No Stretching for Hocus


Post by: Grant Rodiek and Joshua Buergel

A large part of our efforts the past year, beyond designing and developing Hocus, have been spent figuring out how we want to conduct business. For our first game, we’ve decided to use Kickstarter. The primary reason is that Kickstarter is a good platform by which to gauge demand and for many consumers it’s a known quantity. It’s worth the 10% cost and various efforts involved in a Kickstarter to use it versus building an online platform ourselves at this moment.

One of the most complicated elements of Kickstarter projects are Stretch Goals. As of now, when Hocus launches on Kickstarter in the latter half of June, we will feature no Stretch Goals. We have none planned at this time, and have no plans to add more.

This may be problematic for us, but we want to discuss the decision. We’ll surely be asked about it countless times during the campaign.

Fundamentally, the purpose of Stretch Goals is to increase revenue brought in via Kickstarter, ideally through additional backers. By that, I mean most backers don’t increase their pledges. Notice I said revenue! In many cases, it increases the money coming in, but most Stretch Goals also increase costs, so it isn’t free money for the publisher. One can argue that it lets backers steer the course of the product and such, but fundamentally, I believe it’s about additional revenue.

The presence of Stretch Goals means a few things to backers:

  • “This project has funded and will succeed. It is a thing.” People want to back a winner and be a part of the winning team.
  • “The project will be more exciting. I can’t wait to see what else we get!” It’s fun to be a part of “But wait, there’s more!”
  • “This is a good deal!” More stuff, at the same price, definitely feels like a good deal.

I’m not made of stone. I’ll tell you honestly I have jumped in on a handful of Kickstarters because, well, look at that deal! Fief came with 5 full expansions I’d have to otherwise pay for. It was tough resisting Space Cadets: Away Missions with so much content there.

But, Stretch Goals are not appropriate for Hocus. Our goals for the publication of Hocus are to learn about publishing a card game in a way that builds on our reputation, does not incur an undue amount of risk, and leads to a positive relationship with a small pool of customers. Oh, and we want to make a good game!

These goals must steer our execution. We need to keep our costs low, reduce delays as much as possible, and really nail what we think we can nail. The more complications we add, the higher our chances of failure or missteps. We’re new at this — it’s likely we’re going to botch something, so we need to keep it simple. The stupid is implied. That means remove anything else.

Before I go into some more philosophical points, I want to detail the things that will be included with a pledge for a copy of Hocus. Things that are often withheld as Stretch Goals will be included at the start for us.

  1. Linen Cards: We will have linen cards from the outset. We’ve paid a great deal of money for the art in Hocus and this will be a game that’s heavily shuffled. It’d be wrong to not go with linen.
  2. Fifth Player Support: Although the game was strictly 2-4 players for the longest time, we found a clever solution and five player is actually a phenomenal way to play. Five player does come at a cost – it requires 14 cards: 8 for the deck, 3 for the Spell Book, and 3 reference/tracking cards.
  3. 8 Spell Books: We could ship only the number of books to facilitate a game at our max player count, but we’ve included 3 extras. Many games add promo content, or micro-expansions. We’re including everything from the start.
  4. Rule Sheet: We have card budget to simply put the rules on cards and save a little money on the printing. But, we think the rule sheet is the best thing for the product.

Now, let’s discuss some of the specific reasons we think Stretch Goals are wrong for us and Hocus. Firstly, Hocus is a very small game with a very small price. The final game will be 99 cards, tuck box, rule sheet, and we believe it’ll have an MSRP of $15.99. The total cost for backers to receive a copy of the game will be, we believe, $13. We’re basically slashing the MSRP and backers will cover shipping. The margins are already low in a low margin business. Every dime we add in to the box hurts our ability to move towards a more fiscally responsible state. We aren’t going to get rich on Hocus, but we would like to cover our operating costs as soon as possible.

Secondly, we want to have no delays…that we can control. We want to begin printing as soon as possible, which means all art and graphic design needs to be finished soon. Let’s say our 3 additional Spell Books were Stretch Goals. Do we pay for the art now, and hold onto them hoping we fund? Or do we wait until we hit the goal, hoping we can still schedule our artist? Our artists have quite a bit of lead time. That second option seems dangerous for the project.

Thirdly, it did not make sense to balance test content we weren’t confident we would ship. We have spent months and hundreds of tests just spinning on a small subset of Spells. Why would we spend that time if we aren’t sure we’re going to use it? It’s difficult to test against possibilities. It’s a pain to gain manufacturing quotes against 85 cards, 88 cards, 89 cards, and so forth. Yes, our manufacturing partners can do that, but it seems like a waste of their time, no?

You can see a few cases above where I mention the thought of paying for/developing a thing that we then don’t use if the goal isn’t hit. There seems to be a game of chicken where you can say “we will do this if we meet this Stretch Goal.” But, if you’re below it at all, do you not do it? Even if it makes the game better, you’ve paid for it, and it doesn’t fundamentally alter your costs, do you withhold it? If you don’t, then were you lying all along about needing the money? It’s a strange choice we didn’t want to have to make. We thought the game needed linen cards, and 8 Spell Books, and 5 players, and we were willing to pay for that up front.

We think of this game as pre-Stretched for everybody, with everything we wanted for Stretch Goals already included at day one. It’s a more honest approach to this game.

If we’re wildly successful, I’m sure we’ll hear about areas we could add things to improve the game. Such as shifting from a tuck box to a 2 piece box. Adding tokens for everyone. Or, promising or developing an expansion. But, all of these have been considered and set aside due to costs, cost and complexity, and risk, respectfully.

We will undoubtedly lose some momentum from this. Stretch Goals are an expectation and part of the ecosystem. But, we’re curious if we can succeed without them. Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts, email us or share them below. We’re quite interested to see how this pans out!

Interview with Nat Levan


Interview by: Nat Levan and Grant Rodiek

I’m fascinated by weird and unique themes and historical takes on games. I’m also interested in how we can use uncomfortable topics as a teaching opportunity. Even better, an entertaining one. I asked Nat Levan at BGG if he’d be interested in an interview. Avast! He was!

Nat Levan is the designer of New Bedford, which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

My questions will be prefaced by Hyperbole Games (HG), with Nat’s responses as Nat Levan (NL).

Hyperbole Games: Hi Nat! Introduce yourself. Who are you and what should we know about you? What’s a good northeastern greeting for us west coast types to latch onto?

Nat Levan: I’m Nat Levan. I’ve been into board games for about 4 years. I started designing about 2 and a half years ago. I work as a structural engineer by day, so I fit one of those game designer stereotypes. I live in the Philadelphia Suburbs. Is that Northeastern to the rest of the country?

HG: East of the Mississippi, so…yes! You’re here, obviously, to discuss New Bedford. This is your midweight euro published by Dice Hate Me Games. Give us the high level rundown.

NL: New Bedford is my first complete game design. It’s set in the mid-19th century at the height, and center of the historic whaling industry. The base mechanic is worker placement, but the initial pool of actions in the town is small. Players develop the town by adding buildings with more powerful actions, so the town actually grows as time passes. The new actions become available to everyone, at a slight cost.

You can also launch ships to go whaling, sending them out into the ocean to slowly collect whales each round via a draft. But as the game progresses the whale population declines, and you’ll encounter more and more empty sea. Eventually the ships return, and you need to make enough money before then to pay the sailors a share of the profits. You need to balance building, earning money, and whaling to win.

HG: What is the coolest part of New Bedford?

NL: Well, first, the whaling is the part I’m most proud of. It’s actually been almost untouched since the very beginning. I love the subtlety of deciding when to whale. If you go too early, other players can launch later and have better choice in the draft. To late and you won’t have time to collect enough whales. Drawing whale tokens naturally reflects the effects of over-harvesting, and becomes a big element in later rounds.

For me, the coolest part is seeing how the buildings all work together to support the town. You’re building up the entire industrial base. Developing all these buildings that work together, and making sure they are not only tempting to build and appropriately expensive for their value, but also thematically appropriate has been a long but fun journey.

HG: What are some of your favorite euros or like games? What inspired New Bedford? What were your goals?

NL: I’m so glad you asked the question like that. I found Agricola and Puerto Rico pretty early in my gaming history. I still really admire them, but don’t get much opportunity to play. I took what I really liked about them as inspiration for New Bedford, with the goal of making something I would play all the time. Both games have lots of replayability, but can take a while to set up and play, so I made New Bedford easier to pull out of the box. It also plays a bit faster.

I liked the more direct interaction from Agricola, but I didn’t like how limiting it felt for someone to block the space you need, so in New Bedford, you always have access to the basic actions. I liked how combinations of unique buildings help guide your strategy in both games but didn’t like how exclusive building felt, so buildings become available to everyone while rewarding the builder.

HG: Let’s move past New Bedford for a second: do you have a favorite theme? Or mechanic? What’s your ideal game to play?

NL: I don’t have a specific theme, but I seem to find myself drawn to themes of industrialization and growth. Especially the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution. I love being able to grow something small into something productive, so it should be no surprise that engine-building is my favorite mechanic. I like worker placement because it gives you that freedom of choice while tying your personal actions directly to actions within the theme.

HG: What drew you to the story of New Bedford (the town)? I’m intrigued by the premise of a town that used to be enormous and booming and is now a quaint portion of what it used to be. I imagine people never thought it would dwindle in the past.

NL: Well, Moby Dick is one piece of it. It’s a fascinating, incredibly important but largely ignored piece of American and world history. New Bedford’s story fits in perfectly with the industrialization I was just talking about. As late as the 1830s, New Bedford was still this fairly small and unimportant town, but in less than 20 years, it became, without exaggeration, one of the most important cities in the world. Then, in the same period of time, the industry fell apart due to over-harvesting of whales, the discovery of oil and invention of Kerosene, and unfortunate luck. People sort of forget that it was ever so important. The story would feel at home in ancient legend or fantasy, but it’s well documented history.

HG: I think games should teach and being up topics of history. I love Combat Commander, and I’m so excited to see the discussions Freedom have brought forth. I especially love the game documentary Dune. What is New Bedford teaching us? It’s about whales, so why does that matter?

NL: Some of the response to New Bedford has been negative due to the inclusion of whaling, which we expected. But the act of whaling isn’t depicted in the game at all. It deals with the industry on a higher level, and the historical impact. It’s interesting to see how the town grew to support the whaling industry. But what I really wanted to show, from the very inception, was how the industry grew too big without considering the effects of whaling, many of the whale species on which the industry depended almost disappeared. What makes whaling so insidious is that it the participants didn’t want the whales to disappear, but they couldn’t figure out any other options. The history and environmental lessons are one and the same.

HG: What else do you have in the works?

NL: Right now, I’m working a handful of small designs, because it’s a lot easier to playtest them. I don’t have anything in the pipe officially, but I’ll have a pile of games to take to UNPUB 5 in February in Baltimore. The most complete are a trick taking game about tailoring suits, and a 15 minute wonder building game that fits in a small bag. I’ve also got a couple of micro-games based on New Bedford and Brew Crafters (also from Dice Hate Me Games) that I’d like to show off for fun.

HG: Anything else you want to add?

NL: The last thing I want to say is that I feel really lucky with New Bedford. The response has just been overwhelming. I’m excited about the extras we have planned for the game, so I really hope we get the opportunity to put them in.

And a big thank you to my wife for putting up with all my traveling and talking about the game for the past few months. She loves games, despite the fact that I’ve been a pain to deal with. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about New Bedford!

New Bedford is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter

The Magic of Arcana


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Wozzle has entered a new, exciting stage and I wanted to write about one of the most significant changes: Arcana. A month or so ago, we got rid of our poker cards and replaced them with 4 unique suits numbered 1-12. We found this to be more intuitive, a little more fun and playful, and it helped distance us from poker in a useful way. You have no idea how many expectations gamers bring with to the table when playing anything that resembles the 800 lb. gorilla that is Texas Hold ‘Em!

My design partner, Joshua Buergel, had an inspiration based on Tarot cards. You see, Josh has played every game ever (or so it seems) and is this vast, breathing, array of knowledge. If we aren’t using poker cards, then can’t we do something else with those cards? The answer is yes, yes we can.

We started with our first Arcana suit, which we’re calling Hexis. The gist is this: as an additional option to the 4 public spells you can pay Mana to activate, you can play a Hexis card from your hand, following its instructions, to use its effect. All of the cards in Hexis use a single, simple mechanic: Show. By this, I mean you Show the card (which is a mechanic used in normal Wozzle) from your hand and place it in front of you. Effectively, you can only use each Hexis once per round.

This does a few really cool things for us and Wozzle:

  • Arcana introduce private information and abilities. Previously, players had their cards secret, yes, but they could only use public spells. Now, they have a secret Ability.
  • Whereas Spells have to be general enough to work in almost every situation, Arcana can be nuanced and specific. That lets us explore crazy stuff.
  • It adds a layer of strategy, variance, and complexity that is nice.
  • This gives us a great expansion opportunity. Use 3 vanilla suits + 1 Arcana. Which means with only 12 new cards, we can greatly change the game.

After we tested and proved Hexis was a good idea, we designed Mechana and Alchemus. We each took a stab at them, giving them a unique flavor that fit the core. Whereas Hexis was (deliberately) a safe, simple mechanic, Mechana and Alchemus introduce new concepts.

For Mechana, I was inspired by the Construct cards in Ascension (or Locations in DC Deckbuilder). I wanted to add a way for players to have a semi-permanent passive benefit. I introduced the Build mechanic. If a player ends the round with a 2 pair or better, he may place a Mechana card in his possession in front of him. Once per round, if the Mechana triggers, he gains its benefit.

Josh took the lead with Alchemus and I love the result. He introduced the Formula mechanic. Players must discard the Alchemus card, as well as the cards listed in its formula. In exchange for this high and sometimes difficult cost, you may execute extraordinarily strong actions.

Really, the Arcana gives us a new, devious layer that involves clever timing, taking a risk, and recognizing an opportunity. They are a great addition to Wozzle that, if the game is successful, will see much more life in the future.

We’d love your help testing them. In addition to the 30 Spells, there are now 36 Arcana cards. We’d love your help making them as fun as possible.

Publishing Plans: Speaking of the future, Josh and I wanted to talk briefly about things to come. Our plan at this time is to self-publish Wozzle when it is ready to be published. I’ll finally form an LLC and we’ll use Hyperbole Games as the label.

Josh and I have both independently wanted to dabble in publishing for some time. Both of us will still primarily be designers seeking publishing partners in the future. Both of us have full time jobs we have no intention of leaving. But, we have the entrepreneurial spirit and would like to dabble in publishing for the occasional side project like Wozzle, and others we have in the works.

Barring an unforeseen arrival of money, we’re planning on using Kickstarter to raise funding and aid us in marketing. We’re partnering with some experts to help us with some of the risky things that scare us. We’re willing to pay more for mentoring. We want to do this right. We’ll also hire a fantastic artist that’ll make the game gorgeous. We’ll share details as things are inked.

What’s left still ahead for the game? Most importantly, testing. Polish, polish, polish. We’re slowly building a network of blind testers to supplement our local testing in San Francisco and Seattle. The game will make appearances at Origins and GenCon with some copies given out if all goes to plan.

We’re excited and nervous to try this. It’s a ways out still, but we intend to be fully prepared.

Questions? Comments?

Pullin’ an Interview with Dodd


Chevee Dodd is a good friend and a designer I’ve known for about 3 years now. He’s someone I talk to almost daily and share most of my design thoughts with. He’s a clever, hardworking guy and I was excited when he finally decided to, eh hem, pull, the trigger on this project. Read the interview below, but don’t forget to check out his Kickstarter page.

My comments are labeled HG. Chevee’s are labeled CD.

HG: Introduce yourself, for the 8 people who come to my site and somehow don’t yet know about your charming persona. Who is Chevee Dodd? And for the kids at home, how do you pronounce your name?

CD: Hold up. 8 people? Do you really think it’s that high? Man. I need to spend more time in your comments section!

I am a 35 year old father of two little girls, from a small town, you’ve never heard of, in beautiful West Virginia. I’m an ex-Marine, ex-parts department manager, ex-mechanic, IT professional for the WV State Board of Education. I design games for fun but also enjoy motorcycling, woodworking, video games, and fishing. On a first date I enjoy long walks on the bea….. wait…

Oh, and it’s pronounced Chevy, like the car.

HG: Before we cover Pull!, let’s go over your resume. Tell us some of your other, favorite games you’ve designed. Personally, I’m a big fan of Scallywags (published by Gamewright) and Princess Rainbow Unicorns.

CD: Scallywags seems to be a popular design of mine, probably because it’s the only one that’s ever been mass-produced. I don’t really like it all that much and hope to one day revisit the design and clean it up a bit. Princess Fairy Rainbow Unicorn dice is certainly a design that I’m proud of. It began as a dice game for my two little girls but it has grown it’s own little cult following. A version of the game, Leathernecks ‘43 is available through The Game Crafter, but most people seem to want the princess version for some reason. Like, grown men. Who knows, maybe it’ll be next on my list?

I’ve been actively designing games since 1997. I really didn’t start to get serious about publication until a few years ago and Scallywags is a direct result of that effort. I’m particularly fond of a dice and card design, Hedeby, that I worked on for most of last year. It’s currently being considered by Mayfair and I would simply be elated if they picked it up. Mayfair has been my dream publisher since I started this adventure.

HG: Give us the rundown of Pull! What is it, why do you love it, why should we care?

CD: PULL! is a non-traditional partnership card game based on traditional partnership card games. It takes heavy inspiration from classic trick-taking games such as spades, whist, and euchre, but I hesitate to call it a trick-taking game. That terminology brings with it some expectations that just don’t fit the game. There is no “trump” per-se, there is no “lead”, following suit isn’t always necessary, and there are some oddities in the scoring. While it’s true that each person plays a card and the person who plays the highest value card will win, that’s approximately where the similarities end.

In PULL!, we are shooting at clay targets. Players are dealt a hand of cards and two targets are revealed. Targets are worth a number of points. Each player, in turn will play one card until all players have played a single card on each target. The highest card played on each target will win that target’s points for their team. If a team scores both targets in a round, that is called a Double and may be worth bonus points. The targets have two values on them, you score one value if you took it as a single and the other value if you took it as part of a double. Two more targets are revealed and the hand continues in this fashion until all players have played their 10 cards. Points are recorded and a new hand is dealt.

HG: It’s probably easiest if people just watch this 5 minute video you made.

CD: That’s certainly not a bad plan! Not only is it linked on my page, and the Kickstarter page, but I’ve included a shortened link and a QR code in the rule book to make the job easier for new players to find.

HG: How did Pull! come about? Your games always have an amusing origin story, like how Paper Route was the result of an off-handed Tweet from Cyrus Kirby.

CD: This one is no different. I already mentioned that I worked on Hedeby for most of last year. That was almost the only thing I worked on all year. It was a dark time for me and I didn’t cope with it well. Sometime last fall, I got fed up with it. I wanted to make a game that was easy to print and play and cheap enough to produce through print on demand. The only problem was, I had no ideas. So, I turned to Twitter. I asked for people to send me theme ideas and I’d pick one to run with. I received dozens of responses but one kept sticking with me: Clay Pigeon Shooting w/ Trick Taking. I had a working prototype a few hours later and I’ve been actively designing it since.

HG: How many clay pigeons have you killed in your life?

CD: Approximately zero. To tell the truth, I’ve never actually been trap shooting. It’s apparently popular at the range I shoot at as there is always orange fragments covering the berms. So, I often shoot those fragments with my rifles. Does that count?

HG: I’ll allow it. Why did Pull! become the first game you self-publish in a big way? You’ve been satisfied with Print-on-Demand publication previously, or pitching to AAA publishers.

CD: PULL! sits squarely between the two outlets. It is a game that doesn’t sit well with AAA publishers because of the trick-taking background but it has a larger audience than what I can reasonably approach with a strictly print on demand strategy. Most of my print on demand games are similarly difficult for AAA publishers but are also difficult to self-produce because of component cost. This is the first game I’ve done in a while that I feel confident I could bring to market while still maintaining a relatively normal life.

PULL! has also been a community effort from day one. The inspiration, the rules, the graphics.  I’ve leaned on the community heavily to make it what it is today. It’s a perfect candidate for crowd funding because the crowd has already made the game. Going through this process myself will allow me to give back to the community through the lessons I’m learning and I like giving.

HG: What were some of the challenges you’ve encountered in the process up to pushing the “go” button on Kickstarter?

CD: Aside from the usual game design challenges, the Kickstarter process itself is a little awkward. For instance, I knew that I would have to set up an Amazon Business account to accept payment, but what I didn’t know was that the type of banking account I had made that process very different. When I registered my LLC, I set up a business checking account. Because this was a business account and not a personal account, Amazon required me to send them a bank statement that contained the business name and address as well as the bank account information. I couldn’t simply self-authorize as I would have had I used a personal account. Oh, and the only way they would accept this information is by fax. Yeah. A fax. I had to find a fax machine. I hope to write quite a few articles about the Kickstarter process after all is said and done.

HG: The first and last time I used a fax machine in my life was to buy a home. Strange how those things refuse to die in an age of scanning.


CD: Yep. I’m an IT guy. This process actually baffled me. Five years ago, I could have scanned it and then plugged my computer into a phone line and sent it via my PC, but none of my laptops even have internal modems. So, not only was it difficult to find an actual fax machine, it was practically impossible for me to use the technological replacement because phone lines are a thing of the past. I’m sure I could have found a mobile app or an online tool for this, but in the end, I found an actual fax machine and sent it.

HG: What are some of your favorite games? How, if at all, did they inform your development of Pull?

CD: Some of my all-time favorites are Acquire, Settlers of Catan, DC Deckbuilder, and Tichu. I wouldn’t say that any of them had a direct influence on the mechanics of PULL!

Tichu, being the only trick-taking game of the bunch, was a sort of point of reference for me. My group plays it many times each week and when I started looking at PULL! objectively to find some ways to inject fun into the game, I paid more attention to the mood during our weekly Tichu sessions. I analyzed why some moments were fun and others were dull and I tried to capture some of that fun in PULL!


HG: Tell me about those moments. Walk us through them.

CD: I take trick taking games very seriously. Because of this, I enjoy them often for different reasons. I enjoy figuring out what each person’s cards. I enjoy calculating the possibility of strong plays that can break the other player’s strategies and swing the hand in my favor. I also enjoy how the deal has a strong effect on the game, but through perfect (or near-perfect) play, the stronger player should win through a series of hands. All this means that I, personally, enjoy the duller sides of the games.

I was prompted by Matt Worden to find the fun parts of PULL! and there weren’t many. There was very little ability for the player to mess up their opponents plans. Watching my group play Tichu, I realized that those big moments when a player wrecks a Tichu is the most rewarding part. I needed to introduce some of those big moments into PULL! but it is difficult without a bidding process. Most popular trick taking games require a player to bid, or have a declaration mechanism, such as nil in spades or Tichu in Tichu. When one player declares their hand is strong, breaking that players hand is often some of the most fun in trick taking games. PULL! has neither bidding nor hand declaration mechanics. Introducing those sorts of moments needed to be on a round-by-round basis and they needed to be matter.

When I introduced the hidden second card, those moments were brought into the game. The change was suggested by Eric Handler, the person responsible for the game’s inspiration, and he suggested it after I had already sent review copies out! It’s such an important change for the game, however, that I could not ignore it. I immediately emailed the reviewers and told them I was changing the game. Nothing like developing mere weeks from the Kickstarter launch!


HG: What are some of the “big moments” in Pull’s development? If it were a novel, we’d call them plot twists. What were the big shifts you didn’t expect, or that were pleasantly surprising?

CD: I’ve been a fan of trick taking games my entire life. Some of my fondest memories revolve around playing spades and whist. When I was asked to design a trick taking game, I tried really hard to focus on those classics and force through some sort of derivative instead of a game of it’s own. What this meant was that the entire deck was dealt out and I minimized randomness as much as possible. I wanted players to be able to calculate the strength of their hand but I didn’t reward that at all. I totally missed it. The game was almost 100% driven by the strength of the deal with little to no ability for the players to make creative plays that change the outcome of the hand.

When I finally listened to the feedback I was receiving, the majority of suggestions revolved around introducing more randomness. When I finally started loosening up the design it immediately became 100% better. Sometimes I am my largest obstacle.


HG: In general, what are your thoughts on randomness in game? Without writing a full blog post, give us a quick rundown about how you like your randomness and where Pull! lies on that spectrum.

CD: I like a healthy dose of randomness but not so much that I feel powerless. Trying to put a figure on it, I’d say I like my games to be about 30-40% random. It gives me something to blame when I lose but also provides a great challenge. A better player should win in a random game through normalization over many rounds. That challenge is compelling for me and it’s part of the reason that random games are so fun.

Look at the massive player base that has built up around Magic: the Gathering. That game encompasses the 30-40% randomness that keeps people coming back. When you lose, you didn’t lose the game, you got screwed by your deck. When you win, however, it’s because of your superior skill at deckbuilding and play.

PULL! falls squarely in that window. The luck of the deal is certainly a big factor as it is with most trick taking games. Skilled players should win over a series of hands, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. At the same time, there is enough strategy and tactical thinking to keep it interesting. I’d like to think that I got the balance right.

HG: Anything else you’d like to add?

CD: I love you.

HG: I know.

I want to thank Chevee for the interview. Give PULL! a look on Kickstarter. $16 gets you the game. 

Interview with Danny Devine


Danny Devine is a great guy and a really smart designer. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person in the Summer of 2013 and again at an UnPub event in Sacramento. He’s got a great sense of humor and a great design sense. I have played his game Ghosts Love Candy and loved it. When I found out Mob Town was coming out on Kickstarter, I knew I had to interview him.

Hyperbole Games: I’m looking up my police file on you. Danny Devine of Reno. Introduce yourself — who are you? What should we know about you?

Danny Devine: Well, my name is Danny Devine…and I’m from Reno NV… (dang it Grant! You stole my well crafted intro!)

I am happily married to my beautiful wife Rachael, we have a rambunctious 2 year son and a dachshund that is somehow more rambunctious than he is. When I’m not working at my day job or chasing the family around the house, you can usually find me at the kitchen table with a new game prototype or in my office working on some art for said prototype.

Hyperbole Games: Your first published game, Mob Town, is now live on Kickstarter for funding. Your publisher is 5th Street Games, the kind soul who saw fit to publish Farmageddon. Tell us about Mob Town. 

Danny Devine:  Good ol’ 5th Street Phil, he sure knows how to pick ‘em.

Mob Town is a 2-4 player area control game that features secret agendas, set collection and a little dash of take that. Every round starts by building out a randomly generated town that is different every time you play. Players play as rival Mob families competing over limited space in order to earn the most points before the Law shows up and ends the round. The game takes between 30-45 minutes to play making it a great game to play during lunch, which is when I usually play.

Hyperbole Games: What is the origin of Mob Town? How did it come about? 

Danny Devine:  The very first thing was the core set collection mechanic. The main deck has 5 suits each of those suits is helpful at taking control of exactly 2 types of the 5 different areas you can control. The theme was a basic medieval theme, really pasted on and dull, but it gave me a place to start. Once I had that I built, I added on from there. I had created the Map Building mechanic for a game called “Space Thingz from Space.” That game was terrible, but the Map mechanic had real promise.

It was literally the same week that I had added that to the game that the Game Crafter announced their Map Building Design contest. It was too perfect to pass up. How could the contest be based around something I just started working on? As dumb as it sounds, it felt like more than just a coincidence to me. I had never entered a design contest before, nor had I ever released one of my games into the wild. All I knew is that if I didn’t try it, I would regret it.

Hyperbole Games: Who would love Mob Town?

Danny Devine:  I would say that Mob Town is for people who like fast paced gameplay, simple mechanics with plenty of decisions and options, and people who don’t mind sticking it to their neighbor when they get too big for their britches.

The theme is friendly and inviting enough that you could play this game with Kids or Grandparents and no one will be offended.

Some of initial rules go a little beyond really casual games, but if you have played games like Ticket To RideCarcassonne or any of 5th Streets other games, you will have no issues here.

Hyperbole Games: You’re also the artist for Mob Town! Tell us about your inspiration for the style, which is cute, anthropomorphic mob animals.

Danny Devine:  The look for the 5th Street redesign was definitely inspired by the movie Roger Rabbit. We needed a way to make Mobsters family friendly to match 5th Streets line and that was the way to go. Artistically the look for the game was inspired by the load screens from Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. They are clean, simple, gritty and appealing all at once.

Hyperbole Games: I had no idea, but the connection really makes sense. I LOVE Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Brilliant film.

What are some of your favorite games? Did any of them influence Mob Town?

Danny Devine:  My favorite genre of game currently is deck building; I am in love with TrainsMarvel LegendaryPathfinder Adventure Card game (that one is pushing it, but it still has a semi deck building feel to it). Unless I’m thinking of someone else, you’re a little “meh” on deck builders right Grant?

Hyperbole Games: Not necessarily. I love Ascension and have played it almost 2000 times. And, I think Dominion is brilliant, though I don’t want to play it much. I guess I find many of them very same same, so I lose interest. That being said, one of the prototypes I have in mind next uses a deckbuilding mechanic at its core with some other innovations. So…who knows?

Danny Devine: As far as the influence for Mob Town, I can definitely pinpoint the main 2, Ticket to Ride and Small World. The suit matching set collection aspect and idea of 5 face-up cards to trade with all came from my love for Ticket to Ride, along with the 1 action allotment per turn. Having only 1 action per turn makes your decision harder and makes downtime between turns almost non-existent. With Small World I loved the idea of everyone competing over cramped quarters and the aspect of things getting harder and harder to take from people as time went on.

Hyperbole Games: Do you have any expansion ideas for Mob Town? What do you think about expansions, in general?

Danny Devine:  We are actually including the first expansion “Mob Town City Limits” in the Kickstarter campaign, so for $35 you can get the base game and the expansion straight away.

The cool thing about the expansion is that it really feels like 3 mini expansions that you can mix and match or use all 3. We have City Cards, which have “clever” animal pun names like Beaverly Hills & Clam Francisco that not only name the city each round, but alter the gameplay that round as well.

Landmarks are shuffled into the property deck when you build the town, controlling these spaces gives you a special ability on your turn or bonus points. Finally we have my favorite, The Professionals, these are for-hire characters that grant you a powerful ability to help turn the tide in your favor, things like taking over certain properties for less or getting and extra turn when the Law shows up.

We also have a solo/co-op variant in which players take on the role of the Police trying to run a powerful Mob Boss out of town before he completes his operations.

I love expansions! When there is a game I really like, I want more of it especially if it adds new mechanics or shakes up gameplay. The only problem I have with expansions is when I can’t play with them because its someone’s first time playing. My game group ruined Carcassone and Small World for a couple of our friends because we gave them too much at once…oops.

I know you are a fan of them in general as well, and you’re working on a fantastic one that I got to play last year for Farmageddon. What is your favorite expansion, what about your least favorite? Why?

Hyperbole Games: My favorite expansion is probably Kaispeicher for The Speicherstadt. It’s a very smart way to expand the game that still feels core to the experience. I played Leaders for 7 Wonders the other day and thought it was brilliant. I also own and love tons of expansions for Memoir ’44 and Summoner Wars and Netrunner that are basically more stuff.

My least favorite expansion is probably the one for Alien Frontiers. It added a lot of stuff that didn’t feel necessary, greatly slowed the game, and made it too complex. We stopped playing with it pretty quickly and never looked back. Ultimately, it felt like it wasn’t needed.

You also have an adorable game called Ghosts Love Candy, which I played last year at GaymerX. That is a delightful game. Tell us about Ghosts Love Candy and the schedule for it.

Danny Devine:  Ghost Love Candy is a quick playing cardgame (about 20 minutes) for 2-6 players. It’s based upon the common knowledge that Ghosts absolutely love candy but can no longer acquire it. However, on Halloween, rules are off! Ghosts have learned that they can temporarily possess trick-or-treaters and eat all the candy they can get their invisible hands on. The mechanics were inspired by games like Get Bit and Smash Up. It’s really light-hearted easy to teach and play but still offers plenty of room for strategy.

Ghosts Love Candy is currently scheduled for a Kickstarter launch in late June early July.

Hyperbole Games: Will you also do the art for Ghosts Love Candy?

Danny Devine:  That is the current plan; I already have some art styles in mind for it that I can’t wait to try. I currently have a LOT of art to do for the Mob Town expansion and we have the talented Derek Bacon on board to help out there. I’m running a tight deadline to finish art for Mob Town and get Ghosts Love Candy rolling, so we have polished looking review copies to send out, but I am looking forward to the challenge. Having a finished game designed and Illustrated by me is truly a dream come true.

Hyperbole Games: When you generally begin work on a game, what is your process or approach? How do you create something?

Danny Devine:  Theme or mechanics, theme or mechanics, that’s what people always jump between. I am no different; it really depends on the situation. A lot of times my ideas for mechanics will come from games I’m currently playing that I mash together until something new and interesting emerges. That was the process for Mob Town, mechanics were in place before the theme emerged. With Ghosts, the complete opposite. I had an idea that I wanted to make a game about ghosts possessing people at a party, I mentioned it on Twitter, and it eventually evolved into a Halloween inspired game. The mechanics fell in place shortly after I realized I wanted it to be more chaotic free for all like Smash Up, instead of a Mr. Jack like deduction game.

In general, I design games that fit in the medium to light category and can be played during lunch (under and hour).

What about you Grant? Based on your games that I have played, I get the feeling theme is really important to you up front when designing.

Hyperbole Games: I design for an experience and bring in thematic and mechanical pieces as I satisfy that. For York I wanted an attrition heavy, aggressive war game that used technology from about the mid 19th century. I didn’t want to use dice and I wanted it to play in an hour with 4 or fewer players. That drove a lot of ideas. For Sol Rising, I wanted space ships and fleets. I wanted you to be an admiral. For Flipped, I wanted a light euro first and came about a light city builder thing as a follow up.

Two published games is a big deal. But, I have to ask you what’s next? Any other ideas you’d love to pursue? Themes that interest you? Mechanics that are exciting?

Danny Devine:  Too many to list! I can’t possibly make them all, but I am certainly going to try. I will give you 2 quick examples of the front runners right now. Keep in mind, they are basically both in brainstorming states right now.

Monkey Fruit Farmers: 2-5 Player worker placement game. Players take on the role of a fruit farmer that hires local monkeys to pick fruit for them in order to sell them to the market or fulfill the endless amounts of orders flowing in. There is going to be a fluctuating economy based on the demand of each fruit. Sometimes bananas are worth more than apples. The monkeys you are hiring must be paid in fruit, and they want what the people are eating, which means you have to decide when to feed your monkeys the top dollar fruit, meaning more monkeys but less profit, or throw them the leftovers and watch as half of them go on strike.

I don’t have a name for this other one yet, and it’s pretty ambitious but what I want to achieve is the overarching character development from the Pathfinder card game or how Risk Legacy changes from game to game, but make the experience more compact and easy to play. I want something that can be played at lunch, and the whole campaign takes 5 playthroughs allowing for a week long lunch campaign. I love how dice games like King Of Tokyo or Bang the dice game play, so if I could fit a dice and card game as the core mechanic I would love to. And to top off this pile of random, I want players playing as Super-Hero Vigilantes, not with super powers, but like Kick-Ass or Batman. I would love to figure out a way for you to start the game day 1 as your origin, and by day 5 you are battling your arch nemesis that developed along with you in a glorious final battle!

I want to thank Danny for taking the time to conduct this interview. Check out Mob Town on Kickstarter now!

Interview with David Chott


As I often do, I encountered David Chott via Twitter and its growing game design community. David and I hit it off and began exchanging emails with some regularity. We even met at a small cafe near my home when he came to visit SF.

David has been working on his game, Lagoon: Land of Druids, for quite some time. In this period, he has quit his job and formed a publishing company, launched by this game. That seemed like a good interview. 

My questions are preceded by HG, with David’s answers tagged with DC.

Hyperbole Games: David, welcome to the Hyperbole Games Hot Seat! That’s a name I created just for you. Tell my fine readers a little about yourself.

David Chott: This heated seat makes me feel so pampered, thank you! I was raised in a gaming family and have played a wide range of tabletop games over the years. I started designing games more than a decade ago, but mostly just recorded my ideas in notebooks. I got serious in the fall of 2012. A year later, with Lagoon well along, I quit my job to become a full time board game designer and publisher. That might seem crazy to some folks. But I live in Portland, so I can get away with it.


HG: Your first game is Lagoon. Before we dig into the delightful details, please give us the quick details.

DC: Lagoon: Land of Druids is a strategy board game for 2-4 players set in an unconventional fantasy world. It’s a game about determining the fate of the world, with each player leading a circle of druids on a quest to bend Lagoon’s destiny. Most games finish in an hour or less. Players build the world through placement of double-sided hexagonal tiles drawn from a bag. Use your druids to magically shape and redefine the world to bring about one of three possible destinies. The player who best masters the emerging destiny wins.

HG: What inspired you to make Lagoon? What was the spark?

DC: After hitting a wall as a designer, I read through all my old game design notebooks for inspiration. When I was done, I’d literally only found three ideas that excited me:

  • A scrap of paper I found with a sketch of hexagon tiles forming a landscape
  • Old notes about tokens that could share abilities
  • A recent idea for conflict between non-player entities being the focal point of a game

To my delight, I realized in a matter of minutes that I could combine all three elements cohesively. The idea with the tokens had players putting them on cards that conferred abilities to your other tokens. I thought it would be cool if instead the tokens were placed on hexagonal tiles to gain and share abilities from the hexes. Each hex would represent a different place in my world offering a unique power. The tokens, now druids, could then move around the hex-based world to do things and access different site-based powers. The scrap of paper with the hexagonal tiles called for them to be double-sided, which still seemed more interesting than single-sided tiles.

Lastly, I was obsessed with a particular scheme for non-player entities in circular conflict, and had been weaving it into each of my game designs for months. I decided to bring that in by aligning every site with one of the non-player entities and making sure the two sides of a site tile were always aligned with different entities. This would offer a choice whenever a player added a new site to the board. At the end of the game, the entity with the most sites in play would win the conflict. Players freely support or oppose any entity they wish, but the winner is the one who best supported the final dominant entity.

Amazingly, that’s pretty much Lagoon right there. All the core ideas were in place right there at the beginning. Because I was obsessed with the scheme for non-player entities in conflict, I had actually already worked out thematically that the entities would be opposing energies in a fantasy world. Players would manipulate the world to support one energy or another. At the end of the game, one energy would dominate and the player most responsible for delivering that dominance would be the winner. In previous designs there had been four energies. I thought that would be too many different tile alignments to give players sufficient control, so I went down to three energies. That also happened to make for a much more balanced and interesting circular power dynamic as well: the familiar rock, paper, scissors. The only significant mechanic that was added later is rewarding a player for exploring a site with a seed token that matches the explored site’s energy.

HG: What are some of your favorite games, and why?

DC: My taste in games has changed a lot in the past 5 years. I used to favor heavier Euro strategy games. Today, my favorite games include Liar’s Dice, Innovation, Tash-Kalar, Netrunner, Hive, Jaipur, Tigris & Euphrates and Dominant Species.

But my hands down all-time favorite game has long been Magic: The Gathering, even though I haven’t played very actively since the 90’s. There is so much genius in that game, but perhaps what I like best about it is the wide latitude it gives players to express themselves. Being able to compose your deck from thousands upon thousands of different card choices makes it possible for a player to innovate something wild that’s never been done before. It’s a sandbox. You can build a deck that perfectly matches your personality, mood or preferred play style. Back in college, I could look at any deck in our large play circle and probably be able to guess which of my friends built it. Building decks can be a highly creative act, and in many ways building and tuning a deck is a form of game design. This experience influenced me as a gamer and designer more than all other games combined.

HG: Did any of those favorite games drive you towards Lagoon? Which aspects?

DC: I adore emergence in game play, and many of my favorite games have it in spades (Magic, Innovation, Netrunner, Hive, T&E). This was a goal for Lagoon from the beginning. I find emergent game play so deeply satisfying for several reasons. Games with a good deal of emergent mechanics tend to provide a richly complex universe of possibilities without necessarily being so complex to play. The depth of possibilities in each play of these games means they often have a higher order of replayability than games without much emergence. Emergent mechanics are also quite good at delivering surprising situations play after play. The range of things that can happen in such games tends to be wider than in more rigidly constrained games with low or no emergent mechanics. When all of these factors come together at their best, the game experience is something like exploring a living system whose mysteries and possibilities can never be fully grasped or exhausted even after hundreds of plays. To me, that’s magic in a box. That’s what I want most when I sit down to play a game.

So I’m delighted that even after playing or observing more than 100 games of Lagoon, I am still seeing interesting new situations and combinations emerge that surprise me. Lagoon offers tremendous emergent potential. The game includes 24 double-sided hexagon tiles, for a total of 48 sites that each have a unique action players can use. The “board” of the game is a constantly changing layout of site tiles whose spatial positions have tactical and strategic significance. Throw into that mix the ever-changing balance of power represented by the number of tiles in play aligned with each of the three energies competing for Lagoon’s destiny. It’s a recipe for a whole lot of variety and surprise every play. I think players will find Lagoon has an extremely high replay value without the aid of expansions. At the same time, it is imminently expandable and I have some exciting ideas about how to do that.

HG: Who would love Lagoon?

DC: Lagoon’s fans like it for different reasons. There’s the emergent game play, combo building, and puzzle solving. Many appreciate that Lagoon is both highly tactical and highly strategic. Lagoon tends to go over exceedingly well with Magic: The Gathering players. But I’ve also had train game players geek out over Lagoon because its scoring mechanic has similarities to scoring in stock holding games.

HG: You released a PNP (found here) some time ago. What did you learn from the PNP?

DC: I made the PNP because several people who played it at BGG.CON were asking for one. I was optimistic that many more would try it too. It was downloaded more than 130 times, but I only heard from a handful of people that they actually made a copy and played it. Maybe more did, but they didn’t report back.

What I learned is that some Board Game Geek users are amazing people who are willing to invest a ton of time giving feedback on a PNP. I had one user create his own suggested iconography to represent a variety of the basic actions that might appear on site tiles. Another user went even further and completely recreated the PNP exclusively using beautiful icons he designed himself instead of text. I was floored by the energy they put into offering these suggestions for Lagoon, without really even knowing me personally. Our hobby is filled with so many wonderful people, that’s one of the things I love most about it.

But although it would be great if a game like Lagoon could be made language-independent by using icons, it would require a large glossary of icons to achieve that. Which creates a learning barrier for many players. Considering my desire to expand Lagoon with new mechanics that would only expand the glossary of icons further and exacerbate the problem over time.

HG: Let’s take it a step back. What were some of the key lessons you learned from testing in general?

DC: All the basic things you read about play testing and game design are true, but most of them you have to learn yourself the hard way before you really accept them. For example, less is more. Or a designer’s job is done when there is nothing left to take out. Be willing to kill your darlings. Figure out which are the interesting choices your game presents to players, and strip away everything else. Know your target audience. And so on.

It’s funny how, in retrospect, every single mechanic I pulled from Lagoon so clearly and obviously made a better Lagoon with their absence. But so many of them were darlings I fought and resisted removing even when my testing showed they were problematic and sometimes even when my players kept asking me to. This is a lesson I hope not to soon forget.

Lastly, players who get your game and like it are great ego boosters, but it’s the players who struggle with your game that you really need to talk to. These players may not have much to say in a post-game debrief because they don’t want to look dumb for not understanding aspects of your game if other players did. If a player struggles with your game, try to talk to them one-on-one where they may speak more freely. Try asking them to explain how to play your game, maybe even the day after they played it. You may be shocked at their understanding of how your game works, and then it’s on you to make it easier and less confusing.

HG: I’m an absolute board game art snob. I buy, or don’t buy, games purely because of their art. Lagoon’s art is just astounding. It’s gorgeous. Lay out for us the art direction points you gave to your artist. What was your vision for Lagoon’s presentation?

DC: There’s no substitute for working with talented people, so enormous credit goes to graphic designer Peter Wocken and illustrators Eduardo Garcia and Chase Velarde for crafting amazing visuals for Lagoon.

Doing the art direction for Lagoon has been one of my greatest joys in this whole project! I’ve invested a lot of time developing the story and aesthetic concept for the world of Lagoon, and have actually been working on this world for more than a year before this particular game existed.

I take my inspiration from nature. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and backpacking trips into our phenomenal forests are one of my favorite summer activities. I’m a forest person and Lagoon is primarily a forest world. The magical features and natural wonders depicted in the art are the sorts of things I would be delighted to stumble upon while wandering the forest, and maybe the sort of things as a kid I secretly hoped might lie around the next bend.

To convey my vision for the world’s aesthetic, I wrote a fairly detailed artistic sourcebook for Lagoon that establishes a lot of the basics for the benefit of my illustrators. I cover things like what druids should look like, the kind of mood illustrations in each of the three energies should establish, and more. Then for each illustration I often provide a paragraph or two describing what I’d like depicted. But I also like to be vague sometimes and let the artist make most of the decisions. I love being surprised with something awesome that is outside my own imagination! It’s a fun process, and I love it. I’m incredibly lucky to see my world come to life at the hands of such gifted and versatile artists!

HG: You recently quit your steady, paying job to become a full time game designer and publisher. Dear god, man. What is the reason for this? What do you hope to accomplish this year?

DC: I needed a change in career for a long time before making this shift. Frankly, I needed a change in my life even more. As someone in love with story, there’s something especially powerful about taking responsibility for the story of my own life and setting a new course in the direction of my dreams. It represents a major shift in my approach to life, and it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. Staying true to that is more important than whether I succeed as a designer or publisher. If it doesn’t work out, fine, I’ll set a new course based on what I’ve learned and who I am at that point. I’m learning so much now every day and growing so much as a person, I have confidence that I can keep moving forward. I have a lot of exciting ideas for what I’d like to do after publishing Lagoon: Land of Druids, but the timing depends so much on the game’s reception and other factors that have yet to unfold.

HG: What are the key elements of 3 Hares Games? What makes your company unique? What will make you successful?

DC: Three Hares Games will focus on developing a high quality library of games that collectively tell the unfolding story of a single world, Lagoon. My vision is to set every game I publish in the world introduced by Lagoon: Land of Druids. I think that’s unique for a board game publisher.

I will strive to make Lagoon a unique and compelling world that players will want to revisit in a wide range of different games. I’m excited to dive deep into Lagoon’s mystical landscape and share more of its lore, its mysteries, and its characters with every game I publish. You’ll notice in Lagoon’s art that the three hares motif that is my logo and gives my company its name is taken from the world of Lagoon itself, so I’m very committed to this vision.

As a person, I am extremely motivated by story. Perhaps more than anything else. Which explains why this approach to publishing makes sense for me. If the world of Lagoon resonates with players, I will get to tell more of its stories in the future. Nothing would make me happier. I believe this approach can contribute to 3HG’s success, but no amount of story matters if the games are not fresh and fun to play.

I place a high premium on originality, and I like to think that shows in Lagoon. That’s a quality I want to cultivate as a hallmark of Three Hares Games, and I’m willing to take some chances to do it.

HG: Do you see 3 Hares accepting game submission in the future? If so, what would you think would be the defining characteristics of a 3 Hares Game?

DC: With my plan to set all the games I publish in the world of Lagoon, that makes accepting game submissions trickier. Mainly that’s because I’m unwilling to paste the Lagoon theme on a game that doesn’t evoke the world already. And I wouldn’t expect designers to invest the time to design something native to my world and thereby limit their chances for publication. I can envision collaborating with other designers though. Or potentially inviting a designer to make a game because I think it would work out well. As for defining characteristics, I address that to some extent in the previous question. I think it would also be safe to assume emergent mechanics will be an important characteristic.

HG: Lagoon is on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW. What were some of the most important Kickstarter lessons you took to heart before launching?

DC: This is hard to answer because there are so many lessons I tried to internalize and at the same time there were so many lessons available to me that I didn’t have time to assimilate. I have tremendous respect for anyone running a board game Kickstarter campaign on top of a full time job, because it has been a mad dash for me to cover everything and this IS my full time job (just about every waking hour). Since so many more experienced and wiser folks than I have written volumes on this subject, I don’t have a grand list of things to rattle off.

But here is what I can offer. The amount of time that goes into preparing a board game KS is mildly insane, so double or triple your time estimates. You’ll still be scrambling. Also, realize that your development process to test and polish your game should be on a totally different timeline than your KS preparation schedule. Game quality is primary. Don’t let the tail wag the dog and rush into your KS with a subpar product. It is a crazy amount of work to publish a board game using KS, so don’t put yourself through that with a game that isn’t your best.

My next lesson is that the board game community is filled with amazing people who are eager to see you succeed and often willing to help. Immerse yourself in the community on Twitter, go to board game conventions and make friends with other designers and publishers, help test other designers’ games, and try to be awesome to everyone you meet. I have received more help, support, encouragement, valuable advice, introductions, and all manner of other useful assistance from so many fellow gamers, and I only really got into the community starting back in August at GenCon. Without them, my game would never have reached this point, it would never have reached this level of polish, and I may well have given up.

HG: Final question. I know your focus is on Lagoon. I have done enough interviews to know you’re going to say “my focus is on Lagoon being a success.” But, can you hint at what’s next? Surely you have some ideas (and revenue needs) lingering in your brain.

DC: I’ve already hinted at plans to offer expansions to Lagoon: Land of Druids. I think that would be the most natural next step, assuming there is demand for them. I do have a small handful of new game ideas I’m very excited about as well, but none of them has made it to the prototype stage yet. So they could totally suck for all I know!

I want to thank David for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re interested in Lagoon: Land of Druids, check out the Kickstarter page here

Interview/Kickstarter Promotion Policy


Policy by: Grant Rodiek

If you create a blog that has more than 3 readers, you start receiving monthly emails from this really shady advertising company that wants to pay you $40 yearly to post full page ads about Disney Cruises and such.

If you create a blog about board games that has more than 3 readers, you start receiving weekly emails from (sometimes) well-meaning Kickstarter designers who want to promote their latest project. I get it. I really do.

I’m not interested in either and I’m writing this policy so that moving forward I can point people towards this link. I created this blog to write about design, games I love, and designers I find interesting. The thing is, if I don’t know you or your game, I’m not sure what we’re going to talk about in our interview.

I may only have a few readers, but I want them to trust me. That’s about as high as a horse as I can get on due to my stubby legs.

Here are the rules you should know:

  • If I want to interview you for this site, I will contact you.
  • I do not have time or interest in making your PNP. I’m desperately scrounging for hours to make my own games. If you really care, send a copy to bloggers you deem influential. You must respect our time.
  • You should get to know me before asking me for favors. It’s not hard. I’m on Twitter all day, every day.

I think that covers it. As always, feel free to comment below or email me.

Interview with Cardboard Edison


I’ve been friends with AJ Porfirio, the guy behind Van Ryder Games, for a few years now. He’s one of my longest running friends in the board game space and also my perennial GenCon roommate. I was delighted when he picked up Tessen by Cardboard Edison for publication. Cardboard Edison is a husband and wife design duo who are fantastic champions of the board game design community. 

I knew I had to interview them for their latest Kickstarter, Tessen

HG: Introduce yourselves — who are you?

Suzanne: Cardboard Edison is made up of myself and my husband, Chris. We have a four-year-old daughter who is a budding game designer and very eager to help us with anything game-related. We live in Hopatcong, N.J., and love traveling to gaming conventions all across the country.

Chris: We also run a blog for board game designers like us at We gather design tips and resources from around the web and share them in one place to make them easy to find.

AJ: I’m A.J. the mean old publisher! Just kidding… about the mean part, the old part is debatable, but I, Van Ryder Games, am most certainly the publisher of Tessen! I couldn’t be happier about that!

HG: Tell us what Tessen is at a high level. What is the essential info?

Chris: Tessen is our first game design to find a publisher. It’s a two-player real-time card game set in feudal Japan. Players control rival clans and attempt to collect sets of mystical animals to prove their supremacy. It’s a super-fast game that’s portable and plays in about 15 minutes.

HG: What made you think of a real time game? What was your inspiration?

Chris: The game that became Tessen originally was going to be a sequel to a completely different game we were designing. The real-time aspect was a change from the first game, so we saw it as a way to broaden the thematic world of the games while offering a different experience for players. But, we realized the first game wasn’t coming together and the follow-up game had some promise, so we decided to focus on the new game instead.

HG: Are you big fans of Japanese culture/art and such? What were some of your thematic inspirations?

Suzanne: We admire Japanese culture, but the idea for Tessen’s theme didn’t come until we ditched the original theme, which was about Christmas elves. We did some research to find examples of things that could be used for both attacking and defending (a key dynamic in the game) and we discovered the Japanese war fan, or the Tessen. The animals in the game were originally going to be resources such as rice and grain, but we couldn’t find good artwork for the prototype. We found some great historic paintings of animals, so we decided to use animals as the “resources.”

AJ: I myself am fascinated by the Japanese culture, and it immediately drew me into the game when I first saw it. As I usually do, when I first played, I expounded the theme to be so much more than collecting sets of animals. I envisioned an epic struggle between two clans where everything was on the line. It worked really well.

HG: Did you look to other real time games? What were your inspirations?

Chris: I grew up playing real-time card games like Speed/Spit, and I wanted us to design a game that had the excitement of those games but also offered interesting strategic decisions to the players. In Tessen, you have to do more than recognize the available plays, you have to make snap decisions and figure out what’s the best move on the fly. People who have played Tessen have said it reminds them of games like Dutch Blitz, Jab and Brawl.

HG: I must note, me and a co-worker, for a while, settled disputes using Tessen as the arbiter. Have you found yourself doing anything like this? It’s so fast!

Suzanne: No, but that is an awesome idea! I’m going to start suggesting it everywhere I can!

AJ: This would be awesome to go along with another idea from Paul of The Cardboard Jungle podcast. He told me that they will leave Tessen setup on the table ready to go, and at any moment someone can shout “Tessen!” and the run to the table and immediately spring into a match! Now think, next time you are in an argument just shout “Tessen!” and run over to the game to solve your problem and determine who wins the argument! It is very much in line with the story in Tessen.

HG: Who is the best Tessen player in your travels? Who is the one to beat?

Chris: Well, I thought I was pretty good until I played you at Gen Con, Grant. I think all those matches with real-world stakes on the line served you well! As for other players, a couple of days into Gen Con, we met these guys who were, hands down, the fastest Tessen players we’ve ever seen. Right after the rules explanation, bam!–they were into the game and flying faster than even experienced players. Their match was the best I’ve ever seen. In the final round, they tied on how many animal cards they saved, and the tiebreaker was the difference between a single card being drawn, so less than one second. The game literally could not have been any closer!

AJ: Yeah those guys WERE fast! But in fairness, they were bending the rules a little bit…

I’ve found that video gamers are particularly good at Tessen. They have really good reflexes and sharp reaction times that really serve them well in the game.

HG: What are some of your favorite games right now?

Suzanne: Gravwell, For Sale, and Jaipur.

Chris: Darn, stole my answers! What she said.

AJ: I can’t believe I am going to answer with a Euro, but Bruges by Feld is really enjoyable. Story War is a nice spin on Apples to Apples we had a blast with at Gencon. Sky Whale!

HG: Sky Whale, indeed! Where did you get the idea for Cardboard Edison?

Chris: When we started designing games a couple of years ago, we began researching the industry. There’s a lot to learn about: prototyping, playtesting, pitching, design theory and so on. As we met and talked with other designers, we realized they were doing a lot of the same research as us, and we figured it might help other people if we shared the helpful stuff we found. So we created the Cardboard Edison blog to put all those useful links in one place.

HG: You have a party game in the works as well, right? Can you tell me about it?

Suzanne: Sure! We have a game called Skewphemisms. It’s a word party game based on alliterative phrases. It’s the first game idea we came up with, and it’s what got us into game design. We’re deep into the playtesting phase, and we’re looking for a publisher.

HG: What are some of your favorite party games?

Suzanne: I am a master of Scattergories unless Chris tells everyone to vote down my creative answers!

Chris: C’mon! “Happy fish” for “Things in the ocean” that start with H?!?

Suzanne: Are you telling me that there are no happy fish in the ocean?

Chris: Madness! Of course, Suzanne is always able to get a few other players to go along with the craziness, and I end up in last place.

Suzanne: 😀

AJ: Oh I think I have to side with Chris on this one… as for me Dixit has to be up there. And as crazy as it is, I have a lot of fun with Quelf, although that one can drag on a bit.

Anything else you want to add?

Suzanne: We would like to thank you, Grant, for taking the time to talk with us. It was great meeting you at Gen Con! We also would like to thank our publisher, A.J. We just love working with him! Please check out the Kickstarter for Tessen. It’s up now, and the campaign ends on Monday, Sept. 2.

AJ: Yes! There is just a week left and still several great stretch rewards to achieve. Check out the project today!

Tessen is only $12 shipped domestically in the US. As a long term tester, I assure you it’s well worth that. 

Free Kickstarter Advice


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Kickstarter controversy is just silly lately. There are a handful of new consulting companies you can pay to help you with your campaign. Interestingly enough, I’ve watched a few of their own projects fail. So much for expertise? You have the $122,000 case of fraud where the guy just isn’t going to deliver the product. You have the boast of making a game for only $999! Plus, of course, the Kickstarter and established brand presence.

This all tickles me.

In light of all this, I thought I’d offer some free advice in a few forms. My own personal observations, but also, I’d like to point you in the direction of some good data.

First, some links.

The elements that comprise a successful Kickstarter campaign or product are not closely guarded secrets of the NSA. They don’t require a doctorate in economics to fully grasp. Really, you need to PAY ATTENTION and observe the world around you. People have been selling goods and services for thousands of years. Think about the companies you like and emulate them.

Kickstarter is a petri dish of success, failure, and out of this world success. It is FREE to observe and watch. I’ve been watching Kickstarter for years and I have learned a few things just by paying attention.

It’s not hard to learn these things. It just takes time and a keen eye.

If you want to be successful, here are some good standards to which to adhere.

Here are two of the most important things for initial sales, i.e. Kickstarter. Opinion alert!

Have great art. This is subjective, but presentation is what gets people window shopping. You need people to pull your product off the shelf, digital or otherwise. If you race for the bottom and hire the cheapest art student off Deviant Art who doesn’t understand anatomy, perspective, or colors, guess what? You don’t have great art. 

I won’t call out bad art here, but take a quick stroll through the projects that aren’t funding.

Have a great price. You need to sell at a price that is a great value to consumers. It is painfully simple to go to your FLGS or Amazon and compare your prototype, its components, and its play style to similar games. For Farmageddon, I looked at Gamewright’s collection of card driven games. Obviously we couldn’t beat their economies of scale, but we knew we had to be well under $20 to compete. For York, as a 60 minute game, I knew $50 was the upper limit, but $40 was ideal.

I hate to beat this horse, but Princes of the Dragon Throne cost too much in both iterations. Its first funding goal failed and its second one barely succeeded. Consider what your audience wants, compare yourself to the competition, and match it.

Side note: On Kickstarter, a great price typically includes free domestic shipping and a discount on MSRP. These are hard on your margins, but hey, that’s the ecosystem.

Once you nail these two basics, be sure to prepare properly in other areas.

Have several quotes to compare, then decide upon a manufacturer before you launch. There are so many good manufacturers. I have a list of about 25 companies that manufacture games entirely or build some portion of the process (boxes, dice, etc). It is unacceptable to launch a KS without knowing precisely what it will cost to manufacture 1000/2500/5000 copies of your game. Measure twice, cut once. Know who you’re taking to the dance and buy them a corsage. Metaphor.

To get a quote, you need to know:

  • All of your components. All of them.
  • The sizes and quality of all of your components.
  • The size of your box.
  • The size of your rules.

Ignoring miniatures and custom dice (which are outliers), game boards, cards, and rules will be very expensive. Punchboard is shockingly cheap. If there are ways to swap wooden tokens with punchboard, go for it. If you can reduce cards, do so.

One of the reasons York is so expensive is that I have a double sided game board and 108 cards.

Shame on you if you launch your game and don’t know precisely what it will cost.

Have all of your stretch goals designed and quoted. Guess what? Stretch Goals are a fundamental part of the current Kickstarter ecosystem. You may not raise enough to deliver a single one, but you better have 3-5 designed and ready. By designed, I mean if it is an expansion it is tested and fun. You know what your art will cost. You know what it’ll cost to incorporate the goal into 1000/2500/5000 copies. You know how it’ll affect shipping costs. Here’s a Hint: You shouldn’t make stretch goals that affect your shipping costs.

Adding a Stretch Goal should be as simple as adding an “x” to your spreadsheet.

Side note: Be sure your stretch goals enhance the product. They should not exist to complete the product. Backers will punish you with their absence if you make expected, standard things an add-on. Be ethical, be honest, be fair.

Know your shipping costs and understand fulfillment. Will your game fit into a small, medium, or large flat rate domestic package? Sweet. Shoot for that. International shipping is a whole other can of worms that I actually don’t know much about. I know some folks have done well using Amazon fulfillment in Europe, Asia, and the US.

I will advise a word of caution to signing with some companies who promise to just make fulfillment easy and fun. Check first what they are taking from your margins and look at their other work. If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be. If you really want to be a publisher, then put in the time to fully understand and succeed with shipping and fulfillment.

This aspect will kill your business if you screw up. If you’re curious why I’ve more or less walked away from the idea of playing publisher, this is one of the biggest reasons.

Make sure people know about your game and like it. Reviews are important for selling your game. Guess what? There are many people out there who refuse to buy a game until they see Tom Vasel (or another reviewer) explain it. That means you can’t ignore that!

But, reviews cost money and in some cases they won’t actually move units. Word of mouth is really the most powerful form and it’s the most difficult to build. Drive word of mouth by:

  • Sharing your rules
  • Creating preview videos on YouTube
  • Attending conventions and playing your game
  • Sending your prototypes to others, especially influential people
  • Release a PNP

Your mileage may vary. In my experience, none of those things really help  individually and never quickly. But, during Farmageddon’s Kickstarter campaign, we had podcasts talking about the game, random folks posting reviews on BGG from the PNP, plus a few hundred people who bought the POD version from The Game Crafter. It built a lot of honest buzz and really helped.

Notice how folks like Dice Hate Me go to every single convention in the north east to promote and play their games. If that dude sees a FLGS on his way to church he pulls over and puts Belle of the Ball on a table.

Summary: Don’t launch your project without reviews and word of mouth. Sure, add more throughout, but launch with it.

Share information on your game. This one is so easy to do.

  • Share rules
  • Share plenty of final game art
  • Share a gameplay video/tutorial
  • Bonus: Share a PNP. Nobody is going to steal from you. This shows confidence.

Finally, make a good game. I consider this to be the most important, but it isn’t for Kickstarter. THIS IS NOT A SLAM on the quality of Kickstarter games, but is a comment on what you’re doing on Kickstarter: pitching the game to thousands of customers in the hope they back you to get a copy of your game. Kickstarter is a month-long, interactive, evolving, two-way commercial. It’s a sales pitch in YOU and your game.


Make something great. If you make something great, your game will continue to sell off of Kickstarter and your next Kickstarter project will be even easier. If people really like you, it’ll be much simpler to share rules, share previews, and ask folks to PNP your game. A large number of people made the PNP and tested Euphoria, not because they knew anything about the game, but because they liked and believed in Stonemeier.

Making a good game is the best way to future proof your business.

I hope this is useful. Feel free to call me an idiot in the comments below!

Interview with Gil Hova


Gil Hova is an incredibly smart, outspoken, twice-published designer who is quite active in our online community. I recently played his second game, Battle Merchants, which is currently funding via Kickstarter. I thought this was a good time to interview him about Battle Merchants, game design, and more. This is a GREAT interview with many morsels — take the time to read it.

Bolded text is mine. 

Gil — Tell us about yourself. What do we need to know to truly know you?

I grew up playing video games like crazy, so I always wanted to be a video game designer. In my early twenties, I decided that if I was going to do this for real, I would start by designing board games, because I figured it was a “purer” form of game design. The plan was that I’d move onto video games once I designed my first board game. A simple plan, right?

So much for that plan. Designing board games meant playing board games, and I discovered that I loved board games much more than video games. They got me interacting with other people (something I wasn’t very good at doing at the time), and almost all of them emphasized strategy and tactics over twitch reflexes and muscle memory. I was hooked.

Your second design, Battle Merchants, is currently on Kickstarter trying to fund. Give us the essential details.

The game is about a war between a bunch of fantasy races (Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Hobgoblins). You, as the player, don’t care who wins or who loses. You’re simply forging and selling their weapons, sometimes to both sides of the same battle. The richest player at the end of the game wins.

It’s a strategic game for 2-4 players, playable in 90 minutes. It boasts simple rules but tough decisions, and a much more interesting theme than most economic games.

What was your original inspiration for Battle Merchants? Where did you get the idea?

I’d always wanted to design a game about the military-industrial complex. Not in a preachy way (simply because I strongly believe that games should be Fun, and preachiness is Not Fun), but in a gleefully amoral way.

At the time, I had an auction game whose whole was much less than the sum of its parts. I decided to save its auction mechanism (which was kind of neat) and move it to this game. Of course, when it came time to trim things, that auction mechanism was the first thing to go!

It’s a good thing, too. Unusual auction mechanisms were really in 10 years ago, but I don’t think people are interested in that like they used to be. My friend Kevin Nunn points out that we’ve figured out other ways of distributing resources among competing players (drafting, worker placement), so auctions are just not as interesting as they used to be.

Did you consider other themes for Battle Merchants? Why did you choose fantasy, or was that not your choice?

The game was originally about building and selling war robots. I thought it was a fantastic theme, but themes are funny things. They’re the entry point to your game, so you have to make sure it fits your mechanisms. When people play a game about war robots, they expect laser beams and explosions. So when I asked people if they wanted to play my game about building and selling fighting robots, they’d answer, “Sure, I’d like to play your game about fighting robots.”

See the distinction? People would be confused at first, until they figured out that this was an economic game, not a wargame. Once I noticed the dissonance, I realized I had to do something.

I tried giving it a generic Euro city-building theme, which reinforced my conviction that I will never design a game with a generic Euro city-building theme if I can at all avoid it.*

I eventually settled on a mercantile fantasy setting, which is perfect. There’s lots of precedence for moneymaking in a fantasy world (consider the capitalistic subtext of your average dungeon crawl), so players know exactly what they’re in for when they sit down.

*There’s one important thing I should say here: a lot of Eurogames are about their mechanisms, not their themes. A game whose heart is an innovative, unusual mechanism should not have an innovative, unusual theme, unless the two are crazily tight. If you have an unusual mechanism mixed with an unusual theme, you’ll most likely get a game that’s distracting to play, because players don’t know whether they should immerse themselves in the game’s theme or try to figure out how best to exploit the innovative mechanism. In most games, those are two completely different lines of thinking. It’s like wearing neon with plaid. It’s distracting.

That’s why Dominion works, despite its bland theme. You’re focused on building your deck, and you can easily tear the theme away to focus on what the cards give you mechanically speaking.

What were some of the biggest problems you solved during its development? How did you do so?

There were a lot of little problems that I solved. Removing the auction was one thing. And of course, fixing the theme was a big deal.

The game had a lot of positive feedback loops at first, so installing a bunch of negative feedback loops was important. A good example is the reward for selling to a race. Originally, players kept track of which race lost battles. That race would spend more for weapons in the next season. At the end of the game, you got a bonus if you had the most surviving weapons on the race least advanced in that track (in other words, the race that lost the fewest battles).

It was thematically good, especially when I put a downward curve if a race lost too many battles. But it was quite opaque. You couldn’t really tell who was going to get that endgame bonus, or even who was going to pay more money the next season. It was also difficult to keep track of. Players really didn’t like it.

I didn’t want to put in a system where players got a bonus from a race for selling to that race, because then players would just keep on selling to the same race, and that would be boring. That all changed when a player suggested that system, but with a limit of only one reward per race per season. Eureka, that was it! It was easy to grok, easy to plan for, and it still encouraged players to sell all over the board.


Who would love Battle Merchants? Who is this game meant for?

This is a middleweight economic game, so it’s in a lot of gamers’ sweet spots. Of course, people who like economic games will like it. But people who get bored when playing dry, spreadsheet-y games will like it, too. There’s a lot of interesting interaction, but not a lot of screw-you (which I hate in games), and it’s much quicker to teach than your average economic game. Finally, the fantasy theme is fun, and I think that’ll pull in people who like seeing a new spin on your average hack-and-slash thing.

I must say I was a little surprised that your game features so much interaction. The weapons I sell to the fighting armies can get destroyed by another player, which gains points. Thematically it’s not direct conflict per se, but mechanically it is. Do you see it that way?

It’s strange, because the armies are yours, and yet they’re not. You get reputation points by winning battles, and the player with the most reputation points gets a money bonus at the end of the game. But it’s still a game where the richest player wins, and you’ll make a lot of money from a sale, regardless of whether the weapon survives. So a player who sells a lot of cheap weapons that keep getting killed may beat a player who sells fewer high-quality weapons. I’ve worked hard to keep that balance.

There’s a bunch of cool implications here. A player who sells a lot of cheap weapons will see a lot of his weapons lose in battle… but that just creates new demand for those same weapons, which he can sell right back. Conversely, a player who sells a few nice weapons will have to create new demand elsewhere on the board, because his weapons lose so rarely, there won’t be as much demand for them!

So a good Battle Merchants player is a one who sees a profit where others see doom. If you make a big margin from a sale, you may not care whether or not that weapon survives the next battle. In fact, you may want it to lose, because you have the next sale queued up. I’ve dubbed this the “spamming” strategy.

On the other hand, maybe you are taking the “specialization” strategy of a few good weapons. If you can rush to get a bunch of good craft early on and not go broke doing it, you might be able to get a special bonus action early on. Nice weapons have a bigger built-in profit margin than a single regular weapon, so you should make more money on a single sale. It will take you longer to build that engine, though, and the spammers have the ability to make the game move faster than you’d like.

All this is to say that the interaction in Battle Merchants isn’t really direct. If one of your weapons leaves the board, you still have the money you made from its sale, so it’s not nearly as devastating as in a game with proper direct interaction.

Battle Merchants has quite a few layers to it. There’s the basic build and sell weapons. Then making better weapons in better places than your opponents. Then the cards, which are very powerful. Walk us through the development of this — I know from experience such a rich game doesn’t come about at once. 

Originally, when the game had an auction, everything was split into phases, like Power Grid. So everybody bid for turn order and power (Kingdom) cards first. Then everybody drew a craft card in the new turn order, then everybody built weapons, then everybody sold weapons.

The big change here when I removed the auction was to flatten out the turn, so now players could only choose one of those actions per turn. Upgrading Craft, drawing a Kingdom card, forging weapons, and selling a weapon are now different things you can do on your turn, and I’ve balanced those actions out so they’re attractive throughout most of the game.

The Kingdom cards took the longest to balance. They serve a few roles: they make spamming or specialization more interesting, they add an interesting decision point every turn, they make each player’s game path different, and since some of them give money to a player, they allow a player who can’t afford to forge weapons a way to become liquid again.

I haven’t had a chance to play 2 player, but I know you have a “dummy character” of sorts. Tell us about developing the two player variant. My new design features dummy characters throughout and I’d appreciate any insights, warnings, and more.

The dummy character is nicknamed Salesman Steve. In a 2-player game, he makes a sale to the board every time a player makes a sale to the board.

2-player games are very different than games with three or more players. First off, the game state doesn’t usually change a whole lot in a 2-player game. This is usually good because it leads to longer lookahead and therefore easier strategizing, but if it makes the game too incremental, it can get boring. This was the problem without Salesman Steve. It was too blah and predictable. Salesman Steve is not random, because his moves are always theoretically predictable. But sometimes your action may change what Salesman Steve will do, which gives the 2-player game some excitement.

Second, every action you take is a net benefit to you, because it either helps you or hurts the other player. If it does both, even better! In a game with more players, you’ll want an action that helps you most of the time, because that will distance you from all players equally. If you hurt Player A, you are not distancing yourself from Player B. That might be okay if Player B is far behind, but my point is that’s a consideration you simply don’t need to make in a 2-player game.

So you might be able to use Salesman Steve to your advantage. If you know he’s going to sell a weapon to the Orcs after your sale, and you know your sale will force Salesman Steve to take the last Battleaxe spot on the board, and your opponent has a Vorpal Battleaxe he’s trying to sell… well, you see where I’m going with this.

The rules for Kingdom cards and Craft cards are also different with two players. Taking a Kingdom card will cause a Craft card to get discarded, and vice-versa. This serves both purposes really well; it changes the game state enough to keep a 2-player game interesting, because otherwise, one player would take all the Kingdom cards and the other would take all the Craft cards and that would be dull. It also means that if you know a player really wants a certain Craft, you can take the corresponding Kingdom card and force the Craft to get discarded.

That mechanism wouldn’t work so well in a 3-player game, because you’d be screwing over the player to your left much more than the player to your right (“left/right binding”, as JC Lawrence called it). But in a 2-player game, it’s perfect.

At one point we discussed the concept of a round structure (i.e. a round has these 3 phases) versus a turn structure (i.e. players take turns in order until the game ends). Battle Merchants is very smooth and well paced due to the turn structure. Was it always this way? Do you have thoughts to share on round versus turn order?

I already discussed the transition from a round structure to a turn structure above. I’ll never say that one is objectively better than the other, but I will say that a turn structure generally offers a more interesting decision. That said, if your design is suffering from AP problems because players can’t figure out what to do next, you may want to consider a round structure.

You’re notorious for being somewhat anti-interaction in games on Twitter. Is that fair to say? Can you explain your point of view on this? What is good interaction in your mind? What is bad interaction?

Well, I’m glad I’m finally notorious for something! Well, look, it’s a personal preference. I’ll never say that direct interaction is bad game design, simply because too many people whose opinions I respect are fans of games with direct interaction. So I don’t think I’m “anti-interaction,” just a guy who prefers no direct interaction in his game.

Also, direct interaction in a 2-player game isn’t that big a deal, since a benefit to me and a loss to you are similar (assuming that either one advances the game state). So it’s really direct interaction in a 3+ player game that I really don’t like.

Look, we all love games because we love making our brains glow. My brain is glowing when it’s composing and executing a plan. “If I get these three resources here, and then these two other resources there, and then next turn I assemble this structure with it…” is my happy spot. If, the next turn, a player steals my three resources, or worse, destroys the structure I build with it, my brain is no longer glowing.

Again, in a 2-player game, that’s not a problem. I grumble and growl, but I know that my opponent did that because it helped her. But it becomes a problem in a 3+ player game, because you have to choose the player who gets screwed over, and then it becomes a matter of meta-gaming and table talk. Some people like this, because it provides a natural balance to a runaway leader, but I don’t like it because a) it shifts the burden of handicapping to the players, which might mean one player would have to “fall on the grenade” to benefit everyone else who isn’t in the lead, and b) it discourages a player from getting out to an early lead, which I don’t find interesting. I believe that if a player does much better than everyone else early in a game, he should be rewarded with a big lead. Why penalize him? Better to focus that the game has no fallaway trailers (opposite of a runaway leader), so that everyone else has a chance to be competitive for the rest of the game

Of course, the reason this is an aesthetic choice is that for a lot of people, that sort of interaction makes their brains glow. Fair enough, that’s why those games are out there! But to me, if you ever repeatedly say “don’t go after me, go after her, she’s the real threat” while playing a game, then that’s a game I will probably avoid.

So for me, good interaction…

  • is reasonably predictable.
  • doesn’t completely undo what the attacked player did.
  • advances the game state.
  • makes the game more interesting for everyone.

One last thought on this: I’ve grown to dislike the term “multi-player solitaire.” Just because a game doesn’t allow you to destroy an opponent’s assets doesn’t make it MPS. I taught Race for the Galaxy to a friend the other day. That’s a game with very subtle interaction, and it seems like MPS to a new player. But knowing how to parasite your opponents’ actions separates the good players from the bad. You must pay attention to your opponents in that game if you’re going to play with the best.

To my knowledge, the only family of games that are truly MPS are games in the Take It Easy family (Take It Easy, Take It To the Limit, Cities, etc.). In those games, your opponents’ actions do literally nothing to influence your actions. And they’re still a ton of fun.

What are some of your favorite games? Why?

I like games that reward planning, but that don’t require a Chess– or Bridge-like time investment to master. I also like really innovative, unusual mechanisms.

One of my favorite games is Space Dealer, recently redesigned and re-released as Time ‘n’ Space. It’s a real-time game where players use hourglasses to perform their actions. Once their hourglasses finish, their action is complete. The game is played to a 30-minute soundtrack. When the soundtrack is over, so is the game.

I love the game because it forces players to think across two threads. You’ll want your first hourglass to do one set of actions, but your second to do another. No other game makes me think that way, and I love it.

Other games? I’ve played a lot of Ascension, and I think it’s the current cream of the crop in terms of deckbuilders (or as I like to call the genre, LDBs – “Like Dominion, But…”). I don’t think I can fairly say that Ascension is better than Dominion, because I think Dominion is an incredible design that I wish I’d made, and there’s no Ascension without Dominion. But I will never turn down a game of Ascension at this point.

Navegador and Trajan are also two recent games that have floated my boat, so to speak. Galaxy Trucker and Agricola as well.

What’s your favorite game lately? Something that you’ve discovered or just played recently?

My favorite game from Essen 2012 is Terra Mystica. Its replayability and depth are superlative. There’s just enough space for you to plan ahead, but just enough interaction to keep things tense. It’s an amazing, wonderful design.

Tzolk’in is also fantastic, and was my favorite Essen 2012 game until Terra Mystica came along. Myrmes and Copycat were also outstanding. Myrmes reminds me of Princes of Florence with its careful strategy and extremely limited number of turns. Copycat uses the primary mechanisms of three popular games, and yet feels nothing at all like those games.

Can you tell us about Prime Time? This is your new prototype, yes?

Remember that auction mechanism I built Battle Merchants around, and then removed from the game? I wanted to give it one more chance, so I put it in a new design. I originally had no theme for it (its working title was MacGuffin Market), but eventually put in a theme about TV networks acquiring programming.

Here’s the funny part: eventually, my playtesters told me that the auction wasn’t pulling its weight. Sure enough, I pulled the auction out recently, and it seems to have improved the game. So that’s two games that have rejected the auction like a bad donor organ!

I’d like to set Prime Time in the early eighties, when cable programming was just starting to catch on. It’s more thematic, it keeps the game from getting dated, and it gives me the opportunity to make each show a parody of a popular eighties show. I think that would be fun.

You’re active in the New York City comedy scene, is that correct? Tell us about it!

I started taking sketch comedy writing classes in January of 2012, and I’ve met a lot of awesome people! I am probably going to slow down on the comedy front for the next few months, because I feel like I need to design more games.

Do you ever see your comedy and game design crossing paths, or do these occupy separate areas of your brain? I find all my interests constantly merging, personally.

It’s funny, I wanted to try out sketch writing because I wanted an outlet that was less iterative and mathematical than game design. Of course, sketch writing turned out to be iterative (lots of redrafts and tweaking) and mathematical (a good sketch heightens its absurdity), so a lot of it felt familiar!

You’ve had Prolix published by Z-Man and now Battle Merchants with Minion. Do you have any advice to share with the other designers?

If you’re a new designer, I urge you: don’t overvalue your ideas. Ideas are worthless; no one cares about your idea. No one publishes an idea, no one plays an idea. We play finished games, not ideas. To go from an idea to a finished game is an enormous amount of sweat and work.

So: it’s not enough to think of a great idea for a game. Playtest it like crazy, and be merciless slicing off parts of the game that don’t work. You owe your original idea nothing. If it ends up that your game is totally different than your original idea, that’s okay, as long as it’s fun.

Don’t be afraid to share your idea with other people. No one’s interested in stealing ideas. There’s so little money in board games, relatively speaking, that people who want to steal stuff go to arenas where they can steal something worth money, like finance.

Some other tips:

* Be careful when springing a raw, new design on other players. It’s probably not going to be very fun. Try to playtest these early iterations with other game designers, or your most patient/easily bribed friends.

* Don’t spend too much time on the physical appearance of an early-stage game. It is going to change a lot. Why spend a day on a card’s layout, when your next playtest may tell you that you don’t need the cards in the first place?

* When you are 80% done with the game, you are halfway there. The remaining 20% – going from a decent game to a fun game – is the other half of the work. Plan accordingly.

Thanks so much for giving me a place to speak, Grant!

My pleasure! Check out Battle Merchants on Kickstarter today!