This blog will document my day to day life as someone hustling full-time on a board game Kickstarter. I’m making final preparations to launch my game design Lagoon on Kickstarter at the end of January. As I ramp up for the campaign, I plan to share a rough accounting of what tasks I’m spending my time on, the challenges I run into, and the helpful resources that make my life and business more manageable.
The initial impulse to do this came from a desire to keep some sort of record for myself, because my life is a whirlwind of frenetic activity right now. The idea for Lagoon came to me in May, and from the first play test the core mechanics worked, a complete game was playable, and it was actually fun! None of those three things had ever been true with my other game designs, so Lagoon was special from the start. By August, the response from players convinced me Lagoon was worthy of publication, and I began planning this campaign. I’ve spent the past 7 months refining the design through 100+ play tests. And three months ago today, I actually quit my secure job of 7 years to become an indie board game publisher. Crazy, right?
Lagoon prototype in early July, during a 10-day visit from my friend Aaron, during which he repeatedly asked to play. He gave Lagoon the distinguished award shown above!
It looked that way on the surface anyway. But as these first three roller coaster months of independence have taught me, the most important thing is that I’m learning again in my professional life. I’m challenged every day as I roll up my sleeves to make all the decisions for Lagoon’s development, art direction, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. I’m building financial spreadsheet models to see if I can actually make any money doing this*. All day, everything I do is something new for me. And I love it. Problems pop up, and so far I’ve found creative solutions to overcome them. In short, I’m working 14-18 hour days trying to do everything that goes into a (hopefully) successful board game Kickstarter campaign. Whether I succeed or fail as a publisher, what matters is I’m moving forward. If I call it quits with game design and publishing down the road, I can pivot and move forward in a new direction using the wide range of skills I’m building now. I’m taking responsibility for the direction of my life, perhaps for the first time, and it feels incredible.
I’ve only worked this hard and felt this fulfilled a few times before in my life, and always while driving a creative project of my own. At this point I’ll embark on a bit of a detour from gaming, but I promise we’ll come back to it. I want to share the path that landed me where I am today. The first time I felt fulfilled in my work was during my masters project, building a searchable database of historical events. I learned how to program, and then designed and built a complex web application to return dynamic timelines of events that match your search criteria (it even won a prize!). I was exhilarated by the creative act of bringing something novel and useful into being. But after graduation I fell into jobs doing corporate web development, which was never very fulfilling for me. Disillusioned, I eventually quit and moved from San Francisco to Portland. Don’t worry though, this was way back in 2006 before Portland was everybody’s darling, so rest assured I was ahead of the curve!
I landed a conservation job using my tech skills to help protect wilderness, and for 7 years was part of a community that helped achieve millions of acres of new federally-designated wilderness areas. That mission resonated deeply with me, but the day to day work was still tech. So I found creative release by building things. I started big, and built a 200 square foot Mongolian-style yurt from scratch. For six years I brought it to Burning Man as the Yurt Cafe, and ran it with my friends as a tea house (with board games!). I built the yurt in a mad two months, learning to make woodworking jigs, hand chisel roof ring mortises, and sew canvas. I’d never been so driven in my life as when I was building that first yurt. But I felt empty after the project, because the passion I brought to it was so absent in the life I returned to. I wanted to change my life, but frankly I didn’t know how and was terrified of the risks I’d have to take to find fulfillment.
Me inside Yurt Cafe.
I continued to live a sort of ho hum life for quite a few years, turning to landscaping and hardscaping projects in my yard for my creative outlet. Then in 2012, my friend Henry and I decided we wanted to work together to build something, anything, for Burning Man. This culminated in an application for an art grant to construct a large art installation we would name Mani Temple. We made it to the final round, but didn’t get the grant. We almost let the project drop, as the construction budget called for a good deal of money. But I wanted to do it even without the grant — to be someone who did the things they set out to do. Henry felt the same way, so I decided to bankroll the project, Henry moved up from San Diego to live with me for a month, and we started in earnest on the construction process. We continued in our respective cities for 5 months. Along the way, we decided to run a Kickstarter campaign to fund a portion of the art installation’s cost (is anyone not embarrassed when they rewatch their first Kickstarter video?). We successfully raised $4501, and surprised ourselves by realizing a vision that just a year before we never would have dreamed of. It was inordinately time-consuming and untold numbers of things kept going wrong, but we pulled it off with determination, good luck, and a humbling tidal wave of help from amazing friends both old and new.
Mani Temple with the couple who chose it as their wedding venue.
In contrast to when I had built the yurt, I returned from Mani Temple energized by the realization once more that I was capable of doing great things — that when a project fully engaged me, I could work ferociously hard on it. Two weeks after Burning Man, I formed Three Hares Games LLC, and decided to redirect my newfound confidence into the dream I’d nurtured on again and off again for more than a decade: to design and publish my own games. Thirteen months of increasingly focused design work later, I quit my job to put most of my time and energy into Lagoon and Three Hares Games.
Not long ago, the thought of doing something like this terrified me. But I finally reached a point where the thought of not doing it was more frightening. Once I committed to this new direction, the fear faded. First small things and then larger things started falling into place for me as I connected with supportive game designers, publishers and other industry folks. I was reminded of the quote below, which had helped inspire me down this path when I read it on my friend Gary’s bathroom wall (posted at eye level opposite the toilet):
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
So now three months after quitting my job, I’m in the thick of preparations for the Lagoon Kickstarter campaign at the end of the month. I’m sending review copies out. I’m doing art direction. I’m reviewing manufacturing quotes from several vendors. I continue to playtest the game at any opportunity. I’m hoping to make as few mistakes as I can manage, which is only possible thanks to the veteran industry folks who have generously shared their expertise either publicly through blogs and podcasts or directly with me at conventions and on Twitter. I feel incredibly lucky to be in an industry filled with awesome people eager to help each other succeed. Thank you, awesome people!
Which brings me back to this blog. When I read Jamey Stegmaier’s Kickstarter Lesson #52: Write a Blog four months ago, I groaned because I couldn’t think of anything related to games that  I truly wanted to write about and  might represent a genuine contribution to the community. But today I decided to start a blog because this is a pivotal time in my life worth documenting for myself. And perhaps blogging publicly about my experience ramping up for and launching a board game Kickstarter campaign could be of value to others as well. I hope so, anyway!
* – Robert Gifford of Geek Chic told me at BGG.CON that if you want to make a million dollars in the tabletop game industry, just start with two million and then you’ll have a million when you’re done. It’s a tough industry with thin margins. Just so you know I’m not totally whackadoodle in quitting my job to pursue this dream, I also do part time consulting work with Green Peak Labs, which is the business Henry started after we finished Mani Temple. Life is funny like that: an art installation that existed for less than a week in a desert in the middle of nowhere can be the catalyst that changes the course of several lives. Of course that’s what Burning Man is all about, but that’s another story.