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.

Round and Round – A Conversation With…Scott Almes

Scott Almes is back and we talk about Loop, Inc., The Great Dinosaur Rush, Bigfoot, & time travel. Here we go!


The man himself!

Tom: First, how are the negotiations with the Elves Union going?

Scott: Very well.  I’m looking forward to a long, fruitful future working with the game design elves.

Tom: That is very good news. So, what cons are you attending this year?

Scott: Thanks to the generous backers for the Tiny Epic Galaxies campaign, I’m looking forward to a trip to Essen and helping the folks at Gamelyn staff their booth.

Tom: That is super awesome news!! Gamelyn is such a class act. I need to get Michael on the ‘show’ soon.  Hey, can we do an interview when you get back?

Scott: Of course we can!

Tom: Now in our last interview you said, “I work for a solid 1-2 hours on game design/development every day, and then in between the cracks I’ll finish the business side of things like answering e-mails, keeping track of rules questions on BGG, and doing interviews ;)”

This ‘an hour a day’ idea is one I need to implement. I’ve at least three designs at various stages and need to get something to playtesting stage.

How do you actually do this?

Scott: It’s a challenge getting into a schedule, and it took me a while to do so.  It’s all about making design a habit.  It’s like exercise in many ways – if you don’t make it a part of your week, then it’s not going to happen.  If I don’t get design work done for a couple days I feel off and frustrated, which shows that it’s not a natural habit.  For me, as soon as I get home from my day job, that’s when I do my game design work for an hour or two.  I’m still in a productive mode, and that – for me – is the best time of day to tackle it.  At the beginning, you have to force yourself into the schedule.  But it’ll become natural soon enough.

Tom: Ok. I kinda thought you would say something like that. I was hoping for a “go to this website and sign up for some elves” answer but this will do. I need more discipline.

Your next game is Loop, Inc.. Talk about it a lot.scott6

Scott: Loop, Inc. is a game where players are employees at a mid-tier time travel agency owned by Mr. Loop.  In the game, players outfit their time machines with different components and then send their customers back in time.  When they do so, they get paid in points.  However, they don’t get paid in many points, so to give themselves a financial edge the players decide to take their time machines back in time to repeat the same day, and therefore gain more points.  The twist?  When you go back in time, you have to repeat the actions from the previous day, otherwise you may cause a tear in the time-space continuum.  This gets tricky very fast, as you juggle old actions that you are forced to use and new actions you can choose to use.  Things compound even further when you go back for a third try…

What I love about this game is the ‘snowball’ effect of going back in time.  I wanted something that, during play, felt like you’re actually messing with your timeline.  It’s a unique game, and I don’t think it plays like anything else in your collection.  The mechanics are very straightforward and the actions are simple, but the snowball effect makes it quite the brain burner.

Tom: Man, that sounds like so much fun. I like a good time travel story and this sounds like it will make some cool ones. The ‘snowball’ effect is interesting. It’s like combo-ing but more complex I would guess. Who is publishing it?

Scott: This’ll be my first game with Eagle-Gryphon games, and it’s illustrated by the fantastic Kwanchai Moriya.  I’ll have a second game coming out with EG Games next year, called Island Hopper, which is a mix of auctions and dexterity.  I’m really trying to make games that play different than others in your collection, and that’ll be another one.

Tom: About Loop, can you give me a quick example of play.


Loop, Inc. components

Scott: Definitely.  So, the game is played over the course of three days.  During the first day you might put an Advertising token on a Trip to take customers to Sail with Darwin on the HMS Beagle.  Then you take two Shop actions in a row which let you add a Camera and a Net to your time machine.  This lets you fulfill the trip with Darwin, and you send your time machine back in time.  Each of these actions are represented from a card you take and lay in front of you.  That’s a simple first day, and now you go back in time to the beginning of your first day.

Now you have the time machine you came with (still outfitted with a Camera and a Net), but you also have the fresh time machine from the beginning of the day.  You also have the hand of cards from your first day’s actions (Advertising, Shop, Shop)  Now, for this second day, you get to take 3 new actions, but also have to complete your three actions from before. (So 6 total) And those actions (Advertise, Shop, Shop) must be completed in the same order.

So, how do you plan your second day?  Do you start off using old actions, or new actions?  You lose points if you send a time machine on a trip with extraneous components, so you need to figure out what to do with a time machine that already has a camera and a net on it.  You could use a move action, which switches components around.  Or a trash action, which lets you remove components.

After you complete the second day, you jump back to the third.  Now you have three time machines, 6 old actions, and 3 new ones to take.  Things have certainly snowballed!  The actions are simple, but the decisions are tricky.

Tom: Let’s talk about Bigfoot some. It’s a little known Scott Almes game.

Scott; Bigfoot was released by Game Salute last year.  It’s a small box, two player deduction game that takes 15 minutes to play.  It’s asymmetrical, which is neat.  One player is the cryptozoologist, who is trying to trap Bigfoot in his lair.  The scott3other player is Bigfoot, who is trying to stay hidden the entire game.  The game features a cool ‘I cut – you choose’ mechanic.  Each turn, the cryptozoologist lays out two paths, each loaded with traps and special actions.  The Bigfoot must choose which path to take.  When he takes a path, all the traps are triggered and gives the cryptozoologist clues.  It’s quick and fun.

Tom: I think I would like that. I should pick up a copy. I’m retheming Duck Blind to have a cryptid/paranormal theme.  Talk about the next Tiny Epic family member.

Scott: This little family has grown, hasn’t it?  The next TE family member is going to be an expansion for Tiny Epic Kingdoms called Heroes’ Call.  Like we tend to do, we are LOADING it with new content.  Here’s the rundown of what’s happening:

  1. Heroes – This is the biggest new mechanic.  Players now get a big meeple that serves that serves as their hero.  Heroes have special powers, are upgradable, and you can retire them for points.  Some heroes level up by spending resources, and others are forged through war.
  2. New Factions – In this expansion, winter is coming, and you’ll see some scott9factions descend from the frozen north.  Pigfolk.  Polarbear warriors.  Birdfolk.  There is a lot here!  If we fund high enough, it’s possible we could double the amount of factions that were in the base game.
  3. New Territories – Everybody likes more variability, right? You’ll see two new regions.  The first is the Peaks, which allows players to collect the new resource, silver.  And the next is the Tundra, which can only hold meeples in there temporarily, but allows them to collect any resource.
  4. War Towers – This is a cool, game changing addition.  Each player gets more tower pieces, and the twist is that when players build a tower, they have to build it on the board.  The tower track keeps track of your overall tower value, but the pieces on the board are the actual war towers.  Which, if a space is invaded, these towers can be toppled and removed.  War just got an upgrade!

TEK: Heroes’ Call is coming to KS on June 22nd.  And, please check it out.  There is so much fun in this box.  We’re dialing up the epic on it.

Tom: This sounds pretty exciting. There’s been talk on the web just coming out about this. Best Treehouse did amazing on KS. Where are things with it?

Scott: We’re just about to send the files to the printer.  In fact, by the time this is posted they should already be in the hands of the manufacturer.

I was really happy with how it did on KS.  I’m especially glad that we got the stretch goal that allowed us to afford to do every room as a unique piece of art. scott2 Did you see what Adam did with these rooms???  Seriously, he’s one of (if not THE) best in the industry right now.  Fantastic, fantastic work.  I’m so happy with it.

It was also the first time I got to work with Jason Kotarski, who is likely the nicest guy in the industry.  I hope we get to do another game together in the future.  I had a lot of fun developing BTE with him.  I share his love for small box games that are easy to learn.

Tom: You’re right. The art is fantastic. Adam is just killing it. It’s good news on the files. The game is moving along well. I really need to get Jason back on. He’s is cool. Ok, APE Games just announced that they are publishing another game of yours – The Great Dinosaur Rush. Give us the scoop on it.

Scott: Oh, man, I am so excited to talk about this one!

So, The Great Dinosaur Rush stemmed from my love for dinosaurs.  It started when I was a kid (I briefly thought I was going to be a paleontologist) and I’ve had a love for fossils ever since.  TGDR is my expressing that fascination with the prehistoric through a game.


Cope vs. Marsh

It’s themed around a very specific time period in paleontology.  The Great Dinosaur Rush (or the Bone Wars) took place in the late 1800’s and was one of the most prolific periods of discovery in the field.  However, it was also a time period where two paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, brought shame upon their entire field.  You see, they didn’t just dig up bones.  They sabotaged each other, bribed away crews, dynamited dig sites, and slandered each other in the press – all in the name of being the best paleontologist in the world.  This is considered one of the greatest scientific feuds in all of history.  The only feud that rivals it is the war of currents.  I mean, these guys were nasty.  E.D. Cope actually requested that after his death his skull would be preserved and measured against his rival, O.C. Marsh, just to prove that he had the bigger brain.

This time period was ripe for a game, and I was very driven to turn it into one.  And, the result is – well – I hesitate to say it’s the game I’m the most proud of, but it’s one that is certainly a reflection of my quirky interests.


Scott’s newest baby!

The game players like nothing you’ve ever played.  Seriously.  I know a lot of people say that, but this is going to knock your socks off.  In this game, you collect and build dinosaur skeletons to get points at the museum.  Collecting bones is fairly straightforward, but you can take notorious actions to make collecting easier by dynamiting or stealing bones from other players.  When you do this, you get a notoriety token with a secret value.  At the end of the game, the player with the most notoriety loses points.  So it has a nice push your luck feel.  But, it’s once you get these bones that things get really interesting.

The bones are wooden pieces that you use to assemble the skeleton.  Skeletons must follow a simple set of rules, but other than that are pretty freeform.  That means you get to let your creativity flow while building these dinosaurs.  No dinosaurs will ever look the same.  This part is just FUN!

Of course, there’s strategy to it.  When you finished your skeleton, there are rules scott11for how you compare them against each other.  Which dinosaur is the most fierce?  Which is the tallest?  The longest?

TGDR is very unique, and I can’t wait until it comes to KS.  It has creative play, a historical theme, a cool notoriety mechanic, and hidden underneath the hood it’s driven by fair eurogame sensibilities.  And, the art is going to look fantastic.  APE is doing such a good job with the game!

Tom: I really like how this sounds. I’ve always loved dinosaurs so this is striking the right chords with me. I know a little about this subject and you are right. It was ripe for a game. The notoriety mech is cool. Can you explain it a bit more?

Scott: Definitely.  In the historical Great Dinosaur Rush, these paleontologists brought shame on their entire profession.  So, I wanted to make sure that this was a central mechanic in the game.  Basically, your turn while collecting bones goes: 1) Collect bones in the space you are in, 2) Move, and 3) Take an Action.

The notoriety part comes with 3.  There are some good actions (Promote a museum category which puts more points up for grabs, publish a paper, or donate bones) and then there are three notorious actions.  The notorious actions (Steal, Sabotage and Slander) are more powerful, but they come at a price.  You gain a scott5notoriety token, which is worth 1-3 points.  This is hidden from the other players.  At the end, everybody reveals their tokens.  The player with the most loses those points.  The other players GAIN those points.  So, you want to have a lot of notoriety (and benefit from the fame) but not enough to bring shame upon your name.   It’s a little group-thinky, push your luck, and a quite fun element to the play.

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

Scott: What I’ve learned from playtesting is the ability to read between the lines.  When a playtester asks a question or gives a suggestion, there’s normally something in your game that they felt was lacking.  Take their question or suggestion, but also try and figure out the driving force behind it.  For example, if you are designing a dice-based euro game, and a player says “I wish I had more dice on their turn”, the answer might not be as simple as more dice.  What they are looking for is doing more on their turn, or to make their turns more meaningful.  The solution could be more dice, sure, but you might need to make your actions more powerful, reduce downtime so turns come quicker, or making put in some simultaneous play.

“Everyone has different likes and dislikes.  Playtesting is important, but realizing what to listen to – and what not to – is essential for playtesting properly.”

Tom:How do you decide this? What’s good, what’s not good advice?

Scott: I’ll caveat this by saying most playtesting advice is good.  At least that is my experience.  Good advice is constructive:

“I felt that X was too powerful”

“I never placed a worker on Y the entire game”

“I never had enough money to do Z”

“My favorite part was A, and you should emphasize that”

“The game is running long, and I felt I know who would win 20 minutes ago”

Bad advice tends to be in conflict with your design goals:

“I know you made this game about medieval construction, but I want to play a game about raising ponies.  It should have more ponies.”

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

Scott: I like to point out Power Grid, because you can see how the mechanics intertwine during play.  It has variable turn order, a self-balancing market that factors in supply and demand, a ‘step’ mechanic that ramps up the game towards the end, and a cutthroat auction.  When you play, really focus on how the mechanics are working together, and what the do to benefit the game.  Look at how the market’s fluctuations affect play.  Watch how people take turn order into consideration as they grow.  There are a lot of subtle things here that are great for a game designer to pay attention to.

Tom: What do you like to do when you’re not playing or designing games?

Scott: Spend time with friends and family, of course!  I’m also a big reader and I love to write.  I’ve had short stories published before, and would love to get a novel published in the near future.

Tom: What other geeky stuff do you like to do?

Scott: I love movies, especially quirky, indie science fiction films.  Movies like “Safety Not Guaranteed”, “The One That I love”, and “Primer” are all awesome in my book.  I love seeing the surge of low-budget, high concept sci-fi.

Tom: I like those types of movies also. “Primer” is amazing. I’ve not seen the other two. Yet. Remind us how to contact you.

Scott: I’m on twitter quite a bit, so you can reach me there at @Scott_Almes

Or, I’m on BoardGameGeek all the time, and my username is “scottbalmes”.

Scott, it was awesome talking to you again. I’m very excited about all your up-coming games.

Readers, please keep your eyes open for Loop, Inc. and The Great Dinosaur Rush coming soon to Kickstarter.

Feel free to leave a comment here or on Twitter #goforthandgame. Thanks for visiting.

“What I’ve learned from playtesting is the ability to read between the lines. When a playtester asks a question or gives a suggestion, there’s normally something in your game that they felt was lacking. Take their question or suggestion, but also try and figure out the driving force behind it.”

-Scott Almes


Out of the Pouch – A Conversation With…Matt Wolfe About Wombat Rescue

This time my friend Matt Wolfe joins me to talk about his first published game, Wombat Rescue. Matt is an awesome and fun guy and I hope you enjoy our talk.

wombat2Tom: Well, Matt, you’re living the dream with signing your first game, Wombat Rescue with Eagle-Gryphon Games. How does that feel?

Matt: It feels pretty surreal right now! It’s in this weird state where the game is signed and it’s up on Kickstarter but it doesn’t feel 100% real yet, you know? It’ll feel a lot more real when the project funds and then it’ll finally feel absolutely real when I receive the first game from the production run. But right now it’s definitely a little surreal. (The project has since funded and has passed its fourth stretch goal!)

Tom: First talk about the game.

Matt: So first I have to talk a bit about wombats. Wombats poop cubes, which is absolutely a true fact. Scientists theorize that, due to extremely poor vision but an excellent sense of smell, wombats use their poop cubes as “smell markers” to help them navigate their environment. Because their poop is cube-shaped it is less likely to roll away or be moved.

In Wombat Rescue you play as the mama wombat of your tribe. The dastardly dingo has stormed your burrow and chased away 4 of your baby wombats! You will need to eat and digest food in order to produce poop cubes, with which you will build smell areas so you can navigate your environment, find your baby wombats, and bring them home. The player who best plans their smell areas and moves most efficiently will prove victorious!

Tom: That is so very cool.  How did you settle on that theme? Did the game have another theme prior?wombat3

Matt: All the mechanisms in the game are derived from the theme. I started with theme and figured out how to build a game that integrated the theme. There was never a previous theme and I never seriously considered changing the theme.

Tom:What is unique about it besides the theme? Why should I buy it?

Matt: I hesitate to claim that anything is unique because I’m just one guy who can’t be omniscient with all the games out there, especially with all the games that are being released these days. I’ve never seen or played a game with network building and spatial movement like Wombat Rescue, but I won’t be the one to definitively claim it’s unique. I certainly hope it is and I hope reviewers and players agree. But it would be disingenuous for me to claim uniqueness when I simply can’t know that for certain.

But one reason why I think people should back the game on Kickstarter is because it’s a euro game that actually has deep thematic integration with the mechanisms in the game. I think more and more euros are starting to be released with better thematic integration instead of slapping a theme on top of some mechanisms, and I’m proud that Wombat Rescue is one of the games leading this movement.

Tom: How did you get someone to buy a game about wombat poop?

Matt: It all started at Unpub 4. That was the first public appearance for the game and Ralph Anderson from Eagle-Gryphon Games played it and loved it. He wanted to see the design after some further improvements. I worked on the design some more after Unpub 4, sent it off to Ralph, and he loved the improvements! He gave me the OK to send a prototype to the CEO for a final decision. I made a huge mistake and didn’t get the rulebook blind playtested before I sent it out and the CEO’s group had trouble playing it. So I decided to buy a ticket for Origins 2014 to play the game with the people from Eagle-Gryphon to ensure it would be played correctly. They played it and loved it and we had a handshake deal right then!wombat6

Tom: Playtesting, actually getting my game in front of people, is the hardest part of design for me. Because I often feel that I’m wasting their time. What is the most difficult part of designing for you?

Matt: You need to get over that feeling. You’re only wasting people’s time if you aren’t valuing their time by ignoring feedback and making changes appropriately.

For me, the most difficult part of game design is development. I’m pretty good about getting a design to the point where it’s playable and fun. That part is usually fairly easy for me. But taking a design from playable and fun and sanding, polishing, and trimming the game to its final form is difficult for me. Maybe it’s difficult for all designers? I’m not sure.

Tom: I think the refining process is difficult for all of us. What was the hardest thing you had to cut from Wombat Rescue?

Matt: Actually, nothing was cut. Things were changed, tweaked, and added. But the core of the game has stayed largely intact since the initial design. It’s very atypical for most designs.

Tom: That’s cool. What was THE best piece of feedback you received on the game?

Matt: One of the first playtesters at Unpub 4 told me it was better than any published game he had played that week. I was smart enough not to ask which games he had played since he could have played Munchkin or something like that, but that comment was still a great piece of feedback and really made me feel like I could do this design thing.wombat1

Tom: Wow, that would make me feel fantastic too. What other games do you have in the queue?

Matt: Oh man, I have a ridiculous number that I need to polish up and find homes for. Junkyard Fort, Avalanche on Yeti Mountain, Balloon Delivery Service, Ubar: Atlantis of the Sands, Demolition Derby Dice, and a couple of others that I need to figure out how to fix. I hope to find homes for several of these this year.

Tom: I’ve played Avalanche and Balloon and enjoyed them both. Ubar sounds really neat. I hope I can play it soon. We’re brother Geek Allstars. That’s a ton of fun. What’s the best part of it for you?

Matt: It’s just fun to talk games a bit off the cuff with everyone and challenge opinions a little bit on the show. Especially when we all know that Dan’s opinion is incredibly wrong. Especially about movies!

Tom: Oh, of course. Dan has … interesting movie tastes. I really like talking about movies and comics the most I guess. You’re known as a hipster gamer. How did you get that label?

Matt: You know, I think Dan Patriss may have been the person to give me that label. I tend to like quirky themes and games that are a little off the beaten path, and thus games that most people probably haven’t heard of. Or if they have heard of the game they haven’t had a chance to play it yet. So hipster gamer sort of became what I’m known for. I’m OK with that label.

Tom: You are the Unpub guy in our area. Thank you very much for that. The events you and your wife have organized have been very successful for the designers in our area. Any secrets to running a smooth, successful Unpub Mini?wombat4

Matt: Oh, it’s my pleasure. My big secret is my wife, who actually runs the event on the actual day as I sit at my table and run playtests for whatever I’m showing off. My wife is amazing and I couldn’t do it without her. The key to having a smooth event is just organization and preparation. It’s not really any secret. Prepare for the event by running through how things are going to work and finding flaws in your plan. Organize by making sure the designers know what to expect, what they need to do, what the expectations are for them, etc. If you prepare and organize well in the months before the event then the actual day generally will run smoothly.

Tom: She did an incredible job. Please thank her again for me. You were very proactive and ahead of the game with keeping us designers on the ball. I had very good playtests of Tourist Traps. Thanks again. You are the organizer and ‘leader’ of the Game Designers of Carolina. How did that happen?

Matt: I’m the type of person that when I see a gap I like to fill the gap. When I first started getting interested in designing games I asked around to see if there was a game design group in the area. There didn’t seem to be one and there were a couple people who expressed interest, so I started one! We had about 8 people who attended that first meeting and I think only 3 of those people are still involved, but we’ve grown very strong over the past 2 years and we have a lot of very talented people in the group now (including yourself!).

Tom: We tried to get something together in Durham but it never gelled. I’m very glad GDoC is there. I very much appreciate this group though I don’t get to attend meetings as much as I would like. The group has been very valuable to me, especially on Tourist Traps. How valuable is a group like this to designers, in your opinion?

Matt: I think a regular design group is the single most valuable thing a designer can have. No designer can consistently be an island. You have to be able to bounce ideas off of other people and get other people to playtest your designs. Creativity happens best when people interact with each other. Creativity is exponentially amplified when you work with other people who are interested and invested in the same thing as you. I encourage every designer to either find or start their wombat5own group. It’s the single best choice I’ve made in my design “career” so far.

Tom: Drew Hicks, a member of GDoC, said it on Twitter recently – “Like, one of the best things about @GDofNC is being surrounded by people that will be supportive, but totally honest. Much appreciated.” That is so very true. I work SO much better with people to work with.

Matt: It really is true and that’s exactly what a group can do for you!

Tom: What are some of your current favorite games?

Matt: This is a surprisingly difficult question because I have such a large backlog of unplayed games that I tend to play them once and either put them on the shelf or get rid of them if I hated it. But Glory to Rome, Carcassonne, Luna, Eclipse, Belfort, For Sale, Francis Drake, Trajan, and Galaxy Trucker are some of my favorites.

Tom: Excellent choices. We have similar tastes in games. Do you have a favorite designer?

Matt: Oh yes, Stephan Feld is my favorite.  I don’t care if people try to derisively call his games “point salad” or whatever. He designs games with ingenious mechanisms and an unstable underbelly within a euro framework that just speaks to my gamer heart.

Tom: I’m a Feld fan boy too. Macao and Trajan are so fantastically brain burny. What are your Origins plans?

Matt: Since the Wombat Rescue Kickstarter project is running through Origins, I will be demoing it as often as I can. Other than that I plan on seeing friends I haven’t seen in a while and getting far too little sleep!

Tom: Any GenCon plans?wombat4

Matt: I’m going to GenCon for the first time this year. There are a couple Wombat Rescue sessions that I’ll probably run and there’s the live Geek AllStars recording on Saturday that I’ll be part of. Other than that I’m going with a completely open schedule so I can experience whatever I want to experience. I didn’t want to burden myself with a bunch of events for my first time and find that I was too booked up to have any fun.

Tom: That sounds like a perfect plan. I will remember that when I finally make it to GenCon myself.

Matt, I’m really glad to have had you as a guest on Go Forth. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know you better. You have a permanent invitation to come back anytime.

Readers, you can find Matt on Twitter (@mattwolfe) & on BGG (mattwolfe). You can support Wombat Rescue right here. It’s one of the hits of Origins 2015 so get on board NOW!

Did you enjoy this conversation? Have something to say? Post your comments on Twitter #goforthandgame. Or you can email me – Or leave a comment here by clicking on the word balloon at the top of the page.