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  • Joe Slack from Crazy Like a Box (Mar 3)

     Joe Slack updated 5 months, 2 weeks ago 11 Members · 19 Posts
  • Gabe Barrett

    February 28, 2022 at 1:41 am

    Joe Slack, founder of Crazy Like a Box and creator of the Board Game Design Course, joins us this week. Joe has been creating game design related content for years and even taught a university course on game design for a while.

    Hit reply to ask him anything! (Joe will respond to your questions on Mar. 3rd.)

    -Please limit your questions to one per person.

    -Please submit your question before 11:59pm PST on Mar 2nd.

  • Nicholas Bartlett

    February 28, 2022 at 3:08 pm

    Joe, with the release of Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion, Wingspan, Mechs vs Minions, and other games that have intentionally made content so that users can learn their game easier, what advice to you have for those of us who want people to enjoy our games as well, should we all pay Autonuma Factory or focus ourselves on teacher aids?

    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 10:19 am

      Hey Nicholas!

      Thanks for your question.

      So, Automa Factory makes solo variants of games, particularly for Stonemaier Games. If you’re referring to solo variants of games, then yes, if your game will support this, I strongly encourage you to develop a solo mode for your game. Note that this won’t work for every time of game (negotiation and social deduction games wouldn’t be a good fit) and you can’t force it, but there is certainly a demand for amazing solo games and great games that can be played solo (just make sure the solo mode is as good as the multi-player mode!).

      As for making games easier for players to learn, this should absolutely be a goal for all game designers. Games that are easy to learn and play get played more, whereas games with complex rules often stay on the shelf.

      Player aids, concise and well-tested rulebooks with good illustrations and examples, and how to play videos can all help with this. Also, if you can find a way to teach as you go, similar to a tutorial in a video game, this method can work well, too. It will depend on your game and what feels most natural. I hope this helps!

      I also wrote an article to help game designers write rulebooks easier in case you want to check this out as well:

  • Ken C

    February 28, 2022 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Joe!

    I know you have the Board Game Design Course and a lot of students have gone through that process. What would you say are the top three most commonly improved aspects of their games, as they go through your course? (What was lacking that gets much better by the end of the process?)


    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 10:27 am

      Hey Ken!

      Thank you for your question.

      I feel that one of the most helpful things that students have learned is how to not only create but also hold to the vision for their game. This allows them to much more easily make decisions about what elements of feedback will help to improve their game and which will take them down yet another rabbit hole. The result is a game that is more focused, with a theme and mechanics that complement each other well.

      Secondly, they are able to move their games forward faster. So, they turn out to be more complete and “solid” in a shorter timeframe.

      Thirdly, I feel that their games are very innovative. I try to encourage game designers to create something new and interesting that is still familiar in some ways. That way it won’t just be a re-theme or clone of an existing game that nobody will really be that interested to play.

      I hope this helps!

  • Ben Morayta

    March 1, 2022 at 8:23 am

    Hi Joe!

    Weird question here – Having taught game design, do you see that people who have studied the theory get “academized”, doing it all “by the book”, and thinking less outside of the box… less creatively..? Or is it, most of the time, just seen as tools that people apply to their own creativity, and doesn’t get in the way of creating new things?

    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 10:35 am

      Hey Ben!

      Thanks for your question! By the way, there are no weird questions, just weird answers (kidding). 🙂

      I feel that you can get really deep in the weeds with theory. It’s good to know about a lot of the concepts related to game design, but I prefer going more by feeling myself. If people are enjoying a game, that’s more important to me than whether it follows a certain rule.

      Game design is a creative venture. It should also be fun. If you’re able to apply game design theory while making a fun game, then great! But the biggest thing is taking action and DOING! If you are just sitting around reading and learning and becoming a game design academic without actually making a game, you’re not a game designer yet. The real learning comes from making a game, taking the feedback, and making improvements to make your game the best it can be.

      A lot can be learned through experience. I will often apply what I’ve learned by making one game when working on another. I can now more quickly determine that something is not likely to work and bypass trying a lot of things that probably wouldn’t be good solutions.

      So, in short, book learning can be helpful, but learning and experiencing by making games is where I want to spend most of my time (and it’s a whole lot more fun, too!).

      I hope this is helpful!

  • Robert Longtin

    March 1, 2022 at 8:36 am

    Hi Joe, you have experience teaching players to play your games and you have experience teaching game designers to design games. Apart from the differences in the content, what’s are the biggest differences you’ve seen between teaching players to play and teaching designers to design? By contrast, what are the biggest similarities?

    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 10:47 am

      Hey Robert!

      Oooh, interesting question. Thanks for asking this.

      I feel there are a lot of differences between teaching someone how to play a game and how to make a game. Essentially, one is how to do something that is already created, and the other is to create that experience.

      I’m thinking of other examples like how to drive a car vs how to build one. You don’t need to know anything about how to make a car in order to drive one (although this can help you fix it if it breaks down – Like making a house rule to fix a game you see as broken).

      But it is critical to know how to play games if you’re going to make one. I always encourage people to play lots of games so that they understand what works and what doesn’t and to get a better understanding of game mechanics, game flow, etc.

      Designing and playing a game are very different, as are teaching each of these.

      I guess the main similarities would be understanding the gameplay and mechanics of games.

      I suppose one could also teach game design in part by examples (I do like to use these myself). Diving into how a mechanic works, why a designer made the choices they did, etc.

      I don’t know if I answered this the way you had hoped but it was interesting to think about this one. I hope you get something out of this!

  • Bill Murphy

    March 1, 2022 at 9:57 am

    Hi Joe, I’ve been thinking a lot about evergreen games. Not this game has been around for years but think years and years and years. Designers plan for kickstarters and know it is a run of X games. It is what it is. Designers plan for what it is. This is kind of self fulfilling. Could we plan for longevity a different model maybe longer, perhaps slower sales. Built into this plan warehousing and/or repeated smaller print runs. Marketing conventions, tournaments built into the plan. Probably not cloud funded. It’s seems we are designers of all or nothing sort lived success. Move on to the next one. Example games Abalone (marble pusher), Blokus, Tak (seems to fit the idea although not as old). Most games stores have these as standards. If they can do it we can use them for Inspiration and aim for similar. Thoughts? As always thanks to both of you for all you do in the gaming community.

    • This reply was modified 5 months, 2 weeks ago by  Bill Murphy.
    • This reply was modified 5 months, 2 weeks ago by  Bill Murphy.
    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 10:54 am

      Hey Bill!

      Thanks for your question!

      Oh, if all our games could be evergreens, I think we’d all be very happy!

      The problem is, in 1985, around 50 board games were released. In 2021, there were over 3,000 on Kickstarter alone (and many thousands outside of this)! So, there is a glut of games coming out every year and new, shiny ones you can buy on Kickstarter every single day.

      So, we get the “cult of the new.” Everyone wants to play the latest thing because everyone is talking about it. Until they’re not. And they are on to the next thing.

      But the games that are truly great and have a larger appeal can keep selling quite well. Think of Wingspan, Azul, Pandemic, and other “modern classics.”

      It’s all really up to the players. They will find and buy the best games. They’ll play these with their friends and families. Then they will in turn go out and buy the game.

      So, just make an amazing game that everyone loves. Easy peasy, right? 😉

      If all publishers decided to just focus on one great game to release every year, there would probably be far fewer games, but they would be the best of the best. But, it is up to those making and buying the games to decide what will become evergreen.

      Not sure if this helps, but it was fun to write about!

  • Johan Falk

    March 1, 2022 at 10:51 am

    Hi Joe

    Thanks for the knowledge and inspiration you bring to board game design!

    What advise would you give someone who’s considering trying board games as a business in contrast to keeping it as a hobby? What are important factors in such a decision?

    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 12:08 pm

      Hey Johan!

      Great question! Thanks for asking.

      It’s a HUGE jump going from making games as a hobby to trying to go full time. If you’re strictly designing (not publishing or working in any other capacity) and this is your sole income, you’d better have a lot of money in savings that can get you through at least a couple of years and/or a partner whose salary can pay all the bills.

      Earning royalties takes a lot of time. Even after you get your game signed by a publisher, it could easily be 2 years or more before it is published and even longer before you receive your first royalty cheque. You may receive an advance but it probably won’t be that substantial. Plus, your game may not become a hit (few make it really big), so unless you’re lucky and your game is an overnight success, you won’t be earning a whole lot. Plus, you’ll likely have expenses such as prototypes, conventions, travel, etc., which will cut into your earnings.

      It’s much easier to make the transition if you either (a) already have a hit game that is bringing in some consistent royalties, or (b) you can diversify.

      Of course, (a) is pretty self-explanatory. If you are doing this on the side as a hobby and hit it big with one of your games, the transition will be much easier.

      With (b), I’m talking about finding something else you’re good at and having multiple streams of income so that you can still pay the bills when you have no royalties coming in (these can be sporadic and there are no guarantees). You might discover you’re a great rulebook editor or game developer or marketer or there’s some other role that you can fill. Or you might decide to self-publish your games and become a publisher. There’s more risk but there may also be more rewards.

      It can be a huge hit financially to go to designing games full time, so you have to be prepared for this. That’s my best advice if you’re considering going full-time.

      I hope you found this helpful!

  • Roger Meloche

    March 2, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    There is a curious mental quirk called “The Moses Illusion”. (An example of this would be a quick quiz given to a person, where the first two answers were obvious but the third was “how many animals of each type did Moses bring on the ark?” The answer is almost always two, with people completely missing the fact that it was Noah, not Moses who did this.)

    Does this mental quirk, or other common psychological behaviors play a large part in game design? If so, could you provide a few examples of games that exhibit this psychological sleight of hand?

    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 12:11 pm

      Hey Roger!

      This is a really interesting question that I’ve never considered before.

      To be honest, I can’t think of any examples of this psychological sleight of hand when it comes to game design.

      If anyone else has any thoughts, I’d be really interested in hearing them.

  • Matt Healey

    March 2, 2022 at 8:21 pm


    When I look at the games that I love playing it is usually a combination of the mechanics (area control, drafting, worker placement, etc) and the ancillary aspects like the look and feel of the components, the types of components, etc.

    So, when you start a game design, how much time do you spend thinking about things beyond the mechanics and does the implementation of the mechanics with components impact the mechanics of the game?

    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 12:20 pm

      Hey Matt!

      Great question! Thanks for posting this.

      I certainly do feel that the components and aesthetics of a game are important. One example I often use is Azul. The publisher probably could have made the game with cardboard punch-out tokens instead of the beautiful clunky tiles they chose and sold it for about half the price (I feel they wouldn’t have sold nearly as many copies though). But they chose to instead make it a premium product and go with really solid quality components. I feel that this helped Azul to become a hit. This was all part of the experience.

      My oft co-designer is all about the look and feel of a game. Some of his early version prototypes look almost as good as some published games (sometimes even better)! Designing with him has made me appreciate how great a game can look and feel when your mechanics integrate really well with the components and the look and feel of a game. Great graphic design also really helps improve the player experience as well.

      At an early stage, I like to just test out mechanics and figure out what’s working and what’s not. But once I feel there is a game there and I have a good idea for the theme, I try to think of the components and how they will integrate with the game and the mechanics. For example, wooden player pieces that look like men in business suits and mini briefcases in my game Jewel Heist.

      I hope this helps!

  • Grant Kerwood

    March 3, 2022 at 9:31 am

    Hey Joe, Thank you for all you have done to help the board game community. I have really appreciated all of your input as it has shaped my game design into what it it today. I’m Looking forward to seeing you this Saturday!

    what are the next steps to producing a game after finishing designing the mechanics? (self publishing)

    Thank you for your time, and all you have done to help this community! are your Sunday play tests every Sunday, or only on the weeks you advertise them in your email? I really Appreciate all you do, Thank you.

    • Joe Slack

      March 3, 2022 at 12:26 pm

      Hey Grant!

      Thanks for your kind words and for your questions!

      If by self-publishing you are referring to crowdfunding (i.e. Kickstarter), there is a LOT to cover before you’re ready to launch. Rather than write a novel here, I’d suggest starting with this article:

      This should help you with all the steps you’re going to need to have in place before you launch.

      In response to your second question, I run a monthly playtesting day on my Board Game Designers Online Discord channel. It’s usually the last Sunday of the month, but sometimes there’s a holiday or other conflicts. I try to give a week’s notice for each event but I should probably start providing more advanced notice. I hope to see you at a future event!

      Thanks again!

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