Eric Alvarado

#111 – Eric Alvarado

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, and we 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 Eric Alvarado, who designed Vinyl. Eric is also the project manager and game developer for Talon Strikes Studios. Eric, welcome to the show.

Eric Alvarado: Thank you very much.


Patrick: I like to introduce my guest to the audience by playing a little lightning round game. You ready?

Eric: Sure.

Patrick: All right. So, since Vinyl is all about records, I got to know what is your favorite record of all time?

Eric: I am a big Billy Joel fan, huge Billy Joel fan. Probably the 52nd Street record, that's the one that has most of my favorite songs on there. But pretty much anything that Billy Joel presses, I try to listen and acquire.

Patrick: Fantastic. Makes a lot of sense to me. Do you own a vinyl collection?

Eric: I do. To be honest with you, unfortunately, I don't have Billy Joel Vinyls in my collection, although it's something you have to do in this game, and I've been interested in doing. I have my mother's old vinyl collection, which includes a lot of Christmas music as soul and things of that nature. So I still flip through that, and it just brings back memories and whatnot that I associate to playing it around the holidays and with family members.

Patrick: Fantastic. What is a game you play with someone every single time at a convention?

Eric: I enjoy Pandemic a lot, so any time I get to a con, I try to at least get one of the versions of Pandemic onto the table. Usually, people resist, but usually, you get some takers, at least the Pandemic dice version, and I can usually slip under the radar. But that's something I try to get going at every con.

Patrick: Love it. Do you have a favorite version of Pandemic?

Eric: I enjoy the historical ones. I prefer the most recent one, the Roman one. That's a very interesting use of having the barbarians essentially follow this predetermined path, and you're trying to beat them back to where their home area is and/or gain them as an ally. It was a very interesting methodology, and also the Iberia one when you're managing the diseases from the ancient days. I shouldn't say ancient, but that period of time with the leveraging of water and rails and all that, that's another interesting twist on that design.

Patrick: Yeah, I'd heard. I just Googled it, and I'm pretty sure it's Pandemic: Fall of Rome, right?

Eric: Thank you. Yes.

Patrick: That one, instead of disease cubes, you have an invading horde. I would love to try these at some point, and you know what I mean?

Eric: Like I said, I got to play with it at one of the Unpubs with Matt Leacock, and he broke that out. I practically stood up and threw my wallet at him because I enjoyed it. But it was a very interesting twist on how the diseases propagated, and it gave them more character. [Inaudible] play Pandemic, it's this abstract disease aspect. You still get the tension, but now when you're dealing with these barbarians, and they have their desires that they're trying to expand their region and their territory control, it just connects it more for me.

Where did Vinyl come from?

Patrick: Awesome. I love it. So let me chat about your game Vinyl because I have a number of questions about it and it looks really interesting. Where did your game Vinyl come from? How did it come to be?

Eric: A buddy of mine and I were talking about games, and he came up and said, “A theme that has been used is Vinyl,” and I immediately hooked on to that. Being someone who liked to collect things in general, I have a very large board game collection and whatnot. It just became a natural interest for me, so I wound up looking at the game from different perspectives, whether it be initially with running the record store to then being a– Or, running a group of record stores or trying to put Vinyls into windows and track customers.

We had different iterations, and it wasn't until I got to the core mechanism of Vinyl as it stands, which is primarily a set collection game where you gain magazine cards which educate you and bring knowledge. It gives you knowledge with respect to what music is popular and what attributes to go after, and then you have the record store proper, which is where the records slide through.

They have characteristics, and you're trying to match your knowledge to the characteristics of the albums and add that to your collection, so that popped up soon after the original few conceptions boiled through. That's always been at the heart of the game all the way through. Later on, the worker placement aspect and some of the advanced set collections came in later when I signed up with Talon Strikes.

Patrick: It sounds like you're definitely– Or, at least in this one case, you were definitely theme first. You're like, “I want to do something with vinyl,” and you just tried a whole bunch of different mechanisms and different settings around Vinyl to see what worked?

Eric: Correct. I tend to be a theme first designer. Usually, I'll watch something on television, and something will pop up. One of my designs and one of my white whales right now is a game based on Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel. Usually, I'll watch something, and it will say– I'll see it. I'm like, “There's a game in here somewhere.” Then I try to start snap in and snap out mechanisms to invoke that same emotional feel that I got from watching that experience. With Vinyl specifically, interestingly enough, after I settled on the perspective of how the players were going to play I spent a lot of time walking through various record stores and whatnot, taking photos and watching customers interact with the vinyl records and having them go into the listening booth and listen to the music, how the salespeople interacted. I wound up doing a lot of research to understand and make sure that the mechanisms and the theme oozed with how the game was put together.

After Vinyl you joined Talon Strikes. How did that happen?

Patrick: Awesome. I have a lot of questions, and I have some multiple questions about Vinyl. By the way, listeners, I will have a link to this in the show notes. I definitely want to come back to set collection because I'm pretty interested in some of the things there, but before we go on to set collection, it sounds like you worked with– You licensed the game, or if that's not the right word you licensed the game to Talon Strikes studios, and then after Vinyl you joined Talon Strikes. How did–? I do think some people would love to be– I know it's not your full-time job or the thing that pays your mortgage, but I think some people would love to be a little bit more involved in the hobby. So, how did you get into Talon Strikes Studios?

Eric: Actually, I would have to– Let me rewind the clock a tad. When I moved up to the New York City area, I wound up meeting and spending a lot time with Cardboard Edison and [inaudible], and they invited me over. We did a lot development and playtesting of games, and I got close with them, to the point where we decide one day that we're going to publish a game. Their game, specifically [inaudible]. I wound up taking the lead on the overall project management of the campaign, getting the graphic designer, getting illustrators working with the printers, the logistics, the campaign.

It was a great experience, and it's one of those things where you put the designer hat off to the side because it's going to suck up a lot of your time, but it gave me such an interesting appreciation of how games are put together from soup to nuts. Then we took a break, and I went and pitched Vinyl to Jason at Talon Strikes at BGG at the speed dating contest. He signed up afterwards, and at the time he was working on his game Kings Champion, he'd already published a game House of Borgia prior. I got to sit down and chat with him often and try giving updates of where I was at with Vinyl because he want me to expand on it.

I was asking him, “How is Kings Champion going? I got to play it.” I made the suggestions, and he wound up, bringing me closer into the developmental process, and pretty much we just started realizing that we gelled. That there was a commonality as far as making great games for gamers. His game was successful at launch that got the [inaudible], but then we swung over to Vinyl. I wound up wearing not just that designer hat, but also developer, the project manager, and I wound up taking a lot more because I was interested in the game I had experienced prior, and I was interested in making it successful as well as company. He brought me in a little closer, more involved with the Vinyl, and when it successfully funded, he was like, “Do you want to continue on as a partner and just see this all the way through, and start to expand the company?” I pretty much said, “Yes.”

Patrick: I love that story because I do think lots of people would– There's a couple of things. I think some people would love to be professionally involved in the board game world, and I think for me, I would– I think I'm pretty good at art direction. I might not be, but I think I'm pretty good at art direction, and one of my worries is if I sign a game away to a publisher, they might totally change the artistic vision of the game. I'd love to help them out, so it's cool that you were able to help out the publisher that you signed with in some ways, and make sure the game gets done right. I guess I didn't even know that was an option, so thank you for sharing that.

Eric: Yeah. It could be that this was an opportunity that just landed in my lap. One of the things I always find with my life is that right place, right time with the right set of skill sets. You try and be as prepared as possible because you never know when those opportunities are going to present themselves. With this specifically, because I had so much in my repertoire, I was able to contribute as much as I could. One of the other benefits that I also bring is I used to give back to the gaming community. I do everything I can to make sure I attend the speed dating contests, give feedback to designers, I try to throw my hat into judging as many contests as I can. Because it's just one of those things that feels important, that you take, but you also pay back. It's that fine balance that keeps things healthy.

Did Vinyl overload any playtesters?

Patrick: Yeah. I love that. OK, so you mentioned earlier that Vinyl is a set collection game. Let me just– From my perspective, it is a set collection/set collection game, like there's a lot of it going on. My question is, did Vinyl overload any playtesters? To give the listeners an idea here, there's a ton of attributes. There's four different genres, and records have different conditions like mint condition or limited edition. They different publishers, they come in different decades, so there's a ton of dimensions with these attributes.

I just made a set collection game, and I got pushback all the time about, “Why are there different colors?” I made this tiny set collection game, and I got pushback, so I'm wondering, did you get pushback from playtesters? How did you–? You said earlier that you added more complexity to it later, how did that happen?

Eric: What's interesting is that the– Like I said, the Vinyl core. Collecting on genre, and there is four genres in the base game, and there is three decades. There's a mint condition or no mint condition, and then limited release and no limited release. What was interesting is when I started to play that game, what people would tell me when they gave me feedback afterwards was not so much that there was too much going on, because for the most part when you get your cards, and you look at what's going on that initial kick-off is sometimes a little bit rough. Because you're trying to do that quick pattern matching, but for most people what they tell me is that they look at– Once they have a vision, their eyes start to naturally filter out the board like they know what they're going after.

Because of the albums cycle in and then when a salesperson comes in, if you're playing with the higher player counts, it cycles in at that point when there's a refresh of an entire row? The players tend to lock into what they're looking for. Now interestingly enough, the three types of collections in the game, pure mix, and double mix helped to allow the players to have some fluidity.

To give some details on that, a “Pure collection” has a consistent genre, so all country, and then you have to match one other attribute. Once a player has put down their first album, and they're deciding to go pure, they know that they're just looking for country fifty's. Their eyes are just filtering on that, and everything else dissipates to the side. To make things a little easier, the mixed collection was added in there because, at that point, you need to match one of the attributes. So, decades, and you don't need to match anything else.

The only rule is you can't have two genres adjacent to each other. People love that little freedom because it was an out. It was a way to, “Man, I messed up. Let me see if I get something from this mess and get going.” Then, later on, the “Double mix” came to play, where players were like, “I did all this effort to get not just a mixed collection, but I also matched two attributes. Can I get something for that? Because that's hard.” And mathematically, it is very hard. So I wound up introducing double mix for those that want to follow that pursuit, and that is what rounded up the game.

People just were able to lock in very fast on what was going on and what they needed to do. To provide more rails for the players if they so choose, because that's one thing about Vinyl, it's very modular. You could snap in and snap out what you want and what you don't want, and it's been playtested for all those iterations. I provide loyalty and reward cards, so the notion is that you would get these loyalty cards in the beginning, you would discard one, and it might be say, “For every electric publisher, you get two points.” Or “For every two or every early decade, get three,” whatever. It helps further refine your target, thereby making the collection a little bit more manageable in that regard.

Patrick: I like what you said about filtering out. Now that you start talking about this, maybe one of the differences is in some of the games that I've been making with set collection, there's lots of “If you have two of these cards, you get 18 points,” so people need to read every single card. But in your case, I like what you said about filtering, where they're literally looking– The icons are very clear and obvious, so if you're looking for mint condition records, you can very easily see the icons, and you're good to go. I wonder if that's maybe what helps? Is if you are doing lots of set collection, is to have a whole bunch of icons. Instead of like in my case, where I had a rules formula on every card that says, “Two of these is worth seven points, and three of these is worth eleven points.” That's just a little bit more confusing.

Eric: Right, and interestingly enough, one of the earlier versions of this iteration– This is what I would call “Version 3 in the sequence.” I always version my games, this way I can know what's changed and what hasn't.

With this iteration, I wound up doing just as you said, where I was having players do this ridiculous amount math, and now they had to know the rules, and every 50 is 3 points, every mint is one point. It wound up being that you'd need an abacus and a calculator at the end to do it, so the focus became “How do I make the game where all the math has been stitched into the card itself and its attributes, and the collection you're going after?”

That's where the line that I wound up going to is trying to make it so that you're just zoned in on the collection. The math works itself out at the end, but your rails are presented based on that first album you collect. That sets you in a specific direction, and the second album locks you in.

Then at that point, the third, fourth, and fifth depending on how committed you are to that particular collection, “Do you want to go the distance and try to get all five albums? Or do you want to cut it short and change to something else that might align with your cards better or the situation on the board better?” So that's for the core game, that's really how it wired up together.

Patrick: Listeners, I would encourage you to take a look at some of the how-to-play videos. Just because there's a lot of information, but it does seem accessible. I think you did a good job making it accessible. So, check it out if you have a game that has lots of information.

What inspired you to make a custom component?

OK, so there's one other thing that I was looking at on your Kickstarter page that stuck out to me, and I thought was cool. Number one, the records are thicker. They're thicker cards, or I don't know if they're tiles. But then you also made a milk crate– Not a milk crate, but a record crate for the records. It literally holds the cards or the tiles. It looks great. Why did you make it? Did it get new backers? Was it fun? Would you do it again? Because I love little custom components like that, I think they bring the theme to life.

Record crate
The record crate is an unlocked stretch goal in the Vinyl Kickstarter campaign

Eric: They're 70-millimeter cards, and what wound up happening was when I was playing it, one of things I found is that originally, I was hiding the top card. Which is usually typical, you don't want to see the next card coming up. Frankly, when people pull albums out, they may look ahead, “What's this?” It was one of those things that I wanted to keep that connection point, where you can see what's coming up next, and it might be of interest to you.

Now that could have easily been done where you take the cards, place them on their back and face it up, but one of the elements that keep the game fluid, but not too crazy. There's a mechanism in the game called “The salesperson.” What happens is the salesperson comes through, and if you haven't played the game, when you look at the game, there's a main area, a 4×4 grid where all the albums are at.

Then on the bottom, there's just one little row by itself called the salesbin. What happens is as albums are bought from the salesman, you get a discount. You get to ignore one of the attributes, except for the genre, and you get it for a discount, but you have to leave the salesbin. What happens is at certain points in the game, the salesperson will go through and wipe out everything in the salesbin, and they're gone for good. They're not coming back, they in the back of the store.

Then the albums refresh back in, so that was timed at specific sequences. I wound up saying, “OK. The players should see when that's coming because that would be helpful and not be completely random.” Because I'm always big about controlling as much randomness as possible for the player. So I was like, “All right, I'll stick these dividers in. Dividers, that's interesting. Wait a second, can I just put these into a crate? Now it's got this theme that has its milk crate with these beautiful dividers, with the albums inside, and it just starts to gel. Then when I started to show– Because I do a lot of 3D printing and 3D modeling here, when I showed it to Jason he was like, “We're going to have to do a cardboard construct and replicate this.” That just hooked in and just stayed with the game from that point on.

How do you use math to balance and develop games?

Patrick: Yeah, it looks great. I will either have a link to it, or I'll include some photos in the show notes. So take a look at them, they look gorgeous. Then I was talking to a friend of mine, who I'll keep him secret, but he recently signed a game with you guys, which I'm very excited about. I asked him, “What's a question I should I ask Eric?” He said that you do a lot of math with balancing and developing games, so I got to know, how do you develop games? Because I'm pretty bad at the formulas. So I'd love to know what is–? How do you get that? How do you mathematically work on games?

Eric: There's several approaches, and most recently, I've added a new one. I just got my second master's degree in data mine and predictive analytics. I spend a lot of time in Excel and in Python, so whenever I'm approaching– In fact, whenever I'm approaching any game, I always put it into Excel. I look at the point spreads, and I graph out the distribution curves to make sure that things are balanced. High point cards are less distributed than low point cards, and so on, so forth.

I spend a lot of time trying to get that core formula to a game. Whenever we sign designers one of things after we're playing through, I'll ask him, “OK, so where's the Excel sheet behind this?” Sometimes they have it, and sometimes they don't. If they don't, then it's one of those pieces that we work through. Usually, I'll show them very quickly where the rough spots are in their game that they may have not seen because they haven't gotten to that stage development, realizing “This card's OP or this card is UP, “Underpowered.”

Bringing all that content into Excel helps us to visualize that. The other benefit that I use Excel lot since I'm tied to Illustrator is I use data merges. Whether it be Illustrator or InDesign, InDesign has it naturally, and with Illustrator, you have to download a little script file. But once you have your data in Excel Analyze, you can position it so that it could be connected straight to your graphics, so as you make your changes, and you have to remerge your graphic files. Dump out your PNGs, and you're off to the races again.

So having that nice digital workflow made it so it is very easy to mathematically analyze and then rejoin it to the art so that it could put out consistent files. It saved a ton of time, especially with Vinyl. It needed to save a lot of time because there was a lot of assets pushing through, so typically that's how I leverage Excel.

More recently, I've been playing around with Python, and what I do is I write up Monte-Carlo scripts. The notion is that “You're going to play this a thousand times. How is it going to land mathematically?” I'll either A) we'll do a Monte-Carlo of that, so we'll make the deck of cards and let it play out. “What would be the logical playthroughs?” See what it's looking like for just standard AI, and what that looks like. The other way is specifically for one of the games we signed, and he wants to know “OK. If I get this benefit, how does it payout on a first level? The input of one dumps out to an output, I want to feed that output into the next input, and then I want to feed that output into the next input. What's the total payout, and what's the overall value of that line?”

So I had to write all that up in Python to come up with that analysis, and then we looked back, and we're like, “OK. That element has got come out because it's too OP. Let's put this instead.” We're able to mathematically figure out and get the curve so that they're close, and then dump that out because it was all Python went straight to Excel, and Excel went straight to Illustrator. It was a nice digital workflow.

The Monte-Carlo method

Patrick: This is incredible. You just sent me down a rabbit hole. I just googled the Monte-Carlo method, and there's a Wikipedia page which I will link to. This is fascinating. This is super cool. I'm going, to be honest, and I guess I'm going to call myself a data peasant here. I just played my games hundreds of times, and I brute force it. When you play with a card 50 times, you're going to figure out if it's OP or UP. Or, hopefully, you will. I love that this Monte-Carlo thing is super cool where you just run a bajillion simulations and see what happens.

How Long Does This Take?

So OK, let me ask you this. Because I've tried doing a little bit with Excel, how much time does it take to set these things up? Is this something I can do in two hours in an evening, or is this something that's going to take me eight hours, and I'm going to have to reference 50 tutorials and watch five video playthroughs and do a whole bunch of extra stuff? And then, every time I need an update, it takes another four hours to update. Can you give me an idea of how much work this is to do?

Eric: Yeah, it's interesting because I'm not sure where to put the timeframes. I've gotten so good with it, but a lot of it comes down to the planning process. For instance, I always reference– I have a tab in Excel that has all my weights, all my points.

Take Vinyl, for instance. I went in there, and I said, “50s is worth this, 60s is worth that, 70s is worth this,” and I laid out all the points. Then when I came up with the different permutations, everything referenced and mathematically calculated off that, so if I need to adjust points, I would adjust that one page and everything else would follow.

Then I would have the graph basically graph off that data, so I could see graphically what it looked like. I was able to turn the knobs on as few elements as possible that gave me the most visualization at the other end. Then if you lay out your Excel doc, as long as you keep in mind if you're going to data merge it with Illustrator or with InDesign, as long as you keep in mind that, “OK. This is going to be a text element, so I'm fine. I'm just going leave it as such. It's going to be a number or name, whatever the case may be.

Because it's just going to carry straight over and put the tile on the card and what it's valued,” Or, “This is going to hide or un-hide, or control the visibility of an attribute on the card.” Then I need to make sure I put a pound sign before the name, and then I can manipulate from that point on.

You come up with a fairly decent workflow, there's a little curve in the beginning, but once you get it, you're just going to be building on that skill set, and you'll be like, “I've done it the hard way for so long.” Me and Jason, when we're doing Vinyl, he was like, “Man. If I had to merge all these cards, I would've lost my mind.” I was able to push it out in an hour. That's Vinyl base, that's top shelf, that's version invasion, masses of metal and awesome 80s. I was able to push out in one hour, all the necessary CSV files, and merge it into the artwork that was needed, as opposed to “OK. Hide this layer. OK, export as PNG. OK, hide this layer. OK, export as PNG.” [Inaudible], it just wasn't worth it.

Testing on Tabletopia

Patrick: Then just for playtesting, to tie all this together, I love that you have your data and “We're going to have all these points, we're going to– This how it's going to control the cards. You export all the cards into Illustrator or InDesign, and that creates all the PNG files or whatever you need, and then correct me if I'm wrong, you use Tabletopia for playtesting?

Eric: Yeah. When I'm working with designers or when I'm just trying to playtest my own game, I'll export everything as PNGs, and I'll dump it into Tabletopia, and then I'll set up appointments.

Jason, I played a lot, whether it be his game or my game in Tabletopia. We'd bring in other people and play through the rounds because the one thing I hate is cutting cards. I don't find that fun. I'm insistive that someone's going to come out with a printer/cutter at the same time so that it saves all our prototypers a heck of a lot of time. But yeah, I dump it into Tabletopia, and it lets me iterate very fast and say, “Yeah. This is busted. Hang on a sec guys, let me kill this session and let me do this, re-tweak and upload the new PNGs and try again.”

So, for the most part, it's very fast on the development cycle, leveraging Tabletopia. Now I've heard people use Tabletop Simulator. I haven't used it yet, I own it but I– At the time I don't think they were allowing people to import their own stuff, but now that's changed. So I've just got to pick up a new skill set and see how that compares.

How long did it take to import into Tabletopia and launch a session?

Patrick: OK, so this whole computer mathematical modeling sounds tedious to set up, and it sounds like you have to learn a lot, but you have all these amazing spreadsheets. Let's say you 100 cards, and if you wanted to double all the points for all the cards, how long would it take you from start to finish to re-import it all the way into Tabletopia and then launch a new session?

Eric: Yeah, sure. If I had to re-double all the points, I would go into Excel and change it mathematically, then export out to a CSV file. Then in Illustrator, do a quick merge that usually takes all of a minute or two to process.

Depending on the number of cards you set, if it's 100, it's probably about three minutes. Then from there, open up Tabletopia, insert a new card deck, point to the source folder, and it sucks it all in. It takes about 3-5 minutes on its side to get done, and then in Tabletopia, since it's all in a folder or group, I basically drop the random card element on the table and replicate that based on 100 cards, and I'm there. I'm done. So, soup to nuts, we're probably looking at about 45 minutes, 30 minutes. Enough time for people to go grab a lunch and come back, we'll be off to the races again.

It's something that I've iterated mid-day or twice, three times in a day. Morning, afternoon and evening, because it's just like you said. “This attributes blown” or, “Can we increase the scoring here?” Or, “I want to add in some other components into the game, let's play with that.” For the most part, once you start to get used to it, it's no different if you were– To learning the skill set of Illustrator, or you're learning Photoshop, or if you want to stay on a free version. Game Gimp and Inkscape, you're going to learn a skill set. Once you've learned it, you'll benefit from knowing that skill.

Patrick: Eric, I'm just thinking– You said that you said 30-45 minutes. Sometimes it takes me 45 minutes– I think my recent game has 42 cards and each card has a special side, so I have to do two sleeves per card. I think that takes me– I'll put on a TV show, and I think it might take me 40 minutes to cut up all the cards and sleeve them. So, if I had to redo all that– And that's 40 cards, as soon as you get above that number– Not to mention the time printing and all the time making the files, so that is an amazing timesaver. That is fascinating.

Eric: It's something definitely to look into. For those that aren't computer-friendly, stay in the analog world. Whatever, as long as you're getting the playtest done, by all means. Just make it happen. But in this particular case, especially since Jason is in Arizona and I'm over here in New York, and we have designers in North Carolina, and we have designers in Colorado, designers in Canada. I got a designer that's out in New Zealand, so I have to follow the sun with him. But with Tabletopia, it allows us to iterate through and fix things and figure things out, and play it. Get it to a point where we're like, “OK. Now let's throw it onto some human beings and see how they interact with the cardboard,” in that regard. So, it helps speed up the process.

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

Patrick: Fascinating. We're a little bit over time, but that was super informative, so thank you. Let me skip down to the ending questions here. Besides Excel and all the mathematical stuff you just shared, what is a resource that you recommend for another indie game designer?

Eric: Cardboard Edison has phenomenal resources. They do a great job managing their links, and their contest is really good. This is not just me coming from the judge's perspective, but I've seen a lot of the feedback and care that goes into it. They're awesome. If you're into podcasts besides yours, there's Ludology, and there's several others I gave merit. For some reason, I cannot remember his podcast, even though I listened to it back and forth to work.

Patrick: It's the Board Game Design Lab.

Eric: Thank you, BGDL. Because I've done judging for him, and I literally enjoy the guests he brings on, and like “That's an interesting perspective.” So it definitely makes the design process a lot more interesting, listening to other designers and how they approach technical issues. Those are probably right out of the gate, the ones that I immediately call into.

Beyond that, you have a lot of conventions, you've got your Unpubs, and you've got your Protospiels. Get your game out there and get people playing. Because if you don't get out there and get people playing, and you keep it within your own four walls, you're never going to be able to see it blossom. You're going to get a lot of criticism, and you're going to take a lot of hits. Believe you, me. There's been times I'm wondering, “Why did I even go down this road?” But perseverance and dedication and tapping into the resources and playing your game and playing games is critical to become a successful designer.

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

Patrick: I'm a frugal person, so if I had to spend money on one thing, what would you recommend that I spend money on to help me make games?

Eric: OK. Assuming that your frugalness doesn't include the prototyping aspect, find a local con. You don't necessarily need to travel all the way to Origins or Gen Con or the major cons to get your game on the table. There's stuff usually within driving distance of everyone. So find a local con, get over there and Airbnb it, split rooms and eat ramen noodles, whatever you need to get that community aspect.

Because, again, that community piece is critical. The other aspect is tap into your local universities and colleges and libraries. You'll be surprised with the sheer amount of gaming that's happening these days and the popularity. It means being sold and targeted. Barnes Noble's, libraries are checking out board games.

You'd be surprised at who you bump into in those arenas. They're like, “We do a game night on Thursdays at the end of every month.” And you're like, “I didn't know that.” So get out there, I'm sure your community has it, or it's well within driving distance, so you don't have to deal with the hotel chains and whatnot. And if not, goodness gracious, stand up. I'm sure you've got gamers within the area that would be interested in that. I guess to end all be all, if you want to be a part of the community, be a part of the community and not just take but give. That kings back to something I said earlier, figure out how you could contribute. Because as you pay in, you get out. Not to say that paying in, you should automatically assume you're getting out, but I think you get the overall gist.

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

Patrick: Absolutely. Then I like to end with what is success in the board game world look like to you?

Eric: Frankly, if I didn't have to do my day job, that would be success for me, if that's what you're referring to. Honestly, success for me is just the continued expansion of games for me personally, seeing a lot of my creations hit the table, whether it be as a designer or even as a publisher or developer. Just seeing that concept hit the table is amazing and having people give feedback and have the positive emotions and whatnot. Again, you're going to the negative emotions, and it's just managing accordingly.

For me, it's funny I just had this dream that I got a ticket to go to Essen. I've never been, and I was at the airport, and I forgot my passport at home. I just woke up out of a sleep and was sweating and like, “Oh my God, what happened?” So I guess being able to generate enough money as a designer to be able to partake in these cons, which then creates this positive feedback loop where you could continue to broaden your skillset, network, and treat this as an opportunity to connect to the community and push out more games.

It's that cycle, and when I know that cycle is self-perpetuating and doesn't need my job to feed it, then I know personally I've been successful. But overall, if I could see more of the games I'm involved with, whether that be as a judge, designer, or publisher or developer hit the game, then I know I'm also being a successful contributor to the gaming community.


Patrick: Fantastic. That was a great answer. I like to properly end with a game called Overrated/Underrated. To summarize, I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and then you have to say if it's overrated or underrated. If I said “Disposable water bottles,” you'd be like “Overrated because they're bad for the environment.” Cool?

Eric: That's cool.

Patrick: All right. Escape rooms, overrated or underrated?

Eric: I would say underrated. They are such a phenomenal way to engage with other people and the puzzles behind them. I think they're underrated. They don't get enough accolades, and they're growing, and that's great. But there needs to be a lot more of them, frankly. But that's just me being a nerd, in that sense.

Patrick: Love it. How about Spotify, overrated or underrated?

Eric: Good question. I don't think I have an opinion about that. There's so many musical platforms out there in this day and age, and I guess maybe overrated in that sense? If I had to put something on it as far as either above or below.

Patrick: I get that. LARPing, overrated or underrated?

Eric: I haven't LARPed, I've watched it done, and it's one of those things where you're like, “Really? This would be interesting. I'm just not sure where to start.” I would almost have to say underrated in that sense because it's one of those pieces where people don't understand what's going on. And believe me, I love to go Renaissance festivals. I've been tempted to dress up at a Renaissance festival, and I just haven't done it. And that, in some cases, is a form of LARPing without the game aspects. But I would have to say underrated, and we need to do a little bit more of letting our inner nerd out and have fun with it.

Patrick: Fantastic. “Let our inner nerd out,” I love it. Then the last one, we're approaching the snowy season. I'm just going to go with “Snow,” overrated or underrated?

Eric: Considering I haven't seen a lot of snow lately since I've been up in New York, I would say underrated. But when it hits, I'm sure it's going to be overrated and in that sense. I'm a Four Seasons type of guy, so I'm enjoying the fall, and I can't wait for the winter. I'm sure as soon as that first snowstorm hits, I'll be like, “OK. I'm done with this. Bring in the spring.” That would have to be something situational, and I would say, as far as its value, if I could answer like that.

Wrap Up

Patrick: No, that's perfect. Eric, thank you so much for being on the show.

Eric: My pleasure. Thank you for having me, Patrick.

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

Eric: I have a Twitter handle, board game, and cafe, @boardandcafe. I tend to either take photos of what I'm playing, a lot of my plays into BGG, and it links in, and then I'll try to interact with people as I can. Otherwise, since I'm working with Talon Strike, you can find us at or and then also follow us on Twitter, same handle. We post where we're at and what we're doing, and things of that nature. We also are present on Facebook as well, so check us out. That's where we put all what we're doing and what we're working on, we're getting ready to update the website to outline what 2020 is going to be with the three releases. So, it should be an interesting year.

Patrick: Fantastic. Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to them. If you leave a review, Eric said he'd recommend a vinyl record for you based on your musical preferences.

I am recording this before I have any publishing deal for the game I'm working on right now, Mintsugi, and I might self-publish, so I just set up an email list for the game. I will have a link for that in the show notes where you can sign up. There will be a Protospiel in Denver in March of 2020, I'll be attending, and I'd love to play your game. So if you're anywhere nearby, please stop and let me know you're coming, and we'll schedule a time. I'd love to play your game. And again, I'll have a link in the show notes.

You can visit the site at You can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek with the same handle, and I'm @BFTrick on both platforms. Until next time, everyone. Happy designing, bye-bye.

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