Here’s part 2 of my interview with Scott. Tiny Epic Quest covers a lot of the time in this one. Leave me a comment, a email (email@example.com) or a tweet (@tomgurg). Thanks for listening.
Here’s part 2 of my interview with Scott. Tiny Epic Quest covers a lot of the time in this one. Leave me a comment, a email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a tweet (@tomgurg). Thanks for listening.
Dan joins me for a second interview. We talk a lot about his game, Gageteers. There’s some discussion of Dino Dude Ranch, publishing with WinGo, and bees. It’s a fun interview that I hope you will enjoy. You can download it from iTunes (Go Forth And Game Podcast) or right here below. Please shoot me a tweet (@tomgurg) or email (email@example.com) and tell me what you liked most.
This episode I’m talking to up-and-coming game designer Josh Mills. We talk about Josh’s game, Rocky Road A La Mode, coming soon from Green Couch Games. We also discuss being part of a game design group, Unpub, and some of Josh’s in-progress games. And we are joined by my son, Zachary. It’s a really fun show.
If you enjoyed the show, why not leave a comment or a tweet telling me so. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and @goforthandgame or @tomgurg. Thanks!!
On this episode of Go Forth And Game, Grant Rodiek and Josh Buergel are my guests. They have a new game called Hocus. It’s a card game with a wizard / fantasy theme. I’ve played a prototype and it’s fun. Josh and Grant are here to talk about it.
Grant: I’m a 31 year old resident of San Francisco. I live here with my fiance, Beth, and my corgi, Peaches. During the day I’m a producer at Maxis. After hours I focus on card and board game designs. My first, Farmageddon, was published in 2012 and won a Parent’s Choice Award. My second, Dawn Sector (name TBD), was signed at the start of 2014 by Portal Games and will hopefully release in 2016. And, I’m planning to publish the card games Hocus and Landfall along with Josh under the Hyperbole Games label in 2015 and 2016.
Tom: Ah, the famous Peaches. How is she these days?
Grant: She’s quite well! She turned 5 in late January and shows no signs of slowing down. We had a bit of a scare earlier this year when she had a strange bronchial infection, but it’s all cleared up now and she’s able to return to her life of bossing us around.
Josh: I’m a 39 year old resident of Seattle. I live with my wife Megan, my kids Madeleine, William, and Marie, and my dog Sampson. During the day, I’m VP of engineering at a small company, small enough that I’m still able to still get down in the weeds with the code. And for my hobby, I’ve been more or less obsessed with hobby gaming since first encountering D&D when I was 7. I’ve designed a handful of games, only one of which is really publicly available, Foresight (on DriveThruCards), and I look forward to getting more of my work out there.
Grant: We’ve been testing and developing and writing about the game since early February of 2014. We hit a mega breakthrough with version 5.0 in late October 2014 and conducted significant blind testing effort around it. We sent copies to about 15 test groups in the US, Canada, and even one in Europe.
We’ve also released several iterations via PNP, which you can find here.
Josh: It has, honestly, been a struggle at times. There have been times during this past year plus when it never really felt like we were going to crack this nut. An early version we had was fun, people seemed to like it fine, but it was kind of silly, and it had production problems. If we were to try and go forward with that version, it would have cost far more than a lightweight trifle of a game really should have. But getting from there to a game we’re happy with has been tough.
Grant: One thing that excites us is that, because this game is a smaller affair (99 cards, box, rules), and we both have well paying day jobs, we can afford to take some risks with the game. We see Hyperbole Games as a publisher of niche card games.
Josh: There is a certain approach we can take to this that we wouldn’t be free to take with others. We can be adventurous with artwork and take a few atypical steps with the funding campaign. I think the people that get into the game are going to love it, but our potential market isn’t necessarily huge. But that’s OK, and it means we can really have fun with the production.
Grant: If I may ask, Tom, what do you know about Hocus and what interests you about it?
Tom: The thing I like best is that it is familiar but different. Pretty much everyone knows poker. Once you get that and understand the terminology of the game, it is very straight forward. The twist and additions to poker are fun and interesting. I like that everyone has the same Basic Spells so everyone starts out at the same point. But somewhere along the way things diverge as you add Advanced Spells or Owls. The loss of your Owls each round is a nice force to encourage their use. Otherwise I can see hoarding happening. I’m glad you foresaw that issue. I like special powers so the Advanced Spells are right up my alley. The theme is appealing to me because I like fantasy. You mentioned in your blog that you flubbed the pitch for Hocus with a publisher at BGG Con. Do you want to talk about that?
The Kickstarter is doing fantastic. It’s more than doubled its goal with 19 days to go. Wow!
Grant: Sure! I was given a 5 minute audience for an elevator pitch. No full demo or playtest. Version 5 was only a few weeks old and I didn’t have a great pitch or explanation yet. It takes a great deal of practice before you figure out the perfect, question-free way to explain a game. When you’re nervous and ill-prepared, you certainly won’t deliver it. I wasn’t expecting to pitch, so I just wasn’t ready.
I felt one of two things were clear based on the very concise rejection input: the publisher just flat wasn’t interested, or the publisher didn’t really get what I was saying. And in both cases, that’s on me. Hocus is a bit of a weird game and many publishers don’t quite have a slot for it in their lineups. This is why Josh and I haven’t been terribly aggressive in finding a home. We think its home is with us.
Josh: The area we’re playing in here, which is basically takeoffs on traditional card games, is one that’s near and dear to my heart, but it’s not exactly a proven winner in the marketplace.
Grant: Which we’re fine with as publishers. We think we can sell a few thousand copies. Maybe a few more. It’s freeing to be okay with that.
Literally minutes after the pitch meeting, Josh and I via email (he was in Seattle) hammered out a better pitch. If you go to the Hocus page of my site, you can see a slightly longer version of what we settled on.
I had other phenomenal pitches at BGG. I consider myself a strong demoer and communicator. The difference in Hocus and the other games was preparation. I was nervous, ill-prepared, and I spent the entire 5 minute pitch trying to dig myself out of a hole. If you show up ready, you never get in that position. You’ll still likely get a no, but you’ll look less like a caged animal when you do it.
Pitching is fairly straightforward. Find the publisher with whom you want to work. Research to ensure your game is a fit for their catalog. Have a 5 minute pitch, as well as a concise demo/presentation with the prototype. Have a prototype that doesn’t look like it’s been sitting in a gutter. Be ready to answer a wide range of questions. And, stop talking from time to time. Listen and let the publisher think and ask questions.
Tom: Thanks for sharing about that and what you learned from it. Listening is a very good advice. It’s hard to do.
Josh: I, personally, don’t have a ton of experience with pitching my games. I have self-published before, and I’ve developed games for GMT, but I’ve never really put any effort into pitching a game to a publisher. And given our plans here, I might not get that experience for a while.
Grant: I think you’d be fine at it. It’s a communication thing. Assuming the guy or gal on the other end is interested in the notion of your pitch, it’s usually just a good conversation.
Josh: I was in debate in high school, I’m good at speaking extemporaneously, I think I’d do fine. But, it’s not really been a huge interest of mine. I’m not somebody who thinks you necessarily need a “real” publisher to validate a game. A game, as a cultural artifact, exists with or without the concerns of commerce. If I’ve designed a game, and I’m happy with it, then it is a thing that exists, an artistic statement. It might be nice to get it in front of more people, but that’s a different concern.
Tom: Landfall – I want to know more!
Grant: Landfall is a weird idea we had in about March or April, not long after we started working on Hocus. We’re remaining intentionally quiet, which is difficult, as we like to write about our games and processes. Landfall is a series of games with a strong narrative element that are based in a unique science fiction universe. Core to these games, and the experience overall, is surprise from our players.
Josh: We’re honestly not trying to be cagey here. As Grant says, we’re both voluble about our work, and I’d love nothing more than to write a weekly 5000 word blog post about how things are going. But, surprise really is central to the conceit here. If Landfall is going to delight people the way we hope it’s going to, it just has to remain pretty close to our vest. Think about the way that Risk: Legacy would have been a different experience if you’d been told about all the stuff inside ahead of time. Landfall isn’t a legacy game, but the same kinds of principles apply.
I can say this: it’ll be self-published, all the way. It’s actually really important to our execution of things that we retain complete control of the operation. It’s going to be ambitious, and hopefully unique, but despite that, it’s a very personal project.
Grant: We get really giddy talking about it. There are all sorts of neat details outside of the games we hope to do. We’re also really flexing our design muscles here. We’ve essentially created a project where we can experiment with a lot of things.
Tom: I want to give your blog some attention. You post excellent content for gamers and game designers.
Grant: I’m glad you like it! It’s a humble little operation I’ve been working on for a while. I actually just went to check — the blog turned 3 years old in February of 2015. There are about 300 posts and almost 4000 comments. I’ve tried to evolve the blog and improve the content.
In previous years, I would write very specifically about my designs chronologically. But, if you weren’t following along from the beginning, it’d be like jumping into an episode of Lost at Season 3 and expecting to just get it. This past year, I’ve tried to identify interesting topics based on my design work. Then, I write about the topic at a high level, using examples from my own prototypes, as well as more well-known games to which people can relate. I think the blog has improved and the readership has grown some as a result.
Another thing I’m proud of are me and Josh’s conversation articles. We basically pick a topic and just discuss it free form. I think they are interesting, read easily, and are funny in parts. We’ve done quite a few of them.
Josh: I’ve enjoyed writing those thoroughly. I have a blog that I’ve re-started recently as well, although I’m not nearly as good at putting up content as Grant is. I think that we both just enjoy talking about games. There are constant conversations over email and chat about different games we’ve played, what we think about particular things in the hobby, and really anything game related that comes up. In some ways, I wish we could clean up some more of those conversations and bring them out.
Grant: I’ll have to clean up my language.
Tom: You can use wingdings -&#^**//##@!!.
Josh: Sometimes, our conversations get a bit pungent, in private. It didn’t take long knowing each other before we were already conversing like old friends. I’ve only really known Grant for about a year now, but our plans are already pretty elaborate.
Grant: We’re either really clever or delightfully stupid. I’m going to get a trip to Seattle out of this for an EPIC PACKING WEEKEND.
Tom, what would you like to see more from my blog? Are there topics or article styles you’d like me to try?
Tom: What would I like to see? Hmm. First, I’ll say what I like a lot. I like that you think about the hows and whys of gaming and game design. And then are able to articulate that in a meaningful way. You’re upfront and honest in what you write. You have interesting topics.I like how you ‘introduce’ the point of each paragraph or section at the beginning of each section.
Now, suggestions. I’d like to see something on abstracts now and then. I like articles on playtesting a lot since I’m trying to get better at that. Other than that I can’t think of anything.
Josh: I hope that this format here proves interesting. I think roundtables are always a lot of fun, and can often be pretty revealing. I enjoy reading interviews, for sure, and having some group interviews might be a fun thing to try out.
Tom: I really enjoy the roundtable type of interview a lot. One on one is bread and butter for me. But getting two or three others to bounce things and topics off of lends to more interaction. As has been proven here so far.
What advice would you give an aspiring game designer? You are not limited to one topic or suggestion.
Grant: I’ve been a professional video game developer for 10 years now and a serious board game developer for over 4 or so. I get frustrated watching folks try to over-analyze or intellectualize the craft of design. I feel folks approach it far too academically.
The start for every game designer should be to play and love games. Tons of games. Every type of game. Then, start simple and begin to get a feel for things. My first game was a fairly complex 2ish hour space game that just crumbled under its weight. It had too many systems, took too long to update, and was too confusing to test. I shifted to Farmageddon and learned so much over the following 14 months.
Another thing I recommend is to make games you want to play. Make games you love. This is a hobby of passion, not money, and it is one of endurance. I worked for 14 months on Farmageddon before it was published. Dawn Sector turned 3 years old in the spring of 2015 and won’t be out probably until 2016 (I hope!). Sol Rising will turn 2 years old in the spring. Hocus, a simple card game, will have 18 months of development before we finish it. Make games you love and are dying to play. You’ll be stuck with them for a long time, like children.
There’s no right way to design. There’s no easy way to do it. Experiment, test often, make something you love, and research by playing other great (and sometimes lousy!) games.
Josh: I have a different perspective than a lot of people. I own absolute tons of games, and have played an awful lot. I’ve been playing hobby board games since I was probably about 9. As a consequence, I think that there’s really nothing new under the sun, not really. If you name me most topics and types of games, I’ve probably got a game that more or less fits your criteria.
But that’s strangely freeing, to me. It means that I don’t really sit and try and invent something truly, amazingly new. That’s fantastically hard, and really new, innovative things just don’t come along that often. What that means to me is that when I get an idea that I fall in love with, I can chase it, without having the specter of trying to be truly original hanging over me. I’m trying to make games that I love. That pursuit of innovation can be really damaging. You run into doubts, that you aren’t good enough or smart enough to do this. Make a game you love. Don’t worry about how unique it is. Just make it something you adore, and it’ll reflect your personality. You can usually tell when a designer has pursued something out of love.
And, as Grant says, play all the time. I have two days every week I game, with a third every other week, and I play games at lunch. Play other people’s games as much as you can, you’ll just get better at recognizing quality and what makes for a great game. And it doesn’t hurt to help other designers out with their designs. Edit rules for them, make suggestions, chip in. It’s how I ended up working with Grant, after all.
Grant: That reminds me — that’s a good way to build a relationship with publishers. You can find both of our names in a handful of AAA publishers’ rule books. We volunteer to edit rules and develop and I think that’s an incredible way to build a reputation and get your foot in the door.
Josh: It allows you to exercise a critical eye, but with some detachment. You can really dig into how to express rules properly, and what makes good or bad rules, without having any ego tied into the process. My work with GMT followed from rules reviews and playtesting, and my collaboration with Grant came from the same place. It’s a perfect way to get involved and show your ability with relatively low stakes, and it’s great practice.
Grant: It’s a little like being a consultant. No final responsibility or accountability.
Tom: That’s really cool. More excellent design advice. I recommend helping out other designers too. I try to at least read over rules when they become available. I enjoy playtesting other designers games also though I’m incredibly slow at times. I usually learn something that helps me through this. I have a recommendation for a graphic designer – Daniel Solis. Super talented and even more super guy.
Grant: Who? In all seriousness, we’re completely aware of Daniel and his great graphic design work.
We chose to work with Adam P. McIver and Tiffany Turrill for a variety of reasons. We loved Tiffany’s distinctive and wonderful illustration style. We thought she could bring our little game to life, and she has. We wanted Adam’s playful and charming iconography, his ability to make great art look even more incredible, and his keen understanding of usability. Also, Adam came to us over a year ago and that really stuck with us. We wanted him to be on the Hocus Team.
Josh: There’s really no replacement for enthusiasm about a project. When Adam came to us, it really felt great.
Tom: Josh talk about Foresight just a bit.
Josh: My pleasure! I learned Bridge when I was 12 or so, self-taught with some friends, and I adored it. I played tons of Bridge all through high school, and it’s how I met my wife. So trick-taking games are in my blood. That stayed in my brain, and then I started playing Uwe Rosenberg’s card games. People know him for his big box games, like Agricola, but I encountered him early in his career, when he was making games like Bohnanza, Bargain Hunt, Mamma Mia, Space Beans, Titus, Klunker, and the like.
Grant: Josh was into Uwe before it was cool to be into Uwe.
Josh: Yeah, I went there. But Uwe really has been my favorite designer ever since I first encountered Bargain Hunt, which is one of my favorite games of all time. I’m delighted to see Uwe get the recognition I think he deserves, but I do kind of wish he’d go back and do some small games again. He’s a monster talent.
Anyway, every one of those games does something fascinating with cards, some surprising thing. I decided that I’d like to make a surprising trick taking game of my own.
A piece of advice from a James Ernest article a long time ago always stuck with me: games aren’t just the rules that you print, but the shared expectations people have. How turns pass from player to player. How cards are dealt and shuffled. How dice are rolled. That kind of thing. Outside of serious tournament play, that stuff is unspecified. James was asking, what happens if you upset some of those fundamental assertions. I was thinking about cards, and one of the implicit assumptions of cards is that all the backs are the same. But what if they’re not? From there, the idea of making a traditional deck of cards with limited suit information on the back came to me, and that’s what Foresight became.
It (Foresight) is a pretty traditional card game in some ways, but there are twists. The deck, of course, is unique (as far as I know). The way you bid is also unique, where you’re really more making bets, not bids. And part of your hand is face down, which provides for some surprising play. I’m pretty proud of it, while recognizing that its market potential is limited. But if you’re into traditional trick-taking games, I think it’s fun. And you can play lots of other games with the deck as well.
Grant: Plus it’s only $6! And has really charming art. Your James Earnest comment is really striking. As I note above, when people try to work against academic “laws” and theories about the correct way to design, I get flustered. But, little key insights, or observations that lead you down a path? Those are so fruitful.
Tom: Grant, Farmageddon is a big hit in my family. My kids love that game. It has some expansions in the works. Tell us about them.
Grant: Sure. Unfortunately, 5th Street Games had to file for bankruptcy in 2015, which has hurt the release of Livestocked and Loaded. My hope is to find a new publisher so that Farmageddon can once again see the light of day. Until then, I’m not really sure what will happen.
I think Livestocked and Loaded is a really great addition to the game. I sought to add more strategy and breadth to the experience, as well as fill potential holes from the base game. For example, Sassy Wheat isn’t very often a strong play to plant due to its output. However, with the feed mechanic in Livestocked, they are a far more viable card. I wanted to give more predictability, which is where the Pig’s ability or the Farmer’s Market card come in. I wanted to add some spice for long term players, as well as opportunities for all, hence the weather. The Animals provide an entirely new way to earn money in the game and compete in an interactive way, but it’s not destructive like the base game. This balances out some of that destruction.
Tom: There’s an update on the situation here. I’m glad backers are getting the chance to get their hands on the expansions because it is a really fun game. Grant, how is Dawn Sector’s progress?
Grant: I think it’s going incredibly well. Portal started developing it in August 2013 when Ignacy took my copy home from Gen Con. In January of 2014, Portal signed the game and I began working closely with the Portal team on development. My partners are incredible.
Our first efforts were to add a little more story, strategy, and replayability to the game. We did this with a really simple and clever Event system, by adding map discoveries, by expanding the fort system to be an entire building system, and by adding a few special cards to every deck to allow for more private information and dynamic play. We also enhanced the battle system and have dug deeper to make the factions more unique.
I was pretty excited by the game I brought to BGG. The tuning was a bit wonky and it’s too early for us to have perfect text or any graphic design, but the core was strong. Following that, me and Michal re-worked every single event, tactic, faction, discovery token, and deck. They are coming up with brilliant ways to really refine and sharpen the game. I cannot wait for it to be released.
Portal is one of my favorite companies by far. Working with them has been a real treat, and Dawn Sector will be 100% better because of their involvement. It could not have been as good without them.
Tom: Ok guys we are getting to the end now. A couple of final questions. First, for you both, what do you enjoy doing when you are not in game mode?
Josh: I have three young kids, so any time not spent with board games is pretty much spent with them. As a family, we try and get outside as much as we can, with as much hiking and camping as we can get in.
Grant: I love to go to the beach with Beth and Peaches, I love to cook for friends, and I love to read science fiction and history.
Tom: Next, do you have a favorite cartoon? If so what is it?
Josh: Print, that’s Calvin & Hobbes, with an honorable mention to The Far Side. On TV, I think The Simpsons has been hurt by staying too long, and I don’t think anything can touch Futurama’s original run anyway.
Grant: The Far Side is by far my favorite print cartoon. As for television, The Simpsons will always be my favorite. Obviously, I just ignore some seasons.
Tom: Calvin & Hobbes is THE classic.
Last, who would win in a speed eating contest – Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton?
Josh: Since I doubt anything is being consumed at relativistic speeds, I’m going to guess Newton here.
Grant: If blowing up the food counts as eating it, Mr. Einstein.
Tom: Really lastly, how can people communicate with you?
Josh: Twitter is the easiest way, @JoshuaBuergel. I have a super guessable email address as well, my first initial and last name at gmail, in case anybody wants to find me that way.
Grant: Twitter is great, @HyperboleGrant, as well as email, which is grant at hyperbolegames dot com.
Tom: It’s been really fantastic talking to you and watching Hocus develop. I think you have a hit on your hands.
Grant: Thanks for the kind words, Tom. It was a real pleasure.
Thank you both for spending so much time with me. I had fun learning about you and your games. You both made some very good points about designing games.
Readers, you can support Hocus right here. It’s only $15 and has funded so it will be made. It’s a fun and easy to learn game.
And if you have a comment leave it by clicking the word balloon at the top or on Twitter using #goforthandgame or @goforthandgame or @tomgurg.
Thanks for reading!
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.
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.
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 tournament. 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.
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?
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.
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 http://www.playgrimgames.com — 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
I have the pleasure of talking with Jay Treat this time out. Jay has a new game called Cunning Folk. The game has a couple of days left on Kickstarter and it’s way over funded. It’s hit two of its stretch goals and is inexpensive.
Jay: Nice to be back, Tom. I love board, card, and party games, as well as video games, RPGs, and freeform LARPs. I believe games are a force for good in the world, bringing strangers together as friends, and helping us continue to learn and grow.
Jay: I met Jason at Metatopia where I played his first test of a Fiasco LARP. No one doubts Jason’s talent, and Fiasco has done wonders for the Indie RPG community.
Tom: I had the pleasure to be one of the Fiasco playtesters. I can’t say enough good things about that game. You are right that it has done so very much for the Indie RPG community. That reminds me that I need to have him on the show. What’s your gameography (ludography?)?
Jay: Cahoots! is a shifting-partnership trick-taking game on iOS. Legacy of the Slayer is a story game on demand. Merchants of Araby will be published by Game Designers Clubhouse within a year. For smaller games and free games, check out TreatGames.com
Tom: I’ve not played Cahoots! but it sounds fun. Any plans on making it a physical game?
Jay: Absolutely. We’ve gotten a ton of feedback from players hoping for a physical copy and we’re evaluating potential publishers. That was always my goal.
Tom: We are here to talk about Cunning Folk. Give us the elevator pitch for the game.
Jay: Cunning Folk is a 13-card micro-game of bluffing and deduction. Players search a small village looking for good and evil witches, lying about what they see where, and trying to oust one coven or other first.
Tom: What’s the story behind Cunning Folk? Where did the idea come from?
Jay: Jason asked me if I had any ideas for his line of wallet games and I said I don’t do micro-games but I’ll think about it. The next morning a compelling image lingered from my last dream and I wondered what kind of small card game I could make from that inspiration. By lunch I’d mocked the cards up and it played surprisingly well. I played again that evening and let Jason know I’d come up with something he’d be wanting.
Tom: What was the most challenging part of designing it?
Jay: I’ve never had so much luck going from an initial idea to a polished experience so quickly. But Jason and I spent a lot of time finding exactly the right title, names for the cards and text for the abilities; to be crystal clear, very short, flavorful, and inoffensive.
Tom: It’s a social microgame. It comes in a wallet. It costs $7. That’s very cool. What sets it apart?
Jay: Cunning Folk delivers a satisfying challenge for players who love figuring things out, as well as players who love lying and calling their friends out. I continue to be stunned how much play is packed in such a small package.
Tom: Now for some general game design questions. What is the least fun part of designing a game?
Jay: The second 90%. Choosing your goal, mapping out your vision, building the prototype, and finding the fun—that’s all play. Stripping the idea down, shaving off the corners, balancing it, and finding its home—that’s work. It’s fulfilling work, but challenging.
Tom: What is the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a playtester?
Jay: In general? “This is two games.” For Cunning Folk? Giving players one free mistake before they’re eliminated. Knowing you’ve got room to breathe emboldens players, and having some players in greater peril than others creates a fun dynamic.
Tom: A free mistake? That is a really cool idea. What makes designing games so fun?
Jay: Game design exercises so many different disciplines; I use Philosophy, Math, Writing, Communication, and Engineering all the time. Building those disparate skills of one another is a unique thrill. Others bring still more disciplines to bear, bringing us such a wonderful diversity of games. Oh, and the end result? People laughing and smiling together.
Jay: Pare down, usually. I tend to be pretty pie-in-the-sky and usually need to bring myself to a rational level and then start peeling off games until there one best game is left.
Tom: Do you have a really big game inside trying to get out?
Jay: I’ve got this crazy idea for a crowd-sourced digital card game. In my head, it’s the best thing ever. In reality, it’s the sort of thing that would require a massive investment to get rolling. I think I’ll try a medium game or two first.
Tom: Mechanics or theme first? Which is most important?
Jay: Both together whenever possible. Designs can start from so many different places: mechanics, theme, audience, format, components, experience. But none of these things are optional and the earlier you start thinking about all of them, and how your game will blend them into a cohesive whole, the better each individual piece will be, to say nothing of the whole.
Tom: Tell us about a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Was there a moment when you went ‘Yeah, this is a game.’?
Jay: I was probably in the shower sorting the random ideas from the morning into a game-shaped box when I realized I’d most likely stumbled onto something simple enough to get players past the cards and playing each other.
Tom: What designers do you admire?
Jay: I’m lucky to count a lot of talented up-and-coming designers among my friends. Among established designers, Antoine Bauza gets mad props for the brilliance that is Hanabi, Rob Daviau for a long string of badly-balanced and wildly fun games (Betrayal at the House on Haunted Hill, Star Wars: Epic Duels & Heroscape), and Richard Garfield for having the strongest academic understanding of games, while still being able to make an approachable just-for-fun game like King of Tokyo.
Tom: In that interview with Scott Almes he mentions, regarding Kickstarter that “a lot of publishers are not looking for filler-style games. They are looking for something more flashy, I guess. I have a hard time imagining a company putting up Coloretto on kickstarter, because it’s not that flashy.” I think he may be onto something here. I’m taking publishers in his quote to mean the larger companies – Asmodee, FFG, Rio, Queen, etc.. I get the feeling that they are more interested in larger games, the Queen Big Boxes for example. It’s the smaller companies (Dice Hate Me, Green Couch, Gamelyn, etc.) that are doing the ‘filler’ games. It seems kind of appropriate in a sense as a smaller company puts a lot more on the line if they go after a large game. TMG and Stronghold would be exceptions I think. What do you think?
Jay: Large publishers make small games, but they don’t rely on KickStarter to do it. They’ve got the capital to print and distribute the game regardless, as well as the industry knowledge and customer base to market them with confidence. Smaller companies often need that support up front to get the ball rolling, even for small games. Publishers of all sizes enjoy KickStarter to gauge interest for large games, eliminating the risk of investing in an expensive product that might not sell at the price point it requires. Slam-dunks like FFG’s Star Wars licensed gamed being an obvious exception.
Tom: What do you think is driving up the game prices, other than normal production costs?
Jay: I don’t think we’re paying more for what we’re getting, but I do think we’ve seen a trend over the last decade where publishers are going all-out on game’s production values, and they’ve got to charge more for it. Perhaps where the gamer audience had been quite frugal in the 80s, they’re now more interested in quality because many of them have grown into well-paying positions, or because console video games have raised the bar for what a game is worth.
Tom: That’s a very interesting take that I’ve not heard yet. Thanks for pointing that out. What are some things that you have learned about playtesting?
Forget your ego. If you can’t separate your value as a game designer from your execution on one particular project at one particular snapshot in time, you’ve got no chance of hearing how to improve your game.
Ask the right questions. If you ask for “any feedback” you will get random suggestions rather than pointed analysis. Ask instead about specific areas of concern. If you pose a question so that your players feel inadequate, they won’t answer. Show where you think the game might be failing, and let them tell you how.
Find out what the issue is your playtester is trying to address. Their solution is rarely ideal, but their concern is always relevant. Ask leading questions, but don’t argue. Always thank your playtesters.
Tom: What has been the hardest lesson for you to learn as a game designer?
Jay: I’ve learned all the easy stuff and now I’m onto some really hard lessons. Right now, I’m focusing on how to evoke joy in the player experience, and prioritizing that over the goals that initiated the project. You need a destination to get started, but most journeys will take you somewhere better if you’re willing.
Tom: “how to evoke joy in the player experience, and prioritizing that over the goals that initiated the project” That is a really great way of verbalizing what we all are after as designers. Neat. It gives me something to think about and strive for. Thanks. You are just full of good points. After Cunning Folk, Merchants of Araby is up from Game Designers Clubhouse. Talk about it.
Jay: I sent the game to David for blind playtesting and was ecstatic to hear that he loved the game and wanted to buy it. It has enjoyed a theme change and we’ve been working together to find our shared vision for the project. It’s a unique fusion of negotiation and engine-building. I’m excited to see the finished product, something greater than either of us could have made on our own.
Tom: I have an interview with David McKenzie in the works so we will be talking more about it.
Jay: David’s a great guy with some impressive game experience. I’m lucky to work with him.
Jay: Jason is a lovely person and a personal friend. Even if he weren’t, I love his wallet line business model, and his dedication to quickly deliver fun, portable games. His track record is enviable, and his enthusiasm contagious.
Tom: What are some of your favorite games?
Jay: Hanabi, Tichu, Magic: the Gathering, Heroscape, Notre Dame, Werewolf, Resistance: Avalon, Crokinole, Psychiatrist, Volleyball… Ten is clearly a stretch for ‘some.’
Tom: If you have a favorite cartoon what is it?
Tom: Oh, absolutely. Great pick. Any final thoughts?
Jay: It was a pleasure chatting with you, as always, Tom. Thanks for your continued efforts highlighting up and coming games and designers.
Tom: Where can people interact with you?
Jay: @jtreat3 on Twitter
Jay, it has been my pleasure to talk with you this time. I’m very glad Cunning Folk will be published and has so many backers. It looks like a really fun game.
Readers, you can support Cunning Folk right here. You only have a couple of days left to get it though.
I’d like to know what you thought of this interview. Please leave a comment by clicking the word balloon at the top. Or you can tweet me at @goforthandgame or @tomgurg.
Thanks for stopping by. See you next time when I’ll be talking to Matt Wolfe about Wombat Rescue.
Tom: Welcome again Dan. I’m really happy to talk to you again. Let’s get into it. You decided to cancel the Dino Dude Ranch campaign and relaunch it. Which you did this past week. Congratulations! The game is doing quite well. With the previous campaign, you unlocked basically all the stretch goals by the end of the campaign. Can you talk about them and why you decided to go ahead and release them?
Dan: Yes, some of the stretch goals were not intended to be directly in the base game so they were not included at base funding, but they were minimal in cost to add so I figured I would start to unlock them to attract more backers to the campaign. The more expensive upgrades were able to be compensated for by the changes I made early in the campaign to reduce the cost of the game. At the start of the campaign I realized that simply reducing thickness of the player mats, which are still quality and functionally equivalent, allowed me to save on both manufacture and shipping. Since the campaign costs were based on the more expensive game, I was able to unlock the stretch goals and still cover the costs if the campaign successfully funded.
Tom: You’ve included your other game, Ph. D., as an add-on. That was a good idea. How well has it been received?
Dan: It was actually well received. I know that the game is targeted to a very specific audience, which is why I was hesitant to add it in the first place, but as soon as I added it I had a handful of backers change to the reward tier as well as people contact me post campaign asking about it for the next time around. Even though the game is not directly related to Dino Dude Ranch, backers were receptive to it because they were interested in seeing the project succeed, supporting me as a designer, and trying out a new game. Though I must admit, the game is still fun regardless of if you went to grad school or not. This second time around, I will be including Ph. D. The Game right from the start and it will include a Limited Edition Card for the backers who choose it called Dr. Dinosaur. It will include a Dinosaur Dude Rancher as the image but in the style of Ph. D. The Game. I will also be sending this card to backers of my first campaign for Ph. D. The Game as a thank you for being repeat backers. For more information on Ph. D. The Game, people can check out the BoardGameGeek page at:
Tom: You mentioned after the last campaign that there were some improvements that you discovered during the campaign and some ideas from backer feedback. What improvement are you incorporating?
Dan: First and foremost, I was able to get the game down to $23 (shipped for free in the US). This price will not include the upgrade to custom cut wooden food meeples but those will also be available for an additional cost. I was able to lower international shipping, especially significant for the UK, France and the western EU. Lastly, I have been working hard to improve the layout/graphic design of a lot of the components. On top of that, I have been working with the artist to complete the remaining pieces needed for the game: The player mats/ranches, some characters, and the velociraptors.
Tom: The updates look fantastic! I think they improve the game quite a bit. And as small as it seems, dropping the price to $23 will make it more attractive I think. And it makes it seem more like a family game for some reason. Free shipping for the U.S. doesn’t hurt either.
Now, we didn’t talk too much about this in the last interview but I want to talk about the art for DDR. Who was your artist? They’re super great and perfect for a family game.
Dan: Thank you! I was very lucky to connect with a fantastic artist, Jesse Labbe. I was playing a game published by 1A Games called Cross Hares and thought to myself that the artwork would go perfectly with my game so I reached out to the artist (who also turned out to be the game designer) and that was Jesse. He drew me one sample dinosaur and I was sold immediately. We worked really well together and have been sharing the same vision moving forward with it ever since. I look forward to seeing the remaining pieces that he has left to complete and updating the rest of the placeholder art. I must say again that I have been very lucky to work with someone who I can mesh so well with.
Tom: You’ve changed some of the pledge tiers too. Talk about that decision.
I realized that making a less expensive reward tier was beneficial in many ways. First, it gives the backers a less expensive option (shipped in the US for $23 instead of $29) which will also alleviate high cost concerns for international backers. Second, it was less expensive for me to offer the base game with the upgraded add ons, thus allowing me to lower the goal a little bit…and every little bit counts!. What is great about this change too is that it has zero impact on gameplay. The main difference is thick punchboard tokens (which are still quality) vs. custom cut wooden food resources. Although the custom wood pieces are nice, I figured some people would be indifferent to them and prefer to save some money. Now they can. I also figured I would reward those who chose the upgrade by including Velociraptor dinosaur tiles as well. They are not a part of the base game but add a nice new scoring mechanic that has a nice effect on gameplay.
Dan: I think the most important thing is that I am going into it with a stronger crowd. I have been raising awareness of the launch date (May 19) and I had all of these amazing backers from the first campaign ready to go on Day 1. This strong start will hopefully set the tone for a fantastic re-launch.
Thanks for joining me Dan. The game looks even better than before. It has had a very strong start, at little over halfway to goal with 25 days to go. That’s awesome.
Dino Dude Ranch can be supported right here. It has about 20 days to go and is halfway to its funding goal. As you have seen Dan has updated most of the art and made some significant improvements to the game. It’s Jurassic fun for everyone.
Readers, please leave a comment by clicking on the word balloon at the top of the page. Or you can email me at email@example.com or on Twitter @goforthandgame or @tomgurg. I would really like to hear from you.
This time on Go Forth And Game I’m adventuring into the deep caverns to talk to Jon Gill and Brian Kopleck of Ruddy Games. Skulldug! is their latest game currently on Kickstarter.
Tom: First, tell us a bit about yourself.
Brian: I’m a game developer currently working and living in the SF Bay Area. Jon and I met when I joined his team for our senior project at UC Santa Cruz, Asterogue. Well, technically I met him on a bus sophomore year, but he snubbed me then. He also hates when I tell that story.
Jon: I was very busy on that bus ride — no time for chit-chat with people I’d eventually go into business with! Anyway, I’m a game developer working in Seattle. Brian and I founded Ruddy Games after working together on Skulldug! for a year and a half, when it became clear that we had a game worth taking to publication.
Tom: Now talk about Skulldug.
Jon: Skulldug! is a competitive pulp exploration game, an Indiana Jones-style romp where players race to explore a deadly cave and escape with three treasure cards. Each treasure comes laden with a unique curse that weakens your character, so you’ll have to think carefully before picking one up — even the most valuable treasure is worthless to a dead man. Along the way, you’ll drop traps, fight monsters, collect equipment, and knock down walls, all in the name of striking it rich.
Brian: Skulldug! was conceived during the 2013 Global Game Jam. I expressly wanted to make a board game with unique narrative moments, things you’d want to share with all your friends because they hadn’t happened to anyone else. We interpreted that year’s theme (the sound of a heartbeat) as tension, which we implemented in the form of cursed treasure, a mechanic that makes the game harder in different ways as you collect more treasure. Between that and the procedural cave creation, we found we were on to something special.
Tom: It sounds fun. Talk about how the game plays.
Jon: Skulldug! is a map building and traversal game at its heart, as the players build a unique cave each game by exploring outwards from an initial starting passage tile. Each turn, you have 3 action points to spend on moving, picking up items, using your equipment, and even shoving your fellow explorers into other passages.
If you ever move into an area of the map without a passage tile on it, you immediately flip over a new passage tile and place it on the board, then draw the contents of that passage as specified on the tile. There are two decks of contents: a blue Fortune deck that contains treasures and useful equipment, and a red Hazard deck of traps and monsters that you must fight when you encounter them.
Ultimately, your goal is to hold 3 treasure cards in your hand at once and return back to the cave entrance tile. However, since each treasure imparts a debilitating curse to your explorer, escaping back past your opponents and their traps may be harder than it seems…
Brian: The game usually starts with a lot of discovery as players build the cave outward looking for the best items to improve their character’s capabilities. Along the way, they’ll discover a treasure or two, but some treasures are too risky to pick up early in the game. In the mid game, players will start paying attention to what their opponents are doing, and will place traps or manipulate the cave to head them off. When one player finally manages to collect three treasures, the game turns into stopping that player at all costs, with the hope that you’ll be the one to loot their goodies once they’re out of the way.
Tom: This sounds really interesting to me. It’s a unique take on a dungeon crawl and the “Incan Gold” parallels (which I’m sure you’ve heard) are cool. It may sound a lot like that game on the surface, it seems that it is quite different and deeper. Skulldug has funded and will be made. Congratulations!!! What are the pledge levels?
Jon: We’ve tried to keep pledge levels simple to keep the focus on the game and minimize risk. However, we are offering a few fun bonuses in addition to copies of the game. We’ve included a special Advocate tier for fans who want to support us a little more, which includes a digital making-of artbook and a customized letter inducting the backer into the in-game team of their choice. This letter is hand-typed on a real typewriter, and should be a fun way to involve the backers in the theme and world of the game.
We also have a number of tiers that go beyond that by offering the backers the chance to have their portrait drawn by our artist Ghia Mercado and added to the game as one of the explorer characters. We actually launched with two separate tiers for this, offering half the available portraits for male backers and half of them for female backers, as we wanted to include a diverse selection of explorers in the game regardless of the breakdown of our backers. Based on the popularity of both of those tiers, we feel like we made the right choice!
Tom: What are some of your stretch goals?
Brian: Most of the stretch goals improve the quality of the game components, like blue core cardstock or a plastic box insert. We’ve also just announced a new goal that would upgrade the passages from cards to 1mm chipboard tiles, which had been requested by several of our backers.
Jon: We also have a stretch goal for a team-based mode that allows you to partner up with another player in your quest for the treasure. I really hope we hit this one — it requires a number of extra components to make it work, but it offers an exciting twist on the base gameplay that encourages a lot of new and interesting strategies. Since it supports up to 3 teams of 2 players each, it also raises the maximum number of players from 5 to 6.
Tom: I’m a big fan of all things pulp. Why did you choose that as your theme?
Jon: We wanted to avoid the traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy setting that most dungeon crawlers fall into. Skulldug!’s design is interesting in that it features a negative ability curve — your character tends to grow weaker rather than stronger as the game progresses and you lose health, use up your equipment, and take on more curses. This flies in the face of the experience points and leveling up that normally comes with a standard fantasy theme, but it perfectly fits the idea of a pulp explorer, lost and alone in a dark cave, desperately struggling to make it back to the safety of the outside world.
I also think there’s a lot of humor in the classic pulp setting — where else does the ostensible hero bumble into a priceless historical site, smash the place up, then steal its artifacts while claiming that they ‘belong in a museum’? Humor encourages players to buy into the narrative of the game more as they joke it with their friends, so we play up the darkly comic elements of the pulp setting as much as possible.
Tom: I like the ‘leveling down / fatigue’ aspect of it. It makes sense. Nice. The tone sounds very ‘Indiana Jones’ to me. That’s great! I like the art of the game. Who’s the artist?
Brian: All of the game art was done by the lovely Ghia Mercado, a coworker and friend of mine. Her style perfectly matched the feeling we intended for the game, lighthearted but competitive. I tell people her art’s the best part.
Jon: I would absolutely buy a copy of the game for Ghia’s art alone! It’s a big part of why we added the digital artbook to our reward tiers — we want to share all of her concepts and works in progress with our backers, so that they can see the full process that the art took to go from our crude pixel prototypes to Ghia’s gorgeous final art pieces.
Tom: Here’s Ghia’s Tumblr so people can see more of her work. It’s very good. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?
Jon: Always be open to new ideas, whoever and wherever they come from. Seek out new experiences outside of your area of expertise and see what they inspire in you. Never assume you know better than your playtesters. Every idea has the possibility to be a great one, if you only take the time to think it through!
Brian: Don’t go it alone! It’s so easy to hoard your ideas and feel like you have to work out the kinks yourself, but bouncing mechanics off of a friend can go a long way. They just might be the motivation you need to push a concept to production. And to that point, get your prototype in front of as many faces as possible as soon as possible. Too often I hear concern from new designers about getting their game idea stolen, but that doesn’t actually happen. Really.
Jon: Definitely. On that same note, never ask someone to sign a non-disclosure agreement before playtesting your game. They’re doing you a huge favor by taking the time to give you feedback — don’t make it harder for them by making them sign something just to play your game!
Tom: This board game community is so supportive and helpful. As a designer, not availing yourself to that is a poor decision. It’s interesting you mentioned the NDA. No one has ever brought that up. Have you had experience with that or seen it happen?
Jon: It’s a concern that I hear designers working on their first games voice pretty frequently. Ultimately, it’s not really worth worrying about in the tabletop space. Your job as a designer isn’t to have the best ideas, but to develop those ideas into the best versions of them they can be. If you think someone can take your idea and make a better game than you, then why bother designing in the first place
The best defense you can take against copycats is publicity, not secrecy. If you are blogging and sharing your ideas constantly, you’ll have pretty good proof that you had an idea first if someone does try to outright clone your game!
Tom: Why did you decide to start a game company?
Brian: Mostly to make the financials easier to manage. I think the more interesting question is: Why did we decide to self-publish?
Jon: We spent the better part of a year shopping Skulldug! to various publishers. We got some great feedback in that time, but found that finding the right publisher is a tricky proposition. Many smaller publishers don’t take submissions, while most larger publishers prioritize working with their staff designers. Even if you find a publisher looking for submissions, you have to fit in well with their existing catalogue — not too different from their target market, while not too similar to any other games that they already publish.
Ultimately, we decided it was in our best interests to form our own company, learn what it would take to print and publish a game on our own, and take our work to Kickstarter. It’s been a long road to get to this point, but now that we’ve put in the initial leg work on Skulldug!, we should be well-prepared to publish future games under the Ruddy Games banner!
Tom: What is your current favorite game mechanic?
Jon: I’m a huge fan of the action drafting mechanic in Antoine Bauza’s Tokaido. It does an amazing job of creating meaningful decisions, as the value of each space on the board is constantly shifting based on how many like-colored spaces you’ve landed on so far, and skipping too far ahead of the other players can end up giving the other players extra turns. It’s the epitome of easy to learn and hard to master… a great mechanic for all skill levels!
Tom: I like action drafting too though I have yet to play Tokaido.
Brian: I’ve recently been all about bluffing mechanics, especially in Masquerade and Skull & Roses. I love how much depth comes from such simple rulesets, especially in Skull & Roses. That kind of elegance is something I’d like to work towards in future designs.
Tom: I like bluffing games but really stink at them. You should play with Chris Kirkman if you get the chance. He’s so good at those games. What’s next for Ruddy Games?
Jon: Although we’ll be focused on getting Skulldug! printed and distributed for awhile yet, we’ve got a number of projects in early stages in the pipeline. Brian has a card game that he’s working on with another designer, and I’m beginning to prototype one of my own. We’re also not limiting ourselves to tabletop games. Our background is in digital game design, and I have a number of ideas for digital games that I would love to develop under the Ruddy umbrella. The sky’s the limit!
Tom: Well, you have an open invitation to come back on as a guest to talk about any of them when you are ready. How can people contact you?
Jon: Fans interested in Skulldug! should feel free to comment on the Kickstarter directly! That said, anyone can reach out to us by following @Ruddy_Games on Twitter, liking Skulldug! on Facebook, or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me personally at @TheJonAGill on Twitter or email email@example.com!
Tom: Any final words?
Brian: If you haven’t checked out the Skulldug! Kickstarter yet, we recommend you do that immediately!
Jon: Apart from that… stay in school, follow your dreams, and always keep an open mind! That thing you’ve always wanted to do but don’t know if you’re good enough to do it? You absolutely are.
Readers,you should check out Skulldug! right here. The game has funded and will be produced. It looks like a lot of fun so head over and support it. And do it quick because the campaign ends very soon. Thanks for joining me again on Go Forth. Leave a comment by clicking the little black word balloon at the top of the post or on Twitter (@goforthandgame or @tomgurg). Tell your friends too.
Today I’m joined by the guys behind Stonemaier Games next project – Between Two Cities. Ben Rosset, Matt O’Malley, and Stonemaier’s Jamey Stegmaier. Let’s get to it.
Tom: Hi guys. Why not introduce yourselves first.
Ben: I’m from Chicago but have lived in Washington, DC since 2003. I’ve been a gamer since about 2006 and a game designer since about 2008. Just recently I’ve moved into the gaming industry full time as a Project Manager with Panda Game Manufacturing, which I’m incredibly excited about. I’ll still be designing my own games during my free time, as well.
Matthew: I live just outside DC with my wonderful wife and two great kids. I played all sorts of games as a kid (D&D, Othello, Backgammon, Dungeon, Warrior Knights, Diplomacy) leading up to Avalon Hill’s Civilization in college. Then I went through a bit of a dark age, but a friend reintroduced me to games through Acquire, Modern Art, and Settlers. My day job is developing nonprofit web sites with my wife at Grand Junction Design (our company), but my evenings are dedicated to games and music with family and friends.
Tom: D&D and rpg’s lead me back to board gaming. I still love playing them. Just don’t get to that often. Jamey, we are pretty familiar with your games. Ben, tell us about your games.
Ben: As a designer, sometimes my inspiration for a new game comes in the form of a theme, and sometimes as a mechanic. My first published game was Mars Needs Mechanics, released in 2013. It’s a medium weight Economic game with a unique system for controlling the prices of goods, called the “Sales Order Line.” My next two published games, Brew Crafters and Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game, were released at the end of 2014/beginning of 2015 from Dice Hate Me Games. As I write this, they are still being delivered to overseas kickstarter backers, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the games becoming generally available in stores soon. Theme was definitely my inspiration for both of those games. I got the original idea for Brew Crafters while taking a tour of Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. Between Two Cities will be my fourth published game.
Tom: Mars is fun. I enjoyed it. I’ve seen you and Chris (Kirkman) play Brew Crafters when you were honing it but have yet to play (*ahem* Chris!). It looked like a game I would enjoy. I have just received Brew Crafters: TTCG and am looking forward to playing it. Your turn Matthew.
Matt: My first published game was actually an iOS puzzle game, Celtic Knots, that I designed and published myself. However, after that experience (and having a day job creating web sites) I really wanted to create something physical, which is what led me to board games. I’d been designing games in my head for years, but attending Unpub in 2013 was what drove me to try to get some of my designs published. Soon after that, I signed The Princess Bride: A Battle of Wits (which will be released by Game Salute in the summer of 2015), followed by Diner (public release in early 2015 by Dice Hate Me Games).
A Battle of Wits is a nice, light, auction and deduction card game to the death. Diner is a fast-paced almost-real-time game with a lot of energy. Between Two Cities will be my third published game.
Tom: Diner is so good. I ‘playtested’ it for the 54 Card Challenge and it stood out as amazing. Somebody please tell us about Between Two Cities.
Ben: Between Two Cities is a tile drafting and placement game about building iconic world cities for 3-7 players (with 1 and 2 player variants) that plays in about 20 minutes at all player counts. It has a unique double partnership mechanic where each player works with the player to their right to build one city together, and with the player to their left to build a different city. At the end of the game, each city gets scored, but each player only receives the points for their lowest scoring city. This forces players to put equal amounts of effort into both of their partnerships. Because of the double partnership mechanic, there is no “screw your neighbor” feeling in Between Two Cities. You have every incentive to help both the player to your right and your left. But in the end, it’s a strictly competitive game with only one winner.
Tom: That sounds really fun. I am very interested in seeing it in action soon. Where did the idea of the game come from?
Ben: The original idea that we had was the double partnership mechanic. We thought it would be really interesting if each player had to split their effort, attention and resources equally between 2 partnerships with 2 different players. The rest of the game came alive from there.
Matthew: Originally, the players were all gardeners designing Roman gardens. We had this great mechanic, but it didn’t really flow until we changed the theme to city-building. I think it was the melding of the mechanic with the theme that really brought it to life, as Ben said.
Tom: How is it working with a design partner?
Ben: For me, it’s been amazing. Matthew is an incredibly talented designer and has also become a good friend. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect design partner. We are just enough the same and just enough different to make the partnership work well. We’ve got other ideas in the hopper and I look forward to designing more games with Matthew for a long time to come!
Matthew: Working with a partner is invaluable in keeping a project moving forward. It really helps to have someone else to keep pushing, to bounce ideas off of, and to take something from good to great. Working with Ben has been fantastic. He’s right that we do have a good mix of similarities and differences, especially in what we focus on in a design. I couldn’t be happier about the response we’ve gotten to Between Two Cities, and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing to bring more games to life.
Tom: Jamey, what was it about Between Two Cities that made you say, “I have to sign this game!”?
Jamey: This past year at Gen Con, I heard that Ben had a new prototype he was testing out. I had hung out with Ben at Geekway to the West in St. Louis the previous year and hold him in high regards, so I asked him if he would show this new game to me.
I sat down and played a quick 3-player game with Ben and Matthew, who I met for the first time for that game. As I played, I realized that I was feeling something I had never fully experienced from the beginning of a game to the end: I had that positive feeling you get from working together with people to solve a puzzle in a cooperative game, but I was working towards my own clever individual victory as one does in a competitive game. The game was somehow fully cooperative (with your neighbors) and fully competitive, and it felt…awesome.
I immediately called over 4 friends, as I wanted to see if I felt that same way after playing with 7 players. I also wanted to see how much time it added or if it seemed like a different game. Nope. Same game with 7 players as it was with 3. It scaled beautifully. And again it felt awesome.
I make big decisions together with my business partner, Alan, who was busy having a baby with his wife that weekend. But as I walked away from that second game, I turned to my friends and said, “That’s the game, isn’t it? That’s the one we’ve been looking for.” They all agreed. In fact, I think they essentially said, “You’re an idiot if you don’t try to sign that game.” So we did. 🙂
Tom: When are you going to launch the Kickstarter campaign?
Jamey: Between Two Cities will go live on Kickstarter on February 25.
Tom: So close. What sort of stretch goals are you thinking about?
Jamey: We’ve tried to include a complete game in the box from day one, but after launch day we’re going to explore some fun stretch goals that will enhance the game in subtle ways. One of the “fun” stretch goals will be a set of cards that determine player order. We’re going to crowdsource ideas for those cards during the campaign.
Tom: You are all about the crowdsourcing. That’s a neat idea. Give the people what they want sort of thing. Who is doing the art for the game? The graphic design?
Matthew: The art is by Beth Sobel, graphic design by Christine Santana. This is the first project I’ve worked with them on, but they’ve been fantastic. I love the work they’ve done for Between Two Cities. I think they’ve worked with you before, right Jamey?
Jamey: That’s correct! Beth did the art for Viticulture and Tuscany, and Christine has been our graphic designer from the beginning. I should point out that Matthew’s graphic design skills have also been a HUGE help for Between Two Cities.
Tom: Neat. It kind of keeps a Stonemaier “brand” if you will to have the art for different games done by the same artist.
Wow, there are so many graphic designers that are game designers. Matthew, Daniel Solis, Darrell Louder, Chris Kirkman, on and on. What’s up with that?
Matthew: I’m not a pro like those guys – I care about layout and expressing information visually, but I just do it for the rough passes and playtesting. Daniel, Darrell and Chris make the final product beautiful as well. I think it helps them a lot in their development process because it makes their games easier to play and doesn’t detract from the experience when the graphic design is done well.
Tom: What’s the best bit of advice you would give new game designers?
Jamey: Play a lot of games and absorb content (videos, podcasts(like The Geek All Stars), reviews, blogs, etc) about the games you don’t have the opportunity to play. I’ve learned so much from other designers that way.
Ben: Two things: First, design for yourself. Be a fan of the types of games you create. If you aren’t a deck-building fan, don’t make that your first design. You’re going to have to playtest your own games scores if not hundreds of times. You might as well enjoy the game! Second, don’t be afraid of getting your designs stolen. Your games won’t be any good if you don’t openly share them with as many strangers as possible to get honest feedback.
Matthew: Not only that, but try to playtest other designers’ games. There are so many events available for this now – Protospiels, Unpub events, Metatopia, and the playtest halls at big cons. Get other people to play your games, but also play a lot of other people’s games. It will give you a lot of insight into how other designers work, and may help you build up a good network of people to help you in your process.
Tom: Awesome advice. I really need to get University Labs and Tourist Traps in front of some other people soon. Unpub Mini here in April so that’s the goal. Lastly, where can people find you?
Jamey: People can find us at the following links:
Ben: You can find me on Twitter @BenRosset or on BGG as rosset37
Matthew: The best way to reach me is on Twitter @BlackOakGames.
Tom: Any final words from any of you?
Jamey: I’m just really excited to be back on Kickstarter! It’s been too long (since July). I’ve been engaging consistently with backers from previous Kickstarters, but there’s nothing quite like the collective enthusiasm and energy generated by a live project.
Ben: Thanks for the interview Tom, it was fun!
Matthew: Thanks! Hope to talk to you again soon.
Tom: Where can we find out more about Between Two Cities?
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