Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indy Board Game Designer's Podcast where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week. We talk about their game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Roland. Today I'm going to be talking with Jay Little who's designed a ton of games.

Patrick Rauland: He's probably most well known for working on Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game. Then, he's also worked on several Games Workshop intellectual properties, including Blood Bowl: Team Manager – the Card Game, and Warhammer Fantasy Role Play 3rd Edition, and a bunch of other games.

Patrick Rauland: He also teaches game design at University of Wisconsin – Stout. He helped found Geekway to the West. That's a lot of stuff. Jay, welcome to the show.

Jay Little: Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.

Continue reading “#51 – Jay Little”

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indy Board Game Designer's Podcast where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week and we talk about their experience in game design, including all of the lessons that they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland and today I'm going to be talking with Dario Reinhardt who designed Crimson Company, which is up on Kickstarter right now. Dario, welcome to the show.

Dario Reinhardt: Thank you for the invitation. Hello.

Continue reading “#50 – Dario Reinhardt”

Rob Cramer: Hello, everyone! And welcome to the Indy Board Game Designers Podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer each week to talk about their experience in game design, and the lessons they've learned along the way.

Rob Cramer: I'm Rob Cramer, guest hosting for this special episode. And today, I'll be talking to Patrick Rauland, who is kick-starting his own game, Fry Thief.

Fry Thief Kickstarter Video

Rob Cramer: Patrick, welcome to the show.

Continue reading “#49 – Patrick Rauland”

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and 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 what they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'm going to be talking with Zintis May-Krumins, who designed Cave Paintings, where you're basically a cave person trying to crudely draw images and have other people guess them. Zintis, welcome to the show.

Zintis May-Krumins: Hi. I'm really happy to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Introduction

Patrick Rauland: So, I want to get into drawing games a little bit later, because I don't think I've talked to anyone yet who's made a drawing game, which is just a whole different thing. But I like to start with a little basically getting to know you game, because I've already researched you but the audience hasn't. So, are you a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Zintis May-Krumins: I am a fan, although I have not seen it since I was a kid, and if you talked to my friends, you would know that, like, we joke about how I think everything's better in space, like space games, and novels, and movie … everything. Everything's better in space.

Patrick Rauland: Have you ever done a DNA test, and if so, do you have any neanderthal DNA?

Zintis May-Krumins: I have never done a DNA test, and I probably never will. I feel like that's one of those things where the best case scenario is what exactly? Like, maybe you learn that someone's not related to you, and that would be horrible, but like what's the best case scenario, that like, “Oh, I don't know.”

Patrick Rauland: So, number one, I have neanderthal DNA. I got a DNA test from 23andme.com. It was really easy. Here's what I was hoping for, but sadly did not happen. I was hoping for a secret long-lost brother. Like, that would be so cool, to have a secret half-brother or secret half-sister. I want to have that family drama, but sadly, no, just nothing.

Zintis May-Krumins: No family drama for you. All right.

Patrick Rauland: I mean, so the good news is I'm keeping myself open to possibilities. If this secret half-brother or half-sister ever takes the DNA test, I will be notified, so-

Zintis May-Krumins: Okay.

Patrick Rauland: So that is the upside. I'm just letting you know.

Zintis May-Krumins: That's the win right there. Okay.

Patrick Rauland: So do you have any favorite caveman games besides your own?

Zintis May-Krumins: I think it has to go to Stone Age. I don't think I know that many caveman games, actually, so that's-

Patrick Rauland: There should be more.

Zintis May-Krumins: … the only one that comes to mind that I've played.

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

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Cool. Cool. Okay, so let's get into the first real question. I just love, like how did you get into board games and board game design?

Zintis May-Krumins: Board games, I've played games almost my entire life. I think I was playing chess when I was really little. I spent some time playing Magic, and Warhammer, Poker, StarCraft, all that stuff, all throughout my life at different times. Some of them, I played more rigorously than others. Like, I played competitive Magic for a few years in high school. I've played poker for reasonably serious money in my 20s, although that's kind of died out since I think I lost my competitiveness a little bit. And let's see. This must have been in 2007 or ‘8, my friends introduced me to Catan, and that introduced me to a bunch of other of these gateway games at that time. And my friends had a copy of Twilight Imperium on his shelf that he'd never played, and I'm like, “That looks amazing. I have to try that.” So we did, and it's been a mess ever since.

Patrick Rauland: Just curious, do you happen to know what version of Twilight Imperium?

Zintis May-Krumins: It was third edition. I actually believe I traded … I think I actually have that copy in my house right now. I traded him a board game he was likely to play in exchange for it, since like he never played it himself, so now I have my own gateway game. My initial gateway game is in my living room. All right, so that's how I got into board games, and the rest of the question is board game design?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah.

Zintis May-Krumins: Okay, so I think in 2011 or 2012, I was like listening to various podcasts that had me … I think that they were video game podcasts, like the Co-Optional podcast, and that got me kind of listening to a couple just general game design podcasts, and like Extra Credits on YouTube. And at some point, I was like, “Huh, that seems interesting and fun. Might be good to try it one day.” And that got me, like, very lightly interested into the idea of game design. At that point, I had this kind of like scheme, that maybe I'd study some game design, and then I'd study some programming, and later, some time in the future, I could combine them and make a game.

Zintis May-Krumins: But what actually ended up happening was that both of these two skillsets have stayed completely separate so far. So, in 2011, at the time, I was working in a casino. I was a poker dealer. But now, I'm a web developer, so programming happened, and also at that time, I was just playing games, but now I'm also designing tabletop games, so they have not met yet.

JavaScript is Totally Related To Board Game Design. 🙄

Patrick Rauland: You're a web developer. I also have a web background, so I should have asked you what is like your favorite JavaScript language, just because then I feel like you can get hate from all sides, because you'll pick the wrong one inevitably.

Zintis May-Krumins: I just learned some Vue last couple days, and I've really been enjoying that, because I've spent some time learning Angular too and React, because my senior dev just loves React, and I kind of don't like both of those for different reasons. I like Angular a little more, because it's very developer friendly. It's very easy to program in. I appreciate that React is very fast, but it's hard to program in. But Vue seems to be like that very happy medium, although I haven't done it in production yet, so … But we're getting really heavy for our listeners, so-

How Do You Make A Drawing Game?

Patrick Rauland: Well, yeah. We're getting super nerdy. Yeah, yeah, but … So, I'm really excited to talk about your drawing game, so … Hold on, let me pull up the title before I mash the … Okay, so Cave Paintings. You made a game called Cave Paintings, where basically, the premise, if I could try to summarize it in one sentence, is like you're a caveman, you're trying to get across a word or phrase to someone else, but you can only draw basically with your fists. You hold the pen in your fist and you make these crude drawings, which the videos that I saw look hilarious. So, how did you decide to make a drawing game? Because you also seem pretty attracted to Twilight Imperium, like super big, heavy, complex games.

Zintis May-Krumins: Yeah, so the weird thing … I'm not a professional game designer. I'm an indie game designer. I do this for enjoyment. I enjoy games in general, and developing games is kind of like an extension of that, so a lot of times, I'll make a game for the sheer challenge of it. I'm not restricted to games that I like, per se. I've made a couple that I don't like, which is weird when playtesting. So, what I'm trying to say is that, like, I just hadn't … Usually, my game design process just starts with an idea. I'm like, “Oh, this concept would be really cool,” or, “This mechanic would be really cool,” and then I'll just kind of like flesh out the idea of that game around it, and this might take a few days, a few weeks, a few months for that idea to congeal, until it seems like it could be real. And then I'll try to prototype it, think it through, and get some playtesting done, and if it goes well, I keep going with it, and if it doesn't, then it ends up in the archive folder in my Google Drive.

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Zintis May-Krumins: So, how did I end up with a drawing game? What ended up happening there was that at that point, I think I had like … It must have been in … No, this was in 2016. I remember because I was in a web development class at the time. So it was in 2016. I had been trying to develop games for about two years. In 2015, I had gone to BostonFIG with one of my projects, called Huts, so like I had done some game design up until that point, maybe 15 or 20 iterations of various games. And that winter, at a friend's … I think it was like a New Year's party. Everyone was playing Jackbox Party Pack, like in their living room, and they were playing one of the drawing games that was on there.

Zintis May-Krumins: And I remember that like I drew something, and it showed up on the TV, and then a graphic designer and an illustrator both stood up and yelled out, “Who drew that? That's amazing. How did you draw …” and like, at that moment, I realized that like drawing well in drawing games isn't the fun part, because I kind of got picked out for having such a better drawing. We were having so much more fun making terrible guesses, and like making terrible drawings, like with everybody else's drawings. Then mine came out as like, I don't know, like a five-year-old's drawing. Everyone else's looked like someone just mashed their screens, basically.

Zintis May-Krumins: And I kind of just realized at that moment that games like Pictionary, which incentivize good drawing, or other games that do that, are like that's not necessarily where the fun is. Like, there's some fun there, but I feel like bad drawings and bad guesses were the best way to have fun with a drawing game, and that's where it came from.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I find this really interesting, because I … So the only other drawing game that I really know, yeah, Pictionary and then Telestrations, and Telestrations seems similar, where you don't intentionally draw bad, but when bad drawings happen, that is the fun.

Zintis May-Krumins: Yeah, that's the best part.

Why Is Messing Up Fun?

Patrick Rauland: Are there other … I'm just trying to think out loud here. Are there other games where basically, people messing up is fun, and are they all like party games?

Zintis May-Krumins: I think party games are the games that were going to do that, because in party games, winning and losing doesn't matter. It's mostly about the experience for the players. You can't do anything super strategic, that has people randomly flubbing for humor … Well, I mean you can. It'll happen, but like you don't enter a game of Agricola planning on flubbing on turn 12.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Zintis May-Krumins: But you do enter a game of Pictionary trying to make someone guess something ridiculous, because that's fun. But like as far as drawing games that are trying to make people draw bad, I do remember that like Doodle Rush and Really Bad Art both came out kind of like while I was developing Cave Paintings, which kind of made me a little nervous, but I think the games are different enough, and I think that I'm pushing that concept a little bit further than those did.

Do You Start With Theme or Mechanics?

Patrick Rauland: Nice. Nice. So, I just want to go back to something. You said you start with basically an idea, and then you said … So, I just want to take us back to the age-old game design question of mechanics or theme first, because it seems like you do both.

Zintis May-Krumins: Yeah. I personally find that, like, you might start with one or the other, but at some point, you're going to have to introduce both to your game, and very often, I feel that when I'm trying to make a mechanical decision in a game, like what are the mechanisms are going to fit with this little contraption I've made? Like having a theme inform your decisions makes it easier to make those kind of otherwise arbitrary mechanical decisions. Like, let's say I have an area control game. If it's all done in a vacuum, and you have a purely abstract area control game, you could do anything, but like why?

Zintis May-Krumins: But if you said it was an area control game about, like, ancient Rome in the senate, now you're trying to influence politicians, and that's go kind of dictate what kinds of mechanics you want to have, and like what the game pieces are going to look like, and so forth. It becomes much easier to develop a game when you have both some theme and some mechanisms, but also understanding that like mechanisms can be transplanted from game to game. You don't need to have a specific theme, necessarily, but having something inform your decisions really helps the design process, especially early on.

Patrick Rauland: I totally, totally agree. Just, I think it helps guide you, but yeah, I guess I'd say the theme helps guide your mechanism decisions, but it isn't … You don't need it, and you don't need until later, but I think it's helpful.

Zintis May-Krumins: So a funny thing is that I've actually had that argument with some people, because I'm the middle ground, but at the same time, I'm very pro mechanism, because I argue with other designers, in a fun way of course, that like you cannot build a house of theme. You can build a house of bricks, and those bricks might be like painted, but games are built with mechanisms. It has to be built out of those. If you want to build a game out of just pure theme, you end up with a book, basically, and books are great, but they're not a game.

What is it Like Pitching Multiple Types of Games to Publishers?

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Get it. Love it. Okay, so you're also working on some much heavier games. I think I want to ask you … So you've had one game published. You have a bunch … I think I saw on your BGG page, you have like another four or five in the works. What has been your experience pitching publishers on this sort of light drawing game that got accepted, and then pitching them on some of your heavier games, that are still in the works, or not yet accepted, or something like that?

Zintis May-Krumins: Cave Paintings, for pitching, was an interesting case, in that, like, it was kind of lightning in a bottle. The first time we playtested it, it was pretty fun, and then the more I developed it, the more fun it got. I kind of went on a tangent and went a little bit too heavy for about six months there, trying a heavier scoring system, that was interesting but not necessarily the right place for that game. And when I brought that to Unpub in 2017, it was really well received.

Zintis May-Krumins: There were people like … I probably had the most people playtest my game of any game in Unpub, and I'm not saying that lightly, because you could play the game in 20 minutes, and really good advertising for people to play your game is everybody laughing. So, I think we played it almost 30 times with no less than four players over the course of the weekend, so that's 120 people coming through a table. It was crazy. I was crushed at the end of it. I had been … My voice was shot. My legs were done. I hadn't eaten. Nothing. I was in miserable shape Sunday night.

Zintis May-Krumins: But the point that I'm trying to say is that, like, I happened to find a game that was a lot of fun. And after that weekend, I realized that, like, it was a lot of fun and no one could ever heart my feelings on that game ever again. No one could ever tell me it was a bad game, or that some part was bad.

Zintis May-Krumins: Anyway, pitching that game was easy. Like, when I was there, IDW … Daryl Andrews from IDW approached me, said like, “Oh, this game seems like a lot of fun. I would love to take a look at it.” Zev took a look at it, from … I don't know who … He's with Wiz Kidz now, I believe, but ended up thinking that it needed a little more time in the oven, just because like the party game rules were a little bit … It was a little heavy for a party game, just with the scoring system that was currently in place. And then the following … Let's see, this was in … Yeah, the following summer, at DexCon in New Jersey, so at a local Morristown … local New Jersey convention, in Morristown, New Jersey.

Zintis May-Krumins: I met a lady named Cindy, who played it as a playtest, and she was like, “Oh, this is great, and let me introduce you to my friend, Dan, from R&R Games,” and I pitched it to him, and he took a copy with him immediately, and got a contract about a month later, after they had a chance to play it. So that game was a very different experience than pitching other games in my lineup, because like, it's like very obviously fun if you've played it.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Zintis May-Krumins: The player experience is very consistent, I would say, from play to play. Some people are kind of curmudgeonly, and that's fine, but like by and large, if you're playing the game, you're having fun, and laughing, and it's also challenging. But as far as the other games that I have, a lot of the games that I have in my roster were kind of like … So this is an aside. It's something that I kind of struggle with as a game designer, is that a lot of my designs are me trying to do something that I find interesting as a designer, which does not necessarily mean that the game is designed for the market.

Zintis May-Krumins: I believe a lot of professional designers will design games not just to be interesting, but also to be readily sold either to the end user, to customers, or to game companies, game publishers, that would want to sell to customers, whereas some of my projects, I'm like, “Oh, wouldn't it be really interesting if you had a stock market game, that didn't look like a stock market game?” And games like that are kind of a harder sell, so I've had less success with pitching the other ones. I've had a bunch of near misses, a bunch of prototype have been sent out and some people have said nice things but not for them, but we're still working on it.

Zintis May-Krumins: What I'm trying to say is that Cave Paintings was kind of like, and I've said this term a couple of times, lightning in a bottle, like it just kind of all came together and got out the door, but pitching my other games has been harder, and pitching … My current main project is a 4X game. My personal tastes, I tend to prefer medium to heavy games, and one of my white whales has been making a 4X game. And for a long time, it was a white, uncatchable whale, but for the last about year, year and a half, I feel like I have a harpoon in it. I'm being dragged along the water trying to chase this game.

Zintis May-Krumins: And I've gotten about to the point where I've started to pitch it to companies, and I'm finding that that's a harder sell than you would think, for that kind of genre specifically. Part of it is that the game length is very long, so companies that specialize in short games are not going to do it. The game, I'm going to guess, is going to retail for 80 to $100, which for the amount of content and pieces in the box, I don't think is that crazy, but again, some companies don't want to have to shell out … So if it's $100 a copy, that comes out to about, what, $20 a unit? If they want to sell 5,000 copies, I believe that comes out to 100 grand, if my math does me right. So like let's say you have a-

Patrick Rauland: Let's say yes.

Zintis May-Krumins: Sure, so like the cost for them to invest in making a production run of the game is also prohibitively high, and the last thing is that companies that already have a 4X game, which are the companies that technically would be the most likely to make a 4X game, having done one already, won't make a second 4X game, because that would cannibalize their own market. Does that make sense?

How Do You Know When You Have Lightning in a Bottle?

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Yeah, yeah, totally makes sense. Sorry, I think I'm stuck on … I love that you called your game lightning in a bottle, because I think a lot of life is getting lucky, right? Like having the right idea at the right time, and I guess I'm just stuck on how do you know when you have lightning in a bottle, and you need to, like … Because you said, like, you don't even … Like, you like these very complicated games, but you happened, you know, because you're trying all sorts of awesome ideas, you experimented, you found a really cool drawing game that worked … Sorry, I guess I just want to ask a follow-up question like, let's say a game is out. How do you know you've found lightning in a bottle, especially if it's outside of your area of expertise?

Zintis May-Krumins: So, my personal design process is, like, compared to other designers that I've met in the New York / New Jersey area, is very fast. Usually, I'll … So here's an example. I had an idea last week for a game called Set Roulette. I thought about it in a couple car rides. I'm like, “Okay, I want to have a tile-laying game where you place chips like roulette. The tiles will get randomly selected, and if you have the most chips on that tile, you will get it, and you'll just make a set collection game.” From there, I just was like, “Okay, I need these pieces, these cards, these tiles. I'm going to make up some scoring mechanisms, a couple set collection, and let me throw them all on a spreadsheet, throw them in a templating program,” called Card Maker is the one I use, nanDECK is the usual … is the most common one. And I think like two or three hours later, I had a playtestable game.

Zintis May-Krumins: So, my process, from having … Like, I've made a lot of prototypes is what I'm trying to say, and that in the process of doing so, I've gotten pretty fast at making that initial prototype and then further iterations, so lightning in a bottle for me is making 100 games and one of them being good.

Patrick Rauland: Love it.

Zintis May-Krumins: I don't do it on purpose, but like if you're making so many games, iterating so much, eventually something you do has to be good. Like, just by sheer force of numbers.

If you're making so many games, iterating so much, eventually something you do has to be good.

Patrick Rauland: So this is … What is it? Like if enough monkeys are typing, they'll eventually write Shakespeare?

Zintis May-Krumins: I heard that the other day, and someone pointed out that we are monkeys, and they did write all of Shakespeare.

What Games Inspire You?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Cool. Okay, I think that's helpful. So you talked about your process a little bit. You talked about publishing a little bit. I guess I'd like to ask you what sort of games inspire you?

Zintis May-Krumins: Ah. The games that I think that I have the most appreciation for, I would say are Carl Chudyk's games, Glory to Rome and Innovation specifically. I think both those games are like really innovative in the way that they use cards, and the mechanisms, and how they incorporate theme. They just do it in a very interesting way. I'm not saying that they're the most thematic games, but like Innovation is a very … The game itself, I would describe as a little dry, but the arc of the game is like how do you get such an interesting arc in just 200 cards, that it can entertain three or four people with an hour, with just 100 cards? The same 100 cards every time, in roughly the same order.

Zintis May-Krumins: And for Glory to Rome, I just feel like … I don't think Glory to Rome's a perfect game, but I think some of the cards are imbalanced, but I think that that's what gives the game its flavor, that like you notice that sometimes this player's going to do a little better, because they draw well, and that's kind of the part of the excitement of the game, is beating … is having a lead and maintaining it, or being a little behind and having to overcome it makes the game interesting, and I just think that he really explored that space well, and I find those games really interesting.

How Did This Inspiration Affect Your Games?

Patrick Rauland: Cool. So, I mean, let me ask you a question. How has being inspired by his … Like, have you added something to one of your games, based on like, “Oh, I love that he did this in this game”?

Zintis May-Krumins: Oh yeah. Actually, in the 4X game that I'm working on, it's called Z4X, because I met Jon Gilmour one year, and he was at METATOPIA. He had a game called Jon's 4X game, and I'm like, “Cool. That's a naming convention that I can use,” so I made Z4X. Z's 4X game, until I come up with a better name or a theme that will require me to change the name.

Zintis May-Krumins: But in that game, one of the design problems I was having was that 4X games, and especially space 4X games, usually will have some kind of technology system, where players can build on their engine by researching stuff. And every game does it differently, and some 4X games will have like a tableau of possible technologies that you can acquire over the course of the game, but those are static. Those will always be the same, and I wanted players to explore every aspect of the game, like every part of the game was kind of unknown, something that you had to delve into and discover, but at the same time, a problem I was having was that occasionally, players will need a solution to a current problem, like their ships move too slowly, or those planets are too hazardous, or, “I need to do better in combat, because people are attacking me.”

Zintis May-Krumins: And initially in that game, I had a deck of science cards that all had one ability on them, one technology that you could research to improve your empire, and I found that that was limiting, because you had to draw an awful lot of them, and occasionally you would go through a run of cards that were very bad for your situation. So, borrowing from Glory to Rome, which is a game that tucks and puts cards in different slots on your board, I divided the tech cards into four parts, so there's like a right side, a left side, that are margins, then a top side, and then a center. And the right side is cheap and free, the left side lets you move faster, the top side does better in combat, usually, and the middle is like a unique ability, that's just something crazy.

Zintis May-Krumins: And I found that that system has really resonated well with players and really solved that problem, of like players not having enough … like being very limited in what they researched, whereas if you asked a scientist today, or like if you had a bunch of scientists, and you asked them to research better warp drives, and they came back to you with a toaster, you'd be very disappointed.

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Zintis May-Krumins: So like what-

Patrick Rauland: Also by that time, I think toasters should have been invented.

Zintis May-Krumins: Yes, toasters should have been invented before that, but space toasters, maybe not.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, okay.

Zintis May-Krumins: The point that I'm trying to say is like giving players the choice again, of how they want to use this piece of technology, was really helped the game along, and it played a lot better, and players enjoyed a lot.

How Many Uses Can a Card Have?

Patrick Rauland: So I'd like to stop you for just a second, because Glory to Rome is a good example of multi-use cards. I've heard that before, and multi-use cards, especially in like a lot of micro-games, multi-use cards are the bomb, because there's a lot you can do with them. Is there a limit? And actually, sorry, just one more … Like, Gloomhaven, right? There's basically two abilities on the card. You get to pick which one you want to use, right? So like is there a limit to how many uses a card can have? Because I do … When I look at Glory to Rome's cards, if you've never played the game before, sometimes you're like, “Wait, what is this? What is this? What is this? What …” and once you get it, it's fine, but sometimes there's a lot of information, so I guess I'd love to know, yeah, is there a limit on how many ways and types you can use a card? Does that make sense?

Zintis May-Krumins: Yes, there is. I'm not going to quote you a number, but I'm going to say that every game has something called a complexity budget, and that's the idea that the game can only be so complex, or any part of the game can only be so complex, before the players are overwhelmed. Now, for players who tend to prefer lighter games, this quantity of information that they can process is less, not necessarily because they're smarter or dumber, but just because the amount of information that they would like to have to go through for fun is less, whereas players who like heavier games are willing to break out a spreadsheet and the abacus and just go at it for two or three hours, and they can digest a lot of information happily for fun.

Every game has something called a complexity budget, and that's the idea that the game can only be so complex, or any part of the game can only be so complex, before the players are overwhelmed

Zintis May-Krumins: Now, the game that you're trying to make is going to have a complexity budget, and that's kind of going to define the feel of your game. So as far as how much information can be on cards, you can use a card for many different uses, but it depends how much information is on the card that the player has to be cognizant of. In Glory to Rome, I would say that basically a card has a color and an ability, and that the color of the card, which represents the resource that it represents and also the kind of bonus patron, that's all tied together, so as much as Glory to Rome is a kind of complicated game, since you can use a card for multiple things, it's not that much more complex than … What's another? I shouldn't make comparisons, but it's not quite that complex, because you are kind of chunking together the color of the card.

Zintis May-Krumins: So, as far as how much information you can put on cards, I would say that like … What's a good example? Like, Magic gives you seven cards. Hearthstone gives you, what, four to six cards or something like that? Other games will have more or less cards. I feel that, like, people can hold on to between maybe seven and 10 pieces of information comfortably usually. Like, that's a telephone number, basically. But like you can go higher and you can go lower, but if you go too low, the game will be boring, and if you go too high, the game will be overwhelming.

Zintis May-Krumins: And if you are going to go higher, you generally would want to start the game at a lower complexity level and then increase it, so like … What's that game? Concordia uses a card selection … uses cards as actions and also as scoring, and that game, I think starts with five cards or six cards.

Patrick Rauland: It's somewhere around there, yeah.

Zintis May-Krumins: Something like that, but by the end of the game, you might have like 12 cards or 15 cards, and that's okay, because you've had time to get familiar with the initial five cards, and then the sixth card and seventh card, and because these cards have been introduced over time, you've given the players time to learn and memorize the cards that they already have, so by the end of the game, even though you have 15 cards in hand, it's a lot of cards, but it's not overwhelming, as it would have been if you handed them 15 cards in the first turn and asked them to play a game.

Written Text Seems to be the Limiting Factor, No?

Patrick Rauland: Absolutely. I also wonder if this is just where like good iconography, and I'm scrolling through some Glory to Rome cards right now, and there's money symbols on the bottom, but it's like one, two, or three. There's dots on the right-hand side. There's just a lot of good iconography, and if it's … I think maybe the … I'd say maybe the bigger limit is like number of sentences. Like, there's basically, yeah, as you said, one action, and then a whole bunch of other minor stuff, you know? So if you could discard a card for two resources, that seems like an easier piece of information to store in addition to its unique ability. Does that make sense?

Zintis May-Krumins: Yeah. Yeah, I would say so. An aside on graphic design is that like as much … If you're a beginning designer, you should invest as little as possible between idea and prototype and first playtest as you can, but as soon as you think that you're kind of on to something, that a game has a glimmer of fun or might be fun soon, then you should probably invest a little bit of time in graphic design, even if you're bad at it, because the iconography can convey more information faster than words can. Like, once someone associates an icon with money, they no longer have to read a dollar sign and then read a number. Just processing the game will go faster and better, and you'll have a better idea of how well the game will be once it's fully developed.

Do You Recommend Doing Your Own Graphic Design?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, I love that. So would you … I mean, because a lot of people don't want to pay for graphic design, especially early on, which I get. Would you recommend doing graphic design yourself?

Zintis May-Krumins: I might be a rare case, in that in high school, I was artistically inclined, but I never pursued it, so maybe I'm not a normal case or like an average person's case. I come from a family that has a lot of artists in it, although I haven't done much art. I'm okay. I'm comfortable doing graphic design for my own games. I feel like it's just something that you should just do, and practice, and then show to people, so they can tell you that the fonts are all wrong and the picture's too big, and then you go back, and then you fix it, and-

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Zintis May-Krumins: I think like the difference between a good graphic designer and a bad graphic designer is only the amount of time it takes for them to get to the good product. Like a good graphic designer will do it one shot, done, whereas a bad graphic designer will take a few iterations to understand what they're doing wrong, and then get there eventually.

Patrick Rauland: Love it, and okay, so I love that, and paired with your previous advice about prototyping quick and often, like have … I don't want to say make bad stuff, but do your best at graphic design. It'll come out … Like, inevitably you'll do something wrong, and a week later, a month later, or whenever you make the next prototype, then you can fix it.

Zintis May-Krumins: Yeah, basically. An anecdote that I have from one of my playtest groups was that there's a local designer named Orion McClelland, who's pretty great, and he had some interesting designs, but for the longest time, one of his games, called Ark Worlds, was these small, handwritten cards. And he has really bad handwriting, and he would draw these little icons, and I couldn't tell what they were. And playing the game with those cards was like a chore. It was really hard. I couldn't read my cards. Your cards are upside down on the other side of the table. Can't read those either, you know? And that whole process made it much more difficult to playtest the game than it should have been.

Zintis May-Krumins: But like a week or two later, after I was like, “Hey, you should do some basic graphic design and come back,” he brought out the game, and it was just black-and-white cards, but it was printed, and the text was good, and the cards were sized well, and everything had an image, so you could associate what chunk of information was on what card, and the game played so much better, and it was so much easier for players to get into it and for him to get playtests, and people wouldn't … It was no longer a chore, because before that, they had this barrier between the player and the game, but once you took that down, with some printing, some cleanliness, and some graphic design, it became … It just became much easier for them to get engaged with the game.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. It's interesting to think about doing a little bit of graphic design will help you actually get better playtests, and you'll get more playtests, because people will actually want to do it, so it's a-

Doing a little bit of graphic design will help you actually get better playtests, and you'll get more playtests, because people will actually want to [play].

Zintis May-Krumins: Yeah, I find that you don't want to … Like I said before, you don't want to invest very much until you've found some fun. Like, if you have some crazy idea, that we should get brooms and jump off roofs, and this is going to be a fun game, don't invest a lot in making fancy brooms, and a rule book, and all that. Once you've found some fun, and you intend to pursue the game in the long term, like over weeks and months, then it becomes more comfortable for you to invest a little bit of time in some placeholder art, or some graphic design, or fixing up your fonts so they're highly readable, because at that point, you know the game has some fun in it, and it's a matter of cultivating that fun, to the point where you can pitch to a publisher or publish it yourself.

What Resources Do You Recommend to Game Designers?

Patrick Rauland: Cool, cool. So I'd love to ask you, like what is a resource you'd recommend to these designers?

Zintis May-Krumins: So, my kind of roundabout introduction to game design was when I was first self-teaching game design, in like 2011 and 2012, I was just … I initially was just casually reading all the resources I could online, trying to get some kind of understanding of the basics of game design, and one of the resources I came across that really left an impression on me was something called Machinations, by Joris Dormans, and honestly, I don't use it every day. It's a combination of a paper, and a book, and an online tool, and all of them are very dry textbook explanations of how games work, as like a self-contained system, and how to represent it using a digital tool, or using a certain iconography to represent the different game mechanisms, but …

Zintis May-Krumins: So like the tool itself is somewhat valuable, but understanding the idea of a death spiral, or a victory spiral, or like positive and negative reinforcement, or not reinforcement, positive and negative feedback mechanisms, and stuff like that, was very valuable, because that meant that now I was thinking about games in these terms, and I could identify in games. When something was happening, I could describe it in words. Like, I knew what to look for.

Understanding the idea of a death spiral, or a victory spiral, or like positive and negative […] feedback mechanisms […] was very valuable

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Zintis May-Krumins: And this meant that I had fewer games that came to the table broken and I didn't know why, and I feel like for a lot of beginning designers, maybe you have a lot of game fluency, or maybe you have some design fluency, but when you bring it … You'll make a game, and you'll bring it to the table, and it'll have a lukewarm or a bad reception, and you won't necessarily be able to figure out why based on your players' feedback. But having that kind of structured understanding of how games work, that that book and various other resources gave me, I feel like helped me move along in that process. It put me ahead a little bit.

Patrick Rauland: I love it. No, I totally agree with you on language. A good example is the complexity budget. Like, we talked about that earlier. And once you understand the concept of a complexity budget, and when you see someone get overwhelmed, you're like, “Oh, I see what's happening here.”

Zintis May-Krumins: Yeah, it's like by having it and have a name, you now know what to look for when you see a playtest roll by.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. So I will try to find that and have a link in the show notes. And then I'd love to ask you … I mean, what does success look like to you?

Zintis May-Krumins: For me, I'm doing this as like kind of an extension of the hobby. I'm doing it mostly for my own enjoyment. Success, for me, is I think just doing it. I'm pretty sure that as long as I'm designing games and making progress, that that's the enjoyment for me, I'm pretty sure. I think an extension of that is that, like, getting stuff published is the last step of it. It's like proof that you've done something, but I don't think necessarily getting published is the most important thing for me. And I think that reflects a lot in how I treat game design, because I'm a serial game maker. I've made a lot of prototypes. I go to a lot of playtests, less so this year than other years, but … And like I really enjoy that whole process, but the games that I do have, I could pitch more. I could honestly pitch them more, or I could think about Kickstarter, and I haven't, because that's not where the fun is for me. That's not where success is for me, necessarily, so … Hello?

Patrick Rauland: Oh, I muted myself. That is what happens … I was drinking a little bit of soda, and I'm like, “I'll just mute myself,” and then I started talking, and you were like, “What?”

Zintis May-Krumins: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Patrick Rauland: Anyways, technical problems aside, that's very cool. I appreciate hearing the art side of it. You know, I think a lot of indie people really-

Conclusion

Editors note: The last minute or so of audio was lost to the ether.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indie Board Game and Designers Podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week and we talk about their experience in game design.

Patrick Rauland: My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'm going to be talking with Rich Hardy and Julianne Holzschuh, the designers behind Penguin SLAP!, which was on Kickstarter a few months ago and they had a pretty successful campaign. Rich and Jewlz, welcome to the show.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Hey. Nice to be talking to you.

Rich Hardy: Hello.

Introduction

Patrick Rauland: Yay. So I saw your game because it's a micro-game and I like micro game. Or not micro, but I like smaller, quicker games. So I know a little bit about you, but for people who don't know about you, I like to play this little game where I ask you three quick questions. Then we'll just go through those, all right?

Rich Hardy: Sure way. Sounds good to us.

Patrick Rauland: All right. So if you were a penguin, polar bear, or narwhal … Or, sorry. Sorry. If a penguin, polar bear or narwhal got into a fight, who would win?

Jewlz Holzschuh: Polar bear.

Rich Hardy: Polar bear?

Jewlz Holzschuh: Polar Bear.

Rich Hardy: You don't think a narwhal with a-

Patrick Rauland: Not the narwhal with the giant spike on its head?

Jewlz Holzschuh: No, well, polar bears already eat seals, and I feel like a polar bear would know how to handle itself. It would sneak up on it and drag it out of the water, and then [crosstalk 00:01:19] a whole lot.

Rich Hardy: Yeah, but if I was a narwhal, the polar wouldn't have a chance.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Sure.

Rich Hardy: That's what I think.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, all right. We'll see.

Jewlz Holzschuh: [inaudible 00:01:31] from your forehead horn?

Rich Hardy: Maybe.

Patrick Rauland: So what is your favorite convention?

Jewlz Holzschuh: I really like the MegaCon convention in Florida. It's always really big, it's in a gorgeous convention space. The R2D2 Builders association always comes every year. They always got a really … bunch of really nice photo booths. There's tons of cos players. It's big enough that you get a lot of [inaudible 00:01:56], also small enough that you don't have [inaudible 00:01:59].

Patrick Rauland: Love it. And you Rich?

Rich Hardy: Sorry for MegaCon, I would say BostonFIG because we were there and there were a lot of really great people there, and it was a great place for smaller board game and card game designers to get on to a show floor and showcase their games for people, at a relatively inexpensive way, which was really for us and helped our game a lot.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Great for networking and great for seeing new interesting indie games.

Rich Hardy: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Hmm. Yeah, there's so many indie small games that you would never hear of or never see in your board game store so it's cool to have a place to see them.

Rich Hardy: Yeah!

Rich Hardy: Yeah, yeah!

Patrick Rauland: Cool, cool. And your favorite expansion for a game?

Jewlz Holzschuh: I was having a lot of fun with the Widow's Walk expansion for Betrayal at House on the Hill. They add another level to the house. They added a few game play fixes, so it's much easier to navigate the levels of the house … the dumbwaiter.

Rich Hardy: The dumbwaiter.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Stuff like that, and they added a bunch of new stories to it, too. [crosstalk 00:03:01].

Rich Hardy: Yeah I'll second that one as well. We've both played a both amount of Betrayal at House on the Hill, and the expansion just kind of-

Jewlz Holzschuh: It adds a lot to the game.

Rich Hardy: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Very cool. I like it!

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

Patrick Rauland: So I love … the first question I basically ask everyone is how did you get in to board games and board game design?

Rich Hardy: So, we were originally going to make a video game back in the day, because I like programming and I think programming is fun, and programming small Mario sized scroller kind of game is fun, and my aspirations grew to be much greater than my programming ability. I was like, all right. Let's jump into card games instead because that's way faster.

Rich Hardy: And that's basically where it began and we sat down, or I sat down and I was like, all right, let's make a game. And what game do we like? I played UNO with some friends of mine at one point and they introduced a house rule that I really liked and I thought of making a reverse UNO-esque game that utilizes this house rule as it's core mechanic and that's what really began this whole thing.

Jewlz Holzschuh: It was kind of like the seed of where the rest of the project blossomed. The house rule in question is for when you play an action or icon card on the pile, if someone else plays another one, they would the stack and the person who wasn't able to play the same thing would get hit by like multiple skips or multiple draws or whatever.

Rich Hardy: Yeah in short, if you play a draw 2 on someone, it means they draw 2 cards and their turn ends. But with the house rule, you play a draw 2, the next person can play a draw 2, and instead of oh yes, the person would then draw 4, unless they have a draw 2 and the next person would then draw 6. And the effect would stack and keep going around the table. That was so much more fun than regular UNO. I was like, let's take this sort of this jumpy reflecty mechanic and just make a game around it. And that's where Penguin SLAP! was born and all of our interest and everything came from that.

Patrick Rauland: Hmm. So I've played with that house rule, too, for UNO, and it's pretty fun when you can … when someone plays the wild 4, the draw 4, whatever it is, on you, and you pass it on, you're like, oh thank god.

Rich Hardy: And every time we mention this to someone they always say, oh yeah! I've played with that house rule too. Everyone's played with this house rule, and it's not in the main game. Why is it not at least in the comments in the main game? Unless it is and I've missed it.

How Did You Design Penguin SLAP!?

Patrick Rauland: That's really cool. I like that introduction story. So I'd love to know how did you design Penguin SLAP! together, because it sounds like each of you did different roles, or had different jobs.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Well, he had the basic idea and we got some construction paper and just cut it up and wrote down what the individual cards would do with a pencil.

Rich Hardy: Yeah it started off with little cuts of squares of paper, and we wrote what the cards did. One of the things we wanted to do in the game was have it so the back of the cards were different colors, and the back of the cards could be seen from across the table what your opponents would have. So the original construction paper just had highlighter on the back, and pencil on the front. Super, super, super rough.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Basic, basic prototype. It's just getting the mechanics … trying out the mechanics, making sure the mechanics work before any art was in place.

Rich Hardy: And we kept going back and forth with this little game of making someone drop cards. Because it was UNO but backwards, so instead of picking up cards you wanted to make your opponent drop cards. This sort of back and forth, until it's … until we … until it was fun.

Jewlz Holzschuh: What we ended up doing was he started out with the rules that he wanted to try. We had the different colored card backs. We had the making opponents drop cards instead of picking them up. We had the bouncing back and forth cards, but that was it. We started with the most basic rule set, of like three rules, and then we would play, and we would be like, Okay, I'm noticing that without a hand limit, I've got a massive amount of cards. This might not be a good idea. All right. Let's try a hand limit of 7. Okay, we're noticing we're coming into this problem. Let's add a rule to counter that down. And then it was very much a back and forth of he would introduce an idea. I would introduce an idea. And we would play test together because it was a two-person game so we would just sit down and play it with each other and suggest rules or suggest changes and it was a very collaborative process.

Rich Hardy: Once we got to the point where we played and a hand and when it was over, we went, that was fun. We knew we had finally hooked what we were going for.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Yeah. And then when we got to that point, we decided to start thinking of theme because we had a mechanic that was fun, we had a game that was entertaining despite just being pieces of paper and scribbly little directions, so we decided to think about what we wanted it to be themed about. The main thing was either kittens or penguins. These are two things that everybody likes, but there was already a game that came out with kittens, because Exploding Kittens had recently come out, so we decided to do penguins instead.

It Seems Like You Design Mechanic First?

Patrick Rauland: I love that. I love that explanation. So what's interesting is I don't usually go to this question, because I don't usually think there's a lot of value in this question, but in this case, it might. It sounds like you designed the mechanic entirely first before the theme. Is that luck or if you've thought about other games, have you also started with the mechanic first?

Rich Hardy: So from what I've heard, Nintendo does a lot of that as well. Where they'll come up with a brainstorm idea of a mechanic and then once they've found something that's fun, that works, that's fun to play, they'll then look at their IP database and like, oh okay, this is more of a Starfox game or a [crosstalk 00:09:15].

Patrick Rauland: Really!

Jewlz Holzschuh: So that's how you get things like Mario Cart which has nothing to do with the sidescroller platforming but it's themed with Mario. Tennis, it's just …

Rich Hardy: Wii sports is another good one.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Yeah.

Rich Hardy: And you can't … they decided to introduce the Miis for that specific Wii. So [inaudible 00:09:34] the same character across multiple things and it would be more universally applicable to people who aren't familiar with Mario.

Jewlz Holzschuh: There was a little bit of a back and forth after we decided on the theme because once we figured out a theme, we were like, okay if we're doing penguins, well, how would this work because we were talking about having multiple draw piles in the game, which is something that's fairly unique for card games, but it was fun an added an extra layer to the strategy of covering them up. And we were deciding, well penguins, you know, icebergs … ice caps … kind of, well, how would that work?

Rich Hardy: So in our game there's multiple places you can draw fish cards from … there's fish cards … and we wanted a mechanic that would cover up draw piles, so that people wouldn't be able to catch more fish or draw more cards. We wanted to have a penguin that would have an ability that would allow them to fish through a draw pile, and we were trying to think of, well, if these are draw piles, they are fishing holes, then maybe you'd cover a fishing hole with an ice cap. Well, what penguin can break through an ice cap? No …

Jewlz Holzschuh: Not many penguins can. Well …

Rich Hardy: What could? What if there was a polar bear dressed as a penguin, pretending to be a penguin? That sounds really goofy. Let's keep going on this. And as we came up with more abilities for the players to have, we came up with goofier and goofier renditions of penguins, which, about half the penguins in the game aren't actually penguins.

Jewlz Holzschuh: And it kind of snowballed into this thing where we would just bounce goofy ideas off of each other and then whatever made us laugh was what we would roll with.

Game Design With Improv Skills

Patrick Rauland: I find this really interesting just because … Sorry, I'm getting a slight echo … but I find it really interesting it sounds really improvy. You know what I mean? You know? Let's just try this … I'm going to throw this crazy idea out there and we'll see if it sticks.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Then the design process was very much like that. It was design first, brainstorm first, and then critique later. It's figure out what of our goofy fun ideas actually work and which ones don't.

Jewlz Holzschuh: But I think especially for beginning designers, they'll either shoot themselves too hard in the foot, or they'll be expecting too much of themselves, and they'll critique themselves before their idea even gets off the ground. You've kind of got let yourself have wings and just explore the direction that an idea is going, because the creative side of your brain and the critique side of your brain are two different things.

Jewlz Holzschuh: So you want to just get our ideas out there and see where it goes and try to push it as far as you can before you come back and cycle around with okay, how can this be improved?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I used to work in an advertising agency and one of the rules that we had to come up was for five minutes you can't critique someone else's idea. And after five minutes, you … someone will be like, Patrick build us a website that fills up with beer, and it makes the words float on top. You just have to entertain those ideas for a few minutes and then go, okay, yes but it's really technically hard to do that.

Patrick Rauland: But yeah it's really important just to try an idea on. So I love that advice.

Rich Hardy: You can … if you're too afraid to ditch earlier ideas in favor of newer ideas, you can definitely get into a point where you get adhered to something that might not work so well later on, whereas you could have done something different later on that would have made everything just overall better, but you were too stuck on your initial …

Jewlz Holzschuh: It also really helped that in the beginning of the game, since we designed around the mechanics first and we had pieces of paper and we had very rough everything, it … nothing was set in stone. We didn't come up with a thing and then immediately do art of it. It was like, well, what would be funny? What makes us laugh? Because if it makes us laugh it might make other people laugh too. Following your enjoyment, because it's a game, it's supposed to be fun.

Patrick Rauland: What! Games are supposed to be fun?

What's It Like To Launch A Game While At A Convention?

Patrick Rauland: So … okay, let me change gears a little bit about … I just want to go into some of the interesting marketing stuff, because you guys launched your game while at BostonFIG. Now maybe for just a second can you actually tell us a little bit more about BostonFIG and then I'd like to know, what is it like to launch a campaign while you're at a convention?

Jewlz Holzschuh: So BostonFIG, it's a festival of indie games, and there's two parts of it, there's a digital game side and a board game or slash card game side. It's just indie games, people who don't work at publishing companies, who are making games on their own time, and it's tables for them to showcase their games. A lot of them are part of the Boston Game Makers Guild, which we attended and were part of while we were in Boston, which is groups where people just come together and play test each other's games and give each other advice on mechanics, and then you just kind of have a table to showcase it.

Rich Hardy: That's something I wanted to get to a little bit later in questions. But the … One of the most useful things resources that I could recommend to anyone new who is trying to build a game or get feedback on a game is just to go online and go to Meetup.com or any other site where you can meet up with other people, and see if there's a local game design group in your area, because they're generally out there.

Rich Hardy: And when you can meet with other game designers and share ideas, and get critique and get someone else's eyes on your game, they'll see things that you don't see. And they can give you help and recommendations and hey, this thing seems a little broken, or why don't you try this or that, and just the feedback and the community can help you game grow so much faster and you'll help them out as well with your feedback. It's just a really, really great resource to just crowd-help each other out, which is what the Boston-

Jewlz Holzschuh: Game Makers Guild

Rich Hardy: Game Makers Guild did for us.

Jewlz Holzschuh: The … getting back to the Festival of Indie Games though, since it is a convention that has been at Boston a few different years, they usually host it in one of the MIT gymnasiums, and it's a couple thousand people, something like that. And they're all there specifically for indie games. So you get some people who they're not professionals, so sometimes you'll see whacky looking hand-drawn art, there was one that was, while we there, there was a surgeon game or something like that, where someone was lying on the table and they were talking about, you get this mutation. It's not just basic game ideas, but it's different game ideas, it's stuff that wouldn't necessarily find in the main stream.

Rich Hardy: And when we found that we were getting into BostonFIG … Oh, something else I was going to mention, they … they'll do a curation process every year for BostonFIG where you'll submit a video about your game and an entry fee-

Jewlz Holzschuh: And a copy of it so they can play it.

Rich Hardy: Well at first it's just the video. And if you make it through the video phase after you pay the entry fee, then you can send a copy of your game, and then play testers will play your game. If the play testers think that your game is completed enough or ready enough for showcasing, they have a limited number of slots which they'll give out to people to showcase their game on the showcase floor. So if your game is relatively completed enough, or interesting enough, you can submit it for curation with a small fee and potentially get yourself-

Jewlz Holzschuh: A booth and an audience of a couple thousand people.

Rich Hardy: To showcase your game. So we did that, and we made it through and it didn't cost us a whole heck of a lot of money, which was awesome and kept our costs down. We were able to show case our game and since we showcasing our game and it was nearly complete at that point, we planned our Kickstarter launch at the same time so that we could utilize-

Jewlz Holzschuh: Kind of use it as a jumping off point.

Rich Hardy: Yeah, and try to get as many people on our Kickstarter on the first day as possible.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Right. There's … so if you look up the Kickstarter algorithms, Kickstarters that do very well on their first day tend to get bumped higher up in the search results which make it easier for people to organically find it through the website and it'll boost your results. So we kind of purposely designed our campaign around having a strong launch with the convention, with people that were going to be play-testing with it in person. So that it was all kind of streamlined and going together.

How Effective Was It? How Many People Did You Talk To?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I just … I think it's such a cool opportunity to be featured in some sort of event like this and then just to launch your Kickstarter at the same time. I guess, I'm always curious, do you have any idea how many people you talked to, and then what percent of those people that you talked to were like, I'm going to back this on Kickstarter?

Rich Hardy: It was such a busy day.

Jewlz Holzschuh: It was such a busy day. Both of us were just play testing all day.

Rich Hardy: We had lots of people who were interested and it was our first time doing a convention so I was so incredibly overwhelmed. It was an amazing experience. Just being able to play the game with so many people, and seeing, oh there's some really little kids coming. I'm not sure if they're going to be able to understand the game and then they start playing and they get it, and it's wow, that's … you're a smart little kid! Shh!

Jewlz Holzschuh: Because there were people who weren't in our friend group and had no connection to them, seeing other people pick it up and enjoy it, and families sharing it with each other, it was a very interesting and special experience.

Rich Hardy: And so while we were telling people, hey you know we've got our Kickstarter going live right now, and pointing to the website.

Jewlz Holzschuh: We had business cards, we had coloring pages, we had-

Rich Hardy: We had an email list, as well.

Jewlz Holzschuh: We had an email list where if you gave us your email then you would be entered into a drawing to win an art print.

Rich Hardy: But from that we had a good amount of momentum. I couldn't give you exact number of figures, but there were lots of people that I lost count of.

What Resource Do You Recommend to Game Designs?

Patrick Rauland: I think it's really cool. So let me change gears just a little bit one more time. So I love conventions, and for people who are in … in your case, Boston, it sounds like they have a great convention. And other people have good project spiels, and other people have unpubs and all this stuff, but if you're not near a convention, what is a resource that you would recommend to another designer out there?

Jewlz Holzschuh: Indie Game Alliance.

Rich Hardy: Tell them about Indie Game Alliance.

Jewlz Holzschuh: So … I'm not sure if you've seen their website, but Indie Game Alliance is a group of independent game producers-

Rich Hardy: Designers-

Jewlz Holzschuh: Designers,

Rich Hardy: Yeah I think publishers, too.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Publishers too, yeah, but they've all kind of banded together and they've made a system to help group-produce games, they have a play testing system, they have a group that goes around to conventions for you, that will showcase your games at conventions, they've got websites, where they'll post games that are currently on Kickstarter. It's kind of like a central meeting point for independent game producers or designers to send their game to be play tested, to be marketed, to be seen by publishers, when it's difficult to get there in person.

Rich Hardy: And the other really big thing … I mentioned this earlier, but I can't stress it enough. Just meeting up with other people in your areas, and if you look online and there isn't a Meetup for table top game design, start one.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Make one. Yeah.

Rich Hardy: Go to … if you're in college, college groups are easy to start. Find people in a game design class, just network with other people. Networking is just a great way to make your game better and make other people's games better and when everyone has fun making games, everyone has fun-

Jewlz Holzschuh: Playing games.

Rich Hardy: And that's just great.

Rich Hardy: Oh. And get on podcasts. Podcasts [crosstalk 00:22:23].

Patrick Rauland: And what?

Rich Hardy: Get on podcasts.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, yes. Yeah I … you know what's funny, I think-

Rich Hardy: There are really nice podcasters out there.

Patrick Rauland: I think I start listening to podcasts, probably about six months before I seriously got into game design. It was really nice to have a little bit of foundational knowledge and then start designing stuff. Like, I think I listened to Ludology and stuff like that before I started. Cool.

How Did You Achieve Such a Low Funding Goal?

Patrick Rauland: So okay, I just want to ask you one specific marketing question. So Penguin SLAP! is on Kickstarter. I noticed that you had a pretty small goal. Now I notice on most games I think of a goal between 5 and 10 thousand, even games that are card games, because card games in a box and some tokens or whatever. Somehow they are always 5 to 10 thousand, and then games for minis are way higher than that. But how was your goal, I think your goals was like 1,500. How is it so low and why did you shoot for that goal?

Jewlz Holzschuh: Originally when we were making Penguin SLAP! like I mentioned, it was kind of a collaborative process between the two of us, and we didn't expect that we were going to be selling it in stores, we didn't expect that we were going to be going to conventions, it was something that we were doing for fun by ourselves, and I did all the art myself and Rich is good at websites.

Rich Hardy: It was going to be something that we were going to make 10 or 20 copies just for our friends-

Jewlz Holzschuh: Yeah, and then maybe 50 and then maybe 100. Shoot, that seems like a whole lot. And 100 games at $15 each, that's $1,500.

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Rich Hardy: We weren't like … It wasn't going to be something that we were planning on … It was something that we were going to be largely doing in our own free time, using our own previous skill sets, and it wasn't something that we planned on making a whole bunch of money on, so the costs were just way lower.

Jewlz Holzschuh: It was … we didn't have to pay for an extra artist because I was doing all the art myself.

Rich Hardy: We were already living in Boston when BostonFIG happened.

Jewlz Holzschuh: We didn't have to pay for convention fees, really, because FIG is a very, very low cost convention. So, just to fill you in, as our day jobs we're compositors. We work in the movie visual effects industry. And I studied animation in college and art in college and-

Rich Hardy: I did computer stuff.

Jewlz Holzschuh: So we have an extensive background doing visual media things, and for our work, we travel around a lot. So we were able to do a lot of the things that someone might need to pay for normally for free or nearly free.

Rich Hardy: Or since we were already in the area, we tried to schedule work contracts so that we could be in Boston during BostonFIG.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Right-

Rich Hardy: And such, but yeah, since … when we set our initial costs low it was originally low, like 1,000, 1,500 just so that … okay, if we make this much money we'll have enough so that we can have some games for us, our friends can have some games to sell-

Jewlz Holzschuh: We can give them to our family, we can give them to the people who helped us play test, and we'll have a few extra to sell.

Rich Hardy: This is the minimum number that we need to get X number of games out to all the people that … just the minimum number that we want to get for our own goal. Anything beyond that is just-

Jewlz Holzschuh: Gravy.

Rich Hardy: Gravy. And just amazing and awesome and we can use it to better the game. Which, we ended up hitting our goal four times over, so …

Jewlz Holzschuh: And with the pre-orders at the end, we ended up hitting five times over, because we-

Patrick Rauland: Ooh, nice.

Jewlz Holzschuh: So after the Kickstarter ended, we had one last stretch goal that we were only $125 off of getting, which was to add art to the last two cards in the game that didn't have specific part, and a number of the people in the Kickstarter that were following us were asking us to just do that stretch goal anyway because we were so close. So what we ended up doing was set a pre-order link on our website so you can pre-order the game-

Rich Hardy: And we had the pre-order links have the same things as the Kickstarter tiers, so even if you were late to the Kickstarter, you could still get the Kickstarter things.

Jewlz Holzschuh: And we had pre-order sales go back toward the original stretch goals.

Rich Hardy: And then once we start production for the game itself, we'll remove that shop and have the regular shop. But until production begins, you can still order the game off of our website with all the same things as you would have gotten off Kickstarter.

Patrick Rauland: I really like that. It's just cool I think to see a creator shoot for $1,000 or $1,500, like that's a great, very realistic number. I think a lot of people stress about marketing their games now and you need to get a thousand people on your email list … I'm making up that number … but you need to get a whole bunch of people on your email list before you launch. And if you need to raise $10,000 maybe you do need 500 followers already, but if you need 1,000 then you can reach out to friends and family and a little bit of marketing will get you to the finish line.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Right.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Cool.

Rich Hardy: And getting to … hitting your Kickstarter goal really early makes you look better and then for the next 29 days, everyone sees hey, look there's a game on Kickstarter, it's already funded. That looks solid and they look at it.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Yeah, it's something that people tend to gravitate towards success and I remember we were … we wanted something that were fairly sure that we could hit, because, again we came into this with very low expectations. It was something that we put a lot of work into and we really enjoyed making it, but I've heard so many stories of people who just don't really go anywhere that I didn't set myself up for anything. I, like … we put all of our steps in going the right direction so I was pretty sure we would succeed, and then we hit it the first day. Which totally-

Rich Hardy: Yeah someone walked over to our booth when we are at BostonFIG and they're like hey, congrats on hitting your Kickstarter goal, and we were like, what? Really? Cool! That's awesome.

Patrick Rauland: Wow, that's awesome.

Rich Hardy: I want to check, I need to …

Patrick Rauland: So I'm going to start wrapping up here little bit-

Rich Hardy: Oh good.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: So what is, I'd love to know. You just got your game funded, what does success look like, especially after publishing?

Jewlz Holzschuh: So eventually it'd be really, really cool to see our game on a store shelf somewhere, being able to go into a Barnes and Noble or a Walmart or something, and just see your game on the shelf. That would be really cool.

Rich Hardy: Or having your game be well-known at parties and such, because every time you go to a party and you look at someone's game shelf, you'll see Betrayal at House on the Hill. You'll see Munchkin. You'll see Cards Against Humanity, if you have friends like that. And it would be really cool to see Penguin SLAP! right next to that.

Jewlz Holzschuh: We do have some friends because we were play testing it with groups of friends when we would hang out for game nights and whatnot, so we've gotten a few friends that would travel in and out of town, and when they'd come in, they'd be like, oh! You brought it! Great! They looked forward to play testing with us, which felt good.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Seeing people who were looking forward to the Kickstarter launch like before it went live, we mentioned we were going to launch on a certain day and we planned for a certain time to maximize our chance of success so that we could make sure there wasn't any bugs during the actual festival, so it was going to be 5:00 PM that day, and I had some people messaging me, when are you putting it live? Give me Kickstarter!

Rich Hardy: On a similar note, if you're going to launch a Kickstarter, make sure that it's done before you launch. Like make sure you've got the-

Jewlz Holzschuh: Video-

Rich Hardy: Video, something short and sweet that gets to the point, at the top of your page. Have a short synopsis of what your game is like that people will read and be like, okay cool, and decide whether or not they want to keep reading. Because when people click on a link on Kickstarter, sometimes they're only there for a few seconds, and if it looks interesting, they'll stay and if not they'll move on. Just make sure that, right at that page loads, you're 15 second sell pitch is right there and you've got a video that can fit within a super short two, two and a half minute attention span of someone just passing by. Get those out before you launch so that when you launch, you're ready. Very, very important.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah it should be perfect.

Rich Hardy: Yeah.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah. Cool.

Jewlz Holzschuh: [crosstalk 00:31:18].

Patrick Rauland: I was just going to say I really like that advice. It's really good.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: So, I like to end my show with this little game called over-rated/under-rated. Now I believe before the show you mentioned you hadn't played it before, so here's basically what it is. I'm going to give out a word or phrase like “the Avengers” and you have to say over-rated or under-rated. And the correct answer is obviously under-rated. The avengers are way better than DC Super Friends. Something like that.

Rich Hardy: Okay.

Rich Hardy: And if it's properly rated, we still have to pick over-rated or under-rated, right?

Patrick Rauland: Yes, because this way I … yes, you can't be uncontroversial here. You have to go one of the two extremes. So hidden role games, are they over-rated or under-rated?

Rich Hardy: Hidden role games, like …

Jewlz Holzschuh: Werewolf?

Rich Hardy: Werewolf and something like that? Under-rated. I think more people should play them. They're a lot of fun and they're really simple, sometimes.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Man, I was almost going to say over-rated. Because they're really fun with the right group, but the wrong group messed you up and it's so frustrating to play with people like …

Rich Hardy: Who don't get it?

Jewlz Holzschuh: Yeah.

Rich Hardy: Who say that I'm a werewolf from the beginning.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yes, yes, that can be a disappointment. How about blogging in general. Over-rated or under-rated?

Jewlz Holzschuh: I'm going to say over-rated just because of how big some bloggers' heads are.

Rich Hardy: I'm [inaudible 00:32:38] to say over-rated. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: So third one, there it is, print and play games, or basically a game you can print out yourself at home. Are they over-rated or under-rated?

Jewlz Holzschuh: Under-rated?

Rich Hardy: Under-rated.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Under-rated.

Rich Hardy: Under-rated, definitely under-rated. The fact that you can print and play a game at home without having to buy it and test it out. I think that it's there, and I don't think enough people use it.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Or try it.

Rich Hardy: Or try it, just because of the slight inconvenience of having to use a printer, although printers can be pretty inconvenient tools.

Jewlz Holzschuh: It's also really great way for beginning game designers to get early versions of their game out to potential play testers, that may or may not live close where they live.

Rich Hardy: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: I love it. And then the last one, holiday … it was just sort of holiday breaks, are they over-rated or under-rated?

Rich Hardy: Under-rated.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Under-rated.

Rich Hardy: Under-rated.

Jewlz Holzschuh: I think they're probably pretty highly rated, and that's pretty cool, because they're awesome.

Rich Hardy: Holiday breaks are awesome. We like sleeping and, shh, sometimes with our day job, we don't always get enough sleep. So. Cannot stress holiday breaks enough. Seeing your family is nice, too. Depends on the family, but most of the time. Seeing your family is very nice

Jewlz Holzschuh: Absolutely depends on the family

Rich Hardy: Friends and everything. Holiday breaks are awesome.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Sometimes a holiday break is what you make of it.

Rich Hardy: Yeah.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, thank you both for being on the show. Where can people find you and your game online?

Jewlz Holzschuh: Penguinslap.com.

Rich Hardy: Penguinslap.com. We're also on YouTube. We're also on Facebook. Jewlz has an Instagram that she has Penguin SLAP! art as well as her general art and photography. The links to all of those are on our website, as well as our Facebook. But yeah, penguinslap.com, Google Penguin SLAP game, [crosstalk 00:34:39] editions.

Jewlz Holzschuh: There's also some speed paintings up on YouTube of … if that's your jam.

Rich Hardy: Oh, yeah, because when Jewlz was doing the art fOR Penguin SLAP! we screen recorded it on the computer and I put cool music to a lot of them, chip tunes, and some have piano music and it's either really pumping or really sweet music, one of the two. And those are all on our YouTube channel as well. So you can watch her paint stuff.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, I watched one of those, those are great. So thank you both again for being on the show. Really appreciate it.

Rich Hardy: Thank you for having us.

Jewlz Holzschuh: Thank you for having us.

Patrick Rauland: So listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review us on iTunes, If you leave a review, I'm sure Rich will name a penguin after you or something.

Patrick Rauland: In case you ever get pet penguins.

Patrick Rauland: So just as a reminder I'm going to be launching my game Fry Thief on Kickstarter in probably a couple of weeks. You can visit the site, indieboardgamedesigners.com, I will have show notes there for all the games that we mentioned. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @BFTrick, B as in boardgame, F as in and fun, and trick as in trick-taking games.

Patrick Rauland: That is all I got, everyone, so … until next time, happy designing! Bye bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone, and 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.

I'm Patrick Rauland, and today I'm going to be talking with Steven Aramini, who is actually a pretty well-known game designer, and by pretty well known, I mean I have actually heard about him before he came on the show, because he's made games like Sprawlopolis, which I love, Tricky Tides, and a game that's currently on Kickstarter, Animal Kingdoms. Steven, welcome to the show.

Steven Aramini: Hey. Thank you for having me.

Continue reading “#46 – Steven Aramini”

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week. We talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned to get to where they are today. My name is Patrick Rauland and today I'm going to be talking with Kathryn Hymes who is one of the founders of Thorny Games which makes games about language and crytography. She is also the cohost on a different … Hold on, The Game Design Round Table Podcast. I hope I got that right. Yeah. You have some awesome games that you've recently put out that I want to talk about. So Kathryn, welcome to the show.

Kathryn Hymes: Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.

Continue reading “#45 – Kathryn Hymes”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week and talk about their experience in game design. My name is Patrick Rauland and today I'm going to be talking with Eric Williams who is another local game designer here in Denver.

Patrick Rauland: About a year a half ago, just to give you guys some context, I attended my first game testing Meetup here in Denver and it was either the first meeting or the second meeting, but I actually played his game called House Rules at that Meetup. So, it's really cool … I went to my first prototyping Meetup about a year and a half ago and played his game and now it's on Kickstarter and it feels like it's coming full circle.

Eric Williams: We've come full circle, yes.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Eric Williams: The circle of life seems to roll on.

Patrick Rauland: Eric, welcome to the show.

Eric Williams: Thank you. Thanks for having me on. This is fun.

Continue reading “#44 – Eric Williams”

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. And 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.

Patrick Rauland: My name is Patrick Rauland and today I'm going to be talking with Arthur Franz who is the designer behind Breakaway Football through Uplink Underground Games, which is his publishing company.

Continue reading “#43 – Arthur Franz”

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and 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 to get where they are today. My name is Patrick Rauland and today I'm going to be talking with Christina Scamporrino who is the designer behind Money Buns, which sounds … just has like a lovely … it just rolls off the tongue. It's on Kickstarter right now as we're recording. And it will probably finish when this episode comes out. Christina, welcome to the show.

Christina Scamporrino: Thank you so much Patrick, it's nice to be here.

Continue reading “#42 – Christina Scamporrino”