Juli Bierwirth & Adrian Kerrihard

#137 – Juli Bierwirth & Adrian Kerrihard

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

My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'm going to be talking with Juli Bierwirth and Adrian Kerrihard, who designed Mantis Falls, which is coming out on Kickstarter June 30th, which should be probably about a week before this podcast drops. Juli and Adrian, welcome to the show.

Adrian Kerrihard: Thank you.

Juli Bierwirth: Thank you.

Introduction

Patrick: Great. I like to introduce my guests to the audience via a series of lightning round questions, so are you ready for some quick questions?

Adrian: Yes.

Juli: Yeah, go for it.

Patrick: All right. Why don't we start with you, Adrian? Favorite movie where there is some sort of betrayal.

Adrian: It's not a movie, but an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The one where– Are you familiar with that show?

Patrick: I've only seen half of the first season. I'm losing nerd points.

Adrian: I'll just tell you. It's where [inaudible] sister returns to the show, and it's specifically about betrayal. It's about the risk of trust.

Patrick: Awesome.

Juli: I'd say for me, it's a Reservoir Dogs. There's this scene at the end that's just absolutely beautiful to me where the two guys are collapsed on the floor. I don't want to be– Is this a spoiler?

Adrian: It might be.

Juli: It might be a spoiler. Close your ears if you don't know it. But one guy reveals to the other, “I'm a cop, man.” And he's so– The gangster is so devastated that this person he trusted implicitly was a snitch, and the acting in that scene is just absolutely beautiful. Always has been to me.

Patrick: I just Googled it. It came out 28 years ago, so I'm pretty sure you're fine with spoilers. Pretty sure. All right, Juli, this time I'm going to go with you first. Favorite pandemic activity?

Juli: I wouldn't say it's my favorite, I would say it's pretty bland. But I've never, my whole life, I get into some crafts and stuff, but I learned how to knit during the pandemic. My mom taught me, and I got some friends who were having babies soon, so I've just been doing a lot of knitting, which is a weird– It's not terribly interesting.

But the nice thing is that you can do it while you do other stuff like I can watch TV or I can have meetings on Zoom and stuff. I wouldn't say “Favorite,” but it's probably the only new pandemic activity that I've learned.

Patrick: Are you knitting right now?

Juli: No, I'm not. You've got my full attention.

Patrick: Awesome. Adrian, what about you?

Adrian: I think the most interesting one has been just the stuff we've been doing for Mantis Falls. Just learning all the whole different levels of promotion and the things and the different types of graphics we need to make that we never needed to make before, and stuff. But the other stuff that's stuck out as new is we got really into Foursquare, which I hadn't thought about in like 30 years.

But because of the pandemic, obviously, a lot of our options for what we could do outside disappeared. With the kids, we figured out that we could just get sidewalk chalk and a four square ball, and we got in the habit of playing Foursquare pretty much every evening, and that's been quite a find.

Patrick: That sounds great. I remember Foursquare from elementary school.

Adrian: It holds up.

Patrick: That's great.

Adrian: It's a better game than I remembered.

Patrick: Good. Then, what's a game you'd play with someone every single time at a con, even if you're tired or exhausted? We'll start with you, Adrian.

Adrian: Let's see, we've only been to a few at this point. I think the ones that we've gotten in the habit of where you're exhausted and just want something to fill the time a little bit, Love Letter is the generic answer, but it's incredible how that continues to be fun despite how simple it is. Coup is something that we got into that we figured out we enjoy even we're all pretty burnt out.

Juli: Yeah, I would say–

Patrick: What about you, Juli?

Juli: Maybe some of the more simple social deduction ones, like Resistance. Just very– That's one of our favorite genres, social deduction/hidden traitor. That's one of the ones that is fun playing with kids because they're weird and they don't know how to lie, but then one of the ways that they learn how to lie is just by being bizarre all the time. It makes it pretty fun and pretty lighthearted and enjoyable.

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

Patrick: Awesome, great. We're definitely going to be talking more about a hidden traitor in a second when we talk about your game, but right before we get to that, how did both of you get into board games and board game design?

Adrian: I'll go first. For me, this is a relatively recent thing. This is about four years old for us, this interest. For me, my whole life, basically ever since I was 16 or something, I've had this thing where I wanted to do something creative. I had a four-track recorder, and I would compose music and record it, and it's something I never stopped doing. I had times where I was serious about it, but it's tough.

You have to sacrifice everything to make a go at it, and I went to film school at one point originally, I just always felt like I wanted to create something. I never stopped, I was creating things all the time but they just would– You share them with your friends, you share them with your family, and then you put them in a drawer.

It was definitely one of the frustrating things in my life, was that I felt like I wanted to create something and get it out there, so about five years ago I had a new job that was just incredibly overwhelming. I didn't have any choice but to stick with it, and I spent the entire year basically doing nothing but trying to survive that situation in my life, doing nothing creative or anything.

I am an assistant professor, and I made it to the very end of the year at that point where it was final exams, and I had just another week or two before things began to settle down. At that point, just out of nowhere, I basically lost my mind to this game design thing. Juli and I had been playing games remotely at that point, just playing various little strategy games and stuff, and I noticed that we just would play, and we didn't talk about very much.

Juli: We were long distance, by the way, at this point.

Adrian: Yeah, we were long distance at that point. It was like we set up a game on Board Game Arena, and we'd set up the phone, and we'd say, “This will be great. It'll be like we're in the same room together.” What we found is we could play the game fine, but we had nothing to talk about during the game other than “How was your day?” Or something.

Because there wasn't that interactive element, and it just started to strike me that “There should be a game where you really, who you're playing with really matters. But it's not just deduction, and it's working things through together and trying to negotiate things together. Where you have to talk every turn.” I started to see that didn't exist, and it just became this– It was all I could think about for a period of time.

At this point I had no idea even that there was this whole community of indie game designers that I could potentially find a home in, it just seemed like this crazy thing of “I'm going to just start creating a game, and I've no idea where this could ever go,” but I couldn't think about anything else. I had days where I would be driving home from work, and it would be like, “All right. It's nine o'clock at night right now. I have to be back at work at 8:00 in the morning, but if I hurry and I eat in the car, then I can work on this for two hours, and I can still get six hours of sleep.”

 Then what would happen is I would get home and start sitting at the computer, and I would literally just work until my alarm clock went off, and then I would go to work. I'd be sitting in the meeting, and I'd still be trying to discretely on my laptop, type out some more of these rules. It was one of those things where it's like, “Either I'm on to something, either I've found an outlet, or I'm losing my mind here.” That just kept going for quite a while, and it just– The more I did it, the less crazy it seemed.

When I got my first prototype, and we play tested, and I was expecting it to just be completely broken, and it was, but I sort of figured “No. There's something here.” It's been this whole evolution over the course of– It took probably two years before I was convinced that I'm actually really creating something here and not just having this bizarre need for this diversion.

But at this point, we're still on the cusp of really having it out there, but it's been quite a gift to find an avenue for actual creative expression that seems to work for us and seems to suit us that I didn't even really consider before.

Patrick: That's awesome.

Juli: From my perspective, Adrian and I have known each other for about eight years. We were lab mates, it was just the two of us in the lab, so we talked a lot, and then we got together about five years ago. In that three years before we got together, I coincidentally was at a friend's wedding, and I played Werewolf for the first time.

In my family, we're not gamers at all, so I had not played a lot of games, and I played with a big group of people. I was like, “This is fun, and it's really enjoyable. I like the hidden traitor element to this.” Later on, a few friends of mine introduced me to the traditional Settlers of Catan, Munchkin, the gateway games, and everything.

Somebody introduced me to Resistance, which was the first– I would host parties back at my house when we were all– When Adrian and I were in the lab together, and we played Resistance in a big group, and it kept coming back to “Catan is OK, Munchkin is fine and all. But I liked Resistance.” Then when Adrian and I got together, there were always– We played a lot of games.

Adrian's family played a lot of games. They have a huge collection, and so we started digging into different kinds and different styles that we liked, and we kept coming back to the hidden traitor. Then when we were long distance, and he called me, I was working in the lab still, and he'd moved on to his professorial job. He called me and told me that he hadn't slept in two days, and he had this vision of this game.

It was just like, “Oh, man. Are you OK? Do you need some help coping with this job and this moment?” Then he came back with this prototype, play tested it for the first time, and it was halfway through the game when I was like, “Oh my God, he's a genius. This is amazing. This is exactly what I wanted. I can't believe that this– Maybe this already exists?” But then we went into the research phase, and it turned out that it didn't, so we struck something.

Adrian: Then, luckily, Juli was a skilled artist. At that point, she was able to do exactly the artwork that the game needed.

Juli: So we were just like, “I guess we're designers now.”

Patrick: That's a cool story. I dig that. I think Adrian, what's interesting to me is I don't hear from a ton of people that they were– I want to say you were possessed. I mean that in a good way, but you were taken over and every being of your body or every atom of your body has to express this creative idea.

I've had that, but I don't think I've had it for two days. I think I've had it in the middle of my workday for two hours. I remember going, “I have to write this idea down,” but I don't think I've had it for two days. That's pretty impressive.

Adrian: It was weird. I've always been a little obsessive about “If you feel there's something that you need to create,” or something. But this particular one, it's also funny. I don't know exactly what other people's work processes are, but a lot of times– Sometimes you're sitting down and hammering things out on the keyboard like “This idea and this idea and this idea,” but then a lot of times you just get stuck where there's literally nothing you can do but just think about it.

So I remember day after day after day where no matter what I was doing, the only thing I wanted to do was just literally go sit on a chair and just stare into space. I have a lot of memories of being at the museum and just finding a place to sit, and being at a park with the kids and just finding a place to sit. All you can do is just try to think about it.

Juli: It did seem a little bit like possession at the time.

You have a 2-3 player semi-coop game with hidden traitor elements. What were the design challenges?

Patrick: So, let me go into the game because I think it's very interesting. Let me just a highlight it for the listeners here to summarize it, then let's go into some of the details. But basically, your game is a 2-3 player semi co-op. So it could be a two-player game, and there could be one hidden traitor. I think that's very challenging to have a two-player game where there's possibly a hidden traitor.

I think that's tricky, so how did you even make that game? Because my intuition says that if there is a hidden traitor, and they do one thing that's dumb or bad, you're going to be like “You're the hidden traitor.” You're going to thwart them in some way. How did you make a two-player game or 2-3 player game with a possible hidden traitor?

Adrian: It was inspired by real-life to some degree, where every time you're ever working with anybody, you're strengthened by that relationship, but you're also made vulnerable by it. That was the guiding light in terms of the mechanics of it, and the way it came together is the idea that the more– So, there could be two witnesses or there could be a witness and an assassin.

The assassin is obviously the hidden traitor in this context, and the more an assassin can plausibly fear the risk of an assassin the more it justifies adversarial behavior, so that every time the assassin is undermining your mission by thwarting the other player, they can always make the case that they're doing it because they're a witness and they're afraid that the other player is an assassin.

It was a complicated thing of balancing, but basically what we found out is that the more suspicious and the more tools you give the assassin to undermine the mission, the more plausible it becomes that a witness is going to use the same tools to undermine the other player they are with just out of that uncertainty. It's a challenge, though, certainly. Because we had to balance it so that if you have two witnesses, then it is truly a cooperative game.

That has to be still challenging, even though nobody's undermining the mission, and then it also has to be difficult for an assassin to stop them. What ends up happening, and this is where it becomes a little more philosophical, but the idea is that even if you have two witnesses, they're not just in the free and clear because they're both undermining the mission, because they're both undermining each other because they both don't know.

Juli: The interesting things to me when I've done the research into this, and I've talked to people about, “We have this cool two-player hidden traitor game,” people's questions are always, “First of all, OK. You would always know who the traitor is. That's why it has to be that there's either a traitor or there's not–“

Patrick: Correct.

Juli: Because you always know who the traitor is. If there is always a traitor, then a two-player wouldn't work. So it has to be sometimes a traitor or sometimes not, so that's a big part of it. The other big part of it is that it's not just the completion of a mission. When you're playing games like dead of winter or something, you have goals, and they're abstract goals, not necessarily relative to the presence of a traitor.

The traitor might work those goals, but the goal itself is figuring out the traitor and then either killing or saving that player. If they're on your side, you want to save them. If they are not on your side, you'd want to kill them. So because the goal is tied in with the presence of that traitor, it makes it work even better. Then the final thing that Adrian did so well was that people say, “OK. So it's two players, and maybe there's a traitor, maybe there's not. But the thing that keeps traitors hidden in other games where there's a higher player count is the fact that they're outnumbered.”

So here you don't have that, why doesn't the traitor just come gunning for the witness right at the beginning? He created this brilliant card called “Call In a Hit,” which can only be used– It's most powerful effect can only be used by a witness, somebody who's truly a witness. But it just does an enormous amount of damage to the other player, which would lose you the game if you were both witnesses. Witnesses don't want to use it too readily because witnesses can only win if they both survive together.

But it also means that an assassin has to be patient, has to wait for the right moment, so they have to try and seem like a witness. It's true if it were just like “We're in the competitive game, I'm an assassin.” You would be tempted to just be like, “All right. I'll start killing you now.” But they're forced to play it cool, which then takes all this time to build up trust, which is the key that makes the betrayal hurt so much more later on.

Patrick: Awesome. You already answered my question, my follow up question, which was going to be “If there's two witnesses, how do you not make it super easy?” But I think the idea is because you almost have to play defensively, assuming the other player is the assassin, the hidden traitor, and then that make the game still challenging. So, let me ask you this. There's a game mathiness nerd in me that says, “What happens if both players just assumed the other was a witness, would you just crush and beat the game?”

Adrian: If you just completely assumed, then yeah, you'd win some of the time. It's still a challenging game, but yes, certainly, if you're not trying to protect yourself from the other player, that's a big advantage. But it should be because that's the whole point.

That as you continue to earn your trust over time, then that becomes an actual tool and an asset to strengthen your positions as those players. But if you were to just always assume the other player was a witness, yeah, you would win those witness/witness games more frequently, but you'd lose the witness/assassin games every time.

Juli: Every time. That would probably be like, and you'd win basically maybe 35% percent of the time or maybe 25% percent of the time because even the full co-op even if you know that you're witnesses there's still a lot to contend with. We wanted that co-op to be hard. You would lose all of the witness/assassin games and then some of the witness/witness games.

Adrian: But it's a great mathy-type question. It was one of the things I was doing in spreadsheets, actually at the very beginning. “What would be your win percentage likelihood if you just always assumed the other player was an assassin? What would be your win percentage likelihood if you just always assumed the other player was a witness? And then what would be your win percentage if you tried to go off of the clues?” It was always important that the going off the clues was going to be– That the beginning of every game was always going to be your best strategy. It's necessary.

Juli: A witness could certainly start out a game and just be like, “I call out a hit on you right away,” and sure that will–

Adrian: Work some of the time.

Juli: Yeah. But if you want to make your odds better than 50/50, you have to use the clues.

Your game won a spot in the PAX South showcase amongst several other publishers. How do you enter those contests? Do you think they’re valuable?

Patrick: Perfect. Very cool. I noticed that your game won the Pax South Award and I've seen many other games get these awards, and maybe I just go to the wrong conventions or something, but for those of us like myself who have even made games but still have no idea how to get awards, how do you do that?

Juli: I can answer that.

Adrian: We should clarify first, though.

Juli: Yeah.

Adrian: We were selected for the PAX South Indie Tabletop Showcase, and we received the honor alongside like six other publishers, or something. We don't want to make it seem like we–

Juli: We've been told that it's a relatively competitive field, which is quite an honor then, but we hadn't been back to PAX before, and we didn't know what to expect. It was way bigger a deal than we realized because a booth at PAX runs something like $2,300 dollars, and they gave us a free spot and promoted us and everything, which is huge.

We're very grateful to have won a spot there, and it turns out there's quite a few conventions where this is the case. But one of the things that cons are getting better about is supporting indie developers, which is generous. Part of what that means is that you basically give people an opportunity to show off their mechanics, and then you judge them based on that and then potentially give them free or reduced-price spots in the show or the common and then potentially judge their game, play it and judge it.

Then these would all be competitions that would happen sometimes pre-publication. That gives people like us a leg up in “This is our first publication. How are people going to know that it's any good at all?” If we send it out to unbiased reviewers and then also to go to conventions or apply to conventions, then that's one way. So PAX came across my radar through, I believe it was with a Facebook group that's like tabletop Kickstarter advice, and folks there were saying “Applications are coming up for PAX South Showcase. They pick indie developers too.”

I was like, “OK. I don't know what PAX is, but that sounds cool.” Our stepson knew, and he was like, “Oh my God. PAX? If you get in, that would be amazing, and we would definitely go.” We were like, “OK. Cool, we got selected for this convention. That's exciting.” So we were preparing for it, and then we were looking at videos of what PAX was like. We were like, “Oh my gosh. 60,000 people are going to this thing, and it's going to be gigantic and exciting, and a really busy weekend.”

So we talked to some of our publisher friends, and they gave us advice for how to execute a con well as a publisher and how to demo your game well and how to survive the weekend because it's a lot of standing on your feet and explaining the same thing over and over. But it was incredible, and then actually we've looked at, and we've talked to other publishers, looked at the things that they've applied to.

Boston has the FIG awards, and they do an indie game group there. There's the BIT awards is the New York convention, they're for indie board games. Then there's a bunch scattered around the country throughout the year, obviously. We applied to a bunch of them, and all of the rest we were going to go to– Play Through in North Carolina got canceled for Covid and a whole bunch of other conventions that were scheduled out all just canceled.

I'm not sure when the next time will be when we'll be able to go to one of these. But we're still applying, and some of them are going online. Some of them are delaying, but they surprised me too that there were opportunities like this, but I strongly recommend it to anybody who's relatively new to publishing because it gives you an opportunity to get seen and a an opportunity to show off what should be the core of the game, the mechanics. That's important for people who are brand new to publishing when they don't have a big budget.

Patrick: Great. This is really good info, but let me ask you what steps are involved? Can I just send you an existing sell sheet? Can I just send the people an existing how to play video? Or, do I have to spend many hours coming up with my own–? Like, do they have their own requirements for their own video, and I have to shoot it and edit it and do this? Sorry, go ahead.

Juli: Some of them do have their own. Some of them say, “Just send us a play through video,” or “Send us your–” Whatever they'll say, between 5-7 minutes or 5-10 minutes, just describe it. It often helps to just say, to address it directly to that application. For each of the applications that I did, I made an individual video. But it's definitely, some of them were just like, “Shoot us your promo video. Shoot us your description from BGG.”

For some things, you can use existing content, but some of them are particular enough. Like one said, “No more than 10 minutes.” One said, “No, more than five minutes.” We felt to get the maximum value out of each of those, we would do the full five minutes, the full ten minutes, and then make them particular to what that group was looking for.

But the application process and some descriptions of your games and content, and then usually a video that shows the mechanics. But they all say, your art does not have to be done, and there doesn't even have to be any art at all. It's really, and they're going for making sure that the theory is there and not that you've spent a lot of money producing something.

Patrick: Awesome. That's great to hear. I think I assumed it would be a lot of work to submit, but maybe it's not as much work as I thought. So that's good.

Juli: It's not too bad, and even they say that video quality doesn't matter.

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

Patrick: Great. What research do you two do before starting game design? Or, maybe even while in game design?

Adrian: This is maybe a strange answer, but for me, it's music playlists, basically. What I figured out with Mantis Falls and what was special about it to us was that there's a lot of games that can be fantastic strategy games, but you could get a whole room full of people to play it, or you can maybe just download it as an app on your phone in the decisions you make are pretty similar.

And what I discovered is that even if that's a great game, that's not the stuff we want to create. We want it to be something that requires other people's interaction to be at the core of that experience. For me, it's maybe a little weird. But there's eight or nine completely different genres of playlists of music that I just really attach to, and for each of them when I look at that portfolio of games that we're working on, it's basically one for every playlist. They create, and they evoke some mood or some setting or some theme. Then I try to think about what those protagonists in that situation, what challenges they'd be facing, and how that would exist as game mechanics.

Then the whole process is just a translation of turning those imagined experiences into something that people can do with cards and components. That's pretty much it. Then the rest of the research process is a lot of me trying things, and then I'm really in a fortunate situation with Juli and my kids that I have ready and excited play testers all around all the time. Which is a luxury that I know a lot of people–

Juli: That's why people have children.

Adrian: It allows me to do an enormous amount of trial and error, which is exciting because I don't have to say “I know this is going to work,” I can say “I don't know if it's going to work. All I have to do is revise some cards, print them out, and find out. That's the process.”

Juli: Adrian's mom is also actually a really big help to us. She lives right down the road and is really into gaming, so for my part, what happened with this game is that we made it. We thought it was amazing, and we hadn't played every game around. So we were like, “Shoot. Is this an original thing? Are there other games like this?”

One of the things that I did was go through and basically what we wanted to know was this hidden traitor, but particularly for two players because we'd never seen it. I was searching through all these forums and people recommending, when somebody asks, “What's a good two-player hidden traitor game, what do people say?”

It was a funny thing because I would go through all these forums about 2-3 player hidden traitor games, and everyone's like, “Duh. It can't be done. There isn't one, and for good reason, because that would be stupid, and it wouldn't work.” It seemed like we'd struck on something at that point, and some people had said– Like we've been compared, I think most closely maybe to Battlestar Galactica, which is very generous and favorable comparison, which I appreciate.

But then when people said that I'd be like “Oh God, maybe it already exists.” We looked into BSG, it's too expensive to buy, but Dark Moon, I think, is the adaptation for BSG Express. So then I did a bunch of research into all kinds of different games, how their mechanics work, and I basically figured out that not only is there nothing quite exactly like this, but then also people don't believe it can be done.

Which is both a help to us in that we feel it's going to be valuable, but then a hindrance in that they don't believe us when we tell them that we've done it. But then I struck upon this one on this one forum, and it was a beautiful thing, people were talking about two play a hidden traitor. This one person, everyone else was saying, “It can't be done, can't be done.” Then this one person said, “Maybe two-player, for sure, traitor can't be done.”

This was nine years ago. But he said, “But I feel like a two-player maybe traitor game could be amazing.” He was like, “I can just imagine how immersive and intense it would be that you feel like you're working towards this cooperative win with another person and how devastating the betrayal would be when it came. There's nothing out there like this, but I feel like it could be done. Somebody just has to chip away at everything that is an elephant.”

When I first came upon that quote, I was like, “Oh my God, this person had a premonition of this game.” So I reached out to him and said, “We thank you for saying that, we made it.” So the research phase came well after– In this case, well-well after the game was already, for the most part, complete. Which is probably not a sound way to do things, but it just– Because it felt like such a natural– The game just naturally came to Adrian. It made sense to let the whole thing just exist in the world, and then we could find out if it was unique.

Patrick: At least by doing this research, you found out that it is a genuine– I don't want to say “A problem,” but a genuine hole in the market. Your game solves it, so that's a great thing to discover.

Juli: We're pretty excited about it. There are two-player– I think Saboteur is a two-player hidden traitor, it has got very different mechanics than ours and a very different feeling and theme and everything, but we definitely feel like we've struck upon something quite unique.

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

Patrick: Awesome. So we'll move into some of these ending questions here. You guys are coming up on your first Kickstarter, and I'm sure you're very excited. What is a resource you would recommend to an aspiring game designer?

Juli: The Facebook group that I mentioned earlier, the Tabletop Publisher Kickstarter Advice. I would say that, but also I went to local play test nights at The Rook and Pawn here in Athens, Georgia. It's a little board game cafe, for years, that was our first experience getting to talk to other people who had successful Kickstarters and who could advise us.

Then some folks there recommended that we get into that Tabletop Kickstarter Facebook group. It's like 8,000 Tabletop publishers who all talk about how to properly execute a Kickstarter launch all the time. It's an incredible wealth of knowledge and people are insanely generous with their time and energy, because in gaming, it's not like people just buy one game. They're like, “I'm done.” It's not like buying a car. People recognize that making gaming a bigger part of people's lives, we're not cannibalizing each other's markets or in direct competition with each other, so people just really want to give you a leg up.

We've gotten every kind of advice from “What do we have to worry about in terms of manufacturing? What about how do you deal with VAT taxes going to the UK and EU? How about what's Brexit going to do to shipping internationally? How do we market with Google or Facebook pixel on literally everything that we've been able to do so far?” We've been able to get free, very good advice from well-meaning other publishers. We probably post questions there at least two or three times a week and get really, very truly helpful answers. I would strongly recommend that resource.

Adrian: Yeah, that helped.

Patrick: Let me jump in here quick. I know I'm in a couple of Kickstarter groups, the one I see that I see that has 8,000 members. Is that Kickstarter Best Practices? Or is it a different one?

Juli: There is that one too, but we've been using–

Adrian: Should I get the exact name? I can do that right now.

Juli: Yeah, let's give them the exact name.

Adrian: Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice.

Patrick: Listeners, I will try to find– There it is. I will try to give you a direct link for this, so you don't have to find it.

Juli: It's honestly, people are so great in that group and so knowledgeable. Literally, any question you can think of that you need help with, somebody got the answer to it, and they're going to jump in and help you out with it.

Patrick: Adrian, what would be your pick?

Adrian: Best resource?

Patrick: Yeah.

Adrian: Same thing. That's been the one that's been helpful for us. But also just local community people, it's such a nice community the people that we found. We have other game designers that we've met just locally, and everybody's just so helpful, and so many questions come up, so it's been really good.

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

Patrick: Cool. Then a different question for you, Adrian, this time. What's the best money you've spent? What's worth every single cent you've invested?

Adrian: This may be the obvious generic one, but just that first prototype that I was willing to buy. Again, I had no idea that this was even really a thing that there was a lot of indie game designers. I thought I was doing something pretty out there in the first place, thinking that I was going to make my own game. I found this one website called MakePlayingCards.com, which I didn't even know that I could go someplace and get game boards or something.

I was just happy that I could make cards, and when I was filling the whole thing in, and then it was going to be that first check out was $65 dollars for some game. I thought I was just out of my mind, and it was a real moment of “That's a lot of money.” I had no idea that's small compared to the investment that eventually this is going to require, but there was almost a second of reluctance at that small price because I didn't know what I was doing.

Obviously, it's such an incredibly small price to pay to discover a new passion and a new outlet like this. At that point, I didn't even know. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get a box. I went to Zazzle, and I made a porcelain and wood box because it was the only way I could figure out how to have pieces.

I went into eBay and got a little pewter collectible figurines from 40 years ago because I just was so clueless that obviously there's just websites where you can get meeples and board game boxes and stuff. But at that point, I spent that time figuring out how to do it, and I spent the money to do it, and obviously, it was a life-changing thing that I was wanting to do that.

Juli: I think that the thing that we been doing well too is that we printed a lot of prototypes, a lot of them. At every stage, we were like “OK, we'll get a new one made so that we have an up to date copy.” But then the big thing was that we ended up printing probably fifteen or so once we had the game down and ready, and then we shipped them all over the world.

We've gotten them in the hands of maybe 40 different reviewers, and so that cost a lot to ship it all over the place. We're also offering all those reviewers a thank-you copy of the game from the Kickstarter. So that's a big investment, especially for being brand new, we're depending on unbiased reviews and people talking about our game because they appreciate it or they're excited about it.

Getting that many copies printed and then shipping them all over the place, it was a lot of money, but I don't know how else we would have gotten the traction that we've gotten so far because people now all over can vouch for us. That's a big deal.

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

Patrick: Cool. That's great to hear. So, last real question is, what does success look like for both of you?

Adrian: Do you want to go first?

Juli: Sure. To me, we've just spent so much time and energy and put so much love and thought into this game that I think success, and it would be obviously great if we funded, and we're able to put this out into the world. But I think the bigger thing is probably if I had to guess what Adrian's answer is going to be, it's probably similar to what mine is.

But the game elicits very particular, very genuine emotions of “When we win as two witnesses together, it doesn't always happen that way. Even us, we've had two– Our two most recent games where we were both witnesses or maybe we both just killed each other out of mistrust, so when we are able to overcome– Yeah, it was great. When my parents heard that my fiancee was making this game, they were like, “What's the matter with you?”

But the thing that I think Adrian did so beautifully is he struck upon this beautiful concept that you– Trust is so ephemeral, and it's hard to build, and it's easy to break, and you feel it. You genuinely feel it in the game. At least we do, and I know other people have, and for other people to feel that not just to play a game where it's an economy, and you build things, and you succeed, and you make more money. But here, you get that emotional payout. To me, that's what I would want for this success is that people feel that the way that we do. What do you think?

Adrian: Yeah. Certainly people, the more people that get it and appreciate it and stuff, that's gratifying. That's probably the core of what would count as success for me. I think, though, I touched upon this at the beginning of the interview. But I hit a point very early on in my life where I felt like, “You got to work, you do the stuff you're supposed to do,” and somehow, one of things that felt important in your time on this planet is you want to create something.

I think I have a legacy even of that in my family, but the nature of it was always “You write a book, and you share it with one person, and then you put it in a drawer. You spend your whole life trying to get better at painting, and this would be my grandfather or something, where he spent his whole life painting and painting and painting and painting, and I think it brought him a lot of pleasure, but I think it also brought him some sadness because it always felt like it wasn't good enough. Who do you show it to? You're motivated to do this stuff, but you always are asking yourself the question of, “Why?”

You're creating– If you create something that feels intrinsically valueless, then can the creation itself even feel valuable to you? I've struggled with that a lot, just no matter what I'm doing in my professional life or something, I would run home and just want to make music. It was always tinged with a sadness, and it didn't matter how good the song might turn out. I didn't know who I was going to share it with or why, so for me finding this avenue and then with Juli's great support and the people around me have been so supportive of this, with the idea that it's about halfway through your life or hopefully not quite.

But making this moment of “This is it. I'm going to stop this feeling bittersweet. I'm going to just feel good about what I'm creating and put it out there and have it exist in a way that that feels real and feels like an accomplishment. If we can pull that off now, then it feels like the sky's the limit then for us.” The idea that I could continue to try to create things for the rest of my life without that tinge of doubt of what the point is, I think that's what we want to get to. It's hard to say what threshold we'd have to cross, where exactly we could say, “We did it,” but it's out there, so that's where we're trying to get.

Overrated/Underrated

Patrick: Awesome. I like to end with a game called Overrated/Underrated, so if you haven't heard of it before listeners, it is basically to give them a word or phrase like “Wine” and then they're going to say if it's overrated or underrated and then one sentence why. They might say, “Wine is underrated because we're stuck inside all time. A little bit of drinking is nice.” Something like that.

So, because we're short on time, I'm just going to switch off and have each of you answer one of these. I'll start with you, Juli. Two to three-player games, overrated or underrated? And one sentence, why?

Juli: Underrated, for sure. There aren't enough of them.

Adrian: Give me like one sentence why other than “There aren't enough.”

Juli: Everyone is all about one player games right now. Solos. So, I think intimacy. Intimacy is what it's all about.

Patrick: Awesome. Adrian, how about this? How about having your own swimming pool in your backyard? Overrated or underrated?

Adrian: I would say overrated, probably. A lot of maintenance, a lot of frustration.

Patrick: OK. Do you know this from personal experience? It sounds that way.

Adrian: At one point when I was growing up, we briefly had a house that had a swimming pool in the backyard, and it was– I remember very quickly my dad's thought on it was “This has been great. Remind me to never, ever, ever get a house with a pool ever again.” I don't know if that's a common experience, but we had a lot of algae and a lot of reasons why it never really panned out.

Patrick: Got it. All right, Adrian, I've got another one for you because this one's actually game related. So, game contests. Overrated or underrated?

Adrian: Underrated, I would say. I think it seems like it's a slightly untapped idea, and it's worked out great for us, so underrated.

Patrick: Awesome. Last one, Juli. Owning pets, Overrated or underrated?

Juli: Depends on the pet, but I would say underrated. We've got what I think is the best dog in the world, and if I could just own him for the rest of my life– Or, I should say, if I could just live with him for the rest of my life I'd be more than happy with that.

Wrap Up

Patrick: That's great. Thank you both, Juli and Adrian, for being on the show.

Adrian: Thank you so much for having us.

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

Adrian: Our company is Distant Rabbit Games. You can go to DistantRabbitGames.com, that's probably your best starting point. Because from there you can find, obviously, all our social media and you can follow us on anything from there. Just search for us on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or something, but then you can also– Our game Mantis Falls, you can go to MantisFalls.com as well. If you are specifically interested in the game, that might be your best place to start.

Juli: We're on BoardGameGeek, but our website definitely gives more of a thorough understanding and more information about the game.

Patrick: Awesome. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Juli and Adrian will promise to get you lunch at the next con and then betray you and steal your lunch money. So, here's my advice. Leave a review, but don't tell them you left a review, so they don't have to do that whole shenanigans at the next con. That would be my advice, listeners.

Then if you guys want to follow along with what I'm doing, I have a Patreon, and it also keeps on the lights and pays for hosting for the podcast. That would be super appreciated if you could donate on Patreon. Then 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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