Grant Lyon

#155 – Grant Lyon

Patrick: 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'm going to be talking with Grant Lyon, who designed Curmudgeon, which will come out a couple days after we record this. But it will be out by the time you listen to it, and he creates great shortboard game reviews under Grant's Game Recs on YouTube, which I will add a link to in the show notes. Grant, welcome to the show.

Grant: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. I'm happy to be here.


Patrick: I'm excited. I have a lightning round to introduce you to the audience. Are you ready?

Grant: I'm excited. I'm more than ready.

Patrick: All right, favorite comedian? Go.

Grant: Dana Gould, which is a little in the weeds right there. You've got to be a comedy nerd to know Dana, but he is dark and silly and funny all at the same time, so I love him. But if we're talking about famous comedians that everybody would know, probably Steve Martin, because Steve Martin also really embodies that silly but smart at the same time.

Patrick: So, silly, but smart is your thing? I love it.

Grant: That's one of the things that I've always tried for that to be my voice. One of the hardest things in comedy is people go, “What kind of comedy do you do?” And I'm like, “I don't know. The funny kind?” It's so hard.

A magazine wrote an article one time about me, and they said, “I like smart comedians, but they can be so preachy. I like goofy comedians, but they can be so dumb. Grant finds the right balance between smart and goofy.” And I was like, “Yes. Thank you. I've never been able to say that. That's exactly what I want to be.”

Patrick: With board games, we have very good terminology. Like, “What type of board games do you like?” “I like work replacement games,” or “I like games with lots of dice,” or “I like miniature games.” It's like we have these categories.

Grant: Totally.

Patrick: I don't know, when it comes to comedy that we have any– Like, “I like the funny ones.”

Grant: That's a thing that I think hurts comedy in general because people go see a night of comedy, and they go, “I didn't like that. I don't like comedy.” But we don't treat comedy like we do music, where if you were in the mood for jazz and you went, and you saw heavy metal, you would be unhappy with your evening, I'm assuming.

People do this research ahead of time, where they're like, “OK. What kind of band is this?” Or whatever, but nobody does that with comedy. It's like, if you're really in the mood to see political comedy and you go, and you see somebody that's just talking about dating and relationships the whole time, that's probably going to be fairly unsatisfying.

But we treat it like, “Comedy is comedy.” I don't agree, you got to find the people that respond to what you're doing. I mean, that's what having a voice is, and that's why having a voice is important. Because now people that want to hear that know what you are going to bring, and even though maybe they haven't seen those jokes that you're doing that night or whatever, they're like, “I like smarter stuff. This is a guy that does that kind of stuff, so I'm sure I will enjoy what they are doing tonight.”

Patrick: You know what it is? I think part of the reason that games have an easier time of this is I can watch someone play a game, and when I play the game, it's still an entirely new experience.

But in comedy, if I watch all of Dane Cook's jokes, and then I go see Dane Cook, I'm like, “It's just the same stuff. So, I wonder if maybe that's the challenge with comedy.

So, this is a board game podcast, for all the board game people out there take advantage of the fact that people can consume your media over and over again, and it's still really fun. Excuse me, Grant. I think one of the challenges for you doing comedy is– And by the way, listeners, in case it wasn't obvious, Grant does comedy.

Grant: Yeah.

Patrick: I think one of the challenges is, how do you introduce someone to a genre of comedy without them listening to your jokes, exactly?

Grant: Totally.

Patrick: Anyway, we will have a separate comedy podcast another lifetime from now. Grant, what is your favorite game that you've reviewed?

Grant: I think it might be Rap Godz. Have you ever heard of Rap Godz? It's a great–

Patrick: I have.

Grant: I love the game, but it was very fun to do a review of it because one of the things I like about the game is that it immerses you into the rap world without requiring you to try to make up a rap or something like that. I think most people when you hear “This is a rap game,” they're like, “Boy. Am I going to have to try to improvise a rap or whatever?”

So when I was talking about the game in my review, basically, I was saying, “You don't have to do that. You're not going to hear your dad struggle to come up with this type of rap.” I included a rap, the first few lines of a rap that I wrote when I was in high school about Macbeth for a school project.

We had to do anything we wanted about Macbeth, and I wrote a rap song about Macbeth and performed it in front of the school, and it was terrible and hilarious. I think it was just so fun for me to review because I was like, “I'm going to use a few lines from my actual high school rap in this as an example of raps you don't want to hear.” It just, for me personally, was so meta. It brought it back together so that it was really fun to do as a review.

Patrick: I dig it. What is a game that you play with someone every single time at a convention?

Grant: Obviously, this is a hard question because I love different games, and I am– I think I'm an Omni gamer, in the sense that there are times where I want to sit down and play something very thinky and strategic, and sometimes I just want to play a party game and have a good time with my friends.

I think the answer to this question for me is Bang Dice because Bang Dice is one of the most social games I think there is. If I'm in a convention, I'm in social mode, and I want to hang out with people and get to know people. I think Bang Dice, for me, is very replayable because you never know who is going to get which roles, and then people play it very differently.

There are some people that are going to hang back and try to keep it secretive, and there are some people that are going to come out with guns blazing. You're like, “I know exactly who you are right now.” So I feel like it's a very social game, and it's also a game that gives me an insight into who people are. So if I'm meeting people for the first time at a convention, I'm like, “I want to get your vibe.” That's a game that accomplishes that for me.

Patrick: I dig it. I've only played the card game, but I think I would very much like the dice version of the game as well.

Grant: The dice– I own both, and I will say that the card game is fun, but the dice game is just better. Because it's more streamlined, it's easier to explain to someone who hasn't played it before, you still have choices, but it narrows those choices down. There's not a sense of analysis paralysis at all because it's like, “I could do one of these three things, what am I going to do?” So it moves real quickly.

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

Patrick: That's awesome. Grant, let me ask you, how did you get into board games and, more specifically, board game design?

Grant: I was a Magic: The Gathering player when I was a kid, and I enjoyed it and played a few tournaments and that sort of stuff. I was never very good, but I enjoyed playing. I'm talking like '94, '95, '96. Then I got into sports in high school and all that kind of stuff, and it just faded away from me.

I hadn't played games as an adult much. Sure, when my family got together, we'd play Scrabble or Parcheesi or something like that, but I hadn't gotten involved in the modern gaming world. About six years ago, my buddy, who's a comedian in Los Angeles who loved board games, started hosting a board game night for other comedians. It was all fairly light stuff, Codenames, Cash and Guns, Tellestrations, things like that.

But man, it was just so much fun. It opened me to this world I had no idea existed, and I think most people that aren't involved in board games have no idea how big the world is and how many games come out. It's like, they've heard of Exploding Kittens or Cards Against Humanity, and that's it for the knowledge of modern games. Then you just get into it, and the more you get in, you're like, “Man. This sounds fun and this sounds fun and this sounds fun,” and I think a lot of us joke that it becomes a bit of an obsession.

Just because there is so much, there is so much depth to the world, so I started playing a lot more board games like six years ago, and then about four years ago, I have a buddy whose day job is doing art design and art directions for multiple video games and has also worked on board games.

He has had a couple of games published before this that were light strategic family games, and he approached me and was like, “I want to design more of a party game fun game. Are you interested in working on something like this? Because I know that you like games, and I think you're funny, so it seems like you would be a good match for this.” I was like, “Sure. It's never something I had even really thought about up until that point.”

I wasn't like, “Boy, I really want to design a game.” But when he approached me, it felt like, “OK. I mean I love games, and you know more about the world than I do so this is not just me trying to jump into the deep end and have no idea what I'm doing.” It just felt like a really good match, and then we just started getting together and throwing some ideas back and forth.

A lot of the ideas were like, “OK. That could work. OK, now there's something there.” Then we got to this idea of Curmudgeon, and both of us were like, “Boom. That's it.” It just clicked. It made sense. We were like, “That's the one we want to work on.” And we both agreed. It's funny because the game has changed quite significantly since that first meeting, but yet still, the emotional core behind it has always been the same. It's just been how to play it and how to make it the most fun.

Patrick: I love all this. Number one, I just want to point out it's cool that you were basically invited into game design. That's cool that someone was like, “I want you to help me with this.”

Grant: Totally.

You co-designed this with your friend who is an experienced game designer. What did your friend help you with that you might not have stumbled upon?

Patrick: I love hearing that. I think you basically stumbled onto my next question here, which is– You have been co-designing this with your friend, who is a more experienced game designer, what is one of the things that you might have stumbled on that they highlighted for you?

Grant: Patience, I think, is one of the big things. I had no idea how long this process takes, and I was ready to give up after the first playtest that didn't go well.

Patrick: Got it.

Grant: I think as an outsider you don't know how many playtests and how– Everybody has the story of, “Boy. This idea came to me and the first time I played tested it, it was amazing. I never had to do anything.” But that is very much the exception to the rule. Most games take a long time and a lot of sessions to figure out.

To figure out the balance and to figure out how to highlight the best parts of it, and make that the core of the experience. Boy, that first– I think we tried to make the game almost too strategic upfront, and that's also coming because the guy I was working with had done more strategic games before.

He was bringing a lot of that experience to the table, and so it was like, “OK. You can add these numbers here, but subtract these numbers here and you've got to do this in order to be able to do this.” Then we played it with people, and it was just overly complicated. It was like, “People have fun when they get to do this one thing and this one other thing, but we've made it so hard for them to get to the point where they can do these two things, we need to strip all of this away and just figure out how to make the game these couple of things. Because that's the core of the game, and that's what people have fun with.”

So I think after the first playtest when I'm just sitting there horrified, like watching people trying to wrap their head around it and not enjoying the experience. Afterwards, I was like, “No. We messed up. We've spent six months working on a thing that's not fun. Well, I guess it's over. I guess we messed up.” Sort of thing and I was ready to walk away right then. He was like, “No. This is the process. This is what it takes. It is very rare that your first– But we just learned a bunch of things not to do, so now we start figuring out what to do.” So I think that was helpful for me early on.

Patrick: This is OK, this is great. I didn't realize this was a benefit at the time, but I went when I first started going– Before the pandemic, there were these protests in the town I live, and they were great. I went to, I think, one or maybe two before I start bringing my own games.

So I think I was lucky that I got to see like I played other people's games and gave them feedback, and I maybe played two or three games in that first night. I think I didn't realize this at the time, but that may be inoculated me. That prevented me from having the same experience you had, where if you go and you playtest someone else if you playtest your own game before you ever playtest someone else's and you see how much feedback you get, you're probably going to be terrified.

Grant: I had never done it before, so it was not anything that I understood.

Patrick: I know, and I think for all the people listening, I think the takeaway is, number one, if you have an experienced game designer, great. Go play a game or go design a game with them. But number two, if you don't, playtest other people's games, so you know how much feedback people get in a typical playtest session, that'll probably make you feel better.

Grant: Just go into it, understanding the process and the patience that it takes. It's going to take you multiple playtest sessions to get there, and that's OK. That's what you would expect. I think I just if maybe I had known that and had the proper expectations ahead of time, I wouldn't have freaked out so much.

I'm like, “OK. This is just one of them, because even those first play test sessions are really just macro ideas. What's working, what's not working for you? Boom. We're going to start narrowing it down.” But even when you get to the, once you've started figuring out the game, you're still doing a lot of playtest sessions just to figure out– Like, you get to 90% fairly quickly.

That last 10 percent takes a while because you are almost just controlling for one variable, and you're like, “OK. We're going to play an entire game of this this way, and then we're going to change this one end game scenario or this one other thing, and we're going to play it a whole way. Which way did you like better?”

Curmudgeon is a party game where you use cards to “throw insults” at each other. When you make a game like this how do you make sure things stay on the rails?

Patrick: I love all this. This is great. So, I was looking at your game, and Curmudgeon is a party game, and I will have a link to it. By the way, listeners, in the show notes. Where it reminds me of a lot of party games where, in this case, you can use cards to throw insults at each other.

The one thing that just popped into my head as I was looking at your game is when you make a game like this, how do you make sure that things stay on the rails? I think I worry about party games going– I think I've played in games where it starts as a game, and the game just falls away, and people are just chatting, and I don't know.

Maybe that's good, but I don't think that's the experience I want. Also, especially with throwing insults, I don't want people to get mad at each other or something. So how do you keep a game on the rails, is my question for you.

Grant: A lot of what it is, is having a structure and a format. The difference between our game and some other party games is we want to put the creativity back in the players hands a bit, when I play some games where it has pre-written jokes on a card, those games are very boring for me because the cards are doing all the work. I have no agency in it.

So with our game, we want it to be like, “OK. Here's some key words. You can make up anything you want around these key words, so you have a lot of creative agency in the game.” And yet, even though we're giving this longer leash to let you do whatever you want, there is still a lot of structure and format to it that keeps it moving forward and particularly keeps it from getting offensive.

That was a thing that really– I am somebody because we're talking about my comedic voice, I want to be silly and smart, and nowhere in there does “Mean” come into anything that I want to do on stage. I don't want to be cruel, and I don't want to be mean. To me, good comedy is punching up to people in power, not punching down. There's a lot of comedians that have jokes about homeless people or something like that, and it's like, “Their life is already hard. Why are you doing that? They don't– What is this accomplishing?”

I hate that sort of stuff, so I didn't want this game to feel like that, but I also love silly things. Insults like the classic “Your mama” insults, where I'm not talking about your mom specifically. I'm talking about just this silly concept of insulting your mamas in general. That's what we wanted this game to feel like, is have this structure, but I'm not insulting you, my good friend.

I'm insulting this life card that is in front of you that the game is telling me to insult. I'm not looking at you and saying, “Your earlobes look like this to me right now as I'm sitting across the table from you,” “No, I'm insulting your earlobes with these key words that I have on cards in my hand. So, it's all formatted.

Hopefully you don't take that personally, because I'm just doing what the cards have told me to do here. I am not actively looking at you and trying to come up with a mean insult.” We try to include silly words and stuff, like some of the insults, the life cards, so everybody's insulting a life card.

Some of those might be “Ear lobe” or “Nose,” but some of them are “Elephant” and “Hamster.” And it's like, “I'm insulting your pet hamster. Hopefully that doesn't feel super offensive to you, where you're like, ‘I don't have a hamster, how dare you?'” That, for me, was how we keep it on the rails, is we provided a decent amount of structure but still allow you to have your own creative agency within the game.

Patrick: I like that. I think it's a fine balance that you have to find, and so it sounds like you've found that.

Grant: We tried to get feedback from people if any cards were too offensive or things like that. I think we had a card that mentioned suicide at one point early on in the stuff, and someone was like, “This just doesn't feel in the same spirit as the other things.” And we were like, “That's a great point. It's gone.” And we took it out.

So we tried to listen to people with their ideas with stuff, and hopefully, everything isn't– It also is in the eye of the beholder because there is a decent amount of leeway in terms of nothing on the cards itself is going to be more than PG 13. There might be a card that references “Flaccid” or something like that, where it's like, “OK. You don't want your 10 year old talking about that, but a teenager already knows what flaccid is.”

It just ends up being as clean or as dirty as the people that are playing it. You can fill in the blanks a lot, and I have played this with my religious family, who I was nervous to play with. They were like, “This is not bad. We thought this was going to be uncomfortable and it wasn't at all.” I've also played with people over beers at a bar at midnight, where it gets incredibly raunchy because that's the people who are playing it.

Patrick: Did you–? So this is all great, and I think maybe something else that I don't think you said directly, but I think I'm inferring is it's– Especially in a game like this, obviously you want to play with lots of different play testers. But I think especially in a game like this, it's probably very like you might play this game 20 times with the same group and then you play one time with a different group, and you probably get different feedback on what jokes are really funny, or what can be included. That's cool to think about.

Grant: It was important to us not only to play with different types of people but also to play it with people we didn't know as well. I think a lot of the playtests anybody is going to do, and you're going to start with your friends because that's who you have access to. That's a totally fine place to start because you're going to start narrowing it down and figuring out what works and doesn't, but I think it is important to open it up eventually to strangers.

Most of the time, your friendly local game store, you can set up playtest sessions there. They're usually pretty welcoming to that sort of stuff, and we went to GenCon in 2019 when conventions still existed. We play tested it in the unpublished hall at GenCon with multiple different groups, and I definitely think in all of the times we've played this game, I've yet to find somebody that felt like they couldn't do it.

A lot of people go, “Boy. I'm not going to be able to make up insults,” but there's enough structure that everybody is able to do it I definitely think the game works better amongst a group of friends that already know each other than it does with a group of complete strangers, because when you're playtesting at something like GenCon, we get four friends that sit down together and from the moment the game starts, they're having a great time.

They're laughing, they're into the spirit. Versus four people who all don't know each other and sit down, and the first half of the game is “This OK? Are you all right with this?” Usually, by the end of it, everybody gets into the spirit of it. If we play a second or third game, I'm sure from the beginning they would be having a great time. But there is that trepidation for the first 15 minutes of like, “I don't know you and I don't want to upset you.”

Patrick: I think group dynamics is something to think about. Like, does your gameplay well with people who are all friends? Does it also play well with people who are brand new and want to just play a game? So, I love that. Let me change gears a little bit, I just want to go back to your delightful one minute game reviews on YouTube.

Grant: Thank you.

You make 1-minute game reviews on YouTube. What have you learned by reviewing games?

Patrick: They're fun. There's a couple of things that separate them, I think they're a little bit fun. They're just fun and funny. But also, they're one minute. I've seen some short game reviews, I've seen very few– They're basically all about one minute. So, what have you learned by reviewing all these games and also making the reviews themselves? What have you learned?

Grant: One is trying to do something different than what already exists in the world; there are so many people who are doing great 10-15 minute in-depth board game reviews. So, I don't want to do that because that's already being done. I wanted to do one, how do I bring my talents into this? I try to be, hopefully, I've spent a lifetime being a comedian, so I'm decently talented at that.

Let me bring comedy into this space of board games, and also, some of it was just thinking about how there are so many people out there that don't know this world of board games. Just like I didn't six years ago, so maybe I can be a place that you watch for entertainment sake and also get some ideas of board games. I want to be like, “If you like this, then you might also like this.” Or “If this is your personality type, here's a game I think would work for you.”

So you're not going to come to me and go, “How do I play Everdale? Let me watch this 90-second game video and I'm going to know how to play it.” No, you're going to come to me and go, “Let me watch five of these. Oh, that game sounded interesting. Let me watch a more in-depth video about that game.” So I want to be a launching pad, into looking more into depth and more into a game that peaks your interest.

Patrick: I dig that. I was thinking like, “Patrick. You should check out Bang the Dice game. Like, “I probably should.” I think your reviews are probably enough to maybe whet the palate, and then if I want, I can go take a fifteen-minute– Except for some of the more complex games, I watch the one hour playthroughs. Those are helpful, but they're just a different thing.

Grant: Totally.

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

Patrick: So, Grant, you've been doing this for a little bit. You went to GenCon, I love hearing that. What was the most helpful resource along your way to helping you become a game designer? What's a resource you'd recommend to another indie game designer?

Grant: I do think the I think the conventions are really important to go to, and that was a thing that I did not realize either coming into this. The first convention I went to was Toy Fair in– I can't remember if it was, I think it was 2017 Toy Fair. The other guy that I was, that I'm designing and that I designed this game with was like, “We should go to one of these conventions and start pitching our game to some places.”

I was like, “What are these conventions?” He was like, “It's a whole thing where you can meet with publishers and stuff.” And I was like, “Is it important?” And he was like, “Yeah. It's a big thing.” And I was like, “OK. Fine, I'll go.” Rolling my eyes a little bit, and then you show up, and you're like, “This is a big thing.” It's not something I realized beforehand. Again, you just– I think that the world of board games is growing a lot, but it's still fairly niche. A lot of people outside of the world don't know about it that much right now, so I didn't know about Origins, which I've been to a couple of times.

I didn't know about GenCon. I didn't know about this stuff, so as a resource if you want to get a publisher attached to your game, there is no better way to do it than to go to these conventions. Publishers are fairly receptive, just figure out your pitch ahead of time and make it no more than ten minutes. Because people just don't have the attention span for that, and you don't have to get completely into the weeds.

You need to let them know why people are enjoying it and the overall view of how to play it, but going to conventions, people are fairly receptive. You can look through the exhibitor list and just start emailing some of these people and trying to set up times for a pitch meeting, and people are very receptive to that. At GenCon 2019 alone, I think we pitched to 30 different companies in three days there.

So I think it's an invaluable resource, and it's the best way to get meetings with publishers. Now it's going to take follow up, you can't just do that and go, “All right. I'll hear from them if they like it,” but it's like, “No. They've met a lot of people and seen a lot of games, so you need to follow up with them.” But you'll never have better access than you will at a convention like that.

Patrick: So, let me ask you a little follow up here. We're in the middle of a pandemic, and right now there's good news about a vaccine, and maybe by April, the general population will be starting to get it, but I think that means we're probably– Like, maybe– I doubt we'll have Origins, which is early summer-like June, and maybe we'll have GenCon, which is–

Grant: Boy.

Patrick: Usually, but I'm skeptical. Because you have to plan that.

Grant: I'm skeptical too.

Patrick: So I'm just saying, I think it's unlikely we'll have conventions this summer. Maybe we will, and maybe we'll have something next December like Pax Unplugged. For someone who's a new indie game designer, would you recommend that they may be hold off? Do your playtesting, but maybe hold off before– Like, if they're such an invaluable resource, would you recommend– I don't mean putting it on hold, but not going all the way?

Grant: I don't– This is the world we're in for the foreseeable future until something changes, and if you are ready to pitch, if you feel like your game is 90% there, then I don't think you should hold off. In fact, you can still use some of the resources– If you are a new designer, you probably don't know all of the publishers that are out there. Yes, you've heard of Breaking Games, or you've heard of a few of these bigger ones, you know [inaudible].

But you might not know how many there are out there, you can look through GenCon 2019's exhibitor list and put together a spreadsheet and research. All of these, put together a spreadsheet of 200 companies and look through them and look at what games they have. That is a big thing that people do not do, is do not scattershot and just throw your game out to everybody because you're wasting people's time. Look through what type of games they want.

Do you have a war game? There are companies that do war games, and the companies that do party games probably aren't going to be that interested. Or, whatever. So I try to look through the catalog of what they have and then send emails and see if they're accepting Zoom pitches and things like that.

Because I know a lot of them are, the world keeps moving forward, and people are still looking for new games. So they're willing to do Zoom pitches and things like that right now. So I think just do your homework and figure out appropriate companies to pitch to and then send emails to 50 companies that you think might be appropriate, and you're probably going to get 20 meetings out of that.

Patrick: I love it. I will say I'm talking with the publisher now, which is someone who I just randomly saw that they were going to a convention. I was going too, and I'm like, “This seems like a neat person.” And I just emailed them, set up a pitch, played the game. Then what's funny is they were basically busy for about a year, and then now we're talking again. But that was just from an email. So, people are surprisingly open.

Grant: I know. It's–

Patrick: Maybe not the top five board game publishers, but most of them are surprisingly open and receptive and want to help you.

Grant: I agree. Because in the end, if you– I think we think of it like, “We need their buy-in.” But also remember they need good games. If you have a good game, that is important. You're not just– Go in with the confidence of knowing that you are bringing something that will help them too, they're not just helping you.

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

Patrick: So, let me ask you this then. What is the best money you've spent as a game designer?

Grant: Going to those conventions, probably. No, the best money– I take that back, the best money that I have spent is buying pizza and drinks for people playtesting. To appreciate my playtesters, that was a thing that we always wanted to do was you have taken two or three hours out of your busy life to come playtest this.

I'm not paying you to do this, I'm not doing this, but I would like to say thank you. So here's a few pizzas and some beers and some sodas. I think, to me, that was important to create a good experience. That was the best money I ever spent on the game.

Patrick: I like that. I think in bigger cities, and when you're not in a pandemic, there's regular monthly board game testing nights or whatever. But if you don't have those, one of the easiest ways to make your own is to invite your friends over and bribe them with pizza and beer.

Grant: Totally.

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

Patrick: I think I'm spoiled, and I forgot that, but you're totally right. That if you have to make your own playtesting night, especially with non-board game designers, then bribing them with pizza and beer is a great investment. Love it. Grant, what does success look like in the board game world to you?

Grant: I think that's different for everybody, and I think that “Don't ever let anybody tell you what success is. You have to define that for yourself.” That's something I've learned very much in the entertainment business, and to me, success in the board game designing world feels like having a game that comes out with my name on it, which is– I'm accomplishing.

Someone gave me some great advice because you can– When you are designing a game, you can either design it yourself, publish it yourself, take it to Kickstarter yourself, all of that stuff. Or you can decide to go with a publisher, and there is no right or wrong answer to either of those. They're just different paths, and someone gave me some great advice when I was struggling to decide, “How did I want to do it?”

The advice they gave was, “Think about the worst case scenario in either of those paths. Which worst case scenario would bother you more?” That gives you your answer of which one you should do, so for instance, if the worst-case scenario is that if I'm self publishing, it and I've done all this work to self publish, the worst-case scenario is nobody ever hears about it.

Nobody ever plays about it, and my Kickstarter fails, and the game never makes it to market. Now, the worst-case scenario in going with a publisher is they change the game to something I don't like or I've signed away a lot of the rights of it, this game gets wildly famous and makes the publisher millions of dollars, and I have only retained a small percentage of that.

But to me, that was a better scenario because if the game gets wildly popular, and that means that now I have a game out there that's wildly popular, and yes, if I didn't get rich off of it, that's a bummer. But the reality is that my goal here was to create something that gives people an enjoyable experience and I can feel proud of pointing to on a shelf, and so if a publisher helps get it out there, even if the game is worth a million dollars and I only made $50,000 of that, that's OK with me.

Because I'm still proud of this thing that I've put out on the shelves and given people great experiences, so that's what success was to me. Creating something that I feel very confident and proud of and like being able to point to my name on it.

Patrick: If I could get a game in Target, boy, that is the next level of success for me.

Grant: Totally.


Patrick: I hear you, getting your name on the box. So I like to end with a game called Overrated/Underrated, have you heard of this?

Grant: I have, yes.

Patrick: Great. So, for the listeners, I'm going to ask you about a word or phrase, I'm going to ask you if it's overrated or underrated– So if I say “Water bottles,” you're going to be like– Or, “Reusable water bottles.” You're going to be like, “They're underrated because they save the environment.” Something like that, cool?

Grant: Yep.

Patrick: App assisted board games, overrated or underrated?

Grant: Overrated. When I play games, I want to get rid of technology. I'm here because I spend all of my days on my phone and my computer and I don't want to do that when I'm playing board games.

Patrick: I hear you. All right, improv. Overrated or underrated?

Grant: Overrated, because I'm a standup. I want to write the jokes and know that they're funny. I don't want to just trust you to come up with something. Give me something you've worked on and thought about.

Patrick: I have a quick follow up here. In various nerd cultures, there's a nerd hierarchy. Like, when I play miniature games, it's like “The smelly Magic players on the other side of the store.” Or when I play these board games, they're like, “We don't play role playing games,” and the role-playing games are like, “At least we don't LARP.” There's weird levels, and I think everything has that. Where does improv fall in the comedy hierarchy? Like, what is it above, and what is it below?

Grant: That's going to be very different whether you're talking to somebody who does improv or somebody who does standup because improvisers are going to say it's the best thing there is because they're in the moment and they're learning to work with other people and all that stuff. Standups are going to tell you that it's the worst one of them all because I want to have a thought and take that thought to fruition.

To me, I go “Standup top, sketch middle, improv bottom.” Because to me, here's two reasons. One, the greatest improv, I will say, is more impressive than the greatest standup. When you are watching the best improvisers, it is so unreal impressive, and funny. But that is not nearly the majority, and not even a plurality of the improv you're going to watch.

I mean, that is 10% of the improv you're going to see. So I don't– I've done improv a bunch, so I don't make fun of it as much as some standups do because I still do think the best improv is more impressive than the best standup. But the other reason why I still put standup above is the worst improv is also so much more painful than the worst standup because all of these people are failing on stage together.

It just makes it so cringey when you're like, “Nobody here? Nobody could save this? There's five of you. Why can't somebody save this God awful scene?” Whereas standup, when standup is bad, it's hard to watch, but at least there are sometimes interesting ideas in there, where you're like, “OK. This person is bad and they don't know how to make this funny, but there is an interesting kernel of an idea in what they are saying.” I find that more enjoyable than just watching cringeworthy improv.

Patrick: I think one other thing there is I've seen bad improv, and I've seen bad standup, and I think bad standup is usually like 10 minutes. It's hard, whereas bad standup might be an hour. It's like, “God. Bad ten minutes. All right, I'm going to go to the bathroom and get a drink and come back and it'll be done.”

So that's a good detour, but what about third-party accessories for games? They can't be made by the original company, but some other company that makes an accessory for a game. Are those overrated or underrated?

Grant: I'm going overrated again, and I feel like I'm a real negative person. Every one of these has been overrated, but to me, I'm also overrated. Look, there are– If you're playing Quacks of [inaudible], look at the point of you want to have some trays for that game. It totally make sense, these are small parts that get all over the place, but most of the time, I'm going to say overrated because quite frankly, I'd rather spend my money on a new game than I would spending it on parts to upgrade a game that I already have.

Like, they made it this way. It's probably fine. Yes, it's not bling-blinged out or whatever, but it's fine. Maybe that is my perception when it comes to everything in my life, where I'm like, “I don't need a fancy car, I need a solid car that works.” To me, the third party accessories feel like a fancy car, and I don't need all that. I'd rather– If I've got $100 dollars to spend, do I want to spend $50 dollars on the game and $50 dollars on upgrading the components to that game, or do I want to buy two $50 dollar games? To me, I want to buy the two games.

Patrick: I hear you. Love it. Last one, we're about a week out. This will probably come out about a week after this event, but Thanksgiving in a pandemic. Woof, overrated or underrated?

Grant: This is my first underrated because, yes, Thanksgiving is not going to look like what we are used to it looking like, and we shouldn't be traveling, we should not be gathering in big groups. I think a lot of people feel like Thanksgiving is canceled, Thanksgiving is over. But I think it's underrated because it can still be a day to give thanks. And that's important to recognize that stuff, it's a day to take stock of “Yeah. 2020 has sucked. It sucked for everybody. But there are still good things in your life that you can recognize, and Thanksgiving is a great excuse to do that.”

Wrap Up

Patrick: Love it, I love hearing that. Grant, thank you so much for being on the show.

Grant: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. This was fun.

Patrick: Where can people find you and your game Curmudgeon online?

Grant: Yeah. So Curmudgeon is at, or you can go straight to the publisher, 25th Century Games. If you go directly through the publisher, you'll get a promo pack that's not in the store version, but it will also be in local game stores and online game markets, Amazon, all that stuff.

It'll be available all over the place, and you can find my short and humorous game videos on my YouTube channel, which is just Then if you want to follow me on Instagram or Twitter or that sort of stuff, I'm @GrantLyon1 because some other jerk took my name first.

Patrick: Grant, thank you so much. I love it. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you heard this. If you leave a review, Grant will maybe give you a personalized joke. Sorry Grant, I normally run these by my guests, and I forgot to ask you before we started recording.

Grant: Sure, I could do that.

Patrick: Great, thanks. Then listeners, so this will be– Boy, this is coming out after my Black Friday sale. So, I think this will be done, and my Black Friday will be done, so we're back to my Patreon. If you would like to support the show, please back me on Patreon.

It pays for hosting, it pays for all the things and makes sure that I can keep making the podcast. With that everyone, I think that's it– Sorry, You can visit the site at, and you can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek, I'm @BFTrick on both platforms. With that, we’re all done. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.