Tell us about yourself – Who are you? What do you do? I’m a full-time game design at Leder Games and the co-founder of Wehrlegig Games which I run with my brother, Drew. In another life I thought I was going to be an academic, and I spent the better part of a decade teaching students of all ages.
One fact that we probably don’t know about you: I’m an avid juggler! I started back in college as a way to relax with a few friends and just kept doing it.
What games are you playing most right now? My wife and I have been having a blast exploring the Arkham Horror Card game. This is a weird title for me. I don’t care for a lot of FFG stuff, but I’ve found the design to be pretty well considered and I love the way your deck gets both stronger and weaker the further into a campaign you go.
What are your all-time favorite games? Titan, Diplomacy, the 18xx series. I’d also be happy to play a Splotter or Winsome game any day of the week.
What draws you to make games? I think it’s a fantastic storytelling and argumentative framework.
How did you get started making games? Describe your process (or lack thereof) when making games. How do you reach your final product? I’ve written and talked about this background extensively. I’d start here: https://www.heavycardboard.com/episodelist/2017/5/3/7r218z5sx3df0lldaxukw7hzvp8gwu
How do you market your games? By answering interviews like this one! I also write a lot about my process. Usually by the time a game is done I’ll have written about 20 or 30 thousand words about its design. Those essays have two functions. Most importantly, they force me to put my thoughts into words and help move the design forwards. At the same time, they also spread the word about whatever project I’m working on.
What game-related or game business-related media do you consume on a regular basis? Very little. I read a lot of news and a lot of books on a wide range of topics, but I don’t really follow board game media. I do try to play most of the new titles I have access to each year though so I can stay current on the state of game design.
What are some tool/programs/supplies that you wouldn’t work without? Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and a spreadsheet and word processor are all critical to my process.
What’s your playtesting philosophy? How often/early do you playtest? How do you find playtesters? I have a group of playtesters that I’ve built over nearly a decade. By now there are about 20 groups and I use them differently for different projects. I start playtesting usually as soon as I have some written rules. I tend to deemphasize post-game analysis in favor of just quietly observing play.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work, and how have you overcome them?
A lot of the designs I work on are extremely resource intensive. They require a lot of discipline to complete. John Company was finished while I was completing a draft of my dissertation and attempting to move my household of four across the country. It was only possible because I had friends who were willing to help me get the game across the finish line and because I had stayed pretty organized through the chaos.
How do you handle life/family/work balance? I get up each morning around 6 or just before. I then get my oldest sons off to school and eat breakfast with them. I usually do about an hour of work at home and then hop on a bus or ride my bike to the office and work until about 5 or 6 in the afternoon. IThen I come home and help with dinner and putting the kids to bed. Some evenings I work on projects for a couple hours but mostly I try to relax and get to bed early so I’m not exhausted the next day.
I feel very fortunate to have a full-time job in this industry, and that good luck is reason enough to take my work very seriously. I have a schedule and I stick to it.
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers? Be relentless in your self-criticism and don’t be afraid to throw out all of your work and start over. It’s important to become your own best critic, but it takes time to develop that critical voice and you shouldn’t rush it. Spend time thinking about what you like and dislike in the games of other designers.
Who would you like to see answer these questions? I don’t know. I’ve been asked a lot of these questions before. I guess it’s nice to have all of the answers in one place.
What’s the best advice about life that you’ve ever received? Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.
Thank you so much for your insight, Cole! At the time of publishing this article, Cole has a second edition of his game, Pax Pamir on Kickstarter . You can also check out his work at LederGames.com, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
If you’re interested in how video games are made as well, check out our designer interviews at Doubtful Games!