Tabletop Network 2019 Recap

#103 – Tabletop Network 2019 Recap

Hello everyone and welcome to another bonus episode of the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast

I just came back from Tabletop Network. If you haven’t heard of it before it’s a conference for game designers.

  • So you’re not playing games
  • You’re not testing prototypes
  • You’re not pitching to publishers

Instead you’re watching talks about game design.

In this episode I’m going to share my favorite talks, what I learned at the event as well as who I think this event is really good for.

On day 1 I really liked OMG My Wife Wants to Play Your Game by Elizabeth Hargrave.

She talked about the differences between what men want & what women want in board games. She pulled in lots of data.

Women are less motivated by conflict of social manipulation; more by cooperation and social fun
Slide by Elizabeth Hargrave

The takeaway from that talk is there’s a whole audience that’s underserved. And you can design a game for that audience. 

Percentage of women in board game groups
Slide by Elizabeth Hargrave

On day 1 there was a workshop taught by Kathleen Mercury that was fantastic. In it you were given a few components and you had to make a game in 10 minutes.

It was really challenging.

Race game
My first game was a bag building race game. You can add green, yellow, or red pieces to your bag. Every turn you randomly pull out a piece. If it matches the square you're in you move 2 spaces; otherwise move 1. So if you pull out red when you're in the red space you move 2. Uncolored spaces count as green.

It teaches you is how to move fast. How to get things on the table quickly. And even if you academically know you should get things on the table quickly it’s entirely different to practice.

It’s like learning why working out is important vs actually working out.

Fake Promo Game for McDonalds
My 2nd game was for our “client” McDonalds. I made a variation of rock-paper-scissors. Each player gets 5 cards and each round they choose one to play.

This workshop was a game design workout. It really stretched my imagination and I think it’s going to help me get my next design to the table ASAP. In fact it should be ready the evening after this episode is released.

Abstract star game
My favorite game is this abstract star game. You have to move your 6 pieces to the opposite corner. Each turn you choose to play one card. Whenever you want you can use your turn to pickup all of your cards.

If there’s a game design workshop around you definitely check it out because I really liked this one.

On day two were two talks I really liked.

The first was Game Design from a Publisher's Perspective by John Coveyou who is the owner of Genius Games.

He shared some of the most comprehensive numbers I’ve ever seen for manufacturing 🏭, shipping 🚢, & distribution 📦. He shares how challenging it is to make money.

One of the big takeaways is as a publisher you really have to make a lot of games. You don’t want to just make 1,500 units. You really want to make 5,000 or more units to get some economies of scale and reduce the cost of your game.

And for me personally since I’ve been thinking about going into distribution with my game I rethought it a little bit. I’m going to do a lot more research into selling on my own site and selling at conventions. You get to keep so much more of each sale but it doesn’t sell itself.

If you’re thinking about self publishing or even if you just want to know what publisher economics look like you really want to look at this talk.

I will try to get ahold of John and get slides but since they share some private numbers I’m not sure if I can get them. But as soon as I do I’ll add them to the show notes.

The second talk that I really liked on the last day was The Well-Tempered Theme by Gil Hova who is one of the hosts of the Ludology podcast.

The thing I really got out of his talk was new language. And I know this is going to sound super nerdy but I am a language geek. I love learning new words. 

Not for the words themselves but because words are an encapsulation of an idea and once you have a word for something you can better understand an idea of concept. So basically when you know a word for something it allows you to process and understand it.

As an example Gil’s talk focused on three pieces of terminology:

  • Player which we’re all familiar with. That’s the person playing the game.
  • The avatar which most of us are familiar with – that’s who the player represents in game. So as an example in Pandemic you’re a specific person running around the globe trying to save it.
  • The agent – this is new terminology to me. The agent is the mechanical aspects of the game. If you had a computer play the game and try to win this is how the computer would play.

So here’s where I think this terminology is helpful. If you have an avatar in your game but what the avatar wants it different from how the agent wants to play the game that feels off.

And In the past I’d say “thematically I want to do X but the game wants me to do Y”. Now I have much stronger language to think about the agent in the game and what they want.

I think for me personally I’ll develop games with as high an overlap as possible between agent & avatar.

There’s a ton of other really useful information in his presentation. I will try to get the slides and share them.

So those were my favorite 4 talks. There were a lot of other really good ones.

I want to move to who I think would really benefit from this.

I really like this conference. My only problem is the time of year. It’s the middle of November and I have lots of travel with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

If you were already planning on attending BGGCon this is a no-brainer. It’s the two days before in the exact same venue. 

I’d say as a game designer you could definitely look into attending Tabletop Network if you’ve already attended a few other prototyping events. You can get so much out of attending your local community and you learn about the basics like players want to have interesting decisions.

Once you have the basics down this conference is great.
So if you want to attend next year let me know on Twitter or in comments.

That’s all for this bonus episode. As always let me know if content like this is valuable. I do have a survey at

If you can fill that out it would mean a lot to me so I can keep making the content you like.

That’s all from me. I’m outta here. Gotta make a prototype. Happy designing!

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