FreeStarter Interviews Grant Rodiek
Four friends recently launched a project called FreeStarter. Why? To give away free games and thank the awesome board game community for being awesome. We also wanted to help you get to know us better. This is the final of four interviews, one with each of us. Today? We're talking to me, Grant Rodiek. Matt Worden, Chevee Dodd, and AJ Porfirio are also in the conversation.
Matt: I’ve known Mr. Rodiek for almost 2 whole years, which allows me to have an inside knowledge of just about nothing of him. So, this is my chance to get into those deep, dark places and poke around a bit.
Grant, any chance you could share a picture of Peaches with us? I know you’re normally pretty shy about your Corgi, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that she’s somewhat cute. Your thoughts?
AJ: Ah, good plan Matt. Soften him up with a Peaches question.
Grant: Peaches is my adorable, bossy 3 year old Welsh Corgi. When I’m not at work, she’s my constant companion. A lot of my creative exercises are conducted while walking Peaches at the park. I love her dearly.
Matt: (Okay. Now that that’s out of the way, Grant won’t be wondering when he’d get an opening to show off his favorite daddy’s girl.)
Can you give us a little background? You know, everything else in your life up to this point. You have 280 characters: GO!
Grant: I’m 29, male, and I live in San Francisco with my girlfriend, Beth, and our corgi, Peaches. I’m a professional digital game developer and serious board game design hobbyist. I’ve published/self-published two games so far, write my blog (if you’re reading this, you’re here!) and would like to one day publish games.
Matt: I’ve heard people call you “the Farmaggedon guy” … why?
Grant: Farmageddon is my first published design. It was published last year by 5th Street Games and in less than a year has sold through its first print run and won a Parent’s Choice Award. We’ve been very fortunate. The second print run was just ordered and I very much hope it continues to be well received. I try to promote it constantly, so if you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably aware of it.
The first expansion for Farmageddon, Livestocked & Loaded, is coming out this year. Plus, other Farmageddon things...
AJ: I'm looking forward to adding animals into the mix when we play Farmageddon!
Matt: (Quick note-to-self about AJ wanting to “add animals into the mix”.) So Grant, I’ve also heard people call you “Grand” … but I really don’t want to see your answer as to why.
Grant: Typo? From those less Grand?
Matt: Sorry, but I need to sidetrack: Why is it that you showed up late at the JW on the last night of last year’s GenCon and then proceeded to buy all of us shots?
Grant: Because last year at GenCon I worked from 8pm to midnight nightly testing Battle for York. I was late because I tested with the most analysis-paralysis group in history and they took 2.5 hours to play my 60 minute game. It was epic. I bought shots because I’m a giving soul and I want everyone to consume the delicious nectar of GenCon.
AJ: Oh man I wish I saved our text conversation from that playtest. That was hilarious.
Grant: AJ and I were texting to each other while watching these poor guys decide, re-decide, debate, re-debate, every decision in the game.
Matt: Mmmm … nectar …elven-served nectar is the best, I hear. Anyhoo … have you ever put a single-use card into any of your designs? (I won’t believe you even if you prove that you have.)
Grant: Yes! The General in Battle for York has a singular purpose! But typically, no. Many designers have favorite mechanics and one of mine is multi-use cards. For example:
- Crop Cards in Farmageddon can be planted, used as fertilizer, or discarded to activate Action cards.
- All cards in York (except the General, Saboteur, and Tactician) can be played to place reinforcements or activate special powers.
Things are changing though. All the action cards in Blockade are single-use and very simple. Then again, my other new game returns to multi-use cards. I’m like a broken record.
Chevee: I’m all over this. Adding multiple uses to cards gives you another decision layer without increasing components. I also hate those games where you have a hand full of useless cards.
Matt: You’re providing a copy of Farmageddon and Battle for York as part of our freestarter giveaways. Anything else you want to add-in here about the former? And what can you tell us about the latter?
Grant: Farmageddon is a light take-that for 2-4 players that plays in about a half hour. A few things help it stand out from other take-thats. For one, the take-thattery/aggression is constant and evenly distributed. It happens every turn and is a part of the strategy. By this, I mean you don’t go a round or two then get screwed. You know it’s going to happen so you plan against it.
Also, you only get to play two Action cards, which limits the amount of things that can happen and also generate a lot of combo driven play. I think it’s really fun discovering new combos and choices for different scenarios.
Battle for York is an area control/war game that plays with 2-4 players in an hour or less. The game is entirely action and card driven -- no dice. I tried to make something different than the typical war games in the market, which tend to be highly complex, lengthy simulations between only 2 players. Another cool aspect is that the game features 4 asymmetric factions as well as a generic tutorial faction to help players learn the game.
The game requires “thoughtful aggression.” You can’t sit and wait. You need to take territory, win battles, and carefully manage your hand of cards to have the right balance of units on the ground and special tactics. I self-published Farmageddon, then it took off. I’m hoping the same happens for York.
Matt: York is really my sort of game. Not sure I’ll ever win, but I will enjoy every play. You had me at “Y--”! (Farmageddon is okay too, I guess. Even if the stupid pre-5th Street version out-sold Jump Gate on TheGameCrafter.)
Chevee: I like York a lot. I can see my group playing it regularly. I also never see myself winning against them.
Matt: So if Chevee and I were to play a 2-player game … would both of us lose? We may need to figure this out the proper way! What ever happened to my all-time favorite design of yours, Up Your Missouri?
Grant: Frontier Scoundrels, aka Up Your Missouri was a semi-cooperative (bad, avoid at all costs) game based on Lewis, Clark, and 2 other fictional explorers. After about 10 tests I scrapped it. It was just a highly random, meandering, no decision, pile of junk. I didn’t see how to salvage it so I dropped it and went elsewhere. I have about 6 of these per year.
Matt: I think I love it even a little bit more now … *sigh*
AJ: Can I have the time that I spent rule reviewing that game back? I kid, I kid.
Chevee: Was this before my time or is my memory that terrible?
Matt: It was before York and his first try at Poor Abby. Lasted about 2 months I think. I liked it, so he crumpled it up and threw it away.
In my eyes, you can be extremely self-critical … not so much of yourself, but of your designs and things that you create. You seem to have a very tight, quick loop of assessment and determination of whether something works or doesn’t. Where does that come from?
Grant: If I had to pin it on something I’d say my training at work paired with my personality of impatience. I’m a producer/designer at work, traditionally on large teams. From time to time I’ve had to make a lot of quick decisions and assess things so we can keep moving and make progress. I’ve always looked to decisive people as well. I think one of my best strengths and weaknesses is haste. It gets me in trouble and helps me succeed at the same time. I’m critical because I want to make really good things. Anybody can just put stuff out there and I want to be good. It’s a really difficult road and I’m not sure how it’s going yet.
Matt: “Anybody can just put stuff out there …” Hey, that’s what I do!! “... and I want to be good.” … oh, I see the difference.
Chevee: It’s two entirely different methodologies that lead to the same point. Grant likes to think and think and think before spending real time and money making something and Matt and I prefer to just make things and figure it out as we go along. I have convinced Grant to try his hand at the “Chevee Method” of design recently... in fact, I think Blockade started that way?
Grant: Molly’s Last Hope was Chevee Method. Blockade is pure me.
Matt: You are also very open in your design work, sharing a ton of information about your thoughts, processes, steps you’ve taken, results you’ve expected vs. what you’ve actually gotten, etc. Do you find this is helpful to you in your game design work? Is it helpful to you in other ways?
Grant: It is helpful for me in that I’m always thinking about how to present my ideas and share them. I have to position them such that people care and can digest the information. Something many designers fail to do is ask “How will players learn this? How will players first experience this? What is the best way to teach this?”
Another way is that I think it helps me build awareness for my games. I’m a relative nobody. [ed: Matt - we can’t all be The Beast] I’ve never published a game “for real,” I have a single published design... I’m a minnow in a big pond. I don’t quite have the presence yet to just put something out there and have people care. So, by sharing it openly, I hope I build some of that trust and presence so that long term, people do care.
Chevee: I appreciate the openness and it’s one of the things that pulled me into this community. I like reading about other peoples trials and tribulations, even if they are a “nobody” because there is always something to be learned, even from newbies.
Matt: Who do you learn from and what are the most important knowledge bits or habits you’ve gained over the past two years?
Grant: I learn from the games I play. I’m highly influenced by what I consume as a player. I learn by watching others -- I love to watch Kickstarter projects and other publishers. If I cannot learn by doing (yet), I can learn by what others are doing. I also learn a great deal at work and then try to apply it to my hobby exercises.
Some things I’ve learned include: The ability to test and iterate on my designs. I know how to get what I need from testers and keep improving my games. I’ve grown much stronger in writing rules. Finally, I’m able to get my designs to a “good place” much more quickly.
Matt: Besides the multi-use-cards mentioned earlier, what are your other go-to mechanics? Can you specifically respond to the ideas of randomness and everyone's favorite: chit pulling?
Grant: I personally don’t enjoy a great deal of randomness in my games, though what random means is different for everyone. For example, games like Arkham Horror or Talisman seem utterly boring to me. But, I absolutely don’t mind dice rolls for resolving combat, like in Summoner Wars or Memoir ‘44. Personally, I like making decisions against probability. I always like having options.
Randomness and luck are excellent tools for variance, which is how I try to use them. Others use it more to create unexpected moment. That has its place, but that’s less how I tend to use it.
Mechanics I love -- in general, cards. I love having a hand of options and deciding how to use them. Lately, I’m obsessed with weird components, like blocks, and figuring out how to incorporate them. I also love social mechanics. I need to create a game with them.
Chit pulling is a really neat mechanic that I haven’t factored in properly yet for a personal design. Maybe soon?
Chevee: Everyone should be required to design a chit pulling game. MOAR CHITS!
Matt: You really, really, really like to playtest your games. So much so that you even created a network of playtester “ penpals” to help other designers get their designs blind tested by other experienced folks. What benefits do you normally get out of a high level of playtesting?
Grant: How much I love my games matters a lot less than how much others love my games. And, unlike Chevee, I actually like my games (I kill the ones I don’t). Playtesting helps reveal favorite mechanics that need to be tweaked or removed. Playtesting helps you refine your experience and improve rules and accessibility. Playtesting proves how well your graphic design supports the games.
A design, without testing, is just a hypothesis. Playtesting for me is the scientific aspect that refines the art and creative stuff.
Chevee: Hey now! I like at least one of the games I’ve designed! You have a mysterious ability to keep enjoying your projects after you are done with them... I can’t do that.
Matt: What new games are you working on right now?
Grant: I’m working on a tactical (and tactile!) fleet battle game tentatively called Blockade. Players have Jenga-like blocks that have lasers and weak points on them. Players arrange the blocks in formations to hide their weak spots, but also potentially bring fewer weapons to bear. The game is highly tactile, distilled, and uses a fun dice mechanic. It also has a big story written against.
I also started a second new design for which I have really big hopes. I’m not talking about it yet.
Matt: You say that you would like to become a publisher at some point. How do you see that unfolding? What sort of game(s) do you see Hyperbole Games logos on?
Grant: There are so many chances to screw up when you publish a game. I’d hate to do this with someone else’s game for my first outing. So, I need to design a game that I think is a.) amazing and b.) I can produce fantastically. Once I have that, if my personal funding is relatively happy, I’ll finally create my Hyperbole Games LLC and release the game.
Without a doubt, Hyperbole games will play in 60 minutes or less. Ideally 45 minutes or less. They’ll target the masses far more than the hardcore niche. So, more Ticket to Ride than Terra Mystica. I’m seeking games with fun components, $40 or less MSRP, and ones that can support a gorgeous presentation. Gameplay wise, I’m looking for games that are clever. Clever is a word I really like.
Matt: Each of these interviews has had some advice given. I’m curious as to the advice you would give to how designers should prepare for playtests and how they should gather feedback during and after play from the testers.
Grant: Know the goals you have for your game. Know what you’re trying to create. For example, for Battle for York, my goals were:
- 2-4 players
- 60 minutes or less
- No dice. Low luck, in general.
- Conflict driven, war-style game
- No player elimination.
- Players are never “out” of the game. You can always win.
Everyone has ideas for how to make your game better. Everyone knows the game they want to play. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll meander all over the place with feedback. If you know what you want, you’ll be able to process the feedback and use it to improve your game.
Chevee: I’d like to highlight that last sentence: “improve your game.” There comes a point in life when you have to accept the fact that you can’t please everyone... and that heavily applies to game design. Make your game the way you want it. That doesn’t mean that you turn away all advice and criticism, but you need to keep the focus on making something you want to play. If the advice helps get you there, awesome.
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