Stealing Home with Mike Mullins and Darrell Louder… A Conversation About Bottom of the 9th


With baseball season cranking up I thought it would be cool to re-post my interview with Mike & Darrell about their awesome baseball game, Bottom Of The Ninth.

Enjoy.

 

This inning I’m joined by Mike Mullins and Darrell Louder, co-designers of the home run Bottom Of The Ninth.  We talk about the game, Unpub news, and what’s coming up for them both. Batter up!

bot9aTom: Let’s just dive right in. Bottom of the 9th. There’s an origin story there. Tell it.

Darrell: It all started with the KickStarter booth at PAX East 2014. They were giving away D6s that had a KickStarter K in place of the 6. I snagged 2 of them. Rolling them around throughout the day, I kept trying to think of a small game that could be played with them- being the Ks were on them the first thing I thought of was baseball (K means Strike out, 3 strikes, in Baseball). Mike Mullins was up at PAX with me, we were running the Unpub booth, and I told him of the idea I had- he and I then built the game and together we have made it evolve into what it is now. It really is a co-designed title and I’m damn proud of the work we put into it.

Tom: Talk about the game play some.

Mike: The gameplay is broken down into four phases, each designed to replicate some facet of the pitcher/batter duel. First is the Staredown, in which the batter tries to figure out where the pitcher is going to pitch in order to obtain bonus abilities. This is more than simply guessing high/low and inside/outside, because the batter is aware of the pitcher’s most powerful pitch, and the pitcher has to manage the fatigue track. Next, the pitcher rolls the dice to throw a pitch, using any abilities available to reroll or modify the result. The batter then does the same to try and either hit a ball in the strike zone, or lay off a bad pitch. Finally, if the batter does manage to make contact, there is a real-time Run phase, where both players roll a bot9fsingle die repeatedly to try and get a 5 or 6, either throwing the batter out or reaching base safely.

Tom: The Kickstarter was a smashing success. That is fantastic. What’s next for it?

Darrell: Well the KickStarter paved the way for the base game and the first 2 expansions. So now Mike and I will be diving back into Bottom of the 9th here shortly, to finish up a few more expansions we have in mind.

Tom: Tell me about your artist.

Mike: Darrell and I tell anyone who will listen that we thought of Adam the minute we realized we had a real game on our hands, and never considered another artist. I first noticed his work on Council of Verona, and he’s only improved from there, showing off an ability to capture different aesthetics that truly enhance the game. On top of that, the Coin Age KS video is my favorite one of all time – how could anyone not want to work with that guy?

Tom: Adam is the Scott Almes of game artists I think. He’s everywhere now. Which is fantastic cause he is so good.  Darrell, you are you still an employee of DHMG? With the merger, how has your role changed?

Darrell: Actually, I am an employee of Panda Game Manufacturing, I am their pre-press analyst. With DHMG I am doing some freelance work. Mainly helping with graphic design as well as DHMG inventory and product support. My main day-to-day job though is with Panda, looking over the design of great games to approve them for the factory to print. I love it.

Tom: You’re living the dream, man. Any cool games you’ve seen that you can talk about?bot9g

Darrell: I just completed prepress work for a game called New Salem (Overworld Games), I haven’t played it but the artwork and design are very well done, which of course makes me want to play it.

Tom: Mike, what’s your ‘day job’?

Mike: I’m a stay at home dad of two great kiddos. AJ is 7, and Hannah is 4. You can see both of them in Bottom of the 9th!

Tom: That is awesome and a difficult job but so important. Thanks for doing that. And you have fantastic gaming buddies built-in. Sweet!  Darrell, Update us on Compounded. What’s going on with the Geiger expansion? Anything else in the works?

Darrell: Geiger is at the printers still, and progressing VERY nicely. We expect it to be boarded on a boat very soon (if not already, depending on when this article is released). We expect it to be back in stores late summer. As for what is in the works, there are some BIG things in store for the future of Compounded… REALLY BIG. Some I can’t talk about yet, others (expansions, dice game) I can tease. Just like I did. 🙂

Tom: Ooo, I’m very intrigued. No chance of a leak?

Mike: Darrell won’t even tell me about this, so good luck getting anything out of him.

Tom: Do either you have any designs in the works?

Mike: I’m stepping back from design to man the development desk for a while. I have a few games from friends in the industry to work on.

Tom: That’s very cool. Let’s talk about Unpub a bit. Unpub 5 had a new, larger venue in a new city. That change seems to have helped as 5 was HUGE! (relatively speaking). Something like 92 designers and over 1000 playtesters. As THE Unpub guy Darrell, that must make you feel pretty good?unpub

Darrell: Unpub 5 was amazing- the bar keeps being raised by all of those that attend. Unpub 6 is already getting prepped and we are continously trying to find new ways to pull in the public and ensure everyone has a good time.

Tom: You had a good Unpub team too. Give them some press.

Darrell: Oh man, where to begin. Everyone helped make Unpub 5 what it was, from the designers, to the play testers, to the people who blew off their scheduled meetings/conventions to come take part in ours. Our staff was, again, the best so far!

Tom: Mike, what did you take to Unpub? How were your playtests?

Mike: I was staff at Unpub; my main job was to try to insulate Darrell from the limitless requests he got during the day (it didn’t work!). I did manage to get several tests of Bottom of the 9th in during Unpub After Dark.

Tom: Bravo to you sir! It’s been announced that Unpub 6 will be in Baltimore in April of 2016. I’m REALLY happy with the date change. But  why the date change?

Darrell: In one word, snow. The East coast always seems to be hammered by snow between January and early March, we wanted a move to avoid that. We wanted people to be able to walk from the convention center to their hotels and not be worried about frost bite. 🙂

Tom: I for one am very happy about that. Plus it will help avoid those pesky airline / weather issues. And people will be able to enjoy Baltimore more. Good decision.  You’re expanding the space too. That is awesome. I’m planning on attending, at least as a VIP playtester if not as a designer. What can I expect?

Darrell: One BIG happy family. Last year, due to the growth and demand from KickStarter we grew and had 2 separate rooms (total of ~8,000 sq. ft.). For Unpub 6 we now have 1 massive room (~13,000 sq. ft.) and we intend to have everyone together. We are closer to entrance (right in front) with Starbucks by the entrance. Just a BIG location upgrade- within the same confines of the Baltimore Convention Center.

Tom: That sounds fantastic. Having everything together is going to be great. You have Rob Daviau and Eric Lang as special guests. Sweet. Any other plans in the works?

Darrell: Yup! 🙂

Tom: Care to elaborate? Just a bit? Give me my first exclusive.

Darrell: One change is that we will have a separate space for panels on designer day, as well a separate gaming. So if you want to game, the panels won’t be distracting for you, and visa versa. We are also looking into having panels on Sunday of Unpub 6 for the public.

Tom: I’m really glad to hear both of these additions. The panels for the public is a stroke of genius. Must have been T.C.’s idea. HA!  What are some of your favorite games?

Mike:  So many! Some favorites to hit the table recently are Arkham Horror, Mage Knight (sprawling solo/co-ops), Lagoon (depth of decisions), Friday, and Biblios (lighter fare).bot9b

Darrell: Puerto Rico, Stone Age, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, pretty much any puzzle and dexterity game. 🙂

Tom: What is the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a playtester?

Mike:  “What differentiates this from rolling dice and seeing who gets luckier?” – Jordan Martin, re: alpha Bottom of the 9th. He meant it quite literally about our hours-old game concept, but it serves as an important reminder to make sure the decisions players make in your game aren’t merely the trappings of a quality game.

Darrell: We showed the game to Richard Launius, and he liked it, but mentioned that the pitcher needs some restraint- otherwise it could be Ace pitches all the time. We agreed and Mike and I came up with the best inclusion to the game (in my opinion), the Fatigue Track.

Tom: What makes designing games so fun?

Mike: For me, it’s more than the act of creating something; I love the mental exercise. I have notebooks filled with design ideas, and sometimes I’ll pick one up and tinker with an existing idea. Other times something will occur to me and I’ll flip to a clean page and start sketching out an entirely new concept. Either way, “going into the tank” (as I’ve come to call it) is always satisfying, regardless of the design outcome.

Darrell: Playtesting. I love to play and see the reactions of players; good or bad, happy or sad- it’s the best and, arguably, one of the most important things to study when getting feedback.

Tom: Are you a ‘pare down’ or ‘add to’ designer?

Mike:  Luke Peterschmidt (Castle Dice, Epic PvP) described himself as the designer equivalent of a blacksmith. He takes a concept and bangs away at it via playtesting until it starts to take shape. I’m almost the complete opposite. I’ll turn something over and over in my head until I think I have it figured out before making even the most basic prototype. As a result, I’m probably in the “add to” camp. Incidentally, our different design methods is one of the reasons it has been so fun to work with Luke.

Darrell: Add to. TC gets on me for this- big time. I’ll add and add and then spend time to make my prototypes look pretty. Only to cut and cut and have to redo all the work. One day I’ll learn. One day.

Tom: What designers do you admire?

Mike:  Luke, for one. His experience in the industry is incredible, and yet he remains a humble and and gregarious guy who started Fun to 11  to making games he thinks are fun. I also love what Jason Tagmire does. He’s incredibly prolific, relishes taking chances in his designs, and as a result has created some truly unique games. FInally, I love Ignacy Trzewiczek’s vision of “Board Games That Tell Stories,” and the way it’s realized in his games. Voyage of the Beagle is way up there on my “jealous it wasn’t me” list.

Darrell: Richard Launius. The man is, literally, the nicest man on the planet. There is no ‘air’ about him, he is in this as he loves to play games. He’s super approachable and will never turn down a game invitation. His ideas are brilliant- he’s not the ‘King of Dice’ for nothing.bot9j

Tom: What was the most challenging part of designing?

Mike:  Knowing when to let something be. Maybe it’s because I started as a playtester, and graduated to a “developer,” but I constantly try to improve what’s in front of me. What’s important to realize is that at some point, changes you make might just be that, changes. You can absolutely be doing things that make a game different, not necessarily better or worse. At that point, it’s important to focus on your original goal and make the game you set out to make.

Darrell: What Mike said, that and admitting when Mike is right about something. Hurts so much. 🙂

Tom: What are some things that you have learned about playtesting?

Mike:  There are so many amazing articles about playtesting, I don’t know how much I could contribute! One thing I can absolutely say is that no matter how thorough and sure of your methodology you are, a fresh set of eyes is always welcome. Sometimes a new player will simply validate you, but other times you’ll be challenged.

Darrell: Time is hard to find- but thankfully making a game that we can play test in a cup holder of a car, on Skype, or over the phone has made Bottom of the 9th so much faster/easier to playtest than my previous designs.

Tom: What games have you admired or researched in order to understand game design better?

Mike:  I can’t point to particular games that I’ve researched. It’s through Unpub and seeking out designers playing each others’ games at conventions that I’ve been able to learn as much as I have.bot9g

Darrell: I’d say every designer/game that has been through the Unpub program. I may be too busy to participate with a design now, but i still try and take the time to walk around and see all the new ideas and faces every event Unpub has. I admire the play testers and designers for being brave and embracing their creativity.

Tom: What has been the hardest lesson for you to learn as a game designer?

Mike:  That I’m wrong once in a great while (I wish I was kidding!).  Arrogance can be a major problem for designers. It’s crucial to know when to stick to your guns and when to admit another idea outstrips yours.

Darrell: Can’t please everyone. You may really like your game, others may like you game, but you will ALWAYS have that play test where it feels like you’ve kicked everyone in the gut and stole their candy. Those are the most informative- but most painful truths to play testing/designing new games. That and the Game Designer’s Fight Clu- ummm, nevermind.

Tom: What is the least fun part of designing a game?

Mike: I love to analyze games with math, often to a point that’s more personal exploration than game development. For example, I researched stochastic matrices and Markov chains while testing Monster Truck Mayhem just to see if I should drive over the car crush or the mud pit. If it’s not obvious, that was MAJOR overkill. However, as much as I love the analytical aspect, the initial valuations seem so arbitrary to me, and as a result that stage of building a game is my least favorite (and the design aspect I struggle with the most).

Darrell: Overhauls. It’s rough when you need to cut and redo, then cut and redo. You have played the game more than anyone- and you know you need to ‘trim the fat’, but it’s still part of your work/time that is being left on the floor. It sucks- but you have to constantly remind yourself that the game will be all the better for it.

Tom: So Mike, with Monster Truck, it sounds like you are doing some of the development of it. True or just helping out?

Darrell: Just a bit. I played it at Unpub 4, along with a few other Ridback games. They’ve since sent me protos for a bunch of different games; I love working with those guys. For MTM I had some ideas for new obstacles, and wanted to test out a few of the things I saw as possible “broken” aspects. Specifically, I thought that some obstacles should statistically always be chosen over others. While it is true, the margins aren’t all that significant. When faced with a dice roll result that could carry you into either obstacle at a fork, the stress of a real-time decision-making pretty much obviates the math.

Tom: Anything else y’all want to talk about?

Darrell: Unpub 6, April 2016! Also, that Compounded: Geiger Expansion should be in stores late Summer 2015. Lastly, for those attending GenCon this year, we will be having the first annual Bottom of the 9th World Series with some pretty slick prizes! So you’ll want to look for that when GenCon event sign-up becomes available.

Tom: How can people contact you?

Mike:  I’m easiest to reach on Twitter @bluedevilduke

Darrell: And you can find me on Twitter as @getlouder and @theunpub

Tom: Final words?

Mike:  Thank you so much for the opportunity to have a chat with you and promote Bottom of the 9th. Oh, and Go Sox!

Darrell: Sorry for being a schmuck about finishing this, but thank you for your willingness and patience to do this.

No, Darrell. You are not a schmuck. Thank you both for hanging out with me and talking about games with me. It was a lot of fun. I hope to get to see you both soon.

Readers, please look for Bottom of the 9th later this year in your Friendly Local Game Store or at the Dice Hate Me Games web store. And please leave a comment below or tweet about this article.bot9c

Ant Quest – A Conversation With…Scott Almes, Part1


In this episode I chat with Scott Almes, the designer of the Tiny Epic series, Best Treehouse Ever, and a lot of other games. We talk about Scott’s newest games – Problem Picnic, Tiny Epic Quest, and Starfall. As well as some thoughts on game design. It is a fun interview and I hope you enjoy it.

problem-picnic

 

Tinkering Around – A Conversation With…Dan Letzring of Letiman Games


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Dan joins me for a second interview. We talk a lot about his game, Gageteers. There’s some discussion of Dino Dude Ranch, publishing with WinGo, and bees. It’s a fun interview that I hope you will enjoy. You can download it from iTunes (Go Forth And Game Podcast) or right here below. Please shoot me a tweet (@tomgurg) or email (goforthandgame@gmail.com) and tell me what you liked most.

The Controlling Idea – A Conversation With … Austin Smokowicz of Dr. Wictz Games


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In this episode I’m talking to Austin Smokowicz from Dr. Wictz Games. This episode is chocked full of game design philosophy and updates about what Austin and Aaron have going on. We discuss Cattle Car, Hoboken, Unpub, and Origins 2016. It’s a fun show. I hope you enjoy it.

Feel free to leave comments here or on Twitter – @tomgurg.

Thanks for listening.

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With A Cherry On Top…A Conversation With Josh Mills


Joshua Mills

This episode I’m talking to up-and-coming game designer Josh Mills. We talk about Josh’s game, Rocky Road A La Mode, coming soon from Green Couch Games. We also discuss being part of a game design group, Unpub, and some of Josh’s in-progress games. And we are joined by my son, Zachary. It’s a really fun show.

If you enjoyed the show, why not leave a comment or a tweet telling me so. You can contact me at goforthandgame@gmail.com and @goforthandgame or @tomgurg. Thanks!!

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A Conversation With … Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games


It’s been a very long time coming but I finally sat down with my friend Chris Kirkman (@dicehateme) of Dice Hate Me and Greater Than Games. We talk about comics, Club Zen and Don’t Get Eated, and what Chris is working on these days. It’s a fun  so download it here or at iTunes. Oh, and leave me a good review if you don’t mind.

 Next up: Shoot Again Games

My Favorite RPG’s


I’m doing something a bit different. I want to get on a regular posting schedule. One way to do that is to re-post some popular articles from the past. Here is a post from two years ago.

6. Dogs In The Vineyard – I’ve played Dogs several times and it is pretty fun. You play a young Mormon lawman, one of God’s Watchdogs, in Deseret. You go from Dogs_in_the_Vineyard_cover_smalltown to town solving issues that range from domestic disputes to supernatural problems. It has an interesting conflict resolution system. It’s a poker / betting system using dice pools where those in the conflict set the stakes. It’s cool.

5. Psi-Run – I played an ashcan version of this and really liked it. I’ve since bought the published version. In Psi-Run players are amnesiacs who have powers. They have been held by some mysterious agency. They wake up after some sort of calamity that frees them. They are on the run from the agency but don’t know why or even who they are. Players fill out a player sheet that has questions that they will try to answer during the game. This hunt for answers to know who you are is what is cool about this game.

4. Cold City – This one is takes place in early post-WWII Berlin. The Allies have divided up the city. Players are members of a special unit that is hunting down the monsters and experiments left over from Nazi experiments. Each is a member of one of the Allied powers now controlling the city.

cold citydryh-220

 

 

 

 

3. Don’t Rest Your Head – DRYH is one of the most unique role playing games out there. And that’s saying a lot. I would do best to let the game’s website say it best – “Don’t Rest Your Head is a sleek, dangerous little game, where your players are all insomniac protagonists with superpowers, fighting — and using — exhaustion and madness to stay alive, and awake for just one more night, in a reality gone way wrong called the Mad City.” It has a very unique conflict / action system involving group dice pools and it is so very cool. This is one that I REALLY want to play more.

Fate Core Cover

2. FATE system – In second place is a system not a single game. FATE is a role playing engine involving dice d6’s with pluses, minuses, and blanks and Aspects. Characters don’t have attributes with certain strengths. They have Aspects. Aspects are descriptions of your character. Things like “Quick Draw” or “Dumb as a rock” or “Strong as an ox”. This Aspects give the character advantages in situations. But they can be used against them. FATE also has something called Fate Points. These are bonuses that players earn and can use to change the story. FATE games are very narrative driven and you always get good stories out of games. My three favorite settings for FATE are listed below.

  • Spirit of the Century – Spirit is a pulp lover’s heaven. Players are Centurions, people with special abilities or resources who are fighting for truth and justice. ‘Part of the setting is created in character generation; all characters have ten free-form aspects that have an effect on the game and on the world. Each sotc-220character gains two aspects from their background, two from what they did in the Great War, and a further two from the stories that would make up an imaginary novel about their life before the game started. They then get a further four aspects by guest starring in two of the other PCs’ novels for two aspects apiece.’ It is seeped in pulp atmosphere and is so very good.
  • Icons – This is the best superhero rpg I’ve played. It is very fun and really feels like you are playing a comic book.
  • The Day After Ragnorok – more pulpy goodness. This time it’s post-apocalyptic with a twist.”Mighty-thewed barbarians and grim mercenaries roam the desolate plains of Ohio. Giant snakes, and those who worship them, DAR_FATECore_Shopify_1_1024x1024prowl the ruins of St. Louis. Pirates battle the Japanese invaders in the South China Sea. Bold British agents, equipped with experimental bio-technology, thwart the insidious infiltration of Stalin’s humanzees. Sky-raiders strike from hidden bases in the Sahara, deros skulk in South American caverns, and the Texas Rangers fight electrical death worms to save Los Alamos.Kenneth Hite (Adventures into DarknessTrail of Cthulhu) presents a world of savage swords and rocket men, of were-serpents and war-apes, from Australia’s battered Empire to the proud city-state of Chicago.And across it all lies the trillion-ton corpse of the Midgard Serpent, killed by Truman’s atomic fire but still poisoning the Earth with every night that passes. Welcome to the world at the end of the world. Welcome to… THE DAY AFTER RAGNAROK.”
     My rpg group is currently in the midst of a campaign in this setting. It’s really, really good.

1. It’s a tie. Fiasco & Dread.

I can’t decide between these two. Each is SO VERY GOOD. And so different from each other. First is Fiasco.web_fiasco

Fiasco is a GM-less game by Jason Morningstar. Jason is a super fantastic designer who thinks outside the box. In Fiasco, players build relationships between each other using dice and playsets. Playsets are scenario suggestions and helps for building game. Fiasco is very open. Players can go where ever they and the game take them. This leads to some VERY interesting and often hilarious games. Fiasco is described as ‘making your own Cohen Brothers movie’.

Now Dread. The one with the Jenga tower. Yeah. It uses a Jenga tower for conflict resolution. Awesome. Dread is a horror role playing game. The GM gives the players questionnaires, set in scenarios, to answer about their characters. The answers inform the GM about those characters so that he can tailor the story to them. Scenarios range from Alien-like space horror to The Walking Dead types. Dread coverAnd anything a GM can think of. The game teaches the GM how to build scenarios and run them to great effect. Back to the Jenga tower and conflict resolution. When ever a character has a decision or a choice, he and the GM set the stakes and the player pulls a block. If the tower does not fall, the character succeeds. If it falls, the character is ‘written’ out of the game. Dread is the perfect horror rpg. Horror games should be filled with tension and, well, dread. The Jenga tower does this perfectly. This game is dripping with tension created by that tower. Dread games are nerve-wracking. It is so good.

That’s it – my top rpgs. I hope you will look into each of them. And tell me about your favorites below in the comments section.