What developing a board game taught a software developer

Hylanders are nothing if not interesting. Like Software Development Manager, Rob Herman.

Rob recently developed a board game, and he learned some lessons that are applicable to many of life’s endeavors – even the development of enterprise software.

Q: What is the objective of your board game?

A: The name of the game is Invasion. It’s a strategy game for three to five players, inspired by an award-winning game called El Grande.

The players represent various alien factions who are vying to steal the best of Earth’s resources. The humans do try to fight back, but that’s only a nuisance to the players – Will Smith doesn’t save the day.

Q: What does it take to create a board game?

A: Coming up with an idea and prototyping it is a dismayingly small three percent of the work. Playtesting to make the game good is a slow process of refinement that takes several hundred more hours – and that’s if the game’s concept was good enough to begin with!

After that, you need to find a publisher that prints games like yours and convince them that your game is fun and a good match for their catalogue. Publishers tend to be small, busy and broke, so this is a challenge. Self-publishing is an option for people with time to spare – not me!

Q: What did you get done on your sabbatical?

A: I finished a lot of playtesting and made major changes and improvements based on the results of those tests.

I also attended a convention in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to work with other designers, and I helped them with their games as well. When I was done, I blogged about the process.

Q: What were your favorite games while growing up?

A: I played a lot of card games with my family. In retrospect, I also played a lot of junk.

I played Magic: The Gathering in 1994. I was told it would be a fad, like Pogs; today professionals make their living playing the game. In high school, I started playing chess competitively (although poorly) and bridge for fun. In college, I was introduced to Settlers of Catan. That now-classic game was only four years old at the time, and it kicked off many people’s interest in board games as a hobby, including mine.

Q: Did you learn any lessons while developing your game that you apply to your day job as a Software Development Manager?

A: Having a good idea is one percent of the work. Going through dozens of iterations and putting in the hard work of refining a good idea into a finished product that excites people is where success comes from.

Also, a good idea might turn into something that appeals to you as the creator, but is difficult to sell to a large number of people. You have to decide if you want to build for your own satisfaction or to sell to others.

Finally, making things complicated is easy; making them simple and easy to understand is difficult, but worthwhile.

3 Responses

  1. Gene C Chung says:

    Awesome Rob, keep at it! If you are ever in the Columbus area, The Idea Foundry hosts a “Prototype & Play” meetup every month where folks like you and my friend go and play their board game/card game, etc. with others and get feedback and network.

  2. Rob Herman says:

    Thanks, Gene! I do have family in Columbus so I’ll see if any of their meetups occur during my visits. The Cleveland area also has design meetups that I try to attend–it’s harder since having a kid, but still a good time.

  3. Adam Massopust says:

    Cool stuff Rob – I’ve always wanted to try my hand at developing a board game some day. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for tabletop games.

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