Phil has a great origin story because it is one that represents what it’s like for most designers to make it in the industry. His most popular game, Sushi Go!, has sold over a million copies and has been translated into 20 languages. Phil specializes in games that are easy to learn, and that can be played by people of all ages. In the Think Like A Game Designer course, I often use Phil’s games like Gizmos and Sushi Go!, as examples of elegant distillations of core principles. There are some amazing lessons in this episode—Enjoy!

“My style is accessibility at all cost”

When teaching game design, I often talk about how important it is to distill the core mechanic of your game. Finding a core mechanic will help you hone in on where you can cut from your game and what you can add or change to improve it. In this first part of the podcast, Phil tells his origin story and then digs into his style of game design, which revolves around making a core principle as visible and unadorned to players as possible. Essentially, his games focus on the core mechanic as the game itself.

“Within a few years, I had a few more little self-published products out there […] over time I became slightly more well known and would get the odd email from a publisher— just slowly building a presence.”

The classic process for becoming a game designer is really about putting stuff out there, building relationships, getting feedback, and repeating as you continue to improve your artform. In many ways, Phil embodies this cycle. As we continue with Phil’s origin story he discusses the point where his design processes started to speed up. That moment was when he started connecting with other designers, getting feedback, and talking games with his peers.

“Self-publishing was really just a means to an end back then. I think I always wanted to be a designer and not a publisher.”

Phil and I spend some time discussing Sushi Go! which is one of the games I use as an example of a well-executed and elegant core mechanic in the Think Like A Game Designer Mastery Course. Here we talk all about how Phil created the game, tested it, and then ended up publishing it. He also goes on to discuss what led him away from self-publishing. This choice between self-publishing and using a publisher is a decision that nearly all new game designers will have to answer.