Beau Johnson

Today we are featuring Beau Johnson, co-designer of Gem Cataclysm. Beau lives in Seattle, and is married to Nicolette Butler (who is the co-creator of Very Best Friend Games and Gem Cataclysm). They have been together since 2011 and have a wonderful cat named Penguin. During the day, Beau is an IT Support Specialist and has been working with computers since he was 5. He got into board games after playing Ticket to Ride, and now has a collection of 200+ games and expansions.


  • Beau tried to apply for a “nerd/geek” reality show, but didn’t get any farther than the second call back – the show ultimately was looking for larpers when he saw it on ABC later.

  • He worked at Wizards of the Coast for 6 months as a game support representative, which is just a fancy way of saying "rules lawyer, over the phone or email". He went 0-4 in the internal pre-release for Avacyn Restored, since he played against mostly MtG Hall of Famers in R&D.

  • Beau has a huge fear of liquid around board games from an old friend that destroyed a fresh out of the box Settlers of Catan in his early board gaming days. He usually doesn't care about it much these days, or around his prototypes since he'll just print a new set of cards.

Questions by Kimberly Revia (KR), answers by Beau Johnson (BJ).


KR: Are there any game mechanics that you really enjoy designing around?

BJ: In our first game Gem Cataclysm, we have Commodity Speculation - and it's always an interesting time. I like the way that a game can have a different tone each time you play it and players shift in strategies as they play and in their experiences. Medici is a game that I love and it's funny to explain to someone "Well, what do you think it's worth?" - but the commodities are only one part of that since the players have the other part of the dynamic. Guessing if a player willing to ride out a betting game of chicken and see if that commodity is really worth that much to you.

KR: What part of the design process is the most enjoyable for you?

BJ: Watching the game come together is the most rewarding. Most people get that satisfaction of positive feedback, but I find the negative parts of the feedback the most interesting and will talk with those people more. It helps build a game, and usually the feedback streamlines or re-enforces parts of the game making it stronger. At Pax 2018, a guy was play-testing my game and had a bad time playing with his friends (They both played super aggressive to his moves and attempts). At the end, I asked "What do you think of the game?" and he said "I @#$% hate this game!". I asked him why, and he gave me great feedback and even better ways to play test the game. His feedback has resonated more than anyone that gave me glowing, positive notes.

KR: If you could co-design a game with any one designer, who would you choose?

BJ: The people that made Dark Tower, since I'm pretty sure they were ahead of their time. They had to be time travelers from an awesome time in board games. It's one of those mythical games that is read about and seen in rarity, and is just beckons you to play it when you do find it. The art is some is some of my favorite of any board game, and evokes the feeling of an epic journey. The board is massive, and lets you know you're not going anywhere for a while. The tower is the most intense part of it. It holds all of the mystery of cogs, lights and a speaker - will that door creak open and give you treasure or will a trumpet play out, bringing down brigands to decimate your forces?


KR: What hobbies do you enjoy outside of board games?

BJ: I like video games where I'm building a city or designing a mall - creating something is more fun than a FPS or a MOBA to me. It's making something that usually what draws me in - I've logged hundreds of hours in Starbound and Minecraft. Beyond that, we have annual board game days with family and I am currently hosting PlaytestNW events at Seattle's Mox Boarding house every second Saturday.

KR: What does your ideal game night look like?

BJ: A game of ( Rising Sun / The Networks / El Grande ) to start the night, and Dixit to have a fun dive into people's imaginations.

KR: What are you looking forward to playing at Stumptown Game Summit?

BJ: I'm looking forward to actually meet up with most of the Portland people that come up to Seattle for conventions, and meet them in their neighborhood for once. As for the games, XO by Matt Jacobs and Bee Boppin' by Alice Davis.

If you would like to find out more about Beau or what he is up to click on the links below!

Twitter: VBFGames


Facebook: VeryBestFriendGames