To prepare aspiring board game designers for a tabletop career, the Game Design Academy features a variety of panels/lectures/roundtables over the two-day event, covering topics from facets of game design, to playtesting strategies, publishing considerations, and more.

Please note this schedule is subject to change.


To Kickstarter or Not: A Publisher’s Dilemma presented by David Gerrard
9:30-11:00, Michelangelo

As a game designer, you need to decide what path you will take to get your game published. If you are planning on self-publishing, there are even more choices ahead of you and Kickstarter will likely be a huge part of that decision. David Gerrard from Junk Spirit Games will speak about the good and bad influences that Kickstarter has on self-publishing and provide his prospective on indie game publishing. Q&A at the end, and a free attendance raffle!

The Building Blocks of Games presented by Paul Peterson
9:30-11:00, Van Gogh

Every game can be looked at as a set of mechanics. By breaking a game down and looking at the individual mechanics, a designer can understand why each is part of the game and how to change or replace them to make the game better or solve a particular problem during development. Paul Peterson will show you how it’s done from choosing the mechanics as you start your design, to fixing problems as you develop, and in analyzing published games.

Games As Portfolio presented by Ryan S. Dancey
11:00-12:30, Michelangelo

In an increasingly crowded market for new games, designers and publishers need to start rethinking how they evaluate opportunities. This panel explores the specific attributes which can be used to evaluate the places where the market is over- and under-provisioned, and how to think about exploiting the opportunities that analysis reveals.

Inclusivity & Representation in Tabletop Gaming: More Than A Checkbox presented by Ashleigh La Porta & Jo Cronk
1:30-3:00, Michelangelo

Basics of Game Design: Six Case Studies presented by James Ernest
1:30-3:00, Van Gogh

James Ernest (Cheapass Games) presents his thoughts on the process of game design, using six examples from his prodigious catalog. Learn about starting, finishing, and the fuzzy stuff in the middle, from the inventor of Kill Doctor Lucky, Tak, and Pirates of the Spanish Main.

Circle Theory: Creating Immersive Experiences presented by DC
3:00-4:30, Michelangelo

Immersion in gaming is found in all sorts of experiences. Whether the focus is narrative, mechanical, social, or otherwise, there’s a method to understanding how to build around it. Circle Theory focuses on intertwining the setting and the character from the start, without having to build a detailed backstory. Come find out how.

Kick It (Or Don’t) presented by Jeremy Holcomb & Zach Weisman
3:00-4:30, Van Gogh

Kickstarter (and other crowd funding tools) have opened the door to self publishing and made it easier for people to make their own games a reality. However, those opportunities bring with them risks and dangers that can be very expensive and painful. Should you kickstart your game or project? What questions should you ask, and what tools do you need to help you be successful? Come learn from people who have had successes and failures with Kickstarter, and bring your questions.

Balancing Board Games presented by Derek Mantey
4:30-6:00, Michelangelo

Do all board games need balancing? How do you know if your board game is balanced? A quick tour on how to balance board games, you’ll learn the basics of balance to have better discussions about how balance affects your game and how to achieve the desired balance.

Keeping It Real presented by Ben Ellinger
4:30-6:00, Van Gogh

How much should your design sacrifice realism for the sake of better gameplay? How much realism is necessary for players to stay engaged? How do different narrative frames alter this balance? What does “realism” even mean in a game? Through examples of games that have done it right and games that have done it wrong, learn how to make the right choices for your game and your audience.


Tips and How-Tos for Working with Artists presented by Nicole Jekich, Dylan Mangini, Clair Donaldson, & Damon Brown
9:30-11:00, Michelangelo

Artists, producers, and game designers share their methods and tips for working with or as artists on tabletop game projects. We aim to answer common questions game designers have when reaching out to artists.

Making It As A Game Designer (An Economic Discussion) presented by M. Craig Stockwell
9:30-11:00, Van Gogh

It seems nearly impossible to get games signed by publishers, and Kickstarting isn’t much easier! Can you really make a living out of being a game designer? Craig explores options and pitfalls of the career, with examples of what’s worked.

Better Design = Better Games = Better People presented by Eric Cagle, Nate Heiss, and Jaym Gates
11:00-12:30, Michelangelo

Games are infused in our culture and, for better or worse, teach their own lessons to players about the human condition. The games created by game designers impart messages about empathy, sympathy, trust, and expectations. What roles and responsibilities do today’s game designers and game companies have in “sending a message” to players? How can we tweak our games to make games, and their communities, more open, thoughtful, and positive to society.

Working for a Game Design Studio presented by Dylan Birtolo
11:00-12:30, Van Gogh

Seek Allies, Not Employees presented by David Gerrard and Dylan Birtolo
1:30-3:00, Michelangelo

If you are hoping to be a game designer or artist in the gaming industry, you may find that you will need to create a team yourself to move forward and get something published. But you may not want to run a full business. David Gerrard explains how he treats Junk Spirit Games more like a pirate ship than a business, and Dylan Birtolo of Lynnvander Studios provides his unique perspective as well. Q&A at the end, and a free attendance raffle!

LUCI Finals presented by Playtest Northwest
1:30-4:30, Van Gogh

Watch the final judging and award presentations for the LUCI Awards!

Wizards’ Secret Sauce presented by Jay Schneider
3:00-4:30, Michelangelo

There are many elements at Wizards of the Coast that enable the creation of games of depth and quality. One of those is a collection of design concepts that Wizards R&D uses to ensure the quality of design. We’ll discuss these concepts including a discussion of how they were applied to one of Wizards most successful products.

Reviving, Acquiring, and Licensing Other People’s Intellectual Property presented by Rich Rowan, Jonathan Tweet, Eric Cagle, Brent Evans
4:30-6:00, Michelangelo

Sometimes working with an existing intellectual property (IP) makes a lot of business sense because of the name brand recognition, built in audience, and established world. Other times, you may want to bring back an IP that has fallen into disuse or is out of print because it holds a special place in your heart. Come hear stories and advice about acquiring/licensing IP and some of the unique challenges of reviving old IP.

Freelancing: Both Sides Explored presented by Jaym Gates
4:30-6:00, Van Gogh

How does freelancing work? How do you make money, avoid burnout, find clients, and grow your career? With over a decade of full-time experience, Jaym Gates will give you an overview of how to start and maintain a freelance career.