Break It Up A Notch was a Staff Pick at The Game Crafter and that's how I discovered the game that brings you break dancing meeples and routines with funny names. I wish I had thought of the idea myself, and I decided to pick the brain of Benjamin Moy, the creator of this lovely and intense little dance battle.
Benjamin Moy, or Ben, is a hobby game creator like myself. He resides on The Game Crafter, where his award-winning title Break It Up A Notch caught my attention for its innovative use of meeples. Throw them, collect them, make them dance.
In this interview with the game creator we talk about the design process of the game, the challenges of self-publishing your board games, and what our thoughts are on The Game Crafter.
Are you a game creator yourself curious about the design process of others? Or are you a player intrigued by the concept of break dancing meeples? Keep reading!
Strackspel.se: How did you come up with this brilliant idea? Did you start with the concept of throwing meeples and build from there, or did you start elsewhere and come up with that later?
Ben Moy: It came to me a little less than a year ago when I was blind playtesting a friend's prototype. His game included meeples for regular worker placement and I was casually dropping them to see how they would land. Having always been impressed with the athleticism of activities like parkour and break dancing, I couldn't help but think the theme fit perfectly with this newfound "mechanic".
Strackspel.se: It's certainly creative! The game is also time-based [using a timer, editors note] with players playing simultaneously. I can see this adding a positive stress element as you feel the pressure of time running out. In what ways does this enhance the game, and are there any negative aspects of it?
Ben Moy: I would like to think that there are no negatives! Just as you say, the intent was to increase the excitement around the table as you compete not only against each other but with time itself. I am by no means a big strategy game player, but because of the few I have gotten in, I have been interested in minimizing downtime in my designs. With a light game like this one, having player "turns" be simultaneous was the solution I may not have needed, but came upon!
Their faces would light up, and that helped motivate me to continue forward.
Strackspel.se: What's your favorite aspect of the game?
Ben Moy: Probably the reactions and stories I get following each play. Having players call out the names of their dance moves as they complete them is a fun way to keep the table engaged. I also like that it introduces push-your-luck elements and on-your-feet thinking when allocating your "dancers".
The local board game design competition that I entered Break It Up A Notch into [CUDO Plays, www.cudoplays.com] awarded me winner of their Accessibility category, and I am extremely humbled by that.
Strackspel.se: Congratulations! As a contest winner, have you made any extra sales off that? I've always glanced at contests myself but never entered anything...
Ben Moy: Thank you very much! As a matter of fact, I did see a couple sales from attendees of the CUDO Plays Grand Exhibition event, which was pretty neat. Probably advertising and featuring that on the TGC Shop Page would help win some visitors over. I highly encourage you and your readers to enter contests though, because there are so many wonderful ideas and inspiring personalities out there just waiting to be met.
Strackspel.se: If I may ask, how many sales have you made?
Ben Moy: Total, around ten copies have been sold so far, not including any shipped to publishers.
Strackspel.se: Tell me about the design process. How has the game evolved over time?
Ben Moy: At its core, being meeple rolling, I am proud to say the game has stayed true across its whole life. What has changed the most is probably the cards players collect each round, called "Routines", and how players complete them.
Before, each Routine had a specific "decay", or number of rounds it was allowed to be used before being discarded. One of the first iterations involved rotating the Routines to represent how many rounds it had left, but hard limitations of graphic design quickly threw away that idea. Maybe I could revisit that some day with dials...
I highly encourage you and your readers to enter contests.
Strackspel.se: A second row for cube placing?
Ben Moy: Honestly, that is an excellent idea! Do you mind if I borrow it for a future expansion?
Strackspel.se: Only if I get a share! No, of course I don't mind, I'd love to see an expansion implement it. What else has changed in the game over time?
Ben Moy: I've looked through some old notes from October 2017 and probably the whole of Break It Up A Notch could be considered a departure from its inception. Upgrading any Routine used to cost victory points, meeples could only be re-rolled once, and there was no timer in any form, the game instead was turn-based!
Strackspel.se: I've played the game a few times and to me the time aspect is a big part of the excitement, so I'm glad you deviated from turn based. But why break dancing anyway? I just can't get over what a brilliant meeple concept it is!
Ben Moy: Outside my interest in the activity, I found it was a rather unexplored theme based on the absence of anything like it on friendly local game store shelves. Whenever I mentioned my in-progress prototype to people, their faces would light up, and that helped motivate me to continue forward. The last thing I can say is that it is relatable to our real world, and I think being grounded in that way was a big factor regarding its reception as well.
Strackspel.se: How did you come up with the name? Did you try different names first?
Ben Moy: Any of my friends will tell you that I am a fan of wordplay, and Break It Up A Notch is a combination of break dancing and "taking it up a notch". It isn't the most elegant, but I don't feel like anything else along the way has captured the competitive nature of the game and references the theme.
"Breakdance Battle" was too derivative for my taste. A play tester came up with "Break Loose", which I associate with Footloose, and that isn't the worst. But I thought a more unique branding would serve it better.
Strackspel.se: As someone who uses The Game Crafter a lot myself, minimizing components to keep the cost down is always a challenge. Was this something you considered when making Break It Up A Notch? For example, the score cards are basic playing cards and I assume this is a design choice related to cost.
Ben Moy: That's correct! As a designer who mostly sells on The Game Crafter, cost plays a large role in the games I make — it can be a neat limitation that leads to some really innovative solutions.
One decision that was influenced in this way was how many cards to include in the game. The Game Crafter, and believably most manufacturers, print 18 cards to a sheet, so instead of designing with no considerations, I constrained myself early on to keep the number a multiple of 18. This allowed me to get the full bang-for-my-buck — instead of leaving three or four unused spaces on the printing sheet — and going for 36 cards instead of 54 kept the game a little more affordable.
As is the nature of print-on-demand, these costs are inflated compared to mass production print runs in the thousands because of economies of scale, but luckily the community is understanding of that.
You will be hard-pressed to hear of any cons from me about The Game Crafter. Honestly, I am constantly amazed by what they are bringing.
Strackspel.se: How understanding, would you say? I got en e-mail the other day that a review of my own TGC-released game Trains & Cargo had been posted, and while the review praised the game, they complained about packaging and cost-for-size, both which are direct results of using The Game Crafter and print-on-demand.
Ben Moy: I suppose it will always differ from person to person, but I like to think in a space like The Game Crafter that visitors are more likely and willing to support creators and each other. Since most of the community is other designers, many are fully aware of these discrepancies and work within the few and far-between limitations, as opposed to the purely deal-driven game collector scouring Amazon.
Your mileage may vary, but from what I can tell TGC is striving to match bigger manufacturers every day, and that is exciting. They just released neoprene mats, where else does that happen?
Strackspel.se: What other pros and cons would you say there are to using The Game Crafter?
Ben Moy: That a single copy will go for a higher cost than one from an order of 2000 or so printed at once, which is a common minimum for large-scale manufacturing, is about the only con I can think of. You could even spin this as a pro, in that there are no storage fees for a surplus of games waiting to be sold.
You will be hard-pressed to hear of any cons from me about TGC. Honestly, I am constantly amazed by what they are bringing, and continue to bring, to the table so that anyone can be a game designer.
Strackspel.se: I can only agree, I love them, though I must admit that I'm not a fan of the outdated feel of their website...
Ben Moy: I find it endearing, now that I'm used to it. But I do think modernizing the interface would help instill confidence in new visitors. The quality of their work is so fantastic, so impress people with the presentation of the first platform they will interact with the company on and no one will ever look back.
They just released neoprene mats, where else does that happen?
Strackspel.se: I discovered Break It Up A Notch because The Game Crafter picked it as a Staff Pick. Other than this acknowledgement and the contest that you won, have you advertised the game in any ways?
Ben Moy: Only a little. While in development I play tested Break with multiple gaming circles, and I did enter it into that local design competition, but I have not paid for any banner advertisements on Board Game Geek or anything like that. However, I am currently pitching to publishers, and I post updates about it and the rest of my design adventures on my Facebook Page, Your Friend Ben Moy Designs Board Games.
Strackspel.se: So my friend Ben Moy who designs board games, do you think a publisher is the way to go once you have a solid and well-tested game? Or have you also considered self-publishing by manufacturing on a larger scale?
Ben Moy: I certainly think it is one way to go, and for now, it is definitely the way to go for me. I actually tried to self-publish with some friends through crowdfunding means and most everything leading up to the campaign went well. However, with none of us having any expertise in critical areas like shipping and financing, we fell short. Researching could only do so much for us.
Though I love the whole process of bringing a product to market, I decided to leave those matters to the professionals, and I have since interacted with wonderful people on all ends of the spectrum in other ways.
Strackspel.se: Do you mean you've been talking to publishers? How have you reached out to them, and what are your tips for bringing an indie game to a publisher?
Ben Moy: Yes, I have been contacting publishers, and most of my experience with them has actually been in person at conventions or playtesting events like Protospiel. One cool part for me has been not knowing they were publishers until after our encounter, and I think that more than anything else helped me connect with them not just as an entity but as people and individuals. Don't let their status as a publisher deter you from being yourself, just be professional.
I will yet again borrow from advice I have received for my recommendation: do your research before approaching a publisher. Inspect their catalogue of games and see how yours can fit in — is the intended play group a match? Is the style of play similar to their other releases? Let that guide you.
I would also say, at a larger setting like a Gen Con or even an Origins, to reach out a good number of months in advance in a personal e-mail to set up a meeting, complete with a visual sell sheet (an efficient document that includes essential game information, wow factors, and telling images) and reason for why your game can help the publisher.
Strackspel.se: I'm a fan of promoting self-published games, assuming they are good and worth promoting. Have you come across any games by other creators at The Game Crafter that you would recommend?
Ben Moy: There are so many to choose from! I'm a big fan of seeing the TGC Challenge entries, and theme or art definitely gets me to click onto the page.
My most recent orders were the Shadow of the Colossus-inspired hidden movement game Colossus Fall and the 8-bit 18-card game Treasure Trouble.
Strackspel.se: You're a fan of adventure games?
Ben Moy: Oh, absolutely. I grew up with a family that played the occasional Dungeons & Dragons campaign, enough to capture my imagination and spark my affinity for fantasy. Swords, spells, and soda pervade some of my favorite childhood memories, and they also gave me my love for rolling dice. If it has monsters and fighting them, I am probably in.
Is it the way you want players to feel when they pull off the shoot-the-moon strategy you purposely left in, wanting them to discover it? Do you want them to be left with something on the table they can be proud of and want to show their friends when they're done playing? I do believe it's these moments that keep people coming back to games.
Strackspel.se: You studied product design. Do you have a better understanding of user experiences thanks to this, and how have you implemented it in your game designs? Any advice on what to consider from a user experience perspective when making a game?
Ben Moy: I like to think so! We were taught the iterative design process, which directly correlates to board games — draft an initial idea, create a prototype, test it, address pain points, tweak or come up with other solutions, test again, approach the problem at a different angle, reevaluate initial goals, test again, and so on. I also learned my way around the basics of programs like the Adobe Suite [Illustrator, InDesign] and 3D printing and laser cutting software that have aided in more high-fidelity prototypes.
With the user experience perspective of making a game, my focus lately has been on "finding the fun", and putting that in the spotlight as much as possible. Could the fun be a new way to use a familiar component? Is it the way you want players to feel when they pull off the shoot-the-moon strategy you purposely left in, wanting them to discover it? Do you want them to be left with something on the table they can be proud of and want to show their friends when they're done playing? I do believe it's these moments that keep people coming back to games, and designing for that replayability which can be shared with others is the fun part for me.
Also, use a legible font — a readable type and size — and clean and clear component layouts!
Strackspel.se: We're reaching the end of this interview. Why should people play Break It Up A Notch?
Ben Moy: Break It Up A Notch is a short and exciting game that can be played in 10 minutes. I think it captures the imagination with its flavorful Routines and my hope is that it can help introduce new gamers to the hobby by using a standard component in an innovative way.
Strackspel.se: Because everybody knows meeples but no one has seen them dance?
Ben Moy: That was my impression at least... why, have you seen any dance before?
Thank you Benjamin for your time!
This is Break It Up A Notch:
A REAL-TIME DEXTERITY GAME OF BREAKDANCING MEEPLES
Buy the game:
THE GAME CRAFTER
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