robin Gibson, who is a favorite on PnP Arcade.

He's got a prolific catalogue of great roll and write games on there, and he had been following this project on Twitter as I've been talking about it. He got the vision of it and was able to bring it to life. So I think the best money I ever spent was not doing my own art and graphic design because that's a skill I have yet to develop.

When do you hire a graphic designer?

Patrick: Then just a follow up to that, when is the right time to hire a graphic designer?

Chris: I think for me, I think you can get away with while prototyping doing it on your own. For sure, there's enough resources out there that if you can make it look good enough to play, then, you'll probably be fine. I think the time to start talking about a graphic designer is when you're talking about “How am I going to make my money back for this? At least from my own perspective, because you can hire a graphic designer to make your art and stuff if you've got the money to spare.

Just understand that you're making an investment with no guaranteed return, because you're counting on someone buying that and also offering you a sufficient royalty to cover your expense for that. Often publishers, as from what I've heard at least, want to put on their own art and graphic design anyway. So, I would say do as much as you can on your own before you're absolutely tapped out. If you're going to self-publish and you're not on your own a great graphic designer, definitely partner with somebody and make that happen.

Patrick: I will also echo something you said earlier, if you're doing a roll and write game, you might be able to get away designing that in Excel. I did that about a year ago. There was a roll and write challenge, which is in the podcast feed– Sorry, I don't have the number pulled up listeners. You can go through the back, it's about a year ago, and there is some roll and write challenge. The vast majority of the prototypes were all in Excel for a long time, so you can totally be lazy.

Chris: It's great for rapid prototyping, too, because you can quickly change names of things and move columns and rows around a little bit. It's not bad at all. It served me pretty well.

What does success in the board game world look like to you?

Patrick: Then last question is, or last real question, what does success in the board game world looks like to you?

Chris: Success for me? I feel blessed to have had as much success as I did with Flip the Table. It went far beyond my wildest dreams of where we'd even go. I figured 20 people would listen, and I'd have a small but loyal cult following for like 10 episodes, and we'd be good. Now that I've put that behind me and now that I've done this board game project, I feel like I will continue to be successful as long as I am still connecting with people in the community one way or another, through the things that I either make or have made.

I still keep in touch with listeners, putting this game out was another way to offer something to that community as a piece of myself. As long as I can keep doing that on my own terms, on my own pace and with my own creative energy behind it, without compromising that vision to go in a direction that doesn't feel right to me, that is success. I don't need board games to pay my bills, but I do feel a need to stay connected to this community in one way or another. For me, making things is a way for me to do that.


Patrick: So listeners, if you like someone's creative work, please give them a thank you on Twitter or email or through a contact form or through Patreon. There's a million ways to say, “Thank you,” because I think it keeps people going. I like to end with a game, Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard of it?

Chris: I've been preparing this since I was 7 years old.

Patrick: There we go.

Chris: I am so excited for this.

Patrick: All right, so the first one. Board game podcasts, but excluding mine. Mine does not count. Are they overrated or underrated?

Chris: Far underrated. Listen to all the board game podcasts, and there is a bunch of amazing ones out there that you should be checking out. Because I hear podcasters work hard on these things.

Patrick: That's what I hear. Then what about buying property, is that overrated or underrated? As in real life, by the way. Not in a board game.

Chris: I had a Monopoly example all lined up for this. I was going to say that buying property is underrated until you get to three houses, and then it's overrated. You should never get more than three or four houses on a property. I think overrated maybe unless you are in a solid position to do it. There's a bunch of amazing benefits, and I love my house, and I love where I live. But I had to not compromise on what I wanted. I got lucky enough to find that, but if you're not finding that don't buy it.

Patrick: Then, how about some board games have apparel–? Let me change this a little bit. What about fan art of board games? Like a t-shirt that has a Settlers of Catan reference, something like that. Is that overrated or underrated?

Chris: Underrated, for sure. I feel like fan art allows the people making it to stretch into fun and creative places that you don't see the official channels yanking. As long as the channel is cool with it, or at least tolerant of it, it's wonderful. Some of my favorite shirts are fan art type shirts, especially if you can get a subtle joke. If you look at it looks like a normal shirt, and then when you turn your head sideways and squint, it's like, “I see what they're doing there.” Those are the best ones.

Patrick: Love it. Then I don't know what this type of show is called, and I'm going to call them “Dream home shows,” like Property Brothers, where people are going out and finding their dream home and trying to do it for a certain amount of money. Are those–? I apparently don't watch many of them, but are they overrated or underrated?

Chris: OK, I'm going to say “Underrated” for this reason.

Patrick: OK.

Chris: A couple years ago at Granite Game Summit, I was lucky enough to get together with my friend Flip and Gil Hova, and we played a game called Millennial Apartment Hunters. It is a role-playing game where two people are on an HGTV-style show looking for an apartment, and the game master draws cubes out of a bag to tell you the apartment you're looking at. If it has a good feature, a bad feature, or some Lovecraftian horror.

Patrick: Oh, my gosh.

Chris: He'll draw three cubes, and it'll have some combination of good, bad, or terrible, horrific things. You basically play out an episode of this HGTV show where it's like, “This one is haunted, but at least it's in the right neighborhood,” that kind of thing. So because I feel like this space is underexplored, I'm going to say underrated. I feel like there's more meat on that bone that we can find. Yeah, I think “Underrated” as long as we start going into new and fun and wacky places.

Patrick: I love it. Now I didn't– I was thinking about the TV shows, I did not even– Now my brain is spinning on how to make a millennial home apartment hunting show, or home hunting show. That sounds great.

Chris: Could you imagine a home hunting deck-building game?

Patrick: I could.

Chris: Where you had to like–?

Patrick: So, OK. Here's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking there's some card that is the land, and you can never change the land, but then everything else can be built on top of it–? I don't know.

Chris: So you're constructing a house, but maybe at the end of the game, you have to draw one final five-card hand, and that's what you end up with, so you try to draft the best set of things you can possibly get.

Wrap Up

Patrick: I don't know. Man, this is going to be fun. I will explore this in a future– I'll explore this, listeners, and we'll figure something out. Chris, thank you so much for being on the show.

Chris: Thank you for having me. It was fun.

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

Chris: OK. If you want to buy the game, you go to and look for Roll Estate, and you can't miss it. You can listen to the complete series of Flip the Table at You can find me on Twitter @TableFlipsYou, and you can catch me pretty easily there. If you still use e-mail, contact if you want to reach out to me directly.

Patrick: Awesome. Listeners, if you liked his podcast, please leave a review because that lets me know you're listening and you care. If you leave a review, Chris said he would backseat drive as you tour a potential house to buy. He'll walk around behind you and then let you know whenever something is bad or good, to avoid–

Chris: Fun fact. I actually cannot drive. This is true. I cannot drive a car, and I haven't driven a car in 8-9 years. I would literally be in your backseat because I have no business behind the wheel.

Patrick: He will literally backseat drive. Fantastic. You can visit the site at, you can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek. I'm @BFTrick on both platforms. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

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