Mary Russell

I like to say that my job is to get up in the morning and play board games all day, but that's something of an exaggeration. While I do sometimes spend a fair amount of time hunched over a table pushing counters through hexes, I'm just as likely to spend that time hunched over a table sorting out little wooden bits and putting them in little bags. 

In that video, I joke around a bit about how monotonous it is, and sometimes it can be, sure. There are days where I'd rather do anything in the world but count out little cubes, and I drag my feet. But there are other times where I actually find the whole process, and the repetitiveness of it, oddly relaxing. I think both reactions are prompted by how boring it is. It makes me want to drive nails through my nose because putting little pieces in bags is boring. It makes me calm because putting little pieces in bags is boring. 

My job as a designer and developer is nearly one hundred percent brainwork. It's constantly thinking and rethinking, putting pieces together and drawing connections, asking questions and striving for answers. That probably makes the endeavor sound almost romantic, like I'm some nineteenth century German composer or philosopher or something instead of a guy from Michigan who plays with pieces of cardboard for a living. The point though is that most of the work is done in the spongy mass that sits between my ears, and that suits me just fine. I find it compelling, engrossing, and invigorating. 

You know what's not compelling, engrossing, or invigorating? Putting little pieces of wood into little bags. It requires just enough attention that if I concentrate on anything else, I could foul the whole thing up. It's soul-crushing drudgery, of the sort that I thought I had left behind when I quit my old job to dedicate myself to Hollandspiele full-time. 

Now, being that I'm a human being, I am prone to occasional bouts of fatigue, stress, melancholy, and sickness, and all those things compromise my ability to focus and to think. So I'm going to have off-days. And I've learned, over time, that it's much better not to force it. To be clear, it's not a case of "waiting for my muse" or some-such nonsense, it's just a matter of knowing that I'm not going to be capable of doing my best work. And on those days? Putting little pieces of wood into little bags is great. It's not too taxing and requires just enough attention to engage what little brainpower I have available to me. It also helps me fight off the nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps hollering you should be working on something, you dummy, because hey, I am working on something, so keep it down back there. 

It's not limited to the wood bits, however. I often face a similar situation when it comes time to lay out counters. Not designing the counters, mind you, which requires a certain degree of problem-solving, but the actual, monotonous process of plopping one counter after another into a template, 176 counters a sheet, two sides per counter. 

I remember the first time I did it. This was shortly before Hollandspiele. I was working as developer on a game and the publisher wanted to work with a particular artist and gave me a dollar amount to give to the artist. The artist told me it was way below his normal rate, but that he'd agree to do the map and counters at that price as a favor to the publisher, on the condition that someone else actually put the counters onto the sheet. That someone else was me, and it was quite a learning experience. 

After the project was done, I asked the artist what his normal rate would have been for a project of that scale. He gave me two prices for the counters: the first included putting the counters in place on the sheet and gave me a mild heart attack. The second didn't include the template work, and was about a quarter of the first price. Designing the counters was easy and enjoyable for him, but he despised putting them on the template. "It's hours of fiddly, utterly mindless work where it's about measuring out millimeters. It makes it feel like I have a real job."

I completely understood, and still understand, where he was coming from. It took me about five weeks, working off-and-on (mostly off), to finally get the counters for Horse & Musket: Sport of Kings on the template. On a related note, I need to go into each card for Table Battles: Wars of the Roses and re-do the title of the card (only). I've been meaning to do it for a few days now, and I just really don't want to sit down and spend four or five hours doing it when I could be doing something that doesn't murder my brain cells.

And yet there are times, just as with the wood bits, where plopping counters into a Photoshop template and shifting this one by a tenth of a millimeter and that one by two-tenths, or going into each card and changing the title and re-saving each side of each card as a separate PDF and then combining all the PDFs one file at a time into one larger PDF, is just what the doctor ordered.

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