BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Learning the Rules

My shiny new blog has only been around for a little over a week, but creating it has already taught me a few things I didn’t know, both about the experience of writing a blog, and what I want to achieve with it.

Creating a blog

The blog runs on Blogger, a free service started back in the glory days when blogging was a minority sport, that is now part of the don’t-be-evil empire (Google, that is). The key word there is ‘free’, since any complaints I have must be tempered by the fact that I’m getting something (a great deal in fact) for nothing.

For anyone looking to set up a simple blog, Blogger is ideal. It does all the work for you and allows someone — anyone — to get up and running in no time. Under the hood however, and to anyone with any amount of web design experience, it’s simplistic elegance is only skin deep. Not that it isn’t powerful (and, as I said, not to ignore the fact that is is, you know, free) but scratching at the surface to discover and harness that power can be a frustrating experience.

For several years I worked as the technical design lead for a major online retailer in the UK, which meant that I was responsible for defining not only how the site looked, but also how that design was engineered underneath; and I was always at pains to finesse both of those aspects as much as possible. In this respect Blogger does indeed do all the heavy lifting, but I would argue that it’s just a little careless about how it puts everything down. As something of a purist when it comes to HTML and CSS (the building blocks of web design) Blogger’s approach, though perfectly workmanlike, does pain me a little.

P.S. I am additionally using the Tumblr platform to power the ‘Bitespiel’ links and it works like a charm. (What is Tumblr? It seems to be something pitched inbetween Twitter and Blogger, although I’m no expert. Whatever it is, it’s dead handy.)

Writing for the web

Writing at all isn’t easy, but writing effectively for the web is even more difficult. And I say this not as someone who has preternaturally perfected this skill, but as someone who realises the exact opposite. For starters I find it very difficult to avoid some of the idiosyncratic flourishes of my own speech patterns, such as meaningless interjections (like ‘for starters’), long words (like ‘preternaturally’) and needlessly complex sentences (like this one).

Being an effective journalist doesn’t mean having to abandon these stylistic touches completely, reducing everything to a soulless parade of facts, but I think it probably pays to be frugal with them. Only time will tell whether I learn to do so.

Playing games

The lesson here appears to be that I don’t play nearly enough of them(!), and that it’s possible that I have rather over-intellectualized the time I spend gaming (that’s code for ‘too much thinking, not enough doing’). Creating the blog has meant even more time devoted to reading about board games on the internet. Fascinating and necessary, perhaps, but totally missing the point.

As Shakespeare put it: ‘The play’s the thing!’

Designing games

The stated aim of this blog is talk about board game design, both as a practical hobby and an intellectual pursuit, and that hasn’t changed. But I have realised that it’s going to be difficult to talk about it meaningfully without also talking about a whole lot of other things.

This observation isn’t intended to articifically elevate board game design, but rather to place it properly amongst the many, many other essentially creative endeavours that are never only about the thing itself. Creativity, in whatever form it expresses itself, is by its nature both a complex and wholly personal exercise.

To quote Sondheim: ‘Work is what you do for others. Art is what you do for yourself.’

Publishing games

So much for my high-minded ideals, let us now get down to brass tacks. A less clearly articulated goal of this blog is to explore my own adventures in board game publishing, either by having one of my own designs published by someone else, or by skipping the middle man entirely and publishing it myself. Which is the point at which the hobby possibly starts to resemble something else: a business.

Making any money (let alone a reasonable living!) from board games isn’t easy, but it is demonstrably possible. Unfortunately for me it is going to require, quite apart from the aforementioned high-minded ideals and intellectual somersaults, actual practical effort and (to return to Shakespeare) there’s the rub.

I would ask that you wish me luck, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough!

Happy gaming!

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