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.

DTD: California.

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?

Daryl: No.

DTD: No.

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?

DTD: Nope.

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.

Daryl: Yeah?

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.

It was a fantastic meal at Traum Kuh (dream cow) with Isle of Cats designer Frank West.

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.

DTD: Okay.

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?

DTD: Renee.

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?

In April 2022, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Gathering of Friends, a private gaming convention run by Alan R Moon and held in Niagara Falls, New York. And at the Gathering, I met and became friends with Daryl Andrews, designer of piles of games, including the critically acclaimed Sagrada. At this first meeting, Daryl agreed to go on an adventure, and the two of us headed north across the Canadian border for dinner. I should mention, Daryl is from Toronto, so less of an adventure for him; More of one for me. Except that, much like Scott of the Antarctic, Daryl of the Falls could not find his car in the parking lot…

Daryl: Hitting the beeper a bunch of times. I think I parked far over that way? But I’m horrible for remembering where I parked.

DTD: Oh, no worries at all.

Daryl: Let’s Play this game of…

DTD: Beeping the car until you find it?

I have played this particular game many a time. Of course, my car does not have “Sagrada” plastered over the plates…

Daryl: Yeah, unfortunately, it’s pretty quiet. So, you kind of have to see the lights.

DTD: I won’t talk about when I spent 20 minutes trying to find my car at the airport.

A fabrication to make Daryl feel more at ease. Certainly never happened in the greater Sacramento Metropolitan Airport.

Daryl: I’d be right there with you.

Corey: Flashing it, beeping it.

Daryl: Yep.

DTD: [sighs] It is nice out.

Daryl: Yeah, I haven’t been outside today. Should have gone for a walk earlier.

Niagra Falls, NY in April was very pleasant for me. My perfect outside temperature is something in the 40s to 50s, and while I was in Niagra, the weather was right in that range with occasional light rain.

DTD: Very cool, well thank you for setting everything up. I super appreciate that.

Daryl: Yeah, I’ve never been to this place, but it looks awesome. And I thought, “Hey! Let’s go give it a try!”

DTD:  And I got my Passport and I got the app all set.

Daryl: Oh right! I got to fill out the ArriveCAN! You’re right. It’ll just take minute…

The Canadian governemnt set up an app to cross the border, where you fill in all the details about when, how, next of kin.

DTD: I told them that if I get violently ill while I’m in Canada, you have to drop me off at the other Sheraton [laughs].

Daryl: That’s fair. [laughs] Be “on the falls” instead of the “at the falls.”

DTD: I thought was the “under the falls.”

One of the things you need to fill out in ArriveCAN is where you will stay if you contract COVID in Canada. Since your diseased self won’t be leaving anytime soon. I found it funny that there were two Sheraton hotels, one in the US and one in Canada, so I picked Sheraton Canada.

Daryl: Oh maybe. It will just take a second to update my drive cam.

Oh, we found the car. Didn’t want you to worry.

DTD: Yeah, not a worry at all.

Daryl: Feel free to adjust the temperatures how you like it, I’m always freezing cold.

DTD: Oh no.

Daryl: I’m always warm, so I want it freezing cold, I should say.

DTD: That’s what I like. It was hot when I left California, so I wanted some snow.

Daryl spent a while finalizing details on his ArriveCAN app, and putting directions to the restaurant (which was in Canada) into his car.

Daryl: Oh man, it’s even worse now. 54 minutes. OK, down to 30. but one of the ways it was telling me was to go all the way to Buffalo and across.

DTD: That’s weird. I told it [the ArriveCAN app] we were crossing in Niagara.

Daryl: Yeah, I did too.

DTD: OK, cool.

Daryl: Worst case, we do the interview in the car.

DTD: I have done that before. You know Jonny Pac?

Daryl: Yeah! Interesting dude.

DTD: He’s a good friend. I love Johnny, he’s crazy.

Daryl: Oh, cool. I’ve loved any conversation I’ve had with him.

DTD: Oh, he’s amazing.

Daryl: I just don’t see him much. He’s more in the west and so…

DTD: Well, that’s where I am.

Daryl: Right. So only times I’ve really been in the west, is when I’ve had chance to pick his brain.

DTD: Yeah, we did… We did a lot of stuff in the car ’cause we drove around all of gold country and we drove to the actual town of Coloma.

JonnyPac is the designer of the game Coloma, a re-imagining of one of his first titles, Hangtown.

Daryl: Nice! That’s fun!

DTD: That was a blast. I haven’t done the Canada crossing. At least since I was, like I don’t know, 8 or 7.

Daryl: Yeah, well, we’ll give it a try. Worst case – we’re back here.

DTD: I got to have everything… Got to have… but the app is ready now.

Daryl: Just passport and have that app, and you should be good. And we’ll just pass them over when we get there.

DTD: Not a problem, not a problem.

Daryl: Should be easy peasy, unless…

DTD: Yep, Yep, I brought all my guns and my drugs. They’re all in the back.

American pride.

Daryl: Perfect, perfect. That doesn’t make it hard at all, then. My most foolish moment was… I took over… Do you know Josh Cappel?

DTD: By name.

Daryl: Okay, so phenomenal artist, graphic designer, designer, you name it. He lives in Toronto and at the time he had stayed a little longer than Helaina, ’cause Helaina went back. So, he was like, “Oh, I just need to get over to the, just over the bridge, and then I’ll hit up…” I think it was the train or the bus or something, to get home to Toronto. Nothing that unusual. So, I said “Oh just jump in the car instead of walking. I’ll just drop you off.” And he jumped in. We drove over and as I pass this thing, I realized I didn’t have my passport on me.

Josh Cappel is the designer of Wasabi, Rock Paper Wizard, and many more. Josh also illustrates games, and worked together with Daryl Andrews on Jungle Joust.

His wife Helaina Cappel is also a game designer and an owner of Burnt Island Games and Kids Table Board Games (KTBG).

DTD: [laughs] Oh man.

Daryl: So, I pulled a U-ey on the bridge. He climbed out and climbed over the wall to walk over, and then I realized as I came this way I was like, “Wait but they won’t let me in to the US either – I have no passport! Do I live on the bridge now?? I can’t go either way.”

DTD: [laughs] Stranded forever on the bridge.

Daryl: Right! You could have just known me as the bridge troll. But thankfully they let me through with just like taking my wallet and doing some kind of check.

DTD: It used to just be driver’s license.

Daryl: Right! Oh yeah, it used to be easy, not complicated at all.

At this exact moment, I dropped my passport, Daryl’s informatioon, my wallet and cell phone. All the ID types you would expect in a tense escape scene within a spy movie, all over the floorboards of Daryl’s car.

DTD: [Searching for dropped wallet on floor] I’ve dropped things everywhere! [panicking]

Daryl: You’re fine. This is just a toll.

Toll Worker: $4 US or $5.50 Canadian.

I thought we were at the actual customs check already…

Daryl: That is a good questionHow am I going to do that? I have a five. [rustling through change] It’s like I should have a looney peeking around in here somewhere… Oh, here’s a Tooney!

Toll Worker: Thank you.

Why does the US not have cool names for coins? Nickel and Quarter are lame. Looney ($1) and Tooney($2) are awesome. There should be a Throoney…

Daryl: Awesome. [To toll worker] Thank you. Have a good night.

DTD: [collecting passport and such] There we go. I have things!

Daryl: Now where did I put my passport? Oh, there it is. It’s in my pockets.

DTD: So, you go back and forth across a lot?

Daryl: I mean, I haven’t during COVID times, but before that, yeah absolutely. I mean especially for this event; I would normally go over probably 3 or 4 times? And usually, probably a couple of those times I’d walk. So, you can actually walk right there [pointing], across. And then they just charge you $0.50 or something silly at the end. But then you can just stroll and see the falls and do restaurants.

It is generally agreed that the Canadian side of Niagara is superior to the New York side. Better view of the falls, better food. There’s even a boardwalk type amusement area. The Gathering of Friends takes place in Niagara Falls, New York.

DTD: Yeah, there was a group who was trying to get me to go across.

Daryl: Yeah, you didn’t go?

DTD: Nah, I ended up not going.

Daryl: That’s fair. It’s hard to get pulled away from the games that long.

DTD: Well, there’s that. And my back was acting up a little bit, so I figured if I walk tens of thousands of steps, it’s not going to help issues.

Daryl: No, that’s not. And then you’re like far away, like “What am I gonna do?” But yeah, future years I highly recommend it. It’s a nice view.

DTD: Well, we did the New York side of the falls.

And the falls were beautiful, the company was wonderful, and for me the weather was great. Slightly snowy, low 40s. But even that small amount of walking did not do my back any favors. I am going to blame the walking, not the hours and hours of sitting and playing games while eating junk food.

Daryl: Oh cool, I haven’t even been out this year. I haven’t done that but it’s a beautiful walk there too.

DTD: We walked all around the park and everything like that, and that was very fun. Had a good old time, it was on the first day I think.

Daryl: Yeah, I mean from year to year we can have it, that it’s snow everywhere and ice. Like, the falls are even frozen. All the way to warm.

DTD: That’s what they were saying. Or even hot.

Daryl: We’ve had it all, so this is kind of that weird middle.

DTD: I’m having a super good time. I mean, I didn’t really know what to expect, but this is amazing.

Daryl: Right?

DTD: The Gathering is just so fun.

Daryl: It is my favorite.

It was an absolute priveledge to go to the Gathering of Friends – the people were all so welcoming and kind, the games were all very cutting edge and new, and I felt the hotel and surrounding area were lovely.

DTD: I have played more games at The Gathering than any convention I’ve been to so far. Usually, I’ll shotgun games.

Daryl: I am unfortunately most of the time busy during kind-of “traditional” work hours. And then dinners are usually networking or pitching to publishers. So, by the time that’s all done at most conventions, I don’t have a lot of brainpower. So, it’s usually like party games, is all I can kind of…

DTD: And see, I start out with not much brain powers, so…

Daryl: [laughs] Whatever!

DTD: Yeah, it just goes down from there.

Daryl: I say to people, like my brain power goes up all day long. I start at an all-time record low, so I don’t function so hot in the morning, but it gets better.

DTD: [laughs] Clarify the definition of “morning”… I’ve seen you down in that gaming room at 2, 3, 4 in the morning.

Daryl: Right, but I haven’t gone to bed yet! You also haven’t seen me at 10 or 11…

DTD: I was there at 7:00 this morning and I didn’t see anybody.

Daryl: Wow! Interesting. Yea, That’s one of the downfalls right now – This year, with the attendance low, is that usually when we’re in the 4-500 [people] range, there’s this perfect balance of morning people, afternoon, and evening. And so, there’s this, even joke – one person I really adore, Scott Nicholson – he didn’t come over, but he’s always one of the very first on early mornings, and we usually cross each other. Like when I go to bed, he’s arriving, and it’s like, “Alright, you’re on, pass the baton!”

DTD: [laughs] I totally get it.

Daryl: So, it’s weird – him, not there, and a lot… There’s usually a posse, which I haven’t seen. Maybe they’re just relocated, but there’s usually 2 or 3 18XX games going on.

DTD: I saw a couple, yeah.

The 18xx games are a series of train games, usually titled by year – 1830: Railways & Robber Barons (1986), 1846: The Race for the Midwest (2005), 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties (2013), etc. They are known for being more complex, having simpler components, and having long playtimes.

Daryl: You did? OK. I hadn’t seen, and they usually are in the that hallway outside of the swimming pool. And usually they start early, and my joke is always like, if I see them, they’re ending their game. In which, I know I’ve really slept in, because if you’re seeing the end of an 18XX game… It’s like, “How long were you down here guys?”

DTD: Oh yeah.Well, I think that got taken over this year by Ark Nova. There’s all the Ark Nova people going on for 4-5 hours.

Daryl: Right, that’s a great point. That is that crowd. Absolutely. And more. Everyone wants to try it.

DTD: Oh yeah. I think I taught two or three times, yeah.

Daryl: Oh wow. It’s got to be a pretty big teach.

DTD: Oh no, I’ve got it down. It’s not a bad teach. It’s not a complicated game.

Daryl: Oh nice. That’s good, just the choices, and the timing.

DTD: It just ends up taking a while, it’s more [due to] a lot of turns, then a lot of choices.

Daryl: Got it.

DTD: It’s just such a different world. And this will be my first internat– no no. It won’t be my first international dinner.

Daryl: Ah, who else was the other?

DTD: I forgot, I did a couple at Essen.

At Essen 2019 I was able to interview Uwe Rosenberg, Friedemann Friese, and Frank West.

Daryl: Ah, fair, that makes sense. What did you think of Essen?

DTD: I like Essen a lot!

Essen Spiel, officially titled Internationale Spieltage, is the largest gaming convention in the world, taking place in Essen Germany every October.

Daryl: Yeah, I do too.

DTD: It’s a shopping convention, really. And I’m terrible: I want all the games.

Daryl: Yep. I feel that.

DTD: So, I will just buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.

Daryl: I was on good behavior this last one.

DTD: I didn’t go in ‘21. It still felt… a little weird.

Daryl: Sure. It was a weird show.

DTD: I went right before, the last one they had before pandemic. And it was amazing. And I had, you know, vowed I was going to go to it every year.

Daryl: Sure…

DTD: And of course, you know, someone heard that. And all of a sudden, there weren’t any more.

Daryl: Well, yeah. Those don’t count. It was interesting ’cause they built fake walls in some of the halls to make them feel tighter.

DTD: Really?

I actually knew this. Several of the conventions during the pandemic did this – they would wall off big sections of the exhibit hall or the demo area, making the space for the convention feel more full. I hid behind some of those fake walls during GenCon 2021.

Daryl: But I wish they didn’t, ’cause it was like, “But you could have more breathing room.”

DTD: I wonder what the deal was with that.

Daryl: And anyone that I interacted with said they wanted to make sure people still felt like, kind of the hustle and bustle.

DTD: That seems really counterproductive.

Daryl: Like it’s full, but I’m like, “That’s not what I need.” [laughs] And then the other thing, when you were there [at Essen], did you ever sneak outside? Like the “inside spots” that are outside?

DTD: Yeah, the weird little loading dock hallways in-between buildings.

Daryl: Yeah exactly. I love those, ’cause to me, I’m like, “Ooh, we can get a little fresh air, and they have a lot of food stalls, or you name it.”

Essen is great because there are so many booths, and many serve food or drink, in addition to the game booths.

DTD: Yeah, it’s refreshing out there. Usually, you got better Internet out there too.

Daryl: Yes, Yep. Well unfortunately this year… I don’t know if it was just ratios, or again people wanting to be away from other people. It was really crowded. Because people trying to get away from people, then there were many people in those.

DTD: Oh, everybody was trying to be outside.

Daryl: Right. And then I’m not crazy about cigarette smoke. There was a ton of cigarette smoke in those areas too, so.

DTD: Well, there’s a lot more smoking, I think, at Essen then there is at any other convention I’ve been to.

Daryl: Oh, for sure, for sure.

Daryl: So that was a downer, because that used to be my shortcut to run around. I’d be like, “Oh, I’m gonna dip through this, and dip through this…” And then it was like, “Oh, those are worse.” Which means I’m inside more, and then they’re tight, making hustle and bustle… I was like, “Oh man, this backfired.” But still it was a great time.

DTD: I remember when I went to Essen, I ended up leaving all of my clothes in the hotel room. And only packing games.

True story. I needed luggage room, so the jeans had to go.

Daryl: [laughs] For the luggage space? Nice. Nice. I definitely have… disposed of some clothing, for luggage space. The worst though, was… Have you ever heard of a board game convention in Seattle called Sasquatch?

DTD: Yeah, yeah, I know that.

Sasquatch is a small invite-only board game convention in Seattle, which takes place right after Essen.

Daryl: So, one year I was the mule. I had to pick up – I think it ended up being around 240 unique titles to bring to Sasquatch. So, my luggage was…

DTD: That’s their whole deal, is playing the Essen games.

Daryl: Yeah. Which is amazing, and it’s so cool. And I get it, and that’s exciting. As the mule I had to run around, and there was a priority list. So it wouldn’t be like I could get from Booth A to…

DTD: Oh, you had a shopping list.

Essen has a crazy number of new and early releases. Most board games release according to GenCon or Essen.

Daryl: Yeah. I had the shopping list, some pre-ordered already that they had arranged. Some that it was just like “Please go here first, go here second.” But of course, then, that means I can’t shop at this stall, and this stall. The priority list is this stall, then seven halls over, that stall, then four over this way to that stall. And then remember like…

DTD: Could you at least get in early? Were you given an exhibitor badge?

Exhibitors are allowed into the hall early to set up, and there can be a bit of shopping before the general public is allowed in. However, several booths will limit this early wheeling and dealing. Famously, in 2016 Plaid Hat‘s title SeaFall nearly sold out before the public was allowed in the hall. And I can report that at GenCon 2022, Twilight Inscription was not being sold to people with exhibitor badges at all.

Daryl: I got in early and ran around as much as I could then. A lot of them, they’re like “Well, you know, we have a limited amount, so we have to be fair.” So, there was that. There was a few that I would negotiate with BGG, where I was like, “Look, someone is going to come over and demo. Can we arrange an extra one to come with them, so I can just do the handoff then, or buy it?” And that worked out pretty awesome. BGG was super generous about that.

DTD: Oh, they’re so nice.

Daryl: Yeah. So that was a big help. I knew some people, so I sent a few messages, being like “Can you just hold it aside? I don’t have time to wait in line.”

DTD: That’s what I did.

Daryl: But the worst of all of it all… I ran around, and I was pretty successful. I think I only missed a handful of titles out of the 240. But the part I didn’t calculate well was the punching.

DTD: Oh, man.

Daryl: So, I had to punch every game, baggie them. I took the boxes out and I mailed the boxes. And for a majority of the games, I put the pieces in my luggage.

DTD: Then you had to puzzle everything back together.

Daryl: Then puzzle it back, yeah. It took so long that I ended up recruiting multiple friends at different times to spend hours in my rooms just punching with me. It was wild.

DTD: [laughs] Oh, I believe it.

Daryl: So, in the end, even going early, even doing like after-hours stuff, I thought by Sunday I’d be done. And then I was planning on pitching games that day. But I just… The entire Sunday I sat in my room punching. [laughs] And just cancelled all my pitch meetings.


DTD: That is insane.

Daryl: I learned very quickly why they’ve never got someone to do it two years in a row. It’s always a new person.

DTD: [laughs] I was actually thinking about doing it. Now I gotta change my mind, I think.

Daryl: The take-away trick that developed, and I think they’ve mastered since I did it, was Blue Highway store… I think it’s called Blue Highway. It’s in Seattle. They had arranged pallets to take some stuff back, and they arranged to share a pallet. And instead of having to take those items all the way back to a hotel, punch them. They just literally loaded them straight onto a pallet, on the floor, and had them shipped.

Blue Highway Games has been a staple for the gaming community in Seattle since 2007.

DTD: Wow.

Daryl: And so, it’s almost… In my opinion,If I did it again, I would just buy a booth. Just for the purpose of putting a pallet or two in it. Close it off, and then just bring it all to that booth. And then just ship it out. Like if I did it again, that’s for sure how I would do it.

DTD: Well, I had a friend in Germany, and… Actually me and JonnyPac put in an order with this German friend, and we had an insane amount of games shipped. Just you know, poundage and poundage of games get shipped to my house.

Thank you my friend.

Daryl: [laughs]. Insane. Wow. I have a local game store… It’s in Toronto, actually, about an hour from me. And he imports a lot. And goes. And so, I often say to him, “Hey, here’s my wish list. Obviously, grab a few for this store, but I’ll pre order you, I will pay for any of these. I’ll send money in advance. And if you don’t, refund me a few.”

DTD: That’s super nice.

Daryl: But, it’s Board Game Bliss.

DTD: Oh yeah, I totally know them! I order from them all the time, ’cause they’ll get more imports than anybody else I know.

Send any extra games to Corey…

Daryl: Yes! He’s lovely, Bosco is one of the sweetest humans. My favorite, when he started up early, he lived really close to where my mum was.

DTD: Oh, that’s so cool.

Daryl: So, on Christmas, he loads, like at midnight, their Boxing Day, December 26th, shopping deals. And I saw a few, and I messaged and just put in a payment, and said, “I’ll pick them up whenever. I’m not in a rush.” And he goes, “No, no, no, you can get them. We’ll figure it out, while you’re local.” And I was like, “Oh well I’m going shopping to the mall with my nephew, he wants to buy some shoes.” And he’s like, “I’ll meet you at the mall with your games.”

DTD: Wow!

Daryl: I was like,On this busy day after Christmas?” And he was like, “Yeah let’s do it!” And he found me at the mall and handed off my games. Got me to sign a copy of one of my first games.

DTD: [laughs] That’s so cool!That is great.

Daryl: And he was all like, “Oh just so happy to meet you.” and I’m like, “Dude, this is like beyond customer service! This is amazing!” So that was the first time I met him in person.

DTD: Oh, I dig it!I got [Lisbon] Tram 28 from Bliss. Oh, I put in such a big… Messina [1347] I got from them.

Tram 28 is a delightful Ticket to Ride like title of picking up passengers and shuttling them around the city. And it comes with a bell. I got in trouble from Tom Vasel for ringing the bell too often. True story.

Daryl: Sure. He does a really good job of getting really rare stuff or imports or restocking really quick.

DTD: Oh yeah, I love checking their lists. And a lot of times when I do the news, if I want to know if something is available or out, I’ll check the list.

Daryl: Sure. Yeah, we’re pretty spoiled in this area ’cause we have 401 Games, Board Game Bliss, Meeplemart, and another local one for me is J&J Games. They don’t do a good job online, they’re actually quite horrendous, but they have an incredible inventory. I always say to them, “You’d sell a lot more if you organize yourself and had a good inventory.” But they just sell so well they don’t feel, like, even the need. But the nice thing for their lack of organization is every so often you’ll just find an out-of-print game, in the rafters. Because they just stack so many games all over the place.

DTD: I’ve got in Sacramento, there was a game store I go to a lot, that is a tiny little store. But behind the counter they have their games stacked nearly floor to ceiling. And the owners know exactly where every copy of everything is. So, you tell them what you want, and they’re all like “It’s over here.” And they’ve got them all.

Viking Hobby in Carmichael, CA. Great place.

Daryl: Amazing. Amazing.That’s perfect.

DTD: Not real good for window shopping.

Daryl: No. Which is, unfortunately, how I often game shop – I see what catches my eye.

DTD: Oh yeah, lately I haven’t really been able to go out anywhere, so…

Come back next time when Daryl and I actually get across the border into Canada, briefly discuss something called “poutine,” and talk about forays into game design.

As all good things must eventually come to an end, my GAMA lunch with Eric Lang is coming to its scheduled close. Eric told me at the start that he had an appointment, and we are cutting that time limit pretty close. Eric had just been talking about forming strong bonds with early members at Cool Mini or Not, and forming a super team to eventually create Blood Rage with businessman David Preti and artist Adrian Smith.

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We are nearing the end of a fantastic lunch at Oceana in Reno. Eminent designer Eric Lang and I are talking through the designer’s transition from the early days of Fantasy Flight, into Cool Mini or Not and beyond. The food is nearly gone, and satiety evolves into nostalgia.

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Welcome back to lunch with designer Eric M. Lang. We are dining at Oceano in the Peppermill Resort during GAMA Expo 2022. The conversation has been pretty heavy lately, with discussions of racism, representation, and now to lighten things up, we are talking about violence in games. But don’t worry, we will dive into Eric’s entry into the world of board games.

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It’s still hard to believe I managed to corral the eternally busy Eric Lang into a calm sit down meal at Oceano in the Peppermill Resort Hotel in Reno, Nevada. The conversation has been all over, ranginging through social philosophy, discrimination, and yes, even game design. But right at this moment, all sounds ceases for the delivery of the food.

Waiter: Here you are sir, the trout.

DTD: Well, thank you very much. 

EML: I don’t have… My experience in… [food arrives] Thank you. Oh my god, that looks great. Thank you.

DTD: Thank you very much.

Oceano was better known to me as a sushi restaurant, but I was pleasantly surprised by the cooked seafood dishes. I had ordered trout, but mostly for the yam puree and mango salsa. Eric had sea bass with red quinoa, papaya, and a basil sauce. Both dishes were beautiful.

Waiter: You’re welcome. Let me get you some more water. Anything else?

DTD: I think that’s good.

EML: Good, thank you. I’m going to Instagram that.

True to the culture of the young, we spent many minutes taking pictures of our food. I never did find Eric’s pictures of my food on his Instagram.

DTD: I’m going to be mean, and I’m going to take pictures.

EML: Yeah, you are! 

This is the best response I have ever gotten to my embarrased resignation to take pictures during an interview.

DTD: I always forget to take pictures, and this does end up online and all.

EML: Yeah, I’m gonna take pictures of yours, too. 

DTD: Well, I’m going to take a picture of you taking a picture. So, this is meta, is what it is. 

Waiter: Do you need some more soda?

The waiter, who had snuck up on goofily taking pictures of each other, at this point was pretty convinced we were a pair of complete bozos.

EML: Oh, I better not. I’m good, thank you. 

DTD: And I mean it. I think I was raised almost the opposite. I was raised by hippies…

EML: You were raised by hippies right? So you were, you were “counterculture” all the way.

DTD: And it was, but it wasn’t enforced, no standards. Like, I was raised without any religion whatsoever, or any opinions or viewpoints. They tried to be so absolutely neutral about everything, that it was almost aggressively neutral about everything. So then, you know, when I grew up and moved out of that, you know, the world just came and slapped me in the face. 

EML: Right, yeah. Especially after you leave your bubble, right? 

DTD: Yeah! Yeah, I mean, everybody has that moment where you kind of realize that… 

EML: The world’s not like this.

Epiphanies by Corey. You’re welcome.

DTD: OK, here’s my parents faults. Here’s the things that I was never taught, you know.

EML: That’s right.

DTD: And everything comes to reality. 

EML: Right, well, yeah, yeah. I mean suburban Canada, circa the 80’s, is a bubble. It really is. Like all these, all the new, all the mentees that I have, and all the people I am working with, when they talk about their experiences, like I did not have that experience at all. So it occurs to me that I’m essentially a white guy in the industry that just happens to be dark skinned. Like culturally.


EML: And I’m really culturally white. I did not grow up with like rap or jazz or… Well, I grew up with jazz, but “white people” jazz, right? And I grew up on German food, and so I didn’t…

DTD: You were just sort of a mix of everything, it sounds like. 

EML: And the… Like, I didn’t experience, I didn’t experience racism the way that people talk about racism until I became successful and I started climbing social strata into places where I was unwelcome.

DTD: Wow.

I am awed with the way Eric can state things in a very upfront manner. I am not shocked to hear it, I am shocked with the ease of presentation. I have so much trouble talking about about any of these issues, and Eric makes it seem effortless. Which both impresses me and upsets me.

EML: So, like not until my late 30’s. I was like, I was startled to see like, “Oh s–t. Like there is an invisible caste system here. And I’ve hit the ceiling. Like I can, now I can see. Now I’m starting to see where people like me are unwelcome.” But that was not until late, late, late in life.

DTD: Well, I think that’s one of the things that… Like reading your stuff, one of the things that really opened me up is, I’m seeing so much more now that I didn’t see before. And I look back at a lot of my experiences growing up in the 80’s, and it’s like, “That was… A lot of that was pretty horrific.” And I didn’t see any of it [at the time].

EML: Yeah, once you pierce the veil, it’s hard to look back, right? 

DTD: Yeah, [sarcastically] thank you. [laughs] It makes sense.

The 80’s really were a strange time to be a kid. Movies from that time are cringingly difficult for me to watch now, yet I know we all just accepted them in the day.

EML: I’ve seen… I didn’t realize until… I didn’t realize how horrifying my experiences with police were in the US, until I started processing it post hoc. I was like, “Oh s–t, this is really bad.” 

DTD: Yeah.

EML: And I understand… You know how I got to that point? Because I came at it when arguing with friends of mine from the other side, right? So I’m like, “You can’t say all cops are bad, don’t do that.” And it came from the moderate side. And then listening to their experiences, which were way worse than mine by the way. Like, way worse. I don’t know anybody of color, any of my friends that has not had horrifying experiences. I’m like, “Oh s–t!” They literally turned me around on those… I’m like, “You’re right there, it’s not our fault.” You’re totally right, it’s a systemic problem. I understand from your point of view why, right? Anyway, yeah, so… And Toronto is ostensibly… I’m sorry, is actually a very diverse city. 

DTD: Yeah.

EML: It is ostensibly a very welcoming city. We’ve got our barriers. We have a lot of problems. We force a lot of… Like, by proximity… It’s very much like New York, right? Like everything is really tightly packed. 

DTD: Yeah. 

EML: So, we just exist together, right? And generally without issue. Though all the systemic issues still apply, but it’s really… Toronto is “bougie racist,” as they call it, right?

DTD: I get it.

I definitely do not want to take away from the import of Eric’s point, but I find the word “bougie” fascinating. First of all, in medical terms, a bougie is a rod used to dialate an opening, so ew. “Bougie” in this context is a shortening of bourgeois, being from the Bourgeoisie class, the upper class, the owners. So, snooty. In Marxist definitions, the Bourgeoisie is the opposing force to the Proletariat, the workers.

EML: We don’t say the N word in the street. But there’s like… It’s there, but it’s really polite about it. And it doesn’t affect your day to day, and you don’t notice it all the time. But we have also, I mean we have an incredibly thriving LGBTQ community, which… Like, I didn’t understand the perspective of the LGBTQ community until I start getting more and more and more friends, right? 

DTD: Waiter: How are you doing gentlemen?

EML: Good, thank you.

DTD: Very good.

EML: Like, my best friend of 25 years is trans. She came out five years ago. Which is why, like… 

DTD: My daughter is married to a trans, transitioning, person now. And they are very strong in the LGBT community.

All my love, kids. You’re awesome.

EML: Sure. 

DTD: And I’ve had to do my education.

I still make many mistakes with terminology and habits that have been with me for 5 decades. But I am aware and trying to change.

EML: They have to be, because they have to be allowed to be heard, because we still don’t hear them yet. Anyway, that’s where a lot of that stuff comes from. Because people ask me, like… I get asked a lot, “What’s it like being black guy in the industry?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” 

DTD: I wouldn’t even imagine to ask that, because I wouldn’t know how to process either the question or the answer. 

This question completely floored me. It’s hard to write up a long uncomfortable pause, but I felt it weighing on my mind.

EML: I know what it’s like more, now that I’ve been mentoring primarily black designers. And hearing their point of view, but a lot of what I’m channeling is their voices, not necessarily my own. I had a pretty… Yeah, a pretty sheltered life. Like, Canada is quite the bubble. 

DTD: I feel like I had a very, very sheltered life, but… different.

EML: Yeah, I mean California is a bubble, too. 

DTD: Well, I kept bouncing between New Jersey and California, and they were very different worlds. I still remember being essentially in a commune in Berkeley while my dad was teaching at the university, and then going to New Jersey and all of a sudden being in, like the neighborhood of New York street gangs. So, like bouncing really from one extreme to the other.

Growing up, it was discouraged to label people by appearance. No one was black or white or short or tall or skinny or fat. It was uncomfortable to put any label of pure appearance on people, and even today I have a lot of difficulty talking in that way, even just describing people.

EML: Well, that’s like, because New York was really bad in the 80’s. 

DTD: It was much worse. And that’s where everybody wanted to go, was New York. And I didn’t care for it. It was over-stimulating, more than frightening.

New York City had a massive clean-up campaign in the 1980’s. It really was a nastier place when I was a kid than it is now.

EML: By the way, sorry, do you want some of this Sea Bass? 

DTD: Oh no, I’m good, I’m good. Thank you though. 

EML: Ah, it’s fantastic.

I should have had a bite. “I ate some of Eric Lang’s dinner.” Would go right on my business card.

DTD: Yeah, the trout is amazing. I’ve only had sushi here, and I didn’t realize how good the other stuff was. 

EML: Funny, I’m not a big fan of sushi. I don’t dislike it, just not a big fan of it. It’s my wife’s favorite food, so we eat it a lot. I’m like, I never eat it when we go out. 

DTD: [laughs] That’s OK, hopefully this is better than Biscotti’s

EML: I love seafood. [scoffs] Better than Biscotti’s… It’s not even the same planet. 

Biscotti’s is the default diner within the Peppermill, and during GAMA Expo, it is the most visited mealspace for business meetings, friendly reunions, and yes, casual interviews. The location is ideal. The food is … OK.

I personally have done 2 interviews there – John Coveyou and Curt Covert.

DTD: I know, I have done so many breakfasts and lunch interviews at Biscotti’s. I just don’t even think about it anymore. Well so, right now, do you think most of what you’re doing is the mentoring? Because it’s been kind of quiet for… Like, for an outsider, for like, “What is Eric Lang doing right now?” I know you’re associated with Exploding Kittens.

EML: Yeah, and so… Yeah, it’s true. So, it’s actually this show that reminded me like, “Oh yeah…” I don’t talk about work as much as I used to. 

DTD: Sure.

EML: Because I’m mostly in family and mass [market]. I’m doing as much as I used to, actually more. I’m going to work on that… 

DTD: Oh, I have no doubt you’re busy.

The publisher Exploding Kittens started with their titual card game Exploding Kittens which blew up crowdfunding in 2015 for over $8M. Further titles from the company have targeted family audiences and mass market stores.

EML: But this stuff I’m working on, like the NDA’s are tighter. 

DTD: Got it.

NDAs, or Non-Disclosure Agreements, are used within board games, but tend to be loose and sometimes by unspoken respect. Larger companies, such as Exploding Kittens, can use more formalized, aggressive NDAs.

EML: And I can’t… And unfortunately – Well, not unfortunately… I mean, I’ve been growing a social media following on purpose, because I got like… I have things I want to achieve. 

DTD: You share a platform. I think you’ve got one of the biggest. In board gaming. 

EML: It’s possible. It’s possible, which is funny because, to put it relatively, you’re right. However, I have fewer followers than Ricky Gervais’s cat. So just to put it in perspective.

I had to look this up, and for better or for worse, it’s true. Ricky Gervais’ cat “Pickle” has 67.5k followers on twitter. Eric has 31.2k.

I have 435. Thanks a lot, internet…

DTD: The humbling experience. 

EML: It’s a nice. It’s a nice perspective, which I appreciate. 

DTD: We’re still a very small pond. 

EML: But because my online community got so big, I can’t really talk in code names anymore. Because they figure [it] out instantly. Right, so I’m like, I can’t be cryptic. And if I just tease it’s a little douchy. 

DTD: I get it.

Eric used to regularly give those cryptic code names for projects he was working on, but this is always a dangerous proposition. The collective internet can be smart and tenacious. Similarly, Stonemaier Games uses code names for upcoming projects, which often get sussed out.

EML: So, I’m like, “Alright, I have to talk a little more broadly now. Or just not talk about it at all.” But yeah, I’m definitely working on a lot of stuff that, I guess it will surprise people who only know me from Blood Rage and Rising Sun, but I mean I’ve been working on family games my whole career. 

DTD: Yeah.

EML: I just haven’t published a lot of them. 

DTD: You’ve got a huge bibliography of games out there. It always surprises me. It’s so much more than the CMoN “big mini” things, but…

Eric has 548 credited games on BGG right now, including Dice Masters, Arcane Academy and the Muchkin Collectible Card Game – Pretty family friendly fare.

EML: Right, right, but I mean, it’s hard… It’s really hard to begrudge that, or be salty about it. Like, I do recognize that I’m sort of type cast as the “Blood Rage Guy.” Yes, I can do more, but I’m glad I hit a zeitgeist at the right time. And I headed a game that was so definitive for so many people. I mean, you can’t be anything but grateful for that. 

DTD: Oh sure.

EML: I’m burned out on “big box” stuff for now. Still very proud of what I did. I just don’t have another big box game in me for a little while.

DTD: It’s gotta be… Well, I actually don’t know. I’m guessing that those are a lot harder to develop, and figure out, and get it fixed. And then the lighter ones are probably a lot harder to playtest, and get perfect, and get elegant, and get going. But I might be totally off. 

EML: It’s almost exactly the opposite, believe it or not. 

DTD: Wow.

I’m usually able to accurately target “the exact opposite.” It’s a skill

EML: For me. I wouldn’t say it objectively. I’ve been developing big box games my whole life, right? And I’ve always been playing lifestyle games. I mean, I’ve been playing Magic [the Gathering] since ’93, right?

DTD: Yeah. 

EML: Which is… I still stand by it, it’s the most complicated game in the world. 

DTD: Oh yeah.

Ever changing rules. Constant addition and removal of edge cases. You need official referees to keep up with it.

EML: And I internalize the whole damn thing. Like, I have a very high tolerance for that type of type of complexity, and I have a very… My instinct for interlocking systems is very, very honed. So it doesn’t look so… It’s not that hard for me to… I can usually design like 90% of a big box game, if I’m inspired… If I’m really inspired, and I’m in love with it, it usually comes together in a couple of days. The remaining year of development is the remaining 10%.

DTD: Yeah.

EML: And still doing due diligence, even if it all comes together at once, I still have to go out and do the work and try all these other things, to… Because if anybody comes, if I’m ever asked, “Did you consider X?” My answer has to be, “Yes, I did.” 

DTD: “Because I considered everything.” 

EML: I considered at least as close to… Yeah I consider everything “reasonable.” I’ve amended that since. [laughs]

DTD: [laughs]

EML: “Did you try making… [Anything that a monster does],” “Did you try considering making this a completely different game?” – “No.”  But everything within reason, definitely tried it.

DTD: Sure.

I always felt Blood Rage needed more lasers.

EML: And there’s a fine line you have to cross… Sorry, there’s a tightrope you have to cross there, too. Because you also don’t want to fall into the infinite sea of the abstract… Of post-modernism, right? Where we’re like, “OK as I can view this from every possible angle, but now it’s so abstract, I don’t even know how to navigate the decision-space anymore.” 

DTD: I’m creating an art piece rather than a game, isn’t it? 

EML: Oh no, sorry – the opposite, the opposite. So that’s the data driven s—t, right?


EML: Where I want to analyze this game from every possible thing, and just try turning every knob and see what happens, or the scientific method style. I can’t do that. Like to me, games are vision driven. And if… Like, of course you can change the vision, all that stuff. Absolutely. But as the vision keeper, if you’re not in the driver seat, your car’s all over the place. 

DTD: Right.

EML: And then you’re just… Success or failure is completely by accident, right? At least at this point, I know I made a game. When we roll the die, it’s… I’m good. Once I roll the die, and then the market decides. And decides what it decides. But I’m not going to say, like… If I made a failure, I’ve got games that are quote UN-quote “failures”, like The Others. Or like The Godfather, that I am intensely proud of. That didn’t strike lightning. 

DTD: I didn’t get that impression off those. I have a lot, I guess I have a lot of friends who really like both of those.

The Others, particularly was fascinating to me, and I have enjoyed several plays of it. The Others curently ranks #836 on BGG. The Godfather ranks #363.

EML: Well, I think they’re great games, but they didn’t sell. Like Blood Rage sells hundreds of thousands of copies, right? 

DTD: Well, you can’t compare them. Blood Rage is your top, I’m assuming. 

EML: No, not even close. 

DTD: Probably in numbers sold. 

EML: Not even close. 

DTD: No? Are you going back to like Dice Masters, or… 

EML: Well… And I also worked in video games for a while too, right? 

DTD: Oh, I didn’t know that. 

EML: Yeah, I worked on Duelyst, trading card game for Counterplay Games a few years ago. 

DTD: Wow.

Deulyst was a digital collectible card game that ran from 2016 through 2020.

EML: I worked on Facebook games for like 6 years. 

DTD: That’s rough. 

EML: That’s a dark period. Here’s the thing… I’ll put a pin in that. If you want to talk about it, I’m happy to, but that’ll take a whole thing

DTD: Not a worry.

Facebook Games, and mobile games in general, tend to imply some more dubious game practices. Companies heavily pushing micro-transactions to huge numbers of subscriber-players, bordering on gambling. Or social structures collecting data for sale to marketing.

EML: I love talking about it, but it’s a big chunk.

DTD: I know that world too well. 

EML: I do, too. So, I worked on Facebook games, when they were new. So, I went in with the naivete of, “Oh my God, here’s a new platform. Oh my God, we can accomplish so much with this.” 

DTD: Looking for the original “cozy games” kind of thing. 

EML: And then, right, well cozy games with no onboard encryption, unlimited player count. And at the time, like tabletop games that you play with anybody on your social graph.

DTD: Yeah.

EML: Like, I pitched, “I’m going to pitch Carcassonne for a hundred players. What would that look like?” 

DTD: Yeah!

EML: I still reel at it, but nobody wanted that. They said they wanted it, they sucked me in with that. Like, “Yeah! Come innovate, innovate, innovate!” But without exception, to every one of them, innovation means, “Well you mean FarmVille with turnips instead of onions, right?” 

DTD: Yeah. My co-host on my podcast, and one of my best friends, worked for Kabam, and was very deeply into the freemium markets. And I’ve just, I’ve heard too much.

EML: Monetization designers, they’re part of the ecosystem, in the way that Ebola is. [laughs]

DTD: There’s a new quote for you.

Not many Ebola quotes out there.

EML: My feelings about monetization designers are pretty public, but like…

DTD: No, I got it. 

EML: I would be, I think the industry would be much happier…

DTD: I’m not arguing with you.

Freemium business models, and monetization designers, offer free games with strong motivation to pay for small additions. The game play brings an addictive quality, and the purchases, while not strictly necessary, are needed to complete the addiction cycle for the player. And those tiny purchases make companies so much more money than selling complete, self-contained games.

EML: God, I wouldn’t say this in public, but like Nazis, any individual monetization designer… I’m sure they’re very nice people, I’m sure they love their pets and their kids, and all that stuff. But doing what they do… 

DTD: Oh, it’s evil. It is just plain pure evil. 

Stated a bit strongly there, cowboy. But the morality of the business model is certainly debatable.

EML: Well, doing what they do. They are part of a machine that is using our powers for harm. And there’s no way around it. There’s NO way around it. 

DTD: It’s crazy. 

EML: The only thing more evil than monetization for design is Q-Anon.

DTD: Wow.

There are many things I generally don’t expect to discuss in a casual dinner interview. I feel less awkward about my gut reaction to freemium models.

EML: And QAnon comes from ARG game design. 100%.

DTD: Yep. It’s achievement level, and…

EML: It’s expert level ARG design [Alternate Reality Gaming]. And it’s one of the things that keeps me in check, and keeps me frosty about how I use my platform, and how I design games. Like, when people say, “You’re so political online, why don’t you design political games?” I’m like, “F—k no!” I don’t know what I’m doing, and…

ARG design is a way to incorporate real world items and events into a fictional game. When you play a game, then dive down a rabbit hole and find pieces of it in the real world… Yeah, that’s probably on purpose.

DTD: But you respect the medium, you want to do it right. 

EML: I guarantee you the people who designed QAnon were not trying to… Well, maybe they were. But were probably just trying to create a fun experience. 

DTD: Wow. And see, I see it as malicious from the get go. Manipulative and malicious, feeding on the conspiracy theories. 

EML: So, I read a lot about it. Of course, I did. I did. So, I read a ton about QAnon. And they’re not alone. It’s just the one that struck lightning. The pipeline, the way that the pipeline screens to QAnon, has been around for… Jesus God, since post-war. 

DTD: Yeah. 

EML: But a lot of circumstances combined blah, blah, blah. But the point is, the point is, game design is behavioral manipulation. It is imperative… I’m sorry, it is behavioral manipulation through incentives. 

DTD: Yeah, it’s derivatives on slot machine theory.

It has been known for a while that if you are rewarded for a particular behavior, you tend to do it more often. But if you are rewarded only every 3rd or 4th time for that same behavior, you will do it much more strongly, and much more often. Like a slot machine.

EML: Right. Well, see, that’s the evil part. 

DTD: Yeah, I was just focusing on the evil. 

Come back next time for some discussion of gaming history – the early days of Fantasy Flight, Eric’s first designs, and more politics.

Welcome back to my lunch with Eric Lang during GAMA 2022 in Reno, Nevada. Eric has always been an outspoken voice in the board game industry, quick to point out injustice or insensitivity. I decided early on that I would leave our conversation intact, and allow it to just flow organically. And we do touch on some sensitive topics this week as we talk about childhood, war, and games.

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When I very first started Sice Tower Dish, I made a short list of designers I would really like to go have a meal with. And since the beginning, Eric Lang was on that list. Eric Lang is responsible for so many modern classics, I don’t even know where to start. Dice Masters, Blood Rage, XCOM, Quarriors, Arcadia Quest. BGG credits Eric with nearly 500 titles. Eric and I have been writing for a while, plans have been made, but it took until March 2022 in Reno to actually get Eric on the other side of a dinner table. We are at Oceano, a lovely sushi and seafood restaurant in Reno. Discussing seating with the maître d’.

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And sadly it is time for the final installment of my breakfast with Curt Covert, founder of Smirk and Dagger games. Curt is so friendly, and so easy going, and in this section, he spills all about new and exciting coming from Smirk in the next few years. Totally off the books here. So sip the last of the coffee and scrutinize that last muffin crumb.

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Welcome back to a lovely GAMA breakfast with my good friend Curt Covert. Curt is the founder of Smirk and Dagger Games, the publisher behind Cutthroat Caverns, Nevermore, Dead Last and many, many more. And I just revel in the irony that this publisher of nasty, malicious, take-that games smiles perhaps more than any other person I’ve met. A not entirely congenial smile…

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