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#25 – Gil Hova

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to Indie Board Game Designer’s podcast, for a sit down with a different independent game designer each week and we talk about their experience in game design, the lessons they’ve learned and how they got to where they are today. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I’m going to be speaking with Gil Hova, who is the designer behind a bunch of games, including Wordsy, The Networks, as well as hosting approximately 500 different board game podcasts. Is that right, Gil?

Gil Hova: That’s about right, yep.

Patrick Rauland: 500 great! All right. So your company is called Formal Ferret Games, and I think before I want to know anything else, why did you name your company Formal Ferret Games?

Gil Hova: I was a game fan. I played a lot of games. I tweeted about games. Not that I’m not a game fan now of course, but I was on Twitter. I was on BoardGameGeek, and I was an aspiring game designer, and I had an Avatar that was a very pixelated picture of a ferret with a bow tie. If you want to know the story behind that, I’ve been a ferret fan for a long time. I adore ferrets. They’re my favorite animals in the world. I’ve had ferrets as pets for about 20 years. This was always going to be a part of the deal.

Gil Hova: So here I am, with my Avatar, and I want to start a company. So I want to choose something that people recognize me from. I don’t want to just do something totally new that means I’m starting from zero. I want someone to see it and, “Oh it’s a ferret. It must be Gil.” So I chose to base it off that Avatar, which I’d borrowed let us say, from the store called The Ferret Store, which is no longer around. But they sold a bunch of things for ferrets, including bow ties. So this was the picture of their bow tie product. A bow tie for a ferret.

Gil Hova: So I figured that’s a formal looking ferret, so I’ll name my company Formal Ferret. Passed it off to my artist, Scott Hartman, who drew the logo. Did a great job with the logo, and added the hat at his wife’s suggestion. So now the Formal Ferret has both a hat and a bow tie, looks really sharp and that’s the story behind Formal Ferret.

Gil Hova: I know it’s a little strange, because there’s so many game companies out there that use the adjective “animal schema,” and I know I’m not the only one. So once all those others started popping up, and especially a bunch of mustelids also, because there’s Formal Ferret, there’s Blind Ferret, there’s Devious Weasel.

Gil Hova: I’m surprised there aren’t any otters out there, but yeah, there are a ton of mustelid companies out there, not just mine.

Patrick Rauland: So when are you adding the monocle to the logo?

Gil Hova: Someday. The monocle will come in someday I’m sure.

How Did You Get Into Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: So the real first question is, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Gil Hova: Sorry, I hit the wrong button. I was trying to silence my phone and did the opposite.

Gil Hova: I always wanted to be a game designer, even as a kid. Playing kids on my Atari 2600, I wanted to be a game designer. I wanted to work at Activision. Activision existed back then. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, etc. So here I am, little kid playing video games. Then I became this college kid playing video games. Then I became this young adult playing video games, and I figured that if I wanted to start designing games and work on this dream of designing video games, maybe I should start with board games because board games were more a pure form of game design and I wouldn’t have to worry about all this annoying implementation.

Gil Hova: I actually did play a lot of board games growing up. The only problem is I played them solo, because this is where the sad bit comes in. I didn’t really have anyone to play with, wah, wah. It’s interesting which games I grew up with. I grew up with games like Ogre, Car Wars. A lot of the Steve Jackson games. I had a lot of rule books to role playing games, that I would read but I would never actually play. See above. And it would wind up being me just reading these rule books and occasionally playing them solo and seeing how it worked.

Gil Hova: So here I am, young adult. I want to get back into board games, so I need to find out what Steve Jackson’s up to, because I had Illuminati as a kid, and all those other games. So what are they up to? Oh, they have this new game called Munchkin. Okay, that’s interesting. So I read up about it. Then I hear about these new kinds of games called euros. You can tell this was around 2000.

Gil Hova: So there’s this game called Settlers of Catan, that had come out a few years ago, that people are really into. Just as I started getting into it, this game hit called Puerto Rico. I was actually at my first game convention. My very first game convention, and I’m just standing around between tables, and somebody comes up to me and says, “Do you want to play a game?” I’m like, “Well, I guess so. What’s the name of the game?” And the guy’s like, “Oh, it’s called Puerto Rico. You’re going to love it.” And they were right. I did love it.

Gil Hova: That was the first board game I played that suddenly opened my eyes, because all these board games that I’d been exposed to, especially all these older Steve Jackson games, they all rely on backstabbing, and direct attacks, and things like that. In Puerto Rico, there’s interaction, but there isn’t an enormous interaction. You’re building this engine and you’ve got this complex system that you’re wading in, and I loved it. I just adored it and I loved the low interaction from day one.

Gil Hova: That was the game that pulled me in, and at that point I realized I liked board games more than video games. So at that point, I stopped playing video games, started playing board games and just fell deeper and deeper into the hobby. Then with that, I started trying to design board games and it took me a long time, but eventually I started figuring out where the handle was.

Why Not Video Games?

Patrick Rauland: I was going to ask you why didn’t you go back to video games, but it sounds like you just … At the very end of the story there it just sounds like you fell in love with board games and you have no need to go back to video games?

Gil Hova: Yeah. It’s just video games don’t do what board games do for me. I love the cinematic angle of video games, but I started getting tired of the repetitive violent themes, like how they’re all trying to out shock each other. I didn’t like the casual sexism or not so casual sexism in so many of the triple A games. Again, this was back in 2000. I got really numb to it. My favorite games were like Rollercoaster Tycoon, and yet they kept on insisting on coming out with these violent shoot-em-ups, and it just wasn’t my thing.

Gil Hova: Board games represented at least in an abstract sense, something more peaceful. There was an argument to be made about games like Puerto Rico, abstracting away the violence inherent in it, and that’s a very fair argument. But at least on the surface, these weren’t violent games, and they didn’t play violent and I really liked that. That really spoke to me.

Patrick Rauland: I think that’s really interesting. Thinking about how board games are … Appear to be less violent, because there’s so many board games about settling. Like imperialism and colonialism, and that’s such a prevalent theme. But I guess once Euros became big, and then it’s like Agricola, right? You’re all just like farming, then maybe that’s … It seems like there’s so few video games like that, or at least big video games like that? Maybe there’s Farmville, but there aren’t many video games that have peaceful themes like all the eurogames.

Gil Hova: A big part of this is just Germany’s influence, because after World War II, violent themes and warlike themes were kind of out the window. So they started looking at more peaceful games, and board gaming was always a big thing there. So board games started to get more and more popular, especially in the 70s and 80s. They started really working on these more peaceful themes, because they violent themes don’t sell as well there. So that’s really where a lot of that stuff comes from.

Gil Hova: They also have, being Europeans, they have a different view of colonialism. To them they took this … The term is terra nullius. They took this terra nullius view of colonialism, where you are on this boat, you go on this brand new land, and there’s nobody living there. The trees are all green, and there’s birds overhead and the land is all yours. Of course that is not how it happened. That’s never how it happened on this planet. Any colonial game is a war game. We seem to be tangenting here, don’t we? What do we do about this?

Ferret vs Rabbit Hole

Patrick Rauland: I actually really like that. I was wondering, when this stuff comes up, I love going down the rabbit hole or the ferret hole, shall we say?

Gil Hova: Ferrets go in rabbit holes, for the record.

Patrick Rauland: Oh okay. Because they chase them?

Gil Hova: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: Or eat them.

Gil Hova: Yes.

World War II & Peaceful Board Games

Patrick Rauland: So ferrets go down the rabbit holes, then this is appropriate. I think I’ve heard that history before about Germany, and after World War II, they started making euro games, and I was just thinking in my brain, how World War II made peaceful board games, and how that’s so weird. That’s such a weird thing.

Gil Hova: It’s really strange how these things link up, don’t they? I don’t want to say, “You have one or the other.” That’s just the world that we’re in. We deal with it.

Gil Hova: But yes, it’s really fascinating, but here we are in this world and we have these board games that have this inherent contradiction in them. Because at some point you need a … At least if you’re going to have an orthogame, a game with a winner, that implies some sort of competition. That implies some sort of conflict. Or at least a contest.

Gil Hova: While there doesn’t need to be wild violence, there is some sort of competition and again, if this is an orthogame, there is a winner and a loser. Now not all games are orthogames. Like D&D is not an orthogame. There’s no winner in D&D. You play until the campaign ends, or until everybody gets tired or moves away, etc. Or any other role playing game. You generally don’t win role playing games. Even role playing games that you win, the idea isn’t to win. That incentive’s just there to drive player behavior, kind of like a party game.

Gil Hova: So with that, there is always going to be some sort of contest, but the question is making it in a way that you’re not punching down. That you’re not sort of rubbing it in people’s faces.

Why Do you Publish Games?

Patrick Rauland: Let’s back our little ferret butts out of the rabbit hole. So you are a publisher and a designer. Why did you decide to make your own publishing company instead of licensing games or something else?

Gil Hova: I had two other games published at the time, when I founded Formal Ferret. I had Prolix and Battle Merchants, and I’m really proud of both of them and I think the publishers overall did a really good job with them, but it turns out I’m really a bit of a control freak, and I want things done my way. I want my games at conventions. I want my games to look a certain way. I want there to be some sort of marketing campaign behind my games. I want there to be some sort of 50-50 representation in terms of gender. That’s assuming a gender binary, which there isn’t, etc.

Gil Hova: I want to have this sort of thing that I’m in some sort of control over, and you sign all that control away when you sign a game with the publisher. That’s just part of the deal. That’s just how it works. A lot of designers are fine with that. There’s designers that are going work on like 15 games at once. If a publisher doesn’t come out with a game, or if they make significant changes to a game, well that’s too bad, but they have 14 other games they’re also working on.

Gil Hova: If you’re the kind of person who works on a bunch of games at once, then pitching to publishers is really not a bad way to go about things. But, I’m not one of those. I work on only a few games at a time. Like one or two games, is about my limit. Then I just try to push those as hard as I can, as far as I can. I get my play test group really good and tired of them, because they’re playing it every week. Maybe more frequently. I’m so thankful for my play test group. They’re really a bunch of troupers. They’ve played The Networks so many times. So I’m really grateful for them.

Gil Hova: But they enjoy it, especially the expansion. Once I started bringing out the expansion, they really enjoyed testing that. So I’m very thankful for that. But yes, that means Network Executives, I was bringing that same game week, after week, after week, and I really wasn’t working on much else. Right now, I’m working on two different designs right now, and I want to work on a third, and I just don’t have the bandwidth.

Patrick Rauland: I totally hear you.

Gil Hova: That’s why I started my own publishing company. I wanted that control. So you see, I’m at conventions now because I feel it’s important to be at conventions. I’m with Double Exposure Envoy for marketing and promotions, which means I’m at conventions all around the country. I do Essen. I do UK Games Expo. And I try to do things the right way and the best way. I try to take a long view, especially as a publisher. It’s hard. And sometimes the money gets really crunched, but overall, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

Gil Hova: I seriously feel that all three of my self published games, Bad Medicine, The Networks and Wordsy, none of them would have done anywhere near as well as they did, had they come out with a publisher.

Why Go To Conventions?

Patrick Rauland: Sure. I get that. You mentioned you go to a lot of conventions, and I’m always curious why. Because it seems like … I talk to lots of people here, and they all go for different reasons. For some people it’s just meeting, like meeting publishers. For other people it’s like talking to their customers. For other people it’s play testing. I met you at Origins I should just say, and I gave you a dope fist bump. What is the most important reason that you go to conventions?

Gil Hova: I think it’s really just to make sure people know I’m there. It’s marketing, ultimately. It’s making sure people know that I am a publisher. I’m here. I’m present. I’m here for you. You can see me. You can talk to me. You can buy my games. You can play my games. You can try my games and so on. So to me, that’s the most important reason. I feel like if you’re at conventions, you may not immediately get that bump. There’s some people who go to conventions and they get bummed out because they didn’t make all their money back, which is common when you start going to conventions as a publisher.

Gil Hova: Your first year, maybe even your first two years, you may do it as a loss and it’s tough. That’s why a lot of companies go under. You need capitol for this, because you need to say, “Okay. This is stuff that I am sinking in. I’m sinking this money in.” But at some point, hopefully you’ll start to turn around and while you don’t have to turn a profit, you should at least break even. And for the larger conventions, like Origins and Gen Con, at this point I’m profitable at those conventions.

Gil Hova: So I think another reason for those conventions is revenue. It’s a really good source of revenue. It gets people talking about my game. It gets my game in the hands of alpha gamers, who will take it and play it with their gaming group, and that’s really important. All of these things are reasons that I feel that it’s for.

Gil Hova: Finally, I love conventions. I’ve always loved going to conventions. Ever since that first convention where I played Puerto Rico. It was just a special place. It was the special happy place where I got to go. Some people go to the beach. I go to conventions. To me, I love it. Even as a publisher, my experience is different now because I’m at the booth. It’s not like I’m wandering from table to table looking for an open game.

Gil Hova: Even at the end of the day, when the vendor hall closes, I’m toast. I can’t play anything. I’m way, way, way too tired. But even with all that, there’s this carney family. Same people on the road, and it’s fantastic. These are all people that I really enjoy. It’s a great feeling, especially when you go to something like Essen, and you travel like 5,000 miles and you land, and you immediately see friendly faces. It’s an amazing feeling.

Do You Have a White Whale of Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: I have a question in my list of questions that I ask most speakers, and it’s actually inspired by you. I forgot … It was one of your podcasts. It was … I’ll just ask you the question. Do you have a white whale of game design. Something you try to figure out every time, but haven’t quite cracked it yet? I think I know your answer here because you’ve mentioned it on other podcasts. I love hearing other people talk about it, but do you have one?

Gil Hova: Oh yeah. You definitely heard about it. This was my sports GM sim. When I played video games, one of my favorite genres was the GM sim. If you’re in North America, you might know games like Out of the Park Baseball or Front Office Football or even the franchise mode of the game like Madden. Those are all GM sims. Especially if they take you year over year, and your players age and you have to draft new players and you trade other players. It is such an incredible compelling narrative.

Gil Hova: I would lose weeks, like literal weeks, to play. I was a freelancer. I worked in film, and when I didn’t work in film, I would play Out of the Park Baseball and just spend an entire week just spending 10, 15, 20 years in this little pocket universe. It was extraordinary. So actually, I have not played those games in years. I’m not allowed to. I’m on the wagon. I cannot play those games because, “Goodbye everyone.” I wouldn’t want that to happen.

Gil Hova: Not for my company, not for my girlfriend, not for my ferrets. It just wouldn’t be good. So I wanted to see if I could capture at least a little bit of that magic in a board game, and it turns out it’s really, really hard. There’s a few people who have gotten close to it. I know that there’s a baseball game … I think it’s called Lords of Baseball that GMT was working on and that like a GM sim. Gabe Barrett from the Board Game Design Lab has this excellent design. It was originally pro football and he changed to college football, but again, it’s this aging feeling and this growing narrative, and I think he did a wonderful job with it.

Gil Hova: But that game’s only three seasons, and you only have a handful of players at a time, because that’s the problem. Like a video game, if you’re doing even like a baseball team and you have a 25 man roster, you’ve got all of these variables. Let’s say you boil it down to one variable. Like each baseball player has one rating that you go off of. You’ve got 25 of them, and you’ve got four players, so now you’ve got a hundred ratings to juggle. That’s too many.

Gil Hova: Okay, let’s shrink it down to maybe everybody’s got nine. Nine times four is 36, and that’s still a lot. So reducing the numbers, you really have to start seriously abstracting it. But I think I have an angle. I think I have a way that I can do it that wouldn’t be a GM sim, but it would still be really interesting and would both be a compelling game with interesting decisions, and would hopefully tell a story and hopefully get you a little attached to these players, because that’s really I think, one of the holy grails here in moving these GM sims over. So that’s my white whale, is a GM sim where multi season, you start caring about the players and so on. It’s really hard, but I would love to try it.

Patrick Rauland: That’s really cool, man. I struggle so much with games that have a lot of bookkeeping. Where you have to write down stats or track things or even cover up parts of the card where it’s like in season one use these stats, and season two use these stats. I imagine it’s really, really hard to just juggle all of that information. And probably really hard to balance, right? There’s so many variables in that. Even if you do with a system, it’ll take forever to balance that.

Gil Hova: I didn’t even get up to the balance part. It just wasn’t a compelling game. This is also an important game design lesson, is that make it a compelling game. Then work on balance. Don’t work on balance first and then try to make it a compelling game. That way is uphill.

“Make it a compelling game. Then work on balance. Don’t work on balance first and then try to make it a compelling game.”

What is the Best Money You’ve Spent?

Patrick Rauland: No, love it. One of the things I like to ask, just for your information, I’m cheap when it comes to board game design. I don’t want to spend a bazillion dollars on it, but there’s always, always, always tools that are worth the money. Do you have a resource, either software, or a bug, or any resource that is absolutely worth the money for a brand new indie game designer?

Gil Hova: For a brand new indie game designer, there’s a lot of things you can do to save money. If you want to make cards, learn how to use Nandeck. I have a few friends who use Nandeck and they swear by it. That’s free card creation software and it’s a little more powerful than your average … There’s some programs that make magic cards, and those could be okay if you’re going for that style of game. But if you want … I just want like a number and a picture and a little bit of like a title, but I don’t want it to look like a magic card, then you may want to use something like Nandeck.

Gil Hova: Then you can use programs like Inkscape and GIMP and things like that. Now that’s all if you’re an aspiring game designer. I think once you get to publishing and you start working with a graphic designer, at some point you have to level up and start going to the Adobe Suite. That’s expensive, but it’s so much easier when everybody’s using the same platform.

Gil Hova: For me, making cards, I’ve got my own little thing. A lot of people who are in the Adobe Suite, they use InDesign to make their cards. You put all your card data in an Excel spreadsheet and then point InDesign to it, and you just create a card template and InDesign fills out all the data for you in a data merge. That’s a really good and quick way to do that. That’s like an alternative to nanDeck, although that’s how … A lot of times that’s how the pros make cards.

Gil Hova: When you play a game, a lot of times the cards will have been made by a data merge. For me, I actually use the database program. I use FileMaker Pro, and I know of a couple of other designers who use FileMaker Pro as well. The nice thing about it, the idea with either nanDECK or using a relationable database like FileMaker Pro, you don’t want to have to update … You update an image, you don’t want to have to update on every single different card. So if you have a database, you have a table that’s just your cards. Then you have the table that’s just your images. Then if you want to put the same image on like 20 different cards, you just put the idea of that image in each of those cards. If you ever have to change the image, you just change the image in the one place in the image table, and that update will cascade through everywhere else.

Gil Hova: Then nanDECK is a similar way. It’s going to point to a link to a file, so you just update the file and the image just updates. That’s the kind of solution you want when you’re working on cards. That said, if you’re just starting a game design and you feel comfortable using hand written index cards, use hand written index cards. Anything that will get your game to the table quickly and remove those barriers, and just see how it plays. Because I guarantee you, especially if you’re a first time designer, it’s not going to play the way it did in your head, and you want to sort of sniff down the way the game wants to be, and be like, “Oh well, this game’s totally boring,” except this one pocket is actually kind of interesting, so you want to explore that one.

Gil Hova: Those are all like the little tools that I think are useful. A lot of them are free. I think if you want to spend money as a game designer, save up money. Save up vacation time and try to make it to a convention. This is easier for some people than others. Like if you’re working three jobs, or if you have home responsibilities. If you have health issues. This is easier said than done. But if you have the privilege, and you have the vacation time, you have the money, go to a convention, because you’ll meet a ton of people. You’ll get a ton of play tests, and you’ll be in the ocean. You’ll be in the atmosphere. You’re going to feed off that energy and it really, really helps.

Gil Hova: Once you go to a convention, if you come back and people start recognizing you, then you’ve made some steps. Because at that point, you start making it in with people and a lot of this business, a lot of getting ahead in this business is really networking, like any other business.

What Convention Would You Recommend?

Patrick Rauland: Let’s say I’m based in the US, and I can afford to go to one non-local convention. Which one would you recommend?

Gil Hova: It depends on your demeanor, your personality, and your goals. If your goal, if you have a mostly finished game and you just want to show it to as many people as possible, and the game is very much a hobby strategy game, then I think Gen Con is where you want to go. In that case what you want to do is … It’s too late now. We’re recording this the week before Gen Con. But in the months before Gen Con, you want to create events for it and you just say, “I’m running these events for this game,” and then you just try to get as many people to your table as you can.

Gil Hova: Gen Con is pretty cool with that, running events for the unpublished game. If you make a bunch of events in a row, then they’ll just schedule you for the same table and you won’t have to move. Bring a friend if you can so that you can switch off, so you don’t have to do it all yourself and just build awareness. Every time somebody plays, take feedback. Be as nice as possible, especially if they’re being critical of your game. Say, “Thank you. That’s good feedback and I’ll look into it.” A lot of times it will be good feedback. If the game is closer to done and people are asking the correct question that you know when the game is done which is, “Where can I get this? How can I get this?” Make sure that you have something that they can sign up to your email list with. Your mailing list and start building a mailing list.

Gil Hova: Because, whether you go Kickstarter or whether you pitch to a publisher, you want to raise awareness and let people know and build your following. Have people follow you on Twitter, on Face Book, on Instagram. On any sort of social media and just start building that presence. That’s just so important. So yeah, Gen Con is the convention for that.

Gil Hova: If you have a game that’s a little newer, or if you’re hesitant to go into a zoo like Gen Con, because Gen Con’s about 60,000 people a day. It is an enormous convention. So if you want something smaller, I’d recommend Origins. I want to say it’s a smaller scale Gen Con, I guess is the best way to put it. It’s about a quarter of the size. It’s only about 15,000 people a day, so it’s a little more manageable, especially for people who get overwhelmed in big settings.

Gil Hova: Now if your game is really fresh, and really new, then you probably want to go to a convention like Protospiel. Protospiel is a much more laid back, small convention. It’s just designers. It’s only going to be about 30 to 50 designers, and it’s very quid pro quo. You sit down, you play a game. You play someone else’s game, and then they’ll play your game, then you’ll play their game, and so on and so forth. You just exchange play tests.

Gil Hova: Here’s a little tip. The more you play test other people’s games, the better you will be at game design. When you see problems in other people’s games and you start trying to work on how you would fix them in your game, if it were your game, that levels you up and that makes you a better game designer. Don’t pass up opportunities to play test other people’s games. It will improve you. So Protospiel’s a really good one.

Gil Hova: If you have a game that is … Let’s say you have a game that’s close to done, but you want to test it, and you want to meet a lot of industry people, Unpub is a phenomenal convention for that. You’ll get a lot of people sitting down and playing your game, but unlike Protospiel, they’re going to be game fans. They’re not necessarily going to be designers. And if you have a good table, and an attractive looking game, you should just get wave after wave after wave of people, sitting down to try your game. That really helps with Unpub.

Gil Hova: There’s other game designing conventions out there. METATOPIA, which is near me. I’m in Jersey City and METATOPIA is in Morristown, New Jersey. That’s a very, very good game designer convention. I’m sure there’s a ton of others that I’m missing.

Gil Hova: If your game is one that’s more of a casual game, or you think will appeal to video game fans, then get yourself to PAX Unplugged or PAX East. They’re not going to be so into heavier strategy games on the whole. Obviously, people who like heavy strategy games do go to PAX, they’re just not dominant. PAX tends to be more commonly frequented by people into video games, people into lighter games, people who don’t want to wait more than 30 seconds to learn how to play your game. So if you have a game like that … And that’s not a lack of intelligence or short attention span, that’s just culture.

Gil Hova: Video gamers are just cultured for that. They have a certain aesthetic and that’s what they like. My point being, all of these conventions have their own identity. They have their own audience. If you have two conventions with the same audience, that’s usually bad news, because they tend to pull from each other.

Gil Hova: I didn’t even mention Geekway to the West, or Dice Tower Con or BBGCON, which are just great conventions to go to if you’re also a game fan, and you just want to play a bunch of really good games. Those are also great play test opportunities as well. You’ll meet a bunch of people in the industry as well. They’re very laid back. They’re even smaller than Origins. They’re about 3,000 to 5,000 people, so not big at all but really, really good to attend.

Gil Hova: So it really depends on what your tolerance for crowds is, how focused you are, how driven you are, how late you are in the process. On one end is Protospiel, when you’re really new to the process. On the other end is Gen Con when you really have to bring out the big guns.

Patrick Rauland: That is a very thorough answer. I think I got nine different conventions that people now have to think about, which is a good problem to have, right?

Gil Hova: Obviously, this all assumes you’re in the US, because there’s conventions all over the world and I’m most familiar with the ones in the US. I only go to two non US conventions, “only” two non US conventions, which is two more than a lot of people, so I’m very lucky.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: We’re running out of time, so I want to ask you two more questions here. Or one more question and the game that you knew nothing about. What does success look like to you Gil? It seems like you’re pretty successful already.

Gil Hova: I hate to say it. I’m going to knock on wood here to keep myself from jinxing myself. But success looks a lot like what I’m doing now. I don’t want to say success is when I made X money with game design or hired XX employees, because ultimately it all comes down to, “I want to make my own games and release them to the world and have people enjoy them.” That’s success to me. I’m so, so fortunate and I’ve put in so much work to have it happen. Fingers crossed that I can keep on doing this. Like every successful Kickstarter, especially one that’s succeeds as wildly as something like The Networks, I have huge feeling of relief, because I say, “Phew, I get to do this another year.”

Gil Hova: That’s really how it is. When you’re in business, it’s not like, “Okay, I’ve made it. I’m secure.” It’s always like, “Well, I’m good for now.” There’s always a but, there’s always something. You always have to have an eye over your shoulder. Not necessarily for competition, but just for like these mistakes or slipups, or changes in the market. All sorts of things that can happen unexpectedly. I just want things to continue at the trajectory that they are now. I have a new game I’m working on called High Rise, that I’m putting on Kickstarter in February and there’s a lot of interest in it. I’m very, very grateful for that. I’m very excited to get this thing to Kickstarter, because I think it’s going to be really big.

Patrick Rauland: That sounds amazing. It sounds like you have a fulfilling process. You’re working on a couple of games at a time. That works for you. It’s enough to sustain you financially. You can go to all the cons you want, and you can release one or two new games a year. That’s pretty awesome.

Gil Hova: I’m at a pace of two products a year. Starting next year, it’ll be two products a year.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: That’s amazing. That’s really cool. So Gil, you don’t know this, but I like to end every show with a little game called Overrated or Underrated, and basically I’m going to force you to take a position of things. I might say, “Sunny weather. Overrated or underrated,” and you have to pick one of the two and explain why in like two sentences. Got it?

Gil Hova: Oh, I hate these kinds of games but I’ll play along.

Patrick Rauland: Catch-up mechanics in board games, are they overrated or underrated?

Gil Hova: Pass. Next. It’s both. It depends. A poorly implemented catch-up mechanism is overrated. A game that needs a catch-up mechanism is underrated. I mean are hammers overrated? Come on. Are petunias overrated? Come on.

Patrick Rauland: How about fancy coffee from like Starbucks? Overrated or underrated?

Gil Hova: I don’t drink coffee, so I’m happy saying that’s overrated. That was easy.

Patrick Rauland: Do you drink any caffeine?

Gil Hova: Not really. I used to drink a lot of cola, like Coke and Pepsi. Then my body started rejecting it, so yeah, I don’t drink that much caffeine now. Which, it’s fine with me. I set my own hours. I start work late and I go to bed late. That’s really what it comes down to.

Patrick Rauland: Abstract games. Are they overrated or underrated?

Gil Hova: I’m not hugely into them. I’m curious to see what next move does with them. My friend Emerson Matsuuchi designs a lot of games for Next Move, and he came out with Reef, which I was really interested in, and then when I say him he was like, “You play tested an early version,” and I’m like, “I did?” He was insisting that I was in this play test that I have zero memory of. So we’ll see. Abstract games, I think abstract games that are approachable and that you feel like you have a handle on, over your first couple of games like Onitama or Reef, I think those are underrated. A lifetime game like chess I’m not so into, because after a certain amount of time it becomes work. In your game, that fall under overrated, although I would never say chess is overrated. You are just forcing me to do this with your harsh, harsh rubric.

Patrick Rauland: I do like forcing people into taking a position. Last one, I think you got this one. Fist bumps. Overrated or underrated?

Gil Hova: They’re totally underrated. You need your fist bumps. I got sick at three different conventions a couple years ago, and that’s why I started fist bumping. It was just terrible. Being in the hotel and forcing the booth staff to go on without me, while I’m coughing and hacking, it’s terrible. And once I started fist bumping, I didn’t get sick as often, and when I did, it wasn’t for nearly as long. So I’ve actually stopped handshaking in general. Like I fist bump my family. I got it from Eric Martin of BoardGameGeek. He started fist bumping before me, and I found something very funny. Eric came up to me and he told me that somebody asked him if he got the fist bump idea from me, which I think was hilarious, because Eric was fist bumping way before I was.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Gil, thanks for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Gil Hova: You can find me on Twitter @gilhova. You can find me on Instagram @gilhova, although I’m not as active on Instagram as I should be. I’m on Facebook as Formal Ferret Games. You can also go to formalferretgames.com and you can go to gil.hova.net for a very infrequently updated blog.

Patrick Rauland: I notice your about page, I think was from like 2005.

Gil Hova: Yeah. It was. It’s been a long time.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Thank you again. Dear listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you leave a review, Gil said that he talked to his TV executive friends and he has a lot of them, and they’d film a reality show in your backyard. So that’s something you can …

Gil Hova: Contact … I have at least one.

Patrick Rauland: Oh. There we go. All right. So you can visit the site indieboardgamedesigners.com. You can follow me on Twitter. I’m @BFTrick. That’s B as in board game, F as in fun and trick as in trick taking games. Until next time, happy designing. See you around. Bye bye.

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