David Lee

#24 – David Lee

Patrick Rauland: Hey everyone, this is Patrick here before the intro to the episode. We had some audio issues. We had backups, and even the backups partially failed. So I'm missing the last six minutes of this podcast. Somehow I lost 12 minutes from the main recording and six minutes from the backup. I have no idea how that happened, but it did.

So I talked to the guest, and the guest said to post it anyways, because the vast majority of the episode is there. So that's what I'm going to go ahead and do, and I will try to fill you in at the end with a few more details. So again, sorry about the audio issues, and on to the episode.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week to talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today we're going to be talking with someone that I met at Origins over a month ago. He is the designer behind What's For Dinner? So, David, David Lee, welcome to the show.

David Lee: Thanks Patrick. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

How Did You Get Into Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: Okay. So first question. How did you get into board games?

David Lee: Well, I have a very similar story as many other people growing up. Definitely loved playing Monopoly growing up, Risk, all those, Stratego, all those. I do have a funny story. I have an older brother. He's actually the one that helps me … Our game company is What's For Dinner, [inaudible 00:01:37] is A La Carte Games. In 1997, we went to a local game shop and we bought Magic cards. It was a fifth edition and we just had a horrible deck. We played each other, playing all five colors, and I actually ended the game in a draw. I used earthquake, and I killed us both. That was our first game of Magic ever and probably the only player maybe in history … I'm not sure … that's ended their first game of Magic in a draw. So kind of funny.

David Lee: Back … Had a little stint of away from games, hobby games. 2006, got in again with Catan and Risk and all those good ones. So back in the day.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I got into Magic 5th edition as well, 5th edition/Ice Age. I think I got both at the same time. Man, that was a many year obsession for me, probably through most of high school. Probably for like … I don't know … six to eight more years after I got started. That was fun. But Magic is like a never-ending game. You know what I mean? You're always buying the next set.

David Lee: Oh, it's crazy expensive. That's kind of one of the reasons why I stepped out of it, different reasons. I got back into it maybe five years ago, but again, just too expensive and hobby board games, way more exciting.

Why Have a Booth Before a Game?

Patrick Rauland: Totally. Okay. I mentioned Origins. You actually had a booth. You don't even have a game out yet. Your game is called What's For Dinner, but it's not out yet. It will be coming to Kickstarter this fall, I believe. Why did you decide to get a booth to show a game that's now even out yet?

David Lee: Yeah. I've never done it before, so it was really just kind of jumping in with both feet. Knew that I had to do a lot of grass roots to get a game noticed on [inaudible 00:03:26] in the market, especially with doing Kickstarter and many, many Kickstarters are being released every day. Really wanted to … Because we tested it before at local game conventions, of course, family and friends, but really wanted to get the game out there to fresh faces. I knew that Origins is actually a local convention for me. We're from Dayton, Ohio, so it's [inaudible 00:03:56] drive. So I was pretty much able to commute every day, and it worked out great. Gen Con‘s even larger but harder to get into, as well. Origins is very laid back. More people able to do demos, so very, very, very positive. I knew it was pretty much a must to do that for upcoming Kickstarter.

What Can You Offer Visitors To Your Booth?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Your goal was to get demos and show people the game and get interest. I think you gave away little cards of the dates it will be on Kickstarter, right?

David Lee: Yeah. A little promo, just in case, because people … All these conventions, there's limited time. You're with family. You're with friends, and you really … You walk by something. Something looks interesting, but you really don't have the time, so even if people didn't or they did demo What's For Dinner, I definitely gave them a card, especially because it's a family game, but not necessarily. It can be played by anyone. So definitely tried just to get the game out there, and it worked very well.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that's good. I'm glad to hear that, because I don't know what to do at conventions. I don't know. Should I be demoing? Should I be play testing? Should I be meeting publishers? I dont know what to do, so I'm glad you had an objective and you completed it. That's really cool.

How Long Do You Work On Games?

Patrick Rauland: Okay. How many hours … When you're working on games, how many hours a day do you spend designing them?

David Lee: Now, are you asking me or are you asking my wife? Because if my wife answered that, she'd answer it a little bit differently, maybe. It's interesting.

Patrick Rauland: How would she answer it?

David Lee: It's kind of an interesting question, because I've been working on about three games at a time. But once you have a Kickstarter and done all the grass roots, the developing, if you're going to try to self-publish, the time shifts from designing versus … Really there's a lot, a lot of stuff … I can't stress that enough … of the background marketing that you have to do, the logistics, figuring things out. So at the early stages, definitely tons and tons of hours of design, tweaking, play testing, but it shifts. Once you have a goal of a Kickstarter date, essentially, it really flip flops, kind of like a teeter totter. Most of the time, it was really dedicated to getting that off the ground. But to answer your question, I'd say more on average an hour or two a day, depending upon the day. Maybe an average.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I find that interesting, the difference between working on your game … I've been looking into stuff. I'm not 100% set if I want to self-publish or if I want to go with a publisher yet. I've gone back and forth over the last couple of months, but I've spent a significant amount of time researching publishers and talking to them and getting quotes. I'm having a language issue with one publisher, and it's just really hard to get the quote from them. Anyway, yeah. It's significantly more work. Even just like discussing what this piece should look like is a … It's a whole conversation, right? It's a lot of work.

Are There Logistics With Transparent Cards?

Patrick Rauland: Actually, just a quick little thing. I know for you, you have some transparent cards. Even silly thing like that is like I'm sure extra work with a publisher to make sure that … I don't know. I'm sure there's extra work to make sure transparent cards are printed right and they're not printed … I don't know if it's possible to print them upside down. Whatever.

David Lee: Oh, yeah. They definitely are more than quadruple the price of a normal card, for sure. That's definitely … If I were to pitch this to a publisher, that's something that they would definitely want to focus on.

How Do You Balance Cost of Components & Fun?

Patrick Rauland: Let's talk about that for just a second. Did you ever consider, hey. Correct me if I'm wrong. Isn't it like the bacon card is transparent? You can add bacon to different cards? Is that right?

David Lee: Yeah. You can bacon wrap any meal card and it just makes it … It's kind of a defensive play, where it makes it harder to acquire. Yeah. They're a very funny conversation piece.

Patrick Rauland: I'm wondering. Did you ever have the thought of, “Hey, this adds a lot to the game, but it also adds a lot to the cost. Should I get rid of it?” Have you had those thoughts when you're going through the publishing/design process?

David Lee: Yes and no. Once that was implemented, there was only a few. So it's really not going to go back. In this adventure … I'll call it an adventure … I've got about five or six quotes from different manufacturers, so definitely learned a lot.

How Long Do You Research New Games?

Patrick Rauland: Good. Okay. When you're designing a new game … And your game company is called A La Carte Games. I assume you are mostly doing food … how much time do you spend researching a new game?

David Lee: Really not a terrible long. Kind of the food aspect is not intended, per se. I have other games lined up that aren't necessarily food based. That's kind of the way it's worked out. The original idea was derived from the brother that I made draw in Magic. My older brother, they're a game group. They were shooting the breeze of what every game group, family, et cetera, has a problem with is what is for dinner? They're pretty clever, and they always … They made a game of it, essentially. If we made a game, maybe it would have this or this. My brother told me about it one year a few years back. A year had gone by, and I said, “Phillip, you really need to jump on this. You really need to make this into an actual game.” Another year would go by, and then one summer, I just sat down at a pizza place, buffet pizza place, and I just for a couple hours, I just hammered through a bunch of ideas and made it into pretty much what it is today with a lot of play testing.

Patrick Rauland: That's interesting. You've been sitting on this game for a couple of years.

David Lee: Yeah. By trade, I'm actually an accountant, so come tax time, I don't have a lot of time to design or to do the background marketing and such. So it made us take about six months longer than it should have, plus working on other things. So it's obviously not my full-time … Design is not my full-time job.

Why Launch in the Fall?

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Now I have a question. Because you're an accountant, is that why you're launching your Kickstarter in the fall so it will mostly be done by the time tax season rolls around?

David Lee: Absolutely one of the reasons it's not in a winter month.

What Inspires You?

Patrick Rauland: Interesting. I never thought about people having seasonal jobs that would affect what time they need to launch their Kickstarter. Okay. Let's change gears a little bit. When you're designing games, when you're thinking about games and the stuff you want to make, what inspires you?

David Lee: Really just any game that I love, I really gravitate and see why do I love the game. Example, probably my favorite game, Castles of Mad King Ludwig from Bezier Games. Played it well over probably 150 times. Just games like that that have really unique mechanisms. There's not really many … Bezier Games have made certain auction type games like that and just really games that I love. That's what I gravitate towards and lots of idea opportunities with a lot of new games coming out as well.

Patrick Rauland: I haven't played Castles of Mad King Ludwig. What is their unique mechanism? Is it just one mechanism that's totally unique and makes the whole game for you? Or is it the theme and the mechanism tie in together? What is it?

David Lee: Oh, sure. Like What's For Dinner does not have any auction mechanics or anything like that, mechanisms. But in Mad King Ludwig, in Castles, every single round, the master builder is going to arrange, rearrange the different rooms that people can acquire and the different rooms that people match up, do different … Give different bonuses. So it really kind of … Then it just depends upon changes of cash flow. It's a really unique auction mechanism. That's just one aspect of it. Then it's pretty much the reasons why people love Settlers of Catan and other games like that is building. In this game, you are building a castle. Whether you lose or whatever, you built something, and it's yours. It's just one of those great timeless games.

Are There Any Under-appreciated Games?

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Are there any under-appreciated games in the board game space that either you have or you've played that you want to improve upon? Is there a thing you add on to a game?

David Lee: I would say … it's going to sound kind of strange, but as far as an underappreciated game, it's going to sound weird, but I'm going to actually say Vast by Leder Games. I think it's under-appreciated, because people are scared of playing a game where they have to essentially learn five different factions to be able to kind of play the game. That's not really how it is, but example, it's asymmetric, so every single player has a different way of winning, moving, attacking, et cetera.

David Lee: My friends were a little scared, because I had explained how maybe difficult it was, just the learning curve, I'll call it. But I actually … I'm super nice. I'll say to my friends, one of my game groups. I actually mailed them a copy of their little tableau and their little rule sheet, because I was like, oh, okay. This person is going to want to play this character. This one will probably most likely play like this character. So just to give them a little bit of heads up on, “Hey, watch this video. Here's how it plays.” Just some board games like that that are kind of … You look at the box, and it says it takes a couple of hours. They really think it's maybe too complex, but really, not too bad. Just certain games like that, like Vast, that are maybe underappreciated that are phenomenal games.

Patrick Rauland: Vast is the game with the cave, right?

David Lee: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: Can't someone play the cave and the dragon and the goblins and stuff?

David Lee: I secretly … I try to … Especially if people are wanting to learn. I really like playing the cave. I really like being able to manipulate the other players and collapse the cave on them and stuff like that. It's kind of fun, but yeah. That's the game.

What's The Best Money You Spent?

Patrick Rauland: Oh, cool. Okay. One of the questions I always like to ask, because I'm sometimes cheap and I want to keep my costs low. What is the best money you've ever spent as a game designer?

David Lee: I would say if you … Just dollars and cents, nothing is better than just going on Amazon or eBay and just or Craigslist local, just buying 1,000 Magic cards. Buy a few sleeves and a color printer or just a printer. You can pretty much … Because most … I'll generalize. Most games involve some sort of cards, unless it's a [inaudible 00:16:45] dexterity game or something. Tons of … You can do anything you want. If you've got a sleeve. I value my old Magic cards. I didn't want to use my cards I've had for decades, so I just bought commons for super cheap. That's probably the best bang for your buck.

What Resources Do You Recommend?

Patrick Rauland: Are there any resources like podcasts or books or something people can learn about that's been helpful?

David Lee: Oh, I would say, yeah. Podcasts like yourself. When I heard about podcasts like Ludology, Breaking into Boardgames, I pretty much binge listened to every episode back probably at an unhealthy rate. Just mowing the grass, driving, things like that. Learned so, so much about just design. You cannot be a designer and not at least listen to a few episodes. You will … Anyone will learn so much from ones like Ludology. Very, very good.

Patrick Rauland: I love Ludology. I have a couple of designer friends here in Denver who, I think they say it's too dry for them, but I find it fascinating. I'm always captivated.

David Lee: Oh, yeah. You just eat it up. There's a couple I'll come back to later, but super beneficial.

Any Tips on Food Related Games?

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Now I have a selfish question. I'm working on a food related game. In this case, it's called Fry Thief. Any general tips about a food related game, like trying to pitch it to people or trying to sell it to people or like what … Because I feel like food related … I saw a couple other people at Origins who were prototyping food, like a pie game or a cake game. Any tips in that area of things that you've picked up?

David Lee: Oh, yeah. Tom Vasel said on numerous occasions, “There's not enough food games.” Really, a food game, if you have great art, so depending on who you're marketing to, whether it be kids or … Just a correct good quality art and great layout. Example, we have David Kerber doing our layouts and our cards, and we could not be more pleased along with the art direction.

David Lee: If you get something that is going to catch their eye, because food games, in particular, kind of by nature, because it's kind of a consumable thing, they really are more on the light, quick side. Like you're not going to be playing a two-hour game, unless it's Viticulture, which is different. But you're not going to be playing a light, fun game that's going to be long, per se. So you really want some bright colors, even like you can use McDonald's marketing, where the golden arches and the red. Those kind of trigger the brain of hunger and want, desire. So really bright, especially that kind of ties into your game, as well, as far as french fries and everything. Just very, very good art just to attract the people wanting to play it again.

Patrick Rauland: I have been trying. Actually, literally today I got back a first illustration from a designer. By the way, if I do go with a publisher, then I probably won't be reimbursed for this, but I'm just moving ahead anyways. I got some art back from an illustrator today, and I realized I don't have the vocabulary to … Because there are things I like about it and things I don't like about it, and I actually don't have the vocabulary to say what to change and why I want it changed. So I think I need to practice my art direction skills of like, “This is what I'm shooting for. This is the experience I want people to have.” I don't know if you've struggled with that. It sounds like … Are you doing the art direction, or is someone you work with doing the art direction for you?

David Lee: My brother and I, we both went through school and did art. So we know … Anyone can know if something looks good or not, but I think that's helped a little bit. We never … We just both agree or disagree on things like that, art direction, layout, things like that. But we have a pretty good sense of what will work and what won't work. So we pretty much agree on everything, as far as that's concerned.

How Do You Market Your Game?

Patrick Rauland: Cool. Cool. Okay. You're getting pretty close to launching. I should have said this at the beginning of the show. What's For Dinner will be on Kickstarter by the time this episode comes out, or at least it should be, and it should still be on Kickstarter, like it should be active, an active campaign, so you can go ahead and back it now. So let's just … I know we're recording this ahead of time, but it should be on Kickstarter. Up until now, what has been the best way for you to market your game?

David Lee: The best is … Other than Origins, which is completely in and of itself different, I would say just local meet ups. We have a really good local game store, Epic Loot in Centerville, Ohio. It has just been phenomenal. They actually have every month a dedicated free, which is always the best price, free designer group. People come in. They play all the different … In fact, we had one last week on Thursday. I think about eight different designers came, and people would just come in and play test. It's just a great … You meet people in your local community, and you can do it blind as well, but as far as free. Hopefully … Not everyone lives close to a game shop that does that or one close at all, but hopefully, that's for me. That's been one of the best experiences.

Patrick Rauland: Maybe you can expand a little bit on that, because when I think about marketing, I think about getting people's emails or getting people to actually buy the game on [inaudible 00:23:13] Kickstarter or on your store. You're obviously not selling to these people yet. Do you just have their email addresses, or are they spreading the word on Facebook or Twitter? Why is it the best?

David Lee: Oh, yeah, yeah. These play tests, just as an example, were a year plus back. They were strictly play tests. I would grab emails from people, as well. I got feedback plus I got emails as well. Then in the past year, it's changed slightly to more demoing and still getting emails of people that were interested. Getting advice with Kickstarter, pros and cons, this and that. Are they happy with certain mechanisms of the game? Things like that. This isn't the only game I've play tested at local events like that, but just to get in the grass roots local marketing is just where it's at.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: That is the end of the interview with David. We cut out just before one of my favorite questions, which is always what do you consider success as well as the overrated and underrated game. So sorry about that. I lost it, and we recorded this so long ago, I don't remember his answers, unfortunately. So I apologize for the audio issues.

Patrick Rauland: I do want to plug David's Game, so on Facebook, it is A La Carte Games. Twitter, @alacartegames. The website is whatsfordinnergame.com. Yeah. That's all for me. Again, I'm so sorry about the audio issues. I am still trying to figure out how the backup failed and how both the main audio and the backup audio failed at different times for completely different unknown and separate reasons, I assume. So again, so sorry about that. Hopefully next episode should be much better. Thanks again. Bye bye.

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