Bez ShahriariUnited Kingdom
Sometimes we talk about booardgamers being good people. After all, you need to sit across the table from someone. If you were really a jerk, you'd know about it.
But note that social proximity (and the risk of being quickly punished, without the shield of anonymity) isn't unique to boardgaming.
Sports are similar. Partner dancing is even more intimate.
Sometimes someone is a jerk (or worse) and no-one wants to say anything. In RPG communities, this is often called the 'missing step problem'.
Ultimately, it's up to the good folk to call others out on their shit.
Otherwise, toxic behaviour can become accepted and even more prevalent.
I am a full-time designer/artist/self-publisher and I am available for freelance work. I go to cons as a trader and help run the all-day Friday playtest sessions in London. I left my last 'real' job in 2014. I was getting benefits for a few years. I'm currently writing sporadically, but getting back into the habit of daily posts. If you have any questions/topics you'd like me to address, send me a geekmail and I'll probably address the topic within a week.
Archive for 'rants'
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27 Jan 2020
Inspired by this thread on FB:
To some extent, I'm in a position to try to be the change I want to be. However, some things (good retail alternatives to shrink-wrap) aren't offered as options by printers, and some things (box size) are an arms race and anyone not following suit is at a disadvantage (shelf presence in shops/cafes/cons/psychology of worth). But someone needs to take a stand.
Honestly, for massive change, we need to lobby Asmodee/Hasbro. So, if you agree that smaller boxes are needed, then you can do your bit by telling off companies that produces overly large boxes and also voting with your wallet (refusing to buy their stuff and telling them that you are doing this).
Ultimately, most of what I'd like to see comes down to honesty and prioritising the consumers rather than marketability and profit.
No production waste.
No unecessary waste in the final product. That is impossible of course, but it's the dream.
Honesty in playercount and play length.
I like Between 2 Cities, which says '3-7p' on the side, and then mentions '1-2p variant' in smaller writing. I feel like if a given playercount is on the box, then it should be worth buying/having even if you ONLY play it at that playercount. As such, I'll be changing Kitty Cataclysm to 3-5p for 2nd edition. Yes, it's more restrictive and might lose me a few sales, but over the past year I have come to agree with folk who say that 2p is a slightly lesser experience.
If your playtime ranges from 75-150 minutes, and you have over 700 pieces of data from playtests, then putting '115 minutes' seems wrong. Just plonking down the median, or mean, is a bit misleading. I would advocate for some sort of standardisation - I would like for a playtime to be a range, that covers 85% of FIRST TIME plays where folk are learning from the rulebook. If the playtime is dependent upon playercount, I'd like that mentioned. For hobby games, maybe even have a different time listed for each playercount if it varies a lot.
If there's a lot of randomness or variability in length, I think that 'ish' conveys a lot of information.
Smaller boxes in general.
It's one of my most-loathed things in games. Dread Curse is fantastic, but I HATE that the components could be easily stored in a box 1/4 the size.
Clearly stating how long and how many players can play a game.
Both on the box and in the manual. I find it surprising how many boxes/manuals are missing this info.
General desire to make a good thing.
Spending a little longer on development. Better rules writing. More proof-reading.
Being willing to make changes between different editions of the game.
Continuing to absorb feedback. Unless it's a CCG, I'm all for tweaking numbers for a future edition. And you can always work to improve clarity in wording, graphic design, or even change entire mechanisms if it's going to result in a clearly better game.
There's a saying that a game is often played more after a day of release, than in the entire design/dev run-up to that. You'll inevitable get some feedback. Maybe even some startling insights! Why not use that?
So, those are my opinions.
Do you disagree with any? Do you have any to add?
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29 Dec 2018
I was frankly shocked to read (on a FB group) someone claiming that EVERY boardgame has a typo.
Inspired by the Knuth Reward Cheques, I'll adopt a reward system starting with Wibbell++ 2nd edition and Kitty Cataclysm.
If anyone finds any typos in Yogi (English edition) or any game I release in 2019 onwards, I will:
- pay you the UK RRP via Paypal or another method
- send you a unique comic congratulating you
- send a free copy of the next printing.
(Just for the first person to spot each mistake.)
That seems like a good motivation for folk to let me know about my mistakes and help me make my games as perfect as possible.
I know that perfection is unattainable but it appalls me to hear people saying that 2 typos on a box cover isn't a big deal.
Imperfections and mistakes aren't a reason to start making any creator feel bad. Swearing and personal attacks are often unnecessary. But folk should strive for a level of quality.
In the meantime, I am going to claim that Yogi (the English edition at least) has no typos.
Edit: In the instance that a new edition of a given ruleset has been mass produced, the previous version might no longer be eligible. So if you're reading this in 2037, all the games in Wibbell++ 2nd edition will almost certainly have been reprinted.
I will be upload some rules onto BGG at some point. However, this will be after release. You can either buy the game(s) or wait a few months for me to upload stuff.
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There are a few groups you could playtest with.
- friends/family who are interested in you/your success
- curious strangers
- folk who genuinely enjoy playing your game(s)
- other game designers, who hope for reciprocation
Everyone has their own motivations. Game designers usually test for reciprocation.
It's a useful, educational exercise to playtest other people's things. In investigating your own thoughts, you learn to express yourself better, put forward suggestions that are more in keeping with what the game actually is, observe how others run a playtest...
But most designers go to a playtest session hoping to get their own game tested.
As a rule of thumb, I think you should playtest other people's things for as many hours as other folk spend on your thing. So if 4 folk play your game for an hour, it's reasonable to spend 4 hours playing other people's stuff. At a meetup full of designers, that's the only way that everyone will get a fair shot.
Of course, it's not a hard line.
At the events I frequent, we try to play everyone's game if we can.
But coming along for 90 minutes, to play your own game with a few folk, then heading off is cheekier than I think is reasonable.
If you're coming over and your game takes 2/3 of the day and uses up all 5 attendees and a couple of folk can't test their stuff as a result... at least show some gratitude at the end of it.
If you're just coming along and monopolising the time of folk who also want to get their own stuff to the table, that seems unreasonable to me.
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25 Jun 2018
When I call a game 'finished', I am of course acknowledging that nothing is ever finished. Games will continue to evolve and change. Even Yogi will be (very very slightly) changed in its next printing and I think that designers should feel free to continue improving the rules to their games, even after publication.
I was (and remain) proud of In A Bind, but when it was turned into Yogi, I asked Gigamic to remove a card. "Right hand right of right elbow" took people a second or so to work out at the best of times. When folk were stupidly drunk, they were able to enjoy the entire game EXCEPT for this one card.
Demoing it at shops, conventions and whatnot, I got to see a ridiculous number of games being played. You could argue that the copies I sold whilst at cons/shops was subsidising post-publication-playtesting, although that might an uncharitable way of looking at it.
Typically, a game will be played more in the month of its release than all the years before publication. Most of those games won't be seen by you, but you will get feedback. If you have folk enjoying your thing, you might see unsolicited videos, comments, photos and all sorts of other things that could inform some changes for the 2nd edition.
And maybe you grow as a designer. Maybe you come to some realisation.
Prolix became Wordsy.
David Sirlin isn't shy about improving their designs and making some functional changes between editions of a game.
Even though it's less than a year since release, 5 of the games I included with the 1st edition of Wibbell++ are changed. Alphabetickell has new rules thanks to the input of Mick Wood. Faybell slightly simplified thanks to observing drunken folk. Wibbell resets earlier based on my realisations and personal growth after observing several hundred games at Essen.
You might conclude that someone with a much larger budget could delay the launch of a game by a year, take a few pre-production copies around the world, and avoid any changes post-realease. But would I have had hundreds of folk willing to play Wibbell at Essen if I didn't have a stack of copies behind me, validating itself and it wasn't something that folk were able to buy?
I don't know. My observations would likely have been different - both in quantity and quality.
Furthermore, when would it be OK to release? Before sending files to print, I had played hundreds of games. I had no reason to assume that I would come across some realisation.
There are infinite situations that could arise and imagining that a designer or developer can have perfect knowledge of a strategically interesting game is folly. Maybe next week something will make me completely re-evaluate everything about Grabbell. Or maybe in a year. Or a decade. Or never. There is a tiny chance that it might be perfect already.
There is a risk of dividing - or confusing - the audience. If a few folk meet to play a game and are unsure what rules they are all playing by, that's an issue.
Beyond that, I can't think of any reason NOT to implement any improvements that occur.
As long as a game is cared for, it is never finished.
You could continue working on it forever - paying attention to folk playing, taking note of everything said about it online, analysing all the data and continuing to ponder all the things that could be changed.
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You may have heard about Chessex dice moving out of the UK.
It made perfect financial sense - they had more customers in the rest of the EU than UK and this allows them to avoid import tax. It makes their future a bit more secure, unlike the relationship between Britain and the mainland.
It's (to my knowledge) the first company moving away because of Brexit. It probably won't be the last.
Personally, I'm going to try to print my next next thing before Brexit, to avoid potential charges/complications.
I don't know what's going to happen when visiting Essen. It'll maybe be a bit more of a hassle - we probably won't be able to just drive all our stock over without charge or paperwork.
Tinkerbot Games had a big loss after the initial announcement, due to the changing exchange rates.
These things are effecting problems already.
As humans, we have an unhealthy fear of change. It's important to consider the benefits of changes and avoid the bias towards the status quo. Is this such an instance?
Honestly, I struggle to understand any benefits at all.
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13 May 2018
I recently heard Mark Rosewater talking about constructive criticism. It's an episode that anyone reading this should probably listen to. And I recommend a lot of episodes of that podcast.
Today, I read on FB about a KS campaign, where some folk gave criticism and there was some agression in the KS comments.
It makes me wonder about the division of responsibility between giving good criticism and being good at accepting criticism.
I don't want to get bogged down talking only about the KS above. We don't know all the specifics and the wider question is more interesting (and applicable to ourselves) than wondering aloud who behaved better and judging folk.
As a critic, ask yourself: Why are you giving feedback?
Sometimes, we love something (e.g. MtG) and we want it to be even better.
Maybe we are enjoying the simple act of critical thinking.
Perhaps we want to help others make better things. Maybe we love boardgames and want every boardgame to be the best it can be.
Often, I might give feedback out of a sense of duty/work. Others come to Playtest UK to improve their games. Sometimes, I am even paid an hourly wage to help improve games.
There are a few who do criticise purely as a way to lash out/belittle others, given their own insecurities or problems.
Maybe we just believe that we are being kind to the creator.
I think that there are a lot of folk who think that - by giving feedback and helping an individual make better things in the future and become more self-aware - we are being lovely, kind people. In truth, many people have no interest in this sort of feedback.
To quote Spacehog, "You don't have to be cruel to be kind." Sometimes, the greater kindness is simply to ignore something you see as inept. Specially if it's a first attempt, the person responsible will probably learn.
If you are criticising, then absolutely try to avoid referring to the creator. Your criticisms should be of what they made and the way they acted - not them as a person.
Try to mention something you like. That can be both informative - telling them something to avoid removing - and help defend any ego. Nowadays, I try to always do this with newcomers to the Playtest UK meetups. Regulars are more seasoned and generally happier to focus on possible improvements. However, in the attempt to search for possible improvements, it's easy to forget to tell someone all the things we like about their creation.This touches upon my starting statement. Where is the division of responsibility?
My initial response is that there is none.
Everyone is responsible for everything.
You should not be a dick.
But if others are a dick to you, then you should - ideally - defuse the situation or walk away rather than escalating it or reacting with despondence.
That's easier to say than do. Sometimes, it can be helpful to vocalise how you're feeling.
It's easy to focus on the negative reviews and BGG comments. Sometimes, it's useful to remove the way the message is delivered and consider the underlying message. Sometimes, the correct response is simply to dismiss that comment/review - they may simply be outside the target audience. You can never please anyone.
It is hard work and it's nigh-impossible to not sometimes associate your creations as an extension of yourself. If you have any success or put yourself in the public eye, you will get negative feedback, sometimes delivered badly, and there may be times when you get a bit sad.
Just as design is a skill, so is feedback and social interaction.
Try to not think too badly of those who have to yet develop this skill. :-p
Seriously, if you think of it as a skill that is simply underdeveloped, that may give you pause and help you walk away. Some people may not have the aptitude for it. This could lead to a toxic situation and focusing on irelevant or badly-delivered criticism could lead to you poisoning yourself.
If you are a person trying to engage with the wider world, then I wish you all the best with avoiding this while still taking those valuable nuggets of criticism and being humble enough to admit that nothing is perfect.
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21 Apr 2018
I had a wonderful day today. Part of it was the sun, the fact that I spent several hours not thinking about work and simply exploring the beach with two wonderful hosts in Broadstairs, Kent.
I'd met Jason just over a year ago. He helped me out at Dragonmeet in December and kindly agreed to host me this weekend. I was privileged to be able to enjoy the sublime hosting of his husband and wider family.
This evening, we went to set up at Uncon. It was relaxed. A 200-ish person convention that has pre-sold about 3x as many tickets as there were attendees last time. As I was setting up (attaching a few hundred cat pictures to a wall), I chatted to a couple of designers and a few of the hosts. I talked to Jason, and we both played the melodica as a break. The space itself was light and airy. Certainly, space was not at a massive premium and the skylights made it a more joyous venue than nearly any other convention's space I've seen.
It was a wonderful, relaxed, prelude to the first day.
Jay offered Jason and I a lift to the pub, where some 'day 0' shenanigans were going on, and then back home. I chatted to a few folk, and half-way through my bottle of ale, I offered to show Wibbell to a new gamer, Chris. We were joined by 2 others - Paul* and Jason - and I saw such joy expressed.
I did enjoy it myself (a good sign after several hundred games) but - more importantly - everyone else also seemed to. And Jason was proud to beat me, saying he had been practising.
This is the best part of being a small publisher. Getting to demo something and seeing people absolutely love it.
As a designer, you might be able to enjoy this. Certainly, David G. Royffe was enjoying watching people play Pylos at Essen 2017 and - if you are exceptionally lucky - a publisher may fly the designer to an event, where you can see people play your game.
There is, however, a unique satisfaction for self-publishers. Seeing people enjoy a game that not only you helped bring to life, but spawned and delivered, having nurtured its life, considered every step of its upbringing, and continuing to care for it as it meets the public.
*One of the many Pauls, since they seem to be a growing force amongst gamers and one to be reckoned with.
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20 Apr 2018
I was approached a few days ago by someone who asked my for guidance on getting their game published. Did I work closely with publishers? What was my 'secret'?
I told this person that I didn't really have a secret.
I just love games, have been thinking about them most of my life, have read a ridiculous amount of material, and maybe that means that I'm more able to make stuff.**************
I've been making games for decades. My earliest things were absolutely shite, but in making them, and later realising their lack of quality, I became more able to separate the worth of my creations with the worth of me as a person. Making bad things doesn't make you a bad person, but some first-time designers seem to believe that it does.
My dad remembers me playing story games with him, inspired by Fighting Fantasy, I would play the GM and ask my dad to choose various paths.
I remember drawing maps and designing levels for various computer games that will never be made. I programmed games on the BBC computer and then the TI-83. My classmates played through an entire action RPG that I'd programmed for the calculator.
I remember a copy of Escape from Colditz that was missing the rules. I invented them, along with one of my brothers.
I once bought a strange set of pieces for £1, hoping to work out a game to play with it.
I have more practise than a new designer.**************
I have analysed a lot of games. I have probably played more games than anyone else living on my street. To be fair, that's probably true of you, too, if you're reading this.
Card games, videogames, boardgames, tiny flash games... they all have a lot of lessons to teach.
On Newgrounds.com, I left reviews of literally thousands of things. Whilst some might just write a comment, I'd always try to leave a positive - no matter how much I hated a thing - and a negative - no matter how much I loved it. I learned that difficulty is not inherently interesting. I realised the danger of presenting too many choices.
It's about analysing things at a deeper level than just playing things and saying whether you like it or not. After spending decades wondering why a published game is good or bad, you can apply that same thinking to your own output.
Playing some strategic games can teach you about the sorts of choices made at a high level - even if you never play at a national level.
Teaching boardgames to tens of international students every week can teach you the difference between games about systems (e.g. Bohnanza, despite the trading) and games about people (e.g. Say Anything).**************
I've been taught many lessons. When I was 11 or 12, a friend's dad explained the probability of a pair of dice to me.
Ludology taught me the concept of expectation value.
There are many more lessons that I have gathered from everything I've read, listened to or watched.
By being genuinely interested, I have acquired a lot more knowledge.**************
I have lived vicariously. Reading through all of Mark Rosewater's things taught me so much lessons. He doesn't share everything of course. But it's almost like acquiring the knowledge of another designer when I wasn't able to get playtesters or really spend time working on my own non-digital things.
I need to remind myself sometimes to stop speaking and listen more when I can. Talking through stuff can be a great way to solidify thoughts (part of the reason why I started my radio show). However, listening to someone else's methods and what they managed to achieve can help so much.
In the past 5 years, there has been an explosion of online material about boardgame design.**************
I also had friends to help me. Dave Cousins showed In A Bind to Gigamic on my behalf, leading to Yogi.
I think that he wouldn't have done that if it wasn't already a great game though.
But yes - I do want to give a shout-out to so many people. Ben Neumann, Danish Frank, Rob Harris, Forrest Bower... so many people helped In A Bind become the game it is. I am privileged to live in a place with a dense population.**************
I'm not trying to say I'm so amazing - maybe I am in some ways, and I'm also terrible in others.
It just so happens that I'm incredibly interested in games. I fucking love games.
And when you're passionate about something, you're probably going to acquire a fair bit of knowledge and experience - whether directly, or vicariously.**************
There is a lot of info. This video is one of my favourites.
I'm not saying that there's no room for 'outsider' artists. I love the idea of new folk making games, perhaps making new things that no-one who grew up with the hobby would make.
I think I just got a bit defensive at the notion of me having a secret.
My 'secret' is just that I spent a lot of time learning all I could, making all I could and making many terrible things until eventually I made something worth publishing.
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It's natural to compare yourself to others.
Whilst it's useful to consider how you can grow as an individual - as a creator, or as a person in the wider context of the world - it can also be unhealthy if it fills you with envy for others or resentment at yourself.
Here are some spur-of-the-moment thoughts as to how we can have a healthier approach to the way we see ourselves within society.
I'm not saying I manage to do all of this, but it's a continual process.
1 - Try to transform envy into admiration.
I can admire your skills or successes without being envious. Envy suggests a certain amount of entitlement. That it should have happened to me rather than you. It's not about who 'deserves' something. We all know about the role that luck plays in successes.
Many folk work hard behind the scenes. You can assume the best of people. Maybe you will get your break if you carry on working hard, and learning how to work smarter. Or maybe you won't. Either way, try to remember that the world is fickle and that one person's success doesn't mean that you deserve anything.
2 - Whatever you do is valid.
It's easy for me to look at how many hours someone works and feel that I'm just eternally a slacker. Or compare our numbers of KS backers, sales, games produced or whatever.
There are all sorts of maxims revolving around the notions that you need to playtest X times or you should do X.
The concepts of 'need' and 'should' are unhealthy. Honestly, your process should be a case of, "Whatever works best for you, do that. Learn from others by all means, but remember that you are a unique individual."
And even the results can vary. I heard a designer/publisher say something like, "If you're printing fewer than 5,000 copies, why bother?" Maybe that works for them. They've been working for years and have established a big enough audience that they could do a minimum print run that I'd massively struggle to sell through.
But there is space in the wider landscape of gaming for those who sell millions, those who sell ten or so copies a year and everything in between. Maybe you want to make laser-cut stuff and your eventual form of success is selling 50 copies a year.
3 - Every project is different.
You can't even compare yourself to your past self.
My future things are probably not going to sell as well as IAB/Yogi will. However, just as goals and measures of success can vary from person to person, they can also vary based on the project in question.
Success can be measured along many axes and there is probably some reason that Leslie Scott or Reiner Knizia (or whatever other person you care to think of) could admire you.
I'm sure there are other tips that I can't think of right now.
What do you try to think of/remember in order to avoid unhealthy comparisons?
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