Do It Anyway: Make the Board Game You Want

Posted on Posted in Behind the Scenes

Lately, I’ve been talking about the hard truths of the board game business. You can’t just make the board game you want. You have to make the board game other people want. Product-market fit is essential and without it, financial success much harder to obtain. Just look at some of these posts I’ve been publishing lately.

Need help on your board game?
Join my community of over 2,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.

Well, guess what: I’m about to contradict all of that. I didn’t get into the board game business by being a human calculator. It wasn’t all about costs and benefits, supply chain management and marketability. I was 22 years old, chasing a childhood dream with blind passion.

Take a Leap of Faith

The great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard came up with the phrase “leap of faith.” At least, that’s halfway true since he never used those exact words. What he did exactly say is that “[t]hinking can turn toward itself in order to think about itself and skepticism can emerge. But this thinking about itself never accomplishes anything.”

Reason may set the human apart from the beast, but action still beats reason. It is by taking action that you can learn lessons that are emotionally real. You will experience things that will actually change you. If you create a board game, attempt a Kickstarter, and fall flat on your face, you will still generally be better off for it.

When Doors Slam Shut, Other Doors Open

In April 2018, I faceplanted. A game I had been working on for over a year and had spent $8,000 on had failed on Kickstarter. The reasons that led directly to that failure could not be readily corrected. The gap between the money I raised and the money I needed to raise was so great that I determined my best option was to ditch the game and move on.

Thank goodness I did. In a depressed fog, I somehow had the lucidity to make the right call on that. What’s more, the autopsy post I did on Highways & Byways led to a traffic spike that permanently increased the readership of this blog. I like to think of it as failing up.

A whole bunch of things came from that project that I didn’t even realize until now. For one, I’m in love and I’m engaged. One of the first things that made me stand out to my fiancee was that I was working on a board game about travel. It gave us something to talk about and bond over. The game didn’t launch, but the relationship sure did.

There isn’t a person on earth who could have predicted that. Nor could they have predicted that the increased traffic from the autopsy blog post made it possible for me to push the Discord server or the Facebook group. The clean slate gave me the chance to work on new projects – Tasty Humans and Yesterday’s War – with a team instead of alone.

Finally, the time wasted on the campaign gave this blog time to really take off. This blog has since become a major source of traffic for a marketing company that I run, which has superseded Pangea Games in revenue, profit, and personnel. If that campaign had made $50,000 or something, I would actually be worse off in business.

I’m not saying failure’s fun. It completely sucks. But it’s not the end of the world. The act of doing something you love can open branching pathways for you in life that you could never have otherwise anticipated.

Make the Board Game & Learn the Skills

I’m a big fan of the School of Hard Knocks. Whether you succeed on a project or not, the act of seeing something through to completion will teach you a ton. I have written a lot of posts on what goes into the act of designing a board game before. There are a lot of moving parts, and it takes a long time to create a board game.

Even the simple act of creating a game – not marketing it, packaging it, manufacturing it – simply creating game mechanics…my goodness. You have to play-test the thing dozens or hundreds of times. It takes seemingly endless hours of reiteration, re-versioning, and reimplementation. It can feel an awful lot like being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

If you want a board game to succeed financially, you have to learn project management, cost management, and supply chain management. This is true whether you go through Kickstarter or not. It’s brutal. So let me ask you this…

If you fail, do you instantly lose all the skills you gained?

No. You get to keep them. That’s a hell of a consolation prize.

Certainty & Order are Lies, but Beauty & Passion are Real

Life is chaotic and bizarre and nothing is guaranteed. More than that, life is absurd and we are all actively trying to seek out meaning in it. There are so many variables involved in starting a business or making a creative work that no one can say for certain what will and won’t workIt is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.

Beauty and passion are real. As real as anything can be, anyway. When you make something you are truly proud of, no one can take that away from you. Creating something that you think should exist gives you something you can always look at and say “I created that because I wanted it to exist.” Passion leads us to take illogical, irrational leaps that sometimes work despite the odds. The long arc of human progress is full of leaps like this.

In pursuing passion, you’ll find yourself with all kinds of stories. Beauty and passion open doors when you share with others. You can ace job interviews and score free drinks in bars. You can make friends on airplanes and close deals with big clients.

Final Thoughts

This is not my usual how-to post. Nor is this a post about business strategy. This is a post for anyone sitting on the sidelines, intimidated by the possibility of creating something big.

Jump in. Do something you love! Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t. You won’t know until you try, and failure is not that bad. Experience is a fantastic teacher and sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.

Good luck 🙂

19 thoughts on “Do It Anyway: Make the Board Game You Want

    1. Hi David, I’d say it transitions pretty easily. All you have to do to be a content create is create content. Doesn’t even have to be good content. That comes with time, practice, an open mind, and the ability to listen 🙂

  1. Great advice, encouragement, and insight on developing a new board game. Have often thought about this, struggling to find a unique idea. Thanks for sharing from your experiences.

  2. This is great. I’ve had to ditch a few ideas I was in love with because they just weren’t working. Perhaps sometime I’ll revive a couple of mechanics or the theme for something fresh, but sometimes it’s best to move on and find something that works smoother and is more “fun”.

  3. I liked your section When Doors Slam Shut, Other Doors Open. I hope good things are still coming forth for ya!

  4. I would never want to make a board game. It looks way too complicated. But I think this is sound advice for life in general. If you dont take the leap of faith and take the risk, you will never achieve the things you dream about. Life does not just fall into your lap. And time goes by way too quickly not to at least try.

  5. I have made it about halfway through all of the start to finish blog entries and have loved all the advice. I recently started looking at the other blog about marketing. I realized that my game is likely never to be a financial success, for the reasons stated in this article. But I am ok with that, also for the reasons in this article! I never set out to be a board game maker, I do not play board games. But somehow several years ago a board game (I guess a table top game) was born organically to fill the need that seemed to be there when a large group of friends spend a weekend together and spend that time drinking and socializing. Now I am finishing the game, creating a theme and narrative, commissioning art, sourcing pieces and props, and writing the rules. In the end I will have spent roughly $1000 (if I commission no more art than just the game board) and will have one copy of the game and likely sell none (I have too little time to grind out a social media campaign). But next year when our group meets at the cabin to catch up, and they ask (shout, demand!) to play the game, it will be a polished gem, the game play will be smoother and have more depth, the story will be fun and add to the experience. Even if no one besides my friends ever plays my game it will still be worth it, knowing I created exactly what I wanted to, and having the experience of taking the seed of an idea all the way to finished product is worth it.

  6. I love the concept of “failing up.” Great encouragement for folks to keep trying! And congratulations on your engagement!

  7. Interesting idea, I agree the innate creativity within board game design and development definitely necessitates passion. However, most people probably don’t have the drive or countenance to endure the multiple failures that often come with only doing passion projects.

  8. re: “When Doors Slam Shut, Other Doors Open”

    I’m not in BG development but this is a very true adage that you’ve underlined very well in the writeup. Currently, an important chapter in my life is closing. I knew about this months in advance and was initially distraught but since embracing the change, things seem a lot brighter. My career is going in a very different direction now than what I had planned 2 years ago. Different yes but still pleasant 🙂

  9. This is a lot of what I needed to hear. My brother and I have been thinking about making a board game for the past few years.

  10. All things in life, mistakes and successes, give you experiance to avoid or do the same in next occasions. You always learn from them.

  11. Thanks Brandon! This article solidified my resolve to finish the board game my family and I are building regardless of what the future holds for it. If it’s only fun for us and doesn’t make it beyond the walls of our home then I am fine with that. If it makes it out in the world and more people enjoy it, well I’ll consider that a bonus!

  12. Enlightening, gave me something to think about on what should I actually do with my life. I have been sitting on the sideline my whole life, never knowing what I want myself nor there is anything for me to actually “jump in”. Perhaps it is time to actually set down on a path no matter how small the end goal is. Thanks Brandon!

  13. I have entered a game into a couple of contests and not been encouraged by the responses. I need to let go perhaps because of theme and move on like suggested. Make the time to use the lessons I have learned and make a new game out of ideas I have had. I have also met some helpful people along the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.