COVID and Guild Playtest Meetings
Currently we are allowing playtest facilitators for each location to determine if meetings will be held, as long as they fall within state guidelines. Updates on the status of these meetings will be announced via our BGDG of Utah’s Facebook Group.
Discord and the Guild
The BGDG of Utah’s Discord is a great way to get to know those in the guild and discuss all things game design! If you’ve not joined yet, we’d love to have you come and participate with us!
For those who are interested, you can have one of many skill-roles assigned to you on our discord! That way someone looking for an artist, graphic designer, blind playtester or any other skill can be found by typing “@ artist” or “@playtester” etc. Contact @Dustin or @Lyle on discord to have a skill-role added to your profile.
Chandler Copenhaver, with CrowdOX, has also started a Discord called CO-Games & Geeks that focuses on online playtesting. He’s really doing a great job in encouraging the community he’s building to try out games currently in development. Feel free to join up and add your game to the list! In addition to this, Wednesday nights have been set aside as their primary Game Night from 7pm EST to 12pm EST (5pm-10pm MDT). The most frequent platforms for online playtesting has been Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator.
I thought it only appropriate to mention that long time guild member Rex Caffee passed away a little over a month ago. Rex often attended the Blakfyre guild meetings in Pleasant Grove. Rex was also a two time ION Award Finalist at SaltCON for his games Kingsmen and Rising Empires (both in 2015). He will be missed by all those who knew and interacted with him! Here’s a link to his obituary.
Recently Game News from the Guild
Watch it Played recently uploaded a video for Deep Vents: designed by T. Alex Davis, art by Ryan Laukat, published by Red Raven Games
Current Design Contests
Design a character for UnMatched: by Restoration Games (due to 09/14/2020)
ION Award (SaltCON 2021): Though it’s early (submissions don’t typically open until December) it takes time to design a winning game! Now is crunch time if you are interested in participating in the annual ION Award competition. It would be great to see a guild members win this award two years in a row!
Nerding Out Podcast
Guild member, Riley Stock, has started a podcast called Nerding Out:
“Danny and Riley grew up down the block from each other and bonded over the love of comic books, music, video games, board games, and all things nerd. X amount of years later; Riley wanted to start a Podcast and Danny took pity on him and helped bring a competent voice to the idea.”
Though this podcast is about “all things nerd” there’s certainly a slant toward board games and game design. Riley is very interested in having designers from the guild on regularly as guests of the podcast and there’s a light-heated fun environment to the show. You can contact Riley here if you are interested in being a guest on his show.
Board Game Workshop Podcast
Dustin Dowdle wants to invite anyone who’s willing to participate to join an upcoming episode of The Board Game Workshop Podcast! Participating is easy! Just answer the question below and you can do it in one of 3 ways:
1. You can either send a quick audio clip to email@example.com.
2. Call (725) 222-8249 and leave a message (no one will answer, it’s a Google Voice number specifically for the podcast). Lastly,
3. You can post your answer to the question in the comments below and I’ll read them on the podcast myself. The question is:
How have you stayed motivated in the board game design space during COVID-19?
I think it will be good to hear how others are motivating themselves during these unique circumstances. Please participate if you have any inkling to do so!
A Moment of Lightheartedness
Marvel seems to be dominating the board game scene with Marvel Champions, Marvel United, Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game, and even a new Splendor Marvel game (and others not mentioned here)! It’s good to remember Marvel Comics the way they were before all of this noise:
If any recently published games or current Kickstarter campaigns have been overlooked then please contact Dustin Dowdle at firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll update this post (and future posts).
Game Design Highlights by Dustin Dowdle
Skye Larsen will be back next month with another Game Design Highlight. This month I wanted to focus on the first chapter of Jesse Schell’s book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses (3rd edition). This book is a seminal work in game design and if you are looking to create a curriculum for yourself to learn and grow in the hobby as a designer then I’d suggest you take a closer look at this book.
In the Beginning, There Is the Designer
I appreciate the author’s invitation in the first few lines of the chapter to start referring to yourself as a game designer. I don’t know about you but this was difficult for me. I felt shy and abashed the first time I used the words “I’m a game designer” and felt the words slid out awkwardly. Honestly, I felt similarly the first time I told someone I was a therapist (and that was after years of going to school) so perhaps this isn’t a widespread problem and it’s only my personal Imposter Syndrome coming out. Though my guess is I’m not alone in feeling this.
After asking you to start calling yourself a game designer, even if it feels like you’re only pretending, he then shares the following which he claims to often repeat to himself:
Who are you?
I am a game designer.
No, you’re not.
I am a game designer.
What kind of designer?
I am a game designer.
You mean you play games.
I am a game designer.
This internal game of confidence building will be important. Somehow I imagined in my mind that if I were a real game designer then it would be easy to get playtesters. I was very encouraged to hear Tim Fowers (guild member) say in a panel at SaltCON earlier this year, that this doesn’t come easy for anyone! The title of game designer won’t do the work for you.
What about failure? The author shares insights that you will in fact fail, but that failing isn’t a bad thing. He says you will fail many more times than you will succeed, but that’s the learning process. It appears that it’s more important to put yourself out there and fail a lot, in order to find times when you succeed, than to wait patiently for success to find you. That’s the kind of failure, failure to act, that won’t lead to success.
The Most Important Skill as a Designer
The author highlights a list of valuable skills to have as a designer, however, he highlights one as being more important than all the others. Listening. I’ll quote from the book:
Well, what do we do when we listen? We tip our head to one side – our head literally lists, as a boat at sea. And when we tip to one side, we put ourselves off balance: we accept the possibility of upset. When we listen deeply, we put ourselves in a position of risk. We accept the possibility that what we hear may upset is and may cause everything we know to be contradicted. It is the ultimate in open-mindedness. It is the only way to learn the truth. You must approach everything as a child does, assuming nothing, observing everything, and listening as Herman Hesse describes in Siddhartha:
“To listen with a silent heart, with a waiting, open soul. Without passion, without desire, without judgment, without rebuke.”
The author goes on to discuss 5 kinds of listening and also shares one more insight he calls the “secret of the gifted”, which he highlights as “the love of the work”.
This is a chapter that I’ve come back to time and time again because it provides comfort in taking on the title of game designer, it provides direction and resources as a designer, and it also calls attention to the need to listen with an open mind. I’ve certainly played prototypes of those who don’t have open minds and who have become defensive of their “baby”, their precious prototype that’s just needing the right publisher to come along or the right crowd to fund their campaign. I don’t know that I’ve seen them weather the storm though. I have, however, seen designers who listen, I mean really listen, take the feedback and make adjustments (small or large) and start to grow as a designer who doesn’t just design a game, but they grow as a designer to design games.
Interview with Levi Lewis and Jeffery Jones
What’s your backstory? Tell us about the two of you and how you got into game design.
Levi: I have been in product development for the better part of 15 years in software and ecommerce. I have my 10,000 hours of problem solving in so I thought I would turn my attention to a problem that I personally have. I love strategy board games. The problem that I always run into is my circle of friends shys away from playing my favorite strategy games with me because I do well (/cough my wife). We have collected and tried most cooperative games and while most of them are great fun there are always a few things that would gnaw at me.
Jeffery: I have been interested in game design for most of my life and had that dream of being a video game designer that many kids have. When I was a kid I made a few really awful board games using card-board and modified playing cards. In my early teens I used to go over to a friends house and we would play marbles, but we’d put our own special rules in it when the game got boring. Five years ago I dove into the professional world of web development and was able to learn a lot about product design. I met Levi and roughly a year and a half ago he invited me over to playtest the game that he was making, and I have been hooked on tabletop game design since.
Can you walk us through your design process? Do you start with specific themes in mind or want to utilize certain mechanisms?
It doesn’t matter, for us, whether we’re starting with a mechanic first or a theme first. If we start with a theme, it might change down the line, unless the mechanics somehow all click entirely into place from that theme. Game design is very much an iterative process. If we held fast to any theme or mechanic that we started with it would more than likely end up a mediocre game.
The common thing with our designs is we start with a problem or several problems that we want to solve. We then systematically test new solutions to those problems until we find one we love.
How did you come to be involved with the guild?
We attended a GamingCon and ended up playtesting some guild members games. We found the members we met to be very helpful and polite. That is the type of group we want to be involved in.
If you could pick 3 games (together or separately) that every designer should have to play, as a sort of game design curriculum, what would you choose?
Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle
Game Related Questions
You have been working on a game called Children of the Eleventh Plague. Could you tell us more about that game?
You are in a post-apocalyptic world dealing with an insane cannibalistic cult, which the game is named after, the “Children of the Eleventh Plague”. Your friend goes missing and you all have to work together to save her. The theme is definitely dark, but we tried to make it a bit more light-hearted by adding in lots of humor throughout the game.
It’s a cooperative, shoot and loot, dynamically generated dungeon crawler with deck building elements.
Basically if there was a love triangle between Gloomhaven, Massive Darkness and DC Deck Builder that resulted in a game-child — and nobody knew who the father was — that game-child would be this game. Except of course there’d be a little less drama, more cannibalism, and more humor than would likely be present in that situation.
We liked the idea of Gloomhaven, but couldn’t stomach the lengthy setup, slow pace of the game, nor the character retirement mechanic (having to start from the ground up all the time).
We also loved Massive Darkness because it had a faster setup, play pace and did a decent job of character building. The problem we had with Massive Darkness was the contiguous portion seemed to be an afterthought that was shoehorned into the game. The play was difficult and desperate at the beginning and way too easy by the time you had leveled and geared your characters.
What design challenges did you have to face when designing Children of the Eleventh Plague?
One of the biggest problems we’ve tried to overcome is the length of a game session getting out of hand. We started the game off with a goal of keeping the game playable over a lunch hour, while still making meaningful progress. To keep it that way the rounds and setup need to be short, and the combat needs to be simple. Not “We thought you was a toad” simple, but fast and easy simple — not fast and easy like a — nevermind, you understand. We’ve constantly been fighting to keep both of those times low. We’ve had to gut a few mechanisms, and ideas because they just take too long.
Another challenge we had to overcome was we wanted to incorporate the ability to have loot that wasn’t static. We were inspired by Diablo, where the statistics of the items that drop change. In order to overcome this we had to develop a system to display what statistics would be on the card, and a simple way for people to resolve them using dice.
What is it like working as a co-design team on this project?
We both keep each other in check. It’s nice to have a teammate to work on the project and brainstorm with.
Levi: “I know that if we had gone with every one of my ideas the game would’ve been way different and way worse. Jeff constantly challenges the status quo well after I would have just accepted it and moved on. The game is exceptional for it.”
Jeffery: “And the game wouldn’t be nearly as funny, or have nearly as cool mechanics if I wasn’t working with Levi”
Are you looking to Kickstart your game or pitch to a publisher? What drives your decision making process when it comes to how to get your game out there?
We’re going to Kickstart our game. We’d like to eventually create a game development company and switch to doing full time game development from our current jobs, and it would likely take a lot longer if we were pitching to a publisher.
Where could people go to learn more about (game) if they were interested in learning more?
Final Wrap up Questions
How would you suppose the guild could improve to better assist in the game development process?
Offering a way to blind playtest games, or playtest officially outside of the ‘meeting times’.
If people wanted to contact you or follow your future game designs how should they go about that?