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.
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.
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).
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?
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 www.phantasiogames.net. 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.