Month: June 2015

Talking To Death, Kinda – A Conversation With…Michael Murphey of Grim Games

This episode I have Grim Games Head Honcho Michael Murphey with me. He has a game on Kickstarter right now called Grim. It’s a push-your-luck dice game that looks and sounds very cool. Let’s find out more.

Tom: Welcome to Go Forth And Game Michael. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Michael: My name is Michael Murphey, I’m the designer of Grim. I’m a father of two and am currently obsessed with micro-games.  

grim 7Tom: Now talk about Grim.

Michael: Grim is a game that was developed by myself and a small group of friends. In the game you have awoken very nearly dead, as have all of the people around you.  Grim has come to take all but one of you to the AfterRealm, where you will suffer a horrid GrimFATE.  To survive this ordeal you must be the first player to discard 10 tokens, either by giving them to Grim, or by pawning them off on the other players. This will earn you the right to face Grim in a one-on-one duel for your fate.  

Tom: Talk about how the game plays.

Michael: The game is very simple to learn.  You roll three custom d6s.  Each one has 2 sides with green Grims, 2 with red and 2 with blue.  You may roll as many times per turn as you like — each time you roll a green Grim you earn the right to turn in a token to Grim, or place it on your scorecard to save up to access Grim’s Hand — which is a deck of circular cards that will help you pawn off your tokens on the other players…unless you get burned by it.  If you roll blue then that die is frozen for your turn and cannot be used again.  If you roll red, that’s a strike.  Three strikes and your turn is over, and you are penalized by Grim with 3 additional tokens. grim 2

The game’s first expansion – Grim Decisions will actually give you access to a second deck of cards that you can alternately choose to draw from instead of taking 3 tokens.  These cards are custom penalties that Grim will force you to suffer through if you choose to draw.  Sometimes they are better than taking 3 tokens, other times they are far worse.

When players access Grim’s Hand they may end up paying the opponent of their choice anywhere from 3 to 5 tokens — or they may end up in a duel.  Duels are handled by rolling a 12d.

After one player has given away all of their tokens, they must then face Grim in one-on-one combat.  Grim will allow each additional player to roll on his behalf and take the highest score — you must beat this highest score within 3 rolls.  If you do not then Grim will hand you 10 tokens and you’ll start all over.  The game continues until someone defeats Grim.

Tom: So it’s a two phase game.  Neat idea. How did you build it like this? Was it two games that you smashed together or something else?

Michael: Nope, the phases actually come from a video game influence.  I really wanted a “boss battle” at the end of the game. It was fun just playing until one player ran out of tokens (which you can do if you read the “quick play” rules) but Grim was such a part of the box and the rules, it really seemed like a missed opportunity to not have him involved in the end game.  Dueling, which was Victor Brown’s idea, was a part of the game everyone really enjoyed — so it seemed like a logical way to fight Grim…and each player that isn’t facing Grim gets to roll on Grim’s behalf, so everyone gets to be involved in the end game in some way.

Tom: I like that you keep everyone involved in the game. TC Petty III would appreciate that.

Michael: The GrimFATE cards are actually a video game influence too. I was playing Mortal Kombat, actually.  One of the things that I have always loved about those games is that each character has their own ending if they win the grim 3tournament.  As a kid that made me replay the game with each character — and I loved getting a new ending every time.  So I wanted to do something like that with Grim.  I also enjoy being able to flesh-out the world of Grim and better set the tone for what exactly the “AfterRealm” is in the context of this game’s world.

Tom: Oh, ok. I didn’t get that from before. That’s a really cool idea. I really like the mechanics and the gameplay is very interesting. The Grim Decisions deck of penalties is a cool idea. I’m glad it is included now. The game has funded on KS by almost 5x the goal amount. I bet that feels great! Why do you think the campaign has been so successful?

Michael: It does feel great – that’s for sure!  We did a lot of research and prepared for the campaign for months, doing everything we could to learn the ins-and-outs of Kickstarter. I hope that research helped lead to the success we’ve had.  I think starting on Instagram and Twitter early was helpful too.  Building a small base of supporters that liked what we have been working on definitely helped kick things into gear on launch day.

Tom: I think that a strong Twitter presence is essential for any game, KS or otherwise, to be successful. You’ve done a good job of getting the word out. The Grim avatar caught my eye and lead to this interview. How important do you think BGG is to you?

Tom: What are some of your stretch goals?

Michael: We have done several basic stretch goals — upgrading the cards, our tokens, and so forth – but our biggest stretch goal is the “Grim Decisions” expansion pack that adds a new deck to the game that varies up penalty gameplay.

Tom: The KS page looks fantastic. It is very clear and clean. I really appreciate that. Death. How did you arrive at that as your theme?

Michael: What’s more fun than death?  Heh – I kid.  Actually, the way we came to the theme was based on the only mechanic from this game that existed from the first game we worked on when we initially started out.  That game was based around the idea of getting rid of tokens instead of collecting them.  So I was sitting around thinking of different themes that would fit that concept.  

The idea of Charon, the Ferryman for the River Styx in Greek mythology, popped into my head, and I loved the idea of “roll for your life!”  — those two things eventually lead to thinking about the Grim Reaper, and I started playing around in Adobe Illustrator to come up with some art concepts — the result is the little guy on the box, and he was too cutesy to call him “The Grim Reaper” to it was shortened to “Grim”. I liked the minimalist look, and the fact that he could be themed for other things. He works well as a mascot, I think. Time will tell. grim8

Tom: You have a social media campaign where people can download a copy of Grim and then take photos with him in the photo. They then post that photo and you will add it to a social media goal. Neat idea. Talk about how it came about.

Michael: I don’t really know why that popped into my head.  I just thought the idea of a “grim selfie” was funny — and I wanted to do some social engagement that was entertaining.  It’s really hard to get people to help promote your product — and rightfully so — no one wants to just see a stream of ads in their social media feeds — so I wanted it to be something that would at least be amusing to people, and we were all happy that some of the backers participated – and are still participating. It’s fun.

Tom: I like the art of the game. Who’s the artist?

Michael: That’s me. 🙂

Tom: Oh wow! That’s cool. And cost-effective. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Michael:  Back Kickstarter projects. When you do that, you get to be part of the process. All of that is an opportunity to learn from the challenges others face.  You not only get to see their successes, but also their struggles and it will really help you with your journey to a finished product. I think what other creators offer is invaluable when they share the real details of how their games are created — and to get the for only the price of their games is something you shouldn’t pass up.

If you’re not using Kickstarter and don’t think that will help you – the other major thing I would say is don’t get hung up on minutia.  When you’re working on your game there are going to be times you second guess what you’re doing or you can’t quite figure out what’s missing — finish your prototype, and play it with others.  If the game is broken or boring, you’ll see it when fresh eyes get on the game through playtesting.  The more you play what you have with others the more the concept will evolve — but you have to have the confidence to get it out there, even unfinished, and get advice from others.  Don’t be afraid to finish — the worst thing that can happen is that your idea needs to be reworked. It’s totally worth it.

Tom: I totally agree with this and am the worst for getting to the prototype stage and not finishing it or not playtesting it. I need to push through that. This board game community is so supportive and helpful. As a designer, not availing yourself to that is a poor decision.  How have you tapped into that community?grim 9

Michael: I agree completely.  We have been asking questions of our community since the very beginning, and I think you really have to do that.  It’s as simple as posting your design work or prototype images on social media and asking “what do you think?”  Encouragement for strangers is actually an excellent motivator.

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

Michael:  Because making games makes me happy. That may sound cornball or facetious, but that’s 100% the truth.  

Tom: What is your current favorite game mechanic?

Michael: That’s incredibly tough to answer because right now I’m playing just about everything I can get my hands on and I’m loving the vast majority of it.  I will say, as you can probably tell with Grim, I really enjoy “press your luck” mechanics.  

Primarily, I just love simple mechanics and easy-to-learn rules.  In a perfect world I can play a game with my 5 year old son, and my adult friends and we can all have a good time with it. That’s what I love.

Tom: That is a lofty goal that is not often obtained. Is there a game designer that you admire?

Michael: Jun Sasaki and Kouji Kimura are two designers who’s work I am currently fascinated by — I very much admire what they have been able to do with their Oink Games.  Seiji Kanai has also been very inspirational. Love Letter is truly remarkable to me.  Steffen Bogen…I could go on and on…there are so many amazing designers right now. grim 5

Tom: Favorite cartoon?

Michael: The Simpsons. And Robotech. And Thundercats. And Silverhawks. And Voltron. Also Tiny Toons. But mostly The Simpsons. 😉

Tom: I’m actually wearing my Voltron t-shirt as I write this. The Simpsons is a benchmark show. A generation touchstone I think. Like Jonny Quest or The Flintstones for me. Actually The Simpsons is the heir to The Flintstones.

What’s next for Grim Games?

Michael: Right now our main focus is on delivering Grim as quickly as possible — but we do have several games in the pipeline, and retail will be around the corner as soon as our backers have their games in hand.  We’re hoping that 2016 will be a very Grim year. 😉

Tom: HA! That’s great.  So, how can people contact you?

Michael: The best way to get in touch with us is at — you can also find us on social media — primarily Twitter and Instagram.  I manage both of those accounts myself – so if you send us a message on there, I’ll see it.

Tom: Any final words?

Michael: I can’t tell you how excited we are to be doing this – and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about Grim.

Tom: Last question: In a bake off who would win: Aunt Bea or Mrs. Cleaver?

Michael: Aunt Bea, without question.  She could win both a bake off and a fist fight and still set Andy right before the end of the episode.

Tom: 🙂 Awesome! Well Grim looks like a very fun game for all types of people – gamers and non-gamers alike. I’m happy that it is doing so well and look forward to seeing it in the wild.

Michael: Thanks Tom!

Tom: Thank you very much Michael.

Readers, Grim has 3 days left on its campaign. You can support it here. It looks like a blast. I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here or post on on Twitter. I’m @tomgurg or @goforthandgame. Thanks for reading, Tom G.

The more you play what you have with others the more the concept will evolve — but you have to have the confidence to get it out there, even unfinished, and get advice from others.  Don’t be afraid to finish — the worst thing that can happen is that your idea needs to be reworked. It’s totally worth it. —Michael Murphey of Grim Games

Battlecruising Together – A Conversation With…Philip duBarry

This time Philip duBarry joins me to talk about the newest addition to the Eminent Domain Universe – Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers.battlecruisers3

Tom: First, you have a new addition to your family. Tell us about him.

Philip: Ian is boy #2, child #6, and he was born June 2. He gave us just a little scare by having to go to the NICU for a few days due to an above-normal breathing rate. But we all got to come home before too long, and he and his mom are both doing well. And he’s ridiculously cute.

Tom: What do you look for in a game?

Philip: I want to see something clever that has a smooth feel, a complete and enjoyable experience. I’d like some interesting choices with not too much “take that” in something like 45-90 minutes.

Tom: What are some of your favorite games?

Philip: Dominion, Splendor, 7 Wonders, Innovation.

Tom: What’s the story behind Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers? Where did the idea come from?

Philip: The idea came to me while I was trying to go to sleep–this happens occasionally. I’d been looking into micro games and figured out the main mechanic in this big flash. I got up and wrote it all out. Then we tried it out in the morning and it worked! I soon figured out that the theme could be space (which I’ve wanted to do for a while) and there could be many more cards.

Tom: What was the original setting?

Philip: The theme started out as Middle Eastern / Persian, but it was quite dry.

Tom: Yeah, I can see that. I’m glad it got changed. How is it to work with Tasty Minstrel Games? How much input did Seth and Andy have on Battlecruisers?

Philip: It has been great! They are a class act all the way. My initial design still had a few kinks to work out, and they got them out. Seth and Andy both have such amazing, analytical brains for connecting all the dots and tying up loose ends.

Tom: I don’t think that way so it’s nice to have some analytical brains around. Give us the elevator pitch for the game.battlecruisers3

Philip: You are the captain of a battlecruiser deep in space locked in combat with other ships. You have only minutes to kill or be killed. Battlecruisers is a customizable micro game–it contains upwards of 30 different cards, but only 5 or 6 are used each 5-10 minute game. Players play a card face down. If it’s different from all the others, you get the good thing on the card. If you clash with an opponent, you both get the bad thing on the card. You win by having 15VP or being the last player with cards.

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

Philip: The roughest part is the period of time after you’ve been working on it for a while but before it really works like it does in your head. You never quite know if it’s going to be great or be a flop. Another less fun time is trying to get people to play it just before it gets released or launched on Kickstarter, but after it’s 99% set.

Tom: Yeah, getting that thing in your head out and working right is hard. What is the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a playtester on Battlecruisers?

Philip:The playtesters did an amazing job on this game. Andy set up a nice BGG guild (Tasty Testers) to explore the game and find the bugs. And they found quite a few. We were able to eliminate some infinite loops (this can still happen, but not as often). They also figured out some of the more fun prefab combinations to play.

Tom: That was a good idea Andy had – BBG guild for playtesters of a certain game. Nice.

Philip: Probably the biggest improvement to the game itself was Seth’s addition of a “Recovery Zone”, a place for your previously played card to cool down before it goes back into your hand. This also helps other players better assess the risk involved in playing the next card, since they know you can’t play the recovery zone card.battlecruisers2

Tom: Interesting. What makes designing games so fun?

Philip: It’s just a fun little puzzle figuring all the different strands you want in a game then weaving them together into a cohesive whole. There is a magic moment when the game becomes more than the sum of its parts. I just love that!

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

Philip: Definitely an ‘add to’ designer. I’m always afraid there isn’t enough in my designs, but I need to know that it works in a stripped-down form before I get too excited about adding more complexity.

Tom: What designers do you admire?

Philip: Carl Chudyk, Antoine Bauza, Uwe Rosenberg, Ryan Laukat, quite a few others.

Tom: How do you decide when a game is done?

Philip: We always joke that it’s when my daughter #3 starts crying during the game and/or I can win most of the time but still enjoy it. I think that indicates it’s just a bit harder than a clever 7-8-year-old can manage, so it’s pretty accessible and it’s “my” kind of game. And I like it. Or course, then you get it into the hands of a publisher and the next development and fine-tuning stage begins. A lot of this is the publisher translating the game into something that better fits with their existing catalogue and fan base but is still “my” game. Then we ship it and it’s done. Then I think of x, y, and z I could have done to make it better. It’s tough to let go.

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

Philip:Realizing that it wasn’t as awesome as I thought it was when TMG signed it. That middle-of-the-night flash happened about a week before I pitched it to Michael. Of course that’s very unusual. Something like that makes you feel like you are the most awesome designer ever! But then you realize that games take a while to come together for a reason. It’s not about luck and brilliant insight–it’s about the hard work of day-by-day progress.

Tom: Do you have a favorite mechanic? Least favorite?

Philip: I love card drafting. I hate real-time dice (but I’m working on one that I’d like to play).

Tom: What are some things that you have learned about playtesting?battlecruisers1

Philip: The biggest thing is just developing a sense of what comments to embrace and which to ignore. I’ve gotten better at figuring out what type of players my different testers are and putting their comments in that context. For example, if have a eurosnob (which I sort of am) play your cutthroat take-that dice-rolling luckfest game, they are going to say they hate it. Taken in that context, “I hate it” becomes a great endorsement of what you are trying to do with your game!

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

Philip: I think most new games these days add something to your catalogue of ideas about how to approach design. I did make an effort to play through a lot of the classics when I first got into the hobby back in the mid-2000s. I would suggest working through some of the top older games ranked highly on BGG. And playing lots of different games, even ones that you might not like.

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

Philip: I’ve learned that not every game I make is good. My early success with Revolution! tempted me to think of myself as some kind of board game prodigy. However, this is far from true. I am not exempt from doing the hard work it takes to bring a good game to life. I don’t think you ever just “arrive”. it’s a battle every time–a battle you are going to lose sometimes.

Tom: Favorite cartoon?

Philip: Animaniacs

Tom: Do you have a favorite quote or saying?

Philip: This is the one I have on my blog:

“What people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem, but games worth playing. Having found the game, play it with intensity. If life does not seem to offer a game worth playing, then invent one.”

~Robert de Ropp

Tom: What is something we would not know about you but you don’t mind telling us?

Philip: I have in the past played a number of musical instruments including the violin, clarinet, and trumpet. I enjoyed them, but I just don’t have the time to devote to them presently.

Tom: Once again, how do we communicate with you?

Philip: My blog is I am also on twitter @pdubarry.

Tom: Do you have anything else to say?

Philip: I’m looking forward to GenCon, but I’ll only be there for Friday. I’d love to meet some new folks!

Tom: Lastly, given equal knowledge and resources, who would win – Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison?

Philip: Edison–he’d work just a bit harder and be less distracted.

Thanks for joining me again Philip. It was fun to talk to you about Battlecruisers.

Readers, you have only a few more days to support this great game. Cruise on over here and land some of your $$ on Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers.