Robert Newton: A Designer Driven to Go the Distance

Shuffle Grand Prix and life are all about the thrill of the ride- not just the destination!

Robert Newton: A Designer Driven to Go the Distance

Robert Newton didn’t set out to be a tabletop game inventor.  In fact, he had relatively little exposure to tabletop games at all.  As a kid growing up in a Colorado suburb, he’d occasionally play classics like Scrabble, Monopoly and Yahtzee, but it wasn’t until years later when he’d discover his love for designing.

Post-college, a friend encouraged Newton, a bourgeoning software engineer, to venture into video game production.  The pair began Coin Flip Games as a side business.  Shuffle Grand Prix, an early game under development, drew inspiration from cult favorite Mario Kart by Nintendo.  As Newton and his partner iterated, they discovered it was easier to make changes to their software by manipulating a physical copy of the game.  “We ended up using cards to calculate probability or to figure out problems we were having.”  While Newton loved working on the puzzle pieces of designing, the duo’s hobby was consuming a lot of time and energy, so the pair decided to shelve the project and part ways.

Shortly after, a move to Pennsylvania opened Robert’s eyes to the modern tabletop scene as new friends introduced him to Catan.  “I didn’t even know those types of games existed,” Robert says.

One evening, after expressing his desire to resuscitate Shuffle Grand Prix, Newton’s girlfriend suggested he transform the game from video console to tabletop.  So, Robert got to work transitioning Coin Flip into an independently run tabletop game studio.  While the game’s focus was on the players’ unique abilities and specialties, it felt like something was missing.  Newton had never played D&D, but decided to attend a D&D workshop at Gen Con that discussed writing backstories for characters.  It was then he knew he needed to flesh out the theme and work on the game’s drivers.  It was an organic progression, Robert reflects, “The name of the player specialty became who you were, and it made sense to tie the abilities to specific characters so it would inform what the drivers do in the game.”   Emma, the innovative engineer, and Slingshot, the reckless rocketeer, were the first characters to be developed.  Fan-favorite Noodle the cat came last.  “It was 2 a.m. and my cat was scratching the wood floors in our apartment, and that’s how one of Noodle’s ability cards came about.”

When asked which driver is his personal favorite, Robert hesitates because he has “[…] a soft spot for all of them,” but admits his fondness for Romero, the Hacker, because like his software engineer inventor, he has an inclination for coding.

Newton knew he would need some stellar artwork to bring the game to life, so he set out to find an illustrator to convey the comic book style he desired.  Browsing online forums like Twitter and Reddit led to his discovery of designer Ruwen Liu of Sizigi Studios, and the art style for their game, Cake Duel.  Newton credits the studio for not only the illustrations, but also valuable feedback on game play and mechanics.

Although his original intent was to self-publish, Newton ultimately decided he would much rather focus his efforts on solving puzzles and creating activities than worrying about business operations.   For Newton, Games by Bicycle seemed like a natural partnership because “They have the reach, and I knew they would be able to get the game in front of a wider audience.”  When asked if there was one thing he would want people to know about inventing a game, it is that, “For every character, ability, card or idea I had in the creation of Shuffle Grand Prix, there were 20 others that just didn’t work.”

Newton is persistent.  While he has experienced many setbacks, he maintains he actually enjoys failure.   For Newton, Shuffle Grand Prix, design and life in general are all about the thrill of the ride, not just the destination.

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