Design vs. Development: My Bane

Posted: October 15, 2014 in Gaming

In the last two years, I have completed 91 products for Post World Games, not to mention two for souljar (plus work on two more), six for Pinnacle, one for Floating Vagabond, and some graphic design projects here in there. And while it sounds like I’m bragging, I assure you I am not.

Everyone has a designer niche. At least, anyone whose made more than three things has a designer niche. Reiner Knizia is very good at puzzles with one dynamic quirk that turns it all into a game. Robin Laws is a genius at taking simple concepts and making them noteworthy. John Harper continually astounds me with his world ideas, though I wish he’d step away from AW for a moment.

If I have a niche, it’s the speed at which I write and design. But that didn’t happen overnight.

(Actually, it did. My first book in the gaming industry, I once did 10,000 words in a day.)

But that doesn’t mean all those words were good and I’ve certainly learned to write more concisely now. The Protocol Series is proof of that.

Of late, I’ve been inventing more and more ideas for myself. I have 20 different projects in development.


Plus 11 Toolcard decks.

And that’s not a good thing. I’m the bottleneck of a system I’ve created where the design AND development have to go through me. Ask anyone in gaming, no one should develop their own work. But Post World Games isn’t profitable enough to hire someone and I’m not slowing down on what I design, so I’m reaching a point where I will eventually just curl into a ball and never come out again.

Hyperbole aside, the role of the designer and developer are very different. I’ll give you an example.

I wrote a game called The Last 12 Hours.


The concept works. The subculture of films it draws from is narrow (so it’s hard to market the concept). And after three playtests, it is clear that the mechanics are solid.


Because of the nature of this game, it needs A LOT of advice, navigating people through the exact kind of game it is. Which is fine, I have no problem making some games anemic (the furnace is 1 page), while making some other games fatter (this is already 40 pages and needs about 20 more pages of advice).

But all of that takes time to do.

I’ve already spent 20 hours writing and another 15 hours playing and developing it. I suspect more graphics, writing and editing, will be another 20 hours of work.

And this is just one game of about 10 I expect to have out in the next three to four months!

All of this back end work is development time, not design time. Which brings me to my point: Designing games is easy. I think I’ve proved that with over 100 products in the last two years, but development is the tough skill. Development means taking a design idea, cutting out the fat, exposing the weaknesses, adding the soft edges and graphics that make the game easier to use, and polishing it all up so it doesn’t look like someone’s dog chewed on it.

I can come up with a new dice mechanic for an RPG in about 10-15 minutes. But it would take two hours to write it up effectively and then a week for a developer to make it useable. The developer’s skill set cannot be underscored enough.

And because I’m just one guy, it slows me down a lot.

In the past two years, I’ve had over a dozen people approach me to be interns, helpers, designers, or to just be involved in game design in some capacity. And I always do the same thing. I had them an unfinished game document (of late, the same one), and I ask them to finish it. Not to edit it. To finish it. Show me what you would do with this product. Don’t change the rules, fix the presentation, organization, and flow. Show me what YOU would do with this game.

You want to be a writer? Learn to be an editor first.

You want to be a designer? Learn to a developer first.

The world doesn’t need anymore proofreaders.

If you don’t understand how your work affects the project, you’ll never be effective as a designer, writer, artist, graphic designer, and so on. The best lesson I can teach anyone is how to effectively deconstruct something and build it back again. That’s what a good developer does.

To date, none of the people who tried out as ‘interns’ for me, succeeded at fixing the document. No one was able to turn a concept into a finished product. Presently, that document is in yet another pair of hands and has been for almost a month. We’ll see what comes of it.

In the meantime, I have games to write and people to disappoint.

Protocol Gets Reviewed on Geek Mash

Posted: October 14, 2014 in Gaming

Here’s some art by Felipe Gaona


Here’s the link

Here’s where to buy it

Interview on Farsight Blogger

Posted: October 8, 2014 in Gaming

Look at me, getting the interview.

Protocol Character Sheet, Improvement

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Gaming


Tinkering with a new design for the 2nd Edition of Protocol. Feel free to use this in the meantime.

The Carcass: Some Thoughts

Posted: September 7, 2014 in Gaming


For whatever reason, I am extremely proud of the Carcass. Maybe it’s the fast turn around to make the game. The mean spirit of play. The fact that it’s not a copy of other post-apoc games. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it could not have happened without a lot of angst for passive aggressive behavior. Reading book after book from indie designers, I see a lot of passive language. Stricture instead of structure.

Maybe. Should. Try. Will. Soft, indirect language meant to guide and hand-hold through the process of avoiding a true experience.

What exactly do you want me to do with this?

The Carcass is a byproduct of my love of gaming AND my our philosophies about culture. Not just modern America, but thousands of years of history.

This game is not safe. It is not soft. It is not careful with the language.

The Carcass is something I’m extremely proud of. It doesn’t treat you like a child. It doesn’t talk down to you. And it doesn’t tell you when to take a break.


Orc Hospital Kickstarter is Live…

Posted: September 4, 2014 in Gaming


And. Here are the rules. They are still in editing, but pretty close to finished. Enjoy.


the furnace

Posted: August 20, 2014 in Gaming

furnace6x6the furnace is a story roleplaying game about WWI soldiers fighting in the trenches. There is no gamemaster. Players take turn framing scenes. All the rules you need are right here (you also need a deck of cards and two six-sided dice). Each character is a soldier on the Western Front, with someone waiting for them at home. Players take turns directing one of three scene types: vignettes, interludes, and ensembles.

jp06 Darkdarkfantasy jp06 Darkdarkfantasy

Gencon 2014

Posted: August 8, 2014 in Gaming

Hey Everyone.

I’m packed and ready to go to Gencon.

I have a booth (2730) which I’m sharing with Souljar Games.

I’ll have Carcass there. King for a Day. Solomon Guild. Protocol. Toolcards. And a new game just for GENCON… the furnace.

Souljar will have dice crawl, torn armor, and cairn, plus some maps for sale.

There’s also a special card for Dice Crawl GENCON customers.

It’s a secret.

We have stickers, bonus dice, and a gumball machine at the booth.

I’ll be playing games, demoing games, gaming games, and also games.

I’ll also be at the Trade Day demo night, room 205 of the JW Marriott at 6pm on Wednesday (before the con). I’ll be showing off dice crawl to stores. As well as Torn Armor.

Whew. Maybe I’ll get a minute to eat or drink.


Posted: July 29, 2014 in Gaming


A new review of Toolcards can be found here.