At this point in our story, dear readers, designer Daryl Andrews and myself have just passed the border from Niagara Falls, New York into Niagara Falls, Canada. Daryl had taken charge, and had all my identification. All while he told stories of failing to crowss the border and making illegal U-Turns while his buddy had hopped across the barrier with a suitcase.
Daryl: I’ll take your passport.
DTD: “…And throw it out the window…” [gesturing]
Daryl: “Good luck, Buddy…” This was where I did my little U-turn. I don’t think I was supposed to do that…
I had decided at this point that whenever Daryl called me ‘Buddy’, which happened a lot, it just made me happy. I think I am going to use ‘Buddy’ more in conversation.
DTD: [laughs] I think they have to set up somewhere to do that.
Daryl: I mean, somewhere, yeah. So that was it. So, right here [pointing]. And then he jumped over that little wall. Threw his luggage over. And then walked. I was looking like, “Oh man, someone gonna like send a cop on me or something.” And then I realized, wait I’m not going anywhere! They’re probably watching me on the camera, being like “what an idiot.”
DTD: [laughs] That’s usually the answer. You’ve been having a good show so far?
Daryl and I had been attending the Gathering of Friends, a private convention held by Alan Moon, populated by industry professionals, designers, media, and for some odd reason … me.
Daryl: Yeah, yeah, really good. Weird, because I’m typically… A few people have been shocked – I typically have 20 or more prototypes, and I’m like “go, go, go!” Like “Schedule, schedule, schedule, meeting, meeting, meeting.”
DTD: I was just looking at the ones that you’ve put public, like on your BGG page. You’ve got a tremendous list of prototypes.
Daryl: I have a bunch of prototypes. I probably have about 100 games right now that are at different stages. But of those, how many will get signed? Who knows, maybe 10, maybe 20. And many of them will just kind of die on the vine, and that’s alright, because they weren’t meant to be. But at this show, I’m trying to take it slow and really just focus on a handful of titles.
DTD: So, there is still a lot of business that goes on at The Gathering [of Friends]?
Daryl: There is. It’s sneaky, it’s like – Oh you walked up, you saw the log game I was doing, right? That was a pitch.
DTD: Oh! Okay.
Daryl had been playing a game with animals on 3D hexagonal logs, simulating log rolling. I think there were beavers as well. And plaid. Let’s just say it was very Canadian. It looked great.
Daryl: Yeah, I mean everything is casual because it’s like, “Why not, like chat to people as people come by?”
DTD: Yeah, it’s hard to tell… In The Gathering room, it’s hard to tell how much of it is actually being pitched, and how much of it is just a playtesting iteration to see what other people in the industry think.
Daryl: Absolutely. Yep. Yep.So, a lot of that’s just kind of casually happening. And sometimes it’s one, and sometimes the other. And it’s like literally the same person.
DTD: Literally the same people.
At the Gathering there may have been more playing of prototypes and early editions than actual published games.
Daryl: Yeah, but maybe it’s like… One pitch we did we actually had three publishers sit with us and we did all three at the same time.
DTD: That makes sense. If you have all three of them. It’s probably good for the designer too, because the publishers are all sitting and thinking “You know, maybe this other guy is going to take it.”
Daryl: Right, so there’s a little pressure there. The funny part is sometimes it can backfire, so a little bit of the backfire was one of the publishers is more outspoken and had critical thoughts. So they were very “This is no good for this this this this reason”. We’re like “Okay, thanks for sharing…”
DTD: “Yeah, don’t tell them [the other publishers].”
Board game Shark Tank. Except that was already done in 2016.
Daryl: Yeah, exactly. So that that was kind of funny and awkward. I think too, I’m kind of like roll-with-the-punches and easy and casual. Some people are a little more, like they want to have control, and make sure a pitch goes a certain way.
DTD: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve met a lot of board game designers who are very, very meticulous, and you know, OCD about how It has to go.
Daryl: Sure, sure. And so, because of that, I would imagine it might give a heart attack to some designers to do that.
DTD: [laughs] Freeform chaos!
Daryl: Yeah. But to me it’s like, if it can’t survive that, then it’s probably not gonna make it anyway. Games have strengths and weaknesses, and depending on the publisher, it’s the right fit or it’s not.
DTD: Feedback can only make things better.
Daryl: Right? Yeah!
DTD: I mean, as long as it’s constructive.
Daryl: And it’s “eyes wide open”, right? Then you can be like, “Okay, that’s a complaint. Does this game fix that? Or maybe that’s just a weakness?” Maybe that’s just someone else’s vision for a different game.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is immediately thinking of opposites to Eyes Wide Shut… Not sure if it would be a good movie or very, very boring. It certainly would be short.
DTD: There’s reason they said that. So is… I mean is this your full-time job now, as a Game Designer? No more day job?
Daryl: Yup. No more day job, no safety net. I mean, I don’t have kids, so that makes it a little easier and practical. And my wife has a great job that she loves.
DTD: That’s fantastic.
Daryl: Yeah, for the last, how long has it been…? I want to say, maybe like six years?
DTD: Oh, fantastic!
Daryl: Yeah, it’s shocking. I remember when I started, thinking like, “This will never be a job, but that’s okay. It’s fun.” I even would joke that maybe it’s a “jobby.” And I’m okay with those worlds kind of mixing.
DTD: A little hobby-job, yeah.
I refuse to repeat the word “jobby.”
Daryl: Yeah, and then as it gradually shifted more and more to being maybe an option, I even questioned “Am I okay with that? Do I want to go full time? Does that take away from the fun?” I had to kind of wrestle with it.
DTD: The tough one. I think I said at some point, that I’m a retired veterinarian. So you know, at a certain point it’s hard to pet dogs, because you’ve been a veterinarian forever. So then, you know, you wonder, as a game designer, is it hard to actually play a game?
My wife jokes that the dogs can sense the very moment I go from casual petting to … vet exam.
Daryl: Sure.Oh, I’ve had periods where I’m just like, “This is too much work, I can’t turn my brain off.”
DTD: Yes, you get a new game put in front of you, the brain just starts going about, “Why did they do this?” And “How did they do that?” and “What is this made of?”
Daryl: Yeah, yeah, so that was, for me at least… Moments where it’s like, “Okay, well, this isn’t my hobby for a bit, find something else as the hobby.” And then it comes back. For me at least, it’s come back at times. I think actually the most recent one for me was, COVID really sucked the life out of me for games.
DTD: Well before COVID, were you reliant already on online [play]testing and things like that?
Daryl: No, I’m very anti-online testing, which is funny.
DTD: I have a barrier there. I have a lot of trouble playing a game through that online system.
I think I am so programmed and conditioned to respond to video screen fun as a video game, that I cannot relate to online board games … as board games.
Daryl: Same. And yet I appreciate and respect others that enjoy and use it, but it’s just not my process, and it’s not why I fell in love with board games – I play video games for that.
DTD: Yeah, I get it. I can see how it’s really easy to change things in that early process, really quickly. But there’s still this tremendous barrier when I play games over one of the online things [programs].
I will insert here that the single word “programs” in brackets carries a tremendous amound of passive aggressive snark. I blame my transcriber. Thanks, Maggy…
Daryl: Yeah, yeah, and for me, I mean… And I’m sure I’ll talk about this more, but I think my strength is in reading people. One of my things that I really enjoy is anything from seeing a person… Like, are they leaning in? And is this a game that you should, where that’s a good thing? Or are they laid back, but it’s a card game that you should be laid back. And all that information is just lost. And other people can find other data points and other ways to make measurements. But that’s my, I feel like my… That’s my biggie.
DTD: That’s your big one.
Daryl: Even pitching. I love pitching games, but I love reading the room. I love that like, I can tell pretty quickly, “Oh, they’re not into this.” And I can be like, “Oh, I’m gonna stop.” And most people go, “No, no, no!” And I’m like, “No, I don’t wanna waste your time or my time. This doesn’t insult me. Let’s just get to the next one. The more I talk about this, the more I’m just not talking about the next thing.” So, those kind of moments. People then go like, “Oh. Thank you. Like, you appreciate my opinion and you’re listening to it.” And I go ,“Okay, like let’s do that.” But again, harder to read that over a Zoom call.
DTD: Oh yeah.
Daryl: And then, I’m not a like a digitally skilled person. I’m not a graphics person. I’m more the “let’s feel the fun.” Someone else can improve the look of this, the layout of this. Often, co-designers I work with are better at that. And I go like “Okay, that’s your job. I’ll collect the feedback. I can tell you when it’s not working. I can tell you when it’s distracting.”
Daryl has worked with a tremendous number of co-designers.
DTD: There you go. Ah, definitely. I’ve had other designers talk about – I think it was actually Matt Leacock, was talking about that when he playtests, all he cares about is whether people are having fun. It’s… the mechanisms don’t matter the structure of it doesn’t matter. So he’ll actually videotape people while they were playing. It’s hundreds and hundreds of hours of video.
Daryl: I was wondering if he told you about his process. It’s intense, but it’s amazing. Like the protocol of like what he has in place. Of like, the footage and like how he watches it through and stuff. I’m amazed.
Someone should interview that guy.
DTD: Oftentimes it’s a very minor part of it, is the board – it’s the people. I thought that was fascinating.
Daryl: He, yeah, he has a really thought-through and strategic process, that’s really quite inspiring. I’m sure in his opinion I’m maybe a little more shoot-from-the-hip, and not organized enough. But he’s inspiring.
DTD: Oh yeah, he’s very serious about it. So, I’ve got to imagine that it changed a lot when Sagrada hit.
Daryl: Oh – phhtt! Yeah. So many more open doors. So much more… Like, a game doesn’t have to be totally complete for someone to look at it. I think when there’s a success, people kind of then will assume “Okay. You…” Not that you can replicate that. That’s hard to… always catch fire. But at least there’s a confidence like, that someone can execute. Can be involved and support and make the game as good as it can be.
DTD: But it’s still not an open doorway there.
Daryl: Not totally.
DTD: And I was thinking more, a lot of the designers I talked to will have one design that ends up being very, very successful, and then they’re like “OK, this one is income, those are for fun.”
Daryl: Sure. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I didn’t think Sagrada was going to be my big selling game. To me, it felt like just one of the others. And so, I agree, now it frees me up to not stress or worry about “the hustle” the same way. I still fall into it, like thinking, “I gotta get the next one, I gotta get the next one.” But then my wife, for instance, would remind me – “You’re supposed to enjoy this, too.” Or like, you know, “You can chill. We’re good. We’re good.” But my mindset is still like, “I gotta work for it,” or “I gotta grind.”
DTD: If there’s still ideas coming in, then go with it.
Daryl: Yeah, I definitely don’t have a shortage of ideas. And often with co-designers they have ideas, and I go like, “Okay well, let’s mix and mingle some of our ideas.” But, yeah, there’s no shortage. I almost feel relieved when I see a game that I thought up. Because I’m like, “Oh, I don’t have to work on that one. I’ll just buy it. One less to do.”
What a refreshing attitude. I can just look at all my games and think “Thank goodness I dont need to design those.”
DTD: [laughs] That is pretty awesome. So, you still like the games that you’ve designed? You’ll still play the games that you’ve designed? Or are you kinda done with them?
Daryl: There’s kind of a… No, I come back. I mean, I know designers that don’t like going back.
DTD: It’s so much work to get them to the finished point.
Daryl: It is. I always need a break. And the problem for me, when the break is, is usually when the game is first coming out. And it’s because I had been doing so much work to get it to that point, that by the time it first comes out, depending on how long that gap is…
DTD: And that’s the time when you gotta sell it.
Daryl: You gotta sell now! So then, it’s every convention.
DTD: Go to every convention, and do nothing but teach this game that you’ve played 1000 times.
Daryl: Or people ask, “Oh, can I play it with you?” and it’s like, “Yeah, sure.” And there’s kind of a weird dance there for sure, of projecting and remembering how it was to be excited for it. And then it grows back, because it rejuvenates me when I start seeing other people playing it.So, when it’s out in the wild again, and I’ve had a little bit of a break, then I’m like “Oh wow like this is pretty exciting.” And it’s funny because it can even be criticized, and it’s still exciting for me.
Just recently, at GenCon 2022, I had a dinner with Daryl. He arrived late, and said that a fan had played Sagrada 99 times, and wanted the 100th play to be with Daryl. So Daryl made time to play the game in a busy convention. Such a nice guy.
Daryl: I remember one time walking up, and I was like, “Oh what game you playing?” And they said, like one of my older titles. And I was like, “Oh cool!” And they’re like, “Yeah, it sucks.” And I was like “Oh! Sorry.”
DTD: [laughs] “Yeah, I know the designer. I’ll tell him.”
Daryl: Yeah, well, the funny part is, it was like a kid just being straight.
DTD: You gotta appreciate that.
Daryl: I was like, “Hey, yeah. The game’s not for everyone.” And then, I think it was a dad or an uncle or something, looked up, and was like [GASP!]. And somehow, like kind of put two and two together. And I was like, “It’s okay!” and I just like walked away. And it was just like then, I could hear the murmurs, like “[whispers] That’s the designer! Blah blah blah.” It was like, “Oh, it’s OK. Everyone doesn’t have to like every game.”
I hear this story a lot. And I dont think I have met a designer yet who would take it personally if you did not like their game. It happens. People have varied tastes.
DTD: Well, you’ve done a lot of games at this point.
Daryl: Yeah, I’m very thankful. And it’s been cool to work with very different publishers. Like I learn a lot.
DTD: So, you haven’t been attached to one publisher, or contracted by one publisher, or anything like that?
Daryl: I have. I’ve actually had a few. I worked for IDW Games, for like about a year as a consult, a full-time consultant. It was pretty neat. They let me dev a handful of their projects, and I got to look for and sign their future games.
DTD: That’s gotta be fun.
Daryl: That was the greatest job I’ve ever experienced. It was so fun because, especially coming at it from the other side of the table, but understanding designers, it was really neat to be like, “[whispers] You should ask for more…” Or, “Make sure to specify this in your contract.”
DTD: That was one of the things that really surprised me, is how all over the place these contracts are. Everything from, you know, written on a napkin to these like, you know, 50-page detailed…
I did a series of podcast segments on Dice Tower Now about unsung jobs in the board game industry, and over interviews I discussed contracts with various sources.
Daryl: All over the place.Yep. And I’ve done them all. It’s wild to me how unstandardized or inconsistent… What terms, what people offer. I mean, it’s a moving target. I think it’s getting better.
DTD: Well, that’s good to hear.
Daryl: But it also, it kind of makes sense. Because a lot of these companies are one-person. Chose to start, right? It’s someone who’s like, “I made a game”, or “I found a game”. And then they made it, and then they’re like, “Okay, how do I do this now?” Like, after that first one.
DTD: It’s definitely an artist’s industry, for the most part. I mean, sure, there’s a few very business-oriented companies out there. But for the most part it’s, you know, two guys in a garage who made a game, and now publish games.
Daryl: And then, that transition of those people, either adding to their team or learning those skills… Like you watch the transition, and you can see why the successful companies are what they are. Well, this Is us.
Daryl has just driven up to the border control booth, and we are gathering our ArriveCAN apps and passports together. It was very tempting to jump out the window and make a break for it.
DTD: This is us. It’s our turn. I should have an app…
Daryl: Hello, I’m Canadian. [pointing] and American.
I was the American. In case it was confusing.
Border control: Where are you two from?
Daryl: I live in Waterloo.
Border control: Can I just see your face real quick?
DTD: Yea, absolutely. [lower mask].
Border control: And how long were you gone?
Daryl: So, I came here on Thursday, to the US. And I’ve been here for the full duration, for a board game convention. And we’re actually just going for dinner. And then we’ll be heading back.
Border control: And are either of you bringing anything over the border?
I like how the automatic response is always “no.” I mean, anything… ANYTHING… I’m sure I had something. A mint, my wallet, the convention badge. Maybe I’m just overthinking the whole thing.
Border control: Any firearms, weapons with you today?
I mean, I am American after all. I wonder if they ask this if there are only Canadians in the car…
Border control: Alright.
Daryl: Thank you. [to me] I’ll give you these while I go. [handing over papers]
Daryl: All righty. Well done. Didn’t even need the ArriveCAN. Although they are attached to our ID, so they probably scan through.
DTD: That’s true. I’ll just put it here. I need to remember mine… Although the next time I need it will be in this car.
Daryl: Yeah, exactly. Welcome to Ontario!
DTD: Yay! I haven’t been… Like I said, I haven’t been to Canada since I was a kid.
Daryl: Wow, what brought you here?
DTD: When I was really young, my parents and I went on a driving trip. And I don’t really know the details about it. We lived in New Jersey, and I don’t think we went to Niagara. So I don’t know where exactly we crossed, but we went through definitely Quebec.
OK, I found out I was completely wrong. We drove from New Jersey to Prince Edward Island, stopping in New Brunswick. Most likely in 1974.
Daryl: Oh wow. Up like, near the Finger Lakes and all that?
DTD: I think so, there was a lot of nature. I was young. There was a lot of nature and a lot of French. And what I remember is, I left my favorite stuffed animal in a hotel room.
Daryl: Oh no! The tragedy.
DTD: I think in Quebec City. And never got it back.
Probably Saint John. Not Quebec City. We visited the Saint Johns Botanical Gardens.
Daryl: It was never to be forgotten.
DTD: It was. It was a giant stuffed shark. And you could store things in his mouth. It was, it was great.
Daryl: That is pretty cool.
DTD: Yep, and I brought home a river rock. And we almost got in trouble for moving a rock across the border. Apparently you’re not allowed to move rocks across the border. [laughs]
Daryl: [laughs] That’s very good. Yeah, I mean some places they say you’re cursed, and you gotta… I think it was in Hawaii, I was reading? Or like, if you take this sand, they’re like, “You’ll be cursed and you have to bring the sand back.”
Pele’s Curse is the belief that anything natively Hawaiian, such as sand, rock, or pumice, will bring bad luck on whoever takes it away from Hawaii.
DTD: I thought that was just a Brady Bunch episode – A little tiki doll.
Daryl: Maybe.Yeah, it cracks me up. There’s multiple places that I saw signs about “The cursed sand” It’s just like wow, that’s how it works.
DTD: I think that is literally the last time I was in Canada. Oh no, no, no. I spent some time in Vancouver. Over at the other end.
Daryl: Very far away.
DTD: Closer to me.
Daryl: Yes.Yeah, I’ve driven South to Portland, and then I’ve driven North from LA up to San Fran, but never in-between.
DTD: Well, there you go.
Daryl: So, that stretch I need to do still with Tanya.
DTD: Well, that’s where I live, is in-between! You gotta come sometime; I got a big place in Napa Valley. It’s all the wine you could bathe in.
It’s true. We have wine running through the taps in Napa Valley.
Daryl: Yeah, I was meaning to do an epic drive. I was gonna do Vegas at Dice Tower West, drive around and do Grand Canyon, do like Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Yosemite, up to Reno.
DTD: I did that drive.
DTD: It’s very long and very boring.
Technically, I drove from Sacramento, California to Dice Tower West in Las Vegas. Not to the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree.
Daryl: Is it? OK, well maybe I dodged a bullet.
DTD: But there’s some weird stuff in the middle.
Daryl: Yeah, the weird stuff sounds so fascinating to me. Even just in November, we went down to San Diego Comic Con, they did a weird November one. So, we went to that, and then we drove up just the 1 down there. I love San Diego…
In southern California, they refer to highways with definite articles. So, where I would say “I drove on route 5”, in San Diego they would say “I drove on the 5.” Apparently the pod people have gotten to Daryl.
DTD: I do too. I’ve got property and family down there.
Daryl: Oh awesome. Yeah, I love it. Oh, I was saying before – IDW, I consulted for them for a year. And they’re headquartered in San Diego.
DTD: Oh, okay.
Daryl: So that was really fun. And I mostly… I would fly to them, maybe like every three months, and then I mostly did conventions, and then worked from home. But it was really nice to be on a team. And like I was saying, the Inventor Relation stuff was super fun. So yeah, that connected me to San Diego Comic Con, and since it’s been really easy to get past that way. Which has been fun.
DTD: That’s awesome.I still haven’t done San Diego Comic Con.
Daryl: Oh yeah, you gotta do that!
DTD: I’ve been there like the day before and the day after, and you know, right butting up against it. But I haven’t actually done it.
I went to a training conference on veterinary practice management software that literally ended the day before Comic Con. And I saw all the cool people arriving in the hotel just as I had to leave. Very frustrating.
Daryl: I love it. There is a good chance I’m skipping it this year, just out of trying to not do too many things. But I was on a good streak for a while.
DTD: During one of the economic downturns, one of the depressions, a lot of the hotel rooms… A lot of the hotel chains were selling rooms. Permanent selling, like a condominium. And you know The Hard Rock right next to the Comic Con?
Daryl: Oh yeah. Do you have a place there?
DTD: I have a room there.
Daryl: Jennifer Geske I think has a room there, too.
DTD: But they black it out during Comic Con! You’re not allowed to use your own purchased room during Comic Con.
Daryl: Brutal. Uh, I’m like 80% sure. Jennifer is the one who runs Sasquatch.
We had previously discussed the Sasquatch Convention, which is invitation only, in Portland, and specializes in obtaining all the newest hotness from Essen Spiel each year.
DTD: Oh wow, OK.
Daryl: And I’m pretty sure she said that, back… And I remember asking, “Hey, can I use it, like rent it out?” Like, she rents it out. I was like “Can I rent it out during Comic Con” and she’s like “No”, and said a similar thing, that she didn’t have access.
DTD: Oh, they treat you really nice. So, you go and you know, “[best adult voice] I’m the owner of the room,” and then they bring in the green room, and bring you drinks. They really play it up.
Daryl: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, that’s so cool.
DTD: [looking out window] …I should have made us just go to Tim Horton’s.
Daryl: Well, that is the true Canadian experience. I can say I have eaten up many meals there. Like it or not. It’s the default.
DTD: I actually… One of the interviews that I did at Essen, we went to a poutine restaurant.
Daryl: Nice! I respect that!
DTD: That was the multi-national experience. I took a British gentleman in Germany to a poutine restaurant.
Daryl: That’s hilarious. Yeah, there’s a pretty big chain in Canada called Smoke’s. Smoke’s Poutinerie.
Quick note: Poutine is a delightful mix of french fries, cheese curd and gravy. And I love that there is a word “poutinerie.”
Daryl: The original one is from the city I was at, and was started by a university student at our local university. And then they just spread everywhere. And that became one of the go-to’s for Canada.
DTD: I dig it. It’s got every… The greatest late night food drunk food.
Daryl: Oh it’s the best drunk food. And so, whenever people visit me, that’s one of my go-to go-to spots of like, wow.[Pull into restaurant]
DTD: Oh – I thought the restaurant [we’re going to] was going to be kind of far away, but it was just the timing on the border.
Daryl: Yeah, it was the border, so here we are.
DTD: Oh, that’s awesome.
Daryl: Kind of a random location, but it looked good online.
DTD: Oh, I love it. And I… Literally, I like every kind of food.
Daryl: Awesome, me too.
DTD: Absolutely, just every one.
Daryl: Well, we will see if this was a worth the drive.
We have arrived at Tide and Vine Oyster House in Niagara Falls, Ontario. A beautiful location, and unbeknownst to me at the moment, the location where I would consume more seafood than a well behaved porpoise.
DTD: I’m sure it is. I’m sure it was a perfect fit. How could it be bad?
Daryl: I mean, I’m excited. And hungry.
DTD: Cool! I forgot the license plate! I’m gonna have to snap some pictures here. I gotta do it without telling you. See if I can get pictures of you without the face.
Daryl does in fact have a license plate that reads “Sagrada.”
Daryl: Yeah, my wife surprised me at Christmas with it. It was awesome. It was such a good surprise. I loved it.
DTD: [laughs]. That is so cool.
Daryl: My wife really worked hard at it. She got the plates while I was in Essen. And then like had the people keep it secret. And I am also a snooper around the house. So, it was definitely hard for her.
DTD: [laughs] I remember, one year I actually managed to buy my wife a car for Christmas, and not tell her. I parked it at a neighbor’s house, just like next door. And she never knew. Never knew.
Daryl: [laughs] Wow.That’s amazing.
DTD: That’s back when I was young and romantic. Now I’m old and curmudgeonly.
Daryl: [laughs] What’s her name?
Daryl: Renee. Cool.
Renee is in fact cool. And on that note, Daryl and I will enter the famed Oyster House, the walk of the hungry, where we hope to meet our briny demise. Come back next time for food. Towers of food. Literally. Plus maybe some game talk, but did I mention the towers of food?