Chris Urinko has been someone I’ve kept up with for quite some time on Twitter. We met at GenCon in person and have even had a long phone call to discuss game design. He’s a great guy with a diverse set of game design interests, one of which is custom woodcrafting. After he and his design partner won the Ion Award with their game Hold Your Breath, I reached out for an interview.
Bolded words are mine. Everything else is Chris Urinko.
Tell me about yourself and your design partner. What should we know about you?
Daniel and I have been friends for 8 years or so. We have been designing games together for about 2 years now. Before that he helped me with playtesting the role-playing supplements I had written. The easiest way to describe our partnership is to think of a laser. I am the raw energy and Daniel is the lens that focuses it.
I see myself as the “lens” in your metaphor. Do you both contribute equally in these roles during the brainstorming/concept phase, or does Daniel step in more once you come to him with an idea? Elaborate on your partnership a bit more, if you would!
I am not very good at being a lens, so I would say Daniel has a pretty strong hold on that aspect of our partnership. But, Daniel does bring ideas as well. I think usually the model is I have an idea, I get a prototype designed, we playtest it, Daniel says fix this and this, we brainstorm the approach to fix the issues, I then revise and we playtest again. Repeat until the game is finished.
Give us the high level details for Hold Your Breath.
Number of Players: 2-4.
Theme: Players push their luck to dive as deep as they can on the first play through the deck and then attempt to swim back to the surface on the second play through the deck. Players have a chance to hinder other players on both the way down and the way back up.
Play time: 15 minutes.
Unique Mechanics: Almost every card in the deck can be used in two ways, so in a hand of 5 cards you feel like you have a lot of options to best match your strategy for that turn.
So 5 cards and up to 10 uses. How did you keep this from becoming overwhelming? What information is on the cards?
One of my troubles with Dawn Sector is that every card can be used in two ways (which can be overwhelming). But in my case the cards only have a single number and symbol. How did you keep this easy to understand for Hold Your Breath?
Here is an example of a card from the prototype. As you can see there are two icons on the card, the top icon and the bottom icon. In this example the top icon is 10 air. The bottom icon is a the draw icon which lets you discard this card to draw another card from the Dive Pile.
To make it easy, each icon is large. We made sure the top icons are always either air or swim are in two values: 5 or 10. The bottom icon has green accent if it is helpful for the player and red if it is hurtful to an opponent.
We felt these visual “clues” made decision making very fast once you start playing.
Walk me through a turn of the game.
The player draws five cards. The idea behind the game is to dive. In order to do that, you must play one or more air cards from your hand. Once you have played your air cards you may then play a number of swim cards of equal or less value than the air you played. For example, you play a 10 air card and a 5 air card, you could then play a 10 swim card and a 5 swim card, but you couldn’t play two swim 10 cards because you had only played 15 air.
In this situation, you would have one card left in your hand. You could either play that card using the icon on the bottom of the card, so if that card had a Panic icon on it, you would play it on an opponent and they would need to play a calm card to remove it before they could dive any further. Or if the card is not helpful, you could discard it and draw back up to five cards. Finally, if the card could be helpful in the future you could keep it and draw four more cards. That makes up your turn.
What was your inspiration for the game?
I was watching my 4 year old son and all the other kids practicing holding their breath and going underwater at swim class. It just kind of seemed like there had to be a game in there. By the end of the swim lesson 30 minutes later I had the mechanics all worked out.
What were your goals when making the game? What did you hope to accomplish?
I wanted a family game that could be played with kids. I wanted it to be colorful, fun, fast, easy to teach, and I wanted the cards to be interesting even for little kids that might not grasp the rules of the game. For example, for my son and I we just use the cards as a matching game. We draw a card and then he plays a card from his hand that has an icon that matches one of the two icons on the card we drew.
Our goal was to create a game that we could get approved by the Board Game Designer’s Guild of Utah in terms of being a quality game both worthy of submitting to publishers and that it would be attractive to publishers because of its ease to produce. After bringing it to the guild, multiple people told us to submit it for the Ion Award Competition so we did.
Tell us about the Ion Award Competition. What was it like? How did it go?
The Ion Award competition is an open competition held each year as part of SaltCon. There are two categories: Family and Strategy. There are four finalists selected for each category. What is exciting to me is that the judges are all from publishing companies. We thought it would be an excellent chance to get honest feedback from publishers on what they thought of the game in terms of getting selected as a finalist. Then, if things went well, to get offers from publishers without having to send a bunch of submissions out and waiting months and months on end.
In terms of the competition, it was really exciting! We had a chance to present our rules and then play the game with the judges. They then asked questions and gave their general thoughts on the game. We knew we had a pretty good game because our judges were very favorable towards the game in their comments. We ended up winning the competition in the family category and had two interested publishers after the event.
Did the award open any doors for you?
Winning the award got us the attention of three publishers in total in the end. Publishers that I had never dealt with or submitted anything to before, so I definitely would say it opened doors for us. That is the goal of the competition; to put unknown designers in front of known publishers.
What was a difficult problem with the game’s development? How did you solve it?
Honestly, the most difficult challenge with the game was figuring out how to take it from 2 players to up to 4 players. In the end, a couple of rule changes allowed us to prevent players from ganging up on each other so badly that it would be impossible to ever get back to the surface. The solution came at SaltCon after a little discussion, us mashing a couple decks together, and then creating two new cards for the deck.
Who would love to play your game? Who is it for?
It went over very well with game players who took it to play with their kids and non-gaming spouse. It went well with groups of kids, and even with a couple of grandparents that we practiced our presentation in front of to make sure I talked slowly and clearly.
What are you most proud of with the design?
It is clean, simple, fun, and very publisher friendly in terms of components. Getting all of that into one game is not the easiest thing, I have discovered.
What were the best parts about working with a partner on the design? Were there any problems you had to overcome?
Having Daniel around means we have two brains analyzing gameplay, considering the critical feedback, and coming up with solutions. Also, I have no graphical skill what so ever, so having Daniel design all the cards was a huge part of the success of the game. Daniel and I don’t often run into “problems.” We sometimes start a long ways away from each other on ideas, but we both want to create something great so it is just a matter of testing all the design concepts and then fairly weighing the pros and cons of each before making a unified decision.
What recommendations do you have for someone interested in a collaborative design?
Do it! Seriously, so much fun, not too mention easier to divide and conquer the tasks. Figure out what you are good at and do that as opposed to getting frustrated by doing things that you aren’t good at.
What are some of your favorite games lately?
King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Ascension, and Monster Factory are all games I have played and enjoyed recently.
What is most important to you as a designer?
As a designer, I want to create fun games that are attractive to publishers and players.
Anything you want to add?
You can reach me on Twitter @Battlejack. You can see the other projects Daniel and I are working on at our website.
Daniel and I have another part to our Wicked Boar Games business and that is custom components for designers. Originally this started as just producing custom sized painted cubes and tokens in specific otherwise unavailable sizes. However, we have since then purchased a laser cutter and so now we can custom create components out of wood, plastic, leather, cardboard, and even aluminum to some degree. People come to us with requests for custom dice, meeples, keychains, medallions, game boxes, game appreciation pieces and even etched wooden board game boards. We have tools ranging from hand tools all the way up the 5 axis CNC machining and the laser cutter. If you are looking for something specific feel free to reach out to us on twitter, on the website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are actually going to be launching our first Kickstater project in conjunction with Daft Concepts to produce custom dice for people, so look for that to happen the end of April.
If you have other questions or input just add them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!