Imitation is the Sincerest

two images of the polish dominion caddy
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, I guess. This is a product from Poland, with some familiar design.

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Boardcrafting at Kubla Con

Myself and players at the Boardcrafting booth
A couple weeks ago I brought Boardcrafting to Kubla Con, and it was a weekend of learning and connecting.

I’ve been devoting a lot of consideration and time to the marketing of my products this year. I had been thinking for a while of doing trade shows / conventions, and Kubla Con was the perfect first foray, due to its proximity (Burlingame, California) and reasonable price.

The most rewarding thing from going to the show were the “wow”s. Frequently, people would come by and have some great reaction, a double-take, a jaw-drop, a “wow” or an “oooh”, or be compelled to reach out and touch the boards and the pieces. These people get it – we instantly shared an appreciation for what a board game could be, what the experience of playing could be.

The environment was very entrepreneur-rich and supportive. Across from my booth was Emoteez who just launched a Kickstarter campaign for their customizable kids’ apparel. (As someone whose entire business was created via Kickstarter, I strongly encourage you to check it out and share the link around!)

Down the aisle from me was Geek Chic, creators of stunning gaming furniture. I got a lot of good advice from Amanda, and was really inspired to see the passion and quality evident in their products. It buttressed my belief that there is a market out there of people willing to make an investment to get a great experience.

One thing I noticed was, in the large open gaming room, nobody was playing Puerto Rico, and a lot of people were playing Agricola. I wonder if Agricola has supplanted Puerto Rico as the popular, heavy-strategy board game nowadays. If you have any insights on the matter, please comment below or send me an email.

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Anodized aluminum Catan pieces

Cities, settlements, and roads made of anodized aluminum
I just saw this Kickstarter campaign pop up, and I really appreciate the elegance of these Settlers accessories. They’d be a fine match to go along with one of my boards. I think I may get some for myself…

Campaign link

Web page

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Puerto Rico: Building on Buildings

labelled sketch of a design for improved Puerto Rico buildings
One of my ideas for improving Puerto Rico is to change the component for the buildings. Currently the buildings look like this:
image of buildings of official Puerto Rico game
Improvements I want to implement are as follows:

  • separate the price and quarry effect information from the actual building component. Once a player buys a building, they no longer need this information, it just unnecessarily occupies space on their mat. Also, this lets players easily set up the board for the popular switched University / Factory variant
  • add an indented place for the Colonist, so that it stays nice looking
  • make the effect of the building an icon rather than text
Posted in boardgame engineering, design | 2 Comments

Art, Ego, Identity

Pile of wooden 5 coins for the Puerto Rico board game
Against my introverted nature, I have been meeting a lot of new people over the past couple months. During introductions, often I will be asked “so what do you do?”, a question which, in buried parts of my brain becomes “what are you?

It is a question I don’t answer consistently. Even before such introductions, alone, I find myself holding mock interviews of this type, during which I practice replying “I’m an artist“. That’s what I want to say. That’s the vision of my life I hope to be leading. That’s what I’ve wanted to be since childhood. (ok, ok, one of the things I’ve wanted to be). Despite this silent practice, I struggle to tell people what I am.

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity recently. Spurred on by another, non-Boardcrafting art project, I have been mulling this question: can one represent the essential “I” to others? If so, how? What succeeds? What fails? Which truths are the strange, surprising truths worth making art about? Is it all just too terribly pretentious? Is it all just dancing about architecture?

That project wasn’t supposed to affect Boardcrafting, but art is life, and life is art, and effects ripple through.

I’ve also been thinking about ego and where it fits in. Art is creation and creation is born of ego. Art transitions from the zygote of mere notion, through to embryonic idea, to newborn art by a pathway of ego. Viability is judged by automatic, internal chemistry and the idea is either terminated while still in the mind or carried forward into the world. Ego is that chemistry, that judge.

Ego is a necessary player, but can hinder as well.


I’ve been working on a project for Puerto Rico. With this project, I intend to do the same thing I did with Catan – to re-imagine the components and the appearance. The problem is, it took me over a year to do the art and design for the Catan project (even with help). The prospect of that strains my patience and threatens my business (I had the safety of a full-time job while I was working on Catan).

So here I am, wanting to create the appearance of the Puerto Rico components, wanting to be someone who can credibly claim to be an artist, but facing the fact that stubbornly holding on to those wants will hurt me.

From my analysis, I’ve been led to a new perspective. I need to see my art not in terms of visual arrangements of lines and pixels, for, under an astringent, honest light, I don’t feel that is really my important contribution. My contribution is engineering a means to an experience. By detaching from some ego, I see that I don’t care about my signature on some austere museum piece. I want my creations to be used.

For the art I make with Boardcrafting to really live, it needs a participating audience. The art of Boardcrafting doesn’t happen until people get together around the artifacts. This is a collaboration where the players too are creators of art. Our contributions sum to an experience. This is play. This is togetherness.

Acknowledging the true art of Boardcrafting has helped me accept seeking help from others.

I have been seeing Ben Didier’s work for a while and never known it. I’m a big fan of CBC Radio 3. Its songs and personalities have been a connection to my previous home country. I have frequented the CBC website, which is often adorned with Ben’s typography and illustration. But it wasn’t until Ryan North tweeted about Ben’s Canadian Beer Band designs that I connected the images to the artist originating them.

Ben has been working with me on some designs for Puerto Rico. Above you can see tests for what will be a replacement for the “5” doubloon. It has me excited. For me, looking at these beautiful pieces is a reward that reinforces some ego-detachment and the expression of my identity in the truer art of Boardcrafting.

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Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road

boy whittling wood contrasted with chinese factory workers
If I want to keep my apartment, I need to grow my business.

Sometimes reality presents you with hard, insoluble little nuggets like that. You can’t dress them up or push them aside. I moved into my apartment as a well-salaried tech worker and now I’m an entrepreneur making wooden board games. I sometimes jokingly present myself as a “whittler”, but it seems less of a joke on those afternoons I spend hours and more hours merely peeling tape off of my laser-cut creations.

The obvious alternative, moving production to a cheap-labour locale, is something I reject. There’s no sense doing anything in life if it isn’t done with moral confidence. And besides human rights and environmental impact, there’s also quality control – the Boardcrafting brand is intimately tied to me, and I need to be able to ensure the products reflect well upon it.

So I’m trying to come up with a way to grow well. This month I have been trying to make connections on two fronts – with local manufacturers and with artists. The eventual manufacturing partnership will mean no more tape-peeling and a regular flow magically appearing at my doorstep so that I can have on-hand inventory. The artistic partnership is somewhat heartbreaking in its necessity. I loved creating the art for the Catan and Dominion products. But it also took a long time for me to do it, and as I assess my ambitions for this year, I see doing the art myself would impose too much of a delay. Besides, there are people out there with more drawing and design skill than I.

Both efforts will, I hope, free some time up so that I can do marketing in arenas other than Kickstarter. This year, I’m going to be hitting up some trade shows. I’ll write about that experience in a future post.

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VALTA Game Cases for Dominion Storage

Black and grey Dominion storage case with handle and lock
Often people see my products and comment that I should do similar products for storage and transportation. I appreciate all the feedback I get, but right now I don’t get inspired by solving those particular problems.

Good thing there are people like Jacob Salmela out there creating things like this sweet case for Dominion.

I talked a bit with Jacob about his case and his story of problem solving and inspiration is very similar to my own. Please check out the VALTA Game Case if you’re looking for a storage/transportation solution for your Dominion sets.

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Andy Evans’ Shiny Wooden Carcassonne

detail of a wooden Carcassonne board
Andy Evans has created a beautiful rendition of Carcassonne in wood. I really dig the abstraction, letting the natural beauty of the wood come through rather than relying on drawings. Also, I think the dimensionality really clarifies the function of the shapes – cities are unquestionably separated from fields, and tracing the border of the fields becomes an easier task.
detail of wooden Carcassonne boarddetail of wooden Carcassonne board

Andy is working on Catan now, and has shared with me an image of a redwood burl tile. Looks like that one is going to be great as well.

So often, I see people’s comments in reaction to these images saying “Take my money!” or “Kickstart this!”. It underscores that there is a real demand for high quality, handmade board game products. Each time, I can’t help but start brainstorming ways to sustainably produce them on a scale sufficient to be shared with all those people.

Here’s the Boardgame Geek Thread where I saw these images originally.

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January is here

In my work to fulfil the Christmas orders, the blog has been stagnating. I’ll try to get some good content on here this month. There are some cool projects on my radar and maybe some interesting data and stories to tell from it from my 2nd Kickstarter experience.

Happy New Year, all!

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In the Company of Dreamers

two different catan boards

Followers of this blog may already be aware of a couple of great Kickstarter projects going on right now. One is by Nathan of Outloud Imaginations and the other is by Bill Trammel and Nate Veldkamp. They have both created boards that solve the problem of Catan tiles that shift around. Their campaigns are at Handcrafted Settlers Gaming Board & Storage and Official Settlers of and Catan Gaming Board respectively.

Nathan’s Handcrafted storage / playing surface is quite elegant. I dig the use of wood, the bold stain, and the convenience of keeping all the components housed within the base. Since seeing their great platform, I’ve been daydreaming about how nice the Boardcrafting Catan tiles would look inside it.

Bill and Nate, in what I’m sure was no easy feat, have achieved “Official” status with their board. The folks at Mayfair and Catan GmbH have put their seal of approval on the creation. And I’m also very impressed at how they were able to get such a low price point, making the board available to an extremely broad market. I also dig the commitment to support all the possible board layouts, even gargantuan Seafarer’s configurations.

This community is making strides. I am excited. With each of these new projects, the market grows, people start talking, and ideas and inspiration are seeded in the minds of both creators and players.

Beyond these current Kickstarter projects, there are a couple other creators I’m keeping an eye on.

Bob Schremmp is working on a laser-cut Catan board. I’m excited to see it come together. Bob obviously has some skills at crafting wood. [Update: Bob’s boards are on sale here]

Lyris Laser Studio, launched by Barry Figgins (via Kickstarter earlier this year) has accessories for more than just Catan. Citadels, Descent, Munchkin, there are many accessories here for popular games. Barry, you have vision.

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