Fun & Games >> Five Years with Fantasy Flight
Jay Little
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Monday, June 10th, 2013 marks my five year service anniversary with Fantasy Flight Games. I feel like a grizzled veteran and a fresh new recruit at the same time. The years have flown by, interrupted here and there by a few health issues.

In my five years with FFG, I have made life-long friends, worked into the wee hours, gamed into the wee hours, been involved in the design and development of dozens of projects, and I've had a number of amazing opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise. I've also learned a lot about the industry -- and myself -- in the process.

Let me share some of these highlights and experiences with you.

What about you?
What are some of the best moments in your career?
When do you feel "in the zone" or completely in your element?
Have you found your true calling?
What would your dream job be?
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1. Board Game: Tide of Iron [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:600]
Jay Little
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Before being hired in June of 2008, I had actually been interviewed a little over a year earlier for a different game design position. I had flown up to the Twin Cities and met with a number of the staff and had a strong interview, but the position went to someone else.

The experience was invaluable, however, as I felt far more comfortable and confident going into my 2008 interview having met a number of staff and getting a feel for the culture at FFG.
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2. Board Game: Warhammer Fantasy Battles (8th Edition) [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:3290]
Jay Little
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After working on several dozen D&D projects during the height of the 3.0/3.5 craze, there were hints of a new 4th edition that may include an SRD/OGL that would allow third-party publishers to produce content for the new edition. FFG was looking for someone with experience writing modules and content for the earlier edition that could be applied to the new edition. I had several phone interviews and things went well, but several months went by.

Then I received an email asking if I knew anything about the Warhammer Fantasy setting. FFG had acquired rights from Games Workshop to use their popular IPs, and they were headed in a new direction with their RPG department. I had been running a year-plus campaign for WFRP up to that point, so I felt well qualified for the new position opening up to work on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

I was flown up to the Twin Cities for an interview. In preparation of my interview, I created pre-generated characters and took a map and a bunch of props along and ended up running a scenario for several FFGers. When I landed in the airport after flying home from the interview, I called my wife to get picked up -- and she said there was already a message on the phone offering me the position.

With that, we started the mad scramble to pack and relocate from St. Louis to the Twin Cities.
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3. Board Game: Warhammer Quest [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:664]
Jay Little
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And thus began my quest to manage and develop the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay line. I was to spearhead the design of a new edition of WFRP, where I was given a great deal of freedom to "design the sort of game you would want to play."

I am heavily influenced by Indie style roleplaying games and a strong narrative approach to roleplaying, and feel I was given a huge Summer Blockbuster movie budget for an Indie game. What a lot of fun.

In addition to designing the core set and rules system, I lead the development of the game line for several years. But that's not the only thing I was doing at the time...
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4. Board Game: Chaos in the Old World [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:93]
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About that time, Eric Lang started working on a little project called Chaos in the Old World. Eric is an incredibly talented game designer, and CitOW is one of my favorite games. I'm fortunate to have been involved in some small way with the base game's development. Knowing the Warhammer Fantasy property as well as I did, I was able to be a creative consultant for the project and help ensure thematic fidelity.
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5. Board Game: Warhammer: Invasion [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:462]
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In addition to managing the WFRP line, I had a number of opportunities to get involved in playtesting, developing, and offering feedback on a number of other projects -- some peripherally, some significantly. This included Horus Heresy, Middle Earth Quest, the Warhammer 40k line of roleplaying products, Warhammer: Invasion, Talisman, Cosmic Encounter, Wiz War, Rune Age, Rune Wars, Rex, Battles for Westeros, Game of Thrones LCG, Civilization, and many others.
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6. Board Game: Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:239]
Jay Little
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Then came my first big project outside of roleplaying. The Blood Bowl tabletop game is one of my favorite gaming experiences, especially when played in league mode. A number of designs were executed to try and capture the feel of the game without simply recreating a single tabletop match.

An opening appeared on my schedule, and I was given the opportunity to (ahem) tackle the project. Being a huge fan of the tabletop, I wanted to do credit to the license. One of the key decisions early on was to try and capture the experience that league play offers which don't occur in a single one-off match.

Looking at the game from more of a bird's eye view, of ESPN style highlights and franchise development, really opened up the playbook, so to speak. I also love "I Cut, You Choose" style incentives and rewards (a la the game Piece of Cake), and wanted to include something along those lines -- and thus the payoff reward system was developed.

Of all the games I've been involved in, I probably enjoy playing BBTM the most. It's competitive, social, strategic, confrontational and I have a lot of fun playing. One of the best compliments I get from fans is when someone tells me BBTM "feels" like Blood Bowl.
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7. Board Game: Heart Attack [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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2011 featured some major disruptions. In early May, I was promoted to Managing Game Designer, heading a team of designers and content developers for our board game lines. Then on May 24th, I suffered a major heart attack -- an LAD occlusion -- followed by a number of serious complications*. I was in a coma for nearly a month, and even after regaining consciousness, I was in the ICU for several more weeks before being transferred to another hospital for a few weeks, which was followed by months of rehabilitation.

Blood Bowl Team Manager was the project I had been finalizing right before my heart attack. In fact, when I came out of the coma, one of the first things I asked the nurses was "Did Blood Bowl make it on time?"

The nurses, of course, had no idea what I was talking about... and were actually a bit creeped out by me asking about bowls of blood. Trish came to visit during one of these episodes when I kept asking about Blood Bowl. I could imagine her rolling her eyes and telling the nurses something like, "My god -- he's been working this whole time."

* including cardiogenic shock, shock liver, profound hypoxia, acute organ failure, respiratory failure, paralysis, sepsis, neuropathy, ECMO treatment, and more.

(plug: you can read all about my ordeal in my book Come Back to Me)
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8. Board Game: Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat Expansion [Average Rating:8.01 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.01 Unranked]
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After a few months of rest and rehab following my heart attack, I was eager to get back to work and surround myself with all my friends and the creative energy crackling around the office. Being such a fan of the original game, and getting to contribute to CitOW from the beginning, I was thrilled to have the expansion land in my project queue.

I knew right away I wanted to add Skaven and create new sets of upgrades and Chaos cards. The tricky part was settling on a "theme" and playstyle for the Skaven, since the four original Ruinous Powers are so incredibly well balanced and thematic. It was a long, exhausting process, but I'm very pleased with the results.

I loved working on this project, and we had a fabulous group of playtesters involved in the expansion -- two of which ended up as full-time FFG employees!
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9. Board Game: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:64] [Average Rating:7.81 Unranked]
Jay Little
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Wow. Really? Could I be so lucky?

True story. My wife and I were at the animal shelter, looking to adopt a cat. We were wandering around, looking at different kittens. My phone rings, and I'm told not only did we get the Star Wars license, but that I'd be working on one of the first products. Hands shaking, I look up to tell my wife, and realize I'm staring right at a black cat named Jedi -- because he kept returning to someone's house to get fed.... so they said "Look, it's the return of the Jedi."

So we adopted him. Best Cat Evar. The Force is strong in that one.

Anyway, what can I say about the opportunity to work with the Star Wars license -- other than HOLY COW I GET TO WORK WITH THE STAR WARS LICENSE! Something I never envisioned would happen. X-Wing has been incredibly popular, and I've been overwhelmed by the response.

Few things fill me with the same joy I experience when I see people playing X-Wing while humming the Star Wars theme, making *pewpewpew* sound effects, or best of all, seeing moms and dads playing it with their kids.

I was also given the reins to design the Star Wars Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, which was incredibly exciting since I'm an RPG nerd at heart. I was able to leverage the years of experience designing and developing the WFRP system to create a narrative dice system specifically built for the Star Wars experience.
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10. Board Game: Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:103]
Jay Little
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Getting to work on Cosmic Encounter -- specifically the Cosmic Storm expansion -- was an incredibly important milestone in my design career. I've been playing Cosmic Encounter for more than 20 years, and it is far and away my Favorite Board Game of All-Time. It's hard to explain just how special it was to be able to work on a game that's been so influential to my life as both a player and a designer. It also fits my free-wheeling, social style of gameplay better than anything else I've ever come across.

The best part? I got to work with Peter Olotka and Bill Eberle, two of the game's original designers. Peter and Bill were extremely gracious with their time and helped provide a sounding board for ideas and offered a lot of feedback and encouragement throughout the process.

It was a great opportunity to spend time talking and working with two industry veterans who -- through their work -- were great influences on me and my wanting to become a game designer.
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11. Board Game: Game Design: Theory and Practice [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Jay Little
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Over the course of my first five years with FFG, I have received a lot of sage advice, pearls of wisdom, and memorable quotes. Some I have adopted as my own mantras. If you've heard me speak on game design at a workshop or seminar, you may have heard some of these already.

"Sometimes we design games, sometimes we make products."

This simple truism helped me put a lot of projects into perspective. You can design forever, always looking to tweak, update, change, and modify anything and everything. Like an artist, you could theoretically never be done with a work of art -- there is almost always another detail you could add.

But gifted artists -- and similarly, designers -- know when to shift gears and move from design to product. That's the point at which you need to cut the cord, refine the work you already have, and at the end of the day, complete this product so it can be produced... and move on to the next design waiting in the wings.
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12. Board Game: Credit Crunch [Average Rating:3.75 Unranked]
Jay Little
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During one conversation discussing how to write and attribute credits in a game -- who gets listed as developer, contributor, playtester, special thanks, etc. -- I received this bit of sage advice:

"You'll never make someone angry by giving them too much credit."

In other words, when in doubt, include them, thank them, and show your appreciation. While someone likely won't share the fact that he or she was "over-credited" in a project, you can bet grumbling will get out for people who feel unappreciated or under-credited.

In addition to this, I try to make sure I credit and thank all the other people involved in the development and production of my projects. I'm lucky to get my name on the box, but dozens of other people work hard to make these games a reality.
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13. Board Game: Sculptivity [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Jay Little
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"Some games you paint, other games you sculpt."

For the longest time, I approached game design as a painter. I start with a blank canvas and keep adding colors in broad strokes, then working down to finer details, until the last few finishing touches complete the painting. But then there's this thing over here that needs to be fixed. Or I don't like how that turned out over there... but it's all about adding until you are done.

Sometimes when I encounter an obstacle or have a creativity block, I'll try the opposite approach -- design as sculpture. You start out with everything on the table, or all the possibilities and pre-conceived notions for the type of game you are set to work on (especially when given the design parameters rather than coming up with all of them internally). Then, you slowly remove everything that isn't your game. You need a deft hand and careful thought, because it is easier to remove than to add with this method.
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14. Board Game: Surprise! [Average Rating:5.71 Unranked]
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There have also been some surprises and eye-opening realizations along the way. The first time I worked up a project budget, I was unprepared for just how resource- and asset-intensive gaming products are to actually produce.

Depending on whether you are working with a book, a card game, or a boardgame, you may have some or all of the following costs to manage: Writing, editing, proofreading, graphic design, die tooling, sculpting, manufacturing, shipping, licensing fees, plastic components, punch/cardboard, catalogs, board art, cardboard inserts, shrink wrapping, CE certification, warehousing, and art. There are far more, but even each of these can often be split into further categories.

Art costs can be a significant portion of a budget, and in some cases, may even dwarf all the other costs combined. Press forms and print signatures are other significant cost-influencing factors. And as paper prices and shipping prices increase, managing these costs becomes an even bigger juggling act.

Printing an odd number of pages can be ridiculously impractical cost-wise. In general, it better be divisible by 16- or 8-page blocks. For cards, the difference between Standard American Boardgame and CCG size cards may mean 8-10 cards per press form. And then if you're creating card counts that aren't 100% or 50% of a standard pressform, you can end up paying a lot of extra money for paper stock that is ultimately thrown away.
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15. Board Game: Master of Rules [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:6101]
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Writing Rules is HARD.

I know exactly what I mean for the games I design. See? This thing does that, except when that happens, then this happens instead. Usually.

Articulating the design goals in a set of specific rules of play, where someone else needs to learn and understand what I meant without me there to teach / demo / field questions..? Well, that is a challenging skill set to develop. I've gotten better at it during my time with FFG, but I'm far from an expert.

There are some good examples to follow, and there are style guides on how to present some information. But with the bulk of rules explanation, you're constantly struggling between detail and streamlining, between in-depth and succinct, between large scale structures (games, rounds) and small scale structures (turns, steps, phases), between meta (how to win) and micro (how to perform your turn).

Defining key terms, consistent language usage, and grammar are all important. Rules development tests my ABCs of writing: Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity.
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16. Board Game: Crazy Talk [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
Jay Little
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One of the great opportunities my role has provided is the ability to speak to a wide variety of audiences about the hobby I love.

I've been privileged to give presentations on the industry, the hobby, and game design principles to grade school and high school classes, college students, the International Game Designers Association, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the United Kingdom Gaming Expo, and a wide variety of other events, seminars, workshops and conventions.

I've also been able to share my enthusiasm for the hobby and game design through countless videos, interviews, podcasts, and other media. I've even been asked to sit on a University Advisory Board for their Game Design & Development program.
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17. Board Game: The Respectful Workplace Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Jay Little
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The bottom line? Game design is the hardest work I've ever loved.

I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do. I love it. But make no mistake, working in the game industry -- in any capacity -- is hard work. Yes, sometimes I get to play games. But playing games for work, especially when deliberately trying to break them or exploit rules, is very different than playing games for entertainment.

It takes a lot of energy to stay focused, keep positive, and move forward with projects when you're tired of looking at the same set of cards or reading the same rulebook for the 100th time. It's hard not to take comments and feedback about your games personally -- not everyone can separate criticism of their projects from criticism of their character.

It is frustrating to run into a wall -- whether it is a troublesome rules issue, an unexpected game interaction, or even the discovery of a fundamental flaw in your design. And you don't necessarily know how to get over the wall, or if you need to find a way around it, through it, under it, or find an entirely different route.

But all that anxiety and frustration is worth it. I freely admit that ego gratification is a big part of why I do what I do. It is life-affirming and ego-stroking to work with a big license, win an award, be seen as an industry expert, see your name on a box, or enjoy any number of other measures of success. Fortunately for me, my wife is there to take me down a notch or keep me from crossing the line between taking pride in my work and being arrogant.

For me, though, the greatest joy in what I do is seeing people playing my games. Nothing beats that feeling I get when I see folks having fun while playing something I designed. I especially love seeing parents playing with their kids. I know how important gaming has been in my life, and all the fond memories I have of gaming when I was younger.

Ego aside, I hope that my contributions to hobby gaming may become fond memories for someone else some day.
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