Tuesday, November 24, 2020

2020 Tabletop Holiday Gift Guide


Happy Holidays! Around this time of year, I start to see lists of game recommendations for holiday gifts and they always look something like this:

Now this is a perfectly fine list... for the year 1999. (and who plays UNO with just two players?) But one of the fantastic things about the board gaming industry is how far it has come from the "roll & move" days of Monopoly and Mousetrap. 

So here's a list of ten tabletop games that will guarantee to put a smile on the face of anyone who receives it!


HORRIFIED (Ravensburger)
In this cooperative game, players work together to thwart several of the Universal Monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature of the Black Lagoon, etc.) from causing havoc in a town. This game is perfect for families as well as experienced gamers who already like Pandemic and Arkham Horror. Plus, it comes with fantastic monster miniatures!


SPLENDOR MARVEL (Space Cowboy Games)
Splendor is a game about craftsmen carefully selecting gems to construct fine jewelry. Marvel Splendor is about carefully selecting superheroes to defeat a mad Titan who selects gems that will destroy half of the universe. Regular Splendor is fine, but adding superheroes makes anything better.


If you look past it's beautiful artwork and some of the most creative box art I've seen, you'll find a tight card game that feels like a mix of Sushi Go and Guillotine - two favorites of mine.

THROW THROW BURRITO (Exploding Kittens)
This fast-paced card game plays like a mix of Exploding Kittens (which makes sense because the same creators made this), Dutch Blitz and Dodgeball. Play sets of cards and whang soft rubber burritos at each other in this silly party game.

In the grim-dark future of war, even they play Risk. This take on the classic game utilizes characters from that other miniatures game Warhammer 40K. They are almost nothing alike, but the two go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

KINGDOMINO (Blue Orange)
This tile-laying game plays much like Carcassone but without the meeples. Games are quick, light and create a beautiful little map each game. And it won the Spiel des Jahre, which means it's really good.

In this "mind-reading" party game, players try to guess the "frequency" of a topic based on clues. It's more hilarious than how I'm describing it.

Another Spiel Des Jahres winner, this time it's a sci-fi themed cooperative trick taking game where the players communicate silently to win hands.

Until we get an officially licensed "Alien" game, I think Nemesis is a great stand-in. Players scramble to achieve goals while horrible space aliens invade the ship and, usually, rip them apart. Players can get implanted with aliens or even betray each other. While this game is more dense than your average game, it always delivers a suspense-filled exciting evening!

OUTFOXED (Gamewright)
This delightful mystery game is great for players of all ages as they try to deduce which fox stole the pie. Fantastic components and charming art makes this a fun family game.

PANTONE THE GAME (Cryptozoic Entertainment)
It's my list, so I'm allowed to plug my own game. In this family party game, you take turns creating characters using colored swatches while the other players try to guess their identity. This new edition comes with more character cards!


And while you are shopping for gifts, why not consider downloading Gamemaster, the exceptional documentary film about tabletop game designers that I (and several other talented designers) are in! If you want to learn more about making games, or just want to meet some fascinating characters, I highly recommend it!

Please feel free to share this list and happy holidays everyone! May it be filled with joy, fun and games!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Talk like an Imagineer!

On a recent podcast, the hosts talked about needing a glossary of terms about Disneyland and theme park culture in particular. 

I poked around online, but didn't really find a list of terms to my own satisfaction - they were also either very "guest-centric" or just dumb - so I've created my own glossary which includes a healthy dose of Disneyland Imagineering lingo as well. 


1401: Slang for 1401 Flower Street, the main Imagineering building.

A1: The original audio-animatronic model created in 1963 for the Enchanted Tiki Room attraction.

A100: An advanced audio-animatronic created in 1989 for the Great Movie Ride attraction.

ADA: Slang for anything that is associated with or conforms to the American Disabilities Act of 1990. ADA guidelines are always a consideration in the creation of attractions and experiences at Disneyland Park. Disabled guests are sometimes referred to as ADA guests.

AP/APer: Slang for annual passport holders. The use is not always complimentary as some AP's can be overly demanding or possessive of the park. An even more derogatory term is "Annual Passhole".

AUDIO-ANIMATRONIC: A robot "actor" used in Disneyland attractions, especially in dark rides.

AUTONOMOUS ANIMATRONIC: An audio-animatronic that can walk and operate independent of any other systems. First pioneered with Lucky the Dinosaur in 2003.

ATTRACTION: The term for a ride, show, or meet & greet that a guest can experience at Disneyland.

BACKSTAGE: The term for the operational side of Disneyland Park. The location of offices, facilities and warehouses, - i.e. place where guests are not meant to see as there is no theming or "magic" for them to experience.

The BERM: Originally, a literal dirt berm that circled Disneyland Park to prevent the guests from seeing the "outside world" while they enjoyed the park. as not to "break show". Show buildings and facilities were eventually built "Outside the Berm" as the park expanded.

BGM: Background music played throughout the park to help create theming.

BLUE BADGE/a BLUE: Slang for a full-time employee whose ID badge is blue in color. Contract employees are issued green badges and are sometimes referred to as "a Green Badge" which is not always meant as a complimentary term.

BLUE SKY BUILDING: An expansion added to 1401 Flower St. that houses the Blue Sky team - the Imagineers who dream up the attractions and experiences of Disneyland Park.

BLUE SKY DESIGN PROCESS/BLUE SKY: The Blue Sky Design Process is the term used to describe the "sky's the limit" creative storytelling process utilized by Imagineers. Blue Sky is the start of the process when creating an attraction or experience. These Blue Sky ideas are often pitched to fellow cast members using "boards".

BOARD: A large poster board on which concept art, wire-frames, blue-prints and other creative images are pinned. These boards are then presented to other Imagineers in meetings and presentations.

BOOK REPORT RIDE: A derogatory term for a dark ride that recreates scenes from a movie rather than presenting the material in an original way.

The BOWLING ALLEY: Imagineering offices that were originally a bowling alley. It houses WDI Labs and is the former home of DisneyVision's VR demo space.

CAST MEMBER (CM): The term used for a full-time employee of Disneyland and WDI.

CHARACTER: Cast members who wear costumes of famous Disney characters. There are two types of characters - "face" characters who are human in appearance and "fuzzy" characters who are usually animals. The cast members themselves do not refer to themselves as the character but rather as their "friend". (See "Friend") A restaurant or dining experience that features characters is often known as a "Character Meal".

CODE 101/101: Cast member code word for when an attraction is "down" or having mechanical difficulties. "Code 102" is the code word for when the attraction is working again.

CODE V: Cast member code word for vomit. (See "Protein Spill")

COSTUME: The outfit of a Cast Member, usually highly themed to the environment they work in. For example, the CMs who operate the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction wear pirate-themed costumes.

CONTRADICTION: A "contradiction" is created when something happens in the park that doesn't support the story of the land or attraction. For example, if Tomorrowland spaceman walks down the street of Frontierland or if two Goofys can be seen in the park by the same guest at the same time.

DARK RIDE: An attraction that is located primarily inside a show building, allowing for the Imagineers to control the lighting and create highly themed atmosphere, sets and environments. Dark rides will often use ultraviolet (UV) lighting to create distinctive visual effects. Dark rides often are scarily themed to take advantage of the controlled lighting and special effects. Disneyland dark rides often feature audio-animatronics and ride vehicle systems as the Omni-mover. Disneyland's origjnal Fantasyland dark rides (Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride) were designed to have the guest experience the attraction "in the shoes" of the main character, but this ended up confusing guests who wondered "where Peter Pan was". The titular characters were subsequently added into the attractions during the 1983 renovation.

The DISH: The Digital Immersive Showroom. A studio-sized environment that features projected images and is used to virtually simulate attractions and other experiences in order to solve problems in architecture, design, pacing, audio and visual effects.  

DISNEY LEGEND: A cast member whose contributions have significantly impacted the Walt Disney Company. Disney Legends who have contributed to the creation of theme parks are awarded with their names (also known as their "credits") painted onto a window on Main Street USA. The event to celebrate this is called a "Window Ceremony".

The DISNEY LOOK: A strictly enforced dress code that limits what cast members can wear and how they keep their hair and facial hair. The dress code was amended in 2000 to allow for mustaches. It was amended again in 2019 to allow for a more "rugged look" for the cast members working at Galaxy's Edge.

The DISNEY POINT: A two-finged hand-gesture used by all Disneyland Cast Members in place of a single-finger point - which is considered by some cultures to be rude and aggressive.

E-TICKET/E-TICKET RIDE: A term used to describe an exciting attraction. Originally, Disneyland guests bought individually priced "coupons" to ride attractions - much like you would at a county fair. The coupons were lettered A-D. They were eventually sold in a ticket-book packaged with park admission. In 1959, a more expensive (.85 cents) E-ticket was added to help pay for the new attractions (Matterhorn Bobsleds, Submarine Voyage into Liquid Space and the Monorail). Eventually, E-Ticket attractions included dark rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion and then thrill rides like Space Mountain - where it gained its reputation for standing for "fast" rides. The ticket system was discontinued in 1982 when the park moved to a "gate admission" system.

EYEWASH: The boldest imagining of an idea that an Imagineering can come up with during the Blue Sky process - often conceptualized in exacting and magnificent detail. For example, when "proving" the concept of a firefly effect for a prototype for an in-park experience, my team built a 16 foot artificial tree just to prove to management that the effect would look convincing.

FIGMENT: The small purple dragon who is the unofficial mascot of Disney Imagineering. First created by Tony Baxter and Steve Kirk for the Journey into Imagination attraction in 1983.

The FLOWER BUILDING: The Glendale location of WDI's offices, also known as the Disney Campus. The main building of the complex is located at 1401 Flower Street. It holds the offices of many Imagineers including the sound and video departments, upper management and the Blue Sky team.

"FRIEND": The term used by a character cast-member when referring to the character they portray. A female cast member will say she is "Sleeping Beauty's Friend" rather than say she is Sleeping Beauty. This helps reinforce the idea in the cast member's head that many actors and actresses will play these characters, not just you.

FOAMER: A derogatory term for a guest, especially one who is especially crazy for Disney and Disneyland. Often used to describe guests who camp out for events or will run in to buy park-exclusive merchandise.

The FOUR KEYS: These are the four essential principals that cast members are to follow to insure an exceptional experience for the guest. The four keys are: Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. Safety has the highest priority and then each key is considered in turn. Cast members are given a laminated card with the four keys printed on it when they are hired. Recently, a fifth key - Inclusion - was added.

FOUR KEYS CARD: A compliment card written to a cast member whenever a guest compliments them at guest relations. Considered a honor for the cast member.

GOODNIGHT KISS: A "magical" event that "caps off" the guest's experience in the park for the evening. The evening fireworks show is considered Disneyland's "goodnight kiss" to the guests.

GOOD SHOW: When theming, architecture, music, cast members, signage, and even food and smells help tell the story of the land or attraction to the guest. Anything that doesn't do this is called "Bad Show".

GRAND CENTRAL: Slang for the Grand Central Imagineering Campus, the group of buildings that sit adjacent to 1401 Flower St. Home to Disney Interactive and Disney Consumer Products.

GUEST: The Disney term for customer.

"HAVE A MAGICAL DAY": A "sign off" used by Disney Cast Members that can mean "goodbye", "thank you" or "go screw yourself" depending on the context it is being used. Sometimes comes off as being insincere or ironic depending on situation.

HUG & SHOVE: Sarcastic slang for a "meet & greet" where the guest briefly interacts with a character (usually by hugging them) and then are "shoved" away so the next guest in line can get their turn.

"IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT": The unofficial motto of Disney Imagineering. Taken from a quote by Walt Disney.

ILLUSIONEER: A specialized Imagineer who works in creating special effects and illusions.

IMAGINEER: The term used by Walt Disney to describe the concept artists, engineers, architects and other artists who helped design and build Disneyland Park and its attractions. Many of the original Imagineers were recruited from the animation studio. The term originated at the Alcoa Aluminum company in the 1950's.

LAND: An themed area of Disneyland Park. Opening day lands were Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. New Orleans Square, Bear Country (later renamed Critter Country), Mickey's Toontown and Galaxy's Edge were later additions.

LOAD/LOAD AREA: The area in an attraction where guests load in and out of ride vehicles. Often considered the most dangerous location of the attraction as it is the place where an accident could most likely occur.

MAGIC MORNING: An hour before official park opening available to Disneyland hotel guests.

MAPO: The Mary Poppins Building. Named in honor of the movie which earned Disney Studios enough money to expand WDI. It is holds the offices of Imagineers of all types including those who deal with material arts, engineering and Disney's international ventures.

MICKEY'S OF GLENDALE: The Imagineering company store located adjacent to the Flower Building. It sells an ever-changing selection of exclusive Imagineering merchandise, most which features Imagineering logos, imagery and the department's mascot, Sorcerer Mickey.

MOTION BASE/ON-VEHICLE MOTION BASE: A built-in hydraulic system that can move a ride vehicle while it is in motion. First developed for the Indiana Jones and the Forbidden Eye attraction in 1995.

MOUNTAIN: At Disneyland Park, mountains are known for having the "most thrilling" attractions in them. Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain all act as weenies for their respective lands.

OHRC: Operational Hourly Ride Capacity. The amount of guests that can ride an attraction in one hour. For example, the OHRC of the Haunted Mansion is 2880, while Peter Pan's Flight is 720. An attraction with a high OHRC is called a "people eater".

OMNIMOVER: A ride vehicle invented by Imagineer Bob Gurr and Arrow Development. It is (usually) a dome shaped car mounted to a constantly moving track. The OmniMover can be programmed to twist and rotate to focus the guest's attention at a specific location and the high-sides of the vehicle limit the guest's peripheral vision. The track can be stopped to allow ADA guests to board. The OmniMover was first used in the Monsanto Adventures thru Inner Space attraction in 1967.

ONSTAGE: The front-facing part of Disneyland accessible to the guests. While onstage, cast members must keep in character as not to create "bad show" or contradiction.

OPEN HOUSE: A week-long event in which all of the upper-management of all of the Walt Disney divisions are invited to Imagineering to see what new and exciting things they are developing. Open House usually takes place near the end of October and takes about a month, if not longer to prepare for. It is a high-stress time for Imagineers and often includes elaborate installations and scripted presentations. Often projects will live or die depending on how well they are received in Open House.

The PARK: The causal term for Disneyland Resort or more specifically, Disneyland Park. A guest who visits both parks (Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure) in one day (or over several days) uses a ticket called a "Park Hopper".

PLUSSING/PLUSSING UP: The term for improving something at Disneyland Park. It can be as simple as a repaint or as elaborate as a complete re-theming of attraction or land.

PROTEIN SPILL: Cast member codeword for vomit. Also known as "Code V".

QUEUE: Term for a line of people or the space reserved for guests to line up.

The RANCH: Slang for the Circle D Ranch. Part of the original ranch that stood on the orange grove on which Disneyland was built. It housed the 14 horses backstage at Disneyland Park. The ranch was removed from the park in 2017 and the horses were relocated to a new ranch facility in nearby Norco, CA.

RIDE: An old Disneyland joke. Q: How many rides are there in Disneyland? A: One. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. All the rest are attractions.

RIDE ENVELOPE: An imaginary space that is kept between the ride vehicle and an object or fixture in an attraction to avoid any injury to a guest. A wooden spacer is often mounted to a ride vehicle to help gauge the ride envelope whenever a change or addition is made.

RIDE-SWAP: A courtesy extended to guests that allow one family member to swap line positions with another in order to give both parents the opportunity to ride an attraction with their child. Often taken advantage of by guests with ADA family members or very young children who have to be watched while their older siblings go on the ride.

RIDE VEHICLE: A term for any vehicle used on an attraction. Some ride vehicles are also called a "train".

ROPE DROP: An event that happens every morning at Disneyland Park when guests are first allowed in. The rope drop is often accompanied with fanfare such as a band, characters and cast members who "high-five" guests as they rush into the park.

SCREEN RIDE: A sarcastic term for a dark ride that relies heavily on digital projection screens and lacks or features very few audio-animatronics.

SECOND GATE: A second theme park that is built next to an existing one. At Disneyland Resort, Disney's California Adventure is the second gate.

SERVICE PIN: An award given to a cast member who has worked at Disneyland Park for 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, or 25+ years. The service pin is typically worn on the cast member's ID badge.

SHOW BUILDING: A warehouse-sized building that houses an attraction. Show building can be themed or unthemed depending on whether they are located in-front of or behind the berm. Show buildings that are behind the berm are painted "go-away green" as to not draw attention to them.

SINGLE RIDER: A separate queue for guests who want to ride an attraction alone. Often used as an "exploit" by experienced guests to avoid long waits in line.

SORCERER MICKEY: The official mascot of Imagineering. This version of Mickey Mouse waves a magic wand and wears red robes and a blue wizard's hat as first seen in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of 1940's Fantasia. This version appears on many Imagineering exclusive merchandise sold at Mickey's of Glendale.

STORY: Story is "king" at Imagineering. Everything is designed around story and storytelling.

THRC: Theoretical Hourly Ride Capacity. The amount of guests that can experience an attraction per hour. If the THRC estimate isn't high enough (in the low thousands) an attraction will not get made.

TRACKLESS RIDE SYSTEM: An attraction that utilizes a self-driving ride vehicle that can travel along a different path each time, giving the guest a different ride experience. First used in Pooh's Hunny Hunt attraction in 2000.

The TRAILER: The on-site base of operations of Imagineering at Disneyland. It held the offices of creative leads, project managers and other Imagineers who worked out of Disneyland. The trailer was located on the west-side of the park next to New Orleans Square.

TUBULAR STEEL: A circular steel rail that is used on many of Disneyland's roller-coasters. First used on the Matterhorn in 1959.

WARDROBE EXEMPT: A special consideration extended to Imagineering cast members (especially those working in creative fields) that do not require them to conform to the strictly enforced cast member dress code- known as the "Disney Look" - when working on-site.

WATER RIDE: An attraction that uses a boat as a ride vehicle. First used in the Motor Boat Cruise attraction in 1957.

WED ENTERPRISES: The original name of WDI, changed in 1986. WED stands for Walter Elias Disney.

WDI: Walt Disney Imagineering

WEENIE: A building or landmark that attracts a guest's eye and attention and influences their movement in that direction. Named after a trick used by canine actor's trainers who would wave a weenie (hot dog) in order to get the dogs attention and have them move to the off-screen trainer. Disneyland's Castle, mountains and land gateways are all considered weenies.

WHITE POWDER ALERT: Code word for when a cast member catches a guest who is emptying a loved one's cremated remains into an attraction. Supposedly, this is a common occurrence on the Haunted Mansion attraction. All remains dumped in this manner are vacuumed up.

WINDOW CEREMONY: A ceremony that is held when a cast member who has contributed to Disneyland's creation or development - usually an Imagineer - is promoted to the status of Disney Legend. The "credits" of the cast member are painted onto a window on Main Street USA. The Imagineer also receives a smaller version of the window as an award. This is the highest honor an Imagineer can receive.

Do you know of other Imagineering and Disneyland related terms not on this list? Please add them to the comments below!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Advice for inventors and publishers


My friend Richard shared an article with me entitled Ten Top Tips for Toy and Game Inventors - which comes from the book The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook by Richard Levy and Robert Weingarten.

1. Don’t take yourself or your idea too seriously. The world will survive without you and your game.
2. The race is not always to the swift but to those who keep running. A major component in success is persistence.
3. You cannot do it all yourself. Partner up. Share royalties. Remember: Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.
4. Keep your ego under control. Unchecked egocentricity is a major source of failure.
5. You’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Embrace a creative-failure methodology.
6. Do not invent just for the money or you will come up shortchanged.
7. Relationships are more important than transactions.
8. Learn to take rejection. Few games sell at the first pitch. Rejection is rehearsal before the big event.
9. Believe in yourself. Permit nothing to affect the integrity of your mind.
10. Sell yourself first, then your idea.
Which points do you need to work on?
After posting that online, someone suggested making a similar list for publishers working with designers. Here's my list
1. Have a clear idea of what you are and aren't looking for. "Totally original" and "fun" (all games should be fun, right?) are not solid goal posts for inventors to aim for. 
2. Even if you don't care for a prototype, provide feedback. This helps an inventor improve. 
3. Set clear and honest time lines. Let the inventor know how long it will take to review a prototype, even if its months or a year.
4. Treat the inventor as a partner, not as a contractor.
5. Pay advances and royalties on time.
6. Offer the inventor a contract that you yourself would be comfortable signing.
7. Keep in contact with your inventor. Even if there is no news, they will appreciate the message.
Keep the inventor/publisher relationship going after the game is signed - many inventors are also graphic designers, art directors or good at promotion.
9. Always give the inventor credit on the game. Be clear where that credit will appear - on the cover, on the box or in the rule book.
10. Provide the inventor at least one copy of the game. Don't make them negotiate for it.
What do you think? Do you have a point that you would change or add? Post it in the comments!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Evolve your sell-sheet!

 I am currently taking part in The Pitch Project - a competition in which game designers present their sell-sheets in the hopes of getting some pitch meetings with an impressive list of name board game publishers including Hasbro, The OP, Arcane Wonders, Renegade Games, AEG, WizKids, Stonemeier Games, Spin Master and many more!

I've submitted three pitches (so far), but the best thing that has come out of the process is the message board where all of the game designers are giving each other valuable feedback on their sell-sheets! This spirit of cooperation is one of the many reasons why I love the board game design community!

After reading the feedback on my own sell-sheet, I decided to go back and take a look at the evolution of one as it has improved over time. Let's take a look at the sell-sheet for my game Castle Climbers.

The first sell-sheet I created for Castle Climbers used my 1st version of the prototype featuring my hand-drawn, water-colored artwork! Obviously, I wanted to show it off... as well as recreate the castle wall that appears in the game. Note the character climbing up the wall while being menaced by the guardians in the windows - a strong visual element from the game. I've already come up with an OK catchphrase "Building the castle is easy... staying on it is the hard part!" and there is a brief description of game play but I am missing several important things! First off, I'm missing the "3 essentials": Number of players, Age of players and Play time. These should be on every sell-sheet as they are the first clue to the prospective publisher how to market your game.

Also missing is a components list. This is a list of all of the "things in the box". This is also very important to publishers as it gives them an idea of how much your game will cost. If your component list has 100's of miniatures or handfuls of custom dice, the publisher might pass because of the cost to make it.

Also missing is a good image of the game in action. I realize now that the images of the individual tiles doesn't give the viewer a good idea of the game in play or even how to play the game!

Finally, while horizontal orientation is not taboo, it doesn't play to the strength of the game's design: climbing the castle.

In version two, I've re-oriented the sheet vertically to make it feel more like the character is climbing the castle. Most of the same mistakes have been repeated, but at least I've added the "3 Essentials" to the sell-sheet.

Version three was created after I commissioned my daughter Evelyn to create artwork for the game. I now show the box cover, an OK photo of the game in action, but I'm still trying to recreate the wall using the artwork. The "3 Essentials" now have icons to help draw the eye and I have a component list, a better description of the game play and... maybe most important of all, contact information so potential publishers know where to contact me! (as well as a snazzy Bedbug Games company logo)

Version 4 represents the game after I streamlined the components list for potential a Kickstarter. I decide to take a new photo and labeled each part of game play with white text. I still think it's a cute idea, but it's also too cluttered for clear reading. Note the list of game play mechanisms (tile laying, take that, etc.) up near the top of the sheet. I actually entered this sell-sheet into a festival competition and was told it didn't clearly explain how the game was played.

Version 5 is the result of that festival feedback. I have now broken out the game play into their own little pictures with the big image of the castle in the middle. I also swapped out the picture of the treasure chest with the guardian. People are usually more interested in looking at characters than things. I was quite pleased with this sell-sheet until someone pointed out that I had organized the steps of the game play going down rather than across. Note, my contact information has been removed as per the rules of the Pitch Project contest.

The current final version (6) takes into account that feedback, so I have numbered each of the game play "call-outs" running from left to right, traveling downwards. This way you still get a good look at the castle (I couldn't find a good way to make the reader's eyes go from bottom to top to imitate the climb) and the game play is clearly explained to the reader. I'm pretty pleased with this final version, especially when you consider what it started as!

UPDATE: So, I wanted more feedback so I turned to Reddit. And man, o' man, did I get it. Several people complained about the fonts. One person said "my title font looked like it was made in Windows 95" and another said they hated the font used for the text. And even though their feedback was... raw... I still think it made some good points. So, I adjusted it again.

 I created a new logo for the game (I was inspired by the Clash of Clans logo - which has the right amount of silliness and medieval-ness I was looking for) and I changed the text. I moved some of the elements around to give the pictures on the left and the text a little more room for readability. I also noticed that several of my fellow designers were putting a "Tested at ProtoSpiel" logo on their sell-sheets and since I had done extensive testing of the game at several San Jose ProtoSpiel events, I figured it couldn't hurt. 

And to be honest, even though the feedback was a little tough to swallow, I think the sell-sheet is even better than before!

Do you have any suggestions to how to make this sell-sheet better? Do you have any sell-sheets you'd like to share? Post them in the comments below!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Six Pointers for VIRTUALLY Pitching to Publishers

In a previous post, I listed Six Pointers to Pitching Games to Publishers. That list is so 2019! It's 2020, baby! Times have changed! Everything is VIRTUAL!

So, you can't go to conventions to pitch your games. That doesn't mean you can't pitch your games! You can still pitch them VIRTUALLY! I've already pitched several games via Zoom and other video conferencing systems and while it is a bit tricky, it can be done. Here are SIX pointers for VIRTUALLY pitching your game via video conferencing.

1. Create a landing page: As you prepare for your pitch or if you want to give the publisher a "take-away" about your game, go virtual! Create a web page or blog site for your board game that shows a few images of the game in action, write a short blurb describing what's cool and unique about your game and describes the game play, and don't forget to list out the "3 essentials" (Player count, Player age and Play Time). Or you can post your sell-sheet on the web page. If you can afford it, try to secure an URL with the name of your game as the address.

You can also list your game on boardgamegeek.com - which allows you to upload photos of the game, set all of the essentials and even list the types of mechanisms that compose the game. You can upload your rule book or even print and play files.

2. Make a video: In a recent panel at San Diego Comic Con, several game publishers said that the majority of the pitches they received recently were videos. This means that you are going to have to learn how to make a video if you want to pitch your game. Don't worry, making a video isn't as hard as you might think... as long as you are prepared.

First, you need to know what to say! Play out what you are going to do. Place pieces within easy reach. "top deck" cards if you have to. Make the game play the way that you want it to. Once you've figured out your "spiel", it helps to practice it a few times first. If you aren't good at improvising, then I suggest writing a script. No one cares if you are reading from a script, just try to make your delivery natural sounding.

Then you need a camera. Unless you already have a digital camera, then great but a cell-phone camera works fine too. Many designers shoot the game from their point-of-view. That's fine as long as you can concentrate on what you are shooting and remember to focus on the game. Don't let the camera drift away from the table or components. If you find you are no good playing a game and filming at the same time, then try to get someone to help you. Just make sure they know what you are doing so you can choreograph the camera with whats going on in the game.

When shooting your game, keep it short (3 minutes or less) but take your time. Skip extraneous details like backstory and just focus on what the player does. If you are going to show of a card or component in the game, make sure you linger on it for a moment so the viewer can properly see it. (I usually give myself a "three count" while filming.) Make sure you go through the key points of the game including how many players, how long it takes and how to win the game.

If you can shoot the demo in one sitting, that's fine. If you can edit, then even better. I wouldn't get too fancy. As long as the sound is clear and legible, you don't need music or sound effects unless it is part of the game. Keep away from visual effects too. You are trying to simulate the experience of playing the game in person, not make some flashy Hollywood trailer!

Don't make the publisher have to download the video. It's best to upload your video to a host site such as YouTube or Vimeo or even link it to your BGG listing for the game. You can then easily send them the link to that site for review.

3. Learn Tabletop Simulator: Many game designers have created prototypes in Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia to test their games during the pandemic. While this is a great way to get "real live" people to play your prototype, be aware that making the virtual prototype is lot of effort and can get very frustrating without help. I have been wrestling with Tabletop Simulator since the start of the pandemic and I finally feel like I know what I'm doing.

The documentation for TTS isn't great, the interface is un-intuitive and you have to prepare files like cards individually rather than by pages - which might be different than how you might prepare them for print and play or production. I also had some size issues when importing in models based on the polygon count and rotation of the model, but thanks to the help from a few tech-savvy friends, I was able to translate my board game Rayguns and Rocketships to TTS.

Right now, I've been using TTS over Tabletopia as I already own it (it costs $19.99 on Steam) and it seems to be what the majority of players are using. Some of the better TTS tutorials I've found online are here:

General features: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MfuHyBoJGE
Helpful user short-cuts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cjWpm9kj-I
Making a prototype in TTS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AZwP4pKoP4 - Ludolodge has several other tutorials that are all quite good. Check them out!

If you know of other virtual prototyping programs, please list them in the comments!
4. Get a second camera: That camera that is installed into your laptop is great when you are Zooming with Mom, but it's a real hassle to use when trying to show off your game prototype. This is why I strongly recommend investing in a second camera. Most video conferencing programs allow you to switch between cameras.

If you set up your secondary camera ahead of time to show off your game, then it will be very easy for publishers to see your game. Or you can swoop it down close to show off the information on a card or some other component.

USB cameras are stupidly inexpensive right now. You can buy one on Amazon.com from $20 to $70 depending on quality and durability. Or you can do what I did, convert your Playstation's EyeToy camera into a USB one by downloading this free driver: https://download.cnet.com/EOCP-Driver-for-Sony-Eyetoy-USB-Camera/3000-2120_4-10532564.html

Just be aware that some video conferencing systems allow for easier switching of video sources than others. I've had great success with Zoom but haven't been able to switch cameras in Microsoft Teams.

5. Set-up in advance: I find it very helpful to have your game prototype set up in advance of the call. Take a half-hour ahead of the call to set up the game as if a few rounds have already been played. But make sure to "stack the deck" ahead of time to show off the game's best features.

You might want to set up more than one game, that way if you get done faster than you anticipated, you will have the other game ready to show. And if there isn't time to show any game, at least you were prepared.

6. The other things still apply: All of the pointers I shared in the previous post still apply - you are still pitching your game to a publisher, you just happen to be once removed.

Good luck and happy pitching!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Six Pointers For Pitching to Publishers

The documentary film Gamemaster (that I happen to be in) features scenes of game designers pitching games to publishers. Many say that pitching their game is their least favorite part of being a game designer; but to be honest, I really enjoy doing it! If you don't like to pitch games, allow me to share a few pointers with you.

But before I start, you might be asking "How do I even start pitching a game?" The first step is to find the publishers that you want to pitch to. I suggest that you research each company and the types of game the company makes. If they publish only hardcore Eurogames, then you might not want to pitch your space combat game to them. Create a list of potential publishers and then reach out to them via email. (You often can find a contact link via their website) Send them a brief but polite message along the lines of:

Dear Publisher,

I am a game designer with an exciting new game design called (game name here). I will be attending (name of convention) and if you have a few minutes, I would love to show (game name here) to you. Please contact me so we can coordinate our schedules. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

your name here

I would include a sell-sheet with this email which I talk about here - http://mrbossdesign.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-importance-of-sell-sheets.html - and your contact information.

Once a publisher accepts and schedules a pitch meeting (you usually only have 30 minutes to pitch, keep your pitch lean and tight!) (Also, give yourself time to get from one meeting to another - 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the show!) now you are ready to use these six pointers during your pitch meeting..

  1. Tell a story, not instructions: People loves stories. It's how we communicate with each other on a daily basis. However, when it comes to teaching someone how to play a game all too often the designer will rattle off a list of instructions instead - which can be boring and tedious. Even worse, your audience is trying to hold all of this information in their head about how to play the game - which can be hard, especially at a noisy and distracting place like a board game convention.

    Instead, tell "the story of your game." Who the player is, Why they are doing what they are doing, How they are going to win and how they can lose. Why the publisher should care about the game. A good game has a flow and a logical order of events. Use this to show them all of the actions they can do while playing the game. Don't focus on the "backstory" or the lore of your game - as much as you love your game's fiction, the publisher doesn't care. They just want to know how game is played.

    Practice telling this "story" before the show. The better you get at telling the game's story, the more entertaining you can make it. Don't be afraid to channel your inner "ham". Funny always helps. Just be careful not to overdo it. In addition, I avoid using hyperbole like "this is the best game ever" and I never tear down other games to make my own sound better. ("This is like Catan, but much better.") You never know if the designer of that game is sitting right there with you!

2.  Cheat (but just a little): In order to give a great demo of your game, you might have to "stack the deck" in your game's favor... just a little bit. You might want the most impressive combo in your game to "just happen" during the demo or you might want to show off a particularly funny or cool card from the game. It's OK to do this, you're not be dishonest, you are just showing your game in the best possible light.

Practice what your "best game" might feel like and make sure that you are ready to quickly set up and show your game. It's always better to simulate a game "in-progress" than from the beginning. You will almost NEVER get to play more than a round or two of your game. The more complex your game is, the most likely you will have to be prepared to do this during your pitch. Also, practice putting game away quickly so you don't lose or damage anything as you hurry to leave.

3. Read body language: There are many of websites and books that can teach you how to read body language. I won't recount them here, but you must realize that a game pitch is essentially an job interview for your game (and you!). Treat the pitch the same way - arrive on time (or better, early), dress appropriately, and be polite.

During the pitch, if you are observant, you can tell whether you are doing well just by seeing how others are reacting to you. In the above image, Ryan (right) is smiling, leaning forward and his "system" is open - he is interested in what I have to say and maybe even the game I am pitching; while John (left) is uncertain, leaning back and has what is known as a "closed system" (arms crossed is a big "tell") - which indicates he isn't convinced with what I am showing him. I can try to get him to "open up" by addressing John more, or perhaps use him in a positive example about my game. If I can get John to "open his system up" during the pitch, that's a good sign that I am headed in the right direction.

4. Bring a back-up: A story. I was packing for a ProtoSpiel where I was running demos for a couple of prototypes. I had a prototype for a small party game that I almost didn't bring with me because I didn't want to "muddy the waters." It is possible to bring too many games with you to a show. I usually try to bring two - a "marquee" game that I spend most of my time and effort promoting and a secondary game to pitch in case there is an opportunity to do so. If you bring more than that, you end up carrying around too many games - which can get very heavy!

Despite this, I ended up bringing the game with me. At the show, I ran into a publisher who I had always wanted to work with. I asked if he had time to look at one of my games and he said he only had 15 minutes. I realized the only game that short was the little party game. We played a few rounds. Long story short, he loved the game and we made a handshake deal on the spot to sign the game. (It didn't get published in the end, but that OK, it happens.)

The lesson is, if I hadn't brought the game with me and I wouldn't have signed the game. If you aren't sure, bring it with you. You never know what might happen!

5. Leave a "take-away": Sell-sheet and business cards might seem old-fashioned but publishers look at many games over the course of a convention. Without these visual reminders of your game, they might forget about you after the show.

Another thing that game designers bring are extra copies of a game. I am torn about leaving a prototype with a publisher. Giving a prototype to a publisher in no guarantee that it will be published. I often can't afford more than one or two copies of one of my games (printing prototypes can get expensive) and leaving one with a publisher to evaluate means I have one less copy to use for other pitches or for demos at a show

Additionally, publishers usually don't look at your prototype right away (They have other shows to attend and their own projects to work on) I know some designers who have waited months or longer for a publisher to get around to playing their prototype. Most publishers I know have a big stack of these prototypes to play and only so much time to do so. I find it much better to try to play the game (or at least a few rounds) in person so that way you know they have looked at it and you have been able to present it in the best possible light the first time they play it.

6. Always thank them: No matter what the outcome is of your pitch; no matter how badly it went; no matter how much they didn't like your game; always thank the publisher for their time. Not only is it polite, but even if you don't sell your game, you are selling yourself. There might be other opportunities in the future for you to work with that publisher and no one wants to work with a rude jerk. The game industry is too small and word gets around. "Be friendly, be helpful and be grateful" has served me well in my career.

I hope you have found this advice to be helpful. I wish you the best of luck with your pitches!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scott Rogers, Game Designer on Patreon!

I now have a Patreon page!

There are three extremely reasonable tiers (The Scholar of the Black Notebooks, Guardian of the Components and Champion of the Prototypes) which get you get access to behind-the-scenes of the game design process, exclusive video content, you can help me design a game and every month, a PRINT AND PLAY GAME for you to play at home!

Some of the PRINT AND PLAY GAMES include "I am NOT the Werewolf" - a fun werewolf variant, SCRAM! - a light and fast strategic game and PIZZATOWN - a pick-up and deliver game for the whole family! 

To JOIN, just click on the link below! I appreciate your support in advance and look forward to having you join in on the fun!

Join Scott's Patreon!