Joe Slack

#147 – Joe Slack

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone, and welcome to 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 Joe Slack, who designed Relics of Rajavihara. Joe, welcome to the show.

Joe Slack: Hey, Patrick, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.


Patrick: All right. Yeah, I'm super excited. I saw your game on Kickstarter. This was just a couple of weeks ago. It actually just funded on Kickstarter. So we're going to talk about your game a little bit. But before we talk about your game, I want to introduce you to the audience. So I got some lightning round questions for you. Are you ready?

Joe: Sure. Let's do this.

Patrick: All right. You're archetypical, ancient, forgotten Temple. What trapper puzzle could you actually solve and not get crushed to death or die or get stuck inside forever?

Joe: Well, if it's anything from maybe one of the Indiana Jones movies that I already know, hopefully I remember. But other than that, hopefully, if it's a logic based puzzle where you have to do things in a sequential order, figure out a pattern, hopefully I'd be able to figure out something like that.

Patrick: Sweet, all right. Logic puzzles. Yeah, I would like to imagine I could outrun the boulder, but I'm not sure, you know what I mean? Depends on how much gear I have on me. There's a lot of variables.

Joe: Absolutely.

Patrick: Yeah. All right. Relics of Rajavihara is very much a puzzle game. So what is your favorite puzzle game that's not your own?

Joe: I grew up playing all sorts of different logic puzzles and things like that, the kind of things you'd see in school and in books and things like that. Sudoku, that type of thing. But also in terms of games, I find a lot of games do have a puzzley kind of component to it, whether it's Santorini, trying to kind of figure things out with that, playing chess with my son, playing games like Patchwork and Barren Park, where you're trying to piece things together and figure out puzzles, that kind of thing. I just love any sorts of games with some kind of puzzle element to them.

Patrick: Cool. OK, What's a game you play with someone every single time at a convention? Back in the time when there were conventions.

Joe: Back when we were actually able to meet in person. I'd say, there's lots of games that I love that I would play just about any time, games like Azul and Barron Park or Century Spice Road, games like that. More than that, I would even say prototypes. Whenever I go to conventions, I always try to find the other designers and just love playing each other's prototypes, getting feedback and making our games better.

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

Patrick: Cool. Got it. Love it. First real question is, how did you get into board games and board game design.

Joe: Well, like most people, I grew up playing a lot of the old classics,  Monopoly, Risk, Clue games like that when I was a kid. Loved them at the time and as I grew older, started getting into other games, was playing party games with friends. It was actually my wife that got me into a more modern board games. She started watching Tabletop with Wil Wheaton, that a friend recommended, and she was learning about all these cool games.

Then one day she comes to me, she's like “Here's a list of all these games that we need to buy.” So we went to the local game store and we picked up about five new games. We got– Hopefully I remember them all, Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Tsuro, Zombie Dice. I think there's one other one that I can't remember, Munchkin, I think it was the other one. Started playing them and started to fall in love, especially with Pandemic. I was just like “Wow, you can play a cooperative game with all these different aspects going on.” I just fell head over heels with with board games and started buying up different games and trying different games. Then it was really when I was playing actually Cards Against Humanity with some of my friends.

We played it the first couple of times. It was really fun the first couple of times, a lot of laughter. A lot of you like touchey moments, that kind of thing. After playing a couple of times like “OK, there's that same card again. Oh, no, we're just going to the judges.” Second, I think there was no real creativity or replay ability in the game. That's where I kind of thought “I could come up with my own game that has a little more than this.” So I came up with my own game called Cunning Linguistics that allowed you to use your own cards with words and come up with your own answer.

So it'd be different every time, you're using their own creativity. That was kind of the starting point. Then I just thought about other games that I liked, games from childhood, converting an old card game we used to play as a family into a dice game and just started building on that with just more and more ideas kept coming to me and I just kept creating more and more varieties of games.

Patrick: That's fantastic. I love Tabletop with Wil Wheaton, right, that's the name of the show?

Joe: Absolutely, yeah.

Patrick: I've only seen a couple episodes, but it's great. One of the things– Hopefully not hearing my dog bark in the background. I am super impressed that you went out and got four or five games all at one time. I think for me I'm such like “I will buy one game and I want to make sure that this is a good purchase.” I'll play it once or twice and then we'll play more games. But I think it's really cool that you went out and bought four or five games all at once.

Joe: Yeah, and I normally wouldn't do that. I mean, I'm normally the type of person that wants to try before I buy. So I'll try a game, whether at a convention or my wife and I were out at a board game cafe on a date night, or something like that, and we'd try to game and we really love it. We're like “Yeah, this is something we would play a lot.” Then we go and buy it. There's those odd times. I knew she was really into these particular games. Just by watching, she knew that these would be the kind of games we'd really, really enjoy. So I said “OK, let's let's take a chance. Let's go out. Hopefully, you know, this pays off.” And haven't looked back since.

Patrick: Yeah, that's great. Is your wife, your primary play tester?

Joe: I would say she's probably my chief play tester, at least for the early versions of games, just to try out the concept and see if it works before– Between that and just trying it out myself, just to see if the concepts work, working out the little early tweaks and then start taking it out to game design events and conventions and that type of thing.

Your game Relics of Rajavihara is a puzzle game with many levels. How do you design a game with so many levels? How do you playtest each level?

Patrick: Yeah, wow. I really want to talk about your game, Relics of Rajavihara. Let me just try to paint a picture in this audio format for the listeners. The best way I would describe your game is it's a game all about pushing and pulling and jumping on top of boxes or giant cubes. You're trying to get a gem in some sort of corner of the map. You have to push a box here and then push a box there. Then pull it over here and then jump on this one, so you can jump on this one.

You can push the box down over here. Then you can get the gem and you win that level. It's that type of puzzle game and it very much reminds me of puzzles from some of the Zelda games. Trying to paint the picture just so people know what we're talking about. The first thing I want to talk about is your game seems to have so many levels. I think the way you describe them is there's level one and then there's ten scenarios in level one.

I think you've level two, ten scenarios in level two. Level three, ten scenarios in level three, something like that. Let's say you do make a puzzle game. Do you create ten, scenarios? Do you create a hundred scenarios? Do you create a thousand scenarios? Then also, how do you play test all these? Also how do you create them all? I'm sure I could create one and then go “Oh, I made a great game.” And not realize I have to make another fifty. How do you even think about making scenarios for a puzzley game?

Joe: It is very much like the Zelda-style, pushing blocks around and trying to solve the puzzle to open up something to move on. I got the inspiration from a number of different NES-style games that I used to play when I was a kid and still play sometimes today, like Adventures of Lolo, Kitco Cubicle and especially one that I really love called Fire and Ice, it's an amazing game. Also some mobile games and that type of thing that have puzzles in them.

When I started creating the idea, I thought “I haven't really seen a game like this done in a physical format. I'd love to see a 3D tactile game where you're pushing around those blocks and trying to solve these levels.” I haven't really seen that done before. That's how the initiative started. I just trialled around the concept. Started with the basic creates. They just move one block at a time, but they can get stuck against walls and that kind of thing. “How could I create a level where I'm trying to do something, I'm trying to accomplish something, and I have to move things around and trying to figure out how they all work.” The physics of the blocks and that kind of thing.

As I was working on it, I realized, well, I need to have more variety in this. I can't just have these crates, I need to add more things. As I was creating more and more things, it came together. The idea that each world, or each floor could have their own kind of theme, a new introduction. I've played Pandemic Legacy, for example and I love the aspect that you beat a level and then you open a box, or you tear open a sleeve, or something like that. I really wanted to incorporate things like that, campaign or legacy style. It just made sense to make the first set of levels, all one floor. I came up with, you know, level 1-1, 1-2, all the way to 1-10. Kept that video game aspect, kind of like Mario Brothers.

You get to the final level in the world, or on the floor and you have to face off against your nemesis. But then they escape and then you have to continue. That was really the impetus to do that, was to create– I felt like 10 levels felt natural, like there was a progression. The first couple are kind of tutorial, here is how you work. Then they get harder and harder and harder. Then you face your nemesis and you're like “OK, now move on, open a new box.” Now you've got boulders, for example, and they act differently and you go through a series of 10 levels and that kind of thing. I eventually came up with 50 levels for the game. I had more than that in total, but some had to be trimmed back, some couldn't be used, either they were either too easy, or I needed more blocks, that type of thing.

When you're making a puzzley kind of game like this, one thing you have to keep in mind is that you want people to get enough value from it. I mean, if you just create one or two or three puzzles, they're going to play through those. They're going to be like “I spent $20 or $30 on this, is that it?” I know there's the escape rooms in a box, that type of thing. They're relatively cheap. You can usually pick them up for $10 to $15 and play them for an hour and have fun with your friends. But I want it to be a longer experience.

To have these levels so there would be a progression, there would be enough content to keep people busy for hours and hours and they might play a few levels, leave it set up, come back to it if they're stuck, or finish a floor and then say “OK, I'm going to come back to this another day.” So they can kind of do it in segments, because it's a real brain burner to sit down and try to go through all 50 levels in one shot. The other thing that I really give advice on, with something that's a puzzley game like this, I didn't want somebody to play the game through the 50 levels and be like “OK, that was fun.”

Now it's going to sit on the shelf and then never play it again, or maybe pull it off the shelf six months or a year later saying “I forget what those puzzles were like.” Try it again. I want it to have a natural replayability. What I tried to add, and it took multiple tries to get this right, but to add a solo adventure aspect, so that once you beat the campaign, then you can go back and play some of these levels again. But they're going to be different every time.

You're going to draw a number of challenge cards, it's going to say “OK, set the level as normal, but now suddenly there's an enemy here, you have defeat the enemy. And there's a trap door in this other spot and you have to try to uncover it. And there's all these fires you have to uncover. Suddenly you have all these new challenges, new obstacles. And the levels are nothing like before. I've had beta testers play these and say “Wow, I kind of remember how to beat this level and now with these new challenges, all those rules do not apply anymore.” I try another set up and it's again something completely different.

So it's really trying to find a variability in it. It's really hard with a puzzle game, because you have to make sure that there is a solution. You have to test and test and test and try these different combinations and make sure that you're not going to get to a point where this is unsolvable. I definitely did encounter that in a couple of cases where I had to tweak the levels and change them so that there would be solvable.

Patrick: Huh. So many really cool things I want to dig into. Just because we're sort of talking about– I like that you said you made basically fifty levels. Is there a guideline of how long a puzzle game should be, in your mind? Do you have “It should take at least two hours–” For me, to get my money's worth. I want people to spend at least three hours on this. Or is it thirty hours, or one hundred hours, or is there is there a guideline for you? Is the total time spent playing the game not that important?

Joe: Yeah, it's a really tough thing to answer and to get right. You just want the person to feel like they've had the experience that they wanted to get out of the game. It's hard to say “Should it be an hour, should it be two hours, should it be five hours?” The other thing is, every player is different. I've had some people whip through early versions of it in under two hours. Since then, I've changed it and made some of the puzzles more complicated and that type of thing and it's become harder.

But I've had other people play it and it's taken them six hours, or more to complete. Sometimes an individual level, somebody will complete it in a matter of minutes, whereas another person, they were like “It took me an hour to figure out this one level itself, but I didn't give up.” The feeling that you get after you finally accomplish that level, after you finally finish it and you're like “Oh, I finally solved it.” It's more the feeling that I'm going for than time, but I do want somebody to feel like they got enough out of it.

If I compare it to an Escape Room in a Box game, ten to fifteen minutes and you play it for an hour. You might be able to give it to somebody else to play, but you're never going to be able to do that again. At least with this game, you might be able to come back at a later time and play again. I definitely want, for that value, there to be at least a few hours of gameplay. Plus, like I said, the solo campaigns, the play afterwards that are always going to be different. There's literally thousands of different combinations you can do.

One other thing that I did was a bit of a variant was I made a way that you could build your own puzzles and then try to solve them. So you have to be able to set up in a way that is solvable. So it's really challenging and it's a real brain burner. I originally had that as the after campaign version, but found that it was different enough and so challenging compared to the regular game that I want it to be more of a variant for somebody who really, really wanted to take on that kind of a challenge.

Patrick: Yeah. The other thing I wanted to go into is when I made one of my games and released it, I think I played over one hundred play tests of my game. Just me personally, either playing myself or watching. When you do a puzzle game like this, how many times do you have to play test each level? Do you have to play test each level at least two times, ten times? I imagine that's really tricky to get someone to play through every single level.

Joe: Yeah, definitely. Being a solo game, it's easier to find a single person that's willing to play the game, at least part of it, as opposed to a big party game that you need five or ten people and you test at all different player counts. There's the ease in that, in finding one person who's interested, who likes logic puzzles, who likes puzzley games, who likes adventure games, that kind of thing. That part's not so hard. I wouldn't say necessarily got into the hundreds of play tests for each particular level.

What I tried to do, for my process, was create the level and then, on my own, tried to test it in different ways, tried to see if there was an easier solution than I originally anticipated. Just try it in different ways and then if I found something, it was like “OK, I anticipated you have to do 30 different steps to do this. Meanwhile, you can justdo this back door entrance to do this in a few steps. I tried to do that initially myself, to make sure that they were fairly tight and there wasn't any easy solution and that there was a possible solution.

I spent a lot of time on that first and then had my wife try it, had some friends try it, and then had various other play testers. I gave out copies to a bunch of people that I knew that were in the game design world that like this type of game, who volunteered to play the whole game from start to finish, take notes, track their times on each level, so that I knew that they were generally progressively harder and harder.

Take notes, let me know if there's any levels they couldn't finish at all, or any ones that were just too easy, they found an easy solution. Then I'd go back and tweak them and get them to play test them again. It was dozens and dozens of people, at various ways. Also in Tabletop Simulator, I had people try individual levels as well.

Relics is a puzzle game and I don’t think they typically do well. Why did yours do so well?

Patrick: Oh, nice. Cool to hear that. It's nice to hear when someone is using Tabletop Simulator in a very productive and useful way. That's awesome. We talked about play testing and designing levels and all the scenarios. The other thing is, I have a general, not concern, but I guess I've seen that puzzle games haven't always done well on Kickstarter.

I think maybe some of that has to do with replayability. I'm not entirely sure, but yours did very well. I think you raised something like $60,000 Canadian, which is $40,00 US, or something like that. What do you have to do to make a puzzle game appealing? What do you have to do to make sure that people actually can see what is awesome about your puzzle game on Kickstarter, so they actually back it?

Joe: One thing you just mentioned there was the replayable aspect. You don't want somebody to play your game once and be done with it. I mean, unless it's a big, huge, long campaign that they put in 50, 100 hours, or whatever the case may be. You want them to be able to come back for more. There's different ways you can do that. One way is to add extra levels. One of the things that I did as stretch goals was every couple of thousand, I was introducing a new level.

It was already a pretested level, but I included them as stretch goals. In the deluxe version, I included an extra 20 levels that were standalone. You can do things like that where you add more content. Definitely this game is ripe for expansions and I've got all sorts of different ideas for new block types I can introduce, new different puzzles. As I was designing the game too, and some of the beta testers commented on this was, I was getting better and better at creating compelling puzzles.

Some of those levels that went up has stretch goals, or as deluxe goals are going to be more challenging. They're going to take more time than some of the ones in the campaign. So it just adds to the value, adds to that replayability, or at least extra content. You can do so by adding more content, adding more things, adding more expansions. But also, like I suggested, having a way that people can either create their own puzzles, in a way, or perhaps some kind of replayable version, like I did with my game, where you set up with all new challenges and there's these different combinations.

The challenge with that is you have to do a lot of play testing, a lot of testing to make sure these different combinations work well together and that kind of thing, because with a puzzle, like I said, you have to make sure that there is a solution because somebody is going to get really frustrated if they play it and play and play it and they're like “I just can't figure out a solution at all and nobody else can.” And also not to be too easy. It has to have that level of difficulty where somebody finishes and they feel like they've accomplished something, they feel really smart. If you can add some layer of replayability to it, or at the very least, just a lot of content that's going to keep people coming back and coming back.

You can do that through releasing expansions that people can buy. You can do that by releasing print and play versions, or levels that people can look at online. That free content, I mean, if you're already creating them, there's nothing wrong in providing some free content, just to say “Thanks, you backed this. I want to give you a little bit back more.” Those are just a few of the ways you can kind of go about that.

I hear you’re working something called the Board Game Design Virtual Summit. What’s the most compelling thing you’ve learned so far?

Patrick: Awesome, I love it. Changing gears a little bit, we got on the call and we chatted for a few minutes before we started recording. You mentioned that you were working on something called The Board Game Design Virtual Summit, which is, I think, from the title, a virtual summit that people can check out. Can you remind me of the date, first of all?

Joe: Sure. It's it's happening between September 14th and the 20th.

Patrick: Awesome. September 14th and 20th. I will add a link in the show notes. No, you said it's a little long, so I'll have a link on the show notes. Go ahead and check out the show notes and I'll make sure to include a link there. The question I have for you is, just give us a teaser. What is the most compelling thing you've learned so far as you've been prepping for this event?

Joe: Sure. Maybe just as a little preface. It's going to be a seven day event. The first six days, there's going to be approximately three interviews posted every day released. You can listen to them from the comfort of your home. It's going to have some of the top experts in industry. We've got people like Gabe Barrett and Jamey Stegmaier, Elizabeth Hargrave, Kurt Coverts. I've got representatives from the manufacturing side, the retail side, people who are experts in Kickstarter, game design, all sorts of different things.

It's going to cover all sorts of different topics. It's kind of a final day with a little bit of Q&A with me and some of the panel members as well. You're asking about one of the big things that I learned, or big discoveries. All of the interviews that I've done so far have been fantastic. I've pulled something from them that I haven't learned. I think all the listeners will get something new from each of these different speakers. One of the talks I really enjoyed, and I always love hearing Jamey Stegmaier. I bet people here have probably heard him many times on different podcasts. I wanted to talk to him specifically about aspects of entrepreneurship.

Going a little more behind the scenes about how he transitioned from Kickstarter, to just direct to retail and challenges that he faced, trying to get his his games into retail and into the distribution model and that type of thing. I learned a lot from him about how he went about launching this as a solo preneur, doing this all by himself, and at what points he decided that he needed a little more help, when he wanted to go hire a creative director, social media director.

He was talking about he's going to be hiring a third employee and that type of thing. More talking about the things that he did as a solo preneur and what he also needed to outsource, things like accounting and graphic design. Things like understanding what you're really good at and what you're passionate about and what you bring to the table and what you should really hire other people to do, that they're really good at, that they're really passionate about. There are some really key learnings there that I think a lot of people are really going to enjoy if they ever think about running their own business, running their own Kickstarter, starting off as a publisher.

Patrick: I love this. I've actually thought about doing a little virtual summit and before life got a little bit busier, I was definitely going to do one this fall. I think it's great that you're doing it. I think there's a need in the the community. I know there's a virtual summit online conference fatigue, from some people, but also some people are sitting at home bored and they want inspiration. They want new challenges. So I appreciate you doing this. So thanks for that. I'm excited. I'll check it out.

Joe: Thanks.

Patrick: Yes. Listeners, we're recording this near the end of August, so I will make sure to get this episode uploaded and stuff in time so that everyone can listen to the episode and bookmark your– One more time, The Board Game Design Virtual Summit, there we go.

Joe: Thanks so much.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a new game design?

Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. Let's go into just a couple other things, while we still have time. What sort of research do you like to do as you're as you're coming up, a new game ideas?

Joe: Well, I'd say at first I just really test a concept. I might have an idea for– Like Relics, it was a little bit of a puzzley game and I wanted to push around blocks and try to solve puzzles, that kind of thing. For other games, it's really “I have an idea. I have a vision for what a player experience is going to be.” I may have an idea of the theme and the mechanics and just put it together. It's usually a little further. It depends on the game, of course. Quite often, it's I may not have a very solid theme, right off the bat. For Relics, I didn't have a theme at all. It was “OK, let's just come up this abstract idea.”

Then it was, maybe you're a knight and you've been trapped by a wizard in this puzzle and he said “I'm going to give you one chance to get it, if you can solve my puzzles.” Then I really engaged with the community and had some ideas, polled what the theme could be. So I polled in some solo gaming groups, because that was very relevant to them, being solo gamers. I asked them “What are you interested? Would you like an Indiana Jones adventure theme? Would you want more like a pixellated eight bit theme? Would you like wizards and knights and things like that and a few different ideas.” Overwhelmingly, the Indiana Jones adventure type theme won out, so I did a little more research onto what the temple would look like.

What are some different artifacts and ruins and things like that, that could be in there, that kind of thing. It depends on the stage of the game. I have other ideas for other games. I work on some classroom-style games, as well. For those, I would very much do a lot more research. For instance, I have an idea that I'm working on, very much behind the scenes, about a game talking about the early explorers and how they engaged with the First Nations people, the natives of Canada, in trading and living, that kind of thing.

That very much requires a lot of research to understand where the trading posts were, what the trades actually were, how much did a musket cost, that kind of thing. Understanding the communities. For something like that, I really want to engage with the indigenous community and hopefully even partner with them in a way, so that I can fully understand what they would want to see out of this game and portray and understand to make sure that I'm reflecting it accurately.

Patrick: I love it. I do like what you said about testing a concept first. It's like “Does the core of this thing work?” Then go do more research and make sure that it's all accurate. You do have to make sure the core of the game works first.

Joe: Yeah, because you can definitely spend a lot of time thinking about things and doing some research into this and getting some art and getting all these different styles and everything. Then you try the game and it just completely falls apart and it's not fun and you decide “I'm going to put this on the shelf.” Then you just spent hours or days working on something that doesn't even work. I always like to trial the concept first, before I get too deep into any research.

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

Patrick: Yeah, I love it. What's a resource, by resource, I mean something that's relatively easy to find, book, podcast, excluding this one, website, something like that. What's a resource you'd recommend to another indie game designer, or aspiring game designer?

Joe: Well, I guess it would depend what they want to do. If they want to just create a game for fun, if they're looking to pitch their game to publishers, or run their own Kickstarter and fulfill that. I think if you're going for the latter of those, which is becoming a publisher, self publishing, looking into Kickstarter, the best resources out there are Jamey Stegmaier's Kickstarter Lessons blog and his Crowdfunder guide book, as well as James Matthies blog. I mean, he has a great blog on Kickstarter, courting publishers and distribution, all those different types of things. I think those are a couple of really key resources that any game designer should really look into.

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

Patrick: Love it. Yep, totally agree. Those are all great resources. What's the best money that you've spent as a game designer? What's something that's worth every single cent you've put into it?

Joe: I like to think I've hopefully invested fairly well in the tools that I've got and that type of thing. Probably the the best tool that I've got is a guillotine cutter. It's an exacto cutter. It's saved me a ton of time. I mean, any time I am cutting up cards, boards, anything at all, it's just a life saver. I mean, it saves you so much time and all the hand cramps for trying to do everything from scissors, but it's just so much more smooth.

Also on the digital side, another tool that I've used that I definitely have gotten a lot out of is Tabletop Simulator. Some people say good things and bad things about digital play testing, and it's not quite the same. I agree, it's not the same. It's more clunky. It takes a lot more time. But during times like this, when you can't get together with your normal gaming groups and other game designers and go to conventions, I mean, we need to keep moving forward with our games in some way, even if it's not perfect.

I think Tabletop Simulator, for the small investment that was, I've definitely got my money's worth out of that and more, by being able to play test other people's games, getting my game up there, demoing Relics of Rajavihara at some virtual conventions, in advance of the Kickstarter and just generally play testing games and continuing to engage with the community.

Patrick: Great to hear. I'm glad you're getting stuff out of Tabletop simulator. I started using it for playing a game, which I'll probably have to have an episode on this game, in a couple of weeks. I started playing this game and what's cool about it is, I can still play the game. I don't have to leave my house, I can still play the game. But I realized that a typical game is an 1:15 and on tabletop simulator, it's probably 2 hours.

To click and pick up this thing and then move it here and then grab this tool. Anyways, it's a little putsy. I'm so thankful for tabletop simulator and I also am like– I'm thankful that things exist, but it's frustrating that things that I used to love that would take an hour now, take closer to two hours. Do you do you have that problem with Tabletop Simulator? Do things just take longer?

Joe: Yeah. I mean, generally I see the same kind of thing. It usually takes 50 to 100% longer to play a game. It just depends on the game, there are some games that port over very well. I've done some that are more simultaneous selection and writing down that worked very quickly and didn't add that much more time, I could still play in the 20 to 30 minutes or so. But other games don't do so well. Definitely some games that I found don't do so well that I've play tested of other people's, are ones that require a lot of negotiation and discussion of multiple people at the same time.

It just gets convoluted and you can't hear each other. You don't know who's talking, that type of thing. Those kind of fall flat. Dexterity games, they're not going to feel quite the same. But as long as you have a game that doesn't have too much information on the table, that's the other thing. If there's a lot to look at all at once, it can take a lot of time to navigate and magnify and look at different cards and options.

But the simpler it is, I think the easier it is to port it over to Tabeltop Simulator. But you have to definitely allocate more time for both the playtest or playing of the game, and also for getting feedback too. I think you need a little extra time for that too.

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

Patrick: Love it. So, what does success the board game world look like to you?

Joe: Success is always different to every person, some people measure that more monetarily or through titles and that type of thing. But I think as long as I'm still having fun enjoying what I'm doing, I continue to want to help others share my insights, continue to write blogs and answer people's questions and make games and just generally enjoy it.

I think I'm having success, because when I left my day job and I started doing this full time, that's when I said one of the big things was I want to enjoy what I'm doing every day. And I think that if I continue to enjoy board games, designing board games and the whole community, I think that for me that's the measure of success. For me, my happiness is my measure of success.


Patrick: Love it. That's really cool to hear. I like to end with a game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard it? Heard about it?

Joe: Yes, for sure.

Patrick: Great. I'm going to give you– So, for people who haven't heard it I'm going to give you a word or phrase and you have to say if it's overrated or underrated, and then give me a one-sentence explanation why. For this first one, I'm going to go with all of the Zelda franchise of games. Are those overrated or are they underrated?

Joe: There's no in-between here? I've got to say one or the other?

Patrick: Yeah. I'm going to make you pick one.

Joe: Man. OK– Man.

Patrick: See, that's what makes this game fun. Is I force you into saying if they're too good or too bad.

Joe: I've only really hunkered down and played the ones on NES, the originals, and I've seen other people play the other ones. I know they're fairly highly rated, so this is really hard. But I'm going to say underrated. I think they are a great series of games and they've lasted– This franchise has lasted since the 80s, so I think they're just a great series.

Patrick: Underrated, got it. OK, how about the Indiana Jones movies. Overrated or underrated?

Joe: Early ones, underrated. Later ones, overrated. I love the first few. The last one that came out, I would say it was overrated. In general, underrated. Great series.

Patrick: Fair. I think I know the answer to this one, but Tabletop Simulator. Overrated or underrated?

Joe: Underrated in some ways, some people love it and some people hate it, but for the value and for $20 bucks or so– I mean, the sales that they have at 50% off all the time, at least as cheap as $10 or $11 bucks, I'd have to say underrated.

Patrick: Perfect. Last one, I'm going to go with we're approaching the season of fall. Overrated or underrated?

Joe: The season of fall?

Patrick: Yep.

Joe: Underrated, it's fantastic. All the leaves falling and everything, it's a beautiful sight.

Wrap Up

Patrick: Awesome. Joe, thank you so much for being on the show.

Joe: Thanks, Patrick, for having me. It was a lot of fun.

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

Joe: If you're looking for a board game design resources and things that I've posted, things about my blog and books and courses and everything, you can check out And if you're interested in checking out my games, like Relics of Rajavihara, etc. You can check out my website that's dedicated to my games, which is

Patrick: Awesome. Listeners, if you liked this podcast please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Joe will be your phone a friend in case you get caught in an ancient temple. You can give him a call, he'll help you out.

Then if you like his podcast and you want to support it and if you want more people to hear it and for me to keep making episodes, just forever, making episodes forever and ever and ever, I have a Patreon. If you chip in $5 bucks it would make a big deal so I can keep the lights on and keep the website up and podcast hosting, and all that stuff. You can visit the site at, you can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek, I am @BFTrick on both platforms. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

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