Good Grief

Well, it’s been way too long since I’ve updated the website, and I apologize for that. Unfortunately, when I get very busy (i.e. successful), I have to choose between updating the website or getting paying work done. And ultimately, that’s an easy call, since the landlady isn’t particularly impressed by my shiny blog. Still, if you’ve followed my twitter feed or just board game news in general, you’ll know that it’s been a pretty amazing year for me so far. I’ll try to keep this coherent and not too rambly, but there’s a lot to cover!

X-Files came out in January – my first game release since I left FFG in October of 2012. Not for lack of work or sales, as I have a TON of games in the pipeline, it’s just that various things have delayed them. Happily, although X-Files has received mixed reviews from hardcore board game fans, it has done extremely well with the more casual crowd and gone back for a 2nd printing and an expansion already. Since I designed it as more of a gateway game for X-Files fans, it’s an easy call to mark that down in the ‘win’ column.

Today the world...tomorrow your heart!

Today the world…tomorrow your heart!

CHEW: Cases of the FDA, has also released in the last few weeks, and is doing quite well on social media and among comic book fans, though as with X-Files, it’s receiving mixed reviews among established board game reviewers. Again, it’s a lighter game – a beer and pretzels design that wouldn’t be out of place on a tavern table this time (it even includes a certain “iron liver” game variant), but just look at the little plastic chogs you get with it…they’re so adorable! It’ll reach its intended audience in the long run, so I can’t be mad. It’s a fun game, and it’ll do well in the market, no worries.

For those looking for a heavier release from me, Wyrd Miniatures is putting Darkness Comes Rattling into stores within the next month or so. It’s a co-op game for 1-6 players (it says 2-6 on the box, but it’s playable solo) with a unique storyline, some fun mechanics, and a really gorgeous presentation. I think that the art in this game is some of the best I’ve ever had attached to one of my games, especially the cover! Word hasn’t gotten out much about it yet, unfortunately, as Wyrd mostly has press contacts on the miniatures side of things, but hopefully momentum will start to build as it reaches retail stores, since Darkness really is a game I’m pleased with.

Of course, my biggest news so far this year has been plastered all over the place – I’m designing a big box board game based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for IDW! This puppy’s gonna be a hefty box of miniatures, dice, cards, and cardboard, and will definitely be aimed squarely at the hobby market. I’m super thrilled to be working on it, and I’ve got some really neat mechanics planned for this one, but I don’t want to spoil too much just yet…

I’ve also got a number of other upcoming releases, including a fun euro-style design for 2-7 players that takes about 45 minutes called Little Circuses, a return to the Cthulhu mythos in Achtung Cthulhu: The Secret War, a game set in Brandon Sanderson’s grim fantasy world of Mistborn, and a light-hearted dungeon romp inspired by Guillotine the card game named Awesome Kingdom: the Tower of Hateskull. Check out my Upcoming Games page for more info on most of those games (Mistborn is still a bit too new for now).

The crazy thing is, those are just my announced games. As anime fans like to exclaim, “This isn’t even my final form!” I still have a few announcements left this year that are gonna rock your socks off. Keep an ear to the ground around BGG.con in November, which I’m going to be a special guest at, for another big announcement or two. And lest I forget, A big thanks to the Boardgamegeek folks, and Aldie in particular, for the invite, not to mention for letting me bunk with them at Gen Con. And another big thanks to IDW Games for my Gen Con badge, and for believing so strongly in my game designs!

The Truth will be Out There in July.

Not a full blog today. I’m sorry I’ve been so busy lately, but game design can be a harsh mistress, after all. However, today is a good day! IDW Games announced that the X-Files board game I designed for them is coming out in July, so I can finally mention it here!  Their press release can be found here.

It’s a game for 2-5 players (up to 4 X-Files agents and 1 Syndicate player who takes the role of the Smoking Man) in about 60-90 minutes. I used to watch X-Files every Friday night with Dad (Mom was too creeped out by it), so it was really great getting to revisit the show (thanks, Netflix!) while researching for the game. I focused on the first three seasons of the show, and had a great time designing it. I’m really proud of this one, folks, keep an eye out for it!

One Year In

So, it’s been a bit over a year since I left Fantasy Flight Games to become a freelance game designer. Now, I was going to continue my adventures at Ropecon this blog, but I think instead I’m going to talk about my year in review, and next time I’ll write up part 2 of Ropecon.
When I first left FFG, I was pretty nervous. I had some savings, but I knew they wouldn’t go as far as I was hoping, and that I’d have to get some paying projects as soon as possible. As it turned out, my best friend, Eric Lang, was able to extend a helping hand to me. Eric had a contract being offered that he was too busy to do by himself, so he offered to collaborate with me, and even gave me the up-front half of the advance, taking the back-end half for himself so I’d get paid sooner. Honestly, that extra bit of financial buffer has actually made all the difference. But beyond that, he gave me a ton of good advice, having been a freelancer for many years. So, thanks for all that, Eric, it’s been a huge help.
One of the things a freelancer has to do is attend conventions. This is when they talk to clients face-to-face, make new contacts, pitch games, and otherwise stay on top of the state of the industry. This year, I went to the GAMA Trade Show, the Gathering of Friends, Ropecon, and Gencon. Had I the time and money, I would’ve probably also tried to attend Essen Spiel and BGG.con, as well as maybe one of the PAX conventions. I’m not sure if I’ll attend the GAMA Trade Show again next year – it might be a semi-annual trip for me at best. It wasn’t a bad show, but a lot of game companies didn’t attend this year, so its utility for me was kind of iffy. Gathering of Friends was great for me, as I had a number of games to playtest and try to sell there. Ropecon was a terrific convention that I was invited to as a Guest of Honor, which not only let me see some of Finland, but I even came back from it with some unexpected work (which I’ll probably talk about next time). Gencon, of course, is simply the most essential convention for anyone in the game industry in North America. Every game company is there, big announcements are being made all over, and it’s an enormous chance to network as well as see old friends. If you’re not at Gencon, you’re not in the North American game industry.
While I’ve never actually sold a game outright at a convention so far, the seeds of pretty much every deal I’ve made this year have been planted at various shows. My friend Eric goes to a lot more conventions than I do, although he’s more of a travel fan than I am. I think 6 cons is the absolute most I could handle a year and still get any work done, personally, and 3-5 is much more in my comfort zone. But, if you’re thinking about ever becoming a game designer, travel to conventions is definitely something you’ll need to take into account.
One thing I wasn’t completely prepared for is the feast and famine cycle that the game industry seems to go through. You can go several months without hearing a peep out of anyone, and then get six or seven project offers all in the same week. I’m reasonably sure this has to do with the two “big event” conventions in our industry – Gencon and Essen Spiel. Every company wants a big release at each of those conventions, so they all get hungry around the same times of year, which seems to be from around early October to early January. This might also have to do with game companies preparing their release schedules for the upcoming year. Whatever the reason, smaller companies take note – if you’re looking for a game from me, April to June is probably my least busy time of year. As a result of this cycle, I found that I had to dip into my retirement fund some to get through a few dead spots this year, so prospective freelancers be warned, cash flow is going to be an issue for you at some point. Hopefully, once some of my games make it to market and start generating royalties for me, that won’t be as big a deal any more, but it’s good to be aware of going in.
Overall, this year has been an incredible adventure for me. I’ve worked on a wide variety of games covering a breadth of themes I didn’t think possible a year or two ago. I’ve collaborated with my best friend, travelled to Finland and eaten cloudberries, black blood sausage, and reindeer, and have even started to look into some really experimental game designs that I hope will push my skills to the next level. But it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had moments of doubt and fear. I’ve dropped the ball a few times as I’ve learned new skills and struggled to hone my organizational talents. Last month, I also lost my Grandma Barnwell, a wonderful woman who I loved – and still love – dearly. As a result, much of October is just a blur. But I know she was extremely proud of me for setting out on my own after 15 years in the game industry, and I know she’ll continue to guide me for the rest of my life.
They say in business that the first three years are the hardest. Here’s to year two. Some of my post-FFG games are going to start hitting the market this year, so it’s going to be an exciting time for me. Until next month, take care.

Gencon and Generation Hex

Incidentally, I’m heading off to Gencon this week to see friends, line up my next few gigs, and talk to publishers about the games I’m currently working on for them. I’ll also be showing up at the Th3rd World Studios booth in author’s alley to talk to folks about Generation Hex and show off the game. I can’t promise a regular schedule, but I’ll do my darnedest to be there from 5:30-6:00 PM every day. Other than that, I’ll try to keep the Th3rd World guys apprised of my next appearance at the booth. Beyond that, if you see me around the show, feel free to say hi. I’ll be happy to chat and sign things as long as I’m not on my way to an appointment.

Adventures in Finland, Part 1

At the end of July, I made the trip to Espoo, Finland, where I, along with Vincent Baker (author of Dogs in the Vineyard, his website is at http://www.lumpley.com/ ) were invited to be the Guests of Honor at Ropecon 2013. Before being invited, I’m sad to say that I’d never really given Finland any thought. But once I had the opportunity to go, I’m pleased to say that I had a wonderful time and met a number of very gracious people.

Now, I saw and did so many things in Finland that I’m not going to be able to fit them into a single blog post. Instead, in this first post I’m going to talk about Ropecon, and in my second post I’ll talk about Finland. I’ll apologize in advance, because I’m sure that I’m going to leave out some people who deserve a mention, but there was simply so much to see and do, and so many wonderful people that my notes were bound to leave someone out. Anyway, let’s talk about Ropecon…

Upon arriving in Finland, I was greeted at the airport by Timo, a very friendly gentleman who was my handler for the trip. Between him, and a couple other kind folks, I was pretty much always where I needed to be, never went hungry, and never got bored. Can’t ask for more than that, right?

Well, the Ropecon team went above and beyond in many ways, not the least of which was the amazing PR work they did. They set up interviews with no less than 4 radio journalists and even an interview for TV. I think perhaps the most interesting experience was showing up for one of the radio interviews, only to find out that it was going to be done live on the air! Thankfully, I didn’t choke too badly. For those interested, here are the interviews I’ve been able to find and/or have been directed to online (note that you may need to make use of Google Translate as many of these are in Finnish):

TV Interview:

The interview starts at 16:08, and it will remain online until the end of August, 2013):

http://areena.yle.fi/tv/1958153

Radio Interviews

This was the live radio interview:

http://ylex.yle.fi/radio/vieraat/lautapelisuunnittelija-kevin-wilson-haluaisin-tehda-my-little-pony-pelin

And these interviews are text-only (Google Translate is your friend!):

http://yle.fi/uutiset/game_of_thrones_ja_arkhamin_kauhut_ovat_hitteja_pelilaudalla/6754627

http://www.ts.fi/kulttuuri/515104/Pelisuunnittelija+uskoo+lautapelienkin+voivan+digitalisoitua

I’ll be sure to post other interviews if I find stable links to them.

At Ropecon itself, they had a fairly impressive opening ceremony with a small musical number (their convention anthem), a wonderful MC named Johanna who brought Vincent Baker and I up on stage to talk to us a bit. After that, a very good band played for a while. (I gather that they played longer than planned, but I quite enjoyed it anyways).

Ropecon took place in two buildings and the area around them. The main building was unusual, a bit of a labyrinth, to be honest. Fortunately, I never got too lost, but I did occasionally circle back on my own path a bit. Among the events they had at Ropecon were: boffer sword fighting, card games, board games, miniature games, RPGs, LARPs, a Rock-paper-scissor tournament, various guest lectures, and a costume gala. I watched the boffer sword semi-finals, and I had to marvel at how much hopping practice they must need to get good. LARP is apparently huge in Finland, and I participated in a number of interesting conversations about it at the show.

I met a number of very nice people at the con, including many excited fans. I probably signed a dozen box lids, all told. One young lady wanted a photo with me and invited me to join her and her friends for a game of Arkham Horror, which I did for as long as my schedule allowed. It’s always nice to run into people who enjoy my games at conventions, as it’s a good reminder that what I’m doing with my life makes other people happy and isn’t totally frivolous. When you’re a game designer, sometimes there’s the worry that you should be out trying to cure cancer or something instead, so it’s good to get the occasional reassurance.

While I was running Generation Hex demos (while I’ll post more on soon), I also tried out a demo of a card game called Serpent’s Tongue ( http://www.becomemagi.com/ ). Overall, I liked the game. It had the very novel mechanic of actually having to “cast” the spells on your cards using a hand gesture and a word. Apparently, it’s already been kickstarted, quite successfully, and I wish them the best of luck!

The other main activity I partook in was giving three lectures. The first was a Ropecon tradition, in which I talked (quite boringly) about myself for about 15 minutes, and then opened it up to questions with a sigh of relief. The second was the easiest talk, being about my 3 pillars of game design (math, art, and psychology). Now that I’ve started to formalize my thoughts on that a bit, you can bet I’ll be blogging about it at some point. The third and final talk was a bit more technical, being advice to those trying to sell board games, including info on royalties, contract clauses and so on. I feel like having information like that circulating helps things get better for all game designers.

This is starting to run quite long now, so I’ll cut it off here and include the last few Ropecon activities in the 2nd part, when I talk about Finland in general. Hopefully I’ll also remember anything/anyone I’ve forgotten by then!

Unseen Forces is Out

The first expansion for Elder Sign is out now. It’s called Unseen Forces and information on it can be found here. I designed it when I was still at FFG, so I’m glad to see it get released. Check it out!

Spring is Here, Kinda

So, we’ve finally made it through the winter here in sunny, tropical Minnesota. And by that, I mean that I expect to see the sun any day now. Until then, I’m sure the plants are enjoying all the rain. This past month, I’ve largely kept my head down and worked on projects. A couple of them are just about ready to leave my hands for good, which has me excited to start on the next few things, and I came up with a small, simple design last week or so, which was a nice bonus.

Spring has also brought with it something new and unusual in my life. This year I and some friends joined a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, also known as a farm share. Basically, we paid a local farmer a fee up front, and now we get a share of his crop every week. So far this has been mostly greens like kale and arugula and such, but it’s all fresh from the farm. I’ve been enjoying finding uses for the various foods each week, including salads, braised greens, and homemade salsa (protip: when they tell you not to get any jalapeno juice on your hands, they MEAN it). One of my friends said I was turning into a hippie, and I replied, “Just now? Really? I went to Berkeley, man. I’ve been a hippie for years.” Anyways, with a CSA, you don’t get to pick what you want from week to week, instead just getting whatever is ready to harvest, but the price isn’t bad and I kind of like the sense of adventure. I mention this largely because most people have never heard of CSAs, and it’s a concept that really ought to be supported, if only because you get much better vegetables and fruits out of it.

In between chopping and cooking veggies, I’ve done a lot of initial work on upcoming projects, not to mention some “blue sky” brainstorming. It’ll be awhile before you see the results of that, but I think it’s some exciting stuff. Hopefully I can start talking about some of it by the end of the year.

At the end of next month is when my trip to Ropecon in Espoo, Finland is taking place. I’m greatly looking forward to that trip, particularly since I’ve never been to Finland before. If you’re in that part of the world, I hope you’ll stop by the show and say hi. In August, I’ll be going to Gencon, of course. Attending that show’s pretty much a requirement for being in the gaming industry. Not sure exactly what my Gencon will look like yet, but I should start getting an idea pretty soon.

Anyway, sorry there’s not a ton of game news this month. If I’m not swamped, I’ll try and write up a little something about game design in the next few weeks. Til next time, take care!

Get Off My Lawn, Old Man Winter

So, it looks like my prediction of 3 more months of winter at the start of February was pretty dead on. Thankfully, it looks like we’re finally ready to start seeing some live plants here in Minnesota. I just hope we don’t get another blizzard like we did the other day. May blizzards are really demoralizing, ya know?

It’s been an extremely busy couple of months for me lately, as I went to both GAMA and the Gathering of Friends in order to drum up business. Although neither show has resulted in a direct sale yet, a couple of other projects are cropping up, and I think it’s at least partially because of the exposure I got at those cons. Still, I’m glad to have a couple of months at home now to just buckle down and get games done.

So, how am I doing overall, you may ask? Well, my finances are in decent shape still, and I’m continuing to drum up work as I go along. I’m also continuing to come up with game ideas that I want to work on as I get the opportunity. In general, I’m really enjoying myself, even if I’m still having to hustle to get things ramped up.

So, how about a project update, then? It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about the projects in my queue.

Project Tweedledee – Last blog entry, I revealed that this game (a collaboration with my friend Eric Lang (@eric_lang on twitter) is based upon a comic book called Finding Gossamyr. Tweedledee is largely completed, although I continue to run playtests of it when I can and make tweaks to the game components. In the meantime, Th3rd World, the publisher, has been ordering art and otherwise getting the game prepped for the printer. Maybe in a month or two I’ll even be able to show off a bit of art. We’ll have to see.

Tweedledee features a tasty little action engine system that we think gamers are really going to enjoy, and most of the playtesting tweaks have been in order to squeeze a little more juice out of that system and to make the players’ decisions a bit more interesting.

Project Tweedledum – The other collaboration I’m doing with Eric, Tweedledum has been put on the backburner while Eric and I deal with other projects (Kaosball is his main focus for the moment, and I’ve been focusing on Rattler to try and get it done). Eric is going to be the “heavy lifting guy” on this game, as I was on Tweedledee. We talked about the game a lot and hashed out the major points of the design while we were hanging out at GAMA, now it’s just a matter of getting the components designed.

Project TopHat – I showed this game off to several publishers at both GAMA and Gathering, and although it got plenty of interest, it hasn’t sold just yet. So, I’ve decided to take some of the feedback I got at the Gathering and revamp the game a bit.  In particular, I removed an auction phase from the game and beefed up the player interaction some more by introducing competition for certain resources that enter the game. I’ll be trying out this new less filling, but better tasting TopHat 2.0 as soon as I get the chance, and then we’ll see where I go from there.

Project Rattler – I’ll admit it, this project has been rough going. The amount of text required for it has bogged me down a ton, and I’ve been struggling with some lingering issues that I had with the design. However, last week I had a major breakthrough on Rattler, and I’ve been making good progress ever since, which is a relief after beating my head against the wall for so long.

With last week’s changes, I really feel like Rattler is going to be a home run. It has a very unusual theme, a compelling setting, and a number of unique mechanics. The challenge has been trying to capture the proper level of drama vs. control, and that has proven elusive up until now.  Since my breakthrough, however, I’ve been powering through it, and I expect to be done with the design and components by the end of this month at the latest.

Project Lottery – I’m still waiting to hear back from a publisher on this game. More on it once I hear back on it for sure. Whether it works out or not, Lottery has been very educational for me, and has taught me a lot about the mainstream market, which is useful regardless of Lottery’s success.

Project Fury – I feel like Fury could be one of my biggest releases of the year. As a designer, you’re never 100% sure, but I’ve learned to trust my gut over the years. It has a good theme and an original IP, and it’s with a publisher that can really make it cool. I’ve mapped out the main mechanics now, and component design is up next. Now that I’ve broken through the wall on Rattler, I expect Fury will enter high gear soon.

Project Volcano – After a delay earlier in the year, the contract for this game is now being wrapped up, so that’s good. I’ve got some sweet ideas for where to take this design, and overall, I’m going to be focusing on making it a rollicking game of high adventure and exploration.

Other Projects – In addition, there are 2 more projects that I’m in talks with publishers about. I don’t have codenames for them yet, as they aren’t sure things at this point in time, but if and when contracts do get signed, they’ll get added to the queue and work will begin.

I also have a couple of design ideas for next year that are explorations of an entirely new type of game for me, but we’ll have to see if I find appropriate homes for them. They’re fairly experimental, so who knows, right?

So, while I’m obviously keeping pretty busy, I feel really good about the designs I’m working on this year. I feel like they’re going to help me take the next step in my career, and these games are really going to be designs that I can be proud of.

Good Friends and Tasty Wings

Next Friday, I’m flying off to the Gathering of Friends, which is by far my favorite convention. I originally got my invite because Alan Moon was a fan of Descent 1st Edition, and I’ve been going every year I could manage since. It’s a small, intimate convention full of knowledgeable, hardcore board gamers. It’s also just down the road from a great little pizza & sandwich shop called Donatello’s that I basically eat at the entirely time I’m there. I can’t wait to have their buffalo wings in cowabunga sauce (yes, the shop is named after THAT Donatello) and one of their fried bologna sandwiches.

This year, I’m especially looking forward to the Gathering since it’s my first year there as a free agent. I can show off games I’m working on, get people to try them out, and get a couple months’ worth of playtesting done in about a week.This year, I’m going to be showing off at least 2 games, and maybe 3. Tweedledee and TopHat are definitely going to be there, and Rattler will be as well, provided I get the okay from the publisher. I can’t wait!

I’m going to be showing TopHat to several publishers and trying to find a buyer for it. One company is looking at it from the GAMA trade show, but it doesn’t pay to stop shopping a game around until you have a buyer. This design has gotten very good reactions from the folks who have played it, and this con will be an excellent opportunity to observe players playing it “in the wild”, without me teaching and running the game. I also will use the feedback from the Gathering to fine tune some numbers and file down a couple of rough spots. I have high hopes for this one, as it supports 2-8 players and plays in less than 45 minutes, but it needs the right publisher to really knock it out of the park.

Tweedledee is also looking really good these days. The publisher, Th3rd World Studios, showed it off on TableTop Day recently, so I can talk about it some. As I’ve mentioned, the game is a co-design between Eric Lang and I, and I can definitely say that it’s one of my favorite games I’ve helped to design. I keep pulling it out to play with people even though it doesn’t really need any more playtesting (having achieved total buttery smoothness already). Although the final name is not finalized, I can also reveal that the game is based on the Finding Gossamyr comic series. If you haven’t heard of it, I strongly recommend giving it a try. As there are only 4 issues out so far, it’s easy to catch up on the story.

As for Rattler, I got to show it to the publisher at the GAMA trade show, and I’m happy to say that they were extremely pleased with what they saw. I can’t say for sure yet if I’ll be showing it off at Gathering, but hopefully I’ll get the okay, as I’m curious to start seeing player responses to the game besides my usual crew. I think the game is pretty original and fun, but it needs a good chunk of polishing, and I’m eager to get it finished and off to production so that it can be in stores as soon as possible.

Anyway, as you can see, it’s been a busy month for me between tidying up the last of my GAMA follow-ups, figuring out how to do estimated taxes, and getting ready for Gathering, but I’m feeling optimistic that this April is going to be a great month for me.

Edit: By the way, for a free look at Finding Gossamyr, look here.