Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Something occurred to me today while reading this:

"Dominion is a deck-building card game scheduled to be released at Essen this October by Rio Grande Games. It has been designed by Donald X. Vaccarino over the last decade or so and developed by Valerie Putman and Dale Yu."

That's a pretty innocuous statement, but it reminded me of something that's crossed my mind... Designer Board Games are unique in that they are not only authored by a designer, but by the fact that this information is available and meaningful - as opposed to older, American style games like Payday and Sorry... This has all kinds of implications regarding the games themselves, the industry, and the hobby. Some players have a favorite designer for example, and will seek out games authored by that person. In many cases the game developer isn't widely known or credited... maybe a mention in the rulebook, but by and large noone knows who helped develop Puerto Rico - just that it was by Andreas Seyfarth.

I happen to know that Reiner Knizia has teams of playtesters, some of which actually do a lot of design work with him. In his case it makes some sense that the big name "Knizia" is placed on the box rather than one of the lesser known designers who also worked on it.

Dominion sounds like it's got a lot of hype behind it, and will probably be the biggest thing since sliced bRftGd. It's been designed by a relative nobody - not a big name designer. What I notice that's different is that Valerie Putman and Dale Yu's names have been associated with the game at every turn... They have been developing the game for Jay at RGG for about a year, and now there are articles everywhere about this great new game coming out that's been "developed by Valerie Putman and Dale Yu."

It's interesting to me that this is occurring, and I wonder whether it's more regular than I realize, or if it's a sort of marketing ploy (either on purpose or incidental) to associate a couple big names in the community with the upcoming game to help create hype... not a bad marketing strategy I have to admit.

It worries me a bit too though, as a game designer who aspires to have his name known, I wonder if Donald X. Vaccarino feels at all cheated out of some of the recognition that he may deserve for creating the next blockbuster smash (if that's indeed what it becomes) - or if instead this becomes an opportunity for the developers to get some much deserved recognition as well - after putting a years worth of work into the project.

You see, I'm also an aspiring game developer, so I'm torn as to which side of the fence to be on (should I have to choose). I will note this though... Jay's minions are currently testing Homesteaders, a game designed by Alex Rockwell and developed by myself, and I really hope RGG decides to publish it. But I'll be pretty upset if next year all the news posts say "...developed by Valerie Putman and Dale Yu." Nothing against Valerie and Dale - but I want that to be my job.


W. Eric Martin said...

Seth, I just wanted to note that Valerie's last name is "Putman" and not "Putnam," although the mistake didn't originate with you. It took me a while to remember as well after I took over as editor of Boardgame News.

As for their names being associated with Dominion, I think it's more a case of them being relatively open with the development process: showing the game at conventions, talking about it in BGN columns, and so forth. Dominion is Donald X's baby, and I don't think anyone will feel otherwise once the game debuts. The game starts with a unique idea - something that came only from the designer, not the developers - and builds on that idea organically. If possible, I'll have him on BGN to tell everyone about it.

Good luck with developing Homesteaders, if it comes to pass - I had an appointment and missed out on my one chance to play the game, but it looked solid and interesting.

W. Eric Martin

Seth Jaffee said...

Thanks fort he reply Eric, I'll fix the name spelling right away - sorry Valerie!

Fraser said...

This article implies that Donald started on Dominion in 2006. He had plenty of other things before then and although some concepts may have flowed into it, they were different.

I'm pretty sure I read a post by Donald on BGG recently that said he started on it in 2006 too, but I can't find that one :-)