QUANTITY (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

Including the game I did for Winsome (Iberian Gauge) and our holiday freebie (Napgammon), I had ten game designs released last year. That's a personal record; 2016 and 2015 had only seen the release of nine games each. This year, if I manage to cross everything off my list, there'll be at least ten titles out there with my name on it, eight of which are Hollandspiele releases. I'm likely to do more; this time last year, I had no intention of designing Table Battles or brushing off For-Ex, two games that sold very well in the back-end of 2017, and so it's very likely that come March or April I'll have some new and exciting idea to chase after and corral into a game. That's not counting the ideas I already have for games that I'm keeping on the back-burner while I try to finish up prior commitments. 

I am fairly prolific, and sometimes people ask me, how is it that you design so many games? And if they enjoy my games, they'll ask me how is it that you design so many games without compromising the quality? (Conversely if they don't enjoy my games, they have a very different assessment about the quality of the end-product, and will find a way to link it to the quantity. To each their own, of course.)

First, I'm able to be prolific because it's my full-time job. There is a world of difference between spending eight hours a week making board games and spending eighty hours a week making board games. This puts me in a rather privileged position, one that I'm very cognizant of and grateful for. I'm quite conscious of the fact that having been given this opportunity, one that many a game designer both published and aspiring has dreamt of, I certainly mustn't squander it.

Second, my interests as a reader, a gamer, and a designer are pretty varied, ranging across different eras, scales, and points of focus. This means that if I run into a wall on one subject, or start to get exhausted by it, I can switch to something else, recharging my batteries. It also makes me more of a generalist and less of an expert. Some designers specialize in one or two subjects; they know those subjects intimately and sometimes the results are very detailed games. I'm interested in a wider variety of subjects, but on a less granular level. I've a preference for abstraction and for broad strokes, and the result is simpler games with smoother development cycles.

These cycles overlap. While I'm researching one game, I'm writing rules for a second, starting testing on a third, and wrapping up testing on a fourth. (Another reason why I keep my games mechanically simple is so that I can remember which rules go with which game!) This keeps me in a constant state of activity, and helps to combat the depressed, empty feeling that is sometimes concomitant with finishing something you've been working on for the last several months or longer. After I finished Charlemagne, for example, I was hollowed out by the experience, and it took me a long time to start another project. Whereas if I'm working on several things in various stages of development somewhat simultaneously, I don't hit that bottom as often, and when it does happen I'm not stuck in it as long. That manages the emotional/mental aspect of making a living creatively, which is perhaps almost as important as the rest of it.

It also helps of course that some games are easier to design than others. Putting something like This Guilty Land together takes a certain amount of focus and chutzpah. It's an ambitious project that demands a lot of me as a designer. If every project I did was that demanding, there's no way I could sustain my current pace. But something like a Shields & Swords II game or a Table Battles scenario isn't really challenging, at least not in the same way. There's work to be done, and sometimes it's hard work. It takes time and attention, certainly. But there's very little by way of hair-pulling and agonizing with most of my series games; I got the hair-pulling and agonizing out of the way the first time around. Making This Guilty Land is like making a new recipe for the first time and making a Shields & Swords II game is like making a burger. In either case I'm going to do it with whatever skill and attention I can muster, but I know how to make a burger and don't really need to think too much about how all it fits together. That also naturally helps with recharging the ol' mental and emotional batteries, and keeps this game-making machine a-runnin'.

Leave a Comment