For today’s interview, Diagonal Move is joined by Gaming Rules! host, Paul Grogan.
DM: Hi Paul, thank you for joining us. You are well known for your YouTube channel, however, your involvement in the games industry is much broader than that. How did you get started?
PG: Thanks for inviting me on. About 7 years ago, I was working at an IT job that wasn’t going well. I knew that I wanted to do something else. I had this master life plan, which was that I would “retire” at 50. My partner and I both had good jobs. I thought that if we both worked hard and didn’t spend much money…
‘Retire’, of course, actually meant I would start doing something in the board game industry, but I didn’t ever think that would become a full-time paid job.
It was an idea that I had been kicking around for a while. Then a friend of mine said “Have you seen Rodney Smith’s Watch it Played?” I hadn’t, so I checked it out and it was exactly the sort of thing that I had been thinking of doing.
I love teaching board games. I’ve taught games to people probably every week of my life for the past 35 years, often three or four times a week. So, it made sense that I would create a YouTube channel teaching people how to play games.
As the IT job steadily got worse, I realised that I needed to something sooner rather than later so in 2015 I took the leap. I started the Gaming Rules! YouTube channel and haven’t looked back.
I thought it would be something fun that I could do on the side, might not make a living out of it but I would enjoy it. It has grown from there.
DM: It certainly has. There are currently has 350+ videos on the channel. Between them over 3 million views…
PG: Three million views, eh? That sounds impressive, but a lot of those views are for my Gloomhaven video, which has had 700,000!. Most of my videos get a couple of thousand views. It really does depend on the game. Gaming Rules! has just over 23k subs though, which I’m happy with.
DM: You also provide professional services to the board game industry. What projects have you worked on? Anything that stands out?
Behind every game is a big team that most people don’t see. These days everyone knows the game designer, and artists are becoming more well-known than they used to be, and rarely somebody might look to see who wrote the rule book. However, other roles are very much behind the scenes. The role of the developer, for example, is quite unknown.
There are games I’ve been involved in where I’ve been proud to be a developer, where the game has been fantastic, and I’ve had a little part of that…but people don’t know it. Codenames…Vital Lacerda’s On Mars. There are parts of On Mars that I can say I had an influence on. Through the Ages…some of the new cards, the abilities, I can point to and say “I helped with that”, and there is a ‘not equal to’ sign on the Tzolk’in board which is there because of me.
DM: What are you working on currently?
PG: I’m actively involved in about a dozen projects at the same time. One I did a lot of work on last year was: Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood. It funded at around £2 million on Kickstarter in November 2019
The designer of it approached me after watching the Gaming Rules! Gloomhaven videos. He said “We have a big, epic game. Can you do the videos for it?”.
They showed me it and it was one of those that would either be fantastic or fall flat on its face. It’s a UK designer, who has a dream of something the same size and scope as Gloomhaven. I wanted to support that if I could, so I said: “I’m in”.
I was initially involved in just the videos, but then I eventually started working on the rule book too when they realised I also did that. It’s a big, big game that they have been working on for years. While I was helping with the rules, I also got involved in the development. I can’t help myself! Whilst I get paid for what I do, I’m a gamer, so pointing out things that feel wrong or just don’t work is something I never shy away from.
I don’t think I’ll be listed as a developer on that game, but I have been a small part of it and many of the discussions I’ve had have been talking through ideas with the designer. Again, most people won’t see that. They’ll see the videos; they may see that I wrote the rule book. But many other people help make a game and being involved in something that epic is pretty cool.
The recent Ultimate Edition of Mage Knight includes base game plus the three expansions. I wasn’t just involved in that game in a small way, I was a developer on the first expansion and actually co-designed the second and third expansions, so that’s something I’m happy about too.
I was involved in the new version of Caylus, which is one of my favourite games of all time. Being asked to do a final check of the rule book made me very happy. I know Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, but I felt proud that day.
DM: You also organise events including three held during 2019. A Charity Games Day, TING, and then Gridcon…
PG: Back in 2018, as part of International Tabletop Day, I did a small event at a community centre, where I host the local gaming group. It went well, 40 or 50 people attended, and I wanted to do something again in 2019.
We booked the venue for April, however, something…weird…happened with the organisation of International Tabletop Day. The dates were not released until very late, and when they were announced they clashed with the UK Games Expo. I already had the community centre booked, advertisements out etc, so I thought “Why not host a Charity Day?” It went well and all the profits went to the Ugandan Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Foundation.
TING was actually a warm-up event for GridCon, call it Gridcon Zero if you like. It was not held at the venue that GridCon 1 would be held, was only a day and a half, and no on-site accommodation. I really didn’t want people to confuse the two events, so I chose to call it TING – which stands for ‘This Is Not GridCon’. Funny thing was everyone called it GridCon anyway.
What has become GridCon began twenty years ago. I came back from Essen that year – the first time I had been, around 1999/2000- with a suitcase full of games. I thought it would be nice to have all my friends round at my house to play all these new games. It was called ‘Paul’s Post Essen Games Weekend’. And, it became a tradition. Every year, 4 or 5 weeks after Essen, everyone would come to mine. Eventually, it was given the name ‘Runemeet’.
For my 40th birthday in the summer of 2010, I hosted an event that started at noon on Friday and went through to noon on Monday. The garden was full of tents, people were sleeping in the garage. There were 30 gamers in total. My partner said: “this is just a one off right?”. Er…maybe.
After that, we held Runemeet in the summer and in the winter each year and this continued until about two years ago.
Hiring a venue had been suggested before but there was something nice about doing it at home, about coming downstairs in your dressing gown at 8am Sunday morning to find a game of Twilight Imperium that has been going on all night.
But it was time… I had a list of 80 people I wanted to invite. And…looking through that list to see which 30 I would invite gave me such bad feelings that I thought maybe I should book a proper venue. That’s when I decided to do GridCon.
DM: At bigger conventions game designers and publishers are present at the stands but at GridCon they were just enjoying the day. How did you attract so many industry names to your convention?
PG: It was never the initial intention to invite my designer contacts, but I asked a couple of them when I first decided to move to a venue. When they said ‘yes’, I thought, ‘why not invite a few more’ and it just became a thing. David Turczi, Matthew Dunstan, Tony Boydell, Richard Breese, Vital Lacerda were all there, among others.
Moving forward, it’s definitely something we would like to do every year. Having designers and publishers demoing their prototypes was pretty cool and I’d love to see that continue at future Gridon’s.
We are hoping that GridCon 2 can still go ahead in June 2020. The venue is also booked for GridCon 3 in November 2020 and we are looking at GridCon 4 & 5 in 2021.
DM: What advice would you give someone looking to get into the industry?
PG: That’s a difficult one.
When I started Gaming Rules!, I had been going to Essen for years, I was known in the community, and a few people in the industry knew me. But it was a hobby. I helped out because I enjoyed it and I got a kick out of doing stuff for a publisher whose games I loved.
So, when the time came for me to start Gaming Rules!, I already had a good relationship with some of the publishers, and I was lucky enough for them to say ‘yes’ when I asked if they would be willing to pay for the services I was already providing.
My entry into the industry is not easy to replicate. I had been doing a lot of “work” for publishers, purely on a voluntary basis, for years. I already had the contacts before I turned it into a job.
But for people who want to get into the industry, it can’t be done overnight. I’m not sure that any publisher is going to give work to someone who contacts them and asks: ‘can I write your rulebook?’. I’m actively trying to help other people become involved in rulebook editing by letting them have a view on the process I use, see what I am doing, the conversations with the publishers, etc.
It’s not easy to get into the industry, and I’m certainly not suggesting anyone should work for free, but it worked for me. Though I have to say that at the time, I was just happy to be part of something I was passionate about. It was never the plan to do this for a living.
GridCon 2 is due to take place on 26th – 28th June 2020 in Tiverton, Devon, UK.
A version of this interview was originally published on the Zatu Games blog.