In a quiet corner in Campbell, CA, tile master Scott Caputo and some strange bearded journalist sit over eggs, sausage, pancakes and coffee, discussing board games loud enough to draw a questioning eye from the morning regulars. In this segment, some detail as to what is really involved in game design…
DTD: I cant argue with that. There has really been an explosion of games. I am going to my first Essen next month and I am absolutely terrified.
Essen was in fact truly terrifying. But it was incredible, and I am now considering being Germanically terrified on a regular basis.
SC: That’s going to be awesome.
DTD: That’s good. I speak just enough German to really get in trouble, then walk away with more games than I am ready to carry.
This, unfortunately, was also a very true portent.
SC: I went with Völuspá in 2012. And I pitched games which ended up being Whistle Stop and Hundred Torii.
DTD: At Essen?
SC: I did.
DTD: Oh that’s cool. I love hearing the backstories. There’s so much going on at the conventions behind the scenes. And I know that most of the designers’ and most of the publishers’ dance cards are just completely full.
SC: It was fun to sit down with publishers. A lot of times they would have a special room. The booths would have a hidden room inside where you would play games and talk. Or they would just take you to the cafeteria. And they would play the entire game. It wasn’t just a 5 minute pitch. It was like, “OK, lets play this.” They would be drinking their coffee and having a pastry or something.
DTD: But it is that critical eye. They have played enough that they know; they can usually grasp the rules quickly, understand what you are going after, and decide pretty quickly what is working and what is not. It is really fun talking to people at that level with their games. I have a blast with that.
SC: So I am working on another game as well, which might get signed soon. We are working on a few things. I think the publisher is trying to get an IP. It will be my first IP game if this all goes through.
DTD: But you are going the route of game first, IP later.
SC: I had a very different theme. This might be another retheming exercise. But the publisher really likes it, but wants to try to do a theme. Originally this game was a…I like games like Eldritch Horror, but I was like “Can I do a tile laying version of that? Is that possible?”
SC: And so I worked on that, and I think I’ve got something that is kind of like a tile laying version of Eldritch Horror, and playable in about an hour and a half to two hours. It had some narrative elements, but also some of the elements of Sorcerer City, where you are actually building your tileset; you are actually deck building. You have a character that is gaining both good and bad.
DTD: Yeah, you have your own set of tiles and you are looking for combos and things that work off of each other.
SC: Yeah, so taking some of the ideas from Sorcerer City and taking it in a different direction. So, really excited about that, too. If all goes well, maybe see that in a couple of years. [laughs]
DTD: That’s cool. I thought it was interesting in all the interviews that I will hear about things, and the designer will say “Yeah, that’s probably 2021 or 2022, somewhere around there.” Thinking years and years in advance.
SC: This is probably at least a couple of years away.
DTD: Do you think Kickstarter is going to be the model for all of these, the way to get them all going?
SC: I don’t know. I mean I have worked with publishers that are more traditional. It depends on the game. I think even for Skybound [Games], they don’t do Kickstarter for everything. Like Grimm Masquerade was a Kickstarter. Is a Kickstarter going to make the components really great? Is it going to add, is there value in going to Kickstarter? Do they think they can go straight to retail, if it a cheaper game? I think it is hard for a $30 game with normal components to go to Kickstarter.
DTD: Well still, there’s definitely some companies out there who have moved that every game they do is going to be a Kickstarter now.
SC: I think Pencil First is; they are still a small company. Maybe games like Skulk Hollow will really change that for them.
DTD: Skulk Hollow has been getting a lot of hype. And its just been recent, people are talking it up like crazy. I am excited to take a look at that; I haven’t gotten a chance to really get hands on with it at all.
SC: It’s fun. I hope Torii can get a little attention too. We’ll see. Working with Vincent Dutrait was really fun.
DTD: How cool! You worked directly with him?
SC: Well he lives in Korea, but, yea. Working on the game for sure.
DTD: I was looking into trying to get some artists for interview as well, I thought it would be really fun. I would like Kwanchai Moriya to be my first artist interview. He’s down in LA. I would love to get Ian O’Toole, but its hard to drive to Australia. Vincent Dutrait or Klemens Franz would be great, but… hard to go there.
SC: Mr. Cuddington I think is in Canada.
DTD: The interview with Kwanchai will probably happen. We have written a couple of times and he is excited to do it. Just the man is a workhorse. His schedule never stops. He surprise-showed the new cover for Sidereal Confluence just a couple of days ago. That’s a gorgeous cover.
My new soulmate, the waitress, came to take my licked-clean fragments of flatware. It is at this point I feel a desire to take a perfect photo of the clean plate for a future installment. I bet the suspense is killing you, dear reader. Maybe I won’t even use the photo.
DTD: I hate to do this, but I’m going to take a picture of the empty plate first. [laughs] Thank you! I didn’t have enough pictures for the first couple interviews I did; I tend to forget. I’m not a good interviewer. There’s things I should do, and things I actually do. And all of this is just a passion project for me. Its just fun to do, I just have a good time with it.
SC: I mean, it is for me too! It is hard to balance with a wife and 2 kids. My oldest son is special needs, and it is hard. He is autistic.
DTD: That is tough. I actually know quite a few people who go to gaming conventions with their children who are autistic, functional autistic, and they will play games together. And it is amazing, I just see them come alive, especially with some of the more abstract board games. I have a good friend whose son is about 18, and we played Element. I don’t know if you had seen that one. You draw tiles out of a bag, and they come in one of 4 elements: earth, air, fire, water. And as you put them on the board, they do things to your pieces. The water will run like a river across the board, and the fire will destroy things on the board. And he just came alive. I mean, he beat me soundly, and he had a really good time with it.
SC: My son really loves games, too. He’s designing his own game. Both my sons have a game they’ve designed.
DTD: My son is actually in college for video game design right now in Santa Cruz. If I just keep going down route 17, I can visit him. That’s very cool. Have you thought about doing the game design as a full time thing?
Go Banana Slugs.
SC: I’d like to, but it doesn’t make nearly enough. Child care is expensive and Playstudios pays well, so…
DTD: If you’re happy doing it.
SC: I do really like it. I think my long term plan might be retirement job, if I were to have a good number of games. Sell some games, work on some games. I don’t know, it’s not easy. Matt Leacock has his big hits, so that’s how he’s able to do it.
DTD: Yeah, he has some disease game or something, I don’t know.
Epidural? Pansickening? Plagueopolis? Someone should interview that guy and get it straight.
SC: I would have to have a hit that size to be able to do it. And he has managed to do that many times with Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy, Forbidden Island, all these games that really sell a lot of copies.
DTD: Well Whistle Stop did very well, and Whistle Stop was a critical favorite. I don’t think I’ve seen a bad review of it; it went over really really well. You are well on your way there.
SC: We’ll see, we’ll see. I am excited to see what people think of Sorcerer City when it finally gets out there, what the reviewers think.
DTD: I am very excited about it. There was a period of time about a year ago, two years ago, where there were a lot of tile laying games, and none of them excited me tremendously. They were OK, Kingdomino and things like this. And they were winning awards, but they were good. And Sorcerer City, I’m excited to get ahold of a copy, and I’m kicking myself a little bit that I didn’t back it when it was up. I should have done my research then rather than now.
SC: You can’t back everything. I was really trying to do something different.
DTD: I beg to differ. I think I can back everything. Sorry, I interrupted you.
SC: [laughs] It’s new, kind of a new category, with a combination of tile laying and deck building. Tile-building? I don’t know exactly what we call it.
DTD: That’s awesome. Its hard to say, but there’s a couple games that are doing the real-time timed element, build with your tiles, but this is another level on that, which is great. And it makes perfect sense. If you are going to have a pile of tiles and be timed on making them into just the right thing, as they come up, why not also control what is in your pile? It’s perfect. I don’t know if you have played Nine Tiles Panic? It is a set pile of tiles, 9 of them. And you have a timed element to build them into a little structure, into a city. And they are double sided, and they have a million icons on them. You have score cards that dictate, that’s where the variability is: “What am I trying to build this time?” As opposed to “What are my tiles this time?” And there are a couple others; my mind is slipping. While the “fast, build something out of your tiles” game has always been good, but I think Sorcerer City has done it right.
SC: Well, Galaxy Trucker, I guess.
DTD: Yea, Galaxy Trucker, but that’s just goofy fun. I love that stupid game. And that’s not sso much “build the perfect ship”, but more “watch as your ship gets destroyed into nothingness.”
SC: There’s a little bit of that. When some monsters come in they can wreck some havoc on your city.
DTD: Galaxy Trucker is great. I love it. I have some friends who will not play it because it is so chaotic and crazy, but I have a blast with it.
SC: I like some real time games. My wife does not like real time. But she says, “I don’t like real time, but I like Sorcerer City.” It is a real time game that she likes.
DTD: What a good wife. My wife also doesn’t really like the real time games, but she made the distinction that if a game has different segments – if you have a planning, no stress section, but then you have a 2 minute “oh my god” real time segment, she likes that. And I do too.
SC: Sorcerer City has that. You are buying tiles, take your time, think about it.
You heard it. Scott is practically insisting I get Sorcerer City for my wife. It would be a crime to do otherwise.
DTD: Yeah! It is “figure this out, take a look at the tracks, and I am going for yellows, and I like this tile”. Then 2 minutes of insanity. Project Elite also had that, and I really enjoyed that in Project Elite quite a bit.
SC: I don’t know Project Elite.
DTD: Project Elite was Artipia I believe – Kickstarter. It came out and the Kickstarter had problems, the game wasn’t particularly pretty. But people loved it, however there were so many problems with the Kickstarter it wasn’t going to be reprinted. It is an alien game, where the aliens come out and they follow tracks. But you have two minutes to take your guy, run around, and kill as many of them as you can, using an Escape kind of dice rolling mechanism. So 2 minutes, kill, kill, kill, kill, see if you die. The good news is that Cool Mini bought it up and they are making a very pretty version of it. So I am very excited about that. That was another in a series of games that no one has heard of then one big reviewer will pick it up. Then all of a sudden it has huge hype, and no one can get it. Then you just wait for someone to buy it up and reprint it. I think that Project Elite was one of the first ones that did that. Awkward Guests was one, Smartphone Inc., things of that sort.
SC: I haven’t played all these games! [laughs]
DTD: Oh, I play too many of them. See, you have a job. I am retired. Retired, eccentric, and just have more time than anybody should have, so I play too much.
My ultimate job is apparently “Victorian Man of Leisure”. I would sit in a large leather chair, with a globe that opens at my side. There may be a decanter of port in there, who can say?
SC: I would like to play more. It certainly is hard to balance playtesting and playing new games.
DTD: That’s the thing. It seems like anytime you have free time and a group willing to play a game, you kind of feel obligated to put down one that you are working on. So do you play any of your finished games? Or are they kind of done in the world for you?
SC: I mean, I play if people want to play it. A lot of the time people say “Oh, you made a game? Lets play it!” So sure, I’ll play that. Or I just did an event at the Victory Point Café, and so we were playing Sorcerer City, One Hundred Torii. We played both of those. Yeah, I still like my games.
DTD: Good. That’s a good thing. Like you said earlier, it’s a passion industry. I don’t think you can succeed in making games unless you really like it.
SC: I mean, generally I am looking to make the game I wish existed.
DTD: One that you want to play?
SC: Yeah. If it were out on the market, I would buy it. [Laughing]
DTD: Well that’s a good thing! If you make a really good one, you get it for free!
DTD: How many games do you think you have rattling around in your head at a time? On the design plate, on the back burner?
SC: You mean how many games I haven’t prototyped yet, but I want to prototype?
DTD: It seems other people that I have asked, they have a number: “I have this many games I am working on, and maybe this many more that could be, but I have no idea what they are doing yet.”
SC: I guess I try to prioritize what’s in my head, and so I might have a couple that are really hot; I wish I could prototype those now. So I have at least a couple ideas I am really excited about. Given that I don’t have a lot of time, I can only focus on ones that I think have the most potential. And I still have a few other older designs I’m trying to revise, maybe bring back. But recently, for every game I have been able to bring it through. I’ve been lucky that way. I have had Sorcerer City, ended up selling that. And the next one after that is the one with Luke [Laurie], which we got it signed. And the one after that is the one, I think it will get signed as well. So its been a good problem to have. As soon as I get it made and prototyped, it seems like it is finding its way.
DTD: Definitely not a bad problem. Not enough time, too much energy.
SC: Well, I have not had enough time to work on that next wave. Probably have two games that I am really excited about. There might be other games behind that though; a little bit less exciting, maybe they will get there. So there’s maybe half a dozen games I am thinking about in the back of my mind which could still come to be, but aren’t there yet.
DTD: Very cool. I don’t think it’s so…some of it is luck, but your games have usually been good, so take it from me, its not all luck. You’re doing well, and I can’t remember the names of every designer, but when your name came up, I thought “I know exactly who that is. He did Voluspa and Whistle Stop and 100 Torii.” right off the top I knew. So that’s a good thing. How about the expansion bandwagon; are you thinking about putting out more expansions for the games you’ve got out?
SC: Well, I am working on an expansion for Sorcerer City, so that’s trying to get ready, so that if and when Sorcerer City does well, and James [Hudson] says “OK, lets do that expansion!” I am ready to go. I’ve had an idea for a Whistle Stop second expansion for a while, just haven’t quite gotten around to doing it. Just need to try it and see how I like it, it’s something I would like to get back to. I also have been trying to go back and do solo rules for my earlier games.
DTD: That’s really hot right now. That would be cool.
SC: I did solo for Whistle Stop, which Ted [Alspach] actually hasn’t completely signed off on yet, but I posted it to BGG, so people could play it.
DTD: Which is a nice way to get feedback as well.
SC: I think it’s pretty good. I did solo for both Sorcerer City and 100 Torii, but I think I’m going to be doing solo for every game now, moving forward. Luke did it for the game we are working on. And I may go back and do a solo for Völuspá . I had some ideas for it, but didn’t quite get it all the way. I may try to pick it up and finish it out. I know people really like that.
DTD: It seems like Völuspá would be just chasing score levels, chasing point levels.
SC: I had kind of a different idea. One of the things I have been trying to do, is I play…I like kind of a dual path point to solo, where yes, in the end you are trying to get your score versus a table, but there are ways to immediately lose as you are playing. Like, in Sorcerer City you are trying to get to the end, but if your market gets completely overrun by monsters you lose. With Völuspá I had this idea where you had to score every turn. If you didn’t score every turn you lost.
DTD: Actually, when I was playing Völuspá , one of the big comparisons that kept coming into my head was Red 7. That idea of constantly trying to one up what has already been done. So that solo rule makes perfect sense.
SC: I think what I started with was you play a tile, you have to score, then you play another tile face down. You decide where you want to play it. It does not get flipped over until you play in that line. So there’s always a little risk about where you want to play it.
DTD: Oh, you’re predicting that something good will happen with this, but you won’t know until later.
SC: Or you think your tile that you play will be high enough. You want to find clever ways of revealing those tiles while still guaranteeing you will score. That seemed pretty fun, I just need to finish it out.
DTD: That’s hard to wrap my brain around. It’s programming and memory too. I am terrible at remembering where all the pieces are.
SC: I mean, once it’s flipped over, you don’t need to remember it anymore.
DTD: No, but all the face-down ones. If you are not flipping them, you need to remember what you put where.
SC: Oh, you don’t know what’s underneath. It’s spaced out.
DTD: Oh, you never look! It’s not played face down, it is literally something unknown.
SC: You don’t flip it over until you play a tile in the same line as it. So that was pretty fun, but it still needed a little more work to it.
DTD: That’s pretty cool. And the Rocky Mountain Expansion was great. What was really nice about it, is it just fit so seamlessly.
SC: Literally inside the box.
DTD: It worked so well. And I can’t really picture teaching it without just throwing the expansion in. There’s so many games out there where I feel like I have to play it without the expansion first and then introduce it later once people know the rules, but Rocky Mountain just fit perfect, just done. The elegance of it was great. And the 3D nature of the board is just fantastic.
SC: That was something Ted added to it.
DTD: I love the new age of little cut out holes in boards, and little double layer boards, and triple layer boards, and slots in boards, with little stops on the bottom. Everything we are doing with cardboard now is just way too fun. It makes my little reptile tactile brain happy.
SC: We still play a fair amount of Catan and Catan has those puzzle piece borders that depending on the scenario you can do different pieces. And so, when Ted was first gluing the puzzle piece border for Whistle Stop, we said “Oh yea, maybe at some point we can add, or use that to our advantage.”
DTD: Put in a chunk.
SC: Put something in the middle. And I remember pitching that to Ted, and he said “It should be the Rocky Mountains!”
DTD: Because it’s in the middle!
SC: It’s in the middle! That’s what we will call it. So I said “OK, let’s do that.” I hadn’t really figured out all the mechanics, so I said “This is kind of what I was thinking…” and he said “Yeah, let’s do that.”
DTD: It all just fits perfect. It’s in the middle, so it’s Rocky Mountains. Make it textured, because it is mountains. It is harder to go over it because it is mountains. You get rewards for going, it’s all perfect. It’s a natural elegant extension of the game, which is great. That is just what you want with an expansion.
Stay tuned next time as Scott and I discuss app integration in games, old dungeon crawls, and the devestatingly infamous Christmas of 1981.