Formal Ferret Games

Gil Hova designs, publishes, and plays board games

Watch my panels from Metatopia 2015!

Metatopia is quickly becoming one of my favorite game designer conventions. This is partially because it’s in Morristown, NJ, only about 30 minutes from where I live, but mostly because it’s full of amazing playtesting opportunities.

Designers can request playtesters of a specific demographic, and the con organizers will do their best to find just those people. This way, I got to run three valuable “blind tests” of The Networks, in which I watched players try to figure out how to play the game with only the rulebook. It taught me what parts of the rulebook work, and what parts still need attention. Thankfully, none of the tables messed up any significant rules, so it looks like I just have to make some tweaks here and there.

But one of Metatopia’s biggest appeals is its panel schedule. For three days, you get to hear all sorts of industry experts give their opinions on the theoretical and practical sides of game design and publishing. (And there are some later at night run by podcasters that turn out to be less useful, but infinitely sillier.)

This year, I resolved to run a bunch of boardgame-specific panels, and I was overjoyed with how well they were received. I appeared on seven panels in total!

I have YouTube video of five of these panels, and you can check them all out in this playlist. That’s five hours of great discussion about game design and publishing! Here’s a breakdown of the five videos.

I gave a “Board Game Design 101” lecture that was the talk I needed to hear 15 years ago. This was one of my best-attended and best-received talks. I think the concepts I discuss in this lecture are concepts that more game designers and game fans should embrace. They tie directly into what makes a good game.

I organized and appeared on a panel called “Crossing Over,” which matched me with RPG designer Jason Pitre, video game designer Nik Mikros, and freeform/transformative game designer Sara Williamson. The endlessly-energetic John Stavropoulos moderated, asking questions that cut across all our fields of design. This was the panel that intrigued me the most; I’d never seen anything like it elsewhere, and I think we analyzed our craft in a way no one ever has before.

Geoff Engelstein (co-designer of the first two games of the Space Cadets series of games, host of the Ludology podcast, and all-around clever and sweet guy) and I joined forces to talk about how to write a good rulebook for your board game. This was another very well-attended panel, on a critical subject that all designers and publishers should know about, despite the odd technical glitch.

I met up with Tim Rodriguez (designer/publisher of Ghost Pirates) and Dan Cassar (designer of Arboretum) to talk about 2-player board games; what makes them special, and how can we use their differences to our advantage? It was a really good talk about a subject you don’t get to hear much about.

Immediately after the 2-player panel, Tim and I joined the always entertaining and insightful RPG designer Joshua A.C. Newman to discuss our experiences in crowdfunding. I honestly joined this panel at the last moment, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But the panel turned out to be fascinating, because our experiences in crowdfunding were so different.

Now I have a year to figure out how to top this!

Play Bad Medicine in a game store near you on November 21!

Splash web

On Saturday, November 21, Bad Medicine is going to be played in 35 stores all across the US! The game will be available for retail purchase by then, so be sure to ask your Friendly Local Game Store for a copy.

Here’s a list of stores participating in the event. Come join the fun!

Store Store City Store State
Dragon’s Keep Gaming Room Fayetteville AR
Crit Castle Games Aurora CO
Gamer’s Gambit Danbury CT
Emerald City Clearwater FL
Other Realms Ltd. Honolulu HI
The Armchair Adventurer Honolulu HI
Games Plus One Davenport IA
Games King Sioux City IA
Gameopolis Idaho Falls ID
Better World Books Goshen IN
Common Room Games Bloomington IN
Boom Comics Lawrence KS
Play More Games Gaithersburg MD
All About Games Belfast ME
The Loaded Die Ferndale MI
Acropolis Games Adrian MI
Game Café Independence MO
Dark Knight Gaming Long Beach MS
2nd and Charles (Books a million) Jacksonville NC
Fallout Shelter Highland Park NJ
Elite Battlegrounds Green Brook NJ
Arcana Toys Games and Hobbies Washington NJ
Highlander Games Boonton NJ
Play the Game, Read the Story Syracuse NY
Modern Myths Mamaroneck NY
Flipside Gaming East Greenbush NY
Checkmate Games & Hobbies Toledo OH
Old School Gaming Toledo OH
Diversions Gaming and Hobby Newbury OH
Recess Games North Olmsted OH
Zimm’s Realm Ada OK
The Island Games Centreville VA
Uncle’s Games Bellevue WA
Pegasus Games Madison WI
Hero Depot Laramie WY

My panels for Metatopia 2015

Metatopia is quickly becoming one of my favorite game design conventions. There’s a lot of good playtesting that happens there, both for raw prototypes you can show to fellow designers and late-stage prototypes that you can show interested gamers.

But what makes the convention really special for me is its enormous, wall-to-wall schedule of panels. Historically, a lot of these panels have been RPG-centric, so I’ve submitted a bunch of board game-specific panels, or that at least explicitly include board games in their setup.

I’m really excited about the panels I have set up. Here they are, with the official descriptions pasted in:

Writing a Rulebook for your Board Game
Friday Nov. 6, 3 pm
We all know that it’s vital to write a good rulebook for your board game. But how? What makes a rulebook “good?” What can you do to make your rulebook as good as possible? And is there any way to make the process a little less painful? Join published designers Gil Hova and Geoff Engelstein as we discuss what makes a good rulebook, and how you can make your board game’s rulebook as good as possible, without too much extra discomfort.
(I’ll be joined by Geoff Englestein, of Space Cadets and Ludology fame.)

Nerd Fountain Podcast
Friday Nov. 6, 9 pm
Hello and welcome to The Nerd Fountain, live at METATOPIA! This panel will feature a live recording of The Nerd Fountain podcast featuring your host and Executive Producer Jeffrey Norman Bourbeau, along with special guests from the tabletop industry. Topics will include emerging design trends, what we’ve been playing, what we’ve been working on, BGG Q&A, and Nerd Love Advice.
(I’ll probably have a short guest appearance at this panel.)

Board Game Design 101
Saturday Nov. 7, 11 am
What are the basic, fundamental concepts a new game designer needs to keep in mind when designing a new board game? You can spend years finding this the hard way, or you can attend this panel and learn about them in an hour! Join designer Gil Hova as he discusses the most fundamental concepts in game design: flow/fiero, core engagement, and heuristics.
(I’ve been wanting to do a seminar like this for a long time now!)

Two Player Board Games – Peaks and Pitfalls
Saturday Nov. 7, 1 pm
Explicitly two-player games are tricky to design, and harder to sell, for a lot of reasons. Much of the easy dynamism that is readily available with more players are simply not present. We’ll talk about what makes two-player games great, where and why there are drawbacks to this constraint, and think about how to push forward in this niche field.
(I’ll be joined by Tim Rodriguez [Ghost Pirates] and Dan Cassar [Arboretum, Cavemen: Quest for Fire])

Crossing Over – An Exploration of Different Fields
Saturday Nov. 7, 5 pm
How is designing RPGs different than designing board games? How different is a video game designer’s mindset? What about someone designing for change or artistic expression instead of pure recreation? In this one-of-a-kind panel, Gil Hova, Nik Mikros, Jason Pitre, and Sara Williamson will discuss game design from widely different perspectives, looking for commonalities and differences.
(Egads, this panel is the one I’m most excited about! A bunch of different game designers all joining together to talk about what makes working in our specific fields unique.)

Talk with Board Game Designer LIVE
Saturday Nov. 7, 8 pm
Talk with Board Game Designer will be filmed before a live studio audience. Jennifer Chan will be talking with top game designers and will be mediating your questions. Expect the same in-depth analysis that you get from a normal episode of Talk with Board Game Designer.
(I was assured that there’s no way I would be featured on this panel, so I guess I don’t know why I’m putting it here…)

If you want to see the other featured panels, they’re all listed here. Playtesting event schedules will come in a couple of weeks.

If you won’t be able to make it to Metatopia, I’m going to try to film all my appearances. I can’t make any guarantees that I won’t forget to hit record or turn my microphone on, though…

Hope to see you there!

Introducing my new podcast, Breaking Into Board Games!


I’m on a podcast! It’s called Breaking Into Board Games, and it’s about breaking into the board game business. My co-hosts are Ian Zang and Tony Miller.

In the podcast, Tony discusses the business from a game designer’s point of view, Ian discusses the business from a game developer’s point of view, and I discuss the business from a game publisher’s point of view.

Our next few episodes will feature interviews with Scott Almes, JR Honeycutt, and Tim Fowers, talking about how they broke into the business. More interviews are on the way, as well as episodes where the three of us discuss a single topic about getting into the hobby.

You can listen now on Libsyn or iTunes. More episodes to come!

The Networks is doing great on Kickstarter!

I launched The Networks on Kickstarter at the beginning of September, and I’m delighted with how it’s been going! We’ve raised $50,000, over double my original funding goal, and we’re at almost 1500 backers. 

Please visit the page and pledge if you haven’t already!