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#14 – Joseph Z Chen

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. Today we are talking with Joseph Z Chen who is the designer behind Fantastic Factories, which is a game about building a manufacturing empire and it is blowing up on Kickstarter right now, and we’re definitely gonna talk about that. Joseph, welcome to the show.

Joseph Z Chen: Thanks. It’s great to be here.

How Did You Get Into Board Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: So first question I basically ask everyone, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Joseph Z Chen: Well I can’t say that getting into board games is a particularly exciting story. I think I got in the same way a lot of people did, kinda started with Catan. So like after college, I had a bunch of roommates and someone owned a copy of Catan and we used to play night after night of Catan. Eventually led into Dominion, 7 Wonders and kinda opened up that world of hobby gaming. And actually for a while I kind of took a little bit of a break when I moved out of that apartment and in with what … who was at the time my fiance, and kinda stopped playing board games for a while. And eventually a group of friends and I, we were just looking for a new project to work on, and we had played a lot of board games together in the past. And we figured, “Let’s try our hand at making a board game.” We had a lot of favorites, but every game … There’s no such thing as perfect game and we thought we could combine together a lot of those great mechanics that we liked and tried to eliminate a lot of the things we didn’t like in order to make what we thought was an ideal board game, which turns out to be a little harder than it sounds.

Patrick Rauland: No, it’s definitely challenging. So it sounds like board game design revitalized your interest in board games in general.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah, definitely. It’s one of those things too … It’s a different perspective when you’re creating something versus using that thing. But in order to be a good board game designer, you have to play a lot of board games and actually it’s funny, I wasn’t buying into the whole cult of the new until I started designing. And then it’s almost a necessity that you have to keep up with the latest trends and figure out what people are doing and what the latest kind of innovations are in board games, both from components and mechanics and even marketing and a lot of stuff.

Patrick Rauland: So I don’t know about you, but recently I found that when I’m playing games, I can’t not critique them, like even fully published games. Like I’m just … I think I’m so used to like playing prototypes and doing stuff like that that I just … I can’t not say, “Well, I don’t know about the drafting mechanism and this part of this game, I think they could’ve put that in an expansion. It doesn’t need to be in the base game.” And it’s kind of hard to turn off that designer part of my brain when I’m playing games now.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah, definitely. It’s … And everyone’s a critic you know. But I find actually I … For most published games, they go through the same rigor that I’ve gone through with my game and on the flip side, not only just being able to point out the flaws of the game, you actually start seeing also how they’ve solved certain problems with a certain mechanic. A lot of times when you play a game you’re like, “Why is that little detail there?” And then from a designer’s perspective, you understand like, “Oh, they put that in …” Sorry, “To solve that one particular problem.” And you’re like, “Oh, that’s actually a very clever solution.” And so you kinda get a little bit of both. You see the flaws, but you also see kind of the tool set that other designers have used to solve certain problems. So it’s kind of you’re getting a little peep behind the curtain in that sense and you get a little more understanding on why things are designed the way they are.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. There’s definitely a couple times where I’m playing like a published game and maybe I’m playing with someone who’s just a friend and they don’t do any game design at all and they’re like, “Why is this there?” I’m like, “Ah, I’ve run into similar situations. Here’s probably why they did that.” Yeah, it’s kinda fun to have that knowledge and kinda know why people are making certain choices. So looking at your Kickstarter page for your game, it looks like you’ve been working on this for a long time. How long exactly?

Joseph Z Chen: I think it’s a little over two and a half years now and I think a lot of is this continual process of redesigns. I think … So this is my first design and I think that I would like to say I have a general sense of … a good sense of what a good game is and for a while I would keep saying, “Okay. Is this quite where … up to standards where I think it needs to be?” And a lot of times it’s like, “Well not quite.” And I think the trouble was as an inexperienced designer, finding the right solution took a bit of time. Like I said, expanding your experience of various games, especially ones that are in a similar category as your own. And then being willing to re-haul your design, pull out a big piece of it, be willing to kill your darlings, and then going back to the drawing board and then play testing all over again.

Joseph Z Chen: So I wouldn’t say all designs need as much time as Fantastic Factories has gotten and I think that with more experience under my belt now that the process would be much faster. But it’s one of those things where while certain designs just needs more time and it depends on the approach, depends on what problems you run into. And that’s why a lot of people have multiple designs running at the time, and sometimes they’ll shelve one and take another one off the shelf and let it rest for a bit. And not to mention, this is not a full time gig for me and life still happens. During the whole process, my wife and I had our first kid as well and that put things … delayed the schedule a few months as we kind of got our life in order and took a break from designing. And so there’s just a lot things involved in bringing a game to Kickstarter.

Fantastic Factories in the Park
Playing the first version of Fantastic Factories in the park over 2 years ago.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot … One of my favorite things as I was scrolling through your Facebook page trying to come up with questions for you … or one of the things I appreciated scrolling through your page was there’s a picture of you playing the game in a park from like what, two, two and a half years ago. And that was … And I think that’s really cool to like show and like there were some printed cards, some cards that were written on … or some text written on index cards. I think it’s really cool to see the game evolve slowly over time.

How Do You Kill Your Darlings

Patrick Rauland: So you mentioned killing your darlings and I think that’s something that lot of game game designers struggle with. They love that auction mechanic, they love this thing over here, they like the extra little fiddly bits over there. How do you know what stuff you need to … I think I wanna say how do you know what stuff you need to test removing? I mean you don’t need to kill it right away, but you like test a version of a game without it, see if it works better then decide to keep it or not. Does that make sense?

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. So I think there’s a few parts to it. I think the key … The largest … The biggest key to that is display testing and it’s one of those things that if you have a darling, it unfortunately just means you’re gonna have to spend more time play testing it and spend more time having people tell you that you’re wrong before you’re willing to listen. It’s like almost a numbers thing because as designers, we have certain intuition as to what we think is the correct decision or not the correct decision and that carries some weight. But then play testing is kind of empirical data that tells you whether your intuition is wrong or right.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Joseph Z Chen: And if you feel very strongly about your darling or whatever mechanic that you feel should be in the game, but play testers are reacting negatively to it or it’s causing more problems than it’s solving, things like that, that takes time, that takes iterations. It takes a lot of play tests for players to basically give you that feedback and then for you to collect that feedback in a consistent enough manner that you get that message and say, “Okay. It’s clear now. We’ve got a big enough sample size. People are not enjoying this particular part of the game or it’s causing problems.” Things like that. I think the really tricky part is understanding when you can do better because not every game can be perfect and some designs just will have certain flaws.

Joseph Z Chen: Take a look at Splendor. Splendor’s a really, really popular game but a lot of people say it’s a very theme and there’s not interaction yet it sells really, really well. So are those flaws or are those things that that particular design just has to live with? Can you improve on that part of the design or is it something that you’ve pushed to the limit? And I think understanding how far your design can go and recognizing its flaws, recognizing what you’re trying to target as well, I think that’s the challenging part and knowing whether you can kill a darling or there … it’s something that is core to your design, I think is something you have to evaluate. And I think that’s one of the trickiest things about design.

Did You Remove Something From Your Game?

Patrick Rauland: So … So I think maybe what would be helpful for me … well definitely for me, but I’m hoping listeners is, what is something you did remove from your game? ‘Cause I think it’s really … It’s easy to talk about in abstract and I think it’s much more clear when you talk about a thing you really wanted and then you saw this problem and then you decided to take it out.

Joseph Z Chen: Well there’s been a lot of changes. I’m trying to think what the best example might be. I think one of the biggest changes was … And this was something that was present at the very beginning of the game, is to … In order to build a factory … turn a blueprint into a factory, you required a matching pair of dice and that seemed intuitive to in the sense that oh, like we can’t just … There needs to be some kind of requirement necessary. Thematically, it kind of made sense. You have two workers that are in sync and working on building something. But it created in some issues in the sense that well what if you never rolled a pair can never build. The chance of rolling of pair of four is about 72% chance, which is still … It’s pretty good but you still run into situations where people can’t build for the first two turns and it’s one of those things that even if it’s rare, if enough players play your game, they will run into these bad situations and that can set them back really far. So you just wanna reduce the chance of those kind of scenarios from happening as much as possible.

Joseph Z Chen: So I introduced a single die build where you can place one worker to build, you just have to pay double the cost of the building. What … That kind of solved the problem and now all the buildings had to be costed in a way that made sense so all … There’s a particular mechanic in the game where you can building training facilities that allow you manipulate your dice rolls. Those are cheapest buildings to build in the game. They were initially designed specifically so you could pay double to build them, thus would help you create pairs in the future. But as I [inaudible 00:12:29] game, it became clear to me that this rule of like a pair of dice, the solo build double cost was a huge … spending … taking a huge amount of my time explaining the game, thus introducing a huge amount of complexity to the game compared to the rest of the game, the simplicity of the game. And so I ended up removing it and replacing it with this other system, which actually … what conveniently solved a bunch of other problems at the time.

Joseph Z Chen: So what’s great is when you have a solution that kind of improves your design overall, ended up doing this thing where instead of using dice at all, you discard another card of the same matching symbol. And what that ended up doing is freeing up your dice to do a lot more cooler things than building ’cause in order to build, you use a pair of dice. That’s half your dice for the … that’s half your turn and in resources, that’s basically your whole turn. So by freeing that up, letting your dice do more cool things as well as creating this card economy where you can start filtering through cards because you can discard cards that you don’t need in order to build other cards that you do want. And so at the same time, solved a lot of other problems as well.

The Part That’s Hard to Explain

Patrick Rauland: I really like that. I think I wanna focus on one thing that you said. I think you said something along the lines of like it took a long … it took a lot of explaining … like the rest of my game is pretty simple, but this one part took a lot of explaining. I wonder if that’s a really good … I wonder if that’s a really good tool to use for other designers. Like is there a part of your game that takes way more explaining than the rest of your game? If so, that’s probably an area that’s … that could be refined.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. I would definitely say so because [inaudible 00:14:21] layers of complexity in the game. Like if you know the rules and you still think it’s … If you’ve played the game a whole bunch and you know the rules and you think it’s complex, then it’s probably complex. If you are teaching the game and you feel like it’s hard to teach, then it’s probably too complex because the other layer is most people are gonna be learning the game from reading the rule book. So if you’re having trouble explaining the game verbally in person, imagine how hard it is for someone to learn the game from the rule book. And as designers we don’t usually have people learn the game from a rule book until much, much later on during blind play-testing. So if you are having trouble teaching the game in person, then you can only imagine how much problems … how many problems that’s gonna cause when players are trying to learn from the rule book.

Patrick Rauland: No, that’s an excellent, excellent example and I was just in a play test last week and the person was having a hard time explaining the game in person. And like there were four of us around the table and the designer was explaining it to us and we were just not getting it. And I was just trying to imagine what would this be like in a rule book and like how many … how many times would I like flip between the pages before giving and either putting the game away or trying to find like a how to play video on YouTube.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. Explaining the rule book is infinitely harder than in person.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Joseph Z Chen: And it also is a skill. Teaching a game is a skill that is different than designing and fortunately as a designer, you kinda have to pick up both skills. And teaching a specific game is also a very different thing. Different games have different ways of teaching and throughout this two and a half year process, I’ve gotten pretty good at explaining the game and teaching it. And it really is interesting to just understand and see how different people will learn in different ways. Often times … Well one key thing to note is that if you overload people with information, then they won’t retain it. So doing it in bite size parts and doing those actions at the same time help kind of reinforce that … those instructions and I think one thing … As a designer who’s teaching the game, one thing to note is like when you see people’s eyes glazed over, that’s when you know you either have something too complex or you’re giving them too much information at one time and you might think of a way to break it up in pieces. And that’s less of a design skill and … Well it’s partially a design skill and it’s partially a teaching the game skill, which is necessary for successfully getting play tests and everything like that.

Where Did The Theme Come From?

Patrick Rauland: No, it’s great. So your game is very much like an engine building game. Like I think especially if you look at the Kickstarter page, you’ll see like there’s dice, you roll them, you get resources, you can get cards, you can use those resources to buy more cards, all sorts of fun stuff. What I think I wanted to point out is that we hear about engine building games and I feel like your game is literally … you’re literally creating factories, you’re literally researching new idea with your cards and you’re literally producing resources from these factories. … Or I shouldn’t say … like in the game you’re producing, not [inaudible 00:17:48]. But why haven’t other engine games used this theme because it seems perfect for an engine building game to like make factories?

Joseph Z Chen: Well if you think about it on a surface level, it’s … the theme is factories-

Patrick Rauland: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Joseph Z Chen: Which is maybe not the most glamorous theme. I think it’s … If you look at it at a surface level, it is kind of a dry theme in terms of, “Oh, it’s factories.” It’s a little too obvious in a way I guess.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Joseph Z Chen: I … When you say a theme is factories, it’s not very inspiring.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Joseph Z Chen: But that’s why we kind of took that as a challenge and [inaudible 00:18:33], “Well how can we make this more interesting, have this fantastic twist to it?” And it’s … I mean you can’t tell from the podcast but Fantastic Factories is a very colorful, bright, vibrant game.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Joseph Z Chen: I think another one of the challenges is that no one … It’s not a theme that people are very familiar with in the sense that what are different kinds of factories, what does a concrete plant even look like. And that’s a question I didn’t … that’s an answer I didn’t know. Like what does concrete plant look like? How do I do the art for a concrete plant for something that I don’t even know what it looks like? And if I don’t know what it looks like, what are players expecting to see? And I think that’s kinda where that imaginative, whimsical part of the game comes into play. If you look at the art for a concrete plant, it’s actually a giant stand mixer, like a KitchenAid that’s mixing concrete. So the fact is no one knows what a … Well very few people know what a concrete plant looks like. I now kind of know what it looks like, but … because I was doing a little research for the art, but that almost doesn’t matter as long as you convey something that people might imagine it looks like. A giant stand mixer, which realistically is not the case, but it’s a fun little way of thinking about it, and I think that helps kinda strengthen that theme. It’s a combination of this dry theme and this kind of fantastic way of approaching it and I think that kind of creates this overall feel.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Well it’s interesting that you say factories is a boring theme. I get where you’re coming from. I think I … I think if you just said, “Do you you wanna play a game about factories?” I’d be like, “What?” But on the other hand, there are so many games that are like trading in the mediterranean that are actual engine builders. I played one last week where basically we’re going around, you’re making cities, those cities produce things. You can use those things to buy more cities, to make more things and eventually you get cards at the end of the game … or you get cards and you get points at the end of the game. But that’s like an engine building game and I don’t … It just seems it’s more incongruent to have a game about factories than about building cities in the Mediterranean. It seems like it’s a ripe area and I think it’s really cool that you did focus on factories instead of trading in the mediterranean.

Joseph Z Chen: I think one of the things about trading in the mediterranean is a lot of those games are very like resource management heavy and when you’re trading stuff, you could come up anything. Like Century Spice Road has a bunch of spices and then Catan has just a plethora of resource types. For Fantastic Factories, we limited ourselves to two in order to kinda make the most. I guess in a way … I don’t wanna say basic. We’re very like elegant most … pure kinda version of the game. Like you think about … to step out of board games a bit, Star Craft. Star Craft is a great game that only has two different resources, whereas a lot of other games like Age of Empires has a bunch. And I think we took that as a challenge like how can we … how compelling and complex of a game can we make with just two different resources. I think that’s trading in the mediterranean might be more popular than factories ’cause as a resource management sort of perspective, it’s a little more obvious how to do the theming for the resources in trading in the Mmditerranean than for factories.

Tell Us About Your Design Diary

Patrick Rauland: No. That makes sense. Now one of the things that I’m really impressed with and one of the things that I’ve wanted to do for my own game but I haven’t, is you’ve kept a design diary while creating this game, and I stumbled across a few of the posts and they’re really really interesting. I’d like to know how a … Well first of all, maybe just explain what a design diary is and how it’s helped you.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. So a design diary is just kind of a blog or whatever, a diary of posts that you write as you’re designing and developing the game, explaining kind of the process that you’re going through. And I think for me, it … I have maybe a different approach than maybe most people do in the sense that it’s not strictly a design diary. A lot of people will do design diaries on a weekly or a daily … Well daily’s pretty ambitious, a weekly basis and a lot of people do it as a way to keep themselves accountable and progressing on their designs, and I think that’s a really great way of doing it. For me, it’s been a little different actually. I have not been very consistent. I think there was a period of time where I hadn’t made a post for a month, but I’ve been making posts once or twice a month these days. Covering topics not just strictly about design, but also about marketing, about Kickstarter, about [inaudible 00:23:46] simulator, things like that as a way of just sharing the knowledge I think. I spend a lot of time on the Facebook groups with the design groups, Kickstarter, publishing and I … Once you spend enough time, you start seeing the same questions come up-

Patrick Rauland: Right.

Joseph Z Chen: Again and again and again.

Patrick Rauland: Right.

Joseph Z Chen: And having been someone who’s gone through that process of basically answering that question for myself, I decided, “Hey, I’ll tackle what I believe to be the most common questions.” And I’ll write a post about my experience and then when it comes up again inevitably I’ll just post a reply of, “Hey, here’s what I found. Here’s what my experience was.”, and basically just trying to be as helpful as possible. And I think writing out these kind of things also help you kind of expand on the idea and really understand it from all angles ’cause it’s one thing to learn it as a student and then it’s just another level to teach it or to explain it to someone else.

Patrick Rauland: Totally.

Joseph Z Chen: You know you have a subject mastered or maybe not mastered but down really well when you’re able to explain it somebody else. And so I think by writing these design diaries, these blog posts, it basically ensures that I really know that subject and it helps me get into all those fine details.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. No, part of my day job is teaching people and I learn more by teaching than I do by doing. Like when you are … When you force yourself to teach it someone else, you have to know it inside and out. And yeah, I think you become very articulate in explaining it, which by the way I can … as a reader of your design diaries, I can see that. Like I can very easily see like big, big ideas being broken down into little bite chunks. “Here’s an image. Here’s a little bit of text.” And it’s all very relatable and understandable so I think to maybe pull out a little bit of a … bit of advice for someone would be if you’re struggling with a thing, maybe try to teach someone else how to do that thing and you’ll probably figure it out along the way.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting approach and I think it’d be a pretty good way to learn something.

What is the Runaway Leader Problem?

Patrick Rauland: So there’s one post that I really liked. You talked about the runaway leader problem and I think you … going back to what you just said, you’re like, “Heres a game where there’s a run … Here’s one way of solving the runaway leader problem. Here’s another game and how they solved it.” And you talked leader headwind, which I think is a really elegant solution. Can you talk about … I mean so maybe just give us … Yeah, give us the specific case of how did this come up, how did you discover it and how did you know that it was the right solution.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. So this is one of those cases where teaching or writing about it is one way to like really understand the topic, and it became a design issue for Fantastic Factories where we had a runaway leader problem. And for me, one of the best ways of uncovering a solutions besides playing a bunch of games, is analyzing what those games did to solve that problem. And that’s I think playing games can be valuable ’cause you can borrow different tools and tricks from different games. One of the things that I discovered was this kind of concept I like to call leader headwind, which I didn’t coin the phrase. I think someone else did, but it’s this idea of … a way of slowing down the person in the lead. But not in a … In a way that it’s a perception thing. So the leader is perceived to be slowing down. They’ve got this headwind slowing them down.

Joseph Z Chen: You’ll see in games like Dominion for instance, it’s a … Dominion’s a deck builder where you’re collecting points into your deck and the points themselves don’t do anything. So as you are collecting points, your engine actually slows down and you’re scoring fewer and fewer points with each turn in theory, because your deck is less and less effective because of all the points that are clogging it up. And I think what happens is it’s perceived that you’re able to catch up to the leader because they’re slowing down, you’re still picking up momentum and scoring points. The cool thing about that is that it’s only a perceived slowdown of the leader because once you catch up with them, you’re running in the same issue as them as well. Your deck is full of points and your whole deck slows down as well. So that’s what leader headwind is. It’s this slowdown of whoever’s in the lead or whoever has the most … whoever has a certain amount of points, but it can affect other players as they gain those points as well. Sorry. That’s kind of a … maybe a long winded way of explaining it, but it just psychological … a thing of making it look like whoever’s in the lead is slowing down, allowing you to feel like you’re catching up. In reality the point scores are potentially narrowing, but the number of turns away from winning are still the same.

Patrick Rauland: But I think you … And I think that explains it pretty well. I think you do an even actually … an actually better job explaining it in your post because you bring up so … I mean the post is long and we don’t have 10 minutes to talk about all the examples you brought up in your post, but you bring up a ton of games and sometimes there’s like a take that mechanic, where like you’re the blue shell from Mario Cart. So I … Yeah. I think if you wanna really dig in, there’s the post. I’ll make sure to link that in the show notes.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. There’s so many different ways of tackling the runaway leader problem. Most people think catch up mechanic, but there really are a lot of kind of more subtle ways of doing it. And yeah, the blog post is great because it goes through concrete examples of various games and I don’t wanna go through all the effort explaining all the-

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah.

Joseph Z Chen: Different games. But the post kinda covers it and how each game uses it and why it works and what situations it’s good and what situations it might not be so good.

What Are You Working On?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. So we actually are running out of time, so I’ll try to skip to the best questions here. I think I’d like to know what type of games maybe you’re gonna start designing in the future. What type of games do you like to design, and once this Fantastic Factories is all done, what are you working on?

Joseph Z Chen: Well I don’t have anything specific quite lined up yet. We do have a bunch of stuff that was cut from the game ’cause it was maybe too complex or unnecessary that we might throw into an expansion because we’ll have a little bit more breathing room to add in mechanical complexity and things like that. So that’s something we’ll probably be working on. But as for like a new project, I think I’d like to get my hands on maybe something completely different. I guess having gone through this journey, there’s a certain audience that Fantastic Factories just isn’t really designed for and I kinda wanna try my hand at maybe a design that is more highly interactive, very contentious, that sort of thing. But I also gravitate towards designs that are very elegant, both component wise and mechanically. And I might try my hand at something a little smaller ’cause as a first time creator, I would have to say like Fantastic Factories is a fairly ambitious project that took a while and trying something as simple as maybe like a hundred card … a hundred card deck card game of some sort, or something simpler I think would be a really fun idea. And Seattle design community is really great. I think there are few designers that I’d love to collaborate with and maybe try something out.

Patrick Rauland: It’s funny you mentioned a hundred card deck. My … I have two designs that I’m working on right now and both of them are 18 cards. So …

Joseph Z Chen: That’s even better. There’s the GenCant Button Shy competition.

Patrick Rauland: I will be submitting my game to that. I have no idea how it’ll do, but it is getting submitted.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. Nothing quite like a deadline-

Patrick Rauland: Yep.

Joseph Z Chen: To really push your design forward.

Patrick Rauland: You know it’s funny … Just speaking about it very quickly. I actually … It’s funny, I had the idea for this game but the previous iteration had like a hundred tokens and … I think I had like 100 different tokens and then the GenCant’s Button Shy thing came out and another contest came out before that. I’m like, “Wait a second. I think I can get the core of this game with 18 cards or 18 tokens instead of a hundred.” And I don’t know if it’s better, but it’s definitely … like it wasn’t playable with a hundred. You know what I mean? Like no one wants to move a hundred pieces around a board. So it’s funny, those design constraints helped me realize an actual game as opposed to just … it was … ’cause it was just rolling around in my head and I had to just simplify it way, way down for that contest. So yeah. Yeah. Sorry. A little aside in my brain.

What’s The Best Money You’ve Spent on Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: So what was the best money that you spent on your game in the last two years?

Joseph Z Chen: So I think getting the right tools is really helpful and I’ve shown this tool on Twitter before. It’s this card cutter, which unfortunately I think the company went out of business. But there … You can get similar tools. Getting a good paper cutter is really useful, but I have this thing that’s specifically designed to cut out poker sized cards and it’s really expensive. It’s like I think a couple hundred dollars. But it only does one thing and it cuts poker sized cards, and it does it really, really well, really, really fast. It’s one of those things that like at first I’m like, “Oh man, a couple hundred.” Actually to be honest, my partner … co-designer Justin bought it. If I knew how much it would cost, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. But now after having used it for like a year or two, definitely worth the money because in terms of how fast I was able to make new cards and just kinda iterate on the design. And the other thing I would mention if you like the … If you’re doing a card game and you do print out a lot of cards, I actually use something called HP Instant Ink. This is gonna sound like a LL ad, but they have this interesting subscription service for your ink. So you pay a certain amount of money, for me it’s $3.00 a month-

Patrick Rauland: Oh, yeah.

Joseph Z Chen: And I think I get like 50 pages.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Joseph Z Chen: So they charge you by the page, you can only print 50 pages, but they don’t care what you put on the page. So if you’re doing full color, like [inaudible 00:35:30], so that’s why I’ve been using … So it’s actually quite economical if you’re doing full color pages all the time for $3.00 a month.

Patrick Rauland: So tell me-

Joseph Z Chen: [crosstalk 00:35:43].

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So tell me a little bit more about that. Like do you order and they send it to you? I’m a little bit confused. How is it only 50 pages?

Joseph Z Chen: So they have a really ink cartridge they send you and then it’s … Here’s the kind of the annoying part. It requires the internet because they basically connect to your printer. So you have to have a HP printer that supports it and the printer basically counts how many pages you print, and then if you print more, they’ll charge you like a dollar for each additional pages. And if you unsubscribe, they deactivate your ink cartridge, so-

Patrick Rauland: I had no idea there were like internet accessible ink cartridges.

Joseph Z Chen: Yeah. They’re trying to turn everything into subscription services, but the thing is if you print full color pages, it’s … you’re actually saving money and they’re probably not making a lot of money off you.

Patrick Rauland: And I’m just [inaudible 00:36:35]. This is me, I’m browsing through their site right now. There is it looks like 15 pages a month for free, which might be a good way to get going. Cool.

Joseph Z Chen: Oh, as like a sign up bonus or something?

Patrick Rauland: I don’t know if there’s a sign up bonus. It just says there is a free printing plan. There is a little asterisk, so I don’t know where the … maybe the asterisk is not really free. But free printing plan, 15 a month. Anyways, I won’t read all the stuff right now but there is a free plan, 15 pages a month. So check it out. I’ll link to it in the show notes. And sorry, what was the card cutter? Did you say that was on Twitter? I can try to get the link from you afterwards.

Joseph Z Chen: Oh, I don’t think … I think that company went out of business. So unfortunately not a thing anymore-

Patrick Rauland: Well is there a picture ’cause it still might … ‘Cause it still might be useful if there’s like a picture of it.

Joseph Z Chen: I’d have to dig it up, it was quite a while ago.

What is the Best Way to Market Your Game?

Patrick Rauland: All right. Well I’ll try to … I’ll bug you afterwards and see what we can do. Two more big questions here. So … Two more questions. So what is the best way to market your game?

Joseph Z Chen: So I’ll know the data for sure after the Kickstarter, but I think there are a few ways. I think … So for me, my strategy before the game launch was to … I guess a few approaches. Building up a mailing list I think is really important. So I’ve always funneled everyone through the mailing list first and foremost and I got the most emails from conventions, where I have a table or a booth. And applying to things like indie showcases can be really helpful for getting booth table space for cheap or free even, and focusing your pitch to collecting emails. So for us, we did a 10 minute demo and so like at PAX South or PAX West, we were part of [inaudible 00:38:24] mega booth. We were able to get like two or 300 emails-

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Joseph Z Chen: In a weekend. It depends on the con, so … And traveling can be expensive, so if you have a lot of local conventions like we do in Seattle, I would recommend trying those first ’cause those are also usually easier to get a cheap table. And you won’t have to pay for a hotel and flight and all that stuff.

Patrick Rauland: Definitely.

Joseph Z Chen: The other thing is just to engage with people in the community and I think Twitter is a really great way of doing that. There’s a lot of designers, a lot of content creators on Twitter that connect and promote each other and like it’s a really nice, welcoming and positive community of people, and it’s also a great way to connect and network. When you go to a convention, it’s funny how like a lot of conventions turn into what I feel like a Twitter meet up. You’re like, “Oh, I know you. We connected on Twitter. We talked about that one thing.” And these people … If you post progress of your game, people get interested and they become invested and they become … they lend you their voices. They become signal boosters for you, especially … certain people are basically local celebrities. Some people call it influencer marketing-

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Joseph Z Chen: But that sounds really markety, really like … I would say more of connecting with people-

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Joseph Z Chen: You’re not trying to push your game on them, you just know them. You play games with them and throughout time, they become familiar with what you’re about and your game. And I think that’s the most natural way and the way that gets the most buzz and loyalty and like … and a genuine kind of response from people in your network.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: I love it. I mean, yeah. So be connected in your community and go to conventions. I love it. Last question and then a game, what does success in the board game world look like to you?

Joseph Z Chen: So I’m fortunate enough to have a … Well used to … I’m actually between jobs now, but I usually have a great paying day job being a software engineer. So financially like boardgames have never been about … Designing a board game has never been about making a lot of money. For me, it’s a creative outlet at first and now I feel like it’s a way to connect with other people. And I think for me, success basically is just getting a game out there that people recognize, that people enjoy playing and getting it into as many hands as possible. And so I think if there are hundreds of thousands of fans out there with the game, then I think that sounds like success to me.

Underrated / Overrated Game

Patrick Rauland: Love it. I absolutely love that answer. All right. Last little bit, there’s a little game I like to play called overrated, underrated. And basically, I’m gonna give you a phrase or a term and then you need to tell me if you think if it’s overrated or underrated. So if I said tacos, you might say underrated because delicious meat or something. Got it?

Joseph Z Chen: All right.

Patrick Rauland: All right, cool. So first one, output randomness. Is it overrated or underrated?

Joseph Z Chen: Overrated, I think. I prefer input randomness, which is kinda how Fantastic Factories is designed. I know there’s definitely a lot of like drama with output randomness, but I like being in control when I’m playing my games.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Sure. Yeah, ’cause you roll the dice and you choose what to do with them as opposed to choosing what you do, rolling the dice and then not being able to do that. Got it. All right. So this one I stole from your … or I go the idea from your Facebook page. Hardhats, are they overrated or underrated?

Joseph Z Chen: Underrated. I think that it’s a silly gimmick, but I wear hardhats at all the conventions and places where I demo, and it’s always a big hit. Also makes it really easy to find the person. So I’ve been at really crowded conventions and my partner will be wearing a hardhat and I’ll be able to spot him all the way across the room. So definitely underrated.

Patrick Rauland: That’s awesome. All right. First player tokens, overrated, underrated?

Joseph Z Chen: I think underrated. I think … Have you played Evolution?

Patrick Rauland: No, I haven’t.

Joseph Z Chen: They have the most ridiculous first player token. It’s like a dinosaur meatball that’s like … I don’t know, like four inches tall or something. It’s just excessive. You could literally use anything as a first player token, but I think the creative way that some games do it and it’s a little fun little component that you can do whatever you want with it.

Patrick Rauland: Cool. And self driving cars, are they overrated or underrated?

Joseph Z Chen: Underrated, I think. Imagine all the time you spend commuting and then self driving cars can drive so much more efficiently and potentially with fewer accidents. I think there’s a lot of potential there. So I really look forward to the day where I can just climb into my car, tell it to go to Safeway and I’ll take a nap, and then wake up I’ll be there.

Patrick Rauland: That sounds amazing and by the way, I’m in total agreement with you. I cannot wait to never drive again.

Joseph Z Chen: I mean not only that, just think about how many cars on the road and how many cars are in garages. So if we had self driving cars that were a public resource, we wouldn’t need garages anymore. All the cars that we need would be on the road and-

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. That’d be cool.

Joseph Z Chen: Just think about how many fewer cars we would need.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, that’d be super cool. Well Joseph, thank you for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Joseph Z Chen: I’m on Twitter @fanfactories and you can also find our Facebook page. We also have a website, www.fantasticfactories.com and after the Kickstarter, I think we’ll also be taking pre-orders, which you can find either on the Kickstarter page or on the website as well.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Thank you again. By the way to your listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave a review for us on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you leave a review, Joseph said he’d be willing to audit your factory and give it a gold star if it’s good enough. So there’s that incentive. You can visit the site indieboardgamedesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter. I am @BFTrick. Until next time, happy designing everyone. Bye-bye.

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