Dev Diary: Lessons Learned through Making Highways & Byways

Board game development is a wild, meandering journey. I’ve documented mine for your benefit – spinning day-to-day events into valuable lessons.


The Last Dev Diary & What Comes Next

This is the last Dev Diary.

Why the Highways & Byways Kickstarter Campaign Crashed & Burned

The Highways & Byways Kickstarter campaign failure is the result of poor product-market fit. That basically means that Highways & Byways, intrinsically as a game itself, does not match up well with the desires of the greater Kickstarter board gaming community.

The Most Underrated Rule in Business: Have a Backup Plan

If you do something risky, there is a chance of failure. Don’t set your sights on one particular outcome, set your sights on a particular direction you want to go in. It’s so important to be flexible in the face of failure.

The Raw Emotional Reality of a Kickstarter Launch

Launching a board game on Kickstarter is an extremely nerve-wracking experience. So much so that a working title for this post was “Kickstarter Launches are Decadent and Depraved” – I was going to write it in gonzo style. However, I think it’s better to write openly and directly about what is one of the scariest thing creators can encounter: Kickstarter launches.

What To Do Immediately After Your Kickstarter Launches – A Checklist

For your use today, I’m going to share a generic launch sequence checklist that you can use so you know what to do in the hours immediately after your Kickstarter launches.

6 Ways to Cope with Kickstarter Anxiety as a Board Game Dev

Kickstarter, in particular, can bring out a form of online stage fright. It’s important to recognize this for what it is – when you start a campaign, you’re putting yourself out there for people to respond to. I believe a lot of creators – especially new ones – haven’t built up the emotional intelligence to fully understand how hard this can be.

How to Prepare for a Kickstarter Campaign That’s 1 Month Away

I’ve prepared a checklist for myself that I’d like to share with you. It’s a list of everything you need to take care in the time span between “a month before” and “a week before.”

5 Reasons Why Mentoring Your Fellow Board Game Developers is So Important

Self-publishing a board game for the first time is an incredibly disorienting and complicated experience. Many of you know I created this blog to mentor first-time game developers after my unorthodox start in the board game industry. My own experiences formed my beliefs about how critical it is to teach others how to achieve their goals.

4 Ways to Keep Promises on Really Complicated Projects

Even individual tasks that you do on a day-to-day basis such as play-testing, writing a blog post, and managing social media can take a lot longer than you think. This puts you at risk of promising too much and delivering too little.

5 Uncanny Similarities Between Travel & Business

I think travel makes people better equipped to handle tough challenges. You have to be independent, organized, and adventurous to travel to a place you’ve never been, especially alone as I am doing right now. At the same time, it’s not nearly as hard to do as you think.

How To Be Prolific Without Burning Out

Vacations are important. That’s not just because they’re fun and give you good memories, though these are fine reasons alone and with no other justification. Creative work, especially creative work in a public sphere like what we see on the internet, requires an immense amount of discipline and consistency.

Why and How to Get Featured on Board Game Blogs and Podcasts

Reach out to big and small communities. I cannot emphasize this enough. A single interview or guest post on a big site can get you a lot of attention, but several interviews and guest posts scattered across smaller sites can have a big cumulative effect too.

How to Get Your Board Game Reviewed

Having reviewers whose audiences do not overlap can help free you from your fears. It is terrifying to send your work out to reviewers who will determine whether it’s good or bad. Most of them will probably enjoy your game, but it’s still pretty scary.

5 Massive Mental Shifts I Made While Breaking into the Board Game Industry

Entrepreneurship is hard. One of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship is knowing when to change your mindset. We all go into our day-to-day endeavors saddled with a set of assumptions on how life works. Our assumptions are always a little bit wrong, but the act of assuming we know how to act is sometimes a useful way to deal with the bigger enemy of indecision. That said, from time to time, we all must undergo the painful process of changing our belief systems to move forward in life.

18 New Year’s Resolutions for Board Game Devs

While choosing January 1 to start something that you’ve always wanted to do is completely arbitrary, it sure does work! In fact, at the beginning of this year, I set a resolution to create a new board game.

How Many Blind Play-Tests Does Your Board Game *Really* Need?

It makes an intuitive sort of sense that more blind play-testing is always good. I’m not convinced. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had dozens of people blind play-test Highways & Byways, but there are diminishing returns once you hit a certain point. Let’s take this apart reason by reason.

The Long Haul Project: Why Making Games Takes a Long Time

Testing, manufacturing, shipping, and building an audience all take a lot of time and there is no way to really shortcut this. Whether you work 20 hours per week or 60 hours per week, you cannot meaningfully reduce the amount of time it takes to do certain tasks. Manufacturing and shipping can’t be changed at all by extra work. Testing can be expedited, but only as fast as you can afford to bring in fresh testers or make changes to the game. With building an audience, sooner or later, you will run into some kind of constraint…

The Final 100 Play-Tests: How to Put Final Touches on a Board Game

When people play a game, their expectations are formed by whatever happens in their first game. On average, the game is average. Shocker, shocker. But every once in a while, somebody’s first game is an outlier. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it’s something game devs need to be wary of. Outlier games still need to be a good experience.

7 Ways Making & Playing Board Games Could Make You Smarter

I’ve been making games for about 2 1/2 years now, and a lot of things in my life have clicked because of the ways of thinking I have adopted by making and playing games.

The Agony of the Almost Finished Board Game

Board games can be dragged down by easy-to-fix but hard-to-identify issues. In Highways & Byways, I had a simple rule where you discard every turn under certain conditions. It was a sentence. It was dragging down the game’s flow, adding several minutes to the play time, leaving inactive players isolated, and reducing the physical accessibility of the game. One sentence.


4 Things to Expect on the First Play-Test of a New Board Game

Even if you’re just making a game with a board, something simple like a classic euro-style game, it can take a long time to get the basic engine of your game running. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months to get a game working. You need to be mentally ready for that.

Birth of Byways: A Peek Into My Early Board Game Development Process

I’m going to give you a peek into my early board game development process. This is how Highways & Byways was born.

16 Mistakes I Made on My First Game & How You Can Avoid Them

If you spend time analyzing your failures, you can pick out specific things that you can do better next time. In April of this year, I did an autopsy on my first game, War Co.

5 Lessons I Learned at a Play-Testing Convention (Protospiel Atlanta)

Protospiel conventions bring noise, distraction, and play-testers who are also experienced game designers. This is the most hellish scenario in which a board game can be played. That’s what makes it perfect.

How to Turn Negative Play-Test Feedback into a Brilliant Game

Blind play-testing is your board game’s trial by fire. All kinds of nasty issues could come out of the woodwork. That’s why it’s so important.

The One Thing That Can Sink Sales for Board Games

Everything you create needs to be created for a specific kind of gamer. When you know who you should talk to, you won’t get rejected nearly as much.

How I Fulfilled a Kickstarter & Bought a House in the Same Week

Between December 30, 2016 to January 6, 2017, I shipped over 100 sets of War Co. cards, coordinated international shipping, and signed the closing papers on a new home.

4 Alternatives to Kickstarter for Your Board Game

Kickstarter is not the only, or even necessarily the best, way for indie board game developers to self-publish their work. It just happens to be the flashiest way to make your dreams come true.

How to Make a Tabletop Simulator Demo of Your Board Game

Many of you know that I’m in love with Tabletop Simulator as a testing tool. It’s a simple app on the Steam store, it costs $19.99, and it’s been an extraordinary resource for me during the development of War Co. and especially Highways & Byways.

How to Play a Lot of Board Games with Little Time and Little Money

You don’t have to spend tons of time or money through Amazon shopping sprees or conventions to play lots of games. There are better ways.

How to Tell When Play-Testing Feedback is Useful or Not

I’ve never seen article that deals with one of the biggest issues with play-testing: being able to tell the difference between signal and noise.

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

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.

Everything You Need to Know About Highways & Byways So Far

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

8 Signs Your Game is Ready for Blind Play-Testing

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.

7 Subtle Player Behaviors You Should Notice When Play-Testing

During the course of these play-tests online, I was able to watch players learn the game for the first time. After a few minutes, patterns of behavior emerged and I noticed subtle behaviors that provide information on how the game is being perceived by the players.

How to Fight “Tired Mode” as a Game Dev

Lots of things can cause Tired Mode: physical exertion, distraction, poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of breaks, poor sleep, caffeine abuse, and so on.

Talking Without Words

Removing text allows the game to talk without words, reducing the cognitive processing burden you’d feel looking at the board.

Art for Art’s Sake…Sometimes It’s Not Just Business

I’m talking about art in the sense of pouring yourself into a project, finding a way to creatively express yourself, and making something you truly care about. Where does art for art’s sake come into the business savvy game dev’s process?

Method Acting for Board Games & Immerse Yourself in a Theme

Themes are one of the primary ways in which board games can communicate. Just about every game has a theme, unless it’s abstract strategy like ChessGo, or even Hive.

Board Game Development & Wait Like a Champ by Using Downtime Wisely

Waiting is a big part of self-publishing a board game, as well as entrepreneurship in general. I know it’s not sexy. Nobody grows up and dreams of waiting days, weeks, and months to get a dream off the ground.

Timing is Everything in Board Game Development

I’m going to talk about something that happened as a result of hiring a stable freelance artist for Highways & Byways. I’m going to talk the importance of timing when you’re developing a board game.

Board Game Pic

On the Benefits and Limitations of Play-Testing with Family

I had an experience over the weekend that will dramatically improve the gameplay of Highways & Byways. I played two games with my parents.

When is it time to start play-testing with others?

If you play-test with others too soon, you run the risk of running out of new play-testers. That would make it very hard to do blind play-tests.

On the Benefits and Limitations of Play-Testing with Family

I had an experience over the weekend that will dramatically improve the gameplay of Highways & Byways. I played two games with my parents.

Tell Your Artist What You Want & Making Good Art Specs

We have only a handful of tools that help us say “this game might be for you” and “I think you should buy it.” Art is the most powerful marketing tool for board games and one of the most powerful tools for communicating game information.

Paper Test of Highways and Byways

The Art of the Paper Test: Catching Accessibility Issues Early

Play testing games with a board and components that are roughly the size and shape of the final product needs to be done before committing wholeheartedly to a certain style of gameplay.

Studying Dog with Glasses

How to Learn Complex Material Quickly

Experience gives you advantage, but it cannot substitute for systematic book learning. If you want to get better at something, you have to continually and thoughtfully work for it.

How to Make Board Game Rules

How does one create rules that fulfill the twin purposes of balancing the game and communicating clearly? I have some guidelines.

Five Levels of Communication through Game Development

Games Speak through Mechanics, Not Rules

The mark of a great game developer is to make great complexity and interaction come out of simple elements.

Spotting and Dropping Bad Mechanics

Most board game mechanics will not work as well as you intend them to. Good board game developers need to know when to drop mechanics and when to refine them.

Game of Darts

6 Underrated Skills That Make You a Better Game Developer

I realized that in my push to create Highways & Byways, I’ve neglected six very powerful background skills that make game developers great. Game development is about more than just game development, folks.

Creating the First Version of Game Rules

When it comes to game development, you don’t want to get attached to your ideas early on. Your priority is simple: make a playable game as early as you can.

Highways & Byways Test Board

Dev Diary: 03/31/17

Last week, I filled up a map of the United States with byways and breakpoints. They are the red and blue lines and dots you see below. This week, I’ve connected the dots with highways which are white and outlined in black.

Dev Diary: 03/24/17

Highways & Byways is just starting to come together as a cohesive project! Despite working at my day job every day this week, I’ve managed to dedicate a full 10 hours this week to game development and game development alone.

Highways and Byways website

Dev Diary: 03/17/17

I’ve just started development on a new board game. It’s called Highways & Byways. It’s a board game about college students dragging their beater cars across the nation in search of all places beautiful and forgotten.