How the Bamboozle Brothers make games

Tell us about yourself - Who are you? What do you do?

Sen: My name is Sen-Foong Lim. I’m a forty-two year old father of 2 husband of 1 mother of none. I’m a Scorpio by the regular Zodiac and a Rat by the Chinese Zodiac, meaning that I’m small and have a tail. I am a mild-mannered Occupational Therapist and college professor by day and a crime-busting caped game designer by night. I sleep about 4 hours a night, accordingly. That might explain why I’m so short. I’m also one of the co-hosts for the Meeple Syrup Show, the weekly vidcast where Designers Discuss Design.

Jay: Hey there! I’m Jay. I’m the taller version of Sen, but without kids. I work in video production as a day job thingy and I also teach game design at the Vancouver Film School as a night job thingy. The rest of my time is spent designing games! 

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If I’ve never played your games before, what’s the first one I should try?

Sen: Depending on who’s at your game table, I’d say Belfort for heavier gamers, Akrotiri if there’s only 2 of you, and But Wait, There’s More! if you’re in the mood for some goofy fun!

Jay: Yep - what Sen said!

One fact that we probably don’t know about you:

Sen: I can’t sleep with clothes on. CANNOT.

Jay: I can’t sleep with Sen in the same bed as me. CANNOT.

What tabletop games (including digital board/card games) are you playing most right now?

Sen: I am addicted to Star Realms on iOS (username: senjitsu, COME AT ME, BRO!) Other than that, I play a lot of games with my boys - so Loopin’ Louie, Banana Matcho… And a ton of prototypes. A ton.

Jay: I have a game night every week where we play ‘real’ games - and we’re always mixing it up and so there’s never a game that we play multiple times in a row. Recently we’ve played Evo, Antidote, X-Men Vs. Avengers Dicemasters - and I too like playing Star Realms on iOS! Indyjones is ready for you!

(It's on like Kublai Khan! I so love Star Realms. – A)

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What are your all-time favorite tabletop games?

Sen: Basari, I’m The Boss, Inkognito, Last Will. Matt Leacock’s Thunderbirds is really climbing the charts, though!

Jay: Tikal, Entdecker, No Thanks, Tichu (Sen, how could you forget this one?!), Dominion, Carcassonne. I too really enjoyed Thunderbirds!!

What draws you to make games?

Jay: Being creative gives me such energy! I love it! I love creating new and exciting experiences for people. I used to perform and direct in the theatre and had the same motivation. A finished product is really something to be proud of!

Sen: If I don’t make them, I will go crazy. I need an outlet for all of these crazy ideas I have in my head. So, for me, this is therapeutic.

What are you not naturally good at, that you’ve learned to do for your work?

Jay: Discipline! Not getting distracted! Oh hey - there’s another question below...

Sen: Thinking. Pondering. And Ruminating. In that order.

Describe your process (or lack thereof) when making games. How do you reach your final product?

Jay: Sen and I will bat ideas around on our forum for awhile. Eventually one of them will excite one of us to the point that one of us has to make a prototype of it! So we make the quickest prototype we possibly can. We’ve been burned in the past by spending too much time on a prototype only to learn that everything had to change! So now - we make a super rough prototype and push some pieces around to see if and where the fun is! Then we follow the fun. Sometimes we start out thinking the game is going to be one thing - but then it morphs into something else entirely! Belfort and Akrotiri both started as games that only had 25 tiles and that’s it. Belfort doesn’t even have tiles any more! Once we think we know the direction of fun - then we’ll spend a bit of time on a nicer prototype - but by ‘a bit’ I really mean ‘a bit.’ We don’t bother with too much unnecessary art or design. We focus on making the game functional. Then we just playtest and tweak, playtest and tweak until we think it’s ready!

Sen: We think and think and think and think and think and think and think and think and think and think and think and think. And then Jay says, “Maybe we should actually make a prototype.” And so we do. Lately though, we’re not thinking as much before we make the prototype. We’re “failing forward” and learning from each quick prototype of the game how to make the next iteration better. It’s been really interesting to see how quickly we can put a half-way decent game together in a short amount of time. Getting it to the polished stage still takes a lot of time and effort with the external playtesting, but it’s all getting faster and better.

What game design-related media do you consume on a regular basis?

Sen: Oddly, not much. I produce a lot of content and media creating the Meeple Syrup Show on a weekly basis, so I get a lot of it that way. There’s a few Facebook groups that I’m active in and I check Boardgame Geek regularly to tend to our “game garden” and see what’s happening on the design forum. I watch very few reviews and listen to some podcasts sporadically. I do read a lot about gamification in education, etc. though for work.

Jay: Yeah weird...I visit BGG on a daily basis...but that’s about it. Too busy designing games to watch or listen to podcasts or read other sites. Unless of course they’re reviewing one of our games - then that’s the best podcast/review ever!

What are some tool/programs/supplies that you wouldn’t work without?

Sen: Software-wise, Corel Draw is our main graphic design program. We’ve been using Cardmaker a lot, too, lately - it’s been a God(zilla)send in the last game we’ve been working on. Other than that, the Crop-a-dile is a pretty nifty paper crafting tool, arch and square punches allow us to make specifically shaped/sized holes in things, but neither of these are as important as the mounted rotary paper cutter. A good selection of card sleeves are invaluable to make different deck.

Jay: I am a Corel Draw junkie. I grew up with it and I am just so familiar with it now that I can’t use anything else. And it’s perfect for what we need to do - functional vector based graphics. The only other thing to add from Sen’s list is CUBES! Tons and tons of cubes. It’s our number 3 prototyping material (after cardstock and sleeves). Cubes can represent anything - player markers, resources, money...very versatile for prototyping.

What’s your playtesting philosophy? How often/early do you playtest?

Jay: Super often and super early. We’ll do a solo test if we can (some games that involve social deduction make solo testing hard!). We each have our own game test groups - since we live in different parts of the country - and so we can get our games tested quite frequently. My group meets up weekly to test games - which helps us iterate quite quickly. It’s very motivating to have a weekly meet up to test games because you want to work and bring something new to the table the next week!

Sen: As much as humanly possible! We have a wider group that meets bi-weekly at our local spot, the Cardboard Cafe while my core group of playtesters might meet an additional once or twice a month for more specific testing. Having bicoastal testing groups with varied tastes and perspecitves has been very helpful in helping us to iterate as quickly as we do.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work, and how have you overcome them?

Jay: We’ve tried to be pre-emptive in our obstacles and we designed our own MVP program: Motivation, Versatility and Persistence. By focusing on these three things early - we’ve been able to avoid many obstacle that we’ve seen other designers suffer. Motivation: We have our forum online that we chat to each other on - and it’s motivating to see Sen respond to an idea I had. Then I feel like I have to respond to his response - and so on. And this really helps us stay motivated. Versatility: We are fortunate in that we like many types of games so we’re open to making any kind of game! This versatility helps keeps us motivated as we can bounce from one project to another when motivation wanes - and it can help us when we’re pitching to a publisher at an event since we would have many different types of game ready to pitch at one time. Persistence: We knew that we would get a lot of rejection - and we did. But that didn’t slow us down or upset us that much. We knew that we had to keep listening to feedback and keep tweaking our games until they got published.

Sen: Communication can be difficult when the vast majority of it is conducted electronically. We’re getting better at it, but we still get flustered with each other at times. But we were friends before we were design partners. This whole game design thing was undertaken in an effort to keep us in contact when Jay moved out west. The fact that we’ve actually made it into a “jobby” has been pretty cool, but at the end of the day, it’s our friendship that’s the glue that keeps our cardboard connected. Not a euphemism.

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How do you handle life/family/work balance?

Jay: I’m lucky in that I have a 9-5 job that only rarely requires extra time. I don’t have kids so I just ensure I spend time with my fiance and my friends on a regular basis - but the rest of the time is spent designing. I don’t watch that much TV (only binge watch now!) and I don’t follow sports - so that’s a lot of time saved! But I do love going to the movies, playing video games and reading comics - so that eats into my design time. I find that if I have spare time I always want to be working on game design though as that’s the most fun thing for me!

Sen: I’m lucky in that I have an amazing wife and 2 kids who love gaming almost as much as their dad! A lot of the media I do consume ends up informing our game design - e.g. I’m a life-long Godzilla fan, both of us watched Orphan Black, etc. and that has lead us to getting the contracts to design games for those franchises and more that we can’t reveal yet (only to say that we’re huge fans of the source material!) Also, sleep is for the dead.

How many hours/week do you generally devote to game design? How many to other business-related activities?

Sen: Let’s see...Meeple Syrup and related activites takes up about 7 hours a week at this time. Game designing, about another 14 hours. Checking up on BGG, replying to related e-mail, etc. is another 7 hours a week. So yeah, about 4 hours a day on game-esque stuff. I’m also at the cafe a lot to teach games and curate the library, so there’s that as well.

Jay: We’re both trying to see if we can make game design our full time thing. Funny thing is we’re both lucky in that we actually enjoy the real jobs we have - so we’re not in a rush really. That said - it can vary drastically. On a Saturday I can work all day and night on game design if it’s before a big playtest session (like one coming up this Sunday!). And some nights I don’t work on it at all so I can spend time with friends and my fiance! Balance! But I desperately need more time to work on game design. Sen and I have many games signed that aren’t out yet that need some attention, and many games that have been pitched that haven’t been signed that will need some attention too. Right now the majority of our time is spent on Godzilla - a new card battling game coming later this year (assuming all things go well). So we’re deep into playtesting right now!

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Sen: Watch the Meeple Syrup Show! No, seriously! We ask this question to, on average, 2 designers a week. So, if you watch the show even once, you’ll be like doubling the advice I’d give you here! I just did you a solid.

Jay: Read the bamboozlebrothers.com blog! No, seriously! We have outlined the 30+ steps that we took to get our games designed and published and we have heard from many others that they have followed those steps and it has worked for them as well!

Who would you like to see answer these questions?

Sen: William Attia because he’s super funny and he doesn’t even know. Vlaada Chvatil because he’s got a way with words that makes everything he says poignant.

Jay: Matt Leacock! He’s one of the lucky few who is able to work full time at game design! How did he do it! How does he stay motivated? What’s his secret?! :-)

(Matt Leacock's Interview is here! –A)

What’s the best advice about life that you’ve ever received?

Sen: Wow, that’s pretty deep...a good friend once asked me if I was willing to lose a friend in order to win an argument. That changed how I view the world and myself in it.

Jay: About life? My principal when I was in grade 6 once told me that I should think of the consequences of what I say before I say them. Seems simple - but he said it in a way that made me understand it. Up until that day I got into schoolyard fights every day - but I exacerbated the situation with my big mouth. From that day on, I never got in a fight again.