Bloated and food drunk, John and I discussed plans for the future – games, expansions, napping…
This is not actually our empty plate of food. I was unfortunately too deliriously happy to remember to take pictures of the dirty dishes. Plus, we licked ours clean.
DTD: Do you have other designs in the works that you want to give hints about?
JDC: Yeah. I have three games on the schedule with AEG next year. So the first one that will be available is a game called Cubitos. It is a dice-rolling engine builder.
DTD: Love it.
JDC: Push-your-luck dice-rolling engine builder.
DTD: Love it more.
JDC: Core concept is players get nine dice to start and their dice all have, well seven of their dice have five blank sides and one active side, one useful side. And then the other two of their dice have 2 useful sides and four blank sides. On your turn, everyone takes turns simultaneously. Again, in this game, they take the rolling phase simultaneously. Take all your dice, you roll them and anything that hit, you set off to the side. Anything that didn’t come up blank. Then you take all your dice and you can roll them again. Once you get three hits, you’re risking. If you ever – once three of your dice have hits, if you roll again and everything comes up blank, you bust. But you can keep going as long as you keep hitting with at least one die. So you roll all nine dice and two hit. You roll seven dice, one hits. You roll six dice, one hits. And you keep going if you want to.
DTD: Shades of Cosmic Wimpout?
JDC: Cosmic Wimpout? I haven’t played that.
DTD: I’m showing my age. It was an early, early, early game maybe even compared to Zombie Dice. Push your luck, lots of dice. You can keep going as long as it keeps progressing you. And as soon as you don’t progress, you lose everything.
That’s understating it; Zombie Dice came out in 2010, Cosmic Wimpout in 1976.
JDC: And you could get out early if you want to?
DTD: Yes, yes.
JDC: So then behind that core mechanic It’s a shopping game. So the dice that you hit with give you money. You could buy better dice, which then add your pool. So by the end of the game, and the dice flow like a bag builder.
DTD: To be clear, we’re not talking about modifying the dice?
DTD: You buy better dice, less blank sides I assume, better good sides.
JDC: Actually, most of the dice still have four blanks and two good sides. Their abilities get better. So basically there’s eight different types of dice, different types of ability dice. You have your starting dice, and there’s eight different types of ability dice. So, the orange die, you choose an orange card and put it face up. And for that game, that’s the orange die ability.
JDC: And it comes with a cost. So if I say the orange die costs five money, if I roll enough and I get five money, I could buy an orange die. And now, when I roll the orange die it does whatever that ability says. And then the whole idea is that it’s a race. So everyone has a little guy in a race track. You’re trying to get to the finish.
DTD: That’s the theming on it? That’s very cool.
JDC: So that’s a light, Space Base-weight, sort of quick game. They’re doing it 2 to 4 players. I designed it as a 2-6 player game, but it turns out it would be a really expensive 2-6 player game.
DTD: So many dice.
JDC: The goal is to bring down the cost of it. They’re going to make it a four player game with a 5-6 player expansion. So the people who don’t mind spending more and you want to play with six players, that’s an available option. People are like “We only have a four player group anyway, I don’t need to spend the extra 20 bucks for a sixth player in this game,” could get it for cheaper. So that’s May, if schedules hold, next year . Then Dead Reckoning will be on Kickstarter hopefully sometime around then, but probably not actually in people’s hands until end of year or 2021.
DTD: Well, yeah, I know that one is pretty early.
JDC: So the good thing is, unlike with Edge of Darkness, Dead Reckoning is done already, like we’re actually done. The only reason Dead Reckoning isn’t any sooner is because they want to do the second Kickstarter for Edge of Darkness. And they want to get close to fulfilling it before they launch another Kickstarter. But Dead Reckoning is done. We are tweaking cards at this point, right? And not only done but the art is done. You know, Ian O’Toole is doing the art, which is awesome.
DTD: That is really exciting. I was I was thrilled when I saw that. He’s so prolific now. I don’t know how he does all that.
JDC: Neither do I. So, his artwork is also almost done.
JDC: We are now working on an expansion which will be part of the Kickstarter, but that’s ready to go. So hopefully when the Kickstarter is over, they just print it right away. So, like, there was a gap when Edge of Darkness Kickstarter was over. There was a gap because they were still doing stuff on the production end between when they printed it, and when the Kickstarter ended. The goal for Dead Reckoning is… hopefully we get there. But, you know, I don’t want to make any promises. But a good goal is when the Kickstarter ends, they print and have it out a lot faster than Edge of Darkness did. But then later in the year is a game – this is my Essen release with AEG – it is a game I’m super excited about. I’m working with Kwanchai Moriya.
DTD: Oh, and he’s local. He’s right around here.
JDC: It is a meeple rolling game.
DTD: Okay, now, to be fair, I know about a couple of these coming out.
JDC: Yes. it’s a meeple-rolling, city-building game. Your meeples are your workers and on your turn you’re rolling them, and actually this rolling system is the same essentially in this game as it is in Cubitos. You use the same system, but in this game, you’re rolling meeples. When they land on their back that is a miss. When they land on their side or standing, they’re working. When they’re standing they’re working hard, and you get a better effect, and when they’re on their side they’re working, but not working as hard, and you get a medium effect.
DTD: And that’s nice, because it’s not an even distribution when you start rolling these things. I know other people have talked about how to deal with meeple rolling. It is cool, but how do you deal with the fact that they’re almost always lying down or, you know, it’s such a weird distribution?
JDC: So, it works. The rolling works like Cubitos in the sense that you could keep rolling as long as at least one of them doesn’t lie flat. And at some point stop. And then the guys that you got give you the ability to build buildings, and what’s really exciting and looks great about the game is the city you build is a 3D landscape. I can show you a picture actually. Let me show you a picture of a prototpe. I take pictures when I play this game because…
DTD: Because it sounds pretty as all get-out.
JDC: The art, the board when you’re done looks super cool.
At this point John showed me some pictures of the prototype on his phone, and and they are MINE, all MINE. No one else will ever see them! Actually, John was kind enough to give permission to show a picture for even the plebes to view. But I saw it first. Except for John’s twitter followers.
DTD: The other people I’ve talked to who are working on meeple rollers have all gone to dice towers.
JDC: Nope, no dice towers for me.
DTD: You just grab a bunch of meeples and throw them?
JDC: You have the box to roll in.
DTD: Pass the Pigs method?
JDC: So the trick with meeple rolling, and I don’t mind this in the game at all, is some people think that they’re better than others at rolling meeples. And if they do it right, they get the right thing.
DTD: Well, you know, people are just inherently so superstitious. And there’s people who believe they are good at rolling dice, regardless. And they twist and move and spin.
JDC: So I think it’s somewhat true with meeples, since they’re not actually proportionate, that some methods are better than others. And in a box if you can roll up, or roll into the side, some people think that’s better. Actually, if you think you’ve got a method where you throw into the box and they land better, go for it. Get better at the game.
DTD: That’s awesome. So, is it cutesy cartoony Kwanchai, or fine art Kwanchai?
JDC: I don’t know. We haven’t started on the artwork.
DTD: He does so many different styles. And I love everything he does.
JDC: So you’re building a city. And you’re constructing essentially a 3D city. So we’re going to make these cubes stackable. Currently, they’re just cubes, and you need to balance them. But they’ll be like Legos, kind of.
DTD: Sit on each other so that…
JDC: Yeah, yes. You don’t balance them as much.
DTD: It looks like a really big board.
JDC: No, I think it would fit on this table.
DTD: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love the look. I’ve always been fascinated with these games that just build this gorgeous structure as you’re going.
JDC: When you’re in the game, you’re like, “Look what we made.” Like, I love, I love that ending.
DTD: Absolutely. Have you seen Moon Base?
JDC: Yeah, but I haven’t played it. It has those weird disks.
DTD: Oh, yeah, and it just looks so…yeah, I think that’s the epitome right now; “Man that looks weird” when you’re done. Those are all very exciting. Not jumping on the roll-and-write bandwagon?
JDC: No. Even though roll-and-writes really work as games where everyone’s playing at the same time.
DTD: Yes. And I think they’re still putting out many more good ones than not right now. I’m waiting for that market to just fill up, and poop to fall out the bottom. And as far as I can tell, it hasn’t happened yet. Although, you know, UNO Roll-and-Write was just announced.
JDC: Oh boy. I think some of those games are great, but they don’t inspire me.
DTD: OK. Do you normally like those? Is it the sort of thing where it’s not your kind of game, so you’re not thinking about designing something along those lines?
JDC: Yeah. I like tactile elements in my game. Roll-and-writes feel very flat. And I’m often more inspired by more of a tactile element, which actually is why Space Base is sort of a weird one for me. It is actually a very flat game, right?
DTD: I don’t know about that. I see it as definitely an engine builder, and you have to think ahead of time are you going to be even, are going to go for luck, are you going to go for one spot.
JDC: I don’t mean strategy, I mean physically. So like Mystic Vale, there’s layers of cards, right? Dead Reckoning, there’s layers, in Edge of Darkness, there’s layers, there’s a tower, and I’m sort of inspired by tactile textures like [in] Meepleopolis, building a city. In Pangea. No, not Pangea, that’s the old prototype name. In Ecos, you’re building a landscape and it grows.
DTD: Mountains and trees and man, it’s pretty.
JDC: Space Base is flat on the table, right? It’s not a universal thing for me, but I don’t know, roll and writes never…
DTD: No, it’s hard to make those vertical.
JDC: You roll the dice and you make a decision about where you’re going to scratch off on your board. Doesn’t have that tactical excitement for me.
DTD: Yeah, Walls of York was another one like that. It’s a roll-and-write, but with chunky pieces.
JDC: I’m way more excited to play Era as a cool thing that I build, than as a roll-and-write where I just kind of draw in a wall or something.
DTD: My next interview is actually Matt Leacock. So I have to tell him.
JDC: But in general area roll-and-writes haven’t inspired me. That doesn’t mean I won’t have an idea at some point.
DTD: It’s got to be based in personal preference, motivation, and excitement. That’s very cool; I’m very excited about all these new games. And that’s what I was hoping for with this new web page that I’m putting out; hearing about stuff that you normally wouldn’t find on a video interview, a GenCon interview, or something like that.
JDC: Sounds good.
DTD: What about expansion kind of stuff? I know the Space Base expansions. I assume they’re doing really well, they’re fun as anything.
JDC: I think it was done pretty well. I got another one in the works.
DTD: Good. I assumed you would. The biggest thing I hear with the Shy Pluto expansion is everybody loves it, but the trickle out method is frustrating people. Not all the time of course.
JDC: Yeah. So what I feel like we maybe should have put in that one, is if the saga thing doesn’t appeal to you, just open everything.
DTD: I think a lot of people are doing that.
JDC: Correct. But we didn’t state that as an option in the rulebook, which we probably should have. People may do it anyway. But for some people I think the saga does it right, and it’s interesting.
DTD: And, it’s a cool way to campaign, but not campaign; legacy, but not legacy. And people love opening boxes, and discovering new stuff. Even back to Viticulture’s Tuscany expansion, it had the little boxes you were supposed to do in a certain order. So, it can be a great way to do it.
JDC: If people don’t like that, though, like, they should know that just opening all the boxes is totally fine.
DTD: The expansion was one of those things, where some of those new cards… as soon as I put them out, everybody at the table just went “Ooooh”. The diagonal arrows thrilled people. “Why didn’t we think of this? We should have known that was in there! That’s great!” That one went really well.
JDC: All the new abilities build just ridiculous chains.
DTD: Oooh, it’s so good! And I’ve argued a bunch of times that Space Base is a push-your-luck game, that you kind of bet all your horses on this one spot.
JDC: Oh, yeah. You’re like “I’m going eights and nines!”
DTD: Everybody, when they start, kind of evens everything out.
JDC: And that’s not the way to play.
DTD: They do OK, but you can tell people that play a lot because they have a pile of eight red cards. Right there… off about the 11 or 12.
JDC: Usually it’s much more efficient to make one spot crazy good. And then get effects that make it more likely to hit that one spot.
DTD: Yes, right. Yep, a million green “move the die” cards and one ridiculous spot.
JDC: A ridiculous ten spot.
DTD: It’s true. And that’s why it’s such a fun game. I still enjoy it tremendously. So, new stuff for Custom Heroes, or is that kind of in the back?
JDC: No. I think if we do anything, Custom Heroes is going to be a second edition with a different theme.
DTD: I really think it’s underrated. I enjoy it a lot. It’s really good.
JDC: I think the theme and art hurt it. I think a lot of people have an entirely wrong expectation of what that game is about the first time they play it, or when they look at the box. I had the totally wrong expectation. And I think the type of people who enjoy that type of game like a different style. Traditional card game people like the feeling of a traditional card game.
DTD: Well, nobody knows it’s a ladder climb, or trick taking, or whatever you want to call it until they’ve seen it. Then they go “Oh…” So with, like an abstracted Kwanchai art it would be gorgeous.
JDC: I think a more traditional abstracted feel to it would do that game well.
DTD: And to be fair, the market is much more inviting to abstract, trick-taking card games now than it was even a couple years ago. It was that whole “Big in Japan” push, which was weird from the very get go.
JDC: So if anything new comes up for that, it will probably just be a second edition. There’s some tweaks I would make to the gameplay, but nothing huge.
DTD: No, it’s lovely. I enjoy it.
JDC: One of the things I’m most proud about that design is both a good thing and a bad thing. The way you score in that game is actually kind of unintuitive to a lot of people. But when you know how it works, it actually makes the whole game system work really well. A lot of people read the rules and think the first person to 10 points wins, which is not true. And the game wouldn’t actually be good if it was that.
DTD: You should know that that’s not it. There’s so many games that are like ‘the game ends when you get here,’ and you know that most of the time the person who ended it isn’t winning. I love that there’s this whole idea of having a game, where from the very beginning, you say “Here’s a button. As soon as you press it the game’s over. You end it whenever you want.” I’m good with that, and you just know that whoever finally does it is in trouble. So everybody is playing this game of chicken just waiting till the last second to hit that button. I love that idea, because all board games are just complications of how to hit that button.
JDC: [laughs] Yeah, actually, I am proud of the way that design works, because when everyone understands how it works, it creates really interesting game play, and the tension never leaves the game. But a lot of people misinterpret how the scoring works, and it actually loses all that tension, and doesn’t work as well. So however the second edition works, I think I would keep the end game rules the way they are, but just put a good example in the rulebook of how it works. Because I think one of the things that totally hurt it, was a lot of people misinterpret how it ended.
DTD: Well, they went into it thinking it was a fighting game.
JDC: Yeah, there’s that. That’s the theme. But the game play itself, I think people misinterpreted how the game ends. They just got the rules wrong and then they played a bad version of the game with the wrong rules. Which hurt it, I think. I would probably keep the rules as they are, because I think they work really well in terms of how the game ends. We really needed to make that rule book a little better.
DTD: What struck me with the game is the co-opting of the trump mechanic, you know – this card is your trump, but it doesn’t say it, but you read through it and go, “Oh, it’s trick taking. Now here’s the bomb.” Trump’s the wrong word – bomb. It’s a ladder game. Not a trick-taking game.
JDC: But once you use it now it’s in the deck. Anybody gets it.
DTD: It’s crazy good. Yeah, now I want to go play it again.
JDC: Yeah, I kind of hope we do a different version of that game at some point. But it’s not currently in the plan.
DTD: There’s a whole economic side to it too. You’ve got so much on your plate right now.
JDC: Yes. I mean, a second edition of that would be not a lot of work, which is nice, but yes, I have more projects.
DTD: That’s a good problem.
JDC: It’s a great problem to have, but it is a problem. What the problem is, many of my games have expansions. So, like working on a Mystic Vale expansion, or another Space Base expansion, or Edge of Darkness expansion, a Dead Reckoning expansion, and the Ecos expansion, is time consuming. In the meantime, I’m having new ideas for games, and I’m not getting to work on them. And that’s a great problem to have. But it is a problem.
DTD: Well then it [invites] the question. Do you think – let’s say, the oldest of the lot just by release; do you think Mystic Vale is getting stale on expansions?
JDC: I Think we’re done on that. I think I’ve designed the last expansion. Which will be next year’s expansion. Then I think it’s done.
DTD: Still fits in the Conclave box?
JDC: It’ll fit in the Conclave box.
DTD: People will ask me.
JDC: Yeah, it’s all going to fit.
DTD: That’s awesome. Very exciting. It a case you couldn’t tell I’m a fan, so…
JDC: That’s great, thanks.
DTD: Not a problem. I think we’ve hit every big point I wanted to hit.