I’m joined by fellow Game Designers of North Carolina member Eugene Shenderov. Eugene is the driving force behind This And That Games. They have two new games on Kickstarter right now – Most Glorious Comrade and Most Incorruptible Patriot. We talk about each and some other interesting things. I hope you enjoy.
Eugene: This and That Games is a new tabletop publishing company. We like to make games that teach through fun gameplay, and hopefully get people to explore the games’ subject matter more.
Tom: Now let’s talk about Most Glorious Comrade and Most Incorruptible Patriot. Give us the elevator pitch for the games.
Eugene: MGC and MIP are two games of Cold War satire. Each player is a leader from the Cold War- Lenin, Nixon- with a special leader power. Everyone is trying to get to 10 million Voters or Proletariat, based on your leader. The games are also playable together.
Tom: Why did you choose this theme?
Eugene: I’m Russian, and I had an idea for making a game where players are using Proletariat as both points and currency. The leader powers and actions came naturally through game development; it adds more interesting choice and variability to the game.
Tom: The game plays up to 12 players. Why did you choose to go so high on the player count?
Eugene: We came up with 6 leaders for each side of the Cold War; total, it goes up to 12 players. The game is simple enough and turns fast enough for this to work, though of course the game will be closer to 30-45 minutes with that many players.
Tom: I’ve played Comrade. I liked it. It was easy to learn and quick to play. How did you balance the powers on the character cards?
Eugene: Glad you enjoyed it! We playtested the powers with a few different playtest groups and saw what worked and what didn’t. Some abilities seem strong at first glance, but because of the gameplay and the take that cards, it balances out nicely.
Tom: Who is the artist?
Eugene: The artist is Charlie Wilcher. He is great! He graduated a year after I did from UNC Chapel Hill. We work closely on all of our titles to make sure gameplay and graphics work well together.
Tom: Charlie is the second part of This And That Games correct?
Tom: I know you have several other games in the queue. Talk a bit about each if you don’t mind.
Eugene: So our closer to release titles are Sea Turtle Scurry (working title) and Space Race: To The Moon. In Sea Turtle Scurry, you are baby turtles crawling towards the ocean. You draw two cards every turn, and then use one as an action or multiple cards to scurry; if you scurry, you get to place a tile. One of the last 5 tiles is the ocean, which is the goal!
In Space Race, each player has a rocket with variable player powers. Players are NASA. Russia, China, and SpaceR. The first half of the game is bidding for parts which go on your rockets, and the second half is moving along a track to the moon and encountering events and sabotages to gain you points or take points from your opponents.
We also have more titles we are working on, but they are still very much in early development!
Tom: I’ve played the Turtles prototype and I think it has a lot of potential. It was fun and had some interesting mechanics. Good theme too. Space Race sounds neat. I look forward to playing it.
Put on your publisher hat. We’ve talked a bit at our Game Designers of Carolina meetings about your publishing strategy. Would you mind talking about that some?
Eugene: We started with a Print on Demand service to raise awareness of our games and our company. We are now working on Kickstarting small print runs of our games and expanding our brand name! We like games that make people think more about the thematic elements of the game, and hopefully interest people in history and science!
Tom: Now for some general gamer questions. What do you look for in a game?
Eugene: I like games to have meaningful choices, and to teach me something I didn’t know, or a new way to think about problems.
Tom: What are some of your favorite games?
Eugene: Innovation, Race for the Galaxy, Sheriff of Nottingham… there are many more, but those three come to mind first!
Tom: Now for some general designer questions. What is the least fun part of designing a game?
Eugene: The rulebook, unfortunately. It needs to tell players how to play your game, so it must be done well, but it is not so fun to take a rules set you have in your head and put it on paper in a way that players will understand it easily. It can be done, and we do it, but it is not very fun for me.
Tom: What is the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a playtester on Battlecruisers?
Eugene: I assume this was meant to be about Comrades and Patriots? The best piece of feedback was one playtester who said that Mao Zedong’s ability was the gold standard for what leader abilities were in the game in terms of power level. It was a good point that one ability can be used as a measure for the strength of the other leader abilities; it’s a useful trick for deciding how to power different cards in a game. Set a baseline, and work from there!
Tom: What makes designing games so fun?
Eugene: You are creating an entirely new entity. You may be using some rules and mechanics used in previous games, as much of design is iterative, but each game offers a unique play experience. And as designers, we craft many experiences! It is also gratifying that there are many people out there, playing and enjoying something I made 🙂
Tom: I like the creative aspect also. Are you a ‘pare down’ or ‘add to’ designer?
Eugene: Pare down. I tend to have a lot of stuff in my original designs, and some of it needs to be cut down to simplify the game. If people want more of that game, then expansions can add more complexity!
Eugene: Gary Gygax, Richard Garfield, Carl Chudik. Designers who are well known, and are great at crafting unique new experiences.
Tom: Interesting how Gygax has been mentioned twice in the last interviews. I suspect his influence is very widespread. Are you an rpg player too? How do you decide when a game is done?
Eugene: A game is never done; you stop iterating at some point. The closest to a game being ‘done’ is when it works well, and when you make a change it breaks the game. That’s when you know that the balance is probably fine tuned, and it is time to let your baby into the wild.
Tom: Do you have a favorite mechanic? Least favorite?
Eugene: I really enjoy variable player powers, as is probably obvious from my own designs. I think it can make interesting choices more likely to flourish, and gives players, especially new players, some guidance on what they can work towards. My least favorite is player elimination. Some games can do it well (usually short ones), but I don’t like games to have some players have to stop playing before others. Breaks the magic circle a bit.
Tom: What are some things that you have learned about playtesting?
Eugene: Listen to your playtesters! They may not always know the reason something doesn’t work, but they can definitely tell you it ain’t workin’.
Tom: What games have you admired or researched in order to understand game design better?
Eugene: It has been a heuristic approach for me, honestly. Games I admire- Settlers, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic- help me see what makes a game better, and games I dislike help me see what to avoid in my designs.
Tom: What has been the hardest lesson for you to learn as a game designer?
Eugene: My games will never work/be perfect the first time around. They will be profoundly broken or a little broken; the first couple playtests help show if there is a good game in the concept or not.
Tom: Favorite cartoon?
Eugene: A Russian one called Nu Pogodi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nu,_pogodi! It’s like Tom and Jerry, except Russian, made earlier (I think, maybe same time period?) and had great music.
Tom: Do you have a favorite quote or saying?
Eugene: A few; “Do or do not; there is no try.” Yoda “Imagination is more important than knowledge” Einstein and “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics” (Mark Twain, and I love a lot of what he writes). That last one is great as I got a BS in Psychology, which involved a lot of stats. So I know when and how often they are misused.
Tom: Excellent quotes! What is something we would not know about you but you don’t mind telling us?
Eugene: As can be gathered from this interview, I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and am bilingual from birth; Russian and English.
Tom: Once again, how do we communicate with you?
Eugene: You can find me on facebook, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Always happy to talk game design and publishing!
Tom: Do you have anything else to say?
Eugene: Good questions! Interesting interview format. I enjoyed it quite a bit! Our website, by the way, is www.thisandthatgames.com, and we have a currently active Kickstarter campaign that could use some love. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thisandthatgames/comrades-and-patriots Thanks for the interview! It’s been fun.