A Conversation With…Phil Kilcrease of 5th Street Games

I’m happy to welcome Phil Kilcrease, the big cheese at 5th Street Games. 5th Street has produced great games such as My Happy Farm (a personal favorite), Farmageddon, Jungle Ascent, and the up-coming Smash Monster Rampage and Baldrick’s Tomb. They have another winner in Mob Town, currently on Kickstarter and fully funded.

5th street logoTom: So we haven’t talked in a bit. Catch us up on what’s happened and happening with Phil and 5th Street Games.
Phil: It has been awhile… 2013 saw two new projects from 5th Street: Baldrick’s Tomb and Smash Monster Rampage, both of which successfully funded.

Baldrick’s Tomb is a 30 minute roguelike dungeon crawl where players are scrambling to get as much treasure and get out before the dungeon collapses, and Smash Monster Rampage is a co-op kaiju defense game with players defending a 3D city from a kaiju trying to wreck the place.

baldrick'sBaldrick’s Tomb should be heading out to backers and stores mid-February, and Smash Monster Rampage should be heading to print by the end of February.

Aside from that, I’ve been working with designer Danny Devine to get Mob Town and Ghosts Love Candy ready for Kickstarter.

Tom: I played a prototype version of Mob Town and thought it was very good. It has a lot more depth than the theme would suggest. Tell us about the game. How does the game work?

MobTown_TitleCard_DannyDevinePhil: Right? That’s part of what drew me to the game, as well. Mob Town has players competing for control of towns generated with a nifty randomizer; as you set up the city, each new property will tell you where to place the next piece. It makes a unique layout every time.

Once the city is laid out, players draft cards similar to Ticket To Ride and use those cards to capture properties. Each property matches two card suits. For example, theaters can be captured by Foxes and Weasels. You can also steal properties away from others, but doing so raises the cost of the stolen property.

At the end of each round, you score the properties you control along with any bonuses you may have gotten. After three rounds, the highest score is the boss of Mob Town.

Tom: The art and humor for Mob Town are  great. Danny, the designer did the art, correct? What about the humor? Who’s idea was that?

Phil: That is all Danny. He’s a big fan of comedians like Mitch Hedberg and Jerry Seinfeld (hence Quadruple Tree and Vandelay Industries, among others). He’s also a ROCKIN’ artist. We will be bringin’ in the talented Derek Bacon to help with the Cities, as well.

Tom: What made you sign Mob Town? What made it stand out?

Phil: The solid core gameplay and the city building mechanic. The core mechanics evoke new play while still feeling familiar (making it easy to learn), and the city building mechanic is just brilliant. I’m willin’ to bet we’ll start seeing other designers use it.

Tom: The KS campaign for Mob Town is going well. The base game is $25 with a deluxe version containing three expansions running $35. As of this writing it is funded. That’s a pretty good deal. And I’ve played two of the expansions, Cities and Professionals, and they add A LOT of coolness to the game. They move it from a casual/filler game to a much more ‘gamerly’ game. I absolutely recommend to anyone interested in the game to kick in the extra $10 to get those.

You recently had a successful KS campaign with Smash Monster Rampage. Tell us about Smash Monster Rampage.  What’s its status? It has kind of been over shadowed by that other monster/kaiju game.  What are your feelings about that?

smash monster2Phil: Smash Monster Rampage was originally a Print N Play legend by Mike Swindall. It uses 3D buildings to form the city the monster smashes through, with each PnP copy taking up to four hours to make. The end result, though, was an AWESOME sight, and fun to play.

SMR is a cooperative game where the players work together to stop a Kaiju monster before too much of the city is destroyed or too many civilians perish. To win, you have to draw the Mission Accomplished card after successfully hitting the monster. Problem is, every other time you hit the monster, it gets to do something nasty to you depending on what card you draw. The monster may move more spaces, wreck extra buildings, and so forth.

The game is currently in pre-production. We’re waiting for art assets to finish on a couple monsters, a few roles, and some survivors. The monster standees are also being finalized by Mike Swindall (and they’re AMAZING). If things go smoothly, we expect to go to press by the end of February.

As for the dexterity game of Rampage, I don’t think overshadowing is quite right. That game was ready for Essen while the Kickstarter was running, and is a much different play style. I think they’ll share shelf space nicely once SMR is finished later this year.

Tom: I need to pick up a copy of it soon. My son would like it I’m pretty sure. Are you working on any game designs of your own?

Phil: I still dabble a bit; my days of a new game every week akin to the rockstar Daniel Solis are behind me, though. The three that actually stand a chance of seeing the light of day are:

Make Your Case, a 2 player courtroom game where you sway jurors to your side while questioning witnesses. The neat thing with this one is each card has three uses, even though there are only two elements on the card.

Tom: That sounds interesting. I like multi-use cards.

Phil: Each card has a number from 1 to 12 and a symbol. The numbers can be used to raise your bid to win a witness, or they can be paired with a symbol from another card to perform an action with the corresponding juror (…and 12 jurors total). If you have the most jurors in your favor at the end of the game you win the case.

Cthulhu Rising, a 2 player game pitting a team of investigators against Cthulhu. It evokes a sense of Twilight Struggle in about 20 minutes. One of the bits that’s cool (and still needing tuning) is as the investigators get closer to winning, Cthulhu gets stronger as he pulls out all the stops to not die. This was originally a fan game based on Homestuck’s 12 trolls fighting the Black King.

Tom: This one sounds really fun.  If you need some playtesters, my group has some Cthulhu nuts.

Phil: Well, thanks a bunch! I might take you up on that. It is quite fun and tense, but man is the balancing on it finicky.

The last one is a catapult game akin to Toss the Turtle as a deckbuilder, only instead of a turtle being shot out of a cannon, yer chickens trying to escape the farm. This one has the best chance of hittin’ the public, most likely.

Tom: Catapulting chickens. I can see that one hitting the mass market. Yeah.

Phil: : D Chickens are just inherently funny. They make silly noises, they’re cute, and you can stack them easily (if they’re in cages, anyway).

Tom: Do you have a favorite design element/mechanic? And which comes first for you Theme or Mechanic.

Phil: I tend to be drawn to multi-use cards (see Make Your Case & Cthulhu Rising above), and do best with designing two-player games, for some reason. As for theme / mechanic, it depends on the game.

The original version of Cthulhu Rising, Rex Duodecim Angelus, was made specifically to present the final battle of the trolls and the Black King, so the theme shaped the mechanics. With the catapult deckbuildier, it was the mechanics of iterative launching that drove the design.

Tom: Even more interested now. Playtesting. Everyone knows that it is essential for a successful game. How do you do it? Walk us through 5th Street’s process. (And can I get in on some of that?)

Phil: Playtest lots and lots and lots, and take GOOD notes of each playtest in terms of what changes worked from last time, and what ones didn’t. If it’s possible, try to keep each iteration of yer game to refer back to later (it’s necessary sometimes). Oh, and you think yer done playtesting? Playtest more, only now through stress-testing via extreme strategies and deliberate edge cases. Shake the hell out of the rules.

Tom: Excellent advice and it will go into The Big Answer to my latest The Big Question.

Phil: As for gettin’ in on it, gettin’ me to publish a game of yours is the easiest way. : D. I do tend to have time to at least give rulesets a shakedown, though.

Tom: I’m working on it, man. I’ll send you some rules soon.

Putting your publisher hat on for a minute. How many submissions do you receive each month? What should a designer do if they want to submit a game to 5th Street?

Phil: I get one every month or so. Up until recently, I actively pursued my design targets personally. If yer wantin’ to submit a game to 5th Street for review, it should play in 45 minutes or less, have an interesting take mechanically in the game, be fun to play, and either have a whimsical theme or be rethemeable to something lighthearted. Take a look at our catalog to get an idea in that regard.

Tom: What’s the production process like? Talk to me a bit about the production process.

Phil: Production for 5th Street is handled entirely by Quality Playing Card. In terms of layout, though, I tend to do the rulebook and box back layouts.

Tom: They do a very good job. I’ve heard good things about them. Let’s talk a little bit about advertising and marketing. What do you do to get your game out there, under people’s eyes?

Phil: We use Board Game Geek, Facebook, Twitter, and Project Wonderful while a project is running. Before launch, we build a Prefundia site to give people a sneak peek at what’s comin’.

Tom: Any publishing horror stories? Any publishing miracles or raves?

Phil: The big one for 5th Street is both a horror story and a rave. When printing Farmageddon, we decided on a linen finish on the cards (crosshatched finish instead of completely smooth). It was the first time I had used linen with QPC, so when the proofs came and the cards were curved, I thought it was just part of the production process for QPC using the linen finish specifically (I had gotten curved cards before in other games by other companies and thought nothing of it).

Turns out the shrinkwrap machine was set to 54 cards instead of 69. o_O The copies were already sent out to backers, but with QPC’s help, we’ll be able to get 15-card bonus packs to the original backers of Farmageddon as an extra thanks for helpin’ us get to press the first time and as a makeup for the production error.

Tom: I remember that. I also remember that you handled it very professionally and well. Bravo.

Do you have a design philosophy?Do you have overarching design goals? For example, Daniel Solis has a goal of not having real violence in his games.

Phil: I do, actually. 5th Street’s tagline is ‘where everyone’s a gamer’, and I mean it. We focus on quick-playing, easy-to-learn games for gamers and non-gamers alike. Insodoing, 5th Street aims to be filler games for gamers, and intro games for people new to the hobby.

In addition, we aim for diversity in our artwork, as well. In Baldrick’s Tomb, male & female are equally represented, and are of different ethnicities. We’re doing the same thing with the role cards in Smash Monster Rampage and the upcoming Farmageddon expansion, Livestocked and Loaded.

Tom: Those are admirable goals. And positioning yourself as not just a gamer’s publisher is smart. So far from what I’ve seen you’re accomplishing it.

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?

Phil: Ehhh, I don’t know about that. There will always be a market for the two-plus hour hardcore Euro of trading and negotiation or the gnarly Americana space opera. The most common board games on the game store shelf are still roughly an hour and have a fair bit of complexity compared to say, Ticket To Ride.

That said, it’s easier to introduce someone to the hobby with a shorter and easier game. I think any shift that is being perceived is likely due to the hobby growing and newer gamers flocking to the easier games first.

Tom: Kickstarter – we’re several years in now. How is it hurting and helping gaming?

Phil: Helping, no question. If you have a solid product, your barrier to entry into the industry is as low as a completed Kickstarter campaign. After that, it’s up to you to get it into distribution (however you choose to do that).

In regard to Kickstarter ‘stealing customers’ from game stores that would have bought it when it hit the shelf, that’s the wrong attitude to have. If a campaign has even 2000 backers, that’s 2000 people *worldwide*. If one of those backers is in your game store community, reach out to that person as a store owner about doing a demo of the game with them. There are always more customers for a game.

Tom: I totally agree. You have to have a solid game. KS is potentially a gold mine. Witness Tiny Epic Kingdoms. If your game is not so solid, KS is a curse that will follow you. Regarding impact on FLGS, I can see KS as a boon, a bane, and a non-entity. For gamers, KS may get them into a FLGS chasing a designer or publisher or if they decide to go exclusively KS, the store lost that $$. I don’t see this happening. Non-entity – most gamers are going to buy at both places. And KS doesn’t really hit non-gamers so the FLGS has an advantage there.

What’s your favorite unpublished game right now or maybe who is your favorite game designer at the moment?

Phil: I’d say Chevee Dodd’s Pull! is my favorite unpublished game, but trick-takers are tough to get into the general market. As for favorite designer… don’t know that I have one at the moment.

pullTom: Just downloaded the PnP yesterday. Printing it tomorrow. I’m excited to get it to the table.

What are you currently playing the most?

Phil: Mice & Mystics, Ghosts Love Candy playtests (our next Kickstarter), Love Letter, and Napoleon’s Triumph.

Tom: I so need a copy of Mice & Mystics. That is second on my buy list right now after Manhattan Project. Ghosts sounds really fun.

I’m not a Love Letter fan. It’s ok but overhyped in my opinion.

Don’t know the last one.

Phil: Manhattan Project is a solid one. As for Napoleon’s Triumph, it’s a war game about the Battle of Austerlitz, among Napoleon’s most decisive victories in the Napoleonic Wars. Really cool mechanics for it, too.

Tom: Favorite game played in 2013?

Phil: Smash Up and its expansions. Fun, infinitely expandable concept.

Tom: Oh, yeah. That’s a fun game. What game surprised you and how?

Phil: Forbidden Desert in how surprisingly difficult it can be. It’s VERY fun, but the first game or two ended up with our teeth getting kicked in.

forbiddenTom: I totally agree with you there. Super fun but surprisingly hard. It’s got that “Oh, we have to play that again.” thing.

Do you see any trends in the gaming industry that you would like to bring up? Microgames? More POD? Anything?

Phil: Mmm… how about a prediction. We should start seeing more legacy games (games that change as you play them forever akin to Risk Legacy) now that the initial playtesting phase of the idea is about done from Risk Legacy introducing the concept.

Tom: Yep, I think you’re onto something there. Seafall’s coming from Daviau and Plaid Hat. I hear people talking about the legacy idea a lot. I should work on that.

What is next for you? What else is in the queue?  

Phil: We have a few:

Ghosts Love Candy, also by Danny Devine, will be hittin’ Kickstarter in the summer. It’s a 2-6 player game where players are ghosts possessing trick-or-treaters to eat their candy. Super quick, REALLY fun, and the art is going to be ADORABLE.unnamed

Farmageddon’s first expansion, Livestocked and Loaded, will be coming out later this year. It introduces animals you can feed for in-game benefits and potential points at the end of the game. The animals add a bit of long-term strategy to the game without being too heavy.

Tom: What was the last good movie you saw? And the last bad movie?

Phil: Last good movie… prolly Pacific Rim. As for the last bad movie, that would definitely be Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. GUH.

Tom: Is there a particular historical period or subject you feel is underrepresented in game themes?

Phil: Historical isn’t really my forte, unfortunately. More games like Campaign Manager 2008 would be cool. Possibly the Arab Spring?

Tom: How can people contact you?  Are there any links you would like folks to visit?

Phil: Folks can contact me at: phil at 5thstreetgames dot com

You should totally check out Mob Town, running on Kickstarter until March 9 2014. Free worldwide shipping, yo!


Tom: Any final words?

Phil: First, thanks for the interview, Tom.

Second: careful, Icarus…

Tom: It was awesome talking to you again Phil. I’m very excited for Mob Town. I appreciate you allowing me to preview it. It is an amazing game and I think it’s going to be a breakout hit for you. It’s the first game on my Best of 2014 list for sure.

And you, dear readers, should go back Mob Town before the campaign ends. You should also got to the 5th Street Games website and buy Jungle Ascent or Farmageddon or pre-order Smash Monster Rampage.

And leave a comment below. Let me know what you think.

my happy farm jungle ascent