Geoff Engelstein of Ludology Making the Best of Experiences | Episode 165

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Geoff Engelstein s an award-winning tabletop game designer whose titles include Space Cadets, The Fog of War, Pit Crew, The Expanse, and the recently-released Versailles: 1919 and Super Skill Pinball. He is an adjunct professor of game design at the NYU Game Center. Geoff has since 2007 contributed a Dice Tower podcast series on the math, science, and psychology of games and since 2011 hosted the Ludology podcast on game design. He has published the books on game design Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design, Achievement Relocked, and the upcoming Game Production and has spoken at GDC, Pax, Gencon, Rutgers, and USC. He has degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering from MIT.


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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! Welcome once again, engagers to another episode. We have to date with us in Professor Game podcast. We have Geoff.

Rob (45s):
Geoff, are you prepared to engage?

Geoff (48s):
I am.

Rob (50s):
Let’s do this because Geoff Englestein is an award-winning tabletop game designer whose titles include Space Cadets, the Fog of War, Pit Crew, The Expanse, and recently released Versailles: 1919 and Super Skill Pinball. He’s also an adjunct professor of game design at the NYU game center. So very, very exciting. Geoff has been since 2007 contributed a dice tower podcast series on the math science and psychology of games since 2011, he has hosted the Ludology podcast on game design and he’s published books on game design, like building blocks of tabletop game design, achievement relocked, and the upcoming game production and has spoken in GDC, Pax, GenCon, Rutgers and USC.

Rob (1m 36s):
And he has a degree in physics and also in electrical engineering from MIT. So very, very complete profile, many things to see there. Geoff, is there anything that you’d like to mention before we kickstart?

Geoff (1m 50s):
No, you, you covered just about everything, so just, yeah, let’s just jump into it.

Rob (1m 54s):
So, Geoff, we’re delighted to have you in the podcast today, but we’d like to know a little bit about, you know, your, your typical life and, you know, one day in the life of Geoff or, you know, one week, what does it, I don’t know if to call it a regular day or not, but how does that look like?

Geoff (2m 8s):
Well, you know, a lot of them, the game design stuff that I do is I won’t say a hobby, but, you know, it’s, it’s not my main source of income. So, so most of the time I spend, I have a, I do a lot of engineering and product development. So, you know, running a business takes up most of my time, but, you know, certainly, you know, in, in the evenings and on the weekends and stuff like that, I spent a lot of time thinking about game design and game theory and the way that it, you know, intersects with psychology and, and other aspects of the world, as well as, you know, just kind of working on my own designs to try to put some of that theory into practice.

Rob (2m 44s):
That sounds absolutely fantastic, enticing and more. And that’s why we’d like to get into the intern. Next question. Our next question is, and this is a question we make to every single guest because we are convinced that this is a very great way to learn a very great to share your ideas. And it’s, it’s through failure. As we know, in-game design, one of the main things that we do is fail and we learn. So we would like to address what you might maybe call your favorite fail or first attempt in learning your favorite failure. And of course, be with you go through that story, learn what, what we can from, from that. Can you tell us that story?

Geoff (3m 20s):
Yeah. Well, my favorite story in this area, I’ve had plenty of failures that occur publicly, but this, this one, fortunately, I kind of caught it before something got out the door, but, you know, we had one of my earlier game designs: Space Cadets is a cooperative game. That’s a, basically like a simulation of being a crew, running a starship, like in Star Trek or something like that. Each person has a role and you’re just trying to fly and accomplish your mission with your teammates. And, you know, for the longest time it was, you know, the way that you lost the mission is if you lose a mission as if your ship blows up is the way most of it works. And the way that the ship took damage and blew up, was it just the enemies attacked and you would roll dice.

Geoff (4m 6s):
And there was a little damage chart. And if the damage got to the heart of the ship and blew up your reactor, then you died and the game ended. And as part of my, and you know, what, people never liked the ending, you know, it wasn’t always, you know, I mean, people never like to lose. So certainly with the losing ending, people never enjoyed that part, but it also, you know, it, it, it was a little anticlimactic, but I didn’t really worry about it because, you know, when they won, it was always exciting. But losing, you know, losing was, was not as exciting, which I figured was normal, but then I was doing some research, you know, for my game tech segment on the dice tower, I do these little five minute pieces and segments about psychology and things like that.

Geoff (4m 47s):
And I had just recently read about some research that was done back in the eighties or early nineties. I believe that was about colonoscopies. And in the medical procedure, they studied that, you know, this was back when they were doing them, when people were still awake, they didn’t do it under full anesthetic. So they had people record how uncomfortable they were, how much pain they were in at different points in the procedure. And they did it two different ways. So first they just did a normal procedure where the time of maximum pain was right before it ended, but it was like a 10-minute long procedure. And then they did another set of studies where it was a 20-minute long procedure. The first 10 minutes were exactly the same that, you know, it still hit that point of peak pain, but then they just kind of let people unwind for 10 minutes, but still said it was part of the operation.

Geoff (5m 37s):
And then later they would ask people about the total pain or discomfort that they felt for the procedure. And, you know, they kind of figured that it would probably be about the same, or maybe the people that the 20-minute long procedure would feel that it was more painful or more discomfort because they were having the operation for a longer period of time, twice as much time. But what they found out was that actually, the people that had the longer procedure reported less total discomfort, and they went and did a lot of other studies around this phenomenon and found out that it was relating to the fact that people that did report discomfort was most closely correlated with the peak discomfort averaged, with the discomfort that they had at the very end, the last thing that they remembered.

Geoff (6m 23s):
And so in the first procedure where the peak discomfort and the highest and the ending were, you know, had the highest discomfort was reported remembered as very high. Whereas when the peak discomfort happened in the middle and then dropped off at the very end, they were relatively comfortable. So that lowered the overall way that they remembered it and experienced it. And as I was kind of putting the piece together, I suddenly realized that Space Cadets was kind of failing that, you know, that the colonoscopy test, I guess you could call it in that, you know, there were very exciting moments, but when you lost the game, the last thing that you had was a not very excited, very anticlimactic moment. You just rolled some dice.

Geoff (7m 3s):
And if you roll the six, you lost the game and it was not very exciting. And the same thing with, even with winning, when you won, you just had to grab these different crystals depending on the mission. And if you got the last one you won and the way that the game is structured is that there are little 30-second mini-games that all the players have to do. So simultaneously all the players have a little 30-second puzzle that they have to solve. There’s a shield puzzle and a weapons puzzle, and a navigation puzzle. And everyone’s kind of doing it at the same time and communicating with each other so that they, they maneuver the ship or set it up the best that they can. So when we went back to the drawing board with my co-designers and we, when we read, we realized we have to make the ending more exciting.

Geoff (7m 42s):
And we ended up adding this thing that if you, in order to win the game, you’re not, you didn’t just have to accomplish the goals, but you also had to jump out of the sector. And we ha we added this little warp jump mini-game that you had to do, where you had 30 seconds to basically get off roll five days and have them all be the same, but you could manipulate them and do other things, which was very exciting. And then even when you lost, rather than if you took all this damage, we left at the same, we didn’t make the players instantly lose. We added what we call the core breach mechanism, which was where if you’ve got a core breach you could potentially lose. And the way that it worked is that during the next 30 seconds, when everybody was doing their job, you now had an extra thing that the whole team needed to do together during that same 30 seconds, which was just matching shapes.

Geoff (8m 28s):
It was super simple, but because it was 30 seconds. And because you had to do it at the same time, you’re doing your other job. It got very crazy and frantic. And the first couple of times it was easy to do, but it got harder and harder each time you had another core breach and eventually, you know, your ship would blow up. We, we made it. So it was, you know, it was only in 30 seconds, it was only so many shapes that you could match. And just that change to the game of adding those two little exciting finishes just completely changed the character of it. And our playtests just went so much better after that, that, you know, just, I was so happy that we realized that, you know, that failure to create an exciting moment right at the end was really hurting us.

Geoff (9m 7s):
And, you know, when we corrected it, even, you know, all the, a lot of the positive comments that I got to the game after it released was about how much fun the ending was that even when people lost the game, it was still so exciting. And so, so cool that they just, they remembered it very fondly.

Rob (9m 22s):
I love that story for many different reasons. One of them, of course, is the fact that and I say this pretty often is that failure is, is usually at least not fatal, not final, and you can recover from it. And I love the fact that in this story, that’s exactly that you, you had an initial failure, you realize something was not going as well as it could. You did something about it. You found out in the playtest, you figured out something, you went back to the drawing board for the ending, you solved that problem that you were encountering and you were able to get it. And as we, as we know, it was later a big success. I love that story. Is there, is there anything that you want to sort of leaving us with from, from that story? Any, I don’t know any key lesson aside from that.

Geoff (10m 2s):
Yeah. I mean, you know, really, you know, just in terms of, you know, any activity, you know, I, I think we, we intuitively understand the importance of, you know, having a good ending, but I don’t think we really, you know, think about it. At least I wasn’t thinking about it in that way, but I mean, even think about it. If, you know, if I see a movie that’s got a fantastic sequence in the middle of the movie versus another movie, that stuff has a fantastic sequence as that last thing that happens in the movie, you know, you’re, you’re going to be much happier with the second thing. So, you know, you want to, when you’re doing your, your game designs, just like really any other, you know, creative activity, I think you want to end on a, on a very high and strong note. So I think that’s, that’s the lesson that I try to take from that.

Rob (10m 43s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that has to do with game design. It has to do with service experiences. It has to do with almost anything that last moment that the last touch that you have with your players could be your customers. It could be your students. It has to hopefully end on a high note. And that’s very difficult with students as well, because as you know, usually it ends on a test, which can be a disappointment many times.

Geoff (11m 6s):
Yeah. I mean, in my game design class, we try to, you know, our last classes are demonstrations of the final projects. So at least we’re all kind of playing games together and having some fun. And so, yeah, so we’re all having an opportunity to do that, but yeah, in most classes, they, they end with a little bit of anxiety. So that can be a problem,

Rob (11m 24s):
A high note instead of a low one, for sure. No, I completely agree with it, in fact, when I teach operations, I have to make a final exam for the bachelor’s and it has to be common to the other sections as well. So that’s, that’s the way it is, but I completely, I mean, literally when I teach game design and game thinking and gamification, I literally go exactly for that, having the final project there, either a presentation or the playing of the actual, the actual result, that is where you want to end. You want to get people excited about what they got. So I, I love that story completely and talking about success. I mean, not everything is just about failure eventually, as in this story, things might or will end up in success and I wanted to sort of build-up to that success with you is there a story.

Rob (12m 5s):
You’d like to tell us about a time you set out to do again, a game, you did your game design and actually went the way you wanted it to, eventually, the first or the second or the nth attempt. And we want to be there with you, if there’s any sort of success factors that you want to discuss, that would be great.

Geoff (12m 19s):
Well, this one and this one is more on the gamification path. As I mentioned, I have a, a company that does product development and, you know, again, I was, you know, researching and I’m sure you’re familiar with the, I was, I was looking at different studies and there was a study about car washes and rewards for getting your car washed. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, with this study from…

Rob (12m 45s):
Loyalty programs, Didn’t read the study though.

Geoff (12m 47s):
Yeah. So the idea was, you know, that they gave it basically, the idea is that if you give somebody pre punches, they handed out two different types of coupons. You needed to get eight car washes to get a free one. And if they gave somebody a coupon that was for eight car washes, but nothing was punched out already, about 17% of the people got the free carwash. But if they gave a one that had 10 punches on it, but two were already punched. So they still had to get eight more, but they started out with two, then almost double the number of people redeemed that coupon completed it versus having nothing done. And that the researchers called that, Oh, and now I’m completely blanking on it.

Geoff (13m 31s):
Ah, the attorney I’m blanking on the day we’re talking about, but it’s basically like some sort of earned progress that they already had. So, you know, I was, I’d read that study. And I thought that was really, I mean, you know, as these studies go, I read a lot of these kinds of psychology studies and things like that. And most of them are like with this one, it was, instead of being 50 50, it was 56, 44, you know, it’s always tiny little effects to move stuff. So to have something where it actually doubled the response rate, I thought it was just was insane. So I decided to try to incorporate this into our proposals. It was cause we do very complicated, you know, we do very long-term recording like to do a six-month engineering development project for somebody.

Geoff (14m 14s):
And part of the proposal is we do a whole schedule for people. You know, we give them a whole Gantt chart that shows all the different phases and stuff like that. And what I started doing after I read that study is, you know, we, we always have to do a certain amount of work to prepare the proposal. You know, we do some studying, we do some review of the project, you know, we don’t get paid for it, but, but we do some legwork. And what I started doing was I started putting that on the schedule that we gave people but showed them that I marked those tasks as done. So everything else was the same, but I just marked it. I put it in and I said, okay, you know, here’s our proposal. It’s going to take this many hours and the first 10% of the hours are already completed because already did this work prior to giving you this, present this proposal.

Geoff (14m 55s):
And it, I didn’t, it’s, it’s very hard in the business to keep statistics on what it is, but I know that you know, just from looking at it in general, that it definitely improved the response rate and, you know, landed us some projects that I’m, I’m confident that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. So again, it’s just a question of framing it. I didn’t charge anything differently or give anything away that I wasn’t giving away anyway, but I just, you know, made it seem like people, Hey, we’ve already, we’re already on the road with you guys. We’re, you know, there’s, it’s a journey we’re on, but we’ve already taken the first few steps together. So let’s keep going. And that kind of got people invested in it.

Rob (15m 30s):
It makes sense. People basically feel that as you were saying, things are already done, you’ve already advanced and they feel you’re already sort of committed. And of course, a client will definitely appreciate the commitment, from their provider. So completely agree. That’s I, I had heard of that one, the, of punching the cards, but I hadn’t, I didn’t know it was from a carwash actually. I’ve used that example a few times as well. It’s a very good one. And it’s a very good application. It’s not an unexpected one. It’s not the kind of thing that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. And you, but marking that shows, shows visually and sort of sensorially that, that your, your, you know, your client can see that you’re already doing things.

Rob (16m 11s):
And that is absolutely fantastic. So, Geoff, we’ve been talking about game design. We’ve been talking about priming things for, through gamification, for product design as well. When you have a challenge. And again, whether that is building a new game, a new board game, or whether that is, you know, you’re building a product and, you know, you’ll have to use these, these game design ideas and elements in your product. When you’re going to do these things. Of course, choose one. I’m guessing that they’re not exactly the same. Do you have some sort of thought process, some, some steps that you follow, how do you, how do you approach these problems?

Geoff (16m 43s):
I, I don’t really have a set kind of process. I mean, I guess the main thing I’ll do all the time is to kind of create a, what I call a vision statement, which is really what I’m trying to accomplish. Right? What, what inspired me to do it in the first place? Cause certainly, you know, it’s a little different if you’re applying game techniques to something else, but if you’re designing a game, it’s, it’s a long process and there’s a lot of decisions that can lead you in all kinds of crazy directions. And sometimes you run into, you know, you do put it out on the table or you do it on the computer or whatever, and it’s just not working the way that you wanted it to work. And so I like to have that kind of a vision of vision statement, just one or two paragraphs of what captivated me about the idea.

Geoff (17m 27s):
And I focus on the emotion. I focus on the experience. I focus on the stories that I want people to tell about the experience when they’ve completed it. And that kind of helps keep me centered. And you know, it changes sometimes during the course of it, if it’s just not working the way I thought it would work. Then you know, I’ll go back and change it. But at least I’m doing it in, in a controlled and you know, I know I’m doing, I’m not just wandering, but I mean, for me, there’s always some spark of room for inspiration and, you know, it’s, it’s easy to get kind of lost in the woods and lose focus or, or just lose momentum, you know, and the desire to do it. And, you know, there was something months ago that, that, that sparked my excitement.

Geoff (18m 9s):
So I like to go back and try to recapture that when I get into those moments, it’s like, what was I thinking? What was kind of the core experience of what I was trying to do? And, and then what’s the gap between where I am now and what I was trying to do, which, which parts are not being fulfilled.

Rob (18m 21s):
Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense, especially if it keeps you going, I think is one of the main things that you always want to make sure is, is that the element is, is there, I mean, you’re, you’re still excited about that. You still want to keep it up because I mean, as with any enterprise in the, in your, your company as well, you know, sometimes, you know, you start something and if it’s long run, it’s a lot more difficult to keep up that motivation. And it’s, it’s a way to keep it visual. I agree with that. And I think it’s a very, very good strategy.

Geoff (18m 49s):
Yes. By the way, to go back a topic, I looked up the car wash thing, it’s called endowed progress. That’s endowed progress, endowed progress effect. And the study was in 2004 by Joseph Nunes and Xavier Drze. And they did it in California. So that’s in case the listeners are interested in looking into learning more about that. It’s endowed, endowed progress.

Rob (19m 10s):
There you go. There you go with the endowed progress. Just a quick break. Before we continue with this episode, if you’ve been enjoying this podcast, I would really appreciate it if you share it with your friends and family and on social media. On Twitter and Instagram, it’s at Rob Alvarez B and the hashtag professor game, all one word. And on Facebook, you can find the Professor Game page, thanks in advance for your engagement! So, Geoff, we’ve spoken about some strategies, some ideas, the way that you approach this, some, some examples of how you have done it. Is there some sort of best practice, something that you would say, well, when, when thinking about the game at your game, ideas, keep this in mind, do these kinds of things I need to your projects will probably benefit from that?

Geoff (19m 52s):
Yeah. I, you know, well, I mean, I kind of touched on it a little bit, which is sort of focusing on the experience and the story, but I, I mean, I, I mean, other than that, I think the key thing is just to test things as much as possible, you know, things, my games are always amazingly good in my head. That’s when they’re at their best. Then when they actually put them in front of other people, then it’s like, Oh no, this is now not what I thought it was going to be. You know, you can do all the tinkering and theorizing and everything else, but until it gets in front of people and you have them start using it or playing with it, or, you know, whatever it is, that’s when you’re really going to get the feedback, that’s going to be helpful in driving you, you know, in a particular direction, you know, you’re let you know if you’re on the right path or if you need to veer off, or this is working and not that whatever.

Geoff (20m 38s):
So I, I always recommend to my students that try to get something tested as quickly as possible, you know, try to, you know, mock something up with just some index cards and, you know, paper and pencil w whatever you can do to actually start pushing pieces around versus just endlessly designing it in your head,

Rob (20m 57s):
Put it in front of people, put it in front of your players. For sure.

Geoff (21m 1s):
Yeah. And it sounds obvious, but I, you know, I know a lot of designers they’ll like to say, okay, I’ve been kind of working on this game by myself for a year, and now I’m finally ready to show it to show to somebody. And I’m like, Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no. That’s going to be a real problem. Yeah. Which is one of my, you know, so you mentioned, I have a new book coming out this December called Game Production Prototyping and Producing your Board Game. And that is unlike my other books, which were more about game design and psychology of game design and stuff like that. This one is about, you know, the nuts and bolts of how you actually make a physical prototype to use with people or use digital prototyping tools, how you make cards, you know, how you do laying out your rules, what the graphic design techniques that will help make it easier for people to play your game.

Geoff (21m 48s):
And that’s one of the big things that I constantly hammer on in the book is, you know, get a prototype done quickly and spend as little time as possible on it. Because again, just psychology and human nature. If, if you spend a ridiculous amount of time preparing your prototype and making it look unbelievably beautiful when it doesn’t attach to it. Yeah. You’re not going to be able to throw it away and you’re going to have to throw it away. So, you know, to, to make that psychological element of it work, you know, you’re if just spend as little time as you can getting the prototype together. And so I took a lot about a lot of techniques, to enable you to get something to the table quickly.

Rob (22m 25s):
It’s funny. I was recently very recently at a giving a talk with some behavioral, club of behavioral economics, at the university I teach. How they, they invited me for a talk and somebody asked me, cause I said like ship very fast. There is, I’m not sure it’s with the founder of one of these giants, LinkedIn, Amazon. I’m not sure which one says there, who says, if you shipped your first product and you’re not embarrassed by it, you shipped too late.

Geoff (22m 50s):
That’s interesting.

Rob (22m 52s):
You can take it as maybe not shipping, but play-testing, we should care.

Geoff (22m 55s):
Well, I mean, that’s why I am super envious of like, you know, people that do computer games or online products or something like that. It’s just so easy, to tweak it later. Right. I mean, a board game is such a physical artifact that if, if there’s something wrong, it’s very hard for you to update it in the field. Right. So, so that, that you gotta, you gotta make sure it’s more, but yeah. I mean, when you, if you put a game down on the table and it’s perfect, that’s, that’s a really bad sign. I mean,

Rob (23m 20s):
Yeah, absolutely. And precisely one of the questions was, but are you sure? Like, there’s all these, as you were saying, like there, there could be all these consequences, especially with the physical product. And it’s like, yeah, well I understand, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get in front of people. I mean, the shipping maybe has some physical products that you can tweak, especially with digital products. I think it applies very, very well as you were saying, they can be updated, but the idea of getting it in front of actual, actual, even customers, even people who would play your game, who would purchase it in the future, you lose the sale of one board game, I’m sure as well-worth the feedback that you will get from that customer, even giving away the physical prototype, you have to watch them play and see and get the feedback that they, they give you is definitely invaluable.

Rob (24m 4s):
And that was basically the message I was trying to convey to this. I’m not sure if that person was a student or it was somebody else because it was in an open invitation, but I, I remembered it very, very, very quickly when, when you were talking about this story.

Geoff (24m 17s):
Yeah, yeah. And yeah, I mean, my, my, my latest game, Super Skill Pinball is a pinball board game. That’s in the roll and write genre. So, so you roll dice and then you mark something off on a sheet.

Rob (24m 30s):

Geoff (24m 30s):
And yeah, it just came out. I mean, it, it formally released into retail, like the end of August, beginning of September, but back in April, we actually released, and they’re still available on the website if people are interested, but we, we released a, it, the game comes with four different pinball tables that you can play, and they all have different, slightly different rules, but they’re the same core system, but a little bit of a, of a tweak. So we released the introductory table online. We just, as a free download. So it was just, it was a PDF and you could just download it and it had simplified rules and you could just play it. And, you know, the feedback that we got on that, we did go back and change some stuff a little bit in terms of the rules, because all of a sudden people were confused about certain things that we did not think they would be confused about.

Geoff (25m 16s):
And so, so it, a hundred percent informed the way that we changed the rules for the production version. And yeah, I, you know, I mean, you could say maybe some people that would have bought it just downloaded the free sample table, but I think, in the end, it really helped overall help the sales of the game.

Rob (25m 33s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. Because if, if your, your product depends on those extra, you know, 10 sales that would have gone down to the sink, the problem is not, then you gave it away to 10 people. You have another problem.

Geoff (25m 46s):
Well, this was really, so, I mean, this, I mean, this has been downloaded thousands of times now, so it’s cause it’s,

Rob (25m 52s):
But I, I mean, in general, when, when you’re, you’re getting it in front of people, not necessarily giving it away in online and, and especially with somebody who can reach quite a large audience like yourself, but I mean, in general, if your problem is, is that one, you probably have a bigger problem than, than giving away if you, if you have your, have your copies. So, so Geoff talking about recommendations, that’s a fantastic recommendation. And I would like to know if you have, I know you also interview a lot of people. So, this is, it’s an especially useful question in this case for at least, for the audience, for me, after hearing these questions, understanding a bit of what the podcast looks like. Is there any person that comes to your mind that you would say, Oh, this person would be, I would really like to listen to an interview like this one in Professor Game?

Geoff (26m 34s):
I’m a huge fan of, and maybe this is a little bit of a different angle, but I’m a huge fan of graphic artist, Daniel Solis. He is, he did the, for one of my books, the encyclopedia of it’s called building blocks of tabletop game design, which isn’t like an encyclopedia of mechanisms, but we have about 200 different mechanics that you can incorporate into games. And he did all the illustrations on the mechanics, but the way that he approaches graphic design in terms of treating it as a real language of creating a grammar for the game and for, you know, whatever it is, if you’re doing gamification or whatever, I just think that he’s such a combination of an analytical, psychological, and artistic approach to, you know, kind of creating what are the verbs and what are the nouns and how are we going to represent them and how are we going to be consistent and how is it going to be easy for people to understand?

Geoff (27m 30s):
And that I think the work that he does and just the way he thinks about it is just fascinating.

Rob (27m 34s):
That sounds like a fantastic recommendation, a different type of interview, for sure. But I think we could get many, many insights from a, you know, a person who has those, those insights, for sure. And talking about that, I know you have many books and of course, we recommend each and every one of them, as well as the one that is upcoming in December, this interview is going to be coming out in December, depending on the day. Maybe it’s out, maybe it’s coming out, but aside, or maybe even right next to your books, what book would you recommend to the Engagers? Because of course, I don’t want to ask you to recommend just one, because you have many they’re your kids. Of course. What book would you recommend and why would you recommend that book one?

Geoff (28m 11s):
That’s not mine? you mean,

Rob (28m 14s):
Ideally of course yours are already recommended for sure.

Geoff (28m 18s):
You know, I, I, there’s, there’s a lot of real classics in the genre. There’s one that I think is really good as the Psychology of Video Games. What’s the gentleman’s name? Jamie Madigan. Thank you. Sorry. Okay.

Rob (28m 34s):
Yes. Jamie Madigan actually a past guest as well.

Geoff (28m 38s):

Rob (28m 39s):
So he has a recent book as well. Another book he launched very, very recently,

Geoff (28m 43s):
Yes, yes, the engagement game is the new one. Yeah. But I, I, I think that the psychology of video games in particular is, is a really exceptional book. And, you know, of course, if you haven’t read it, the, the, one of the seminal works and this is Ralph Koster’s theory of fun is, is, is just terrific. So, you know, but there’s just been a lot of really, you know, kind of interesting of books and different taking different angles to look at games and, and psychology and the way that they all kind of intersect.

Rob (29m 12s):
Absolutely, absolutely very, a very interesting book, definitely an interesting character as well. Jamie, you can, you can go back in the, in the, in the archive and find Jamie as well and be excited about that book. And now as well, maybe if, if you, if it, if it ignites your interest, maybe the new one, whatever, you know, is, is great for you, but that is a very good recommendation for sure. In talking about recommendations. And this one is going to be probably a difficult one as well. What would you say is your favorite game?

Geoff (29m 41s):
I get this question all the time and it’s, it’s one of my least favorite quotes because it’s, you know, I feel like it’s so dependent on the group of people and the movement and stuff like that, but, okay. I will say that one of my favorite games, just everything else put aside is a civilization, a board game called Through the Ages, which is by Czech designer Vlaada Chvatil. And it’s kind of a, you know, sort of loosely based on the Sid Meier Civilization, which is sort of loosely based on the old Francis Tresham civilization. So this goes a long pedigree, but you know, if you’re interested in that genre, that kind of the Forex genre through the ages does so many things smartly from a game design perspective, that if you’re interested in a real deep to the deep meaty game, but it’s also, you know, the what he chooses to abstract versus what he chooses to, to get into the details for is just a masterful job.

Geoff (30m 34s):
So that’s through the ages is one of my favorites.

Rob (30m 37s):
Through the ages sounds like a fantastic game. I haven’t played it. It’s probably now on my list as well.

Geoff (30m 43s):
And there’s a fantastic app. If you are going to do it, the app is also a terrific way to learn how to play it because it’s got really good tutorials and handles a lot of the bookkeeping for you.

Rob (30m 50s):
Nice, nice, very good integration between the physical and the digital world seems.

Geoff (30m 55s):

Rob (30m 55s):
And what would you say in this, in this world of game design and creating these products as well, that are engaging, and that might have some elements of gamification as well. What would you say is your superpower, that thing that you do great, then you probably do better than at least most other people.

Geoff (31m 11s):
Well, and I think this annoys people maybe too, but especially my students are, you know, people, I have a vast game library at home. I’ve been playing games, you know, since the 1970s. And I’ve got literally thousands of board games in my basement. And, you know, so whenever students come to me or other designers in there say, Hey, you know, Hey, I just got this great new idea. I want to try to do this. And I’m always like, Oh, that’s really cool. I think you could be cool about that. And also, you know, you may want to check out this game, this game, this game, and this game in this game, which also do that.

Rob (31m 47s):
So your cool new idea is not so new,

Geoff (31m 49s):
But I, you know, I’m not doing it to try to shoot down their idea and say, don’t do it. I mean, I’m genuinely… You know, we all are standing on the shoulders of giants, you know, and those that came before us. And so I feel that, you know, but having those touchstones to be able to go back and look at comparable things in the way other people tried to tackle similar areas that you’re doing, I think is really incredibly useful for design. So for me, just kind of having those examples at my fingertips is, I would say is I’ll go through that as my superpower.

Rob (32m 19s):
And I’m sure it helps as well, very much your own designs and you do to help other people get through their designs. I didn’t, I didn’t mean it in a demeaning way, but it is of course at the initial point, if you’re, if again, you’re very attached, as we were saying at the start of, you’re very attached to your idea, maybe you might feel, you know, your ego is a little bit, is a bit hurt, but that is you not on, Not on Geoff, who’s actually pointing out how you can learn from that experience with somebody else as well has had before. So, Geoff, this has been a very, very insightful, very useful interview in my, at least in my view. I hope it has been for you as well. Is there anything else, any advice, any other place you want to point us to before we take off? And of course, let us know where we can find more about you.

Geoff (33m 1s):
Yeah. Well, first thanks so much for having me on it was, it was delightful. I really have enjoyed listening to your podcast and it’s a thrill to be on if people are interested in following me and my other stuff, the best bet is probably on Twitter. That’s where I do most of my work. And it’s at G Englestein, which is G E N G E L S T E I N. And you know, I’ve got the new book coming out on game production. And, and earlier this just a couple of months ago, I had a book called gametek, G A M E T E K, that came out, which is kind of a collection of my work on the dice tower, those short little segments about, you know, that I talked about, like the carwash study and the colonoscopy study that was just published by Harper Collins in the United States.

Geoff (33m 47s):
It’s been out worldwide before that, but there was a special US version that just came out on that. So that’s probably the best bet is to, to, to reach out to me on Twitter. So…

Rob (33m 56s):
Sounds absolutely great. Thank you very much for investing this time on this, in this interview. Glad to have you enjoy it as well, and glad to know that you have listened to some interviews as well, however, at least for now, and you know, for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Engagers! It is absolutely fantastic to have you here. Thank you for listening to this new episode of Professor Game Podcast. And I’d like to know, how are you listening to this podcast? If you are doing a through a podcasting app, like, I don’t know, Apple iTunes, or Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, any of the apps that you might be using, have you subscribed to the podcast? Have you read it and reviewed the podcast?

Rob (34m 38s):
If you haven’t, please go ahead and do so. That way we can reach more Engagers like you to achieve our mission of making learning. Amazing. If you want any instructions, all you have to do is go to That’s the link that we used. And of course, before you go onto your next mission, remember to do this, remember to click, subscribe, and listen to the next episode of Professor Game. See you there.

End of transcription

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