Interview with Jay Cormier about his new project the Fail Faster: Playtesting Journal.
Today, February 20, 2019, is The Inquisitive Meeple’s 5th anniversary. Our very first interview was with Jay Cormier, and it really kicked off our endeavor of The Inquisitive Meeple). Somewhat poetically, Jay joined us today to talk about ahis new board endeavor he is starting, the Fail Faster: Playtesting Journal.
Thanks for joining us again today, Jay. Over the years you’ve worked on so many different types of games. Do you have a favorite mechanic to work on or do you just love whatever you are currently doing just because you get to put a twist on it?
Jay: Basically I love working on games that add something new to the gaming space. I love the variety that Sen and I have created already with dexterity games (Junk Art), Euro strategic games (Belfort and Akrotiri), Party games (But Wait There’s More), Deduction games (Orphan Black and the upcoming Men In Black game), Abstract games (Tic Tac Moo), Card games (Djinn), Quick reaction games (Zombie Slam). So to answer your question, my favourite mechanic is one I haven’t worked on yet! We have a one vs. many game coming out later this year from Maple Games too!
Speaking of working on so many different projects. You have a new one coming, which we are here today to talk about, Fail Faster: Playtesting Journal. Could you tell us about it?
Jay: Fail Faster is a playtesting journal for game designers. It will guide designers to take better notes during their playtest. Everything has been well thought out and tested over the last year with my local design group testing an alpha version I gave them. I’ve also gamified the playtesting process as well! As you accomplish the ten key behaviours that will make you a better playtester (and ultimately a better designer), you go to the fold-out front cover and shade in your progress. When you get to one of the badges in a row, then you flip to the front cover and you get to shade that badge in. It’s almost like a boy scout sash with all the badges down the front! If we hit a stretch goal in the Kickstarter, then those will turn into stickers.
It has numerous other tools in it as well, like a game idea generator, a random 2d6 result in the bottom of each page so you can roll 2 dice in case you forgot yours, a different Protip on each page, different questions to ask your playtesters on each page that will guide you from Alpha to Beta and then to Gamma. There’s a scoreboard on the fold-out back cover in case you forgot yours, an imperial and a metric ruler along the edges, a guide on how to get your game published, and even a $5 coupon code for The Game Crafter in every journal.
Why call it that? Why would we want to fail faster?
Jay: As for why it’s called Fail Faster: this is my mantra for design. Get the game out of your head and into the hands of your playtesters. The sooner you can do that, then the sooner you’ll figure out what’s wrong with it and the sooner you can start to make your game better. We all know that game design is an iterative process and games never come out fully baked. We KNOW the game will fail to a certain extent when we playtest (at least for the first many tests), so let’s get there as soon as possible. Too many new designers spend a lot of time in spreadsheets and card layout and design before ever testing it once! That’s a formula for disappointment. Instead, fail faster and make your game better. The Kickstarter launches March 5th and you can go to www.failfaster.ca to sign up for the newsletter.
What inspired you to do this project?
Jay: Partially it was from frustrating experiences with my own poor note-taking abilities. Since I’ve worked mostly with Sen-Foong Lim, and he lives in a different province than I do, I would always have to share how the playtest went afterward to him. Too many times I had a hard time remembering everything, or couldn’t answer specific questions he would have, like what were the scores, or who went first.
Then, fast forward a few years and I’m teaching game design at Vancouver Film School. For their final project, they have to design a board game, and they must test it at least 5 times (I know that’s not enough, but it’s only a 7-week class, and they don’t get to start their final assignment until week 4!). It was hard for me to provide marks to them for their playtests based on their varying levels of scribbles so I created a 2 page playtest report. It was super simple and basic, but it worked for our purposes.
Then fast forward another couple years and I am holding my own little designer convention in my hometown and I invited all my designer friends to come over (also aligned with my birthday!). I thought it would be a neat idea to give each person a little gift of some sort, and I thought maybe a playtesting book would be nice. So I started to design it based on the VFS playtest report, but then I added more and more to it to make it even more useful. I got them printed at Staples and handed them out to whoever came to the event (aptly called Jay Con!).
Apparently, everyone really loved the journal! People were asking for more copies and those that couldn’t make it to Jay Con were asking if they too could have a copy! This started making me think that maybe there was something to this idea. I gathered feedback from everyone about its usefulness and updated the journal for version 2! I hired a graphic designer to help make it look awesomer!
What was it like working with a graphic designer? Usually, I assume you don’t get that involved since that’s the publisher’s job right?
Jay: Yeah, I’m usually out of the loop for art on my games (with one unnamed game coming out this year where Sen and I were given the responsibility of hiring and managing the art!!!), so this was very interesting. My wife is a marketing director so I got some input from her on how best to communicate with graphic designers. It was educational! You shouldn’t offer solutions to a graphic designer, but instead let them know your goals, or which emotions you want the user to have from interacting with it.
On top of this, because David (my graphic designer) was super collaborative, we actually made the book better than I thought—and not just from the visual look. When designing the cover I gave some loose direction. He came back with an idea of a black bar down the front along with a bunch of game-related icons going halfway down the page. I liked the use of the icons, and it made me think of a boy scout badge. This led me to think about gamifying the entire process! I think this is one of the most unique aspects of the book, and while some designers might not use it, if it does help some designers stay motivated, then it’s well worth it.
What is one thing in the book, you think is really clever, that perhaps designers wouldn’t normally think of when jotting down notes?
Jay: I think the top left section of each page is well put together! You write down the first and last names of each of your playtesters (so you can thank them later in the rule book once it gets published!), and you put them in turn order. This will help you see if there are imbalances for going first or last over time. There’s a checkbox beside each name and that’s to indicate if it’s this player’s first time playing the game. That’s important to see how varied your feedback is for the game. If you only ever have 4 or 5 people test your game, then it might tell you that you need more opinions! Then it has multiple columns and this is where you can either write down scores for various actions in your game (like in the game, In the Hall of the Mountain King, players get points for Statues, Tunnels, and Great Halls—so each of these can be tracked individually), or you can use this section to denote the time when each player reaches a specific milestone in the game. This can be handy if you want to time how long it takes per round, or how long until the first battle.
If the Fail Faster Journal does well. Will you look at expanding it? For example, a similar journal for us board game reviewers to keep track of thoughts and play info for games?
Jay: I’m open to anything, but my main goal was to make this journal and when other designers started liking it, making it available to as many designers as possible. I’m working with distributors and online retailers already to figure out a way to continue selling this once the Kickstarter has been fulfilled!
I’ve always been keen on giving back to the board game industry. Once Sen and I got our first game signed, I started up a blog which detailed all the steps we took to get our game published. It’s full of great tips and suggestions (though it is getting dated a bit now, so maybe an update is in the future). A possible future project could be a book about getting published. Really going into details and a real road map for newer designers to follow if they want their game published. So half book and half workbook. The more I talk about it here, the more I’m interested in doing that! But whatever I do next (besides continuing to design games!), I know it will be something to help game designers!
So we have two games Complexcity and In the Hall of the Mountain King that will be on Kickstarter early 2019 and Fail Faster. Anything else in 2019?
Jay: Sen and I have the Belfort reprint and its expansion (and the new mini-expansions) being fulfilled from a successful Kickstarter campaign last year. We have a one vs. many game based on the hit comic, Mind MGMT coming out from Maple Games later this year (I’m soooo looking forward to this one as I’m a huge fan of the comic!). We have an escape room in a box coming out that has a popular IP attached to it (#topsecret). We have a social deduction game based on the new Men In Black movie. I have a solo game I designed coming out called Draw Your Own Conclusions from Grey Fox Games (an interesting take on the drawing game genre). I have a game with another designer named Shad Miller called Another Dimension from CSE Games (an abstract cube placement game). There are a few other games that have been signed but I don’t think they’re coming out this year. Should be a fun year! 🙂
As we wrap this up, let’s end with a little design advice. When you are stuck on a problem in your designs that your playtesters have noted or you’ve noticed via testing the game and you don’t know how to fix the issue, what do you do?
Jay: Sometimes it’s as simple as give yourself some distance from it. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. When you’re too close to it, your mind gets too narrow and focused on that problem and you might not see a solution to it that’s adjacent to your problem.
If that doesn’t work, then I just start writing. Seriously. I write anything and everything in a Google Doc. It is very stream of consciousness and I sometimes even ask myself questions as I type it out. I start by listing the problems and then listing the solutions I’ve come up with so far, and then I just keep typing. I don’t edit from my head to the keyboard at all, I just type it all out. This almost always works when trying to solve a specific problem.
Thanks again, Jay for taking the time out, to share a lot of this with us.
Readers can find Jay on Twitter @bamboozlebros and will find the Fail Faster Playtesting Journal on Kickstarter on March 5, 2019. Don’t forget to sign up at www.failfaster.ca to sign up for the newsletter, and you’ll receive a 16-page e-book about Game Designer Sales Sheets.