It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad City – A Conversation With…Eric B. Vogel

It’s been a while since I posted. I’ve just been very busy. But I’m happy to bring you this interview with designer Eric B. Vogel. Eric’s newest game is Don’t Turn Your Back. It’s a game set in Evil Hat Production’s Don’t Rest Your Head universe. In this deckbuilder players visit The Mad City and must deal with the … interesting inhabitants there.

Tom: Hi Eric. Thanks for joining me for the interview. First let’s talk about Don’t Turn Your Back. How did you get involved in Don’t Turn Your Back?DTYB2

Eric: Well I designed it, initially on spec.  Most of my work for Evil Hat Productions has been by commission, but not in this case.  I initially started designing the game with a different theme, with the idea of pitching it to a different publisher.  However, once the design game together, I realized it was a perfect fit for the setting of the Don’t Rest Your Head RPG, the “Mad City.”  I had been trying to come up with a game idea that would be a good fit for that setting for a couple of years, so I was very happy to discover how well this theme fit the mechanics.  I pitched a version that was very close to the final game mechanically to Fred Hicks and Chris Hanrahan of Evil Hat, and they bought it.

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

Eric: The game is my most distinctive and original game, mechanically.  It involves a unique synthesis of deckbuilding and worker placement mechanics, in which you cards function like workers, and do different things depending upon what part of the board you place them.  It involves elements of worker placement, deckbuilding, and majority control.  It is fairly easy to learn, but still has a lot of different strategic paths, so I think the game has appeal for a wide variety of gamers.

Tom: I have Don’t Rest Your Head. It is a super fantastic role playing game in one of the most unique settings I’ve ever seen. What is your favorite part of the game?

Eric: I love the setting overall.  In cinema, dream-like atmospheric movies tend to be my favorites, things like The Silence, or Mulholland Drive, and DRYH has that same creepy feel.  I’m not actually a role-player myself, so I appreciate dryh-feat1DRYH more as a piece of literature than as a game.

Tom: Creepy is a very spot on description. I like it. Mulholland Drive is a really good reference for the atmosphere of the setting. And your point of DRYH as a piece of lit is a good one. It is so rich.

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

Eric: I think that’s true of a lot of artistic pursuits, like creative writing or filmmaking.  I’m not sure if that is such a common feature of the process of game design.  These days, I tend to start with the barest skeleton of a game and just add mechanics until I feel it has just reached the level of depth I want.  So I never really “cut” anything from DTYB.  I did briefly try some mechanics that I felt did not work.  I tried making each player’s deck distinctive, but it totally destroyed the game balance; most games with that as significant component have balance problems in my experience.  Non-equivalence between players is most functional in games that are so random overall, that the difference between player assets hardly matters.  Games that truly manage to balance that, like Smallworld, are rare.  Still, gamers always think they want that, so I often at least try to make it work.

Tom: The art for the game is pretty cool. Who is the artist?DRYH

Eric: George Cotronis, who I believe has been the artist for all the Don’t Rest Your Head stuff.  He really did exceptional work for this game I think.  It is sublime, in the original sense of the word.  It’s creepy and beautiful at the same time.  Of all my games, DTYB is the one I am happiest with as an art object, so to speak.  Some people only like “cute” game art, and find the art in this game unsettling, but then I think good art should have that effect on conventional thinkers.

Tom: You have some other games besides Don’t Turn Your Back. Tell us about those.

Eric: Working backwards, my most recent game was Zeppelin Attack, from Evil Hat.  It is a deckbuilding game that involves a lot of targeted player combat, and direct player interaction.  It is set in the world of the Spirit of the Century RPG, but focuses on the villains instead of the heroes of that setting.  Before that, Editions Lui-meme and Asmodee released Romans Go Home, which is a super-fast programming game about Scottish clans trying to knock down Hadrian’s Wall.  Before that was the trilogy of the “celtic nations series” cambriaArmorica, Cambria, and Hibernia.  Most of those were published by Sandstorm LLC.  They were all fairly short strategy eurogames, set in the Roman-Celtic world.  Those 3 are out of print at the moment, but you can usually track them down online.

Tom: Those last three are on my want list. I hear good things about each. What was THE best piece of feedback you received on DTYB?

Eric: DTYB?  Honestly I don’t remember.  It was a game that really sprang almost fully formed out of my head.  It worked really well, practically from the first prototype I did.  I have never had a game where the design process was so effortless.  Usually, playtester feedback plays a much more formative role in my design process, but in this case everyone just liked what I did in the first place.

Tom: That’s pretty awesome. What other games do you have in the queue?

Eric: I think next up will be another EHP game.  It’s a cooperative design, that takes only about 20 minutes to play, although there is a longer campaign game too.  I can’t tell you a lot about at this stage, but I think people will be really excited about the theme once they get to see it.  After that EHP is going to be releasing a card game by myself and Chris Ruggiero, one of the authors of Race to Adventure; the game is called Kaiju Incorporated, and is about multinational corporations rebuilding the world after giant monster attack.  You get to market consumer products made out of Kaiju parts, like “Kaiju Foies-Gras” and “Kaijumojo Male Enhancement Pills.”  It is a really humorous game, and has awesome art by Brian Patterson.  I have projects at a couple of other publishers too, but those projects are at too early a stage for me to tell you much about them.

Tom: I’m intrigued by the first game. The second one sounds really fun. I can’t wait to see the art for it.

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? Do you have a regular playtesting group?

Eric: Yes, I have a couple of them.  However my main playtesting group is also my regular gaming group.  I have been playtesting with those folks as long as I have been designing.  I also have a group of regular playtesters that meets at Endgame in Oakland, which is centered on Shannon Appelcline, the game critic and writer, who gives me feedback on all my games.  There are a couple of other game nights around the bay area that I also playtest at frequently, at It’s Your Move games in Oakland, and The Blue Danube in Alameda.

Tom: What are some of your current favorite games?

Eric: Roll for the Galaxy.  I have really played that one a ton this year.  I was a big Race for the Galaxy player before that.

Tom: Do you have a favorite designer?

Eric: Martin Wallace, although I feel like he has been in a slump for the last couple of years.  Bruno Faidutti is also a big fav of mine.  That said, I don’t think I design very much like either one of them.  Maybe Romans Go Home is like something Bruno would design.

Tom: Did you make it to GenCon this year?

Eric: No, alas.  I went out to Bruno Faidutti’s ludopathic gathering this year, and it ate my game travel budget entirely. It was worth it tho!

Tom: Very Coo!! I would have chosen that also. What do you enjoy doing when not playing or designing games?

Eric: Hiking, music, Karaoke, movies although I am very busy between my day job as a psychology professor, my game designing, and my responsibility caring for an elderly senile parent; so I don’t get to do a lot of any of those things at the moment.

Tom: How can people get in touch with you?

Eric: People are welcome to friend me on Facebook, and/or “like” the Vainglorious Games FB page.  You can also email me at

Tom: Eric, 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.

Eric: Thanks for inviting me!  I hope you get a chance to play DTYB!

Tom: Me too!!!

I hope you enjoyed this interview. I’m very excited about Don’t Turn Your Back. The universe is SO interesting. I hope you will look for it at your Friendly Local Game Shop. Here’s the direct link to its Evil Hat site. You can see more of Eric’s work at Vainglorious Games –

Thanks for visiting Go Forth And Game. Come back real soon.