Become an Indie Talks patron – get satisfaction and stuff!

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After spending a few nights this week talking with three folks involved in gaming – the Zeppeldrome guys (Anthony Gallela and Jeff Wilcox) and Fred Hicks of Evil Hat, I’ve decided I really need to keep doing the Indie Talks Podcast. I love doing it! I very much enjoy talking with people in the gaming industry who are entirely responsible for the hobby we all love. And I love sharing it with the world.

To that end, I’ve revamped, and relaunched a Patreon campaign to help garner support for Indie Talks. I really do want to keep this podcast vibrant and alive, but justifying the time it takes away from my family and other projects is getting tough.

Here’s a chance to support me and the podcast. Get a bunch of my games, and even a chance to hang out and virtually schmooze with me and some folks in the industry. You could be a guest interviewer along with me on an episode of Indie Talks!  Support levels range from a buck an episode (to a total of $2 a month, even if more episodes are released) to $10 in a limited support level where you get to be a guest host with me on Indie Talks. There’s also a middle tier of $3 an episode (up to a maximum of $6/month) that gets you access to all of my current and future game releases as PDFs. 

Having some support would go a very long way towards keeping this podcast alive, getting better equipment to make it sound better and help fulfill a longer term goal of more content, more often.

Thanks!

-Ben

Indie Talks Episode 38 – Dan Yarrington of Game Salute

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This podcast was unfortunately delayed a bit from before the holidays as I struggled mightily with some Youtube issues. I’ve finally gotten those straightened out, and what we’re left with is an excellent podcast!

Dan Yarrington joins me from Game Salute as we talk about everything under the sun that has to do with the board game industry. Dan takes us through getting a game ready to publish, the manufacturing, kickstarting and then publication and distribution of modern hobby games.

We would love to get your feedback about our show! Contact me with comments: ben@trollitc.com, follow me on twitter @trollitc, and also check us out on iTunes! Hell, you can even catch us on Stitcher.  While you’re at it, there’s the Indie Talks Facebook page and the Indie Talks Google+ page. MySpace…well, I won’t go there if you wont. Please do rate this podcast on iTunes, and leave feedback through any of these links!

 

Game School: Creating games with kids (in mind)

I consider myself a lucky guy. I’ve got two great daughters and I can brag about all the things that father’s normally brag about. But I’ve got some extra brag here – because both of my girls harbor a love of tabletop games. I feel slightly strange saying this, but it’s like I grew my own gaming group.

First I want to talk a bit about my youngest daughter, Luca. Primarily because, as the youngest child, she most often goes second when it comes to things (other than Gamewright games of course, where she goes first).

Last fall, Luca and I were talking about making games. She knows that I have a podcast, and although I do most of my design work when she’s theoretically in bed, that’s only a theoretical state which she often disproves. So she’s seen me hammering away at the keyboard often enough.

As some kids and many adults are, she was under the impression that I simply came up with a game idea, sketched out a few things, pushed a big red button and BAMF! New game!

We started getting pretty deep into a discussion about what it really takes to make a game – design elements, rules writing, play testing, and the lot. That’s when she announced that she wanted to make her own game. I was overjoyed! But she announced this about 10 minutes before bedtime, so we had to wait for another day.

The game that she designed, called Luca’s Diary is a fairly simple one – but as far as first game designs go, especially games designed by 8 year olds, it’s pretty solid. It’s a bit like Bananagrams (which she’s never played, having only recently become proficient enough with letters to really spell). You have a series of word tiles – “the”, “and”, “sister”, “school” and more. Each player also has a play mat that looks like a blank diary. Players scramble to grab words and make meaningful sentences out of them in their diaries. You can grab only one word at a time. When all of the words have been taken (or there’s only 3 or less left) the game is over. The player gets a score based on the number of sentences, and which words were used.elephant-tile

All in all, it took us about three evenings (post-homework, pre-dinner) to get the basic design down. We play tested with bits of torn paper until she was satisfied, and then the real work began. With me running the controls and her doing art direction, we downloaded GIMP and went to town!

She discovered that much like me, she loved envisioning a game, and even play testing the game, but writing easy to follow rules was a hard task. Even with the game firmly grasped in her fore-brain, putting those concepts on paper so that other kids her age could understand them was an epic task.

Game tiles were designed and everything was uploaded to The Game Crafter. Now she has a much better understanding of what goes into making a game. We still haven’t ordered a copy yet though, because she’s coming to grasp now with the economics of printing a game. At $37 a copy for what she designed (cost+shipping) she’s hesitant to pull the trigger.

This is her first design, but knowing her as I do, I doubt it will be her last.

pathWith my older child, Izzie, game design is taking a different tack. Rather than board games (which she still enjoys) she’s been itching to try out a role playing game. These are a bit more time consuming and harder to pull off for a busy family of four but recently her and I got some alone time. We were able to sit down and she rolled up a male elven wizard named Alfonzo Moonbeam.

She’s currently toying with ‘more elven’ names at the moment though, so Alfonzo may have an identity crisis incoming.

I decided to go the Pathfinder route with Izzie, for several reasons. First, I’m fairly familiar with the system. Second, she likes big, crunchy books with complicated plots (for her age) and lots of neat things crammed inside. Her eyes lit up when I handed her the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. This is exactly the kind of thing she’s looking to sink her teeth into.

She’s decided that she’s the elven equivalent of a 14 year old wizarding student (1st level character) and I’ve managed to drag one of my 42 year old friends into this campaign as well. Now I’m not only designing board games, but I’m also putting together a wizarding school and an adventure that will (hopefully) capture the imagination of my daughter and my friend.

Even though we’re playing a slightly simplified version of Pathfinder, it’s still looking like a chunk of work to put this together! Fortunately it’s the kind of work I wished I was getting paid for and it’s been quite fun starting off.

That’s how I’m kicking off my 2014 – gaming with my kids!

Game School: Indie Talks Episode 36 – Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games

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Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games joins us today to talk about board games, publishing and what it’s like to live the dream! Stephen takes a nice, deep dive into game production and talks about lots of juicy details that go into actually producing a playable product. We also talk nerd rage, craft beer and microgames, among other things. Please visit Stronghold Games online, find them on Facebook and hit up Twitter as well!  Also check out the three latest titles released – Space Cadets: Dice Duel, Going, Going, Gone! and Space Sheep!

We would love to get your feedback about our show! Contact me with comments: ben@trollitc.com, follow me on twitter @trollitc, and also check us out on iTunes! Hell, you can even catch us on Stitcher.  While you’re at it, there’s the Indie Talks Facebook page and the Indie Talks Google+ page. MySpace…well, I won’t go there if you wont. Please do rate this podcast on iTunes, and leave feedback through any of these links!

 

Game School: Gaido moves forward and I enter my first design contest

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There comes a time in every game designers life when they find themselves contemplating contests. There are a ton of game design contests out there, ranging from simple, self fulfilling things to big prizes and publishing deals.

Gaido has finally gotten to the point where I think it’s ready to be shown off even more, so I’ve entered it into The Game Crafter’s Micro Game Challenge contest!

The basics of the contest are this: The game has to fit into a tuck box (what a deck of cards generally comes in) and has to retail for $11.99 or less. Gaido fits both of these quite nicely! It looks like I’m up against some pretty good and interesting games, and a few…uh… others. (Who’s Genitalia for instance).

If you’re a member of The Game Crafter community, have 10 crafter points to spare and you’re interested in Gaido, I’d really appreciate your vote! There’s a lot of games there, so feel free to CTRL-F for Gaido. There is a little under 2 days left for public voting, to narrow the field down to the top 20 contenders.

This very contest also spurred me on with Comet Cowboys, although it didn’t make the cut in time for the contest entry. It did get me to develop a lot faster and start play testing sooner than I had anticipated, which is a good thing!

I’m happy to say that Gaido has received two polite rejections from honest to gosh game publishers, and is now being considered by a third. Both of the rejections came with encouragement and some advice, which I happily accepted.

 

Indie Talks Episode 35 – Angelia Parenteau and Total Confusion

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This episode I’m joined by Angelia Parenteau, Media Director for the gaming convention Total Confusion! TotalCon takes place in Mansfield MA in February of every year and it’s by far my favorite convention to attend. I’m tacking this one into my Game School section of podcasts as well, as we talk an awful lot about how to actually run a convention – everything from planning meetings to pulling off four days of gaming.

Total Confusion bills itself as the largest gaming convention in New England. It may not be the largest (I’m looking at you PAX East) but it certainly is the largest aimed strictly at table top games. If you’re anywhere near New England this February 20-23 you should absolutely attend! Say hello to me, and a whole bunch of people I’ve had on this very podcast.

You heard me speaking about Patreon at the intro to this podcast. If you’d like to support me and the podcast, as well as have a chance to support my small box game releases, please drop by and consider becoming my patron!

We would love to get your feedback about our show! Contact me with comments: ben@trollitc.com, follow me on twitter @trollitc, and also check us out on iTunes! Hell, you can even catch us on Stitcher.  While you’re at it, there’s the Indie Talks Facebook page and the Indie Talks Google+ page. MySpace…well, I won’t go there if you wont. Please do rate this podcast on iTunes, and leave feedback through any of these links!

Game School: Life, the Universe and Play Testing – being creative when life happens

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Pictured: Jim White, Brian Liberge in reflection, Guinness and Comet Cowboys.

This started off as a simple post about play testing my game Comet Cowboys, but in the course of 36 hours it turned into something else entirely. A common theme I see, a question I get asked a bit is this: How do you (in the generic sense, not me personally) continue to create when life throws everything at you? How do people go about play testing a game when they’ve had an awful day, or look at artwork when they’re battling a nasty flu? In short – how to do you stay creative when life happens?

I’ve been giving this a bit of thought lately in that space at the back of my mind normally reserved for nearly subconscious pondering and winning old arguments in the shower. I recently asked a whole bunch of design enthusiasts – folks who have not yet been published by an actual publisher – what their biggest hurdle was. Of the 12 or so folks I was talking with, 8 of them said they’re always running out of time, or that life just gets in the way. So how do you keep going in the face of, if not adversity, then life itself?

Know how you work

This is probably the most important point in this whole post. Everyone works a little differently and it’s very important that you step back for a few minutes and figure out now why you’re interested in creating games, but how you best go about doing so. Do you work best in silence? Alone? Positioned in front of the television with Voltron streaming by? What’s your most productive time? Now think of what’s your most productive time that you actually have available to you? Nail down how you best create, and when you best create, and then do everything in your power to carve out some time for yourself that best matches.working

Seems rather simple, but for the longest time I wasn’t doing that for myself. I’ve always known I’m a night person, but it wasn’t until the last year or two that I finally started setting aside a night or two a week where I can plug my headphones in, crank up my 80s thrash and then not listen to it for a few hours while I plug away at something. That’s how I best work, so I do my best to carve, wrestle, and otherwise steal time in my office to do so.

Find and define your passion

Okay, you’ve come to realize that crazy as it sounds, You’ll be getting up at 5am twice a week to have 2 hours of design time while the rest of the world sleeps. Now what? Here’s what! Work on what is currently keeping your brain clicking along. If that’s the one design you’ve been noodling with for years, get to it! For me, I like to have 2-3 games in active design at any one time. If I’m getting frustrated with pushing gravestone counters full of comets around in my head, I’ll take a break and focus on medieval Japan. If that’s just not in the cards for me that day, I’ll move over to my pirate racing game for kids. My passion is having as many of these things up in the air at once as I can. My passion is also whatever mechanic or style I happen to be playing a lot of an dissecting in my head. Currently that’s small box games.

Are there going to be days when you’re not passionate about anything game related? Absolutely. Sometimes I’m so damned tired or frustrated with other aspects of my life that I just don’t want to sit and design something. On those days Reddit calls me and I find it hard to stay away. So…

Set limits on procrastination

I allow myself one day a week where I can slack off. That’s right, if I’ve fought hard for two nights in my week where after the kids are in bed I can be designing and thinking, I may take one of those days and truly piss off with it. I don’t feel guilty because I’ve already made this bargain with myself. In fact, more often than not now I’ll find myself doing other game design related things which I can then file under productivity. Writing these articles for instance, or reading up on current trends in games. I sometimes find myself deep into art and design sites poking around to see what’s out there and getting even more ideas to plug into the “know how you work” section.

Make a real commitment

gymHowever it is that you work, and whatever your passion may be, after you set your limits you’ve just got to commit. Already blew off two hours of design time the day before but still don’t feel like working now? Tough. Like going to the gym you’ve just got to pick yourself up and get to it. Even if whatever is flowing out of your head and onto your word document is crap, at least you’re creating it. Who cares if you type out two pages of pure drivel if at the end of the time you’re actually creating. You’re still creating and this will help you later down the line. Also like going to the gym, the more your work out those muscles (your creativity) the more defined they get. Do this for a few months and even on your off days, you’ll be outputting better stuff than you did a few months prior. Most of the time, anyway.

Find others in your tribe

This is really important. You cannot do this in a vacuum. Really, it gets very, very lonely pushing around cards and cardboard all by yourself. Find some friends that share your enthusiasm for playing. Find yourself some communities online where other like minded people hang out. Board Game Geek, Google Plus, Facebook, the forum of your favorite publisher – all good places to start.

Once you do find your tribe, make sure you get and stay engaged. Make a real effort to contribute on a daily basis if you can. It will not only broaden your horizons, but it will also get other people interested in your ideas. You really can’t buy the kind of interest you can generate by being truly and honestly engaged with your tribe. Contribute! Comment! Add something of value! You’ll come away with two added bonuses. First, you’ll meet a lot of people who are similar to you and can encourage, commiserate and share with you. Second, you’ll come away with some great ideas and great advice.

I’ve noticed over the past few years a cool and interesting thing happening with my and my involvement with social media and gamers. It’s bleeding from online to real life. Just this past Tuesday I met with a whole bunch of people writing, creating and playing games at a bar in Cambridge. The picture above was taken at this gathering, as Jim and I tested out one of my new games, Comet Cowboys.

Step back

No one can do the thing they love 24/7/365 without burning out. If you start to feel like you’re burning out, head back to the “set limits on procrastination” bit and realize that not everyone can possibly be GO! GO! GO! all the time. Take a day off. Take a night off! Go out and do something utterly unrelated for a while. Hang out with your spouse, play with your kids, go fishing. You’ve got to give your unconscious time to unwind and hit on those neat ideas too.

Dive in

Although this is the second to last point I’ll make, it’s the most important to me personally. I don’t design games to make bucket-loads of money. I don’t do it for fame. I do it because it’s something it turns out I really, really love divedoing. It took me nearly 35 years to realize this. So when the world goes a little crazy, when I’m stressed out beyond belief, when I sometimes feel like I just want to get into bed for a full 24 hours, I turn to design. It’s a cathartic experience for me, making something simple and hopefully, eventually, elegant. I enjoy it like I enjoy nothing else because it’s not like anything else I’m doing in my life.

Recently there was a death in my family. The kind of emotional roller coaster emotional event that drags everyone along with it regardless of who they are, or what they’re doing. It was an awful time, with some awful circumstances and when I wasn’t feeling the pull of it at that moment, someone close to me assuredly was.

I also found that more than my usual and healthy escapes (a bit of television, reading a good book, going for a walk) that designing games was extremely cathartic for me. I actually entered a creative period greater than any I’ve experienced before and I’m still fine tuning designs I came up with over the past three months. I suppose it was a mix of doing something I enjoyed, and having the kind of pent-up, stress fueled energy I don’t normally have to deal with. Heck, if you can’t sleep and your mind’s racing, I thought, might as well put it to good use and do something creative at the same time. Hopefully what I’ve come up with will help bring some other folks a bit of enjoyment and fun in their lives as well.

Putting my money directly into my own mouth

These points above are what I’ve first unconsciously, and over the past half year or so entirely consciously done to spur myself into designing more, designing smarter and making overall better games. And it’s working! Here’s a very brief list of the games I’ve created in the last six months, or improved on significantly, in no real order.

  • Fools! (A push your luck card game with a hidden hand mechanic).
  • Gaido (A very small card game based on card facing and timing, mixed with some luck).
  • Upgrade Wars (A fairly in-depth card engine you use to create giant robots and field them on the table as they fight each other for dominance).
  • So You Want to be a Pirate? (A racing game with pawns and cards, that features hand management and a slight bit of backstabbing).
  • Comet Cowboys (Based off of Othello, and then off of a design idea laid out by Daniel Solis, this tile laying game has you trying to herd the biggest bulk of water ice comets into your little part of space).
  • A Little Bit of Evil (A re-theme of the four hundred year old game Poch, with a few twists. Cards, boards and 120 markers representing the hapless humans you’re all fighting over).
  • Zombie: Shambling and Hungry (A sit down, up to 4 player card game of being the best and brightest of the undead. Also, a game with which you can systematically infect your group, your friends or an entire convention).

A client/patron relationship for podcasts and games?

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I’m trying something a little different for me. It’s something I’ve not really thought about in depth before yesterday when a huge conversation started by Jason Morningstar on G+ brought the modern client/patron model into focus for me. Lots of people were for it. Lots of people were against it. A few just didn’t weigh in on either side.

I gave it a lot of thought and decided that I’m interested in experimenting with it. In that line, I’ve just launched a Patreon account to sponsor my bi-weekly podcast, Indie Talks and to help out with the occasional small box game release.

The basics of this goes like this. If you like what I do with the podcast, you agree to pay me some amount of money in exchange for my creating content. There are levels where you gain certain rewards for doing so too. In fact, at the entry level of this, $1 a podcast (or between $2-$4 a month) you’ll get access to my complete back catalog of digital content. RPG and board game stuff as PDFs. You’ll also get exclusive updates and more. There are higher levels as well which net you more involvement and physical copies of new games as they arrive.

I’m really interested to see how this unfolds. Or if this unfolds at all. The way I see it, there are some pretty big plusses to this model.

With just a few patrons, I can continue to produce Indie Talks and actually improve the podcast. This aim is towards better equipment and better being able to justify my time creating the show from soup to nuts. It also means I can stop the near constant search for sponsors and produce this show add-free. Then there’s the ability to hire talented people to help with the games, the podcast and everything associated with them.

I’ll report back on the progress at some time in the near future.

Indie Talks Episode 34 – Game School! Peter Bryant, James Carpio and Jay Libby

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Welcome to episode 34! This one is a big one! Tonight I’m kicking off Game School on Indie Talks. Game School is a look at the gaming industry from the inside – from indie authors to seasoned industry veterans.

Tonight I have Jay Libby of Dilly Green Bean Games, James Carpio of Gygax Magazine and Chapter 13 Press and Peter ‘Blix’ Bryant of Studio187 and Tri Tac Games! We’re talking breaking into the RPG industry, getting published, play testing, editing, artwork and the over arching importance of networking an community.

With special guest appearances by Renee, Hello Kitty and a stray Ninja.  We also mention one of our favorite cons, Total Confusion! We’ll be there this February. Join us!

Enjoy the show? Want to help support it? Become a patron!

We would love to get your feedback about our show! Contact me with comments: ben@trollitc.com, follow me on twitter @trollitc, and also check us out on iTunes! Hell, you can even catch us on Stitcher.  While you’re at it, there’s the Indie Talks Facebook page and the Indie Talks Google+ page. MySpace…well, I won’t go there if you wont. Please do rate this podcast on iTunes, and leave feedback through any of these links!

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