John D'angelo

#157 – John D’Angelo

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 John D'Angelo, who designed Runelords, which is live on Kickstarter right now. It is based on the book series by David Farland and we're going to talk all about it in the show. John, welcome.

John: Hello. How are you? Thanks for having me.


Patrick: I'm pretty jazzed you're here. You and I have emailed back and forth a little bit, but the audience most likely doesn't know you. I'm going to ask you a lightning round introductory session. Ready?

John: All right, hit me.

Patrick: All right. So we're going to be talking about the game Runelords, and in the game Runelords but also in the book series Runelords are these things called endowments, which are basically “I can give you my strength. I'm really weak and you're double strong.” OK, so with that set up for the people who haven't ever read Runelords– I did read the first book in sixth grade.

If you had to get one of these, which one would you get? Brawn, which is physical strength. Grace, which is physical dexterity. Wit, Metabolism, and then there's a whole bunch of other ones that are lesser ones. Glamor, Voice, Stamina, Sight, Hearing, Smell, Touch, Taste, Talent and Will. Which one of those, if you had to get an endowment, would you go for?

John: Without question, it would be Wit.

Patrick: Wit, OK. That's defined here as memory and clearness of thought. So is that for memory or is it just to be funny on podcasts?

John: Yeah, that would definitely help on a podcast. No, I feel like everything that you try to do, if you could have a clear mind to do it, you'd be ahead of the game in every aspect.

Patrick: Makes sense.

John: I think that's the one to go with.

Patrick: Love it.

John: That's the root one.

Patrick: Now the opposite question. Again, in this book series, if you give someone else the endowment you are the vassal. If you had to be a vassal for someone and give them one endowment, which one would you give up?

John: This is a tough one, but I got to go with… Oh, man, let's go with Taste. That's brutal, though.

Patrick: I was thinking that. OK, great. Why?

John: Brutal.

Patrick: Ten options or whatever. Why'd you go with Taste?

John: Honestly, he doesn't really get too much into Taste specifically in the books, although it is something that I feel like the magic system could support, but since it's on this list I went with that. Smell most certainly is, that's pretty close in the books, but I probably went with that because it’s one of the lesser sensories.

It's like, I don't know, can you get by without it? If you give up Brawn you can't move. You're just basically a vegetable. If you give up Grace, same concept. Metabolism, no dice. No. Maybe Glamor, depending how good looking you were to begin with. I don't know. That's a tough one.

Patrick: Here's my other thought. I could give up Smell, because I don't think that's that important, but I worry with smell that then I would stink and I wouldn't know that I stink, whereas with taste there's no– You know what I mean? You're not going to embarrass yourself, really. But with Smell, you might accidentally go, “This shirt probably doesn't smell,” and it does. I think that's the only other thing I'd consider, though.

John: All of them are brutal, man.

Patrick: Yeah. All right. That's a fun– Listeners, just start thinking about if you could give someone a thing or you could receive a thing, like an aspect of something. It's a really cool magic system in the Runelords series.

Let me ask you the last lightning round question here, which is if you're at a con when it's not COVID times, what is a game you'd play with someone every single time? You're tired, you're exhausted, you want to go to bed, but someone's like, “One more game of this,” and you're like, “Ugh. I can't resist.” What is that game?

John: I actually have one that's perfect for that. It's Incan Gold. That's is my go-to quick game that I love to play. It never gets old to me.

Patrick: Thatt's a push your luck game, right?

John: Yes, with all the traps and stuff.

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

Patrick: Yeah, cool. I've heard about it and I think it's been in Ludology and people have done some fun research studies on it, but I haven't actually played it, so I'll have to play it. Great. First real question, how did you get into board games and board game design?

John: I'm going to definitely put this in a nutshell. My background is in music and songwriting and for I'd say about 20 years solid it's pretty much all I did. I wasn't fortunate enough to land the elusive record deal, but I did land the commonly elusive publishing deal with Sony/ATV and I was traveling quite a bit, writing for a lot of different artists. I realized kind of early on that storytelling is my favorite aspect of creativity. My passion has always been film since way back, right? I know this isn't very game related quite yet, but I knew that my endgame was to start a production company and basically learn all of the ins and outs and the nuts and bolts of the process it would take to tell great stories.

That is ultimately what I ended up doing. As I started the production company, I figured I would get my toes wet a little bit with the interactive division of my production company. I got a certification in Unity game design, because I was going to do this initially as a digital board game, and then one thing lead to another. Ultimately, it's just all trying to grow the production company and tell great stories. That's how I got into games and game design, telling stories.

Patrick: I mean, I get all the stories and I guess Unity and the video game aspect, but let me take a step back. How did you even think to make games? I think a lot of people go, “Oh, games are fun,” and you don't realize you can make them. How did you even have the concept of, “Maybe I could be a game designer?”

John: All of my free time, from my touring days to before I even did the whole band thing, everything from 11 years old pretty much on has all been tabletop experiences of some kind. From Dungeons and Dragons, and Vampire: The Masquerade, all the way through. Nonstop, it was just game after game. Then as I got older I realized that a lot of the adults that I was meeting were into games, but they couldn't commit to the tabletop RPG kind of lifestyle. It was more casual.

That's how I started realizing there was all sorts of really great strategic board games. This was early 2000s, where you didn't really have all these really over the top fluffy and flashy kind of games. And then as I started to get into what I had just mentioned a moment ago, I had so many years just comfortable at a table that I felt like, “I know enough about these various mechanics and these various ways of going about setting up times to meet with friends and that kind of thing,” I understood the culture of gaming intimately. I was like, “That's definitely a medium I can tell stories in.” So that was the connection there.

Runelords is based on the book series by David Farland.

How do you go about getting an IP for a book?

Patrick: Cool, I dig it. I want to ask you the quintessential board game question, when you ask a game designer, “Do you start with mechanics first or theme first?” But I'm going to twist it. Runelords is based on this book series. Did you start with the IP of the book or did you start with mechanics and then try to get the IP later?

John: It was start with the game first. I knew that at the time that I was making it, I knew that I wanted to have some kind of “I'm going to crack this nut of how do I get a really good CCG, meta-driven card game to where when you actually play the cards on the table, you're just placing the card and imagining. You actually get to play something and skirmish.” I really wanted to mix those.

Then my entertainment attorney through my music represents David Farland as well, and it was just a serendipitous chord of connection. I was actually at a table having a meeting with him about something music related and he got off the phone with David Farland and when he had said his name he goes, “Oh, I should probably introduce you to this guy. He's a really great fantasy author.” And he said his name and I was like, “I know, the Runelord series?” He's like, “Oh, you've read it?” I was like, “OK, where's this going to take us.” Then fast forward four and a half years, and here we are.

Patrick: What a great serendipitous moment. I think there's so much serendipity of the world and sometimes you just have to seize on whatever serendipity happens to you, and I love that you did that. OK, so let's just say someone introduces me to one of my favorite authors. How do I convince them to make a board game? How did that happen?

John: That is probably the best question when it comes to– Actually, about royalties. People usually talk about “What does it cost?” and that kind of thing, but this is single-handedly the most important question. You need to somehow establish some kind of respect between the person that controls the IP and yourself, and that is not always easy. Ultimately, they've seen deals come their way before and, unfortunately, most of the time it doesn't work out. They get kind of tired of it, right?

He's had a lot of success. He's been through all these different books. When I approached him and said, “Hey, look, this is what I want to do. I'm going to make a game with or without you. No offense, but I love your series.” I had just attained my certification, so I felt like I had something to offer officially on paper. Even though, I will say, that if you don't have a certification or something you can still pursue this 100%. But I was just feeling good at that time.

And then I just sort of sold him kind of slowly as a slow burn. I was like, “All right, well, I'm going to put together some art.” I painted a lot of initial pieces just to show the concept. I put together some basic graphic design, a game that wasn't fully functioning yet. And then ultimately, I wore him down with six or seven phone calls, and he knew I wasn't going away.

And I think there was a little bit of trust because of my attorney situation there, so maybe he kind of maybe didn't put me completely on the front porch. But yeah, and I think that's kind of the– You got to establish a little bit of respect, and that takes time unfortunately. You can't take no for an answer right away because it's not personal.

Patrick: OK, so this is really interesting. Because I'm trying to think, if I find my favorite author or my favorite movie director and I get in touch with them, I think one of the things that's hard in game design is you don't have a lot of calling cards. An author can be like, “I wrote Harry Potter.” Oh, great, I instantly trust you. Whereas, so I designed a game called Fry Thief. 99.99999% of people on earth have never heard of it. So I wonder if–? I think it's hard to prove that you're an expert in game design, even if you are, so I don't know.

John: I agree 100% with that. And I think that also has a lot to do with whether or not the person you're talking to has any sort of connection to gaming at all to begin with.

Patrick: Right.

John: And fortunately, I guess this is a little bit more of that serendipity on the table, but David Farland has written a lot of things outside of the Runelords, Star Wars books, things like that. But he also was a crucial, integral part of developing a lot of what went into StarCraft, right?

Patrick: Oh, I didn't know that.

John: So you had the StarCraft series and the Zerg is pretty much the Reavers from the Runelords. And he was involved–

Patrick: What?

John: Yeah, we're talking the world worm, the whole nine. There's all sorts of connections.

Patrick: What?

John: If you know the Runelords and you know Reavers and you play StarCraft, you'll start to see it really quick. And he was involved with the actual writing process of one of the games and stuff too. So I think he–  And he knew Gary Gygax pretty well.

Patrick: Wow. OK. Got it.

John: He had this connection to tabletop gaming when he was in college, and that kind of thing. And it's really great to listen to him talk about it because even though I'm in a different generation than him, I'm still in a more advanced generation than the current youngest generation in gaming now, right?

Patrick: True.

John: So I'm in the middle, and  when he started talking about games and how he connected to gaming, it spoke to me. I was able to connect with him, I wasn't so far removed from his personal attachment to gaming, you know? If I was nothing but e-sports, for example, I don't think I would have been able to connect with him as well. So there was a connection there.

In terms of royalties are there any rules of thumb? Do you increase your prices to make up for the royalty fees?

Patrick: Yeah. That is very cool. I'm trying to think, if whoever the listener's connecting with one of their favorite authors or directors or whoever, if they're into games, I think you can use articulate language and demonstrate your expertise in game design that way. But if not, that's an uphill battle. This is really cool. Right off the bat, this a super interesting.

OK, let me go into royalties then because at some point one or both of you are going to talk about money. So as the intellectual property holder, you basically want to get paid a little bit for him, for using your intellectual property, and then you as the game designer– Sorry, I should have done a little bit more research here. Are you also the publisher, or are you just the designer?

John: The publisher as well, yes.

Patrick: OK, great. Wow, you're the publisher and the game designer. You want to keep as much of that money in your pocket as possible, so how do you negotiate that?

John: I think I developed this mentality I'm about to speak of through music. So, I digress just for a second. When you get into a writing room and you are writing for your own project, and it's all about the vibe and about your vision and about how you want to be an artist and how you want to take a project in a particular direction. When you're writing for yourself or even somebody that's in your immediate circle, you can get away with having a dog in the race. You can really be attached to where it's going.

The second you start writing for other artists, and you're trying to just start getting your quantity of product up, your portfolio to grow, you're going to start very quickly just understanding that if somebody doesn't like your idea, or if it's not appropriate, you just change it and you just move with it and you go with it. I took that sort of mentality with me into trying to approach for this IP. And this isn't the only IP that I tried, two of the other IPs that I tried to attain aside from that did fail.

So it's not like it was a first time I got lucky thing. When I approached the situation with David, I went into it fully aware that this was not going to be entirely my baby. It just wasn't. There was no way around it. If I wanted it to be mine, I wouldn't be reaching out to someone else for help. You don't get to include other people, but then have it your way as well.

And I think that's the most important thing when you start talking about money, and that's how I'm going to bring it back to this is because when you're discussing money, the only way to have a real, clear– And this is just my opinion on it, the only way to have a real, clear focused understanding of the end goal is if you know your worth and you also know the other person's worth. So how it correlates to us in our situation is I didn't get a full just, “You get to use Runelords, run with it, do whatever you want,” kind of relationship, nor did I deserve that to be honest with you, because of what we just talked about a moment ago, right?

So I ultimately got him excited about the concept of a game because he hasn't had a board game with his title yet, so I have that going for me. But then whenever I make an offer and say, “Look. I want to use it. What do you require? What do I need to do to make this comfortable for you?” I need to know right then that whatever he says back to me, I'm going to have to be OK with. Not to be a wuss and just be a rollover and just take whatever happens, but just understand that you can grow from whatever this is.

It's not going to be ideal for you at the beginning most likely, because if it was it would be entirely your project. So when he came back to me and said, “Yes, you can use it, but you can't use any of the main characters from the books, just make the game take place in my world. I'd be willing to let you give it a shot.” I had to run with that. I didn't walk away from it, and then cross my arms and go like, “Who do you think you are?” I understood where he was coming from.

Also, it was non-exclusive. So if somebody else came by two weeks later and said, “I want to make a board game,” someone else could go off and make a board game about the Runelords at that time. So it was like I knew that I was just going to get in with David Farland. He's a sweet, understanding, well-spoken guy. There's no reason for me to meet somebody that's being that nice with anything too aggressive early on, and that's how I ran with it. All my initial money that I was dumping into it, all went under those pretenses.

That was the rule of the licensing agreement, non-exclusive, can't use his characters. Now, things changed ultimately when he saw I wasn't going away. He saw how much money was getting dumped into it. So things can change along the way too as you develop relationships. He looks back, and now, he very openly wishes he just gave me, before we started investing money in all this art, he would have loved to have had Gaborn and all those characters in the books in the game now, right?

Patrick: Interesting. Yeah.

John: But we always knew that we were going to expand our first expansion into book one, so I was OK with it. That's how we were setting it up.

Patrick: OK, cool.

John: So yeah, so that's kind of the thing. When you talk money, just know what to expect.

Patrick: Yeah. And obviously, this is, I don't want to say it's a one-way relationship, but if someone has to give you permission, even if it's unfair, if you want to work with them– Like I want to make the board game for Harry Potter, if I want to make– Which I'm not, but if I did I’d have to work with the IP holder. And if she says it has to be a board game that has lights and electronics, you know what I mean? Then I have to, that's– I guess that is interesting that it's a relationship where there's lots of “You have to get someone's permission.”

John: You do, yeah. And I feel like it's in the workings of how you take that initial concept. It's what you do with that initial conversation and that initial commitment, it's what you do with that that defines whether or not you're going to grow within that IP and grow as a designer in my opinion, right? My next game can be whatever I want it to be.

When you’re building a game in someone else’s world, do you try to copy the main story? Or do you build something in their world that may not tie into the main story?

Patrick: OK. So this is great. I don't know if you intentionally did this, but you lined up the next question perfectly, which is– I'll make this a little bit more theoretical in a second, but when you're building a game in someone else's world, do you try to copy the main story or do you try to build in their world, but may not tie into the main story?

And I, just from your answer right now, it sounds like he limited you to not using the main characters. But if you had your choice, would you choose to use the main characters right out of the gate? Or would you choose to make your own different version of the story, but in the same world?

And just before you answer, quickly, I asked a similar question in episode 69, which is Helena Hope and Jesse Wright talking about Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time. And it was interesting because that's a specifically made board game about a video game, but none of the exact same video games. It's a different storyline. So anyways, going back to you here, if you had your choice would you choose to use the main storyline or would you choose to do something different?

John: This is an awesome question because of the nature of how Kickstarter works and the fact that we're doing a relaunch. And the reason why this ties in is because when I initially wanted to work on the Runelords, I wanted this to have legacy play. I wanted it to be a campaign that carried over. And when you have that mentality, yes, I felt like I was sort of at a loss by not being able to dive into some of those stories.

But when I realized that I couldn't use those characters and I had to adjust and I got to really dive into Incans and giants and stuff that he doesn't talk about in the books but I know exists. I got multiple conversations with him about “What lives on the other side of the Incan Mountains? What is up there? What do we experience if we go past that ridge?” He never talks about it in the books, but these are the types of things that an IP does. They write another side book, they get a game, they get whatever, and you start to experience everything.

And so I ran with that. I was like, “This is going to be my responsibility. I'm going to talk about nomens–” That's just a thing that he barely mentions in the books. Anyways, so how that correlates is that if I'm working in an environment where I had legacy aspects, then yes, I wanted to have the characters in the books. But because the first campaign didn't work out we needed to bring our funding goal down, I needed to drop some game modes, I needed to take care of and tighten some things up.

This is perfect, actually, because now I get to expand, like I always wanted to, into the book series. But now I get to do it with legacy play and that's going to be way cooler. It's just that you can't promise the world as a first-time publisher, and with the cost of manufacturing the way that they are, you can't just be like, “I'm going to give you 90 game modes and a legacy play too.” So in regards to my immediate situation, it's actually great that I held off and just did the world building instead.

Patrick: Very cool, man. Now this is fascinating. So here's my thing, I guess I would be– OK, I'm going to make the Harry Potter game. If I don't include Harry Potter and Hermione and, oh, God, Ron, Harry Potter fans are going to be very mad at me. If I don't include them, people might be disappointed. But of course if you do include them, the the IP holders are going to be very particular about– I think about when cars are in movies, “You can use this car in this movie, but it can’t have damage on it.” People, they protect their IP and their characters and stuff like that.

John: 100%. Yup.

Patrick: My mind is blown. I'm going to have to go into another question and like loop back to the whole discussion about this, because I also really like the freedom of just creating people in that universe. Here's one more up follow up, and then I'll actually move on to a different topic. Sorry, just– This is fascinating. How are you going to manage potential backers' expectations? Because I imagine some people are going to go, “I read this book.”

Or like myself, I'm like, “I read this book ages ago. There was this cool guy and he fell in love with the princess in the woods, I think. And then there was this really bad guy who had a lot of endowments. I forgot what they're called, but I assume they’re going to be in here.” How do you manage that expectation where people might assume that certain main characters are going to be in your IP?

John: Well, actually we've already hit this, as you can imagine, several times. The first thing is transparency and communication. Never leave one of those questions or comments unaddressed, address it immediately, because that is something that we want to make sure, that expectations are met. Also, it's the fact that we want to explain what it's like for a Runelord to be on the battlefield, and that's what we want people to get from this. When you take an endowment, make combat, how much of an awesome fighter or intimidating presence do you become on the battlefield?

When we sort of gear everything artistically, everything with copy that we write, everything, if it's all focusing on being a Runelord and not a specific Runelord, then I think that just innately sort of makes people that are fans of the books just simply ask, “Well, where's Gaborn?” I'm OK with you asking where's Gaborn, If I can immediately say, “Stay tuned. It's coming soon.” That's a good place to be. But what we don't want to do is be ambiguous and then have people assume things.

Patrick: I like that. I want to have two more things on your game here. Number one is actually just on the campaign. When people relaunch, number one, how do you diagnose what went wrong? And then, what did you change about your game and/or campaign to have a better chance at launching next time?

John: The first thing that we did is we took– First of all, we were doing multiple surveys at all of the conventions. We did a ton of surveys at a ton of conventions and we were gathering as much data as we could, and then after we canceled the Kickstarter campaign the first time around we followed it up and book-ended it with another survey. Then a lot of the survey information was conflicting quite heavily, so what we were being told in person was not what we were getting from the people that actually, when no one was around and they were using their mouse, it was not the same thing.

We knew that we needed to make focused decisions about what we were offering to gamers, but we needed to make that judgment call ourselves based off of the data we had. So that was one thing, that we had to make sure that with minis and that kind of stuff. When it came to game play, though, that was a different story, there was consistencies across the board on all of it. The game plays really easily when you get your hands on it, people are learning the game in minutes and they're up and running.

When you look at it, the older version, you just see all of these components and you see that it's taking up the table, and every single version of the game that we put up on social media, from geek and sundry play through everything, was always three or four players. That's just too much. That's not the way you want to demonstrate a game. Could you imagine Twilight Imperium or something, the only way you ever see it is in full gusto? Nobody would have ever even walked near it.

We just fine tuned everything, we changed, and this is the final thing I'll mention about this real quick. When we first did our first campaign I went over and created a script for our trailer, and I made it very specific of exactly what the game did in a nutshell. And it took a lot of time to get that just right. Then we went off and paid a really great voice actor and then had it all done or whatever.

When we went to this change, I went to my co-designer Sean and I said, “Listen. I don't care what we change in this game as long as everything that we do, this script still works. That's the most important thing. If this script doesn't change, then we're doing a good job.” And that's what we stuck to. And we feel like we were able to really fine tune things that way.

Patrick: Cool. Love it. Was there anything, manufacturing wise or component wise, or on the publisher side of things? Maybe not on the game design side of things, is there anything on the publisher side of things where you're like, “Maybe we don't need this plastic widget anymore?”

John: Yes. We had a really cool thing going on in our first version where you would draw from baggies and get these little tokens, and that was your equipment. It's like, “I'm going to draw from the melee bag.” “I'm going to draw from the ranged bag.” And it was really fun. I missed that tactical experience, but the optics of it was just awful. And then on top of it, you had extra bags, so there's four more bags. Then you had all the individual punches that you had to have. We knocked off probably close to $4-5 per unit just by getting rid of just that section of our game and making them all cards.

So that was a really big, big change that we did. Also, going from poker sized cards to taro sized cards was a change that we made, and since we combined everything into one it forced us– Since we had larger cards to have smaller decks, so it forced us to compact everything and make sure everything plays the same but is a little more compact. That brought our bottom down. Actually, it was several. There was definitely more than a few that affected the manufacturing.

You have multiple game modes. How do you create a game with so many game modes & balance all of them?

Patrick: Cool. Love it. OK. So sorry, we are quickly running out of time, but I still have one more question for your game. So I think the last thing I just want to talk about is, there are multiple game modes and I sort of struggle with this where I think my general preference is to have a game that's good at one thing, and you kind of just ignore the rest, even if there's– We could make a solo mode. And I know you have different modes than that. But maybe, how do you decide to have multiple modes and then also how do you balance all of them?

John: When it came to multiple game modes, we're able to say that we have multiple game modes because when you choose a game mode it really is a different experience. But when you look at the forest for the trees, it's the exact same game. So what would be the different?

It's very much like saying that in Gloomhaven, every adventure, every scenario, is a different game mode. It's kind of like saying that. It's not entirely the same, because win conditions. Capture the flag is clearly different than zone control, right? But you can do capture the flag and zone control in Call of Duty. It's the same game.

Patrick: Sure. OK.

John: So, that's how we handled it. It was same game, core.

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

Patrick: Cool. I got that. Maybe the game modes aren't as different as I thought. Cool. OK, great. So I do have a few minutes just to go into some of the other questions. It sounds like you're very invested in game design, which is awesome. You're very into it, which I like. What is a resource that you would recommend for another indie game designer out there?

John: I would say, this is one of the really good–They changed their name recently, and I want to make sure that I give the right name, but it is a tool that I used. It's a digital whiteboard, and it's the number one tool that I could recommend to anybody that's doing design. It is– Oops. Sorry about this. I can't think of it now, but I don't want to hold up your–

Patrick: Is it Mural?

John: Yep. That's it.

Patrick: Great. Yeah, I just looked for–  I see there's a couple more corporate ones. I'm like, “Nah, he's probably not talking about those.” Yeah, it looks like Mural is the coolest one that looks like a startup. There we go.

John: Yeah, and it's great because you can set up all of your art pages, so you can just keep everything. You can share just the board with just the individual that needs it. And then you could set up all sorts of cool stuff, like mind maps and all sorts of cool stuff. But it's just a really, really great tool. I would say that's the number one design tool that we had. Next to Tabletop Simulator, of course.

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

Patrick: Sure. Yes. Of course, especially in this time. What's the best money that you've spent as a game designer? What's worth every single cent that you've put into it?

John: Every single penny spent on my computer build. I didn't half that. I didn't go into that with–  I went with both feet, because if I'm going to be editing into larger file formats and I'm going to be running Photoshop all the time, and I'm going to be– It was initial investment that I knew was going to pay dividends in the future.

Don't try and muscle it through with weak hardware if you can just invest in that upfront. I think that's a really big, important– That's if you're doing that aspect. Some people just oversee design. They don't make it past index cards. So, I understand that. It depends on your involvement though.

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

Patrick: My wife is just finishing– She just finished rendering her theater company's holiday video thing. And she got it done, what, like four hours before show time. And I'm like, “God, I feel like if she could have had a better computer.” Rendering was, it was rendering for hours and hours and hours. Right? And you're just like, “Oh, God.” Just a better computer would have given us so much more buffer time. It's one of those things you don't think about, but it is definitely annoying.

I don't do game design on Tabletop Simulator because I find it a little too frustrating, but I have been playing this fun miniature game called Marvel Crisis Protocol on it. And just to not have to … When you have a billion models on the table, it just gets laggy. And I know if I had a better computer, I would literally enjoy the game I'm playing more. So I think even if you're doing stuff on TTS, you might want to have at least not a terrible computer just to load everything smoothly and nicely, and host the game, and yeah, have Photoshop open in the background and not crash your computer. Great. Love it. All right. So, what does success in the board game world look like to you?

John: Honestly, the freedom of being able to keep the Runelords self-sufficient, and be able to launch into a new game without having to go to Kickstarter. So actually establishing yourself as a publisher, and then properly reinvesting the money where it's supposed to go, which is in the growth of your company, and not just dumping it all into the next prototype to try and make the next big Kickstarter.

I think being accountable for how you spend your money and how you grow your company is important. Now, sometimes I do feel like some things you're going to try and do, with a ton of minis, for example. Right? That's not something you just manufacturer and go to Amazon with. That's insane.

Kickstarter has its place still, I do believe. But if it's just another version of the exact game you already made and there's no real reason to crowdfund, I feel like you owe it to the community to leave that space open for some up-and-coming people that need it.


Patrick: Got it. Love it. So I like to end my show with a game called Overrated/Underrated. Now I don't think you've heard of this, so I'll quickly explain it to you. I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and then you have to tell me if it's overrated or underrated. So if I said, “Sending packages through the mail,” you're going to be like, “Especially in a pandemic time, completely underrated. We wouldn't be able to get anything done without it.” So your thoughts, overrated or underrated, and then a one-sentence description. Make sense? OK.

John: Yes.

Patrick: So the first one here, solo games. Are they overrated or underrated?

John: Underrated. I think that you need to be able to scratch the itch even when no one is around. I think that's always important. And not the “I'm going to control two characters solo” either. I mean, that's not solo. That's just playing two characters at once.

Patrick: Yep. Cool. Dig it. So, we're recording this about a week before Christmas, just to give the listeners context here. Do you think this going to be overrated or underrated? Christmas in quarantine?

John: It's going to be underrated.

Patrick: OK. Why?

John: I think it's going to be underrated, because I genuinely feel like it takes the pressure off of a lot of the social gatherings you feel obligated to do. It takes the obligatory out of it.

Patrick: Love it. That's so true. I know my wife and I, we did a lot of traveling last year around Christmas. It was fly here. I think fly up here, then rent a car, then drive down, return the car, and then fly down somewhere else, and then fly home. I think it was like six flights just to see everyone on both sides of the family. Right? So, it's really nice.

There's a lot less obligation this year. Love it. So also around the holidays, what about holiday-themed games? It doesn't have to be Christmas. Right? But Thanksgiving, Halloween, April Fool's Day. Sure, whatever. Independence Day. But any sort of holiday-themed game. Overrated or underrated?

John: Overrated, in my opinion. Yeah. I think overrated, simply because personally I don't ever play games specifically because I'm in some sort of a festive mood. I don't need to satisfy that with– I'll just go get some pine cones that smell really good, if that's what I want.

Patrick: Got it. Love it. Fantastic. Boy, I have a one thing here. Let me see if I can come up with something else here on the fly. Nope. Listeners who listen to the show might know that I love my coffee. Now I don't know if you have one of these, but do you have a Keurig machine?

John: Well, I have a Nespresso. Close enough.

Patrick: OK. No, I'll change this then. Espresso. Overrated or underrated?

John: Does it have to be one of those two? Can it be right in the middle? I think it gets the-

Patrick: No. It's the Christmas season, so I'll give you a break.

John: OK. Let's say underrated. Underrated.

Patrick: OK. And why?

John: I think, because it really kind of– Maybe it's my addiction speaking here. I'm just so addicted to coffee, I got to have it twice a day to keep me able to get through all of this. And I feel like a lot of people that don't drink coffee, they're missing out on how productive they can be.

Wrap Up

Patrick: Got it. Love it. Love it. Hey John, this was great.

John: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This was awesome. Thank you very much.

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

John: So everything social media is The Runelords BG, and the website is, and our prelaunch page right now is on Kickstarter. So please, if you're going to do anything to support, please go to our prelaunch page and follow us there on Kickstarter. That would be fantastic.

Patrick: Got it, and yes. This episode, so we're recording a little before Christmas, but it should come out in January when the Kickstarter launches. So if you're listening to this, it should be live right now.

John: Oh yeah, sorry. Live on Kickstarter. Yes.

Patrick: Yeah. Well, there's time travel with podcasts. It's fun. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you leave a review, John said that he would give you the magical endowment of board game design. If it ever is invented, he will give you the medical endowment of board game design.

John: Yes, I will.

Patrick: Great. So I do have a Patreon. If you like this stuff and you want to support the show, I have a Patreon where you can give me a couple bucks. It pays for hosting, and microphones, and stuff like that. You can also visit the site at, and 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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