Scott and I felt our second wind as the meal was more eaten than not, and discussion turns to app-driven games, old dungeon crawls, and the worst Christmas of my life.
SC: And a lot of train games have mountains and terrain, and you have to pay extra to get that. I can’t say I’ve ever played an 18xx, but I’ve played Steam and some of those, where you are “Please, I am in debt. I just want to make some more money.” Those games are pretty helpful.
DTD: I have been through my share of Steam games. They are a little… I’m not good at them. I’ll just put it that way: I’m not good at them.
This is an understatement. I am exceedingly bad at modern train games. I will have the most unpaid loans, or the lowest income, or the most debt by games end. I guarantee it.
SC: I play with some guys. They were scoring the 5 point connections every turn. It was like “Wow!” And I am struggling to stay above water. You have to take so much debt to have any chance.
DTD: Steam and 18xx are some of those games that there is a little clique of people out there who play them every day. And they are ridiculously good at it. I am not in that world.
SC: I definitely tried to make something that was more…approachable.
DTD: It is. It’s elegant. And I don’t know how else to put it. And I like that trend now. Like I was saying earlier, the trend was to go more and more complicated. It feels like the trend now is going towards more elegant. Especially with companies wanting to do less games, more approachable games. So one of the things that leads to is this whole argument between… Games used to be a rare commodity that you would play over and over and over again. And nowadays, games are a common commodity, glutting the market. And it seems like the average play on a game is once or twice, then move on to the new hotness. When you are designing a game, are you thinking about how easy it is to get into it, how approachable it is? Because that does seem to be the trend now. There are some people I have talked to about their games where they say “This game did not sell well, because I don’t think people play it enough times to understand how it works.” So does that come into in when you design your games? How approachable it will be on a first play?
SC: Yeah, it definitely does. “Keep it simple, but keep it interesting and unique.” There is definitely tension there. I think I have been more concerned over what is going to be the distinguishing factor of the game. I think if I have got 200 or 300 games, whatever I design has to be different, interesting enough that people want to pull it off the shelf. Like “I already have 10 games like this, but I only have one of these. I only have one Sorcerer City, so I am going to take that out, I want to play.” I think I maybe approach it different, just really try to give a unique experience that maybe you can’t get from other games. Or it doesn’t feel like it is just a piece of this game, a piece of that game, but feels like something new. But a lot of that is development of just trying to make things as clear and simple as possible. It sounds like we did that with Whistle Stop, and hopefully people will think that about Sorcerer City.
DTD: Without a doubt. I guess the extreme of that is back in the 1970s there were the Avalon Hill games. They were really difficult to get into, but people would obsess, and people would play them over and over. And I think that style of game is increasingly rare to have hit the market nowadays. People wont give games time to be difficult to learn.
I owned so many Avalon Hill games as a kid. Owned them, read the rules, never played them.
SC: I have some of those games at home, like T’Zolkin. I want to play T’Zolkin again. I remember having a good time playing, but I don’t remember how to play [laughs].
DTD: Oh, even T’Zolkin, I think T’Zolkin is kind of elegant. T’Zolkin is the mechanism of “The longer you wait to do an action, the better the action is”. And the gears are just a very natural, perfect way to make that happen.
SC: It’s really cool.
DTD: There are others games that have tried to have the “I’m going to do this action, but the longer I wait before I do it [the better it is].” But I have not seen another game that makes it just inherently physical with the board like that. This is how it really works.
SC: I do find that those games that are more in the two-hour-plus range are just really hard to get to the table. I kind of don’t buy them. Even if I have played and had a great experience, its just so hard to get it out.
DTD: So no Twilight Imperium for you?
SC: No. We did get Imperial Assault, which we enjoyed, we played.
DTD: That’s really fun. And I enjoyed the co-op app for it tremendously.
SC: I guess we did not play with the app. I was the dark side. I was Darth Vader.
I’m pretty sure I sat staring at Scott, breathing very heavily for a few minutes. I couldn’t pull it off.
DTD: Well, Fantasy Flight has gone through iteration after iteration of these games where it is a DM but not a DM, and a party but not a party, and how do you play them? And Descent, I think, fell a little short, in that if the DM wanted to destroy the game, they could. And Imperial Assault really seemed like they got it right. They did really well. But I have to tell you, running both Descent and Imperial Assault co-op off of the app was great; they work so well. They are wonderful co-op games. And I think Fantasy Flight really ran with it with Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth. It was another extension of that, worked really well.
SC: I played that. I really liked it.
DTD: I thought they did a really good job. I enjoyed Lord of the Rings. I haven’t finished it. Seems like there’s a lot of stuff in there, but I’ve played a good amount of it. It’s a nice mix of exploration and story telling with some neat combat stuff. The new Joan of Arc game I am really looking forward to – Time of Legends: Destinies.
SC: I have heard of it, but I don’t really know too much about it.
DTD: It is app-driven. Did you play with Chronicles of Crime at all?
SC: I did play Chronicles of Crime. I really liked that.
DTD: Destinies is a role playing game, a fantasy Chronicles of Crime. So the cards have [QR] scans on them, you scan them and it gives you stuff. But the core mechanisms of the game, how your guy levels, how your guy does checks or combat, I think are brilliant. And even without the app and the cards and the scanning, I think it would be an amazing game, just off these core mechanisms. But its not bad that they’ve got the extras on there too, so I’m very excited about that. I got to play with it at GenCon.
SC: Is this Lucky Duck?
DTD: It is a joint effort between Lucky Duck and Mythic, and I believe Lucky Duck is actually heading it. I think it is on Kickstarter now. It might have just ended. It’s exciting. I was not super excited about Joan of Arc when it came out, and it was gorgeous. Just not my style of game. But this – Time of Legends: Destinies, it is in the Joan of Arc universe, but it looks like the fantasy role-playing game that 12-14 year old Corey would have given a left arm for.
DTD: As a kid I loved role-playing games, the concept of them. But I almost never got to actually play them. I didn’t have a huge group of friends, I was an only child.
SC: So was I.
DTD: So I was looking for board games that emulated that role playing game experience. And I looked hard for those games. I grew up in the 70’s, child of the 70’s. So Dungeon! Came out.
SC: I still have a copy of Dungeon! But the box is gone. We still have the board and the pieces, and the boys really liked it.
DTD: That’s very cool. How old are your kids now?
SC: 8 and 7.
DTD: Oh man. That’s a perfect age to really get obsessive about these things. My kids are in their 20s. They’re gone, they’re out. But they play games.
SC: That’s awesome.
DTD: But I remember Dungeon! I remember the infamous Christmas of ’81, where you had to decide whether you wanted to get Dark Tower or Electronic Dungeons and Dragons. I still have anxiety nightmares about that.
I truly cannot express how profoundly stressful that Christmas was. I could only reasonably ask for one of the games. I chose Electronic Dungeons & Dragons, which was entirely, maliciously, all-encompassingly wrong. My friend Danny got Dark Tower. Don’t get me started…
SC: Isn’t Dark Tower coming back?
So, Electronic D&D just had you bump meaninglessly into walls over and over, navigating an invisible maze. No characters, no fighting, no items, no role playing. Just a maze. Until you died.
DTD: It is! Return to Dark Tower. Restoration Games has it. I got to play a couple prototypes, it looks like it is going to be really nice. Coop. The whole app, with a combination of a very advanced tower, it looks exciting. The tower has concentric rings that spin around and open, tell you things, and spit cubes at you. It is a cube tower, but there are magnetically controlled doors, that depending on the timing of the game and what is going on, and other things, will spin towards you, open a door and dump cubes. It looks beautiful.
I am so backing Return to Dark Tower. This will show Danny…
SC: I always love it when board games have unique components, like “I didn’t know a board game could do that!”
DTD: Pieces are awesome! I just love toys.
SC: There’s a lot of those Zoch games, like Hamsterrolle and Bamboleo.
DTD: Yes, the Hamster Roller game was so weird. Stacking the little pieces inside the wheel.
SC: And if you did it right, you could get them to stay upside down.
DTD: I know, you play with the pieces and you play with the stuff, and you really respect the people who designed it. That they thought about how these work. Like when Junk Art first came out, it just looked like random designs and pieces. But it’s incredible the things you can do with these weird shaped wooden blocks. Even Animal Upon Animal; those pieces are just designed perfectly. Yeah, the Hamster one was a blast. So do you know Itten Games, the Japanese company? They have done a bunch of strange component games. They did Tokyo Highway, and that was hot. It did very well.
SC: I’ve seen that.
DTD: They did Moon Base, which has a million rings, they are wooden rings. And the board has…you pile them on top of each other, it looks really cool. But they had one they Kickstarted called Stonehenge I think [Stonehenge and the Sun], and you literally attached this giant plumb bob pendulum to your ceiling. And swung it over the board.
SC: Oh my gosh.
DTD: I could not justify turning a whole room in my house into the Stonehenge room, but it looked really neat. I was very close, I was tempted. But yeah, I love the weird pieces, strange elements to the games.
I actually could justify it. I won’t lie, I considered it.
DTD: There was a children’s game that I was just endlessly impressed with. It had a vertical board with magnets and one side was the bad guy chasing you around and the other side…
SC: The Mummy game.
DTD: Yes, the Mummy game. Curse of the mummy or something like that. [the game is called Fluch der Mumie in Germany, or Pyramid of Pengqueen in the US]. Ah that was brilliant.
SC: I like that too. You can see the Mummy on the other side of the board, when you are on the player side you can see the Mummy moving around or whatever – “No, No! Don’t go over here!” But then you get a treasure, and the Mummy knows where you are for a little bit.
DTD: That was really good. I got a kick out of that. I agree, the ones with the physicality and the strange pieces, the weird bits moving around. So, do you have any thoughts on the movement of these app-driven – I mean, this seems to combine your two worlds – the app-driven board games and how they are riding this line between video game and board game. There are some of them I could argue, “That’s a video game, but they’re letting you play with this cube.” Or “That’s a board game, and this is just keeping track of things for you.” Do you have feelings one way or the other, do you like these? Do you not like these? Are they just another game?
SC: I think I am still forming an opinion. I mean, I have played Chronicles of Crime, I have played The Lord of the Rings. And I played Werewords. I like them all. I think Werewords feels like a pretty perfect party game, I really like how the app works with that.
DTD: It’s pretty cool.
SC: And the app doesn’t feel intrusive.
DTD: Yeah, that’s the word.
SC: And Chronicles of Crime, I got really immersed into it, into the story, into all these different characters. So I kind of want to pick up a copy of that and play it some more.
DTD: Lucky Duck is so crazy about their expansions, they really churn them out fast. So I think actually Vikings Gone Wild got hurt a little bit because it got overwhelmed by expansions. Chronicles now has 2 expansions with a third in the wings I think. Which is great for that sort of game. It just feeds off of more cards, more story, more app. It’s wonderful.
SC: I like Lord of the Rings, but I guess it didn’t grab me as much as Imperial Assault. Maybe because the app is doing a lot in that game. Which I guess is good and bad. For me it was starting to not feel as much like a board game.
DTD: It is one of those ones that feels more like a video game, but you can kind of build your map over here.
SC: Yeah, I know I have a character in front of me, but it was sometimes helping me be immersed, but sometimes taking me out: “OK, we need to deal with this app, and I need to deal with these cards.” Fantasy Flight games already have a lot of stuff going on.
SC: So I am not sure if I like that marriage as much. So I don’t know.
DTD: There are definitely some that are much more video game, but I like video games. And to me it seems like some of these games are really fun, and some of these games are good games but they have this overhead that is kind of annoying, and it could have been better. An app just for the sake of having an app. One of the new ones I talk about, Awkward Guests, has a nice app. It is a Clue-like game, and they do it pretty well. Deck of cards, figure out what’s going on with the mystery from your cards. Your cards give you hints. Trade cards with other people, so that you get more hints. The app allows you to guess what the solution is without ruining the game. If you guess wrong, you get penalized a little, as opposed to being eliminated because now you know the answer. Those are always nice.
SC: That is definitely good.
DTD: So no big heavy app-driven story games in your future? Put all the tiles just on the computer.
SC: Not yet. I don’t know. I was playtesting one recently where people said “This could totally be on, there could be a mobile game component to this!” So I thought “Oh, maybe there could be.” I know that’s a different direction some publishers go, where they release an iOS version of the game, so people can learn how to play.
DTD: That’s a huge trend now. And a lot of them are doing a very very good job with it. I have been impressed with the newer mobile versions. Raiders of the North Sea has got a beautiful mobile. Through the Ages – gorgeous mobile game. Those are nice. I don’t play very many solo board games physically, but I will play them solo on the app.
SC: I think it would be good for a trip. You could bring a lot of games.
DTD: Like a flight to Germany?
I played so many iOS games on that interminable flight.
SC: Yeah, just like that. You don’t have to annoy people by rolling dice. You could be playing Catan Dice on a plane and people complain “Its too loud!”
DTD: Well you just need to bring a nice cushioned dice box. One of the little foldy ones. I think our industry has just grown so much, that we can talk about having the mobile version of the game, or a little dice box, or a little custom physical board. It is so bizarre how much stuff is out there now.
SC: I think it’s great.
DTD: Oh yeah. I’m loving it. Again, I wish it was there when I was 10.
SC: My family, we had a good number of games. I mean they were all not hobby games necessarily.
DTD: Sure, what sort of games did you play when you were a kid?
SC: I remember playing Pay Day and Clue, Mille Bourne and Skunk. Wizard’s Quest.
DTD: Wizard’s Quest, the old Avalon hill game? It had the two towers with the dragon thing on top.
SC: And Sorry.
DTD: Sounds about right. I think I had most of those.
DTD: Pigmania, man. I remember Bonkers, that was one I really liked. It was an odd, build the board as you go, dice rolling game. It was all luck, but it was fun. Pay Day was a blast. That was a good game. I am guessing they still sell that.
SC: I do like that. You are hoping you can get to a deal by the end of the month. It was very random, but still.
DTD: Pay Day and Careers. There were a lot of those slice of life games.
DTD: Exactly. So you were an only child as well? I would get games and read them and read them and read them, on that chance that maybe I would be able to corner someone and get them to play a game. But I remember I definitely had a pile of games that were complicated games. And there were some that I am sure I never got actually played. Mostly the big Avalon Hill games. There was a Hobbit Avalon Hill game [It was actually by Iron Crown Enterprises] that was terrible, but I don’t think I ever got it played. It was complicated and not worth it. And Freedom in the Galaxy.
SC: Never heard of that one.
DTD: It was a ripoff of Star Wars. Massive, board bigger than this table. Sounded like a great idea, but I’m sure if anyone really played it, it took 12 hours. It was insane, never played it. Just read it, over and over. Probably explains why I have so many unplayed games now.
SC: How many games do you have?
DTD: I don’t know. 2500 or something. Yeah, I had to get another house to store them.
SC: I think I probably have about 225.
DTD: That is a much saner collection.
The rooster has crowed, the cows have been milked, the sun has risen, and the end of breakfast, as sad as it may be, is nigh upon us. Stay tuned as Scott and I finish both our rhetoric and our repast.