Thursday, March 23, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 60: John Brieger

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples or in the index.

Name:John Brieger
Location:Sunnyvale, California - I just moved from London last week!
Day Job:I design experiences for a large chain of retail stores. Projects can cover anything from how product might be laid out and displayed to how employees use systems to assist customers. It's a really interesting design space that has a lot of really cool parallels when I move over to designing tabletop games. I always think about how I'm creating that holistic experience with my games, and where the key moments and feelings I try to capture will appear mechanically.
Designing:Two to five years.
Find my games at:
Today's Interview is with:

John Brieger
Interviewed on: 1/29/2017

John Brieger is another game designer that's hoping to have his first published game released this year. He has a ton of games in the works, and several are under consideration with publishers right now. Read on to learn more about John's projects, including the games he hopes to have published this year.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
When I was in university, I did a series of game design projects as part of my design and art coursework. Those, I took through to a playtested prototype stage but never got any further. Now, I've been continuing work on a few of those games, and started developing some new ones. It's a good way to flex some design muscle outside of my day job.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Currently, my major focus is Mission Control. It's a semi-cooperative game for 2-5 people in which players are rival scientists at the prestigious International Space Agency. They have to share control of a single rover on a distant planet, competing for funding and influence while working together to avoid steering the rover into hazards.

I'm also entering the pitching stages with a light bluffing game, Door Number 3, and a drafting/timing game about big wave surfing called Surf Gods.

In early testing I've got:
Carpe Demon - a social deduction game about hunting a bodyswapping demon
Beneath the Mists - entry level capture the flag wargame (with Vincent Hirtzel & Gavin Kinder)
Relaximus Maximus - lightweight set collecting game about roman dogs throwing a party
Robots Want Rights - realtime voting in a robotic civil rights movement (with Paul Spencer)
2017.A - (with Bez Shahriari)

Working on several games at once has a lot of advantages. I highly recommend it.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Mission Control is in with a publisher right now, and I'm waiting to hear back. Surf Gods, a publisher requested to see after revisions are finished. So hopefully one of those two is going to be my first published game.

What is your day job?
I design experiences for a large chain of retail stores. Projects can cover anything from how product might be laid out and displayed to how employees use systems to assist customers. It's a really interesting design space that has a lot of really cool parallels when I move over to designing tabletop games. I always think about how I'm creating that holistic experience with my games, and where the key moments and feelings I try to capture will appear mechanically.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Since I moved to the UK, I've been playing in a lot of pubs. British pubs are often quiet on off nights, and have wonderful food and drink. Other than that, a friend's apartment does nicely.

Who do you normally game with?
In the US, I had a few game nights that met regularly. Now, I game pretty regularly with a group of designers in the London area, Playtest UK. It's a really wonderful community that comes together multiple times a week now to play games and give feedback.

I've also recently started going to meetups for board game groups, which is a really different experience than going to a regular board game night with my friends. I highly encourage people to try gaming with total strangers, as it gets you exposed to TONS of new games, and gets you really comfortable with teaching and explaining games. Playing games with strangers is really an invaluable experience as a designer.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Currently, my favorite light game is Sea of Clouds, a gorgeous pirate-themed game from Iello that I think slipped under the radar at Essen this past fall.

And what snacks would you eat?
I'm a cheese and crackers man to my core.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I definitely don't prefer it, but often I play in pubs that'll have innocuous pop or rock music at low volumes in the background.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Great Escape Games in Sacramento, California is a wonderful shop

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My current favorite game is the lovely Inis. It's a great area control game that discourages heavy combat. It features a really nifty mechanic that any time during a battle, all parties involved can make peace and end the conflict immediately. Board games often do a poor job of modeling conflict, so I really enjoyed that idea.

Least favorite I still enjoy: Scrabble. Not my favorite, making words is still an enjoyable activity.

Worst game I ever played: Zombies!!! A spectacularly boring game that frequently resets the players to the beginning and drags interminably forever.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love a good draft. It's good for adding player interaction, and help self-balance your game as picks are made (though it can't cover all flaws). I used to play a lot of Magic: the Gathering, which has a really excellent draft format.

My least favorite mechanic is probably dice based combat.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Spyfall. I love the game, but people get really confused about what type of questions are good to ask. It's fallen flat a couple times I've tried to introduce it, so part of my regular gaming group and my family never want to play.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, Other Games?

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, Video Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
I go theme first in almost every case. I think I have a single prototype of about 12 where I went mechanics first.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I just entered the Cardboard Edison contest for the first time. I also used to enter a lot of different themed entertainment design competitions. My team won the Disney Imaginations Competition in 2014 with our Antipode festival design.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Bruno Cathala. His mastery of designing 2 player games is unparalleled.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I look for themes that I think are underused, or models I think are underused. Many of the best ideas I've come up with are about taking a new approach to an old theme.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I'm fanatical about testing, and typically run about 12-20 tests of my games per month. Part of my job is running user studies in our stores, so I use a lot of the same research techniques as I test. A core part of my playtesting strategy is to only test with people who aren't my friends and family. It's common advice to "start with friends and family first, then test with strangers", but coming from a research background, this made very little sense to me. I always jump straight to testing with other designers or with playtesters I don't know personally. It helps avoid bias, increase response diversity, and avoids early anchoring to friend and family feedback. I think many people reach for friends, family, or significant others as testers because it is convenient, not because it is the best process to design and test a game to completion.

I try to attend every playtesting meetup I can, wherever I am. My games aren't always getting played each session, but testing for others helps me learn as well. I'll test there, and with some other board game groups I'm part of. I'll email conventions with board game rooms if I can test in their space, and try to make it wherever cost is reasonable. I run remote tests with PnP versions for any game that makes it reasonably far. I print prototypes on A4/Letter paper anyway, so it's easy for me to upload my files for testers to print themselves.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Pair design is really excellent process I use quite bit outside of board games, but I haven't found the right co-designer for board games yet. I just had the chance to co-design a voting game about a Robot Civil Rights movement with Paul Spencer as part of a game jam, and that was a really great experience.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Finding the right testers. I get games tested 1 to 2 times a week, but if I'm working on a family game or a gateway game, the heavy game players or designers that I'm testing with don't represent the target audience very well, so it requires a lot of interpretation from my end as to where root problems might be.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I'd really love to design a game based on Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, which is a truly wonderful book.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
An idea for a game is not a game. A prototype of a game is a game. Stop writing big rules documents in advance and just make a game. If you have been working on the first draft of a game for more than 10 hours or so without playing it, you probably wasted a bunch of time designing things that will change the first time you bring it to the table.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
User experience matters. You don't need to be an artist as a game designer, but if you can teach yourself some basic graphic design and layout skills, it will VASTLY improve your prototype quality. Having clear, readable, understandable testing materials is really important, and clip-art icons and tiny, poorly chosen fonts are not the way to do that.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Mission Control is with a publisher right now, waiting to hear back.

Door Number 3, a lightweight memory and bluffing game in which players are game show show hosts trying to bluff their opponents into taking terrible prizes.

Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Mission Control is also in a large blind playtesting round right now as well. If anyone is interested in joining the testing, send a request to join
Games that I'm playtesting are: Beneath the Mists, a 2 player miniatures skirmish game set in a dark german world inspired by the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm and the art of Caspar David Friedrich.

[Untitled Surfing Game], a 2-6 player drafting game featuring a unique timing mechanic where players must time tricks catch waves at specific points.

Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: 10 Days to Christmas, an auction and worker placement game where players design firms preparing holiday window displays to attract customers.

Rights for Robots, a cooperative voting game where players are the founders of a robot civil rights movement, voting on how to resolve crises within the movement and respond to the crackdown from the human governments. Each situation within the game echoes real moments from civil rights movements throughout history.

[The Colony] (working title), a social deduction game set in an ant colony. You play a resource management game about expanding the colony and gathering food between rounds of voting.

FEATHA - From Each According to His Abilities, a worker activation game about meeting wartime quotas in a communist dictatorship

And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Everyone has lots of ideas, I personally don't consider ideas for games worth anything. I think my backlog for games ideas is somewhere in the low 70s at this point. One thing that helps is every time you have an idea, write it down, no matter how stupid or impractical you think it might be at the time. My design collective does this for every idea we have (across all product sectors). You'll be shocked at how easily you get into the habit once you start journaling.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Card and Board Game Developers Guild, Board Game Trading and Chat UK, Game Maker's Lab, Board Game Builders

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars. Diet Coke. Laserdisc.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I'm big into cooking, and spend a lot of time experimenting in the kitchen and inventing new recipes.

What is something you learned in the last week?
Don't order a burger for delivery. It will be soggy and you will be disappointed.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I listen to a lot of dutch house, read a lot of design non-fiction, and love a great heist movie.

What was the last book you read?
London, the Information Capital. It's a collection of really amazing infographics and visualizations of data about the city of London.

Do you play any musical instruments?

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I used to do a lot of fashion design. I designed two full lines when I was in university.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I once made a pair of shoes out of two pineapples.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
If you use chorizo grease to base your roux for mac and cheese sauce, it will be a magical experience and will change your life. (I ran out of butter and now my life is changed)

Who is your idol?
Susumu Tachi. His diversity in terms of research is amazing. Invisibility

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I'd go back and tell 2012 me to leave college for a year and focus on design.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert. I get a lot of energy being around people, which is one reason I love board games so much.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Frozone from the incredibles

Have any pets?
My family has two labs, Ellie and Echo.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
The song from the Meow Mix commercial.

Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here:

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