Role Selection is an interview series in which we chat up folks who work, live, and play board games in a variety of ways to learn about the roles in the hobby they’ve chosen.
Character Name: Suzanne and Chris Zinsli
Role: Creators of Cardboard Edison
Location: Hopatcong, New Jersey
Gateway Game: Carcassonne
Current Favorites: Black Orchestra, Risk Legacy, Imhotep
Rare Resource: Sleep
Quote: “We started Cardboard Edison because we were learning about the board game industry, and we wanted to share the information we found.” And from Chris: “Our mission of helping other designers has always stayed the same, but over the years we’ve found new ways of doing it.”
Character Bio: Cardboard Edison is one of those things that budding game designers could easily take for granted.
Of course there’s a site online that regularly scours the Internet for game design tips and resources, and of course that site organizes them in a clean, modern interface. Of course the tips and resources are searchable. Of course they’re running a design contest for unpublished games (deadline for entries is Jan. 31, 2017) , and of course they’ve started a series of insightful interviews with designers and publishers.
And of course, Cardboard Edison doesn’t just happen by accident. In an email interview, I asked husband-wife team Chris and Suzanne Zinsli about how they got started in gaming and in creating Cardboard Edison.
Suzanne Zinsli: We live in the town of Hopatcong in northwestern New Jersey. There aren’t a whole lot of other board game designers in the area, but we’ve been lucky enough to find a great group to meet with regularly. And our next-door neighbors are gamers, which is awesome.
Chris Zinsli: We got into hobby board games in 2011 after we had an idea for a party game. We wanted to publish it, but we had no idea what we were doing. So we started playing modern strategy games to learn about the industry. Carcassonne was our gateway game, and we probably still haven’t played any other game as many times.
Suzanne: A lot of our gaming time these days is dedicated to playtesting prototypes – both ours and other designers’. But recently we’ve been playing Black Orchestra, a cooperative World War II game. We just started a campaign of Risk Legacy, and Imhotep is a recent favorite. We also are planning a day-long session dedicated to Diplomacy – which means we’ll be looking for a new set of friends in February!
Matt Golec: Can you talk about some of the reasons you decided to start Cardboard Edison back in 2012? What was the mission then, and how has it changed over the years?
Suzanne: We started Cardboard Edison because we were learning about the board game industry, and we wanted to share the information we found.
Chris: Our mission of helping other designers has always stayed the same, but over the years we’ve found new ways of doing it. In addition to directing designers to useful resources, we’ve started creating material ourselves that we think will be useful, most recently The Compendium, our directory of board game publishers.
MG: What’s the process for collecting all the tips and resources you post on Cardboard Edison? What tools do you use to prowl the web for material? How much time does it take you every day?
Chris: The tips blog basically runs on RSS feeds. Early on it was Google Reader, but now it’s Feedly, which lets us monitor hundreds of websites and forums and podcasts all in one place. Even with the help of Feedly, it’s still a time-consuming process, taking around 20 hours a week! One of us reads or watches or listens to every item before we post it, which takes a lot of time but also ensures that we’re only including the most useful material.
MG: You’ve published so many tips and resources. If you’re a new designer who’s just found Cardboard Edison, what’s a good place to start digging into the site without getting overwhelmed?
Suzanne: The search bar! Take a look at where you are in the process. What brought you to Cardboard Edison? What information do you need right now? Do a search and take a trip down the rabbit hole.
Chris: Seconded. And if you’re so new that you aren’t even sure what to search for, try clicking the “featured” tag to see our monthly roundups of favorite links. That’s another good starting point.
All About The Process
MG: Does it get harder to find new things to post now that you’ve been doing this for several years, or are people always coming up with new takes on game design ideas?
Chris: It actually takes more time now than it did a few years ago. As the hobby has grown, more people are contributing and sharing their knowledge and experiences through blogs and podcasts and so on. We’ve had to raise the bar for what makes it onto the blog because there’s so much more material to choose from.
MG: As a husband-wife team, how do you divvy up the Cardboard Edison ‘chores’? Does one person gravitate toward the website and the other take on social media, or do you go back and forth?
Suzanne: Chris typically handles the blog and Twitter. I handle more of the original content and initiatives, like the Cardboard Edison Award for unpublished game designs, which is now in its second year. We also always try to strike the right balance between home life and work life. It’s important that neither of us feels overwhelmed with Cardboard Edison work, or left out. The same goes for our day-to-day life. We work on Cardboard Edison in our spare time, in addition to our full-time jobs of work and raising a family.
MG: The web layout you use is very modern and sparse: not much editorializing, just tips and resources. You’re more chatty on Twitter, but in general you tend to let the folks you’re posting speak for themselves. How did you decide on that format?
Chris: We’ve always had the goal of keeping the focus on directing designers to useful information. Part of that is staying as objective as possible, and part of it is keeping the website free of clutter from ads and the like.
Suzanne: Twitter is the place where we formed a lot of relationships in the industry, so that’s where we build and maintain connections. The website is primarily for sharing information.
MG: In addition to design tips and resources, you’ve been publishing cool interviews with game publishers and designers. You mentioned the Cardboard Edison Award design contest that’s accepting entries through January 31, 2017, and on your Patreon page, you’ve talked about starting a podcast. That’s a lot going on! Two final questions: Are you getting enough sleep, and what else do you see for the future of Cardboard Edison?
Suzanne: We definitely do not get enough sleep! In the future, in addition to the Cardboard Edison Award and the podcast, you can expect some surprises from us. Stay tuned.
Chris: And in addition to our game design resources, we have our own games in the works! We have two games signed with publishers, including Dubai: Rebuild the Ruins, which will be on Kickstarter on Feb. 28 from Greater Than Games. We also just released a print-and-play game, Retail Rejects, in partnership with the Flip the Table podcast.
And we’ve moved into publishing ourselves, with our first game, Cobras, on track to be delivered before this summer. So yeah, definitely not enough sleep!
Truly, the future for Cardboard Edison doesn’t look very restful at all. Between awards, game design, and an ongoing mission to great a one-stop shop for designers, there seems little time for much else.
Matt Golec is game designer with a background in print journalism. Combining these skills, he aims to explore and give voice to the many different jobs within the hobby industry that don’t frequently get reported on. He can be best reached via Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Multiple Photos from the Cardboard Edison site.