So let’s say you make a game. Let’s call it “Forge War.” You make this game, and a lot of people really like it, but a lot of other people really don’t. And while it pushes some boundaries, ultimately, it is considered to be just another Kickstarter game, and it is forgotten. Not by everyone, of course. It still has fans, don’t get me wrong, but it sits in the 800s on BoardGameGeeks’ rankings, one small game among a sea of them.
So you say to yourself, “I am happy I made that. I learned a lot from the process, and I am proud of it, but if I want to continue doing this for a living, how do I make sure my next project doesn’t suffer the same fate? I need to make something so monumental and epic, that it could never be lost among that sea.” And then you make that ridiculous, monumental game. Let’s call it “Gloomhaven.”
So you work on this game for two years. Lots of crazy things happen. You run out of money at one point. People laugh at you when you tell them the size of the box. But in the end, you get it done, and, well, it’s as ridiculous and sprawling and epic as your wildest dreams. And, by all measures, more successful than you could have imagined. It’s, like, the hottest board game around and everyone wants a copy. You launch another Kickstarter and get an unprecedented 40,000 backers. You honestly just can’t believe this is happening. You set for yourself a challenge and then succeeded at that challenge to such an overwhelming degree.
And then the question becomes, “Well, what do I do now? How can I ever top this success?”
Oh, man, that question is exhausting just thinking about it. I don’t think I ever want to make something that big and component-intensive again. I don’t know, maybe years and years down the road, but for the time being, I needed a break. The follow-up of Gloomhaven was never about making something bigger and crazier, mostly because there was no need to. Gloomhaven already exists. It has established the company and its own brand. That doesn’t mean I’ve become complacent, it just means that I don’t have to continually chase after success, because I’ve already found it.
Instead I can do whatever makes me happy. I can come up with a strange idea about logistical pathways for resources, and just see where it leads me, without pressure to fit it into some larger scheme about climbing up the next rung of some theoretical ladder. I can release a game that I know some people will love and some people will hate, because the important thing is that I love it, even if it doesn’t weigh 22 pounds and it isn’t ranked #4 on BoardGameGeek.
Of course, I’m talking about Founders of Gloomhaven, my new city-building, heavy Euro game that launched on Kickstarter last week. Despite my philosophy of just making myself happy and not worrying about success, things seem to still be going remarkably well there on Kickstarter. Like, “Holy crap, how did this happen?” levels of good. And I’m sure it’s just a lot of that Gloomhaven success bleeding through, but a lot of people seem to genuinely like the game, which is always nice.
And, course, once again I feel the need to make clear that I am not at all complacent. I am very much dedicated to making the best game I possibly can. Success shouldn’t create laziness. It should just create freedom.
So that’s what I’m doing with my freedom now – making a quirky Euro game about tile placement, hand management, and secret voting. What will I do after that?
Well, I gotta say, I’ve really been itching to return to the mechanics of Gloomhaven and start building a new campaign in earnest. But I also want to take my time with it, enjoying the freedom not to work myself to the bone to get it finished as quickly as possible. I’m looking forward to it.