In which John and I become the best of friends and discuss card crafting, Space Base, good Jewish delis, and Los Angeles.
DTD: I think we’ve hit every big point I wanted to hit. And I was trying to avoid the generic questions.
JDC: Great. [sarcastically] ”What’s your favorite game?”
DTD: [equally sarcastically] “If you could design a game with any I.P. [intellectual property], which I.P. would you pick?” How about exterminators? I don’t know. I’ve seen every theming and I.P. at this point. It’s exciting seeing new ones, but it’s starting to almost turn into a game of who-can-pick-the-weirdest-theme.
JDC: Kind of. It’s too niche for me. I.P.s usually become less appealing to me, with the exception of a handful of I.P.s that I care about.
DTD: But it’s so easy to get disappointed if that I.P. you love turns into awfulness.
JDC: That’s always the risk of the I.P. right? Everyone who doesn’t care about it now, doesn’t care about your game. Whereas they might have been [otherwise] interested by the mechanics in the game…
DTD: But they won’t touch it because they don’t love that niche anime. Yea, I totally get that. Just a kudos: I was really happy about all the ship names in Space Base – just delving into the weirdverse there to just pick the strangest things.
JDC: That’s Erik-Jason Yaple who did essentially art direction and production stuff of it. He named all the ships in that game.
DTD: He worked hard on this, because I know a lot of people, myself included, who saw a name and went “Oh, I gotta find out where this name came from now…”
JDC: And it’s all related to real people who worked in space or, sci-fi authors, Star Trek characters, or something, right?
DTD: Yeah. All that niche sci-fi stuff. And I actually I pulled it out for my father at one point. That was his favorite thing. He couldn’t actually play the game because he’s just sitting looking at all of the names, because he knew every one of them. It was very fun. That was a blast.
JDC: Good stuff.
DTD: So, you have a game group going tonight? Such dilemmas for me, actually.
JDC: They meet every Thursday, and I haven’t gone in a long time. We moved to Sunland last April, no two Aprils – April 2018. And I’ve made it to that group maybe three times since then. That extra 40 minutes in the car, there and back.
DTD: Oh, I get it. One of my groups is half an hour away, that gets a little draggy. But when you show up to the group, do you get the whole fanfare?
JDC: No, I mean, I’ve been part of that group since 2013.
DTD: That helps. That’s nice.
JDC: So I was just a gamer joining a game group. It’s not like, “Oh, we got a designer coming.” It’s just John.
DTD: That’s cool. I actually was heading on this trip down South and didn’t have any game groups really planned out. But of course I threw a big IKEA bag of games in the car. There’s the GenCon releases and the ones that people can’t find any more and all that bizarre stuff.
JDC: Do you have anything you’re itching to play?
DTD: I’m a pretty prolific player, so I think I have played just about everything. I’ve got a couple brand-spanking new ones I’d like to play again. Black Angel and MagnaStorm are sitting in the car. MagnaStorm was a [game by] Feuerland [Spiele], kind of under the radar. It’s a very tight area control game. It’s like 5 or 6 rounds, and then it’s done. And the board is kind of circular, with wedges, and you’re area-controlling in these wedges. But there’s a circular dial, and there’s a huge storm that takes over half of the world, and that [dial] turns every round.
JDC: And tells you which half.
DTD: So you must progress clockwise. You can’t go back into the storm, so this area control happens and then it’s done. Unforgiving resource collection and area control. But it’s a good design. It’s a neat game. The designers are this weird, collaborative group that goes by a pseudonym. It’s, the character…I can’t believe I’m slipping on this…it’s a character from Blackadder, Baldrick.
JDC: Baldrick?!? Really?
DTD: The designers call themselves something Baldrick. Bauldric & Friends or something like that. And they’ve done just a few games. Oh, yeah, and it’s a weird inside joke that almost nobody gets.
At this point, John and I went into a long discussion of the greater contributions made to mankind by Rowan Atkinson, discussing Blackadder, live sketch comedy, and the like. After much bonding, being now the best of friends, we ended up braiding each other’s hair and making friendship bracelets.
JDC: I’m done eating. I don’t know if you take leftovers or not.
DTD: I usually don’t. And honestly, I’m I’m driving from place to place to place this trip. If you would like…
JDC: It’s going to sit in the car until 9 p.m. And not be good. So…
DTD: We can leave it. It breaks my heart because it is so good. But it is fine, we can leave it. And this is on me and I really appreciate the interview and everything. I’d really like to make this web page, you know, good food, casual conversation, weird interviews with humor thrown in there. That’s what I’m aiming for. No, thanks for responding so quickly. I think you’re my guinea pig.
JDC: Yeah, this is round one.?
DTD: It’s definitely round one. Kwanchai Moriya is hopefully also in round one. I’ve been emailing him and I was going to meet up with Kwanchai this trip. But everything fell through just the wrong way because he’s another person who has 100 things on his plate.
JDC: He’s working on a ton of stuff. He and Ian O’Toole are crazy prolific now.
DTD: And I would grab Ian O’Toole for an interview in a heartbeat. But it’s hard to drive to Britain.
JDC: Australia, he moved to Australia a few years ago. Even harder.
DTD: Well, actually, I used to live in Australia, so I know people there. I could do that.
JDC: A long flight. How’d you end up in Australia?
DTD: Dad wanted to teach. He wanted to live in Australia, so he taught at University of Sydney. We lived in Berkeley for a while in the 70’s, when Berkeley was the hotbed of computer science, and Australia in the eighties, during the bicentennial. I was in and out, as I was in college, but that’s where they lived. So it was fun. We’d play games because he did a lot of game theory stuff, too. I’d play games with him and I dragged him out and try to get him to play newer games. Very reluctant.
JDC: Yeah, I have very little luck with my parents at gaming.
DTD: My mother plays Phase 10, Space Base, and not much else. My father, his line is always “Chess is the only game.”
JDC: Sure, I feel like my dad is a little like that.
DTD: But Space Base made it through generations.
JDC: There we go.
DTD: So it just shows that the elegance of it. It’s the simple, elegant, well done games just cross over like that. People just get drawn to them.
JDC: The only problem I have with Space Base and new players is the charge effects.
DTD: It’s hard to explain, and the rule book wasn’t great.
JDC: No, I agree. We made a new rule book, which is much better.
DTD: I think I saw pages from it.
JDC: The original rule book is not good.
DTD: No, the charges didn’t really work. Some of the cards weren’t explained well, and the graphic choice of the player count on the cards isn’t the greatest. That one gets misinterpreted all the time. But I know exactly what to say when I teach the game now, but even the charge effects are simple and elegant.
This ability requires 2 charges in a 4-player game, 3 charges in a 3-player game, and 4 charges in a 2-player game. It’s simple…once you know what it’s trying to say.
JDC: Yeah, I mean, they’re supposed to be. The rules didn’t make it seem that way. I also think the arrow effects kind of clash with people. There’s assumption about what they’re supposed to do. Everyone always thinks you have to roll the card number in order to do the ability, and then you get to go one space over. So, like if it is in the four spot, and you roll it, you get to do the five, which is like, “No. not at all.”
Once this is charged, you could use the charge to activate one higher than the total, after any roll. No need to roll this card’s number again.
DTD: That’s a different arrow. See, this arrow does that that one, and this arrow…I think it’s perfect that they’re all colored: Blue is your turn. Red is their turn. Green is anytime. And I say it over and over and over again. It just doesn’t click with the new gamers, but they get it by the end of game one. Once it clicks, [they’re] like, “Ooooh,” then they’ve got it. And the other thing, for good or for bad, is [that] a lot of the new players will just not use the charge effects, and still just love the living hell out of the game. Yeah, they love it, so that speaks worlds.
JDC: That is actually a debate we had, when we were making the game, whether we shouldn’t put the charge effects in the base game. Because the game was fun without them. And they were the most complicated part of the game for people to understand. I was kind of adamant that I wanted it to be in the base.
DTD: I think they’re great.
JDC: I think people’s enjoyment of the base game, like from the first play to burn out would have been a lot faster without charges. The burn out in Space Base is actually really long. You can play the base game in Space Base a lot.
DTD: I still play it like crazy, and it’s still very, very fun.
JDC: Without that charge effect, though, I feel like that burn out rate would be a lot quicker.
DTD: I agree. And I think the charge effects are a necessity component to play it as a push-your-luck game, to pile everything on one spot.
JDC: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and you have to have more of the dual arrow stuff, but it’s limited in the flexibility, it’s the same thing every time. The charge effects, you just play some strategies, and then you’d be like, “Oh, I could do variations of that.” But, with the green arrows you could do…with the charge effects, you could do so much more.
DTD: Whenever you want. That is great. So, along the lines of controversial arguments, there’s a lot of arguments with Mystic Vale [which argue that] the difference between card crafting and deck building – modifying your card versus adding new cards – is completely illusory. What are your thoughts on that?
JDC: First of all, when Mystic Vale first came out, I heard people say it’s the next evolution of deck building, which I don’t think is true. I sort of think it’s an evolution of any game that uses cards at all. A lot of people saw it, and said “Oh, this is how you could do deck builders.” No, you could do any game that has cards now with the card crafting element.
DTD: It’s functionally the same as a deck builder, playing multiple cards at once.
JDC: It’s not. You could get that the first time you play, perhaps. Because you just don’t see the synergies of strategies. Maybe even the second or third time. But if you play it enough, the difference between “you put this advancement on this card, on that card, or this card”, has ramifications throughout the course. And good players, good players definitely make specific decisions about what cards they’re putting things on.
DTD: It’s got such a competitive following. I mean, Mystic Vale players now are so good at the game. And I’m not.
JDC: But the BGG complaints are that the game is all luck. And I’m like, “All right, play somebody good and see.”
DTD: Oh, that’s the Ticket to Ride argument there. Everybody was saying Ticket to Ride is all luck, but you get someone good, they will just obliterate you.
JDC: They will win against an okay player every time.
DTD: My argument with the whole deck builder versus card craft, and their being the same, is…yes, if you could somehow, in your deck builder, tie the cards sequentially – you know, this one always fires with this thing, and this one always fires with that, [that would work the same]. And that is a very different beast.
JDC: How would you do that other than card crafting?
DTD: Exactly, right? You notice I didn’t mention [the game] Gloom once during the interview. [Expletive deleted], I should turn off the recorder before I say things like that.
JDC: Yeah, Gloom… A lot of people mention it. Another thing that hurt Mystic Vale is people are like, “Oh, it’s an innovation.” And then someone else would come on and say, “What about Gloom? Gloom already did it.”
DTD: It was so much more gimmicky, Gloom. It was the see-through element and purely the see-through element.
JDC: The see-through element adds a cool thing to it, but it could just be tokens. You could just put tokens on cards, and Magic’s been doing that since the nineties. Like a +1/+1 token could have just been a transparent card that you put over it, and it overlays the +1/+1.
DTD: Or you make it a legacy game with a +1/+1 sticker.
JDC: Which is Gloom. If you overlay a transparent card with a +1 at the bottom, that’s Gloom. But that’s not card crafting.
DTD: Yea, I loved Gloom in its day, but the clear cards were superfluous. They were. It was neat. It’s like Architects [Cleopatra and the Society of Architects]. You know, those big, chunky pieces – they’re cool, but totally superfluous.
JDC: My definition of card crafting is: the ability to modify a card during the game and/or before the game, or in-between games, but such that the card retains that modification and all the properties of being a card at the same time. So you can modify a card on the table by putting a token on it, but it can’t retain that modification if you need to discard it, or shuffle it, or anything, right? Card crafting can be done in a number of ways. The way I’ve done it, with transparent cards, or putting stickers on cards, you’re card crafting.
DTD: That’s what I was going to say: card crafting, your card crafting, is reversible. Resettable legacy, which is great.
JDC: But card crafting requires you to be able to retain that modification, right? You can shuffle it, you can draft it, you can discard it. You could play it face down, face up.
DTD: The next time it comes up, it’s going to be that better card, or worse card, depending on how you’re looking at it. Absolutely. I’m so full. I keep picking at the food. Alrighty man, I will release you from the torture.
JDC: Aren’t we supposed to get a check?
DTD: I will take care of it, so…
JDC: I appreciate that. Thank you.
DTD: Oh, no. It’s part of the deal. And honestly, you’re not a bad date. Some of the people I talked to were talking about going to some ridiculously high end restaurants.
JDC: I thought it was funny when you suggested this place because it’s such a hole in the wall. You suggested two places in all of L.A.to go to. And it’s like my local hole-in-the-wall place.
DTD: I know. I don’t spend a lot of time in L.A. I go through a lot, and I have friends who take me to their favorite hole-in-the-walls. The other [restaurant] I mentioned, Brent’s Deli, if you haven’t been, is fantastic.
JDC: I haven’t. Most of my wife’s family is over there. I might actually try it some time.
DTD: I ate there yesterday! Mostly, I grew up in the East Coast.
DTD: New Jersey. New York, New Jersey, right in that corridor.
JDC: My grandparents were there.
DTD: Everybody was there at some point, but that hard-core East Coast Jewish deli food is really lacking in California. There’s none of it around except Brent’s. Have you been to East Coast delis a lot? There are certain things, little touches that you just never see. Black and white cookies. It’s called a “black and white cookie”. They’re like [gestures to show size] this big, and half frosted, black and half frosted white.
JDC: I know it from Seinfeld.
DTD: They have them at Brent’s and nowhere else [I know] in California. And a ridiculously huge pastrami sandwich that you need a whole loaf of bread to finish off.
JDC: So that’s my mom. Whenever we would go to the East Coast, my mom would need to get her Philly cheesesteak. So she’s been hunting for the good Philly cheesesteak for a long time. And we have finally found a spot. They’re from Philly. Like, these are Philadelphia people who have moved to L.A. for whatever reason, and their Philly cheesesteak is great.
DTD: That’s what L.A. is built of.
At this point, a very kind waiter asked if we needed to-go boxes for our pathetic crumbs of food left on the table. Both of us were traveling, so unfortunately neither of us could take it. Which made us sad, and the waiter sad. So we pined for the delicious delicious food that could not be.
DTD: So you found it. Philly cheesesteak.
JDC: We finally found it in Burbank. Reasonably close to where we live. So we got that for her birthday. It’s actually pretty good. I don’t know if you’re a Philly cheesesteak guy.
DTD: They’re good. I’ve had my share of good ones in New Jersey and Philly.
JDC: So, it’s a mistake that everyone seems to make is that they cook up a steak, and then they put slabs of cheese on top and put it in the sandwich.
BOTH: You cook the cheese on the grill!
JDC: To be fair, I think L.A. is actually a great place for cuisine. You can find everything here, and you can find a good version of everything here.
DTD: I’m heading south, going all the way down to Chula Vista, which is where I’ve got family, then kind of migrating back north and on my way home. I’ve got a friend in L.A. who’s promised me amazing Vietnamese food then.
JDC: Have you tried Ethiopian food?
DTD: Oh, yeah, love it.
JDC: Little Ethiopia here in Fairfax is good.
DTD: How can I still be hungry for these things? I am so full.
JDC: L.A. has good everything. You can find at least 2 places for every ethnicity in L.A.
DTD: I hate driving around L.A., I hate parking. I hate managing things, but everywhere I end up in L.A., I love. It’s so bizarre.
JDC: Actually, Mayor Eric Garcetti showed up to one of our full office meetings back when I used to work at the office because he was friends with the CEO of the company, and he gave a speech. And in his speech, I can only assume he wasn’t just making it up, he said, L.A. is the largest Mexican city in the world, or second largest after Mexico City. It’s the largest, or second largest, Korean city in the world.
DTD: I’ve heard the stats and it blows me away.
JDC: It’s the second or third largest Filipino city in the world. There’s like 15 ethnicities in which L.A. is the top 1 to 4 in the world of that ethnicity. It’s nuts.
JDC: Good stuff, man.
DTD: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.