The Daily Worker Placement

Monday, October 18, 2021

DWP Book Review: The BG Designer Guide to Careers in the Industry

by | published Friday, May 7, 2021

How many times have you heard or read the advice to “follow your bliss”? Channel your passion into a profession and it’ll never feel like work, they say. 

Maybe you’ve tried to turn your passion for tabletop games into a paying gig. You’ve tried your hand at designing your own game but it hasn’t panned out. Or maybe designing’s not your thing but you’ve got mad skillz you think could land you a boardgame-adjacent gig at least. 

You’re all primed to go for it but don’t know where to start. You wish you had a buddy who was already in the industry who could show you the ropes, give you a few pointers, maybe introduce you to some people.

Joe Slack wants to be that buddy.

Turns out Joe is the designer for a game I backed on Kickstarter, Relics of Rajavihara, which should be arriving soon. So I was intrigued when he contacted me about his new book, The Board Game Designer’s Guide to Careers in the Industry (which in homage to Parker Brothers I will shorten to Careers). It aims to be the go-to guide for people looking to break into the industry as something other than designers.

Slack already has that base covered with his three previous books: The Board Game Designer’s Guide; The Board Game Designer’s Guide to Getting Published; and The Top 10 Mistakes New Board Game Designers Make (And How To Avoid Them), all available on Amazon (as is Careers). 

That’s three books about game design from someone who (when I searched for him on BGG) has six published designs to his name. The bio on his website (https://boardgamedesigncourse.com/) reveals he’s taught boardgame design and development at Laurier University here in Ontario and that he’s helped “over 1,300 aspiring game designers” get started in creating their own games.

Further down the page he makes the following promise:

I will help you create your own game no matter what stage you’re at, even if you don’t have an idea yet.” [bold font is his]

After seeing all that I couldn’t help think that, regardless of his design chops, Slack’s entrepreneurship and moxie were unquestioned. And I admire that–I’m jealous of it in fact (keep that in mind as you read further). It takes balls to ask people to pay $10 to learn about boardgame design from you when you’ve never had a design published by a major company and your only ranked game on BGG is outside the top 10,000. His author pic displays a similar amount of confidence:

I repeat: this isn’t to knock the quality of Slack’s advice–if what he has to say about game design is as sound as what I read in Careers then reading those books won’t be a complete waste of time. 

So what about Careers then? Slack starts with a section on how to be a board game designer. Nothing in too much detail–he wants you to read his other books for the nitty-gritty. Then he runs down the list of industry jobs: publisher; development; project management; rules-writing; communications; marketing; sales. Finally he looks at freelancing versions of each of the above. He describes each job, goes over the necessary skills, and frames each section with true-life stories (drawn from interviews he did personally, not secondary sources) of Actual People who have these jobs.

Slack’s advice across the board, regardless of the career he’s talking about, amounts to:

  • don’t expect to make money right away, or maybe ever;
  • start small, establish your reputation by being reliable and professional, and grow from there;
  • good communication skills are crucial;
  • network, network, network.

I may have just saved you $10. 

If you’re looking for detailed advice about things like effective cold-calling, good social media strategies, documenting your development process, or which conventions are the best for networking, you won’t find them here. Careers is frustratingly vague and nonspecific once you’ve finished with the generalities.

If you’re looking for a list of major publishers and who to contact for which kind of jobs, you won’t find them here (although to be fair this changes so rapidly it would be obsolete by the time you read it–but at least you’d have had some concrete references to follow up). You could follow up by contacting the various interviewees in the book, but there’s no contact information for them and you’ll have to do it yourself.

But if you’re looking for inspirational stories about people who turned their passion for tabletop games into a paying gig, you’ll find plenty of them here. And maybe that’s all you need, is inspiration. A kick in the behind to get started. Careers is an easy read and factually correct as far as it goes.

It simply turns out that most of the time it still takes a ton of elbow grease to keep the cogs of the dream machinery turning, and not everyone is cut out for it. There are no shortcuts–not even The Board Game Designer’s Guide to Careers in the Industry (which you can buy here or on Amazon here).

You could always carve out a niche for yourself writing books about how to break into the tabletop industry–call it boardgame-adjacent-adjacent.


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