Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. Today we’re going to be talking with Daniel George, who is the designer behind Treasure Mountain, which is a worker placement and tile laying game where you play dwarf miners, and it’s on Kickstarter right now and it’ll end in just a couple days. Daniel, welcome to the show.
Daniel George: Hey, thanks for having me.
Patrick Rauland: Awesome. As of right now, I think you’ve got 10 days left, and you just about doubled your Kickstarter goal, so first of all, congrats on that.
Daniel George: Thank you very much, it’s good to win once and awhile.
Patrick Rauland: That’s awesome. How did you get into board games and board game design?
Daniel George: Back in the late ’70s, my sister brought home D&D, of all things, when I was in 6th or 7th grade. I got really into Dungeons and Dragons in junior high school, and that kind of led to me doing two things. One, I jammed a lot because nobody else wanted to do it, and I think there’s kind of an element of creating your own stories for players when you do that. At that same time, I got into a lot of Avalon Hill games like Advanced Squad, Squad Leader, Panzer Blitz, a lot of the military things, and from there, I just never stopped gaming.
Patrick Rauland: That’s great. You know, I think I got into D&D young too, but I could have sworn like a long time ago, wasn’t there like an intro to D&D, and they had like a prebuilt map and a prebuilt story? I could have sworn, I know as a kid I played some like intro to D&D system, and it totally got me hooked.
Daniel George: I don’t know how old you were, but I used to do, I think I started out, there was a basic like a blue box, and then there’s a pink box. Yeah, it might have had some adventures on rails in there, but yeah, it had the little dice with crayons. You had to make your own numbers, you know the whole thing. Yeah, it was cool.
Patrick Rauland: Cool. Treasure Mountain looks like a giant game. There are lots of, I’m gonna say, overlapping mechanics and a ton of components. Did you design a giant game from the start, or did it evolve that way?
Daniel George: Well, my design philosophy is make the games that I want to play, and I love bits. No, I always say to my wife, “God, if I would just design games that would be like a lot less bits, I’d actually maybe make some money.” No, I mean it seems like it has a lot going on. I think that when I first started doing designing, I made really complex, historically accurate … I was really into historical, and then in time I realized, after 30 years now of design, that simple is better, like simple and elegant design is really the way to go. It looks complex, but really the core mechanics behind Treasure Mountain, even though there’s a lot going on, a lot of bits to play with, at its core it’s pretty simple, and it’s been boiled down pretty well, I think.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, cool. Okay, so but did you start with like more rules and more complexity or did you start simple?
Daniel George: You know, I don’t always follow the same process, but this game was a game I started more than seven years ago, and it started as a simple Excel model. I used to be a programmer, so everything I build is based on a mathematical model, and of building kind of a research collection model. There’s been elements I’ve subtracted from the game, but now they’re in the expansion that’s also on Kickstarter with it, but it started out pretty tight from the beginning. I think the thing that made the game different, and if I could talk about my wife who has the co-design credit on this, the game was just about a dwarf mining game, and I liked it, but it was a little dry, I felt.
Daniel George: My wife and I actually played Kingsburg, God, must have been five years ago, or maybe four years ago, anyway, Kingsburg has that, if you’ve ever played Kingsburg before, has an element where the end of the year, a season, a monster will attack. It was just the fact, like that’s exactly what Treasure Mountain needed, I went back immediately and dusted off my old designs. I got many, many old designs in my garage in boxes, dusted it out, and that’s what the game needed.
Daniel George: What it has is that it has a dragon element, where certain spaces on the board are juicy, it’s a worker placement, they give you immediate resources without spending anything, however, every time you use one of those spaces, you roll a die and you can move the dragon up this track. When it gets to the top of the track, the dragon awakes and attacks all the players, so everybody gets attacked. It’s like this push your luck thing, and that opened up the game. I guess that’s added complexity to the game, but it was over a very long period of time.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, but that’s great. Also, I can totally see that being fun, and it totally fits into The Hobbit, where like the dwarves, they dug too deep, and then there’s the ark and stuff … Well, I haven’t read that book in so many years.
Daniel George: Yeah, I mean, I guess you know I always liked dwarves and I always liked dwarves, and I always liked orcs, and I like mining games, and the way you do tile placement and the collection of the gems, you do feel like a dwarf. I mean, one thing, I’m big on theme. Theme really, if you have a really heavy theme, I think people love that.
Patrick Rauland: I totally agree, I totally agree. All right, so let’s just say a new designer is listening to this, would you recommend they start with a game with this many components, with this, I don’t wanna say “complexity” because you said it’s simple, but like the amount of interlocking pieces?
Daniel George: I would just say this to anybody who wants to design, and this is the advice to take: design the game that you want to play, and whether it’s simple or it’s complex, right? So that, when all is said and done, you can’t start out thinking, “I’m going to make this game, and I’m going to get published, and I’m going to sell a million copies, and I’m going to get all this money.” People don’t need to think that far ahead. I just say, “Look, make the game that you want to play,” and I made many, many games I was the only people of my friends who ever played it for years, and it was still a win. You know, is it more complex and harder to make a more complex game? Yes, but it’s also very difficult to make an elegant game too.
Patrick Rauland: Sure, sure sure.
Daniel George: Like Dominion, for example, brilliant in its elegance, right? You know, obviously there’s lots of complexity been added since. So to answer your question, just make the game that you want to play, whether it be complex or not.
Patrick Rauland: I actually really like that, because I think the part of game design that I like most is both giving feedback to other designers on their games, and trying to interpret people’s feedback. Because I feel like I’m building a language, you know what I mean? Like I’m coming up with words or phrases, or learning about it in this podcast or this book. That, I really, really enjoy. I don’t actually like the play testing part, but I really enjoy all the discussion about … Every bit of everyone’s game is really fun, so I think that’s probably why I do it, so that’s awesome advice. I don’t think I realized I had that much fun doing it.
Daniel George: You have to have fun.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, cool.
Daniel George: Fun is absolutely critical, and you’re right, play testing can be a drag. I get it.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah.
Daniel George: But it’s necessary. You have to play test.
Patrick Rauland: All right, so about how many hours did you spend on Treasure Mountain, going back seven years?
Daniel George: Oh God. Well, I tend to be a designer that … I mean, I literally probably start 20 designs a year, I just come up with ideas. Like I’m driving down the road, and I’ll be like, I see a rabbit, “I want to make a game about hitting rabbits on the freeway,” whatever, I mean just crazy ideas come out of nowhere, right? Like so I come up with a lot of ideas and little mechanic thoughts, and I bank them away. I create this, you know and I always talk about how like I tell people, I fail a lot. They go, “Oh your designs are so good.” No, failed 100 times before it got to this.
Daniel George: There was a quote about somebody saying, “The key to success is failing faster”, which is true for game design, and there’s always a lesson to learn with every design you’ve made. If I can give you an example, there’s a game I came up with a ridiculously crazy theme where … This was, God, five years ago, six years ago, where everybody’s a sexually transmitted disease fighting over the body of a sailor on shore leave, right? You’re trying to make the sailor go to the dirtiest bars and drink drinks and do horrible things. What’s funny, the theme was amazing, except the mechanics did not match the theme. The mechanics were like serious and it just didn’t work, so I banked that aside.
Daniel George: Then I came up, there’s this other game I’m working on called Brew Kingdom, it’s the working title. I took the engine of that game, plugged it into Brew Kingdom, worked perfectly. Yeah, I mean sometimes you make something, and you come back years later and it works. That’s like arrows in your quiver, you learn tricks. That’s why some designers, their games have similar things, like Feld has certain things in his games that you see across into different games.
Patrick Rauland: Yep, that’s such a great example and such a great point, right? I think I got into game design, I think I started thinking about it over probably like a year and a half ago, and I probably got into like a year ago, and I’ve just been banking ideas in Evernote, just like every idea goes into Evernote, and I try to add at least a few sentences for each idea.
Daniel George: Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: I don’t know when I’m going to use them, but I’m confident at some point I’m going to use, I don’t want to say “most”, but I’m going to use those ideas, they’re going to be useful.
Daniel George: Yeah, and I also, there’s something else I’d say to some people. I go to a lot of protospiels and people ask me a lot of questions, don’t be afraid to use a mechanic in an existing game, because there’s nothing new. I used to be into writing plays when I was in college, and I remember my play-writing professor said the first thing that he ever said was, “Everything that you’re going to write has already been written, so don’t worry about it. Just make the story you want to tell,” and that kind of applied to board gaming as well, I guess I carried that lesson over. You know, play lots of games, bank your ideas, and don’t worry about it.
Daniel George: You can even make a clone of a game, if it’s just for you to have fun. It doesn’t make a difference. Eventually you’ll learn, you’ll get better at it, and you’ll come up with something that maybe you can sell.
Patrick Rauland: Well, okay so that brought me to a question I wasn’t planning on asking, but so one of the things I sort of did unintentionally is, I actually started modifying the games that I have, because there are a couple of games where like, “Ugh, this car is unbalanced, or this thing doesn’t work,” and then we would have house rules, and for the most part they seemed to work pretty well. I’m curious, would you recommend that to new, aspiring game designers?
Daniel George: You nailed it, that’s the first thing I ever did. The first thing I guess “board game design” I ever made was taking the original version of Axis and Allies. We thought it wasn’t complex enough, so I came up with this whole system that’s economic and oil and different resources, and we put stickers on the maps. In fact, I even ordered extra boards from the manufacturer, back in the days when you’d have to lick a stamp and you sent them a check for $12, and they send you an extra board. Yeah, I think modification design is an amazing … Like there’s a game I have that’s coming out in the fall, and I sent it to a play test group. One of the play tester’s 13-year-old sons wants to do game design, and he has an idea for an expansion for my game. I said, “Make it, please, do it.” That’s the best way to start, absolutely agree with you.
Patrick Rauland: That’s really cool, and actually creating an expansion is probably even, like so maybe modifying a game first, then maybe create an expansion for your favorite game, and then try to make your own game. Yeah, that’s a great idea.
Daniel George: I wish the internet existed back in 1980-something, where you can actually produce anything now, and put it up on Board Game Geek or put it up on a website for free in a PDF format. I mean, you know like I said, you can’t start out, you’re not going to make a lot of money, but at least it gets your designs out there. There’s so many great stuff out there, I frequently download all sorts of stuff online, people’s games or ideas or books or role-playing supplements that are free. I mean, it’s an amazing time to get your ideas out there.
Patrick Rauland: It is absolutely amazing. I have one game, it’s at the prototype stage and I have it on the Game Crafter, and it’s a micro-game, but it costs $7 for, like it looks professional. That’s insane that on-demand I upload some pieces of artwork, and I think rounded up it’s $8 to have a professional micro-game made, which that’s crazy.
Daniel George: It’s awesome, and you’ll get like 50 cents.
Patrick Rauland: Yes.
Daniel George: That’s probably about right. Yeah, I mean again, you know I just tell people another quote. We used to have a band when I was in high school, and our quote of the band was, “Don’t let the lack of talent prevent you from the sheer joy of creativity.” That’s another thing too, people have a lot of self doubt. Don’t worry about it, just have fun, go through the process. I mean, there’s always going to be someone richer, better looking, and a better designer than you. As soon as you get over that, then you start having fun.
Patrick Rauland: That’s awesome. All right, so I think this is your second published game on Kickstarter, right?
Daniel George: Yeah, I did a few games with Z-Man a long time ago. I never had a desire to publish anything I’d ever written, I just did it myself, like I would go to KublaCon, which is one of my favorite cons, and I would do historical miniature gaming. Every year I did my own historicals, and I used to do them and I had my group of people I’d meet with year after year. My daughter and I submitted a design, my daughter was eight at the time, we co-designed the little game and it won the KublaCon game design contest, and a publisher said, “You want to publish games?” I’m like, “Wow, that was kind of fun, maybe I should do that again.”
Daniel George: That was about 10 years ago, but yes, you know I’ve wanted to self publish for a long time, but yes, this is the second project I’ve self published on Kickstarter.
Patrick Rauland: Now that you’ve had two games, one already funded, one will successfully fund, what would you change about, you know if you could take all the knowledge you have now and take it back 10 years or whatever, whenever you started game design, what would you change?
Daniel George: You know, I wouldn’t change a whole lot. I tend to think the process I went through was fun. I would say, yeah, not much. I had a great time, I would say probably even design more, you know?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, that’s great, cool. Okay, so are there any games out there that sort of inspire you, or maybe game designers?
Daniel George: Yeah, you know it’s a funny thing about being a chronic game designer, is I don’t play as many games as I like, you know what I mean? I go through cycles, where sometimes I won’t design for two years at a time, and then I play all sorts of games. I feel like I’m in a bubble that’s a few years behind, but games that I recently played that I really love is like Great Western Trail, I really think that’s an interesting design, I think Castles of Burgundy gets not enough love, Lords of Vegas, which gets no love. You know to me, I guess to me I don’t have a particular designer I love, but I love games that have fun. Those games are all games that I think, you know Wits & Wagers is a very simple game, but every time I pull it out, people have a great time.
Daniel George: Yeah, I guess to answer your question, my favorite designer? Stefen Feld is pretty good, Jamey Stegmaier, yeah, probably like his stuff has been really consistent over the years, I think.
Patrick Rauland: Totally, that’s great. Yeah, so I have one of those tiny Button Shy games that I now carry it in my backpack or in my pocket wherever I go. It’s an improv game, I think it’s called Movie Plotz.
Daniel George: Ooh, great.
Patrick Rauland: That game is so simple, like I remember I was waiting for a friend once, and I played with the bartender at a bar, like you know what I mean?
Daniel George: Perfect.
Patrick Rauland: It was so incredibly simple, it was like, “All right, one sentence story, and now we just keep modifying the story with every card.” It was so cool to have, and it was so fun. That was the whole point, like it was fun, incredibly simple, I could bring it with me in my pocket. Yeah, cool, games that are fun.
Daniel George: Games that are fun. I mean really, people sometimes forget, I think people care so much about rating games and ranking games, like the Board Game Geek score, people put a lot of stock in that, but I don’t know, there are a lot of games that have a 7.5 or a seven or a 6.5 on Board Game Geek that I had a great time, because it’s the people you play with I think probably define the fun more than the mechanics.
Patrick Rauland: Totally, and I don’t want to … Hold on, I’m just debating. No, I won’t out this specific game, but just it’s one of the ones in the top five on Board Game Geek right now. I tried it, and I didn’t like it. I thought I would love it, and I got into it and I was like, “You know what? Not for me,” I didn’t have fun.
Daniel George: You’ve got to give me a hint, because I’m curious if it’s the same game that I have the exact same feeling about.
Patrick Rauland: I will say that there’s a lot of setup for this game.
Daniel George: It’s not the number one-rated, or two rated game number … It rhymes with Gloomhaven, is that it?
Patrick Rauland: Maybe.
Daniel George: I have it. Let’s say we were talking about Gloomhaven right now.
Patrick Rauland: Okay, theoretically.
Daniel George: I would say that I would share your opinion, but it’s so brilliant and the bits are so amazing-
Patrick Rauland: Yes.
Daniel George: Well, let’s just take Gloomhaven, you don’t have to, I will say it. I would say that it’s a little higher ranked than I would put it, however it has some really good mechanics, but to me I didn’t feel like it was as compelling as Pandemic Legacy for a legacy experience. I’m sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have outed you, but I would tend to agree with you, it’s a little high. I mean, I think you know there’s a lot of … Like Twilight Struggle, by the way, was number one for a long time, I love that game. That was one of the first games I played with my wife, I love that game, I felt like it deserved it, but I think Cult of the New kind of pushes games sometimes higher up than maybe they should be.
Patrick Rauland: Totally, totally agree. Cool, so okay, we talked about some games you like, are there any games that you didn’t like at first, but you eventually grew into them?
Daniel George: I have a prime example. I used to do, I had a podcast and I reviewed Scythe. I did not like it at all at first, because I think it was an integration of theme and mechanics for me, like I wanted those giant robots to fight. I was just like, “These are giant robots, they have guns, they should be fighting.” Though there is fighting in the game, it’s not a fighting game, and I think that I played it, and I was like, “Okay.” Then I played it again, and now it’s probably one of my top 20 games, just because I got over the theme thing. I think that integration of theme and mechanics for me as a player and a designer is important.
Daniel George: Yeah, there was a couple games that actually I would say the inverse happened too, where at first I liked it, and the more I played it, I was like, “Eh, I don’t like it as much,” you know there was holes in it. Again, games have a lifespan, nobody can play a game 1,000 times, though I’m sure some people have, maybe Magic. Yeah, a game has a lifespan, and then you move on, there’s a lot of good choices out there.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, I don’t know if I like this or dislike it, but you’re totally right, games do have a lifespan. At a certain point, you sort of, some games you can figure them out, you know what I mean? Then it feels like tic-tac-toe, where there’s like an obvious best move, and you just make that move and it doesn’t feel like a game anymore.
Daniel George: Yeah, like I mean [inaudible 00:19:57] is a great game, and I still love it by the way, but once we kind of figured out the mathiness of it, it became not as interesting, because I think sometimes the fun is about discovery. It’s still a great game, by the way, and I would recommend anybody to buy it, but that’s a game that’s right in front of me on the wall, like I’m looking at, where I had that same experience with my wife.
Patrick Rauland: Interesting, interesting, cool. All right, so we talked a little bit about underappreciated games, but I’m guessing, do you have a favorite underappreciated game?
Daniel George: Well, underappreciated game, that’s a great question. God, I have so many games that I … I have an issue, I am a poor game designer as far as …. Well, a board game design reviewer, I should say, as I can see the value in most games, and I love a lot of games. Like I love a lot of games for different reasons, but you know if I was going to take the overall fun factor, which is the only thing that really matters to me, I love Lords of Vegas. I don’t know if you’ve played Lords of Vegas before.
Patrick Rauland: No.
Daniel George: It is a game, I think Mayfair I think does it, and basically it’s early 1950s in Las Vegas, you’re all kind of casino bosses trying to make your way and build casinos on the Las Vegas strip. It’s got a lot of luck, but what it’s about, it’s like you building these casinos, but you can take over other people’s casinos by getting your guys in there and muscling in. It’s a very very simple game, but the game has the best stories. Like my wife will still, years later my wife will still bring this up, she had this giant casino, a certain number of tiles, the more tiles, the more points, the more money, and I had a minority share, I had one square in there, and everybody has dice per square, you roll a D6. Whoever has the highest D6 value is the boss.
Daniel George: Everybody gets profits, but you get the boss. Well, she rolled all ones for six times, and I rolled like a three, so [crosstalk 00:21:57], and it made me win the game as a result of it. You know again, some people may not like that, the swing in this, but there’s a million stories like that that go the opposite way, and we use poker chips. The only criticism I have with the game is it comes with paper money, and I never even opened it, I threw it out. You’ve got to get poker chips, and you bet into these little casinos. Sorry, again, that’s a long answer for a short question, but it’s a game I just love. We only play it once a year, we play it at KublaiCon, we were playing this weekend. The first thing my son said when I was packing games, “Are you bringing Lords of Vegas?”
Patrick Rauland: That sounds great, and I actually, dice are like such a … Well, let me ask you this. What do you think of output randomness, which in your case it sounds like you shouldn’t have won that, but you did, just the luck was in your favor.
Daniel George: Well, let’s talk about my philosophy for game design.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, let’s do it.
Daniel George: You know, I get a couple old games, let’s talk about the two last games from last year and this year, which first is Dragon Brew, it’s a fantasy beer brewing game, no luck. It is worker placement, pure Euro, pretty heavy, you know what I mean? Like it’s a game that has an IP, very little luck involved, but I love it, like it’s just a game I love to play. Dragon Brew has that kind of Euro feel. Treasure Mountain has a dice element, where you roll dice when you fight the dragon, so the dragon is going to have a hidden value which it could peak at, and let’s say it’s a five.
Daniel George: When the dragon attacks everybody, everybody gets to roll a die, and it has to be equal to or greater than the dragon, and if you lose, you lose half your treasure, blah blah blah. However, what I added to the game is luck mitigation, you can buy axes. For every ax you buy, you can spend it and increase your thing. Luck all by itself that’s blind and dumb, yes, I hate it, but having the ability to do luck mitigation … By the way, now you’ve got temple space you can do re-rolls, in my expansion I have spells, so I don’t mind luck because luck is excitement, but I think not having luck mitigation with that is okay for a short game. Like there are some short games that are silly that have luck, but if you play a four-hour game, and you lose the last turn because of a bad die roll, and it’s just because of that, ti’s a horrible experience.
Patrick Rauland: Totally agree.
Daniel George: It also works the other way, like the game of Diplomacy, and I call it the Game of Broken Relationships, where it’s a six-hour game where one thing that’s beyond your control, somebody backstabbing you, and you lose the game, that also has a negative. I think there’s this thing about control of your destiny, the least control you have, the shorter the game should be, if that makes sense.
Patrick Rauland: No, I totally agree. Yeah, with small games I think it’s very easy to … I’m just trying to think of the right word, but yeah, if it’s a five-minute game and it ends with like if I get a +1 on a D6 roll and you get a -1 because I did something better, and then whoever rolls higher wins, like I’m fine with that for a five-minute game, you know what I mean?
Daniel George: Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: But yeah, if it’s a longer game, then you want to have more control, totally get it.
Daniel George: Yeah, people do not like that.
Patrick Rauland: Okay, so I’m curious, so when I look at your game, I see a lot of components. I’m curious, so one of the questions I’m asking people is, what is the thing that you spent money on that was the best ROI for you? Like when you spend money designing a game, what gives you the most happiness in return?
Daniel George: Boy, that’s a great question. Two things, so the user interface of a game, like that board, like I do my graphic design, I hired an artist, I have a great artist and I love him. He’s flying out from Canada to KublaiCon this weekend, I’ll give him a shout out, Mac, he’s a great guy. The creating of the user interface, I know it’s a creation process, I love that interface, but as far as just pure money, I just love those gems in the game. That’s those little cheap-
Patrick Rauland: Really?
Daniel George: Acrylic gems. There’s something about stacking those gems, like you pull them out of your mining, they’re a big pile in front of you, and that dragon’s coming, you’re afraid, and you feel like a dwarf because you’re greedy. You’re like, “Don’t take my gems, because they’re points,” and this dragon is coming and you feel nervous. That’s the fun part of the game, where to me, I know it ties back to the mechanics, but that stack of gems you have, that visceral feeling of stacking your coins and your gold. The only resources in the game are beer, gold, and gems, and axes, there’s nothing more dwarfy than that. Gems are just something I like.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah no, that’s great. I think that’s one of the best things that’s come out of this board game revolution in the last couple years, for lack of a better word, like the components quality on most games is just insane.
Daniel George: Yes.
Patrick Rauland: Because I think five, 10 years ago, yeah, 10 years ago for sure, five years ago most likely it would just be plastic gems, they’d probably be little paper tokens with the colors on them. The higher quality components in games now is just awesome. All right, so question for you. I see you have a couple sort of unlockable components, upgrades.
Daniel George: Yes.
Patrick Rauland: I’m going to ask, so it seems like you like nice components, like I see the beer barrels is just basically like an octagonal crown tag, why aren’t they beer things from the start?
Daniel George: Money, it’s just you’ve got to get enough backers, right?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah.
Daniel George: You know, the Kickstarter model for small publishers is very tight, the margins are tight, because when you’re printing, there’s a high fixed cost, like thousands of dollars of artwork, so your first copy of your game costs, you know let’s say $5,000 on art, which is low, I think, $5,000. Your first game costs you $5,010, and your next game is going to cost you 25 … You know what I mean? You’ve got to divide that fixed number by the number of games that you sell. That’s the first thing, not tension marketing dollars, I don’t even count my time, again because we’re having fun, so we don’t worry about that. It is fun for me to break even, that’s always my goal every year, and this year we’re going to be a little positive. Our last campaign, we did not charge shipping, which was a mistake.
Patrick Rauland: Oh gosh.
Daniel George: Because shipping prices went up in between, so we lost a little bit of money, but again, we didn’t care because we had a great time. Yeah, the components I think was just purely a financial thing. For example, we had to unlock metal coins as an add on. We love metal coins, like my friend Greg has like 40 sets of metal coins, or a million sets, you know we love them. We always wanted metal coins for Dragon Brew, which is my old game. Dragon Brew and Treasure Mountain are in the same universe, and we always kind of tie our games together, so we wanted coins you could use for either game.
Daniel George: The reason it’s an add on but we didn’t want to add that add on until we got kind of at least got close to 150% funded, was because we needed a certain number of backers to buy the coins to break even. [inaudible 00:29:16], that’s why that’s an example of a bit that we could have offered from the beginning, but the problem is if 20 people ordered sets of coins, the minimum order is 200 sets of coins, we’d be stuck with 180 sets of coins, which actually in Greg’s case may be a positive for him.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, Greg would save money, he’d be buying in bulk.
Daniel George: He would save a lot of money. Yeah, that’s everything we do is like that. Stretch goals are a combination of marketing a little bit, because you want to have that carrot, but really more so … Well first of all, people expect stretch goals, but even if without it, we’ve just got to have that funding level. We hit that, we’re hitting that figure, like right around 55, that’s when like okay, if everything starts to divide down, the margins are tight enough that we can’t even really offer much of a wholesale deal. Again, I do have a package that I sell to retails at very little market, like I make less money on a whole case of games for a retailer than one copy to a regular person-
Patrick Rauland: Wow.
Daniel George: Only because I want to support brick and mortar stores. That’s a huge thing for me is that, again, financially maybe it’s not the best thing to do. I also don’t have, the people that own stores don’t have to pay the invoice for that game until a month before it ships, because I know what it’s like to be a small business, especially to be a game store, where you don’t want to put $300 down on a wholesale order, and not be able to sell those games for six months. Again, it ties back to fun for me, is that since we don’t have to feed our children with this money, it gives you the freedom to make those fun decisions, where if I don’t have to pay the mortgage, then I can say, “Look, you don’t have to pay me until right before you ship, or we can offer these coins at break even, or we can have these bits.”
Daniel George: Now, if we sold $1 million worth of games, then we would be making some money. That would be great, but you can’t expect it.
Patrick Rauland: Totally. Wow, this is awesome. Okay, so I want to ask you a couple specific questions. I see you canceled the first version of this Kickstarter, and you just relaunched. Can you tell me a little bit about why, why do that?
Daniel George: This is a lesson learned. We did Dragon Brew last year, we did $50,000 for our first Kickstarter, which was great, we did great. We had 800-something backers, and maybe like naively so, we figured, “Oh, we’ll get at least half those backers back in the next game.” Well, the games are different themed, so we did not pre-market as much as we could, so that’s the first mistake on us, that’s our error that we made. The second thing is that years ago, now here’s the thing about the Kickstarter world, the conditions are changing constantly.
Daniel George: Like three years ago, four years ago, you didn’t have these companies that were just using Kickstarter as their sole distribution, like and that’s what happened in February. It used to be kind of the slow month, apparently now it’s the hot month, because you get everything before Christmas. Well Batman, which here’s the thing, I backed that game, Batman did-
Patrick Rauland: I did too.
Daniel George: I bought everything, I think I spent $470. I love it.
Patrick Rauland: Oh my God.
Daniel George: I know. Here’s the thing, I did Conan, and Conan, I love that game, they did that game a few years ago. That game uses the same system, we love that system, and I know I’m giving advertising for it, it’s a great system. Again, fun, really simple, in fact my son and his video game-playing friends had never played a board game like this. I broke out Conan, and every time they come now, “Can we play Conan?”, and that’s a win, like that’s just a win for me. Anyway, Batman used the same system, only Batman did millions of dollars, and there was Fireball Island, all these big campaigns, and it just drained the oxygen out of the room.
Daniel George: Now, we would have funded, we would have gotten about 35, which would have been fine, we would have actually maybe lost a little bit but made it up on the backend, but then we wouldn’t have had all the stretch goals, and we wanted those bits. Like Greg needs his coins, you know what I mean?
Patrick Rauland: Greg needs his coins.
Daniel George: Greg needs his coins,
Patrick Rauland: And you need [crosstalk 00:33:27].
Daniel George: I do, and that was the most difficult decision, because you’re basically saying I failed, but you know I tend not to beat myself up, so I thought, “Look, you know what? Let’s take this as an opportunity to learn.” This is advice to people out there that want to do their own Kickstarter: talk to your backers. We asked our backers, I mean we wrote personal messages to almost every single one saying, “What do you like, what didn’t you like, what should we have different, what did you want?” Kind of the main things that came out of that was our price point was fine, our value was good, they wanted more videos of the play through.
Daniel George: Great, so we were able to do that. They wanted expansion immediately, so that was the big thing. I had this expansion that I had been working on in my head and a little bit on paper, and I figured, “Well, I’ve got six more months.” It was pretty much done, because it was elements I had removed from the game originally, so I knew it was easy to get them back in there, but you want to do the graphics and the art. Luckily, because I am somebody that chronically prepares, Mac, my artist, had already started the art on this. Like I do my art six months prior, which is a little bit crazy, but you know I’d like to have everything done, because it helps me when I see that art, it inspires me to design. That makes your play testing sessions good.
Daniel George: Anyway, so we did that, we polished up that expansion. We came back to the table with more videos, and the expansion, that’s really essentially it. We did some more pre-marketing too. Our estimates were that about, we figured a third of the people, maybe half would get, and the expansion was only $20, and it’s a value. Like we make very little money on the expansion, but again, we make a little bit, so again it’s like, when you go to McDonald’s, they used to have the super size thing, every little bit is an incremental thing, your fixed cost, everything’s already there. Anyway, we rolled it out, and as of today, 90% of our backers got the expansion, which blew us away.
Patrick Rauland: Wow.
Daniel George: Blew us away, because it adds magic to the game, it adds dwarf runes. I know it was a long answer to a short question, it’s that we asked our backers what they wanted, and they responded. Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: That’s awesome. I guess I have a question, you said the landscape on Kickstarter is always changing, my question is, how do you know when the Batman game is going to launch, or the Fireball Island game is going to launch? Because I think Batman was $3 million, and I think Fireball Island, was that two?
Daniel George: $2 million, and there was a couple other million dollar, there was, and again, I backed a lot of these games, the Merry Men one, that did a million, right?
Patrick Rauland: Yep.
Daniel George: It’s hard to compete with that, you know?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, and so Batman, I think the minimum pledge was $140, so anyone who buys Batman is now $140 down on any other board games they can buy that month. How do you predict that and not launch that week or that month, or launch two weeks before that happens? Crystal ball?
Daniel George: Well, you could pay attention, I mean there are people out there, like I knew that it was going to launch, and we knew it was a risk, you don’t know what’s going to be a hit though. Here’s the thing that I think is happening in Kickstarter, because I had a couple people reach out to me, they saw that I rebooted. Every time you reboot, people ask questions, and I have an open door policy, like I will literally help anybody. I had somebody in Australia who launched that same time, didn’t make it, he called me and said, “What did you …”, you know we had a Skype call. We had a great conversation, and I’m more than happy to share information with anybody.
Daniel George: The bottom line is you just, the level of professionalism, the level of quality in your video, your graphic design, your images, is just high now. I remember, you know five years ago, Kickstarter was like, the minimum bar was a guy sat there at a table, self-shot his video and said, “Hey, I got this game, it’s really cool, you should back it.” Now there’s like animation, and Hollywood-level production and special … I mean, it’s like insane.
Patrick Rauland: And voice actors, right?
Daniel George: Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: Like, “In a world …”, you know what I mean?
Daniel George: I hired somebody to do my video for me. We got to the point where like, “We just can’t do it. We can do our own videos, like play through videos, et cetera.” Yeah, a guy, he was a fellow game designer, and I found out this network of friends that we’ve just got to know each other, and yeah, he did the video, I paid him to do that. You have to, and that’s the thing I talk about changing the marketplace, is that the level of quality to make an impact is really high. I feel like our Kickstarter is small, I mean really in the scope of the world, we succeed, I heard that 40% succeed now, I don’t know the recent stats, so we feel like, “Yeah, we did great, we certainly are in there, but we’re not certainly the experts on this.”
Daniel George: To get where even we’re at, the amount of money and labor and effort to be at that level is high. Can I mention something? I don’t remember if we talked about this off-air or not, about dollars spent.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah yeah yeah.
Daniel George: It’s hard to get those ROI and those marketing dollars when there’s just some things out there that are just sucking everything, you know and we have some marketing dollars we spend, we don’t spend a tremendous amount. We find that Facebook is actually pretty effective if you build, like our page, like we have a social stretch goal about liking our page and following our page. Well, you can market to those groups of people now in future campaigns, and those seem to be very very effective, because they’re people that already are your customers. Or mailing list, we have a mailing list we’ve built at game conventions over the years.
Daniel George: We did a kick track ad, it was fine, I mean it wasn’t like, “Wow,” but we would do it again. Versus Board Game Geek, and I’m not talking bad about Board Game Geek, because maybe our game, when we did Dragon Brew, didn’t really pan out for us. It was okay, but it was not like what other people get. The best marketing you can do, and I would say this, and it does have a cost, is get your game out there in as many people’s hands. One thing, we sent out 20 copies of Treasure Mountain, each copy cost, to make a prototype, not counting shipping, 120-something dollars.
Patrick Rauland: Oh boy.
Daniel George: No, [inaudible 00:39:46] prototype, but it’s just very expensive.
Patrick Rauland: That’s $2,000, wow.
Daniel George: That’s right, so we spent, in setting up, but let me tell you, if we would have spent that in Facebook advertising, it would not have been as effective as getting it out there in everybody’s hands.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Okay, so let me just ask you, like what does that do? Because like so here’s my very first thought: “That’s 20 people who won’t buy your game.” That was the first thought I had, but like are they creating videos for you, are they creating play throughs, how do they add value for you?
Daniel George: Exactly.
Patrick Rauland: That sounds really selfish, but-
Daniel George: No no no, not at all. No, first of all, you don’t blind send them to people, don’t just like send it to random, and say, “Here!” I mean, like [Roddo 00:40:26] did a play through of our game, he did not charge, he did a play through and an honest review of it. Some people do charge, like Undead Viking, I gave him some money, but the value that he added is a professional overview and a play through, and John does games, he charged just a little bit of money. There’s certain kind of people that will do play throughs, like John gets games does the best play throughs of any, I watch his play throughs of other games, love the job he does.
Daniel George: I’m a fan, therefore I had him do a play through. There’s a certain kind of value in people that are his watchers and watch that and see that, and see the game being played, because watching a game being played, to me, is better than any advertising. I mean, the absolute best is sitting down at a convention and playing it. I have friends and play testers throughout the country, and I send them the game and they take it to the local cons, like it went to Gencon, because people I know went and actually played it. Getting people to play your game is expensive, like for example, Fireball Island, JR Honeycutt, he won a round, their one copy of Fireball Island I believe was $8,000, for that prototype copy, but he traveled around the country, again, spending a lot of money, and went on tour to different game places, and that’s one way they built up, kind of thing.
Daniel George: Because people then tag it on social media, and that’s really it. I mean, get your game out there, and you should do that anyway in regards to play testing too, blind play testing. When I say that 20, I didn’t talk about the other 10 or 15 we sent over the years for play testing too.
Patrick Rauland: Wow, that’s so much.
Daniel George: I don’t want to scare people, I’m not trying to scare people, because for example, Orctoberfest, which is Dragon Brew Orctoberfest, I had a card version of Dragon Brew, which we’re actually printing right now, and it’ll come out on Kickstarter in the fall. That game is a micro-game, that game is 100 cards and tokens, well that game cost us like $7 to make a prototype, right?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah yeah yeah.
Daniel George: I mean, maybe this is the argument against maybe starting with the small game, but I think we’re talking about the difference between publishing and designing, are two different things.
Patrick Rauland: Totally, totally.
Daniel George: They’re two different skillsets. I’m not trying to scare anybody, because here’s the bottom line, it’s not scary. There’s so many fantastic people out there who help. I try to be part of that group, and there are people that I’ve talked to that helped me, Jamey Stegmaier, he does great blogs, we’ve Facebook chatted, Michael Coe of the Tiny Epic Series, he was actually a guest on my podcast years ago when he was first starting out, super kind guy, will give you the time, will give you some help. You know, don’t be afraid to talk to people and get information, and have some fun.
Patrick Rauland: Awesome. This is all very very useful advice. I’ve got one sort of game at the end, and then we’ll wrap up. Have you ever heard of the underrated/overrated game?
Daniel George: No, but I want to play.
Patrick Rauland: Great. I’m totally stealing it from actually an economic podcast, but that’s besides the point. I’m going to give you a concept, and you need to tell me if it’s underrated or overrated. If I said “Star Wars”, you would say either underrated or overrated, and like a sentence of why. Got it?
Daniel George: Can I answer about Star Wars?
Patrick Rauland: Yes, yes, [crosstalk 00:43:51].
Daniel George: It’s overrated, the last movies have been so bad.
Patrick Rauland: Overrated?
Daniel George: Overrated. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like Star Trek better. Anyway, go ahead.
Patrick Rauland: All right, hold on, wait, Star Wars the original episodes four, five, and six?
Daniel George: Love it, perfect, love it.
Patrick Rauland: Okay, all right. First one, underrated/overrated, solo play modes in games.
Daniel George: Oh my God. Here’s the thing, I didn’t mention this before, I’ll answer and I’ll tell you why.
Patrick Rauland: Okay.
Daniel George: It may be underrated, because that’s one thing that I forgot to mention before, is that in my expansion for Treasure Mountain is solo play, and it wasn’t in the original game. That was one thing that I forgot to mention that people asked for, is solo mode. I had no idea, but I say “underrated”, that this solo world exists. I didn’t know, I didn’t realize how big it was. I played, I mean the first game I ever designed solo mode officially was Treasure Mountain. Now I’ve designed animus for other games that I have coming out in the next years, but yeah, I had no idea it was so big.
Daniel George: Let me tell you, I had a fun time making that, and playing it actually is actually a lot more fun than I thought, I just didn’t know. Like I played Mage Knight solo, because I think it’s an amazing solo game, but to me, it’s weird because it’s like gaming … I’m not saying solo people are weird-
Patrick Rauland: It’s a very social activity.
Daniel George: That’s right, it’s a social activity, and but yet, Conflict of Heroes is another game that’s an amazing solo system, because my wife won’t play those games, so I have no choice. Okay, sorry, that was a long answer, next.
Patrick Rauland: That’s all right, that’s okay. All right, Gimli as comic relief in Lord of the Rings, underrated/overrated?
Daniel George: I love dwarves. I would say “underrated”, because you should appreciate a humorous dwarf.
Patrick Rauland: Love it, all right. Variable turn order, and by “variable”, I just mean it changes from round to round.
Daniel George: I love it, so it’s underrated, that’s like my thing. Yeah, because again I quote Treasure Mountain, Treasure Mountain, turn order is important because basically you put your dwarves from the smallest beard to the largest beard, and if your beard is longer than somebody else’s beard, you can bump them out of a spot and take it. Being last is a disadvantage,. Well, the game-
Patrick Rauland: An advantage, right?
Daniel George: Going last is a disadvantage, because you want to be bumped, because when you get bumped-
Patrick Rauland: Oh, you want to be bumped.
Daniel George: Because you get an extra turn. When you’re a one and you get bumped, the guy that gets bumped gets to do something else, so you got to use that worker twice. That was a problem with the design, of like, “Oh my God, what do you do?” Well, when I made it, there’s the tavern spaces on the board which you can’t bump that essentially set the turn order for the next round, so you have complete control on what your turn order is going to be, you just have to sacrifice a worker. Anyway, but yes, underrated, variable turn order, I love it, but it has to be something that’s visually clear on the board. It’s tough when you go around, I mean round circle is what I like, but … Anyway, go ahead. Yes, next, I like this game, yes.
Patrick Rauland: Last one, last one, beards, overrated/underrated?
Daniel George: As someone who’s a beard forever, underrated, I love a good beard. I mean, the longer the beard, the more you bump, right?
Patrick Rauland: Awesome, awesome. Well hey, thank you so much for being on the show. Daniel, where can people find you online, and where can they find your game, or games?
Daniel George: Yeah, well so you could go to Kickstarter, we end on June 1st, Facebook, you can go August Games, you can Facebook me personally if you’re a designer at Daniel Albert George on Facebook. I honestly do not mind, I really do want to help people, I want more games to play. Twitter is @BGandBrew, Board Games and Brew, and I guess my home address, well that’ll be something on the side if someone wants to come over and play a game.
Patrick Rauland: Awesome, awesome. Thank you again. By the way, for those of you listening, if you like this podcast and you want to be a dwarf, if you give us a review, I will send Daniel to your house and he will wave a magic dwarf wand, or maybe a rune, and turn you into a dwarf.
Daniel George: And I might bump you, because my beard’s bigger.
Patrick Rauland: All right, so thank you guys so much for listening, thanks for being on the show. You can visit my site, indieboardgamedesigners.com, follow me on Twitter @BFTrick. Until next time, happy designing.
Daniel George: Happy designing!