Q&A with Rob Dougherty

This is an archive of the live Q&A with Rob Dougherty hosted on the Tabletop Mentorship Program Discord channel after the re-release of Rob's talk, "How To Grow A Game Company." It has been edited for clarity.

Mike Belsole: Hey everyone! We've got Rob Dougherty here for about an hour to answer your questions. There's no queue or anything so feel free to ask away. To get the ball rolling, Rob, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

Rob Dougherty: Hi all, I'm Rob Dougherty, CEO of White Wizard Games. I have over 25 years of industry experience spanning nearly every aspect of hobby gaming: • Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Champion and Hall of Famer. • Game Designer • Project Lead and Lead Developer for Sorcerer • Designer and Co-Creator of Epic Card Game. • Co-Creator of the Star Realms Deckbuilding game. • Co-Creator of the Hero Realms Deckbuilding game. • Co-Founder/Co-Designer of the Ascension Deckbuilding Game. • Gary Games Inc. COO • EpicTCG CEO • Your Move Games Inc. Co-CEO • Stoneblade Entertainment Organized Play Director • Game Store Owner • Premier Tournament Organizer • Tournament Judge (Level 3 Magic Judge) • Organized Play Designer/Consultant Rob has founded or co-founded multiple game companies and successfully published dozens of games and gaming accessories.

So basically a professional nerd.

Jamie Sabriel: Hi Rob, thanks for doing this Q&A! My first question is about finding freelancers to work with; do you have any advice on how to find people to hire for graphic design and marketing if you're going the self-publishing route?

With artists, you can look through their portfolio and commission a sample of work to see if they're a good fit for your idea. Do you have any recommendations for how to do something similar with graphic designers and/or marketing teams?

Rob Dougherty: There are lots of possibilities here. There are freelance sites where you can hire people for individual graphic design and Marketing jobs.

Debbie Moynihan knows more about this than I do, I'll see if I can get some site suggestions from her. Debbie suggests you check out Fiver, 99designs and upwork for your design and marketing freelance jobs.

Jamie Sabriel: Awesome, thanks!

Rob Dougherty: Anytime. What are you working on (if you are ready to say anything about it)?

Jamie Sabriel: I am! It's a head-to-head card battler called Fight Sequence: http://fightsequence.com/ for more info. [This is Flez, I talked to you about it at Pax Unplugged last year.] The head-to-head card game of psychics THINKING about fighting! Coming to Kickstarter this fall!

The website's a little outdated but I'm almost at the corwdfunding stage, I just need to find a graphic designer to make the final product and to market the game.

Rob Dougherty: Very cool.

Jamie Sabriel: I don't want to take up Q&A time with just my own stuff so I can ping you about it after.

Rob Dougherty: Sure. Great that you have a page set up and are gathering backer info now. Just what you should be doing.

Joe Pasini: Thanks for the Q&A! How has your experience as a game store owner influenced your approach to game design (if at all)?

Rob Dougherty: It definitely has. Game stores see SO many games come out, it is impossible to stock them all. I try to make games with a small footprint that are cheap to start and have a lot of replay and expandability.

This makes them easy and cheap for the store to try out, and players will come back and ask for more expansions.

Jason Brisson: Hi Rob. Great to be talking with you today. Your match with Darwin at Pro Tour Houston had me jamming Cabal Therapy into every black deck for years!

Question: When reviewing games from outside designers, how important is it that the game 'fit's into your publishing portfolio? And what defines a good fit? Genre, Gamefeel, big/small box?

Rob Dougherty: Hi Jason, fitting with our style is important, but for an amazing enough game we might branch out. For us strategy games that are great for 2 players and can be expanded to more is the best fit. We like them to be easy to learn with very high replayability and depth born of interesting card (or other component) interactions, not rules complexity.

Jason Brisson: Thanks Rob, that clarifies your criteria. I'll definitely have a couple prototypes to send your way once I've gotten done thorough playtesting.

Rob Dougherty: Cool. Looking forward to it. Be warned, we do have a bit of a backlog on games to review.

Jason Brisson: No problem. Where do you think the market is headed in terms of tabletop design trends? Do 'trends' impact your work as a designer?

Rob Dougherty: I don't worry to much about trends (perhaps I should, but I don't). I get excited about design ideas or projects of our own, and work head down on those. We have a bunch of stuff in the pipeline that is going to keep me very busy this year.

Jamie Sabriel: How has your marketing for your games changed since the pandemic started? Are you going to online conventions? Social media? Is it something you even need to worry about since you already have an established fanbase?

Also, do you continue advertising your games even after they've been published? For example, do you run ads for the base game of Star Realms these days?

Rob Dougherty: Marketing games is always tricky. Hobby game companies tend to have very limited budgets. We have been doing online conventions, promotions with sites like BGG and Dice Tower, etc.

We do advertising pushes when a game is on Kickstarter, when it is new in stores, and when expansions come out. We also advertise in our own app. In the Menu page for Star Realms and Epic apps there is add space that talks about cool stuff in the app and other games we have.

Jamie Sabriel: That's super helpful, thanks!

Joe Pasini: What tools do you use to evaluate a game's balance?

Rob Dougherty: Hi Joe. First pass is understanding the math behind the game engine. Understanding the math and rebalancing the game based on that can get you very close. Next is playtesting. Lots and lots of playtesting.

Rob Dougherty: For example, when I started working on Sorcerer with Peter the game was awesomely fun, but in need of some balance work. The core cost in that game is actions. So i looked at everything in the game (every card, every play you could make) and analyzed its value per action. Made changes based on that to get it close then tested those changes to death.

Joe Pasini: Makes sense! Related, do you know of any resources that are akin to "math for game designers"? (Kind of a specific Venn diagram, but figure it doesn't hurt to ask)

Rob Dougherty: Not sure on recourses. I studied Electrical Engineering and have always loved statistics, so the math bit has always been easy for me.

Breeze G: Hey Rob, if I made a small box deckbuilder called Robot Realms with the AEGIS IP would you be mad and/or publish it?

Rob Dougherty: "Realms" deckbuilding games would fall under the WWG trademarks, so please don't do that :stuck_out_tongue:

Breeze G: bahaha k

Rob Dougherty: We do have a cool Robot battle deck builder coming soon.

Breeze G: Is there any new news on upcoming WWG title' Robot Quest'?

Rob Dougherty: We are in late development on Robot Quest. Very cool. Look for it on Kickstarter early next year.

Jason Brisson: Beyond issues of visual clarity, what do you consider to be the most important part of good card design? Innovative mechanics? Prominent art? Inter-card synergy potential?

Rob Dougherty: Hi Jason, you hit a lot of the big points for card design. We love to have big beautiful art and clear iconography. Ideally each card will be easy to understand and what it does should "feel right" for what it is.

Often the cool card interactions and synergies come about naturally. You don't have to design them, they emerge if you create enough induvial interesting cards and mechanics. You can also "force" some interactions, but if you are on the right path many will come up on their own.

Steve Unfred: Hi Rob, just finished catching up on this Q&A. I noticed that you talked about understanding the math behind games. I have passed differential calculus and trig but I've never taken statistics or any of the more physical maths, regrettably. I'm making a game with dice drafting, dice pool building, and partial dice placement. It uses custom D6s with symbols.

What would be a good way to apply math to testing such a game?... I know how to calculate probability, but only at a raw, basic level.

Rob Dougherty: Hi Steve. The math is separate form the testing. You boil things down the the most basic level you can, and understand the value of each play or component in your game. Make sure things that cost the same are worth the same. Make sure as costs scale you understand how power scales. If you want that progression to be linear, make sure it is.

Then once you have worked out the math, playtest to make sure you didn't miss anything, and most importantly to make sure it is FUN. If you aren't careful you can math the fun right out of your game.

Jamie Sabriel: ^ Seconded! Math is the starting point but not the entire design process.

Steve Unfred: Okay, great, I've applied as much of that as I can already. In particular, I worked out a formula for calculating the value of VP cards based on how many dice they cost, and what is required of those dice.

Rob Dougherty: Great. And those point values don't have to be visible to the players for them to be useful to you.

Steve Unfred: Not unlike how the hut tiles in Stone Age are always worth a predictable number of VP based on what they cost to build.

Rob Dougherty: Yes, as Jamie said math is a tool in your toolbox, but not the whole story.

Steve Unfred: No worries; I can do math but my strength is not math theory. Thanks for the reinforcement.

Rob Dougherty: My other advice would be go all-out on the visuals. Art is incredibly important to a gamer's experience.

Steve Unfred: Oh heck yeah. My game is about Greek gods and goddesses on a competitive reality show. Art will have the spotlight.

Jamie Sabriel: I want it yesterday.

Rob Dougherty: LOL that premise. Love it.

Jason Brisson: Sounds awesome!

Steve Unfred: Thanks so much! I think the theme is a winner; that's why I'm sticking to it like glue and seeing this idea through to the end.

Jason Brisson: Are there any foundational design texts that you recommend every designer read (Raph Koster etc.)?

Rob Dougherty: No, I'm sure there is great stuff out there, but I haven't studied it. I was more of a learn-by-doing guy. I've been very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with world class designers a tons of amazing projects.

Jason Brisson: Totally, that makes sense.

Rob Dougherty: I've got to get back to the family soon. Last call for questions.

Jason Brisson: Is there a game that you're currently obsessed with and keep putting on the table again and again?

Jamie Sabriel: ^ specifically, one designed by someone else?

Rob Dougherty: Well, still Magic the Gathering. Don't think I will every put that game down for good.

Jason Brisson: I feel that!

Rob Dougherty: My 18 year old son recently pulled me back in to Civilization (the app). That was a blast form the past. I played a ton of the early versions of that game.

Steve Unfred: I am a recovered addict. My sympathies for your ongoing addiction to cardboard crack.

Rob Dougherty: I think I have it under control...

Jamie Sabriel: That's what they all say.

Rob Dougherty: Lol, yes. Thanks for joining all! Good luck with your projects!

Jamie Sabriel: Thank you, this was great!

Jason Brisson: Thank you Rob!

Joe Pasini: Thanks, Rob!

Steve Unfred: Thanks a lot, Rob!!