Designer Spotlight, October 2016 – Tony Tran

Welcome to our first Designer Spotlight! Each month, we’ll interview a new GMG designer to give you an inside look into their design process, as well as give you some of their tips and tricks. First up is Tony Tran. Tony has been a member of GMG for about 1.5 years. Tony has three games that he’s designed:

  • Avalanche! (a 2015 BostonFIG showcase game)
  • Cilantra, the Card Game
  • Spider’s Cradle (a 2016 BostonFIG showcase game and Most Innovative Game nominee)

GMG Designer Tony Tran

How did you get into designing board games?
I needed an artistic outlet and I wanted to improve on the games I played, namely Munchkin

What was your first design?
Avalanche! was my first game I made. It was a semi-cooperative game about backstabbing friends to reach the top of Mt. Avalanche. I started making it in February 2015 after going on my first ski trip that year. I wanted to improve on Munchkin while using elements of DnD and Bang! (which were all games my friends and I played). I did not like how you would win because other people blew their “screw you” cards on other players and you just lucked out so you get to win. To alleviate this, I used checks, like in DnD, where everyone around the table had to roll their die to beat a random number. I also wanted players to have that semi-cooperative element because frankly I liked Bang! so much I wanted it in Avalanche! regardless if it fit or not. Naive, I know. I got to demo the game at BFIG 2015 knowing full and well there are problems with it. Working on Avalanche! has taught me so many things about game design like: how to make games fun, graphic design, and what makes board games a unique gaming medium.

What types of games do you like to design?
Right now, I like to design games that are unique to the board game medium. I have been working on the physically and tactility of cards, the board, or objects in general as a basis for design. I usually design more “American” games with more direct interaction with players and engages the entire table. For me, the social aspects of board games is a big draw to board games that you do not get from video games.

Are there any types of games you wouldn’t design?
I do not like to play or design games that are more “Euro” and based on making a machine to churn out points. Board games is more than that for me.

Tell us about your game design process.
I design based on some cool idea that I want to try out, usually a mechanic. I then try to root the mechanic in an emotion or feeling to give the mechanic a direction whether it’s to make the game about love, competition, envy, or deception.

What is your game design philosophy?
I design games that I would feel good about showing to my friends that we would enjoy together and by extension, other gamers would enjoy bringing home to their family and friends.


Tony’s most recent game, Spider’s Cradle. Photo credit: Cardboard Edison

Why do you come to GMG?
I want to see if my games work the way I intend to, cool ways they don’t, feedback to make my games better, or just if my games are fun or not!

What are your favorite resources for designing board games?
The subreddits /r/tabletopgamedesign and /r/boardgames and BGG mostly. I started listening to podcasts like “Breaking Into Board Games”. But I find game design can draw inspiration from video game design and film design, which I learn from Youtube channels like “Extra Credits” , “Every Frame a Painting”, and “Mark Brown”. But to be honest, I think good game design comes from life experiences and those experiences I try to inject into my games.

Are there any tips you’d like to give other designers?
Playtest and give good constructive feedback. Learning from others through their games is great for seeing what works and what does not. Just play more games in general.

What do you do when you’re not designing board games?
I am a full time 4th year dental student at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine that enjoys movies, drawing, craft beer, League of Legends, and Hearthstone. Oh and playing board games.

Do you feel that helps you with you designs?
It helps indirectly. Dentistry is pretty much the opposite of game design. The most I do dentistry, the most I yearn to do game design to balance it out.

Other than designing, what else do you do in the board game community?
Besides being part of GMG, I contribute to Reddit and helped with a board game podcast once!

What types of games do you enjoy playing?
Some of my favorite games in particular order: Coup, Codenames, Spyfall, Twilight Imperium 3, Bang!, Texas Hold’em Poker, and Pandemic Legacy. So I guess I like playing mostly bluffing social games.

What is your favorite thing about the board game world?
Board gamers are inclusive and fun regardless of who you are, which is a rare something.

Tell us a fun fact about you.
I am from Georgia and I love love love southern BBQ. My favorite thing is pulled pork and ribs with a side of rum bacon baked beans. I am salivating just thinking about it! Delicious!!