Eccentric Exhibits

Eccentric Exhibits is my second release and will be available on DriveThruCards once I have received a printed-proof (so I can check that colours are reproduced correctly, etc).

Eccentric Exhibits is a 2-player, 20-card trick-taking game. In this game, players are rival museum curators trying to arrange the most prestigious exhibitions of bizarre and unusual artifacts - unicorn hooves, kraken tentacles, books of pure evil, and alien skulls, to name a few.

Over four rounds, two players will play a series of tricks, trying to win artifacts for their museums and score prestige. The twist is that the highest scoring cards are not always the cards most likely to win a trick. So huge bonus points are available if you can deduce what cards your opponent is able to play and which tricks they are able to win.

With only 20 cards to keep track of, skills in deduction and risk management are paramount. Eccentric Exhibits is a tense, high-skill game for two players.

In a pocket-sized set, you get:

  • 20 cards in 4 suits, each depicting a unique, bizarre artifact.
  • 4 bonus cards, which are awarded for difficult and high-risk moves.
  • 1 round tracker.
  • 4 cards explaining the rules of the game.

Eccentric Exhibits is perfect for fans of trick-taking games (like Hearts or Euchre) and players who enjoy unusual themes.

Note: Aside from these cards, players will need a way to record scores between each round - some paper or a phone app. I wanted to include cards to tracks scores, but scores in a single game can go beyond 500 - including score trackers would have made this a very bulky and expensive package.

Design Diary: Milk

I'm a huge fan of the game, Chinatown, and for the longest time, I have wanted to make something that contains that feeling of deal-making, business savvy, and cutthroat bargaining. And I wanted to do all of that in a game made only of cards -- no boards or chips or anything like that.

One evening, while my wife was working on card designs for Director's Cut: The Card Game, I suddenly had the idea of a game that could possibly have this deal-making mechanic. Like Chinatown, you would buy and sell properties that come up at random intervals and there would be the opportunity for free trading. The game consisted of a grid of cards that are rotated depending on who owns them and then payouts are received for clusters of property types. If you've played Chinatown, you are probably shaking your head thinking that this idea is very derivative.

Chinatown - one of my favourite trading games.

It was derivative -- too much so. But I made a prototype to try out some ideas and... it was ok. Just ok. Players would fight each other over the price of properties, develop these properties, sabotage each other, and things like that. But it all felt a bit like a drag and nothing really exciting was happening. Still, I stuck with the idea for a while.

I realised that adding a theme to the game would give me inspiration for how I could spice up the gameplay. So, some ideas for theme:
  • Property trading. I threw this out immediately because I've seen it too many times in the past.
  • Crop farming. I figured this would be a good fit and could introduce things like harvesting mechanics. Again, I threw this idea out. There are enough farming games already and it's not a theme that gets me excited about a game.
  • Computer viruses fighting for dominance in a computer system. This would introduce a lot of mechanics about controlling the shape of the board (tableau of cards), simulating the viruses modifying computer data. But I was already working on a virus game and it just didn't inspire me in this case.
  • Developing ski resorts. This also seemed a good fit because it would explain why some tiles were intrinsically more valuable than others (the location offers the best slopes and views, for instance). But this idea didn't immediately inspire many new mechanics.
So nothing happened for a while longer and then out of nowhere, I had a new idea.

Milk deliveries.

Now just stick with me for a second. I've never seen a game about those guys in their little electrics carts delivering milk. I remember the milkman who used to work my neighborhood when I was a kid. He was an independent business owner (I think) -- so he'd have to balance his books, acquire stock, work out his routes, find customers, deal with the dairies, and so on.


As a former window-cleaner -- a similar job in many ways -- I know all about the intense competition that comes with scoring a good route and the complete pain in the ass of having a route that's miles from your other jobs. You can't just go work anywhere you like because you'll be taking another persons territory. Routes are traded with other business owners, if it's mutually beneficial. And routes can be loaned out if you want to take a break. All of these could make for interesting mechanics.

So why did I choose milk delivery over window cleaning? Just because it seems a little more... cool? 

Anyway, the first mechanic I'm taking from this new theme is the idea of limited delivery distance. Players will try and make sure their locations are all within delivery distance, otherwise they have got an incentive to try and trade their locations. If they fail to deliver to a location that they own, they will face a fine from the dairy. Suddenly, the game state is much more fluid, changing as new locations pop up, and players want to trade. I'll see where this goes...

Director's Cut: The Card Game

My first game, Director's Cut: The Card Game, is a two-player set collection and hand management game. it is available on DriveThruCards.

In Director's Cut: The Card Game, players are Hollywood movie producers in the early 20th century. Each player will try to put together the best movie-making teams in order to maximise the profit from each movie they make.

As movie producers, players will hire cast and crew from a central shared market, while trying to deny their opponent access to key cast and crew members. Once a player has assembled a set of cast and crew cards, they will play these cards to produce a movie from a shared set of screenplays. Each screenplay has its own set of cast requirements and awards cash and other bonuses, based on the quality of the production. The richest player at the end of the game is the winner.

Because this game is played by only two players, competition is fierce and the amount of player interaction is high. You will have to make tough calls about when to deny your opponent access to particular actors, directors, composers and film editors, when to hold on to cards to score a better screenplay, and when to sneak a screenplay through before your opponent can grab it themselves.

A game of Director's Cut: The Card Game is over as soon as the draw pile of cast and crew is exhausted, meaning games are kept to a tight 15-minute duration and in-game resources are scarce.

Director's Cut: The Card Game costs $9.99 on DriveThruCards. In a very portable set you will get:

  • 20 screenplays to produce, each featuring unique and authentic promotional material from 1910s, 20s and 30s Hollywood.
  • 50 cards representing actors, directors, composers and editors.
  • 32 money cards to track your income from the movies you produce and to buy future movie-making talents.
  • 4 cards containing the game's rules.

No other components are needed to play a full game. Director's Cut: The Card Game is suited to fans of set collection and resource management, movie buffs, families, and those looking for competitive two-player titles.

Purchase Director's Cut: The Card Game


"All in all I have very much enjoyed Director's Cut. It is one of the card games that I always place in my bag or pocket "just in case". It can be taught to new players in a matter of minutes and is a perfect way to spend 15 minutes between games, or waiting for people [...] it is a very elegant 2 player game."
Club Fantasci Review

"Overall, I enjoyed this game very much. The artwork is simple yet elegant, and the cards and mechanics all function easily and allow for a smooth and constant game play. [...] Fans of light card games, fans of vintage Hollywood, or anyone looking for some lighthearted quick fun should definitely check out this game."
Jim Stevens BGG Review

The Public Domain: An Indie-Designer's Best Friend

Notice: This is not legal advice! Do not take legal advice from strangers on the internet!

So if, like me, you are trying to put together games for Print on Demand services (ie. DriveThruCards, DriveThruRPG, The Game Crafter) then you are likely going to reach a point where you realise that you need artwork or icons and that suddenly this stuff can be expensive!

Public Domain resources are here to rescue you. I started developing Directors Cut: The Card Game when I realised that there were heaps of really cool, very high quality promotional posters for old movies that happen to exist in the public domain. This means that although some movie studies might argue otherwise, these images are free for anybody to use in pretty much any way they like - they are owned by the public. So I could take them and freely use them to illustrate my cards.

This dog is totally cool being used in commercial products. The photo is released under a CC0 licence. (Source)

Images and other artworks enter the public domain after a set amount of time (which depends on when they were published, because this law keeps changing), whereupon they become free to use. And they can be used for profit or otherwise. They may also enter the public domain because they were produced by a public organisation (a library, for instance), or because the creator has explicitly given their work a public domain licence (which they cannot later revoke, by the way). Some creators may also release their work using a Creative Commons licence, which often means you can use the works with some stipulations.

Images in the public domain include many images produced by the US government (lots of maps, wildlife images, political images, etc), images of currency in some countries, flags in some countries, old promotional materials, old book illustrations (and text, of course), old comics, images from old movies, and many many historical photographs.

You are often free to take these images and do what you like with them - including putting them into you games.

A public domain map of Venice. (Source: British Library)

A Few Words of Caution

There are a few complications when dealing with public domain images though.
  • Firstly, avoid using any image that has an identified person on it. The image may well be public domain, but the person might object to how you use their likeness - and they are often well within their rights to force you to stop producing your product and claim damages. You can get around this restriction if you know the person signed a model release document for the image. There are also some other rules if your work is satirical, but you should be careful. Even historical pictures can be troublesome because the descendants of that person can still object - see Bob Marley or Martin Luther King for examples. For this reason, I decided against using old 1920's gangster mugshots in another game of mine (still in the design process).
  • Some rules apply to reproducing currency. For US currency, for example, it cannot be double-sided and has to be either 150% bigger or 75% smaller than a real note. You really don't want to fall afoul of that rule.
  • Some countries object to how their flag is used. Singapore, for example, wants their flag to be treated with dignity (not on swimwear, for example) and impose a ton of laws on its use (which only really apply if you're in Singapore).
  • Be wary of company logos which might suggest that they are endorsing you.
  • Avoid using images of private properties, like homes. But this doesn't really matter if a building seems public - like you could easily use an image of some skyscraper without worrying.
  • Some companies are weirdly powerful and have even managed to change public domain laws to "protect" their content. So, even though Mickey Mouse should be public domain, he isn't. It's worth double-checking if you're not sure about a specific item or if you still see an image or logo used regularly.
  • Updated materials will have a new copyright placed on them - so new translations of classic works and old movies that have been digitally modified or colourised are problematic. Check in each specific circumstance.
  • Check out this link for a few more fine-print legal matters.
I wouldn't use this one in case Chaplin's family gets pissed.

Where to Find Public Domain Works

Wikipedia has a great resource of where you can  find some high quality public domain works. Here are a few sources that I really like.

Creative Commons

Also keep your eyes peeled for cool creators who release their works under a Creative Commons licence. Creative Commons licences are quite varied and stipulate how you can modify the particular work and if you can use it for commercial purposes. Usually, you can't use them for commercial purposes, but they can still be useful.

What is "Value" in Boardgames?

I recently reviewed a game that I made some pretty mean comments about because I felt it was suffering from feature bloat. It had so many components that they don't even fit in the box correctly and it sits on my shelf with lid askew, looking all cocky. It comes with hundreds of tokens and a pile of 3D miniatures and ten different player boards and game boards and several decks of cards and trying to play the game is fucking madness. There's just bits everywhere. That isn't always bad but the gameplay itself is also a convoluted mess.

I felt pretty bad about my review and so I went online, almost masochistically, to see if others agreed with me. Many did, but I found a bunch of reviews that suggested that the game was great value because you get so much cardboard in there. A bunch that talked about the good value of getting miniatures. And so on.

I still can't quite believe such comments.


My (Very Very Short) Treatise on "Boardgame Value"

Boardgames are meant to produce a gameplay experience. And the best boardgames produce the best gameplay experiences. In the best boardgames, you sit down and have fun experiences with your friends.

You shouldn't overly admire and fetishise the pieces that produce a game. You should be admiring the experience that those pieces create. Nice pieces can create a more immersive game and lift your mood, but fundamentally:

The value of a game comes from its gameplay. Gameplay must trump components every time.

A couple of examples:

Innovation is a horrible looking game. Its ugly ugly cards kill a little bit of my soul every time I open the box. But within minutes of play, I forget about those cards because the gameplay itself is so cutthroat, intelligent, and fun.

Dead of Winter is another fantastic game. It's fantastic before we throw in all of the custom art standees and still fantastic afterwards. The beautiful components are great to play with, but the value is in the gameplay.

So please, let's remember to put gameplay first when we decide if a game is "worth it".

Dice on Fire Review: Coup

From the makers of The Resistance, comes Coup - a hidden role game that plays quick and mean.

First up, even though they have a lot of similarities, Coup isn't The Resistance. The Resistance is a team based game where you are trying to deduce who is on your team. In Coup, each player stands alone, holding two characters, and is trying to kill all other players at the table.

The twist in Coup is that the characters each player has are kept secret, and these characters allow for certain special abilities. On your turn you can claim to be any character that you like and use their special ability - to get money, change cards, or kill someone, for instance. As long as you are convincing, then cool, go right ahead. But if a player calls you out and is correct in their accusation, you'll have one of your own character's killed. If their accusation is incorrect, then they lose a character instead.

Your life is measured by the two characters you hold, so any kind of accusation or assassination has serious ramifications - you can only screw up twice!

And that's basically the game. We go around the table, claim to have a certain character in our hand, and take the effects of that character. In the meantime, players are trying to spot the liars, so they can call other players out and cost those players a life. And if a player can amass enough money, they can launch a coup - immediately killing another player's character with no chance of defense.

The complexity and fun comes out of the interactions between the characters. Some characters can counter another character's action, so without having to call someone a liar, you can stop them for performing their action. And the blatant lies and evasion also create a lot of good humour around the table - when a fourth person in the row claims to be the Duke and claim three credits - despite their only being three Duke cards in the deck. Or when someone keeps claiming that they are Captain, to block the Duke's actions, only to reveal on their turn that they are in fact an assassin.

So for the most part, Coup is a really elegant and often fun game, with lots of deception and player interaction. But you know… I actually don't like it very much! Maybe it's because I'm a bad liar.

The game is really quite lame the first time you play it - there are a lot of character interactions that don't make much sense, and unless you have a good understanding of them, you'll have a hard time bluffing. It may sound like I'm nit-picking, but I'm promise I'm not. I found those early games of Coup to be supremely painful. I've heard the same complaint from other players too - so I totally wouldn't use this as a gateway game for new players or with impatient players.

Next up, I really don't like how the Assassin character works. If you have three credits, you can assassinate another character - ok, that makes sense - and that character has a choice: they can call you out as a liar, accept the assassination, or claim they have the character that counters assassinations. If they call you out and you are not a liar, then they lose both of their characters (one for the assassination and one for the wrong accusation) and they're eliminated from the game. If they lie and say they can counter the assassination, and get called out in turn, again they lose both characters and are eliminated from the game. You can get eliminated from the game in one swift move. That feeling suuuucks! The only real way to counter the whole thing is to be really comfortable and confident with the game, so that you can counter earlier moves, preventing another player from getting enough credits to assassinate.

But then what's the point in calling another player whose actions are not yet effecting you, when if you call them out incorrectly you will lose a life?

But maybe that's just me. I'm terrible at Coup and so I always leave it thinking, "damn, this is boring." I can still understand that it is really elegant, swift, and has a lot going for it. Subsequently, a lot of my friends love it, but it really isn't for me. I think there are better bluffing games out there. The Resistance is one, thought for this niche of small and quick plays, I would personally recommend Good Cop, Bad Cop.

Colourblind Info

Nothing to mention. Totally fine for colourblind players.

Finding Design Inspiration: From Other Media

This is the second article in a series about how I have found inspiration for boardgame design ideas. You can read all of the parts by following this link.

This isn't something that happens very often, but occasionally I'll be watching TV, or reading a book, and I'll think, "This would make an excellent game!" I'm not just talking about theme, where you think, "Oh, this alien movie is great - I want to make an alien game," but rather another piece of media that inspires a more complete game, mechanics included.

For example, I have recently been reading Michael E. Bell's Food for the Dead. A book which is legitimately and amazingly able to call itself a "Non-Fiction Vampire Book". One of the major topics of this book is about the medical practices in the US in the 19th Century. From this, it occurred to me that making a game about the old-time Snake Oil salesmen in the US - making medical promises about their cure-all concoctions could be really fun. Of course, it would have to include elements of bluffing, like those guys did, and making money. And it would have to be dangerous - so there would have to be a mechanic that simulated being run out of town. Subsequently, I've been throwing around ideas for a game, with the working title, Trepanation (that's the medical act of drilling a hole in your head). In this game, so far, players travel to towns in the old-West. On the way they research the illnesses in the towns and concoct their cure-alls. Then when they arrive, they earn money based on how effective their cure-alls are. And of course they try to sabotage one another, swindle the local populace, do some bloodletting and trepanation on the side, and eventually get run out of town at the end of the round. More than anything, the book provided me with a really fun theme to play within.

Another book that inspired me was Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. This is quite possibly the best book I've read in years. It centres around a codebreaker trying to solve a message that gives the location of Yamashita's gold. The true story behind Yamashita's gold is quite incredible. It was rumoured that at the end of the second world war, knowing they were about to lose, the Japanese forces decided to move their massive stolen gold reserves from Singapore and bury them in the mountains in the Philippines. Obviously this was conducted in secret and the final location of the gold was only known to a few - many of the Japanese and Filipino workers being killed after helping to bury the goods and boobytrapping the underground tunnels. Decades later, an explorer did find a gold stash, but not the motherlode. The gold was stolen from him by the president of the Philippines and all of this went to court, pretty much confirming major parts of the story. This is real-life Indiana Jones stuff right here and it needs to be a boardgame! So I've been mulling over ideas about an exploration based game, but it won't be peaceful. If a player finds the gold, they either need to keep the location secret or be prepared to fight other players off.

It is probably no great coincidence that Neal Stephenson also wrote Snow Crash - more of less inventing cyberpunk and no doubt inspiring games like Android and Android: Netrunner.

We see games inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories popping up all the time. The same goes for games inspired by zombie movies.

What other media could provide game inspiration?

How about Stephen King's The Shining? I would love to be able to recreate the mood of this game. The deep foreboding and the sense of wrongness and powerful things in this book and the movie. I would imagine a survival type game would come out of it - possibly cooperative. I would imagine using quite small components to try and create a sense of claustrophobia.

The videogame, The Binding of Isaac, features a boy named Isaac moving through a dungeon (basement, actually) and applying modifications to his body. As the game progresses the modifications stack up and Isaac gains all manner of bizarre abilities and buffs. It's a great way to implement an RPG, without having to use stats and XP points - instead, an ability is just pasted on top of other abilities and a variety of interactions can come out of that. I looked into using a similar mechanic in a card game, perhaps layering cards on top of each other so that parts of abilities survive the character's development. And then I guess you would fight various monsters. (My own attempt did survive, in a manner, in Super-Science Adventures in Twisted Space Time)

Perhaps the movie, Jaws, could inspire a game about battling, as a team, a single deadly monster. Perhaps as you damage the monster further, its attacks on the players have to change but become more desperate.

Or perhaps, like the boardgame Frag, a game could be designed after the mechanics of an arena shooter videogame. Arena shooters happen very quickly - grab a gun, ammo, powerup, shoot shoot shoot, get killed - and there is also a lot of hidden information - you rarely know where your opponents are until you encounter them. So perhaps this would work best as a card game, not a board game, where if you play matching cards, then that means you have encountered another player...

I wonder if the John Carpenter movie, They Live, would make a good game, where one player takes a bunch of revolutionaries and the other player takes the evil, yet secret, alien overlord.

The evil alien overlord has got to figure out who belongs to the resistance and stamp them out, but the resistance are able to expand exponentially if they can convince others that the evil aliens actually exist! I imagine that if the alien player took too many overt actions against in-game characters who are not yet in the resistance, then the aliens would actually drive more people to join the resistance.

I'm just plucking titles out of the air here, but the possibilities must be endless.

Your Game Needs a Copyeditor

If you are making a commercial boardgame release, it is usually not enough to simply ask for editing help on a boardgaming forum - you probably need to hire a copyeditor.

I have seen some otherwise great games made frustrating by bad rulebooks (like Netrunner, The Agents and most recently, Harbour). And I've seen mediocre games made terrible by bad rulebooks (like Otontin). Most importantly, I've seen good games made fantastic by clear and well written rulebooks (like Fleet, Jaipur, and Skull). Don't spend months or years making a game, only to make it inaccessible to new players by giving them a difficult rulebook. First impressions only happen once, so I'll say it again - get your rulebook copyedited!

What is Copyediting?

Copyediting is essentially a service where somebody looks through a piece you've written and edits the language for clarity, style, formatting and accuracy. They do not change the overall direction or meaning of your work and often don't significantly alter the content. They will make sure your grammar is sound, your spelling is correct, and that your work is accessible to all audiences. You may submit your work to a copyeditor and only get back a few edits - it might not seem like much to you, but to someone who comes to your game cold, these small changes will make a world of difference.

You might also think that you have looked through your work enough times to ensure that the language is fine, but this almost always turns out to be wrong. The amount of times I've gone back to something I've written a few months ago and found errors is embarrassing. When you know your text well and you know what is coming next, it's almost like your brain skips through the reading - it's very difficult to read it in the same manner as somebody who is not familiar with the piece.

Crowdsourced Copyediting

One copyediting option is to post your rulebook into a boardgaming forum or announce it on twitter and crowdsource the edits. This is a good idea for smaller games, low-price print-n-plays, or games that you are going to put on a print-on-demand service and of which you only expect a small print-run. With the crowdsourced edits, you are unlikely to get anybody who is appropriately experienced in copyediting, experienced in the unique demands of boardgame documents, and willing to put in the amount of time that a good copyediting job needs - but you will still get a bunch of useful feedback that will likely make your documents good enough. If you choose this route, at least check out two articles I wrote about boardgame instruction manual language and content.

Professional Copyediting

If you decide to hire a professional copyeditor, search for one who is used to editing other boardgame manuals, or a least videogame manuals, instruction booklets, or other non-fiction. You might be put off by the cost at first, but be aware that the benifits that they can bring to your game are huge - suddenly players can get into the game without that head-scratching; suddenly they are excited to play; suddenly they can find all the info they need to have a seamless first-play. And that's one of the ways you can get good word-of-mouth publicity.

There are databases of copyeditors online, but I think the best way to find one for a boardgame, which has some very specific demands, is to look at the credits for other indie boardgames and contact the editors for those.

I am also a copyeditor. I have a decade of speech and writing instruction behind me and experience in the boardgame field. You can drop me a line if you need help with your project.

Writing Lessons from Thunderbirds

I was recently reading through Matt Leacock's rules for Thunderbirds, which he is editing live on googledocs. In his editing notes, he raises some interesting points that should be taken on board by anybody writing game rules
  • Players "do" actions rather than "take" actions. This is a tip he got from Tom Lehmann and the phrasing is used for the sake of localisation and to prevent any possible confusion or complication - particularly with those who speak English as a second language. Likewise, you can use "do actions" in place of other wordy alternatives like "perform actions".
  • Avoid writing acronyms and abbreviations. An obvious one really, but acronyms can sneak in if we happen to think they are common knowledge. Fans of Thunderbirds, for instance, would have no problem with TB1, but it's utterly alienating for other players. Even acronyms like FBI should be presented in our rules in their fullest form at first - we should avoid just assuming that players will know the meaning. 
  • If you're making a game set in space, then watch out for the word "space" - it can refer to spaces on the board or outer-space and is another possible source of confusion.
Bonus Nerd Fact: F.A.B., used in Thunderbirds, is not really an acronym as it doesn't stand for anything. Gerry Anderson just liked the sound of it.

"Watermelons" Free Print-n-Play

Watermelons is a game of bluffing and calculated risk for 3 to 4 players. It is quick and very straightforward, allowing you to get down to the complex work of lying to your friends.

The Watermelons print-n-play is available for free at the links below. If you play it, please give me some feedback on how you found the experience.

The print-n-play is seven pages in size (four sheets) and in black-and-white. Ensure you choose the correct size paper for your region:

Designer Dialogue: Jackson Pope

In the first of series of dialogues with experienced boardgame designers, I managed to grab some time with Jackson Pope - the former owner of Reiver Games.

In 2003, Jackson Pope designed a simple civilisation and war game called Border Reivers. Three years later, he formed Reiver Games to self-publish Border Reivers as a hand-made limited edition. Border Reivers sold out within the year, and the next year a second limited edition game (It's Alive! by Yehuda Berlinger) also sold out. When a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis meant that Jackson was able to spend his own life insurance, he chose to invest a chunk of that in Reiver Games and turn pro, working full-time for it from 2009-2011 when Reiver Games finally closed its doors. Jackson is now back designing games and blogging about his experiences on his website, Creation and Play, and hopes to get back into hobby publishing later this year.

Jackson's first game, Border Reivers. (Image Source)

Robin: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Jackson. Before we start talking about your design ambitions and processes, let me first ask what kinds of games do you enjoy playing recreationally?

Jackson: My favourite games are lighter euros that come in around 60-90 minutes along with a few more themed games too. Some of my most played games are Race for the Galaxy, 7 Wonders, Carcassonne and Magic: The Gathering. I've fairly small collection (~70 games), just games that I'm always keen to play. I'm aiming to have them all played at least ten times by the end of the year!

Robin: What game designs that you are currently working on?

Jackson: I've got four in the pipeline at the moment. A second edition of Border Reivers, the game that got me started - it's been 13 years since I designed it, and I hope I've learnt a lot since then! Plus Codename: Vacuum: a deck-building 4X sci-fi game set in a steampunk version of our solar system; Zombology: a quick card-drafting filler about alternative therapists trying to cure a zombie plague and finally Dragon Dance: a 2-player card and dice bluffing game about St. George and the dragon. As a father of a young daughter I don't have a huge amount of spare time, so I tend to focus on one or two at a time.

Robin: When you begin working on a new game, what does your design process typically look like? For example, do you start with a theme, a mechanic, or something else?

Jackson: My first idea can be theme, mechanics or a mix of both. Vacuum leapt into my head as a sci-fi deck-builder and hasn't changed a huge amount in the ensuing four years, Zombology was a science theme (which warped into alternative therapies!) and drafting. Once I've had an idea I spend anywhere between a few days and a few weeks scribbling down notes in a notebook or Evernote before I make a physical version. The first versions are hastily scribbled on paper as I expect them to change a lot after each of the first few plays. I'm hopeless at soloing games though, so I tend to test my ideas on friends at work or at our monthly Playtesting session that we hold in a local pub.

Robin: Playtesting is something I find difficult to handle, so I'd really like to get your thoughts on that. When do you know if a game is ready for a group playtest? Where do you find your playtesters? And how do you handle any negative feedback?

Jackson: I'm lucky, the Newcastle Playtest group are a great bunch. We're a bunch of designers and keen gamers and we're all keen to help each [other] make new games. We'll try a brand new game as soon as it's printed out, so the decision about when to start playtesting is simply: as soon as possible. The decision about when to open up playtesting to blind playtesters is much harder. You want something that's mostly finished, so that's it's not so bad that you put people off, but by the same token the sooner you get it out there the more ideas and feedback you can garner. Getting enough blind playtesters is something I find really difficult actually, I have to rely on a small group of great testers who have volunteered over the years. Thankfully, they are a great bunch.

Robin: You have always seemed to choose to do fairly small print-runs for your previous games and it’s refreshing to see a designer eschew Kickstarter and go for this more traditional self-publishing route. Why have you continued with this route with your most recent game?

Jackson: As I said in a recent blog post, I've a family and very limited free-time. KickStarter is a massive time sink if you do it properly. If your campaign is successful (and putting in enough effort to make it successful is a huge job in itself), then you've got a massive job (of a size you're not fully aware of until the campaign finishes) getting a full size print run (and possibly a significant number of stretch goals) manufactured while there's a huge number of people who have paid you money and you owe a product who are sitting around waiting for you to deliver. That's the kind of pressure I could do without in my spare time. If I make a small limited run of hand-made games I know exactly how much work I'm letting myself in for ahead of schedule and I don't take money until I've got something to sell. Which takes a lot of the pressure off.

Robin: From your experience publishing other people’s games in Reiver Games, can you offer any advice to new designers looking for a publishing contract?

Jackson: Test you game. Then test it some more. Then send it to people you don't know to blind test it for you. I received a lot of games that needed a lot more testing and development.

Robin: I've seen you comment on your blog that you think your former company, Reiver Games, can act as a cautionary tale. What was it about Reiver Games that serves as a warning?

Jackson: I spent a couple of years making hand-made small print runs very successfully. The games sold out quickly and I made a reasonable profit. So far, so good. Then I made the jump to being a proper publisher getting games professionally made for me and trying to sell to distributors and shops, and I lost a ton of money. I wasn't ready to make the jump - in terms of experience, knowledge, contacts or market presence and I didn't have the budget or the marketing know-how to bring my games to enough people's attention.

Robin: What are your ambitions for the future? Do you envision many more games on the way? Will you continue with small print run games or try out some other publishing models?

Jackson: I'm not sure, a lot of it will depend on how the first release goes, and how running the company fits around my full-time job and family. I've got a few games I'm working on, so there's scope to do more if I can get them up to a high enough level.

Robin: Thanks again for your time, Jackson.

Jackson: You're welcome - thank you.

You can check out Jackson Pope's blog, Creation and Play, or his twitter feed, for more information about his design process and his upcoming games.