This week is the Board Game Design Virtual Summit 2020. This is a totally online summit on board game design and publishing and is hosted by Boardgamedesigncourse.com. All interviews are hosted by game designer Joe Slack. Day 4 interviews is about Pitching to Publishers Effectively & Writing a Great Rulebook with Elizabeth Hargrave, Curt Covert, and Jeff Fraser.
You can join the Summit here.
Elizabeth Hargrave is the designer of Wingspan and Tussie Mussie. Her third game, Mariposas, just came out at the end of August. Check out Elizabeth's profile and games on her BGG page.
She designed the award winning game Wingspan and the game was published by Stonemaier Games owned by Jamey Stegmaier. She sought out Stonemaier Games to publish her game because it produced Viticulture which was a match for her game.
She scheduled a meeting with Jamey at a GenCon who rented a conference room for people to pitch their games. She practiced her pitch several times until she was comfortable. She brought her prototype and sell sheet to the meeting. She gave her pitch and answered any questions. Then they spent time playing the game and they gave her feedback on her game.
As follow up, they asked her about what she will do about their feedback. She was thankful for taking notes and told them how she will work on their ideas.
The main reason she considered Stonemaier Games was that they were the only one to respond to her and schedule a meeting at GenCon. They were interested in her game.
A few of the feedback was ramping up the engine building and they liked that some of the birds had variable powers. They wanted all the birds to have variable powers. She worked on the scoring of the game.
During play testing, the theme of birds wasn’t as important, but play testers were passionate about the birds so she ramped up the theme.
After months of developing and play testing, she was able to send Stonemaier Games the new prototype.
Through emails, she received feedback to work on and Jamey had a brainstorm and designed a player mat to help with the engine building. Then she went to work on it again.
Then they asked if she would like one of their developers to take her game and play test it. She agreed as it now freed up her time. She learned to let go of some of the process. Then the developer would spend weeks play testing the game and then she would receive feedback. She would work on the game some more and give the developer a new prototype.
When they finally finished all the development, they were ready for the ready for the rule book.
They worked on the rulebook and there was struggle with the language of the rules. There were times she found things in the rules that didn’t work and shared the feedback with Stonemaier Games. They worked together to find compromise on some of the problems with the rules. It made them nervous as they were ready to go to press.
They worked together to get the vision of the game out there. She and Jamey were passionate about the game and wanted the user experience to be very engaged. They had a good working relationship.
For advice for designers to develop the relationship with their publisher is communication. Most of the time, they communicated by emails. But they met a few times and did many video chats together. She prefer the video chats as it is good to see the person you’re talking to.
Curt Covert is the owner of Smirk & Dagger Games. A seventeen-year veteran in the industry and the designer of Cutthroat Caverns, Hex Hex, and Nevermore.
His more recent line, Smirk & Laughter, has expanded their reach to a broader audience than ever with games intended to connect with players on an emotional level.
Check out all Curt's games here.
He started like many others by being an avid board gamer. He tried resurrecting a game that was out of print. He spent 2 years. A friend asked him why not design his own game since he spent so much energy on the other game.
He then started working on his own game which became Hex Hex. He hand made many copies and went to GenCon and set up his booth at the retail area. He sold 72 copies. He was inspired to start his own game design company.
Working a full time marketing job, he would spend his nights working on a game design. But with that output, he could only release one game a year. After some decent titles, people started to pitch games to him. He had only published his own games at that point. A designer pitched a pirate game to him he liked it. That was the first game he published that wasn’t his own.
He enjoys working with designers and considers it a collaboration. He doesn’t tell designers what to do. He finds a challenging problem and asks how they can solve the problem within the game design.
Games that affect him emotionally are the games he wants to publish. He said it is all about the experience for the player where you connect with the world of the game. Themes and world building is what he loves. Games that brings you into its world.
He is doing a Kickstarter of his first coop game. You’re in a dark maze and going through with candlelight. The maze changes and there are monsters. It was an evocative game. The designers were in a contest and he was a judge and the that game was an experience for him which is why he signed up with the designer.
If you’re pitching a game to a publisher, it must be as developed as it can be. It needs to be play tested many times and not just with friends and family. The designer needs to play test with people they don’t know and taking feedback to develop the mechanics and rules and theme. It has has to have something unique to it.
When he takes a designer’s prototype, he play tests it to see if it is a game for him to publish. He knows the game would be a success, if play testers ask when the game will be available, that is a good barometer of the game’s potential success.
The game has to be more than just the components. He has to feel the components are what they symbolize. Like if they are animals, he has to feel like he is saving dolphins instead of collecting cubes.
Game publishing is a business and game designers need to be aware to treat it like that. They need to know publishers are busy and have time constraints. So if you want to pitch a game to a publisher at a board game convention, you need to send a sell sheet to them before the convention so you can reserve a meeting at the convention. ANd if the publisher is too busy, they may be open to talk online and play on TableTop Simulator.
You shouldn’t take a shotgun approach by sending sell sheets to all publishers. You need to know what types of games a publisher produces. Your game needs to fit that type of game they publish. SO a designer has to do research.
An email is a great way to communicate to publishers and you need to have a compelling sell sheet, but also to explain the game. It is a great advantage if you have a video of a play through of your game.
Because it is harder to get to conventions, you can create a TableTop Simulator version of your game and pitch virtually with publishers and play online with them at a specified time.
With videos, he can get a great sense of the game. Your pitch can be 3 minutes long but you can do a play through of your game for longer and you publisher if interested will watch it and can get a sense of your game.
Pitching games with TableTop Simulator and Tabletopia and other online platforms is now becoming viable. You don’t have to wait for the next convention, you can pitch it next week. Also you can play test the game online as well.
Jeff Fraser provides one-stop writing, editing, and layout services for tabletop game rulebooks. His blended background in writing, layout production, and game design gives him the skills to map out how a rulebook will look and feel from start to finish.
Check out Jeff's rulebook services here.
He has worked on some rule books that are still in Kickstarter. Doing many different rule books like one for Dinosaur World.
A well designed rulebook works if no one notices. If learning the rules is seamless. Only rulebooks that are bad will get people noticing.
One important thing is the organization of the rule book. It teaches you the rules but also is a reference goes back during gameplay. Rule and concepts needs to be organized so things are not al over the place.
You need to be consistent as in using the same term for some aspect. Don’t use different word to describe he same thing. Don’t repeat a rule.It needs to be accessible. Don’t be making it technical with advanced language. Make it simple to read. Also you need an index so people can find the page for a rule or situation.
Images help describe a mechanic so that you need less words to describe it. You can show labels in the image and people know how something should work or be set up.
Be efficient with your layout and copy. A rule book that is too big and long can be exhausting to read. Have examples that show real game situations. He said he will explain rules and then show an example how a turn is done.
A big mistake with rule book is not play testing it. You need to have play testers to read it and play the game. Then you can see if it is a struggle or if they get the rules.
Another mistake is the game designer designing and writing the rule book. The designer is so close to the game, they understand everything and may forget to mention something that is second nature to them but not so intuitive to a new player. A rulebook needs to be outsourced to someone like him.
He uses Adobe InDesign to design the rulebook since it is the design standard for layout. It is has all the tools to create a multi-page rule book with master pages and styles of typography and use them throughout.
He would write the rule book and flow it into the InDesign file. He would go through several rounds of revisions with the the text and the design of the rule book. Until they can finally finish it for approval.
He would work a certain standard way with rule books. He would start off with the introduction where it includes world building and flavor text.
After that, you have the objective that tells you how to win the game and how it would end.
Then a round overview of how the rounds are played. He would talk about how rounds are played and the steps to get to the end.
Then he would take about how each turn is played. Explain what choices a player has during their turn. What they need to check and what order a player can play their turn.
Then explains details of the components and more details of turn and rounds. Then he explains how the game is won and ends and then talk about the details. Then he adds some situations that may need explaining.
Testing your rule book is very important. Test with many play testers to see if it is easy to read and understand.
Also get an editor to proofread the work. You shouldn’t edit your own rule book. You need a professional that know how to see it from a different stand point and experience.