Article Meet the Designer

Published on December 30th, 2017 | by Nicole Jekich


Meet the Game Designer!

Across The Board Games is finally BACK! We’re kicking off the new year by focusing on a couple of the game designers we’ve met in 2017. We had the pleasure of playing their prototype games and watching their designs progress from a simple idea into a beautifully developed game.

With the new year just a couple days away, it is a good time to start setting your game design goals now. Here’s what Joseph, Emma, and Shawn have in the works:

joseph chen

Meet Game Designer: Joseph Z Chen!

What games are you working on right now?

The only game I have in the works right now is Fantastic Factories. I know a lot of other designers like to have many irons in the fire, but once I have a design that has legs, I like to focus on it and see it through. And since I also do the art, graphic design, and marketing there’s no shortage of things to do if I get stalled in one particular area.

Is there a challenge you are currently facing in your game/project?

The design of Fantastic Factories is complete for the most part so I’ve been trying to figure out manufacturing costs and potential stretch goals. The tricky part is deciding what components and upgrades are essential and what can be cut. I want to bring something unique and exciting to Kickstarter but also want the MSRP of the game to be attractive for retail. Trying to achieve both goals has been challenging.

Fantastic Factories

Fantastic Factories in action!

What game design goals do you have for 2018?

Designing Fantastic Factories has been a long journey of 2 years. I’m looking forward to finally launching the long-awaited Kickstarter and then exploring the next game design. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a game designer so I’m excited to apply my experience to a brand new project. I have a few vague ideas in the back of my mind, but I’m resisting the urge so I can focus on crossing the finish line with my current project.

What is one of your proudest moments so far as a game designer?

That would definitely be when Fantastic Factories won the 2017 NW LUCI Award for Best Design. In the past, the game has been fortunate enough to have been selected for showcases, but winning a design award is a whole different beast. The contest involved submitting the rulebook to a panel of experts for review and then a final live judging event at the Evergreen Tabletop Expo where notable designers like James Ernest and Paul Peterson played the game and grilled me with questions. It was an intense but rewarding experience. The feedback I received eventually lead to a significant rework of a core mechanic as well.

The thing is that you work so hard on a project, and when you show everyone your game, you never know if people are really enjoying the game or are just too friendly to tell you your game is bad. But when industry experts scrutinize the game and respect the design, it feels really good and is incredibly validating. It was a sigh of relief for me and a sign that I was on the right track. So for me, that was my proudest moment.

For more details, I’ve written more about my experience with the LUCI Award on my blog.

Follow Joseph and Fantastic Factories at:

Emma Larkins

Meet Game Designer: Emma Larkins!

What games are you working on right now?

Confabula Rasa: A cooperative storytelling game featuring a deck of non-linear word fragment cards. You play as a group of ghosts trying to remember how you died so you can pass on to the other side. Place a card to make a word in the group tableau, point to another player, and listen as a wild story unfolds!

Abandon All Artichokes: A fast-paced, easy-to-learn card game that reduces deckbuilding to its simplest components. Plus, what’s not to love about a game that features fruits and vegetables with silly faces? This game arose out of an alliterative game name challenge.

Sofas For Sale: Come on down to Ernie’s Discount Furniture Emporium, home of the super start stellar deal! But act fast – these sofas will be gone in a flash. Sofas for Sale is a competitive worker-placement sofa-buying game. Players must choose their actions carefully – will one of your workers sit on the sofa to claim it while the other rushes to the ATM, or will they both scour the store for better deals on the seating of their dreams?


Confabula Rasa at PAX Unplugged 2017

Is there a challenge you are currently facing in your game/project?

The process of pitching to publishers is intimidating. There are so many factors that need to come together just right:

– Making a game that will work for a publisher, first and foremost.
– Producing visual media that communicates the core mechanics and uniqueness of the game.
-Crafting a sell sheet.
– Polishing the rules.
– Choosing which publishers to reach out to, making sure they’re a good fit and currently open to submissions.
– Writing and rewriting the perfect email.
– Putting together an elevator pitch.
– Practicing a live presentation that’s quick and catchy.
– Planning trips (many publishers prefer to listen to pitches at conventions), setting up meetings, traveling.

…And all of that is just to get your foot in the door. Luckily I find most of these activities enjoyable, but it’s still a lot when you put it all together.


Abandon All Artichokes

What game design goals do you have for 2018?

In 2017, I got hung up on perfecting one game. My perfection manifested itself in procrastination instead of steadily working to improve. I eventually managed to get past my blockers, and I’m excited to spend more time in the flow of creation next year. My goal is to always have games in different stages of completion (pre-production, prototype, playtest, polish, pitch, and publication) so that I can switch things up and avoid burning out on one project. My design-a-game-daily week (seven games in seven days) went really well, so I’d like to make that a regular thing, most likely every quarter. I want to have a release plan for at least three new games by the end of the year. I also plan on growing my Daily Game Design practice and reaching more people through writing, social media, and streams (and maybe even a book!) Finally, my intention is to figure out creative ways to turn my design passion into a full-time business. I’m not sure exactly how to do that yet, so I plan on brainstorming and seeking new ideas in 2018.

What is one of your proudest moments so far as a game designer?

I met the most amazing sisters at PAX Unplugged this year while demoing Abandon All Artichokes in the UnPub/Alpha Build room. The older sister, about eight years old, walked right up to me as I was finishing a playtest and informed me that she would be playing my game next.

During our game, it became clear to me that she and her six-year-old sister would be formidable opponents. Possibly when she said, “I assume play proceeds clockwise?” As we played, my note-taking attracted her attention. “You’re writing down what we’re saying!” “Yeah, I’m making changes to the game as we speak.” She nodded, and I imagined that I’d impressed her. When we finished, she gave me with a solemn look and declared, “This is a good game.” Absolutely some of the most meaningful praise I’ve ever received.

Follow Emma and her prototypes, games, and projects at:

Meet Game Designer: Shawn Stankewich of Flatout Games!

What games are you working on right now?

I’m a rapid prototyping believer. I can make a paper prototype usually faster than it takes me to think about what it will be. This comes in handy. I’ve probably got about 15-20 half-way designs that are cluttering up my desk right now. Since I am part of a board game design collaborative, I generally bounce ideas off of my collaborators and see how much interest each one gets. If there is interest in moving forward, away we go! We currently have four games that are in playtesting and development at the moment:

Dollars to Donuts is a spatial tile-laying and resource management game about making donuts.

Abstract Academy is a spatial card game where players assume the role of art school students, competing to win the favor of their professors.

The Big Dig is a special card power trick-taking game where teams of archaeologists compete for precious gems as they dig deeper and deeper into the earth

Rewild is a cooperative pool-building (bag-building) game where players take on the roles of different animals in a quest to rewild the world, bringing balance back to nature, while fighting evil human corporations.

[At the time of this post, Flatout Games has showcased two more designs they’re working on: Point Salad and Black Hat.]

The Big Dig

Playing The Big Dig at a playtestNW event.

Is there a challenge you are currently facing in your game/project?

One challenge that I think every design faces is knowing when a game is ‘complete’. The game design is very fluid and involves a whole lot of iteration and reiteration. Without hard deadlines, it is difficult to call a game project ‘done’. For example, some of our first games have run through hundreds of playtests and are getting close to the end of their development life, however just last week we started tinkering with some variations that we think make the games even stronger. It’s also important to remember that sometimes you can overdo it on refinement. Oftentimes the first impulse is a strong one, and when you find success and playtesters are having fun, it is critical not to lose that by adding or taking away too much.

Another challenge is balancing downtime and cutting down on analysis paralysis. Keeping game flow moving with all player counts is often a challenging task. Since we design a lot of spatial games, it is really interesting to see how quickly (or how slowly!) different players can process spatial puzzles. Knowing your audience is important. Some games are difficult and taxing for some, but will be relaxing and satisfying for others.

What game design goals do you have for 2018?

2018 will hopefully mark the year of our first crowdfunding campaign. We have a handful of games that we are very proud of and, although we have had interest from publishers, we are also focused on making our dream of producing and publishing our own game a reality. Seeing one of our games on a store’s shelf by the holidays next year is something that we are all striving towards.

In addition to that, 2018 will again be more adventuring out to new conventions and meeting new friends! One of the aims for me as a hobby designer is to get out there and meet awesome folks in the industry who are creating amazing things and who support others who create amazing things. The tabletop gaming community is top notch!

What is one of your proudest moments so far as a game designer?

Sometimes it feels like a tough road as a new designer. It’s very easy to feel as though your hard work has no merit or even that you’ll just never be able to get your stuff out there. With the rise of hobby gaming these days, there are so many designers creating great games. As a gamer, this is fantastic, because every month there are literally dozens of amazing new games to try out. However, as a designer, sometimes this can feel overwhelming since it is difficult not to compare yourself to the success of others.

That said, there have been a few moments that have felt pretty special. I think there is a pretty deep sense of satisfaction that you feel anytime you wrap up a playtest session and players all immediately want to play again, or when someone chooses to play your game when there are other fantastic published games around. It’s really amazing to see other people enjoying your game – that’s what it is all about, really!

Those first public playtests with tough customers can be really eye-opening. Once you can consistently bring your game to the table with a variety of different people and there seems to be an overall sense of satisfaction, that’s a really nice feeling. The first time you pitch to a publisher and they are interested in your design work, that also feels gratifying.

Follow Shawn & Flatout Games and all their progress at: (Game Design Podcast)

That’s all the designer interviews for this week! We’ll have more game designer spotlights soon. I hope these designers got you pumped to make some games in 2018. Happy New Year to you!


About the Author

Nicole Jekich

came from humble beginnings as a Boise suburbanite with a love of Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. She attended an open board game day three years ago and is now an avid gamer and fantasy artist. Her interests are primarily in Dungeons & Dragons, dice placement and Roman-themed tabletop games. Nicole is also a fan of playing games that let her release her inner barbarian. Her favorite game currently is Far Space Foundry.

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