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Lewis Shaw (Brain Crack Games)

Industry Spotlight & Top Ten Games - Lewis Shaw, Designer

I grew up an avid - whisper it - video gamer. I sunk months of my life into an array of mostly single-player games. A relative introvert, it was a miracle that I ever did get involved in the hobby. As I imagine was the case with many others, it literally took an evangelical friend to come over, set up a copy of Betrayal on my coffee table and patiently walk me through it before I twigged that this is actually an enjoyable way to spend time.

It didn’t take long for me to (maybe overconfidently) decide that I had what it takes to make board games myself. I didn’t have the funds to sit and play through the BGG Top 100, so I relied on a trial-and-error approach of replicating what I found fun in video games. Some things translate well, while others - like my favourite past time of spending a 5-hour gaming session wandering idly around a open-world sandbox - didn’t.

These early attempts snowballed, and the rest is a bit of a blur. Braincrack Games launched, as did Downsize on Kickstarter - raising a noble £31k with a campaign page that would honestly crash and burn if I launched it again today. Four more successful campaigns (and one failure), three UKGE appearances, 3 trips to Essen and 3 years later, we’re still at it, and going strong.

Our latest game, Ragusa, a Eurogame by the wonderful Fabio Lopiano, hits shelves this August.

My Top 10 Games (in no particular order!)

  1. Quadropolis - Often when you’re in the initial stages of designing a game, you might pick a few mechanics and try to integrate them with one another in a new way. While it pales in comparison to games like Suburbia in the city-building stakes, Quadropolis blends its mechanics beautifully to become far more than the sum of its parts. It makes it look easy.
  2. Nmbr 9 - Abstracts don’t usually do so well commercially - because most people don’t think they like them. The genius of Nmbr 9 is that it sells itself on an abstract that people don’t realise they like: Tetris. While it’s by no means an adaptation, it’s got the same simple rules, and seemingly infinite possibilities that will see every player make something different out of the same available tiles.
  3. Reef - Reef is another abstract, but instead of a ‘take it slow and think it through’ style, it creates this arcade-like feeling of combos, rhythms and bright colours that is really a lot more than it seems at first glance - and I always enjoy watching people’s reactions as they go from being unsure about what this is to ‘can we go again?’
  4. Sub Terra - Sub Terra is easily one of the most thematic games available right now - the rules are easy to follow, but more importantly there’s nothing abstract in them. Everything you can do - or the cave does, or the horrors who are chasing you towards the exit - is literal, and it makes for unforgettable games that really feel like watching a film with your friends.
  5. Wibbell++ - If you like word games, but you don’t own Wibbell++, you’ve made an error. This is a deck of cards that - like regular playing cards - offer a wealth of games to play with the two letters, a number, and a border on each card. The genius is that these games aren’t just about knowing the best and biggest words - there are party games, dexterity games and even non-word games that you can pick from depending on who you’re playing with.
  6. Railroad Ink - Roll and write games are admittedly having a moment, but I think Railroad Ink’s success is down to it being emblematic of the genre - a real gateway game that’s a great showpiece for when you want to convince your friends that board games aren’t just metal pieces on a Monopoly board, and even more importantly - that trains can be fun!
  7. In a Bind / Yogi - In a Bind (now sold as Yogi) is like the stab-proof vest of my board game collection, insofar as I will put it in front of anyone who says board games aren’t fun, just to prove them wrong. Drunk people, children, grandparents - all of them have fallen to this Twister-in-a-deck of cards.
  8. Honshu - Man, I love tile-laying games - and despite not having a tile in sight (although the sequel, Hokkaido, has a few little ones) Honshu is king of the hill. It takes every aspect of what I like about them, and puts a twist on it. One tile? How about six at a time? What will you sacrifice in your tableau when you place it? How can you compare two cards, when you can do seemingly infinite things with them? Argh. I love it. Can we play it now?
  9. Ragusa - It’s a cliché to put your own games in a top ten list, but I’m about to do it - twice. I will sit and play Ragusa with anyone who asks, whether I’m wearing a branded t-shirt or not. I will try my hardest to win, and probably still lose, because while Ragusa is pretty simple to learn - we’ve played it with actual children before - it presents a quickly shifting challenge.
  10. Dead & Breakfast - I sometimes wish someone else published Dead & Breakfast, because I want it to have been one of the gateway games that got me into the hobby. It’s affordable, easy to learn, and hard to beat - and pretty cute, if you ask me. It’ll be a long time before it comes off of our playlist.


You can find out more about Lewis and Braincrack Games on their website.

(Article published 30/07/19)

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