Patrick Engro

#123 – Patrick Engro

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sat down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Patrick Engro, who designed Reach and Okazaki. I hope I pronounced that right. Patrick, welcome to the show.

Patrick Engro: Thanks, Patrick. Good to be here.

Introduction

Patrick R.: I like to introduce my listeners to you via a lightning round, so here we go. First question, what is your favorite space film of all time?

Patrick E.: I didn't realize this was going to be a lightning round. OK, I'd have to go with Interstellar.

Patrick R.: Yes. What do you like about Interstellar?

Patrick E.: It's surprisingly accurate in what it portrays like black holes are very much like what you see in Interstellar. In fact, I read an article once about how the most inaccurate thing is the rate at which the crops will die. So, I think it's really neat how accurate they managed to make the movie despite its age and the theme.

Patrick R.: That's cool. I enjoyed Interstellar, so good to hear. I was reading your profile, you've got a Kickstarter which we'll talk about in a little bit, but I was reading your profile in the Kickstarter, and it said that you want to open up a board game brewery. Which made me think, “What is the perfect beer and board game pairing?”

Patrick E.: The favorite pairing I've ever had is probably a silly one that I don't think many people will go out and try, but it's a mint chocolate stout with the game Korrigan’s. If you haven't played the game Korrigan’s, it's this silly game about moving these leprechauns around the board and collecting treasure. So every St. Patty's day me and my game group like to try to play this game, and I usually pair it with the imperial chocolate stout, usually mint in variety.

Patrick R.: That is fantastic. I am looking at the game on BoardGameGeek, and I will have a link to it. It looks ridiculous. I thought I was original because I had a game about leprechauns, and someone beat me to it six years ago. I should do more research. Very cool, and then what's a game you play with someone every single time at a con?

Patrick E.: A game that I would like to play with somebody every time at a con, but I can't say that I have is Captain Sonar. The reason is it's just so hard to play outside of a convention. Getting a group of people together that are willing to play Captain Sonar is just super difficult, so at conventions, it seems to pop up a lot more frequently, and I manage to get it played there.

Patrick R.: Have you played the computer game Artemis?

Patrick E.: No, I have not.

Patrick R.: Artemis is a video game version of Captain Sonar, and it might have come up before. But basically, instead of submarines, it's spaceships, but it's very similar where you're both controlling the bridge of either a submarine or a spaceship. Check it out, and it's really good.

Patrick E.: OK, cool. I'll take a look at that.

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

Patrick R.: How did you get into board games and board game design?

Patrick E.: I played games when I was younger. It was a lot of card games and just the standards, like Scrabble and Monopoly. But it wasn't really until the last five or six years that I started getting into hobby games and board game design. My friend introduced me to Forbidden Island, that was the first hobby game that I played, which now looking at it it's so light that I can't even imagine playing something so light.

Although I have played it occasionally to introduce new people to the hobby, but that's the first game that I played that got me interested in it. Then next step up was Pandemic, the logical movement from Forbidden Island, I think. After playing those two games, I just got obsessed. I wanted to tweak them or make a new game based off the similar mechanics, and so that's what I did. I made a game that my friends joke is basically “Forbidden Pandemic,” because it's so similar to both of those games.

But it had a unique theme, and I still to this day love the game and wish I could still do something with it. It was called Continuum, and it was about fixing a broken timeline. You played as these historical figures, Albert Einstein and all these other characters that have unique thematic special abilities.

But it was just so similar to those games that I couldn't possibly see it through, and since then I've just been designing my own unique games completely separate from– It's never completely separate, there's always other games, but just trying to think outside the box and trying to find unique ways to implement themes that are not being used or the mechanics that are rarely used.

What was your best game experience?

Patrick R.: Now, we were chatting before we started recording that you had a particularly good experience, and that got you into game design a little bit?

Patrick E.: Yeah, I think the moment that I got into it seriously was the same moment that I had the most, I want to say, idiotic and amazing board game experience of my life. Which is, myself and two friends decided that we would play Pandemic Legacy: Season One in one weekend. As you probably know, you play multiple games, and I think the minimum is 12, but it can go up to 20 depending on your wins and losses. By the end of the weekend we were fried, we didn't even like each other by the end of it. But I still look back on it, and I can't help but think, “That was such a good experience.”

As soon as we did that, I don't know. I just really invested myself in the hobby. It was a game-changer for me, to think that there's a game like this that you can progress and cards are being ripped, and things are being changed, and I love Legacy Games. Part of me hates ripping components, but that was still a very big moment in my designing career because that's when I started waking up to the possibilities of game design.

Patrick R.: Very cool. I've not been able to finish Pandemic Legacy: Season One. We're about halfway through, but the gaming group I was playing it with fell apart, and two people moved away, and so I haven't finished it yet. But we were probably winning maybe 50%, how many do you–? I'm just curious, do you know how many games you played total of Pandemic Legacy: Season One?

Patrick E.: Yeah, I think we played 15. So we did well, this is the group that I always played Pandemic with. We had really good chemistry, and we were just working through it. I think we made a couple of minor roles mistakes that may have aided us in our victories.

Patrick R.: OK. I want to talk to you about your games, which I want to get into in just a second because they are 18 card micro games and I think it's very cool, and they're very different, which I like. We're going to chat about it, but if this is your best board game experience, why haven't you made a giant legacy game that is 200 cards, and you open up card packs, and this is new, and that's new, and you rip cards. I'm curious because if this is the experience that got you into gaming, I'm surprised that you aren't going in that direction.

Patrick E.: It's not that I'm not going in that direction, it's that I'm treating this first set of games as a stepping stone. I feel like it's always better to start with something small, especially for practical reasons. Like, I'm publishing the games myself. To go out and make a massive legacy game myself on my first go is probably going to be a lot of trouble for me, so I'm trying to treat this as a learning experience and hopefully get some people who believe in my work behind me and then maybe I can take it a step further and go into these bigger, grandiose games. I do have some in mind, but I'm constantly working on games, and sometimes I get sidetracked with these little micro games, and eventually, there will be something much bigger coming from me.

What do you get out of creating games for Button Shy contests?

Patrick R.: Very cool. I like hearing that, and also great job. This is the conventional wisdom once you've been in the game world for a while, is to do a small Kickstarter, and then to a much larger one later. You're following the advice, but many people don't do that, so it's nice to know that some people are doing a good job. Let me talk to you about your game. You have Reach and Okazaki, and they were both designed for Button Shy contests.

I've talked about Button Shy a few times on the show, but just for people who don't know, Button Shy makes these great 18 card wallet games. I think I have three of them. I won't go into, but I have three of their games, and they're really good. I enjoy them, and I also really enjoy their contest, which they ran last fall. Let me ask you this, what did you get out of those contests? What did you see that changed about your design? What made you go into the contest? How was the experience of entering the contests for you?

Patrick E.: It was challenging. Like I said, I've been designing games for a while now. But I never really put myself out there, I was always scared. The typical amateur designer, where I was thinking, “If I put my work out there somebody might steal it or I might find out that I'm no good at this and that would be devastating.” I had a lot of hang-ups about actually putting my work out there for people to see, and when the Button Shy contests rolled around last fall, it was– I don't know, it was like “OK. I might as well do this,” especially because I was creating games specifically for the contest and within the constraints of the contest.

It wasn't– I didn't treat it as “I'm a bad designer if this game doesn't succeed,” it was more like “I'm going to try my best to fit within the constraints that they're giving me, and maybe something will come out of it.” As it turns out, I think you can see something came out of both of them. I managed to get both of them, they're both basically funded and around 95% funded on Kickstarter now. There are people that seem to enjoy the theme and the mechanics that I put behind those games, but the other thing I got is just don't sell yourself short. Put yourself out there and let the world see your stuff, and I'm sure people are going to find something about what you do interesting.

Patrick R.: I want to talk about Reach, just because it seems like a drastically different game. For those of you who are obviously just listening to this and have never heard of it before, it's an 18 card game, and the premise is an asteroid collided into your shuttle while you were doing repairs. Your tether broke, and you were like, “You need to touch the other player.” That is such a– I probably just butchered that, so please fix it in a second, Patrick. But that is such a– Can you explain some of the mechanics, and where they came from? Because I think they came from one of the contest requirements.

Patrick E.: Yeah, they did. The contest requirement for that month was to design a game that does not use a table or a surface, so instantaneously, I knew what I wanted to make. I had an idea in mind, and I had the name of the game within five minutes. It was there, and the problem was getting the mechanics to work in a way that seemed thematic. As you mentioned, it is a game set in space. One of the astronauts has been flung out of the shuttle due to an asteroid, and they're gone. They're flying out into space without a tether. The other person is tethered to the ship, what remains of it at least, and they're going to go and try to save them. This comes down to my love for space movies, and I mentioned Interstellar earlier, but I also loved– I'm drawing a blank on the name.

Patrick R.: Gravity?

Patrick E.: Gravity, yes. I love the scene in Gravity, and I loved the end scene and the Martian. I love this idea that it's a one-time chance to successfully save that person, and if you miss it, then they're probably gone forever. That always interested me. I know it's a little bit extreme, but I wanted to implement mechanics into the game that did that. That made sense, and I had so much trouble with it. I spent 30 days trying to design the game because those Button Shy competitions were monthly challenges, and I spent 30 days trying to design the game around this theme.

I just couldn't come up with the mechanics. It was only when I let go of my preconceptions of a game that I was able to come up with the mechanics for this one. I had to basically go into the theme more and more and just make it as thematic and unique as possible, and once that happened, everything just clicked. Just to explain how the game works, both players will be standing next to each other. They stand far enough so that they can only touch fingertips, and then the player who is being hurled out into space will pivot 180 degrees away from the other player creating a separation between the two players.

That momentum is going to be applied each round, and obviously, you're in space, so whatever momentum you have is just going to keep going. Because there's no gravity forcing you to stop, so I wanted to use that as a baseline. Once I did that, I started coming up with a lot of interesting ideas using the cards. Basically, I have the cards that can be used to change your momentum by actually physically throwing them, so, for example, you have a hammer item as the field engineer.

You can throw that to alter your momentum, so whichever direction you throw that you're going to go backwards. Your momentum is going to change from rotating in that direction to going backwards in the opposite direction of which you've thrown it. Meanwhile, the commander has the ability to move and throw tethers and stuff like that. So there's a lot of wonky mechanics, and it's not something that I think people are maybe familiar or comfortable with, but it's also what makes it unique.

The idea that you're throwing cards and you're physically moving in space, this real three-dimensional space, in order to simulate a zero-gravity situation where you have to save the other person's life. The object of the game is just to get back together and touch each other's hands. If you can do that, you've won.

Can you tell me about some of the differences between designing for the US & Japanese market?

Patrick R.: I think it's– For anyone who's seen the movie Gravity, or you're right, the end of the movie The Martian. Where you have to– Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen The Martian. I'm going to talk about the last few minutes, so go ahead and fast forward a couple seconds. But at one point in the Martian, the guy pops a little hole in his suit, so it's leaking air, but he points it behind him, and it doesn't work great, but it works a little bit like Iron Man where he can point it behind him and then he can shoot forward a little bit. It obviously isn't that accurate, but it was such a cool– And you're totally right if you throw a hammer behind you that will actually push you forward and the hammer backward.

It's cool that you added that into a game like I haven't seen any game– I've seen almost zero games where you as the player are playing cards and then literally moving based on those cards. It's cool, and I love that you did it based on a contest. I also tried to design a game without a table, and I sucked at it. I had a couple ideas, one was close, but they were so– They weren't even good enough to prototype.

So, just really good job. I think they're unique and I think it's cool. One of things that we chatted about, again, ahead of time is you live in Japan. I know I've talked to a few people in Japan, and by “Talked,” I mean I chatted on Twitter. I know it's a different game culture there, can you tell us some of the differences between designing for a US market and designing for a Japanese market?

Patrick E.: Yes, definitely. A couple of things are different here. First off, the types of games that the Japanese community like are trick-taking and word games. Those are the biggest ones that you'll find, so many trick-taking games are coming out each year here in Japan that sometimes make their way over to the US. One, in particular, Nokosu Dice, is starting to make its way over to the US and to other countries. Those are two big things that's going on. Word games are a little tricky because they're language-dependent, so I haven't had much opportunity to play a lot of those.

But I have played a lot of the trick-taking games, and they absolutely love those. You'll see a lot of those coming out. Another thing is they care about the size of the game a lot more than say people in the US or the UK. Basically, the size of the game box is a big purchasing factor for the Japanese community. Because the houses are small and it's very densely populated, especially in Tokyo where I'm living. People want a huge need to have a lot of game in a small space. You'll see games that are fit in your pocket, even smaller than then say, for example, Button Shy games, and they have this thing called “The 500 yen series,” which is roughly around five dollars, and these little tiny matchbox games.

Those are very popular here. One that people will probably know of is the Oink Games. They do Insider, and Fake Artist Goes to New York and Deep Sea Adventure. Those also come in those tiny boxes, so there's certainly a fascination with creating a game with minimal amount of components. Which I think is a really good thing for me as a developing designer is learning to try to slim down the package a bit and think of what I can do. Especially if I'm doing the publishing portions of it, it's going to be super beneficial to be able to say, “Maybe we don't need that component, maybe that's superfluous.” That's definitely something that's very different.

Patrick R.: Let me pause you there for a second because this is something that I care about because I live in downtown Denver. Downtown Denver is nothing like downtown in some– Like New York City or in Asian countries like Japan or China. I know it's very different there where it's so much more dense, but even where I live, rent is expensive, and lots of people live in little apartments. I have a half– Like, those traditional IKEA, the four square things? Do you know what I'm talking about? Maybe not.

Patrick E.: Yeah, the [Klax?]

Patrick R.: Yes. I think board gamers in the US will definitely know what I'm talking about, I'm hoping. But they're just a standard storage space. I only have a half one of those, so I have a 2×4 version of that, and it goes in a corner. It's so hard for me to buy new games because that means getting rid of a game or getting rid of something else that I own and love in my house to find room for the game or just putting games on the floor, which is obviously not what I want to do.

So do you think I can't be the only person in the states that lives in a downtown area with not that much space, but other people don't seem to care about space as much as I do. Do you think that's a cultural thing? Am I the weird one in the US, and other people think about this? How about this, you don't know the answer to this but let me ask the question anyways, why do I seem to be the only person in the US who cares about the size of a game and how often I play it?

Patrick E.: I don't think you're the weird one, just to get that out there. I lived in the US for 30 years before I moved to Japan, so I have familiarity with this. I was the type of person that didn't care about the size, and I definitely can understand now that I moved here why it's important to understand. I think part of it is dependent on your particular living situation. If you have the space, you're much more likely to say, “I don't mind buying an extra game to fit here.”

But if you're in really tight quarters, then it is very much about maximizing that space, “What game am I going to get played the most that's going to take the least amount of space?” I think it's a key question to a lot of people here and I think people in the US are also starting to do that as well. Because there is such a huge saturation in the game market at this point, and there's thousands of games coming out each year. All the Kickstarters, it's so easy to access them. There's BoardGameGeek trades and sales, and there's so many ways that you can boost your collection.

I think people have caught up with themselves because I am seeing on– Especially on Twitter a lot, everyone's doing some cuts and trying to cull down their collection to a certain value or a certain amount of space. I don't think you are the only one doing it, and I just think it's– Maybe you caught up to the trend before others have.

What is the best way to market your game?

Patrick R.: Great. I'm a board game hipster. I'll take it. OK, I did want to talk about something else. One of things I appreciate about our conversation before we started recording is you said, “I don't know the answer to this, but I know what not to do.” And I think sometimes that is just as useful, so let me ask you a question I ask other people. What is the best way to market your game and give us your take on it?

Patrick E.: I'll give a little bit of a look into the way that I marketed my games. It was almost exclusively through social media. I didn't build up any email base, and that was my biggest flaw in terms of the Kickstarter. I don't want to go that far yet, but it was one of the biggest flaws because the first day you're launching a Kickstarter is the most important day of your campaign. If you get a lot of backers that are excited about your project and coming in and backing it right away, you're going to have success.

I had some success on the first day relative to the scale of the game, but if I would have set up an email marketing list or website subscribers and I had ongoing contact with them over the course of months, every once in a while poking them and saying “Here's some of the development we had on the game, here's some artwork” to get people excited about it. I read somewhere that you should have around 500 people on your email list before, and I don't remember where I read this, but before you consider launching your game.

For me, that was a massive mistake because while I have a lot of followers on Twitter, it's not the same. I tweet something, and it goes away. If you don't catch them in the first few seconds, it's going to get overwritten by somebody else's tweet. Whereas an email, that's going to sit there in your inbox, and you can go in, and you can just click the inbox and say “Engro Games has some new artwork. This looks pretty exciting, and I better keep an eye on it.” That never happened for me, and that's why I think the scale of my project was meant to be relatively small scale.

Although I had big ambitions and was hopeful that it would be bigger, I think that's the main reason why it remained at such a small scale, though. I didn't get the audience beforehand, so for people who are thinking about doing this, I wholeheartedly recommend get a mailing list together and make sure that you can reach these people in a way that they can find it. Because it's going to be too hard to slog through all the Twitter trash and all the ads and all that stuff just to find a tweet from an indie game designer such as yourself.

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

Patrick R.: Absolutely. I do online marketing as my day job right now, and I super appreciate this, and I had just for other people to know when I launched my game Fry Thief I think I had 800 people on my email list. That helped, so 500 seems like a good minimum to have your campaign take off on the first day. Super appreciate hearing that, thank you. So let me move into the ending questions here, your game is about to fund on Kickstarter, so you did something right. What is a resource you'd recommend to another indie game designer?

Patrick E.: The main resource is Stonemaier Game Blogs. That's essential, and I can't imagine what people would do before that existed because he is so impactful in our community. The blog articles he writes, they are just to the point, and they focus on things that not a lot of other people are focusing on, like the nuts and bolts of a Kickstarter and the nuts and bolts of game design. I'm always on the blog and just anything he writes I'm ready to read it, so that would be my number one resource that I would recommend. Especially to people who are looking into the Kickstarter world, because I think his Kickstarter stuff is exceptional.

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

Patrick R.: Fantastic. Love it. Then what's some of the best money you've spent? What is something that's worth every single cent that you've spent?

Patrick E.: That's a difficult one. I think the best money I've spent on game design is honestly just storage. Finding a storage place for my prototypes that makes sense. Some of it is using old boxes from Japanese sweets like the boxes here are just so brilliantly designed. I honestly want to use them in a game at some point, but finding a place that is for that game that I can just be like “I want to play test that,” and I can easily find it.

Patrick R.: Nice.

Patrick E.: So, finding a storage solution. Some of that's been component trays and stuff like that, but I would say that storage and making it in a way that I can easily access what I'm trying to do has been the most important thing. So any money I've put toward storage is probably the best money I spent as a designer.

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

Patrick R.: Very cool. What about, wrapping up here, what does success in the board game world look like to you?

Patrick E.: I think there's varying levels of success, and I think it's all dependent on you as an individual. How much you want to accomplish, and there's a lot of people– I am going to quickly reference the Japanese game market a bit because a lot of Japanese indie designers design simply for themselves. It's not for making money, and it's not for making a career out of it. But they came up with this fun idea, and they want to show it off, so interestingly enough when you go to the game market in Tokyo, you'll see people who have 30 handmade copies of their game, and that's it.

They just want to show it off. When they sell out, they're done, and that game's over with. They had a lot of fun, and they introduced it to people, so I think there's definitely an individual thing. Whether that relates to success in the board game world or not, I think that it does. But I do have personally bigger ambitions, and I think for me success would be somehow making a difference. Whether that be helping the industry become more diverse and making a game that destigmatizes something or making games that are more in the realm of an art form.

I think this is one of the things that I think we're behind on as a hobby, so you look at movies and shows and even raw art, there's something about it that makes you feel emotional. Other than just the joy and happiness of playing the game, I want to see the industry go towards a direction where we can put emotions into people. Let people see what it's like to live in another person's shoes and truly feel their emotions. I may be talking more an RPG or LARP thing, but I want to see the board game industry go in that direction too. At least as an option for players, so for me, success in the board game industry, I think is going to be to find that thing that helps make a difference in the community.

Overrated/Underrated

Patrick R.: Awesome. Love it. So I like to end with a game called overrated underrated, and since I know you've listened to a few episodes, I won't explain it to you. But just for listeners, I'm going to give the guest a word or phrase like “External computer monitor,” and then they're going to say if it's overrated or underrated and they're going to say, “I'm going to say underrated because they're very useful when you work from home.” And then a one-sentence explanation of why. Ready to go?

Patrick, E.: Yeah.

Patrick R.: All right, first one here. I've seen a lot of games with this recently, so I'm just curious on your take, dinosaur themes in board games. Overrated or underrated?

Patrick E.: Overrated.

Patrick R.: Why?

Patrick E.: Dinosaurs should be a great theme, I think it's more saturation at this point for me. There's too many of them coming out, every time I look there's a new dinosaur game. It's a great theme, but I'm going to go with overrated.

Patrick R.: OK, great. I just was thinking about this movie I saw, so you can either answer– Any of these movies, there's a couple of them. The Jumanji movies, are they overrated or underrated?

Patrick E.: I haven't seen the new one yet, but I'm going to go with underrated.

Patrick R.: OK, that's interesting because you haven't seen it yet. What makes it underrated?

Patrick E.: Just basing it off the first one, it's not meant to be a serious movie. It doesn't take itself seriously, and it is a lot of fun. Robin Williams is amazing, and I have to go with underrated when I'm looking at the first version. I will check out the new version, though, after this conversation.

Patrick R.: OK, great. This one is a current event, so I won't name the company, but there's a big company that changed their customer service policy so you can't get replacement parts from them, you've got to go to the retailer who you bought it from. I just want to go with, and I don't know the right way to phrase this. The best way I've come up with to phrase this is “Customer service.” I know that's a little vague but overrated or underrated?

Patrick E.: Definitely underrated, I think because we are in a social hobby I think customer service is assumed or implicit, but I think we need to treat–Especially in the business world of board gaming, I think we need to be focused on customer service, in order to be taken seriously amongst other businesses.

Patrick R.: And the last one, and I'm guessing you haven't had to deal of this for a few years, so I'm curious on your take on this, but the DMV. Overrated or underrated?

Patrick E.: It's hard to say that it's overrated, I can't imagine anyone likes the DMV. I'm going to say– I'm going to say it's underrated because everyone gives it a bad rap and I worked for the government back when I was in the US, and it's not the easiest job to deal with. So I can understand what it's like to have a room full of people waiting to be seen, and people being angry and yelling at you. I think we need to cut them a little slack, maybe. I'm going to go with “Underrated.”

Wrap Up

Patrick R.: Great. I love it. I like being surprised, it's good. Patrick, thank you so much for being on the show.

Patrick E.: Thanks for having me.

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

Patrick E.: The easiest way to get in touch with me is probably through Twitter, you can find me @JapanBoardGamer on Twitter. You can also find me on my website, EngroGames.com.

Patrick R.: Great. So thank you again, Patrick. It's been great. Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Patrick said he would help you reach your astronaut partner in outer space. So, just in case you are floating through space, he said he'd help. Just in case that meteor or asteroid or whatever hit you. Then just in other news, I am still sharing my progress of all my games on Patreon. If you want to see what I'm doing, and I'm also sharing what's working or what's not working. 

So if you want to learn from all the mistakes I make, and I make lots of them, you can follow me on Patreon. I'm trying to find a publisher for Mintsugi, and I recently rush ordered a prototype from The Game Crafter, and it got there, so we are going to see what happens. Anyway, if you want to see how I'm pitching publishers, check out the Patreon. Then also you can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, and you can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek, I am @BFTrick on both platforms. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

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