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Publishing Diary: Lair, or It's A Long Story

Banana Chan
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It's currently Saturday night, a couple of hours after a Friendsgiving day full of creamed ham and playing the fifth round of a game I like to call: "What Else Can We Fit Into a Food Processor to Make a Spread?" The answer to that is anything that can fit into a food processor and can be mixed with fat or some kind of liquid substance. I'm sitting here on a grey couch with cheese stains and a sequined Nicolas Cage face as I type this out. Why am I telling you all of this? W. Eric Martin reached out to me a while ago to write this publisher diary. He's wonderful, and he's great to chat with, but I'm also on my third helping of processed food spread — which is also why I think right now is the best time for me to write this diary. (Sorry, Eric.)

Now that you know me as the food drunk narrator behind this, let me formally introduce myself. My name is Banana Chan. I'm the owner of a small box board/card game publishing company called Game and a Curry. I also write RPGs (larps and tabletop), flavor text for board games, and short stories. I'm a Capricorn, and that should tell you a lot about me.

It's Honestly All About the Lasers

I got my start in board games about seven years ago. My partner Herb and I wrote reviews of games and restaurants. (Hence the name "Game and a Curry"; we spent a lot of time in Japanese curry houses back in the day.) During that time, we also met many people in the board game industry.

One of those people was Tam. He showed us his game, Lair, which was (and I quote) "a big game in a little box". It's a worker placement game that's easy to understand and set up. Players are super villains who are trying to keep their super villain boss happy by building out this underground (wait for it) lair. You have minions who will do all the heavy lifting for you, building rooms with both laser sharks and regular lasers. As you burrow deeper and deeper into the ground, you also get closer to the end of the scoretrack. The person who reaches the end first wins. The game looked great and played great, and I was really impressed.


Getting to Know Yourself

Back then, I was also struggling with my mental health. Anxiety is one hell of a state to be in. Things were slow to start, and I was no stranger to the occasional nervous breakdown. Coming from a studio art background, I felt my world was caving in; I wasn't creating as much as I used to in art school. When I got my graduate degree in management, I got even worse.

But I didn't stop going to conventions. I found myself getting closer to RPG and storygaming folx. I started writing and creating again after a couple of years of creative neglect. I also discovered something called therapy...which was hit and miss the first, say, seven therapists I saw. But when I finally found the right match, I got focused.

Around this time, I also discovered that I wanted to get into publishing. Not for the money because, let's face it, it's hard to make money in this industry as a small indie, but to get my designer friends' games into people's hands. I wanted to provide people with interesting experiences through games, whether through board games or roleplaying games.

Our first game, Yeah! Diamonds by Dave Beever and Bryan Soriano, was small and easy for kids and new gamers to pick up. Our second game, Judge Dredd: Block War by Herb Ferman, was for an older audience, and it got us to a place where we felt comfortable with moving forward with more games — and that's where Lair came back in. It had been six years when we realized the game still hadn't been picked up yet. We played the latest iteration, and we realized, hey, maybe we have the funds to do this. And we did. This introductory worker placement game has honestly been in the works for years. (Heck, the New York gaming group will tell you.) And that's when we finally said enough was enough and signed a contract with Tam to get the game onto shelves.

The Process

I won't bore you with all the details, but think of it like a heist movie. You have your team: Tam, the designer himself, the strategic one with the brains, who's a bit of a mad scientist himself. You've got Udara Chinthaka, the artist, focused, yet flexible with different styles. Hayley Birch, the editor — detail-oriented, wise, and in need of more screen time in this movie. Next you have Herb Ferman, the graphic designer, the guy who talks to printers, think of him as the muscle. And then you have me. Think of me as George Clooney.

Like any good heist movie, this is the part where Clooney tells you the plan. After multiple rounds of playtesting, developing, and iterating, the game finally got to a good place. The art was ready, the editing was all set, and then it was sent to the printers. Now we've got our first few units ready for PAX Unplugged 2019, with the rest of the games on their way over, but the movie's not over yet. Now we see whether our hard work pays off.

I could say that the publishing journey is simple, but it isn't. It's time-consuming, it's energy-draining, and you never know what will happen — but it's incredibly rewarding because this isn't just a business; it's building a community and sharing the things that you enjoy, kind of like how you can't have just one Nicolas Cage sequin pillow. You need to cover your couch with them, so visitors can thoroughly enjoy the Nic Cage...

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Tue Dec 3, 2019 1:00 pm
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