Writing that Surpasses Monkey Garbage 

I often write terribly. I’ll ramble and ramble – starting at one idea and ending at another with naught but sleepy pontification between. This type of writing doesn’t even deserve a clever name. I’ll call it Monkey Garbage.

Monkey Garbage typically stems from the combination of reckless excitement and a desire for productivity. I get an idea for an article/post and start vomiting words on the page. The post on Pareto the Craftsman is a good example: I went down the rabbit hole, only to find out that I no longer had anything resembling a cohesive product.

The real problem with Monkey Garbage is the time it takes from doing more productive things. I’ll subconsciously think I’ll be working hard, but won’t realize the hour I’ve wasted writing crap and the hour after I’ve wasted fixing it. What’s worse, writing is involved in almost everything I do, so the problem compounds. Although a blog post, an email, and a rule book all require different mindsets and skills, they still need to convey data effectively and are susceptible to time distortion.

Fortunately, I think the fix (or at least a starting fix) is simple. For each blog/article/quip moving forward, there are two questions that I need to answer before I start writing:

  • What am I trying to talk about?
    • e.g. how I noticed I often write inefficiently and how I think I can improve
  • What value am I adding to the reader?
    • e.g. my initial proposed solution to solving this problem, which would prove valuable if they experience the same trouble I do
Basically, this method is tricking my mind into starting an outlining process by just answering two questions (rather than fill in a skeleton of bullet points). I hate outlines, but also understand how they can be useful. Limiting my focus to the two points above serves as a spoonful of a sugar for my writer’s medicine.

It’s what I’m going with for now – let me know if you’ve found something that works best for you.

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Pareto the Craftsman

In an attempt to incorporate some of the experience I’ve gained in creative projects, I’ve decided to implement a framework for my efforts in the upcoming week. Although the goal is to better guide my journey in designing a board game, I think it’s certainly applicable to any boutique-level endeavor.

I’m a firm believer that any creative project needs to be both effectively done AND be of exceptional quality. So for my proposed framework, I want to focus on the initial speed and efficiency of action required to iterate quickly. But I also want to keep a high-level perspective and track the elements that will eventually be required to produce a well-polished game.

The name I’m giving this framework is “Pareto the Craftsman”:

  • Pareto – smashing through the first 80% of game design as fast as I can so I can identify fatal flaws early on
  • Craftsman – Really honing in on the details and providing a polished, amazing product. I don’t really see another way to success as an individual, unknown, wanna-be designer

I find this idea of Pareto, not as an economist in an office but as a craftsman in his shop, to be quite powerful. He moves from task to task; swiftly and efficiently completing the portions of work that matter most so he can identify problems early on and work to resolve them. But after the major tasks are over, he sits down to finish the finely detailed work – sanding, painting, adjusting, finishing – so that the end result is of the quality expected of an artisan.

It’s this imagery that I want to keep in mind. It’s far easier to apply “What would Pareto the Craftsman do?” to multiple situations than to try and remember which inspirational quote needs to be applied to which step in the process.

I also want to share how I intend to implement this framework in my creative process. For me, this involves more than just going fast and working more. My aim is to create a structured focus on self-testing before playtesting, developing systems that scale, and being able to defer with impunity:

  • Self-testing is, in my mind, the fastest way of making early-stage progress
    • External/Blind playtesting is critical, but I suspect it will take an exceptional amount of time to conduct the tests and collect/parse the data
    • I want to smash through enough self-testing first so I’m not wasting time/resources on the slower efforts through other’s people’s insights
    • If I’m still going through games and finding glaring weaknesses/not having fun, there’s no reason other people need to tell me the product needs work
  • Developing systems that scale is an umbrella phrase for anything that might make design iterations faster/easier – both now and as things progress. The goal is to free up more brainpower for infusing quality during those iterations. Examples of this include:
    • Building a system for batching prototype card JPEGs/PDFs
    • Utilizing Tabletop Simulator to swap out/add/remove/edit components and rules on the fly
    • Adapting my working style to allow for more consistent throughput (via workflows on my phone and creating Google Docs that allow me to work anytime, anywhere)
  • Deferring with impunity is a concept that revolves around rapid memory dumping so ideas don’t get lost. Then I can go back to quickly iterating what’s important without the fear of losing potentially great concepts
    • I plan to use Evernote for this, again using workflows to speed up the process
    • Specifics including quickly tagging and tracking potential mechanics, theme changes, rule changes etc.
    • When I finally get to the last 20% of development, I can then quickly pull up the tagged notes for reference

You’ll notice that none of the above mentions how I plan to be a craftsman. That’s because it’s not yet time for that. The last point – deferring with impunity – is intended to set myself up for future craftsmanship success. I’m fully aware of how important it is to produce something amazing. The problem, for me at least, lies in letting the desire to produce something amazing get in the way of producing something viable (or at all). I need to stay mindful, in the moment, and let the desire and need for quality be noted, but not dwelled upon while it’s time to be moving quickly.

If you have any strategies you’ve found useful in navigating between moving fast and producing quality, let me know in the comments below!

Let Me See Your Package

So, um, what’s your project? What’s your company? Aren’t you the Ultra CEO Overlord of something? How are you packaging yourself?

My sincerest hope is that this post doesn’t stand the test of time. I hope to look back on it in a few weeks/months/years and realize that the lack of branding et al on this post/blog on March 10th, 2017 is hilariously no longer relevant. That said, there’s a whole lot of work to be done beforehand, and the only way for me to convey value right now is through the unadorned journey.

Yes, I could make up some random name for a company (that doesn’t yet exist) and an over-inflated, self-aggrandizing title (been there, done that, felt silly while doing it). Yes, I could share tidbits of the games I’m working on before they’re *cough* ready (I will). But for now, there’s no value to be conveyed to you by my doing so…so I’m not. The value is currently in the journey, in the process, in the trenches. Right now the games are barely more than ideas with rules and components that change daily.

Quoth the Gary Vee: Ideas are shit and execution is the game.

I’m sure there are things I could do via Twitter, Facebook, etc. that would help me manufacture an audience, and creating those accounts would be best served by having some package in which to wrap and contain my design efforts (i.e. a company or game). But the truth is, there just isn’t that much to say right now that isn’t best served by these posts. It wouldn’t help you. First, I want to focus my efforts on creating value (which is most effectively done via blog posts/articles). Then I’ll worry about distribution.

This is only post #10 – I sincerely doubt the tens of follower bots that would comprise my current social media audience will mind waiting a few days/weeks until this content has grown and coalesced.

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.