The Challenges of Communication (Or Why Seeing Other’s POV Can Prevent A Snowy Death)

As simple as this sounds, it’s really humbling to me how often I realize what I am missing from another person’s perspective, even when they are doing something that will further my business. I have tried to mitigate that in myself by experiencing each part of the board game process. That desire to see all parts of our industry has taken me from China to Comic Cons. I have worked for an Etsy store doing their shipping logistics, and volunteered for other publishers as a demoer. I want to know what the board game experience is from all sides. I do this partly because I love learning. But the other reason is far more pragmatic, and can be illustrated by one moment in Greenbrier’s history.

Once upon a time long long ago (maybe 2013) we at Greenbrier Games commissioned an art piece for a holiday card. We had done this the previous year with Zpocalypse and our zombie Santa brought amusement to our backers. However, this year we had published Ninja Dice and we were working on Yashima, so we wanted something with a more universal appeal. We reached out to one of our artists for Yashima. He is extremely talented, and a native to China. We asked for an image of “snow falling on ninjas”. He asked us if we wanted to give him any more direction than that, and we said… “No we trust your artistic ability, have fun with it.” This is what we got:

We got Snow…felling Ninjas. 


This is my very favorite translation mistake we’ve ever made. To be fair, the artist knew our brand, and that the horror genre is our jam. He asked for clarification. We did some hand waving at him and, because of our lackadaisical attention to detail in this case, paid for two art pieces.


So here is the takeaway I got from that exchange. First, it is ok to be clear to the point of redundancy in your directions when working with a contractor. This is true for any conversation between publishers, designers, artists, writers, graphic designers, manufacturers, retailers – you get the idea. I would rather be thought of as pedantic than have someone make a several hundred to thousand dollar mistake because I didn’t have the time to write a clarifying email. Secondly, lost in translation is a real thing. Take the time to go over your communications when talking to someone from another country, even if they are fluent in your language or you are fluent in theirs. Simplify your words, ask them to repeat what they think you asked for and repeat back what you think THEY are asking for. It is not condescending, it is respecting that translation on top of creative interpretation is an added challenge. The adage is “Walk a mile in another’s shoes…” I don’t know if everyone can do that, but the next time you are talking to someone who is working on your project, give it a try. It could save you some time and money in the long run.