Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. Today, we're going to be talking with Eduardo Baraf, who is the founder of Pencil First Games, a game designer himself, and a prolific game reviewer, and is one of the developers behind Herbaceous Sprouts, which just finished on Kickstarter. Ed, welcome to the show.

Eduardo Baraf: Thanks for having me. Yeah, Herbaceous Sprouts will have wrapped by the time this goes on.

Patrick Rauland: I guess I first saw you on Kickstarter reviewing a whole bunch of games. But before you were famous on Kickstarter and game reviewing, how-

Eduardo Baraf: [crosstalk 00:00:43].

How Did You Get Into Board Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Well how did you get into board games and game design?

Eduardo Baraf: That's a good question. I've had the fortune of being into video games and video game development my entire career. Starting in college, I had an independent campus organization called Wolverine Soft, which is actually still around today for making games. Then essentially, I moved into QA and production and design and studio management in video games. I was at a company called Mind Control Software, and at the time, Thomas Denmark was the art director. Thomas Denmark was famous for a game called Dungeoneer among other stuff. He does a lot of fantastic art and magic cards. He was working on a game called Murder of Crows, but was struggling with the hook and just making it tight.

Eduardo Baraf: He brought me on to co-design, and we worked together on that title, and that was the first game that I … board/card game that I designed and sort of got me into the hobby. It wouldn't release for many, many years later because the art took so long to finish, but that was a start. Then later on while I was at Blue Fang Games, I kicked off a work on Lift Off Get Me Off This Planet, which was the first Pencil First game. So it was sort of a transition from video games and designing in video games to taking on the board game design.

Isn't There More Money In Video Games?

Patrick Rauland: So I imagine there's more money in video games. Why did you decide to go into board games?

Eduardo Baraf: Well, I mean, from a salary perspective perhaps, you know, you could get jobs making video games more so than the board game industry. But no, I mean, I think for me it's a creative endeavor. And in particular, making a board game is a much more confined, approachable effort. I'll often say board games don't have engineers, and mean that in a … No. Nothing against engineers. Actually, you know, a lot of engineers are designers.

Eduardo Baraf: But just the amount of work you have to put in place to have a functioning video game is far less to have a functioning prototype that you start putting art on and get going. So, it was a great opportunity to be creative, but not be bound to having large expansive teams.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. Got it. By the time this posts, Herbaceous Sprouts will have just wrapped on Kickstarter.

Eduardo Baraf: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Why Design a More Lightweight Game?

Patrick Rauland: Now, this is what I would say sort of a little bit more of a lightweight game, and it's actually like a follow-up to the Herbaceous, which is a bigger, more complicated game. Why did you decide to make a more lightweight version?

Eduardo Baraf: I can understand that impression from the fact that it uses dice, but it's actually the reverse. So, it's atypical. Herbaceous is about as light as it gets. So Herbaceous is this ultra-light, simple card game that's a mixture of push-your-luck and set collection. It's easily Pencil First Games' most successful title in terms of fan interest and just units sold. With that team, Beth Sobel, Steve Finn, Keith Matejka, Ben Shulman and I worked on Herbaceous. We'd go into that story, but it was an awesome experience. We then rolled into Sunset Over Water, which is also on the lighter side, but we really wanted to do something more with Herbaceous.

Eduardo Baraf: And because Herbaceous is such a light game, going and doing, like a dice game with Herbaceous that was what you typically would see. A lighter game would have been like Batman Dice. It would have literally been, like grabbed dice out of a cup, roll them, pick and push your luck to see if it … you know, click, sets and push your luck, which isn't … I mean, it's fine but it wasn't interesting to us. What we really wanted to do was take dice and push it out further and have more of a fuller experience with Herbaceous Sprouts, albeit still very light.

Eduardo Baraf: I mean, Herbaceous Sprouts is absolutely a gateway game, whereas … I mean, Herbaceous is gateway for, like somebody who's only played Gin Rummy and Hearts, like super, super entry level. But that was the approach though.

Patrick Rauland: I think that's really interesting because I agree. Most games, when they make the dice version, it's almost always a lighter version of the game. So, that was the impression I had just from looking at the kickstart. I'm like, “Oh this is like Herbaceous Sprouts.” I'm like, “Oh that looks probably better for me,” because from what I've heard, Herbaceous sounds heavier. But it sounds like I got that totally wrong.

Eduardo Baraf: It's fine, man. Yeah, and I think that's always a challenge. We talked about that creative endeavor. But for me, when I'm designing or leading a project, it's all about the creative energy and work that we're doing. Sometimes, we went down the dice path with what we were doing, and it just going super simple wasn't interesting enough. We've played those games and this was … Herbaceous Sprouts was just much more of a wonderful experience going the other way a little bit. Again, it's still pretty light.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah.

Eduardo Baraf: Okay, so, you have a lot of different things under your belt. So you've been a designer. You've done developments, game development for games, and you also do reviewing and you're a publisher. So that's like at least four different hats.

Patrick Rauland: Sure, sure. Yeah, yeah.

Eduardo Baraf: By title, it's probably 15 different hats, when you add in other stuff.

What Job Role Do You Like the Most?

Patrick Rauland: Which of those is the most exciting for you? The reason I'm asking this is I think there's a lot of designers who are thinking about becoming a publisher or doing development, but they don't know which route to take, and I'm just … Which one of those for you is your favorite?

Eduardo Baraf: It's interesting. I mean, at a high level, I consider myself a game maker. And so, for me, what's the joy is working with other people to create an experience that then we share with a larger group of people who enjoy that experience, right? And so, it's really the entire creative process that I enjoy and I'm excited by rather than any specific piece, and you talked about designing. If I'm working on a game and I'm really excited I want to do a game, I really want to do, like an epic war builder 18X game, because I'm really excited about whatever. So I've got air blowing and people doing gardening work on the outside of this building.

Eduardo Baraf: But I want to do this 18X game. Well I'm not necessarily the best designer for that. I don't play them that much. I don't know why I'd want to do it, but I don't play them that much. I don't know how to design them, so I'm just not a natural fit for that. I'd much rather find the perfect … I would, like everyone in their role to do an amazing job. And so, I have no problem with using somebody who's better than me at any specific part of the product work.

Patrick Rauland: I think that's really cool to look at yourself as a game maker because that's a little bit more abstracted, and it's kind of like, “How can I help?” as opposed to “I want be the lead,” or, “I want to be the designer or doing development of the game.” I think that's a really cool distinction. It's just, “I'm a game maker and you figure out what works best for each project.”

Eduardo Baraf: Yeah, and sometimes, it's even to the extent of Heroes Welcome, which is going to ultimately be a Pencil First Games, but it was a Kickstarter by Marc LeBlanc that was earlier this year. He was the head of the project and running it and working with art, but they just needed development and Kickstarter and product support, and they're good friends of mine and I wanted to help them. And so, that was really just me coming in and facilitating the process, right? Getting the people we needed to succeed, pushing them to get it done, and moving it through the process. And that was satisfying for me, even though it wasn't a situation where I was driving it forward.

What is the Difference Between Game Development & Game Design?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So with Herbaceous Sprouts, you did developments. Can you just describe, like what is the difference between game developments and game design?

Eduardo Baraf: Sure, sure. It's different for every title. I mean, ultimately, in many ways, it's partnership. But from a practical level, coming to Herbaceous sprouts and knowing that I wanted to work with Steve again. I said, “Hey Steve, what do you think about moving and doing more Herbaceous work?” I was thinking about, “Wouldn't it be cool to do a dice game? We could make these really fantastic looking dice and drive forward. What do you think about that?” He was excited, and so, he went off and started designing and coming together with essentially his prototype, which is on paper, standard-looking prototype from a designer.

Eduardo Baraf: I had to stick a lot of stickers on dice, but just the basic components on paper. So he brings that to me and then development really begins. So one is I'm playing it. I'm giving him feedback. I'm pushing and pulling it. In many ways, my job as a developer, in that context, and as a product lead, is to say, “Who are we making this game for? And what experience are we trying to give to them?” This was very much always aimed at people who loved Herbaceous and a broader audience, but we definitely wanted to make this a game, Herbaceous game … players would love, because, you know, why use the IP if you're not going to leverage it, right?

Patrick Rauland: And how in describing a lot of stuff … This is very product-manager, product-centric, which is something you get from working in video games in an industry. It's not necessarily how you think of it in that if you're just doing design work.

Eduardo Baraf: So pushing and pulling them on the design, we're talking about the different components and coming up with different ideas on how we'll build it. Then while that process is going on and helping massage the design work with Steve, I'm then starting to run down and look at and talk to Beth about the look and the feel, and the different components, and the managing the schedules, and what everyone's doing. So I'm doing all the coordination work. And then as assets are coming in, I'm pulling them together and helping them get integrated, updating The Game Crafter. Steve will typically do a base rule book, which is just his style of rules.

Eduardo Baraf: And then, I'll move it over, and then I'll start massaging it and then working with Ben Shulman, the graphic designer, to build those rules. I'll interface with Ben a lot. I'll interface with Beth a lot. I'll interface with Steve a lot, as we pull it all together. Then again, as I'm play testing and seeing it in the world, I'm then filtering back that information and results to Steve and making recommendations and suggestions. So there's always going to be something. For example, Steve had in Herbaceous sprouts, there's a die that … One side of it lets you re-roll that die. And so, at the time, the game had your re-rolling and dice manipulation, like you'd expect.

Eduardo Baraf: But I never got the chance to hold a fist of dice and roll it. I'm like, “That's a big deal.” And so, I push back on that and I said, “This is one of a variety of examples.” I'm not trying to take anything from all these decisions, but I'm just trying to give you an example, of where I said, “Wouldn't it be better if when I re-roll this one, I get the option to re-roll as many as I want? What's the drawback from that? It seems like it's about the same impact, but it just lets me risk more and have more opportunity to swing my decisions but in a good dice rolling sort of way.” He said, “Well that's interesting. That might work.”

Eduardo Baraf: And so, then, he goes back, and now, he's doing a little development work where he's trying and design work. He comes back and he says, “I think that works over here and here, but then I want to do something over here.” I said, “Cool.” So it's really pushing and pulling that. I think in bigger companies, sometimes, the developer's really just integrating assets or just running play tests. But from a Pencil First Games' perspective, it's really a very active engagement.

When Does Development Start (and Design End)?

Patrick Rauland: What percent of the game do you think is … I don't want to say done. But what percent of the game would you say you kept when you first got it? Was 70% of the game complete and you were sort of figuring out that last 30%? Or is it like only 20%? What percent of it is sort of done?

Eduardo Baraf: Yeah, well, one thing I would say is if I'm from a design perspective, because if you're just talking about the effort to actually build the graphic files and the work of manufacturing a game, like the design part is a very, very small piece. But if you're talking about the design, one thing I'd say if I'm doing my job right, I'm never changing the last 30%. I'm just convincing Steve to change the last 30%. But honestly, I've now worked with dozens of designers, probably more, maybe dozens of dozens. It depends on the person. Steve, for example, is really good at having a clear vision, nailing it and at pretty much working.

Eduardo Baraf: We're working on a future title now together, and this is one where it's going through a lot of cycles. We're playing it. I'm giving him feedback. He's taking it back. He doesn't usually do dramatic pivots, but he's been doing some dramatic pivots of the design and it's coming together. But Steve is definitely a person who comes at you with a really solid design.

How Do You Design Remotely?

Patrick Rauland: Very cool. Boy, there's just so much stuff to consider there, and I think a lot of people design in a black … You know what I mean? You just design and you just work with your friends. I'm wondering if it's helpful to get out of your head and get out of your local play test group and work with someone maybe like yourself or maybe an outside development group to get fresh perspective on the game. I think one of the other questions I had is, it sounds like you and Steve do, like you don't live near each other or you don't-

Eduardo Baraf: I don't know if I would live near any of the people I work with right now. It's all over the phone or email or Google Docs or that kind of thing.

Patrick Rauland: Is that challenging? Or does that give you more advantages or disadvantages when you work really far away from each other?

Eduardo Baraf: Well, I mean, I think there's a little bit of a challenge on all parts. But once you get used to it, you get used to it. I mean, I love working on in teams together at an office. But at the same time, like if Pencil First Games is actually hiring all these people and housing them in a building, they have to be 20 times the company, right? So no, I think you the new world has distributed teams in many ways, and fortunately, there's all sorts of tools and technology to facilitate that. I mean, again, I have to work regularly with my manufacturer in China. I use Skype and other tools in order to do that.

Eduardo Baraf: And so, there are challenging parts to it. One of my very earliest League industry videos that I did was about distributed teams or … No, it was actually a League article I did about distributed teams. But you sort of get used to it. You definitely should be taking your game outside of your core group, right?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Eduardo Baraf: Like I said, it's easy to get the same kind of feedback over and over again, and you want to go beyond that. I also think, again, one of the unique things here is, oftentimes, the designer is just working on their mechanics. If you go to a traditional mold, where they're handing off their game mechanics to a publisher, they're thinking about their game and their experience, but they may not … not exactly thinking about their audience because the publisher is going to theme it. He's going to change it. He's going to do all those stuff. But I like, you know, one of the things I think you can say about Pencil First Game products is they're very holistic, right?

Eduardo Baraf: I really want … When you pick up a product or that we've created, it really has a clear and strong vision that is both the game, as well as how its presented and how it feels. So I really think having a strong aesthetic is important, and to do that, you need to know what you're making in its entirety. You can't do the first half and then slap on the second half and I think that's a big deal.

How Did You Start Reviewing Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: Interesting. Okay, so, I first heard about you. I'm going to say you're Kickstarter famous. So that's where I first heard about you. I saw just a whole bunch of reviews of you doing reviews for games. So number one, I'm curious. How did you just start reviewing all these games? And how did you become such a big-name reviewer?

Eduardo Baraf: Yeah, I mean, I sort of question that whole big-name reviewer bit. I think I'm a big-name reviewer in the Facebook board gaming community, specifically. From an audience perspective, I wouldn't consider myself a big-name reviewer. But setting that aside, it was actually after Lift Off. Lift Off was my first Kickstarter, and I had to go from zero to 60 in a very short period of time where I wasn't a part of any online community in any way. I wasn't active on Twitter. I wasn't active in Facebook. I wasn't active on BGG. I wasn't a part of the community.

Eduardo Baraf: Up till that point, the community of board gaming were the people near me, not people online. When you're doing a Kickstarter, that isn't enough, right? Because if you just convince the people near you to do it, you don't have enough people. So I had to go from 0 to 60 for the Lift Off Campaign. And afterwards, it was like, “How … ” Making a game takes so long. It's going to be another year more before I pick my head up again and emerge in this group asking for help. But I appreciate it so much and what people have contributed. How can I give back?

Eduardo Baraf: At the time, I was like, “Well I think there's a big shortage of short reviews,” like it's frustrating. Who wants to watch 20, 30, 40-minute board game reviews? And there are plenty who do, but that was my perspective at the time.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Eduardo Baraf: So I then went and started my reviews, which were, “Hey, I'm just going to pitch you a game, like if you were at my house for game night,” and I-

Patrick Rauland: Cool.

Eduardo Baraf: … wanted you to play it, and then I just went from there. Then some Kickstarter folks asked me if I could do some for their Kickstarter, and I said, “Sure.” I just kept continued doing it. I'm really good at doing things. My superpower is organization and productivity among other things.

Speaker 3: And cleaning.

Eduardo Baraf: My son said, “And cleaning.” So, for me, building out and being … One of the reasons I'm at least of some notoriety, I guess, is that I've been launching videos over the last almost five years or four or five years, probably four years, consistently, week over week, content over content. I probably have 600 reviews. I didn't-

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Eduardo Baraf: … stop, right?

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eduardo Baraf: I've been consistent.

How Does Reviewing Games Help Your Process?

Patrick Rauland: All right. So I do have a follow-up is, when you started doing these reviews, I imagine it helped your game design. Was there a specific example you can think of where some sort of review you did six months, a year earlier, has affected a game you did today?

Eduardo Baraf: Well I think it's absolutely the case. What's absolutely the case is, being board game reviewer has forced me to play so many more games than I would have otherwise, right?

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eduardo Baraf: My depth of experience in just a wide variety of genre of games from prototype stuff to AAA manufactured games is just dramatically different. Like, I was a guy, I'd buy a game, and I'd play it a ton, and we'd buy one more. You picked up a game every once in a while. Now, I'm playing and experiencing 20, maybe 30 games a month. And so, you just have so much more perspective. It's hard to point at any specific, like with this one example, this other … I don't think I can say this came from this. But without a doubt, it just gives you a better vocabulary and understanding of how mechanics work, what dynamics they produce in games.

Eduardo Baraf: You get into a lot of positions where somebody's struggling with a problem. You're like, “Well they sort of had a system like that in Kingdomino. Maybe … ” Okay, here's an example. I'm working on the next game with Steve, and he had a mechanic for selecting your cards or for going was initiatives on the bottom of the cards. He actually has done that in a lot of games and does a very good job of it, but we had done that in Sunset Over Water. I didn't want to do the same base mechanic, and he's like, “Well people will know it.” I'm like, “Yeah, but I sort of want to expose,” like part of this line is exposing people some sort of different mechanics.

Eduardo Baraf: And so, the conversation was around, well how do we determine initiative and action selection? And so, I was like, “Well, you know, look at Kingdomino or a lot of Cathala stuff. He does a great job of your … select a spot in an initiative row, and then that selection sets you up for the next round, and it's dynamic, but it's based on your choice.” And then, also, It was parallel to his system because it gives you the ability to wait … you know, where you fall in turn order as something that's of value, right?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Eduardo Baraf: And that was what he was doing with his cards, but I didn't want to use a mechanic again. So that was an example. I mean, you don't have to play 400 games to give that example, but little things like that all the time.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, I really like that. It's almost like you sort of have … God. To me, I'm thinking of like the Boy Scouts Handbook, right? It's like, you get into a spot. It's like, “How do we make a fire? Oh well, I've already made 100 fires. Here's this bark. There's this tree. There's this knot” It gives you just a whole giant toolbox of things to use versus someone who's only played 10 games. You only have 10 pages of the handbook. You can still do things but you have to figure out a lot on your own.

Eduardo Baraf: Right.

Patrick Rauland: I think that's really cool.

Eduardo Baraf: [crosstalk 00:21:06] gives you, which is super important, and there's this incredible video/audio clip from the guy who does This American Life. It's passing me right now. But anyway, Ira Glass.

Patrick Rauland: Ira Glass?

Eduardo Baraf: Yeah, yeah, about taste and what playing a ton of stuff is, exposing yourself to other experiences is it gives you a sense of taste. What's good, what's bad; what looks good, what looks bad; what's clear, what's not clear. And, having a really strong and fantastic palette and appreciation for all the different parts of a game gives you a lot of superpowers when it comes to delivering some things satisfying to other players.

Patrick Rauland: So I've seen the Ira Glass quote. I think it's like, when you're just getting into something, you dislike everything you do because you have high taste. But you don't have the ability to make a product at that level, and you just have to keep doing it and doing it and doing it and doing it until your quality matches your taste. It was something like that.

Eduardo Baraf: Yeah, yeah. Actually, it comes from like a two-minute little interview answer he gives. That's about right honestly, but it's worth listening to the two minutes, especially if you're struggling. It's basically, “Hey, don't worry if you look at your work and you think it's terrible. That actually means you know what good is and you just keep working on it,” right?

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I love that. I will make sure to find it, and I'll link it up in the show notes. I absolutely love it. I think that's really, really cool. Oh, the lawn guy's back.

Eduardo Baraf: We're in a complex, so you never know where they are.

How Can You Contribute to the Board Game Community?

Patrick Rauland: Oh that's funny. Cool. So you said you wanted to get into the community, and you said, “Hey, there's sort of like this type of review that I would like that's not there.” I've heard that advice tons of times like, “Get in the community. Be involved.” Are there any holes in the community that you think could be filled? Is there space for an hour-long review of games? Is there space for … What is a space for in the community that someone can do that adds value that's not just saying hi on Twitter?

Eduardo Baraf: Okay, well, you want me to sell my secrets? No. A lot of them … I mean, you have to discover them. For example, there was a brand new channel about maybe a month old, which is like … I forget the name of it. But basically, they're using one of the 360 cameras where you can rotate and pan it around.

Patrick Rauland: Oh cool.

Eduardo Baraf: They're just little micro, like Instagram reviews, but with the 360 pan camera where you can look everywhere and I thought it was super cool. I don't know that it's filling a gigantic hole, but it was like a piece of content. I was like, “Oh that's neat. That's cool.” I think, “Where do I think content's missing?” I feel like content's super missing in news and punditry. I feel as if there's very little … There are very little channels that are actively talking about what's happening in the industry and news in the industry and sort of like what you'd see from like the Turks and that kind of perspective.

Eduardo Baraf: I think that'd be super interesting. It's a little bit of a challenge because it's just a very busy and active thing. I mean, you have, like a board game, breakfast and that kind of thing. But I feel like there's space there for providing an opinion on what's happening. There's only so much more review stuff you can take. If you're going the review track, I just think you need to have a really super clear perspective, an audience in mind, and you want to be able to communicate it. There's also very little like stunt/experimental stuff around board games like, “Hey, we're going to take this board game and we're going to see how it reacts at 5,000 degrees,” or, “We're going to go out in public and pretend to be … ” Just the type of typical YouTube stuff that we don't see.

Eduardo Baraf: One channel I just saw, Board Game Spotlight promoting, was this woman … I mean, Board Game Spotlight was promoting it because she was promoting The Grimm Forest. But, she makes cakes based on-

Patrick Rauland: What?

Eduardo Baraf: … game IP.

Patrick Rauland: What?

Eduardo Baraf: It's not as if she only did The Grimm Forest, but she's done … It's like sugar hook game or something. And basically, I don't even know … She may have a review or she might not, but she just takes board game IPs and bakes cakes out of them. So it's like, you know, there's plenty of opportunity, as the industry grows, to take content that is existing in other mediums and try to bring it over. I've always felt … I was on Tabletop Deathmatch season two, and I always felt that there's been a lack in the visualization of game development, and I think there's an opportunity to do something there.

Eduardo Baraf: But again, you got to dive in and have the time to do it. I think it'd be really cool if somebody went around and profile board game stores across the United States. I think that'd be awesome. You also then need to drive around the United States and profile board games twice, right? It takes work.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. These are really great ideas. I really like it. The reason I started this podcast is because I was just like, “I just want to hear more designers tell their stories.” I'm hoping this is a need that other people finds … They find some value in it, but I'm not sure. But, it's at least something that I think would be useful, so I'm trying this. I hope people can find something that they find useful, and hopefully, also provides value of someone else to someone else.

Eduardo Baraf: Here's the challenge you're going to face, because I've been in this boat before, man. You got to make sure that you're excited and interested every time you do one of these, and you want to know the answers, because, one, it makes for a better interview. But at the end of the day, your audience is inherently pretty small, right?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Eduardo Baraf: Your audience here is people who play and enjoy board games, but also, to the extent that they are designers of the board games, and it's a pretty tiny audience. There's nothing wrong with making content for a tiny audience. But it's not like it's suddenly going to become hot ones and take over the internet, right?

Patrick Rauland: Right.

Eduardo Baraf: You're going to always sort of … And so, that's just the challenge, right? I have found that as that group … There's only so much that even that small little group can consume. So, as long as you're okay, it's like, “You picked the small pond,” so I don't think you're going to find any sharks in the small pond, but you could certainly go swimming, right? You can have fun.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So here's my thing. The reason I started this is I thought, “The worst scenario, I'm getting something.” Worst case, like if it's just me and my mom. I mean, I've only had this been live for a couple weeks. It might just be me and my mom listening to this right now, but at least I'm learning something while I do this, and hopefully, other people eventually pick it up. But you're right. I've committed to this without … I'm just going to do this for at least a year and see where I am, and then I'll figure it out from there.

Eduardo Baraf: Yeah. The podcast space is also different. So your audience is inherently going to be bigger on a podcast, and a YouTube video often is the case for this type of content, which is good for you. Again, I think for you to … Like one year, after six, nine, 12 months, and you're like, “Okay, well this has been cool, but I sort of wanted to grow.” I think you need to think about how you can capitalize on the content you're making to create something new or novel that's appreciated by a broader audience than the limited audience. So I don't know the answer to that question, but you'll probably hit it at some point. I'm not trying to be a downer.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah. No, and you're not being a … Whenever I encounter an obstacle of some kind, it's almost always like, “How do I figure this out?” Not, “I'm screwed.” It's almost always like, “Cool. This is an interesting problem to solve.” So, I look forward to six to nine months from now where I'm like, “How do I make this better?”

Eduardo Baraf: Yeah, and you might be okay with it, right? I still, you know, years and years later, I release videos, and lots of the League videos do 200, 300 views, and I know that it's a pretty consistent audience. There are only a handful of things that break out of that and those things are usually ones where I talk about a topic that's broader than game makers. One of biggest videos I ever did was when I responded to a video from The Dice Tower, where they sort of said, “This is what designers need to stop doing,” and I disagreed with a lot of it, and I did a very complete and full-throated response to it.

Eduardo Baraf: And so, that became … That latched on in a way to The Dice Tower audience, and it became an industry conversation as opposed to just a board game design conversation.

What Resource Would You Recommend to an Aspiring Designer?

Patrick Rauland: Sure, very cool. I like it. I just want to ask a couple more questions before I get to the end here. Totally changing gears. So, back to … You're an indie game designer or maybe you're an aspiring game designer. What one resource would you recommend to those people?

Eduardo Baraf: Honestly, I think it's play games. I think those people should really just keep playing games. I think Facebook is a great opportunity, and having a cheap editor, like on Mac. There's a program called Pixelmator, which is like 30 or 40 bucks. It basically lets you do anything you do on Photoshop, but there's some other resources that will help you lay out pages and put things together. The Game Crafter is a great resource. But really, buy a blank deck of cards and some white paper and a pen. I think it's about the gumption and about the sort of understanding what you want. Jamey Stegmaier has a great blog. James Mathe has a great blog.

Eduardo Baraf: I have some videos on game design and game creation. But I think a lot of it is about doing and less in not talking. So, I think it's really just initiative. I don't think there's one tool that's going to make it or break it for a designer.

What Mechanisms or Ideas Are You Looking Into?

Patrick Rauland: All right. And lastly, what are some fun ideas or mechanisms that you're looking into for your future games?

Eduardo Baraf: Oh well, so I don't know if you're familiar with it, but there's a 40-year-old game called Situation 4.

Patrick Rauland: No.

Eduardo Baraf: It is a two-player, head-to-head, jigsaw puzzle game, where you're competing with each other to fill a board the fastest while scoring different points. It's from Parker Brothers. And so, it is awesome. So whether or not it's really a great mechanic or not, I've been messing around with jigsaw puzzles. [crosstalk 00:30:54]-

Patrick Rauland: That's really cool.

Eduardo Baraf: … find some jigsaw puzzles. So that's something I've been wrapping my head around.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: I love it. All right. Sorry. I lied. I have technically one more question and then a little game at the end. All right. So, last question. What does success look like in the board game world to you?

Eduardo Baraf: That's a great question. I honestly think you need to define that as a personal … like, what is it to you? What are you trying to accomplish? And that's where you're going to find satisfaction and happiness. It's really, “If you're concerned about the destination, you're going to miss the journey,” right? And so, success for me is being able to work with people to make games that people get to play and enjoy. So, sure it would be great if I sold a hundred thousand, but if I show enough that I need that expectation and then I can make another one. I'm pretty darn happy about it.

Eduardo Baraf: So, I really think when you're kicking off and diving in, you really want to be introspective and understand what you want as a person, and that's going to really answer that question.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: Love it. All right. So, last little thing. I like to play a little game with my guests called Overrated/Underrated.

Eduardo Baraf: Okay.

Patrick Rauland: I'm basically going to give you a phrase, and you need to say if people think it's better than it is or worse than it is. So, if it's overrated by everyone else or underrated by everyone else. Got it?

Eduardo Baraf: And you say the phrase, but is it phrase or is it [inaudible 00:32:09] games?

Patrick Rauland: You'll see.

Eduardo Baraf: Okay.

Patrick Rauland: So the first one, are roll-and-write games overrated or underrated?

Eduardo Baraf: I think they're underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Because? Give me a one-sentence reason why.

Eduardo Baraf: Sure, sure, sure. They are underrated because the audience for them is way smaller than the overrated people think it is.

Patrick Rauland: All right. Way smaller. Cool. So real, in IRL, as an in real life gardening, overrated or underrated?

Eduardo Baraf: I mean, I think it's underrated. It's fantastic.

Patrick Rauland: Do you garden?

Eduardo Baraf: Not as much as I could, but we have a little … We don't have much space outside of our place. We live in this community, but we have a herb and vegetable plots, so yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It's great.

Patrick Rauland: All right. I saved this one for you. I thought of it a couple of episodes ago. Gen Con, overrated or underrated?

Eduardo Baraf: Gen Con is … I mean, I think it's overrated at this point because It's turning very much into E3 where … I mean, it's sort of like you have to be there. It's everything about it, but there's just so much other stuff going on in the industry now, and it's getting so spread out that I think it's now a little overrated. If you miss Gen Con, you'll be okay. That's [crosstalk 00:33:17].

Patrick Rauland: Great. And last one, mechanical pencils, overrated, underrated?

Eduardo Baraf: I think pencils are underrated, both mechanical and plain. Everyone should be working with pencils because you want to be able to erase and redo.


Patrick Rauland: I like it. All right. Well thank you so much for being on the show. Ed, where can people find you online?

Eduardo Baraf: So the best places to find me online is Facebook. You can just look up Eduardo Baraf or Pencil First Games. And then on Twitter, it's @ebaraf and Pencil First. I'm very active on those channels. You can also go to, but I'm very active on those channels. If you have a question or query, you just ping at me, and generally speaking, pretty quickly, I'll respond to you.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Well thank you again. Dear listeners, if you really enjoyed this podcast, if you enjoyed the gardening or the lawn people outside, if you want to leave us a review on iTunes, that would be great. If you do leave a review, Ed said if you would use his vast knowledge of reviews and gardening to review your personal garden. So if you want a professional review of your garden, go ahead and give us a review on iTunes or somewhere else. You can visit the site at You can follow me on Twitter, @BFTrick. Until next time, happy designing. Thanks. Bye-bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designer's Podcast. Today we're going to be talking with Dan Letzring, who's both a publisher and a designer. Some of the games he's designed are Groves, alongside Steve Aramini, and Dino Dude Ranch, and as a publisher he just lined up The Neverland Rescue, which was on Kickstarter. Dan, welcome to the show.

Dan Letzring: Hey, thank you so much for having me, Patrick. How are you doing tonight?

Patrick Rauland: I'm doing good, but I've just had a lot of good news today and a lot of bad news today. Overall I'm doing good.

Dan Letzring: At least you got good with the bad right, so that's pretty good.

Patrick Rauland: Yes, it is way better than just bad.

Dan Letzring: Just bad, yeah. Hopefully tomorrow's all good.

Patrick Rauland: Thank you, I hope so. Actually this'll air after I go to it, but I'm going to the Tabletop Network this weekend, which is a little design conference in Utah, and I'm super excited about it.

Dan Letzring: That's excellent. Great, well I hope you have a great time there.

Patrick Rauland: Thank you. Hopefully I sound smarter in future podcasts.

Dan Letzring: I'm sure you'll be great.

How Did You Get Into Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: Dan, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Dan Letzring: I started on board games probably like everyone else. I had a few friends who were really into board games, so they would always talk about it. I had some coworkers who always kind of talked about Settlers of Catan, and I had two different groups who played it separately and they were always talking about it, and I was like, what are these people talking about. So I had one of them introduce me to it, and shorty after that different people introduced me to Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Dominion, all within like a month. I played all these games with different groups of people. Really once you play all those essentials you either love it or you hate it, and I loved it, and we just got into board games shortly after that.

Patrick Rauland: I love that you listed a ton of those intro games, and I just had to ask, which one of those intro games, if you could introduce someone with one of those intro games, which one would you pick?

Dan Letzring: Actually right now I use Splendor a lot, because I think it's really intuitive, and it's slick in that the progression of building that engine, and when you get to the point of just taking cards for free, it has a very rewarding experience. Just being able to all of a sudden realize what you've built and the cards you can start grabbing. It's so simple and intuitive with it, but the fulfillment you get from it, I find a lot of people really have been loving it when they're not really into board games. I've been using Splendor probably more than anything to try and introduce new people to games.

Patrick Rauland: I love it. Splendor's great. I think I overplayed Splendor. I think when it first came out a friend of mine got it for me, and I think I played it probably 15 times in a couple months, and that was enough. You know what I mean? I felt like all right, I got the gist of the game.

Dan Letzring: Yeah. I don't play it as often any more either, but my wife loves it for two-player. She and I will play it a lot if we just have a quick night, that we're exhausted and we just want to play something, and we don't want to learn something new or spend the time playing games all night. We'll just grab Splendor to play quickly, or like I said, if I'm introducing new people.

What Do You Like About Publishing Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: Great. You have a background in designing games, and it seems like now you're moving into publishing. What is it about publishing that you enjoy?

Dan Letzring: First I like just running my own business and having my own company. I have been wanting to do that for a very long time, and this has just been such a blast to do. I love running Kickstarter campaigns, and the community building involved with that, and the social media involved with having a social media company. You can do that as a designer too, but I love all the aspects that it takes to have my own company. I also love taking a design and bringing it to a publishable game. I love developing it to be a really final and completely game, I love getting artwork and seeing all of that come together and make a final product. I really just love every step of the process of taking a game from a designer, making it something amazing, and helping those designers get their games out there. It's really just been a natural kind of transition for me to do that.

Patrick Rauland: I really like that. I was just talking with someone earlier about being a game creator, and it sounds like you're sort of embracing the whole process. One thing about the process for me that stands out is … I feel like I've designed a game, and it's not published it yet, but I've designed it and I'm really happy with it, and there's a really fun core, but I feel like I'm going through all this pain of dealing with manufacturers. How d you get over that hump? Because it seems like you really enjoy the whole process, and I'm not enjoying the whole process.

Dan Letzring: I think that's the difference. Like I tell people all the time, some people make a game and they're like, “I've got my game, I'm going to publish it or I'm going to put it on Kickstarter.” I'm like whoa, there's a lot that goes into publishing, more than just putting your game on Kickstarter, and for some people it's just not the right step. That's okay, because there are tons of … I think with Kickstarter and the board game boom, there are so many indie publishers too, so it's not just like there are five big companies and they have thousands of submissions. There are small companies too who will help you get there.

Dan Letzring: If you're designing games and that's where you like ending the process, is once you've finished your design, find publishers, or reach out to indie publishers. Go to Protospiels or all sorts of events that you can show off your designs to publishers, and have someone else publish it. For me, I like doing those things. Like you said, I like building the quotes and making relationships with the manufacturers, and handling all the fulfillment and the freighting and all of it. It is a nightmare and it can stress you out big time, but I enjoy doing it. If you don't though, it's horrible, and you don't want to make yourself miserable doing it, so just stop at the points you love and try and find someone you can work with to help do the rest.

How Did You Get Into Self Publishing?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. I think my question … You've already done this a few times now, so it's pretty obvious that you like doing it, but how did you decide for your first game that you wanted to do it yourself?

Dan Letzring: Really my first-first game was a small card game about going to grad school, and I knew it was the kind of thing that no one would want to really publish. It was kind of my thing, like I wanted this grad school themed game I made, and I knew I wanted to transition into having my own company, so basically I just kind of knew I was just going to do it myself, and so I did.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. I kind of want to shift gears into your new game, which is The Neverland Rescue. It's, what is the word I'm looking for here, it's … What is it where two people have very different roles.

Dan Letzring: Asymmetrical.

Patrick Rauland: Thank you.

Dan Letzring: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: I had the word written down somewhere and now I can't find it on the page. It's an asymmetrical game.

Dan Letzring: Yes.

Why Design an Asymmetrical Game?

Patrick Rauland: Why did you look into designing a game that's asymmetrical, as opposed to, I think in my brain it's easier to design a symmetrical game.

Dan Letzring: The game was designed by Scott Almes first, so it wasn't designed by me. The whole conversation started with, we had a theme idea in mind, which wasn't the final theme. He pitched me a game he had that was this two-player asymmetrical game, and I really liked it because we really tailored it so it was two different game experiences in a game depending on which role you were playing, which I thought was pretty exciting. Because you just had this different game feel. You play as, say, Peter Pan five, ten times through, and then you're like okay, I don't really want to play as Pan any more. You switch to Hook, it's like a whole new game you've just acquired without even having to buy a whole new game. I really like that about it, and I love two-player only games, and as I said, my wife and I play a lot of games at night together sometimes. It just really was something I wanted to move forward. There are a lot of two-player games, but I'd love more of them, and I wanted something that really was a purely two-player quick asymmetrical game. So we moved forward with it, and we fell in love with it pretty quickly.

Is It Hard to Balance an Asymmetrical Game?

Patrick Rauland: I really like that, and I think I have to agree, I'm sort of just playing with a lot of ideas right now, and I am kind of liking the idea of a three-v-one game, just because basically everyone is against the bad guy. I think the asymmetrical nature of that would mean it feels like two completely different games. Which I think is just a really cool way to … I'm sure it's really hard to balance. Was it hard to balance? That's an assumption I have.

Dan Letzring: It was and it wasn't. Where it's two players it's easy to get iterations played, and it's only a half hour roughly to play, especially once you know the game. When you're doing these kind of play testing as well, sometimes you don't play through easily. In a three hour chunk at night with two people, you can hammer through a lot of changes quickly and see what works and what doesn't. What we had to do was play test a lot and kind of get win ratios, how it was balancing out, like how often was Pan winning, how hard was it for Hook, what could we change to balance that out? That might be slight changes that didn't really come to us in the beginning of the game. We made those changes.

Dan Letzring: It started with, Hook won far less than Pan. He has [inaudible 00:09:10] and it's harder. It was about 60-40, where it was Pan to Hook, Pan winning 60% of the time. The cards get placed out at the beginning of each round, and it used to go Hook would pick where they go, then Hook, then Pan, then Hook, then Pan. We realized to streamline it, and to give Hook more advantage with baiting Pan and setting the stage, Hook should just do it every time. That simple change just kind of gave him a little more leverage in how he played his game, and more advantage in how he could win to kind of even it out more. It kind of actually made it a little more asymmetrical in that there was a very different feel between Hook and Pan. It actually worked on all fronts for us when we made that small change, but it really just came from play testing a lot and kind of just thinking about it over and over again.

Patrick Rauland: I love it. My question is, what is “play testing a lot”? You said 60-40. Did you play 100 games? Did you play 15 games?

Dan Letzring: I don't really know the number, because like I said, in one night we could play four or five times through and then we'd just do that every other day or so, you know what I mean, for a while. Also where it wasn't just my game. Scott had a version too, and we would both be play testing over a couple weeks. Then we'd touch base to see where we were, what kind of notes we had from it, and where the win ratios were. It wasn't just who's wing, it was how many rounds did it take to get there, how close was the opponent to winning. It was like, Pan won 60% of the time; in these five games Pan won in the 5th round, Hook had guessed three of Pan's hidden locations out of five. It was kind of stats on that, as to how close was the game, how far into the game was it, and what did we need to do to keep it a decent length and a decent win. When Pan wins we want Hook to be close to winning. We don't want him guessing one or two out of five. There was a lot of that. You lose count after a while, but it was a lot. I don't know.

Patrick Rauland: Was it more than 100 games, or was it closer to 1,000 games?

Dan Letzring: No, it was probably like 100 or so. This was a game prior that Scott had already made as well, so we made a lot of changes, but it was a game that he had made. It was published with a quick small print run, it wasn't reprinted, he retained the rights back to it, and then we made it more in-depth and we added more things going on with it. It was something he had actually worked on for a long time anyway, so it actually had a really good core before we even got it, if that makes sense.

What Does Your Design Process Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: Got it, yeah. Let's go back to some of your earlier, maybe some of the games that you designed. What does your design process look like, from idea up to and let's say all the way through development?

Dan Letzring: I've actually had varied designs. I try to think, theme or mechanics first comes up a lot. I think about have of mine have been theme first and half of mine have been mechanics first. I can't really say I choose one over the other, but what I do end up doing is, once I have a theme and I have a set level of gameplay, I use the two to kind of intertwine. Something like my family game Dino Dude Ranch started as a farming game, and it was kind of money-based, but then as we changed the theme into dinosaurs we changed the resources to meat, leaves, and fish based on what the dinosaurs eat, and that kind of altered gameplay a little bit in that there were three resources instead of two. We kind of interwove the theme and the mechanics until we had a working product. Usually I start with one, I build on that, make a game, and then kind of feed the two into each other to make it work.

Patrick Rauland: I totally do that. I still don't know whether it's better to start with a theme or a mechanic, but I definitely rely on the theme when I'm making changes, you know what I mean.

Dan Letzring: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: It's like, how can we solve this problem? Oh, in real life we would do this.

Dan Letzring: Yeah, I agree. I think whatever inspires you is the right answer. It might be like, when we started with Groves, for me it was, I really wanted a worker placement game. I love worker placements, and so the mechanics drove that one. Like Ph.D the game was theme, because I wanted a grad school game, but something like Mint Julep, that Button Shy published of mine, that started as, I wanted to make a really interesting 18-card game with multiple use cards and abilities on them. That was mechanics first, but what inspired me was, when I sat down I was like, “This is the type of game I'm going to make.” And I just sat down and went with it. Sometimes you're like, “I really want to make a game about space ships.” If that's what inspires you, great, but if you're like, “I love pickup and deliver,” then go with that. Whatever you're excited about, I think, is really the right answer.

Are You Looking into Any Themes or Mechanics For a Future Game?

Patrick Rauland: I love it. Are there any things that are especially alive for you, either a theme or a mechanic that you're looking into and you want to put into your next game?

Dan Letzring: I don't have anything really burning like that. I've wanted kind of a more social deduction game, kind of like a Werewolf that doesn't have elimination. Something almost like Two Rooms and a Boom, where some people can win and some people don't, but it varies. Something like that has always been kind of exciting to me, but really the big thing was, I wanted a worker placement game. We did that with Groves, and there was bag building, which is also a super exciting game for me. I love games with tons of dice too, building dice pools. That might be something I want to explore at some point, but really with Groves, that scratched a big itch of mine, that I'm not really burning for anything in particular yet.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I have to say, I love having buckets of dice. I also play, do you know Warhammer, it's a tabletop game?

Dan Letzring: Yeah, I don't play it but I know of it, of course.

Patrick Rauland: It's a tabletop game, there's miniatures, and one of the armies I play is Orks, and when a full squad of 30 Orks charge it's 120 dice. There is this magical feeling of rolling 120 dice all at once.

Dan Letzring: That's amazing. I like this.

Patrick Rauland: There's so many dice, I think people build strategies like, okay I have 100 dice, all the dice that fit in this cup is 100, so you don't have to count them out every time. It's a fun thing, so I love that idea. If you ever want to … We'll have to brainstorm some 100-dice games after this.

Dan Letzring: Definitely. I am onboard for that. I am 100% onboard for that.

Patrick Rauland: I think the game will be really expensive, but I think it'll be really fun.

Dan Letzring: Definitely, I love it already.

Patrick Rauland: Cool. All right, love that. I'm distracted by 100 dice. So you've done a whole different … It seems like you do a wide range of games. Do you think you'll ever go back to five years from now, or a year from now you'll go, “Hm, I want to do another micro game,” or, “I want to do another worker placement game,” or do you think you're just going to keep trying to spread out and try more varied concepts?

Dan Letzring: I like varied concepts, in that a lot of times it's really nice when I go somewhere and someone comes to my table of games, and people have different tastes, and if you have something that appeals to someone, no matter who it is, that's very enticing for me, to have games that, basically a broad range. Again, yeah, it's really whatever gets me excited. There's already another Button Shy contest coming up for the GenCant, and I'm like oh, maybe we'll enter this. Because it's just, things come up that get exciting, and you might just make something just for the fun of it that you really … I don't know, wherever inspiration strikes, it's kind of funny how it works. Sometimes it just pops in and you want to work on it.

What Games Do You Like That Are Underappreciated?

Patrick Rauland: Love it! Are there any underappreciated games that you just think an aspiring game designer should try out?

Dan Letzring: Underappreciated, let me think about … For underappreciated, what we were just talking, one of my favorite games that … I don't think a lot of people love it, but I love Kings Forge. Have you played Kings Forge?

Patrick Rauland: I don't think I have.

Dan Letzring: I definitely feel like there are some things in that game that need work, and I think they're working on expansions that do help with it, but you're building dice pols. There are two phases to the round. One, you use your dice to buy more dice, or you craft items with the dice you have remaining. You can't use the ones you buy dice with to craft, so there's balance of how much dice to I spend now, because then I can't role them later. Because when crafting you have criteria to meet, and you only need three black dice rolling a five-five-six to craft the item, so it's better to roll 10 black dice instead of five black dice. You don't want to spend them all to increase your odds.

Dan Letzring: I just love it, because it's that feeling, like you said, of, if you don't spend them all you have this handful of 15 dice at times, and you roll them … There are ways to manipulate your dice and add modifiers to them, so it has some of that mitigation going on. I love anything where you're building pools of things, whether it's bags of chits or dice, and I love rolling lots of dice, so for me that game, I don't know, I just enjoy it. It's a fun guilty pleasure of mine, and I think that it's a lot of fun. My wife and I play that one a lot too.

What's the Best Money You've Spent?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. What is some of the best money that you've ever spent as a game designer?

Dan Letzring: The best money I ever spent as a game designer, I would say, is definitely on probably more games. Because really, learning how things work and playing things … I mean you're working on designing a game and you're like, the scoring on this needs to be fixed, and then you're like, wait a second, the scoring in this game, the style they use here, would be perfect. I think just having experience with different methods of gameplay and different actions that can happen in a game and different types of scoring, they're great for either refining a design you have or inspiring a new design. Playing new games, and just seeing fun things that are out there so that they can spark something inside you that is a really fun game that you make.

Patrick Rauland: And of course they should obviously buy your games, because then they could have more experience with the type of stuff you do.

Dan Letzring: Naturally, exactly.

What Resources Do You Recommend?

Patrick Rauland: Cool. Let's say excluding games, what resource would you point people towards, podcasts, books, blogs, what sort of information is out there that you think maybe not a lot of aspiring board game designers know about?

Dan Letzring: There are so many. There are a lot of podcasts. Breaking Into Board Games is out there with Ian Zang and Tony Miller is out there, and there's the Board Game Designer's Forum, which is a set of forums for aspiring game designers. When I start out, I don't go in there any more, and it's mostly because using it on my phone is terrible, but The Game Crafter, that's where I do a lot of my prototypes from, they have a chatroom, and that's kind of where I started with all of it. There's a great community there, and they're great for answering questions, and I used to be one of those people who it was great for answering questions, but like I said, I don't go in there any more. There and even just Twitter, there are so many people who are so accessible, and if you go there you'll find all the podcasts and the forums. There's so many places that you can find.

Dan Letzring: Then if you're looking to get into Kickstarter and crowdfunding, there are great blogs by Jamey Stegmaier and James … I always forget how to pronounce his name, but from Minion Games. Their blogs are fantastic for getting into crowdfunding. The resources are literally endless, and so coming online and finding these people is … Like I said, social media will point you to all of these things. Yes, those are a few of them.

Patrick Rauland: Those are all great, and I recognize most of them, so they sound great, but what is the Board Game Designer's forum? Where is that?

Dan Letzring: Let's see. Board Games …

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Dan Letzring: No, I'm searching it right now to get the exact link for it. It's

Patrick Rauland: Okay, great.

Dan Letzring: Yeah, it's great. It's a set of forums that, they have announcements and press releases, a place to just hang out and talk, feedback, game design contests, there are all sorts of … They'll link contests there. It's a great resource, and so I would highly recommend it. It's

How Many Games Do You Work on at any Given Time?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. So the Neverland Rescue, it's coming to wraps as we're recording, but it'll be done by the time this is posted. I guess that makes me think, are you already working on your next games? And maybe how many games do you have on the back burner at any one time?

Dan Letzring: We have a lot going on right now. We have, let me think … I have one game I'm working on that's kind of in the middle of development, and it's going to be a huge game. The concept of it was based off of Final Fantasy Tactics, the video game. We really focus on the job class advancements. That's the main goal of the game. It's a series of boss encounters basically, is what it is. I'd say we're about halfway through. We have about four boss encounters really well done, but we want about 12 to 15 at least. It's pretty early on in the development of it, but we're working hard on that. I have one game I'm working on publishing with another small publisher that we haven't really announced yet, but we're pretty much in the heat of development, and it's probably going to be on Kickstarter before the end of the year.

Patrick Rauland: Can I pause you for a second?

Dan Letzring: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: The Final Fantasy Tactics game, you said it's going to be huge. Like there's a lot of components, or it's going to be massively popular?

Dan Letzring: Hopefully both, but no, a lot of components. We have, it's like a thousand cards I think.

Patrick Rauland: Whoa!

Dan Letzring: Because we want a lot of different options for job classes, and it's like building a deck, so if you go this route you get these cards added to your deck, if you go that route … So every way you go there are a lot of different cards involved, so we need all the options open to everyone, so that's just a lot of cards. It's going to be big, but it'll be worth it, and we're going to probably do-

Patrick Rauland: Is it like Legacy?

Dan Letzring: No. You can reset it and go back. We're going to have deck building in that you have a set deck, but you're going to have a box you could store it in, so you could pause it. We want the encounters to be shorter so you could do three or four in a night, like 45 minutes maybe. The first intro one is about half an hour, and then ones after that are about 40, 45 minutes. Then you're just building a deck, and then at the end of it you can redo the decks. We're going to actually have different ways you can branch out for the boss encounters, so even if you play through it a second time it wouldn't be the same boss encounters over and over again. Then depending on which route you go you're going to have obviously different cards in your deck and different ways you play it.

Patrick Rauland: So while it's not Legacy, it's definitely a campaign type of game.

Dan Letzring: Yeah. That's why I say it's big, because it's just a huge endeavor. We have that, there's a smaller game that we're co-publishing with someone else that we haven't announced yet so I'm not going to say too much about it, and then I have another project that's kind of related to board games but it's not a board game. That one we're starting to move forward with heavily now. I have three or four projects that we're steadily moving forward with, which is a lot at times, but that's what we want to do, is we want to put out … We want to grow my company and put more fun things out there.

How Many Projects Should an Aspiring Designer Work On?

Patrick Rauland: Totally. As someone who's new to this world, as I am, should I have four projects, or should I be focused on one?

Dan Letzring: For me, I always have a couple things going until I find the one that clicks. Especially as a publisher, once I know what game I'm moving forward with next, usually that's all I focus on. I can't really be sidetracked with other things. If I'm developing something I need to develop it, coordinate art for it, think about designing layout that we're going to talk to for the graphic designer. Once I know for sure what's next and what's clicking, I pretty much scrap everything else and put them aside into folds, and leave myself notes as to where I was with them, and I just stop worrying about other things. The reason I'm able to do this is, a lot of the projects I'm doing right are with other people as well, so we're kind of tag teaming them, so I can kind of parse myself out a little differently with it. I think, usually with the design especially, I have three or four things going until I'm like, “Ha, this is it,” and then I just put everything else aside till the one I'm working on is fully fledged.

Patrick Rauland: I really like that, because I think I've sort of had that, of “This is the game I'm working on,” and while I have other ideas, they don't go past much more than a drawing in a notebook, and that's kind of where they stop.

Dan Letzring: Yeah, and sometimes if you only focus on one thing, you get stuck with it or you can't move forward with it, but you're like, “I'm going to get through this.” But if you have three things going and you kind of tinker with each, all of a sudden one of them will click and you're like, “Okay, I need to drop everything else,” and you just run with that one.

What Does Success Look Like For You?

Patrick Rauland: Got it. Love it! I seems like you've had a lot of success already with published games. What does success look like in the board game world to you?

Dan Letzring: Really for me, as long as I'm not losing money on it. For me really, every year I want to get bigger and better. I want to put out maybe more games, or if not more games, sell more of the games I'm putting out that year, or have better Kickstarters or more funding. Personal goals like that. Really for me, as long as I'm having these successful campaigns, and the games are being well received, and people are really enjoying them, for me that's success right there. Because as of right now, it'd be great someday to be able to do a full time, but this isn't my full time thing either. You know I recognize it for what it is, as me doing this on the side. If I'm putting these games out and people are liking this then that's a win for me, and I'm happy at that point.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Cool, so let's move on to the last little thing. I like to play this game called overrated-underrated, and basically I'm going to give you a word or a phrase, and then you're going to have to tell me whether you think people think it's overrated or underrated. If I said Star Wars you're going to say clearly underrated, it's the best franchise ever. Got it?

Dan Letzring: Okay.

Patrick Rauland: Cool. First one, asymmetrical games. Are they overrated or underrated?

Dan Letzring: I think they're overrated. I think there are very few popular ones, and I think they're great, I love them, so I think that they should get more hype than they do. I'm not just saying that because I'm running one right now, but I think in general I've always really enjoyed them, and I don't think they get as much love as they should.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. This one's a little bit long. Live action versions of an animated movie. For example Hook, or I think Beauty and the Beast just had one as well.

Dan Letzring: That's a hard one, because there are some that are great and some that are terribly done. I think if they stick to the original movie more … That's not even a thing I could say. I'm going to have to put out some. Hook, Beauty and the Beast, even Maleficent, were fantastic, and they were fantastic for different reasons. Jungle Book I didn't love, and Cinderella I didn't love. They've been kind of hit or miss. I'm going to have to put that one right in the middle.

Patrick Rauland: All right. Next one, platformers, and by platformers I mean those sort of side scrolling video games.

Dan Letzring: Oh, these are the games I grew up with, of course these are underrated, they're amazing.

Patrick Rauland: Last one, T-rexes. Overrated or underrated?

Dan Letzring: They're definitely underrated. I'm a dinosaur lover man, come on! T-rexes are amazing!

Patrick Rauland: But they can't pick up anything with their tiny tiny hands!

Dan Letzring: I know but their heads are huge and their teeth are so big, they can eat whatever they need. They just bend over and grab it with their head.


Patrick Rauland: Love it. Dan, thank you for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Dan Letzring: My company is Letiman Games, L-E-T-I-M-A-N Games. On Twitter I'm @LetimanGames, Instagram also. On Facebook it's And From there anyone can find me and contact me, I'm readily available and pretty much always there and available to answer questions.

Patrick Rauland: Is it possible … This will probably come out a week or two after your game, The Neverland Rescue, is done. Is there anyway to link back or anything like that?

Dan Letzring: Yeah, so there'll be a link on the Kickstarter page, and it'll be linked on my website and everywhere else, to pre-order it. Usually what I do is, the pre-orders are typically a little than what the Kickstarter was, but they're still going to be below MSRP with shipping.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Dan, thank you so much for being on the show, and for you viewers, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you're listening to this. If you do leave a review, Dan said that he'd spread fairy dust over your next game design so that it's 100% amazing. Thank you Dan for offering that.

Dan Letzring: Yeah, no problem, I just want to make their games magical, that's all. Best I can do.

Patrick Rauland: You can visit us at and you can follow me on Twitter, @BFTrick. Until next time, happy designing. Thanks everyone, bye-bye.

Me at Publisher Speed Dating at Origins
Me at Publisher Speed Dating at Origins

Last week I attended Origins and it was a blast. I had a great time playing games, meeting designers, and most importantly I'd like to share my experience at Publisher Speed Dating where I showed off my game Fry Thief.

  • Publishers gave conflicting advice so you have to parse the information. They might not be the right publisher for you.
  • They asked interesting questions
    • How would you make your game 100 card game?
    • How would you make this a 3-4 player game?
  • Many publishers were instantly interested or disinterested which is good. If they weren't interested they were kind and gave advice on which publishers you should follow up with.
  • Two publishers took my game home. I can only assume that's a good sign!

Pro tip: don't forget your sell sheets in your hotel room.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. Today we're going to be talking with Allan Kirkeby, who is the designer behind an abstract strategy game called, Itchy Monkey, where you get to play lice on monkeys. It sounds a little gross, but it is a very, very cute game and we're gonna get into it in the show. So Allan, welcome to the show.

Allan Kirkeby: Thank you.

Patrick Rauland: Cool, alright. Now, okay so did I, 'cause you're from Denmark, so did I get your name 90% right or was it like a 100% off?

Allan Kirkeby: Oh, you were 90% okay. I mean, the last, it should be bewk, not boo, but that's okay.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Alright, thank you. So Allan, how did you get into board games and board game design?

Allan Kirkeby: Well I think I've always designed games. I think as a kid, I think I felt so a lexicon something about Olympics and I started designing board games based on all the Olympic disciplines. But then I ended up in the computer games industry and I got a bit away from the analog stuff. And then a few years back, I kind of picked it up again. I had some kids and I want to play a role playing game with them, but they don't understand the heavy English role playing rule books, so I kinda created a lightweight board game because I wanted to play with my kids and it needed to be in Danish and I spent like four years on that game and it was a really bad game. Well, it's okay to play with my kids because I could explain everything, but as potentially a game on the market, it was bad. When I started designing that, I then reached out to communities in Denmark and suddenly, I was very actively designing many different board games with very inspiring people in Denmark.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. It sounds like a lot of people have that experience where they design a game for themselves or for their family and that's how they sort of get into it, which I think is really, really cool.

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: So, I want to get into video games and sort of what you get out of the video games or I guess I want to ask, is there any overlap between the video game world and board game world?

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah, there is some overlap. I think the experience, I mean, if you design the game for yourself, many designers stop designing games because they love games and they wanna play around with an idea, so it's an egotistical thing, “I want to do this for myself.” But then, as you mature as a designer you basically start looking at, “I'm designing something that someone else will experience, so it has to be from their point of view if something is good.” And I think you can take that when you design computer games, it's the same thing. You start by building something digital because you think it's fun, so your first couple of games will be very much, only you like them. But, then eventually you start having testers and listening to what they say, so I think that's a big overlap.

Patrick Rauland: So, I love the theme of this game. How on Earth did you come up with a theme where you are lice and you're jumping from monkey to monkey?

Allan Kirkeby: I will try and make a short version out of this. I mean, at first I've been doing a lot of big games because that's what I wanted to do. So very big, heavy games and they are very difficult for others to sit down and play for three hours. Last year I started designing some smaller games and I wanted to do a strategy game and at first I wanted to do something with planets and migrating between planets. So in Itchy Monkeys, you have these big pieces, big around pieces and you have small lice on top of them. But initially, the initial idea was actually that they were planets and the small things that are now lice, they would be either martians or something like that.

Allan Kirkeby: But then, it didn't work because how would planets move around? I mean that's what they do in the game. You have the big round pieces moving around, so it didn't work with the theme and then I just came up with … before I talked to the publisher, my theme was that this was people walking around on a fair, on a fairground or on a marketplace and they had lice in their hair and they would bump into each other. So, it kind of grew out of a mechanism that worked well parted with an idea of planets, but then the mechanism grew away from the theme and then I had to find a new theme, so that's how I came up with it.

Patrick Rauland: I guess this sort of answers that age old design question of, did you start with a theme or mechanic? And it sounds like, do you typically start with a mechanic?

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah. I think that with small games, you typically start with a mechanic because with a small game there is just that mechanic. Many smaller games have a core mechanic that kind of carries the entire game. Whereas, if you make a bigger game, that's usually a combination of many different mechanic mechanisms that work together. So, usually with a small game it's very important that one single mechanism is either unique or fun enough to keep that one game running.

Patrick Rauland: So speaking of a unique mechanism, this is an abstract game. Those big tokens, those are the monkey tokens, there's the little lice tokens and every turn you can take a few different actions, but there's no cards, there's no dice. Did you try to make an abstract game where's just sort of pieces moving around the board?

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah, I think there's like … I love games with dice and every time you have dice and cards, you also have luck and randomness. And I think I wanted to go and create … back when I was a kid my father hated games, so he didn't want to play games unless it was chess because he hated losing down to luck. So, he's kind of an old fashioned kind of guy and doesn't really play games, but I usually sometimes have him in the back of my mind, trying to do something where there's not that much luck involved. But, in this particular game I wanted to try and do something where there was no luck at all. The only luck was depending on what your opponent does. So other than that, it's very … so yeah, it's abstract, but it usually ends with an abstract game if you want to remove the luck factor.

Patrick Rauland: I just think it's really interesting because I immediately start thinking about cards and dice and sort of, randomness and you've completely removed that. So I think that's a whole world of board game design that I haven't even looked at. So I think that's really, really cool. Okay, so you started with this mechanism of planets and things moving between the planets. What was the next thing, maybe you can give us an overview of your design process?

Allan Kirkeby: Well I talked to a lot of designers, so I've also come to realize that many designers designed in very different ways. One thing I like to do, I like to sit at a computer, maybe because I've been working with computers for many years, so I usually sit and do things digitally. So, I start with Photoshop or just Excel and I kind of sketch out my ideas and before I write anything down, I sometimes have a game in my head for two months or something, maybe notes on a few pieces of paper. But most of it, the game is kind of evolving alongside several other games in my head and then once I kind of get excited about, “This game can actually work, this will be cool.” Then I start working on it, then once I start working on a game I push all other ideas aside until that game that I'm working on now actually works. So, I don't know how did I go from … I think when I initially just thought of planets, the theme wasn't the important thing. That was mainly to … how do I create this game with no luck, so I need a board, I need pieces moving around, so then I came up with the mechanism

Allan Kirkeby: When you start designing and working with the mechanism, you don't think so much about the theme right there. Then you just start creating a mock board and you start creating prototype pieces and so on.

Patrick Rauland: I guess I wonder, when you're play testing a game like this do you have any theme or when you get play testing feedback are people like, “This doesn't feel like a planet game.” What do you do with that feedback when it's sort of themeless or theme light?

Allan Kirkeby: I think you can get as many different comments as there are people in the world, so it's very difficult to react to comments in the early stages But, usually I have a couple of close friends that I trust more than others, basically. When they give my comments, I kind of listen to it and if enough people say the theme doesn't work, I will change it.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. Got it. Okay, so about how long did this game take you to develop, from start to finish?

Allan Kirkeby: I think it's one of those games that kind of … I think I was lucky with this one. I came up with the idea of being able to migrate. You have small tokens on top of big tokens, right. So being able to migrate the small tokens over to others, that was the core idea and that basically worked. I mean, I had to do a little bit of balancing and because both players have the same pieces and have the same amount of pieces. Once the core grow your lice empire kind of worked, it just was there. I didn't have to do anything else really. So it was quite fast.

Patrick Rauland: So just to give me an idea, 'cause I'm still working on game number one, is quite fast like three months or is it like two years?

Allan Kirkeby: Well, okay, so quite fast is from, “I had the first idea” until I kind of thought that, “this is good enough to start showing to potential publishers” was probably, maybe intensively one week of work, spread out over a couple of months I guess. But then, when I had the prototype, then a couple of weeks go by where I don't work on it and then there's a small conference or a meet up of designers here in Denmark and then I bring the prototype and I show it and then I go home and do some tweaks and change some things based on the feedback. Then a couple of weeks go by again where I don't work on the game until I test it again. So it's stretched out over a long period of time, but the actual work wasn't that great on this game.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Yeah, that totally makes sense. Okay, so let's change gears a little bit. So what type of games do you enjoy designing? And, maybe a different way of asking this is, once this game comes out, what are you gonna design?

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah, I've actually been designing a lot games over the past two years. There's a conference in Denmark called, ‘Fastaval' which is a role playing and board game conference. They have a competition each year in March where board game designers kind of submit a design and I've been part of that group of people for three, four years and I love it there. So they also kind of encouraged designing new things, so I've been trying many different things. But mostly, I attempt to create these kind of big, sprawling, worker placement, exploration games. I've just found that they are very difficult to sell or get produced or published because they are very expensive to create for a publisher.

Patrick Rauland: And just fill me in. Why are they so expensive, 'cause there's so many pieces or what's the expensive part there?

Allan Kirkeby: I think, yeah, because there's a lot pieces and I also think maybe there are different ways of working with a publisher, but I think the way I work with publishers is I create a game up to the prototype and then the publisher, if they like it, they pick it up and then they start to do a lot of work. They need to figure out what should the pieces look like? What kind of graphics should there be on it? It's like with Itchy Monkey, Black Box Adventures, the publisher, they actually created the graphics for that game. I did not have graphics when I pitched it to them.

Allan Kirkeby: So I think with a big game, it's all the components make the box and all the components in it just more expensive to produce even though it's in China. But, on top of that, it's a lot more man hours before you start producing it to actually design the components and build the manual and all that stuff. And then, the last thing is that getting people to buy a game like that is, well sometimes on Kickstarter it's easier for the big games if it just has miniatures, that's easy. For some games there's a lot of competition I think.

Patrick Rauland: Totally. So you've talked a few times about a meet up group and now there's this contest and you're in Denmark and I think you're the first international guest on the show. Do you think that there are differences in designing a game in the U.S. and when you're in Denmark?

Allan Kirkeby: I would guess there are, but I wouldn't presume to know what it's like to design in the States. I know a lot of people from the States from the computer game industry. So one difference I do know is the personal financial situation that you have as a human being is very different from the States than they are in Denmark. I'm not talking about Germany and so on. Because Denmark, we have a very good welfare system. We don't have 60 hour work weeks and so on. I know different states in the United States are different and so on. But, I think maybe that makes it easier for some Danish people to start out as a hobby. But, that also kind of makes people in Denmark tend to be more creative and not so focused on the market as such, where I think a lot of American designers are forced into thinking of this as a product. “It needs to be sold because if I want to spend a lot of time on it, I need to be able to make money because there's no safety net in our welfare system in the States.” I don't know for sure how it works, but I guess that's my view on it.

Patrick Rauland: I wish I knew the answer to that. I don't know what percent of indie game designers are sort of funding their lifestyle through their publishing company, but you're right, I'm sure it's really risky and really hard and I guess I don't envy them, 'cause I'm doing it on the side. Right? I have a full time job and I do game design as sort of an extra hobby.

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah, there's a Facebook group with board game designers, ‘Guild' or something like that and I asked this question about the finances and so on and I had a lot of feedback on a long thread of discussions. I could see some of the designers that actually commented, they had moved to a different state in the United States because it was cheaper to live there and that made it easier for them to take a risk on trying to be full time designer. So they could get a house at a much cheaper rate or they could live in commune or something like that. So I think that the similarities are that no matter where you do design, you have to be conscious about the choice you make. Do you do it as a hobby? Do you have a full time job and do it as a kind of hobby or do you try and take a risk and do it full time, but then you'll need to lower your private expenses to be able to survive actually.

Patrick Rauland: Totally. Okay, so I'm curious what … so for someone who's an aspiring game designer, what one resource would you recommend to them that's been really, really helpful for you?

Allan Kirkeby: Most of all I think, find your local community of other designers and hopefully they are nice people. If they are, they would be open and willing to share with you and then you kind of quid pro quo, you test their games and give the feedback and they test your game and that's very inspiring and gives you a lot of energy to go home because designing, it's a little bit an art form. It's also a craft, but in all artists, they kind get the blues. So sometimes, you think, “Ah, this sucks,” and you can't find the energy to continue designing your game. But, having a group of people that kind of encourages you to go on, that's very important to keep going and actually going that extra mile on the design, tweaking it and balancing it just to make it that much better. That helps a lot.

Allan Kirkeby: In terms of physical resources, I don't know, in the beginning I used the, what's it called, The Game Crafter?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Allan Kirkeby: These places where you could print on demand things. I'm not using it any more because I've now bought a printer and so I just cut it out myself, all the components. In Germany, there's a website called and for Europeans, I think that's the go to place to buy Meeples and all the wooden components that you need in your prototypes.

Patrick Rauland: I'm curious. Wasn't The Game Crafter really expensive to ship you a package all the way in Denmark?

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah, but remember, that was when it was a hobby. I was creating this game for my kids. I had a full time job. I was actually very well paid. So I was like, “Yeah, screw it.” Just pay for that one game. I don't know, it's like $150.00 all in all, just to produce that one copy of the game and have it shipped, so I won't be doing that again I think.

Patrick Rauland: I think I'm lucky in that the first game I'm working on is a micro game and I think it's like $12.00 shipped and also I'm in the States, so it's much, much easier for me, much cheaper.

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah. I think there's a new … what's it called? Some German company has started something similar to Game Crafter. Oh, I can't remember what it's called. I was very envious when I started out that you had this Game Crafter company in the States, but now it's turning into a commercial for them.

Patrick Rauland: So you mentioned earlier about how you need to have a group of people that you spend time with, a community, because it's hard work to make a game and you sort of need them to motivate you. I guess I'm curious, what parts of game design are energizing to you? What parts of game design are exhausting to you?

Allan Kirkeby: I love creating and this is also a flaw I have. I love creating nice looking components … this is a flaw because I spend too much time polishing some icons or graphics components in Photoshop, when it's not really necessary. And, I actually end up throwing a lot of that work out because suddenly something doesn't work in the game anymore, some component, and that piece of graphic that I just spent five hours on is not worth anything. So that's a flaw, but I like that. That's very enjoyable. I think also taking the game, building iterations of the game. You always build this version of a game and then you bring it out and you try to test it with someone. I love that feeling, going, showing someone what you've created and getting the feedback and then knowing that you have to go back and tweak it and change it again. I love that part of it.

Allan Kirkeby: So what I don't like is … I know at one point when I feel the game, now it's good enough or now it's great or now it's finished, I usually get hit by that feeling before it is really finished. You know, in that process? So in the computer games industry, you do the debugging and so the game is finished, but it has a lot of errors and it's not really balanced. Most computer game developers hate that process because you're not creative any more. I think that's also, I don't hate the process, it's just a bit more tedious because that's when you're not creating something new any more, that's when you're just making sure the game is balanced and it plays well for everyone.

Patrick Rauland: So, what would you recommend to get through that? Is it going to groups? Is it spending an hour [inaudible 00:23:39] What tactics can you actually recommend to someone to push through the hard balancing stage of the game?

Allan Kirkeby: I don't know. The way I do it, it requires some kind of determination and you need to have this long term goal with your game because if it's just a hobby, then why bother with something that's annoying. If you really want to maybe see the game mass produced or at least published somehow, then you know that you have to do it and that gives you this drive to just go through even some of the stuff that's boring. So I think that helps. And then, in terms of what tools I use, I use Excel quite a lot and I just create a spreadsheet and every test I make, I write down notes and then I kind of create the notes as tasks and then I color them green every time I've solved that task. And it's kind of to do list, right?

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Allan Kirkeby: But it gives you that feeling of progression. You always know that if all those things on that list are colored green, then I'm good. Then I've done good and if they're not green, then well, I just need to do those last three things even though they are kind of annoying. So it's kind of gameifying the boring process.

Patrick Rauland: So I just need to make a game called, ‘Building a Board Game' and there's just a whole bunch of tasks that you have to cross off and whoever crosses off all their tasks first, wins.

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Alright. So, you've been doing this for a while and you were also in the computer game world. How many unpublished and half finished games do you have on your shelf?

Allan Kirkeby: About ten I think, maybe a bit more. Some of them … I have a lot of games, more games, I have 20 or 30 games that are just notes in a folder on my computer. Sometimes when you're just about to go to sleep, you lay down in your bed and you turn off the lights and then the idea hits you and just go, “Damn, now I need to get out of bed and just write it down.” So I have a lot of those, but then I have actual playable prototypes in various stages, I think I have about ten.

Patrick Rauland: That seems pretty reasonable I think. Okay, so getting near the end here, what does success look like for you? What do you need to do to feel successful in this hobby or business?

Allan Kirkeby: That's a good question. Right now, I've done a lot of computer games and I have them published and they are on the market. So, it's several stages, I think. The first stage would be to just see one of my games published and hopefully people like it and then also hold that box in my hand. Right? I think all designers kind of dream about holding that newly printed box in their hand with their own game. But, that's just step one. I would love to have many games published. Obviously I would love for some of the games to win an award or at least be recognized by a fan base that, “This is a good game.” If it's possible to make a living from this, this is not a short term goal I have, but if it's eventually possible that would be fine. But, as it is now, I actually love the regular job I have and doing this on the side

Allan Kirkeby: So one comment here, and I know we're running out of time, but when I was young, I started doing music and I actually got a record deal. Then I got a computer games company deal producing music for that company, but when it turned into a full time job, it took away some of the joy at creating the music because now I was not just creating the music. Then I started creating the computer games and suddenly games started getting published and I also realized that when a game has been published you're just on to working on the next game. And so, the previous game is just forgotten right away because if it's your full time job, you have to keep publishing games all the time. I think I'm not in a hurry to immediately get in to that kind of flow of working with board games. I don't want to, let's say, already next year just be working on 15 different games and all of them need to be published and once one is published, I'm kind of forgetting about it. So right now I'm kind of savoring and enjoying working with the games and having it as kind of a side job or something, next to my day job.

Patrick Rauland: I love that answer. No. I really, really do because I think you're right, a lot of publishing companies publish all the time and it's nice just to make a game and then sit back, relax and enjoy and maybe play it a few times. Ya know what I mean, once you've gone through all that? I think for me, there's probably something similar where once I actually, 'cause I really do wanna make my own game, once I get that point I want to like my game enough that I will sit down and play it with friends. I hope I haven't played it out.

Allan Kirkeby: Yeah. I think you can also get into a kind of burnout. To stay creative, you need to have empty space of non-creativity. That's my opinion anyway. I don't know if everyone works that way. But, I need these kind of empty periods where I kind of get inspiration and then I kind of let it all loose on something new and that creativity can be more difficult to keep up if you do this 100% of your time, every waking hour. You have to come up with a new game right now. You can't let it grow kind of organically like you can if it's a part time thing.

Patrick Rauland: I love that answer, love it. Alright, so I've got a little game here at the end. It's called ‘Overrated Underrated.' Have you ever played the game?

Allan Kirkeby: No.

Patrick Rauland: So basically, I'm gonna say a word or a phrase and I'm gonna force you to take a position if it's either overrated by the world at large or if it's underrated. So, as an example I might say Coca Cola and then you would give me one sentence why it's overrated or underrated. Got it?

Allan Kirkeby: Okay, fair enough.

Patrick Rauland: Alright, cool. So the very first one, board game cafes. Are they overrated or underrated?

Allan Kirkeby: They are underrated by, let's say, non-board gamer. And they are overrated by board gamers.

Patrick Rauland: Ooooh. Why are they overrated by board gamers?

Allan Kirkeby: Maybe they aren't. I think they are so very different. There are a couple of cafes in Denmark. One of them, they do a lot for the community of designers and for gamers who come by and want to try and play games with other people. We also have another café where it's almost just a dating café where people bring a date and they play games, but there's no matchmaking with new players and so on. So it's basically just a regular café that just happens to have board games on the shelf. So, I think if I have to choose one it would be underrated and that's because for non-board gamers, they don't know what it is and they kind of shun them or basically, “Oh you know it's nerds and they play with miniature figures that they paint and it smells like sweat because that's what nerds do.” Really, most board game cafes are actually really nice places with great coffee and so on. I think it's underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Love it. Alright now, do you know the species Bonobos?

Allan Kirkeby: I know of it. I've heard the name, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Alright, so Bonobos are a type of monkey. Are Bonobos overrated or underrated?

Allan Kirkeby: I think they are underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Any reasons why?

Allan Kirkeby: I'm trying to quickly do a wiki search on this one. I'm trying to figure out … I don't know they look very human. They look very intelligent.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Cool. Love it.

Allan Kirkeby: I don't know anything about Bonobos.

Patrick Rauland: That's fair. Fair. Alright, so third one, is Spiel, the conference at Essen, is that overrated or underrated?

Allan Kirkeby: That's actually difficult because who's overrating? Who's underrating? I think it's exactly rated as it should be. Maybe it's a bit … I think it's underrated. But, I'm fairly new. I've only been doing this very actively with board games for the last three or four years and I've been to Essen Spiel three or four times now, the last three years and I love it. It's very chaotic, but it's also making business contacts and trying to pitch your games. It's a great place to do that. Everyone is very forthcoming and nice to you. I think it's underrated right now, but it might turn out to be in five years that it's overrated because maybe it's getting too crowded. I hope they find a way to solve that. It's not a great answer to that question.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Love it. Alright, last one. Waffles. Overrated? Underrated?

Allan Kirkeby: Underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Because?

Allan Kirkeby: Well, I love anything that you can put soft ice on.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, frosting?

Allan Kirkeby: No. What's it called, soft ice cream? We just call it soft ice here in Denmark.

Patrick Rauland: Oh. I'd say in the States, we don't often put anything on our waffles. It's maybe syrup, but we don't put ice cream on them. So maybe I need to try waffles with ice cream and then I will understand.

Allan Kirkeby: But, maybe that's because … okay when you say waffles, you think about the kind of flat things. In my head, I got the picture of something that's called a Belgian Waffle, which is a lot thicker. So it has the inside is a bit like the consistency of a soft doughnut, but the outside is crisp, so when you bite into it, it's kind of crunchy, but then when you get in to the core and then the crunchiness comes from its kind of sweet, I don't know, kind of sugar coated and then when you put soft ice cream on it and just eat it with a fork, I love that.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. So, because of this conversation, I am now looking at waffle pictures in Google images and I'm getting hungry.

Allan Kirkeby: Did you find something with ice cream on it?

Patrick Rauland: A few, yeah, a few. Cool. This has been great. Allan, thanks for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Allan Kirkeby: I'm on Facebook and LinkedIn. I don't have a website yet and I'm thinking about, maybe I should get that. I'm also on Board Game Geek. I've been on there for a few years, but I've not been active. But, now when my game ‘Itchy Monkey' is coming out, I've started being more active there.

Patrick Rauland: So would you be comfortable sharing your Board Game Geek user name just so that people have some way of reaching out to you?

Allan Kirkeby: I think it's just my real name actually. Just without the spacing between the first and last name.

Patrick Rauland: And just for people … so I have no idea how to spell your name. So, since this is an audio podcast it's Allan, right? A-l-l-a-n, right?

Allan Kirkeby: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: And then, K-i-r-k-e-b-y?

Allan Kirkeby: Yes. Correct.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Cool, alright cool. Awesome. Oh and where can people find your game, Itchy Monkey? Where can they find it?

Allan Kirkeby: It's right now on Kickstarter. There's 20 or I don't know, some days left. So hopefully people hearing this will go and look at it and if they like it, back it.

Patrick Rauland: Love it.

Allan Kirkeby: We need a few more backers.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. Got it. Cool. Well, thanks for doing this. If you, dear listener, like this podcast, please leave a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Allan told me that he's willing to drive by to your house and delouse you, so if you're infested with lice, he can help out.

Allan Kirkeby: Sure. In the States.

Patrick Rauland: And you can visit the site at and you can follow me on Twitter @bftrick on Twitter. And until next time, happy designing. Thanks. Bye bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. Today, we're here with Ryan Leininger, who is the designer behind Tiny Ninjas; a fast action card and dice game, where you and an opponent play as Senseis, training ninjas to battle in an epic showdown. It's currently on Kickstarter. Ryan, welcome to the show.

Ryan Leininger: Thanks so much for having me, Patrick.

Patrick Rauland: I'm going to have to give my guest kudos here because this is the second time we're recording this because I had internet problems, so if Ryan sounds tired, that is all on me listeners. I apologize.

Ryan Leininger: Technical issues happen. It's happened to all of us. It's the world we live in now.

How Did You Get Into Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: Oh my gosh. Alright, so I've already heard the first couple questions, but let's try this the second time. How did you get into board games?

Ryan Leininger: Oh, yeah. So I mean, the short end of it is, all of us kind of have grown up with video games or some sort of gaming in the past, and my big thing was video games. I always wanted to create a game, but to create a video game obviously, requires a lot of technical skill sets, but with a board game, you really just need some paper and a pencil and some scissors and some cardboard, and you can really start prototyping right away. So that's kind of how that started, and it just started exactly like that, about two years ago, which is kind of making some cards and jotting down some ideas. Fast forward two years later, and we have Tiny Ninjas.

What Inspires You?

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. I have a slightly different question actually than the last time, number one, what games inspire you to make new games?

Ryan Leininger: Again, it's really just any sort of game that has a creative and a unique element. I love the design, kind of the more physical design, like really creative boxes, finding really creative ways to use dice and different components. I'm a big fan of that. So yeah, any sort of game that kind of utilizes components or creative game, like Potion Explosion sort of thing, like with the marbles and any sort of thing like that, I just I'm very drawn to the visuals of things. I know people really, really love deep, deep strategy but I like kind of the more creative kind of unique off the wall type ideas. Those are the ones that kind of draw me in.

Patrick Rauland: No, I totally agree. I really like something unique and something that looks nice, and I'd say your game has a … I mean for most of the people who probably haven't seen it on Kickstarter, I mean the box is super cool. It has this really neat magnetic clasp and it sort of unfolds and there's these little cardboard punch outs that you sort of put down in between the top half on the bottom half, and your role right there. It just looks really nice.

Ryan Leininger: Thanks so much. Yeah, it's been a true labor of love, it's been hundreds probably if not thousand hours of work on this thing just going through dozens of different designs and yeah, I know I'm very happy with how it's turned out. I'm so excited to finally get it manufactured and then to share with people.

How Did Publishing Your Game Change Your Process?

Patrick Rauland: This is your first game, and I know you've started going through the manufacturing process, you've like reached out to manufacturers and whatnot. Let me put it this way, you've already funded on Kickstarter and you have a lot more days left, but you've already funded, so how did publishing your first game changer process. Let me ask this in a different way; when you design your next game, what will you do different?

Ryan Leininger: Well, that's a fantastic question. So obviously everyone has a different, it's completely acceptable because everyone is just different with the way they create things. I mean the creative process, it shouldn't be very cookie cutter, it should be very unique to that individual. So for me, I was very persistent. I really wanted to have the artwork done early. I mean, that's something that a lot of people were kind of surprised at me that I invested in art very early. Even when I was prototyping.

Ryan Leininger: I just felt it was very important for people to have those visuals. Even while we were play testing, I really didn't want people to be holding just blank white cards with a bunch of text scribbled on them. I really felt it was important for people to get drawn in to the art very, very early. Moving forward, it's probably something I would probably hold off a little more on before I started investing so heavily in art. I mean, art is, if not the most, one of the most expensive parts of designing a game. I mean, you have to have very engaging visually beautiful artwork to draw people in, and that was something that I've had to invest quite heavily on.

Ryan Leininger: It's really, I guess, just maybe holding off a little bit more on that, and yeah, maybe just pumping the brakes a bit on the art budget before things are totally finalized.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, you just shared a mistake that I've made. I finished the art for a game, for a Game Crafter contest. Those are such short turnarounds. I think the entire thing has to be done in like three months, from like, when the contest is announced. So I made the game, I play tested a little bit, but I still have so much more like tweaking and refinement to do and now like, every time I change the card, I have to like, reach out a friend of mine who's a graphic designer, but I have to reach out to him and be like, “Hey, can you, you know, on this art file, can you change this and this and this?” It is a big pain and I definitely recommend holding off on that until you're very much at the final polishing stages.

Ryan Leininger: Exactly as you said it too; the graphic design. It's something, it's been a learning process for me like, I've kind of picked up Photoshop and I've tried to do the graphic design myself to save on costs, and exactly as you said it. I mean you've designed these cards and you want to kind of restrict iconography and different texts that you want to put on the cards but, “Should I lay it out on the top, you know, should I laid on the bottom? Oh, I like how it looks in the bottom.” So you roll with that for a bit, and then you make the art based on that. Then all of a sudden, you decide that it's actually going to be better on the top. So now you have to kind of realign the artwork and redo it, and the graphic design, even with just the different iconography, it's incredible how much time …

Ryan Leininger: I don't like to say time that you waste because you do learn a lot. In my mind, if you're learning, nothing is wasted. I mean, obviously finances could be wasted, but as long as you're learning something, I feel that's a positive, but most definitely, it's something that you should really be focusing on hammering out the exact specifics of the game before you invest too heavily in graphic design and artwork.

What One Resource Do You Recommend?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay so you've been through this process or at least most of the way through, what one resource would you recommend to an aspiring game designer?

Ryan Leininger: Absolutely the blogs online, so the James Mathe and the Jamey Stegmaier blogs, I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with those two people, incredible resources to the board game community and they have websites that are just absolutely overflowing with information. Do your due diligence, read through all of that. It's immensely helpful, as well as there's tons of resources and Facebook groups online, where people are willing to help out and share if you have questions, but yeah, it's really just taking the time to research the landscape.

Ryan Leininger: I mean, Kickstarter is a constantly evolving landscape and I mean it's got credibly difficult to really compete in that space. I mean, like even me, when I first launched, and to have 30 other games launched the same day, it's incredible the amount of competition that's coming out, so you have to be really prepared if you want to do this seriously. The best way to be prepared is to just take the time to research and read and do as much of that as you can.

Why Relaunch Your Kickstarter?

Patrick Rauland: I'd love to dig into that because … so I actually backed your game the first time it came out because it's totally … This is totally my style of game, like a two player light head to head game. I love those, so I backed it right away; I think on like day one, and I think on day three or four, you relaunched. Could you tell us why you decided to do that?

Ryan Leininger: Yeah, like I kind of briefly mentioned there, so I launched it on a Tuesday. Tuesday is kind of like the big Kickstarter day. It's like tons of people launch their campaigns on that day, a huge influx of traffic goes to Kickstarter, so my original thought process was, “You know what? I'm going to jump on board this train, this hype train; you know, I want to get my project up nice and early, so that way every time a game launches, you'll be up there and hopefully that will draw more attention,” but unfortunately, what ended up happening was, 30 other games … just people top campaigns launched after mine.

Ryan Leininger: So in a matter of hours my campaign was completely buried off of the newly launched page. Again, with Kickstarter, a such a huge thing with that is you need to start with a really solid momentum. So if you start kind of a little dwindled, it's going to be really hard to build it, but if you start with a really strong momentum, you'll have a better chance to try and sustain that, than you will to try and recover it from nothing. So I started with very, very little momentum. I mean, I was very, very grateful to everyone that backed, until those that did come back in the second launch, but it needed to be a little bit more for me to kind of sustain it and to kind of have a successful 30 day campaign, and I felt it wasn't there.

Ryan Leininger: I felt I needed to work on some of the pricing. It became very clear to me, after a very short time that it needed work, just the current landscape and people's expectations, as well as just some of the graphics. I just didn't have enough time; I'm pretty much a one man team. I do everything myself pretty much, so it just gave me a little bit more time. So all those factors kind of combined. It just seemed like the right thing to do to relaunch. I launched originally on May 15th, I canceled after about three days, but then I did launch the following week on May 23rd, and I funded in 10 hours, so it just goes to show that their timing is a big part of it but also just to really have your ducks in a row and pricing and everything. There's so many little nuances and so many little details that just cannot go forgotten about when you're running a campaign.

Patrick Rauland: I'm just getting into like Facebook groups and other resources for board games designers, especially on Facebook. I like blogs but especially on Facebook, I'm just getting started; one of the ones I came across was like a Kickstarter Planning Facebook group. Did you happen to stumble on that one?

Ryan Leininger: There is a Tabletop Kickstarter Advice … I can't remember exactly what it's called. I think it's called Tabletop Games Kickstarter Advice, so it's specific for Kickstarter board games. There's also Kickstarter groups that are for Kickstarter advice. I mean there's tons of different products on Kickstarter; technology, people even kickstart their own music videos and stuff like that, so there's groups specific just to Kickstarter and then there's some that are even more specific just to board game Kickstarter and that's probably the one you're talking about and yeah, it's an incredible resource.

Ryan Leininger: I mean people have a lot of issues with the back end of Kickstarter, which I'm kind of experiencing myself, just with the editors and just with the different analytics and stuff like that, so it's an amazing resource and incredible community. Everyone's so helpful and it's just amazing to see everyone really just wants each other to succeed. I wouldn't say there's a lot of malicious activity by any means. People have a question, people are usually very accommodating and willing to help.

Patrick Rauland: One of the ones I came across is Kickstarter Tabletop Launch Calendar, and you basically create an event, like events in the future for your Kickstarter launch and then and so it'll hopefully prevent 30 games from launching on a day, but obviously, most people don't know about this group. So it's only going to list a couple of things at any one time.

Ryan Leininger: Yeah. So that that's one group. There's also actually an Excel Spreadsheet that's publicly available online that offers something similar to that. I've noticed it used to get used very heavily, but I find that it's not used as commonly anymore. I don't know if that's the case of people just either not knowing about it or maybe there's some strategy in there where people don't really necessarily want to reveal that. There is a lot of strategy to launching campaigns too, and people are incredibly crafty, incredibly savvy from a business sense and what they're doing. Like they know what they're doing, these more experienced creators know exactly what they're doing; and that group you referenced, yeah, that's another resource as well, but again, I don't think there's a ton of abuse with it.

Ryan Leininger: It is nice to kind of share that and to … even if you get one or two extra sets of eyes that become aware of a game that is helpful, but as far as utilizing it to try and avoid launching some the same day someone else, I mean, mine, there was no one else listed up for my original launch, and same thing with the Excel Spreadsheet. I think one other game and then boom, 30 other ones launch. So you kind of have to just, yeah expecting … plan for the worst but hope for the best, kind of thing.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. That's great advice. Okay. The second time you funded in 10 hours; the first time you definitely funded it in like … even with 30 other games launching, didn't you fund in like a day or two?

Ryan Leininger: So that one, it didn't actually fund so, my goal was set for $11,000, and I reached about just over $6,000, and it was under three days. There was maybe two and a half days or so and, like I said, if I would have left that out for the duration of the campaign, I'm sure it would have funded, but it's one of those things where you … and I mean you could ask a lot of other creators this too, is you have to kind of set your goal below most likely what you actually need to fund. I mean, a lot of us have money set aside if we need to kind of boost this campaign and make it happen, but you really want to start with that.

Ryan Leininger: You want it to be funded within that first 24-48 hours. It has that presence, it has that excitement behind it, and if you're not able to do that, I mean I'm not saying that if you don't fund in the first 48 hours that your campaign's not going to succeed because a lot of people do. It's just from all of the research that I've done, and from all the people that I've talked to, it's those first 48 hours are so immensely important, and if you can come out the gates with a big burst of momentum and fund quickly, it'll be a lot easier to kind of sustain that energy, than it would be to try and build it from a much lower stage.

How Do You Market Your Game?

Patrick Rauland: Got it. I think my next question is … I think what I was going to, and I think I lost myself and I think I lost you because I lost myself is … I mean so you did well both times, even with 30 other games launching, you were about to fund or you did fund in 10 hours. What is the best way to market your game? How did you get that? How did you do that well?

Ryan Leininger: That's another incredibly time consuming process, and again, as one person, and I'm not a huge social media person to begin with. I like to kind of stay off that. It kind of consumes you, it's a time hog, but I mean, it is a necessary evil in today's age, just to kind of keep people engaged and to get your product out there. You start very early on, you have to make sure that you have pages, social pages created on all platforms. So you know, very early on, I created one on Facebook, on Instagram and on Twitter. As soon as you have some, rendered artwork for your game box, some more specifics, hammered down for a game, get on board game geek, do a submission for your game, because that process does take some time.

Ryan Leininger: From what I've heard, it seems to be taking longer as time progresses here. So always get on that stuff super early. Twitter's good, you just have to stay engage, interact with people. Twitter is great because you can use hashtags and you can use handles to kind of get your stuff noticed, and a lot of people are willing to follow you back. So building an audience and building some engagement on Twitter doesn't require the hop kind of a financial investment.

Ryan Leininger: Same thing with Instagram. It's a very visual platform. Instagram is hugely popular. If you've got some great artwork to share with people and you find the right hash tag it with, a lot of people will be able to find it and will be able to see it and those that like it, will start following you. Facebook is a lot trickier though. Facebook is a lot harder to kind of cut through the clutter and to get your voice heard. So usually you do have to pump a bunch of money into Facebook to kind of get your stuff seen with ads, but I wouldn't really probably recommend doing that until you really have something concretely built and you have a bit of a game plan, because the advertising does add up very quickly. Even if it's $10 here, $20 there, just do a little boosted post.

Ryan Leininger: I mean, over the course of a few months, you could end up you know, investing a few hundred dollars, which in the grand scheme of things might not be a lot but if you're not really seeing a return on that, it does really add up quickly.

Patrick Rauland: Definitely. I guess my question is like so you build up an audience on Twitter and let's say Instagram, and maybe a little bit of Facebook, do you like … when you launched the Kickstarter, did you just say, “Hey, it's live,” and then hopefully people see it, or?

Ryan Leininger: Like I said, social is very much necessary, but one of the most important things actually that I neglected to mention here is just you need to get out there. You need to get out and show this game to people, and you need to start collecting emails, like that is far like, the most important thing, is to collect an email list, because those are people that you've actually interacted with in person, or that have engaged with you through an ad or something that are actually showing specific interest in your game. Those are going to be the people that are most likely to actually convert and back your project.

Ryan Leininger: So it's going to gain conventions, prototype conventions, whether Gen Con / Origins; if you're able to go to those and network, those are some of the best places to meet with people to show them your game. So yeah, that big and you can build a following, but you cannot rely on it because you might have people saying, “Oh, your game looks awesome, and oh for sure.” Then come launch day, you click that launch button and no one's backing you. You really have to make sure you're getting out. You're showing the game to as many people as possible; play testing it as much as possible. That's so critically important.

Patrick Rauland: One of the things that I think I struggle with is like, I do share some, like, when I do like, a little bit of artwork, I love sharing on Twitter. I do get, like, a lot of feedback there, and I love that. I guess, like, especially in person, how do I like … like, if I'm going to Protospiel, can I just be like, “Hey, thanks for play testing. If you want to …” like do I just like, get their email address and have them write it down on a piece of paper? Or what? How do you do that?

Ryan Leininger: Oh, exactly, yeah. I just do up a little email list where it has their name and their email. I first started I was asking for a phone number and stuff too. I realized within two or three people, that was ridiculous and no one wants to give you … and I don't even know why I was collecting it to be honest. I just like, “Oh, why not? I'm just going to throw that on there,” but no. All you really need is their name and their email address. So you just make a little spreadsheet with two columns and a whole bunch of rows and just engage with people. Show them the game and if they seem interested, or even if they don't seem interested, or maybe there's not a huge interest there, but they may be just, you had a good conversation with them, it's, you know, “Can I grab your email?”

Ryan Leininger: It's just building that list any way that you can, building it up as much as you can, but yeah, another thing that you'll learn very quickly too with going to these different events, conventions and showing your game to people is, you have to develop a thick skin and you have to be able to take criticism because I mean, Tiny Ninjas in its early stages. I mean, it's been torn apart by people many times and ripped apart and I've had lots of people telling me that it wasn't going to be successful and that it didn't work and there was a lot of issues with it.

Ryan Leininger: At the time, it hurt a lot, but it really did help me to develop the game and to really polish out some of the kinks. So it is very necessary to hear that stuff and you really have to tell yourself and you have to learn that it is impossible to create a game that everybody is going to like. So if you're trying to create a game that you want everybody to like, I just have to stop you right there and tell you that it's impossible. You have to just learn that different people like different games and that's just kind of the reality and that it makes perfect sense. Not everyone loves to eat burgers, not everyone loves pizza or Hawaiian pizza. There's everyone [inaudible 00:19:22]. I know, right? Surprising, but everyone has different tastes and different styles.

Ryan Leininger: I think you just kind of need to be true to yourself and kind of ask yourself, “What kind of game do I want to make?” and show it to people and if you have some people that are really into it, and then other people that aren't into it at all, you kind of just need to be able to kind of weed through that and kind of pick apart the criticism that you find is constructive, and then there's some people that just might outright not like the game, and might just be nasty towards you so it's all part of the learning process for sure.

Patrick Rauland: I do remember at my one of my first Protospiel, I played these guys like two hour long … it was really cool, but it's like a two hour long very detailed like spy game. You just like figure out what they're doing. It's all hidden information and then I asked him to play my like 10 minute micro game, and while I got good feedback from him, I realized he probably is just not the audience for my game, and any feedback I get from him needs to be like put through that lens of like this is a very heavy gamer, and not my target market, so it's … yeah, I think you have to be really aware that your game is not for everyone.

Ryan Leininger: Oh absolutely. I mean mine specifically, like mine's a much lighter game. I don't like to take things too seriously like with … have a bit of strategy in there but I mean there's dice involved, and any game that utilizes dice, there's going to be the way that dice operate. I mean a lot of people that are into very deep strategy, that like those really heavy euro games, a lot of them might not be interested in mine. You know, the battling kind of game is you know people find very cliche and that's totally fine, and people might not like it and again, that's totally great and it makes perfect sense. You can't hit everyone but those that do like it, you'll find out very quickly that those are the people that you want to be interacting with. Those are the people that you want to be kind of hone into and really getting behind your game.

Does Game Design Energize You?

Patrick Rauland: We've talked a lot about Kickstarter and marketing, I'd love to know a little bit more about like your process and how you make games. I'd love to know, like when you are designing a game, does it energize you or does it exhaust you?

Ryan Leininger: A little bit of both actually. I mean when I first started off, it was this exciting new hobby of mine. I always have projects on the go. I'm always in front of my computer so I'm an audio editor by trade. I was a radio producer for many years so I'm very heavily involved in audio production and now I'm very involved in video production and I do graphic design and stuff on the side as well, so I love just creating and for me, just starting with something. Honestly, I get some of the best thinking done when I'm in the car too, so I'll be driving.

Ryan Leininger: I'll actually have to pull over and bust my phone out and write down notes and then keep driving. My process is maybe a little bit more unorthodox side, I guess. I don't really sit down with a pad and paper under a lamp and, ham wrote a game. It's very broken up into stages, being kind of in that creative process, I get pulled in a million different directions. I might be working on a music project for half an hour, and then boom, I'll have an idea, and I'm working on something else. So I'm kind of all over the place, but yeah, it's been a long time coming. It's gone through many different stages, but I feel like that's kind of how any sort of project needs to go. It shouldn't be a quick process if you want to do something quick.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, it's interesting. I've talked to a few people and it seems like, I think for a lot of people, they get the core of it, like they find the core in a month or in one to three months, like the core of the game, they discover it, and then there's like, lots of refinements, but it does seem like a lot of people sort of find that core, or they work on a game forever, for like six months and they're like, “Yup it wasn't there.”

Ryan Leininger: Oh absolutely. Oh and that makes perfect sense. I mean, you need to have a bit of a goal with the game in mind and then you can kind of build around that for sure. No, that's that's 100%.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so this one, you're probably fulfilling the game for the next, I don't know, six to nine months or something like that, probably?

Ryan Leininger: Yeah, so, well, no, not six to nine. I've got the art files approved already with my manufacturer, been working with them, so I do still want to do some tweaks prior to pulling the trigger on manufacturing, but I mean, shortly after the campaign, I'll be able to start manufacturing and I'm also going to be doing roll about fulfillment directly from China. So that's the benefit to having a smaller game, a lighter game, and it does have a smaller declaration of value too, so I don't have to worry about customs in fact, with one or two copies, it's again, these are all perks to producing a smaller game.

Ryan Leininger: The downside to a smaller game is my margins are quite small, just like the size of my game, but no because I'm producing, going to manufacturing shortly after the campaign, and actually fulfilling the campaign from China itself. It should be done by … I'm projecting by November and hopefully even sooner than that.

What Are Some Themes or Mechanisms You're Looking Into?

Patrick Rauland: Great. Well, so I was going to ask, you know, when you move on to game number two or game number 100, whatever you're on, like what are some fun things that you're looking into? What are some mechanisms? What are some themes? What is … what is something you're excited about?

Ryan Leininger: So the company I started is called 2niverse Games, and my wife and I traveled a lot for work. So we are on the road a lot, we stay in a lot of hotel rooms. My big thing is, I wanted to design a game for us to be able to play kind of wherever we were, and even on a plane, when we're taking trips or on a train and stuff like that. So I think moving forward, that's really going to be my focus is … I'd like that to kind of be my thing is, I'm the guy who designs the games that play inside of the box and all of the boxes really giving you this, well, kind of have the same sort of style where it opens up and you're going to have these punch board pieces that will do different things.

Ryan Leininger: The game that I'm going to be working on after this is going to be again, it's going to be two players. Ideally, I'd like them all to be two players, maybe with a solo variant to unlock. But yeah, so it's going to be two players, and I want to do co-op this time. So this, Tiny Ninjas right now, is one vs one. So the next game will be a co-op game, and you're actually going to be … ideally it's going to be the solo and the archer. You get to pick one of those characters and you're going to be kind of advancing through this landscape, kind of like a dungeon del, but it won't be in a dungeon, it'll be outside.

Ryan Leininger: You'll be starting in a forest and then you'll advance up a mountain, you'll get into this lair in the mountain where you're going to do this huge end boss battle basically. It's all going to be played within the box. It's doing something co-op, and as far as mechanisms or something, some mechanics, I want to do something where you actually can do combo is so character has their own set of abilities, but they can actually be used together in certain ways, depending on the situation that you're in.

Ryan Leininger: I haven't quite ironed out how I want to do that but I have a lot of ideas of unique ways that I want to kind of pull that off so …

Patrick Rauland: I think that's awesome. When you said you want to focus on the cool boxes, the boxes that basically fold out and that is the game board. I think it's brilliant. One of things I want to give you kudos for is like on your Kickstarter page, you show … if I remember, hopefully, I'm remembering this correctly, but like I saw pictures of people playing it on like an airplane, like that's so cool. They can fold out and it fits on an airplane tray.

Ryan Leininger: Oh yeah, that was one of the big goals is that it could be played on a plane, for sure.

Patrick Rauland: I think it's just smart because like there's so many board game companies, so many games coming out that if you have like a thing that's yours, then sort of it … like it's nice to have a brand that stands for something, like two player games that can fit on an airplane tray and fold out into the box or into the playing area. That is a super … I think it's a great little niche. I wish I thought of that.

Ryan Leininger: That's exactly it, and I mean like the way that I found two is with games that scale. A lot of games usually are two to four, two to six, or two to eight or whatever, but a lot of those games I find when you just play them with just two players, is they're not as enjoyable as when you play them with a larger group and I wanted to really focus on creating a game that was played perfectly with just two players. Like it was specific to two players and I want to be that guy where people are asking, “Oh what's a good two player game?” I want 2niverse Games to be that company name that comes up and the Tiny Ninjas brand.

Ryan Leininger: I want to kind of keep using these characters and developing this universe. I have so many different other ninja characters that I want to introduce into this universe, and then utilizing that box and finding new creative ways to use punch board and to use dice and to use various components within that box to really make an exciting experience.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: I like. All right, so last two questions. What does success look like to you in the board game world?

Ryan Leininger: Honestly, success is if I can fund and not lose money on this. Everyone wants to obviously make a profit, but, just the notion of being able to have my game being played all over the world. Like I've got backers from Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, like it's so cool to see how many people have seen this campaign and that are interested and actually want to play it. To me, that is such an incredible feeling. It's a worldwide feeling. You're not just doing something locally or even nationally. You're doing something globally, and to have that sort of impact is a really special feeling.

Ryan Leininger: So to fund this campaign successfully, and to have this game really distributed around the world and have people playing it and enjoying it, to me, that is immense success.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. I love that answer. It's funny, because I think I've heard stuff like that before, where it's like, “I don't want to lose money,” is success. I love it.

Ryan Leininger: Yeah, it really is a labor of love for sure.

Overrated vs. Underrated

Patrick Rauland: All right, so I got a last little thing. It's a little bit of a game. Have you ever heard of overrated, underrated?

Ryan Leininger: Ah. I have. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, great. All right, so we're going to play the overrated or underrated game, and basically, I'm going to force you to take a position. So I got four things for you. All right, custom dice; are they overrated or underrated?

Ryan Leininger: See, I love dice though, and I know a lot of people don't like dice. So I'll say underrated. I just absolutely love custom dice. I love the [inaudible 00:29:19] game, but I have dice that actually can be rolled in two different ways based on color and based on icon. So coming up with creative ways to use custom dice, oh, yeah. All the way.

Patrick Rauland: I love it. Love it. All right. What about … so I didn't want to give you a too easy of a softball. So I came up with this one. How about just robots? Overrated or underrated?

Ryan Leininger: I'll go with underrated for robots too. I don't see a ton of stuff on robots, and you know I'm a big tech geek as well, and I love kind of just seeing the way you know technology is moving and stuff, so uh, yeah. I'll go underrated on robots too.

Patrick Rauland: All right, so this one, I just changed it over the last second. 18XX Games.

Ryan Leininger: This is probably going to sound kind of bad, but I'm not too sure what that is.

Patrick Rauland: I know about them because I listen to a million podcasts, but I've never actually played one because that's not my type of game, but basically, it's like railroads and stocks, and you're like, building out your tracks, but people can like, buy your company and you can buy … it sounds incredibly complicated to me.

Ryan Leininger: Yeah. Well, and this is tricky too I mean, underrated, overrated. I mean, it's something that I definitely probably wouldn't be very interested in. So I would probably say overrated from my own perspective, but again, back to just games in general. I mean, everyone has their own own opinions, but yeah, just you explaining that to me, sounds like something I would not be interested in.

Patrick Rauland: All right, so this one's, I'm changing a little bit. So is Canada because you're from Canada, overrated or underrated, but I'm getting a caveat, here as perceived by Americans, not Canadians.

Ryan Leininger: Probably overrated. I mean Canada, I think we're probably a little boring in your guys' eyes but it's a friendly country but no, I mean America is kind of where a lot of the excitement and action is in the world landscape, so yeah. I have to go overrated.

Patrick Rauland: Well, well done putting on like someone else's perspective. I don't know if that's true but that was awesome. So Ryan, thank you for being on the show a second time or at least the first successful time, now that I figured out this thing called recording. Where can people find you online?

Ryan Leininger: People can find me; we have a website Everything is linked through there. Our Kickstarter is live right now, they can find it at Just a quick link that will bring you right to the campaign page, as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, if you just search for @tinyninjasgame, that tag, that handle will show up on all three of those platforms, and then on Board Game Geek, you just look for Tiny Ninjas, and we show up there as well.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Well thank you very much again, by the way, for you listeners, if you want to leave a review for the podcast, Ryan said he would stand outside your house and protect you with a Katana, fighting off intruders, or at least that's what I've heard. So if you want to leave a review-

Ryan Leininger: All day-

Patrick Rauland: All day?

Ryan Leininger: And night.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Well thank you very much. I will go ahead and sign us out. If you want to follow me, I'm @BFTrick on Twitter, or Thank you so much. Have a good day.

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. Today, we're going to be talking with Chad DeShon who is the designer behind On Tour, which is a roll-and-write game where you're a band touring across the United States, and he's also the creator of Chad, welcome to the show.

Chad DeShon: Hi.

How Did You Get Into Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: I really want to get into your game, On Tour, and talk about roll-and-write, but how did you start with board game tables? That's where I want to start. How did you decide to make a table?

Chad DeShon: Yeah, that's a lucky story, I guess. I think probably most people who will look at board game gables know several years ago, there was only one company basically you could buy a board game table from, Geek Chic. I had a friend who ordered one from them, and it was a long wait because they were really busy, and we were harassing him about if he was ever going to get his table.

Chad DeShon: I had another friend who had just moved in to a new house, really wanted a table, and didn't want to wait a year. He said, “Hey, I've been looking at these guys selling poker tables on Craigslist a couple hours from here. I was thinking to just calling them up and seeing if they can make a board game table for me,” and I thought, “Hey, if they can make one for you, why not have them make 10 and I'll sell them on the internet?” I didn't really know if it'd work or not. We put up a website, and people started buying tables, and they started making more and more of them.

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. I have a really nice dining room table.

Chad DeShon: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Patrick Rauland: Just having like the inset game … or not game board, the inset playing area where you can put all of your pieces and all of your stuff, and if you want to have a dinner break, you can like put this thing on top, and be on top of it, and pull it off, and then your game is exactly where you left it. That is such a cool product, and if I ever make a million dollars, I'm going to get so many of your tables.

Chad DeShon: Yeah, yeah. You don't have to have one to play a board game, but it is. It's a nice little extra. If you play games a lot, then it's a lot of fun.

Tell Us About On Tour

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so let's talk about On Tour, so that's the game. It's on Kickstarter right now, and it's a roll-and-write game. You're a band playing, touring across the United States. How did you come up with the idea, and what was the design process like?

Chad DeShon: Sure. I guess a couple angles for how I came up with the idea is we play a lot of … Me and my game group, we play a lot of this game called Age of Steam where you're laying track, and connecting cities, and driving a train around to visit as many of them as possible, but it's a two-and-a-half-hour game. Probably, more like three and a half the way we play it, so we're always on the look out for what's something that can give us some more field with this in a small package, and so that's always rolling in the back of my mind on … so things like route building and stuff like that.

Chad DeShon: Then, another thing is I've played a lot of this roll-and-write games. Rolling America is obviously a similar concept, and you can see some similar ideas there with the map of America. The gameplay is actually very different between that and On Tour, but just having all those things rolling around in my head led to this, “Well, what if we have a game where you're just doing route building, you're just trying to visit as many places as possible?” Then, start rolling dice, come up with some ideas, and On Tour fell out of that.

Patrick Rauland: I'm curious. What about the music theme? Was that something? Are you like big into music, or did it just fit the mechanics?

Chad DeShon: Yeah. Honestly, the theme could have gotten a lot of different ways. I wanted to do something different because I get a little tired of playing the same theme over, and over, and over again, so that's where the music theme came from. It could have been a train game. It could have been a million different things honestly, but I wanted to do something different, and I thought the music was something that could lead to interesting graphics.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Yeah, I have to say that is nice. I love my zombie games, but sometimes, it's nice to have a non-zombie, non-dungeon-crawler game.

Chad DeShon: Sure.

Patrick Rauland: It's nice to have that break.

Chad DeShon: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. One of the things I thought was really cool is on your Kickstarter page, you said, “In the months this through this, we were designing the game, and the months this through this, we were doing this to the game.” I liked it because I could actually see a little bit of your thought process, and there's two things I want to point out. One, I think you said like the main game was made like three months. Is that right?

Chad DeShon: Yeah, the game …

Patrick Rauland: The main part of the game.

Chad DeShon: The core mechanics of what the game are are the same as what they were my first solo playtest. I mean, I literally … I downloaded an SVG of the United States state map of Wikipedia, printed it off, and started rolling dice, and we didn't have the … The first version didn't have the cards like the current version does, but started rolling dice and put numbers just to see like, “Does this idea work? Like is it just …” I had no idea when I first started like, “Are you just going to always be able to visit all the states, and it's just a super boring game?”

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Chad DeShon: Then, that game kind of worked, but it was really puzzly, and I think there's a certain subset that would actually prefer the game as I played it the very first time, but it was too long, too puzzly, and too same every time.

What is Professional Game Development?

Patrick Rauland: The other thing I noticed is like after … I think the core design process, I think you listed, was about three months, and I think there's another couple months where you said you used Waitress Games, which is a professional development studio, and I've never heard of a service like that before, so what is a professional development studio, and what did you get out of it?

Chad DeShon: Yeah, this was I think a key point in the game. I worked on the game, like you said, for a few months, and it got to this point where I'm like, “Okay. This game is okay. Maybe even good. I could honestly probably put this game on Kickstarter and sell a decent number of them, but it's not great like it's nothing.” I'm not going to claim you're going to play this the third, fourth, and fifth time, and I don't think like personally … There's enough new games coming out. If I'm not going to do something special, I'm not going to release the game, but I was stuck, right? You get to, “Well, this is the game I wanted to make, and here it is, and what's the next step?”

Chad DeShon: I guess at the same time as that, I didn't have … like I'm not designing games full-time, and I think that's true of a lot of game designers out there, so I didn't have the time to put this to the playtest iterations due to like, “Think of new idea. No, scrap those trash. Think of new idea. No. Well, there's a little piece, so that was good,” and just go through those iterations, and so that's what Waitress Games is able to do.

Chad DeShon: One, brought in fresh ideas because … I mean, they do this all the time. They have people who are professional like they're developing games as a full-time job, so they're constantly thinking like they're always thinking of new mechanics and they've seen a lot of games, seen a lot of ideas. What kind of things can we apply from somewhere else to this? They're going to conventions. They're working with playtest groups. They were able to get a lot more playtest in than I would have been able to do, and so that jumped us out of that rut and set the game on a trajectory to get to the end goal where I needed to get, which was shaving a little bit of the playtime off and making the choices a little more interesting.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so I really want to dig into this because this is I think fascinating. I think I'm at a point with one of my games where it's like 80% done, and I know the core of the game is fun, but I just … Yeah, I just want to like polish it, you know? Here's now my question, so like is this the type of thing where you can … First of all, is this expensive? Is it like an arm and a leg to hire these people to work with your game? Do you pay by the hour? How does that work?

Chad DeShon: Sure. I think they're open to different kind of arrangements. I think normally, they're going to want to work on monthly retainer type operation depending on how much work you want them to do, and it's not … If you're designing a game as a hobby, then it's not something you want to spend money on because it is an expense, but it's not so …

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Chad DeShon: It's not such an expense that only big name publishers or design studios should be looking at this. It's definitely approachable. If you think you're going to put a game on Kickstarter and do well with it, I think it was a great investment. I don't …

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Chad DeShon: Like you said, I think I could've put … and I wouldn't have done this, but I could've put a mediocre game on Kickstarter and sold some of them, but I want this game to be a game that I'm going to be able to continue to sell months and years into the future. In order to do that, it's got to be a good game.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Yeah.

Chad DeShon: It doesn't have to be a game that appeals to everybody, but it has to be a game that some people are playing it, liking it, and telling friends with similar taste, “Hey, you will like this game too. Go buy it.”

Patrick Rauland: Got it. I think that's really interesting because I want my game to be the best. Now, I'm … Sorry. Here's another one of my questions I guess or follow-up is … I see Waitress Games or a development studio as like an accelerator like you could probably do the same thing yourself if you went to like four or five different [produce deals 00:10:05].

Chad DeShon: Sure.

Patrick Rauland: Because then, you might get the same number of ideas, but that just takes a lot more time. Would that be a fair way of looking at it?

Chad DeShon: I think that's at least half of it. It was a way for me as being busy as wanting my primary focus to be on selling board game tables to say, “I'm going to put a little more money at this problem and a little less time at it,” but it was also a way to get fresh ideas and to get some validations. It was a way to get people who have worked on a number of published games to give me an honest opinion and say, “No, we worked on this, and we don't …” They could've come back and said, “No, this idea, it doesn't have legs,” or they're able to give me fresh ideas.

Chad DeShon: Like I really wanted to keep all 48 states on the map. I given up on Alaska and Hawaii. They were in the original version, so it doesn't … The rules, they were too complicated. I really want to keep all 48 because … I don't like games that are overly-polished. I think sometimes that can happen, so I was like, “Yeah, there's just a little rough edges like Rhode Island. It's a hard state to use. Just get over it.” We kept some of those rough edges, but the game … it was like they came to me, and they said, “We got an obvious problem and an obvious solution. You just need to give in. The game is too long. The Northeast is too crowded graphically, and we can solve both those problems with one obvious thing.” Getting that outside opinion really helped there.

Patrick Rauland: I love that. All right, so this is your first game that you've designed from start to finish. What would you change next time now that you've gone through this whole thing?

Chad DeShon: One thing, now that I've gone through, because I'm doing the design process, and then there's also the publishing process, right, of art direction, and giving the Kickstarter page ready, and all those kind of things. Seeing how long that publishing side of thing has taken, getting the art ready, getting prototypes out to reviewers and stuff like that, I would try to have two games going at the same time so that … Right now, like my only game design is currently on Kickstarter, so I don't have another one ready to follow it up, right? If I could stagger-step, I could be working on a little bit of the design and a little bit of publishing, and so just switching back and forth.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Love it. All right. I think it's so funny because I'm still working on game design number one, so I don't have that problem of like, “Well, it's being published,” but yeah. I'm sure once you get things going and once you know how to publish, then yeah, you want to have multiple games going at the same time so you can have the Kickstarter in the beginning of the year and a Kickstarter halfway through the year for the next game. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. I mean, I think you gave us like a rough timeline of the design from start to finish and the Kickstarter page, but just maybe the core of the game like how many hours a day did that take you to … or how many days? Is there some sort of estimate on like how much time you put in to develop the core of the game?

Chad DeShon: Yeah. I mean, I'm not … So, I'm working in spurts, again, because I'm not full-time on this, right? For me, it's constantly mowing over an idea, or problem, or things I could try, and then normally, hastily a few hours before a game night that I'm going to printing and cutting to get a prototype there so I can playtest it. That's a little bit of procrastination I guess on my side, and On Tour was great that I could do solo playtesting too. I mean, especially early in the design phase because you don't … Like people who are playtesting your game are doing such a favor to you by doing that. You don't want to burn them out by playtesting too many awful ideas, so I always try to solo playtest it, tweak before I would take it to get bigger exposure, and more and more test.

What Other Mechanisms Are You Looking Into?

Patrick Rauland: Love it. No. Was there anything that you … Besides the states, was there some sort of design element that you really wanted to get into a game that you … or into this game like On Tour? Is there some sort of game design principle you want to get into any sort of game you just haven't been able to yet?

Chad DeShon: Any sort of game design principle I want to get into a game?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Yeah. Is there some game mechanic that you just love and you just really want to put it into a game or some theme?

Chad DeShon: Oh, I don't know if I have a good answer for you. Yeah, so …

Patrick Rauland: Maybe not.

Chad DeShon: I think I like sports games is one thing that comes to mind. I don't know that the market loves sports games. That gives me a hesitation there. One thing like I've been really wanting to do a sports game, a baseball game in particular that lasts instead of a season. There's a lot of baseball games out there to do that, but where you're building a franchise over 50 to a hundred years. How many worlds can you reach and win in that timeframe? Doing something epic on that scale is really interesting to me.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Yeah, it's interesting. The board game world has a lot of racing games, but that's it as far as sports. There's a couple sports games, but they don't seem popular at all, do they?

Chad DeShon: I think it's really hard to model sports in a board game without it just becoming a dice fest and a random, “Oh, you've got a 300-hitter, so if you roll a three, I guess he gets a hit,” because you don't want to put too much.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Chad DeShon: I mean, those games are games of skill, right, in real life. Sports are, so that's hard to bring into the board game.

High Quality Games

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yeah. No, it makes sense. Okay, so I noticed On Tour has a really premium quality, and I want to separate this. There's a lot of games on Kickstarter that are really nice, but I think they're all really nice like after stretch goals like once we get a stretch goal, then we'll use the nice dice or we use the nice box, but I think everything from On Tour was nice from the beginning. Why did you decide to do that?

Chad DeShon: That's kind of a … I guess a two-part question there. For one thing, like if I'm at a … It takes a lot of time to get a game ready, to design a game, and then do the art and all those types of things to get that whole package together. If I'm going to do all that, like why would I spend all that time to make a second-rate game? If I'm going to put my name on something, I'm just going to make it exactly what I want it to be.

Chad DeShon: For me, personally, like when I go to play a game, when I'm playing games with my friends, I'm not any more. I've been playing games [inaudible 00:17:01] buying games fair enough. I'm not limited by the number of games I own, right? If a game costs a few dollars more, that's fine. I don't mind owning half as many games and spending a little more on the ones I can get because I want every time I play a game, I like it to be the best experience that I can possibly get out of that because time is limited.

Chad DeShon: As far as why, why was it that way before stretch goals, I think I'm in the minority as far as people who back projects in Kickstarter, but … which still seem like a funny thing to me. A fun game like … At some point, if you … and maybe this is only half-true, but if you look at a board game as a piece of work, as something somebody has created, like you would never go buy a painting and the artist tell you, “Well, like if a lot of people buy this painting, I'll put in the second house.” Right? Like, “No, like you drew the landscape you wanted to make.” That's the same way I feel about On Tour. Now, this is the game I wanted to make. If you want a different game, you can find a different game, and I'll understand that, but this is the game I made.

Patrick Rauland: I really like that, and I think … You said like you may be in the minority.

Chad DeShon: True.

Patrick Rauland: I don't know where it all is, but I think there's a big part of people that there's a love-hate relationship of stretch goals, right? Just include the nice cards from the beginning. You don't need those.

Chad DeShon: Sure.

Patrick Rauland: I don't need to email about, “Yay, we unlocked halfway decent cards,” so I do think there's a love-hate relationship with that in the board game community. I've talked or I've heard so many podcasts, or books, or interviews where people have like they've lost money on their final product because they went component crazy, and they just kept like stretch goals, stretch goals, stretch goals. Eventually, they realized they weren't making money on the game because they're so … They lost profitability. I think that's smart, and I like … I think there's like artistic integrity with maybe … or maybe even having limited stretch goals, or not having any at all, or having something we want to have directly related versus quality.

Chad DeShon: Yeah, and we did include … We did end up including stretch goals. I didn't want to have any, and then I talked to people, and I got feedback, and we ended up basically doing the … I mean, honestly, doing the thing that everybody says people are going to do.

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Chad DeShon: I took some of the things I already planned on including in the game. I backed them out and listed them as very reasonable stretch goals that I was very confident we're going to hit. As the campaign launched, I did a little bit, now if I can backtrack over what I said earlier, start to see some of the value because I think they're …

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Chad DeShon: I was very confident. The project is doing well now.

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Chad DeShon: I thought I was going to, but then I thought, “Well, what if? What if I'm wrong? What if this isn't going to be a successful as I think?” Well, if that is the case, those stretch goals are going to provide a little bit of padding. Like if the game just barely funds, and I'll be able to say, “Okay. Well, we didn't hit the stretch goals. I'll be able to do a little bit cheaper version of it and still keep a little bit of margin in there.” Not even a margin of that points much for profitability, but a margin to ensure against mistakes that might cost me money that might jeopardize the product.

Chad DeShon: As I tucked more backers, I think some backers see it, stretch goals, not even … Like there's a thing. They know like I had a $40,000 stretch goal, and the project got to $20,000 on day one. Like anyone who's done any amount of Kickstarter realizes that project is going to get to $40,000, right? You're going to double what you did on day one. That's not a problem, but they see that as calling out what you've done to make this project special by being able to sell direct to consumer and getting a higher profit margin at that point, so it's a way to … and a lot of backers' minds to understand what they're getting by giving you money upfront on Kickstarter.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I like the nuance here as opposed to stretch goals are good … are the best thing ever or the worst thing ever.

Chad DeShon: Sure. I mean, you have to listen to your customer at some point too.

What Games Inspire You?

Patrick Rauland: In your case, like you don't love them, but there are some really valid reasons for having them. Cool. Yes. Yes. Okay, so I think I asked you about research. Yeah. Okay, so what type of games inspire you? What type of games make you want to design other games?

Chad DeShon: A game that I really love is called King of Siam. What I really like about this game is it's a 30, maybe 45-minute game, but it's super dense. It's really a pretty heavy game gameplay-wise, but it's easy to learn and it's not too long. I love playing games. I don't love learning rules. Any time we can get something that's easy to learn but still gives me the heavy game I want to play, that's something that I'm interested in.

Patrick Rauland: Yes, I agree. Love it. Okay, so this is it, but maybe this relates, but are there any designs of games that you didn't like at first but you grew into?

Chad DeShon: Yeah, I think there … So, it's probably gone both ways, right? There's definitely things I liked the first time, now don't. There's this whole category of train games now, Winsome Games, which is a publisher. Winsome, and they make these super ugly train stock holding type games that are falling to that category of easy to learn, really heavy player action normally, and really … Nobody is really sure what they're supposed to be doing the first time they play like strategy-wise. Like the rules are clear. You're like, “Okay, so I can do one of these four actions. I have no idea why I would do any of them. I guess I'll just pick one at random,” and then about three turns later realize, “Oh, this is what I should be doing.”

Chad DeShon: I didn't get those games when I first got into the board gaming hobby because it's not … and they could say it's obvious what the game is at first sometimes like I'm just moving this cube around. I don't really get it, but as I played more and more games and have seen a lot of different mechanics come together, now I appreciate that depth that it's able to give without be … still being easy to learn the rules. Sure.

How Do You Market A Game?

Patrick Rauland: I haven't played those games, but I think that makes a lot of sense, especially with something more abstract, right, like pushing a cube around. Yeah. Okay. Okay. I want to go into marketing because you said your Kickstarter got $20,000 on day one. What was like your best … What's your best idea for marketing? What was your best tool or best marketing channel? What would you recommend to someone to get to $20,000 on day one?

Chad DeShon: Yeah, it's always email. Selling everything on the internet is email. I don't care what you're selling. Email, email, email. If you're playtesting your game, but getting email addresses, get your website up right away so that people can start giving you email addresses as they're interested in what you're doing. I mean, obviously, I … So, I started. I had already been selling board game tables for over three years, so I had a following. I had people who were listening to me already, and so that's a huge headstart, so I cheated. I mean, always cheat when you can, but email … Social is great. Paid advertising is great, which I … I do both of those as well, but email.

Chad DeShon: Get an email list. Get people on your email list. Actually, email the people on your list. Try to send them things that they will find interesting, and then when you have a game to sell, hopefully, they at that point have trust in you, have trust in your taste and your skills because you've been talking to them through the process and showing them what you're working on, showing them what your inspirations are, and they'll always check it out at that point.

Patrick Rauland: I love that email is the answer. I'm in e-commerce world, so I'm pretty familiar with that answer, but how do you … I mean, like if you're a board game designer, how much time should you spend designing your game, and you're working with [crosstalk 00:26:01] manufacture, and how much time should I spend basically marketing like getting people to my site and then getting them on the email list?

Chad DeShon: Sure. I think that depends on what your goals are. If your goal is just to have a game in the store with your name on it, then I don't know if you should spend any time on that. You should just pitch your game to a traditional publisher. Understand that you're not going to make very much money from it, but you are going to have your name on a box, and they'll send you a few … They'll send you a small check and a few copies of that game, and you could put it on your shelf, and you could be proud of it, and that's great.

Chad DeShon: If you want to make money off this or if you want to … If you're designing with an eye towards commercial viability, then it's all pointless if no one is going to know about it when you launch, right? You've got to be collecting email addresses. You have to have people who are going to care when that product goes to launch. I think the easiest way for a designer to do that is going to be designing in public. You need to be posting about what you're doing, about what's working and about what's not working, about what ideas you have, about what frustrations you're having. All those kinds of things, and people who are interested in the niche you're in will hopefully want to hear more.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. I love that because I … It's funny because I am working through like … There's like one particular card in my game that's been giving me trouble like a couple playtesters have had … They basically read the card and miss important information, and that's a perfect opportunity where I could just post it on to some group, ask for some legitimate feedback of like, “Hey, how do I make this card easier to read, simpler, so it's intuitive?” Like a point of that post is marketing, but it will … By default, people will learn about the game and hear about it. Maybe they'll visit the website and maybe get on the list. Would you think stuff like that be a good idea?

Chad DeShon: Yeah, I think so. I think the best marketing is things that are generally on the line, generally interesting to the people you're talking to, right? Just running around screaming, “I have a game on Kickstarter,” is not going to get you very far.

Patrick Rauland: [Inaudible 00:28:00].

Chad DeShon: I mean, it's a strategy some people have tried.

What Resources Do You Recommend?

Patrick Rauland: Oh, I thought that was the best strategy. All right, so what's the best money you've ever spent as a game designer?

Chad DeShon: Yeah, I bought a laminator like a month or two ago, which I'm … I mean, I'm making a roll-and-write game, so lots of dry erase marking on boards and stuff, and I had no idea how cheap they were compared to how much money I was spending and how much time I was spending going to the UPS store to have them laminate things for me. Buy a laminator, and get the big one that will do 17 by 11. Yeah. It was less than 40 bucks on Amazon.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Chad DeShon: Yeah, I don't know. A big old pack of a hundred I've got over here. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, 40 bucks? That's great, and like each sheet is probably a couple cents?

Chad DeShon: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so I've gone to … Yeah. I think I probably go to the FedEx or UPS store, whatever like once a year, and it is outrageously expensive. I think it's like $10 per six regular papers to be laminated.

Chad DeShon: Yeah. Yeah, that's about right. I got a color laser printer and a laminator, and I'm good to go now.

Patrick Rauland: I like it, and then what other … So, we talked about a tool. What resource would you recommend for another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer?

Chad DeShon: I'm a pencil and paper person. I think the biggest … Like everybody [crosstalk 00:29:26] got an idea for a board game, and most people haven't playtested any of them. Until you playtest your game, it's completely worthless. Like I said earlier, that first step has to be a solo playtest, and it is … Like this is my least favorite thing about designing is prototyping. It takes forever to make a prototype.

Chad DeShon: I'm not talking about a good one. I'm talking about just cutting. I mean, I've got a paper cutter, but you just still just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. On your first early prototypes, you can do a lot with a pencil and paper without even making a board or pieces. You can just literally like, “Here's what the board is going to look like.” Draw like 10 circles. “And then I'm going to have three things here.” You draw little Xs and Player 1 is going to move one over here. You erase that X and put an X somewhere else, and just walk through those core mechanics without ever having to cut out anything. Just give it a “Is this a sane idea?” test with a pencil and an eraser.

Patrick Rauland: No, I love that. I have to say I did that for my first was I literally just wrote with pen and paper like on index cards rather than figure out like, “How big is the card?” and I have to cut it out and put it in a sleeve. I don't know if that sounds like a very easy thing, but like for the very first game, just writing on index cards made my life easier. Probably made me actually get interest.

Chad DeShon: Yup, and you can do that anywhere. I can be waiting for some to … I can be waiting in my car to meet somebody, and I can have stacked index cards, and I can start writing down a few ideas for new card I want to test.

Why Run a Mini Podcast

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay, so one thing that I think you did really … One thing that I think is really neat in your Kickstarter page is it's linked to a short daily podcast for your game. How is that going for you?

Chad DeShon: I don't know. I said about 50-50 to actually get it out, so part of it is … I mean, I've never done a podcast before. I wanted to go through the steps of seeing what that would take.

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Chad DeShon: I think podcasts can be great marketing. The idea, and if I do it again, I would try harder at this, was to have about half of those episodes recorded in advance and to do about half of them during the Kickstarter campaign, and I ended up with zero of them recorded in advance, which is why I'm about 50-50 on getting them out. I mean, I'm going to keep doing it for the rest of the campaign, and then we'll see if in the end, I think, it led to anything or not. It helped me think through a few things. I did like I did an episode on stretch goals, and it brought me to some of the conclusions we talked about earlier.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chad DeShon: Sure.

Patrick Rauland: I'm a big fan of … When I write a blog post, usually for work. When I write a blog post, that's actually when I figure out what I actually think of a thing, and I'm sure podcast is very similar because you … If you write it all down ahead of time and then … In your case, they're like short 10-minute episodes I think. Like it forces you to be very concise and to think through your arguments, so maybe it's useful for designers just to have even their broadcast media if it's only them that listens to it just to get your ideas out and explained.

Chad DeShon: I think I could. I mean, the stretch goal episode I did is super weird like it's me ranting on stretch goals for the first four minutes, and then going, “Well, maybe it's okay because of this.”

What Does Success in the Board Game World Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Yeah. I like it. Okay, so we're getting near the end here, but what does success look like in the board game world to you?

Chad DeShon: To me, as far as game publishing, it works like continued sales and just ongoing evergreen titles, the thing people … the phrase people throw around when they're talking about this, but …

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chad DeShon: I think that's the true measure that a game is worthwhile and good is if people are still buying this game three or four years from now and not just a thousand people bought it on Kickstarter. Some of them played it once and that was the end of it.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Chad DeShon: I think I can figure it out.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Love it. Ongoing sales. All right, so we're near the end here. I have a little game. It's called Overrated Underrated. Have you ever heard of it?

Chad DeShon: Overrated. I don't need you to tell me where I stack my pieces up.

Patrick Rauland: All right, so I'm basically going to force you to take a position.

Chad DeShon: I'll figure it out.

Patrick Rauland: All right, so first one, personal player mask. Are they overrated or underrated?

Chad DeShon: Overrated. Too crowded.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. All right. Live music? Overrated? Underrated?

Chad DeShon: I mean, I like music. I mean, but …

Patrick Rauland: Oh, I hear you there. This is really amusing because I just assumed you'd be like really into music because of the game, but yeah.

Chad DeShon: Overrated, and I think we're starting to learn something about my personality here.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Okay. Fair enough. All right, so what about like custom die faces? Overrated? Underrated?

Chad DeShon: I mean, that has to be … It's so, so talked about. It has to be overrated, right? How could it possibly be underrated? It's rated so highly.

Patrick Rauland: Last one, royal weddings. Overrated? Underrated?

Chad DeShon: I have no problem with it. It seems great on circumstance.

Patrick Rauland: You could make an argument that like even though they're rated highly, it brings our society to get … Whatever.

Where Can People Find You?

Chad DeShon: Sure. Go to, or go to, or BGTables on Twitter.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Well, thank you, Chad, for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Patrick Rauland: Very cool. Thank you again. By the way, listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review. Chad said he's totally willing to sing Don't Stop Believing with you if you meet up with him at a conference or at some sort of convention somewhere, so that's incentive for you to leave a review. You can visit the site at and follow me on Twitter, @BFTrick. Until next time. Happy designing. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast. Today we're going to be talking with Adi Slepack and Liz Roche who are the designers behind Someone Has Died which is an improvisational party game which funded on Kickstarter last year. Welcome to the show.

Adi Slepack: Hello.

Liz Roche: Thanks for having us.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, great. First of all, this is obviously two people. How did both of you get into board game design?

Liz Roche: We're actually two people stacked on top of each other in a trench coat. It's common error.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, I didn't know that. All right.

Patrick Rauland: How did you get into design?

Adi Slepack: I guess it sort of started with me. Liz and I went to college together at Wesleyan University and over the course of that time personally I had a nerd awakening where I started to be introduced to board games in the first place. In my last semester of school the film department, of which I was a major, a student, decided to offer some video game classes for the first time and one was a lot more computer science focused and the other was more aesthetic based. I clearly went for the film aesthetics one and did not learn how to program, so all of our game projects were analog, they were all tabletop.

Adi Slepack: Someone Has Died was one of the games that I made in that class and once I graduated I decided to keep with it because I was fresh out and hungry and unemployed and needed some stuff to do. A couple of months in, once I decided that I wanted to really see it through, I brought Liz to the team to help me out, bounce ideas off of and handle some of the logistical stuff that I didn't foresee.

Patrick Rauland: I'm curious, so Liz are you also in a similar program or did you just go to school together and you're in the theater department or something totally unrelated?

Liz Roche: No. We were roommates throughout college and I was actually an English and gender studies major, so nothing to do with film at all. After I was kind of in the same boat as Adi after graduation where I was like: What do I do now? Adi was doing this really cool thing and I got jealous so I came on board about six months afterward, after kind of unofficially helping out at some local conventions and things like that, doing some play tests. I officially joined the team December, 2016.

Patrick Rauland: Adi, you said you had a ‘nerd awakening'. Was there a specific game that got you into your awakening or a show or what was that?

Adi Slepack: I would say that probably a lot of people … I mean not directly in college, it was tabletop on Geek and Sundry that really introduced me to it but it was just the environment of students that I was with at school that were more likely to share interest in film and in games and in comics and kind of introduced me to a lot of that stuff that in high school I didn't really get the chance to explore.

Patrick Rauland: For the people who don't know, what is Geek and Sundry?

Adi Slepack: Geek and Sundry is Felicia Day's empire of Geekdom, I suppose. For several years on that website, I think, Wil Wheaton hosts a YouTube show where he and a bunch of semi-celebrities play various tabletop games. I was like: This is the greatest thing ever.

Patrick Rauland: It is absolutely great. I've seen a few of those ones with Wil Wheaton and they're really enjoyable. Liz, what about you? Was there a game that got you into the nerd world? Was there a show or Geek and Sundry?

Liz Roche: I think again, like Adi, growing up I had friends who were interested in board games, especially in high school, we played a lot of the more traditional games, so we would play UNO and Clue and things like that and those were fun, but it wasn't until college that I kind of learned about other games out there and the one that stands out to me, which Adi introduced me to, is this very small, I think kids game, called GUBS.

Patrick Rauland: What is that?

Adi Slepack: That's the first one that I picked up on a whim at some comic convention or something. I was like: I'm gonna start playing games.

Liz Roche: How would describe GUBS, Adi?

Adi Slepack: It's like … I've heard it described to me as like Magic light and I've never played Magic so I don't know if that is true, but essentially you are building a colony of GUBS.

Liz Roche: Little [crosstalk 00:05:16]

Adi Slepack: And you have various little cards that allow you. Yeah. I don't know if you picked up on it but it's ‘bug' backwards, they kind of look like little bugs.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, okay.

Adi Slepack: They're really creative. You can add GUBS into play from your hand, you can protect them with various mushrooms and butterflies and toad hoppers I think is one. You can also lure them from your opponents and kill them too, which kind of sounds like a turn. But the most interesting part of the game in my mind is that there are event cards that you shuffle into the deck randomly.

Adi Slepack: Three of them are ‘G', ‘U', ‘B' and they're shuffled in and once you draw all three, the game is over so you never know how long the game is going to be. The other ones are like whoever draws it discards their whole hand. Whoever draws it has to pass their stuff to the right, so it'll be like environmental hazards that affect the game play, which I found really enjoyable.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. I'll have to check it out. One of the best things about this podcast is I now have a ‘want to play' list that is massive.

Adi Slepack: Oh, I bet.

Patrick Rauland: But I want to check this one out. I really want to talk about your game. Someone Has Died is an improv game. Maybe I have like a … I do have a computer science background so maybe I'm all about probabilities and statistics and numbers, and an improv game is so abstract to me. How do you even design an improv game and maybe you can talk a little bit about your game just to give people an idea of what it's like.

Adi Slepack: Sure. Someone Has Died is an improvised will arbitration. You have one person who plays an estate keeper, a lawyer essentially, who sets the scene by deciding who died with the help of an identity card, how they died and what they left behind. Everyone else at the table gets a hand of identity relationship and backstory cards from which they establish a base character and you maintain that same character over four kind of legal-themed rounds of play. Wow, talking is hard sometimes but … Over the four rounds you build upon that character and more cards are added into the mix and you ultimately are supposed to try to convince the estate keeper that you are the most deserving of whatever the deceased left behind.

Patrick Rauland: Where did the idea come from? I hope it wasn't someone in your family …

Adi Slepack: No, no, no. Thank goodness, no.

Liz Roche: [crosstalk 00:08:13] all the time. Maybe we should just make up a story of like my great aunt Hilda who died and I had to go to her will reading.

Adi Slepack: If you want to, you are welcome.

Liz Roche: How we came up with it: My great aunt Hilda died … No.

Adi Slepack: The real story is in that class at Wesleyan where the prompt for the assignment that ultimately ended up being this game was to create a social game and we were given Werewolf and Mafia as examples. Those games are great, arguably perfect games, and in those games people die every round. When we kind of got stuck and couldn't come up with anything we said: Okay, what if we start with a dead person? And the idea for the will arbitration came shortly after that.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that's such a great, I want to say twist because also I hate being in those games and you're like killed on the first turn. You're like: Okay, well I'll just sit by myself for the next half hour.

Adi Slepack: Uh-huh. You've got to have a very entertaining god character to make that entertaining.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Okay, so it looks … I believe you self-published, right? You launched it yourself with your own little Gather Round Games. How did you decide to self-publish this?

Liz Roche: Yeah.

Adi Slepack: Liz, do you want to speak to that?

Liz Roche: Well at least from someone who came in kind of late, I think as Adi and then later both of us were bringing the game to other people and building an audience and finding this indie game design community in New York, we met a lot of other indie game designers who had done Kickstarter and done the self-publishing route. I think part of it was that we had so many resources who were so knowledgeable about that strategy, like how to go about that and what to do and what not to do.

Liz Roche: That's hugely helpful because I think any indie game designer will tell you that help from other designers is so, so important and not just about the actual mechanics or the play testing, but about how you actually get the game into other people's hands. I think for us it was a way that we saw we could get it into people's hands and we had a network of people who could help us figure out how to do that.

Adi Slepack: Yeah, it's almost … It was only afterwards that we found out about other avenues that we could have done it, like to become a part of Unpub, which is a network of game designers who bring prototype games to conventions and then they sit with publishers and actually try to sell the thing. We didn't even … As a matter of circumstance, we did not know that was even an option until after the fact, just because everyone that we ended up being acquainted with went the self-publishing route.

Liz Roche: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: That's kind of fascinating that you're, I guess I want to say in a bubble where … You know what I mean? If you're surrounded by people and they all self-publish, then you don't even consider that you can talk to a traditional publisher and they'll publish it for you.

Liz Roche: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: I think that's really interesting.

Adi Slepack: Yeah. They're both … From what we've heard and sort of picked up, they're both very different as these ways to go about it.

Liz Roche: I feel like we've only now recently started to learn more about what that would mean to approach publishers of the game, so yeah, that's still something … We're always learning.

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Speaking of learning, you co-designed this game and I'd love … You're the first people on the show where I've interviewed two people at the same time. I'd love to know: What are the challenges and benefits of co-designing.

Adi Slepack: In the case of this, it was a project that I sort of started and then brought Liz in for feedback and advice. The game was in a playable state when Liz came in and then at one point while we were working together Liz pitched the idea for the recess round of the game, which is after a couple rounds where the estate keeper is sort of in charge, the estate keeper says: All right, no new backstory cards. We're going to take a break for lunch and each player gets to ask one question of another character in the game, which is a wonderful part of the game because one of our biggest feedback points throughout play testing was: We want more ways to interact with each other because our characters are so weird and a lot of the way the game was structured was hindering that a little bit.

Adi Slepack: When Liz pitched the recess round, it really opened it up because we had in place cards that allowed some interaction, but this was like a full round where the characters had the forefront to interact with each other. Moving forward, probably we'll be discovering some of those benefits and conflicts as we're coming up with ideas at the same time.

Liz Roche: Yeah, so far.

Adi Slepack: I think it went pretty well.

Liz Roche: We could always … You never know what tomorrow [crosstalk 00:13:47]

Adi Slepack: We can spend time together and we can have a murder.

Liz Roche: Yeah, because I wasn't part of the initial conception of the game and I was able to witness the way it changed over time from a school assignment to six months later when it had been played by people in New York City at game events. I feel like I am kind of an accidental game designer. I've learned a lot about designing games through this process, showing this off at conventions and meeting other designers and play testing their games that are still working. But yeah, I kind of jumped on board as the train was moving.

Patrick Rauland: I just want to go back to one point. I think you said … Darn it, this is what happens when I have a short-term memory. I think you said: We haven't had a problem yet. You two lived together, you were roommates so I'm guessing you can work through a lot of issues.

Liz Roche: Both of us are non-confrontational people.

Patrick Rauland: Cool. Moving forward you're probably going to start a design together.

Adi Slepack: Yeah. That's our next step after fulfillment.

Patrick Rauland: Ah. Oh, you're still fulfilling the game.

Adi Slepack: Yes, we are.

Patrick Rauland: Got it. I forget … I think for me being mostly a consumer in this world, I forget that after I press the ‘Back This Project' button that the people on the other end still have to do work. I think I forget that.

Liz Roche: Yeah. I think a lot of people forget that too.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Let's say you finish fulfillment and you wake up the next morning. What type of games do you want to design?

Liz Roche: We want to continue making storytelling games and I think specifically cooperative games. I've always been a huge fan of cooperative games and I would love to kind of combine that element with this great storytelling aspect that we found in Someone Has Died.

Adi Slepack: Yeah. When we say ‘storytelling' I think we don't specifically or particularly mean like the outright telling of a story the way that we have in this game. Maybe it's more of like an environment for storytelling or a mood for storytelling. We definitely want to experiment with the different ways that board games can tell stories.

Patrick Rauland: I think that's really fertile ground. I went to my first Protospiel a couple of months ago and someone … I said: What game do you have? I just sat down and he said, “A storytelling game.” My first thought was: Oh, this is going to suck. That was my first thought. He pulled out his game and it was great. I guess I feel like there hasn't been enough good examples of a storytelling game so I look forward to seeing whatever you come up with because I think there's a lot of … I think the ground is fertile for storytelling, it's really fertile.

Liz Roche: I think that's also a pretty common reaction because when we're at conventions or events and people sit down to play, a lot of people will sit down blindly to play the game and when I give them the pitch and say: This is a storytelling improv game, I can see the fear in their eyes. Their eyes just widen all of a sudden and I kind of have to ease them into it, like it's very open and loose and just have fun with it. I've always said that this game is a way of having the fun role-playing parts of like D&D without actually having to play D&D or any other role-playing game that can intimidate people with the big booklets and the statistics and all that stuff.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Liz Roche: I feel like being able to distill other elements of tabletop RPGs into more accessible board games or card games is something that we're very interested in.

Patrick Rauland: I like that. Are there any games out there that are inspirational to you?

Liz Roche: None.

Adi Slepack: Oh yeah, absolutely. When we went in on this like sort of gloomy-but-funny theme, definitely Gloom was a big one where aesthetically it's kind of like dark and spooky, but then all the cards have prompts on them that rhyme and you're encouraged to tell a story but not forced to tell a story as you're kind of intentionally killing off your family before everyone else dies.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. This game has like transparent cards, right?

Adi Slepack: Yes.

Liz Roche: Yes. It's such a good game. It's much better than our game.

Patrick Rauland: Oh. I think I played it like a long time ago. Yeah.

Adi Slepack: Yeah.

Liz Roche: I'm just saying.

Adi Slepack: Thanks, Liz. You're not wrong, but this is a promotional interview. Another one that definitely inspired us along the way was Fiasco, where even from the point of when we were in the class, the first iteration of the game we presented, our professor was like, “You should try Fiasco and then do this again.” Fiasco really pointed out the importance of relationships in storytelling games and that has come into play in some of the things we did with … That was certainly inspirational.

Patrick Rauland: I like it. One of the things that … I don't think I noticed board game designers until I started getting into board game design myself. I never looked at the name on the box. Are there any designers whose games you just love or is there any designer who's done something cool that you're following?

Liz Roche: We're definitely huge fans of the indie designers that we've met along the way. We have some friends who made a game called Complicated Board Game, the Card Game, and just recently a game called Status Report! Yeah, I feel like I'm such a huge fan of the indie designers. What about you, Adi?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Adi Slepack: We like our friends, primarily. Definitely a guy who we've gotten to meet more recently who I certainly look up to is Matt Fantastic, who has his hands in lots of different pools of the industry.

Liz Roche: Yeah.

Adi Slepack: It's just a marvel to see how he's managed to like … He's full-time and it's super … He has done like every kind of game. I think he has a storytelling game on the horizon and he's done an X-Files game that just came out, so he's everywhere. That kind of versatility is very admirable and also just like being very nice, despite his success he's very nice and willing to help.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. You mentioned he was a full-time designer. I kind of got the like he's full-time and that … I think the way you phrase it made me think that's like your ideal of success. Is that what success looks like for you in the board game space?

Adi Slepack: I'm not sure because Liz earlier said the phrase, sort of like ‘accidental game designer' and I definitely relate to that as well. This wasn't part of my career that I anticipated or not even career, like a hobby that I anticipated. Whether or not I want it to be a full-time thing I'm not 100% certain on. Over the past few months … Well month only, we have a couple of months to go, Liz and I have been part of a creative residency where we are primarily working on the game and that's been pretty pleasant because I get to work on that stuff and be creative on a daily basis and then I feel like I don't have to race to get my game work done on the weekends. I've been taking weekends for the first time, I think, in my life and I am enjoying it.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that sounds great.

Adi Slepack: Yeah.

Liz Roche: I think just from …

Patrick Rauland: What about you, Liz? Do you feel the same way or?

Liz Roche: As you were saying talking about the full-time designers, I think it's more just like how inexplicable of a thing that is. It's more of like … That seems like an impossible thing they're doing, so God bless them for figuring out how to do it. I don't think I necessarily see myself as a full-time game designer, just forgetting the completely inexplicable part of that. I think I've always enjoyed games as a hobby and fun and I think I … I feel like it's a good place to kind of have other aspects of my life and form like game design and my place in the game community. I don't super see myself doing like a full-time game design thing.

Patrick Rauland: Hmm. I like it. Okay, so-

Adi Slepack: That's what we said … Sorry to interrupt but just because you said: Is it a metric of success? As far as I'm concerned, we've exceeded beyond what we ever could have thought we had. Every couple of contentions or whatever we set a new goal and then it falls into our lap. Not to say that we aren't working for it, but we have been very pleased with the ride that we've been on so far.

Liz Roche: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: I have always really liked the expression: Luck is a combination of preparation and opportunity. I just want to make sure I'm giving you credit here because: Yes you've had opportunity. I'm sure the right people looked at your game at the right time or the fact that you two roomed together in college, that's an opportunity. But you also put in the work, so I don't want to make it come off like you just got lucky. You did the work AND you had the opportunity.

Adi Slepack: You don't get lucky if you don't work either.

Liz Roche: Yeah. We also had that trouble too where we'll talk about the opportunities that kind of fell into our lap or like the moments of luck we have.

Patrick Rauland: Cool.

Liz Roche: We have to go like: But we worked really hard too.

Adi Slepack: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Take credit. Both of you did something amazing. If I ever publish one game, I'm going to … I don't know, like retire or something because I'd be so happy with that.

Liz Roche: I'm not sure as far as like a metric of success. I think if someone has an idea for a game and gets people to play it, I think you've been successful. That's a hard thing and doing it at all I think is a success.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay, so you've gone through the process. What one resource would you recommend to another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer.

Liz Roche: I think definitely find any local events that are happening in your area. For us it was Playcrafting, which is an organization that holds events where indie designers, either video game or tabletop can bring whatever projects they've been working on so they can be very new, they can be polished and ready and just get people to play them. That was a great thing for us to get other eyes on the game to like play test it and also just to prepare for taking it to bigger conventions, like PAX. For play testing purposes we went to the NYU game center a lot. Every Thursday evening they have students come and show off projects they've been working on and it's open to any designers who want to come and, again, show off what they're doing, have people play it and give suggestions.

Liz Roche: I would say to anyone who's trying to make a game, find those local small things and just go. Even if you don't bring your own project, just to go and see what it's like, play other people's games and meet other people and then maybe the next time you can bring your own thing. Just see what the vibe is like and talk to some people.

Adi Slepack: Yeah. In New York we are lucky enough to have these kinds of resources, but in other places, like is where game designers or people who are interested in testing games, you take groups to either play [inaudible 00:27:30] games or intentionally to give feedback on other stuff. If you don't have something like an NYU or a Playcrafting, that would be the first place I would look.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so I want to ask some followup questions about the different types of events in a second, but I was actually going to bring up New York because it's so massive. I don't know, there's like ten hundred million bajillion people there, so there's like every meetup and group there. I live in Denver, which is a pretty big city, and we have one Playtesting meetup and I'm so happy that we have one. But I live in a bit city, what about … Maybe here's my question is: If someone lives in even a smaller city than Denver and they don't have a meetup, would you recommend any online communities or how would you find that community if you're just not lucky enough to be in a big city?

Adi Slepack: For designers there are a handful of Facebook groups that were made to give design advice, art advice, Kickstarter-specific advice. That is very much at the designing and marketing stages, I would say. Before that, probably just like BoardGameGeek. I don't think we had a need to go online first before we were meeting people in person, but BoardGameGeek is constantly running design contests and has a billion different forms. If you know how to read those kinds of websites and want to get into it, go for it.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay. Going back to … Oh, one more question here: I always want to ask this because I find gamers tend to be cheap, and I include myself in that. I don't ever want to pay for software because I don't know, it's in my DNA. Is there something that you spent money on that was like 100 percent absolutely worth it and you would recommend it to every other game designer out there.

Liz Roche: I'm just glad that my cheapness can be attributed to being a gamer now.

Adi Slepack: Maybe like signage, I guess.

Patrick Rauland: Signage at like events?

Adi Slepack: Yeah, like whether it's like you're buying a standy at Staples just to stick a piece of paper in there and have a presence for yourself or once you're showing at bigger events you can sink some money into a banner that you will hopefully use over and over again. Maybe that's it, or like Adobe Photoshop [crosstalk 00:30:21]

Liz Roche: Yeah. I don't think there's big purchases that stood out to us because it's been a lot of like: Oh, we have to order business cards, we need T-shirts and things like that. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. That's good to know.

Liz Roche: Well you do, but it's going to be spread out.

Patrick Rauland: From your answers I got: I don't need to spend a ton of money to do this, which is actually worthwhile to know.

Adi Slepack: No. Not when you start.

Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Got it. Okay. All right.

Liz Roche: No, I don't think so.

Patrick Rauland: At the very end I like to play this little game, it's called: Overrated/Underrated. Have you played this before? Excellent. Was that Liz? What about you, Adi?

Adi Slepack: No, I have not.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Basically, I'm going to give you a topic and I'm going to force you to take a position on either if it's overrated or underrated.

Adi Slepack: Regardless on our knowledge of the subject?

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Adi Slepack: How nice. Okay.

Patrick Rauland: First of all …

Liz Roche: I'll go underrated.

Patrick Rauland: The first one's a softball. Storytelling games: Overrated or underrated?

Adi Slepack: Yeah, under.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, and like a one-sentence reason why.

Adi Slepack: Stories are fun.

Liz Roche: Overrated.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. All right. New York state, overrated/underrated?

Liz Roche: We've got good pizza and that's it. Get out otherwise.

Adi Slepack: Probably overrated.

Patrick Rauland: Ooh. I've never been. Why? All right.

Adi Slepack: I don't feel quite so negatively about it, but I mean the state as a whole is like enormous. The city has its pluses and minuses but [crosstalk 00:32:11].

Liz Roche: New York has that weird phenomenon of having one of the biggest cities ever, and then if you go like two hours upstate you're like: Where am I? Where did all the people go?

Patrick Rauland: All right. What about zombie-themed games, overrated/underrated?

Adi Slepack: I'll say overrated only because they play repetitive after a while. One of my favorite game franchises ever is The Walking Dead Telltale series. But that is interesting because of the human survival story, not because there are zombies running around.

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Adi Slepack: I tried the TV show but [crosstalk 00:33:02]

Liz Roche: I'll also go with overrated. I don't feel super strongly about that one though.

Adi Slepack: I'm going to say overrated.

Patrick Rauland: Overrated. All right.

Liz Roche: I would also say underrated.

Patrick Rauland: The last one: Comic books, overrated/underrated?

Adi Slepack: Underrated.

Liz Roche: No, I just find …

Patrick Rauland: Ooh, any comics in particular?

Liz Roche: I admittedly am not huge on like the superhero movies, like any of them. They're just not super for me but I love looking up the differences between the movies that are out now and the original comic books because they're so vastly different. I find it fascinating, the difference between where a franchise started and what movie Marvel just put out last month.

Patrick Rauland: I'm not that bit into that world. Is there just like an example so I can start this Google poll?

Liz Roche: I remember after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy II I immediately looked up the plot. Again, I'm not into comic books either. If I had to go into comic books or the movies, I would definitely go to the comic books first and looked at the plot and I just had to know if there was a character named Ego in the original comic book because who would have guessed that the character named Ego was going to be the bad guy? I had to figure out who had written that down.

Liz Roche: Then I got into a wormhole of reading about the original Guardians of the Galaxy comics and they're just incredibly different. I also looked up the original Big Hero 6 stories and the comic book Baymax is hilariously different. He's like big, green and like … He's essentially just like a big lizard man, if I remember right.

Patrick Rauland: Very cool.

Liz Roche: I have a feeling I'm remembering this entirely wrong, but oh well.

Patrick Rauland: Well thank you for playing my game. Thank you for being on the show, Adi and Liz. Where can people find you online?

Liz Roche: Well we can find our game at They can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @SomeoneHasDied. You can find me on Twitter, but I'm not really tweeting anything so don't bother.

Adi Slepack: I guess I'm on Twitter @curliQtube.

Patrick Rauland: All right. Thank you again. By the way, for those of you listening, if you don't like this podcast, don't leave a review and then Adi and Liz will show up to your will arbitration meeting and they will undoubtedly swindle you out of your inheritance. They promised that they'd do that for me. Thank you everyone for listening. We're just about done here. You can visit the site at You can follow me on Twitter @BFTrick. Until next time, happy designing. Thanks. Bye bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast. Today, we're going to be talking with Alec Nezin, who is the designer behind Forsaken Forest, which is a cross between Magic the Gathering and Werewolf. So I'm super excited to hear about how he designed it. Alec, welcome to the show.

Alec Nezin: Hey, Patrick. It's great to be here.

How Did You Get Into Games?

Patrick Rauland: Okay, I want to talk about your game, Forsaken Forest. But first, how did you get into board games in general and board game design?

Alec Nezin: Okay, so I've always kind of been an avid gamer. I've been playing Magic the Gathering for over 20 years, but only in the last nine or 10 years did I really start to appreciate board games. I had a local get together with a group of friends, and we'd play every night. I started collecting more and more games, and it just became like a weekly ritual. It was pretty great, and I pretty much miss those times a lot. Game design wise, I didn't actually set out to make a board game, interestingly enough. Rather, a card game, but it turned out that my vision was a little better translated to a board game.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Alec Nezin: When I actually started doing that, I wasn't really familiar with board games to the point I am now, obviously. A lot of online communities such as Reddit and Facebook Groups really helped me get into that community. Also, I don't know if you ever heard of Jamey Stegmaier?

Patrick Rauland: Oh yeah.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, so his blog was absolutely instrumental in learning about the community, so that was just insanely helpful.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Yeah, no, Jamey Stegmaier has awesome stuff. I read his book. Did you read the A Crowdfunder's Strategy Guide? Something like that.

Alec Nezin: Yep, yep. Basically everything he's put out there has just been amazing. It's just gospel. It's unreal how much he's put out there and how great all of it is.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. No, it's fantastic.

Alec Nezin: So I really look up to him.

Tell me More About Magic The Gathering

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Okay, so first of all, what was your favorite edition of Magic the Gathering?

Alec Nezin: Well, if we're going to compare it to my game, I'd say Innistrad, which is basically what my game is inspired by. But I'm probably going to have to go with original Ravnica was pretty great.

Patrick Rauland: Whoa. Okay, so I stopped playing long ago. I don't recognize either of those.

Alec Nezin: Oh, no.

Patrick Rauland: So, wow. I mean, the game, I'm sure, has just continued to evolve and progress, so that's pretty cool. Okay, so tell me a little bit about what do you like about Magic and what do you like about Werewolf? Because you kind of described your game as Magic the Gathering and Werewolf/Mafia.

Alec Nezin: Right. I think Magic is probably one of the best games ever made. I've [inaudible 00:02:49] a lot, but I do believe it's true. But the thing I like about Magic is how deep it is, strategy wise. There's so many different components, so many different variables to think about. It's really a thinking game. Then the other side, Werewolf is a social game. It's kind of the opposite of Magic, in some ways. It's more about reads and tells and social deduction. Magic does have that, but it's more logical and thinking. So I like both of those elements of the games, and I wanted to combine it.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: They're two things that are very distinct, and I think they also go well together. Which, if you play poker, for instance, it's like … I wouldn't say my game is like poker, but the elements are there, where you're using social tells but also thinking deeply about what they're doing, if that makes sense?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah.

Alec Nezin: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So from what I've seen on the Kickstarter page, it really does look like a combination of both of those. Because there's a ton of different roles, and then each person has their own deck, which I think is really, really cool. I think, for me, I don't like the games where it's just sort of all conjecture. Like Werewolf is just too much … it's all about convincing everyone else of a certain thing without any evidence.

Alec Nezin: Right.

Patrick Rauland: I really like that your game, I think, and I'm guessing because of the mechanics, the things you do in game, there's sort of evidence of what side you're on.

Alec Nezin: Oh, definitely. Yeah, that's a point I talk about on the Kickstarter. A lot of times Werewolf is just talking and arguing, and it's just like your word versus mine. It's like that's the end of it. You can just talk all day, but you have to make a decision.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: So in this, there's more variables and more information to go off of.

How Long Was the Design Process?

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. So how long did it take you to design this game?

Alec Nezin: I've been working on it for a little over two years, since I first came up with the idea. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: This is probably hard for you, because it's hard for me to answer this question. But two years, but is that like five hours a week? Is that 40 hours? Is it one hour a week? Is there a ballpark? I'm sure it's hard to get that.

Alec Nezin: Oh, yeah. I guess I've been progressively more and more involved in it. I wrote a little blog post on Reddit about it. But basically when I started it was like when I'd go to work, I'd work on the LIR on the way to work, and just dream up ideas for the 40 or an hour every morning and on the hour way back. That was pretty nice to have a scheduled thing where I just work on it. But then eventually I started working on it after work at a coffee shop, and just progressively invested more and more time until I'm thinking about it from the second I wake up till the second I go to sleep, and every weekend. It's a lot of work, so, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: That's amazing. Well, and just to go back, what is LIR?

Alec Nezin: Oh, I'm sorry. It's the Long Island Rail Road. I'm from New York.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, okay.

Alec Nezin: I sometimes forget that non-New Yorkers have no idea what that is, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: I was like, “Living rule book, maybe? I don't know, like what is … He's working on the LIR, what is that?” All right, cool. So you're writing all the stuff down. That sounds like a lot of solo time. I imagine you also did a ton of play testing, but it sounds like a lot of solo time up front.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, definitely. I'm kind of like, I guess you could say, a lone wolf type of developer. I don't like to outsource stuff, but I begrudgingly do. But play testing is super important, and I have a few resources that I use for that. I'm lucky enough to be close … I'm in New York City, obviously, so that's a great place to do anything. But I'm near NYU, which has a great game center for their game students, game design students, actually. So that's a really good resource for me, personally, because every week they have a game night where literally dozens of game designers come and play test their games.

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Alec Nezin: So yeah, it's really sweet. Yeah, and there're just a bunch of events in New York City that kind of cater to designers and play testing, so it's really nice.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so that is amazing that you have that resource near you. We have one meetup group that meets once a month. I'm in Denver. One meetup group that meets once a month, and then there's a sort of a board game café, and they have typically a once a month thing. So I feel lucky with a twice-a-month thing at two totally different places, but wow. Once a week is fantastic.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, it's pretty great. Yeah, once a month is rough, that is.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. But I mean, most people don't even have that. I'm lucky, in Denver, that we have that. A lot of other people have basically nothing, you know what I mean?

Alec Nezin: Oh, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Just no meetup groups. You just go to your friendly local game store and ask around, I guess? I don't even know what you do at that point.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, that's always awkward, too. Like forcing it.

Was There Something You Wanted to Add but Couldn't?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. So is there something you wanted to add to the game but you just couldn't fit it in? Like was there something at a play test like you loved but play testers didn't?

Alec Nezin: Well, I have a lot of ideas that I want to implement. But at a certain point, a game gets a little too bloated, and it starts becoming … What's the word? A bit inaccessible to new players, and you have to just limit the number of mechanics and keywords. So, I have a ton of ideas, but some of them are just left for expansions, at this point. I think the base set is what it is, and it's not going to change. So yeah, I'm happy with it.

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. Yeah, I've been working on this microgame for a little bit, and I've had this one card in since the beginning of the game. I kept hearing feedback about how only advanced players … because it's like, “Name a card that someone else has and you can use it.” It's a really cool card used in this game, but only advanced people can use it. So after, I think, after like 30 play tests, after version 30, I finally took it out. But it took me like … I think like six months, you know what I mean?

Alec Nezin: Yeah, I've had cards like that, where it's like, “No, I can't cut it.” But you have to just cut it, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: It feels bad when you have a card that's your baby.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. But I think it's smart to keep them as an expansion, or keep a [inaudible 00:09:26] card as a promo, or something like that. So you can still keep it in the game somehow, but not in the core, in the core game.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, I'm pretty forward thinking with cards like that, yeah.

Tell Us About Your Design Process

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so at a high level, what does your design process look like? How long do you spend designing it? How long do you spend play testing it? What other steps are involved?

Alec Nezin: In terms of my design process as a whole, I like to start with the mechanics and work my way down, if that makes sense? I usually start with a cool idea. In the instance of Forsaken Forest, it was adding destinations to the game Werewolf, and I worked my way down from there. Then it's like what style of game is this going to fit into? A simple talking game, a card game, a board game? Then once the style of game was determined, the hardest part is obviously designing each individual piece of the game, getting it balanced and working as a system. Then finally, after all of that, after you've figured out what you're doing, figuring out the individual cards, then the lore and the flavor comes, for me.

Patrick Rauland: That's really cool, and most game designers don't get to that.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, that's something I think is super important, though. I think art and lore and flavor are what draw people in. Ultimately, the storyline is what matters, for me.

Patrick Rauland: Can you elaborate on that? Why is it so important for you, and maybe why don't other people value it as much?

Alec Nezin: I don't know. I don't know why other people don't value it, but for me, it's like … In my mind, there's only so many mechanics, there's only so many games on a base level, you know? Obviously, every game is different, a different variation on a mechanic or on an idea, but I think that the thing that really separates games from one another is the storyline and the background of the characters and the universe. Yeah, I just think it's super important to differentiate yourself from other games, because mechanics … they repeat themselves, through time. There's only so many different types of games, but stories are unique, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: I think that's really, really forward thinking. I mean, when you have sort of … I'm going to say IP. Let's say over the next five years this Forsaken Forest grows. Maybe you have a little short story and the characters are all named and even the wolves are named, whatever. Then you can go off and make a … You could make a microgame. You could make a role playing game. You could make a whatever, and use all of that existing knowledge and that fan base, which I think is really, really cool and really forward thinking.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, that's something I'm actively thinking about, yeah. I really want to expand upon the universe and make it its own thing, which, yeah. Not a lot of games really think about that, but yeah.

Any Advice for Ambitious Projects?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. That's awesome. Okay, so to me, I'd say, I would call this project ambitious. If someone else wanted to do something this ambitious, do you have any advice for them?

Alec Nezin: When I started making it, I didn't think it was ambitious. Now I'm thinking a little bit like, okay, maybe I'm in over my head a little bit, but I think I'm okay. My biggest piece of advice would be to know what you're getting into. Designing cards is easy. Designing games, I'm learning now, is the easiest part of making a game, designing it. Like just writing ideas down. Building a system is hard, but ultimately, writing things down is pretty easy compared to launching a game. I think, in game design, designing a game is one of the easiest parts. People don't realize that designers have to wear a lot of hats, especially if they're working alone or in a team of one or two. You have to be an art director. You have to be a graphic designer. You have to be a publicist. You have to do social media. You have to do outreach, advertising, manufacturing, shipping, logistics, editing. Editing video and sound, and rules. You have to craft rules. So there's a lot of stuff that goes on that people don't realize.

Alec Nezin: So I think just understanding that game design is not just game design, unless you're pitching to a publisher, which a lot of people do themselves. That's not what I wanted to do, but it is an easy way out. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff that goes into it, and I think that's … yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. There's a huge amount of stuff that goes into it. I'm curious … Okay, so, from what I got, it sounds like game design is sort of the easiest part, because there's all this other stuff that goes around it. Why didn't you pitch to a publisher?

Alec Nezin: You know, I think I just wanted to do something myself, you know? I don't want to offload this game to someone and just let them take care of it. I kind of want to see it through, you know? I want creative control. That's another thing. When you pitch to a publisher, they're going to reskin it, they're going to do what they want to it, if they even take it. So I kind of wanted the opportunity to just like build something of my own and keep control of it creatively, and keep that IP, if that makes sense, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Totally. Yeah, I can totally see a publisher not wanting to build your IP for you.

Alec Nezin: Right.

Patrick Rauland: So yeah, if you want to build your own IP, I'm guessing self-publishing is the way to go, yeah.

Alec Nezin: Yep.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so you finished … I'm going to just call this a big project, and … Hold on, let me just double-check the numbers here. You're just about halfway to your goal, and you're halfway through the Kickstarter campaign. To me, this is looking good. Now that you sort of finished your design, what are you going to do next time? What will you change in your process?

Alec Nezin: Yeah, I think the first time is definitely the hardest. Okay, so to start, I think that there's just a lot of connections you need to make before you get into this type of thing. You need to find artists. You need to find graphic designers. You need to find your factory. You have to find your shipping logistics. There's a lot of connections that just need to be made. Obviously, building an audience is just like a huge obstacle.

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Alec Nezin: I think launching your first game is just huge because you've kind of built all those connections already. You found your teams or the people you want to work with, moving forward, and just like a huge burden lifted off of you because you don't have to worry about all those things that starting designers have to. So I feel pretty relieved that I found all those people, and now I can focus on potentially moving forward and not having to look for them. So, yeah.

What Will You Change For Your Next Game?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Okay, so let me change the question a little bit. Let's say you have all the knowledge you do now, but you're transported into a new body so you don't actually know those people, or something like that. Then what do you do? Does that make sense?

Alec Nezin: Yeah, just starting from the ground up?

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Alec Nezin: I know what to do, but it's still hard to find those people. Assuming I don't find the same people … Artists for instance. The process of finding artists, for me, was super important. I explained why I think that artists are important. Actually, in the beginning, I reached out to about a hundred Magic the Gathering artists. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Holy cow.

Alec Nezin: They're expensive and super busy, but I was super ambitious about it. I got turned down by everyone except for three of them.

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Alec Nezin: So in the beginning, I thought one artist was going to do all the work, and learning that that's like basically impossible was part of the process. It was like 50 pieces or something I wanted them to do, and they were just like, “That would take me two years.”

Patrick Rauland: Oh my god.

Alec Nezin: But the process of reaching out to people and reaching out to artists helped me learn as I was going. It taught me that even though they're these awesome Magic artists, they'll still respond to you because they're just normal people in the end of the day. But the process of reaching out to hundreds of people on ArtStation, also, taught me that you just have to keep trying as many people as possible. ArtStation, if you're not familiar … Are you familiar?

Patrick Rauland: No. No, tell me about that.

Alec Nezin: ArtStation is basically like this website where artists show off their work, and it's like a giant … It's kind of organized by theme, sometimes. Sometimes you can scour through thousands of different pieces by, I guess, trending, if they're trending, or by how many fans they have. It's just a great site for finding new artists. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Great. Is that like DeviantArt?

Alec Nezin: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: Is it similar to that?

Alec Nezin: Yeah, I wasn't sure if you were familiar with that, but it's similar to DeviantArt. I think it's better.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, cool.

Alec Nezin: It's just better organized and a little cleaner. But, yeah. So I scoured that for literal weeks, maybe even months, just looking through pieces. Basically, my process here was I divided each of my pieces that I was aiming to create, and divided them by landscape, character, action scene. Then I picked out the artists that fit those descriptions best. Just picking out hundreds of artists and going through their work, and then cold calling them, basically, cold emailing them.

Patrick Rauland: Oh my gosh, yeah.

Alec Nezin: Yeah. I know we're a little far from our initial question, but just like, that process, I've become okay at it, of just like having the, I guess, gumption to just reach out to people. Because that's the only way that you find a team, is reaching out, you know? So, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Yeah, so be … I would say, to summarize that, you would be relentless in building your team?

Alec Nezin: Exactly, yeah. Literally hundreds of people. Basically, my strategy in game design is just reach out to as many people as possible.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: Don't generalize them like just robo-call them, but be personal, obviously.

Patrick Rauland: Sure.

Alec Nezin: But yeah, you have to just be relentless and contact as many people as possible, because they'll never contact you. You know? They won't come to you.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: You have to go to them. So, yeah.

What Else Do You Want to Design?

Patrick Rauland: Wow. All right, okay, so let's say this launches, it's hugely successful. Let's not cover expansions. What other type of game would you design? Maybe in the same universe or maybe a different universe.

Alec Nezin: Oh, okay. Excluding expansions, I think I want to continue with social deduction, because I think it's a very … It's not a bland game genre, but it's getting a bit old. There's not much variation in terms of the genre itself. There are little twinges, but I think there's still a lot of room to expand upon it. So yeah, I want to maybe do that, and maybe eventually make a CCG of some sort. Because I've been playing Magic and other CCGs for so long, I feel like it's something I could pull off. But, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: So this is kind of like the testing ground for the mix of a CCG and a social deduction game, obviously, but yeah. Kind of testing the waters.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. That's great, yeah, and I think I'd agree with you. I think I don't love social deduction games, and maybe it's because they're … I don't want to say played out. But because I've played a number of them and they're all so similar, it just doesn't feel like I'm doing that much. So I think I'd agree with you that I think there's room for innovation.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, definitely, that was my goal here.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: Just something extra than just talking, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah. Cool. So are there any games out there that inspired you. Other than Magic and Werewolf, are there any games out there that sort of inspired you to make this, or that inspire you in general? Or maybe game designers?

Alec Nezin: You know, I don't really have any game design people I look up to, necessarily.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: I would say, yeah, I'm mostly just kind of doing my own thing, here. Not really relying on any designers in general, but I have a bunch of … I'd say there's a few influences in general that apply to the game. I was definitely influenced by Evil Dead, if you're familiar with the movie franchise.

Patrick Rauland: Ooh. I mean, just, was it the third one that's the good one?

Alec Nezin: Army of … Wait, which? Army of Darkness, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yes, Army of Darkness. There we go.

Alec Nezin: Yeah. Then H.P. Lovecraft is another, and then Innistrad block from Magic. You'll have to check it out later.

Patrick Rauland: I will.

Alec Nezin: In terms of … You know, I lied. I did watch a ton of game design videos, like for months leading up to this. Mark Rosewater of Magic actually did inspire me. He has a video called 20 … What is it called? Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons. Sorry. He goes through his last 20 years of being a game designer for Magic and the 20 lessons he's learned. It's a great video, and it really inspired me to just be better, yeah. So I suggest you watch … Even if you don't play Magic, even if you don't know what it is, it has just this really good game design principles and game design lessons, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Great. The reason I started this podcast is so I can learn about game design, so yes, every game design resource you have, please share with me.

Alec Nezin: Awesome.

Patrick Rauland: I'm going to check ArtStation after this.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, you definitely should. Awesome.

What is the Best Money You've Spent?

Patrick Rauland: All right, so you've hired a lot of artists. You've done a lot of stuff yourself. I'm curious, what is the best money that you've spent, as a game designer?

Alec Nezin: Ooh, that's hard. It's definitely the art. Let's just be honest. That's the base of the … That's the biggest cost of the game, or it should be the biggest cost of most games, besides marketing. It's what everyone in the entire world sees when they look at your game. People can't necessarily judge your game based on mechanics or based on how fun it is by just looking at it. I think art is definitely number one, the far and away leader of best investment.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Ah, man, so art's hard for me because the art is something you have to pay for in advance, right? Like before the Kickstarter, so it's … There's a part of me that's like, “Oh, sure, I'll get the fancy box of the game, once it's gone through the Kickstarter, as a stretch goal, that's fine.” But that's like no risk to me, right? Whereas art feels a little bit scarier, but I totally agree, it's so important.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, it's paramount, for sure.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. All right. Okay, so we've talked a little bit about marketing, your own Kickstarter. I'm curious, what do you think is the best way to market your game? I mean, you're halfway funded already and you've got another 17 days to go. What is the best way to market your game?

Alec Nezin: That is obviously a tough question. There are, obviously, infinite ways to spread the word about your game. One that I found is pretty great is Reddit. Leading up to making the game, all throughout the process, I used a subreddit called Tabletop Game Design. Just really great feedback and it's a really great community. But just Reddit in general, I feel like, is a underutilized marketing platform. You can pay for ads, but I think, in terms of just getting the word out and reaching a community that actually cares, Reddit has so many subreddits that are receptive to listening to you and to hearing what you have to say about your game or your project or anything. So I've used that to pretty good effect. BoardGameGeek, obviously, is a very important website, in terms of … Integrating yourself into the community is super important, but also just paying for ads. I've heard the returns are extremely good because it's a site for people who want to buy board games, you know? It just makes sense. So, yeah.

Alec Nezin: Also, just having a big social media presence, or just a social media presence in general. I'm not a big social media person. I'm not the type who posts selfies or updates everyone. That's not me at all, but I had to make a social media profile on every platform. I think that's just super important, to just at least put the effort into making a profile and updating something for every platform that's available. So, yeah, I'm on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, BoardGameGeek. I have my own subreddit. Tabletopia. Tabletop Simulator.

Patrick Rauland: What? Cool.

Alec Nezin: NeonMob is this other website that I'm associated with. Also, having your own website. Yeah. So you just get yourself out there, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: So, I'm curious … Okay, so I want to go back to two points, there. I totally want to ask about Reddit, because I'm not a … I have a Reddit account. I post like twice a year, and it's not even for a board game. So here's my question. For Reddit, can I go on and say, “Hey, in the last play test people didn't quite understand what it was this card was supposed to do. How can I reword it?” Can I go for really specific feedback?

Alec Nezin: Oh, yeah.

Asking for Feedback

Patrick Rauland: Can I ask for art feedback? Maybe, what are some guidelines on how to use Reddit the best?

Alec Nezin: Yeah. Just knowing what subreddit you want to use for feedback. There's tabletop game design, as I said. There's game design in general. There's a gaming specific subreddit, which probably wouldn't work for tabletop, but there're just so many subreddits. There's art subreddits where you could say like, “Hey, can you critique this piece of art?” You could do that in specific game design subreddits, also, but yeah. Just for every issue or feedback that you want, there's a subreddit, probably. I don't want to exclude Facebook or Twitter as feedback points, but yeah. I found Reddit to be the best, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Sure. Okay, so you said, “I've heard BoardGameGeek has good ads.” If you've heard that, did you buy ads, or did you not?

Alec Nezin: Ads are like … I don't know. I don't know now people feel about ads, but they're kind of a necessary evil. Yeah, I bought a few ads for the campaign. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Okay. Then my question is how did they turn out for you?

Alec Nezin: Yeah, they're going really well.

Patrick Rauland: Cool, okay.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, like on Kickstarter you could see where your funders came from. I have a constant number of how many funders came from BoardGameGeek, so it's going … I think it's a good investment.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, good. Okay. Because when you said, “I've heard they did good,” I'm like, “Wait a second. Did you hear this and not actually use it?” Okay, so in your experience, they worked. Cool.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, and Jamey, on his blog, says it's had the best return, I think, from his experience.

Are There Any Mechanisms You're Looking Into?

Patrick Rauland: Oh, that's funny. Cool. Okay, so what other fun mechanisms are you looking into for expansions or for future games?

Alec Nezin: I don't know if I should talk about specifics, but definitely the next sets are going to revolve around … You kind of have to know the gist of my game, but basically every metric in the game is modular. It's destinations, things that you travel to in the game. I'm going to add new destinations. There's roles, obviously, as you explained. New roles. There's a number of different card decks, and those will all include different mechanics. So I'll drop a hint. For the next expansion, the theme is going to be more towards vengeful spirits, but also include steampunk elements. So there's going to be a few cards that are kind of like contraption-like in a steampunk way, so I think it's going to add a new mechanic. Yeah, and also new theme and storyline. I have a ton of ideas. I've basically built the expansion, but just not ready for …

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: Basically, yeah, just working on it.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, yeah.

Alec Nezin: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: So if you want to see the expansion early, you have to go to your once-a-month game design test.

Alec Nezin: Once a week.

Patrick Rauland: Or, sorry, once a week. What am I saying.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, we're not even at a testing point. I just want to finish my Kickstarter before I start working on the … That would be a little bit forward of me.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, totally.

Alec Nezin: Yeah.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: Cool. All right, so you're halfway. Your Kickstarter is halfway funded. You got over half of the time left. What does success look like in the board game world, for you?

Alec Nezin: Well, success, first and foremost, is getting that complete funding, obviously. That would be pretty bad if it didn't fund. I'd be pretty crushed. But in terms of moving past that, it would definitely be building a community around the game. I mentioned, I have a subreddit. No one has commented on my subreddit. I have about 30 posts that are all me. But I'm just waiting, just waiting for the day where people start coming and commenting about, “Hey, I just played Forsaken Forest. I just did this.” Or, “Have you ever had this strategy?”

Patrick Rauland: Oh, cool.

Alec Nezin: I'm waiting for that moment, for it to have some conversation, but right now it's a ghost town. Hopefully it won't stay like that for long, but yeah. That's the goal, a community based around the game.

Patrick Rauland: Cool. I love it. I love the answer community. That's great. Cool. All right, so I got one more question, then I got a little game. Last question. What one resource would you recommend to … just any resource, to another indie game designer or aspiring game designer?

Alec Nezin: It sounds like I'm just promoting Jamey, here, again, but his blog really is the best thing that I ever read. James Mathe also has a blog. He's another sort of indie game designer who makes board games. So, those two together are just basically everything you need to get started.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Okay. All right, so got a little game here at the end. Because we're a board game design podcast, we should talk about it.

Alec Nezin: Okay.

Overrated Vs. Underrated

Patrick Rauland: We're going to play a game called overrated/underrated. I'm going to give you basically a word or a concept, and you need to tell me if you think it's overrated or underrated. Sort of, not your opinion, but what does everyone else think of it, or what does the board game community think of it. So, the first one. Collectable card games, are they overrated or underrated?

Alec Nezin: I think that they're overrated, just because there's just so many of them and so many of them are just the same game. Yeah. In game design, if anyone ever asks, “Should I make a CCG?” The answer is almost resoundingly, “No, you'll get crushed.” It's just never profitable, so I think they're a little bit overrated. It depends. Are we talking about as a designer or in general as a consumer?

Patrick Rauland: I would say, in this case, as a consumer.

Alec Nezin: Okay, yeah, still a bit overrated, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: All right. What about Spotify?

Alec Nezin: Spotify is underrated. Spotify is just like, how are they making money? I don't know. Well, probably by stealing from the artists, but who knows. Yeah, just basically the best thing ever. I just couldn't live without it, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: I totally agree. It took me a long time to pay for music, and now that I am, I'm so happy. Yes, totally agree. All right, you're probably familiar with this. The Two-Headed Giant format of Magic the Gathering?

Alec Nezin: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, cool. Just for people who don't know, it's basically you play one big giant monster with like 30 life points, and you play your turns at the same time. So, tell me, overrated/underrated?

Alec Nezin: That is my absolute favorite Magic format. It is criminally underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Yes. Yes.

Alec Nezin: I have a friend who I basically always teamed with, and it was just the best time ever, yeah. Just so good. But, you know, we kind of felt like a married couple when we played, but it was … yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Well, I think that works. I think that works for the format, right? Because it's like a two-headed giant? I can totally imagine a two-headed giant fighting with itself.

Alec Nezin: Yeah, they're stuck to each other. You know everything about them, but you know everything that you hate about them. But it's still great, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. All right, overrated/underrated, cosplay?

Alec Nezin: Cosplay. That's kind of tough. I think, currently, it's a little underrated. I don't think people realize how much work goes into it and just how awesome it is, in general. Yeah, I think it's just a ton of work, and I kind of look up to people who actually commit and make those costumes and put all that work in. Like have you seen the Thanos cosplay, recently?

Patrick Rauland: No, I haven't.

Alec Nezin: It might be like a pro that's sponsored, but it is just amazing. Yeah, it's this guy who just does like superhero … or just like big-bodied characters. He has a Thanos one, and it's just amazing, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Alec Nezin: Yeah.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: That's amazing. Cool. I'll have to look it up. Awesome. Well, hey, Alec, thank you so much for being on the show. Where can people find you and your games online?

Alec Nezin: Oh, as I mentioned, there's about 18,000 different social media pages. The best one would probably be Kickstarter, right now. Search for Forsaken Forest. But you could find me on Twitter, @ForsakenForest, or on Facebook, Forsaken Forest Game. The website is I think those are the best, yep.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. So you go [crosstalk 00:36:24].

Alec Nezin: There's a lot more, but I think those are the main ones, for now. Oh, you can check it out on BoardGameGeek, and you can actually play it on Table Top Simulator as a workshop, if you search for Forsaken Forest. So, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you again for being on the show. By the way, listeners, if you want to be a werewolf, just leave us a review on iTunes and I will send your contact info to my lycan friends, and they'll scope you out and see if you're worthy. I can't promise you'll turn into a werewolf, but I'm pretty sure if you leave a review it will increase your odds. So until next time, happy designing and thank you for listening to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast. See you guys. Bye bye.

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. Today we're going to be talking with Daniel George, who is the designer behind Treasure Mountain, which is a worker placement and tile laying game where you play dwarf miners, and it's on Kickstarter right now and it'll end in just a couple days. Daniel, welcome to the show.

Daniel George: Hey, thanks for having me.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. As of right now, I think you've got 10 days left, and you just about doubled your Kickstarter goal, so first of all, congrats on that.

Daniel George: Thank you very much, it's good to win once and awhile.

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. How did you get into board games and board game design?

Daniel George: Back in the late '70s, my sister brought home D&D, of all things, when I was in 6th or 7th grade. I got really into Dungeons and Dragons in junior high school, and that kind of led to me doing two things. One, I jammed a lot because nobody else wanted to do it, and I think there's kind of an element of creating your own stories for players when you do that. At that same time, I got into a lot of Avalon Hill games like Advanced Squad, Squad Leader, Panzer Blitz, a lot of the military things, and from there, I just never stopped gaming.

Patrick Rauland: That's great. You know, I think I got into D&D young too, but I could have sworn like a long time ago, wasn't there like an intro to D&D, and they had like a prebuilt map and a prebuilt story? I could have sworn, I know as a kid I played some like intro to D&D system, and it totally got me hooked.

Daniel George: I don't know how old you were, but I used to do, I think I started out, there was a basic like a blue box, and then there's a pink box. Yeah, it might have had some adventures on rails in there, but yeah, it had the little dice with crayons. You had to make your own numbers, you know the whole thing. Yeah, it was cool.

Patrick Rauland: Cool. Treasure Mountain looks like a giant game. There are lots of, I'm gonna say, overlapping mechanics and a ton of components. Did you design a giant game from the start, or did it evolve that way?

Daniel George: Well, my design philosophy is make the games that I want to play, and I love bits. No, I always say to my wife, “God, if I would just design games that would be like a lot less bits, I'd actually maybe make some money.” No, I mean it seems like it has a lot going on. I think that when I first started doing designing, I made really complex, historically accurate … I was really into historical, and then in time I realized, after 30 years now of design, that simple is better, like simple and elegant design is really the way to go. It looks complex, but really the core mechanics behind Treasure Mountain, even though there's a lot going on, a lot of bits to play with, at its core it's pretty simple, and it's been boiled down pretty well, I think.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, cool. Okay, so but did you start with like more rules and more complexity or did you start simple?

Daniel George: You know, I don't always follow the same process, but this game was a game I started more than seven years ago, and it started as a simple Excel model. I used to be a programmer, so everything I build is based on a mathematical model, and of building kind of a research collection model. There's been elements I've subtracted from the game, but now they're in the expansion that's also on Kickstarter with it, but it started out pretty tight from the beginning. I think the thing that made the game different, and if I could talk about my wife who has the co-design credit on this, the game was just about a dwarf mining game, and I liked it, but it was a little dry, I felt.

Daniel George: My wife and I actually played Kingsburg, God, must have been five years ago, or maybe four years ago, anyway, Kingsburg has that, if you've ever played Kingsburg before, has an element where the end of the year, a season, a monster will attack. It was just the fact, like that's exactly what Treasure Mountain needed, I went back immediately and dusted off my old designs. I got many, many old designs in my garage in boxes, dusted it out, and that's what the game needed.

Daniel George: What it has is that it has a dragon element, where certain spaces on the board are juicy, it's a worker placement, they give you immediate resources without spending anything, however, every time you use one of those spaces, you roll a die and you can move the dragon up this track. When it gets to the top of the track, the dragon awakes and attacks all the players, so everybody gets attacked. It's like this push your luck thing, and that opened up the game. I guess that's added complexity to the game, but it was over a very long period of time.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, but that's great. Also, I can totally see that being fun, and it totally fits into The Hobbit, where like the dwarves, they dug too deep, and then there's the ark and stuff … Well, I haven't read that book in so many years.

Daniel George: Yeah, I mean, I guess you know I always liked dwarves and I always liked dwarves, and I always liked orcs, and I like mining games, and the way you do tile placement and the collection of the gems, you do feel like a dwarf. I mean, one thing, I'm big on theme. Theme really, if you have a really heavy theme, I think people love that.

Patrick Rauland: I totally agree, I totally agree. All right, so let's just say a new designer is listening to this, would you recommend they start with a game with this many components, with this, I don't wanna say “complexity” because you said it's simple, but like the amount of interlocking pieces?

Daniel George: I would just say this to anybody who wants to design, and this is the advice to take: design the game that you want to play, and whether it's simple or it's complex, right? So that, when all is said and done, you can't start out thinking, “I'm going to make this game, and I'm going to get published, and I'm going to sell a million copies, and I'm going to get all this money.” People don't need to think that far ahead. I just say, “Look, make the game that you want to play,” and I made many, many games I was the only people of my friends who ever played it for years, and it was still a win. You know, is it more complex and harder to make a more complex game? Yes, but it's also very difficult to make an elegant game too.

Patrick Rauland: Sure, sure sure.

Daniel George: Like Dominion, for example, brilliant in its elegance, right? You know, obviously there's lots of complexity been added since. So to answer your question, just make the game that you want to play, whether it be complex or not.

Patrick Rauland: I actually really like that, because I think the part of game design that I like most is both giving feedback to other designers on their games, and trying to interpret people's feedback. Because I feel like I'm building a language, you know what I mean? Like I'm coming up with words or phrases, or learning about it in this podcast or this book. That, I really, really enjoy. I don't actually like the play testing part, but I really enjoy all the discussion about … Every bit of everyone's game is really fun, so I think that's probably why I do it, so that's awesome advice. I don't think I realized I had that much fun doing it.

Daniel George: You have to have fun.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, cool.

Daniel George: Fun is absolutely critical, and you're right, play testing can be a drag. I get it.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Daniel George: But it's necessary. You have to play test.

Patrick Rauland: All right, so about how many hours did you spend on Treasure Mountain, going back seven years?

Daniel George: Oh God. Well, I tend to be a designer that … I mean, I literally probably start 20 designs a year, I just come up with ideas. Like I'm driving down the road, and I'll be like, I see a rabbit, “I want to make a game about hitting rabbits on the freeway,” whatever, I mean just crazy ideas come out of nowhere, right? Like so I come up with a lot of ideas and little mechanic thoughts, and I bank them away. I create this, you know and I always talk about how like I tell people, I fail a lot. They go, “Oh your designs are so good.” No, failed 100 times before it got to this.

Daniel George: There was a quote about somebody saying, “The key to success is failing faster”, which is true for game design, and there's always a lesson to learn with every design you've made. If I can give you an example, there's a game I came up with a ridiculously crazy theme where … This was, God, five years ago, six years ago, where everybody's a sexually transmitted disease fighting over the body of a sailor on shore leave, right? You're trying to make the sailor go to the dirtiest bars and drink drinks and do horrible things. What's funny, the theme was amazing, except the mechanics did not match the theme. The mechanics were like serious and it just didn't work, so I banked that aside.

Daniel George: Then I came up, there's this other game I'm working on called Brew Kingdom, it's the working title. I took the engine of that game, plugged it into Brew Kingdom, worked perfectly. Yeah, I mean sometimes you make something, and you come back years later and it works. That's like arrows in your quiver, you learn tricks. That's why some designers, their games have similar things, like Feld has certain things in his games that you see across into different games.

Patrick Rauland: Yep, that's such a great example and such a great point, right? I think I got into game design, I think I started thinking about it over probably like a year and a half ago, and I probably got into like a year ago, and I've just been banking ideas in Evernote, just like every idea goes into Evernote, and I try to add at least a few sentences for each idea.

Daniel George: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: I don't know when I'm going to use them, but I'm confident at some point I'm going to use, I don't want to say “most”, but I'm going to use those ideas, they're going to be useful.

Daniel George: Yeah, and I also, there's something else I'd say to some people. I go to a lot of protospiels and people ask me a lot of questions, don't be afraid to use a mechanic in an existing game, because there's nothing new. I used to be into writing plays when I was in college, and I remember my play-writing professor said the first thing that he ever said was, “Everything that you're going to write has already been written, so don't worry about it. Just make the story you want to tell,” and that kind of applied to board gaming as well, I guess I carried that lesson over. You know, play lots of games, bank your ideas, and don't worry about it.

Daniel George: You can even make a clone of a game, if it's just for you to have fun. It doesn't make a difference. Eventually you'll learn, you'll get better at it, and you'll come up with something that maybe you can sell.

Patrick Rauland: Well, okay so that brought me to a question I wasn't planning on asking, but so one of the things I sort of did unintentionally is, I actually started modifying the games that I have, because there are a couple of games where like, “Ugh, this car is unbalanced, or this thing doesn't work,” and then we would have house rules, and for the most part they seemed to work pretty well. I'm curious, would you recommend that to new, aspiring game designers?

Daniel George: You nailed it, that's the first thing I ever did. The first thing I guess “board game design” I ever made was taking the original version of Axis and Allies. We thought it wasn't complex enough, so I came up with this whole system that's economic and oil and different resources, and we put stickers on the maps. In fact, I even ordered extra boards from the manufacturer, back in the days when you'd have to lick a stamp and you sent them a check for $12, and they send you an extra board. Yeah, I think modification design is an amazing … Like there's a game I have that's coming out in the fall, and I sent it to a play test group. One of the play tester's 13-year-old sons wants to do game design, and he has an idea for an expansion for my game. I said, “Make it, please, do it.” That's the best way to start, absolutely agree with you.

Patrick Rauland: That's really cool, and actually creating an expansion is probably even, like so maybe modifying a game first, then maybe create an expansion for your favorite game, and then try to make your own game. Yeah, that's a great idea.

Daniel George: I wish the internet existed back in 1980-something, where you can actually produce anything now, and put it up on Board Game Geek or put it up on a website for free in a PDF format. I mean, you know like I said, you can't start out, you're not going to make a lot of money, but at least it gets your designs out there. There's so many great stuff out there, I frequently download all sorts of stuff online, people's games or ideas or books or role-playing supplements that are free. I mean, it's an amazing time to get your ideas out there.

Patrick Rauland: It is absolutely amazing. I have one game, it's at the prototype stage and I have it on the Game Crafter, and it's a micro-game, but it costs $7 for, like it looks professional. That's insane that on-demand I upload some pieces of artwork, and I think rounded up it's $8 to have a professional micro-game made, which that's crazy.

Daniel George: It's awesome, and you'll get like 50 cents.

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Daniel George: That's probably about right. Yeah, I mean again, you know I just tell people another quote. We used to have a band when I was in high school, and our quote of the band was, “Don't let the lack of talent prevent you from the sheer joy of creativity.” That's another thing too, people have a lot of self doubt. Don't worry about it, just have fun, go through the process. I mean, there's always going to be someone richer, better looking, and a better designer than you. As soon as you get over that, then you start having fun.

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. All right, so I think this is your second published game on Kickstarter, right?

Daniel George: Yeah, I did a few games with Z-Man a long time ago. I never had a desire to publish anything I'd ever written, I just did it myself, like I would go to KublaCon, which is one of my favorite cons, and I would do historical miniature gaming. Every year I did my own historicals, and I used to do them and I had my group of people I'd meet with year after year. My daughter and I submitted a design, my daughter was eight at the time, we co-designed the little game and it won the KublaCon game design contest, and a publisher said, “You want to publish games?” I'm like, “Wow, that was kind of fun, maybe I should do that again.”

Daniel George: That was about 10 years ago, but yes, you know I've wanted to self publish for a long time, but yes, this is the second project I've self published on Kickstarter.

Patrick Rauland: Now that you've had two games, one already funded, one will successfully fund, what would you change about, you know if you could take all the knowledge you have now and take it back 10 years or whatever, whenever you started game design, what would you change?

Daniel George: You know, I wouldn't change a whole lot. I tend to think the process I went through was fun. I would say, yeah, not much. I had a great time, I would say probably even design more, you know?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, that's great, cool. Okay, so are there any games out there that sort of inspire you, or maybe game designers?

Daniel George: Yeah, you know it's a funny thing about being a chronic game designer, is I don't play as many games as I like, you know what I mean? I go through cycles, where sometimes I won't design for two years at a time, and then I play all sorts of games. I feel like I'm in a bubble that's a few years behind, but games that I recently played that I really love is like Great Western Trail, I really think that's an interesting design, I think Castles of Burgundy gets not enough love, Lords of Vegas, which gets no love. You know to me, I guess to me I don't have a particular designer I love, but I love games that have fun. Those games are all games that I think, you know Wits & Wagers is a very simple game, but every time I pull it out, people have a great time.

Daniel George: Yeah, I guess to answer your question, my favorite designer? Stefen Feld is pretty good, Jamey Stegmaier, yeah, probably like his stuff has been really consistent over the years, I think.

Patrick Rauland: Totally, that's great. Yeah, so I have one of those tiny Button Shy games that I now carry it in my backpack or in my pocket wherever I go. It's an improv game, I think it's called Movie Plotz.

Daniel George: Ooh, great.

Patrick Rauland: That game is so simple, like I remember I was waiting for a friend once, and I played with the bartender at a bar, like you know what I mean?

Daniel George: Perfect.

Patrick Rauland: It was so incredibly simple, it was like, “All right, one sentence story, and now we just keep modifying the story with every card.” It was so cool to have, and it was so fun. That was the whole point, like it was fun, incredibly simple, I could bring it with me in my pocket. Yeah, cool, games that are fun.

Daniel George: Games that are fun. I mean really, people sometimes forget, I think people care so much about rating games and ranking games, like the Board Game Geek score, people put a lot of stock in that, but I don't know, there are a lot of games that have a 7.5 or a seven or a 6.5 on Board Game Geek that I had a great time, because it's the people you play with I think probably define the fun more than the mechanics.

Patrick Rauland: Totally, and I don't want to … Hold on, I'm just debating. No, I won't out this specific game, but just it's one of the ones in the top five on Board Game Geek right now. I tried it, and I didn't like it. I thought I would love it, and I got into it and I was like, “You know what? Not for me,” I didn't have fun.

Daniel George: You've got to give me a hint, because I'm curious if it's the same game that I have the exact same feeling about.

Patrick Rauland: I will say that there's a lot of setup for this game.

Daniel George: It's not the number one-rated, or two rated game number … It rhymes with Gloomhaven, is that it?

Patrick Rauland: Maybe.

Daniel George: I have it. Let's say we were talking about Gloomhaven right now.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, theoretically.

Daniel George: I would say that I would share your opinion, but it's so brilliant and the bits are so amazing-

Patrick Rauland: Yes.

Daniel George: Well, let's just take Gloomhaven, you don't have to, I will say it. I would say that it's a little higher ranked than I would put it, however it has some really good mechanics, but to me I didn't feel like it was as compelling as Pandemic Legacy for a legacy experience. I'm sorry, I guess I shouldn't have outed you, but I would tend to agree with you, it's a little high. I mean, I think you know there's a lot of … Like Twilight Struggle, by the way, was number one for a long time, I love that game. That was one of the first games I played with my wife, I love that game, I felt like it deserved it, but I think Cult of the New kind of pushes games sometimes higher up than maybe they should be.

Patrick Rauland: Totally, totally agree. Cool, so okay, we talked about some games you like, are there any games that you didn't like at first, but you eventually grew into them?

Daniel George: I have a prime example. I used to do, I had a podcast and I reviewed Scythe. I did not like it at all at first, because I think it was an integration of theme and mechanics for me, like I wanted those giant robots to fight. I was just like, “These are giant robots, they have guns, they should be fighting.” Though there is fighting in the game, it's not a fighting game, and I think that I played it, and I was like, “Okay.” Then I played it again, and now it's probably one of my top 20 games, just because I got over the theme thing. I think that integration of theme and mechanics for me as a player and a designer is important.

Daniel George: Yeah, there was a couple games that actually I would say the inverse happened too, where at first I liked it, and the more I played it, I was like, “Eh, I don't like it as much,” you know there was holes in it. Again, games have a lifespan, nobody can play a game 1,000 times, though I'm sure some people have, maybe Magic. Yeah, a game has a lifespan, and then you move on, there's a lot of good choices out there.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, I don't know if I like this or dislike it, but you're totally right, games do have a lifespan. At a certain point, you sort of, some games you can figure them out, you know what I mean? Then it feels like tic-tac-toe, where there's like an obvious best move, and you just make that move and it doesn't feel like a game anymore.

Daniel George: Yeah, like I mean [inaudible 00:19:57] is a great game, and I still love it by the way, but once we kind of figured out the mathiness of it, it became not as interesting, because I think sometimes the fun is about discovery. It's still a great game, by the way, and I would recommend anybody to buy it, but that's a game that's right in front of me on the wall, like I'm looking at, where I had that same experience with my wife.

Patrick Rauland: Interesting, interesting, cool. All right, so we talked a little bit about underappreciated games, but I'm guessing, do you have a favorite underappreciated game?

Daniel George: Well, underappreciated game, that's a great question. God, I have so many games that I … I have an issue, I am a poor game designer as far as …. Well, a board game design reviewer, I should say, as I can see the value in most games, and I love a lot of games. Like I love a lot of games for different reasons, but you know if I was going to take the overall fun factor, which is the only thing that really matters to me, I love Lords of Vegas. I don't know if you've played Lords of Vegas before.

Patrick Rauland: No.

Daniel George: It is a game, I think Mayfair I think does it, and basically it's early 1950s in Las Vegas, you're all kind of casino bosses trying to make your way and build casinos on the Las Vegas strip. It's got a lot of luck, but what it's about, it's like you building these casinos, but you can take over other people's casinos by getting your guys in there and muscling in. It's a very very simple game, but the game has the best stories. Like my wife will still, years later my wife will still bring this up, she had this giant casino, a certain number of tiles, the more tiles, the more points, the more money, and I had a minority share, I had one square in there, and everybody has dice per square, you roll a D6. Whoever has the highest D6 value is the boss.

Daniel George: Everybody gets profits, but you get the boss. Well, she rolled all ones for six times, and I rolled like a three, so [crosstalk 00:21:57], and it made me win the game as a result of it. You know again, some people may not like that, the swing in this, but there's a million stories like that that go the opposite way, and we use poker chips. The only criticism I have with the game is it comes with paper money, and I never even opened it, I threw it out. You've got to get poker chips, and you bet into these little casinos. Sorry, again, that's a long answer for a short question, but it's a game I just love. We only play it once a year, we play it at KublaiCon, we were playing this weekend. The first thing my son said when I was packing games, “Are you bringing Lords of Vegas?”

Patrick Rauland: That sounds great, and I actually, dice are like such a … Well, let me ask you this. What do you think of output randomness, which in your case it sounds like you shouldn't have won that, but you did, just the luck was in your favor.

Daniel George: Well, let's talk about my philosophy for game design.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, let's do it.

Daniel George: You know, I get a couple old games, let's talk about the two last games from last year and this year, which first is Dragon Brew, it's a fantasy beer brewing game, no luck. It is worker placement, pure Euro, pretty heavy, you know what I mean? Like it's a game that has an IP, very little luck involved, but I love it, like it's just a game I love to play. Dragon Brew has that kind of Euro feel. Treasure Mountain has a dice element, where you roll dice when you fight the dragon, so the dragon is going to have a hidden value which it could peak at, and let's say it's a five.

Daniel George: When the dragon attacks everybody, everybody gets to roll a die, and it has to be equal to or greater than the dragon, and if you lose, you lose half your treasure, blah blah blah. However, what I added to the game is luck mitigation, you can buy axes. For every ax you buy, you can spend it and increase your thing. Luck all by itself that's blind and dumb, yes, I hate it, but having the ability to do luck mitigation … By the way, now you've got temple space you can do re-rolls, in my expansion I have spells, so I don't mind luck because luck is excitement, but I think not having luck mitigation with that is okay for a short game. Like there are some short games that are silly that have luck, but if you play a four-hour game, and you lose the last turn because of a bad die roll, and it's just because of that, ti's a horrible experience.

Patrick Rauland: Totally agree.

Daniel George: It also works the other way, like the game of Diplomacy, and I call it the Game of Broken Relationships, where it's a six-hour game where one thing that's beyond your control, somebody backstabbing you, and you lose the game, that also has a negative. I think there's this thing about control of your destiny, the least control you have, the shorter the game should be, if that makes sense.

Patrick Rauland: No, I totally agree. Yeah, with small games I think it's very easy to … I'm just trying to think of the right word, but yeah, if it's a five-minute game and it ends with like if I get a +1 on a D6 roll and you get a -1 because I did something better, and then whoever rolls higher wins, like I'm fine with that for a five-minute game, you know what I mean?

Daniel George: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: But yeah, if it's a longer game, then you want to have more control, totally get it.

Daniel George: Yeah, people do not like that.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, so I'm curious, so when I look at your game, I see a lot of components. I'm curious, so one of the questions I'm asking people is, what is the thing that you spent money on that was the best ROI for you? Like when you spend money designing a game, what gives you the most happiness in return?

Daniel George: Boy, that's a great question. Two things, so the user interface of a game, like that board, like I do my graphic design, I hired an artist, I have a great artist and I love him. He's flying out from Canada to KublaiCon this weekend, I'll give him a shout out, Mac, he's a great guy. The creating of the user interface, I know it's a creation process, I love that interface, but as far as just pure money, I just love those gems in the game. That's those little cheap-

Patrick Rauland: Really?

Daniel George: Acrylic gems. There's something about stacking those gems, like you pull them out of your mining, they're a big pile in front of you, and that dragon's coming, you're afraid, and you feel like a dwarf because you're greedy. You're like, “Don't take my gems, because they're points,” and this dragon is coming and you feel nervous. That's the fun part of the game, where to me, I know it ties back to the mechanics, but that stack of gems you have, that visceral feeling of stacking your coins and your gold. The only resources in the game are beer, gold, and gems, and axes, there's nothing more dwarfy than that. Gems are just something I like.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah no, that's great. I think that's one of the best things that's come out of this board game revolution in the last couple years, for lack of a better word, like the components quality on most games is just insane.

Daniel George: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: Because I think five, 10 years ago, yeah, 10 years ago for sure, five years ago most likely it would just be plastic gems, they'd probably be little paper tokens with the colors on them. The higher quality components in games now is just awesome. All right, so question for you. I see you have a couple sort of unlockable components, upgrades.

Daniel George: Yes.

Patrick Rauland: I'm going to ask, so it seems like you like nice components, like I see the beer barrels is just basically like an octagonal crown tag, why aren't they beer things from the start?

Daniel George: Money, it's just you've got to get enough backers, right?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah.

Daniel George: You know, the Kickstarter model for small publishers is very tight, the margins are tight, because when you're printing, there's a high fixed cost, like thousands of dollars of artwork, so your first copy of your game costs, you know let's say $5,000 on art, which is low, I think, $5,000. Your first game costs you $5,010, and your next game is going to cost you 25 … You know what I mean? You've got to divide that fixed number by the number of games that you sell. That's the first thing, not tension marketing dollars, I don't even count my time, again because we're having fun, so we don't worry about that. It is fun for me to break even, that's always my goal every year, and this year we're going to be a little positive. Our last campaign, we did not charge shipping, which was a mistake.

Patrick Rauland: Oh gosh.

Daniel George: Because shipping prices went up in between, so we lost a little bit of money, but again, we didn't care because we had a great time. Yeah, the components I think was just purely a financial thing. For example, we had to unlock metal coins as an add on. We love metal coins, like my friend Greg has like 40 sets of metal coins, or a million sets, you know we love them. We always wanted metal coins for Dragon Brew, which is my old game. Dragon Brew and Treasure Mountain are in the same universe, and we always kind of tie our games together, so we wanted coins you could use for either game.

Daniel George: The reason it's an add on but we didn't want to add that add on until we got kind of at least got close to 150% funded, was because we needed a certain number of backers to buy the coins to break even. [inaudible 00:29:16], that's why that's an example of a bit that we could have offered from the beginning, but the problem is if 20 people ordered sets of coins, the minimum order is 200 sets of coins, we'd be stuck with 180 sets of coins, which actually in Greg's case may be a positive for him.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, Greg would save money, he'd be buying in bulk.

Daniel George: He would save a lot of money. Yeah, that's everything we do is like that. Stretch goals are a combination of marketing a little bit, because you want to have that carrot, but really more so … Well first of all, people expect stretch goals, but even if without it, we've just got to have that funding level. We hit that, we're hitting that figure, like right around 55, that's when like okay, if everything starts to divide down, the margins are tight enough that we can't even really offer much of a wholesale deal. Again, I do have a package that I sell to retails at very little market, like I make less money on a whole case of games for a retailer than one copy to a regular person-

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Daniel George: Only because I want to support brick and mortar stores. That's a huge thing for me is that, again, financially maybe it's not the best thing to do. I also don't have, the people that own stores don't have to pay the invoice for that game until a month before it ships, because I know what it's like to be a small business, especially to be a game store, where you don't want to put $300 down on a wholesale order, and not be able to sell those games for six months. Again, it ties back to fun for me, is that since we don't have to feed our children with this money, it gives you the freedom to make those fun decisions, where if I don't have to pay the mortgage, then I can say, “Look, you don't have to pay me until right before you ship, or we can offer these coins at break even, or we can have these bits.”

Daniel George: Now, if we sold $1 million worth of games, then we would be making some money. That would be great, but you can't expect it.

Patrick Rauland: Totally. Wow, this is awesome. Okay, so I want to ask you a couple specific questions. I see you canceled the first version of this Kickstarter, and you just relaunched. Can you tell me a little bit about why, why do that?

Daniel George: This is a lesson learned. We did Dragon Brew last year, we did $50,000 for our first Kickstarter, which was great, we did great. We had 800-something backers, and maybe like naively so, we figured, “Oh, we'll get at least half those backers back in the next game.” Well, the games are different themed, so we did not pre-market as much as we could, so that's the first mistake on us, that's our error that we made. The second thing is that years ago, now here's the thing about the Kickstarter world, the conditions are changing constantly.

Daniel George: Like three years ago, four years ago, you didn't have these companies that were just using Kickstarter as their sole distribution, like and that's what happened in February. It used to be kind of the slow month, apparently now it's the hot month, because you get everything before Christmas. Well Batman, which here's the thing, I backed that game, Batman did-

Patrick Rauland: I did too.

Daniel George: I bought everything, I think I spent $470. I love it.

Patrick Rauland: Oh my God.

Daniel George: I know. Here's the thing, I did Conan, and Conan, I love that game, they did that game a few years ago. That game uses the same system, we love that system, and I know I'm giving advertising for it, it's a great system. Again, fun, really simple, in fact my son and his video game-playing friends had never played a board game like this. I broke out Conan, and every time they come now, “Can we play Conan?”, and that's a win, like that's just a win for me. Anyway, Batman used the same system, only Batman did millions of dollars, and there was Fireball Island, all these big campaigns, and it just drained the oxygen out of the room.

Daniel George: Now, we would have funded, we would have gotten about 35, which would have been fine, we would have actually maybe lost a little bit but made it up on the backend, but then we wouldn't have had all the stretch goals, and we wanted those bits. Like Greg needs his coins, you know what I mean?

Patrick Rauland: Greg needs his coins.

Daniel George: Greg needs his coins,

Patrick Rauland: And you need [crosstalk 00:33:27].

Daniel George: I do, and that was the most difficult decision, because you're basically saying I failed, but you know I tend not to beat myself up, so I thought, “Look, you know what? Let's take this as an opportunity to learn.” This is advice to people out there that want to do their own Kickstarter: talk to your backers. We asked our backers, I mean we wrote personal messages to almost every single one saying, “What do you like, what didn't you like, what should we have different, what did you want?” Kind of the main things that came out of that was our price point was fine, our value was good, they wanted more videos of the play through.

Daniel George: Great, so we were able to do that. They wanted expansion immediately, so that was the big thing. I had this expansion that I had been working on in my head and a little bit on paper, and I figured, “Well, I've got six more months.” It was pretty much done, because it was elements I had removed from the game originally, so I knew it was easy to get them back in there, but you want to do the graphics and the art. Luckily, because I am somebody that chronically prepares, Mac, my artist, had already started the art on this. Like I do my art six months prior, which is a little bit crazy, but you know I'd like to have everything done, because it helps me when I see that art, it inspires me to design. That makes your play testing sessions good.

Daniel George: Anyway, so we did that, we polished up that expansion. We came back to the table with more videos, and the expansion, that's really essentially it. We did some more pre-marketing too. Our estimates were that about, we figured a third of the people, maybe half would get, and the expansion was only $20, and it's a value. Like we make very little money on the expansion, but again, we make a little bit, so again it's like, when you go to McDonald's, they used to have the super size thing, every little bit is an incremental thing, your fixed cost, everything's already there. Anyway, we rolled it out, and as of today, 90% of our backers got the expansion, which blew us away.

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Daniel George: Blew us away, because it adds magic to the game, it adds dwarf runes. I know it was a long answer to a short question, it's that we asked our backers what they wanted, and they responded. Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. I guess I have a question, you said the landscape on Kickstarter is always changing, my question is, how do you know when the Batman game is going to launch, or the Fireball Island game is going to launch? Because I think Batman was $3 million, and I think Fireball Island, was that two?

Daniel George: $2 million, and there was a couple other million dollar, there was, and again, I backed a lot of these games, the Merry Men one, that did a million, right?

Patrick Rauland: Yep.

Daniel George: It's hard to compete with that, you know?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, and so Batman, I think the minimum pledge was $140, so anyone who buys Batman is now $140 down on any other board games they can buy that month. How do you predict that and not launch that week or that month, or launch two weeks before that happens? Crystal ball?

Daniel George: Well, you could pay attention, I mean there are people out there, like I knew that it was going to launch, and we knew it was a risk, you don't know what's going to be a hit though. Here's the thing that I think is happening in Kickstarter, because I had a couple people reach out to me, they saw that I rebooted. Every time you reboot, people ask questions, and I have an open door policy, like I will literally help anybody. I had somebody in Australia who launched that same time, didn't make it, he called me and said, “What did you …”, you know we had a Skype call. We had a great conversation, and I'm more than happy to share information with anybody.

Daniel George: The bottom line is you just, the level of professionalism, the level of quality in your video, your graphic design, your images, is just high now. I remember, you know five years ago, Kickstarter was like, the minimum bar was a guy sat there at a table, self-shot his video and said, “Hey, I got this game, it's really cool, you should back it.” Now there's like animation, and Hollywood-level production and special … I mean, it's like insane.

Patrick Rauland: And voice actors, right?

Daniel George: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Like, “In a world …”, you know what I mean?

Daniel George: I hired somebody to do my video for me. We got to the point where like, “We just can't do it. We can do our own videos, like play through videos, et cetera.” Yeah, a guy, he was a fellow game designer, and I found out this network of friends that we've just got to know each other, and yeah, he did the video, I paid him to do that. You have to, and that's the thing I talk about changing the marketplace, is that the level of quality to make an impact is really high. I feel like our Kickstarter is small, I mean really in the scope of the world, we succeed, I heard that 40% succeed now, I don't know the recent stats, so we feel like, “Yeah, we did great, we certainly are in there, but we're not certainly the experts on this.”

Daniel George: To get where even we're at, the amount of money and labor and effort to be at that level is high. Can I mention something? I don't remember if we talked about this off-air or not, about dollars spent.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah yeah yeah.

Daniel George: It's hard to get those ROI and those marketing dollars when there's just some things out there that are just sucking everything, you know and we have some marketing dollars we spend, we don't spend a tremendous amount. We find that Facebook is actually pretty effective if you build, like our page, like we have a social stretch goal about liking our page and following our page. Well, you can market to those groups of people now in future campaigns, and those seem to be very very effective, because they're people that already are your customers. Or mailing list, we have a mailing list we've built at game conventions over the years.

Daniel George: We did a kick track ad, it was fine, I mean it wasn't like, “Wow,” but we would do it again. Versus Board Game Geek, and I'm not talking bad about Board Game Geek, because maybe our game, when we did Dragon Brew, didn't really pan out for us. It was okay, but it was not like what other people get. The best marketing you can do, and I would say this, and it does have a cost, is get your game out there in as many people's hands. One thing, we sent out 20 copies of Treasure Mountain, each copy cost, to make a prototype, not counting shipping, 120-something dollars.

Patrick Rauland: Oh boy.

Daniel George: No, [inaudible 00:39:46] prototype, but it's just very expensive.

Patrick Rauland: That's $2,000, wow.

Daniel George: That's right, so we spent, in setting up, but let me tell you, if we would have spent that in Facebook advertising, it would not have been as effective as getting it out there in everybody's hands.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Okay, so let me just ask you, like what does that do? Because like so here's my very first thought: “That's 20 people who won't buy your game.” That was the first thought I had, but like are they creating videos for you, are they creating play throughs, how do they add value for you?

Daniel George: Exactly.

Patrick Rauland: That sounds really selfish, but-

Daniel George: No no no, not at all. No, first of all, you don't blind send them to people, don't just like send it to random, and say, “Here!” I mean, like [Roddo 00:40:26] did a play through of our game, he did not charge, he did a play through and an honest review of it. Some people do charge, like Undead Viking, I gave him some money, but the value that he added is a professional overview and a play through, and John does games, he charged just a little bit of money. There's certain kind of people that will do play throughs, like John gets games does the best play throughs of any, I watch his play throughs of other games, love the job he does.

Daniel George: I'm a fan, therefore I had him do a play through. There's a certain kind of value in people that are his watchers and watch that and see that, and see the game being played, because watching a game being played, to me, is better than any advertising. I mean, the absolute best is sitting down at a convention and playing it. I have friends and play testers throughout the country, and I send them the game and they take it to the local cons, like it went to Gencon, because people I know went and actually played it. Getting people to play your game is expensive, like for example, Fireball Island, JR Honeycutt, he won a round, their one copy of Fireball Island I believe was $8,000, for that prototype copy, but he traveled around the country, again, spending a lot of money, and went on tour to different game places, and that's one way they built up, kind of thing.

Daniel George: Because people then tag it on social media, and that's really it. I mean, get your game out there, and you should do that anyway in regards to play testing too, blind play testing. When I say that 20, I didn't talk about the other 10 or 15 we sent over the years for play testing too.

Patrick Rauland: Wow, that's so much.

Daniel George: I don't want to scare people, I'm not trying to scare people, because for example, Orctoberfest, which is Dragon Brew Orctoberfest, I had a card version of Dragon Brew, which we're actually printing right now, and it'll come out on Kickstarter in the fall. That game is a micro-game, that game is 100 cards and tokens, well that game cost us like $7 to make a prototype, right?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah yeah yeah.

Daniel George: I mean, maybe this is the argument against maybe starting with the small game, but I think we're talking about the difference between publishing and designing, are two different things.

Patrick Rauland: Totally, totally.

Daniel George: They're two different skillsets. I'm not trying to scare anybody, because here's the bottom line, it's not scary. There's so many fantastic people out there who help. I try to be part of that group, and there are people that I've talked to that helped me, Jamey Stegmaier, he does great blogs, we've Facebook chatted, Michael Coe of the Tiny Epic Series, he was actually a guest on my podcast years ago when he was first starting out, super kind guy, will give you the time, will give you some help. You know, don't be afraid to talk to people and get information, and have some fun.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. This is all very very useful advice. I've got one sort of game at the end, and then we'll wrap up. Have you ever heard of the underrated/overrated game?

Daniel George: No, but I want to play.

Patrick Rauland: Great. I'm totally stealing it from actually an economic podcast, but that's besides the point. I'm going to give you a concept, and you need to tell me if it's underrated or overrated. If I said “Star Wars”, you would say either underrated or overrated, and like a sentence of why. Got it?

Daniel George: Can I answer about Star Wars?

Patrick Rauland: Yes, yes, [crosstalk 00:43:51].

Daniel George: It's overrated, the last movies have been so bad.

Patrick Rauland: Overrated?

Daniel George: Overrated. I've come to the conclusion that I like Star Trek better. Anyway, go ahead.

Patrick Rauland: All right, hold on, wait, Star Wars the original episodes four, five, and six?

Daniel George: Love it, perfect, love it.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, all right. First one, underrated/overrated, solo play modes in games.

Daniel George: Oh my God. Here's the thing, I didn't mention this before, I'll answer and I'll tell you why.

Patrick Rauland: Okay.

Daniel George: It may be underrated, because that's one thing that I forgot to mention before, is that in my expansion for Treasure Mountain is solo play, and it wasn't in the original game. That was one thing that I forgot to mention that people asked for, is solo mode. I had no idea, but I say “underrated”, that this solo world exists. I didn't know, I didn't realize how big it was. I played, I mean the first game I ever designed solo mode officially was Treasure Mountain. Now I've designed animus for other games that I have coming out in the next years, but yeah, I had no idea it was so big.

Daniel George: Let me tell you, I had a fun time making that, and playing it actually is actually a lot more fun than I thought, I just didn't know. Like I played Mage Knight solo, because I think it's an amazing solo game, but to me, it's weird because it's like gaming … I'm not saying solo people are weird-

Patrick Rauland: It's a very social activity.

Daniel George: That's right, it's a social activity, and but yet, Conflict of Heroes is another game that's an amazing solo system, because my wife won't play those games, so I have no choice. Okay, sorry, that was a long answer, next.

Patrick Rauland: That's all right, that's okay. All right, Gimli as comic relief in Lord of the Rings, underrated/overrated?

Daniel George: I love dwarves. I would say “underrated”, because you should appreciate a humorous dwarf.

Patrick Rauland: Love it, all right. Variable turn order, and by “variable”, I just mean it changes from round to round.

Daniel George: I love it, so it's underrated, that's like my thing. Yeah, because again I quote Treasure Mountain, Treasure Mountain, turn order is important because basically you put your dwarves from the smallest beard to the largest beard, and if your beard is longer than somebody else's beard, you can bump them out of a spot and take it. Being last is a disadvantage,. Well, the game-

Patrick Rauland: An advantage, right?

Daniel George: Going last is a disadvantage, because you want to be bumped, because when you get bumped-

Patrick Rauland: Oh, you want to be bumped.

Daniel George: Because you get an extra turn. When you're a one and you get bumped, the guy that gets bumped gets to do something else, so you got to use that worker twice. That was a problem with the design, of like, “Oh my God, what do you do?” Well, when I made it, there's the tavern spaces on the board which you can't bump that essentially set the turn order for the next round, so you have complete control on what your turn order is going to be, you just have to sacrifice a worker. Anyway, but yes, underrated, variable turn order, I love it, but it has to be something that's visually clear on the board. It's tough when you go around, I mean round circle is what I like, but … Anyway, go ahead. Yes, next, I like this game, yes.

Patrick Rauland: Last one, last one, beards, overrated/underrated?

Daniel George: As someone who's a beard forever, underrated, I love a good beard. I mean, the longer the beard, the more you bump, right?

Patrick Rauland: Awesome, awesome. Well hey, thank you so much for being on the show. Daniel, where can people find you online, and where can they find your game, or games?

Daniel George: Yeah, well so you could go to Kickstarter, we end on June 1st, Facebook, you can go August Games, you can Facebook me personally if you're a designer at Daniel Albert George on Facebook. I honestly do not mind, I really do want to help people, I want more games to play. Twitter is @BGandBrew, Board Games and Brew, and I guess my home address, well that'll be something on the side if someone wants to come over and play a game.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome, awesome. Thank you again. By the way, for those of you listening, if you like this podcast and you want to be a dwarf, if you give us a review, I will send Daniel to your house and he will wave a magic dwarf wand, or maybe a rune, and turn you into a dwarf.

Daniel George: And I might bump you, because my beard's bigger.

Patrick Rauland: All right, so thank you guys so much for listening, thanks for being on the show. You can visit my site,, follow me on Twitter @BFTrick. Until next time, happy designing.

Daniel George: Happy designing!

Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast. Today we're going to be talking to Dan Grek who is the designer behind Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve, which is 18-card microgame for two players. And you basically explore dungeons. I want to say it was just funded, but by the time this is aired, it will be just funded on Kickstarter. First of all, Dan, congrats on that, and welcome to the show.

Dan Grek: Thank you so much on both counts. It's great to be here, and it's great to see the Kickstarter fund.

Patrick Rauland: It's going to be an amazing feeling. Cause this is your first one, right?

Dan Grek: Yeah. I tried to run one a couple years ago but I didn't have my research plan and the game honestly, wasn't that ready either. I wanted to throw something small, it just didn't come together the way it should have. I ended that pretty early, but this one definitely better prepared and better results.

Patrick Rauland: Good, good, good. So how did you do get into board games and board game design?

Dan Grek: When I was younger I played a lot of trading card games like Magic, Pokémon. Pretty much, if it came in a booster pack I bought it. I had some friends that I played a lot of that with and then one day a friend's new girlfriend comes up and he's like, “Oh, she bought me this for my birthday.” And pulls out Dominion because they had been talking about all these little trading card games, like, “Oh, this one, you won't have to buy all the cards.” We played that and we're like, “Oh this is cool.” I went to the comic store and I saw Race for the Galaxy sitting on the wall and said, “Well that looks like the Dominion thing but space.” I ran out and bought that and turns out somebody that I knew in an activity I was working on saw my copy of the game and said, “I love that game. Come to my house. I have 200 board games.”

Patrick Rauland: Oh my God.

Dan Grek: And just slowly getting indoctrinated into it after that.

Patrick Rauland: That's so cool. And what about board game design?

Dan Grek: Being from New Jersey, we have a lot of diners that are 24 hour diners and it's a big thing for when you're in high school here, you find the 24 hour diner that you go to, you go to theater practice of rehearsal for a play or something. And then at 11 at night you go to the diner with your friends. I got this idea of, “Well, what if there was a game about cooking food?” And this is years ago while I was working on some stuff, I hadn't seen anything about cooking food a whole lot yet. I came up with this idea and I just sort of threw something together and it worked kind of well. Through one reason or another, I ended up putting it on the shelf and working on other things in the meantime.

Dan Grek: It kind of just got my creative juices flowing. And then after that I had The Game Crafter recommended to me as a site to check out and they started running contests and that started getting me more interested and having the deadlines really helps me. And having the limitations really I think makes you get a little bit more creative. I kept going with that and I liked it so much. I just kept running with it.

Patrick Rauland: I completely agree on The Game Crafter contests. I would have never made a microgame. And then they had that microgame contest. I was like, “Yes, this is …” And this was my first contest. It was great that it was a microgame, right? It wasn't like a build a legacy game, that'd be not impossible, but very challenging. But like a micro game, I could totally get into that. The deadlines absolutely helped. So that's really cool.

Patrick Rauland: Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve is very cute and that's obvious. It's obvious from the title, if you're listening to this, but it's even more obvious when you look at the artwork. There's like, it's on your Kickstarter, there's this little ooze. And the ooze from [inaudible 00:03:35] has like a hat that has a helmet. I guess one, I want to give you kudos for making and ooze cute. And I guess two, did you consciously decide to make the game cute from the start?

Dan Grek: So some credit for that. All the credit for that ooze being cute goes to Alicia Volkman who did the art. She hangs around The Game Crafter a lot too. I've worked with her on a few little side projects here or there. They're still in development. I originally did the game, actually I think for one of the Buttons Shy Contest, some while ago. And it had a theme of … I was watching the show Vikings at the time. It was called Dungeon Death or Taxes originally. And it was this idea of that you weren't getting experienced from a dungeon, but you were collecting villagers and trying to have the richest villagers in your little pile. So you could tax them, so you could pay off the Vikings to not destroy the village.

Dan Grek: And it just, it was one of those things where I liked the theme. It was unique, but at the same time it kind of wasn't as engaging across the board to people and Alicia does this awesome … on our site, this free assets for games that she may have worked on or projects she worked on that kind of stopped for whatever reason. Maybe it just didn't go through or it's just art she drew randomly. And she's like, “Oh, I'll throw it up on there.” And she has a little Patreon to support that.

Dan Grek: And I'd been backing it and I talked to them like, “Eh, maybe I'll use some of that to mock up a new, a new theme.” And it had some cutesy look on some pieces. So I tried to look through the things that did have, not overly cutesy, but at the same time a little bit more kind of fun and playful look, for a couple of things she had and I put them together. I got her to … I paid her to put together some more backgrounds and things like that and some other objects. It's kind of a combination of stuff that she already had and some stuff that I commissioned from her to add into it.

Patrick Rauland: I realized as you were answering my real question is do you like cute games and is that what you wanted to make or did the art style just kind of come from somewhere else?

Dan Grek: I think for me, I don't outright like cute games myself, but I find that I end up designing things that aren't as, I don't want to say as thinky necessarily, but designing things that I try to make a little bit more mentally accessible. I guess a little bit. Not necessarily filler. A lot of my kind of filler are lighter games, but I don't know. I like people to get out and play them. And I'd rather have a game that I know that some random person can pick up and play with a relative than a game that five people are going to buy and evangelize and talk about how great it is and it takes three hours to play, you know? I think that's why I ended up being, and it just naturally creates maybe more cutesy games sometimes.

Patrick Rauland: Totally. Yeah. So it is the signaling, right? It's like, “Hey, this is cute and therefore not super thinky.” I totally get that. That's awesome. This is your first fully published game. I'm curious now that you've gone through the process of making the game, designing it, and now you're a day away from funding on Kickstarter, what would you change about your process moving forward?

Dan Grek: This is my first fully published by me. I did do a … I don't know if you're familiar with Letiman Games that did Groves and they have The Neverland Rescue is a game they have done.

Patrick Rauland: I don't think so.

Dan Grek: Dan who runs that is actually there's a Game Crafter person hanging around. He actually … I was the first non-self published game that he did, with a game called Dirigible Disaster. Also for a Game Crafter contest. This is the first one I published myself and if I were to like doing it differently, and having had that experience now of being the one putting it out, there are a lot of certain little decisions that I think I would … I don't want to say just, I'll take more time to play test it maybe, but there's some certain little things here or there that I'm going to be looking out for a little bit more.

Dan Grek: The cards that I used in Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve have a very pink background. That's something I liked because it was different. It's a color you don't see a lot in games. But when I had some people comment on the Kickstarter or some reviewers look at it, they said, “I enjoyed the game a lot, but the pink is way too bright for me and it kind of-

Patrick Rauland: I saw that.

Dan Grek: -gets to my head a little bit. Stuff like that that I didn't even think about as just having … I was having fun. I'm like, “Oh, this is unique.” It's going to have a different look. But then it's like … From that design, I think that was a big thing. Just looking at the graphics a little more and trying to figure out not necessarily what is it that I want to see graphically, but what is it that other people are gonna want to see. I think I let go in a couple spots that I'm working on and still improving.

Patrick Rauland: I have to say it's really … So I actually saw those comments on your Kickstarter and I think that's one of the coolest things is a bunch of people said, “Hey, the pink is a little bit bright and before the game is published, you can get cool. “We'll tone it down and it won't be … it'll be …” I imagine it'll still be pink, just not as bright.

Dan Grek: And even one of the reviewers said, “I liked the game. I had a fun time with it.” And they had just expressed like, “I think it would be cool to have a couple other things to do for the longevity of the game. Like maybe if there's some way to do more actions or just have more available.” I've been in the background testing out some new cards. Not to completely pull out cards in the game, but I have multiple copies of some of the cards in there. I'm like, “All right, I'll take a couple of them and replace them with something else that has a slightly different effect.” And I found a way to easily add another turn into the game, without really overhauling the rules because in this one it's like you track the turns by sort of rotating the cards in the middle and keeping track of that so it's just okay. Now you do one turn with each card changed and then at the end you put them all back in the upright position, have one final turn.

Dan Grek: So it's maybe get a couple of reviews earlier is actually the big thing I could say to answer your question because there may be one or two things that they catch. And this also could be a forecasting thing as well, but they're going to look at it a little bit more critically sometimes than some of your play testers who kind of look at it as a finished product. So they'll be able to kind of give you some things that you could possibly update and tweak, give it that more extra polish that it really needs to do well.

Patrick Rauland: You mentioned play testers and I … I had an interesting experience recently where I was doing a blind play test and so I was literally watching people, and I could see them, they just missed a rule and they were kind of drowning because they just like … it's [inaudible 00:10:23] on the card, they just missed it. And I'm curious. Did you ever use any outside play testing services? Did you do blind play tests what, what gave you the best feedback?

Dan Grek: The best feedback overall was definitely, you could call it a kind of blind play test. I sent it out to a couple people that I know that do reviews but also give very solid feedback within their reviews and they like to look at, when they review it, from a designer's perspective instead of like a consumer's perspective. When I get blind play testing though I like to just post something on BoardGameGeek and just maybe throw a couple of images up there and say, “Hey, take a look at it if you've got time.” Maybe I can do a print and play and see who wants to do that, but I kind of like to run it that way. I'm too nervous if I'm there while it's happening. I'm standing on the side and watching it. I'm too busy thinking are they having fun? I'm so worried about it. They could be lost in thought, really engrossed in the game and I'd say, “They're not smiling. Why aren't they smiling? They should be smiling and laughing.” And I get a little nervous about it. So I just want to send them out.

Patrick Rauland: When is a good time for that. Like after play test two or after play test 20, you know, or 200?

Dan Grek: It really for me depends on the size of the game and the depth and mechanics, but I tend to try and do that the second I realize I can't tell if the game is fun anymore. And what I mean by that is I get so focused myself on every little facet of it that when I'm playing it, I'm redesigning it in my head. If I see other people that I'm play testing with are engaging with it and they're looking at it as a new experience and all I can think of is, “I can make this one tiny change with this thing.” Once I'm nitpicking those small details, that's when I say I need to send this out to somebody I don't know, or somebody that I haven't mentioned any of this too. So then that way they can come back to me and if they see that little nitpicky detail then I know maybe that's something to change, but if they don't mention it at all and maybe I'm starting to overthink it, I'm kind of losing sight of the overall design.

Patrick Rauland: Interesting. All right. I like that. Um, okay. So this is a microgame. As far as I know, the definition of a microgame is basically 18 cards or less or something around there. What do you like about microgames? Why did you decide to make one?

Dan Grek: I think the biggest thing is that there's a few reasons why I like to do them. Part of the reason I got into these ones is because, like I said, I do a lot of prototyping and contests on The Game Crafter and they came out this hook box, which is what we're basically using for the game. It's neat because it prints on both sides. It's folds around the cards. It's really tiny. You can have the rules on it. You don't need a rule sheet. That kind of spurred me to do this. But I picked up Love Letter. I picked up some of the Parker  game series. Button Shy has a whole lot of these microgames now.

Dan Grek: And I looked at it and I love the idea of an experience you can fit in your pocket that's not designed to just be some throwaway activity you're doing because you need to fill them in it, that's actually going to be engaging and actually kind of bring you in. And if I liked those restrictions and design, that's why I like looking at contests. And the idea of being told you only have 18 cards to achieve that goal. It is so restrictive that you really have to think out of the box to make it something unique, but at the same time you only have to do 18 cards to get it prototyped. So I was able to get it out faster, get it prototyped and tested faster. It really fit exactly what I was looking for in the experience.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Now, I love that. I agree. I definitely agree on … It's so limiting and so rewarding. The 18 cards, right? When I was doing mine, I got a lot of feedback about, “Oh, just add some more cards to do this.” And it's like, “Hey, I can't.” It's 18 cards or less. And it forced … But I heard that multiple times from different play testers, especially in the beginning. And then I think more recently maybe because I'm farther along in the process, I don't. Maybe after a couple of play tests I worked out the roughest parts of the game and now even with just 18 cards it's something. But yeah, it's really frustrating and really great at the same time.

Dan Grek: I think that's the most … I don't want to say it's the most concerning thing to hear from somebody. But when you're doing an 18 card game to have them say, “Oh, this would be great if it was 36 cards or this would be great if it was 42.” I think that's letting you know you're almost there because an 18 card game needs to function with that 18 cards and not make people think, “I would love to do this, but bigger.” You want them to think I would love to do this again the exact way it is. I think that's kind of the tough thing to get to. It gets to that point where it's like, “Yeah, you could add other stuff in.” But to try and get people to start thinking about that is the real goal by the end of it. Once you have everything ready to go.

Patrick Rauland: Also, I'm curious, are there any …. I want to ask you about the games you play. Are there any games that you love that are just totally underappreciated?

Dan Grek: I have some I've been thinking of that. They're underappreciated I guess in different ways. First one I'm going to throw out there because I'm a big story person. I like doing RPG games where you're telling a story. I'm a huge fan of the Betrayal games, Betrayal at House on The Hill, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate. I think they're overall underappreciated because the big thing people love to do when they trash talk the games is they come out and say, “It's like nobody play tested this.” It's just rolling. It's just a bunch of random stuff happening until somebody gets mad at the way the story is, the way the scenario goes and then they quit and flip the table and all that. But it can't be played tested the way that you expect another game to be.

Dan Grek: You can't have 50 different scenarios in the base game that have thousands of combinations of cards and things like that and get it to work perfectly every single time. And the thing I tell people when I introduce it is, “Don't look at this as a game. Just look at it as we're telling a story and there's mechanics to help us do that. And just kind of enjoy it for what it is and pick the couple things out. I think when you do that, you have a better time with it. I know it's not everybody's cup of tea, but I think a lot of people like to drag it through the mud over how impossible it would be to play test everything in every situation. That's my big one.

Dan Grek: I'd like to see people talk about The Game Of Things a lot more when they talk about party games and whatnot. It's still in Target. You can't say it's too hidden or anything like that. It's like any one of those social deduction games. You get Cards Against Humanity and all that, we have the cards go out, but this one is, you get the prompt and it's just things that giants like or some random phrase. But everybody actually writes their own answer down on a piece of paper and the twists to it that I think makes interesting is you can be funny. You can adjust your humor to the crowd. I have very real religious in-laws that we definitely don't generally swear and things like that around them. And then I have groups of friends that we can get a little bit rowdier with the answers with.

Dan Grek: So it scales because you don't have those pre-written answers. And then the coolest thing about it is that it gets to be how well do you know the people there. Because you're not trying to have a judge pick the best answer. You're trying to go around the table and guests who wrote what. It almost gets be sort of like bluffing game or social deduction game of, “Okay. This person said cactus. That really sounds like, Jake would say that answer, but Jake knows I think that. So maybe Terry put that answer down.” It has this cool social deduction aspect to it that you don't see in a lot of those party games.

Patrick Rauland: Do you think you'll do a game like that?

Dan Grek: I would love to be able to think of something like that. I think whenever I play one of those games I'd say, “Oh, it'd be cool if we did this and I immediately go to BoardGameGeek and find something already doing that. If I find one, I absolutely would love to do something like that. But right now, too many other ideas. [crosstalk 00:18:26]

Patrick Rauland: What is some of the … Again, you're just about to fund. What are some of the best money that you've spent as a game designer? The reason I asked this is, I'm a game designer and I think a lot of other game designers are cheap and I'm including myself in that, but there are things that are worth spending money on. What are they?

Dan Grek: Something that I would say, prototype wise, maybe not so much, but once you're looking at getting in there. I've found from experience that art really is a thing that you want to go into. And if you're just trying to pitch the game, you only really need something serviceable. There's plenty of online resources where you could, for something you're not selling, you're just pitching around, pay like $10 and get access to this full huge icon pack or things like that. At this stage, the games that I've been able to get signed or in this case that I've put out myself, it's putting some money into the artwork. Even though I did use some assets that were free, I still spent money on getting some character art drawn up and doing some other things. That's something that's always kind of worth it because it's the first impression the game makes. And you have to catch somebody's eye before you can get them to really sit down sometimes and read it, especially with how many games are out there now.

Dan Grek: Even to another extent, that just show in your game off a whole lot, spend money on cons. Go to conventions. Do you publish your designer speed dating events. Go to Protospiel. Spend your money on tickets to those. Because getting your game out there in front of other designers and in front of other publishers even if the publisher walks up and doesn't sign it, they may know somebody that, “Hey, wait, you know, so and so at this other company would really like the style of game.” And maybe they'll tell you, “Hey, get over there and talk to them.” So art's a good one once you're in that area, but tickets to events that are going to be able to network with people and show the game off is great.

Dan Grek: And then another one that I got into and spent money on recently, I'm very happy about … Cause again this is [inaudible 00:20:26] I've done this at Game Crafter 8000 times. They have this new kind of components to do … They call it … That lets you kind of prototype cards a little bit. It's not a full design thing like Photoshop, but it's really good for assembling the whole cards and you can kind of do batch assemblies with Excel documents and stuff like that. We're doing these 18 card games. I spent a couple hours in Photoshop putting all my cards together and then I had to make some overhaul changes and I was able to do that with this Component Studio thing in about 10 minutes. It saved me a lot of time. But then I also could click a button and make a print in play and click a button and upload it to Game Crafter.

Dan Grek: If that's a service that you use a lot, The Game Crafter to do prototypes and things like that, and you do a lot of cards, look into that Component Studio thing they offer. It does save you time when you get into it.

Patrick Rauland: And it's like $10 a month, right?

Dan Grek: Yeah, yeah.

Patrick Rauland: It's pretty affordable.

Dan Grek: And I think they have a free trial if you want to play around. But yeah, it's not too bad depending on how many cards you're gonna make. But like I said, I was able to put an 18 card game together in about 10 minutes with … I had artwork pre-existing for it, but positioning, here's what art's supposed to go here, and this text box is the title of the card, and getting it all set up in a spreadsheet was pretty nice.

Patrick Rauland: I think the selling … I sort of looked at the demo of that. I think the selling point for me is like if you need to add a new icon to 50 percent of the cards, you can do that very easily in Components Studio whereas in Photoshop you'd be copying layers back and forth and it would be a pain.

Dan Grek: Yeah, exactly. That was nice and so anybody that's doing a lot of cards I'd recommend go pay for Components Studio. Spend your money on that first. Make the prototype, spend your money to get into a Protospiel event or an Unpub or something. Get your game out there and then if you need to after that, put some money into a little bit of art if it needs to be a little more eye catching to get people focused.

Patrick Rauland: I love all those answers. So I do have a followup question on conventions. So I've been to one Protospiel, and I totally get how just playing games, your game gets out. You obviously get feedback and all, and you meet other game designers and you just naturally get your game out and get eyeballs on it. But what about a regular convention? Like if I go to regular convention, dumb question, but how do I get my game out? Do I throw it at random people. How do you play the game with random people or do you go to special events at these other conventions?

Dan Grek: So the key is that if you're going to weight it, you don't want it to be as heavy as a brick when you throw it. Some of them will do special events. One of the simple things you could do though is, if there are side tables that aren't occupied, that they allow for random gameplay, just set up a game up over there.

Patrick Rauland: In a sense, just like wait?

Dan Grek: Sit there and hang out, have it out. Maybe if you have a friend with you can start playing it and then you could catch somebody's eye. Worst case scenario, you're play testing in front of people and that's not so bad. You did mention the idea of special events. Unpub will do a lot of events for setting up. You can go in and maybe if they pay like an extra fee, but you can get your game featured in this unpublished game forum.

Dan Grek: And sometimes publishers may show up where other people come in just to play on published games and give feedback. They do publish your designer speed datings a lot now at some of the major cons, which I actually missed out on the one for Origins. I'm pretty sad about that. They opened it up and they didn't send out an announcement. I found out too late. What happens there though is you sit down, they get 15, 20 designers. Maybe they have a couple of sessions. You sit down and just like one of those speed dating events that you see … You sit down with a designer or a publisher and designers sit down together, and they talk for about five minutes. The publisher stands up, moves to the next table, and then you have somebody new moved to your table. It's just cycling around. It's only these five minute interactions, but they see something they like in those five minutes, then you could open the door and start more communication.

Dan Grek: That's actually how my first game, Dirigible Disasters started to get kicked off a little bit. I went to one of those events and it showed some interests, and the publishers that were interested, they were like, “Oh, we have some other games from some bigger designers.” But just the fact that I had interest and was getting some publisher level feedback, I was able to then interact with a smaller publisher at the time and then, and then eventually got it put out.

Patrick Rauland: That's awesome. I love that. I think I struggle right now. I don't know what to do at a convention. I think I'll have to try to put some of these into practice because I … Right now I don't know what to do and I'm sure it's useful. I just feel awkward putting my game out on the table, but maybe I just have to get over that.

Dan Grek: I definitely look for those organized events. So for unpublished games, [inaudible 00:24:59], because when you have a question of what should I do, they have an event for it. Then you're set. They'll tell you exactly where to put your game and people will be there for the sole purpose of playing them or looking at them.

Patrick Rauland: What are some fun ideas or mechanisms you're looking into for both Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve and for future games?

Dan Grek: Itty Bitty Dungeon Delve, I'm adding in some more things since it's a tableau manipulation kind of game. You have a lot of facedown cards. You're trying to rearrange them and make sure that your section is the highest scoring. I'm trying to add in … I've been working on characters that are introduced over the course of the campaign. This was something that wasn't in the original game, but I kind of thought, “Well, wait a minute. This is about leveling up now and reaching level five. You have experience points you get. There needs to be something else.” I said, “Let's make characters that gained skills as they go through.” It's a thing where the scoring … as you score, and your score increases, you can unlock some new abilities. The idea is that they won't break the game and make a runaway leader, but that they could add a little bit more style to some of the maneuvers, they could give you some more options so just makes it a little bit more interesting to kind of go through.

Dan Grek: As far as other games I've been working on, I've been co-designing this thing for a while now, this other game. I won't to talk about it too much, but it combines some action points stuff with some deck building. The deck building is in service of an action point game. I'm so infatuated with this idea of like what if you had it, you're making a deck of action points, that I actually had this moment. It was a couple of weeks ago. I said, “Oh, you know, it'd be really cool if I designed a game where you like built a deck of action points and that determines something.” And my wife said, “You did that already, just work on that one for those. Please just work on that one.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah, right. That's right. We're doing that one.”

Dan Grek: And I love dice in general. So really, I love press your luck. I love rolling dice, [inaudible 00:26:57] points in games with dice. I'll throw dice at the wall if you get me a game with dice in it I'll probably play it. So anything with dice that I can get done, I'm very happy about.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. So if I make a game with dice, I will send you the link and I'll have one backer on Kickstarter?

Dan Grek: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: At least one backer?

Dan Grek: Yeah.

Patrick Rauland: Sweet. Cool. What does success look like in the board game world to you?

Dan Grek: I'm going to say the corniest thing I've ever said. As you know this … for a lot of people, I know this is a hobby. And then for a lot of people that get designing it ends up being a hobby too. For every person that puts out 10 different games over their lifetime, at least there's one other person that does one game and that was the game that they had and whatnot. For me it's not my day job. It's just more about smiles and laughter and seeing people actually have fun with it. I get a lot of fun out of designing itself. It's kinda of like when I cook, if I cook too long, I don't want to eat. I smell it all day. Maybe I'm picking out some stuff.

Dan Grek: So when I designed the game and I spent a lot of time on it, sometimes I'm just so … You get a little tired of seeing it initially and don't want to touch it. When I give it to other people and I could see them have a good time with it, it's like, “Okay, cool. I did do something good here. I did put out something that, there was a reason for it.” Even if it's just making a couple of people happy. Even if only 50 people ever see it or ever play it, they enjoyed it. You at least affected them on a very very small level. I think that's where the real success is. It's not like, “Oh, I sold 100 000 copies of this game in Target. That's great and that is success but at the level I'm at and where I'm at, I just want to kind of get some games out there and hope people have a good time with them.

Patrick Rauland: Wow. That's a very selfless or community focused answer. That's amazing.

Dan Grek: Yeah. You know, and that's … Thank you. I don't want to … Now I feel …

Patrick Rauland: No, it's good. No, no it's good. You want to say anything else?

Dan Grek: Yeah. It's cool to … I designed a game and it went out and the publisher picked it up and I made my money back on all the 8000 prototypes I bought over the years and that's cool. I have a friend who does a lot of game designs and he's like, “Oh, how do you make money in game designing?” And he said, “Oh, my wife's an accountant for a law firm.” He's like, “I could do it full time because I don't need to be the main breadwinner in the household.”

Patrick Rauland: Gosh, how do I find that?

Dan Grek: I guess Tinder. Is that what Tinder's for? We need a board game designer Tinder for finding people who will fund our hobby for us.

Patrick Rauland: That'll be a side project.

Dan Grek: [crosstalk 00:29:38] or something like that.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay. We already talked about things you can do to test your game in conventions and stuff. Is there … I'm curious if there's like a specific resource. Like a blog or a podcast, not this one, or anything. Is there a place that you would recommend going other than in live events for another game designer?

Dan Grek: The two that always … Whenever I'm asked the question, like in random chat room or whatever, I always throw out a James Mathe for Minion Games. He has a really great blog that deals with publishing and reviewers and Kickstarter and dealing with backers and doing a fulfillment, and a whole lot of stuff. And then, Jamey Stegmaier of Stegmaier games also has a really great blog. I tend to throw those out really quickly because they have written more on paper than I will ever have in my head at a given point in time. And they're great references. They've done it a lot before. They both have many successful campaigns between the two of them. They're very good references in general. There's a whole lot.

Dan Grek: I'm trying to remember which podcast I really like. I got to this point where I've just, I've downloaded so many different podcasts I start forgetting the names of them. I just sort of identify them with the icons. The icons on the podcast. There's also a board game design lab, Facebook group. There we go. That's a good one to do. Board game design lab Facebook group, Kickstarter advice, a board game designers group on Facebook. I know some people are like, I hate social media, but there's a lot of places where you could gather together and discuss things and share ideas and promote things you're working on and get opinions without having to send a full physical copy to somebody. Even just sharing an image and saying, “Hey, is this readable? People are going to just say yes or no very quickly for you.”

Patrick Rauland: I kind of want to put you on the spot. Because I know what you're talking about with the podcast icons. What podcast icon would you recommend? Like what if you could just describe it?

Dan Grek: I'm gonna … Gosh.

Patrick Rauland: I realized we did not prepare for this question.

Dan Grek: That is okay. It's good to put me on the spot. I have to [inaudible 00:31:53] quickly. All right. It is what …

Patrick Rauland: That one that looks like a tower?

Dan Grek: There is the Board game design lab. They definitely have their podcasts downloaded. What else do we got?

Patrick Rauland: I don't know that one.

Dan Grek: The microphone is Gameosity. They do similar kind of review, general discussion stuff. I generally listen to like The Game Crafter podcasts as well, but that's because again, I use the service a lot, so they have some updates and things like that. I'm going through … there's a lot of them out there. It gets real personal preference when it comes to like to review podcasts a lot of times.

Patrick Rauland: We're just about done here, but I want to have one more question then, and then I have a little game at the end. So what is … Last question. You've successfully funded a Kickstarter. Congrats. What is the best way to market your game? What got you the best? What do you think get gave you the most momentum?

Dan Grek: Honestly, the thing that was most important in marketing the game was being a part of the gaming community in general. What I mean by that is a lot of my early backers were members in the Game Crafter chat that I have talked to for years and that have known me through the Game Crafter chat for years. Even if I haven't met some of them in person, I'm sure some of us would say, yeah, “We're Internet friends at least. And even going into those design groups on Facebook, some of them allow for you to show off Kickstarter when it comes at that time.

Dan Grek: So for example, there's an 18 card game, I think it's just called 18 Cards, in Facebook group. And I'm a part of that. And I gave some advice, I talked about games that we're working on. You can share, “Hey, I'm working on this, take a look.” And then when the campaign came around, I just shared it and said, “Hey, look. This campaign's up. We've been a part of this group.” And when people see you participate in the group and then see that you need help with something, they're way more willing to help out than if you just walk onto Reddit, spam the link somewhere and head out afterwards. Being involved in those areas where gamers like to hang out is the best way to get them to get into your game because then they get to know you a little bit more and understand where you're coming from a little bit more.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Last thing is I like to end this with a little game. It's called Underrated Overrated or Overrated Underrated. And have you ever played it before?

Dan Grek: I have not.

Patrick Rauland: So basically I'm going to force you to take a position and you need to decide if something is overrated or underrated. So as an example, I could say Star Wars and then you would have to take a position if it's overrated or underrated. Make sense? And maybe like a one sentence explaining it.

Patrick Rauland: All right. So number one, overrated, underrated Dungeons and Dragons.

Dan Grek: Underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Underrated.

Dan Grek: In fact, you know what I'm even to go so far and then really make some enemies. I think the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons is very underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Because?

Dan Grek: People complain about it because it's not like D&D, but if it wasn't called Dungeons and Dragons, fourth edition and it was called some other name, they would probably be like, “Yeah, this is real fun time.” Didn't like … it was like a video game and it was the name more than anything. So I think D&D can be very underrated at times.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. What about coffee? Overrated Underrated.

Dan Grek: I don't really drink a lot of coffee. I'd go overrated. I like tea better.

Patrick Rauland: We're going to have to end this podcast right now. I'm sorry.

Dan Grek: I know I probably just lost some … Somewhere all my backers are leaving the-

Patrick Rauland: All the backers are leaving. No.

Patrick Rauland: Alright. Point salad style games. Overrated Underrated.

Dan Grek: I think I'd go underrated, just from the standpoint of, I know people are getting tired of him, but I think a lot of people get involved in the gaming community with some level of point salad games. My big thing that pushed me was Race for the Galaxy and that one has several different ways to score overall. So even though the game is evolving, it's kind of like a meal. You gotta get through the salad first before you can get onto the main course and start to get really heavy into certain things. I think point salads serves its purpose and it's a little bit underrated because of that.

Patrick Rauland: Underrated. Alright.

Patrick Rauland: TSA Precheck. Overrated Underrated.

Dan Grek: I did a couple of flights recently. TSA Precheck is overrated. I watched people wait in line for 30 minutes or an hour at TSA Precheck and I walked right through in about five minutes at regular.

Patrick Rauland: Oh really? Oh Wow.

Dan Grek: So many people in my area in New Jersey … The airport's over here … Buy TSA Precheck to get through faster but there's more people in the TSA Precheck line than there is in the regular one.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, crazy. What a crazy world we live in. Where TSA Precheck is slower.

Patrick Rauland: All right, well thank you for being on the show, Dan. Where can people find you online?

Dan Grek: Our website that we're always constantly working on is That is concrete like the material, canoe like the boat and games, like the fun thing dot com. On Twitter, we are @ConcCanoeGames. I opened an Instagram with the same @conccanoegames. I don't think I've posted anything there yet. And then we're Concrete Canoe Games on Facebook as well.

Patrick Rauland: Thank you again for being on the show, Dan. By the way, for all of you people listening, if you want to meet a really cute ooze, please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. I heard that oozes like to read reviews and give you hugs. Thank you again for everyone listening and until next time, happy designing. Thanks. Good bye.