Today on Go Forth And Game I sit down (so to speak) with Danny Devine, the designer of Mob Town, a fantastic game from 5th Street Games. Danny’s a fun guy and we had an entertaining conversation. I hope you enjoy it.
Tom: Ok Danny, usually you get asked about your gamer history. Let’s do something a little different. Can you talk about one, single standout gaming moment you’ve had? Something that just sticks in your mind.
Danny: Shortly after getting the Resistance Avalon, my gaming group and I became hooked on it. It pretty much makes an appearance at every meeting now. If you have played it before, you know how tough it is to trust your friends the next time you play. In one particular game my friend Mike and I were the traitors, we not only lost hard-core, but we were totally off on guessing which of them was Merlin. It was bad. After their laughter subsided we shuffled the cards and played again. The second game, Mike and I were the traitors, again! 2 games in a row, same traitors? Unheard of, it just doesn’t happen (ok, statistically I’m aware it happens, let me tell the story!). It was fate, we had to win. I made a bold move and threw Mike under the bus, claiming to have heard him giggle when the traitors were revealed to each other (he really did giggle so it was easy). This team of do gooders was so focused on Mike that I blended right in with them, it was the best bluffing I have ever done in my life. Final round came up, I was first picked as defiantly trustworthy (the fools!) and proudly failed the mission shocking the good guys and claiming sweet, sweet vengeance. Of course my friends don’t trust me anymore, but I would say it was worth it! Wouldn’t you?
Tom: That’s a good story. The Resistance is a fun game that I stink at. I can never determine who is bluffing. I haven’t played the Avalon version but I hear it’s the best.
Danny: I have only played a PNP version of the original so I don’t think its a fair comparison. Regardless, I fully vouch for Avalon.
Tom: I played a prototype version of Mob Town and thought it was pretty good. It has a lot more depth than the theme would suggest. Tell us about the game. How does the game work?
Danny: Mob Town is an area control game for 2-4 players that plays in about 40 minutes. Players compete to earn the most points by taking over properties like Hotels, Factories and Theaters on a board that is dynamically built every round using a deck of cards and a unique map building mechanic. Players gather cards like Rats, Snakes, Foxes, Weasels and Sharks which allow them to take specific properties. For example, Restaurants can be taken over by Sharks and/or Rats. Play continues until the Law cards is drawn (this is shuffled into the bottom 10 cards of the main deck) when that shows up the round is over! Add up points you earned from properties you control and any hidden agendas you completed. Build a new town and start over, after 3 rounds the player with the most points is the winner.
Tom: The mapping/building of the town each round is fantastic. So much replayability there. The game works so well with a broad range of ages. We’ve had gamers from 11 to 50 so far. All success. It is so fun that I requested PNP copies of the expansions (as you know) so that we could try them. They add SO much to the game that gamers are going to love.
Danny: Thanks Tom, glad to hear you are enjoying the expansion as well, we had a lot of fun trying to figure out ways to shake up the base game and create more variety.
Tom: The art for Mob Town is great. And look the artist is you! Do you have a formal art background? Are there any other arty things you have done that we can see/might know?
Danny: Thank you! Art is my main passion, and it has always gone hand in hand with game design. One of the first “games” I remember “making” when I was a kid, was hiding action figures in my backyard, having my sister and neighborhood friends go find them, whichever toy they found first, I would draw a picture of it for them
(if any publishers are interested in this gem, please email me and we can talk). Graphic Design and Illustration are my career and has always been a main focus for me. Currently I work at a large gaming company where I do artwork for Slot Machines, I’m really good at drawing 7s, Bars and Cherries! As far as where to see more of my art goes I have a website and a DeviantArt page but they tend to pretty outdated, I really need to find time to post more. Most of the stuff I work on these days is for games I’m designing or for freelance clients. I’m just now getting in to the board game scene, so hopefully you will see more of my art showing up in other games soon :)
Tom: I really think you’re on the cusp of getting a lot of game work, Danny. The humor in the game is fantastic too.
Danny: Thanks, so far I have done some work for Sizzlemoth Games and Rob Couch from the Building the Game Podcast. Right now its all Mob Town and Ghosts Love Candy, so it may be a bit before I am available, but it never hurts to ask :)
Tom: Do you have a favorite design element/mechanic? And which comes first for you Theme or Mechanic.
Danny: At some point I am going to design a game without cards or set collection, but those are my go to for designing and will probably be a part of the majority of my games. Theme or Mechanic, the question to end all questions. I’m going to be a complete pain and say…both. I have designed games from both foundations and they both work well for me. Mob Town was definitely started with mechanics and rapidly developed a theme through early testing. Other games like Ghosts Love Candy (Kickstarter in June from 5th Street Games) a game based around Halloween, was Theme first allowing the mechanics to flow from what I wanted player to do.
Tom: I agree. It depends on the game. I have a couple in the works that started as mechanics and I have a couple where the theme came first. Your point of designing from both foundations is spot on. If you are able to marry the theme and the mechanics the game is so much better for it.
I would love to get in on some playtesting for Ghosts by the way.
Danny: I am hoping to post a new PnP in the next couple of months, and would love to shoot it your way as soon as its ready. If you want more info and a look at an older PnP you can check out my design thread for the game on BGG. As soon as I get a foothold on the art for Mob Town, I plan on posting info as it comes in on that thread for GLC.
Tom: Playtesting. Everyone knows that it is essential for a successful game. How do you do it? Walk us through your process. (And can I get in on some of that?)
Danny: I start with a lot of self playtesting, I play the game simulating multiple players to the best of my ability as much as possible to work out the really obvious kinks. After that, I put a little bit of polish into some simple artwork before taking it to other players. I find that even a basic level of art helps players really get into a prototype.
Tom: Absolutely. Daniel Solis and Grant Rodiek have some advice about prototypes and art all new game designers should check out.
The next step is something not everyone has, and I am truly blessed to be apart of. I have an AMAZING group of friends at work that not only love playing board games at lunch and during our monthly game night, but are completely willing to test and help me develop my games during that time. Mob Town and Ghosts Love Candy would not have happened without them and their willingness to be honest and extremely helpful with ideas. Among that group I have players that love confrontation, players that avoid it, players that quietly gather points, and players that develop unexpected strategies. So many personality types in one game really help you to see strengths and weaknesses in places you didn’t know existed.
I have only been seriously designing and playing board games for about a year and a half now so I am still working on growing my network of designer friends and playtesters.
Tom: That’s an awesome resource. You are right that having many different player types/personalities to throw a game at is extremely helpful. And a group that will tell it like it is. We are both blessed by that.
Danny: I design games that I would want to play and base it around themes I think it would be fun to do the art for. I also prefer to play games that are under an hour and a generally easy to play and teach, so I strive for that in my designs as well.
Tom: That’s a very standard answer it seems. And I think probably the best one. I appreciate your striving for game play under an hour and I think it will do well for you. And thank you for that nice segue to the next question…
Lewis Pulsipher, over on his blog stated that “We’re obviously moving towards simpler and shorter games.” Would you agree or disagree with this? Why? BTW, you should follow his blog. Fantastic gaming advice.
Danny: It certainly seems that way. I think it has to do with the fact that the gaming hobby is finding a new audience that didn’t exist 5 years ago. We live in a time where everything is now! Watching TV with commercials is crazy talk now, and something my 2 year son will never understand. Having a quick game that sets up easily, is easy to teach and play with new people before they lose interest and grab their phones is a huge draw. Gamers have way more options now to teach non gamers, and I think most would agree that straight out the gate you have a better shot of Love Letter or Coloretto sticking with a non gamer than Agricola or Power Grid. From a marketing standpoint, smaller games tend to be cheaper to produce, cheaper to buy and easier to find a wider audience for.
Tom: Your point about the new audience is a valid one I believe. I think also that more gamers are reaching out to non-gamers and are using just the type of games that you mentioned. I’ve set up a couple of game nights at my church and I always bring out No Thanks and The Great Heartland Hauling Company. Daniel keeps a copy of Sushi Go in his back pocket I think. He loves that game.
Today’s hectic pace tends to slip into boardgaming too. We want to get as much gaming goodness into our game time as possible. Shorter games allow that.
And certainly the marketing/sales/production aspect has to play into this.
Kickstarter – we’re several years in now. Is it hurting or helping gaming?
Danny: I have heard pros and cons from both sides, but for me the pros outweigh the cons. Kickstarter has opened the door to so many designers and publishers that otherwise would likely never succeed on their own. It allows people with a unique game idea a real chance at making their dream come true. It’s also increased the hobby as a whole. I think its safe to say that Kickstarter has helped create more gamers by simply helping to spread the awareness that there are so many options out there. The hobby goes well beyond the game aisle at Wal-Mart and more and more people are learning this through various means, Kickstarter being one of them. The main issue of Kickstarter would be the quality factor, I can think of 2 games off-hand that I backed and was disappointed in, but I can think of others I am truly thrilled to own and to have gotten in on the ground floor of (Flashpoint: Fire Rescue & Council of Verona!). Take time to look into what you’re backing read reviews and maybe try the PnP.
Kickstarter and The Game Crafter are the 2 sites that made me get serious about game design, and I don’t think I’m the only one.
Tom: So you’re saying a successful KS should have a PnP?
Danny: You can definitely succeed without one, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Offering a PnP is like giving out a free sample at the grocery store, if you’re afraid to share a piece of your product, how will people know if it’s for them or not? Most people are not going to take the time to assemble a full PnP, but giving them the option or at the very least a solid look at your game shows you believe in it enough to let them try it out right now. If people like what they see, they will likely want a fully produced version of the game or at the very least spread the word about it to others. If people don’t like the game, I would rather them discover that sooner than later. Not every game is for everyone, and thats ok.
Tom: What’s your favorite unpublished game right now or maybe who is your favorite game designer at the moment?
Danny: Probably, Flipped by Grant Rodiek. I only got to try it once so far, but I have been reading updates when he makes them. I think it has some clever spins on worker placement and a unique theme that just screams Euro, flipping properties for profit!
Tom: I’ve seen Grant posting some about Flipped. I need to check into that.
Danny: My favorite Designer, thats a tough one. Probably Matt Leacock simply due to the fact that man has Co-Op games down to a science, I have enjoyed every game I’ve played of his so far and whenever I attempt a Co-Op game I’ll say to myself “Nope, not as fun as Pandemic, this need work.”
Tom: What are you currently playing the most?
Danny: Marvel Legendary mostly due to the fact that I am currently in a Solo Marvel Legendary League on BGG. People sign up, everyone is given identical random scenarios each week and we compete for high score.
I also received The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game recently and am really enjoying it so far.
Tom: I want to try PACG out. Some friends like it so I think I will too.
Danny: It’s a solid game, because of the way the adventures are set up though, ending a round does leave you with an empty feeling and you instantly want more!
Tom: Favorite game played in 2013?
Danny: %100 Love Letter, that game is amazing and the game to beat when designing a microgame.
Tom: I’m really in the minority on this one. I didn’t care for Love Letter. It’s ok but the adoration laddled on it is not really warranted I don’t think. (let the flames begin). I think it is hyped so much because it was the first ‘microgame’ that worked well and was picked up by a major company.
Everyone forgets that Cheapass has been making microgames for years. Granted, some of them aren’t super great. But most are solid games. We need to send James Ernest and Co. some thanks.
Danny: Fair enough, fair enough, like I said before, not every game is for everyone. Tom, I respect your opinion, even when its wrong :)
Danny: Trains by AEG. The theme sounded so boring. The game board looks boring? Why is this forest called a mountain? What cards do I get to start with? Normal trains, really? Three turns into my first game and it suddenly hit me, I am having so much fun! This game is so fluid and fast-moving I cannot believe this is what came out of that box! If it wasn’t for how much I have played Love Letter, this game would be best of 2013. Didn’t see it coming.
Tom: I need to play this. Again, friends are saying good things about it.
Danny: Warning! Trains will add so much dust to your Dominion box…
Tom: Once again my minority badge comes out. I HATE Dominion. Never owned. Never will.
Do you see any trends in the gaming industry that you would like to bring up? Microgames? More POD? Anything?
Danny: Microgames definitely feel like a trend right now, I’m pretty sure thats going to dominate Kickstarter this year.
I would love to say POD is going to pick up, because I love the Game Crafter and I think they do great work, but it has some flaws holding it back. It’s still pretty expensive to get games from them, they are making it better all the time, but it’s not quite at a mass market level. The site is filled to the brim with really amateur looking games that make it really hard for the good ones to rise to the top, again they are trying to improve that, but the fact that anyone can sell a game there is definitely a double-edged sword.
Tom: I agree with all you said here. Microgames are a fad but will be a long fad. I really agree with you about The Game Crafter. One of the things that is great about them, anyone can ‘publish’ here, is also one of the things holding them back. There are a lot of amateurish looking games on the site. But there are a lot of really good games too. It’s just trying to figure out which ones they are is the problem.
Danny: The Dice Tower recently announced an affiliate that will be reviewing Game Crafter games pretty soon, that might help give the good ones a boost. Fingers crossed!
Tom: Excellent and needed. Wish I had thought of it.
What is next for you? What else is in the queue?
Danny: In June, 5th Street will be running a Kickstarter for my second game “Ghosts Love Candy”. It’s a 2-6 player game that runs about 20 minutes. Players are Ghosts with specific candy cravings and they frantically compete with each other to satisfy their sweet tooth by taking candy from unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. Really light-hearted and family friendly while having enough meat to satisfy the gamers out there as well.
Tom: What was the last good movie you saw? And the last bad movie?
Danny: I tell you, with a 2-year-old and limited free time, I don’t get many movies in these days.
Tom: I remember those days.
Danny:The last good one I watched was probably Pacific Rim, I realize the plot and character work are razor-thin, but it’s about giant Robots fighting Monsters! How can it get any better?
Tom: Oh, I need to see this.
Danny: The last bad one was on purpose, meaning we knew it was bad and wanted to watch it because of this. Watch this scene, if you don’t want to see the rest of that masterpiece then you probably have better things to do with your time than I do. I love a bad movie so much!
Tom: Is there a particular historical period or subject you feel is underrepresented in game themes?
Danny: Man, it feels like it’s all been covered at this point. I’m going to go with Dinosaurs, there are not enough awesome games about Dinosaurs. I wonder if Jurassic Park will just let me use their license, can I get Spielberg’s email address from you?
Tom: You’re right. We need more dinosaurs. Have you played Triassic Terror. I heard good things about it. How can people contact you? Are there any links you would like folks to visit?
Danny: You can follow me on Twitter @3ddevine or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom: Any final words?
Danny: Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview, and thank you to anyone that took the time to read it. Please check out the Kickstarter for Mob Town, its running now through March 9th. Thanks again Tom :)
Tom: Thank you for being my guest. Mob Town is an awesome game. I look forward to see and playing more from you.
You, dear readers, should go right now and back Mob Town. The cartoony exterior hides a devious heart. I’ve played Mob Town about 12 times in the last two weeks. It is that good. It is a FANTASTIC game that anyone can play and everybody but the most hardcore grognard will like. It’s funded so you’re not risking anything AND you will get what is going to be near the top of many Best of 2014 lists in December.