Smoking Some Birds – A Conversation With… Chevee Dodd, the designer of Pull!

This time around I sit down with Chevee Dodd. Chevee is well know in the independent, small game publisher circles. He’s a game designer with several games available at The Game Crafter. He is a prolific Twitter-er. He’s one of the hosts of Something For Nothing, the super fantastic interview show that is for game designers by game designers. AND he has his first game on Kickstarter. It’s called Pull! and it’s pretty good.

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Tom: Ok, Chevee tell us about yourself in case some folks don’t know you.

Chevee: I’m from a small town in West Virginia. I spent four years in the Marine Corps but ultimately returned to stay. I have a wife of 11 years and two beautiful little girls. I’ve been designing games since 1997 but I took a long break after being jaded in the early 00s. I’ve spent the last 2 years seriously pursuing the hobby and blogging about it on my website cheveedodd.com.

Tom: What do you do to support your gaming habit?

Chevee:  I’m an IT Technician and Network Administrator for the West Virginia school system.  Prior to this, I was an automotive mechanic.

Tom: Pull! Is your newest game. I’ve played it and like it. Let’s talk about it a bit.

First, where did you get the idea?

Chevee: I was in a creative slump last fall and was desperate for inspiration. I wanted to design something small that was easy to print and play and economical to produce via print on demand services. In a fit of desperation, I asked my Twitter followers to help me come up with some ideas. One response stuck out and I couldn’t stop thinking about it:

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@reldnahcire Clay Pigeon Shooting w/ trick taking

Tom: Next, what is game play like?

Chevee: Though the game was initially a derivative of trick taking games, I hesitate to call it a trick taker. That name carries with it some expectations with it. Particularly, people have a difficult time with the lack of a trump suit or following suit. The game has become something of it’s own and less of a derivative of traditional games. It is intended to be a partnership style game but you can play with 2, 3, or 4 players as individuals as well.

Players aren’t competing for the lead in PULL!. Instead, there is a separate deck that drives play. This deck represents the clay targets. Each turn, two Targets are turned face up into the center of the table and these begin the two tricks for that round.

There are six suits in the game and each Target is one of the six. Players have hands made up of 10 cards that are dealt from the Shot deck. The cards in this deck are in rank from 1-8 in each of the 6 suits. Players will play two cards each round, one for each target. The first card played each round must match the suit of the target it is played on, if possible.

There is no bidding or trick-based scoring mechanism. Instead, each target is worth a number of points ranging from -5 to 10. Each target has a second score value that is scored if a team shoots a Double… which is when they take both Targets in a round. The highest card play wins the Target and scores the points for their team. There is no trump suit as traditionally defined, but a shot which matches the Target’s suit wins ties.

Tom: What parts did you have to take out that you liked?

 Chevee: Surprisingly, I never had to cut stuff. This game was very dry from the beginning and I kept having to add things to make it more interesting. The only thing that I changed that was against my preference was not dealing out the entire deck. Enough people suggested it that I just couldn’t ignore it anymore and… well… I’m warming up to it. 🙂

Tom: That’s certainly unusual in game design, the adding part. It’s good to hear that you are listening to us.

Chevee: I’d be a condescending jerk if I said I was in this only for the satisfaction, but truly, the community that has grown to support me is a huge reason that I continue to do what I do. I value each and every person that chooses to engage me and every opinion counts. Some day, when I’m accepting my major award, I’ll have a list of “thank yous” too long to read.

Tom: I hear that over and over – “the gaming community is so supportive of me.” I know that is so very true because I have experienced it first hand. And I think it is unique. I used to run in the comic book creators circle. I did a little bit of coloring and I have good friends who are still in the industry. (name drop – Jeff Parker) That community was supportive but not nearly so much as the gaming community. It’s different. The game creator is much more responsive and open to input from the community I think. Different medium I guess. It would be interesting to see a comic that was as responsive. I wonder what that would be like.

Chevee: I have basically zero experience with the independent comic book crowd but I do have experience with creative writing and I believe they are similar. Those creative endeavors are entirely personal. I can sit down, write a story, pencil and ink my own comic, and release it all with essentially zero outside input. While you could do that with a game, I doubt it would be well received. We need each other in the games industry. We need people to vet our ideas and test our games. Without the community to help test and tune, most of my games would be horrible experiences.

Tom: That’s the point. This community is dependent on each other. What kind of response did you get in playtesting? Any changes resulting from that?

Chevee: This may be one of my most tested games ever. Because of the simplicity of making the game and the light play, it’s very easy to print and play at home and get it to the table. I’ve had over twelve groups from all over the globe help. So many great changes have happened as a result. Specifically, the not dealing out the whole deck I mentioned earlier. Did I mention that I’m warming up to that change?

Tom: The Kickstarter campaign is about a week out from completion and you are at about 70% funded. That’s pretty good going into the last week. How has it been? Any thoughts so far?

Chevee: Well, it’s been a fun adventure. The campaign started strong thanks to all my friends and fans that jumped into the project early. The mid-campaign creep came on pretty hard though. I was really hopeful that I would fund early and coast through the slump, but it’s been a ton of work to attract backers to the project. I think we’ll have a strong finish and the campaign will fund. There’s a great little community built up around the game and all the backers have been awesome.

Tom: Other games – you’ve created some other games as well. First, talk about Scallywags. It’s probably your best know game so far.

Chevee: Scallywags is by far my most widely known game. It was picked up by a major retail publisher in 2011 and was published the next year. It is also one of those games that I wish I could go back and fix. I see so many issues with it now, but I designed it in 2008 or so and submitted it to them shortly after. It really didn’t have time to grow as a game before I turned to publishers. I’m much more cautious now about rushing things.

Tom: Now tell me about Bomb Squad. It sounds pretty neat.

Chevee: Man, Bomb Squad is one of my earliest designs and is also the game that I first spent true effort on making it attractive. It was co-designed with one of my longest friends in the early morning hours of GenCon Milwaukee. LIkely around 1999 or so. I would someday love to bring that one out in some capacity, but it’s up to him.

Game Salute has a game called Bomb Squad coming out this year. I thought it might be that.

I saw that. It looks interesting… but is entirely different from my game.

Tom: Now for Paper Route, Tuesday Night Tanks, and Leathernecks ‘43.

Chevee: All three of these games are available on thegamecrafter.com and coincidentally exist because of that site. I released Paper Route first, but I had been using The Game Crafter for about a year up to that point for my personal prototypes.

Paper Route was born from a discussion i had with Cyrus Kirby of Father Geek in which he said he wished someone would make a board game version of the classic arcade title Paperboy. So, I did it. It was a perfect candidate for release on The Game Crafter because I released the game under a creative commons license, so I put it up for sale there in conjunction with a free print and play release.

Tuesday Night Tanks was designed for a Game Crafter contest and also my desire to pack an awesome game into their then newly announced Small Pro box. It is a miniatures game at heart and would be very difficult to produce as a larger board game without awesome sculpted miniatures… which also makes it difficult to print and play. Finding a publisher that would work with that is difficult, so I decided to just release it myself.

 

  Similarly, Leathernecks ‘43 is a difficult pitch because it requires seven custom dice. The game was originally designed for my two daughters as Princess Fairy Rainbow Unicorn Dice. While not originally intended for The Game Crafter, it is also a difficult game to print and play. TGC doesn’t stock pretty pastel dice, however, so I needed a re-theme. Being an ex-Marine, I thought it would be fitting… and TGC had appropriately colored dice.

Tom: I think Princess Fairy Rainbow Unicorn Dice would be a big hit actually. Aimed right at the Brony crowd. 🙂

Chevee:  You aren’t the first to say that. Many people have begged for this game… in fact, I was just discussing the possibilities of it today….

Tom: Do tell.

Chevee:  Uhhh. Wait. Did I type that out? Hm. Uh.

I was doing a little daydreaming and thought about what it would take to produce a run of something with components… and I began talking with a friend about dice manufacturing. Strictly as an exercise. I currently have no actual plans. 🙂

Tom: There’s a new company that is doing inexpensive custom dice. It’s Custom Game Labs. They are on Twitter recently. They have a KS campaign going right now. Now a few general questions. First, what do you look for from a playtester?

Chevee:  Mostly a pulse. I like getting the largest variety of opinions as I possibly can. I especially enjoy testers that don’t like the type of game I’m showing them. Having fresh perspectives from all manner of gamers helps me see the game as a whole and not just what I intend it to be. With PULL!, for instance, I wanted to design a tight trick-taking game. After I took off my blinders and started looking at the feedback I was receiving, I realized that the game could be something different, and ultimately better, while still nodding to traditional trick-taking mechanics.

Tom: Daniel Solis just posted an article about listening to / interpreting feedback. You might want to check it out.

Chevee:  Oh, I have! I read Solis’ work most times. I’ve read dozens of articles like it and even written a few of my own… but, I’m human. Sometimes I get caught up in my ideals. It’s a fault. I can get so caught up in myself that I look at everything with blinders on. Most times, I actually listen. This game was different for some reason.

Tom: Do you start with a theme or a mechanic first?

Chevee:  This is one of those questions that every interviewer ever asks every designer ever… and I just don’t work that way. I start with inspiration. Sometimes that’s theme, sometimes that’s mechanics, sometimes that emotion. I try to not constrain myself early in the process. Sometimes this means that designs never get fully realized, and sometimes it means that I work on multiple derivatives simultaneously. It also means that I am mostly at the whim of my muse and sometimes (like last year) I simply don’t get much done.

Tom: You know I should stop asking because every designer ever gives the same answer. Both and neither.

Chevee:  Well, people are creative for different reasons. I’ve actually heard people answer this question differently. In fact, one of my early influences, James Ernest, was giving a talk at GenCon a few years back and I was shocked that his response was strictly theme first. James designs by deciding to tell a story and the game evolves from that. I was actually quite shocked by his answer because so many of his games are extremely light with very quirky themes that seem made up to fit the mechanics… but, in reality, it’s because he formed those mechanics around his quirky theme.

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Tom: Do you have a favorite mechanic?

Chevee:  Not really. I like trying lots of different things and don’t really return to one design element that I use frequently. Are cards a mechanic? I love shuffling a deck of cards…

Tom: Are you into deck building games? If so which one is your bee’s knees?

Chevee:  Absolutely. I love deckbuilding. My current favorite is DC Deckbuilder. Prior to DC it was Ascension but the streamlined DC wins out most times because of the ease of just diving in. I’m not so much of a fan of the new expansion though, so I might have a different answer after this year.

Tom: I hate deck building games…except DC. It is awesome. So streamlined as you said.

How do you get through design block?

Chevee:  When I get stuck I generally turn to my friends and peers and seek their advice. If we can’t come up with something together, I often just put it away for a while. I find that I do some of my best problem solving when I’m not actively focused on the problem. Sometimes, fixes come within hours, other times it’s been years later. I have a game being reviewed by Mayfair right now that I worked on for most of last year. That game is actually an answer to a design problem I had in 2000. Sometimes, walking away for 13 years can breed inspiration.

Tom: That’s an excellent answer and advice.

Chevee:  I think we all know it, we just ignore it and try to power through when we hit a problem. Everyone knows that the bathroom is the hub of creativity. How many epiphanies have we all had during a shower? Sometimes, we get so caught up in the problem that we can’t see the obvious solution.

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Tom: Do you have a favorite designer?

Chevee: Sid Sackson may be my favorite designer of all time. So many of his designs are elegant in their simplicity and I aspire to design games like that. For that same reason, Michael Schacht is my favorite active designer. Again, so many of his games are elegantly simple.

Tom: I think Sid is under-appreciated by modern gamers. It may be because his games are ‘old’ and not shiny. I like that Gryphon has brought back in print some of his games. I wish more were available. Michael Schacht is fantastic. Coloretto is such a clean game. And China is SO good. That is an elegant game.

Chevee:  Coloretto is the one game that I’ve played and just couldn’t get over myself. It’s about as simple of a game as possible. You make 2 decisions each turn and they will be some of the hardest decisions you’ve ever made.

Tom: I want to talk about another finger you are sticking into the gaming industry. You’ve started doing some graphic design for games now. How is that going?

Chevee:  So far it’s been almost entirely prototyping work for other independent designers and publishers. With the PULL! launch looming, I haven’t exactly had a ton of free time to promote myself. I’ve worked on a few mock-ups, some 3D renders, and I’ve done a fair bit of iconography, but I’m waiting until after the dust settles from PULL! to attack larger projects.

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The new Go Forth And Game logo designed by Chevee Dodd.

Tom: And designed a super awesome logo for a certain gaming blog. 🙂 Why don’t we debut it right NOW!

Chevee: Oh yeah. That too! I love doing logos.

Tom: Where can people find you?

Chevee: My blog at cheveedodd.com is the best place to find me in a controlled manner. I write frequently, but mostly only when I can form a condensed, cohesive thought. For a more raw, unchained view of what goes on in my head, Twitter would be the place to seek me out. I Tweet VERY frequently…. maybe too frequently sometimes… and I’m constantly engaging the community there in a sort of unfiltered mind dump. When I have an idea, I usually turn to my followers to help me quickly decide if I’m crazy or not. It can be chaotic at times.

Readers, you should head over to the Pull! Kickstarter and back soon. It’s a fun little game and very economical for only $16. You should also check out Chevee’s games on The Game Crafter. We didn’t talk about Something For Nothing, a podcast Chevee does with T.C. Petty III, Jason Slingerland and Rob Couch. It’s a podcast where they talk to other designers about all things gaming. It is one of the best and extremely beneficial to designers of all levels. Not only that by Chevee is a really nice guy and excellent game designer, who wears hats.