One Step to the Epiphany

Meeple-Development

The Player Development Cycle?

During a quarterly goals check-in with Andrea, I talked over the status of several Flightless projects, and she asked a question I didn’t have a ready answer for. “Who exactly are your customers for each of these?”

I had a vague idea who I was designing for in each case, but no clue on specifics. “Erm, gamers who like… games… about… things?” Basically some bullshit that would never fly in the startup world where I spend my days and earn my living. Yet somehow I had failed to apply that same type of rigor before spending time developing and iterating on game designs.

Andrea went on to talk out how this could be a valuable tool for deciding who to reach out to about projects, what to include when writing about them, and making sure that my designs were scratching my prospective players gaming itches, so to speak. She, too, was flabbergasted that this had never occurred to either of us in any of our previous goal sit-downs. She said she felt like she’d had ‘an epiphany’. So that became the joke. I added “Andrea’s Epiphany” to my to-do list, which when I later broke out into “develop steps for Andrea’s Epiphany”, made that record-scratch noise in my head. The canonical work on this exact piece of building a business is literally called “The Four Steps to the Epiphany“. I revisited this notion (more specifically via the work’s more-digestible little brother: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development“) and am working to design a model of customer development for tabletop games (…and maybe more).

I’m not ready to show it yet, as I want to run through several cycles of experimentation and revision before releasing, but if you’re interested in this concept applied to tabletop gaming, please email me at woodardj@gmail; we can talk over your experiences, and I’ll share the early phases of my research with you.

After A Publisher Comes Knocking

IMG_4868 copy

“Yeah, well, so, the thing blue should do is… ah frack, lemme figure that out.”

As a first-time designer, one of the big questions I’ve always had is what the publishing process looks like once a design is picked up by a publisher. This summer, I got my first glance into that world.

This year’s Protospiel event in Ann Arbor was a pretty big success for me. I tabled my game Valour twice, once with a big name in the tabletop publishing space and two other designers. After a game full of the most lighthearted but over-the-top shit-talking I’ve experienced in quite some time, the publisher indicated that it was something he might be interested in publishing…(!) We spoke a few more times throughout the weekend, and we settled on a course of action. I imagine this process is similar for most publishers, so I’m putting it here, in case it will be valuable for anyone else.

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Get Out of the Game Room!

talon slopeThere’s an aphorism in the ‘startup’ world, where I spend most of my non-gaming time.

“Get out of the office!”

The point is that if you get bogged down in what you think is cool, you won’t actually build something that’s useful to others. I think the same concept applies in game design. And while an obvious application of this is to get your design in front of people who aren’t in your immediate friend / gaming group, I think there’s a broader sense here too. The last three weekends I’ve been in Breckenridge (in the rocky mountains) doing outdoorsy things like climbing Mt. Democrat or tubing down the Colorado river with coworkers (also playing my first game of Agricola… whaaat?). Continue reading

Playtesting Tips Round Two — Lessons from Protospiel 2015

Not long ago, I wrote a post with some baseline strategies for running a successful playtesting session. I just got back from Protospiel 2015 in Chelsea Michigan (full conference write-up to come soon!) and had a few new observations for this helping to tune this process. Continue reading

Facebook Stole My Money

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.42.59 AMI’m taking a quick hiatus from my philosophy of positivity to share my observations around a distinctly non-positive experience I had recently.

I ran a “Boosted Post” from my Flightless.co Facebook business page, as a little experiment. I had new content, I’m working to build my audience as I gear up for a Valour kickstarter campaign, Facebook display ads convert really well for Mobility on Demand, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The boosted post featured original content from this blog. (Specifically, the Valour backstory.) Full disclaimer, I know this wasn’t an ideal ad: several equally-emphasized calls-to-action, many clicks through to a ‘conversion’; more on crafting a good ad in another post. But as we’ll soon see, my ad content never had a chance to fail on its own merit. Continue reading

Theme-first Board Game Design is Awesome

Concept sketching for some mechanics being born of theme.

Concept sketch showing the exact moment a game mechanic was born from a  theme.

I know some in the board game design community consider it sacrilege, but I’m definitely a theme-first designer. I make heavy use of my Catch Sheet day to day, while sitting in meetings, walking around, or wasting time reading articles online. Usually several times a week, I’ll be struck by an interesting economic interaction in real life, and want to build a game around it.

As I’ve gone over in the inception story (here, here, and here) for Valour, that design was entirely theme-first. I started making game notes based on the factual events from the history, and I was able to distill some really incredible game mechanics from them. While I’ve had to iterate multiple times in order to keep the rules and mechanics tight, it was an amazing starting point, and the reactions I get from seasoned gamers when they play Valour for the first time are universally positive, and many say that some of the mechanics are things they’ve never experienced before.

Now, don’t get me wrong — in now way am I arrogant enough to think that anything I’ve conceived of by starting from a real-life scenario and extrapolating a unique game mechanic is as revolutionary to boardgaming as, say, Dominion’s deck building, or Caylus’s worker placement/action drafting. And I also would never disagree with people who assert that games ARE the mechanics (I saw a comment online recently which implied that story without mechanics is just a novel). But theme-first game design is so much more than that. Continue reading

Valour: The Game

When we left off last week, I had the first physical prototype of my board game in-hand. Not knowing any better, I thought I might be near the end of the road. Now, after countless hours of play testing and revising, I know two things: a) I was WAY off the mark back then, and b) while I don’t yet know exactly where the road ends, I’m moving in the right direction. Read on to see the ins and outs of the current, and hopefully near-final, state of gameplay.
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Valour: The Backstory

With all the posting I’ve done about Protospiel, board game testing, and marketing, it dawned on me last week that I have yet to actually put out a canonical post on the game I’m designing and developing. Whoops! Then I started writing it, and it got a little long, (which is why this post ended up coming out late this week!) so here’s the first in a three-part series about Valour, the board game I’m working to get out the door this year. Continue reading

“Golden Era of Board Gaming” — 538

At the end of last year, this morsel came across my radar several times… (shout-outs to Andy Stone, Eric Budd, and Mitch Hulse for passing it along! I love that so many of you thought of me when you saw this). You should go take a moment to read it now.

Designing The Best Board Game On The Planet | FiveThirtyEight

While there may be a few somewhat spurious claims made throughout, [1] this article’s mere existence signals something larger to me. This hobby is going mainstream. Continue reading