Dice Tower Dish is a blog about board games and food. Two of my favorite things. One I literally cannot live without.

Dish strives to provide candid, informative interviews with the designers and personalities that make our hobby the eclectic, friendly, and fascinating place we all know it is. Hopefully these interviews have the casual feeling we all get when we sit down to dinner with friends.

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Welcome to the final installment of virtual dinner with Geoff Engelstein. I cannot think of someone more learned about board game design, and being able to just chat is really a dream come true. I mean, this guy literally wrote the book on board games. Today we touch on his books, as well as some Bell Laboratories history, a little programming lesson from the 70s, and games, games, games.

GEOFF: Which brings me to… Actually, I’m going to go and plug my new book coming out.

DTD: Awesome, yeah! Plug whatever you like.

GEOFF: It’s supposed to be coming out in December or thereabouts. It’s called…

I decided at this moment to show my love and dramatically display Geoff’s remarkable Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design over the zoom window.

GEOFF: Very nice. Thank you for your purchase. Appreciate that.

DTD: I think I have all of your books.

GEOFF: Awesome. I just found somebody selling bootleg PDFs of Building Blocks on eBay for $9.99.

DTD: Oh, joy.

GEOFF: So, we just had them shut down. So, we will see how long that lasts. I am kind of honored that people would actually feel like that that’s a worthwhile business model, to sell PDF copies of my books. Anyways, so the new book is called Gamecraft, and it’s specifically about…it’s really kind of hard to describe, but it’s about prototyping and production for games. So, it’s not about design. There’s nothing in it about design. So, the first half of the book…

The title of the book has changed since our dinner. It is called “Game Production: Prototyping and Producing Your Board Game,” and it comes out December 21.

DTD: The nuts and bolts of how to do it.

GEOFF: Right, so the first half is about tools that you should own, and it’s about how to, like, use card generators, like I talk about nanDECK, and I talk about some of the online stuff, plus I talk about how to use InDesign to make cards, or whatever. I talk about the actual tools of…how to cut the cards, how to sleeve cards, different types of sleeves you should have. The basic tool kit of stuff that you should have. I have a whole section on graphic design, where I talk about different, how to layout, what the cards should look like, what iconography should look like. A section on fonts. Font choices, font sizes. And then a whole section on, and then it ends with a whole chapter on production. Like, this is how much you can expect to pay for certain types of components. This is what bleed is, this is what all the different terminology…this is how you are going to need to prep your components, different considerations for different things.

DTD: That’s awesome.

GEOFF: So, it’s all about that. Because I’m on a whole bunch of different board game design forums and stuff, like on Reddit and on Facebook. And I swear to god, 90% of the comments, the questions, are like “Here’s my card. Are the fonts big enough?” Or “Does this icon look good?” Or “How do these cards look?” The number of questions about actual, like what I would consider design, you know the mechanics of the game and stuff like that…

DTD: Are low.

GEOFF: Is like 10% of the questions. 90% of it is the physical part of “How do I actually make a prototype?”

DTD: I’ve been doing a series of podcast blurbs about jobs in the background of game design that people, normal consumers, don’t know a whole lot about. So, I did 3 episodes on developers, and now I’m working on episodes on Graphic Design. I’ve interviewed Matt Paquette, and I’m going to do one on rulebook design, interviewing some of the people doing just that.

GEOFF: I’ve got a chapter in the book about rulebooks also. That’s the kind of thing I covered also.

DTD: One of the things I found really fascinating, is right now it seems there’s an opening where people are starting to make companies that are just these middleman helper companies. So, you have an idea for a game, you have no idea how to make it, you don’t know what’s right, what’s wrong, what looks good, what doesn’t. You hire these guys, and they do. They act like a publisher, and they do development, they do graphic design and they do this and that, and they poop out a game. 

GEOFF: Yeah, and certainly I think that comes from the Kickstarter ecosystem. That there’s so many of these one-off new publishers, right? That just want to make one game but they don’t know how to do it. And we kind of did the same thing; we hired a person to do the graphics and the rules layout for us. I mean, we’re not doing it ourselves, and Tudor doesn’t have anybody to do it. So, I hired somebody just to do that. We hired an artist, we hired a sculptor. I think the next big thing, and I heard rumors that it is actually coming out, and if I didn’t have an actual job or 87 hundred other things I was doing, I could do this…

Geoff is talking about his upcoming science fiction, vibrating table, future sports game Nova League, being published by Tudor Games. We talked about it a few episodes back…

DTD: That’s no one’s fault but your own.

GEOFF: I just wonder if the market is even big enough to, that you would make money. But to be a game agent for designers.

DTD: I think the market is prime for it. And there’s a bunch of companies that have just popped up in the past year to do that. The guys from Starling Games have started Quillsilver.

GEOFF: Okay, so there are out there now, because I mean I’ve got a really good Rolodex. People answer my emails, right? So, I can, if you want, I can meet with designers, and if there’s some designs I thought are good, I could get it in front of the right people. I can help people tweak it, get in front of the right people, and then give me 20% of your royalties, or whatever. And you know, we’ll just go from there.

DTD: Sounds like an agent.

GEOFF: Exactly, be an agent. I’m curious to see how that kind of model goes, but I mean the royalties are just so slim on games to begin with. You’d have to really hit it big, I think to really be able to make that work.

Geoff Engelstein, ludology agent to the stars. You heard it here first.

BRIAN: Although I still love in this industry, that there still is room for what we did with Ares [Project]. We just sort of showed up with a game. I still think that’s great.

DTD: It’s such a small personal industry, which is fantastic. So, you’ve got someone who made their game in a garage, and it sells. And all the way up to big huge industries making AAA titles, if you want to make the comparison to video games.

BRIAN: My sister is at Indie Board and Cards now. She’s doing a lot of that stuff. And yeah, it’s the same kind of stuff. People still, anyone, can come out of the woodwork.

DTD: Yeah, she’s the new Buonocore, right? It will take weeks to air that office out.

Sydney Engelstein became director of game development for Indie Boards and Cards / Stronghold Games when Stephen Buonocore retired earlier this year.

GEOFF: So, she like takes all the pitches and stuff like that. We prefer to think of her as the better Buonocore.

BRIAN: Oh yeah, she’s a much better Buonocore.

DTD: I thought that went without saying. Really, the bar is not high there.

GEOFF: Admittedly, it’s a low bar, but still.

BRIAN: But if you say his name three times he appears, then we can insult him more.

DTD: This does happen. I’m pretty good friends with Stephen, so I think if I talk about him too much, he will show up or call or something.

GEOFF: There you go. Yup.

DTD: Very cool. I played recently, I got Nidavellir, which kind of came out of nowhere. And it’s a very interesting new… it’s a French game, it’s from one of the co-designers of Shadows over Camelot.

Nidavellir, for the nerds among us, is the legendary home of the Dwarves in Norse mysthology. It may have been in an Avengers movie also.

GEOFF: Okay.

DTD: His name has completely gone out of my head. Ledec or…no, I’ve lost it. [Serge Laget] But it’s a very simple game. It’s a set collection game with cards. You have 3 rows of cards and you have 5 chips to bid on those rows. You have a 0, a 2, 3, 4, 5. You put them face down: i.e. top row, I bid 5. Next row I bid 3. Highest bid takes first from the row. So far, not exciting. But if you bid your zero chip, the downside is you do not get a card from that row. So, you have lost a turn collecting cards. The upside is you combine your two chips you did not use, and you get a bigger chip. So, it’s a deck builder with your 5 bidding chips.

Serge – love the games! I am so sorry I had a momentary lapse of reason. I am old and feeble minded. Call me – let’s do lunch!

GEOFF: OK, interesting.

DTD: And they keep getting higher and higher. So, fast, really neat.

GEOFF: Cool. I mean, I think that… People don’t remember, but it’s a real throwback to the late 90s, early 2000s. Because that’s when [Reiner] Knizia was at his height. And that’s what he did with Lost Cities and everything else. Is it would be a really basic game, but a little bit of a twist. Whether it was Ingenious, or… There were so many of those games of his, where it was just basically very simple, but he added enough of a little bit of a twist, that it put it into an interesting territory. And people are rediscovering that. And that was part of the rationale for the mechanism, but also was to try to bring some of these… kind of tease out some of that stuff and reintroduce people to some of these older titles.

DTD: Yeah, Circus Flohcati is still one of my most played games. Old Reiner Knizia title.

GEOFF: Or High Society.

DTD: That’s got a beautiful reprint. Seems like every Knizia has like 6 reprints. Just this year.

GEOFF: Indeed. I’m hoping to get one. I want to get one reprint. That’s my goal.

DTD: There you go. I’ll reprint it. Its not a problem. Corey’s publishing. We will reprint whatever you want.

GEOFF: Okay.

DTD: Very cool. So, yeah. I think I’ve hit just all the high points. If there was anything else you wanted to chat about?

GEOFF: So, it’s been a great conversation, and I appreciate you providing dinner! That was really unnecessary, but it was very good.

DTD: Yeah, this is…you gotta go above and beyond. If you’re going to build a time machine… This is what you do. No, I need to figure out, can I do it to Europe?

GEOFF: So, you’re retired at this point you were saying? So you’re done? You’re retired or…?

DTD: I am.

GEOFF: So, what do you keep yourself busy with?

BRIAN: Wine, I guess, if you live in Napa?

DTD: [laughing] I don’t know. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff for Dice Tower. So, I’ve got the interview page, Dish. And I’m on the new news podcast, so I’m doing little blurbs for that – Dice Tower Now. My role on there, is I’m kind of the crazy Andy Rooney type, who rambles nonsensically about something at the end of the episode.

For those that inclement towards youth, Andy Rooney was an older gentleman who, at the end of 60 Minutes, would rant nonsensically about some random topic. I relate. My ranting segment on Dice Tower Now is called “Output Randomness.”

GEOFF: [high pitched Andy Rooney impression] Don’t you hate it when there’s only three dice in a game…?

DTD: It’s really funny because I find myself wanting to come up with, wanting to do subjects that you’ve already touched on with GameTek. Because you find all the really cool, weird, strange “thing happened the other day”, stories.

GEOFF: Sorry, man. I got a paper for you. I’ve got to do another GameTek for maybe tomorrow, I’m kind of wrestling with what I want to do. But I found a paper where a guy did a whole analysis of Hi Ho Cherry-O using Markov Chains.

Markov Chains are a mathematical process described in 1906 by Andrey Markov, wherein you analyze the steps in a process, assigning probability to each step. Important stuff in current Artificial Intelligence. Andrey used it to figure out the alliteration of vowels and consonants in Russian literature.

DTD: I love it.

GEOFF: So, there you go. You can have that one.

DTD: OK, OK. I could do that.

I didn’t do that. It’s hard. Cool, but hard. I did ‘ways to shuffle’.

GEOFF: Also, somebody who did an optimal strategy article about Azul. He analyzed Azul, and came up with the best possible game that you can play. 16 move, 16 tile game.

DTD: What is the high score on Azul?

GEOFF: I don’t remember what the score was. But he did this whole analysis. He looked at billions of possible games. He didn’t do it exhaustively, but he did more like a statistic analysis, to try to come up with what the best sequence was.

It looks like the best possible score is 236. But the other players would need to actively help you get there.

DTD: That’s pretty cool. When I was a kid, they were playing with the original Markov Chain algorithms over at Bell Labs, and they hooked it into the phone call messaging system over at Bell Labs. And they started having the voice synthesizer, run by a Markov Chain, randomly calling people and learning off of it. And they were basically, the computer was arguing with people, and they were getting really upset. I think my dad got in trouble for that one.

BRIAN: I visited Bell Labs when I was in high school, because I was on the robotics team. Because, of course I was.

DTD: Oh, awesome!

BRIAN: And we were sponsored by Bell Labs. So, we visited, but this was in like…

DTD: It was AT&T at the time, right?

BRIAN: This is AT&T. This was like 2010, so it was well after the heights of Bell Labs.

DTD: Oh, it was a crazy, crazy building.

BRIAN: But they gave us a tour through the building, but at this point there were like, maybe 50 people working in the whole building. And it felt like Black Mesa. Like, I’m going to turn a corner, and I’m going to get murdered by a headcrab. There were just these rooms that led to science facilities forgotten by man.

Black Mesa is of course where the video game Half Life took place.

DTD: It was Black Mesa. In the day, Bell Laboratories…Bell Laboratories started up because they had a monopoly on the phone system. So, they had too much money. They printed money and they were going to get in big trouble. So, they dumped all of it into research, and they didn’t care what the research was on, or who they were giving money to. They just wanted someone to take money and make it look legit. So this facility in Murray Hill had every specialty – there was physics, there was computers, there was audio, there was everything in one building. And the building was made to be a flexible modular building. You could put up walls and take down walls anywhere in the building. And because of that, areas got lost. My dad would explore the building, which was huge. And he would find rooms and floors that hadn’t been used in years. That just got lost.

BRIAN: Someday I want to do a full…someday, because I believe they finally shut it down…

DTD: They might have.

BRIAN: But someday I want to do a full Halloween LARP. Like the Winchester Mystery House. I want to go through at night in Bell Labs.

The Winchester Mystery House is a historic tourist attraction San Jose, CA. Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester moved from New Haven, CT to San Jose shortly after her husband passed, then began renovating the new home continually until her death, from 1886 to 1922. Some say she was told the ghost of her late husband would be appeased if the home were constantly changed, but no one really knows. The house is a bit crazy, with dead ends, stairs to nowhere and false doors, perhaps to deceive the ghosts.

DTD: That’s pretty close to me. Bell Labs at night is scary.

BRIAN: Oh, I’m sure its horrifying.

GEOFF: Not to bring up a sore point for you, but that was actually where…Bell Labs is where the MIT admitted students was held for this area.

Geoff is bringing up a traumatizing time for me. MIT felt it necessary to not only reject me, but also repeatedly send me rejection letters for months, in case I had any second thoughts. Geoff is a mean man.

DTD: Really?

GEOFF: Yeah. So, we went over there for that.

DTD: At Murray Hill or Winchester?

GEOFF: No, no, no. At Murray Hill.

DTD: I spend a lot of my childhood at that Murray Hill facility, waiting around for dad. Bothering people who became famous later.

GEOFF: [laughing]

BRIAN: On your topic, I’ve been watching a YouTube series about RCA‘s attempts to build Video Records.

DTD: I saw a YouTube thing about that.

BRIAN: It was really interesting, but at one point they were saying, they…because RCA also had kind of a similar Bell Labs sort of lab, and they were…they had two projects running. One was video records, and the other one was using lasers to read brain waves. And you got to pick which one you wanted to go on.

DTD: Guess which one worked?

BRIAN: And it’s no wonder that the video records stalled out for like 15 years, because nobody did it.

DTD: Well UNIX… Basically dad did UNIX on his own in ‘69, because he was fed up with the MULTICS project. It was going nowhere, and it didn’t work, and it was a nightmare of red tape. So, he just snuck off in a corner. He sent me, as an infant, and my Mom to relatives for a month. And just sat in front of a computer and programmed. And he created UNIX in 4 weeks [August 1969]. And when it started going, it was internal to Bell Labs; they didn’t send it out until later. But one way they beta tested it, kind of, is they gave the kids of all of the programmers access. So, we were the UNIX brats, and we broke the system. And we would play games, and we would message each other, and write emails, and do all of the stuff that you think is pretty normal today, but in the early ’70s nobody knew about this.

BRIAN: That’s how we tested the Ares Project when we were first working on it. Was we would design the game then show it to my sister, and she would immediately find something completely broken, and beat us.

DTD: And it would break it! That’s what you need to do, is just give it to people to break it.

BRIAN: And we finally published it when we could beat her reliably. That was our metric.

DTD: I don’t know how much of a mainframe junkie you were, but the game that always came on the mainframes was Hunt the Wumpus.

GEOFF: Yeah, sure. I learned programming on punch cards, so don’t talk to me about it.

DTD: There you go. My dad claims he wrote Hunt the Wumpus for me when I was 4. And put it on the mainframe.

GEOFF: Really? Wow.

DTD: Because he read a description of that type of game as a flip book, and decided it would be cool, so he just wrote the program and that’s what I played when I was a kid.

GEOFF: OK, hang on. I’ll be right back. You talk amongst yourselves.

Geoff excitedly left to go get something…

BRIAN: Sure. I don’t know what Hunt the Wumpus is.

Brian is, I believe, too young for Wumpus. Considering almost nobody played it, way back in 1972.

DTD: One of those UNIX kids, back in the early days, was actually the kid who crashed the internet in the 1980s [1988] and was prosecuted for it.

BRIAN: Impressive.

DTD: Oh yeah, he was the best and brightest of us. He’s a professor at MIT now. Because nothing will get you a professorship faster than crashing the entire internet.

MIT keeps coming back to haunt me.

BRIAN: Absolutely. If sci-fi movies have taught me anything, that’s how you save the world.

DTD: That’s how you save the world, is you create some massive virus.

BRIAN: You start out as a rebel. A hacker rebel. I actually got invited to Black Hat this year, because I do a lot of information security stuff. But I’ve heard that Black Hat is pretty rough, when it comes to…you don’t bring your phone; you don’t bring anything connected. Don’t go anywhere, you don’t do anything.

DTD: I haven’t been. My dad’s been. And then there’s the Think conventions as well. Right along that line.

BRIAN: Well, I get that about once a month or so in my job. Where some project manager will come to me and say, “This is what we want to do with the server that you are on.” And I will respond with, “You know that that’s the definition of a man-in-the-middle attack.” Or something. Like, “You are trying to hack my server”.

Geoff returns, ecstatic, with a conspicuous old yellow book. One that I immediately recognize.

GEOFF: OK, so…

DTD: OK, I think I know what book you have. Yes!

GEOFF: I still have this. This is my original copy. So, this is how I learned programming.

DTD: Me too!

GEOFF: I bought this book and I just read it and I just…and I typed it in my TRS-80, and Apple computer, and I was like, “OK, let me try changing something, and see what happens.” But Hunt the Wumpus is in here, also.

DTD: It is. And it’s by Yob, or something.

GEOFF: Let me see.

DTD: And there’s an argument going on. He says he made it, and Dad says Dad made it. And the truth is lost somewhere in 1971 or 1972.

GEOFF: It’s not under ‘H’. Is it just under ‘W’? Super Star Trek. That was a big game. I remember typing it all in. I typed that game in so many times.

DTD: Star Trek was a huge one and that came with all UNIX builds. It came with UNIX mainframes, ‘trek’.

GEOFF: On Apple II you had to save your software on, on a cassette tape.

DTD: Yup, I played with the trash-80, I played with the early Apples.

GEOFF: Wumpus is not in this book.

DTD: There were two books. There was a volume one and a volume two.

Basic Computer Games. I used those two books mercilessly in the 1970s. They were falling apart. Unfortunately, I do not have either anymore. Wumpus 1 and Wumpus 2 are both in volume II, More BASIC Computer Games. Interestingly, there is also a version of L-Game, originally a 1968 board game by Edward de Bono.

GEOFF: Was it in the second one? I don’t have the second one anymore, but I had it when I was a kid. But I saved the first one.

DTD: I remember it was in one of them. I don’t have either anymore.

GEOFF: I’m shocked. Hammurabi was in here. I remember that one.

DTD: Original UNIX had trek, it had gorilla, which was the original Eliza program.

GEOFF: Eliza I think was in here also.

My crack research team tells me Eliza was also in volume II.

DTD: Cows and bulls, which was Mastermind. And Wumpus. I think those were the original games on /usr/games on UNIX.

GEOFF: You could subscribe to Creative Computing here, if you send in your coupon. Which apparently was in Morristown, New Jersey. Which I did not know.

DTD: And I had Creative Computing. And I worked hard, and diligently typed in the programs. It was a little hotbed. Everything I think eventually comes back to New Jersey.

GEOFF: Anyway, so that’s pretty cool that your father did that. I remember Hunt the Wumpus quite well.

DTD: Yeah, me too. [laughs]. I remember I wasn’t allowed to go onto the mainframe until after business hours. So I would sit and stare at the clock, usually from about 4, 4:30 until 5:30. And as soon as 5:30 hit on that clock, it was like a magic switch, and I could run over and use the computer. But the mindset was so strange in those days. I wrote… You know how you have to write little things when you’re a kid? So, in 4th grade or 3rd grade or something, I had to write a fable. And I wrote it on UNIX using troff and had it phototypeset on a professional publication machine. And handed it in, and the teacher called my parents, saying I had cheated. Because obviously the computer wrote it for me. Because there was no understanding of what computers could… where was the limit? What could they do or not do?

GEOFF: If you had gotten a computer to write the paper for you, you should have gotten an exceptionally high grade.

DTD: Computers were evil in those days.

BRIAN: Even today, that same stuff could happen. I get asked all the time at work.

DTD: It could, but I think it’s more legitimate today.

BRIAN: Where someone asks me for something, and I say, “I could do it if you give me a research team of like 50 people in the next 10 years, I’ll make it happen.”

DTD: Now, we were talking about all the great advances in Computer Science happen because somebody was rebellious. Somebody broke the rules. Somebody did something truly evil. I don’t know if you realize it, but the original, the UTF coding, and all of the ANSI coding for characters, actually only happened because my dad hacked HPs printers and borrowed their character sets in the 70s.

GEOFF: Really?

DTD: So, printers were enormous, they took up entire rooms. And they cost millions of dollars. And one of the big things they protected was their software. You were not allowed to look at their software. It was very, very protected. And their character set was in there. And they did not talk to each other. So, if you got a new printer, you needed to teach your computer to use it, and that was a nightmare. And it took forever. Dad was doing Chess, and dad wanted to print chess characters, and those didn’t exist in the character set, in the font set in the printer. So, he hacked it. And that got out and turned into-the whole UTF standard came out of that. And I think it still has chess characters in it.

I almost certainly botched this story and oversimplified everything. But it was getting late, I was full and there was wine.

GEOFF: Great respect. Hey Susan, your meeting is over?

Geoff’s wife Susan returned from her virtual meeting, again to join our virtual meeting. Virtually.

SUSAN: Yeah, did I miss the cutting of the cake?

GEOFF: Yeah, do you want a piece? It’s actually really tasty.

SUSAN: Who got the baby?

GEOFF: Nobody got it yet. Could be you.

DTD: Oh, you could be the winner!

The traditional New Orleans King Cake has a small hidden toy baby, and the person who gets the piece with the baby is guaranteed a great year. I worked on that cake for weeks, and the baby was in the last, stale, smeared morsel of cake. I believe I am the loser, and I dread the coming year.

SUSAN: Give me one of the big, heavy baby shaped parts.

GEOFF: You want the baby shaped part?

DTD: You can tell, it’s got that baby lump right on the top. If the lump is lower on the piece, it’s a boy but if its higher on the piece, it’s a girl.

SUSAN: I see no baby. Its going to be another sh***y year.

DTD: I hope not. We have already had more than half, we have had 9 months of crappy already. I don’t want more.

GEOFF: Food was good.

DTD: Oh, it’s a delicious cake. At some of the conventions at the Napa house, I would always get the cake, and the baby would always be in the very last piece that people ate. It was almost magical that way.

GEOFF: Awesome. Well, this has been terrific, this has been a lot of fun. I hope we actually get to meet face to face someday.

SUSAN: At the winery in Napa.

DTD: We played Genotype together.

GEOFF: What did we play?

DTD: Genotype. With the Punnett Squares.

GEOFF: Oh, OK! With John.

DTD: With John Coveyou. That was a couple of GenCons ago.

GEOFF: Yes, that was when I had great difficulty finding the table where we were supposed to meet.

DTD: It could be. I couldn’t find it either.

GEOFF: I am terrible with faces and stuff. So that is a big problem that I have, remembering people and stuff like that. I’m great at remembering numbers, but faces are like my Achilles’ heel.

DTD: I actually, I have some face blindness.

Prosopagnosia.

GEOFF: Really?

DTD: I will often go up to groups of people and wait for them to start talking, because then I can recognize by voice and things.

GEOFF: The problem I have now, is when I go to trade shows, game shows, and stuff, conferences. People come up to me and start talking to me like they know me, just because they listen to the show or whatever, right? And I may have met them, and I may not have met them.

DTD: And you may remember, and you may not.

GEOFF: Yeah, and so it can be a little awkward. I just go on the offense now, and just say, “Great to see you again.” And just go from there.

DTD: That’s…what I do. But I’m nobody, so if someone comes up to me and starts talking to me, I’m pretty sure they have met me at some point. I’ll figure it out later. My funny story is I was at GAMA [Expo], and do you know Rachel Blaske with the Mint games, Five24 games [Poketto]?

Five24 Games, the makers of the Mint series of games, has rebranded itself to Poketto! Rachel, the owner, is awesome. And she braided my hair.

GEOFF: I don’t.

DTD: Anyhow, she’s the owner of Mint Works and Mint Coop and Mint- all those. I have long hair, and she thought it was just fascinating, and would braid my hair every day at GAMA [Expo]. So I looked fantastic, it was great. And I ended up in a meeting, and I saw Rachel next to me and so I started playing and braiding her hair, and only once the conversation started going around, and I heard the voices, and the context, I realized, “I think I am braiding a complete stranger’s hair.”

GEOFF: And is that when you got banned from GAMA?

DTD: And this was a meeting. Afterwards, I said, “Oh my God, I am so sorry.” And I absolutely died. She was very nice about it.

BRIAN: This is where we need Burning Man for board games.

Agreed.

DTD: I go through these waves, where I feel very brave about what I am comprehending and understanding, and then something happens… and now I will never initiate anything ever again.

GEOFF: Well, hopefully we will get to meet again in person at some point.

DTD: I hope so. I really do. Listening to you talk, there’s so many parallels in there, there’s so much to talk about. But seriously, once the world turns more normal, hopefully. That really is…

GEOFF: I don’t know what the next real event is going to be, that’s going to be open soon. Well the next real gaming thing that we are supposed to go on is another scheduled BGG cruise in June. In the Mediterranean, but I don’t even know if that’s going to happen.

DTD: Cruise lines are a weird one. I’d like to go to the Dice Tower Cruise that’s going on in February.

GEOFF: I don’t know if that’s even really going to go. We’ll see. Maybe.

BRIAN: I mean, cruises are open again.

DTD: I don’t think they are now. They might be.

BRIAN: Whether or not it’s a good idea is a totally different question.

DTD: I know too much biology to lie one way or another on that one. Its not a good idea. But seriously, when the world is more normal, that is a real invitation if you want to explore Napa Valley. There’s…it’s a big house. It’s a good home base.

GEOFF: We would be delighted to. I mean, I’m usually out there for GDC. Which is usually in March, but they just announced in 2021 it’s going to be in July. So, I’ve always tried to talk Susan into coming out with me maybe she’ll do it this time.

GDC, the Game Developers Conference, is huge, and is held each summer in San Francisco. Except for 2020. The next one is July 19-23, 2021.

DTD: I know wineries, and I have friends at wineries, and I can arrange tours and things like that, too.

GEOFF: That would be awesome.

DTD: It’s very fun. Thank you so much for letting me impose on you all of this. I mean, its not really what you expect with an interview, and this probably was not a regular interview.

GEOFF: Hey, you know, I’m game for anything. That’s the one thing that this gaming thing and GameTek and all this stuff, is it has opened so many weird doors in so many weird different directions. Not to say that you’re a weird door, but it’s just…

DTD: I’m not a normal door…

GEOFF: It’s just been always something interesting. So, I try to embrace when these opportunities come up, and somebody wants to do something a little different, I’m like, “Hey, let’s go for it. What the heck.”

DTD: That’s awesome.

GEOFF: What’s the worst that can happen? I end up dead in a ditch somewhere.

DTD: And thank you for all the games you’ve made. I’ve got a good 80% of the ones you guys have done. I’m very happy with them.

GEOFF: Appreciate it. Thank you for helping to put the kids through college.

DTD: Not a problem. I will contribute any way I can.

BRIAN: Yes, and giving me spending money in college.

DTD: We bring down, probably Dragon and Flagon is the one we bring down the most.

GEOFF: Oh, nice. Hopefully an expansion is coming soon.

Geoff was obviously holding back on me. The Kickstarter for the expansion, The Brew that is True, started shortly after this interview, and finished successfully on October 8, 2020.

BRIAN: Featuring the character I am still obsessed with. In the original Dragon & Flagon we had a character who never won a single game. Every time we brought her out, she ended with zero points.

GEOFF: She was an illusionist.

BRIAN: She was an illusionist. She could make copies of herself. And they all act independently. And she never won. And in the end, we ultimately cut her from the base game in favor of the Druid, because we were convinced she was overpowered.

GEOFF: Brian and I are still convinced that in the hands of somebody who knows what they are doing, she is incredibly powerful.

DTD: It sounds like a hard one to play.

Solina, the Illusionist, is in the expansion!

GEOFF: However, none of us were able to unlock it. But that was just our gut feeling.

BRIAN: Like this just feels too good to be bad.

DTD: Well, the game that I want to see…

GEOFF: She can make three copies of herself on the board, and if any copy gets hit, she loses reputation. But if any of the copies do anything good, she gains reputation. But we put her in the expansion, so we will see.

BRIAN: Exactly, there are a couple characters that are fun ones.

DTD: Oh, I dig it. That sounds fun. The game idea that fascinates me, is I’ve always enjoyed games where you can play to a point, and you can decide yourself when you are done. “I think I’ve got the best I can get. Done.” So, I would like to see a game where you can stop at any point, including right at the first turn, and maybe eke it out. I’ve always been fascinated with video games and board games where you could win by losing, where you could stop at any point, and then that would be your best choice.

BRIAN: Is that the infamous Fallout 4 secret ending? Remember that?

My editor and research department says we are probably thinking about the secret ending from Far Cry 4. The bad guy tells you to wait while he takes care of something. You’re supposed to use the opportunity to escape, but you can also just sit back down, have some crab rangoon, and politely wait for him to return, and everything turns out fine.

GEOFF: I don’t like that. I mean…it’s a little bit different, but I know Coliseum has, you basically…your score is your high-water mark. So, you keep putting on shows, and whichever show is your best is your score. It may come as your first show, it may come as your last show. But whatever your high-water mark is, is your score.

DTD: If you do great on the first one, you are done.

GEOFF: That was pretty good, too.

DTD: OK.

GEOFF: Alright!

GEOFF: Well, thanks again, Corey. As I said, I will send you the pictures.

Thank you Geoff, for sending me pictures of cooking food from his end of the world. It is really interesting comparing my pictures and his pictures, cooking the same food. I think Geoff did better.

DTD: Thank you, thank you! Ah this was fun.

GEOFF: Yeah, it was.

DTD: I’m psyched. My first pandemic interview dinner.

BRIAN: I really hope the audio saved.

I think it did. Or did I do all this from memory… No one can prove a thing…

DTD: I kept peeking. If you see me looking over the side, I’m watching little sound bars move, so something’s recording. It has a time mark on it.

GEOFF: So, something’s happening. Its OK, we can recreate the magic.

DTD: It might all be static, but it still would have been fun…

GEOFF: Fair enough.

DTD: Alrighty!

GEOFF: Thanks, have a good evening.

DTD: Thanks a lot, guys. You have a good one!

And thus ends a virtual yet delightful cajun dinner with Geoff and Brian Engelstein. It is always exhilarating to talk with people so knowledgeable about board games, and Geoff is one of the true experts on our bizarre little world. I cant thank the Engelsteins enough for taking the time to chat about everything in the world, especially in such bizarre times.

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Welcome back to virtual vittles; I am lucky enough to be having a delightful virtual cajun meal with board game expert and designer Geoff Engelstein. I have admired Geoff’s designs and books for ages, but I am even more in love now that he let me chat about retro video games and pinball machines. In this segment, we discuss early gaming influences and Geoff’s entry to publication. Plus Alan Turing, the father of modern computing.

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