I was lucky enough to spend a brisk winter evening (for California) at All Spice in San Mateo with the grandmaster of legacy board gaming, Rob Daviau. In this installment, the wine has flowed and now that the food is arriving, Rob and I discuss games, attire and jet lag.
DTD: That is so cool. I always think that there’s kind of this flow through, and certain things just happen, and if you go against it, they tend to be more difficult. And this sounds like everything just worked out great in that direction.
RD: Yeah, so I ended up never freelancing, never taking Fridays off to do role playing stuff. I became a board game designer, but as you can see with my legacy games, and Death May Die, my role-playing desire…
DTD: And the writing.
RD: And the writing has crept back in. I’m not making Euro games. I don’t know if I could make one.
DTD: You’ve got the math chops for it. You could make the bits line up.
DTD: I was just going to mention ShipShape; there’s not a lot of story there, but it’s a really cool, foam-tile, rotating, look down. I love the ideas in it. Its very nifty, I played it at GAMA, and was really impressed with it.
In ShipShape, players are dealing with a stack of foam core tiles with holes. The game involves arranging the tiles to make the holes align In order to generate resources.
RD: Thanks. I’m really happy. I’m happy with it because it was simple, and I work small. I’m happy with it because its not what I usually do. So, I can remind myself, “I can make a game like that.”
DTD: It was awesome. It was really cool.
RD: I spent 14 years at Hasbro boot camp. Like the old-fashioned idea of going from an apprentice to a journeyman to a master was still there. Like, you would get these games and then you would gain in responsibility. You would work with other people and you would see how you do it. And if I put out a game that was awful, I got the same salary. If I put out a great game that was salary. So I could just do my best on every game, and I would just get games. Just 3 or 4 games at every time, year after year, just to get better at them.
DTD: And I need to tell you, one of the early games that I was playing that really made me love games was actually Spite and Malice (2002). I think you were on that.
RD: I did do a version of that. My first wife’s grandmother played Spite and Malice, and I played a lot of it. So when I got a chance to play it, I’m like “Well what can we do differently?”
DTD: I really liked that one. And then you were on Queen’s Gambit.
RD: I did very little on that. I worked a lot with Craig Van Ness, another designer. He sat right across from me. Taught me a lot, he is a natural game designer.
DTD: He can find the way the pieces fit together?
RD: It was amazing. The other designers – I was doing it, I didn’t realize everyone else would do it; We would actually not bring our games to have Craig play test them early, because he would play test them and go “OK, here’s what you need to do.” And his answer would be so good, that that’s what you were going to do. And then you were like, “Well, I didn’t make this.” You wanted to kind of struggle on your own so you could get as good as he was intuitively. So, we would wait until it was closer to finish before we would show him. And it was just a very unconscious thing, because he was always like, “Alright, here’s what is going well, here’s what is not going well.” And then sometimes he would say, “Well, here’s your stuff.” Right, like you figure it out. And then the next day he would come in he’s like, “I redid your game, here’s my thoughts.” And it was always good.
At this point, our waiter came to take our order. Remember, we had decided to go with a 5 course meal. Trust me, after a little wine and relaxation, counting to 5 can be difficult.
RD: Yeah, I think we are ready.
DTD: You want to go?
RD: I think we are each going to get 5 courses. Do you recommend 5 each, or 5 shared? What is it usually?
Waiter: 5 each.
RD: Great, awesome. I am going to get the charred broccolini, breakfast for dinner and the Kampachi crudo. And then I am going to get the roasted delicata squash. And I’m going to finish with… Corn Clafouti.
Rob successfully picked 5 things. I bet you can see where this is going.
Watier: Thank you.
DTD: I’ll go for Kampachi, mushrooms, and the Thai carrot soup. Would love to get the lamb and I think the cauliflower. And I love Kulfi, so I will go for Kulfi.
The waiter had given me a confused look, but Rob tried to save me. The truth is, I became overexcited by the desserts and just lost count.
RD: Going for a 6 course, or did you only order two…
DTD: Oh, is the dessert one of the 5? Let’s not do the cauliflower.
Good save. Looked natural.
Waiter: Thank you. Bread will be out in a couple of minutes.
RD: Can I keep that [the menu] to get another glass of wine? Thank you.
DTD: I lost count. [laughs] There used to be this restaurant up in Calistoga that was almost a tapas place, but it was a gourmet tapas place, so they’d have these little tiny really incredible versions of things, so my wife and I would go and we would get like 10 things that were all these top end bizarre tiny little dishes. JoLe was the name of the restaurant. I don’t even know if its there anymore, because things turn over so fast in Napa.
JoLe unfortunately closed its doors in January 2016. It was open for a wonderful 8 years. Now the same couple owns Zoftig Eatery in Santa Rosa, California.
RD: That name actually sounds familiar.
DTD: I think it was the first two letters of both the chefs’ names or something. But it was such a cool, weird little place, and Napa Valley is really nice because, you’ve been on the east coast for a while, but in Napa Valley, almost no one dresses up for anything. So you can just kind of go in jeans and whatever, and get some of these super high end gourmet dinners, and when I was in New York City and around NYC, it felt really oppressive of how fancy you had the be to go out to places, to me.
RD: Yeah, I don’t mind dressing up, because I don’t have to. If I had to wear a suit every day, like I was a lawyer, sure – I wouldn’t want to. But I work at home in a T-shirt, hoodie and jeans. So, like, you need to put on a fancy tie and suit to go; I’m like, “Oh cool, I have a suit that’s sitting in my closet.”
DTD: Well, this is as fancy as my ties go [see image].
RD: Well I have the full Mr. Rogers going on for this.
DTD: That’s layers, come on. That’s east coast. It’s stylish.
Rob really is quite the snappy dresser – a skill I not only do not possess, but I feel I actually have negative skill in that regard. People have thought I put quite a bit of effort into looking so shabby.
RD: And then this is even more, this is a fake layer [fake outer jacket sewn to inner shirt]. It just zips in.
DTD: Well if you have the sweater in the car with the little tie on shoes, then you’re good [Mr. Rogers reference]. I owned a veterinary clinic for a long time, and when you go to veterinary school they make you dress up and look fancy, and look professional and all this – “If we put really good clothes on them and a white coat, then people won’t realize they are just students.” So, we had to wear a tie in vet school. I ended up being given an incredible number of ties in vet school. So, when I went into my first job, I just kept wearing the ties; this was my normal “go to work” outfit, was a tie and a shirt.
RD: Well, you know me, I’m the guy known at conventions for wearing a tie. It’s not a bad thing to be known for.
DTD: Not at all. But I would get bow ties and tie my own bow ties.
RD: I don’t know how to do that. My son does. But I don’t know how, I don’t wear them enough.
DTD: It’s a pain. But so worth it when you’re done. And then you never want to take it off, because you figure you probably can’t put it back on properly.
RD: Well the thing is I wear them if I have to go to black tie event, which is once every 8 years. I don’t want to spend $80 for a nice bow tie that I don’t know how to tie, that I’m probably not going to wear again for another decade. And you start to do the math at our age, and you’re like, “I’ll take the clip on”.
DTD: [laughs] I totally get it. I ended up just accumulating this pile of ties. People would give me just the strangest ties because I was known as the guy at the office who wore the weird ties, so I had the food ties, disease ties.
RD: I kind of figured that when I saw your tie.
DTD: Ah, the Spider-Man tie. That was a fun holdover, but I’m not good at dressing up. I always look like I’m wearing my father’s clothes whenever I put on a tie.
RD: It’s, I don’t know, when I got divorced, I was like, “I’m going to learn how to dress up.” And I actually got a subscription to GQ.
DTD: You did it for real.
RD: Watched the first version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Spent a little time, found a tailor. Discovered it’s not… if you learn like 10 fundamentals, and you just pull something out of a nice magazine, like “I want to look like that.” Or just go in and look at the mannequin. I’m like, “I like that. Someone who knows what they are doing dressed that mannequin.” I don’t have to reinvent it; someone did the homework for me. I’ll walk in sometimes, and say “What’s that outfit?”, and “Oh, here are the pieces.” I’m like, “I like how that looks”. No one is going to be “Are you that mannequin from that store from 2 years ago?”
DTD: See I was the kid, that if I wasn’t reminded, I would actually leave the house not dressed at all. Like without a shirt, or without a shoe. I was raised in a commune, almost.
RD: I wore clothes that didn’t fit. I was very skinny, so I was body conscious in a way that’s opposite of a lot of other people. So, I still wore hiding clothes.
DTD: You just weren’t comfortable.
RD: I wasn’t comfortable, and therefore I didn’t know how to dress. So therefore, if I didn’t try at all, I couldn’t try and fail. So, by not trying at all you would be like, “I’m too cool to try to dress up.” Which is very common. Part of me wants to do a seminar at GenCon or something, which is like “dressing your body.” But no one would come, and it’s incredibly pretentious.
DTD: I don’t know, I think there’s a lot of board game people who are just so socially awkward, and that is part of it.
RD: They are, but I don’t know if they want lessons in it. Do they want some smug-ass designer up there being like, “This is how you get a shirt.”
DTD: They don’t want a smug-ass designer doing it, but they kind of want to know about it.
RD: Right, but I almost want to get someone who’s a shopping consultant to come in, and “Look, here’s a few tips. Get seams that rest on your shoulder. They shouldn’t be down here, and they shouldn’t be up here.” So if you wear a big shirt to hide yourself, because you want to hide your body, your seam will be down here because its too big, and then you look like you’re wearing your Dad’s clothes, because instinctively you know that shirt doesn’t fit. [looking at my shirt] It’s pretty close. Actually, you might have a raglan sleeve.
DTD: I don’t know.
RD: No, you don’t. The raglan are the ones like baseball jerseys, that go in at an angle.
DTD: I don’t have that one.
RD: So, you learn that, you learn the break on a pant leg, so if you think your pants are too short, they are too short. But people say, “Oh, I dress up on airplanes. I wear a jacket and tie on airplanes.” The jacket is because I can put my glasses in here [inside pocket] and my boarding pass. Right, and I don’t like pockets on my shirts. Just whatever, so I do this. And then I wear a tie, a little less these days. I noticed about 10, 12 years ago I got better service when I had a tie. Because everyone was dressing because they were fleeing some sort of UN atrocity. And so they were like, “What are you doing, tie guy?” I’m like, “flying.” I need to be in a plane, why not make it a party? I got some free bottles of wine.
DTD: Going to be an event.
RD: I’ve gotten upgrades. I’ve gotten pillows and blankets where they didn’t exist. People are like, “Here’s a bottle of wine.”
DTD: I could never pull off the “you’re an important businessman” look.
RD: But I don’t pretend I’m an important businessman.
DTD: No, you don’t have to. But if you have the look…
RD: No, the look is – I’ve got to fly. Flying is miserable. So, I can either give in to the misery by dressing like a disaster, then the flight attendant comes in and immediately judges you as grumpy, cranky, do not care, gonna complain. Or I walk in like I’m showing up at my favorite cocktail party. Now I’m still kind of unhappy because I have to fly. But I walk in like, “How are you doing? How are things going?” And I’m just nice. I’m on the plane; It doesn’t cost me if someone sits down before me. I’m still getting on the plane. The flight attendants notice, and suddenly the flight attendants notice, and I’m treated like a respected guest who’s on the inside, not a “you’re the complainer in seat 34A.”
DTD: That was one of my big things, is I always looked… I was always a little too big, and a little too scruffy, and a little too much hair. I had my punk phase and all that. And so, I learned to just be friendly. You just want to be nice to people. And it would stick in peoples’ minds that that really weird guy who looks like he’s going to rob you in the alley is a really nice guy.
RD: [laughs] First impressions do matter.
DTD: Yeah, and I know I bring a lot of that on myself. I don’t have to be this scruffy or this whatever.
RD: I think people should have a look that they are comfortable with, but I think a lot of people have a look which is “I don’t know what my look should be. I’m not happy with my look, so Im going to choose to give in to having no look. Because its harder than, like I said before, trying to look good or something, and failing.”
DTD: I’m certainly in there. I have never tried to have a look. It’s too much effort. And I was raised by hippies. So, it wasn’t about that.
RD: People say, “I want to wear comfortable clothes when I fly.” I’m like, “My clothes are very comfortable.” Because I take an extra, like, 20% of the time when buying them to get them to fit. I don’t even have to have them tailored. I will try on 6 shirts to get the one I want, rather than the first shirt to get it over with. I do hate trying on pants, but other than that…
DTD: I don’t like shopping for clothes. Also, phobia of haircuts. Really don’t like it.
RD: Well, I started… I mean, I have age appropriate hair [pointing]. I don’t have hair that held on, and I don’t have hair that completely gave up. I have hair that looks like I am about to be 50, bald spot, high forehead.
DTD: [laughs] It’s the brand.
RD: Well as I get closer and closer to it becoming bald…
DTD: I just go white.
RD: I would rather say “grey is better than gone”. But at least for me. I am just getting it shorter and shorter. Because it starts to look more like you are doing some theater trick to hide things.
The waiter brought an initial amuse bouche, a ginger creme puff tart. I could tell already this dinner was going to be pretty swank.
DTD: Wow. I’m going to be the terrible millennial and take pictures of things. I know, I know. Yeah, my kids give me such grief about it.
RD: How many kids do you have?
RD: How old are they?
DTD: 22 and 25. I’ve been married forever.
RD: That’s very good. There’s a sweetness in there I didn’t expect but really works well.
DTD: Mmm. That’s really good.
RD: My kids are 16 and 20, so you’re a little ahead, because you are 2 years older. So that would be 18 and 22. So you had them a little younger. I was 29 and 33.
DTD: I got married right out of undergrad.
RD: So did I.
DTD: And we waited a little bit, I mean 3 or 4 years, but you went longer.
RD: I waited until I was 29, so like 7 years. In retrospect I wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t regret having kids, and I wouldn’t change anything, but I was still a little selfish.
DTD: I understand that; I wasn’t ready. I had a kid when I was in grad school. That’s absolutely the wrong time to ever have a kid.
RD: Yeah, my parents had me when my Dad was in law school. I’m like, “What were you thinking?”
DTD: Oooh, that’s hard.
RD: My parents were 23 when they had me.
DTD: The story is that my Dad proposed to my mom on the first date. And they were engaged within weeks.
RD: Did it work out?
DTD: They are still married, so I think it worked out. And then, I guess when my Mom was having me, she actually attempted to run away from the hospital.
RD: That’s an omen.
DTD: They were very young.
RD: I am having broccolini, so I feel like I should stay with white [wine]. [To me] I am addressing what you said, but also musing out loud.
DTD: No, no, no. Oh, with the wine?
RD: Do I want bubbles? Not with the crudo.
DTD: I’ve been terrible about following pairings of wine other than “stronger taste, weaker taste”. But I’m just not a huge fan of white wines.
RD: I feel like they have a place. But also, red wines make me sleepier, and I am still on east coast time. So, if I start drinking red wine now, halfway through the meal I would be like “let me tell you about sleeping.”
DTD: Well then, we would just get you a lot of espressos.
RD: No, I don’t want that. I did alright, I slept until 6:15 this morning, which is 9:15 at home. And I’m usually up at 7 every day at home. So, I slept 2 hours later than normal.
DTD: Coast to coast, I usually don’t have too much trouble. But I did my first Essen this year, and that hurt me.
RD: That’s 9 hours from here.
DTD: More coming home. When I came home from Essen, I was a zombie. Going there, I think the excitement kept me going.
RD: Usually going west is easier, but when you start to get above 6 hours, it starts to break down. Because usually going west, you stay up late, you go to bed, and you just wake up early. And you can kind of, it is easier to stretch it than “I’m going to go to bed at what feels like 6 at night and wake up at 2 in the morning.” That’s a harder thing to do.
DTD: My parents lived in Australia for a while. So, I did that flight, and that’s about as brutal as they get. I still remember the first time I did the Australia flight, the guy next to me said, leaned over; A loud Australian guy. He said, “Here’s the secret. Every time the stewardess goes by and offers you coffee, you take it. And when you land, you don’t sleep until you see everyone else around you go to sleep.”
The waiter brought the first course, a crudo of kanpachi [slices of raw fish] with autumn fruit in a coriander peanut emulsion. Rob and I both ordered this.
RD: Thank you.
DTD: Oh, that’s gorgeous. It was basically stay awake for 36-48 hours and then crash, was his solution.
RD: I’m not sure I could do that.
DTD: I did it at Essen, and it worked pretty well for me, but again, it was exciting. I was so excited to be there, and so thrilled about Essen. I think that kept me going.
Next installment, Rob and I talk a lot about food, and a bit about squirrels, prototypes and Star Wars. Really.