2014 Year in Review: Part 2

Post by: The Design and Publishing Community!

I asked the community to tell me about how their year went. What did they learn? Where did they succeed? Where did they fail? Hopefully their stories below are interesting, insightful, and fun. Tell us what you think below. You can read Part 1 here.

Editor’s Note: I took some liberties to edit a few of these posts down. I tried my best to preserve content, but many of the submissions were about twice as long as I expected. 

Gil Hova

2014 was the most insane year I’ve ever had as a designer. In January, I initiated the 4P challenge. It’s a response to National Game Design Month, which I think is well-meaning but does not help designers as much as it could. I successfully play tested one game four times in a month, which started to get me into a rhythm where I expected to test my games much more frequently than before.

In April, I attended my first Gathering of Friends, after three years of trying to get in. I attended all 10 days and play tested The Game Formerly Known as Prime Time 12 times. It was absolutely amazing.

In August, my girlfriend’s father, a copywriter for Big Pharma, offhandedly mentioned that a fun party game could have players trying to advertise crazy drugs. The germ of an idea didn’t leave my head, and pretty soon, I was testing a new party game, Bad Medicine. It was around then that I made the crazy decision to self-publish Bad Medicine. It’s going to be an incredible amount of work. I can’t wait.

Credit Debbie Ridpath Ohi, ©2014

In September, my second published game, Battle Merchants, was released by Minion Games. It looks beautiful. I started frenetically demoing the game everywhere I could.

This month, I will finally start working on making a mobile version of my first published game, the word game Prolix. It’s a project I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve finally cleared up enough time for it.

I’ve also started co-designing a non-sighted game with Richard Gibbs of 64 Oz Games. I’m averaging about one play test per week. And I might even have time left over to put together my game for next year’s 4P project…

  • On the web at http://gil.hova.net
  • On Twitter at @gilhova

Joshua Buergel

My 2014 was a year of restarting. I got into game design seriously around 2000, developing a couple games for GMT, developing and publishing a friend’s design, completing a batch of card game designs, and getting a handful of others into late prototype stages. However, in 2003, a stretch of unemployment brought me up short with that hobby, and in 2007, my first child arrived. While I never stopped playing and buying games regularly, and never stopped thinking about design, I didn’t really do anything for many years. At the end of 2013, a conversation with our estimable host here about a Dice Hate Me game design contest led me to start thinking more seriously. A germ of a design had appeared in my head, and it wouldn’t go away.

I still didn’t do that much with it right away, but it did keep percolating. There was more to come, though. In February, Grant reached out to me to take a look at a game he was calling “Wizard Poker”. I’d been helpful with comments on his contest entry, and he was curious what I thought. I made comments. I made more comments. I edited. It wasn’t long before I was developing then game, then co-designing. After a long fallow period of no design activity of significance, I suddenly found myself seriously working on a game, which became Hocus Poker. The flood gates were open again.

In addition to Hocus Poker, featured in many articles on this blog, I started and got quite far with Killing Monsters and Taking Their Stuff. I created a game originally intended as a companion game for Hocus Poker and also got it into a playable prototype, called Wiccage. I cleaned up and finally released an old design called Foresight, available now via Drive Thru Cards. I also have an ambitious project under way with Grant which we haven’t been talking about too much, and even restarted my blog. I got involved on Twitter. I ended up with a design partner that I work well with, which is quite fun.

Basically, I completely restarted the design side of the hobby in 2014, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I hope to publish multiple designs in 2015, and with luck, start a few more. Why, I just had one come to me the other day…

  • Online at http://houseofslack.com/
  • On Twitter at @JoshuaBuergel

Matt Worden

Right off the bat, I need to say “Thank you!” again (and never able to say it enough) to everyone in the gaming community that sent well-wishes, prayers and gifts in my direction while I was dealing with my medical issues for the first three-quarters of the year. The support was overwhelming and I will never forget it. Now that I’m on the good side of all that went down, I am even more excited to be part of what goes on among these people.

As for actual game-related accomplishments this year …

Dicey Curves, Deluxe Edition: In March, I was able to re-package Dicey Curves and its DANGER! Expansion into a single box as the Deluxe Edition. Part of the process included changing the artwork on the cards (much better now) and re-doing the expansion to use bits on the track instead of just cards.


Aether Magic: After signing my game “For Goods in Honor” with upstart publisher, Happy Mitten Games, during the back half of last year, the development process of the game — including a full theme and title shift to “Aether Magic” — has been an interesting creative challenge. The changes have led to a more robust game with a bigger commercial potential. Jeff, Kyle, and Lee are good folks and are really prepping this to be a success. At this point, the first sets of artwork are being finalized and the sneak-peeks I’ve gotten look really good.


Protospiel-Michigan: In July, I was able to make the single game-related trip of my year, as I road-tripped to Protospiel in Michigan. Along the way, I picked up Jeff King (from All Us Geeks), Jason Glover (from Grey Gnome Games) and David Sheppard (known to all as “Sheppy”). Without any hint at sarcasm, I can truly say that the conversations on the car ride were both entertaining and educational. The knowledge and creative energy I was able to glean were incredible.

While at the spiel, I was able to get my Abbottsville prototype to the table, which led to a long-legged series of inside jokes about punching pumas. I was also able to see a ton of interesting games, talk with a ton of creative and interesting folks, and take part in the mutual help in advancing game designs that are the hallmark of these sorts of get-togethers.

I say this all the time, and will take a moment to say it here too. If you are a tabletop game designer, please make it a priority to attend a Protospiel/Unpub type event. You will gain from being there, and others will gain from you being there too.

As we get close to the end of the year, I am excited to be getting ready for a couple of big releases next year under my MWG logo, one set in the Land of Danger, and one having to do with Jump Gate. And no more unexpected medical issues. Right?

Chris Roberge

By far what I’ll remember most about 2014 will be all the great people that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. I’ve been a gamer to some degree or another for as long as I can remember, but until recently my gaming circle had been mostly limited to family members and players I would see at occasional Meet ups. This year, I started to participate in local Protospiel and Unpub events, attended the regional conventions of KublaCon and CelestiCon, and travelled to the Origins Game Fair. Before being exposed to all of this, I had certainly heard or read stories about the enthusiasm and friendliness of gamers, but experiencing it first-hand has been truly fantastic.

Grant was the first person I met with any kind of direct connection into gaming as a business, and within a few minutes after introductions he was already becoming a guide, an advocate, and a sounding board. I soon found out that he wasn’t unique, though, as all of the players and professionals I would meet were eager to talk about their passion for games and how they could share it with others. Some of these people were designers of finalists for the Spiel des Jahres, publishers of products that had sold more than a million copies, podcasters and bloggers I had followed for years, but without exception they had no hesitation in sharing their time, advice, feedback, and encouragement. At the beginning of the year, I considered myself lucky to find time to get a few games to the table every month or so.

Now at year’s end, I have three designs of my own currently being evaluated by different publishers. Even if none of those games move beyond that step, I feel like the really important accomplishment for me has been entering into an entirely new level of enjoyment and participation within the hobby and the industry. Thanks to all my new friends, I’ve experienced what it’s like to be more involved in this great community, and I can’t imagine ever going back.

  • On Twitter @BGGChris
  • Online at https://sites.google.com/site/craneandmoondesignsgames/home

Dave Chalker

At the end of 2013, around when I was sending in my last recap, I was on a streak of really focusing on tabletop games, after a lot of my other game-making commitments had tapered off. I think it really paid off to be able to focus on that, and at the same time, I decided to try and attend more public game design events to get my works more out there. I’m happy with my output and situation for the most part, but the road certainly hasn’t been a smooth one!

To start with real quick updates from last year’s set of games:

Heat, my newest game coming in 2014, was one of the two games I was showing off at Unpub 4 to pretty good reactions. I ended up signing a contract for publication while at the convention after one play. However, once the publisher got it home, they changed their mind, and after a series of email discussions, I took the rights back. While lamenting that online, my friend Chris of Asmadi Games asked to see it, and liked what he saw. He’s been great to work with, and really helped develop it into a great final product. Heat Kickstarted in June, and should be in people’s hands in the next month or so.

Spell Dice I renamed to Village Dice, since the fantasy theme was proving problematic, and also moving to a more traditional Euro theme made naming the resources and buildings easier. It was the other game I brought to Unpub 4, and reactions were very polarized on it. Most people loved the core of the game but had been expecting a lighter, less downtime game because of the colorful dice. I made some major tweaks to the buildings themselves, while keeping the core the same, changed the name to Market Square, and brought it to an Unpub Mini event. Reactions were much more positive there, and I ended up signing it to a publisher shortly thereafter.

Inside Joke was done before 2014, I was just debating what path to go with it. Party games are challenging to get picked up by another publisher nowadays. I focused on pitching it to more companies that I thought would be good fits. It’s in the hands of a publisher now who likes it, and we’ll see if that turns into a contract or if I’ll be back thinking about self-publication in some manner.

Now, onto newer games:

Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal is a game that popped into my head based on the title alone. It took a number of major changes before it became a compelling game. I was then invited to pitch to a specific game company, so I tuned the game in the direction of the kind of game they publish. It’s in their hands now, and waiting for a decision about it.

15 Minute Illuminati: I’ve been playing a ton of One Night Werewolf, and its game DNA kind of mixed with a conspiracy theme I’ve always enjoyed, while thinking about the parts of predecessor games I wanted to try and do something different with. This game has really come together quickly. The question becomes who do I pitch it to since it does come from these other games, will the theme have to change, can I make a game where you play as Chemtrails, etc. At least I feel like the game design is done.

I might have a really busy year of publications next year: possibly upwards of four new games in production, if absolutely everything fell into place suddenly. It’s an exciting time for me, but the life of being a freelance designer means you’re always pitching and scheming for the next thing.

  • Heat Kickstarter
  • Online at http://www.critical-hits.com/dave/

Teale Fristoe

Greetings from Nothing Sacred Games! 2014 was a big year because it marked the beginning of a serious commitment to ramping up how often I release games.

The biggest accomplishment was completing Shadow Throne. This drafting, hand management game of Machiavellian intrigue had a solid foundation at the beginning of the year, so most of the work on it in 2014 was development, fundraising, and final production. The Kickstarter, which ran in June, was successful, the game looks beautiful, and I’m very excited to share the final product with the world early next year!


My next game, Birds of a Feather, also improved by leaps and bounds this year. Honestly, much of the design work has just been slighting changing the number of cards and suits. I’ve also experimented with special rules, but they’ve almost all been scrapped. The core game is unique, accessible, and really fun, so it doesn’t need extra frills. I’m really proud of this one. Ping me if you’d like to try a print and play!

Next year, I’m hoping to release Birds of a Feather and Shifting Shadows, a stand-alone expansion to Shadow Throne. But I’ve worked on a couple additional designs this year to keep the pipeline full for the long term.

The first is a re-skin of a game I dropped when I started working on Shadow Throne. The original theme was fungus, which was controversial to say the least. The new theme is wizards trying to write the most influential book on magic. I think the new theme is a huge improvement, but the game has a long way to go. I wasted a lot of time coming up with thematic special rules before the basic structure of the game was ready, an amateur mistake. The next step for this game will be to greatly simplify the cards and try to pin down a solid foundation before I flesh it out with theme.

The second early game is one currently themed as tech startups trying to balance making money with being cool to attract talent. While the game still has a long way to go, I’m happy with how I’ve been handling the early stages of design, keeping an open mind and exploring many different core systems before committing a lot of time and energy to any one.

I’m happy with how 2014 went and hope to continue the trend next year!

  • Nothing Sacred Games: http://nothingsacredgames.com
  • Shadow Throne: http://shadowthronegame.com
  • Birds of a Feather: http://birdsofafeathergame.com
  • Twitter: @fristoe, @nothingsacredg

Chris and Suzanne Zinsli (Cardboard Edison)

For us, 2014 was a year of endings and new beginnings. The spring of 2014 saw the release of our first game, Tessen! It took a little over two years from initial concept, one year from signing with a publisher, and six months from the Kickstarter campaign funding. Seeing pictures of our game on store shelves and reading about people playing and enjoying it has been a highlight of our nascent design careers.

For most of the rest of the year, we put design on the back burner to focus on some family concerns. Then in July we welcomed the newest member of Cardboard Edison, our daughter Hana! Though we kept our own design work to a minimum, we still maintained our tips blog for other designers.

We’ve gotten back into the swing of things in recent months. Our design for Cottage Industry has undergone some major changes — most notably that it’s no longer Cottage Industry! We split the design in two, and re-themed the core mechanisms as Dubai. The new theme and tight mechanics makes Dubai a modern city-building game that is getting great feedback.

We plan to spend the next few months polishing Dubai and getting a couple of smaller designs in shape for Unpub in February.

We also have big plans in the works for Cardboard Edison. We recently asked the community for their thoughts on the future of Cardboard Edison, and we now have a solid grasp on how we can best serve the gaming and design community. Details to come soon!

  • Online at www.cardboardedison.com
  • On Twitter @CardboardEdison
  • The Cardboard Edison Patreon Campaign

Corey Young

Anyone who follows me on Twitter is no doubt sick of me going on about Gravwell, so I’ll just touch on the highlights and surprises I encountered during the first year of its publication.


I didn’t anticipate the creative energy of tabletop players and fans. One player in Columbus, unable to get a copy of the game, made his own based on the images he found online, including a beautiful alternative board. He presented a copy of his handiwork to me when we met at Columbus Ohio’s Kingmaker’s game café.  A crazy clever Minecraft expert, @Adlington, built an automated Gravwell game. I definitely didn’t expect Gravwell to receive the awards and recognition that it did. Most notably, Dice Hate Me Games and Scott King each named it Game of the Year for 2013. Nothing had prepared me for the afternoon in late April when I saw in my Twitter feed that Gravwell was named a 2014 Mensa Select game. I really can’t imagine ever being that excited again.

Another big change was when Gravwell changed hands from Cryptozoic to Renegade Games. I’ll always be thankful to Cryptozoic for giving me my start in the industry, but I’m so happy with the direction Renegade is taking with the game. New art, a huge new print run and a fantastic new marketing push. We’re working on a much-requested 5-6 player expansion and some other expansions and variations.

My second game, Santorini, languished much of the year. I signed with a publisher during Protospiel 2013, but progress on it wasn’t what we were hoping. In September of 2014, I got the rights to game back. It’s now under consideration by another publisher.

Today, I’m busily working on One Way Out. This is my great white whale. It’s the biggest game I’ve done so far. I’ve been working on it for 4 years. It’s a 3-4 player “boardless” board game in which you play a timeless hero jumping from world to world every 15 minutes, racing through a pirate warf, then jumping to a crashing alien ship, then fighting your way out of a kaiju’s abdomen. One Way Out was with a major publisher several years ago, but it had crashed and burned in blind playtest. The endgame just wasn’t satisfying. It ended with a fizzle instead of a bang.

At Protospiel 2014, I was helping another designer with a similar problem. I came up with a solution that might work for his game, and in the process came up with what may be the solution to my own problem. Events like Protospiel and UnPub are invaluable. These kind of breakthroughs happen all the time when designers help each other.

Grant Rodiek (Hyperbole Games)

2014 once again reminded me that the road to success is long. I had a busy personal life. I became engaged to Beth, met my niece shortly after she was born, shipped The Sims 4 (I’m on the development team), and was a few miles away from the epicenter of the biggest earthquake since the big one in 1989.

I have three board gaming events of extreme significance to me. In January, after 4 months of consideration, Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games signed Dawn Sector. Ignacy and his team make some of my favorite games. To receive feedback from Ignacy, Michal Oracz, or Michal Walczak (the lead developer on Dawn Sector and Legacy: Testament of Duke de Crecy) is awesome.

I’ve loved working with the Portal team. Ignacy has kept me involved with design. I can’t wait to move into a balance phase and see final graphic design and art. And Ignacy’s doing minis, his first step in plastics, for the game. Holy crap!

Shortly after this, I began working on Wizard Poker (now Hocus Poker). Because of it, I have a design partner in Joshua Buergel. Not just on this, but on a 2015 (tentative) project/experiment called Landfall and whatever else we cook up. Josh is incredibly cool and I hope to show up in Seattle for beer and an intense lesson on music in 2015.

Last month (November), I was about ready to quit Hocus Poker. We’ve tested it well over 100 times, run blind tests on previous versions, and we just seemed to be spinning. Then we tried a few changes and the game is quite fun. Pfew. The highlight was my family legitimately loving it over Thanksgiving. They don’t normally like my games. We wouldn’t mind finding a publisher for Hocus Poker, but honestly, we wouldn’t mind doing it ourselves. It’s a weird game.

Thirdly, I finally formed an LLC. I don’t see publishing as a job or a source of income. But, I’ve been making video games professionally for 9 years. I have this entrepreneurial itch and I want to see if I can do things right. I want to do things on my term, even if it’s only with 90 card games. Landfall will definitely be something we self-publish. Maybe Hocus. We’ll see what I learn.

I created no fewer than 5 prototypes that were horrible and burned. If you aren’t doing this, you aren’t experimenting enough. I do this every year and it’s good for me. I also made huge progress on Sol Rising, including completing the design of the entire persistent campaign. It was a great deal of work. Now, I’m in the hunt to work with a great publisher. We’ll see how that fares in 2015.

Daniel Solis (Smart Play Games)

Two years ago, I resigned from my day job so I could focus on freelancing and developing my game design catalog. In 2013, despite my best efforts, I didn’t release as many games as I would have liked. I had at least a dozen of 95% finished games laying around, but I couldn’t stick to a schedule to get them all to 100%. Also, there was the whole matter of paying the bills.

In January, I began a challenge to my own productivity. I decided I would polish up and release a new game each month this year on DriveThruCards, a print-on-demand card game printer and online store. My goal was simply to increase my catalog, build name recognition, and collect actual sales performance for my games to support traditional publisher pitches in 2015. It may not earn bajillions of dollars like a crowdfunding campaign, but it would also be way lower commitment.

When I first started selling games on DriveThruCards, my products shot up to the top of the seller hot list. But the site was new, so I had no context for what would be considered an objective “hit.” I figured any new designers coming to the site wouldn’t have much context either. So I bit the bullet and released my monthly sales numbers to the public. I was honest and transparent about my margins on each product and how much I earned. Folks seemed to respond well to that transparency and I saw small sales boosts after each report. Here are my averages for the entire year:

  • Monthly Gross Avg: $861.41
  • Monthly Earnings Avg: $261.75
  • Monthly Sales Avg: 103

I set my own margins for each product, meaning I can earn quite a bit from each sale even at a modest retail price, even during promotional discounts. However, POD has very limited reach at the moment since it’s too expensive to do traditional marketing or retail distribution. (Reasonably priced high quality POD tuck boxes are more difficult to get than you’d think.) Still, the most surprising successes came from overseas.

That plan about pitching to traditional publishers in 2015? Yeah, that kind of got sidetracked this Summer when Chinese publisher Joy Pie licensed Koi Pond. Shortly thereafter, Brazilian publisher Funbox licensed Suspense and Light Rail. Since then, I re-evaluated my whole model. (If you can call this experiment a model.)

I’ll still pitch in 2015, but I want to expand the offerings on DriveThruCards so I have more competition on their top seller list. If more top-level designers are on the site, it raises the credibility for my own products. I’m even going so far as to explore becoming a licensor myself, so I can give those games as much of a push as I’ve given my own. We’ll see how that turns out!

John du Bois

2014 was a weird year for me design-wise. Between my daughter arriving in February and major job issues in July and August, I didn’t feel like I got much done design-wise. And yet, I seemed to get work done on four games:

Something Old: Bread and Circuses is a social negotiation game was rejected by a potential publisher in 2013 due to lacking player interaction, and spent most of 2014 gathering dust on the back burner. However, I’m now working on a possible re-theme as well as adding “sabotage” cards (a la Cutthroat Kitchen) to the game to increase player options and interaction. Look for this game at UnPub 5, probably after hours.

Something New: Avignon is the only truly new game I’ve worked on in 2014, and it’s also the game I’ve learned most about game design from. In its journey, I’ve learned about the interaction between mechanics and theme, avoiding using too much card text, avoiding using too little card text, component cost, the average person’s ability to use spatial relations without a guide, and much, much, more. At the end, I had a 5-10 minute 2-player abstract with a Dark Ages Catholicism theme that uses “tug-of-war” as its primary mechanism. You’ll be able to see this game at UnPub 5.

Something Borrowed: Scapegoat is a social negotiation/storytelling game that I initially designed using components from Clue for Grant’s Classic Game Remix contest. In early 2014, it ended up being a finalist (but not a winner). Afterward, I tweaked the rules set to work as a game in Jason Tagmire’s Storyteller Cards: Fantasy. I’m still working on a way to get this to work as a game in its own right, because the game’s core story – the players worked together on a crime of some kind and have to give someone up to the police/mob/Illuminati so everyone else can get away with it – is just too fun to let die.

Something Blue (one of the socks in the game is blue, I promise): Odd Socks, a 2-4 player deduction microgame, started out my 2014 on a positive note when it was chosen as a finalist in the Dice Hate Me 54-Card Challenge. While it didn’t win, it was my first major validation that I’m working on games people want to play. I also took it to the Publisher/Designer Speed Dating event at GenCon, and I had a couple nibbles from publishers, but no sales. This year, it’s gone through various tweaks and modifications to strengthen the mechanics, and I’ve managed to make it small enough that I feel comfortable calling it a microgame – 18 cards is a microgame, right? I’ve got the newest iteration of the game ready to go to UnPub 5.

J. Alex Kevern


This year started on a good note, as I found of Easy Breezy Travel Agency was going to be part of the Rabbit line from Dice Hate Me games. This was my second signed game and my first one to hit Kickstarter, so that was an interesting and rewarding experience. It will be shipping to backers within the next few weeks, so I am looking forward to those unique ‘in the wild’ moments.

Within a few weeks after signing Easy Breezy, I also received word that TMG would be signing Gold West. It’s been an great experience working with Seth and Michael, and Adam has done an incredible job bringing the game to life through his art and design. We’re working on some ‘businessy’ things behind the scenes, but look for it in the first half of 2015.

Daxu will be coming soon from White Goblin Games — there have been some production delays, but in 2014 this was the first game of mine that I was able to see with finished art. That was a special and surreal moment for me, and I’m really grateful Klemens Franz (Agicola, Le Havre) agreed to work on it. I can’t share images yet, but I can’t wait for everyone to see how it turned out.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate this year. And there are more games on the way! I’m looking forward to UnPub in February and some more announcements coming soon.

Jason Tagmire

Looking back at 2014, I feel like it was a defining year for me, but in a mostly subtle, behind-the-scenes way. I had 2 main releases, but it was much different than last year where both debuted at Gen Con. This year, 5 Pixel Lincoln mini-expansions shipped to backers in September just missing the all-important Gen Con window, and just last week Maximum Throwdown: Overload (a standalone expansion to my card throwing battle game, Maximum Throwdown) was part of the super-secret AEG Black Friday Box. Having a secret game release was really interesting. You can’t hype it beforehand, so I just had to sit and wait with my lips zipped. And finally, the original Maximum Throwdown also ended up at Barnes and Noble, which is a wonderful accomplishment.

As for new stuff, Seven 7s was signed to Eagle Gryphon in January/February and should be out in 2015, 60 Seconds To Save The World has been signed but not announced so I’ll leave that up to the publisher, and secret licensed project that I’m co-designing with Jeff Quick is coming along very well. Those games have eaten up a good chunk of my year, but won’t be a factor until 2015.


On the publishing side, I’ve Kickstarted, fulfilled and released Storyteller Cards: Fantasy and Alex Strang’s Movie Plotz, expanding my Button Shy catalog quite a bit. In both of those projects I experienced working with other designers. With Storyteller Cards: Fantasy we made a manual with 20 games from amazing designers, and I worked closely with Alex in converting Movie Plotz into a tiny, little wallet game. Just having other people in the mix, took me outside of my self-publishing bubble and into a new world of ideas and opinions.

What have I learned? Well, I gained some confidence and feel like I can pitch and sell my games a little better than before. I HATE being a salesperson, but it’s a necessary evil of working in this business. I just learned to be myself and be honest and it goes a long way. I also worked on my first big co-design, which is very different than going solo. It’s great to see another side of things and try them out DURING the design process, instead of much later during playtesting. I think if you can get the right fit, where you share common goals, principles, and schedules (being local makes it a little easier too), co-designing is definitely a shot.

And what’s next for me? 2013 was all about getting myself out there. 2014 was all about getting my games out there. 2015 is about getting serious. Seriously pushing things from the publishing side, and studying the other sides of the business that happen before, during and after the game is designed. Just designing a game isn’t enough today. It’s just as much about who designed it and what they are doing to support it.

2014 Year in Review: Part 1


Post by: The Design and Publishing Community!

I asked the community to tell me about how their year went. What did they learn? Where did they succeed? Where did they fail? Hopefully their stories below are interesting, insightful, and fun. Tell us what you think below. You can read Part 2 here.

Editor’s Note: I took some liberties to edit a few of these posts down. I tried my best to preserve content, but many of the submissions were about twice as long as I expected. 

Paul Imboden (Split Second Games)

2014 was rough. I didn’t expect end-of-year accolades for Quicksilver.  Consequently, in some ways there’s been pressure to avoid a sophomore slump, and in others there’s been pressure simply to make ourselves known.  We planned for a Summer 2014 Kickstarter campaign for Paradox, which as you can see has come and gone with no campaign.

Split Second Games is essentially a two-man operation until it can afford to be a three-person operation.  Between a recurring injury and a day job that created more stress than cash this year, other things stole necessary focus in my life.  In addition, Randy started a fantastic day-job which will be launching shortly before Christmas.  Finally, gathering art from professional artists on the cheap means playing on their schedules.  So we played the waiting game for a lot of 2014.  On one hand, it allowed us to get more play testing and exposure; on the other, it hurts to miss a milestone.

Every project is constrained by fast or cheap or good. You get to pick two. We’re locked on cheap, and we won’t settle for less than good.  Therefore, fast suffers. It sucks, but the alternatives suck harder.

At the same time that we’ve been developing Paradox with Brian Suhre, three other game designs have been in development hell.  I had a “Eureka!” moment this month with Minimum Wage Gorilla courtesy of Ignacy and I’m planning to tweak away at a fourth major revision as soon as Paradox is locked.  I still have faith in Clandestine as a deckbuilder, just not in its current design, which will require another from-the-bottom-up rewrite.  Crokball will absolutely have to wait.

Having multiple projects in play is a double-edged sword.  It’s nice to have another target when you get blocked on Project A, but when you’re blocked on all of them it’s the worst; every insecurity you feel about one design exponentially increases for all of them.  It also fosters a pattern of never actually finishing a design, which is an awful pattern to develop.  The only thing that keeps you sane is the knowledge that you’ve done this once before, so you know it’s possible.

Hitting those developmental walls felt like hitting a workout or weight-loss plateau: fine for the first few weeks, but depressing by month 12. There’s that thing in life where folks consistently judge themselves on their internal process (which is messy and imperfect) while they judge others on their external output (which is high-gloss and perfect), and it absolutely applies to game design if you are me. You question yourself, your commitment, your reasons for doing this ridiculous thing.  Fortunately, more designers are being more transparent with their development process, and seeing the same sentiments in others, including the drive to stay true to their vision, is a second-wind generator.

Ignacy’s book was one of my few “must-buy”s from GenCon 2014, and it has already paid for itself in valuable insights. I highly recommend it.   RPG designer friends in 2014 also showed the same doubts, the same process, and the same path to resilience.  Faith is a hard thing to keep in a fickle industry that doesn’t pay much.  After a year of stasis and churning, I have faith in the future.

I wish there was something sexier to talk about than battling self-doubt, accepting the constraints in play, and appreciating the path I’m on and where I stand on it.  But that was my 2014.  Everything is difficult until it becomes easy.  I have faith in 2015.

AJ Porfirio (Van Ryder Games)

The big things that happened for Van Ryder this year are as follows.  First, we signed 2 games for publication. Salvation Road from Michael Kelley and Peter Gousis is a highly thematic co-op game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Gunslingin’ Ramblers from Jason Slingerland is all about drinkin’, gamblin’ and shootin’ in the wild wild west.

Our second published game, Tessen, was released in March. It has been well received by gamers as a great 2 player game and we are pleased to have it as part of the VRG Library.

Finally, we had our most successful Kickstarter yet with Hostage Negotiator, our engaging solitaire game with a unique twist on deck building. Look for Hostage Negotiator in Spring of 2015.

Ed Marriott (Moon Yeti Games)


2014 was an amazing year for me. The highlight was that Scoville, my first published game, ran a highly successful Kickstarter. Tasty Minstrel Games has been a joy to work with. Joshua Cappel, who did all of Scoville’s art and graphic design, did an amazing job. I got to see and play a final production copy at Gen Con. It looked fantastic and I can’t wait for all the Kickstarter backers to receive the game!

The other main highlight is that my friends and I have chosen to start a publishing company of our own called Moon Yeti Games. We gave away about 100 copies of our micro-game, Mutiny, at Gen Con. The response to that has been very positive. And we’ve currently got a few games behind the scenes that we are tweaking and modifying as we are searching for our first big game.

  • @EdPMarriott and @MoonYeti on Twitter
  • Mutiny BGG Entry
  • Scoville BGG Entry
  • Tasty Minstrel Games on Twitter 
  • Moon Yeti website

Todd Edwards

The big news for 2014 is that I got a freelance board game writing gig with Nerdland Games for an upcoming Kickstarter project. I wrote some fiction to set the stage for their game, as well as character bios and flavor text for cards. I had a lot of fun doing the project, and I’m actively seeking more freelance game writing. If you have some work or know someone looking, you can contact me through twitter or my website.

I also took two big strides forward in my career as a game designer. First, I entered into a collaboration with a designer I respect deeply. It’s a secret project, but I will say that I enjoy working with an expert, and I’m learning a ton from the brainstorming and feedback. Seeing how other people design games is very educational. I highly recommend it.

Second, I remembered how useful it was to have a regular critique group back when I wrote novels. A local designer and I have started meeting regularly to critique each other’s works-in-progress. It is super useful to get early feedback on my projects. Also, helping someone else shape their designs to fit their vision trains you to spot problems that you are blind to in your own designs.

Jeff Large (Happy Mitten Games)

2014 was a roller coaster. For anyone who follows the podcast or the happenings of Happy Mitten, you know we’ve been working on Aether Magic. We signed the game from designer Matt Worden late Q3 of 2013, planned on a quick re-theme and hoped for a Kickstarter campaign Q4 of 2014.

Holy moly was our timeline off! Here are 2 of our major takeaways:

Re-theming a game is much harder than you think. If a game is solid, the mechanics and theme will complement each other well. A change to one will most likely affect the other. This was the case with Aether Magic. The theme switch to competing magi left a desire for more out of the mechanics. After some critical feedback from Origins, we worked with Matt to make a few significant mechanic changes and we’ve spent the past several months at GenCon, Protospiel, GrandCon, and local play testing sessions smoothing out all the development hiccups. Finally, in quarter 4, we can confidently say we have a stellar, complete, and well-developed game.

Do your research, but don’t forget to act. We’ve found it’s a balance. Despite interviewing over 40 board game industry greats, collaborating with other designers and publishers, and putting in hours of our own research, we continue to encounter questions. That said, as a publisher we have to move to be profitable and some things you can’t learn without acting on them. For example, we originally submitted an art proposal to Brett Bean after doing a lot of research of what to include. For reasons like scheduling, it didn’t work out but one mistake we did make was including too much information. We had 3 variants of the art we wanted and looking back on it now it was probably overwhelming for Brett. We took what we learned and applied it to the art proposal we gave to Jacqui Davis, our now signed artist. She gave us very positive feedback for having such a clear and concise art asset list.

As of December, we’re syncing up for a Q1 Kickstarter launch. Kyle is organizing international selling/shipping and the budget, while Lee and I focus on building the Kickstarter page and marketing. The game is complete and we have all of the necessary art finished. It’s really exciting to see this move closer to a reality and we are definitely equipped to streamline this process for the future.

Watch out 2015. We’re gunning for you.

Christopher Chung

In January I was introduced into the Game Artisans of Canada (GAC) as a Journeyman. The GAC is a collective of experienced designers and those with potential all across Canada. Not only have I joined quite an established group to share my prototypes with, I had a mentor in Joshua Cappel. I’ve also wanted to become an Artisan quite quickly, and in June, I did with the help of Blossom. This was my flower-themed, tile-laying prototype I had shown around to multiple publishers with no success.

I finished my degree in the spring, and I was concurrently working on a game called Full Metal Contact. Essentially it was an arcade fighter wrapped up in a board game. Real-time dice rolling, card-driven combat, and robots with huge weapons. That sounded awesome to me, and it became my primary game of this year.

I quickly prototyped it and with lots of input got it ready for Gen Con. I agreed to help out a publisher there in return for my Gen Con attendance. During my play testing period, I had posted the PnP files on Twitter, and I found an eager play tester in Randy Hoyt of Foxtrot Games. He gave me feedback from a designer’s point of view, and really enjoyed it with his son, but offered to look at other prototypes I had from a publisher’s point of view. I sent him Blossom, which he eventually offered to sign. With my network of friends in GAC, they helped me solidify the deal, and I finally had my first game signed.

Randy and I had a few ideas on how to change the game because he was not sold on it being a game about flowers – he had played it without a theme with playtesters. Once he suggested Lanterns, I was sold, and Lanterns: The Harvest Festival was born.

During Gen Con I entered the Publisher Speed Dating event hosted by James Mathe of Minion Games, and I must have shown Full Metal Contact to 15 or so different publishers. I had a couple of interested people, but it wasn’t until a few weeks or so after Gen Con that I had a publisher contact me based off my sell-sheet. I sent them a physical copy and am waiting to hear back from them.

I met Randy in person during Gen Con after the countless emails and video chats we’ve had leading up to it, and that made it all real for me. He was demoing Lanterns at the prototype hall, and the genuine reactions of play testers gave me goose bumps. People I’ve never met before really liked my game, and that was awesome to see.

After Gen Con, Randy had launched the Kickstarter campaign for the game, and I’ve never felt more accomplished as a designer, seeing all the excitement from backers. The campaign went amazingly, reaching the goal in less than a week, and reaching all stretch goals during the final days. Lanterns is going to be the best it can be, and I couldn’t have been happier when it was all over.

To summarize my epic year, the things I’ve learned were:

  • Be proactive with your social media and network. I would’ve never found my first publisher without Twitter. It’s sometimes not about what you know, but who you know too.
  • Be open to experiences. I wasn’t planning on going to Gen Con. Had I not, I never would’ve met Randy in person  and I would’ve never found the interested party in Full Metal Contact.
  • Be open to change. Your game will be better for it. I would’ve never thought of Lanterns as a theme for a game, but I’m glad it worked out so well.
  • Finally, be ready for the crash. After my success with Lanterns and hopefully my success with Full Metal Contact, there was a period where I could not think of any games I wanted to work on. I knew I wasn’t done as a designer, but it was tough to stomach my inactivity. I took a break from designing to refocus, and now I’m working on a few new prototypes that will hopefully take shape.

Randy Hoyt (Foxtrot Games)


I released my first game (Relic Expedition) to retail, as both the designer and the publisher. I also signed and raised funding for my second game as a publisher (Lanterns: The Harvest Festival). I learned a lot about making a game into a product for the marketplace, particularly in understanding your target market’s expectations for complexity, depth, playtime, theme, components, and cost. I learned how much joy it brings you when people you don’t know pay money for something you created and love it. I also learned that you can’t please everyone and that you have to have a thick skin if you want to make entertainment products for people you don’t know.

From a game design perspective, I learned how important and difficult it can be to design the end of a game correctly. It’s not primarily about length, though length is a factor. A game’s ending needs to fit with the game as a whole, evoking the same feel and motivating players to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Any weird end-game conditions that incentivize players to stall the flow or engage in a jarring game of chicken can pull people out of the experience — unless of course those fit the theme and the rest of the game play.

  • On Twitter @randyhoyt
  • Relic Expedition
  • Lanterns

Richard Durham

Back in January I started to design a quick game about detectives. Let’s call it, “Gumshoe.” It was the kind of game that went from zero to prototype in about 15 minutes. Hey, and it worked! But I wasn’t happy. I got all existential on the thing, and started asking questions. Gumshoe lived a short life. Probably about an hour. And you know what? That’s a-ok.

A month or two later, I had another prototype for a bluffing game. It got to where I could test it and it was good! Players enjoyed it, I mean. They wanted to give it another shot.

But I wasn’t happy. Another bluffing game? What was this adding to the bluffing game genre? That’s important to me, but it doesn’t need to be. It was perfectly fine the way it was. It was tight; it was full of layers; it made players scratch their chins. But here I was, wondering why I wasn’t happy yet.


I found out why I was designing. If I had known that I wanted to explore new states of play beforehand, I could have saved myself a lot of angst over the game.

Eventually this game lost the overt lying and morphed into a game where players did a bit of deduction, but where you could do just as well reading player’s intentions and behaviors. In other words, you could mislead opponents, without actually lying.

Themes are important. To keep focused on the play, I had used the generic theme of “royal court.” Talk about over-done. Hey, wait, this was a game with deduction and misdirection…obvious fit for that detectives theme I had used months before! If you’re not keeping a bank or database or drawer with papers sticking out if it, you probably should be. It helps, since I recycled more than just the theme. Elements from that initial detective game worked their way into this new one, you know, as they do.

All it took then was months and months of playing, tweaking, playing, tweaking, etc. It got to be such a small game – only 8 cards – that any change dramatically altered the way the game played out. Finding that happy place took a lot of playing from willing folks, some who ended with a different opinion of the game than I wanted. Not everyone liked it.

I came to accept this reality: It was a polarizing game, and that’s okay. The mechanics were tough to grasp at first. The cards had subtleties that didn’t come out until repeated plays. Partners were encouraged to share their information, which confused and even angered some players who thought detective partners should collaborate in silence. I’ll never figure out that one.

In the end I got a game that not only am I happy about, but I’m happy to share. I like to see the light bulbs go off when a player realizes that they could play that game completely differently and not only enjoy it more, but win — or at least not lose as badly.

This game became known as Dirty Little Secrets. It’s one I’m sharing now with the public for blind-testing, and eventually for the cheapest distribution methods I can use. If you’d like to give it a go, there’s a Print and Play version of it available in the cloud and soon on Board Game Geek. Please, if you like competitive games with partners, give Dirty Little Secrets a try. I’d love to hear what you think.

  • My email: richdurham at gmail dot com
  • @richdurham on Twitter
  • PnP files: located here On BOX

Entries Wanted: 2014 in Review


We’re in the final months of 2014, which means it’s a good time for reflection. In the past I’ve hosted community articles about the upcoming year, as well as ones about the recently completed year. This post is seeking submissions for the latter.

What did you accomplish in 2014? What did you learn? Where did you stumble, and how will you address it? What did you learn from failure? I’d love to compile a collection of these tidbits from our design community to share, enjoy, and reflect.

Here are some details about joining this post!

  • Deadline: November 30, 2014. That gives you a few weeks plus BGG Con to think on this and wrap things up. Of course, sooner is always appreciated.
  • How: Email me your submission to grant at hyperbolegames dot com. Bonus Points for putting “Community Feature” in the subject line.
  • What: Try to keep submissions to a reasonable length. I may have 5, 10, or 25 people participate. If we have 25, well, I’ll make it a week long feature. Ultimately, if you have a lot to say because a lot happened, and it’s interesting, then write it. But, be concise and aware that it’s a community post.
  • Additional Materials: A photo or two are encouraged! If you have a picture of a slick proto or a published game, share it.
  • Links: If you want me to link to your Twitter or Website or BGG entry, please include that. You’ll save me a lot of time chasing it down.

As a final note, keep tone in mind. I’d love for this to be more of an honest story to share. Please don’t send me a press release or sales pitch. Naturally, I’ll work with you as editor if anything seems off, but speak from the heart and share your story. Don’t worry, you’ll get some nice promotion just for being in the article.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns, use the email above or comments below to get a hold of me. Tell your friends about this – the more the merrier.

I look forward to your noble tales of triumph and failure. I know I have mine!