Published on June 28th, 2016 | by Luke Turpeinen0
You Can Go Your Own Way
If I can make board games, so can you.
One of the most difficult life decisions I’ve ever made was to turn my back on the world of office politics, take a huge pay cut, and refocus my life on board games. I had recently changed jobs from working QC on the Google Maps project to working for a local, physician-owned, health clinic co-op. I intensely disliked both jobs, mostly due to a feeling of being a cog in a machine.
I had the feeling that at worst I was jeopardizing my job security every time I suggested of change of policy or routine, or at best was sending suggestions into the ether, never to be seen again. When you feel you were hired for your ability to organize and analyze, it can be depressing to find that no one who gets paid more than you cares about your opinion whatsoever.
Thankfully during that time period I had also (with the help of Nicole and others) started up AcrossTheBoardGames, where I was still throwing my opinion into the ether, but now I could see if anyone even read it. People did read it. Then, during a round of “restructuring” I was laid off from my office job- a job I probably should have quit for my own mental health months before.
After three months of job hunting hell I was told I needed two years restaurant experience to work as a dishwasher for a local bougie gastropub I used to frequent just weeks earlier. That killed it. I knew I’d never be truly happy working for someone else, and I needed to find a way to do something I love, my way. I decided that I wanted to make board games.
Sometimes in life you find a friend who wants to follow similar dreams, and so after talking with Nicole, we decided to build a brand together that we would call WhiskeyGinger. We decided that WhiskeyGinger would encompass our skills as artists and storytellers, with a focus on providing consulting to existing designers and publishers in order to make their game’s theme resonate more fully with their audience.
Theme and narrative has been a large focus on our site, so being able to help designers and publishers create better themes seemed like a very natural way to add real value to both the board game industry and board game players world wide. We also had our own game ideas that we wanted to develop, and being closer to the process of making others’ games gave us the insight we’d need to begin making our own games.
I know a lot of people who are good at board games and have passionate feelings about them, so my first inclination was to rally the troops (as it were) and I figured that together we would make the best games. But, as I’d learned by editing this site, creative projects are not like a Field of Dreams. If you build it, “they” won’t necessarily come. As designers we have a tendency to think that our excitement over an idea should be contagious, but that’s not necessarily the case.
You can feel like the Little Red Hen all you want (“Who will help me bake this bread?”) but at the end of the day, excitement and creativity can not be forcibly generated in others, even among friends that have similar interests as you. It’s not really fair to expect your friends to follow your dreams, no matter how cool you think the dreams are. Your friends have their own dreams and goals, let them follow those. So instead I put out an announcement that Nicole and I would be making games and I invited all of our friends to join in at whatever level they felt like.
Upon collaboration, Nicole and I decided that we wanted to make a game about making food. We both like to cook (and to eat!) and we’ve noticed that there aren’t that many good food games on the market. We settled on the idea of a game about food truck owners competing to complete recipes for their customers. After making up a prototype, we sat down our friends to play it to see what it needed.
Apparently it needed a lot of work, so we made changes and came back. A couple of rounds of playtesting was all it took before our friends were tired of playing the game. It’s not that the game was bad- playing the same game over and over again can be fatiguing for those not emotionally invested in it. So we didn’t have anyone who wanted to help us play the game, but we needed to test the game in order to make it better. Now what?
One of the first things we did was set up a monthly amateur game designer event at our friendly local game cafe. Once a month, unpublished designers could get together to playtest each others’ games, which was fun, but we saw that the idea needed to expand. We soon met up with Isaias Vallejo of Daily Magic Games and playtestNW, which is a group of designers in the Seattle area who try to co-ordinate various groups of indie designers and people willing to playtest unfinished games. Its related group (the Game Designer’s Clubhouse) also functions as a designer co-op, allowing indie designers the chance to show their game at conventions that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford or co-ordinate by themselves.
Between increased visibility for our monthly events and access to tables at local conventions (including Emerald City Comic Con and PAX Prime) we never lacked for playtesters, which meant that we always had constant user feedback on design changes. We put the game through many iterations, and tested them all thoroughly with many different kinds of players. After about a year of public playtesting Food Truck Champion was bought by Daily Magic Games, marking it as WhiskeyGinger’s first board game.
It’s weird to think that we’ve gone from “nothing” to “board game” in a year, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. WhiskeyGinger already has several other games in development and we’re prepping to get them out in public. There’s not really much money involved yet, but we’re getting there, and hopefully we’ll get to the point soon where we can make WhiskeyGinger our primary income source. Until then, we will continue to share what we’ve learned through trial and error in this space. If your dreams points you in the same direction as ours, we hope that our exploits can help you to go your own way.