A Conversation With…Chad Ellis of Your Move Games, Part 2

Thank you for joining me again for Part 2 of my interview with Chad Ellis of Your Move Games.

Tom: What is the hardest part of designing a game?

Chad: Objectivity. It’s human nature to love your game and at least to like the games your friends create. Small publishers have to be very cautious about this. We overestimated Succession even though we thought we had a pretty impressive amount of playtesting. Based on our various groups we thought we were launching with a huge hit and I think we just didn’t take player bias into account. We had self-selection bias (the people who volunteered liked us and liked the concept of the game and then sought out their friends who they thought would like it) and we had friends and family bias. Looking back, there was only one group of playtesters that had a “meh” reaction. At the time we discounted them as the clear minority but we should have given much more attention to the fact that they were the one group that was completely independent.

You can only afford to publish really good games – there are too many good games out there for an OK game to do well. Thus, you need to make sure that you have a really good game…and there’s a very good chance your game isn’t as good as you currently think it is.

Tom: That is an interesting and honest answer. Having a critical eye on your own products is a brave but necessary thing I would think. Maintaining and correctly interpreting feedback is a challenge. What is the hardest part of playtesting a game?

Chad: That depends a lot on the game. I think the biggest challenge is being strategic about what you’re trying to accomplish. Early playtest sessions are often about taking a game concept and identifying the huge gaping holes that need to be fixed. Don’t be surprised if after one or two plays you have to stop because you know that a major rewrite is needed. The more you understand about where your game is in development the better able you’ll be to playtest.

A couple of years ago at BGG I participated in a prototype playtest group with a board game design I was working on. I also playtested it with regular gamers throughout the weekend. The regular gamers were much, much more useful than the dedicated prototype playtesters because they played the game. The “serious” playtesters wanted to stop every minute or two to fix some small rule or suggest a better tiebreak or, amazingly, to make sweeping judgments about a set of mechanics they had barely begun to play with.

So were the serious playtesters a bad group to work with? Absolutely not…but we should either have agreed up front what the goals of the playtest session were or I should only have come to them when the game was at a very different stage in development.

Tom: That is a really good answer. I can see how ‘serious gamers’ might be more nitpicky and try to fix the game themselves. Or assume they know how a mechanic works without really giving the rules a proper read. Goal setting is important and I’m glad you brought that up. I agree that playtesting with different types of players is valuable. What are some aspects of a good player?

Chad: First tell me what game we’re talking about and define “good”! What I want from a player who comes to a casual game night is very different from what I want in a tournament opponent. However, if by good you mean “able to win lots of games” then I think it’s a mix of aptitude and approach. The most successful players at any game are those that continue to learn. They try new things and see what works and they learn from other players all the time. I know a lot of people who say I’m just better at games than they are but what I notice is that they play the same each time. Of course they’re not getting better – they’re the same player they were a year ago.

Tom: Successful gamer vs. good casual gamer – that’s a good difference to make. I like that you mention that gamers should be learning constantly. What makes a good game? As a developer, what do you look for in a game?

Chad: Games provide so many things, so two good games can have very little in common. I don’t think it’s even accurate to say that a good game is “fun” because the fun of a party game is so different from the fun of Battleground that they deserve different words.

Tom: You are not only a game designer but publisher as well. That’s a very tough row to hoe. Why did you choose the self publishing route?

Chad: I could afford to. It’s really that simple – I was lucky enough to be able to invest money and not draw salary for a few years. The old joke is true – it’s easy to make a small fortune publishing games, provided you start with a larger fortune. Rob and I also wanted to do things our own way and not have to convince someone else to publish our games and then hope they came out the way we envisioned.

Tom: Who’s work in the industry do you admire the most?

Chad: Reiner Knizia is my favorite designer and he takes a very professional approach to everything. He’s also a really nice guy, and I’m not just saying that because he gave Battleground an official endorsement. 

Tom: Of your games, which is your favorite?

Chad: It depends on my mood. Succession always has that “first creation” love, and I don’t think I ever turn down a game of Hill 218. Overall, though, Battleground has to be my favorite. I’m really proud of what it’s grown into and I love all the players I’ve met through it and how much they’ve contributed to its growth.

Tom: What are you currently playing?

Chad: I play a wide range of games online at www.yucata.de a lot because with two kids it’s hard to get out more than once or twice a month to play new games. When I do get to a local game night I tend to play whatever new game they want to try. It’s a pretty serious group that usually has the hot new game so I’m happy to go with the flow.

Tom: I play at Yucata.de too. We should play a game sometime. I have a similar group that I game with regularly so I get that benefit also. What’s the coolest part of being a game designer?

Chad: Watching other people enjoy your games.

Tom: Yeah, I imagine that is pretty neat. Tell us about your current projects. Anything in the pipeline?

Chad: I’ve already talked a bit about Battleground. I have a few other games in early design stage; most probably won’t be published, but it’s fun working on them. Andrew Gross (the fine gentleman who did the online versions of Hill 218 and MKoT) and I are working on some iPad concepts. Just as Battleground added a lot to miniature gameplay by taking advantage of what cards made possible, I’m fascinated by the idea of designing games that play like board or card games but take advantage of the computer to do things no board or card game could do.

Tom: That sounds pretty cool. I really need to get an iPad. So many good games there. Are there any links or sites you want to direct us to?

Chad: Any Battleground players who want to get more involved in the community should join our forums (www.yourmovegames.com/forum) and anyone who likes quick two-player games should go download Hill 218 and My Kind of Town.

Tom:  Thank you for joining me this time Chad.  I enjoyed finding out about you and Your Move Games.

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