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#72 – Travis D Hill

Patrick Rauland: Hello everybody, welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking to Travis Hill, who runs the Low Player Count podcast. He's a rulebook editor, and he's also helping me with the rules for Fry Thief. He's fantastic at that, and he also designed Reunification which is a 3-5 player storytelling RPG which was on Kickstarter, and Penny Rails, which is going up for preorder via Button Shy Games by the time this episode airs. Travis, that's a lot of stuff. Welcome to the show.

Travis D. Hill: Thanks, Patrick. It's good to be here.

Patrick: Very cool. I know you, we met at a conference, and we've chatted online, and you're helping me with Fry Thief, but the audience doesn't, so I would love to introduce you to them with three lightning questions. Does that work?

Introduction

Travis: Done. Let's go.

Patrick: Great. What is a game you play with someone every single time at a Con?

Travis: Roads & Boats from Splotter.

Patrick: What type of game is that? I don't know it.

Travis: Roads & Boats, it comes in this giant coffin box from 1999, and it is a logistics game to where you start off with some wood and some donkeys, and it's all about logistics and transportation. So, it's resource management, you're building up this network of buildings that create stuff, and you take those resources, and you drop them in this other building, and then it turns it into different stuff. But it's all about transportation, so you start off with these donkeys, and through your innovation, you're able to get rowboats, and you're able to create trucks and stuff, and the more of that stuff and the higher up you go obviously, the more stuff you can carry. So your logistics train works more streamlined, but most importantly, you don't own any of the commodities or the resources on the board. You might produce them, but you don't own them. So you can weasel your way into other people's areas, and you can pick up their stuff, and you can take it all. It's absolutely great.

Patrick: That sounds awesome. Very cool. I pulled it up on BGG, and it looks really fun. What is the most– Since you're a rulebook editor, what is the most confusing rule in a game that you've ever seen?

Travis: Whenever I get a rulebook, I normally get them in one of two stages. I either get them in a somewhat marginally developed PDF, which I like to call the 70%. I like to come into projects right around 70%, so that means that it's right before final layout and everything's great. That's what I'm going for, but sometimes I'll get it about 80-90% where the rules are mostly done, I have to proofread some things and check for consistency. But there are sometimes that I get rulebooks, data right about 20%, and they're in a Google Doc. I'm not going to name them, but there is definitely a game that I worked on a few years back that came to me in bullet points. It was just bullet points, and it was like– It ended up being a 15 or 20-page rule book in total because it's a big beefy game, but it came to me in bullet points. It was just one of those moments of like, “What am I doing?” There are a lot of confusing rules in that rulebook because nothing was laid out or spelled out or given time or room to breathe. It was just “[Inaudible], move this here.” “OK. What does that do?”

Patrick: Oh my gosh, that sounds nightmarish.

Travis: Yes, nightmarish is the right word.

Patrick: So where was Fry Thief on the percentage complete?

Travis: Man, I think you had about 80-85%, which is perfect. You already had the rules on cards. All we had to do is go back and make sure there is clarity and then rework layout, which is not my problem, that's yours. Fortunately, I could do that stuff, but that is a no. Fry Thief was in a really good place.

Patrick: Good. I'm glad when I asked about the most confusing rule in a game you weren't like, “There's this one game–“

Travis: I should have pulled that up and been like, “I don't understand what ketchup does.”

Patrick: That would have been good. Last question, if you could do any job on a train, what job would you choose?

Travis: I'd probably be the conductor. I think that'd be fun. At one point– I'm in education, and at one point early on in my education career I got a little tired and burnt out, fed up. I was legitimately looking for train jobs. I'm like, “How do I become a train conductor? How do I become a locomotive technician?” It was like, a lot of these are way beyond what I would be able to do or desire to do. But I'd probably want to be a conductor, and I think that would be fun.

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

Patrick: Yeah, I totally dig that. Very cool. So first real question is, how did you get into board games and board game design? And a bonus question for you, [how did you get into] rulebook editing?

Travis: Board games, growing up playing them, you hear that a lot and it's true. I got into board games through Twitter, honestly. I had friends that played, and we would do all that stuff, we played just your typical¬†euro games from the early 2000s and whatnot. Then rulebook editing was interesting, Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules Vids, he and I hit up a relationship on Twitter, and at one point he was talking about working on this game, and I said “If you need help with anything, let me know.”

Travis: The next thing I know I'm working on Vital Lacerda's The Gallerist for my first board game project, which was a monstrosity of a project. It was absolutely great, and it's a Lacerda game, so thousands of people saw this. Then Paul just kept asking me more and more, and he said “Would you be interested in helping getting eyes on stuff?” Paul is my mentor, even though I don't work with him much anymore if I have issues I still call him up, and I'm like, “How do you deal with this?” Or, “What is this? Does this seem, right?” Just whatever I'm able to do.

Travis: Through there I got encouraged, I got some encouragement from some friends who said “You should have people pay you for this,” because for about 3.5 years I did it for a voluntary position, and that was it. The people would give me games or a high five, and it was cool having my name in rulebooks, but then I realized I was spending 10 to 15 hours a week on this on top of low player account, on top of working full time and being a husband, trying to maintain some sanity and actually play board games. It was time to start monetizing it, and I've been doing it now freelance for about a year and a half. I've worked on probably 45 to 50 games in the last year and a half, so it's been a lot of fun.

Patrick: That's an awesome story. I work with a lot of freelancers in my day job, so thank you for charging for what you're worth. That's such a hard thing to do when you're getting into any industry. You're like, “Am I good enough? Do I provide enough value?” Just take the plunge, and I–

Travis: Yeah. Over the year and a half, like within the first six months, I raised my rates because I realized I was getting– It was just hard, right? Then six months later, I raised my rates again, and right now, I finally feel comfortable with where I'm at. Whenever I'm at that moment of like, “This takes a lot of time, I'm working real hard on this, I don't feel arrogant about what I charge now. I don't feel like I'm getting undercut or anything. It's like, ‘My time is worth X amount of money,'” but yeah. You see that all the time like I see that with a lot of big name companies who don't hire rulebook editors, is that they'll crowdsource it. I hate that the most, honestly. I've been part of some projects with crowdsourcing that have actually worked very well, but for the most part oftentimes whenever you crowdsource a rulebook edit, you have so many different voices and so much different input that there's no continuity throughout it. It's hard.

Patrick: So, can I ask–? OK. I was actually in a short little bit, we've been working on the Fry Thief rulebook for a couple of weeks, and I was actually going to post it in one of one of the upcoming updates, like “Here's the rulebook,” and I was going to ask them for feedback, and now I'm wondering. I'm just wondering, is it good to ask your audience for feedback on the rules? Or are you just going to get a whole bunch of random thoughts that don't make a lot of sense, and then you feel obligated to fulfill their desires?

Travis: I think the second point that you make is the most important one, because as long as you are able and as long as you understand that obviously you're not going to be able to please everyone and every single point isn't going to be in there. It's all this you're able to cut away the chaff, the people that are just cranky to be cranky about stuff. It's perfectly fine to do that. I was on a project where somebody legitimately shared the Google doc with their Kickstarter backers, and I was like, “That's bold.” I remember by the end of a week there were something like 400 comments, and I'm like, “I'm not going through this. I'm sorry, I can't.”

Travis: They went through it, and they got rid of all the stuff that was just extraneous, so I don't think it's bad at all to let your backers look at the rulebook. But definitely one, run it by if you have a rules editor– First of all, get a rules editor. Two– It doesn't even have to be me, I know plenty of people. This is not me shilling myself. But get a rules editor, one. Two, ask your rules editor if they feel comfortable with you sharing the rules in advance, and for what it's worth, yes Patrick. Feel free and share it. I feel perfectly fine with you doing so right now. You shot me an email earlier, and I'm going to answer that right after we get off of this, but with that being said you need to ask the rules editor. Because sometimes it works, and sometimes rules editors are like “I wasn't done,” or “I wanted to take another couple of passes at these big meaty sections.”

Travis: If you have an internal group of playtesters, send it to them first, let them see what they think and then get feedback there. Then from there maybe even do some more blind playtesting with the rulebook as well, I think that's perfectly great. Then if you want to open it to backers, do it. Open it to backers, and I think that's fine. But it's just making sure that it's not too– Especially if you're not on a significant time crunch, and you can spend an extra couple weeks on it, do it. Open it up for backers later on, and see what they think, make sure that you have another week or two for feedback and then go on from there.

Why Do You Love Low Player Count Games?

Patrick: Awesome. OK. I want to move on to, you run Low Player Count, which is a podcast I enjoy. It's basically about one and two player games. Why do you like those games so much? Why make a whole podcast about it?

Travis: Whatever we started it about five years ago, there was nothing there. There weren't any podcasts that fit that player count, so we thought, “This is a good niche.” There were the three of us that started it, there are only two of us now, but the three of us that started it we all had very different interests in games. So we could take things from very different perspectives, and none of us– We live close to each other, but not close enough to hang out on a consistent basis. So we didn't want to do any reviewing of games, so we were like, “We're just going to talk about it.” We wanted to have a casual conversation, and talking about 1 and 2-player games, it was great.

Travis: So what we did differently is that instead of talking about one game, we would talk– We would choose a topic, and through that topic, we would be able to dive into one and two player board games, and that's what we did a lot of time. Which is funny because people would say “We want you to review this game,” but we always respond back with “We can review the game, but just know that whenever we review the game, it's going to be, ‘We like it.' We're not going to give you a rating and talk about the salient points of the game design. We're just going to fit it into something else that we do.” So it's been fun. We're on a on a mini-break while a couple of us figure out what housing looks like in the future, but aside from that Low Player, Count has been a fun thing to be a part of for a long time.

Patrick: Are you the sole person responsible for the rise in solo games? That's–

Travis: No. I wish I could take on that moniker, but that is not me at all.

Patrick: No. Yeah, I figured it wasn't any one person. But if anyone it would be the person who has Low Player Count as a podcast.

Travis: I would like to think that we definitely helped, yes.

Patrick: I want to talk about your game, Penny Rails, and I'm pretty sure we met at Tabletop Network 2018. That was like, ten months ago? It was a long time ago.

Travis: It feels like it was a long time ago, but it was less than a year, which is so wild.

Why Make A Train Game in an 18 Card Format?

Patrick: Yeah. Time feels like it goes faster and faster. But your game was done then, or at least it was in development, and it's coming out for Button Shy soon. It's a Button Shy game, so it only has 18 cards, and it's a train game and train games tend to be complex. By train games, I mean like stocks, and you can invest in companies and build the lines, and all this stuff. By the way, there's a cool write-up on BGG about how the game came to be, and I'll include that in the show notes. But I have to ask, why make a train game and 18 cards? That sounds impossible.

Travis: Sure. I think that was part of– I think you hit on it. You answered the question already, is that I wanted a train game and I wanted it in 18 cards. So this was– I'd tinkered with game designed for a while, just off and on, you know how people do this stuff. I made a lot of really bad stuff because I was trying to mimic other things. I was trying to make my iteration of something happen, and obviously, that wasn't going to work.

Travis: So every single year, pretty much every single year Button Shy puts out a contest, and it's a game design contest. Oftentimes it uses different stuff, and there are different requirements for it. That year, which was the summer of 2017, they said “We want an 18 card game–” because that's obviously what they do, “An 18 card game, but we want you to have the option of using tokens.” So they're like– It's like the size of a card punch board, right. A card punch board that you can put up to 10 tokens on there of various sizes.

Travis: And I was like, “This might be it,” because at that point I was thinking, “What if what if there was a train game?” I've loved train games, and I play– I'm a big fan of Winsome Games. They're that weird exclusive club of Winsome Games that they put out three a year, and they only make 150 of each game, and you have to be on a mailing list. I mean all sorts of– I love that stuff. I love those games. All my friends who are not trained gamers call it the “MS Paint games,” because they're just hexes on thick card stock. I love it, but that's just me. I love those games, and I've loved them for a long time, and I've always been interested in people and games that distill that stuff down into different stuff.

Travis: We'll talk about this little later, about some things that inspired me behind it. But whatever it comes to trains, I was like, “I want to make a train game. I think I could–” For me, I was always thinking too big whenever it came to game design. “How much more stuff can I put in here?” So using, going down to 18 cards was marvelous because it gave me a very distinct restriction and I knew that I had to make it work for 18 cards, and it was hard. It was really hard to try and get my mind around “What does this look like? How is this going to work?”

Travis: I decided very early on that it was going to be only for two players, mostly because if it bumped up to three or four and you only have 18 cards, and then you really only do a couple things, and then that's it. There's not as much fun. Now I'm pretty sure you could play with three players, four players would be stupid. I think that'd be miserable honestly. Three players could be possible, but honestly, it's one of those games like Fry Thief. If you had a couple copies, you could take out a couple of cards and then shuffle them altogether and go.

Patrick: Cool.

Travis: Which makes it fun, because they're all– So five of the 18 cards are cities, and so you're trying to you're trying to connect cities as you go. There's a start city and an end city, and it goes from– It goes through all these individual cities right, so as you do this if you wanted to you could take out the start and the end cities, and then leave the extra three cities in the middle. You have six cities in the deck, and then you have 26 other cards, and you could go. I mean it's totally only possible to make that happen. I think that's fun. But two players was hard because there aren't many two player train games. Why? Because there are these things called shares, and it's a train game, so I had to have shares be a part of it. Because that's what you do in train games.

What Design Challenges Did You Run Into?

Patrick: Let's jump into that, because that's something you mentioned briefly in your post, and I think it's a good example of “I want to include this feature or this aspect of this game into my game,” and I imagine it's very tricky. So did you run into any challenges, including the shares in your game?

Travis: The early iteration of it, before tokens happened and before I found out that you could– [Inaudible] running the contest with tokens, I had a couple of cards that were double-sided, two on each side, that counted out their worth in shares. That's what they were, but then I only had 15 cards to play with, and I'm like “OK, this is just dumb.”

Travis: Then the tokens happened, and I'm like, “That's a good idea, let's use tokens instead.” So then for me, I was trying to figure out how many tokens of each, and all the other stuff, and “How do I get multiple shares?” and all those things. Penny Rails got shelved for about a year because Sprawlopolis happened, and a lot of these other just fantastic Button Shy titles came out. What ended up happening was they went through a lot of design, and 90% of the design was the same.

Travis: A couple of things that weren't the same though was that there were– There are shares in endgame scoring, which I can talk about here in a minute too. But the actual shares themselves, those changed because Tagmire decided– Jason Tagmire, he's the main– He is Button Shy. So Tagmire, he said, “We don't want to do punch boards,” which I thought was interesting because that was the point. But he said, “We don't want to do punch boards,” and then he was like “What if we use pennies, nickels, and dimes and then call the game Penny Rails?”

Travis: I was like, “That's a good idea.” So, you could still use a punch board. They could still make a punch board for it if not, but otherwise, you use three pennies, three nickels and three times. So I was like, “OK, cool. How do I denote individual shares?” There are three of each, one train line– In typical train games, they'd never have an even amount of shares. So I was like, “OK. We can't have an even amount of shares. Let's make that work.” So heads are going to be one share, tails are going to be two shares, and pennies are all going to be on their heads. That's only three shares. Nickles, we're going to have two heads and one tails, that's going to be four shares in nickel. Then dimes, they're going to be one head and two tails. So, there's going to be five shares in dimes.

Travis: In total, I think in total it's at– There are going to be 12 shares. So that it's not just a rush of taking in shares and then building out track, we had to figure out “What is it? How does this work with the train game?” My good friend Tom Russell, he's the main person at Hollandspiele games, they make these interesting independent [inaudible] war games. He is also a train gamer, and he's designed a lot of train games for Winsome.

Travis: So I ran it pass him, and I was like, “What I do with these shares?” He was like, “Have you thought about having a restriction on the number of shares that you have that's lower than half?” I'm like, “That's a good idea.” Then he said, “Also along with that, how do you get rid of shares that are no longer good for you?” In a typical train game, you eat that cost, and you're just stuck with it because there's nothing else you could do. But in a 20-minute game, you'll want to have another decision, another way to get yourself out of those messes.

Travis: He was like, “Why don't you start trading in shares? So you can trade in two shares of one for one share of another.” I'm like, “That's a good idea.” So the original mechanic is that you can take one share, and you can take one share on your turn, or you can trade in one share for two shares of a different train company. I could trade in one dime for two shares in nickel, and that works. But then I was like “What happens once I hit five? Then I'm out of luck.” He was like, “Why didn't you trade in two shares for one share of a different company?” So then that way you can– You're manipulating the market a little bit. That was probably, that and end game scoring were the most difficult design decisions. End game scoring for me, as a train gamer, was really easy. You count up the value of each individual line, and you divide it amongst a number of shares that have been sold.

Patrick: Cool.

Travis: But for people who are not train gamers, that's a little tricky to do, because as a non-train gamer a lot of times you sit there and you try to get a majority, and you go from there. The issue was that I wanted to divide. I wanted to have dividends payout, so I wanted to have each individual shareholder get their piece of the pie. It ended up being too difficult for people to calculate it out. Funny enough.

Travis: So we came up with the majority scoring, majority scoring manner of end game and of getting your payout at the end of the game. Which made things so much more streamlined, but then Tagmire was very kind and said, “Go ahead. We can add that in as an advanced rule.” I'm like, “Yes!” Because that's what I want. I want share dividends because that makes it where you're all working together a little bit.

Travis: So that's going to be in there as well, which I'm super excited about. We're going to have the– It's not a basic scoring, it's still good, but it's not like train game. It's like for train gamers, and I'm like “Go straight to advanced. You don't even have to read it, and you know what it is. You know how it works.” It's that stuff, but those two things alone, trying to figure out how shares worked, and then also doing the in-game scoring was tough. Because I wanted it to feel like a train game, but not be burdensome for people, who have not played train games before.

Patrick: I like that. So, I don't play train games. The closest I've come is Ticket to Ride which doesn't count because there's no shares. But¬† you're building routes, and I'm sure the more cities you connect, the more each line gets points–

Travis: Correct.

Patrick: Then based on who gets points– You get points based on how many shares you have in that line. So it's one of those fun things where I like that you're all working on building a thing, but no one owns a thing. That's probably why you like that game you mentioned at the beginning because no one owned a thing. It's whoever, in this case, has the shares and the thing that wins that's going to win.

Travis: Yeah. How we changed it to majority scoring is whoever had the most shares in a train line, they get all of the points in that train line. If there's a tie in shares, then nobody gets any point in that train line. So that's how we were able to– Whenever you connect to individual cities, then you get bonus points. Obviously, this is a podcast, and so you can't see it, but a city has– Each card has all three lines on it, and they're just tracks that stream across the card. On a city, three of those are coming from one side of the card to the city that's in the middle, and then three of the exact same tracks are coming out the other side. So there are six possible connections on a city card that you have that you could lay track. The fun of the game is that it's a very visual game as you play it, because you're– Like if you've ever played Kodama or any of those games, it's like the cards just zig and zag and build off of each other to where they're making all these weird funky patterns. You're cutting people off as you go because you literally can't play a card there. You can't play a card on top of another card, but you could block them, which is way fun.

What Games Inspire You?

Patrick: It sounds cool. So, besides train games– How about– I'm going to change this question a little bit. Besides train games and besides low player count games, what games out there inspire you?

Travis: Two different types of games. I love logistics, I love logistic games, and I like games that give me a large sandbox that I can play in. Like Roads & Boats, the reason why Roads & Boats is a perfect convention game for me is because I teach it every time. Every BGGCON I teach a game of Roads & Boats, and I cap it at three players, and it takes about three hours, just because of how–

Travis: Between teaching and playing the game, it's a big game, but it's one of those games that you don't just pull off the shelf and play. I do, but you don't just pull it off the shelf and play sometimes. You have to set it up, and I love my friends, but most of them don't like these types of games. So it's a perfect convention game. I will literally go on Twitter and be like “BGGCON, who's in for the game this year?” I'll have three people, and we'll do it. So, I love logistic games. Any type of economic building, route management, resource stuff I love.

Travis: But what I love about Roads & Boats is that Splotter, Splotter Spellen the designers and publishers of Roads & Boats, they're very quirky. So there are some weird, quirky bits in the game that they go, “No. This is just what makes the game fun.” I don't know if you've played Food Chain Magnate, but this is the same company. I love that they leave those weird, quirky bits, that in a typical development company they would shave those off, and be like “That's a little too weird. People aren't going to like that. Let's make that easier by doing this.” They're like, “No. This is what we want.”

Travis: Once again, they are self-publishing all of these titles so they can do that. That's one side, the other side of games that inspire me, I have gotten into– I've gotten into over these last probably eight months or so, interesting storytelling roleplaying games and LARPs. Live action role-playing games are really interesting because I always thought of a LARP as people in foam outfits playing with swords in the park, but I've learned a lot that a LARP is actually where you gamify your life. To where you find ways to input games and game design in your life or game design or gameplay in just your everyday stuff.

Travis: So there are all sorts of really interesting titles out there that I find incredibly interesting, one of my favorite ones is The Quiet Ear by Avery Alder. That's Buried Without Ceremony, and The Quiet Ear is this great map building, map-making game. It's where you have a piece of paper in front of you, and you are two to four players who have one year of quiet before these snow wolves come and kill you.

Patrick: Oh, God. 

Travis: That's just what it is, but it's played with a deck of cards, and you can either play with regular cards and download a PDF to figure out what goes on, or you could get cards from Buried without Ceremony. You can go get cards, and on your turn, you draw a card, and you're presented with two options. You choose one, you perform that think, and then you decide “Do I want to start a project? I found this water well, why don't we start pulling water from it?”

Travis: It's this game about creating this world and creating this map in front of you, and it's just stuff like that has opened up game design a lot for me to where it's like I almost want to entirely live in that world to a degree. Because it's so weird but so free. That's where Reunification came about, Reunification is a storytelling game about people who have survived decades-long civil war in your family that has been separated by it, and you are now joining back together.

Travis: It's a question game. We play the game in silence, and you write questions to other people at the table. You write questions to other people at the table, getting to know them. That's the whole game, that's what it's about. It's about getting to know the people at your table and the characters that they have taken on, and about learning more about each other which inevitably– You're not just learning about the characters, but you're learning about them as people. It's stuff like that that, I love weird logistic stuff and trains, and then I love this super weird RPG stuff that's been going on. It's been totally taking over my life in the last, probably six months or so.

World Building in Board Games

Patrick: That's awesome. I struggle with RPGs, and it's just that they take so much of a time commitment compared to a game. I'd love to play more of them, but I can't commit. I don't want to commit to the time, but they seem immersive, and on Kickstarter, there is– I occasionally see a friend backs an RPG game, and many of them are exploding on Kickstarter, like really cool worlds. I totally dig that. I love to do– One of things that's great about RPGs is worldbuilding, and board games lack that. I'd somehow like to merge those two at some point.

Travis: I think one, it's very possible. It's very possible to do worldbuilding in a good way without it just being this crazy overly thematic game, and you do that through either cards and character design and all that other stuff. There are lots of ways that you could do that. To your other point, there was– I was intimidated by RPGs for a very long time. I still don't play traditional RPGs. I don't know the difference between D&D fourth or fifth edition. I have no idea. I don't know what Powered by the Apocalypse means, and this totally reduces all my RPG cred. I don't know what any of that stuff is, and I don't know what any of that means. But I know that there are some really interesting people that are making some cool stuff that it becomes invasive into my life in a positive and encouraging way. So, that doesn't take four hours every single time you play.

Patrick: Nice. I like that. So there's one question I realized I didn't prep you for before I realized that it was not marked correctly on the sheets. 

Travis: I'm good.

What One Resource Would You Recommend to an Indie Game Designer?

Patrick: Is there a resource that you could recommend to another indie game designer? Because there's a lot of stuff out there, and I want to help people find the best stuff. 

Travis: A resource for another indie game designer?

Patrick: Like a podcast, a book– Not this one. A podcast, a book, a course, TV show that interest you–?

Travis: I've done a lot of creative writing as well, and they always say that to be a good writer, you need to be an avid reader. I think that's– I honestly I think that's, that's what it comes down to for me. I want to play the games that I create, and because of that, I don't get sick of them. There are a lot of times, people they get to the end, and they're like “I'm so sick of playing this game, I'm so sick of doing this.” I don't. Granted I'm still new, and I only have a couple under my belt. But for me, I'm not– I love train games, so I want to play train games. I love super weird quirky RPGs, so that's what I want to play, and so that's what I want to design. I think it's playing the variety of stuff to figure out what you don't like.

Patrick: Totally.

Travis: It doesn't matter if you're good at the game or not, figure out what you like and what you don't like, and then hone in and figure out “Why do you like this? Why does this make you excited or make you tick?” Don't just sit there and be like, “I guess I'm going to throw corn in this game because that's what every civilization building game is. Corn. Let's add that in there.” No. If you don't care about it– If something in your game doesn't excite you, rip it out. Just get rid of that mess.

Patrick: It's interesting, I don't think I've talked about this on the podcast before, but when I was leading up to the launch of Fry Thief I basically started buying games on Kickstarter for the year before I launched Fry Thief just to– It' not that I've– I got games on Kickstarter before, but let's say two a year. The year before Fry Thief was probably like 14 that year. So, I upped it, and there's a couple maybes that I probably wouldn't have gotten. But there's a couple of great games that I– There was a long, like one to two-hour work replacement game, and I normally like those games to be around an hour or like 45 minutes to an hour. But it's a great game, and I would have never–

Travis: Cool.

Patrick: I found things that made it great for me, but I don't think I would have found– I wouldn't have picked this game up off the shelf, but it was just on the edge. I tried it, and it was great. It's really important to  [inaudible] to push your boundaries.

Travis: It is. I know we're talking about Penny Rails, but with Reunification the reason why it got pushed the way that it did was because Kickstarter was doing an RPG zine campaign in the month of February. So RPGs go back to zine days like I grew up with hardcore metal punk bands. For me, zines are just what you do. They're these little DIY projects, you put all this stuff together, you make photocopies of it, and you ship it out. Now you don't have to make photocopies of it, and you can actually use in design and lay stuff out and then send it off and get it printed for you. But I bought– I backed so many projects that month because there were literally like 120 RPG zines that came out, and most of them– Because zines are so cheap and so cheaply made, a lot of them I just backed for the PDF so I could get– I spent three bucks on this or five bucks on this and then I get the PDF of it so that I can see what they do and how they do things differently, just to inspire me. Or go, “That's not good.” Just whatever it ends up being. So, I did the exact same thing. The difference is that I did mine at the same time, so it couldn't inspire what I was currently doing, but hopefully, it will inspire what's yet to come.

What's the Best Money You've Spent?

Patrick: Very cool. So, there's a related question which is– Maybe this is the same answer, but what is the best money that you've spent as a game designer?

Travis: Artist. Fact.

Patrick: Sorry, let me dig into this. Because is this like someone who is good at logos or illustrations or graphic design, or some combination of those?

Travis: With Penny Rails, I don't have to do any art, which I'm grateful for. I did like the basic art design in terms of the feel of the game, and then Tagmire got his people on it, and they did all sorts of super awesome stuff. But with Reunification because it was such a weird and somber experience, and because it's coming out in a zine I needed somebody that I knew, honestly, had the same beliefs that I do about immigration and stuff like that. Then I needed somebody who was comfortable with it and was good, and [Anette Vita who is Netters], she does stuff with dice tower, and I just reached out to her.

Travis: She was like “I would absolutely love it.” That game could not have come out without her. The words are good, but she visually sets the tone for the game before you even open up the booklet. It's like, “This is what this needs to be.” Granted I'm still young at this, I'm still a novice, and I think I'm always going to be that because this is not going to be what I do full time. But so far, I paid her, and it was incredible. She told me that I didn't– That I needed to pay her less, and I told her a big fat no, because of just what it is. I know what it's like to be freelance, and this was her first illustration for a game. It was so incredible, and I hope that she gets so much more out of it.

Patrick: I'm amazed at how my illustrators brought Fry Thief to life. It's just phenomenal, so I totally agree with you on art. When you're at a late stage of the game development, the art is insanely rewarding.

Travis: Totally, and the art for Fry Thief is so great. Whenever you sent me the box, I opened it up and my wife– She was looking at either the cover of one of the cards where he's taking the picture and trying to grab the fries, and she just laughed. She's like “That's so great,” it's evocative, and it brings you into the game, it does.

Patrick: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you. I should credit my illustrator Matt Franklin, and he's doing an insanely good job.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick: I want to end with what does success look like in the board game world to you?

Travis: For me, it's weird because I wear a lot of hats in the industry and I didn't ever think that I was going to. I was doing, and I was playing games because I liked playing games, and then I wanted to participate in the hobby somehow. Then I wanted to participate in a different way, and someone– I don't believe this, but someone at one point said “Every person has a game design in them,” and it's like “Sure. Everybody has an idea of something that they like or don't like. I don't necessarily think that's a game design, per se. But that's just me.

Travis: For me it ended up, I started work as– Rulebook editing is the thing that I liked the most. I love game design, and I love podcasting, but rule book editing makes me feel that I'm making a positive contribution to the board gaming in industry in such a great way. It's also the thing that I have the greatest imposter syndrome for, which to me shows that's the thing that I need to focus on the most.

Travis: With game design, because I'm so new, I can't have imposter syndrome because I don't know what that is yet. You give me a couple more games to come out, and then I'll sit there, and I'll go, “I'm not qualified to do this.” With podcasting, because we're so casual and laid back, I definitely don't have imposter syndrome with that. But with rulebook editing, totally all the time. Because what happens if a game gets released and then I am subscribed to the forum of every single game that I edit, so all these rulebook questions come up and I try and answer them.

Travis: Then if it's a game that has like 20 or 30 rulebook questions that pop up in the first week, I feel terrible. I feel like I didn't do my job well. To get back to it, I think success for me is finally feeling comfortable with being a rulebook editor and having some type of a game or an experience that pops up maybe once or twice a year. That's me feeling good right there.

Overrated Underrated

Patrick: That's exactly the phrase I was thinking of. Being comfortable or feeling comfortable. That was the thing that I was getting from you. So, I totally get that. I like to end my show with a silly game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard about it?

Travis: Done. Let's go. I haven't heard of it, but I'm on board for all of it.

Patrick: I'm going to say, I'm going to give you word or phrase, and you need to tell me it's Overrated/Underrated. So if I said “Chocolate chip cookies,” you're going to say “Underrated” because they're the most delicious thing ever.

Travis: Totally. I'm on board and there's nothing in between, it's either over or under.

Patrick: I like putting you in precarious positions, and me as the host I'm exempt. So, short reviews of games. Are they overrated or underrated? By short reviews, I mean five minutes or less.

Travis: I think they are underrated, because– Am I supposed to explain? Can I explain why?

Patrick: Yeah.

Travis: OK, right. I think they're underrated because if it's under five minutes and that doesn't give you enough time to go into how the rules work, and a game review should not have a rules review.

Patrick: OK, cool. You think those are separate things?

Travis: Those are separate. There's a how to play, and then there's a review of the game. Give me five minutes or less, no joke. I'll see– There are rules there are game reviews that are like eight minutes long. Yeah, I can't do it.

Patrick: OK, love it. 

Travis: I just can't. I literally won't watch it.

Patrick: So, what about literally traveling by train. Overrated/Underrated?

Travis: It is underrated. It is the best thing ever. I absolutely love it. I love it. It has not happened often in my life because trains are not huge here in Texas, especially in the Dallas area. But I love traveling by train whenever possible. There is a rolling con where it's a group of people that meet in a train that starts in Boston, and they take the train from Boston to BGGCON.

Patrick: I was thinking about doing something like this, and someone beat me to it. That's amazing. I love that [inaudible].

Travis: I think it's the best thing ever. I absolutely love it.

Patrick: I am going to see if I can meet up with them. I will–

Travis: I will ping you on Twitter right whenever we're done.

Patrick: Please do. I will literally see if I can meet up with them. I'm north of Texas, and I don't know if the trains–? We'll see. We'll figure it out.

Travis: It's people like who would pop up on the route, which is why it's great. You show up at your nearest stop, and then you go.

Patrick: That's fantastic. All right, I want to see what happens. We're going to make it happen. So, we met at tabletop network, and it was this lone event last year, but now it's being pulled into days right before the BGGCON. What do you think of that? Overrated/Underrated, there we go.

Travis: This is weird. This is a weird answer. I would say I am split. This is hard for me, and I'm split on this. I would have to land on overrated. I love that it's at BGGCON because it's 15 minutes down the street. I love that immensely. But I think it's going to– Here are my issues. One, to go to Tabletop Network you had to buy tickets for BGGCON as well, and I don't think– I think they should be separate in terms of ticket purchase, because I don't think that's right, honestly.

Travis: The other reason why is that even though it's 15 minutes down the street, I don't know if I can go to Tabletop Network, because that means I'm taking the entire week off before Thanksgiving, and I am a public educator. It's hard enough getting off the three days before Thanksgiving for BGGCON, and I'm pretty certain I can't get the entire week off. I spoke at it last year, and I have not submitted an application to speak this year, just because I don't know if I can get that time off. I'm going to have a little more leeway in my job next year, and I'm changing roles at the school to more of a support role instead of being in the classroom every single day. But still, five days off, all before Thanksgiving, it's going to be a little tough for me. So for me, it's overrated.

Patrick: Got it. I had the same concerns with– It's just five days in a row. It's five work days, really, plus the weekend. So, it's just a lot all in one go. All right–

Travis: Yeah. It's two weeks off, which is super rad, but they don't view you as a good team player whenever you do that sometimes.

Patrick: So, last one. Movies with train robbing, Overrated/Underrated?

Travis: Overrated. I think it just feels done.

Wrap Up

Patrick: All right, Travis. Thanks for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Travis: I feel like I'm all over the Twitterverse. That's pretty much my primary mode of contact. You could find me in three different places, which is just ridiculous. Primarily, 99% of the time you're going to find me at @travisdhill on Twitter. Obviously, I run Low Player Count online as well, and then Press Pot Games on Twitter. That's my weird indie design whatever.

Patrick: OK, cool.

Travis: @travisdhill is where it's at–

Patrick: And you're posting lots of good stuff on Twitter, so check him out there. Travis, thank you again for being on the show.

Travis: Thank you so much, this has been way fun.

Patrick: Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review Travis said he would edit the title of your board game, which isn't much–

Travis: No joke.

Patrick: But he's an expert editor, so maybe he'll help you with something.

Travis: Yeah, I'm only going to edit it for grammatical correctness.

Patrick: That's fine. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter, I am @bftrick. That is everything I have, so until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

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