Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Nathan Meunier who designed The Blessed Dark, which is on Kickstarter right now. Nathan, welcome to the show.
Nathan Meunier: Hey, thanks for having me.
Patrick: I've done a little bit of research on you. We've emailed back and forth, and I saw your game on The Game Crafter, so I know about you, but the audience doesn't. I like to start with a lightning round game in the beginning. Ready?
Nathan: Very good.
Patrick: Great. What is your favorite supernatural movie or TV show?
Nathan: All right. I've got three, and it's hard to pick one. I'm going to go with The Labyrinth with David Bowie in the film, and The Dark Crystal was also really formative. On the horror side, there's The Thing, which is just juicy.
Patrick: I haven't seen The Thing. I don't know if horror is my genre, but I dig the other two.
Nathan: Yeah. They're all really good films. The Thing is interesting, but I tend to like dark fantasy, but also the horror aspect of it is a lot of fun.
Patrick: If there were schools of magic, like transfiguration, or divination, or whatever, which one would be your favorite?
Nathan: Cat summoning and magical care of cats.
Patrick: Cat summoning, yes. That should be its own school of magic. Would you summon different types of cats? Would there be a summon tiger spell and a summon house cat spell? How would that work?
Nathan: I think it would all be house cats. I would keep doing that. That's my problem, and I would have a pile of house cats that continues to grow over time. I have two cats right now, and I used to have five cats. I love cats and all things that are cats. In fact, my cats are even part of my Kickstarter, which is goofy.
Patrick: Yes. I saw that very cool. We're going to talk about your game in just a minute. In short, there are spells. If you could make any spell in your game into a real-life thing like it's an actual spell in the world, which one would you choose?
Nathan: Yeah, I picked a boring one. I picked divination because being able to divine the knowledge of what is happening or will happen is pretty useful. I can't recall off the top of my head if that's actually what the spell does because it's weird context in terms of the game. That would be something I would find very useful to figure out what is happening next because life is full of chaos and uncertainty.
How Did You Get Into Board Games and Board Game Design?
Patrick: Yes, totally makes sense. Cool. First real question, how did you get into board games and board game design?
Nathan: I only recently started getting into actually playing tabletop games again and designing them. I used to play a ton of tabletop games when I was a kid, and I would play Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons and a bunch of other stuff.
Nathan: Then I just kept with the digital side of things. I used to do digital game development, and I still do that, but at the same time, I've tapped the brakes on it the past year or so. I put out a bunch of digital games, and a lot of my digital games and prototypes were digital versions of card-based or dice-based or tabletop-based systems.
Nathan: I had it in my blood, cards, and card game type stuff. Then I got into a situation where I was putting out a couple of games on digital, and they did OK, but they weren't gaining the traction I needed. I just felt burnt out of digital game development.
Nathan: That's where I'm at now, so about six or seven months ago I started just sitting down saying like, “Can I do this? Let's experiment.” I come from a very DIY background. I used to make punk rock zines in college and doing other interesting handmade stuff and posters. I love doing all different facets of making something. It's not just making a game, and it's making a game and putting it into a product package and making that look nice.
Nathan: Anyway, long story short, it's the idea of sitting down and making something with my hands again felt appealing while also still being able to continue doing game design, because I enjoyed doing it from the coding side and the art side but I needed a break from digital stuff for a while. So, that's where I'm at now.
Nathan: About six months ago is when I started making games, and I've made a bunch of prototypes. I've got about four or five that are pretty solid, and a couple that are ready to go. Which is not a lot of time to do all that, but I've discovered that the time it takes to go from idea, to getting something to the table, to then rapidly iterating it and getting art done, is so much faster than doing it with digital stuff.
Nathan: We have to code everything, unbreak it and break it again, deal with screen resolution nightmare stuff. Anyway, that's been my short and interesting journey into doing that. I ended up buying a few tabletop games now that I have some folks that actually can I play them with because I've always wanted to play them and didn't have a lot of people locally that were into tabletop games that would dive in and do it. Got some folks to play with, I found a local game group, so that's been cool. We've been playing tons of games every week and learning and soaking up the knowledge of “What is this mechanic? How does this work? What does this person do?” That's how I've gotten into doing this.
Patrick: Let me make sure I got this right. You started tabletop game design six months ago?
Nathan: Roughly, give or take.
Patrick: And you have a Kickstarter live now?
Nathan: Yes. Maybe seven months ago? Basically, this year is when I started doing it.
Patrick: That is an amazing timeline. This leads perfectly into my next question. Your game, The Blessed Dark, you made it for The Game Crafter, Simple Elegance contest. I barely finished an entry for that contest, and you launched an entire Kickstarter campaign, and it's doing well. The shortest way for me to say this is, “I am shocked at how much you got done in so little of a time.” I assume you use dark magic to get this all done.
Nathan: Yes, that is my secret. That's how it works.
How Do You Do So Much In So Little Time?
Patrick: How did you get– It took me probably six months to do my own Kickstarter campaign for a game that I made six months before that. It took me a year to get done what you got done in six months, and you also got it ready for contest, and you did a whole bunch of things. How did you get all this done?
Nathan: Funny things is I made a second game for the contest, too, that I'm going to launch a Kickstarter for later this year.
Patrick: Oh, my gosh.
Nathan: One thing that I learned from my digital development was if you spend years and years making something, and then you launch it, and it doesn't do well, you've just wasted four years of your life making this thing that feels like a failure.
Nathan: Doing that, I started narrowing down my design and being like “OK, what can I do in three months? Is it possible to release a game in three months?” I've done that with Kindle books I've written, other projects. I've gotten a system down where it's like getting from idea to a releasable thing as quickly as possible without sacrificing the quality of what you're making.
Nathan: It's something I've been interested in doing. I tend to work fast, and I have a lot of different things I like to do, I'm always doing at least a dozen things at once. I'll work on this game and get most of the way done, and then I'll be starting another idea.
Nathan: Usually, that sometimes can be bad because it's very easy to get distracted and get nothing done, but I tend to work in several different things in tandem. With this particular game, The Blessed Dark, I had an inkling for doing a game kind of like this. I just put it on the shelf, and then when I saw that there was the contest, I was like, “This is a great opportunity to make something super small.”
Nathan: That's the big thing, “Make something small, pare it down to the minimal number of cards, mechanics, things I can use to make a really good game within that constraint.” Because every time I pick a constraint and focus on that, it makes the games almost better because you're not trying to layer on tons of crap.
That's the big thing, “Make something small, pare it down to the minimal number of cards, mechanics, things I can use to make a really good game within that constraint.”
Nathan: Some components cost a lot of money, it costs a lot of money to manufacture a game doing it DIY or whether you use Game Crafter, or anything else. It's not cheap to put tons and tons of stuff into a game, so you want to design it in a way that's fun and has interesting components and fun to play, but doesn't cost so much that the average person is going to be like “No, I don't want to buy this.”
Nathan: My goal was to make something very short and constrained but interesting. That's typically how I've been trying to operate. I think it took me maybe four days to go from “Here's the idea,” “Here's the components,” “Here's a draft version,” to “Here's a playable version,” within, basically I did it quickly. I was like, “Boom, done.”
Nathan: The idea for this particular version, I ended up going with The Game Crafter version for the contest with a small box, using the components that were available through The Game Crafter. The original idea for this game when I first are working was to do a mint tin game as the first edition, so I basically went out and bought an Altoids tin, and I found some tins that I could order online that match that size in black, which is much cooler.
Nathan: Then I sat down and started figuring out, “What can you put in this?” I was like, “OK. Mini size cards will fit in this tin. Dice will fit in this tin, but if you get smaller dice, then I can make room for an instruction booklet and little tokens.” Once I figured out roughly “OK, here's what I can fit in this thing. Here's roughly what it will cost to make this if I made this a game. I don't have any mechanics yet, but here's what I got, so let's sit down and start working on something.”
Nathan: That's what I did, and that's how I came up with the idea of the gameplay, which is a mixture of Yahtzee meets demon summoning meets Magic The Gathering-vibed stuff. I was also inspired a little bit by some other digital games I've been playing that were a mixture of dice rolling and card placement. That's how I started.
When Did You Do What Exactly?
Patrick: That is super cool. I want to zoom in on your super-fast iteration. Can you give us three dates? I think actually, we have the first one. You heard about the contest, and you made an initial prototype. Then four days later, it was playable and then when did you start– How about this? I go through usually a couple weeks because I live in Denver and we have maybe two playtest meetups a month, which is great. I think for your speed, you almost need to have your own play test group and like “Cool. Everyone, I made the updates. Come on over tomorrow, and we're going to play the new version.” You must have gone so fast.
Patrick: Here's what I'm looking for. What are the dates of when you heard about the contest, you made your first version? Then when did it get to a point where you were like “Yes, this is good. Now I want to start the graphic design?” Then when did you order your copies from The Game Crafter? Also, when did you find the time to get reviewers to review your game for the Kickstarter? Even that is a whole separate process.
Nathan: I learned that a lot of reviewers are booked up fairly far in advance. I think I was able to lock that down pretty quickly for a few places. I sent emails out to a lot of places, and maybe half of them either did not respond, or they passed on it. I got a few that were lucky bites.
Nathan: In terms of just getting the speed of design, the dates off the top of my head are a little bit fuzzy. I do know that I had roughly an idea to do a game of this type, I knew I wanted it to be spooky and somewhat involving dice and cards. Once I heard that the contest was going, I think the contest had already started, and I was like “OK. Let me do this.”
Nathan: Because I want to get a game done and this was a great opportunity to sit down and make something and do it within a month and get it done with. Whether it's amazing or not, whatever, I was going to enter it in the contest. But once I got underway, I was like “This is something I want to put out as my first game.”
Nathan: When I started, basically the idea was just to– The first day was literally just I bought a mint tin and was like “What can I fit into this?” Then I spent the night looking at Game Crafter, looking at the cost of components and figuring things out.
Nathan: The next day, I basically went into my design program and started making super ugly dice shapes and ugly, printer-friendly, black and white art that was simple. To print something out so I could slide some sleeves in and put it to the table. I wanted to get it to the table within a day. Day two was basically– These might have been spaced out with a little bit of time in between where I had other things to do. Day two was basically “Get something printed out and playable.” I spent an afternoon and bashed out, “Here's dice roll numbers, here's what this card could do, here's what the card's called.” The rest of it was just a blank card. I printed them out, sleeved them.
Nathan: That's how I do a lot of my rapid prototyping. I'll get something ugly that has text on it and get it to the table, and feel it out and see what that does. I did that, and I was like “OK, this is cool.” Some of the mechanics weren't as polished or fleshed out as they are in the final game. I was like, “There's something here, so let me dive in and keep going deeper.” I tested a few times, and then I was like, “Alright, I need to get some art on this.”
Nathan: A lot of times when I play with folks locally, it's more fun when there's some visual stuff. Often, I'll bring ugly prototypes to my girlfriend's house. She'll play them, and she's a really good sport about checking out my weird crazy broken things before they become actual good things or functional things. I played the game a little bit with her and then made some adjustments, and then pretty much right off the bat I was like “I'm going to art this.”
Nathan: I basically took an afternoon, and I do a lot of graphic design artwork. I do some hand drawing, and my other game is all hand-drawn. Basically, I do everything when I'm making a game, from the design to the art, to the actual mechanic design and whatnot. I sat down, and the idea for this was to make– Because I was going to originally put it on very small mini size cards. I didn't have a lot of room for art.
Nathan: With the dice iconography that's on there, there's not a lot of room for like extra flashy stuff. I went with a super minimalist, and I don't know vector art style. In just three colors, black, white, and red. This is what I'm working with and found that within futzing around with that little bit, I was able to get some really interesting icons together quickly.
Nathan: I basically had the art done. I haven't changed the art from the very first proper art prototype. It's all in there. I did adjust and add some new cards later on once I got it to the table with more players to test it, but that's basically start to finish how that game got to being playable.
Nathan: Then, I tested it with more people and different types of folks and larger and smaller groups. I took it to a blind playtest at the Euro gamer group that I play with every Sunday or so. They totally– We had split in two groups and played two different versions of it and got the rules all wrong and we totally broke it, and it was awful.
Nathan: I was super demotivated when I got home, and I was like “They hated it, and this is awful.” But they had some really good ideas and feedback about ways that could clarify things, “If you did this, it would feel much better.” I made a bunch of adjustments, did more playtesting, made a bunch more adjustments based from that, and then came to this final version that felt like “This is it. This is the polished, juicy-feeling version.” Now it's on Kickstarter.
Add Your Own Limitations
Patrick: That is fantastic. So far the key takeaway I'm getting is to not only accept the contest's limitations but maybe even set your own limitations. The contest is like “It has to be played in less than an hour. It has to cost less than $30.” It's still pretty wide open. Then, in addition to that, you said “I want it to fit in a mint tin, and I'm limited to red, black and white.” I think those limitations really can– It just removes so many decisions you have to make. It's like you have to go forward with what your best guess is. Your game looked so complete on The Game Crafter, and obviously, it's doing well on Kickstarter, so people like it. It's very cool to take away, “Don't just take the contest's limitations, but maybe even add some of your own on top of that.”
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a good takeaway. Also just the fact of setting a very small, reasonable target for games. [Inaudible] design forever and not release anything. You can make tons and tons of games now that we have things like The Game Crafter and other more print on demand, DIY options. You don't just have to deal with trying to go to a publisher traditionally, which oftentimes is necessarily what you want to do depending where you're coming from. Being able to set small goals, I'm a big fan of doing that. Set a reasonable goal that's within constraints that you can do in a couple months or less, bash it out and make it better through rapid iteration. Once you get something that's a good, then take the time to file off the rough edges, and then do it.
Limited Shipping Options
Patrick: Cool. I just wanted to point out one last thing on the Kickstarter, you decided to only ship to the US, which I think is in terms of getting a project done in three months, that is a brilliant idea. It removes a lot of that uncertainty. Because it's so hard to estimate shipping costs worldwide and all this stuff. Fulfillment, and import rates, and VAT, and all that stuff. I think that's probably another way you finished this project in three months, is by limiting yourself to only selling in the US. Then you have a print and play for everyone else.
Nathan: I also opted to not do any stretch goals. I don't usually do anything without researching it pretty thoroughly, so researching what other small Kickstarters do. “What are the potential trip-up points that can mess everything up?”
Nathan: Shipping is potentially dangerous with a Kickstarter if you oversell and like “We've got tons and tons extra stuff we need to ship,” and don't charge enough you can really basically blow your entire project because you miscalculated something. Even now, I still get a little nervous. I'm like, “Alright, I think I've got this totally figured out.”
Nathan: The idea of just doing it US only, because in this particular version– This first edition, which I feel bad because I am only doing this mint tin one through Kickstarter. I'm not going to make mint tin copies beyond this, but I'm assembling all this by hand. I'm getting the components here and there and whatever, but I'm hand labeling everything. I'm having my cat sniff them in some cases, putting things together and mailing them out individually.
Nathan: The idea was, again, to keep this project short. I didn't want to be doing that for six months, because realistically I have other things I need to do and more games to work on as well. I also want to avoid the headache of trying to calculate a bazillion different shipping costs. I'd have to manually fill out every customs form and do it that way. I was like “OK, let me just do it in the US and keep it.” Then I felt bad about that, and I agonized over it a lot, but I came to the decision, “I need to keep this simple. I'm going to stick to my guns. I'm not going to do stretch goals because I want to get this game shipped out as quickly and as early before the actual proposed shipping date as I can because I want to get it done and get it to people so they can enjoy it.”
Nathan: That was important and also meant to be an experiment because I like to do these short, small projects as experimentation. If it fails, it's an interesting experiment, and I get to learn something from it. I already learned a lot from doing this particular Kickstarter, which is my second ever Kickstarter but my first tabletop game Kickstarter. I wanted to keep it very constrained, like the entire project itself.
Nathan: Also, some people have been really upset that they can't get a version if they live outside of the US. They've been doing very interesting things like they've got relatives inside the US, so if you can ship it to there, then we'll get it when we go to visit them. There have been all kinds of crazy workarounds, some people that were upset about not being with get it, but for the most part, people have been cool and understanding and flexible, which is great. It's definitely like next time around I'm definitely going to probably not do it all handmade. I will do future game projects where I can do online fulfillment, so I can actually go bigger and push and do bigger and everywhere. It's definitely a big challenge potentially– I wanted to make this test-the-waters Kickstarter to see how it went and learn from it, and then build upwards next time and down the road.
How Did You Do Marketing For Your Project?
Patrick: I'm looking at your Kickstarter page, and you have 322 backers at the moment, which is– You still have, at the time of the recording, you still have 13 days. How did you do the marketing? I spent months on marketing my game, and I think I got 460 backers or 480 backers. You are almost at the same point I was at, Where did you find all the people? How did you get this much interest in such a short period of time?
Nathan: There's a couple of layers to that. Ironically, with these kind of projects, it comes down to each individual person and their background and what they do. I come from a traditional video game journalist background and freelance writer, so I have lots of contacts in the industry.
Nathan: That doesn't necessarily give me a huge advantage because it's a different industry, but I spent a lot of time during those earlier years on Twitter, making friends with people and connecting with interesting creatives. I don't have the biggest Twitter following, but I do have a lot of people that follow me, and I follow them back and engage because they're people that I generally like what they're doing.
Nathan: It's like, “I want to see. What are you working on?” I share other people's stuff a lot. I do tweet about my own junk all the time, but I also try to balance that with engaging with people who are other creative folks in really genuine ways, because I am interested in what other people are doing. That feels like it's been a big part of it because by supporting other people, people are a little bit more inclined to potentially support something I've done.
Nathan: I have some folks that I've been hanging out with and following me online for a long time, and we engage over the years. They've seen me do these digital game launches, and I was like “OK. This is going to be it,” and it fails. Or, “This one went pretty well,” but the next one fails. I've never found any level of success that was that home run, like “I can just do this because it is what I want to do now,” level of things.
Nathan: It's always been a constant ebb and flow, artistic struggle. I'm pretty open and honest about the ups and downs of each different project I try to put out there. I'll do blog posts sometimes and talk about things very honestly, like “I struggle from depression sometimes and anxiety, and various other issues that can impact things.” Trying to do these small projects as test-the-waters because I don't want to dive in and get my head cut off on something too unwieldy.
Nathan: Marketing-wise that's weird because it doesn't feel like marketing. I think that does play into it, to some extent. Being honest and genuine online and being pleasant and not a jerk to people definitely can help. I spend a long time engaging. With this campaign, I did a big couple days of “Rah, rah, rah. This was on Kickstarter. Thank you so much. Back this if this looks cool.”
Nathan: That was one thing, but I intentionally designed it to not be doing that entire month, or whatever it is. After the first couple of days, I slowed down on just spamming the thing, and be more like “We're at this–” I'll do little references to online, but I'm trying not to blast content non-stop. I see that the numbers are still ticking upwards every day at a pretty solid amount.
Nathan: So it's like, “OK. This is working. I'm not overdoing it.” I think for me, I didn't even use a Kickstarter video. Which then, people were like, “Why didn't you do that?” And it's like, “Because I don't–” In this case, I didn't feel like I needed to. I saw some other Kickstarters that I backed that were based on the strength of what is visually being offered, in terms of the hero image, the big main image. “This is what's here.”
Nathan: I went instead, I designed my little target– If you go on that Kickstarter site, you'll see the big first thing that pops up, it shows a logo of the game, but it's got the mint tin and some of the components and some of the cards laid out. It's pretty stark and visually pops out, so I was like “OK. That's going to be good, let's do that.” I spent a lot of time making that as juicy-looking as I could, considering it's pretty straightforward.
Nathan: The Kickstarter page is pretty simple, and there's not a ton of stuff on there, it's just got all the information. I try to keep my goals, without the actual different backing pledge levels, not too complicated and not too big. It's weird because I expected that it would probably fund. I set a fairly reasonable funding goal because I wanted to be able to get enough to make 100 copies. That's where you start getting the decent bulk, small run discounts. I figured, “Let's set the goal at that, with shipping and everything in there, and see how that goes.” That funded fairly quickly, within the first three or four days, which helps.
Nathan: I think getting funded also seems like that's helped encourage other people to pile on like “We don't have to worry about it being funded. Now we can get it and know we're going to get it.” That's been interesting to see that work too, whereas the previous project was like pulling teeth and clawing my way to the finish line at the very end. I think I ended up close to where I'm at now. I took some lessons from that, and I was like “Don't add lots of extra crap that I got to try to fulfill.”
Nathan: It's a bummer because I don't have stretch goals, so it's hard. There's not as much to talk about during this campaign. There is some benefit to planning interesting stretch goals that don't potentially hamper your project, and you're like “Here's extra miniatures and figurines and metal dice.” All this stuff that's cool, but that all costs a ton of money to make and ship on top of the actual game.
Nathan: A lot of my marketing this game is like, “This is what I'm doing. I'm doing this little weird thing, and it's very stark and visually designed.” I think visual design, even though it's nothing complicated about the artwork, but it definitely is very eye-catching and jumps out at you. It's black, white and red and there's eyeballs and demon-looking things happening. That's by design, in that it's very visually like “These are very sharp little icon things that grab the eye easily.”
Nathan: That's helpful when I share online, and it's easier for people to go “That jumps out.” For other designers out there, designing your campaigns, so it's very interesting visually, colorful and lots of good images, that's useful. There's not a lot of color here, but taking the time to make– I see a lot of games and even prototypes and stuff, people will put out games that maybe are really good, mechanics-wise or interesting in terms of design, but either the color scheme doesn't jive or the artwork isn't quite there. For me, that's a huge turnoff.
For other designers out there, designing your campaigns, so it's very interesting visually, colorful and lots of good images, that's useful.
Nathan: I'll pass over a game immediately if it's just the hard, red, blue, green, yellow. If that's the art color scheme, I'm like “Nope. I'm done, sorry. I want to check out your game, but I can't do it.” The idea of putting some thought into color choices and how you present things makes a big difference. With each project I do, I think about that.
Nathan: My other game that's not on Kickstarter right now called Mind Burners was also in the competition. It's very, very stark. It's basically four or five colors, but it's designed to go “That's a very distinct visual choice whether you like it or not.” I've been trying to do it with each project, art-wise. “How can I design this to be not something that gets easily passed over when you're scrolling through the Twitter feed or Facebook feed?” That's helped.
Nathan: Most of my marketing has been very grassroots. I sent out copies to a couple reviewers. I've got some friends, but I don't have a huge number of local friends that will probably buy. I know some folks have, but I don't have tons of people like “Yes, we absolutely love board games around here, we're going to throw tons of money at it.” It's been organic, trying to be genuine and put that out there, put some good energy into the universe. I've been doing that a lot in the past, so that helps build momentum.
Patrick: I love hearing that it wasn't– I think it's easy for me to believe “It was Facebook ads or is was this other trick, or this other tactic, this other strategy.” It's refreshing to hear “I care about people, I talk to them, and because I talk to them about their things then when I have a thing, they want to buy my thing.” That's refreshing and good to hear. It makes me optimistic about humanity or something. It's cool to hear that.
Nathan: Yeah, it's a cool thing. I haven't spent any money on ads. There was no– I think I wrote one blog post. Usually, I do a lot of content marketing, and I do content marketing for my freelance work as my daytime freelance gig. I basically didn't do any of that for this. I was just like “OK, I'm going to go based on the strength of what this looks like, what it is and that “I'm doing something new and different from what I've been doing in the past. Maybe it'll be of interest to people.”
Nathan: That might not work for everybody, but I think being genuine and trying to put something interesting out there, I think people who online know me or know me a bit based on what I've shared, this game is very me. It's very much dark and creepy and strange, but also, I don't know– I have other games that are cutesy-er that I will be working on. It's not all this doom and gloom, but this is very much on-brand for me.
What Resource Would You Recommend to a New Game Designer?
Patrick: That's awesome. I do want to ask, what's cool is you got into this world six months ago which I'm totally jealous of, that you've done so well in so little time. I'm totally jealous. For someone else, who's maybe six months in, they're– They're just getting their feet wet. What is a resource that you would recommend to them? I want to add a qualifier. What is a resource for someone who wants to enter and maybe even do well in a contest? To make it a harder question for you.
Nathan: On the very baseline level, there's one thing I would say, and that's discovering The Game Crafter. Which sounds like I'm a shill, but I would potentially use other services if they were more along lines of what I needed.
Nathan: But that was amazing to be able to like “OK, I've got these badly chopped up, hand-done sleeved cards I can play with.” Once you get an idea to the point where it's pretty solid, being able to upload your stuff very easily, it takes a while to get a feel for the system, but you can customize and add any components your game, to get tons of packaging options.
Nathan: I spent a lot time designing games based around going into Game Crafter, creating a dummy game, and then start dragging components into it. “What does this cost? What does this look like?” I do that all the time. I've got maybe two dozen games like that, that are just various ideas, not even artwork or mechanics. Like “OK, here's what this packaging and entire component list looks like. What can I make with that? Cool. I'll come back to that one.”
Nathan: In terms of seeing what other people are doing on The Game Crafter is cool, but being able to plug in things and see what they cost and use that as a design tool, was amazing. My first couple iterations of other games were like “90 cards, 150 cards, this is great. I'll throw all this stuff down.” When I realized actually how much it cost to make a game with that many cards, and what you can reasonably price that at, and for reasonable markup to get some money back for your time, I was like “I need to get this way chopped down.”
Nathan: It's a big eye-opener when you're like “This costs money to make a physical game.” Especially coming from a digital game background, it doesn't cost anything to make them, essentially. Just your time and resources and tools. The Game Crafter, if you haven't checked it out, it's worth checking out if you're a new designer. In part, to see what different packaging design options you can play with, it gives you a toolbox of things to envision. “This is what this could be like,” or “Let me do a game with an 18 card tuck box game.”
Nathan: That's something I'm super into trying to do. I took the 90-150 card game and made an 18 card version of it, because why not try and see if you can do that? That's been a really good site, in terms of the source of inspiration, and then ordering other people's games and seeing what other designers who either might be newer or not traditionally published, see how people there in your exact same shoes are doing it.
Nathan: Jason Glover is one that comes to mind, and I bought his game Desolate, it was the first one I bought at Game Crafter. “What does a Game Crafter–?” It's not handmade, but “What does a DIY print-on-demand option look like?” When I saw how good the components were and the card quality, I was like “This is pretty sweet.” It inspired me to start doing more. I have a bunch of his games, and there was a couple other folks in there that I bought a couple of games from the competition.
Nathan: That's cool. A competition just happened and is still underway, but you're able to buy some of the games there, check out and see what people are doing. Being able to fiddle around on the website and configure stuff for your own games, but buy other people's games to see what, in the flesh, what does this look like as another game? Checking out a medium-sized stout box, I was like “This is nice.” Different card sizes, mini cards. When I first made that order of mini cards, and they came, I was like “This is cool.” That's a good tool. Let me jump and find– There's a website called game-icons.net, I think?
Patrick: Yep, game-icons.net.
Nathan: Yeah, that's a great site. If you're not wanting to commit to doing all the art for a project while it's still being prototyped, there's a bazillion different icons, and they're all free to use. You can configure and customize everything, color, shape, size. It's a great website. I sat down and was like “Here's a 180-card prototype and I don't feel like doing artwork until the game is more ready to go,” so I was slapping a bunch of stuff, like “This is cool.” It inspired me to change some of the cards around and make them in different ways. That's a great free resource if you want to check out and get some stuff to slap on, like super prototype artwork vs. having just super ugly text and boxes on the cards. That doesn't cost anything either, so that's pretty cool.
Whats the Best Money You've Spent as a Game Designer?
Patrick: It is a great resource, I like it. You talked about playing other people's games, the Game Crafter itself, just using it, buying other people's games. Is there, besides the ones you already mentioned, what is the best money that you've spent as a game designer so far?
Nathan: It's a tough one. On one hand, I'll say personally that the most eye-opening moment was buying the first test copy. An actual proper test copy of The Blessed Dark was the first– I bought that and a copy of Mind Burners, check that one out too.
Nathan: Buying a fully polished, finalized, box version of a thing that I made and having it arrive on my doorstep and opening it up. Seeing the components was just an incredible feeling. You put all this work into making this thing, “Cool.”
Nathan: It's all pretty rough until you get the shrink-wrapped copy that you can open up, and it feels professional. That's pretty cool. I ordered a couple of different copies, to get a feel for “What does this look like and feel like as the real version of the game?”
Nathan: That was super invaluable, and it wasn't terribly cheap or terribly expensive. It was like, “This is not too bad.” Order a couple copies, and you can play around with them. Even just getting card samples and like, “What do your cards look like?” That's huge.
Nathan: That for me, sealed the deal. “OK, cool. I'm going to do a ton of this. Because this is fun and it's great to come up with ideas, put them together and then see them manifest in a physical form that you can take to a game night and play with your friends or whatnot.” There was another component to that, but I think I may have lost my train of thought.
Patrick: That's great. No, buying your first prototype is money well spent. That is a great answer.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. The other thing that came to mind, buying other people's games. I only mentioned it before, but buying and playing as many games as you possibly can. It's hard because anybody who gets into board games will suddenly realize that “Maybe I'll start with Catan, or something simple and get into it.”
Nathan: But there's this hunger to keep getting new games to play. You see those big walls of shame behind any video podcast or videos of board game reviews, and you see this wall of games. I've started to build my own, but spending the time and money to find out cool games that you want to learn about mechanics, for me playing other games has been super useful for design ideas and seeing how things are done.
Nathan: If I want to work on a deck building a game, I'm like “I've got a few. Let me get a couple more and see how other different people approach it.” Everything gives me ideas to sift through and adapt or come up with something completely fresh. A lot of design isn't necessarily “I've just made this amazing idea, out of the blue, no one's ever going to do it again.” It's more iterating on what's been done before and then using that as a springboard to find your own spin and flavor to it.
A lot of design isn't necessarily “I've just made this amazing idea, out of the blue, no one's ever going to do it again.” It's more iterating on what's been done before and then using that as a springboard to find your own spin and flavor to it.
Nathan: Just playing, if you don't have the money to buy a ton of games, play as many games and go to game nights or find a local game group. That's amazing, because if I hadn't done that all of this time the past six months, I would still be trying to make the one card game that's the one game I've played before. It gives you more of a grab bag of experience to draw from. It's worth the expense of buying a new game every month or more if you can afford it. To get something to the table and see how it plays and see what you like about it, or what you don't like about it, and then use that to inform your design. It's super powerful stuff.
What Does Success Look Like?
Patrick: Dig it. You've already done amazing things in the board game world, but what does success look like to you?
Nathan: That's a funny question because it scales depending on where I'm at with things. Last year I had a really good freelance client that I made a ton of money from it, and then, I lost that gig because of budget cuts and whatnot. For a time, I thought, way back, money was success.
Nathan: For me, it's not about money. It's more about being able to continue to create and make things that I feel passionate about, that also other people enjoy, in a way that's more sustainable. Right now, my day job is I'm freelancing, and I've been freelancing for almost twelve years. I've been writing professionally for over 15 years, and I love doing it. I've been doing it for so long, but I'm ready for something new.
For me, it's not about money. It's more about being able to continue to create and make things that I feel passionate about, that also other people enjoy, in a way that's more sustainable.
Nathan: I'm pushing almost 40, and I want to settle into something that I feel good about, that doesn't feel like it's upending every other year. I realize there's not a ton of money in board games, necessarily. It's a very challenging industry, just like any other world. I would love to get to a point where I can build on The Blessed Dark's initial success. It's a small success, and I'm not making tons of money off it, it's not a runaway smash, hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's very meager.
Nathan: But take that first success and build on it with another campaign, or other options of getting games out there, and build on it over the next year or so hopefully. I would love, within a year or two, to be able to do this at least part-time without feeling like I'm pushing aside other stuff I need to do in terms of income. The success to me is being able to do this and enjoy doing it, and not feel like every time I launch a game, it has to be the home run. It doesn't to be a success in terms of every game doesn't have to be a home run, knock it out of the park.
Nathan: Just getting that momentum so that it gets easier each time. Building more of an audience, every time you put out a Kickstarter, you have the potential to reach out to people who have backed you before and say “I'm not going to bug you, but here's a new thing. If you want to check it out, here's my mailing list for that.” Down the road, over time, it grows, and you have more opportunity to potentially reach more people. Whereas now I'm just getting started, nobody knows who I am. In the board game space, I'm pretty new. It's just a matter of “How do I gain that momentum to find a place where I can continue to make it?” I've got dozens of games that I want to make right now, but I got to do– I'm getting a backlog of games that are ready to go. I need to put one foot over the other, instead of trying to leap across the chasm.
Overrated Underrated Game
Patrick: I dig it. I like to end with a game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard about it?
Nathan: No, but I'm going to dive right in and do my best.
Patrick: Yeah, excellent. I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and you need to tell me if you think it is overrated by everyone else, or underrated. If I said “Summer” you're obviously going to say “Underrated, it's the best season of all time.” Something like that, got it?
Patrick: All right. So I'm going to say d20s, as in the dice you typically use in a role-playing game. Are they overrated or underrated?
Nathan: Underrated. Something about rolling at 20, it's just so pimp. I mean, that's stupid to say. There something about when you roll a 20, you're like I just rolled a 20. Yes.” If you roll more than one 20, you're like, “I'm on fire.”
Patrick: Yes. That's great. This one's very specific. Hades Helpers, as in the demons in the Disney Hercules movie. There are these two demons, I still remember them from when I saw the movie in 6th grade or whatever, do you know what I'm talking about?
Nathan: I don't, but they're demons, so I'm game.
Patrick: Do you want to take a guess on whether they're overrated or underrated?
Nathan: I feel like they're probably also underrated because demons are always very underrated.
Patrick: Right answer. Very cool. Player elimination in games, overrated or underrated?
Nathan: I'm not a big fan of player elimination games, so whatever–
Patrick: Probably overrated?
Nathan: Yeah, I would say it definitely stinks to be knocked out and then not be able to do anything while other people are just playing.
Patrick: The last one I put, Sauron as in the bad guy from Lord of the Rings. The reason it is because you have a giant eyeball in your game, so Sauron as a villain, is he an overrated villain or an underrated villain?
Nathan: Way, underrated. Anything about giant, flaming eyes in the sky is awesome.
Patrick: I think that's the appropriate answer. Awesome. Nathan, thank you so much for being on the show.
Nathan: Yeah, no problem. Thanks so much for having me, it's been a blast. Someone's got a big motorcycle outside my window. It's been a great time, and I always appreciate the opportunity to talk with creative folks. Hopefully, maybe other people will hear this and your awesome podcast and start doing some stuff with them.
Patrick: Where can people find you online?
Patrick: With podcasts, sometimes people listen to it weeks or a month or two later. Are you going to have preorders or anything like that?
Nathan: I'm probably going to do a secondary campaign around Halloween time for a second edition. If people check out the Kickstarter, I'll post an update on that about any future ways to get the game.
Patrick: Cool, yes. You can always, just for people who don't know, you can click on the creator and then follow them so the next time you do launch something, then they'll be notified about it.
Nathan: Yeah, that's cool. I like that.
Patrick: Nathan, thank you again. Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Nathan said he would sacrifice a Magic The Gathering card in your honor.
Patrick: We're running a survey, and I want to know what content you like, so please go to IndieBoardGameDesigners.com/survey. If you answer that survey, you're going to get more of the content– You're very likely to get more of the content you like, so it is in your interest. That's all I've got for you. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter, I am @bftrick. That's all for me. Bye-bye and happy designing.