Jon Vallerand

#139 – Jon Vallerand

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way.

My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'm going to be talking with Jon Vallerand, who designed With A Smile & A Gun, which should be on Kickstarter when this episode airs. He also designed Cartographia, which was supposed to come out at Origins this year, and it was delayed because of coronavirus. We'll talk about that a little bit later.

Right before we get to the show, I normally talk about my Patreon at the end of the show, but I wanted to share a little update in today's episode that two people recently joined. They help me support the show, and I just wanted to say thank you. I'll share a little bit more at the end of the show, but just one more time. I super appreciate it, and it means a lot to me in these crazy times where someone gives you five bucks for the work you put into it. I think it means a little bit more, even now during this coronavirus time, so thank you very much. Now, Jon, welcome to the show.

Jon Vallerand: Hey, thanks for having me.

Introduction

Patrick: Cool. I like to start with a lightning round, so I've got three questions for you, are you ready?

Jon: Yeah.

Patrick: All right. Favorite two-player game of all time.

Jon: There's this little card game called Hanamikoji, which is great and awesome. Yep.

Patrick: I'll get a link to that listeners because it is a great game. I did not play Hanamikoji until someone recommended it to me on this show. Then I played it the next time I was at a board game cafe, and it is delightful. For anyone who hasn't played it, it is really good. OK, what is your favorite pandemic activity?

Jon: In the pandemic, me and my partner are working from home. What we do is every lunchtime, we spend an hour together playing video games while we eat, which is the best hour out of the day these days.

Patrick: Yeah, it's great. Any specific video games?

Jon: Right now, we're playing a game called The Sexy Brutale, which sounds weird when I say it like that. It's like a video game version of Time Stories. It's a murder mystery, there's this hotel, and people get killed, and you try to go back in time in a “Groundhog Day” sort of thing to try and prevent their death.

Patrick: Oh, very cool. I'll have to look into that. Last one, back when conventions are a thing again, what's a game you play with someone every single time at a convention?

Jon: I think every convention I've gone to, I've played a game of Reef since the game came out because it's a game you can show to anyone in five minutes. Any time there's an event, you have to go to, and you want to play something really quick, Reef is my game of choice.

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

Patrick: Great. You know, I haven't played it, but I have seen it laid out at cons, and it looks delightful. I'll have to give that one a go. Let me get into the questions here. How did you get into board games and board game design?

Jon: Back when I was finishing up high school, I was playing a lot of Monopoly with my friends. Every week we'd play like three, four, or five games of Monopoly on Friday nights and through the weekends. Eventually fell on this on this YouTube video from Scott Nicholson, which is called something like “Games to play if you think Monopoly is good,” well, Scott puts it a bit more eloquently than I can.

It's like “If you like this part of Monopoly, try this new game that does it better” and so on. One of the things that he said is, “If you like the event cards in Monopoly, maybe you should try Dominion because that's a great game.” I thought, “That sounds interesting.” I bought Dominion and, after that, went from there to starting to watch The Dice Tower and then buying every game that existed.

Patrick: Very nice. Just curious, what time period was this? Was this right when Dominion came out or was it a few years later?

Jon: It was a bit later. I want to say 2012, 2013, something like that?

Patrick: OK, great. That was a great time for board games, very cool. I totally follow what got you into board games, but what got you into design? What made you go, “Oh, I can make a game.”

Jon: Everything time I fall in love with a hobby, I try to create something from that hobby. When I was reading a lot, I tried writing. When I was reading comics, I tried drawing, which is not something I am good at. With board games, it was something that just happened that I had a friend who was working on a game.

After play testing it a bit, I ended up starting to work on it with him a bit more. Having someone to partner up with and keep each other accountable so that it's not that I'm writing a new first chapter every week, but I'm making progress on something was great, and that game became Cartographia. Since then, now it's not that I like designing is that I can't not design.

How do you make a dice drafting game?

Patrick: I get that. It's hard to turn that part of your brain off. You have an idea, and you want to run with it, and you playtest it. Yeah, I get that. Very cool. I wanted to first talk about the game that's coming up on Kickstarter now, which should be out as we're airing this episode called With A Smile & A Gun.

Then a little bit later, I want to talk about your other game, but let's get into it With A Smile & A Gun first. Now, this is a two-player dice drafting game. I don't think I've talked about dice drafting on the show, so can you tell us, how do you know how do you design a game with that mechanic? What makes that mechanic interesting?

Jon: One of the things I like in games is a game where you have to have a plan, but you have to sort of adapt to what the game and your opponent throw at you. Dice drafting to me is exactly that. You roll your pool of dice, which makes sure that no two rounds are ever going to be the same if you have enough dice. Because the distribution is going to be skewed one way or another.

From then on, it's all about trying to figure out what you want players to do, how you want players to have to adapt their plans to the die roll. It's something is more tactical than strategic, more in the short term than the long term. In With A Smile & A Gun, one thing I wanted to focus on is it's not just about the dice that you want to take and what you need to use for yourself, for your own plan. But also the dice that you want to take away from your opponent. Because it's from that same pool.

Patrick: Awesome. I'm looking at the photos on BGG, and they're great. It's very, Sin City because it's black and white, but there's pops of color everywhere, which I love.

Jon: That's exactly what we were going for.

Patrick: Oh, it's great. Let me go into dice drafting a little bit. I think one of the more famous dice drafting games is probably Sagrada, where you roll all the dice in this big cup, for lack of a better word, then people can pull them out. Is your game like that, where you roll the dice, and you pull them out? You pull out the blue five, and you pull out the red three? Or is it more like you pick dice, and then you continue rolling with them?

Jon: With A Smile & A Gun, you roll the pool of 13 dice, and then you draft them until they're all gone, then you start the next round. I like the idea of dice in a game. I think dice rolling is something that's iconic in board games. But I don't like games where you have to roll to see if you managed to do what you wanted to do. Then you just roll badly and don't do anything on your turn. That rubs me the wrong way.

By rolling all the dice before, you still have those times you desperately need a five, and not a single five shows up. You still have that effect of the tension of “Am I going to roll that the right thing? The thing that I need.” But it's not always life or death, because it's all a game. But it's not as swingy as it could be if you rolled after you decide to do it.

Patrick: Yep, and that brings us to input randomness and output randomness. I love that you're addressing that in your game. One other the thing I've heard from publishers and correct me if I'm wrong, you're publishing this yourself?

Jon: Exactly, yeah.

Patrick: One of the things I've heard from publishers is that if you want to have lots of dice, they're expensive. Was that a consideration. Did you consider adding more dice to the game, or did you make any concessions to the game where you removed dice just because they can be an expensive components under certain circumstances?

Jon: Well, one thing that I did is when I started working on the game, I wasn't planning on self-publishing at all. One of the things I wanted to have, in the beginning, was a custom dice. Everything needs to be different. At the start of the game, you select 13 dice out of the pool of 50, but quickly you realize that's going to be a $200 game.

Patrick: Wow.

Jon: That wouldn't make sense. Custom dice, especially like a small publisher like me, I'm going to be doing a small print run, maybe a thousand games, maybe two thousand. So a mold for dice that is going to be $300, $400. Separate in 1,000 games, that adds up a lot more than if you separate on 30,000. I don't know how many people print 30,000 games these days, but still. So I had to step away from the custom dice into more standard ones. I sort of toyed with the idea of saying, “Every gamer has dice in their house.”

It would make the game a lot cheaper if I just ship the game without dice, but previous experience from other people has shown that's not a smart thing to do. The dice definitely– I was aiming for a price tag along the lines of what Seven Wonders or Patchworks is. But those 13 dice add a lot, even if it's something that everybody has, which is sort of a shame. I mean, I can definitely understand the idea of “I need to have everything I need to play the game in the box.”

Patrick: Let me just ask you this silly question, if custom dice are expensive– Which I've talked to numerous people, and they've said similar things. Have people ever thought about “The one means this, and the two means this, and the three means this. So you don't have to have the cool explosion on the two side, and the two is the explosion. Did you think about anything like that, or make any adjustments for not having to use custom dice in that way?

Jon: The game is sort of like that because you can use the dice to move around the city and also to do your actions. In the end, because I needed the number for the movement, I wanted to also have the icon and the numbers you could use both without having to refer to a sheet. I ended up going with a card saying, “A one is this action, a two and a three are those actions.

In play testing, if it's anything more complex than a list of three or four things, it gets very hard to look at a set of dice and understand what each of those– If you look at the pool of dice, it takes you a second longer to go from “In this pool, there are so many guns, or so many feet” or whatever icon you're looking for and understand what is common and what is rare in a role. That added second means that you don't get the impact of rolling the dice and understanding right away “Oh, there's going to be a lot of blood this game.”

Patrick: Right. Got it. OK. Very cool. I want to do more with dice. So far, my games haven't involved dice. At some point in the future, I'll have to make a game that has cool custom dice, and I'm going to steal all your knowledge, so thank you.

Jon: Awesome.

What are the challenges with designing a two-player game?

Patrick: One other thing that I think is different is this is a two-player game, period. It's not two to three, it's not two to four, two to five. It is a two-player game. Did you run into any challenges making this a two-player game?

Jon: The core idea for the game was for it to be a two-player game. From the get-go, it was meant as a game that could only be played with two, although we added in a solo mode at the end. Two-player games that are what brought me into the hobby because it's easier to get one person to play with than three. One of the things that I like about, about two-player games, is when they can be played both in a mean, cutthroat way.

When I play with my buddies and in a more Zen, relaxing way when I'm playing with my partner at the end of the day. I like games which you can do both, at the same time, with the same game. If I play Patchwork with my partner, we're going to be focusing more on building our own thing. But if I play with my buddies, I'm all about trying to make sure that on your turn, none of the three tiles you can get, can fit anywhere. I think when you're designing a two-player game, you want to be able to have that balance that it can be played at both of those intensity levels. That is something that I think is a bit harder.

Personally, it's easy for me to do something that's mean, that's how my brain works. In a two-player game, a point that you score is a point that I don't score. So if I take an opportunity away from you, it's like if I scored those points myself. So it's easier to get into that meanness. So it's important, I think, to add that extra thing that you can focus on that is less interactive than the parts where you're going at each other head-on. To have those two halves to the game, so that everybody has their thing that they like about the game.

Another thing that I think is important about two-player games especially– So I don't know for you, maybe that's just me, but the two-player games that I love, I tend to play a lot more than the four or five-player games I love. Just because there's more opportunities for them. I think that those games, especially since you often will end up playing them with the same people.

I've played, I don't know, 60 games of Hanamikoji, maybe 40 of them were against my partner. So you need to have something in the game that adds that replayability. Either a variable set up, or some input randomness, or some emergent strategy in there, so that after 40 games, there's still stuff that happens that surprises you about how the game went.

Patrick: Yes. This is a great topic because I've literally been thinking about this just in life. If you want a game that people can play endlessly, for hundreds of hours, then you have to add depth to it. There has to be the opportunity to get better at the game. People have to have the ability to master the game or work towards mastering the game.

I look at maybe even some of the games I've made, and they're simple, and they're easy to get into. But are people going to play hundreds of hours of my game? I don't know. I love that you thought long and hard about that because if you want a game that lasts a long time, where people are playing it constantly, it also has to have depth, in addition to simplicity, which is challenging.

Jon: It's those kinds of game where you play it at a level one experience, which you're like, “You know what? This is nice.” And every game you play– I've started playing Mandala, which is another two-player game. Every game like “Oh, this is what this game is about.”

Every game, I unlock a new level of strategy about it. I go, “Oh, this is a maneuver you can do to try and rush the end of the game or make sure you don't get–” By do that, you gain that mastery. But there's also the old Dominion trick of “If I give you 50 games and every game, you're going to play with ten different ones. No two games are going to be the same just because of that variety.”

Patrick: Totally. Very cool. I will have to go into that deeper because I definitely have some thoughts on how to design a game that way. I don't know how, but I think it's worth a much longer exploration, in terms of that. But it's great, and I love that you think about it. The other thing, this was not a planned question, then we got on this call, and I realized, “Oh, this is cool, I want to talk about it.” You were supposed to have a game come out at Origins, that's your game Cartographia, could you remind me who the publisher is?

Jon: That's Paper Plane Games, which is a relatively new Canadian publisher who just came out with Fairy Trails.

What do you do when a pandemic cancels your game launch?

Patrick: I just wanted to share the publisher here, because there is a similar game on BGG, which is not your game. So look for the one with the publisher he just mentioned. You were supposed to have this game come out at Origins and then, guess what, Covid 19, coronavirus, Origins is canceled. I was just curious when a game launch is canceled because the convention is canceled, what do you do and what even can you do about that?

Jon: Well, since it's a game I'm not publishing, there isn't much for me to do except bother the publisher and try to get more information. In the end, nobody knows what's going to happen in a month or six, so it's been a lot of being patient about it. We had the news that the game would be delayed early on in the pandemic news and all that. Even before Origins was officially cancelled because since we're Canadian, we knew we couldn't go to Origins to push a game there.

So it was “OK then, it's probably not going to be Origins, is it maybe going to be GenCon? Then GenCon fell and all that. Very quickly, the publisher told us, “This is still going to happen. We don't know when.” Basically, they don't want to have to plan something and then have to change those plans when new information comes in, because new information seems to come in every other day now. It's a lot of patience, and there isn't much I can do about that.

Patrick: Oh, totally. I just want to dig in a little bit more, because I totally understand if you're a publisher, and let's say you go to a couple of conventions, and you go to Origins, GenCon, maybe even PAX Unplugged. There's a couple of some of the other PAX conventions. There's a couple places, and I totally get “Hey, Origins is cancelled, let's launch a gen con.” That's a couple months later. Maybe the pandemic will be under control by then, although it doesn't look like that will be the case.

In software, we call it punting. Maybe you punt the release of your game from Origins to GenCon, and then you punt it from GenCon to Pax Unplugged. At a certain point, you just have to release the game. My other question here is because we're obviously talking about this, I think Origins would have been a weekend ago, I forget what it was exactly, but it would have been around this time. Don't they already have the game manufactured and in their warehouse? At that point, is it worth keeping a game in a warehouse for six months or a year instead of just selling it online?

Jon: That's a very good business question that I don't have to answer to. I think the main thing is, especially as a new publisher, I'm a new publisher as well, but this is not a business, this is a hobby for me. If I lose money on my game, I don't care. But for Paper Plane, this is a business that they need to make smart business decisions. As a new publisher, you probably want to do whatever the safest thing is.

Another thing is, which might not have made a difference in their case, I'm kind of speculating here, but one of the things that happened in Canada is our dollar went down 15% in a weekend. I know that changed a few of my plans, so I'm sure it had an impact on that. In that kind of uncertainty, I think you're better off trying to wait until stuff settles down a bit.

What type of games do you like to design?

Patrick: Wow. Crazy times. You, what's great, since it's not your income, for you, you can postpone forever if you have to. It's a hobby, it's nice to make a little bit of money doing it, but you don't have to make it. But for publishers who this is your day job, this is the thing that pays for the roof over your heads, and it's a much different calculation. Very interesting indeed to be recording podcasts during these times. Let me go into the more generic questions here, what type of games do you like to design?

Jon: I have two things that I like to focus on in games. It all comes down to trying to cause big moments. There's this very well-known game, Battlestar Galactica, that I've played once about five years ago. It's still one of my favorite moments in games, even though I didn't like the four-hour game at all. There was this one moment, where somebody just revealed that one card that said “I'm a Cylon” and I didn't see it coming. I still can't get over that fact.

That friend, I can't trust him when we play any other game, just because that moment was so strong. I think those are the points that I try to design to. For me, there are two ways to cause that. One of them is by having those, not necessarily random, but those reveals of information that is either somebody had access that information was hiding it from everyone else, like in Battlestar Galactica, or like in a card game where you just so happen to have the perfect card to get you out of that situation you were in.

Or it could be something like in a worker placement game, where you need that nice spot, but everybody else is going to have a shot at it before you. Then, right before it gets to you, somebody goes and takes it, and then you start screaming at the gods. Or it can be something that is less emotional and more intellectual, in a way. That's maybe a bit snobby to say, but which is now I'm going to mess up that word, but combinatorics, combinations of things.

Rather than choosing between A and B, or C and D, you're choosing between the pair of A and B together and a pair of C and D together. What that does is first, it creates very interesting decisions because, sometimes, like “I really need that one, but the other one doesn't help me so much.” It adds those nuances to those decisions. Also sometimes, you're going to have to say– In Cat Lady, you have to draw a row or column and those are three cards of the time. Sometimes the exact three cards that you need show up in a column.

That is just a perfect moment for you because you've been doing those turns throughout the game, where you get “That one card is helpful, or you know what, those three cards are not so bad.” Then, all of a sudden, those exact three cards that you need are exactly what comes out. Those always end up being memorable, although less so than revealing you're a Cylon.

Patrick: First of all, I just want to say Battlestar Galactica is definitely one of my favorite games. Unlike you, my friend group got into it, and we probably played that game maybe 20 times over a couple years. We've had so many of those amazing moments.

Jon: Were you a fan of the show before you started playing it?

Patrick: Yes. I was absolutely a fan of the show. Just for all of Battlestar Galactica nerds out there, I sort of liked season one. I think I lost a little bit of interest in season two. Then somehow, I maybe watched an episode late in season two and got right back into it. There was a little bit of time where I wasn't into it, and we got right back into it. I will say, knowing the show definitely helps the game.

You don't have to explain what a Cylon is to a fan of the show, whereas I have played the game with friends who haven't seen in a single episode of the show and don't even know the premise. It just takes a little bit more explanation of how everything works. Maybe that's part of the reason I loved it so much. It was a complex game that I understood immediately because of the IP. I think part of that is the hidden role. Do you think hidden role games have a natural advantage in those in those big moments?

Jon: Oh, for sure.

Patrick: Especially Battlestar Galactica because it's a longer one. There's a lot of 10-minute hidden role games, and you play multiple rounds, whereas Battlestar Galactica is a 2-3 hour game, or 2-4 hour, if you haven't read the rules recently.

Jon: I feel like it's a lot of– I think those big moments are the release of tension. A longer game, you have more time to build that tension. So when you release it, it makes for that much bigger moment. I never had that moment when I played a game of Resistance, or any of those smaller, werewolf kind of stuff. But having that more time to build it up and also not only more time but more information that makes it so “Oh, I'm for sure, trusting you in everything we do.”

Then at that release, which is even more surprising, is even more. I think it is the most intense example, in board games, of hidden information. Which is “I'm not working with you.” So I think there aren't a lot of other either card games, or stuff like that, where you can just reveal that one information. It's also not just how critical it is, but how quickly you understand, from the moment the card turns, how quickly your brain goes into “Oh, my God.”

Then goes back into all those moments, everything you missed, all the hints, all the stuff that happened before. Sometimes in games, if I play Star Realms and I take out the game that deals enough damage, free to destroy my thing, I have to math it out. “OK, this one does seven, this one is five, his one is two. That's it. OK, So I lost.” Having that delay means that there isn't this emotional reaction. There's this dice game I love, which is Las Vegas, I don't know if you know Las Vegas.

Patrick: I haven't played.

Jon: In Las Vegas, you roll your dice, and you choose one of the numbers that you roll to send to one of the six majorities, one for each number. You start with 8 dice, and once all your dice are placed, you're out for the round, and you have to place all of the dice of one of the numbers that you roll. Sometimes on your first roll, you roll all eight of the same number like eight fours, and then you have to place those eight fours right there.

It's really quick. Even somebody who's playing for the first time, if they see somebody roll eight numbers of the same number, it's instant. They go, “Oh, my God. What are the odds of this happening? This is changing what this round is going to look like.” You can quickly go from the reveal of the information to understanding its impact.

Do you have a white whale of game design?

Patrick: Cool. I get that. Going back to what you said a minute ago, I like– In a hidden role game, when someone says, “Oh, I'm this.” You're right, and it's one piece of information, it's one sentence, “Surprise, I'm this hidden role.” You instantly go back, and you replay the last hour, or you replay the entire game, and you look for those hints. I think it is part of the fun.

You're like, “If only I noticed, you sent that one scout ship out and blew it up, and I thought it was bad luck, but apparently, you hoped that it happened.” That type of stuff. Very cool. I love hearing that. A little more specifically, do you have a white whale of game design? Something you try to figure out and put in a game, but you haven't quite cracked it yet?

Jon: Yeah. With A Smile & A Gun, early on in its design, I wanted to make a two-player game, and it's first version was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing, where one player was Mr. Hyde, the other one was Dr. Jekyll, so you were using those same dice in different ways. I've been trying to make an asymmetric game forever, and I keep on coming up short. Because in the end, it's like making two different games, and you have many ways to link them together.

That is something I'd like to get back to. Something where we're both playing against each other, and I say both, but it doesn't have to be a two-player game, but we're playing against each other, but we're playing different games which interact in different ways. Which I think doubles the amount of work, but also of the life that the game has for someone.

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

Patrick: Yeah. I love that. I'm a big fan of asymmetric. Asymmetric games probably have that depth thing that we were talking about earlier. Where you can learn one side of the asymmetric game, and then you can learn the other side, so there's a lot more you can explore. It is also very hard to design that game.

I think the hardest part of asymmetry is balancing, there's extra complications. Very cool. I love hearing all this. Let me go to these ending questions here. You have signed a game to a publisher. You are launching your own game on Kickstarter. What's a resource that you recommend to another indie game designer?

Jon: I think the best thing I've ever done as a game designer was to go to either a ProtoSpiel or here in Canada, we have ProtoTO in Toronto. That was the time where I most grew as a designer. There's a networking aspect where you meet people and all that. But also we had to pitch our game to people who were coming around and try to see “What can I say in this pitch that gets you to sit down and try the game out?” You also playtest, of course, which is great.

But you also play test with other designers or other people who are used to play testing a lot of games. So you get that high-quality feedback of– Which is not just “I didn't like this.” but an understanding of what part of the game made you not like this or made it feel this way. Also, then you get to go out and play other people's games and develop your own critical skills and your way to put in words the feelings that you experience in the game, which then you can use on your own designs. Condensing all of this in a weekend, or a four or five day thing is a way to grow quickly.

Patrick: Yeah, totally. OK, great. ProtoSpiels are great. I'm not sure if ProtoTO has the exact same format, I'm pretty sure it's similar, but I totally agree. You know what? I don't enjoy convincing people to play my game, but there is value in doing so because it does teach me what I can say– If I say “It's a two-player trick-taking game,” and no one sits down. Maybe I need to lead with something else about the game. So there is value there.

Jon: I think often we end up practicing our pitch after the game is done. Practice your pitch early. You know exactly what attracts people and then what you have to design towards.

Patrick: Yep, totally agree.

Jon: If the part that grabs our attention is, for example, cooperative trick-taking game. “How do cooperative trick to games work?” I can just aim in that direction. Rather than focusing on– Some games attract because two weird mechanisms– Knowing what exactly is the draw of your game, then you keep that as your target.

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

Patrick: Yeah. All right. What's the best money you've spent? What something that's worth every single cent you've put into it?

Jon: I want to divide that answer into two things. If you have a good amount of money, you want to drop on something, the best money I've invested in my game design career, if you want to call it that, is buying Photoshop. I used to try and get around with PowerPoint and Gimp and Paint and stuff like that. The amount of time I've saved using Photoshop instead of all of these things is something.

But you know, that's what, $14 a month, I think. So it gets pretty pricey. If you want to get into something a bit cheaper, if you're just starting out, a circular punch and label paper allows you to make some– Don't look professional, but they feel better to play when you, print out the label, then cut it and paste it on a poker chip that you buy at Wal-Mart or something like that. Then if you're just pass out a piece of paper and stuff like that.

What’s the best way to market your game?

Patrick: Great. I love hearing all these. There's one more question I forgot to ask earlier. You have this Kickstarter that you're preparing for right now, at a launch a couple of weeks, and this episode will launch in a couple weeks with it. What is the best way to market your game?

Jon: I'm not sure I know what the best way is. I know the way I'm doing it. I think the way I'm trying to go at it is not as much “market it” as try to build a community around it. The difference being, I'm not trying to push and sell people onto the idea. I'm trying to get people interested in the project by making them participate and making talk about it.

One of the things I do is on Twitter, and I do a lot of polls about stuff like, naming the characters in the games or naming different parts of the game, because in the end I don't– It's not that I don't care, but I'm not as invested in the names of different characters as I am in what they do in the game. That part I wouldn't leave up to the public, but by starting a thread where I ask people, “What does, should this assassin be called?” Then people start to participate in that, and it makes them feel like they took a part of the project.

Also, it makes them share it because they want other people to participate. Then you have a lot of people talking about your game all of a sudden. Nobody feels like you're selling them because everybody is participating in this thing. You're also getting free help. Getting people involved in the development, in the naming, “Which of those two images do you prefer?” I did this thing recently where I asked, “Does this image look better with the gray hat, or the blue hat, or the purple hat. Something as stupid as that, which I don't care if the hat his blue or purple, but it gets people to talk about the game and stuff like that. Another thing that I did is, so normally I'd be at a convention demoing the game, but that can't happen these days.

So I did tabletop simulator and a Tabletopia version of the games. I thought during the campaign, and people are going to be able to try them out. One of the things I wanted to do is to give people a sense of urgency, because when I see a campaign that says you can try it on Tabletopia, I think “You know what, I'll figure it out at some point.” Then by the time I figure it out, and I try to find people to play it with me, I forget. Then the campaign is over.

So one of the things that I did is I'm organizing table to Tabletopia tournament. We get people, we pair them up, people play games, and then at the end, we have finals, stuff like that. Whoever wins, it is going to get a copy of the game. It gives people a reason to go there at that time that we set. Also, we're going to pair them up with an opponent, so they don't have to wait until one of their friends is free to try it out. I don't know yet how well that's going to do. That's the idea I had for marketing in a Covid world.

Patrick: That's great. I totally agree. I had a lot of good responses when I launched my game on Kickstarter. “Hey, what should I do with this? Do we want to have a background or not?” I got lots of good responses, and I loved that. I did reach out to people ahead of time. Let me just ask you one more follow up there. I think part of this is, “Where do you find a community? Do you do it on Twitter? Do you do it on Facebook groups? Do you do it on BGG? Do you do it on Reddit?” How do you find people to engage with this stuff?

Jon: I'm not very savvy about the different social medias. I do it on Twitter because that's where I found it easiest for people to jump into your conversation, which is exactly what I want to do in those situations. I also post stuff on Facebook, and then people who participate are people who already know about the game. Who are already part of the group, so that's not as helpful. Looking back, I would have probably gone on BGG to try and get more of a buzz out there.

I think BGG is the first place where a lot of new designers, who have just designed the next best thing since Monopoly go. So it lacks a lot of filtering, which I mean, it is what it is, there are definitely some good sides to that because you don't need to have a beginning of a following to start to get one. But as soon as you reach a small critical mass, participating into other people's content on Twitter, it quickly grows exponentially when people start participating in that. So that's my social media of choice.

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

Patrick: Awesome. Great. So last real question is, what does success in the boardgame world look like?

Jon: Like I said earlier, I am not doing this as a business. I'm doing this as a hobby. I think one of the things that I told myself early on is, “I'd rather one of my games be somebody's favorite game than to be able to do this professionally.” I'd rather have a game that is somebody's favorite and to know that it made a real impact on that person than to have a game that sells 10,000 and everybody rates it a seven and a half, or an eight.

And everybody likes and “Sure, let's play that.” I'd rather have someone who's passionate about it, even if it's just one person. Although I rather have more than one. I prefer doing stuff that is more niche, more appealing to a certain kind of people. But for those kind of people to like it. So that is sort of my answer.

Overrated/Underrated

Patrick: I totally get that. I would love for someone to have one of my games be their favorite. Absolutely. All right. Last set of questions. Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard the show before? Are you familiar with this game?

Jon: Not the recent ones, I don't remember that.

Patrick: OK, great. I'll give a recap. I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and then you have to say if it is overrated or underrated. If I said peanut butter and jelly, you would say, “Underrated, and it is the best sandwich of all time.” Someone like that. Got it?

Jon: Yeah, sure.

Patrick: OK. So I just want to go with games with animals. Like dogs and cats and horses and cows and simple animals. Games with animals, overrated or underrated?

Jon: I'm going to say overrated. I feel like there's a lot of them these days, where the animals are anthropomorphized like the Everdels and the Roots, it doesn't do it for me.

Patrick: Got it. Perfect. How about online conferences, if you've been to any, overrated or underrated?

Jon: That's a good question. I'm going to say underrated. I think that there's a lot of good things. I have ADHD, and I think there's a big part of conferences that scare me off because I know that if I go to a conference, I'll end up fidgeting, and I'm going to distract people by how I act. But now that it's online, I don't have to put a camera on. I can just do stuff, roll dice, or cut cards and stuff like that. It helps me focus on what's going on, so underrated. Also, you don't have to wear pants.

Patrick: Yeah. Great. How about this one, games you can only play once, overrated or underrated?

Jon: Like a legacy game?

Patrick: Your choice, legacy games but also like escape room games, or stuff like that.

Jon: I'm going to divide that in two. I'm going to say stuff that you physically destroy so that it can't be played again by anyone, that I think is overrated. I'd rather those not exist in these days of environmentally sensitive state. I'm going to say underrated, too, stuff that you could then give out to a friend like the unlocks and stuff like that. Because I'd rather have a game that gives me one really solid experience than a game that I could play 20 times and sort of like.

Patrick: Awesome. Perfect. Lastly, Fourth of July, which we're recording just before, overrated or underrated?

Jon: I'm a Canadian, so I have no idea how rated Fourth of July is, so I'm going to say overrated because I don't care about it.

Wrap Up

Patrick: Great. For a Canadian, that is a great answer. I love it. Jon, thank you so much for being on the show.

Jon: Well, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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

Jon: I run a game design blog at subsurfacegames.ca, I'm on Twitter @jvdesignsgames. If you're interested about the game, you can go to withasmileandagun.com. By the time this airs, it's going to be a link to the Kickstarter campaign.

Patrick: Awesome. Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Jon will help you design a two-player game during the next pandemic, in case there is one. If you want to help me keep the lights on, Patreon is the way to do that.

As I said earlier, two people recently joined my Patreon, and it feels so good that people are helping me pay for hosting costs and stuff like that. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, 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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