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In the first installment of Designer Dialogue we spoke with Doug Hopkins and Stephen Baker. Doug and Stephen gave some insight on the challenges faced with remaking the dungeon delving classic HeroQuest, and the experience of creating the original version back in 1989.
In this installment we discuss the game design industry in general with the Sadler Brothers. We’ll talk about Adam and Brady’s experience in the industry and how they started out. With that, I would like to introduce:
The Sadler Brothers
I had the honour to speak with Adam and Brady Sadler. The Sadler Brothers have over a decade of experience in the game design industry. Together, Adam and Brady have worked in several areas of the industry including: freelance writing, R&D, and design.
Often working together, they have been credited on several titles including: Descent, Twilight Imperium, X-Wing Miniatures Game, Warhammer Quest: Adventure Card Game, and many more.
Adam and Brady are currently pursuing careers outside of the game design industry, they have left a lasting mark and have contributed to the entertainment of many people.
How did you get started in the industry? What inspired you to start designing board games?
BRADY: I started writing for games when I finished up my creative writing degree at Purdue. My first gig out of school was freelance writing for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with Fantasy Flight Games. After working on a couple projects with FFG, I was brought on full-time as a marketing copywriter, and after a year in that role (during which Adam joined the company as well) I moved over to R&D as a creative content developer. I actually didn’t start designing games until after leaving FFG—that’s when I started tinkering around with my own game systems. Adam and I designed our first game together (Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game) for FFG after we had both left the company, so we kind of came around full circle—also, ironically, Warhammer is what got us into the hobby as fans, so it was pretty poetic that our first published game was a Warhammer game!
ADAM: I designed my first board game while I was working at a puzzle and game design studio in college. The company needed a design for a game based on the Avatar movie. I was working as a graphic design intern, but I mentioned that I played a lot of tabletop games and that I could give it a shot. Along with my manager, Tom Mason, I took my first shot at designing a game and thought it came pretty naturally. After, I graduated from college, I applied for an Associate Game Producer at Fantasy Flight Games where Brady was working in the marketing department. I worked on a few big titles, including a Twilight Imperium expansion, before I was asked to step up as the lead designer on the second edition of Descent. It was quite a big deal for me, because the first edition of Descent was my introduction to FFG. After a few years, I decided to leave the company and move back to Indiana, where Brady and I continued to design games on our own for several years.
What type of games did you grow up playing? Did these have an influence on games you’ve contributed to in your careers?
ADAM: HeroQuest was the big one for sure. We always played the classic games like Sorry and Battleship when we were very young, but HeroQuest really opened our eyes to what could be experienced on the tabletop. From there, Warhammer dominated my table for most of my teenage years. I have very fond memories of assembling and painting miniatures with my friends as we planned our next big battle. I still love Warhammer to this day. I actually just finished painting up my Voidscarred Corsairs for Kill Team.
BRADY: Early on, we played a lot of the classics, like Monopoly, Risk, and stuff like that. As a kid I was very partial to the game Clue—something about wandering around a mansion trying to solve a murder really excited me. However, it was HeroQuest that left the biggest impression on both of us as young gamers. We didn’t play any Dungeons & Dragons as kids, so HeroQuest was a revelation for us. We spent so much time playing that game, and I used the “make your own quest” feature quite a bit to make our own adventures.
If you had the opportunity to work on any existing board game, what would it be, and why?
BRADY: This is a tough question, because I feel like Adam and I have done everything we wanted to in the tabletop world. After making so many games, I don’t think there’s an existing game right now that I would want to work on (or wished I had worked on). We’re lucky in the sense that we spent about 3 years making whatever games we wanted as our full-time jobs. I think we got our fill.
ADAM: I’ll have to agree with Brady in that we were very lucky in the opportunities we found during our time in the industry. Our first published co-design was Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game, a game based on my absolute favorite IP from my childhood. What a way to start a career! We do still have a few ideas we’d like to try out someday though, and we may have something new coming up in the near future.
Can you explain a little bit about your design process for the games you’ve worked on?
ADAM: We usually start off with a lot of phone calls when one of us has a random idea and needs to pitch it to the other. However, we try to get things mocked up as quick as possible to try to get something working as quickly as possible. Getting something to the table is the biggest hurdle.
BRADY: For almost all of our designs, we always tend to kick off the process by just having long discussions about the vision of the game and how it fits into the intended market/fan base. Ideally we can make a one page vision document detailing the game concept and its key selling points. From there, we just dig in and try to get something playable as soon as possible. Like most creative endeavours, failing fast is key—get something to the table so you can start the iteration process, which is the bulk of game design.
What were the most notable games that you worked on and what made these games memorable to you?
BRADY: For me, personally, I would have to say Street Masters is one of our keystone games—it launched an entire series of games that followed the card-driven, tactical gameplay that we built with Street Masters. Also, it is the one game we designed that I have played the most just for fun.
ADAM: I think our first game, Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game, will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only do I love the theme, but it was a huge learning experience for us and we discovered how to work effectively together on a contracted design.
What genre has been the most enjoyable for you to work on, does this also translate to your favourite genre to play?
ADAM: I’m always partial to dice. I enjoy the tactile feel of rolling dice in a game, but I don’t always enjoy pure randomness. So, we always try to include various ways to mitigate or enhance dice results in our games.
BRADY: I tend to enjoy card games mostly, so naturally most of our games have pretty involved card mechanics. Ironically, I don’t think I enjoy designing card games, because they have a ton of effects that are all interdependent on intricate rules. But, that’s what inspires me, so it always sneaks its way into our games.
There are several titles for which you are both credited. Have you always worked together on games? What has it been like working together, and how has it affected your relationship?
BRADY: When it comes to game design, we’ve always collaborated. There have been a few projects we have both worked on independently, but usually in specific capacities—writer, developer, or producer. But with game design, we’ve almost always worked as a team. Since we’re twin brothers, we’re used to petty bickering, so any professional conflicts we have had were usually just resolved by yelling at each other until we got bored and moved on.
ADAM: I think the only big game design project I worked on without Brady was Descent Second Edition. He was involved in some content development later in the project, but he was still working in marketing when I started the design. From that experience, I learned that I didn’t have much desire to design games on my own. I enjoy both the process and the result of our collaborations.
You both have worked in the industry for over a decade, what significant changes have there been in the industry in that time?
BRADY: It seemed like we got involved in the hobby professionally right when a big tabletop gaming renaissance was happening, so it felt like we got in on the ground floor. While at FFG, we saw a rise in popularity with licensed properties being turned into very successful board games. Then when we left FFG we saw the massive rise in crowdfunding, which led to our time with Blacklist Games. Currently, it seems like the industry isn’t slowing down (even though we may be, haha). Outside of market trends, there’s been a welcome change in the social elements of gaming, with a big push for inclusivity and diversity.
It’s my understanding that you’re both leaving the board game industry. What has contributed to this decision?
BRADY: While we may continue working on projects in a freelance capacity, I think we both have done everything we have wanted to with our professional careers in the tabletop world. I never say never when it comes to future opportunities, but we are both currently enjoying a much better work/life balance with our respective career paths. I think it’s safe to say that we both are content just enjoying games for a while instead of worrying about making them.
ADAM: As Brady said, we got to a point where we accomplished all of our professional goals as game designers and had to decide what we wanted to do next. I’ve always had an interest in computers and technology so I decided to finally pursue it professionally. I’m now working full-time as an iOS Developer and I get to have games as a hobby again. I’m loving it so far, but don’t be surprised if you see another Sadler design out there in the future.
Do you have any advice for anyone just starting out in board game design?
BRADY: It’s easy to get discouraged when designing games, since a lot of it is not as fun as actually playing games. But it’s important to remember that making terrible games is always part of the process of making a good game. Keep iterating and always focus on finding the fun, regardless of how “clever” the game is.
ADAM: There is no right way to design a game. Much like other creative endeavors, game design can be an ugly process and you will probably play several iterations that may not be very fun. Playtesting is a major part of the process and don’t be afraid to cut out your favorite parts of a design if it leads to a more fun experience for the players. Think about what you like best about your favorite games and let that inspire your own designs.
I want to thank you both for your time and for your contribution to the game design industry. Games are an amazing way of bringing people together and have a great impact on people’s lives. The work you’ve done has made the world a better place.
ADAM: Thank you so much!
BRADY: Thank you! It’s always great to hear that people enjoy your creative efforts. We appreciate the support!
Checkout Adam and Brady’s profiles on BoardGameGeek to see a full list of the titles they’ve contributed to.