Because She Weighs The Same As A Duck – A Conversation With…Jay Treat About Cunning Folk

I have the pleasure of talking with Jay Treat this time out. Jay has a new game called Cunning Folk. The game has a couple of days left on Kickstarter and it’s way over funded. It’s hit two of its stretch goals and is inexpensive.

Tom: Well Jay, It has been a while. Why don’t you remind us about Jay Treat.folk4

Jay: Nice to be back, Tom. I love board, card, and party games, as well as video games, RPGs, and freeform LARPs. I believe games are a force for good in the world, bringing strangers together as friends, and helping us continue to learn and grow.

Tom: Freeform LARP. You’re probably familiar with Jason Morningstar who is a big LARP evangelist.He’s an acquaintance of mine and such an excellent rpg designer and guy. Have you played Fiasco?web_fiasco

Jay: I met Jason at Metatopia where I played his first test of a Fiasco LARP. No one doubts Jason’s talent, and Fiasco has done wonders for the Indie RPG community.

Tom: I had the pleasure to be one of the Fiasco playtesters. I can’t say enough good things about that game. You are right that it has done so very much for the Indie RPG community. That reminds me that I need to have him on the show. What’s your gameography (ludography?)?

Jay: Cahoots! is a shifting-partnership trick-taking game on iOS. Legacy of the Slayer is a story game on demand. Merchants of Araby will be published by Game Designers Clubhouse within a year. For smaller games and free games, check out

Tom: I’ve not played Cahoots! but it sounds fun. Any plans on making it a physical game?

Jay: Absolutely. We’ve gotten a ton of feedback from players hoping for a physical copy and we’re evaluating potential publishers. That was always my goal.

Tom: We are here to talk about Cunning Folk. Give us the elevator pitch for the game.


Jay: Cunning Folk is a 13-card micro-game of bluffing and deduction. Players search a small village looking for good and evil witches, lying about what they see where, and trying to oust one coven or other first.

Tom: What’s the story behind Cunning Folk? Where did the idea come from?

Jay: Jason asked me if I had any ideas for his line of wallet games and I said I don’t do micro-games but I’ll think about it. The next morning a compelling image lingered from my last dream and I wondered what kind of small card game I could make from that inspiration. By lunch I’d mocked the cards up and it played surprisingly well. I played again that evening and let Jason know I’d come up with something he’d be wanting.

Tom: What was the most challenging part of designing it?

Jay: I’ve never had so much luck going from an initial idea to a polished experience so quickly. But Jason and I spent a lot of time finding exactly the right title, names for the cards and text for the abilities; to be crystal clear, very short, flavorful, and inoffensive.folk1

Tom: It’s a social microgame. It comes in a wallet. It costs $7. That’s very cool. What sets it apart?

Jay: Cunning Folk delivers a satisfying challenge for players who love figuring things out, as well as players who love lying and calling their friends out. I continue to be stunned how much play is packed in such a small package.

Tom: Now for some general game design questions. What is the least fun part of designing a game?

Jay: The second 90%. Choosing your goal, mapping out your vision, building the prototype, and finding the fun—that’s all play. Stripping the idea down, shaving off the corners, balancing it, and finding its home—that’s work. It’s fulfilling work, but challenging.

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

Jay: In general? “This is two games.” For Cunning Folk? Giving players one free mistake before they’re eliminated. Knowing you’ve got room to breathe emboldens players, and having some players in greater peril than others creates a fun dynamic.

Tom: A free mistake? That is a really cool idea. What makes designing games so fun?

Jay: Game design exercises so many different disciplines; I use Philosophy, Math, Writing, Communication, and Engineering all the time. Building those disparate skills of one another is a unique thrill. Others bring still more disciplines to bear, bringing us such a wonderful diversity of games. Oh, and the end result? People laughing and smiling together.

Tom: Are you a ‘pare down’ or ‘add to’ designer?folk3

Jay: Pare down, usually. I tend to be pretty pie-in-the-sky and usually need to bring myself to a rational level and then start peeling off games until there one best game is left.

Tom: Do you have a really big game inside trying to get out?

Jay: I’ve got this crazy idea for a crowd-sourced digital card game. In my head, it’s the best thing ever. In reality, it’s the sort of thing that would require a massive investment to get rolling. I think I’ll try a medium game or two first.

Tom: Mechanics or theme first? Which is most important?

Jay: Both together whenever possible. Designs can start from so many different places: mechanics, theme, audience, format, components, experience. But none of these things are optional and the earlier you start thinking about all of them, and how your game will blend them into a cohesive whole, the better each individual piece will be, to say nothing of the whole.

Tom: Tell us about a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Was there a moment when you went ‘Yeah, this is a game.’?

Jay: I was probably in the shower sorting the random ideas from the morning into a game-shaped box when I realized I’d most likely stumbled onto something simple enough to get players past the cards and playing each other.

Tom: What designers do you admire?

Jay: I’m lucky to count a lot of talented up-and-coming designers among my friends. Among established designers, Antoine Bauza gets mad props for the brilliance that is Hanabi, Rob Daviau for a long string of badly-balanced and wildly fun games (Betrayal at the House on Haunted Hill, Star Wars: Epic Duels & Heroscape), and Richard Garfield for having the strongest academic understanding of games, while still being able to make an approachable just-for-fun game like King of Tokyo.

Tom: In that interview with Scott Almes he mentions, regarding Kickstarter that “a lot of publishers are not looking for filler-style games.  They are looking for something more flashy, I guess.  I  have a hard time imagining a company putting up Coloretto on kickstarter, because it’s not that flashy.” I think he may be onto something here. I’m taking publishers in his quote to mean the larger companies – Asmodee, FFG, Rio, Queen, etc.. I get the feeling that they are more interested in larger games, the Queen Big Boxes for example. It’s the smaller companies (Dice Hate Me, Green Couch, Gamelyn, etc.)  that are doing the ‘filler’ games. It seems kind of appropriate in a sense as a smaller company puts a lot more on the line if they go after a large game. TMG and Stronghold would be exceptions I think. What do you think?

Jay: Large publishers make small games, but they don’t rely on KickStarter to do it. They’ve got the capital to print and distribute the game regardless, as well as the industry knowledge and customer base to market them with confidence. Smaller companies often need that support up front to get the ball rolling, even for small games. Publishers of all sizes enjoy KickStarter to gauge interest for large games, eliminating the risk of investing in an expensive product that might not sell at the price point it requires. Slam-dunks like FFG’s Star Wars licensed gamed being an obvious exception.


Tom: What do you think is driving up the game prices, other than normal production costs?

Jay: I don’t think we’re paying more for what we’re getting, but I do think we’ve seen a trend over the last decade where publishers are going all-out on game’s production values, and they’ve got to charge more for it. Perhaps where the gamer audience had been quite frugal in the 80s, they’re now more interested in quality because many of them have grown into well-paying positions, or because console video games have raised the bar for what a game is worth.

Tom: That’s a very interesting take that I’ve not heard yet. Thanks for pointing that out. What are some things that you have learned about playtesting?

Jay: I’ve written and spoken about playtesting. If I were to choose three pieces of advice:

Forget your ego. If you can’t separate your value as a game designer from your execution on one particular project at one particular snapshot in time, you’ve got no chance of hearing how to improve your game.

Ask the right questions. If you ask for “any feedback” you will get random suggestions rather than pointed analysis. Ask instead about specific areas of concern. If you pose a question so that your players feel inadequate, they won’t answer. Show where you think the game might be failing, and let them tell you how.

Find out what the issue is your playtester is trying to address. Their solution is rarely ideal, but their concern is always relevant. Ask leading questions, but don’t argue. Always thank your playtesters.

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

Jay: I’ve learned all the easy stuff and now I’m onto some really hard lessons. Right now, I’m focusing on how to evoke joy in the player experience, and prioritizing that over the goals that initiated the project. You need a destination to get started, but most journeys will take you somewhere better if you’re willing.

Tom: “how to evoke joy in the player experience, and prioritizing that over the goals that initiated the project” That is a really great way of verbalizing what we all are after as designers. Neat. It gives me something to think about and strive for. Thanks. You are just full of good points. After Cunning Folk, Merchants of Araby is up from Game Designers Clubhouse. Talk about it.GDC1

Jay:  I sent the game to David for blind playtesting and was ecstatic to hear that he loved the game and wanted to buy it. It has enjoyed a theme change and we’ve been working together to find our shared vision for the project. It’s a unique fusion of negotiation and engine-building. I’m excited to see the finished product, something greater than either of us could have made on our own.

Tom: I have an interview with David McKenzie in the works so we will be talking more about it.

Jay: David’s a great guy with some impressive game experience. I’m lucky to work with him.

Tom: Button Shy is Jason Tagmire’s company and they are publishing Cunning Folk. Why did you go with him?folk5

Jay: Jason is a lovely person and a personal friend. Even if he weren’t, I love his wallet line business model, and his dedication to quickly deliver fun, portable games. His track record is enviable, and his enthusiasm contagious.

Tom: What are some of your favorite games?

Jay: Hanabi, Tichu, Magic: the Gathering, Heroscape, Notre Dame, Werewolf, Resistance: Avalon, Crokinole, Psychiatrist, Volleyball… Ten is clearly a stretch for ‘some.’

Tom: If you have a favorite cartoon what is it?

Jay: Cartoon? Does Samurai Jack count?641324-samurai

Tom: Oh, absolutely. Great pick. Any final thoughts?

Jay: It was a pleasure chatting with you, as always, Tom. Thanks for your continued efforts highlighting up and coming games and designers.

Tom: Where can people interact with you?

Jay: @jtreat3 on Twitter



Jay, it has been my pleasure to talk with you this time. I’m very glad Cunning Folk will be published and has so many backers. It looks like a really fun game.

Readers, you can support Cunning Folk right here. You only have a couple of days left to get it though.

I’d like to know what you thought of this interview. Please leave a comment by clicking the word balloon at the top. Or you can tweet me at @goforthandgame or @tomgurg.

Thanks for stopping by. See you next time when I’ll be talking to Matt Wolfe about Wombat Rescue.

Jurassic Fun For Everyone!…A Conversation With Dan Letzring

Tom: Welcome again Dan. I’m really happy to talk to you again. Let’s get into it. You decided to cancel the Dino Dude Ranch campaign and relaunch it. Which you did this past week. Congratulations! The game is doing quite well. With the previous campaign, you unlocked basically all the stretch goals by the end of the campaign. Can you talk about them and why you decided to go ahead and release them?

Rev's Box

Dan: Yes, some of the stretch goals were not intended to be directly in the base game so they were not included at base funding, but they were minimal in cost to add so I figured I would start to unlock them to attract more backers to the campaign.  The more expensive upgrades were able to be compensated for by the changes I made early in the campaign to reduce the cost of the game.  At the start of the campaign I realized that simply reducing thickness of the player mats, which are still quality and functionally equivalent, allowed me to save on both manufacture and shipping.  Since the campaign costs were based on the more expens9099414ive game, I  was able to unlock the stretch goals and still cover the costs if the campaign successfully funded.

Tom: You’ve included your other game, Ph. D., as an add-on. That was a good idea. How well has it been received?

Dan: It was actually well received.  I know that the game is targeted to a very specific audience, which is why I was hesitant to add it in the first place, but as soon as I added it I had a handful of backers change to the reward tier as well as people contact me post campaign asking about it for the next time around.  Even though the game is not directly related to Dino Dude Ranch, backers were receptive to it because they were interested in seeing the project succeed, supporting me as a designer, and trying out a new game.  Though I must admit, the game is still fun regardless of if you went to grad school or not.  This second time around,Dr Dinosaur Image to share I will be including Ph. D. The Game right from the start and it will include a Limited Edition Card for the backers who choose it called Dr. Dinosaur.  It will include a Dinosaur Dude Rancher as the image but in the style of Ph. D. The Game.  I will also be sending this card to backers of my first campaign for Ph. D. The Game as a thank you for being repeat backers.  For more information on Ph. D. The Game, people can check out the BoardGameGeek page at:

Tom: You mentioned after the last campaign that there were some improvements that you discovered during the campaign and some ideas from backer feedback. What improvement are you incorporating?

Dan: First and foremost, I was able to get the game down to $23 (shipped for free in the US).  This price will not include the upgrade to custom cut wooden food meeples but those will also be available for an additional cost. I was able to lower international shipping, especially significant for the UK, France and the western EU.  Lastly, I have been workDDR veloing hard to improve the layout/graphic design of a lot of the components.  On top of that, I have been working with the artist to complete the remaining pieces needed for the game: The player mats/ranches, some characters, and the velociraptors.

Tom: The updates look fantastic! I think they improve the game quite a bit. And as small as it seems, dropping the price to $23 will make it more attractive I think. And it makes it seem more like a family game for some reason. Free shipping for the U.S. doesn’t hurt either.

Now, we didn’t talk too much about this in the last interview but I want to talk about the art for DDR. Who was your artist? They’re super great and perfect for a family game.

Dan: Thank you!  I was very lucky to connect with a fantastic artist, Jesse Labbe.  I was playing a game published by 1A Games called Cross Hares and thought to myself that the artwork would go perfectly with my game so I reached out to the artist (who also turned out to be the game designer) and that was Jesse.  He drew me one sample dinosaur and I was sold immediately.  We worked really well together and have been sharing the same vision moving forward with it ever since.  I look forward to seeing the remaining pieces that he has left to complete and updating the rest of the placeholder art.  I must say again that I have been very lucky to work with someone who I can mesh so well with.

Tom: You’ve changed some of the pledge tiers too. Talk about that decision.

I realized that making a less expensive reward tier was beneficial in many ways.  First, it gives the backers a less expensive option (shipped in the US for $23 instead of $29) which will also alleviate high cost concerns for international backers.  Second, it was less expensive for me to offer the base game with the upgraded add ons, thus allowing me to lower the goal a little Old and new reference Cardbit…and every little bit counts!.  What is great about this change too is that it has zero impact on gameplay.  The main difference is thick punchboard tokens (which are still quality) vs. custom cut wooden food resources.  Although the custom wood pieces are nice, I figured some people would be indifferent to them and prefer to save some money.  Now they can.  I also figured I would reward those who chose the upgrade by including Velociraptor dinosaur tiles as well.  They are not a part of the base game but add a nice new scoring mechanic that has a nice effect on gameplay.

Tom: What have you learned from the first DDR campaign? What have Updated Chityou done differently?

Dan: I think the most important thing is that I am going into it with a stronger crowd.  I have been raising awareness of the launch date (May 19) and I had all of these amazing backers from the first campaign ready to go on Day 1.  This strong start will hopefully set the tone for a fantastic re-launch.

Thanks for joining me Dan. The game looks even better than before. It has had a very strong start, at little over halfway to goal with 25 days to go. That’s awesome.

Dino Dude Ranch can be supported right here. It has about 20 days to go and is halfway to its funding goal. As you have seen Dan has updated most of the art and made some significant improvements to the game. It’s Jurassic fun for everyone.

Representative image

Readers, please leave a comment by clicking on the word balloon at the top of the page. Or you can email me at or on Twitter @goforthandgame or @tomgurg. I would really like to hear from you.


A Conversation With…A.J. Porfirio About Salvation Road

I’m really happy to have A. J. Porfirio of Van Ryder Games with me this time. Van Ryder Games has a new game on Kickstarter and AJ agreed to tell me about it. Let’s find out more about Salvation Road.

salv road1

Tom: AJ, it’s good to have you back on as my guest. Update us on what’s going on with Van Ryder Games.  Tell me more about Salvation Road.

AJ: I discovered Salvation Road at UnPub 2014… I think that was UnPub 3? The year helps me more than the number… anyway, I digress. To be honest I was a bit disappointed with the lack of Thematic games at that years UnPub. I was feeling like I wouldn’t be signing a game when our mutual friend, Chris Kirkman, tipped me off to a game in the corner called Salvation Road. We sat down with a 3rd player and just had a real blast playing it. I evaluated the game for a month or two and decided to sign it.

Tom: Tell me about the game play.

AJ: You control characters moving around in an abandoned town looking for resources. The game uses an action system and you get 2 per character per turn. You need to gather up food, ammo, med kits, and fuel to make the trip to Salvation. Marauders and Apocalyptic events make doing this a lot more difficult than it sounds. Plus the more you get wounded, the fewer resources you can hold!

Tom: What is unique about it?
The wound system – you flip wounds if they go untreated and get some nasty effect. Your inventory space is directly tied to your health. The dynamic of Heroes and Survivors is particularly innovative in my opinion. Heroes have beneficial abilities, but survivors have hindrances.

Tom: That sounds really neat. Very RPG. I like it. Tell me about the designers.
AJ: Mike and Peter are a design team. They have a real passion for games and it comes through in their designs. Together with artist, Venessa (mike’s wife), they make up the design studio – MVP Boardgames.

Tom: Yep. I’m reaching out to them for an interview. Salvation Road is pretty timely what with Mad Max: Fury Road just hitting theaters. How Mad Max is it?

AJ: It is definitely in the same vein and inspired by Mad Max. In all honesty, the timing has worked out just right to launch the game on May 11 just prior to Fury Road hitting theaters. We hope that fans of the movie will give the game a look!

Tom: Do you have a favorite part of Salvation Road?

AJ: My favorite mechanic in Salvation Road is the climatic Travel Phase at the end of the game. Building up resources all game and then finding out if you’ve done enough to make it into Salvation is REALLY exciting.

Tom: That’s cool. Tell me about your artist.salvroad5

AJ:  Venessa Kelley. Wow what can’t she do? I have had the pleasure of working with some extremely talented artists. Venessa is an excellent communicator which I consider vital. And her talent is extraordinary for both illustration AND graphic design.

Tom: Let’s talk about AJ a minute. What are some of your favorite games?

AJ: Robinson Crusoe is way up on my list right now. I love Descent 2, and I recently played Android, the epic one,  not Netrunner- and just loved it. If folks like the Crossroads mechanic in Dead of Winter, they should try Android because that game did it first.

Tom: I’ve heard good things about Android. I’ll have to try it out. What is the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a playtester on any of your games?

AJ: How could I choose just one? Every piece of feedback is valuable… even when it is not. Chew on that one! I think recognizing your own bias and not letting it get in the way is huge.

Tom: What makes designing games so fun?salvroad3

AJ: It is a creative art. It really is like inventing your own creation. And making something fun is, well, fun!

Tom: I totally agree. I need a creative outlet and game design is a unique one. As a publisher: Mechanics or theme? Which is most important?

AJ: FUN. Ok I know that wasn’t a choice, but ultimately people play games for fun. Obviously for me Theme is a very important aspect of what we publish. But the game has to stand tall beyond just its theme. Aren’t the best games the ones that integrate Theme and Mechanics equally well? That is what we strive for.

Tom: There’s been some talk in the community lately about FUN. Interesting. Tell us about a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Was there a moment when you went ‘Yeah, this is a game I want to publish.’?

AJ: At UnPub when I met the designers (of Salvation Road). I still had to evaluate the game beyond that first play, but I loved Michael and Peter’s vision for the game and I could tell we would work well together.

 Tom: What designers do you admire?

AJ: I am a big fan of Ignacy from Portal, Bruno Cathala, Kevin Wilson, Richard Launius, Rob Daviau, and many more.salvroad6

Tom: I like almost everything Cathala does. Launius too. So, how do you decide when a game is done?

AJ: Well as a publisher it is when people are able to buy it off a store shelf, quite simply.

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

AJ: It is laborious, annoying, redundant, not glamorous, and most of all ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

Tom: What’s in the queue from designer AJ?

AJ: Hostage Negotiator Abductor packs! Beyond that, most designing I do these days is what most would call development of games I’ve signed.

Tom: Put your publisher hat back on for a minute. What do you look for in a game?

AJ: Most of all is it FUN?  2nd of all is it thematic and does it tell a story?

Tom: Do you get a steady stream of submissions?

AJ: I get them here and there. I wouldn’t call it steady.

Tom: What do you dislike the most about being a publisher?salvroad7

AJ: Dealing with manufacturers..

Tom: What is the most rewarding part of being a publisher?

AJ: The money. I’m making a killing! All kidding aside, it is really just about bringing games to life.

Tom: You have signed Gunslinging Ramblers from Jason Slingerland. Tell us about it briefly. (I have Jason on the hook for an interview closer to launch btw.)

AJ: Ramblers is an awesome game that lets you Drink booze, gamble, and have gunfights without ever actually being in real danger. That’s all I will say for now, but look for more info later this year.

Tom: What about it made you go ‘Yeah, I have to have this.”?

AJ: I liked that when I played it, I really felt like I was in a saloon shooting whiskey shots and playing cards with some outlaws across the table. It has card play and dice chucking.

Tom: You’ve also signed Saloon Tycoon from Jason’s co-host on Building The Game, Rob Couch. Tell us about briefly too. (I’ve got Rob too.)

AJ: Yeah this is our newest signee. What an excellent game with a visually stunning presence. Players will love seeing their Saloon develop on the board into a 3d structure. It has simple but engaging game play and people just love it. It was  a real hit at this year’s UnPub.

Tom: If you have a favorite cartoon what is it?

AJ: I grew up on Transformers, so I will go with that.

Tom: Lastly, who would win a fight between…Captain James T. Kirk (Star Trek) and Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly)?

AJ: Mal hands down. I never was a trekkie, but I’ll be a browncoat as long as I’m still breathing.
Tom: Thanks for joining me once again AJ. It was a blast talking to you.

Readers, You can find Salvation Road right here. Take a look and support it if you can. It looks like a lot of fun.

salv road1

Leave a comment below or tweet one about this interview. #goforthandgame

Digging The Pulp…A Conversation With Ruddy Games’ Jon Gill And Brian Kopleck About SKULLDUG!

This time on Go Forth And Game I’m adventuring into the deep caverns to talk to Jon Gill and Brian Kopleck of Ruddy Games. Skulldug! is their latest game currently on Kickstarter.



Tom: First, tell us a bit about yourself.  

Brian: I’m a game developer currently working and living in the SF Bay Area. Jon and I met when I joined his team for our senior project at UC Santa Cruz, Asterogue. Well, technically I met him on a bus sophomore year, but he snubbed me then. He also hates when I tell that story.

Jon: I was very busy on that bus ride — no time for chit-chat with people I’d eventually go into business with! Anyway, I’m a game developer working in Seattle. Brian and I founded Ruddy Games after working together on Skulldug! for a year and a half, when it became clear that we had a game worth taking to publication.

Tom: Now talk about Skulldug.

Jon: Skulldug! is a competitive pulp exploration game, an Indiana Jones-style romp where players race to explore a deadly cave and escape with three treasure cards. Each treasure comes laden with a unique curse that weakens your character, so you’ll have to think carefully before picking one up — even the most valuable treasure is worthless to a dead man. Along the way, you’ll drop traps, fight monsters, collect equipment, and knock down walls, all in the name of striking it rich.

Brian: Skulldug! was conceived during the 2013 Global Game Jam. I expressly wanted to make a board game with unique narrative moments, things you’d want to share with all your friends because they hadn’t happened to anyone else. We interpreted that year’s theme (the sound of a heartbeat) as tension, which we implemented in the form of cursed treasure, a mechanic that makes the game harder in different ways as you collect more treasure. Between that and the procedural cave creation, we found we were on to something special.

Tom: It sounds fun. Talk about how the game plays.

Jon: Skulldug! is a map building and traversal game at its heart, as the players build a unique cave each game by exploring outwards from an initial starting passage tile. Each turn, you have 3 action points to spend on moving, picking up items, using your equipment, and even shoving your fellow explorers into other passages.skulldug1

If you ever move into an area of the map without a passage tile on it, you immediately flip over a new passage tile and place it on the board, then draw the contents of that passage as specified on the tile. There are two decks of contents: a blue Fortune deck that contains treasures and useful equipment, and a red Hazard deck of traps and monsters that you must fight when you encounter them.

Ultimately, your goal is to hold 3 treasure cards in your hand at once and return back to the cave entrance tile. However, since each treasure imparts a debilitating curse to your explorer, escaping back past your opponents and their traps may be harder than it seems…

Brian: The game usually starts with a lot of discovery as players build the cave outward looking for the best items to improve their character’s capabilities. Along the way, they’ll discover a treasure or two, but some treasures are too risky to pick up early in the game. In the mid game, players will start paying attention to what their opponents are doing, and will place traps or manipulate the cave to head them off. When one player finally manages to collect three treasures, the game turns into stopping that player at all costs, with the hope that you’ll be the one to loot their goodies once they’re out of the way.

Tom: This sounds really interesting to me. It’s a unique take on a dungeon crawl and the “Incan Gold” parallels (which I’m sure you’ve heard) are cool. It may sound a lot like that game on the surface, it seems that it is quite different and deeper. Skulldug has funded and will be made. Congratulations!!! What are the pledge levels?  

Jon: We’ve tried to keep pledge levels simple to keep the focus on the game and minimize risk. However, we are offering a few fun bonuses in addition to copies of the game. We’ve included a special Advocate tier for fans who want to support us a little more, which includes a digital making-of artbook and a customized letter inducting the backer into the in-game team of their choice. This letter is hand-typed on a real typewriter, and should be a fun way to involve the backers in the theme and world of the game.

We also have a number of tiers that go beyond that by offering the backers the chance to have their portrait drawn by our artist Ghia Mercado and added to the game as one of the explorer characters. We actually launched with two separate tiers for this, offering half the available portraits for male backers and half of them for female backers, as we wanted to include a diverse selection of explorers in the game regardless of the breakdown of our backers. Based on the popularity of both of those tiers, we feel like we made the right choice!skulldug5

Tom: What are some of your stretch goals?

Brian: Most of the stretch goals improve the quality of the game components, like blue core cardstock or a plastic box insert. We’ve also just announced a new goal that would upgrade the passages from cards to 1mm chipboard tiles, which had been requested by several of our backers.

Jon: We also have a stretch goal for a team-based mode that allows you to partner up with another player in your quest for the treasure. I really hope we hit this one — it requires a number of extra components to make it work, but it offers an exciting twist on the base gameplay that encourages a lot of new and interesting strategies. Since it supports up to 3 teams of 2 players each, it also raises the maximum number of players from 5 to 6.

Tom: I’m a big fan of all things pulp. Why did you choose that as your theme?

Jon: We wanted to avoid the traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy setting that most dungeon crawlers fall into. Skulldug!’s design is interesting in that it features a negative ability curve — your character tends to grow weaker rather than stronger as the game progresses and you lose health, use up your equipment, and take on more curses. This flies in the face of the experience points and leveling up that normally comes with a standard fantasy theme, but it perfectly fits the idea of a pulp explorer, lost and alone in a dark cave, desperately struggling to make it back to the safety of the outside world.

I also think there’s a lot of humor in the classic pulp setting — where else does the ostensible hero bumble into a priceless historical site, smash the place up, then steal its artifacts while claiming that they ‘belong in a museum’? Humor encourages players to buy into the narrative of the game more as they joke it with their friends, so we play up the darkly comic elements of the pulp setting as much as possible.

Tom: I like the ‘leveling down / fatigue’ aspect of it. It makes sense. Nice. The tone sounds very ‘Indiana Jones’ to me. That’s great! I like the art of the game. Who’s the artist?

Brian: All of the game art was done by the lovely Ghia Mercado, a coworker and friend of mine. Her style perfectly matched the feeling we intended for the game, lighthearted but competitive. I tell people her art’s the best part.

Jon: I would absolutely buy a copy of the game for Ghia’s art alone! It’s a big part of why we added the digital artbook to our reward tiers — we want to share all of her concepts and works in progress with our backers, so that they can see the full process that the art took to go from our crude pixel prototypes to Ghia’s gorgeous final art pieces.ghia1

Tom: Here’s Ghia’s Tumblr so people can see more of her work. It’s very good. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Jon: Always be open to new ideas, whoever and wherever they come from. Seek out new experiences outside of your area of expertise and see what they inspire in you. Never assume you know better than your playtesters. Every idea has the possibility to be a great one, if you only take the time to think it through!

Brian: Don’t go it alone! It’s so easy to hoard your ideas and feel like you have to work out the kinks yourself, but bouncing mechanics off of a friend can go a long way. They just might be the motivation you need to push a concept to production. And to that point, get your prototype in front of as many faces as possible as soon as possible. Too often I hear concern from new designers about getting their game idea stolen, but that doesn’t actually happen. Really.

Jon: Definitely. On that same note, never ask someone to sign a non-disclosure agreement before playtesting your game. They’re doing you a huge favor by taking the time to give you feedback — don’t make it harder for them by making them sign something just to play your game!

Tom: This board game community is so supportive and helpful. As a designer, not availing yourself to that is a poor decision. It’s interesting you mentioned the NDA. No one has ever brought that up. Have you had experience with that or seen it happen?

Jon: It’s a concern that I hear designers working on their first games voice pretty frequently. Ultimately, it’s not really worth worrying about in the tabletop space. Your job as a designer skulldug4isn’t to have the best ideas, but to develop those ideas into the best versions of them they can be. If you think someone can take your idea and make a better game than you, then why bother designing in the first place

The best defense you can take against copycats is publicity, not secrecy. If you are blogging and sharing your ideas constantly, you’ll have pretty good proof that you had an idea first if someone does try to outright clone your game!

Tom: Why did you decide to start a game company?

Brian: Mostly to make the financials easier to manage. I think the more interesting question is: Why did we decide to self-publish?

Jon: We spent the better part of a year shopping Skulldug! to various publishers. We got some great feedback in that time, but found that finding the right publisher is a tricky proposition. Many smaller publishers don’t take submissions, while most larger publishers prioritize working with their staff designers. Even if you find a publisher looking for submissions, you have to fit in well with their existing catalogue — not too different from their target market, while not too similar to any other games that they already publish.

Ultimately, we decided it was in our best interests to form our own company, learn what it would take to print and publish a game on our own, and take our work to Kickstarter. It’s been a long road to get to this point, but now that we’ve put in the initial leg work on Skulldug!, we should be well-prepared to publish future games under the Ruddy Games banner!

Tom: What is your current favorite game mechanic?

Jon: I’m a huge fan of the action drafting mechanic in Antoine Bauza’s Tokaido. It does an amazing job of creating meaningful decisions, as the value of each space on the board is constantly shifting based on how many like-colored spaces you’ve landed on so far, and skipping too far ahead of the other players can end up giving the other players extra turns. It’s the epitome of easy to learn and hard to master… a great mechanic for all skill levels!

Tom: I like action drafting too though I have yet to play Tokaido.

Brian: I’ve recently been all about bluffing mechanics, especially in Masquerade and Skull & Roses. I love how much depth comes from such simple rulesets, especially in Skull & Roses. That kind of elegance is something I’d like to work towards in future designs.

Tom: I like bluffing games but really stink at them. You should play with Chris Kirkman if you get the chance. He’s so good at those games.  What’s next for Ruddy Games?

Jon: Although we’ll be focused on getting Skulldug! printed and distributed for awhile yet, we’ve got a number of projects in early stages in the pipeline. Brian has a card game that he’s working on with another designer, and I’m beginning to prototype one of my own. We’re also not limiting ourselves to tabletop games. Our background is in digital game design, and I have a number of ideas for digital games that I would love to develop under the Ruddy umbrella. The sky’s the limit!

Tom: Well, you have an open invitation to come back on as a guest to talk about any of them when you are ready.  How can people contact you?  


Jon: Fans interested in Skulldug! should feel free to comment on the Kickstarter directly! That said, anyone can reach out to us by following @Ruddy_Games on Twitter, liking Skulldug! on Facebook, or emailing us at You can also follow me personally at @TheJonAGill on Twitter or email!

Brian: And I can be twittered at @bkopleck, but just emailing works too.

Tom: Any final words?

Brian: If you haven’t checked out the Skulldug! Kickstarter yet, we recommend you do that immediately!

Jon: Apart from that… stay in school, follow your dreams, and always keep an open mind! That thing you’ve always wanted to do but don’t know if you’re good enough to do it? You absolutely are.

ruddy logo
Thanks Brian and Jon. I’m looking forward to Skullldug! and it was a bunch of fun talking about it with you.

Readers,you should check out Skulldug! right here.  The game has funded and will be produced. It looks like a lot of fun so head over and support it. And do it quick because the campaign ends very soon. Thanks for joining me again on Go Forth. Leave a comment by clicking the little black word balloon at the top of the post or on Twitter (@goforthandgame or @tomgurg). Tell your friends too.


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

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!


Tom: 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