5 Easy Ways to Network in the Board Game Industry (Without Being a Weirdo)

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & Byways.

Just here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here – it will take you right to the updates at the bottom of the page.

 


 

With Highways & Byways public play-testing fully underway, I’ve got the delightful advantage of having never had a “no-show event.” I had a lot of those when I was creating War Co. and trying to get people to play with me on Tabletop Simulator. A lot has changed since then, but the biggest factor here is that I have a much stronger network.

Let’s define something real fast. A network is a group of people who either care about you or about what you’re doing. So what does my network look like? I’ve got a lot of networks that coalesce into a greater whole. I’ve got an active Discord server for game developers and other creative people. It’s got 773 people in it last time I checked. I grew it by asking people individually if they wanted to hang out with other creative people. I also use Twitter and Instagram a lot, but especially Twitter since it’s more conversational. Even when I’m not active publicly, you can bet I’m talking to people behind-the-scenes via direct messages.

 

 

Don’t worry too much about the specific channels you network on – there are lots of ways to network. However, if you want to build a great network, you need to follow five basic principles:

  1. Keep it positive.
  2. Be genuine.
  3. Be friendly.
  4. Pay attention to people’s true desires.
  5. Care about others.

 

This is Dale Carnegie stuff right here. It’s nothing new. I didn’t invent these principles. I’m simply here to remind you to pay it forward when you create a network of board gamers. You need to actually add value to people’s lives, and the best way to do that is to be positive, genuine, friendly, in tune with their desires, and caring. People are smart and they’ll see right through you if you’re just trying to make a sale. If you try to make their lives better, you will generally be received in a positive light even if you’re not charismatic.

 

5 Easy Ways to Network in the Board Game Industry

 

Let’s get down to specifics. You want to know how to easily reach out to others so that you can build an authentic following of board gamers who want to help you succeed. You also want to reach out to reviewers, bloggers, podcasters, streamers, experienced game devs, and myriad others who can assist or teach.

Here are five ways you can do that. You don’t have to do all five. Pick one and try it out for a few weeks and see if it’s a good fit for you.

 

1. Jump into board gaming conversations on Twitter.

Twitter may be the one place in the world where it’s okay to jump into the middle of a conversation without it being weird. In fact, the medium encourages this behavior. Follow some people you’re interested in. You can find people to follow by looking at the people who follow sites like Board Game Geek or popular board gaming podcasts.

Once you follow people, read through your timeline and start replying to others with friendly comments. You want to jump into board game related conversations. This is a good way to get followed back, and the fact that you’ve started a conversation opens the door to further conversations down the line.

 

2. Browse the #boardgames tag on Instagram and leave friendly comments.

Similarly to Twitter, Instagram is a hive of activity for board gamers. A lot of people post pictures of games in their collections. Browse the #boardgames tag and find pictures games that you have played and enjoyed. Like and comment on the photos to start a conversation. You might make a new friend this way!

 

3. Find Facebook groups for board gaming and participate.

Facebook is the most important social network and it will probably remain that way for a long time. While you can reach out to board gamers by sending friend requests, I think the best way to approach Facebook is to get involved in board gaming groups. Use Google and Reddit to find board gaming groups that you’re interested in joining on Facebook. Request to join and then start talking to people there.

 

4. Play-test other people’s games.

Play-testing is a really valuable service and providing that service is one of the best possible things you can do for a game dev. This is time-consuming, and I admit that it’s not something I can do a lot. However, if you do have the time to do it, play-testing will make you friends not only with experienced game devs who can mentor you but also other play-testers who might test your games in the future. Keep an eye out for opportunities to play-test by monitoring Board Game Geek and relevant Facebook groups.

 

5. Go to conventions.

Last but not least, cons are one of the most reliable ways to network. You can’t spend very long at a con without running into another gamer. Opportunities to make new friends and help others out abound. It’s expensive and time-consuming, but many people believe this is the best form of networking in the board game industry.

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • Highways & Byways public play-testing has gone well.
  • I’ve gotten single-blind play-tests with players from the United States and abroad.
  • I’ve opened up the Highways & Byways play-test version to my Steam friends. You can access it by adding “superfzl” as a friend on Steam and adding the Highways & Byways workshop item.
  • I’ve rebalanced the Event Cards a little bit so players don’t get so many “don’t move” events in the game.
  • The board has been cleaned up slightly.
  • James has developed construction card art. He has more art in the works.
  • I’ve requested two manufacturing quotes – one from Long Pack Games and one from QPC Games. It may take some time to receive responses.

Everything You Need to Know About Highways & Byways So Far

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & Byways. However, this week is purely an update – educational posts will resume as normal next week.

 


 

It has been about five months since I first started working on Highways & Byways. Just this last week, a lot of things finally clicked.

First things first: I am ready to play-test publicly online. If you are interested in play-testing Highways & Bywaysclick here to join the Facebook group so you can get notified of the play-testing events. In fact, we’ve already had a few play-test sessions and had a great time! I’m getting some really valuable feedback!

 

 

In order to play with us, you will need a Steam game called Tabletop Simulator. It does exactly what you’d expect it to. It costs $19.99, or $9.99 if you get lucky and you find it on a Steam sale.

 

How Highways & Byways Works

 

I’ve made lots of vague allusions to what Highways & Byways is, but now let’s get down to specifics.

Highways & Byways is a 2-4 player game that takes around an hour. It’s fairly lightweight and it’s the kind of game you can play with people at a casual game night or with people who never play games at all. It’s a game that includes and does not intimidate.

The whole point of the game is to take an epic road trip. It’s essentially a race game. The objective is to drive all your assigned byways and circle back home before anyone else. Your route is determined by your byways and each game you get different byways, which are determined by drafting at the beginning of the game. Over the course of the game, events and construction cause you to reroute, think on the fly, and strategize.

This is a game that you can play casually and with no real knowledge and still feel like you’re having a good time. It’s also a game that you can really learn the nuances of and become proficient in strategy and counter-play. More on that later, though, since I want to show you what it looks like.

 

Highways & Byways Visuals

 

James Masino is steadily working on most of the art, but the board itself is done. I’ve shared it below so that you can appreciate the quality of his work.

 

 

You’ll notice that the state boundary lines are extremely accurate, as James really bumped the lamp to get the right mix of realism and beauty. He’s the only guy I know who pays attention to things like the border irregularity in western Kentucky for a Photoshop layer that winds up being hidden anyway.

We’ve worked hard to take 72 real scenic roads and make them communicate well on a board. When printed, the board will be about 25 by 20 inches (or 64 by 51 cm), so each of those circular spaces is large enough to comfortably fit a piece while still keeping the approximate outline of the real roads. To keep the game nice and accessible, we stripped all text from the board and we instead refer you to locations using Byway Cards like what you see below.

 

 

We’ve also considered some other accessibility aspects. For one, you don’t have to be an American or know any of the state names to play this game. None of that knowledge is necessary. When it comes time to order a quote from a manufacturer, I’ll be sure to ask for pieces that are big and easy to use. Oh, and we considered color blindness, too…

 

 

Highways & Byways Basic Rules

 

You can find the full rule book online here. The rules still need a little tweaking here and there to truly optimize the game, but what you see there now is basically what it’s going to be like in the box.

Here are eight choice sentences that sum up the rules succinctly:

  • The first player to drive the entire length of all Byways depicted on their Byway Cards AND return to their Start Space is the winner.
  • Each player selects a Vehicle. Each Vehicle has a special ability. Special abilities grant cars immunity to certain Events or allow for faster movement on the board.
  • Each player will end up with 14 Blue Byway Cards and 2 Red Byway Cards.
  • Each player takes a Travel Marker and places it on the Byway depicted on the Byway Card just received. This is so all players can quickly and visually see where they and their opponents will be going in the game.
  • Once all players have 14 Blue Byway Cards and 2 Red Byway Cards, they each must do one and only one of the following:
    1. Discard 1 Red Byway Card and remove its Travel Marker from the board.
    2. Discard 2 Blue Byway Cards and remove their Travel Markers from the board.
  • At the beginning of every driving round…draw a random Construction Card. Players may not travel on any highway spaces which contain the letter depicted on the construction card.
  • Each player may move up to six (6) spaces per turn.
  • When all 5 Construction Card slots in the bottom right of the board have been filled…each player must pass their Event Card hand to the clockwise player.

 

What’s Left to Do?

 

Quite a bit, actually. I need to do tons and tons of play-testing with people from around the world. There is still quite a bit of art that needs to be created. Of course, I’ll want to raise funds on Kickstarter for the manufacturing process. Then I need to figure out how to sell the game afterward. If I had to give you an estimate on when I think the Kickstarter campaign would be, I’d say “first quarter of 2018.” Don’t pin me to that yet, though!

 

 


 

It’s my very good pleasure to share all these updates at once with you. If you’d like to get involved, I’d once again like to direct your attention to the Highways & Byways Facebook group. Sign up there, because that’s how we’ll coordinate games going forward.

That’s all I’ve got today. Time to get this show on the road!

8 Signs Your Game is Ready for Blind Play-Testing

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & Byways.

Just here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here – it will take you right to the updates at the bottom of the page.

 


 

Play-testing has been really high up on my radar for the last couple of weeks. Between 7 Subtle Player Behaviors You Should Notice When Play-Testing and The Art of the Play Test: Designing Tests and Keeping Records, you might think that’s all I’ve got on my mind. You’d mostly be right to think that, too. Highways & Byways is ready for blind play-testing, and I’ll be spending this weekend setting up a plan on how I’m going to coordinate testing from this point forward.

 

 

It took me a long time to get this game ready for blind play-testing. But before we talk any more about blind play-testing, let’s define it.

 

Blind play-testing is when you give your game to other people with no instructions on how to play. You can choose to observe them while playing or elicit their feedback after the game has ended.

 

I tend to break this definition down even further. Please note these are “Brandonisms” and not formal board game design terms I’ve seen anywhere else:

  • Single-blind play-testing is when I give my game to other people with no instructions on how to play, but I still play as a player. The benefit is that I can observe directly how players act in response to certain strategies. The drawback is that it’s not truly blind play-testing, since players can pick up on what you’re doing.
  • Double-blind play-testing is when I give my game to other people with no instructions on how to play and I do not participate in the game at all. I can observe during the game or ask questions after the game is played, but the critical piece here is that I must not interfere with the game as it is going on.

 

To give you an idea what goes into getting a game ready for either type of blind play-testing, here are some things I’ve already done. I’ve play-tested the game a lot by myself, acting as 2-4 players at a time. Self-testing was my primary form of testing in the first and second versions of the game, when I wasn’t even sure if some of the core concepts would work. Then I started testing with my brother whose indefatigable patience and ready availability makes him invaluable in play-testing. A few versions later, I was testing with my parents and cousins. Once the game was pretty clearly on the right track, I started testing it with friends online and offline.

Blind play-testing requires that your game function well in both gameplay and communication aspects. Knowing when your game is ready for blind play-testing is not an easy call to make. For that matter, it can be scary to pass it on to people who may or may not like it. Yet blind play-testing is critical for making a market-ready board game and there is some data that only blind play-testing can provide.

 

8 Signs Your Game is Ready for Blind Play-Testing

 

1. The game can stand alone. You don’t need developer input to play any more.

If your game has gotten to the point where people can pick it up and play it without asking you questions, that is a very good sign. If you find that play-testers do not ask you many questions during your non-blind play-tests, you’re definitely on the right track.

 

2. Your game cannot be broken.

Part of why game developer presence is so important in early play-testing is because of the possibility for games to completely break down. If your game becomes unplayable due to a glitch in the rules, a logical inconsistency in mechanics, or even a wickedly overpowered strategy, you cannot blind play-test it. Period, point blank. Your games do not necessarily have to be good before you start blind play-testing, but they must be finish-able every single time.

 

3. You have functional artwork.

Blind play-testing is a test of both gameplay and communication. If your game requires certain visual cues in order to be properly tested, you need to have enough artwork to be able to properly test.

As an example, Highways & Byways starts with a drafting round in which the Byways on the board are divvied up among players. In order to test the game’s ability to communicate, I needed a completed board map. The board art was then recycled for the Byway cards, which reference specific places on the board. While this only comprises about 10% of the art in the game, the board was mission-critical to further play-testing. As it turns out, the experimental design techniques that James and I have been using work beautifully, enough there was no way to know that without putting in the time to develop art.

 

 

4. The rule book is usable.

This ties into point #1 about not needing developer input, but is important enough to warrant a separate point on my list. Your play-testers, having never played the game and having no input from you, will be learning your game from the rule book. You might have kept only a skeleton of the rule book until now, but that will not cut it during blind play-testing. Here are some resources you can look to if you need to clean up your rules:

 

5. Players do not get stuck.

If players get lost on the board, in the rule book, or in the decision-making process during the game, that should concern you. Players are less likely to get stuck in “analysis paralysis” with the developer right there to help them. If players do get stuck with you right there, then the problem will probably be worse during blind play-testing and you need to address it prior to blind play-testing.

 

6. There are multiple viable strategies available to players.

Though your game does not necessarily have to be great before starting blind play-testing, it needs to have a few workable strategic angles. If you have multiple different viable strategies, then balancing them is often a matter of tweaking rules. If you only have one viable strategy, you could be looking at problems baked into the mechanics or even core engine of your game. You generally don’t want to be messing with your game on that basic of a level once you get blind play-testers involved because they’re often hard to find.

 

 

7. You know what your game is like, but have trouble describing it.

Blind play-testing is great for finding problems, but it’s arguably even better for marketing. In addition to the fact that many of your blind play-testers will eventually become customers, you can use the things they tell you about your game as part of your future sales pitch. When someone says “this part of your game is appealing,” the odds are good that it will appeal to lots of gamers.

 

8. You cannot go any further in development without outside feedback.

At some point, you’ll hit a wall in play-testing that you cannot scale without bringing in fresh points of view. That is where I am right now. Highways & Byways is a few subtle tweaks away from being a solid performer on Board Game Geek. Yet I believe it would be an act of hubris to think that my family, close friends, and I are capable of spotting all the problems ourselves. You need lots of different opinions to refine a creative work so that it meets its full potential. Blind play-testing is how board game developers refine their work.

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • Highways & Byways is ready for public play-testing.
  • I’m putting together a plan this weekend on how I’ll coordinate play-testing, including where play-testers will gather, when games will take place, and how they’ll be notified.
  • In addition to the above, I need to consider single-blind and double-blind play-testing when developing this plan.
  • James is continuing to develop art for the game. None of this art is necessary for play-testing, but it will be important later on for game quality and promotional reasons.