The three guys from Pair-of-Dice Games, Greg Lam, Luke Weisman
and Brian Tivol, were among the first to enter their game into
the Independent Designer Program here at Fair Play. Warp 6
fit perfectly with my original intent for the IDP. It was a self-published
game done inexpensively, but with style.
As it turns out, though, the guys needed no help from Fair
Play getting exposure for their game. Shortly after adding to the
site, we got news that the game, along with another from Pair-of-Dice,
was selected by GAMES Magazine for their Games 100. As has been
my custom now, I asked the guys if they'd be willing to answer
some questions for us to include with our IDP Feature. I think
their responses will prove useful to anyone else seeking to
publish their own games.
Mike Petty: Let's start with what each of you do for a
Brian: I'm a software engineer.
Greg: You mean you don't think we're making a living with game
design alone?!? I do freelance graphic design and also
administrative work for non-profits.
Luke: I teach math and computer science at a small private
MP: That's exactly what I'm teaching this year. Do you
ever do any gaming with your students?
Luke: Yup, as much as possible. We have two all-school
retreats every year and I bring a big sack of games and try to
convert the masses. I believe strongly that thinking about games,
i.e. actively using your brain, helps you in the long run.
Sometimes the kids play my games. One of them buys my games and I
always feel like some kind of slime drug-dealer when he hands me
cash and I hand overproduct during school hours.
MP: I can relate to that! I've made a few Fair Play sales
at school myself.
So, how and when did Pair-of-Dice games get started?
Luke: I started inventing games, and then somewhere along
there some other folks started inventing them as well. The main
game I was testing, Prospectors Scramble, was fairly
heavyweight and my thoughts of publishing were curtailed by the
size of the thing. Around that time I invented the Triangle
Game one Saturday morning because I was frustrated by the
lack of three-player games on my shelf. When I showed the
prototype to folks they got really enthusiastic and so I decided
to try and make that one. I shopped around and cobbled together a
design, talked to folks, and ended up making 100 copies. Greg was
inventing games at this time and there was talk of doing stuff
together. This is when I registered Pair-of-Dice Games.
Then Greg came out with Knockabout and everyone
flipped over it, so we decided to do it. Brian said he wanted it
out there, and that he wanted a copy, and that he would front
money, and that got the three of us rolling. We then collectively
invented Warp 6, threw in some other games while we were
at it, and ended up with our first line of five.
Greg: We put that first line of games out there in December
Brian: Every once in a while, I'd hear about Luke's progress
selling the Triangle Game. I must not have been
listening, really, since I had the impression that making and
selling games would be unbridled fun. When he broke even on his
first investment, I asked if he'd be up for manufacturing another
round of some different games.
MP: And a year later, two of your games make the Games 100.
MP: I'm interested in how the idea for Warp 6, the pick
for best abstract strategy, first came about.
Brian: We knew that, for Knockabout, we'd be buying a
lot of polyhedral dice, so we tried to make a different game that
used the same pieces. We all sat in my kitchen, throwing out
ideas -- Greg traced a spiral on a Knockabout board,
suggesting a race game, and the three of us started to figure out
how to move pieces around.
Luke: We were sitting around trying to figure out how to make Knockabout
a good 3-player game. We got frustrated and started brainstorming
games with the Knockabout board and dice. We piled ideas
on each other and somehow ended up with Warp 6.
Greg: That's the secret about the Warp 6 board. It's
really the Knockabout board in disguise. You move the
dice around the perimeter, then warp inward if you land on a die.
It really amused us in the GAMES Magazine reviews that they
counted the number of spaces on the boards. It never occured to
us to do that.
MP: Now, the rules to Warp 6 are very simple, which is
great. But how did all three of you manage to work out a game
with so few rules? How did each of you contribute?
Greg: This game is unique for us in that we all were there
when it was created. Looking back on it, it's hard to remember
who came up with what, but we had been playing around with the
mechanic of having dice which are your pawns as well as being the
random number generators. That mechanic is common among Knockabout,
Pagoda, and Warp 6 in various forms. So Warp
6 came about as a result of playing around with that idea.
After that initial meeting, in which we laid out the basic game,
I went and played around with the spiral idea to better describe
the playing surface, rather than having a hexagonal board with
little arrows all over the place. That would have been too busy,
especially when we're only printing with one color on the board.
Brian: Brainstorming in my kitchen, we wound up with a game
that's very close to Warp 6 now. Both games only have
about six things to describe in their rulesets (the board, the
initial set-up, movement, the ability to alter a die, the victory
condition, and the name), and we each contributed two to the
kitchen game. Through playtesting, we tweaked some of the parts
of the game (especially the name), and our individual rules were
modified or replaced by others. I'm sure we can't cut up today's
ruleset into equal thirds, but it started as a group effort and
we were too lazy to change the attribution.
Greg: For some reason, they weren't crazy about "Downward
Spiral" or "Down the Drain" as a game title. You
get into a lot of odd discussions when designing a game. Like is
that spiral going uphill or downhill, towards you or away from
Luke: It was all a muddle, but in general we kept looking to
cull rules that did not contribute. I think that often a single,
simple, novel idea can create a rich world of strategy.
MP: Greg, you said Warp 6 was unique. It doesn't fit your
usual design process?
Greg: No, Warp 6 is unusual. Every other game we've
worked on, one of us has come up with the idea, then brought it
in to play test. Warp 6 just sort of happened. It's
actually fairly hard to get the three of us together.
Brian: I'm notoriously bad for saying, "Here's a board
with a neat mechanism for moving parts around. Now, what should
they do?" We spend a lot of time tweaking, playtesting and
helping each other, but, for the most part, each idea has one
inventor who cultivates it.
MP: How do you test your games, and what sort of reaction
do you look for from your testers when you try out a game like
Greg: Comprehension. I look to see if they get it, if they're
interested in the process, if they're having fun with it. Or if
they're looking around in space when it's not their turn. That's
happened as well with other games. We just try and get various
people to play it.
Luke: We play them, we force our friends to play them, and
then we make arbitrary judgements.
Brian: It's good to hear "I want to play that game again".
Normally, when a player says that about any game, they're
interested in feeling out a new strategy or a different angle on
the game, and those are the kind of games we hoped to make. When
we hear that comment from our friends we've strongarmed into
playing, it's even better -- after fulfilling their obligation to
us as friends, they'd actually play the game again without our
Greg: I don't know about Luke and Brian, but I'll often play
games solo when I'm alone, taking both sides to see if anything
MP: When you guys aren't working on your own designs, what
sort of games do you play?
Luke: Board games of all sorts, role-playing games, party
games. These days I love things like Princes of Florence,
Die Pyramiden des Jaguars, or Go.
Brian: I like games that force you to plan to make the best of
randomness, so I've been playing a lot of German card games
recently: Battle Line, Foppen, and Sticheln.
I also like games where you can tweak an opponent without having
to sacrifice your own goals. Both Die Pyramiden des Jaguars
and San Marco have a nifty "I split you choose"
card mechanism, so I've been enjoying those lately.
Greg: There's a weekly game playing session on Mondays that we
go to with a number of gamers who have a pipeline to the most
recent stuff. I just go and play what's there. Really, there are
friends of ours who have a lot more information about the depth
of games out there than I do, not to mention a better collection
of games. So I just go there and play what's being played.
MP: What things can we expect from Pair-of-Dice Games in
Luke: We are working on a few games, all of a different feel
than our previous ones. We are toying with more themed games, for
Greg: We're also doing some marketing on our games. I got a
response from a guy which was a manifesto on why themed games
were so much more appealing than abstract strategy games. I was
like, "Man, we have nothing against themed games. We just
don't have 8 shades of pastel plastic camels on hand."
We're in the process of doing another printing of Warp 6
and Knockabout, the other game that got into the GAMES
100, since that was an unexpected boost in general visibility.
Basically, we're trying to establish ourselves and stay the
course. Getting into the GAMES 100 was a great, unexpected thing.
We never thought that'd be possible so we didn't stop to think
what that would mean. Now we have to figure out the manufacturing
process. All of the games we sell in tubes--Knockabout, Warp
6, and Pagoda--involve two components: A board and
dice. That's because we didn't know how to make cards, tokens,
and pieces on any sort of scale cheaply. If we figure out those
processes, then we will probably come out with different types of
Brian: We have a few games in the works that we hope to have
ready during the spring. We're branching out, too, looking at die-cutters,
cloth bags and cardboard.
MP: So I take it your games are produced largely by hand?
Greg: Yes, we get cloth for the boards from fabric stores.
Then we take the cloth to a place to get cut into squares, take
it to another place to get silkscreened, and then pack it into
tubes along with the dice. We can do this since we only make 100
or so at a time. If we get more exposure and higher volumes, we
may have to switch to a production company, but that's all in the
MP: I get a lot of e-mail and comments about our
Independent Designers Program. People toying with game design on
the side tell me they hope to submit their own games someday. As
a final question, do you guys have any advice for hopeful
designers in getting that first game design out there without
Luke: It is both amazing what a small-print run can cost, and
how cheap it is. We have been cautious all the way through, never
exposing ourselves for much of a loss. This has also made us less
likely to spread like wildfire, but it seems to be working. I'd
advise simple component games, obviously! Keep things simple. The
main piece of advice I wish I had followed more is being willing
to spend a bit more up front making prototypes and getting random
parts. Be patient and rework the physical design as much as
possible. There are things in our games that I would change now,
that wouldn't have cost us more to produce. For example, our tube
size has never been quite perfect. Labels were an issue (entirely
my fault, sadly). So be patient and explore all possible ideas.
Greg: Our initial print of the three tube games (Knockabout,
Warp 6, and Pagoda) cost around $2,000 to make
300 games. Start small, keep realistic, don't expect things to
happen too quickly. You can do it yourself for a while if you
design games within the set of materials you could realistically
assemble in mass quantities. Have a large number of people you
play games with. Go play all sorts of games with frequent gamers
and make sure they like your game before you try to manufacture
it. They will probably be your audience. Join
There's a saying that popped up on a screensaver I had once:
"Good, Fast, Cheap. Choose any two." It's kind of true.
If you have a lot of money from your day job you could go
directly to a game printing company (they do exist) and make 1,000
professional-looking copies rather than 100 handmade ones. But
how do you sell 1,000 games and keep them from languishing in
your basement? There are inputs of time, money, and effort you
have to make in order to manufacture and sell.
MP: Sounds like a lot of good advice. Thank you for the tips
and the chance to ask you guys some questions. I hope Pair-of-Dice
enjoys even more success in 2003.
Greg: Thanks much. We appreciate this chance to talk.