The Board Game Design Virtual Summit 2020

Board games
Photo by Christopher Paul High on Unsplash

The Board Game Summit ran as a virtual conference from 14th to the 20th September, with six days of themed interviews with industry experts, and a panel wrap-up discussion on the last day.  If what you read below piques your interest it is still possible to purchase access to the Summit at this link https://jslack.lpages.co/virtual-board-game-design-summit/, where depending on the pass level you purchase you can view all the interviews, access some bonus games design expert material with the likes of Elizabeth Hargrave, creator of the hit game, Wingspan, and a bonus Board Game Design Course, by the convener of the Summit, Joe Slack.

Ludogogy has (so far) looked at one of each of the themed interviews and the concluding panel. Those are written up in greater detail, but all the (non-bonus) interviews are listed below.  Links listed where appropriate only lead to external material, as you will need to buy a pass to access Summit material.

There is much to find interesting here, and the interviews are ably conducted by Joe Slack, who extracts practical advice which will be useful to anyone working in the fields of games design, publishing, or using games in a learning setting.

Day 1 – Game Design Best Practices

How to Design an IP Game with Daryl Andrews

Daryl Andrews is a professional freelance game designer based in Canada, who began full-time in 2015. With 30+ board games already released through over 20 different publishers, Daryl’s output has been unrivaled over the last few years.

Beyond design, Daryl has also worked as a consultant for a variety of gaming companies with a special focus on popular licenses, including Back To The Future, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, the NHL, Oregon Trail and more.

Check out Daryl’s BGG page.

This talk looked at how games designers can go about approaching IP licence holders, either with a view to creating a game based on the IP, or converting an existing idea into an IP game. A relationship forged with an IP licence holder can potentially be very lucrative as they may want to develop multiple games.

The importance of making a reputation and creating relationship through ‘paying one’s dues’ is emphasised throughout the talk, and Daryl mentions several ways of doing this.

Daryl discusses the implications of this including the constraints you will be working under, and how that can be helpful, the importance of ensuring that NDAs are carefully observed and how to work with the ‘logic’ of the IP’s universe – the sandbox of someone else’s world.

He talks about dual approaches; working directly with IP licence holders to develop a game, but also how an existing game can be adapted to work with an IP if it is already a near thematic fit.

Designing under an IP licence, designers should be prepared that the IP owner will expect close involvement, even giving direct feedback for changes. But this should be welcomed as they know the customers and IP well, and will therefore have a good idea of what will be successful

Ultimately, this talk contains lots of useful advice for someone considering designing IP games, including how to find out who owns the IP, looking for ‘gaps’ in an existing IP holder’s catalogue and maximising the potential for the success of your pitch by keeping your game as general as possible until you have found a licence holder to work with.

Other Day one interviews

  • Why Playtesting is So Crucial with Peter Hayward
  • Making Party Games That Get Published with Eric Slauson

Day 2 – How to Build a Following

Building a Community with Gabe Barrett

Gabe Barrett is the founder of the Board Game Design Lab, a podcast and community with the main goal of helping designers create great games that people love.

Gabe has written several books on game design and is currently focused on designing and publishing a series of solo games.

You’ll find all kinds of game design resources at the Board Game Design Lab.

In this interview, Gabe talks through how has grown his podcast from a standing start to his recent milestone of one million downloads.

He talks about the discipline of booking a working with a guest each week, which gives him a much more urgent deadline than writing work, which he also does.

He talks about how to keep the podcast fresh and relevant week after week, and about how building a community is about ‘us’ not ‘me’, and gives loads of useful advice about how to find out what it is that your community wants, and how you can build a viable business by satisfying those needs.

He explains in great detail how he utilised social media to attract both guests and an audience, organising giveaways, and being as receptive as possible to connections – even if it only means one more audience members.

After the podcast was established he then started a Facebook group, with a more community focus to complement the informational focus of the podcast.

This interview gives loads of great advice, and doesn’t sugar coat the amount of time, work and consistency that is needed to get all of this up and running.

Again the importance of the 3Rs – building reputation and relationships and reciprocity over time is stressed – and there is a lot of suggestions as to how this can be done.

Other day two interviews

  • Growing Your Following From Zero to Over 2,000 with Brandon Rollins
  • How to Market Your Board Game and Get Results with Nalin Chuapetcharasopon

Day 3 – Finding Success on Kickstarter… and Beyond

How to Run a Successful Publishing Business with Jamey Stegmaier

Jamey Stegmaier runs the day-to-day operations of Stonemaier Games, located in St. Louis, Missouri. Jamey designed Viticulture, Euphoria, Scythe, Charterstone, and Tapestry, and he has had a lifelong passion for playing and designing board games. His 8 crowdfunding campaigns raised over $3.2 million, and he shares his insights, mistakes, and lessons learned on this blog.

His passion for crowdfunding led him to write A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guidea book about crowdfunding, entrepreneurship, and putting customers’ needs before your own as you form a community.

Check out all of Jamey’s game design blogs and Kickstarter Lessons here.

In this interview, Jamey Stegmaier talks about his previous success with running Kickstarter campaigns to finance board games, starting with Viticulture in 2011. He also talks about why he has now stepped away from that approach, and the benefits and disadvantages of both Kickstarter and financing in advance

He started with Kickstarter in 2011 with Vitculture and has done seven in total. But he wanted to improve relationships with distributors and retailers and Kickstarter involves an inevitable delay for consumers. So his current method is now,  make it, run it by people, announce and sell it.

One of the biggest challenges for games publishers, regardless of the route they choose is to work out how much demand they need to fulfil, and Jamey has plenty of advice about how that can be managed.

Because Stonemaier Games is now so well known, most of their challenges are now operational, but he also has plenty to say about new publishers can deal with the challenges of establishing relationships with distributors and retailers, and indeed getting the potential customers to care about your upcoming games release in the first place.

This is a very practical interview that you might want to listen to if you are just starting out. Jamey Stegmaier is well known for his generosity in sharing his experiences and this interview is no exception. It is particularly useful on the topic of how to get noticed.

After you get noticed, you will also need to know how to work with distributors and even with partners who can translate and distribute in foreign language markets. Your game will have to published in German if it is to stand any chance of winning the Spiel des Jahres!!

He discusses what should and shouldn’t be outsourced, how to take advantage of economies of scale, and most importantly, at what point in your games publishing journey it is safe to take the leap and dump the day job.

Other day three interviews

  • Using Conventions to Help You Find Success on Kickstarter with Victoria Cana
  • Transitioning From Designing to Publishing with Jay Cormier

Day 4 – Pitching to Publishers Effectively & Writing a Great Rulebook

How to Create a Rule Book that Players Will Actually Understand with Jeff Fraser

Jeff Fraser provides one-stop writing, editing, and layout services for tabletop game rulebooks. His blended background in writing, layout production, and game design gives him the skills to map out how a rulebook will look and feel from start to finish.

Jeff has a fully integrated process that makes use of visual elements like diagrams, examples, sidebars, and highlighted keywords. He thinks about how the organization of the rulebook as a whole and the layout of each page can make rules clear, consistent, and compelling.

Check out Jeff’s rulebook services here.

Jeff’s background was in editing and it gave him a good grounding when he found himself creating rulebooks. This interview focuses on what makes a good rulebook – which sadly no one ever notices – because rulebooks only get noticed when they intrude into the game experience.

He goes through the steps of making a piece of work which must take people through their first play, but also be useful as a reference afterwards. Correct division of the information is therefore essential, as is consistency of terms, avoiding redundancy and accessibility.

Jeff takes us ably through all those characteristics. In addition he discusses the use of visual language, how to use examples well, and how to spot potential confusion points so that rules can be made clear an unambiguous.

He details the step by step approach that he takes to working with the games design team to create and produce a rulebook, and even gives suggestions for what order the information should appear.

The final advice he gives is that a rulebook needs to be thoroughly tested, just like any other part of a game.

Other day four interviews

  • How to Develop a Great Relationship With a Publisher with Elizabeth Hargrave
  • Understanding What Publishers Really Want with Curt Covert

Day 5 – How to Find and Work with Others in the Industry

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Manufacturing But Were Too Afraid to Ask with Sarah Graybill & Kerry Rundle of Panda Game Manufacturing

Sarah is a project manager with Panda Game Manufacturing. She enjoys working with independent publishers and creators to help take their games from prototypes to published products. She is a game designer and enthusiast as well, and especially loves to play cooperative, narrative, and escape-room games. She lives in California and strives to take time each day to play.

Kerry has been a Project Manager for Panda since 2017, working primarily with Kickstarter creators. She enjoys brainstorming components with game designers and publishers, and loves figuring out how to make unique ideas come to life. She lives in Cincinnati, OH with her husband Adam, who also works for Panda, and their daughter and dog.

Check out Panda’s amazing game design resources here.

This interview provided a thorough overview of the process of working with a manufacturer to transform your games design into the physical components that you need to make it into a reality.

Much of the focus was on how Panda work with designers who are using crowdfunding to finance their projects. So it provides a very grounding on projects which have ‘additions’ such as stretch goals, luxe versions and so on

Listen to this interview if you want to know the steps of the pre-production, production and fulfilment process, who you will be working with and what information you will need to provide to the manufacturer.

You will also learn about expected timescales from submitting your first design specifications, to getting your first copy of your game off the line.

For me the most interesting part of the talk was when the two interviewees talked about the possibilities that can be achieved with standard and custom components, and the creative ways in which the designers and manufacturers work together to really push the boundaries of what is possible with cardboard, plastic, wood and metal.

Other Day five interviews

  • Partnering with Influencers with Brittany & Mark Maia of Board Game Coffee
  • Working With Artists and Graphic Designers with Tristam Rossin

Day 6  Thinking Outside the Board Game Box

Combining Teaching and Board Games with Kathleen Mercury

Kathleen Mercury, M.A.T., M.E.T., has been teaching gifted middle school students for fifteen years using design thinking to create functional art from designing tabletop games and RPGs to filmmaking, cosplay, and more.

She shares all of her game design teaching resources at www.kathleenmercury.com for free, and loves to collaborate with educators and industry leaders to promote game design curriculum at every level and format.

She currently co-hosts the podcasts, Games in Schools and Libraries and On Board Games, and is a frequent guest on other podcasts. She has multiple games in various stages of design, development, and publication including the upcoming titles Greece Lightning from Wizkids and Dragnarok from Kolossal.

Kathleen thinks happiness comes from being able to create the life you want, and she feels very fortunate that she’s been able to do that.

This interview gives the perspective from the classroom, and talks about how games can not only be used to teach topics, but also how games design, taught as a skill, can be an intervention with even broader learning – around learning to deal with failure, coping with showing incomplete work, and learning that success requires long-term perseverence.

Kathleen traces the development of her games design classes from the three-week projects they were when she first started, to the full semester the students work on now.

She also talks about the kinds of games which are suitable for play in class, and how she has adapted commercial games, by, for example, changing themes, to make them suitable for the teaching environment.

Kathleen has plenty of first-rate advice to give to teachers who want to start, or extend the practice of using games in their classrooms, and also talks through the idea that you need to be thinking about framing the play – before, during and after the games, in order to get the greatest benefit.

Other day six interviews

  • What Customers Are Looking For: A Retailer’s Perspective with AJ Brandon
  • Understanding Game Contracts with Sen-Foong Lim

Day 7 – Wrap-Up and Q&A with Summit Guests

This final session of the Summit brings together Gabe Barrett, Sen-Foong Lim, Kathleen Mercury and Daryl Andrews. While there is some repetition of what they said in their individual interviews, the audience gets an opportunity to ask their own questions.

This is the session to listen to if you would like to hear this quartet give their perspective on:

  • Where they get game ideas?
  • Working alone or with co-creators
  • How long should I work on a game idea that’s stuck before shelving it?
  • How can a graphic designer break into games?
  • How do I get my historical game played in school?
  • Which game mechanic is overused and which would you like to see more of?

The panel also point the audience to a multitude of online resources, both their own, and ones that they recommend – from Facebook groups to games design frameworks and business-related resources, there is something to suit all here.

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