David Miller

Today’s featured designer is David Miller, of the Mint Tin series of games, a lot of game in a little mint tin.  He is also the owner of Subquark, the company which publishes the Mint Tin series. David is a future attendee at Granite Game Summit. He resides in beautiful Portsmouth, NH, and enjoys spending time with an adorable pug named Artemus.


Three random facts about David:

  • He was a State of Texas Firefighter and Paramedic while in college.
  • Thanks to Jimmy Carter's Olympic boycott, he is not an poor or out-of-work fencing instructor.
  • He talks in his sleep, in French . . . with a Texas twang!


Questions by Kimberly Bullock (KB), answers by David Miller (DM)


Three game design related questions:


KB: What inspired you to create complete games that fit into a mint tin?

DM: I was intimidated by offshore manufacturing logistics and I wanted to have closer oversight of game manufacturing. There aren't many domestic game manufacturers so we decided to do it all ourselves.

A big challenge to this, is the game box. Having them made in the US is expensive so we looked at existing containers. We were looking for an alternative to use for a "big box" game and stumbled across food containers.

Later, while at a local Mexican restaurant, we thought it would be nice to have a game as an alternative to anti-social cell phone usage while waiting for lunch.

Small and portable, and mint tins seemed ideal.

Not so small trivia: Over the last 18 months, we've had 40,000 dice and 90,000 meeples in our house.


KB: Is there an order of operations you follow when designing a game?

DM: First, it's theme - I like over-used movie themes. They're a shared experience and also challenging. To pull it off in a way that people can engage their own imaginations yet be in a well-established framework is rewarding.

I also love the logistics of trying to pack a tin with as much value as possible. Game components are a big part of that. Of course game play is the most important thing and it becomes a balance of what will fit and how well that supports the game's mechanics.

Then mechanics - what can I do for this theme using these types of components. This is where most of the time is spent. "Instead of cubes, how about coins?" and "20 cubes would be great but they won't fit, maybe a card with a tracking graphic".

Mechanics is giant and once that's close, we get our editor to help create instructions. She's awesome and way more than an editor in this process. If it won't work written out, then it won't work for others.

Following this is play testing. First with family and that can take a long time. Then blind play testing with online friends. People I've never met in person but that I have a relationship with. That way they don't worry too much about hurting my feelings and I can't talk them through it.

Throughout this are graphics and thoughts about the box (tin). For Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse, I designed and had 3D printed a pair of stainless steel plates to emboss the lids using an arbor press in the basement. 4,000 lids . . .

Refining based on blind play testing feedback, more play testing, more refining, and then reviewers.

If that's all good, lining up vendors and getting their stock levels is key to home assembly and on-time rewards. We bought out all blue dice from Chessex twice! That was stressful.

Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse speaks well to this process. Lots of components, including using the tin, a good game mechanic (head-to-head Craps), and a well-worn theme.

I judge success not by how well the Kickstarter did (that's based a lot on hype), but how often people share their fun with me. Even after 8 months, there are usually a few pictures a week on Twitter of people playing it.


KB: Is there any large size game that you would love to streamline and add to your series? Or one that you could at least be heavily inspired by?

DM: ZOMBALAMBA is a big box game I'd love to get out there. A hex-tiled game with a zillion zombie pawns. Who knows, it might end up in one of those "gripper" jars like you see peanuts sold in stores.

As to existing games, Ticket to Ride calls to me because Mint Tin Aliens is heavily based on it from a spreadsheet analysis I did of it. A tip on BoardGameGeek helped me resolve the first player advantage and that tip was for Ticket to Ride.

I have notes for Blarg, Blarg, Blarg  - Alien Dominion over Cheese! which uses Mint Tin Aliens as a prequel and that would be a big box game with some elements like in Ticket To Ride mashed up with Carcassonne.



Three questions that are just for fun:


KB: Is there any one game that you wouldn’t mind playing once a week, for the rest of your life?

DM: Dang, that's tough - something very open with little structure - Carcassonne maybe. I guess if I was a deserted island I'd want a deck of cards - it's possible to play so many things with them.


KB: What is your go-to snack when you are playing games?

DM: LOL, this will sound dumb - I love shrimp and cocktail sauce on family game nights. But Kate doesn't like her Dixit cards to smell!


KB: What is your favorite day trip to make?

DM: I'm a big homebody but I like going places my daughter's pug can go. This weekend we went to Mt. Agamenticus - so easy hikes within an hour's drive. She is a blast to watch on rocks, she embodies living in the moment with sheer joy and wonder.