Designer Spotlight, November 2016 – Don Mitchell

Welcome to our second Designer Spotlight! This month, we’re highlighting Don Mitchell, former GMG President, and GMG member since 2013. Don is part of Eye4Games, who have created three games:

  • Clairvoyance
  • AlakaSLAM
  • Rise of the Robotariat

How did you get into designing board games?
I originally was interested in designing digital games (grew up playing them), but I got introduced to board games beyond Monopoly and Risk and the passion grew. I designed some really bad board games in High School and College before making Clairvoyance, which was the first game that felt like it had potential.

Tell us about your first design?
When designing Clairvoyance, it all started in college (~2011) when a friend and I were walking back from classes. We were talking about what you could do with a die besides rolling it. We figured out that you can rotate it to adjacent sides to have different outcomes. Then, we took it to my roommate and, together, decided that the game should be about psychics since you could see where the die was rotating to. The rest is history. We made a player elimination game around that mechanic. Though, we learned a lot on how to improve it once joining GMG. Before, we had thought it was a well designed game, only to have it broken again and again by GMG playtesters.

What types of games do you like to design?
I like to design mid-core games with a unique mechanic or combination of mechanics. Learning new ways to play games and figuring out how to exploit them has always been very interesting to me, and so designing games with a unique mechanical hook to them just always feels new and refreshing to me.

Are there any types of games you wouldn’t design?
A 2+ hour game, because those usually require a long time of development and usually have to introduce enough mechanics that are balanced and intriguing to keep the players playing the game without feeling like they’ve wasted their time. It’s a very difficult problem that requires a different focus than I have. While games that take 2+ hours to play are often my favorite to play, I’d rather focus on designing a ton of games where I get to focus on new mechanics.

Tell us about your game design process.
The design will usually start with either theme or mechanic for me. Sometimes I’ll be playing with components and just use them differently. Other times I’ll think about games that exist and what I’d do to make it new and refreshing. Still other times, my team will come up with a world or story for a game and then that inspires the rest of the design.

What is your game design philosophy?
Less is more. Having a ton of things to do is interesting, but if you can remove it and the game is about as fun, then it’s probably worth removing.


Don’s next game, Defense Force ULTRA at BostonFIG 2016.

Why do you come to GMG?
It really depends on where in the development process the game is. When I bring games that I just came up, all I’m looking for is whether the central mechanic or idea is worth pursuing. In mid-development, I’m usually looking for breaks in the game and if there are any parts of the game that feel lacking. In late development, I focus more on if there are game breaks and opportunities to simplify.

What are your favorite resources for designing board games?
Mostly, I play other games and talk to other designers. Sometimes I’ll play around with random components or look at a print-on-demand site for what components they offer.

Are there any tips you’d like to give other designers?
1. Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If they steal them, the outcome is usually that it’s a different game; the ideas you had are now more prevalent in the public consciousness (more likely to seek out similar games); and that they may find issues with your idea that you never thought of. Also, everyone has a million ideas for games, so they don’t have the time to steal your game.
2. Playtest with as many people as you can.
3. Play weird games. Play popular games. Play unpopular games. Learn from them.

What do you do when you’re not designing board games?
Playing games (digital and tabletop), performing and watching improv, and doing my 9-5 coding job.

Do you feel that helps you with you designs?
Yes. Anything in life is an inspiration. Also, performing improv helps me think outside the box. My coding job is less useful other than making sure to keep things in order and think about problems logically.

Other than designing, what else do you do in the board game community?
I go to conventions now and then. I help out at GMG. I sometimes attend board game events.

What types of games do you enjoy playing?
I like a wide variety of games, though I tend to play more mid-core games. I find they offer a large depth of strategy without being super complex and typically fit into 1 hour plays, so you can play multiple games. I tend to shy away from party games and games with a large focus on randomness. This is because I like finding strategies to utilize, even if they’re not winning ones.

What is your favorite thing about the board game world?
The variety. There are so many games out there that do so many different things and I just want to play them all.

Tell us a fun fact about you.
I perform improv in 2 different indie troupes. One is an ensemble cast (4+ performers) called Bearskin Rug. The other is a 2-prov troupe (2 performers) called Couch Potatoes. I do around 1-2 shows a month in the Somerville/Boston area.donpic