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'll be talking with Jonathan Weaver, who is working on a number of games.
Now normally, if you listen to the show, you know that I talk with game designers who have published at least one game. That's typically who I try to interview, but I think it's healthy from time to time to get out of your comfort zone and to talk to new people. In this case, I'm excited to chat with Jonathan because he's on the road to publishing his first game, but he hasn't gotten there yet. For all of you who are listening who haven't published your first game, I wanted to bring someone in who is where you are at. So Jonathan, welcome to the show.
Jonathan: Hey Patrick. Thanks a ton for having me.
Patrick: I met you in real life, and we've chatted online and on Twitter and in other places, but the audience hasn't, so I'm going to introduce you with a lightning round question. All right?
Jonathan: Sounds great.
Patrick: All right. Favorite TV show of all time?
Jonathan: Doctor Who.
Patrick: OK. Is this any of the reboots, or some of the older ones?
Jonathan: Me and my wife got on board at the reboot of the seasons that had Christopher Eccleston and then moved to David Tennant and Matt Smith. But we then did watch a few of the older Doctor Who that was available. It's harder to find the old ‘Who, so we watched what we could. But it's our favorite by far, even with the newest season ending just last Sunday. We watch every episode.
Patrick: Very cool. All right, so let's say you have to go out and buy something boring like tape or cereal or, I don't know, cleaning supplies. Are you a Wal-Mart person, a Target person, or an Amazon person?
Jonathan: I can't be a Target person, there's no target in my town. So it shows how small my town is. I'm usually a Wal-Mart person because it's just on the way home, and I can hit it and get the thing the day of because usually if it's something boring, it means that we need that day and that's why we didn't have it ahead of time. Whereas Amazon, I have to wait two days.
Patrick: Perfect. All right, and then when you're at a convention, what is something you play–? What is a game you play with someone basically no matter what, because it's your favorite game ever?
Jonathan: I always could play Smash Up at any convention. I just really love the fun of the simplicity of getting to play one each of two types of cards, but it feels like you've got this epic thing that no one else has. But there's not all these crazy rules that are like, “You have to learn how to perfectly play your asymmetric powers.”
Patrick: Smash Up is one of those games I haven't played. I know it's maybe a modern classic, which is maybe the best way to put it, but I still haven't played it, so it's on my list.
Jonathan: It also had so many things come out after it, it's like that zone where a TV show comes out, and if there's too many episodes, you don't even start it. I think some people have acted that way with Smash Up too.
How did you get into board games and board game design?
Patrick: I get it. All right, so first real question. How did you get into board games and board game design?
Jonathan: Good question. Board games have been a part of my life from a pretty young age, off and on, I would say. I'm a military kid, and my closest people in my life are my family because we moved so much, and me and my sister played a lot of board games at times. But most of the time I found myself actually creating games with things we owned, and specifically, that came to life when– I don't know if you remember back in the day there was a miniatures game called Mage Knight, it was fantasy-style miniatures and we never really went all hardcore with it or anything or went to our game shops and had tournaments.
We just made our own map of the world and kept up with populations of the different people as we would battle one side versus the other, losing territories back and forth and everything. It was funny, me and my youngest sister did this. That was a zone where I was like, “Gaming is so fun.” Because it let me have my imaginative world that I could be in, and then Lord of the Rings Risk was the first game of the trilogy edition, it was the first game that I was like, “I could play this more than once. I want to play this all weekend.”
That was a big one, and then it went quiet for a while until I hit the usual Catan zone right after college, and I was like, “This is neat. A lot of people can play this, and it doesn't take all day.” So I got back into board games then and around the same time that Tabletop: The Show came out, and a lot of the other things that many other people on the show have said before.
So I got into board games then, and I started a board game community night in Birmingham, Alabama every other Friday, and I found out that “Oh my gosh, there are so many single graduated individuals that don't have a community that want to do stuff.” So they would come and play board games with us, and it went from 8 people to 30 people in two months. That was wild, and that was cool because then we had this huge community around board gaming and card gaming and all these other things.
Board game design did not come around until about 2015. I work in college ministry, and that means there's one month out of the year that it's not absolutely crazy, and it's basically July and August zone. It's not quite all of August because of school starting back, but I had this zone where I was like “I don't have a ton to do right this minute besides plan on next semester, and I need something for my mind.”
I had been playing board games long enough that I have those in my head, so I made a game called Crusades: The Game of Conquest and Influence. It was this big expensive map game about semi co-op. I love semi co-op games, so I'm trying to make it semi co-op and then also have an AI of the Islamic forces.
Then I realized, “This is pretty one-sided here.” Anyway, it ultimately has been put in a box, and I'll play revisit it one day with a different set of eyes, but that was when I became a game designer. When I was like, “Whoa. I can do this.” I love crafting and drawing and all those things, so I got on Microsoft Word and started making player boards and chits and the board itself, and all that stuff.
Patrick: It's cool that you remember your first game design from scratch, but it's funny to me because, for me, game design starts when you first start modifying games. So as you said with Mage Knight if you made basically a world and a campaign system or you could even say it was a legacy system. Like, people die and can't come back. That, to me, is probably when you started game design, but it's also cool to think about your first game from scratch because that is a different milestone.
Jonathan: That's a really good point. I have referenced both either Crusades or the Lego card game, which does not exist, but it existed for me and my sister. That was a fun moment on Twitter. I used the Lego cards that I'd found in an old memory box as the backs of cards of games I'm making now, and it was cool because I literally had crafted Lego cards out of poster board. I made 67 with my hands. Cut them all out with a pair of scissors, drew them, and colored them.
Patrick: Too much work.
Jonathan: I made the art, as well as the box with the text. Anyway, Lego card game is technically the first time that I've ever made a game from scratch. It got played once, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, that's terrible.” But it was more the fun of making it.
What have you done to grow the game design community?
Patrick: That's cool. I know we met at a GenCon at an event The Game Crafter put on, which was great. GenCon is the pinnacle, the Mecca game event in the US. One of the things I wanted to chat to you about is because you live in a smaller town, and it sounds like you don't have a big game design community.
By the way, I think this is lots of people. I think lots and lots of people– I'm very fortunate to live in a bigger city that has a monthly meetup where we get to play test games, but if you don't live in a big city that already has something like this going how have you tried to grow your game design community?
Jonathan: That's a great question. I have always been an initiator because, being a military kid, you get used to starting things sometimes just to get people to be able to meet with them and stuff. When I came to Rome, Georgia, which is my little town, it's a town the size of– I think it's like 30,000 maybe in the city limits.
So it's pretty small, [inaudible] and bustling downtown and some stuff like that, but then as I got here I had the benefit of starting that Birmingham Board Game Community where I got to play board games with people and then there was tons of them all of a sudden. I realized that gaming was this activity where you don't have to worry about, “What are people thinking about me?” Like how social settings are, where “What part of myself do I reveal?” And some of the social anxiety that comes with that.
Then there's how everyone, literally, that I know hates small talk, but we all have to do it. So there's this element of board games as this focus, so then when I began designing games, I was like, “I want people to realize that they are a part of this.” So I started reaching out to just people in my community. One of the ways that you do that is I am literally constantly barraged with recommendation requests, which is great because 1) I love doing that. There's nothing– I'm not saying that like “Man, I wish they'd stop.” I love it.
So I become a game guru or something like that, because I nerd out about researching all day. So they'll be like, “I want to do this with this person.” And I'll be like, “What do they like?” And then they're like, “They like this game.” And I'm like, “Cool. Try these three games,” or I might own a game and let them borrow it. Then they love that, so when you start doing that, then when you ask them to come and play test this game that might flop in the first two rounds, they know that you're for them.
You're for their experience, instead of when you ask them to play test something that flops in the first two rounds and being like, “I'm so glad this guy wasted my time.” I think that's one of things that I love doing, just being for people and finding gaming experiences that they enjoy first, and then after that, I was able to invite them in. People want to get behind a project, that's why Kickstarter still exists and is bustling.
Everybody wants to be like, “I did that, and I was a part of that.” I think that was what I realized, “If they can be a part of these game designs that I thought were my own project, but are a way for them to feel very much a part of something, then I love that for them. I think that's how I've done a lot of the growing of the game design community here.
Patrick: You're helping other people, right? So when they ask you for a game recommendation or just probably any life recommendation, you're helping them out and using your knowledge. Then when they want to– When you want to do a game design meet up, then they are more– You've already helped them with so many things that they're probably very happy to help you, is what I'm getting there.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, I have definitely asked people that I've never recommended anything to that I don't know super well, and it's amazing how just in the request, they feel honored to be a part of the inside crew.
Jonathan: Someone told me one time they were like, “Thanks so much for letting me play test your game.” I was like, “Dude. That's what I'm supposed to say to you.” He was like, “I've just never gotten to be a part of a project like this.” I was like, “What?” So there's an element where sometimes maybe what we think is, “Gosh. That person is burdened with time,” or “Why would they want to do this when they could do so many other things that they would enjoy?” And yet they're asking, “Can I live for something a little bit bigger than what I know?” Maybe your game design is all that it takes to be like, “That was amazing that I got to be a part of that.”
Patrick: That is a very cool perspective. I'm going to write that down and probably try to highlight it in the transcripts, but “Thanks for letting me play test your game.” Because it is like, I'm trying to think, if a friend of mine is making a cookbook and they're like “Patrick, try this brownie recipe.” Like, “Hell yeah, I'm going to try a brownie recipe.” Very likely, it's going to be good, and maybe I can provide some feedback, but also it's also a cool experience, and if they ever do publish that brownie recipe, I'm going to feel like I contributed.
That's a cool way of looking at it. Because I know for game designers, we think– Or at least I think we tend to think, “I have to play test this game at least 100 times before it goes to public before I publish it. I don't want to–” I feel like a burden asking everyone all the time, but if you're asking people just once or twice, then it's probably a privilege.
Jonathan: The thing is, if you do take feedback like you said, you would say, “Here's some thoughts on the brownie recipe.” You're thinking, “How cool is it that I will see that one day in a cookbook somewhere and say, ‘I gave some feedback on that,'” that's what they think too, so even the people that I ask 5-6-7-8-10-12 times to play test the same game, they know their feedback is being utilized. They're excited to see the project that they've given feedback to actually make it and not just end up in my closet forever.
How many games are you working on and how long have you been working on them?
Patrick: Right. That's cool to hear, so I'm glad you're rocking that. Let me move on to– I think the thing I'm most excited to chat with you about is I want to know how many games you are working on and how long you've been working on them, and maybe how you feel about working on them that long. Try to fill in some of those gaps, how many games are you working on, and how long have you been working on them?
Jonathan: My Trello says that I have three in pitchable state. I have about two in convention-level play testing, and then I have about– Gosh, it could be 5-6 to be honest, in the friends and family local play testing mode. So that puts me at 10 designs, somewhere in there. But the element of “What do I put my most of my time into, and how long have I been doing it?”
The ones that are in pitchable place, Genghis Rising Khan I started developing hardcore in 2018, it was the year of Genghis in some ways. I've been putting a lot of my time and effort into that and pitching that, so that one has been in development probably about, I would say, a year to two years. Probably on the two year spectrum when I think of it's more in the tweak zone, or the development zone was one whole year of that.
Chaos Ruins is a game that I've submitted to a bunch of contests, and it's a spinning dials wizard game about pattern building. That game's been– 2019 was the year of Chaos Ruins. In the midst of those two years, I developed a game called Aces in Places, which was an 18 card game contest submission for the GenCant 2018 design contest. Then I've developed it in the gaps between because these other two games are slightly bigger, and so you just need that break. You're like, “I can't think by Genghis anymore. I can't think about Chaos Ruins anymore.”
You just develop a little bit into one of those smaller games [inaudible]. The problems are more clear, or they're not more clear on how to solve them, but they're more clear on like, “OK. If I do this, I'm not going to wreck these other three systems on accident.” It was fun to have that game just to move towards at times when I got burned out on the other ones.
So yeah, I would say that Aces in Places was a design contest submission in August 2018, and I have probably given, I want to say, nine months to maybe a year. Not obviously in consecutive order, but I've had it obviously since August 2018, and it's gone in and out of my development house.
You’ve been pitching for 2 years. What have you learned about pitching?
Patrick: For several of these, we are recording in early 2020, for several of these, you've been working on them for two years or more. How do you feel about that? Because for me, I think I sometimes get impatient and if I start a project, I want to finish it. That maybe is bad for game design, maybe that's a bad trait to have. But I'm just– Do you feel fine working on the same games for two years?
Jonathan: Here's the thing. That's what is so hard for me, is that when I think of Genghis and it's 2020, it was worked on heavily for 2018 and was pitched in 2018 waiting on feedback while I still developed it in 2018. Got feedback, “We're going to pass on that,” then pitched again in early 2019, got feedback, and tweaked it.
It's this zone of it's in a finished in my perspective spot, but I'm asking a publisher, “Do you want this game?” And then they might say, “Here's some feedback on that.” That's when I take that feedback, and I go, “OK, what can I change it with? How do I develop this into a better product?” So when I say I try to think in line of “What's in my development? What's hitting my table, my play test table weekly, if I can?” That's the game that's technically in uber development mode.
Jonathan: These other games are ones that I'm bringing in at times to just tweak this or that based on pitchability, based on product feedback, that kind of thing. I feel OK with it because what it means is I can still pitch Genghis Rising Khan right now to any publisher, and I'm glad to say, “It's pretty done. I've done as much as I can with it. It's a smooth game, and it flows well. It may not be the fit for your lineup, that's up to y'all,” but I think I'm also willing to change some things. If you're saying, “This is where our catalog is, can you do that?” And I'd be like, “OK.” And I work on that.
Patrick: I think what I'm hearing is you– I don't even want to say “Put it on the backburner,” but let's stick with– Let me try a food analogy here. For you, Genghis Rising Khan is 95% done. You know there's five percent left, but you're just waiting to hear back from the right publisher or hear just the right piece of feedback to tweak it. But you're basically just trying to sell it.
Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. I think that one of the things I've tried to latch on to is that there's such a thing as overproducing in the designer studio. I could overproduce it, and now it's basically a game that I thought was completely done, which would be for my publishing house. But somebody else is going to look at and be like, “We're publishing these kinds of games, and this game doesn't quite fit.” When if I left that 5-10% malleable, then I can tell them, “What do you want? What would be a specific bent of this game?”
Patrick: Along those lines, I pitched Fry Thief to publishers before I self-published it. I heard from some publishers, and they said someone gave me some feedback that was like, “Because you already have the art done, we think you'll be too set in your ways, and you won't listen to feedback. So it's not a good fit for us.” Then a different publisher, I think it was even that same weekend at that same con, was like, “You don't have enough done, come back when you have more.”
I felt like it was lose-lose. So let me ask you, where is that stopping point? Do you have a logo of the game or something like that? It's not a final logo, but a logo on sell sheet? How much artwork and finishing touches do you have for these games?
Jonathan: With me not having Kickstarter on my table, like I don't have that as an option for me right now. I am pushing the game to where it embodies what I set out for it as my game design goal, and it does that game design goal well. A lot of times, that's an emotion I'm looking for with the players or the experience at the table, or maybe even just to do the mechanism just right.
I try to head towards that, and as soon as I'm getting close to that, I do try to develop some– Maybe like what you're saying artistic or aesthetic style, but I never spend money on it. I try to make that to where it helps the game thematically, and it helps the game aesthetically, but when I feel like it's ready, it's when it hits that goal for me, and I say “OK, now I can put some time into making it look nice and then put a sell sheet out there.”
Jonathan: So when I say those three are pitchable, it means that all three of them– They're in various states of art or aesthetics are sell sheet ready. They all have a sell sheet. I can throw them at publishers and say, “These are what I got.”
Patrick: Cool. So, let me move on to publishing then. Not publishing, sorry. Pitching. You've been pitching for over two years, like what–? This is something I don't think I do very well, so please selfishly give me good advice here. What have you learned about pitching and how to pitch and what you need to bring with the pitch, and how prepared you need to be for the pitch, and just everything about pitching? What have you learned so far?
Jonathan: I'm going to tell you something I feel like I have not heard elsewhere that I have experienced in my own. I have a wife and three kids, I work in college ministry, and I have a very small budget. So I go to– Last year I pushed it and went to three cons total that had publishers at them. That was Proto ATL Origins, and I somehow swung to going to GenCon for a day, which is where I met you.
Cons used to be the in my head, “That's the only way, that's the only way I'm going to get these things out of my closet and into the real world.” I have found that that is good, but electronic submissions with the right tendencies and you doing your research has almost about the same return on investment. I have had Genghis Rising Khan in two publishers' possession for a stint of months being play tested and feedback given. One of those was a Proto ATL publisher, and the other one was a total online submission mid-February last year.
I think there's a sense where I've also had 7-10 emails with publishers that are curious about a game, and they're not asking for the prototype yet, but they're like, “I'd love to see it played online.” Or, “These are some thoughts we had on the game,” or they've printed the game out and played it and said, “This is my feedback.” I think though you may send a bunch of emails that have complete silence, there's still a pretty decent chance in my experience with having a publisher potentially want your game, or at least play test your game.
From online and electronic, so that's one of the things I don't hear very often. I think everybody is like, “If you can't get in front of a publisher, good luck.” Which I get. It's better to be face to face, when is it not? But I think that I would say, “If you're out there and you don't have any money, and you're in a small town, and you have a job and life responsibilities, but you have a game that feels like it's good and you're in a place where you're like “I think that a publisher could publish this.”
Go in and use the compendium from Cardboard Edison, find which publishers want your stuff, send them an e-mail, and tell them, “I looked at your thing. Here's the three things that I think really would line up with how your game requests are like this is a family game with this element, and it plays in this amount of time. I think that would look good in your house.”
Patrick: I think I totally agree, I don't think it's talked about enough that you can submit games virtually digitally. A friend of mine here in Denver had his first game signed that way, and I think he did technically meet them months later at GenCon, but that was happenstance. I think the game was already signed by the time he met them. I'm going to wait, once his game comes out I'm going to have him on the show. But there are other people like that, you're right, and I think it is an under-told story. It's good to hear that you are getting people to look at your game just from those online pitches.
Jonathan: The other thing is, this is where I would say that I'm still learning, I am attempting not to take “No's” to heart. It's hard to put yourself out there and do all the research and send the game design, and then have someone say, “I'm going to pass on it.” They're not even required to give you a reason, because probably the reason is super complicated. But at the same time, I have found that one of the things that helps me is to ask the question, “What about this game doesn't work for you?”
It's been really helpful because what that lets me think about is my game is not a game to them, and it's a potential product. I'm going to shout out to Gabe on Board Game Design Lab because he talks about this all the time, but he's just like “OK. I am designing. I'm in the weeds, and I'm in the gears, I'm in everything. I'm rarely looking at my game as if I was a random passerby in Barnes and Noble looking at the shelf, so what does it look like to you? Do you get that vision?”
A publisher has that perspective, so I listen to their feedback and go, “Do I want my game to go that direction to be a better product, or do I not? Do I think that it is a good product, and I'm just looking for the right home for it?” Trying not to take the “No's” to heart is tough, it's tough work. I'm not going to lie. It's been hard.
Do you have a white whale of game design?
Patrick: Yes. Let me move on to some other questions here, and I'm sure you've been working on some games for a long time. Is there something that you have been working on, and you just haven't been able to figure out? Do you have a white whale of game design?
Jonathan: Just recently, because I told you all that my favorite TV show is Doctor Who, and I love time and time travel, and I love the theories that go with that. Because time is that almost fourth dimension of all of our lives, and I want to design a game that embodies time travel in the circular sense. The argument here is as soon as time travel is discovered, all time is circular because you don't have any linear movement anymore.
Jonathan: As soon as someone can go “Backwards in time,” or “Forwards in time,” time streams are now no longer linear. They're more circular, or they're more cyclical. So this is a little bit down and deep into the nerdiness of time theory, but I want to design a game where that feels somewhat true. Most good time travel shows do this with some good expertise of saying, you're like, “Wait. But they could have gone back to this moment.”
That's what circular time theory is, this idea that you don't know what's forward or backwards because everybody's forward or backwards is based on whether they're time-traveling or not and whether they influenced by the time stream that you're currently in or not. I want to make a game that has the circular time theory, not explained because it's impossible to explain it, but experienced.
Patrick: That sounds cool and complicated. I wish you luck with that. It's rough.
Jonathan: Actually, after GenCon I prototyped a type of way to do that, and then I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don't have time for this right now.” It's still in my closet, and I'm still going to do it one day, but I got to get some other things off my plate that are already good.
What are some fun ideas or mechanisms that you’re looking into?
Patrick: I hear you. Are there any other fun ideas, mechanisms, or themes that you're looking into?
Jonathan: One of the ones that I have, a fun game design idea that's based– I think I like limited communication games, one of my favorite moments are when I'm trying to discern what other people are thinking, and there's no way to tell. There's no giveaways or anything. One of the games I designed for a little bit, I didn't get to the point of play testable, but it's based on a book called The Night Circus where there's these two magicians that make this circus at nighttime, but they don't know who each other are.
You'll have to go read the book, and it's by Erin Morgenstern. She's awesome. I wanted to make a game where there is literally no communication, and you're in a dark room, and there's a light, like a fire light or a candle or something like that. When you are picking up symbols that are written on the back of tents, and you're laying them down in the middle of the table, and other players are trying to learn what you're telling them about what you know from picking those up and revealing what the symbol is by using the firelight as a projector.
Not projector, but it just lets you see through the tent. That is a fun idea that I think would be just awesome, like the lights go out and maybe there's a big storm, I've been in the house with my kids, and the lights go out. They're like, “This is awesome. It's just candles.” It'd be so fun, just to sit there and be like, “You can't talk. Then at the end of the game, you're trying to discern who is who, but you can't communicate verbally.” So that's a fine idea that is just an idea currently.
Patrick: That's good. I think I'm a big fan of limited communication as well, and it makes everything harder. It's definitely a fun–
Jonathan: Sorry, I was just going to say look at The Mind. I know that some people hate it, but it's this element of “It is engaging nonetheless.”
How many unpublished and half-finished games do you have?
Patrick: Absolutely. Love it. OK, so how many–? I don't know if I want to ask this, but I think I have to. How many unpublished or half-finished games do you have?
Jonathan: I think I counted a little bit ago, and I have about 22. Not 50, my wife would kill me. That wouldn't even be feasible. I would be divorced by now. But I think I have 22 unpublished, unfinished games or half finished games in my closet.
Patrick: Just to clarify, because I think everyone has a different idea of what an unfinished game is, are these games that at least have at least a single prototype made?
Jonathan: Yes, exactly. I am trying to refine this of myself, and I'm hopefully dawning as a new game designer who is about to have a published game. It's that I rapid prototyped everything before really thinking through exactly how the mechanisms were going to work mentally or on paper. Maybe some of that is just being a new game designer, you have to see it, and you have to get to feel it with your hands or something.
But I prototyped every idea I had because I had index cards laying around, and I had some Sharpie, and I had nights where I was sitting at home or that random month in the middle of the summer. I think a good amount of those, probably 11-12 of those are from my first year of game design. They were– I was like, “Idea. Oh my gosh.” I just start writing and drawing and writing and drawing, and then I play it solo, and I'm like, “Oh my gosh, these don't work together at all.” And then I'm like, “I'll come back to it.” And you just don't come back to it.
Patrick: OK. That's still really cool.
Jonathan: Rapid prototyping used to be a thing, I'm trying to be more rapid prototype on a piece of paper first.
Patrick: Yes. For me, it's very important to make the first version on index cards, which is so much work, but then I can just throw them out, and I feel fine throwing out index cards, and that lets me throw away a bad game and do something else with the idea later.
What one resource would you recommend to another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer?
Patrick: OK. You've been doing this for a while, what's a resource that you'd recommend to another game designer?
Jonathan: I was trying to think of this. I think that the resource I would say is other designers. I've had so much fun recently, and I wish I'd done this earlier, just having phone calls with them. These are people I've never met, some of them. I've just met them online, or someone referenced them to me, or something like that. It feels so much more collaborative and less like the mad scientist in the basemen when you get to do that.
I think for so long, it was just my personal projects, and it was my play testers, but the play testers don't think about your game until you ask them to play test again. But game designers think about what you said about your game when they're designing their game, and so it's almost hive mind like when you go and talk to a game designer that you consistently talk to– I'm going to give a shout out to my boy Kyle [inaudible] who is one of the game designers at [Harith Games].
Me and him just give each other updates once or twice, or I think once a month, once every two months, maybe. It's such a wonderfully good resource, and it's free to be honest, as most of us have free minutes on our cell phone, and you can text or get a phone call. I feel emboldened and encouraged, and then I get to get rid of my own mental processes for my own games and get to be in some else's role for a second. Then they get to do the same thing with me.
Patrick: That's a really interesting one because I can tell you for sure with other game designers here in the Denver area after I've played their prototype if I see a related game that's about a similar theme I'll be like “I saw this thing. It looks similar. But I think you're doing this thing cooler, and this thing over here looked cool. Maybe you can borrow that.” They didn't ask me to do that, but I just happened to play their ghost themed game, and then I happened to see a ghost themed game, and I'm like, “I can't not think about it and then share it with them.” It's kind of like getting free brainpower there.
Jonathan: It's almost as if you're in a virtual convention if that's what play test conventions do over a weekend, game designers, if you talk to each other often, then you have this ongoing convention mind. It's just cool. Anyway, [that's probably not a resource. I guess it can't be people].
What was the best money you ever spent as a game designer?
Patrick: What? No, I'm going to say it's a resource. That's great. But how about this then, I'm going to be even more specific with this one. What is the best money you've spent as a game designer?
Jonathan: My $2-5 dollar Patreon subscription to the Cardboard Edison.
Jonathan: I would not have been able to know who in the world to send emails to reach out to before cons. The compendium is my life, it's always pulled up on my computer, so I'm just constantly looking through it going “That's a new design and game publishing company. That person changed their thoughts.” It helps me keep abreast of what is being asked for, what's being looked for.
You can even filter the compendium if you put in family games, and one time it says there's 81 companies looking for one, and the next time it's 120. It's like, “Why?” Anyway, it's a very interesting way to think about the industry before the published side of things. Because I can look at what's being published today, but I'm too late. It's too late. That fad is gone. It might pervade for another year or so, but anyway. I love the $2-5 bucks I spend on that.
Patrick: That's a very good answer. Let me ask you this because this is actually– I've looked at, and I have access to their list of publishers, and it has the contact and what type of games they are looking for and how many players and all that stuff. Is this the way I want to do it?
I want to spend one weekend a month, and I would figure out how to spend five hours on a Saturday and just go through the spreadsheet, maybe refine it, filter it, get the emails out here, do this. I think I could do something to systematize it. But it sounds like you do this slowly like maybe every day you email one person or the way I want to use it is in a batch. But how do you use it?
Jonathan: I do say this, I try to keep three processes going in game design. One is make a new prototype because that gives me energy, so I try to prototype something or at least write in my game design notebook or something. I try to develop a game that I currently have, and this is monthly goals. I'm always doing these three things every month.
Try to develop a game of my own that I wanted to get to pitch status, or maybe it's at pitch status, but I just found out there's a problem with it, so I need to fix that. Then pitch it. Obviously, you can't do that until you have a pitchable game, but now that I do, I try to pitch at least once a month. That might mean follow up with a pitch, but that might also mean “Go and look at all the compendium and find somebody new.”
I'm like, “This person totally could. I can see them maybe being interested in this game.” The worst thing is I sent an email that I spend a night on, maybe an hour crafting and such, putting in the links and all that. If I get a “No,” they know about me. That's the best part is that now I'm known by somebody and like I said, I don't go to a bunch of conventions, so how in the world am I going to be known by basically anyone?
Plus, I just enjoy hearing their thoughts. Being able to go to a convention to me, and get to go to somebodies booth and see a name that I've seen before, means a lot to me. That's another way to do it is that I pitched them a game. Maybe they're just like, “That's nothing like what we want.” I'm like, “Super, sorry. I was trying to think of what you would put on the compendium,” but at least I know their name now.
Patrick: That's cool. If you ever do meet him at convention, now you have a starting point. Or meet them in real life, now you have a starting point.
Jonathan: Right, exactly. Half the time, starting points are hard, so it's helpful to have them.
What does success in the board game world look like to you?
Patrick: Very cool. What does success look like for you? Because you're–? What does it look like?
Jonathan: I think that success to me does look like finding a match. I mean this, I want to say this specifically. I don't want a game that's just published. I want a match. I want a match that says, “This game is good enough for the public. We think so, and we want to do it well.” Because I know how exciting that will be as a journey because I know that the work isn't over.
I'm not looking to be like, “See you later, game design.” I'm looking to say, “This person is moving my game towards successfully, hopefully filling a desire or experience in the public.” Yeah, I want to find a match. That sounds a little bit like I'm back in dating days, but I do. I want one of my games to have its publisher.
Patrick: I totally get that. I'm trying to think of how many details I want to share here, but there was a game that I'm trying to pitch right now, and a publisher asked me to change something very big about the game. I was like, “This might work, but I just think they're looking for something I'm not offering.” I politely– It took me a couple of days, but I politely said “I don't want to take the game in that direction.” But I think that's what you're talking about right, where you want to find someone who has the same vision for the game that you do?
Jonathan: Yes, exactly. I think at least, to be honest, even a bigger one, my little game designer mind doesn't know all the things that a publisher knows. I want to see me hand them the seed or the sapling and them to say, “We're going to plant this, and it's going to grow, and this is how we're going to grow it.” Maybe that is, “Tweak this, refine that.” Or “Add this element in.” As long as it's in line with so much of the overarching vision I have for the game's experience, I'm for that. There's a mysterious element to that. I want to acknowledge some of this maybe doesn't even sound like—
Patrick: No, it makes total sense. It's good. So let me move on to Overrated/Underrated. I know you've listened to the show, so you know what this is. But for people who haven't heard this before, I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and then you have to say if it's overrated or underrated. If I said “A key ring that you'd get at a zoo, like a fancy keyring– That's not the right word. A fancy key ring that has memorabilia on it, you would say, “Overrated. Because they take up a lot of space in your pocket.” Something like that, cool?
Jonathan: Got it. I got that.
Patrick: All right. So first one, GenCant. Overrated or underrated?
Jonathan: Underrated. It was awesome.
Patrick: Actually, can you explain what it is?
Jonathan: Good point. GenCant is when you can't go to GenCon, and they actually do a virtual, and in some places, GenCon pop-up is becoming a thing too. But GenCant is specifically the digital or virtual version of GenCon, which is they do a design contest, and they do playing games, and some publishers submit games to be given out to raffles to people that are registered for the convention online.
You can do your own game playing day, and they'll send you some badges you can print out and stuff like that. So I did one of those with our Rome Board Gamers crew here, and they had a blast. What I did was printed out all the design contest 18 card games because those are simple. I printed them out and cut them out and then gave them away as prizes at our own raffle. It was a blast.
Patrick: That's fun. Since you work at a university, I'm going to ask, spring break? Overrated, underrated? However, I'm going to say from a person– Not the spring breaker, but from a person who interacts with spring breakers. Does that make sense?
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. It is underrated because I need spring break. I stay here, and all the University students leave, and it's really good for me. It's just good for me because I get this break of saying, “OK. Let me catch up on all the things while they're at the beach or wherever.”
I'm able to catch my breath, and college semesters for college students, and for those who work at colleges or in my case, college ministry or something, it's fast paced and every week feels like a month sometimes. It's just that zone where it's like, “I'm for spring break because I get a break to say, ‘OK. Let me think about what I need to do and what's the rest this semester look like?'”
Patrick: Sounds good. Now this one we chatted about right before we started recording, how about designing games with your kids? Overrated or underrated?
Jonathan: I think it's underrated. I guess I'm underrating all of these, but designing games with kids has been so much fun because you get to see them live their imagination out. They have some really interesting ideas that your conventional board game mind does not think of, and they want to do things that aren't what you would consider totally imaginative, but they're willing to brainstorm it.
I think that was one of the funnest parts of doing it with my son. He was like, “What is this? And this and this and this and this?” All the rules are wacko and crazy, but he's trying to get that imagination out on that table instead of, “How do I abstract away this imaginative thing?”
Patrick: That's cool. Lastly, I just want to go with Community, as in the TV show. Overrated or underrated?
Jonathan: This is a hard one for me. I have only seen the D&D episode. That was definitely underrated because it was so funny. It was so good. I don't know the rest of the TV show, I have not watched that show on a consistent basis, so on that one episode which is why you shouldn't probably judge a show on one episode, but it was definitely underrated because it was awesome.
Patrick: Great, fantastic. Jonathan, thank you so much for being on the show.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. I'm super proud I've gotten to be on here.
Patrick: Where can people find you online, and how can they see your work in progress for your games?
Jonathan: Absolutely. I'm working on doing WIPs this year, and it's one of my goals. But on Twitter is where I keep up a lot, so @J_Weavs. I'm also part of the– If you're not a part of this game designers, get on it– Craft Wednesday crew. It's so good for just accountability to do stuff and to see other people's works and then be excited about them, so #CraftWednesday is done by Jackson Pope, and he is awesome, and that crew is awesome.
So get on Twitter, that's where I'm at. Then you can e-mail me at any point you want. GWeaverGames@gmail.com is my email. I also have a Facebook group called The Game Weaver, and I think it's searchable, but then you just ask to jump in, and I think I can let you in. I forget if it's private. I do update there basically once every two or so months because I want to give a big sprawling update rather than bug people's Facebook notifications.
Patrick: Yeah, I get that. I do have an interview with Jackson Pope on my show. Boy, I'm trying to find that– I think it's episode 37. Sorry, I'm trying to find that quickly, but I definitely had him on my show. You can go to my website and listen to Jackson Pope talk about Craft Wednesday. It is very helpful. Listeners, if you liked his podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Jonathan said he'd bring his entire play test community in a van to your house to play your game.
Jonathan: We'll be there.
Patrick: So, that would be dope. Just let everyone know, I am sharing some more progress for all my games on Patreon, so I'm trying to find a publisher for Mintsugi. Also, I just had a new trick taking game idea, so I shared that on Patreon, and then I had a game idea earlier today, so that'll probably be going up on Patreon probably next week.
If you are interested in following along and if you want to see me fumble with the publisher thing that Jonathan you were talking about from Cardboard Edison, then you can watch me fumble with it and fail if I try to reach out to publishers. So, you can enjoy that on Patreon. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com. You can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek, and I'm @BFTrick on both platforms. Wow, this exit is going great. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.
Jonathan: All right, see you later.