Joe Slack Creating Balanced Economies on Board Games | Episode 163

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Joe Slack is a professional board game designer and author of the #1 international best-selling book, The Board Game Designer’s Guide, along with 2 other books on game design. He has taught Game Design and Development at Wilfrid Laurier University and runs the Board Game Design Course, an online course for new game designers. Joe has many games at various stages, from development to publication, including his own successful Kickstarter campaign for his solo adventure game, Relics of Rajavihara.


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Full episode transcription

Rob (5s):
Welcome to Professor Game Podcast, where we interview successful practitioners of games, gamification and game thinking, who bring us the best of their experiences to get ideas, insights, and inspiration that help us in the process of getting the students to learn what we teach. And I’m Rob Alvarez. I teach and work at IE Business School in Madrid, where we create interactive and engaging learning materials. Want to know more? Go to Start on our email list and ask me anything! And Engagers, we are Back with another episode of Professor Game Podcast. And today we have Joe with us.

Rob (46s):
Joe, are you prepared to engage?

Joe (49s):
I am. Thanks for having me here, Rob

Rob (51s):
Joe Slack actually is he professional board game designer and author of the number one international best selling book. The board game designers guide along with two other books on game design. So you definitely know why he is together with us today. And he has also taught game design and development at Wilfrid Laurier University and runs the board game design course. It is an online course for new game designers and he has many games at various stages from development to publication, including his own successful Kickstarter campaign for his solo adventure game relics of Rajavihara. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that even that was still the right thing. Sounds good. Sounds good. So, Joe, is there anything that we didn’t catch in that intro?

Rob (1m 32s):
Anything else you would like to add?

Joe (1m 34s):
No. Just glad to be here and glad to answer some questions and help your listeners.

Rob (1m 39s):
Absolutely, absolutely. I’m sure the engagers will get great value from having Joe Slack, the board game, the crazy board game guy as your Twitter handle tells us. So Joe, we always get started with a very light question, which is we like to know what your days look like. What are you, what are you doing these days? What’s, you know, how do you organize if you would do it all your, your days.

Joe (2m 1s):
For sure. Yeah, I like to be organized. I like to have a plan of attack. I, I do it more so on a weekly basis here is all the things that I want to get accomplished and then try to lay out what I want to do each day. And you know, quite often, you know, you don’t get everything done in a day and it carries over. But generally what I do is I try to spend about 45 minutes to an hour each morning, fairly early on doing some writing. So I have my own blog and I write books as you’ve mentioned. So whatever it is that I’m writing at that time, I tried to dedicate that time to either writing or editing time. So I always make sure that I’m keeping up with things and, and you know what often not falling behind. I always have lots of content to share. And then I get right into my day with whatever the task is of the day. It could be something, for example, right now I’m doing a lot of work towards my Kickstarter campaign that successfully completed the summer.

Joe (2m 48s):
So just going to go, going back and forth for manufacturing, little things, working on print and play files, that’s up thing, or it could be working on some games that I’m designing right now. We’re, co-designing conversing with co-designers Pitching to publishers, whatever, whatever it is I happen to have as the top priority for the moment I’m just working on all those things throughout the day.

Rob (3m 11s):
Sounds like many exciting things are happening all the time with you, Joe. So that is amazing, amazing stuff that is going on. And then, after these kinds of questions, now that we have sort of a vibe of who you are, what you’re doing, what’s your days. We also like to come in strong as well. And, and it’s, especially with this question of failure or fail, first attempt in learning. We would like to know of a story of a time when, you know, as, as you probably know, I’m sure you do, you know, game design and board game design as well is all about testing and trying and failing and, you know, getting back up from that. So we want to be there with you in a story of a time this happened. And of course, how did you get out of it? What did you learn? We want to be there and learn, right along with you.

Joe (3m 50s):
For sure. So yeah. As any game designer has experienced, I’ve had lots of failures. No game ever comes out perfectly and you know, just runs as smoothly as it would in your mind. Right. It, you put it out in front of people and it fails and then you make changes to make it better and better and better. Hopefully, it gets to that point where it becomes a great game, but my experience would really be, you know, the one, the one story that I would tell would be with the first game I ever created, which is going back about six, almost seven years ago. Now I was playing a lot of party games with my friends at the time. You know, it was just before I kind of got into modern, more gaming and were playing games like cards against humanity and that type of thing. And I thought, well, you know, the game was fun at first, but then, you know, quickly became, okay.

Joe (4m 32s):
You know, there’s a lot of like Trump cards that always win. There’s, you know, it’s funny at first and then, okay, I’ve heard that joke already a couple of times. So what if I could create something that was like that, but a little bit more of an experience where all the players are contributing something using their own creativity. It would be a lot more replayable in that type of thing. So I came up with a game and it eventually became known as cutting linguistics and it was a party game and you kind of have some prompts, then you write in your own answers to questions, that type of thing. And, you know, played with friends a little bit. And it was, it was fun and everything, but didn’t really know the whole game design process at that time. So I slowly started to learn that and I brought in a friend to help me work on the game. Cause he knew a little bit more about board games and had been playing modern board games longer than I had at that point.

Joe (5m 15s):
And we start, we’re working on the game and we thought, well, what do we want to do with this? And we thought, you know, we’ll Kickstarter, you know, that’s the obvious choice for something like this, especially something that, you know, a publisher might normally pick up. Cause it might be just a little too risque, our game. Wasn’t like, like cards against many in that way you could play it, you know, calmly and rationally with your family. Or you can go right outside the box and be a little risque, but we decided we’re going to do that. And we, we waffled about it a lot. We said, okay, we’re going to go and do it. And they were like, Oh, but this looks like a lot of work. Oh yeah. Okay. We’re going to go ahead and do it. And we kind of went back and forth a little bit, whether or not we wanted to do it. And eventually, I just said, you know, what, how can we lose? Okay, we’re going to, we’ve got everything done. Like we had a friend that did like the graphic design for it and everything.

Joe (5m 57s):
And we have the gameplay all done. We’d playtested it lots. You know, people liked it in general. We’re like, you know, we’ll put it out there. If it fails, it fails. But at least we will learn from the experience because if we don’t ever do it, we won’t ever learn. We won’t ever know. And we put it out there and failed. We didn’t build nearly enough following. That was the biggest thing. And I had always heard build a following, build a following, but we didn’t do enough of that. And we’d launched and you know, it was very, you know, slow start and didn’t really go anywhere and learn from that very quickly. Okay. What they’re saying is absolutely right. And I got to figure out a way to build that audience. I can’t just rely on, you know, the few people that play to here and there and whatnot. Like you gotta get out there, get the game mode to as many people as you can, let people know about it, talk about it, get people excited.

Joe (6m 38s):
So on day one, you’re going to, you know, fund as quickly as possible. Hopefully. So that was my big learning experience. And I used a lot of that as well as being the designer on a couple of other games that got published through kicks or that went through Kickstarter and got published. I’m working with the publisher and learning a bit from them and, you know, seeing, you know, what they did right. Seeing the mistakes that they did and learning and understanding how to build a following, which is what I did for my most recent game relics of Rajavihara, and had success because I focus so much on that.

Rob (7m 8s):
That sounds amazing. And of course, build a following is something that is very important, especially for something it’s a game you’re going to sell. And so on. Are there any tips you can give the audience on what you, what you did, of course, quick tips? I know you have a full course on these kinds of things, but any quick tips that you can give away.

Joe (7m 24s):
For sure. I think Everybody says this online, build a following and everybody’s like, yeah, well what does that mean? How do I go about doing that and get really specific? So I’ll give a few specific examples. I’d say the first thing is really getting to know who your audience is. That’s first and foremost because you don’t want to be, you know, spending time and, and advertising this and doing so much in front of people who are not going to be your audience, who are not going to buy your game. So figure out exactly who your audience is like, what type of game it is. Is it a party game? Is it a family game? What is it? Who are you, who’s your audience? And then figure out where your audience goes, where do they like to hang out? Are they on Facebook a lot? Are they in on Instagram? Do they hang out on Twitter? Do they go to conventions?

Joe (8m 4s):
Do they, you know, just hang out with friends, play places and play games, like learn as much as you can about them and then go and kind of target and get involved in that community. And I wouldn’t say just like go in there and say, Hey, look at my game, look at my game. Here’s my game. But you know, way beforehand, like even eight to 12 months before you’re even planning on releasing it when you’re just getting everything ready and you’re building towards it, you know, get in those groups, like for example, with relics of Rajavihara, it’s a solo game. And I knew there was, there were some really good Facebook groups dedicated to solo gaming. There are about four or five different ones. And one is about 20,000 members plus a strong and very active community. So I got in there and I talked to people there. I commented on posts. I made my own posts about, you know, games that I was playing solo games.

Joe (8m 47s):
That type of thing, like way before I even started talking about my own game. And then when, you know, there’s a little bit of trust, there’s a little bit of familiarity. People kind of knew me. I knew them. Then I could start to say, Oh, you know, I’m working on my own solo game as well. I’d love to hear your feedback. Like, one of the first things I did was a poll. And I said, here’s my game. Here’s my idea. Here are some pictures of what it looks like, but I’m trying to figure out what the best theme is. I’m thinking like, should it be like an NES style pixelated kind of game? Should it be an adventure style, like Indiana Jones? Or should it be, you know, this other style? And I got people to vote and they were very strongly in favor of the Indiana Jones adventure kind of style. And I ran with that. And then as I was doing that, I was, you know, showing art and things like that for the game, I’m engaging the community about different things saying, Oh, I got to print and play.

Joe (9m 34s):
Is anybody willing to try it? And just all those little steps that you can do, you know, to get into a community first, get to know the other people, and then start talking about your game. That works a lot better than just going in. And your first post, you know, just, just talking about you talking about your game, you don’t, don’t make it about yourself, make it about getting involved in the community first and then build on that and get people interested in. And you don’t even have to like post links to, you know, to your landing page right away, or to your, your Kickstarter signup page, but you start talking about it, and then naturally people are going to be like, Oh, this looks really cool. I really liked the art, where can I find out more. And then in the comments, then you can start to answer that. So it doesn’t feel as like spammy, it feels more genuine because people are asking you and when they ask you, they’ve given you permission to say, here’s where you can go for more and people will see that.

Joe (10m 23s):
So those are a few like the first steps that I do, as well as providing print and plays and building a landing page and driving people towards that to sign up and giving them an incentive to sign up like a print and play, insights into the game behind the scenes kind of thing. Anything that they’re going to be interested in.

Rob (10m 42s):
That sounds fantastic. It sounds amazing. And of course, you were saying about the comment when somebody asks, of course, that means they’re interested and that’s the person you want to be targeting. You don’t want to spray and pray and see who of those people might be maybe interested in seeing you as salesy or versus what you were suggesting was, which sounds amazing, which is, you know, if somebody asks that is a fantastic, beautiful opportunity to actually lead them into whatever they’re asking for, which probably has to do with your landing page Kickstarter campaign and so on. So that’s great. Great advice. Thank you very much for that, Joe.

Joe (11m 14s):
No problem.

Rob (11m 15s):
And of course, it is not all about failure. We also like to talk and celebrate success because I know you’ve had quite a few, so we would like to hear a story of that. Like how, how did it go? Like we want to live that success with you and learn from, you know, maybe one or two things that you could attribute that success to.

Joe (11m 30s):
Sure. Yeah. So I’d like to say that Relics of Rajavihara was a success for many reasons. I, I couldn’t pinpoint just one thing, but I, I think, you know, building that community, getting involved in that solo group, because I knew that would be, you know, a good portion of my audience, you know, talking with other people who like solo games and, and talking to them about, you know, games that other games, not just my games, but other published games and talking to them about, Oh, you know, even making a post like one day saying like, oh, I’ve, I’ve got the afternoon off. Here’s my list of solo games. What should I play? And then, you know, people interact in the poll and that kind of thing. But, you know, going back to that in terms of building, having a good landing page with a, you know, a reason for people to sign up, I think was, was really key to that.

Joe (12m 16s):
But one of, you know, the successes came because I, you know, engaged in the community, built it up, gave it time. I didn’t rush it at all. I, you know, gradually gave things back to people, you know, showing them a little bit about, you know, what the game’s about, getting them engaged, getting them, asking questions, getting them to join the Facebook group, getting them to sign up for the notifications. And it was really when I saw the number of notifications, you know like people signed up for the notifications that going up and people engaging in, in comments and things like that. That’s when I could see that it looked like it could be successful.

Joe (12m 56s):
And you, you know, just, you know, being very, very present on that first day, launching having ads run ahead of time, you know, sharing with everybody that, that I could, get on podcasts, you know, doing all those little things to, you know, keep getting engaged, keep people interested and coming back for more on the page.

Rob (13m 15s):
That sounds fantastic. Those are, those are some very key elements of you want to make sure, well, make sure you want to have the best chances of success at least, right?

Joe (13m 24s):

Rob (13m 25s):
It’s not always going to be a hit in the home run, but you know, there are many times where you can do all these things to help improve your chances, which I guess is the best thing that we can do. Understanding all these things. I don’t know how you feel about, about, well, actually we’ll get into that in a bit. Is there like when you’re, when you’re designing a board game, right. Which is, you’re definitely your specialty, is there any sort of process, any sort of steps in general? How do you, how do you approach that? You say, well, I’m going to build a board game. Where do you, I dunno, come with inspiration, how do you do that?

Joe (13m 54s):
Well, some people take the approach and I always hear this question. Do you, do you start with a theme or do you start with mechanics? And I don’t, I don’t necessarily start with either of those things. I like to start with a vision and the player experience that I want to give. So I might say, for example, I want people to feel a real sense of, you know, being, being chased, being hunted down, and I’m working on a, a co-design right now, a real-time co-op game that, that really invokes that it feels like you’re being chased down kind of thing. Or for relics, Rajavihara. I want people to really feel really clever when they’ve solved the puzzle. You know, when it’s been sitting there and they’ve tried it, you know, five or six times, and then finally something just clicks and they, you know, they figure it, Oh, I gotta do this first before I do all these things.

Joe (14m 41s):
And then they solve the puzzle and move on to the next level. It gives them that feeling of accomplishment. So I like to always try to start with, you know, what, what the player is going to be experiencing, what kind of feelings do I want them to have, and then build around that and say, well, what kind of theme really goes with this? What kind of mechanics would go with that? And, you know, not every game starts exactly that way. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of, you know, an idea pops into my head, you know, a name, something somebody says, and I’m like, Oh, that could be a game. And I just write that down and I think, okay, how could I turn this idea, this phrase into a game? What would it look like? What would players do? What would they want to feel in that? But yeah, I generally start with kind of the feeling of it and then try to wrap my head around what mechanics or mechanics and theme really work well with that.

Joe (15m 31s):
And then of course, as you’re, play-testing, you’re going to find, okay, that mechanic didn’t work so well, or this one works better with this combination with something else and then just keep tweaking and then making the game better, just getting a whole bunch of feedback through playtests through blind playtests to see what’s going to actually work and what, what players like about your game, and then try to trim out the things that players don’t like about your game. Get to the fun faster, get to the engaging parts quicker and make much more of that. And try to take out as much as many of the, you know, little frustrating bits and pieces in the game, so they can have a more fun and engaging experience.

Rob (16m 5s):
That sounds amazing. And, and talking about like, sort of picking those, for example, those game mechanics, you’ve already decided how you want to make people feel, you know, that that’s the first thing you go for. You’re probably then getting into the theme or the mechanics. How do you, how do you go about that? Like, how do you say, well, there’s all these, you can go into Gamasutra and find, you know, hundreds or thousands even of, of game mechanics, or maybe even invent one? How do you, is there any way to, to wrap your head around this?

Joe (16m 31s):
Every game is a little different, but you know, sometimes an idea for a mechanic has already kind of there, like for instance, I had a game called flight from dr. Dimensions lab and that, that was the real-time co-op game. And I thought, you know, real fast, like it had to be really quick and you had to make quick decisions and do things. So there have to be things you can, you can do very quickly. And I started off with dice rolling for it. So you just have to roll and you have to roll different combinations, keep picking up and keep rolling it. So it’s something that would really work with something really speedy they have to accomplish. And then when you accomplish it, you can move on and open up a new room. That kind of thing. That one, eventually we changed it because it felt a little bit too much like escape curse of the temple, which I gained that I hadn’t experienced until after I came up with that idea and, and like a few other games as well.

Joe (17m 19s):
So we changed the, to more of a, like a puzzle kind of mechanic where you’re having to solve these little puzzles and that kind of thing. So sometimes it’s, it’s just a little bit of trial and error. You might have an idea for what you think is going to work and it may or may not work. It may or may not be the best idea. And then you have, but you have to be unafraid of pivoting and changing if that’s not quite working or not quite giving the right experience in other cases where, you know, I, I want to make it like an engine builder, things like that, then I think, well, how, how are they going to be able to build their engine? How am I going to be able to make cards so that they are able to do the things they need to do and build it up kind of slowly over time and then, and then have this really strong engine building by that time, or if it’s a matter of trying to make people feel clever, well, what do people feel clever when they do?

Joe (18m 7s):
One example is puzzles. And that really fits well with Relics of Rajivahara. If you, you know, figure out that kind of puzzle and then you move on and it’s kind of that legacy aspect, or almost like a video game, you beat a level, you move on to the next level. So people have that familiarity with that kind of approach of, you know, one level being one level and moving onto the next one, but also the cleverness of sort of solving a puzzle. So if you can have like puzzley aspects that will usually make somebody feel clever, and if you want to do something, for example, that’s more like a push your luck. There are certain things that certain mechanics that kind of, you know, work well with that, whether it’s, you know, dice rolling or, you know, pulling something, drawing things from a bag, that type of thing, or like in the case of like a game like Incan gold, you hit two obstacles and you lose all your progress that round, that kind of thing.

Joe (18m 58s):
So, you know, there’s kind of a build-up to that and you have to make that choice. So I think there are certain mechanics that, that generally work well with different kinds of feelings you’re trying to get across. So it’s just looking at those, looking at experiences from different games that you’ve played and that you’ve seen other games you might’ve been working on, you know, quite often it’ll be, you know, you’re working on a game and it’s not working out, but then you work on a new one. He said, Oh, I can steal that idea from this other one that I had, right now, and maybe this will solve this problem. So it’s just kind of getting more experiential learning. You’re using your experience from games you’ve played and, and from designing and you kind of get quicker about the kind of figuring out what’s going to work and then just testing it out and trying, and, and not being afraid to pivot and change.

Rob (19m 39s):
That sounds fantastic. Just a quick break before we continue with this episode, if you’ve been enjoying this podcast, I would really appreciate if you share it with your friends and family and on social media, on Twitter and Instagram, it’s @RobAlvarezB and the hashtag #professorgame, all one word. And in Facebook, you can find the Professor Game page, thanks in advance for your engagement. And Joe, we just talked about, you know, your process. So is there any sort of, I don’t want to call it like, cause it’s not like the golden mechanic that that’s definitely not what we’re after, but is there some sort of best practice, something that when you’re designing, where you’re creating and, you know, a playful activity is some board games, you know, when you’re doing game design in general?

Rob (20m 22s):
So is there some sort of best practice, something that you would sort of recommend people to do when they’re in these processes?

Joe (20m 28s):
I would say just the most important thing is to get the idea out of your head as quickly as possible and onto the table. So whether that’s, you know, grabbing some, some dice and components from, you know, another game that’s already in your shelf and maybe whipping up some quick cards, just drawing up a quick board, whatever you need to do, but just making sure the processes is as quick as possible, make a, you know, minimum viable prototype and MVP and test it out. You, you know, you may have this grand idea about a game that’s gonna have, you know, 400 different cards and they’re each gonna have different art and different, different values and everything, but you don’t need 400 cards to, to test to see if that idea is even viable. You just need, you know, maybe 10 or 20 cards, put it out in front of yourself and just try it on your own before you even put it in front of anybody else, just, you know, come up with a basic idea of a small sample of the cards or small board, whatever you need, put them in front of you and try, you know, taking a couple turns and seeing if this is something that’s engaging or interesting, and then just tweak as you go, you might find, Oh, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got way too many things in front of me to choose from.

Joe (21m 30s):
Okay, let’s narrow down the scope. Maybe it’s just three cards to choose from. Maybe it’s, you know, not rolling a dye, maybe it’s, you know, doing something else, a bag building or a deck building or something like that. And just continuously trying to tweak and figure out what are the most fun parts of your idea, idea, or most engaging parts of your idea and what parts just are not going to work. And then just quickly make those iterations and changes. I think it’s all about getting it out of your head onto the table, testing it and making changes quickly. Cause I hear too many people, you know, new game designers or, or, you know, soon to be game designers who talk about, Oh, they have this idea for a game. And then, you know, you talk to them six months later, how’s that game coming up? Oh, you know, I haven’t really worked on everyone. Not like you, you won’t know if it works or not until you put it on the table and try it out.

Joe (22m 13s):
And once you’ve done that, you’ve done, you’ve taken a step that, you know, a lot of people haven’t even gotten to. And you’re much, much further ahead than a lot of people who just have that idea in their head that they’ll never get out and you know, they’ll never actually design the game. So just get out to the table and try it out.

Rob (22m 29s):
So the most important thing, as you’re saying, and I completely agree as is getting to do it, you know, get something out, get something and test it out, try it out, do it yourself and do something to see how it goes. That would be the first approach and makes a lot, a lot of sense. And talking about these, these recommendations, is there anybody, like after listening to these, to these questions, sort of the vibe of the podcast, is there, is there somebody that you would like to listen to in an interview like this one on Professor Game?

Joe (22m 57s):
The one person I I’d love to hear from more is Reiner Knizia. He has so many amazing games out there and I just love to learn more and more about his process because as I understand it, he just spends most of his time designing games. And he has somebody who actually does sort of the pitching aspect that, you know, talks to publishers and that kind of thing. So he can concentrate on game design. And I’d just love to hear his process because he has so many amazing games and he’s so prolific.

Rob (23m 23s):
That sounds fantastic. Like a fantastic recommendation. And in that same sense of recommendation’s I know you have those at least those three books and there’s, there’s more to come and definitely, those are some to have on the library, but right next to your book to your books, is there any other book you would like to recommend to the engagers? What, what book would that be and why?

Joe (23m 42s):
Sure. I’ve got lots of great books, on game design, you know, the game and toy industry and that on my shelf. But I think the one that stands out a little bit more than the others is Jesse Shell’s book, which is the, I forget the name here, but it’s, it’s talking about the book of lenses. It’s not, it’s not called that it’s, it’s the art of game design or game design. The book of lenses is his, his separate like app or the separate component you can kind of get, which is more of a deck of cards that you can shuffle or, or an app that you can search through and, and randomize and look at games from different lenses. Yeah. But the art of game design, I would say is a fantastic game or a fast, a fantastic book to check out.

Rob (24m 22s):
It is fantastic definitely. And if you want to check out Jesse Schell as well, there is an episode on the podcast with Jesse as well. He is absolutely great. So completely recommendation for sure. And when creating, you know, board games, when doing game design, what would you say is your superpower, Joe? What would you say is that thing that you do that probably, you know, it comes up naturally or better to you than most other people?

Joe (24m 47s):
Well, I think part of it comes from my background. So I have a strong background in math and statistics. That’s what I did my degree in at university. And I’ve always from a young age, just love math and working with numbers and that kind of thing. So I think the one thing that comes to me fairly naturally, maybe more than some people would be understanding kind of like the balance of, of numbers and values and economies and that type of thing. That tends to come to me fairly easily when I’m coming up with a game and I’m thinking, okay, well, how many, how many points should these cards be worth? You know what, you know, what’s kind of the risk-reward, okay.

Joe (25m 27s):
This, this card or this play that somebody can make is riskier. So there’s less chance of it succeeding, but if they do succeed, they should get a high reward, for example. So what are kind of those values? What are those numbers? How do you balance it and how do you make sure that the whole economy of the game makes sense? So there’s, you know, no cards or powers that are completely overpowering and nothing’s super undervalued and that kind of thing. So I think kind of that, that natural tendency to, to figure out the balance and the, and the numbers within a game kind of comes fairly naturally. To me,

Rob (26m 0s):
That is very, very useful and very, very important as well. So kudos for that, Joe, definitely. And this is a hard question. This is probably one of the ones that, that our guests have a harder time with because we enjoy games very much. So picking a favorite game is really, really difficult, but Joe, what would you say is your favorite game?

Joe (26m 20s):
That is super hard and I don’t know any one particular answer, I’ll say, I’ll say a couple of things here. The game that got me into modern board gaming, which has a certain place in my hole in my heart, rather not necessarily the number one game for me, but Pandemic was the game that got me into modern board gaming. So, it holds a special place in my heart, for sure. Aside from that, a couple of other games that I really, really enjoy I’ve really been into cartographers lately playing both solo and multiplayer. And I mean, Azul is, is one that I’ve, you know, keep coming back to and could play just about any time as well. But there, there are so many amazing games out there that it’s, it’s really, really hard to pick.

Joe (27m 1s):
Just one.

Rob (27m 3s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. I completely agree with you. And in fact, two of those games Azula and Pandemic are in my stack, so I definitely enjoy those two for sure. And since we have, you know, a little bit more time, every now and then we get the chance to make these random questions that come from the audience. So I’m going to pick randomly one of these questions that of course was, was preselected to make sure it makes sense for our guests today. Okay. So this one right here. Okay. So this person is saying I’m already creating games for entertainment, right? So what makes sense to go into designing a sort of custom made games for a purpose? So maybe not just for entertainment, but for, you know, I’d say education or for the environment or something like that is this is, this is me speaking now the question.

Rob (27m 49s):
And of course, if you have any insights on how to go through this if you would recommend doing that kind of thing.

Joe (27m 54s):
Sure. And I think there’s room for games just about anywhere, you know, game-based learning, you know, diff different approaches to things, education, there are so many opportunities out there. I, I definitely see a lot of teachers, for example, wanting to use games and using games more in their curriculum and their teaching. My wife’s a teacher and she loves to use games. She’s used, you know, some of my games, some of our published games off our shelf, I’ve gone into classrooms and, you know, showed, showed students how, how I go about kind of making games, health classes with, you know, that are making games themselves and have even created games for different curriculums for four different classrooms and subjects where I’ve gone in, you know, created a game based on what the teacher said that their need was, you know, it could be, you know, bees and weavers.

Joe (28m 48s):
It could be about the formation of the rock cycle, like, you know, topics that you think are, you know, kind of, kind of boring, not very exciting. And, you know, come up with a game that, you know, really works well and engages the students, you know, whether it’s reinforcing the learning or teaching the learning. I think there’s a lot of opportunities there to teach through games because you know, whether you’re a kid, whether you’re an adult, you’re going to be more engaged in something that’s interesting that you’re involved in learning in that way, rather than just, you know, hearing a boring lecture or that kind of thing. So definitely in the educational space, there are huge opportunities there. I’ve also heard there’s a lot of opportunities in the nonprofit as well as the kind of corporate side business side.

Joe (29m 31s):
When I was working at Wilfrid Laurier University, our motto was games that change the world and that’s what we were encouraging students to do. So part of the course curriculum and their assignments were around identifying a business in the community and figuring out, you know, one of their needs and then coming up with a game and it could be any kind of game like that course. And that curriculum was really talking about any kind of game, whether it was a tabletop, video game, Larp, hybrids, RPGs, whatever the case may be, but there were so many great opportunities. And I saw students come up with so many great ideas for, you know, coming up with a game for, you know, the YMCA or YWCA or for, you know, a local business and that kind of thing, whether it was something related to training or sales, safety, exercise, whatever the case may be.

Joe (30m 29s):
There, there are so many opportunities out there. And like you mentioned environment as well. That’s a great way to learn about, you know, climate change and that type of thing through, you know, through game-based learning that type of thing. And, you know, one project that I’m working on, you know, it’s very much in the back burner, unfortunately at this time with kind of schools in the situation that they’re in and I wouldn’t be able to go and visit, but I would love to come up with a game or, or further develop rather than the idea that I have of teaching students about the experience of explorers coming to North America and the impact on the first nations people and telling it more from a perspective so that students kind of, by the end of the game, they get a full feeling of what it was like, the impact if they were playing the role of the first nations people.

Joe (31m 18s):
Cause you know, we always talk about, you know, the explorers and, you know, they’ve explored so much and, and, you know, gained so much as a result and, and, you know, survived because of the first nations people. But nobody really looks to see kind of the perspective of the first nations people, how it impacted them, how it impacted their culture, the sicknesses that they had and everything. So it would be more of a game where it’s not going to be fun and entertaining and that kind of experience we’re going to get to the end and say, Oh wow. But more so you’re going to get to that and say, Oh wow, like, look at the devastating impact of, you know, certain choices that were made and, you know, the explorers that came in and, you know, perhaps some situations where, you know, they were taken advantage of and that kind of thing, and what happened as a result.

Joe (32m 5s):
So basically at the end of the game, there’s not going to be a winner. Everybody’s going to lose if you’re playing as like the first nations, but you’re going to have a way better understanding and empathy hopefully for, for the first nations people and what they went through as a result.

Rob (32m 19s):
That sounds amazing. And definitely, there are many opportunities in that world. In fact, that one of our main targets, so to speak one of our main groups and then within the engagers are people who are using games in, in any way, in any fashion, in education and in learning, or that could be corporate learning. It could be in higher ed that could be in K-12. I think there are many, many opportunities for this. And I would say like, if it were me, I would definitely go for it. At least give it a try, see how it goes, see what impact you can do in the world as well. Because of course, you want to make sure your games are out there. You want to make sure you, you know, of course, you earn a living because you’re probably trying to make a living out of this. But also, you know, that that footprint that you leave behind, you want to, you want it to be definitely a positive one and see how games can make an impact in the world.

Rob (33m 4s):
There are many things at games that are capable of doing so thank you very much for that answer, Joe. It was, it was fantastic. And of course, before we let you go, if you have any final piece of advice, that would be fantastic, but otherwise, we want to make sure we know where to find your books, where to find you. I know you have a board game design course, you know, all these things where, where that call to action, if you will, where can we find more about Joe and his work?

Joe (33m 27s):
Sure. So first of all, the only other thing I would say is, you know, just to reiterate what I said, if you have an idea for a game, if you want to create a game, do it, ideas, you know, are great to a point, but unless you actually take action on them, you won’t see the results you won’t see. You know, if this game is a real experience, if it is something that could be viable and you know, you owe it to other people out there to actually make this game and to, you know, deliver it to the world. If you’ve got a great game in your head, you know, everybody should have the opportunity to, to play it and see it and experience that. So that’s the one piece of advice I would give.

Joe (34m 8s):
And if you’re looking for more information on me or about my course, you can check out I’ve got all the information there. I’ve got blogs that you can read a couple of years’ worth of, of blogs on various different subjects, everything from designing a game to Kickstarter and everything in between. And I’ve got links to my books there. If you’re interested, I’ve got three books and the course as well, where you can learn how to design games from A to Z.

Rob (34m 35s):
Absolutely. That sounds fantastic. Thank you very much, Joe, for investing this time together with us, you know, to give all these insights to the Engagers, hopefully, they will find as well as I did a lot of value, a lot of insights into your, to your experience, everything you’ve told us today, however, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that its Game over. Engagers, it is fantastic to have you around because this podcast really makes sense with you. So let’s connect on Twitter. That way we can be connected or you can exchange views. We can have ideas. We can have conversations. I can help you with things hopefully as well. You can find my Twitter account on

Rob (35m 13s):
I’m always sharing content about gamification, game-based solutions, game-based learning, especially as you know, my passion for education and learning. And Hey, don’t click continue yet. Remember to subscribe, if you haven’t, using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game, see you there.

End of transcription

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