Michael Cofer

#57 – Michael Cofer

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designer's Podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every 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 Michael Cofer who designed Sengoku (on Kickstarter now), Gadgeteers, along with Dan Letzring who was on episode 10, and a bunch of other games. Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Cofer: Thank you, Patrick, I'm really happy to be here, and can I just tell you, I was literally bobbing my head to the intro.

Patrick Rauland: I total, good, I totally dig it as well, yeah, I was, it pumps me up, it's good. I've had, I was at [inaudible 00:00:50] Madison, and somebody asked me where they could get the full song, and I was like, no, it's made for, like that is the full song. It's not like, he thought it was part of like a hiphop song. I'm like, no, they made it for podcasts and stuff like that, it's just like an intro, outro thing.

Michael Cofer: By the nature of hiphop right, that could be. It just hasn't happened yet, you know?

Patrick Rauland: I think we just need to do some rapping on top of it, so you know, after we're done recording, you and I, we can do a rap session.

Michael Cofer: Yeah, you've got my email, let's do this thing.


Patrick Rauland: All right. So Michael, I know a little bit about you because I did some research, but the audience doesn't, so I like to start with a little game, they're just like three quick lightning questions. Ready?

Michael Cofer: Got it.

Patrick Rauland: All right. So do you think you could win at the Three Card Monte con?

Michael Cofer: Am I the dealer or the guesser?

Patrick Rauland: Oh you're the guesser.

Michael Cofer: Oh, no.

Patrick Rauland: No, okay.

Michael Cofer: It's a con. Like no. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:01:42] The only way that I lose is to play the game.

Patrick Rauland: What is your favorite gadget from Inspector Gadget the cartoon?

Michael Cofer: Okay. You know, I think it's gotta be the Go Go Gadget arm. And here's why. Literally, in my life, and my wife could attest to this, I'll be sitting on the couch or I'll be whatever, and there's something out of reach, and I will reach with all my might and say, Go Go Gadget arm. And it has not worked yet. But until I become Force-sensitive, Go Go Gadget is the next best thing.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. I love that. And maybe you should get like a tinier house, and then there's less stretching.

Michael Cofer: Buddy, there are not tinier houses.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, okay. And if you could co-design a game with any other game designer, who would you pick?

Michael Cofer: You know, my first inclination was Antoine Bauza, but probably mostly because his games are just so beautiful looking. But I think realistically, Matt Leacock would be a lot of fun.

Patrick Rauland: I mean, maybe if you do like a pandemic expansion. Then.

Michael Cofer: You know, that's a great idea, somebody should do a pandemic expansion.

How Did You Get Into Board Games & Board Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: No one's seen those. Cool, all right, so first real question, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Michael Cofer: So, I was in high school in the late nineties, so I'm ancient, A. B, that means that I was playing Magic when Magic was first a thing. And so that was sort of a big inspiration for me early on. And I didn't really get into board games again much until really kind of post college. It might have even been later than that. And there's some overlap here, too. So part of the questions about board game design right? So the first things I did, I think most designers were trying to make improvements or to fix problems to games you loved. So one of the very first card games I ever did was, and it's a game that I still love very much, I thought about kind of rehabbing it, but a game called The Valiant, where you, you don't assemble a deck. What you do is you pull together a tableau basically, of 10 cards. But it's a dueling game. Similar to Magic. And the reason I made that game in the first place was because I was bothered by the pay to win factor of Magic. That really bothered me. I was like, well what if you had a game that rarity wasn't an issue. You know?

Michael Cofer: And this was long before living card games were a thing. So I was trying to address that problem. I was also trying to address, like, I don't like the way that mana can make or break you in this game but you don't have control over it. So there were a number of things that I thought, in my hubris, I would address as a guy who's never built anything ever. And what came out of it was a pretty cool game that's mostly cards and a little bit of dice. And I still enjoy it. A few of my friends have played it and really love it. So that was that, but then on the other hand, I like to play a lot of computer RPGs and stuff. And I started, especially playing Neverwinter, I started to notice, you know, actually, there's an RPG that's the granddaddy of all this stuff. And so I started looking into D&D and how it worked and I thought, D&D's cool but ninjas are cooler, so I started writing a module for doing Samurai and ninja and that sort of thing. Which, there already existed one, but I didn't know that until three quarters of the way through.

Michael Cofer: And so those were kind of the two things that really sparked me getting into board game design. And then, it exploded later on when I discovered The Game Crafter. That's probably the common story for a lot of people. But then there's a community, and I don't know. I could go on about The Game Crafter, but maybe I'll save that for a little later.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Well, let me go back to, so you started modifying basically Magic: The Gathering. You found some things you didn't like, you wanted to change it. That obviously like, your first initial baby steps into game design, how long between tweaking Magic and designing your first game was there? Like how long of a period was that?

Michael Cofer: Well I sort of just said I like the dueling. And I like the assembly, you know, the pregame game of Magic. But I didn't do any mods to Magic proper. I just started by saying, so, if I was gonna make something. So I just started there and I built from the ground up with no experience, I just said, you know, I kinda understand how Magic works, and here are some thoughts. But I built a game with completely different systems, other than the fact that you punch each other in the face.

The Game Crafter

Patrick Rauland: So going back to The Game Crafter, not every guest knows about The Game Crafter, and especially the people in Europe. The Game Crafter really helps me a lot. I get a lot out of it. But not every guest makes prototypes like that, which.

Michael Cofer: Yeah, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Blows my mind a little bit.

Michael Cofer: I kind of understand. I mean, there are a good number of people on The Game Crafter, but I understand why that would be a barrier.

Patrick Rauland: Totally.

Michael Cofer: Because you know, the biggest cost in The Game Crafter when you get down to it really, winds up being shipping. But man, fantastic. And even if you, I hesitate to say this, but even if you don't make your product there, the community of people there who can guide you in the process, and how much you can learn about the process of printing and cutting and assembling. Like, you can learn so much valuable stuff by just being there and making a game. Any game. Even if you don't intend on selling it. Just make it, go through that whole process. It's invaluable.

The Game Crafter Chat

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Random question on that. So people talk about the community, but I have a hard time focusing on The Game Crafter if I have the chat open. Like, if a chat's open, then I have like 18 windows open, and the chat's like, it's, do you have the chat open when you use it?

Michael Cofer: No, that's what I'm saying is sitting in chat, The Game Crafter. So like when I get on The Game Crafter, and I've been around for a few years now, so when I get on there I can knock something out in just a few minutes, 'cause I know what to do and they've got some really handy tools for, golly. It's gonna sound like I'm an employee. I'm not. But you know, if you know what you're doing, you can knock things out really fast. So do that, but then also just sit and chat, get to know people. Ask questions. Ask dumb questions. If you're not a jerk, if you're not arrogant, if you're patient and listen to what people say, there's so much industry knowledge there and even wisdom. And generally speaking, people tend to be very positive. Unless someone's bringing a real negative energy, people tend to be really positive.

Designing Smaller Games

Patrick Rauland: Totally. All right, so I wanna talk about your game. So in Sengoku, so it's an 18 card game, it's coming out with Dan Grek, which we'll talk about that in a second. But your game Sengoku, it seems pretty fast. I think on the box it says like 20 minutes. But it's kind of, I just saw, I'm trying to get more game design questions into the show, and because, it's like, the reason I brought up Three Card Monte in the beginning at the top of the show is because you sort of have your Shogun in one of these three villages, and if your opponent gets lucky, couldn't they win in like the first round of the game. Was that a design challenge that you had to work around?

Michael Cofer: You know, if somebody has never played the game before and another person has, I think there's an off-chance, maybe it's a one round thing. But because you haven't sunk a lot of time into it, then there's not a lot of sting when that happens, you know? It's like oh. Oh! And that realization can come pretty quick. For the most part, anybody who's played the game more than once or twice, it's virtually impossible to lose in the first round.

Patrick Rauland: Ah, cool. Cool. I mean, it's a little short game, right? 20 minutes is still a very short game by board game nerd standards.

Michael Cofer: Absolutely.

Patrick Rauland: Did you intend for people to play multiple rounds of this? Or.

Michael Cofer: Yes.

Adding Rounds to Short Games?

Patrick Rauland: Yes. Okay. Have you ever thought about adding structure? Like the person who wins three out of five rounds, or did you, do you just want it to be free form?

Michael Cofer: Yeah, I think it's fine if you look at it as a one off. I have toyed with a series rule, where when you win the first game, you take a handicap going into the second game. And there might be some expansion mechanics that make that work even better too, maybe. I hope I'm not tipping my hand too much. But yeah, so playing in a series is fine. But frankly, in a game like this, I don't think you build a game night around this game. But it's a 18 card game. You keep it in your pocket, and when you're bored waiting for your food to come at the restaurant, boom. It's your game. You know what I mean?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. And I'm a big fan of filler games, and I'm a huge fan of games you can bring with you. Especially when they're convenient to carry, so.

Michael Cofer: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

A Wave of Kickstarter Games

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so your game Sengoku, it's on Kickstarter with Concrete Canoe Games. And I should say, this will be out when this episode airs. And what's kind of cool is, this is almost a sequel, Dan Grek was on episode two who runs Concrete Canoe Games. So if you wanna go back, you can listen to that episode, but I'd love to ask you, he sort of releases, what's the, wave of games, I guess is the best word to use here. So it's your game and two other games are coming out at the same time. What is it like to have your Kickstarter campaign include your game with two other games?

Michael Cofer: Well, you know, this will be the first time that that's happened to me. But here's why I'm excited about the idea, because I am excited about the idea. Well, okay, I'm just gonna be really honest. I had a concern about this game that, because the game happens way more in heads than it does on the table, right? So if you just read a synopsis of the game, it's gonna sound like there's not much game to it, you know?

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Michael Cofer: So my fear is that a lot of people will just blow it off because they don't see the game because they haven't played it. And they, you know. For people that love The Princess Bride, there's that scene where, you know, I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me, that whole scene? That's what this game is like. But it's difficult to put that out in rules, you know? To just see that on the paper. So, all that's gonna say, I hope there's people who are attracted because they like the theme, they like the art, maybe they're interested in the game play, they come see my game. But there's two other games that might pull somebody's interest in, and while they're there, they might go, you know, actually while I'm here, this one's pretty cool, too. So my hope is that it actually leads to increased exposure, not a decreased spotlight, if that makes sense.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. No that definitely makes sense. And I was literally, as you were describing, I was literally thinking of that scene from The Princess Bride, so yeah, I can't choose this, but I can't choose this one, and if I put my Shogun here, then you're gonna attack here. So that sounds really, really cool.

Patrick Rauland: So it's not only where do you put your Shogun but where is your opponent putting theirs based on previous stuff. So that seems like a lot of fun, but you're right, it's a lot of in your head, not a lot of on the table.

Michael Cofer: Yep, it is. And that first time, when you don't put any defenders where your Shogun is on purpose, and the person doesn't take, yeah. You feel pretty good about that.

What's Your Favorite Game You Designed?

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that's great. So what is the favorite game you've designed? Because you've designed a few.

Michael Cofer: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, I've only had a couple published, but I've designed probably a dozen full completed games, you know? I think maybe my favorite, favorite favorite favorite, is actually a rules light role playing system. It's one sheet of paper front and back with pretty much everything you need to play the game, but in terms of board games, it's probably, and it's one of those, it's 95% done, but it's a game that I keep coming back to, it's called Never Trust a Dragon, and it's a bluffing and negotiation game where all the players at the table are dragons and there are a few villages at the center of the table. There's generally fewer villages than there are dragons. So, there's not enough things to root and raid to go around. So, yeah. It's very, it's a very interactive kind of game, and there's opportunities to, well, to openly lie to people, because that's, never trust a dragon, right? That's the idea. And so it's a fun game, it's tricky, balancing is kind of tricky, but I think that's my favorite.

Patrick Rauland: [crosstalk 00:14:45] It sounds fun.

Michael Cofer: I was thinking about this with my wife and I list off a half of dozen games and she's like, oh that one's good, yeah that one's good. Yeah. So I'm gonna go with that as my answer.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. So I'm totally thinking of, so you said Neverwinter Nights at the top of the show, right?

Michael Cofer: Oh, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, so I'm sort of getting the impression you're into definitely role playing and like D&Ding and classic stuff like that? I would love to make a game in that setting, you know what I mean, with like specific characters, or even specific dragons, 'cause I've played through all the Baldur's Gate games, I'm reading some of the Drizzt. It's such a cool universe.

Michael Cofer: And I'm gonna be honest, my D&D cred isn't what it should be. I've been gaming with an RPG group, just some friends of mine, we game on Skype, essentially. Or Discord, now. Supposedly weekly. We've been doing this for a couple years. Still haven't played D&D in that group. We did Victoriana, we did The One Ring. We're back in Victoriana now. We played one or two oneshots on my other system. But yeah. And part of it is I'm a little hesitant, 'cause it's like there's a whole world of D&D that people do know, and they know well, and it's, I'm an outsider to that because I didn't play it when I, in formative years, you know, so.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, I've played some role playing games with people who like, play it a lot, and then the [inaudible 00:16:13] like I'll give you one magical item to start, and I'm like I guess this one, and they're like, why would you pick the [inaudible 00:16:20] sustaining your life force is clearly the best option. I'm sorry, I don't know, I'm sorry. But yeah, there's, it's hard to play that game with people who are, who have different goals than you, I guess.

Michael Cofer: And I'll be honest, we may as a group get to it, but the way that we play, like hex maps and stuff are irrelevant to us. We don't think in those terms. ‘Cause we're very much character driven, and narrative, and that sort of thing. So I don't know if it'd be a good fit for our group, but.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Michael Cofer: Might bite it off one of these days.

What Sort of Research Do You Do?

Patrick Rauland: So I'd love to know what research you do do before starting a new project. Do you spend hours researching D&D maps before your dragon games, or how does that happen?

Michael Cofer: You know, so it usually goes like this: something will spark inspiration. And it might be playing another game. Or it might be, there's some other media I'm consuming, it's a superhero movie I went to go see, or it's a spy movie I just watched. Or something like that. And it'll just get some creative juices flowing, and so I usually don't do a lot of research before diving in, I really just kinda say, well, what's the experience I want people to have and then, how can we make, how can we facilitate people having that experience? And I'll just push things around and I'll toy with ideas. Sometimes it's the mechanic, you know? Like, the idea of a rondel's been intriguing to me. I've poked around at a rondel a little bit, but not really, you know. Or roll & write. You know? But it usually comes from either talking to somebody or watching something. And I just get a bug and I just start saying, well, how do I try and help a player have that experience?

Michael Cofer: You can't give a player an experience, you know what I'm saying, but you can try and set the table for them.

Patrick Rauland: I was actually gonna go back to that. That is a great nuance there, I really like that. ‘Cause you can't, if someone comes to the table angry, upset, sad, happy, whatever, you can't force them to feel the experience that you're trying to create, but you can help them there if possible. So it's cool to think about it that way, you're facilitating something, not making it happen.

Michael Cofer: Yeah, yeah, and you know, part of the subtle art of board games is that everything should help implicitly drive a player to that experience you want. So, lemme give you a good example. If you've played Mysterium.

Patrick Rauland: I haven't.

Michael Cofer: Oh man. Have you played Dixit?

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Michael Cofer: Okay. So Mysterium is similar in mechanic to Dixit, but it's sort of like if you played Clue using the Dixit engine. That's how Mysterium kind of works. One player's a ghost who gives these cards to the other players. So the box art tells you supernatural, creepy, right? You open up the manual and all of the graphic design points you in that direction. The role of the player who's the ghost, not only can you not speak, but they even give you some tips like, oh also, if you don't wanna say yes or no to people's guesses, you can knock once or twice as your indication. Which lets you kind of maintain that aloof, creepy, ghosty feeling. They include in there a little, I think it's a QR code or maybe a URL, that'll take you to a website with a soundtrack you can play while playing the game.

Patrick Rauland: That's cool.

Michael Cofer: So like, from a mechanical standpoint, all of those things are unnecessary, right? But all of them add a richness and they set the table, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor, for players to be in a certain headspace, in a certain mood, and have a certain experience. So I think it's really important, you know, when you get that first 70% of your game done, okay I've gotten mechanics that work. You know, what should the art look like? You know, it's not just that I need a picture of a goblin. Do I need a picture of a goblin that looks like Warhammer 40k? Or do I need a goblin that looks like WOW, you know? That's very different.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Michael Cofer: So all those sort of aesthetic choices, and the way that you write your rules. If you've ever played Animal Upon Animal, or if you're aware of it, it's a game meant for kids. There's about four or five rules that I wish were more specific in that manual, but they're not. But the reason that they're not is it's not the kind of game that you should be caring that much about the specifics of the rules. And that's a conscious choice, I think they made.

Do You Have to Figure Out the Mechanics First?

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so about halfway through when I was, I started Fry Thief back in like January of last year. I'd say by like middle of maybe June, I started including a little Fry components, again, it doesn't change the mechanics at all, but it just made the game feel nicer, so that took me like six months to really sort of make the game feel nicer. I'm curious, like where through your process should you do that? Should you have the mechanics down pat and then do all these, add to the richness? Or can you do some of these things ahead of time?

Michael Cofer: Yeah.

Fun in the Small Things

Patrick Rauland: I realize I'm asking you a secret question. The secret question I'm asking is, 'cause sometimes the fun of the game is all those small things. Does that make sense?

Michael Cofer: Yeah. Well, yeah, but I don't think that that's possible. Well, I don't know, Munchkin. Munchkin may be one of those games where it's like, you could, if you look at the raw mechanics of the game, it's just a mean spirited, no, game right? But then when you start layering on the cute art and the inside jokes and stuff and then people start to buy into it. But those aren't, I don't like to make games like that. I wanna make a game that, without all the table setting stuff, it still has fun soul to it.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Michael Cofer: But that said, I'm gonna skip over your secret question and answer your up front question, 'cause I think it might illuminate where I'm at on this. I will. It depends on who you have who can play the game with you. So when I start the game, when I start designing a game, I am playing the game against myself in my mind, or even on the table, before I show it to anybody. And at that stage, my imagination can impose on it all the cool flavor. I don't need it at that stage. Now if you have a few trusted, close, play testers who get it, oftentimes, and it's really helpful if you have one or two or three of those kind of guys or ladies, that you can bring in a very rough stage, very rough stage, you bring it in front of them and show it to them and let them play it. But if I'm gonna go any wider than that one or two really trusted people who get what I'm after, I want something that feels like a game. You know, visually, aesthetically. And maybe even with flavor text, you know?

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Michael Cofer: Now, I have the luxury of, I've got pretty good Photoshop skills, and some Illustrator skills and I can kind of bang some of that stuff out. And I should say, because we're talking to mostly board game designers, at this stage, when you're printing your prototypes on your own Laserjet computer, or computer printer or whatever, not printing them professionally from The Game Crafter or any other professional service, but if you're doing it at your home, feel free to just grab stuff off Google.

Patrick Rauland: Right, right.

Michael Cofer: If you're inspired by Disney princesses for your game, then grab images of Disney princesses, slap them on them, print them off, do that. Because what that'll do is that'll put that aesthetic in front of people, and you're still pretty much in the law, like your not really breaking any copyright law by doing this. And then when you're ready to start moving to more professional stuff, then you start swapping in the real art.

Patrick Rauland: Going back to your earlier point of facilitating an experience, I think with placeholder art, you are facilitating the experience you want the end user to have with your play testers, you know what I mean?

Michael Cofer: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: Because if you don't facilitate it at all, they'll just evaluate you on your core mechanics, which as you said with Munchkin, maybe those aren't super fun, but when you add all the extra stuff, then it is fun.

Michael Cofer: Well, and here's the other thing to. So your play testers are a gift to you. God bless anybody willing to play an unfinished game. Right? Because it has a potential to be miserable. So one of the things that you do, if you present a more polished prototype is you tell the person, one, this is a real game, I've thought this through, it's worthy of your time. You know, it's not even just making it a more pleasurable experience. Honestly, I think you're more apt for somebody to take it seriously and look at it like it's not some person, you know, some random guy who's just, you know, it's not Cones of Dunshire. Right? Like, I didn't just scribble this stuff down on index cards.

If you present a more polished prototype is you tell the person, one, this is a real game, I've thought this through, it's worthy of your time

Michael Cofer

Michael Cofer: Well, actually, that's how Sengoku started. I had x's and numbers on index cards. But I would never have shown that to anybody except for I think one of my friends. He was the only one that that would work for. Anybody else.

Patrick Rauland: Oh man, I totally start down the lazy route. I do at least one or two prototypes with just index cards and hand scribblings.

Michael Cofer: Well, it's worth mentioning that I spend more time as a graphic designer for board games than I do as a game designer. So I'm probably a little bit biased on this. Full disclosure there.

How Important is Graphic Design?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So is that something, let's talk about that for a second. ‘Cause I'm curious, like, is there anything you've learned from, 'cause, and you do this for other people right, like not for your, I mean, for your own stuff as well. But you're doing graphic design for other people's games, right?

Michael Cofer: Yeah, in fact it's a really curious thing that I'm not really involved in the graphic design of Sengoku. Right? That's kind of weird for me. But I'm working on three other projects at the same time. I've worked with, you know Dan Letzring from Letiman Games, I've worked with him on all of his projects except for PHD, that's the only one I didn't work on. And I've done some stuff for other people too, but I work mostly with Dan Letzring, and he's got enough irons in the fire that it's been pretty steady.

Michael Cofer: But there was a question you had and I think I.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was curious if you've learned anything about game design just from the graphic design lens?

Michael Cofer: Sort of. Yeah, sort of. The biggest thing is that the value of putting information where people can easily find it just, it's so super important. Because if people have to stop and you don't want people to have to decipher the components. You want people to grock and make their decisions and make it happen. Because that's where the experience is. You know, if you have to cycle through eight different icons on a card, and you have to cross reference that with some sort of legend, like, you've lost your player.

Patrick Rauland: I hear you. I'm reminiscing back to like, Warhammer 40k, 3rd Edition, where there's charts for everything. And it's an ordeal to figure out what one die roll does.

Michael Cofer: Yeah. As a matter of fact I was talking about wanting to revamp The Valiant. The card game that I developed as opposed to Magic. The one thing that I just, it bothers me, is that there's a roll table on each card that uses a die, so you roll a one, you gotta cross reference what that is. I don't want that. I wanna move away from that. So.

What Resource Would You Recommend to Aspiring Game Designers?

Patrick Rauland: Very cool. So I'd love to change gears a little bit. One of my favorite questions is to ask people about resources, 'cause there's, this is the internet, you can search as far and wide as you want, and there's probably infinite resources out there, so I wanna point people to the best stuff. What is a resource, a book, a podcast, an app, a website, whatever, that you would recommend to another indie game designer?

Michael Cofer: Yeah. Well, I've already mentioned The Game Crafter community, so I'm not gonna plug that again. So, in addition to that, you know what, I think listening to Shut Up & Sit Down has been really good. It's not a board game design podcast, but they're guys who understand how board games work, and certainly they have a strong sense of what hits with them. So watch their reviews, listen to what they say, 'cause there's a lot of value to be gleaned there. There's Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. I understand that's a pretty good one, it's up and coming. But yeah, I would say that. You could listen to Ludology. That can be a little bit in the weeds sometimes, but you know. If you're a board game designer, Ludology might not be a bad one to just scrub through and see what you come up with.

Patrick Rauland: I really like the advice of listening to Shut Up & Sit Down. I didn't really get into them years ago, and now that I'm into board game design, I really like. So I play Terraforming Mars, and then a couple weeks ago, I watched the Terraforming Mars review, and everything they described, I'm like yes, that is exactly how I felt while doing this thing. They do a really good job of like, defining how you feel in a certain thing, I think it's a really good skill to have as a designer to like identify how you're feeling as you're playing the game. ‘Cause that's what you're selling to other people.

Shut Up & Sit Down review Terraforming Mars

Michael Cofer: Absolutely. And just as a side note, every one of their recommends, if I watched a video and they recommend the game and it's also something I think I'd like, I've really liked it.

What's the Best Money You've Spent?

Patrick Rauland: Oh cool yeah. So they're spot on for you. Cool. Okay, so the followup question to this is what is the best money you've ever spent as a game designer?

Michael Cofer: Card sleeves.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. So just for like sleeving your own print at home cards type thing?

Michael Cofer: Exactly. So card sleeves, and then just a bunch of Magic commons or wherever you can get card backs cheap. Because then iteration is so easy and it's finger proof, you know? Like if you wanna change the values on a card, you pull it out, you write it down, stick it back in, you don't have to worry about smudging ink or you don't have to worry about the carbon rubbing off if you use pencil. And then that translates directly into when you start adding art, you know, you swap that in. So the modularity and the functionality of card sleeves and just some sort of card backing. You know, I would do that over an index card any day.

Patrick Rauland: Yep. Love that. If you're looking for cheap cards, I got mine at Goodwill.

Michael Cofer: There you go.

Patrick Rauland: Just get like an old deck of playing cards, or get three or five or 10 decks of old playing cards at Goodwill and it's gonna cost you like a buck.

Michael Cofer: Yeah, I will make the recommendation, go ahead and spring for opaque backs. As opposed to the clear on both sides. Unless your game needs both sides, you know, if it's got a card flipping mechanic. The reason why is then you can mix and match what your card backing is no worries, and it doesn't reveal what's on the card.

Does Game Design Energize or Exhaust You?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So we're getting near the end here, I think we've got time for one more question before the last two, but I'd love to know, does game design energize or exhaust you?

Michael Cofer: You know, it energizes me, but I stall out if I don't have people around me who are also excited. And so I've found my biggest success is to be either I'm working collaboratively with another person, so I feed off their excitement and they feed off mine, you know. And so it's cyclical like that. Or if I've got people that I'm testing with regularly and they're really enjoying a game. And those are indications to me I need to keep plowing into this game. If I'm just designing a game alone in a vacuum and I don't have people playing it, I'm likely to stall out. Because I don't have that same sort of feedback loop I need, that positive feedback loop I need to just gut it out when I'm not experiencing the joy of playing the game and sharing the game with somebody else.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay, so wrapping up here, what does success in the board game world look like to you?

Michael Cofer: I think I just described it, right? I've never considered this being a career for me. But what I do consider being a success is when. The biggest mark of success for me is when somebody is playing my game with somebody else and I'm not playing it with them. You know, because what that means is that something hit in a big way. I had a friend of mine from, I just recently moved, so back where we used to live, she sent me a picture of her and her son playing Gadgeteers, and that just made my day to know that she and her son sat down and played my game. And without prompting, she took a picture of it and sent it to me. For me that's just immensely gratifying.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: It totally, totally get that. And I'm excited for when I can ship my game out and maybe get a couple of those pictures. That's really, really cool. All right. So I like to end with the overrated underrated game, have you heard about it?

Michael Cofer: Yeah, I'm aware.

Patrick Rauland: Wooh, you get the air horn. So basically, I'm gonna give you a word or phrase, and you just need to tell me if it's overrated or underrated. So, bluffing games, are they overrated or underrated?

Michael Cofer: Underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Ooh, okay, I was gonna say with Sengoku it seems like you would like bluffing.

Michael Cofer: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: How about the movie The Last Samurai?

Michael Cofer: Also underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Underrated? I would have assumed there would have been something wrong with the historical accuracy or something?

Michael Cofer: No, here's the deal, so I sat in the theater with my wife and watched this movie, and spoilers ahead if you haven't seen The Last Samurai.

Patrick Rauland: I think it's been out for like 10 years. It's fine.

Michael Cofer: Well, okay, but.

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Michael Cofer: So I'm sitting in the theater watching it, and there's a scene where these ninjas come break into the building, and I grabbed my wife on the knee, and I said, you didn't tell me there were ninjas in this movie. And she just kinda smiled at me. So Tom Cruise weirdness not withstanding, I actually, I do like the movie quite a bit.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, good. Deck assembly games, and by deck assembly, I mean where there's a game before the game, like Magic: The Gathering. Overrated or underrated?

Michael Cofer: So I love them. However, I don't know how they could be underrated with as big as they are. I mean, like Magic: The Gathering is propping up board game stores all over the country today and that's like 20 years after it's launched or longer. So, I can't call them underrated, I'm simply going to say, I like them.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, no I like that. How about this, let me change the question. What about, let's just say, assembly games. So not specifically Magic, but just, a game where you basically have to make a deck, or like Warhammer 40,000, you have to make an army list before you play the game, and part of the game is making that list? Does that make sense?

Michael Cofer: Yeah, yeah. You know, I'm gonna say for the industry as a whole, I think they're overrated. And the reason why is I think they consume a huge part of the market share, but I think that it's not for most people.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Yeah, I think it's, like you have to be sold on the game and probably play a couple test rounds, and then you'll finally get into the deck assembly part where you start making your own deck.

Michael Cofer: Yeah, and if the functionality of that, or if the means of that is a money sink, that's a big turn off for me too.

Patrick Rauland: I totally hear you. I got out of Magic in high school for that reason, I was like, and I'm done spending money on this.

Michael Cofer: Yeah, I sold my Magic cards when I graduate high school and I bought a guitar.

Patrick Rauland: Nice. Nice. Last one, Scooby-Doo, as in the cartoon. Overrated or underrated?

Michael Cofer: Overrated.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: I have, why did I write this one? I try to theme it with, I try to like associate it with like your game. I have no idea why I wrote this one down, but, alright. Good to know. Thanks for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Michael Cofer: You know, best place to find me is just on Twitter, probably. @revcofegames.

Patrick Rauland: And your project Sengoku and the other two games from Concrete Canoes campaign will be live as you're hearing this. Michael, thank you again for showing up.

Michael Cofer: Hey man, thank you so much for having me. It was a blast.

Patrick Rauland: Cool, so listeners if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave us a review, Michael will name his next sword after you, normally I check with a guest, before I say this stuff out loud, Michael is that okay.

Michael Cofer: It's totally fine.

Patrick Rauland: Great. If you get a next Samurai sword or whatever.

Michael Cofer: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: So I just wanna say, I've heard from a couple people about a Kickstarter coaching group just to help people get through the process of running your own Kickstarter, if you're interested in that, just contact me, I'm just sort of doing some research on that, just to see if people are interested. You can find the site at indieboardgamedesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter, I am @BFTrick, that is b as in board game, f as in fun, and trick as in trick taking games. Until next time everyone. Happy designing. Bye-bye.

Michael Cofer: See ya.

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