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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Another dinner has come to close, and Gil Hova and I are winding down. I had such a good time talking; this is definitely one of those dinner chats I’ve had, in which we really talked less about games, and more about … Well, everything else. I love that I learned new things in almost every subject that came up, things I never knew before. And now, without further ado, ferrets…

DTD: So, how’s the Ferret business going?

Gil: “Business” is one ferret now. We decided to stick with just the one, because she has weird habits, and if I get another ferret, I don’t want those habits to spread.

DTD: They kind of do what they want.

Gil: Yeah, I don’t think she gets along with other ferrets, either. Like, when we adopted her, she didn’t get along with her cage mates, and then she didn’t get along with Trillian. And I’m like, “I just don’t want to risk it.” I don’t want to bring home a ferret, and then make them both miserable. And I don’t want the new ferret to get all these bad habits, so I’m just going to, you know… We’re fine with just her for now. You know, she keeps our hands full. She’s very active. She’s like five, maybe even six years old at this point, and she acts like a 6-month-old. She has so much energy

DTD: Wow.

Gil: She’s very excitable. She loves to play.

DTD: Wow, at five or six, still. Crazy.

Gil: Yeah, but great health. You know, she’s actually in really good health, other than needing an implant. She got an implant a few months ago and she’s doing great now.

A common problem in pet ferrets is something called “adrenal disease”. It’s really a problem with androgens, sex hormones, and it makes ferrets progressively bald, itchy and sick. The original treatment was a hormonal shot called Lupron, given monthly, but a newer treatment is an implanted hormone blocker, deslorelin (Suprelorin® F), that generally only needs to be given once.

DTD: They really changed so much when they made those implants available. Because I was working veterinary medicine when you had to get in with like five other Ferret people, to try to order an implant from Europe, because they were a million billion dollars. And you’ve got too many of them. And now it’s so much easier, that there’s one company making just for ferrets, the implant.

The implant was available in Europe and Australia long before it came to the US.

Gil: Yeah, and my vet was skeptical. My vet actually really knows ferrets, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience with the implants. He prefers the Lupron shot. He’s like, “I know the Lupron works, so let’s just do that” But I’m like “No. She already…”

DTD: But Lupron’s gotten ridiculously expensive.

Gil: Yeah, and this this was much cheaper over the long run, compared to Lupron. I wouldn’t have to constantly bring her in every month and…

DTD: I loved the implants when they came out. I was using just the implants. Lupron, the interesting inside thing is if you’re a veterinarian, and your clinic does birds, Lupron is worth it. But if you’re a veterinarian and you don’t do birds, Lupron will kill you. It’s so expensive and you just can’t use enough of it just on ferrets.

Gil: Interesting, wow. That’s really interesting. So birds need a lot of Lupron?

DTD: They run into egg laying issues, and “egg-bound” issues, and molting issues that Lupron helps.

Lupron is an essential tool for lots of reproductive issues in birds, including those egg laying issues.

Gil: That’s really interesting.

DTD: So, it’s just more useful, you know. Because you have to buy a big bottle of it that’s really expensive. If you’re only giving it to ferrets, you’re probably going to waste most of the bottle. There’s just not enough ferrets come in the door. Although I could be weird on that because I was in California when I was working. And the whole ferret thing in California is kind of ridiculous. You know, we’re still the last holdout. They’re legal in Manhattan now, aren’t they?

Ferrets are currently only illegal to own in California, Hawaii, and some scattered big cities. Like New York City and Washington, DC.

Gil: No, it’s still illegal in New York City.

DTD: Still illegal in Manhattan. I knew that was a big fight.

Gil: New York City, not just Manhattan, all of New York City.

DTD: All of New York City ,OK.

Gil: Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why I’m in Jersey City. So I’m right across the water, but I have no legality problems.

DTD: Oh yeah, right now it’s Hawaii and California. That’s it. I actually was, I was heavy into the California legalization, because I was a veterinarian in California seeing ferrets. And I actually, I’m on a… I was on a ferret calendar for the legalization. I was Mr. April, with ferrets dumped on my head. Yeah, we owned ferrets when I lived in Connecticut. And just had an absolutely fantastic time. This was in the 90’s.

Gil: They’re there’s such fun animals. They’re really one of my favorites.

DTD: They are kittens that don’t grow up, and they’re… It just blows me away how polar they are. They’re either completely off, and you can pick them up and cuddle them asleep. Or they’re completely on, and they’re crazy kittens.

It’s true. When you pick up a sleeping ferret, it can take several minutes for them to wake up. But be careful when they do!

Gil: Yep, yep, and then they’re just jumping around and wanting to play. Yeah, and Trixie, she’s not as bad as she was in the past. But when we first got her, the time between her just waking up, just like being asleep and being ready to boing all over the place, was like maybe 10 seconds. Like the fastest boot-up time I’ve ever seen.

Newer ferrets apparently come with SSDs.

DTD: Wow. No, usually they take a while to rev up. I love ‘drunken’ ferrets when you first wake them up, and they just have no idea what’s going on around them. And they’ve got so many weird veterinarian tricks that make them just delightful. You could, with the right treat, you could pretty much distract a ferret and they’ll let you do anything.

Gil: Yeah.

DTD: For us, it was usually chicken baby food. If you put that down, they’d forget everything else except the baby food. And 80% of ferrets, if you scruff them and pick them up, they’d fall asleep. You can make them yawn.

Gil: Yeah, I know all those tricks. I took a ferret once to a vet and she needed to get X-rayed, and they came back, and they’re like, “Sorry we can’t X-Ray her, she bit us.”

DTD: Put a clip on her back.

Gil: And I’m like, I went the other way. I’m like, “Let’s do it my way. Get a tongue depressor. Put a treat on it and give it to her, and you will not have a problem.” And they tried it, and you know it was painless. She had no idea what was happening.

DTD: We had these things that were like bag clips, like chip clips, you’d put on a bag of chips, only they were lighter. They didn’t squeeze quite as hard.

Gil: Yep.

DTD: And you’d pull up a scruff, and just clip it, and then put them down. And they’d just stay still. They work on cats too.

It was like magic.

Gil: Yeah, it’s such a useful trick. I think the one thing with treats to look out for, is just monitoring their…making sure their blood sugar doesn’t spike too much, you know.

Another common problem in ferrets is “insulinoma.” These ferrets will have trouble regulating blood sugar, and often will drop very low, and act drunk or pass out. And although ferrets in general like sweet treats, their bodies can’t really handle sugars well.

DTD: Well, we always went with pure protein. We went with like a baby food or something, and most of the commercial ferret treats are sugar based, and I never recommended using them anyway, because they don’t, they don’t deal well with sugar. You know, you know all those stories. You find out if you have an insulinoma ferret by, you know, you get history and then you figure out, do they get better as soon as you give them a treat? Yeah, we had we had two. We had Molly and Perry. Way back, way back when. And they just ran all over the place, and destroyed everything and pooped in every corner.

Ferrets are blessed with the two-fold curse of a very fast digestive system (2 hours tongue to toot), and a very short attention span. So they can decide to “go” anywhere. Usually they pick corners.

Gil: Oh yeah, in the way that only ferrets can. Trixie has decided that the place to sleep is our dresser. Which is adorable, you know. We’ll open our dresser to get dressed, and we see a little face sticking out, which is adorable. But then, for a short time, she also decided that it’s also the place to poop.

DTD: That’s so bizarre, where they pick. I still remember classes in veterinary school, behavior classes and there’d be one class about what to do if the animal is going to the bathroom in the wrong spot. And there’d be 45 minutes on how to retrain a dog. And then 5 minutes of, “If it’s a cat, just put a litter box there. Because you’re not going to change it.” And ferrets are just messed up cats.

Gil: Yeah.

DTD: Or cats are messed up ferrets. Oh, they’re weird. I miss them. It’s well, too much rigmarole in California, or I’d probably have one.

Technically, mustelids (badgers, weasels, skunks) diverged from procyonids (raccoons, red pandas, kinkajous) about 30 million years ago. Ferrets split off from those mustelids about 18 million years ago. Now, procyonids are really almost cats…

Gil: Yeah, I know. I have a friend in Toronto who just got one, so I was really happy to see that.

DTD: Well, that’s awesome.

Gil: Yeah, it’s always good. I’m seeing a few of my friends with them, and it’s so sweet to see, because they’re such charming animals.

DTD: They’re high maintenance, I mean, like you said, they keep you busy. And they’re just crazy, but it’s such a pick me up.

Gil: Yep, Yep. Whenever Trixie wakes up, I’m gonna spend like 15-20 minutes playing with her, and she’s just gonna wanna be like, “Play, play, play! OK I’m done.”

DTD: [laughs] I wish I had somewhere close to that energy, like ever.

Gil: Oh my gosh. And she’s so energetic, like she gets so excited when I want to play with her. Like just walking over to the kitchen. I usually play with her in the kitchen. So, the moment I start walking in the kitchen, she starts going nuts. You can tell like, “Oh, she’s happy now. She’s overjoyed.”

DTD: That’s amazing, I love it. So what games are you working on now? Is there anything you can talk about?

Gil: Well, I’m finishing up Weird Stories. I’m pretty much up to art and settings packs. So, the idea of the settings pack in weird stories, what I’ve been testing up until like a few months ago, I would have the players make up the setting and the characters and all that stuff. But I realized that was becoming a barrier. So now, I just have cards that are like, “OK, this deck of cards is this setting.” I have some cards that are just characters, so I show them, I flip a bunch of them up. And then, players draft. And then I’ve got other cards that do other kinds of things. So, I’m working on that. I’m working on changes for High Rise, for the new printing. Rival Networks is at the printer.

We talked about Gil’s upcoming project Weird Stories in Part 3.

DTD: OK.

Gil: But I have [a new project] I have not officially announced. So, if you figure it out, don’t mention it.

DTD: [laughs] I’ll leave it quiet.

Gil: I’m calling it “Project Scarf”, just because I don’t want to announce it. Because I don’t know the full details of how it’s going to be presented.

DTD: Sure.

Gil: So, and then I have another secret project that I’m working on that I don’t want to announce just yet, because I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to actually get to a point where I can unveil it. So, don’t go too into detail, but if you want to know more I can talk about it, but just don’t spread it around.

DTD: I always want to know more, but…

Gil told me at this point everything amazing he is doing, only because I am a very special and persuasive host. Actually, none of that is true. I know nothing.

DTD: No, no. So, before we go… I gotta know what kind of burger you had. I tried, I asked at the beginning, and then I got too excited talking about other stuff ,and we never came back to it.

Gil: Oh yeah. So, I had a medium rare burger with no toppings. Actually, no, I had ketchup, mayo, and I put a little bit of horseradish sauce on it.

DTD: Oh, I’m a horseradish freak.

Gil: Yeah, I like a little bit of it in, you know, in moderation. And then I had a Caesar salad on the side, and I’ve got a SodaStream so I just had unflavored seltzer to drink.

DTD: I saw that. I recognized the SodaStream bottle.

My burger was crazy over the top. There was bleu cheese, a fried egg, avocado. I think there may have been another miniature burger inside just as a topping.

Gil: Yeah, so I’m… I mean, I’m super simple to please. The other day I had, we have some amazing pizza in Jersey City. Like ridiculous pizza.

DTD: Sure. Well, it’s what you’re used to, and I’m one of those weird ones that I don’t like the East Coast pizza very much.

This will likely bring me more hate mail than anything board game related I have ever said. I grew up in New Jersey and I prefer California pizza.

Gil: I mean in Jersey City the really good pizza is the Margherita pizza. So, the Margherita pizza places around here are out of this world. I mean our slices are really good also. I mean, if you’re not into east coast pizza, that’s fine. But Margherita pizzas around here are to die for.

DTD: Nice, nice.

Gil: I have friends who live in Connecticut. You know, they swear by New Haven Pizza and I respect New Haven pizza.

New Haven pizza is known for a thin, almost burnt, crust, cooked extremely hot. Usually a coal fired or wood fired oven.

DTD: I lived in New Haven. I went to grad school there. And it didn’t do much for me. But there were fistfights over the pizza.

Gil: Oh yeah, they love their pizza. It’s good pizza, fresh ingredients, fresh mozzarella. You can’t beat that, but I mean, as a whole, it’s like, “OK, crust is super thin, a little burnt”. Just, it doesn’t really, It doesn’t really do much for me.

DTD: No, and my thought was always, if you’re in New Haven, and you’re in Little Italy there, why the heck aren’t you getting a calzone and 400 cannolis. Why are you getting the pizza? There’s so much better things they make.

I still have dreams about the bakery in New Haven’s Little Italy with cannoli as far as the eye can see, in a rainbow of colors and flavors. The next few days after that trip were a fever dream of sugar and mascarpone induced delirium.

Gil: Yeah, I’m not too into calzones though, so I’d probably still go with the pizza. The pizza is good, it’s not bad.

DTD: Yes, it was the Pepe’s versus Sally’s debate, was always it.

Gil: Yeah, a big one. It still is.

There have been two main pizza places in New Haven, Connecticut for a long time now: Pepe’s, started in 1925, and Sally’s, established in 1938. And people usually draw their battle lines between the two. The drama is fueled by the fact that Sally’s was founded by Pepe’s nephew, Sal Consiglio.

DTD: Big fist fights.

Frank Sinatra preferred Sally’s. And he was the chairman of the board.

Gil: But, you know, that said, I’m not so into… I try to work my way out of hierarchical, seeing the world in a hierarchical way. Especially board gamers, have a habit of doing this. Board gamers have a habit of saying, “OK, I’ve got these different things. How do I rank them?” You know, which is best? And you know that’s not a, it’s not always a bad way to think, but you don’t have to be trapped in it. You don’t have to be locked in it. You don’t have to always rank things. Sometimes you can let two different things be, and I think pizza is a good example of that. I mean, you know I’m not as crazy about…

DTD: It’s not a very New York attitude, but sure. [laughs]

Gil: Yeah, it’s not. And I don’t give a [crap]. I think it’s a healthy attitude. I think it’s a better attitude. Like New Haven Pizza, you know? Sure, I don’t like it as much, but I’ll eat it if I’m in New Haven! Hell yeah, I’ll eat New Haven pizza, and I’ll say it’s good pizza.

DTD: Yeah.

Gil: If I have a choice between the two, you know I will generally pick New York Pizza, but number one, I usually don’t have that choice. Because if you’re in New Haven, you eat New Haven pizza. In New York, you eat New York pizza.

Love the one you’re with. And is there really bad pizza?

DTD: It’s true.

Gil: And #2 it’s like, why even bring the stress on? And as far as Chicago, I remember people saying “Oh, Chicago pizza isn’t really pizza.” Then one day I had Chicago pizza, and I’m like “This is amazing! This is incredible.”

DTD: It’s good stuff. It’s like a casserole pizza. It’s wonderful.

Gil: It’s incredible. Why are people trying to limit me, you know?

DTD: Yeah.

Gil: I applied this to fandom, and I stopped being a “fan” of things, and I found myself enjoying things a whole lot more. You know I stopped rooting for specific baseball teams. So, you know, I grew up a Mets fan. Stopped rooting for the Mets, started watching Yankees games, and now if the Mets win, I’m happy. If the Mets lose, I’m happy. If the Yankees win, I’m happy. If the Yankees lose, I’m happy. And I get to watch twice the baseball. Where’s the downside?

DTD: Isn’t being both a Mets and Yankees fan, isn’t that the line out of Blues Brothers? “We’ve both kinds of music, Country and Western.”

Gil: [laughs] Yeah, and again I don’t care. You know I’m happy.

DTD: No, I know. I know. I think that’s a great way to be. I never really understood the sports fandom as an obsession.

Gil: And I think it’s, I think that’s really important. And I wish that people would look at the world a little less hierarchically sometimes. And stop looking at bests. And stop saying “OK. Here’s an apple, here as an orange. Which is better?” Just stop it. Let an apple be an apple. Let an orange be an orange.

I love the principle, but oranges are better. Not a second thought.

DTD: You have by far my favorite attitude. The very best one I’ve ever heard.

Gil: Oh, thank you.

DTD: Everyone else can go to hell.

Gil: [laughs] Wait, wait a second.

Now that is what I call fine, hand-crafted sarcastic hyperbole.

DTD: Awesome.

Gil: Alright, that was pretty good.

DTD: Yeah. I have my moments. No, I agree. The one thing I don’t have quirks and obsessions with is food, and I think I will be happy if I try absolutely every food in the world before I go. So, I eat absolutely anything and appreciate the good and appreciate the bad.

Gil: I wish I could. I wish I could be like that. But, you know, like I said at the beginning. Food sensitivity issues, so…

DTD: Well, I’ll tell you the downside is, I don’t really get favourites. If someone says, you know, “What’s your favorite food, what do you want to eat the most?” It’s like [long pause, shrug], “I like everything.”

Gil: I don’t really have favourites, as much as I have a safe list, you know.

DTD: Sure.

Gil: That’s pretty much it. It’s just like, it’s almost like being religious. You know it’s just like, “These are foods I can eat”. Except the foods I can’t eat, like I literally can’t eat. I literally cannot get them into my mouth, and down my throat.

DTD: My, my wife and my daughter are the same way, which is odd because I’m eating anything.

Gil: Yeah, I mean, I’m glad you can. I wish I could also.

DTD: Ah, it’s not a biggie.

Gil: I’d better be moving off.

DTD: Absolutely, Sir.

Gil: Alright Corey, we gotta do this again.

DTD: Absolutely. Absolutely. You let me know if you’re anywhere near California, and I will do the same if by some freak of horrible luck I am by New York [laughs].

Gil: I’ll try to make it better.

I would definitely go to New York to see Gil. Which is saying a ton about Gil.

DTD: I’m sorry about that. Old habits die hard. I have too much family out there. Alrighty man, I’ve really enjoyed this.

Gil: Have a great night Corey.

DTD: Alright, I’ll talk to you later.

Gil: OK, Bye.

I really do need to thank Gil for such a wonderful evening. We chatted for a good three hours, and the time flew by for me. I could spend all day just asking Gil about anything and everything – Gil had real, intelligent input on every bizarre subject that flitted through my overstimulated mind. I originally put off having this interview with Gil, because I had hoped so badly to have a real in-person meal. But I couldn’t wait any longer, and this was wonderful. I know I’ll get together with Gil in person one of these days soon, and we will compare obscure stories again.

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Welcome back to dinner with designer Gil Hova, founder of Formal Ferret Games and designer of High Rise and The Networks. While munching on burgers of varying layered tastes, we also discuss games of varying… layered tastes. And perchance we touch on some interesting etymological philosophy along the way.

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