Pourquoi a Board Game?

Why design a board game?

Although I’ve spent some time pontificating about my thoughts on working, starting, and the inception of this blog, I realized I never actually explained what I’m doing and why from a board game standpoint.

I’ve always loved games. When I was little, it was a way to compete with everybody in the family (I’m super competitive). I wasn’t big enough to beat my Dad, Mom, Uncles, etc. in physical feats, and when I was older it was a way to level the playing field when the aforementioned relatives were older and less spry,  but my younger brother and cousins couldn’t keep up with my peacocking teenage self. But more than all this, I loved the focused mix of theme, mechanics, strategy, and togetherness. You couldn’t be off in separate rooms playing a game. You couldn’t lose yourself in worldwide Risk domination if you were also reading a book. You couldn’t win at Rummy 500 if you didn’t pay attention to what others had picked up. It’s the focus that was fantastic, and it’s something I still revel in today.

So when I finally got around to making time in my schedule to work on another project, board games immediately floated to the top. It’s something I was passionate about. It had design challenges I could sink my teeth into. It would have logistic execution challenges that I could flex my professional experience at. Above all, it’s something that could be both fun and rewarding.

With regard to the type of games I’d produce, that was (and is) less clear. I love detailed, multi-hour heavy games just as much as well-designed party games that some hardcore gamers scoff at. So I have ideas for both in the works (and another that’s in-between). In the end, my games need to be fun. That’s it. How we get there is more or less irrelevant.

So this blog will continue to chronicle my journey as I try to become a board game designer. As we know, I can’t call myself a designer until a game is actually finished. Until then I’m just a guy screwing around on the internet. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll be able to provide some value/commiseration/help/enjoyment to those reading.

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Blogging Without Photos

Heresy!

Blogging without posting eye-catching, well-sized, meticulously-curated photos to accompany each post is, to the greater blogging advice community, heresy. I get it – people are drawn to visuals. I’ve also experienced it: Tweets, Facebook posts, etc. for other accounts I manage all do exceptionally better with a well-designed visual.

So to be clear, I’m not debating the merits of photos for blog posts.

What I will say, however, is that adding perfect photos for each entry is yet another brain decision point that we have to give up. We only get so many each day, and when mental resources are running low, not adding a blog photo may just be the tipping point between writing something and doing nothing. This has often the case for me when I’m making social media posts, and I don’t want to let something so shallow get in the way of what this blog is supposed to achieve: me writing stuff. I assure you that today’s post wouldn’t exist had I been required to also submit a photo (I’m tired and I want to do literally anything else besides create content AND make it pretty).

“But Adam! Why not just get some random stock photo to slap on your posts!?”

Because that’s worse than having no photo at all. Because I want my blog writing to be meaningful and productive more than I want it to be read. Because I don’t want my product to be haphazardly thrown together, and that’s what it would be if I tacked on an ill-sized, ill-fitting photo. Remember, achieving your goal is more important than following best practices. For me, it’s better to write, develop a voice, and post than to have a perfectly crafted everything. Maybe I’ll start adding photos when I’m more subconsciously competent at blog writing and posting and can spare the mental credit.

But for now, it’s naked posts…and I’m fine with that.

Blogging: A Relief from Perfection

The phrase “I’m such a perfectionist” gets thrown around way too often. Perfection is a singular absolute that is, at best, rarely achievable. So it seems odd that we often use the term in a binary sense; you/I/they are, or are not, a perfectionist.

In truth, there is a spectrum of seeking supreme excellence, and some people fall closer to one end or the other. Occasionally, trending towards the side of perfect results is something beneficial – it’s very bad to be even moderately wrong when designing a bridge or performing surgery. However, there are usually diminishing returns on effort once you go too far (Pareto to the rescue!).

I definitely stray towards the side of perfection. Although I’ve worked hard and now typically avoid the negative side effects of spending too much time on things, it still occasionally crops up. Particularly when starting something that’s unfamiliar and public. So as I delved into a new adventure in board game design, I felt it necessary to start blogging in earnest. Why? Because I started to stagnate in producing works of writing. I’ve written countless papers and reports in my professional career, but that time is quickly slipping into the past. More pertinently, however, was my lack of truly public writing. Writing for a client or a group of people is very different from the whole of a community (or the internet).

I had my reservations about blogging. However, I chose to push forward in spite of these reservations. Nothing ever got produced by doing nothing, right?

The early verdict? Blogging can be fantastic for anyone that experiences a touch of anxiety when undertaking a task. In short, it can be a source of relief. Yes, it’s public – and if you’re unfamiliar with blogging or writing – it’s new. But the freedom of a blog post is that it can be fast and furious. It can be down and dirty. It can be short and sweet or riddled with cliché alliteration. Blogging can help exercise the muscle of ‘Done > Perfect’. It can help keep the wheels greased and be a relief from other writing/tasks you may have done where you’ve felt the pressure of being perfect.

It can accomplish all this because your audience knows this isn’t an article for the New York Times. They know it’s not research in a peer-reviewed journal. Your audience can be anonymous. It’s not your family and friends on Facebook that you’re afraid of expressing opinions to. When you’re first starting, your audience is zero, but eventually will grow to a nebulous group of greater than zero. So there’s an alignment of your getting better/more comfortable and getting an increased audience. No need to be perfect for no/little people.

Best of all, blogging is substantial enough that it feels good when you’ve posted. There’s a positive feedback loop. This isn’t a five-second forum comment. It has thought and meaning. It establishes a presence. However, you don’t have to spend hours and hours planning a single post and proofreading. It’s okay if it’s not perfect – you can even go back and edit fatal flaws if need be. It’s an exercise in producing where the ‘rules’ don’t matter. All the tips and tricks about getting an audience and having perfect blog images and blah, blah, blah don’t matter if you realized that blogging can just be about getting moving, sharpening your skills, and finding your voice. You can succeed in this with zero images, zero shares, and zero followers.

So go ahead and get some relief from perfection.

Designing With Intent

I recently had a fantastically constructive day of board game design.

It wasn’t constructive because a ton got done. It wasn’t constructive because there was some revelation or a milestone was hit. It was constructive because some key issues about the design were efficiently identified and actionable solutions were developed.

Hooray.

In all seriousness, that last sentence is very favorably engineered. The longer story is that my co-founder and I sat down for our first real internal playtest, got through half the game, then decided to call it off because it was taking a long time and was boring. Then we came up with a plan to make it faster and less boring.

Double Hooray.

The point is, that we were able to cut through the crap and move forward because we’re keeping the intent of the game and the intended market at the forefront of our decision-making process. The intent is to be fun. The intended market includes us. If the game isn’t fun for us, just focus on why it generally wasn’t fun for us, and let the design adapt to solve those issues. The nitty-gritty will come naturally, later. For us, it was focusing on the fun and broadly adjusting the game mechanics to adapt. For us, it was saying “they move too slowly, just make them all faster by 2” and worrying about re-balancing later.

I’ll give you a moment to voice your sentiments on this revelation aloud (read: get the “Duh, No Kidding” out of your system).

The reason I bothered to write an article about this is because it’s often disgustingly hard to design with intent. I cannot tell you how often I’m lured by the prospect of diving down the rabbit hole of design options and their attendant pros and cons and back-theory.

But scratching your intellectual curiosity is important, right?

But, there’s no faster way of proving your clout than being able to speak intelligently about the esoteric, right?

If we’re not designing with intent, all we end up with is a cache of disparate information and a shoddy product (or worse, no product). So if your goal is to design and produce games, and you instead spend all your time studying, you’ve failed. I’ve written before about starting and work focus.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ll be able to move past the lures of each individual hiccup and the bevy of potential solutions. We’ll be able to evaluate and tailor our designs based on what truly matters (e.g. fun). Everything else then becomes a tool to meet that end (rather than forcing what matters out of a collection of tools).

Remember: Nobody’s ever said, “Hey! You gotta check this awesome game out! It’s so statistically balanced!”.

Work Focus

I want to touch on a point that particularly affects me: working on what you should vs. working on everything else.
For this topic, there are three major issues that typically come into play:
  • Focusing on the important, but not pressing issues because they’re quick and get things scratched off the to-do list
  • Procrastinating on something you should do (but hate) by working on literally anything else
I’ve given a name to the quick, important, but non-pressing issues. That name is “Ticky Tacky”. It sounds more flippant than the description implies, but perhaps some examples will explain things better:
  • Laundry
  • Processing low quantities of orders for my side projects
  • Setting up an About page for a fledgling eCommerce website
All of these are important. My being naked isn’t “socially acceptable”, orders eventually need filling, and websites should have an About page to inform the buyer about who their buying from. However, none of these are pressing. None of these are driving growth. I can batch laundry and fulfillment. I can sell products without an About page, but not if I only have an About page. So why do I (and others) focus on the Ticky Tacky? Because it’s easy. Because it’s gratifying. Because scratching things off the To-Do list is like heroin – once you pop you just can’t stop…
As for ‘productive procrastination’ (which is just justification via wordplay), the cause is more easily understood. I hate X, but I don’t want to do nothing, so I’ll do Y. For me, X is often related to marketing/branding/networking. I hate it. With a passion. A staccato-sentenced passion. But to some degree, it’s important. Yes, good products will sell themselves, but not if you keep them in a cave. But while I recognize this, I’ll use any means at my disposal to not work on marketing while still appeasing my monkey brain’s affinity for getting things done. Sometime’s this means working on the aforementioned Ticky Tacky. Sometimes this means inventing new projects. Sometimes this means coming up with ridiculous excuses (I can’t possibly go to the meetup, I don’t have business cards printed yet, so how would anyone get in contact with me?). Literally anything and everything that can serve as a delay, WILL serve as a delay.
The solution to both sources is fairly simple. Just start on the thing you hate. I wrote a whole separate post about just starting, but the general principals outlined there are particularly true for doing things you should, but don’t want to do. If you can trick yourself into starting, you’ll find that continuing isn’t nearly as difficult or terrible as your excuse-making self thought it would be. Just start with something simple, like getting one reference source for a bit of research you’re doing, and get your motor started. Usually, the rest will follow naturally and you’ll actually want to get things done.

On Working Hard vs. Smart

“Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you”.
-Mark Cuban
This is the only thing that needs to be said on the matter. It encompasses whether you should work hard or smart (answer: both) and how much you should work (answer: as much as it matters to you). Someone IS trying to take away your market share/voice/followers…act like it.
Any article that spends pages and pages discussing the topic while flippantly dropping this quote is a bunch of verbose garbage.

Traveling Salesman

Whoa whoa whoa…Look out everybody! This blog has made it past two entries and survived a gap in writing! Nothing can stop it now!

But seriously.

I wanted to take a moment to chat about writing/productivity/work and how it used to get slayed by leisure travel (at least for me). One thing that many people ask me is: “How do you manage to work from home? It would be impossible for me!”. The answer to this question, naturally, is that I’m some freak of nature that gets his jollies off of working. There are few things I enjoy more than a really productive day; and few things I loathe more than lounging about for extending periods of time. That doesn’t mean I’ve never procrastinated (more on that in a later post), it just means that my neutral state is one of seeking out work. I don’t have to ‘force’ myself, which makes the whole prospect of entrepreneurship/self-employment/remote-employment/alternative-employment WAY easier.

The same conditions apply when traveling for work: there are things to be done and anything on top of that is gravy. However, when it comes to leisure travel that’s not a strict vacation, I’ve historically transformed into an excuse-filled alter-ego. Typical excuses include:

  • ‘It so nice here’
  • ‘I just want to explore the city for a bit’
  • ‘I don’t get to see these friends/family often’

These all populate my conscious instead of the usual ‘Get X done, then Y, then Z’. I’m not saying it’s wrong to take a vacation or detach for a while. The problem lies during trips that are supposed to be ‘working vacations’. E.g. I’m spending two weeks visiting my parents for the holidays: it’s okay if I spend a decent amount of time getting things done. But instead of following the plan, life sometimes gets in the way.

So why write all this? First, the mere fact that you’re reading this means that I was productive during a ‘vacation’. Second, it’s a celebration of overcoming a gap day while working. Many folks (myself included) have let tasks/projects die because there was a bit of a gap. “I’ll write a blog post every day!” is a tall order to live up to. It’s also totally unnecessary. Although consistent time to any initiative is important it’s okay (either intentionally or accidentally) to build-in gaps/miss days. Remember, anything worthwhile is often closer to an ion engine than a rocket booster.

Most pertinently, however, I wanted to share how I overcame this gap in the travel lull. For this trip, I didn’t have to contend with family or friends; however, it is a new city that I want to explore and I do have strong urges to sit by the riverfront with a coffee/beer all day and watch the ducks swim pass. My success, therefore, has stemmed from a shifted perspective. Rather than try to ‘discipline’ myself to sitting in the hotel room getting the usual things done, I altered my game plan to let my Instant Gratification Monkey have his way. I put iPad-capable tasks (blog post writing, long-tailed brainstorming, light administrative work) on the top of my list so I could do it from the riverfront. I also shot location-flexible tasks to the top of my list. Oh I have to ship a small package? They have Post Offices and UPS stores where I’m going, I can walk there as part of exploring the city. Most critically, however, was the shift away from ‘missing out’ to one of helping out future me. Future me will appreciate that I took time to isolate myself in the hotel room while my significant other was at her conference. I’ve already spent some time by the river, so I’m not missing out on the experience while I zero-in on other tasks.

In short: Even notorious workaholics like Casey Neistat have admitted that traveling shoots the hell out of productivity (he specifically referenced travel days). But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a productive rock star, even as you live like an actual rock star.